Brittany Reeves is the co-founder of Mordhau Historical Combat in Mesa, Arizona, and has taught internationally. She has medalled at tournaments in longsword, cutting, glima, and ringen. She also has a degree in Ancient and Medieval history. In this conversation we discuss tournament mindset, her advice to beginners wanting to go to tournaments for the first time, and of course, equipment.
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GW: Hello sword people, this is Guy Windsor, also known as The Sword Guy, and I'm here today with Brittany Reeves of the Mordhau Historical Combat School in Arizona. You can find them at SwordfightAZ.com. I’ll put that link in the show notes of course. Brittany is well known on the competition circuit, having won medals in all sorts of things, longsword competitions, cutting, wrestling and other things. We'll get into that in the show of course. She has a degree in ancient and medieval history and is, shall we say, becoming more and better known in the teaching circuit as well, and has had the distinction of teaching at no lesser place than Swordsquatch, which is one of my favourite events on the planet. So without further ado, Brittany, welcome to the show.
BR: Thank you so much for having me. I'm very excited.
GW: It's nice to meet you. Tell us, where in the world are you?
BR: I am currently sitting in my kitchen in perfectly sunny Mesa, Arizona, which is just outside of the Phoenix area.
GW: OK, that's the AZ in the swordfightAZ.com I take it. But you're not from there originally, correct?
BR: No, no, I am a Canadian transplant. I was born in boCalgary, Alberta, and was living in Vancouver, Canada before I moved here to Arizona.
GW: OK, we have a disproportionate number of Canadians on the show so far, so you're in, shall we say, familiar company. So I imagine I know the answer to this question, but some listeners won’t, so how did you get started in historical martial arts?
BR: How did I? Yeah, it's sort of an odd story, I guess, a little bit serendipitous. When I was in Calgary, I was doing my undergrad at the University of Calgary, of all places. And during my spring, summer break, I had travelled to Vancouver to take on an internship completely unrelated to my schooling or anything like that. It was just a summer job in Vancouver. So I'd gone to Vancouver in about 2011. And while I was there, I had gone to a cultural festival, a civic festival. And there was a sword fighting group that was doing demonstrations. And I was like, what? This is a thing? The same reaction that everybody has the first time they see this. And it just seems so serendipitous that I was halfway into my medieval history degree and now there's sword fighting that I can do for a little bit while I'm in Vancouver. That just blew my mind. So I approached them. They gave me a business card and on the card it said one free class. And I was like, well, how can I not? I have no choice now. I mean, twist my arm. And I'd gone in and I did my first free intro crash course lesson and I was in. Head first, no, looking back, I just dived right in, ate it up, loved it. And I was only there for the spring / summer. So come early September I had to move back to Calgary to continue university, but I had maintained contact with that group and then I think it was end of 2013. Or very early 2014, might have been December or January, I had gone back to Vancouver and I was like, OK, I'm back, can I rejoin your stuff, can I do the sword thing again? And they were like, yep, and that was really when I honestly pursued it properly. The first time was just a few months that I'd gone a couple of times a week for months and then kind of broke away from it. But I didn't really get a handle of what the community was or that there were tournaments or that it was a serious thing. And it wasn't until I moved back to Vancouver permanently. And then from there, it was history, basically.
GW: So what took you back to Vancouver?
BR: My father actually was living in Vancouver at the time, and you probably don't know anything about Calgary. Most people don't, because it's kind of a small city.
GW: No, I've never been.
BR: It's a small city. It's about a million people. It's big for Canada, but small for most countries. And it's in the middle of the prairies and it gets viciously cold in the winter, I've experienced minus 40 degrees.
GW: I used to live in Finland and in Helsinki it would sometimes get down to like minus 25 and that was cold enough. Minus 40? No thank you very much.
BR: And it gets dry, cold, just bitter, bitter, bitter winters. And when I had gone to Vancouver, it was just like Vancouver is the most temperate place in the entire world, it's so beautiful. And I just fell in love and my dad was already living there and I was like, OK, I'm twenty one years old, I'm ready to take on the world. I'm moving. And I just got up and I just left. It was a big change for me, I was young, I had never lived away from home before and that was it. I just picked up and relocated to Vancouver. It was a life change.
GW: I can understand doing that. I love Vancouver. I've been there many times. And it's a city that if I had enough money, I could live there really happily.
BR: And that is part of the reason why I moved to Arizona, because Vancouver is the most expensive place that you could be. And it broke my heart to leave, but it also mended my heart to move to Arizona. But that's a whole other story.
GW: OK, so while you're in Vancouver, you were swinging swords about – long swords and other things I understand. So you got into the tournament side of things. I see on your bio, you've won medals in all sorts of things. So could you talk a little bit about competition, longsword, cutting competitions, all that sort of thing. Just take us through what you've actually done.
BR: Yeah, where to start? My very, very first tournament, I think, was January 2015 in Tacoma, Washington, just outside of Seattle. And I was doing an open longsword, open synthetic beginners’ tournament. And that was my very first experience. I had so much fun, it was awesome, people were cool, people were nice. I was winning, I was losing. It was like emotional highs and lows. It was awesome. And then that just kind of progressed into a whole beast of its own, which I'm sure we'll get into eventually, because there is a lot of baggage to unpack there.
GW: Feel free. We're here to unpack.
