Starting a HEMA club on a tight budget

sparring with singlesticks
Stuart Beattie and Keith Farrell sparring with singlesticks at FightCamp 2018. Photo by Jonathan Spouge, 2018 (edited by Keith Farrell).

Many HEMA clubs have a very tight budget when starting out. This can make it quite difficult to get a club off the ground if you don’t have the spare money to invest in equipment, or if you aren’t sure that enough people will join for it to make sense financially.

However, there are some things that you can do to start a HEMA club on a tight budget! Of course, having a higher budget means you can perhaps skip straight to doing exactly what system you want, with exactly the equipment you want, in exactly the way you want; but even without having lots of spare cash, you can still get started quite easily.

What discipline do you want to study?

There are lots of different disciplines in HEMA. You might want do longsword, or sabre, or rapier, or dagger, or quarterstaff, or broadsword, or smallsword, or dussack, or messer, or sword and buckler, or singlestick, or montante, or this, or that, or the next thing. Some of these disciplines require more expensive equipment (and perhaps a greater amount of equipment) than others, but some of them require relatively little by way of equipment.

Whichever discipline you want to study, there is usually a cheap and cheerful way to get into doing that. No, it may not look quite like Swordfish, or as professional or exciting as some of the other big events that you see, but you can nonetheless do something to begin training that discipline.

If the budget is really tight, then one of the cheapest disciplines is singlestick. Dagger and quarterstaff are also quite cheap, and neither ringen (wrestling) or pugilism (boxing) really need to cost anything at all!

What equipment do you really need?

The equipment that you need depends on two main factors: your choice of discipline, and at what intensity you want to practise. In terms of safety and risk, it is not the material of the training tool that matters so much, it is mainly the intensity as which you choose to practise, because hitting hard with any kind of sword-shaped object will hit harder and cause more damage than hitting gently with any sword-shaped object.

If you want to do the kind of competition fighting that you see at Swordfish and other large international tournaments, then you need sufficient budget to buy the appropriate protective gear. There is no way to fence at that level of intensity on a low budget; you absolutely must buy the necessary protective equipment so that you don’t get broken during training. If you don’t have the budget for this, then you have to reconsider what it is you are hoping to do.

If you want to study longsword, all you really need is a fencing mask and a cheap synthetic longsword. You can do solo exercises and paired exercises perfectly well with just this. It might not be as cool or as sexy as the full tournament outfit – but it will be a fraction of the price! If you want to do sparring, then you do need to add some competent gloves. The Red Dragon padded gloves are acceptable if you keep the sparring gentle, but you will need to buy more expensive and more protective gloves if you want to allow the intensity to go higher.

If you have an even lower budget than that, then singlestick might be a good option. Again, you just need a mask, and a singlestick – there’s not really much need for gloves, even if you start sparring, so this might be a better option for a club with a low budget. It just so happens that we have developed some budget singlesticks for sale through the Academy of Historical Arts online shop, and we can also supply masks. Get in touch with us and we would be more than happy to outfit your club with everything you need to get started, and we’ll be delighted to offer any advice you might request.

What certification or qualifications do you need?

This is something you should look into, because it depends on which country you live in.

In the UK, for example, there’s no legal requirement to have a teaching certification; but you may find it difficult to gain insurance without one, and it may be difficult to do very much without insurance. Again, this is something with which the Academy of Historical Arts might be able to help you – take a look at our club affiliation page and get in touch if you would like to discuss anything.

First aid training might be a very good idea. While of course we all hope that there will be no accidents and no injuries, these things do sometimes happen, and it would be responsible to ensure that there is always someone present at club meetings with an up to date first aid certification and also an up to date first aid kit.

What online presences do you need?

You should definitely have a page on Facebook for your club, and perhaps (but not necessarily) a discussion group; the page is probably more important than the discussion group.

You should definitely have a website. These days, you don’t need to know programming languages to build a website, there are lots of options for making a simple website very easily. Of course, a better website will be more useful for your club, and will help to attract more students more swiftly. This is another way that the Academy of Historical Arts may be able to help affiliated clubs – please ask if you are interested.

Conclusion

You really don’t need very much to start a club. Find somewhere to practise. Find someone with whom to practise. Pick your discipline, decide what you are hoping to achieve in the short term, and buy the right equipment to get yourselves started. You can easily get up and running for less than £100 per person; you can potentially get up and running on a lower budget, but you might have to accept that the intensity of the practices will be very low until you can have every single person in a fencing mask.

Then go ahead and open up!