Do you find HEMA unarmed tactics viable self defense? Stuff like turn of the century pugilism, Grappling, Baritsu.

I find the weapons and unarmed combats to look very very interesting but are they actually useful for today?

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    Isn't it simply applied grappling (mainly), ie. grappling that trains to deal with kicks and punches? That's how weapons training used to be from before written history: brawling and grappling for the younglings, weapons on top for the older ones. Could you be a bit more specific? Self-defense application depends a lot on how it is trained and "HEMA" is as much an umbrella term as "karate": You can get very different trainings and both self-identify with the same term. Mar 7, 2023 at 8:51
  • Seems to depend on the school, some only teach weapons, some teach striking, Grappling, etc Mar 7, 2023 at 15:35
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    @PhilipKlöcking "grappling" is a very umbrella term in HEMA usage, but the broad sense of it would be any non-percussive, non-weapon strike. This includes locks, binds, tripping, etc.
    – PipperChip
    Mar 9, 2023 at 14:44

1 Answer 1


Generally Yes

For most instances, various schools of pugilism, treatises on grappling, and so on were and still can be totally valid in a modern context.

But Why?

You may not be carrying a cane or gentleman's sidesword, but human bodies have not significantly changed since these sources were published! You can use the same approach to fighting as they did today.

For what it's worth, this is the same reason why many eastern martial arts, some claiming ages in the hundreds of years, are still applicable today. Human bodies then were, at worst, malnourished versions of human bodies now. Otherwise, they were pretty much the same size and structure as most people who can read this.

The old-school western grappling styles/schools will result in a competent fighter. Pugilism in Europe was generally bare knuckle, and arguably better than modern boxing for self defense. (Also why the lower-arm stance is commonly seen in black-amd-white pictures of pugilists. It's a "long guard" to buy more time to react!)

Do Your Homework

To determine how well a historic source translates into the modern day, you need to understand its purpose and context.

For example, Fiore dei Liberi assumed that most people would have daggers or batons on hand, and that isn't the world I live in. This being said, his unarmed techniques will still provide a solid defense and most offenders will regret their choices afterwards.

  • Thank you, I appreciate the response Mar 7, 2023 at 16:33

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