Guy's Blog

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

Tag: travel

It has been a splendid few days in Seattle so far, kicked off by a trapeze lesson with the excellent Milla Marshall at SANCA. The place was pretty empty, so there was no-one to hold the camera (Milla was busy spotting me through the tricky bits), but we did manage to catch this new trick on video:

There's no better way to get the aeroplane out of your spine! This was my third class with Milla, and I can highly recommend her. I also managed to get one go on the flying trapeze on Friday, so that's my adrenal glands thoroughly exercised.

On Thursday evening, Dan from Lonin took me shooting; it's been a while since I last shot, but I didn't disgrace myself. Dan is a fan of old British militaria (up to and including driving a 1980s military Land Rover), and he kindly let me blast away with his (semi-auto) Sterling SMG, his Browning Hi-Power (my favourite 9mm pistol), a WWII Webley revolver, and, to cap it all, a WWI era Webley .455, just like my grandfather carried in the Great War.

I spent most of Friday working on my new Vadi book (it's not all fun and games!). I'm reading around the period quite widely, and came across an interesting light history of the Medici banking empire on my brother-in-law's bookshelves. Medici Money by Tim Parks is well worth a look if you're interested. It's not a mighty and definitive scholarly work, but it explained some aspects of Italian financial history I hadn't grasped before, and it's a fun read. It's by the same Tim Parks that wrote Teach us to Sit Still, a very personal journey into meditation. As my regular readers know, I meditate a lot; if the Vipassana stuff Tim talks about is a bit heavy, you could try this instead.

While I'm on the subject of books: I'm staying at Neal Stephenson's house, and came across an advance reader's copy of his next novel (co-written with Nicole Galland), The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.. Let me put it this way- I meant to just scan the opening pages, but am now 400 pages in… It's classic Neal, in that you can't really categorise it, but it's a lot like Reamde in tone, with a bit of Baroque cycle in content, and it manages to fuse both classic SF elements (quantum physics stuff) with magic, in a way that's just a delight to read. Yes, we're friends so I'm biased, but I would never recommend a book just because a friend wrote it.

Friday night I was teaching in my Seattle sword home, the Lonin loft at SANCA, then all day Saturday (Fiore stuff, with a bit of Vadi), and all day yesterday (I.33 in the morning, Capoferro in the afternoon).  A big shout out to Dan Weber for organising the whole thing, Alex Hanning for running the I.33 group, and Michael Heveran for keeping the rapier flag flying amidst all this medieval stuff. Sunday's seminars were graced by Devon Boorman and three of his Duello students, one of whom, Greg Reimer, is a superb graphic designer who has taken my free Fabris photos and laid them out with Tom Leoni's 2006 translation… I have an advance reader copy of the first section, so it looks like I'll have plenty to do on my flight home next week!

But before then, I'm off to Vancouver tomorrow, to teach seminars at Valkyrie, and, while I'm there, go horse riding for the first time in about a decade… wish me luck! I'll report back in due course. If you're in or around Vancouver next weekend, come and train!

 

Teaching a I.33 class in the Lonin loft.

A recurring theme in my life is a contact from someone who narrowly missed a seminar with me in some far-flung outpost because they didn’t know it was happening. So let me take a minute of your time to let you know about two events coming up in the Pacific North West:

This weekend, April 29-30th, I’ll be teaching in Seattle; Saturday’s class will be Fiore and Vadi, Sunday morning I.33 sword and buckler, and Sunday afternoon Capoferro rapier.

Please email info@lonin.org to register!

This is a regular bi-annual event; I expect to be back in Seattle in the autumn.

The following weekend, May 6th and 7th, I’ll be teaching for the first time at the Valkyrie Martial Arts Assembly in Vancouver BC. Valkyrie is the school of the author of one of my favourite HEMA blogs,  boxwrestlefence.com, Randy Packer, with Courtney Rice and Kaja Sadowski. Randy and Kaja have both shown me physical training exercises that I can’t do, so I’m looking forward to some useful cross-pollination.

It’s been two years since I last taught in Canada (at VISS 2015), and I don’t know when I’ll be back, so if you’re in the area don’t miss it!

Day one will be a beginner-friendly introduction to Fiore’s longsword material on Saturday May 6th.

Day two will be a full day of Vadi’s longsword on Sunday May 7th.

