The Sword Guy Podcast, episode 41
Joanna Penn is a writer (both fiction and non-fiction), podcaster and ultramarathon walker. She doesn’t do swords, or even a lot of history, but she has been a huge influence on my work and this podcast. We don’t talk about martial arts in this episode, but we do discuss physical training, accomplishing goals, and Joanna’s medieval-style pilgrimage from London’s Southwark Cathedral to Canterbury Cathedral in Kent. That’s 182 km or 113 miles on foot. This took place in 2020, which was the 850th anniversary of the martyrdom of Thomas Becket, and we discuss cadaver tombs, memento mori, and what taking such a very long walk teaches you. To read more about Joanna’s pilgrimage, see:
And a list of questions to consider when taking a pilgrimage:
For all Joanna Penn’s books, links to her podcast, blog, and support for writers, where you will find resources to help you write, publish and market your book, as well as make a living with your writing: https://www.thecreativepenn.com/
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: Joanna, welcome to the show.
JP: Oh, thanks for having me, Guy. Or shall I call you The Sword Guy?
GW: You'd be the first person in history to do so.
JP: I'm sure.
GW: OK, now the first question is, whereabouts are you?
JP: I am in Bath in the south west of England and it is raining right now. Surprise! February in Bath.
GW: OK, so I know you've written a book with a colleague called Dr Euan Lawson about healthy writers, how to be a healthy writer. And you've talked a bit about how you went from being relatively unfit and in shoulder pain and arm pain and things like that to being hopefully in a lot less pain apart from this ghastly frustration of the pandemic. So could you just sort of give us an overview of how you got from where you started to where you are now?
JP: Yeah, sure. So I think the biggest thing is about when you're in a lot of physical pain, I'm sure people who do swords a lot end up with pain in different places. And so when I ended up with pain, mainly in my shoulder, my left shoulder, and I was in so much pain at this point that I ended up crying in the shower. And it got really, really bad. And this was after 25 years of desk work and just generally the sedentary life, as you mentioned – being someone who types all day, every day, is not very healthy. So what I would say is I pretty much hit rock bottom. So over the last decade I guess I've been peeling off the layers of pain. I used to get migraines and I fixed that. And over the years I've done various things, but this shoulder pain really was just way too much. So that was when I eventually went to see a specialist. And that would be one tip. I mean, I've had personal trainers for over a decade. I've been going to the gym, I've done yoga, but actually it was seeing a specialist who specialises in the area that I was in pain for. And then essentially there was no quick fix. And this is another typical thing with health is that I essentially had to change my posture. So people listening, if you are hunched over and your shoulders are rolling forward, what I have to do is retrain the middle of my back muscles to pull my shoulders back and have a better posture for writing, but also for living, in order that I can do things like reach overhead. So where I am now is quite a long way, even from when I saw you, when I had been doing ultramarathons for a while and I had been doing a lot of activity. But it was never specifically training various muscle groups. So where I am now is I do weight training twice a week with an online trainer at the moment, it used to be in person. I still do long walks, I walk every day in lock down obviously, and then have longer walks. But I have changed my remedial behaviour. So I'm standing up now doing the podcast and I have weights in my office where I do various things. So it's really about changing your attitude to this quick fix, which I feel often happens with health. It's like, oh, I'll just take a pill, but really retraining muscle groups in order to be more functional. And I think that definitely relates to sword work. I mean, the whole point is functional, right?
GW: Absolutely. Yeah. And so much of my job is getting modern clerical workers in a fit physical condition to do medieval martial arts. A lot of it is, as you say, retraining the body to move in a way that isn't going to hurt it. We have loads of specifics because, of course, we're not just about not injuring ourselves, but also very much about injuring other people, in a totally consensual way, of course. So for us, the study of the mechanics also applies to how do you break things, which is really useful. In fact, I had a serious issue with my wrists for a long time in the 90s, so bad that I had to actually choose between doing swords and actually being able to work the next day, it was that bad. It was just awful. And this friend of mine who's a kung fu instructor, he fixed my wrists in about 20 minutes with this massage and then he gave me these exercises to do. And the massage really helped, but it was the exercises that kept it helping.
