Guy Windsor: I’m here today with Kari Holman, who is a rapier fencer and a licensed therapist. She has also written Psychology and the SCA Fencing Woman: a Manual for Students and Teachers. The moment I read it, I asked if I could include it in my How to Teach course because it’s that good. So without further ado, Kari, welcome to the show.
Kari Holman: Hi. Thanks for having me. It’s wonderful to be here.
Guy Windsor: And so whereabouts in the world are you?
Kari Holman: I live in the north Chicago suburbs. So greater Chicagoland area.
Guy Windsor: Sorry, my camera just went kaput.
Kari Holman: That’s okay. You are frozen with a delightful expression on your face.
Guy Windsor: Okay. Do you care about the camera? In which case, I’ll just try one other thing. If it comes back on it comes back on. It’s one of those days, isn’t it?
Kari Holman: It’s one of those days. And now my cat’s talking. I don’t know if you can hear that.
Guy Windsor: Okay, so we’ll just leave the camera. All right. And I may remember to edit that out. I may leave everything just for realism, for the listeners.
Kari Holman: Realism.
Guy Windsor: Okay. That’s right. Realism. Yes. None of this is edited. It’s all absolutely true to life. Okay. So you’re in the Chicago area. So who do you train with?
Kari Holman: Well, I train with a group in the SCA. We are called The Thieves of Hearts.
Guy Windsor: Thieves of Hearts. Okay.
Kari Holman: Yes. We used to kind of be known as kind of like a fencing house with a service problem. Now, we’re kind of a service group with a fencing problem. We love to help. We love to teach, we love to do things. There’s also two people at our practices. We call them Logos and Terry. We jokingly and lovingly call them the great old ones because we’re pretty convinced if they were alive in period that they would have been two of the people writing these manuals. We’re not entirely convinced that Logos isn’t actually Salvator Fabris. We think there’s a painting somewhere that he keeps, maybe in his attic a la Dorian Grey.
Guy Windsor: Okay.
Kari Holman: But this is all within the SCA.
Guy Windsor: Okay. And who is Terry. It is not Terry Tindall, is it?
Kari Holman: Yes, it is. You know Terry!
Guy Windsor: I know Terry very well. He makes, or he used to make, the only sort of fencing mask that was worth anything for heavier weapons. Yeah, a fantastic piece of gear.
Kari Holman: Just about everybody at practice has one of his masks or one of his helmets, whatever you want to call it.
Guy Windsor: And he also makes, with the offcuts with of the pierced steel plates, he creates these sort of what’s called the Mansur style fencing goggles with the nose plate.
Kari Holman: Yes, that’s right. Yeah.
Guy Windsor: And I saw them and I was like, well if one was in pink, I’d buy it. And I’m a very good customer of his, or at least I was. And the next time I saw him, he just handed me this pair, and it’s like baby pink leather.
Kari Holman: Of course he did. Of course he did.
Guy Windsor: I will put a photograph in the show notes so that people can see what you’re talking about.
Kari Holman: Yeah, he lives, gosh, maybe only an hour for me. I see him in practice every week.
Guy Windsor: Oh, fantastic. Well, next time you see him, give him a big hug for me. Okay, so what kind of therapist are you?
Kari Holman: I suppose I would say I’m a talk therapist. That’s pretty traditional when you think of when you think of therapy, somebody sitting on the couch. I do not ask people, “How does that make you feel?” It’s a little cliche. I have other ways of asking that same question. My two kind of my specialties, my passions in therapy, are trauma as well as working with people in the queer community. I do work with a lot of transgender persons, you know, kind of just wherever they are in their transition. And sometimes I’m just the therapist that somebody can come to and say like, look, I am depressed and I’m also gay, but I’m not depressed because I’m gay. There is still a surprising amount of people out there who go, well, maybe you’re depressed because you’re gay. Or maybe it’s because my job sucks. You know, maybe it’s something else.
Guy Windsor: Or maybe it’s because you’re gay, but you can’t get laid.
Kari Holman: Or that, or hell, you know, my family rejected me, or my dad tried to kick me out of the house. So sometimes the two do intertwine: the trauma and being part of the queer community, but not always. But those are my two big passions, along with all of the other things you see as a therapist.
Guy Windsor: Okay. But before we started recording, you mentioned something about this sort of eye therapy thing. Just run us through that for sure.
Kari Holman: It’s called EMDR. It stands for Eye Movement, Desensitisation and Reprocessing, which is a fancy way of saying that this is a treatment for trauma. This was really developed for trauma. And that the key is that your therapist makes your eyes move back and forth. I know this sounds like hypnotism. I promise it’s not. What that action does is it activates both sides of your brain and really lets you kind of dive into a traumatic memory in a way that is safe. As long as you’re doing this with a trained therapist, a therapist who is trained in EMDR, don’t just try to do this on yourself in a mirror. And it’s a really effective way to dive deep into a traumatic memory in a way, as I said, that is safe and really just kind of clean everything out. I kind of liken it to like a bunch of papers strewn on the floor and EMDR helps you pick them up, put all the papers back in order, put them in the filing cabinet, and then close that filing cabinet. So the memory is sitting where it’s supposed to be kind of where it belongs as a memory, not something that’s hot and heated and painful any time something even vaguely touches it.
Guy Windsor: Okay, interesting. So basically it’s a neurological hack.
Kari Holman: Yes, that’s actually a really great way of putting it. It’s a neurological hack. And so we can do this in ostensibly fewer sessions than doing talk therapy. Talk therapy could take many months, many years, maybe. EMDR, I can ever promise somebody how many sessions it’s going to take, you know, given whatever memories are present. But it usually doesn’t take as long as doing this the talk therapy way, that’s more of a slow spiral down as opposed to like just off the diving board in we go type of thing.
Guy Windsor: Yeah, maybe I should have gone with that because I had some therapy a little while ago, about five years ago, for why I was sent off to boarding school when I was eight. Very traumatic. I’m all right now. Because I went to therapy and honestly, the therapy, the talk therapy thing, I think it was probably a necessary part of the whole process, but it wasn’t particularly effective, for me. It was like, okay, so we’re basically just talking about it and I feel the same way about it now as I did when I was coming in and there are plenty of people I can talk about it with. So why am I paying this particular person large chunks of money?
Kari Holman: I could do this cheaper with a friend over a pint.
Guy Windsor: Exactly. Yeah. Yes, but still, you know, I think maybe for me, perhaps most useful thing about me therapy session with a professional was refiling things from secret to private.
Kari Holman: Oh, I like how you said that.
Guy Windsor: Well if there’s something about yourself that you feel you have to keep secret, it becomes like this engine of shame, and it may not be something you want to tell the whole world about, but there is a fundamental difference between something being private and something being secret. And just refiling that stuff from secret to private was for me a massive part of the whole process of getting better.
Kari Holman: Oh, that’s wonderful. I’m going to actually steal that one. I’m going to steal that analogy. Because I like it.
Guy Windsor: Go ahead. You can have it. All right. So getting slightly back on topic. All right. So you have quite a bit of experience in the historical fencing world.
Kari Holman: I’d like to think so.
Guy Windsor: Okay. Could you just run over, before we go into what all historical martial arts instructors seem to be doing wrong, before we get there, let’s just establish that you have some experience. So how long have you been practising? What kind of stuff do you do?
Kari Holman: I started fencing really back in ‘06. So however many years that’s been. Math is not my speciality. And that’s more than ten fingers, 15, 17 years.
Guy Windsor: Sixteen.
Kari Holman: Thank you. Somebody can do math. My friends do say don’t let me do math unattended, I’ll hurt myself. And they’re not entirely wrong. So I’ve been doing this about 16 years. As I said, I’ve been training with the Thieves. I’ve been training with Terry and Logos. My primary teacher within the SCA is Master Kai Seng. In real life he’s Jim Lai. I think he’s a fabulous teacher. I can’t sing his praises enough.
Guy Windsor: Excellent. Within the SCA. I mean, do you compete?
