GW: I’m here today with Lauren Shaw, perhaps better known as Lauren Danger Adventure Ranger, who has been producing a series of videos on just about every single historical martial arts topic imaginable from how to make a buckler to what axes are for and everything in between. So without further ado, Lauren, welcome to the show.
LS: Well, thank you very much for having me. It’s great to be here.
GW: It’s nice to meet you. My first question is always and should be whereabouts in the world are you?
LS: Oh, I am in Calgary, Alberta, which is in Canada. It’s about an hour from the Rocky Mountains, so it’s a beautiful landscape. It’s a nice backdrop for studying martial arts or doing pretty much anything.
GW: I know Vancouver reasonably well and I know Toronto reasonably well, but that’s pretty much my experience of Canada. The two really famous cities. So I think it Calgary’s more out in the countryside.
LS: It’s in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, just where the prairies kind of meet the foothills, settled right there, right in that transition zone.
GW: So what made you want to start historical martial arts? How did that happen?
LS: Oh, wow. There are two parts to the story. The first part is I remember young Lauren. For some reason, they would put cheesy fantasy movies on TV on Sunday afternoons, on a local station, an American station that we managed to get in Canada. And I remember seeing Conan the Barbarian, the 1980s, the good one.
GW: Yeah, the good one.
LS: That is a movie that really, I mean, it’s a beautiful movie. And you have Valeria, and there she is with her sword, and she fights just as well as anybody else in that movie and how could you not be this little girl enamoured with her? You know, she’s got long blonde hair and a slightly crooked nose, and she is sitting there with the sword, just doing the most amazing things, and she fights just as well as Conan does and that inspiration. There’s 10 year old Lauren being, you know, swords are cool. I like swords, making the cardboard swords. And this is the 80s. And maybe it’s like, “Oh, what shouldn’t you be a princess?” No! I don’t want to be that. I’d rather be a pirate. And so that’s one. Now the next part of that is then in 1988, this movie came out called Willow. And we have the same thing happening again. Joanne Whalley’s in that movie she played Sorsha. And again, there is a woman with a sword. She’s fighting. She’s the baddie, but she’s redeemed. She becomes good. Those are spoilers.
GW: The movie’s been out for like 30 years.
LS: I know. If you haven’t seen it yet, you should. And there’s this one scene towards the end of the movie where she walks in to a sorcery chamber where she just easily dispatches three people and it’s like, yes, I love that movie and that movie really speaks to me a lot. It’s this whimsical movie, but it still has that aspect of sword fighting, and some of the swords actually look really good. Some of the props are almost historically accurate.
GW: And to a 10 year old they are fabulous. OK, I have two Conan stories for you. The first wasn’t really a story, but just in case you’re unsure as to how I feel about it, the original Conan the Barbarian, I have the soundtrack, and most of my books are written to that soundtrack.
LS: Oh, it is an excellent soundtrack.
GW: Yeah, I have to skip the first track on the album because it’s got all the talking in it. Conan wearing the crown of Aquilonia upon a troubled brow. I can’t have words going in my head when I’m writing, so I skip that track and the rest is just on repeat. And yeah, it really, really helps. And the second is, you are not the only person who pretended to be Valeria. When I was at school and we had to play hockey, which I had no interest in whatsoever, we had hockey sticks, obviously, and I would be at the back as a defender, so I didn’t have to run around too much because I was extremely lazy. And of course, Conan had a straight sword. So if I held it by one end, it was a Conan sword. But very often I was holding it by the other end because it balances better that way. And it has that kind of curve on the end, so that was Valeria’s sword. So pretty much all the time I was swinging a hockey stick around I was being Valeria, not Conan. I am less enamoured of Willow, it didn’t catch me in the same way, but Conan, absolutely.
LS: Well it is like the fantasy movie. It looks good. The colours, it’s vibrant, its cinematography. It should be the standard and we unfortunately get a lot of silly movies that don’t put any effort in. They just pick up props and have a rough script and just go out in the woods and film, and it’s not quite the same.
GW: Yeah. You know, I recently got into trouble with some of my readers because I did this survey. I asked the question to my mailing list about what movies had kind of got you into your earliest memories of what did you see that made you want to pick up swords? And a lot of people said Zorro, and a lot of people said The Three Musketeers and a few people said Hawk, the Slayer. And I remember Hawk the Slayer in the 80s, it is such a great film when you’re nine or ten. And I seem to recall watching it 10 years ago or so or starting it and going, yeah, no, it hasn’t really aged properly. And I mentioned this in this email when I was telling everybody about the responses I’ve been getting. And oh my god, I got a deluge of, “Guy, that movie is still perfect, don’t you dare say a word against it.”
LS: It’s still fun, Hawk the Slayer, but it’s you can see the…
GW: Quality-wise Conan the Barbarian definitely has the edge. But there’s that kind of quixotic Britishness to Hawk the Slayer somehow. I don’t know if it is a British movie or not, but it seems to have that sort of slightly Monty Python absurdity about it.
LS: Yes, it has enough British actors in. It’s probably American production filmed in England kind of feel to it.
GW: So we have a Red Sonja fan?
LS: I liked Red Sonja, but I liked the scene where they have all the swords and she’s got to choose the sword. That’s the scene that makes it for me. I think what throws me is you have Arnold Schwarzenegger and you think he should be Conan or Conan in disguise. But then you have Ernie Reyes Junior. He’s the kid. And of course, now you have this whole other martial arts shouty bit that goes in there. And it seems it’s not cohesive as a movie. It’s got a lot of pieces mushed together for, “Oh, we want to appeal to this audience and this audience and this audience,” and it loses something.
GW: But Grace Jones is fabulous.
LS: Oh, yes.
GW: Every time she appears on the screen, it just kind of redeems all the crap in the movie.
