The Art of Swordsmanship

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Historical European Martial Arts

Welcome to an ongoing project to develop and publicize a martial art with an ideology of studying its historical origins, with respect to the traditional ways, while focusing on effectiveness in both modern and historical context.

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Making it Count

The thing that really keeps me interested in the study of swordsmanship is how it guides me to new places and new adventures in life. It’s unpredictable nature: I keep looking for order but in the end it is chaos where I find myself in. Without the ability to adapt, flow and decide in an instant it yields no results. I enjoy the training and the ferocity of intense exchanges of cut and thrust, but what matters most are where the practice of this art takes me, and the emerging feeling of having discovered a form of expressing myself to the fullest.

During the past year or so I have struggled with finding a way of sharing this art, looking for means of spreading it and giving it a life of its own, independent from my direct involvement. Sure, Bolognese tradition is practiced world over (often with great commitment and extremely high standards), but I have realized it would be a mistake to expect everyone interested in this style to find their own way — especially right from the start. The students need a system, and there is no reason some or many wouldn’t wish to pick mine (as long as it is Bolognese, I am happy). But not only spreading the Bolognese tradition, I now know that what I want is to see my work of the past eight years grow and become self-sustainable. I want to see it from the outside just like I can from the inside, and for this I need other people to acquire the method and pass them on. This is the greatest challenge I have faced so far.

I have held workshops on Bolognese swordplay in various Finnish towns and almost ten countries on three continents, but so far few have picked up this particular method. The participants have generally enjoyed the workshops and the potential people have been there (they always are). But what has lacked is a clear structure giving something to lean against and build upon if someone had started a new group. I have never taught the same workshop twice, nor even the regular lesson (event though I teach an average of 4 lessons a week). Given this goal it makes no sense, and I think it is now proven that I can teach unique workshops from the same core almost infinitely. Now, let’s see if I can teach the core itself.

Working on imbroccata thrust with Davide Lupidi, from last year's training trip to Italy. Photo by Simone Mattielli.

Working on imbroccata thrust with Davide Lupidi, from last year’s training trip to Italy. Photo by Simone Mattielli.

To reach these goals I have devised a training method and curriculum for the style that is quickly picked up while still offering material for a multitude of class plans. Together with my friend and partner in crime Davide Lupidi from 2Edges Fighting Arts we have tested and refined the method, and it is already in use both here in Helsinki and in Brazil, where Davide is teaching a series of workshops based on the material.

Here in Helsinki my group of assistant instructors are constantly trained in the method, playing a role in testing it locally and offering feedback. We are also looking to offering the method through other historical fencing groups in Finland, and eventually organize training in other countries than Finland and Brazil as well.

Since many ask for it, may this also be an announcement that I am compiling the material into a book, but will not give any promises of release dates yet.

Finally, please let me apologize for the delays in posting new videos from the Anonimo Bolognese — the work on the generic curriculum (and running the regular training and taking care of other commitments in life) have prevented me from focusing on it for some time, but hopefully I will be able to add more into the collection soon.

I hope you enjoy the title video I shot to give an idea of the aesthetic qualities I see in the Bolognese style. The amount of attention the video has generated on Facebook has been heart-warming.

What is “HEMA”?

I’m starting to grow tired with the term “HEMA”. It has always had a kind of silly sound to it, and it never has accurately defined or described what I do.

This of course simply means that I don’t really see how the term fits in with my study/teaching/learning of martial arts. First and foremost, HEMA refers to certain kind of longsword fighting, and in growing quantities to the modern competitive longsword fencing we will eventually have in a more regulated form. I would be surprised if it would become known by any other term.

I kind of realized this while visiting some international events earlier this year. While I do enjoy all sorts of aspects of “HEMA” I don’t want to train with longsword. I don’t want to train with rapier. I don’t want to practice rondel dagger defenses or ringen. At least not more than I want to study traditional Italian knife fighting, Filipino stick fighting or some other forms of martial arts. I don’t have the time to do all of this anyway, but the weight that comes with the term “HEMA” is not really beneficial.

Talking to people I noticed that I was actively seeking people who would specifically have interest in sidesword. Not rapier, since it is vastly different and not really “compatible” for useful all-round sparring and comparing techniques and ideas. Exactly in the same way I don’t like it when people expect me to be willing to fence with them with longsword or rapier I do not wish to impose the same expectation to others. Sometimes it can be ok, trying out new and different things, but when it is not the thing you focus on the purpose of the exercise becomes different: instead of seeing how well your previous training holds up and whether you are heading in the right direction you have to focus on adapting it to another weapon — which can be annoying if it is not what you are looking for at the time.

These experiences led me to realize that to help me in my path right now the answers may not be simply within the “HEMA” community, but in looking out there with a wider view. There are plenty of other experienced fighters and martial artists from various single handed weapon styles, whose skills can augment my understanding of the sidesword. It is even possible that the average eskrimador is more interested in learning the sidesword than is the average longsword fighter.

So, in light of all this, what I do — Bolognese swordsmanship, or Italian sidesword or whatever one wishes to call it, is part of HEMA of course. But HEMA is not what I do. And while it is great to be a part of this ever growing community of loosely connected swordfighters, it is also becoming a reality that the smaller communities born within this big cloud are becoming big enough to sustain themselves without the need for us all to be claiming that we do “the same thing”.

And it is great to see this development in many new events that are targeted for more specific groups: there are now events specifically for rapier, mounted combat and other styles. This coming autumn also in Bolognese swordsmanship in Bologna.

So, what does someone do who practices HEMA? It’s probably going to need a bit of elaboration, as someone doing HEMA can be (for example) doing just research, be a tournament fighter with little knowledge of the sources or be just someone who started yesterday by swinging a plastic sword around at their backyard. For me, I just practice fencing with the sidesword (regardless of the not so graceful origins of the word), or if I need to be more specific, the martial arts of Renaissance Italy, as described by Bolognese fencing masters of the 16th century.

[Note: the cover photo is from the Dijon event this year, where I got to fence with some great sidesword fencers of the Bolognese style. In the photo I’m facing Catherine Loiseau with sword and dagger. Photo credit belongs to Aurélien Calonne.]

A weekend of sword and dagger

Two weeks ago we had the pleasure of hosting Luca Dazi and his assistants Devis Carli and Eleonora Manoni from Sala d’Armi Achille Marozzo for a weekend seminar on sword and dagger. First day focused on the systems of Giacomo di Grassi and Antonio Manciolino, while Sunday was dedicated to Achille Marozzo himself.

In Search of Certainty

We have the masters’ words written down, we can read them and often they are clear enough that we can physically re-create them. We can re-create them in the sense that every word written effects our position, every cut mentioned is executed and each defense is purposefully made. Still, we are often left wondering and questioning ourselves: are we really doing it right?

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We have started the process of creating a comprehensive Bolognese fencing glossary at The terms that have an entry are underlined in pages and posts, and by taking the pointer over them you will see the definition of the term in a flyout. Eventually we will open access to a searchable glossary as well.

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