The Sword Guy Podcast, episode 53
To celebrate a whole year of The Sword Guy Podcast, we are going right back to where it all began, with Jess Finley. Except this time the tables are turned and it’s Jess interviewing me! In our wide-ranging conversation we talk about my history of antiques restoration and starting a sword school. We also talk in depth about flipping hierarchies on their head to give students what they want, and how to deal with those rare students who roll their eyes at our teaching. Jess also gets to ask the now very familiar question: “What’s the best idea you have never acted upon?”
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!
JF: Hello, sword people, welcome to The Sword Guy Podcast, this is your host for today, Jessica Finley. What do I define myself as? I don't know, a lady that likes swords. It seems appropriate, I don't know. This is your host for today, Jessica Finley. I am in Lawrence, Kansas, and super excited to be your host for today. Join us for interviews with historical fencing instructors and experts from a wide range of related disciplines as we discuss swords, history, training and bringing the joy of historical martial arts into our modern lives. I'm here today with the usual host, Dr Guy Windsor, Consulting Swordsman. And anything else you would like to say about yourself?
GW: No, I think you know enough, Jess.
JF: Excellent. Oh my goodness. I've been so excited since you brought up the idea of me interviewing you for this anniversary edition of your podcast and as you probably know, Guy, but maybe your listeners don’t, that I really enjoy very deep conversations. That's my favourite. So I came up with a few general topics around which we might begin to dive in and then we'll see where it ends up, because I don't really know.
GW: OK, well thank God we can edit.
JF: Yes. So, the first thing that came to mind when I was thinking about things I would like to hear you expound upon. I know you have mentioned that you have a new woodshop in your back garden.
GW: I don’t, no. I built a Pilates studio for my wife in the back garden. That studio from my wife. That is not mine. But I did put it together, and I already have a woodworking shop in the back garden.
JF: Oh, it was just an old one that was already there.
GW: Yeah, mine was the old one that was already there, and the new one was from my wife’s Pilates studio because I mean, when we moved into the house, she got first refusal on the shed that was already there, and she was like, no, that's not quite right. So I took that for the woodworking shop and we sorted out laying the foundations and building her something a bit better.
JF: Lovely. Are you ever going to get to go in there to do your warm ups or lead classes or do you plan to do that from your own space?
GW: I would probably prefer to do that for my own space, because her studio is going to be full of Pilates torture equipment like racks and pillories and things like that. By which I mean Ladder Barrels and Reformers and other things.
JF: Yeah. Well, so I don't know. In the States, sometimes Pilates can mean you have a yoga mat and you're working on the ground.
GW: Oh yeah, she does that too. There’s the mat stuff. But the stuff she really needs for her studio for is her Reformer and Ladder Barrel and Wonder Chair and a special big mat thing that folds out and has handles and stuff. And there's this weird post thing with, it looks like chains hanging off it, but it's not, I promise it's not chains. Everyone who comes into the house and thinks they wandered into a very oddly equipped dungeon.
JF: I can understand that and having had a few lessons on a reformer. It's a lot. OK, maybe we should start with why don't you tell us a little bit about your experience and training in carpentry and woodwork and then maybe we can explore how you see handcrafts for creation purposes, creation of a physical item, intersecting with the same art for creating a martial art.
GW: OK, so I've always been into blades. Anything sharp and shiny is good and I've also always liked woodwork. One of the reasons I like woodwork is you have very sharp blades. There's a connection there. And after I graduate from university, I talked my way into a one month sort of internship at an antiques restorers and then went to Finland for a year and made some money here and there restoring furniture. And then I went back to the U.K. and I spent a year and a half, maybe two years, in a big antiques furniture warehouse big enough that it employed the exact staff in but five full time cabinetmakers, three or four full time polishers, as well as specialists for actually carrying the furniture. So it was a pretty big outfit, so I got to handle lots of really interesting antiques and then I got a job with a chap called Patrick Baxter in the borders of Scotland. And that was primarily making high-end furniture from scratch, including things like inlays and all that sort of thing. So I wasn't actually formally taught at any point. It was more learning on the job, and that's pretty much how I've always preferred to do everything. I don't go and get all the qualifications and then do the thing. It's a good thing I don't want to be a medical doctor because you really have to go get the qualifications first. But no, I'm like, well, show up and start doing the work. And eventually when you've actually done the work 40 hours a week for long enough, you approach it in the right way, you're bound to get better at it. So I did that with my school. I've been running a historical martial arts club in Edinburgh called the Dawn Duellists’ Society since we founded it in 1994. And then in 2001, I moved to Helsinki to open a school as a professional instructor. But there were no qualifications to be had. So I didn't have any, I just went ahead and did it anyway, and it kind of grew from that.
JF: So for you, it's intrinsically linked because your tendency is to learn in that way.
GW: Yeah. When you open up a piece of old furniture, there's often been previous repairs and in fact, one of the biggest reasons you ever have to restore an antique is because some complete moron filled it up with the wrong kind of glue or did something stupid. And an awful lot of antiques restoration is undoing bad fixes. But the way I see it, when I'm restoring a piece, I still do a bit every now and then. I'm in a conversation with the original maker, everyone who's restored it since and some bloke or a woman in 100 years’ time who's going to probably be doing the same repair. Because furniture tends to wear out in predictable ways and you fix it and it's right, but it's not going to last forever if it's actually being used. So, like, for instance, you know, when you pull a drawer out of a chest of drawers, the bottom wears away a bit every time. And so one of the things we do is replace the runners in the case and build up the sides of the drawers to kind of recover the wood that was that that was missing. And that's going to have to happen again at some point in the future. And the thing is, what you want is for them to look at that drawer and go, oh, that was nicely done.
JF: Right, and particularly on the inside, on the parts where probably your client doesn't particularly care.
GW: Yeah, they don’t see it or care.
JF: Right, but that's where your true craft shines and is important to you and to a future expert in the same field.
GW: Yeah. I mean, the client is just the owner of the piece. They're going to be dead before the piece needs fixing again. So really, so long as they look after it, they don’t actually matter.
GW: And we can look at historical martial arts as a massive project of antiques restoration. We have these arts, but they have fallen into disuse and they have become broken down and rusty, and we're having to assemble them from parts. And actually, it reminds me a lot of the difference between antiques restoration, where let's say you take your chest of drawers into the restorer and they fix it up the way it needs to be fixed, and then it goes back to your house and you put your clothes back in it and carry on using it. And then there's museums conservation where let's say there's a piece missing, then it may need to be replaced for the thing to have structural integrity, but they will tend to replace it with, for example, clear Perspex. So the piece has all the necessary parts, but you can see what is original and what has been repaired. So they're not interfering with the with the piece’s position as a historical artefact. And people will sometimes take a perfectly good piece of furniture and convert it into something that they need more. They'll take an armchair and cut their arms off. I mean, the classic is there's a whole type of furniture, which is basically a small bit of furniture for keeping your chamber pot in.
JF: Right. Yeah, I know.
