GW: Hello, sword people, this is Guy Windsor, also known as The Sword Guy, and I’m here today with Monica Gaudio, known in the SCA as Illadore de Bedegrayne, and she is a cook, fencer, Marshal, Seneschal, knitter, Laurel and Master of Defence. And we’ll get into what those things actually mean in the interview. So without further ado, Monica, welcome to the show.
MG: Thank you so much for having me.
GW: So my first question, whereabouts are you?
MG: I live near Washington, D.C., and if your folks don’t know where that is, which would be confusing because most of the world knows, it is in the United States of America, on the East Coast, in North America, in the Western Hemisphere.
GW: Right. Which is why you were there when I met you at Lord Baltimore’s Challenge in 2019.
GW: So it was conveniently local to you, I had to fly across the Atlantic to get there, but no you just rock up. OK, now, but honestly, Monica. You are that Monica, aren’t you?
MG: And I am, in fact, that Monica. So over slightly over ten years ago, I became Internet famous for much longer than 15 minutes, it’s about two weeks, by the way. It’s not really a newspaper, it was like a pick up magazine, it was basically free, but it was a for-profit magazine. It plagiarised an article that I wrote comparing 14th and 16th century English apple pie or two pie recipes. And I had written an article about it and I had redacted the two recipes and put that in the article and the editor picked it up and put it in her magazine. And because the medieval cooking world is very small, much like the medieval sword world is very small, someone saw it and immediately emailed me and asked me how I got published. And I was like, “What are you talking about?” And very quickly, I found out that I had been plagiarised. I contacted the editor and said, “Hey, how did this happen?” And I got back one of the snarkiest replies of all time that included, “But honestly, Monica, the Internet is public domain.” And she actually told me I should pay her for the editing that she did. And I got mad and posted it to my live journal, asking some folks, “Hey, what should I do about this?” And it blew up. What happened is a gentleman by the name of Nick Mamatas, he was at the time a horror writer or science fiction writer, calls himself a genre fiction writer now. He posted about it on his live journal. And John, I’m going to butcher this name, John Scalzi, a very famous science fiction writer and then he was also the science fiction writers’ president at the time. He then tweeted about it and then Neil Gaiman tweeted about it. And then it went all over the Internet. And this was 10 years ago. This was way before, like Internet mobs had started. And it was considered one of the first ones at the time. I got interviewed by The Washington Post, by the Australians, the Canadians. I got interviewed by tons of people. When it happened, I had basically asked the editor to send one hundred and thirty dollars because that was ten cents a word, which was double the going price at the time and send it to the Columbia School of Journalism. Slightly in a snarky way – perhaps you should have gone to journalism school. And more than a ton of people posted it all over her Facebook page, on Twitter, everywhere. And within two weeks, the magazine had shut down. I got a weird apology. It’s floating around on the Internet. And then I got a second non-apology and she donated one hundred thirty dollars to Columbia School of Journalism, so I’m done with it.
GW: Yeah, it’s a very dangerous precedent. If the idea that everything that’s posted on the Internet is out of copyright and public domain was allowed to persist, then a whole lot of people, including me, would never get paid for their work.
MG: Correct. And on top of that, she had not just done it to me. The Internet kind of did a collective mass research project and found out that Disney, Martha Stewart, NPR, over a hundred articles. She’d posted all of her magazine and content on Facebook as well. And so all of that got taken down. It was a big deal at the time. But the thing that makes me literally the happiest is that I get occasionally emails from folks who were saying things to me like I teach this in my journalism class. And then there was a bunch of actual academic articles on what happened. And I found that highly amusing that I’m a part of academia and I have a Wikipedia page.
GW: Excellent, because somebody ripped off your stuff.
MG: Because of that stuff.
GW: Wow. It’s great that you have stuff to be ripped off. If you think about it, the reason we’re talking is that you have all this expertise and these interests and so you were comparing two apple pie recipes.
GW: What I do, as everybody listening probably knows, is I focus on the historical swordsmanship side of things. So I go to the sources and I figure out how sword fights were supposed to be done and how you’re supposed to practise with a sword. And that’s what I do. I have this very, very narrow focus into that one area of history. I don’t know anything about medieval cookery at all. So how would you fix that?
MG: I’m going to disagree with you a little, you already know a little bit because you already are talking about primary sources and going back and learning from the primary source and learning how to make something with it. It’s pretty much the same with medieval cooking as well, go find a primary source and then sometimes it helps to have one secondary source, where people have already looked at it, already translated it. Now, admittedly, there’s been a ton of work done on excellent English medieval cookbooks that are out there. And we’re finding more and more every day, not just English, but all across Europe. And then I believe there’s a Korean and there’s a Chinese and then there’s some Japanese medieval area cookbooks as well. But in that same vein, you’re finding stuff that from that time period, you’re learning about it. And then you’re also taking stuff that you already know. You already know how to move your body. You already know some stuff about swords and then using that knowledge and helping it, helping you translate or figure out what’s going on. Thing with cooking, I learnt how to cook more or less from my mom growing up. She did most of the cooking. I helped out a little bit here and there. But then I joined the SCA back 30 years ago. 30 some years ago. What happened was, I went to an event, didn’t know what to do. My boyfriend at the time was like, go help in the kitchen. You have to chop vegetables. And that started my love affair of medieval cooking because, one, it was really fun to be in a kitchen with a bunch of people who were funny and hilarious. And you have a really good time. Two, it really started my interest in learning about what did they do back then and can we now recreate it? So basically you find a cookbook that interests you in some fashion, learn about it, learn about the history of it and about who is using it. What was this for? Because there is a huge difference between a 14th century manual, which was probably hand written, versus something done in the Elizabethan age, as they had the printing press at that point in time. The one was made for a single source, probably for a king or his household. And the later 16th century ones were made for people, for large numbers of people or a larger number of people who could afford books at the very least. Learning about the history of it and learning about the history of the book. Then you go and learn about the history of materials they had available at the time, and then you start looking at the actual work. And at that point it really becomes very hands on investigatory, like I’m going to try and make a 14th century pie. I go to see what ingredients they had, learn about what ingredients they had back then that we don’t have now. Apples, for example, are apples, at least here in the United States or we’ve gotten so much better in the past, I don’t know, 10 years or so. But for a long period of time, we didn’t have a huge number of apples. We had like Red Delicious, which is gross. But now we have all kinds of different varieties, but we don’t have the same kind of varieties that they had back in 14th century England.
