GW: Hi, everyone. This is Guy Windsor, also known as The Sword Guy, and I’m here today with Airrion Scott of the Mid-Atlantic Society of Historical Swordsmanship, and he’s quite well known for his Italian rapier instruction and his participation in rapier tournaments, and the like. I first met Airrion at Lord Baltimore’s Challenge last year, and we never really got to have a proper conversation then. So, I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to make up for that lack. So Airrion, welcome to the show.
AS: Thank you, Guy. I appreciate you having me, man. Thank you so much.
GW: So, Airrion, what made you want to start historical martial arts and how did you actually get into it?
AS: Well, that’s hilarious. I got into historical martial arts based on my involvement with a group called the Saber Legion here in the U.S.. They’re a lightsaber combat group, primarily Star Wars fans and fanatics.
GS: You’re kidding.
AS: No, not at all. I got involved with them maybe two years after their inception. And then I went to a couple of practises. I became the second president here.
GW: I just I just have to do this. [Lightsaber noises]
AS: See it’s these kind of things that really bring us together. So they’re a full contact combat group. Tens of thousands of members worldwide. In the U.S. they’re serious, they’ve been on news outlets, local and national. They’ve had their time to shine. Guess the closest analogue will be Ludosport over there in France.
GW: I need to write a lightsaber book.
AS: Yeah, absolutely. There’s nothing stopping that. Except maybe Disney. What people don’t understand about that, especially in HEMA, I’ve found, they either don’t really want to embrace that side of their nerdiness or they decry it because it’s not “real”. Well. One could argue that what we do when we go to tournaments or sparring isn’t real. So let’s get rid of that. I was involved with them, I’d been to a couple of tournaments. I had done some fan fiction writing for years. I’m a Star Wars nerd at heart. I’m such a nerd that the last three movies I loved.
GW: I loved them!
AS: My man. Thank you.
GW: Okay. The last one disappointed me. There were some characters that should have had more screen time, but yeah, it was a return to a proper Star Wars-iness.
AS: Yeah, exactly. I mean, if you love it, you’re going to love it. You know, you’ll have your favourites obviously. But, you know, I think what happened with that was people forgot that they already had a childhood so you can’t let anybody else ruin it. But I digress. I was doing that and I did OK for my standards, having no martial arts background whatsoever, just coming from a purely fantasy and media driven love for swordsmanship. And I said, you know what? I got to get some sort of training. I didn’t do as well as I felt I should have done, based on my initial visibility in that club. So I said, let me do some searching because there’s got to be something that I can learn. Now, we rewind back to, let’s say, 2004, 2005. You know, I do independent searches. There’s a guy that wants to teach foil. He’ll give lessons. But I never got over that hump to get out of my skin and admit that I didn’t know anything and then go and get some instruction. So I let that opportunity pass. And then you fast forward. I go in these tournaments and I said, I’ve got to find somebody that will teach me how to use this. And this is like a rapier from my very limited understanding at the time. So I said, let me find somebody that actually teaches rapier.
GW: So you thought the Rapier would help with a lightsaber?
AS: Absolutely right.
GW: You are the first person I have ever met who took up rapier to improve their lightsaber fighting. That’s unique.
AS: And they want me to come back and I want to go back. But it’s weird, I got involved in HMA and I just loved it because, again, it speaks to that media fantasy driven part of me that brought me to it in the first place. It started with Star Wars when the prequels came out. You know, we saw Anakin and Obi Wan just doing all the flourishes. And, you know, we saw Darth Maul and those guys in the second one. Or the first one – Phantom Menace.
And, you know, I just wanted to stay in that. But then I started doing rapier. Now what they use at the Saber Legion are polycarbonate tubes that don’t have any flex. Obviously, when we do rapier, you need that flex because we don’t want to break our toys. You know, the ones that are across from us in the ring, we don’t want to break them. So I had to find a more percussive way to do it. And that’s how I got into sabre. You know, I might delve into side sword when it comes to that, also, a lot of people that do longsword do very well at TSL. A lot of people that do side sword. People that do kendo. They do extremely well. And that lends to the makeup of the analogue. I mean, you have one right there with you. You know, you can’t really worry about edge alignment, but you can worry about your body mechanics and how to move in the ring and move around a weapon. I haven’t been to a TSL event in a long, long time because I don’t feel I’m where I need to be to really demonstrate what I’ve learnt, if that makes sense, because, because I’m in HMA now and I’m starting that path and it’s just so addictive, like, OK, I learned this lesson or this text is awesome or I did this well at this tournament, now I’ve got to defend that medal at the next tournament, so let me keep training for that. When they have their national tournaments, my last opportunity to do something with them would have been at Combat Con last year in Las Vegas here, but they were also running a HMA tournament so my loyalties been split. My attention would have been split. And I know I wouldn’t have done as well as I wanted to do it either so I kind of backed out of both. But yeah, that’s a long story short. Sorry. That’s how I got my start in HMA, man, just loving Star Wars.
GW: It’s clear you love rapier because, listeners you can’t see this, but tattooed along Airrion’s right forearm there is a rapier, very clear, and then a sabre on the left.
AS: It’s kind of my accountability piece, Guy. I can’t walk around with this on me if I don’t know how to use them. So if I’m walking around at an event with my club t-shirt on. Like, what are you studying? I just do that. [Points to tattoos] I’m OK. But I’m getting better, you know? And I think that’s the biggest thing for me.
GW: I’m sure we can find plenty of skin surface for a longsword there too.
