Author: esfinges1

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By: Mariana López Rodríguez.

 

TL, DR.: Read the text in bold.

I get it. There are things that you don’t necessarily feel like sharing with your instructor, especially when you are new. Things like not wanting to do X exercise because you are on your period, or that after your baby was born your levels of testosterone or aggression went down (I’ve heard that happens to guys), or something like that.

However there is one thing students need to understand: For every misunderstanding, for every time you feel there was some disrespect, every moment you feel insulted, ignored, conflicted, angry, sad, shocked, confused or disappointed in your trainings, if you ever feel there’s an attitude or a comment that’s out of place, for every concern or question, every time you feel unsure, you need to understand: YOU MUST TALK TO YOUR INSTRUCTOR FIRST.

I’m about to share one of the most embarrassing and shameful stories that happened just recently (TW: Mis-gendering): I have this one student who has very queer features, a neutral name, and a neutral way of dressing. This caused me to change the pronouns I used to refer to this person all the time, it was a struggle, she/he/they… I was all over, English not being my first language I LEGIT don’t know how to talk without using pronouns and I was babbling more than usual, I was terrified I was being the most disrespectful person ever, and yet invading the person’s privacy by asking was also terrifying. This was new to me, I really like this student and I was acting so awkwardly I felt it was obvious to everyone, it was the first time I was in this situation. At the end of the 7th class I got brave enough and for the first time in my life, I asked for their pronouns. I was so scared to screw up and so anxious I’m 99% sure I came across very VERY rude, but by the time I noticed I messed up the person (who gently and calmly answered the question) had left. I did everything wrong, I asked the person to come with me for a second to have privacy in the wrong way, I was so anxious I used the worst wording of all time, I dismissed the conversation extremely awkwardly and by the time I realized I had made the biggest mistake of my life, the person had left.

The next class the student didn’t show and while I’m still hoping it was coincidental, a part of me is well aware that I might have just made someone’s day miserable, and to leave HEMA with a bad experience, all due to my inexperience, communication barriers and lack of tools. And believe me, I didn’t start the conversation lightly.  I talked to people, asked for advice, spoke with more experienced instructors, and I still ruined it. I learned my lesson by possibly hurting or offending someone.

In this instance, I understand if the person gets the worst idea about me, and I understand if they never want to approach me ever again, and while obviously they did nothing wrong and this was entirely my fault, it got me thinking about this issue.  I was deeply frustrated knowing that this is not who I am and that that person does not deserve that bad experience and that I could’ve done better and now I won’t be able to apologize. 

What am I trying to say?

INSTRUCTORS ARE HUMANS. Think of it like this: Sometimes there are misunderstandings when your instructor is demonstrating a move to you, let alone the possibility of misunderstanding while explaining something or talking, or tweeting or facebooking, etc, etc, etc.

Depending on the size of the club, we can’t be everywhere. We don’t hear the talking in the changing room, or what happens with the people behind us while we were correcting someone else’s technique. There’s a chance we are missing someone misbehaving, or because no one told us, we have no idea the substitute instructor is mean, or sexist or racist or such.

Now, I want to make a quick pause at this point and make something very clear first: It is every instructor’s OBLIGATION to be approachable and constantly remind students that we are there to solve any questions, clarify doubts and solve any problems. Instructors must be vocal and clear about how important it is for students to come to us with all the questions and needs they have. We can’t ask to be approached when we do not make ourselves easy to approach. As instructors we must work and seek to empower our students so they have the confidence to talk to us, the same way we approach students when there is any concern. And honestly this topic has enough material to write another blog specifically about it, but in this blog I want to specifically focus on what happens when students still decide not to approach their instructors, regardless.

And yes, there are times in which we make mistakes serious enough we probably lose the privilege of being approached by our students (Like my story). But to be fair, those instances tend to be rare, extreme and incredibly obvious, and yet obviousness is highly subjective. As an example, I know of an instructor who is Jewish, and English was not his first language. He was substituting for a class at a university, and having a dark sense of humor, made a sarcastic/ self-deprecating remark about Jews, not realizing that no one knew he was Jewish and that he was trying to crack a joke to break the ice. He was reported by one of the students and ended up being investigated by the university for anti-semitism.

As instructors, at least once in our lives we will encounter a person who is mad at us and won’t want to see us ever again because we did this one thing that we:

a) Never recalled doing.

b) Didn’t realized was bad (ignorance is not a sin as long as you are willing to change once you learn).

c) Meant in an entirely different way but the person didn’t understood or took out of context.

d) Were too inexperienced and had no clue how to handle it properly.

e)Never took action because we had no idea something was happening with other instructors/students (because we are not omnipresent/omniscient!).

 

By not talking to your Instructor FIRST you are causing several troubles:

1.- You can slow down your learning and improvement process: Sometimes the things we feel shy talking about are as simple as not wanting to train with this person who keeps mansplaining everything, even when they are less experienced than you; or you are asked to help with new students so often you feel your own training is being damaged; there’s also the chance your instructor is not pushing you harder as they are unaware you are interested in being more competitive rather than just a recreational fencer. If you don’t alert your instructor, you are removing yourself from the opportunity of having more successful and productive training. On that same note: We can’t read minds:  There’s no way for us to know all your needs as a student if you don’t communicate it to us. If you are frustrated because you feel we don’t care about something, maybe, just maybe, you should consider that it’s not that we don’t care but that we don’t know.

2.- You might lose the opportunity to be better student:  None of us are perfect, and by that, I mean that you as a student are not perfect either. We as instructors have reasons for our actions. It happens more often than not, to have students that are entitled or who see a reward as a punishment or who believe they are ready for something they really are not. And from time to time we think these things are obvious to you. To us it’s obvious that we make you work with the new students because you are really good with them and you enjoy it, or you are not being asked for certain thing because you are more needed elsewhere or that you are not given a certain job because you don’t have enough experience or knowledge yet. Maybe you think you are ready and are really good at something but you are really not. By not talking to your instructor you might be losing the chance to realize you were wrong and you could be better student and training partner, and therefore, to be a better fencer and person.

3.- You lose the chance to confirm whether your instructor is a bad person or not: Yes, there is the chance your Instructor is an absolute jackass and won’t do anything about that one classmate or meant the awful words you thought you heard. But both by just leaving or giving the benefit of the doubt without talking to them you are missing the chance to confirm the reality. You could be walking away from a good person and loosing what could be your favorite hobby, or you could be staying for a toxic bad experience to come.

4.- You don’t allow your instructor to right their wrongs: We could’ve kicked out that one student, we could have learned to talk about weight and gender and how it relates to grappling/strength/training in a different more respectful way, we could’ve made the club a friendlier environment, we could’ve apologized. By not talking to us first, you are removing  from us a growth opportunity and you are removing yourself the chance to have a better experience in your training.

 5.- You can hurt your instructor unfairly and permanently: There ARE misunderstandings, they WILL happen. There is the chance that you’re so angry for this one thing, and complaint behind their backs to everyone, people are horrified and decide Coach Harry is a total Voldemort. Then you go back to your HEMA class and realize it was all a misunderstanding. But by the time you realize you were wrong, it won’t matter if you tell people Coach Harry is, in reality, a Saint of all Saints…. the HEMA village already heard the rumor and the Instructor will have to fight a myth for all their years to come as an instructor.  

6.- You could put you or your classmates at risk: Maybe you never talk to your Instructor of this problematic classmate that they just didn’t noticed, maybe they never heard the one dude who kept making misogynist comments, maybe you weren’t sure to ask to your Instructor what do they mean when they said X thing.  By not making your Instructor aware, he won’t be able to take action in time, and he won’t realize what was going on until something major happens.

The only instance in which you should NOT talk to your instructor first, is in the instances where the instructor or student (in which case you should alert the instructor as well) is doing something that should be alerted the police or authorities. And if that’s the case then GO TO THE AUTHORITIES FIRST before doing anything else.

Communities are social environments and we will face the common problems that any place with more than one person will have: language barriers, lack of understanding, lack of experience, ignorance, naïve people, doubts and mistakes. Communication is the one tool that we have to work through all of those, and so we might as well use it.