GW: They have changed over the last five hundred years.
MG: Exactly. Much like with swords, we don’t have their exact swords that they did, we have to make simulators. And we’re going to have to use the techniques that we have now. There’s a lot of stuff that’s mass-produced versus I got the hand forged sword that someone’s going to make for me. Unlikely, as that’s going to be a little expensive.
GW: I have a few. I have a few like that, of course I do.
MG: You aren’t going to use it on a daily basis, like for practise. Well, maybe you are.
GW: I don’t use them for blade-on-blade stuff, no. Too expensive.
MG: All right, I’m going to go get a plot of land, get a tree planted, wait twenty to thirty years before it starts producing. Yeah, that’s a little farther down the line. So we try to get as close as we can today with both food and sword fighting.
GW: I just read a book by Ruth Goodman who I’m actually interviewing tomorrow for the same show, and it’s called The Domestic Revolution, about how in Britain we shifted from a wood burning economy to a coal burning economy towards the end of the 16th century. And it goes to huge depth and detail about medieval and Tudor and later period ovens and heat sources and how that affects what you cook and how you cook and what kind of stuff. So, are you cooking on medieval type fires with irons and stuff, or are you using modern equipment?
MG: Primarily using modern equipment. In the SCA, the Society for Creative Anachronism, my main art is feeding lots of people at an event. So in the before times, when we get together, I would cook anywhere from 40 to one hundred and fifty people. And while I have been to Hampton Court and I’ve seen their beautiful kitchen and I’m just in love with it, I love that place so much, I can’t afford that so that so I am using very modern equipment as best as I can. I have done some cooking on a fire. It is very different. My biggest thing I have been doing lately, this year would have been my fifth year in a row, is gone to an event called Gulf Wars, which is in Mississippi, here in the United States. And for my encampment I tried to prepare. We are there seven days, but usually that Sunday and that Saturday are put up and take down. And so during the week I would make five different period meals as best I could, and we’re cooking on barbecue grills and on other open fire activities there. But the majority of the time, it’s in a fairly moderate kitchen. In part also, is there are some things about the Middle Ages I do not want to recreate, like food poisoning and salmonella. I don’t want to recreate weevils.
GW: Fair enough. Now, do you have any favourite examples of how intangible things like time, temperature, hand techniques, anything like that were recorded? Is there much to do with that?
MG: No. Well, one of my fencing teachers would talk about how he read manuals were often written as like notes or they are meant as a reminder. “Remember when we did this thing, this is how you do this.” Much in the same way, at least until later into the 1500s, late 16th century. The majority of it is really vague, like take a crust and put meat into it and the put a top on it and cook it well. That’s literally almost as close as one of the recipes that they have from that time period there. Once you start getting in later, like the Italian cook, Bartolomeo Scappi, who’s one of my favourites. His book’s two to three inches thick, at least in the modern translation of it. And it is it goes into much, much more detail. But the majority of the time, it is very vague.
GW: That was a lot later, right? 17th century?
MG: No, Scappi is late 16th century. He cooked for some Cardinals and at least one pope.
GW: Just skipping back briefly, if we go back to the plagiarism business, is there anything you’re doing differently now? Are you publishing differently?
MG: I do have a website. The website is godecookery.com.
GW: There will be a link in the show notes.
MG: I manage it. It was originally written by my teacher, who went by Master Huen in the SCA, and he was the one where I published the site. The majority of the stuff that I write is for the SCA. And so I haven’t really published anything on the Internet. Scratch that. Live Journal. I did actually publish a number of articles on Live Journal about some cooking. And one time we got hit by a tornado at Gulf Wars and I made a pie during a tornado.
GW: Did it put you off publishing stuff online?
MG: Yes and no. I learnt about Creative Commons a bit when this happened. I became much more interested in learning about copyright. So if I was going to publish more things going on, yes, learn more about it. And I just haven’t had the urge to publish as much as I used to.
GW: That is a shame.
MG: Well, part of the problem is that, unless it is in English, it is a translation and therefore it is someone else’s work. I do not want to infringe on their copyright by publishing their translation. I could take the Italian and then here is mine and go to this book at this page and read this thing and then do that.
GW: I think if you were copying a recipe out of a book and you’re clear about where the recipe comes from and you credit the author of that recipe and the translator of that, you know, it’s not like you’re reproducing the whole book. It’s like you’re taking one recipe and then describing your experience of recreating that recipe and obviously linking to the translator or whatever, if that’s practical. I can’t think how anyone would have a problem with that. I mean, if I had a modern cookbook and I was dead into cookery and I posted a thing about my experience of cooking, I don’t know, Nigella Lawson’s apple pie. I think Nigella would probably be thrilled.
MG: So it really comes down to what is fair. I don’t want to infringe on that when I don’t have to. So it really depends, like taking a whole recipe might or might not annoy an author, or not. So, let’s see what happens.
