Episode 34

Battle of Nations with Beth Hammer

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Show Notes:

Photo by Olivia Blake

In this episode I talk to Beth Hammer. One of Beth’s favourite pastimes is “This is Sparta” kicking people through fences as part of Battle of Nations competitions. Based in Seattle, USA, Beth practises HEMA and Escrima, and is now enjoying the freedom of Battle of Nations fighting. In this episode we explore what this fun activity involves, and also talk about Beth’s other hobby of fireman’s lifting men much bigger than herself, including me!

Beth is also an artist, specialising in sculpture and making models. And when she is not doing all that, she also finds the time to be one of the organisers of Swordsquatch, which is an amazing annual event for swordy people. We talk about what goes into organising and planning it, and if you listen there’s also a mention of my purple sparkly unicorn underpants, which you’ll want to see:

You can find Beth at @mudskipperrodeo on Instagram, and her Patreon for her tiny monster sculpture is www.patreon.com/mudskipperrodeo.

GW: Hello, sword people this is Guy Windsor, also known as the Sword Guy, and I’m here today with Beth Hammer. Beth is an artist, a swordswoman, a Tuhon in Latosa Escrima. She’s a founding member of Swordsquatch. You can find her online on Instagram, at least, at @mudskipperrodeo. And I know Beth because we’ve trained together in Seattle and she’s hoisted me over her shoulders in a firemen carry despite being about a head shorter than me. Beth and I go way back. So without further ado, Beth, welcome to the show.

BH: Hello.

GW: Just so we can orient ourselves, whereabouts in the world are you now?

BH: I live in Seattle, Washington, which is on the west coast of America. If you are unfamiliar with geography, it’s where grunge music comes from.

GW: Yeah, where grunge music and many other things, like the film Sleepless in Seattle, which is one of my favourite films ever. OK, so we know each other through training at Lonin. Is that how you got started in martial arts?

BH: Not in martial arts, but in swords and came very soon after I started in martial arts. I started about six years ago, August. So six and a half years ago doing Escrima, which is a Filipino martial art that’s focussed on everything from empty hand through knives, sticks, big stabs. There’s a lot of one handed swords and machetes and all of that. And my partner Andrew is the head of Seattle Escrima. And so I started going to practises with him and then very quickly started going to all the practises and going to weekly private Escrima practise and then on December 12th 2014, we were doing a Hobbit themed night because one of the movies was coming out, at Lonin, and I went there and it was a fight night and I got to gear up and fight a couple of people and was like, I would like to do this now too please and started going. I started doing that and then just going to our Sunday fight practise there and haven’t looked back.

GW: In my head, when I’m going to Seattle to teach a seminar, I think “Ah, I’ll see Beth.” You have become one of the mainstays of the club. But outside of your martial arts life, I also know you’re an artist and I still have my eye on one of those models of Rey from Star Wars.

BH: I still have them.

GW: We need to figure out a way to get it here. Of course, I am stuck in the UK and you’re stuck in Seattle. What sort of art do you actually do?

BH: I really do a little bit of everything but my main focuses are 2-D illustrations, but like I like to use watercolours a lot and markers, but like a lot of my finished work is watercolour or ink in a watercolour fashion, and then sculpture. Sculpture is my favourite, because I like touching things. And I’ll do a lot of things with either Fimo clay, which are polymer clays, which you bake in a regular oven at two hundred degrees. It’s a very common thing you use with kids, but then if you have more skills you can take it really far and it’s a really fun medium to play in and is pretty forgiving and you can carve things back if you fuck it up and then use some liquid polymer clay and then put more clay on and keep going and it’s great. And then I will often combine that with this other kind of clay that’s a two part epoxy clay. And you have two parts and you mix it together and then you got about half an hour and then it hardens on its own in the same way that epoxy glue hardens. But it’s clay. In England you have Milliput.

GW: I’ve used that in antiques restoration. It’s very unforgiving.

BH: Yep. But it’s still very sensible, but there’s a lot of versions of that kind of clay and that’s really nice for art. And so then that stuff’s even better, because then it’s really hard and makes it feel a little fancier and it’s heavy. So when I do stuff with a lot of that it actually feels more substantial and like I made an art. And then I like to paint them. I do a lot of little people and figurines and characters and then some weird stuff and like weird monsters. I like using really bright colours.

GW: Yes, I had the pleasure of actually seeing your stuff and being in a workshop you were using at the time. And yeah, I sort of wished I had a very, very large padded bag to take it all home with me. We will have to put some pictures in the show notes so that people can have a look and see the kind of work you do. So on the one hand, you are hitting people with swords and whacking them with sticks. And on the other hand, you are making beautiful objects. Do you find any kind of connection between those two areas?