GW: So you can have a crap in your bedroom and nobody does that anymore because we have plumbing. So those bits of furniture have tended to be converted into other things. And that's a perfectly legitimate thing to do, so long as you're not interfering with something of historical value. But we see these varieties of approaches where some people looking at historical sources trying to recreate the art of arms are very, very… they come at it like a conservator’s point of view. They want exactly what's in the book, nothing outside the book. And they are trying to recreate this particular pattern of movement or thought pattern or tactical structure or whatever, and that's the point. Its historical value is the point, whereas others want to actually fence their friends, fence in tournaments or whatever, and so they take this thing, and they add to it as necessary, adjust it as necessary, so it fits in with what they want it to do in their lives. And so long as nobody takes something that has been radically altered and tries to pass it off as an original antique, there's no problem. So long as there’s intellectual honesty in play. I don't see any problem with any of those approaches.
JF: So my mind was going crazy, but I was trying to listen and stay focussed. And so what occurs to me then is in the recreation of historical martial arts, where we have put in Perspex is not evident. If that is our approach if we are trying to approach it as a conservator.
GW: It's all in how you present it. OK, you know it’s there. I think the distinction only becomes relevant when you are displaying what you're doing to people who might be misled. So literally, one of the finest historical martial arts demonstrations I have ever seen was in about 1999, 2000 at this British Federation for Historical Swordplay, a federation in Britain that I helped to found many moons ago, and the guys from the Sussex Rapier Society, I think it was it, was Duncan Fatz and Andrew Feest. And I'm blanking on the third name [it was Chris Chatfield, who taught at my school in 2013 so I should remember his name!]. But anyway, one of them was reading from Saviolo’s text. And the other two were doing the action. Their interpretation of that action. And that was absolutely flawlessly historical martial arts because it was literally just the words in the book brought to life, and you can hear the words and see the actions and the interpretation is clear. The closest thing I've done to that would be my From Medieval Manuscript to Modern Practise book, where there's my transcription of the longsword plays from Fiore, my translation so you know what I think the Italian says, you know what I think the Italian means in English and then my interpretation and then a video clip of me doing it. So you can disagree with any level of that. But all my working is clear, right? So you might find a mistake in the transcription or you disagree with my transcription and then that makes you disagree with my translation, which makes you disagree with my interpretation. Or you might think the transcription and translation are fine, but you don't interpret those words that way. But the point is, it's absolutely transparent what has been done. Whereas take my medieval longsword book, or course, there's much less quoting from Fiore. And much more “take these techniques and we put them together” so you learn how to actually move in this way, so you learn how to actually do these things and then learn how to improvise with them and experiment with them. And I mean, I guess another way to think of it would be the difference between memorising a speech from Shakespeare and improvising on a speech from Shakespeare. If you do it verbatim, great, that's one thing. If you take the same story and sell it in a completely different venue, I also the Revenges tragedy, which is not Shakespeare, but it was set in gangland Chicago. It was absolutely brilliant. It was certainly not what the original author envisioned because he didn't know anything about Chicago. Chicago at that point, I think was just a plain or a swamp or something like that, it didn’t exist. But it was a really interesting take on the literature. And no one showed up going, oh, that's not historical enough.
JF: Right. Because that's not the point.
GW: Exactly. And I'm actually working on a project right now where, you know George Silver's book, Paradoxes of Defence. And you know he's a bit of a crusty old bastard?
GW: I've got an actor to do an audio book of George was Paradoxes of Defence in modern pronunciation. But I've also hired an actor called Ben Crystal, who's like one of the world experts in Shakespearean original pronunciation performance. It helps that his dad is a linguist in the area. And he's doing an original pronunciation version of George Silver’s Paradoxes of Defence, and the difference is extraordinary. And they both sound good, but my heart is with the original pronunciation.
JF: Oh, yeah, I am so excited about this project. I cannot tell you. I am hoping that there are ridiculous puns that he runs across.
GW: There may be. There probably aren’t. I mean, he does tell some funny stories in his book, but he wasn't writing to entertain. He was writing to admonish and so I don't think we're going to get any of those Shakespearean filthy puns that we get with the original pronunciation of Shakespeare. But I'll ask Ben what he thinks when he's done the whole book, which should be end of April I should have the recordings.
JF: Also I am thrilled that you hired actors to do this.
GW: Well, also, you know, acting is a craft like martial arts is a craft. And, you know, people who do it for a living tend to be better at it.
JF: So fantastic at it.
GW: Yeah. I mean, I got Kelly Costigan to do my Theory and Practise audiobook because she's a swordswoman and an actor and she's a professional actor. And so she would take a paragraph or whatever and read it one way and then read it a different way and ask me which way was the way I wanted it done. And it's not just, this is how I speak. It's like, no, no, no, we can speak like this. We can speak like that in this accent, that accent.
JF: Oh yeah. Wonderful. Oh it's so exciting. So can we circle back around to you learning cabinetry or restoration on the job, as it were? Would you then say, that since we were linking your idea of your practical swordsmen series into this, that that's the equivalent of you showing up, not knowing anything and just putting in your time until you began to see what was before you and understood what needed to be done? Is that a useful equivalent before maybe you pick up Fiore because you have that preparation or would you feel differently about that?
GW: Well, I picked up Fiore in ‘94, so I didn’t know anything.
JF: Well, I know you did, but maybe people listening now have another option. They don’t necessarily have to.
GW: Right. Right, right.
JF: I mean, we can talk about what you had to do.
GW: When you said “you”, I understood “me” and you meant people in general. That's because English only has the one “you” these days. We used to have “thee” and “you”, which we should, shouldn’t we. OK, so some people want to go straight to the source and they find other people's interpretations a distraction at best and an annoyance at worst, and again, that is a perfectly OK approach. It falls down only when if they start publishing their results and they haven't done the literature review. In other words, they haven't seen what everyone else has done first and put their work into the context of all the other work that's being published. And that's a critically important bit of any kind of academic undertaking. Again, most people doing historical martial arts research are not professional academics. So this sort of thing does kind of happen. It's like when people say they're doing a translation of Vadi, for example, and they are not looking at anybody else's translations, to keep themselves pure for the text. That's not how this works. That is a very sort of naive way of going about things. But most people want to just pick up a sword and swing it around and have fun with their friends and fence each other and do the sword thing. They are there for the sword thing.
JF: I think we all are.
GW: Well, no, not everyone. Really, not everyone. I have met people who are absolutely fascinated by the history, students who come to my school who are fascinated by the history, who have no interest in ever actually fencing anyone. Those who come to me and say, do I have to fence anyone or can I just do the drills?
JF: Well, OK, that's true. I have had people, yes for whatever reason.
GW: Yes, because that's their interest.
GW: OK, so that's perfectly legitimate. It's perfectly fine. It means that you're never going to get past a certain level as an actual swordsmanship practitioner. But if that's not your goal, it doesn't matter. But most people come because they actually want to fence and so what a lot of my work is doing is making that easy so they can pick up the sword and figure out how it works and start working on the basic techniques and string them together into longer drills and add complexity to those drills and whatever, and build up their skills in a kind of sensible way. And very often, but not always, at some point in that process, they start looking at the original sources. Not always, but some do. I see that side of my work as basically creating the gateway drug to the sources. It doesn't get everyone hooked, but it gets a lot of people hooked, which means we get more and more minds turned towards analysing the sources, which can only be good for everyone.
JF: Yes, yes. I love it. Let's look at it then from the perspective of teaching this thing. Obviously, we can all only present for our students who we are, what we are and our best knowledge of the thing at the time. Like you're not going to show up as 1999 Guy and be like, well, this is where I started, so I'll start you here you too. We'll take this journey.
