Episode 19

Founding Longpoint and Fencing in Armour, with Jake Norwood

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Show Notes:

Jake Norwood is a highly experienced and widely respected historical martial arts instructor. He co-founded the HEMA Alliance (one of the largest historical martial arts associations), and Longpoint (one of the best-known US historical martial arts events). He has taught and competed internationally. We talked about the founding of Longpoint, creating tournament structures that give you the outcomes you want, preparing for armoured combat, and many other things.

I met him for the first time at one of the Western Martial Arts Workshops in Racine, Wisconsin. You can see us fencing here:

GW: Hello, everyone. Just a note before we start the interview with Jake Norwood this week, there were some technical issues on my end where I couldn’t hear him, but apparently his audio was working just fine. So at various points, you will hear me going, “Jake, where are you, Jake?” But you’ll hear Jake talking perfectly normally over the top. So, sorry about that. This is one of the side effects of doing recordings over the Internet. But I trust you’ll bear with me.

Hello sword people, this is Guy Windsor, also known as The Sword Guy. And I’m here today with Jake Norwood. Jake is a founder of the HEMA Alliance and its first president. He’s one of the organisers and founders of Longpoint, one of the most notable United States historical martial arts conventions. He’s an internationally known instructor and competitor. He’s been at this for a very long time indeed. So without further ado, Jake, welcome to the show.

JN: Hi. Thanks, Guy. Happy to be here.

GW: So, Jake, whereabouts in the world are you?

JN: So right now I’m in the U.S. Northeast. I live in New Jersey, work in New York, at least when we’re not in the middle of a lockdown.

GW: OK, and so you’re in New Jersey, who do you train with in New Jersey?

JN: Yeah. So right now with my kids. That’s not even in lockdown… No. I founded a number of clubs, across the US primarily, and the most recent two of those, Maryland Kunst des Fechtens and Capital Kunst des Fechtens are still alive and buzzing and doing really, really well. So, when I fill out event forms, what club are you with? I say “CKDF in exile”. So since moving up here to this area about two years ago, I really took a hiatus from big clubs and a lot of public appearances. Focus on my kids, focus on my day job a bit. But yeah, I am still training. And I claim to be part of the D.C. club, the Washington D.C. Club, even though I haven’t been there in quite a while.

GW: That’s fair enough. I’ve not been to my own school in Helsinki for quite a while now. I was supposed to be there in March, but the pandemic killed that. But still even though I’m not actually formally connected to it in any way anymore, it’s still definitely my club and I show up whenever I like.

JN: Yeah, exactly.

GW: OK, so I know that you’re something of a longsword man because I’ve actually fenced you at longsword which was a joy and a delight at a Western Martial Arts Workshop some years ago. But what are your main research interests?

JN: Primarily over the last couple of years, really going back to about 2013, I transitioned from all Liechtenauer all the time. Let me back up a little bit further because (and you’ll understand this because you’re an old school HEMA guy like me or WMA guy or whatever,) in the old days, we didn’t have enough content to focus, so we had to soak up everything we could. So, you’d be doing Fiore with somebody on one weekend, you’d be working through those five available pages of Ringeck the next weekend, you’d pick up different weapons and different things. Over time I specialised first into Joachim Meyer and then into sort of the Liechtenauer tradition. And those are areas where I think I have the most depth of knowledge and experience. But in around 2013 or so, I got really obsessed with this idea of trying to create a back formation of Gemeines Fechten, of common Germanic fencing from Liechtenauer’s age. So really, that’s been my primary, if we want to say, research area since probably 2013, looking into non-Liechtenauer sources to try to understand how people who weren’t Liechtenauer’s students fenced on average, what that might have looked like. So it’s brought me probably deepest into the Köhlner Fechtbuch, or Fechtregeln.

GW: Jake, we have a slight technical hitch. You went completely silent for about ten seconds. Go back to the beginning of the of the common fencing thing. So tell us about that.

JN: So since about 2013, I’ve been really obsessed with trying to create this theoretical construct, this back formation which is Gemeines Fechten or common fencing. And so it’s not like trying to reconstruct Fiore or Liechtenauer where you’ve got a set series of manuscripts or books that you’re trying to interpret, but rather it’s taking bits and pieces of lots of things, trying to figure out where the commonalities are and say any given fencer you would have run into in Germany in 1498 would know these things.