Instructors are there to guide you, teach you, and give you an enriching and fun experience. Help us reach that goal! TALK TO US!

esfinges1 2 comments

 By Emilia Skirmuntt 

Our community (for those of you who came here just by chance and don’t know what the hell I’m talking about it is HEMA- Historical European martial arts community) tends to bring up the same topics with amazing regularity. 

 

Quite recently, this topic was again brought up: “why do white, middle class men dominate our hobby and what to do (or what not to do) to open to a larger group of minorities?”

 

Undoubtedly one of these minorities is women and of course the same annoying old opinion appeared – “If women wanted to, they would come to us on their own and we wouldn’t need to do anything to make our activity look more appealing to them”. As a female fencer and as an instructor I beg to differ with such opinions.

 

With more than half of my life spent first in professional sports and now in less official and recognized, but still quite institutionalized physical activity, like historical martial arts, I’ve seen a significant number of things that could and should be changed or looked at differently. This could bring more female students into it. Sadly, some of those things are so engraved into our culture and upbringing that it will take a lot of time before we will get rid of it for good, if ever.

 

During the last few years I have had the privilege to teach people from very different backgrounds, with different levels of skill, and very often people who have never held a sword before, and probably would never do it of their own free will were it not for taking part in a LARPing (Live Action Roleplaying) event. That alone gave me a perspective that I haven’t had before, and most notably, has shown me something very worrying. I was able to compare the performance of women and men, absolute beginners with no martial arts background. Many women seem to be just less fit and less sure of themselves in sports. So let me talk a bit more about the whole issue.

 

Women from a very young age are told that physical activity is generally not very ‘ladylike’. Of course, that is a huge generalization and people are very different but several studies look into that, which have found that women are, on average, less physically active than men [Edwards and Sackett, 2016; Telford et al., 2016]. Why? Excellent question, because there is no reason why women should be less attracted to exercise. Apart from one – our society sees physical activity as more of a ‘boys thing’. With martial arts the issue reaches new depths – since it is more of a contact sport that requires a lot of physical contact with the intent of attacking another person. We discourage girls from partaking in sports of such nature, putting in their heads that it is not something girls should do. With time it pays off, women who have never exercised will be less coordinated than their male counterparts who do some light exercises or even do nothing in adulthood, but had a lot more physical activity in their early years. Women who start martial arts without any preparation or experience in sports tend to be less sure of their moves and to have problems with applying drills and exercises. This phenomenon has nothing to do with being female. It has a lot more to do with our approach to gender as a society. Who hasn’t met with the (not very wise) notion that boys are more naughty and aggressive and sometimes fight with each other while if girls behave similarly, it is just not accepted. I heard from many women that they don’t like any idea of hitting people. There is nothing wrong with that, of course. But I never heard anything like that from a guy, although I’m sure many of them think the same. But again, this concept has been put into our heads; fighting is ok for boys but girls should not go around hitting people.  

 

Some of you would say that this is not only gender stereotyping and culture: “clearly, women are less aggressive than men!” There are just two problems with that. Being more aggressive shouldn’t be a reason to train martial arts or to be drawn to weapons. Almost all sports premise on defeating your opponent or the other team. Almost all of them require you to be bold, confident and ready to overcome your limits. Do you need to be aggressive? It depends how we define aggression, and interestingly men and women tend to view aggression differently.

 

Men see aggression as an exercise of control over other people – which sounds like something that would help in martial arts, while women experience aggression through excessive stress and loss of self-control, which does not sound so helpful in comparison [Campbell & Muncer, 1987]. Girls receive much more negative feedback during their developmental years about physical aggression and there is no cultural acceptance of aggression in girls. And I guess we are coming back to the cultural stereotyping part…

 

But again, another ‘argument’ repeatedly appears in such discussions. Hormones! It’s all the fault of testosterone. Biology! Science! You don’t discuss that, right?

 

Ok, so what about testosterone? Yes, men have higher levels of it so that must be why many women are not as happy to fight. Well, again… there are some problems with that. First of all there are many female martial artists (although way fewer than men) who are perfectly ok with fighting others and do not have higher levels of testosterone than other females.  That might mean that testosterone is not a sole indicator for liking or not liking to fight.

 

But there is an even more basic problem when it comes to testosterone. We still don’t have a full grasp on how testosterone levels influence the likelihood of being more or less drawn to martial arts. Research is inconclusive, and you can find studies that contradict each other [Archer, 1991; Batrinos, 2012; Inoue et al., 2017; Kasper et al., 2014; Mims, 2007-which is more a magazine article and not research but you still might find it interesting!].

 

In fact, when it comes to fighting, we should be looking at the whole array of hormones and not only testosterone, which both males and females have, although in different amounts. Also, significantly higher or lower levels of testosterone may point to an underlying medical condition that requires professional attention. It can be fixed with medications but I assure you it’s not that all men who train martial arts have such problems.

 

Obviously there are certain differences in our anatomy which just make men more effective in the short run – on average they have greater muscle mass, and because of that they are stronger and faster than average females [Miller et al., 1993]. But starting with an obvious – average does not mean everyone. Differences between one man and the other can be as big as between the average man and woman. Techniques used in martial arts are not only designed to fight people of the same size as you. There are many that teach you how to fight people heavier and bigger than you. In martial arts, overconfidence is a very easy trap to fall into. Some people seeing smaller and weaker opponent are sure that they have already won. They couldn’t be more wrong. During my fighter career I’ve seen quite a lot, when a petite person won over a tall, big one just by sole skill and not excessive force. Women tend to be much better technical fighters cause they cannot rely on their strength, like some fencers or martial artists, they need to find other ways of landing a hit and think more on strategy.

 

So on average men are stronger and faster, that is true, but women have better endurance [Fulco et al., 1999; Hicks et al., 2001; Lanning, et al., 2017]. A higher percentage of body fat in women means that they can fuel their muscles for longer [Knetchle et al., 2004]. Differences in times in endurance sports between men and women starts to be smaller and smaller the longer the event lasted. Women seem to deal with pain better than men [Fillingim et al., 2009]. While men have better depth perception, distance vision and better sight than women during the day [Li, 2014]. But women are better at night vision, have better visual memory and are better at sensing moods of other people, which in turn can help in sensing weaknesses in their opponent. Women are also much better in retaining balance and can generate quite a lot of power coming from the hips, which is not that easy for men and caused by the differences in center of gravity for both sexes. So, of course, there are differences between men and women in martial arts but all of us can use those traits to our advantage. Although the strategies we work out might be different.

 

Beginners in HEMA (both men and women) most of the time don’t know that it is a sport in which you need to use your whole body and many times you need to use many different groups of muscles at once to deliver a hit, parry or dodge. For men, having more muscle mass and higher upper body strength, it might be easier in the beginning even if they don’t know that they should use other muscles too. They can deliver a strong and quick hit even using only muscles of their arms. For women it is much more complicated. Women need to use many more muscle groups and especially their hips during a movement to deliver hit of considerable strength and quickness. In the case of female martial artists most of their strength will always be derived from hip rotations and not from the upper body. Fencing instructors are often more male student oriented and don’t see that difference most of the time. They teach both male and female students body mechanics in the same way, which puts female students in a worse position than male ones.  Female students should be taught from the first day to use their whole body and not only upper body. In fact all students should be taught that in the first place but while men will be ok with that in the beginning, women won’t because their movement will be significantly weaker and slower.

 

The last thing is something I cannot stress enough – if you want more minorities and variability at your trainings and in your club you cannot joke around and bully others. Even if you think it is completely innocent, funny and the person you are doing that to is your friend since nursery. New people won’t know that. For many of us going to a completely new environment, with unknown people is a challenge in itself, especially if we are going there on our own. It is coming into a completely new close-knit group as a stranger, an outsider. It is a sad truth that most women face unwanted attention and verbal and physical attacks in their lives. It is not something that should be joked about. For many of them coming to a club, into an activity dominated by men, to a group they don’t know is an act of courage, and even silly jokes might drive them away. If you want to have a larger diversity of people in your club, please try to reach out to them, even coming an extra mile and spending a bit more time with them and trying to help, is better than being cocky.