JF: When we are looking to teach since we're not going to be teaching all of our errors or what we now perceive to be errors we are teaching from our reconstruction or from our thing that's been put together invisibly. What do you think that benefits our students and is there anything we're missing, when we are working from an invisible reconstruction, shall we say?
GW: I try to make the reconstruction visible. So any time if I am teaching a particular technique from a particular source, I will usually have the book open on a lectern somewhere in the hall so people can go and look at it. And I am you know, I will sometimes read out the text and if necessary, translate it so they know where it's coming from, generally speaking. But it really depends on what the focus of the class is, because a lot of people will show up to my classes because they want Guy to teach them how to fight the way Guy’s students swordfight. And so they will be there for skills development. And I will do what I can to set things up so that their skills improve. And I has absolutely nothing to do with historical sources at all.
JF: Correct, yeah.
GW: The actual actions are coming from the source and the tactical theory is generally coming from a source, but they're not studying the source, they're learning how to fence. That is just a different goal to learning how to read a treatise or learning how various elements of the system together or discussing the tricky points of translation. Those are all separate fields, so in any given seminar class, I am teaching usually one thing. And that one thing will be determined entirely by what the students want. Very often they don't want me to explain why I think it is the way it is in terms of historical research, they may want me to explain it in terms of mechanics, but that's not coming from historical research. That's coming from practical experiment and study of mechanics. Because to my mind, it really boils down to what do the students actually want? It's what I said at the beginning of every seminar I teach pretty much. If this is a longsword class, if I'm Fiore dei Liberi, that makes you look Marquis of Ferrare. OK, so what do you want? It is the student’s job to tell the hired professional what their goals are and then enlist that professional help in getting more efficiently towards those goals. It is not my job to tell them what to do. It's my job to tell them how what to do in order to get where they want to go. But it's up to them whether they do that or not.
JF: Correct. I'm a fan of that approach and I believe in what you're saying. I wonder about the number of students who can't answer that question for you.
GW: Most of them, but that doesn’t matter.
JF: So then is it your job to usher them through the process of determining their interests?
GW: Yes, exactly. I start that in day one of the beginner's course. Literally, where we'll be doing some basic dagger stuff, let's say disarm from first master. And so your left hand takes the dagger away and you stab. And so when they've done that for a little bit, I would ask them, would you like to see the same technique done against a different attack or would you like to see the counter to technique? And some of them will want the counter and some will want the disarm against different attack, whichever is the biggest group, we pretend for a minute of the class is a democracy and we go with that. So that they are trained from the beginning to have an opinion about what they study next. Because we're not in the business of creating soldiers or creating obedient workers in any field. We're in the business of training duellists, who are the most opinionated and self-willed group anywhere. And if you don't have a strong opinion about what you think is right and what you think is wrong, and you're willing to literally stand up and fight for that opinion, then you're not really a duellist, are you? When I start my seminar, I'll ask them what they came for and they will tell me. Some of them will tell me. And so I take those various things and I put it together into a class plan in a few seconds and then just say, well, OK, we'll do this first and then this, then this and this. And you want to do this thing, which is a bit different, but you can focus on that aspect to this drill. And so the people who have expressed an opinion actually get that opinion at least heard, sometimes it's not practical to include it in the class, but ninety nine times out of 100 it is. And then that's what the seminar is. That's what the class covers. And I ask them all at the end of every class. Firstly, is everyone healthier than they were when they started it? And secondly, can we agree that if you didn't get what you came for, it's your own damn fault?
JF: Right, right.
GW: Because it's not up to me to tell them what they should do. Now, sometimes, let’s say, we have a first class of a beginners course. They have told me what they want already. What they want is day 1 of the beginners course because that's what they've signed up for. And what they are looking for from me is to stay safe. To get to play with a sword. And to get a of picture of what it's going to be like training here, so that's what I give them because I already have their implicit consent for that. But I'm actively encouraging them to look for areas of interest already on day one.
GW: The thing is, most people don't teach this way because, firstly they haven't been taught that way and neither have I. I came up with this over the course of many years. It wasn't like that in the beginning. When I started my school, I was extremely strict. And the reason for that was I believed that I was responsible for everyone's safety, which I still believe, but the only way I could think of to uphold that responsibility was to control everything that happened so that nothing bad would happen. So we needed this very strict and formal environment so that it would be safe. But over the course of many years of doing this all the time. I figured out that actually, if the culture is set in advance, such that safe behaviour is expected, almost all people will conform to that. And all I really need to do is hold the safe space, keep an eye out for things which are heading in a dangerous direction. And that's enough to keep everybody safe. Because they're trained to train safely from the beginning. And the culture expects safe behaviour. Most people don't behave outside of the norms of their culture.
JF: No, for sure, for a variety of reasons.
GW: So that allowed me to let go of the controlling everything all the time, I am the boss, do as I say thing and flip the hierarchy on its head so that now, formally and technically, I am not actually in charge of anyone. My students are my employers. They are my patrons. They are Niccolo D’Este to my Fiore. They are the king of Denmark to my Fabris. And so they tell me what they want. And so long as it's within my area of expertise and it doesn't violate any professional ethics, that's what they get. So I still have my boundaries, but within those boundaries, they get what they ask for.
JF: So the idea of turning the hierarchy on its head, what, if any, I suppose, work did you have to do about your own anxiety, shall I say, or your own discomfort, or did you find any discomfort in letting go of that controlling nature?
GW: God, it was a relief. It was lovely.
JF: Oh, that's amazing. I love it.
GW: You know, I don't particularly like ordering people around.
JF: You're quite good at it, though.
GW: Well, yeah, but here's the thing. It's like one of the things you're expected to do as a martial arts instructor is you're expected to hold the space. To keep everyone safe. Which means you're able to set boundaries for everyone else as well. The thing is, you have their explicit permission to do that, correct? One of the things they've hired me to do is keep everyone safe, please. At the beginning of every class, if there's people that I don't know or who haven’t trained with me before, I will say there is only one rule and that is everyone finishes training healthier than they started it. You’ve probably heard me say it. And that is literally the only rule I will insist on. And I get everyone's buy in for that before we start. If anyone doesn't want that, this has never actually happened. But if anybody couldn’t accept that, then they can just leave. If they think they need to hurt themselves in training. I guess there are mad people out there. But so far, everyone has agreed that finishing training healthier than you started it is a pretty sensible goal.
JF: Though often people don't understand how to keep themselves safe, they may be quite concerned for their partner’s safety but their own safety, they often will disregard.
GW: Which is why I always tell them that most injuries are self-inflicted. And again, part of my job is to train them in how to train in such a way that they don’t hurt themselves. Most people are socialised to not hurt each other.
JF: Yeah, I remember taking a lesson from you at WMAW in a seminar, so I was definitely not alone. I don't know how many people we had in that gym, but it was your sharps training.
GW: Oh, that one. Yeah, there was about 40 people in that. It was a big class.
JF: There were lot of people in that room and I was super excited about that. And I remember the way you handled that was that the only way someone got to hold your sharp sword was to cross swords with you, though they had been working with a partner up until that moment. And then you indicated that that was because you felt personally responsible for everyone in the room’s safety, which I found as your student in that moment, a very profound responsibility was placed on me by you saying that you were taking the responsibility. So it was a fascinating experience.
GW: We should probably just explain to the listeners what that class was about. I don't routinely distribute 40 sharp swords for people I don't know.
