Svenska HEMA-Förbundet defines HEMA as follows:
HEMA stands for Historical European Martial Arts or historical fencing for short.
The word ”historical” means any martial art originating before 1950. The martial art must have a living tradition or preserved source material. Today we have access to hundreds of different manuals written by different fencing masters. They describe combat with a variety of weapons both on foot and on horseback, as well as unarmed combat, both with and without armor. These manuals cover a period of about 650 years, from 1300 – 1950.
HEMA training includes a variety of elements, including technique training with a wooden, nylon or metal weapon simulator, full-contact sparring with a steel simulator and protection, and test slashing with sharp weapons.
Today, no one possesses any complete and full knowledge of the entire martial art. The interpretation of techniques is an ongoing process. HEMA is not picking up a weapon and then figuring out how to fight with it. On the contrary, the various fighting systems, their principles and techniques are well defined in the world-unique source material and it is studies of sources that lay the foundation for HEMA.