GW: Hello sword people, this is Guy Windsor, also known as The Sword Guy, and I’m here today with Lois Spangler. Lois is probably best known for being a verdadera destreza, or Spanish rapier fencer, and for doing an awful lot of work translating verdadera destreza sources. Sorry if I’m mangling the pronunciation. She has an excellent blog at storytrade.net, and she has a Patreon account where you can see a lot of her translations and of course, throw her some cash at www.patreon.com/loisspangler. So without further ado, Lois, welcome to the show.
LS: Thank you so much for having me. It’s such a pleasure to talk to you.
GW: Likewise, now, just so we can locate everyone, whereabouts in the world are you?
LS: I’m a very confusing person. I am an expat Mexican-American who’s currently living in Brisbane, Australia.
GW: OK, yes, that’s quite a long way from Mexico and quite a long way from the United States. What brought you there?
LS: I got married to an Australian and we did that in 2008 when the global financial crisis was going down and Australia had a much better economy at the time.
GW: OK, sorry you were about to tell a story and I really cut you off.
LS: That’s totally fine, oh, it’s just a joke. It’s basically, you know, considering all the new distances I keep moving every time I move, by the time I’m 60, I’ll be on the moon.
GW: Yes, I have some experience of continent switching myself, I grew up in South America and Africa and then I moved to Finland – I really like hot weather, why the hell did I live in Finland for 18 years? So how do you find Brisbane?
LS: The climate is a lot like South Texas, which is where I did a lot of my growing up, but I moved to Brisbane from New York City. So the change of pace is significant. Yeah, but to give Brisbane a bit of a plug, we punch above our weight in terms of HEMA schools. So when it comes when it comes to historical fencing, we do not lack.
GW: It’s funny because I’ve taught in Sydney and in Melbourne and also in New Zealand. I’ve never been to Brisbane, so maybe I should put that on my itinerary for the next time when we’re allowed to travel.
LS: I know, right? Yeah. Well, we’d love to have you and we can give you a small cook’s tour of the Brisbane schools, which would be a lot of fun, actually.
GW: That would be great. So speaking of historical martial arts schools, how did you get started in this sword world of ours?
LS: Well, it was it was a bit sidelong. When I was in New York, I started learning Iaido. I was learning Muso Shinden Ryu with Debra Klens-Bigman at New York Budokai. And then after a few years of getting into and out of seiza and not knowing I had a structural issue in my knees, I cheese-gratered my cartilage, and I had to stop.
GW: Oh, no.
LS: Oh, yeah, that was not fun. And then from there, I moved to Australia and I was like oh, swords would be fun, but I can’t do the seiza because we have a couple of Iaido schools out here. And then I met someone through a mutual friend and this is now a good friend of mine, Chris Lee, you may have seen some of his French translations.
GW: I know of Chris. I don’t think I’ve ever met him, but I know his work.
LS: Yeah, he’s going to be delighted to hear that, honestly. So I ended up having a good chat with Chris Lee and he was at Vanguard at the time. And I joined up with Vanguard.
GW: Vanguard is a sword fighting club? Because most Americans and Brits will think of it as an investment firm.
LS: Oh, right. Yeah. No, it’s I think it’s changed its name. But when I was with them it was Vanguard Swordsmanship Academy. The name changes somewhat frequently, but it’s always Vanguard something. And so I studied with them.
GW: What did you study?
LS: It’s a single sword. Scott McDonald who runs the school, he favours the sword and dagger, but he’s sort of school agnostic. He’ll teach you core principles. And then once you’ve got those core principles down, then it’s up to you to find a style that you like and you want to explore and you want to play with. But he’ll teach you very structured, very sort of pared down combat basics and it usually works best with like a transitional sidesword rapier because he tends to cut and thrust. But that was what we studied there. It wasn’t necessarily like this is this is a Marozzo school. That wasn’t what was happening there.
GW: OK, That must be quite a change from the Iaido.
LS: Well, I wanted to do that because there were some longsword schools available and I thought, no, if I do longsword, that’s it’s I’m going to muddy it up with my understanding of using a Katana. And I wanted to do a clean break. So I said, single sword. Let’s play with a single sword and see how that goes. The way a human being has to move to get a single sword to do effective things is very different than when you can support that single sword with your other hand. But it was really cool, talk about a learning experience. And I didn’t have to get into and out of seiza all the time, so it was great. I could actually practise.
GW: That must have been a huge advantage. I’ve never been a fan of kneeling down in a fight. Well, it makes sense in the Japanese cultural context. Totally makes sense. I’ve done some Japanese stuff and I’m familiar with it, but yeah, I’m very glad that we never have to sit on our knees like that.
LS: I mean, you wouldn’t be kneeling in the middle of a fight, but you might be kneeling when you start. Well you wouldn’t be starting it, it was the other guy who started it who doesn’t know any better. And then you’ll show Buddhist compassion, and he won’t take it and you’ll have to cut him down. He should have known. So from there, another person in the HEMA community, Sean Reichman, along with Kate Hickey and Sharon McHugh-Riechmann, were starting up a verdadera destreza school. They wanted to study it and they wanted to promulgate it. And I’m sitting here going, I mostly natively speak Spanish. I’m Mexican-American. So I grew up with the language. And in fact, I’m a professional editor in both languages. And I thought, how amazing is it that I’m in this country that doesn’t really have Spanish in the same way that the United States has Spanish as a thing that you can do as a job? And there’s the school that is like right there, it’s a niche. So, of course, I jumped in.
GW: OK, so that got you started with the practise of Spanish rapier, as we non-verdadera destreza-types think of it?
LS: Yeah, yeah. Spanish rapier covers well, Spanish fencing, covers two styles of fencing. And I can go over this now or I can go over this later, whichever you prefer, but I can give a general talking about it.
GW: You’re talking about it now so why don’t you dive right in?