JP: Yeah, I mean, I also went to physio. I used to go to physio every week and physios are great. I'm not dissing physio at all, but it's a bit like taking a pill. It helps for a short amount of time. But in order to fix the problem long term, you have to fix the underlying issue. And it was interesting, even today, I have a very tight right hip. So when I walk now, for example, again, when you and I went to the Isle of Wight, I didn't really know about having such a tight right hip. But now I do certain exercises before I walk to loosen those muscles. And my trainer today said, “Do you know your hip mobility is getting a lot better? That is also related to your shoulders.” And it's so interesting, you know? Because I have a number of degrees, I feel like I'm very educated in my brain, but I feel like the physical education that we need to do things is lacking generally in our modern society. You know, it's like, oh, go for a run or do yoga or whatever, but it's not about how the anatomy works. And as you say about with your swords, you are aiming at particular places in people's bodies. So maybe you know more about anatomy. But for me, I'm learning all the time about how certain muscle groups do certain things. And what to stretch in order to do something else. And I feel like it's so missing and so necessary. And I'm a writer, you know, I don't particularly do anything very difficult in my daily life. But having a functional body at age 46, which is what I am in a couple of weeks, is what I need to do. And my goal is to be fitter and fitter as I approach 50. And moving on, I want to do more and more as opposed to less and less. And for women particularly, weight training is so important and yet it's so undervalued, for women because they're often worried that it might bulk you up too much or all of these things, whereas actually, bone density and all of these things are so important for health. And I mean, hopefully one of the silver linings of the pandemic, might be that we do take our health a lot more seriously. Think about these things in more of a holistic way rather than just say, oh, my wrist hurts, so I'll fix my wrist or oh, my shoulder hurts, I'll fix my shoulder.
GW: Yeah, and with the pandemic, we're also seeing how important things are, like just being able to go out of the house and talk to people, to our general health. There's a very strong correlation between mental health and physical health. And if you're in a bad mental health place, it's really difficult to get the energy together to do the physical health stuff that you need to do. So the fact that people are stuck at home, yeah, they're taking things seriously. But I think a lot of people are finding it more difficult to exercise and do the healthy things because they're not getting the mental health side of things addressed at the same time.
JP: Yeah, I agree with you and that's why I do a Zoom online with my personal trainer. And there are definitely days when if I didn't have an appointment with him, I wouldn't do it because I don't feel that way. So probably my tip, if people are feeling like that, is do something that is actually scheduled at a particular time. I also have the Apple Plus Fitness with my watch when you can do classes any time, but those you can say, “Oh, I don't feel like it,” and nobody is saying, “Where are you?” So I think that's important to try and schedule things at a particular time. And then you have to turn up and do it or you have to pay for it anyway. And so that's the kind of shortcuts that I think we all have to find these ways of dealing with. Right?
GW: Yeah. And the way I dealt with it, one morning in June last year, I got up and I was going to do my usual callisthenics training stuff before breakfast. And I did two squats and one push up and thought, fuck it, that’ll do.
JP: That's better than nothing.
GW: Then I thought, you know what? This is probably not leading me towards my long term goals. Probably not. So what I did was I actually started a training session where I would get up and do my training and my students could join in three mornings a week, Monday, Wednesday, Friday, eight thirty to nine thirty. And because they are showing up, even if just one person shows up I still have to be there and do it. And having a student there means I have to set a good example, which means I have to do it properly and I have to do it with a reasonable level of intensity. And it was a fantastic hack for me because I'm by nature a teacher. If I wasn't teaching swords, I’d be teaching something else. I don't even have to think about am I going to do any training this week, because I know that Monday, Wednesday, Friday, I'll be doing an hour of solid, proper, thorough training, which is not a lot, but it's an awful lot more than nothing.
