The art we love is on the verge of tremendous growth, despite the best intentions of some in the community. Wherever I go with my sword, I run across interested people. Mostly they just whisper off to the side, but it’s a rare day when someone doesn’t come up and ask me if that’s really a sword I’ve got. I’m always a little surprised by that, since Vancouver is a big WMA city. Devon and I planted a solid seed with Academie Duello, but Devon has since taken that seed and made it into a powerful force for WMA good. He’s used his considerable talents to promote the art to great success, both within and outside the community. It’s no longer surprising to see AD mentioned in the popular news…so it does still surprise me that people have no idea that the rapier on my back is for actual martial arts training.
When I was doing marketing research in Vancouver, back at the start of Scatha Combat Guild, I found that in the worst case there were 250 000 people in the city in the right demographic to be interested in studying martial arts. Most of the people in that group are being serviced by the Eastern Martial Arts schools, with a significant number doing Modern Mixed Martial Arts. By running a quick analysis of the number of martial arts schools in town, and average number of students per school, I came up with a number of martial artists that is…pretty low. Stretching the numbers over time to consider drop-outs for different reasons, we still come under a hundred thousand, by quite a bit. Of course, these are fantasy numbers done up from available sources, if you know stats at all you probably stopped reading this paragraph a bit ago.
Let’s keep that magic hundred thousand number in mind for a minute, though. The last bit of numbers I saw for the worldwide WMA community, HROAR’s incomplete census, lets us extrapolate to ten thousand practitioners worldwide. Hmm…that’s pretty tiny. Significant, but tiny. Swords are cool. People like them. My experience has been that the only real advertising you need for a WMA school is just to simply say, “Yes, you can come here and learn to use a sword for real.” People disposed to like martial arts really only need to hear that such training is available, and they start to think if they manage to take classes. They never think about whether they want to take classes or not, but if they can. It’s a powerful call. All we need to do for success is not get in the way of potential students. Make sure they know about us, and don’t advertise in such a way that turns people off.
The problem we are going to run into, as a growing community, is the number of people that will resist growth at all costs. These are the people that see our arts as little magical gems owned by them alone, a precious resource that the masses will just ruin. They want to be the high wizards of a small and select group. They love the WMA’s only because the art is different from others. They care about it’s intrinsic value only so far as it gives them catch phrases, quotes and slogans to bandy about….trivia to make them feel superior. They accumulate a false knowledge, and use that to try and act as gatekeepers, in an effort to only let the ideologically pure into the secret garden.
Fortunately, they are allergic to sweat and challenge. They will only rarely be met in real life, as they don’t play with others…they fence with only a select few, bitching bitterly about each loss when the opponent dared to lower themselves by using a technique they were unfamiliar with. Or used “mere” athleticism to cheat by being faster or stronger. The good people, the ones that make us smile and love what we do, are the ones who can’t get enough helmet time. The ones that smile when you hit them, the ones that honestly congratulate you for having a moment of excellence that trumps them…they share an enthusiasm and love of the art in everything they do, win or lose.
Those people are, thankfully, average. Just normal folk. We are made up of people like that, and we should keep them front and center to attract more. Since our world is driven by it’s online presence, I think we do need to take steps to promote those amongst us who make the community great. Less troll-feeding, and more enthusiasm and sharing of what happens in training, and in the pubs afterwards.