Guy Windsor: I am here today with Stephen Hand, who is a founder of the Stoccata School of Defence, author of several books, including English Swordsmanship: The True Fight of George Silver and Swordplay in the Age of Shakespeare, and he currently teaches at the Stoccata Branch in Hobart, Tasmania. So Steve, welcome to the show.
Stephen Hand: Hi.
Guy Windsor: It’s very nice to see you again. It’s been a long time.
Stephen Hand: It’s been too long since we’ve chatted and way too long since we’ve been together in person. I think it was New Zealand.
Guy Windsor: Yeah, New Zealand in 2017? I think so.
Stephen Hand: Yeah, something like that. A couple of years before the plague.
Guy Windsor: Yes. So are you actually in Tasmania at the moment.
Stephen Hand: Yes. Yes. I’m in Hobart, capital of Tasmania. Tasmania, if people don’t know it, is a beautiful, idyllic isle that’s off the bottom of mainland Australia and as we’re all taught. Well, certainly when I went to primary school in the sixties, we’re all taught a little rhyme: Tasmania is an island with sea all around it and we’re all very grateful that Abel Tasman found it. Abel Tasman being a Dutch explorer, I mean it’s jolly lucky for all those Indigenous people that Abel Tasman found it good, know that goodness knows what they would have done if he hadn’t.
Guy Windsor: Well, not gotten slaughtered perhaps.
Stephen Hand: Yes, we have the fairly dubious reputation of conducting one of the most effective slaughters of our indigenous population.
Guy Windsor: A long time ago.
Stephen Hand: Our ancestors were not good people.
Guy Windsor: Honestly, I think that’s pretty much true of most people’s ancestors if we judge them by the age of today, you know? Just read the Bible and you’ve got slaughters there like you would not believe. Like what happened after the walls of Jericho came down? That’s a nightmare. So I know you’ve been doing historical martial arts for as long as I have, I suspect, probably even longer. So how did you get into it and what was it like?
Stephen Hand: Well, I got involved in historical re-enactment in 1979, when I was still a teenager and about six months in, I thought, this is rubbish. A lot of it was about sword fighting. And I thought, okay, this is what I now refer to as the “make it up as you go along school of defence”. And I thought they must have that must have had a better idea of what was going on. And I kept doing re-enactment because it was the only game in town. I actually started doing sport fencing and I did kendo for about a year just to try to get, you know, some sort of real sword play into my re-enactment fighting. I also got hold of some Wise’s History and the Art of Personal Combat and Egerton Castle and read that. I think he gets a bad press I think in the standards of the day that was a very good book.
Guy Windsor: By the standards of the day. He’s famous for that one line, “the rough, untutored fighting of the Middle Ages” for which he is forever damned.
Stephen Hand: Oh, yes. Oh yeah. That is rather unfortunate. Well, that actually pushed me, I was doing medieval re-enactment and that line and the conclusion that, well, Castle must have known what he was talking about, which he clearly didn’t, pushed me into more Renaissance material. And that’s where I ended up doing mainly 16th, 17th century sources. Once I discovered that there were actually manuals out there, I well, I actually got a copy of Silver.
Guy Windsor: Where from? It was so not easy to find back in the 1980s.
Stephen Hand: This was late eighties by this stage, and maybe it was even early nineties. And somebody had typed it into the very embryonic Internet and this was actually before the web.
Guy Windsor: On a chatroom somewhere.
Stephen Hand: Yeah. And somebody had said here’s a file which you can download. And so I started looking at Silver and then I discovered a great name in historical fencing, historical swordsmanship. Patri Pugliese. Did you ever meet Patri?
Guy Windsor: Yes, I never met him in person. But yes, I mean, to the younglings listening, Patri Pugliese was the guy who basically photocopied a shit ton of historical fencing sources and distributed them as widely as he could for basically at cost. I mean, he was not making money doing this. And yeah, he was responsible for the fact that we have all sorts of photocopies of early fencing sources. I mean, Michael Chidester, who should know, refers to him as the godfather of historical martial arts. I think that’s fair.
Stephen Hand: I think that’s absolutely warranted. Lovely, lovely man. Really kind, gentle man. There was his name and a list of the manuals that he had available. And there wasn’t even an email address. There was a phone number. And this was back when phoning internationally, you had to sort of mortgage to children to do it in. But I sort of bit the bullet. And I rang him and said, basically, I’ll have one of everything, thank you. And got this massive package of about 30 manuals, all of which I still have up on my bookshelves. So yeah, Patri was really he was amazing. And for those who don’t know, he got a particularly horrible, aggressive form of cancer. And one minute he was healthy and seemingly the next he died.
Guy Windsor: He died in about 2006, something like that.
Stephen Hand: Something like that.
Guy Windsor: I attended a charity auction where a whole load of people donated various things and I got a parrying dagger or something like that and paid twice what it was worth. It was for supporting his kids through college, something like that.
Stephen Hand: And that’s a really excellent thing to do because he obviously loved his kids. He told a wonderful story. He was a big re-enactor and he used to collect and distribute drill manuals as well as fencing manuals. And he used to teach American Civil War bayonet drill. And he used to do a thing at displays where he’d get a bunch of fairly new recruits into the re-enactment group and try to teach them bayonet fencing. And they’d totally muck it up because they were failing you at it. And he’d ball them out and say, look, even a little girl could do better than that and said, look little girl come over here and she comes over and flawlessly does the bayonet drill. And then he says, “Right, thank you little girl.” And she says, “That’s alright Daddy.”
Guy Windsor: Bit of a ringer in the audience there.
Stephen Hand: So Patri gave me all my early manuals and I looked at them all, but I gravitated towards the ones in English simply because I could read them. It’s that simple. And in my most recent book, I’ve put in a big thank you to my English teachers at school for making sure I had no fear of Shakespearian language.
Guy Windsor: Right. Is your latest book, The Sword Play in the Age of Shakespeare or some other work?
Stephen Hand: Oh, I haven’t done anything since then.