JP: Yeah, absolutely. And in fact, I mean this is the recipe to achieve anything. I mean, you and I both write books. And if you want to write a book, actually people say all the time, “I wish I had the time to write a book.” But what you have to do is schedule the time to write a book. So, today, for example, I did a couple of hours before this thinking about my next project and trying to consider where it might fit in the market. And the other day I spent a couple of hours dictating my next short story. So you actually have to make the time to do the things you want to achieve. You mentioned your long term goals. I have goals there on my wall about writing. And the only way we get to do these things, even our long walk, for example, you know that you have to train for these things. And then in order to achieve it, you have to put the time aside. So it probably is the number one tip, if you want to achieve anything, is you actually have to schedule the time. And I use Google Calendar. I put everything pretty much in there so that I know. I don't put eating in there, but I'd put pretty much everything else.
GW: Yeah, I use whiteboards. I'm not good with any kind of online calendar thing. They are alright
for appointments. But my brain doesn't work that way for scheduling time. But yes, I have whiteboards, even stuck on doors and things. And that's how I keep my, my brain working and scheduling things I want to do. Now, you mentioned in passing a little while ago and I made a note to bring you back to it: you used to get migraines and you don't anymore. And I have students who have who suffer from migraines and the general thing they get told there's no way to fix them, but your experience is different. So, how did you do it?
JP: Well, I think of health as like an onion, which is you peel off one layer because something is the most urgent thing and then you find something else. So, for example, like my shoulder pain and now discovering this tight right hip, I know it doesn't sound related, but it is. And the same with my headaches. So first of all, I'm an introvert and I used to work in an open plan office with around 400 people on the same floor.
GW: Oh, I couldn't do that.
JP: I know. This was this was over a decade ago now. And this was before it was acceptable to wear headphones at work. So if anyone listening is a millennial and younger, I think now it's acceptable to wear headphones, but it wasn't acceptable to wear headphones. So one reason for my migraines was literal sensation overload every day, so that was one reason. When I actually gave up that job, that really helped. That was a big deal. But it's crazy. I didn't realise it, but I was popping painkillers every day. Every single day. Which is really bad because I had to work and I had headaches all the time. So one question would be what is going on in your environment that is a stress, because mine was very much a stress headache. So that would be one thing. Second thing, again, I'm not sure if this is just women, but I definitely used to have hormonal related headaches so they would come and go at particular points in the cycle. So that is something also and you can change your pill, for example, and that can help. So that also went away for me when I changed my pill. And those were my two main reasons for me. So it was more environmental and hormonal than anything else. To be honest, I still occasionally will get a migraine when I have spent way too long at the computer at night. So, for example, I used to do a lot more webinars at night and I would the next day have this sort of brain hangover from all of that. Again, it’s sensation overload. So if people listening, if you identify as an introvert, someone who gets energy from being alone and introverts also are very sensitive to noise and light and sound. And if you're tired particularly, all of that can just overload your brain and that can give you a headache. So I'm not saying that's the same for everyone, but that was definitely for me.
GW: Okay, interesting. Yeah, I would imagine it was something to do with your spine but no, that’s quite different.
JP: Completely different.
GW: Yeah, it's funny, the shoulder is connected to the hip and it would be left shoulder, right hip and for us when we're looking at power generation, all of these things are interconnected. So the power is being basically delivered out of the body through these interconnecting systems which run from your toes all the way out to your fingers. And it's really common that a student will be having some issue, they’ll experience pain in their elbow, for instance. But really, once we get that back leg working properly, the pain goes away because those muscles aren't having to compensate for something that's lacking somewhere else.
JP: That's exactly right. And that would be another tip is all personal trainers are not alike. And trainers I've had in the past who have been focussed on, say, cardio activity. A lot of people will go to a personal trainer and say, I need to lose some weight. And that's probably what I did with trainers in the past. So they will get you doing cardio stuff and that. But my trainer now, Dan, I went to him with “I cannot lift my arm above my head and I'm in chronic shoulder pain.” So what I found was a trainer who works on functional movement and now my shoulder is pretty much fixed as long as I do all of the Cuban presses and I do all the maintenance work that I need to do. But now we've moved on to lots of other things because he understands the functional movement. So this would be my tip for people. If you want to really have a good personal trainer, you need to look for people who work on the whole body, the functional stuff. So, you know, he'll say, well, we're not going to do that because that is completely pointless. We're going to do this exercise, which, as you say, will integrate your whole postural chain or whatever. So that's something I've really been reflecting on recently is, my goodness, I spent probably a decade paying people around the wrong thing.