Kari Holman: Oh, yes. So yeah, so much of the I don’t know about other I don’t know about other Western martial arts organisations, but most of our competitions are like in the spring through the autumn, at least around the Midwest when the weather’s nice and we can be outside is when most of our competitions are. So that’s when most of the stuff happens is through those months. So I’ll go I’ll do the competitions in the Midwest. The ‘Mid Realm’ is what we call our kingdom, our administrative unit, really. Throughout the year we have these events that are specifically for teaching. So there’ll be like the Midlands Academy of Defense in Illinois, the Constellation Academy of Defense is in Indiana and things like that. So I love going to those, I love learning, I love teaching. Throughout the years, as I was putting that manual together, I would be kind of bringing my findings thus far to those events and I’d be, okay, well, here’s what I learned for what’s going to become this chapter, and here’s what I’ve learned for this chapter. What do you guys think? What have been your observations? What are your thoughts? What are your experiences? And being able to fold all of that into the psychological research that I was doing in reading and finding.
Guy Windsor: That’s pretty helpful. Yeah. Okay. So we’re talking about Psychology and the SCA Fencing Woman. So I mean, I’ve read it obviously, and I liked it very much as I as you know, because I emailed you about it. And there’s this lovely bit where you’re basically telling blokes to sit with their discomfort with what you’re telling them. That was just so good.
Kari Holman: Oh, I’m glad you liked it.
Guy Windsor: Oh, I did. It was most fantastic because people can be a little bit fragile when they’re being told that they are unintentionally doing something that’s bad for other people. They really don’t like to be told that. And they to say, well, actually this thing that you think you’re doing that’s supposed to be good and helpful is actually really unhelpful. So maybe you could stop. Yeah, basically you’re anticipating the sense of this “But, but, but, but I’m helping them. I’m trying to make them better at this. They want to get better. And this is how you do it.” You’re anticipating all of that and going, just actually no. So why don’t you why don’t you just summarise the thesis of Psychology and the SCA Fencing Woman and then we can discuss it.
Kari Holman: Sure. Well, I’ll start with a little bit of background as to how I got started on this whole thing. So I think it was round about 2016, the people who being the current king and queen of the Mid Realm, they gathered the Masters of Defense, which is like our highest level of fencing award. We say it’s kind of like getting your PhD, just as an easy analogy. So they gathered all these people and they said, hey, look, in the Midwest, in our kingdom, 51% of the registered fencers are women or, you know, or identify as female. Okay.
Guy Windsor: Really? 51%. That’s fantastic.
Kari Holman: Are registered fencers like, hey, you’ve done your authorisation. You’re safe to fence. That matches the world population. 51% of people who are born are born into, I will say, a female body because I don’t want to be making assumptions here about anybody’s identity. And they went however, the higher up we get in skill level, which we mark with these awards, the higher up we get, the fewer and fewer and fewer women there are. Why? And they were all going, well, I don’t know. And so then Kai, my teacher, he came to me and he asked me that question and I went through all the same usual suspects that they did. Like, okay, well, are they, are they leaving the SCA? Are they going on to other aspects of the SCA? You know, is it that they had children and they have less time. None of this accounted for the numbers.
Guy Windsor: Although can I just interject or say men have children, too?
Kari Holman: Yes, they do.
Guy Windsor: And you’re absolutely right that women are more likely to quit because of having children than men are because of the way labour is distributed. But, you know, as a parent…
Kari Holman: I would love to have to my friends and team-mates, Cole and Ana, because they’re both fencers, they’re both very skilled fencers and there are a couple with children. I wish I had them right here and they could talk about how they do that equitable distribution of parenting, let’s say, so that they both get a chance to go have their fun. But anyway. So that didn’t account for these numbers. And I was like, well, gee, I don’t know. And he goes, hey, you know that psychology degree you have? Okay, I’ll go see what I can find out. And that sent me down this rabbit hole where what I found, what my theory is, is that it’s the way in which we are teaching these women that is causing a lot of them to drop out. I started just doing kind of informal and semi-formal interviews with just women fencers and women in the SCA who I knew used to fence and go, what are the challenges? What are you finding? And we had a roundtable years ago, and it was it was beautiful. Like all of the women were sitting in this inner circle and men kind of started coming and sitting on the outer edges. And every one of them was very smart because every one of them just kept their mouths shut and just listened. They just listened. And as I looked around as women were saying, like, I asked, what do you wish everybody knew? Like, what is the one thing you wish you could tell all of the men in the fencing community? And as I kind of looked around at the men and I saw all their eyes get real big, they were all going, we had no idea. And I’m going, oh, okay. And so that’s ultimately how we got here. And I went, I think it’s how we’re teaching women. I think, at least in the SCA, most of the most of the high level fencers are men. And so a lot of the instructors are men. And very, very, very few of us are trained in any sort of professional teaching capacity. And so we what do we do? We teach how we were taught. That’s the best we got. But that may not be the best for your student. And just basic psychology, male and female brains are wired differently. Trans brains are wired differently, NB brains are wired differently. Fun fact, a trans brain, if you like, stick somebody in in an MRI, their brain will pattern and track more closely to their true to their true gender than their birth gender. Which I just think I love that. I think that’s so wild that I love it.
Guy Windsor: It strikes me as it would be surprising if it was any other way.
Kari Holman: I know, right? Like, as soon as you hear it, you go, oh, well, of course.
Guy Windsor: Yeah. Well, I would assume that that’s why they’re trans because yeah, you have a female brain in a male body or a male brain in a female body.
Kari Holman: So of course this doesn’t feel right.
Guy Windsor: Yeah. Okay. All right. So sorry, carry on. But you’ve established that the female brains are wired differently to male brains. But the teaching pattern, the way things are being taught in the SCA, was, I am guessing, suited to a male pattern.
Kari Holman: Yeah, more suitable to a male pattern. And so things that I found either men responded well to or just it didn’t bother them, women didn’t respond well to or it very much bothered them. In the past few years, I have thankfully started to see this technique kind of start to die, at least among the people I know. And maybe it’s because I’ve been harping on it is what I call the “whack don’t die” method. Yeah. Where it’s very basic. Okay, here’s how you parry. Parry my sword. If you screw it up, I’ll stab you. Okay. Go! Whack. Well, you did it wrong. Whack. Well, you did it wrong. Whack. Well, you did it wrong. I’ve had plenty of men who go, I don’t actually like that either, I have learned. So. I mean, I’m like, yeah, cause we don’t either.
Guy Windsor: But the problem with it is that it’s the right idea, executed wrong.
Kari Holman: Aha. Exactly.
Guy Windsor: So, yeah, when I’m giving a fencing lesson, the way that you indicate that the student needs to adjust, what they’re doing in some way is they fail to hit you and you make contact with them at whatever level of intensity is appropriate to the student. And that may be literally just a gentle poke in the chest or a gentle tap on the mask or maybe something a bit more vigorous, if that’s what they need. But the thing is, they have to perceive that as just a kind of objective reality to orient towards, not a value judgement.
Kari Holman: Yes.
Guy Windsor: But it has nothing to do with it having to do with are they good or bad. It has everything to do with are they doing the action at the level they’re trying to do it at or not? And here’s the other thing that’s missing from most of this “Whack don’t die” approach is optimal rate of failure. So somebody tries to do it, you make sure they get the first couple right. You do it so slowly so they can get it right and then you gradually increase the optimal rate of failure for most people most of the time is somewhere around 20%. So if I throw my sword at you five times, you’ll parry it four. If you parry every time I need to go faster. If you parry it fewer times, if you, in inverted commas, ‘fail’ more often, then, I mean, some students can tolerate a rate of failure at around 45% if they are highly motivated, highly trained. They really understand what’s going on, they won’t get frustrated. But for most students at that level, they get frustrated and they’ll feel discouraged. Yeah, but if they’re never failing, they never learning anything. And if they’re failing all the time, they get discouraged. And it’s just getting it to that optimal rate of failure. So what ‘whack don’t die’, whack, you got it wrong, whack, you got it wrong. Two in a row is already too many, particularly for a beginner.
Kari Holman: The thing that I heard and the funny thing is I said this to myself and like every woman I asked agreed. And I’m sure many men would as well. It’s like if I didn’t get this right the first 12 times, what in the world makes you think I’m going to get it right the 13th. Slow it down. Tell me again. Change something, teacher, because I’m clearly not getting this. With the added detriment that with that physical strike, especially a new fencer, somebody who doesn’t have that trusting relationship in their teacher or just in general, you know, every everybody is wired differently. But the female brain takes that as being punished for having tried. I tried and I got physically hit. Our brain takes that as a punishment. Like, well, I tried and I just got punished. And so your brain, your subconscious brain, even if consciously you’re going, okay, keep going, keep trying, keep trying, your subconscious brain whose number one concern is your immediate survival, starts to draw you back and goes, no, don’t do this. This is not good. This is scary. This is painful, even though cognitively you’re still trying. And then you see the student and they started off fine, but now they’re doing worse and worse and worse and worse and worse. And then the teacher and the student take a break and they both leave in utter frustration.
