The Phoenix Society went to the Arizona Knife Collector Association’s big knife-show and we didn’t go to recruit.
The demographic was mostly older men, including knife-makers and knife-collectors. There were few, if any, potential recruits at this event. So why go?
Part of the Phoenix Society’s mission, and that of the HEMA Alliance, is to educate people about HEMA. All the myths, inaccuracies, and movies that HEMA-folk tend to rail against, can be handled through education. Furthermore, people have questions and they want to see and learn about HEMA. So long as you present it well, you’ll find that most audiences are highly receptive.
We were given a single table to use, and the first goal became using that space to display as many weapons as we could. These weapons were not for sale, and we informed passer-bys that we were there to educate, not to profit. We asked them to handle weapons and ask questions.
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Once we had a table set up, we were asked to perform demonstrations as we saw fit. We opted on two per day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. In-between demos we of course wandered about the show, but we mostly sat at our table and answered questions by those who wandered by. When people meandered past, we gave our standard introduction.
“Hi, we’re from the Phoenix Society and are part of a non-profit educational organization, the HEMA Alliance. We take these weapons and use them according to the masters of old, studying their actual treaties. We also look at period art, and research first-hand accounts.”
This usually opened up the door to many questions and we provided many answers.
We had a nice looking table, and because we were all in our Phoenix Society uniform, we had a professional appearance. This worked out so well that the lone-wolf who showed up to do cutting demonstrations, repeatedly apologized to us for any poor form. I kindly let him know we were not their to judge him, but the fact that he thinks we were says something about how the Society carries itself. Our uniform also made it quite clear what we were not. While I’ll do costume work at times, this was NOT the venue for it. Time and place and a club’s appearance can really ‘set the stage’ so to speak.
For demonstrations, we ran ones that lasted around 15-20 minutes. I went over the history and use of the dagger and longsword according to Fiore, the rapier according to Giganti, and our take on Polish saber based on a variety of sources. I walked one volunteer through a dagger technique.
We then asked the audience if they had any questions. Common questions are…
1. Are swords heavy?
2. Are they sharp?
3. Are there any sword fighting tricks?
4. Is (x) movie a good display of sword fighting?
After that we fought three passes with the longsword, then rapier and finally saber. All three have different guards and behaviors that the audience could clearly see. The fighting is not choreographed entirely, but we do slow down, and we avoid doubles at all costs. Because audiences can get bored watching repeated actions, we would give verbal cues to end a fight with close-play from time to time. Audiences appreciate grappling.
At the end I asked people to visit our table for more information. Besides, I was out of breath and in no condition to chat much. This is why we do the fencing at the end of the demo, OR have a little bit at the start and the majority at the end.
Making friends with groups with similar interests can be a great way for a club to get exposure. The Phoenix Society, for example, has done demos for, the Knife Collector’s, kids summer reading programs, ComiCon and other ‘cons’, ASU events, the Caledonian Society and much much more. Some of these gather us members, others are educational, and we tailor our demonstration to the event.
For other clubs and schools out there, demonstrations are a good way to get your professional look down, your speaking abilities improved, and to see the educational and public presentation side of HEMA(A).
Richard Marsden is an author, co-founder of the Phoenix Society of Historical swordsmanship, and by day a High School History teacher. He also has HEMAA Instructor Certification, has taught at numerous venues, and he and his students have placed in numerous weapons at numerous events. He was once President of the HEMA Alliance and as of this article is on its General Council and is a Board Member.
PS – In recent months the Society has done educational presenting at…