You can register here!

I’ll make sure that anyone that comes on the Saturday has the necessary training by the end of the day to get value out of Sunday’s more advanced session, so by all means sign up for both! (Plus, you get a discount!)

In every case, while the system we will cover is established in advance (eg Vadi Longsword), the exact content of the seminar is planned with the attendees on the day; we take a few minutes to survey the class and take requests, which I then work into a scheme for the class training. This works very well, and in almost every case the students get exactly what they came for.

If you have friends in the Seattle or Vancouver areas that you think might want to know about these seminars, please share this post with them!

I hope to see you there!

 

You may recall I went to Scotland a couple of weeks ago, and on that trip a select few got to travel to Glasgow to visit the Museum Resource Centre. There we met a curator, Dr Ralph Moffat, who kindly opened case after case of swords, guns, and armour, for us to (literally) play with. One piece at a time, of course, and no actual murder allowed, but still, a morning exceptionally well spent.

As you can see from this photo, I was miserable the whole time.
happy-guy

That's a cinquedea, one of my favourite kinds of blades. They are just so in-your-face, unapologetic, and dear god you don't want ever to be hit by one.

Though Phil Crawley, who organised the trip, seems entirely unconcerned about being stabbed by an early 17th century rapier (a blissful sword- much more agile than some others I've handled, but a proper killing blade nonetheless).

stabbing-phil

(I snagged this picture from Facebook, so if whoever took it would like credit, let me know).

For me one of the highlights, and the impetus for this post, was this extraordinary weapon.

boar-sword-hiltWhich has a blunt blade and a spear tip:

 

boar-sword-tip

And two almighty horns sticking out the sides!

boar-sword-second-crossguard

boar-sword-horns

boar-sword

As you can see, the blade is completely blunt- it's only function is to create space between the spear tip and the handle. This is the only historical example of a boar sword with its secondary crossguard fitted that I've ever got to handle. Why am I so excited? Because Fiore shows one, here:

boar-sword-in-il-fior-di-battaglia

(From folio 24v of Il Fior di Battaglia, Getty MS.) The purpose of the secondary crossguard is to stop a wild boar from running up your blade after you've stabbed it, and goring you (as Mordred did to King Arthur in Le Morte d'Arthur).

This boar sword is obviously a lot later than 1410; I'd put it about 1550-1600, from Germany (experts please chime in if I'm wrong), but still, I hope it's catnip to us Fiore fans.

On the subject of Fiore: I do hope you've seen this awesome piece of work: the Fiore app for Android! it's basically a concordance of the four surviving manuscripts, and oh my, what a handy resource it is!

We’ve been in Ipswich for a couple of months, and perhaps the most common question I’ve been asked is “what’s it like” followed in popularity by “Ipswich? Why?” So I thought I’d summarise some of the key points, in the form of a tennis match. Because this is England, and it’s summer. Or at least pretending to be. It's Helsinki to serve, and oh my, it's a scorcher.

Plumbing.

Oh dear god. The Romans got to this island nearly 2000 years ago, and they had better plumbing than the people of Ipswich, and indeed the British Isles, have to put up with. It’s a disgrace, really. The other day, a pipe got loose in the bath, while I was in it, and water escaped from the proper channel. Did it run safely through a drain in the sealed bathroom floor? No, its path of least resistance was through the ceiling light in the kitchen. I offer this video as proof, because my Finnish friends may be incredulous.

And, oddly, while it’s apparently impossible to insulate a house properly over here, and so it’s staggeringly inefficient to heat them, it’s also impossible to get a really cold shower. Which avid readers of this blog will know are part of my normal conditioning. I use shower in the loosest possible sense. The tepid trickle you get here is quite inadequate when compared to the blasts of water I became accustomed to back in civilization Helsinki.

It gets worse. The water here tastes like what I imagine the nervous sweat in Boris Johnson’s shorts would taste like if he was forced to actually state something he truly believed in on a particularly hot day. It’s no doubt perfectly safe, but oh, the water in Helsinki.

Helsinki 15 luv.