BR: Oh, my relationship with tournaments is kind of kind of thick. It's a mix of emotions. It was good and it was really toxic. But yeah, it was tough. You get obsessive and then you have people pushing you really hard to perform. It was hard on me, but I still did it. I’ve competed in everything I could. At this point now, I think I've competed in, not necessarily medalled in or made a top eight placement or impressively placed in anything, but I think I've competed in longsword, sword and buckler, single stick, rapier, sabre, glima, ringen, everything. I've done it all. I'm not always good at all of it, but I've competed in almost everything.
GW: Just for the benefit of the listeners who might not be familiar with some of the terms, a synthetic tournament is a tournament fought with non-steel, so plastic longswords, is that correct?
BR: Yeah. So if anybody was to go on to Purple Hearts website or Black Fencer, they sell nylon synthetic longswords. And the beginners’ tournament scene just has this absolute love affair for giving beginners synthetic swords, which I don't necessarily agree with. But beginners’ tournaments are with synthetics a lot on the West Coast. So that's what I did. And it's not until you get into open or intermediate or advanced tournaments that they usually give you steel. I didn't really see the distinction, but that's where I started.
GW: And “glima”, what is glima?
BR: I realise that might be a little bit of a shadowy term for a lot of people. Glima is just a Viking style of wrestling. It's actually debated. It's not really HEMA because there's no historical sources or text sources for it. And a lot of people consider glima technically to have a living lineage. I never really studied it too intensely, but I did practise it. I got thrown into a glima tournament once, well, a couple times after that. But my very first one, sort of a funny story, actually. At the time, one of my coaches was Sean Franklin, who I adore. For the record, if Sean hears this, he's one of my favourite people ever and definitely had a strong formative impact on my early martial arts career. But he was my coach at the time, and I was really struggling with tournament performance. I think I'd lost a bronze medal match just before, and I was really, really hard on myself, like, why couldn't I win? I should have done better. It was bad. But he was like, hey, I put you into glima. And I'm like, “What? Why?” And he's like, you need to learn how to lose.
GW: Do you know what, I think, frankly, that he and I would have quite a lot in common.
BR: Yeah, he's awesome. So I'm like, what do you mean? You can't set me up for failure. He's like, I'm not setting you up for failure, I'm setting you up to learn. You need to know that it's hard to lose and then you need to know how to lose gracefully and with sportsmanship. And I was like, “OK Sean, whatever.” And so I went into this glima tournament with just the most resentment for Sean.
GW: If you never hate your coach, he's not doing his job properly.
BR: He was so good, he did such a good job. I came out of it with a bronze medal and like this the smug kind of like, “Hey, I did it, I showed you.” And he was like, “There was six people in the tournament, you're middle of the road.” And I was like, “Oh.” He was like, “So you won some and you lost some. Congratulations, how does it feel?” And we had gone into a very long unpacking conversation of the psychology around my tournament experience. And it was funny, he was very smart. I didn't realise all the pieces on the chessboard that he had placed on there, but he knew what he was doing and it came out for the better.
GW: So, I mean, clearly, tournaments have been extremely useful for you, but then I’m sensing some ambivalence. So what would you say has been the most useful thing you have gotten out of tournaments, training for tournaments, that sort of thing?
BR: So, yeah, there's a lot to provide for that question. OK, I think in the long run, now that I've kind of come out of it having almost 10 years of just HEMA, martial arts in general under my belt, and maybe five years of tournament experience, in hindsight, I learnt a lot of lessons. More just about the value of tournaments and why they're useful and in other ways, why they can be really toxic. But at the time, going through the motions of it, I didn't realise the lessons I was learning. All I could see was the person on the other side of the ring and how I needed to beat them. Or suffer the consequences of losing – toxic, right? That's not a good way to do anything. But in hindsight now, I look at it and I go, OK, the training that I put in for tournaments was good. I just didn't have a good mindset going into tournaments. If I had looked at it then the way that I do now – when I go to fight tournaments now, it's very different. It's more like, OK, I've been working on these three techniques for the last six months or so. I want to see if I can make them work with a non-compliant opponent, not a partner, not someone who knows my tricks, somebody who just doesn't want to let me do it. And that's the point I think of tournaments, is using it as a learning tool to test your ideas in a high stress situation in a way that you can't in the salle or in the studio. But not everybody has really good coaches or a really supportive club environment to foster those feelings. And then instead you get the hyper focus on the need to win no matter what and only winners are valuable in the community. And that obviously problematic.
GW: Sure, yes, I think our views on tournaments pretty much align, I think they are really useful part of a fencer’s long term education. And I would think most students ought to go through at least a period of doing tournaments because there are all sorts of things you can only really learn in the tournament. But they do also have their downsides. Imagine we have a listener who is thinking about going to their first tournament who maybe hasn't done tournaments before, maybe who doesn't have necessarily a really good coach who can prepare them for this sort of thing. What would you say they should watch out for the tournament? What are the things to be careful of?
BR: So I think the very first thing, and this is something that a lot of people in HEMA really take for granted or don't even really realise: read the rules. I can't tell you how many times people have gone into a tournament, gotten upset about bad calls or not realised that something was legal and been unprepared for it. If you're going to go to a tournament, read the rules, understand them thoroughly. If you have questions, ask them, clarify them. And that should be before anything. Because I remember, and this has happened a couple of times where tournaments have said, yes, this action is legal, it is allowed in our ruleset, and it's not normal. It's maybe an experimental addition or they're one of the only clubs that do it and train it. So then you have people from outside come and compete. They don't realise that it's a legal move, it gets done to them, and then they throw a fit.
GW: I think I know the particular event you're talking about, because there was a little bit of a blow up a couple of years ago. The organisers even went so far as to put videos on the Internet showing these sorts of things and explaining that the point of this tournament ruleset is to encourage this kind of play. And then everybody got super upset when somebody got that done to them.