AS: Well, then see that it’s funny that you say that the closest I can come to that percussive little weapon is going to be sword and bucklers. So we’re starting on 1.33. I’m actually taking a couple of online lessons with David Rawlings, your countryman over there. But we’re starting at my club. Once we come out of the quarantines and can safely operate again, we’re going to be starting a unit on that. My club will then expand to the study of six weapons over two centuries. Which is 1.33 rapier, which I help to instruct, Italian duelling sabre, Italian duelling sword and longsword as well.
GW: What kind of rapier are you doing? Is it specific to a particular treatise?
AS: Well yes. At the club we study strictly Fabris and the translation that Tomasso Leoni provided some years ago that keeps coming up. We just got the Vienna Anonymous also. But that’s not required reading, but we just strictly do that Fabris as far as the text study’s concerned. And that’s why I love my club because for the two hours that we’re there a week, we’re studying this treatise. But Larry Tom, who founded the school back in 2000, he doesn’t say, just learn this because this is the best. He has no illusions and he’s been practising martial arts and forgotten more about any weapon that you can think of than I could ever learn with dedicated study. So he says, as long as you stay in the books, if you’re doing HMA, you gotta stay in the books. And I firmly believe that.
GW: That’s where the “H” comes from, right? That’s what makes it Historical Martial Arts.
AS: Yeah, absolutely. It should. You know, and again, if you look at it as, maybe not the end all be all, but a supplement to your training. You’re free to learn from every other book. But I feel that you absolutely have to have an experienced person who’s not only experienced with the material, but experienced with reading these specific materials to know how to interpret them and how to show you how to look at it. So you’re not necessarily aping somebody else’s interpretation because that’s what it is. To me, interpretation is your personal language, your personal expression of the information you take in. So at The Clash, we’ll fence Fabris all day. We’ll teach it. We’ll go plate by plate. We’ll go that way. But then when it’s time for free sparring, OK? I saw this in Thibault I want to try out or the Alfieri guard. I want to try that out. We’re very open when it comes to that and I think that his approach to treating the study when you’re there to study it bleeds over into anything else you want to study when it comes to these weapons. If you want to do it conscientiously – there’s people that will never, ever crack a book and that’s fine for them.
GW: Honestly, I think a lot of my readership, the people who buy my books, because I tend to be writing interpretive mostly. I write these books so they don’t have to go reading old treatises. Because some people just don’t want to do that. Other people use the books as sort of a gateway into the treatises, which is what I hope they would use them for. But for a lot of people, they want to show up and they want to fight with swords and they want some indication that they’re doing it in a kind of useful and authentic way. But they don’t want to be doing all that academic stuff. They want to be swinging swords around and that is perfectly legitimate. So long as there are people around who have done the reading then the stuff they are doing is likely to be OK.
AS: Right. And I think that’s one of the beautiful things about what we study with HMA is that it has room for all those approaches. If you just want to be sportive and if you train classical foil or epee or sabre and you want to pick up a different analogue and do that same thing, well, people will still face you, they’ll train with you, obviously. If you want to stay in the books and never, ever show up at a tournament, hey, we need you too. I have your book on Italian Rapier. I picked up Francesco Loda’s book, and it’s clear that both of you have a strong grasp of the material that you use to write the book. And I think a conscientious mind, a serious student of the art, will look at that and say, you know what? I want to read what they read. But at the same time, the material that you present wisely and smartly appeals to a broad enough base to where they can take your book and get fulfilment out of it, whether it’s learning movements that they weren’t sure that they could pull off or understanding terminology, understanding relationships, between themselves and space and around a weapon. So, in and of themselves, the interpretive texts are great. For example, I’m doing my lesson with Mr. Rawlings on 1.33, and he said, pick up the Royal Armouries translation. You pick that up. So I did, I have the hard copy. We go from that.
GW: Jeffrey Forgeng’s translation.
AS: Exactly right. I have that. So but at the same time, not everybody has access to that or has the resources to speak with somebody that’s gone over that specific manuscript, knows the context behind it, because that’s super important to me also, knowing the context behind it, to be able to properly inform people what those words are saying. But in class, we’re going to use Stephen Hands’ book on 1.33 which is an interpretation of the translation, from what I understand.
GW: Oh, that’s Stephen Hand and Paul Wagner’s Sword and Shield?
AS: Exactly right. So we’re going to use that for class purposes. But again, what I try to tell everybody in our class and anybody that comes up for it, don’t take your class as the end all be all because it’s different from other organisational pursuits. There’s very little oversight as to what we do organizationally. Interpretations come as they come. There’s no living master to where we can say, hey, is this what you meant? So it’s incumbent upon us as practitioners to take what we do in a group and supplement it with our own personal walks. I think about the stuff all the time, but by no means am I a scholar. I’m very clear to make that distinction. I like to think I’m more than intelligent when it comes to this sort of thing. But that’s because I peserverate over it. I think about it day and night. I watch these movies and I watch them over and over. Of course, you can probably guess my favourite duel is Princess Bride, there are a very few people that aren’t familiar or don’t like it, and that’s fine by them. But for me, I’ll watch that scene over and over. I’ll watch the 1980 Excalibur over and over and over. I’ll watch Bob Anderson’s choreography from the original Star Wars and compare it to what they did with the prequels and the things that they did with Kylo Ren. Talk what you want, but those look like some legit longsword guards that he was using.
GW: Think of the Yoda versus Count Dooku fight in one of the prequels. A friend of mine, Stefan Dieke, who’s a German longsword instructor, got all excited when that movie came out because there’s stuff in there that looks like Zwerchhaus, Yoda’s doing Zwerchhaus!
AS: That’s what I’m talking about, those of us that that really take it to heart and embrace it for what it is, don’t try to make it any more or any less than what it is, can then enrich other aspects of our viewing specific to this. I watched Excalibur and I was in love with that version, the one that was shot over there in England, the one that came on the 80s where Patrick Stewart was Leondegrance.