BH: The big one is that like with both being art, you have to practise and neither of those things are something that you’re just good at. I am naturally drawn to art and I am naturally drawn to athletic endeavours. But that doesn’t mean that I’m just good at them magically with my talent. I put a lot of work into both of these things. And that intentional practise is why I get better and why someone can call me up and be like, I need a giant boot and I can be like, yes, I can make you a giant boot. It’s because I’ve made lots of things before and can synthesise some stuff into doing new things now. But if I didn’t have all of that practise that I’ve been doing for my whole life, I couldn’t just randomly be like, yes, I can make this random object. So I think it’s one of those things that there’s memes on the Internet that show up in artist communities of like “It’s not talent. It’s literally 20 years of dedication.” That dedicated practise is how you get better in the end.

GW: Yeah, I have interviewed quite a few people on here and not a few of them are artists and they tend to say the same sort of thing. And I’ve noticed a pattern in that I know some very, very good artists and all of the artists I know say it’s mostly practice, but anyone who says no, no, no, it’s all talent is someone who can’t do the thing. I’ve never met anyone who can really do the thing who says, oh, yeah, I woke up in the morning and I can just do it because I have the gift. I have never yet encountered that in a high-level performer in any domain.

BH: Yeah.

GW: Well, speaking of high level, I think the last time I saw you, you hoisted me over your shoulders in a fireman carry for a photo op. And of course, a picture of that is definitely going in the show notes. And we might even use that as the main picture for the whole episode because it’s cool.

BH: It’s one of my favourite pictures.

GW: Yeah. So what was going on with that?

BH: Basically, I think it’s funny because I’m very small. I don’t remember who the first person was, but I know that there’s a picture before we painted the loft blue of me fireman carrying Andrew… Oh, that’s why! That’s why. So have you seen the movie Ever After?

GW: No, I don’t think I have.

BH: It’s a very important movie that was made in 1999 with Drew Barrymore as Cinderella, and so it’s like the real story of Cinderella. In it she’s a peasant and she fell in love with a prince, and it’s a more like a romantic period drama, there’s a whole thing where they get accosted by gypsies and they managed to shout the gypsies down and then they’re like, she’s the lady so they’re going to let her leave, but he’s the prince, so they’re definitely going to keep him for ransom. And then she’s trying to pretend to be a noblewoman by being badass. And she’s like, “I demand a horse.” And, “I demand that you let me go and that since you’ve deprived me of my escort, I demand a horse as well.” And then the gypsies are taking her back and saying, “OK, you can have anything you can carry.” And then she’s like, “Can I have your word on that?” And he’s like, “Yes,” and then she picks up the prince and walks away with him and the gypsies are laughing their asses off and they let her get a hundred yards away to see how far she’s going to make it. And then he says, “Come back, I’ll give you a horse.” And then they end up like hanging out with the gypsies all night long and it’s super great and they have a great time. So basically, it is important that one should always be able to carry their partner in case they need to rescue them from Gypsies. And so I was proving that I could do that with Andrew, who is 6’1” and very muscly and very strong and quite heavy.

GW: He’s a big guy.

BH: And yeah, so you do it with him so everything’s great and everyone is smaller than Andrew. Actually the biggest person I’ve lifted was Brad. He’s one of the guys in the 18th century group.

GW: Mr. White? Yeah, Mr. White. I know him. He is a big tall guy.

BH: I think it was actually the same night that I lifted you I picked Brad up. And that one was scary because that was almost like, oh, I might fall on the ground with a gigantic man squashing me, but I did not. I picked him up. And it’s really fun and funny. And so I do it as often as possible. And for smaller people, I found a cool trick, which is that you get them all the way from the ground. So I kind of like scooch in behind them and put my head between their legs so that they can sit on my shoulders and then stand up and do squats with them.

GW: Can I just make a safety note for people listening. Please don’t try this at home. Beth is extremely strong and well trained in all this sort of thing. And yes, don’t try it.

BH: The important thing to note is that whatever you think you can lift or whatever you can lift with weights, actual lifting weights, reduce that by at least 20 percent before attempting anything with a human, because humans are wiggly and their weight is in much different places. The whole thing with weightlifting is that you can get the weight as close to your body as possible, and that becomes much more difficult with a whole human. And so, you can think smaller than what you can really do.

GW: Yes. Which apparently in your case includes Andrew and Mr. White.

BH: Well, I mean, the fireman carries are awesome because they’re kind of designed to be easy so that you can carry someone out of a fire. But if they’re standing, it’s pretty easy because it actually only ends up being a little bit of bending your knees and then standing straight up. So if you then walk around with them, it gets harder. It’s just fun. It’s really fun. I like it.