 

And last but not least, we don’t want to be treated as a club mascot, something special. Even if you have one woman in your club, or one just visits your club, don’t treat her as something exceptional. We want to feel equal as fencers, martial artists, and scholars. Not special snowflakes.

 

  1. Archer, J., 1991. The influence of testosterone on human aggression. British journal of psychology, 82(1), pp.1-28.

 

  1. Batrinos, M.L., 2012. Testosterone and aggressive behavior in man. International journal of endocrinology and metabolism, 10(3), p.563.

 

  1. Campbell A, Muncer S. Models of anger and aggression in the social talk of women and men. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour. 1987 Dec 1;17(4):489-511.

 

  1. Edwards, E.S. and Sackett, S.C., 2016. Psychosocial Variables Related to Why Women are Less Active than Men and Related Health Implications: Supplementary Issue: Health Disparities in Women. Clinical Medicine Insights: Women’s Health, 9, pp.CMWH-S34668.

 

  1. Fillingim, R.B., King, C.D., Ribeiro-Dasilva, M.C., Rahim-Williams, B. and Riley, J.L., 2009. Sex, gender, and pain: a review of recent clinical and experimental findings. The journal of pain, 10(5), pp.447-485.

 

  1. Fulco, C.S., Rock, P.B., Muza, S.R., Lammi, E., Cymerman, A., Butterfield, G., Moore, L.G., Braun, B. and Lewis, S.F., 1999. Slower fatigue and faster recovery of the adductor pollicis muscle in women matched for strength with men. Acta Physiologica Scandinavica, 167(3), pp.233-240.

 

  1. Hicks, A.L., Kent-Braun, J. and Ditor, D.S., 2001. Sex differences in human skeletal muscle fatigue. Exercise and sport sciences reviews, 29(3), pp.109-112.

 

  1. Inoue, Y., Takahashi, T., Burriss, R.P., Arai, S., Hasegawa, T., Yamagishi, T. and Kiyonari, T., 2017. Testosterone promotes either dominance or submissiveness in the Ultimatum Game depending on players’ social rank. Scientific reports, 7(1), p.5335.

 

  1. Kasper, S., Kranz, G.S. and Lanzenberger, R., 2014. Testosterone, Neural Circuits, and Male Depression. Biological psychiatry, 76(4), pp.272-273.

 

  1. Knechtle, B., Müller, G., Willmann, F., Kotteck, K., Eser, P. and Knecht, H., 2004. Fat oxidation in men and women endurance athletes in running and cycling. International journal of sports medicine, 25(01), pp.38-44.

 

  1. Lanning, A.C., Power, G.A., Christie, A.D. and Dalton, B.H., 2017. Influence of sex on performance fatigability of the plantar flexors following repeated maximal dynamic shortening contractions. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 42(10), pp.1118-1121.

 

  1. Li, R., 2014. Why women see differently from the way men see? A review of sex differences in cognition and sports. Journal of sport and health science, 3(3), pp.155-162.

 

  1. Miller, A.E.J., MacDougall, J.D., Tarnopolsky, M.A. and Sale, D.G., 1993. Gender differences in strength and muscle fiber characteristics. European journal of applied physiology and occupational physiology, 66(3), pp.254-262.

 

  1. Mims, C., 2007. Strange but true: Testosterone alone does not cause violence. Scientific American, 8.

 

  1. Telford, R.M., Telford, R.D., Olive, L.S., Cochrane, T. and Davey, R., 2016. Why Are girls less physically active than boys? findings from the LOOK longitudinal study. PloS one, 11(3), p.e0150041.

 

 

 

esfinges1 4 comments

By: Mariana López Rodríguez

Last month I refereed for the first time in the USA. I had refereed before in Mexico, but it had been a while since that happened. I was slightly nervous, yet since I´ve been judging for so long and on such a regular basis I was confident I could do it. And I did it, and I got an unexpected response.  Not only did I give more red and yellow cards than I’ve ever seen any other ref give during the initial pools, people, including some of those who were carded, thanked me for it. (Some others, not so much.)

Now, if you don’t want to read this entire (long) blog, here is the abstract( and going forward just read the sentences in bold):  Giving penalty cards should be normal, it should happen often, and without mercy. Regardless of the intentions of the fighter, rules are rules and you stick to them. Whether the foul was intentional or not, whether you’re a famously nice fencer, or the dark lord himself is irrelevant. Because that’s how rules work.

 As a ref I did not discriminate. I yelled at absolutely everyone on an equal standard, to men and women, to new fencers and experienced, to known popular people and to fencers I had never seen before in my life. I got hated and loved for it, and people called me the “meanest ref” and made comments to me like “I made very clear who was in charge” (which shows that, in fact, refs can be overpowered). This attitude of mine came from the following self-awareness:

1.-  I’m 1.53 meters (4”ll) tall, and I weight about 43 kilos  (96 pounds). I was, and still am not willing to let a fight go past the point in which I can control it, and by that I mean, before I need more than a stick to separate them. How to do that? If you reach the point of having to use the stick, that’s a clear verbal warning.  If it happens again, or even if you feel the first time was out of line, that’s a yellow card (or whatever warning system you use).  

For those worried that someone as small as me shouldn’t ref as a safety measure: my judges (who were specially selected for me due to their size and strength) had the instructions to just drop the batons and help me tackle them if the situation came to that.  To be honest, the fact that we can easily imagine that happening (because it IS happening at events) is embarrassing and unacceptable. What we do is an inherently dangerous activity.  I’m unwilling to put other people at any further risk, so again, my first goal is, to not let things get there.

“BUT BIG GUYS PLAY HARD” Honestly? Controlling your anger, blows, and yourself in general is a better display of skill than showing how creative in the field you can get with the displays of intimidation, strength, desperation or piñata blows, and if you can’t control yourself either deal with the consequences, or don’t fight.

2.-  If it feels wrong, it’s wrong. If during a fight something happens that gives you an adrenaline rush, and you have a moment of panic then you should pay attention to those alert bells. Don’t just exhale thankful nothing happened, it is your task to do something that exact second, or else something WILL happen. There is a very bad habit of rushing against the other opponent like we are playing rugby, to force them out of the ring, and or intimidate them. This not only is dangerous to the opponent, is dangerous to the public. There was a fencer who barely avoided running into the spectators. The second time,  yellow card.  Third time, red card and loss of the match. I heard he did that again in other pools… in mine? He stopped. And while I know that fighter probably hates me for life. I don’t care, I have in my conscience that the public was and is still with their faces intact.

This specific habit is not that uncommon and yet almost everyone recognizes it as dangerous.  Why do we keep seeing it? Because we let it go, and we keep awarding the points for it. Give them their well-deserved yellow or red card for rushing (intentionally or not) and let´s see if they keep doing it.

3.- It’s not my problem that they didn’t read the rules.  A lot of people either don’t read the rules, or “test” breaking them at least once per fight as they only get a “reminder” before they get carded, while also getting the score. Verbal warnings should be given when something is borderline and there’s no definitive way to do the call. Yellow cards should be given at the first incident of breaking rules, regardless of how intentional or accidental it was.  If you didn’t read the rules? Not my problem.  You forgot?  Not my problem. You got too excited and couldn’t control yourself? Not my problem. Can’t hear out of adrenaline? Well, you better calm down, because: not my problem, you still get a card. (Heck, I can even tell you right now I know I’ve earned a card or two for forgetting to stop after the halt)

4.- All of a sudden an event is full of people who got yellow carded? CONGRATULATIONS, YOU ARE DOING IT RIGHT! We shouldn’t be scared to give cards, giving cards should be a habit, regardless of you looking at tournaments as test for a martial art, or as a pure sport, the fact is that the competitive environment gets to everyone, and all of us will and have made mistakes and stupid decisions at tournaments. Everyone gets mad at some point during their HEMA career. It is nearly impossible to find someone who hasn’t lost it at some point in a fight, including all those fighters you admire. In fact, let me repeat: DO NOT HESITATE TO GIVE A YELLOW CARD TO A FIGHTER JUST BECAUSE THEY HAVE A GOOD REPUTATION.  If their reputation is real, they will deal with their mistake and move forward.   