GW: It’s easily done. Because exercise is exercise, right? You’re either fit or you’re not.
JP: Yes. Now I try and think about it as movement rather than exercise. I love lifting my kettle bells and I love our longer walks. But what I know with walking is it doesn't do the same thing. So I love doing all these different things. But yes, I think exactly what you're saying is don't assume it's the thing that hurts. It might just be something else.
GW: Yeah, absolutely. And the effect on your body of walking five miles is going to be completely different to the effect on your body of picking up a 10 kilo weight and putting it over your head. Different motion, different levels of repetition, different level of stress, it is just going to have a different effect. So I like to balance things out, so I'm doing some strength stuff, some mobility stuff, some breathing exercises and some, I don't really think of it as endurance exactly, but getting to the point where it is hard to keep my breathing steady and then keeping it steady anyway.
JP: Yes, you talked about squats before – this morning with Dan we did a whole load of squats and I mean, seriously, if you want cardio, just do a whole load of weighted squats and you'll be breathing heavy. But it is interesting, isn't it? Also, again, for a woman, I think this pride in being strong is really important. I think for a man that's always been the way, you want to be a strong man. That's what it’s partly to do with. But as a woman, the benefit of being strong is not emphasised enough. So I think that's really important, too. If anyone's listening, whether it's yourself or your family, it's so good for your health to do weighted exercise. It can just be body weight. But I think over time, adding other weights is important for not just maintenance, but improvement.
GW: Yeah. And you come across the idea quite a lot that you pick up a weight a couple of times and suddenly you’re bulging with muscle like Arnold Schwarzenegger. It's like, do you know how hard those people work to look like that? I don’t have the time.
JP: Well, and also it's interesting because a kilo of muscle or a pound of muscle takes up less space than a pound of fat or a kilo of fat. So I'm getting leaner as I'm getting more muscle, which is awesome.
GW: And the more muscle you have, the easier it is to burn fat and other things because you have more of the tissue that actually does that.
JP: Exactly. Which is all exciting. But I do want to come back to, you've used the word exercise, and I think this was a massive mindset shift for me, which is exercise to me was always a punishment. It was always the kind of “I must exercise to offset the food I'm going to eat.”
GW: Oh, no. Eat this and you must be punished with exercise. That’s dreadful.
JP: Or at school. You know, I'm a bookish, introverted child and I still am. And it was punishment to have to go and play hockey or go swimming or whatever. So for me, it was a big mindset shift to say, do you know what, I love working out? I love movement. I love walking. So that's why I try and call it movement or weights or whatever. I try not to call exercise because it feels more negative. It's like you said about the mental health, I feel so good after I work out that that's the reward. And even if I start feeling terrible at the beginning, I can feel so much better once I do it. And so again, you start off by doing this stuff to avoid pain and then eventually you're enjoying it so much, you do it for the pleasure of actually doing it.
GW: One of the great things about swords is that people who just can't abide the whole idea of exercise will get up and swing the sword around because swords are cool and they want to use swords. And, you know, honestly, if I needed a rational justification for the job I do, it would be an awful lot of people are moving an awful lot more because they're doing it with swords, otherwise they would be stuck on the sofa.
JP: That is a very good point. And in fact, if you used a sword as like a weight training thing, you could have a whole new video series.