LS: This is sort of formative thinking that’s built from talks with Chris Slee and Ton Puey out in Spain. But there’s this general feeling that in the Mediterranean, Spain, France, parts of Italy, there was a very cut and thrusty, sideswordy kind of fighting that had existed for a while and had grown out of other historical stuff. So if you take a look at Saint-Didier, if you take a look at Godinho, if you take a look at some of the Bolognese masters, they’re not identical. And you can’t say that they’re the same thing. But you can feel that there’s a thematic – they come from a similar colour palette. You know, they’re not the same, but there’s some spiritually thematic connections with the way that they operate. And then in the 1560s, this guy called Carranza comes along. And right now I’m relying on research done by Dr Mary Curtis and Puck Curtis and Dr. Manuel Valle, where he’s sort of a low noble, kind of a clerk kind of noble. And he takes a look at that situation, the state of society around him. And he’s looking at these young men who throw themselves foolishly into fights without any kind of sense and it’s all about bravado. And there’s no art, there’s no science. He’s like, this is ridiculous.
GW: That sounds like how George Silver felt when he looked at the Italian rapier. It’s the same thing: The youth of today they don’t know they’re born and there are proper principles and they’re not following them, and speaking as a parent I know that feeling extremely well.
LS: He writes this four dialogue book amongst five people. And in this in these dialogues, he describes the true skill of fencing, the verdadera destreza. This is the true skill of arms. There’s no instructions. It’s all very philosophical. But the idea is he’s casting a new light on Spanish male society, using fencing as a lens and saying stop being these idiotic hot-Blooded emotion driven twits and start embodying the potential of your intellect and the gifts that God gave you and actually start behaving like gentleman for the love of God. So what the people who follow the destreza, I call it LVD for short, because for folks who don’t speak Spanish, la verdadera destreza is a ton of syllables that all sort of rattle against each other and can be really just difficult. So if you just say, LVD, we all know what we’re talking about. So once you get Pacheco, who’s the first major author of LVD after Carranza. Both Carranza and all the way onwards, they talk about the prior form of fencing as vulgar fencing, common fencing, like literally vulgar common fencing, and the trick is vulgar fencing can apply to the stuff that was happening in Iberia or it can apply to what the English were doing or what the French were doing or what the Germans were doing, because it’s not Spanish skill.
GW: So this is a common thing like in 1.33 he constantly refers to, “The common fencer does this, but the scholar, the priest’s scholar will do that instead.” This is a really common theme in the literature.
LS: It all comes from that same humanist renaissance turn that was happening in Europe at the time, this new way of thinking about thing. So that’s what we talk about when we say that the school that I’m with, the Brisbane School of Iberian Swordsmanship, we call ourselves Iberian because even though we focus on LVD, we focus on all of Iberian fencing. So, for instance, one of our provosts, Ryan Tanzer, is really working hard on Godinho, which is the author of the only treatise we have found so far that is written about the Iberian vulgar style. And it’s pretty complete, which is amazing.
GW: Kaja Sadowski was on the show a while ago and she waxed lyrical about Godinho.
LS: I’ve gotten to play a little Godinho with her and it was awesome. So cool.
GW: I can imagine.
LS: Yeah. So, yeah, that’s a nice quick framework of what LVD is before we go into any other kind of details later on.
GW: OK, so you started translating these texts just on a whim?
LS: Yes, sort of on a whim. It was more like I join up with BSIS and I’m looking around and I’m realising that there is next to no material available in English, but when the SCA really kicked off and started to do fencing, started to do their rapier fencing, for reasons that I’m not entirely clear about, I think it was just really a combination of circumstance, fortune and luck, the Italian treatises were more easily available and more easily translated, and so those became available in English for people to use. So, of course, the Italian schools and then the German schools became popular because English speakers could get to them and play with them. But we have very, very little material, very little primary source material in English. To give you an example, on my website, the translations I did of the offhand weapons for Figueredo, that’s the first, nobody else has put that in English. Nobody else has. But that’s the first time we’ve seen that in English.
GW: OK, I have a theory because I’ve been doing this since the early 90s. I think we probably got into the Italian stuff first because the late Victorian sources, like Hutton, for example, and Castle, tend to go on at some length about the Italian stuff. But if I remember rightly, they don’t even mention the French.
LS: Egerton Castle does mention the Spanish, but not very favourably.
GW: OK. Well, but also, if I remember rightly, most of the Spanish sources aren’t particularly illustrated, whereas the Italian sources tend to have pretty pictures that you can just follow.
LS: It depends on the source, because if you’re if you’re talking about Rada, who came out in the early 1700s, that is extensively illustrated. And in fact he developed a 3-D coordinate system to tell you exactly where your sword should be at any given time.
GW: But no one had even seen Rada, wouldn’t have never heard of him until 10 years ago. So in the 90s, you could find copies of Capo Ferro, for example, and even if you couldn’t read Italian, you could look at the pictures. Yeah, Fiore was a little bit later in terms of when we got access to the scans.
LS: You’re absolutely right. These images and the Spanish books absolutely require exegetical text, not even captions. You need exegetical text.
GW: Right. So I think it’s also we were directed towards the Italian stuff by the 19th century people. And we could actually find Italian stuff in relatively in libraries and get photocopies of them and what have you. And that meant that there were sources with pictures that people could start playing with. And then they went, oh my God, I want this in English. And so people like William Wilson and Jherek Swanger started translating them, bless them. I think the first time I ever saw a Spanish text would be in about 2003 or something like that. So we’d already been doing Italian stuff for nearly a decade by then. And there were no pictures. So if you didn’t speak Spanish then you had no way of really getting into the text. So I think it’s a combination of those things.
LS: Yeah, absolutely.
GW: And of course, Thibault doesn’t help, we found Thibault early, and we think of Thibault as Spanish rapier. By all means jump in on that, if you like.
LS: No, no. Honestly he is, he is a part of the tradition. I accept Thibault is an extension of the tradition because he is. I’ve been I’ve been practising with a friend of mine out here and he focuses on Thibault, but he also helps me out with just regular destreza. And there’s enough overlap. And what I find incredibly interesting is that Thibault’s book is 1630s, but there is a lot of stuff in Rada, 70, 80 years later that is very, very Thibault in feel. And I think that’s incredibly interesting. And that is a rabbit hole I would like to go down eventually when I have a clone.
