GW: I’m here today with Rebecca Glass, who is a historical martial arts instructor and an avid baseball fan, and we’ll get into that in a minute. She has also appeared on the TV quiz show Jeopardy. So this interview should feel pretty low pressure. So without further ado, Rebecca. Welcome to the show.
GW: So how did you get into historical martial arts?
RG: So do you want the long version or the short version?
GW: I’m in no rush.
RG: So the long version actually starts all the way back in 2002, when The Two Towers came out as movie, I had seen Fellowship of the Ring and I hadn’t read any of the Lord of the Rings books, but I saw Fellowship of the Ring when it came out. I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but amongst Jewish people there is a tradition that on Christmas you have Chinese food and you go catch a movie. So that year that was our Christmas movie.
GW: My brother-in-law is a Jewish person from Chicago. So yes, we’re familiar with that.
RG: So when I saw Fellowship, I was like, OK, this is a good movie, and I’m glad I saw it, but it kind of ended there. But then when I saw The Two Towers, something clicked and I went, Oh my God, this is amazing. There’s something about the Battle of Helm’s deep that I was like, this is the best thing I have ever seen on a movie screen. So when I got home, after we saw the movie, I went to my computer and this is 2002, so there was no Facebook, there’s no Twitter, there’s no Instagram. But what you had were web forums. So I put Lord of the Rings in the search bar, and what came up was a Lord of the Rings fan forum site that I went and I joined. So like, I can’t get enough. And through that site, I met other people who were also interested in the same topics. And eventually, I got to meet some of these people in person and while meeting with them in person, one mentioned, hey, you know, I play with real swords and we have actual manuals. And you know, we learn the actual techniques. And I thought, oh my God, this is the best thing ever. I want to do this. But this was 2007 and I was in London at the time and my thought was, well, there’s no way this exists in the US because there’s no way we have the manuals. So it’s like, I want to do this, but I don’t think it exists in the US. And when I got back, I never really looked very seriously. And then a few years later, in 2014, my sister-in-law was looking for something to get me as a birthday gift. And my brother said, hey, she found this Groupon to go take sword classes. And we want to make sure you’re interested in it before we go ahead and get it. I’m like, what are you talking about? Of course, I’m interested. Like, have you not known me these last few years? So I had the voucher to take lessons. I signed up and I never looked back and they officially won me over on that first day when someone mentioned that there were competitions and tournaments.
GW: That’s funny. I laughed because back in the 90s we used to have to go to the US to find other people to play with. So the idea of somebody from the U.S. not knowing, I mean, there’s always been more of it in America than in the U.K.
RG: So I was thinking about it from a historic historical perspective where the actual manuals would be in museums in the U.K. or Germany or wherever, and maybe not so much in the U.S..
GW: Yeah, I mean, it makes sense, it’s perfectly logical. But of course these rich Americans in the 19th century went and bought all the manuals and took them to America, so half of them were in the States. Oh my God. So who did you start training with?
RG: So I started training with the New York Historical Fencing Association. That was the local group, so there was no thought going into it. It was just this is the local group. This is what’s offering sword classes.
GW: Good choice.
RG: That’s where I’m training.
GW: And how are you going to keep that up when you move to rural Pennsylvania?
RG: Well, fun fact. My husband, as I mentioned, used to live in the area, and he’s kind of responsible for starting the clubs that exist there.
GW: So you already have like clubs and stuff to go join.
RG: Yeah, there are a few different clubs in the area, not to mention that we’re actually not going to be that far from New York City. So we’ll be back frequently to keep running our classes as well.
GW: OK, so it’s a couple of hours, I take it. OK, now by European standards, that’s a very long way, but by American standards, that is next door. I understand that you have a completely different perception.
RG: I’m sure you’ve heard the saying that in in America 100 hundred years is a long time, and in England, 100 miles is a long distance.
GW: Yeah, exactly. Funny how that works. So, OK, so you’ve been training in New York, and I should probably mention that I don’t know whether this is the first time we met or not. But at Swordsquatch some years ago, you did this thing where you recited the Liechtenauer Zettel. And I couldn’t actually come and attend that because I was teaching across from it. And you very kindly gave me my own private demonstration of Liechtenauer’s Zettel and it was it was like this super medieval experience of having somebody just recite the thing in German. It was awesome, even though I don’t speak a word of German. So for the sake of listeners who may not have the specialist knowledge, so what are the Zettel? And if you happen to have any phrases still in your head that you’d like to repeat that the awesome.
RG: So I’m going to try and answer this and do the best I can. But the Zettel is basically a mnemonic poem that was meant to help people remember the various sword techniques in the Liechtenauer system. So the Zettel itself isn’t the instruction manual like, you know, in Fiore texts you have that passage and the picture and all that. What the Zettel does is it gives you these rhyming couplets that are meant to trigger your memory of what the glosses will then elaborate and explain, OK, this is what they’re actually talking about, how to do. There’s an argument that I actually quite like that the genius, I don’t know if that’s the right word, but the genius of the Zettel isn’t that it’s telling you that this technique exists or this technique exists, but that it organises it in a coherent way for what you do in a sword fight. If he does A, then you do B. If you do B and he does C, then you do D, and so on on down. I’m probably not doing this justice. But there is a book called Sword, Science and Society that kind of lays this out, with the idea that none of the techniques that Liechtenauer taught would have necessarily been secret techniques, but the way that the Liechtenauer system and the people training in the Liechtenauer system, the way that they used them tactically, that’s where the Zettel comes in.
GW: OK. Can you think of an example?
RG: So one of the lines I have memorised, the beginning of the Zornhau section is, “Wer dir oberhaut
Zonhau ort dem drawt,” which is basically if this guy oberhaus you, then you do the zornhau.
GW: OK, so it’s very clear, like the technique of the zornhau exists, but you do it against the oberhau.
RG: Yeah, that’s glosses go into more detail about everything.
GW: So it’s a bit like a rhyming sequence of like chapter headings to remind you of what all the different things are. And that sort of triggers your memory of the rest of the chapter.