BR: Yeah, I think everybody who competes knows that tournaments always have different rulesets. And that's sort of the fun thing about HEMA is it hasn't been streamlined and heavily regulated like other martial arts.
GW: It’s not an Olympic sport so we’re not all following the same rules.
BR: Exactly. And so there's sort of a beauty in it. And it allows you to really test yourself under different rulesets and trying different things and things that aren't necessarily made to benefit your style of fencing. And with that, we all seem to acknowledge that, but we all seem to forget to actually read the rules and then we get upset when we don't follow them. I remember Swordsquatch the first year I'd gone, I was teaching and then, and this was my own fault, they were like, oh, did you want to consider competing? And this was literally twenty four hours before the tournament. Did you want to consider competing so that you can round out the numbers to make even numbers for pools? And I was like. Ha, yeah, OK. And I didn't read the rules, I just went in there and fought because I was like, it's West Coast, whatever. I totally blanked on the fact that it was continuous fighting. I was not prepared, but yeah, so if anybody's considering to compete for the first time, just read the rules. And if, you know, if you're ever not sure about something, always ask the director, ask the organiser, email them in advance. You know, otherwise just have fun. Don't go there to win. Tournaments are not about winning. Medals are mostly stupid. I say that with, like, air quotes. Just enjoy it, try and apply the things that you've learned or the things that your instructor has taught you or that you taught yourself, and if it works, awesome, if it doesn't, talk about it after with the person you fought. Tournaments don't have to be shitty. Sorry, am I allowed to say that? Sorry.
GW: You can say whatever the fuck you like on my show.
BR: Very good. OK. I don't have to worry.
GW: OK, so if we say Brittany’s three bits of advice for beginners going into this is firstly read the rules. Secondly, ask if you're unsure about anything. And thirdly, have fun. I think that's a really useful little encapsulation of what they should do. But I know that there are going to be people listening to this who are very keen on tournament stuff and will want to know if you have any particular advice on winning tournaments.
BR: Oh, yeah. So if your whole goal is to win a tournament and it's not actually to test out your stuff, you don't care, you're just there to win: Hit hard, hit fast, no mercy. Like, I don't know what to tell you, I mean, get good noob. Don't take yourself so seriously to go into a tournament and be like, I need to win. Trust me, I had that mentality for years. And it ruined it. It ruined everything for me. I had to unlearn a lot of behaviour, so it's not worth it.
GW: Well, I often tell my students I have bled, so you don't have to. So we can say that you had a less than optimal attitude towards tournaments for a while so people can just learn from your example and not repeat your mistakes. How about that?
BR: Yes, absolutely. And that is so true. At Mordhau I've got students who are really, really interested in competing and I have students who absolutely never want to, they have no care for it at all. And it doesn't matter to me. Whatever your goals are, I'm going to help you do them. I'm going to do what I can as your instructor and give you what you need. But when my students are really amped up about tournaments, I get hyped for them. I'm excited for them because I want them to have fun. But I always tell them, like, hey, if you win a medal, that's great. We'll go celebrate. If you place fourth, if you lose your medal match, that's great. We'll go out, we'll go celebrate. If you are bottom of the pools and you just got in there and you fought, that's great, we'll go out and celebrate. It doesn't matter. We just want you there. We just want you having fun. We're all adults who play with swords at the end of the day, right?
GW: Yeah. I've never organised a formal tournament of the sort you're describing, but we've used tournaments within my larger school network many times and one of the best tournament structures we ever had was, it didn't have this direct elimination thing, it was basically at the end of the day, because everyone was fighting everyone all the time like pools, at the end of the day, whoever had won the most fights won the whole thing. The choice of weapons was up to the combatants and obviously when a relative beginner picked a dagger to go up against the poleaxe with he won enormous prestige and then he astonished everyone by actually beating his opponent. He also actually won the battle. But there were two prizes at the end of the day. One was for whoever's won the most fights, and that went with perfectly worthy and excellent fencer. And the other one was by acclaim. So everyone present, including the spectators, got to vote for one competitor who they felt best represented the spirit of the art. And the prize for the person who won the most fights was a paperback copy of my new book that had just come out and the person who won by acclaim got the hardback. Because if you had gone into every fight and deliberately chose an inferior weapon, you're probably going to lose your fight. But you're looking for a harder fight. That is the spirit of the art, as opposed to just doing what you need to do to win the match.
BR: Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that all tournaments are stupid and people who try to win are like…. You know, there is there is a place for it. And I really do respect highly competitive HEMA and people who really do train in earnest and I mean in earnest because I was part of that circuit. I still am. I mean, when I fight, I'm still like, OK, I need to see that my stuff works. And therefore if my stuff works, I win.
GW: And if nobody's giving you that level of push back, then it's not a very good testing environment. So, yes, I mean, again, if anyone is listening, who is thinking that I'm somehow critical of people who go into tournaments to win. Not at all. Yeah, it's is a perfectly good thing to do and is a very common stage in a fencer’s career.
BR: Yeah, I think it's just a tool. It's another tool in the grand scheme of our practise and our study, like if you never spar; sparring is another tool. If you if all you do is solo drills forever, no, but obviously, I mean, I'm sure everybody listening kind of has that idea of how people train martial arts.
GW: Well, yeah, I'm sure they'll let me know by sending me an e-mail to complain if they're not. OK, so you have quite a lot of experience in this. So how would you say tournaments could be improved? What would make them better?