Guy Windsor: Steve. This is a podcast. What you’re supposed to do when you mention one of your books is plug it. So you have to get the title in there so that people listening will go out and buy the bloody thing.
Stephen Hand: I’ve never been much of a businessman.
Guy Windsor: Clearly not. So we’re talking about Swordplay in the Age of Shakespeare by Stephen Hand. That’s the book we’re talking about.
Stephen Hand: Yes. So, yeah, that’s my most recent book. And it was an idea. Do you remember the book, Methods and Practice of Elizabethan Swordplay by Turner and Soper?
Guy Windsor: Yes, I have it on my bookshelf.
Stephen Hand: And that, again, was a very good book by the standards of the day.
Guy Windsor: It’s a bit dated now.
Stephen Hand: Yeah, very dated, I’d say. Anyway, it’s an attempt to recreate that because increasingly I’ve done a lot of stuff with stage combatants and my son Lewis and I are actually we did the first step on getting accredited as fight directors. We’re not fight directors, but we’ve gone a step towards that and something we’ve done a bit of work with. The stage combat community in Australia is very, very keen on HEMA and HEMA people.
Guy Windsor: Yeah, we’ve had Kyle Rowling on the show talking about stage combat stuff and Star Wars. So, Lewis, I remember when you came to visit me in 2004 in Finland, you called home and one of your children. I think it was your son. It must have been Lewis, had done something he wasn’t supposed to do or whatever. And this, not scolding exactly, but your whole demeanour and your voice changed. And it was clearly, you know, Dad giving a telling off to son. I quaked in my boots and I thought to myself, fuck, if Steve manages to pull that voice off when we’re fencing, I’ve had it. So this is the same little boy who misbehaved somewhat in 2004 and is now, what?
Stephen Hand: Twenty-five.
Guy Windsor: And so he’s been fencing since forever. Is that correct?
Stephen Hand: Well, we were playing with swords. For any fathers who want to teach their sons, we developed the wonderful game with little rubber swords where I had to hit him, and he had to touch my sword.
Guy Windsor: That’s a very good game.
Stephen Hand: It was a very good game because he started off being really wild, but then it without me having to tell him anything his actions got a lot tighter and a lot more controlled.
Guy Windsor: Wow, that’s a good idea. And it was also for mothers and fathers or caregivers or anyone else to teach children of any gender. This is not just for fathers and sons.
Stephen Hand: Oh, yeah, of course.
Guy Windsor: I have daughters and I did try to get them into swords. And when they were very little, they were all over it. But by the time they were like six or seven, it was like swords are just this silly thing that Daddy does and they have better things to do. I’m very sad. But I’m very glad that your son has kept to the true religion.
Stephen Hand: Of course. Yeah. Look, I was born and I was born in the sixties. Forgive me for being a little bit sexist.
Guy Windsor: Well, in speech, if not in thought or action. So. All right. So this exercise, basically, you’re gently trying to actually touch the child with the rubber sword or whatever. And all they have to do is touch your sword. So they basically learn very neat, clean parries. Okay.
Stephen Hand: Yeah. And he loved it. And it was it didn’t seem like training at all. And we had some amazing, amazing stuff when Lewis was in prep his first year.
Guy Windsor: What is prep?
Stephen Hand: Prep is before between kindergarten and grade one. And so he would have been five and I got called in because he’d hit another student with a stick. I thought, oh dear. And so I came in and, and I said, right, well Lewis, what happened? And he said, there was this ball. Now, I later established that he didn’t actually know the word ‘bully’. I thought they were called balls. But it actually fits of the story quite well. There was this ball and my friends and I were playing Star Wars with sticks we’d found, and he came up and grabbed one of our sticks and started trying to hit everybody. And he swung a stick at me and I swung my stick at him and our sticks met and he pushed really hard. So I took my stick away and hit him. And the father is going, oh, now, Lewis, that’s not the right thing to do. And the fencer is saying, yes, that’s it! Strength beats weakness, but weakness beats strength. So he’s done the seeding parry. Yeah. So he picked it up.
Guy Windsor: So you told him he shouldn’t do?
Stephen Hand: I told him that you shouldn’t hit defenceless older children with the sticks.
Guy Windsor: How did the staff take it?
Stephen Hand: Oh, I think the staff wanted me to be a bit crankier with him, but, yeah, I told him in no uncertain terms that you don’t hit people.
Guy Windsor: But when a little kid hits a big kid who also holding a stick it’s a slightly different situation to when I big kid hits a little kid, I would say. You remember the bad old days of historical martial arts being totally historical and no equipment and no one knew each other. Put it this way, it’s a miracle to see how far we’ve come. So what are you most happy to see having changed in the last 30 years?
Stephen Hand: Look, I think the attempts at scholarship were always there. Obviously the scholarship has built and translations is the big thing that we’ve got that we didn’t have back then. And again, that’s why I gravitated to the English sources because I could read them. So we just didn’t have access to translations. And I’m like most native English speakers, distressingly monolingual. The equipment was appalling. I remember going and teaching in the United States in what was essentially re-enactment gear. I had a big 17th century English Civil War era buff coat.
Guy Windsor: I remember that buff coat and I made it stripy with my sword, as I recall.
Stephen Hand: They say that a good one could not be had for under £10 and that a good buff coat would keep out sword cuts.
Guy Windsor: I think it probably would.
Stephen Hand: Yeah. Yeah. Incredibly effective against sword cuts but it was like the weight of two and a half swords. So it took up a big chunk of my luggage and when we got good fencing jackets, it was like, okay, good fencing jackets. Here we go. So the equipment, so much of it was home made and there was no uniformity, and a lot of it didn’t work very well. When we started off the first couple of years as Stoccata, we didn’t wear masks. Which seemed like a good idea at the time? We came from a historical re-enactment background.
Guy Windsor: Where masks are not worn.
Stephen Hand: Where masks are not worn. And we thought, okay, with cutting swords, it’s far more important to wear helmets. We did wear helmets when we were using predominantly cutting weapons and with thrusting weapons, I think the reasoning and which I don’t agree with now, but I think the reasoning was that if they trained without masks, then we should train without masks.