GW: Yeah. And they shot the whole thing in actual armour. They were in armour all day.
AS: Right. And then you got people that will say, well that armour’s not accurate.
GW: Of course it’s not. King Arthur was a sixth century king. He would have been rolling around in, you know, at a mail hauberk. And that’s about it, and a pre-Norman cap-thing. He’s not got a full plate armour.
AS: Yeah. But if you look at it for what it is, it’s a great story. It’s a fantastic legend and the set pieces were amazing. All the fights when Arthur was trying to get the warlords together, all their armour was black and dingy. Then Camelot comes around everything is shiny and bright. Then you have the corruption of Guinevere and Lancelot. And then there starts to be a patina over everything. It’s all fantastic. And I think that people let the world dull their love for this stuff, and then that’s when we come to the varying personalities that proliferate our pursuit.
GW: I think if you look at the actual fights in that film, they are not good representations of what we now know mediaeval combat was really like. But that’s not what the movie is for. It’s not supposed to be a treatise on historical fencing. It’s supposed to be a work of art, which tells a particular story in a particular way. And I would agree with you, it is an absolutely fantastic film. It is quite easy to let when you have specialist knowledge in any area to let that ruin things. Well, I was watching a film with a friend of mine who’s a computer programmer, and it all revolves around this particular, special computer chip that was some magical chip that did amazing things and people were killing each other to get it. There’s a special word for it – for the thing that everyone is chasing in a movie, “McGuffin”. That’s it, thank you. And this guy sitting next to me and he goes, “But that’s just a” and rattles off the specific technological specification of that chip. And it’s just like some memory chip from five years ago. How many people are going to know that? And I didn’t care. I was enjoying the film.
AS: You so didn’t care that you don’t even remember the name of the thing he told you, it went in and out. Yeah. On the other hand, when it’s done right, I harken back to the Star Wars thing. Empire Strikes Back. The evacuation of Cloud City. The extra in the background is running around with the ice cream maker machine because that was his prop. Now. It could be something to where somebody is watching with you: “That’s just an ice cream maker, you know”. Of course, they’re also in space. What do you want? Now, it’s something that’s beloved, like people are cosplaying as this guy, there’s ten or eleven people at a convention dressed as this with guy with ice cream makers. Now, this can be a wonderful thing and I think it’s all what we do with it and what we choose to enrich ourselves with that makes it good or bad, I think.
GW: Yeah. It’s like, you know, in Return of the Jedi, they have these kind of computer things on their arms so they can communicate. I went to the Star Wars exhibition that was touring around Europe maybe 10 years ago, and I got a good close up of Leia’s costume. I think it was Leia’s costume. And she had this thing on her arm. And one of the things that was actually attached to it was half of a three metre Stanley tape measure case. And I’m a woodworker, I can spot a Stanley tape measure. And that was they’ve taken half of a Stanley tape measure case, slapped it on her arm and painted it. It was genius!
AS: But we forgive them. I think that especially now I like to think of myself as representative of a unique niche in this already niche pursuit. I’m an older guy who loves his nerd stuff and loves the things that he loves. And I’m coming into HEMA with the discipline and I hope the maturity that age and experience brings. But also I’m coming in where there is I sense a huge transition coming about because we’ve got folks like yourself and like I mentioned, David, you know, Pierre Marco over there with you, Fran. On my side. Norwood, you know, folks like that. They’re generational, as far as what they’ve brought to this pursuit, I feel like I’m on the cusp of being either third or fourth generation. To where I’m starting to get interviewed by people that came before me and I was just talking to my partner, (I was extremely nervous before coming on here,) and she says, well, you talk this up. This is where you wanted your fencing to go when you showed up at class. When I first showed up to my first class, I had leather work gloves and a thick sweatshirt. That was my kit. I had my helmet. I had my mask from TSL, but that was it. It was literally stripping myself down, like sort of like an initiative thing, like the university. If you want to do this, you’re going to have to be humble first and foremost. And that humbling is going to consist of in part publicly admitting what you’re lacking. It’s not just the knowledge, it’s who do I talk to? Like, what do I bring? Where do I go to buy this stuff? What do I read? I had to really come to grips with everything I didn’t know. A younger me 20 years ago would have never been able to do that. Hence me not going to the foil coach. So it was something that, OK I love Star Wars, I love this lightsaber thing that I’m doing, but I need to get better. No one around here knows, and this is just made up stuff. But this looks like a sword. People know how to fight with swords. I got to find that person that knows how to fight with swords to see if they’ll teach me. One Internet search later, four years later, and I’m talking to you. This is a great thing to me. It’s nuts, man. It really is. Because, you know, it’s one thing to see you guys online and read your offerings and take you and not bring you past the fourth wall, as it were, you know, kind of treat you as a commodity. But then when you shake your hand, when you meet, when you look in your eye, you see you have the same concerns. You have the same love for fencing. You have the same ancillary things outside of fencing that attract you. It’s a very humbling and resetting experience. Like I said, this is crazy. You’ll hear me say that a lot. It’s crazy to me. My partner just shouted to me, “You said same thing when you won your first gold.” I think having the mindset is what keeps me excited in this. Kudos to you and all the content providers, all the people that do the serious scholarly work that shows your love for it. Because if I am to have any connection with you – for me, the minute something feels like work, I stop enjoying doing it. Now that’s not to say that I’m not aware of the work that has to go into enjoying a thing. But this is your livelihood, folks that are teaching six, seven days a week who are putting out these books, whether you would do it for the love or not, that’s questionable. But the fact that you can make something off of it shows that you have a respected, valuable voice, your insights are valid and people hunger for this kind of stuff. And to be noticed. I don’t care who you are. If you’re in this world, you want to get noticed by the people that that came before you. So. Thank you, sir. I really appreciate this opportunity.
