The British Federation for Historical Swordplay

Category Archive: News

COVID-19 Update

The officers of the BFHS are not medical professionals or scientists. We can only offer common-sense advice informed by the government’s official policies and analysis of the situation. The top scientists in the field have struggled to come up with a solution to the situation; it would be arrogant and foolish to imagine a group of fencing instructors can do better.

Thus our advice regarding resumption of HEMA activities in the present situation is: Do Not.

For the vast majority of us, historical martial arts are a leisure or recreational activity. The situation is somewhat different for those who derive an income from instructing but still the general principle applies: government advice is to avoid unnecessary contact with other people and for all we may be very keen to get back to fencing it is simply not a necessary activity.

At some point, ‘lockdown’ measures will begin to ease and non-essential businesses, leisure activities and the like will be given clearance to re-open. We urge our members to follow government guidance with a clear understanding that an activity like ours does not equate to everyday activities such as shopping for non-essential items. The BFHS feels that re-opening our classes should proceed ‘behind the curve’ as it were. Let us err on the side of caution – after all, the consequences of irresponsibility include lost lives.

However, at some point we must resume our activities – or abandon them forever. The question of when to do this is a difficult one – and if the officials of the BFHS had simple answers to the COVID-19 situation we would be advising the country on these matters! The best advice we can give is to watch what bodies engaged in similar activities are doing and proceed cautiously with regard to the specifics of our own equipment and practices.

It would seem reasonable that once gyms are open and sports involving occasional physical contact – such as basketball – are considered acceptable then it will be reasonable to return to the more distanced HEMA-related activities such as drilling and freeplaying with weaponsand with no close contact. It would be wise to follow the lead of British Fencing in this regard; their activities are similar enough to be relevant and as a national governing body they have access to advice directly from the government.

Exactly when it will be safe to return to activities involving a great deal of close contact such as grappling and wrestling is a more difficult question. Again, a useful guide might be national bodies involved in similar activities such as Judo. However, our activities are by definition not exactly the same as those of other bodies and thus require some additional considerations.


Swordplay and weapons-related activities are, on the face of it, more ‘socially distanced’ than unarmed and grappling techniques. In theory, fencers maintaining good measure will remain far enough apart to comply with social distancing rules. However, it is difficult to ensure this remains the case in freeplay even when grappling is not a routine part of freeplay. Instructors are advised to remain mindful of this when re-implementing activities – we must consider what may happen or is likely to happen as well as what we desire to happen.

The safest class activities to implement are obviously solo drills such as footwork or blade-and-footwork drills. Paired out-of-distance drills also give a high probability that social distancing can be maintained. Careful in-measure drills with weapons are next, then well-controlled freeplay with weapons. Any activity where close contact is likely such as grappling or armed freeplay where grappling is possible bears the greatest risk. It must also be borne in mind that the participants may be sweating, breathing heavily, and may forget the rules in the heat of the moment.

The best advice the BFHS can give is that instructors should implement activities slowly and carefully, with due regard to class control and ensuring rules are followed. There will be a natural tendency to want to get stuck in straight away – which must be curbed. It is not possible to say when normal activities can be safely resumed, and in likelihood the COVID-19 risk must be managed in the long term like any other.


A fencing mask tends to trap droplets, which are the greatest risk of COVID-19 transmission. It could be argued that fencing at proper distance in a mask is thus safer than, say, playing football. However, there is no useful scientific data on the subject, and at present it is not known for how long a sweaty fencing mask or glove remains a biohazard!

Face masks are becoming available for use under a fencing mask, and it may be tempting to believe this solves the problem. We simply do not know how much use such a measure is in preventing transmission during HEMA-related activities, and of course masks of this sort may cause secondary problems such as fogging of glasses or reduced oxygen intake. A mask may be useful in reducing the amount of sweat transferred to the inside of the mask – in much the same manner as the handkerchief over the lower face that was not uncommon in some fencing clubs in the 1980s – but the overall benefits of face coverings in HEMA are unknown. They may or may not be useful, but they certainly must not be viewed as a total solution.

