Guy's Blog

Guy frequently keeps this blog updated with thoughts, challenges, interviews and more!

Category: Books and Writing

I’m in that funny limbo state between a book being finished and being published. My translation and interpretation of Fiore’s longsword plays (of which the current working title is now From Medieval Manuscript to Modern Practice: The Longsword Plays of Fiore dei Liberi. What do you think?) is back from the editor, his 2,370 comments and changes accepted, rejected, or otherwise acted on (that number is exact, not figurative. 2,370. Really. That's normal for a good editor with a 65,000 word document) and the resulting draft is now being proof-read. I expect that back in a couple of weeks, then it’ll be off to layout. Hurrah!

So it's a Schrödinger’s book, both finished and not finished. Done and not done. I can’t really concentrate on another sword related writing project (I think the replacement volume for The Duellist’s Companion is next up) until this one is really done. Instead I’m doing some productive procrastination, which for me is usually some craft-related activity. It’s something of a relief to get away from ideas and pixels, and back to physical materials. I’m making bookcases. This one is basically done:

That’s 18mm birch ply with solid cherry banding, and adjustable shelves, held onto the wall with a French cleat.

I haven’t done the cap or base yet, because I’m concentrating on getting books out of boxes. I can add the decorative but not actually necessary elements later. Bookcase 2 is basically the same, but with maple accents. I’ve been using the kiridashi knives daily since I made them– and holy cow, they are beautiful tools. They led me to dust off a chip-carving knife I’ve had knocking about the workshop for maybe 6 years. I got JT Pälikkö to make the blade for me, and I stuck a crappy birch handle on it just to get it into use asap. But I haven’t used it nearly as much as the quality of the blade deserves, which is partly because the handle just wasn’t appealing. So in some down-time between bookcases, while all my clamps were occupied with a glue-up, I started re-shaping the handle. After five minutes I thought ‘you know what? This knife deserves better’, and stripped off the old handle, and made a new one out of maple, cherry, and walnut. You can see part of the old handle in this photo.

Top tip: leave the wood long as long as possible- it's much easier to hold it still if it has a built-in handle! I epoxied the whole thing together.

Then I did 90% of the shaping before cutting the handle to length. I went so far as to actually finish the handle at the blade end before cutting the waste away.

The handle is finished in boiled linseed oil, then shellac. I made a home for it on my tool board- it fits in beautifully!

Of course, in my enthusiasm, I drilled the hole for the tang too deep, and it was visible at the pommel end, so I plugged it with a square cherry plug. I could have made it disappear with some antique-restorer trickery, but decided to highlight the error with a contrasting wood.

This is in the spirit of wabi-sabi: the things that make something imperfect can also make them beautiful. This is true in many fields, but not, ever, book editing!

A month ago I posted about Invisible Women, and suggested changing the cover of my book The Medieval Longsword to make  it more inclusive, and especially to make it clear that women can and should practice the art of arms if they so wish.

Shortly after that the socialz exploded with backlash against the dimwitted Andrew Klavan suggesting in his review of the tv show Witcher that ‘women can't fight with swords'. Yes, he's a moron and safely ignored, but it goes to show that the idea that women can't fight with swords remains plausible to many people.

So, here's the first draft of the new cover, with Kimberleigh Roseblade (photographed by Kristin Reimer of Photomuse) holding a sword in defiance of the Klavans of this world:

What do you think? Let me know if you have any suggestions on improving it in the comments on this blog, or contact me directly.

I'm planning to update the cover of Advanced Longsword too, but one thing at a time!

My next longsword book is with the editor at the moment. Currently titled The Longsword of Fiore dei Liberi, it's my transcription, translation, and commentary on all the longsword plays on foot out of armour from Il Fior di Battaglia. It includes video clips of my interpretation of all of those plays, starting from drawing the sword, and ending just after the zogho stretto section. The Medieval Longsword is a training manual, which teaches you how to use the sword. This new book is more of a description of what Fiore's plays are and how they fit together. In a sane world this book would have preceded the others, but to be honest the idea for it didn't occur to me until about 16 months ago!