Food and drink.The water being quite undrinkable, we are simply forced to purchase large quantities of wine and beer, and drink that instead. And oh, my poor Northern friends, while the prices aren’t quite as good as in Italy, they are about half what we paid in Alko. Especially as there are all sorts of special offers, and services that will supply you with good, low cost wine, delivered to your door for free. We get all sorts of things delivered: bacon of a quality almost unknown in the benighted North (American Pekoni? no, sorry, really not); vegetables direct from the farmer through Growing Places, brought to our door, a tenner for a big box. It’s really incredibly handy having chaps in a van bring our groceries. And still cheaper than walking to K market. So on the matter of food and drink, Ipswich has Helsinki beat hands down. No salmiakki, of course, but that's a blessing, not a curse (though Grace would not agree).

15-all.

The Natives.

What with all this cheap alcohol, is it any wonder that the natives are so friendly? On our first day together in town, Grace (my eldest, age 9, and a Salmiakki-eating Finn at heart) asked “why is everyone talking to us?”. She was perplexed by the way everyone smiled, said good morning in the street though we’d never met, and at school after her first day, she was quite taken aback by the way that every girl in her class spoke to her at least once. In Finland, she said, they’d have left her alone. But she has made friends very quickly, and so have we.

I love my Finnish friends, and I hope they know it. And there are many Finns who are very gregarious, by Finnish standards at least. But making new friends here has been incredibly easy.

Ipswich leads, 30-15.

Bureaucracy.

But then there’s the paperwork. While Finnish bureaucracy is complex, it is at least generally consistent, and, with your personal id number and some photo id you can do just about everything you need to do, from opening a bank account, to renting a house. Here? No, really not. It’s absolutely fucking ridiculous. Proof of address that works for the county council regarding school places for the children is not accepted by the bank as proof of address when opening an account. I could go on, but I’d get very cross and it would ruin my evening. It’s almost as if all the rules were made in the 15th century, and never really updated properly. Oh, no, that’s actually exactly what’s happened.

30-all.

Visitors.

Speaking of people: they actually visit the UK. And we are only an hour from London. So far, in the last two months I have seen more of my international friends than I’ve seen in the last two years in Finland. By the end of this month, I’ll have seen three sets of Americans, one set of Canadians, and two sets of Finns (both of which are over here not just to see us, so count as “foreign friends visiting the UK anyway, and meeting up with us too”). That is a massive win.

with Sean Hayes at the Tower of London.

Ipswich leads, 40-30

 

Housing.

Now for house prices. Dear god, this island has gone insane. Badly designed, badly insulated houses, with poky little rooms (because proper sized rooms are too expensive to heat even by English standards), with appalling plumbing (see above) and rubbish infrastructure (the bins, don’t get me started), cost twice what the closest equivalent would cost in Finland. It’s insane, and driven entirely by a mania for ‘getting up the property ladder’, that makes the house primarily an investment and only secondarily a home. It’s absurd, and quite revolting. Sure, some of them are draughty and cold because they are truly ancient and therefore very beautiful.

That's a trade I could be persuaded to make. But houses built in the last 80 years just cannot justify their crapness by any claim to a compensating beauty.

Deuce

Culture.

But around these terrible houses, there is so much going on! Theatre, concerts, you name it. Yes, I know that they have stuff like that in Finland, but to be honest most of it is either a) very expensive, b) crap, or c) in Finnish, which Michaela doesn’t understand well enough to enjoy a play in, and, truth be told, neither do I. Honestly, I hate to say it, but the cultural life here in the small town of Ipswich is at least as good, and cheaper, than we got in the capital of Finland. Plus we can and do go up to London for day trips to see things and people.

Advantage Ipswich

Data

How anybody gets anything done on their phones here escapes me. I signed up to the ‘fastest data' in the UK with EE. I am willing to believe that somewhere in the British Isles, there is at least one spot where, when the stars align, and the moon is waxing, and you hold your phone just so, you might actually get a decent 4G connection, for ten whole seconds at a time. In my actual home in Ipswich, not a mile from the centre of town, I barely even get phone coverage, let alone mobile data. And they have the absolute gall to charge through the nose for it! I switched to Three, but that doesn't seem any better (though they do have decent calls to Finland rates, and I can use my phone there too without incurring extra charges. Who knows, in Finland I might actually get a signal). And get this: even when you can get a signal: data is limited! to like 1 or 2 gigs a month! In Finland you can't even buy a limited data plan- you just pay extra for the speed. Though in Finland, you do actually get the promised speeds, at least some of the time. And it costs about half of what we pay here for a reasonable plan, such as 4gb/month.