Guy Windsor: They also trained without antibiotics.
Stephen Hand: And sometimes they trained without a second eye.
Guy Windsor: I have a spare. What’s the big deal?
Stephen Hand: Yeah. We came to the conclusion reasonably rapidly that that wasn’t a particularly smart idea, but it’s given us some really interesting insights into particularly the fencing system of Saviolo, which George Silver famously said was both true and false. True in that in the way that it worked in the slow, gentle play in the salle and false in the way it didn’t work in the street. And that’s something that we very much found, is that everything in the manual what really, really well when you were going a little bit slower and you weren’t thrusting at the face. But when we had good protective equipment, a lot of it broke down.
Guy Windsor: Really? Okay. Do you think that is because that’s how it actually was, or do you think that’s an artefact of how you had interpreted his source? Because his source is not that easy to get a clear read on, to be honest.
Stephen Hand: I still like the way I’ve interpreted most of his source. I’ve modified a little bit in more recent years. I came to the conclusion fairly early on, after a practitioner of Spanish rapier fencing watched me doing Saviolo he said “That’s Spanish,” and Saviolo says that his systems are hybrid and so there are certain elements in his rapier play like he specifically says don’t advance directly towards your opponent.
Guy Windsor: Very Spanish.
Stephen Hand: You move circularly around them. Look, I think to paraphrase Silver it’s both true and false. It’s false in that I think if you train the techniques enough, they do work, particularly if you use a shorter rapier. Now, unfortunately for Saviolo, the English, not many people seem to know this, but the English embraced very, very long rapiers before just about anybody else. And if you look at records of English rapiers there are some that are quite absurd lengths.
Guy Windsor: Like five feet long in the blade, 60 inch rapiers. It’s ridiculous.
Stephen Hand: So if you if you try to do Saviolo with a weapon of that length, it really doesn’t work very well. But if you do it with something, I use about a 38 inch blade and it works very nicely.
Guy Windsor: And just for context, the normal rapier length in this period was maybe around 45, 48 inches. So you’re quite a lot shorter. For the Italian stuff.
Stephen Hand: 48. It’d be normal for the whole weapon.
Guy Windsor: Well like if you go by Capoferro’s measurements, he’s publishing in 1610, I should be using like a 44 inch blade and I’m five foot, eight and a half.
Stephen Hand: We’re the same height.
Guy Windsor: So, yeah. So a very tall person might be using something that’s 48, 50 inches.
Stephen Hand: Yeah. So we’re talking about a 38 inch blade. We’re talking about something about half a foot shorter than a 17th century rapier blade. It works. It works very nicely. I guess I don’t like the term ‘sidesword’ because it’s largely made up.
Guy Windsor: Yeah, it’s a modern term. They called them ‘swords’.
Stephen Hand: There’s one use of the term, is it in Viggiani, but he’s simply saying the swords worn on the side, spada da lato.
Guy Windsor: Yeah. He generally refers to spada da filo as a sharp sword and spada da mara as a blunt sword.
Stephen Hand: So the only reference is not saying it’s a sword called this, it’s a sword that is worn on the sword. So the term does exist, but it’s been used out of context. So I prefer to call it early rapiers, although the Italians just call them swords.
Guy Windsor: Yeah. I mean, that’s what we find in all the texts. Like Fiore calls his sword ‘the sword’. And sometimes a sword into hands, but not a two handed sword. It’s like a sword in two hands. All the 16th and 17th sources, they just refer to it as a sword. And Capoferro’s sword is obviously different to Marozzo’s, but it’s just the sword. It’s like we call all cars, ‘cars’. But they are massively different to cars in the 1930s. But they are all just ‘cars’.
Stephen Hand: Absolutely. And in my book, Sword Play in the Age of Shakespeare, there’s a…
Guy Windsor: Well done, Steve. That’s it. That’s it. Yes. Well done.
Stephen Hand: I’ve got a really nice graphic where I’ve basically pulled out the images of the sword from about 30 different manuals. And I’ve got them all up side by side against each other. And the length of them is the length they’d be in proportion to a figure drawn on the side. So I’ve measured them in proportion to the guy using them in the manual and said, right, Marozzo’s swords are 63% of the height of the user and remarkably consistently, whereas Capoferro I think is 78% of the height of the user. So there’s a really significant difference. And you can see that there are really distinct populations and most medieval arming swords are illustrated again fairly uniformly as being about 55% of the height of the user group. So it’s interesting when you compare them, there do seem to be three populations: the medieval arming swords, the 16th century swords, and they seem to be getting longer and longer as the century progresses. But then there’s another little step up to fairly uniform sword length for the 17th century that they’d settled on.
Guy Windsor: And then bloody French went and just chopped it in half and called it a smallsword, and that just took over. How did that happen? Oh, okay. I should say, I’m very glad they did because smallsword is actually one of my top favourite systems. It is just the most fun to fence.
Stephen Hand: Oh yeah. Most smallsword systems are a little bit too much like the sport fencing that I was taught. Bear in mind that I was taught sport fencing by a rather older chap who didn’t think very much of electric scoring. And so I think I’ve got a fairly classical modern fencing education.
Guy Windsor: Yeah, and that’s a good thing because it means classical fencing is pretty close to smallsword and so you have this lovely window from classical fencing with the living tradition of being taught that helps you interpret the smallsword stuff.
Stephen Hand: One of the last times I did a foil bout with a modern sport fencer. When you and I were doing sport fencing, if you hit somebody off target in foil, it stopped the action.
Guy Windsor: Those were the rules back then anyway.
Stephen Hand: Those were the rules back then. The rules changed. They may have changed back, but at one point they changed so that an off target hit didn’t stop the action, which meant that significant numbers of people would advance in a sort of fairly Fabris style pose leading with their face. So if you hit them there, then yeah, it’s off target. It doesn’t stop the action. So I had this foil bout where I was repeatedly hitting this guy in the face. And I had of course the stiffest foil that available and yeah, the end of the bout he’d won five nil, but the guy said, oh, I think I’ll go and sit down now, I’m feeling a bit faint. I said sorry mate, you clearly won that bout.
