by Meg Floyd
So you want to start a HEMA club.* Chances are you’ve arrived at this conclusion because 1) You live in the middle of nowhere and can’t find a club near you**, or 2) the local club doesn’t quite fit your picture of what you want to do—maybe they study a different manual, or just don’t give you the experience you want. You might have some experience, a lot of experience, or no experience at all. For the sake of this list, we’re going to act like you have no experience whatsoever, and cover how to go about getting from Point A to Point B.
Step 1- Find some like-minded people. You really need at least one other person who’s interested in studying HEMA to be your partner in crime. The more people, the better.
Step 2- Choose your weapon and manual or source. The first letter in HEMA is H for ‘historical’, which means studying from a written source. If you’ve gotten this far, chances are you know what you’re interested in. Once you decide which weapon(s) you want to focus on, you can locate many of the manuals for free at Wiktenauer, HEMA’s own Wikipedia of manuals. You can sort by weapon or master to find which treatise suits you best. I’d also suggest posting in the HEMA Alliance Facebook Group and ask for suggestions to help in your pursuit of studying this manual and weapon. There are many, many instructors floating around on the internet putting up videos of interpretations, drills, etc. who are eager to help people interested in their area of expertise. (Of course, the internet always has its fair share of leychmeister***, so take anything you see with a grain of salt.)
Step 3- Get insurance. If you’re going to be sparring outside of a group of intimates and involving members of the public, it is extremely advisable to get some sort of liability insurance. The easiest way I can think of is by joining the HEMA Alliance, which offers both reasonably priced liability insurance as well as granting its non-profit status to the group, which can be a major boon when you’re trying to secure space.
Step 4- Decide who’s in charge of organizing and facilitating things. This could be you, or you and another person who’s reliable. The main thing is to have someone who’s responsible for keeping track of club paperwork, finances, and organizing meeting times with members.
Step 5- Make a practice schedule. I cannot tell you how important it is to have a regular, predictable, organized class schedule posted where people can find it. People are much more likely to show for class on a regular basis if it’s not confusing or difficult to figure out when or where class is.
Step 6- Consider joining a larger umbrella organization, both for networking and for support. The two I can think of I’d recommend are the HEMA Alliance and the Historical Fencing Affiliates within the U.S. Hint: You can join both. Do some research, as these organizations offer different things to its members. (For joining the HFA, contact its head, Aaron Pynenberg, via his website.)
Step 7- Decide on a club name and logo. Have some fun with this. Many choose to base their name off a reference to the manual or weapon they study, or go with something simple. Examples of the former include my own club, Krieg School of Historical Fencing, Sword to Sword, or Kron. The latter version includes clubs like the New York Historical Fencing Association, the Gothenburg Historical Fencing School, etc. The sky’s really the limit—just be cognizant of how fanciful names may get your club construed with a LARP or SCA organization, and if that’s what you want.
Step 8- Acquire some equipment. This is highly dependent on your club’s budget. If you’re broke, I recommend Absolute Force masks and nylon wasters from South Coast Swords or Purpleheart Armoury. Gloves are expensive—you can make do with some modified lacrosse gloves for drilling and light sparring, but if you want to fight full bore or compete, you’re going to need something heavy duty like SPES gloves or Sparring Gloves. My club’s equipment page has a pretty good outline of gear I’d recommend for our club members to purchase from basic drilling, all the way up to being ready to compete in an open steel tournament.
Step 9- Find some space. This could be your backyard. It could be a local park. If you live somewhere where it snows and the weather’s ugly, it’ll need to be inside. I recommend approaching local rec centers to see if they could fit you in. You can also try renting high school gymnasiums, church halls, or space from regular sport fencing clubs or other martial arts spaces, depending on your budget. (Having liability insurance and non-profit status comes in handy here.)
10- Join the HEMAnet. HEMA has a bustling online community. From the HEMAA Facebook group, to the WMA reddit page, to the HEMA Events Map, there’s a lot going on. Join the community. Introduce yourself, start talking to people, and you’ll find a bevy of resources and moral support for groups just starting out.
11- Find the local “big name” in your area and introduce yourself. Ask to visit their club if it’s in reasonable driving distance. See if they’ll visit yours. Tell them you’re starting a club and would like their help and advice. 99% of the senior instructors I know active in the community are very interested in helping folks just starting out, because it makes the scene bigger and better.
12- Attend events. This is very much worth the time and investment. Whether you drive or fly, there’s nothing quite like attending an event for meeting people and getting excited about HEMA, or learning new things. Luckily for you, there’s now HEMA events of every size at least once a month (though December seems pretty dead because of the holidays). You can check out a rough calendar of HEMA events happening in 2015 here.
13- Host events! Even if it’s for the local clubs, or just your students, host small tourneys and fight nights on a quasi-regular basis. This will tie together your local community and foster kinship between clubs. Plus, fighting different people outside of your home club is immensely valuable to your students. It will also start to prepare you for going to a larger event and competing by giving your members a competitive environment to cut their teeth on.
14- Enjoy yourself. Almost everyone I know does HEMA for the love of it. It’s expensive, time-consuming, and physically demanding. However, you will meet some of the best people you’re probably going to meet in your life, and join a brotherhood of nutsy sword people who are very passionate about what they do. Organizing a club is hard work, and the pursuit of HEMA is still very young and still growing. Its future depends on people like you, who set out to create something awesome. Are you starting a club? Let us know! And best of luck to you.
* This list of instructions is intended primarily for HEMA fencers living in the U.S. I’ll be addressing European fencers in major HEMA countries soon, hopefully, beyond the basic instruction of ‘Join one of the fabulously large and well-established clubs it’s highly likely you live about ten minutes away from.’
** Remember to check the HEMA Alliance Club Finder. Chances are very likely there IS a club near you.
*** “Leychmeister” a derogatory term used by the German master Dobringer of 1389, for those instructors who taught flashy but impractical and ineffective fighting techniques, particularly for arms-dance and arms-plays. Here used in a tongue-in-cheek manner for incidences of bullshido that are endemic to any martial arts community.