GW: Yeah. OK, now, the last time I saw you, it was at Swordsquatch, which for those who are not familiar, is an event, a sword fighting convention that is held in any good year in Seattle. And it has the extraordinary distinction of being literally the only event I have ever been to, for which I bought a special pair of purple sparkly unicorn underwear, which gives you some idea of the flavour of the event. I will put a picture of the underwear in the show notes. I will not be wearing underwear in the picture. I will just post a picture of the underwear itself because it will give you the flavour of the event more than anything else.

BH: Put the underwear on over a pair of pants and then take the picture.

GW: But that would look like I was trying to be Superman and failing miserably. So I don’t think I’m going to go with that. So what is it what is it like trying to organise an event like that?

BH: It is a tremendous amount of work that we all love doing. Basically the event is the second weekend of September, the weekend after Labour Day, depending on how the calendars work. We start planning in January, pretty intensely. There’s a lot of stuff that has to happen right away. All of us having attended events that have had a lot of hiccups or a lot that just were a complete disaster. And then some good ones that do have good practises that we’ve borrowed some things from. We put a lot of pride and effort into trying to make this event run as smoothly as possible. The way that you do that is by over planning from the beginning so that then when it comes to the day of the event, it just runs itself, ideally. We also have an amazing volunteer team that does so much work and are really hands on and really put a tremendous amount of love and effort into making things run smoothly so that we can be this really amazing destination event for people to come to that they then can just relax and hang out and have fun and put in a lot of hard work and do a lot of learning and not have to worry about going and finding food or having to be spontaneously called up to judge a tournament. All of that comes from this planning, and then we have a really good dedicated team. Everyone is very good at what they do and also is doing this on top of day jobs, which is part of why we have to start so early so that we get all the hours needed into it. One of the things that’s really fun is when we come up with new wacky ideas to do, because one of the things that’s a really important value for us for Swordsquatch is that we keep innovating and that we don’t just keep doing the same thing. Partially half of us are very ADHD, so the idea of doing the same thing over and over again would not work very well. But we want to keep pushing the boundaries and keep trying to experiment with things and see if they work and then keep improving on them and expanding what we think of as a historical martial arts or what gets included in that. One of the things that we’ve been really excited about is, this is basically the third year of it, of having Da’Mon Stith come out and then last year we also had another guy that I’m going to be a jerk and not remember his name, Hill is his last name. But both guys from the HAMA community – historical African martial arts community.

GW: Incidentally, we’re recording this in the week of the 23rd November and Da’Mon is appearing on this podcast this Friday. So I guess if you are listening to this, and you wanted to get a clear idea of what the African martial arts are like, if you scroll back through the podcast, it’ll be about eight episodes back and you’ll find them on that. So you can have it from the source what they are really like.

BH: He’s done a ton of really wonderful scholarship and is doing a lot of research and is an excellent teacher and is doing a really exciting job of sharing that. Being able to have him start to come out and hopefully, when we get to do an in-person event again, we’ll be able to bring more different people out from that community, to continue spreading that. Just being a little broader in our scope than just Europe.

GW: One of the one of the things I really noticed at the last event, is you had time set aside specifically for debut instructors who were teaching at an event like that for the first time and they had a short slot, so it wasn’t too intimidating for them. And I saw some really, really cool stuff. Isaiah doing Fabris in heels, being the one that stands out.

BH: That was pretty amazing. The workshops that really succeeded were wonderful and excellent. That’s a place that we might be reworking in the future, because some of the ways that we reached out to people, again, it’s too early for me to remember names, but, yeah, the one that did the Fabris in heels, Isaiah did a really incredible job and James Shue also had a lot of fun. And Claire was the other one. One of the things that we’ve talked a lot about is doing more teaching opportunities, teaching how to coach and stuff. And I keep wanting to do a workshop workshop, but that takes some really hands on effort in terms of the coaching and being able to find someone who is willing to do that, because I think it takes some prep before the event as well. Figuring out how to do more teaching opportunities for new coaches that will fit into an event like Swordsquatch and be still fun and exciting. Because what wouldn’t work is a five hour intensive thing. One of the things that we really like that we can do at Swordsquatch that we can have 20 instructors and you’re getting this like crazy buffet of everything.

GW: I was going to say, it’s like a tasting menu.

BH: Yeah. And the hope is that it gets people excited about digging into things more and learning more about it or just incorporating new tools into their fighting style. It’s a pretty fast paced event. And so having something that’s a really big deep dive may not fit as well. And that’s a thing that we’re constantly talking about and trying to balance and figure out: how is all of this stuff going to fit together and being really intentional. We put a lot of thought into it.

