Guy's Blog

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

Tag: audatia

2016 was a hell of a year in all sorts of good and less good ways. Celebrities apparently dropping like flies and some seriously crazy political developments put my own experiences of the year into some pretty sharp relief. Be that as it may, I’ll run through what I did last year in the hopes that I might see from my contrail where I’m actually heading, and in case you might find it useful or interesting.
The year began well, with the publication of Advanced Longsword: Form and Function on February 10th. This was a big step because it finishes the set of my up-to-date Fiore interpretation, which began with The Medieval Dagger and continued with The Medieval Longsword. I’m quietly proud of the trilogy, and the readers for whom I wrote it seem very pleased with it.
I followed up with three instalments of The Swordsman's Quick Guide. How to Teach a Basic Class came out on February 29th, Fencing Theory on April 21st, and Breathing on September 2nd.
As for writing, I also managed to bash out 49 blog posts this year, and have made great strides on the second editions of both Veni Vadi Vici and The Duellist's Companion, and on my memoir, Sent.
The single biggest challenge of the year was moving with my household from Helsinki to Ipswich at the beginning of June; you probably know how much work it is to move house; factor in the kids, and then square it for the additional complication of moving countries, and in retrospect it’s a miracle I got any work done at all.
Other than that, the biggest departure was setting up my new online courses venture. I began it in the most obscure and geeky way possible with a course on how to research historical swordsmanship from historical sources, which went live on July 1st. This is a monumental course, and it’s far from complete; I’ve got enough material up there to keep most students busy for about a year, but I’ve got some serious work to do to get the final modules published. I followed that with a much simpler challenge; a 6 week course on breathing training (published in September), then one on Footwork (November) and another on the basics of Fiore’s dagger combat material (December).

All in all, that’s a pretty productive year. The work done in 2016 built the body of my next book, The Theory and Practice of Historical European Martial Arts. I completed the first full draft of that last week. It includes instalments 1-6 of The Swordsman's Quick Guide, a great deal of content developed and edited from the Recreate Historical Swordsmanship from Historical Sources course, one or two blog posts, and some completely new material. This began in my head as a book that was too big to write, so I split it up and worked out the individual pieces separately, in exactly the way I describe in my article “How to Write a Book“. The book is with a couple of trusted friends now, and I'll get it ready for test-readers in a week or so. I expect it to be out in the world by the end of May.

It seems, looking back and extrapolating forwards, that I’m going to be putting a lot more effort into courses, but at the same time, I need to get those second editions done and dusted. It’s a good thing I know how to prioritise!
One of the most useful tools to get me to hit my targets is my writing group, which meets at the Arlington brasserie every Wednesday from 7.30 (Come! all welcome). It's very relaxed, but we do get some formal exercises done too. The pitch is just right- informal enough that I can file it under relaxation if I'm feeling overworked, and formal enough that I can file it under work if I'm feeling like I should be getting more work done. We state our goals for the coming week, and if we meet them, good; but if we don’t, then we have to put a pound in the Tardis (a tin shaped like, well, the Tardis). Money collected goes towards the wine for our annual Christmas dinner. Goals can be anything; write 1000 words of your first draft; edit one chapter; spend 10 minutes every day writing, or even (this was one of mine) take a whole day completely off! Whatever it is, it gets written down, and the next week you have to report whether you hit it or not. It’s surprisingly effective. I've barely missed a session since I started coming a couple of weeks after moving to Ipswich at the start of June.

Another major factor in getting stuff done has been renting desk space at Atrium Studios, which is part of the University here. For only £120 a month I have a spacious desk, use of the University library, access to the print shop, wifi, and so on. The Studio has all sorts of people working here; artists, sculptors, a brewery runs its office here (and bring samples in for product testing), plus graphic designers, start-up entrepreneurs, and so on. This means that it's much less isolating than working from home, but because we're all doing different things, there's no pressure to join in with anything. You can just sit down and work. My desk is enlivened by art from Roland Warzecha (Dimicator), Jussi Alarauhio (who did the art for Audatia), Brian Kerce (who made the gladius) and Titta Tolvanen. The little metal squiggle was made by Neal Stephenson and me in his basement. He's getting into blacksmithing, and this was our first attempt at ‘drawing out'. The tankard holding pens was given to me by PHEMAS to commemorate a seminar in 2012.  I also have all my books and Audatia decks here. Why?

Because in the difficult times, seeing the things I have made, and the things my friends and students have made for me, can be the difference between getting something useful done, and quitting in self-disgust.

The main mural posters are reproductions of Lorenzetti's stunning Allegoria frescoes in the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena. This serves many purposes- to keep me immersed in the art and culture of Fiore's time. To remind me of how art is supposed to work. And to remind me of the breathless wonder that hit me when I entered that room and saw them for the first time.

And with that, I better get on and put 2017 to work!

The New Year is upon us, and with it, a new opportunity to do interesting things, and a time to perhaps take stock and think about what's important. That would be lovely, except right now I'm totally overwhelmed with stuff to do. You might be to, so here's how I deal with it. First, let me take you back a few years….

