A recent private discussion on HEMA online has made me realize that in today’s community, we expect much more of HEMA instructors than a decade ago.
That’s not a bad thing, and we certainly see more and more professional instructors with a high level of teaching skills. But as HEMA grows rapidly (and probably will grow even faster after the pandemic), there are probably many more amateurs as a percentage of instructors around the world.
It should be made clear that “amateurs” is not a pejorative here, all of us have started that way. All big names in HEMA in one way or another started as the person who leads the training session because no one else wants to.
If we are anywhere in the world and don’t have a HEMA club with more than 5 years of history, the instructor is certainly an amateur.
Yet multitudes of students join new HEMA clubs and think that their instructor is on the same level as the best of the best.
You can and should teach your instructor
Instead of putting your instructor on a pedestal and never questioning them, realize that just as you are on your way from a beginner to advanced, they are on the same road on the instructor’s path.
A good instructor knows this and is always looking to improve. How does that happen? With questioning the teaching and giving active feedback.
It is key for this to be respectful, and done in an appropriate manner, but it is vital for them growing in their role, and subsequently, you grow as a fencer.
Don’t think that you knowing less about fencing and training means you can’t provide feedback or question the exercises your instructor gives you. Even if you are a complete tabula rasa, with no prior skills, you have one capability – to say when you do or don’t learn well.
A bad instructor will find the fault in you immediately. A good instructor will search very hard for the fault in him. But this is not a fault – it’s a learning opportunity for both of you.
HEMA instructors don’t have certifications (usually), they don’t have much opportunity to learn teaching from other instructors (that’s slowly getting better), and there are few resources for them (although there are actually plenty from other sports, which any instructor should unscrupulously steal and adapt). In a way you, their student, are the best and most active instructor in instructing (teaching, coaching) they will get.
HEMA is not martial art and sport with well-defined quality control, teaching standards and traditions – we are building these now. The advice above actually applies to all students in all skill learning, but it is especially vital in a young and developing discipline such as ours. Give it out. State your issues – at the right time. Make your objections – in the right way. Give back, so you get more.