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Tag: How To

I was recently contacted by a reader asking about teaching left handed students. It’s a common and relatively complex problem, so rather than confine my answer to an email I thought I’d post it here.

The Question

How do you teach left-handers?

Why it’s a problem

Left handers are relatively rare (about 10% of the population, including my dad and my sister), and most of the historical martial arts treatises we work with don’t say much about them. Capoferro has one plate of rapier and dagger showing how to murder a leftie:

Fiore mentions that the guard of coda longa on horseback works against right or left handers (click on the image to expand it, and you can read the text and the translation by Tom Leoni):

Perhaps the biggest section of any treatise dealing explicitly with lefties is in Jeu de la Hache, but it’s still a small proportion of the overall material.

So what’s the problem?

The problem is that many of the techniques we recreate from the sources simply don’t work the same way as shown in the books when done cross handed. In addition, right handers don’t see many left-handers, so in combat sports generally, left handers tend to be far more common at the top levels than they are in the general population. This is entirely due to familiarity. Everybody knows how to handle righties- we see them all the time. (For an interesting book that also addresses this in some detail, see The Professor in the Cage, which is well worth reading if you have any interest in martial arts…)

The question is about teaching lefties, not fighting them, so I’ll address that. (If you want my best advice for fighting left handers it’s this: fight them a lot. You’ll get better at it.)

What difference does handedness make?

In blade on blade actions, not much. Principally, inside and outside are not symmetrical [For those unfamiliar: if the sword is in your right hand, everything to the left of the blade as you see it is ‘inside’, and everything to the right is ‘outside’.] If we are both same-handed and our blades are crossed, we will both be either on the inside or on the outside of each other’s blades. But when one of us is differently handed, if you are on my inside, I’m on your outside, and vice-versa. This means that some targets are different, and the angles of attack may be different. But usually, the rules regarding how to attack remain the same. For example, I would only push your elbow if I’m on the outside of your arm. That doesn’t change; what changes is how I would get to your outside, and which of my hands may be able to reach your elbow.

In wrestling at the sword, it makes a great deal more difference.

Tricky to pull off cross-handed. Trans. by Tom Leoni.











This wrap, for instance, only works well using the opposite arm (eg left against right) and from the inside of the wrapped person’s arm. Because this is over both arms, it can be used cross-handed, but you won't get the same control of the sword arm.

Likewise this counter rarely occurs cross-handed at the longsword, because the preceding wrap would have to be done by the sword arm, which is unusual (though you can see it in I.33, f.18.v).

Ligadura sottana, 15th play of the zogho stretto. Trans by Tom Leoni











I include specific examples of techniques adapted from symmetrical drills to cross-handed versions in chapter seven of The Medieval Longsword. In case you don't have it to hand, I've extracted it for you here:

Medieval Longsword sample Cross-handed

So that's the problem. What's the solution? There are several approaches you can take:

Approaches to the problem:

1) make everyone train right handed. I think this is a bad idea if your goal is to produce great practitioners, but if your goal is to perfectly reproduce the plays of a specific treatise, in which everyone is right-handed, then it makes sense. When Christian Tobler began researching German medieval sources, he switched from his natural left handedness to do everything right handed because it was much easier than converting everything.

2) make everyone train both sides. I think this is advisable up to a point- I would expect all my senior students to be able to do all our basic drills and actions with either hand, and any professional instructor to be able to demonstrate anything within their art with either hand. But it’s probably not the best way to train beginners.

3) create specific ‘cross-handed’ variations of every major drill or exercise you use. I think this is essential. The basic drills usually assume two right-handers. Two left-handers can do exactly the same drill, it’s just mirrored. The problems only start when there are a right hander and a left hander training together. I include set forms for the cross handed version of every basic drill in my syllabi.

Advice to instructors:

  • If your syllabus is lacking cross-handed drills, create them. You can do this by setting up the drill and seeing where you (as a lefty) get stuck. Then following the basic principles of the art, solve the problem. When the problem is solved, incorporate that solution into the ‘cross-handed version’.
  • When you have a lefty in class, it’s your job to make sure that they learn the standard form of the drill (i.e. with a fellow left hander, which may have to be you), as well as the cross handed forms. Also, you should take advantage of their presence to accustom your other students to dealing with cross-handed situations.
  • As the instructor, you can always require the senior students to reverse their handedness (so lefties become righties, and vice versa), which gives  everyone else the chance to face the less-common situation.
  • Start with the simplest drills- make sure that you can do all the solo drills in your syllabus with your left hand, and can see what they should look like in your students when they are left handed.
  • Set up a basic pair drill, and see what happens. At any given point, the left-hander should be behaving normally for them. Never ask them to attack differently or switch hands for the convenience of the right hander (unless they are very experienced and the righty is a beginner).