One conisation that may not be immediately apparent is contact transmission outside of drilling and freeplay. Fencers may carefully maintain distancing then put damp kit down where someone else can come into contact with it, or mix kit. Physical activity of any sort inevitably leads to touching the face – wiping away sweat without thinking about it, for example – which can create an avenue for transmission that may not readily be apparent. The use of ‘club kit’ is especially problematic in this regard.

It is therefore to be recommended that all kit be cleaned or disinfected on a regular basis, and that masks and other potentially contaminated items be kept separate from the property of other club members. This is not really a COVID-specific recommendation; members should keep their own kit clean out of regard for others, and club kit needs to be kept in good condition. Care should be taken that products intended to clean kit do not damage it or leave a residue that can be harmful to users.


The UK government is using a 5-point scale to indicate the threat level. Level 2 is to be implemented when there are few cases and the pandemic is thought to be under good control. Level 1 indicates that the disease is not present in the UK. We could perhaps wait for level 1, but at some point we do have to return to a more normal lifestyle. Our advice is not to consider re-opening our classes until the threat level drops to 2 or lower, and even then to remain aware of the continued threat. As stated above, the behaviour of major governing bodies can be used as a guideline but each instructor must consider their own circumstances and those prevailing in their region of the country.

BFHS IL2 Assessment May 2019

il2 instructors and assessor

BFHS IL2 Assessment May 2019

It was a day long in coming, but on May 25th 2019 the first BFHS IL2 assessment took place. The event was hosted by SSS (Durham), who provided lunch and snacks in the usual manner. Those who have attended a SSS (Durham) event know what that means…!

The IL2 programme has a threefold purpose:

Accreditation: The IL2 and higher qualifications are aimed at experienced instructors who have had time to develop their skills as both fencers and teachers of fencing. Whilst it is possible to carefully concoct a lesson designed to meet the criteria of IL1, a candidate for IL2 must personify those criteria. In short, an IL2 candidate should be capable of passing an IL1 assessment without preparation. They must also demonstrate a deep knowledge of their chosen system, good biomechanics and technique, and sound coaching skills. The BFHS does not award IL2 and higher qualifications on a ‘time served’ basis. It is the experience gained and put into use that matters, not the elapsed time since the last assessment. Needless to say, given the individuals involved in this assessment, the standard in all areas was extremely high which established a benchmark for future candidates.

Assurance: The IL2 course includes a significant taught component, and a 23,000-word coaching manual unique to the BFHS. Candidates are expected to be familiar with the course material ahead of time, working through the taught material with the assessor/trainer during the first part of the course. This process ensures that all BFHS IL2 instructors are familiar with their duties and obligations, documentation requirements, policies on disability and inclusivity, and so forth. In addition, the course material contains a significant amount of instructional theory regarding the teaching process and the choice of class activities.

Sharing of Experience: The IL2 is not merely a ‘taught’ module. Candidates are required to demonstrate their understanding of the concepts contained within it and their own interpretation of the teaching methods described. This is more than an assessment process; it allows experience and ideas to be shared among advanced coaches within the BFHS.

Overall, the intention of the IL2 programme is to create a guarantee that an instructor has a full toolkit of teaching and drilling methods, an understanding of coaching theory, and a knowledge of the legal and more general requirements to be an instructor of historical martial arts. In addition, it is an opportunity to raise the overall coaching standard of the BFHS by sharing experience.

The IL2 Programme

The IL2 programme was created by Chief Assessor Martin J Dougherty, building upon 30 years’ experience as a fencing coach, martial arts instructor and educator. It is based on a programme developed around 2009-10 for a different martial arts body, which was partially implemented before political changes in the organisation derailed the project. Significant revisions were made to tailor the material to historical martial arts whilst retaining the common core found in all forms of instruction. A trial in 2016 showed the programme to be satisfactory and after various delays it was implemented on May 25th 2019. The BFHS IL2 is therefore both new and mature. It is open to experienced BFHS instructors, who must:

  • Hold IL1.
  • Have gained a significant amount of instructional experience.
  • Have developed a thorough understanding of at least one historical martial arts system.
  • Train and teach regularly.
  • Meet the BFHS standards for conduct, professionalism and integrity.
  • Have a sponsor (IL2 holder or Regional Assessor) who is willing to vouch for their capabilities.

