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I had the opportunity for an informal tour of the Exhibit-Fanning the Flames of Revolution, Print Culture of the Reformation.  The tour was led by one of the exhibit creators Dr. Virginia Chieffo Raguin, who was kind enough to not only add modern insights but sing, allow some hands-on experiences and share some inside jokes about the exhibit itself. This exhibit is FREE!

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First, you know how I feel about free shows (except charities and donation events and even then, we discuss it) We have a rule about anyone who contacts us within a week of Halloween-Triple Rates. Why? Because 1) someone wasn’t a good planner and that doesn’t bode well. 2) Spontaneous and unplanned fire with flammable costumes and drunken people-what could go wrong? 3) WE need time to plan it into OUR schedule.

BUT NO FREE FIRE SHOWS

And here’s why;

COST:  We not only have expensive fire props but we need support for those props. That means time in training and training means a place to train. And places to train cost money-and if you ask about fire-well if they’ll even rent to you. We are VERY fortunate to have a spot we rent and are grateful they’ll have us-swords, fire and all.  We have to pay for insurance and that is never cheap. Some of our members pay for extra insurance as they do independent acts (if it’s not under the Phoenix Swords banner, it’s not coming out of our insurance) And there is LITERALLY a cost in flesh and blood which leads me to;

DANGEROUS: We are setting ourselves alight for your entertainment. Nothing is 100% safe.  Airplanes go down, food poisoning happens, and people burn themselves. In order to be where we are we have to take chances every time. And in our pricing page and contracts we have a clause that says “In the event of too much risk…”  We have had to say “nope” on a number of occasions when we saw our performance area.  And if you think all employers take into account your well-being, speak to my friend the Nigerian Prince, I’ll send you his email.
We aren’t the only ones taking a chance.

RISK:  Okay, so we’ve established you have something a *little* broken in the brain-box to play with fire. So although we may not be paragons of common sense it doesn’t mean we don’t possess any and it’s important to have!   True Story: So you would like us to perform for your city for free and “exposure.” Here’s what being exposed -you are a cheap-a$$ and we said “no.” So you got yourselves another set of performers, that’s cool. What is that person’s name?[ Real name redacted] The Dragon? That totally sounds like a Real Life name. Did you see The Dragon’s insurance? Did you have a contract with The Dragon?  Did The Dragon have a fire plan?  Nope just going to do fire stuff on some cement with no barriers and hope for the best. And they were lucky-we knew The Dragon and he does fire for fun. But what if you’d “hired” The Dragon Rando instead and he set your city on fire?  The Dragon Rando just has to change their appearance and slide out of sight and you get to breathe deeply the charred remains of the results.

RESPECT: We have been accused of being able to produce diamonds from our butts. That’s an insult we’ll live with gladly.  But honestly, people don’t generally respect what you do unless they pay for it. I used to do my art for love and then for money. After two years as a freelancer, I was done-after hearing some TERRIBLE excuses for not being paid. I wish artists could just do their thing and be beloved for it-but we don’t live in that world. To quote Cardi B “I make money moves”

 

And no one should have to give “free” anything but this one in particular chaps my cheeks because it speaks especially poorly of the people who are putting on a show. I understand that we are an “ask” society so yes, it never hurts to ask. But when you are asking at “0” recompense that’s not negotiation, that’s sheer contempt and disregard for not only you but the safety and well-being of others.

 

 

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One thing I have been guilty of, fairly early on in my love affair with swords, is elitist assholery. It didn’t last long because –logic and reality. We in the troupe call this “Swordfighter-itis” A malady that strikes everyone at one point or another and some people never recover and then aggressively try to force others to embrace this view. I’ve been seeing a variant this summer, not necessarily related to swords-more to renfaires  and my view is

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But back to the swords-

But I felt sad for a young man who asked us about swords at a recent show and it was clear to us that he had been hit with the snob stick already and so early. (He was a victim, not a perpetrator) and we gently steered him toward what it was we guessed might be better suited/social.  But I am putting up a set of symptoms so you may try to recognize, avoid, or limit the contagion in your own neighborhood.

Drinking the Kool-Aid-The One True Way:
One of the things we tell people in our group is that we take people from all sorts of backgrounds and try to teach a common “language” that is cooperative. It is based on what OUR sword teacher learned with Society of American Fight Directors and his own historical research. The same is true of our other sword teacher.  Both run active research groups and are always sharing new ideas and thoughts and they even often disagree! Sometimes that means throwing out the old ideas.  We don’t claim to be the end-all and be –all of how it is done but we are confident we do it fairly well and safely. One warning sign is when a group tells you everyone else is WRONG.  It may feel nice to be one of the “best of the best” by beating your opponent-but it is TERRIBLE for doing theater or demonstrations. It’s a quick way to make yourself an unpopular partner.  Thinking you are “all that and a bag of chips” does not make you the best, no matter how many join in your delusion.