GW: There’s certainly a place for a three day intensive deep dive into Fiore longsword or smallsword or whatever else, but there’s also very much a place for seeing the breadth of the arts available and that kind of interdisciplinary cross pollination between experts in different fields who may not have really seen each other’s fields before. You might see something in an African martial arts workshop that makes you go, holy crap, that play in a Liechtenauer longsword, you get to see connections between things that maybe you didn’t see before.

BH: Absolutely. I think there are there are so many events out there that do really deep dives on stuff and have these cohesive tracks. And one of the things in the last few years that we’ve been really trying to focus on, just as event organisers, is that we’re not going to do anything we don’t want to do. We have to remind ourselves about that a lot because we want to make everyone happy and haven’t really amazing time. But then we have to remember that we are the ones that have to do it. And if we’re doing stuff for the wrong reasons, it doesn’t work. We have such a limited amount of time that we can’t really put a full effort into it. The places where we’ve had missteps are always because we didn’t really want to do it.

GW: Can you give me an example?

BH: Well, I can give you a positive example, which is that we didn’t want to do a cutting tournament ever because we’ve seen so many terrible ones and it’s a really it’s a huge time suck. There’s actually quite a fairly few amount of people that want to participate in it. It’s not something that we as organisers have wanted to do, and so we just didn’t. At the last regular Swordsquatch, Matthew Roche was like, I really want to run a cutting tournament because he loves it. We were like, cool, if you want to run this, we will give you the time and space and we will get supplies and we will advertise it. And so he came up with this whole system that he wanted to use and try and experiment with, and some really cool, different, not just cutting Tatami skill checks, like cutting very precision spots on a rope. And so a bunch of that stuff that was amazing and really incredible and super, super cool and something that we actually would like to probably continue doing if we can, if there are volunteers that want to keep doing it. But that was an example of where we waited until there was a reason to do it and then it worked.

GW: So when you had somebody who really wanted that thing to happen and was willing to put in the work and you provide the space for it, but until there was that person, then there was no point doing it. Makes sense.

BH: The Sunday tournament is one as well. That was an idea in the first year because with the 19th century group, we were trying to make sure that we included them because there’s a lot of focus on longsword. But the Victorian group is a really huge part of our club and kind of the quiet core of the club. That’s why it exists, because that’s Neil’s baby. They are really important, but they also want to do their own thing. But we also wanted to make sure that they were part of it. So time set aside on Sunday for them to do a backsword tournament or something and then we have continued with the Sunday space for other people, but they have to run it. So the year we did rapier, the people that were really into rapier ran that tournament. Then for the Sword and Buckler year, Alex ran that tournament. And then one of the years some stuff fell through and we were going to do like a foam fighting thing, but then like that fell apart and so we just were like, I guess we’re just going to have open sparring space. And it was great. And then it resulted in realizing that actually this is important, having some empty space so that people can grab an instructor and go and ask questions was a really valuable thing, and so moving forward we’re going to try to make sure that we can have that space or spaces like that available so that you can work through a specific question or mess around with the thing that you just learnt and try to hone that in. Having a little bit more empty space is important so that you can process some things. And so that was a thing we didn’t have. We didn’t have a thing to fill, so we didn’t try, and then ended up finding a new important thing for the event.

GW: That sort of unstructured time is super important for that. For example, the Western Martial Arts Workshop that is held biannually in Racine, Wisconsin. I’ve been to many of them. One of the best innovations they had was a half hour passing period between classes, which meant that there was time, if you just taken a great class with somebody, you don’t dash off to the next great class, you might grab the person you were training with in that previous class and go, oh, can we just go over that move again a bit? And you end up chatting and doing stuff. Just deliberately creating space which is unstructured is super important.

BH: Yeah. We’re going to have passing periods next time, I promise.

GW: What I do is I only ever take alternate classes. So I always leave a passing period for myself anyway.

BH: That is a good idea. Yeah, I mean, for adults, they can regulate their own stuff and then you forget when everything is shiny and exciting or people just walk in late. So that’s a thing that we probably took a little too long to really embrace. But we’ll be doing in the future, having more space in between so that people can actually end up getting more out of it. If we have three fewer classes over the course of the day, we’re still doing a ton of stuff.

GW: Yeah, there’s definitely no shortage. OK, now I understand you’re mostly doing Buhurt these days, and I’m guessing that most of the listeners probably aren’t really familiar with the whole Battle of the Nations and seeing as you do it quite a bit, would you mind explaining what it is and telling us about it?

