Later that night, as we were gathered around a cheery outdoor fire, a question was put to me in several parts: "What is it about HEMA that you like? What is it that draws you in and where do you want to go?" It was a bit of a deep question and one that was difficult for me to answer at that time, as I was already in the "sleep zone". I ended up giving a very none-cohesive answer, one that really didn't answer the question at all. And now that I have a bit of time, not to mention a week to ponder and gather my thoughts, I feel ready to revisit my response.
The honest answer is, HEMA, the organization itself, had nothing to do with my initial interest in longsword or historical martial arts. Back in September of 2013, I collaborated with a production company to help run interviews on a webcast revolving around swords. During that time, I met and talked with many well-knowns among both ARMA and HEMA. The problem was, I knew nothing about what they were talking about! I felt the best way to honor them and hold deeper conversations with them was to step into their world.
Yes, I am one of "those" Americans who had no idea we had any type of sword training here in the States. I was shocked when I found out that, not only were there classes of all kinds throughout the US, but that there was also a HEMA group that met right in Raleigh. I was thrilled! Swords had always sounded exciting to me, but never did I imagine I could study the art on a weekly basis. That very day, I emailed my local group and signed up. After my first class, I came home with three things: sore arms, blisters, and a new love for studying longsword. It's been 10 months since that day, and I've never once not loved attending classes.
What is it about HEMA that I like and what draws me in? I think several things factor in. The people who make up my local HEMA group play a major role in this. My instructor has a freakish amount of patience about him. If it wasn't for him calmly reminding me what to do and what not to do, I think I would have lost interest a long time ago. The others in my group are some of the most kindest folks you'll ever come across. They are selfless, in that they will take time out of their training to help me on my own technique. They are also extraordinarily humble, in that you will never hear them talk down to those who are not as well trained or new to the art. Never once have I felt belittled or unwanted, and I think there in lies the key to much of my sustaining interest.
I am also an avid history lover, even though I suck at actually remembering historical facts. As a kid I'd watch documentaries more often than cartoons. The history behind European martial arts plays a huge part in what I've been studying and it's not surprising that I find it fascinating. I'm one of those nuts who tears up when visiting historical landmarks and feels the need to remind everyone else around me by screeching things like, "DO YOU REALIZE AN ACTUAL HUMAN BEING STOOD IN THIS EXACT SPOT 200+ YEARS AGO?!?!" (I'm aware all the people who've lived outside the US are laughing it up over my 200 years reference.) So, being able to study the same techniques ACTUAL KNIGHTS STUDIED is over the freakin' moon exciting.
Lastly, I'm competitive. As my core longsword classmates can attest, I won't quite fighting, even if I know I'll be beaten. I will take you down or die trying! Realistically, it's always the latter, but I have this weird thing where I just won't give up. So I keep trying, I keep studying, and I keep giving it my all. I want to have the satisfaction of seeing my hard work and bruises pay off.
I've never attended an ARMA class or a SGA meetup, so I can't honestly say whether I like any over the other. What I can say is that if my current group had been something other than HEMA, their openness and friendliness would have compelled me to stay. I personally shy away from saying whether one group is better over the other. As evidence above, so many things can effect what makes a good group tick, so I try to keep it simple. I like swords, I like history, and I like my group.
This brings me to my final bit: where do I see this going? The painfully honest answer is, I don't know. It's a sucky answer, but there it is. I suppose I can't see that far ahead because I'm too focused on my present training. Perhaps one day when I'm more advanced, I'll have a better idea on how to answer this part of the question. But for now, I'm content to continue with my sword group, attend training seminars, and perfect the techniques I've learned.
If you're reading this and interested in trying your hand at longsword, my advice on finding a group would be to find one you feel welcomed in, one who's instructor knows their stuff, and one that encourages you to better your technique in a positive away.