I hope that's helpful! Feel free to make any suggestions or ask questions in the comments below.

For more on how to teach, you may find these posts useful:

How to get started teaching historical martial arts

How to teach a basic class

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!

“If you haven’t got your health, you haven’t got anything!”

Truer words were never spoken, certainly not by Count Rugen anyway.*

Way back in the dawn of time when I began training martial arts, I was enraptured by the idea of martial arts training being a balance between breaking people and fixing them, by the notion of the martial artist as a healer as well as a warrior. This is one of the reasons I was drawn to T’ai Chi; it is usually associated with healthy practice. And it’s why I was so taken by Tai Shin Mun kung fu (you can read more about that here). I literally owe my career to the not-so-tender ministrations of their instructor, Num, who fixed my wrists for me back in 2000.

This is the background behind my obsession with mechanics and correct movement. Not so much for martial efficiency, though it certainly does that, but more because I want to be able to train until I die (sometime in my early 100s). I am blessed with a crap skeleton, which creaks and breaks and sends lances of agony up my spine if I fail to keep up my practice, or if I practice just a little bit wrong. Blessed because it has forced me to learn absolutely correct movement, which has in turn allowed me to share that knowledge with my students, freeing many of them from long-term pain, and undoing, or at least halting, the damage caused by poor mechanics.

I cannot abide the idea of anyone who needs this knowledge not having free access to it, certainly not for such a poor reason as lack of funds, so I have extracted the essentials from my footwork course, shot some extra footage, and put together a short ‘keep my knees working forever’ course. The course is 100% free and without strings attached. I want you to be healthy. Go, be healthy.

I am also planning a weapons-handling course, which will include forearm conditioning and maintenance. I’ll release the essential health component of that course free too, so you can keep your arms working properly despite the depredations of computers and couches.

It was my birthday yesterday, and I intended to launch this then (I approve of the Hobbit custom of giving presents on your birthday), but I was sadly too busy opening presents, drinking wine, and generally having fun, so it's an early Christmas present instead.

*if you don't know who Count Rugen is, you very badly need to drop what you're doing and watch the Princess Bride. See here:

Last weekend I attended the excellent Smallsword Symposium. I am unusual amongst HEMA instructors in that I do lots of different styles; Armizare, of course, but also I.33 sword and buckler, Capoferro rapier, and even the glorious smallsword. The smallsword was my first historical fencing love, way back in the early nineties, and the first treatise I found and distributed was Donald McBane's Expert Swordman's Companion in the National Library of Scotland. My first two books, The Swordsman's Companion and The Duellist's Companion  were named in its honour.

Anyhow, I digress. The point is, smallsword is bliss, and much under-appreciated in the HEMA world, so it was an especial pleasure to attend an event given over wholly to its elegant viciousness. The event was well run, and well attended, with people coming from Norway, Canada, Germany and even Ipswich, as well as the local contingent from (mostly) the Black Boar Swordsmanship School, which organised the symposium. The Black Boar was founded by two ex-DDS members, Phil Crawley and Ian Macintyre, who I had a hand in training back in the bad old days. My (fencing) kids are all growed up! And having kids of their own…

The format of the event was interesting; just two tracks, beginning with a very basic introductory class for newbies, well taught by Sue Kirk, with a more advanced ‘let's get cracking with a bunch of skills training' class run by Phil running at the same time. This got everybody off on the right foot, and paved the way for the classes that followed. These were mostly ‘have a go at this cool new system' type classes, such as Tobias Zimmerman's survey of Schmidt, and Ragnhild Esbenson's survey of McBane. There were also a few concept classes, such as Milo Thurston teaching proprioception using blindfolds, Martin Dougherty (author of several swordy books) teaching attention to technical detail, and my own ‘how to find and fix any technical problem' class.*

The event included a tournament, and I must say it was amazingly well organised. Simply, the contestants are randomly split into four pools and told to establish a winner in 90 minutes by whatever means they agree on. Absolutely no top-down requirements, just tell us who won. Then the four finalists fence off in pairs. The two losers fight for third place, the two winners for first and second. It worked incredibly well, and I saw some lovely smallsword fencing.