JF: No, it's a terrible plan.
GW: So what I do, if this is one of the things I am asked to do, is I bring a couple of sharp swords to the seminar and we do a longsword seminar. And at one point I'll set up a basic drill and everyone is training this basic drill. And I will go around and do sharp with sharp versions of that drill with every student that wants to. So I just kind of wander around with two swords and go, OK, it's your turn and spend maybe a minute with each student. It takes a while with 40 students in the room. It took most of the class. But the point of that class was to give each individual student that experience of what it feels like to have two sharp blades or a sharp blade pointing at you and you controlling that with your own sharp blade because it is fundamentally different to most other training experiences. I've done that many times. We've never had any injuries. In my own school with my senior students when they are practising stuff, they will do it with whatever tools are appropriate. There might be a full kit and have sparring weapons with rubber tips. They might be in t-shirts using sharp swords against each other or any variation on that. They will choose the appropriate tools to practise the thing they need to practise. That is my students in my salle under my supervision, that is not a bunch of somebody else's students and a whole bunch of people from other clubs as well in some enormous space somewhere where they don't even have socialised medicine.
JF: It was brilliantly done. As a student, I felt completely comfortable with that room. Well, as a student and as a teacher myself of seminars, I was like, this is fine. Everything that is happening here feels even more safe than I imagined it would be, and I already knew it would be. I think that there is something at play there. When you are playing with the dynamics as an instructor of who is in charge of this moment, where as far as the person nominally in power, because you have you have whatever title and you have skills and you have the job of running the class or whatever to then say to the student, but also you're in charge creates a very intense feedback loop of responsibility for the moment, that I think is quite brilliant. I appreciated that as a student.
GW: It reminds me of something like if you have let's say a general in the army is driving up to the gate of his own army base with his own soldiers inside and the private at the gate will stop him and require to see his ID and the general can't say I order you to open the gate. The general will show them the ID. Because it's understood that that structure keeps everybody safe. If there are no exceptions that can be made and the private can never be court martialled for demanding to see an ID and not letting somebody through without it, then it just keeps everything safer. So likewise, if the students are the generals and I’m the private, there are rules that they have empowered me to enforce for their own good. Like, you know, safe practise.
JF: When you were running your class, where you were much more structured, where you were very much in charge, where you are trying to control every moment of everyone's interaction. Did that ultimately end up less safe, do you think?
GW: No, it definitely wasn't less safe. It was definitely safe to say for different reasons. We're both parents. You can prevent your children from cutting themselves with knives by banning them from the knife drawer. Not that I keep my knives in a drawer, they are on a metal strip on the wall because I wouldn't put knives in a drawer. But you can ban the children from touching the knives and have a kind of strict control over their behaviour so that they never touch the knives. Or you can allow them to handle the knives and to maybe cut carrots or whatever to begin with under very, very close supervision. And then with gradually less and less supervision. And my kids have been chopping vegetables since they were tiny and have never had a serious cut.
JF: Yeah, yeah. I heard you talking about that in more depth with Ruth Goodman, which was lovely. To hear Guy and Ruth Goodman about knife use, please check that one out because it was great.
GW: And it's also a question of trust.
GW: People generally reward trust with good behaviour. And if they know you trust them, they will feel more guilty about violating that trust than is worth whatever that violation would be. And so I trust my students in all sorts of ways which are baffling to some people. Like, for instance, since forever at my school, we've always had the grown up price for training. The fully employed adult. That's one price. And about two thirds of that price is the everyone else. So students and unemployed people and whatever. And I have never once, ever asked to see anybody's entitlement to pay the lower fee. Because why would I? I trust my students. I'm going to trust them to swing a sword at my face.
GW: And so I trust them with that. And I'm sure, if you dig through the records with a really forensic approach, you will probably find a few people who probably should have paid the higher price but paid the lower one. But I guarantee you, you'll also find people who would have been entitled to pay the lower price but could afford to pay the higher price, so they did. It's a question of I trust you to pay reasonably.
JF: Yeah, yeah. I mean, my school right now and for the foreseeable future is entirely on a sliding scale that the student sets. You can walk in and pay me zero dollars for this half hour or you can pay me twenty five dollars for this half hour, or anywhere in between. And I have a literal, well it's in the shape of a cat, but I have a piggy bank and that's where they go so they don't even have to hand it to me.
GW: That's better. Yeah.
JF: It’s right next to where their shoes sit. So as they go to get their shoes, they could or could not drop money in there. And either way, I'm happy. And honestly, as you have found, most people pay plenty. They pay what I consider the generous rate. Because I empower them to do so.
GW: We're not their legal guardians. The relationship is based entirely on trust anyway when you're training. You will find that if you train long enough with enough different people, you will definitely find people who you don't trust to train with. You will come across these people and you just avoid them. And that's fine.
JF: Well, I was going to ask about that, with your experience, and I know it's hard to do on a podcast, but could you speak to maybe someone who is running a club or is newer at a club? What are your first few warning signs of what I call “the bucy”. That this person walks in with eyes that are crazy and to me my mnemonic for someone I don't want to train with is Crazy Eyes. And then they're out. I don't allow them in my space, but that's not particularly helpful. So I wonder if you have more concrete things that you could point to early in your interaction.
GW: OK, it's really, really hard, especially for fairly well established instructors, because people will behave one way to me and completely differently to other people.
JF: Oh, for sure.
GW: So it is really difficult. I would strongly recommend reading Fear is the Mind Killer by Kaja Sadowski. Excellent book. And follow her recommendations about a code of conduct. And the thing is, anyone who is unwilling to sign a code of conduct that basically says, I will be nice to everyone. You don't want them training with you, so there's a good filter you can put in. The thing is, a lot of people coming to a martial arts school for the first time are in an unfamiliar environment, and they will tend to be a bit shy, a bit evasive, particularly in countries like Finland, where everyone tends to be fairly shy anyway, when they're showing up to a beginners course, they're usually very, very shy. And that can mask all sorts of positive traits and it can also mask negative traits. So what I tend to do, when I'm teaching a class with a group of people I don't know, which actually happens more often than not these days because back in pre-Covid times, and soon in post-Covid times, I fly around a lot teaching seminars in places. So I show up and there's a bunch of people there I don't know. So what I do is I have a little chat with them first and I pay attention to how they're interacting with the rest of the group. And then when we run a warm-up, the warm-up is primarily for me to see them doing what they're told. In other words, following what I'm showing them. And I'm watching for all sorts of things. It’s got nothing to do with physical prowess, some people are super fit and some people aren’t. Some people some people struggle with it, some people don't. That's irrelevant, it is basically their attitude to it.
JF: Yeah, I've seen eye rolls, for instance,
GW: Eye rolls are a major red flag. Because if they're rolling their eyes at what you're getting them to do, they don't belong in your class. It's not a good idea to confront it directly, generally. But what I tend to do is put in an exercise, which I can tell from the way they're moving, they can't do, to see how they cope with it. Let's be perfectly clear, there are a bunch of exercises I can't do. Maybe this person can, but there are definitely some exercises that I can do that most people can’t. Because I have that specific training. So I put in a bit of that and see how they take it. If they get angry, then they need to sit out. They are done. If they go, oh, it’s not all shit here, and the eye rolls stop, then we are good. I have demonstrated my right to be there. And they're okay with it. Because the eye roll thing is massively disrespectful, but that's not it. The thing is, it's not unreasonable for them, if they've paid money and travelled some distance to need “proof of value”. And my very gentle warm up does not usually give proof of value to that sort of person. So I give them some proof of value. And if that works great and if it doesn't work, then clearly I'm just the wrong instructor for them. And there are people I know when I stopped being, shall we say, “the boss” and started being the consultant, I had students quit because what they wanted was an infallible sensei, Master Sir who will tell us what to do.