When I was about 11 years old, I had to do a project on the Second World War at school. I chose British fighter planes. I had three weeks to prepare before I had to hand in my project and give a short talk to the class about it.
The day before the assignment was due, my tutor Mr Rawson found me in tears. I had put off even starting the project until the day before, and had absolutely no idea how to start or what to do. On finding out why I was crying, he pointed out that I’d had three weeks to figure it out or get some help, then showed me a couple of books in the library, and told me what to do. I had found the task too overwhelming to even start it.

I bashed something together, and gave the talk, and handed it in. I got an ok grade, but nobody was impressed.
As you can see from that story, my natural reaction to overwhelm is procrastination.

Overwhelm is a horrible feeling, like drowning in nit-pickery. So many little things, so many big things, all clamouring to be done, and only one me to do it all. Aaaaaaarghhhh! Run away and hide!

I get this feeling often. Right now, I have this list up on the wall by my desk. Lots and lots of different projects, and several continuous processes, all at various stages to be monitored, managed, and done.
The absolute worst bit is the final stages of publishing a book or a course. There are just a gadgillion little steps, and no clear playbook to follow to walk through them all. Again, aaaaaarghhhh!

The little poster on the left of my to-do list has the covers of all my published books and decks of cards (not the courses, they didn’t fit). Clearly, I can actually get stuff done, despite the overwhelm. So here’s how I do it, in the hopes you might find it useful.

1) Slow down. When it’s all piling up, and the to-do list is infinitely long and tedious and tricky and hard, the tendency is to rush. So I slow right down. I literally move in slow motion.

2) Self-talk. “Oh shit I have x y and z to do and only an hour!! Aaaargh!” (Again). This compresses time like no other technique. But I want to extend time, so I slow down, and say something to myself like “a whole luxurious hour. And really, not so much to do! Maybe I’ll take a nap in 30 minutes…”. This changes my perception of the time I have, and dramatically increases the amount I can get done in that time.

3) Do one small thing. The hardest thing, when faced with the badgillion bloody bits of bother, is to find the thread that will unravel the whole thing and make it easy. So I don’t look for it. I don’t spend any time thinking about which bit to do, I just pick one small thing and do that. Then the next, then the next, and so on. And nine times out of ten, it turns out that the first small thing is the magic thread that unravels the whole mess. The only real discipline involved is in not paying attention to the other things, big or small.

4) Productive procrastination. Sometimes I’m just not ready to handle the overwhelming stuff. So I find ways of procrastinating that are actually productive. Such as “I’m not ready to write The Medieval Longsword”. So I’ll build a writing desk.” (You can see it here: Productive Procrastination scroll down to find it). Or, I’ll empty my email inbox. Or I’ll do some training. Or I’ll write this blog post…

5) Break for breathing. Overwhelm is very stressful, and I find that I can break the cortisol spiral by going outside and doing breathing exercises, or push-ups, or kettlebells, or swinging a sword. It all helps. Five minutes or so of exercise gets everything back under control, and makes the process of slowing down and getting on with things easier.

Now that I have productively procrastinated, I’ll get back to the thing that was overwhelming me…

See you later!

If you liked this post, you might also like these others:

Project Management

Following my own advice

What should you spend your time on? My rules for prioritising what to do.

 

Last week I ran a survey to find out what I should be working on next. This generated a very clear ‘get on with the “systems from sources” online course' response. I am following orders, and hope to have the first couple of modules up for beta-testers next week. I will set it up so that a small number of people can sign up at a big discount, on the understanding that they will let me know what needs to be improved before I roll it out to the public. I'll send an email to my mailing list when it's ready for preview.

The survey also generated some interesting questions and comments, which I have answered below.

 

 

 

1. Your Syballus for level 4 is a bit confusing when you name the drills but give no clue on how they are done.

My response: Yes. The level 4 drills are all on video, which shows you what they are, but they are not instructional videos. This is deliberate: my syllabus wiki is free, and intended as a reference resource for everyone who is following my syllabus. It is not designed as an online course.

2. I live in a small province on the east coast of Canada and have just started taking longsword instruction at the new and only school in the province. The instructors are basing their instruction on Liechtenauer's work. I know you have an add-on for Audatia based on Liechtenauer, but does any of your work focus on comparing his approaches to the ones you use?

My response: Not really. I actually think that the Liechtenauer material is not a complete system; it is part of a system (as Fiore's Longsword material is too). It seems to me that it assumes a lot of basic training on the part of the user; basics that we find in all other sword styles are simply missing from Liechtenauer. I think that the basic material is shown with the messer, with Liechtenauer's merkeverse being, if you like, the advanced course. I don't find it terribly useful to compare and contrast except with students that have an in-depth knowledge of both.

3. I think a book about building participation on a local level including marketing, weapon and and armour procurement and financing, finding a location and course structure and design would be just jolly. Most new students have a difficult time building momentum, and finding practices. This book should be a ground up treatise on how it was done historically, and how to do it today. Just saying…. I have been at it a few years now and have faced several challenges including being ‘Dear John” ed and the ebb and flow of new faces. Might even want to throw in some info about building a facebook group and how social websites can help(I assume that a social website historically was a pub) TY
The online training course sounds intriguing also…

My response: A book on how to start and run a study group or school… hmm, interesting. I might, but there are already some good books on the subject out there, such as Starting and Running your own Martial Arts School(affiliate link). I don't know anything about how schools were started and run in the past (I have an idea, and there are stories and legends, but hard data not so much). Leaving history aside for a moment, a booklet on how to start and run your own HEMA group might make a good instalment of The Swordsman's Quick Guide. Let me know if you agree!