BR: I think all of the things that I think could be improved are already sort of going down that path. I've always felt that tournaments would benefit from a little bit more professionalism, and that's not to say more serious competitiveness, but just the way that they're run, e.g. staying on time. But those are the kind of things that it'll improve as the community grows and as the growing pains start lessening and we start figuring out more about how things work and how things don't work, I guess. But I mean, actually I'm really impressed right now with tournaments in general, maybe not for this year because barely any happened. But in general, there's not really a whole lot I would change. I think it's all going in the right direction. I like it, I'm happy. I would like to see more weapons get represented that aren't just longsword, and I'm saying that as a primarily longsword person, but I'm starting to see sword and buckler become the new trend, which is awesome. I like sword and buckler a lot. I've done it for a good amount of time. So, you know, that's really about it. I don't have a lot of complaints. I think, not all of the bad things have happened, but the bad things, the worst things that could happen, have happened and we've created rules and regulations around that. We've solved a lot of problems about bad judging or bias, so there are now things in place – you get judge training and we have to either their checks and balances. And we've learnt so much and I really don't have a lot of criticism in terms of what needs to be fixed or changed.
GW: I remember what HEMA tournaments were like 20 years ago. They have come a very, very, very long way, let’s put it that way.
BR: Even since I had started competing five years ago, which is not that long. But even then, it was acceptable for me to enter a longsword tournament with lacrosse gloves and IKEA cutting board plates put over it. Now it's different. Right? So things have changed a lot. Or back when you could see people competing without back of the head protection, like overlays. Lately things have changed a lot. Or, you know, you see instances where people make really bad judgement calls because they're whatever reason. And now you see judge training is becoming a thing. And it's really interesting. Speaking of this topic, I'm currently on the tournament coordinator team for CombatCon 2021. It's been fascinating. I've run a few events before, but nothing quite as big as CombatCon, which is a huge West Coast event. And I've competed there for many years and I've always been on the judging side and the directing side, but I've never been really behind the scenes on the actual organisation of the event for something like CombatCon. And we're writing all the rules for tournaments right now. And I can't really talk about what the tournament rules are right now because I'm not allowed to share them. But it is really interesting to see how much tournament rules have developed over so many years of learning lessons.
GW: The rules create the fight, if you will. If you if you want the competitors to behave differently, you change the rules and then that changes the behaviour.
BR: Yeah. Although I think Sean Franklin has an article on Sword STEM, which if you don't know about his Sword STEM blog, check it out because it is good stuff.
GW:I will look up Sword STEM and I will put a link in the show notes.
BR: Yes, it's worth it, if you're not familiar, it's cool stuff. But I think he had done an article about how much do fencers’ behaviours change in different rulesets by looking at the data that he is accumulated through HEMA scorecard and seeing if targeting changes or stuff like that, point values, dictate different targets. And I think I might be wrong, maybe I'm getting it opposite, but I'm pretty sure it ended up being that people still fence the exact same, regardless of the ruleset.
GW: That’s probably because they're not reading the rules.
BR: Maybe, maybe that's possible. Or just their lizard brain, their muscle memory sets in and the stress just they fight the way they fight, you know.
GW: I would say that that is a fault in the training, because if you're training for a tournament, you ought to read the rules, figure out what's going to work in that ruleset and then train to do that.
BR: See, some people would argue with that and go like, oh, that's gaming the rules, though. Training for a ruleset is bad. I don't disagree, by the way. I think that's right.
GW: OK, here's the thing. If you want to win tournaments, you have to read the rules and figure out what will work in those rules and then do that. If you want to use tournaments to test your current interpretation of something or whatever, then the ruleset only really matters that you know what the rules are so you don't do foul shots or injure someone. So that's a question more of politeness. But nobody ever won an Olympic gold medal in fencing, at least not in the last 40 years, without gaming the rules considerably.
BR: Yes, that is true.
GW: I don't think that's wrong. I think that's just are you are you a competitor or are you working on the spirit of the art?
BR: It comes down to that, yeah, absolutely. Just being honest with ourselves about our goals, with how we want to train or practise our martial art. Are you are you using tournaments to play the game and win or are you using them to test the historical techniques that you're trying to learn? And I think it's OK to do both or one or the other. Be really honest about it and be forthcoming about it and don't always judge people so hard for doing it differently than you. I think that's where a lot of the strife in the community comes from, is people don't like how other people are training.
GW: Yes. This is why I don't go to social media at all these days for anything even vaguely sword related. Because I do what I do. People who like my stuff buy my courses or read my books or train in my schools or whatever. People who want to do different things or do things differently, that's fine, they can go somewhere else. I don't mind. I do my stuff with my people and they like it. And that's good. Now, you did bring up equipment. We have seen equipment coming forward in leaps and bounds in the last twenty years or so. Do you have any particular thoughts on how equipment is developing, what sort of equipment you would like to see, problems you've had getting equipment to fit, anything like that?
BR: Oh yeah. I am so excited about how excited the community gets about new gear. I think it's so awesome that we're still at a point in time within the HEMA community or the historical martial arts community as a whole where things are still developing. I think some of the newer people that are just coming into it, really take it for granted so much that we've put so many trial and errors through this to find what we have, but we're still at that point. And I think that's so fascinating to look at how things change. The pro gauntlet, I was so excited for it. It doesn't fit me. It'll likely never fit me. My hands are tiny. I'm sure my cat's paws are bigger than my hands at this point, but none of it is ever going to fit me. But I think it's so cool that the HEMA community or even the sword community in general has grown up so much that there is now room in it to start developing real actual stuff that is dedicated to what we do rather than like, oh yeah, we're gonna go buy lacrosse gloves and wear roller blade pads and motocross knees. And it's awesome. I think it's so, so cool. It's such an exciting time to be doing what we do.
