New Member Guide

Here you can find an abbreviated ‘user guide’ that will tell you how best to succeed in our association. This includes basic information like how to join and what to bring, and more specific subjects or frequently asked questions. Basically, the information you probably want to know when you join, in plain English, all in one place. Information is updated and current as of Autumn 2015.

Making Contact

Joining up is simple; make sure our training schedule fits into your life, and if it does, contact us somehow to let us know you’re coming. Our facebook group (“Tampere HEMA”) is the quickest way, but alternately you can  use the contact form on this website to send an email. We prefer you contact us first, as it gives instructors time to plan out how to divide their time and let’s us make sure we have appropriate equipment. You’ll have someone ready and waiting to meet you and welcome you to the group. If for some reason you can’t contact us beforehand, it’s not a huge problem, just not ideal.

We occasionally invite new members in large batches by advertising a new beginner course. It’s often convenient to have a group of new people start at the same time, so they’re all able to study the same material on the same days, and the instructor can provide everyone equal attention. Keep an eye on the front page of this website or our Facebook group for announcements about new courses starting (approximately every autumn) for best results. You are still welcome to join on your own at any time, though. We can work with you! This is part of the reason we ask that you contact us first.

There is a real live person who has specifically volunteered to handle matters of recruiting and welcoming new people. You should be able to contact any member of our group, and they’ll be able to point you in the direction of that person. Chances are, that person will have already contacted you if you’ve sent us a message!

The First Day

As with any martial art, the first lessons are going to be about getting familiar with the most basic, core movements that everything else is built on. It’s not about looking really skillful at this point; all it really takes is showing up. Of course, you might have a better time if you’re friendly toward the other new students you’ll be training with, but even that isn’t vital right now. This is a day for being introduced to the instructor and training space for the first time, and drilling a few basic movements that will be second nature in a couple of months.

You should arrive wearing clothes appropriate for physical training; no jeans, nothing restrictive or with frills and decorations. A simple t-shirt is best. If you have long hair, be prepared to put it up if it isn’t already. Wear athletic shoes that are suitable for indoor activities, unless it’s an outdoor session. You don’t need to, but you will probably be more comfortable if you bring a water bottle. No jewelry! There’s no need to bring any payment, but you might be asked for contact information like an email address.

If you already own equipment appropriate for what we’re doing (such as swords or masks), bring it along! The instructor will want to see it and verify it’s suitable for what we do.

That’s it. Check the time and place of the training session, and if you’ve contacted us ahead of time, the instructor should be well prepared to welcome you and get you started.

The Second Day

More specifically, the end of the second day. The first couple of lessons are a trial period for everyone. On the end of your second lesson, take a moment to talk with your instructor if they haven’t already brought up the subject. Let us know if you plan to continue, and ask any questions you might have before officially joining. If you’ve chosen to stay, we’ll add you to our member list and send you payment information for the membership fee.

As of January 2017, the cost of training is 80€ for 3 months. This fee is the same for all members regardless of rank or which training sessions they choose to attend.

Enhancing Your Training

It’s impossible to overstate the benefits of practicing at home, between training sessions. The human mind and body are mysterious, yes, but in thousands of years of learning new skills, we’ve gotten a pretty good idea how to do it efficiently.

First, leave new and unfamiliar movements to your training sessions with an instructor. Many people without access to a training group have to train new skills alone and learn through guesswork… and it’s possible to build skills this way. But when you DO have access to an instructor and experienced partners, jumping ahead of the curve can sabotage your progress by building bad habits. It’s a better idea to repeat and drill the movements you’ve been taught already, between sessions.

Your home training sessions don’t need to be long, or glamorous. What you’re building at the start is muscle memory; you don’t need to repeat the same motion for hours on end to see major improvement. As little as five minutes, once a day, will drastically improve your skills when you’re starting out. A person who spends even that little time practicing between training sessions will quickly outgrow a person who does nothing in between.

It also doesn’t matter how simple your home training is, as long as you concentrate on good form more than speed and power. Don’t have a sword? A stick is fine if you hold it the same way. Don’t have room to swing a stick? A hammer is fine if you hold it the same way. Footwork is of prime importance and takes no special setup at all… do it down the hall, do it as you fetch your coffee in the morning, do it while walking the dog if you think no one is watching.

Finally, a lot of training time with an instructor is focused on learning specific techniques that require experienced insights to learn, not drilling simple (but vital) physical skills. Those are better practiced on your own, maximizing the time you have to work on new material with your instructor. Set up a target and practice your aim and coordination… or try to just barely brush or tap it from a full speed cut, and build control. Or try to touch it with only the tip of your sword to build up your sense of distance. There are infinite resources out there for physical and martial arts training drills, which can be as elaborate or as simple as you like (and often equally effective). Maybe you like to run, or lift, or juggle. Improve your physical condition in whatever way you like best.