GW: OK. I use physical forms the same way. So like, I have a longsword syllabus form where it takes you through these various techniques, but each one is supposed to be a reference to something bigger. So if we’ve got references to the dagger section, references to spear plays, references to pollax and stuff all built into this one longsword form. So it’s actually a medieval thing, right? You’ve got like the notion of like a string of pearls and each pearl gets bigger as you can add more stuff to it.
RG: The book that I was referencing also posits the argument that it’s possible that all the members of the Society of Liechtenauer may have crossed paths at university and had they been educated in the ways that people were educated back then, then they would have learnt Aristotelian logic and argumentation. And then that is noticeable in the way that the Zettel is put together.
GW: Interesting, so the book is Sword, Science and Society. This is shameful of me but I’ve not actually come across it who wrote it?
RG: I think the pen name is James Acutt. I know Keith Farrell helped distribute it.
GW: OK. All right. I’ll have a look and maybe put a link in the show notes so people can find it. OK, cool. All right. You mentioned that you were, like, really excited about the whole tournament thing, which is fine.
RG: I’m a dirty sport fencer.
GW: That is not a fair thing to say. My sword career began with sport fencing, like Olympic sport fencing.
RG: I never got the chance to do that.
GW: I went to my first fencing tournament when I was probably 13. I understand the whole tournament thing, I understand the attractions and the strengths and the weaknesses of them and you don’t have to apologise for liking them. It is quite all right. They have their place. So tell us more about what draws you to tournaments and how do you prepare for them?
RG: I’ve just always been competitive and I’ve always enjoyed sports. I’ve never been a really good athlete. I want to make that fact clear. I do a lot of tournaments and my wins are few and far in between. But I like the adrenaline rush I get when I compete. And with HEMA specifically, as opposed to doing another team sport like soccer, football or basketball, when you’re sword fighting, it’s you there in the ring, fencing. Every good thing you do, that’s on you. That’s something that you did that you had the power to do. And when you have a really good fight, it’s just such an empowering experience. It makes me feel like a total badass like, hey, I’m doing this athletic thing that I always wanted to do. And not only am I doing an athletic thing, I’m literally playing with swords. As you know, I’ve always been a pretty big sports fan and finding out that there were tournaments was kind of like, OK, here’s a way to marry my love of history and medieval history with my love of sports and I can combine the two that way, and I understand that not everyone gets the same things out of tournaments and not everyone enjoys competing. And I just want to say that that’s completely valid and I don’t want to be like, tournaments are the be all and end all of historical martial arts because they’re not. They’re an aspect of fencing in the community. It’s an aspect that I happen to really enjoy. But not everyone does, and that’s totally OK. It’s the same like some like vanilla ice cream and some like mint chocolate chip, which I don’t at all.
GW: No. Mint and chocolates don’t belong together.
RG: I don’t like mint. I have a really hard time with mint.
GW: Cleaning your teeth must be an unpleasant experience.
RG: Yeah, I get my toothpaste from the dentist.
GW: OK, so it doesn’t have mint in it.
RG: Yeah, it’s actually a really big thing.
GW: Really? Wow. I didn’t even know they made toothpaste without mint in.
RG: They do, you have to look for it. But it does exist.
GW: Well, we were talking before the recording started about the segues and tangents and what have you, and it never occurred to me to ask you about your feelings about mint. Very glad that they came out. OK, so you know, if you’re bringing like sweets or something to give to Rebecca, make sure they’re not mint. Understood. All right. So plain chocolate or milk?
RG: So I can’t eat dairy without getting sick, so that limits what kind of chocolate I can have.
GW: So that would be dark chocolate.
RG: Yeah, or unsweetened chocolate, like the pure cocoa you’d use to bake with. Or any type of vegan chocolate is usually OK, too.
GW: OK, well, because it’s very important because if people are going to be bringing you chocolate the next time they see you at a tournament because they’re listening to the show, it’s important is the right kind.
RG: I mean, if you want to bring the candy before a tournament, don’t bring me chocolate. Bring me gummy bears.
GW: OK, you’re a gummy bear person. Oh my god, I have a horrific weakness for things like that. I mean, I avoid them completely because if I take one, I have to eat the whole bag straight away and it’s just not good for me. OK. What is your favourite colour gummy bear?
RG: I don’t have a favourite colour gummy bear.
GW: Do you not? Mine are the green? Green are the best.
RG: I’d say there’s not enough difference in flavour for me to have a favourite.
GW: I guess it could be I’m thinking of the English version of the sweet, which has quite distinct flavours.
RG: The European gummy bears are better than the ones we can get in America.
GW: Wow. You heard it here, an actual Americans saying, Europeans do sweets better. I’m very glad you said that because we have very strong opinions about American sweets over here. My kids, every time I go to the states, they have this great long shopping list that they give me and I have to bring back… Like I go into these incredible supermarkets you have with these mile long avenues of candy, and I get the stuff and I bring it back and they’re always super excited and I give them the sweets and then they’re always a little bit, oh.
RG: The American flavours of Skittles are better than the British flavours of Skittles.
GW: And that’s a hill you’re willing to die on. I can see it in your face. OK, well, I will not argue with you about that because I shouldn’t eat Skittles either, because they have the same effect on me as gummy bears. I take one and I just have to eat the whole bag. It’s not good for me. OK, so that’s another little aside. So you’re a gummy bear person. Good to know. All right. Now a lot of people in the sword community, and I am definitely one of these. One of the reasons we like swords is that it doesn’t involve running around after spherical objects, right? I went through the British boarding school system where everyone is completely insane about ball sports and particularly team sports like rugby and football and what have you? And it was like, they’re all from another planet. They’re all so excited about this running around in a field, getting muddy and chasing this odd shaped object. And the relationship between that object and these white sticks and a white line is somehow important, and I’m expected to care. It just never worked for me. So it’s very handy that you are a massive baseball fan because maybe you can explain to me why people care about sports.