“But refs will abuse this! And it will get out of control! And they will manipulate results!” And blah blah blah.  If a ref is going to manipulate a fight, they will do it with or without cards. “IT´S TOO SPORTY! IT ENDANGERS THE ART! THIS IS FIGHTING NOT SOCCER! YOU´RE ALL A  BUNCH OF SISSIES!”: No! Part of martial arts is supposed to be about self-control and discipline: It endangers the art and peoples lives that you don’t learn to behave like a decent human being and have the self-control to stop when you are fighting dangerously.

We have to face it, carding is a common and regular practice in any kind of competitive activity for a reason, and the truth is that we won’t be able to grow as a healthy (larger) community if we don’t have the pants and skirts to tell someone they are going overboard. Carding and calling out people for misbehaving won’t break the community/family environment HEMA has; allowing people to fight unsafely and unjustly while getting away with it will.

 

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HEMA on a budget for the first time international young traveler.

By: Mariana López.
The views and opinions of this blog do not necessarily reflect those of Esfinges 

As a recently graduated college student of México who has been for the most part unemployed due to college schedules and daily live complications, I’ve been fortunate to travel to international events far more than people (including myself and my parents) would expect.

I won’t deny I’ve had plenty of luck over the when it comes to HEMA traveling, but to be honest there are several “obvious” tools on HEMA traveling that I’ve seen tons of people to avoid out of either procrastination, laziness or just because miraculously they never thought of it.
My first HEMA event was Fetchshule America in 2012 I made it to this event thanks to a ginger community (yes a redhead community I know it’s not common) who made a surprise donation program to get me to go to this event after I failed the prior year and was about to fail again for that year despite a lot of efforts. Once I made it there, I couldn’t think of not keeping on the international scene… there was just so much knowledge that I felt out of reach as the Mexican HEMA community was very young and I felt the best way to actually grow as a fencer was to commit to this events, once started my journey here are a few key points to make international traveling easier:

Note: Consider and understand my pieces of advice may be limited in countries with higher price rate difference and distance (plane cost) at the beginning of my HEMA journey the rate change was 1 USD to 10 pesos, now it’s 1 USD to 20 Pesos.

Tips to HEMA travel on a Budget:

1.- Volunteer: VOLUNTEER, VOLUNTEER, VOLUNTEER!!! “but! Then I have to work too much and I can barely take a few workshops” Stop it! That is BS. Those few workshops from outstanding instructors are already more knowledge and opportunities than the ones you get by not going. Only one tournament? With only one tournament I got the honor to be invited to teach my first workshop (and that trip was fully paid !! 😉 ) Volunteering sometimes will give you full free entrance to an event and sometimes even a meal (LESS MONEY!) this can make a difference on affording a trip, besides, all the networking you get equals to more people to ask HEMA questions with ACTUALLY knowing if they pull off what they preach.

2.- Find a host: ¿First event and you don’t know anyone? E-mail the organizers, tell them your situation, HEMA people is so kind they will welcome you as if you were family, without a second thought, Hotels are the second if not first most expensive part of traveling. Just remember, give them a thank you gift, they are already saving you tons of money, and second, be a guest your granny would be proud of, don’t close future travelers the chance to spend a weekend with a HEMA family by being a poop guest.

3.- Track Flights daily on the official sites: Despite what you see, airlines often have cheaper prices than the ones offered in “cheep-flights-lies.com” you can use this tools, sometimes they do have good deals for sure, but don’t buy without double check with the prices of the original airline. For Latinos, sites like “mundo joven” have student discount seats.

4.-Search for flights daily: There’s plenty of theories on in which day and in which hour you’ll find cheaper flights… Start tracking the flights within 6 to 4 months in advance on a daily basis. Miracles happen and you might get that one flight that you can actually pay.

5.-For desperate cases: If the Budget is really limited, don’t be scared to take those nasty flights… yes, traveling with 3 scales sucks hard, but if this is the one chance for your first International HEMA event, JUST DO IT, we don’t get the fancy life because we are not rich, but the experience is worth the airport hell.

6.- Cut useless expenses: Ok, not everyone is willing to have a more humble social life. I was. I got the nickname “the buss girl” while I was in high school for about a year, because every time a classmate suggested to go to X or Y place after school by bus, I would answer “a bus is 8 pesos, that’s almost a dollar on a trip, no thanks” and so I either walk to as many places I could and put those coins into a box, take a lift from a friend, or I just didn’t go to the place. Also cutting alcohol expenses save a ton!… Now, I’m way to extremists, but other savings I did weren’t that hard: Reduce the movie theater nights, go to a coffee instead of a bar (much cheaper) and instead of going out, plan things in your place, cheaper AND you avoid those “annoyng friend of the friend” you don’t want to see, etc.

7.- Make deals: If like me, you’re still a student and parents can help, make a deal with them “I want to go to –X event, it costs X000 money, I can make  X000, can you help me out with the extra?- My mom would often times make the deal with me that if I paid the plane and got where to get hosted she would pay for my food! It worked wonders!.

8.- Make sales of about everything: I sold my artwork and later on, I started freelancing. Up to date this pays almost all of my HEMA expenses, A friend afforded a flight to Italy after a full year of selling Candy in college on a daily basis, a frees bee freak friend made it to all his national and international tournaments by daily selling 10 homemade brownies, 10 pesos each.  It requires realistic goals and A LOT of dedication, but it’s not impossible.

9.- Get gear loans for SEMINARS: Note: for the most part I don’t agree on much loan gear for tournaments for security reasons (starting with proper fitting and such), but for seminars getting loaners is a great deal, some airlines are cheap but won’t allow the needed suitcase space. Bring the minimum gear with you, and find someone who can lend you the weapons for the workshops or tournament (they take the most space… thanks, longsword!) Just let them know ahead to avoid “passing the gear back and forth” during the event. Also remember: is cheaper to pay a second bag than pay overweight!. 

10.-Donations and sponsorships: in my state you can find several sponsorships for “entrepreneur” youth, you can try to search if there’s any near you, from leadership to world citizens programs aiming for people to travel to different countries, some NGO’s or such might be willing to sponsor your travel, it’s worth a try, even more, if you are committed and respond well to them, you might even be able to use those same programs to, later on, invite one of the instructors you’ve meet to your  own club.

11.-If you failed your goal: Not getting all the money and missing the event is HORRIBLE, but don’t get discouraged, depending on how much money you managed to gather, track for the next HEMA event in the area or with the instructors you were interested in, worst case scenario: HEMA events are regularly semi-permanent, keep the money and keep saving so you can go the next year, maybe even with some new gear, or with money to buy plenty of things on your trip because you could save more!

Disclaimer: I currently travel from about 2 to 3 times a year to the USA due to extra support I’ve got on the long run, several years ago by using these methods I would be able to travel from Mexico to the USA for about twice a year, now days maybe that has gotten reduced to once a year… but it’s still better than nothing!

However (unless life happens) if you’re not even interested in even trying any of these things. In my book, you don’t get to complain about not being able to make it.

 

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Yes. There is an image of a dog with a sword, and I’m about to explain to you why.

Disclaimer: If you don’t want to read detailed strong notes about HEMA in Mexico and the earthquake, please jump to the title “Now…. About the dog”

On September 19th, Esfinges did something that has absolutely nothing to do with HEMA, we set a donation for the victims suffering on the earthquakes of 8.3 and 7.1 that has taken over 400 lives (and counting). There were 3 reasons for this:

First, because helping is a human thing to do.

Second, because Esfinges born in Mexico and that give us an instant attach and care for it

Third, because of every Mexican HEMA soul in there, was at risk, and once that risk of being eat by a falling building, they became heroes.

And so I’m about to tell you the story of how HEMA in Mexico drop the swords for several days and went to aid. (For matters of privacy I will not mention any names)

Mexico City, being one of the largest cities in the world, also concentrates the largest population of HEMA groups and practitioners. This means that mathematically speaking there was a 100% chance any of them were close to the falling buildings. And Puebla, while with a smaller population, was so damaged, the odds of being affected were very high too.

