Every HEMA school has its own particular vibe, a culture and a way of being. I spent my last weekend in the New World at Valkyrie Martial Arts Assembly, teaching a longsword weekend; a day of Fiore and a day of Vadi. So far, so normal. But the Valkyrie vibe is quite unlike any other club or group I’ve come across, and it’s worth taking a minute to look at what, and why, that is.
In the first place, as the sign in the bathroom insisting that the loo seat belongs in the down position, “this is a matriarchy”. It is run by Courtney Rice, Kaja Sadowski, and Randy Packer, so at board level, that’s certainly the case. And it has the highest proportion of female to male students of any club I know (it’s about 45% women).
One of the hallmarks of a good place to train is that students are judged only on their attitudes and effort, never on results. I’ve never seen that more clearly demonstrated than at Valkyrie. It was amazing, and it is certainly the result of very clear and deliberate policies that are put explicitly in practice. I hope that any person coming to my classes feels safe and welcome. I know that that is not always the case. But I think it probably is the case at this school.
I begin every class saying that I’ll consider it successful if everyone finishes training healthier than they started it, and the way to get there is a zero tolerance policy on macho bullshit. Because swords do tend to bring a bit of macho bullshit out of people (myself most definitely included). But I never saw a breath of it, over two full days of teaching there. It was amazing. If you ever get the chance to go, do it.
The character of the place was never clearer than at the impromptu post-seminar party, where we ate sushi and pizza, drank really good whisky, and even went outside for a civilized pipe. (I think Randy has Hobbit blood in him somewhere.) A party at which I was prevailed upon to demonstrate Whisky and Cigars again…
So, thanks to Courtney, Kaja, Randy, and the many excellent students who made the seminar a real pleasure to teach. And a particular tip of the hat to Chris, who soldiered on through both days with only a couple of months prior experience behind them.
I look forward to my return!