Guy Windsor: I’m here today with Robert Childs, who is a well-known rapier competition champion and author of the new book Revelations of Rapier. So without further ado, Robert, welcome to the show.
Robert Childs: Hi. Thank you for having me.
Guy Windsor: Let’s just orient everybody as to where you are. So whereabouts in the world are you?
Robert Childs: So presently I live in California, which is the west coast of the United States, just about an hour north of the state capital, Sacramento.
Guy Windsor: Okay. Yeah. So L.A. is huge and not the state capital, and San Francisco is huge and not the state capital. It is like, you know, I’ve been to Michigan a few times, to the state capital of Lansing, but Detroit is not the capital. Like, what is it with America having these tiny little towns that nobody knows about being the state capital and all these enormous great cities?
Robert Childs: Nobody wants to live in the state capitals, I think it’s a lot of it. It is just a little bit too political, a little too boring, you know?
Guy Windsor: Fair enough. Okay. So let’s start at the beginning. How did you get into historical martial arts?
Robert Childs: So for me, it was actually a couple of transitions. I have been fascinated with learning to fight with bladed weapons for literally as long as I can remember. I mean, my earliest memories are stealing my dad’s buck knife. This is even before I was ever in pre-school. But I would take my dad’s buck knife and I used to be able to fit in that space behind the couch between the wall and the back of the couch there. And I used to practice moves that I had seen on TV shows and movies. And then, of course, after I had thoroughly exhausted my knowledge of movie fight moves, I had to then go back to my mom and you because the locking mechanism for the buck knife was just beyond my comprehension. So I had to kind of give that back to her. And my mom later admitted she was concerned about her young son there because of his fascination with knives. But fortunately, it was a very healthy fascination as it turned out. But I actually didn’t get my first official fencing lesson until I was 17 years old. I was in high school, had a question for my English teacher. I waited till after class and as I was walking up to his desk, I just happened to glance off to my left and in the armoire that he had there, I saw some Olympic fencing sabres and foils, and all of a sudden, whatever question I had on my mind at the time was completely gone. And I had a new question and I was like, oh, do you fence? He says, yes. And I says, well, do you teach by chance? He says, Yeah, actually I do. And I said how much? And he said, It’s absolutely free. I said, Sign me up. And there you go. I became my high school’s first official fencing student at Fairway High. And from there I went forward with it. Even after I had joined the military, after graduating high school, I was training with a gentleman by the name of Bruce Capon in Rousseau Hungarian Sabre up in San Jose. Again, it was here in California and I was fencing with foil and sabre primarily a little bit of epee, but not too much. I was really interested with, with the foil and the sabre, particularly sabre and the whole concept of point and edge. But it wasn’t until a few years after that that I was attending a fencing practice for Olympic fencing, and I happened to notice that after our two hour session was finished, another group would come in and it was a group of SCA people who were fencing with rapiers. And then all of a sudden, I’d notice, because my whole reason for wanting to learn fencing in the first place is because I wanted to learn actually how to become a swordsman. And Olympic fencing was great at the time, but it was really more of the sportsman aspect of fencing. So these folks were doing a little bit closer, at least in my estimation, to using a more weighty weapon, something that’s more akin to an actual rapier. So what turned out to be the case is I would fence for the first 2 hours Olympic with foil and sabre, and then the second 2 hours I would fence against these SCA people with rapiers. And over time my reputation with the weapon grew and eventually right around, oh, I don’t know, the ten year mark, HEMA started really coming into its own. It really started flourishing in a fashion that was it was spreading everywhere. And I happened to run into a HEMA group at that point and I would practice with them. And then the HEMA competitions came about and yeah, it was more people t against and different styles and the different skill levels. I don’t know, I just fell in love with it. So even to this day though, I will still fence against SCA people in that basically if you have steel, it’s close to real. So that’s my motto for it. So yeah, that’s how I ended up transitioning over into HEMA was through Olympic fencing to SCA, into HEMA.
Guy Windsor: It’s actually very similar to how I got started because my parents were quietly taking weapons off me when I was little.
Robert Childs: We would have gotten along famously.
Guy Windsor: Or we would have murdered each other.
Robert Childs: We’re very good at the pretend aspect. Absolutely.
Guy Windsor: Yeah. And then I did foil and sabre at school, my English equivalent of high school, and then at university again, frustrated with the artificiality of sport fencing, me and some friends started a historical fencing club called The Dawn Duellists’ Society. And we were playing around with each other in late 92, early 93, and we started the club officially in 94. There was no SCA in Edinburgh at the time. At least not that we knew of, otherwise I may very well have done an SCA tour for a decade or so as well. So got into the historical martial arts scene, I guess, early 2000s, something like that?
Robert Childs: Yeah. It would have been right around there.
Guy Windsor: Yeah. And then of course, the tournament scene just exploded in about, we really started in about 2003, 2004, but by 2010 it was everywhere.
Robert Childs: Yeah. Right across that ten year span is when, I mean explosion is not a bad word for it because it really did. It just, it went outward and everywhere all of a sudden now I was seeing advertisements for these different in various tournaments and obviously I was looking for the biggest ones that I could go to, for me it was really for no other reason other than the biggest tournaments were going to have the most people that I was going to get an opportunity to fence against. And for me that is really where my greatest learning happens is when I’m actually fencing against somebody, a skillful opponent, and having to deconstruct what they’re doing in real time. That’s where my skill sets really benefit me the most.
Guy Windsor: Yeah. And everyone’s optimal learning environment is slightly different. My absolute best learning environment is when I’m teaching. I learn fastest when I’m actually teaching, right? And then I can apply that when fencing and then of course fencing I learn stuff after the fact. Right. Okay. How the hell did you just hit me? Can we just do that again? Oh, like that.
Robert Childs: Yeah. For me, I get a similar kind of experience. Only it’s actually from when a student who doesn’t, you know, who’s first starting out. I mean, they’re going to be the ones most often that ask you sometimes the most interesting questions. Because they ask something that you just weren’t thinking about it before. It’s like, well, why do you do it this way? Oh, that’s a very good question. Why do I do it that way? And then it forces you to have to think about that. And why do you do it this way? Is it just because it feels right? Is it because it’s martially sound? Have you given any thought to it at all? It really forces you to have to break down the why in order to properly explain it to the student who is seeking to learn.
Guy Windsor: Right. Yeah. There’s nothing quite like curious students as a spur to growth. So you’ve not just been doing the sword stuff. So you have a background in various other martial arts, correct?
Robert Childs: I do, yes. I took aikido for a time, but I also took Kajukenbo, which is kind of a street fighting form of Asian martial art. And that one I really enjoyed because it was very practical, it was very useful. It looked at street combat from the perspective of, okay, understand you will get hit, so make sure that you are doing X, Y, and Z in order to make sure that we end this in the shortest amount of time possible because you don’t want to take damage. It was very, very practical and very, very useful in my mind. And as it turned out, it was one of my first introductions to basically it was fencing, it was understanding measure, understanding timing, reading your opponent’s tells, all of the things that I use to this day in rapier combat. It’s when I first began to understand that all of this stuff really has a common root. It all comes from the same place. It’s just a slight variation based upon the implement at hand.
Guy Windsor: Yeah, and the context in which you’re using it. And what constitutes a win in that context.
Robert Childs: Yeah, not dying. That’s always a good one for me.
Guy Windsor: Yeah. Like every martial has in common, don’t get hit in the face if you can avoid it.
Robert Childs: That’s always a good one. Preserve the pretty. Absolutely.
Guy Windsor: So is there any particular like thread through those martial arts which have struck you as fundamental to everything?
Robert Childs: Yes, there is, as a matter of fact. And for me, in my experience, I have found that it was the measure. It was understanding what is that ideal measure, whether you’re talking an open hand martial art and you need to have that ideal measure to provide you with the greatest leverage over your opponent in that particular technique that you’re trying to execute, or whether it is understanding measure in rapier combat or in longsword combat to understand that, you know, because let’s face it, speaking of rapier specifically, you only need to bury the 2 to 3 inches of your blade in order for it to be a lethal strike against your opponent. And if you have an acute understanding, I mean, you’ve got it dialled in down to the millimetre, that is a gigantic advantage. Because if your opponent does not have that well, I mean, you know, when you can strike and they do not. I mean, I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve had an opponent lunge against me. I didn’t raise my sword in the slightest. I just let them do their attack and watch as their point just falls short, drops a couple of inches. And they’re like, oh, man, I can’t believe I did this. Like, I can believe it, I mean, how far away you were. But for me, yeah, I would say that one of the common threads is going to be that understanding of measure, because that is such a vital key to being able to take yourself to the victory circle.
