The Sword Guy Podcast, episode 39
Lauren Juliette Ings is an assistant instructor with the Stoccata School of Defence in Sydney, Australia, and is also a circus performer, a burlesque dancer and an actor.
In this episode we chat about making HEMA more appealing to women, the LGBTQI+ community, and people of different physical abilities. Lauren is hugely passionate about making HEMA more accessible, friendly and fun for all and her style of teaching is rather different from the “middle aged white dudes” of traditional historical fencing schools. We talk about what we can do to get that first woman in through the door, and how important representation is in our schools, books, and materials.
You can find Lauren on Instagram @La.Petite.Morticia. (Nudity warning!)
The Stoccata School of Defence: https://stoccata.org/
You can also support the show at Patreon.com/TheSwordGuy Patrons get access to the episode transcriptions as they are produced, the opportunity to suggest questions for upcoming guests, and even some outtakes from the interviews. Join us!
GW: Hello sword people this is Guy Windsor, also known as The Sword Guy, and I'm here today with Lauren Juliette Ings, who is an assistant instructor with the Stoccata School of Defence and is also a circus performer, a burlesque dancer and an actor. You can find her on Instagram @La.Petite.Morticia. I should perhaps possibly warn the more straight laced amongst you that that Instagram is very tasteful, but not necessarily something you want your boss to look over your shoulder to see you looking at. So with that with that slight disclaimer, Lauren, welcome to the show.
GW: So whereabouts in the world are you?
LJI: Currently, I am in Sydney, Australia, so as my friends call it, the Upside Down.
GW: OK, yes, and we met just over a year ago now when I was teaching a seminar for the Stoccata School of Defence in Sydney, and I understand you're an assistant instructor, is that correct?
LJI: Yes, that's correct. I'm an assistant instructor, specifically for Paul Wagner.
GW: OK, now on your Facebook page and elsewhere, you describe yourself as a performer of the weird and wonderful. What exactly does that entail?
LJI: Well, I am very unconventional, pretty much in everything I do in life. This ranges in everything from the way that I actually teach to the things that I perform. I have a very unusual sense of humour. I'm occasionally a little bit macabre, so sometimes I will put that into my performances. As you might be able to tell from my performance name, it's a pun. So I don't take anything in life quite too seriously. And yes, last year I did a performance that was inspired by Elizabeth Bathory. The Blood Countess, as she is known. So she was allegedly bathed in the blood of virgins to keep her young and beautiful. So I went on stage in full crinoline and skirts and everything to do a performance. And I've got a new show coming up, I actually debut it in a couple of days now where I'm actually using a longsword in a burlesque routine. So definitely not something you see every day. So I think that's a little bit weird and wonderful. I like a little bit of that in any performance.
GW: But there was no bath of blood in the Elizabeth Bathory routine?
LJI: Not a bath, but that's mostly because I couldn't get a prop and then get one to the venue kind of thing. I did have a small glass that I had and I just used the glass to help with any kind of addition of blood to oneself.
GW: Is that routine on video anywhere?
LJI: Oh, it is. Parts of it are on Instagram. I know that it's probably somewhere else, I can't remember if I ended up sticking it on YouTube or not. But yeah, if you scroll back to pretty much the very beginning of my Instagram, there's definitely bits of my routine for that one on there. But that was also about a year ago.
GW: If you put it on YouTube, drop me a link and I'll put it in the show notes and people with a bloodthirsty frame of mind can go and have a look.
LJI: Will do.
GW: OK, so how did you get into the circus stuff and the burlesque stuff? How does one go about that?
LJI: Very different stories and it really weirdly all came together. I was actually doing a modelling job and one of the other models was doing some circus stuff. And he invited me to come along to a training session one day and I did. And I ended up doing some partner-based circus stuff that way because I ended up meeting the person that I use for my base for any partner tricks; my friend Ben. He's lovely. And yeah, I just really got into doing weird stuff, like I'd stand on his shoulders and he'd walk around or all kinds of interesting things, like half flips over people or into weird positions and balancing acts. And it was just really interesting. So I've always kind of enjoyed circussy stuff. I've always been quite mobile. I can never tell if a certain thing I can do that's bendy is normal or not. I always have to ask friends because some of my limitations are normal, some of my limitations are not. And it's always a fun guessing game trying to work out which one’s which. But a little while back, about three years ago, I decided to do burlesque. I've always loved dance, but I suck at it. So because I had a circus background, I'd done some fire tracing and some circus fire stuff. And I thought this would be a great way to get into doing dance things because there was a fire burlesque class. And I thought, well, I know I'm confident with one out of those two things. So we'll start with that. And if I suck at the dance, no one will pay attention because there's fire, which is pretty much true. That's how that worked. But I started practising more over the last couple of years. And so it was just something that I first started doing because I've always had a love of dance and I never knew how to get into it. I was used to be like really self-conscious about the way I dance. So it was to help me build up confidence, doing something that I already knew. So it wasn't even necessarily for the burlesque part, which is because I want to do dancing things, but I'm scared. And that was a nice way to do it. And then at my first burlesque performance ever, I saw more circussy things I've never done. So I do Lyra, which is a hoop that's suspended from the ceiling. So you'll see it in things like Cirque de Soleil quite often, it looks like a hula hoop suspended from the ceiling.