RG: I can tell you why I care about baseball. I can’t tell you why other people do. For me, there are a few different things that go on. So I like most sports, but baseball has always been kind of the biggest one for me. And there are a few reasons for this. The first is actually quite simple. Baseball doesn’t use a clock. So football, basketball, hockey, they all use a clock or a timer. It’s the most points in such and such minutes. And if you get to a point where, say, in hockey, you’re down by four goals and there’s 10 seconds left, it’s a physical impossibility for you to come back and win the game. But baseball doesn’t use the clock, so there’s always a chance that your team can come back and win. Sometimes this chance is really, really small and you really have to mess up. But we’ve seen it happen. It’s kind of the amount of possibilities of anything that could happen when something’s that open-ended leads to some really crazy drama. A lot of people complain about baseball games being slow and taking too long. A lot of that honestly just has to do with the TV deals and the fact that they have to do commercials at like each break instead of just going through. One of the reasons I like watching soccer is because there are no TV breaks and you just play straight through.
GW: Okay, cricket. One of the games I was forcibly exposed to and have no interest in whatsoever. Some of those international matches go on for days, literally days.
RG: Yeah, I’ve heard.
GW: No, no. Half an hour is enough. It’s more than enough, but you want to do this for like three days each or something. It’s ridiculous, but the people like it. I have been to sword events that went on for days and days and days and it was great. I guess if you’re really liking it, the longer the better, right?
RG: Yeah. And then the other thing that I like about baseball, in terms of American sports, it is the most historic. Its professional leagues, the earliest that started in the mid eighteen hundreds. I think the first professional game might have been in the 1870s, maybe the 1880s. So there’s all this history with the sport and it’s echoed sort of in the American consciousness that like if you say something like Jackie Robinson, everyone knows who you’re talking about.
GW: Everyone American. I don’t know who Jackie Robinson was. But I’m not American, so that’s fine.
RG: Jackie Robinson was the first black Major League Baseball player. He ended the colour barrier. And then most Americans will know who Babe Ruth is. If you say the World Series, they understand that you’re talking about the baseball championship. The nickname for baseball is the national pastime. Whether or not it currently is. I think currently the sport with the highest ratings is American football, which is the one I’m least interested in. But having that history, as someone who majored in history and has an interest in history, having that history makes it really attractive. And on that same note, baseball is also very stats friendly, and people have been keeping baseball statistics as long as there have been statistics to keep. And it’s really interesting what people do with statistics and the way that they can analyse the sport. And so it gets really, really nerdy.
GW: OK, so what do they do with the statistics? I mean, because you can’t predict the outcome of the game.
RG: Funny that, I literally used to run a website called You Can’t Predict Baseball.
RG: One of the radio announcers for my favourite team, the New York Yankees would have a phrase that he like to say: “You know, you just can’t predict baseball.” And it’s because baseball often subverts expectations, so you can look at the statistics and you say, OK, so this team has this pitcher going in. This pitcher hasn’t given up a run in like 20 innings or whatever, and he’s going to win the award for Best Pitcher the Year. And then you go play the game and your team knocks their pitcher out in the first inning because he’s having a really bad day. It’s that sort of element of completely subverting the expectations and then you had like there’s a team called the Chicago Cubs who went from 1908, they won a World Series and then they didn’t win another World Series until 2016. So my great aunt turned 100 in 2016, she passed a couple of years after, but she turned a hundred in 2016. So we’re talking someone who’s lived a very long, full life. The Cubs never won the World Series in her lifetime. That’s how long that drought was. I mean, I guess technically they did win the World Series the year she turned 100, but before that…
GW: Maybe it’s because she turned 100. They were just waiting for that happy day.
RG: I couldn’t tell you. And then the last reason that I really like baseball is because the team that I like now, all the teams that I root for, or at least the vast majority of teams I root for, I root for just because they were the local team. Well, growing up, there’s nothing more than that. But the baseball team I root for happens to be really good and has a chance of winning the Championship every year or almost every year.
GW: OK, so at least they are in with a shot. OK. The reason I wanted to ask this question is partly because us sword people are often asked by non-sword people why we care about swords. And fundamentally, it’s not an answerable question. Some people, when they pick up a sword, they just light up inside and other people just don’t and there’s nothing you can really do about that, I don’t think. And pretty much everyone who ever listens to this show is one of those people who when they pick up a sword, they just kind of go, “ooh”. But it’s interesting to see how, obviously, you like baseball just because you like baseball. But there are ways that it ties into all the other things that you’re interested in, like clearly, you like stats. And I’m guessing that one of the reasons you like the tournament scene in historical martial arts is because you can have like rankings of fencers and points and things.
RG: Yes and no. Yes, I enjoy having stats. I enjoy knowing that I have a rating and I can go and look at the stats. But on the other hand, it’s a really fine line between just enjoying it and having fun with it and then taking it way too seriously. So in baseball or any other professional sport, the stats are important because it impacts who a team decides they want to have on their team, who they trade for, who they sign as a free agent. So it has an actual physical consequence in terms of an athlete being able to have a job. But for us, we just play for fun. So as soon as it becomes that serious or that, “I’m starting to obsess over the rating”, it’s not a healthy habit to be in, so I have to pull myself back and say, OK, you know, just leave it. Don’t think about it. Just enjoy it, because I’m doing this for fun. Yeah, the exercise is great, the making friends is even better, but I’m really just doing this for fun. It’s not a professional career for me in any sort of way, and I and while I know that people have been able to make careers out of being instructors.
GW: Yeah, it’s been my full time job for 20 years.
RG: Yes, but I don’t know anyone who’s been able to make a full time job out of actually being a competitive fencer.
GW: No, the prizes aren’t there.
RG: And even if someone was able to do that, that person’s not going to be me because I go to tournaments. I have fun, but I don’t win a whole lot of anything. I have more tournaments where I’ve finished dead last or near to the last than I’ve had tournaments where I come home with any sort of medal.
GW: OK. So, you really like the tournaments but you are not actually driven by the medals.
RG: A little bit of me is driven by the idea of one day, you know, getting such and such medals, and I do have a couple, so I’m not like completely without. But I would probably do the tournaments anyway, because it’s fun and it’s empowering, and I get to see my friends.
