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Recommended Books for HEMA Instructors

While HEMA Sources for Beginners deals with weapon specific books on source material, this page contains books to build knowledge in other areas that are relevant to instructors.

On an organisational level, most HEMA clubs want to attract enough newbies so they remain operable when someone leaves and have good student retention, so they will eventually get a core group of experienced fencers. It’s better to have a sound strategy in place than to rely on chance if your club aims to have some long term success. Also, most HEMA clubs aim to improve their understanding and skill of the martial art, the principles behind it and the context surrounding it.

Some books on this page can be directly applied to the first class you hold and every class thereafter, while others build up information and ideas over that you might not be able to use immediatly.

Do have have to read all of them -or really any of them- to be a great instructor? No, but if you’re struggling in certain areas they can make your life a lot easier.

Note: I’ve read all of these books myself and learned valueable lessons that I could apply as an HEMA instructor. So naturally, what I can recommend here is limited by my ability to read new books and colored by my personal taste.

Structuring classes

If you’re going to instruct classes there is a need for structure and a way of organising the material based on proper teaching models. Often, inexperienced instructors copy what they’ve been exposed to in other martial arts and try to adapt it. Eventhough this approach might work, understanding the principles behind teaching Martial Arts willl allow you to be more efficient in adapting your any given situation and your students.

Generating a positive atmosphere and a good learning environment will lead to higher satisfaction and student retention.


The Aliveness principle and the I-Method by Matt Thornton of SBG has been most fundamental in the way we structure our training. Unfortunately, Matt hasn't written a book on this topic yet, but has an extensive collection of blog articles on these topics. I've written the linked article as an introduction to the Aliveness concepts specifically for HEMAists, as Matt's examples include only Boxing, Wrestling and BJJ. I would advise reading my article first and then diving into his old Blog posts on topics such as How to drill with Aliveness.
The GHFS, who run the renowned Swordfish tournament and are arguably one of the biggest and most acomplished HEMA clubs worldwide, created a manual for their trainers on how to approach being an instructor. It contains their training rules, their way of looking at HEMA and how they teach and structure classes. It is rare to get such a deep inside look into a clubs inner workings without being a member, which is why this is an invalueable piece of information.
This book by Guy Windsors, who used to teach HEMA fulltime in his school in Helsinki, covers his approach to teaching classes in a safe, encouraging and productive manner. As noted in the recommended Blogs section, Guy wrote a lot about teaching and has interesting and thought provoking ideas that are worth exploring.
Do you believe that some people just have some natural ability to do something? That talent is what makes or breaks careers and sport achievements? Have you ever told a student that he/she has talent? This book is ought to explain why this isn't true and what we generally call "talent" is just training hard and being in the right spot at the right time. The thesis boils down to this: Nearly everyone can get really good at most things (as in world class!), given they put enough time and effort in it.


Coaching is the act of giving advice and encouragement in a form helpful to the athlete being coached. Understanding different personalities and approaches will allow you to better adapt your coaching style to specific students.

Some student might be satisfied with technical advice on how to do their thrusts, while others might find that distracting and need encouragement above all. If you only use one style of coaching in your club and you’re the only instructor, most likely only students receptive to this style will stay while others are unnecessarily driven away.

While this books contains many pages on olympic fencing itself, which I didn't find too useful, it also contains an overview over various character types and how to deal with them as a coach, which I could find very useful. Have you ever tried training an aggressive fighter to be more catious and failed to do so? After reading his chapters on the various characters you might be able to learn why this might be a futile idea.
The premise of this book is as simple as it is radical: You are responsible for everything that happens to you and to people that depend on you. It's never someone elses fault nor bad luck or some highter deity at work. If things don't go as planned, whatever the reason, it's on you. No more excuses and self pity. This change in perspective is especially helpful for an instructor. It can be easy to blame students for not doing an exercise properly and not doing it right, but it's always the instructors fault for not explaining it well enough and making his intentions clear enough.
Eventhough most of HEMA represents a duel situation where you fight alone, no one learns fencing alone by himself. There's always a great club behind every great HEMAist. Having the club act as one team and move in the same direction leads to very powerful results. This book explains how teams work, what the requirements are for them to form and perform and what makes them tick. If you ever wondered why your club seems to pull in 5 directions at once, this is the book for you.
Many HEMA instructors (me included) mostly teach what this book calls the outer game: We give technical corrections ("Move your hand this way") and tactical advice ("When he does X you do Y"). This book explains what the inner game is, why it is important and how it can be coached. Eventhough the examples are built around tennis, this book is recommended by many world class martial art instructors and universal in its approach. You will be able to understand understand it without much tennis knowledge.