Feeling the need to criticize others
Do we side-eye one another in the sword community-absolutely? But you have to back that up with facts. Plenty of people like to pick up swords and use them. Plenty of people buy cars and drive them. Like vehicles-reasons and modes are myriad. Are you the internet forum guy who criticizes Prius owners for not going 4-wheeling in mud flats? You are an idiot. Some study groups are good-natured people with day jobs who are there for mostly social reasons. Some want to bang on one another in armor. Some people just want to show off their weapons and some people want to discuss weapons in literature.  We have one group that I STILL catch them badmouthing my group publicly (just certain members of that group, admittedly .Ironically, these same people haven’t done a show in YEARS.)  My partner, Fenix, reminded me of us being at a number of events where someone bashed our group in our presence because they honestly had no idea who we were or who was in our group or if any of the rumors were true or fake.  I wish I could say I enjoyed their realization, but honestly it probably just fueled their indignation more.  There is a group I recently discussed with my own group and they had to agree that they were not being safe and to be fair, not their goal.  But it may cost them work because others in the community have complaints.   As for us-we stay out of it (see Godzilla film gif above)

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When you are douchebag you make our whole community look BAD.
Sure people will be drawn to cults of personality initially but that is not a stable foundation.   This is true of a BUNCH of different groups.  You do not make yourself taller by cutting down others (couldn’t find the quote)  I recently read something on the[name redacted] Forum community on Facebook that made me want to hurl objects. A woman had joined a group and they basically were not supporting her in training.

Fenix has an ancestral family motto “God Gives Good Gifts to Everyone” and if a person can’t use a sword, give them a dagger. If they can’t fight-go with their strengths and see how you can help. I would say that everyone has something to offer but some folks I’ve met challenge that baseline so what can you do? But you should give them a shot and let them discover their own story.

So this was longer than intended but basically, in a state with this many sword groups, you have to share the ecosystem (or in some cases, the EGOsystem) and the sooner you turn your eyes to your own self-development, the better you, and the community will be.

And bonus link

http://guywindsor.net/blog/2017/07/if-nobodys-mocking-you-youre-not-working-hard-enough/

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Cultural appropriation, it’s definitely a thing in our circles.  But often we cling to some things that perhaps need to be shared and made new again-folklore is a good example. We should just make something original and unique to our inner life.  In many instances we should have been more respectful of the things we’ve lifted from other places.  I hope you’ll read the links I post here, think about them and see where you go with those thoughts. I’m still chewing on them. (There are a ton I could post)

Camelocked Stocked: A King Arthur Review
Camelocked Stocked: A <i>King Arthur</i> Review

Le Morte d’Athur: Saving our ransacked mythology
https://nation.cymru/2017/le-morte-dathur-saving-our-ransacked-mythology/

Orientalism:
https://www.ancientsculpturegallery.com/paintings/oil-paintings-reproductions/art-movement/orientalism-art-movement.html

Karlie Kloss Apologizes for Appropriating Japanese Culture in Vogue Photo Shoot
http://www.eonline.com/news/829700/karlie-kloss-apologizes-for-appropriating-japanese-culture-in-vogue-photo-shoot

What if Mexicans celebrated 4th of July like Cinco de Mayo
http://www.metatube.com/en/videos/278578/Mexican-celebrating-4th-of-July-like-Cinco-de-Mayo/

Is it respectful? Is it accurate? Is it sharing or stealing?

This post brought to you by my costuming for the Fantasy Folklore Festival and things I always agonize over.

 

 

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When we were at the symposium a few weeks ago, Roger Norling told the attendees he became interested in HEMA because he’d seen a fencing demonstration at a Renaissance Faire.  He’s not the first person from whom we’ve heard that and it’s good thing to keep in mind of you are doing sword demonstrations at a renfaire. It made me think of some things we keep in mind before we go out on stage.

People go to faires to have fun-it’s a good way to hook in anyone. People are receptive, they are in a good mood and if you sneak in some education under the radar-even better. One of the things I have to hold back on is overpowering the questioner. I try to let them lead the questions, tell me their story and then do a sub-conscious set of calculations to see what it is that *really* interests them. And be interested in them- If you are reciprocal then you learn some cool things as well. I’ve talked to veterans, active soldiers, survivors of gang violence, dojo runners, martial artists, other HEMA folks and just plain interesting individuals.  In many cases, we aren’t the sort of thing the person is looking for and I am happy we’ve taken the time to keep a set of links on our website to guide them on their journey.