Too many damn choices: 1. Breathing is my top pick because no one has really spoken on it. 2. The community needs a review of how to create training systems when pulling from historical treasties. 3. Really, your next book should be something fun, why I chose other: contact Mark Ferrari who did the art for Monkey Island, add in what you know of historical come backs, and then make a book!  Just a thought…

My response: I think I'd better get the course up and running and Breathing published, and Sent, before I think about a comedy project… but I'll take that under advisement!

Hi! I love you books and videos! Great work! I am an AEMMA (Canada) club member (Fiore Scholar) working towards my Free Scholar challenge in a few years, so gathering my armour and learning to move, train and fight in armour. Any future material (books, blog entries, videos, seminars) on all things Fiore would be very helpful for me and our club's students – but especially any insights to help with armoured plays/ drilling and sparring would be excellent. Thank you very much, Aaron Beatty (Scholler, instructor AEMMA Guelph, Ontario, Canada).

My response: Thank you Aaron, glad you like my work. Armoured plays and such are a tricky problem for me, now that I'm in Ipswich and not surrounded by armour-wearing thugs. I think this is one area where the guys who run the IAS might be able to help: Sean Hayes, Greg Mele, Jason Smith, Christian Cameron etc all have a lot more time in harness than I do.

I really need the training systems one as it is basically the only thing preventing me from teaching a class.

My response: OK, so the course would be useful for you; but in the meantime have you read this?

Hello, My name is Wiktor Grzelecki, and I'm a long-time reader of your blog. I also bought some of your books and Audatia game. While I disagree with some of your opinions, I greatly value your materials and input. I like the project about online course, but I would also like to ask you about something different. You are a father, I will be a father in a couple of months. I would like to ask you, how do you keep children safe, how do you keep sharp weapons knowing that your children are near them? Would it be enough to just keep them high enough, that they can't reach them? Or would it be better to have a key-closed chest or closet? Similar to those required for firearms? Or simply to show them wooden weapons, and metal ones with you so they lose the “forbidden fruit” taste for children (What I mean is, could kids be less interested in touching weapons if they got used to them? Something like teaching kids to use bb gun so they don't see actual firearm as appealing.). I understand that this is a complex matter, that would also require lots of time to spend with a child to explain what weapons are and how to use them, but I would like to know what do you think?

My response: Congratulations on your impending fatherhood! Kids and weapons.. This is a tricky matter, as it makes people very nervous. I'll explain how I've dealt with it with my kids in my home, but this is “reportage” not “advice”.

Guns: My guns (two revolvers and a semi-automatic) were always in the safe. The kids could ask to see them any time, though they very rarely did, and I would get them out (hiding the 10 digit combination from them), check they were safe, treat them as if they were loaded, and closely supervise how they were handled. They could play all they liked with rubber band guns and cap guns, but the real thing was (obviously) very strictly controlled. Now we live in the UK my guns are at a gunsmith's in Finland, so the issue is moot. If they had wanted to, I would have allowed them to shoot at the range, under very close supervision, starting with a .22 or something similar, when they were strong enough to handle the weapon.

Blades: Blades are easier, as they are less dangerous (it's harder to kill someone by accident with a knife than a gun), and they are everywhere; scissors, penknives, kitchen knives, eating knives… The kids have been helping to cook since they were so little that that meant sitting on the floor and banging on a saucepan with a wooden spoon. They have been cutting and peeling vegetables since before they can remember. Cutting began with them standing with their left hand round my waist and their right hand holding the knife, with my hand on top. I'd hold the vegetable and do all the actual work. That progressed to their hand under mine on the vegetable, and so on. The only person who could get cut was me (though I never was). Now they can chop stuff without supervision, using my proper kitchen knives (they are 7 and 9).

Grace and Katriina cooking, aged about 4 and 6

Until a couple of weeks ago, all my swords were at the salle (I didn't keep any in the house, except for a sabre for champagne). I'd take the kids to the salle quite often, and we would fight with wooden swords, lightsabres, or any other weapon. They could ask to see anything they wanted, even sharp swords, and I would get them off the rack and they could touch them, heft them, that sort of thing, but under careful supervision. I have a video somewhere of what that was like when they were tiny, but the only one I could find in under 5 minutes of looking was this one of us playing with bullwhips. The kids were nearly 4 and nearly 2 at this time. Sorry about the soundtrack!

https://youtu.be/1u0dI9FsRRo

The same is true with woodwork; here's a picture of my elder daughter age 4 having a go at planing some wood.

Grace, age 4, planing some wood.

In summary then, nothing is forbidden, but some tools/weapons/things can only be handled under supervision. When my kids were very little, I kept everything dangerous out of reach. Since they have been old enough to understand that some things are dangerous, and also old enough to get a chair to stand on when they want to reach something that is ‘out of reach', we have taught them what needs supervision and what doesn't. Kids are curious, so I've always let mine have a go at anything they want to, while I control the situation to maintain the necessary safety. The idea is to teach them to use things properly, so their skill keeps them safe, not their ignorance. I even let them drive my car. They have never been injured or injured anyone else with any weapon or tool. They will eventually cut themselves with a kitchen knife or chisel, but that's ok; it's part of life.

