Is HEMA a sport?

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Is HEMA a sport?

Postby Max C. » 02 Nov 2014 20:34

Ok before you comment on the question, read the article. I don't really mean to answer the question as much as explore what is the historical concept of sport and if HEMA fits into it.

http://hemamisfits.com/2014/11/02/is-hema-a-sport/
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Postby Ulrich von L...n » 04 Nov 2014 08:24

During a superficial browsing I have completely missed this article and mistakenly thought that it is What isn't HEMA topic.

Max,
Excellent article, it deserves to be re-read several times!

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Re: Is HEMA a sport?

Postby JimGiant » 04 Nov 2014 12:50

Great article. You raised a lot of concerns that I've been having about sportification that I've had though far more eloquently and you clearly have orders of magnitude more knowledge than I.
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Re: Is HEMA a sport?

Postby MugginsToadwort » 04 Nov 2014 15:39

Good article, and much needed. Some thoughts:

I've just been to Swordfish for the first time, and I find myself comparing it more to the national and international karate tournaments of my long lost youth in terms of vibe and feel. Though the scholars were scattered through the halls and even took part in the fights (Bert Gevaert and I did well in our pools), it didn't feel like an old-fashioned HEMA event to me. In comparison, I went to the Smallsword Symposium and immediately felt at home, despite not knowing the people or the weapon.

Now, here's the question- is Swordfish a sporting event? I'd argue yes based on Max's article. The rules were codified, the crowd partisan, the trappings of points and time were all there. The adrenaline release, the specialisation in certain weapons, the uniformity of equipment, all reeked of sport. The release from self-imposed constraints in the after-tournament events, the over-exuberant celebrations, the dedication taken to win such an event, all are signs of a maturing sport.

Is HEMA a sport? In the Swordfish context, yes. In the context of the Smallsword Symposium and some other events, no. I don't think I do a sport, and I'll be reluctant to go to Swordfish again unless my students are going.
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Re: Is HEMA a sport?

Postby Max C. » 04 Nov 2014 16:42

Thank you everyone, glad you enjoyed! Note that it is not my aim to take sides in the debate regarding "sportification" only to explore what a sport really is (and was). The word sport gets thrown a lot without necessarily considering all of what it represents.
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Re: Is HEMA a sport?

Postby the underground man » 05 Nov 2014 00:42

Max C. wrote:Thank you everyone, glad you enjoyed! Note that it is not my aim to take sides in the debate regarding "sportification" only to explore what a sport really is (and was). The word sport gets thrown a lot without necessarily considering all of what it represents.


I liked the article and think it brings some much needed historical context, and nuance, to a debate that seemingly dwells on the word sport and the various associations attached to it (although I'm not sure I'd fully agree with all of Guttman's rules for sports). In some ways, this same argument occurs just as much between the more mainstream combat sports/martial arts. (It often shares many of the same points in these contexts)

I'd also like to add that I enjoy the site in general!

As a side note, this article got me thinking about how people's interpretation of what a martial art is, or isn't, in a modern setting could affect this debate as much as the meaning of someone's understanding of the word sport-especially considering how modern society is so divided between civilian and martial spheres.
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Re: Is HEMA a sport?

Postby Herbert » 05 Nov 2014 16:00

Good article…and food for thought.

Personally I think that HEMA tournaments are sport. I don't see how they are not.
But honestly that is not the question…or the "problem".

We are at a moment where the branching off in HEMA is starting. And while this is a natural thing to happen we should do it diligently and not just "let it happen".

A thought that I would like to propose is that we need a new term for the HEMA tournaments and their practitioners…or a new term for the other part of HEMA.
We see a separation in parts that are more interested in research, reconstruction and understanding and a part that is more interested in fighting, winning and competing.
A the moment both go under the name of HEMA, which can be misleading. Often there is quite an overlap of these two areas - but I see it difficult to have both of them evolve under the same roof of the term HEMA.
To confuse it more there is the "reconstruction" of the tournaments and "sports like" fencing of the renaissance.

So where does that leave us? I am not sure. I do know however that at the moment things are a bit mixed up and fuzzy. Not necessarily a bad thing either, just one that is worth noting.
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Re: Is HEMA a sport?

