If you want to learn sword fighting from historical sources then Historical European martial arts is the best way to do this. Also known by the abbreviation of HEMA or WMA for Western martial arts, historical fencers study how to fight with swords based on surviving documentation from the time periods when these weapons were primarily used as tools of warfare and self-defense. This is different than contemporary Olympic style fencing with foils and such, as in HEMA the fighters use training weapons such as federschwert (feder) that better replicate the properties of a real sword in weight and shape, allowing for a very realistic simulation of what sword fighting would have been like in past times. HEMA fighters also use more heavily padded protective gear than a foil fencer would, to provide additional protection.
Example of some Historical European martial artists sword fighting
It is very popular for people to study Japanese sword arts such as Kendo if they want to learn how to use a katana, however it is becoming more popular to study European sword martial arts that have been reconstructed from surviving historical records, such as specialty fechtbuch (combat manuals) written many hundreds of years ago by master swordsmen as training tools for their students. These records have survived in private book collections and museums, and over the past several decades have been deciphered by members of the HEMA community to reconstruct these once forgotten sword fighting styles.
So if you want to fight with a sword like a medieval knight or a Renaissance musketeer then historical sword based martial arts is the way to learn how to do this.
Our website, Historical European Martial Arts Resources, has previously published several articles providing general information about how to learn sword fighting. These articles provide a lot of great information and you should read them.
Next you should decide what type of sword you want to learn how to sword fight with, as there are several kinds of swords that have been produced over the span of European history. Many types of swords, such as those used by medieval knights, Renaissance-era Landsknecht mercenaries, Napoleonic-era cavalry and others are studied by many hundreds of historical fencers around the world. You’ll even find people studying Elizabethan and Victorian era small swords used for dueling.
We have a dedicated section of our website listing different weapons studied by HEMA clubs and source material used to learn how to fight with these swords, but to make things easier here are direct links to each page based on type of sword,
Each of these pages organizes the different types of sword fighting styles and traditions studied among Historical European martial artists with links to books that provide instructions and references to how to use these different swords in combat. Each tradition is a martial system of defensive and offensive techniques, often incorporating several different weapons. For example many of the rapier fighting styles teach how to fight with a rapier and a dagger, or how to fight with a single rapier, or how to use a rapier with a buckler, and so on. Likewise some styles of long sword fighting teach how to use a long sword against several different kinds of weapons such as spears, daggers and such.
There are even fighting traditions that teach how to fight with swords while mounted as a warrior on horseback.
We also have several other Guides that have useful information for newcomers to historical European sword fighting. We suggest you read these as well if you’d more to gain more insight into how to fight with swords.
If you’d like to learn more information about historical fencing practices please check out our Learn HEMA page for a guide to learning about the historical weapon that interests you. You can also find more guides we’ve written about other topics at our Helpful Guides page.