Mobile telephony came of age in Finland, and the UK is lagging about a decade behind. It's very sad, really.

Deuce.

And dammit, I’m running out of space, and it’s starting to rain. Looks like we’ll have to call it a draw so far, cover the court, open a bottle of wine, and schedule a rematch for later!

Sixteen years ago, I was at a crossroads in my life, so I went and sat on top of a hill in the Scottish Highlands, and meditated for a sign. A voice in my head said “go to Helsinki and open a swordsmanship school.” So I did.

Now that school has become “The School”, and has sprouted branches in many countries. The Helsinki branch was always the “main branch”, because it was the first, and I live here. But as my readers know, I stopped teaching there regularly at the end of November last year, and am now moving to Ipswich.

I have left a couple of swords in the Salle, just in case, and a picture of the In Gladio Veritas logo that Titta Tolvanen made for me, as a reminder to the students that the principles of the school don't change, but should be the springboard for their creativity, not shackles to bind them in place.

For the first time ever, I’ve bought a one-way ticket out of Helsinki airport. I don’t know when I’m coming back. But I am confident that while the students here can manage just fine without me, I am not entirely without skills to offer and they will be wanting some instruction again soon.

The lorry arrived to collect our stuff this morning:

Done!
Not all by myself then 🙂 Thanks again, Auri and Rami!

 

Mikko Kari, moving professional.

(And I would highly recommend this company, should anyone think of following us over to the UK; Mikko Kari here is a lorry-loading artist.)

My reasons for moving are many and various; the most obvious and pressing one being my mother-in-law’s health. But the justification I’ve been using is that I do not want my school to suffer from the dread disease of founderitis. You know, that horrible condition where the founder of an enterprise can’t let go, and stifles the growth and creativity of his or her creation. A part of me, I will admit, was somewhat sorry that my students in Helsinki have thrived in my absence, but, since the very first day I started teaching here, I’ve been saying that my job was to make myself redundant. It seems that I have succeeded.

But leaving Finland is much harder than I thought it would be. This is mostly because I had the homesickness reflex and attachment to place burned out of me when I was a kid. When I moved here, leaving friends I loved behind in beautiful Edinburgh, I never once suffered a pang of missing them or it. Sure I’ve kept in touch, but that ache in the space where a person used to be just didn’t happen. I don’t miss people or places. Or rather, I didn’t.

Thanks to the boarding school recovery work I’ve been doing, I’ve relearned how to feel miserable when I leave a home behind me. Remember when I wrote about defence mechanisms rusting in place? Well it seems like this one has been thoroughly WD-40d and is now working all too bloody well. This may seem like a bad thing, and indeed it sucks goats to experience it, especially as I am so out of practice at dealing with it as an adult. But it’s actually a positive development, in terms of my long-term psychological health.

I am leaving behind many lovely and wonderful people, and many places that have sunk into my sense of home. For some reason I can’t explain, coming to Finland was like having lead boots removed, ones I hadn’t known I was wearing. That itch between my shoulders became the sprouting of wings. Suddenly I could do anything, be anything. The challenge now is to retain that feeling somewhere else. And in the meantime, Finland:

Kiitos kaikista, ja nakemiin!

I am right now in Ipswich looking at potential homes for my family. I travel a lot, and have the practicalities pretty much down to a fine art, but the night before this trip I was consumed by a deep and abiding sense of dread. I feel like this the night before just about every trip away from home, but this time it was way more severe than usual. I manifest the symptoms by compulsively hunting through my home looking for that one thing that mustn’t be left behind, deciding on something, reopening my bag and packing it in, then realising there’s just one more thing missing, and rehearsing all the things that could go wrong leaving me stranded forever in some ghastly airport (because airports are filled with people who have been stuck there forever, right?).

On this trip I packed my essential swords (should I do a “what’s in my bag” video?), my essential woodworking tools, and had my oldest and most valuable books taking up all my hand luggage. These will all be left in my lovely cousin’s house near Ipswich until we move in to a place here at the end of the month. It’s a psychologically important step in the direction of leaving Finland and actually living in the UK.