I'm not happy with the title though. I need something that may attract readers who don't know who Fiore was. I'm thinking of something along the lines of Medieval Italian Swordsmanship: The Longsword Techniques of Fiore dei Liberi

What do you think? Do you have any better ideas for the title? You can let me know in the comments on this blog, or or contact me directly.

As always, feel free to share this with anyone you think might be interested.

I’m reading Invisible Women: Exposing Gender Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez, and it’s one of those books that simply everybody on the planet ought to read. The raging unfairness she exposes has made me rethink a lot of things. It’s not like I was unaware of what was going on, exactly, but as Perez points out the bias is so pervasive, and of such long standing, that one tends not to notice it. As she writes on page xi, “the lives of men have been taken to represent those of humans overall. When it comes to the lives of the other half of humanity, there is often nothing but silence.”
And this silence is literally fatal. To take some incontrovertible examples out of the dozens and dozens and dozens in the book:

  • From Chapter 9: A Sea of Dudes: “When a woman is involved in a car crash, she is 47% more likely to be seriously injured than a man, and 71% more likely to be moderately injured, even when researchers control for factors such as height, weight, seat-belt usage, and crash intensity. She is also 17% more likely to die.” (p.186) Car safety tests are routinely carried out with crash test dummies based on the ‘average male’. When cars are tested with dummies designed to represent female physiques, they will often get a much lower safety rating than the one the makers publish. Leaving women out of car safety testing is literally killing women.
  • From Chapter 10: The Drugs Don’t Work: “Women are dying. And the medical world is complicit. It needs to wake up.” (p. 216) It turns out that most medical research is conducted on male subjects (animal and human), because women have more complex biology (all those pesky hormonal cycles interfering with nice clean data). Which means that nobody actually knows how drugs will affect women, and even drugs intended solely for female medical issues are often only tested on male subjects!
  • In Chapter 11: The Yentl Syndrome, Perez tells us that women are more likely to die from heart attacks than men, because they present differently in women. Women are 50% more likely to have their heart attack misdiagnosed, which can obviously be fatal (p. 218).

And so women are dying. Yes, it’s more difficult to develop drugs using female subjects, but it was also very difficult to fly to the moon, and we managed that 50 years ago. Leaving women out of car design and medical research is literally killing women.

This holds true in practically every domain, from public transport, public services, aid work, architecture, politics, town planning, the list goes on and on. Did you know that after the 2001 Gujarat earthquake disaster, which killed thousands, and destroyed 400,000 homes, there was a massive rebuilding effort. And they built replacement homes without kitchens. Because cooking is women’s work, and nobody asked the women what they wanted in their new houses. Then the same thing happened again after the 2004 tsunami. Massive rebuilding effort, no kitchens. Seriously. It’s fucking insane.

Invisible Women is 300+ pages of well-researched, entirely data-supported examples of the way women are systematically overlooked, under-represented, and disadvantaged. Buy it. You can find it here (that's an affiliate link, as are all book links on my blog btw. Use google instead if that makes you uncomfortable)

As a father of daughters, this incites an existential rage in me that I will not contain. But how to direct it? “One of the most important things to say about the gender data gap is that it is not generally malicious, or even deliberate.” (p. xii). Who is this enemy attacking my children? Based on reading Perez’s work, I think it’s an emergent property of the assumptions and practices of our culture.

I was talking about this book with some friends on my recent trip to New Zealand. I was about 150 pages in at that point, and Agate Ponder-Sutton who was sitting next to me is a) a data scientist and b) had read the whole book. But when she started talking about it, one of the other people present, without malice or bad intent, effectively told her to stop talking so I could explain the book. The one that I hadn’t finished yet and don’t have the technical background to assess with anything like the same authority.
That’s the problem, right there.

So what to do?
Perez suggests (on p. 316) that “we must increase female representation in all spheres of life”, and (on p. 318) “The solution to the sex and gender data gap is clear: we have to close the female representation gap. When women are involved in decision-making, in research, in knowledge production, women do not get forgotten.” I think she’s right.

The historical martial arts community has come a long way since the early nineties, but women remain severely under-represented. By far the most inclusive event I know, Swordsquatch, held in Seattle every September, had a total of forty instructors. 12 were women, so about 30%. And that’s outstandingly good in comparison to last year’s VISS, which had two out of 15, about 12%. This year’s WMAW had one woman out of 26. That’s about 4%. No disrespect to any of these events intended- many events have no female instructors at all.
I’ll consider this topic done when the norm for events worldwide is 50:50.