Guy Windsor: Yeah, a couple of things there: first one is back when I was doing school fencing competitions, particularly at school, I used to have this lamé jacket for doing foil that was about four sizes bigger than it should be, and I would lean forward slightly so it would hang down. People kept hitting it, but the light didn’t go off because it wasn’t giving it them enough resistance.
Robert Childs: Well, see, that’s like you’re wearing a cloak. It’s beautiful, right?
Guy Windsor: Yeah. Yeah. That is absolutely not swordsmanship. It’s just gamesmanship. And a fundamental naughtiness.
Robert Childs: But I don’t imagine that your opponents would probably do that too many times before they realised, oh, I got to go a little bit further.
Guy Windsor: No, they kept they kept checking the blade and then we would do that thing where you go and test the system was working and I’d stick my chest forward and they would poke me and sure enough the light would go on. They were like, well, what the hell’s going on? I’m sure I hit him. But now the 2 to 3 inches thing, it’s true in that if you shove a blade two or three inches into somebody’s chest, you are likely to do a lot of damage. And when fencing your friends, and fencing in a competitive or sporting environment, you shouldn’t be hitting any harder than that.
Robert Childs: We don’t want to break our toys.
Guy Windsor: Right. But in the historical sources, we almost invariably see something like a foot of steel extending behind the dead person’s head, because people are running it much deeper. I have theories as to why that is the case. Do you?
Robert Childs: Yes. There’s a couple of possibilities that come up when you look at something like that. I mean, the number of times, for example, that I have begun an attack against my opponent and I’m almost right at the moment of about to strike, and that’s when it sort of registers in their head that they’re being attacked and their reflex action of throwing their weapon out there or suddenly making an attack of their own against me at that point in time has occurred. And of course, if you’ve got two oppositely moving bodies coming forward, you’re going to increase the force significantly, but also two, it could very well be from the perspective of if I was lunging against my opponent and it’s going to be, say, for example, the head is the target that I’m shooting for because I like to refer to that as the off switch, because whether you penetrate the skull or not, you move that head in a violent fashion, the whole body has to follow it and everything that they were doing melts away. If I’m shooting at your head in a martial context mind you, not a competition, but I’m going to put some significant force into that in order to make sure that you stop whatever it is that you are doing. So that way I can make sure I’m the only one who survives that fight. When it comes to the torso however, in a martial context, the closer I get to my opponent’s weapon, the easier it’s going to be for them to potentially harm me in some fashion. So if I’m shooting for that torso as a target area, that’s not instant kill. I mean, if I do that and I bury my sword into my opponent’s body and it’s sticking a foot out of their back, well, they have an opportunity in that moment while my sword is bound up in their body to take me with them. And mind you, that would be a very period way to die. But I’m not a fan of if I’m in a martial context to do so.
Guy Windsor: I have a different theory as to why, I mean, obviously if two people are attacking at the same time, as often happens in the treatises, you are going to get that much closer measure. But I think, for example, Capoferro is looking for it because if you stick the sword all the way through them, so there is like a foot or so of steel sticking out the back. You are so far inside their point that the time it is going to take them to pull that sword back to be able to actually hit you, you have lots and lots of time to get either past them or to get further control of their weapon. If you have a dagger and your opponent has a spear, your only option is to get really close, so you are well inside the point where the spear is not only useful. I think basically it’s a less extreme version of that. You’re getting that close because you know your sword is going to get tied up while it’s stuck inside them and you don’t want to be beyond them. You don’t want to be sort of back where their point is. You want to be past the point where they can’t hit you with it. That’s my theory.
Robert Childs: And that is a sound theory. That is entirely possible. And in some instances, that could actually be what somebody was aiming for, because as we all know, fencing is something like a dance and your opponent has a say in that dance. And if they present to you the opportunity to run them through and maintain control of that weapon, well then you’ve accomplished exactly what you need to do. You have scored the killing blow on your opponent and you have preserved your own skin at the same time. For me, I have this immediate reflexive action that I do when I strike my opponent is that my sword shoots out and then it immediately goes into the parry that they would do to block the attack that they would have to do from that particular position their sword was in. And from the perspective of if I can reach that person’s heart or reach that person’s lung with just a few inches of the tip of my sword, and then immediately parry following that, that is probably going to be the course of action that I’m following most often. Now, obviously, we don’t have an opportunity, you know, thankfully we don’t have to actually do this in order to find out. But thinking about it theoretically, it is the approach that I would take.
Guy Windsor: Yeah. Although in like all the sources, pretty much, almost all the time when you’re striking, you’re striking with physical control of your opponent’s weapon. Either you have their blade bound up against your forte or you have your left hand is on their hilt or whatever. So you actually have that control as you are striking anyway. So shouldn’t that line already be closed?
Robert Childs: Yes, it should in an ideal situation. In fact, what you’re talking about right there is something that I call, and I write about this in my book, but I call it the two target concept. Whereby every time I’m going to make an attack against my opponent, there’s actually two targets, not one. And the first target is always invariably my opponent’s weapon. And then the follow on target is the fencer behind that weapon. You can use one of the three methods that I detail, which is force, time, or a combination of force time in order to gain control of that weapon, to attack that weapon. But that is always the first thing that happens, because if you don’t and you shoot out at your opponent, let’s say you hit them and you get away. Well, that was really luck, because if you didn’t have control of that weapon, it was just luck that he didn’t attack you at the same time. It was just luck that you got away and they didn’t manage to have enough skill to hit you back. But the thing about it is, in a martial context, you don’t want to rely on luck in order to save your life. Because eventually, as we all know, luck runs out.
Guy Windsor: So now you use the terms force, time and force time in a way that I’m pretty sure the average listener isn’t familiar with, because I don’t think the average listener’s read your book.
Robert Childs: Not yet. But hopefully we can change that. So yeah, so I detail that there are three ways that you can gain control of an opponent’s weapon and are in my is the way I like to put it, to attack that weapon. The first target. And force is just exactly that you are applying some sort of force whether that is you’re utilising say for example the most basic example of that would be a beat. You impart a force upon your opponent’s weapon in order to dislodge its position and therefore clear a path for you to be able to strike your opponent. And then there is time. Time is when you are basically forcing your opponent to engage in an action that moves their sword in a pathway that doesn’t threaten you and therefore clears a pathway for you to strike them. So the most common example of that you would see would be something like a feint right. I can feint to my opponent’s left side and they start moving to parry, but I disengage. And now, while their sword is continuing to finish that initial action, my sword is actually on the other side of their weapon, heading for an entirely different target. That is utilising time to deal with their weapon. And then finally, there is the combination of force time where you can utilise both of them as an attack against your opponent’s weapon. And again, just using those two prior examples, the easiest example of that would be beat my opponent’s weapon, which initiates a reaction to put their sword back in the position that it was. I disengage as it passes by and I shoot for the target area that is now free and clear. I imparted the force, made them burn time, and I used those two factors in order to attack the target.
Guy Windsor: And this is your own conceptualisation of it, because it’s different to the way the same ideas are described in the historical sources or in modern sport fencing.
Robert Childs: Yes. Everything about that is from I have had the unique opportunity to travel around the world because I’ve spent my entire adult life in the U.S. military. And the U.S. military likes to take its officers and move them around all over the place. Different countries, you know, different states. And through that, I’ve had the opportunity to fence a great many different kinds of people. And all of this that I’m talking about now is based upon the experience over these last 34 years of travelling around the world, whether it was to Italy, Sweden, Japan or all over the States here in the U.S. and putting all of that together, learning all of that and putting that into a recognisable and understandable format for teaching to my students.
Guy Windsor: So you’ve basically synthesised your own specific method.
Robert Childs: Specific method. That’s a good word for it.
Guy Windsor: Okay. Yeah. And basically it’s what the historical writers, Capoferro, Fabris, and whatnot, it’s what they did. They had exposure to various kinds of training or whatever. But the thing that they put down in their book, because every book is different, you can tell that actually they have their own way of looking at these various different concepts and describing them slightly differently. And sometimes you come across two completely different terms or descriptions for what turns out to be the exact same thing.
Robert Childs: Precisely. Absolutely. Yeah. What you just described is the argument that I will give to someone who’s I’ve had various critics for various reasons, as we’ve all, I’m sure, run into. I’m sure you’ve run into them yourself.
Guy Windsor: Yeah, plenty.
Robert Childs: And I’ve had people who say, for example, that oh well what you do isn’t period. What you do is totally modern. It’s not period.
Guy Windsor: Well that’s true.