GW: Yeah, and that's absolutely fine. I mean, lots of schools run on that model. And if that works for you, then that works for you. But there's no obligation on me to be that thing. Because that is not my nature. I do know people who do it very well, and it is their nature and they're fine with it.
JF: Yeah, and their students probably are as well.
GW: So how do you deal with the eye rolling?
JF: Oh, so I am more of a fun type personality, so my tendency then would be to use humour to see if that's going to solve the problem. So I would almost do the exact opposite, so you would provide an exercise they couldn't do, I would provide “this is how much I can fail in front of you”. And either they're going to go, oh, OK, we're not taking all of this as serious as I am in my head. Or they leave. So it's getting to the same goal, but literally from the other side of the spectrum as I see it.
GW: Yeah, and that raises a really good point, it's really, really important that you fail in front of your students so they know that you're supposed to fail at times when doing this. I wouldn't do that to an eye roller in the first few minutes of the class, but I would absolutely include it at some point during the class.
JF: Yeah. And see, the thing is, and this is probably worth mentioning is that I frequently do not get an eye roller because that person also self-selected themselves out of a class taught by a woman. That's actually a very rare problem for me. Just in general, I don't run into the person who has shown up wanting me to prove to them that I'm a badass or that is looking to prove themselves against me.
GW: I’ve had a bit of that, but not as much as you’d think.
JF: What I do run into is the person that has put me on a very strange pedestal, “oh, I can't wait to get my arse kicked by you”. And I'm like, no, you are two hundred fifty pounds of weight lifting muscle. Who do you think I am? It's funny though. So I think there are a lot of approaches that can work for the teacher in their habits and in their exchange, because I agree, it would not work well, probably for you to prove worth through failure, whereas it would not necessarily work well for me to come with that kind of conflict of I'm going to out-exercise you.
GW: Yeah, but OK, I should probably clarify how I do it.
JF: Well, I spoke inelegantly. I'm sorry.
GW: Yeah, because, again, I don't ever direct it to that one person. It is done for the class. And what I do is I take something like the push up twisting squat jump up burpee, where you start in a push up position and you do a squat thrust and then you stand up and then maybe do a squat thrust and a push up and stand up. And then you do a squat thrust and a push up and you jump and go down into a push up, squat thrust, jump, and then you push up, squat thrust, jump up, turn in the air and come back down again. And it gets very hard, quite quickly. So I'm very good at controlling my breathing because I train breathing training a lot, and so I will talk them through that whole thing while doing all of this stuff. And most people usually die at the twisting jump. And so then I just keep going and say I what’s really fun is if you breathe out completely and see how many you can do before you have to breathe in again. It's a useful trick, but that's for the whole class and it's fun. But people can stick at whatever level they want, maybe just push up and stand up or push up and a squat thrust then stand up or whatever. They don't have to go through the whole thing. But the whole thing is there to illustrate the scale of difficulty that a single exercise can offer.
JF: And also very quickly demonstrates anything I show you with the swords that seems simple, you can now assume I have taken it to levels you are not going to see in this class.
GW: I hadn’t thought of that. Yeah, I suppose that's true.
JF: That's what it does, because that's another way I'll do it. If we've gotten to swords and then there's eye rolls is that I will do something similar with the play we're working. This is where it starts. But then we go here and then we go here and then we go here and then we go here and then we go here. But there's no time for that today. So we're going to stay. Oh, that's awesome. So anyone who's ever taken a class from Dr. Guy is now going to think through any warm up where they saw this behaviour. And they're going to wonder who in the class was the eye roller.
GW: I also often do it when there's no eye rollers in class. Honestly, if there is an eye roller, then I usually will pull something like that out. But of course now I have to think of another one.
JF: Oh yeah. Your secrets are out. Somebody listening to your podcast is probably not throwing eye rolling at your seminar, Guy.
GW: Probably not. Probably not. And honestly, there are enough people who like my stuff. I don't have to worry about the ones that don’t.
JF: It's true. Other than for the safety aspect. Because they become unsafe if they're willing to be that rude or you can assume.
GW: But they are not going to be doing it in my class, so I’m not responsible for their behaviour.
JF: So I know we've gone way over time and you're going to edit this.
GW: We have all the time of the world.
JF: OK, I have one more hour and then I have to go to my physical therapy. But so one thing I wanted to talk to you about, and this is kind of like leeching back into history of like a conversation you and I had at the MWAW in the late evening, late night, wandering around, as one does at that event. And at the time I was moving or had just moved away from my school and I was feeling a lot of sadness about that and not really knowing if the school was going to survive or not or if these people I had taught with would continue on. And I was feeling that it's a reflection of me in these things. And I know that that's something that comes up for a lot of people, because whether they have founded something and are moving or just don't want to lead it anymore, but feel an attachment to the thing they've created. I wonder if you could speak to that, because I know you have moved a few times and probably in that time have started and left some clubs.
GW: Yeah, OK, well, I started the Dawn Duellists in Edinburgh. It was formally founded in ‘94. I left Edinburgh in 2001. I had no doubt that the DDS would do just fine because it had a bunch of enthusiasts running it and at least one of the original founders was still running it. And I had no issues leaving that. Then I moved to Finland in 2001 and started my school. Then when we moved to the UK in 2016, I had already retired from teaching regularly in the evenings and weekends. I retired on my forty second birthday. So on 30 November I was like OK, I will teach until the end of this month and then you guys take it from here. And I was in the country for another six months before actually leaving for the UK, so I was there if they needed me. They didn't call me once. And then I flew off the U.K., we all moved here and I'm aware that I cast a long shadow over there, and it's really important that they are weaned off me. So I go back, when travel is allowed, I go back two or three times a year, usually teach a seminar, hang out with some of the students, catch up with what's going on. I mean, it's still my salle. I literally own it. So I'm still connected, but I don't run it. I have no hand whatsoever in the day to day of things. And it was hard. But again, it boils down to trust. I had to have faith in the good intentions and shall we say willpower of the people who were running it. And so I did. And I trusted them just to get on with it and to have the wit to come to me if they needed anything I could provide. They were fine. It’s like kids grow up and leave home, and if you've done a decent job as a parent, they do fine.
