SMART Goals for HEMA

A structured approach to goal setting for a better training

By Adina Mihaita, Longsword Instructor and Tournament Coach

Why are we practicing HEMA?

Sometimes we start a new and exciting hobby and we get completely carried away with the flow and somehow we get lost along the way. I’ve had colleagues quit a few months after starting HEMA because they felt that they were not making any progress and that they basically “suck”.
I’ve encountered this sense of being lost in my professional life in the past but it all changed after I joined a leadership mentoring program in one of my former workplaces. I’ve had this amazing opportunity to be taught about goal setting and time-based objectives and development paths. This helped me immensely to gain perspective on what I want and how I want to achieve it and I’ve applied it in my personal life ever since, and starting with 2016, in my HEMA training as well.

Being honest with myself and having a structured approach to what I want to accomplish helps me constantly improve as a person, as a martial artist, HEMA competitor, and as a longsword instructor and coach.

Reinventing the wheel

What I’m about to tell you isn’t something new or extraordinary, but I’ve noticed that few people actually apply this in a well-structured manner. The beauty of structure is that it helps you save time and focus more on your training. A good framework can be the difference between your satisfaction and your frustration and can eventually lead to great success.

So what’s so SMART about it?

Goals are, or at least should be, part of every aspect of life and they offer a sense of direction, motivation, a clear focus, and prioritization. By setting goals, you are giving yourself a target to aim for. Using the SMART method helps you with the goal-setting process by offering a framework to help you establish goals that will actually help you progress.

Try and think of a small goal and set it now, either personal or HEMA related. To make it SMART, it should conform to the Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely framework.


Goals that are well-defined, clear, and unambiguous have a significantly greater chance of being accomplished, otherwise, you won’t be able to focus your efforts or feel truly motivated to achieve them. When defining a goal, in order to make it as specific as possible you can make use of the five “W” questions:

  • What: What do I want to accomplish?
  • Why: Why do I want to achieve this goal? / Why is this goal important?
  • Who: Who is involved in this goal?
  • Where: Where is this goal to be achieved?
  • Which resources or limits are involved?

There’s another W, but that’s more related to Timely: When do I want to achieve this goal?

For example, a general goal would be “I want to be good at HEMA”, this is too vague. A more specific goal would be: “I want to start training at my local HEMA club, study the sources and the historical context, and do sparring in order to become a good HEMA practitioner”. I’ll keep coming back to this example and refer to it from now on as Goal 1.


A SMART goal must-have criteria for measuring progress. If there are no criteria, you will not be able to determine your progress and if you are on track to reach your goal. To make a goal measurable, ask yourself:

  • How many, how much?
  • How do I know if I have reached my goal?
  • What is my progress indicator?

For example, building on the specific goal above: “I want to start training longsword at my local HEMA club, study the Liechtenauer tradition, read about the historical context, and seek as many sparring opportunities as possible in order to become a good HEMA practitioner. Every week I will aim to attend three training sessions and do three sparring matches.”


A SMART goal must be achievable and attainable. This will help you figure out ways you can realize that goal and work towards it. The goal should be stretched to make you feel challenged, but defined well enough so you can actually achieve it. In some documentation, you may find the same under Realistic. In my opinion, it’s more or less the same as Achievable: a goal should be realistically achieved within your constraints.

Therefore, a goal is likely Achievable / Realistic if you believe that it can be accomplished, so ask yourself:

  • Is the goal realistic and within reach?
  • Do I have the resources (time, money, etc.) and capabilities to achieve the goal?
  • If not, what am I missing and how can I obtain them?
  • Have others done it successfully before?
  • Am I able to commit to achieving this goal?

For example “I want to win all my sparring matches” or “I want to win Swordfish this year”, when you’ve just started HEMA for a few months could be highly unrealistic goals. Regarding Goal 1, the unrealistic expectation would be to aim for training three times a week when you don’t have a HEMA club within reach, or when your schedule simply does not allow it, thus you need to adjust your goal accordingly.

Avoid setting goals that someone else has power over. For example, “Win that tournament!” depends on who else competes, and sometimes on the judges’ decisions, whereas “Attempt to perform ‘whatever technique’ in every single match in the competition and succeed at least four times per tournament” is almost entirely down to you.


As I said before, in some places you’ll find this R as “Realistic”, but I think it’s the same as “Achievable”. A more relevant R would be: “Relevant”. I’ll let myself out…

This step is about ensuring that your goal matters to you and that it also aligns with other relevant goals. We all need support and assistance in achieving our goals, but it’s important to retain control over them. So, make sure that your plans drive everyone forward, but that you are responsible for achieving your own goal.

A relevant goal will answer “yes” to these questions:

  • Does this seem worthwhile?
  • Is this the right time for me?
  • Does this match our other efforts/needs?
  • Am I the right person to reach this goal?
  • Is it applicable in the current context / socio-economic environment?

You might want to gain the skills to become the best longsword fighter ever, but is it the right time to undertake the required training? Is it worthwhile to work toward secondary goals such as improving your physical fitness, or traveling to tournaments in order to get more experience in sparring? Have you considered your other personal goals or your partner’s goals? For example, if you want to start a family, would completing training and traveling to events in your free time make this more difficult?

These are just some questions you need to answer honestly so you can set yourself up for success.


If a goal is not time constrained, there will be no sense of urgency and motivation to achieve it, therefore you should time-bound your goals in a way that each goal has a start and finish date. When you set a deadline to focus on and something to work towards, it will help prevent everyday tasks from taking priority over your longer-term goals.

Ask these questions:

  • Does my goal have a deadline? If yes, then:
  • When do I want to achieve this goal?
  • What can I do six months from now?
  • What can I do six weeks from now?
  • What can I do today?

Gaining the skills to become a good HEMA practitioner may require additional training or several sub-goals, as I mentioned earlier. How long will it take you to acquire these skills? Do you need any further training, or do you need to climb rankings so that you’re eligible to participate in certain tournaments? Do you need to procure certain books that are harder to obtain? It’s important to give yourself a realistic time frame to accomplish the smaller goals that are necessary to achieving your final objective.

For example, building on the goal above: “I will start training at my local HEMA Club three times a week. In order to improve my physical fitness, I will work out two more days a week. Every week, I will aim to have three sparring matches. Every six months I will participate in a longsword tournament.

Stairway to Heaven or Highway to Hell?

Oftentimes people will set themselves up for failure by setting general and unrealistic goals such as “I want to be the best at X.” This goal is vague with no sense of direction.

Instead of generic resolutions, SMART goal setting creates verifiable trajectories towards a certain objective, with clear milestones and an estimation of the goal’s attainability.

SMART sets you up for success by making goals specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely, helping you push further, and giving you a sense of direction by better organizing and tracing a clear path toward reaching your objectives.

Another thing that’s very important when setting SMART goals, is formulating them POSITIVELY. Remember that what you focus on, increases. So when you focus on NOT doing something, all you think about is that thing. And it will increase. So don’t try to “stop procrastinating”, rather focus on “achieving daily discipline”.

Goal setting with your HEMA coach/trainer

Your coach can support you in setting SMART goals and objectives but turning them into measurable goals and following up on their completion is your responsibility.

They can help in creating a training routine in order for you to achieve your goal and steering and cheering on the solution as well as giving some outsider perspective on how you manage to achieve certain milestones. But the person responsible for achieving your goals is YOU, by defining your goals properly, setting up a plan in order to reach them, and then committing to that plan.

Getting there

Tips and tricks on how to make a good plan and stick to it (coming soon…)