My club just had our first movie-themed meetup. This one used the “dance lessons” from the Game of Thrones as a way to get people interest in a 3 hour seminar on Bolognese fencing.
It was a rousing success. We had five guests, four of whom were ladies with no prior experience. All five of them lasted for the entire four hours of the seminar (yes, we ran long) with no signs of excessive fatigue. Many of them expressed interest in joining our club, especially if allowed to drag their husbands along.
Our next seminar has The Princess Bride as the theme. Still a month away, we already have five more people signed up for it.
Based on the feed back I got, the biggest fear for our guests was “getting in over their head”. They had no idea what joining a fencing club entailed, and were afraid of even trying it out during our open session. So by presenting this as a light hearted, gentle introduction designed to feed their curiosity, rather than as a martial art class, we were able to overcome their reservations.
Things we did right
No advertising. We didn’t even mention our regular classes until one of our guests asked. Today was about them having fun, not recruiting.
A good balance between lecture and practical application. I’m not sure how to explain the pacing, but we alternated between explaining concepts and having people actually move around. This gave them plenty of time to rest their arms, allowing them to participate the whole time.
Lots of variety. Unlike a real class, where we keep drilling one topic until everyone gets it right, we stayed with each exercise only as long as people were still enjoying it. This allowed us to cover a variety of topics and weapons, far more than we would for a traditional introductory class.
No talking during water breaks. Some instructors (including myself in the past) try to save time by starting their lectures during the water break. This is a bad idea. Either the student won’t actually drink water, or they won’t pay attention to the lecture. By giving them a real break, everyone came back alert.
No set plan. We had one, but immediately threw it out and just winged it. This worked really well for us because we could constantly tweak the class based on how the students were feeling. Obviously this wouldn’t work when you have 20 students, but with a small group I feel that it made it personal.
Alternating presenters. With a 3 to 4 hour seminar, people are going to get tired of hearing one voice. So David and I swapped off from time to time, which again helped keep them engaged.
No bitching. No complaining about the SCA, Adrian Empire, other HEMA groups, movies, TVs, etc. Even when someone brought up the issue about flat parries, we kept it very polite. I mentioned how John Clements made that mistake back around 2000, praised his work in general, and focused on why we parry mostly with the edge. I was very careful to avoid turning it into a “JC is a moron” rant because our guests neither wanted nor needed to hear that crap.
Lots of time for experimentation. Each exercise included a basic and an advanced version. We phrased the advanced version as “you could also…” and focused on the basic. Some of the students took it upon themselves to try the advanced version, at which point we gave one-on-one tips. I think this helped them feel like they were more in control and participating rather than just passively mimicking what everyone else was doing.
Some of the lectures went off topic. For example, we were talking about the role of Assaulti and somehow managed to stray into how people in the Renaissance would don armor from the 1400 to 1600’s and then try to reenact King Author and the Knights of the Round Table. It was a good discussion, but untimely.
We were so eager to get into the exercises that we forgot to team them how to hold a sword. We spotted the problem when we noticed that people were getting tired way too quickly. After the mistake was rectified, the fatigue went away and the smiles returned.
I was late. Showing up 5 minutes before class is fine, for normal practices that include an open session. But when I rolled up there were already 4 people talking with the other instructor, meaning I was setting up during his first lecture. Had I actually arrived 15 minutes early like I had planned, that is still a bit iffy. I forgot that the students would also be showing up early as to not miss the beginning of the seminar.