GW: My cousin is a trapeze artist and that's sort of her speciality.
LJI: It's fantastic. The first time I ever saw it performed was at my first burlesque show that I did a small thing at and they weren't even particularly doing anything hard, but I just saw it. And that is something I need to try. So that's actually the thing that I do most regularly is I’ll do Lyra. I train in that and it's just been wonderful.
GW: How do you train for it?
LJI: I do go to classes for it, but there you can go into free time and do things. It's interesting because it is for training obviously there are things you can do to help you build up strength. So for a while I actually had a personal trainer because of the certain techniques I just couldn't pull off because I didn't have the upper body strength for it because I am quite petite. So yes, I am a whole 5 foot 6, maybe 5 foot 7 if I really, really stretch myself tall. And yeah, at the moment I think I'm like 56 kilos on a heavy day, that’s if I have eaten a whole lot of pizza.
GW: Being quite small is an advantage for anything trapezey I would have thought.
LJI: Being light is fantastic, but not having upper body strength is awful because then I've got to lift the 50 kilo dead weight up which is awful. But I would say I started to build muscle for that. I used to be Stocatta’s token girl for like, “Look, you don't need to have massive muscles or anything to be able to do swords.” Then I started to put on muscle so we can't use that anymore. But I swear, these are from other things. They're not from swords because swords are not super heavy. You don't need massive muscles to wield them, I promise.
GW: I've always thought that there's a big disadvantage when learning martial arts, if you are naturally big and strong because weight and strength are usually an advantage in a fight, then there's less necessity and incentive to get really skilled because you can sort of get away with it because you've got to make up for it.
LJI: I feel like a lot of tall people do that in general. I think specifically with any HEMA that becomes a thing. Often when people start, they realise, oh, I can reach everybody. So at first they don't necessarily care as much about how good their technique is because they're like, I can just hit them.
GW: I have a friend in Seattle who's like about six foot seven and built like a brick shit house and is perhaps the most skilled martial artist I know. So somehow he's managed to overcome the huge disadvantage of having massive natural advantages and still gotten ridiculously skilled. And I don't know how to deal with something like that.
LJI: No, it's like one of those ones that must take what I would consider a lot of self-control to make sure you don't just go, well, I'm going to go in like a bull in a china shop. And so I think it takes a little conscious effort, I think, to train yourself to not go full bore all the time when you could just easily just swat people like flies.
GW: Sure. So how do you get started with the swords?
LJI: A couple of years ago, I was at a medieval fair and it's quite normal in Sydney at the medieval fairs for the schools to do a demonstration. It is just something that they like to do to promote the school, obviously. And they had a little stall. And I’d seen Stoccata do one or two of these fairs before. And I thought they were interesting and I thought I'd actually walk up and have a closer look because I’d just watched the demonstrations and all that was cool and keep going about my day. But I actually went to the school and I was having a look and Paul hands me a longsword. He literally said, “Hold this.” Paul literally just holds out a longsword to me, tip down. And me being ever dutiful just held it because he told me to. I literally looked up at him and said, “Oh, no, but now I want to do this.” And he said, “That's the point.” Honestly, the easiest selling of anyone into this of all time. It worked. I think from that point that's when I knew that we were going to get along famously and it wasn’t my first time doing anything swordy though. My dad is also really into HEMA stuff, though I didn't know that's what it was at the time. So little 12 year old Lauren was sitting there doing some real basic cuts at one point. But then I stopped when I got a little bit older because just wasn't the done thing for a teenage girl, I thought.
GW: It’s funny, I have daughters. And when they were very little, they would do sword stuff with me. Just because playing with Daddy was always cool, but by the time they were about six or seven, they just had no interest in swords at all.
LJI: It’s just the dorky thing that Dad does. That's why.
GW: Exactly. I guess. Yeah, it's by definition not cool because their father does it, I guess.
