Guy's Blog

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

Tag: advanced longsword

It’s easy to forget that “blog” is shortened from “web log”, which is adapted from “ship’s log”, which is a daily record of every notable thing that happened on board ship; your position, distance travelled, direction, weather conditions, Seaman Jones flogged for impertinence, Midshipman Smith lost overboard in a freak encounter with a Kraken, that kind of thing.

So, in the spirit of the log, I thought I’d update you on my current position, progress, and floggings.

I am working on five major projects at the moment. They are (in order of likely to be finished soonest) Audatia’s Liechtenauer Expansion Pack and the Patron’s Duel Deck; Mastering the Art of Arms volume 3, Advanced Longsword, Form and Function; Sent: Surviving the Boarding School Experience; preparing to move to Ipswich in the UK, in June; and sorting through and fixing the damage done when I was sent to boarding school. I am also working on a few minor projects, such as organising and uploading photos of various books.


Our dashing Patron

You may have read my post on playtesting the almost-perfect decks. Rami and I have received corrected pdfs back from Jussi Alarauhio, our fabulous artist, and they should be good to go on DriveThru cards very soon. The main delay has been that this is Rami’s side of the business, and he has been struggling with some family issues that have kept him away from work a lot over the last few months. I won’t go into details because it’s not my story to tell, but suffice to say no decent person would expect him to be doing much work at this time. I’m taking up the slack as best I can, but I can’t replicate his expertise. Still, I am confident that all the printed decks will be shipped to our backers and the print-on-demand service will go live, very soon.

Advanced Longsword

Just this very morning I sent back the 5th corrected pdf of the final version of the book; with only three minor fixes to do. The covers are also done; I’d be very surprised if I don’t get the book uploaded to the printers by the end of next week. Fingers crossed!

Sent (and other projects)

I received a grant from the Suomen Tietokirjailijat Ry (Finnish Non-Fiction Writers’ Society) last month to write this book, and I’m now 35,000 words into the first draft. I’ve not written much for the last week or so mostly because I’ve had a horrible cough for the last fortnight, and I only work on difficult tasks when I can give them 100%. The cough took the edge off my writing, so I stopped for a while and did things that take less brainpower, like for instance organising the photos of my copy of the 1568 third edition of Marozzo’s Arte dell’Armi, and uploading them for free download (or pay what you want) from my Selz account.

I’m also half way through preparing the free download of photos for Advanced Longsword, and of my 1606 Fabris and 1740 Girard.

It’s been really interesting to see the number of downloads, and the range of payments people have chosen to make. It has been downloaded 516 times, with the majority paying nothing (of course!); and a generous minority paying as much as 20e for the photos. It’s raised over 200e, which is very helpful.

Moving to Ipswich

This is a major undertaking, especially with two children. We know where in Ipswich we want to live, for the sake of getting the kids into schools we like, and we have some idea of what we are going to do there. After writing about it here, and posting the final destination on Facebook, the two most common questions I’ve been asked are:

1) What will happen to your school? This tells me that the asker thinks that the Helsinki Branch is “The School”, which is not accurate. It’s just one branch. The School will carry on exactly as before, and so will the Helsinki branch of it. While I can’t predict the future, given the excellence of the students running it, I confidently expect the branch to go from strength to strength. I wouldn’t have planned to leave Helsinki if that were not the case. As for the wider school, well, flights are cheaper from the UK than from Finland, so it should be even easier for me to get to visit the branches worldwide.

2) Are you going to open a branch in Ipswich? No. I have already gone to a foreign country and opened a school of swordsmanship. That went very well, but I have no plans to repeat the experience. As I wrote in this post, I consider myself now a consulting swordsman. I’ll be happy to come along and help any school in the UK that wants it, but I do not intend to open any kind of formal training establishment in Ipswich. At some point I imagine I will need a cadre of people I can train with and bounce ideas off, as I have done with my senior students here since forever, but I expect that will happen organically. Starting a branch is a huge undertaking, and I have other things to do.

