Historical European Martial Arts in Australia

The practice of Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) first started in Australia in the late 19th century before largely dying out. There was then a revival of interest in the late 20th century to the current day. The practice of HEMA in Australia has grown to be a popular activity, with clubs all in capital cities, and the larger cities in Australia, Sydney and Melbourne, each have a number of clubs teaching various styles.

Martial Arts in Australia

. . . Historical European Martial Arts in Australia . . .

Unusually, Australia was the scene for relatively well attended broadsword competitions, in the late 19th century. Some of the first practice of HEMA in Australia occurred when an English champion of the broadsword, Captain Duncan Ross, fought another British military instructor, Captain Jennings in San Francisco. Though Ross won the tournament, Jennings left the United States, to travel to Australia. Jennings then fought a mounted sword competition with a local challenger, “Sergeant J. R. Donovan., late Drill Instructor to 4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards, Champion Swordsman of Australia.”.[1] Hearing of this, Ross took the first boat to Australia, and challenged Jennings to a tournament, to confirm his title. The initial tournament, in December 1889, saw Ross break his sword and the tournament was postponed. The follow up tournament was attended by 5600 people. The final tournament was attended by 25,000 people, with Jennings defeating Ross, an early large interest in Australian Hema (from a spectators point of view, at least0. However, Jennings himself was then defeated by an Australian, Sergeant J. R. Donovan. Donovan eventually lost the title to a Professor Parker, who was the last person to hold the title, remaining unchallenged till his death in Sydney, in April, 1916.[1]

Some HEMA in Australia had been practiced, in the later part of the early 20th century, mainly in the context of the Australian Military. The Australian defence forces practiced sword drills, and some competitions and mounted sword combat. Additionally, the military sometimes would run “Assault at Arms exhibitions”. HEMA in Australia was featured by soldiers performing feats of arms, often for charity, including in at least one case, Bartitsu[2]

Probably the earliest HEMA activity in Australia was that of Stephen Hand, Andrew Brew and Peter Radvan who started researching rapier and sword from period manuals in the mid 80s and teaching in around 1990. At this time, most European style combat in Australia was in the context of Historical reenactment in Australia. With few primary sources available, it was largely improvised with little relationship to authentic historical practice.[3][4] All three men were involved in Re-enactment groups but wanted to move more into the actual study of period combat techniques.

Stephen Hand originally from Hobart, moved to Sydney, where Brew and Radvan lived in 1989, and together they taught themselves and researched historical fencing from the few resources they had available. When they discovered the American scholar Patri Pugliese who collected, copied and sold historical fencing manuals, they gained access to more material but continued teaching as part of several historical reenactment groups. They started the Stoccata School of Defence, Gordon, Sydney in August 1998, which was one of the first groups in Australia to approach HEMA as a traditional art of defence in itself, rather than in the context of re-enacting a period or era. One of the early stars of Stoccata was Paul Wagner who rapidly rose to become a fourth instructor. Stephen and Paul have gone on to teach HEMA all over the world and to write a number of highly regarded books on various HEMA systems.

At around the same time Julian Clark, a modern fencing instructor was exploring historical fencing in Canberra and founded the Finesse Academy of Fencing.

A few other clubs started to form around this time, with Scott McDonald forming the Australian College of Arms (ACA) in Brisbane and then restarting it in Melbourne when he moved there.[5] In 1995 a group of mostly Italian and German competitive fencers from Penrith Fencing Academy and Double Eagle at the German Austrian Club (Winter, Sanders, Ketibian, et al.) introduced training and formal competition in rapier and broadsword forming an unnamed group that endured until 2005 when it merged with the Sydney chapter of the Masonic Academy of Arms. Their use of historical weapons was done with modern electric fencing gear and led to some technical advances in modernizing medieval weapons to be electric by a swordsmith and historian in their academy leading to the first electric period weapons, including spears and axes.

In September 199 Scott McDonald organised one of the first open group events for historical fencing in Australia, named the first Historical Fencing Meeting (later to be called Historical Fencing Conferences) in Brisbane. At around the same time in Brisbane fencers who were part of the Historical Armed Combat Association (HACA) broke away to form their own fencing organisations. Notable among these was Bill Carew, who formed Collegium in Armis, which continues to operate to this day.

Historical Fencing Conferences were held yearly from 1999. International guests were invited to teach at these conferences, including Bob Charron, Ramon and Jeannette Martinez, Tom Leoni, and Milo Thurston. In 2000, the idea of an association for historical fencing groups was raised. This became the Australian Historical Swordplay Federation, and formally started in 2002, with Stephen Hand as the first President.[3]

In Melbourne, after Scott McDonald moved to Brisbane, the Melbourne Swordplay Guild was formed from those old members of the Australian College of Arms that wanted to continue. Initially the group used the Stoccata syllabus of George Silver. Members of the Melbourne Swordplay Guild went on to form three clubs in Melbourne, Die Fechtschule in 2005, GLECA (Glen Lachlann Estate College of Arms) and more recently, Fechtschule Victoria in 2013.[5][6][7]

By 2004, Stoccata in Sydney had grown and had spawned a Tasmanian group, to become Australia’s first interstate club.[8] Stoccata now have ten branches Australia wide.[9]

Over the years seminars have benefited from visiting overseas experts in HEMA, including visits to Sydney and Melbourne by Arne Koets, Guy Windsor (an expert in Italian Swordsmanship) Puck Curtis and most recently, Ingulf Kohlweiss, chief trainer of INDES Salzburg (Austria)[10] and Peter Smallridge from the UK.

Some Rapier has developed within the Australian branch of the Society for Creative Anachronism, the Kingdom of Lochac, with some SCA members learning SCA fencing (which has become more based on period practice over time) and some SCA fencers in Melbourne starting separate schools of Historical swordsmanship distinct from the SCA.

By 2017, the interest in HEMA had grown to the point where there were clubs in most large cities in Australia [5][11]

Some equipment, mainly for HEMA Longsword is designed in Australia, with synthetic swords and protective gauntlets made by WMA shop in Sydney, and Gambesons for Longsword designed in Melbourne by AESIR.

. . . Historical European Martial Arts in Australia . . .

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