The usual objection to this idea is “but there aren’t enough female instructors of the necessary standard”. The historical martial arts movement was overwhelmingly male 25 years ago. The female instructors we do have can pretty much all point to one or more male instructors who trained them (most famously perhaps Jessica Finley started out as Christian Tobler’s student. Hats off to Christian for doing an excellent job there). But the fact that after 25 years at this we don’t have approximately equal numbers of male and female international level instructors is a shameful failure on the part of us old guard male instructors, who could and should have done better to train up the women in our schools. And, we all got our breaks when the standards were pretty low. Guy of 2001 would never get invited to teach at an event in 2019. But because the bar was lower then I got fantastically valuable experience, and very useful exposure. Teaching at prestigious events is a massively effective learning opportunity for the instructors, and having more women teaching will encourage more women to teach. Yes, we do have a few female instructors on the international circuit that are every bit the equals and peers of us well-established men. But we need more, and we’ll only get them by giving teaching opportunities to women who are currently less well qualified than the superstars. We have to accept a short-term disadvantage (classes from less experienced, less well-known instructors) for a long-term advantage: doubling the size of the pool from which instructors can be drawn. And we may very well find that that ‘disadvantage' is no such thing- I pale to think at how much we may be missing by overlooking the women we already have in the field.

In the tiny sphere of life in which I have some influence, there are already many people working hard to address our inherent bias. Kaja Sadowski’s book Fear is the Mind-Killer is a great place to start looking at making training better adapted to individual students. Kaja also kindly read and commented on my first rage-fuelled rant draft of this post. This one is much better.

The Esfinges group exists to support women training in historical martial arts.

This post by Jennifer Landels on how to adapt your curriculum for gender differences is very useful:

Fran Terminiello runs events with women-only instructors in the UK. There are two coming up in 2020: By The Sword 2020, March 28th and 29th, and Swords of Spring, on May 2nd. I'm sure some numbnuts will yell “that's discrimination!”, and I'll yell back “positive discrimination can be helpful!” (see here for my view on women-only events).

Most recently, The Ravenswood Academy have produced a very beautiful deck of cards featuring women warriors from across the globe. (They've sold out, or I'd link to the shop.)

On the subject of cards, my game Audatia has a female character deck based on a historical person (Lady Agnes Hotot).

In my other work I’ve always made sure that my books have female as well as male models in the photos. In my online courses I’ve done the same with my demo partners. A lot of them are about solo training, but of the three that require a training partner, two have a woman throughout: the Rapier Course has Maaret Sirkkala, and the Longsword Course had Zoë Chandler. I wasn’t aware at the time that Zoë was trans, and he is now Zach Chamberlaine, but the point stands. And I know for a sure and certain fact that it has made a difference to women taking up the art, because some of those women have told me so to my face. That’s also why my Facebook profile ‘cover photo’ is me in the middle of mostly not-white, many not male students, and standing right next to me is a woman in a hijab holding a sword (Riri Nitihardjo, from Indonesia).

Some years ago I was reading Katy Bowman’s book on biomechanics, Alignment Matters, and noticed with something of a start that it assumed a female reader. Fair enough, I thought. She’s a woman, and many of her clients are women, so why not? It didn’t bother me. Likewise, Seth Godin is well known for always using ‘she’ as the generic term. He said when asked about it on his podcast that it was in honour of his mother. Also fair enough, and it certainly causes me no pain.

So as I was reading Invisible Women I had a sudden thought. Why don’t I take my most popular book, The Medieval Longsword, and edit it such that it would assume a female reader? I had a look, and it currently addresses the reader as ‘you’, and describes the opponent as ‘opponent’, or ‘partner’, or ‘attacker’, such as here:
1. “Attacker ready in right side posta di donna; you wait in tutta porta di ferro
2. Attacker strikes with mandritto fendente, aiming at your head
3. Parry with frontale, meeting the middle of the attacker’s sword with the middle of your own, edge to flat
4. The attacker’s sword is beaten wide to your left, so pass away from it (to your right), striking with a mandritto fendente to the attacker’s left arm, and thrusting to the chest.”
There really isn’t any room for editing without making it less clear.