GW: You are more than welcome. And, you know, because you started relatively recently I thought I would ask you if you have any words of advice for beginners who are just starting out. You know, people like me, I’ve been doing this for a while. My first historical fencing club was founded in 1994. So it’s been a really long time since I could realistically call myself a beginner. I try and stay in touch with what it’s like to be a beginner by taking up new things and screwing things up a lot, but you’ve been a beginner more recently, so what would you say to someone who is thinking of taking up historical martial arts as a pursuit?
AS: What I would say to them, honestly, is you kind of led into it, Guy, is have that inquisitive nature and remind yourself that there was a day when you walked into the club with little more than work gloves and a sweatshirt and people brought you onto that. So honour that. I would say to figure out what your end game is early and have that goal be mutable. If you want to be a scholar, then be a scholar. Set your sights towards that end where I’m going to put forth the schooling and learn the languages and, you know, talk to the people. If you want to compete, my advice is going to be the same advice that I received from Richard Marsden a couple of years ago when I first met him. Fight as many people as you can from different areas, from different places, fight as many as you can, because, quite frankly, when I’m at the club, I tend to fence tendencies, because I see them all the time. I know if somebody brings their front shoulder forward that they’re probably going to come in for the lunge. So I need to back up a lot, to make the lunge and do the parry move. So get out of the habit of being comfortable. Get out of the habit of being comfortable fighting tendencies. Go fight strangers, fight as many as you can. And to take every interaction as a lesson, every single one. You have to be selfish in this pursuit. And that’s not to say be cutthroat by no means. But you must be selfish in that everything that you go through, every interaction that you have, even if it’s with a vendor, that’s an opportunity for you to learn. You don’t get better at this if you don’t stay an active learner. So be that. If somebody kicks your tail at a tournament 10 to one, then, hey, how did you get me those nine times? I know what I did was right for the one point was great, but the other nine times. How did you get me? I’m not saying prostrate yourself in front of these people, but make sure that you’re a good learner, a really good student, and that’s of life, not just of the books or of a physical technique.
GW: OK, that’s sound advice. So, if you’re doing all this fighting, everyone I interview has pretty strong opinions on this subject and I want you to express yourself freely and remember that if you do go off on a great long rant and start swearing like a sailor, we can edit anything out you don’t like. OK? So fencing equipment. What are your thoughts on the current state of fencing equipment and what should be better? What is already good? What needs to be fixed? What are the risks, etc.?
AS: OK, fencing equipment, I am staunchly on side of not necessarily, the more the better, but the best, the better. I have faith that there’s a lot of people in this field, especially as young as we are, that have done this sort of research, that are experts in their field of clothing and protection and kinesthesiology and sports medicine – sort of have faith in that and protect yourself. Very few of us get paid to do this. This is not a matter of life and death. And you want to be able to come back tomorrow and do it. So, get the high rated mask, know what your weapons are and do the research, be open to suggestion. Swap out different pieces of kit. I’ve gone through no less than three jackets in four years. And I know people that keep their jackets. I first got one from an SCA outfitter that was largely denim. But I’ve found that I wash my gear all the time so that material shrank. So going from there, I ordered a Gajardoni when they were still doing it. Very beautiful, but I found that the finish would matt up when I washed it. Again, I’m going to keep my gear clean because that’s just me.
GW: I wish that was everyone.
AS: Me too. Oh, my God. Me too. So I started to grow out of that, from just the muscle that I packed on and the weight that I gained from being in a great relationship, you know she cooks. So I had to upgrade. My current jacket right now is from José out of High Hill Pants. It’s a fantastic jacket. It looks great. I think that’s the key piece of it is to have the jacket because a good jacket will span you across different weapons systems. And I think confining yourself to a weapon system, if that’s your thing, by all means, but you’re really missing out on the depth and the breadth of what this pursuit can offer and even how it can inform your other fencing.
But I think if you’re well protected, you’re not worried about your fencing, so to speak, because, OK, you’ll see, especially in tournaments, if somebody has got a light spot on their jacket or they’re not protected, they’ll favour that area. For somebody like me, that’s a tell. I’m going to go for that all day and get you to move how I want to. And just for me psychologically, if I know that my gear’s subpar, I’m going to be worried about that. And again, it’s going to inform my performance. Luckily, I have a partner who I like to say is my patron and my squire, because she sees me in gear and she says, oh, no, that’s not going to work, we’ve got to get you the better one. And is it ostentatious? Yes. But isn’t what we do already ostentatious?
AS: I’m going to say, yeah. I mean, this is not something that everybody can or chooses to do.
GW: So, I mean, are you actually confident that, for example, a fencing mask will keep you safe when fencing rapier?
AS: Yes. Only because I try to have an understanding of my opponent and context is everything. You have to read the room. Obviously, accidents happen, but we are in an assumed risk pursuit, Guy, I mean, when we go to class or put on the gear, pick up a weapon, you are assuming a certain amount of risk, right? I know that I’m assuming less risk if I have a mask on versus if I don’t. So I’d rather have the mask and operate secure in the knowledge that accidents happen as opposed to willfully putting myself in a place where I can lose an eye. Are you kidding me? Yeah, eye patches are fetching. But, you know, I work for state government. That’s going to bring up a whole bunch of questions I don’t feel like bringing up, you know?
GW: But also you’re allowed to wear an eye patch without losing an eye first. So you can have that fetching pirate look without maiming yourself.
AS: Rather have it and not need it, right? But yeah, I’m firmly on the side of gear I would like. I’m not even going to touch the Holy Grail question of the glove situation.