‘A significant amount of instructional experience’ is difficult to quantify, and it is not desirable to place a specific value upon it. An IL1 holder who has taught 2-4 hours a week for a year is a more suitable candidate than one who has trained on and off for 5 years after taking IL1, or someone who has qualified at IL1 but gained no teaching experience since. The only relevant test is whether a candidate has gained enough experience – and reflected upon it usefully – to be able to teach at a high level.

May 25th

Six candidates presented themselves on May 25th. Chris Barker, Mark Thomson and Nate Zettle represented SSS (Durham) with John Hodgson from Tudor Rose School of Defence, Mark Hillyard from Academie Glorianna and Kim Young from Aberdeen Swordsmanship Group. The years of experience accrued by this group of candidates are somewhat frightening to consider.

Including the course assessor/trainer, the instructors present represented a cross-section of the activities of the BFHS. Experts in longsword, sidesword, rapier, military sabre, backsword, smallsword and cutlass all demonstrated the application of the course principles to their chosen weapon or system. This resulted in some very different takes on the same principle – a variable response drill, for example, can be performed static or in a formal one-step manner, or whilst circling in a fluid manner in the style of Silver’s backsword.

The same comments apply to all other forms of drill and their applications, and it was here that the value of the course truly became apparent. Different instructors, thinking in patterns guided by their own ‘home’ weapon and system, demonstrated different ways of using the same concept. Some of these were enthusiastically seized by other candidates and particularly the assessor. By only accepting the most experienced candidates for IL2, the BFHS has ensured that the programme increases in value each time it is run – candidates give as well as take.

The day overall ran smoothly, with plenty of biscuits and coffee. The expected timings were met, allowing time for a discussion where needed and a sharing of experiences during the taught segment. After a break for lunch the practical component began, which also ran to time. That is not to say any of this was easy for the candidates. There are a few little surprises concealed within the practical segment, forcing instructors to think on their feet and come up with a drill or means of teaching a concept based on their coaching experience and knowledge of their home system. A good instructor should be able to do this and, as it turns out, all the May 25th candidates can. There was at least one little surprise for the assessor, too….

A few moments stood out throughout the day. The bemusement of a chap who’d come to cut the grass upon walking into a room full of people with swords was one. The assessor being told ‘we do something similar but your way is better’ was a personal highlight, as might be imagined. John Hodgson of Tudor Rose School of Defence reaching the end of the day alive might, on another occasion, not have elicited comment but given present circumstances his diligence on even being at the event at all is worthy of comment.

It was a delight to see such skilful fencers and instructors in action. The lethal fluidity of motion and the precise economy of effort, combined with eloquence and depth of knowledge, demonstrated that the BFHS has some of the best historical fencing instructors within its ranks… yet these people are not above shouting ‘eat my rapier!’ when it seems appropriate. There may have been giggles at that.

And finally, we must comment on the sheer chutzpah of asking the assessor to be a demonstration partner. It was the right choice, given the skill sets available, but all the same the sheer cheek of it was… in truth it was entirely in character for our organisation and our coaching programme. Nobody is so good they do not make mistakes, and those of us who presume to tell others how to do it must be prepared to demonstrate our own skills.

But no. It’s not a precedent.

May 25th was a landmark in the history of the BFHS. The coaching programme is at the heart of our activities, and it is something no other historical martial arts organisation in this country comes close to. The success of this first assessment day has opened the door for further IL2 assessments, which in turn permits IL3 to be implemented. At the present time, the IL3 manual is complete and the course format is set. All we need is to accredit enough IL2 instructors to make an IL3 assessment viable. That process is in hand; we are currently discussing a location and date for the next IL2 course.

BFHS Position Regarding Scottish HEMA Controversy

The bellow is a message from the President of the BFHS, Martin Dougherty:

BFHS Position Regarding Scottish HEMA Controversy 

This matter was brought to my attention some time ago by some of our Scottish members, who were concerned about claims of BFHS involvement in an initiative led by one Gordon Love.

Mr Love seems to be campaigning for the recognition of HEMA as a sporting activity, and for the creation of a governing body to oversee it. The BFHS has no official position on this matter, but we are concerned at the way Mr Love is going about it and the claims he is making. Notably, he seems to be claiming to have the support of the majority of Scottish HEMA groups. Some of those groups have expressed surprise at hearing they are supporting this initiative, which does raise questions about Mr Love’s statements.

