One late night in Jan '01, I was bored and twitchy, having played myself sick in Return to Castle Wolfenstein's multi-player. So I did a Google search for "swordsmanship". I immediately found HACA. A few web links later, I found the controversy which follows HACA. Months later, I had found a number of fairly useful Western martial arts (WMA) sites, and roped various friends into being my fencing partners. We went not so slowly and not so methodically, with $5-10 Home Despot-contrived sword-like objects (SLOs). Now I had never been particularly active as a kid or college student, and had only an abortive 3-month fling with tae kwon do back in high school that taught me only how to hurt my back.

But this was glorious! No more dice-rolling for me -- I'd found the real thing. I cautiously spent small amounts of money at Home Depot, not knowing whether this fad/obsession would pass; I quibbled over $10 here and there for tools which have proven to be worth way more than any movie ticket I've ever bought. I endured three months of chronic tennis elbow, as my forearms and hands strengthened up to the task of gripping a 2-3 lb object and swinging it around.

But I never looked back. I own every European martial art treatise from the 15-17th century period that's been translated into English (all the half-dozen of them). I have numerous practice weapons -- mostly steel, a few aluminum, some wood; some are purchased, and some are home-made. I get some small amount of exercise every week. The best thing is how I never run out of new things to learn. I understand that I long ago passed over the threshold of insanity, but I'm OK with it. :) Almost all of my free time is spent on studying WMA, learning how to teach WMA, or making practice equipment for WMA.

It's not a crazy dream to think that you can learn to fence like the Black Prince (longsword). Or perhaps you envy the Montagues and Capulets their bloody feud (sidesword). Humble little d'Artagnan and his friends have inspired no few modern-day fencers, but so few actually study the rapier fencing of the period.

The books are there -- mostly in the original Italian and German. But new treatises are being translated and published every year. Students of historical fencing may only number in the hundreds across the U.S., but the online community is friendly, supportive, and increasingly well-educated. For now, you'll likely have to search hard to find study and practice partners, but such a group will be free to play with.

One of the nicer things about WMA is that most of the current instructors out there are committed to staying true to their sources. By this, I mean that they are concerned firstly with what the old masters taught and what actually works in a real fight (as opposed to a sport or tournament oriented activity). The available source material can be frustratingly cryptic because we are culturally separated from the authors by several hundred years. However, this same separation has preserved these arts in a very real and practical form. Many of the ancient authors spent their early lives as soldiers and fighters, living in an age of soldiers and fighting men. Such a crucible would ensure to some degree that only the more effective fighting systems would survive.

The most interested people I meet are often in their 20s and have limited financial means or time to pursue any sort of martial art. WMA is currently still fairly affordable, since the community is still growing and establishing itself. However, the burden will usually be upon the individual to learn, study, and practice. How often do we watch TV or go to the movies? Or simply procrastinate? How often do we go out to eat, buy CDs, or buy coffee at Starbucks? For most people, the time and the money are available; they just have to be reallocated, which requires a lot of will. Of course, you may disregard this if it totally doesn't apply to you, a veritable paragon of industry and efficiency. I'll just have a really hard time believing you. :P