Questions and Answers

We find that certain questions come up quite frequently. This list attempts to answer some of them ahead of time.

I want to know more or join the club…?

If you would like to join us, please email us for more information:

Is there much of this European swordsmanship stuff going on?

Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) continues to gain in popularity, though the historical fencing scene is nowhere like as big as the oriental martial arts or sport-fencing community. We are part of the British Federation for Historical Swordplay, one of the largest HEMA organisations, and have ties with several other groups.

There are opportunities to visit other classes or have visiting instructors come to us, and there are events throughout the year such as the Autumn Exchange and Smallsword Symposium. These are typically a mix of tournaments and seminars with the top instructors in the field.

I have a sword. Can I bring it to the class?

We do not allow any sharp weapons in the training area as a safety precaution. Many blunt weapons are also unsuitable for fencing, and of course some weapons fall outside our remit. Talk to our instructors before trying to use any weapon in the class.

I have a disability or health issue. Is that a problem?

We’re willing to accommodate almost anyone, though there are a few conditions that would require expert medical advice before we could proceed. If you have a disability that makes it physically impossible to perform some aspects of our activities, then we can adapt or work on what you can do. The only hard and fast rule is that since what we do is a combat sport, if there are hazards that will impose unacceptable risks then we have to err on the side of safety.

I believe that the Katana is the ultimate sword

That’s nice. We don’t agree but you’re entitled to your opinion.

I have fencing kit. Can I use that?

Sport-fencing jackets, masks, gloves, breeches etc. are ideal – in fact they form part of our standard equipment. You will need a glove for each hand and some impact protection, but we have gloves and plastrons for club use. A sport-fencing sabre is a reasonable substitute for a dueling sabre, but is too light to represent a military sabre. Foils and epees with French handles are acceptable as smallsword substitutes (foil sized guards are more historically accurate) but pistol grips cannot be used.

I have sport-fencing experience. Is that good?

Almost certainly yes. Many of our current members have experience as sport-fencers or coaches. Most sport-fencing clubs teach classical foil technique first and add competition-specific skills later. The latter have no place in historical fencing, but the underlying classical technique is an excellent grounding for learning historical swordplay.

Indeed, the author of the sabre system we teach advocated (in 1889) that all sabreurs should have several months of foil instruction before taking up the military sabre. Sport-fencing gives an excellent understanding of principles such as timing, distance, lines of attack and the importance of footwork, though there is a need for a shift in mindset when moving from sport to historical or back the other way, There really is no reason why a fencer cannot do both to a high standard.

You keep using that term ‘sport-fencing’…?

There are significant differences between historical fencing and the modern Olympic sport of fencing, so we use the terms ‘sport’ and ‘historical’ to show which we are referring to. The distinction is to some extent artificial – Smallsword fencing is as different from medieval longsword play as it is from Olympic style foil fencing, but both fall within the Historical remit. Since Olympic (or ‘sport’) fencing is governed by a completely different organization with its own rules and an electronic scoring method that creates a very specific style of swordsmanship, the distinction is sometimes relevant. In truth though it’s all fencing of one sort or another, just with local variations.

As a wise man once said: ‘The pointy end goes in the other chap. All else is details.’

Are those swords sharp?

We really should not have to answer that one. But no, they’re not. We do not allow sharps in the training area.

Can you accommodate under-18s?

Sadly, no. There are various reasons for this, but what they add up to is that we are an adults-only group.

Can I learn to do stuff like in Assassin’s Creed or World of Warcraft?

Probably not. We teach historically authentic swordplay that works in a real fight. Most of what you see in video games is designed to look cool but is… questionable… in terms of really working.

I want to learn stage fighting. Do you do that?

Some of what we do is applicable to stage fighting or acting, and we do get the odd seminar at events. However, if you want to learn stage combat then you need to be taught by a specialist instructor. It’s significantly different to what we do.

Why do you study European swordsmanship when the katana is clearly a better weapon?

Please go away.

What should I not do?

We’re pretty tolerant, especially when people are polite and considerate. There are a few things that will cause friction however. Endlessly telling us that the katana is superior to our swords and that Japanese swordsmanship was far better than European systems is one. Also trying to use a pistol grip foil, arguing about the validity of hits based on sport-fencing rules, and teaching or ‘showing people stuff’ without the agreement of the instructors.

What is completely forbidden?

Live blades of any kind. Racism, sexism and similar prejudice or hate. Pushing a political or social agenda. Katanas. Disregard for safety and abuse of instructors or students.

If only there was a good and well-written guide to historical swordsmanship I could buy….

By incredible coincidence, one of our instructors has published exactly that! It’s called Cut & Thrust; European Swords and Swordsmanship by Martin J Dougherty, ISBN 978 1 4456 3966 6.

What does the class cost and what do I get for that?

The first month is free after which the chapter fee is £20 a month. We cannot accommodate paying per session as it creates an administrative nightmare. For the fee you get your insurance and membership of the BFHS, voting rights in the club and four sessions most months (we do take a break for Christmas and New Year) plus an additional Saturday afternoon session most months where we either have a guest instructor or arrange some special event. You also get access to the club’s stock of equipment and to the expertise of our instructors.
Which translates as: you get handed a sword, taught how to use it and given the chance to fight against other people who also like playing with swords.

You also get to come to the pub with us, but you have to buy your own beer.

Why would anyone want to do this?

Because swords.

If that last point makes sense to you, then you’d probably enjoy SSS Durham.

For more information, email

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