LJI: That's OK. I'm bringing the cool back. It's fine. I specifically love, love, love teaching younger female students. It brings me like a great amount of joy. I have learnt that they also deal with my weirdness very well because I think for a lot of them they're like, oh my God, I wish I could be as open about and love something this much. I think they always feel a little bit nervous coming into a martial arts place, especially when it's dominated in general by a lot of men who are either taller or older or more muscly. Then you see me just like skip up to them be like “Today we're going to learn how to cut people like a pizza.” And I think it just helps with any kind of fears that they may have about how this is going to go.
GW: Sure, the whole point of martial arts training really is it teaches you to deal with fear. And it gives you a way of sort of gradually edging into the dangerous things, the things you're frightened of.
LJI: Yeah, I think it's a fabulous way to build on so many different things in your life, but I do love the idea of helping push your own boundaries in a setting that's comfortable, where people always have the opportunity if they want you to be like, “No, actually, I don't want to do this,” but to always give them ample opportunity to be able to do that as much as they want. And you'll find sometimes it's with gentle coaxing people who at first say no, say they will do one and we see how we go or you'll give them alternatives. So I find a lot of people, when they first start bouting, get a quite shy around it, because obviously they're like, well, I'm trying to hit somebody and somebody is trying to hit me. And if they don't have a prior martial arts background, it's a bit intimidating. So I will do things like we call it matrix speed. It's basically just going really, really slow, as slow as you can pretty much go. And it lets them have the time so that they can think about what parry they're going to do or the footwork or other stuff that they're worried that they might not have the muscle memory for yet. Quite often I let them pick the speed. So if they start slow, you'll notice they'll start getting faster, obviously, once they realise what they're doing. And so then I'll match their speeds that way. Eventually we end up usually by the end of one or two fights going at normal speed. But I've allowed them to pick the tempo and I've allowed them to push their own boundaries with what they think they feel safe with and what they do feel safe with in a very comfortable way because I refer to all my students as sword babies and some of them hate it with a passion. I had feedback the other day, one of them actually really despises it, but I don’t care. They're not forced to train with me. All the training with me, I always say anybody who wants to, please come to this part of the room or come outside with me and we’ll do stuff. No one's ever forced to work with me. So if they don't like it, then I presume they will either just put up with it because they like the training or they'll just go train with the rest of the class. They have options. So I referred to myself as a sword mum. That's why I call them sword babies.
GW: I think it was Kaja Sadowski put it like this in her book, Fear is the Mind Killer, and Kaja was on the show. I think she's like episode four or five. She puts it like, you need to create a psychologically safe space for people to do physically dangerous things and a physically safe space for people to do psychologically dangerous things. For a lot of people, fencing appears to be physically dangerous. But the real risk is psychological. They're worried about being humiliated or worried about hurting somebody. They're not necessarily frightened of being injured. They're usually frightened of being humiliated or of injuring somebody else.
LJI: Yeah, I find that a lot. So if I think that's one of the reasons why I have an overly peppy, it's not quite a persona, but it's a way that I present myself to students because I like to make them feel like that. I will gladly let them let them talk to me about anything and everything, whether or not it's relevant to class. One of the students before was sitting out in the side and I just casually struck up a conversation, was talking about stuff because they weren't fighting. And I always tell my students, because I lead the warmups, if they have any limitations to let me know and whoever their partner is to let me know. It was really nice because one of them actually confided in with me that they had changed anti-depressants and that was affecting their ability to fight. Because I had created that safe space, it meant that I was like, “Oh, cool, so you don't want to fight the other people, do you just want to do some drills with me, or did you just want to sit here and watch and learn from watching?” Creating that little space, I think, helps, and I always get so happy when they tell me things. I am very loud about anything with me that doesn't come across as normal. So I am queer. I am part of the LGBT community. So all throughout the month of June I wear rainbow eyeshadow up to my eyebrows. So everybody who also walks past the window on their way to class will know. And I feel like that's helpful as well. Stoccato has been around for a couple of decades now and I actually brought up that we kind of needed to update the website. I very gently reminded some of the people in the council, so earlier this year we actually got an inclusivity statement put up. I felt like if we're in a time now, where that's an appropriate thing for us to have. And it would just be nice considering it is one of the reasons if we do want to create that space, so people should be able to feel that they can come without being judged or worried about their safety. And having an inclusivity statement helps just reinforce that, despite the fact that it is in our rules of things that we have to do to behave and that anybody who is harmful to students will be made to leave. We’re just clarifying what that is a little bit more.
GW: There's a big difference between being technically welcome and being explicitly welcome.
LJI: Yes. So I think especially since for one of the classes that I attend, it is in Newtown, in Sydney, which is definitely a gay hub in Sydney. And it's a fantastic place. I really love it. But yeah, I think considering where we're located, we really couldn't not have one. I mean, we have branches all over Sydney. There's about ten of them or something. I should know this but I don’t.