One additional highlight for me was meeting Marco Danelli, the swordmaker. I have often been asked about his swords, and have had to reply ‘they look nice in the pictures but I've never handled one'. Now I can say “dear god, buy one!” No wonder he has a two-year waiting list. I also got to see a couple of Andrew Feest's swords, though sadly not Andrew himself, and oh my, they were both extremely pretty and handled delightfully. Mm-mmm, swordmaking is alive and well in Brighton, I can assure you.

All in all, an excellent weekend, and I look forward to coming back next year. On the Monday we went to Glasgow to handle antique swords, but that's a story for another blog post. One of the swords had HORNS! Stay tuned…

*For the benefit of those that were there (or even those that weren't), let me briefly summarise my class:

  1. Run a diagnostic, find the weakest link. E.g. I'm vulnerable to attacks below the sword arm.
  2. Fix the weakest link, using the method below.
  3. Run the diagnostic again.

The method for fixing the weakest link goes like this:

  1. Distinguish between technical and tactical problems. Technical = I did the right thing but it failed. Tactical = I did the wrong thing. This was a technical class so this process is for technical problems.
  2. Model the problem: recreate it with a partner.
  3. Slow it down until you can get the action right.
  4. Gradually increase the pressure/complexity/difficulty until it starts to fail.
  5. Train it at the level where it works 8-9 times out of 10. 10 out of 10, increase pressure; 7 or less, reduce pressure.
  6. If you can't get it to work, then analyse it in terms of a) timing b) measure c) grounding/structure d) flow/movement. The weakness will be in there.

This class was largely unfamiliar with grounding so we covered that in some detail, with the net result that most of them shifted the way they hold their swords. Success!

In the last 15 minutes we looked at applying the process to tactical problems. It's not much different, it just requires selecting the correct action. For example, learning to identify a feint.

  1. Model the problem: recreate it with a partner.
  2. Slow it down until you can use the correct action (in the case of a feint, a second parry).
  3. Gradually increase the pressure/complexity/difficulty until it starts to fail. Complexity is created by the ‘coach' in the drill either feinting or doing a real attack, forcing you to adapt your actions to theirs.
  4. Train it at the level where it works 8-9 times out of 10. 10 out of 10, increase pressure; 7 or less, reduce pressure


One of the most common questions I get asked is this: “there are no HMA clubs near me. What should I do?”, and my answer is always the same: “start one”. So the next question is “how do I do that?”

The most difficult part of starting a HMA club is deciding to do so. Once the decision has been made, the rest is not so hard.

I’ve been involved in starting many groups, from the Dawn Duellists’ Society in 1994, to the British Federation for Historical Swordplay in 1999,  The School of European Swordsmanship in 2001, and literally dozens of satellite clubs since then, so I have some ideas on the subject, as you might imagine.

Let’s begin with some general principles (this is extracted from an article published in Teaching and Interpreting Historical Swordsmanship in 2005):

“Starting a group is not as hard as it may seem, it just requires determination, and some basic social skills. The obstacles vary so widely in different countries and cultures that it is very hard to advise on the specifics, but I use a set of basic principles to run my school, which are applicable to any group (summarised in these terms by Mike Stillwell).

  • Group purpose: every group must have a purpose, clearly stated. “The study and practice of historical swordsmanship” covers most, but you may wish to narrow the focus.
  • Group needs: every group has specific needs, which must be met for the group to flourish. Typically they include financial health, sufficient membership, and the specific means to achieve the purpose, such as weapons, treatises and a place to practice.
  • Individual needs: every group is comprised of individuals, who will leave if their needs are not met. Such needs include sharing in the common purpose; assistance for beginners, and the various social needs that we all share. Most practitioners prefer a group where they feel welcome and needed, to one where they are looked on with suspicion until they have “proved” themselves. Even the most inexperienced beginner should be recognised as a vital part of the group: without such beginners, the Art, and the group, have no future.

