Any tips on starting up a study group?

Poppycawk

New member
I am really thinking about starting up a Study group on George Silver's art.


What are some things I should avoid doing? I've never ran a club by myself so I am just trying to wrap my head around the endeavor. Most of my HEMA experience has been in legitimate schools with knowledgeable instructors(none of them Silver practioners though).
 

Administrator

Administrator
Staff member
This is a very broad question that requires some additional information to tailor a response.

  1. What is your prior experience with managing a business?
  2. Do you have income and/or necessary resources that can support starting a new business such as a martial art studio?

There are cheap, inexpensive ways to first validate that the local market you live in can support another martial art studio but without knowing your situation it is hard to provide you specific advice on doing so.

The curriculum aspect, such as teaching Silver, is far less important than you may be thinking. The most important aspects of starting a new martial art club are universal to just about any service-oriented brick and mortar business.

Starting new study groups and schools is an essential component necessary for HEMA to continue to grow so we're happy to provide some answers if they can help you get up and running, but we need to know more info about your situation, basically. Otherwise we might spend a lot of time suggesting things that may not help you.
 

Philologus

New member
A study group, in my language, is nothing like a business. It is a few friends who get together once or twice a week to practice and advertise in local media that they are looking for new recruits. If they get ambitious, they can rent a training space for those few hours a week instead of training in a park or someone's backyard, and bring an instructor in from outside the group once a year or so. Last time I was involved in the community, only a handful of groups rented space full-time and paid someone for tens of hours a week.

My favourite essays on how to start a fencing club or study group are by Christian Cameron and Guy Windsor.
 
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Administrator

Administrator
Staff member
Advertising and renting business space is the domain of a business. Running a club well is very much a business, especially with legal requirements to operate a martial art club requiring registration as some type of business, and unless you'd like to be personally liable for injuries anyone receives it's necessary to have insurance, which requires you to be a business entity of some kind to obtain.

The main reason so few clubs in the US have full time paid instructors is because so many choose to belong to the HEMAA which has rules prohibiting instructors of its member clubs from being paid a wage. It's not because the revenue opportunity does not exist. It can be argued that not having instructors able to be compensated for their time is a drawback, not a benefit, to the growth of a club because it restricts the amount of time instructors can dedicate to holding classes, which means they offer fewer classes, which means they attract less students to the club since many people won't have schedules that conform to the 1 or 2 hours a day at night, once or twice a week operation model many HEMAA clubs operate by as a consequence.

Since this thread was published we've written a Guide on How to Start a HEMA Club of our own. It is primarily aimed at clubs operated in the United States but is relevant to other countries as well.
 
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Philologus

New member
In the countries I have lived in (which does not include the United States), a nonproffit or club or Verein is a very different legal structure than a business! And the aim is different too: most businesses do whatever they do to make money, whereas a fencing club makes money so people can keep having fun with swords. So which is bonum per se, and which is the bonum in se, is flipped. If I post on the Internet or put up flyers that my birdwatching club is looking for new members, that is not the domain of a business. If we charge 10 dollars or Euros a month to host the website and print flyers and buy spare binoculars for new members, that is not the domain of a business.

The reason so few clubs in Canada and the USA have full-time instructors and full-time space is that its very hard to find and retain enough students, and at best it pays poorly and adds a lot of stress and work which is not part of having fun with swords. To my knowledge, the few that became substantial businesses, like Academie Duello, were all founded by people with on the order of ten years experience in teaching and intense training. So when someone is thinking if founding a club, asking "what would we need to have a full-time studio" is like someone who is thinking of going for a jog asking "what would I need to compete in the national marathon?" There are so many intermediate steps to that goal, that its likely to discourage action.
 

Administrator

Administrator
Staff member
Nearly every country in the world has similar types of organization structure when it comes to non-profit organizations. It is just a business that is able to receive donations and has special tax rules associated to allow for this kind of structure. If the business laws were so radically different between countries then international banking and investing would not work so well globally. Some of the most highly paid executives in many countries are employed by non-profits, because they are indeed a form of business structure.

When you have the attitude that your business isn't really a business, then you self-limit yourself into a certain mold that can hinder the growth of what you are trying to do. Besides this, whether you call what you do a 'business' doesn't matter; a business is defined by its activities, not the label you wish to give it. This is why people get in trouble when they do the activities of a business but don't properly incorporate themselves, get proper permitting, insurance, pay taxes, etc. that they should be doing per what their local government has defined business activity as. If you are operating any kind of athletic club, you are operating a business, even if you aren't self aware about it. This is because clubs by their nature are a type of business activity; you are giving membership in a group that provides a service. That is a business.

Even the original fencing guilds from hundreds of years ago, like the Brotherhood of St. Mark, were an organized business entity. That's what a guild is, after all. They charged fees and paid their instructors.

It's also not useful to focus on the perception of 'skill' as a measuring standard for whether or not your service as a business is valuable. There exist weight lifting gyms created by amateur weight lifters with little experience that generate half a million dollars a year simply because they provide a valuable service in their geographic area that few others do. This is why CrossFit gyms, which started around the same time HEMA was gaining steam, is now a multi-billion dollar industry and HEMA is not; the CrossFit community took themselves seriously and organized themselves the way other types of athletic organizations did. By contrast most people in HEMA did not and instead created rules that actually hindered the growth of this sport. The comparison I think is useful, since CrossFit is almost entirely ran by amateur athletes, with many gyms started by people with very little prior experience with sports in general which is why they got into Crossfit instead of say powerlifting or bodybuilding. The cost structure to start a Crossfit gym is also not too different than what is needed to open a martial art studio of any type, including a HEMA school.

Self-limiting beliefs hinder growth in anything you wish to do. As HEMA is very young still, the value of a club isn't so much in the quality of the instruction, but the simple fact there is a dedicated space for studying HEMA with other likeminded people in a geographic area where there is no other HEMA school. If you treat the operating of a HEMA club as a business, this value is obvious. But if you treat it as a personal hobby in all regards, then you just focus on things like 'quality of training' and then decide if your quality isn't to your personal standards then no one would pay for being part of your club. But you cannot get to high quality of training if the club cannot sustain itself and is limited by how much equipment it has, its inconsistent training schedules and locations, and other problems that operating the club like a business will resolve. For any business to really grow, it requires full time attention. Most people don't have the finances to allow them to treat their martial art school as a hobby and still make it very successful, because most people are not independently wealthy. Thus why paying instructors leads to a thriving school since it now gets full time attention from people who aren't expected to be martyrs for the school, and ideally will have a service oriented mindset instead of a martyr one.

So, I think your comparison of running a martial art school even in HEMA, to competing in a national marathon, is mistaken. This is an amateur sports thing, for people who want to learn how to sword fight. People are paying right now $100 or more a month to learn how to fight with things like lightsabers, with classes hosted by yoga instructors with little martial art background. The value for an amateur athlete who just wants to do an activity isn't always in getting 'expert training', but the fact they can do the activity at all with like minded people using loaner equipment, in a dedicated space with consistent training schedules. So you don't need 10 years of experience to run a HEMA school as a business. You just need to know how to operate a business and apply those principles to a HEMA club. It is certainly helpful for someone to have a solid foundation in HEMA already, but it's actually not a requirement if you are the only other person in your local area who has a HEMA club. Just by offering a service no one else is gives your club value that others will pay for.
 
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