GW: I didn't invite you on the show for your advance knowledge of the administrative side of running Stoccata.
LJI: Oh, good. But specifically, I think because of where we're located, from where I am, that's one of the reasons why I'm so passionate about it, but also because I very much would fight for any student who did want to do something, who wasn't quite sure why. I love people. I mean, it's just furthering that, creating a safe space before they even enter the room to let them know that they're welcome.
GW:The problem with clubs generally is they tend to be modelled on the founder. And so my school for a long time, I really struggled to get female students in because it was a bloke running it and most of my students in the first six months or so were my sort of age and male. And it took basically a few brave souls to go, “But I like swords more than I'm intimidated by a bunch of men,” to come in. And then we eventually, maybe in the first year, got up to about thirty five percent female in my club. It was something that I had to like really work at. And it's still only a third on average over that nearly 20 years has been running. It should be 50/50.
LJI: It's better than my current class. So I'm not going to say anything. I feel like having one female helps encourage other females. Because I have friends who run other schools as well. And it's one of those ones they all talk about – trying to acquire that first female is the hardest step. And especially trying to acquire females who aren't necessarily a partner of somebody who already trains there. Just having somebody who can say this is something I want to do and I'm going to go all by myself and this is something I feel completely comfortable doing. Or at least willing to check it out.
GW: Yeah, and it's surprising how big an effect little things can have, like, for example, there's a woman who is one of the committee members of a club that I'm involved with in the States. And she just entirely casually mentioned in passing that she is mad about swords. So she got one of my books. And in my books there are pictures of women doing the thing. It was just a deliberate thing from the very beginning, in my first book, I made sure that there were women in the pictures. She said that was what made her think, OK, it's not just for blokes, girls can do it too. And so she showed up and, you know, within a few years, she was running the club. So, yeah, but those little tiny things can really help. Just having a woman teaching the class is super helpful.
LJI: Yeah, it's why I try to shout to as many events as I physically can just because there was a while where I was the only girl in my classes. I’m pretty okay with that, I do have four brothers and I did grow up with them. I have two older, two younger. I’m smack bang in the middle. So for me, I wasn't super intimidated by or upset by, but I didn't realise how much I was missing it until even now I see a new female walk in and I'm like, “A girl!” I get way too excited.
GW: Yeah, I was actually going to ask how come you were comfortable doing it? But you just answered my question before I even got to it.
LJI: Yeah, four brothers. And you know, there's a couple of things like, as I mentioned, my dad had taught me some real, real basic stuff. I don't remember literally anything he taught me, but I know that it wasn't the first time I’d held a sword because he had given me one to play with when I was younger. Turns out he knows what Hutton’s sabre is. And I just sat there dumbfounded when I worked that out after I'd already been doing it because he just turned to me and said, “Oh, there's only six true cuts in that system isn't there?” And I'm just looking at him like how do you know the things? Turns out my nerdiness comes from him and that makes all the sense in the world. And also at the medieval fair that I did go to, I used to love to watch the jousting and I think everybody who kind of grew up in my age did because we all watched A Knight's Tale and it was awesome. And so we all fell in love with jousting. And the first year I went to go watch the only female jouster won. And for me the thing is then I would have been like 17 or something when I saw that. And for me that was really awesome because that stuck with me.
GW: Do you remember who that was?
LJI: Lady Sarah. At one point I used to recognise her armour off by heart and one year she changed it. And I got really confused because I'm like, she must be not be jousting this year, but it turns out she updated her kit and I didn’t know.
GW: Lady Sarah. She might be a really guest for the show.
LJI: Potentially. A female in martial arts, I think they're always fabulous to talk to, but it was one of those ones where I was actually too intimidated to tell her, even after I started HEMA, that I thought she was amazing. So one of my friends at one point ran up to her and told her and I sat there turning pink.
GW: Did you have a little crush on Lady Sarah then?
LJI: It was just more of one of those ones of I think when you look up to somebody so incredibly, but you don't really know anything about them either. So it's not just like, “Oh, how's this going?” You have no way to pick up a conversation other than, “Hi, I think you're really cool.” Like what? What do you do? I think I’d do a little bit better now, but yeah, at the time I was relatively new even to HEMA. So it was one of those kinds of going to a more experienced female who is within specifically medieval historical martial arts style things. I think I just found it extremely intimidating because I didn't really know, as I said, any other women who did stuff. So I think I just locked on to her as like, look, if she can do that thing and that's a lot scarier than the swords, I should be fine.
