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Safety Guidelines for the Practice of Swordsmanship

These safety guidelines come from my Recreate Historical Swordsmanship from Historical Sources Course and have been adapted from The Duellist's Companion, The Swordsman's Companion, and The Swordsman's Quick Guide part 1: The Seven Principles of Mastery. All of those books are included as downloadable pdfs in the additional course material.

Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are nothing without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste; look well to each step; and from the beginning think what may be the end.

Edward Whymper’s admonition, from Scrambles amongst the Alps, elegantly encapsulates the correct attitude to all potentially lethal activities. Substitute “practice swordsmanship” for “climb”, and there is the correct mindset for any swordsman, beginner or expert. Take it to heart before you start training with a partner.

When training with weapons you hold your partner's life in your hands. This is a sacred trust and must not be abused.

Disclaimer: I accept no responsibility of any kind for injuries you sustain while you are not under my direct personal supervision. During this course you will be taught how to create safe training drills, and I am certain that if you follow the instructions there is a very low likelihood of injury. But if I am not there in person to create and sustain a safe training environment, I cannot be held responsible for any accidents that may occur.

Principles

The basic principles of safe training are:

  1. Respect: for the Art, your training partners, the weapons, and yourself.
  2. Caution: assume everything is dangerous unless you have reason to believe otherwise.
  3. Know your limits. Just because it’s safe for somebody else, does not necessarily mean it’s safe for you. Never train or fence when you are tired, angry, or in any state of mind or body that makes accidents and injuries more likely.

Most groups that keep going for more than a year have a pretty good set of safety guidelines in place. Make sure you know what they are, and follow them.

My senior students routinely train with sharp swords, often with no protection. That’s not as dangerous as it sounds, when you remember that they have been training usually for 5+ years at that point, under my supervision.

Safety first: you cannot afford time off training for stupid injuries. Life’s too short. Whatever training you are doing must must must leave you healthier than you started it. You will not win Olympic gold medals this way, but you won’t end up a cripple either. The path to sporting glory is littered with the shattered bodies and minds of the unlucky many who broke themselves on the way. Don’t join them.

Every time I find myself teaching a group I don’t know, I tell them that the class will be successful from my point of view if everyone finishes class healthier than they started it. Most injuries in training occur either during tournament (highly competitive) freeplay, or are self-inflicted during things like warm-ups. In my school (and other classes) we have a zero tolerance policy on macho bullshit. If any exercise doesn’t suit you, for any reason, you can sit it out, or do some other exercise. If you are sitting it out, a good instructor will ask you why, and help you develop alternatives or work up to the exercise in easy stages, but will never pressure you to do something that might injure you.

This is also true of work-related injuries, like forearm problems from typing, or the ghastly effects of sitting all day. By avoiding the things that will hurt you, you will naturally seek out the things that are good for you. Hungry? Avoid sugar, avoid processed foods, and lo! there’s a fresh salmon salad. Tired? Sleep is better than barbiturates, no?

This requires good risk-assessment skills (I recommend Against the Gods, the Remarkable Story of Risk, by Peter Bernstein) and the courage to take risks that truly serve your overall aims. A safe life is not worth living, but foolish risk-taking will not make your life meaningful.

Try adopting these key habits:

  • Before any new activity, do a risk/reward calculation. How risky is it, and how
    rewarding?
  • Practice saying no to training suggestions: even safe ones. Most people do stupidly
    risky things due to peer pressure. Being able to say no to your peers is perhaps the most important skill in reducing injury rates. If this is hard, make it a habit to decline at least one suggestion every session, until it’s easy.

Equipment

Without doubt the single most important bit of safety equipment is good common sense. Fence according to the limits of your equipment, exercise control and respect the weapon at all times, and you will never have a serious injury. Minor bumps and bruises come with the territory.

There were some masters who believed that the safest course is to fence with sharp weapons and no protection. This is how it was often done in the past until the invention of fencing masks (though there are tournament records and declarations as early as the 14th century that record the use of blunt practice weapons; King Rene d’Anjou’s treatise of 1470 is perhaps the best source). Such masters are right in theory, in that freeplay with sharps is the best way for students to learn absolute respect for the weapon, and the importance of absolute control. There are a few contemporary masters with whom I will fence like this, and there is nothing like it for generating a perfect fencing approach. But try explaining that to the insurance companies, or in the event of a slip, the police or coroner. It was often said in the eighteenth century that you could tell a fencing master from his eye-patch and missing teeth. Never forget that even a blunt blade can break bones. When free fencing, or when practicing drills at speed, it is essential that you wear appropriate safety gear. You do this not for your own sake, though self-preservation does come into it, but for the bene t of your training partner. Your protection allows him to hit you safely.

Choosing protection is a very controversial subject. Too little, and you can end up badly hurt (even in practice). Too much, and you can’t fence properly. Firstly, it is important to establish what style of fencing you will be doing. If you are practising armoured combat, then buy the best fitting, best made armour that you can from an armourer who knows how you intend to use it and has seen what you want to do. This is the hardest style of fencing to appropriately regulate, because accurate technique requires you to go for the least armoured spots (throat, eyes, armpits, joints), but safety requirements obviously prohibit that.

As a general guideline, I recommend the following for most weapons.