What follows is to the best of my knowledge a true and accurate account of the matter to date.

The Initiative

Mr Love is ostensibly trying to achieve recognition of HEMA as a sporting activity by the relevant authorities. On the face of it this endeavour is not without merit. However, recognition requires a governing body, and the emergence of such a body would be of great concern to our members. Mr Love has already made reference to an AGM of the ‘governing body’ – it is clear that whilst he is taking the line that recognition is good for everyone and those who oppose it are some kind of bad guys, the fact is that he means to take control of Scottish HEMA.

The document sent to myself and my predecessor outlining Mr Love’s initiative could best be described as a sales pitch rather than a framework for a successful recognition campaign. It essentially presented the idea that creating a governing body would result in various benefits, notably funding. This does not necessarily follow, but in any case the document contained nothing resembling a workable plan for making any of it happen. It was, to my reading, a pipe-dream at best and possibly a pitch to garner support for Mr Love’s attempt to gain control of Scottish HEMA. It did include the warning that ‘there can be only one’ and ‘it’s govern or be governed’. According to the emails sent to my predecessor this section was removed from the versions sent to some recipients.

My predecessor offered no comment on this document and could not do so until a formal proposal had been put to the BFHS membership. He asked to be kept up to date for information purposes.

This response was, in my opinion, quite correct. From the generally unprofessional appearance of the document and its (lack of) contents it seemed at the time that this was nothing but an unworkable pipe-dream.

In due course I was elected as President and the matter was brought to my attention by our Scottish members. I attempted to investigate and received a variety of rather vague responses from Mr Love which did not address my concerns.

Eventually, a facebook group for the initiative appeared and I applied to join it. After hearing nothing for about a year my membership was suddenly approved. This occurred very recently. Seeing that Mr Love was still claiming to speak for BFHS clubs – some of which have expressed concern to me over this – and that he is trying to form a governing body for HEMA, I raised my concerns again. Mr Love’s response was not satisfactory, and I remain gravely concerned about this initiative and more importantly how it is being approached.

BFHS Concerns

At the time I became involved in this matter Mr Love was claiming that ‘fruitful discussions’ had taken place with the BFHS and we were supporting his initiative to create a Scottish governing body for HEMA. As President of the BFHS I would surely have been aware of such a discussion or offer of support, so I queried Mr Love about it.

What came back was a cryptic statement that I was not the first President he had spoken to.

That may well be true, but it was not an answer to my questions. I have since asked – repeatedly – what was said by whom, and what was agreed. Mr Love’s responses range from further vague statements that discussions were held to a suggestion that the BFHS needs to keep proper records and hand over correctly between officers.

In fact we do, and I have a record of the emails sent to my predecessor by Mr Love. Mr Love states in some of these mails (which went to a group audience) that my predecessor’s HEMA group is ‘fully on board’ with the process and that as President of the BFHS he is supportive of the project.

The truth, however, is that my predecessor was included in these emails for information only and did not reply to any of them. He certainly did not express support or claim to be ‘fully on board’ with the process. On what basis Mr Love decided to claim this is a matter for conjecture.

There is no ‘fruitful discussion’ there, nor any agreement to support this initiative. Essentially Mr Love sent a document outlining his ideas to the previous President, and a few later mails to my predecessor and then to me. On the strength of this, I assume, he says that the BFHS has been ‘kept in the loop’. That, at least is somewhere vaguely near the truth.

This was not a ‘fruitful discussion’ – it was an unsolicited document outlining an unworkable idea, followed by further mails to which no reply was made. This hardly constitutes a ‘fruitful discussion’ and it is difficult to see why Mr Love would represent it as one.

Mr Love may have misunderstood something, or there may be some other reason why he has made this claim. I did wonder if some other discussion had taken place, and have repeatedly invited Mr Love to explain what was said by whom so that we can clear up any misunderstanding. The vagueness of his replies is, in itself, informative. It appears that the emails sent to my predecessor represent the ‘fruitful discussion’ to which he refers.

