Frequently Asked Questions

Whilst we can’t guarantee the answer to your question is here, these are the things we commonly get asked by people interested in starting HEMA:


Joining Class

Through one of our Foundation Classes. From October these will run every Monday from 6:15pm to 7:15pm. Add yourself to our mailing list, and you'll get all of the information on registering and joining them.
The Foundation Classes, yes, you can provided you use the app we use for managing classes and there's space in any particular week! For the main classes, unless you're a visitor from another HEMA group (in which case give us a shout via email or facebook) then at the moment, unfortunately not. If you sign up to our mailing list, you'll get full details of the Foundation Classes that run early Monday evenings and details of the app we use to manage the week by week registration and attendance.
The Foundation Class only lasts an hour, and runs from 6:15pm to 7:15pm.
The Foundation Classes cost £5 per session, although after your second class you'll be unable to attend more until you've paid membership for the year (£25).
That depends on the individual. Content of the Foundation Class will be the same each week. As we see students have become competent with the movements, techniques, and drills from the Foundation Class, we'll move people up to the main class.
No! In fact we'd actually rather you didn't! We'll provide loaner gear for everything. There's a lot of equipment out there that looks good, but isn't suitable for training with. We'd much prefer you used our loaner gear for a while before buying anything, rather than us having to have the awkward conversation of "We can't actually let you use the expensive thing you've just spent lots of money on..." When you're ready to move up to the main classes, we'd recommend getting your own fencing mask first and foremost.
No! Whilst a certain level of physical fitness is helpful, that will come with time and getting used to the training. We encourage everyone to work to their own fitness level, and everyone will make progress. Getting stuck in and getting started is always a much better idea than "I want to get fit/do X/Y/Z before joining".
Minor injuries like occasional bruising and scrapes will happen! We are training in a weapons based martial art after all, and sparring will always involve a certain amount of contact. More serious injuries can't be discounted, but MCG has an excellent safety record, and a large part of our beginners course/beginners training is making sure everyone is safe for two person drilling and sparring.
If it's outside of the set of 15th century weapons we teach - mainly longsword and messer, with some dagger, staff, and sword and buckler - then I'm afraid not. Our instructors made a deliberate decision to stick with a tightly linked set of weapons/historical texts so that everything reinforces everything else, so we could develop our teaching in depth on these.

Classes (General)

Our main (non-beginner) classes run from 7:30pm to 9:30pm on Mondays and Wednesdays.
Locations vary, but classes are currently in Belfast city centre, in the Donegall Pass area a short walk from Shaftesbury Square.
Once through beginners training (see the Beginners Training FAQ) our regular classes are currently £5 per class.
As much as possible, yes. Beginners have first priority for loaner kit though.
Classes consist of a short warm-up with some solo drills and mobility games to get everyone loosened off and help calibrate movements. This is followed by the main technical content of the class consisting of two-person drills of varying kinds and varying levels of co-operation or non-compliance/competitions from drilling partners. The final half-hour of the class is sparring.
Not at all. We encourage everyone to train as fully as possible within their safety and comfort zones. Whilst we would encourage everyone to experience how it feels when trying to apply techniques and tactics against an opponent in sparring, and if it's a comfort issue we will help you to get the the point where you feel safe and comfortable to spar, we won't force you to spar.
Our syllabus for the main classes is a rolling syllabus, so content will always come back around again. Obviously you'll not pick everything up as quickly as training once or twice a week, but you'll always have a chance to catch up.
We have some grades. We've adapted some from the rankings of the old Elizabethan fencing guides - Scholar, Free Scholar, Provost, etc. Anyone currently undergoing beginners training is a Beginner. On passing the assessment at the end of beginners training and joining the main class they become a Scholar or Intermediate. After several years at Scholar ranking, working through our Intermediate level syllabus, when they feel ready a student can ask to be put through their Free Scholar assessment. This tests in-depth knowledge of the principles behind the main techniques of the Intermediate syllabus and awareness of the tactical/technical situations in which they should be used. It culminates in a 'prize play'; the student being assessed spars with steel against everyone of Scholar and above in attendance that night, with no break between opponents. This continues with the opponents cycling around continuously until the student being assessed has demonstrated the majority of our intermediate syllabus techniques in sparring, with a minimum of 40 back to back opponents. After 40 it is the student's decision on when to stop and whether they feel they have demonstrated everything sufficiently. The current average is closer to 70. This is, in essence, about the closest to a 'black belt' as you'll get within the group.