  1. An FIE standard fencing mask. This allows you to thrust at the face (a very common target), and generally attack the head. This does have three major caveats. Firstly, it leaves the back of the head open, and you must be very careful not to strike at this target. An added apron of thick leather affords some protection. Secondly, it does not protect the head and neck from the wrenching force of over-vigorous blows. It is vital that you and your opponent learn control before engaging in freeplay. Thirdly it is designed to protect the face from high-speed, light, flexible weapons, not slower, heavier, rigid ones. So continually check them for wear, and make absolutely sure that your weapons are properly bated.
  2. A steel or leather gorget, or stiff collar, to protect the throat. Points can slip under the bib of a mask and crush the larynx.
  3. (For women) a rigid plastic chest guard.
  4. A point-resistant fencing jacket rated at least 500 newtons. Sturdy, preferably padded and/or armoured gauntlets, which should extend at least four inches past the jacket cuff to prevent points sliding up your sleeve. I have twice had fingers broken through unpadded mail gloves, and now use a pair of fingered gauntlets from Jiri Krondak, which cost about 150€.
  5. A padded gambeson, or a plastron. If you are making one yourself, bear in mind that it should be thick enough to take the worst out of the impact of the blows, and prevent penetration from a thrust. All openings should be covered. The collar should be high enough that thrusts coming under the bib of the mask do not make contact with your throat. A plastron must wrap around the ribs, and properly cover the collar bones and shoulders. I usually wear a fencing jacket and plastron (as pictured).
  6. A box for men (called a “cup” in the US). You only forget this once.
  7. Rigid plastic protectors for the knees and
  8. For the elbows, of the sort worn by in-line skaters (worn under the
    clothes for that period look if you prefer), will save a lot of pain, and some injury.
  9. Footwear: on the matter of footwear, few practitioners agree. In the longsword treatises, there are no heavy boots, and certainly no built-up heels.  For a completely historical style, it is necessary to wear completely accurate period clothing at least occasionally, because it can affect the way you move. It does not matter much what you wear on your feet provided that you understand grounding, body-mechanics and footwork, but attaining that understanding is much easier barefoot or in very thin flat soles. Excessively grippy soles can lead to joint injury as you may stop too suddenly, or get stuck when you should be turning (particularly in falls at close quarters). The dangers of wearing too slippery soles are obvious. In the salle I usually wear medieval shoes or ‘barefoot’ shoes (aka five-fingers, or ‘toe shoes’), and recommend a thin, flat sole regardless.

The Sword

Training swords come in three main types. Authentic sharp reproductions, which are used for cutting practice and some pair work with advanced students, blunt swords that try to reproduce the handling characteristics of the sharps, and fencing swords that are designed to make fencing safer. These all have their pros and cons, and you should use the sword that’s right for your style and the kind of practice you will be doing.

It’s perfectly all right to use a wooden waster or something similar to start with, but do not imagine that there is any such thing as a safe training sword. Even modern sport fencing blades engineered for fencing sometimes break and puncture people, and anything heavy enough to reproduce the handling of a medieval or renaissance sidearm is going to be able to do damage.

For specific details on choosing a sword, please see Choosing a Sword, which is included in the additional material on this course.

Looking after your weapon is largely a matter of keeping it dry, clean, and free of stress risers (a stress riser is a weak point, usually a deep nick, which encourages the blade to fold at that point).

Occasional rubdowns with a moisture repellent oil and steel wool or scouring pad, followed by a coat of microcrystalline wax, should keep the blade and hilt clean (follow manufacturer’s recommendations if you have a gilt, blued or otherwise ornamented weapon). Do not be afraid to file down any large nicks, and file off any burrs: this is important from a safety perspective, as the blade is most likely to break at a nick, and burrs can be very sharp. The edges of a blunt weapon should always be kept smooth enough that you can run your bare hand hard up the edge and not get scratches or splinters. Even the toughest and most cherished sword will not survive repeated abuse: the best guarantor of longevity for your sword (and yourself) is correct technique.

Rules of Engagement

Once you have agreed to fence with someone, it is important to agree on rules of engagement. This is partly to ensure safety, and partly to create an environment in which you can learn. The two most simple rules are these:

  1. Confine permitted actionss to the safety limits of your protective gear
  2. Confine permitted actions to the technical range of the least trained combatant. In other words, do not allow face-thrusts when wearing open helms, or throws when one of you is not trained to fall safely. The rules can be adapted further to develop specifi aspects of technique: for instance, you may not allow any close quarters work at all, or even restrict allowable hits to one small target. The idea is to come to a clear, common -sense agreement before facing off. You are only ready for no-holds-barred, totally “authentic” fight simulation, when you can enter such a fight with your judgement unimpaired.

Following the rules of engagement will not make you soft, nor will it dull your edge if it comes to the real thing; rather it it will develop self-control.

These rules apply to all fencing:

  1. Agree on a mutually acceptable level of safety.
  2. Wear at least the minimum amount of safety gear commensurate with rule 1. Confine allowable technique to those within the limits of your equipment.
  3. Confine allowable technique to the technical ability of the least trained
    combatant.
  4. Appoint either an experienced student or one of the combatants to
    preside over the bout.
  5. Agree on allowable targets.
  6. Agree on what constitutes a “hit”.
  7. Agree on priority or scoring convention in the event of simultaneous hits. Usually it is better
    to allow a fatal blow before a minor wound, but simultaneous hits should be avoided whenever possible.
  8. Agree on the duration of the bout either in terms of hits, such as first to five, or in real time.
  9. Acknowledge all hits against yourself. This can be done by raising the left arm, or by stopping the bout with a salute, or by calling “Halt!” and telling your opponent where and how you think she hit you.
  10. Maintain self-command at all times.

Safe Training

In my experience most injuries are self-inflicted. It is far more common for students to hurt themselves by doing something they shouldn’t, than to hurt their training partners. Here are a few simple guidelines for joint safety, which should be followed during all training. I am using the lunge as an example of a stressful action, but these principles apply to any physical action.

  1. The knee must always bend in the line of the foot. Knees are hinges, with usually a little under 180° range of movement. The do not respond well to torque (power in rotation). So whenever you bend your knees, in any style for any reason, ensure that the line of your foot, the line of movement of your knee, and the line of movement of your weight, are parallel. This prevents twisting and thus injuries. This one simple rule, carefully followed, eliminates all knee problems other than those arising from impact or genetic disadvantage.
  2. Whenever performing any strenuous task (such as lunging, or lifting heavy objects), tighten your pelvic floor muscles (imagine you need to go to the bathroom, but are stuck in a queue). This supports the base of your spine, and helps with hip alignment.
  3. Joints have two forms of support: active and passive. Passive support refers mainly to the ligaments, which bind the joint capsule together. This is basically set, and can’t be trained. When training your joint strength, with exercises or stretching, avoid any action that strains the joint capsule. Any action that causes pain in the joint itself should be modified or avoided, as it may damage the soft tissues (ligaments, tendons, cartilage). These tissues have a very poor blood supply and hence heal very slowly.
  4. Active support refers to the muscles around the joint, and these can be strengthened by carefully straining the joint with small weights and rotations. To strengthen a joint you must stress these muscles, without endangering the ligaments. Any competent physiotherapist can show you a range of exercises for building up the active support around your knees, wrists and elbows, where we need it most.
  5. Rest is part of training. Your body needs time to recover, and is stimulated by the stress of exercise to grow stronger. However, the body is efficient, and will withdraw support from any muscle group that is not used, even if for only a few weeks. So regular training is absolutely crucial.

