If you enjoy medieval-esque movies then you’re probably familiar with Hollywood swordplay choreography and how awesome it looks. I must admit it can look pretty cool. But here I’m going to argue that that fancy swordplay doesn’t belong in a medieval movies. Sure, keep it in movies that aren’t medieval and have swords like Kill Bill and Deadpool, but medieval shows should sport HEMA if they wish to stay relevant in the future! Why? Because there is a “renaissance” in Medieval Studies and people are crying out loud for realism, authenticity, historical accuracy and lack of anachronistic multivalence. People want more verisimilitude, not hokey-pokey fake stuff, especially in medieval movies!
What’s being done about this? I did some research and found out that a lot is actually being done to see more HEMA in movies and shows. And in case you don’t know what HEMA is, it stands for historical European martial arts. It’s a rather new phenomenon, as students and practitioners look up translated copies of real medieval treatises on sword fighting and other forms of fighting like wrestling and axe-play. In forums you can catch the dumbfounded tone of inquisitors as they wonder out loud why in the world there isn’t a medieval movie with HEMA in it yet. After all, HEMA done right looks a lot better than fake Hollywood swordplay.
One of my favorite movements in this regard that I discovered quite recently is LitHEMA (fictional literature with historical European martial arts). I couldn’t find any LitHEMA books, but the blogger I found that talks about it hopes it will become a norm in popular media, and he makes good points about how it’s needed and why. But LitHEMA isn’t enough to settle this problem.
We need HEMA practitioners to be more outspoken if they wish to see their beloved art represented in movies and shows. I believe Game of Thrones would be a lot more popular among the academic type if it had HEMA. Hollywood swordplay is very unrealistic as it sacrifices function for artistic appeal by implementing big heavy telegraphed sword cuts and fancy spin moves. Real swordplay is very conservative, but it looks awesome when people use the real sword techniques like the squinting cut and various historical stances and guards.
As an expert about complaining about TV, I have to say this here is one of my biggest annoyances. Why isn’t there any HEMA in shows yet? I have two major answers to that question:
- HEMA is still fairly young and unheard of for most people. Since movie makers are older and still have yet to be replaced by younger generations for the most part, they’re used to doing things the way they’ve always been done. Movie makers don’t care as much about being historically accurate as they do about giving their audience what they believe they want. That’s why we need more people who WANT realistic swordplay in movies to raise their voices more often.
- The way things have always been done since the first black and white sword movie is using 19th-century fencing techniques in lieu of HEMA because at that time HEMA didn’t exist yet. Scholars were aware of medieval combat treatises but this sports culture centered around them hadn’t been established yet, and many scholars had yet to translate these Old German manuscripts into the vernacular, which meant they weren’t accessible by the average person or even a dedicated movie producer. 19th-century fencing was and still is an Olympic sport, and so it’s not strange that they would use what they know rather than what they didn’t know to represent swordplay. As movies developed, 19th-century fencing techniques merged with the art of creative choreographers and Hollywood swordplay, akin to a dance, was invented.
I hope things like LitHEMA and HEMA in general as a popular sport “take off” so to speak, because together they could raise an awareness of not only what medieval swordplay really looked like but Medieval Studies as a whole. I hope you learned something by reading this, and if you’re still unsure of what HEMA is I’d recommend typing it into YouTube and watching some videos. It’s rather quite extraordinary to watch. Tournaments like Swordfish capture the techniques in a competitive context. After learning more about it, you, too, will agree it would be amazing in movies!
Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more from the complaining about TV experts! We’re here to make TV klickable again!