Robert Childs: And what they’re saying is true and false because, because in all honesty, as much as I wish I could make the claim, I did not invent the parry. The parries that I use have been in existence for centuries, if not thousands of years. And but where they are correct is that, I guess the best way to explain it is that they have a tendency to forget. Let’s say, for example, we look at Capoferro, right? Capoferro was born one day but did he come into this world knowing everything about fencing that he would later write about? No, of course not. He learned what was available to him. He saw where there were opportunities in order to improve it for himself, to make it what he thought was better. He fenced against other people, I’m sure, and he was able to build his experience and then ultimately tweak that knowledge that he had and create the style that we now associate to his name. Well, I mean, honestly, that’s what I have been doing for myself, not for any purposes of actually writing this book, but it was for the purposes of becoming my best swordsman. Because if there’s one thing that I have definitely learned is that you can never truly learn something completely just from a book. You have to couple that with your own experience and my travels around the world gave me a unique opportunity to do that very thing. So when someone tells me, oh well, what you do isn’t period. Well, my counterargument to that is actually what I do is more period than what they do, because I’m doing exactly what those period masters of old did for themselves. So while this person who’s criticising me is saying that I’m not, period. Well, actually the way I’m going about it is very period.
Guy Windsor: Yeah. Okay. Your approach in synthesising your own system having studied, well, Fiore makes the claim in his introduction that he studied with many masters, Italian and German. He says that. And yeah, going around and studying under a lot of different people and seeing lots of different approaches and synthesizing you own, that’s entirely a period thing to do. The thing is, what people mean when they say period is what happens when I say historical. When I say historical, I mean you’re recreating a documented historical system as faithfully as possible. So if I’m calling what I’m what I’m doing historical rapier, I will have to also specify, well, whose historical rapier? Well, I’m a Capoferro man. So I will teach classes in Capoferro’s rapier. And any time that I deviate from the book in any way for any reason, I have to flag that up to the students so they can see exactly what’s in the book and what I have to interpolate, extrapolate or make up. I think where I differ from your critics in that regard is I don’t see anything even slightly wrong with coming up with your own approach, so long as you don’t pretend that it’s somebody else’s.
Robert Childs: Indeed, that is true, and I have never made such a claim. If someone one or two someone comes to me and they said, yes, I would very much like to learn Capoferro’s style of fence or I would like to learn Fabris’s style of fence or insert period master here. I am not the guy that you want to come to for that. So I have a very specific way that I’m going to teach that student because I am going to do it from the perspective of I’m going to try and find out what is that student’s strengths, what are their weaknesses, And the things that I teach them in a given context may not necessarily be something that I myself use, but I will teach it to the student because for some reason this student can make it work for them. So if I’m going to be a good coach, at least in my mind anyway, I’m going to help that student become their best swordsman, not the best imitator of me.
Guy Windsor: Right. And that is where historical martial arts are a little bit odd. Because in terms of actually winning swordfights, that’s the only way to do it. And that is exactly what I do for my students who are interested in that side of things. And it’s different to can you learn this particular period system. It’s like a singer. They may have a voice that is perfectly suited to modern pop music and not really suited to 16th century madrigals at all. And if they want to be their best singer, they should probably be singing pop music. But if they love madrigals and they want to do their best to sing madrigals, then that’s what they should do. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just a different goal that the student has that we as their teacher can help them with.
Robert Childs: Yeah. And ultimately, I mean, and don’t get me wrong, when I’m teaching my students in order to become what I call their best swordsman, I am doing so because they have that goal of maximising the skill that they have. Now, if somebody wants to, I do believe absolutely that there is not only a place but an absolute necessity for people who want to recreate the, as we call it, the period styles as closely as possible, because that’s knowledge that we don’t have to start over from, you know, I mean, that’s knowledge that anybody can make use of and capitalise on, because let’s face it, the more knowledge you have about a particular subject and about the more experience you have on it, the greater you’re going to be at that particular subject it is, whatever it is that you’ve decided to take up. So absolutely, those period practitioners absolutely need them, those practitioners that want to maximise their best. Absolutely. And just simply those that are trying to expound on all that information, an absolute need for them as well.
Guy Windsor: Yeah, you’re probably best known for your tournament wins.
Robert Childs: Yes.
Guy Windsor: Yeah. Yeah. So there’s stuff we’re going to come back to, but we need to go to the tournament stuff first so that we can compare it.
Robert Childs: Indeed. Fire away.
Guy Windsor: All right. You win a lot of tournaments, so you might be the right person to ask how do you train for tournaments?
Robert Childs: So speaking strictly from a rapier perspective, I can tell you that it rather hit me straight in the face as far as how to do this. But there is a decided difference between fencing in a martial context where you and a buddy who are just trying to maximise that martial art as best you can, and then going into a tournament that is judged and that has to be seen by a bunch of people that are trying to grasp what it is that you’re doing. And when you’re talking about rapier combat in specific, rapier combat happens across literal fractions of a second, I mean, if you’re a judge and you happen to blink at the moment that an experienced rapier fencer makes their attack, they will literally make that attack and recover out in less time than it takes you to finish that blink. And now you have completely missed the action. So I found when I first was going to these much larger HEMA tournaments that I was, I had to start fencing not just to defeat my opponent, but I had to fence in a fashion that was conducive to judges seeing the action in the first place. Because I honestly lost count of the number of times where I reached out, struck my opponent, recovered back out again, and both of us stopped in the middle of what we were doing because we were anticipating the judges were going to throw up flags, not a single flag to be seen. And my opponent and I looked at each other, we just kind of shrug and go, okay, I guess we just keep going. And the number of times that was happening, I mean, sometimes my opponent would be of the right mind. And he would say, you know, okay, look, guys, he hit me. This is like the third time. In which case then, because he self-called their judges would give the points. But I learned that if you are fencing in a martial context, you can go as fast as you want and absolutely you do so with the absolute soundness of the techniques, the strategies that you have learned. But when it comes to competition, you need to learn that when you strike your opponent, you got to leave that sword there for another second or two. So that way the judges can actually see it because otherwise you’re literally going to expend all kinds of energy fencing very soundly. And in a real context, you’d be the only one standing. But your opponent’s going to walk away with the victory because he’s getting the after blows and they’re calling that as a primary attack because they never saw your attack to begin with. So when you are fencing for competition, learn to leave that out there for just a little bit longer. So that way the judges will actually see it, because as you get better, your attacks are going to be harder to discern.
Guy Windsor: Yeah. I have been ring director many times. And obviously I’ve presided over hundreds and hundreds of fencing bouts. These days, when I’m at a tournament as a ring director, I tell my fencers, you have to assume that I and the judges are blind, drunk and biased against you and your job as fencers is to make it so obvious that you have just scored the hit that there’s absolutely nothing we can do except give you the point. And also, I’m not one of those judges who spends half an hour figuring out what exactly happened. If it isn’t obvious, I throw it out and the fencers have to do it again.
Robert Childs: That is a very good way to go about it as well. Instead of trying to sit there and bring the judges in on every single exchange and then have to talk it out because nobody wants to see that kind of fencing anyways. But I can tell you right now that, I mean, you can launch into that attack, hit that person, and then immediately parry what would have been your riposte after your attack had already struck. And all the judges are going to have seen was the fact that you parried and that was it. Or which is even worse and I get this this is it’s an unfortunate consequence of fencing in such a fashion that the judges can see it. But leaving your sword out there for another second or so, yes, is going to open you up to the after blow. There’s just no getting around it because you can’t withdraw your sword in order to defend yourself, in order to allow those judges to see that initial blow. So usually what ends up happening is I make that attack against my opponent, usually of a thrust, because I’m a rapier guy, let’s face it. And I hit my opponent. I leave it there, and then my opponent follows up with a some sort of cut after the fact. But my sword is still sitting in them. And then the judges call it okay, Childs, initial attack, three points minus one point for the after blow. And there’s really nothing that can be done about that unless you just happen to have a really experienced judge working on that particular circuit.
Guy Windsor: Yeah. So really, you would kind of like to see if rapier fencing electrified?
Robert Childs: No, I would absolutely would not, no.
Guy Windsor: Really? Because electrification gets rid of that problem. You can hit as fast as you like.
Robert Childs: And if there is one thing that electrification taught me about Olympic fencing, it is that it introduces the ability and the gamesmanship factor into all of that. Now, mind you, if they were to electrify it in such a fashion, that that thrusts, that striking your opponent, it was infallible because I’m telling you, I think electrification is what ruined Olympic style fencing.
Guy Windsor: Oh I agree. That’s why I don’t do it anymore.
