PORTLAND — When it comes to martial arts, Seth Robinson is old school.
Medieval Italian old school.
“I am trying to help people be able to fulfill themselves,” Robinson said last month about the Resurgam HEMA martial arts classes he teaches Saturday evenings.
The Historical European Martial Arts classes combine the self-defense teachings of Fiore dei Liberri, who Robinson called a captain’s mercenary, with texts that date to around 1410, with some kung fu.
The primary method is a two-handed sword, using tactics that were as critical to street fighting in Italian city-states as any siege warfare undertaken by knights in armor.
Robinson finds dei Liberri’s instructions a good balance for physical and mental well being and has ignored dei Liberri’s belief the martial arts training is not for women or poor people.
In a rented photo studio on Auburn Street, Robinson and about nine students gather from 4-7 p.m. each Saturday to practice the arts.
On Jan. 26, from 3-9 p.m., Resurgam HEMA will host its third annual “Swords of the North” demonstration event at the Riverton Community Center, 1600 Forest Ave.
Robinson said the class will demonstrate fighting techniques from the 16th century, with a suggested $10 donation that helps fund research material, equipment, and space for the club to meet.
Robinson’s interest in fencing and martial arts dates to his years at the University of Maine Orono, he said.
“I was 19, and looking for an outlet in self-improvement,” he said.
Robinson, who now works at Maine Medical Center, said he learned foil fencing in college, then began researching other forms of swordplay on his own.
“What we also do is tackle some historical misconceptions,” Robinson said about the size of knights and weight of their weaponry. “A good suit of Italian armor might weigh 50 pounds and is distributed across your body.”
No one wears armor in the classes, but they learn as though they are.
“This art, like most martial arts, is one where you never want to fight strength with strength,” Robinson said.
The sword weighs about 3 pounds, and Robinson said the martial art is guided by principles of fortitude, clarity, prudence and courage while honing the body’s reactions and balance in combat.
“It is satisfying to use because it requires the coordination of your whole body,” Robinson said.
Sword fighting does take some adjustments, he added.
“The one thing I tell everyone all the time is relax,” Robinson said. “When you put a sword in someone’s hand, they will tense up automatically.”
Robinson joked it is uncommon and likely frowned upon for people to carry swords on Portland streets, but stressed the benefits of training transcend fighting.
“Part of the physical value of any martial art is, it teaches you how to move your body effectively,” he said. “The environment I try to strive for is one of safety and respect.
“I am thankful to have a diversity of students and I aim to maintain that.”
Seth Robinson instructs two athletes in the use of longswords as part of a Portland practice session in Historical European Martial Arts, or HEMA. Robinson has trained for nine years.