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Resources for the Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) student, with a particular focus on the ars gladiatoris of Paulus Hector Mair.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

ARMA Senior Members in Mass Exodus

It's a bad week to be a certain ARMA Director.

This past Monday, April 13, four more senior members resigned in protest over the way the organization is run. This mass exodus of ARMA's best and brightest gives real teeth to the long-whispered rumors that ARMA is a "cult of personality" centered not on Renaissance Martial Arts (as it purports to be), but on John Clements.

I initially believed it best to keep the details of my resignation private, so as not to give anyone reason to label me anti-ARMA. I am not anti-ARMA. I am, however, firmly opposed to the way the organization is now run, and particularly opposed to the notion that an attack on John Clements is an attack on ARMA as a whole. From where I stand, it absolutely is not. Thus, after much reflection, I have decided that full disclosure of my reason for resigning is in the best interests of ex-members (who are systematically vilified by John Clements without being given the opportunity to defend themselves), junior ARMA members (who mean well but don't see the big picture) and the public.

Let's look at the timeline:

As of February 2008, there were only fourteen senior members and/or Study Group leaders in ARMA, plus the Director and Deputy Director, as evidenced below (addresses blurred for privacy):

Although some long-standing members left (under unknown circumstances) and a few new Study Group leaders were added to the senior ranks over the course of 2008, the number of senior members was still 14 as of February 2009.

In early February, Kevin M., a General Free Scholar and member of at least five years, left the organization over interpretational differences with John Clements. Words were exchanged in private between that ex-member and the ARMA leadership. Fueled by what I firmly believe was a personal vendetta, the leadership then began a McCarthy-esque witchhunt to purge anyone still associated with Kevin.

Mike Cartier, (the leader of Kevin's former Study Group and a General Free Scholar who, after eight years as a member, was expected to advance to Senior Free Scholar this year) immediately came under fire. Less than a week after Kevin's resignation, John demanded that Mike completely cut Kevin off on the grounds that Kevin would steal ARMA's proprietary curriculum if he were allowed to continue training with ARMA members.

Here it must be noted that ARMA's propriety curriculum consists of a series of beginner-level drills designed to introduce new members to the basics of the longsword. There is no advanced members-only curriculum, and thus nothing that Kevin, a General Free Scholar, could have "stolen." Moreover, Kevin worked almost exclusively on his own translations and interpretations of Joachim Meyer's fechtbuch.

Mike C. objected that John's policy was unreasonable and asked for more time to work out a solution. Furious, John responded by threatening to kick Mike out and suspending his access to the ARMA forum and e-list, thereby depriving him of the ability to speak in his own defense. Then, in an attempt to win support, John emailed a "hypothetical" question to those members who, myself included, were entirely unaware of the situation. This "hypothetical" loosely presented the facts of Mike's case and asked whether expulsion was appropriate.

I responded to John's "hypothetical" by arguing that there were more measured and reasonable ways to deal with such a situation, and that expulsion of an eight-year member would be unwarranted where his refusal to disassociate with an ex-member posed no actual harm to the organization. I also noted that no rule against associating with ex-members had ever actually been written down.

Meanwhile, expecting to be forced out, Mike resigned. Three entire Study Groups in Mike's state of Florida followed suit (ARMA South Florida, which was led by Mike; ARMA Central Florida, which was led by a General Free Scholar; and a fledgling group at University of Central Florida).

Once I learned the identity of the "hypothetical" members in question and spoke to all parties involved, including John, I stated in a series of emails to the senior members that I was extremely uncomfortable with the way the incident was handled. I felt that it was less about "the rules" than it was about personal vendettas. My protestations were met with a flurry of profane, angry emails from John calling me an "ingrate," questioning my "loyalty" and clearly intimating that, if I didn't stop speaking out, he would "be forced to make the uncomfortable decision" to expel me from ARMA.

I quietly resigned in protest. I was a General Free Scholar with seven years in the organization, a published author on RMA and one of ARMA's active researchers.

These events generated much controversy among the remaining ARMA members. The leadership responded with a series of heavy-handed edicts to consolidate control of the organization and punish dissent. A week after I left, Caspar Bradak (a Senior Free Scholar and published RMA author) resigned after being similarly accused of "disloyalty." In turn, the members of his Study Group, ARMA Ogden/Salt Lake City, all quit or were forced out.

