It just occurred to me that I never shared my experience with the HEMAA certification process, so here goes.
Before my certification exam, I gave Lee Smith the NYHFA curriculum in accordance with the certification requirements. Our curriculum consists of an explanation of some basic concepts, like distance, timing, pressure, etc., some technique tables broken down by skill level, a “plain English” explanation of our interpretations of the techniques of Danzig and Ringeck, and our cutting curriculum (patterns, standards, explanations, etc.). When it was time to certify me, Lee, Nicole Smith and Kristian Ruokonen (they made up my three person certification board) had a copy of the curriculum in front of them. That was when I said, “Uh oh.” Because our curriculum is big...it looked very thick lying there on the table.
As soon as they began asking questions and having me demonstrate things, I had a rather intriguing revelation...this certification program did exactly what it set out to do. I felt as though I were being tested by myself. It was kind of a freaky feeling, because I’m quite demanding when it comes to knowing the sources, and I wasn’t sure if I would meet my own standards. It’s easy to make standards, to demand things of our students. Anyone can sit down and say, “An X rank student has to know the following...” and write a laundry list of techniques and concepts. It’s easy because our students don’t throw it back in our face and say, “How well do YOU know it, bub?”
The panel grilled me quite thoroughly on the stuff in my curriculum. Prior to the certification process, my curriculum was verified—meaning, it was determined to be true to the sources. This simply means that if you say Ringeck says X, then the certification board should make sure that Ringeck does in fact say X and you didn’t just make it up. This is not an issue of interpretation, merely fact checking. The curriculum was also approved, meaning that it was determined that it represented an adequate pedagogical model based on the panel’s understanding of HEMA. This is not as subjective as it sounds, while some of us have extra materials (e.g. our cutting curriculum), we all more or less agree on what students need to be taught. There was no judgment passed on my teaching methodology (pedagogy), merely that the curriculum contained sufficient material.
During the process, the board wanted not only knowledge of what was in my curriculum, but they wanted to see if I could actually do what I said I should be able to do. This involved judgment calls, of course, but they never said anything like, “Oh, that’s your Zornhau? That’s cute.” It was all just “can you do what it says here in your curriculum, can you do it in a martially sound manner, and are you any good at it?” The last two parts are subjective, but that is the price we pay for a certification that actually has some value. The board never questioned my interpretations...my performance was evaluated on things like balance, fluidity, control (I struck at my demo partner with varying speeds, including full, but never hit him)...essentially, competence. I was even tested on cutting ability, because that is in my curriculum. We went outside, got a stand and a couple of tatami mats, and I had to demonstrate some of the skills that were described in our cutting standards. If cutting is not in your curriculum, don’t expect to be tested on it.
After my own test, I watched Jake Norwood get certified. His process was quite different from mine, because his curriculum is different. There, again, I saw the “test you by your own standards” thing come to life right before my eyes. I served on Jake’s certification board, and when it was my turn to ask questions, I asked them only based on Jake’s supplied curriculum. I watched him and pretended I didn’t know him, and I saw that he demonstrated everything he was asked in a graceful and powerful manner. There was no doubt that this person could do what he said he should be able to do, and then some. I believe that using the rubric set forth in the certification standards, it would be relatively easy to evaluate anyone based on their curriculum without prejudice.
I believe this certification will be of tremendous value to the community. It truly does test you by your own standards. I can’t say that enough times, and I’m not quite sure how Lee pulled it off, but pull it off he did. Am I a better teacher because I took this certification? Actually yes, because I got a taste of my own medicine and so I have more insights into how my students feel, and that’s always a good thing. But that’s not really what this certification is about. Certifications are a necessary evil. They let people know that an organization thinks you are qualified to teach, and that has value in the real world (we may all know each other, but outsiders don’t know us). The value of that qualification depends on the organization that issues it. The HEMAA is one of (if not the) largest HEMA organizations in the US, and among our members are some of the most respected martial artists, competitors and/or scholars in the HEMA community. People who have been on the front lines of research, innovation and the practice of HEMA for many years. When it comes to HEMA, the HEMAA trumps the USFCA or any other outside organization that will soon be offering certifications of their own. This certification affirms your ability to teach a well structured curriculum and do so safely, but it does more than that, it affirms your ability to practice what you preach as evaluated by members of our own community. And that’s something no outside organization can ever do.