GW: Well, if any listeners have written translations of medieval cookbooks and want Monica to recreate those recipes in practise and blog about it, please drop me a line. I will pass it on to her and then we can maybe encourage her to get back into the deep end of the Internet. All right. Sorry, that was me kind of skipping about a bit. So, would you say that the diversity of our food has increased or decreased since medieval times? I mean, you said there are things that were available then that aren’t now, but my impression is we have a much broader range of ingredients to pick from.
MG: We do. We have so many cultures now that they just did not have. This week I’ve eaten Creole and I have eaten sushi and I’ve eaten Thai and Italian. I would never have been able to do that in the Middle Ages. With opening up of the world the fact that we have so much travel and so much commercial places and whatnot. We have a much more diverse ability. We have an ability, at least Western First World people have a greater ability to get more diverse amounts of food. So, yeah, we do have that. But there is a lot of commercialisation of food too, and I’m not quite sure that is as healthy as they had back then either. So here in the United States, we have very, very large farms for meat and cattle and I’m not quite sure that’s very healthy for the planet.
GW: OK, fair enough. Now, when I introduce you to everyone I mentioned “cook”, which we talked about, but we haven’t really discussed fencer, Marshal, Seneschal, knitter, Laurel, or Master of Defence. Let’s leave knitter aside for a moment. Knitters in the audience, we are coming back to knitting, I promise, because when I told my patrons that I was going to be interviewing you, there were some knitting questions come up. So I’ll get to those later. But so what are Marshals, I mean, we all know what fencers are, I assume, if you’re listening to this particular show. But Marshal, Seneschal, Laurel, Master of Defence?
MG: So there’s a lot there. In the SCA, a Marshal is someone who is, I’m not going to say “coach”. But “judge” is perhaps a good a good answer. They are your safety officer. That’s the best way.
GW: A fencing safety officer.
MG: Yes. When fencing is happening, a Marshal inspects you to make sure that all your clothing and your gear matches with the minimum requirements in the SCA.
GW: And there’s a qualification for that? To be a Marshal?
MG: So it depends by your group, but usually you have to be a fencer for some number of years and you become a Marshal In Training and you basically spend six months to a year training under other Marshals. And then after that, you are then qualified to run a practise and make sure everyone is being very safe.
GW: Excellent. That’s a really good idea. I think we could use a bit more of that in historical martial arts generally, to be honest.
MG: I think so, too.
GW: OK, well, we’ll get onto the Historical Martial Arts / SCA distinctions in a little bit, but Seneschal?
MG: Seneschal is basically the local president or vice president. So right now I am the Kingdom Seneschal for the Kingdom of Æthelmearc, which basically means I’m the regional vice president for the SCA. So I do all of the administrative work for keeping the club running. So in the way that the SCA is structured is there is an overarching CIA is the board of directors and has a society Seneschal which is basically the person who’s my boss, and then I am the regional vice president or the kingdom Seneschal and then there are local groups and we call them Shires or Verities, but they’re basically clubs and they have they have baronial or shire Seneschals, and they are the president and they’re the ones who make sure the club keeps running, who do the paperwork, all of that.
GW: All the stuff that is absolutely essential if we’re actually going to have a place to show up to practise in and the insurances and the equipment and all of that sort of stuff. And they never get any bloody credit.
MG: I do my best to make sure that my folks get credit.
GW: Oh, sure. Sure. But also, it’s the unsexy admin side of things that actually makes it work. But critically important.
MG: Very important.
GW: I’ve known some people whose contribution to the art of arms has gone completely unnoticed by most of the world, but actually they have kept a local fencing club running for like 15 years and without them it would just fold.
MG: And we should do absolutely more to make sure our admin folks are 100 percent given more love than they are now. Without them we don’t have places to practise. We don’t have places to work. And it is a job. It is, absolutely.
GW: OK, so Laurel?
MG: Laurel means that I have reached the highest award that you can in the SCA for arts and sciences, and it means that I am a peer. A peer of the realm. That is the kind of overarching term for the terminal award for the SCA. I have a peerage in arts and sciences and we call that a Laurel.
GW: Is that regarding cookery?
GW: OK, so could you get a Laurel in fencing?
MG: You can and some people have. And the way we differentiate between that and the Master of Defence is you get a Laurel for fencing, for your historical knowledge and teaching of period manuals. Like how teaching a period style and period manuals. And so our dear friend David Biggs on the Lord Baltimore’s Challenge, which hopefully will come back.
GW: Fingers crossed.
MG: He is a Laurel of Fence, though he will tell you that his kingdom doesn’t do Laurels of particular things, but he got it for fencing.
GW: OK, and so that’s distinct from Master of Defence.
MG: Yes. Master of Defence is the peerage for prowess. We developed that six years ago this May. The SCA has been around for over 50 years and they six years ago decided we were going to add a peerage for fencing. And I was one of the first Masters of Defence made. There was a premier Master of Defence made for the West Kingdom when I was living out in San Francisco.
GW: OK, so how is that how is that judged? How is that awarded?
MG: That is a complicated question.
GW: Well, we have time.