GW: What I would like to draw attention to is the tournament is empowering, even if you don’t win it. And I think that is something that is largely misunderstood by people who don’t really know about tournaments and don’t like them because they assume that the winner is super empowered and everyone else who shows up is somehow like humiliated and disgraced. When actually, everyone who shows up, if they show up with the right attitude has the capability of going home empowered.
RG: And the right attitude is key. And I will admit, I have not always had the right attitude in the past. I’ve had tournaments that I expected myself to do really well, and then I ended up not doing really well and didn’t handle it in the way that I wish I had. But with the experience comes learning, and after taking some time to read up a bit on sports psychology and coaching, I’ve been sort of able to create a better environment for myself. At one point, I was having a hard time separating my success in a tournament from my self-worth as a person. And that’s a really bad place to be. And it was actually one of my friends who was standing in as a coach for me at a tournament I went to, I didn’t actually perform that badly in the tournament, but I didn’t perform as well as I wanted to, so I was kind of miserable. So my coach took me aside and asked, what’s going on? What is going through my brain? How do we get at what’s really the issue here and just being able to sit down and talk about it and come to the realisation that, OK, I’m attributing my self-worth to how much I succeed in a tournament. That’s destroying me, it’s destroying my self-esteem, and it’s destroying my performance in the tournament. Because as soon as I put that pressure on myself, I kind of freeze and I don’t just fence. So once I came to that realisation, I was able to say, OK, now that I know that this is what’s going on, I can deal with it and the majority of the tournaments I’ve done after that, even though I might not necessarily have won a whole bunch, I was able to enjoy them a lot more. I was able to have a lot more fun and I actually had some performances that I was really happy with, even if I didn’t come home with a medal. And so like, there is a lot of psychology that goes into it and a lot of sports psychology.
GW: So you mentioned that you read up a bit on sports psychology and that sort of thing. Is there a particular book you’d recommend?
RG: So the book that really helped me is called The Brave Athlete. I don’t have the author’s name in mind, there’s more than one, and it’s all the way at the other end of my apartment.
GW: Yeah, we will find it and we will put a link in the show notes so that listeners can go and find all the details.
RG: It’s actually a straight up sports psychology book that I picked up at Barnes and Noble. I think you guys have Waterstones. It’s like our equivalent of that. And so like, I don’t have any ulterior motive in promoting the book. It was just I was looking for a book on sports psychology. That’s the book I found at the bookstore. So I bought it. And it’s written actually primarily for endurance athletes, marathoners, triathletes and so on. But anyone performing in any sort of individual sport, I think, will really get a lot out of it because a lot of the concepts it talks about were directly applicable to my experiences in HEMA, including the being able to talk about self-worth and self-esteem and how that affects your performance, as well as, if you excuse the language they talk about having a fuck-it point where..
GW: You can say whatever the fuck you like on my show.
RG: But you reach this point in a tournament or race or competition, where you basically just stop trying and you just “do”, and it could be that, oh, you know, the first leg of the race went really poorly. And so you just you stop thinking about it, you stop trying and you just do it. And I have had these moments in fencing tournaments, and I know I’ve had those moments in fencing tournaments. And when you reach that point and you stop thinking and you just “do” a lot of times, that’s when you actually perform your best.
GW: Yeah, it goes a lot better that way because you get out of your own way. Your ego stops being involved with the process and you can just do the thing. The tournament scene is huge, there are tournaments all over the place these days. There didn’t used to be. And it has these various strengths and weaknesses. Given your druthers, what would the tournament scene look like for you? How would you adjust it to suit you to perfection?
RG: I hope people don’t kill me for this, but…
GW: They can’t kill you, you are armed with a sword, you will be fine.
RG: The only thing that I think I’d really like to change would be to have a more comprehensive or streamlined way of training judges. So any time you have a sport and I haven’t done any tournaments in the UK, I did Swordfish one year, but that’s my only experience of the European scene. But any time that you have human judges and this also happens in baseball where we have human umpires, you have human error. Now, a lot of the people that we say are like the best directors and the best judges are people that have a lot of experience and experience is a really good teacher and some people have experience. Previous Olympic fencing, refereeing experience. Some people just have a lot of HEMA experience, as well as some public speaking skills and so on. But in a lot of tournaments, in order to for the tournament to have enough staff to happen, you have the people competing in the tournament also act as judges for other pools. Which means that everyone who everyone who is a judge has to start somewhere. There has to be some tournament where they were the new judge and they may or may not have been taught the skills, so judging is a skill set, it’s a learnable skill set.
GW: Absolutely. I was taught it explicitly and deliberately by my fencing coach, when we were doing sport fencing, judging to see the hits and also presiding the fight. It was a part of fencing that was explicitly taught to us as this is a necessary skill if you’re going to have any kind of fencing career.
RG: And I know some people and some clubs have been doing a really good job in trying to train their club members to be able to judge. But if someone’s not interested in the competition scene, then there’s little reason for them to learn how to judge and then is that the best use of their class time? Probably not. But I know there are some tournaments out there that have their judges, be people who aren’t participating in the competition at all and can just focus on judging and some events that are trying to compensate judges in some way. The most common, if you’re staffing an event, you might get a registration discount. It’s probably the most common thing I’ve seen. And I don’t have the perfect solution, I don’t think there is a perfect solution unless someone comes up with an electronic scoring system that can account for the difference in quality of hit. But that’s not going to happen. No one has the time or the energy.
GW: Yeah. And the electronic scoring system destroyed sport fencing. “Destroyed” is the wrong word. It changed it out of all recognition, and it made it nothing like actual swordplay.
RG: Yeah. A couple of years after a started HEMA I took some sports sabre classes and we would bout at the end of class. And I’m so used to HEMA where for a hit to count, it has to have a certain quality. And then the sport fencing with tag me and the light went off and I’d be like, but that that doesn’t count. That was no quality. Yes, it counts. What?
GW: Yes, exactly. It is tag. With the electric sabres, it doesn’t matter if you hit with a flat or hit with the edge or hit with the point, it makes contact or it doesn’t. And if the accelerometer in the hilt says you’re going forward, it counts. It drove me nuts.