GW: OK. So what are your main research interests? This is a slightly dodgy question because you seem to be interested in absolutely everything.
LS: Oh well, I seem interested in everything, but that’s more from an experience. What happens is I really like 15th century. I like studying 15th century arms and armour. I like 15th century martial arts. I like armoured and unarmoured fighting and a lot of German stuff. I do have the Flower of Battle by Fiore, I do have Fiore.
GW: I would hope so.
LS: Oh yeah, you have to have Fiore. You’ve got to read. I mean, even if you’re like, oh, well, I studied German longsword, but you’ve got to look at Fiore’s longsword, you’ve got to look at the daggers. So it’s very much a 15th century study. Anything that’s 15th century. That’s where my passion is found. But I do like sword and buckler a lot. Obviously, if I’m making bucklers I have a passion for sword and buckler, so I have this kind of little 14th century side project, I suppose, but that’s not where we get most of our manuals from.
GW: True. So say you would identify your interests by time rather than by specific weapon style or culture?
GW: Interesting, OK. I’ve noticed that some people are into very specific kinds of sword, regardless of the period and other people are into very specific periods, regardless of what weapons are in and around that. So you’re a period person rather than objects person.
GW: Interesting. Yeah, I’m more of an objects person. Obviously I’m probably best known for my Fiore stuff and for my rapier stuff, but I also like sword and buckler and 18th-century smallsword and backsword and all that kind of thing, because basically, if it’s a sidearm, I’m interested. If it’s not a sidearm then I start to lose interest. So for me, it’s more about, can you carry it with your hands free?
LS: Yeah. And I like that because a lot of the things that when I’m thinking about the research and putting together a lesson plan there’s a lot of aspect of, OK, there’s a system. But is this a system that you could use for self-defence travelling between towns?
GW: So self-defence in period?
LS: Yes. Not modern self-defence.
GW: Yeah. Our arts are not well adapted for modern self-defence. You’re training with a club in Calgary. Who do you train with?
LS: Well, we are the Calgary Fellowship of the Sword. Because we’re a not for profit. We had to have a word from a list and have to be like society or fellowship. So we were really stuck on it for a while and we didn’t want to be a society. There’s so many societies, it’s like, well, we need a different word. And it is actually something my sister came up with, we gave her a list of the words. And she’s like, oh, well, “fellowship”. And then people will think Fellowship of the Ring and all these other things. So I proposed it to our group. We took a vote. It was unanimous, so we became Fellowship of the Sword. But there is a little bit of the disciples of Liechtenauer formed a fellowship, 14 of them or something, now I can’t remember exactly how it goes, but there is a reference to fellowship in a German tradition from the 15th century. So it’s like, OK, then now we have a historical way to come into it as well, because the fellowship seems very much a bunch of sword fighters got together and went out to be mercenaries.
GW: I take it you’re not actually going out to be mercenaries.
LS: Oh, absolutely not. No. The only the only thing we do is we will go out and we will go to a pub.
GW: That’s fair. And you don’t steal the beer, you pay for it?
LS: We pay for it.
GW: And you started this club, is that correct?
LS: Yes. So how it works is we used to be part of a club and after seven years of me being a member and a all of us had been there for quite some time, at least five years, for anyone else, some of them had been there longer. The founder of that club was moving away. And there were some disagreements on how the club would continue, so we decided we would just make our own club. So there were eight of us and we decided, well, we should make our own club. This gives us the freedom to study what we want, to do our own research, to take turns being instructors on the things that we enjoy.
GW: That wasn’t available in your previous club?
LS: No, the previous club was run very differently. It was, “OK, we’re going to do something for three months and we’re going to switch to something else” and we could vote on what we wanted to train. We didn’t have access to the lesson plans. It wasn’t encouraged for us to look at sources. It was just show up and learn. It was very different. The founder of the club did the research, he had his notes, but that wasn’t available to us, whereas now… Yeah, it was very different.
GW: That’s a very odd way to run a club.
LS: Yes, yes. It was very much like other martial arts, you know, an eastern martial arts club where you show up and you do the training and you go home and how can I practise on my own to get better? Well, you don’t have to worry about that. But we wanted to worry about that, so now as a club, we will upload things people want, the information we’ll send it out. When we run an “intro to longsword” programme at the end of it, we will send out notes. So even if these people don’t want to join up permanently they can still reference whatever they learnt. They can still practise at home if maybe they don’t like a club setting, but they think once a month, they’ll take out a broomstick or they’ll buy themselves a training sword. They can look at some details, they can look at a syllabus. They can say, “Oh, this is how to do this. Oh yeah, I remember. I remember my true and my false and my strong and my weak,” and they can still practise. And it seems a lot more sensible that people have access to material rather than just keep it hidden.
GW: Yeah, I am very much opposed to students training at home, which is why I just literally published a book on how to train at home, and I’m very much opposed to telling anybody how anything works. Which is why I keep publishing my syllabuses online and putting out videos of stuff because not you can’t have students being self-directed. That’s not good. Oh no, it’s funny you should say that because actually, I don’t know if you know, I run this month the coach’s corner thing and next month’s topic, in October, the 9th, I think it is. The topic is how to avoid “founderitis”. In other words, how to avoid the club collapsing when the founder leaves. My view of it is basically you have to make the founder redundant by all the various things that they do and are good at need to get passed on and taught to other people or whatever. So even if there’s no one single person who can do all those things, you have people who can do all those things and to get people to actually run the club independent of the founder before the founder leaves. That’s the heart of it. So your solution was actually just to basically reincorporate as a different club.
GW: Is that original club still running?
LS: No, not as far as we know.
GW: OK, so it died and was reborn as something else. You should have called yourselves the Phoenix from the ashes.