GW: OK, OK, OK. This is really important from a sword person's perspective. For us, the sword is a labour saving device because what it does is it makes it much easier to hit people from further away and it takes much less energy to kill somebody with a sharp sword than it does to kill them with your fists. So I know people who do “swordacise” stuff. But I absolutely never go anywhere near that for the reason that I want people to perceive the sword as a thing that makes something easier rather than the thing that makes something harder. So we have kettlebells to make a motion more difficult or squats or whatever to make a motion more difficult. But the sword makes the motion easier because you don't have to go so far and you don't have to use that much effort to actually stick it through. So there's a strong psychological component about how you relate to your tools. It's like if you're writing a book, the reason you use a computer and Scrivener is because it's a damn sight easier to do that than to write it all out by hand.
JP: That is true. I wouldn't try kill someone with my laptop when writing words.
GW: Excellent. OK, now you mentioned walking ultramarathons and things like that. And I know that recently you did a pilgrimage from Southwark Cathedral in London to Canterbury Cathedral in Kent, 182 kilometres, 113 miles on foot in six days. This is a really medieval thing to do, and I know you have an educational background in that sort of study. So what was it like? What did you get out of it?
JP: Yes, sure. So, yes, I did what's known as the Pilgrim’s Way or the Becket Way from Southwark Cathedral, which is a thousand years of Christianity right there. And so that church is obviously in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, that's the route the pilgrims went. And so Canterbury, Saint Thomas Beckett, was martyred there eight hundred and fifty years ago from 2020. And so it was a chance, I mean there was this whole thing last year “Becket 2020” for the anniversary. But obviously with Covid all of that got cancelled. But you'll remember the brief time between lockdown one and lockdown two.
GW: Yes. Those halcyon days.
JP: Yes, they were. And that was mid-October. So I was like, do you know what? I'm just going to do it anyway. So, yes, I have a Master's in Theology and my arcane thrillers are all about religious history and different relics and religious sites.
GW: But with blowing stuff up, killing people and Satan coming. I wouldn't want anybody to think they were boring at all.
JP: Oh, no, no, no. I mean, lots and lots of death and murder and a few swords, but mostly despicable things. They are thrillers and crime novels. Yes. Thank you for that. But I decided that well, all of my books are based on my travels. And what happened was everything got cancelled and I ran out of book ideas. So I was like, I need to write a book in England. I know, I'll go to Canterbury and do something based on the martyrdom of Becket and that will get me out the house. I can do a really long walk on my own. It was a challenge because I haven't actually done a multiday solo walking with maps thing before. And some days are really big, like 40K in a day, which is, you know, we've done 50k in a day, but day after day after day is tough. So it would be a physical challenge, an emotional challenge. I'll learn stuff, I'll see some cool places and essentially I will get a book out of it. So it is medieval in that, for a religious perspective, I'm not a Christian, so it was more of a historical cultural research trip. But still, I mean, Gothic cathedrals. If you love swords, you probably love Gothic Cathedrals. I mean, they are gorgeous. And Southwark and Canterbury are Gothic, obviously, Canterbury is an incredible Gothic Cathedral. I love taking pictures of architecture. I'm an architecture geek, so I wanted to do all of that. I also am going to write a travel book at some point and I have the books and travel podcast and I've done a solo episode on the pilgrimage. So it did so much more than what you'd think six days would have accomplished, which I was so pleased about, because the day I finished it, I was quite tired obviously, and I thought I haven't had some big epiphany about anything. But what I found over the next couple of weeks is that by reviewing everything and reviewing my journal over that time, I actually did have some realisations about, for example, Memento Mori. Remember you will die. I know swordsmen love that too. But there are these wonderful cadaver tombs and there's one at Canterbury and the one in Southwark, which is a 12th century cadaver tomb. And a cadaver tomb is different to a normal medieval tomb because it has a dead body, as in a corpse, a cadaver on the top of it, whereas normally everyone puts the knight in his full armour, looking as if he's just asleep or whatever, whereas a cadaver tomb has the dead body on top of the tomb. And the one at Southwark is just the cadaver. And at Canterbury it is right near the altar. It is the archbishop at the top. He's there in his finery. And then underneath there's a second layer with him wrapped in the shroud and dead. And he had that built something like twenty years before he actually died. And he would preach his sermon looking at his own dead body in the tomb. That is really cool.