GW: What do you use for fencing rapier? Glove-wise
AS: I use the SPES padded gloves. They’re the grey models with the cuff that has the Velcro fastening that go over jackets or armbands if you need them. I find they work fine. I typically use swept hilt weapons. I do have a ringed one, which was my first one I got from Darkwood. I had a bespoke one made in swept hilt, I had another bespoke one made in a cup hilt.
GW: Are these all from Darkwood?
AS: No. Well, the blades are from Castille. The hardware themselves I got from a gentleman who was a blacksmith and does SCA stuff. His name’s James Vansandt and I liked his pieces. And working with him has been fantastic because I have larger hands. He actually was the first one to suggest to me that maybe my problem wasn’t necessarily with the whole weapon, but with the size of the grip. So he’s milled larger grips for my hands. I don’t know if it’s a placebo effect or anything like that, but it makes my blade work a little livelier, which, again, if I’m not fighting myself in my equipment or fighting my weapon, then I can put all my attention to expressing these techniques that I’ve learnt in fighting the guy or person in front of me. I won’t touch the thing about gloves. Everybody, please wear a gorget. The thing is, I would advise everyone when it comes to gear is to avoid becoming a cautionary tale. Cautionary tales are the ones that people remember, not for the best reasons. I’d rather be remembered for a fantastic passata sotto that I threw in a turnabout for gold medal match as opposed to the guy that can’t talk anymore because he took a blade that had a 60 degree bend in the trachea, you know. So wear your gorgets, wear your masks and talk to the people in front of you. Again, calibration, I think, has a lot to do with how this gear is developed. And that’s just from having conversations with people both in HMA and the SCA. They calibrate a little you know, they touch a little lighter, which means that their technique has to be more informed.
GW: I saw this at the Lord Baltimore’s challenge when there were lots of historical martial arts guys and lots of SCA guys and girls. I was judging the rounds, judging the matches and sometimes there’s a kind of habit amongst the SCA that they would often touch much more lightly than we would accept in historical martial arts. But then if you tell them, actually you need to touch harder than that for me to count it, because not having seen many SCA people before, I was basically seeing what they did and assuming that they were doing that because that’s all they could reach, when actually when I said something along the lines of, no you need to hit a bit harder than that, they then go too hard to make sure the dumb judge actually sees it.
AS: A lot of that also has to do with the culture in which you’re judged. Just like you said, with the SCA folks, possibly because the gear and then again, because of the amount of touches and the touches that they want to see, HMA is going to be a little harder. But I was taught to make sure that the judge can see the blade bend. You can do that without flinging it out. And in every treatise, flinging is bad. I demonstrate that against the mental pole for people when I can, with flinging just you’re increasing your chances of hurting somebody. But again, if your technique is structurally sound, it doesn’t take much to make our analogues bend. That’s why they were designed. We went to them specifically to say, hey, we’re not going to hit these people pretty hard, but we still need to be able to indicate a quality thrust. How do we do that? The blacksmiths who get paid to do that said, OK, this is what you do based on what we know of metallurgy and things of that nature. We synergise that knowledge to have something to where we have a historically accurate analogue of what they used. Now, does the question lie in our equipment? Or is it in the people that are using it? So if somebody just used to flinging, yeah, it’s going to seem like they’re hitting hard. But if, you know, they’ve been taught well, if you know their teacher, you’ve been to their school or you’ve fenced them before, you can kind of anticipate what’s going to happen. You can say, hey, let’s do this at seventy five percent or tournament. Just know that I know that judge needs to see my blade, especially when I get up close. I’m going to make it bend, but I’m not going to hurt you. That’s what I think we need to begin intimating and expressively stating to our partners, especially in tournament play. And I think the calibration question will slowly begin phasing out as our training and our techniques improve, I think.
GW: Yeah. It’s also a cultural question. SCA has a culture of lighter hits in rapier and Historical Martial Arts tends to have a culture of sports a firmer hits in rapier. But when you compare our longsword to their heavy combat with rattan sticks they are hitting way harder than we do. So again, it is context and cultural dependence. Hopefully we can we can get through this without injuries. Oh. There’s a question, I forgot to ask you at the beginning, so I’ll just drop this in here. Just to sort locate the listeners whereabouts in the world are you?
AS: I live in Bel Air, Maryland, which is about 40 minutes outside of Baltimore, Maryland. My club is in Annapolis, Maryland, which is the capital of that state. And I travel about an hour each way to go to class. You got to go where the knowledge is right?
GW: Right. Yes. It said that in America, a hundred years is a long time, but a hundred miles is quite close. And in Britain, a hundred years is recent past and a hundred miles is a long way.
AS: Absolutely. Well, what I found, speaking of cultural differences, I think that’s where we left off. What I’ve seen is a lot of my countrymen measure distance by time. And then you just said, we’re about 100 miles away. To me, that’s OK. Depending on how I’m driving, that’s between 45 minutes to an hour. We measure it based on time, you know? I’m not that bad. She’s looking at me.
GW: So I have a couple of standard questions that I’m asking everyone because they generate interesting results. So first, what is what is the best idea you’ve never acted on?
AS: To increase my cardio. But, you know, I just have… I used to run track when I was young. I was good at it. But then again, like I said, it started to feel like work. So that’s where the aversion to it came. And I know that having cardio will allow me to seem less winded in tournaments. But, you know, I’m old. I was a smoker for a long time. I come in a fairly active lifestyle, but more sedentary than not. Again, we’re not farming 16 hours a day and then using the remainder of daylight to train. It’s just a different culture altogether, different world altogether. But I told myself, get running every morning and get cardio and it’ll bear fruit. A lot of boxers say there’s no substitute for the roadwork. You gotta put in the miles. And I say that sounds good, but let’s work smarter, not harder.
