Everyone has set backs. There are always challenges that rise up and make life difficult to face, the ongoing pandemic has given pretty much everyone a massive set back. Schedules have shifted, things have gone sideways, and in general, it just makes it hard to get up and do things, even the things you love.
It has been eight weeks since I was last able to teach an in-person class. At first we held classes in a way that felt ethical and safe with social distancing, masks, and lots of sanitizing. We managed to squeeze in five weeks of classes like that before the order to shut down came along. No classes meant no dues and that meant not making rent. It was incredibly difficult to lose our relatively new space (under a year) which represented years of work and growth, but keeping people safe was the first priority.
After the closure, I knew I needed to find a new outlet, some way to keep myself connected to HEMA. My first attempt was live online classes, but teaching to a camera lacks the intimacy and connection that having people in class gives you. You don't get the immediate feedback (if you get any at all from the Internet). You don't get to observe students' technique and help hone their craft. And the part I miss most, you don't get to see the excitement when something finally clicks and makes sense to them. When I started the streaming classes, it felt a lot like 'screaming into the void', but I will concede that online classes aren't all bad. It's been a great tool for my growth, forcing me to find new ways to shape my methods, apply concepts, and create progressive lesson plans. My attitude is that if people benefit, that's great. Even with all those positives to the process, I find myself wondering if the greatest benefit isn't just that I am building a digital library of what I can do - showcasing my teaching style, the weapons with which I am most proficient, and my ability to be consistent in content generation. All of this brought me to my current setup which is two live stream classes and one edited video posted every week on YouTube. (Austin Historical Weapons Guild on YouTube)
While fulfilling in some ways, these classes alone were not enough to keep me sane and finding the motivation to continually make content was challenging. Knowing I needed to do something for myself, I decided to learn a new weapon system: montante. This has been an entirely self-taught venture over the last six weeks as aside from a class or two in the past, I've had little exposure to it. Diving into it has definitely helped remind me why I fell in love with HEMA in the first place. I made the choice to only use the original texts as a guide because I find reading through a manuscript, trying to figure out what a fencing master was trying to communicate, enthralling. Deciphering clues to physical movement in words centuries old will never lose its luster. For my entire life, I've had a love for swords so to learn directly from the masters of old is enchanting. It goes beyond simply being able to replicate the motions they describe for me though. I am endlessly fascinated by the methods by which they teach and the why of how lessons are structured. My HEMA career is relatively "young" having only fought with a longsword for roughly six years and in that time I never had a full-time, dedicated instructor. As a result, I had no other option than to teach myself and discover what I could from reading all I could get my hands on. That experience has served as a motivator for me to offer others what I didn't have. We have, through the Wiktenauer website, access to knowledge from swordsmen who fought for a lifetime. Taking in the knowledge of swordfighters who had so many years to hone their art, skills, and methods provides lessons every time I go back and inspires me on what HEMA is and what it can be.
This period of re-discovery has invigorated my desire to train and study. If you, like many if not most HEMA folk, have been struggling to take time to practice, I encourage you to try it again. Try to remember what made you fall in love with swords in the first place. Look for that lost spark, find the joy in what we do. It might mean picking up a new weapon, or reading a new book. It might mean getting a pell (or a gullible friend) to swing at like a madperson. It might even mean sneaking out under the cover of darkness to fight off the ninja horde that is invading your local park / backyard. That could totally happen.
My thoughts on finding motivation for swords in these crazy times are this; HEMA is what you make it. If you feel you want to double down with your training and dedicate yourself to competing (when we can again), then build a plan. Run drills, invent combos, paint fences, balance on posts...wait, wrong martial art. If you swords are more of a fun pursuit then let it be fun. Defeat zombies, make cool fight sequences, hit stuff for the joy of it.
Times are tough and things will always change, but it's important to come back to the things you love, and sometimes, that means falling in love with it all over again.