GW: And I think a lot of the sources say, “And a common fencer would do this. But you should do that.”

JN: Exactly. And which is actually how we started on the project seven years ago. So that’s my primary area of research and sort of obsession. On a weapon’s perspective, yes, I’m a longsword guy, but I love the Messer. I adore the Messer. And in the last couple of years, I’ve been really working towards becoming a harnischfechter, an armoured fencer. In fact, if anything, most of my HEMA time these days is really around armoured fencing and then a bit of common fencing.

GW: OK, and I imagine for the armoured combat, the main limiting factor is getting decent armour?

JN: Yeah, it is. It is. And I think that that distracts people sometimes. I fought in proper non-crappy armour for the first time, I think in maybe 2015, at Longpoint actually. I got to jump into somebody’s empty spot at the Longpoint armoured tournament that Jess Finley I think was running and had a brilliant time, did very well. And after people said, “How did you do well? This is your first time fencing in armour.” But I’ve been practising the techniques for 15 years. So for people interested in armoured fencing, you can and should start practising the techniques now, you don’t need armour to practise the techniques, but I’m also absolutely an elitist snob and think that if when it’s time to get armour, get decent armour, you don’t have to drop twenty, thirty thousand dollars. But get armour that is as close to the real thing as you can manage, because it does impact how you move and what you do and how you feel.

GW: And it really has to fit. And here’s a tip, you may be able to find secondhand armour that almost fits you and that a decent armourer can adjust to fit, and it’s not as good as getting it perfectly tailored altogether. But as long as you can find armour from somebody who’s about your body shape you can get armour secondhand and have it adjusted to fit. And that is a lot cheaper than just getting a custom made.

JN: Right, exactly. And nowadays there’s a decent enough number of armourers that produce relatively affordable gear that you got to go through the same process. You’re going to have to tailor it. I look at guys that I have trained with, guys like Charles Lin, who has a three quarter Gothic suit that I think he put together for around three grand and a lot of sweat.

GW: It’s a huge amount of money, but it’s still a lot less than 30 grand, and you can do it over ten years.

JN: That’s right. Yes, exactly. It’s been huge. It’s been really transformative for me. It brought a lot of joy back into fencing, which, as the longer you do this it’s easy to just realise at some point, hey, am I still having fun? What do I need to do to still have fun?

GW: And putting on armour always, always makes sure you’re going to have fun. I mean, that just clanking when you walk is very satisfying.

JN: Well, it’s funny. One of the one of the reasons that we all do this, whether I think many of us want to admit it or not. One of the reasons that we all do this is there’s a sense of romance about swords and about martial arts in general, and when you first became a swordsman that felt pretty cool, and later when you became a competent swordsman, that felt pretty cool. That first time that you actually go out and fence in armour, that feels really cool. And let’s be honest, I hope that I’m never in an actual to-the-death sword fight, so I’m not preparing for that, even though I like to pretend that I am because there’s a romance there. But, I mean, and Guy, we’ve talked about this before a little bit, but I’ve seen what real combat looks like. It’s really not that much fun. And what’s more it’s not done with swords these days. So I’m OK with training for real combat, but really I’m training to feel something.

GW: That’s a really good point, because I think that’s true for all of us, but there’s something about even though you know you’re never actually going to have an actual duel, training as if you were adds a certain depth to the practise.

JN: Well, and again, it impacts your self-assessment, right? If you’re training to play a game, which is a valid training objective, but then that’s what you feel like. You feel like you’re a sportsman. And some people want to be sportsmen. But if you’re training with an idea to there’s a thing I’m trying to be, there’s a thing I’m trying to step into the shoes of, you want to keep your eye on that prize, because the only way you’re going to feel like it is if you move in that direction.

GW: That’s right. Yes. I couldn’t agree more. So speaking of training, now we all have things that we know we ought to be doing more of. So what should you be doing in your own training?

JN: Based on my current focuses right now, I should be spending a lot more time doing like Tabata workouts with a weight vest and an oxygen restriction mask, that’s what I ought to do.

GW: To simulate armour?

