Guy's Blog

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

Tag: writing

About a month ago I was checking through a pdf of Vadi's De Arte Gladiatoria Dimicandi, and thinking how lovely it would be to just pluck the manuscript off a shelf and curl up in an armchair with it. So I looked into getting a copy printed and bound locally. It was going to cost about £40. “Huh, that seems expensive” I thought to myself. “I wonder how much it would cost to get it printed by the company that does my print on demand publishing?” Then I thought- “you know what, I can't be the only person who wants one.” A quick email to my list triggered a deluge of “yes! do it! do it now! I want one!” responses, so I looked into the costs of getting it laid out and a cover designed.

Then it hit me that I really better do Il Fior di Battaglia first. That's a way more popular manuscript, and sales of it could very well subsidize producing Vadi… four weeks later, my facsimile of Fiore dei Liberi’s magisterial Il Fior di Battaglia is #1 in fencing on Amazon (where he assuredly belongs!) as well as #1 in “hot new releases” in martial arts!

The notion of a 600 year old book being a “hot new release” is gloriously ironic, but there you have it. The only modern text in the book is a note in the back saying where the manuscript is, and some details about it. I wanted to keep myself out of these books as far as possible; I mention my Mastering the Art of Arms books, of course, but also Bob Charrette's ArmizareTom Leoni's translation of the text, and some other resources, on the grounds that most readers of the book will be interested. But this is Fiore's book, not mine. It is his manuscript, laid out, but not edited, translated or commented on. It's just its own pure gorgeous self.


Our spiffy logo

And now Vadi is laid out, uploaded to the printers, and I'm eagerly awaiting the proof copy.

The ease and sheer pleasure of producing these facsimiles has lead me to create a new imprint, Spada Press, which even has its own (very basic, don’t go there! ok, you can if you want, but I warned you) website up at  I expect I’ll shift all my book publishing over to that imprint, to help keep the various aspects of my work separate. Expect facsimiles of Meyer (the 1560 ms), at least one other Fiore ms, Marozzo, Fabris, and hopefully Capoferro, in the near future. I welcome requests!

On the subject of books: I have been delighted by the way my beta-readers have been responding to the first draft of The Theory and Practice of Historical European Martial Arts, which I released a 100 copies of recently. While they like the book, they have also made some really useful suggestions for improvement. I hope to get the book finished within the next four months or so. Also, the second edition of Veni Vadi Vici went to the editor at the end of last week— I have completely rewritten the book, reorganised it, and added a ton of material to the introduction. It’s probably 8 months or so from being published, but this was a major milestone in its production, and it is a much, much better book. Veni Vadi Vici was my first self-published book, and it really shows. The second edition has benefitted greatly from the constructive criticism of many readers, and the expert help of friends and colleagues. I hope it does them justice. I will be sending out ebook copies of the finished book to everyone who backed the crowdfunding campaign, and to everyone I can reach who has bought the well-meaning but flawed Veni Vadi Vici since it launched.

I would say that was a cracking start to 2017, wouldn't you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I just uninstalled the Facebook app off my phone.

Shock! Horror! How could  I do such a thing?

Well, yesterday I gave a class to some students on a professional writing course at the University of Suffolk here in Ipswich. The topic was time management, and my advice boiled down to the following key points:

  1. Distinguish between ‘urgent' and ‘important'. Most things that come in appear urgent but are not important. Many things that are important (like writing the next book) do not feel urgent. Prioritise the important over the urgent.
  2. Create assets. Assets are anything that add value to your life. Value in this case is usually either money, or reputation, or both.  A book is an asset if it boosts your reputation, or makes money, or both. (My first book The Swordsman's Companion made me precisely no money between 2004 when it was published and 2013 when I self-published it. But it put me on the map as a swordsmanship instructor.) In the case of the students present their degree would be an asset, as would a blog they maintain, or work they do that can go in a portfolio to show clients. Facebook status updates? Not assets.
  3. Put first things first. Try to get some work done on an asset before checking email or anything else. Your inbox is everyone else's agenda. Your assets are your agenda.

On Monday morning this week I followed my own advice to perfection. I got up and did my meditation, had breakfast with the kids and walked them to school, then came home and produced the final videos for my Footwork course (which is now complete, with students enrolled and everything), and edited some videos for my Medieval Dagger course (which is also now complete). After about two and a half hours of full-on creative and productive work, my computer was tied up rendering video, so I took a break. I did some breathing training, took a shower and got properly dressed… And checked my emails for the first time that day. My creative intention had not had a chance to get derailed.