Robert Childs: Yeah, I think that it absolutely ruined it. I think the actual key to it, to making HEMA fencing better across the board, not just rapier but longsword, sabre, and all of them is having experienced judges. You got to have those judges knowing what they’re doing in order to make this truly incredible event.
Guy Windsor: Training them and paying them, I think.
Robert Childs: I don’t know if the solution to that might be a like a certification or a course that can be done. And this person has this that shows yes, I have gotten X amount of experience, I have been trained in how to judge, etc. I know where my eyes need to be.
Guy Windsor: But nobody gets into historical martial arts because they want to judge. Judging is something that people do so that other people can fence in the competitive environment. It is massively altruistic. So I think I think yes. And if you want them to be highly trained, then the time needs to be paid for, I think, in some way.
Robert Childs: Yeah. And if they’re worthy of that pay, then you now know that you’ve got a, you know, like I said, some sort of way that you can vet these judges and whatnot. But I mean, when it comes to these tournaments, I try to help out as much as I can. Obviously not on the rapier. Rapier would certainly be something that I am most qualified to be able to judge. However, I’m usually competing in those tournaments, but at these events I like to lend my assistance as a judge, like, for example, longsword, for me to be able to see thrust of a longsword it’s like breathing to me. It’s second nature. And fortunately, a lot of longswordsmen like to cut. Well, those are really easy to see because it takes a longer path, it takes a little bit longer time. Those are very simple things to see. But for a longswordsman who likes to cut a whole lot, who’s trying to judge on the rapier side, I definitely feel for them and I’m appreciative of their efforts. But yeah, most people have a really hard time seeing those lightning quick thrusts. It’s hard to see unless you know and are an expert in it yourself.
Guy Windsor: Sure. Okay. Now my question actually wasn’t how to fence in tournaments, but how do you train for tournaments like conditioning? Like point control work and footwork drills and how do you train?
Robert Childs: So for me, cardio is a big factor there. You have got to have the wind to last throughout the entirety of the tournament. The number of times that I have seen people completely gas out as the tournament goes on and on because of the fact that over the course of the day you have got to have cardio. So for myself, when I’m going and I do this constantly, three times a week I go and I run. And usually for me it’s a mile and a half because actually I hate running. I do. I find it to be completely boring. My mind is just it’s numb from it. But there really is no substitute for the wind it gives you and the ability to have that endurance that is just, you know, you’re fencing at 100% for the entirety of the day. There is no substitute for that. And then, of course, you need to be training yourself to have that automatic programmed reflexes that you don’t have to think about. Because, again, speaking from my own perspective of a rapier fencer, once the action begins, once that fast action begins, you don’t have time to consciously think about, oh, here comes an attack. I’m going to parry to here and then I’m going to riposte over to here. All of that has to be instantaneously programmed reflexes that you have done. So you want that cardio and you want those programmed reflexes because fencing is what happens in the midst of the fast action.
Guy Windsor: I was in the semi-finals of the tournament that I went on to win long, long ago. And it was basically a one hit thing. Three points and you’re out and a hit to the body or the head was three points.
Robert Childs: Right. That would be one shot.
Guy Windsor: This guy thought he was going to use speed on me. So I was approaching him carefully and quiet, as Capoferro would say. He did this lightning fast, way to deep attack over my sword arm. I have absolutely no idea what happened except I was in seconda and my sword was bent in a semicircle with the point in his chest and his sword was somewhere off the side. I have no idea what happened. I can figure it out after the fact, but it was so fast. I just had no idea what happened.
Robert Childs: Your body reacted without thought. That’s exactly what happened. That’s fencing.
Guy Windsor: So how do you train for that? What are the specifics of how you do that?
Robert Childs: Unfortunately, it is through the boring, tedious nature of repetition. It is something that you have to do because your body has to be programmed for a reflex. Now, the fortunate thing is that reflexes can indeed be programmed, but you can also program bad ones too. So that’s another thing entirely. But you have to do that through the repetition. Now, if you’ve got a training partner in front of you, great. Then you guys need to be utilising that in terms of start with the most common and the most realistic attack that you’re going to be facing against your opponent. In rapier, for example, you’re dealing with the thrust to the torso and to the head. So let’s say, for example, you’re trying to train that reflex and you’re working on your parry for whatever the case may be, or have your opponent or your training partner thrust for that and you immediately, and starting slowly, parrying and then responding with the riposte. Now what that’s going to show you is did you parry, let their sword go and then come after them and then you both end up hitting each other. It’s going to show you where all of those little flaws are. And once you get that reflex down, once it’s no longer something you have to think about, that is when the magic happens, because now you’re free to let your conscious mind, before the fast action, see what’s happening, see where you need to focus your efforts. And then in the fast action, there is no time for conscious thought. It is just letting your body do the very thing you trained it to do. And unfortunately it is, yes, you have to do it through repetition. It is doing something hundreds and then thousands of times in order to get your body to recognise the feeling of what it feels like to do something right. And I’m telling you right now, when you’ve got that down and you do it wrong, your body is just going to know it. You don’t even have to think about it. Your body will know. And from that point on, you’ll do it exactly the way that your body has been programmed. In the fast action, no time for conscious thought. You got to do it this way. And unfortunately, like I said, my mind is easily numbed. I don’t like boring things. I really don’t. But cardio is important. And then, of course, that repetition of doing something thousands of times in order to make sure that you’re doing it exactly the way you’re supposed to when it’s literally happening across fractions of a second.
Guy Windsor: Okay, so let’s say you have a big tournament coming out next week. What will you do on the seven days leading up to it?
Robert Childs: So for me, I’m going to make sure that I am really well hydrated, because if you’re starting off that way, then you’re doing yourself a gigantic favour. I’m going to continue that cardio, but then I’m going to stop probably four or five days before that tournament because it allows the body to heal. And you’re still now at your peak as far as that cardio is concerned. When it comes to fencing against my opponents, I’m going to as much as possible, I will be fencing right up to the day before of that tournament because I want those reflexes. I want my mind in that strategic place in order to, from the word go, I’m going to be fencing at my best. And then if you can, when you’re at the event itself, get some fencing in there, get your blood going, make sure that your adrenaline is already flowing through the system. And when you step on to that fighting circle for the first time against your opponent, you’re fencing at your best from the word go. I’ve seen a lot of people that go out there and they’ll do some stretching beforehand and maybe some jumping around and whatnot, but that’s not putting your mind in that space you need in order to be fencing at your best.
Guy Windsor: Yeah. Back when I was at university in the early nineties, my fencing coach also gave me some fencing coaching training and one of the things I was taught to do is how to give a fencer a warm up lesson right before they go and fence.
Robert Childs: That is an outstanding lesson.
Guy Windsor: Because yeah, it’s not jumping jacks and pushups, it’s is getting them into that fencing frame of mind, getting them moving smoothly. Don’t push them too hard. You don’t want tired, but you want everything moving in a fencing manner nice and warm right before they go in. And then when they go in, it’s just the same thing, but harder and faster.
Robert Childs: That was a very smart man because that is exactly the whole purpose behind getting in some fencing that I do before the actual tournament itself. It is for that very reason.
Guy Windsor: Yeah. I mean, and that would be literally two minutes before their fight is called. So they don’t have time to cool down in between. Because this is one thing where I think the historical martial arts fencing tournament scene could learn a lot from the Olympic tournament scene because they’ve been doing it for a hundred years. I don’t like the electrification, I’m with you on that, and I am not particularly interested in the sport of fencing itself, but the way they run tournaments, the way they train for tournaments and the way they approach tournaments is highly evolved. What do you think of the current historical martial arts tournament scene and how would you improve it?
Robert Childs: Currently I think it has come a long way since we talked about that first explosion across the country and across the rest of the world. How I would improve it, though, would be to. I mean, it’s in the word itself, right? We’ve got historical European martial arts, right? We’re talking about from a historical. Now, when I approach this, I like to do so from a martial context, even when I’m fencing in competition. Yes, there are some artificialities that I will insert, as we have discussed, so that the judges can see the points. But the techniques that I utilise are going to be such that if I was to use them any real sword fight, God forbid, I ever get into that situation. But I now have all of the skill sets that I need in order to survive that fight. Now, you can’t fight in a martial context in a HEMA tournament and still win. I am living proof of that, but the ways that I think that can be improved, one way that still exists that I would like to see improved would be, for example, we all know about if you’ve ever fenced in a HEMA tournament, we all know about the concept of after blows, right? You can hit your opponent and then they’ve got one tempo in order to try and strike you back. And I get why they do that. But I would also like to see the introduction of the rule set whereby, for example, in rapier, if I lunge into my opponent’s sword arm right, I stop thrust his arm. There is no chance for after blow after that. You have you have been stopped. There is not going to be an after blow after that because my sword is embedded in your arm. Or if my opponent was to lunge and they thrust into my face. There is no after blow after that. Even like we’ve already discussed, even if my opponent doesn’t penetrate my skull and just simply violently moves my head, whatever it was I was about to do, that goes away. There is no after blow after that. I would like to see the introduction of some of these some of these simple rules that I think would make things a bit more realistic. It would take away the sportifying aspect of it just a little bit more. There’s always going to be some of it. Yes, I get it. There’s no way you can make it entirely realistic. But I think we should be doing things to try and get it as close as we can, without actually breaking our friends.