Guy Windsor: You clearly won that bout because you successfully parried with your face. This is basically why you and I didn’t keep up with school fencing past the nineties. I stopped sport fencing about 96, I think.
Stephen Hand: I was a decade earlier.
Guy Windsor: Just because it became so very unrealistic. I think actually it improved in the 2000s. But yeah, I think by the mid-nineties it was just, the real problem for me was that the flick was very popular and so somebody would, they changed the interpretation of the FIE rule where it used to be an attack in foil gave you priority if you had an extended or extending arm. And they interpreted that to mean if you’re moving forwards. So people would literally hold their foil back over their left shoulder and charge forward, leading with their right elbow. And as you picked them off with a stop thrust to the ribs or whatever, they would flick over and tap you on the shoulder, on the back or something completely useless with a sword that doesn’t bend. And they would get the hit because they were moving forward first, therefore they had priority. That’s why I quit. What is the point?
Stephen Hand: I mean, quite apart from anything else, George Silver would be rolling in his grave because they’re the epitome of a false time.
Guy Windsor: Exactly.
Stephen Hand: As I say to my students, I say, you know, this is a threat, pointing at the sword. This is a target, pointing at my body. What do I want to show the bad guy first?
Guy Windsor: Right. Okay. So we can agree that the equipment and access to translations and access to sources and all that sort of stuff has massively improved since the early days. Is there anything that you look back and go, yes, but we’ve actually lost something.
Stephen Hand: Well, being the first generation, you may have heard me refer to our generation of instructors as the Star Trek generation because remember that line.
Guy Windsor: We boldly went.
Stephen Hand: Let’s see what’s out there. And that was really the attitude: let’s see what’s out there. Let’s just go out and see what there is. And nobody really knew anything. And we were just every day there was a new discovery and it was fresh and exciting and wonderful and a really exciting time to be around. We had an amazing sense of community because it was like, Oh God, there’s somebody else in the world who is actually interested in this stuff. It’s not just me and a couple of my mates.
Guy Windsor: Yeah, the notion of really distinguishing between I’m a Fiore person and you’re a Liechtenauer person, so we don’t have that much in common. So we’ll go and train off in our separate clubs. That would have been absurd back then. You like swords and you’ve actually heard of Fiore. Oh, my God. We are brothers or sisters or whatever.
Stephen Hand: And everyone went to classes on every system and I remember going to a Fiore class that solved one of my problems for 1.33 because Fiore did something in his sword in one hand from he’s basically using underarm and he does it like a little clearing step.
Guy Windsor: And I think by ‘clearing step’ you mean accrescimento fora di strada.
Stephen Hand: Yeah, I suspect that’s the term used by the instructor on the day. Yeah. When I went and included that in the interpretation, I mean there’s nothing really said about footwork in 1.33 but when I included that it, everything just works so much better. Is it what 1.33 intended? Who knows. Does it make the techniques work as it as they lay down in the treatise? Absolutely. I’ll go with that.
Guy Windsor: Yeah. So you’re harking back sort of to an age where if you were interested in swords and you were interested in doing it historically, then you were part of the club and now we have a much more, a much larger but a somewhat fragmented historical martial arts community.
Stephen Hand: And there’s a lot of people who are siloing. It’s not quite as bad as in modern politics, but people seem to me to be siloing. And you know, if you’re interested in German stuff, you don’t talk to people who are interested in Italian stuff.
Guy Windsor: That’s one of the things that this podcast is for, because I interview people who, who are primarily tournament fencers or primarily smallsword or primarily something else altogether, right? It’s not just me and my little Fiore bubble talking to my Fiore friends. I’m trying to capture like the wider historical martial arts community as a community across the entire planet and across the entire range of recorded history as far as we can find.
Stephen Hand: And that’s great. That’s fantastic. And I think that’s one of the great things and the first couple of events that the Americans seem to have got off to a reasonably quick start.
Guy Windsor: They did.
Stephen Hand: And there were a couple of though a couple of early events in the US. First time I met you was in an event in the US.
Guy Windsor: Yeah. 2003 Benicia. I remember.
Stephen Hand: Yeah. And they actually billeted us in a room together in a room in Brian Price’s house.
Guy Windsor: That’s right. Because I think they assumed that as you are Australian and I was British. You would succumb to your colonial overlord and do as you were told and finally behave like a civilised person.
Stephen Hand: Whereas you didn’t realise that Australians are actually true born Englishmen who’ve been tempered to perfection in the South Pacific sun.
Guy Windsor: Yeah. Sorry, that is slight digression. Okay. Yeah. So the Americans, I didn’t go to the very first ISMAC and I didn’t go to the very first when WMAW. I went to ISMAC in 2001, I think it was their second or third, something like that. And I never got to the Livermore events.
Stephen Hand: Yeah, I went to the first ISMAC which became LISMAC, Lansing International Swordplay and Martial Arts Convention, I think it was. And then they actually worked it out so that a large number of people then went onto an event in Houston hosted by Hacker as it was then with John Clements, who’s a most interesting gentleman.
Guy Windsor: Okay. We’ll get to John in a moment if you like. I just want to just remind you of the laws around slander, just in case. It may be true, but some things you have to demonstrate to be true, otherwise you can get sued. I went to several ISMACs, basically I was going to is like every year from 2001 until it became CombatCon and they moved to Las Vegas but I never I never got to the Houston or Livermore events.
Stephen Hand: Yes. So the Houston event was what was it called? There was the Swordplay Symposium International, and it was attempt to get Europeans and Australians and Americans together. And it was a great idea. Too many personalities. One great thing that came out of it were the two volumes that I edited of Spada, which was basically a journal of papers on all sorts of subjects. All sorts of HEMA subjects. I’ve got all my, my Sparta papers up on Gumroad. I did have them on another platform which folded. But then I asked you because you always seem to know the best place to go. And you said, go to Gumroad.