JN: Exactly right. And there’s certain abuses you don’t want to put your body through habitually. You got to watch your knees. I spent a lot of my life marching around with a hundred pounds of gear. So I got to watch some of those things. But I am a believer that once you hit a certain level of physical fitness proficiency, it pays to specialise in your training, based on what your goals are. So, yeah, I mean, to be honest, I haven’t because of the pandemic, and armour’s one of those things that that rarely feels like the effort of getting suited up rarely feels worth the effort when you’re all by yourself. And as much as I love fencing my children, neither of them have full suits of steel.

GW: They are probably a little bit young for that.

JN: They’re growing. And won’t that be an expensive upgrade? So I really should be working on those things that I have when you’re training a lot in armour, you’re inherently training in armour. You’re training to move and to feel the weight and to breathe, to channel your breathing and so on. And so those are the things that I think are also most perishable. When you look at it, a lot of the fundamentals get rusty, but it’s hard to say that they’re truly perishable. I mean, of course they are eventually. But some things are like riding a bicycle, you know. I can recover from months of not doing a thing by doing that thing for three weeks. But when it comes to specialised conditioning for the purposes of your art, lost muscle mass takes a long time to put back. Lost speed takes a really long time to put back, and gained weight takes a long time to strip off that off.

GW: It’s a lot more fun putting it on than taking it off.

JN: Yeah, exactly. Exactly.

GW: Yeah, I actually had this conditioning thing with lockdown and everything. I found that my usual morning workouts were getting shorter and shorter and shorter and shorter. So I mean, literally one morning I got out of bed and I did a little kind of joint mobility stuff and I did, I think, four squats and I think two pushups and I thought, ah fuck it, that’ll do for the day. And I thought, hang on. This is not going in a good direction. So I actually started Monday, Wednesday, Friday, at 8:15am U.K. time. I have a training session, which is about forty-five minutes of conditioning. And anyone can join and they can sign in for free or they can pay a little something, to help keep the lights on. But it means that even if there’s just like one person showing up and whether they pay or not doesn’t matter, I have to be there and I have to actually get about forty five minutes of decent conditioning done.

JN: So isn’t this is one of the funny little secrets about being an instructor. That if you don’t have an audience, you just go to hell, like, you know the same thing. We at KDF we used to (I don’t know if they still do, but we used to) run morning sessions three days a week. I would never do a morning session by myself. Never. But if I know that somebody might show up, I guess I need to be there. Guess, I’ll do my morning session and oh, it was huge. It was huge.

GW: It takes all of the self-discipline out of it, you don’t have to make an effort to do the thing. You just have to show up. It’s like showing up to work. You just have to be there.

JN: Yeah, exactly. No, it’s huge. And I think this also underscores something that I’ve talked about a lot of times over the years. There is no substitute for quality, as you know, but there is also no substitute for quantity and people who want to get good at things have to do those things well, but they have to do those things well, a lot. And when I was a very serious competitor, I was training at least 12 hours a week. And that’s mind blowing for most people in the community for whom this is a hobby. And for me, it’s just a hobby, but I’m also obsessive, so, you know, but I think that’s something worth thinking about. On the conditioning topic as well, there was a conversation the other day with a couple of folks about looking at some older sources. And I don’t remember the source at the moment. But it referenced being able to march 20 miles in five hours. Now, of course, what a mile is exactly is open to some research still. And what an hour is, is open up to some research still. But the whole kind of thread around it was like, wow, that’s really intense. I don’t know if we could do that. That seems too hard. And every single person in the military is saying, no, that the standard 15 minute mile with almost 100 pounds of gear. All you got to do is do it a lot. That’s all you got to do.

GW: And have a son of a bitch with a loud voice say, you will do it or there will be consequences.

JN: That’s it exactly. You absolutely can move your little legs that fast with that much weight for that period of time and still be capable of doing other things at the other end of that time. Absolutely.

GW: Marshal Boucicaut was famous for his physical prowess and he would do all sorts of extraordinary feats in armour. The one that really stands out in my memory at the moment is he apparently could climb hand over hand in full armour up the underside of a siege ladder. He’s doing not exactly monkey swings and not exactly pullups, but he’s climbing up a ladder using just his hands, hanging underneath a ladder.

JN: To give you a sense of this guy, when I was in my peak physical condition, which I am absolutely not in anymore, but when I was in my peak physical condition, I could finish up a 12 mile march at those speeds we just described. A 15 minute mile, wearing, boots included, a hundred pounds of gear. And I could do about three pull ups after all of that in all of that.

