An Open Letter to HEMA Club Owners

We have recently written and published an article to provide information on how to make a website for your HEMA club and the reasons why you should do so. As this article is expressly not aimed at newcomers but also for people who have existing clubs, we’d like some of you to read it. But right now there are some rather toxic individuals who are actively seeking to spread lies about our site to deter you from visiting it, so let’s have a conversation about why you should ignore them and read our guide, anyway. We recognize the audience for this article are people who own clubs, and have done so for several years. So it’s worth having a conversation about why we created a HEMA club directory and why you should want to be included in it, since there has been several people who have intentionally spread misinformation to discourage people from wanting to be listed in our directory. In the process of building our HEMA Club Finder directory we indexed over 300 sites belonging to HEMA clubs around the world. It was a tedious process, as we manually reviewed every entry we made. During our research we did find lists of clubs on other websites, and we noticed many clubs had changed addresses, website domains that didn’t work anymore, and many other kinds of problems. As we have often received some harassment from people on our Facebook Page regarding our directory (even to the point they spam the HEMAA Club Finder url on our Facebook posts) we might as well just be forward about why we remove these posts, and why we made our own directory to begin with. We noticed problems with the HEMAA Club Finder over a year ago and which the HEMAA leadership refused to address, claiming it was too much “work” to address them. Fair enough, we decided we’ll just make our own when we decided to make this website as a resource for the community. Then later as part of building this website, in the process of building our Club Finder database we actually went through the HEMA Alliance club finder and looked at every listing, visiting every page it has. It quickly became clear to us that the manner in which the HEMAA handles their Club finder is not at the kind of standard we think is a good look for convincing people to get into HEMA and this is why we delete all posts people mention about that club finder on our page. We will provide a few examples of what we mean.
  1. There are numerous club entries which are problematic on the HEMAA Club Finder. By problematic we even mean not actually a HEMA Club at all. Among the “clubs” listed be the HEMAA Club Finder are what we’re fairly sure is a goth vampire LARPing group and based on the videos we saw on their Facebook page, we are confident they are not teaching source based material.
  2. In another example one club seemed legit but instead of providing a real address all they had was a list of GPS coordinates, as if finding them was some kind of treasure hunt.
  3. Several sites we visited were listed as ‘dangerous websites’ by anti-virus software such as Norton. For many of these websites it was apparent that the domain renewal had lapsed and been snapped up by hackers and spammers seeking to distribute malware to anyone following the links of these defunct clubs. Some active HEMA club websites even had malware installed into their poorly maintained websites and we got browser alerts for them, too. We didn’t list these sites in our club finder as a result of them not being safe to send visitors to. We did send emails to some of these sites alerting them of the problem, but most of these sites did not have any kind of contact information listed and among those who did, the emails bounced.
  4. Our final example is the HEMA Alliance club listing that was not a club of any kind but actually a site about naturopathy. It had nothing to do with sword fighting, at all and from what we could tell, has never been about HEMA.
Now we’re not going to specifically list the names and URLs of the “clubs” we just mentioned because we’re not seeking to have them harassed; we’re just explaining why we made our own HEMA club finder. Anyone who spends the time on the HEMAA Club Finder will see all these problems for themselves. We think we can do a better job of managing a directory, and so we are. We realize many people feel very loyal to the HEMAA and that is great, but the reality of the situation is that they are not maintaining the club finder that was originally created by someone else, who entrusted it to them. They have not taken care of it and it being the main directory everyone recommends and which ranks on Google is consequently a problem for the growth of the HEMA community. It’s not a trustworthy directory because the information is not high quality, and has listings sending people to malware sites. As the HEMAA officers typical response to complaints from people about its inaccuracies is by dismissing those complaints because they require “too much work” and are not actually addressing them, we decided to take matters into our own hands and create our own Club finder service, investing the time they would not.  In summary, we estimate somewhere around half of the information listed in HEMA Alliance club finder are inaccurate in some way. Most of the clubs we discovered from their listing, we had to track the current addresses down from the websites of the clubs themselves and often we had to update the website domain URL, too because this was also out of date. Even among those entries we observed, around 2/3 of club of the listings we visited do not even have a website (at least not that we could find via Google searches for their names) ; instead they use a Facebook group, often one that is labeled Private. Sometimes a listed entry in their finder is just someone’s email address, which is not very professional in our opinion and presenting the look we think newcomers will be expecting, who are coming into our community from the wider martial arts and fitness community.  