Guy Windsor: Are you familiar with the 19th century version of sharps? Not sharp swords, but sharps.
Robert Childs: No.
Guy Windsor: Okay. It’s a bit like a Point d’Arret, which is three little spikes attached to the end of the foil, which basically sticks on the jacket but doesn’t go through. But a sharp it’s about an eighth of an inch long, maybe a quarter of an inch if you’re feeling mean with a big shoulder on it so it can’t go through. And you fence sometimes wearing a jacket, sometimes without a jacket, because you’re training for the actual duel. And that way the point doesn’t slip. You know when you’ve been hit, the blood spots on your jacket will show where you’ve been hit. And it’s not going to slip off a mask. It’s not going to slip off the protective gear. It sticks, but it doesn’t get stuck. It just doesn’t slip on the thing. And it’s not “safe” safe. But you’re very unlikely to kill anybody with these things.
Robert Childs: Yeah. And although I will admit I like the concept of that, I do, and the use of it. But I immediately think about over the course of an entire all-day long tournament, how many sticks that people are going to get on them.
Guy Windsor: Don’t get hit. It changes the way people fence.
Robert Childs: Yeah, I get it.
Guy Windsor: Because they don’t they don’t fuck about, they don’t take chances.
Robert Childs: Yeah, I do. Because I like the sound of that. I do. And in a sense too, I mean, for a great many people anyways, I think it would change their fencing into something a bit more, lean them a little bit more towards the martial aspect. Absolutely. I mean, a classic example of that. I was watching an interview one time of a guy he was talking with a reporter and in the background there were two of his students and they were knife fighting with rubber knives. And they were all up in each other’s faces when they were doing each one of their exchanges, I mean, just all over each other. And he’s talking to the reporter saying about how he wants to give this martial perspective. So he then turns around, says, hey, watch this. And he walks over to his two students and he takes away the rubber knives and he gives them two other rubber knives that have been rigged as stun guns, you know. 50,000 volts. And it completely changed the way these two guys approached each other, because now they know they’re going to take 50,000 volts. It totally changed the way they fenced and they were no longer up in each other’s faces. They were now suddenly very concerned with measure. But yeah, I love anything that that makes something forces people to be more martial. And I wish we could just rely on people to do it on their own. But clearly that’s not the case.
Guy Windsor: Well, because people respond to the exact details of the environment that they’re in, and a blunt sword with a rubber tip on the end makes people behave completely differently to a sharp sword.
Robert Childs: Very much so.
Guy Windsor: And I would like to experiment to see what would happen if we used those 1/8 of an inch sharp points with a big rubber thing behind them. So there’s no possibility of it actually going through. I think once you’ve been hit once with that, you’ll be very, very careful not to get hit again.
Robert Childs: I think you’re right. And for a tournament like that, what would be really interesting is to see a tournament done with those. But instead of like, you know, doing it to 12 points or whatever the case is, you know, and everybody is just bloody as all get up by the end of it, because you’re going to take some hits. It’s just a simple fact of that. But to make it a single, every exchange is to one.
Guy Windsor: One blow.
Robert Childs: Yes, to one blow. And then that person moves on, the other person loses or whatever the case is.
Guy Windsor: Yes. So the person who wins is the only person with no blood on the jacket.
Robert Childs: There you go.
Guy Windsor: I have a friend who fences a lot in the SCA. And back in the day when he was quite a bit younger and it’s a bit less….
Robert Childs: A little more spry, right?
Guy Windsor: He was a bit more brash when he was younger. He’s a very, very good rapier fencer. He would chalk the end of his rapier.
Robert Childs: He did this as an SCA guy?
Guy Windsor: Yeah, but just to piss people off.
Robert Childs: Oh, okay. I was going to say, that would really piss people off because there are so many people out there and they’ve got their clothing Nazis out there. You know, the guys that put so much effort into their outfits, it’s like, oh, you’re chalking my outfit. Well, don’t get hit, you know?
Guy Windsor: Well, yeah. And it’s very hard to argue with a little blue circle on your jacket.
Robert Childs: Indeed. No, I definitely like that and I had thought about that myself. And then, yeah, I thought, no, I would get so much hate from people.
Guy Windsor: You totally would. I’ve had students do knife fighting stuff with sharpies. Like the pens. The biggest, chunkiest sharpies you can get. It doesn’t hurt.
Robert Childs: I take it they are bare-chested?
Guy Windsor: Bare-chested or wearing a white T-shirt or something and they’re playing with sharpies and you can see a big red streak every time you got cut. And it’s horrifying. It’s like, okay, if those were sharp I’d be dead, what do I need to do to stop that from happening?
Robert Childs: They were attaching these pens to a sword?
Guy Windsor: No, just holding them. Dagger fencing.
Robert Childs: Okay, gotcha.
Guy Windsor: But duck taping a sharpie to the end of a rapier is not a bad plan either.
Robert Childs: I myself, I would love anything that would help to increase the accuracy of those calls just because, like I said, when you’re at a high level on the in swordplay, I’m not talking just regular but high level rapier, high level longsword, sabre, what have you. There’s a lot of stuff that happens that judges miss because it just either happened too quickly, they blinked at the wrong time. Their eyes were looking at one. I see this a lot too. Or they they’re staring intently at one opponent. And then it’s that opponent that attacked in the other direction. And they totally miss the action.
Guy Windsor: But this is what I like about the classical fencing setup, where you have the president and you have four judges and two judges are standing behind one fencer and looking to see whether they hit their opponent. And the other judges are behind the other fencer looking the other way. And so literally, if I’m behind you and you’re fencing and your opponent cuts your head off, right. I don’t see it because you didn’t hit them. It’s that focused. And then, of course, to prevent fight rigging at the end of the first half or halfway through, they would switch.
Robert Childs: Switch the judges to the other side.
Guy Windsor: So there’s less favouritism going on.
Robert Childs: And if there’s one thing that I’ve definitely noticed, though, in most of these tournaments, they don’t have a plethora of judges available. It would be great. Yes, because the more judges that you have, the more eyes you have, obviously, the greater chance that the action was seen. But in my time, honestly, it’s usually like three tops.
Guy Windsor: My favourite way to fence, though, because of all of this, is no judges, just me and my opponent. And we know who won because it is pretty obvious. But if you and I fence, I don’t think we would have any trouble deciding who hit who and when.
Robert Childs: No. We wouldn’t.
Guy Windsor: But in a tournament, you have to have an external.
Robert Childs: Exactly. Because you are going to have those people and I’ve run into them, you could hit them blatantly and the judges missed the call for whatever reason and they’re tight lipped. They are not saying a word.
Guy Windsor: Yeah. And the SCA is famous for this, particularly in heavy combat. But I know someone who hit their opponents so hard because after many, many times and they said it’s light, it’s light, it’s light, he hit so hard he broke their forearm through the armour and the guy called it as light. Some people really want to win and they don’t care how they do it.
Robert Childs: I have heard some pretty crazy. Yes, I’ve heard some pretty crazy calls. I mean, there was a time that I was fencing against somebody. It was again, it was an SCA tournament and I lunged in and got back out again and the person goes “too fast”. That was literally the excuse, “too fast”. And I was like, I was flabbergasted for a moment. I didn’t know what to say to that.
Guy Windsor: And there’ll be plenty of SCA people listening to this. So let me just get this in here, right? Yeah. I have had the pleasure and the privilege of being the ring director when SCA people were facing HEMA the people at an event called Lord Baltimore’s Challenge.
Robert Childs: Oh, I’ve been there.
Guy Windsor: And the SCA fencers were marked by that extraordinary honesty, courtesy and chivalry, right? So while they do have these people in the SCA who will behave that way, it is not the standard. I just float that there for my SCA friends.
Robert Childs: The vast majority of rapier fighters that I’ve fenced with in the SCA are very quick and very honourable about calling their shots, but you are going to have those individuals. And I’ve run into these people in the HEMA side too. Like I said, there have been people that when I hit them, the judges missed it and they’re like, yeah, he, he totally got me. They called it. And, you know, everything precedes, of course. And there are those who it does not matter if I was to hit them square in the face somehow, rock their head back and the judges missed it, they will not call that. I mean, there’s just those people that are so intent on going into the next round to winning this tournament. It’s oh, goodness, you guys are missing the whole reason why we’re doing this.
