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Riri Nitihardjo is a martial arts (and ballet) practitioner from Jakarta, Indonesia. Riri first got interested in swords when she discovered The Lord of the Rings and wanted to learn how to wield a sword like Aragorn. She became so hooked on Tolkein that she took a linguistics programme at university – though they wouldn’t let her do her graduate thesis on Elvish languages.
The historical European martial arts scene is very small in Indonesia, so Riri and her friends started their own club. Five years later and the club, Gwaith-i-Megyr, is still going strong, with no formal structure and no paperwork.
Riri was one of the founders of the Indonesian Tolkein Society, Eorlingas, and they met up under a magnificent tree in Bogor Botanical Gardens. Unfortunately, the tree had to be felled when branches started falling off and killing people. Here’s a picture of the offending Ent:
We chat about starting new things in your forties and how anyone at any age can get stronger and fitter and learn a new skill. Riri has been learning ballet, which has been really helpful for her sword training. If you are feeling “too old” for something, listen to this episode!
GW: I'm here today with Riri Nitihardjo, who is a historical martial arts practitioner in Jakarta, Indonesia, and who I first met when she came to Singapore for a seminar that I was teaching some many moons ago. So without further ado, Riri, welcome to the show.
RN: Thank you, Dr. Windsor, for having me here.
GW: You very welcome. And you know perfectly well that my name is Guy. Okay, so whereabouts are you?
RN: Oh, well, I'm in Jakarta and I think it's the biggest city in Indonesia and also the capital city. But then we are going to move the capital city.
GW: Are you? Where’s it going?
RN: Yeah. Basically it’s going to move to another province. I think that's all. And what do you want to know about Jakarta? Well there's the traffic here and I really wish that one day you could come visit us.
GW: That would be great.
GW: Okay. So how did you get into historical martial arts?
RN: Okay. This is going to be a long story. So just feel free to stop me whenever it gets too long. It began with the forging of the three rings. Three were given to the Elves. I'm not going to tell you the tale for 12 hours. But anyway, it has a lot to do with the Lord of the Rings. So one day my friend gave me this book, The Lord of the Rings, because she gave it to me because she asked me whether I liked The Lord of the Rings, and I said, “What is the Lord of the Rings?” Seems like she couldn't accept the fact that I haven't read that book. I haven't even heard of it. So she gave me as a present, this 1000 page of a fiction, which I thought was a history, based on history until I realised, I think I'm making myself a fool here. And then I realised this is just a fantasy. Okay. So anyway, I got hooked up by the book, so much so that I decided to get my master's degree in linguistics.
RN: Yeah. I finally got what I really want to do for my job or my career, my passion. I got enrolled myself to a linguistics programme because Tolkein was a linguist. And actually in the interview and in the university they asked me in the interview they asked me, why did you choose linguistics programme? I said, “Because I read The Lord of the Rings.” So then I got accepted. So I guess they were kind of amused with that answer, too. So anyway. Yeah, and then and what I found in Lord of the Rings is that the story treats the swords, not as just inanimate objects, but it's an animate. It has characters, even in Silmarillion, one of the swords talk to the owner. Also it's got names in, it's got a bit of history itself. So of course finally I watched the movie and then the way they wielded the sword and how the sword is represented there is just so beautiful. Okay maybe just like in one of your writings you said maybe we start this historical martial arts because you want to fight like Aragorn. That's me. So that's me. And by that time I didn't even know that there is something called historical European martial arts. I just wanted to learn how to wield a sword, but properly. Not just swing it around aimlessly or trying to look cool, but properly. This is something that I think it's just me. I really want to do something properly, even though it's just a fantasy, even though it's a joke. For instance, I want to do it properly. It's just me. Yeah.
GW: But it's not a joke.
GW: No, it's real. It's serious.
RN: Yeah, it's a serious thing. And then, of course, there's no way in Jakarta that I could learn that. And I don't want to take up fencing. I mean, like modern fencing because it's not it, first. And then also they got too serious, you know? They want to become an athlete or something. And then it just happened that I got an acquaintance with a friend who knew how to do HEMA. And one of it is actually Danny. But then Danny, the one that you already interviewed. But then he lives in Bandung. It's so far away from me.
GW: Listeners, Riri is referring to Pradana, who is in episode 96. That's Danny.