A group will succeed if all the above needs are met, and kept in balance. Once the needs of any one individual (including the illustrious founder) take precedence, the group is doomed. Likewise, any group decision, whether made by the individual in charge, by a committee, or by the whole group, should be arrived at based on how well it serves the three needs. Individuals whose needs are met by the group will stay, and enable the group needs to be met, which enables the group purpose to be met. Of course, many individuals will fall by the wayside when they discover that their needs are not met by a group with that purpose; this is normal, so expect attrition. Also there are some individuals who feel a need to take over any group they join; this is not a problem provided that the group purpose and needs are served by their ascendancy. Just beware of political infighting, and establish the aims of the group clearly enough to prevent slippage. “

Now we have established the principles, let’s get into the specifics. You want to start a HMA club: what’s the first step?

1) Find a friend who'll have a go at swords. One friend is good; two is better. What, you’ve got three interested friends? Then this will be easy…

2) Be honest with yourself and your co-founders about your interests, and agree on exactly what, at this stage, the club is going to do. Establish in clear and exact terms the group purpose. For example “we are going to train for HMA tournaments in Longsword and take part in as many as we can”. Or “we are going to recreate Meyer’s swordsmanship from his book”. Or “we are Jedi and will train accordingly”. Look for the sources and help you might need. For groups wanting to “recreate Fiore’s art of arms”, you could use my books, syllabus and so on; but if you want to study Liechtenauer, then those won’t be much help. Many of my branches started out as “we will train from this book by this Windsor fellow” and grew from there. Choose, a book, a syllabus, a historical source, even a youtube channel, whatever suits your purpose, and say “we'll do this and only this”. It is much better to add things later, once the group is established, than to start out trying to please everyone. To begin with, focus on one thing, and make it absolutely clear what that thing is.

The key question at this stage is ‘does being part of this club actually meet my individual needs?’ If you wanted a club so you could learn to teach 18th century smallsword, and nobody in this club wants to do smallsword (they’re all obsessed with polearms), then start a different club and be clearer about your goals. It is perfectly okay, normal even, for the founders to start the club to scratch their own itch. Start the club you’d want to join.

3) Meet regularly. Once a week minimum, at the same time and in the same place. Depending on the weather and local laws, you could meet in a park, or (as the DDS did for years) train in a courtyard outside a pub in the centre of Edinburgh. You don’t need money for this; there is lots of free spaces most places, if you just look. When you start out, you will be ignorant and unskilled. That is okay!! Everybody starts at zero. But you have SO much more help available than I did in 1992, and I turned out alright. So you will probably do even better.

Fencing with Scott Wilson in Holyrood Park, February 2001.

4) Advertise in any free medium (twitter, facebook, etc). for like-minded people in your neighbourhood. If you’re training in a public space, then be ready for curious people of all ages and types to come up and talk to you. Be very clear about what you are trying to do, so Viking re-enactors won’t come along and be disappointed by your sword and buckler club, or vice-versa. Being specific means that people can see in advance whether the club is likely to meet their individual needs.

5) When you have 6-10 people coming regularly, it’s time to establish a formal club. Start collecting fees. Price it at the cost of a night out per month, minimum. Eg. in the UK, perhaps 25 quid. In Finland, maybe 30 euros. This is essential. One of the biggest mistakes beginner clubs make is to not gather fees, and they do this mostly because they don’t feel they are providing a service that is worth paying for. But you are not selling a service (unless you are setting up a professional school, which I am not covering here), you’re gathering the resources the club needs to meet its goals. Members who don’t want to pay are not going to help meet the group needs.

What is the money for? To help accomplish the group purpose. You can use for whatever helps pursue the purpose, such as to pay for a teacher, buy club equipment, send your most active class leaders to events they can’t afford to go to on their own, pay for a better venue; the list is endless. My point is that clubs that have money can pursue their purpose much more easily than those that don’t. I advise having members use a ‘set it and forget it’ direct debit or paypal regular payment; it’s much more effective than manually collecting dues.

6) At this stage you will need to register a non-profit organisation. This is usually quite easy to do, if you don’t mind filling in forms. Use whatever umbrella organisations are available. University students can start a University society to get access to University facilities. Your local sports fencing club might let you set up a sub-group within their umbrella (as, for instance, my branch in Oulu, Finland, did). If there is a suitable umbrella available, consider joining it. Be careful that doing so does not interfere with your group purpose, though. If joining an umbrella organisation means giving up your core purpose, or unacceptable changes to equipment or rules, then don’t do it.