LS: Oh, but there’s already a Phoenix.
GW: I know.
LS: But part of it was there were some difficulties, we did have to have six months of not doing anything. And I don’t want to go into too many details because you don’t air your dirty laundry, but when someone is moving away but is litigious you want to make sure that, yeah, oh, we’re going to start our own group, oh, well, I’m going to sue you, so we kept it quiet. We just trained without doing anything. Don’t recruit members, didn’t put social media, nothing. We hid for six months, basically just training outdoors over the summer, when we had our six months up, where the legal advice is you can form your own club now. Then we were out of the gate and we’re doing well. We run these intro programmes for people. We usually get five to six people, and that’s a multi week course. And we incorporate both technique and we want some historical accuracy. We want some educational history into it to say this is where it comes from. And humour. Put jokes into it. We’re often very silly.
GW: Yes, it’s got to be fun. And the thing is, if you use humour right, it makes things much easier to remember.
GW: Right. So make them a bit ridiculous. Make them funny. Make them like, really disgusting. Attach a strong emotional response to whatever it is, and it makes it easy to remember.
LS: Like in our most recent one, we just started on Saturday. There are three teenagers in it. And so, of course, one of the teenagers who I actually know and I’m good friends with his parents and so the subject of The Witcher and holding your sword in the reverse grip came up. So what? OK, fine. Go ahead. Attack with that and all that happens is a tap to the head, right? And so we show it looks good on film. When we talk about that, movies are OK. We’re not going to be the type of club that says, Oh, movies are horrible, and movies have to be for a larger audience and they have to be entertaining. We get it. You can do the Conan reverse grip.
GW: Yeah, Conan does it.
LS: And it’s a good showy move before you engage in a fight. But when you actually get into a real fight, then it’s like, OK, but we can do that. We can take these moments, and we’re not really embarrassing the student, because we’re not taking them and throwing them to the ground and being mean about it. But we can all have a good little laugh about it and then encourage them to find, “OK, but that looks good and you can do that for fun. But now, when you’re actually coming into a fight, there are certain things that you need to worry about. You need your timing, your distance, do you have to reach.” So this is what teaches them that, “Oh OK, distance, I have to know about distance and timing because this movie thing doesn’t work like that.” And then it cements it into their brains that they have to be conscious of timing and distance. What are their hands and feet doing?
GW: Yeah. A long time ago, I was teaching a seminar in Singapore. One of my students, set up a seminar for me for Lucasfilm Animation in Singapore. I taught a group of Lucasfilm animators who were at that point working on The Clone Wars. So we did a few hours of longsword, and then they got the lightsabers out and they asked me questions about how they thought, “OK, we got this character like this and this character like that. And how would they fight? How would you think they would fight?” And one of them was, OK, we have this character, and they’re going to hold their lightsaber backwards exactly like you just described, kind of sticking out, which makes kind of sense for a dagger, but less so for a sword. And so how should they fight with it? I said, “well, they shouldn’t,” but they have to. So I had to make up a bunch of lightsaber stuff with the lightsaber held the wrong way. Actually, I could think of one example. I’ve been to a Japanese swordsmanship class once where because of the way the Japanese sword is carried tucked through the sash with the edge up, if you’re very close to a person there isn’t room to draw it with the normal grip. If you have to have the other way up, you can draw it with the back edge, the blunt back coming across your stomach and get that cutting edge out in front of you so you can sort of slice their belly open from very close range. That’s the only example I can think of actually using a sword that way, that actually makes sense. Because you’ll always find something else. You see some crazy thing on the movies, and you go, Oh, that’s rubbish, and then you find some historical example where no, actually.
LS: There is one thing. And I mean, the movie may have come up to it independently, but there’s a use for it.
GW: My next question took a little bit of preparation, and I’m actually going to read it off the sheet because otherwise, I’ll get it wrong. Now you have a YouTube channel which goes into all sorts of aspects of weapons and what have you. But I had a look at a few of them before the interview to get ready. What struck me most is that the videos all start with the verse. Whether we’re talking axe or sword / It seems you never do get bored / Of starting out with a rhyme / You seem to do it every time / So come on, Lauren, don’t be shy / Will you please tell us why?
LS: Oh, fantastic. I like that little rhyme. Tell you why. Yes, indeed. When I was little, I always had an aptitude for language arts. I could forget to do homework for language arts like, “Oh, you should write a story.” I could then make up a story on the spot. Read it out to the class. “Oh, very good, well done.” That was my homework. I wasn’t reading the story. I was reading some other homework that I had done – science essay, but I read a fiction story. So I always had this love of language arts. And I wanted to be a writer and I got into communications, public relations, journalism. So I have this experience of being a presenter of and the love of words. And for many literary nerds, love words, and I could go on rhyming, but then it feels too forced. So I figured you need a hook. When you do a YouTube video, you have to have something of your personality that’s a hook. And I like to put myself into the videos. It’s not me being Lauren Danger as this fake person. Lauren Danger is just me. And the videos just seemed like a good idea to have that hook in the beginning and a little introduction. A cold opening, but it should relate to what the video’s about. And so I came up with rhymes. Now for my niece and my nephew, we do a lot of rhyming. I like to rhyme with them. And it’s a lot of fun to make up little rhymes and songs and stories. And so I do a lot of that and it just seemed to fit. It’s like I need to say something, and it’s almost like a song, but that rhyme just came out, and so now I have a Word document with all the rhymes in it, and when it’s time I go type up a new rhyme. It takes about maybe five minutes. Not every line is good, sometimes you have to throw it out. It’s like this is just awful. And there are certain words that just do not rhyme well. It’s like “point”. “Point” does not rhyme. So you want to talk about thrusting, you know, get to the point. What rhymes with “point”? “Joint”? And that’s pretty much it. I’ve got to start with something else.
