When I first joined ARMA and started reading the Elist, I knew exactly what you were (and still are) within a very short time, as I’ve dealt with your ilk before; however, the study and refinement of this Art was important enough to me that I decided to simply maintain a safe distance from you, and carry on with the enterprise. Given my distance from Iron Door Studio, as well as your preference for interacting with very few outside of your circle of sycophants, this proved fairly easy. Now, some of those who were (and in certain cases still are) enamored with you – to one degree or another – tried to convince me that it was merely people like Ran Pleasant who put a negative face to ARMA. They told me that your intentions were noble, that you were in fact quite unaware of the activities of such people, but the more time that passed, the more the fact that you share these negative attitudes, and even promote them among the membership became increasingly apparent. Following Aaron Pynenberg’s resignation and your immediate attack on him on the member E-list, I confided in a fellow member that there was a pattern of behavior here, and listed a sequential pattern of behaviors that could be expected of you. And well, sure enough, you lived up to all of my predictions. Just the other day, the person I confided in told me that if I’d lived 400 years ago, I’d be a prophet, but that’s not the case at all: I’ve merely dealt with people like you in the past, and I’m familiar with the typical patterns of behavior exhibited by toxic individuals when certain circumstances are introduced (such as the resignation of somebody of note from an organization that someone such as you leads); they are easy to chart. Narcissistic leaders of personality cults are oh-so-predictable in their behaviors.
It’s always interesting to watch your sort at work, John: the way that you bully, censor, and even expel those who voice a dissenting opinion; the way that you stick knives in peoples’ backs when they walk out the door, the way that you manufacture various scenarios to cast yourself as some
sort of victim of these former members, and of course your disconcerting penchant for launching outright campaigns of slander against former members. These traits all speak to a thoroughly corrupt and wholly self-serving, even poisonous character, bent on nothing more than maintaining a contrived image as a morally-upright authority figure, the image itself nothing more than a device to squelch any inclinations that some might have to start asking questions about the circumstances surrounding the departures. You’ve even had the unmitigated gall to try to threaten a former member’s professional career out of pure vindictiveness. I needn’t take time to provide examples of your bullying, censorship & expulsion of members who didn’t toe your “party line,” for the archives of the ARMA member’s list is full of examples if people care to look. Nonetheless, let’s take a look at a few examples of your conduct when certain individuals just wanted to walk away, and yet you felt compelled to drive the knife into their backs on the way out:
– When Aaron Pynenberg resigned on the member Elist without an accompanying explanation (although he thanked you for teaching him and wished you the very best), you wasted no time in stating that he had taken a private & personal matter and made it public (which he did not) and tried to apply it to something related to ARMA, calling it “personal, hurtful, and outright disgraceful,” when the only thing that the man did was state that he could no longer continue with ARMA, wished everybody well, and asked that his Email address be removed from the list and his access to the members-area of the ARMA website be revoked. *You* were the one who took things from a simple, benign farewell to an attack on the man’s character within hours of his resignation. You even went on to further smear him in another thread. But this wasn’t enough for you, was it, John? You just had to go further with your vindictive behavior, contacting Pynenberg’s employer and sharing information that had been shared with you in confidence in an attempt to damage the man’s career, in essence taking a “private & personal matter and making it public.” This is the worst kind of petty behavior that one would expect from an adolescent, not a full-grown man.
-When Ian MacPharlaine chose to let his membership lapse & simply walk away from ARMA, you couldn’t let that stand either: you prompted your henchman/Deputy Director to post an outright deceitful announcement which stated that Ian had been “released” from ARMA for “undermining the spirit of our guild”, despite the fact that Ian had already chosen to let his membership lapse; in essence, you were “kicking out” somebody who had already left the organization of his own volition. Beyond this, you cheated Ian out of the Albion sword that he’d legitimately won through purchasing raffle tickets, “authorizing” Albion to redraw a new winner with the rationale that the original winner was no longer a member in good standing, despite the fact that he was when he not only purchased the raffle tickets, but won the sword. This is not only petty, but outright theft on your part. Of course, you couldn’t stop there, could you? You had to make him the object of your ridicule lately, making the outright libelous, inaccurate statement that he has “physical defects that simply prevent him from learning & practicing this Art competently,” despite the fact that he has been adamant about simply walking away from ARMA without engaging in a war of words. And of course, who could forget your wild tale that Benjamin “Casper” Bradak threatened your family? These are but a few of the many examples of how you’ve treated former members, individuals possessed of the capacity for independent thought, or those who somehow threatened your authority, prestige, or simply bruised your ego. These things and so much more reveal you to be an outright liar, a slanderer, and a thief. What makes this worse is that you do these things while hiding behind the appearance of maintaining a high standard of personal ethics while hypocritically demanding them of others. Such a person is unfit as a leader.