Guy Windsor: And I have now moved to Shopify. Brief digression. Let me tell you why. Nothing wrong with Gumroad, Gumroad is great, but Shopify now integrates with a print on demand service, which means I can get my printed on demand books integrated with Shopify so that people can go to my shop and buy not just digital products, but they can also buy physical products which are printed on demand and shipped on demand. And I don’t have to do any packing or shipping. So that’s the only reason I moved. So unless you do that, you can stick with Gumroad and that’s fine.
Stephen Hand: Well, these are all PDFs and yeah, so I wrote a paper in the first volume about the evidence that one of the diverse and sundry masters that Vincentio Saviolo said had had formed the basis of his system must have been Spanish. Because it’s it seems to be a combination of Italian and Spanish principles and techniques. And there were there were papers by a whole range of people.
Guy Windsor: So it was a good event then?
Stephen Hand: Yeah. Look, it was good that that got created. Even early on, there was a lot of tension between the people that came from a sport fencing background and the people who considered themselves more hardcore martial artists. And yeah, that’s thankfully largely died away because everyone just is doing historical martial arts. And most people doing it now that’s what they started with. They don’t come from one of the other.
Guy Windsor: That’s a huge difference. I mean, back in the old days we all came from some other background. I mean my background was sport fencing and karate and tai chi, right? And other people had a background in re-enactment or a background in kendo or whatever else. And so the notion of you could actually just start your martial arts training at a historical martial arts club. That’s actually quite new. I would date it to this century.
Stephen Hand: Oh, absolutely. And one of the reasons why my son Lewis is such a superb fencer, I went to not the most recent one, but the last Western Martial Arts Workshop before the plague hit and really splendid event. And Lewis and I did a demonstration bout of Silver and the little swine took his old dad apart.
Guy Windsor: Good.
Stephen Hand: Yeah, well, but it is. It’s great because he’s been fencing now for 14 years. I finally gave in and took him along to classes when he got to 11. And I still remember with some pride when my top fencer in the in the school looked at him and said, you used to just be good for a kid and now you’re just good. And yeah, he does everything 95 to 99% as well as I do, quite a bit faster. So yeah, he’s a very, very hard chap to beat and so it makes an old dad proud.
Guy Windsor: Okay. So the thing that we have kind of lost is that sort of ingenuous glee at meeting other historical martial artists of whatever stripe.
Stephen Hand: Yeah. And it was really, really positive. It was really easy to sort of become one of the crowd. I remember when WMAW in 2001 when it was held in New York, and Christian Tobler came along and gave his first presentation at an international at an event. And he was sort of like, what did you guys think of this? And we went, oh, that was excellent. You really know this stuff. And nobody knew anything about Liechtenauer back then. And he was immediately one of the crowd because yeah, you’re doing excellent stuff. Yep, you’ve clearly engaged with your sources.
Guy Windsor: My experience is like my first event in the States was ISMAC 2001 and it was just like, oh these are my people, fantastic. Okay, so you’ve mentioned Silver and you’ve mentioned Saviolo and you’ve also done a lot of work on Swetnam, I think.
Stephen Hand: I would pronounce his name Sweetnam because we know that, as his fencing manual he wrote The Arraignment of Lewd, Idle, Froward, and Unconstant Women.
Guy Windsor: He was a raging misogynist pig. Yes.
Stephen Hand: He was, in fact, the man for whom the word misogynist was coined. The word misogynist did not exist until it was coined to describe Sweetnam. And one of the works that parodied him and was put up in opposition to him was penned by somebody whose pen name was Esther Sourman. So that’s why I’m fairly certain that it should be pronounced Sweetnam not Swetnam. I do have an inkling that he was more of it just like a bit of a dick rather than a raging misogynist. Because if you read his fencing manual and you read The Arraignment of Women, they read very, very similarly. All of the fencing in his manual is in chapter 12, and there’s chapters 1 to 11 which have him using names like The Tricks of a Murderer. And he’s basically giving all this sort of homely advice to young men about how to avoid all these pitfalls. And it sounds fine when you’re talking about murderers and thieves and highwaymen and, you know, the perils of getting too drunk at a tavern. But when you start using the same language to talk about women, it sounds really, really unpleasant. So I suspect he was just more of a dick. I don’t think he realised how offensive what he was writing was going to be.
Guy Windsor: Also, it was a different time. It was a lot more to say socially acceptable to have ragingly misogynist views.
Stephen Hand: But even by the standards of the day he was, it was considering over the top. It was clearly not acceptable. And I remember when you had Paul Wagner on and he brought up the amusing incident where there was a play, the play, Swetnam, the Woman Hater, and it was put on in front of the Queen who made Swetnam sit next to her. He’s interesting because he must have been a decent fencer because he was the fencing master to Henry, Prince of Wales, who would have been Henry IX if he hadn’t died. And he was Charles I’s older brother and yeah, so he talks about being the fencing master.
Guy Windsor: Silver, Swetnam, Saviolo. I think the most important question on everybody’s mind is obviously who would win in a three way fight?
Stephen Hand: The correct answer is always the person who’s most familiar with the other person’s style. My son Lewis beats me at Silver, but if I do Saviolo against him, I do much better. And yeah, so if you do something that people are unfamiliar with, then you’re more likely to win. If you know what they’re going to do, but they don’t know what you’re going to do. I suspect that Saviolo knew how to make his system work, even if the people he trained who were using overly long English rapiers didn’t. Silver is just so goddamn practical. But I think he was totally wrong about rapiers. Rapiers are an evil weapon. And if you don’t know how to get past. I’ve sometimes said the easiest person to beat is someone with a rapier. And the hardest person to beat is someone with a rapier. Because if they know how to stop you getting past their point, then it’s almost impossible.
Guy Windsor: Also, it’s the first commonly carried weapon that was really designed for one on one dueling. All the previous ones had sort of military applications, whereas the rapier is designed for it’s just you and me, and we’re going to try and kill each other and that’s that.