If you can’t lunge without warming up, don’t lunge except in carefully controlled drills. Warming up is essential before pushing the boundaries of what your body can do.

 

If you find this advice sensible and useful, please feel free to share it as widely as you like!

If you would like these guidelines as a handy PDF, then drop your email in the box below and I'll send it to you.

 

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Tomorrow, I’ll pull the trigger on my latest venture: an online course. It is called “Recreate Historical Swordsmanship from Historical Sources” and by the time it is done, it will be a clear and systematic way for people to learn how to do the academic side of historical swordsmanship. You know, the bit that makes it actually historical. The course is by no means finished: my plan is to have enough material up to keep people busy, and to use the feedback from the students to guide my creation of the rest of the course. I cannot reasonably predict exactly what every student will find difficult, or need extra help with, so I will create the necessary modules as the need arises. I have a fair bit of content up already, including all the homework assignments (which will tell you what the goal of each section is; if you can do the homework, you have acquired the intended skills and knowledge). I have a stable map of what the course will cover, and how it’s broken down. But the specifics of “a pdf with examples of translation problems” or “explain how to set up a more advanced drill”, or “we need more explanation here”; that will be finalised, expanded on, and polished with the first batch of students telling me what they need.

Which is exactly how I run my seminars; start with a theme, ask the students what they need, and give them that.

When I launch it tomorrow, I’ll send a note out to my mailing list, with some 50% off discount vouchers. These are limited to a total of 45 students, because I want to keep enrolments small to start with, while I work on the course content. These vouchers are intended for people who really want to be beta-testers and co-creators. There is nothing stopping people signing up at the full price, but I hope it’s clear that the course isn’t finished yet.

Because the format is so different to what I am used to, this is a really hard process for me; writing books is, if not exactly easy, at least totally straightforward and familiar. But creating an online course is very different.  Once this one is properly up and running, I’ll get started on others, such as turning the content of my Medieval Dagger book into a course, and indeed, eventually, the entire School syllabus. Ambitious, much?

I’m writing this in the Atrium Studios space in Suffolk University; they run a “Jelly” networking meetup on the last Thursday of every month, so I came along and met a load of interesting folk. Explaining what I do for a living is a great ice-breaker.

I am also doing a daily vlog thing, partly because my daughters are totally into vloggers right now, and partly to help with goal-setting for creating this course. I’m in a totally new environment (Ipswich), and finding my feet here creatively. It’s hard to get into the proper zone, outside the really specific environment I had created for myself in Helsinki. Perhaps the vlogging will help. I’ve got 5 short clips up so far; you can find them on my personal youtube account (with almost 0 views, because it’s not my main swordschool account). But there may be stuff there you’ll find interesting. I’ve embedded day 1 here, though it’s way out of date! Nearly a week old already!

https://youtu.be/DYoyrmHDlc0

So, that’s what I’m up to in the land of Sword. How about you?

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Boldness is a key virtue in swordsmanship. Perhaps the key virtue. Under the Lion on the famous segno page, Fiore wrote “Piu de mi leone non porta core ardito. Por di bataglia fazo a zaschun invito”. Nobody has a bolder heart than I, the Lion. I call everyone to battle.

It is a key virtue, and one which can be trained for. I cover it in breadth and depth in my book Swordfighting, but didn’t include there the specific exercises we use in class to begin the study of boldness. In the women’s class I lead in Seattle recently, the participants explicitly requested boldness as a topic, so I took them through the following sequence. This was a longsword class in which most of the participants were relatively inexperienced, so these exercises were done relatively slowly.
The first step, always, is decide what you’re working on. In this case, boldness. So the only thing that matters (other than “everyone finishes class healthier than they started it”) is whether you are embodying that virtue in the constraints of the drill. It’s ok for technique and other things to suffer.
The flinch is the enemy. Your body’s instinctive jerking away from threat needs to be brought under control. For many people, simply having their personal space invaded is enough to make them flinch, but to train martial arts effectively, you have to get comfortable with people getting right up in your face. So we began with the standing step drill, in which two players face each other square on in a wide stance, touch wrists, and then try to make the other player take a step. Move a foot, you lose.

This involves pushing and being pushed, some arm locks, and once the first level is comfortable, you can introduce things like gentle face-slaps. Anything that does not threaten your position can be ignored, so it’s remarkable how quickly incidental contact, that would have created a flinch before, becomes something the players can simply choose not react to. It also gets everyone playing together in a useful way. The next level is to allow one step, in either attack or defence; you lose when you make a second foot movement.
This drill is all about standing your ground, grounding, tactics, misdirection, wrestling, locks, throws… it’s a very good way to get beginners into the game. It also caused a lot of hilarity in the class, which in the circumstances was a good thing; it broke the ice, and made being brave easier. I also covered what to do if you are much bigger and stronger, or more experienced: take it to the very edge of your balance, and play from there.
After this, we did some basic sword handling, so I could assess the level of the class as a whole, and then we got started with step one of first drill: defender on guard in tutta porta di ferro, the attacker strikes a mandritto fendente (controlled, of course) to the head. The defender does nothing.