  • The house of one of them was in the same block of one of the falling buildings.

  • One of them reported the full loss of the house of one of her family members.

  • One ex-HEMA guy reported the full loss of his house.

  • At least 2 of them are presenting symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

  • One of them opened his family psychology center to treat for free the people suffering for PTSD and other disorders due to the trauma.

  • Several of them organized and are currently still running programs to gather aid, transport it and deliver it to the areas in need, by truck, by car, by bike, even by boat.

  • Several of them work non-stop from day 1 to rescue people, watching the joy of saving them, and the pain of not making it on time.

  • At least 1 of them has survivor guilt.

  • One club decided to meet as they usually do for training, to then go as a group to volunteer where ever was needed

  • While a few of them had to go back to work to provide to their families, many of them are still taking their free time to volunteer on the removal of buildings and rescuing people (giving the conditions, there are records of people surviving up to 10 days inside the fallen buildings) help send aid, amongst many other reconstruction activities.

Reading the news feed of many of them was heartbreaking, speaking how people fainted over exhausting themselves trying to help, talking about how they felt reaching a kid and looking at him deprived of his life and future.

This is what HEMA was in Mexico since the earthquakes, flooding, and other natural disasters.

This is why it was the most HEMA thing for Esfinges to do was to help

This is why we owe more than just a “thank you” to anyone who helped us during this donation (which is still obtaining founds!)

I want to finish this by quoting the post from a HEMA practitioner in the rescues

There was no time for sleep this week. There was no time to rest, to play, to read; there was no time for fencing. There was no time for any other form of love but this one. Every minute was counting to save one more life. And all these people, from the youngest to the stubborn and transparent-eyed old ones, all of us, in the end, embraced a savage loyalty to the buried ones. A loyalty to those remaining under the ruins and who were unknown to most of us

 

Now… about the dog….

This is the portrait of a beautiful Labrador named Titan, he is part of the firefighters of a very small town named Silao… one of those towns no one know of unless you live there or next to it.  He has saved over 21 lives in Mexico City and keeps going.

The artwork was made by Yolt a non-HEMA artist who has done a lot of imagery and designs for Esfinges.  She learned about our campaign and was SO thankful she drew this for us as a present, to thank for all the support (she has family in Mexico City)

Due to this, we have decided to have Titan on out T-shirts for sale on Esfinges Store.  All the money will go to programs on reconstruction in Mexico. If we, by any chance get more founds than expected, we will donate them as well to Puerto Rico once we figure the best organization to send funds.

While I know most of HEMA is a cat community, please consider giving TITAN a spot on your Wardrobe. Once the needs in Mexico and Puerto Rico needs are covered, Titan will be permanently on sale on Esfinges, using the money gather to be sent to any Humanitarian cause in the world. For one simple reason: If we want to have HEMA people to fence with, the first thing we need is people in this world.

From the bottom of our hearts.

Thank You

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Update 25/september/2017

Thankyou so much for the people who donated this week!!! Here is the last donation sent to the red cross.

The rescue missions are still on, and several replica earthquakes have caused more damage to houses and buildings leaving more families homeless and adding to the rescue missions.  Thanks for helping us support all the heroes saving lives and giving hope to those who loosed everything.

 

Update, 20/September/2017

Donation to topos, rescue brigade group done! We are very excited the donations are keep going. Thankyou so much for your support!

We also want to make a big call to the heroes of the Mexican hema community who have been rescuing people from buildings, bringing food, sharing information, and providing all their time and heart to help people in need

 

Update: 20/09/2017

Showing how critical the situation is in Mexico, we will be sending the donations periodically as they accumulate.

We will also extend the donation to the organization TOPOS (moles) who started spontaneously 32 years ago as a rescue brigade in the earthquake of 1985. They have gone all over the world since then to help rescue people on disaster areas and are again, helping where they started.  However, it seems like their site is saturated and it’s hard to access their donation link at www.topos.mx so the donation will depend on the access to the site.

in less than 13 hours we have received the amount of 429 USD!!! Making a total of 740 USD, this is around 12,863 Mexican Pesos!!!

Remember that with your donation you are also participating on the raffle to win a Cold Steel Bluckler.

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http://www.univision.com/shows/noticiero-univision/reportero-de-univision-narra-como-vivio-el-terremoto-de-71-que-estremecio-mexico-video

As many of you might know, Esfinges started in Mexico, by Mariana López from León, Guanajuato. And Ruth Garcia from Guadalajara, Guadalajara.

In the past weeks, Mexico has been hit by several natural disasters in both, one of the poorest areas in the country (Chiapas), and one of the most populated cities in the world (Mexico City) and all the states nearby. Causing the death of now probably hundreds of people. Fires caused by gas explosions, loosing of energy, lack of food, damaged houses, and fully collapsed buildings. Just as I write this post. There are people searching online for volunteers to search for people trapped in the collapsed buildings, and doctors to treat them. The earthquakes of 8.2 and 7.1 on the Richter scale are likely to create replicas.  Added to this, Baja California, in the north of Mexico, got heavily damaged by the Lidia storm also during this month causing floods, and it’s expecting another one in about 1 to 2 weeks.

This is why Esfinges has decided to donate money to the people suffering in Mexico. However, Esfinges founds are very limited and can currently afford to only donate 300 USD.  We would like to, at least, be able to double that amount.  Esfinges donation will be made immediately and a second donation made with the HEMA community support will be made a week from now.

The donations will be made through the Mexican Red Cross, one of the few institutions in Mexico who has proven to be honest and always on the help.
If you wish to donate through us, you can send us your donation through PayPal to esfinges1@gmail.com

If you do not wish to donate through us you can do it directly on their Website: https://www.cruzrojamexicana.org.mx/

So far no HEMA member in the country has been reported as damaged, in case this occurs, part of the donation will be directly given to a HEMA family member in need.
Whether you donate through us or through the red cross, you will be automatically participating in the raffle of a Cold Steel Buckler.  However, if you donate directly through the red cross website, you will have to submit a screenshot with the confirmation of your payment to the e-mail: esfinges1@gmail.com




If we can save money to buy swords and gear, we can surely afford to donate 5 USD to people in need.

Thank you so much.
Mariana López R.
Esfinges co-founder.

 

 

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From Hate to Love.

How I got along with Ringen

By: Mariana López

Disclaimer: The following post does not intend to portray ringen as the ultimate tool for personal safety. No martial art will make you invincible, there are many odds in each situation and every scenario is unique. If you are interested in self defence go to a professional and please… learn to de escalate. I took stupid actions in all of the following scenarios that weren’t a problem just out of luck. Be smart, be prudent and be safe, no one is invincible.

When it comes to wrestling, or as some friends call it “competitive cuddling”, there are two kinds of people: those who love it and those who hate it. I was the second kind.

I couldn’t stand doing Ringen, specially with guys. I had to get close to them, touch their sweat… God! I remember pressing my head against them and feeling their sweat trespassing into my hair. Not to mention the smell. The fight for grips and such leads to a lack of personal space and A LOT of rubbing. When guys were nervous to train with me for being a woman (a lot of cultural factors in the way) it made it even worse. Were they going to play “easy”? this would cause me not to learn properly.  Will they try to take advantage to “accidentally” touch me? or end up ashamed for the rest of the class because they accidentally did?

 

Adding to it, I have a hip/knee injury caused by competitive cheerleading (the one full of gymnastics) causing me a recurrent sciatica nerve pain. Initial training with poor leg strengthening made it worse, and I did my best to slack on the wrestling training.