GW: So stick your nasty dagger point in his vulnerable elbow joint.
LS: There you go. That works.
GW: That’s pretty much the only use case for it.
LS: That is. And if we’re talking about that, I should do some more dagger videos, but I have to do some more studying and things are a little heavy with class stuff right now. I have sword and buckler to prepare for. So you’re seeing a lot of buckler stuff. It’s because I had to make some bucklers for teaching sword and buckler class is one thing. And now we’re having a little digression from the rhymes on YouTube. One thing to encourage about the club that we have is that we don’t want people to have to come into it and spend a lot of money on equipment. We like to have loner gear, even if it’s a polypropylene training sword to start with. We want them to say you have to find your love for it on your own. If you come into it, you take six classes, 10 classes, and you find it just doesn’t click for me, I want to do a different type of martial art and you’ve spent $1000 on gear, that turns people off. Oh, I have to join this. You know, it’s like, OK, if you just have to buy a Gi for karate, that’s not as much an expense. But if you have to buy all of the pads and the mitts and everything, it might turn some people off.
GW: And it’s also it’s been my experience that quite often, the people who show up on the first day of the beginners’ course, and then they show up next week with an expensive sword or whatever other weapons we’re using, it’s actually not a good indication that they’re going to stick with it. It’s a good indication that they really wanted to buy the kit. But yeah, I’m with you. One of the unexpected benefits of having a full time permanent training space – regular listeners of the podcasts will have heard this before, but we haven’t spoken before, so I’m going to tell you. When I got the permanent space 24/7 people could come and they could leave their swords on the racks, and after a while I realised that some of these people, they bought a sword, they left it on the rack and they haven’t been back for a month or so. So I instituted a rule that if it was dusty or rusty it could be moved on to the beginners’ rack and anyone could borrow it. And within a year, we could equip a beginners’ course of like 20, 24 people with a steel longsword and a fencing mask. And I hadn’t actually had to buy any of that equipment. The students had bought it and they left it there and it got dusty or rusty. Of course, when they came back to class, they go, “Oh, I’ve been away for a while and my sword’s probably on the beginners’ rack,” and the beginners cleaned the swords after training. So it’s going to be in reasonable condition and so, you know, no harm, no foul.
LS: I like that. Good plan.
GW: Because it is a real problem. And it’s absurd to expect people to drop tons of money at the very beginning on something that they don’t know if they are going to like. And it’s absurd to expect people who don’t have very much money to be able to drop tons of money into a hobby like this. So, yeah, finding ways to make it easy for people who to start without having to shell out large amounts of money is a really good idea. Whatever the club can provide is always better than nothing.
LS: And that’s our goal is to accumulate. So right now we can equip people for longsword, sword and buckler, and we are trying to build up a base of sabres so that we can do 19th century sabre. Our interests between the people who choose to do instruction are very different time periods and that also suits us because then you spend four or five months learning something and we can switch something, but we’re spending more time learning and we’re actually really exploring sources and saying, OK, this is our source and we’re doing this source and whether this is a good idea or not in reality, we can discuss. But we’re going to say this is what the manual says to do. We were just doing quarterstaff and we can talk more about Covid later. So we were doing Swetnam stuff because that keeps everyone at two metres and it’s like, OK, do we like how this works? Yes. No. We don’t like this particular move. There’s another one that we like better, but we’re going to practise the one that we don’t like just so we can understand the source, because that’s part of why we’re doing this now. So do we like what he’s writing about this move? Do we want to go back into the guard? Can we do it quickly enough? And the answer, of course, is no, we’re not experienced enough in this style because we’ve never studied it before.
GW: And quarterstaffs are quite hard to get good with. Particularly if you are using the full size English quarterstaff from the early 17th century.
LS: Oh yes. We’re using the real thing and we have to be careful and they break and we just finished quarterstaff. We did our last class last night and we pretty much were running out. We had just enough for everyone. If one more had broken, we would not have had enough to loan to anyone.
GW: What are you making them out of?
LS: We actually purchased them. We had red oak and ash, but some of them are like seven, eight years old now. Some of us bought ours at the old club and we had them for personal use and those are starting to wear out. So one of our members, our club president, and he’s an engineer. And he built the rig to make hickory staves. So when they get back to it, we’re going to have 20 brand new staves, paid for by the club. If you want to, if you want to purchase it from the club, you can just reimburse the cost of the material or you can just have it loaned out. So we have that system where, oh, well, I don’t really want to buy it or I can’t afford it right now. Well, you can just borrow. It usually falls on me to bring the loaner stuff to and from class.
GW: 20 hickory quarterstaffs. That’s quite a lot of wood.
LS: I know, if we can get the price to about $40 Canadian, I think everyone will just purchase them.
GW: They can bring their own damn kit.
LS: They can bring it in.
GW: One of the reasons that I really, really wanted to get a full time space was I was totally fed up of hauling around kit for other people.
GW: I don’t like carrying big bags full of swords around for other people to train with. It’s not what I was built for.
LS: We’re not large enough to be able to go after a full time space, but some of us want that. I would love to have that right now. We rent space at two different places. And they’re not martial arts studios. They are fitness studios that we rent out. Having to carry a bag of polypropylene long swords, having to bring eight of them. Plus a few steel ones and I’ve got a big snowboard bag full of swords. And that’s got to come out with me every Saturday to the intro class. But again, we want that barrier to entry to be limited so that people are just paying. It helps us cover the rental cost, helps us cover the insurance. And a lot of it we do because we love it. We don’t make money off of it, but it’s esoteric, as one of my fellow instructors would say. And that’s why we do it.