GW: That's hardcore. And these effigies, they're carved in the stone of the monument?
JP: Medieval tombs have the monument on top. Yeah.
GW: I say it because at Pisa, you know, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, when I went there with my wife and kids a while ago, the one thing my kids really liked about that trip, other than drawing the leaning tower of Pisa, that was quite cool, is inside the cathedral, to them it was all quite boring, except San Ranieri is there in his glass coffin and you can see his actual dead body. It's right there.
JP: There we go. That's religious relics for you, gotta love them.
GW: Yeah. And the kids were like, it’s a real dead body! That’s so cool!
JP: And then most people, when they get older, they kind of lose how cool it is. I'm still that little kid. I still go visit dead bodies in cathedrals. But what's interesting about Canterbury Cathedral, obviously, it’s not Catholic. It's high Anglican. It's the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury. And actually, the medieval relic of Becket is in the tiny Catholic Church outside the gate. So if you go and visit, you can go see some of the relics of Becket, but they're not in the cathedral. What you have is this beautiful sword. I don't know if you've seen the picture, it's called The Martyrdom, which is the site of the martyrdom. And it’s two swords and a cross, but made out of swords, basically, because it was for knights who murdered Becket by chopping his head and stirring up the brains. It's all very gruesome, but interesting.
GW: This is what swords are for.
JP: Exactly. Well, that's where it is. I haven't written the book as we're recording this, but Day of the Martyr will be coming out sometime in 2021 and it will no doubt have some gruesome things.
GW: If it has any swordfights, feel free to run it by me first.
JP: Well, this is the issue is my books are all set in present times, but sometimes people do have some swords. But, you know, they look at them and maybe lean on them, right?
GW: Yeah, exactly. I know you haven’t actually written a sword fighting book. Is that ever going to happen, do you think?
JP: Well, I do have a brief sword sort of fight in Map of Shadows which is my Map Walker series, it is like the world off the edge of the map, which is this other realm. And they come through the gate into the middle of Bath, this sort of shadow gate, and emerge into Bath. And they have more primitive weapons, so they have swords. And so there is a brief sword thing in the middle of Bath in the circus. But it's not very long. And then Day of the Vikings. I do have a sword that's rolled up. I'm sure people know that the sword that's rolled up can't be used and is a cursed Viking relic, basically. So, yeah, I have a few swords, but no real sword fight. I mean, if you think that the sword is an effective way to kill someone from a long way off, the gun is even more effective.
GW: Yeah, no argument there. The problem with the gun is all you can do with it is attack.
JP: That's true, although it is in itself a defence, people would argue.
GW: It has a psychological defence of I am armed, I can shoot you if you move. But there's no way to use the gun to actually deal with attacks. You can only use it to threaten and attack or to actually attack. I like shooting. Back when I lived in Finland, I owned several pistols and shooting is super fun. But I actually had this hour long conversation with a philosopher called Damon Young after I interviewed him for my podcast a while ago. And we just got chatting afterwards and I accidentally left the microphone running, completely accidentally. And then we ended up discussing, what is a sword, philosophically speaking? What actually makes a weapon a sword? When does a big knife become a sword, why is a spear not a sword? What is really the difference? And it went into all sorts of funny places. But one of the things we were talking about is the sword is one of the few weapons which you can actually use one part of it for defence and the other part for attack. It has a defensive component and an offensive component, which are separate areas of the same blade. So you just don't get that with guns.
JP: That is very true, but I am only a fiction writer. That sounds like one of your books, not my books.
GW: It's definitely one of my books, not your books. OK, so it's often the case that epiphanies come by stages or you realise maybe a week or a month or a year after something happened that it's changed you in a particular way. So what really did you learn from your pilgrimage?