Stephen Hand: Yeah, and so I’m tempted to say Swetnam might have had the edge over both of them because he his prized weapon.
Guy Windsor: Don’t you mean he should have had the point over both of them?
Stephen Hand: Oh, very witty, Guy. But I should have Lewis here. He’s saying that if he gained power, the first thing he did would be to make dad jokes illegal.
Guy Windsor: Yeah. We’re both dads and we get to make all the dad jokes we like. So you think Swetnam would probably do well because?
Stephen Hand: Well, he understood. He talks in his in his manual about Silver. Although he gets his name wrong, he calls him George Giller. And I very strongly feel that he’d read Paradoxes, but he hadn’t read Brief Instructions, which is well.
Guy Windsor: Nobody read Brief Instructions. It wasn’t published.
Stephen Hand: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. And he also quotes Augustine Badger, who one presumes is the same Austin Bagger.
Guy Windsor: It mentioned Silver.
Stephen Hand: He’s the guy who killed Rocco Binetti. That’s right. And he said that Augustine Badger is a great fan of the short sword, as Silver’s weapon was called. It wasn’t particularly short but compared to rapier and but even he admits that he has never once gone into the field without being sorely injured so.
Guy Windsor: Okay, Which Silver doesn’t mention. Basically when we were talking about how podcasts sell books, I should perhaps interject here that people who are not familiar with Silver, they should definitely check the show notes where there will be a link where they can go and get my audio book version of Paradoxes of Defence read by none other than classical actor Ben Crystal.
Stephen Hand: And indeed they should look at the show notes and go to my Gumroad site and get instructional videos on how to do Silver.
Guy Windsor: Podcasting for the win!
Stephen Hand: And the pdf of my long out-of-print and massively overpriced in hard copy English Swordsmanship: The True Fight of George Silver.
Guy Windsor: I wasn’t planning on even discussing this, but you have the rights to that book.
Stephen Hand: Yeah, basically all the rights. All the rights came back.
Guy Windsor: Is there a reason why you haven’t published English Swordsmanship: The True Fight of George Silver, which is a bloody good book. I remember, when I got that book, I took a day off training. I was going to go to the salle and do my morning training. I took the day off training because when I started reading that book, it was oh, no I need to read this. It’s a really good book. So you should perhaps consider popping it into a printable format so that people can buy like hardback book versions of it. It is not difficult. Even I can manage it.
Stephen Hand: Yes. Well, you’ve got a better business head than I do Guy. I’ll talk to you after the show.
Guy Windsor: We’ll discuss it. And we should think about because it would be a really good idea if your books were like, generally available and people could just buy the book wherever they buy books. That would be good.
Stephen Hand: Yeah. Well, they’re available. Swordplay in the Age of Shakespeare is available in hard copy on Lulu. That’s got a chapter on Silver, by the way and it’s available in PDF on Gumroad. But I’ve done a couple of instructional videos which I’m pretty pleased with that people have spoken fairly highly of. Pretty much in the absence of getting me in for a seminar tells you how to do Silver.
Guy Windsor: Okay.
Stephen Hand: And I think Silver was very important because he was worried. I think he was overly worried that the Italian fencing masters were coming in and people were losing sight of the basic principles of swordsmanship. And I suspect he was wrong. But I had no suspicion that he wasn’t absolutely genuine in his fear that he genuinely thought the principles were being lost. So I better spell them out. And most people don’t spell out principles. Certainly the early manuals, you have to read between the lines to get the principles.
Guy Windsor: Whereas Silver just flat out tells you about the grounds and the governors and what else.
Stephen Hand: And it flat out tells you if you attack this way, it’s a true time. And if you step into distance without creating a threat, then expect to get stabbed in the head.
Guy Windsor: Fair enough. Should we mention medieval sword and shield?
Stephen Hand: Okay, so that was the first book if you don’t count the volumes of Spada. Jeffrey Forgeng was doing his translation, and the working version of 1.33 was essentially Paul Wagner’s instructor’s thesis. Paul was originally my student at Stoccata, and he was entirely too clever to remain my student for very long.
Guy Windsor: He definitely, shall we say, graduated a long time ago.
Stephen Hand: Oh, yeah. Yeah. So basically you want to be an instructor, go away and find a system. So basically I was like his thesis supervisor. And we’d have discussions and like, you know, but what about this? And he told me to go and have a look. And we had an early translation, I believe you did, of Jeffrey’s translation.
Guy Windsor: I saw a translation of about half of the manuscript in dodgy photocopy in about 1998.
Stephen Hand: Yeah, we got that about the same time and eventually got the whole lot. And I’ve actually got to say that Jeffrey, who’s again a fantastic guy, I really get along with him well, but he was, as academics tend to be, he was quite adventurous in some of these translations in the early days and I wish he stayed with that because you’d remember that he refers to the counter wards as besetments.
Guy Windsor: Yes. And I think the Latin is ‘obsessio’ which is the verb ‘to lay siege to’. And actually a guy, a Finnish guy called Antti Ijäs has done a thesis on 1.33, which includes, get this, a complete transcription and translation of the entire thing with hand-drawn illustrations that match the figures, I mean, it’s a fantastic piece of work. I’ll put a link to it in the show notes. Yeah, it’s absolutely brilliant. And he doesn’t use beset. He uses besiege to translate obsessio.
Stephen Hand: We actually realised fairly early on that when you form one of the guards, one of the custodiae. And when you form an obsessio against it, if you come just a little bit closer than the guy wanted to be in his custodiae, if you besiege him, it makes it all of the obsessio put you in a position where you can just close distance, no more than maybe ten centimetres, four inches, but it’s enough to make, when you do it to people, they think, oh, I don’t like this. You’re too close. But they can’t get you. They can’t hit you in time of the hand. They still have to put in their foot to hit you, but it just makes them feel uneasy and makes them feel like either running away or immediately attacking, which is pretty much the system.