GW: If your child never leaves home, you have failed as a parent. Leaving aside medical issues or disability or whatever, but under the normal run of things, if your perfectly mentally or physically healthy child is still at home, when they're an adult, then you have to wonder. Why haven't they moved on? We see the same thing with students. Not for every student, but for many students. What they really need to do is start their own thing. They're not ready to do that, so they come and train with you for a bit, sometimes years or whatever, and they usually train really, really intensely because they're really, really into it. And then they get addicted to having a teacher and everything cut down for them, as it were. The salle is there, the weapons are there and the students are there and everything. And when they should be starting their own breakaway club or whatever, because the next stage of that development requires being in sole charge of something. Then it can sometimes take the form of basically they build up a head of resentment, like a teenager, they build up a head of resentment, which is what they need to have the energy to break away. And it is super hard to watch. It is really, really weird how they're completely unconscious of what's going on, and even if you say to them, look what I think you should do is you should go and start your own club doing this thing. Let me know if you need any help, but I think you can do this on your own. That just doesn't register, or it registers as “he's trying to get rid of me”. You’ve just got to hope that in the long term, they get over it, usually right about the time their first senior student leaves. Then they have some insight into it and relationships get better. But it's a really common thing. And anyone who's running a club for any length of time will probably experience something like it. And it's better if you recognise it as healthy growth. As long as it’s a decent person. We're talking about a good student who trained hard and is generally a good and useful person. And then they start getting also sullen and resentful. It is the weirdest thing, and eventually they break away and if you just take a breath and just recognise that for people who are naturally the heads of clubs. It is unnatural for them to stay as a student in a club past a certain point, and it's not what they should be doing. The best students and, well, there's basically two kinds, there's those who will just keep coming week after week, year after year for decades. Because that's what they want. But the star students are the ones who will come and they will train and then they will get fascinated by their own thing and they'll start developing their own thing and then they will break away to do that thing.
JF: This comes around to a question I didn't send you. So surprise question. Which is on the question of development of an art and there is that point where, as you say, the star student or also easily just someone who is ready to internalise and create their own thing, and that often comes in the form of teaching, but it doesn't have to. So I think the question is then, how important is that?
GW: For the long term good of the art is essential, because if all of my students mimicked me, those that are most like me would be fairly decent swordsmen or swordswomen. For those that are not particularly like me, mimicking me is a really bad way to get good at swordsmanship. And so when it comes to the practical exposition of the art, it is essential that people are doing it their way, that they are interpreting it for themselves. This is what works for me. That's critically important. My first degree was in English lit and it is well established that there are no two copies of the same book. Because every reading of every book is different because the book itself is the thing that happens when the reading brain hits the text. And this is also true of historical martial arts. Your reading of Fiore is going to be different to mine, is going to be different from Michael Chidester’s, is going to be different from Greg Mele’s or whoever else, we're all going to see the text differently. And sure, occasionally there are times when you get an opinion and then some helpful colleague points out that your opinion is directly contradicted in the text and you just have to change your mind. It happens a lot in the early stages. But later on, you can have multiple different interpretations, none of which contradict the text. That is normal and that's to be expected and it doesn't hurt the text in any way. It's not like we have to do Fiore exactly this way or Fiore is somehow damaged. The book is the same and it will be the same in another hundred years. And in a hundred years’ time, if people are still reading Fiore, as I hope they are, they will be doing it differently.
JF: Probably. Yeah.
GW: And that's OK. I would hope that the conservationist's interpretations that we have now and the conservationist's interpretations of 100 years from now will be almost identical.
JF: One would hope.
GW: One would hope. But the actual fencing that people do based on their study of the text, that is going to be completely individual to the person who is doing the fencing. It has to be. We're not trying to create mimics. We're trying to create artists. And in traditional art education, you go to an art gallery and you copy the paintings of the old masters. And through that method, you learn about form and line and colour and shade and perspective and all these things. And you do it by creating copies of the master's work. But you're not supposed to stop there. And anyone who makes a living doing that is a criminal.
JF: Yes, right. And it's distinctively not art.
GW: Exactly. It's the skills of art. It's a super useful way to understand how that particular master expressed their art, but if that's where you stop, then you're stuck with being a forger and a plagiarist. You have to then take that and apply it to your own art.
JF: Heck, yeah, I love it.
GW: I’m glad you agree with me, Jess.
JF: I completely agree. I have enjoyed this interview because as I'm like, OK, so here's my next question then almost about the moment that I think of it, you transition to answer the question I was thinking of. So you've done great. And it's like you've been doing this for a year and you have some skill at it.
GW: It's a lot more relaxing being the interviewee.
JF: It's true.
GW: It's hard work asking the questions.
JF: It is, and to ask interesting and useful questions is very tricky. Is there anything else on art I think we should explore? I have a lot on that. I've been thinking about it a lot recently, but I don't know that we need to go into it. So to do a more traditional question, to talk about your podcast, who was your most surprising interview this year? And I chose surprising because I don't want to necessarily make a ranking of favourite or something like that. That's not a good word. But who stood out to you this year?
GW: All right, well, I've interviewed my friends, it's never been a surprise. A delight and an education, but never a surprise because, you know, they are my friends, I know them. So that kind of automatically gets rid of maybe a third of the guests. Quite a lot of the guests are people who I interacted with for the first time when I invited them onto the show. Surprising? I think it would be Ruth Goodman.
JF: I mean, we are all fired up about Ruth, aren't we?
GW: On our Swordschool discord. There have been more comments about Ruth’s episode than any other three episodes put together. Even your own Jess, I hate to say it.
JF: I know, it's fine. I’m boring.
GW: The discord didn't exist when we did your episode. But the thing is, I had never met Ruth Goodman before. I had to approach her through her agent, which makes you think they're likely to be a bit separate, bit standoffish. But when we started talking, it nailed the interview when I asked her where she was in the world, as I usually do, and she said she was in Wales and I said, what part of Wales, and she said, I'm not telling you that, you might come here. You’d ruin it.
GW: OK, you've heard it here, everyone. Wales belongs to Ruth. Nobody go there ever again. She was so absolutely natural. And she has this fascinating depth and breadth of experience in actually doing historical activities like making cheese or baking bread in a medieval oven and it's not all just food stuff she does dance as well, and she knows about the clothes. And it's just everything, pretty much everything except the swords.
JF: To our a great loss, frankly.
GW: Well, yeah. And she does mention swords in one of her books. She has this section in her book, How to Behave Badly in Elizabethan England, where she does go to the sword fighting stuff. That was funny, after the interview, she asked me what I thought of that bit. So we had a little chat, which was interesting. Because she doesn't do it herself, she doesn't have anything like the nuance for it. But she surprised me, by the way we immediately hit it off with this back and forth and the hour just melted away and I was like, oh, OK, I suppose we better start thinking about stopping now.
JF: And it felt like that to listen to, it felt like you guys have been friends forever and were just chatting away.
GW: And we've never met.
JF: And as a person who's done a fair number of interviews, as a person being interviewed, I recognised that Guy isn’t getting down his list of questions at all.
GW: But when someone like Ruth is talking about the subjects that she's interested in, there's absolutely no sense interrupting over the question. It’s much better to just let it roll.
JF: I love it.
GW: I actually had a similar experience when I was interviewing Katy Bowman. Now, that episode is probably going to go out after this one, so it's coming up. Katy Bowman is a biomechanist and author of books like Move Your DNA, and again I had to approach her through her assistant because she's just too busy to handle e-mails and stuff. And when I emailed her assistant to invite her to the show, I got a reply back a day later with a picture of Katy holding a sword because her son is mad about swords. And so she was delighted to come on. And we chatted for an hour and a half at least, because, again, at one point we were both standing desks like I am now, and she had picked up a grip strength ball. And I also picked up a grip strength ball and we were standing there talking and then her ball kind of wandered into the screen. She had moved so that the camera could see it. And then I was like, oh, OK. I held up my ball. It's like we're twins. It was the funniest thing because we never met.