You don’t HAVE to do any of these things. It’s possible to perform admirably in most any martial art, including ours, without doing anything beyond showing up for training week after week. But, if you want to increase your learning speed exponentially, it doesn’t have to be expensive, or time consuming, or elaborate, or even difficult. It just needs to be consistent and honest.

Borrowing Equipment

We keep a small stockpile of gear for students to borrow during training sessions, and we try to anticipate needs such that we don’t run out unless something unexpected occurs. If we are training at our home venue, an instructors or advanced student will ask who needs to borrow gear early in the lesson, usually before warmup begins, and then fetch it.

If you’ve just joined a new beginner course, don’t worry about this for the first couple of weeks. Just make sure we know you’re joining up, and we’ll bring what you need. Please note, at this point borrowing gear is only for regular training sessions, not home use.

Club Membership and Ranks

There is a little more to membership than simply showing up… but not much more. The first two training sessions are a trial period for new members to assess whether HEMA, and our way of training, is right for them. After these first two weeks, if you choose to continue with us, you’ll be sent payment information for the membership fee. Paying this fee grants full membership rights.

Please be aware that there is a probationary period of three months from the first time you attend training. Within this period, an instructor may, with sufficient cause, choose to discontinue your membership. This isn’t taken lightly and will hopefully never happen in our club, but could be the result of a very poor attitude, confrontational nature, or lack of respect for the safety of other members, for example. In the event that you have already paid your membership fee and this very unusual circumstance would happen, we will return the appropriate portion of your payment, based on how many paid weeks you have remaining.

Rankings in THEMA are not based on individual skill level, but experience and contribution to our training as whole. Primarily, they are a learning tool for the person holding the rank. They indicate what you should know well and what you should learn next, according to the club’s curriculum. We’ve adopted a system based on the traditional medieval European academic model, which is used by a number of well-known HEMA study groups already.

Novice: A beginner with less than 3 full months of training.
Scholar: An intermediate with a up to 4 of training, who is moving through the curriculum.
Free Scholar: An advanced student with 4-5 years of experience. They are now beyond the scope of our curriculum.
Provost: An instructor with 5-10 years of experience who has contributed significantly to our group and the HEMA community as a whole.

Buying Equipment

Some basic information is provided on the website here concerning the equipment you need to gather. Still, if you have any questions at all, gather information from instructors and other members. In any given training session, you’ll have a wide variety of people, with equipment of all shapes and sizes to compare or try on. We’ve all been through it ourselves, and probably will be again next time we need new gear. HEMA practice isn’t a governed by a worldwide organization with standardized equipment, and it’s hard to tell what you’re getting before it’s paid for. It IS possible to inadvertently buy equipment that isn’t suitable for our training, and instructors will disallow the use of anything unsafe. Don’t waste your money on an impulse purchase!

Studying Multiple Arts at the Same Time

We HEMA-ists face a constant temptation to divide our attention; there is a huge variety of interesting combat styles to choose from both within HEMA and beyond. Within THEMA, we teach more than one art. Though it might be tempting to start taking lessons in everything we have, we strongly suggest you don’t. The core movements of any martial art system, like stance and footwork, take a little time to absorb. When you’re just starting out, it’s easy for the foundations of one art to mix confusingly with another… it’s a lot like learning two languages at the same time. You CAN do it, no one will stop you, but it’s advised that you take on only one new art at a time, until the foundations of it have been internalized and come naturally. Usually this takes a few months.

Beyond the First Few Months

If you’ve just finished your first few months, you’ve probably already been elevated to the rank of Scholar; a regular member of our club and a solid training partner. The nature of training might change a little bit from here! Where the first few months are highly structured, with a lot of repetition intended to teach you the fundamental movements of your chosen art, Scholar training shifts a little more of the responsibility back onto you. Instructors will be available and leading class, but here, the needs and total experience levels of student will vary widely.

For good reason, instructors will usually focus the most of their attention on newer students in a given group; more advanced students will have a better idea how to train with less guidance.

Sometimes, you may need to make your own way. Perhaps the instructor is teaching some new material to the latest group of beginner course graduates… material you’ve already been through. It never hurts to repeat and keep practicing, so you could simply join in and provide a good example for the newer students. That’s one choice. Or maybe you’ve got a few other experienced friends around. You could follow along with the lesson being taught, but work with an experienced partner at a higher intensity. Same subjects, same timing, but a little more advanced action.

What if there is no structured lesson for the day, or you’ve been over the instructor’s subject a few times and aren’t interested in repeating it? If you reach this point, you should already have some idea how to sharpen your skills on your own… but you don’t have to. Find a partner to drill or spar with, or ask your instructor for some suggestions. We’re all in training to build our skills and expand our knowledge, so if you find yourself with some free time in training, there is always something you can do or someone you can join.

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