GW: There are some people out there who say that representation doesn't matter.
LJI: I know, that confounds me because I know it does. I've literally had students come to the class. I have female students come and be like, “Oh yeah, I saw you at the fair that time, so I thought I'd come along and check it out.” So they are liars, damnable liars.
GW: You mentioned earlier, that you are doing a burlesque performance with a longsword. I'm sure I quite dare ask for the details of the performance. But do you find that there's much connection between your performance work and your sword work?
LJI: I feel like they both really have a lot in similar and then massive differences, so I think awareness of space is very important in both. And I think this routine hilariously just combines that even further, because I'm going to be on a stage on Saturday night and I have never been on this stage before. So I have to go to the tech rehearsal so I can work out how much can I swing this sword before I hit something like a ceiling or another prop or a human. So it's going to be interesting times. I do refer to it currently as my social distancing measuring stick. So I find that that's helpful. I think that being aware of your space understanding, not just footwork, but that there's patterns in footwork. So obviously something like a traditional triangle step that's used quite a lot that we use in longsword. That's a jazz pas de bourree. You can go watch West Side Story and I guarantee you'll see one somewhere because it's just that common. Not to be confused with a ballet pas de bourree, it's very different. It's the other way round. There are certain things that click for me because I don't actually have much of a dance background. I definitely have a stronger HEMA background than a dance background, but it's always interesting to me to see where certain things are in common because, like trying to work out different muscle groups that are used, like a lot of the stuff that you do for HEMA is very similar to a lot of the stuff I'll do for dance leg wise, for the way that we move, because a lot of the time we should make sure that we're stepping offline and recovering. A lot of the time when we're doing dancing, we're not dancing straight forward and back, that would look very odd. I don't think anybody would pay any money to see that. I think people would throw tomatoes. I think they would leave the venue or find a vegetable stall, buy tomatoes, come back and throw tomatoes at me.
GW: Yeah, I remember a long time ago I took tango lessons because I thought it'd be a great way to meet girls because I was single. Didn't work terribly well for that, but I really enjoyed the tango lessons and because I can learn patterns in martial arts, I can do forms and footwork. So I picked up the steps really quite quickly. But the thing that really made it all click was when I understood that it's much more like riding a horse than it is like wrestling, because in riding a well trained horse, you just give the signal and the horse does the thing. And when I figured out that my partner only needed to be given the signal and would then do the thing, I didn't actually have to put them into a dip. I didn’t have to throw them with my hip to get them to do that. I could give them the signal and they would just do it. It took me a couple of lessons and when I made that thing click in my head I got a lot more popular in the class.
LJI: Yes, because you just stopped trying to wrestle with other people. I can imagine you got a lot more popular.
GW: Although I didn't mention the horse analogy because I didn't think it would go down very well.
LJI: Well, I'm not necessarily the best at my social skills, but even I would question that one.
GW: So I had the wit not to mention it in the class, but it's a lot more like riding than it is like wrestling.
LJI: For paired dancing for sure. That would remind me of my paired circus stuff that I've done. A lot of that would be like that because I definitely wouldn't want them to be throwing me into a position because that would wreak all kinds of havoc. But if they gently lead one way or the other or something, I would be able to tell what they wanted me to do and, oh my goodness, I'm a horse.
GW: It is useful to find the aspects of the thing you’ve done before that actually fit the thing you're trying to do.
LJI: Yes. But no, I totally get it. And I love the fact that you've described it as being like a horse, because I describe everything to my students in bizarre and wonderful ways. Paul calls them “Laurenisms”. The other day I made something a Laurenism in less than three seconds after he explained it, because I just needed enough to hear it another way. And I found some students do. You can tell them and you can explain it perfectly, but it just might not sink in. So sometimes just explaining it another way, they're like, oh, that makes sense. So I can't remember what we were doing. I might be able to reverse engineer it from what I said. I think I said it was like the reverse hokey pokey because we must have been going completely out from whatever we did, I think we were throwing a cut but slipping. And I was trying to explain it to new students. And obviously, when I first teach students, I'm trying to teach them to step forward when they cut, so stepping back when you cut probably seems really weird. They finally started building up the proper reaction of, OK, I'm going to cut them, then I'm going to step through that so that my everything lands correctly. So then getting contradicting information about what they're supposed to do on a cut, I think just broke them a little bit because I was so new. So yeah, I just find really weird ways to explain stuff. And that's one of the reasons why I think I am both wonderful and unusual. It's that whole weird and wonderful thing I got happening. So, yeah, as I mentioned, I say that when I'm teaching the eight basic cuts for something like broadsword, I refer to them as pizza cuts because they're quite similar to pizza. I just never heard it explained that way before. And I didn't need it because I learnt the traditional way. I learnt it the grown up way. But I thought of it earlier this year and I sent it to one of two students and I found that I could teach the cuts faster. They retained the information much better between lessons, a whole range of things. And it was just ridiculous how much it helped some students and they were first starting out. So I come up with many, many weird things.
