The First Question
Me, teaching a class on Giganti in Cleveland

Do you want to learn?

This is the first question I ask of anyone I work with. Sometimes it’s slightly more implicit, but it’s always there.  I teach as part of my “mundane” job, oftentimes to students who don’t want to be there.  Trying to keep their attention is one thing when I’m getting paid, but as of now fencing still just a hobby for me.  Even though the art of the sword is something I spend a good deal of my mental and physical energy on, I don’t see it as being my profession, or at least not in the foreseeable future.  My job, as enjoyable as it is, requires me spending a lot of time on things like marketing, answering emails, and dealing with clients.  Although I’m happy to be in the profession I’m in, I don’t have any particular desire to do that for sword fighting.  Years ago, I was talking to Devon Boorman, one of the founders and the current head of Academie Duello.  He warned me then that opening a martial arts school is something you should avoid doing unless you derive joy from doing accounting work.  Thankfully for Devon, this is one of the things he actually likes.  Me?  Not so much.

So, given the loose structure of SCA practices, as opposed to the more top-down structure of most HEMA schools, I have no particular interest in teaching people who don’t want to learn.  Now, this doesn’t mean that I have anything against them.  A couple months back I taught a workshop on Giganti at a practice in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  All the local fighters were psyched about what I had come in to teach.  All of them, that is, except for one.  This was a fighter I’d known for awhile and who’s sister I’d gone to college with.  He was, and presumably still is, very enthusiastic about his swordsmanship.  It’s just that Italian rapier isn’t his thing.  So what did I do?  Well, whenever I’d set the participants to due drill that didn’t require much supervision, I’d go over and just hang with him.

If someone decries the validity of period technique or disagrees with my interpretation, I’m more than happy to go out there and try and prove them wrong.  If what I’m teaching doesn’t line up with their interests, though, I’m not here to force them into liking it.  Unless I see someone doing something particularly unsafe, I’m not here to tell them what to do.  Now, I’ll teach pretty much anyone who wants to learn.  I don’t particularly care how old they are, what gender they do or do not identify as, or what their previous martial arts experience is.  I’m here to participate in and help spread what I know of period technique.  I can show someone my passion and hope that they climb on board but forcing people to love something is just not a path I want to go down.  Similarly, I know that I am not the best teacher for everyone.  Even if they are interested in the same subject matter as I am, there might be someone better nearby for their learning style.  Not everyone has to learn in the same way I learned things.  Now, as a teacher it is always my aim to be able to accommodate a wide variety of students.  That said, I also realize that I am a very particular flavor and my ego isn’t hurt by someone preferring something else.

Written by Arik Mendelevitz

Known in the SCA as Warder Raphael di Merisi, Arik has a great love for the art of the sword and specializes in the Italian rapier of Niceletto Giganti. From time to time, though, he can be seen playing with Pacheco's version of Destreza, Bolognese sidesword, or Fiore's art of grappling.