GW: She was very well prepared. I sent her the questions in advance and she had clearly spent quite a bit of time actually looking stuff up and when we had specific questions about, for example, your shoulder, she had clearly refreshed herself on that specific injury so that she could talk about it in more depth, so she really put in a lot of work. It just went so easily and it was such a pleasure talking to her. You can't really fake it, I don’t think. I mean, I've had very professional guests on who have been excellent guests and a delight to interview and an absolute pleasure to talk to and learned a lot. And it's great. But I didn't get the sense at the end of it that we had been sitting around a campfire drinking mead. Whereas with some guests, that just sort of happens.
JF: I love it, I love the idea of it's just you at a party where you meet a stranger and you're standing there and you're just chatting away and a microphone just got dropped in that conversation, that that's the way.. What skill have you developed interviewing, do you think, now that you've done this for a year?
GW: It's hard to say. Because my I don't know that my interview technique has gotten particularly better or worse. One thing I have stopped doing largely is making a verbal agreement ticks like you normally have in the conversation. As you were just about to do.
JF: I resisted it, I try to, this is why I'm like constantly nodding and thumbs up, I know your listeners can't see, but I'm constantly giving facial cues of excitement.
GW: Very helpfully, a friend of mine who listens to the podcast, after about six episodes, sent me a page long email saying how I could do it better. Which was super useful. It came from a very friendly place. It wasn't like “You’re not doing the podcast well enough, Guy, come on.” And that was one of the things he said was you don't need to do those verbal interruptions because when you're listening to it, it's annoying. Just let the person speak. Some people you ask the question and they answer in two sentences and stop. and I think I'm getting better at getting them started again. It is very tricky and it's actually really tiring because when interviewing, you're trying to get basically, the best experience you can for your listeners. And you're also trying to have a genuine conversation with the person. And sometimes it's very difficult to establish that kind of connection, where there is that back and forth. You know, that exchange of ideas. One of the things that chap said was we're also here to listen to you, Guy, because you're an expert in this field. So it's OK for you to talk and stop saying things like “No one comes here to listen to me,” which is what I was saying in the beginning. Because that's how I pitched it to myself, so I wouldn't have stagefright going on. So I persuaded myself all I'm doing is just setting up the microphones and just asking the questions and it's all on the other person to kind of do it. And I try to stay out of it a bit because I'm really nervous about public speaking and things like that. So it kind of eased me into it, but it became a bad habit. And so I had to stop doing that. Also the first 15 or so episodes, maybe 20 or 30, the technical production wasn't nearly as good as it could have been. And because I couldn't even hear it, I'm not really a very audio person, I'm much more of a visual person. So I will spot a typo in a page of text from across the room. But I let an interview go out where my guest was so quiet they could barely be heard and I was speaking in a normal tone. I hadn't balanced the volumes of the two clips at all. And several people contacted me to say we can't hear it. And so I went in and fixed it. And one person actually told me about the problem and then gave me screenshots of Audacity, the audio programme, how to fix it, with screenshots. It was super useful. I have the best listeners in the world. And then I realised I actually have to learn how to do this a bit. So I hired an audio engineer, his name is Gethyn Edwards, he basically makes his living narrating audio books. So I hired him to give me a three hour lesson in how to do the audio mastering for my podcast episodes. And now they all sound much better. But actually, that brings me on to something. At the very beginning of this conversation, we were talking about how I just sort of show up and start doing it as a job and sort of learn on the job. One thing we didn't mention is that from the very, very beginning, within three months of my school starting, we had our first foreign instructor come and give a seminar.
GW: And for the next 15 years at least, we averaged probably three or four of those a year. And for the first five or six years when I was travelling to events, what I was really going to the events to do was to find the instructors to come to my school, to teach. And I hired people on reputation and I hired people who I met at these events and some of the seminars would just save me maybe a year's work in research or other seminars showed me a really useful way of approaching this material in front of a particular group of students. And all of them added something. There are one or two which showed me very clearly how I should never teach. Don't do it that way. That's not a good way. But basically what that meant was for three or four weekends a year. I was getting the best people in. Getting a seminar from one of the best people in the world in that field, and sometimes I join in with the class, whenever that was practical. But usually people would stay for a few days and then we would do some work together one on one. And sometimes they would teach a weekend and then the following weekend and then the week between, we would be interacting that whole week. And so that was my primary education in the art of arms and how to teach. No one of those people is responsible for my development, but every one of them helped in my development. You yourself kind of gave a wrestling seminar for me in 2015.
JF: I remember. I did. It was so much fun.
GW: The hardest thing is, if you're the most experienced person in the room, as I was, how do you get better? And the way I got better is I arranged for myself to spend as much time as possible with other people who are good at this. Also, I was cross training with martial artists in other fields. If you've taught a Fiore dagger seminar in a in a dojo that teaches stuff like Escrima, and that's all knives, and they come out of the seminar going “that was great!” That tells you something about your interpretation. And it also tells you something about how you're teaching it. Getting outside of that narrow historical martial arts thing and actually interacting with the broader martial arts community is also really important,
JF: Hugely important, hugely important. I completely agree with that. I think that's a reason why it's really important, if you can, to get out to seminars that have multiple instructors. To be able to get that study for yourself.
GW: But those seminars with multiple instructors, generally speaking, you're not spending enough time on one topic to really get anywhere. But what you're seeing is a glimpse of how it can be done. And you're making these connections, and you should absolutely be dragging those people back to your den and extracting everything you can after that. Oh, I should also mention I went on a fencing coaches’ course with the British Academy of Fencing, doing foil coaching. It was five days, 12 hours a day of being taught how to coach foil at a higher level, and the thing is, I haven't taught a foil lesson since, I don't think, but that was where I really learnt how coaching works, where the coach creates the environment in which the desired action works and everything else will fail. And then they make that environment more and more difficult, so the student has to be able to keep getting the hit and more and more difficult circumstances so they naturally become better. And that was transformative for how I teach, for one thing, I don't remember the last time I gave a technical correction verbally.
GW: “Tuck your elbow in.” Why would I say that? Why not just create an environment in which the elbow will be tucked in naturally? I don't want the student thinking about their elbow, I want them thinking about hitting me, hitting the person who they are supposed to be hitting.
JF: It's been the great quest of my own personal development to learn how to shut the fuck up.
GW: It's the hardest thing, because you want to jump in there, make corrections, but if you just stay out of the way, they'll do it just fine.
GW: If the environment is good.
JF: Exactly. Well, I had such a proud moment recently for me in that development. A student who's been working with me only since the pandemic, so one on one, with masks and all that sort of stuff and very limited on what we can work on because we're staying at sword lengths. And my shoulder’s busted. So there's been a lot that has externally driven this particular gentleman's path of development, because what I can show him is very limited. But he's been around for, I don't know, six months, nine months, something like that. He has done a ton of solo work because of the situation, has done some good work with me on and off, some paired work here and there. And so you would think after six to nine months of hitting bags with swords, hitting ropes with swords, doing thrusting, targeting on pendulums, et cetera, he comes to me and he goes, OK. So I think you need to teach me how to cut now. And I was like, hell, yes, I do. Let's do it. And it was just so brilliant that he has accepted that this is just kind of the path. This is the way it's going. And that he's been literally cutting with a sword for six, nine months, whatever, and just now understands, I don't know what I'm doing. Please now I'm ready to hear what to do. It was just, you know, I'm very excited about the constraints I've been put under because I think it's made me a better teacher.