GW: And you mentioned that you’re keeping to the thought of doing a block of one thing and then moving to the next thing. Have you experimented with having continuous classes but say it’s longsword on Tuesday nights and quarterstaff on Fridays?
LS: Yes. I mean, it half works that way. Saturdays are longsword. Saturdays will always be longsword, but the winters get quite cold and harsh and snowy and minus 30 degrees Celsius, so we have to have space. And so it means we have to have people willing to pitch in for that rental cost of space. If we had our own permanent space we would definitely have set nights. So Monday night is advanced class and that’s where the block goes and Saturdays usually just longsword. 15th and 16th century, we have different little blocks of longsword that we do, so we’ll study a manual. So it’s like, are we going to do Joachim Meyer? Are we going to do some Meier? OK. That’s six classes, a block of longsword, but we’re going to do some 15th century long. I’ve got the Von Danzig book, and so there will be plays from that. That’ll be folded in so there’s enough longsword and people love longsword, let’s face it.
GW: Particularly Conan.
LS: Yes, exactly. OK, so now we’re going to look at some Fiore longsword, and let’s contrasts the difference. You know, what’s this system like? The guards are very different, but they have different names. Yes, they do. They have the different names and we don’t really enforce if we’re doing them, you have to learn Italian or German terms. We will translate to English. People will learn the English from. But it’s still fun to show people that there’s this larger world of it. And particularly for one type of sword, there’s not just one system. There are so many manuals over two centuries and then we even have these references in the 19th century to people fencing with longsword again. You see these images and you know someone, a Victorian, revival of something just for a hobby. So we can bring all that in.
GW: Alfred Hutton and his friends. Yeah. OK, now back to the verses.
GW: I was keeping track.
LS: OK, that’s good. I’m being a bad dinner party guest and going off on tangents.
GW: Not at all. Tangents are good, we like tangents. But you were in the process of telling us about the verses and what they are for. And then we sort of went into a tangent about running the club.
LS: So the verses are it’s one thing that if you’re looking at viewership, and that’s what you have to do with YouTube, is people aren’t going to watch the video, but if you have that little rhyme at the beginning, that catchy little bit, people are at least going to want to tune in and get the rhyme and then they leave it on for a few minutes and that helps. Not everyone is going to be interested in every video’s topic. Some people focus on period. Some people focus on type of weapon. Not everyone’s going to want to learn how to build a butler. But if you do a little rhyme, if you have something fun at the beginning of every video, people will still watch part of the video. And that helps.
GW: That’s good for your stats.
LS: And that’s good for your stats. YouTube is all about stats. Stats drive me. I try not to look at them, but.
GW: I decided long ago that there are only two metrics that I actually track. Only two, right? OK, strictly speaking, three. One is book sales. The other is course sales. How much money is coming in every month? Not the number of things, but how much actual money is coming in every month with book sales and course sales. And I also keep half an eye on the size of my mailing list. When it gets too big, I get rid of the cold subscribers and it shrinks down a bit, and then it grows gently back up. And so it’s constantly being pruned. So I just decided eight years ago that was just far too stressful looking at that. YouTube and Twitter, they’re like a popularity contest. And the cool kids get thousands of likes and clicks and blah blah blah blah blah. And it’s just not a game I like to play.
LS: No, and I’ve put videos out there. I watch and that’s when I do edits, and I do one take. So I do one take for the rhyme in the beginning. Maybe it takes five or six times. Sometimes you flub, you trip over your words. I should have a blooper reel, it would probably be really good.
GW: You should.
LS: And then I do the main content and I film and I do a take, and sometimes I’ll get eight nine minutes into it and I don’t really like how this is going, and I say that to the camera. Stop it. Delete it. Redo it. But it’s all one go because I will get to why that is in the second. So I want to watch it several times, make sure that it’s a good take, make sure the audio sounds OK. Make sure that I’m looking at the camera, making that contact with people not staring at the screen so much. And I like it. OK. I’ve watched it. I release it into the wild of the internet, and I don’t have to watch it again. I don’t look because now it exists as a thing, and it’s for other people, it’s not for me, it’s not for my vanity. I didn’t make it so that I could watch myself on screen.
GW: Yeah. People will email and say in your book, you say this, that, and the other and I’ll say, in what book? Oh, in this particular book, you say this. OK. On what page? Because when you produce the thing and it goes out into the world, that’s it, it is deleted from your brain. It’s almost as if hitting publish on a book, I just eradicate it from memory. It’s almost like a post-traumatic amnesia, because getting that out there is so awful.
GW: But once it’s out there, you can just forget about it. So why do you do yours in one take?
LS: Now. Career-wise, we talked about public relations, communications, that’s what I used to do as a career. And part of that was I was the programme manager and presenter for a school safety programme. It was my job for the local utility to go to schools and do presentations for 10 year old kids about electricity and safety. This is where Lauren Danger comes from. Because I was the Danger Lady, I would go to schools and teach kids about danger. And so when I needed a Twitter username because friends had always said, Oh, you’re the Danger Lady, because here you go and you teach kids about things that are dangerous. And it’s like, well, when I might as well be Lauren Danger on the internet. So my Twitter name long, long, long ago became Lauren Danger, and that just the name kind of stuck. So even though after that programme was ended and you get laid off and things change. But I would spend an hour, hour and 15 minutes, just presenting to kids non-stop. We’ve got this whole programme. Know it from start to finish. And questions and answers at the end, and it’s one take. And those skills just developed for presenting to just be able to say, this is a subject. I know what I’m supposed to talk about. And just go. And so that’s why I do the videos in the one take and I don’t have any editing in the main part of it, everything is in done the sections, but the sections are filmed independently because it’s what I’m trained to do, and it is easy for me that way because I have that training. If I have to spend two hours, three hours editing it would drive me mad. So I’d rather just record until I get one good take that I like and that’s also then when I say I’m me in the video, I’m not a persona, that’s my style. That’s just how I present. And so I teach everything as if I was actually presenting to an audience in person.