Be careful that you understand the rules around what a non-profit organisation can and cannot do. I can’t advise you on the law in your country, but in general, you can hire a teacher (but the employee cannot usually be part of the governing board). You cannot use the funds to pay for your personal sword collection. You will also probably have to  file annual accounts and a list of members. This is not too much work if there are many hands helping; maybe one person handles the paperwork; another handles finding new members; a few others run regular classes. At this stage the thing to watch out for is that the individual needs of the people doing all the work are being met. Some kind of compensation for their efforts is appropriate (such as not having to pay dues, or subsidised attendance at an event, or a guarantee of never having to clean the training space, or something). The last thing you want is for the essential administration to not get done because the poor bugger doing it has been snowed under mounds of paper and can’t get to class, so quits. Look after your officers, they deserve it.

And there you have it. It’s really not so hard. It is a lot of work though, but that’s true of almost everything worthwhile.

I wrote this blog post in response to this survey; it was one of the most commonly expressed frustrations. Feel free to take the survey yourself- who knows, I might answer your question!

If you need help learning to teach, you might find this post useful.

If you need help recreating a historical swordsmanship style from a historical source, you might find this course useful.


SQG7 Breathing Cover

Everybody breathes, but some do it better than others. Breathing training is the foundation of my martial practice, and as with everything else I do, I'm happy to teach it to you. The topic for the latest instalment of The Swordsman's Quick Guide  was chosen by my student Cecilia Äijälä, and she picked Breathing Training. I was delighted when she did so, because it forced me to get on and write up my training methods.

This book comes in three packages:

1.The Book, with Video

This package includes:

  • the book in epub, pdf and kindle format with links to the videos,
  • plus a separate download of all the video clips to teach you the exercises,
  • plus an embedded epub with the video clips built in.
  • It also includes a £10 discount voucher for the course.

I want this book

2.The Book with Audio and Video

This package includes:

  • the book in epub, pdf and kindle format with links to the videos,
  • plus a separate download of all the video clips to teach you the exercises,
  • plus an embedded epub with the video clips built in,
  • plus the audiobook,
  • plus mp3 recordings of the instructions for the individual exercises,
  • plus two bonus exercises (video).
  • It also includes a £25 discount voucher for the course.

I want this one!

3. The Breathing Course

The course is a carefully designed progression of exercises, spread out over six weeks (you can pace it as you wish, and do it faster or slower). Each week begins with a lesson, in which you will learn the exercises for the week. The week then continues with a shorter practice session, which you repeat ideally every day for the next six days. In the final week, you will learn how to create 5 minute, ten minute, and twenty minute practice routines, so that you will always be able to find time to do some practice.

The course material  includes everything in the other two packages, so all of the book, audio, and video files. The course is available now, but the lesson and practice routine videos are not completed yet. Week one is ready, and all of the book with all of its audio and video material too. Weeks 2-4 have been shot, and I'm editing them right now. The rest of the course material will be uploaded by October 1st.

I released this to my email list yesterday (they get just about everything first!) with a healthy 50% discount. If you would like the same treatment, you can sign up to my list below, and I'll send you the same discount links. These links expire on Friday 9th September, so if you're interested, now's your best chance to save a packet.


I loathe bureaucracy in all its forms. And I really don't understand why so many companies, organisations, and people feel the need to clutter up other people's houses with pieces of paper that aren't either proper letters (I'm a big fan) or nice cards (also a fan). As you may know I did a major blitz on paper before we left Finland; I bought a decent scanner and digitised everything that needed to be kept (or was just interesting), and binned about 15 years worth of processed dead trees. The only things I kept were either official papers (birth certificates and so on), or things that had sentimental or other value as artefacts (a concert program signed by Louis Armstrong, some of the fathers day cards my kids have made me, things like that).

The pile had grown to critical proportions over the last month, as you can see from this little vlog I did:

So, step one is to make a big pile of all the paper, and put it next to a paper-recycle bin, like so:

One pile, one bin.

