August 20, 2025

Buckle up, we are talking National Governing Bodies. Even a cursory look online will show you that this is (lets charitably call it) a divided issue.

Before we go too far let’s clear up the terminology so we all actually know what a National Governing Body is, Google says this:

A National Governing Body (NGB) is an organisation that governs and administers a sport on a national basis, whether that is for the whole of the United Kingdom (i.e. England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales), for Great Britain (i.e. England, Scotland and Wales) or for one of the Home Counties individually.

Clear but not very helpful. So, what does an NGB actually do? Firstly, they standardise the sport nationwide. This includes the game rules and format etc. This means that if you go to a club in Truro for example, you will be taking part in the same sport and activity as you would in York. They also standardise kit requirements and coaching standards. But probably the most important thing they do is provide clubs and individual members with insurance.

I must be honest before I go any further, I am very pro NGB. I personally feel that if a sport wants to be taken seriously and have the best shot at sticking about, an NGB is essential. However, I will be as neutral as possible when I set out the argument for and against a HEMA NGB.

In the first instance, and slightly related to Article 1, an NGB will clear up whether HEMA is a competitive sport or an historical pursuit. To a certain degree it doesn’t really matter what they decide it is, as long as we all know where we stand with it. If some are unhappy that an NGB decides HEMA is a sport then do what you want to do under another name HES (Historical European Swordplay) or if an NGB says HEMA is an academic pursuit then fine, the sports lot can make KMA (Knightly Martial Arts), the name isn’t really that important, but knowing what you’re getting into is.

Along with the above, an NGB will standardise rules for competitions. So, much like different clubs, you will be able to go to different competitions and know what to do and that your kit will be allowed. And this touches on a huge advantage of an NGB. They will ensure that all HEMA kit has a basic safety level. At the moment (in the UK at least) there are no kit requirements. A lot of clubs have their own recommendations on what’s allowed and safe. But what one club is ok with another may class as unsafe, and you could find yourself with a few hundred quid’s worth of kit that's not allowed. An NGB will also make sure that any HEMA kit sold meets the required industry standards so you know you can buy kit and be safe in the knowledge that it's fit for purpose.

An NGB will also address an issue that is very close to my heart: coaching standards. At time of writing there is no requirement anyone needs to meet to call themselves a HEMA Coach. Technically, someone who has never picked up a sword or a manuscript can buy a bunch of kit, open a club and call themselves a coach. For me, as someone who has dedicated their entire professional life towards sports coaching, this is incredibly annoying. I have spent over 10 years as a professional fencing/swords coach (with international fencers to my name) and more than that as a fitness consultant and personal trainer. And yet, someone with no experience or skill can count themselves on the same level as someone with literally 1000s of hours of 1:1 coaching experience. As you can tell this is frustrating for me, but worse, it's bloody dangerous for you! With a “coach” who doesn’t know their arse from their elbow, you could very easily be put in a situation where you  might pick up a serious injury due to poor technique. Or you could even get severely hurt by being instructed to do a dangerous activity. I could go on all day about this, but I’ll leave this point by saying an NGB would force coaches to meet a quality standard, and those who don’t meet the mark will not be able to harm others with their delusions of grandeur.

So why is there resistance to NGBs if they do all this good stuff? Well for a start, half the resistance comes from some certain people having to relinquish their own little HEMA fiefdoms. Some people have built a reputation with online content rather than being a good coach or club organiser, and I suspect they resist the NGB out of fear that they know they won’t be good enough to carry on as they are.

The other resistance comes from more genuine concerns. It’s very hard to run a good NGB. they require at least a core staff to maintain it as an actual job, rather than just a hobby. And this of course costs money and money causes issues, like allocation of funds, members not getting value for money etc. The other issue is that NGBs need to make decisions, and not everyone will agree on them, so it’s very easy for people to become sour toward an NGB if there have been a few decisions they don’t agree with. Also, substandard NGBs are too common, so most people have had a bad experience with one. A well-known fencing NGB is a prime example: an out of touch, elitist, old boys' network, that has no interest in any fencing club outside of the top performing few. This usually happens because the people who are elected to NGB roles are those from established areas of the given sport, so it’s very easy for it to become nepotistic and cliquey.

So, with all the pros and cons would I still say an NGB is needed for HEMA?

100% yes. HEMA has grown well until now, and some see that as a sign we don’t need one. But the bigger HEMA gets the more clarity and continuity will be needed, otherwise HEMA will diverge too much and bickering and disagreements will inevitably set HEMA back. If a slight lack of control means that HEMA is future-proof then that’s fine with me.