That is hard. Don’t blink. Don’t flinch. Don’t even change your breathing. Stare over the attacker’s shoulder and do absolutely nothing as the blade touches your mask. We also do this exercise with no masks and no contact. It’s harder, for most people. The exercise should be done at the rate that maintains the difficulty for the defender, so long as that doesn’t take the attacker past the point where they can properly control their strike.
Now we have identified the problem, flinching, we have to set up exercises in which it will happen naturally, allowing you to practise preventing it, in circumstances of ever increasing complexity. Remain calm and dispassionate. It’s really better to get hit in training than to practise flinching, because every time you flinch, you are ingraining that response in your nervous system.
Once you can remain impassive against the attack, you can defend against it with much better precision, so from here, move on to the second step of the drill; actually defending yourself. Now it’s the attacker’s turn to be impassive about being struck.
Boldness is also about moving forwards against the threat. In the Lonin loft they have two car tyres hanging from the ceiling, which act as pells and striking targets, so from here we moved on to hitting the tyres: approaching boldly, striking hard and moving away under cover. This was fun, and should be trained regularly, not least to make you aware of just how hard you can hit.
We then went back to the pair drills, and worked on the attacker’s bold entry. During this time, I prepped one of the students, and then gave orders for the class to go as hard and fast as they could, with no masks, to really hit each other. A dangerous, stupid, thing to do with a class at this level. But the teacher was telling them to… and the student I had prepared beforehand said, quietly but firmly, “no”. I said “what the hell do you mean, no?”, and she replied “no, it’s too dangerous.”
It takes boldness to stand up to authority figures when they are not acting in your best interests, and as with all necessary skills, it can and should be trained for. Roleplaying the scenario can really help. So what the class saw was one of their own (boldly) saying no to a dangerous exercise, in defiance of my authority. That was probably much harder, required more boldness, than simply not flinching when a friend gently approached with a sword.
Training for boldness only works if the situation is one in which it is hard to be bold, but you can just manage it. It is especially important to emphasise that success is defined only by whether you manage to act in a way that demonstrates the virtue of boldness according to the scenario of the drill. No other factors are important. This is the key to successful training. In weightlifting, you either lift the weight the prescribed distance, or you don’t. Success is easy to define. When training for virtues, success is more difficult to pin down, which is why I like controlling the flinch as the starting point; it’s the easiest way to check on physical courage. We can take this out into the wider world too; let’s say you have difficulty talking to strangers, so you set yourself a task of asking one stranger for directions every day on your way to work. It doesn’t matter if you stammer, or if you forget what they tell you, or if they are rude, or any other thing; you did it if you went up to someone you don’t know and asked. Success is making the attempt.

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Lonin, April 4th 2016.

I have always made sure that there are at least some women in the photos in all of my training manuals. This photo from The Swordsman's Companion is one of my favourite pictures ever:

Last weekend, teaching at Lonin in Seattle, one of the women students told me that the only reason she had started training was because she had seen the women in my books, and therefore felt it might be ok. She got her biggest, toughest-looking male friend to come with her, just in case, but she came. She’s now on the governing board of her club. I nearly cried when she told me this. Martial arts training should be for everyone who is interested, be they clumsy or deft, weak or strong, timid or bold, tall or short, without regard to their starting point. Everyone can get better with practice.

Later that day, I taught my first ever all-women class. It was a fascinating experience for me as a teacher, and also as the head of a large and very diverse school. In essence, I know nothing at all about the particular requirements women may have in training, so I asked them what they wanted, they told me, and I did my best to oblige. I am, after all, a consulting swordsman. I think the class went well, everyone seemed happy with it, and I’ve only had positive feedback about it so far. And it has got me thinking (again) about the whole issue of gender in martial arts. When I was a kid, one of my role models was Cynthia Rothrock. You can see her famous scorpion kick in this excellent Ameridote video:

At my school karate club we were taught by Mr and Mrs Williams. Either one of them could have kicked my head off. My first fencing coach was a woman, Gail Rudge. She was assisted by the captain of the fencing team, also a woman. Neither of them had any difficulty stabbing young Guy when needed. Which was rather a lot. This all means that I have never been infected with the foolish idea that women can’t do martial arts or swordsmanship to the very highest level.

In a perfect world, no kind of gender discrimination would exist, and so nobody would think to organise a women-only class. But mansplaining is a thing. So is “I couldn’t hit a girl”. So is copping a feel when you’re supposed to be grappling. So I can see that this kind of class could be preferable, at least to some women. I should also point out that Lonin is an extremely inclusive and friendly club, vastly more welcoming to people of all kinds than many others I have seen, so it’s not like they had a special need for this kind of class. But the women training there just decided to organise a semi-regular women’s class, and advertised it to the general public. Over 30 people showed up! Clearly, there was something about a mixed, general, beginners’ class that put these women off, and starting this class just removed that barrier.

A martial artist ought to be able to handle whatever opponents life throws at them. My primary reservation about women-only classes stems from the possibility that women’s training might become ghettoised, and women who train in these classes might never get to train outside them, or might choose not to, and so limit their own development. They should be an option, not a refuge.

But that’s a lot of ‘mights’. What I saw was people happily training, some of whom would not have got started without the psychologically and physically less intimidating option of the women’s class. And it’s probable that some of them will grow in the Art and become role-models for the next generation of swordfighters.

I salute them.

 

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Everybody gets sick or injured every now and then, and I’ve had a pretty rough winter so far in that regard which has got me thinking about how I train when sick. In this post I’ll lay out my general principles for dealing with the problem and let me apologise in advance if it ever comes across as me whining about the flu. I really don’t mind getting ill, and I’m generally very lucky with my health.

Let’s start with the overarching principle: health comes first. This is directly drawn from one of my Seven Principles of Mastery: “no injuries”. If training makes you worse, don’t do it! (You’d be amazed how often that rule is broken by people who should know better.) I train for the long-term benefits, not for the short-term buzz.

Injuries

With injuries, the trick is to modify your training to encourage recovery. My latest injury, just before Christmas (of course!) was yet another round of problems with my thoracic and cervical spine; every time I pressed even a small kettlebell above my shoulder, the right side of my neck would seize up in agony. No fun. So I went to the physio, and together we worked out a series of mobility and stability exercises that should restore mobility to the stuck bits, and restore stability to the hyper-mobile bits, and after three weeks of not being able to lift so much as a tennis ball over my head, I was back in business. So I immediately starting hoisting my biggest bell over my head, and the problem came right back. Or, that’s what I would have done when I was younger and stupider. Instead, I stalked my strength like it was a skittish colt. I very, very gently made sure that the full range of the motion was available, then slowly, slowly, added weight back on, all the while paying attention to keeping up the exercises that had restored the movement. The slightest twinge, and I’d stop. Now, three goddam months later, I’m back where I was three months ago.

But if I’d rushed it, I’d still be injured.

For impact injuries and soft-tissue injuries, the goal is the same but you need to pay attention to the difference between ‘good pain’ and ‘bad pain’; good pain you ignore; bad pain, indicating that the injury is being aggravated, you avoid.

The mnemonic I use here is “fuck it, but don’t poke the bear”. Specific neurological pain (such as my neck issue), or pain that indicates an injury is getting worse, is like a sleeping grizzly: the goal is to keep it asleep until it dies of starvation. But all the rest? Fuck it.