Back in 2006, in the days just after publishing The Duellist's Companion and right before my wedding, the server that hosted the school website and my emails broke. Five years of emails, my entire inbox, everything, gone in an instant. At a rather busy time in a self-employed person's life. But you know what? I can't think of a single bad thing that happened because of it. Not one. Everyone who mattered (such as my future wife) had other ways to get hold of me. Every important email got sent again by the person who hadn't gotten a reply yet. The wedding went off without a hitch (she showed up and said “I do”. Everything else is a blur). There are two takeaways from this. 1. Backups are important for your important work, but probably not so much for your emails. 2. Very few emails are truly important.

Whenever I talk like this, people jump up and down about how critical their rapid email responses are to keeping their jobs. My answer is in the form of a book: Deep Work by Cal Newport. To sum up, firstly, your job probably doesn't genuinely value your rapid response, they just expect it. Most knowledge workers don't put “I respond fast to email” on their CVs. You can train your co-workers off treating email like instant messaging. Sure, I'm in an unusual position, but Cal is not- he's a Computer Science professor, with all the admin crap that goes with that, so read his book and take his word for it. But you might find my contact page instructive in setting expectations. I'll save you clicking and quote:

Hi! You can email me, which I prefer, or find me online on FacebookLinkedInGoodreads, and Twitter, or if you like, try this spiffy form. Whichever you choose, please bear in mind that I don’t have a secretary, but I do have family, students, books to write and a school to run. This means that I think I’m doing pretty well if I answer your email within three working days, and any social media message within seven. After that time has expired, and there is still no response, try emailing again!

Then, when I reply to someone's email in two days, their expectations are exceeded and we're all happy.

Secondly, do you really want a job in which your primary value is not doing deep creative work, but simply reacting to emails? Really?

Getting and staying out of a reactive mindset is critically important to getting serious work done. Reactivity is not creative. Sure, creative work is often done in reaction to something; protest art, for instance, but the process of creating that art is not reactive, and a wise artist doesn't let anyone see their work until the first draft is done.

This goes to one of the most important ideas for living a worthwhile life: expanding your circle of control. Mr Money Moustache (one of my favourite bloggers) has written an excellent article on this here, but let me summarise it for you. You should spend your attention only on the things you can directly affect. By doing so, you become better able to affect the things you care about. Moaning about politics is a classic beginner's mistake. Writing to your congressman or MP, voting, organising or taking part in protests, standing for office, are all much more effective responses. If you're not planning on doing any of those things, then you shouldn't burn any mental effort on thinking about it. And moaning about the weather? Come on. The weather doesn't care. Either wear the appropriate clothing, or choose to do something else. By paying attention to the things you can affect, you become much more effective and your circle of control grows. Expending effort worrying about things you cannot affect takes away from those things that you can, and you become less effective, and your circle of control will shrink.

What has all this to do with Facebook? Well, 99% of the stuff in my Facebook feed I skip over. Of the 1% I react to, 99% is not stuff that I can directly affect. This is incredibly inefficient. But this morning I found I had checked my email and my Facebook feed before doing my breathing practice or working on an asset. And yet I had just the day before spent an hour being an ‘expert' and preaching to these students about putting first things first.

The thing is, Facebook is staffed by hundreds of people who are way cleverer than me, and whose paychecks depend entirely on making the site sticky. They need our eyeballs on those ads or they are out of a job. They are naturally very, very good at getting and keeping our attention. The only way to win is not to play. Getting off the scroll-scroll-click dopamine drip is very likely to enable me to increase the value I put into the world. Of course I will keep my Facebook profile and pages- they are a useful aspect of my business and personal life, great for organising parties, keeping up with far-flung friends, and all of that. But by increasing the barrier to entry (taking it off the phone), I will only be able to get on Facebook on my work machine, which means after I've done some useful work (because, you know, self-discipline and all that. Lack discipline? Use an app such as Freedom that prevents you getting onto the internet altogether, or blocks certain sites until a time you set).

This is the great thing about teaching. You teach that which you most need to learn, and by being forced to set a good example to your students (because who wants to be a hypocrite?) you get better at the things you care about.

Right, that's 1300 words of creative writing done. What next? Should I open up Scrivener and get to work on the next book? Or dash on over to Facebook and see who's been getting up to mischief?

From Neil's tumblr blog

Every now and then I come across something that expresses an idea I sort of know and believe, and snaps it into sharp focus. Neil Gaiman’s “Make Good Art” speech did this for me.* You’ve probably seen it already, but I thought I’d break it down into parts, explain why it’s such outstandingly good advice, and use some examples from my own life to show how it has worked in practice.

