Growing HEMA in Istanbul

This past weekend, I was teaching in Istanbul, Turkey, a city that was arguably the centre of the western world at one time. It is a city steeped in both European and Asian history. Every site you visit reveals layer upon layer of history that goes back at least 2000 years. This makes Istanbul both an interesting and fitting place for the study of Western martial arts.

Students Worthy of the Art

My hosts on this visit were the Istanbul Historical Martial Arts Association (or İstanbul Tarihi Savaş Sanatları Birliği in Turkish; visit a group of passionate swordplay practitioners that has been active for about one year. You never know who you are going to meet when you get picked up at the airport but I was not disappointed. The organizers and members of this group are genuine, welcoming, thoughtful students, and excellent hosts.

Assisting me in the workshop, and a large part of the reason I was invited, was Tom Outwin from Salle Marquis Lafayette in New Jersey, an affiliate school of Academie Duello. The workshop had about 35 participants who came from Istanbul, its surrounding areas, and included a group from Izmir in the south. We explored fundamental grappling, dagger, and then spent the bulk of our time on the foundation of Italian longsword. We were able to cover a lot of ground over the two days from body mechanics to combative strategy.

"A" for Effort

One of the most interesting things about this group is the huge efforts they have had to go to pursue these arts. It is illegal to import swords into Turkey so they have had to make their own. They've made wooden swords and steel practice swords (which are really pretty darn good). There are no HEMA resources written in Turkish so they have been working as a team to get English translations and then translate them into Turkish for interpretation and teaching. They have also done a tremendous amount of work to build their own beginner programs and curriculum. They have also been looking to the outside for guidance and teaching. I was honoured to be the first person to come and teach here and I know that I won't be the last.

Check out the latest episode of the DTV Livestream where many of the groups founding members get together with me to share a bit about their club and experience.

A big thank you to my house host and the event's main organizer Burak Yarar, and the group's leaders Effe, Ateş, and Oykun, and to everyone else who came to the workshop and brought such earnest practice to what Tom and I had to share.

I look forward to seeing what this group achieves in the coming years.

Devon Boorman is the Co-Founder and Director of Academie Duello Centre for Swordplay, which has been active in Vancouver, Canada since 2004. Devon’s expertise centres on the Italian swordplay tradition including the arts of the Renaissance Italian rapier, sidesword, and longsword, as well as knife and unarmed techniques.
Read more from Devon Boorman.