BH: Yeah, so Buhurt is the mediaeval French word for melee. Basically it is a sort of sportified thing that in the modern context started in Russia, and then it’s expanded to the rest of the world. And it’s only been going for about 10 years. Last year is the 10th anniversary of the Battle of the Nations, that tournament, so it’s a pretty new sport. So basically you put on full steel armour that’s historically accurate and it actually is required to be within not only from the 14th and 15th century, but that it’s also within 50 years of itself. So you can’t have a piece from 1400 in a piece from 1500. For Battle of Nations in particular. There’s also another league that has much more lax historical accuracy. But for Battle of Nations, it has to be within 50 years of itself, all of your armour. And it’s either steel or titanium, which is much, much lighter. And given that we’re all modern humans, that’s actually a pretty big deal. Also for women, it’s pretty big deal because if your armour is 50 percent of your body weight, that’s a hard time. But if you can get it down to a much lower percentage, you can actually fight like you can actually fight. But our helmets are always full steel and of accurate period weight because they’re heavy for a reason so you don’t get your head knocked around. The weight of the helmet is part of the protection.

GW: It absorbs the energy of the blow.

BH: And so you put on all this armour and then you take out blunted weapons that are axes and swords and halberds and shields, and then you beat the shit out of each other and it’s awesome. But in terms of the actual rules of the game, there’s no stabbing at all because you’re using pretty stiff weapons. And for reasons that I disagree with, the historical accuracy of having just the slotted eye slats on the helmets is the priority to putting like perf steel behind it.

GW: So just be clear to anybody listening is not familiar. So they’re not allowing perforated steel plates to see through to protect the eyes so that the eyes are actually exposed through this list, just as they would have been in mediaeval times.

BH: Yep. That’s the dumbest part of it. But it’s like also there’s not a whole lot of getting stabbed. It’s not a hugely common injury. So I guess it’s OK. It really is rare.

GW: What is the safety record like?

BH: I mean, concussions are probably the worst. But also even that is not necessarily that much higher than football. And most of the injuries come from competition. If you are training well you can mitigate injury. But you get a lot of bruising and then in the same way with HEMA, you get weird hand breaks even through gauntlets and it’s very, very similar injuries to football and at similar rates.

GW: You mean like American football?

BH: American football. If you’re in a competition, it’s teams of anywhere from three to twenty six. The common sizes are fives, ten or twelve and then fifteen or twenty and that all of those different sizes have very different strategies for how you play and how you fight and then how you get people out, because obviously you’re not stabbing them, you get them on the ground and anything other than their feet touching the ground. So there’s a lot of wrestling, but there’s also using striking to bang people up a little bit and soften up and make them want to go down

GW: So the only winning condition is getting the person on the ground?

BH: Yes. So that’s basically it. It’s super fun and for me, one of things that was really, really exciting about when I finally got to start doing it, because I had known about it for probably a year or so before I finally was able to start doing it. But when I finally did, it was like, this is what I want to be doing. I had done a whole lot of wrestling, because all fighting is wrestling. And so, having that foundational skill is really important to HEMA as well. And so I had that. And then also with all of the work that I’ve done in Escrima and the empty hand stuff and single hands or things like that, it really pulled all of these things that I’ve been doing into one sport that also was nerdy and not just MMA.  So that was so exciting and I was pretty good right off the bat, because I just had all the skills already because I’d been working on them through these other disciplines, and have done really well in it because of all that. It was a really exciting and really fun way to pull it all together. I like being able to be rowdier and playing my contact sport.

GW: Why am I not surprised?

BH: HEMA is what it is and that is more controlled and has very different standards and that’s perfectly fine. And I really enjoy getting to not have those limits. And I like getting to “this is Sparta” kick people through a fence.

GW: “This is Sparta” kicking people through a fence. I’m writing that down as maybe the headline to the show notes.

BH: We went to a tournament down in Aguas Calientes in Mexico, which was really super fun last November for Day of the Dead, it was actually part of a day of the dead festival and one of the matches I kicked three people. There’s a wooden fence, a sturdy wooden fence. But this particular fence didn’t have a lower rail. It has the taller rails so that it’s harder to push people over the top of them and then risk some pretty interesting, very dangerous injuries to like necks and heads if you fall on your head with 60 pounds of armour on. So they’re tall enough now so that you can’t push a six foot guy over it. But what you can now do very easily is kick a five foot three woman under it because you get them backed up against the fence and then you kick them in the stomach and they just fold up and go out, and then they’re out. I did that three times.

GW: You’re not allowed to do that in a tournament longsword in the modern HEMA world. Definitely not.

BH: Kicking is currently not allowed at all.

GW: In any tournament I run kicking is allowed, but we don’t have to kick people through things because we’re not wearing the equipment for it.

