Certification avec la Fouetté Rond de Jambe en Tournant

So I took a brief tour of the various places on the net, to see what sort of conversations were happening in regards to this whole certification issue. What I saw really made me wonder about the wisdom of letting people vote. Dear WMA world…what the hell is wrong with you?!? Intellectual pomposity is no way to live your life.  I think I’ll just tweak my BIND/DNS a little. I should be able to write an intelligent rule that redirects any attempt to connect to a forum or the website for any existing WMA organization, to somepalce safer for me to look at. Something with pictures of kittens. Or monkeys with switchblades. Soothing, relaxing images.

I think I will now ignore the growing number of hits on my blog, and pretend I am talking to a some close friends who speak my language. Otherwise, I’m going to continue to write blocks of profanity strewn rants and the delete them and the whole writing session will be wasted. And I’m out of fresh pictures to post, used them up during my last hangover. Dammit. Right. Moving on.

Certification is a form of marketing. It’s a useful tool for two groups. The first is for a new and growing group, or movement, to create a sense of legitimacy. It’s false, but it works. Makes you look more mature and serious than you are. The second group is the established or competing large group who wants to establish a monopoly. May or may not be evil, but it also works.

It’s too late to do the first. That boat sailed. And someone else has started up the second. The usual tactic in business-land at this point is to create competing standards, but honestly, that’s just a way to stall things out, not a solution. The big guys do that to each other. In our case, we are the little guy going up against the big guy. We need to attack. Our method of attack is through marketing, through brand and image. Hit the enemies weak points, move around their strong points, turn our weaknesses into strengths. If we are martial artists and not sport fencers, this kind of thinking is second nature to us, isn’t it?

The USFCA seems to be a fragile organization, with a lot of dissent, I hear. They have the strength of being an olympic level sport organization. That’s the big thing we need to move around. They have a history of supplying and enforcing education and certification, and we are the new kids on the block. A marketing move around that would be to emphasize that the USFCA cert is from an olympic level, and imply that the cert is oriented the same way. It’s easy to subtly turn the olympic thing into a weakness, if you are subtle. Too strong and it will bite you back, though, which is why I’m not providing specific examples.

Our weaknesses are small size, newness, and lack of central organization or unified approach. Which makes us friendly, local, dynamic and interesting.

I strongly disapprove of any kind of body dictating standards to the WMA world…most especially when that body comes from within the WMA world. That’s far more threatening to our growth than the USFCA. It destroys our uniqueness, and will stunt our growth, putting the wrong people in leadership positions, and leaving open too many opportunities for abuse of power by leaders. That sort of abuse is the worst thing that can happen to a growing movement, it can be subverted before it has a chance to find it’s own identity.

The only purpose any organizing body should have in our movement is fostering friendship and co-operation between schools…mutual assistance and nothing else. Certification is no issue for us, a unified teaching curriculum is no issue for us. These are straw men. Our only real problem is youth, and not wanting to give ourselves the time we need to grow.

Stop fucking things up. Stop promoting bad instructors. Stop arguing over tournament rules and who is right and who is wrong. Stop forming grade-school cliques. Start getting more students. Start promoting other schools, other teachers. Help each other out. Work to make yourself better fencers, help each other become better fencers and teachers. No shortcuts. Do things the hard way.





  1. It seems to me that it is the nature of those who are comfortable with where they are to wish it to remain that way. I have worked with enough small organizations that I’ve been able to see it a lot. You get to a point. Realize that you like where you’re at. Then try to write rules to make sure you stay that way.

    I see this happening in several areas in the WMA world, and the certification area is a great example.

    On the one hand we have USFCA wanting to retain their position as the premiere fencing certification body in the US. Then we have each of the various WMA groups who want to remain independent, which they do by emphasizing their differences with each other, and we will see them trying to remain independent of any governing body as well. Here’s the problem: “You are not the plucky hero, the Alliance is not an evil empire, and this is not the grand arena.”

    In their push to be independent the WMA groups run the risk of becoming fiefdoms. Each one independent and not helping each other grow. And when one grows it does so by trying to pull from another. This isn’t unique. It’s human nature to associate with a group and feel animosity to “competing groups” hence sports teams (all the way back to ancient Rome in fact).

    The answer is not to focus on the differences, but the similarities. Remember that yes you may have different tournament rules, different styles, etc. but we’re all in the business of reconstructing a historical martial art. It doesn’t matter if someone else does it differently, learn from that. Help each other grow, help each other gain members.

    As far as the certification goes it seems to me this is a case of “nothing about us without us”, but I don’t know enough about the people who are making it. But it doesn’t matter, certification is just another way of crystallizing – something that fencing has historically been all to good at. Instead the WMA groups need to evolve and grow and figure things out the hard way.

    Wow that’s a long rant, and I’m not even sure I got my point across. Basically don’t circle the wagons, don’t hunker down, grow, focus on your strengths – teaching people how to defend themselves with a sword. All else is window dressing.

    • The sport team analogy is spot on…as they aggressively compete, they are also participating members of local, provincial, national, international, and worldwide federations and associations. They have achieved a balance of animosity and cooperation.

      I would love to see that happen in the WMA world. So far no one has come up with a model for an organization that is both useful, and non-interfering. Anyone is capable of doing this, but they don’t seem to be able to be useful without shoehorning in some kind of dictating theme, or else shying away from being anything more than just a badge people can sew on to a jacket.