RG: So when I’m directing or refereeing I don’t want to see people bashing each other to smithereens, but I do want to see some quality. And I’m so used to throwing things out for no quality or having things thrown out for no quality that, when, all of a sudden it counts, I’m like, really?
GW: The other thing, when I’m directing fights. So, running a pool or whatever my idea is, everyone should spend maximum time fencing and minimum time dicking around with equipment. So I’m super strict about people showing up on the line ready to fence, and they get like a count of 10. And if I get to 10, it doesn’t matter if that like two feet away from the line, if they’re not standing there, ready, when I get to 10, they’re out, right? They forfeit that bout. And I tell all the fencers beforehand, you have to assume that I’m drunk, blind and biased against you. So you have to make those hits so clean that it would just be outrageous for anybody, even someone who’s blind, drunk and biased against you to not allow the hit. Because then they know. Every judge misses hits. And there’s always this sort of stuff happens really quickly, and you’re not sure. But, you know, if you’re completely in control of your opponent’s weapon and your point just goes to exactly where it’s supposed to go and it just sits there for a beat and there’s nothing they can do about it. And then you get out of there and they can’t possibly touch you, everyone can see it and everyone knows it worked. And so I don’t even try to be a perfect judge. I tell them in advance that I’m blind and drunk and biased against them, and it’s up to them to sell me every hit.
RG: The way I see it is, if I’m directing a pool, my primary responsibility is keeping everyone safe.
GW: Yes, of course.
RG: You know, making the correct calls, that’s number two, but number one is keeping everyone safe. And then only after that do I worry about, OK, was this the right call?
GW: Yeah, actually, I had you on my list of people to invite to come on the show for ages, but there’s a lot of people who do swords. And you sort of made your way to the top and I was about to send you a message and somebody on my Swordschool Discord Server said, Guy, you really should get Rebecca Glass on because she was at this tournament and she seemed like really cool. And she was like judging and directing and stuff, and she seems like the sort of person you should get on the show. I was like, I know I’ve met her. We should definitely get her on the show.
RG: Oh, I want to know who said that.
GW: All of my guests get invited onto the server, so you can come on the server and see it yourself.
RG: That really makes me feel so wonderful, so warm and fuzzy inside.
GW: But specifically, I was after the Zettel in German. That’s what made me think that you would be just the right person to come on. But what this person was saying about the judging and the directing, I think you probably have some ideas about how to do it well. Care to share?
RG: A lot of it for me, it comes down to public speaking and being comfortable with public speaking. I’ve done a lot of tournaments at this point and I’ve had a lot of different people direct my fights. I’m talking about directing here more than just being a line judge. All the people who I’ve really enjoyed directing my pool are people who all have experience with public speaking. Some are teachers. Some have refereed Olympic fencing or done a lot of refereeing for HEMA fencing. A lot of our ex-military where that’s kind of drilled into you, but the ability to communicate clearly and confidently helps a lot. It’s the difference between, “OK, well, red’s point kind of came in and it kind of landed on the wrist and then blue had this after blow to the head that was so and so quality.” It is the difference between that and then “Halt. Score. Red hit to head, two points red.”
GW: Yes, absolutely. Yeah, it’s like when you are navigating and someone else is driving, you may not be actually sure whether you should come off here or it’s the next junction or whatever, but you can’t say, there’s a 60 percent probability that we should turn left here, because they’re driving the car. They need direction. So you say, yeah, OK, we’re coming off here. So get into the left hand lane then off we go. And then, you know, two minutes later you say, ah, we’re actually on the wrong road. That’s my fault. You know, what we need to do now is take this next right hand turn. Mistakes are fine. But that confident delivery is absolutely critical.
RG: And then another thing that I do is before I start my ring and I have all the fencers and all the judges together is I like to. Where am I going with this? I had this idea and then it just leaked out of my head, so give me a minute. So and a lot of the US tournament scenes, unlike the Nordic scene, the director is allowed to overrule the judges.
RG: In some tournaments, they say the director is God, which means all calls are ultimately up to the director and the director can completely ignore the judges. And in other tournaments, the director really has to take the judges opinions and can only override them if it’s like something that’s super blatant. But I like to say that I’m looking for a consensus with my judges, especially if I have more than one line judge, but I’m looking for some sort of consensus. If there is no consensus, we throw the exchange out and re-fight it. It’s the fairest thing to do to the fighters. Yeah, you might have done this awesome technique, and I’m really sorry that none of us saw it. But the fairest thing to do is when in doubt, throw it out, fight another bout.
GW: Yeah, I agree completely. And be swift about it. I do exactly that, but I do it without the apology.
RG: And then I also like to tell my judges, move around the ring. Rotate your position between fights. In an ideal scenario, if you’re in a situation where you have more than one co-judge like, say, you’re a director and you have three people as your line judges, in the ideal scenario, you would have four people with you and then you have one sit out and then you rotate around. So then someone rotates out and the other person rotates back in and it helps keep everyone fresh. If you’re just standing in the same position the entire time for the entire pool, your eyes are going to get tired, your brain is going to get tired and you’re going to start making mistakes. So it’s a habit I learned really early in my first couple tournaments as a judge myself to just rotate throughout the pool. It’s OK to move around while people are fighting, so you have the better vantage point. And then when you see a point scored, you shout “point” and then you keep your head down so that you’re not unfairly influenced by the other judges. And so you keep your head down while the judge says “score” and you indicate the score, and then only after that do you look up.
GW: Interesting. It didn’t occur to me about the not looking at the other judges.
RG: The two people were most responsible for teaching me that I think were Stephen Chaney and Toby Hall.
GW: Because when I was taught classical sport fencing judging, you’ve got the two fencers, you’ve got the president or director, and then behind each fencer because they’re doing on a strip, which makes life a lot easier, you have two judges. And so let’s say you and I were fencing, the two judges behind me, you could literally cut my head off and they wouldn’t call anything because they’re only looking to see whether I hit you. And the two judges behind you are doing the same thing. So there isn’t that sense of being influenced. But what happens is, if it’s to 15 it’s maybe after every five hits, then the judges rotate. So you’re not always behind the same fencer because you might have favourites. That way, being influenced by the other judges isn’t really a factor because, yeah, you saw it or you didn’t see it, and that’s that. You’re not trying see two things at once.
