Whilst some of this will be feedback about the statistics in the survey, as a large part of it was asking for people’s opinions and other things less easily quantifiable, in general this will be ‘broad strokes’ look at the most recurring themes that came up in the survey, and a few thoughts on what we’re doing or what we’d like to do to address these.
We had 61 respondants in total, 52 of whom were male, the remaining 9 female. Ages ranged from under 18 to over 50, with the just under half falling between 26 and 35. All HEMA Ireland affiliated groups were represented, along with a few others. Just under half who responded had previous martial arts experience before getting started with HEMA. In terms of why people got into HEMA in the first place, as expected the main reason is ‘Swords!’, but the secondary reasons run the range from social, historical interest, martial discipline, through to the technical challenge, with no huge numerical difference from reason to reason.
For aspects of HEMA that people dislike, unfortunately one aspect of it that is out of our control is the price of the equipment. That aside, HEMA shows up as not hugely dissimilar to other martial arts when the people are asked what their general concerns are – over-sportification & over-competitiveness, too much emphasis on one aspect/weapon, wariness about elitism towards other disciplines/other weapons/other groups, wariness about internal politics taking over and disrupting the scene. From HEMA Ireland’s point of view, we can see where things lately have been very tournament focussed – the committee can only turn its hand to so many things at a time and lately a certain amount of that has been the establishment of the League. It’s our hope that with the League established it can start to function with less direct oversight from HEMA Ireland and we can turn our attention as a body to encouraging and supporting more events based on technical training and workshops. One thing that we’ve been complimented on the past few years is the atmosphere of the Irish events and scene in general, it’s our sincere hope that this will continue as we’d hate to see over-competitiveness, rules-politicking, other politicking, and all of the other things that are quite prevalent in other sports & martial arts starting to make their way into the scene here. It’s a small island and we’re a fairly close community, we’d very much like to keep things that way.
Back on the subject of tournaments for a while, a little under half of the respondants got back to us saying that they don’t currently compete. Although there were a few responses along the lines of ‘don’t like tournament fighting style’ and ‘too expensive’ or ‘too much chance of injury’, overwhelmingly the most common reason was ‘Not enough experience’. There are currently two events on the HEMA Ireland calendar with elements geared towards beginners, with a third being organised for the end of the year sometime. This will hopefully go a small way towards addressing this. We’re also hoping a few more Fechtschules like the original Belfast and Kinsale ones from 2015, and the Fool’s Fayre from Leitrim Longswords this year, will provide a nice entry into sparring at events for people, as well as fitting better for anyone who dislikes the points style of tournament fighting.
For those that do compete or attend events, the attitude to why is generally an excellently healthy one – less concerned about winning or losing and much more focussed on using tournaments & events as a chance to have fun, spar different people and a test of training. As an interesting aside, looking at the percentages of people who take part in events for training groups who have a mix of men and women, the breakdown of those most active on the event scene comes out at around 10% whether taken as a whole, just men, or just women.
One other common element that came up was the addition of other weapons to the league or tournament scene in general. Just as a little bit of guidance from HEMA Ireland and the IHFL here: if you’d like to see more tournaments for a certain weaponset, or it’s addition in the League, your best course of action is to talk to your instructor (or yourself if you are an instructor) about the feasibility of your club running a tournament for that weaponset. The League is entirely longsword at the moment because HEMA Ireland had a few years of running longsword tournaments and events before the inception of the League. This meant there was an established pool of entrants and a bit of a base level for judging and reffing for longsword. Those initial tournaments and fechtschules came from the clubs and they’re what grew the body of competitors and made the longsword league feasible. The same needs to happen with the other weapons – individual clubs picking up the chance to host stand-aling tournaments for those weapons to build a base of competitors. The host clubs for the League events are doing a good job, but adding extra categories either means bigger halls so two weapons can run side by side, or extra days. All of which bumps up the cost, and isn’t something we’d be willing to ask the hosts to take on until it’s been demonstrated through standalone tournaments that the numbers are there to make it feasible.
Tournaments aside now, for events themselves, by far the most popular that people want to see more of are sparring meet-ups, with Fechtschules and workshops from instructors not far behind. This matches quite well with the feedback from other related questions about what HEMA Ireland could do more of, or what people’s reasons for attending events are. Whilst the burden of arranging and running events is predominantly on our clubs and instructors, hopefully the feedback here will allow them to target their style of events.
Safety was touched upon a few times within the survey, both in terms of tournaments and general in-class safety and practices. Whilst things are generally on track, we’re working on a few things to help out and improve matters – first aid courses, recommended first aid kit contents, some general guidelines on do’s and don’ts for everyone (instructor and student alike) to keep in mind whilst training at any level. We’re always open to feedback and suggestions on the issue of safety!