Postby MugginsToadwort » 05 Nov 2014 17:35

It feels a little too early to talk about "traditional HEMA" and "sporting HEMA", but similar terms have been used in Karate circles for 30 years. There is always a large overlap- I was taught in the traditional karate style, but went to sporting karate events; sporting karateka would attend traditional workshops and seminars. I learnt tournament craft, which still works today, from the sporting events, but found the overall sporting setup not to my taste.

My approach in HEMA today is similar- I'll take part in tournaments, but going to an event for tournaments alone is not my focus. No problems if my students go that way, but I'll teach with the same focus as before- on accurate interpretation and good fighting style.

I think the problem will come when people start to exclude other people from their events because of the differences in approach. Until then, we can probably live with each other.
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Re: Is HEMA a sport?

Postby Herbert » 05 Nov 2014 21:21

MugginsToadwort wrote:I think the problem will come when people start to exclude other people from their events because of the differences in approach.

I hope this will never be the case.
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Re: Is HEMA a sport?

Postby Max C. » 05 Nov 2014 21:21

Personally I think that HEMA tournaments are sport. I don't see how they are not.


If we want to be pointy on our definitions I would say that they are not. Would it be accepted at the Olympics? No. In order to be a sport in the way that we understand it, there would need to be a set of rules agreed upon for every tournament, dictated by some official body. Then we could talk about a sport and it would theoretically have a chance to be at the Olympics. But is that what we want? I know that from some discussions I had that many practitioners would like that, but we need to ask why? Why would HEMA need to be a sport... or not? If we ask why then maybe we will find out that the means we are using aren't the most appropriate or that we are indeed following the right path.

I am working on a list of definitions of the various terms I am using in the article to be published soon.
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Re: Is HEMA a sport?

Postby the_last_alive » 05 Nov 2014 21:25

MugginsToadwort wrote:It feels a little too early to talk about "traditional HEMA" and "sporting HEMA", but similar terms have been used in Karate circles for 30 years. There is always a large overlap- I was taught in the traditional karate style, but went to sporting karate events; sporting karateka would attend traditional workshops and seminars. I learnt tournament craft, which still works today, from the sporting events, but found the overall sporting setup not to my taste.

My approach in HEMA today is similar- I'll take part in tournaments, but going to an event for tournaments alone is not my focus. No problems if my students go that way, but I'll teach with the same focus as before- on accurate interpretation and good fighting style.

I think the problem will come when people start to exclude other people from their events because of the differences in approach. Until then, we can probably live with each other.


Totally agree, both 'sides' can learn from each other, and I hope will continue to do so. I really hope the community stays one, and encourages any and all focuses that people have.

Don't forget, as with most things, there is no black and white. I know several people who are competitors, but are also heavily into the research and interpretation side of things too.
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Re: Is HEMA a sport?

Postby MugginsToadwort » 05 Nov 2014 21:43

Don't get me wrong, I think we are still a very long way from a true split. I definitely compete, but my increasing seniority means I struggle with the sporting mentality; I prefer research and conviviality, and want to enjoy myself.

However, the rules business and the tournament organisation business leaves me cold, and I'm not going to start training my students for such. However, I met some people I'd rather not meet, fight or have my students fight, and that does worry me for the future.
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Re: Is HEMA a sport?

Postby Dave B » 05 Nov 2014 22:51

Max C. wrote:If we want to be pointy on our definitions I would say that they are not. Would it be accepted at the Olympics?


Not sure that is a hard and fast definition of a sport, there are tons of sports not at the olympics
Max C. wrote:
No. In order to be a sport in the way that we understand it, there would need to be a set of rules agreed upon for every tournament, dictated by some official body.


Again, I'm not sure that entirely holds - the boxing in the olympics by no means represents a ruleset followed by the whole sport of boxing. There is plenty of wrestling that follows other rules than the olympic, and plenty of bike racing, and so on. The olympics only needs a set of rules to be agreed for the olympics, not for the whole world.

Max C. wrote:Why would HEMA need to be a sport... or not? If we ask why then maybe we will find out that the means we are using aren't the most appropriate or that we are indeed following the right path.


