South Africa

Local sword club wants to provide a space to hone fighting spirit

A local Historical European Martial Arts (Hema) club is leaving its mark as it grows from strength to strength allowing those interested in swords and swordsmanship to practice their passion.

Esprit de Combat has been operating formally since about 2017, but it was in the last three years that it really took off.

“When I started the club, we only had a few people and it was very casual,” said Centurion resident and principal instructor, Emilio Singh.

“But then as things grew, we started to formalise everything such as our equipment and training.

Initially it was just two of us and we would meet to discuss techniques and stuff like that while we were learning about it. Then we started telling some of our friends, who became really interested.”

From within his social circles, Singh quickly realised that many were interested but had no chances to give Hema a try.

“As time went on, we built a YouTube channel, got our website running, and then two or three years I went through the paperwork to get our organisation registered with Hema Alliance, an international organisation.”

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En garde! Members engaging in a sword fight. Photo: Facebook

The club operates exclusively as a non-profit and does not take membership fees, but rather raises funds when it needs to support its activities.

“At the moment we are trying to start a Joburg branch because there are many that want to do this but it is too far for them to come. We are also trying to start another training day on Saturdays to accommodate the amount of people that would like to train.”

Last year the club hosted the first countrywide Hema tournament, and is planning another for early 2024.

It will also be hosting a tournament on November 25 from 08:30 for the title of club champion.

“It started off as a joke about who gets to be the club champion to carry our battle standard. Somebody suggested that we fight for it, so we organised a small tournament for the title.”

Singh said that the learning was supposed to be very accessible and is designed to be inclusive.

“One thing I wanted to avoid is the culture of machismo. We try to make a better and more accessible space that isn’t daunting for those that want to learn Hema.

Esprit de Combat is French for “fighting spirit” because we wanted this to be about the spirit of Hema, not necessarily the letter of Hema, which is why we have this open approach. If someone wants to learn something, we can get into it.”

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Emilio Singh and Declan de Bruyn. Photo: Facebook

Most recently the club completed a six-week course on the use of the quarterstaff, specifically from the 18th century.

Singh said that some clubs can be specific about the styles and time periods they are interested in, but that he wanted to create an open space that would be inclusive of what members would like to learn.

It holds a two-hour session on Sundays.

“When somebody joins, there is a mandatory training period, that has to do with safety. This will be two to four week training on the safety rules, which is something we take very seriously in Hema, but especially in our club.

After that, we have a ranking system.”

Singh said when a member joins, they become an initiate, and will complete basic training on how to use a sword, then take a squire test.

“If you pass, you become a squire, where you will be able to learn more in the club. Then after that there is the knight test.”

Knights are the highest level of ranking in the club, and are also responsible for helping to run the club.

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