Then go through the pile, and sort it into two: keep/scan, or straight to bin. Be ruthless. At my advanced level, I get to split the keep/scan pile already into keep no need to scan; scan; and check with wife, and I also do some sorting into source or type on the fly, because I've done this enough that that actually saves me time because the decisions are very fast. Here's the martial-arty-bit: the difference in reaction time between a single response (on signal, go!) and one with two options (on signal, go left OR go right!) is about a 60% increase. And it just gets worse the more options there are. So at first it's best to make every response binary: scan/keep or straight to bin. The pile is now a lot smaller; and there are actually only three on this table:

the piles.



Then it's out with the scanner. I'm using the NeatDesk, and it is amazing. The stuff just zips through.

Every time something is scanned, it goes directly into the “keep” pile, or it's ripped (to prevent remorse) and goes directly into the bin. And everthing is scanned straight to pdf, the file named, and filed in my documents folder (I use Neat's own archive system, which works well).

Then (and this is a critical step) all the ‘keep' stuff gets put away properly. Because everything is still a bit ad-hoc in the new home, this entailed quite a bit of sorting and rearranging, and in the process I set up the big computer. This meant that a couple of dvds of fencing books got loaded onto it, and the flurry of uploading fencing treatises for free can recommence.

Let's start that with something really gorgeous. Camillo Agrippa, 1553, Scientia d'Arme.


In other news, my course Recreate Historical Swordsmanship from Historical Sources went live over the weekend. It's got about a quarter of its content up so far, and I'll be adding more regularly. The idea behind letting students enrol before the course is finished is to allow me to take their needs and feedback into account as the course is developed. This should produce a much better end product than anything I could just create from scratch. If you're on the mailing list, you should have a 50% discount code; if you didn't get it, then let me know and I'll send it again.

And to recap:

  1. All paper into one pile.
  2. Quickly go through the pile and throw out as much as possible.
  3. Scan and bin what's left, keep only the essentials.
  4. Name and file pdfs as you go
  5. Put away all the kept items.


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 by Karen Levitz Vactor and Susan Lynn Peterson. 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).

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.

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!


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!


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 “” 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.


I get asked a lot about crowdfunding campaigns, especially for writers, so I thought I would do a complete breakdown of exactly where all the money came from and went to in my last campaign, which raised 12,093 euros in 30 days. Be warned, this post will make the accountants among you happy, but has nothing whatever to do with actual swords, writing, or anything other than the business side of running a crowdfunding campaign. For more general advice on crowdfunding, go here.

First, some background:

I wasn’t sure whether I should even do a campaign for this book. I had sufficient funds to pay for layout and editing without it, and as a non-fiction sequel, the already tight niche is even smaller. I asked my wife, and she said to do it so I did.* Four hours later I had shot and cut the video (with a very sore throat, hence the growl), worked out the goal and perks, and written the story text. I sent a link to the draft of the campaign to my mailing list, and was rewarded by some very useful feedback over the next few days. Another hour of work, and all the corrections that I could make in a reasonable time were done. Several folk suggested re-shooting the video, but I was too sick and it would have taken too long; because I hadn’t really planned this, we were only about 30 days out from Christmas.

The Campaign

I launched the campaign on November 23rd, and it hit its realistic target of 2,500e in about 9 hours. Realistic in that it would be enough money to pay my freelancers, and realistic in that I could reasonably expect my current readership to buy enough copies of the new book to meet that target. This was largely due to my mailing list; the people on it do tend to want to read my books and generally support my work. Keeping them informed, and perhaps more importantly asking them to get involved, really helped.

When working out your goals and perks, it is very important to bear in mind the difference between fixed and variable costs. In brief, the fixed costs are what it takes to produce the first copy: paying the freelancers, uploading the book to the printers, my time to get it to that point. The variable costs are what it costs to produce each copy after that: in this case printing and shipping, indiegogo and paypal fees, sales tax, and so on.  A common pitfall of crowdfunding campaigns is to underestimate, or simply forget, the variable costs. You might raise all your fixed costs and still end up losing money to actually fulfil your orders if you're not careful.

The campaign then followed the typical pattern; a slump in the middle, followed by a rise at the end. Starting strong certainly helps to get the word out; the day I launched, it did so well so fast it made it onto the Indiegogo homepage. According to the stats, 1,444e of contributions came direct from Indiegogo, which suggests that people found the campaign from outside my usual channels.

Where on the net are people coming from?