BH: We’re talking about all the really brutal stuff about the sport, which is fun for me. I really enjoy it and that’s part of why I like it. One of the other really important things that I really like, silliness aside, the team aspect of it is really, really important for me. I’m on a really amazing team with a really, really incredible group of women. Not only is our on-field teamwork really neat, but our off the field support of each other is amazing. I played soccer growing up. And so team sports have always been a really big, important thing for me. So getting to have that back with fighting has been really, really cool. There’s so much really interesting strategy that comes from working with another person. And then in the last couple of years of getting to talk and work more together as a team, I’ve stepped up into a pretty major coaching role for this, which has made a huge impact on the team because there’s been a lot of the other guys in the sport doing a lot of the coaching. Since I’ve come on board, I’ve been able to really shift that. And so now we’re coaching ourselves. That’s made a really incredible advancement in our learning because now, you can learn something from a guy who is 6’1” and one hundred pounds bigger than you, and in Hema, there’s more ability to exchange that information and have it work because it’s less physical…

GW: It’s less about size and strength and mass.

BH: But when I’m trying to talk about literally how do I wrestle a person to the ground without falling down myself, you can learn the things from the guys, but it’s very difficult to practise with them because I mean, there’s like two or three six foot women in the sport. But even still, a six foot tall woman, still their mass is a little bit different than a six foot tall, very muscly guy. And so there’s a lot of things that are really important about women being able to coach women in terms of how we learn.

GW: And so when you compete, are you competing women against women?

BH: Yes, there are a few circumstances where there will be co-ed matches, which are pretty great. But for the most part, and particularly at the national and international, the highest level competition, it’s all segregated.

GW: OK, and so you go on the field and you work as a team to get everyone else on the opposing team onto the ground, and then whichever team still has people standing at the end has won. Is that how it works?

BH: Yep.

GW: So I imagine that being able to work as a team and coach yourselves and your coach being also a woman, understanding what it’s like to be on the field and how to take down women particularly. Do women have a lower centre of gravity than men?

BH: Yes.

GW: It’s sort of what I would guess and the armour will bring everybody’s centre of gravity up a bit because most of the most of the metal is above the waist.

BH: Correct.

GW: So you’re training with your team. What are your team tactics like?

BH: It’s definitely a lot of figuring out how to work in pairs because it’s much easier, much like in regular wrestling. When you’re just wrestling with one person, your goal is to put as many of your muscles against the smallest amount of their muscles. So having two whole people against one whole person definitely does that. And so it’s a lot of stuff like how do you communicate if you’re trying to wrestle one person to the ground. If you’re both pulling in opposite directions, you’re just going to get tired. And so learning a common language so that we can do things like you’re pushing and pulling or you’re giving them something to trip over and then the other person can push their face and then make them fall down. Things like that. Or how do you get people off the fence or this cool one where we get our whole team wedged in and grab one because there will be this thing where everyone gets up against the fence and it’s real irritating. But there is a technique where you’re both along the fence and then the people at the front grabs their person at the front, pulls them back and then the people behind do the dispatching and then rinse and repeat and just suck the whole team in, and things like that. Or open field plays of when to make cuts and do some distraction on the left side of the field and then one person runs over to the right side of the field, so then they can split things up and break through the line and get in their back field. Plays like that.

GW: Sounds like a huge amount of fun. Your armour, is it steel or titanium?

BH: Most of my armour is titanium. My helmet is steel, and then my kneecaps and elbows are all steel because you want those to be a little more protected.

GW: So the steel is better at the damage rather than titanium?

BH: Yes and no. Basically, you want steel over the bony parts and then you can use titanium on the squishier parts. My thighs just need to not get cut. I actually don’t wear any padding under my thigh armour. It’s just a teeny piece of titanium and it’s fine. Same with my stuff for my upper arms, it’s pretty light, although I am wearing a padded gambeson, so the arms are way more padded. So it’s just that and then my coat of plates, it’s kind of like the Brigandine style, so it’s segmented plates that are all riveted to fabric and then buckled on. So they overlap and stuff. But you can move and bend a lot and you can do a somersault and have full freedom of movement to do that, so it’s OK.

GW: That’s very cool. I’m not familiar with titanium armour. I mean, I’ve worn steel armour plenty. So where do you even get it from?

BH: So you can make it yourself, which I actually like.

GW: You can make it yourself, I’m sure.

BH: It’s not that hard. You need the some of the right tools, which is basically just the ability to cut it. And then an angle grinder and a metal hole punch which you can get pretty easily. And then just rivets. But basically, Russia and the Ukraine is where you get a lot of titanium armour. It is an expensive hobby, but as far as in terms of the range of things of what you can spend on that, the titanium stuff is not massively more expensive. It’s a little more expensive. You can order that from Russia and Ukraine. And there’s a few people here in the United States that do the titanium stuff. But there’s also guys here that do only steel armour, but spring steel and stuff like that. So yeah, you can just buy it. But you can literally bend a piece of titanium with your hands or a little bit of hammer and shaping. And that’s it.