GW: My view is you need as many different ways of explaining things as you have different students.
LJI: Yeah, well, sometimes I ask students if they have a dance background, because if they do, sometimes it means, depending on the type of dance they've done, they prefer to watch me do footwork from behind because that's the only way their brain will pick it up. So stuff like that where I will try and gauge the person and ask weird questions and just work out how do they best learn. And it does mean that sometimes I have to explain the one thing in many different weird ways, but we usually find one that helps.
GW: When I was learning to drive, the hardest part about the control of the car is the clutch control, usually, for those of us who use a stick, we call it manual. Americans call it stick. And my mum's a piano teacher. So she tried to teach me clutch control by listening to the pitch of the engine, which made perfect sense to her. It just did not work for me at all.
LJI: It would not work for me either.
GW: And this chap was visiting and he ended up giving me a driving lesson. I can’t remember exactly why, but that’s just how it worked out. And he explained the mechanics of how a clutch actually works. You know, the two plates, and then I was like, oh, oh, OK. And literally I had reasonably good clutch control ten minutes later.
LJI: Yeah. Because you understood the mechanics behind it.
GW: Exactly. So I needed the mechanics explanation, the listen to the pitch of the engine thing just didn't work for me at all. And the same is true with teaching pretty much anything. If the explanation fits how your brain is already trained to work, then if it makes things clearer and if it doesn't, then it's just another layer of difficulty you're adding on top of the existing difficulty I find.
LJI: I really don't care what people think when, because I know that some people look at me funny when I say my weird Laurenisms, but I love so much the idea of just helping make it more accessible for even one person, because we're very lucky that we live now in an age where we can easily find many different manuals on the Internet and a lot of people in HEMA have done extra hard work to make them physically accessible. So you can download a PDF and congratulations. You know, there's plenty that you can get. And I've downloaded a couple from different websites and schools, but I struggle sometimes reading the old manuals, and I'm not the only person. I can read Shakespeare, it's English and that's fine, but I struggle with mauals, which to me makes no sense. I would have thought that my brain would be fine, but I think it's because I need to physically write down now what I think it means to help. But yes, as accessible as it is, the information out there now, I think we now just need to work on translating that into things that people will be able to understand. And I think that's such an important part of what we do as teachers and assistant teachers and just other people in HEMA who have more experience in general.
GW: Yeah, and you're not alone finding the manuals difficult. I mean, they are generally not written for us. That comes across really, really clearly when often they're referring to an assumed body of knowledge that we just don't have or we have had to acquire through other means. So do you do any other languages or are you just dealing with English manuals?
LJI: Mostly British swordsmanship. I have done some Iberian great sword. I did some Figueiredo’s Montante for a while and that's been translated really well into English. But it's also so literal and because there's no pictures for it you have to try and guess for certain parts if you haven't seen somebody else do it, what you think it is. Or even then I know I interpret some parts different to how I've seen certain other people interpret different things. So it's just interesting to see how that works because I did sit down and go through all the simple plays to see what I thought they were. And then only after I’d really looked at them, went to YouTube to look up and see if there was a general consensus about what they are and how on or off track I was with those.
GW: OK, and how close were you?
LJI: Most of them were fine because with the simple plays they are just that. So it's just like throw in the right foot and do a talho or reves, things like that, or it'll describe what you're doing. I love that the plays are named after certain things, like the way that you're supposed to like defend a bridge or a river or different things. So when you have that image in mind, I think it helps you work out a lot of the real simple ones. I think it's only the way that I bring a sword after I do a descending blow from my right shoulder and bring it around to my left ear. I think I do that a bit differently to some other people.
GW: I’ve done joint locks on you and I can tell you that your shoulders do work a bit differently to most people.
LJI: Yes. Which is why I any time I do stuff like this, I have to hand it to another person and be like, “Do this and tell me if you feel pain, if you feel pain, it's probably wrong.”
GW: OK, now I have a couple of questions that I tend to finish up with. And the first is, what's the best idea you've never acted on?