JP: Oh, well, what I did every day was I had a list of questions, so maybe we can link to that in the show notes because they are questions for life as much as anything. So I wrote a whole page of questions and I stuck them in the middle of my journal or the front page of my journal for the trip. And every day I would think about these various questions. And so, for example, what am I carrying and what am I leaving behind? What is behind me and what is in front of me? Questions that can be very obvious, a bit like your philosophy of swords. Or they can be quite deep and meaningful. And what I came to in the end was the transience and permanence of everything. And in a way, it's not deep and meaningful. I was walking in autumn, so the leaves were falling down as I walked, the transience of nature, I was walking the North Downs way, basically, the permanence of these hills and the transitory nature of my steps across them, for example, or in Canterbury Cathedral, I went to the evensong, which is fantastic in Latin. And as I said, I'm not a Christian, but if you fail to feel something in sung evensong in a Gothic cathedral, there's something wrong with you. This sort of the transitory nature of song, every single note disappears so quickly. And yet you're within this permanence, a thousand year old permanence of cathedral and the stone. And so I think it helped. I mean, I write about life and death and good and evil a lot in my books. It's one of my overarching themes. And again, Memento Mori, remember you will die. The transience. I mean, you and I in the pandemic right now, it feels both transient and permanent, it feels like it will never end. It's been going on for so long. And then every day passes and you go through the emotions and one day we're going to wake up and it will be over and it will feel transitory. It doesn't feel like that now, but it will. And on the walk, for example, as well, the transitory emotions, talking back to the physical self, some moments I felt strong and well and upbeat. I was striding across the landscape and I was just like, yes, I am fantastic and here's my pack and I'm free and all this. And then sometimes I would just be like, oh, my goodness, I feel ugly and heavy. And the world is against me. My physical body was no different but I felt differently. So much of that came from reflecting on the transience and permanence of each of these stages of the journey and in fact, life. I think a pilgrimage generally is a physical movement from one place to another for a reason that you consider important. It can be secular. It doesn't have to be religious, but equally, it usually is a movement from one place to another. For me, it has enough meaning, more meaning, as I said, than the amount of time it took. And I am planning my next one.
GW: Yeah. And it should lead to a sense of transformation of some kind. I just had a thought about what you were just saying, it's as if feelings in the body are as songs in a cathedral.
JP: Yeah, transitory. Although most of the time the songs in the cathedral are glorious and uplifting in some way. But, yeah, the feelings in the body are so transitory. And then, of course, we're looking for that next feeling of some kind. And maybe part of the relationship with your physical body is realising that sometimes you just have no control. I'm sure you've had the same. I've had some days during the pandemic where I have felt – I am not someone who suffered from depression, but I have seen depression in these times. But it hasn't lasted very long because I'm grateful not to go through that for more than one or two days in a row. But I have felt that darkness and that I just want to stay in bed and just feel sad. You know, I've had weeping days of this is just awful. But as you say, it's transitory. And if we can hold on to that transitory nature, then maybe we will appreciate more the time we have, which is also transitory. Exactly. And in fact, the podcast episode I did around the pilgrimage, it's called This Too Shall Pass: Thoughts from the Pilgrims Way, because this too shall pass, the pandemic. Our lives. You and I are a similar age. We too shall pass on at some point, and that's a good thing to reflect upon because it helps you make the most of your time, I think.
GW: Yeah. And just to make better choices, I mean, here's a funny thing, it is that thinking that led me onto your work in the first place. Because when I was heading to 40 and I realised that there will come a time when I can't just show up and teach martial arts in person four nights a week and most weekends because, you don't see hundred year old people doing that. At some point between now and when I die, there's going to come a point when I will have to stop relying on that and being able to do that. And so I started self-publishing my books. I got into your How to Market a Book, that was the first book of yours that I bought and just try to figure out ways of continuing to teach and continuing to help my students and yet also getting away from the whole actually having to show up and be there in person to do it in person. I still do that. I still love doing that. But I don't want to rely on that for feeding my children because it's transitory.