Guy Windsor: But I see, and again, this is why everyone should always start with things they can do. Right. When teaching anybody anything like teaching students how to lunge or whatever, you start with what they can do and then you modify what they can do towards the desired action. Yeah, you don’t start with a desired action which you then fail to reach. You start with what they can do. Just like you know, if you want to improve their reach, you start in close to the target. Oh, they can take a little step back, see if you can still reach, a little bit step back, see if you can still reach it. And then when they get to the point where they’re sort of struggling to reach it, say, okay, now maybe we should do some exercises to help you hit from a bit further away. But their experience of all of that has been hitting the target. Hitting the target. Hitting the target. Hitting the target. Oh, it’s a bit difficult to hit the target. Okay. So I’m going to do something about that difficulty that I have just experienced.
Kari Holman: The thing that my teacher would do, and still does, is when we’re learning a new concept, just as you said, I’m going to show it to you, we’re going to do it slow. We would always do it with masks off and I’ll get to why in a moment. And so let’s say we’re doing that parry and I miss. He would stop with his sword a few inches from my body without actually striking my body. I can look down and go, okay, well, your sword is pointed at my chest. I clearly missed, you know, but I didn’t get that physical contact that makes my brain go, you’ve just been punished. And then as we started to get up in speed, he would then say, okay, go put your mask on. Then he would say, now I’m going to try to hit you. And that verbiage, very important verbiage. The verbiage is very important because it’s not saying, now I’m going to hit you like it’s a foregone conclusion. It’s if you do it right, I’m not going to get you. And then also the putting on of the mask was my physical indication of, okay, we have knocked this up a notch. There was a point where he didn’t have to say, now I’m going to try to hit you because masks on. Okay. I know the next step of this exercise and if I started off good and then I was starting to mess up. Maybe I’m getting sloppy, I’m getting tired, slow it back down, which is all stuff you know.
Guy Windsor: So your experience of being taught in the SCA was actually extremely positive.
Kari Holman: Yes. I got very, very lucky. I had good teachers and I had teachers who were willing to learn and improve their teaching skills.
Guy Windsor: Okay. I got to tell you, the best question anybody ever asked one of my students about my school. And it was so good that my student came in next time she saw me, she told me about it. She said, this person just asked me, is your instructor getting better? Right? That’s what they wanted to know about the school before they thought about coming to the beginners’ course. Very, very good question.
Kari Holman: I like that. And the thing I think I look for, I mean, I’ve got my teachers but I listen to other people because I got this from my teacher. In his view, he has achieved fencing excellence when his students surpass him. And I love that, that his that his hope is that each one of his students one day becomes better than him. So he will teach you every trick he’s got. And if you are good, he will be so happy. I’ve seen those people who, like, will never teach their students every trick they know so that they can always get that one up on that student. And I’m like, okay, can we maybe talk about insecurities? What’s going on here?
Guy Windsor: Yeah. And here’s the thing, right? If you are the instructor in your local area, you’re probably the most experienced fencer within striking distance. The only way you are going to get better as a fencer is if your students can put you under a bit of pressure. So you have to train your students to become the rising tide that lifts your boat up. And of course, every now and then, a wave should make it over the side of the boat. Otherwise, the tide isn’t really rising.
Kari Holman: And that just sounds horribly boring. Like, I don’t want to be the biggest fish in my pond. That sounds really boring.
Guy Windsor: You’ll enjoy this. About two years after I started my school, one of my students had never done any swords before he came to me. We were free fencing, and he disarmed me in free fencing after two years of training. That is still one of the absolute highlights of my career because as a relatively inexperienced instructor, in two years, I got this person who had no martial arts experience, no fencing experience, no swords experience at all, good enough that he in friendly free fencing with somebody at my level, he actually managed to pull off a disarm. Boom. I clearly did the right thing. So, yes, I’m very, very proud of that.
Kari Holman: Oh, that’s so cool. As well you should be.
Guy Windsor: And that was nearly 20 years ago now. Maybe now I can get them there in about six months.
Kari Holman: Well, is this a testament to you learning as well how much you’ve learned as a teacher.
Guy Windsor: Well, one would hope, yes. Okay. So basically what I’m sort of getting from this conversation is that the window that you took into this is basically why are women quitting from fencing in the SCA. Okay It is why they are being taught? Mm hmm. Have you actually established that it is why they are being taught?
Kari Holman: This is still my theory. We’re going to need more years to see, okay, if this gets widely disseminated in the Mid Realm within the SCA, will the numbers go up? I think there must be something to it, because since I’ve started putting out this information, the number of women in those higher levels is increasing. It went from, I want to say, ten, 15% to we’re now at about 25%. We’re at about a quarter. I think Masters of Defense is now slightly above a quarter. But anyway, so we’re moving up. Still not enough, but we are starting to go that way.
Guy Windsor: And correlation is not causation. It could be other factors.
Kari Holman: It could be other factors. We will see.
Guy Windsor: But yeah, the other thing that really strikes me is that again through the window of how do we how do we help retain women fencers. It is a very important thing. I mean, this podcast has 50% female guests precisely to encourage more women to take up the art.
Kari Holman: Representation matters.
Guy Windsor: It absolutely does. But one of the things that kind of strikes me that the solution is better instruction, which it would be better for the men too, because the problematic instruction which men can tolerate is still not good for them.
Kari Holman: Yeah, still not good. I don’t think anybody likes to just be punished into proper performance. I really question how much that works. I really don’t think that works.
Guy Windsor: I have students who do actually kind of like that.
Kari Holman: Well, okay, then. Glutton for punishment.
Guy Windsor: They do exist. And they kind of feel that if they didn’t get properly whacked when they did something wrong, then. But then I’m like, well, you know, I am wearing black leather, but I’m not actually, well, I can’t be a dominatrix because I’m male. But you get the idea.
Kari Holman: I get the intent. What is the term for a male dominatrix?
Guy Windsor: Technically, dominator.
Kari Holman: Oh, that would be it, wouldn’t it. Yes.
Guy Windsor: Like actor/actress. Yeah. Dominator/dominatrix.
Kari Holman: Aviator/Aviatrix.
Guy Windsor: Yeah. Okay. So I have actually been looking through some of your published articles. And I have a question for you around trauma and PTSD. I have some pretty strong opinions about this which I may just leave aside or they may just kind of sneak into the conversation. But in your opinion, are we all traumatised?
Kari Holman: I mean, strictly speaking, yes. However, having trauma doesn’t automatically mean you develop PTSD. That’s a very common myth. A lot of people will say, oh, if you don’t have PTSD, then it wasn’t trauma. No, it could still be trauma and it could still be traumatic without developing post-traumatic stress disorder. And very creatively, because apparently therapists are great at naming things. We talk about big T trauma and little T trauma, which does not indicate intensity. A big T trauma is the ones everybody thinks about, being in a war zone, an assault, a really bad car wreck where your car rolls three times. Those are the ones everybody thinks about. Little T traumas are the ones that not everybody thinks about. It could be being separated from your family at the carnival. You know you got lost. I’m going to date myself. That is terrifying. And you’re like, you know, that kid could be like, oh, my God, I’m going to have to live with the carnies, you know, whatever. In truth, their parents could have been like, no, we didn’t lose sight of you. We knew where you were. You just didn’t know where we were. Or I’m going to date myself with this one. The original Transformers cartoon. The original movie. I was like, probably six or seven and spoiler, Optimus Prime dies. I was by no means, I know. 30 year old spoiler. I was by no means the only young child who was traumatised by the death of the father figure in that show. There were many angry letters sent to Hasbro, but to this day I have the soundtrack to that movie. It is so eighties-tastic. But to this day I will skip track three, which is the death of Optimus Prime. When I talk about this, I hear myself and I go, this still kind of upsets you, doesn’t it, Kari? And I’m like, yes, it was really upsetting. You can hear this in my voice. Now. Have I ever needed therapy for this particular incident? No. I get on in my life just fine. Did I develop PTSD from it? No. Was it still really upsetting and traumatic? Yes.
Guy Windsor: Okay. I have thought, I mean, if that was me, what I would do is I would take some space and I would play the song three or four times on repeat and just sit with it. I would probably do that. Because I don’t like I don’t like having time bombs in my head.