Now, I'd better get on with that course material! You can see a sneak peak of a draft lecture here:

https://youtu.be/ONIY2vmkSek

Creating a card game to teach the basic theory and terminology of a medieval combat system was really hard. Audatia is done though: four glorious character decks and two expansion packs; piled up on my desk they really look like we created something.

When people hear about it, the most common reaction is “wow, that’s cool!” or words to that effect. The next most common reaction is some variation on “but I had that idea!” Sometimes that comes with the feeling “I’m so glad somebody is doing it”, but sometimes I get the impression that the person felt that by having the idea they had somehow staked out that creative territory and were annoyed that I was encroaching on it. An idea that they had done absolutely nothing to bring into being.

The same is true with writing. I hear a lot of “I wish I was a writer”, or, “I want to write books too”. I don’t really get it, to be honest. If you want to do something, do it. 99% of the obstacles preventing you are between your ears. If The Diving Bell and the Butterfly could be written by Jean Dominic Bauby just being able to blink one eye, letter by letter, or my wife’s friend Roopa Farooki can manage two jobs, four children and a commute and still be a successful novelist, really what’s your excuse? Everybody can find half an hour a day to blast out text if they really want to. If they really, really want to. Because it is hard.

And I think that’s the crux of it. Having the idea is easy, costs nothing, and feels good. Executing the idea is often brutally hard, a marathon of sprints, exhausting, frustrating, painful and at the end of it all it might still fail or flop.

I often get what I think are brilliant ideas that I know for a sure and certain fact I’m never going to execute. Here are three.

The Writer’s Briefcase

I had this idea while watching my kids in the Piazza del Campo in Siena. Michaela and I were tag-teaming; she had gone off for a wander leaving me supervising the little artists.

Piazza del Campo. Great place for ideas…
The writer's briefcase. Every writer should have one…

And I thought how handy it would be to have a consistent work set-up, that folded away into a briefcase. I was inspired by the idea behind the Roost laptop stand. The key points are:

  • Easy access: you can pull the laptop out, plonk it on your lap and work, or open the case on a table and have at least your laptop, mouse and notepad to hand. Or you can spend a couple of minutes doing the full set-up with the Roost and all.
  • Modular design: if you need to take research books, an ipad, or whatever else with you, you can attach additional modules, like MilTec only in nicer colours. Oh, alright. We'll do one in black if we must.

This could be produced quite easily: find a bag designer, raise funds on kickstarter, have cool names for different models (by writing space “the garrett”, “the studio”, “the atelier”; by author “the Dickens”, “the Austen”, “the Shakespeare”), have young chaps with beards and tight jeans rave about it, and you’re over 100k in minutes. Really, luggage is so in right now.

The Tripod standing desk

Continuing the theme of writing set-ups (as my regular readers know, I’m something of an ergonomics afficionado): one reason I don’t like working in cafes and other public places is the utter lack of standing desks with keyboard shelf at exactly the right height, monitor at exactly the right height, and so on. The problem of a stable, strong, and portable vertical support has been solved for decades: the photographer’s tripod.

So how about a light, collapsible two-level desk (keyboard and laptop) that fits on a standard tripod mount? You could even have a tripod pouch on the “atelier” above. The base level would be adjusted through the tripod itself; the monitor/laptop level would be adjustable through how it fits to the keyboard shelf.

A standing desk you can take anywhere? Huzzah!

Genius.

The Bladebell

This is one project that I took all the way from basic idea through first production run, but then it stalled. In short, it’s an Indian club with edge alignment and sword-handling capabilities. They are actually really good; I use mine all the time. I was really careful to get the mass and point of balance just right so they stress the hand like a longsword. You can do all your grip changes, blows, and everything except actual strikes and pair drills with them, as well as everything you would do with a standard Indian club. I even shot some video of how to use them:

 

I made a couple of prototypes, and got the excellent chaps at Purpleheart Armory to make a batch of 12 pairs, which were sold at WMAW in (I think) 2011. They all sold, but somehow Purpleheart and I never quite got round to marketing them properly so they never took off.

Rather than keep these to myself, I would rather that somebody takes them and runs with them. Go ahead, make millions, and give me a lift in your Ferrari one day.  I recently let the url “bladebell.com” lapse; if you want it, it’s yours.

Give away your best ideas.

Seriously. Give away all your best ideas. It’s quite safe. The chances of somebody else having the grit to execute your vision is vanishingly small. And if they do, all it means is that your own execution was inadequate. In these cases, I’ve no interest in becoming a bag designer, writing ergonomics company director, sports equipment manufacturer, and so on. There’s nothing wrong with being any of these things, they’re just not me.

And I think that’s where the idea versus execution problem really lies. It’s in our nature to have ideas. It’s also in our nature to flit from one to the other until something grips and won’t let go. All of the skills around execution can be learned or hired. The one thing that can't be learned or hired is the sheer stubbornness to see it through until your idea is made flesh. You just have to want it and give up whatever needs to be given up to make it happen.