Sickness

So what about sickness? I have a very strong sense of the difference between a “walking cold” and a “systemic cold”. A walking cold is one with local symptoms; I might cough, or have a sore throat, or a headache, or whatever else, but the rest of me is basically ok. A systemic cold is when I can’t distinguish the boundaries of the illness, my whole body feel wretched. My goal with a walking cold is to prevent it becoming systemic. Here the principle I follow, along the lines of “no injuries”, is to pay close attention to how I feel right after doing any particular activity. Energy up is good, energy down is bad. “Avoid fatigue” might be another way to put it. So a little light stretching to preserve range of movement, leaving me feeling a bit better is ok; but if doing a push-up makes me feel tired, I’ll stop doing push-ups.

You read that right. Yes, there are times when I stop doing push-ups. Rare, but it does happen.

My first indication that my bout with tag-teaming viruses this winter was something I should pay attention to was when my cold shower in the morning left me feeling chilled to the bone, not invigorated. And yes, I did stop doing them, and gently worked my way back to them.

I’ve noticed that when my system is under attack from some horrid virus I do best by avoiding anything that elevates my heart rate more than a few extra beats per minute. So I might do one light lift, and stop. Swing a sword for a minute or so, and stop. Over the last few months when I’ve been hit by virus after virus (I’ve not been 100% well a single day since Christmas), I haven’t touched the deadlift bar. But I’ve been practising my deadlifts for a couple of minutes about three times a week, using just a stick. So the technique and range of motion is there, and, just last Friday, started back by picking up about half the weight I maxed out on last time I did them properly (before Christmas). Don’t poke the bear.

Most of the time, when I’m ill, it’s a walking cold; I can move around a bit, do light stuff, and not get sicker. But when or if it goes systemic, I have to be super-careful, and usually I don’t train at all, just the very lightest of moving about so my spine won’t seize up completely. Specific symptoms respond differently to different exercises. For example, I had a really bad cough for about three weeks in February; during that time, my Wim Hof breathing had to stop because it made me cough. But I could manage the Crane ok. When the cough morphed into a sinus nastiness, the kind where your entire skull becomes completely filled with nothing but snot, Wim Hof breathing was ok and so were some light kettlebells, but some of my meditation practices brought on bad headaches so I cut them out.

The last time I was at WMAW, in 2013, I had a bad walking cold; I was sick as a dog, coughing and feeling like shit, but I could move around. I had travelled all the way to America to fence with my peers. But I didn’t have a single bout with anyone, because I could feel it might trigger the walking cold to become systemic. That’s how seriously I take this.

Health comes first. As Count Rugen says to Prince Humperdinck, “If you haven’t got your health, you haven’t got anything”.

And if you don't know who they are, start here.

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I think that training ought to be focussed and goal oriented. The goal in any fencing context is to strike without being struck, so any problem can be thought of as “I’m getting hit” or “I’m not hitting”. Drills are the means by which we fix either of these core problems.

Let’s start with the “I got hit” problem. Here is a snazzy little flowchart:

Yup, it boils down to this: the only reason you ever get hit is because you failed to parry. The hit is never wrong. This is really important. When we are past the point of teaching beginners the absolute basics, we don’t solve the problem of being hit by changing the attack. The attack is supposed to hit.

So whatever your current fencing problem is, here are the steps to fix it:

1) Reproduce the problem. If you can’t reproduce it, it was either a fluke, and so not something that can be trained against, or you didn’t understand what happened. You can’t fix training problems you don’t understand, so if that happens, find somebody to explain what happened to you. Your opponent might do that, or your teacher.

2) Analyse why you are getting hit. You are either doing the right thing, but not well enough, or you are doing the wrong thing. So the problem is either technical, or tactical. These have quite different solutions.

Technical problems are solved by training the technique in increasingly challenging contexts. In short, slow down until it works, then ramp up the speed and power gradually until you can do it at the necessary level. I think of this as solving problems of incompetence.

Tactical problems are solved by choosing a better solution at the critical moment, which you learn to do by using drills with ever increasing degrees of freedom. I think of this as solving problems of ignorance.

So whatever drill you are doing should be solving a specific problem of either ignorance or incompetence making you wiser and better.

(The specific details of how to use pressure and degrees of freedom are in Preparing for Freeplay. They are also described in The Medieval Longsword.)

I have put all this together in another nifty flowchart. The original was done by me in Scapple, which is a great app for thinking with, but doesn't do pretty charts. Several kind and lovely readers have sent me much prettier versions, of which this, by Andrew R. Mizener, is the clearest.

 

Thanks Andrew! (I absolutely love it when my readers step up and help. Really, it's the best feeling.)

If you’d like specific examples of drills that solve technical or tactical problems, let me know in the comments.

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Sport longsword is not a new phenomenon. Meyer, 1570.

I love the HEMA tournament scene. This will come as a surprise to many people, because I am not really involved with it in any direct way. In fact, I have seen people referring to me as “anti-tournament”.* Nothing could be further from the truth. Just because I am not personally interested in entering or organising tournaments, does not mean that I don’t understand their value.
My own tournament life extended from 1987, when I entered my first foil tournament, through to 2002, when I entered (and won) a rapier tournament in Italy. The sport-fencing scene is especially tournament-dominated. It is fair to say that tournaments are the only meaningful measure of success in that sport (and most others). I was never a great sport fencer, but I won a local competition or two, and ended up in the last 8 in sabre at the Scottish Universities tournament in 1993. Tournaments were great if you did well, but it was equally possible that you would travel for hours, and wait around for hours, and get a few bouts in, then wait for more hours while your more successful teammates got to fence, and then travel for hours back home again. The ratio of time spent to fights fought always bugged me; you got far more bouts in far less time in less formal environments.
At school I was involved in organising our annual tournament, and so I have a pretty good idea what a huge amount of work it is to set up and run a tournament. That’s why I’ve never organised an open tournament in Finland; it’s way too much work for something I’m only peripherally interested in. But I do encourage my students worldwide to enter tournaments if they are interested, and it’s always nice to see a current or past student doing well in that environment. I do tell them not to expect to do very well though, as our training is not optimised for tournament success. (Perhaps I should write a post about how to train for tournaments sometime?)