The swords, tools and books took up all my weight allowance, so I had none left for random bits and pieces. But the dread was driving me and my bags were bulging before I noticed it, so I stopped, and spent a moment or two sitting with the feeling to figure out what’s going on. I travel a lot, I know what I’m doing, I’m a competent adult with a working line of credit and a large support network of family and friends; barring accidents which could happen anywhere, nothing really bad will happen. There might be problems with the car hire company; the flights might be delayed or cancelled; it might be very difficult to get the kind of home we need… but these are all trivial problems, easily conquered with patience, cash, and a little help from my friends. So what, really, was I dreading so much?

Of course. It was exactly the feeling of the last night of the holidays before being sent off on a plane back to bloody school. And the thing I was looking for to pack and take with me was the one thing I couldn’t take with me. Home. No amount of warm socks (in case it’s cold) or swimsuits (in case it’s warm) or an extra pair of shoes (just because) can fill that hole, and so the bag is never fully packed. I’m never fully equipped. Once I realised this, I could stop fidgeting with more packing and go to bed.

Dammit, I’d thought I was further along than this.

What has most concerned me about this whole boarding school thing was that it was affecting my feelings and actions for years in ways which in retrospect were wholly obvious and predictable, before I even knew it was there. Figuring out what was going on was a relief, because then I could make a plan and execute it.  It had been a field of landmines in my psyche, waiting to go off. Which begs the question, what other landmines are there yet to explode? I’ve been seeking out triggers and setting off controlled explosions, and it does seem like the problem is mostly dealt with, but this sick dread (which evaporated as soon as I got on the plane, and I’ve been fine since I got here) is an echo of the past that is still reverberating.

If you're wondering what on earth I'm talking about, you must have missed my other posts on this boarding school business (lucky you!). You can see them here:

The Price of Privilege

Dealing with it

Progress report: Letters Home, Abandonment, and the Matron effect

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.

 

Woodworkers, depicted at the tomb of Rekhmire, from http://www.osirisnet.net/tombes/nobles/rekhmire100/e_rekhmire100_06.htm

I like reading about lifestyles I have no intention of emulating, but might learn something from. Such as the “travel the world for ten years with only one pair of underwear” minimalist types. It's all very “I've got an ultralight laptop and that's all I need”. Which is fine if you're only a writer or programmer or something like that. But as a writer who is also a swordsman and even a woodworker, it's not really a practical lifestyle choice. To do the things I want to do, I need swords, and tools. But one of the many things I've learned from people like Tynan, Tim Ferriss, and other techno-nomads is the joy of travelling handluggage only. On my last two long trips (Italy-USA-Canada-Italy; Finland-New Zealand-Australia-Finland) I travelled with only hand luggage. No sword bag (bliss! there are swords everywhere I go these days, so bringing my own makes no sense), no suitcase, just what I could fit into a 10kg carry-on bag. It's amazing how much crap I used to lug about, and now don't need to bother with, and do not miss.

So of course, in the run-up to moving to the UK in a few months, I'm shedding stuff like crazy. I just bought a decent document scanner (NeatDesk, second hand from a friend), so I can bin almost all of my papers. I'll be clearing out some of my books (I got rid of 18 boxes-full in the last year alone: which made no visible difference at all. I am, after all, a reader first and writer second). But at the end of the day, some stuff matters.

My glue pot. It will outlive us all!

Take this glue pot for instance. It's made of cast iron, in a form that goes back to the middle ages at least, though this pot is only about 100 years old. I bought it from Fred Murray himself, proprietor of Murray's Tools, an amazing tool shop in Edinburgh, just after I completed my first month of professional experience in William Trist's antique restoration workshop, where I first encountered this utterly brilliant glue. Hot glue, scotch glue, hot animal glue, hide glue; it has many names. And an indefinite shelf life if kept dry, and is still holding furniture together that was made by the ancient Egyptians. Show me any other glue which has been product-tested for, oh, two and a half millenia or so?

Ancient Egyptian glue pot

I love this pot. It represents proper, old-school, traditional craftsmanship. It's been with me for twenty years. I bought it from a man I liked, who sold it to me at a lower price than he could have got for it because he knew I'd be using it for its proper purpose.