Guy Windsor: Yeah, well, I mean, the way I see it is in guard, your weapon is not available to be controlled or dealt with. And what the obsessio does is it allows you to get into measure undercover in such a way that they are forced to either run away or get their sword out where you can bind it. Because you need visual control of that sword or it’s going to cut you.
Stephen Hand: However. So getting back to medieval sword and shield, Brian Pryce, who was publishing stuff, he really pushed to get that out. I think it was premature, as witnessed by the fact that in 2005, about eight months after the book came out, I published a paper in Spada II, which was in essence could have summed up what we got wrong in the book. And I remember you and I working in your salle in Helsinki. And we were working particularly over the rare and special counter to the fifth custodia.
Guy Windsor: Yeah. The rare and special besetment against fifth.
Stephen Hand: Yeah. And you said I don’t like your version because of x, Y, z. And I went okay, I’ll have to agree with that. But I said I don’t like your version because of A, B, C and you likewise said all right, I accept that. And so we basically worked out a new version that we’re both happy with and I still use to this day.
Guy Windsor: Let me just tell the listeners the story about that, because we had two weekends and it was a 1.33 seminar first and then it was a George Silver seminar second and there was the week in between where we basically hung out. And on the Wednesday night, we co ran a class which basically showed the students how our interpretations of 1.33 had now changed, based on our interaction over the weekend. To me, it is the poster child for like collegial development of historical martial arts.
Stephen Hand: Absolutely.
Guy Windsor: Because your interpretation improved. My interpretation improved and most importantly the students got to see how two instructors may disagree about specifics but agree on the real fundamentals, which is we’re trying to get this to work. Some things were like, okay, we still disagree on this. We still agree on this. And we’ve sort of changed our minds about this or this is.
Stephen Hand: That was fantastic. And one of the things that I think we’ve lost to a certain extent is that willingness to just chuck stuff up in the air and people seem to be like, oh, if you say that my stuff’s not right, then that’s like a direct personal attack. The other side of that coin is that, unlike in academia, people come along and some people ignore the previous scholarship and start with the texts totally anew. And you and when you politely point out like, sorry, we went through this discussion 25 years ago and concluded that, you know, X, Y, Z, and it can be very, very frustrating. Yeah, I mean, I’ve got no issue with people standing on my shoulders and seeing further.
Guy Windsor: I do take issue with lack of due diligence. It’s like, okay, there is definitely merit to “I want to do this all by myself. I wanna just take the text and go I work with it and not interact with anyone’s previous interpretations just to see what I get on my own.” That has value.
Stephen Hand: That has value.
Guy Windsor: That’s right. But when you when you publish your results, you have to do the due diligence, the review of pre-existing work, because otherwise it just has no credibility.
Stephen Hand: You’ve got to follow the basic rules of academic research. You’ve got to. That’s what we’re doing. We’re researching and recreating historical fencing systems where the interpretation is an academic exercise and people who feel like they don’t have to follow the rules of academic discourse or academic, you know, just the way you put together an academic argument.
Guy Windsor: Yeah, it’s funny. It’s almost like willful ignorance. By all means, preserve that independence and do your original research or whatever. But when it comes time to publish, you have to do your literature review. Otherwise it’s like, well, what is the value in yet another person coming up with basically the same interpretation? Or yet another person coming out with an interpretation that has been demonstrated by this evidence to be incorrect. What’s the point? So there are a couple of questions that I ask all of my guests. And one of them is what is the best idea you haven’t acted on yet?
Stephen Hand: Okay. Some years ago, I had an idea and this is one of those, I have 15 good ideas before lunchtime. What did Pink Floyd say in the song, Time? “Plans that either come to nought or half a page of scribbled lines.” I had an idea to do a HEMA kid’s book. Might be a bit dated these days, but certainly when I was growing up there were books about, about, you know, this is what it was like to be a knight and this is what it was like to be a soldier in the Duke of Wellington’s army. And chaps are into that sort of stuff, like young me left it up and it was sort of the idea of having, having a book where we looked at people learning sword fighting in different periods and talked about a couple of basic principles and maybe a couple of techniques and just sort of enough to whet people’s appetite.
Guy Windsor: Do you know what, I’ve had the same idea recently. This is how I would structure it, right? Brief introduction as to what historical martial arts is. We have these sources. Then separate it out by weapon and do a like picture of a historical example of the weapon. And then a brief discussion of where it comes from, what it’s like, how much it weighs, all that sort of stuff, all the specs, and famous people who might have used one. Basically tell the story of why that weapon is cool and then brief discussion of an individual, a particular source or a few sources, which tell us how to use the weapon. And then one or two exemplar plays from one of those sources done in practice. And then the next chapter.
Stephen Hand: Now, actually that was actually one of the variations. And now I thought maybe you could sort of personalise it and have it like, you know, here’s Thomas going to learn off to learn to become a knight and you know, what have you.
Guy Windsor: So what’s happened to this book?
Stephen Hand: Just, as the saying goes, something far less important to do. Life got in the way. I tend to do all my best HEMA work, all my best writing when I’m miserable. I’ve got two books that were written after long term relationships broke up.
Guy Windsor: Right.
Stephen Hand: Yeah. So it’s sort of like, alright, well I better go off and do something constructive and yeah, so I think I’m too happy at the moment.
Guy Windsor: So what I need to do is engineer a break-up for you and then, then we’ll get some books out of you.
Stephen Hand: My current relationship is entirely due to, to Devon Boorman of Academie Duello. Because he invited me to come and teach at VISS in 2020. And it was like right up to the wire before COVID hit.
Guy Windsor: January or February, wasn’t it?