GW: I’m actually in the process of editing the videos for my 1.33 course that’s coming out in October. It is absolutely maddening, editing. I absolutely hate it. So what I normally do when we’re shooting, I just shoot it the way I want it, and if it doesn’t come out the way I want it I just shoot it again, and I don’t try and construct a better cut out of the raw material, because again, in my head I’m teaching a class and the students are behind the camera, and I’m talking to them and demonstrating with my partner and so on. I don’t think I could do it the more formal, structured way.
LS: I watch other people’s YouTube videos, and I notice those tiny little edits. The head is just, oh, it’s four millimetres off, I see it, I know you had to do editing. And people spend so much time on it and it’s like, I don’t want to edit. So I’d rather present and record as I do not want to edit anything.
GW: Fair enough. Now you were talking about, you are mad about language. So I have to ask, how come you haven’t written a book? Have you written a book and I missed it?
LS: Well, I haven’t published any books. I have stories that I’ve written. I have lots of fiction that I’ve written for myself because it’s good practise, but I haven’t published any of it.
GW: Good practise for what?
LS: Good practise for communications jobs, good practise for a lot of the writing and editing, which I currently don’t have a job in, but I would like to again. But that’s, you know, understanding. I mean, I love Microsoft Word. Maybe I should, but I’m really good at it and writing and formatting and putting in the sections and the page breaks.
GW: Sorry, you actually like Microsoft Word?
LS: Well, OK. Let’s not say I like Microsoft Word specifically, but I like writing and doing the formatting as well. I’ve been back to school a number of times, and one of those times was to learn technical writing so that you could build documents and do all the layout and I enjoy that too. So a lot of the writing is when I do my lesson plans, I do them in Microsoft Word, because that’s the programme I just happened to have. And I have fun actually building the physical part of it as well as the words.
GW: So let me just summarise. So you really like the writing? You write quite a lot and you like the formatting and you can produce these documents that are nicely organised. I do have to ask then, why you haven’t published anything?
LS: Actually, maybe there’s a bit of a confidence issue, is this really good enough? Do people really want to read this? Is it polished enough? And I think unlike like my videos where I just put stuff out there and present and go. I think for my writing, I might be a little too particular still. It’s not good enough. Oh no, I could edit this. Oh no, this this plot point doesn’t seem right. Oh, I got to work this. I think that maybe. I just I have to just take something, format it, put it out there, but then I also have to look about how. I don’t want to use Amazon for publishing specifically anything.
GW: It’s really easy to publish stuff. I do it all the time. The hard part is the writing and the editing and to an extent, the layout, but I usually pay somebody to do the layout and I also pay someone to edit because generally speaking, you need it. But the actual process of publishing it. You can use Ingram Spark for print stuff and you have Draft2Digital for the ebooks and don’t have to deal with Amazon at all.
LS: Perhaps a winter project for me.
GW: And again, I’m absolutely not trying to make you do something. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with writing stuff just for your own amusement that you just put in your house for yourself and that’s fine. I mean, I do woodworking stuff and I have tons and tons of bits and bobs that I’ve made knocking about the place and they’re just for me, and they’re not for anybody else. So I’m actually not trying to pressure you into anything, but I just thought I’d maybe just float that question just to see what would come up. OK, so how have you guys survived the plague?
LS: Oh, it was difficult. Everything shut down. Several times. And the first thing we did was, OK, they want us to be two metres apart in an indoor space and it’s cold in winter and we can’t go outside, so we will learn quarterstaff. We had this idea that we need to learn quarterstaff, which gives us the best distance. Swetnam gives us the best distance. Holding staff at one end. Got two plus metres. We were doing military 19th century, we were doing Hutton’s sabre, everyone was having a lot of fun learning sabre. It is a lot of fun. But you can’t do Sabre. We were too close per all of the rules. So we’re going to be indoors. And they wanted us to wear masks indoors while training. So we went to quarterstaff, got outside. We started it. Then everything was shut down, weren’t even allowed to gather outside for a while. So it stopped. It restarted, it stopped. And it restarted, and so we just finished doing quarterstaff. The third attempt. We just finished last night. So we’ve gone through a syllabus. We moved through. We’re going to take a little break from it while we get set up to make new staves because we’re running out, because they break, they crack, they chip. So that was our solution. The summers are fine, when we were allowed to gather outside in large groups, because fresh air, we could go outside, we could train. We could do lots of stuff and we really worked at doing quarterstaff, which takes a lot of effort, as we discussed. It takes a lot of practise and it is the real thing. It is a live weapon. It can hurt you. So we have to make sure we stay safe with that as well, so we don’t bring new people in to do this stuff. And that’s one thing. So there are people who are, Oh, I’d love to learn quarterstaff. But if you don’t know that person, you don’t know how safe they’re going to be. You don’t just want anyone off the street to jump into it as their first weapon and hit someone in the head. Because it is the real thing. So you really do at least need to meet the people before you bring them in. I mean, I’d say 95 percent of the people are fantastic and they’ll be just fine at it. But if you have five percent of the people that are a little overly aggressive, it only takes one. And then we’ve got an insurance claim. We have an injury. We have problems and someone has a concussion because they got hit in the head with a staff and even with a mask.
GW: A fencing mask is no defence against a quarterstaff. It’ll just crush straight through it. You might as well wear a paper hat.
LS: Exactly. So it’s something that we weren’t able to grow as a club very much, doing staff, and we weren’t allowed to do anything else because of the distance, we had to keep indoors. They were at three metres at one point. We don’t have any weapons three metres apart.
GW: Indoor crossbows.