I can therefore only conclude that Mr Love’s claims of a ‘fruitful discussion’ with the BFHS are nothing more than a misrepresentation or at best a misunderstanding; I do not know which. I do know that the BFHS never agreed to support Mr Love’s endeavour despite his claims that we did. Similarly, his claims that certain of our member groups support his project are untrue.

In Summary

The BFHS does not support Gordon Love’s attempts to achieve recognition for HEMA in Scotland. We are opposed to his attempt to create a governing body for HEMA in Scotland.

The BFHS is concerned that Mr Love has chosen to claim the support of our organisation and some of its member groups. Were Mr Love to address these concerns there would be some grounds for discussion but he has chosen not to.

As President of the BFHS, I have investigated this matter to the best of my ability and my conclusion is that Gordon Love has misrepresented the level of support for his endeavour from the BFHS and its member groups. If he continues to claim support that is not there, we will have no alternative but to challenge this assertion on every occasion.


Autumn Exchange 2016


Autumn Exchange 2016 took place over the weekend of 19th-20th November, and was hosted by Wolfshead School of Western Martial Arts in Lincoln.

Originally there had been two other plans to host the event elsewhere, both of which fell through despite the best efforts of those concerned. Wolfshead stepped in at a late date and rescued the event, for which the BFHS extends its thanks.

The event was held in Wolfshead’s training venue, Strike Zone in Lincoln. Strike Zone has a large downstairs training area with plenty of space for equipment and socialising. Upstairs is a similar area, though the presence of low ceiling supports added a whole new dimension to rapier fencing. With an inexpensive hotel within a few minutes’ walk one way and a friendly pub just as close (but in the other direction) the venue was as self-contained as possible.

As usual, the event included a mix of seminars and tournaments, with the technical excellence of some rapier fencers being particularly noted. Seminars ranged from the highly personal (unarmed combat and the use of the straight razor) to the battlefield-ready (backsword and targe, for example). A new addition was the addition of an open slot in which instructors were available for consultation. This slot saw a sabre vs smallsword session, backsword and longsword freeplay and an impromptu knife-fighting seminar which gradually drew in everyone on that floor of the building.

Socialising in the evening was facilitated by a barbecue and buffet at the local pub, and overall the event ran very smoothly. Despite last-minute alterations to the programme necessitated by a bout of pneumonia and other complications, the cooperative and ‘family’ atmosphere meant that there were no difficulties. Comments were overwhelmingly positive throughout the event.

Developments for the BFHS emerging at Autumn Exchange 2016 include welcoming back the Sussex Sword Academy to the BFHS. We were also pleased to have both Susan Kirk and Nigel Potts, appointed this year as Regional Assessors for the IL1 programme, teaching at the event. For my own part, this was my first event as BFHS President.  I was glad to see what a good show Wolfshead put on for us, and how much the attendees enjoyed it.

We have a great deal of talent within the BFHS and events like Autumn Exchange give us the chance to showcase it. It is also a chance to do what the name suggests…  to exchange information, to exchange knowledge, and to exchange blows. All in all, an excellent weekend of Western Martial arts, for which once again the BFHS thanks Wolfshead School of Western Martial Arts and the instructors who made it so.

But more than anything else, we extend our thanks to the people who made the event a great success – the attendees. I had a great time; I hope you all did too.

MJ Dougherty,

BFHS President.

IL1 Assessment Day, September 2016


On September 3rd 2016, the BFHS ran an IL1 assessment day hosted by the Society for the Study of Swordsmanship and run directly by Chief Assessor Martin J Dougherty.

The assessment was the culmination of many months of trying to find sufficient candidates within a reasonable area and a group willing to host. The pattern recently has been for a small number of potential candidates to be very keen to take IL1, but never enough in the same area at the same time. In the end, the decision had to be taken to ‘run it and they will come… hopefully’.

In the event, they did come. From Glamorgan and Aberdeen, and other points less distant. The systems on show covered the full range of BFHS interest, from Medieval longsword and messer through rapier to Victorian cane fighting. The candidates on this occasion were of exceptional calibre, with around half achieving a 100% pass and the remainder scoring over 90%. Of particular note was the attention to safe training and the use of appropriate personal protection among the candidates.