GW: Personally, when I look at Thibault, I don’t feel inspired to try it because it just looks very, very complicated.
LS: Yeah, and that’s the thing, it is. I agree. It looks impenetrable. I’ve had people say it looks esoteric, is it esoteric? And I’m like, no, it’s just geometry, but it’s one of those things. It’s like a high concept where you can’t describe the film in three sentences. But once you explain the film, then it all makes sense and it’s intuitive, once you understand the sort of the layout and structure. And that’s sort of what destreza is like. It’s a little. Oh, it’s, um, I was going to say it was like the game of Go, but honestly, the rules of destreza are a bit more complicated than that.
GW: So, you started translating Spanish texts. How did you choose which ones to do?
LS: So it’s all tied in with BSIS, really. Puck Curtis was running, I think this is like 2016, he was running a destreza workshop up in Vancouver at Academie Duello. And I certainly didn’t have the money to go, but a bunch of the BSIS folks did and they went as a group.
GW: I can just imagine a whole bunch of Australians rocking up in Vancouver just to go see Puck. I know Puck really well, he totally deserves that kind of fan base flying across the planet to go see him.
LS: Oh, yeah. And so one of the things that was happening was, I think Tim Rivera was there as well, but I may be confusing events, but there was there was talk of off-hand weapons in the destreza and the destreza sword and dagger. Figueredo’s sword and dagger was being taught. So when they came back, they’re like, OK, because the school was very new and we were still building our curriculum. We’ve got levels. So you’ve got your beginner classes, sort of your induction. You come in, we tell you what we’re about. We put a sword in your hand. And if you like it, we’ll see you next week. And then once you start coming in fairly regularly here, you go into the novice curriculum, which teaches you just the fundamentals of your footwork and sword work and sword actions. And then we move you up to apprentice, where we start getting into more complicated sword actions like the generals, which are spiral actions. And then you hit Scholar, where we put an offhand weapon in your hand. We did not have a built out Scholar curriculum because there was no material. In the conversation between Sean and Puck, I believe Puck mentioned the AGEA Editora. AGEA is the Asociacion Gallega de Esgrima Antigua. Which is the Galician Association of Historical Fencing. They have their own publishing house and they’ve put out amazing stuff. It’s stuff that they’re discovering in the northwest of Spain. So it’s Galicia. It’s a bit of Portugal and Spain. But they’re finding all these texts that we thought were lost like the Figueredo texts. Oh, it’s just amazing stuff that’s coming out.
GW: That’s very exciting.
LS: Yes, it is. I a billion percent agree. And so the Figueredo text had been out maybe a year at most. And so Puck was saying, well, if you if you want to continue working on off-hands and you’ve got somebody who can read Spanish, well, tell them to pick up this book. Now, Puck is a very smart and far seeing gentleman. And it sounds incidental, but I’m pretty sure he absolutely knew what he was doing when he said that. So I ended up buying the book and I’m like, oh, look, it’s old Portuguese. I don’t speak Portuguese, but old Portuguese is closer to Spanish than modern Portuguese. So I was able to kind of, you know, hamfist my way through it. So I translated Figueredo’s off-hands because we needed an off-hand curriculum. We needed it.
GW: That’s very practical. I’m the same, I translate stuff from Italian as and when I need it. I’m not interested in starting at the beginning of a book – I’ve done it once with Vadi. But generally speaking, I don’t want to start at the beginning of the book and just translate it, because if you can read it, you don’t need to translate it. And if you can’t read it, you can’t translate it. So to my mind it only makes sense to translate it when you say you’re giving a class on a particular topic and say you need that bit of the text in English so the students can understand it. And so I’ll try to translate that. But yeah, because translation is a ferocious amount of work.
LS: Yes. Yes, it is. And I know you know exactly what that like. It is not a small amount of work. I mean, the Sacramento Sword School has been running a destreza lecture series and Puck very kindly invited me to participate. So I talked about what it means to translate. What you go through to translate, what goes on.
GW: In preparation for this interview I watched your lecture last night. Fascinating. We will include a link to it in the show notes. So people who really want to dive deep into the translation rabbit hole can do that.
LS: Yeah, absolutely. The one thing I’m still a bit surprised at myself about is that I said, hey, why don’t I do some live translation? And I did it.
GW: That was yeah, that’s a gutsy move.
LS: But it does show people the kind of pratfalls and the pitfalls and the thinking and the stuff. And what was really nice was a lot of other translators came out and said, oh, man, I thought I was the only one who did this thing. It was really nice to hear that other people are thinking about this stuff and are going about it this way. So I’m really glad I did it because I feel like I ended up validating other people’s processes because there is no one way up that mountain.
GW: No, there are many wrong ways up the mountain, but there are there are also many ways that actually work. OK. So you’re producing these English translations of Spanish texts so that Anglophone practitioners of LVD can get access to the sources. Have I summarised that correctly? That’s an excellent thing to be doing.
LS: Yes. Oh, thank you. That was originally all I was doing. I wasn’t planning on asking for money, but then covid hit and I lost my job mid-March. So I said, well you know what? I now have extra time to translate and I need to pay the rent. And the important thing to know about the Patreon, the very important thing you need to know is that the Patreon only guarantees you early access and some slightly more direct access to me, because generally, if you message me and you’re like, “Hey, in your buckler translation, you say this, but I’m confused.” I can be like, “Let me double check.” I’m happy to talk with people about the translation so if folks have questions they are welcome to contact me. But, you know, once a whole chunk has been out on the Patreon for three months, then it’ll go out to the public. It goes out on Story Trade and everybody can access.
GW: Three months is generous, I mean, most places that do Patreons, with early access to podcasts or whatever they do, you know, you get it like two days before everybody else. So I think three months is very generous.
LS: It’s a reasonably small amount of time. It’s a reasonably long amount of time. But what I’ve found is that for the most part, as far as I can tell, the people who are contributing to the Patreon are less interested in early access as they are in making sure I can spend a significant amount of time putting new material out into the world.
