Kulshan Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) Program

What purpose does the practice of swordsmanship have for modern people? What lessons can we learn from practicing ancient martial arts or the study of a weapon that’s become an object of romantic ideals? Well, many. The study of original historical material, combined with physical training in a community of dedicated martial artists, develops a fitness of mind and body. We believe people of any walk of life can reasonably aspire to these core endeavors.

HEMA provides tremendous opportunities to train not only the authentic martial techniques of old, but also to develop self-discipline, spirit, and prudence. At Kulshan HEMA we hope to create an environment where we can foster our personal virtues, train in authentic historical fighting techniques, and approach the material as scholars and peers. We are equally receptive to absolute beginners as we are to practitioners of any other level. We endeavor to provide both entry-level classes for those without prior experience, and a supportive venue for those looking for fellow historical fencing enthusiasts in whose company they can train. We hope you will join us in downtown Bellingham and find your place in the growing HEMA community, and partake in the rich martial tradition we study.

HEMA - Reviving the Sword Arts

‘Historical European Martial Arts’ include fighting methods for all sorts of weapons existent during past centuries. The sword, despite its prevalence in myth and history and its iconic role in warfare and culture, sees very little modern use. With the advent of reliable firearms, artillery, and vehicles, long, edged weapons ceded their battlefield presence and have become objects of interest and highly developed sport.

Over the last three or so decades, however, these weapons have garnered the keen interest of modern martial artists whose focus is now the revitalization of bygone fighting methods. The systems practiced as ‘HEMA’ are preserved in medieval, renaissance, and enlightenment era fighting manuals, treatises, and literature, and survive in museums and personal collections. We endeavor to practice them back into existence. Historical European Martial Arts are enriched by discourse and variance in interpretation throughout the global community. HEMA-specific equipment and tournaments are increasingly common. Now is an opportune time to practice HEMA, regardless of prior martial arts experience. The sheer volume and variety of HEMA alone attracts scholars and historians, athletes and competitors, martial artists of every background, sword enthusiasts, and people of all other walks of life to its practice. Ultimately, HEMA provides avenues of fulfillment to those of all motivations and additionally a unique insight into the lost fighting traditions of European heritage.


At Kulshan HEMA our current curriculum focuses on historical fencing with the longsword. The word “longsword” is a modern term for a sword roughly four feet long that can be used with one or both hands. The two-handed nature of this weapon necessitates dynamic movements that unify the body’s forces to express great agility, reach, and strength through the sword. We practice longsword fencing as part of Armizare, a complete early 15th century fighting treatise developed and titled by Fiore dei Liberi, an Italian nobleman.

Longsword fencing incorporates the entirety of combat principles described in Fiore’s Armizare. When combatants close distance to a point where long blades become unwieldy, they often grapple with their weapons, still employing authentic techniques from the manuscript. Fiore’s art is quoted as a complete volume whose contents describe almost every aspect of single close-combat.

One of the most thorough interpretations of Fiore's Armizare has been made available to the modern world via the work of Guy Windsor: a historian, writer and martial artist from England. Windsor's school and manuals offer training curricula that focus on accurate recreation of historical techniques. His instructional literature is accessible to students training alone or with partners, with or without prior experience. The beginner’s longsword fencing class at Kulshan HEMA follows Windsor’s methods to ensure our students will have the solid foundation of Armizare. Some students will decide to include full-contact sparring as part of their practice. We train weekly with modern HEMA equipment to supplement our drills and form-work. . We also support student development with multiple elements of training, from solo movement ‘forms’ to pair drills and the afore mentioned sparring. In short, Kulshan HEMA draws from a rich tradition that can satisfy both the competitive tournament fighter and the artist looking for a deep pool of historical martial knowledge they can practice alone or in the company of fellow scholars.

In addition to the Italian Armizare there are many other extensive chivalric fighting traditions to learn from, most notably the German teachings of Johannes Liechtenauer. Beginning classes start with the Armizare as a complete system of defense. In the intermediate study group we also practice techniques and study manuals from the German school of longsword fencing. Additionally, we are soon beginning our studies of the rapier and dagger techniques described by Ridolfo Capoferro, and very much look forward to seeing what new and future HEMA scholars will bring to our school.

Armizare - Play by Play

Fiore dei Liberi was a swordsman of nobility living in northern Italy during the early 15th century. He was employed by figures of nobility as a combat instructor and mentor of his Art of Arms. The thoroughness and quality of his teaching literature and the repute of some of his students makes evident that Fiore was a man of great prowess and competence. He both trained and learned in Italy and Germany and wrote several extensive treatises on the subject of knightly combat with a variety of weapons, from bare fists and daggers to swords and poleaxes, of circumstances both on foot and mounted on horseback. The manuscript itself is illustrated with numerous scenarios of combat, and addresses the fundamentals of movement, bodily structure, and threat, including the detailed nuances of the crossings that occur when swords come together.

Many traditional martial arts have an ethical foundation or creed. Fiore’s system, known as Armizare or The Art of Arms, has its four primary virtues of audacity, prudence, celerity, and fortitude. Thus, his book, Il Fior di Battaglia, describes not only a vast variety of combat situations and valid self defense techniques, but also a structure of foundational fighting principles and personal virtues, an understanding of which is essential to making the martial art work as a whole.

Fiore’s Armizare is a source of great interest and a point of common practice for the global HEMA community because of its dense material and influence on some later historical works of the same subject. It has earned its place in history and our modern studies as an advanced guide to combat arts in a time where hand-to-hand fighting was far more prevalent than it is in today’s world.