Kari Holman: Yeah. Now granted, like, have I seen that movie since. Yes, I’ve seen the movie, you know, all that stuff. But like, as you could hear in my voice, I listen to people, because your therapist brain never fully turns off. Like, maybe somebody is like, oh, my God, like, I thought I was lost. I got separated from my family. I thought I was going to have to, like, travel with the circus and be like, the peanut boy. Oh, wow. That’s still upsetting. That was a little traumatic, wasn’t it, that maybe not everybody else thinks of? Those are those little T traumas, but they are still just as upsetting. And as you would asked, are we all traumatised? It is a fact of life. Things like that are going to happen. Again, do we always need therapy? Not necessarily. And when we do, does that mean that we’re weak or damaged or some other nonsense? No.
Guy Windsor: Well of course not.
Kari Holman: Yeah, trauma happens and PTSD happens when basically too much information went into your brain for it to process all at once. People about our age will probably remember the early days of the Internet where you’re trying to download some song and you’ve got the little bar on the computer that’s going to be like, oh, this will download in 45 seconds, 2 hours, 3 minutes, 24 days. And it’s bouncing all over the place. And the answer is basically, look, the song will download when it gets downloaded, okay? Our brains can’t do that. Our brains can only process so fast. And so when there’s basically more data than it can deal with at one time, it just kind of throws it all over there. And that’s where the hot and the heat and the pain of these trauma memories sit because those bits weren’t processed and put in the filing cabinet like they should have been the first time. And then like that’s where therapy comes in and therapy helps you take that and put it in the filing cabinet where it belongs. So it’s never going to be a happy memory, but the heat and the pain comes out of it.
Guy Windsor: Yeah. All right. One of the reasons I figured that I was probably done with the whole boarding school thing is I can have a conversation about it with someone I’ve never met before and I’m not upset. It doesn’t upset me.
Kari Holman: Yes, which is wonderful.
Guy Windsor: So it’s a fairly good like barometer of whether the distress is still active. But it is funny though. Even though that is true. A little while ago is was my wedding anniversary. And I bought my wife a bunch of flowers, which included these irises in it, which were closed. Bunch of flowers. Very nice. And few days later, I just had this awful sense of dread and doom and pessimism and misery. And I had no idea why. It was bizarre. Nothing was particularly wrong. I was going to be launching my How to Teach course. So I was like, yeah, but no one’s going to buy it. I’m not going to make any money. No one’s going to like it. So it was just like doom and gloom and dread and misery.
Kari Holman: I am sitting here going, what in your environment reminded you of something?
Guy Windsor: Oh, I tell exactly what it was. Those irises had opened and the smell of them reminded me of this because they always had a bunch of them in the main hall at my boarding school when I was little.
Kari Holman: That’ll do it.
Guy Windsor: And it was that smell, it just went right into the back of my brain. And it was like I was stuck in that hole again.
Kari Holman: Smell is our most evocative sense. We don’t think about it as much in a modern era because we are very clean. You know, our environment doesn’t typically smell. But nothing can take you back to a specific moment in time in the way that a smell does. It’s like instant.
Guy Windsor: And I think was that as soon as I figured out, I was like, Oh, fuck’s sake! And everything was cleared.
Kari Holman: Yeah, Oh, for Pete’s sake. Okay, we got this.
Guy Windsor: Okay. On my show. You can say fuck if you want.
Kari Holman: Yay! Fuck it. So funny that you mention that. When I was learning how to do EMDR, you know, with other therapists, and we had to practice this on each other. My partner was a former state trooper, and we were processing a memory. I’m not going to go into a whole lot of detail because I don’t want to inadvertently traumatise anybody listening. But as we’re doing this, he suddenly went cooking meat. This is why I hate the smell of cooking meat like he hates barbecue. If he was at a barbecue, he’d have to go inside. And he’s like, “This is why I hate that smell, 20 years later.” And he finally made the connection that the smell of barbecue made him think of this other thing.
Guy Windsor: Yeah, I know exactly what the other thing is, but no. That’s horrible. Poor man.
Kari Holman: Yeah, luckily we were able to process that. We were working on that original memory that we were able to process and he’s like, 20 years and I can finally let this go.
Guy Windsor: Wow. Yeah, it works.
Kari Holman: It does. And I’m a big fan.
Guy Windsor: Yeah, Although, it’s a shame my camera stopped working because you’ll see that I’m thinking.
Kari Holman: I can hear you. I can hear you thinking I can.
Guy Windsor: I can edit out long silences. I’m pretty careful how I say this because it’s not my intention to diminish anybody else’s experience. But I think that in the rush to be sympathetic about trauma, we can make it worse. Because to my mind, and speaking just from my own experience, not speaking for anybody else here, the salient point, the thing that actually matters is that I won, right? So I don’t like things like, you know, victim of this or survivor of that. Because it basically it creates a narrative in which this awful thing happened and you survived or this awful thing happened and worse, you were a victim of it. And both of those are passive. And so, you know, there’s a group like ‘boarding school survivors’. I don’t identify with that at all. Like, yeah, I got through ten years of that shit without drinking the Kool-Aid. That, to my mind, counts as a victory.
Kari Holman: So I can see where you don’t like ‘victim survivor’. Some people very much like the survivor narrative because it takes them out of that victim where it’s like, I did make it through. But again, we can get into a whole other conversation about some people like labels. Some people hate labels. We could get into a whole other podcast on that.
Guy Windsor: Yeah, I’m not a huge fan of labels, as you probably guess. But think about this. Like say you ran a marathon. And it was a challenging and gruelling experience. And from a physiological perspective was actually pretty damn traumatic. But you don’t say somebody who completed the marathon survived the marathon? They’re not a marathon survivor. They’re a marathon winner or completer.
Kari Holman: I suppose the difference there is that you are voluntarily, I hope, running this marathon.
Guy Windsor: Yeah, sure. It’s like I heard a friend of mine there talking about this person who’d been horrible to her and made me want to go punch them in the head, but I didn’t because I have self-control. But yeah, well, it wouldn’t have helped.
Kari Holman: No, it wouldn’t.
Guy Windsor: Most particularly, it wouldn’t have helped her at all. It might have helped me relieve my feeling.
Kari Holman: You’d feel better, but it wouldn’t help.
Guy Windsor: But she referred to this person as “my bully.” That’s a terrible narrative. It means that in the language that you’re using you are connecting yourself to this person who you don’t like and you don’t talk to.
Kari Holman: You don’t take ownership of the bully. It’s the bully. A bully. Not yours.
Guy Windsor: Exactly. Yeah. You were saying earlier that language matters. I think in things like it in how we how we express it. And if you think about it, a lot of what we do in fencing, if you took out the consent, would absolutely be assault. And sometimes injuries occur, which you’ve consented to the risk of, if not to the injury itself. And so even when there’s no blame to be assigned, a traumatic experience has been gone through. But generally speaking, we don’t describe it in terms of trauma. We describe it in terms of an accident or sometimes people display their bruises going, oh, well, that was a good Wednesday night. My arm’s stripy.
Kari Holman: Which shows that that wasn’t an upsetting occurrence.
Guy Windsor: Exactly.
Kari Holman: Maybe it was at the time and your brain processed it. And then sometimes that happened. Your brain goes no, no, no, no, no.
Guy Windsor: There’s a trick your brain can do. Like, for instance, you know, when I’ve been fencing someone or whatever, and they have suddenly surprised me with something they weren’t supposed to do. Like, for instance, having a rapier fencing match with someone, and it’s sort of implicit that you don’t end up wrestling on the floor.
Kari Holman: Yeah.
Guy Windsor: And this person ignored several hits to the head and body and just charged in and got me on the ground in an arm bar. I was like, this is not what I agreed to. But the thing is, getting up, I was really pissed off. And then it sort of went and actually, you know, in terms of the actual fencing match, I hammered him. Yeah. I mean, I was lying there, and I’m beating him over the head with my sword. He hadn’t got his head around the idea that actually we’re wrestling. He thought we were wrestling by holding these blunt metal bars for some reason.
Kari Holman: I would be interested if we had, I’ll say, a panel of men and women, how different people would respond to that, because, like, I would be pissed, but there would also be a part of my brain that was going “a man has just attacked you. You are in mortal danger.” I would hate that because I’d be like, you just made me literally afraid for my life. Do not.
