My first turn at being the guy hiring people was a gleeful experience. Working as a Unix sysadmin, I knew precisely what I wanted from my first round of hires for an assistant position.

The ads went out, and the resumes came in. Lots of them…hundreds. They turned out to be easy to sort through, though. I tossed out all the people with comp-sci degrees. Anyone who spent that long in school was completely out of touch with the pace of technology, no good to us. Next up, I tossed anyone with certification. Certification was usually something people took a course to pass, which meant they had learned enough to pass a test. Useless people. Especially in the hacker-centric Unix world…I needed people that had a natural understanding of the OS…a love for the job, not the income.

That process worked for me. I hired ambitious hackers, motivated to excel and learn on the job. Good people…better at the job than me, as it worked out. Sigh. The real kicker came when I tried to get back into the IT world. It turned out I was in the minority bouncing people with certification. And now all those people with certification were the ones doing the hiring. They want to hire someone with qualifications they understood, which meant certification. After two years I gave it up. It was time to look for other things in life.

I’d always enjoyed getting people fit, so it seemed like a good idea to get into personal training. Having learned my lesson about certification, I checked out the options. There were some great choices…but the best required a degree, which I don’t have, and the next best wasn’t recognized locally. The local certification…was brutally stupid in it’s application and learning process. And the content looked dated and un-applicable to the kind of training I wanted to do with people. After some hemming and hawing, I opted to become certified in the Precision Nutrition method instead. That was an excellent decision, as the course was completely top-notch and I got a serious education in food. But…

Avoiding the local certification means I am cut out of the local community centers, as they only recognize that certification. I’m also unable to take advantage of the free insurance provided to cert holders, which means I have no easy way to find a training location. I can’t use community centres, and other locations require insurance which runs about $1500/year, which I don’t have. As is the usual story of my life, my quirky need to do things differently means I don’t have access to the easy ways.

Yesterday I saw a link to a new certification being offered by the US Fencing Coaches Association. Reading through the pdf, it looked good to me. Standing on it’s own merits, it’s a good exam standard. Someone put some excellent work into it, and should be congratulated for a nice piece of work. I would trust someone who passed that exam to be capable of good assistant coaching duties. I have no problems with how they are doing these exams at this point, and I understand and endorse their point of view and right to do so. Good for them for taking what is a major and historic step in the recognition of the art I love. But…

It’s also a clear declaration of war. It’s a back-hand slap in the face. I’m sure it’s delivered with the best of intentions, and possibly even a pure love of the art as it stands. But it’s still an incursion, a foot on the throat. IBM to Microsoft to Apple to Android. Portuguese trade ships to trading centers to colonies.

Or more accurately, and I know you all get the reference, it’s the Independents against the Alliance. This is our Browncoat moment, and there is a Serenity Valley in our future.


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  1. Isn’t this Ken’s April Fool’s joke from earlier in the year? Well, even if not, it might be a declaration of war if I gave a flying rat’s ass what the USFC thought. This is far out of the mainstream for them, too.

  2. I’m going to assume that it’s not another joke in the same vein as:

    Ok putting my educator hat on here.

    Having read through the document this is what I would expect of a certification in Historical Fencing. The issues that arise from this are probably going to be from those who disagree with the people who are putting it together rather than what it’s made up of. Ask an old radio enthusiast what they think of modern radio. It’ll be the same.

    The key here is that ANYONE who created a certification would get the same accusations hurled at them.

    Regardless a certification is just that. It’s a piece of paper that says you managed to complete a test. It sets a minimum bar, not an average, not an incredibly high bar, just a minimum bar. You are at least competent. What the Historical Fencing community chooses to do with it is yet to be seen. As we’ve seen in the Tech world some certifications come and go. They only have staying power if they are backed by a large group (which USFCA is, but not really in the HEMA community), or if enough individuals buy into it.

  3. If a certification makes obtaining insurance and practice space easier, then I think it servies an important role.

    Who should create the certification… well that is another question entirely.

    1. Certification isn’t necessary. It’s entirely possible to form a society that exists solely for the purpose of providing insurance to it’s members. The trick is to get that society going without the status-grubbers worming their way in.

  4. Time and time again I read your blogs and think you could be writing about me! At the moment I too am going through the internal debate about certification to become a personal trainer and massage therapist. Any course I could go on would teach me less than I already know and charge me a premium for it. The only advantage it appears is for obtaining insurance. My questions is, do I really need insurance? Or is it part of the big scam; sell certification & sell insurance? There is certainly more money in doing both than there is in providing a service directly to a client…

    1. I’ve opted so far to go without insurance, and to instead depend on my marketing abilities to get clients willing to work outside the environments were insurance is required…which is happens to be how I planned to train people anyway.

      But in the next few weeks I will be doing something that requires insurance, so…I’m going to have to come up with the money somehow. Still not gonna do the certification, though. I’m not only stupid, but stubborn. πŸ™‚

  5. If you want to win in this world, you have to play the game. The game was set up by other human beings that came before us wanting standards and safety. Perhaps it’s no longer the case, just pieces of paper indicating status, but it’s a necessary evil. Alan Watts said it best in that if we can recognize it’s a game and yet still play the game – we’ve won.

    1. I would argue that if you play the game, ‘they’ have won. Especially if to play the game by ‘their’ rules you end up paying ‘them’ a heap of money. Sometimes to make things better in life you have to choose to play a different game. But it comes down to a choice for each and every one of us and there is no right answer, only answers.

        1. Nah, I’m not a member of the USFCA, or any WMA/HEMA organization. So…they are they, to me. πŸ™‚

          I have one rule when it comes to playing games: Never play the other guy’s game, but always make him think you are playing his game…

        2. In my private life I rarely ever consider myself part of ‘they’ (though I have been in a professional capacity) and my primary objection to joining organisations is that they often start out by aiming to promote an activity but so often end up promoting the organisation first and foremost. In my experience, that is primarily because the people who choose to join organisations (especially the committees or management teams) are often far more interested in their own status and power than they are in the principles of whatever activity they are purporting to support. Power tends to corrupt I have found.

  6. Most of the historical interpretation questions in their sample exam seemed dependent on which master you were studying (there seemed to be one answer that was guaranteed wrong, but two that were arguable). I’d rather see them as discussion questions to provide an opportunity to demonstrate actual depth/breadth of HMA knowledge.

    1. Ayup. I hate to say it, but sometimes a committee is the right way to come up with questions. And double-check them for correctness.

  7. I feel your pain at the idea of certification. I am still debating the benefits for teaching classes at the local colleges. I know I may be a bit late on this, but I don’t see it in any of the other comments:

    Have looked into HEMA Alliance membership? It has the potential to provide you some insurance coverage and I have yet to see any other requirement than the practice of HEMA.

    I run a group that practices (started with SCA rapier and have expanded greatly). We currently don’t have any insurance; the right group of people makes this possible.We are debating joining as a group. This isn’t a business, just a group of like minded folks. But we have discussed putting on demonstrations and teaching introductory classes to the public.
    For your consideration:

    I have enjoyed reading your entries (as another older guy) and look forward to seeing how things develop for you.

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