GW: In all of that?

JN: In all of that. Now, I could not even imagine doing that now. So I don’t want to sound more awesome than I am. But yeah, that kind of thing is absolutely possible. But it takes years of constant conditioning and training. It’s not something that you can just knock out. And I think that’s something that’s hard for folks that are, myself included, that are essentially weekend warriors. And we say, wow, that seems like a really difficult task. Maybe it’s not reasonable. Maybe the length of an hour was a lot longer. The length of a mile was a lot shorter. Well, that’s possible that those things are true. None of these tasks are actually that difficult for professional athletes, right?

GW: Yes. For a professional soldier, that is that is what you expect. And it’s also worth noting that, back in the day, they didn’t have much in the way of computer games and sofas. And so they walked everywhere or rode everywhere and knights tended to wear their armour pretty much all the time. Well that’s an exaggeration, but they wore it a lot.

JN: We’ve seen Excalibur. We know it’s true.

GW: Yeah. But your body adapts to it. And also we have all sorts of other things we could be doing, but thinking about the amount of time that any professional in any field spends developing the skills for that field, it’s not actually remarkable what people are able to do. Now, you mentioned Longpoint a couple of times. You’re well-known for being one of its architects. How did that come about? What led you to the insanity of thinking I’m going to create an enormous event?

JN: Poor judgement! No. So it starts out really simple, right? I moved into the Washington, D.C. area in the beginning of 2009. And I realised that D.C. was fairly unique for most places in that it had several clubs in the area and some of those clubs were only two or three people. Some of them were fairly large, like Virginia Academy of Fencing, but there were multiple clubs within very reasonable driving distance of Washington, D.C. And I realised that none of these clubs really talked to each other. They were aware of each other, they were friendly, there was no hostility, but they just didn’t get together. And one of the advantages that I had had being in the Association for Renaissance Martial Arts back before I bailed, was this idea that different clubs are actually connected to each other and that you’ve got a responsibility not just to your club, but to other clubs. So that was a great thing and I thought maybe I can import some of that. I had just left that aforementioned organisation and thought maybe I could get some people together. So I threw a community centre one day 8 hour event and invited all the local clubs and 30 people came, which is great. Thirty people is actually a very decently sized event for 2010. And then that same year, Scott Brown and the Western Martial Arts Alliance crowd put together their big international open gathering, which was maybe like, I don’t know, 60 people or something. And then it just started to steamroll. The next year, 2011, Longpoint got actually named Longpoint. It had some very generic name the year before. We named it Longpoint. We got this idea about branding, like we should have a name for things, not just an acronym. And we added competition to the list and competitions get people excited. For all of the good and or bad that comes out of competitions, they motivate people. So a bunch of people came. I think the next year was like 60 and then the next year it was like 110 and then it just kept going, it just kept getting bigger and bigger. More people wanted to come. We consistently sold out, first within days, and the last couple of years we sold out within hours and then the last two years we sold out within minutes.

GW: Wow.

JN: And we weren’t trying to do that. We were just trying to accommodate all of the interest. And then we also realised that we were helping to set HEMA fashion. We were helping to determine HEMA culture. We were helping to, at least in the US. And I think there’s ripple effects larger than that. And that really kicked into overdrive with the video in 2014 the New York Times did. And so we started using Longpoint as a vehicle for that. So really emphasising multidisciplinary training; the triathlons and the pentathlon. So we started emphasising things that had previously really been ignored by the competitive side of the historical martial arts community, things like armour, things like using sharps and so what happened is that Ben Michaels and I and Emma Graff, we all felt like we had this obligation to use our platform for the good of the community. And we had a brilliant, fun time doing it for many, many years. And then it just got huge and exhausting and we had to take a break. But we took that break, I think, at the height of our prowess, so to speak. And I know that we and other folks often talk about, when are we going to do it again? But ultimately, it happened like anything: it was good intentions and questionable judgement.

GW: And if you’d known how much work it was going to be before you started, you probably would never have done it. It’s just like writing a book.

JN: No, exactly right.

GW: Quick question. You mentioned the triathlon and the pentathlon. Just for listeners who may not know what those are, what are the events that you have for that?