MG: We do. So the SCA is built off of the idea that you can become king and queen of your kingdom by right of arms. And what they do is, in a different martial activity called heavy weapons, they have a tournament and the winner of that tournament and his consort. You can be same sex or gender neutral, which is a change from what it was some time ago. And so you have the sovereign and the consort, king and queen usually, who win their tournament, the consort inspires the baton and they reign for anywhere between four to six months. During covid it’s been a little longer because we haven’t had tournaments, but usually it’s six months. And in that six month time period when you are king and queen or sovereign and sovereign, you can then give awards. That is the biggest benefit of being “royalty” in the SCA is that you give awards to people and to the biggest and award that you can give is a peerage. And so the king and queen of the West Kingdom made me a Master of Defence. The way it happened was my understanding for them is that before the peerages, we had an award called the White Scarf. We still have that award. And that was considered a grant level, depending on what Kingdom you are in, it was generally a grant level award. So there’s AOA or just the beginning award, there’s the grant level awards and then there are peerages and the grant level award was the white scarf. And that is what we had for 30 years now.
GW: My friend William Wilson has a white scarf in fencing, I believe.
MG: Wasn’t he also made a Master of Defence recently?
GW: I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t keep track of the SCA peerages.
MG: He’s an absolutely amazing. I have taken classes from him and he’s fantastic.
GW: He’s a great guy.
MG: Absolutely. He is a great, great teacher. He has a White Scarf. And so they asked all of the White Scarves of the West Kingdom who are in your top three. And apparently I was on all of everyone’s list somewhere. So that’s why they included me. Then they picked two other people to be Masters of Defence as well. And then basically every kingdom got to pick them from there and then it continues. They polled the order, they ask the order, who do you think should be in there with you? And the order responds. And then they will grant the awards to the people the order thinks should be in there. That’s the usual way. It’s very complicated and each person’s different, but it’s basically the king and queen or the sovereign and sovereign have decided to have a peerage and you’re a Master of Defence.
GW: OK, so there isn’t a specific training programme you go through or particular things points you have to hit?
MG: There are some minimum requirements that you have to have and they are written down in the board. We call it the Corpora. Those are our governing documents. But prowess is absolutely a requirement as well as comportment is another one. At least the king and queen have to consider you to be a good and decent person for the SCA. And they have to have a prowess. And then, some people forget this. You have to know how to play chess. You have to know how to dance.
GW: Really? Oh, that’s excellent. That’s a slightly broader requirement.
MG: You have to be a well-rounded member of the SCA for you to get a peerage as well. I do dance, or at least I have done it in the past and there are some very low ones that are like walking dances.
GW: So OK, I see. I think I know how to dance, but my wife strongly disagrees at least.
MG: At least you have shown some interest in dancing.
GW: OK, now you talk about prowess and you’re a long standing competitive rapier fencer who currently ranks 35 worldwide in the HEMA rankings. I only know that because I looked it up just for this interview. So many of the people listening are very interested in competitive fencing, rapier, longsword, whatever else. And to my mind, there are massive commonalities in all these different styles of fencing, particularly in how you approach competitive fencing. So you’re obviously pretty good at it. So how do you do it?
MG: I had a huge leg up starting as a kid in that I decided I wanted to try sports. My dad played sports his entire career. My mom did a little bit, not as much as my dad did. And so at age eight, I started playing basketball and softball competitively. I did that throughout my entire school career. So from age eight through age 18, I was in usually three sporting programmes a year, sometimes four. I did track for a little bit, but I’m not a fast runner so that ended quickly. But I did basketball, I was swimming, I played softball, and I was in two swimming leagues. So I was doing a lot of competition all the time. Then I took a 10 year period off and then I started fencing and I determined really that fencing is just like any other competitive sport, you have to train to be competitive. And so my viewpoint is that every single time I am ready to start, it is exactly like jump ball was for me when I was playing basketball back in the day. They don’t do it anymore. When two people want to start every quarter or when two people had the same ball, grabbed the ball at the same time they did “jump ball”, which was where two people faced off and then you jumped for the ball and then the person who jumped the fastest and tallest got it. And so that was my practise I had for every single basketball game because I was one of the tallest women, if not the tallest woman on the team. I was being the one who was doing jump ball all of the time. There was all of that very quick have to get ready to perform right now. And that was just something I drilled practically daily growing up. Translating that technique into fencing was very easy. I can really get into the mental mindset of, oh, it’s ready to go time, right now. Since then, because I am an adult and I can do research, I like to do research. I did a lot of research on how this works. And my favourite book on this is called Winning the Mental Way. It is out of print, but I will absolutely send you a link to it, if your folks want to look at it. It’s really literally everything I ever learnt in competitive sports in high school. And a lot of it has to do with learning how to manage your excitement or adrenaline, if it’s high or too low. Two quick things that I do, actually three things. The first one is, I have a mantra that I say in my head, and it really depends on which state I am in. If I am too high, I think of the old Bruce Lee saying, Be Water. Everyone’s mantra should be different, but Be Water is mine like that, just to go with the flow, just to cut myself down a little bit. And the other one is when I am too low, it is not acceptable for a family friendly podcast. To be honest, as soon as I cross the field, my mindset immediately goes into Darth Vader mode and I think “I’m going to kill you, motherfucker”. Just like that. You’re here to “kill me”. And I mean that with air quotes around it. You’re here to win. You’re here to beat me and I’m not going to let you do that. So that’s really my mindset at the time when I get on the field and you can kind of tell, talking about it, I’m getting into that mindset. The physical techniques, two physical techniques that I have is if it’s too high, I do circle breathing, in through the nose, out through the mouth. And if you do that for a while, it helps regulate your heartbeat and at least helps regulate my adrenaline. So into the nose, out through the mouth, just do that thinking of it as a circle. And then if it’s still too low, a friend of mine Puck Curtis, who teaches Destresa, he taught me the shoving game, which is where you and your friend, with love and consent, go to each other and then you start hitting each other really hard on the chest, like one of them shoves you really hard one way. And then you do it back and forth. After a few minutes you’re like, oh, I’m ready to go. It’s like what American football players do when you see them hitting each other on the pads, getting their excitement up, ready to go. It feels the same. Sort of like adrenaline.