So, if any of these bite you in the arse and won't let go, take them with my blessing and execute the sh*t out of them.

Spring is in the air, the grass is pushing up under the snow, and books are making their way from my dusty hard drive and out into the world.

Ok, in Finland, spring is nowhere to be seen. My kids are going ice-skating and everyone I know has a cold. Bear with me. I have another book out, and it makes me giddy.

I'm spending most of this week fulfilling the promises made in my last Indiegogo campaign, for Advanced Longsword. That means doing battle with Lightning Source's arcane and wilfully inefficient “short run” printing interface, manually creating over 250 book orders so that the backers of the campaign will get their books in the post in a couple of weeks. I am also manually packing and shipping a boxful of The Medieval Dagger books. This is all, on the surface, very tedious, BUT it is actually really nice to feel that moment of personal connection with every backer, even as superficially as when I input their address into a web form.

Backers of Audatia should already know that WE HAVE SHIPPED THE FINAL PACKS: Liechtenauer and the Patron are done, shipped, and that marathon of a campaign is now 100% fulfilled. It only took about two years longer than expected. But it is a load off my mind. Crowdfunding is all about transparency, value, and keeping your promises.

And somehow in the middle of all this, I managed to edit together and publish The Swordsman's Quick Guide part 5: How to Teach a Basic ClassThis booklet is 10,000 words long, enough to cover the really important stuff, like safety, writing class plans, making corrections, and so on. The purpose of it is simple: to give inexperienced instructors confidence. If you've read it, do let me know what you think!

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.

Audatia

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…

Floggings

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

Last night, Rami and I got together and played our first games with the proper printed Patron Deck and Liechtenauer expansion pack. This was lots of fun, and very exciting for us to see the project coming to completion.

The Patron deck reflects the choices made by our Patron, of course. While we couldn’t put in absolutely everything he asked for, we did manage to include some pretty cool new tricks.

Our dashing Patron

My favourite is the pouch of poison dust, the idea for which came from the pollax filled with poison dust in Il Fior di Battaglia.  The way it works in the game is that when you get into a stretto bind, you throw the dust in your opponent’s face, which causes a break-off. But, you also get to take one of your opponent’s virtue cards, and the other one is invalid until the next break-off. This simulates the effect of blinding powder in their eyes.

The Patron deck doesn’t have all of the Liechtenauer material, of course; most obviously, it lacks the five meisterhau. Our idea was that the Liechtenauer Expansion Pack would work like an advanced course (which is pretty much how I see the medieval Liechtenauer material; it doesn’t cover any of the basics of normal swordplay). But he does have nasty tricks like Uberlauffen, which allows him to counterattack with an oberhau against a mittelhau or unterhau.

What, too much German? Don’t worry, there’s a glossary in the rules.

The Patron deck has the same suite of blows and stretto cards as the other three decks, though the balance of the blows is different, to reflect what I see in the sources. But he has some very cool Liechtenauer-specific actions up his sleeve, such as Mutieren and Duplieren. Their basic function is to allow the player to use a cut or thrust when they would normally be confined to stretto plays.

Liechtenauer wrote (I paraphrase from memory) “if he [the opponent] is strong in the bind, duplieren. If he is weak in the bind, mutieren). That’s the gist of it, anyway. So, in these cards, you can use Duplieren to play another cut, if your opponent has more Fortitudo (ie is stronger); if you have more Fortitudo, you can use Mutieren to play a thrust. It’s moments like this when apparently odd features of the game will resonate with those who know the sources as pretty much direct quotes, that to me makes this game such a worthwhile use of my time.

Sigmund Ringeck, brought to life!

The Liechtenauer Expansion pack has only six guards. They are Vom Tag, Pflug (left and right), Ochs (left and right) and Alber. Why? Because Liechtenauer wrote that they are the most important. And as an expansion pack, which can be used with any character deck, these are in addition to the regular suite of 12 guards. Of course, the Patron already has these in his deck. For the Patron, the Expansion pack adds the five meisterhau, Indes, Fuhlen, and Absetzen. This makes it perhaps less useful to him than it is to a Fiore-based deck like Galeazzo, Boucicault, or Agnes, but that is what you would expect; a swordsman trained in Germany would likely see less new stuff in Liechtenauer’s system than someone with a different basic training.

We did come across a problem with the Krumphau. As you can see from the card, there is a lot of text. But not enough. As I see it, the krumphau is used in at least three ways:

1) to defend from your right against an oberhau

2) to defend from your left against an oberhau

3) to attack from your right against left ochs (Liechtenaur states that it “breaks left ochs”).

[Liechtenauer practitioners please note: this is a card game. Yes, you can strike at the hands with the first action of the krump, but that is a level of granularity that we just had to skip. Likewise Fiore specifies all sorts of targets (face, throat, chest, arms, cheeks of the arse) and, with a couple of exceptions, we have just left out the targeting. A blow lands or it doesn’t. It would have made the game orders of magnitude more complex to try to specify where it lands, or, as in this case, to include what I think of as the “single-tempo krump”].

