If you’re starting out HEMA you will need some material to work with. This overview provides you with modern books on the most popular weapon systems trained in HEMA. Some of these books are translations of the original source material and others modern interpretations of the sources.
Many historical sources are available for free on Wiktenauer.com with english translations of varying quality. Eventually it’s a good idea to work directly with original source material, but due to language and knowledge barriers, it’s often a good idea to start with a modern book that provides additional instructions and context.
Note: As I don’t train in every HEMA weapon system myself I haven’t read all of these books myself, but polled data from The HEMA Alliance Facebook group.
Longsword is the most popular weapon trained in today’s HEMA. The two most widespread traditions are the German school attributed to Johannes Liechtenauer and the Italian school of Fiore dei Liberi. The German school is the more popular choice amongst practitioners and has more modern books to offer. Of the four listed books here, only the last book “The Flower of Battle” deals with Fiores system. What is great about Fiore sources is that they’re fully illustrated, whereas many german sources only offert text descriptions.
As many longsword sources either lack images or a detailled step by step approach, it can be harder to figure out techniques than in more accessible systems. Because of this, more books are available with interpretations instead of just translations to modern language.
The Longsword study guide is also available as an e-book trough the Academy of Historical Arts online shop.
The PDF is available under a CC license and a result of the Wiktenauer project, a free Wiki for original source texts, images and translations.
The book isn't based on any specific source, but on Christians experience studying and teaching german sources.
The manuscript also includes unarmed combat, dagger, spear, axe fighting, fighting in armor and on horseback. It doesn't include the original italian texts.
According to Dierk Hagedorn, who transcribed dozens of manuscripts in the Liechtenauer tradition, a good place to start that is available in english is the Jude Lew manuscript and if anyone knows what makes a great source it’s Mr Hagedorn.
Rapier is a popular weapon system in HEMA, that can entail everything from Rapier used alone or with something in the left hand like a dagger, shield or cloak. There are many different Rapier traditions and fencing masters from countries such as France, England and Italy.
As Rapier sources are younger than longsword sources, the art style is far more evolved and most Rapier manuscripts present both images and detailled text to the reader.
Coincidentally, three of these books are translations of original Rapier manuscripts by Italian masters translated by Tom Leoni, which is regarded for the high accuracy of his translations.
The reason the book has "lost" in its title, is that so few copies were produced that even shortly after Gigantis time, people were unsure that it really existed.
The high price listed on Amazon stems from it being officially out of print, but it is also available as print on demand over at Lulu.com.
Sword & Shield
When fighting with Sword & Shield, the most popular system trained in HEMA is probably the Sword & Buckler manuscript I.33 also called the Walpurgis or Tower Fechtbuch, which is also the oldest surviving fencing manuscript. While its origin lies in what is now Germany, the text is in medieval latin.
The shield used in I.33 called a buckler, is a small hand held shield that is not strapped to the arm and can be moved freely from side to side. Bigger shields like the Targa and Rotella are used in the Bolognese tradition. Other shield variations, like the viking round shield popular amongst reenactors, bring a lack of sources with them.
There is a strong tendency for fencing manuscripts to become clearer in their descriptions and images the younger they are, since both the language and the art style evolved a lot over time. Due to this the I.33 manuscript is among the harder sources to interpret, with the Bolognese tradition being more accessible for many.
Sword and Shield Beginners Books
As Opera Nova was written around 200 years later than the I.33 manuscript, the images and text instructions are often easier to follow and more beginner friendly.
As this book does not contain any interpretation and the style of the images and text descriptions can be hard to follow for beginners, so it is advised to also get one of the I.33 interpretation books listed here.
As sabre is the youngest weapon system on this list, there are many surviving sabre sources available ranging from many military to civilian sabre sources for all kind of usages and regions. As there is such a wealth of material available depending on what exactly you want to learn, it’s not possible for me to provide good beginner sources as with the other weapons.
If you want to start with saber it’s a good idea to learn what kind of sabre you’d like to use and from which region and then ask the community which sources they would recommend for that specific combination.