Unfortunately HEMA Equipment can be expensive, yes. MCG will help out where we can by offering loaner equipment, and our members get discount on certain items from some suppliers.
No! In general this comes down to a choice. All of the old fencing manuscripts we draw our longsword/messer etc techniques from are written for unarmoured fencing. So we can either try and get the actual technical fencing side of things as accurate as possible (which means being able to spar and strike at each other in target areas like the head) and use modern protective equipment to try and get suitable protection with minimal encumberance, or we try and get the external look of the clothing and equipment accurate, but then for safety compromise the range of techniques and intent that can be used in sparring. As we are primarily concerned with the martial arts rarther than the appearance, we opt for the first of these two options.
No! Not for everyday training and certainly not for sparring. On occasion the group has hosted test cutting sessions with guest instructors or similar. These involve solo cuts on rolled and soaked tatami mat targets, and help to ensure that the techniques we end up drilling and using in sparring are movements that would cut effectively with a sharp sword. Any time test cutting is practiced, the sharps are supplied, and there are ways of training good cutting technique without a sharp. There is no real reason for students to own a sharp sword.
If you're a student at MCG, come and talk to the instructors and we'll give you some advice and make sure what you're thinking of is suitable for use in class. Generally we'd advise stick with the club loaner gear and use the time to slowly get steel-sparring suitable equipment together, generally mask first, but always talk to us. if you're not a student at MCG, we're happy to advise, but that advice will almost always be "Talk to your own instructor, and if you don't have one/aren't training anywhere, start training first, and then think about getting equipment when you know that a) you want to stick at HEMA and b) know what areas of it you enjoy and therefore where you want to prioritise your equipment".


Almost all of the sparring in Medieval Combat Group is with either the longsword or the messer, and occasionally sword/messer and buckler.
For light sparring with synthetics, minumum of fencing mask, gorget, and suitable gloves, and highly recommended chest protect/groin guard. For sparring with more intent with either steel or synthetics, fencing mask with back of head protection, gorget, suitable gloves, suitable HEMA fencing jacket, and we'd highly recommend chest protect/groin guard, and forearm protection, solid elbow protection and knee protection. For tournaments, all of the above with the recommended items mandatory.
In class - generally for the last half hour people will pair up and spar, fencing three exchanges against each other, then finding new partners and sparring again. Everyone is perfectly looking to not be hit (primary) and land a quality hit (secondary - and this does not mean a hard hit, but one that has edge alignment and would cut if performed with a sharp) on their opponent. In class sparring we aim to have a decent turnaround so that everyone can fence everyone and work on the techniques we've been training. In tournaments, the exact format depends on the tournament, there's no one standard. But commonly people will fight a set number of exchanges against their opponent, refereed by a member of tournament staff aided by line judges, with the winner progressing. In both cases, exchanges stop after a valid hit is scored and the fencers reset to primary positions.
Sparring involves hitting each other with swords (whilst more importantly trying to not be hit). Whilst we wear padding and safety gear, you'll still feel it. You can expect maybe a bit of light bruising sometimes or the occasional scrape as fairly standard. Most of the time that's about it. However, weapons based sparring is not about hitting someone as hard as you can. Even the medieval texts are quite clear about that - skill and timing are much more reliable than strength, and it doesn't take that much strength to make an effective cut with a sharp sword, so there's no huge reason to be swinging much harder than that in sparring. A lot of our training is about using an appropriate level of force and control over the sword to allow effective sparring without causing injury. Intensity levels will increase in tournaments, but even there, excessive force will just cause warnings and disqualifications.
No. All of our sources (and most HEMA groups will be the same) deal with unarmoured fencing. Even the sections of 15th century manuscripts that deal with armoured combat describe a somewhat different method of fighting than what you'll see in bohurt. There is some overlap, but HEMA and bohurt are different disciplines addressing different aspects of historical fighting. If you're interested in that side of things, we'd recommend you give Medieval Armoured Combat Ireland a shout and see if they have anything happening near you.
Lots! Some are on the island, like the Irish Historical Fencing League events (usually at least two per year) and the occasional standalone tournament/event organised by other HEMA groups on the island like Blademasters Academy down in Cork & Limerick. Further afield there are plenty of tournaments and events throughout the year if you're willing to travel.
Certainly! Whilst tournaments aren't the main intent of our training, everything we do is entirely tournament applicable and various MCG instructors have experience at both competing and refereeing/judging tournaments and we're more than happy to help any of our students who want to compete focus their training on tournament effectiveness in the run-up to an event.