Yet I trained. Why? Because as the club founder and sister of the instructor, my ego didn’t let me look incapable of following the program, not to mention my brother would never allow me to skip a class and reminded me of my duties…. it was HELL. (note that this also shows that half of my fears were my own paranoia, as not only my then club is a fantastic safe space.. I was the one who kick out anyone who tried to make it otherwise)

 

Time passed by and I was with two friends at a disco, dancing on platform stilettoes (we are talking 16 cm of pure awesome). It surprisingly enough didn’t take long for a drunk guy to try to “dance with me” without, in fact, asking. After the instant (but polite) denial of such “kind” and certainly un spoken invitation, he later proceeded to try to outsmart me and attempt to put his hands in inappropriate places, he stood behind me, put his hand on my belly (waist height) and proceeded to lower his hands.   I used the abrazare technique we had learned that same week and put his face on the floor with his arm in full extension, the only reason his nose didn’t smash the ground was because of those extra 16 cm of height I had at the moment.

I was control of the situation… I inflicted enough pain and held him for enough time In front of several dozens of people…. a security guard wasn’t necessary, he found his way out of the disco by his own.  There were no injuries on the scene, just a nice amount of pain and maybe some humiliation as several people who saw the scene laughed at him for the unexpected response VERY LOUD.

It was after that that I embraced training in unarmed techniques, since not only I finally saw the meaning of a martial art being applied “in real life”, The thing that I hated saved me for something that who knows how far it could’ve gone. Having this purpose removed all the predisposition to find sweaty smelly human contact disgusting. Who cared if I get accidentally grabbed in not so comfortable places, if I could master the technique and have one more chance to get rid of a pervert?  In fact, it happened years later. A classmate, after months of repeatedly mocking the fact that I trained, constantly asking “what would I do if he forcefully kissed me?” as part of his harassment. One day, he went beyond his words and actually tried to kiss me against my will, forcing me against the wall, in an empty classroom in a matter of seconds. What happened? The back of his head hit the wall and I walk away laughing (I’m kind of cynic) and he never got close to me again… in fact, he didn’t even attempt to get close to any of my female friends who often got harassed by him as well.

 

More time passed. finding the utility of practicing ringen destroyed any prior hate, It wasn’t hard to get joy from the competitive stage later on. I would never go around searching for dangerous situations to see if I could do certain techniques, and while competitive ringen implied getting rid of the dirty trick and the bone breaking techniques it felt like the right test (and one a lot more safer as well)

 

In many ways, most of my predisposition to dislike wrestling was lacking a motivation to train it, and having a hard time leaving behind physical (and social) discomforts created mostly by society and culture (meaning the rejection of a certain amount of contact and how women and men should interact with each other). In fact, proper training helped some of my injuries to improve. And the insecurity of the constant touching slowly became empowerment, I am now more confident of my own body, more aware of what can and can’t do with it, I am a lot more self aware of how my muscles work, and believe me not only it is easy to tell malicious touching from non malicious one, having a good wrestling fight with your classmates gives you a fantastic safe space feeling.

Funny enough (and this is just to break some myths), people outside the martial arts world who claimed and constantly reminded me that women who do such arts are “manly” noticed how the more I trained the more “feminine” I became as I became less fearful and shy to walk around on a dress or a skirt on a regular day and not “just for parties” as I didn’t saw myself as powerless as before and so now I didn’t felt like hiding.

Some women jump to competitive cuddling without a question. Some others like me might be in need of a further reason to get into it, but once it’s found IT’S GLORY!

GO OUT, GO FIGHT, GO HAVE FUN!


Mariana López Rodríguez.

 

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Written by Fran Terminiello | 

Sales is not a career I would ever consider because I can’t pretend to be enthusiastic about something I don’t care about. But there is a product which I do believe in, passionately, and that is Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA).

crop

I have no qualms about promoting this at any opportunity: social media, flyers, waxing lyrical at barbecues and birthday parties, giving business cards to strangers on the train…I am your average HEMA street pusher. There are many like me, with varying degrees of evangelism enthusiasm. The world of HEMA relies on the people that do it and love it to promote it.

The phenomenon of social media has worked wonders for promoting HEMA: from the Swordfish Livestream that spawned many like it, evolving into events such the recent broadcast on ESPN of Longpoint South Longsword finals; to various YouTube channels of HEMA gurus sharing their pearls of wisdom with a much bigger audience than any advertising budget could afford.

The result is our niche hobby continues to slowly spread and become more popular. This is exciting and terrifying (you could say those two emotions are one and the same). It spawns many discussions online, and you can hear the fear in people’s hearts, particularly those who’ve been in the scene for decades and feel like it’s growing beyond their control.

We are regularly menaced by the spectre of “the sportification of HEMA” which is easily dispelled by historical precedent.

There is the fear that the YouTube talking heads are feeding people the wrong information – to which I say if you don’t like what someone is doing, do it better.

Swords continue to thrive in popular culture, thanks to literature, gaming and the film and TV industry. Along with HEMA becoming more visible are other sword based activities such as HMB (Historical Medieval Battle), LARP (Live Action Roleplay), reenactment, sports fencing, even light-sabre fencing. We can either be annoyed and complain at the competition, or we can set up our store front alongside theirs and see who wants what we can offer.

TL;DR this is the main thrust of this blog post – “Be positive, this is an exciting opportunity to grow the community. Which is actually a good thing.”

As mentioned at the start, not everyone is quite as keen as I am to spread the word. There is a reluctance to get just any Tom, Dick or Harriet in the door that will turn up then disappear, having wasted people’s time. There’s a belief that only the ‘best’ should be cultivated for the Historical European Martial Arts.

“You aren’t ‘tricking’ people into buying something that they don’t want or need, you’re showing them something they may have never considered or known about before. This is why the message of diversity matters so much when promoting HEMA. It’s for everyone.”

This is setting off on the wrong foot in my opinion, or a good way to end up with a very small club that stagnates quickly. You don’t know who will dig HEMA, nor who will benefit from it unless you tell everyone about it. Advertising is not just about exploitation. You aren’t ‘tricking’ people into buying something that they don’t want or need, you’re showing them something they may have never considered or known about before. This is why the message of diversity matters so much when promoting HEMA. It’s for everyone.

Some will insist that HEMA (as they see it) is not everyone’s cup of tea. But they’re assuming all HEMA is the same i.e what they practice or want HEMA to be. HEMA is a collective term, just like Martial Arts are not only boxing.  I’ve yet to meet two clubs, even in the same organisation, that are identical. There are so many cups of tea to try.

tea
There’s a cup of tea for everyone.

In the quest for excellence there are voices that call for only the ‘best’ candidates to join their clubs. Beyond the conceit and elitism in this view, I can’t help but wonder how do you determine who those people are exactly, without inviting them in and spending time with them? I’ve encountered people who pick up techniques easily and are very physically fit, but HEMA is just not for them. Don’t assume the people you want will want you, and don’t make the mistake of dismissing someone who could be a great asset to your club.

Anecdotally speaking, I’ve noticed a steady uptick in people interested in HEMA, but it won’t be the stampede or swelling of ranks that is predicted every time it is featured in mainstream news. People need time to digest the concept, and decide if it is right for them, they need repeated exposure, if advertising is anything to go by. For example, one of my students didn’t start HEMA until a year after seeing one of our demos at a local event. I didn’t start until going with my husband to his first class at The School of the Sword and then realising that I wanted to do it too. This is still very much a buyer’s market and will continue to be so for a while yet.

Along with excellence, whatever that means, is the demand from would-be auditioners for people who achieve success and quality. Define “success” and “quality”: is that producing winning fighters? Good instructors? Happy fencers? Team spirit? Translated works? Videos? Courses? Becoming a full time instructor? Worldwide workshops? Multiple chapters? Success and quality come in many forms. We aren’t building just a set of talented fencers and teachers, we’re building a community.

swordfish2016
Swordfish 2016

If any martial arts or sports club is to survive it needs a steady intake of beginners., Attrition varies depending on a number of factors but you are always going to have (and need) a broad base. Unless it has extremely dedicated people practicing in a park on a regular basis who have all their own gear a club must continually invest in a continuous supply of newcomers.

“Give people your time and your passion for your art, they will follow your example and build your club and scene alongside you.”

HEMA is not just made up of top instructors and fencers, and even these don’t arrive ready made and packaged. It needs researchers, interpreters, administrators, coaches, assistants, innovators, swordsmiths, product developers, distributors, webmasters, organisers, planners, bloggers, lecturers, accountants, caterers, treasurers, cheerleaders and plenty of other roles that I am sure I will come across in time.