RG: I don’t think anyone is consciously trying to be influenced by another judge. And I mean, assuming that they are, as a director, it’s clearly noticeable in some of the signals. One thing, then they look somewhere else and they change their signals. But I think there is, and I’m definitely sure that this has happened to me too, that there is that subconscious influence, whether we realise it or not.
GW: Yeah, we’re social animals and if everyone is saying one thing and you’re saying something else, it’s a difficult position to be in.
RG: And there’s that gap in time between when the action happens, when you call the halt and then when you indicate the score. And a lot can happen in your brain in that instant. This is just my opinion, but one of the things that I think that would help is limiting the time of that gap so that we call a halt to the action and then signal for the score as soon as possible. So your brain doesn’t forget what you just saw.
GW: Yeah, because I’ve had experience myself of calling halt or whatever and then forgetting why. Because human brains are weird like that. I get the attraction of having a machine that can’t make mistakes and they can’t lose its focus. But I think something is lost when you don’t have to demonstrate your hit. You just have to do it to the satisfaction of the machine and not actually demonstrate it.
RG: The absolute best directors I’ve seen and the ones that I would like to emulate are the ones that can call the action. And then tell you exactly what happened, why they’re calling what they call and that it’s a skill. It’s a learnable skill, but it is a skill that takes practise and experience.
GW: I teach it to my students because it’s necessary when even if you’re not in tournament, if you’re just fencing. You’re sparring after class or during class and you get hit, you need to know why you got hit and so you need to be able to wind back the hit at least a few steps back to see what happened. So the way we do is we have a group of three, one person watching, two people fencing. They fence to one hit and then of them says what they think happened, the other one says what they think happened, and then the observer says what they saw happen, and then they try to recreate what just happened, working backwards, maybe three or four steps from the hit.
RG: My husband did a similar drill in one of his classes that wasn’t exactly the same, but it had to do with the, you fence and then you try to explain what happened and then the coach or observer says what they thought happened. It works both as coaching practise and judging practise.
GW: Absolutely. Yeah. And it’s really useful also, because if you know what happened, you can then train to fix it. So what we what we then normally do is the person who got hit, you run that same exchange again and they get to counter the hit. Which just helps. And then things switch around and the next two people fence to one hit. And again, it’s very tempting, because we think in linear narrative, you start at the beginning and go to the hit, whereas that’s horrible for memory. It’s much better to start at the hit and work backwards because the hit will define what must have happened right before it, which defines what must have happened right before it. And it’s just much easier that way. So, OK, now I do have to ask, because people will be wondering, how did you get onto Jeopardy? What was it like and did the pressure of being on TV help you with pressure of tournaments?
RG: All right, so I’ll take this step by step, so the first, how did I get on Jeopardy? It’s actually really straightforward. I took an online test. Nowadays, you can take the online test whenever you want. When I did it, they only offered it certain days of the year. But you take the online test. If you score well on the online test, you get added to a pool to be invited to audition in person. You go to the audition in person, you do a mock Jeopardy game, you talk a little bit about yourself and you do another quiz. And if you pass that quiz, you’re in the contestant pool and you can be called anytime in the next year and a half to be on the show.
RG: So they do ask if you know anyone who has been a contestant on the show. At the time I knew two people. Now I know a whole lot more. And so during the in-person audition, they give you a whole package, and they do ask you for, you know, the interesting facts about you. So of course, I said, you know, I’m a trained swordsman. The process is actually really straightforward and there wasn’t anything special about getting on. I got on the same way any other contestant gets on by going through the audition process. In terms of what it was like, it was a lot of fun. It felt a bit like a dream, but OK, I did the thing. It’s a bit weird in that you record it in a TV studio, so when you’re recording it, you see the studio audience. The studio is not that big. I’m pretty sure there have been bigger audiences at finals in a HEMA event, depending on the event. So you’re in the studio and you’re recording, and it almost feels like you’re on a like a backlot studio tour. And this is a fun, interactive activity and it doesn’t really hit that, oh, hey, this is going to be on national TV or anything. And I’m not known for being camera shy. But if you want to talk about the pressure between Jeopardy and a HEMA tournament, for me, Jeopardy was easier. And the primary reason I will say this is because I’m good at trivia. I know I’m good at trivia. And a trivia competition does not, or at least it shouldn’t, involve the risk of serious lifelong injury from participation.
GW: Fair. Yes. No one’s going to break a bone on you.
RG: Yeah. So I’m already going into Jeopardy and I’m not worried about getting hurt physically, psychologically, maybe, but not physically. And I’m doing something that I know I’m good at. At least compared to the general population. In the actual trivia community, I’m OK. But like in the general population.
GW: There’s a trivia community? I know nothing about this. Tell me more.
RG: There are all sorts of trivia competitions, so I’m part of a thing called Learned League, which is a massive online trivia league. You have you have seasons of like twenty five days where you’re in your league and you go head to head with someone else answering trivia questions and then you award your opponent points based on how you think they will answer the questions. So there’s a bit of gamesmanship in there. And then in between the different seasons, you’ll have one day quizzes, which are a quiz on a one specific topic. So I’ve created one day quizzes on Tudor England and swords because, of course. And then there are also miny leagues which take like 10 or 11 days instead of twenty five days. Last year, I edited a mini league on diseases and pandemics, and it got a shout out in The New Yorker and I’m like, this is the highlight of my life.
GW: Just because this is an unfamiliar world to me, what would be a typical trivia question on swords?
RG: So. I’m trying to think of the ones I wrote.
GW: I mean, if you want to did them up, then I can edit this little bit out.
RG: So one of the easier questions would be this part of a sword is often erroneously called a blood groove, but it was meant for a different purpose. What’s it called?
GW: I know! I know! It’s a fuller.
