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The Role of College HEMA Clubs

What is the role of college HEMA clubs? Because they only have a maximum of 4 years and 2 semesters per year with the student what should they prioritize teaching and what is their role with students?

Nicholas Allen   2 months ago • @Latchkey

Because College HEMA clubs generally have a lower budget, shorter time with students and high staff turnover rates due to instructors and officers graduating, I believe a college HEMA club best serves its students by providing an introduction to the HEMA community. Because this is most people’s first exposure to HEMA, I think it’s best to teach them the basics of whatever system the club specializes in and basic community rules and etiquette then direct them to other clubs for more in-depth training.

Each semester is roughly four months long, and after breaks and holidays are factored in that leaves about 12 weeks of practice. Therefore a club who practiced twice a week would have a maximum of 24 classes per semester (48 per school year). I argue that this is an absurdly short amount of time to teach an entire system, a dedicated club could spend an entire semester on just the five Meisterhauwen. Therefore, it’s up to the instructors to decide what are the top five most important basic skills that each student learns, then engineer each lesson to maximize mastering those skills. This draws upon the idea that 20% of skills drive 80% of results. In our club, we isolated the top 5 skills (the 20%) as footwork, striking, winding, master cuts, and reading opponents.

I’m fascinated to hear what others think, how do you define the purpose of your club and its role in the larger HEMA community?

Derek-Paul Carll   2 months ago • @Carlldpn

As a member of a college Hema Club I concur with your ideal role the club should have! Focusing on the bare basics of single system while leading those interested to greener pastures is a good way for college clubs to introduce members into the community while hopefully setting a strong foundation for further study.

Personally as a full time college student the social aspect of the club is almost as important as the skills that are being learned. It’s great to leave home for the first time and enter a club with others that share your interest. I’m more of a casual practitioner myself and the low stakes environment of the club made learning fencing less stressful.

Ryan Assi   2 months ago • @AuraVeil

Ultimately, there is a battle between two forces when it comes to the success of an established club, and these are what guide the way: there is a definite struggle between time and commitment, but they are definitely not easy to generate by formula. Some people can not commit because they don’t have the time, and some find the time because they are committed. Definitely, commitment comes from interest, and with limited time, focusing on something like 20% of skills leaves time for people to learn, and learn those small number of things well. Ultimately, this gives enough time for people to learn and enjoy what they are doing, without being a huge hindrance to their studies. After all, we are students, first!

However, interest and commitment will drive the role of the club, where time will be found by the members.
Always, it should serve as an affordable introduction to the HEMA community and allow for instruction going as far as anyone in the club wants to take it. However, it should serve as more than that.
It should serve as the stronghold of a community, in the way that although we all fight alone in tournaments, we are all members of the same team, and to meet every week, even if just once, should be treated as a community gathering. With the interest comes commitment, and with commitment comes growth. HEMA is not a mainstream sport, and one of the first things that can help put it in the spotlight is starting HEMA college clubs and training people until it can become a varsity-level sport. However, this may not be the case for all clubs, which is why although the role of interest and affordability should always be there, so should community.
Whether or not a club looks to attain higher expectations within the community when it comes to competition, the backbone should always bring together all members, push to inspire them, push to unite them, and allow for the enjoyment in the sport as well as their club-mates.

We have understood that sometimes, the basics are too small of a subset of skills to continue to hold that interest and stop older members from stagnating. This is done by first, picking main techniques to focus on, moving on, and then starting to figure out the different types of fencers we have and cater smaller lessons to them. For instance, we have decided that our main techniques of concern are: footwork, striking, master cuts, blocking, fluidity, and reading opponents. With footwork comes posture and voiding, with striking comes accuracy and appropriate measure, with master cuts comes appropriate application, with blocking comes posture and application, and with fluidity, we tie everything together into a fluid motion during battle, where the key lessons of reading an opponent are taught. However, going over these semester after semester, lesson after lesson, tends to leave people stagnant without moving forward, because focusing on 20% of a system leaves out the possibilities that fencers won’t realize until they go to a competition, or engage with a more competitive club. For this reason, it is important for the instructors to continue to view and be aware of the fencers in the club to pick out further techniques and other devices to individually teach people. We found that this not only stops people from being stagnant, but also lends itself to a curious situation: when giving lessons, sometimes people zone out, and forget techniques…but when you teach one person something that they would enjoy greatly, and you watch them use it on other fencers in the club who did not see it coming, they get really excited, and you start to bring together fencers into learning their own fighting style, and getting them *interested* even more. It is in being clever and aware that we can inspire others to move forward and enjoy what they are doing.

