By C. Aileen Blaine
Those looking for a unique hobby can take lessons in swordsmanship. Youngstown Historical Fencing offers an alternative activity to keep fitness levels in check. The sword fighting study group offers an opportunity to fight with swords through lessons tailored to fit various skill levels.
Five years ago, Adam Severa became interested in historical European martial arts, or HEMA. Though he’d been involved in Olympic-style fencing while in college, a video about Medieval-era sword fighting inspired him to find an outlet for the interest. Though the nearest training facilities were in Pittsburgh, he traveled and trained for four years to master his skills.
“I was hooked after my very first class,” Severa said. “I love the community, I love the weapons, I love the history aspect of it.”
When one of his instructors suggested he start a HEMA club closer to home, Severa was initially hesitant, but decided to start a study group. He posted flyers around the Youngstown area and made announcements on Facebook to spread awareness. The first session was held in May 2019, at a pavilion in Mill Creek Metroparks.
“It’s just me in a park — very informal. If other people want to come in and swing a sword at me, I’m all right with it,” he said.
The study group held sessions at pavilions, tennis courts and indoor basketball courts. Now, sessions are held at the Apex Strength and Training on Mahoning Avenue. Participants are encouraged to bring their own equipment, but there are spare swords for novices to use.
Once a month, Youngstown Historical Fencing offers an introductory series teaching the common fencing of the 13th and 14th centuries. From there, the levels of difficulty increase. Sessions are $10 and can be found on the group’s Meetup site.
“We’ve got 15 or 20 regulars now, which are absolutely phenomenal people, some of the best people I’ve trained with,” Severa said. “They have a real love for what we do.”
Severa said HEMA is an excellent form of exercise. The steel swords weigh 4 pounds and are held with two hands. Combined with 40 pounds of protective equipment and fast-paced sparring, sword fighting makes for a cardio-intensive exercise.
“We train directly from 600-year-old combat manuals. There’s no middle man. This is not an art form passed down from century to century like most modern martial arts,” Severa said.
In the past, the study group has sparred with other members of historical fencing clubs from across Ohio, participating in events in Columbus, Cleveland and Pittsburgh. However, the pandemic brought this to a halt.
During the March lockdown, Youngstown Historical Fencing didn’t meet. Instead, members kept in contact through online chats and virtual happy hours until gyms and exercise facilities were allowed to open again.
When it comes to COVID-19 safety, the study group works to keep equipment sanitized. Participants are spaced apart and wear masks, and there are no one-on-one sparring matches.
“It’s very easy to stay 6-foot apart from somebody when you have a sword in your hand. We have a very historical way to enforce social distancing,” Severa said. “A plague is not something that is unknown to martial arts practitioners in the Middle Ages.”
For those interested in learning more or attending a session, information is available at youngstownhf.com