GW: Because they are patrons.
LS: Yeah, exactly. This Patreon is specifically only about Pacheco’s Compendio, which, hysterically, if you know anything about Pacheco, is his abridgement of Carranza’s book. It’s his abridged version of Carranza’s book omitting anything that isn’t about fencing directly. So the reason I liked it was because a lot of people, rightly so, are clamouring for Carranza to be translated. And it’s sort of near and dear to my heart because I’ve got an MFA in playwriting and it’s a dialogue. One of the things that I love about it so much is that Carranza had a beautiful ear for speech. I can hear the words. When I’m reading them, I can actually hear somebody speaking them, which is lovely. On the other hand, Pacheco is kind of like slogging through knee deep mud.
GW: It is amazing that some of the most famous sources, Marozzo being a great example, are written by people who just could not write.
LS: Well, there’s also literary styles and traditions at the time that make it even worse. Pacheco was part of the… I always forget the names, but there were two competing styles. There was there was Pacheco who was following Góngora, and then there was Quevedo’s style, and Góngora, it even sounds fancy. It’s a style of writing where the subject of the sentence is kept approximately twenty-three miles away from the predicate of the sentence. And then you have all these recurring infernal fanciful descriptions of offshoots and side shots and slightly tangential things so that you literally have to just sit there and take the sentence apart like Lego and be like, OK, here’s my verb. What does it apply to? I don’t know. And then Quevedo was exactly the opposite. He’s like, no, your intellect is shown by how clearly and cleanly you can speak, so he’s a lot more poetic, he’s a lot more distilled and poetic. And of course there’s an apocryphal story about Quevedo and Pacheco having a having a duel where Quevedo wins. But something must have happened with them because if I’m not mistaken, Pacheco did dob Quevedo into the Inquisition. So it was not a friendly rivalry.
GW: God, that’s like SWATing somebody these days.
LS: Yeah, yeah.
GW: It’s funny, the use of language is really distinctive to people. You have, for example, Viggiani who writes this wonderful Lo Schermo he wrote in about 1550. And it’s a dialogue between three people. It’s this fantastic conversation and reading the Italian, you can literally hear them speak, like you said. But there’s a famous story about I think it was Bismarck. A friend of mine is a professor who has translated from Russian and German and what have you. And he told me the story a long time ago. So I may be messing up the details, but there’s this English tourist in Germany listening to, I think, Bismarck speak. And his friend, who’s German, says he would translate for him. And so Bismarck starts talking. And after a couple of minutes, the English guy nudges him and says, “What’s he saying?” and the German guy goes “Shh!” A few minutes later, he nudges him again – the German guy goes, “Shh!”. And then after about 15 minutes into the speech, the English guy is losing patience and nudges his German friend. And the German turns to him and says, “Shh! I’m waiting for the verb!”
LS: Yeah, yeah, I feel that.
GW: Exactly, because that is are rhetorical ways of using language that just make it absolutely impenetrable for anyone who isn’t a native speaker to hold all that information in their head to get the necessary end of the sentence when you can actually get the meaning to come through. I try not to write like that myself. If you think clearly, you should write clearly. And if you don’t write clearly, to me that is an indication that you don’t think clearly.
LS: I come out of a prose journalism background, so for me, clear writing is paramount. Don’t faff around. Don’t do that. I mean, unless you’re doing it for satirical purposes or something. But if you’re trying to convey information, don’t obscure it, don’t do that. Why?
GW: Exactly. Your blog’s called Storytrade, which is a great URL and it’s storytrade.net for those of you who want to go poking around. I did a little bit of poking around through it and I came across this gem: speaking in your voice, “I see everything as a narrative, as interlocking, cross-diverging narratives. Right now mine have to do with historical fencing and interactive narrative, less as an academic examination and more as a philosophical lens layered over vocation.” What is your vocation?
LS: I am by trade, I’ve been a writer / editor for twenty five years now in English and in Spanish, but Storytrade this website emerged when I was working on a doctorate of creative industries that I had to abandon. And what I was examining at that time was interactive narrative through… I’m about to get really academic. So if you’re not interested in the academic, go get yourself some tea. It’s looking at narrative and an interactive narrative through a Bakhtinin lens. Now, Mikhail Bakhtin was a Russian then Soviet philosopher and writer thinker of literature, and his dialogic work. He has a concept called Dialogism. His dialogic works are very different from the novels that preceded it, because if you think of Charles Dickens and you think of works of the 19th century, the characters don’t feel, the characters are kind of pushed around by the author who needs them to do things to get a story or a theme or a moral across. And what Bahktin talks about, he says, dialogism is in strongest evidence in the books of Dostoyevsky, where the story is not a plot that’s just set out from the start. The story emerges from the interactions of a number of different characters, each of whom is a fully formed psyche and has their own ethical and moral standpoints, things they will gladly do, things they will refuse to do on principle. And so events happen around these people. They respond to those events. They respond to each other, and the story emerges from that interaction. So if you think of any Dostoyevsky novel and a lot of modern novel writing today, if you talk to writers, a lot of them will say, I was trying to get through this chapter and then I had to toss out half of it because my main character just refused to go into the warehouse. They just wouldn’t do it. And that’s common as water. And it happens to me, too. It happens to me when I’m writing short stories. It happens to me when I’m writing plays. I’ll have a character who is like, “No, I’m not going in that warehouse. Why I’m even at the warehouse? I should be at the diner.” And I’m like, fine, OK, I’ll write the scene at the diner. What’s your problem? So if you take that idea, that a dialogic work involves characters who are fully formed, they’re not just two dimensional pastiches that do what you need them to do, and then they go away. They’re actual people who feel like they have a past and definitely have an angle toward the future. If you now invite the audience who originally were readers or viewers of a movie, possibly, if you invite the audience to come in and participate and have agency in the story so that they are now one of those characters, now you have a framework of looking at how to develop interactive narratives like, you know, Mass Effect, like tabletop role playing games of all stripes. It’s kind of a rubric of thinking about how much agency you’re giving your players, how much agency you’re giving the person running the game. So for a computer game, it’s by force narrow and limited, because you cannot write an A.I. that will operate like a GM would in a tabletop game. Yet. I’m sure that’s coming. But in a tabletop RPG, you are far less limited because if you have a collaborative atmosphere between the person who’s running the story and is running these NPCs, all of whom are characters with their own drives and needs, then that creates a really rich environment. Even if you like, you don’t have to have a huge map, although they’re tons of fun to draw and generate lots of great story. If you have even a limited cast of characters that will play off of the player characters as they play off of themselves and play off of you, it creates this very rich, dynamic, interactive narrative for everyone.