LJI: See that's a good question. I'd say only from a performer’s point of view. I once wanted to start up a theatre company, but I almost kept waiting for permission because I was supposed to start it with a friend and it just kept being delayed because I really wanted to produce stuff. One of the easiest ways in Sydney to be in a show is to put one on. A lot of people I know started from small things like that. And yeah, because I kept kind of waiting for this other person rather than just taking the initiative, I think that was probably something I haven't done. But in my everyday life, I think for me it's usually like affection, I'm not, as I've mentioned, not necessarily great at social things. And I struggle sometimes to know when it's appropriate to, like, hug someone. So I feel like occasionally I've missed out on some awesome hugs.
GW: Oh, that's really interesting. And so the best idea you never acted on is hugging someone.
LJI: All right, and there aren't many things in life more important than hugs. So what are you going to do about that?
LJI: Well, we're still currently in a pandemic, so I can't really hug anyone, so wait for the pandemic to end or get vaccines or whatever. I do then plan to travel. And I know several of my international friends who I've never even met in real life, who would be dying for a good hug. OK, well, I call her my Welsh twin, but Esther, who goes to the Academy of Historical Fencing, we joke saying that we're either twins or I call sometimes my HEMA wife, stuff like that, because we are really close and it's weird because we miss each other, but we've never physically met each other. So there are lots of lots of hugs to be had, hugs and castles.
GW: Hugs and castles, OK?
LJI: That’s what I’m looking forward to in Wales!
GW: OK, so your Welsh sword wife is actually in Wales, OK?
GW: So you’ll be coming through London, which is only a couple of hours from where I live. So maybe I can catch up with you in London and give you a hug there.
LJI: I reckon.
GW: Excellent. OK, so last question, somebody gives you a million dollars to spend on improving historical martial arts worldwide. How would you spend it?
LJI: Oh. So many things I want to do, and I think part of it is change its look a little bit. I think most of the promotions we see even now, they're still mostly done with middle aged white dudes in them. I love a lot of them, a lot of them are my good friends. I adore you, but I'd love to see something with more diversity in it, something that concentrates more on not necessarily just a bunch of dudes fighting. So I feel like I don't know how you do that. I don't know how, even if you created it with a beautiful, diverse thing, how you then advertise that to the masses to try and draw people in. Yeah, I don't know, I'll say fund myself a little bit because I do want to start a YouTube channel where I do try and break down a lot of how stuff works and why it works. We do have a lot of wonderful videos already available. But I don't know. I think I would like to just talk about how like why stuff works. I do talk often about the mechanics of why we do certain things in sword. I will never tell anybody do it this way because I said so. I feel like a lot of that stuff only really gets talked about at workshops. I know from having been to workshops. Stuff like the ground path for which we get the terminology from that from you. Pretty much that's how we've ended up with that. I will always explain that to my students and I take the time to do that, despite the fact that I often get this look of like, “Why are we not throwing cuts right now? We could be fighting,” but explaining to them why it works as a principle. It means that I can literally ask them what they did wrong later. And they know that they can self-correct better because even if you give it to them. They can be like, oh, I didn't do this or I did do that.
GW: I remember teaching Paul Wagner the idea of ground paths back in I think it was one of the WMAWs in Wisconsin and the look on his face, and he was like, “Oh, that's so cool.” And he just started applying it to all his stuff. When I went to Australia a year or so later, there he was actually using it all the time.
LJI: Yes, I get it for him because he is my teacher, so I've picked it up from him. So I explain it to all my students. It has a legacy. Now, you've done this on the other side of the globe. It's spreading.
GW: OK, but you're still sitting on a pile of like a million. Two million Australian.
LJI: I don't know, maybe helping people who…. might need stuff for… I'm trying to explain something and I'm doing it a really bad way. I feel like a lot of HEMA right now is a little bit ableist.
GW: Oh, yeah, for sure.
LJI: I feel like trying to help people who might not be either in the best fighting form or they might have other reasons why they're struggling with that, to be able to do something necessarily as capable as others and find ways to potentially help them. Because where I do Lyra, we have the answer. And the one of the instructors, she's deaf. So that's been really interesting having her as a teacher, because I had to learn some sign so that I can communicate with her in class and it's another one of those things that makes me just very aware, because we have had also in the classes that I've attended where I do my aerials we've had one or two deaf students and they've had somebody there to translate for them. And I thought how wonderful that is of an idea. But also, is there a way we can be doing something to help people who are differently abled? I don't know the politically correct term is, but also I think we rely so much on this idea of you have to be at peak fitness to be able to do everything. And that's not me. I am also not best fighter in the world. So I don't know, maybe I'd try and do things to try and show HEMA as something other than like this sportified as it often appears as for, you know, like halfway between Buhurt and Olympic fencing. I'd like to think we're a bit more than that. We are definitely quite a community. And I think that's a large part of why I love it so much, because I love so many people in it. And yeah, I think it's making it appear more friendly and just giving voices to those who would otherwise go unheard and potentially funding other people's projects and things. We have the Australasian Western Martial Arts Convention in Sydney that we normally hold every year or two. And obviously it couldn’t go ahead this year. But there's a couple instructors that we'd love to get that we just don't know whether or not we'd be able to, so maybe helping fund teachers being able to go overseas and teach places they might not be able to because the school can't afford it or things like that. So just finding ways to help and help spread the good word of HEMA.
