Student Ratings within the ARMA

Within ARMA we are all merely students –even the instructors. We will always be continuing students of the sword. But, in the effort to bring better quality and professionalism to pursuit of our subject, we follow the close combat guidance of the historical Schooles of Defence.

In doing such we adopt the tradition of the 16th century German Fechtschulen ("fight school") and the "Company of London Masters of Defence" in using the four-level ranking system they employed. Thus, ARMA's modern students consist of four primary ratings: Scholar, Free scholar, Provost, and Master. Each of these reflects an adept rank in our curricula.

However, it may come as a surprise that within ARMA the granting of the rank of "Master" is currently reserved and excluded. Thus, we do not (yet) use the "Master" title for even the most skilled senior students and expert instructors.  As ARMA feels no one today has yet demonstrated the right or has earned the privilege of claiming "mastery" in teaching the use of these forgotten fighting arts that are still being actively recovered, we do not now assert privilege to qualify students to this rating. Certainly someday we expect to. For some it is a goal, but for most it is years off and not a concern. The more immediate, more important objective is improving personal skill and knowledge while re-developing this Art of arms along the ARMA standard. This is in keeping with our demand for commitment to the highest learning and martial ability in this "Noble Science of Defence." Members teaching within ARMA (to be rated no higher than Provost at present) are therefore referred to informally as "Instructors." Instructors have higher skill as well as knowledge and teaching ability. They know the history and the scholarship and can  teach techniques credibly as well as  demonstrate concepts and principles expertly.

All students train and practice together, but senior students assist in teaching juniors and in research. By virtue of their demonstrable martial ability and technical knowledge, senior students are those on the path of progressing to greater skill and rank within the club. It is a matter of the individual student revealing the necessary interest, attitude, maturity, character, and knowledge. 

As we attempt to follow the model of the historical fighting guilds,  the purpose of the rating students within ARMA is as a simple means of distinguishing among levels of practitioner skill for purposes of continued learning. It designates those with greater experience from those with lesser. This Rating or rank system should not be looked upon as equivalent to the colored "belt" ranking within some Asian martial arts nor to sport fencing divisions developed in 18th century academies. It stands instead on its own separate historical, cultural, and social context. As we learn more about the historical process for this, we include what is practical in our modern revival. 

"As a teacher, as the senior instructor, in a club trying to not only educate ourselves and the general public, but to also emulate and recapture the martial spirit of the old fighting guilds, putting fellow students first goes without question.  I expect the same of everyone I train. In ARMA we are more than just a band of lone practitioners on our own personal paths of study, each doing own separate thing. We are a fellowship of arms."
- John Clements, ARMA Director

In our practice of Renaissance martial arts we have developed and instituted certification ratings for becoming adept in each weapon and fighting skill (i.e., longsword, dagger, staff weapons, short sword & buckler, sword & dagger, rapier, rapier & dagger, polaxe, Ringen, etc.). 

Scholar: The general Scholar rating represents the student gaining the absolute minimal core elements necessary for serious study of Renaissance martial arts to develop basic practice skills from the historical teachings.  It revolves around becoming adept with the longsword in the foundational drills and exercises required for training in the ARMA System. Competency at the Scholar level requires approximately 1-3 years of active study by the student. The term "scholar," originally meaning student, also refers to any member practitioner in ARMA, regardless of capability or training. It is generally used as a term of courtesy between practitioners of all levels. In official ARMA ranking however, admittance to the first rate of Scholar is awarded upon successful completion of an introductory course of study and testing for evaluation as a longsword adept.

Free-Scholar: The Free Scholar rating reflects a deeper commitment of study on the part of the student as well as a higher degree of understanding of core concepts and principles. It represents training and demonstrated progress in application of teachings. Expect a minimum of 3-5 years committed study to acquire working knowledge of theories and skills at this level. additionally, the student will have publicly Played his Prize against his peers to earn Free Scholar ranking with different weapons. A Free Scholar is a student that has progressed to where they show sincere commitment to learning and developing real skill. They have been tested in extended free-play and have demonstrated significant understanding and ability at more than one weapon and combat skill.  Free Scholars act as assistant instructors within ARMA and can raise other members up to Scholar rank.