GW: That’s fascinating because I teach a lot of breathing exercises for many different purposes, but including the ability to adjust your level of arousal up or down. There are ways of doing either way.
MG: I have your solo class and I’ve done your breathing. I highly recommend your solo classes to anyone who is interested.
GW: Oh, thank you. Well, I’ll definitely put a link to those in the show notes. OK, so now we first met at Lord Baltimore’s Challenge in 2019 and I was running the rings. I actually had you in my rings once or twice so I’ve actually seen you fence and as I recall you just sort of stabbed everybody in the face and walked away, which is great. It was really good. So, listeners I have actually watched Monica fence. And yes, she knows what she’s doing.
MG: I don’t mess around either.
GW: No. You just get in there and stab them.
MG: Right. My philosophy on this is the longer you are standing, the more likely you’re going to stab me. So I’m just going to stab you first. So I just get it done quickly.
GW: And the longer the fight goes on for, the more likely something sort of unpredictable will happen.
MG: Yes. Chaos and randomness. Absolutely.
GW: Exactly. We have the SCA, we have, as we say, the historical martial arts community, and they are they overlap considerably. Yes, but they are not the same cultures and at Lord Baltimore’s Challenge we had historical martial arts fencers and SCA fencers playing nicely all day. So I have my impression of how that worked, and obviously I’m coming from the historical martial arts side of things. What’s your take on the two different cultures there?
MG: My biggest take is I don’t get why there is animosity between the two.
GW: Right, it doesn’t make any sense.
MG: We love swords, which are great, more swords, we want more swords. I think it has to do with respect. I think as long as both groups respect each other and understand what the other one is about. I think everyone should be come together really and just have more swords. The SCA is a very large tent and by a very large tent I mean, you do not need to have a whole lot to start. You need to make an attempt at pre 17th century culture, an attempt. So basically just come on by and that does seem to cause some consternation with the folks who are like, they seem to have a low standard. And we do, we have very low standards entirely so that we get more and more people involved. And the longer you are in the SCA, generally, the more you are interested in being like, I want to be like the cool kids and start wearing cooler and cooler outfits. And then you learn to hand sew. That’s why there is such a low bar in the SCA. We were made by college students back in 1969 I think is when it started, we were made by college students. And so the bar is really low. Just make an attempt to come on in and then we will slowly over your time period get you to whereever you want to go.
GW: And when I run beginners’ courses very often I get emails from people wanting to sign up to the beginners’ course, but they’re not sure whether they should because they don’t have any experience of swords. Is that okay? And I’m like, that’s the whole point. Right? That’s where you start. It’s not where you finish. And the thing is I’ve seen in the SCA, I’ve seen the most absolutely appallingly terrible equipment and dreadful fencing. But also I have seen some of the absolute finest, most gorgeously hand tailored with handspun thread and hand woven clothes. And elegant fencing. I mean, several of my colleagues I respect the most either are either still in the SCA or at least started in the SCA. To judge the SCA by the shall we say, the I’m wearing a pillowcase over my regular clothes, but it’s a bit like judging historical martial arts by how people look like in their first class.
MG: Exactly. It’s the clothing aspect. The other thing that I truly love about the SCA that I don’t think HEMA quite gets, is that the number of tournaments that we have. Like I am at a big event, like a week long event, I am going to tournaments two to three times a day for a week.
GW: Wow, that’s a lot of fencing.
MG: Exactly. And then we also have something that HEMA does not, which is completely historically inaccurate, but way so much fun I’m never giving it up. And that is melee. I mean, it’s not historically accurate. Let’s be real right here, it’s not. But it is so much fun to have a hundred people on your side, hundred people on the other, and you go in the woods and stab at each other. It’s great.
GW: I’ve done it in a re-enactment context, not a SCA context, but yeah, it is super fun.
MG: Yes. And we do it mostly more or less safely. There’s usually some you know, someone does something to their ankle or knee or whatnot, but really safely. So I really enjoy that too. I really do like that HEMA and other western martial arts are so focussed on the manuals and learning from the manuals and that part I do love that an awful lot. To be honest here we have a lot of folks in the SCA that are much more interested in the competitive aspect of fencing than they are on the historical manuals.
GW: No, I will say in historical martial arts there are an awful lot of people now who are just interested in the tournaments and they go to the tournaments and they train for the tournaments. And we’ve seen a kind of a longsword tournament style of fencing evolve in real time over the last 15 years, which is kind of like a combination of épée and Kendo. And it bears no relation that I can see to most of what we find in the medieval manuals. But that’s OK. That’s not what it’s for. It’s for winning tournaments, and it does that extremely well. So I think, to my mind, by the time somebody is doing that, they’re not really doing historical martial arts at all anymore. It’s a kind of a new, historically inspired sword sport, which is a perfectly fine thing to do. I think we are getting broader and broader also, and we’re finding, because we are effectively younger than the SCA by about 20 years, and so I think we’re sort of spreading out into those different areas. It’s very easy for someone who doesn’t understand what they’re seeing to look at somebody in perfect historical gear, beautifully reconstructed, and they’re doing living history reconstruction of the clothing and the food, perhaps, and the woodwork. I’ve done a bit of medieval woodwork, it’s great fun. And it looks a lot like LARP if you don’t know the details. I remember like 20 years ago, there was this again, nothing wrong with LARP either. I mean, there are some fantastically interesting LARPs out there. It’s just again, that’s a whole another thing. But I think in historical martial arts, we kind of picked up an aversion to dressing up because the people we saw doing swords while dressed up were LARPing.