Guy Windsor: Yes. And my experience of it was I thought he was going to break my arm. And it was quite frightening. But maybe because of the context it occurred in and maybe because no real injury happened. And maybe also because in that context, I have actually won already.
Kari Holman: It’s also power dynamics. Power dynamics is a big thing. At the end of the day, you were the instructor and at the end of day, you’re both male.
Guy Windsor: I wasn’t the instructor in that. It was two peers fencing. If I’d been the instructor in that situation, it wouldn’t have happened.
Kari Holman: Oh, okay. That’s fair. Yes, that is fair. Yeah. Like you said earlier, early on in that manual, I ask men to sit with their discomfort because any decent man, if I say to him, you’re making these women uncomfortable, is going to feel bad about it. Any decent man is. There’s places in the manual we talk a little bit about power dynamics and what we are socialised to do. It’s very common when I have a new female identifying fencer that there’s this weird thing going on in her brain, this weird dissonance where we’re like, come on, hit me. Like, you have a sword, hit me. And they kind of go, oh…poke and then like, dissolve into, like these really awkward giggles because her brain is going, What are you doing? Little girls are sugar and spice and everything nice, you don’t hit people. But she’s enjoying this, and her brain is going, no this is not what we were trained to do. But then you also have I find a lot of women feel like they can’t speak up with an instructor, with an authority figure or especially like a male authority figure, because at least in the U.S., because this is where I live, women are very much socialised to capitulate to, and attend to men’s emotions, mostly for our own safety, even when we know cognitively like I’ll say, Terry, you know, oh, my God, you know, Terry is never going to hurt anybody.
Guy Windsor: He is one of the nicest men on the planet.
Kari Holman: One of the nicest men on the planet.
Guy Windsor: Even if you deserve it, he probably won’t actually hurt you.
Kari Holman: I mean, he’ll rip you apart verbally, but yeah, it’s like Terry, would jump in front of a bus for you. But there’s still that part of, at least my female brain, there’s the instinctive bit that goes, Oh, he’s bigger and stronger than me. And there’s that war between the cognitive oh, for Pete’s sake, It’s Terry and the instinctive oh, but it’s a dude and he’s bigger than you and he could kill you. And so that’s a dissonance that I want all fencers and teachers and fighting partners to attend to and to at least respect because that can be worked through. But it takes time. And it’s not about any individual person. It’s not you, Guy, It’s not you, Terry. It’s her life history. I find, and I’ve read a number of people who, for whatever reason, you hit them in this one particular spot and it just throws them for a loop like the hamster falls out of the wheel. For me, it’s like that face shot, like right between the eyes, especially when I didn’t see it coming. That knocks me right out. And I’m just like, did anybody get the number on that truck? I feel upset and disoriented and I need to go sit down. Now, we have trained me out of this, but there was a lot of time where I was like, I don’t know what it is about that shot, but that so disorients and upsets me. I know people where it’s that shot on the top of the gorget that’s like right at the throat that they’re like, oh my God, hold on, check. Am I alive? I’m good, I’m good.
Guy Windsor: Did you figure out why it’s that shot in your face?
Kari Holman: No clue. Because it’s not like I ever took a soccer ball to the face as a kid. I’ve never had a face injury. I’ve never had anybody threaten my face in some way. No clue. Just for whatever reason, that is not the happy place. Which I mean, I’m fine with it now. We found that the if I was kind of warmed up and dialled in on my fight, it wouldn’t bother me. Just whatever. I’m good. People are like, are you okay? Because my friends and team-mates all know what that shot will do it. But yeah, I’m fine. Well, interesting. And so we started to, for lack of a better word, desensitise me earlier and earlier and earlier in my practice or in my day so that even if it is like the first shot of the day, I’m like, okay, give me a sec. I’m okay. And I also and I learned for me, sometimes maybe somebody gets me into like, oh God, my head would snap back, Oh, God, are you okay? And I’m like, I’m good, but can I have a hug? That does something positive for my brain. For me. At least in my area of the SCA, most of us are generally huggy people, or at least okay with it if you ask. And something about that resets my brain and goes, we’re okay. Nobody’s a threat or dangerous. They just hugged you and then I can just get on with my day.
Guy Windsor: Maybe it recasts it from assault to accident.
Kari Holman: Yeah. I think that’s what it is. It reclassify it in my brain.
Guy Windsor: Yeah. So if you accidentally bumped into somebody you apologise. And it is clearly an accident and no one cares and you forget about it in 2 seconds. Yeah, but if you do it deliberately, that lack of social interaction afterwards makes it much more stressful. I learned this when I moved to Finland as an exchange student in 1994.
Kari Holman: Of fun. I’m not going to tell you how young I was.
Guy Windsor: And yeah, in Finland, things tend to be fairly introverted and they tend to be fairly quiet. They respect your personal space. Now, in Britain, if an English person walks into a lamp post they apologise to the lamp post. It is just automatic. In Finland if somebody jostles you, you’re walking down the street and you bump shoulders by accident, the Finns don’t apologise. I was ranting about this to one of my Finnish friends. And she said, yeah, but Guy, the thing is, that person has already offended you by invading your personal space. If he then insists on a conversation, he is then invading your psychological space and compounding the thing. So the polite thing to do is you both mutually pretend it didn’t happen. I was like, oh, fuck.
Kari Holman: Very different cultural outlook.
Guy Windsor: Exactly. Exactly. But once it’s explained, it makes sense. And I stopped being upset when Finns failed to apologise. And when I accidentally jostle a Finn, I don’t apologise. But there is this vocalisation you can make, which is “uh oh”. What that does is, is “That was definitely an accident. Sorry to bother you and I would not wish to compound that with actual speech, but here is just a little grunt so that you know that I wasn’t being a dick.” Very useful little Finnishisation.
Kari Holman: That makes me think of, I’ve heard people say, oh, you know, Americans. Oh, God, they smile too much. It’s so superficial. And I’m like, No, like when you, like, accidentally, like, lock eyes with somebody in the grocery store and you smile. It’s pretty much the smile is like, hi, I’m in a good mood and I’m not a threat to you. That’s how I interpret it. Because if I lock eyes with somebody, they don’t smile at me in the grocery store. And I’m like, okay, jerk.
Guy Windsor: Yeah, but Americans in Finland have a tricky time adjusting.
Kari Holman: We would be so offended because we talk to everybody.
Guy Windsor: Right. And like in Finland, you only ask a question if you want to know the answer. So an America saying, how’s your day going?
Kari Holman: We don’t actually want to hear it. We just want to hear it’s good.
Guy Windsor: Right. But you ask that to a Finn and they’ll be like, Well, it’s very strange that this person, I don’t know is talking to me, but they’ve asked me a question. Clearly, they must want to know the answer. So I’ll give them as much of an answer as I feel capable of right now or that I’m willing to divulge. And so you get a whole and proper answer. And it’s just this clash of cultures.
Kari Holman: I do love that kind of stuff, though.
Guy Windsor: Yeah, but like politeness is cultural also. And given that most of the trauma that seems to matter is interpersonal. Because it is the social injury, the notion that there is a person who actively wants to hurt you like that, seems to be the most psychologically damaging. Or getting the cultural aspect of it must be really important. So speaking of cultures, what is your view on social media?
Kari Holman: I think it’s a tool, and it’s just a tool. And like any tool we can use the tool properly. We can use the tool improperly. It means in terms of like, well, this is a nail and therefore it needs a hammer. But all I have is a wrench. So I’ll just try it with the wrench. Oh get the hammer. Some people use social media well, some not so well. Some like to be antagonistic, some not. It’s just a tool.
Guy Windsor: But yes, and that’s pretty much how I use it. But from a psychological perspective, from the perspective of a psychotherapist.
Kari Holman: From a psychological standpoint, this is a tool that can do damage. And because strictly speaking, it is a very new tool, we haven’t gotten around to A. all of the positives and all of the negatives and B., how to navigate that, especially with my teen clients. Now, teens are developmentally programmed to be very peer focused. With my teens, I don’t know if this is a phrase where you’re from, here it’s if all of all of your friends jumped off a bridge, would you jump too? And it’s supposed to be derisive. But to me, I’m like, I kind of want the answer to be yes, because I want you to be peer focussed. Just make it a very small bridge, just a little jump. Not a big bridge. And so they are constantly plugged into their peers and when they have a good relationship with their peers: wonderful. But if you’re like me and you were bullied a lot in school, they now don’t get to come home to a hopefully safe place because the bullying from school can now follow them. Because a lot of them can’t seem to help themselves, but be on Snapchat, be on Instagram, even when they keep getting this negative feedback. And so that’s something that I will deal with. I will deal with some of my teens is helping to frame this and helping to go like, okay, so Sally is a bitch. Can I say that?
