Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Re-enactment and Its Decline


While this particular subject is not directly relevant to the subject of fencing, it does apply if examined from a certain point of view. For many their swordsmanship actually revolves around one renacting group or another, thus the decline of the groups associated has an effect on the availability of being able to participate in the fencing. Thus this question forms somewhat of a backdrop of importance to fencing, and indeed different forms of fencing.

In more recent years it would seem that there has been a decline in renactment. This would be pointing at a decline in numbers rather than a decline in the quality of the renactment. Indeed it is quite the opposite the quality of the renactment has increased as more and more information and equipment has become available to the renactor, and thuis is part of the problem as to why the numbers are dropping. Interestingly, this has come at the same time that Western Martial Arts has seen an increase in numbers and interest. </>When I started in renactment some 20 years ago, it was reasonably easy for the average person of the street to join a renactment group and start participating.

In my case the group was the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronisms). All that was expected of me at my first event was an attempt at clothing from pre-1600. I managed to rustle up a tunic from a costume set that the family had and a pair of track-suit pants for my legs. All in all the outfit passed as being "medieval" from a distance, and no one batted an eyelid. It would seem that things have changed quite a bit even in the SCA.

</>As the ability to construct and availabilty to gain the equipment has increased, so has the expectations of those within the groups. In my opinion it is partially this set-up cost which is causing people problems in joining the various groups and also maintaining their membership and activity within the groups. Where there is a large initial set-up cost for the group, and an expectation for the purchase of certain equipment to a certain standard, there will be those who simply cannot afford this set-up cost. This instantly restricts who can join and participate within the groups.

</>Using the SCA as an example, the first thing that is going to be said is that in recent years the membership cost has actually dropped and this should enable people to more easily be able to join the organisation. This is true enough, to become a financial member of the SCA it has become much easier, but why would a person be willing to pay such membership if they cannot afford to feel like they belong? This comes down to the expectations of those within the group more than anything.

</>Previously, it was the case that a newcomer could turn up to an SCA event in clothing which was pseudo-medieval in appearance and there would be nothing said and no one would bat and eyelid. This allowed people from various socio-economic groups to be able to participate within the group and the numbers increased and were maintained at a quite high level. This is would not seem to be the case anymore. </>The newcomer arrives and immediately there are expectations laid upon them as to what they need to acquire in order to fit in. Sure some of the items can be lent on a short-term basis, but still there is the expectation that the individual will fork out in the short-term a quite substantial amount, whether it is fabric, or clothing, or other equipment. For those in a low economic situation this is simply not possible and then they have to rely on the charity of others for an extended period of time and never quite feel like that they "fit". This does not encourage people to stick around particularly much.

Aside from the encouragement that people get from the people in the group, there must also be an acceptance of new people. These people, for the most part, will not already have their own gear and their "first attempts" need to be accepted if not praised. Constructive criticism and encouragement is always good as is being helpful. We should not expect our newcomers to turn up in perfect medieval or Renaissance equipment, and we should encourage them to do more and better, but with the expectation that this may take some time.

If renactment is to survive then we must encourage more and more people to come along and enjoy what we all enjoy. This actually applies to the Western Martial Arts community as well. The more we restrict who will fit within the organisation the more the numbers will decrease. Groups have died due to this particular phenomenon and if we do not want the same to happen to ours, then we must take a hard, long  look at ourselves and see what we can do to encourage more people in, rather than scaring them off with high expectations which need to be filled in the short term.