The things I like about the tournament scene are:
1) It provides a sense of community for a very widely distributed group of like-minded people. Other events do this too, but the advantage of the tournament scene is that anyone can show up and take part, with any background, and every competitor is (at least in theory) equal and welcome. Your club or style don’t determine your value.
2)It provides external validation for fencers who need it. This can hurt as much as it helps, because poor performance on the day can be hugely discouraging. In the long run, internal validation is much better, but most fencers go through a stage of needing to test themselves, and tournaments provide one easy way to do that.
3) It creates an easy-to-explain model of what we do for the casually curious. One of the most common questions I get asked is “do you have tournaments?” If I don’t want to explain exactly what I really do, then I can just say “yes, there’s a big international circuit now, though it’s not really my focus”. Saves me so much time. Tournaments also attracts media attention, because everyone understands them.
4) It creates a much, much bigger market of fencers with particular equipment needs: the current availability of (for example) longsword free-fencing kit is directly due to the tournament circuit that has developed. This is huge: those of us doing HEMA in the early 1990’s will remember that our equipment was a hodgepodge of sport fencing kit and some dodgy re-enactment or SCA gear. Without sport fencing, there would have been no masks. How much would that have slowed our progress?
5) It provides training opportunities for working under pressure, and developing attributes such as timing, measure, speed, and tactical sense.
6) It demonstrates the effect of rule-sets. One of the hardest things to explain to beginners is how much rule-set affect behaviour. Tournaments have clearly-defined and published rule-sets, and that determines more than any other factor what kind of actions work.
7) As we saw in my last post, tournaments shine a spotlight on diversity. Who, exactly, is really welcome?
8) Most people like the idea of tournaments to give them something to train towards. So the sport-HEMA scene is always going to attract lots and lots of people. Excellent. For me and many others in the early nineties, sport fencing (and the SCA for many of my friends) provided our first entry into the sword world, but in the end proved frustrating. It was not real enough. So we left to create HEMA from scratch. The tournament scene provides a similar easy-entry route into the sword world. I look at the sport-HEMA scene as a massive pool of potential future historical-HEMA students and teachers.

The final in the rapier tournament, 2002. That's me on the right.

As with every training environment, tournaments have their limitations.
1) they serve no useful research purpose, unless you are studying historical tournament rule-sets and applying them. “It works/doesn’t work in tournaments” is just not a relevant statement when considering martial arts that have been developed for other purposes.
2) they privilege the gifted. In any sport, there is an optimum body type. As the tournament scene develops and the stakes get higher, we will start to see the different rule-sets privileging certain body types. Read The Sports Gene for super-detailed information on this phenomenon.
3) they are good for highlighting areas of weakness, but do not provide an ideal environment for fixing those weaknesses. From a training perspective, it’s more useful to be able to stop testing and start fixing immediately.
4) they privilege outcome over process. The people who “succeed” are by definition winning specific bouts. It doesn’t take into account how much they have improved or how hard they have worked. With a long enough head start, somebody could (in theory at least) win many tournaments without improving at all!

So, given how useful I think they are, and with the limitations I listed above taken into account, you might very well ask why I don’t take part? Here are my reasons:

1) I’ve been there and done that. In my current phase of training, formal tournaments are not an efficient learning environment for me. I can get just as much pressure from a demonstration bout, for instance, or from using sharp swords.
2) The stakes are not equal. I became a professional in 2001, and fought my last tournament in 2002. I won it. As a professional in a field of amateurs, I felt that I had robbed the top amateur of his deserved victory. If I win, so what? it’s my job. If I lose, then I have more to lose than the amateurs out there.
3) I don’t do things by halves. If I was to enter tournaments regularly, I’d take them seriously, and train for them seriously. But it’s not the combat environment I’m most interested in, so it’s not the one I want to train for.
4) It’s dangerous. The full-contact environment is one I enter only when necessary, because of the risk of injury. (Readers of The Seven Principles of Mastery will understand my attitude to injuries.) The tournament scene has an ok safety record, but is much more dangerous than most other training environments. All the broken bones I’ve seen since starting my school have come from one tournament or another. I’ll do it if I need to for my own training purposes, but not otherwise.

In conclusion then, I’m very pleased to see the worldwide development of the sport-HEMA scene. It grows the  wider sword community faster than any other factor: what’s not to love?

 

* I wrote about this in Swordfighting, pages 82-83.

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Are testicles really an advantage in a sword fight?

 

I first met the illustrious Christian Tobler in 2003. We were sat chatting about something and I casually called him “Chris”. He politely replied “it’s Christian, actually”, and with a modicum of effort, I stopped shortening his name, and have called him Christian ever since.

If he’d asked me to call him Christina, I’d have done the same.

This is basic politeness. Unless somebody asks you to call them something that puts you in an awkward position (somebody you don’t really like wanting you to call them “darling snookums”, for instance; or somebody who is not your boss demanding to be called “Boss”, for another instance), the only reasonable thing to do is respect their wishes about how they are addressed.

Y’all can call me “Jedi Master Guy the living sword god” if you want. Go on, I dare you.

We have had a small number of transgender people in one or other branches of my School over the last 15 years. In every case, School policy is absolutely clear: respect their preferences. It really doesn’t matter a damn whether the person you are training with is male, female, trans, or even (gods protect us) Swedish. It matters what their weapon is doing and why.

Likewise, within the school, our tournaments are not segregated in any way. If you are smaller or weaker, or taller, or stronger, you are expected to deal with it as best you can and learn from the experience. That’s it. Weapons do not discriminate and neither should we. In our most recent tournament, students even had a free choice of weapon (axe, spear, sword, dagger or unarmed); the best fight of the day was one student with a dagger defeating another with a pollax. You gain honour in direct proportion to the difficulty of the fight.

I understand that there is an argument made regarding high-level competition having gender categories, and a stated policy regarding what is required to gain admission to one category or the other. With millions of dollars on the line, it makes a sort of sense, I suppose. And in some arts, such as MMA or wrestling, weight categories make sense. But in combat of any kind, they just don’t strike me as martial.

This is topical because a student of mine has recently been denied entry to the women’s longsword tournament at an event in the USA. This student has gone through all sorts of difficulties to become who she is meant to be; it seems perverse to me to add to those difficulties deliberately.

This is the whole point of training swordsmanship. You start out wanting to be something that you are not (yet): A swordsman. You train, and sweat, and bleed and suffer (in my classes, anyway), and through the alchemy of practice you become the person you aspire to be. For any swordsman to fail to see the similar but vastly more difficult course that trans people go through strikes me as a pathetic failure of imagination and empathy.

Training is all about personal growth, and respecting the efforts that our fellow students make to grow, in all aspects of their lives.

Frankly, I don’t care what you think about a transperson’s gender. The only polite and decent course is to respect their choice regarding how they are identified, and to respect the courage it has taken them to live as they do in a world so sadly full of people slow to love and quick to hate.