Guy Windsor: You know, I was once fencing in a tournament and my university team and it was one of the Scottish Universities Open or something, many moons ago. And there was this guy who from some other university I didn’t know at all who was just a terrible fencer. I mean, he had been training a few months. Maybe he wasn’t the slightest bit fit. He really was just, he had pretty much no hope. In one of his bouts, and as is common in sport fencing, two lights go off and it was called by the president or the director for him. He disagreed with the call but you do not argue with the judge, and this is probably the only point he scored in the entire tournament. Right. And on the next pass, because he had disagreed with what just happened, he lowered his sword, walked forward and let his opponent hit him to even it up. I thought to myself that he may be a terrible fencer but he is a fucking good swordsman.
Robert Childs: I like him already. Absolutely. Because that person cares more about the actual skill, he cares about that, as opposed to the points. And ideally speaking, if I could, I would put that in absolutely every single person out there. So that way we already know everybody’s got it. Fortunately, I do think most of the people out there, most of the fencers, the swordsmen out there already have this. At least that’s been my experience. But you will get the occasional one off. That is just they forget why they’re really out there.
Guy Windsor: Yeah. Okay. So we sort of segued on to the things I wanted to talk about tournaments, as I mentioned earlier. So let me talk over the next thing. And in your book, you detail your school’s ranking system, which is completely unlike any other ranking system I’ve ever seen. And I just thought it might be interesting for the listeners to hear about it. So would you mind describing it and explaining how it works and why you came up with that?
Robert Childs: Sure. So the why that I came up with this particular system is because I had seen other schools and their particular ranking systems, whether they’re giving specific names or what have you, to the different levels that the students can achieve. And it was really more, in my mind anyway, there just seemed to be too much subjectivity to it. It was more of I feel you’re ready for this, so we’re going to go ahead and test you. You can go through some of these form flows or whatever the case is, and boom, here you go. You are now insert title here. And for me, though, it has always been about I want to see my students growing in their unabashedly, unapologetically in their skill. I want to see that skill in them truly come out. So I decided to come up with a system that was completely and entirely only skill based, and it had to be demonstrable. So the first thing that happens is a person comes to me, for example, and says, hey, I want to learn your ways. And okay, so I then give them what’s called a black cord, and this marks them as being a student. Now we will then proceed with a year’s worth of training. Sometimes it takes a little bit more. It’s up to the teacher to decide when that student is ready. But when that teacher decides the student is ready, that student will then be tested in what is called their black scarf test. And if they succeed in this test, then they will be awarded their black scarf. They will trade in that cord for a black scarf, and they can then proceed to start fighting for ranks. Now, those ranks on that scarf are what I think you’re referring to there, and that is when a student passes their black scarf test, then in order to put the first rank upon it, they have to go to a tournament and it has to have at least ten other people, not counting themselves. They emerge the victor. That’s first rank. Second rank is similar in that it’s a 20 man tournament. And mind you, these can’t be skipped. So if your first tournament was a 30 man tournament and you win, you just get the first rank out of that because we want to avoid any of those occasional good days that we all know about those. So second rank is a 20 man tournament. Third Rank is a 30 man tournament. And then in the fourth rank, things get a little bit more complicated. It is a two part. To get your fourth rank, you need to participate in a 40 man tournament and become the victor. But you also must fight three opponents at the same time and win. Now, this can be done a couple of ways, but we can talk about that if you like. But that fourth rank is dependent upon winning that 40 man tournament and you are successful against three opponents at the same time, which, by the way, also is a slightly different skill set than fighting one on one, I can tell you.
Guy Windsor: Completely different skill set.
Robert Childs: Absolutely. And then fifth rank, the final rank is a 50 man tournament and it is five on one. So my whole system on that is once a student has that black scarf on their arm, I cannot simply say, you know what, I think you’re ready for second rank, so go ahead and put second rank on your scarf or I can’t test you.
Guy Windsor: It has to be a test.
Robert Childs: Sometimes it is. They have to. Now, mind you, that doesn’t mean that they can go out there and just simply say they did. So these things are witnessed. But yeah, that ten man, 20 man, 30 man, 40 man tournament, those things are witnessed. But you also have to get to the point where that fourth rank is a three on one and that that fifth rank is a five on one. And yes, if you are truly wanting to get to those ranks, you’re going to have to work with your teacher on how do you do that? And there are like I just mentioned, fighting multiple people at a time is not the same as fighting one person.
Guy Windsor: Not even slightly.
Robert Childs: And there are techniques and tactics and strategies that you need to impart to that student if they’re going to be successful in that. And yeah, that’s that is how a student progresses through my school system.
Guy Windsor: Okay. So two things. We’ll start with the first one. Okay, just thinking about all of this. So to advance up those ranks, you are dependent on the tournament network. So I assume you are the organiser of these tournaments. Is that correct?
Robert Childs: I am not, no. A person can go to an SCA event and participate in one of their tournaments, which, by the way, the SCA has got some really skilled fencers, which is why I include those tournaments as a part of their ability to test because they have got some really great fencers out there. So you can go to there in order to do that, or it could also be done on the HEMA side.
Guy Windsor: So what happens if you have a student who is going through for their thing and they certainly deserve it. But in every final they are up against someone who has your grade four or grade five. Obviously they’re going to get slaughtered.
Robert Childs: So I actually have accounted for that because, for example, I mean, I am very active both in SCA tournaments as well as on the HEMA side as well. And I am obviously, you know, fifth rank. I would never expect my students to do anything that I haven’t already done myself. But let’s say one of my students who is going for his fifth rank, right. And we meet in the finals, and because I train this person, I do have a little bit of an advantage, A in my experience, and B, I trained this person. So I know what their strengths and weaknesses are. As long as there are 50 people in that tournament not counting me, for that person to have gotten into the finals, there were 50 other people not counting me that were not there. I will not count against them for that fifth rank because let’s face it, I would have to sit out of these tournaments in order to give these guys that opportunity. So as long as there’s 50 other people there, not counting me. And they made it to the finals against me, they’ll get that 5th rank.
Guy Windsor: I get that fact. But there are there are plenty of other people who are massively experienced who might show up to a 20 person tournament or 10 person tournament just for fun.
Robert Childs: Indeed.
Guy Windsor: Right. And your relatively beginner student going to that first round hasn’t a hope of beating because they just don’t have the experience yet.
Robert Childs: But that student is going to see and learn and grow from the fact that they are fencing against these other people. And if I’m doing my job right, they’re going to see that and they’re going to study. They’re going to learn what these people are doing. But no, these are not giveaways. You are absolutely correct. There could be another person like me out there coming up against this student who wants to get their first rank and they get knocked out of that tournament because I’m the one. Well, that student can take it one of two ways. Oh, my God, this is so unfair. Or they can go, wow, here’s a really good opportunity for me to grow and learn. And why did this person get me? And, hey, maybe I should go and talk to this person and find out what they think. How did they get me? These are all opportunities for growing. The thing about it is that the ranks themselves are not really important. It is the growth of the student and I want them to take that. The ranks are a great way to show your progression. They’re a great personal marker and they are great personal goals for every single fencer in my system to take on in order to shoot for that next accolade, if you will. But it is not going to be easy and nor is it going to be a gimme. It’s something that they are definitely going to have to fight hard for, and especially once they start fighting multiple people at a time.
Guy Windsor: Okay. Well, let’s talk about that. How do you train them to fence multiple opponents? And do you have any historical sources for that? Or is that modern stuff?
Robert Childs: That right there is all based upon my experience. When I’m teaching a student how to fight multiple people at a time, it is based on like I said, I’ve been very fortunate to be able to travel around the world and I have had the opportunity to fence against multiple people in multiple different styles and multiple different skill levels. When I’m teaching that student, I’m doing so from the perspective of first and foremost is about time, right? Most people make the mistake of, let’s say I put that student in front of three fencers. Well, the first mistake they’re going to make, I guarantee you this is going to happen, is that they’re going to see an opening on one of the people and they’re going to lunge in there and maybe they hit that person. But the other two people, because they didn’t deal with the fact that those people can now hit them, they get hit. So, okay, yeah. If you’re fortunate, you got one of them, but the other two people got you. Well, in a martial context, what does that do for you? So then I tell them, okay, what do you do differently now? And then we start going through some tactics and strategies and the techniques about how to deal with one person’s sword, attacking another person while again, simultaneously dealing with that sword. There are many and beautiful, beautifully creative ways that you can take down multiple people. Because I’m telling you right now the biggest flaw that those people are going to have, they don’t know how to fight as a team. They really don’t. That is the number one flaw.
