Got Such Thing In Singapore Ah: Historical European Martial Arts
"Got Such Thing In Singapore Ah" is a series that explores cool hobbies and interest groups that you might not know exist in Singapore.
If you, like me, enjoy "heavy metal" and get a thrill from picturing a room with its walls plastered with row upon row of medieval weapons (think: swords, polearms, and shields), and swordsmen clashing their ancient weapons, then you're in for a treat.
It may sound like I'm describing a scene from "Game of Thrones" or "Lord of the Rings", but, actually, this is what happens at Bastion, a HEMA swordsmanship academy based in the nondescript Tailee Building near Marymount MRT.
HEMA, short for Historical European Martial Arts, refers to the combat arts of medieval Europe. This isn’t some made up stuff – HEMA practitioners follow real medieval guides called treatises that were used by actual knights to learn weapon combat hundreds of years ago.
Remember Din, the LARP enthusiast we spoke to previously? The founder of “Singapore LARP” also practices his swordsmanship at Bastion. He is one of more than 250 students who have passed through the academy’s hallowed halls since it opened in 2017.
Bastion founders Lucien Lee and Langley Qu discovered their love for HEMA while studying in Swansea, Wales. When the couple returned to Singapore in 2016, they found like-minded enthusiasts through Reddit and trialled HEMA courses at their void deck.
I speak to Langley for a sneak peek into the world of HEMA and she lets me in on how I can become like Aragorn or Geralt of Rivia.
I want to fulfill my secret dream of being a sword-wielding hero! How should I begin?
You should start off with our 12-week “basics and safety course”. We introduce HEMA and begin with simple footwork before learning how to attack and defend. You’ll be exposed to sparring from week 5 onwards. Our goal is to have you safely sparring with swords towards the end of the course. We have people of all sizes and ages. You don’t need to have a martial arts background or be in the best shape of your life to learn how to wield a sword.
Swee, is there a minimum age?
The minimum age for our classes is 14. However, we can admit younger students on a case-by-case basis. If the parents are keen, we encourage them to join in too! We have families who do this together - not just parents and kids, but also siblings and couples.
Since HEMA is essentially from Europe, are there different styles depending on the country of origin?
Bastion focuses on German historical fencing, but we do explore other European combat styles in workshops held throughout the year. At this academy, students learn four different systems that rotate every three months – a single-handed blade called the Messer, the Sword and Buckler, the two-handed Longsword, and the super long Polearm.
What is the best part about HEMA?
One of the reasons people stay is that not only have they found an activity they enjoy, they've also found people they can connect with. We see people making friends, and that, to me, is the reason to keep going. You come here for the structure and curriculum, but you stay here for the community. So that is how we built this "bastion", essentially
What are some of the challenges you faced setting up this academy?
The pandemic hit when we had one foot in our stride and we had to drastically reduce class sizes.
We originally wanted to invite more world-class celebrities in the HEMA world to Singapore to conduct workshops with us. That was a bit of a bummer - because HEMA has European roots; you would never expect Asians to be so passionate about it. Inviting these big names in the HEMA world was one way to showcase our passion and sincerity.
We want to plan big things for everyone to look forward to. Actually, we do hold a competition for our members at the end of each year.
Wah! How is the competition conducted?
We try to do everything we do as realistically as possible, which is why we don’t grade participants by scores. Every fighter starts with five lives. The winner is whoever ends the fight with the most lives when the time ends or if their opponent “dies”.
We have so many students now that we were able to hold a beginner’s tournament last year. These are for anybody with less than one year of experience. In fact, there were people who joined the competition immediately after completing their “basics and safety course”!
With so many beginners, what are some common misconceptions about HEMA?
There are people who come in with preconceived notions from watching fantasy TV shows, like “Why aren’t we using giant fighting shields” or “Why don’t we do Viking stuff?” Unfortunately, sometimes we have to burst their bubbles and bring them back to reality.
What we do is absolutely real. The books that we have are facsimiles of the actual treatises. These are museum-quality artifacts and exactly how the priceless originals look like. The techniques, skills, and terminologies - we’re not making any of this up. It’s truly a piece of history.
Wow, I’m sold! How much would it cost to learn HEMA?
The intro session costs $10. For the first few weeks, we offer a trial package consisting of three classes - one session is never enough for some people to get a good understanding of HEMA.
For those who are committed, we have several packages for their consideration. There is the Squire package that allows you to attend six classes a month, and the Knight membership that gives you 12 sessions a month (click here for more deets on the packages).
All weapons and protective gear are provided, so just come with loose clothes and a pair of closed-toe shoes.