      • It’s one of the reasons I like the SCA. When I went to England I could fight there with a three minute explanation of their particular eccentricities. When I go out east it’s the same thing. And it gives me something to say to site owners when I’m trying to get practice space “we’re part of a large Non Profit Association… with insurance…”

        I’m not sure how it would work in WMA but I suspect what will happen is similar to what happens in everything.

        First there’s the growth and innovation – that’s where we are now with more and more WMA groups every year each doing something different. Then comes consolidation – where the groups start forming together into organizations and the larger ones start creating sub groups. Then comes the growth of some of the larger organizations and the failure of the others – because it’s a very different thing to run a multi-branch association than a single school. And finally the larger associations form partnerships making it easier for them to work together and the smaller associations break up, either to make a run as independents or to joint the larger associations.

        Different groups are at different stages but the end result (in 20 years probably) will be a group of large multi-branch associations that have together built a framework to function together. The problem is that a lot of people want that framework before the community is ready for it.

  2. Randy… as always, your perspective is awesome and spot on!

    • Thanks! …And damn, it’s been way to long since we fought…or even better, made evil, grand plans over drinks…Gotta remedy that soon!

  3. Certifications are a sloppy shorthand and a necessary evil where populations are large. I want to use a school gym to teach — if they speak my language, I can go into details demonstrating that I’m not some yutz who’s seen too many highlander movies (an issue in my kind of sabre, since stepping and cutting on an X is our fundamental drill!) and is going to get people hurt.

    “I’m a lineage holder.”
    “I hold a 2nd dan from (x).”
    “I’ve earned a yellow glove.”

    I’ve also got two graduate degrees, put them all together, and that plus USD1.92 will buy me some espresso. But the dude running that gym has a legitimate need to sign the checkbox and say “I don’t know his stuff, but some other people say he’s legit.”

    The problem comes when people try to turn this legitimate use into a power play. To defend turf. Then it’s just as pointless and redundant as your title. (Nicely done, btw!) And when people try to engage in empire-building, there’s a simple response, too — “shut up and train, Francis.”

    • Bingo.

      I see all the troublemakers out in full force, and they have been for a year, maybe two? They’ve been making inroads and now starting to show their true colours, and I rant about that…

      But I know the majority is still out there, going “What the hell are you talking about? Does that shit have anything to do with me going to class tonight and trying to get past that stupid habit I have of dropping my shoulder?”

      And it might have something to do with them…except their instructors feel the same way. They don’t really care about this crap, they are too busy making sure their school and students are successful on their own merits. Those are the teachers not involved in the discussion, and the ones who will still be around in ten years.

      I think it’s time for me to get teaching again…

      • My teacher (who’s a good guy, but not a nice guy, unfortunately), and I got outselves more or less permanently disinvited from one of the big WMA-fests. But man, I saw more empire-building and cliquish (not to mention flat-out DICKish) behavior there than I saw in twenty years of training martial arts — a hobby not exactly known for its lack of pointless tribalism.

        I’d love to see a “fun with swords” convention where folks give a quick demonstration of what they do, there’s open free time, and people bring one or two problems they’re working on so folks from outside the system can throw around some frog DNA and give each other the benefit of outside perspective. Certification? “Member, Fun with Swords Club.”

        At the end of the day, it’s just a hobby. a fun one, but a hobby.

        • That sounds like a story I’d like to hear sometime, if only to compare names. Sigh.

          A “fun with swords” convention sounds good to me. An idea I’ve been kicking around for a while is to put up the money and form a Society of Fencers that exists just to support those who know how to have fun while fencing, with any weapon.

          At the very least, I’m going to start talking about the idea more, and maybe get my wife to design some t-shirts, and put them up for sale in the store.

  4. “Certification is a form of marketing. It’s a useful tool for two groups. The first is for a new and growing group, or movement, to create a sense of legitimacy. It’s false, but it works. Makes you look more mature and serious than you are. The second group is the established or competing large group who wants to establish a monopoly. May or may not be evil, but it also works.”

    Beautifully said.

    I am on the outside of WMA looking in but I am seeing the same thing in my own (current) practice of Russian MA. Before that I saw it in the Japanese MA and it is rife in the Chinese MA too. Sad, sad, sad.

    My solution is to train with a group of friends in my garden. Sadly it doesn’t help us attract new people to share what we do so we are reluctantly looking at the whole certification thing. But the reality is, if we want insurance and legitimacy we have to stop doing what we are doing and end up being ‘safer’ and more conventional to fit the ideas of people on the outside of what we do. We would lose the core of what we are that attracted me to the practice I do.

    A life of frustration or sell out and legitimise? What a dilemma.

    • I feel that pain. I walked away from co-owing a lucrative martial arts business in order to plain old experiment with what martial arts meant to me. And now I’ve quit a poor paying job for an even poorer paying job so that I have more time to devote to my writing.

      That way I figure it is this: I’m going to die of starvation, alone and poor, in a ditch somewhere, forgotten by everyone I ever knew. I can never escape that fate, and I never know if it’s going to happen in one year or sixty. I only value what will be in that ditch with me, which will be happy memories of loved ones, and the knowledge that I did the best I could to be me with every breath.

      So slowly going broke doesn’t matter as much as doing my best writing. Losing opportunities to have a successful martial arts business doesn’t matter as much as teaching my next student as deep a lesson as I capable of teaching.

      I suspect I watched “Knight Riders” too much in my teen years…but that raven-painted bike helmet hasn’t shown up yet, so I still have some path to walk.

Leave a Reply to David R. Packer Cancel reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.