GW: OK, so, yeah, because titanium is built up to be a special, amazing metal that you can do amazing things with and so I sort of assumed it would be very difficult to work. But I guess if you don’t need to heat treat it.

BH: Yeah, there’s definitely a limit to how much you can do with just cold shaping, and it’s definitely very difficult to get complicated complex curves, but I made my coat of plates because it’s all little square pieces. And you literally bend it with your hands or, you know, get a hammer and a stump because it’s only needing to basically dish or bend it like a bowl and you just rivet it together and put buckles on it. You can do heat treated shaping, but you need a lot of equipment for it. And that’s what they do in Russia.

GW: I was actually thinking because when you heat treat steel, you make it both hard and tough. I don’t think you can do that with titanium can you?

BH: I don’t have enough knowledge to really talk about that, I know that they can make fancy shapes in Russia. I can do simple shapes.

GW: So how close do you think it would be to the sort of, shall we say, knightly martial sports that they were playing in, say 15th century France?

BH: It’s pretty close. Like A Knight’s Tale, the movie, that was real, they did that stuff. And then also by the time they were doing that stuff, they were fighting wars differently and that was a sport that was a nostalgic sport that they were doing even then. So there are a lot of ways that it is totally similar to what they were actually doing and if we’re looking at it in a recreating historical arts sort of way, that’s what they were doing, they sportified this version of hitting each other and then were playing it as a sport.

GW: I’ve often thought that every environment we train in has strengths and weaknesses and can teach us some things, but not others. And I think there’s a lot to be said for a whole load of people all wearing armour, actually trying to hit each other and get each other on the ground. It does strike me as probably as close as we can get in the modern world to an actually medieval melee type context without people getting killed.

BH: And it’s real cool. It’s really, really fascinating and really interesting, you know, I’ve also gotten to go to Pennsic and participated in those battles.

GW: Just explain what Pennsic is, for people who might not know.

BH: Pennsic is the largest SCA event and SCA is the Society for Creative Anachronisms. And in there are so many ways that people have come up with to hit each other with sword shaped objects. This is just one of them and you wear a lot of armour, some of it can be plastic, I just wear my Buhurt armour because it’s conditioning, which is interesting when you’re going up against someone that’s wearing the least amount of armour that they’re allowed to wear. And it’s all plastic, up against forty five pounds of stuff. And then they use rattan weapons and it’s one hit and you’re out, but it’s still getting that many people on a field because there are battles with five hundred on a side in the big open field battle, which is very different than, say, at Battle of Nations two years ago when they did a hundred and fifty people on a side but with steel weapons. And there’s a very different tactic from when you’re doing battles with 20 or battles with 12, or battles with five, they’re all very, very different strategies. And participating in the way that you fight in all of those is a really cool mental exercise and is really cool, thinking about strategy and learning about that. And you can’t get that anywhere else.

GW: OK, now there are a couple of questions that I tend to ask all my guests, and the first is, what is the best idea you haven’t acted on?

BH: Actually setting up my coaching Patreon, that’s the thing I’ve been thinking about now for a couple of months and I’m still working on and by working on I mean, I’ve been thinking about it, I have gotten a little bit down on paper.

GW: Here’s a thought for you, Beth. It is the 23rd of November today and this this show is going to be going out in January. So if you’re going to get it done in December, tell me the link and we can mention it on the show.

BH: Yeah, so I’m thinking about starting a coaching Patreon.

GW: What would the coaching Patreon do? I mean, what’s what are you raising the money for doing?

BH: There’s a little bit of it being a Buhurt focus, but it also very much would be useful for HEMA as well. It’s wanting to do customised coaching feedback either for individuals or for teams and also for coaches and people running classes and being able to offer support for that. Individual, one on one zoom calls and coming up with drills and lesson plans that people can use. That’s kind of the base idea and then seeing if it evolves.

GW: Seeing where it grows from there. OK, well, if you do get it done before the show goes live, send me the link and I’ll put it in the outro and also in the show notes so people who are listening to this can find it.

BH: Neat. Well, thank you.

GW: Of course. OK, so, my last question, someone gives you a million dollars to spend improving historical martial arts. How would you spend it?