I would say picking 20% of core skills as a baseline, and then feeding another 10% is really what gets people further along in our club. The role of our club is to: provide cheap and available instruction to get people into the community; provide enough instruction, competition, and fun in order to keep people interested, but also help them improve as fighters; hold tournaments to bring the community to us and bring everyone together; sponsor away trips to help us get a wider view of what the community actually is and how we can help; provide a large group of people interested in trying new things to be a testbed for some HEMA research; and lastly, to build a community that is ongoing and longlasting as a sport so that even though as people come and go, members would find fun in competition, excitement at practice, and mentor each other while being able to say farewell and watch the rise of another generation, just as other varsity sports do. The difference is that we have the opportunity to make it more wholesome, more individually focused, and a lot more epic, while allowing anyone not as dedicated to find their place with in the club.

I believe that a college HEMA club, like any other club, should have its first main focus to be building the community within the club, as time and commitment will follow, and interest will continue to drive it forward.

Austin Bae   2 months ago • @FrshMint

As you have said, it is literally impossible to effectively teach (from Liechtenauer line) all 17 Hauptstücke in just a mere two semester deadline. Our club at VCU has made it possible to do three days in a row, the entire weekend, and still wasn’t able to fit in all possible points of instruction. At the end of the fall semester, I’ve asked students how they had felt about our instruction and gave a barebones survey. Most students weren’t able to recollect what they have learned since they essentially had one day to learn them before we moved on to something else despite having an open gym on Saturday for them to practice. So what we had come to realize is that there are many problems with our model.
1. We have to significantly reduce the amount of techniques to teach and focus on footwork and basics to make it easier for students to absorb.
2. Create a structured and organized model for efficiency and professional outlook. Incoming students or people for that matter do not like to see a club that seems to struggle keeping things organize or even struggle to look competent to teach.

  1. Create HEMA games that are relevant to instruction. Not games such as Kill the King (not 1v1) but games that can replicate the competitiveness of a 1v1 HEMA tournament. Of course lots of sparring.

  2. Fundraising. Although our club makes a pretty decent amount from fees and university funding, HEMA is very expensive and the cost to buy a ticket as well as lodging and transportation adds to it. Our goal is to utilize fundraiser money to help students purchase tickets and/or rent vans for transportation.

    Therefore we decided to make a new model for our new upcoming semester in the fall. Friday classes is still our beginner’s class. However we will not be teaching techniques such as handedrucken and uberlaufen for the sake of time. Even techniques such as zornhau will be limited to just one variation to move on. Instead, all of these “advanced techniques” will be either taught on our Sunday practice (competitive class) or on our open gym days on Saturday. Most importantly, I believe that by simply lowering the amount of techniques and stretching them across the semester while repeating these techniques will allow the students to memorize and be familiar with the techniques they learned that are essential to their overall development. I’ve noticed the lack of good footwork among most our members with most members sitting in place while getting scored on. Even some older members were still suffering from poor form and footwork. As such, from what I’ve gathered is that the goal for university clubs should be first and foremost work on structure and foot work the most. Speedy and agile. Our club has 3 hours on Friday for instruction and we are planning on dedicating some considerable time, say 30-45 min, on proper footwork after warm ups. It is essential that they nail down both the structure and footwork. Even with minimal knowledge of techniques, good foot work and structure will go a long way for them even in competitions.


    This is all but a small piece of what I could say.

Nicholas Allen   2 months ago • @Latchkey

So when I was establishing the club I had four main goals in descending order of priority which I believe are universal to every HEMA club regardless of scholastic affiliation:

  1. Meet at the same time and place each week

  2. Have a uniform appearance

    • When people ask me why this was so high on my priority list I just remind that the moment we all had T-shirts that said “VCU HEMA” on it the dorm staff stopped telling us we couldn’t have swords in the dorms, the police stopped stopping us on the sidewalk on the way to practice, and the gym front desk stopped harassing us at the front desk. A uniform appearance makes people take you seriously and when you are dealing with something as unconventional as historical reconstruction that air of legitimacy matters and makes everything else possible.