In each case, the blow that actually hits the opponent is coming down from the other side to the one you started on: if you krump from the right, you’ll end up striking with a left oberhau.  To attack left ochs from a right-side guard such as Vom Tag, beating it out of the way and striking; the blow that hits the head is effectively a false-edge backhand oberhau, so you’d play a left oberhau. But that violates the rules of Eligibility; you can’t strike a left oberhau from Vom Tag (please see my post on posta di donna for the explanation as to why we can’t allow you to do everything from a guard in the game that you can in real life).

So we are going to have to change the text on the card, and because it’s going to be so long it wouldn’t fit on the card in a legible font size, we will have to put the full rules regarding this card in the separate Rules sheet. That kills me, because we have always tried to make all the info fit on the card, but hey ho, accuracy above all. For those of you reading this who have already got the Expansion Pack, let me summarise the use of Krumphau here:

You can play a Krumphau with a left oberhau/roverso fendente card from any right-side guard that allows a right oberhau/mandritto fendente or right mittelhau/mandritto mezano. You can do this when your opponent is in left ochs/fenestra sinestra, treating that guard as Extended. Note, to play a left oberhau/roverso fendente against left ochs/fenestra sinestra would normally be not Eligible from a right-side guard; you’d have to change guard to do it.

You can also play a Krump with a left oberhau/roverso fendente from a situation where only mandritti/ blows from the right are normally eligible, as a counterattack against your opponent’s right oberhau/mandritto fendente strike; or with a right oberhau/mandritto fendente against their attack of left oberhau/roverso fendente.

In effect, it allows you to counterattack when normally you couldn’t, and to strike from the other side when normally that would not be Eligible.

I think you can see why this won’t fit on the card!

There are a few very minor corrections to make to some other cards, but we expect to get these decks released in print very soon.

These first imperfect decks will be sent to our Patron, of course. We finished the session by writing a letter to go with them.

Hand written with a dip pen using an antique nib (a Waverly; the same brand and model that Rudyard Kipling insisted on), and sealed with wax using a seal I was given by Chris Vanslambrouk, in Florence last year (thanks, Chris!).

There has to be some advantage to being the Patron, no?

Then, of course, away with the wine and out with the single malt.  Alles ist gut, ja?

You can find all of the print and play pdfs, printed decks of Galeazzo and Boucicault, and all the rules sheets, here. And print-on-demand versions of all the decks so far except the Patron and the Liechtenauer Expansion, here.

I returned yesterday from a visit to the Osnabrück branch of my School, where every day of training was followed by one or two small beers, and playing Audatia. These guys are good enough (at the game, at least 🙂 ) that I got at least one pommel strike in my face, and ate a sword point or two.

 

Which is all well and good; it never fails to give me a buzz to have a group of Italian-style swordsmen in the heart of Germany!

But German swordsmanship, especially Medieval German swordsmanship, is (and it kills me to say so) every bit as sophisticated and effective as the Italian.

Which is why I wanted to incorporate German swordsmanship into my card game. To this end, I met up first with our illustrious Patron, Teemu Kari, to go over what he wanted.

His is a Character Deck, like the other three (Galeazzo, Boucicault, Agnes), but instead of being trained in Fiore’s system, the Patron's Character is German, and uses German swordsmanship.

Then we needed a long session with our genius designer, Samuli Raninen. It was one of those days when you look up from your work, realise that you're hungry, and discover that it's 4pm and you forgot to stop for lunch.

My impression is that just as Fiore’s Armizare does not equate to “general Italian medieval combat”, Liechtenauer’s art does not equate to “what all Germans did for swordfighting in the 14th and 15th centuries”. So the Patron deck has German terminology, and some Liechtenauer techniques (such as Winden and Zucken), but if he wants to throw a Schielhau, he’s going to need some extra training in the form of the Liechtenauer Expansion Pack.
The Patron Deck works like the other Characters, in that he has guards (the Liechtenauer ones though, not Fiore’s), blows (named in German, but with the same characteristics as the Italian versions), and his own set of special skills (including some top-secret and very cool ones, such as Throw the Sword…). Where he is most different though is in the Stretto cards. He has all the counter-remedies, so he is not an easy mark for us Italians, but several of his Stretto Remedies have been replaced with German-style winding and binding actions.

The Expansion Pack is quite different. It contains only the four guards that Liechtenauer actually recommends:
Ochs, Pflug, Vom Tag and Alber, with Ochs and Pflug on both sides, so six cards in all. We have left out the rest of them (Schrankhut, Nebenhut, and so on, though they are in the Patron Deck).
Then there are twenty “Technique” cards, including one of each of the five Meisterhau, and fifteen other Liechtenauer concepts, such as Mutieren and Duplieren, Uberlauffen, and so on. You get five of these to play with in total, but instead of going into your hand to be “spent” when you play them, they are returned to your Expansion Pack hand and may be re-used. This is because they act to modify an existing Action card that you play; they cannot be played on their own. For example, Zwerchau allows you to use a Mezano as a counter-attack; Absetzen allows you to defend with a Thrust (Punta or Ort) from any Posta.
As always, these cards play nicely together, and any game you play can be replayed sword-in-hand. But they do not of course behave exactly like swords (which is why medieval knights did not usually fight with small cardboard oblongs).
Jussi, our graphic artist, has been working on the art for a while now. We have drafts of much of the decks already, we thought that Sigmund Ringeck would be a good model for our Expansion Pack character:

We are nearly there!