RG: I wrote a question about the Princess Bride in the Dread Pirate Robert’s fight with Inigo Montoya, they mention Agrippa, Capoferro and Bonetti who were actual historical fencing teachers, and then I think the question was what weapon were they talking about? And the answer is rapier. And so it could be anything remotely relevant to swords.
GW: Yeah, but at some point it becomes hyper-specialised. So, what Rockwell hardness would you expect the midpoint of a sword from 1400 northern Italy to be? That’s not something that anyone’s going to answer. So how do you judge it?
RG: So when you write a one day quiz, you go through a testing period where you write your quiz, you submit the questions and then people that signed up to test the quiz get to play test. And they will give you feedback that, hey, I think this question is way too specific for a general audience. And then we also have an informal rating system that works kind of like movie ratings like G, PG, R, and so on, which the American ratings and saying that like is quiz is rated G it means you don’t really have to have specialised knowledge in the subject. Anyone can participate, whereas if it was rated R, it would be we’re expecting you to have familiarity with the subject over and beyond what any other person might have.
GW: Right. So like in the UK quiz show Mastermind, they have the general knowledge round and then the contestants get to state their specialised area and they get asked questions on that area like, if your specialised area is, James Bond movies, you might be asked really obscure question, like who was the cinematographer on Doctor No, for instance.
RG: Yeah. Mine would probably be Tudor England.
GW: Really? So I have to ask, have you listened to the episode with Ruth Goodman?
GW: OK. I think you might like it because she is a living history maven and does TV shows and stuff here, and she’s actually done stuff like cooked in actual Tudor ovens. She is really cool, I think you might enjoy that. OK, so why Tudor? I have a note here, to get a bit more granular about the kind of history you are into. And you’ve mentioned Tudor a couple times now, so what draws you to the Tudor period?
RG: It’s a good story. My freshman year of college, I read a book called The Making of Tudor England, so I already had some knowledge about Henry VIII at the time, but I didn’t really know anything about Henry VII. And this book, it’s not a terribly long book. The first two chapters were hard to get through because there’s a whole bunch of Welsh names, it’s just like names, names, names. But then, starting from Chapter three, it talks about the story of Henry Tudor and his life story, which is really fascinating. His mom is 13 when he’s born. His dad’s already dead, his mom’s 13 when he’s born, and they somehow both survived the birth. And then when he’s 14, he has to flee England to Britanny because he somehow ends up as the last Lancastrian heir, even though there were like 10 people with a better claim to the throne than he has. So he flees to Britanny. He lives in exile there. He avoids capture twice, once by, I think, dressing as a servant, once by feigning a stomach illness. And in one of these cases, he was like literally minutes from being captured. And if he gets captured, he gets killed. So it’s like life or death. And then when Richard III does Richard III things, it’s his mother and the widow of Edward IV kind of come together and catch a plot to have him invade and take the throne and then marry Edward IV’s eldest daughter and end 50 years of civil war. And he does this. He leads the invasion, they defeats Richard III at Bosworth, he marries Elizabeth of York, it was an arranged marriage. The two may have not ever met each other prior to the marriage, and it actually ended up being a really successful marriage. There is no record of him ever having any sort of mistress. I think they had like six or seven kids. Three survived to adulthood. One died as a teenager. And he his reign basically takes England from being a backwater medieval kingdom and then ends up being on the precipice of the Renaissance. The first Renaissance art in England, or the first Renaissance artist in England was an Italian artist that he patronised. And then it also helps illustrate Henry VIII’s strain, why Henry VIII was so concerned about having a male heir because England being in the midst of civil war for not having an heir was still in living memory when Henry VIII becomes king. And of course, you know, we all know the story of Henry VIII, and it’s actually really interesting that amongst his wives, the one that arguably ended up being the most successful, not in marriage, but post marriage is the one that gets least talked about or have has the least attention, and that’s Anne of Cleves. It’s the shortest actual marriage. And then when the king says I want to divorce, she says, OK. And she ends up being like one of the richest women in England, free to marry whoever she wants. She never marries again, but she’s free to marry whoever she wants. She’s invited back to court, and there’s something of a friendship between the two, and she’s often portrayed in the media as being, like, really simple, not necessarily dumb, but just like really simple. But the reality is that she had to have some brains about her to be able to end up in the position she ended up.
GW: I didn’t even know that about Anne of Cleves.
RG: Yeah, that’s the thing is, everyone knows, like Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, and then I guess people know about Catherine Howard because she’s the other, like, really tragic one. But Anne of Cleves gets glossed over a lot.
GW: Yeah, I suppose, yeah, because she’s just sort of shows up, they get married for a bit and then they get divorced, and that’s that. In the story of Henry VIII, it kind of comes across as a bit of a non-event, but actually there’s all this other stuff is going on.
RG: Tudor England and early Stuart England is kind of the height of absolutism as a form of government, that the king is, I wouldn’t say God, but the king has the you know.
GW: Well, I mean, the king literally stood up to God and said, no, no. What’s really amazing to me is because Henry VIII wrote some stuff against Lutheranism, the Pope gave him the title “Defender of the Faith”, even after he left the church, you’d think he would have renounced that, but the British monarch today still retains that title, which is insane.
RG: Here’s the fun part, is that while Henry left the Roman Catholic Church, he remained dogmatically Catholic his entire life.
GW: Oh, sure.
RG: The only thing he didn’t accept was the Pope being the head of the church. This made it really confusing for me when I had a test in a history class that I took in college and the class was on the history of Christianity. It wasn’t specifically on England, but one of the questions on the test was who was the first Protestant King of England? And they gave us Henry VIII and Edward VI as possible answer. And it was a it was a multiple choice test. And I’m like, I don’t know how to answer this because Henry left Rome, but the first actual Protestant king was Edward VI.
GW: What was the right answer on the test?
RG: I didn’t answer it.
GW: Yeah, because that’s obviously I mean, the answer they’re looking for is probably Henry VIII.
RG: But the actual correct answer is Edward VI.
RG: I was a freshman at the time. It wasn’t like I could challenge them or anything.