GW: That is the sort of technical depth that we normally do with sword stuff, but so you’re talking about basically narrative theory. So your vocation, to get back to the actual question, let me see if I can phrase it sensibly? You’re deeply concerned with language, but not just language as a tool that an individual uses to manipulate events around them, but as a sort of network of interlocking incentives and pressures that direct action.
LS: In effect, I’m a communicator and a facilitator. When I’m working as an editor, my job is to help you get out of your own way. So that you can clearly say what you want to say, and my job is to make sure that I communicate with you clearly and understand what it is you want to get across so I can help you make that statement.
GW: Lois, if you’re if you’re pitching to edit my next book, you’re doing a very good job of it.
LS: You know, I also have the background sword knowledge, so, just saying! And I do have a schedule availability
GW: OK, let’s see how we go. So your philosophical lens. Your interlocking crosscutting narratives, through historical fencing, etc., is a philosophical lens layered over vocation, so philosophically speaking, speak philosophically.
LS: I love coming from a collaborative perspective. I first really quantified it when I was in grad school doing my MFA and in the programme that I was in, you had playwrights, you had actors, you had dramaturgs, you had directors. And I don’t know if we had stage designers. I don’t think we did. But you had these different groups and part of the programme was for all of us to interact and work together and sometimes switch roles. So like at one point, a director would be the playwright and an actor would direct and then I would act so that we could all get a sense of what everybody was doing and how the parts make a whole greater than those parts. And that Bahktinian construction, where you have this interaction among all of these vectors of information, whether they’re sentient beings or events that you can’t stop, or that can be stopped, depending on what you do. All these interactions combine to form a larger picture. So the fundamental idea is collaboration. Collaboration will always reward you with more than you put in. If everybody’s putting it in good faith.
GW: That’s a good definition of the power of teams. It is more than the sum of its parts.
LS: Yeah, so this idea of collaboration: it’s the way that I do everything. I could work solo, but if I don’t have to I won’t.
GW: So do you work collaboratively doing your translations?
LS: Sometimes I’ll check in with other experts and I’ll be like, “You know what? I’ve got this phrase that’s driving me crazy because, literally speaking, it translates into this, but it feels like it’s a colloquialism to me. But I don’t know it. Can you help me out?” You know, two or three people will be like, “Oh yeah. Just means this.” “OK, thank you.”
GW: Those are great moments.
LS: Or I’ll put out an early translation of something and then people will say, “Your footnote says it sounds like this, but using the language that you’ve generated there, could it also be this and this and this?” and like, you know what? “I never would have seen that. I don’t have the background knowledge to have perceived that at all. And I’m glad you mentioned it. So I’ll pop that into a footnote on the next time around. Make sure that you’re credited.” It’s the same reason that I’m 100 percent in favour of many different translations of a single text. I’m going to come with all of my own background information, all of my own contexts, which both give me lots of insight, but also lock me away from other insights. And so if we have somebody else come in and do a translation, well, if you want to be reductionist about it, you can. But that not helpful to anybody. But if you want to be collaborative about it, you can build information that is greater than the sum of its parts.
GW: It’s true, that even if you’re looking at a text you’re not translating, but just you’re reading the source, different people will read the source differently, no matter what the source is, whether it’s some story or if it’s a fencing manual or anything else. The text, if you like, is created by the interaction between the words on the page and the mind that’s experiencing those words. So the more people we have, particularly people from different backgrounds, etc., who are looking at a given text like Fiore, for instance, the better, because even though all of the people doing it will make mistakes and will be definitively wrong in some places, I mean, I can’t count the number of times one of my colleagues has pointed to some bit in the text and said, “Guy, it says this here, which means that you just did over there has to be wrong.” And I’ll look at the text and go, “Bugger, you’re right.” Because it takes a really long time to get a big, complicated text all in your head at once.
LS: Absolutely. And you might be really caught up in grammar and not being not paying closer attention to the meaning because you cannot at that point in time.
GW: Right. Yeah. Or you tend to just elide various bits of the text together in your head and come up with a mistake that way. But if we’re looking at a physical practise of swordsmanship, every body is different anyway. So the correct way for any 10 people to do, for example, Fiore’s Art of Arms or I would say la verdadera destreza as well. You’re going to get ten slightly different ways of doing it. You have to because they’re different heights, different shapes, whatever.
LS: And the destreza talks about that in the very foundations of its philosophy, acknowledges that and in fact, talks about it quite directly.
GW: Where would we find that? Because I need to go and read that now.
LS: I’m still working on it, man, and it’s going to be out in the compendio translations. I’ve already hit a bunch of stuff in the first dialogue, so that’ll be coming out in the next couple of months. But I can give you a boiled-down version. So the LVD authors base a lot of this work on Aristotle, on physics and metaphysics. And the four causes are a really big deal. So they’ll actually break down fencing and pair it off with the causes. So they’ll say, we’ve got a material cause we’ve got a formal cause. We’ve got an efficient cause and we got a final cause in fencing, and they will talk about it. And the authors don’t necessarily agree on what’s what, which is very cool. Because it means that you have room to look at your fencing practise and say, all right, what is the material cause of fencing? Well, is it my sword? Is it me? Is it both of us? What’s the formal cause of fencing? Oh, well, the formal cause is all the curved steps that I take. It’s the way that I move so I can get my angle and it’s the way that I apply my blades so that I control the opponent or at least I control the line. All right, great. OK, so we’ve got the material and we’ve got the formal. What’s the efficient cause? Oh no. Is that me? Oh no. I don’t know. Well, the final cause is obviously me hitting the other guy or making sure I don’t get hit. We when we got that down so well, which is which? So, for instance, Figueredo, he says that the material cause of fencing is distance, period, end of story. And I really like thinking about that because, you certainly don’t have any kind of action against your opponent if you’re not within distance. If you’re not within distance, you might as well just be standing, sipping tea.