JP: It is and also we are assuming in in this conversation we will go on to one hundred or ninety five or whatever, it might be like ninety six, but who knows? Who knows what will happen? And I think that was another thing. I wrote down when all this happened and we were in the first lockdown, it was OK, well, if I was going to die this year, what would I be really annoyed about that I haven't done? And for me, I've been wanting to do the Camino de Santiago, which is 700 kilometres long. The Frances route is the longest. And I'm like, OK, well, in order to do a 40 day pilgrimage, back to back days, then I need to start doing some shorter ones. So in a way, the six days was almost the first step towards me doing the greater goal in the future. So it's like you said about what's helping me move towards my goal. Part of the reason I'm trying to fix my hip and my shoulders is so that I can go on to do a pilgrimage but not be crippled with pain every single day. I don't think that's necessary.
GW: No, definitely not. There's no such thing as fit. There's only fit for a particular purpose. And someone who's perfectly fit to write books and go on long walks is probably not fit to beat Mo Farah in a marathon. Different kind of fit.
JP: No, and that's so important. And again, as you learn more about health and “fitness” being the wrong word. Functional health, let's just call it that. What do you want to be functional for? And first of all, I want to be functional for life. When I hurt my shoulder like that, I couldn't carry the recycling bin out to the front.
GW: That’s your husband’s job, surely?
JP: I actually do the bins. But that's ridiculous. I need to be functional. I need to be able to do things. And that should be the first thing. The second thing is can I do my sword training or can I walk my pilgrimage and can I do that without damaging myself more? So I was thrilled, in fact when we were together it was really hot that weekend wasn’t it? And I retired before you retired. But since then, I mean the six day was an example. 182 kilometres, whatever it was, I had a tiny blister on one toe and I didn't have any significant pain at all. And that was because of all the work that I've been doing to prepare myself. And I'm just much more functional in this way.
GW: You are adapted to it.
JP: I am much more adapted to it. Yeah, it helps that it was October instead of the highs of May on the island. It was very hot that weekend.
GW: Yeah, it was very hot. It was great. My one trouble was staying hydrated because I just went super light and I just had that one half litre water bottle and sometimes it was a bit too far between hydration stations.
JP: But we’ve got to challenge ourselves. I've booked another couple this year, so we'll see.
GW: Yeah. And it strikes me that the whole memento mori thing is one of the really interesting things about swordsmanship as opposed to say, boxing, is that we are effectively rehearsing to murder people as opposed to just punch them in the head. And it requires us to contemplate our own mortality, if we're actually going to engage with that aspect of the art that we practise. Of course, none of us are going about actually killing people, at least not as far as I know. But the historical sources that we're dealing with were written for people who absolutely could reasonably expect to murder somebody in a duel at some point in their lives. I mean, it wasn't necessarily going to happen, but it was not unreasonable to expect it. And that's what they were preparing for. So there's that whole dimension to it which basically forces us to confront mortality. I don't actually have a picture of me lying in a tomb in my study. I think my wife would object if I put one in. But it's not a bad idea.
JP: Yeah. And I think it is good to think about these things and it will help us decide what is important in our lives and what should be the next thing we aim for. So I guess that would be our challenge to people listening is to really consider what do you want, what do you really want to do with your life and maybe stop wasting time and start moving towards that?
GW: Yeah, that's actually a really, really good place to finish. I do have one last question. I ask of this pretty much all of the guests and my listeners will be disappointed in me if I don't ask you, because you seem to do a lot and you're biased towards action and you've written loads of books and you've gone on these walks and what have you, what is the best idea you've never acted on?
JP: Yes, you sent this in advance, and I literally don't have one. I think the problem is I have so many ideas, but I wouldn't say I don't act on them. The ideas that I really want to act on, I act on. So there's nothing I can think of that I didn't necessarily act on. And in fact, I've probably made more mistakes because I act on things.
GW: Yes, I'm the same. I'm definitely biased towards I get this idea and I just do it. Like I had this idea to start a podcast. And literally the next day I had a guest lined up to interview.
JP: Well, you see, that's what I did back in 2009. And I'm still podcasting, so I'll see you in a decade.
GW: I think we'll have you back before then. All right. Well, thank you very much for joining me Joanna, it’s been a delight.
JP: Oh, thank you so much for having me, Guy.