Wessex School of Arms-Our Closest Look at Martial Arts From the Middle Ages


Evan Burgess looked into fighting styles of days gone by and discovered Wessex School of Arms in Bath…

There are many popular martial arts today such as MMA, Krav Maga and Asian disciplines. However, if you have ever been curious about what happened in Europe before these styles reached our shores, HEMA might be for you. Historical European Martial Arts is a practical use of old techniques. Best practice is taught from the rivers of knowledge surrounding combat from Italy, Germany, Britain and other places.
The focus of HEMA is mostly between 1300 and 1800. The skills are both technical and physically challenging, so when I went to Wessex School of Arms in Bath, I was curious about how everything worked.
The lesson on this night was about backsword technique. This sword is one handed and principally for thrusting and slashing. Sounds simple, but when someone else had one defence becomes the priority. Being a responsive style of learning, a pupil must defend themselves before launching an attack.

Photo by Richard Isley

With plastic practice swords, the first part of the lesson was about different methods of blocking. Though there aren’t a large amount of stances, the difficultly comes from coordinating hand and foot placement. Teamed up in twos, the pragmantic use of responding to an opponent was drilled as myself and my partner worked on a simple block and counter routine.
In this style, less is more. Understanding the arc of attack an opponent has is vital in blocking effectively and protecting oneself. A lot of the initial techniques felt counter intuitive, yet they are tried and tested through hundreds of years of utilisation.
After technique training with the plastic swords, I moved on to blunt edged metal swords which were a rather different sensation. Heavier and more powerful, the ring of metal against metal reverberated through my bones. It was fun, but also developed more concentration with the realism increasing.
Being my first lesson, I didn’t take part in the group spa at the end. With three against three, two teams took on each other with plastic swords in order to score points for contact. Each round was over surprisingly quickly and it brought home just how fast things would happen in real life.

Harmless fun

On another night the lesson could have been daggers, quarter staff or hand to hand fighting. Good for fitness and historical awareness, Wessex School of Arms provides a thrilling experience for people of all abilities. Sessions cost £8 and last for 1 ½ hours.
You can find out more here:


1 comment on “Wessex School of Arms-Our Closest Look at Martial Arts From the Middle Ages

  1. Nice writeup – thanks! Was good to have you along 🙂

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