We let people touch things. Humans are visceral creatures who like to work that instinct of feeling a thing to explore it. Often, just before our shows, we walk around and let the audience hold the longsword or one of the falchions. (As an inside fact, this is a good way to kill some time before the start and when people see non-performers with a sword, they too, want a sword. Audience magnet!)  We do sword lessons with kids at some shows (for pay) depending on our agenda for the day and we see recurring faces year after year. We talk about how swords “touch back” which is important. Just like fire it’s not “if” but “when” for getting a little reminder that there is danger involved with handling these things. People are amazed by the clearly used edges, the weight and yes if it’s a wet day…the rust.

Be casual and not preachy, exclusionary or elitist. I won’t lie, some people can pull off the “I’m am just that cool” vibe but that shine wears right off if you denigrate your audience and don’t keep learning yourself. There is a certain woman, media famous in the HEMA community that I used to admire. She still does good work but chose to make fun of tourists in her blog.  First-“if ya can’t say something nice…” Secondly, she was no doubt supported on this tour by someone who probably didn’t look like her but was vicarious with her by sponsorship.  And third, it was supposed to be about her sword studies, meetings etc. so off-topic. I am delighted to let folks of all stripes and abilities touch and learn about swords because “don’t be that guy.”  I won’t lie, I’m enjoying some of the folks side-by-side with me start to realize that perhaps scholarship is not just there for the younger folks to rip off and you too, will catch “the old.”

If you don’t get it out there, no one will know.  I’m not going to tally the number of times that I have calmly swallowed down some fury and carefully explained our position of research, that we don’t know everything and that maybe it’s not such a good thing to be bombastic and insulting to peers in the sword community. I often find myself mentally quoting our friends in Mystic Mercs.
“You do you.”
So yes, you may the most amazing swordsperson and scholar ever, but if no one else knows or you don’t share for review, well, it’s going to stay your special secret. Sure we wear silly costumes and are in a context of fantasy but do get it out there and do open that portal for someone who would only think this sort of stuff happens in movies or media with no connection. And you need to hustle- I won’t lie, I keep a public list littered with the names of dead and defunct sword performers, strictly for informational purposes of course.

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And Reenactors/historians, I’ve posted what I have to say about renfaires vs reenactment and, you’re welcome that I directed people your way.  We freely admit that history is cool and wish HALF of what we learn in our exploration was in public school textbooks. (George Silver and his call-outs to Italian fencers, Or Talhoffer versus Pirates on the Rhine) Many people want their sword show and their turkey leg. Others would like to know more and we are happy to direct them to more.  So sure we’re a little sketchy in our mixed-material, brightly colored outfits and we make jokes that encourage groaning but we do get out there and we do bring that first taste of history.   And if we can get them to bite down on that first bit, maybe we’ve just addicted them to some more education.

Or just made fabric-holics and clothes horses but *shrug*

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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We attend this event annually at the University of Massachusetts Renaissance Center and it always has interesting speakers. Everything ranging from poll arm collectors to Bartistu show up and speak.  This year there were three speakers were:
Roger Norling of HOARR 
Mike Chidester of Wiktenauer 
Jean Chandler of System d’ Armes 

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Roger Norling is an imposing figure in person and personally greeted us as we entered. And I’m not just saying a physical guy (which he is) but also someone who feels constrained by a simple human body, a presence. He didn’t need to be put on a microphone and we heard him in the back just fine! He did a contextual examination of “The life of Freifechter and Fetchmeister Joachim Meyer.” He presented photos, maps and historical documents discussion Meyers connection certain streets, churches and guilds and shared some funny anecdotes on some of his data and photo collection.

 

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He sent around a very nice facsimile volume that has visited many of these locations that had no printing or publisher information although several of us looked 🙂

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“Hans Medel and the Evolution of Tradition” was the subject of Michael Chidester’s talk. If you followed the link you know that Mike is one of the founders of Wiktenauer(http://wiktenauer.com/) and a great many of the materials he discussed are online and available there. Of interest-family “trees” of the Lichtenhauer tradition, some clearly copied material mistaken as a primary reference and the discovery of some manuals Meyer planned to write about.

He mentioned some manuals of interest so we purchased a copy of The ‘Lost’ Second Book of Nicoletto Giganti(1608)  and we’ll probably be working through some plays this summer.

Post-lunch we enjoyed a talk by Jean Chandler. In fact, I enjoy his talks so much that I generally record them rather than take pictures. I would include a link here but my phone is being a pain about the video. His talk was a  view on “The Uncommon World of the Common Merchant” discussing knight-pirates (from Talhoffer) armed citizens and interguild warfare within trade conglomerates. (Mongols and Sweden were big issues!) I love all the talks but Jean chooses to focus on everyday folks who keep things running rather than just swordsmen it is especially fascinating to me

Roger revisited the lectern with “Research Methods and Tools for Understanding Combat Manuals” and I was sad, that unlike previous years we didn’t go out onto the lawn and either handle or see weapons work.  But he did show us his work on youtube with a pike. If you have ever handled one, you can appreciate how hard it is to 1) lift these with one hand 2) control and target without that second hand! We’ve done this but with stiffer, shorter weapons-still HARD!