Guy Windsor: Yeah. You can say she’s a fucking bitch if you want.
Kari Holman: Yeah, it’s like, okay, so look, Sally’s a fucking bitch. Have you considered maybe unfollowing her on Snapchat? And sometimes it’s like, Wait, I can do that? Like, yes, my child, you can do that. And sometimes being like, you know what? Maybe you put the phone down or maybe don’t open Snapchat. But these are all those are developmental skills. But I see that a lot in my teens now that they don’t get to unplug, they don’t get to step away from those negative pressures at school that like I got to go home where I thankfully had a loving and supportive family, so at least I had somewhere safe to go.
Guy Windsor: And actually, one of the secrets of surviving boarding school is finding safe places in the school where they can’t find you. So basically, what social media is doing to some of these kids is it is replicating the boarding school experience for them. Because even at home they are still at school. That’s horrific.
Kari Holman: Yeah, even at home they’re still at school Even at home, their peers are still there. It’s horrific. I mean, I’m reaching the conclusion that there are very few children who are not bullied at some point in their school life. I’m pretty sure they all are to a greater or lesser extent. And it’s just horrific to me to think like you never get to walk away from that. And the bullying, oh, my God, the bullying gets creative, I will say. The ways in which some nasty people will use this tool that is social media and that I want to go find them and I want to beat them up. And I’m like, No, Kari, don’t beat up a child. That is a bad thing. That is generally frowned upon.
Guy Windsor: Every now and then in a movie or TV show or whatever, some kid is bullying some other kid and the other kid’s usually like stepparent or something, goes off and just belts the kid who is bullying. It’s just so satisfying. Hitting children is wrong and it’s not helpful. But oh my God, it would relieve your feelings.
Kari Holman: Oh, I’m sure. I’m sure there’s a lot of us we see that in a movie. We’re like, take that Timmy Johnson.
Guy Windsor: To all the Timmy Johnsons listening, that was not aimed at you.
Kari Holman: No, I’m sorry. Does anybody have the name Timmy Johnson? I’m sorry. I didn’t mean you. That’s why I usually just say Bob, even though I know who Bob is.
Guy Windsor: We have quite a lot of Bobs listening, I’m sure, because, yes, there’s a couple of regular listeners that are called Bob because they email me and tell me they like the show. So let’s not call them Bob either. All right, now, slightly odd question. In episode 134 of the show with Lisa Losito the topic of Furries came up. And broadened my mind slightly. So what is and this is taken from your CV, of course, what is the Midwest Fur Fest convention and why do they need a psychological counsellor?
Kari Holman: Okay, so the Midwest Fur Fest is currently the largest free convention in the US.
Guy Windsor: And therefore probably the world.
Kari Holman: Possibly. I have no idea. But quite possibly. I think we had around, I want to say 13,000 people this past December. But don’t quote me on that.
Guy Windsor: That’s enormous.
Kari Holman: It’s enormous. So anybody who’s gone to any sort of nerd or fandom convention, it’s the same thing. It’s just that the topic is furries and furry fandom. My eyes were opened because I call myself furry adjacent, because I have friends who are furries and I’m involved in this convention. It’s just not my fandom. Though I can give you a hilarious anecdote about my first MFF. Do you want to hear it?
Guy Windsor: Yeah, please.
Kari Holman: Okay. So is dating this guy at the time and he was a furry and he wanted to go to this convention. And at the time I’m like, okay, like, I’ve never really heard of this, but okay, sure, I’ll be a good girlfriend. So I’m like 25 at the time. I go and I am so clearly not tall enough to ride this ride. I am just going like, what is this? Like, this is just I’ve never seen anything like this. This is weird. My brain was kind of [makes raspberry noise]. And in psychology, we know that your brain can only maintain arousal for so long. It can only be angry for so long. It can only be anxious for so long before it eventually just poops out. Somewhere in the afternoon, I had finally reached this point. And if there is a higher power, this power has a sense of humour. And it was my day. It was clearly my day because literally the thought in my head is to go, well, you know, the only way this could get any worse is if I saw, like my dad or somebody I know. “Kari?” I hear somebody call my name. Now, of course, I’m overlooking the fact that, like, if I see somebody I know here, they’re probably here because they want to be here, versus me. I’m like, I’m just being a girlfriend and I’m going, What the hell is this? So somebody call my name and I look, my head has thoroughly exploded. All of the hamsters have fallen out of all of the wheels. And there’s this little wolf looking at me and I’m like what the hell is going on? This person lifts the head off and looks at me, and I swear to God, you could see the timer over my head going, tick, tick, ding! Sarah? This was the girl who was my next door neighbour in the dorms my first year of college, I realised who this is. And then the piggyback thought is to go, well, this explains why she’d like to be in the school mascot so much. She had a part time job as the school mascot, and she loved it.
Guy Windsor: Right? Dressing up as a furry animal. Yeah.
Kari Holman: And so now, after my brain has thoroughly exploded and all of the hamsters have fallen out of the wheels, we talk, we connect. And then, like, 30 minutes later, she has to me judge fur suit charades, which was one of the funniest things I have ever done. People are really expressive despite the fact that they have these really big, like, you know, paw fur hands on. Really expressive. And that was my first MFF.
Guy Windsor: Okay, so why do they need a psychological council?
Kari Holman: So the way this happened is, you have a lot you have a lot of people at this convention, you have a lot of nerds at this convention. There’s a lot of Venn diagrams of fandoms if people haven’t figured that out already. And so just you know, sometimes the convention is stressful. People get high or they have a bad trip, they get drunk, whatever. And issues can sometimes arise. The way I first got involved in this is I know somebody who was on the convention’s legal team and somebody had made a comment on social media that would potentially involve the convention. And so the legal team got involved and they contacted me because they had a what I thought was a very pertinent psychological question. And they were like, before we decide our course of action, what do you think about this? Could this be a potential psychological factor? So I said, well, I have an answer, but let me go research. So I did some research because I’m trying to do my due diligence. And I said, well, here’s my answer. You do with that what you want. And so then that started this kind of informal relationship, first with the legal team, because I did know somebody and then as well as the medical team and the security team. We did have an incident where somebody was just having a bad day and they were starting to express some suicidal ideation. And so I was a known person. I was known to the medical team and said, if anything comes up, contact me, because none of y’all are trained to do this kind of assessment. So I get called, I go down, I do an assessment. Thankfully, there was nothing immediate. This person was going to be fine, thankfully, but that’s what I was there for. Just to help.
Guy Windsor: What was the initial question that you had an answer for, but you went to research.
Kari Holman: Okay, well, this particular person was in the process of transitioning, so they were on HRT. And so the question was, could this hormonal change be affecting what they’re saying or their expression. This particular person was transitioning from female to male. And so the question was there’s more testosterone in this person’s system than there previously was. Could this potentially be a factor in what they are saying. And my clinical feeling and then the research I found, was yes. Because we have found that increases in testosterone and such as with transitioning with HRT can potentially increase aggressive expression. But we haven’t found any correlation yet with like aggressive behaviour. But definitely it could be a change in aggressive expression where somebody may go from, oh, “I don’t like this person” or “I hate you” or “fuck off” to like “I’m going to blow your face off.” That was a little extreme. I apologise. And so they were like, before we make a decision on what we’re going to do, could this be a factor? And that’s how I got called up. And I thought that was a very, very insightful, pertinent question to ask. I don’t know what they ultimately did because that was none of my business.
Guy Windsor: Sure. Interesting. Yeah, because I guess whenever you have like 13,000 people in one place, you are going to definitely be psychological issues will come up.
Kari Holman: And the beauty of it that there is like kind of an informal team of therapists who are all at this convention and everybody volunteers in different capacities. So like one person is kind of their head or deputy head or co-head, something is involved in the panel programming. And so she now helps us get mental health panels in the program. So I do how to cope with anxiety at a convention. We did one on ADHD. I typically do one on like how to find a therapist and your rights as a client. We have people who happen to be therapists at the info desk. Person who heads up Disability Services is also a therapist. We have a therapist who does a panel at the last day every year on like lost friends, people who we have lost in the years since and just kind of has a place for people to sit and kind of talk about the people they’ve lost and the person who leads that is a licensed therapist.