A good swordsman must be able to handle a range of different opponents, and so must train to face lots of different styles of attack and defence. This is quite difficult to accomplish within a relatively small group of training partners, which is one of the reasons that it’s a good idea to travel a lot to fence new people, and one of the reasons why I encourage my students to attend tournaments even though they are not our focus of study. But travel is time consuming and expensive, so it helps to have ways to shake things up a bit at home. We addressed this problem in last Monday’s class, so I thought I’d write up my class notes for you here.

We started as always with a quick chat about goals; what were the students currently working on? The answers ranged from the moral:

  • Win or lose, do it gracefully

To the general:

  • Closing the line to avoid double hits
  • Be more committed when attacking
  • Maintaining flow and stability under pressure

To the really specific:

  • Generate roverso attacks from my opponent onto my prepared parry-riposte.

They decided to start the class as normal, with breathing training and Syllabus form, and then kitted up for freeplay.

I had them start with our favourite set-up: hold the field. In this set-up, one person holds the field and is attacked in turn by each other member of the class. When they have faced everybody, the next fencer takes their place, and they join the queue to attack. I left them completely free to attack and defend as they pleased. (You can read more about freeplay set-ups in the third instalment of The Swordsman's Quick Guide.)

I then pulled out a deck of Audatia cards (the Galeazzo deck, if you’re interested), and separated out the posta (guard) cards. I used these as a randomiser; the defender had to wait in whatever guard I pulled from the deck. Oh, and of course I took out their usual favourites. This forced the defender to act from a less familiar position, and also the attacker got some variety.

After a round of that, I let the defender choose freely, and took the strike cards (with all the mandritti fendenti cards removed, because why not?) and the attackers had to attack with whatever card I drew for them. This generated even more variety than the guard restriction, and forced the attackers to be much more imaginative.

On the third round I added in the stretto plays cards, and each person (attackers and defender) drew a card; whatever they got, they were supposed to generate the conditions in which they could strike using that action. Mandritto mezano, not so difficult to engineer. Soprana tor di spada? Much more so. Incidentally, as they were all wearing gauntlets, I drew for them, and reshuffled between each draw.

This round was very interesting, and made certain gaps in our training curriculum quite clear. Also, in this round, the fencers could come and choose a new random card at any time.

This was perhaps the most difficult round for them, so we broke up into pairs once everyone had held the field, and they worked on how to generate the necessary conditions for whatever action they were trying to accomplish in freeplay.

Then the last five minutes was spent in freeplay, with the fencers either just letting off some steam, or carefully trying to get the action they had been working on, to work.

This sort of training is really useful (they all agreed, in the after-action review), because not only does it force the individual fencer to change their game a bit and try something different, but it also creates much more variety in opponents, without having to find new people.

Of course, to win fencing matches, you should get very good at a few favourite moves, and then learn how to make other fencers give you the necessary conditions for your move. (What Harmenberg describes as your “Area of Excellence” in Epee 2.0 (that's an affiliate link, BTW).) But it is also true that anything you don’t train against you are vulnerable to. We tend not to attack with sottani blows, because they are less powerful and harder to close the line with than fendente blows; they are less perfect actions for attacking with. But if you never train against sottani attacks, you will get hit by them every time. This may be why Vadi explicitly tells us how to defend against them, but not how to attack with them. (See chapter XV of De Arte Gladiatoria Dimicandi, or pp. 99-102 of Veni Vadi Vici, or here on the wiki, for details.)

This sort of practical, in the salle, sword in hand application is one of the main purposes of Audatia; if it couldn’t be used to train students, I wouldn’t have gone to the effort of producing it. And oh my lord, what an effort it has been. But it was totally worthwhile, because not only does it work, but it has made a small but fierce cohort of seriously dedicated players very happy. I was inspired to use the cards this week in particular by an amazing video, so I would like to dedicate this blog post to its creators, Carlos Loscertales, João “Sig” Gregório, and Paulo Peixoto. I cannot tell you how pleased it makes me to see my game getting this kind of fan feedback.

Some stuff to be done…

This has been quite a month. Since May 1st, here are the projects I have been working on, and some of the stuff I have done, in no particular order.

  • Finishing and publishing the first three instalments of my Swordsman’s Quick Guide series.
  • Working on a complete rewrite of Veni Vadi Vici.
  • Installing a new kitchen in our apartment
  • Moving back into our apartment after the plumbing work.
  • Working on the Liechtenauer expansion pack for Audatia.
  • Preparing my Realities of Steel presentation for Ropecon.
  • Attending Ropecon for three days, mostly playtesting Audatia, and giving the presentation.

All of this in addition to the usual:

  • Teaching at the Salle
  • Running the school, organising seminars etc.
  • Writing this blog
  • And maintaining at least acceptable competence as parent and spouse.

So, as you may imagine, I’ve been a bit busy. But I do not multi-task. So you might very well ask, how do I manage all this?

The short answer is “I don’t”. I let some things slide. Email and social media are the first to go; some poor folk waited two weeks for a reply to some queries. And it’s been a while since my last post, no?