But I can and jolly goddesses damn well will put a woman on the cover. Currently there is me crossing swords with one of Fiore’s illustrated masters:

The Medieval Longsword

I could replace me with a woman.
Or, we could go with something a bit more dramatic and do a whole cover re-design, with something like this:

(That's Jessica Finley, in case you've been living under a rock this last ten years).
Or perhaps this image of Kimberleigh Smithbower Roseblade might hit the spot (I’m in discussions with the photographer at the moment- this is my front-runner favourite).

Kimberleigh Roseblade photograph ©Kristin Reimer/Photomuse

What do you think?

The book I’m currently working on (the finished draft of which went to the editor yesterday, huzzah!!) is the compilation of the Fiore Translation Project, so it hasn’t much room in it for changing the assumed sex of people. I pretty much only refer to Fiore (a man) and other real people (by their gender, or at least the gender they present as), or myself (also a man). I suppose I could refer to the player or companion (the one getting bashed up in the images) as ‘she’, but it would be weird because the illustration seems to show a man and every instance where Fiore uses a pronoun to describe them, it’s male. So it would be simply wrong to start calling them ‘she’, or translating it any way other than the way it was written. What do I do to make it more likely to draw women into the Art? Would this do?

Or this?

Zoe Chandler kicks Miika in the nuts: for The Swordsman's Companion.

In case it isn’t clear: if you are philosophically or politically opposed to women entering the art, you can fuck off my blog, don’t buy my books, I want nothing to do with you. If you think representation doesn’t matter, then go away more gently and get an education, then you’ll be welcome back.

If you have any good ideas about how to adapt one of my books in this way, or a book I could write from scratch with this agenda, then please let me know in the comments!

In truth, I don’t expect this to make a great deal of difference to the world at large, but I have to do something, and this might make some difference to some people. Which is much, much, better than making no difference at all.

Whenever I post on topics like this there is alway a slew of wankers who feel entitled to comment despite being entirely ignorant. Yes, it’s always men. Funny that. But to be clear: I won’t discuss this on any forum other than the comments on this blog, and, if you haven’t read Invisible Women, you are not qualified to have an opinion on it.

Radical thought, I know.

I have the best readers. They are forever coming up with great ideas that I would never have thought of myself, and then sharing them with me. For instance, a while ago, Alex Beaudet contacted me with the suggestion of creating versions of illustrated fencing treatises in the format used for the ebook version of comic books and graphic novels. This is obviously better than the standard pdf or epub because it is precisely designed for distributing books made up of image files, rather than text.

But it's something I know absolutely nothing about, so I replied along the lines of ‘great idea, but not something I can do myself'. And so Alex kindly volunteered to do it.

We started with Vadi's De Arte Gladiatoria Dimicandi, which has come out beautifully. It's free, but feel free to pay something for it if you want to support this kind of work. You can see it for yourself here:

De Arte Gladiatoria

And we have Capoferro in the works!

You may also notice that the mailing list sign-up form below every post has changed… do you have a copy of Swordfighting yet?

If you have two hands, and only one of them is holding the sword, you might as well have a second weapon. The most common companion weapon for the rapier is the dagger. Rapier and dagger fencing is fast, complex, and fun. In this workbook you will learn how to quickly develop the knack of parrying with the dagger while striking with the sword, using a series of games. You will then be taught a selection of rapier and dagger sequences from Capoferro’s Gran Simulacro, and develop from these sequences into freeplay.

We also cover the use of the cloak as a secondary weapon, drawing from Capoferro and Alfieri, teaching you how to use the cloak to parry attacks, to weigh down your opponent’s weapon before you attack, and even to blind them prior to running them through.

These workbooks are laid out in right-handed and left-handed versions, we recommend choosing the one that suits you. All technical exercises are shown in the videos for both right-handers and left-handers. You can buy the workbook from our distribution partner Fallen Rook Press:

Right Handed Layout

Left Handed Layout

Pro tip: use the coupon code PART4 to get 25% off!