LS: Crossbows! Oh, I would love to own a medieval crossbow, but I don’t think I can a) afford the crossbow and b) the shipping to get it all the way to Canada from someone like Todd.
GW: Get your engineering friend to get one. They’re not that hard to make. A reasonably low powered sort of clinking crossbow is quite easy to make. A proper full power medieval war crossbow is a different proposition altogether.
LS: Yeah, we probably would make a trebuchet first.
GW: Ah, trebuchet’s are great.
GW: You can make them different sizes. I have a friend who has a trebuchet, I guess it’s about the size of two dining chairs put back to back. That’s the kind of size of it. It is awesome good fun to play with.
LS: Now I’m getting inspired, I’m not the engineer, but as club treasurer as well. That’s my role. I will authorise the funds to buy the materials to build a trebuchet.
GW: It’s a very important history project. If you are into 15th century medieval stuff. There should be a trebuchet in your future.
LS: Yes, a mini. Just powerful enough to throw a pumpkin.
GW: Yes, with a satisfying splatter.
GW: Yeah. For a pumpkin, you probably want something quite a bit bigger than two dining chairs put together, something maybe the size of a car.
LS: Yeah, we could do it. We could do that.
GW: Yeah, you need a place to keep it to. The problem with trebuchets is looking after them. They are like horses. You need the space.
LS: Yes. Well, that’s one thing, we’re lucky we have someone who does have a few acres of land outside the city where they live. That’s where we go in November. Thank all of the neighbours for their old pumpkins after Halloween, because Halloween is fairly big thing in Canada. And then, you know, the few sharp swords that we have, we chop everything up and make compost.
GW: Excellent. There’s nothing quite like cutting resisting objects with sharp swords.
LS: Yes, it is deeply satisfying.
GW: So it sounds to me like you’ve done quite a lot of stuff, but I do have to ask because this is one of my regular questions. What is the best idea you’ve never acted on?
LS: Selling everything I own and moving to Europe.
GW: OK. Why?
LS: I have family some family in England, so I have a home base, but there’s just so much I want to see and I want to travel in France. Not that I want to do the touristy cruise down the Rhine to look at the castles, but there are so many things to see all across Europe and into Hungary, into Czech Republic. If I like the 15th century…
GW: You’ve got to go to Prague.
LS: I got to go to Prague one day. Exactly. And to fly from Canada to go somewhere and only get one or two weeks. If I had a base, if we lived in Europe and had a base where you could go somewhere for four or five days, you could do your little weekend trips and the flights would be extremely affordable.
GW: Take the train.
LS: I love the train.
GW: In Britain, trains are really expensive, but in mainland Europe they are super cheap and comfortable and clean and safe. OK, so why haven’t you done it?
LS: One, I had a job. Two, I have to be able to sell the house, and there’s a lot of renovations they still want to do before I can sell the house. Three, I have two cats and they don’t want to move them, but they’re old. So will this happen? Probably.
GW: OK, so say you spend the next little while doing up your house, letting your cats gently age out and console yourself for their no doubt painful loss by flying to Europe and revelling in castles for six months or a year or something.
LS: And I do want to go to Guédelon, the project in France, where they are building the little castle there. I do need to go. I speak enough French where I could order food off of menus and get directions.
GW: You’re Canadian, you have to speak French.
LS: Yes. Well, a lot of Canadians don’t. They figure like 92 percent of the population should speak French and don’t. Je parle un peu Francais.
GW: OK, so that sounds like an idea that you haven’t acted on yet.
LS: Yet. Well, I hope to act on it.
GW: OK. So what you also need is for YouTube channel to go gangbusters and make you absolutely tons of money to finance the whole thing.
LS: True. That would be nice. Am I anywhere near that? No.
GW: I have to say it’s unlikely, given the nicheness of the topic.
GW: YouTube is a volume game, right? You need millions and millions of hits to get anywhere and so you need a pretty general interest thing. To make, put it this way, pottering around European castles for six months kind of money. Actually speaking of which, my wife watches this “Return to the Chateau” or some kind of chateau programme where basically these people have bought rundown French chateaux and are doing them up and they are YouTubeing their thing. Sometimes it’s ordinary TV programmes. I think she started out watching them on Netflix or BBC or something. And there are, of course, YouTube channels for these sorts of people who are renovating these Chateaux. And OK, one of them has this Patreon thing, which is making her a quarter of a million dollars a year.
GW: Yes. For basically for making videos of fixing up her chateau. Can you imagine how niche that is? And yet look at it, so there is actually a possibility for you.
LS: Wow. But maybe thankfully, I didn’t go into making YouTube videos as a means for financial support. I went into it because it was a good way for me to practise communicating and on a subject I like. I see myself not as a particular HEMA expert, but like a brand ambassador. You know, the greeter, the welcomer. Come on in. Welcome. Let me show you all of the things that you can learn. And then if that directs people to, for example, Fiore and they want to learn, one would hope, that’s fantastic. That’s the idea is to then is to bring people in. There are a lot of people who’ve studied longer than my 10 years who are really good at teaching their specific subjects, and I’m not going to sweep in and say, Hey, no, I’m better than anyone. No, I wouldn’t do that. But if I can be the one that gets someone new into the hobby, the sport, the art, the science of sword fighting, then that’s great. That’s really how I want to see myself. That’s the legacy I would want to build. And eventually I will stop doing YouTube videos, but I want to leave them there so that people can then come along and discover this little 10 minute easy to get into video that explains a type of sword, any type of style and how you use it. And it’s, hey, that’s really cool. And then they find a club near them or they find online instruction. And it just propagates. That’s the goal.