And yet, despite the fact that I was aware within a short time of the true nature of your character, I still respected your approach where the Art was concerned, because it is head & shoulders above the “game” & “play” mentalities so popular in many corners of the study of
MARE/HEMA. I didn’t join ARMA to play, I came to learn an ancestral martial art, one that I could use quite effectively for its intended purpose if need be. The thing that actually surprised me was that it’s not your real approach at all. You’ve demonstrated exactly what level of martial spirit you possess outside of your own personal pond: you won’t accept challenges from those outside of ARMA, and worse, you, as the leader of ARMA, have brought dishonor upon each & every member with your conduct in regard to the incident where you issued, then reneged on your challenge to former members of ARMA Poland in 2010. A man of honor would have lived up to the obligation that comes with the challenges he issues, not hide behind excuses of “other business.” This is unacceptable in someone who makes claims that he is “The world’s foremost practitioner of authentic Chivalric Arts of Defense.” I’m sure that it’s easy to defend this claim when you won’t test your skills against anyone who hasn’t trained under you to one degree or another, but let’s be honest, how accurate is it when your videos are staged, your “opponents” willing puppets, the ranges manipulated to make things easy for you? The whole “martial intensity and realism” line is a joke, a facade, a con. When someone makes such a claim but is unwilling to back it up against those who would test it, they become an object of ridicule. I guess that you just don’t (or won’t) grasp that fact. How disappointing.
Your lack of effort at putting an unarmed curriculum in place is absolutely ridiculous. You are attempting to revive an extinct martial art without even starting from the foundation of the Art itself, Ringen (or if you prefer, Abrazare), instead opting to place a beginner’s focus on a weapon (the longsword), despite assertions in various forms throughout the sources that “All fencing comes from unarmed fighting.” Just think about this for a minute: you’re taking new members, some who have never studied a martial art in their lives, and you’re putting a sword with a 3-foot blade in their hands without even providing them with a foundation of core movements to begin with; sure, you provide your
videos on stepping and the Waage, but it’s apparent from those videos that you don’t even have a complete grasp of these things based on your commentary, which isn’t surprising, considering your lack of grounding in the foundation of the Art; your recent Abrazare videos have done nothing but confirm that this is the case. Further, your recent epiphany about core movements when considering Ringen plates in Codex Guelf reinforces that your “cart before the horse” approach has only served to limit understanding & development of the Art in a competent, efficient, holistic manner: *every single action of Fencing* can be found in the foundation of the Art, Ringen (or Abrazare)…*there* is your “Rosetta Stone.” Exactly how can you feel justified in promoting yourself as the foremost adept in this Art when you haven’t even gained a proficiency in its foundation? How can you claim that others are learning this Art from you when you don’t even provide them with the proper foundation in the Art from the beginning? How can you even claim that your interpretations of the sources where weapons use is concerned are accurate when you don’t even have a proficiency in the very foundation of the Art? Is the development of the Art to be subject to your personal pace while you play “catch up” where its foundation is concerned, all while you berate or ignore those who may have a grasp of the Art in a way that your limited vision of it does not allow? Pathetic.
When I first joined ARMA, there was not one person who had a negative thing to say about you. I heard praise not only of your dedication to the Art, but your humor & friendliness as well, and I can personally attest to this, considering our early interaction online. That certainly changed after you were named Deputy Director. You went from “dedicated scholar” to “rabid zealot” in virtually no time at all. You used your connections to ARMA members on social media to monitor their activities, including who they might be speaking to, who they were friends with, even where they were sharing publicly-available
information on the Art with others; in essence, you spied on them while maintaining the appearance of a friend. I even recall one occasion where I’d dropped a link to a video of Talhoffer’s Ringen from YouTube onto a Facebook page called “Alliance of Heathen Martial Arts,” and you just had to get in there and make sure that everyone knew that Talhoffer wasn’t a heathen, but a Catholic; when I responded that such clarification wasn’t necessary, you went into a rant about how my faith was full of extremists, and that history needed to be protected from such people, lest they twist it to their own designs. The only person who came off as an extremist in that thread was you, and in the process of doing so, you showed each & every person who read it exactly what a fanatic the Deputy Director of ARMA is. You not only made yourself look like an ass, but cast ARMA as a whole into a bad light. Nice job. I think that’s when I actually lost the last of the respect I had for you. This wasn’t the end of your questionable behavior, though: you co-signed on John Clements’ reprehensible behavior where Ian MacPharlaine is concerned, first in the announcement that Ian had been removed from ARMA (which isn’t true, since he’d allowed his membership to lapse and had quietly walked away from ARMA in hopes to avoid the kind drama that you, Clements & others have stirred up about him), then by standing by quietly while Clements cheated Ian out of the sword which he had rightfully won in the raffle, in the process, demonstrating that all of the integrity attributed to you was gone; instead of being the “man of honor” you were once known to be and standing up for what’s right, you’d become Clements’ #1 stooge, turning a blind eye to unfairness & outright theft. You should be ashamed of yourself.