Most of my marketing was done through my email list, and through Facebook. According to the stats, 6,450 came from “direct traffic, email etc.”, and only 2,441 through Facebook. Twitter brought in a princely 50e. My own website,, brought in 667. This is a pretty convincing argument in favour of direct marketing, I think!


You can see from this graph below that almost all of the trackable referrals were done using the link associated with me: 8,198 e.


I have edited out the names of the top referrers, because several of them backed the campaign anonymously.

Again this is not a surprise, and does not diminish the excellent and helpful efforts of many kind people. It’s just a fact that nobody does as much publicity as the ones who benefit most directly! My link generated 207 contributions in total from 1855 referrals; 8.96 referrals for every contribution; 4.419e/ referral, average contribution 39.60.

I also ran a referrals competition. There were two categories: eyeballs and sales:

Eyeballs: Whoever sends the most people to see the campaign will get two free copies of the book in hardback, sent wherever you want.

Sales: The person whose referrals generate the highest sales will also get two hardbacks, and can commission an instalment of The Swordsman’s Quick Guide, on any topic you like. I will write the booklet for you and publish it (at my discretion; if your request is vastly off-topic I might choose to simply send you the finished booklet for you to do with what you like).

If the same person wins both categories, I  add a runner-up prize; whoever comes second in the sales category gets a free hardback, signed and sent wherever you like.

How do you take part?

You need to log in to Indiegogo, which generates your own specific url for the campaign, which will look like where the last set of numbers is your unique identifier. Then share this link as best you can, and Indiegogo will track the link for you.


The winners of the competition were:

Cecilia Äijälä 152e from 4 contributions and 334 referrals

Nico Moeller: 150e from 3 contributions and 20 referrals

Gindi Wauchope: 100e from 2 contributions and 53 referrals

Cecilia, the winner, generated four quite large contributions totalling 152e from 337 referrals. That’s 2.217 e/referral, but average contribution 38e.

Referrals are tricky; some kind souls managed to send 40+ people my way, and I failed to sell them a single book. The lesson here of course is that not all traffic is created equal.

Where in the world are people coming from?

It’s also interesting (to me at least) that the contributions by country are quite different to my usual pattern of book sales. In both cases the USA is the biggest market, but here Finland is the next biggest, and by quite some margin. This makes sense given that I introduced historical swordsmanship to the country and have been largely responsible for its spread here, but through normal channels, as far as I can tell, my books don’t do very well here at all! I guess folk are used to being able to ask me in person.

The Perks:

Controversially, I didn’t bother with any perk below 15e for the ebook. This was deliberate. It has been my experience that backers at the lower perk levels are just as, if not more, demanding of my time and attention as those throwing much larger sums at me. The cost:benefit ratio does not work out. I also figured that this was as low as I wanted to go price-wise to sell the book, so what, really, was I going to offer readers who can’t afford my book? I have a ton of free stuff online already, so it’s not as if poorer or less committed people can’t have a fair crack at my work.

This time, nobody went for the “Patron” perk at 1,500e; this was actually a relief, as I wanted to dedicate this book to two friends of mine, but I also couldn’t afford to pass up that kind of money if it was offered. Our glorious Patron Teemu Kari put 25,000e down to become the patron of Audatia, and the excellent Christian Cameron gave 750 dollars to be the patron of Veni Vadi Vici, so it’s worth having these more expensive perks, just don’t rely on them.

These are the perks, and how they performed. I can't get tables to work in WordPress, hence the screenshot from Pages:

The Stretch Goals

Remember, I was sick, and it was the run-up to Christmas. I couldn’t face the idea of creating a bunch of exciting stretch goals that would then commit me to a bunch of work I might not have the energy for. So the first stretch goal was, if we reached 5k, I would bundle two print and play Audatia decks into every perk. I never got round to creating another stretch goal. I felt that the value was there already; backers at even the 15e perk would get The Medieval Longsword in ebook form, Advanced Longsword: Form and Function in ebook form, and the two decks, a total value of about 40e if you bought them all separately.

In sum, the campaign generated 12,093e from 303 contributions from 273 backers.