Guy Windsor: I think they would have to be.
Kari Holman: Yes, that’s one of the benefits of having a therapist who is like gets to say yes/no on the panelling. They can go, okay, this is a mental health panel. What is your qualification? Because they had that happen once. Somebody who it was basically, I have this condition. I’m going to talk about this condition. And it was this is my experience, but it was presented as this is how it is. And it did not go well. So there was a shift there. But the benefit is now like if one of us doesn’t have some other obligation, we go to that Remembering People We’ve Lost panel and we’re just there as extra support. Or a couple of years ago I did a whole like hour and a half panel on trauma. And so I had some of the other therapists just sit in the back. I said, there are licensed therapists back there. If anybody just needs their head screwed back on for a few minutes, they are right back there. Go talk to them if you’re feeling disregulated or need some support. So it’s a beautiful thing now, and I really want that to catch on with lots of other conventions because as you said, you get that many people together in a relatively small space. Someone’s going to have some struggle they didn’t anticipate.
Guy Windsor: Right. And it strikes me that I would guess that one of the reasons that people want to dress up as furry animals, which I guess is like the core furry thing, right?
Kari Holman: Well, it’s one aspect. I don’t want to speak for all furries, but my understanding is the common thread is an interest in anthropomorphic animals. So like Disney’s Robin Hood or Zootopia. That’s the core. And some people like to dress up.
Guy Windsor: Because I would imagine that for someone who likes to dress up like that, there will be a sense of comfort and security in that.
Kari Holman: I imagine there could be.
Guy Windsor: It strikes me as like why do you do it? Because either it’s fun. Or someone’s paying you to do it, like if you work at Disneyland. People have like emotional support animals, but I guess being your own emotional support animal.
Kari Holman: I mean, there’s many reasons to dress up as there are people.
Guy Windsor: One of the one of the big differences between the SCA and the rest of the historical martial arts world is in the SCA the clothing is super important. And it’s for a lot of people, a license to have an alter ego and dress up as somebody else.
Kari Holman: You know, everybody develops a persona. Now for some people it’s like, here’s my name and it’s from this place in this time period and that’s it. Some people can give you the entire life history of their persona, and some people are like, this is just me in my spare time. Some people do create something of a character or it’s the aspects of themselves that they don’t get to be at work.
Guy Windsor: I’ve met many people in the SCA for whom it is really clear that who they really are is their SCA person. And the other stuff is like the clothes they put on to go to work.
Kari Holman: I talk to people about, you know, like have you ever seen like a video of like a recording studio and there’s the guy with the board with all the sliders on it. I think of each of those is like aspects of our personality, depending on where we are. Different sliders come up and go down. So like Therapist Me is a different person from SCA Me. SCA Me is a doofus and a goofball. Therapist Me that’s not always appropriate now is it? It’s not always appropriate to crack a joke. Now I don’t think of myself as a traditional therapist. I do say some pretty wild things in therapy for therapeutic reasons. If it’s like, oh, you know, like oh, the clients, you know, we need to release this tension for the client. They can’t hold this much longer. That’s the moment to crack a joke or to say something funny. I will sometimes just write down like the wild things I’ve said in session, and I look at it a year later and go, what on earth were we talking about? Which apparently my client loves.
Guy Windsor: Out of context maybe. I have a couple of questions I ask all of my guests, or at least the ones who consent to those questions because it’s all entirely consensual. And some people have declined the whereabouts in the world are you question? Yeah, some people have declined the one I’m about to ask you, some declined the one that comes next. But at least so far, you have consented to all of them. So far. What is the best idea you haven’t acted on yet?
Kari Holman: Oh, gosh. Well, the best idea that I think I haven’t acted on yet. We have a theory. We have a new theory. My teacher and I, Kai and I, we strongly suspect that height plays a bigger role in success, at least in SCA fencing, than we perhaps realised. And at least our theory is that it definitely has a difference in early successes, which we think then affects whether or not people stay.
Guy Windsor: I have a statistic for you they may spark off some ideas.
Kari Holman: Oh, let’s hear it. Maybe this will save us some time.
Guy Windsor: Okay. All right. About 10% of the world’s population are left handed. About 50% of top level fences are left handed. And the reason is because in training, and up until you get to the higher levels, left handers see lots of right handers and know how to deal with them. But right handers don’t see many left handers, so aren’t so used to dealing with them. So there’s this early advantage.
Kari Holman: Yeah. We have two lefties at my practice and I’m so happy about it.
Guy Windsor: It’s very useful. Yeah. And any good instructor should be able to give a lesson on the other hand. So you can train your students to deal with lefties or train your lefties to deal with righties or whatever. Mm hmm. But the early success thing is the same problem as the women dropping out thing. And it’s the same reason that left handers tend to do better until they hit the sort of national level kind of level of competition and so the height. So I guess the real difference is with height, there’s nothing you can do about it. You can train lefties to deal with righties, you can train righties to deal with lefties and you can train short people who deal with tall people and vice versa. But you’re dealing with a trait that it is an advantage to be taller in fencing. There’s just no way around it. Because there’s this whole area in the fencing arena where you can hit your opponent and they can’t hit you.
Kari Holman: Story of my life. Story of my life. So, what do we want to do with this information?
Guy Windsor: Yeah. What are you gonna do with it?
Kari Holman: Well, what I want to do with that is kind of raise the awareness and be like, hey, guys, let’s be aware of this and let’s be intentional when in communicating this knowledge to new fencers and go, hey, I’m going to pick Bob and Sally because these are the names I always use. Hey, you know, Sally don’t feel bad. Bob isn’t necessarily a better fencer than you. He’s just taller. He can reach you before you can reach him. And so there’s a level of skill that he doesn’t need to have right now to still get you. But you can clearly learn how to overcome that. I am clear evidence of that. I am five five and I am surrounded by people who are like six foot and taller. Hey, Bob, you’re having early successes. Don’t let that go to your head. There is still skill you need to learn to be a competent fencer.
Guy Windsor: Here’s the way I frame it. It is a huge advantage to be smaller and weaker because you have to learn to get it right.
Kari Holman: Uh huh. It’s a blessing in disguise.
Guy Windsor: Right. Yeah. If you’re bigger and stronger, you can win without actually getting it right. Which is going to put a cap on your development as a fencer.
Kari Holman: Yeah, it’s going to catch up though.
Guy Windsor: Yeah. So I mean what I think is really impressive is when you see somebody who is very big and very strong, who is also very highly skilled. Because they must have been able to overcome the complacency that their natural advantages gave them and still learn to get to get to that extraordinary level. So yeah, I would frame it as a disadvantage to be tall when learning to fence. It’ll become an advantage later. But in the early stages it’s a huge disadvantage because you will get away with stuff you shouldn’t get away with.
Kari Holman: You are lulled into a false sense of security.
Guy Windsor: Right. And your training is beset with false positives. Behaviours that shouldn’t be rewarded get rewarded because they work in the short term because of this particular thing. As soon as you come up against someone taller than you, you’re going to get creamed.
Kari Holman: Yeah. Or somebody who is shorter than you but knows what they’re doing.
Guy Windsor: Right. Okay, So what do you what are you doing to actually establish whether this is of a factor? I mean, to my mind, it clearly must be.
Kari Holman: But yeah, I mean, to my mind, to our minds as well, it clearly must be. But we’re going to try to be as scientific about this as we can.
Guy Windsor: Because an awful lot of things that clearly must be so actually aren’t.
Kari Holman: So we were only able to do this once last year. This was, let’s do this proof of concept. And so we did a height tournament and I suppose maybe five nine was the cut-off, but I think we just lined everybody up and we went, okay, what’s halfway? And I think it was five nine. We were like five nine and up, go over there. Five eight and shorter, go over there. And then we tallied up and we said round robin, just go fight everybody. And so we tallied up wins. And on the total side, we’re also a lot of we were looking, we’re going, that’s a lot of bronze rings and a lot of Masters of Defense. Those are our upper two levels. It’s kind of like getting your master’s and your Ph.D. over on that tall side. There’s a lot of awards over there. And so that that broke down like we would expect it to. But then on the on the five eight and shorter side. We saw very different results from what we normally do. People that would get maybe one, two, three wins in, say, a round robin tourney would knock it out five, seven, nine wins out of like a dozen people or out of a dozen other people. Wait a minute. So maybe there is something to this that when they are of a height that that I can just reach you from orbit factor.