GW: My first class was plastron was cobbled together out of bits of carpet. But that was thirty years ago now. So things really have come a long way.
BR: They’ve come a ways. I've always struggled with finding gear that fits me at all. But I feel kind of guilty if I complain about it too much because I can't even really find clothes that fit me. So I'm sort of a weird, I'm really tall. OK, I'm not really tall – that's what I tell myself. I'm only about five foot six. I'm not super tall, but I'm not short and I weigh about one hundred pounds, one hundred and ten after a good meal. And I'm just really slender. I'm really, really thin. And finding gear is so difficult. If it fits the length of my torso, it's too short for my arms or it's too big in the waist., Or my leg protection: if it's small enough to fit on my calves to actually velcro it up, then it's too short and it's kids’ size. So, I can never really complain about gear not fitting because that's just a reality.
GW: There are people doing something about that. For example, I had Lois Spangler on the show. Her episode will be coming out in a few weeks’ time, but it'll be two weeks before this one goes live. And she's been developing, or helping to develop, a fencing jacket that's actually shaped for women.
BR: That's wonderful.
GW: Yes, so there are people working on this stuff, but I guess part of the difficulty is without the equipment, the people who aren't the standard size that all the equipment is made for can't really get into this. But until people of different sizes get into this, there isn't a market to make the equipment for. So it is a chicken and egg problem.
BR: It is. I've been lucky though. All of my gear for many years was basically second hand. And it was always like a guy had bought a custom jacket from SPES and he was a smaller guy. He was about my height, but like 140 weight ish. And he does a custom jacket. And of course, SPES doesn't do returns on custom and it didn't fit him. So he was like, do you want it? And I tried it. And I was like, oh, it fits. So I never had to worry. But then for the European Games in Belarus, I was required to get a new jacket because my old jacket that I'd had for years finally got a hole in it. So it was no longer safe. The safety was compromised. So I had to get a new jacket and I ended up buying a SPES women's cut jacket. And I love it. I love it. It's got this cinch in the back so that it doesn't really matter if it's too big in the waist. I just cinch it up. It's awesome. I love it. It's the bomb. So having a women's line of stuff is really nice because it didn't exist when I first started.
GW: Speaking of women, you have a blog, Women of HEMA. I'll put links to it in the show notes. What made you want to start it and what have you learned since doing so?
BR: So what I've learned is to not use a hyper encrypted email address with a super difficult password that doesn't have any retrieval because I have now locked myself out of the blog and that's why I haven't been able to update it for over a year.
GW: I was wondering!
BR: It's very frustrating because I've got a backlog of articles. I stopped doing interviews after a little while and I started writing articles, which I was really proud of, but then I couldn't get them back on the blog as I couldn't get into the email address to get into the blog. It was very frustrating. So I've sort of been biding my time to launch it as a website. But I figured with the whole pandemic thing, everybody's like, oh, I'm doing this project, that project, this interview thing, this thing, that thing.
GW: Like this podcast, there you go.
BR: Yeah. And a lot of people have started podcasts. So I was like, I'm going to just give it some more time and I'll pick it up again, because I think it's a really a passion project for me. But yeah, if I learned anything, it was stick with the email addresses and the passwords that you know.
GW: I’m surprised because it’s hosted at WordPress, I’m surprised their web support won't let you in the back end.
BR: When I first started the blog – this kind of goes into why I made it. But originally when I started it, I was like, you know what? I'm going to do it anonymously and I just put it out. So I created a totally new email address with whatever host called tutanota. And it's like hyper encrypted. And they even tell you if you forget your password, we can't retrieve it. But then when they request you to make a password, it has to be super, super strong. So uppercase lowercase numbers and punctuation. It's very, very, very complex. And of course, I forgot it because I only use like two passwords for everything.
GW: That’s not good.
BR: I know. Terrible and I'm ashamed. But, you know, I'm a creature of habit, so I forgot the password for the email address. And of course I used the same password for the blog when I set it up. So I set up the blog, I go to go into it and I'm like, OK, I forgot my password. It's like, OK, we've sent a link to your email address and I'm like, I don't know the email address password, so I'm stuck in a circle here,
GW: OK, that is a bit awkward.
BR: It is very frustrating, but I've decided I'm just going to relaunch it as a website and then re upload all the original stuff. And it's probably better as a website.
GW: Well, I was going to say, what you need is like womenofhema.com, leave out the WordPress, and rebuild the whole thing from scratch. I personally don't tend to use other people's Internet pages for my work. Because let’s say I spent the last eight years or whatever, putting my blog on my blog, you know, Blogger, the Google one. Then Google decides that swords are evil and anyone with swords, that blog gets taken down or put behind age verification or something like that and that’s it, I'm screwed. So I'm very much in favour of having your own URL, you know, pay for your hosting. Have it all so that you own it and it takes a court order for anybody to mess with it.
BR: Yeah, I agree. If I learned anything, it was I should have done it the right way first. But I wasn't really sure when I first started it, how it was going to be received. And I didn't want to put money into it if it was going to get kiboshed right away. And of course, now, the original intentions that I had for it are different. And when I go to relaunch it, I'm sort of thinking about changing the scope of it, because definitely my opinions have shifted a little bit, but my original reasons for starting it, actually there's a few reasons, and it kind of goes back a long way. OK, there was an incident, I want to say, in 2015, 16, maybe, I don't know, anyway it was years ago. And I was still in Canada at the time. And there was an article going around on the Internet about a woman winning a longsword tournament in Australia, or New Zealand.