HEMA Events & Community

Yes! There are lots of events that focus on workshops by guest instructors instead of or alongside tournaments. Our own annual Bladeworks event has a heavy focus on workshops across a variety of weapons for good skills development, and a chance for lots of socialising with other fencers. Similarly The Art That Adorns You in York is an excellent event with some great workshops every year and a really fun atmosphere throughout the workshops and event in general. Events range in size from small things like the sparring/training meet-ups that are hosted now and then by clubs that fencers from other groups can drop in to, right through to events like Fightcamp in the UK, HEMAC Dijon in Europe, or Iron Gate Exhibition in the US which have high numbers of workshops and attendees.
We certainly try to, in and around work/life commitments. In the past MCG has had instructors or students in attendance at local events like our own Bladeworks and the Feile na Gaiscigh events in Dublin, Art That Adorns You in York, the Winter Messer Meet in the Netherlands, Tremonia Fechten in Germany, and many more. Some of these we've just been there to take part, some of them we've been there to teach at. Either way, we're intending to get to as many more as scheduling and finances allow!

Historical Aspects

As accurate as we can make them! Almost everything we teach is interpreted from 15th century manuscripts written by/for fencing masters providing instruction and advice on how to fence with the longsword, messer, sword & buckler, staff, dagger, or unarmed. For the few things we teach that aren't drawn directly from these sources it's extrapolated from them in line with the principles and techniques that are shown.
You don't have to if you don't want to, but they're there if you'd like to. After getting a decent grasp of the basics it is useful, and every now and then we'll have an interpretation class where we'll give students some passages from the historical sources and let them work out the techniques themselves, but for the most part for our classes it's not necessary.
The best place for most of them is - it's an excellent website that has gathered scans of historical fencing manuscripts where possible, along with transcripts of them where someone has managed it, and translations where someone in the community has translated them. On wiktenauer you'll find the longsword texts we use (Ringeck, Danzig, Lew, and the Pol Hausbuch) and the messer texts we use (primarily Leckuchner), along with a whole host of fencing manuscripts from later periods or other areas.


Thankyou for noticing! Please drop us a message via the contact form (unless that's where the problem is!) or drop us a message on Facebook and we'll look into it.
Either drop us a message, or ask one of the instructors or free scholars just before class. We're always happy to give as much help and advice as we can!
Thankfully this doesn't happen often, but if it does, please come and speak to one of the committee; either in person, or via email or message if that's more comfortable. Anything discussed will be entirely confidential.
Get in touch and we'll talk things through in confidence and see what the best course is for you to get training. We're more than happy to adapt where possible/feasible to see as many people training as possible. We can never make any guarantees, but where we can facilitate something we're happy to help.