Seems to me that there is no right path. If people want to do longsword fencing as a sport, then good luck to them. If in a generation they can get it recognized by the IOC, then excellent, it'll be more interesting to watch than Epee.

It's not what I'm interested in, but there's room for everyone.
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Re: Is HEMA a sport?

Postby Max C. » 06 Nov 2014 05:22

Not sure that is a hard and fast definition of a sport, there are tons of sports not at the olympics


You are taking the question a bit too literally. My point was that HEMA tournaments would not be accepted because they simply do not have an agreed upon rule set determined by an official body, which is a part of what makes a sport a sport, at least according to many scholars.
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Postby Ulrich von L...n » 06 Nov 2014 08:35

Herbert wrote:A thought that I would like to propose is that we need a new term for the HEMA tournaments and their practitioners… or a new term for the other part of HEMA.

The term HEMA could denote the purists and also people who participate both in tournaments and in research etc, HES for historical European Sports (current and future tournaments etc) and HESA (as a subset of HEMA: swordsmanship, sword arts).
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Re: Is HEMA a sport?

Postby Sean M » 06 Nov 2014 09:59

Max C. wrote:Why would HEMA need to be a sport... or not? If we ask why then maybe we will find out that the means we are using aren't the most appropriate or that we are indeed following the right path.

I am working on a list of definitions of the various terms I am using in the article to be published soon.

I don't have time for a lengthy reply, but I suggest that you think more carefully about your terms.

Its a bit confusing that we use one name for both what we study (say fencing in early sixteenth century northern Italy) and what we practice (say a reconstruction of what Marozzo taught his students). Both kinds of HEMA are categories not activities. The practice of reconstructed martial arts can include sports, plural, but not be a sport, singular, because it is too diverse (just like Japanese martial arts include several sports and many activities which are not sports).

I'm not sure that Swordfish and the Red Knight's Deed of Arms have much in common, but they are both tournaments. Some people prefer to keep the "tournament" label for events which are inspired by modern sport culture rather than renaissance deeds of arms, but both involve people gathering to compete in friendly competition before an audience.

Fencers in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries described what they did as play, school, and deeds of arms.
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Re: Is HEMA a sport?

Postby the_last_alive » 06 Nov 2014 10:01

Max C. wrote:
Not sure that is a hard and fast definition of a sport, there are tons of sports not at the olympics


You are taking the question a bit too literally. My point was that HEMA tournaments would not be accepted because they simply do not have an agreed upon rule set determined by an official body, which is a part of what makes a sport a sport, at least according to many scholars.


So, there were no sports before official bodies were formed?
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Re: Is HEMA a sport?

Postby Dave B » 06 Nov 2014 10:18

Max C. wrote:
Not sure that is a hard and fast definition of a sport, there are tons of sports not at the olympics


You are taking the question a bit too literally. My point was that HEMA tournaments would not be accepted because they simply do not have an agreed upon rule set determined by an official body, which is a part of what makes a sport a sport, at least according to many scholars.


OK, obviously we have to get into a definition of what the word sport means, but as a general rule I think the default has to be just "what it says in the dictionary" which is: "An activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment:". I appreciate that there are circumstances where you are having a more specialized conversation and it's appropriate to use a more specialized definition of the word. However if it's just a general point of 'Are HEMA tournaments a sport' I think there is no reason not to use the ordinary dictionary definition of 'Sport'.

By that definition I'd say that some people say they do tournaments purely in order to test their martial skills in a pressurised environment (not a sport) and others do it mainly because they enjoy it (a sport)

On the other point you made about a single agreed ruleset, I'd just come back to the example of wrestling, which has dozens of different rulesets in place, many different styles, loads of different local or national clubs or governing bodies, but no overall one. But I don't hear anyone seriously suggest that wrestling is not a sport because it chooses not to be monolithic.
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Re:

Postby Herbert » 06 Nov 2014 11:47

Ulrich von L...n wrote:The term HEMA could denote the purists and also people who participate both in tournaments and in research etc, HES for historical European Sports (current and future tournaments etc) and HESA (as a subset of HEMA: swordsmanship, sword arts).