The Fiore Translation Project is growing apace; I'm almost through the zogho largo section already. I compiled the translation, transcription, commentary and video clips for the Sword in One Hand plays into a pdf some time ago: you can get it free as a PDF by subscribing to my mailing list below this post. But I have also released it in Kindle and Epub formats on my Gumroad shop, and on Amazon.

Part two comprises the footwork, ways to hold the sword, blows of the sword, and the guards, and I have compiled and edited those posts into a 116 page book, Longsword Mechanics. You can get the print PDF (for printing at home),  epub and Kindle formats as a bundle from here:

Longsword Mechanics on Gumroad

It is also available to pre-order from Amazon, though you only get the kindle file from them.

Yes, you can get pretty much all of the information in the book from the posts on this blog, and you're welcome to do so. But wouldn't it be so much more convenient to have them all together in a format that works on your e-reader of choice, or all nicely printed out?

This work depends entirely on support of people like you- the few, the elect, the elite who understand that Fiore's art of arms is the quintessence of martial awesome, and find my work a useful adjunct to his. By buying this book, you make the next one possible. Carry on!

There is literally nothing more satisfying for a writer than seeing their books in the wild. Normally this happens to me at seminars or events, but sometimes my readers are kind enough to send in photos from far flung places.

Dan Weber, for instance, took The Medieval Longsword camping with him (definitely easier to pack than an actual medieval longsword!)

Tom Farmer in Colorado went elk hunting in the mountains (with a flintlock!), and took The Art of Sword Fighting in Earnest for company:

And Tomáš Venhoda is clearly a man after my own heart. He disdains ebooks, and took the free pdf of The Fiore Translation Project part 1: The Sword in One Hand (catchy title, huh? You can get your own copy by signing up to my email list below this post), and had it printed and bound as a hardback.

In this he anticipates me by some degree: when I've completed the entire longsword on foot out of armour section, I'm planning to compile the work into a book. But it is beyond awesome to see my work in such enthusiastic hands.

Thank you, Dan, Tom, and Tomáš!

And yes, if you have photos of my books in the wild, I'd love to see them.

Approximately every 365 days there falls a date celebrated for many things, but in my household principally as the anniversary of my birth. Yes, you have anticipated me: it was my birthday.
As is delightfully customary, I was showered with gifts, chief among them a tome that has, quite simply, changed my life.
How to Sharpen Pencils, by David Rees (henceforth referred to as “The Master”) sets out in clear and pellucid prose the principles and practices of that once-exalted, now sadly under-appreciated craft, the sharpening of pencils. He includes a complete theoretical underpinning, and much sage and practical advice to the novice, not omitting (which gladdened my swordsmanly heart) a thorough warm-up. Because, let us face this truth unstintingly, pencil sharpening is primarily a physical craft, to be mastered before approaching the metaphysical sharpening of graphite encased in fragrant cedar.
The Master is clearly a man of surpassing patience and precision, but he does not neglect the aesthetics of his art: interleaved throughout this meisterwerk are “Reveries”, miniature photographic essays of appreciation for early mechanical pencil sharpening devices. These are included, I think, to raise the reader to a state of consciousness better suited to a deeper appreciation of the perfection that is tantalisingly visible in the crafting of a pencil point, yet will ever elude us.
Just as perfection must ever elude the author of any book. I might point out that The Master, whose veneration of accuracy verges on (but never quite o’ersteps the bounds of) pedantry, would under no circumstances have written “site” for “sight”, as appears on page 96. I suspect some publisher’s minion, jealous of an attainment that will forever be beyond their grasp, of deliberately inserting this homophonous error. Perhaps the same saboteur that misleadingly and entirely erroneously placed this book in the “Humor” category. (I apologise most profusely to my readership for the appalling lack of a ‘u’ in Humor, here. I am quoting directly from the back cover of the book and cannot be held responsible.)
Yet there remains one baffling omission: nowhere does The Master address the pressing issue of pocket-sharpener maintenance, other than simple cleaning of the egress slot. It is surely necessary to, as occasion demands, remove the blade with a small screwdriver (of a type common to jewellers and electricians), and polish the flat of it on a suitable whetstone, re-shape the bevel on same, and return it to the sharpener body, being careful to replace the screw snugly to prevent it falling out, thus freeing the blade with potentially serious consequences, but not so snugly as to render future removal for re-sharpening unnecessarily laborious. This simple process can in many cases transform a lacklustre sharpener.
Here, I also must point out that in my time as a cabinet-maker, I was wont to sharpen pencils with a very sharp chisel, and for the finest point, a small hand plane. This is, I admit perhaps beyond the scope of the specialist pencil sharpening professional, but I would, if pressed, be willing to demonstrate these techniques for the edification and delight of fellow enthusiasts.
Neither of these lacunae are sufficiently serious to detract from the overwhelming excellence of this book; I mention them in the spirit of the ambitious pursuit of perfection that so imbues this work.
This book is not just for Christmas: it is, like puppies, for life.