GW: New Zealand. Yeah, I sorry if I could just interject for a second. If you go to, I think, episode three of this podcast, I actually interviewed the person concerned, Sam.
BR: Gosh, I mean, what this is this is going to be a mildly emotional thing. I had listened to that podcast about a week ago and it broke my heart because I have my own part in that story that I'm sure Sam has no idea of, and it was cathartic almost to listen to Sam's side of it, because I'd never met Sam, had no connection to them at all. And for the first time, actually hearing Sam talk about it now, with so many years since it happened, it was an emotional moment for me. So this is kind of what happened and the first catalyst to my idea for Women of HEMA years before it was even a thing. I was part of a club that attacked that article and Sam in particular. Now, when I say I was part of the club, I didn't really know this was a thing. I didn't know it was happening until another woman had posted an open letter and was sharing it all over social media, which was basically a challenge to Sam. It was awful. It was really awful. And I remember seeing it and I was kind of uncomfortable, but at the same time, I wasn't as connected in the community as I am now, I didn't really know a lot of people. I hadn't gone out to the international scene very much. And I just thought, oh, OK. I mean, somebody is pretending to do sword stuff and that makes us look bad, like, OK, look, I just kind of took their word for it, right? So it's going around on Facebook, this open letter, not written by me, written by somebody else at my former club. And it was going around. And this is so funny, my mom, bless my mom, she was very good. She was very supportive of my whole HEMA stuff. And so she would follow my Facebook. She was very hip to what was going on always. I talk to my mom every day. So she was like, hey, what's going on with this open letter thing? And I was like, yeah, you know, I don't know. It's sort of weird because apparently there's a person in Australia who won a tournament and I guess it wasn't really a real tournament, but they're getting all this attention, so it makes other people look bad or something. And my mom, like, laughed. And I'm like, what's so funny? And she's like “That's really mean.” I was like, what are you talking about, and she was like “Brittany, I'm going to I'm going to give you a lesson, this is a life lesson and you will carry this for the rest of your life.” And I was like, OK, Mom. I was a young woman at the time. I was in my very early 20s. And she's like, “What do you think is more damaging for women in the community? Is it a woman tearing down another person for just doing their thing, or is it that person getting attention?”
GW: I like your mom.
BR: I love my mother, she's very smart. And it hit me. I was like, oh my gosh. You're right, this is a really awful thing. This was really shitty and it carried on for years because there were a lot of issues with women's HEMA that had come much later, especially from that social group that I really struggled with personally and I didn't agree with it. And I came out of it when I had finally left. I separated from that club and I'd left and I was like, gosh, you know, you just can't tear down other people. That doesn't do you any favours, it makes you look bad and it makes everybody else look bad.
GW: It’s just mean.
BR: At the bottom of it, you're right. At the very core of it, it's mean. But when I decided to do Women of HEMA, I was like, I can either try and be jealous of other people or tear other people down or be like, oh, this woman deserves recognition, but this one doesn't because she doesn't do it this way. I'm like, no, no, no, no. My mom is right. Rising tides lift all ships, or some weird saying she gave me. I don't know.
GW: I use that saying all the time. A rising tide lifts all boats.
BR: Yeah. And she was like, going out and winning medals, Brittany, is awesome. It's good. It shows that women can do this. But what good is it for women if you're the only one who gets seen? Because then you're then novelty, then you're a sideshow. You're an exception. You're not like the “other girls”. So what are you doing to actually develop women's HEMA? What are you doing to bring other women up, or are you just going to tear them down and write open letters challenging them?
GW: I love your mum, I think she's brilliant.
BR: Yeah, it just it struck me so, so deeply. And then it wasn't until a few years later I still carried that. And I had made efforts since then to really be encouraging of other women and always support women's tournaments and doing all these things. And it wasn't until I started doing Women of HEMA that I was like, holy dang, there are women out here doing awesome things and nobody's talking about it. Well, I'm going to talk about it.
GW: You and me both. I mean, this is one of the things that this podcast is about, is getting people from different backgrounds. But I have a very strict policy that at least half of my guests are women. Actually that’s how I came across your Women of HEMA blog. I was looking for women because, you know, in my bubble, there are plenty of women, I mean, Jess Finley being an obvious example. Kaja Sadowski being another obvious example, people I know really well and we've trained together and that sort of thing. And that's great. But there's also huge areas of swordsmanship where I don't really have any connection directly and I don't know the people. And so I just kind of go looking for the right people to talk to. And so your Women of HEMA blog was actually helpful with that. Thank you for that.
BR: There’s an array of good, solid women in there that really do deserve so much respect and recognition.
GW: And they're not necessarily getting it.
BR: And that would always surprise me. I would reach out to some of these women and be like, “Hey, do you want to do this thing for my blog?” And they'd be like, “Really, me?” And I'm like, “Well, yes, of course you. What do you mean?” “Oh, well, I've never really been asked before.” Well, OK we’re going to start changing that.
GW: OK, I have a little bit of experience for you, again from this podcast. Very many of the women who I have approached to come on the show have had exactly that reaction. “Me, really? You want to talk to me? Well, OK, I suppose.” Not a single one of the men have had that reaction yet.