GW: OK, so there are a couple of questions I’d like to finish up on. The first of these is what is the best idea you’ve never acted on?
RG: So I did think about this one a bit, and I think my answer is so there is a chain, a coffee doughnut chain in the US called Dunkin’ Doughnuts. Have you heard that?
GW: We have it here.
RG: And so one day and you know, the website Twitter, I’m sure.
GW: Of course, yes.
RG: So one day and I have no idea what prompted me to say this, but one day I was just like, you know, there should be a restaurant called Drunken Doughnuts. And then the response I got to that from someone was “do not put a million dollar idea on this website.”
RG: So I’m going to go ahead and assume that was the best idea I’ve never acted on.
GW: OK, so you would open a restaurant chain with doughnuts and alcohol? I think that’s a great idea.
RG: Owning a restaurant is never a good idea. It’s the quickest way to take a billionaire and make them a millionaire is to open a restaurant.
GW: Yeah, yeah. But we’re not talking about opening a restaurant. We’re talking about opening a chain of restaurants so you can take a trillion dollars and become a billionaire overnight. All right. That’s not what I was expecting, but yeah, that’s good. You have succeeded in surprising me. So the best idea is to open a doughnut restaurant serving alcohol. All right. What kind of alcohol would go well with a doughnut?
RG: That’s a great question, I have no idea.
GW: Because I like doughnuts and I like alcohol and to me, doughnuts are associated more with like tea or in America coffee, perhaps. Although coffee and doughnuts doesn’t work for me because to me, doughnuts are like an afternoon thing. Beer wouldn’t work, wine, maybe.
RG: Possibly like mimosas or prosecco.
GW: Possibly or actually you’d have to adjust the doughnut recipe, but you could make pairings of single malt whiskies with specific kinds of doughnuts. Whisky and chocolate goes together really well. So a really creative chef could maybe come up with doughnut variations that actually work really well with whisky. OK.
RG: Totally. That would totally work.
GW: All right. And you’re not claiming any kind of sort of patent or copyright on that idea, so anyone listening can go and do that. We’re happy to act as consultants, but OK. All right. So my last question is, what do you think is the most urgent thing we could do to improve historical martial arts worldwide?
RG: So I did think about this one a bit, but I think the answer that I settled on was that if I had resources to spend, it would be devoted to education. School programmes, museum programmes for students, just a way to get the information out there that, hey, this exists. This is what we do. This is what we look at. Even if swords themselves are not the thing that you’re interested in learning the research skills, the analytical skills, even learning the physical skills or how do you take instructions on a page and then apply them physically? These are all skills that are usable in other areas as well. And all things that can help a developing brain. And with education, I think you get more people interested. But you also you end up with better fencing. You end up with more resources to draw upon, you end up with better preservation efforts. I mean, I have to say, for the most part, you know, someone digs up a sword. People get excited about it. Pretty good about it. But I generally think for a lot of things that education is the best way to go.
GW: OK, so you’re thinking particularly school programmes? Like getting getting kids when they’re young and getting them addicted to swords early.
RG: I mean, I’m also a fan of adult programmes. You just tailor them differently.
GW: What I really like about the idea is at the moment, what we’re doing is mostly seen as a fringe pursuit. So any time like a university has a professor or person on staff who is studying swordsmanship or armed combat or something like that in some kind of specific way that involves actually recreating it, that’s like a major step forward for us, right? Because in a sense it legitimises what we’re doing. It puts it into the mainstream. And not that I particularly want sportsmanship to be mainstream, but having it to be a normal course of study means it has access to the same sort of resources as other areas of study. That would be really helpful.
RG: If I tell someone that I do HEMA, I want them to be able to know what HEMA is or historical fencing. Yeah, as opposed to, you know, one of the common response responses I get is, “Oh, so you do LARP?” I don’t want to drag on LARP. If that’s your thing, that’s great. It’s just that’s not what I do.
GW: I experience the same thing. Most people think that my job must involve training actors to do stage fights, which I’ve done a little bit of, but it’s really not my jam. Because swords have to be in the movies, because they’re not real.
RG: Actual education in HEMA will lead to better stage fighting and better swords in the movies.
GW: That is that is absolutely true. But the notion that someone would I mean, you mentioned earlier that not a lot of people do this for a living, but people are consistently surprised that I teach people how to fight with swords for a living and don’t have a day job. But I’m like, I haven’t got time for a day job because I’m far too busy swinging swords around. OK, so your notional programme would involve museum visits and school programmes. Are you thinking of getting it on to maybe the high school curriculum as a subject?
RG: So I’m not opposed to getting it on the high school curriculum, but in the U.S. and a lot of places, you might have a hard time convincing schools to say, let’s have kids sword fight on school property.
GW: This is true. Well, they could do the theory side.
RG: Yeah. I went to public high school, and that’s public in the United States sense, in Europe it would be like state school and our school had a fencing team. I was not on it. I did another activity that happened the same time of year and I at the time, I also didn’t realise that fencing is something I might be interested in. But we had, you know, we had a fencing team and fencing is acceptable and respected and all that.
GW: And many places have wrestling teams that wrestling teams. They have wrestling and they have fencing. And if you put those together, you get longsword.
RG: Really, the biggest issue that a lot of schools have with wrestling is that they tend to be a boys’ team only. So in the state that I grew up in, if there was no girls’ team, then girls could compete on the boys team, OK, whereas fencing had a separate men’s team and women’s team. I know in other states, wrestling is a much bigger sport than it was in the state that I grew up in. My high school had a wrestling team, but it was not the most popular sport.
GW: Yeah, but it just strikes me that from a liability perspective, if you’re letting kids wrestle with them, poke each other with foils, then there is a way in there to get them to do historical martial arts, particularly if you get the history teacher involved.
RG: I think it can be done, you just have to be careful about how you go about it.
GW: Well, that’s true for many things isn’t it? Like showing up for tournaments, you can do it but you’d better be careful and get your head in the right place for it. Brilliant. Well, thank you very much indeed for joining me today, Rebecca. It’s been lovely to see you again.
RG: Yeah, it’s been wonderful. Thank you for having me on.