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Section A: “Novice” through “Free-Scholar” Rankings

For the following Rankings, the longsword is recognized as the primary (not sole) weapon for the Novice through Scholar.  Once the Rank of Free-Scholar is earned, the primary weapon or weapons are optional.

Note: It is not intended to exclude practitioners from weapons other than the longsword. It is suggested that their “official” lessons should be limited to the longsword until a base understanding of Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) is obtained. However, once this is obtained, it is recommended that some exposure to other weapons be given.

Novice: The individual simply shows up.  They will be required to have a completed waiver on file and have paid any club dues/fees.  They will not be required to wear a uniform, (however one can be installed) but in general this rank is fitting for an individual who attends sessions simply for exercise, a passing interest, or for someone who is new to the Art. This person could fit firmly within the recreational track (See Article 4).

Scholar: The practitioner displays more than a simple passing interest. This practitioner complies with all requirements of Novice, and in addition purchases a uniform, begins to inquire about the historical sources, and attends practices regularly.  

The candidate can physically demonstrate the basic cuts, and guards, and transition between the basic cuts and guards in a smooth manner. The candidate should be able to name the basic guards and understand their utility (German or Italian.) The Scholar should also be able to name several of the historical masters, and be aware of the approximate timeframe of their material. The overall effect is that the Scholar understands and can physically demonstrate the basic cuts, guards and transitions and understand and be familiar with the source of our information and study. They should be able to name several masters and the approximate time period. They should have a uniform and purchase their own equipment and gear.  

The Novice and Scholar are guaranteed freedom to join/belong/explore any other martial art, or martial arts group.  The Scholar is highly encouraged to begin to share and demonstrate this Art to others.  The Scholar has a duty to expand awareness and information about this Art and this Affiliation.  The Novice and Scholar are guaranteed freedom to participate in demonstrations and other similar activities without the direct supervision of any of the following ranks.  Novice and Scholar are not officially sanctioned Instructor ranks within the Affiliation itself.

Free-Scholar: As the name refers, the practitioner has now attained a level of competency with the longsword that will be rewarded by complete freedom.  This freedom can take the form of “specializations” in a wide-ranging area of topics related to our arts. (See: Adept Rank)

This could mean a departure from the longsword into other weapons independent of the longsword.  The individual is also free to become more solely focused on research, club stewardship, or other aspects of belonging, running and maintaining the group independent of martial prowess.    

The Free-Scholar has met all of the previous requirements thus far, and in addition has become a member of the club with a degree of tenure the membership recognizes.   They should be able to participate in a free-play bout under control of emotions and actions.  These qualities may yet not be mastered but are identified and controlled to a degree.  If the Free-Scholar is able to routinely participate in sparring with a comparable chance of success with his/her seniors and the general membership, then this practitioner may be a candidate for promotion.  

The Free-Scholar is an officially recognized instructor for the HFA.

In regards to the disciplines of stewardship and research, these Free-Scholars will be free to organize and recognize individuals within their peer group, as they deem necessary.  These attempts should be vetted by the local boards/presidents of the local clubs for final approval.

Individual clubs have the ability to construct tests for this rank based on their needs.  Some groups may require prize-playings, others may use verbal only tests, or some combinations of these ideas.

Sample Free-Scholar test:

The following is a sample Free-Scholar testing procedure currently employed by Provost Aaron Pynenberg in use at the Wisconsin Historical Fencing Association-Appleton Chapter.

Pre-qualifications: Candidate must have regular attendance at training. Absences are normal and expected but consecutive weeks of non-participation immediately disqualify the Candidate. Candidate must have taken observable steps to improve, e.g. extra sessions, personal training, individual research, etc. The Candidate should take the responsibility to stay informed and engaged--not focusing on the Instructor--and demonstrate a consistent pattern of effort to integrate lessons into their own training. All these factors and more shall be considered.   

Part 1: Verbal testing, open ended question/answer

The Candidate is asked a number of open-ended questions from the perspective of a Novice, or interested party. Here are some examples:

1.       I see you have a sword what are you doing?

2.       Why do you do this activity?

3.       What do you “get” out of this?

The test is designed to be conversational, and intended to determine if the Candidate can talk about the efforts of his/her home group in such a way that is informative and comfortable. The best recruitment tool we have has been word of mouth. The Candidate must be able to speak of these efforts with some authority and composure. The attitude is important and defines the significant difference between a Scholar and Free-Scholar. Can the Candidate convince the uninformed that what they are doing has merit and value? Use the five tracks as a template; are they able to explain all five, and do they then relate back to the track they are currently identifying with?

If the Candidate is firmly within the traditional track, they should be able to mention the sport track, but should be spending most of their efforts explaining the track most interesting to them. These questions and answers should be recorded and shown to the Candidate afterward. The increased pressure of being recorded can be a useful tool to assist in highlighting the attitudinal maturity we are looking for in a Free-Scholar.