“When you start out on a career in the arts you have no idea what you are doing”. And this is a good thing. Neil explains that by not knowing what’s possible and impossible, you can break the artificial rules that those that know what they are doing have created, and so you can end up doing incredible, impossible, things that no sensible, knowledgeable person would ever attempt. In my case, move to Helsinki and open a school of swordsmanship. No business plan, no experience running a professional school, not much skill or knowledge of the Art itself; but I had no idea how far beyond my reach it really was, and somehow managed to stretch myself to attain it.

“If you have an idea of what you want to make, what you were put here to do, then just go and do that”. Most people have no idea what they should do, could do, were born to do. But if you do, then pursue it. Neil describes it as a mountain he was aiming for, and so long as he kept moving in the direction of the mountain, he would be alright. This is very like the question I posed in my previous post about How to Plan Your Life. Saying yes to whatever takes you in the right direction, and no to anything that does not, no matter what other benefits it might offer. This takes discipline (some would say pig-headed stubbornness). He also notes that something that you should say yes to in the beginning, because it leads you towards your goal, you might say no to later, because you’ve moved past the point where it is between you and your goal. If you’re in London and want to get to Edinburgh, a ride to York is helpful. If you’re in Newcastle, a ride to York is in the opposite direction. Sure enough, I’ve found over and over that opportunities I would have jumped at 10 years ago, I say no to now because they’d be a step backwards.

Dealing with failure. Neil has failed many times, sometimes through no fault of his own. His solution is simple: only do work that’s inherently worthwhile. That way, if it fails commercially, or in any other way, it was at least worth doing for its own sake. This is an incredibly useful idea, and one I’ve lived by for a long time. My best failures are things I'm still proud of, even though they failed. My worst failures have done more than anything else to spur my development.

Dealing with success. Neil has had more opportunities than most to get to grips with the problems of success. First up is the problem of Imposter Syndrome, which he acknowledges, but has no solution for. It’s just a thing, and to know that Neil effing Gaiman has felt like a fraud for writing stories kind of puts your own imposter syndrome into perspective. I made some critical mistakes in the first few years of my school thanks to the same thing, but that’s another story.

Another problem of success is you have to stop saying yes to everything, because suddenly everyone wants you to do things for them. It’s a hard switch to make, and is related to the email revelation: by answering fewer emails he got more writing done. Think about that for a minute. In essence, he had to figure out what he was uniquely good at, and focus on that at the expense of other things. Productivity is not so much getting stuff done, as allowing inessential things to slide so you can get the important stuff done. (Deep Work, by Cal Newport, is excellent on this.)

“Make mistakes, because it means you are out there doing something.” Less than half the things I try, projects I start, ideas I have, work. But I do a lot of things, and some of them work, and lo and behold, I have a body of good work to look back on. Sometimes the mistakes are really bad, such as when I managed to kill an ailing branch of the school with a single bad email. Sometimes they are merely embarrassing. But you have to make peace with the idea that, as my grandfather used to say, “if you never make mistakes you never make anything”. Surgeons and pilots are excused from this, of course. But by and large, if nobody will die for it, get out and make as many survivable mistakes as you can.

Make good art. “Husband runs of with a politician? Make good art.” This is the core of the speech, and oh my god it is 100% right at every level down to the very bedrock. When shit happens, as shit inevitably does, it really really helps to have a plan. You can’t predict all the shit that will happen, so you can’t plan for all eventualities. But you can determine your core response, and Make Good Art is the best response to have.** It encompasses everything. When life throws you lemons, make (artistic) lemonade. When everything is hunky-dory, make the best art you can. And it doesn’t matter if you’re ‘not an artist’, because, as Neil says: Make your art. Looking after babies is an art. Cleaning streets is an art. Writing really clear contracts, maintaining public order, designing buildings, running an office, creating spreadsheets, whatever it is you do, make it your art. And no matter what happens, respond by making more of it, and better.

One way to know that your art is good, is to do the things that scare you. The things that leave you vulnerable, the things that might fail. And if they fail? Make (more) good art.

I use this all the time, no matter what has gone right or wrong. Especially when some gimp on the internet disparages my work, I just up and make more of it.

This even works when an orange megalomaniac becomes president-elect of the USA. Make. Good. Art.

Secret Freelancer knowledge: “Be good, be reliable, be nice. Two out of three is enough.” This is useful, but it’s one area where I have to respectfully disagree with the master. As one who hires freelancers, you’d better be good, or I won’t hire you, reliable, or I won’t hire you again, and nice, or I will tell all my friends not to hire you. My freelancers are excellent, dependable, and lovely.