I have already packed up my fiction books. Non-fiction next. Then woodworking tools. Then swords. Then disposing of unnecessary items, and packing the rest for shipping. This is a long and tedious process, but it does offer a great opportunity to get rid of clutter, and think really hard about how much stuff we actually need. My core fencing kit is three longswords (blunt, cutting sharp, and pair-drill sharp), two rapiers (blunt and sharp, plus matching daggers), two smallswords (blunt and sharp), two foils (left and right handed), schiavona, backsword, cavalry sabre, arming sword, buckler, mask, gloves, gauntlets, freeplay plastron, coaching plastron, stopwatch, teaching stick. But lately when I travel to teach, I bring absolutely nothing. Hmmm….

I spent much of yesterday afternoon in my shed, fiddling about, and thinking about what tools I absolutely cannot do without. I noticed that I have 21 different woodworking planes, and thirteen different hammers. Non-woodworkers might think that's a lot; craftsmen will wonder how I manage with so few. If you're interested in a more detailed exploration of the de-cluttering, packing, and moving process, as regards books, tools, or swords, then let me know in the comments here, and I'll start documenting it.

Stuff in the shed

Boarding School recovery

This is indirectly tied to writing Sent, of course, though oddly enough I haven’t had any real emotional issues when writing. My wife was worried that I might, but it’s been fine. The place I have got to, through talking to the right people, meditation (which has been really helpful), and just thinking about things, includes the following:

  • While there has been a definite emotional cost to the experience, it has come with some benefits (especially education).
  • Given the outcome (I am happily married, in a great job, with lovely kids and friends and so on), there is no reason to think that it was the worst course of action that could have been taken. I could have been eaten by a lion in Botswana, or died of cholera in Peru; who knows?
  • I am out of it. I got out. And I got out without incurring the kind of damage that I recognise in many of my peers.
  • Looking back I can see the many, many occasions in which I found a feeling of family and home in the kindness of the people around me.
  • I’m still having trouble with the mercilessness of it. Boarding school back then was wilfully, deliberately, spartan. And even that was an order of magnitude more civilized than even a decade before. But still, the whole idea of sending little children away from home “for their own good” is, except in really exceptional circumstances, utterly wrong.
  • The time is long past for a minimum age for boarding. Many of my friends chose to board, from the age of 15 or so, and loved it. While every child is different, and any specific age limit is arbitrary, we still recognise that people are legally adult at 18; can drive at 17, can smoke at 16 (in the UK at least); can watch certain kinds of movie at 15, or 12, and so on. So here’s a thought. The next Pirates of the Caribbean movie will have, in the UK, a 15 certificate. Is a child who is not yet mature enough to watch Pirates of the Caribbean old enough to be sent away from their parents to boarding school? I think not. So I think I will campaign to introduce a minimum age for boarding. That will keep me busy in the UK, I think…


There are no floggings to report. If you think there should have been, you can take it up with my wife.

Swordsmanship practice is inherently dangerous. The study of risk has been developed to the nth degree over the last five hundred years or so. For an excellent overview, see Against the Gods, the remarkable story of risk, by Peter Bernstein. (Thanks to my friend Lenard Voelker for sending me a copy!). The assessment of risk may be described as assigning probabilities to events that have not yet occurred. If they have happened before, then we can see how many times over a given period, and use that data to evaluate the likelihood of it happening again. For example, if it has snowed at Christmas 20 times in the last 100 years, you can state with some confidence that there is about a 1 in 5 chance of it happening again this year. But many of the events we fear have no measurable risk- either because they have not happened (yet), or we have an insufficient pool of data to draw meaningful probabilities from. So they are uncertain, but have no definite probability. This distinction was drawn by Milton Keynes (and explained by Niall Ferguson on p 343 of his book The Ascent of Money).

The risk we all fear is a training accident leading to serious injury or death. In the wider world of swordsmanship practice, all of the serious accidents (which I define as requiring hospitalisation) have occurred in either competitive freeplay, or outside the bounds of a formal school (such as on the re-enactment field). So while we know that there is a possibility of such accidents occurring in the salle, they have no definable risk as the incidence is so low. They are instead uncertain. Given the thousands of hours spent in swordsmanship training worldwide every year, and how few accidents occur, it is reasonable to assign a low probability of serious injury or death. Assuming that we do not relax our safety standards in response to this, then we can assure prospective scholars of the art that “this is dangerous, but pretty safe”.