I'm not selling it, giving it away, or leaving it behind. It came over in my hand luggage about a decade ago, and it's coming back with me, probably the same way. From a practical perspective, I can do without it; I fixed a friend's sideboard with hot animal glue a couple of years ago, melting the stuff in a bain-marie improvised out of a plastic cup and a saucepan. I could buy a modern pot, with electronic heat control so the glue never gets too hot. But life should never be simply a matter of practicality, and sentimental value is vastly more important than financial value, I would say.

The things you own, own you, if you can't walk away from them. I could walk away from most of the objects in my life. Almost all my swords, for instance. I really do view most of them as expendable resources, things that wear out eventually, and are easily replaced. But the ones made for me by a friend, those are not really replaceable. Even if they are no longer useful. But the list of things I just don't want to do without is surprisingly short.

That glue pot? That's mine. Or am I it's?

 

Rory Miller, Kortrijk 2015

A couple of weeks ago I took four days away from the wife and kids, and spent a good chunk of money, flying to Belgium for a seminar with Rory Miller. Regular readers will have heard me banging on about his superlative Meditations on Violence. Rory and I have corresponded a little over the last few years, but this was the first time we would actually meet. I asked him when he was next coming to Europe, he said December, Kortrijk, so I signed up to the seminar regardless of the topic. Really, I just went to get my copy of Meditations signed.

Mission accomplished!

But the topic itself was fascinating. This was not a hands-on technical seminar; it was all about learning how criminals think, and therefore how to avoid becoming a target. We spent most of the time in the lecture hall. Yes, we did actually plan and demonstrate a violent crime, and it was pretty chilling how into it some of the participants got; I ended up playing an old lady being tortured for information about where she kept her jewellery! As well as mugging an old Italian couple in downtown Brussels, with my partner in crime, a Brussels lawyer, who clubbed them over the head with a gun.

The seminar was hosted by brothers Koen and Jan Vandersteene, representing Systema Belgium and Ryugi Kortrijk, and took place in the “House of Violence”, an old farmhouse that has been converted into a training centre, complete with dormitories, kitchen, lecture room, and lots of outdoor training space. There were about 50 participants, from all over Europe (though I think I came the furthest), with a wide range of martial arts backgrounds. One of the real side-benefits of the seminar was meeting so many new people with whom I had at least one thing in common. I even met one person there who had read one of my books!

I wrote copious notes during the seminar, then condensed them onto a single piece of paper (in pencil), then rewrote them into the computer. This process massively aids retention, because by re-arranging the material, you have to think about it. One interesting aspect of the way Rory taught the class was that he deliberately allowed space on the flipchart and time in the class for “tangents”: interesting sidebars to the main seminar. It provided a  way for students to get what they came for without derailing the class plan.

Flipchart showing tangents.

I asked Rory whether it would be ok to share all this information. His answer was interesting: “this information could save somebody's life. What kind of an asshole would I be if I didn't let people share it?”

So, here is the pdf version of my notes. You're welcome 🙂

RMseminarnotes

This is my last post before Christmas hits in force, so let me just say Merry Christmas to all my readers, and see you next year!

The seated star. Damned uncomfortable!

I’m writing this in SeaTac airport, on my way home after teaching classes for my chaps at Lonin. One of the many benefits of my travel schedule is I get to actually spend time with some of my favourite people, even though we live continents apart. Another benefit is that I can see and do things that I can’t get at home. I arrived on Thursday evening, and was picked up and taken home by Eric Artz, who then took me out to dinner at the incredibly good Harvest Vine restaurant, which treated us to a series of wonderful small plates; the Spanish food was as good here as it was in Spain!

I have been working on my jet-lag management, which has reaped dividends in that though I did wake up at stupid-o’clock, I managed to get back to sleep again. Which was as well, because the inestimable Magali Messac, gyrotonics teacher extraordinaire (and wife of martial arts legend Ellis Amdur, which is how we met), had agreed to introduce me to the movement system. It’s a bit like Pilates, in that it uses some very odd equipment with pulleys and weights and such, and Magali gently took me through the basic movements. First on a stool, then on the equipment. It was a really lovely way to get the aeroplane out of my spine. I’ll be incorporating the stuff we did seated into my normal exercise routines, as it requires a full, gentle expression of every range of movement. Magali is passing on her studio to a long-time gyrotonics expert, and student of hers, Vincent, who I also got to meet at the studio.