Provost: The Provost rank is the senior practitioner or instructor level earned by achieving multiple weapon rankings as a Free-Scholar. A Provost is a highly skilled and knowledgeable practitioner in multiple weapons plus appropriate unarmed techniques. They are dedicated practitioners seeking mastery level who have been tested in Prize Playing for each weapon they are ranted in. Provosts act as the primary instructors within ARMA and can teach up to Free Scholar rank. As in the historical Schools of Defence, the process of earning Provost may take 5-7 years, given our high standards and the fact the recovery of these lost teachings and revival of these extinct fighting disciplines is a continually evolving craft.

Under the Member Training Program (MTP) a student would first seek ranking as a Scholar (longsword adept) then as a Free-Scholar, consisting of further specialization in additional weaponry and skills, such as side-sword, rapier, sword & buckler, dagger, Ringen, and pole-arms.  

Keep in mind that, standards for Free Scholar are minimal requirements that must be met for recognition of rank. But, Study Groups are free to add on any other additional elements they deem appropriate, so long as the core certification requirements are met. Provosts also have authority to advance their own students to the general rating upon approval. As part of advancement, ranked members are also expected to assist their local fellow members in study and curriculum development.

Scholars begin typically study with the longsword, then are  rated later in other individual weapons and proficiencies. Progressing between Rates from Scholar to Free Scholar and Senior Free Scholar, and then on to Provost rankings, is achieved only through testing. This consists of physical demonstration with particular weapons, an oral quiz, and finally an extensive free-sparring challenge with various weapons against other students (both junior and senior). But, ARMA students are not consumed with advancing in rank. They are not focusing on or aiming at that "next belt level". When a senior student feels ready and has the prowess to be recognized, they then will be progressed to the next Rate. It is then an earned honor and privilege of recognition by ones peers.  After all, Masters of Defence in the Medieval and Renaissance eras were often only those teachers who had proven their skills and knowledge to thereby earn the respect and acclaim of their students. 

The ARMA has always been unique in its attitude toward historical fencing skills, in that we are not concerned with hierarchy of titles or earning wins in competitive tournaments. We’re not obsessed with hierarchy, structure, or etiquette. We believe that real ability is self-evident and that real skill transcends any artificially imposed system of labeling. Titles alone do not confer skill and degrees are not an end in themselves. 

Each individual weapon proficiency or skill certification must be earned separately and students may choose what areas and disciplines they want to focus on. Thus, a Scholar might be rated as proficient in longsword or at sword & buckler, but would later have to be rated again in each at the Free Scholar rank.

Another Scholar might be proficient in sword & buckler and also  sword & dagger, but would have to be rated for each again as a Free Scholar if they later achieved that rank. Similarly, a Free Scholar might be rated as proficient in longsword, and with the dagger alone, but not in rapier or vice versa. Another Free Scholar might be proficient in sword & buckler and Ringen, but not spear or the rapier. 

Historically, within the Schooles of Defence or fighting guilds each student had a set minimum number of years required between advancement and was publicly tested in each weapon by "Playing their Prize" (publicly demonstrating their skill in formal sparring bouts against their fellow students and teachers).  From our beginnings, the ARMA has worked to revive this tradition for testing of our fighters. In contrast to the historical events,  fewer weapons are so far included in ours at any one event and the time span between testing is not as firm established. Given the tentative nature of exploration into this subject, it is a factor of each individual student’s aptitude, dedication, and martial improvement. It is not a quick process. Every student should expect their progress to take years. It should be understood that the ARMA does not pursue either a simplistic or light-hearted effort.

Skill Proficiency Certification

The ARMA’s objectives are to  redevelop and teach authentic Medieval and Renaissance self-defense methods from the historical sources. To do this we rate students in individual proficiencies following the practice standards established in our training curriculum. 