If you use Amazon (and most people do), then you may have noticed that they have changed the “Also Boughts” section on the product pages. It used to be a pretty reliable way of seeing what other people, who like the same things you do, have found interesting enough to buy. It also worked as free advertising for the producers of those things. Recently, Amazon decided it wanted a bigger chunk of the online advertising business (currently dominated by Google and Facebook), and got rid of the “Also Boughts”, replacing that section with paid adverts. This is worse for you (the recommendations aren't ‘natural'- they are chosen for you by whoever is willing to pay the most for your attention) and much worse for all writers: most authors are reporting earnings drops of between 30 and 40%. I'm not down that badly, but it's still a very noticeable drop in revenue.

This is annoying. I thought it might help matters to get some more reviews, so I just sent this request to my email list.

In my opinion it is unethical to offer incentives for reviews. How can other readers be sure that the review is genuine, if you've been paid for it in some way by the author? So I have a simple favour to ask. If you have read any of my books and not yet left a review, I would be very grateful if you would do so. You can find all of my books on my Amazon Author Page. If you'd be so kind as to click on that link, find the books of mine that you've read, and spend a couple of minutes rating them and writing a review, it would help enormously. Reviews sell books, and the more books I sell, the more people get a good start in historical swordsmanship, and the more money I have for research trips, writing time, and so on. It's a win-win.

But that got me thinking. Why, if Amazon clearly doesn't give a toss about me or my work, should I be sending them all this traffic? So then I looked into possible alternatives. It turns out that the print on demand service, IngramSpark, that I use for almost all my books, has a direct webshop facility. At the moment it is only available to US residents (damn it), but I have thrown one together at great speed, which has all of my books that I have distribution rights to, as well as a bunch of others that I have read and enjoyed or found useful (or both).

I need to add a lot more books to it, of course- is there anything you think I've missed? I've got books on woodwork, and fiction, and HMA resources. Unfortunately a lot of great books are published using other POD and distribution systems (eg I can't add books by Freelance, which would include my own Dagger book, as well as a bunch more really good titles), but the Ingram catalogue runs to the millions of titles.

And I need to add proper product descriptions and such like. This is very much an early-days work in progress, and I'll put more effort into it if you all think it's a good idea. And even more if Ingram get off their US-centric behinds and open it up to the rest of the world's readers.

Let me know in the comments or by email…

Volume 2 of the new Rapier Workbook series is back from layout, and looking pretty spiffy. It will be going to the printers next week. Huzzah!

Volume 2 won't be so useful if you don't already have volume 1. You can get beautifully printed copies from the distributor here, or buy the print files to have printed locally or print them at home. I've set the pricing for the print files to “Pay what you want“. You can have them for free, or you can pay a million dollars for them (go on, I dare you), or anything in between. Just put the number in the price box, and that's what you pay.

You might think I'm mad for doing that, but here's my reasoning:

1) My readers are honest. If they say they can't afford the book, then they can't. But it costs me nothing to allow them to download it anyway, and that way they will get better at swordsmanship, which is the point of writing this book in the first place. Win-win.

2) My readers are generous when they can be. Some people will pay *more* than the suggested price, because they want to support my work.

3) Printing books at home is ok, but professional printing is usually much better. So some people will download the files for free, and then decide they can't live another day without the printed version.

4) This is the first book in a series. If you like the workbook format, and like my writing and teaching style, you're likely to go buy volume 2 when it comes out. Then volume 3, and 4.

So, not mad at all, I think!

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Max Your Lunge

I wrote Max Your Lunge in 2007, long before this blog was conceived. It’s past