Icebreaker and the Texas Sword Retreat: post-event thoughts

This year so far we've had the pleasure of attending three HEMA events, of very different characters, all of which were wonderful.  We have previously written a bit about attending the Valley of the Sun Cutting Tournament early this year, and since then we've had the chance to attend the Texas Sword Retreat and the Icebreaker Open HEMA tournament.  Both were excellent, and all three really highlight some of the really good stuff happening in the American HEMA scene.  At all three events we were there selling some products, but that was really secondary to our educational mission and our work with the Oakeshott Institute, our sister organization.


At all three events the culture of curiosity, learning, and friendly competition was evident, and made all three quite a pleasure.  However, it was the educational parts of these events that, in our mind, really speak to some of the best aspects of our community.  At the Valley of the Sun tournament Dr. Nathan Clough of Arms and Armor and the Oakeshott Institute, and sword-maker Angus Trim gave lectures on swords, sword design, and the differences between modern and historical swords. At the Texas Sword Retreat Nathan gave a lecture on the development of complex hilts on European Swords and brought along six examples of original swords from the Oakeshott Institute collection for folks to carefully handle, while other lectures included great stuff from Micheal Chidester of Wiktenauer (whose work has been utterly foundational for our community to even exist), and a presentation by Ryan Hetchler on the composition of medieval knightly military units.  At Icebreaker Nathan had a different selection of swords from the Oakeshott Institute collection that were available for most of the day on Saturday for folks to stop by, handle some original swords, and ask questions one-on-one.  

All three of these demonstrate the thirst for knowledge that so often drives the best of what we do in HEMA.  While the competitive nature of HEMA often gets the most attention, a true interest in history and archaeology, and how they contribute to the project of reconstructing Western martial arts is, in our opinion, one of the things that truly characterizes our community.  

While the internet is awash in psuedo-history and click bait baloney, HEMA gatherings have increasingly become a place for engagement with real scholarship, not just about the historical writings on which our art is based, but also increasingly on the historical, archaeological, and socio-cultural aspects of the past without which we cannot really understand how to reconstruct these arts.  And of course, HEMA is not the only area where this is happening.  Parts of the Society for Creative Anachronism have also been very active in these areas and the increasing crossover of like-minded folks between these communities is much appreciated.  

So, cheers to all of you HEMA folks out there, let's continue to learn together.

divider swords

Nathan Clough, Ph.D. is Vice President of Arms and Armor and a member of the governing board of The Oakeshott Institute. He is a historical martial artist and a former university professor of cultural geography.  He has given presentations on historical arms at events including Longpoint and Combatcon, and presented scholarly papers at, among others, The International Congress on Medieval Studies.

Craig Johnson is the Production Manager of Arms and Armor and Secretary of The Oakeshott Institute. He has taught and published on the history of arms, armor and western martial arts for over 30 years. He has lectured at several schools and Universities, WMAW, HEMAC, 4W, and ICMS at Kalamazoo. His experiences include iron smelting, jousting, theatrical combat instruction and choreography, historical research, European martial arts and crafting weapons and armor since 1985

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