MG: The SCA is not a LARP. And the reason why it is, is because I have LARPed. I am a LARPer and I do not get experience points. There’s no storyline, I don’t get experience points right there that, going out and fencing. But my answer to those people who are like, “I don’t want to dress up,” much like we were just talking about earlier, trying to get as close as we can to medieval food and cooking, as close as we can. You get such a different feel fighting in historically, as accurate as we can, clothing than we can with sneakers and a sweatshirt. The clothing is different and things do happen. I wear a mask.
GW: You like being able to see.
MG: Though I have to tell you part of me does want a scar at some point in time. I recommend the folks that are like oh no, I don’t want to dress up funny. First of all dressing up is cool, we did it as kids. We’re doing it now. It’s a lot of fun and it’s why we dress up for weddings, to look nice. And so it helps you feel more like you are there. You’re in that moment. That is one of the things the SCA is really good for, particularly at night. And when you’re out at a big event and it’s night time and everything is lit by firelight. It really gives you that moment, that feeling of like, oh, this is what it was like and that really makes me happy.
GW: Yeah, I’ve done re-enactments where we were dressed up in not very accurate medieval gear. And after the battles, we were in the tent drinking, not very accurate medieval beer and in our not very accurate medieval gear. And it was great. And also, I say as a historical martial artist I would say it is simply necessary that you test your interpretation wearing period clothing, because if it doesn’t work in the period gear, it can’t be right. It can’t be a correct interpretation. If there’s a particular action and wearing the clothing, the person who is going to be doing this would have been wearing at the time, it’s just impractical, then you must have made a mistake in your interpretation somewhere. If a pie comes out of the oven and it’s a splodgy mess, you’ve made a mistake somewhere.
MG: I can immediately figure that one out.
GW: Yeah. I was at this roleplaying convention where I used to give a talk on the realities of steels at Ropecon in Helsinki and for many years while I was living there, I used to go there every year and give a talk or whatever. And one guy came up to me and he actually said, “You probably won’t want to talk to me because I’m in the SCA, but I have a question.” I’ve forgotten the question and I forgot my answer other than I thought, why on earth would you think I wouldn’t want to talk to you. That’s the bit I remember, because it was just so weird. But that’s what I really found out there in the SCA there’s this impression that historical fencing people don’t like SCA people. And I guess I have certainly come across in historical fencing. This sort of prejudice that if you’re in the SCA, you’re probably just mucking about and it doesn’t make any sense to me at all.
MG: I don’t get it either, particularly when culture and our interests overlap so much. We should do so much better, like, if not get along, start going to each other’s activities. I loved Lord Baltimore’s Challenge because of that.
GW: I think David set it up to do that. I do remember there was one moment where I probably made not a great judgement call as the ref because I saw somebody, it was the first time I had seen them fence. I didn’t know how good they were. I think they ended up winning the whole thing. So they were pretty good. And he just touched this person on the mask. I couldn’t tell from the angle whether he was just being super cautious or whether he was actually out of measure. When we fence, we tend to fence with a bit more contact. So I said, I’m not going to allow it because it was a bit light. Then he punched him in the head a bit too hard. The next time I was like, OK, fine, you hit as lightly as you want, it was deliberate. I got it. This poor person had to get like effectively punched in the face with a rapier for me to understand that there is a cultural difference between SCA hitting and historical martial arts hitting, because you do hit considerably lighter than we tend to do. But if you’re doing three tournaments a day for a week, you need light head hits or you’re going to be screwed by the end of the week, correct?
MG: Correct. I like the light touch. I will be honest. Because you got through my guard. If you got through my guard,
GW: Then you deserve to get hit.
MG: It doesn’t take much to kill someone with a sharp object. It takes like three pounds of pressure.
GW: Yes. Done.
MG: And then you’re dead. That’s why sharp things are very effective.
GW: Right. OK, I better get onto the knitting before the knitters in the listening group just kind of give up in disgust. OK, I have actually knitted, back when I was very young at boarding school. One of the matrons had a little knitting club and I had to go and we knitted this little thing. And so I’ve done it once, but that’s the sum total of my knitting experience. But I guess the first thing is, are you doing historical knitting or modern knitting?
MG: Both. So I learnt how to knit with double pointed needles, especially so that I could do historical knitting.
GW: What is a double pointed needle? I’m envisioning a fork.
MG: No, it’s basically a stick with points on both ends.
GW: OK, fine.
MG: There are three basic types of knitting needles. There are straight ones with like a big ball or something on the end for the yarn doesn’t slip off and those are just back and forth. There is a very modern thing, which is a circular needle, which is two needles, and there’s like a tube that connects it.
GW: I’ve seen those. Yeah.
MG: And then there’s the double pointed needle or as we call them, DPNs. And those are basically a stick or a piece of metal that are sharp on both ends or that you knit on one needle and knit off and that’s how you basically knit in a circle.
GW: OK, so am I right in thinking that, historically most households would have had knitters in them? It was really common skill, or is it a bit rarer than that?
MG: Well, it depends on what time period. So by the 14th century, you are seeing knitting happen.
GW: Is it that young?
MG: Yes. So before then, there was something called nail binding, which the Vikings did. It is basically one needle and it’s very complicated and involves loops. But it’s beautiful. And then the Egyptians, so we’re talking pre-Christ, actually learned how to knit. And there’s a bunch of Egyptian cotton socks that are still in existence and that’s a thing. And then by the 14th century, you start seeing bags and other things that are in France, in England in the 14th century and by the 16th century, they’re starting to do things like gloves and hats and things like that.
GW: But you wouldn’t have, like, knitting shops.
