The British Federation for Historical Swordplay

What is the BFHS?

The mission of the BHFS is to ‘promote the study and practice of historical swordsmanship (and related Western combat arts) through high-quality research, instruction and practical application.’

The underlying ethos of the BFHS is that historical swordplay and European martial arts should be accessible to anyone who wishes to study them, without any form of discrimination, and that excellence should encouraged and recognised.

This creates a threefold mission:

  1. To promote and recognise high-quality research in the form of translation and interpretation of historical material, with due reference to other historical factors (e.g. clothing, environment, social context) and also with reference to biomechanics and other physical factors.
  2. To ensure that member groups provide high-quality instruction with due regard to safety, inclusivity and similar coaching-related matters as well as respect for the martial and historical aspects of the subject matter.
  3. To promote practical application in the form of experimental freeplay and tournaments.

There are thus three interrelated factors informing the mission of the BHFS: Scholastic, Instructional and Martial. 


The BHFS recognises the achievements of its members in terms of interpretation and translation of materials, and encourages scholarship. This is not an area that can be strictly governed, nor is it desirable to try, other than to set out rules defining a need for some kind of authenticity. For example, it seems reasonable to expect that anyone teaching, say, backsword, should have been trained or have done appropriate research rather than making a system up. It is also reasonable to expect that those using a given weapon in a tournament have actually trained with it in an appropriate style.


The BFHS Instructor Certifications are designed to give people the coaching skills and knowledge to be able to bring the best out of their students, it does not give them the knowledge and understanding of excellent body mechanics they need to teach that subject effectively and safely. It is worth noting that an instructor can only be expert in so many areas, they will tend to have one or two primary fields of excellence. In such as broad field as HEMA it is entirely possible to be an expert in one area and yet know almost nothing about other fields.

It is not desirable for the BFHS to attempt to restrict its instructors, but a realistic attitude to coaching is strongly encouraged. The first level of the Instructor Certification, the IL1 qualification, indicates that a person is safe and competent to teach, and has sufficient knowledge of at least one system to teach a class on the subject. However, instructors must be realistic about the depth and breadth of what they are capable of teaching.

By way of example , it should be obvious that someone who passed the  IL1 assessment with smallsword, and who then starts teaching wrestling from material found in a book, with no practical training in the field, may be ‘qualified’ on paper, but could in fact be placing students at unnecessary risk (and might not know it). Therefore, instructors must understand that they are responsible for ensuring that they are, and remain, practically competent in whatever they decide to teach. The IL1 is not a blanket license to teach all things HEMA; it must be combined with sufficient knowledge and practical experience of the material to teach authentically, effectively, and above all safely.


The BFHS strives to provide an environment for practical application and ‘martial testing’ in the form of well-organised tournaments or other suitable events. Plans are already in motion to provide marshal training for events, with guidance on how to run a tournament that is safe, fair, challenging and fun. We have achieved success in this area recently and have a clear way forward.

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