The longer answer is, “prioritise, and do things bit by bit.”

I also delegate where possible.

Let me enlarge on this a bit.

Every project is broken down into tasks. You cannot possibly fit a kitchen. It's too much. So instead one day I laid the floor. On another I painted the ceiling. On another I sanded the worktops. On another I fitted the handles. On any given day, I have only one task. So, today might be the day for sanding down the kitchen surfaces. Or writing a blog post. Or working on Veni Vadi Vici. I start with that, and keep going until I need to stop, or until I finish a given milestone: first draft written; three more chapters proofread; surfaces oiled, whatever.

Then I start on the next project, or lie on the sofa and watch TV, or whatever else I actually feel like, because the day’s work is done. I don’t always get to choose which task is next; those with hard deadlines (like preparing a presentation for an agreed date) go before those with soft ones (finish the Veni Vadi Vici rewrite), but wherever possible, I wake up in the morning with only one work thing to do that day.

Quite often, a task I have built up in my mind as huge and difficult gets done in minutes instead of hours; but my wife will tell you that I have a terrible habit of thinking something will only take an hour or two, and it takes days instead. That’s also sort of part of the system; by underestimating the difficulty of the project I increase the likelihood that I will actually commit to it; once the commitment is there, the task will be done, just not necessarily on schedule. (I hear my Audatia supporters grinding their teeth… the Liechtenauer Expansion is a year late, and it’s my fault for underestimating the time).

I only ever work at 80% capacity or better. If I find that a task is dragging, that I can’t get into the flow with it, then I switch to something I can flow into. So up to a point, my subconscious chooses my tasks for me, and this is a skill I have deliberately developed over many years; I have trained my instinct to tell me what I should be doing. I often don’t know when I wake up in the morning what I will be working on that day. But then I find a particular file open on the computer, or I find myself assembling a tool kit in my head, and just go with it. Dammit, I do use my feelings, Ben!*

I wanted my series out and off my desk this month, as a matter of urgency. So I put that first, and duly published on May 8th. In that week, if (for example) my wife asked me something about the kitchen, I’d say “I don’t care”. Or somesuch. Because right then the only thing I did care about was the series. The major kitchen project was not the one thing I was doing right then.

Task switching has only one useful function: it can be used as a way of productive procrastination, or a rest. If I get tired typing: great, time to put up the shelves in my study. If I’m exhausted from fitting the kitchen: perfect time to run errands. This goes further: I never work late at night. Because with enough rest, food and sleep, I can get twice as much done the next day. Really, it is so much better to work 10 hours at 100% than it is to work 20 hours at 50%.

If I ever am stuck for which task to prioritise, I use a pencil and paper and write down everything that’s pressing. Usually the one on the top of the list is the one I should be working on that day. Also, projects that are likely to make money take precedence over those that cost money. [One corollary to that; when paying bills in a time of cash shortage, I prioritise them according to their impact on the creditor's cashflow. Freelancers get paid before big companies, big companies before governments.]

One trick that I find helps with managing tasks of different sizes, is get one or two of the small ones done first. For example, when I was fitting out my wife’s walk-in wardrobe, I also needed the same toolkit for putting up a shelf in the loo. I did the shelf first, because it got it off my plate, and gave me a feeling of “I’ve actually accomplished something today”, which I could ride on through the tedium of laying floor, drilling 8000 holes for shelving etc. through the rest of the day. If I had left it as something to do after the wardrobe, I would have been too tired to bother with it.

some stuff done. Tiles, painting, tidy up the dishwasher, still to do.

So right now, there are many large tasks waiting, but I also got the balcony table trimmed down a bit, something I’ve been meaning to do for seven years. Having the necessary tools here for the kitchen made resizing the table a small task, easily done in an hour or two.

Delegation is hard, especially on a tight budget when you can’t just hire someone. (I got a lot of help from my friend and student Henry on fitting the kitchen; he did much of the actual fitting on the weekend I was at Ropecon, for example.) But one thing I have delegated a lot of is food-making. My wife and I are way busy, and the kitchen appliances aren’t connected yet (long story), so we have been eating out a lot, delegating the cooking and clean up. It’s not the cheapest or best option, but an ok compromise. But I am so looking forward to getting to play with the gorgeous new induction hob and steam oven…

So, my system in brief, is something like this:

1) Prioritise

2) Do only one thing at a time.

3)  Only work at efficient rates.

4) Leave things of low priority undone

5) Delegate where possible

And one last thing. When a project is not going well, or I find myself stuck or about to take short cuts, I envision a student, and teach them how to do it. While doing the kitchen surfaces, I was running into serious fatigue-related problems, but did not want to switch tasks, so I decided to take my imaginary student, and create a video for her. This is perhaps the worst how-to video in history, because it was not really made for the watcher; it was made because having the video running gave me access to greater reserves of patience. And I threw it up online on the off-chance that somebody somewhere might find it useful, but basically unedited, because I’m too damn busy right now to carefully craft a how-to-sand-and-oil-kitchen-worktops video. It’s not on my to-do list.

* Readers who do not get this reference seriously need to go watch the original Star Wars movie. Right now.

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