GW: Yeah. As I say, that’s pretty much the reason why I got you on the show was because one of the reasons for doing this podcast is to hear from lots and lots of different kinds of people with lots and lots of different backgrounds and experiences, so that people coming in will see that there are lots of different ways to do this, and it suits lots of different kinds of people, and you don’t have to be this one particular middle-aged bald white dude to do historical martial arts. I could probably guess the answer, but you cannot say “I’ll spend it going around Europe looking at castles”. Somebody gives you a hoofing great chunk of money to spend improving historical martial arts. How would you spend it?
LS: OK, we’ll say a million pounds because in Canadian, that’s almost $2 million. And the first thing I want to do is support Wiktenauer. People need access to sources. Maybe they can’t exactly buy a book, but it’s nice to be able to go and see the images, to see some translations. It’s a fantastic site. I have lots of manuals, but there are times I’m at the laptop. Oh, where are my books? They’re in under the roof. Quickly go in. Look it up.
GW: I use Wiktenauer all the time. I have all the books and I still use Wiktenauer.
LS: Yeah, it’s fantastic. So I would love to have lost a big chunk of money onto that, to support Wiktenauer. Make sure people have access to that. There are people who live where there aren’t clubs. Maybe they don’t have the money to get all of the manuals they want, but it’s a good chance for them to preview them. And there’s, “Oh, I really like this”, and then they can purchase one that really appeals to them. So support Wiktenauer, that’s step one. Step two is to create a grant programme for small clubs. OK, so I had this crazy idea. If I had the money, people could apply for a starter pack. So if you were in a place that didn’t have clubs nearby and there are three or four of you, there would be an application process because we do not just want to throw free swords to everyone because I mean, yes, if we had infinite number of dollars, we would just give swords to everybody who wanted one. But we can’t do that realistically. But what if, “Oh, we live in this small town of 50,000 people and there are four of us who would love to train, but we only have a karate school, and that’s it. We don’t want to learn karate. We want to learn, swordfighting”. They could make their own club, apply. And you would get them a copy of a manual or a sword book or someone’s instruction book. They want to learn Fiore. Well, hey, let me tell you about Guy. Talk to Guy Windsor and we will send you four training swords and a book to help you learn. But it wouldn’t be that we give them the money, we would send them the stuff. So this organisation would then order from a manufacturer, a supplier would then ship them what they needed and help them start their own club. And this would help to propagate the hobby.
GW: That’s a really good idea.
LS: Now to play the lotto and see what happens.
GW: Yeah. I mean, you might need more than the two million Canadian.
GW: I don’t know. Maybe if you didn’t give a too big a chunk of money to Wiktenauer straight away. Maybe just give 100 grand or something, I’m sure Michael would be very happy with 100 grand. And then you’d need to invest the rest somewhere so you have this income that you can use to buy swords and distribute them. Before looking at training equipment. Four people, if we have say, four longswords and four fencing masks. That’s like two thousand Canadian maybe, something like that, maybe. And if you’re making, I don’t know, five percent interest, on your two million, you’re getting 10 grand a year. Something like that. That’s enough to equip four new clubs a year, maybe five. I’m rubbish at maths, so someone listening to this who is good at arithmetic is going, Guy is crap with numbers. But yeah, that’s actually a realistic prospect, even without too much money to put in. That’s given me an idea.
LS: I don’t post on Facebook very much, but I have it because there are some groups, there’s a UK HEMA group and other ones, and there’s always this, “Oh, I live here, are there any groups nearby within an hour of travel?” They are always asking that. There are always a questions like, I live in this place and there are four thousand people. But if you’ve had a couple of friends and you wanted to make your own little club and you could affiliate with another club, but you need your start, and not a lot of clubs can loan you stuff, especially if they are a few hours away. Across the United States, there are such vast distances to have to travel, and there are so many big cities that don’t have HEMA clubs. So this idea came to me. It’s like, I’ve always seen these questions. I’m always seeing people looking for a club. How far do I have to drive? Is it within an hour? Are you going to drive an hour or two hours for a 90 minute class and then an hour to two hours back home?
GW: I have had students who did that regularly for a couple of years, but it’s not common.
LS: It’s not common, and a lot of people don’t do that as well. But if you could have your own little club and we could somehow help them become a reality.
GW: And the pandemic has made online instruction much more of a thing. So one thing I absolutely know that some clubs do is one of their members is signed up to one of my online courses. And when they’re doing one of those subjects, maybe Fiore longsword or whatever, they literally just open up the laptop and press play and I teach their class for them. Just off the recorded stuff. I didn’t even know about it until a few months later, they emailed me saying, Guy, we were having a really good time with this like, Oh, that’s exactly what I made those courses for, good. So yeah, with the right sort of support package of the instructional materials, videos, books, that kind of stuff and equipment. Most people who I’ve interviewed this is one of my standard interview questions. Most people have come up with something like massive and well, like Mike Loades wanted to paint the inside of a castle or paint a castle to make it look like it would have looked in the original period
LS: That is such a Mike Loades answer.
GW: It is, isn’t it? And it’s like, that’s fantastic. I feel like I just can’t see way I can help with that. But yeah, your suggestion is actually surprisingly feasible. Huh. OK, I’m going to give that some proper thought.
LS: Give people swords. That’s really what it comes down to.
GW: But there have to be some hoops they have to jump through so that the swords will go to the right people and they’ll actually use them and the money is well spent. That’s a really interesting problem, or solution. Sorry, you’ve got me all thoughtful, I’m supposed to be engaged and chatty and talking. I’m not supposed to sit here thinking about this thing you just said for like five minutes while my listeners think has my app stopped working.
LS: That’s part of my goal is to get people thinking and engaged in so I have accomplished my goal today.
GW: Excellent. Well, thank you very much for joining me Lauren, it’s been a delight.
LS: It’s been a pleasure. It’s been wonderful. Thank you so much for having me.