Give people your time and your passion for your art, they will follow your example and build your club and scene alongside you.

fran

 

 

Fran Terminiello is lead instructor at The School of the Sword, co-founder of Esfinges, co-founder of Waterloo Sparring Group and should be writing a book right now.

 

 

 

 

 

The views expressed herein are those of the author and not necessarily the views of Esfinges.

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Written by Claudia Krause 

 

 

You want drama?

How about having the world’s most powerful men meeting at your place, one of them face down, begging for forgiveness? How about being accused of sleeping with the pope or having murdered your husband? How about charging into the enemy’s camp on your horse, your father’s sword in hand?

Matilda of Canossa certainly had her share of excitement, although nearly 1000 years later few people may have heard of her. In German “a walk to Canossa” still is an old-fashioned expression for eating humble pie. The woman who was instrumental in this event is well worth remembering. She was celebrated and feared during her lifetime and for centuries to follow, as military leader and powerful ally to pope Gregory VII and his successors. So, how did she become so formidable in a time where “equal opportunities” were not policy anywhere in Europe?

Childhood and youth

Things started rather pleasant and harmless. Matilda was born in 1046 as the third child into a noble Lombard family. For those of us who are historically challenged: the Lombards or Longobards were a Germanic people who ruled large parts of the Italian peninsula, before they got incorporated into the “Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation”. Lombard nobles continued to control Northern Italy, and had to negotiate alliances with opposing overlords along the line. Matilda’s family was closely allied to the emperor of the time, Henry III. When Matilda was 6, her father died and things got tricky for her mother. In order to preserve her family’s interest she remarried. The stepfather, however, was at odds with the emperor. Henry III didn’t take kindly to the alliance and abducted mother and daughter to Germany. By the time an agreement was reached, and they returned to Tuscany some years later, all her siblings had died. Matilda was acknowledged heir to the largest territory south of the Empire.

italy_1050
Matilda’s territory (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Italy_1050.jpg)

Matilda’s mother and stepfather were heavily involved in papal politics. Given that Matilda was going to inherit the “family business”, she might have taken an active part in the proceedings.  Aged 21, she went on a military campaign with her stepfather, overseeing part of the troops. She apparently did rather well. She had been betrothed to her stepbrother, “Godfrey, the Hunchback” since childhood, and lived for a while with him in Lorraine. However things didn’t go well after her stepfather died, and she left her husband after the early death of her only child, never to return.

godfrey-the-hunchback
Godfrey the hunchback (http://www.uni-mannheim.de/mateo/desbillons/hola/gif/hola25.gif)

Reign in Tuscany

Matilda’s husband started siding with the emperor of the day, Henry V.  She remained loyal to pope Gregory VII. Maybe this led to her estranged husband brandishing rumours about an affair between the two. Soon after he met his death, when he was ambushed “following a call of nature” while campaigning in Flanders. There is no evidence that Matilda was involved in his death, but it was timely. Soon after her mother died, and as a widow she had nobody to contest her heritage to Tuscany. By this time she was one of pope Gregory’s most trusted military advisors. It was on her suggestion that pope and emperor met at Canossa when the latter’s intentions weren’t quite clear. It was also with her help that a deal was brokered following the emperor’s rather effusive “apology”.

matilda-at-canossa-during-the-absolutio-of-henry-by-gregory-illustration-in-vitae-matildis
Matilda at Canossa (https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=199271)

When years later tables were turned, and the pope was forced into exile, Matilda stood her ground, continued to control the Apennine passes and act as intermediary for papal messages and defeat Henry’s attempts to take Rome. When he once again confronted her in her own territory he suffered defeat at Canossa in 1092. Several cities in Northern Italy broke from the emperor’s rule, as did his eldest son and wife. Attempt at retaliation failed, and in 1095, Matilda managed to establish Gregory’s successor in Rome. Henry IV’s influence in Italy never recovered and he died a defeated man in 1106. His successor, Henry V, was luckier.  When he “visited” Northern Italy, Matilda  acceded him the rights to territories which had been disputed for 20 years. He crowned her  “Imperial Vicar and Vice-Queen of Italy” in return. When she died 4 years later aged 69, from gout, a biography had already been written and dedicated to her. “Vitae Matildae” by the Benedictine monk Donizio, might be a tricky read, as it’s in Latin Hexameters. Translations in German and Italian are fortunately available.

Drawing Matilda

As part of an Esfinges project we were invited to draw historical warrior women. Contemporary pictures were not much help drawing Matilda lifelike, given the rather schematic style of the period. Later portraits are as much subject of conjecture as my own. Descriptions of her appearance don’t seem to exist. Later sources state that she had been taught strategy, tactics, riding and wielding weapons in her childhood, but scholars can’t agree here. She has been documented to have been active in campaign, and reportedly rode out with her father’s sword. We now know that the weight of armour worn at the time would not have been a problem for a healthy woman to fight in, let alone wear. So I have pictured her on her way to her horse. Her shield  is still on the wall. It features the jumping dog of the House of Canossa. She wears chainmail and nasal helmet customary for wealthy warriors of that time in Europe, and carries her father’s sword as per legend. Woe to those who cross her!

 

The views expressed herein are those of the author and not necessarily the views of Esfinges.matilda-drawing

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matilda_of_Tuscany

Newark, Tim. Women Warloards: An illustrated military history of female warriors, The Bath Press, London, 1989; print

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godfrey_IV,_Duke_of_Lower_Lorraine

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Components_of_medieval_armour

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lombards

http://biography.yourdictionary.com/matilda-of-tuscany

http://www.uni-mannheim.de/mateo/desbillons/hola/gif/hola25.gif

https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=199271

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Anna Pighin, of Udine, Italy, has been studying Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) since 2009.  She focuses on the Bolognese School, in all its wonderful facets, although the side sword will always have a special place in her heart. She has been the founder and chief instructor of her local club “Sala d’Arme Achille Marozzo (SAAM)- Friuli Venezia Giulia” since 2012. Her students, friends, and fellow HEMAists call her a “paladin”, a “woman of steel”, strong-willed, confident and capable, at the same time proactive and full of ideas, a loyal friend and the soul of her club. She kindly told us about her experiences and HEMA in Italy.

portrait-with-sidesword

 

E: What got you into HEMA?

A: I hope you can hear the dice rolling in the background, because that’s one of the reasons that got me into HEMA: I had a warrior character in Dungeons & Dragons. I still remember her, a dwarf with a real fondness for her sword and her rum. I wanted to  interpret my role better. On the fondness for rum I had no issues, the sword proved more difficult. I was living in Florence at the time, and I googled, “scherma medievale” [medieval fencing], and one of the first links was  SAAM, at around 10km from where I lived, and that of F.I.S.A.S., 500m from me. I looked at both sites, and  I let myself to be convinced by the graphics of the SAAM one, that was more up-to-date and complete compared to the other.  I showed up at the club on a Tuesday evening and I never left. In 8 years in SAAM I did practically nothing “medieval”, but almost only renaissance!

Another reason  is much more personal. Living in Florence, 400km from home, completely alone without knowing anyone, was an experience that, for a 20 year old girl, was not easy to manage, and I didn’t have the same strength I have now, at all. With SAAM I found a second family and a sport that made me feel alive. I had a way to feel my errors on my skin: Every bruise is a failed action or a distraction during the assault. How I am now as a person owes a lot to these 8 years – Do you think it is easy for a person with my attitude to live in a world dominated by men?

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HEMA is family. Photo by Federico Dall’Olio.

E: Did you have any previous experience in martial arts or fencing?

A: Not with fencing. Well, to be honest, I had some contact with it. Giulia Rizzi, one of the athletes in the epee fencing Olympic team, was  one of my classmates for many years. As much as she’s always been a very humble person, her victories spoke for her. Surely having a clear solid example of a girl “good with weapons” pushed me at the time to look for something similar.

Speaking of martial arts in general, I practiced Judo for 2 years. I got lots of the discipline and martial mindset that helped me to teach HEMA. We are a de facto martial environment, at least in SAAM, where it is necessary for the instructors to be an example. I think that oriental martial arts can teach us a lot,  though we need to adapt it to our needs.