It is perhaps worth mentioning that the IL1 – whilst always intended as an entry-level qualification – has a very high standard for both safety and competence. Those who think of taking the assessment in terms of ‘getting their IL1’ as if it were a formality tend to fail. A good assessment requires preparation even for a highly experienced instructor; scoring over 95% is an achievement for anyone, of any level of experience.

We are thus very glad to welcome the successful candidates as BFHS IL1 instructors, and we congratulate them on their achievements.

The assessors deserve praise, too, for going above and beyond the call of duty. The September IL1 assessment would have been vastly more difficult – if not impossible – without Kim and Barry Young, who made the time out of a long journey to visit Sunderland and take part in the assessment. Assessor candidate Mark Thomson was awarded IL1 assessor status, and deserves credit for joining those working to make the IL1 programme a success.

The assessment process was greatly assisted by members of the Society for the Study of Swordsmanship who acted as students for the candidates, helped with administration, made pies and cookies, brought coffee and generally did all the thankless jobs that make an event like this work.

Overall, the Sunderland IL1 assessment day was a big success. Letters of recognition and assessor evaluations have already gone out to the candidates as of September 4th, certificates are waiting to be posted, and we are pondering where and when to run the next assessment. Interested hosts and candidates are invited to contact the Chief Assessor on or via the BFHS facebook page.

In related news, we have appointed Susan Kirk as Regional Assessor for the London area, and are in discussion with other potential Regional Assessors. The proposed IL2 and IL3 courses and assessment procedures are also in the final stages of preparation and will be presented to the membership in due course. The BFHS considers the instructor training and accreditation programme to be one of its central activities, and we are pleased to be making progress in this field.

BFHS Autumn Exchange Booked For 19th-20th November 2016


We are pleased to announce that the BFHS Autumn Exchange has been booked for the 19th-20th November 2016.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank Fox Walters and Nigel Potts from Wolfshead Western Martial Arts in Lincoln for stepping in at the last minute and agreeing to host this for us.

The webpage for bookings will be going up this week and announcements on Instructors, Classes etc. will be going up shortly after that.

If anyone has any questions in the interim, please contact our secretary directly at and we will get back to you as soon as possible.

Updated Information on Safeguarding Children

Update: The BFHS Safeguarding and Equalities Officer, Mr. Pete Jamson, has kindly reviewed and updated the advice on the Safeguarding of Children for the BFHS.

You can download a copy of the advice here, we recommend everyone familiarize themselves with this advice who is involved in working with children as part of your HEMA activities.

BFHS Update: Safeguarding Children

BFHS Elect New President

The BFHS is very pleased to announce Mr. Martin Dougherty has been elected as BFHS President.

Martin’s career in Martial Arts began in the mid 1980s. Since that time he has gained Dan grades in four Eastern Martial Arts and is a Master Level Instructor/Senior Assessor with the All-Styles Martial Arts Association, being appointed Head of Coaching in 2011. With the ASMAA he has studied Oriental Martial Arts in addition to European Martial Arts systems such as catch wrestling, Western kicking systems, combatives and modern street combat. He started his sports fencing career in 1987, becoming a club coach in 1990, and coached the University of Sunderland fencing team.

His professional career is as an Author, and has published or contributed to a significant number of books (around 80) on various topics including military history, armed and unarmed combat and fencing. He has also been involved in television as a researcher and weapons expert and has previously worked in education and the defense sector.

Martin has been working as the BFHS Chief Assessor for some time now, a role which he will continue to work as, and hopes to expand his influence within the BFHS to improving and modernizing it’s Guidelines, Best Practices and Resources to the HEMA Community and building relationships between it and the wider martial community.

If you would like to reach out to Martin on any of these areas, you can reach him at

BFHS Treasurer Vacancy

This is a call for the vacant position on the BFHS Executive for BFHS Treasurer.

Anyone who is a member of a BFHS member group and over 18 may stand for election if he or she is seconded.

This is a voluntary work position and would be ideally suited to someone with accountancy and small business experience, including company legislation and taxation.

A full Job Description, with the current role, and further details are available upon request from the BFHS Secretary – – or via your member group Representative.

Candidates need to be proposed and seconded by the 25th October.