So apparently when I told Anders Linnard yesterday that I don't have a reputation I was incorrect, and my positiveness on this and its fellow thread on the HEMA Alliance forum has raised a few eyebrows (and prompted at least one death threat--I suspect it was in jest, though). I am equally baffled as to the reason why people who I know to be intelligent and reasonable are treating this as quite literally the End of the [HEMA] World
and even the unflappable Emperor Jake is speaking out against it, so rather than abandon these threads without further comment as I had planned, I guess I'll briefly lay out my thoughts on the matter.
In the first place, I believe that there's no wrong way to do HEMA. There are dozens of different approaches in our community, and I think there's merit to all of them. (Hell, despite what Ran thinks I don't even have a problem with the ARMA method, merely a personal beef with its director; the rest of the armateers are okay in my book.) That includes approaches influenced by classical and olympic fencing. We're all united by our desire to reconstruct the forgotten arts described by the manuals--as far as I'm concerned, the more variety that exists in the approaches that are cultivated in the community, the faster our body of knowledge will grow.
In the second place, I realize that for many of you this represents an assault by a faceless alien organization on the integrity of the arts that we all cherish. For me it does not. I see it as being driven primarily by Ken Mondschein and his boys, and I've met Ken and spent time bullshitting and discussing manuals and so on. He lives less than an hour away and I expect I'll share a drink with the man some time soon. That's the face I attach to this project, and while he may conceivably have some nefarious purpose
in all of this, I think it unlikely. The USFCA is most likely involved because he was already a member of said organization as part of his classical fencing practice (a Prevot last time I checked) and saw that they used a robust pedagogy based on several centuries of teaching a sword-based art, and further recognized that it could be applied to Medieval weapons; he pushed this program on the sport fencers, I expect, and as such it could just as easily be seen as the attempted conquest of the USFCA by HEMA.
In the third position, I want
a program to exist that teaches HEMA instructors how to teach. Of everything that has been lost in these arts, the method of instruction is the most grievous. Other arts include instructor development in their normal classes, expecting students to absorb as they advance an ancient pedagogy passed down along with the techniques themselves. We don't have that, we don't know how Liechtenauer or Fiore trained their students, and we likely never will. That means that we have to build a new one, which is something that some HEMA teachers simply aren't up to--I attempted it three years ago, and I feel like I largely failed. Two of my former students will fight in the FA tournament this year, and I can take no credit for anything that they achieve there.
Now then, I acknowledge that perhaps Ken and the USFCA are the wrong people to give us such a pedagogy--I acknowledge it and then I dismiss it. Two years ago, I was unquestionably the wrong person to create the Wiktenauer. The "right person" was Matt Galas, or Steve Hick, or another one of the HEMA fathers. I wasn't a well-known or trusted researcher, and even today I can name ten or twelve members of our community off the top of my head who I believe to have much greater knowledge of the manuals than I do (including Ken, incidentally); there are dozens more who are much more knowledgeable than I within their corner of the manual tradition. My first attempts were terrible, I'll admit that flat out; I made every mistake imaginable, and I rebuilt the whole thing from scratch at least twice in the first six months. However, I was the one who stepped up and did it, and that's why people go to Wiktenauer today to look at manuals rather than WMAWiki or any of the other abandoned projects along the same lines.
Likewise, Ken has the desire to get this done, and he has the resources through his connections in the USFCA, and he can legitimately claim to have access to an effective pedagogy for teaching a sword-based art that is descended through many generations from HEMA itself. I applaud this, and wish him the best of luck. He's been criticized for not discussing this program with the internet while developing this; aside from the fact that he had no reason to do so since he was porting an existing pedagogy over to a different system rather than building that pedagogy from the ground up, I don't see why he was under any obligation to in the first place. His approach will not be for everyone, and indeed, I would oppose any attempt to assert hegemony over the American HEMA community. He is simply the first person to arrive at the market (speaking of a marketplace of ideas, not an industry), and could very well corner it for that reason. However, I hope that instead this will drive other organizations to compete with him, and in that competition to create a dialogue about the best way to train HEMA fighters. The creation of a dozen different instructor certification programs, each based on a different approach and backed by a different corner of the community, would be an enormous boon to all of us and bring us much closer to hammering out a pedagogy perfectly suited to our arts.
So there are my thoughts on the matter. Our community is typically fragmented and factious, but occasionally that works in our favor. Privately, I refer to the Gesellschaft Wiktenauers by a different name: they're my Coalition of People Who Hate Each Other. It's mostly a joke, but I know for a fact that some people on that list truly do hate or despise certain others. And yet, while pursuing their own individual research projects in whatever way seems them best--and sometimes while attempting to attack and disprove each other--they've produced the largest collection of HEMA source material ever assembled, a compilation so vast that even Paulus Hector Mair would wet himself. I hope that this program will benefit us in a similar manner by not only producing a stable of excellent HEMA instructors under the USFCA banner--and possibly cast a little bit more publicity on historical fencing as a separate but related discipline to its classical and Olympic descendents--but also by motivating the rest of the community to push back against it--and each other!--and in so doing put a lot more attention on the best ways of teaching the next generation of Western martial artists.
Postscript: I will continue reading this thread since I can't seem to tear myself away completely, so feel free to rip me a new asshole if you disagree and I'll see it. However, I had every intent of walking away from this thread twelve hours ago, so I don't plan on participating much henceforth. If you really want to engage me about this and correct my gross misconceptions, I always respond to PMs and hell, most of you are my Facebook friends anyways. If you say something provocative enough, I might just jump back in though.