JN: So they shifted a little bit every year, but we started with the triathlon. That was very specifically competitive longsword; cutting – cutting with a longsword, target cutting; and wrestling. We felt that those were really those kind of fundamental skills that you need to do to say you’re not just a sportsman, you’re a martial artist. Over time, we expanded that list a little bit. We made a couple of passes at forms competitions to mixed results. Some of the results, I think were quite good some and some of the results less so. But it was it was a worthy experiment regardless. And I still want to find a better way to do it because I think it’s valuable. And then by the time we got to the pentathlon, we actually had a series of different pentathlons. In the last Longpoint, 2019, you could not enter without joining either a triathlon or pentathlon. No single events were allowed and we had, I think, five or six different configurations that you could join. So there was there was a Messer triathlon. There was a light pentathlon and a heavy pentathlon. The light pentathlon was, I think if I remember correctly, longsword competition, Messer competition, cutting, grappling and maybe forms, if I recall. I’m not sure.

GW: But you said you couldn’t enter a competition without entering a pentathlon?

JN: Right, exactly. You couldn’t just show up and be like, yeah, I’m a longsword sport fencer. I’m really good at playing at longsword. You had to show up and say, I’m a longsword fencer. I can fight with a two-handed weapon and with a single-hand weapon. I can cut with sharps, I can grapple and I can show that I know cannon techniques from manuals and I can interpret. The heavy was similar. It was fencing in armour, fencing in Blossfechten and Harnishfechten. It was cutting, a couple of other things. So the whole idea was to really say we are pushing this agenda of being a well-rounded martial artist. And if you want to be an elite martial artist in our sphere, that doesn’t mean you win the longsword competition. That means you perform well across many disciplines.

GW: Excellent. So I guess it’s like military training. So you can shoot straight. So what? Can you march?

JN: Right, exactly.

GW: OK, so you guys took a rest from Longpoint and then 2020, clearly the whole pandemic thing is just the world going, well if there’s no Longpoint, we might as well just nobody go anywhere. It’s all your fault, Jake!

JN: It is, I accept full responsibility.

GW: Yeah. Now, obviously, you’ve been running these pentathlons, triathlons, competition-based stuff. So what are your thoughts on protective equipment, training tournaments, that sort of thing?

JN: Oh, so mixed, right. I hate protective equipment for a couple of reasons. I acknowledge the necessity of protective equipment for a whole bunch of reasons. And in a few places I’m glad that we have protective equipment because it allows us to do things we couldn’t do otherwise. I love fencing in full competitive level gear because it allows me to do things that are simply just not safe. We have the luxury of practising our techniques at full speed against an uncooperative opponent with minimal, not zero, minimal risk of actually causing injury. That’s pretty cool, right? That’s very cool. And since about 2011 or 2012, we’ve been able to do this relatively inexpensively. You don’t need three thousand dollars’ worth of gear to do it. You can do it with a few hundred dollars’ worth of gear, maybe a thousand. But that said, I fence in protective gear very little. I prefer not to use it except where genuinely necessary for very legitimate safety reasons, because I want to feel and I want to learn and I want to play. So to me, protective gear is part of the triangulation. Back in the old days, we talked about sparring and technique drilling and maybe cutting or whatever as a triangulation towards a skill that we’re not going to be able to actually use for real. To me, fencing in gear, fencing without gear, fencing with sharps – something I know that that you do as well, and fencing with blunts and/or feders. Each of these things lets you focus on something that you couldn’t focus on otherwise. So to me it’s like you should do them all. Anybody says, oh, I don’t do X kind of fencing. I’m like, oh, that’s disappointing because X kind of fencing is great. And whenever somebody says, oh yeah, I never fence without gear, well, that’s disappointing. You’re going to learn a lot of fencing without gear. I never fence with gear. Well, you’re also missing out on something.

GW: It’s the blind man and the elephant. If you feel the leg and feel the trunk and feel the ear and feel the tail and feel the body, you get a better sense of what the elephant is even though you still can’t quite see it. If you’re just hanging over the trunk – I know what this is, it’s a hosepipe. You’re missing all these different perspectives.

JN: Exactly, exactly. Yeah, I look at videos of me fencing in a red shirt in like 2007, 2006, years ago.

GW: Don’t ever look at videos of yourself fencing from 15 years ago. If your experience is anything like mine, it’s a guaranteed route to depression. No.