We strive to be neutral on this site, but we’re finding it difficult to be silent about this with so many lies abut our site spread around. We don’t give in to the alarmism of certain individuals in the HEMA community with loud voices but who, in our opinion, are not good representatives of it to the general public. Their goals are not aligned with ours to help popularize HEMA and they have different, more personal agendas. We could elaborate further on this but based on the emails of support we have received from many in the HEMA community, we probably don’t need to spell it out.  The trustworthiness of a website is not determined by whether you know the name of the author. This website is trustworthy due to the accuracy of its information. That is why it ranks so highly on Google even though it has only been around a few months.   This website we have built has been an investment. We…..
  • ….purchased and customized a nice slick modular website theme that will look as good on mobile as it does on PC. Then improved it in numerous ways, and are still trying to refine these improvements. 
  • ….invested into application plugins for the site so it can provide some useful tools, such as our club finder.
  • ….invested time, and even some money, into making nice articles with some slick info-graphics on a few key pages.
  • ….invested the time to track down nearly every website with any decent HEMA related information in the English language. and organized them onto our Useful Websites list.
  • … tracked down nearly every published HEMA book on Amazon (which was no small task FYI) from the past twenty years, and indexed a ton of specialty HEMA gear. We even found HEMA focused apparel people had made. The HEMAR website is now very nearly a one stop gateway to any kind of thing you might need to buy related to HEMA.
And it’ll take a long time for us to make back any of this investment from the affiliate links on this site, if ever. For some transparency currently we have generated a little over a thousand dollars worth of product transactions for others in the community (mostly HEMA specific books) via these affiliate links. And from this we have generated a little over $40 as our affiliate fees. As this site is generating somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000 pageviews per month, that is not enough return on investment to cover the hosting fees of this site for a month, which now include needing to have monthly security features given the hostility directed against this site. There are individuals trying to hack it every day, using spoofed IP addresses. We’ve secured the site to the point it has actually become more difficult for us to publish our own posts, as several key features of WordPress like Gutenberg are not functioning correctly anymore given the security settings we’ve needed to implement. We’ve never had a brand new niche site get this kind of hostility before, and it is extremely disproportionate to what this site actually has for content.   As anyone who is involved in the popular HEMA related Facebook groups is aware, there are some loud voices who are very upset that we have managed to become one of the top ranking websites for many keywords related to HEMA in just a few months We know this because we see their posts in Facebook groups, on their personal profiles, and elsewhere. They have spread a lot of outlandish lies about this website, such as false accusations of “plagiarism” and “stolen content”. This is an absurd accusation to make and betrays a lack of understanding of how Google Search indexing works; do you really believe a site with plagiarized content would rank on the top of Google results over everyone else’s websites with content we have supposedly “stolen”? No, it would not. Google penalizes plagiarized content and can easily detect such things.  So the proof this site is not plagiarized content is by virtue of its rankings. We often cite where information has come from, as one of our goals is to spread awareness of the scholarship that has been done. So why then do they make the false accusations? We suspect because there are certain individuals who have noticed making false accusations based on nothing but the perceived integrity of the accusers has been very effective at manipulating people in the HEMA community into doing what these people want them to do. So they believe making such false accusations is a very easy way for them to try to “kill” a site they view as a competitor, for whatever reason. We believe they feel very threatened by the idea that people who are not part of their small clique has created a better website than their own, and that is all it really comes down to. But their problem is their own creation. We’d never have made this website if they had done a better job on their own sites to begin with. As such, perhaps you as a HEMA club owner should not be giving a lot of credibility into what these people are saying to you when it comes to whether or not you should want your club listed on our directory. Just because someone has had a club for etc. number of years and ran a few tournaments, does not make them a master of all things nor bestow upon them psychic powers as they claim to possess special insight into what we’re “really doing” with the articles being written,  Nor does being an officer of a well known federation make someone “reliable” when that organization has one duty in that organization, to promote HEMA schools, and yet they fail even at this by how they knowingly mismanage their own directory of clubs while trying to get others to not contribute to someone else’s service who is trying to do better. The real questions you need to ask is this,