BR: That's so that's so funny, because, and I'm going to try and say this in a way that doesn't sound super self-serving, but I've been very fortunate in the community that I have not had a lack of visibility. I get asked to do a lot to do things and participate in things. And I don't often have to submit instructor proposals anymore. I get asked to do interviews somewhat frequently. I've done maybe four in the last year or so and I've never really had that problem. But I think the big thing is that I've always advocated for myself, and I think that's something that a lot of women maybe struggle with and they shouldn't. But if you have something to offer, put it out there. Don't wait for people to come to you. It's something I've talked with other women before being like, oh, well, I was never asked to do this, but I should have been. And it's like, well, you can't expect people to just know your name, you know. But at the same time, I understand the frustration when you've put out written material, you've won tournaments, you've started a school, you've coached students who win medals. You do all these things and still nobody knows your name. That's frustrating. And then at the same time, you have guys who win a tournament once and they're like the biggest name ever. But I think women shouldn't be so hesitant to advertise themselves, to advocate for themselves. If you've done cool stuff, put it out there, throw it out there.
GW: I can also say, a whole bunch of men have contacted me, asking whether I would like to have them on the show. Not a single woman has yet contacted me to say OK, I think I might be a good fit for your show. Yes, so I am fielding proposals from male instructors who, in every case so far would be an excellent person to have on the show. It's not like they're underqualified or anything. It would really make my life a lot easier if the women had the same level of confidence and would just drop me an email and say, actually Guy, I've done these various things, here's my website, would you like to have me on the show? And women, if they're listening to this, I'm probably actually talking about you. So please do feel free. And I hope Brittany will back me up when I say I don't bite.
BR: Yeah, no. No biting. No biting so far. I mean, anything can happen. But, you know, I don't know exclusively if this is a men versus women kind of issue versus, and I learned this because when Mordhau switched to doing online during the whole coronavirus thing, I had put out a really vague call for instructors just to teach online stuff. I'm like, “Hey, we're opening up online, I need some help. Is anybody interested in doing this?” And if you just leave it out there, you just put it into the world without any specifics, you just kind of go, hey, open call, throw your stuff at me – not as many people respond, but then when I approached people directly and I said, hey, do you want to do this thing? They were like, oh, yeah, that would be great. So I don't know if it's necessarily women or men or if it's more just people in general being uncomfortable with the possibility of rejection, of being told no. And I stopped caring. I’ve put stuff out there. I've had proposals rejected. I've had interview requests gone completely, like emails unread. I don't care anymore. I stopped caring about people saying no to me and I just throw it at the wall. Fortunately, now most things stick. But it wasn't always like that. So people, just put yourself out there. I mean, what's the worst that can happen? They say no and you just go about your day and go have dinner and whatever. Don't be scared.
GW: Yes, the ability to deal with rejection is a really useful life skill.
BR: Yeah, and it’s hard, it is so hard. I put in an instructor proposal for a HEMA event and I was like, I'm so going to get this. I know I'm going to get it because I have got the credentials, more than even most men. I've got this stuff nailed down pretty good and they didn't pick me up and I was like, dang!
GW: Shame on them, the fools!
BR: I was like, what? Why? And I was crushed for a couple of minutes. And I'm like, oh, wait. You know what? That's OK. The person that they picked has never really had as much exposure. So this is probably good for them and they probably will be better served than me. I got over it, but it sucks. Being rejected sucks. It hurts and it's awful. And you internalise it and you feel like you're never good enough and you never want to try again. And then you just get over it.
GW: I guess it's like the whole tournament thing. You put yourself out there so that you can learn to lose. When you can tolerate failure at a higher level then you can train faster and learn faster.
BR: Absolutely. I'm not going to claim that I have gotten over it. If I have a bad sparring day, I can still get upset. I can still be frustrated and down on myself, and that's normal. But Sean Franklin was right so many years ago. I was just learning. Learning how to lose is probably just as important, if not more important than learning how to win. Especially with something like sword fighting where it needs to be OK for you to fail. It needs to be safe for you to fail. So, yeah, that was one of the most formative things for me, was Sean Franklin setting me up to lose.
GW: Well, if I ever meet Sean Franklin I will shake him by the hand.
BR: He’ll know exactly what you're referring to.
GW: OK, now we are running very close to time. So I have a couple of questions that I like to finish up on. The first is, what is the best idea you've never acted on?
BR: Wrote my book.
GW: Tell me more.
BR: I don't have much to tell, I've been thinking about it for maybe a year and a half, two years now.
GW: What’s the book?
BT: That’s the problem. I flip-flopped a little bit between ideas. I've dabbled in the idea of co-writing something with my husband, who is a HEMA name in his own right. He's got a lot of credentials to him and we've considered writing a book for KDF interpretations. But I feel like, the last six months or so, I think I've nailed it down. I just have to start actually acting on it. I really want to start looking at the sources through an art history lens. I feel like it's super under researched.
GW: Yes, you're right.
BR: My university degree is ancient medieval history, but my minor is art history and all of my medieval history was actually more of an art history slant for everything that I researched. So that's really my forte. And so I really want to look at the German Fecht books and look at the artists behind them. And I haven't quite decided exactly the path, but I've started to do some research. And it's really fascinating looking at some of the connexions between someone like Albrecht Dürer or Jörg Breu who's the guy who illustrated Paulus Hector Mair's manuscript. Fascinating. I mean, I just I could go on for a really long time. I know we're not having a lot of time, so I won't get too deeply into it.
GW: I tell you what, in about six months’ time, if you develop this idea a little bit and you want to come on and just talk about the art history of the Fechtbücher, I would be delighted to have you back on.
