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


Karlie Kloss Apologizes for Appropriating Japanese Culture in Vogue Photo Shoot

What if Mexicans celebrated 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.





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.


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*












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 


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.



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 🙂


“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( 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)

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.


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!

roleplayerI love it when people go to movie premieres in costume, or if they make a good run at getting into the atmosphere at a faire. But when people dress in a costume and attempt to distract from an event, well a line has been crossed.  There are times when someone dressing up is more like outfitting as the King of Burger King and stealing all your fries while you are eating. I’m going to give some bad examples and let you be the judge when I describe what flew up my…nose at a recent museum trip. So here is my personal opinion, although this is the business blog, I’m not going to claim it is how ALL of Phoenix Swords feels.

Here is a general idea;

Example 1

Couple refused entry to Victoria’s Butchart Gardens because they’re too … Victorian

And the contrasting view

Putting Things In Their Places: Vox’s Much-Despised Victorians

Example 2
Parking Scam:

Now as someone who has worked at both museums and Renfaires I have a pretty high tolerance for costumes and exuberant behavior. But as I’ve said in previous entries-people should be aware of CONTEXT and whether or not they make things difficult for the venue. Most folks working at these places are NOT making the big bucks and when you make their life more difficult you are not “putting it to the man” you are just making some low-paid employee unhappy and causing risk and problems

I went to a museum this weekend  to see a replica ship. Some people totally got into the spirit by wearing funny hats and amusing tee-shirts. They clearly were there to drink beer, eat chowder, buy souvenirs and have a good time. The family dressed as Saxons-not so much. They made sure to station themselves next to this draw and when people asked them questions they made sure to draw attention to themselves and “quote history”  at people.  They were not there to have a conversation, or to add depth, or even meet like-minded people. They were lucky that they were not shut down by museum employees (and this one DOES have costumed reenactors in specified locations) but we had the impression that the museum folks were a little overwhelmed by the number of  visitors and events happening concurrently.

We live in New England, people are accustomed to costumed interpreters and some asked
“Do you work for the museum?” To their credit,  they did not pretend to do so. But if you are making it a point to stand out and be costumed, you are intimating that yes, you ARE part of what is going on.  Good playtrons(Costumed visitors)  at a faire will make it a point to know where bathrooms and first aid is and follow the rule about sheathed weapons.  And will make a point not to detract from the act/event/thing that everyone else is there to see .

You need to examine WHY you have dressed up. If it’s to be part of something, that’s a good start. If it’s to be the center of attention –then unless you are working there, you should reconsider trying to hog the limelight.

It would be great if visitors could distinguish good and bad information but often they’ve come someplace to be entertained and then perhaps educated.  If I hear someone talking about “blood grooves” in swords at a faire where we are working,  I have been known to drop what I’m doing and leap in like Wonder Woman with a lasso of truth. I have to bite my tongue at many museums because if I do that then I am being just as bad as the first person.

Paraphrasing Jeff Foxworthy, you might be a glory parasite if:

  • You are taking away from a main event that is not you on stage
  • You are out of context and not in a good way
  • You actively came seeking confrontation
  • You have to speak loudly and make eye contact perhaps expose body parts to flaunt what you are doing (and aren’t onstage)
  • You do not allow interactive conversations, it is all you-talking.all.the.time
  • You are acting like a rebellious teenager with a fresh spite piercing
  • You don’t work there and distract people from those that do

And most people who do this know they are doing it. I won’t say there isn’t the occasional clueless person but if we approach all interactions politely and yet that person is *extremely defensive* without cause…yeah.

Reenactors and enthusiastic costumed people can add a great deal to cultural institutions but we need to do it cooperatively, otherwise you’re just an asshole. And frankly I don’t want to deal with the fallout you cause every time I have to put on my kit and go to work. So JUST DON’T DO IT.



Currently  our troupe is taking a summer hiatus –some are spending family time, some going away, some of us are doing all of the above and working on some historical research. So we are not doing as many events as in years past, thus, not pulling in large amounts of money! So when you run a business that is NOTORIOUS  for underpayment and appreciation it’s best to go in with clear expectations of how one defines success.

Our Charter has only slightly changed in fourteen years. Note that the first line does not say “get every penny we can” or “do Vegas” or “We should sell stuff.” We often joke that the troupe is our ‘boat’ or ‘kid in boarding school’ we do our absolute best to make the costs even but there are unforeseen circumstances  and it’s good to be willing and able to take that financial hit if that happens. So no, getting huge wealth rewards is not listed here.