JN: I tell you it’s something to do for all of your listeners who have been doing this long enough or who haven’t yet been doing it long enough. You need to keep doing it just long enough that you go back and watch cringy videos of yourself. Yes, but, if I watch back then we didn’t fence with gear ever. Occasionally a fencing mask, occasionally like lacrosse gloves, if we were fencing with padded swords. But otherwise if we’re fencing with wooden swords or steel swords it was just kind of play without most of those things. And I learnt a lot of really valuable stuff there. But if you watch, you see a disproportionate amount of targeting of the legs. You see very little targeting of the head. And what targeting of the head there is, is for obvious reasons without intent. And so what happens is that when folks who grew up training like that suddenly entered into their first competition in 2011 or 2010, suddenly their heads are getting just destroyed. And I’ll give an example, right? There’s a guy who I trained with in that aforementioned organisation who definitely was part of the same sort of cycle of training where you learn to defend your legs really, really well. That guy got hit in the head a lot, but somebody cut at his legs through a one-handed slinging shot at his legs and he leapt over it without missing a beat. What a cool moment made possible by a very artificial form of fencing that he’d been practising for years and years and years and years. And so to me, gear is an artificiality that you have to acknowledge, but that allows you to also acknowledge different artificialities you wouldn’t have without it. So, if you don’t wear good protection, nobody ever targets your hands. You can’t protect your hands, you don’t have protection, etc. etc.

GW: Yeah, I’ve said you wear gauntlets so people can hit your hands. You wear masks so people can stab you in the face.

JN: Exactly. And then sometimes you train without those things so that you can feel your sword more closely, so that you can feel a little bit of breeze on your face and get that sense of, wow, protecting my head’s important, because with the mask, you’re willing to take a shot in the face, which is also not really good.

GW: I have quite a bit of experience of putting sharp swords into people’s hands and doing pair drills with them for what is for them the first time doing pair drills with a sharp. And for most people, we come to some basic crossing and I say, OK, so what would you do from here? It’s all very slow, very calm, very careful. And they freeze because the thing that they would normally do from there, they are unwilling to do from there against a sharp sword without wearing a mask. So they’re like, oh, that thing that I rely on is actually more dangerous than I thought it was. I’m exposing myself much more than I thought it was.

JN: There’s a technique in the Liechtenauer tradition called the Scheitelhau or the Scheitler. And it’s a (depending on the interpretation) straight down below from above thrown at a person who’s holding their sword low. So I was doing a HEMA alliance instructor certification exam back in maybe like 2014 I think. And the testee we talked about that and the testee, he said, I don’t think that works. And I said, show me. So he went into low and I cut at his head and it didn’t work. He came up and he snipped me in the hands. OK, now take off your mask. We’re going to do it again, full speed. And he was like, err…

To me gear is a tool and we’ve got to view it as a tool. Now when we look at gear as far as what’s good gear, what’s bad gear etc, gear does let’s say three things: it lets you be hit, it protects you; it impacts your movement for better or for worse; and then the third thing it does is it changes your perception and the perception of the people around you as to what you’re doing. So old early 2000s like mix and match hockey gear that we all that we all fenced in communicated a certain thing to other people. We weren’t trying to do that. We just needed something to protect our hands. But it communicated something. Early 2010s HEMA black communicated something to people. In that whole window re-enactment style gear communicated something, Mad Max gear communicated something, the kind of current a bit sporty or more colourful, it’s no longer all HEMA black, but it’s sort of that equipment, within the competitive circles at least, that communicates something also. I think I’m glad that in the last several years, people are trying to communicate through their gear in intentional ways. We don’t always agree on what we’re trying to communicate, but I think we acknowledge that that we’re communicating something with that. And I think that when I’m looking at a piece of gear, I’m thinking about that, which is actually back to the armour conversation, part of the reason that to me, expensive armour was worth it. Part of the reason that I saved up for years and then bought instead of collecting pieces for years. And there’s pros and cons to both approaches and I would recommend most people do the mix and match until you have what you want approach. But I went for the whole package all at once approach because I had a very specific idea in my head of what I needed to look like, what I needed to present myself as, in part because I know a lot of people are looking at me. I don’t have the luxury of doing whatever I want. Whatever I do will be looked at, judged, commented on, and in many cases emulated. And for your listeners, I’m not bragging, I’m complaining. I wish it wasn’t true.