GW: This podcast is completely useless to deaf people, obviously, although we are providing transcriptions which are going up slowly on my website, which I hadn’t actually thought of that as a way of making the podcast more approachable to deaf people. But of course it actually is. But I do know that there have been blind fencers in the past and in fact one of the best wrestlers I ever met was completely blind. Because, you know, with wrestling, if you can start with contact you don't need to see. But yeah, I would love to find a way of making medieval swordsmanship, because it is so fucking cool, making it available to people who are blind is a good starting point. I've had wheelchair students and it is actually quite straightforward to figure out what they can do because they will just tell you what they can do. And then you put a sword in their hands and they grin a lot and then you figure out how they can swing it around, and it's not easy, but it's relatively straightforward. But how do you make a roomful of blind people holding longswords or even just a roomful of people where maybe about 10 percent of them are blind, how do you make that a safe and useful training environment for everyone?
LJI: That could be a really interesting concept, but it's one of those ones that obviously you need to get those people in the room and feel like this is a thing where I come to you and to help you with it, which for all those kinds of things is, as I said, something a million dollars could go towards start-up capital to run interest groups and to try and workshop things and work out what different people's limitations realistically are. Because obviously, some styles of fencing often involve having the swords actually touch to start with. And from there you can feel pressure. So I feel like that could potentially be a starting point for people who don't necessarily have sight, because then they can use pressure and see what's happening there. And obviously starting with more linear systems and then building out from there, being like OK, well, that's something that start with.
GW: Smallsword would be an obvious place to start.
LJI: If you have that as the base knowledge to build from what can they do on top of that. Because from smallsword, I feel like you could then build up to something like spadroon because then you're starting to throw cuts in there and then it would be one of those ones that would have to vary. I'm not sure whether or not people would be able to start with something like a longsword from the get go. But it might be worth looking at. But yeah, it's something that we just we haven't done the research on, so we’re not quite sure.
GW: Yeah, I've done quite a bit of blindfold fencing, but obviously that's not the same, because on the one hand I don't have the experience of being blind, and so when I can't see because I've got a blindfold on, I I'm not used to that. That by itself is disorienting. Whereas if you're actually blind, then you've got used to that and you're not relying on sight for balance. You're more attuned to your environment through other senses, that sort of thing. So if any blind person is listening to this and you're interested in this as a problem, then please do get in touch and we'll see if we can work together and do something to actually make historical martial arts more accessible to blind people. That'll be marvellous. Good idea? But we don't have a billion dollars, so we’ll have to do it on a shoestring.
LJI: But we do have a community. I'm sure they'd be happy to get behind and help.
GW: OK. Although we didn't actually get much in the way of specifics on how we are going to spend your million dollars, Lauren, we did come up with a good idea.
LJI: I think if I had it, I have to be like, all right, what do I want that we can practically accomplish because I have so many things I want to do. I would love to see more female teachers travelling. I feel like for a lot of female teachers, they're held back often, either because one reason or another. Either there is a more senior male teacher or because they have family that they have obligations to or other things like that, whether it's traditional roles, either in the house or otherwise, they don't feel like they can drop as easily to be able to do that or maybe funding for all representation in general for people who don't have it. Because, as I said, as much as I love my middle aged white guys in HEMA and I'd love, love, love to see, see more of it, because I haven't seen that many people of different diversity, because in Sydney we are much of a muchness and I, I encourage that as much as possible. So finding people around, advertising, making us seem more cheerful and community-based rather than necessarily a sporting thing. I feel like that would be a start.
GW: Well, I think that would be a great way to spend the money.
LJI: Oh, and also maybe training people up to do sword making and stuff so we can start making things at a cheaper cost, or helping teach people who are interested in selling so that we can help with making cheaper gambesons or making it more accessible to places that aren't. It's really hard to get kit in Australia. And everything is so expensive, because postage is evil so often it’ll cost the same amount for the product as it will to ship it. And that's a bit sad sometimes. So maybe it's almost selfish wishful thinking, but I want a lot and can't specify all of it.
GW: OK, well, maybe you need more than a million dollars.
GW: Well, thank you very much for talking to me today Lauren, it’s been a delight.
LJI: That's all good. Thank you very much for having me.