Historical European Martial Arts
"HEMA" stands for Historical European Martial Arts. Specifically, HEMA commonly refers to the study and revival of methods of combat which have long since stopped being commonly practised.
This revival is fuelled mainly by the study and interpretation of historical texts, known as either "treatises" or "manuals". These texts frequently have to be translated from archaic to modern day languages. As our translations improve and more source material is found, we are able to expand our understanding of the combat systems we study and inch closer to what might be a "true" revival, though that day is still far in the future.
There is much debate over what is or isn't HEMA but, to keep it simple, we'll use the name as a guide;
HISTORICAL - "Is what I am studying backed by historical evidence?" If there is no historical evidence for something, then it can not convincingly be called HEMA. There are many forms of evidence but the most widely accepted are books (or "treatises") written by historical figures on the subject of combat. As for what is considered 'historical', opinions vary, but sources are typically drawn from the period of c.1300-1945. In the OSS, we base our studies around the translation of a work from 1570 titled "The Art of Combat" by Joachim Meyer.
EUROPEAN - "Does what I study originate from Europe?" This one can be made to be simple or shady. Given that borders have fluctuated throughout history it is not possible to pin down a definite geographical area to use. To make things simple, the Europe of today can be used. Research material studied by the HEMA community today includes sources from Italy, Germany, Spain, Portugal and the United Kingdom (to name but a few).
MARTIAL ARTS - "Is what I am studying an effective way to fight?" If the system you are looking at holds no weight when put in a combat situation, it can not be termed a Martial Art. HEMA focuses on ways to incapacitate (and frequently kill) an opponent so a method must be able to function in this capacity before it can be considered HEMA.