Historical Context

When interpreting HEMA sources there are many assumptions we have to make: Are these techniques meant for a lethal duel to the death with sharps or for showing of during a competition? Are these techniques to be used in a duel, on a battlefield or for self defense? Why did people back then train martial art, was it for sport or self defense?

Some source state outright their context what they’re supposedly used for, but it’s often unclear how reliable these claims are. If interpretations are based on the assumption of lethal force, results will be quite different than if a sportive context is assumed.

The books in this section deal with the historical and modern context of violence and it’s relation to martial arts and self defense.


How medieval Germany handled weapon ownership and the resulting violence is a central question for anyone training German longsword, one of the most popular weapon systems in HEMA. As this is an academic book it comes for a rather hefty price, but contains a wealth of relevant knowledge and interesting stories.
Swordfighting stories of brits from various battles between the 17th and 20th century against many different enemies with all kinds of weapons. What's not to like about that?
Unlike some stories would make one believe, humans are rather reluctant to kill each other even during armed conflicts. Militaries world wide on the other hand have an interest in making their soldiers kill enemies. This book sheds some light on how they get soldiers to kill and what the costs of learning to kill include.
An age old discussion in the martial art scene is "sport" vs "the street", as in agreed upon violence with rules vs all out battles for your own safety or maybe even life. This book explores differences between martial arts and real world violence and how they compare and differ.

Running a club

There are many books available for commercial martial art schools on how to earn a living by budgeting effectively, advertising to attract new students and motivating existing students to keep them around.

Even if you run a non-profit club, attracting and keeping enough students to keep the doors open is a must have and many things like efficient advertising can be learned from commercial schools.


When I spoke to other instructors and their students and visited other clubs, I found some commonalities between the good ones that I compiled into a list. It's supposed to work as a helpful little reminder on what to look out for when building and running a club.


As an instructor you have to keep an eye out on how your students move trough exercises and techniques. Do they keep good form that prevents injuries in the short and in the long run? Do you know what good form looks like so you can spot it?

As an athlete do you know how to keep your body safe and healthy by moving with good form, eating smart and sleeping well? The books in these section adress different aspects of the various questions you might face.

Exercise, nutrition and sleep are also three major factors that contribute to how we feel and how healthy we age. The best thing is, they are often under our full control.

If you do any sport for any length of time combined with a high intensity of training, sooner or later you will get minor and sometimes major health issues. Not only might you injure yourself, but also a knee might be aching, your back might start to hurt or you might feel constantly sore in different places. While you can and often should see a medical professional about any health issues, this book offers a system of moving healthy and maintaining your body even in though training conditions. The author is a physiotherapist and shares his knowledge about how the human body works and what exercises you can try to get rid of your aches.
Sleep is important for athletic performance, a healthy live and a healthy mind. So far this is a no brainer, but how important sleep really is for everything from our mind to our motor control and how to get better sleep is explained in this nicely written book. If you tend to sacrifice sleep for other commodities in life, Sleep Thieves might make you rethink these decisions. Or as MMAs Firas Zahabi puts it "There's no such thing as overtraining, just undereating and under resting."
What I would like to include here as well is a good book on nutrition, which of course makes a big difference, but there are just so many different approaches out there that completely contradict each that try to out-argue each other.
Do you go full Paleo, low-carb, mediterranean, Gracie or Gladiator diet or start clean eating? Is a vegetarian diet preferable to a meat based diet? What supplements do you take out of the hundreds available? Each diet has their incredible success stories and their crushing critiques.
One thing most diets have in common is that you eat mostly/only stuff that you prepared yourself with fresh fruits and vegetables, so you know what's in it and you stay away from fast food and refined sugar as in soft drinks.