Cars are also pretty safe these days. Airbags, crumple zones, safety glass, seat belts, all reduce the likelihood of serious injury or death in the case of a collision. But they do nothing to prevent collisions in the first place, and encourage a false sense of security. Cocooned in hi-tech armour, we ride invulnerable to our deaths. I think a shiny steel spike sticking out of the steering wheel to impale the driver at the merest fender-bender would do wonders to improve road safety.
When a risky activity becomes safer, human beings tend to consume that risk. Safer cars are driven faster. Better healthcare encourages unhealthy lifestyles. The Munich taxi experiment described here is an excellent example. Given better brakes, drivers went faster. So protective equipment in swordsmanship offers the comforting illusion of safety. Given good protective equipment we take more risks. Yes, armour works. But tell that to the French knights at Agincourt.
So, a balanced approach to swordsmanship training requires at least some time spent face to face with the naked possibility of your own death. A sharp sword, aimed at your unprotected face, in careful pair drills with a trusted, highly trained partner under competent supervision. There is nothing like a sharp steel point inches from your eyes to cut through the illusory safety of a fencing mask.
My favourite quote on this comes from Viggiani’s Lo Schermo (1575) (as translated by Jherek Swanger: note he does not translate “spada da marra”, which is a kind of blunt steel practice sword):

ROD:… but now it is time that we begin to practice, before the hour grows later: take up your sword, Conte.
CON: How so, my sword? Isn’t it better to take one meant for practice?
ROD: Not now, because with those practice weapons it is not possible to acquire valor or prowess of the heart, nor ever to learn a perfect schermo. CON: I believe the former, but the latter I doubt. What is the reason, Rodomonte, that it is not possible to learn (so you say) a perfect schermo with that sort of weapon? Can’t you deliver the same blows with that, as with one which is edged?
ROD: I would not say now that you cannot do all those ways of striking, of warding, and of guards, with those weapons, and equally with these, but you will do them imperfectly with those, and most perfectly with these edged ones, because if (for example) you ward a thrust put to you by the enemy, beating aside his sword with a mandritto, so that that thrust did not face your breast, while playing with spada da marra, it will suffice you to beat it only a little, indeed, for you to learn the schermo; but if they were spade da filo, you would drive that mandritto with all of your strength in order to push well aside the enemy’s thrust. Behold that this would be a perfect blow, done with wisdom, and with promptness, unleashed with more length, and thrown with more force, that it would have been with those other arms. How will you fare, Conte, if you take perfect arms in your hand, and not stand with all your spirit, and with all your intent judgment?
[53R] CON: Yes, but it is a great danger to train with arms that puncture; if I were to make the slightest mistake, I could do enormous harm. Nonetheless we will indeed do as is more pleasing to you, because you will be on guard not to harm me, and I will be certain to parry, and I will pay constant attention to your point in order to know which blow may come forth from your hand, which is necessary in a good warrior.

This says it all!
You can download the whole book here:  and Jherek’s translation here.

In case it is not obvious from the small sample here, Rodomonte/Viggiani's student the Conte is clearly an accomplished swordsman already, there is no suggestion of equipping beginners with sharps. As Manciolino (an ardent proponent of using blunt steel swords, as am I) put it in Book Six of his Opera Nova (as translated by Tom Leoni, and available from here)

Manciolino begins book six of his Opera Nova thus:

“I now wish to show how wrong those are who insist that good swordsmanship can never proceed from practice with blunted weapons, but only from training with sharp swords. …

It is far preferable to learn to strike with bated blades then with sharp ones; and it would not be fair to arm untrained students with sharp swords or with other weapons that can inflict injury for the purpose of training new students to defend themselves.”

(with thanks to Ilkka Hartikainen for digging out and typing up the reference.)

Quite: “untrained students” find blunt steel sufficiently threatening that there is no need to make the swords sharp, and indeed it would be grossly irresponsible to do so. Highly trained and experienced students tend over time to take the blunt steel less and less seriously, and need to be reminded that swords are weapons. Likewise, the more armour you wear, the less vulnerable you are, and the less vulnerable you feel, which tends in most people to actually increase the risk of injury as this safety margin, and a bit more, is consumed.

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