GW: Quite right. If a swordfight goes well, you basically stand still, while the other person just throws their face onto your point.
AS: It would probably be that. And then I wonder… Don’t get me wrong, I’m very grateful for I am right now as far as my life and where I am in HMA. But I also wonder what would have happened if I ever gone to see that foil instructor back in the early 2000s. Where would I be? Because that’s a real concern for me now. When it comes to competition, the shelf life on competitors and fencing, much less HMA is very low just because of the impact that we have. And again, I haven’t been training all of my formative years to do the motions that fencing requires. So I’m very concerned about ageing out and making sure that I have my best experience for the years that I have in it.
GW: I have a thought for you. OK, sport fencing has not a great track record for injuries like knee dislocation or knee damage and tendon damage and that sort of thing. So here’s a thought for you. It is quite possible that you’d have gotten into that foil stuff and you’d have gotten quite serious about your competitive fencing and you’d have wrecked one of your knees. And that would be that. Or because of where that foil class happened to be you’d have ended up in a fatal car accident on your way to class.
AS: That’s true. That’s very true.
GW: So it could be that that I’m skipping that foil thing is the best thing you ever did.
AS: Yeah. You know, I’ve got to tell you, this story last year at Montreal Swordmeisters. That’s a tournament that my good friend André Hajjar and his folks up there in Montreal throw. Last year was their second one. And I was going to defend the gold that I won at the first. Now, I’d competed the single sword tournament with a sabre the day before, and then rapier was the next day because the way they were doing it with the space and the time that they had, they had the single sword tournament pools and then the next day would be the finals and the rapier pools would start. I stayed out, walking around and stuff and at these things I never get good sleep anyway. My heart rate elevates when I watch other people fencing. Like, I can go to a YouTube link if I want my Fitbit to blow up – I just start watching fights. But I didn’t get much sleep. Woke up, had breakfast, went right to the tournament for rapier and used the pools as my warm-up. Which was a huge mistake. I went undefeated in pools and then we had the elims and I lost one bout but I qualified for the finals for the last bracket. Well like I said, not warming up, poor hydration, I began to experience muscle seizures. Like it got to the point where we were beyond cramps, you know, like my feet – I’ve never had it happen, but from what I understand, people that snap their Achilles tendon, they have all the want and the drive to move their foot just to walk, but they literally cannot. That’s where I was with the seizures I was experiencing. My hand – I had to get people to pry my fingers open so I could let go of the weapon. And I ended up withdrawing from the tournament that day. I withdrew because I qualified for finals for both, for both rapier and for my sabre. But as much as I knew people there wanted to see me fence, as much as I wanted to fence, my body said, no, don’t do it. And I was this close to doing it. But enough people were in my ear. They said, just don’t.
GW: It’s not responsible for your health and it’s also not responsible for your opponents. If you’re not in control of your body, you could stick a sword through somebody.
AS: Exactly right. And, you know, I was more of a risk than anything to everybody around. And so discretion’s the better part of valour. Did I beat myself up about it? Of course. It’s 13 hour drive from Montreal to where we live. And the whole way, I should have tried something, I could’ve did something, it’s not right, it’s not fair. Well, what would have happened if I had snapped a tendon or wrist injury to myself or somebody else or somebody’s gotten hurt. Now, I can’t do the thing that I love to do that I wasn’t getting paid to do initially anyway, live to fight another day. That’s another piece of advice I would give beginners. Yes, anything could happen. You could step out of practise, get hit by a bus. But let’s operate on the side of what if that doesn’t happen, right. Take care of yourself. Get more joy out of this. Have more longevity. Nice ending to that story, Guy. When I got home, I found that everybody there, all the clubs that were voting, unanimously voted me the Technical and Sportsman Award.
GW: Well done!
AS: For having pulled out, and that is a huge lesson for me. I’ve enjoyed some relative success, when you just look at how the math bears out. I tell people that are having tournament issues or issues with their performance I tell them this all the time that the math does not support you winning this tournament. What do you mean? OK, we have this set amount of people. Everybody here is not going to reach the podium. That’s why it’s the podium. Three people are going to make it. And all of them really want to be there, probably more than you. If you’re asking this question, they want it more than you do. So own that. Take this time to enjoy what you’re doing. You’re seeing people we haven’t seen in months, maybe years. You’re getting to test yourself. You’re getting to test your techniques, your interpretations. Everybody here is not going to win that the maths doesn’t support it. You know, statistically, more people are going to lose these things than win. That’s why they’re precious. That’s why they’re special to people that care about that sort of thing. So make sure you’re in a place to where you can enjoy the most over the most amount of time, as opposed to putting all your eggs in a basket. You’ve seen it I’m sure a thousand times somebody that stays in the gym forever gets hit by somebody throwing the same stroke the entire time. Button mashing, just spamming, four to the inside. And they win. Mackenzie Ewing won a capital class rapier tournament doing that. He had to because he was hurt, he had some sort of cramp or he had torn a tendon or something like that, spamming four inside, and won. So if you’re the kind of person that puts all your eggs into that one basket, I’m sorry to tell you, either way, you’re going to be disappointed because after the podium is over, there’s still the next day, the day after that. The session after that. Where’s your next plateau? What’s your next peak? You know what I mean? I couldn’t tell you who won Swordfish in 2017 or the Long Point in 2000. You know, even last year I couldn’t tell you who won anything.
GW: There’s a lovely book by Johan Harmenberg called Epee 2.0 about winning Olympic gold in Epee, both the team and the individuals. I think it was the 1980 Olympics. And he goes into all sorts of detail about how that went down and what he was doing. After it, he spent the next year basically being depressed. Apparently, what he says is that’s really common. The common psychological reaction to winning Olympic gold is depression. Because what do you do now?