GW: I’m in the same position, what I do has consequences.

JN: Exactly. Exactly.

GW: So you are communicating. What are you communicating through your armour?

JN: Well, elitism and snobbery of course. No, what I’m trying to communicate through my armour actually is, one, a sense of history. History is extremely important to me and I’m trying to communicate that history is important to me. The other thing that I’m trying to communicate is your armour should fit what you train, not the other way around. So when I sat down with Jeff Watson, my armourer, and we talked about what we were going to build, I said the build and construction of this armour has to limit me, hinder me and annoy me in all the ways that it would have hindered and annoyed them because that influenced how they trained. I want my armour to tell me how to train. And so certain features I had put in, I intentionally went with spaulders instead of pauldrons because I wanted some target area. I wanted to have to defend something. I went with a sallet that is locked down like a great bassinet for safety reasons. But which I fight with a visor up and a perforated plate across the front of the visor, because I am fairly convinced, to be honest that you, generally speaking, would not have entered foot combat with the sallet fully closed and down if you had the choice. Based on looking at sources and just thinking about my own experiences. So I made sure that I had equipment that I could fence with my visor up, which one, gives me a very large space of target area that I have to account for, but also allows me to see and move and do things that they would want to do. So the suit was meant to communicate that. That this is my approach. And I think you’ll understand this as an armoured fencer, when you come up to fence another guy in armour and you look at his kit and you learn a lot about how you’re going to fence, looking to do it. I mean, even Bloss, even in unarmoured fencing, I used to joke that if in competition I’d look at my opponent and if his jacket was a deep, rich, dark black, I knew I was going to mop the floor with him because he was new. Whereas if somebody shows up and I’ve got this like dingy, tattered jacket that’s kind of grey where it used to be black and the elbows are rubbed out and like, that guy’s going to give me trouble. That guy trains a lot. But with armour similar. You see a guy and he’s got a huge, great helm that’s like a bucket. And he’s wearing a brig that is like a tube. And the proportions are all off. You say this is somebody who probably fences in like HMB, or Battle of Nations style battle. So they’re going to have a certain approach to how they fence, I’m going to need to take certain safety considerations when fencing that fencer, as opposed to when you see somebody come out and they’re in this perfect wasp waisted, really light gauged, handcrafted, tailored armour. You would be like, one, this guy’s a ponce like me. But two, you’re going to say this is somebody who is interested in coming in, the crossing of the blades. They’re going to have sword. They’re going to do certain things because anybody who’s going to dump that kind of money into this is also dumping time into training a certain way. So it’s that’s a huge part of it.

GW: Absolutely. OK, so we are heading a little close to time, so let me conclude with a couple of questions that I tend to ask all of my guests. The first one is, what is the best idea you’ve never acted on?

JN: Oh. Oh, that’s a good one. The best idea I have never acted on. The best idea I have never acted on is a two week intensive, living in barracks, comprehensive training camp, not for beginners, but for intermediate and experienced fencers. An environment where you get up at 6:00 in the morning and you run five miles in your cuirass, right? And then you come back. I’ve always wanted to do that. And I’ve never even sketched out the plan except in my head.

GW: OK, so what would the features of this event be? It would be two weeks in the woods somewhere, in barracks, very military?

JN: It would be two weeks in the woods, in the barracks, in the training hall, but it would be directed training throughout and it wouldn’t be workshop, seminar style training, 30 of us all doing the same thing. Maybe the conditioning would be. But the actual training would be, imagine sort of a two week long boxing gym with several instructors working through crowds of folks that are working on things they’ve been told to work on, but they’re mostly working on their own with some guidance and oversight, followed by fencing, lectures, discussions and so on. We have a non-two-week version of this, really, with the experience and the training and the lectures that Chidester and I have been talking about putting together really since literally the last day of Longpoint. And I hope we do act on that one. But one of these days, if somebody gives me a million dollars, I’m buying the compound and setting up the training programme.

GW: OK, well, you know my next question would be, was actually somebody gives you a million dollars. What do you spend it on and I think we just had the answer to that already.