What exactly are these people doing for YOU to help YOU grow your school, and how does listening to them tell you lies about our website (that is designed to promote HEMA to the general public and bring more people into the community) help you do that?

These are questions you really need to take to heart. Yes, we publish anonymously. But how can anyone blame us for this, given the current toxic environment these vocal people have created? They act like bullies to get their way. They are mad right now because their usual tactics to intimidate and shun people are not working to get what they want. They have no idea who has created this website and that makes them mad because they are used to being able to harass people to get their way.  Be sensible. Do you actually see anything on this website that is very inaccurate or problematic? Even if you look at our article on info about the demographics of the HEMA community (which these same people are trying very hard to distort our intentions and the reasons why we wrote it) you will see it does not misrepresent anything and actually provides some very useful information for how to market your schools and find new students, which is also the point of the article we just published. It’s not a list of who is in the HEMAA. It’s a pool of people who have an interest in HEMA and whom you can tap into, if you actually tried to. And we encourage you to do so. It’s worked well for us growing our Facebook Page and bringing people deeper into the community as a result. So, stop listening to these people who say outrageous lies with no evidence for their claims. They are too pre-occupied with other agendas to promote HEMA on our behalf. So we’re going to have to do it ourselves.  We encourage you to try reading the articles we write, instead of allowing someone else to tell you what they say. Read them yourself and judge them yourself. Not everything here is amazing piece of scholarship and it’s not intended to be. We’re mostly trying to get people into the community and that often means writing link bait. That’s just how things work. There are more academic sites which cannot do this, and which WE LINK TO on their behalf, intending to steer people over there.   You don’t need to know who has created this website, just like we don’t need to take public credit for making it, either. This is a service to contribute to the growth of the community and that in itself benefits us, because we love historical fencing. But making a website like this shouldn’t lead to harassment, and yet it has because there are some bad faith actors in the HEMA community who seem to believe they deserve to control it. But they don’t. Their only real control is in manipulating others while shouting loudly about how virtuous they are. Except, they’re not.  The only thing that is important here is what this website is achieving, and right now it is just about the only website that is listing many books and resources that are not easily discoverable unless you spend hundreds of hours of time researching across a dozen different blogs. We’re also trying to make a very reliable club finder directory service. Yes we have affiliate links on this stuff, but so what? Websites cost money. The money has to come from somewhere. The ultimate goal of this site is to pull in over 100,000 visitors a month, getting the attention of anyone with any interest in the martial arts and swords to learn about HEMA. It’s a long path to get there but it won’t happen without some amount of monetization. That is the reality of economics.  And unlike some other people we didn’t need to charge you money, or do fundraisers, or anything else to make this site. We did it out of our own pocket, with our own time.
via GIPHY   Considering all of this, concerning the question of whether you should take our advice on how to build your own website it might behoove you to take some advice from people who have demonstrated the ability to make a good website that can rank well on search engines, instead of perhaps people who are so clueless about his area they cannot even get their own websites to rank in their own hometowns for keywords related to the martial arts.  So, in short, you should read our article about how to make a good website to promote your HEMA club. It’s going to help many of you grow your clubs. We’re not going to lecture you about anything we ourselves were not willing to do. We did it already building this site. Update to this: We have been responding to common allegations against the site in the HEMA Council International Facebook group, There are two main complaints people have about content on the website,
  1. A claim of having stolen stock photos we use. This is simply inaccurate and all photos we use have been licensed from stock photography websites where the photographers have uploaded those photos. We have also avoided using stock photos taken of people that show identifiable features such as their face, who we know are members of the HEMA community (and not just an unrelated model posing with a sword) by only using photos of specific HEMA activity that do not show identifiable features. This is why we use photos of HEMA specific individuals wearing masks when they were used as models. We did this to avoid them being unfairly harassed for being confused with the authors.
  2.  A claim of stolen content. This again is not accurate, and an example given is a chart we created that was inspired by another chart. Our chart is very transformative, is used for editorial / educational purposes (which even if it is a derivative work makes it fair use) and it also attributes the original person who published it online with respect to how they chose to publish it (on reddit, using their username). To claim it is stolen content is not correct. We frequently provide attribution for where information has came from, with most pages having a bibliography at the bottom of the article if not when a direct link where the information itself is appearing in an article. We are not doing anything highly irregular within this community, where people frequently cite others work due to the scholarly nature of much of it. If anything we are highlighting the community’s work and trying to make it more accessible in popular search queries with the articles we write and the way we have organized the material, contributing to awareness of that work. 
Many individuals have not bothered to verify the accuracy of the claims they made by asking us for our side of the story. This is primarily what has been occurring and having a culture where people are discouraged from visiting the site to verify things for themselves has contributed to the spread of this claims.  ***** If you’d like to learn more information about historical fencing practices please check out our Learn HEMA page for a guide to learning about the historical weapon that interests you. You can also find more guides we’ve written about other topics at our Helpful Guides page.

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3 Responses

  1. For transparency we had to delete two posts here so far. One was obvious spam from a bot, and another was from “Ghost of Meyer” who posted, ‘You write like a third grader. Give me your name so I may mock you more personally.’ and then included a backlink to an adult website, which is why we have been forced to delete the post.

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