GW: There’s no tempo outside of measure. A tempo is an act done in measure. Out of measure there’s nothing.
LS: Exactly. So other authors, I think Tajedo, though, I can’t remember offhand, he does say that the material cause of fencing is the sword and possibly distance, I think. And then the efficient cause would be the fence. And the formal is all, of course, the angles and the shapes. And so because of that, in fact, like I’m literally translating right now. Well, not right now. Earlier today. There’s a conversation that talks exactly about that. I can’t remember if it’s Melisso. I think it’s Melisso who’s like, OK, so like, I understand what you’re saying about your geography, your geometry stuff, but like, I don’t understand how this can be a universal rule. If you’ve got really tall people who were weak and really short people who are strong. And if you’ve got a strong person who’s out to get you and they’re tall or they already have an advantage over you because they’re tall and strong, if their body was going one way and the sword the other, I could see how you could do something about it. But if all of them is going to one thing at the same time, how do you put up with that? So these questions that we get from students and we get from us at instructor meetings where, we’ve got taller fencers, we’ve got shorter fencers, I’m fairly short, I’m 5’6”, and our chief instructor is like 6’1”, 6’2” maybe. And we have another student who’s about that tall. So, you know, we have people who are shorter than me and they’re like, how can I actually safely apply an atajo on somebody who outreaches me so much? And I’m like, there are ways and I will show you. And it has to do with angles and it has to do with how you hold your arm. You don’t live in a right angle guard, but it is a useful place to move through whenever you’re trying to get stuff done.
GW: OK. Well, that’s great, because it sent me off in my head into this gigantic, long, article-length sidetrack into how this applies to teaching Fiore to people.
LS: If you want to have a conversation later on, if you want to set up another chat, I’m happy to work it out with you. But just wait till I translate the section, OK?
GW: Yeah fine. So Bringing things back to physical practise, what have been your biggest challenges and concerns? I know you hurt your knee doing all that kneeling down stuff.
LS: So I’ve done a lot of work on supporting the knees. So that usually doesn’t get me. What does get me is I’ve been overweight since about the age of nine. I hit puberty and everything went haywire. I’ve got a couple of conditions that make it very difficult for me to be, you know, what people would call a “normal size”, though I take issues with that term. So I am a fat woman who fences and that that brings so much baggage, has so much baggage. So in terms of challenges, I go to the gym, I fence two to three times a week, so I’m supporting my physicality as best I can to make sure that I can fence safely, which means I can fence for years to come. And I’m not out there to go hammer and tongs because I don’t enjoy that. I much more enjoy a more stepped back, really technical bout, because then I can take a look at my technique and I can see where I’ve got things missing or I can see where I’m really beginning to get things to click.
GW: It’s just more interesting.
LS: I personally think so.
GW: Yeah, I agree.
LS: If I wanted to do a more athletic kind of fencing, I would have gotten into sport fencing because then you have the minutia of just incredibly jetfighter fast decision making operations with a lot of athleticism. I can’t do that. There is much more fat shame in the United States. In Australia, I have not encountered it anywhere near as significantly, which is wonderful.
GW: That’s odd, if you don’t mind my saying, as America is significantly more obese as a nation than Australia is, I think.
LS: I think we’re pretty much neck and neck now, unfortunately. But just in terms of attitudes and part of it is as you get older, you start to prune the people who are around you and the people who are not supportive of you fall by the wayside. When you’re younger you’re just like, I need a network, I’m new in the world, oh, God, help. But as you get older, you can start to settle into a group of people who genuinely support and love you. And that makes a huge difference. So there’s a thing I talk about occasionally on my blog called The Sock Puppet of Self-doubt. And it is the voice of imposter syndrome, it likes to talk with the brain goblins who are worse and it’s all about, you know, I’ve taught workshops on various different things in Australia. And there are times when I step out there and I know I am the biggest human there, I’m the fattest person there, and I’m like, you know, I’m a girl, I’m fat. Who’s going to take me seriously? Well, what rubric am I working on?
GW: Anybody with a brain?
LS: Am I actually taking into account the actual people who are here or am I working under these old, worn, and not at all accurate conceptions that have no business being in my library anymore? And the only way I found to overcome them is to just trust. Take a risk and trust. Make sure you’ve got good friends with you who can reel you in and protect you if something does go haywire and help ground you, but just get out and do because it’s so rewarding when you step out there and people are like, OK, you’re going to teach us about this newly published, destreza smallsword text whose author is only a set of initials. All right, let’s do it. And people are engaged and interested and there’s a lot of back and forth and it just becomes fun. I enjoy teaching because you come to the subject. I know certain things. You’re going to find other things and we find all this cool stuff and we get to play. And that’s it. It’s just having some safety anchors and just having a little bit of trust and moving ahead. And that can be very hard. That can be really hard for some people who have been treated very unkindly in the past, and I recognise that, but if you can find a couple of anchors and you can start pushing your boundaries, it’s a great place to be. It’s really good.
GW: Yeah, I don’t know quite what it’s like to experience that, but I was at an event once and basically, somebody showed up expecting me to be basically a backflipping Conan type and left because basically I wasn’t fit enough for their taste. To which my response to that was, obviously you’re an idiot, so I don’t actually care. But yeah, people are weird.
LS: People will make strange judgement calls.