Think like a writer

If you're a writer, thinking about doing this for your own book, take a moment to observe that most ebooks sell for under 10 euros, and most paperbacks for under 20. Yet in this campaign, the 303 total contributions cost an average of 39.91 euros. In other words, the price anchor that is in force with books, is clearly not present in the same way here, though all  I am doing is selling books. The value added, for the reader, is of course the feeling that they are directly contributing to the production of work they value. And they are. I cannot stress this enough: this is not in any way taking advantage of the backers; it's giving them the opportunity to do something they want to do, namely get involved.

So that’s where the money came from: where did it go?

Twelve thousand euros looks and feels like a big pile of cash, at least it does to me. But it is really important for you to see where it all goes, and at the end of the day, how much of it is actually income? It turns out that about 31% of the total raised is income.

Note: The Medieval Dagger order: As you can see, this perk cost me 719.75e to fulfil, and brought in 926e. Of that 926, after Indiegogo's cut, Paypal's cut, and sales tax are taken off, we have, hmmmm: 747 euros, more or less. So that perk made me no money, but, and it's a big BUT: it made a lot of backers very happy

Note: Advertising:

For the first time, I used paid Facebook ads, to see what kind of traction I’d get. I boosted 3 posts, which generated

The Medieval Dagger perk update: 510 reach and 25 clicks for 5e

Something useful from the blog (re meditation) 1867 reach and 91 clicks for 14e

Ad re referrals competition: 672 reach for 23 clicks for 8e

Ad re stretch goal: 460 reach 14 clicks, 5.57

Total spent: 32,57 for a total of 153  clicks.

1841 clicks got 207 referrals and 8198e.

So: average: 4.453e per referral. 153/4.453= 34.36

So, the FB ads probably made a tiny profit, but not when you factor in IGG’s cut, Paypal, printing, shipping, etc. But if these were new readers, from outside my current sphere of direct influence, then that is disproportionately useful, as, if they like these books, they may buy the ones that came before and will come after.

Printing and shipping costs breakdown:

Total books to print:

Paperbacks: 202

Hardbacks: 93


Paperbacks: printing: 202x 3.74 = 755.48

Hardbacks, printing: 93 x 8.34 = 775.62

setup fees: approx 100 e

transaction fees: 1.95/order = 273 orders total, minus 51 ebook only orders= 222 transactions to process, = 432.90

Total before shipping: 2064

Shipping approx: 1200e

Costs of printing and shipping total estimated: 3264e

Actual total according to my credit card receipt: 3235.99e. Looks like my maths ain't so bad!

And my time?

Let's also take my time into account. Direct work on the campaign itself ran about 8 hours, spread over the month. Time spent manually inserting 250 or so orders into Lightning Source, about 10 hours. Plus probably another 8 hours or so of work that I wouldn't have had to do without the campaign. Figure 26 hours or so. For an income of 3790.19, that's nearly 145e/hour which is much better than what I normally make writing!

What would the book have raised without the campaign?

A paperback of Advanced Longsword: Form and Function sold through the usual channels nets me 12.96e per copy. Multiply that by 202 (the total number of books sold), and we get 2617.97e

And the hardbacks would net me about 25.50 each, times 93  is 2371.50. Together that's 4989.47

But one thing is for sure; in the wild, my hardbacks don’t sell at 50% of the numbers of my paperbacks; a ratio of almost 2:1. more like 140:22 (The Swordsman's Companion sales so far this year, paperback v hardback), or 6.4:1. At that proportion, 295 book sales would be 46 hardbacks, 249 paperbacks, which would net me about 3227+1173=4400, so nearly 600 euros less. Plus, that income would be spread out over several months, maybe a year, and so it would be that much harder to pay for the editing and layout (which are the fixed costs).

So the campaign clearly generated significantly more income than the likely sales through normal channels would have, and more importantly, brought a significant number of new readers.


I wrote this post primarily so that the backer of the campaign could see exactly where the money went. Transparency is key in crowdfunding. But I hope it's also useful to other authors thinking about running their own campaign; seeing how the costs break down, and being able to estimate how much of the money you raise is income should be very helpful. I am very pleased with how this campaign went, and very grateful to my excellent readership who support the work I'm trying to do.

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, let me know in the comments below; and if you know anyone who is thinking about running a campaign, please share this with them.

*top tip for married men: your wife is always right.

Recent Posts

Jaegerstock, part 3

Now that we have a working Jaegerstock, let’s take a look at lessons two and