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We are in the middle of our annual monster seminar, the Fiore Extravaganza. We began with a day of pollax training from the medieval French manuscript Jeu de la Hache, taught by Lois Forster. Lois flew over from France with his armour and a squire (hi Vincent!). He is conducting an emprise, a feat of arms in which he travels round fighting people in armour, according to the same set of rules and with the same intent as was done in the 15th century. I saw him take on several such fights at Armizare 2015, and of course agreed to fight him while he was here. We used rubber-headed pollaxes, and fought to 30 blows. This is unlike other competitive freeplay, in that it only finishes when the “Lord” governing the fight (in our case Ville Henell) calls halt, which he can do whenever he pleases; there are no breaks, and no winner is declared. You win by taking part. The fight also ends if somebody drops their weapon (for any reason), or is thrown to the ground.
I was so impressed with Lois’ attitude and skills that I allowed two of my students to borrow my armour (yes, really) and fight him too.
You can see our bout here:

 

The next morning, the Extravaganza attendees and I planned the rest of the week in some detail. All of this pollaxy goodness inspired them to ask for a pollax form, to preserve the material in a trainable medium. So we went over Fiore’s pollax plays, and some stuff from Jeu de la Hache, and I used the next few sessions to teach them how to create a form in a systematic, rational, and useful way. This went so well I thought I'd share it here.
We started by deciding what the form was for, and then what technical content ought to be.
This is what we came up with.

Our initial notes on what the form should be for, and contain.

What is it for?

  • Self-Improvement. This was the first thing mentioned, and is a little vague. But a good base to work from.
  • Memory Guide: The form should make it easier for students to recall aspects of the pollax material.
  • Flow/Mechanics: practising the form should ingrain the correct movement style and habits, enabling fluent and powerful actions.
  • Expandable: the form should be built in a way that allows the various actions to be expanded on, to trigger memory cascades, and create loci for memorising other material.

What should it contain?

Then we thought about what kind of material it should contain. The first thing mentioned was the guards of the axe, so that became our starting point. Around that came grip and handling drills, ways of exploiting armour, strikes, disarms, locks, takedowns, and parries.
Many forms come in two parts; our Syllabus Form, and our Cutting drill are obvious examples, but I have come across the same thing in many other martial arts.
We decided to start with applications, which of course must be trained in pairs. Then it struck me that once we had a curriculum of pair drills, we could make part one the defensive actions (remedies), and part two the offensive actions (attacks and counter-remedies). This would allow us to embed the stimuli for the various actions of the form within the form itself.
So we started with a pair drill, the defence of dente di zenghiaro against posta di donna, and added posta di donna’s counter-remedy. These became step one of parts one and two respectively.
Over the course of a couple of hours, we came up with three solid drills beginning with the following pairs of guards: donna versus zenghiaro, posta breve la serpentina versus vera croce, and coda longa versus posta di finestra la sinestra. As we covered the various aspects of technique, I marked them on our board. You can see the marks in black. And once we had a black mark on every green circle, we had covered everything we had decided on.
So I added the red tactics box, to survey what tactics we had also covered. We had included Attacks, Feints, Yielding to parries (Go Around), Parry-riposte, and Invitations.
But we were not completely satisfied; counter-attacks were not well represented, and neither were crossings of the axe. So we chose to add a fourth drill, with vera croce opposed by fenestra la sinestra, which would include them.
Now we had to put these pieces in order, and glue them together with axe handling drills and references to Jeu de la Hache (the best medieval source for this weapon, I think). The first question was how to tie the two halves together. It was tricky, so we shelved it, and worked on the easier ones.
Ordering the drills was easy enough; we put them in the same order as the pairs of guards shown in the Getty ms. I wrote down the starting guard and finishing guard for each drill, like so:

The start and end of each application in blue; magic glue in red.

The start and end of each application in blue; magic glue in red.

Part 1:
Vera croce, finishes in a one-handed fenestra destra.
Dente di zenghiaro, finishes in Guard of the Cross (from Jeu).
Fenestra sinestra, finishes with your axe in one hand between the opponent’s legs, left foot forwards.

Part 2:
Breve la serpentina, finishes with a takedown, right foot forwards.
Donna destra, finishes in guard of the cross.
Coda longa, finishes in a ligadura sottana with the left hand.
Fenestra sinestra, finishes in posta breve la serpentina. From here you need to be able to go to the end position (whatever that will be), or back to the beginning of the form, or to the beginning of part two.

So we then worked together to make useful and interesting “magic glue” to tie the parts together. I wrote notes on our choices in red. We were careful to practice these together, to make sure that the form could be done in class, in our salle. We added several turns to reduce the form’s footprint.
The last task of the morning was to create the segue between parts one and two. We started out by calling it the butterfly, but I thought that was un-axe-like, and called it the Dragon instead. This was apposite, as one thing the students wanted to include was some of the queue/pedale/tail of the axe material we had done with Lois, and as readers of Veni Vadi Vici know, the dragon strikes by lashing with its tail. The Dragon had to be very clearly not a pair drill though, or we would end up creating another application set, leaving us with a form that would get longer and longer. In the end I came up with an exercise based on my own arm-conditioning drills with a long stick:

Over the course of the seminar, we plan to spend some time every day polishing and refining the form (and memorising it), after which it will be videoed and put up on the wiki.
Once the form was complete, we summarised the process we had used to create it, here:

The Process:
1) Purpose: decide what the form is for.
2) Components: decide what applications and other elements it should include, such as tactics, guards and so on.
3) Survey the components to make sure you have all the necessary aspects covered, and finalise the total content.
4) Order the components.
5) Create the magic glue that ties the components together, taking into account space constraints.
6) Test and bug fix: this requires a feedback mechanism, and is much easier with a group or team.
7) Train the fuck out of it!
This raised the question of how to train the form, and the potential risks of form training. We came up with this diagram:

Which I have recreated for you in Scapple:

In brief, the form can be used for solo practice and with partners to train applications; each step can be expanded to include other elements; it is a memory palace in which to store the things you have learned, and it can be used as a diagnostic. The primary risk of form training can be summarised as “it becomes ballet”. Compliant opponents allow your technique to become sloppy; form replaces function. There is also the risk of over-specialisation, in that you can confuse the content of the form with the entire content of the art. Drilling the applications properly should prevent balletisation, and expanding every step should prevent over-specialisation. But this is not an easy process.