GW: One of the best martial arts teachers I ever had was my Tai Chi teacher called Steve Fox, and he’s a big bloke. I mean, big belly and what have you and he absolutely astonished me once by doing a pistol squat. Which I couldn’t do – I was like 19 and fit. And there’s this guy who’s probably about 30 kilos overweight, 40 kilos, or something like that. And he just did a pistol squat just for fun. Or possibly just to make a point. But, if you just come in and you see the man and his shape, you would just assume unfit or whatever, but then he just drops a pistol squat. Looking back, I never really thought about it before, but looking back, he might have done it because perhaps he got the impression that some of the kids in the class were underestimating him and he just thought that would be a good way to shut them up without saying anything.
LS: And it worked!
GW: OK, so. All right, so I imagine being larger, you have trouble getting equipment. Is that true?
LS: It’s a living hell. That’s what it is.
GW: I had a suspicion it might be, because the equipment has to be made to the standard size, which tends to fit average sized men and doesn’t ever fit anybody else. How do you get around that?
LS: You don’t get around it. You push through it as best you can. So you save up money so you can get a custom jacket. I’ve got a custom Officer’s from SPES. First of all, I want to give them due credit. They did a great job. There’s only one measurement that’s a tiny bit off and it’s not it’s certainly not a deal breaker. I gave them significantly more measurements than they asked. So if you take a look at their order sheet where they tell you to put in all the numbers, are you the A, the B, the C, D, E? I also included the girth of my wrists. I also included the largest circumference of my bicep. I included from the collarbone down to my waist and then from the nape of my neck down to my waist so they could see just how much more fabric they were going to need for the front of me. And that’s the one that went a little bit wrong, I don’t have quite enough room in the bust. But it doesn’t keep me from fighting. I think if I were if fighting longsword, it might be more difficult, but because I’m only using one sword and I can adjust my body internally, it’s not a big deal at all.
GW: But to be fair, if you go to a tailor to get a suit made, you go back for several fittings. No tailor gets it right first time.
LS: Yeah. And I do want to give them credit. But that also brings to bear the problem of a lot of PPE, which is I can’t think of any manufacturers of jackets and trousers outside of Europe and Asia right now, which brings me to this quick mention, because recently I’ve been contacted by a fellow diestro, another LVD practitioner, Phil Swift, up in Canada, and he said, hey, I’m partnering up with a seamstress here that I know. I’m helping gather PPE equipment that sold in the Americas because it’s really expensive to buy stuff. And all I can think is, shipping from Europe to the US or Asia to the US is still fractional when compared with shipping anything to Australia. But he was telling me that they’re making a specific women’s jacket and there will be no sizes. Everything is a custom fit. And then about a week or two ago, he messaged me and he said, listen, we really appreciate all the work that you’ve been doing in terms of inclusivity in fencing, in HEMA, and in SCA fencing, and we want to name this jacket after you. So it’s going to be the LS Diestrix, which is the gender neutral formation of the word diestro or diestra and the jacket will be sold on HEMA Gear Canada, but which is Phil Swift’s site. But it is a separate project. It’s a partnership between him and Atelier Masquerade. I can’t tell you when that’s going to be coming out, but it is specifically built with women in mind. The way the padding works is it’s not blocks of foam. It’s actual quilted padding. So not only does it breathe because foam for the love of God does not breathe.
GW: Oh, God it’s awful.
LS: And the thing is, you’re fighting in Europe, right? We’re in Australia. People say that the jackets are fine, you’re just being wusses. I’m like, come over here and start fencing in 40 degree centigrade weather. And in two thousand percent humidity. Let’s go, buddy. Come on. So that that jacket is currently in development. It’s in the later stages of development. I’ve seen a mock-up in progress. It’s looking really, really cool. The padding is quilted and it definitely is up to SCA standards. But right now they’re submitting it to a lab to get it tested to 350 Newtons.
GW: I will find a link for it so you can go find it and I’ll put that in the show notes. So if you go to www.guywindsor.net/podcast-2 it’ll be in the show notes.
LS: At least HEMA Gear Canada will, but I don’t know if that jacket is coming out yet. I may have broken the news.
GW: That’s fine. Firstly, this show is not going to be going out for at least ten weeks. And secondly, hopefully people will still be listening to these episodes years from now. So yes, I will make sure that there’s a link to this in the show notes for this episode, and I will update that link as soon as it becomes more available, as it develops. People are going to need this. It sounds like a brilliant idea.
LS: Yeah. So to go back to the basic question, that is protective gear, jackets, gloves. Jackets, gloves, pants: that it really is all built for a male frame. I bought a set of fight pants from a company that we don’t need to worry, no need to name them. But when they sent me the pants, the front rise was the same as the back rise, which means it’s assuming I had zero arse. I handed the trousers over to a friend of mine, a male friend of mine who had a similar build to me, and he tried to put it on. He was, no, there is no room for my trunk. I know sometimes we hear arguments from manufacturers saying, well, there’s not enough demand from women to make larger sizes or women-specific sizes, but it’s a problem that feeds itself. If you don’t offer options for women to buy from, easily, then you’re never going to open up into that market.
GW: Also women will drop out because they can’t get the equipment they need to do it. And I do know people who have quit swordsmanship because they could not get access to the equipment that they needed.
LS: I mean, for me, I had to pay about 550 Australian dollars for my SPES. Part of that was shipping.
GW: That’s not that bad. I mean, it is a lot of money.
LS: It actually is that bad when I’m looking at my fellow male students who are like, I bought an off the rack SPES for $350.
GW: Compared to the off-the-peg stuff then, right, but given how much work goes into customising, it sounds to me like they’re not gouging that.
LS: No, no, I don’t think they are. I would not say so.
GW: So it seems like given that it’s custom made it seems like a fair increase in the price, but it is unfair that you should not have access to off the peg stuff.
LS: Exactly, and occasionally I can fit into like a dude’s triple extra large, but either the bust won’t fit or the hips won’t fit. It’s usually the hips.