E: How did you come to be an instructor?

A: This is a really interesting story.

Sometimes in life you find yourself at a crossroads. I was 22 years old when I realized that in a year I’d have to leave Florence and go back to Udine, my home, in the far North. I’ve always been a very diligent girl and in a way very devoted to duty – which, to be honest, has been counterproductive sometimes. So when I realized this I had these choices in front of me: stay in Florence and keep on fencing, going back to Udine and look for some historical fencing class in my city, going back to Udine and open a SAAM. My parents would  probably have taken me  home by force, and confined me to a mental ward, if I had stayed in Florence. I would have understood them!

Since my head is hard as a rock I decided to walk the hardest path – full of thorns and other dangers – repeating to myself  that difficulties spice up your life.  Not all instructors in SAAM were in favour of me taking the exam and starting to teach. So I must thank my instructors (Alessandro Battistini, Iacopo Venni, Gioacchino Cecchi) for taking my side even against those who believed I wasn’t ready yet. In hindsight I understand those reservations completely, tied mainly to my age then compared  to the average age of the SAAM students. So just a week past my 23rd birthday in June I took the exam for SAAM Assistant Instructor in Bologna, and after three months I began teaching.

It was…hard, in the beginning. I was alone, very young, had little equipment to offer my students. But I was fiercely pushed by the naivete of my youth, by my stubborn determination and by my hate of failure, and after five years I had more than 30 students.

I often joke that here in the North we are the swords in the darkness, the watchers on the walls – even if I enjoy breaking barriers down far more than defending them – but thinking back to the beginning and me being alone – without my brothers in arms from Florence, without my instructors – was as hard as being between ice and snow. I’d say that the hard way was the right way to reach the top, and the view from here is worth all the hardships I faced.

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Anna instructing. Photot by SAAM.

E: What are your favourite teaching moments, and what advice would you like to give us as a teacher?

A: Obviously when one of my students succeeds as an athlete, I am very happy and satisfied, because victory – of any type – gives an incredible energy to the group, an energy that can be used as a collective stimulus. However, the best part of teaching is that particular relationship that develops between student and teacher. I have to thank all the students I’ve had during these years, because while I have taught them fencing, they have taught me about life.

Each of us has a different body. While we might like the fighting style of another person, it is not necessarily the right one for us. We have to focus on our own merits and on our own defects, in order to strengthen the first and reduce the second. Women, in the majority of cases, are physically disadvantaged compared to men. Most of the time we are shorter, often less strong. We must therefore focus primarily on agility and coordination, and be able to trick our opponents – women are the queens of tricks!

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Being cool with sword.

E: Your group (SAAM)  is possibly the largest HEMA body in the world. Tell us the history behind the organisation and your particular chapter.

It is one the oldest associations in the country; in February 2017 it is going to be 20 years old, even if obviously its founders got close to the HEMA world before. I believe this year we’ll surpass 700 members. A big number, but if we compare it to other sports it is comparatively small, and we should not forget it.

SAAM was founded in Bologna in 1997, and from there it expanded all over Italy. We have around 40 clubs. (It’s honestly hard for me to keep track of them all now.) I can proudly say that I contributed to the birth of 3 chapters in the last 5 years,  hopefully increasing them to 5 shortly.

I think there are a lot of myths to dispel regarding SAAM. First of all, I’ve been asked many times from people from other associations: “What’s your salary?”; I smile because while I teach and reserve an overwhelming amount of hours for my chapter during the week, well beyond practice time, I have never seen a single cent coming my way and I’ve often had to pay from my own pocket. In SAAM we have a clear set of principles. One is that we should not teach for money.  We believe that those who practice HEMA for a salary could be tempted to teach something that they don’t know, because they have to make a living through what they teach.  Also, the goal of our association is to spread our Art, and in order to spread it it must  be approachable. Low prices (for everything: courses, events, seminars) allow us to reach many more people – especially considering the current economical crisis, that is still felt in our country. These low prices are maintained through not paying instructors, and using equipment as economical as possible.

For years we’ve been met with barely hidden disappointment due to our choice to use rattan sticks instead of steel.  For  steel weapons we require  FIE certified protection of 1600N for head and torso, 800N for arms and legs. Being such a big association results in everything we do causing a stir. In Italy it is the bad things that are usually get attention rather than the good deeds. If one of our students were to get hurt during training due to the fact that he wasn’t using appropriate protective gear for the weapon he was fencing with, it would have quite the resonance. Because being so many, the chances of an accident are obviously greater. This is the reason that kept us far from steel, given the costs of both protective gear and weapons. Only in the last few years that we started to use steel regularly in SAAM, since the large numbers allow us to buy more costly club materials  in sufficient numbers  without burdening  the individual. Now every club has a good stock of nylon weapons and some steel ones, too.

Since our goal is that of spreading the art, there’s always been a real interest in creating new teachers who then could open new chapters. This proved a winning asset for SAAM. In the end, being a part of such a big and at the same time dynamic association gives you a strong sense of belonging, a sense of family that helps to create loyal members. At least that’s what I experienced as a student and what I try to recreate as a teacher.

Teaching, sharing, volunteering work, low prices and sense of family; this is how SAAM developed over the years.

enjoying-the-sun
Enjoying the sun.

E: Tell us a little bit about the HEMA scene in Italy

A: This is a truly complex question, and my answer is not going to be exhaustive. I don’t think I’m the best  person to answer, because I’m not part of the upper echelon managing the national scene. What I know is what I’ve been told, what I’ve read on social networks, and how I interpret that. I believe that HEMA Italia is in a situation similar to the Italian nation in general. In 1861, we officially became a united country,  but centuries of quarrels cannot be erased overnight. Internal disputes, even if greatly diminished in the last century and a half, are not extinct – the will of a cultural unification has been completely missing. The situation in Italian HEMA seems to mirror that. There was, on one side F.I.S.( Italian Fencing Federation, which takes our fencers to the Olympic games) and its branches that manage coaching  formation (A.I.M.S. – National Fencing Masters Academy) and certification (A.N.S. -Fencing National Academy) and on the other side an explosion of HEMA associations. It’s not completely clear to me why that happened,  but the gist is: due to some “difference of priorities” with F.I.S. there has been a series of refusals to recognise HEMA  as a fencing discipline. What’s more, there used to be a competitive fencing tournament, the famous “  Storicombat”, which has fallen into nothingness as well.

There are lots of entities in Italy now that should cover both the instructors’ formation, the competitive scene and the research and publication scene: just to name a few: A.I.M.A., S.P.A.D.A., V.A.D.I., recently A.N.H., and many more I probably don’t know of, but strangely the “Hema Italia” group disbanded after only a few years.

In conclusion, if I had to take a picture now – and certainly it is going to be partial and incomplete – of the state of HEMA Italia , I’d say there are many strong scenes, but they don’t collaborate much or at all on an interregional or national level. This, I believe, is because many people want a certain role and/or prestige and do not want to share it with others.

My hope is to improve the relationship with F.I.S. and its branches, creating a single HEMA path, parallel with Olympic fencing and  equal to it, introducing a new series of competitive events (possibly with better rulesets than the previous one), a new path to create instructors and, mainly, a research team that can continue the study of the treatises and various publications.

 

E: What are your future plans?

A: In the HEMA world, I want to consolidate historical fencing in our region, Friuli – Venezia Giulia. We plan to open new chapters, and create a better connection with the different HEMA scenes. I’m the president of my club, and  I want to form a group of people who are able to go on without me, because I firmly believe in the passing of knowledge and in legacy.

As for me personally, this year I will take the examination for Olympic fencing instructor, and – life commitments permitting – I would also like to take the AIMA and FIS instructor exams. Also this year I definitely want to return to the podium. I hope to have the opportunity to participate in some competition.

saam-firenze-sidesword-bout-at-xiii-torneo-scherma-antica-saam
Sidesword bout at XIII Torneo Scherma Antica SAAM. Photo by SAAM Firenze.