GW: I mean, there's a lot of very, very bad things about this pandemic and people dying and everything. And that's shocking and awful and terrible. But one thing that has really surprised me is how adaptable historical martial arts are to online stuff. It's extraordinary. Yes, some clubs have folded, but most that I'm aware of have not. They are still keeping going one way or another, whether that's getting together for a Zoom half hour sword cutting session in their living rooms every Saturday or whatever it is. And I've developed a bunch of things I am certainly going to keep going even after we can travel again, like I have a monthly Coaches Corner class, get together thing, where we have a topic each month. And I explain my view of the topic and then we have discussions and questions and back and forth. And there’s a group of usually between 12 to 16 people there. And some of them have been teaching for decades and some have never taught a class yet. But people ask questions. I answer some of the questions. Other people will come in with their own suggestions. It is creating basically this support group for coaches, which is great. And yeah, I seriously miss having a room full of people to teach. Class instruction is my favourite kind of instruction. I just love having a class. And it is very tiring teaching over the Internet, but there are things we can do and there are positive constraints and there are negative constraints and very often the difference between a positive constraint and a negative constraint is how you view the constraint. If we choose to view this we can only teach online as an entirely negative constraint then that is what it will become. But if we say, well, OK, this means I can teach in Florida, I've never taught Florida before. I've done it twice in the last six months because we were doing everything over Zoom and they could afford that. And the last private lesson I taught, the chap was in Austin, Texas, and he didn't have to fly me to Austin, Texas, and he didn't have to fly to the U.K. and yes, it would be better in many ways if we could do that. But we can still do this. And this is still good.
JF: Yeah, yeah. Probably a greater life lesson in that. We can still do this and this is good. It's interesting because I often think of growing older, becoming injured or having been injured, in my case, having an incurable disease that will slowly disable me. So what is always on my mind is still pursuing your art despite constraints. Because the reality is, if you do this long enough, you will encounter them.
GW: In May last year, a student from Holland contacted me saying his lung had collapsed and just because he's tall and thin and it just happened. So he went to the doctors or the hospital and they fixed it. They pumped it up again. But he wasn't allowed to do any training at all for six weeks. So what could he do? So I said, well, you should learn to meditate. So I created a meditation course because he needed one. And we had this series of six classes, one a week for six weeks. And then I created an online course out of that and reshot everything. And so we have this meditation course because this guy was injured. He now knows how to meditate, and I literally just finished writing a book which is currently titled The Principles of Solo Training, and I've organised it entirely by constraints. So after a lengthy introduction, the first thing is meditation, because that's what you can do when you can't move and you literally can't get out of bed you can still meditate, if you have control of your breathing. And ideally, some motor function as well. You could do meditation and you could do breathing exercises. If you've got control of your breathing and your motor control, and you've got a bit of space and you can move around, there's this joint care stuff you can do and basic physical exercise. If you've got a bit more space, you can do footwork. If you've got a little more space and a stick, you can do these handling drills. If you've got a bit more space and a sword, you can do the sword handling drills of various kinds. And here's a whole bunch of ways you can learn how to train with the sword. And then if you've got all of that and a partner. Then we've got to the end of the book, because I'm not interested in that because it is too easy. Not enough constraints. That's not absolutely true. At the end at the end of the book is, OK, you probably want to know about pair training. So I couldn't put it in a book about solo training, but I put a 6000 word like chapter on pair training on a page on my website, which in the book can be a link to it. So it’s not to leave people completely hanging, but the point is there are always going to be constraints. And while you are conscious, there are things you can do. And yeah, it is easier if you have a salle with a bunch of sharp swords and 20 highly trained students and colleagues. And we're all there doing this stuff and it's great. But there's also, if you think about it, there are all sorts of fencing problems which you have to fix with solo training, where pair drills are not the appropriate solution. If your hamstring is too short to lunge properly and you need to lengthen your hamstring, that's not a pair drill.
JF: Right, and trying to fix it in a pair drill is obviously not appropriate.
GW: I'm very much in favour of viewing all constraints as positive, whether they are or not.
JF: Yeah, well. It's the most useful way to approach them, really.
GW: Otherwise, you just have to sit in the corner having a sulk going, I can't do my swords anymore.
JF: I found this channel on YouTube of people that are extremely handicapped or have rare diseases or this sort of thing, and this lovely gentleman is interviewing them, but he's talking to a man who, I'm not exactly sure of what his situation is, but he from the outside appears to have arms and a torso. But there's no lower body visible in his shirt, at least. And he was born that way. And he said of himself, I figured looking around at everybody else, there's always something I could find to complain about. So what's the point? Everybody has plenty to complain about. Why would I waste my time with it? And I just I was like, yeah, done. Sign me up for your course on life right there. OK, so we're nearing the end of our time. So I think your question you like to ask everyone is what is the best idea you never followed up on?
GW: Oh, OK, yeah, and people fall into two camps, there’s either, I always act on all of my ideas that are good, or I have this thing that I always wish I'd done and I've never done it. Usually for most people, it is write a book. Which I've done plenty of those. I'm not too worried about that. I am one of those people who has an idea and then just does it. So like for my George Silver project, I had the idea on a Sunday morning and by Monday I had hired the first narrator. I had said could you please audition for this. And I got the audition in on Thursday and had hired him by then. And by Tuesday, the following week, I had Ben Crystal agreed to do this job and we had an agreement and his agent had sent me a bill. And so that went from “has never occurred to me” to “actually in motion” in a day. Because when the idea strikes, if it's a good idea, you should just do it. I very often do it and it was a bad idea. The bias towards action has its downsides. I will tend to just do it and see what happens. And sometimes I think I really shouldn't have done that. But I would much rather regret things I have done than things I haven't.
JF: Yeah, have you read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert?
GW: Honestly, I can't stand her. I read Eat, Pray, Love, and I just wanted to slap her. Can’t stand her.
JF: I empathise with that perspective, but I will say Big Magic was pretty cool in that she's talking about the process of writing a novel, of getting an idea, of doing it. And she, for herself, externalises the idea like it is a sprite or a fairy or a muse. One would say that it lands. And if you don't act upon it, it will move on to somewhere else.
GW: Go to find someone grateful.
JF: Whether or not it’s bullshit or whatever. But she says this is why so often you will say, “I had that idea”. Well, you didn't act on it.
GW: I had that with my card game. The single most common reaction I got when I told people, oh, I've created this medieval combat card game. The single most common response I got was “That’s so cool”, and the second most common response I got was “Do you know, I had that idea,” and I’m like, “Yeah, but I don't see your game anywhere.” I didn't say that, I’m much too polite, but yeah, ideas are free and they are superabundant. It's the execution that is everything. And again, not every idea should be acted on and I've learnt that from experience, but yeah, I would say that my bias towards action means that there are currently no ideas that I'm sitting here wishing I'd acted on.
JF: Beautiful. Well, with that, I think we should wrap up our interview, Guy.
GW: Thank you, Jessica. It has been lovely talking to you as always.
JF: Thank you, Guy. And for anyone listening, please check an entire year's backlog of Guy’s interviews with a variety of sword people and experts in their fields. And we have more coming. Obviously, the one I'm most excited about is Katy Bowman.
GW: Thanks, Jess.
JF: Thank you.