Ipswich man launches sword fighting lessons on Zoom
- Credit: Archant
Guy Windsor wants to make an ancient sport accessible for all - through the power of the internet
Ipswich resident Guy Windsor has been a master of the sword for nearly 30 years, and has a deep history with the practice. Guy explains how he first fell into sword fighting, and how lockdown has allowed him to make the skill more widely accessible.
“I’ve always been into martial arts and weapons,” Guy explained. “I was doing sport fencing in the late 80s and early 90s, but I found that it was too artificial, and that it didn’t really feel like a sword fight. A couple of friends in the fencing scene were also similarly not satisfied with it as an analogue for a real sword fight, so we started fencing each other in a more realistic way.”
Shortly after, Guy stumbled upon a book at his grandmother’s house that changed everything.
“The Sword and The Centuries by Alfred Hutton describes a whole load of fencing treatises that were written in the 16th and 17th centuries - so we thought ‘hang on, there’s actual books written by people who actually knew how to fight with actual swords.’ That was super exciting, so we started digging around in libraries. We came across books, started reading them and began figuring out how those sword fighting styles might work in practice.”
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Armed with their newfound sword fighting skills, Guy and his fencing friends started the Dawn Duellists Society in Edinburgh in 1994 - an historical fencing group dedicated to the study and practice of historical European swordsmanship as a martial art.
Six years later, Guy came to a fork in the road and was unsure where he should take his swordsmanship to next.
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“I was torn between a couple of life choices, and as a martial artist, there’s a classic trope in martial arts whereby you meditate on a mountain top until the way is revealed,” he said.
“So I went up into the Highlands, walked up a hill, and sat on the top of it. I meditated, and that’s when a voice in my head said ‘Go to Helsinki and open a school of swordsmanship’. That was in August 2000, and I opened the school in March 2001.”
Fast forward nearly two decades later, and Guy and his family have since settled in Ipswich.
“We needed to move to England because my wife’s mother was ill, and we had to be near London,” he explained. “I’d been teaching day in and day out, four to five nights a week, most weekends, for 15 years in my school in Helsinki and teaching seminars around the world. I just decided to move to the next level of my career, so I retired from running a club, and I’m now just going where people want me to go.”
Guy currently teaches a range of online courses in historical swordfighting, suitable for all levels and skillsets.
“Last year, I produced a course on how to train on your own, because I was getting emails from people living in out of the way areas, who didn’t have regular access to a club, or people who lived in places where there were no historical fencing clubs, so I created that course for them,” he said.
But when lockdown took effect, Guy wanted to share his love of swordfighting further, and took the decision to make his online courses even more accessible.
“When we were all stuck in lockdown, I thought ‘hang on, I’ve got this course’ - but online courses are expensive. It was $500 plus tax, and I thought this was a really bad time to be hoarding, so I dropped the price to $20.”
After drastically lowering his prices, Guy saw hundreds of people take him up on his generous offer - and if someone didn’t have the $20, that was not a problem.
“I also made it clear in the sales page that anyone who wanted access to the course but didn’t have $20 could just email me and I’d give them a code to get in for free. These are hard times for a lot of people.”
With around 1,000 people on the course currently, Guy is absolutely thrilled with the response he’s received – with some surprising attendees.
“There’s all sorts of lovely things coming out of it,” he explained. “There’s one guy on the course, and his mum is in her 80s. She doesn’t really have much in the way of balance, and finds standing difficult, so he’s teaching her some of the breathing exercises on the course that she can do sitting down. She’s doing these breathing exercises, waving her arms about, while sitting in a chair.
“She’s never going to take up the art as a professional martial arts instructor, but there’s a little old lady who’s getting more active because of this course – it’s a total win-win in every direction.”
Guy’s course covers an array of historical swordfighting skills and techniques, from breathing and footwork exercises to basic weapon handling drills.
“I’ve created the course so that there are totally beginner-friendly aspects to it, but it does go up to some pretty advanced stuff,” he added.
While swordfighting might not spring to mind as an intense form of exercise at first, the sport can actually prove to be a full body workout, putting various muscles to work such as your core, arms and legs.
For anyone who’s interested in taking up the art, you may be wondering where you can get a sword from. Surprisingly, a sword isn’t actually necessary for beginners.
“I’m a big believer in lowering the barriers to entry, so what I recommend is just a stick of about the right length of a sword that you may be interested in. Ideally, if you’re interested in long swords, you’d want a stick that’s about four feet long. But it doesn’t have to be a special stick, it can be any old stick,” said Guy.
“The thing is, once you get really into swords, then pretty much everything you pick up is sword-like. It drives my kids nuts, if I’m walking down the street with an umbrella, that is not an umbrella, that’s a rapier.”
For those who wish to advance beyond a stick and really invest in the hobby, there are a number of smiths in Europe and America who craft and supply good quality steel training weapons.
“There are also wooden swords, which are actually historical. They’re called wasters, and it’s basically a wooden model of a sword. Plenty of companies make those, and they’re a lot cheaper than a steel sword,” explained Guy. “However, most clubs have loaner gear, and will have something for beginners to use once they reopen.”
With safety being an obvious concern in a sport such as swordfighting, Guy stresses the importance of being mindful of your weapon.
“I don’t have safety tips - I have ironclad laws,” he explained. “The critical thing is that you approach it with a profound respect for the weapon and the damage it can do. There is no amount of safety equipment that will keep it safe.”
So how often budding swordsmen should practise the art? Guy suggests little and often. “What most people do is go to class once a week or so, but I think people should ideally do what I’m trying to teach them to do on my solo training course, which is to practise a little bit every day,” he explained.
“If you spent five minutes doing sword practice every day, and then go to the club once a week, you’ll get better much faster than if you just go to the club once a week. But of course, all of the clubs are shut at the moment, so you’ve got no choice. Generally speaking, when it comes to any skill, little and often is better than a big session every now and then.
“I’m actually running sword related exercise classes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings over Zoom. It’s a 45 minute ‘get fit for swords things’, which is fun - and good for me to get up in the morning and actually do some exercise. That in itself would be better than one three-hour session on a Sunday every week.”
Once lockdown is lifted, Guy will continue travelling and taking his skills across the globe. “I had seminars booked in America, Australia, Singapore and Germany - and that all went out the window when lockdown happened.”
But in the meantime, Guy is keeping busy in Ipswich, sharing his skills and helping people stay fit and active from the safety of their own homes.
For further information, visit www.guywindsor.net