by Ralph

What does growing up really mean? I hear people say that playing video games or watching cartoons is childish but those two things just happen to be some of my favourite ways to spend my leisure time, and I am now thirty years old.

I like Pokemon. Yes, a thirty year old likes Pokemon and I am not the only one. Besides Pokemon, I also like Zelda, Fire Emblem, Final Fantasy, and Dark Souls. These games range from fantasy settings, to combat, or giant monsters and dragons. With the exception of Pokemon though, all of these games involve weapons combat from a medieval or feudal period.

In terms of cartoons, I like both anime and western animation and some of my favourites include Naruto and One Piece. I grew up watching Saturday morning and after school cartoons like Spiderman, X-Men, Batman, and Superman. Now that I'm older, watch the live action movies. Like Superman, I have a relatively corporate job, but I also have a beautiful fiance. So as a thirty year old male who still enjoys the same things I enjoyed as a child, I wonder sometimes if I am an oddity. If I am not "weird" and if other people are like me, then how common is it to feel this way? 

I cannot really speak for the female population, so I will only make the claim that boys never grow up. I believe that what makes me different from other boys who may have appeared to grow up is just my personal preferences. I believe that whatever toys or games a boy enjoyed playing as a child, the boy will still enjoy playing when they grow up. Walt Disney had lots to say about kids and growing up:

"Why do we have to grow up? I know more adults who have the children's approach to life. They're people who don't give a hang what the Joneses do. You see them at Disneyland every time you go there. They are not afraid to be delighted with simple pleasures, and they have a degree of contentment with what life has brought - sometimes it isn't much, either." (Walt Disney)

What changes most as the boy grows up is how much money he can now be spend on toys and what adults are allowed to do that children are not. Using myself as an example, I already mentioned that I liked video games and cartoons as a child. Now that I'm older, I watch the live action movie versions of those cartoons. I also pay for my own subscription to Crunchyroll to watch new English subtitled anime episodes as they are released in Japan. I guess you could call my interests geeky. One only needs to go to Anime North, Fan EXPO or Atomic Lollipop to see how kids like me might spend a weekend.

But is it just the geeky kids that don't grow up? Take kids into athletics for example though. It's pretty easy to see how someone that enjoyed playing sports as a child would still enjoy playing or even watching sports as an adult. Many adults join recreational leagues to continue playing sports in a relatively competitive nature. Many follow professional sports and buy sportswear like clothing and shoes. I know people personally who have basketball shoe collections which goes to show that an adult just has more money to spend and more knowledge. So after coming to this realization, even if it may be false and I'm only excusing my behaviour, I really started to wonder how I could acquire more expensive toys. And perhaps if it's not really more expensive, I wanted it to be bigger, more real and even less accessible to children.

I keep being drawn to 2 things: a fantasy setting and weapons combat. Technology has not yet come to the point where we can jump through a wormhole into a fantasy setting (although I really hope virtual reality can be close enough one day), so I have to settle for something less than having a pet dragon (Game of Thrones anyone?). Going back to my favourite video games, since I can't have a Pokemon like Charizard (the pet dragon), I would have to settle for something from the other video games I like and that would be the weapons.

I shamelessly began my search on the Internet for ways to buy swords and what classes in Toronto teach you how to use swords. I was surprised to find there were several companies that manufactured swords and many schools that taught weapons martial arts. In terms of weapons, I knew I had to own one and I ended up buying my very first sword, with the help of my fiance, in a London Ontario store called Reliks. It was an entry level katana made by SkyJiro Forge and I couldn't be happier with my purchase.  I knew that I eventually wanted to get a longsword, arming sword, and a higher level katana with a real hamon and possibly folded steal just for the aesthetics eventually.

What I found most interesting in my search was that there were schools that taught Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) which I never heard of growing up.

In terms of weapons martial arts schools, there were the expected kendo and kenjutsu schools which I always found interesting, but also disliked due to the strict rules and formalities (kendo) or lack of competitive spirit (kenjutsu). What I found most interesting in my search was that there were schools that taught Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) which I never heard of growing up. The only Western Martial Arts I was familiar with that taught anything related to swordsmanship was fencing, but fencing focused on épée, foil, and sabre which were more Renaissance weapons (or training tools). What interested me about HEMA as opposed to fencing was that it included weapons from the Medieval period such as longswords and arming swords. These were the weapons that stimulated my imagination in the epic fantasy stories I loved and the video games I played. I had to learn more about HEMA and I wondered if there was a HEMA school in Toronto.

I continued searching and I eventually found the Academy of European Medieval Martial Arts (AEMMA). I decided that I had to try it out and I did. I, along with other members of Culture Toronto, tried out 2 months of classes with AEMMA and it was an amazing experience. At AEMMA, I was able to hold a sword, practice footing, learn about guard positions, practice swinging a sword, and learned about the different ways of parrying effectively. And besides the amazing techniques I was introduced to, I was also introduced to many people who I believed reinforced my belief that boys grow up liking the same toys they liked as children.

After speaking with many AEMMA members and researching HEMA practitioners online, I have come to see a trend. They are often like me in the sense that they never grew up. They are still children at heart with a fascination for historical combat and fantasy. Many of them were former reenactors or grew up playing Dungeons and Dragons. I went into class my first day wearing a Game of Thrones shirt and fellow students were quick to point out the Dire Wolf symbol of House Stark. Outside of AEMMA, during my research into HEMA, I found that many of the Youtube personalities who are into historical martial arts are also into the same video games I liked such as Dark Souls and Zelda. It really makes me feel like I am not alone in having these interests and wanting to expand it beyond just consumptoin of media like movies, TV shows, and video games.

There was a need in me, for example, to have a "more expensive toy" to play and have fun with. Now when I say more expensive, it sounds like it's all about money, but what I really mean is quality of experience and increased realism which are more about value. A toy is meant to simulate something else that is real. I wanted to get the real version of historical fighting and that is what I look for in HEMA. I believe other HEMA practitioners, including those within AEMMA, are looking for or have already found the same thing I am looking for. I don't know if my theory is correct, and frankly I don't care that much. What I do know is that I am not alone and I believe it is okay to enjoy things that others consider childish as long as it does not hurt or impose on others. And even if I don't grow up in terms of leisure interests, what I believe matters even more is growing up in terms of accepting responsibility.

I believe that I took responsibility with my issues by trying to search for happiness in exploring what I find fun in a safe way instead of waiting for happiness to find me or waiting until my tastes become socially acceptable. In Part 2 of My Experience with AEMMA, I will go over some of the things I learned taking classes with AEMMA such as swordsmanship techniques and their historical sources.

Embrace your interests

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