GW: I believe it. Muhammad Ali. I mean, very pertinent in these times. He threw his into the river when he got it. Because he got his medal – in the moment it’s fantastic. But then he came home to face the same injustices that he had been facing before he left. So he realised that in the long scope, as far as the person that he wanted to be and who he was becoming, didn’t mean anything. So he threw it into the river, you know. Is that a slap in the face? People that are in that community would say, yes, this is all we work hard for. We’ve fought hard for regulation and recognition so we can go and get this recognition. Well, I mean, they postponed this year’s Olympics, what are those guys going to do? There’s so many things out of your purview and out of your control, to ignore the things which you can control is doing yourself a huge disservice. I can enjoy the fact that I met you at Lord Baltimore, even though I didn’t win anything. You know, Guy, I have his book, I’ve seen his blogs, I’ve seen them online, this is that dude! This is that guy! I told you my knees thank you for your course that you gave. I still do those warm ups. That’s something that I think, going back to the beginners thing, because it’s something that’s near and dear to my heart. Know that there’s room for you. You know where you want to be. What you bring to the table can be appreciated if you present it humbly. And that’s the other part of it. There is a phenomenon that comes when people who were denied, for an analogy say, use of a ball. They come on the court. They see people with a ball. You can’t play, this is our ball. OK, so now they fester and now I’m going to get my own ball. So they get their own ball. But then they forget what it was to not have a ball. They’re so, hey, I got a ball. I’ve only been taught that if I have a ball I can say, no, you can’t have a ball. So in the end, it perpetuates that cycle.
If you remember that every one of us was a beginner. Every one of us. I have this habit of if I do very well, particularly well, I’d come home from a tournament, from something, I’ll have a special bottle of wine with my partner, and then we’ll save the cork and I’ll put the medal in a shadowbox, for my edification. Two years, five years, ten years from now, nobody’s going to care whether or not I got second or third. But I’ve got a story attached to it. It’s something that I can enjoy, something I can look back on. I can use that as a testament that, hey, I did something. There’s something that I love, but I was a beginner. What I’m going to do is the gloves that I have, those work gloves, I’m going to put them in a frame as well. And they’re going to say, you got medals up here. I don’t know if you can see it back there, but that photograph is actually a painting that a friend of ours did for me for Christmas. It is a painting of a photograph. So I have that up there. And below it, I’m going to have that glove in a shadowbox framed. Why do you have that stupid work glove up there? You moving somebody? No, that’s my reminder. I started humbly. I started from a humble beginning. I didn’t come in well-armed or even well-equipped or even mental space-wise. And I think it’s important that people remember where they came from, just like you do. You have to consciously ask yourself that question, why did I get into this? What would I tell somebody that I see is vacillating over something or unsure of this pursuit or, what do I tell somebody that I see going into the realm of a cautionary tale. Hey, you better put on your mask or hey, you may not want to talk to them that way because on your way up, you’re going to see them on your way down too. You don’t want to be the cautionary tale. You don’t want to be the person that, hey, I don’t want to fence them. Why? They hit way too hard or I don’t want to practise with them. Why? They’re way too demeaning. Know who you are. Know what you want out of it. And go forth confident you will find your tribe. There’s enough room in this pursuit for everybody. If you just want to fight, great. If you want to read, great. You just want to practice, great. You just want to talk about it, if you want to draw mock-ups for clothes, if you want to teach people how to really bend their knee, if you want to know your sports, kinesthesiologist and your people are injuring their shoulder, by the way they’re pulling out. You know, you can say, hey, I’m a doctor, I kind of studied this. This is what works for this sport. There’s room for it, but you’ve got to carve it out. Just as you have, just as I’m trying to do. You have to carve out your space in especially in this pursuit. So don’t be afraid to do so.
GW: All right. One last question. Somebody gives you a million dollars to spend improving historical martial arts worldwide. How would you spend that money?
AS: It is a great question, man. Honestly, it would probably be towards production and distribution of our materials, not necessarily the books and things, because you guys got a good handle on that. But probably like the analogues we use, the sword makers and the equipment makers. I believe that with grants given to these people and the process that we have when it comes just to the materials can be greatly, greatly improved. Also, look at the glove situation. It’s legendary right now. But what could those guys have done had they had a million dollars that somebody granted them? And I’m not just saying here’s a million dollars, go do this because we’ve seen vendors come and go. Let’s have some accountability with it. OK. Look, I’ve got a million dollars. Make a fantastic glove. Different sizes. This what it needs to do, this is what it needs to protect. Now, I need to see. I’m going to check back with you in six months. I need to see that you’ve consulted with kinesthesiologists. I need to see that you’ve consulted with materials makers. Are you outsourcing your work to places that have that need? Is it a small business enterprise, or are you going with a big business? If we have that sort of oversight, I think a lot of these processes can be improved and centralised. I think what makes our pursuit specifically fantastic is accessibility, because, again, I can go online and get your book. It’s fantastic. I can order the Forgeng translation, I can order Tomasso Leoni’s translation of Fabris and have it come to me, back in 2000, I keep going back to my foil experience, I would have had to go to a studio, pay exorbitant amounts of money for these lessons and not knowing if this guy was worth his salt or anything.
GW: Things are very different now to what they were 20 years ago, very, very different. In terms of the resources and equipment is available.
AS: Exactly right. And then getting it to the people. I think microwaves and the Internet have spoilt us. It used to be a time when it was time for dinner, your mom would tell you, hey, dinner’s at six thirty. But it’s 4:30 now, I know, it’s getting ready, you need to start getting ready. Whereas now if you want something to eat, you just pop something in microwave, hit fifteen seconds and it’s done.