JN: The dream, man. Spend it on the dream. I’ve thought about this a lot in part because in the 2014 video they asked me, what do you need for Longpoint and I said a million dollars to hire staff. So we’re not stuck driving our attendees as volunteers and whatnot. And I think for a competitive event that’s still the right answer. But for me, in a bigger picture, with a million dollars, I’d want to set up a permanent facility with a lot of great equipment, training tools, space to train, facilities for armourers and armouring and it would be a place to really push the envelope on things that we all dream of doing but real life keeps us from being able to do, because who’s going to prioritise that over their kids’ college education?

GW: Well I did. I totally did. When I moved to Finland in 2001, long before I had enough students to justify it from a business perspective, I rented 24/7 a full time training space just for us. And that was basically absorbing 100 percent of school dues, training dues and what have you for the first months. I’m not quite sure how I actually stayed. I think my girlfriend’s parents fed us, that’s probably how, but eventually the class sizes built up and it started to pay for itself. And then a while later, we moved into a bigger space. And it’s not a compound with outdoor areas and multiple rooms or whatever. It is basically just a warehouse space, but it’s a warehouse space where nothing happens except training swordsmanship or sometimes having parties where sword people come. And after training, we drink beer and chat and what have you. So it’s a sword space and it makes all the difference to what you can do. So, yeah, we did five day intensives and seven day intensives where people were training all day for these five days in a row. It’s not a two week, six a.m. to midnight sort of thing, because I’m not quite that hardcore. But you’re right, when you have the space, all sorts of things become possible that you just can’t do if you have to rent the space by the hour or by the day.

JN: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. So yeah. So I think that’s it. At the end of the day what’s so important to me about all of this, and it’s difficult to describe, but everything that I’ve done over the last couple of years and again, whether it works great or didn’t or pushed the right things or didn’t, whatever, has all been trying to achieve a couple of things. To me, these are living, breathing, martial arts or rather that need to be living, breathing, martial arts, I think I should say. These are things that, especially we’re looking at like the HMA world, these are generally martial arts that are died or at least the form that we’re trying to resuscitate has been dead or dormant for a long time. And so that means people have to have experience, they have to perform, they have to have a certain ethos around it. They have to have priorities that are, and this is really important to me, that are not about themselves. My priority in all of this is really this dead inanimate thing that doesn’t know who I am and doesn’t care. But it’s so important to me that that dead inanimate thing be brought back to life and be performed in a way that does justice and honour to it. Which again, is super bizarre, given that it’s not actually alive and doesn’t know that I exist. But despite that, it’s really important to me. And if I look at what the last two decades have been in terms of life’s work, it is very much in those lines. How do we get living people now to bring to life this thing that used to be? How do we develop functional skill? How do we create the right appreciation for the history behind it? How do we generate interpretations that aren’t complete and utter bullcrap? These things are all important. And it’s a life’s work for hundreds of people at least. And it needs to be, right?

GW: Absolutely. Yeah. The way I sort of encapsulate it in a sentence is, we serve the art. When I’m faced with a question like, do I do this or do I do that? I think, does this serve the art? If yes, do it, if no, don’t do it. If neither way, then do or don’t do it, it doesn’t matter.

JN: Right. Yeah. It’s a good way of putting it. Yeah I like that.

GW: Well it has been an absolute delight talking to you as always. Thank you for coming on the show and I hope to speak to you again soon.

JN: It’s been my pleasure Guy. Thanks for inviting me and I’ll talk to you again some other time.

GW: I hope you enjoyed my conversation today with Jake Norwood, remember to go along www.guywindsor.net/podcast-2 for the episode show notes and for your free copy of Sword Fighting for Writers, Game Designers and Martial Artists. Tune in next week when I’ll be talking to Lois Spangler about Spanish rapier, translating documents and many other things. To not miss that remember to subscribe to this podcast wherever you get your podcasts from. And this podcast currently has a five star rating on the Apple podcast app, which is very pleasing. If you like to add to that, there are currently four ratings and you could be number five. So if you would like to rate the podcast, that would be great. To support the show you can also go along to www.patreon.com/theswordguy where patrons get transcriptions of the shows as we get those transcriptions done and advance notice of who I’ll be interviewing next and the opportunity to ask questions of those guests, so you suggest a question and I’ll pass that along. And I would also like to take this opportunity to thank my existing patrons and new patrons for your support of the show. It really does make a big difference. So thank you very much. And I will see you next week.