To describe you as an obsequious worm with an unjustified sense of superiority is to do a disservice to those invertebrates who actually serve a useful function. You have all of the social grace of a teenaged female gossiping in the girls’ restroom with your little circle of friends, throwing
your particular brand of barbs at anyone who isn’t part of your clique; whenever the opportunity presented itself, you had something nasty to say. I needn’t provide examples, as the members’ list and countless online forums are filled with them. Beyond this, you’ve used the members list as a soap-box for heaping praise upon your particular faith while casting aspersions on the faiths of others, despite the fact that not only is it against the stated policy of the members list, you were also alienating fellow ARMA members in the process. You simply cannot keep your big mouth shut. What makes this worse is that you do this in an organization of people who are gathered together for the sake of martial prowess, despite the fact that you have, by reputation, little to no martial prowess to speak of. When it comes down to it, you’re trying to be elite by osmosis, but the fact of the matter is that you are nothing more than an ill-tempered cheerleader running your mouth on the sidelines while your betters are actually accomplishing something in the Art. You’re not a true scholar of the Art, you are merely a vocal set of pom-poms with your lips permanently attached to Clements’ hindquarters…you know, that sounds like a good name for you: “Pom-Poms” Pleasant. I think it’ll catch on.
To the general membership of ARMA:
I strongly encourage all of you to consider the characters of those I’ve addressed above and ask yourself if these are truly the kinds of people you wish to stand shoulder to shoulder with. It’s been said that “every student of the martial arts must live with the consequences of how they train, and with whom they train;” there are indeed consequences to training with people of such character, and you should ask yourself if the consequences are worth what you get in return…I did…they’re not.
Consider exactly how many once well-respected members of ARMA have chosen to part ways with this organization, despite the sincere belief of some of them that this organization has the highest standards for the study & practice of this Art…if they believed this when they chose to resign, what would prompt them to leave? It certainly wasn’t the standards, was it? Why would so many Free-Scholars, those who had proven their level of dedication & skill in the Art choose to leave? Why would two deputy directors resign? In light of what I mentioned above regarding the character & behavior of the Director of ARMA, I don’t think it’s such a hard question to answer: the common factor here can be found in the person of John Clements. From the outside, ARMA does indeed appear to be the best that there is where the study & practice of the Renaissance-era martial arts of Europe are concerned: there is the emphasis on martial spirit & prowess as opposed to the “game” mentality, and an emphasis on serious scholarship in the study of the sources. The problem is, from the inside, it is revealed to be a personality cult where the word of the Director must be taken as holy writ, even if it flies in the face of what the writers of the sources had to say, or what is revealed to the individual member through their own study & practice; those who express opposing opinions are mocked, shouted down, described as immoral or unethical, and even expelled. Despite the fact that ARMA is often referred to as a club, it is in fact a dictatorship: a club has a membership from which its officers are regularly elected, and who are answerable to the membership, despite any authority granted to them; as it stands now, John Clements holds absolute power within ARMA, and is answerable to nobody for his conduct. Is this the kind of “club” you want to be part of? If the answer is “yes,” then you deserve what you get. If the answer is “no,” consider the following: despite what you’ve been told in ARMA, there are those practicing the Art outside of ARMA who hold this Art as dear as we do, who seek to approach it as the martial art that it is and seek to cultivate martial spirit & excellence in themselves, and who have the same level of respect for the historical reality of this Art. Sure, there’s no question that there are some people out there who are completely unfit to practice or even speak about this Art, but there are some like that in ARMA as well, and at least “out there” you aren’t forced to smile through your teeth at them & treat them as your fellows. To those members who will in time answer the dictates of their own consciences and choose to leave, I wish you well in your study & practice of this noble Art, and I hope that you find a few kindred spirits. To those who choose to remain with ARMA even after the reality of this organization & its leader become clear to you, I leave you my spite, my disdain, and a one-fingered salute as I walk out the door.
Some might question my motivations in going to the trouble of writing all of this, asking why I didn’t simply resign in a private Email to the Director or the Deputy Director…some might even suggest that I’ve done this in some attempt at drawing attention to myself, but that’s not the case at all: I originally intended to quietly let my membership lapse and go my own way after I’d seen the post about Ian MacPharlaine’s “release”from ARMA, but after watching as John Clements cheated him out of his sword, made him the butt of jokes, and then told the outright lie that Ian had “physical defects,” I decided that a different course was called for; I don’t let my friends be treated in such a fashion without exacting a toll on their behalf. That’s right, JC, this is all on you: your own deeds & words prompted this. It’s too bad that you don’t really live up to those ethics you’re always so vocal about, because if you were, the actions that prompted this missive would have never happened at all. Well, you know what they say: “They that sow the wind shall reap the whirlwind.”
I cannot, in all good conscience, remain in an organization with leaders & members who possess such warped, deficient characters. I hereby tender my resignation from the Association for Renaissance Martial Arts.
Nobody makes fun of Hildolf’s red trousers. Nobody!