GW: Not in my house! I cook.
AS: I can order something that’s like from Amazon or another distributer and in two days it’s here. Six to eight weeks used to be the norm. We’re in that in that generation you know, please wait six to eight weeks for delivery. OK, fine, there’s no reason outside of the actual physical building of it that it takes so long. I think a lot of these guys can use some material support. A million dollars isn’t necessarily going to fix it, but it goes a long way because then other people start bandwagonning onto this. These guys got this study. Well, I want to be a part of that study. I have information to share about blunt force impact. So let’s improve that weapon. Or I have information, say, on how to move so this weapon doesn’t necessarily have to be that heavy. And, hey, look, I have one forge. If I could buy ten forges and hire these guys, I can get you guys materials instead of six weeks, it could be three. And so now you have better accessibility to the pursuit. I think equipment is a big roadblock.
GW: A bottleneck.
AS: Yeah. And it’s really your ticket into really enjoying this pursuit fully. I think if you’re properly protected again, you’re not worried about OK, if I throw this strike am I going to get hurt or is this person going to get hurt? And then you can really concentrate on it and it informs a better experience in my head.
GW: Is there anywhere you particularly want me to send people after they’ve listened to this? So, like, is there a website you particularly want to go and see or somewhere to find you online or anything like that?
AS: OK, they can find me online. My Facebook is airrion.scott, you can find me that way. I’m all over the place when it comes to my content. If you don’t see me, chances are that you know somebody that does. But the club’s website is mashs.net. That gives you all the contact information. It shows what we teach. It even gives you our curriculum as well. And again, that’s the point of the accessibility. There was a time that we had to go to a brick and mortar to get that kind of thing. But Larry, in his wisdom, decided to say, here’s what we teach and these are our drills. Even if you can’t come or you want to see how these drills actually work. The ability of our community to share information is phenomenal. Once we get the egos out of the way. Once the ego gets out of the way, we understand it’s not proprietary information and we all benefit. Oh, my God. The potential for this thing to grow. And that’s what people don’t understand. In my head, yes, this is a niche pursuit, but it thrives on us being sociable and sharing. I’m not a swordfighter, I’m not a duellist if we don’t duel anyone. I’m not in a study group, I’m not an instructor if I don’t have anybody that wants to come learn.
GW: So I was going to cut out that that bit. And then I was going to talk about go find him on Facebook. I think you took that and ran with it. So I’m just going to leave it in. It’s great! It is very nice to interview somebody who actually talks.
AS: Be careful what you wish for! I can talk for hours! My partner always says that tournaments for me end about an hour and a half after the posted ending time. Because I have to stay and talk. I have to talk. She says I have to hold court. So I may not know what I’m talking about, but, damn it, I’m going to be passionate about it. I think I think a lot of people are attracted by that. And, you know, I would have to say my experience, Guy, the skin that I’m in really informs my experience in HMA. I know we weren’t going to talk about it, but it’s largely important to me, especially to folks that that feel marginalised or look like me that want to do it. I tell them to Do It. This is fantastic. The tribe is wonderful. There’s no greater feeling of equality to me, perceived or otherwise, than when you don that mask. Once that mask comes down it’s about what you’ve studied. It’s show improve time. You can have your opinion all day on this matter or that matter. You could speak to this. But when it comes to fencing and you line up on that line with that blue or red armband and you put that mask on and you hear that marshal say “Fence”. That’s when all the pretence goes away. And then and I say, get into it. If you want that feeling of equality, if you want that feeling of inclusiveness. Get into it and know that you’re going to be looked at because that’s just human nature. And that’s probably why a lot of my gear I like to keep it maintained and on point because people going to look at me when I walk in the door. I think it can’t be helped. This is human nature. We’re in a niche pursuit and I’m a unique individual in that niche pursuit.
So, my upbringing, I’ll never forget, my dad said (and a lot of our parents probably told us a variation of this), but he said, son, never forget, in this world, you in particular will always have to work twice as hard to get half as much. So what I’d like to think, Guy, is what caused you to call me is not just the uniqueness of this, but you see the work ethic. I may not know it, I may not be as decorated as a lot of these people, but I vowed myself nobody in the room will ever, ever, ever outwork me. They won’t. They just won’t, because that’s what they’re expecting. They are expecting me not to work. So when I show the work and I show the passion, I show that, hey, I’m here to meet you on the same level. And if we disagree, we can put on a mask and go step in the circle. Then we can talk afterwards. I think we’re all a bit ostentatious in that mindset. We’re all a bit, you know, aggressive in that. If you’re at a tournament, you’re there to beat people, in the friendliest mindset possible. But just understand that people are going to look at you. Let them look, that’s what men’s eyes were made for, to gaze. So give them something pretty look at and then when they come talk to you about it be humble in your approach, know that people, especially in this community, by and large, want you to be better, if only to make you a better opponent for them.
GW: That’s why I got into teaching, so that I would have people to fight.
AS: Yeah, absolutely right. So, you know, I’ve loved my journey so far. I look forward to another four, eight, 16 years and hopefully I’ll be in a position where the roles are reversed and I can interview you one day.
GW: Well, I look forward to that day. Well, thank you very much, Airrion, and it’s been a pleasure talking to you. And I hope to see you on my next trip over to the States.
AS: Of course, my friend, a thousand thank yous. I appreciate it. Love and respect.
GW: Thank you for listening. I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Airrion. I certainly did. Remember to go along to guywindsor.net/podcast-2 to get the episodes show notes and your free copy of Sword Fighting for Writers, Game Designers and Martial Artists. Remember to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts from. And tune in next week when I’ll be talking to Kaja Sadowski, author of Fear is the Mind Killer. See you then.