HEMA students, teach your teachers

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.

One thought on “HEMA students, teach your teachers

  1. Love this!
    I’ve been doing some form of European sword fighting since 1984. I saw plates from a fechtbuch for the first time in 99. I helped found two clubs, and started the one I’m in five years ago this month.
    When I say all that some think that I am making my case for being an “expert” really, or even a good fighter I’m just old.
    But I do have experiences, valuable experiences if applied properly, but I have no illusions of being some great swordsman, or instructor.

    There was no HEMA where I am at now when I first came here. I had injuries in both shoulders, and was over 50. I figured I’m done with swordsmanship.

    The a friend asked me repeatedly if I would teach his twin sons.

    I got to thinking about all the years I’ve done this, and what I would have given at their age to learn HEMA. I had never really desired to be, or studied how to be an instructor. I had always internalized and moved on. But helping spread the art was important to me, and so I said yes.

    Over time our group of three expanded to around 20 with the usual fluctuations. My goal is to get them trained up and confident enough to take over and let the old guy sit down for a bit. I have no doubt they will all surpass me one day if they persist. 

    I have learned so much during this time because of them, and have become a much better fencer (Although I miss the speed, strength and coordination of my 20s! )

    My happiest times are when one of them asks “I know you showed us to do it this way, but Ringeck says (inserts something here) so wouldn’t it be better to do this?” For me that’s far better success than all the medals we can bring home.

    Lee Craven
    Antelope Valley Kunst Des Fechtens


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