To paraphrase the notorious monologue from a well known Liam Neeson film, I have a particular set of skills. The thing is, everyone has a particular set of skills – just not the same set. Part of the learning to be a mature and healthy human being (I understand this is the ultimate goal of adulthood. I remain unconvinced) is recognising what your skills actually are.
For example, in August, I was one of a small team of presenters for a talk on the use of weapons during the Renaissance at a science fiction and fantasy convention. Even stranger, it wasn’t my first time – despite this not being a situation I ever thought I’d be in. So what happened? Basically, I hung around HEMA practitioners for five or six years and they decided to turn my “could talk for Britain” skills into an asset rather than that thing I get teased for all the time.
Remember when I said there were other ways of giving back to the community than teaching? Well, this is one of them.
It’s Not What You Know, It’s Who You Know
There’s a significant overlap between people involved in Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) and people who like science fiction and fantasy. Let’s face it, most of us are in this due to a love of swords (or other non-fire-arm weaponry), so I can safely trim that down even more to being fans of fantasy, for the sake of ease if it comes up again. Which means there’s quite an overlap with the recognised fandom that makes it to genre-related conventions and events. So it’s not that surprising that I know Fran Terminiello, for example, through a number of situations, not least that we share a publisher, Fox Spirit Books, which is run by the same feral leader, Adele Wearing, as this admirable blog. (I am contractually obliged to be this ingratiating, obviously.)
This also means Fran knows me. And my tendency to natter when I’m nervous, happy, excited, … well, any time. She also knows that I quite like attending cons but find events less stressful if I’m involved in doing something rather than just a “guest”. At some point in late 2013 / early 2014, Fran and I starting talking presenting HEMA for (prose) writers at conventions – to both proselytise by giving them a taste of HEMA, and to show that playing with swords in fiction doesn’t have to be like it is on the tv. Fran decided I was the right person to talk to this about because… well, talking, writing genre fiction and generally wanting to get out more.
The First Attempt
I’m pretty certain that this is one of those situations where no-one’s going to be entirely certain who thought of what. I know the initial idea was Fran’s. I know we agreed for the first talk to be the history of swords in summary, with a few comments on other weapons, but I couldn’t tell you who led on that particular discussion. I know we gave our presentation at Edge Lit, a day long event in Derby, under the title of “HEMA For Writers”. I also remember that I was particularly mean and made Fran begin the presentation after our introductions while I stood to one side and watched.
Although nobody took to the Internet to blog our praises afterwards (shame on you all), we got a lot of lovely comments in person about how people enjoyed the presentation. We may or may not have converted a few to the cause of Our Lady HEMA but we got a room full of writers thinking about the practicalities behind a sword fight rather than just what looks impressive on screen. Weirdly, nearly everyone’s biggest surprise seemed to be how light our swords actually are.
On Being A Repeat Offender
As with many things, Fran and I were doing this because we wanted something from it. There is an element of almost narcissistic need for being seen – in our case because our names becoming better known may sell more books – but we also have more faith-driven agendas. Fran is somewhat more devout in her following of Our Lady HEMA than I am but I would have serious problems if someone told me I would never hold a smallsword again.
Following or first performance, Fran and I looked at what we wanted to see more of in fantasy novels and set to work. In her HEMA life, Fran tends to rapier (with offhand weapons), and sword and buckler. While many fantasy novels, or the general concept thereof, cling to that faux European middle ages experience. Well, it’s probably more precise to say that they stick to vague elements that could occur any time between about 600 and 1500 AD in the Northern / Western European timeline. Some dual weilding occurs and some authors do wander into the Renaissance, which tends to be very Italian, but they don’t necessarily go into the weapons combinations Fran enjoys.
Note: I am also a computer geek. We start counting at zero, which was 2014 for the whole HEMA for Writers thing.
So, we agreed to do a more targeted talk for 2015, based on Fran’s preferred weaponry, and take it on tour. We marked out four conventions: EasterCon, Edge Lit, Nine Worlds, and FantasyCon.
We landed the EasterCon talk and organised ourselves accordingly. Fran decided she wanted revenge for Edge Lit 2014 and I got to do all the talking. We recognised quite a few HEMA people in the audience but that only made for better questions and more debate.
We didn’t get on the Edge Lit schedule.
We got the Nine Worlds slot but it turned out to be the same weekend as a HEMA event that Fran was also booked into. I managed to rope in a couple of other HEMA friends to extend the presentation team, one of whom is an aspiring writer. The three of us basically turned Nine Worlds into our own mini-HEMA weekend, dragging in a number of people at the event who we knew from the sword-y side of things. There were other sword and martial art related talks and panels – and we wondered if maybe they should have been connected, which raises more potential organising for Year Two.
We decided we didn’t want to go for FantasyCon. This one hasn’t happened, yet, as it actually takes place at the end of October but everyone in the team has had a busy year and wasn’t sure they wanted to be responsible for a presentation. However, I will be attending and managed to volunteer my way on to a fighting panel. (No, I’m not sure how that’s going to go, either. I’m hoping I don’t say “Here, hold this while I demonstrate” every five minutes. I shall be leaving the weapons at home.)
The four of us who now make up the HEMA For Writers team need to talk about whether we’re up for more conventioning next year and if we have any preference for particular eras or weaponry – and what we’re willing to commit to in terms of events we attend.
Every Story Has A Moral
This isn’t something I expected to be doing. Although I can talk for Britain, I generally prefer to do it one
victim person at a time, not to fifty, a hundred or two hundred (ish) people. I had actually done something similar in a day-job many moons ago but I try to avoid that kind of responsibility in my “real” life. However, I enjoyed the overall experience and I much prefer to be involved in an event than merely attending (which can be very boring if you haven’t really made friends with people, yet). It has also given me the confidence to volunteer and agree to being on a panel.
So, the moral of this particular story is: Martial Arts will take you places you don’t expect it to. You may not become the greatest swordsperson (or whatever) who ever lived but you will become more confident in yourself and your abilities. There’s every chance you’ll find that your best skills are something else altogether – but that they’re still of use to your hobby or your hobby can improve them.