MG: No, no. I don’t know of one. Let’s put it that way. There were knitting guilds. By the 16th century there was a knitting guild. So that could be considered a knitting shop.
GW: I guess if there’s a guild that presupposes that people are doing it professionally.
MG: Yes. There were professional knitters by that point. OK, there were some Queen Elizabeth I, not the current one, made some edicts like everyone will have this kind of hat to wear on Sunday or something. That was to make sure that the knitting guild and the wool industry.
GW: OK, so spinning was done at home, right?
MG: Yes. Their spinning was done at home. I mean, I’m sure that there were shops by the 16th century as well, but in the 14th century you spun wool, for sure.
GW: So they were spinning wool at home and then I guess people sitting at home were knitting. I don’t suppose anyone wrote a treatise in the 15th century on knitting, did they?
MG: There is a History of Knitting book. I will put it in the show notes. We don’t have any books from the time period that I know of. We have examples of the objects. OK, the good things about some arts and sciences, arts like food and sword fighting, you have to write a book about it or that’s how people know. Some object still exists. So there are objects that exist. The Museum of London has some amazing hats and there was like a lot of little kids gloves in there. When I was in London, I totally went in and took pictures of everything, like how did they do the gusset there, like every sword person I know when they go into museum, we’re getting up close to the glass and like looking to see exactly like how it was made or how long it is or something. With knitters, knitters will go into museums it’ll be like, how did they knit that. There’s lots of hats and there’s lots of gloves from the 16th century. There’s the Egyptian socks that are available. There’s not very much in between because wool breaks down quicker than cotton does. And there’s some pictures of the knitting Madonnas, where they have them knitting a shirt for Christ in some of the paintings, we know knitting existed.
GW: OK, most cloth is made by weaving on a loom, and that’s a big specialist bit of equipment and it’s expensive to set up and it requires specialist training. And I mean, people had looms in their houses, Ulysses’ wife, Penelope being the most famous example probably, or maybe Arachne. It strikes me that knitting is just a way that you can, my grandma used to sit and watch TV and knit sweaters for all eight grandchildren, so you can actually make cloth with just your two hands and a couple of sticks. You think it would have been earlier and more widespread?
MG: Yes. But no, this is one of the best things about doing it on your own. You can’t really get wooden, or at least at the time, to get the really fine sort of cloth you need metal. And they didn’t have metal, the ability to make metal so fine as we do now, or at least they did by the Elizabethan age. Before then, they were using sticks. They were using wood and they can’t get it so fine that you could make a nice, fine object like you could with weaving. Now you can.
GW: Most t-shirts are knitted.
MG: Exactly. But back in the day, back in the 14th, pre-16th century, they did not have the ability, the machine, the metal so fine that they could make knitting needles out of it.
GW: Interesting. All right. So are you working on any particular, as you can tell, when I told my patrons that, you’re coming on and you’re a knitter, some of them clearly knit. I have a lot of different questions, and it may be a bit obvious that I don’t know anything about anything. I’m asking for the benefit of the knitting segment of the audience. OK, do you have a favourite historical or fencing related knitting project?
MG: Oh. A Monmouth cap, because it’s our time period. A Monmouth cap is basically a sea shanty hat. It’s basically a big thick brim. And then it has like this little thing on the top. And I just think of it as a ski cap.
GW: I will find a picture and put it in the show notes for the curious.
MG: I have a couple. I have that for you. I’ll find it for you. It’s my favourite one. Also super important, it is from our time period. It is from the late 16th century. And I’m pretty sure that it was on the on the Mary Rose, but most importantly, at SCA events which are outside, it keeps your ears warm at night.
GW: OK, all right. Now, a couple of questions that I tend to finish up with. I hope the knitters are satisfied, people, I did my best. What is the best idea you’ve never acted on?
MG: So we did talk a little bit about my website, and that was the default I was going to go to was I need to fix it because it was originally made in the 1990s, had not been updated since then. And I have not gotten off my duff to figure out how to fix it. But I will. I need to hire someone to help me do that, really, because web design these days is an actual job and I should probably hire someone. But I have come up with a better idea that I’m going to stick with, and that is that I should start a revolution is really what should happen for women. For women and non-binary and non-majority gender in fencing.
GW: Right. I’m all about that, carry on.
MG: HEMA is a little bit better than the SCA, but only because I don’t think you guys have the numbers that we do. And by that, I mean, no one has done the maths on how little women are represented. And we have done that in the SCA. That’s been fairly recently. And it turned out that some very smart folks have done some actual maths, not me, actual people that have determined using progressives and all sorts of other maths ability. We usually start out with about 45 percent of the people who come to start fencing in the SCA are women. The number of women who are Masters of Defence, there’s something about 13 percent. You go from forty-five to thirteen percent.
GW: Ah, that’s damning, that it.
MG: Right. So we call it the leaky pipe problem, which is there is just endemic sexism and racism throughout all of swords. In every aspect of it. When it comes to, we don’t have equipment that fits women, to we don’t have mentors for women, we don’t have teachers for women. We do have some of this, like I’m talking in the bell curve of humanity, in the SCA or in swordsmanship. We’re talking in the 80 percent level of the bell curve rate. Yes, and not all swords, right, let’s not do that hashtag. #Notallswords. The reason why I haven’t done a revolution is that I don’t know how. I want this to happen. I want there to be a revolution in SCA and in HEMA and also everywhere, because you’re losing 50 percent of your competitors, you’re losing 50 percent of the people you could be stabbing. I want to stab more people. My ultimate plan is stab more people. I mean, it’s a very selfish motivation. I need people to deeply understand that when we say that the system is sexist, we’re not saying you are sexist people. I mean, you might be, but you are not being sexist because it is the systems that are sexist. The systems were set up primarily for men, generally set up for white men. And because of that, it is so hard for minorities, people of colour and for women to get into the system that was not built for them. And so I want everyone to understand, just how hard it is, how many more barriers that have been placed for people from equipment, from teachers, from opportunities, for people being shoved into the administration roles that get no love and attention like we discussed at the beginning of the podcast. All of things are part of the problem. And I have been talking about this for well over a decade. And I don’t know what to do anymore at this point. How do I get more buy-in from the people that the system is built for? How do I get them to understand that the system is built for you, but it’s also a detriment for them as well? Because you have less people to fight with you.