Guy Windsor: Shouldn’t they train to fight as a team to make it more interesting?
Robert Childs: Yeah, absolutely they should. But I’m telling you right now, go out there and find three people. Just try to find three people that are that are used to and are fighting as a team, which is, by the way, very likely, let’s say we lived 500 years ago. And you’re in an alley somewhere and you find yourself against three ruffians. What are the odds that these guys are a professional team of fighters?
Guy Windsor: They are for certain.
Robert Childs: They’re probably good in terms of, okay, here’s how we’re going to ambush this guy. But I will bet you dollars to doughnuts that they are not versed in how to fight as a team. In other words, this person does something and then the other person covers for them.
Guy Windsor: And I disagree because if their livelihood depends on their effectiveness, they will learn to fight as a team. If you’ve ever seen, you know, the three boxes and a ball game. There’s a word for it anyway. And there’s one person doing the game right. And he’s interacting with the crowd who are watching and he’s basically making bets and basically fleecing everyone because actually it isn’t one person, it is a team. And there’s someone in the crowd who wins who’s on the team, right. To make everybody see that the game’s not rigged. And there’s someone in the crowd who is encouraging other people to have a go. And there’s someone that’s even behind the person doing the game, who is sort of keeping an eye on things and sort of on your side when you decide to risk your money because you know where that ball is that isn’t there at all. Yes, of course, perhaps the average gang of criminals is not particularly trained, but of most, I think, professional murderers, robbers, whatever footpad, shall we say, I think they probably would have worked out a thing like, okay, you distract him. I’ll club him on the back of the head and you take his purse and run.
Robert Childs: And what you’re talking about, there is some basic coordination. That have absolutely nothing to do with how well three people are going to fight side by side against somebody who is skilled in fighting back. Let me give it to you. I like this example for a very simple example about how you can deal with, let’s say I’m facing three people. Now, I have in my techniques are very they are very sharp. And when I need to impart power into my opponent’s weapon, trust me, I can do that rather effectively. So I’m facing three opponents in Mali somewhere, right? We all draw swords and I’ve got three people. The person in front of me, just as an example, when I strike that person’s weapon with a beat to send it in to the guy on my left, that guy’s sword swings across and gets in the face of the other guy. Now, for this one beat of time now, I have eliminated the central fencer and the person on the left because suddenly a sword has appeared in his face, probably even struck him in the face in that beat of time while those guys are completely out of the fight. I will do a potential stringer attack against the person on the right side, engaging that person’s sword and killing that person and then stepping toward them as I withdraw that weapon in order to put distance between me and the other two. That is but one piece that is one tiny little technique that you can employ. And now suddenly three fencers have become two. And one of the guys is now bleeding on the ground. And probably you’ve got the chaos of that going on right there. How much they’re going to want to engage you after that is going to be entirely situationally dependent, of course, But it’s little things like that when you string them all together. There’s a technique in my book, even, Revelations of Rapier, where I talk about fighting the three people at a time, and it is through the technique that I call Dervish, and it literally is over in a matter of probably two and a half seconds, you will dispatch three fighters, all effectively without ever being struck yourself. But it has to be done with all of the techniques that you’re utilising. All of those have to be sharp. All of those have to be spot on. You can’t be weak in beats, for example, or really strong with beats, but you’re weak in footwork, for example. You have to have everything, all of the tools available have to be sharp. But trust me, it is it is a lot more doable than people think. I’ve done this so many times. The most people I’ve ever fought at one time is 15. Now, mind you, these were not experienced swordsmen at the level that I have, but through the use of the terrain and using their own bodies as obstacles and the techniques that I had, it was a grand time. It was a lot of fun. We all had a good time with it. But yeah, but five people against one is entirely doable, as long as you know how.
Guy Windsor: I mean quarterstaff against sword it’s even easier. I’ve seen Terry Brown take on a row of six people holding single sticks and he had a quarterstaff and he had no problem dispatching the whole lot of them. And that was impressive. What was more impressive was an hour later, those students in groups of four have no difficulty, three on one. It’s a situation that has to be trained for. And until your opponents are working as a team, it is pretty straightforward. The moment, they’re working as a team.
Robert Childs: I think the team is a hell of a lot harder. Yeah, it truly is. Yeah.
Guy Windsor: I have a couple of questions I ask all my guests. What is the best idea you haven’t acted on yet?
Robert Childs: So the best idea that I haven’t had an opportunity to act upon yet, but I will be in the future. And I’m sure we’ll get to get to that other topic again later on. But there is a rapier combat game, if you will. It’s called Blood of Heroes, and it has always been.
Guy Windsor: A board game, card game?
Robert Childs: No, no. This is a rapier combat game whereby it is a five on five and it is on a rectangular field and there’s a stake at either end of the field. And the goal is to take what’s called the dog skull and you put it on your opponent’s stake in the back end of your opponent’s field. But what makes this unique is that each one of the five people on the team have a different weapon set, and the only person who can move that dog skull is the person who’s only armed with a dagger. So everybody has to work with these different weapon sets in order to try and advance this person down to the other side and be able to strike that.
Guy Windsor: I want to play this game. That sounds fantastic.
Robert Childs: It is an absolute grand time. Every time we have ever introduced this to a new location, people are just like, when are you bringing this back? When are you going to do it again? It is an absolute grand time. There are some other rules involved as far as what you do when you get struck that determines when you get back in, etc.. But the game itself is just so much fun and it has always going over like gangbusters everywhere ever taking it. So what I want to do is to create an international Blood of Heroes tournament, to invite everybody from around the world to come with their teams. And we hold this Blood of Heroes international championship. Film the whole thing, of course, because it is so much fun. That’s one of the unique things about this game is that it’s not only fun for the participants, but the people watching it just have an absolute grand time. I mean, it’s something you can actually see and enjoy as a spectator, not just as a participant.
Guy Windsor: Honestly, I think that’s the only team sport I’ve ever heard of in which I have the slightest interest.
Robert Childs: I’m telling you, I don’t do it justice, just trying to describe it to you now. But it is a grand time. It is an absolute blast.
Guy Windsor: It sounds like it wouldn’t be that hard to set up an international Blood of Heroes tournament. The difficulty, I guess, would be you’d need to get people playing it in their home country so you actually get a meaningful international contingent.
Robert Childs: Precisely.
Guy Windsor: You can just do it in your garden and put it on the Internet the day before and say anybody’s welcome.
Robert Childs: Yeah. You’re not just going to get four people together and say, hey, come on, join my team, let’s go this tomorrow. At least not do it well anyway.
Guy Windsor: Yeah. And you need like, like local tournament circuits in Italy and Norway and Scotland and wherever. So they have opportunities to practice.
Robert Childs: That is, that is my hope. This is what would be the end result. But even if they decided, you know what I’m going to show up and bring get just get a random group of people together. Okay fine.
Guy Windsor: You know one way that that you might facilitate it because it is difficult to get a team of people who all fly to the same country at the same time. That’s hard. But you could have it so that teams are assigned on the day. So whoever shows up, let’s say you get 40 people, right? It doesn’t matter how many people show up exactly. And it doesn’t matter how many personal friends you happen to have. The teams could be, like, randomly assigned. And that way everyone coming knows they’re going to get to play. And obviously you wouldn’t want to run like a high stakes tournament that way because psychologically it wouldn’t work. But as a way of getting it started and people getting addicted to it and coming back every year. Then you might say, okay, well, okay, you can come as a pair and stay as a pair. It’s a five person thing?
Robert Childs: It is a five person thing. But and remember, too, I mean, in the past, we’ve had people show up with six. So that way one person could rotate in. It was a way of trying to give relief to some of the people in there. But no, what you’re suggesting there is certainly I fully expect that when I get this thing started, of course, it will be small. It will be probably even just people that are in the neighbouring states around my particular state of California, that will probably participate at first. But I think as word spreads and they see this, because of course it’s going to be filmed, we’re going to be well edited up into a nice presentation that people can see for themselves and go, wow, this, this looks like something that I need to do. And the following year I’m sure we’ll be bigger. And then next thing we got international teams coming from all over.
Guy Windsor: How much of the game is dependent on actual fencing skills?
Robert Childs: Oh, it is entirely on, well, I should say that fencing skill is a gigantic part of it because you’re not going to be able to let that person with the dagger advance that dog skull, to your opponent’s stake, without having fencing skill. You got to have that.
