In the middle of the summer, Volunteers Centre Skopje co-organized a youth exchange in Ljubojno, at Prespa lake. The project “HMB soft and HEMA as a tool for battling youth inactivity” took place between 26th of July and 3rd of August and gathered Croatian, Serbian, Macedonian and French teams with an aim to learn the basics of HEMA and HMB Soft. But what are those exactly?
HEMA, or Historical European Martial Arts, is about the way that humans fought each other in medieval times. With practice weapons, HEMA teaches how we used to use different kinds of spears, swords, shields, daggers, axes, maces… By learning basic movements without any risk of being hurt, it is actually a really fun sport that allows us to play as when we were young. HMB, which means Historical Medieval Battle, is more serious: the fighters use actual armour and non-lethal weapons to reenact fights as close to reality as possible. Performed by trained fighters, the demonstrations were really impressive: watching a medieval movie doesn’t make you realize how terrifying it is to have a fully equipped knight marching towards you. Indeed, the youth exchange was organized in partnership with skilled organizations such as Manufactura Historica from Croatia, and White Eagles, a Serbian association teaching these sports.
The whole week was devoted to activities, as the group was invited to perform at the Ilinden celebrations held at the beginning of August. White Eagles members were able to teach participants how to make soft swords, as well as basic movements with these swords and training shields. Between supervised practice sessions and spontaneous battles where young volunteers put their new skills into practice, as well as archery training and explanations of how weapons work and their history, the project was also an opportunity to share and learn from each other. The cultural night allowed us to taste meals coming from the different countries of each participant, and to share traditional dances and singing from Croatia, Macedonia and Brittany, a part of France with strong culture and traditions. Several of these dances were also performed during the celebrations in Ljubojno. The young participants were also able to discover the city of Ohrid, and a lot of its treasures such as ancient buildings, artworks and places at the heart of Macedonian religious and architectural history.
Beyond the aim of mutual learning, the project’s main goal was to get young people involved in local life through HEMA and HMB. That’s why training took place in an old disused barracks, which the village’s youngsters transformed into a lively, dynamic place. Many of them took part in the activities, enabling participants from elsewhere to meet and discover more about the village and its history through sport. This experience, which was very surprising – in a positive way – for many of them, enabled participants to leave with a useful toolbox that they can use in the future to offer original and inclusive workshops. Indeed, HEMA basics can be taught from an early age, and the medieval world is a spring of imagination for immersive activities. In this way, the project has been able to give further meaning to the practice of HEMA and HMB, which remain unknown to the general public, a meaning that goes beyond a passion for history and martial arts. Creating bridges between different communities and nationalities and involving young people in local life by sharing good times with an audience of all ages… Because there’s nothing like a good duel for a good time!
Youen Le Bris
The project is funded by Erasmus+ through Agence Erasmus+ France Jeunesse & Sport (Agence du Service Civique).