Friday night saw me in the loft salle at SANCA, where Lonin has their headquarters. It is so nice to be there; in a space dedicated to the arts I practice, plus some interesting additions (which I’ll get to later).

The weekend seminar was on a much more lenient schedule than usual; we had just 3 hours in the morning, then lunch together, and that was it. I packed in as much material as I could, and I think my chaps have plenty to work with. It was a particular pleasure to meet and train with Amanda Trail, who came all the way from Spokane for the seminar.

Saturday evening was interesting; instead of the usual going out with the students, Eric took me along to the birthday party of one of his wife’s friends. So what? you might ask? It was held in a curling rink, and we all got to have a go at curling. You know, sliding rocks on ice and sweeping like a maniac. It was a lovely party, with Susan (the birthday girl) welcoming an additional guest like an old friend.

Sunday morning and more swords, of course; as is usual for me these days, I asked the students what exactly they needed from me, then gave them that. That evening I decamped from Eric and Michelle’s, and went to stay with Neal, just back from Wellington. I spent Monday morning mostly just mooching about and catching up on admin, because I was back in the loft teaching Monday evening (not strictly part of the seminar, but while I’m in town it seems mad not to give them all the training they can handle). We covered grounding, and using dagger training to introduce beginners to principles. Lots of fun!

Tuesday was perhaps my favourite day of the trip: trapeze in the morning, blacksmithing in the afternoon, and Victorian calisthenics (Indian clubs and so forth) in the evening. Today I ache just about everywhere! I've written elsewhere about the importance of trying new things; these three were all well outside my normal range of activity.

Coming to teach at the loft is an interesting experience because it looks out onto one of the SANCA training spaces. Circus people seem to like doing things very high off the ground, so we don’t even need to look down. Indeed, sometimes I’d lose my thread when teaching because an acrobat appears in my eyeline doing something impossible, and I just gawp in awe.

Nobody gawped in awe at me on the trapeze though, though they might have had a giggle at it. I have a video uploading slowly to youtube to embed here in due course, but if you can't live a moment longer without seeing the full nail-biting action of circus' newest star, then you can find it on my Facebook page.

My teacher, Milla Marshall, took me through a quick warm-up (lots of odd jumps on the long trampoline track), then we went through getting onto the trapeze, and doing tricks. Regular readers of this blog know how I feel about hanging upside down; one of the reasons I wanted to do this was to practice dealing with that terror. Oddly enough, the one most frightening bit was not upside down at all; it was the lamppost. Standing sideways on the trapeze, and taking one arm off to the side. My whole body screamed not to do it, as I’d inevitably fall and break something. The fact that the trapeze was so low that I could fall from it safely was beside the point; it might as well have been suspended over a pit full of crocodiles for all my subconscious had to say about it. Milla also had me climb a rope, and then have a go on the silks. It was a fantastic experience; especially the upside-down star, demonstrated here.

Upside down star: it was such fun I burst out laughing every time I went into it!

I didn’t do the crucifix; I left that to the professional!

Milla in flight

Back at Neal’s, he had been wanting to try the core blacksmithing technique of “drawing out”. I won’t explain it here, but basically, you heat up the steel, and bash it on the edge of the anvil to make it draw out into a point. This was my first time doing blacksmithing, but I’ve always wanted to try it. And oh my, it was every bit as much fun as I’d hoped. If I quit swords to become a maker of grates and pokers, do not be surprised!

In Neal's basement; my first blacksmithing experience!

Then in the evening it was back to SANCA for Neal’s BWAHAHA class; we started out with a lot of Indian clubs, and then at Neal’s request I took the class through some walking stick self-defence (or murder, depending on your perspective). We had a lot of fun, especially with the joint locks. It was great catching up with Nathan Barnett, and in the pub afterwards, the excellent Tim Ruzicki, who I’ve known since DDS days back in the late nineties.

This morning was spent packing, and I footled into town to pick up some supplies for an experiment I’m planning, on using ketosis. I’ll keep you posted, but in the meantime, if you don’t know what ketosis is or what it’s good for, I recommend this podcast with Dr Dom D’Agostino, interviewed by Tim Ferriss.

It's been a lovely trip; thanks again to Eric, Neal, Haley, Magali, Milla, Michelle, Ellen, and the rest of the Lonin crew!

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