And the kicker: the best advice Neil ever got was from Stephen King, when Sandman was doing really well. “This is really great. You should enjoy it.” And that’s really important. To be really good at something you have to be able to see all the flaws, so it’s hard to take real pride in your work. My solution is to put progress over attainment, process over outcome. But also, when the students clap at the end of a seminar, or when somebody brings a book for me to sign, or when somebody says something nice about my work somewhere public, or when I get a particularly good month of book sales, I try to take a moment to acknowledge the moment. To let go and enjoy the ride, as Neil so wisely put it.

There are many other snippets of usefulness in this amazing speech, but my purpose here is not to rewrite Neil’s work and present it as my own; it’s to exhort you to read it, listen to it, absorb it however you may, then put it to work. As Neil put it: “Make interesting mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here. Make good art.”

I can’t put it better than that.

*His commencement address at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts, 17 May 2012. You can and should buy it in print in his recent collection of non-fiction The View from the Cheap SeatsAnd watch it here:

**It’s one way of breaking the OODA loop. Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. If you know bad things can happen, you’re less likely to get stuck on “orient” (I know people who have lived in denial for years!). If you have a default response, you can cut “decide” altogether. So you end up with “Observe-Act”, which is the goal of operant conditioning training. Who knew Neil was a martial artist?

Speaking as a teacher, there is nothing more satisfying than finding out that your students have used your material to materially improve their lives in some way, be that as simple as getting better at swordsmanship, or as complex as re-evaluating the entire course of their life. I believe in giving credit where it’s due, and this post is my way of letting someone who has influenced and helped me know about it.

One of the key habits that has lead to my producing so much stuff is that when I hear a good idea, I tend to act on it immediately. Another key habit is I actively look for good ideas to act on, and in the last few years, one of the most rewarding sources of these ideas has been the inestimable Joanna Penn, thriller writer and self-publishing guru. It started when I bought her book How to Market a Book which does exactly what it says on the tin. From the book, I arrived at her podcast, one of half a dozen I listen to regularly. This is an amazing resource for any self-publishing writer, and indeed writers of any kind. There’s something there for everyone. But to the specifics:

By following her advice in How to Market a Book about making friends with influential people, I actually ended up on her podcast talking about swords! This was a nerve-wracking experience for me, being well outside my comfort zone, but has lead to several other opportunities to get my name and work in front of a wider audience. Also, the rest of the advice in that book has been really useful in increasing my book sales directly.

Thanks to the January episode with Ankur Nagpal, of, I got the idea to create online courses. I have three up and running now, and more in the pipeline.

Last year I got the idea to write a series of non-fiction shorts, which became The Swordsman's Quick Guide, which is now at 7 episodes and counting. I can’t find the podcast episode that planted that seed, but it was definitely one of Joanna’s.

Thanks to several episodes about or mentioning virtual assistants, I’ve hired one myself, Kate Tilton, who is bringing order to my virtual galaxy.

Thanks to a webinar she did with Nick Stephenson, I have grown my mailing list from about 1200 to over 6000. Specific tactics included making volume one of The Swordsman's Quick Guide free, and including an ad in it for volume 2, also free if you sign up. That by itself added 500 people in a month. Also thanks to Nick, I’ve switched from Mailchimp to Convertkit, and am actually making use of my mailing list.

So if you have any aspirations to write for a living, or you just want a lot of good ideas in one convenient place, go buy all her non-fiction stuff, and go listen to all 220+ episodes of her podcast. That should keep you busy!

And if you’ve enjoyed any of the things I’ve done thanks to Joanna putting the idea in my head, give credit where it’s due!


SQG7 Breathing Cover

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

This book comes in three packages:

1.The Book, with Video

This package includes:

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

I want this book

2.The Book with Audio and Video

This package includes:

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

I want this one!

3. The Breathing Course

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

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

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


I'm working on the latest instalment of The Swordsman's Quick Guide, which will cover my foundational breathing exercises. The book is already out to my test readers who have kindly volunteered to wade through the sewage of extraneous verbiage and excessive punctuation in search of the faintest glimmer of useful text. My fellow writers will recognise that moment when first draft hits first readers…

I intend to release this book with a lot of extra material, such as video of all the exercises and audio clips so you can play the instructions into your ears, leaving your eyes and hands free. This is completely new territory for me so I don't expect it to be very good right away. The only way that I know of to get better at anything is to do it, get feedback on the results, then do it again. A tiny amount of that feedback can happen internally- I can usually spot the utter crap and kill it before it escapes. But it's far more effective, I find, to ask the community that the work is intended for to try it out and let me know what works and what doesn't.