Guy Windsor: Teamwork is just as important.
Robert Childs: That teamwork is tremendously important because if you try it without it, I guarantee you you’re going to get stormed. Because the other team that is working together and the team that isn’t, it’s not even a contest as far as that’s concerned. But you do have to work together.
Guy Windsor: I’m guessing at least some of the listeners are thinking why a dog’s skull and is it a real dog skull?
Robert Childs: No, it’s not a real dog skull. It’s not. It’s called a dog skull because the game itself is the brainchild of if you’ve ever seen that old 1980s Rutger Hauer movie called Blood of Heroes. And they had a competition that happened in that movie that is what this game was based on. So they just kind of kept the name Blood of Heroes. And we took that game and then we tweaked the rules a little bit to make it what I believe is better. And then we kept the name of it because it just seemed an homage to where the inspiration came from.
Guy Windsor: And not a real dog skull, no dogs were murdered in the making of it.
Robert Childs: It’s not a real dog skull. I’m a dog person myself. I got two of them. And so, you know, it’s basically just a foam construct that looks sort of similar to a skull. But the whole point is to take that into put it onto your opponent’s stake on the other end of the field.
Guy Windsor: I just had a great idea. You should have two human skulls, Capoferro and Fabris, and let them fight it out.
Robert Childs: And the two teams could flip the coin to say, okay, I’m taking the Capoferro skull. All right. That’s good. I like it.
Guy Windsor: Okay, now, my last question. Somebody gives you $1,000,000 outside of that large sum of money, the money’s imaginary. You can pretty much have as much as you want, to spend in proving historical martial arts worldwide. How would you spend the money?
Robert Childs: I would spend that money the way that I am, actually. I would put that money towards the effort that has already begun. I’m not sure if you’re aware or not, but so I have purchased, along with my cohort ,140 acres in Amador wine country here in California, and it’s forest land and we have already begun the land clearance whereby then we are going to build our castle, that we are going to, no kidding, it will be from the exterior looking in it looks like a 14th century castle, but on this property is going to be my school of fence. There’s going to be tournament areas, there’s going to be training areas, there’s going to be the medieval village that’s going to be there. We’ve already got all of these places sited out and we’re clearing the trees, clearing the brush. And ultimately I am going to create a place where people from all over the world can come in order to learn longsword, learn rapier, learn sabre, learn all of these medieval martial arts that we have all come to know and love and can train and learn and compete in an atmosphere that reflects the atmosphere in which these things were born. And there’s going to be lodgings there for people, or they can stay in a tent if they so choose. But this place is going to be such that I want to hold seminars there on these weapons. I’m going to invite experts from all over the world in order to come and stay there, in order to teach what they know. I want this to be basically a sword fighter’s paradise. But that’s where all of that money would go to. I would obviously pour that into what we have already started presently.
Guy Windsor: So you would actually just carry on building a castle with the money. That’s actually a pretty good answer.
Robert Childs: I would, yes. And now, mind you, yes, I’m going to retire to this location. This is where I’m going to live. And from there I’m just going to hold tournaments, training sessions, seminars.
Guy Windsor: Blood of Heroes tournaments.
Robert Childs: Blood of Heroes definitely be happening there. Absolutely. So when these international teams come to compete in Blood of Heroes, for example, they’re already going have a place to stay. They don’t really have to worry too much about the cost of hotels, because that can be pricey. We all know that.
Guy Windsor: And I mean, it’s pricey building a castle.
Robert Childs: Oh, yes. The price for me is going to be rather great. Yes, it is.
Guy Windsor: Leaving the imaginary money aside, do you mind me asking how you are financing this?
Robert Childs: Well, we’re building it right now. I mean, I’ve got another probably another ten years before I actually retire fully from working and, you know, and calling it a day and then just retiring. And that is my current timeline for having this place completed or at least completed to the point where the castle is done, the village is done, the school is done. There’s going to be more of course. But it is it is approximately ten years from now, actually more like nine years now. But yeah, the area is almost completely clear that we’re going to be using for the parking lot. But once you leave that parking area and you step into the forest itself, which is the property as a whole, there are clearings and glades. There will be tree houses that people can stay in. There will be these little what we call, for lack of a better word, hobbit homes that people can rent in order to stay there. But as soon as you leave that parking lot behind, you would, for all intents and purposes, not even know that you were not living 500 years in the past. Because this is going to be an atmosphere in which these arts were born. And I want people to be able to come and enjoy that and learn, and be better swordsmen.
Guy Windsor: I do have to ask, will you have plumbing?
Robert Childs: Well, let me put it this way. Although from the outside looking in it is going to look very period. Yes, my home is going to have plumbing and electricity and.
Guy Windsor: I thought I had better ask. Some people, I think, are a little bit mad.
Robert Childs: Like I said, if you’re outside the castle looking in. There’s only going to be one area of the castle itself, and that can be the great hall that’s still going to be kept very much in a period fashion lighted by candle chandeliers, etc., sconces, etc.. But the rest of the castle, yes, is going to be very much a modern conveniences of electricity and plumbing and refrigerators and all that good stuff.
Guy Windsor: Do you happen to be extremely rich?
Robert Childs: I wouldn’t say I’m extremely rich, but because of the financial decisions that I made early on, I have a steady stream of income that’s going to be very useful in putting this place together.
Guy Windsor: Because a lot of people I know would like to do something similar and obviously the thing that stops is finances. So, okay, if this goes into an inappropriate place, we’ll just cut out this question and no pressure or whatever, but could you tell us how you do that?
Robert Childs: So presently, the biggest costs that we have incurred so far obviously was the acquiring of the land. And that was not cheap. Put it that way. I could tell you that. But what we’re doing is if I wanted to build this entire place over the course of a year, oh my God, the cost incurred would be tremendous, obviously, because I’m not going to able to do that on my own. I’d have to have contractors coming in. I would be paying people, architects, in order to do all these things, get it done in a very short period of time. But we’re building this over the course of a ten year span. And where we’re at right now is we’ve purchased a tractor that we’re using right now, which oh my God, is that a force multiplier? Let me tell you that right now. So that is a tremendous force multiplier. But we are clearing land on our own. I’ve even got a Patreon channel as well that people can go to in order to get access to exclusive fencing content and also Castle update videos that we’ve that I’ve been doing in order to keep them apprised of what’s going on. All of the sales of my book, Revelations of Rapier, is going towards the building of this castle. My current funds as well as out of my cohort, we are pouring in tremendous amounts of resources as we go along in these stages. And by the time we are done, you know, HEMA can come and host events there if they want to. The SCA can host events there if they want to. I’m going to be hosting events there, tournaments and all of that. So yeah, it’s going to be a goodly cost to get it off, to get everything going. But we’re doing it over the course of ten years.
Guy Windsor: If it’s basically an events location where people will pay for accommodation or whatever, it should end up pay for itself.
Robert Childs: Absolutely. Yeah. And there are a couple of examples of that already here in the United States where people do that. Now, mind you, it’s not on the scale that we’re planning on doing. But nonetheless, yeah, this will be a place that ultimately pays for itself. This will be augmenting my retirement days because, I mean, I’ll tell you what, there’s no better way I can think of for me to spend my retirement than to have people coming in order to swordfight. That is absolutely the greatest.
Guy Windsor: My wife is a big fan of these YouTube channels where people have bought Chateaux in France and are doing them up.
Robert Childs: I’ve seen those.
Guy Windsor: Yeah, and there are people who have like Patreon channels bringing in like 20 grand a month.
Robert Childs: Mine doesn’t do that.
Guy Windsor: Yeah. All those people are doing is basically fixing up an old French Chateau and people are enjoying watching it so much that they are pouring huge amounts of money in to support these projects, which I don’t quite understand why people are giving other people money to build their houses with.
Robert Childs: I know that I have like for my for my own Patreon channel, what I have done is I’ve offered people the opportunity, not just the exclusive fencing content and the update videos on the castle itself, but also to anybody who is a Patron. And it’s not a whole lot of money that the chip in. I think the top level I think the top level is only $20 a month. But for those that are Patreon supporters for three years, I’m going to put their names in stone on the castle. Their names are going to be there forever. Because, you know, if you’re that big of a fan and you are that much of a willing to support for three years, I’m going to I’m going to put their names on stone and it’s going to be there for.
Guy Windsor: As long as the castle shall stand.
Robert Childs: As long as the castle is standing.
Guy Windsor: Absolutely fantastic. All right. Well, thank you so much for joining me today, Robert. It’s been interesting to meet you.
Robert Childs: Well, thanks for having me. I appreciate the opportunity to talk about one of my favourite things.