BR: I will talk about art history forever.
GW: Yeah, well, if I had known that an hour ago, we would probably have spent the last hour talking about that instead of tournaments. So I think that's good. It just means you're going to have to come back, I'm afraid.
BR: Oh, that's OK. I don't mind. That is what my real passion is. Before I did HEMA, I was Art Geek 5000. I was super into it and that's why I really got into HEMA. It was less for the jock side, even though that's what I ended up doing. I ended up a sword jock. Originally my intention was, oh my gosh, there are manuscripts that I can look at and I can dig into. And it was the art. It was the whole art history of it that I was really fascinated by. So, yeah.
GW: Well, good luck with the book, and I hope you can marshal your thoughts, focus your energies and actually get it done, because that's definitely a book I would like to read.
BR: Oh yeah. Well, we'll see. I mean, I'm always really busy, and it's one of those things. This is where I need to take my own advice and just put my stuff out there. But it is nerve wracking. I'm nervous about it. Yeah, I got a little anxiety about it, but we'll see. It's a project that I'm slowly working on and piecing together using Google Docs. So it exists in some form.
GW: Excellent. Well, I think there's great potential. And again, it's an aspect of historical martial arts that doesn't get a great deal of attention. And it would be lovely if there was more. I mean, it's not my area, but that's why I want other people whose area it is to write books about it so I can learn about it without having to do all the research myself from first principles. So yes. Actually, you’re not the only guest we've had who's idea they haven't acted on yet is writing a book. So I'm sort of hopefully in the book midwifery trade. It would be really good if I can encourage more of my guests to actually get their books out. OK, last question and this is literally the million dollar question, somebody gives you a million bucks to spend improving historical martial arts worldwide. How would you spend the money?
BR: Oh, well, I spent a lot of time thinking about this. Selfishly it would just be I'm going to put it right into Mordhau Historical Combat and create the best sword fighting training facility in the entire world. But that's not the noble answer.
GW: That depends. If your fantastically excellent historical training facility is a place where people can come and do seminars and you can fly people in and do a training centre, you're not the first person on the podcast to suggest building a training centre. I guess, really, it's noble if it helps other people. And the fact that it's in your own backyard is fine. It just means you have a shorter commute.
BR: I mean, I was not as noble about it. It was more just selfish. But if it was to benefit the community as a whole, I think what I'd really like to do, is if I had a million dollars I could throw at whatever I wanted, I think what I would want to really do is to procure some original manuscripts. I know some places have them, but I would really like to get an actual collection of them and have them at a, not a museum, but something like that where it's available.
GW: A dedicated historical martial arts research centre with the original manuscripts.
BR: A preservation society or something, you know. If somebody had a HEMA Alliance membership or something or whatever. I don't know, some kind of thing where you can come here and look at the books, but wear gloves in a humidity controlled room. You know, something that someone like Brian Stokes, he's got an incredible collection of manuscripts. And I want that. But so I can show my friends, but not just my friends, everybody.
GW: I have an original Fabris and a 1568 Marozzo and a couple of other things in my house. And when my sword friends come to visit, I literally I sit them in an armchair and I put Fabris himself in their lap. And it is it's an experience for them.
BR: Oh, that would be so, so cool. I'm jealous. And that's what I want. That's what I would want is to have easier access to original manuscripts but get all the proper preservation techniques, they're not free-for-all, thrift book store, you know.
GW: Sort of a high-end art library centre with original manuscripts. You're going to need an awful lot more than a million dollars I’m afraid.
BR: I realised that. But maybe a million dollars is like the start-up. To convince people to donate more to it or something, I don't know.
GW: Well, I would certainly come visit your centre and spend a great deal of time carefully not quite drooling over these manuscripts, right?
BR Yeah. With the little cotton gloves.
GW: Because there is nothing quite like the real thing. Facsimiles are great, but there is nothing like handling the real thing.
BR: I'm one of those people who's never seen an original HEMA manuscript, but when I was doing my medieval history undergrad, I was fortunate enough to be able to handle an original Gutenberg Bible. And wow, it was mind blowing and if I could just have that but with the emotional connection that I do with HEMA: mind blown. But I'm one of those people who's never had that yet.
GW: If you ever get to Europe, let me know and I'll point you in the right direction.
BR: Well, I wish I'd known that when I was in Europe.
GW: Well, you're just going to have to come back, right?
BR: Oh, what a shame! I can't imagine the horror of having to go to Europe again. Awful.
GW: Well, thank you very much for talking with us today Brittany. It's been lovely to get to know you and to have you on the show. We are sort of a little over time, but that's good. So thanks for coming along. And I hope to have you back on the show soon when you've written your book for sure.
BR: Thank you so much. I really do appreciate it.
GW: Thank you for listening. I hope you enjoyed my conversation today with Brittany Reeves. Remember to go along to www.guywindsor.net/podcast-2 for the episode show notes and for your free copy of Sword Fighting for Writers, Game Designers and Martial Artists. If you'd like to support the show, you can go to www.patreon.com/theswordguy and join our growing army of enthusiastic Sword Guy supporters. Amongst other things, patrons get transcriptions of the show as they are produced, as well as the opportunity to pose questions to my guests and in general be part of the growing Sword Guy family. So please do join us. Remember to subscribe to the show wherever you get your podcasts from so that you won't miss an episode. Next week is with Da’Mon Stith and we discuss his work on African martial arts. It's a fascinating conversation and you don't want to miss it. So tune in next week, I'll see you there.