HES is often used in german as Historischer Europäischer Schwertkampf -HES. But I like your idea in general.

Max C. wrote:
Not sure that is a hard and fast definition of a sport, there are tons of sports not at the olympics


You are taking the question a bit too literally. My point was that HEMA tournaments would not be accepted because they simply do not have an agreed upon rule set determined by an official body, which is a part of what makes a sport a sport, at least according to many scholars.

Well, I can see the argument there and I somehow agree. But this is only true for modern, commercialized, sports. What about all the other sports that are played in different settings, right down to family and friends?
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Re: Is HEMA a sport?

Postby Max C. » 06 Nov 2014 16:06

So, there were no sports before official bodies were formed?


No. Have you read the article? Its hard to imagine but sports are a phenomenon that appeared in the late 17th century in England, the concept did not exist before that and until the 19th century the English were pretty much the only ones to use the word and practice them. According to Allen Guttman it follows seven guiding principles, some of them refer to the fact that a sport is usually controlled by a certain bureaucracy and that there are certain sets of rules which are governed by that same bureaucracy. If I go nearly anywhere in the world, Olympic boxing is going to be practiced following the same rules.

So what was there before that? Because obviously boxing existed and football has being played for centuries. Well there were games. Games have a very flexible set of rules which are determined by tradition, they change according to the mood of the players and each community had its own version. The community or the Church was usually involved in organizing it instead of an official bureaucracy. Most games today have evolved into sports, like boxing when people started to adopt the Broughton rules and its subsequent evolution.

There were also Agons, a term used by Elias, which was kind of an hybrid between a martial art and a game and was mostly practiced by warriors, for example Pankration, bohurt or fechtschulen.

OK, obviously we have to get into a definition of what the word sport means, but as a general rule I think the default has to be just "what it says in the dictionary" which is: "An activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment:". I appreciate that there are circumstances where you are having a more specialized conversation and it's appropriate to use a more specialized definition of the word. However if it's just a general point of 'Are HEMA tournaments a sport' I think there is no reason not to use the ordinary dictionary definition of 'Sport'.


That's an appeal to definition. Some dictionaries also define martial arts as being Asian. I don't think many people here would stand by that definition.

On the other point you made about a single agreed rule set, I'd just come back to the example of wrestling, which has dozens of different rule sets in place, many different styles, loads of different local or national clubs or governing bodies, but no overall one. But I don't hear anyone seriously suggest that wrestling is not a sport because it chooses not to be monolithic.


Well wrestling in itself is not a sport. Greco-Roman wrestling is a sport, Freestyle wrestling is a sport, so is Gouren, Schwingen, etc. Usually the name of the style will be defined by the rules which are used. And that's one of the main points about sports, they are defined by their rule set, which wasn't the case with games. Now there is absolutely no need to be only one rule set, but these rules are usually set by a bureaucracy (not matter how big or small) and players usually have no control on these rules; I can't come up in the middle of the ring and agree with the other guy to change the rules of the tournament. If its not a sport then its a game. Some types of wrestling are still games and there is nothing wrong with that.

In my opinion, and that's my opinion only, HEMA tournaments are very close to being a sport. For example if the French HEMA federation agreed on a rule set that it would enforce on the tournaments to which it was associated - like the FIE does- then it would probably be a sport. For now it is my understanding that tournaments control their own rules and change them pretty much every year. Tournaments act like communities basically, and even though there are a number of things that rarely change, there are very few tournaments using the same rules. Its very close but not quite.

But let me again reiterate a point I made in the article, especially to avoid such situations.

Note that these criteria are not an authority by themselves on what is and isn’t a sport. There is no “Guttman Society” which will deliver sport accreditation if HEMA fits in those categories and you will still be free to call HEMA whatever you like after finishing to read this article. Guttman simply observed the characteristics of what constitutes a sport in the modern setting compared to the pre-modern games (pre 17th century).


That means that you can use the word sport as you wish, even use the dictionary version if you like. But understand that sport is a modern phenomenon which functions in its own frame.
Last edited by Max C. on 06 Nov 2014 18:33, edited 2 times in total.
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