So taking a look at the first line in our charter
Phoenix Swords is an organization created and maintained for the purpose of performing acts of entertainment and historical recreation.

We are an organization-a collection of people. We are only as good as the talent we attract and cultivate. We can’t operate in a static state and it’s important that the people who are part of us are invested and enthusiastic. And because we are an organization the good and bad are reflected back at us. That our drama quotient is pretty much nonexistent in our team is a pretty good start! We need to have a standard operating procedure and a vibrant human presence.

..created and maintained for the purpose of entertainment
This is why we are not in the SCA, doing  highly specific reenactments. We are informed about our material but we  make jokes about Robin Hood and connections to modern events. (Some folks call that  less than expected, we call it making a connection) We  invest in clothing that can be cleaned easily and gives lots of movement. In many cases we have kit that is made of modern materials for fire safety, rough handling and frankly-gaudy! Our job is get out there, get the crowds attention, keep them invested and then-Bam! The show is over.

… and historical recreation
This one informs our research and material development. We have a joke in our historical show
“Is this the way they did it? No! They used to kill and maim one another, so we’ll be recreating those techniques so that we can do our additional shows today!” 
Bringing actual techniques to the public gives us a great deal of pleasure. It’s fun to cite sources!  We’ve had people call us out at shows and my husband lugs the translations and manual facsimiles so that folks can see that No, we *aren’t making it up as we go along.

And our unwritten agenda-Nostalgia Generators-we do this so people have a good time. If anyone walks away from our shows who had fun, learned something or just thought “that’s cool” for a few minutes we have absolutely done our job. And if we succeed with all of the above-Success!

And I never fail to go back to this well


But at least we didn’t break any glass at the glass museum!


Many performers have what we call “theme weekends.” It’s not the fun ones that faires have, like “Steampunk” or “Star Wars Invasion.” Nope they are things like “Guess I’ll go off my meds without warning!” or “Hey, we never knew he was sociopath but here’s proof!” Our theme this weekend was “Broken Things”

We decided to leave early to beat traffic and broke our first thing-the longest trip to Southern NJ we have ever taken. A 5-hour trip took 8.5 and every traffic app we own said “Are you New York? Sucks to be you!”  Thanks technology, glad you were able to show us our choices in multiple formats and colors.

But we reached our intended event location, unpacked and while getting into bed received a text from one of our members (paraphrased)
“Hey, just wanted to let you know I have broken a finger on my right hand”

I would like to say that my first response was “OMG are you okay?” But I am one of those bastard troupe leaders and my first questions were more Law and Order than Florence Nightingale. Followed then by “I’m so sorry. We’ll work something out in the morning.” Both my husband and the members husband said they understood I was in shock since we were running short of staff and this was quite the show-stopper when you run a sword-fighting troupe.  But the good news was that our member is a trooper so we ditched the complicated choreography and she decided to go on left-handed.

Next, we decided to set up the tent. So I popped open the canvas bag and nearly upchucked my non-breakfast. A mouse had decide to do its strychnine-laced death dance inside our tent bag, leaving stinky decomposition, body imprints and semi-poisoned yellow stains like polka-dots across our shelter.  It was potent enough that when I pulled the first piece of canvas the rest of the troupe began sympathetic retching.

Me, the one with the best sense of smell, but used to bad odors (thanks to a former job at a natural history museum) and the member with the worst sense of smell pulled the sides out of immediate vicinity. So we had no tent for the weekend and fortunately did have real estate for scrubbing and airing.  But we had to keep our fingers crossed that the wind kept a certain direction during performance. (see scrubbing picture above)

So out we went with impromptu dialogue and fight bits and during our first stage performance with the main cast, my sword broke. My partner told me
“Hey I broke your sword!” which was completely in character and so I finished the set pommel-less. (Yay, not the blade! See a previous entry for THAT story)

And then, in our Historical show, while doing a high-arc halberd maneuver the haft of the pollarm cracked. Luckily, it was well-anchored at each side so while it sounded spectacular, it stayed in place and we finished with another weapon. I was fairly sad since I’d been so excited to do the poll arms part of the demonstration.

But Mr. Murphy and his law were not finished with us. While waiting to go on, another performer sat in a chair it pretty much dissolved under him.  It was ungainly, but fortunately no one was hurt.

It wasn’t all breakage and tears-we  ran into a former member who now lives in PA, gave our God daughter her first sword and she was able to perform with us and had FANTASTIC weather and a really good time.