HEMA Club is bringing back the pleasure of swordplay

At first glance, a Historical European Martial Arts Club meeting might look like a fancy fencing tournament, but the HEMA club is much more impactful than that.

HEMA meets every Wednesday from 6-8 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. It offers a chance for club members to engage in scholarly research of centuries-old European martial arts techniques, while attending classes where they learn athletic techniques for handling various swords.

Wednesday practices focus on open sparring, since they typically have fewer attendees. Saturday practices have a more structured format, usually with 15 or more attendees. Some Saturdays, the club holds practice for an extra hour, to welcome novices from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. The last Saturday of the month is an open sparring day, where students can practice everything they learned.

The class starts with learning new fighting positions from historical texts, particularly English texts. After some group engagement, members split off into pairs to practice what they have just learned. Partners take turns on the offensive and defensive. Oas says HEMA is more dynamic than fencing, as the sword becomes an extension of the body.

Occasionally, in addition to regular practice, HEMA Club holds “cutting parties,” where members use sharp swords to cut through everyday objects. “We take pumpkins, watermelons and bundles of sticks and slice right through them,” HEMA President Ethan Oas said.

Ben Roberts is the founder of Black Falcon School of Arms, a local nonprofit dedicated to rediscovering the lost art of European martial arts. Roberts founded Black Falcon School of Arms with his childhood friend, Ben Holman.

“I’m a huge nerd,” Roberts explained, citing his love for “The Hobbit” as the seed of his interest in Renaissance culture.

Roberts and Holman grew up fascinated with medieval artifacts and swordplay. They discovered texts from medieval Europe formally explaining how to fight with swords, although decoding them was no easy feat. “The writers of these texts didn’t care if anyone years later could understand what they meant,” Roberts said.

As their passion for European martial arts grew, Holman and Roberts started Black Falcon School of Arms. In 2018, then-high schooler Oas joined the school as an extracurricular activity.

Oas practiced with Holman and Roberts at a bed and breakfast in Black Forest before eventually using the UCCS Rec Center over the summer. When Oas enrolled at UCCS, he founded the HEMA Club so he could use the space year-round and increase club membership through student connection. Oas, now a junior criminal justice major, has held the position as president since.

Oas serves as a liaison between Black Falcon School of Arms and UCCS. As club president, he allows Roberts and Holman to run practices on campus and connect with students outside of Black Falcon.

HEMA has a ranking system, like many other martial arts. Ranks are displayed by a colored garter worn on the leg, reminiscent of the Order of the Garter established by King Edward III, according to Roberts. Students more skilled than beginners wear black garters. Rectors — or teachers — like Roberts or Holman, wear gold. Schollers, a rank Roberts compared to a black belt in Karate, wear red garters.

Like most UCCS Club sports, HEMA Club has monthly dues of $40, and participants are required to purchase their own protective equipment for practice. Dues go to Roberts for swords and loaner equipment members can use.

Club members pride themselves on teaching one another as they go. “Ben Roberts taught me everything I know,” Oas said. “It’s just a bunch of people who enjoy swinging around metal objects.”

Historical European Martial Arts Club in the Gallogly Recreation Center. Photo by Meghan Germain.