I think the next instalment of my The Swordsman’s Quick Guide (after Ethics, which is due out very soon), will be a detailed write-up of creating and using forms in martial arts training. What do you think?

Credits:

This form, and to some extent this process, is absolutely not all my own work. This was a team effort, and the team comprises:

Anna Lahtinen, Antti Jauhainen, Gaja Kochaniewicz, Guy Windsor, Ilpo Luhtala, Kliment Yanev, Petteri Kihlberg, Teemu Kari, Tero Alanko, and Zoë Chandler.

When the form is polished, I'll video it in detail and post it to the Syllabus Wiki. In the meantime, if you find this kind of thing useful and you'd like to say thanks, please leave a comment below, sign up to my email list (there's a form below), throw some change in the tip jar, or go buy one of my books!

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The School of European Swordsmanship was born on a Scottish hilltop, not far from Fort William. I was at a crossroads in my life, and went up into the hills to clear my mind, and meditate on what I should do. I thought my options were to stay in Edinburgh, or move to America. It was a bit more complicated than that, but the other people involved might be reading this and would probably prefer that I not go into detail.

So I went and sat on a mountaintop (cliché perhaps, but it worked), entered a meditative state, and a voice in my head said “Go to Helsinki and open a school of swordsmanship”.

So I did.

But there were about 6 months of preparation and groundwork between revelation and the actual move to Finland, and one of the things I needed to do was create a logo for the new school. But what on earth should that logo be?

So I meditated on it, and came up with this:

Which became this:

Fourteen years later, hundreds of people worldwide train under this logo, so I thought I’d better explain what it represents.

The Shield: the principle of defence, of course. It’s a heraldic device, and a perfect image for the ideals of the School.

The Longsword: I knew from the beginning that I wanted the Longsword, and specifically Fiore’s style, to be the foundation of our practise. This is because at the time it was the type of sword that I could best practise with for spiritual purposes. It was the tool I was using to create the self I wished to be. I could rationalise it a hundred other ways, but that’s the real reason.

The Rapier: solid, practical fencing. This sword style (and I was thinking early Italian, from the beginning) is practical, straightforward, and embodies the principles of fencing most clearly. It’s the stripping away of all other things, armour, horses, knightliness, everything, until all you have left is two people in shirts, sword in hand.

The symbols on the shield are of course Fiore’s four virtues, from the famous “Segno Page”. I was working from the Pisani Dossi at the time, so here it is from there:

I thought the objects (arrow, heart, castle and dividers) would work much better in a logo than the animals (Tiger, Lion, Elephant and Lynx).

The Castle, fortitudo, or strength (see I am Weak for a post on that virtue), the Arrow, presteza or speed (see I am Slow for a post on that virtue), the Heart, ardimento or boldness (see “I am Fearful”, in Swordfighting for Writers, Game Designers, and Martial Artists, for a chapter on that virtue), and the Dividers, avvisamento, (which I refer to in The Medieval Longsword, but have not gone into in depth anywhere, yet. It’s the hardest virtue to write about).

The point of these is to remind all students that they must keep these virtues in balance: strength without stiffness, speed without losing your balance, boldness without rashness, and prudence without cowardice.

In the middle we have the circle, square and triangle, representing at one level, the basic patterns of movement, but also geometry as a virtue in itself. This puts a group of three things in the centre, surrounded by a group of four things; a trinity and a quaternity (or indeed a triangle and a square). Readers of part one of the forthcoming The Swordsman's Quick Guide series, The Seven Principles of Mastery will be on familiar ground here.

Geometry is important not only because Vadi mentions it, but also because it is a perfect metaphor for training. Geometry is perfect in theory, and flawed in practice. Nobody has ever drawn a truly perfect circle, or a truly straight line. But we can hold geometrical truths in our minds, however imperfectly they are embodied in reality. Pi has an infinite number of digits after the decimal place; it is impossible to write the number down. But you can represent it geometrically with ease; just scribe a straight line, put your compass anywhere on the line, and draw a circle. The length of the circumference of the circle is Pi multiplied by the length of the diameter. Simple.

The motto of the School is In Gladio Veritas. I derived this from the common phrase in vino veritas, “truth is in wine”, which basically means that drunk people tend to tell the truth. The ideal on which the School is founded is the virtue of Truth. One of my students, Ken Quek, wrote his thesis for Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences on the branding of the school. In it, he wrote:

The school's values are as follows:

Integrity

Security

Maturity

Equality

Integrity means respect for the truth, as reflected in the school's motto, “In gladio veritas”, meaning “In the sword is truth”. This means that all instruction is grounded in adherence to what is historically accurate: the treatises are the ultimate source of authority, and every exercise is meant to bring the school's practice closer to the historical reality as far as we know it. This also requires that the school's syllabus be constantly refreshed to accurately capture the state of the art of our knowledge, as well as avoiding, as far as possible, practices that distort our understanding and expression of the art.

Security means training in a safe and sensible manner. Safety is paramount in training and everyone, even if it is their first day in the salle, is responsible for their own wellbeing and that of everyone they train with. It extends beyond physical measures to encompass emotional security as well. While an essential part of training is to challenge people to step out of their comfort zones, they must always do so with a sense of trust that their training partners and instructors will do their utmost to keep them safe. In addition, it means that nobody should ever feel threatened, intimidated or belittled in training.

Maturity means having the correct training priorities. The watchword for the salle is respect – for the art and for one's fellow practitioners. While every student wishes to become the best swordsman they can be, this must never be allowed to hinder anyone else's development, enjoyment or safety. It also means that the community assumes the best in everyone.

Equality means not showing prejudice in any way against other members of the community. The school esteems spirit above all: what is important is the desire to walk the path together, rather than any other characteristic or achievement. Members show the same respect for male and female, tall and short, young and old, heavy and slim, new and experienced. As long as someone holds a sword in their hand and practices with diligence and responsibility, they are expressing the art and being a credit to the school.

It always blows me away when a member of the School really gets it. And this is a classic example of that. I never said that these were the values the school was founded on; I wasn't trained to think in those terms. But dammit, this is spot-on.

The motto clearly resonates with at least one of my students; Ilpo Luhtala had this tattoo inked about a year after he started training:

Now another member of the school, Titta Tolvanen, has created her own vision of the logo, and it is so gorgeous that I had to share it.

Isn't that glorious?

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