  3. Have a place to store our equipment

    • I transported 5 cold steels in a photography bag a mile to a friend of a friend’s closet in the really sketchy part of Richmond for 4 months when we were just getting started so storage isn’t a concern when you’re working with small scale but as soon as you have more than a few swords and helmets you need to start thinking about reliable safe storage

  4. Start hosting or going to regional competitions

Once you have the first three things then you have a club you can start building on. Then you can worry about the leadership structure, how to transfer power between incoming and outgoing staff, curriculum, etc. Then once you have at least a semester (4 months) of relatively smooth operation then you can start to reach out to the community and ingratiate yourself into it by going to events and hosting small competitions and inviting instructors from other clubs to come teach at your lessons if that’s practical.

What I wonder is if most clubs have the same requirements to become minimally viable (time, space, members, equipment, etc.) Then how do they manage their time scales and curriculums? and if any of those solutions are applicable to scholastic clubs.

Charles Lin   2 months ago • @charleslin

Hi everyone, this is Charles Lin from Capital Kunst des Fechtens in Washington, DC. I’m one of several instructors and leaders at CKDF, so these thoughts are just my own. I think teaching at a college or university presents several unique challenges of the instruction of HEMA, and you all have touched on the major points. The main constraints I see are limited training time from students, limited commitment/priority, and limited tenure.

You’ve all raised great points, I just have a few things to add:

  • One of the things that CKDF has done operationally that has worked out well is expect redundancy in all roles of leadership or responsibility. Especially given limited tenure and very inconsistent academic priorities, this will be important. It can also prevent burnout by more advanced practitioners, as teaching a large number of relatively casual students can be taxing. Always be training your replacement.

  • In my mind, I have a triage model for CKDF. Conceptually, the classes are layered to permit people with varying levels of interest to select into the appropriate level. We have a 3-4 week class that meets once a week called the “intro” class. We have an ongoing class once a week called “common fencing,” and another ongoing/invite only class once a week called “kdf longsword.” Basically, the intro class weeds out the people who want to say they’ve “completed a longsword class” or whatever, but don’t want it to be a regular part of their life. This means that the common fencing class gets more consistent and passionate students, and instruction and retention improves because student quality and interest is higher. (For example, I’d rather have 10 people who showed up 90% of the time than 20 people who showed up 45%.)

  • Not all clubs have the same goals and approach. Some might be super tournament focused, some might be scholastic, some might be social. It’s all fine - but make sure that your intro class or first interactions with incoming people make it clear what the club is about. Interacting/messaging with newbies and potential recruits is something that should be carefully considered, especially at the “large club” level. It will help prevent a lot of burnout or limited attendance later.

  • A small club doesn’t need a ton of structure, and can basically just be a small group of friends, but larger clubs will need to think deeply about the goal of the club, and the structures that help them achieve their goals.

  • One thing I’ve never seen discussed is the advantages that college clubs have. The way I see it, you have i) educated members ii) access to university libraries and faculty iii) more but perhaps less consistent free time iv) potential university financial or institutional resources (gym, training spaces, etc.). Finding scholastic projects and approaches might play to your strengths. In addition, finding away to facilitate ad hoc practice sessions between members might pay off. Partnering with a local club or local researcher could yield a lot of benefits, as a local club/research will not have access to a lot of the resources you have, and vice versa.

Sorry for the wall of text, but those were just some thoughts I had.

This comment has been removed.

Nicholas Allen   2 months ago • @Latchkey

I agree that college clubs have enormous benefits over traditional clubs!

  • Not only do we not pay rent on our state of the art facility but we receive insurance through the school as well

  • This also allows us to host tournaments with very low ticket costs because we don’t have to cover the cost of renting the venue

  • Our officers get free leadership and medical training and school the school helps enforce logistical structure in terms of a constitution and club guidelines, budgets, yearly plans, etc.

  • We get a stipend each year which when combined with fees gives us increased financial capacity to buy gear and facilitate participation in tournaments

  • We have the infrastructure to support our practices and away games

  • We get complimentary storage space

  • As Charles pointed out we have access to a university library and by extension, academic resources and databases that other practitioners can’t access

  • One of the biggest advantages is recruitment, we have never had a problem drawing 40+ students to our first practice of the semester and this last year the club had a record number of members, all of whom are educated, young, and eager to learn

    • College is also a much easier place to find diversity in the club like LGBT+ members and staff

  • Also being on the east coast gives us access to phenomenal clubs like CKDF and RKDF that we can partner with.