To that end, here are two clips, one for “Walking Breathing” and one for “How to Stand”. This is the worst way to encounter the material – out of context of the book it goes with. If it survives, in other words if you can follow it, then it's robust enough. Please listen to the clips, and let me know in the comments on this page, or by email to me at, whether it works for you. Is it clear? Can you follow the instructions?

Walking breathing exercise:

[audio-clammr mp3=”″]

How to Stand:

[audio-clammr mp3=”″]

So, how was it? Posting the most amusing comment will get you a free copy of the book when it's done, but the most helpful will get the book package with audio clips and audiobook. Carry on!

I'm a Luddite, it’s true. I resist the march of technological progress because I think that most new technologies aren't labour saving life enhancing devices at all. I was saying this back in the ‘80s when people were extolling the new ‘desktop publishing' thing. “What used to take two weeks can now be done in a single day!” they cried. “Great” I replied. “Do you get the rest of the fortnight off?”

No. What happens, every time, is that as capacity increases, expectations rise, and so you end up with an increase in productivity and more work being done for the same pay. Not fair, and not helpful, except to those who own the fruits of your labour.

But, and this is a very big BUT (I like big buts), there are areas where all this new-fangled gadgetry does actually help people. HEMA would barely exist without the internet, because it is such a niche interest that finding fellow enthusiasts was very hard before the web came along. And for those of us trying to make a living serving those enthusiasts, I think it would be impossible without things like print-on-demand technology, easy-to-use web building tools, and communications of all sorts. I have students in Chile who can send me videos of themselves doing my Longsword Syllabus Form for me to comment on and help them improve. Fantastic.

This is a screen capture not a video link because the video is set to “Unlisted”. Chaps, if it's ok to share it, let me know…

I've also come round to the idea that while the actual use of force (responding to pressure in the bind, that sort of thing) cannot really be taught over the net, there is a place for online courses to help self-study. Lots of people use my Syllabus Wiki in various ways to help them learn, but I am taking a great big step right now and am plunging into creating online courses. The first one is now live, and you can see it here.

I'm using the Teachable platform, because it seems to be the best in class for what I need it to do; unlike Udemy, for instance, I can directly control things like pricing, and tracking student progress.

Another major benefit of the internet is that I can reach vastly more people virtually than I ever could in person. And some of those people are excited by the work I’m doing and want to help. My School and I have benefitted enormously over the years from people volunteering their skills to help. Ilkka Hartikainen shooting the photos and laying out two of my books, for instance. Jari Juslin shooting the photos for the last three. And when I arrived in Ipswich, Curtis Fee (of The Barebones Company) showing up to help unload the lorry for another instance. And when I mentioned the projects I was working on, well, turns out he has a bunch of useful professional skills, which he has applied to making the online school interface vastly more beautiful than it was.
Isn’t this pretty?

It's an exciting time to be teaching swordsmanship, that's for sure. Right now my head is simply buzzing with ideas for other courses that I can create to teach online. Breathing. Meditation. Mechanics. Dagger. Longsword. Imagine if when students finally find a group they can join, or start one themselves, and they already have decent fundamentals in place. Wow.

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

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

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

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

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

The Writer’s Briefcase

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

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

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

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

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

The Tripod standing desk

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

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

A standing desk you can take anywhere? Huzzah!


The Bladebell

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


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

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

Give away your best ideas.

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

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

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

A spot of rapier and cloak in the morning?

I have the enormous privilege of owning an original copy of Salvatore Fabris’s Sienza e Pratica d’Arme, printed in 1606. I bought it from Sr. Roberto Gotti, of Brescia, in 2014. It is in incredibly good condition, and an excellent, clean print. It is still in its original binding. The value of the book comes from two things: the information it contains, and the artefact itself. I own the artefact, it is mine, mine, mine, and woe betide anyone who tries to take it from me. But I believe the information it contains belongs in the public domain. This book is yours. So I asked my friend Petteri Kihlberg to photograph it, and I am releasing those photos (with his permission) free and with no strings attached. If you choose to use them for some commercial purpose (such as printing an edition for sale), then I ask as a matter of courtesy that you give credit where it’s due, but I do not insist on it. I've set it to “pay what you want”, and would be grateful for any donation you choose to give; the more money I have, the more fencing treatises I'll buy, all of which will go online for free.

I want this!

I own this book, but the information it contains is part of your birthright as a human being. I hope you will enjoy it, share it, and make something beautiful with it.

Please share this post so that everyone who wants a copy of the book can get one.

And don't miss my other free books! Marozzo's 1568, Girard's 1740, Seven Principles of Mastery, and many more.

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Jaegerstock, part 3

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