Four more senior members–Jake Norwood (Senior Free Scholar and the former Deputy Director), Stewart Feil (Senior Free Scholar), Eli Combs (Senior Free Scholar and leader of ARMA Provo) and Brian Hunt (General Free Scholar, Senior Researcher and coauthor of Polearms of Paulus Hector Mair)–resigned earlier this week after John attempted to assert intellectual property rights and control over every member's research. In light of this legally baseless claim, and the character assassination campaign that John has since launched against Jake (an Iraq War veteran with impeccable integrity who was one of the pillars of the organization), I expect that more members will follow, or simply let their memberships lapse.

In total, seven of ARMA's seniormost members have left the organization since February 2009. Do the math. That's roughly half of the senior membership, most of the Senior Free Scholars, and most of the new Adept Program captains. Additionally, at least four General Free Scholars and five entire Study Groups (South Florida, Central Florida, UCF, Salt Lake City/Ogden, and Provo) have left. And of the authors and advisors listed as ARMA members on the website, very few are still actually members.

There's a reason for this. Every ARMA member knows what (or, more accurately, who) it is. I look forward to the day when those who remain stop turning a blind eye to the gross failings of their leadership. They are good-hearted, talented martial artists, and they deserve far better.


Andrew said...

To clarify, Casper was study group leader of ARMA Ogden/SLC. Its about an hour north of Provo. Eli Combs was study group leader of ARMA Provo. Regardless, there are no more ARMA members left in Utah. We have all either quit or forced out. In my case, my membership lapsed and I decided not to renew.


Krupp said...

Brilliant! Absolutely Spot On, Your words ring True and Accurate, as to the Sad Events that have unfolded. Thank you for having the Vision to see this for what it is. Now, hopefully we all can Move forwards with the Vor, into our Studies, free to think outside the JC inspired Box.

Kevin Maurer
Meyer Freifechter

Skiritai said...

Thanks for the clarification, Andrew. I have edited the article accordingly.

Will Adamson said...

Although small, you can add myself and possibly ARMA Virginia Highlands. I'm not sure what the other members are likely to do or if they will be able to maintain the necessary three.

Lessons on the English Longsword said...

Not to mention that the leaders of ARMA Las Vegas resigned along with the others during the exodus. Good, people, a member of the army guard and police officer.

I imagine renewals by the less vocal membership will drop off a cliff when the time comes around.

Brent said...

I am the study group leader of a lesser known group on the west coast and even before this situation arose, the three of us training here were disillusioned with ARMA. We have recently taken a serious look at what we are getting from the organization and at this time, its minimal. Plus, I think we are tired of Clements' leadership. He has no tact or diplomacy and it is costing him dearly now. What a shame...

Dan Gambiera said...

If I had a nickel for every time this sad story played out in the martial arts I'd be riding a new Harley. It's sad. It doesn't do anyone any good. But rest assured you are not alone. I've seen the same sort of third grade playground pettiness for close to 20 years in the Silat community.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting... My involvement with ARMA was already on the wane when this happened... but i never really knew exactly what went on.

I feel bad, because I liked John for the most part. He was very kind and spent a lot of personal effort instructing me in person.

For that reason, i am loathe to say anything negative. However, it is true that sometimes his tact and diplomacy is lacking.

Very, very sad. i do miss my old ARMA colleagues.

Hendawg of the middlelands said...

Hopefully someone will see this, but basically I was looking into renaissance martial arts and I came across ARMA via a article my bro put up by this John Clements chap.
What on earth is the deal with all this Renaissance Martial Arts? Are all of the stuff ARMA said not true or what would be the best source for renaissance fighting styles to do with animation and film making?

Hendawg of the middlelands said...

Hey, I was curious what the hell is going on? Lol I was interesting in learning more about Renaissance Martial Arts when my bro sent me a article by this john clements chap and it just seems like some hollywood feud going on? Does this mean all the ARMA stuff about Renaissance Martial Arts isnt true or is it just that everyone has different interpretations and that there isnt actually a set path? I was just curious do to a animation I was doing.

Skiritai said...

Yes, everyone does have different interpretations and training methods, but that isn't the problem with ARMA. The problem is that it is not a well-run organization, and the reason it is not a well-run organization is because its leadership has absolute power over, and zero accountability to, its members.

Skiritai said...

@arma-padawan: I liked John too, for the most part, until I saw him abuse his position in the organization to gain leverage in a personal conflict he had with one of my former Study Group partners.

Skiritai said...

@Hendawg: I strongly recommend you look into the HEMA Alliance (, which is run by former senior ARMA members in a democratic, transparent manner.