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When we were at the symposium a few weeks ago, Roger Norling told the attendees he became interested in HEMA because he’d seen a fencing demonstration at a Renaissance Faire.  He’s not the first person from whom we’ve heard that and it’s good thing to keep in mind of you are doing sword demonstrations at a renfaire. It made me think of some things we keep in mind before we go out on stage.

People go to faires to have fun-it’s a good way to hook in anyone. People are receptive, they are in a good mood and if you sneak in some education under the radar-even better. One of the things I have to hold back on is overpowering the questioner. I try to let them lead the questions, tell me their story and then do a sub-conscious set of calculations to see what it is that *really* interests them. And be interested in them- If you are reciprocal then you learn some cool things as well. I’ve talked to veterans, active soldiers, survivors of gang violence, dojo runners, martial artists, other HEMA folks and just plain interesting individuals.  In many cases, we aren’t the sort of thing the person is looking for and I am happy we’ve taken the time to keep a set of links on our website to guide them on their journey.

We let people touch things. Humans are visceral creatures who like to work that instinct of feeling a thing to explore it. Often, just before our shows, we walk around and let the audience hold the longsword or one of the falchions. (As an inside fact, this is a good way to kill some time before the start and when people see non-performers with a sword, they too, want a sword. Audience magnet!)  We do sword lessons with kids at some shows (for pay) depending on our agenda for the day and we see recurring faces year after year. We talk about how swords “touch back” which is important. Just like fire it’s not “if” but “when” for getting a little reminder that there is danger involved with handling these things. People are amazed by the clearly used edges, the weight and yes if it’s a wet day…the rust.

Be casual and not preachy, exclusionary or elitist. I won’t lie, some people can pull off the “I’m am just that cool” vibe but that shine wears right off if you denigrate your audience and don’t keep learning yourself. There is a certain woman, media famous in the HEMA community that I used to admire. She still does good work but chose to make fun of tourists in her blog.  First-“if ya can’t say something nice…” Secondly, she was no doubt supported on this tour by someone who probably didn’t look like her but was vicarious with her by sponsorship.  And third, it was supposed to be about her sword studies, meetings etc. so off-topic. I am delighted to let folks of all stripes and abilities touch and learn about swords because “don’t be that guy.”  I won’t lie, I’m enjoying some of the folks side-by-side with me start to realize that perhaps scholarship is not just there for the younger folks to rip off and you too, will catch “the old.”

If you don’t get it out there, no one will know.  I’m not going to tally the number of times that I have calmly swallowed down some fury and carefully explained our position of research, that we don’t know everything and that maybe it’s not such a good thing to be bombastic and insulting to peers in the sword community. I often find myself mentally quoting our friends in Mystic Mercs.
“You do you.”
So yes, you may the most amazing swordsperson and scholar ever, but if no one else knows or you don’t share for review, well, it’s going to stay your special secret. Sure we wear silly costumes and are in a context of fantasy but do get it out there and do open that portal for someone who would only think this sort of stuff happens in movies or media with no connection. And you need to hustle- I won’t lie, I keep a public list littered with the names of dead and defunct sword performers, strictly for informational purposes of course.

bonnet

And Reenactors/historians, I’ve posted what I have to say about renfaires vs reenactment and, you’re welcome that I directed people your way.  We freely admit that history is cool and wish HALF of what we learn in our exploration was in public school textbooks. (George Silver and his call-outs to Italian fencers, Or Talhoffer versus Pirates on the Rhine) Many people want their sword show and their turkey leg. Others would like to know more and we are happy to direct them to more.  So sure we’re a little sketchy in our mixed-material, brightly colored outfits and we make jokes that encourage groaning but we do get out there and we do bring that first taste of history.   And if we can get them to bite down on that first bit, maybe we’ve just addicted them to some more education.

Or just made fabric-holics and clothes horses but *shrug*