The Association for Renaissance Martial Arts (ARMA), is an international educational non-profit organization dedicated to the study and practice of Historical European martial arts of the 15th to 17th centuries. The ARMA focuses on increasing proficiency with Medieval and Renaissance weaponry, offering authoritative information via a catalog of historical manuals and articles, improving the relationship between practitioners and academics, and ultimately deepening the understanding of Medieval and Renaissance martial arts. It also focuses on promotion of information about the European martial heritage and fighting arts, arms and armor.
As of 2006, the ARMA claimed a number of less than 500 paying members. They also list a number of "Academic Consultants".
The ARMA began in 1992 as the Historical Armed Combat Association (HACA), a group lead principally by Hank Reinhardt, an avid sword enthusiast. Reinhardt's idea was to provide an umbrella organization for individuals interested in Western swords and historical weaponry. In 1993, John Clements took over the HACA 1993 saw the beginning of reforms within the organization and the foundation of its first Study Group. HACA began focusing more intently on the study and interpretation of the historical source literature of Renaissance Martial Arts, much of which was presented on the website along with example training methods.
As one of the changes, the organization was renamed "the ARMA." 2001 also saw the introduction of a "national training program" (a series of seminars and workshops), ranking and certifications in the curricula, and the implementation of the basic philosophy and methodology used by the ARMA today.
The ARMA's conceptualization was also influenced by the work of Sydney Anglo, as presented in his work, The Martial Arts of Renaissance Europe (Yale University Press 2000), hailed as the first academic treatment of Western martial arts in English
Wooden wasters are used for basic drilling and technique work, up to and including free-play. Padded contact-weapons, along with helmets and appropriate padding, are used for more intense free-play, including sparring at full speed and power. Blunted replica swords are used for drilling and light free-play. Sharp replica swords are used only for test-cutting, and to teach students proper edge control and cutting technique. Test-cutting experience and frequent intense free-play are heavily emphasized.
The body of training techniques and methods used by the ARMA is referred to as Armatura (a term borrowed from Roman military writers), and includes distance and timing drills, footwork and cutting drills, striking and counter-strike exercises, grappling elements, and flourish drills.
The ARMA curriculum encompasses a variety of weapons and weapon combinations, armored and unarmored, including longsword, greatsword, single sword (cut & thrust), sword & buckler, sword & dagger, Messer, rapier, rapier & dagger, single dagger, polearm, and short staff. Kampfringen, a historical system of unarmed combat, is also taught, both as it relates to fighting with weapons and as a separate discipline.
In addition, regional Study Days, member Workshop events, and National Training Program Seminars are frequently held, and members in a given area will probably have the opportunity to attend at least one annually. Larger international gatherings are held less frequently. In both cases, senior students and expert instructors are invited to present classes, lectures, and National Training Program seminars to attendees. ARMA members are given priority in these events, and non-members may be prohibited from participating in certain Workshops. However, one and two day "open workshops" are offered in which non-member may attend.
Outside the USA, there are Study Groups in Poland, Sweden and Greece.
ARMA's forum is also an important means of community discussion within the organization, and currently contains over one thousand registered users.
The National Training Program provides training in six main areas, each featuring some subsets. These are the Longsword (NTP 1.x), the Sword and Dagger (NTP 2.x), the Rapier (NTP 3.x), unarmed fighting (NTP 4.x), dagger fighting (NTP 5.x), and armoured fighting (NTP 6.x). However, the ARMA currently focuses on the Longsword, Sword and Dagger, and the Rapier as foundational instructional principles.
ARMA ranking is somewhat informal, and is based on the four-tiered system employed by the London Company of Masters, "Scholar", "Free Scholar", "Provost" and "Master".
All ARMA members are considered to possess the rank of "Scholar". Scholars who achieve sufficient command of the Armatura and basic principles of the ARMA program, and a matching knowledge of the fighting manuals and historical masters, are advanced to the rank of general "Free Scholar". Free Scholars who demonstrate considerable expertise in all areas of the ARMA training program and an advanced knowledge of the source material are considered for "Senior Free Scholar" rank. Testing for either rank involves an extensive oral examination and the physical demonstration of technique, as determined by the instructors conducting the test. Qualifying for Senior Free Scholar rank also requires a Prize Playing. Free Scholar testing may be administered by any Senior Free Scholar. Senior Free Scholar certification requires the oversight of two or more Senior Free Scholars or the Director; by custom, as many Senior Free Scholars as can be gathered are present to oversee such a test.
Unlike rankings in most martial arts organizations, Free Scholar rankings must be renewed; if a scholar has not advanced to a higher rank within four years of playing his prize, he must be retested in order to retain his current status. Free Scholar rankings are earned in a specific weapon, and a candidate must achieve a rank with the longsword before testing for any other weapon. At the present time, there are eight Senior Free Scholars in the longsword, and no rank has been awarded in any other weapon (though such rank likely will be once the curricula for other weapons is fully established).
Above Senior Free Scholar are the ranks of Provost, Senior Provost, and Master. At present there are no requirements for or current holders of these ranks. The ARMA considers it highly inappropriate at this juncture to consider naming any ARMA practitioner a "Master" of these extinct arts, as the ARMA believes that the restoration of Medieval and Renaissance martial arts is still in its infancy and no modern practitioner has contributed to the art enough to claim the title of "Master".
Outside of this system, there is a purely academic distinction called "Senior Researcher" that is granted to ARMA scholars who contribute significantly to the general body of knowledge on historical fencing. The ARMA also has over a dozen "Expert Consultants" from different fields who have offered their knowledge and expertise to its efforts.
According to Maestro Ramón Martínez, the book contains "glaring inconsistencies, inaccuracies, and poor scholarship. J. C. Amberger in a critical review in Fencers Quarterly Magazine criticized Clements' 1997 Renaissance Swordsmanship as well as the content of the HACA website. Amberger states that, "In his (mercifully short) chapter on medieval and Renaissance fencing literature, this self-made sage single-handedly maximizes the line-to-error ratio of written information... beating everything that has ever been written about medieval European fencing literature in regard to sheer misinformation and overall muddledness."