Stephen Hand: It was February going into March, and when I got to Canada, it was like, oh, there’s this thing COVID, but it’s probably not going to amount to much. And then by the time I came home, like two days later, the borders shut. And anyway, so Devon and I, the last time I was in Vancouver and he and I did, we fenced, I kid you not, for an hour straight doing Silver versus Italian stuff. Sort of Marozzo. Well I think it was Marozzo, dall’Agocchie. Absolutely brilliant and it was one of those bouts where to know who was ahead you’d have to have been counting points and chaps don’t do that. And we were switching back from right to left hand so we did every variation of, my right handed to his left handed, right to right, left to left. And it was just fantastic. But anyway, when I went to VISS in 2020, he billeted me with one of his students who was living alone with his mother, who’d been widowed a few years earlier. You can see where this story’s going, can’t you?
Guy Windsor: I can, yeah.
Stephen Hand: And anyway, the young gentleman was a little bit shy and would tend to retire to his bedroom to play computer games. And so I’d stay up and chat to his mum all night and yeah. So currently his mum’s like two rooms away.
Guy Windsor: So she moved to Tasmania?
Stephen Hand: Well, we’re still working on that, but yeah, yeah, she’s a bit more available to move, so yeah. And then this, this young bloke Thomas, the son, he thought it was fantastic because every time I visit I’m teaching fencing.
Guy Windsor: Okay. Yeah. Excellent. So, we need to get you broken up so you can write a book.
Stephen Hand: Yeah. Yeah. Well, that just seems to be the way so.
Guy Windsor: And it may not be the action of a true friend though, to engineer the destruction of your relationship so that you’re miserable enough to write another book. Maybe I’ll just pull back from that idea. Okay. So that’s how you haven’t acted on is a book aimed at kids to get them into historical martial arts.
Stephen Hand: Well, sort of young, 8 to.
Guy Windsor: Yeah, yeah. I think the market is ripe for such a thing.
Stephen Hand: Yeah. I think there’s something there. And I think one of the things I thought, okay, I could do like this weapon and I could do that weapon. But then there’s other ones that we don’t really know enough about.
Guy Windsor: Okay. Yeah, good idea. All right, so my last question. Somebody gives you $1,000,000 to spend improving historical martial arts worldwide. How would you spend it?
Stephen Hand: All right, well, if I hadn’t listened to your podcast with Paul Wagner, who, he and I tend to think very alike, I would have said exactly what he said, some sort of like HEMA Academy where people come and visit and stay and teach and learn, but seeing as though the swine has already said that and I can’t copy him, I think I’d put money firstly into finishing the sword fighting movie that I have choreographed that is like 99.9% finished.
Guy Windsor: Oh. Tell us about this.
Stephen Hand: Well this is a locally made version of Macbeth that was set in the 11th century when the real Macbeth lived and worked and by all accounts was actually a rather good king. And yeah, so it’s a lot of sword and shield fighting. I mean, how many versions of Macbeth? The final thing Macbeth says is, “Though Birnam Wood be come to Dunsinane, And thou opposed, being of no woman born, Yet I will try the last. Before my body I throw my warlike shield. Lay on, Macduff, And damned be him that first cries, “Hold, enough!”” And that’s the last thing Macbeth says. Next time you see him, his head’s on a spike.
Guy Windsor: So that warlike shield didn’t really help.
Stephen Hand: Well, how many versions of MacBeth left out that line, “Before my body I throw my warlike shield”? But we had a lot of stuff with smallish Scottish shields and using them a lot like 1.33 and there’s a lot of 1.33 techniques in there with the proviso that actors aren’t always good at portraying real historical martial arts.
Guy Windsor: So you’ve actually shot this already?
Stephen Hand: Yeah, it’s been shot. It’s amazing that my son Lewis, in one of the early scenes, there’s this like kid running around and then one of the later scenes, there’s this adult running around. It’s the same person because it took us so long to shoot the wretched thing. He grew up in the meantime.
Guy Windsor: So what’s the hold up?
Stephen Hand: The hold up is actually dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s? It’s basically you’ve got to have 15 different versions and there’s all these sort of detailed things that normally we’ve been trying to get the State Government’s film corporation. There’s a thing called Film Tasmania which jokingly it’s referred to in the industry as ‘Film Mainland’, because Tasmania is the smallest state in Australia and there seems to be a little bit of a chip on the shoulder at times. And so when we started off it was like, you know, give us some money for the project. No, no, we don’t think you can do it. And then as it’s gone further and further along, it’s like, “Alright, we’ve done this thing that you said we couldn’t do. Can we now have some money?” And now it’s like, okay, we’ve basically got a film. I mean, I’m a schoolteacher, and the last time I taught Macbeth, I showed them my version of MacBeth. It’s way gorier than the Polanski version but it’s unrated. So I got that one. That one slipped through to the keeper.
Guy Windsor: So if it’s that close to finished, why don’t you just let somebody finish it for you?
Stephen Hand: Well, because it costs money.
Guy Windsor: How much money do you need, Steve?
Stephen Hand: Oh, probably about $50,000.
Guy Windsor: So it’s about £25,000 and about $30,000 US. Something like that. Why is it that much money to finish the film?
Stephen Hand: Just because the people that are doing the final finishing stuff require real salaries. And everyone who’s worked on the film thus far has done it on spec. Yeah, but look, I’d like to keep working on sword fighting movies. I think if we had somebody of the calibre of Bruce Lee in a Western swordsmanship movie, I mean look what that did for that Asian martial arts.
Guy Windsor: Yes. Okay. So you would put the imaginary money into basically movie projects that would bring authentic historical martial arts into the mainstream in the same way that Bruce Lee brought authentic Asian martial arts into the mainstream. Excellent, I think that’s a pretty good idea.
Stephen Hand: And then we could have, to brutally paraphrase the old British TV show The Goodies, we could have, you know, Guy Windsor. Now you’ve seen Guy Windsor with a sword. Now, see him in women’s clothing. Guy Windsor stars in enter with drag on.
Guy Windsor: Yeah, I’m game.
Stephen Hand: Oh, you’re an Englishman. Of course you’re game.
Guy Windsor: Brilliant. Well, thank you so much for joining me today, Steve. I think that is the perfect note to finish on.
Stephen Hand: It’s been a lot of fun. We need to get together again sometime soon.
Guy Windsor: Absolutely.