Guy Windsor: There are weight classes in wrestling for the same reason.
Kari Holman: And we don’t necessarily do that in fencing, we don’t have height classes. Maybe we should, I don’t know. But it was interesting and we went, okay, proof of concept. We’re going to do this many more times because, you know, science is repeatable.
Guy Windsor: That’s interesting, because weight classes are useful in wrestling tournaments. No question about it. Having height classes in fencing tournament, I would be very curious to see whether you can actually generate a sufficient body of evidence that will actually persuade people that this should be the norm?
Kari Holman: Of course, also I’m not sure we have a sufficient number of people, at least in my area of the SCA.
Guy Windsor: The SCA is enormous. You just have to get everybody doing it.
Kari Holman: Or just like, okay, at this one event we’re going to do height classes. We’re like, okay, well, that one has three people in it, that one has five. So people may not ultimately want to do that. They may be like, okay, yes, we’re aware.
Guy Windsor: Okay, I’m at least provisionally going to Lord Baltimore’s Challenge in July to teach. And that’s an SCA and historical martial arts community event run by David Biggs, fantastic instructor, who’s also, coincidentally or not coincidentally, very tall. I will float the idea to him of having maybe the early pools being segregated by height and see what happens.
Kari Holman: Let’s see what happens.
Guy Windsor: That would be really interesting.
Kari Holman: And just see and people can self-report like, okay, like, how did you do? How did you do, as opposed to other tournaments? However you want to slice that, if it’s victories or feeling of confidence, whatever you want to do, all that could be so interesting.
Guy Windsor: And it’s no coincidence that okay, there’s one guy who’s short. I’m sort of average height and he’s a bit shorter than me. Who I think won the last time. Last time was that or the time before? And he did very well because he’s a very, very good fencer. But most of the winners are very tall.
Kari Holman: And one of the things is my teacher is like six two, six three. So he’s very tall and I’m five five.
Guy Windsor: I was going to ask you, actually, I was going to ask. Okay. From what you said about him, he’s clearly a very good instructor. How come?
Kari Holman: I don’t know. He does have a taekwondo background. I think he’s like a third degree, second or third degree black belt in taekwondo. And at one point he did teach children. So I think some of that helped. But what I can’t figure out, what I can’t figure out is if he learned this, some of this from teaching children or if he just intuits this. And like we have been working together a very long time. We have been working together 15, 16 years. And so I think there’s also things that he learned from working with me that I have seen him use with other female students. Currently, all of his students are female, so he’s clearly doing something right that we all like to work with him. He’s clearly doing something right. But he is so knowledgeable that he can give you, I’ll say, different looks. He knows enough and he knows enough about enough different styles of fencing that he can give you different things and go, this is how you respond to Fabris, Capoferro, destreza. Things like that. And he knew how to train a five foot five fencer to competence and victory, even though he’s like six two. Because one of the things we practised a lot was how to get in safely, because he can get me well before I can get him. So it was learning how to, I think of it as Pac-Man, munch my way down his sword until he’s close enough that I can hit him. And this skill has served me very, very well for obvious reasons.
Guy Windsor: Yeah, sure. Interesting. Maybe I should just ask him.
Kari Holman: Yeah, just ask him. I mean, I think he’s great. I cannot singing his praises enough.
Guy Windsor: Clearly. That’s great to hear, actually. I hope my students talk about me the same way. So somebody gives you $1,000,000 to spend improving historical martial arts worldwide. I’m guessing you would spend it on teacher training. But how would you spend it.
Kari Holman: Yes, that is the answer.
Guy Windsor: Okay. Well, I mean, how would you actually spend that? Teacher training. How would you do that?
Kari Holman: Yeah, teacher training. I think it would be, you know, who we’re going to teach, we’re going to pay the teachers. Like your program is phenomenal, I’ve got your entire program. Your entire How to Teach program. I’ve been going through and I love it.
Guy Windsor: Oh, fantastic.
Kari Holman: Yeah, And I loved it. You were saying a lot of the same things that I say and that I found out in my research and I’m going to like him. So I think that information and that knowledge needs to be disseminated wider. That’s what I would do. I would make it available, be like, okay, do I need to pay the instructors to record this? Do I need to pay for your flight and your hotel to go listen to this person talk and just raise the level of teaching acumen in fencing, in historical martial arts so that A more people can get better and can really reach the height of their capabilities and so that we lose fewer people due to bad training. I mean, I’m sure you’ve heard that adage that, like, you know, a bad teacher will kill a students inspiration every time. And I see it with my teenagers, they were like, Oh, I used to love English, but you know, Mrs. Smith, God, she’s awful. And I hate English now. And fencing is something we’re supposed to be doing for fun, that sucks.
Guy Windsor: I have teenage kids. Seriously, they’re fantastic. But my youngest is choosing her subjects to do for GCSE which is the exams to take 16 she’s going to be she’s just turned 14. And she’s like, well I want to do this subject but only if the same teacher is teaching me in the GCSE course. I don’t want to do it if it’s one of the other teachers I don’t know. So what subject should I do? And I think she’s 100% right to be wanting to choose her courses by the teacher, not by the subject.
Kari Holman: I definitely in college and grad school, everybody talked to each other about the teachers. What kind of teacher is this? What is the quality of instruction? And people would absolutely try to pick a section with a teacher that they had liked or that their friends had liked or something like that. Absolutely.
Guy Windsor: So back to spending the money, you’re thinking of things like creating like teacher training programs, basically. Yeah.
Kari Holman: And getting people to the teachers or getting the teachers to the students.
Guy Windsor: Okay. So now I guess the question is, how are we going to raise that million dollars? Would you even need a million dollars for that? Probably not.
Kari Holman: No, probably not. How are you on car washes?
Guy Windsor: That’s a very, very inefficient way of making money. But yeah. Because I’m thinking like to organise a teacher training event in the States is relatively straightforward and if groups are encouraged to subsidise their teachers’ attendance at the event. When I was running my school in Finland I would travel a lot to events and whatever and basically a lot of the money that was coming in from my students was going to pay for my education. When I was travelling I would find good teachers and I would hire them to come over to Finland and teach my students for a weekend or two. And so then my students would pay for that seminar, which would pay for the instructor’s time. Now I have this instructor staying in my house for a week. So there’s an awful lot of kind of cross-pollination and cross-training stuff going on. So I think it’s perfectly normal for students to pay for their teacher’s instruction. So I guess the question is really, how does one organise such a thing and then how does one advertise it to the groups such that it makes sense for the groups to sponsor their instructors?
Kari Holman: And one of the tricky things, at least in the U.S., is distance. It is the just the sheer size of the country. You know, it could be, oh, Guy Windsor is going to be at this event in Boston. It’s like, okay, well, great. That’s 12 hours from me.
Guy Windsor: Yeah, it does happen. The last time I was in Seattle and someone flew over from Maine to get there.
Kari Holman: Yeah, and some people can afford that and some people can’t. And so it’s like, okay, so I drive. Okay, how long am I driving? Oh, it is 18 hours. And for some people it is. For some people it’s not. And some people just can’t.
Guy Windsor: If the clubs are, like, paying for flights and whatnot.
Kari Holman: That’s what I would do with that million dollars, is I would, you know, either pay for the materials to be made so they can be consumed online or pay to get the students and the teachers in the same place at the same time. That’s what I would do because like, I don’t want to ask one instructor to spend a month flying all over the U.S.. Because that is exhausting.
Guy Windsor: I’ve done that sort of thing. That to me, that’s kind of normal. Part of my job is flying and teaching seminars. Yeah, it’s tiring, but it’s great fun and it’s totally worth it. Yeah. You know, like the last time I was in the States, I went it was Seattle, then Madison, then Boston. No, it wasn’t Boston. It was Lord Baltimore’s Challenge. In Australia, like last time it was that it was Melbourne and Adelaide and Sydney and then it was New Zealand. Or it was New Zealand first, I’ve forgotten which. Yes, it’s great and it’s, it’s really good fun and I love doing it. And it is very tiring. And of course the flights are expensive but it is cheaper to fly one person to those places than it is to fly 30 students to any given location. So I if I had the money, I’d probably give it to you.
Kari Holman: Well, thank you.
Guy Windsor: Brilliant. Thanks so much for joining me today, Kari, it’s been lovely meeting you.
Kari Holman: It’s been wonderful. It’s been a real pleasure.