BH: Well, my first answer would be buy everyone squishy mats so that they can wrestle. I am a massively huge advocate for wrestling and that it makes all of your fighting better. It’s there in the text, Fiore starts with it. Fighting is wrestling. And if we think about things from a historical context, everyone wrestled, you wrestle as soon as you can crawl and keep wrestling. The baseline level of physical understanding and strength and a sense of your body starts really early. And everyone wrestled. They didn’t have TV. All they had was wrestling.

GW: And church as well.

BH: Church and wrestling. Or doing very physical labour. And that’s a thing that people want to be able to think that they can just learn about a book. But there’s this baseline physical language that isn’t in the textbook because everyone had it. And the only way that you can get it is by wrestling. And so giving people more opportunities to wrestle would be I think, to me, the biggest like meaningful improvement to the sport.

GW: It goes back way, way older. I was interviewing Damon Young, the philosopher, also just last week, actually, and he mentioned that Plato got his name. That was basically his wrestling nickname.

BH: Dwayne Johnson as Plato. Oh, my God.

BH: Wrestling has been a foundational part of physical culture in Europe, dating back to the ancient Greeks and probably before. So, yeah, I think you’re on to something there. So you would spend the money basically equipping historical martial arts places with mats so they could learn to wrestle?

BH: Yeah. Also, the other one would be investing in better mask technology, because we need to stop wearing fencing masks and we need to wear more appropriate things for hitting people in the head and not with the car antenna, which is what those masks are intended for. So the other big thing would be that safety improvement. There’s plenty of stuff in terms of protecting our hands. Like just wear steel gauntlets, guys.

GW: Oh, yes. Hallelujah. Why are people trying to make these special high tech gauntlets when they fixed this problem 500 years ago?

BH: Yeah. And you can get really good articulation with them and they’re not that heavy.

GW: If they fit, they’re not very big, they’re not very heavy and they really, really work much better than anything made of plastic is ever going to work.

BH: And, you know, I think a lot of that comes from the weird goal of trying to not look like the SCA, but guys, we’re playing with swords, it’s OK.

GW: A lot of tournaments for some reason have decided to not allow steel gauntlets. And I think the excuse or the rationale behind it is something along the lines of it’s dangerous, you could scratch each other, or something like that. I really don’t understand it.

BH: A lot of them are hitting people with your steel gauntlets. And most tournaments don’t allow punching. And also you can pommel strike. And we’re not supposed to be hitting hard enough to give someone a concussion anyways, also, we should have better helmets. So, yes, I think that there’s some weird circular logic. It’s not relevant. Just use steel gauntlets and wear better helmets.

GW: I tell you, I use steel gauntlets that I’ve had now for about 15 years and they’re brilliant and they cost me about 250 dollars. But I’m lucky, my hands are very small, but they are just big enough to fit the smallest gauntlets that are commonly made. So I got very lucky there. But also I paid a chunk of money to Terry Tindall back when he was making his longsword masks and they have a suspension system in them, which means you can take one hell of a hit to the head and nothing bad happens. And yeah, I mean, they’re not as protective as a full medieval helmet, which sits on your shoulders and completely encapsulates. There are better head protections available, but as a kind of compromise between a fencing mask and full armour, they are absolutely fantastic. But unfortunately, he’s not making them anymore.

BH: Well, now you can get it from Horse Bows because I just got one. Yeah, he’s not personally making them, but there’s another company that is. I recently got one. I need to get it more fitted and they haven’t been doing anything this year for… reasons. But it’s www.horsebows.com. And you can get them there and then there are several options available now for steel fencing masks or metal fencing masks.

GW: Fencing masks are great for fencing, for which they were designed many years ago.

BH: The only reason we’re not doing it right away is just because of wanting to phase it in, since it is pretty radical, but for Swordsquatch, within the next couple of years, we’re going to start requiring people wearing metal fencing masks. That’s a thing that we’re just going to do.

GW: Somebody has to.

BH: So if you want to compete at Swordsquatch, if it’s time to get a new mask, just start getting steel masks.

GW: A long time ago, I took a fencing mask and I put it on the pell and I had my students attack it with medieval weapons and it failed catastrophically. And we keep it in the salle so that when beginners get their safety briefing and we do use fencing masks for careful training and pair drills, which is fine because they are more than capable of handling that. They just can’t take the more intense kind of strikes you get in competition. But we show them the fencing mask and say look, you wear the masks so that your partner can actually make contact. The mask will not protect you if they choose to actually really hit you. It’s a critically important lesson. But your million dollars will go on wrestling mats. That is a first on this show and I’m delighted that you came up with something completely different. That’s excellent.

BH: Everyone gets a wrestling mat.

GW: Well, you heard it here first. Thank you very much for joining me today, Beth. It’s been a delight.

BH: Yeah, it was wonderful talking. Thank you so much.