Part 2: Techniques and specifics

The next portion deals with the Candidate’s grasp of technical information. The WHFA-Appleton favors the Germanic traditions so the examples given here reflect this tradition, but it is not binding. The Italian tradition could also be used; this format is simply a suggestion.

The Candidate displays common basic techniques against a cooperative training partner. The Candidate directs the training partner to allow for perfect/flawless displays of the fundamental techniques:

“Candidate, use your training partner to show me five examples of the Zwerchau.”

The Candidate then will instruct the partner to give an oberhau, which they displace using the Zwerchau, right and left long edge, right and left short edge, and one instance of using the off-hand to displace and strike a Zwerchau.

“Candidate, use your partner to display an instance of winding.”

The Candidate instructs the partner to strike an oberhau, which they then displace with a Zornhau. The Candidate instructs the partner to react strongly, which they then use to wind and place the point in a threatening manner.

The amount or number of techniques can vary, and the assessment is based on the “clean” examples of each technique. As an Assessor, I ask myself these questions: Are there small but significant teaching points present? Does the Candidate understand these techniques and how one is distinguished from another?Is the Candidate able to give simple yet effective instruction to their assisting partner?

Note: Part of the test and evaluation is how organized they are as they demonstrate these actions. The “style” of the Candidate is also noted for future instruction and growth as an instructor.

Part 3: Movement/balance/conditioning/martial knowledge

1-The Candidate is expected to be able to flourish with energy, precision and power. This is very subjective, and explaining what does or does not constitute a “passing” attempt is difficult to place into words.  The Candidate should look balanced, powerful, centered and grounded.  A variety of techniques should be on display, and the Candidate should “own” their performance. The key to successful attempts will be practice and repetition. If the Candidate does not flourish often, it will immediately become apparent. The reverse is also true; if some attempts were made to practice it will also become apparent.

2-The next portion involves the Candidate moving from guard to guard in a slow but firm motion. These guard progressions should have a natural flow but are different than flourishing.

A subjective cumulative determination can then be made by the assessor. Do they recover quickly? Do they remain focused? Do they look natural? All these and more can be considered.

Part 4: Bouting/self-critiques- (must be video recorded for playback)

The Candidate spars with the training partner in several bouts. These bouts must be video recorded and available for immediate playback (with a tablet, for example). After several exchanges, I watch the bouts and quickly see several basic points that I would use to help critique and improve upon.

The critiques can be focused on the Candidate or the assisting partner. The focus is not on how the Candidate performs during the bouting, (although that will certainly be on display and can be added into the consideration) but on observable teaching points that can be identified.

As an assessor, you’re watching for several things. Is bouting natural to the Candidate? Is the Candidate so focused on winning that safety and martial control is thrown out the window? Naturally the Candidate will be more “jacked up” as it is their test, but look to see if they can control and overcome this. Can they self-identify this condition and protect themselves and their training partner? Does their overall maturity reflect even an awareness of these conditions?

All of these attitudes and more should be subjectively observed and added into the overall decision making process. For me, I keep in mind that these are my next instructors. Can they instruct? Can they do the following: discuss, demonstrate, and critique, others performances?

After the bouting, and after I have finished watching the bouts and identified a few key points I would raise as an Instructor, I allow the Candidate to analyze the footage by themselves, while we all wait and watch, again adding that bit of pressure!

The Candidate takes mental notes of some critiques which they must then present to the assessor. The critiques can be of either fencer or the action in general. The critique does not have to center on the Candidate.

These critiques are then offered to the assessor. I am looking for how much they notice and what types of assessments they offer. Are they positive, negative? All have an appropriate place in teaching. Do they give accurate assessments? Do they pick up on techniques? This subjective process allows me to discover their general grasp on many things, as well as what type of instructor they naturally trend towards.

Note: Your test can be anything, but remember that the Free-Scholar is our first officially recognized Instructor level within the HFA! Can this person teach?

Free-Scholar Adept: All the previous conditions met. In addition this Free-Scholar has expressed a strong desire to become an instructor in a weapon within the HEMA tradition that is different than the longsword.

The Candidate must create the test for this weapon. The test is then forwarded in written form to a Provost for basic review. The Provost then forwards the test along with an approval letter to the highest ranking member of their group, or the primary trainer or organizer, or president or other noted leader.

That person will then administer this test to the Candidate.  Having completed the test and been awarded the Adept rank, they are then recognized as an expert in the selected weapon and may prize-play for Senior Free-Scholar with that weapon.

An example of a basic outline for a curriculum for a weapon other than longsword:

1-History and provenance:  How, Why, Where, When does this weapon fit within the HEMA tradition. State your sources in detail.

2-Nomenclature and variances: e.g. What makes this weapon a side-sword? Explain the differences between German vs Italian rapier? With different weapons, it will be important to know exactly which one the Candidate is talking about.

3-Usage: basic guards, cuts, uses, concepts. List your sources.

4-Testing: How will the Candidate test content knowledge? The Candidate must create the testing procedure, and then endure it.