GW: Yes. And less sort of different points of view, different kinds of minds to bring to bear on any given problem. Yeah. OK, well, on this show, at least we’re entirely in favour of that sort of thing. This is the only podcast I know of that has a minimum 50 percent female guests. That’s part of the policy when I set it up. The point of the show really is to get as many different viewpoints as possible. And the first most obvious thing to do was to make sure that we had enough women on the show. At the moment, we have slightly more women than men so far as guests. And I’m going to keep it that way, slightly more women than men.
MG: You’re ahead of your time.
GW: Well, maybe.
MG: But it is 2021. We should perhaps accept that women are part of culture, right?
GW: Yes. And I also, I have two daughters. I want the world to be set up for them.
MG: We have to start today.
GW: OK, so revolution, sign me up. What are you doing? I’m not part of the SCA, so probably can’t help you directly very much.
MG: Sword revolution is what we’re going to call it. There we are, I’ve got a hashtag now.
GW: OK, so. So I guess then any listeners who want to join your revolution should probably get in touch with you.
MG: That’s fine.
GW: OK, and probably we’re talking SCA rather than swords generally.
MG: Yes. Well…
GW: Because tactically speaking, you have a lot more, shall we say, clout in the SCA than you do in the historical fencing world, because you spent your time in the SCA and you have rank and experience. So that would be the obvious place to start. But please don’t finish there.
MG: Fair, absolutely fair. I’ll try working on the revolution today.
GW: I shall have a think about any Masters of Defence I know who happen to be middle aged white men. And I shall tell them to get in touch and then you can tell them what to do. I think actually probably the point of most leverage, I would imagine, would be the existing Masters of Defence.
MG: You’re correct. I think you’re right because we’re the gate keepers basically keeping people in or out.
GW: Exactly, exactly. OK. I do know a couple of middle aged white men Masters of Defence in the SCA. I shall send them an email today. I am making a note.
MG: There we go. Well, perhaps we can get some things started before that.
GW: That would be excellent. OK. All right. So my last question. Yes. If you are getting a chest full of duckets, because it’s the SCA, it has to be duckets, right. If it’s not duckets then it’s florins or pieces of eight, for the benefit of historical martial arts or the SCA, indeed, worldwide. What would you do with the money?
MG: So I was torn between spending the money, spending the duckets, on sending people to go find more historical manuals because they’re out there. We just don’t know where they are, haven’t got them translated. But I feel like someone has already taken that on.
GW: We do have a lot. We have a lot of manuals. We have hundreds of them. More is good, but OK.
MG: And first translate the duckets into actual money.
GW: Yeah, sure. Of course.
MG: And then, put it in the bank or put it in some sort of fund and then have every year. That way I will be spending the interest, not the actual amount of money. And have a ginormous, as big as I can afford, event where HEMA and the SCA come together every year and where I am spending real money and getting real as many teachers as I can from SCA and outside of the SCA and bringing them together David Biggs’s Lord Baltimore’s Challenge is as close as we could get to that right now. I would love for it to be bigger and with more money I could make that happen. But I would like it to be a much bigger event and have a big focus on teaching. Now, of course, have tournaments because those of us that are competitive really want that and also have it on teaching, not only just teaching the historical martial arts aspect, but also teaching how to teach and also having much more robust discussions on how to make things more diverse and equitable and have more inclusion in both of our groups in swords in general, that is what I’d do. Part of the revolution is to have a massive and high-level event that that is paid for with this bucket of duckets and where we are using more and more of our expertise to get more people involved and get them taught and get them up to where they need to be and making it a destination for all fencing.
GW: Wow, that’s genius. I mean, the usual thing is a million dollars rather than a bucket of duckets and with a million dollars invested sensibly in income bearing funds and what have you, you should have about 40 grand to spend reliably. And that’s a lot more than most people spend on most events, I would say. So I think that’s actually a pretty realistic goal. Well, apart from the lack of cash.
MG: Apart from the lack of cash, it’s fine. Yeah, we can hire people to actually put this on. We could hire actual planners and it wouldn’t be such a burden on volunteers. It is a lot of work.
GW: I think Jack Norwood also mentioned spending money on paying people running the events. Right, because he ran Longpoint, which one of the big martial arts events in the States. And yeah, I seem to recall in his interview, he mentioned having money to pay the people running the event. Every event I’ve been to has been volunteer run. And the volunteers are amazing and they do incredible amounts of work. But there’s usually not enough of them, and they are usually worked far too hard and they don’t get much of the event themselves, they spend the whole time working, whereas if you had a few professionals there, I guess it’s like hiring caterers for a wedding. So the guests can actually not spend any time in the kitchen doing the washing up. Yeah, OK. I think that’s a brilliant idea.
MG: Hire caterers, yes.
GW: Yeah. Excellent. All right. Well, Monica, thank you very much indeed for joining me today. It’s been a delight talking to you.
MG: It’s been great. Thank you so much. I loved doing this and I love your podcast.