To be certified with a rating for any individual skill proficiency consists of demonstrating competency in three areas: scholarship (history and theory), principles, and techniques.  These are confirmed through oral exam, physical demonstration or technical display, and free-play (sparring bouts). 

The longer you attend and study and practice, the farther you’ll go. If you stick around long enough you get rated in different weapons. It’s that simple. But, unique to the ARMA is that unlike other martial arts, rates and proficiencies can be lost if at a later date the student fails to maintain the perquisite level of skill. Skill certification is not earned for life. To be retained, proficiencies must re-certified every 5 years. In other words, unlike most martial arts today, we place an "expiration date" of sorts on our ranking. They are only as current as their last recertification.

Qualified individuals can currently become ARMA certified in several primary skill areas: longsword, sword & buckler (with arming sword), single-sword (falchion or arming sword), side-sword & dagger, rapier (& dagger), Ringen, dagger, staff, spear, polaxe, or halberd. Testing approval consists of recommendation from the student's chief ARMA instructor for the tested skill or the student's local Study Group instructor, and, at a minimum, completion of the ARMA Member Training Program 1.0 seminar.

In a very real way, there can be no designation more personal than for each individual, no matter who they are, to accept for themselves the simple title "student of the sword." To be also a "scholar" of the "knightly Art of Arms", in the true sense of research and learning, is something else that each student must pursue on their own. Serious ARMA students are those who realize this is a martial art. As such it is an activity that demands discipline and eventually can affect your physique and your character for the better. Training is a path not a destination.

Scholar Evaluation - sample criteria for Longsword Adept:

Certification in the longsword consists of three tests whose objectives must be successfully met in order to be awarded ranking. All test parts must be passed over one session. The objective is to qualify whether or not the student meets the minimum skill standards that the ARMA has set for this craft.

1. Verbal Examination - Describe in short answers longsword history, forms, anatomy and parts. Describe names, dates, and significance of the major source literature for the weapon. Demonstrate general knowledge of terms, concepts, and principles. Explain the basis of the ARMA approach to study and methodology for training as well as our philosophy for reconstructing historical fencing skills.

2. Floryshe Display  - Demonstrate a spontaneous practice routine of assorted strikes, wardings, covering, and motion in a prepared yet unstructured manner using proper form, speed, flow, coordination, vocalization, and intent. A variety of fundamental actions and techniques should be performed with good tempo and fighting rhythm for approximately 20 to 40 seconds. Basic stances and cuts must be included along with key footwork.

3. Basic Techniques - Demonstrate proficiency in primary cutting exercises, stance transitions, and stepping motions performed at proper speed with both good intent and control. This may be waived if included in the floryshe portion.

For later Free-Scholar rating a formal Prize Playing challenge is added. Prior to this, the student candidate's skill in sparring must have been previously demonstrated to a considerable degree using wooden or blunt steel weapons, including awareness of contact and control against opponents of all experience levels. They must be capable of safely executing techniques in free-play against fellow students and instructors in a manner that reveals control in the tactical application of actions. They must be able to face dissimilar weapons and opponents of equal or lesser rating.  Depending on the number of participating fighters, each individual bout may end after any one single good hit or continue on for three separate clean hits. Bouts are followed consecutively by one another until all have been completed in the given time.

For a list of seminar courses within our Member Training Program go here.

For for non-member instruction see our Open Workshops here.

Note: The word "ARMA" and its associated arms emblem is a federally registered trademark under U.S. Reg. No. 3831037. In addition, the content on this website is federally registered with the United States Copyright Office, © 2001-2022. All rights are reserved. No use of the ARMA name and emblem, or website content, is permitted without authorization. Reproduction of material from this site without written permission of The Association for Renaissance Martial Arts and its respective authors is strictly prohibited. Additional material may also appear from "HACA" The Historical Armed Combat Association copyright © 1999-2001 by John Clements. All rights are reserved to that material as well.