I would argue that while college students generally do have more free time than the average working adult their day job of being a student is more mentally taxing than the average office job and leaves less free time for independent HEMA study. Just speaking from my experience as a pre-med student, in my senior year I would routinely spend 90 hours a week on school, most of it in the dissection lab, and what free time I managed to carve out was spent eating and doing laundry. The mere thought of having to study HEMA sources, even for fun made me want to lie down because I was so mentally exhausted. Obviously, a 90 hour work week with high intellectual demand isn’t uncommon for technical fields like medicine, I’m a volunteer EMT and my full-time doctor co-workers worked twice as hard as I ever could and once of them still had the time and mental energy left over to become a regional chess champion.

But on the whole, while college students have more free time they are less inclined to spend that time studying HEMA which I feel increases the amount of review a college club has to do and how much their curriculum can cover in a semester. The rate of extracurricular study and the effects that has on the club’s curriculum and pace might be different in clubs with non-academic demographics. But that's only my experience and I would be interested in other people's thoughts and experiences.

Kiana Shurkin   a month ago • @Journeyman

Hello, all!  A lot of good points have been raised here.


I have not run a university HEMA club so am interested to hear everyone's thoughts. What perspective I can offer comes from running a high school Olympic fencing club, serving as lead instructor of a HEMA club (not associated with a university), and offering workshops to help develop martial arts instructors.

  • As Charles brought up, not all clubs have the same goals and approach.  As such, don't feel like there's only one "right way" to set up a club. Diversity is good and allows us as a larger community to meet the needs of different people with varying interests and levels of investment. I would add that, depending on your situation, it might be a good idea to ask your members what they want out of their experience as a part of your club. Then, you can find the place where their goals meet what you as a leader/instructor want out of your experience. I've found that practice helpful in other settings; it applies at least equally well in this context.

  • If you as an instructor are looking to provide an introduction to the wider HEMA community (which is a great aim), it is also entirely possible to use your university club as a screening forum for an advanced invitational group. This is also one of many approaches that can help with the issue of people getting bored going over fundamentals over and over. I was part of an MMA club at my community college that did this and was very impressed by how well it worked.

    The martial arts club at the college was open to anyone, but the instructors would select a few people each semester- based on the dedication and character they showed- to invite to an advanced group run separately from the college that continued year-round. That group had connections to the wider martial arts community and offered opportunities to carpool to seminars, etcetera. They also fostered a culture similar to that of many HEMA clubs with a structured but more familial feel.

    The college group offered a way to make sure advanced members would be committed and fit in with the culture they as a group had built without barring anyone else who wanted to learn. It also helped the advanced group to run more smoothly by ensuring that everyone who joined had learned certain principles and terminology, that beginners wouldn't disrupt the flow of instruction by dropping in and out, and that manageable waves of newcomers would all start on roughly the same schedule.

  • Ryan brought up a great point about building community. I'd build on that by suggesting that one of the most valuable functions a college club can serve is providing opportunities for the personal growth of members, helping people to develop leadership skills, and providing opportunities to practice those skills by taking responsibility within the group. This is true of any club, but university students tend to be in a particular life stage when they are able to focus more on this type of personal development, and it can be a really powerful experience that translates well to other areas of life.

    Charles mentioned that aiming for redundancy in roles of leadership and responsibility is a solid practice, and I completely agree.  It's even more crucial in a university club, because most group leaders will have 2-4 years at most before someone else must step up to keep the group running. Therefore, regardless of any additional goals you may have, developing leaders capable of teaching your curriculum and invested enough to carry on the club tradition is essential in making your group self-sustaining and allowing it to survive beyond the matriculation of its founders and current leadership.  Moreover, if you provide these opportunities to your members, you will have instilled a valuable legacy in even those who choose not to continue with HEMA beyond their college years.

  • As a final point, one unique opportunity open to university clubs is connecting with a wider network of other university clubs to both support and compete with them.  Those here who have instructed or trained at a college club, I'd be interested to hear your thoughts and experiences regarding this.  What interactions did you have with other college groups?  Did any reach out to you, or did you contact them?

Thanks to everyone for sharing your insights!

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