Updated: Dec 13, 2020
The first day of school jitters are hard to silence, even at almost forty, there are still big nerves when I walk into a new situation. Such was the case as I wandered into a little CrossFit gym in October of 2018 all ready to take my first HEMA class ever.
I had never done any kind of combat based pursuit before (unless loud yelling while playing WoW counts) and in a fit of madness, I made the decision to sign up for the Beginner’s Course at Austin Historical Weapons Guild. I was both excited and anxious about the experience with no idea what to expect.
Let’s take a step back and talk about what it means to try something new. As a dance teacher, I have witnessed this cycle again and again. On the first day, a student comes through the door ready to tackle a new skill they have never done before and that alone is a really big thing. For the teacher, it’s the start of the process. For the student, however, it’s much farther down the track. There have been discussions with themselves about how they hope it will be great or pep talks about how the fun will outweigh the fear of the unknown. So the very act of showing up is brave. It’s a tenuous truce with one’s self part anxiety on one side and excitement of new on the other. What makes someone stay? What keeps a student invested in what is possibly a nerve-wracking new experience?
You can try to label it in lots of different ways, but that is the oversimplified answer. If a space doesn’t feel comfortable, welcoming, or safe, someone won’t stay. No amount of new skills being shared will counteract an uncomfortable space.
Back to HEMA, the first day of school jitters, and ME.
My first class was challenging. Even though I am a dancer and learning new movement is hardwired into me, I was being asked to actively focus on causing harm to a fellow human or at least training to do so. (AHWG is super safe. All the time. I was not compensated to say that. Wait. I was, but it’s still true) It was WAY out of my comfort zone and I questioned whether it was really for me. However, I really liked the technique that had been presented and how it had been done so. The feel of the class was fun. People were encouraged to laugh, to ask questions, to fail. That last one might make some of you puppy dog tilt your head in confusion, but a learning environment that values failure as a method of information gathering for success is important. Those things kept me attending. And that was just the beginners’ course. Once I got into the “general population” of full-time students, it was a whole new world! Imagine the kids in the Gene Wilder Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie when they first saw the candy wonderland. It was like that.
The HEMA community at large is a fascinating creature. People are, for the most part, welcoming, training driven, and super WEIRD. Weird in the best way you can imagine. Yeah, all the corners of your mind on that one, it still applies. I am gonna brag on my own school for a moment though and highlight this little, purple corner of HEMA.
AHWG is my sword fam. I have never been the type of person to immediately jump to using words like tribe, squad, or family when addressing my social groups. People are important to me. Big time. But as for groups, I didn’t tend to just embrace them as a whole with big labels like that. This ragtag group of amazing humans who relish whacking each other with various kinds of metal sticks are awesome humans. I have never come across a group of people more willing to support, love, and engage. How did this magical group of people come together?
Ok, oversimplified AGAIN, but hear me out. The culture cultivated by clubs and schools dictates the kind of people who stay. It becomes a positive feedback loop. A core belief system is in place either through careful crafting or even instinct-based leadership and that attracts like-minded people. The culture is enforced (with love) and that perpetuates a growing population of people who uphold it.
AHWG is my kind of place. These folks nerd out over Meyer, they share ridiculous memes, they check on how I am and I return the favor. My culture needs are obviously not universal and folks will seek out different priorities for themselves when evaluating where they fit in, but the point is that when you find the culture that’s for you, you’ll know. It will make you want to get caught up in that perfect storm of positive feedback.
Go forth, HEMA friends. Find your fam. Find your tribe. Find your sword friends.
I am biased though and say my sword family is best. Don’t agree? That’s ok. We’ll just fight you.
HEMA on, Wayne.
HEMA on, Garth.
- The Fearless Nymph