GW: Protective equipment should fit really well if it’s going to work. I mean, I once bought a suit of armour, I went about it the wrong way entirely. This stuff arrived, and literally, you know how grieves are supposed to fit tight to your calf and that takes the weight of a lot of the leg armour? I could literally fit a bottle of wine down the back of each grieve when I had them on, they were that loose. It was a complete disaster. So I ended up selling it to the Finnish National Opera House and then starting again from scratch, with a local armourer who did a much better job of it. That’s Marko Saari for my Finnish friends. Getting it to fit properly just makes all the difference. If you can’t lift your hands over your head because it brings your whole jacket up with it, then you can’t use high guards. You’re fighting your equipment.
LS: Yeah, and that’s the thing. Fighting your equipment; everybody has to do it, no matter what. Even the most averagely-built man buying something off the rack is still going to have to fight his equipment in some way. But for women, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen women asking for smaller freaking gloves. Just one size smaller. Just one size smaller than the smallest one you got, because you can’t fight if you’ve got these big floppy fingery bits hanging off, you can’t fight.
GW: I have tiny hands and I ended up going to the Czech Republic to an armourer there and arranging for steel gauntlets to be made in a range of sizes. And the smallest size, I mean, I have tiny hands, the smallest size was too small for me. So at least for a period, my students could get steel gauntlets sized to a very small lab. But it in the end it was just too much work to do it all and it wasn’t making any money because I wasn’t putting much of a mark-up on it because I wanted my students to fence with me or whatever, and it just became too much work and not enough money and I ended up just dropping it.
LS: That’s sadly always the problem. It just becomes something that won’t fit in the profit margin and that leaves a bunch of people out. And it sucks. And I wish I had an answer, I don’t like bringing up a problem without an answer, but I don’t have an answer. I wish I did though.
GW: Massive, massive government support for people making armour for historical martial arts or protective equipment for historical martial arts so that they can afford to make it in sizes that don’t make money. That would do it. So, I have a few questions I tend to finish up on because we’ve actually run over time already because I’ve been enjoying this conversation far too much. So what is the best idea that you’ve never acted on?
LS: Ideas for me, it’s a question that I’m unable to answer, because if I don’t act on it, I don’t consider it’s worth me acting on. If we were to visit some alternate universe and in that alternate universe, I acted on that idea and things went gangbusters, then that would be the best idea I didn’t act on in my universe. But if I get an idea in my head and it lives there long enough, then I’ll act on it. I have ADHD, so things will come into and out of my head very quickly, I have no executive function. So it’s entirely possible that I’ve had a bunch of really amazing ideas that I’ve never acted on. But because they’re out of sight, they’re out of mind and I don’t remember what they are. But, you know, but like, the good ideas I have acted on are stepping further into translating LVD texts, joining up with Brisbane School of Iberian Swordsmanship. Moving to Australia even. I mean, taking a look at how the US is right now.
GW: Yes, I think so, yes, Australia is on fire in a whole different way. OK, so my last question, and interpret this however you please, somebody gives you a million pounds, dollars or whatever to spend improving historical martial arts worldwide. How would you spend the money?
LS: First of all, a million pounds or a million dollars is not much today. And that’s a horrifying thing to think about. Secondly, I’d spend it in one of two ways. No matter what, I’d set up some kind of endowment fund, a grant fund where people could apply and receive money. And then a bit of seed money would live on so that it could build capital. And that way we could continue giving out grants for a significant amount of time.
GW: What would the grants be for?
LS: They would be for things like, I know Wiktenauer, Michael Chidester, has had problems acquiring scans because they’re too expensive. That would be an ideal grant. You know, he can write out a grant saying, I want to secure the scans from this book, but the Library of France is saying I need to pay 2500 dollars or euro to get it. Well, there is a grant. Get those up online. Another one would be, “Hi, I’m a sporting goods manufacturer in Perth and I hear that the HEMA community in Australia would really like locally made jackets.” And the thing is, different regions, have their own issues. Like, for instance, in Queensland, I’m allowed to use steel swords, as long as they’re blunt, without a licence. I have to have a licence for a crossbow. I have to have a licence for a firearm. But I don’t have to worry about my swords. In Victoria, they are highly restricted, incredibly restricted.
GW: Massive. I’ve been to Victoria many times.
LS: You know exactly what I’m talking about. So that would be like if we’ve got a waster manufacturer out in Sydney and if he were to apply, he’d say, “I need some money so I can work with the Victorian government to develop a waster that is both useful in a HEMA context, and I’ll consult the of schools in the area, and also abides by all the rules and regulations of Victorian law.” Here’s your money! And if somebody out in the wilds of Minnesota is like, “I really want to study Bolognese sidesword, I’m the only person out here. I would like to develop a distance learning platform for Marozzo. And I’ve got a couple of friends out in Italy who are helping me. And I’ve got some friends in the SCA who are going to help me out. I would like a grant to try to develop that.” Here’s your money!
GW: OK, yeah, you need more than the million pounds. So let’s say ten million. I’ve just upped your imaginary budget, because I have the power to do that. OK, well thank you very much, Lois, it’s been a delight talking to you.
LS: Oh. Thank you for taking the time with me. I had a great time.
GW: Thanks for listening, I hope you enjoyed my conversation today with Lois Spangler. Remember to go along to www.guywindsor.net/podcast-2 for the episode show notes and for your free copy of Sword Fighting for Writers, Game Designers and Martial Artists. Several of the things we talked about are linked to in those show notes, so you should probably check that out. You can support the show by going along to www.patreon.com/theswordguy and joining wonderful patrons there, including new patron this week, Alison from Minnesota. Thank you, Alison. Patrons get, amongst other things, the transcriptions of the episodes as they are produced, outtakes from some of the episodes. And patrons get to suggest questions for my guests. You can also help the show by reviewing it, wherever you get your podcast from, or rating it. And, of course, please do share news of this show with your friends. Anyone who you think is into swords and would like this kind of show, please let them know that we exist. Remember to tune in next week when I’ll be talking to Mike Chidester, architect of Wiktenauer, which is without doubt the finest collection of historical martial arts treatises ever assembled anywhere on the planet in all of human history. And we get into the weeds in all sorts of areas, including producing high level facsimiles of manuscripts. So you don’t want to miss that. Remember to tune in next week and subscribe to the show so you shan’t miss it. See you then.