We had been invited to attend some demonstrations/workshops on Friday or Sunday-sadly, we are at least two hours out and have a troupe performance coming up!

As always, a thank-you to Jeff Lord and Jeff Goodhind for making it all happen and keeping things running smoothly. And to the Amherst Women’s Club for refreshments during the event.

To see more events; (early music, gardens, theater, and more)
https://www.umass.edu/renaissance/calendar.htm

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Photo credit Danielle Helms-Phoenix Swords Fire Breather, Tom.

Coming off a show where we do a lot of fire is often big adrenaline high. The one we did recently in FL had a lot of great ingredients-two hams semi-competing for the crowd. An experienced crew and spotters and everyone being “all hands on deck” because we were down two performers due to injuries. (side note: Neither injury was dues to swords or fire and happened outside performance) We had to do a show, we had a great crowd and it was Big Fire.

But talking to others post-show I was reminded of some truisms I think others have forgotten

Just because you think it’s cool doesn’t mean everyone does.  It might be thrill-inducing for you to bring things on fire around your body parts but if you forget about your audience or don’t transmit that energy, it’s rather onanistic and dull

Things on fire are only three times more interesting than normal things. Have you ever watched someone twirling a staff? But if it goes on for more than a minute you’ve pretty much seen what there is to see.  Fire dancing-better be an interesting dancer. I’m not saying you have to be standard or rigid-I have seen interesting dancers that traditional dancers would frown about but they did odd poses or non-synchronous moves that had mystery or were just up there having a good time and invited the audience along. One I know would open with
“Not so much dancing as lumbering and lurching on fire” and did a power-filled set.

Which leads to

If it’s not brilliant, it had better be funny or short.  I admit it we’ve had the “Oh Sh*t” Shows where a dancer twisted something and couldn’t go on or a subcontractor was a no-show last minute or any one of a number of problems.

I hate, hate, the Butt Fairy school of performance design not just because it’s dangerous but it also is brown and smells funny.  But folks I have done what I needed to do including;

Fire Jousting-two long, one-ended staves, mounted two short members on two tall ones and doing passes holding a shield. To our hired musicians’ credit, they knew cues when they saw them (with a heads-up) and made it a good two minutes.

Fire Dancing myself-I basically acted as a distraction while my partners fueled up and came out to the front of the stage and took over –that was perhaps 45 -60 seconds but it let the show be smooth and I didn’t try to grab thunder.

Fire Dancing Two: Grab sparklers and Can-can while others set something up

Fleshing(fire on the body/skin) with jokes: we had traditionally set women’s chests on fire but we had two young men and needed to pad time so yes, we did set chests on fire we are equal opportunity. We also occasionally trotted out “Jose the Human Wick,” who is the most hirsute troupe member we have and is an audience favorite. (No people, it’s the filler!) It smells *terrible* when we finish.

Cool costumes do not make a good show they help, it’s nice to see but JUST LIKE THE SWORDS you need to test your costuming while rehearsing. We have one performer where we joked
“It’s your turn to put out his crotch” because he likes flamboyant (And apparently flammable) scarves.  Given my choice of fire costuming I prefer as much black as possible-I want people to see the fire and soot is a pain to get out of clothing. I’m not here to discourage, I’m just here to state facts.

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Because you are fine with fire doesn’t mean others are okay with it. And if you mess this up you give people like me migraines. A friend was MCing for our show, went to see some other shows,  and she came back to the tent somewhat pale-I guess a fire performer was enjoying the audience reaction and was walking into the crowd with lit staves. She would back up, he would move forward, there were no barriers.  No shock here, the fire marshal wanted fire plans from everyone the next year.

Another story-Fire Breather stationed on a stage next to the pony rides. Fortunately, this didn’t end in tears and lawsuits. But we were called in later -we were not the act in question. Our leader, Fenix, was asked to acclimate the horse and ponies to fire by walking calmly in circles past the horses with a lit torch that he waved about in the air. There is quite funny video of this- the troupe looked on and hummed a certain football chant.

Finally, Fire is fun and wonderful. Some people may not think so and I say they can’t come to my bonfire or BBQ (Sorry southern folk…cook out, apologies) I’ve trained A LOT of fire-loving people and pointed them to resources-it doesn’t have to be MY favorite form and I wish them well.

But I want fire to be exactly that, fun, wonderful and interesting,  not scary, perplexing, awful or cringe-inducing. (And yeah, we all have those days) So I’ve shared these thoughts with you.

Bonne flame Y’all!