RN: Yeah, that's Danny. So I've been thinking about maybe I just go to Bandung and then learn sword fighting maybe just once a month, but then it's still unsustainable. You know, it's expensive, it's time consuming, etc.. Until I got acquainted with someone in Jakarta who is actually also a friend of Pradana and who can teach me. So then we started the club. That’s it. So this really began with the forging of the rings.
GW: It began with the forging of the rings of power. For any swordsmanship practitioner, that's a great origin story. And so you started this club in Jakarta.
RN: Yeah. And also Pradana and I and also my friend Abby, also a Tolkein enthusiast. So that's why we named our club Gwaith-i-Megyr. It's based on Sindarin.
RN: It’s a Sindarin name which means Fellowship of the Swordsman.
GW: Okay. I've read Lord of the Rings and I quite liked it, but I only read it once and it was about 20 years ago. So you're going to have to remind me what is Sindarin?
RN: It's the one of the languages of Elves. It’s the Elvish language. There is Quenya and there's Sindarin.
GW: Okay. And as a linguist, you're probably quite interested in how they were constructed.
GW: Well, feel free to tell us about it.
RN: But well, actually, I did want to do something about it for my thesis, for my graduate thesis. But then you have to do real languages.
GW: But all languages are made up.
RN: I know language is made up, well, made up by a society, by a group of people, though not by one person.
GW: Not just one academic.
RN: Not an academic. Yes, I did it cross in my mind to really study it but then I have to give in. I mean, not to have to give in, but since I have to work the real language. So. Yeah.
GW: Yeah. And you had to graduate, right?
RN: Yeah, I had to graduate.
GW: And they said, well, you have to do it in English and something.
RN: And also there's no expert in Sindarin or Quenya in my university or even in Indonesia.
GW: Then there is obviously a job opening. You could be the Indonesian expert in Sindarin and so the next person who wants to do an MA thesis in Sindarin has someone who could supervise their work. Perfect.
RN: Oh, you just gave me an idea.
GW: Okay. I do have one very serious question. I have heard legends, tales, stories about the killer Eorlingas party tree. Tell us about the Eorlingas party tree that actually kills people.
RN: Oh, the Eorlingas party tree. How did you come across with this story, by the way?
GW: Because I do my research. When I'm interviewing someone, I spend some time running around the Internet and other places trying to find out things about them that I could ask them questions about, to draw them out. And one thing I came across is the Eorlingas party tree that kills people.
RN: It kills people?
GW: Yes, it killed somebody.
RN: Okay. No. Oh, okay. You mean that tree.
GW: That tree. Oh, there are multiple Eorlingas party trees? Oh, but only one of them kills people, so they are actually quite safe.
RN: Oh, yeah. So this party tree, this is a huge tree in Bogor. I don't know how it's called in English, but this tree, this is the very first party that we had. Well, maybe I should explain what the Eorlingas is. It's the Tolkein society that I founded. I forgot when I founded it. But it's somewhere after the third movie, The Return of the Ring was released, and then I started. Apparently there are Tolkein societies in other countries, so why don't we make one here in Indonesia? So yeah. I founded it. And this one we wanted to find a place which is quite memorable for our first party tree. Yeah. So we found it in Bogor Botanical Gardens where they have really big tall old trees and there is one tree, I forgot, I don't know how to call it in India, in English, but it looks very much like the trees and the Elves. And I could imagine that I can we can build a tower over that and make it the house of the Elves. So that's the tree. But apparently those trees are old already. And one of the rainy seasons the branch fell off and it hit. Not us. I mean, not that it hits other people who also host parties there, but that tree was quite iconic, actually, in the botanical garden and a lot of people already had some parties gathering underneath there because it's just such a magnificent tree, it’s huge. So now that tree is because it's already old, that tree was cut off.
GW: But I found a photograph of that tree on the internet. And I'll stick that in the show notes so that people can see this tree. I mean, because it is a magnificent tree, or it was a magnificent tree.
RN: Yeah, it was really magnificent. I don't know old, but. I heard 50 years old even more.
GW: A 50 year old is not that old for a tree.
RN: Maybe. Maybe more.
GW: So it looks to me more like two or 300 years old. But I'm not an expert on those trees.
RN: I don't know how old. And anyway, that three is so huge and it's so nice.
GW: But then they had to chop it down.
RN: They had to chop it down. And yeah, we were quite sad about it. No more party tree. There are a lot of big trees in the Bogor botanical gardens, so we can always find the biggest and a more safer one.
GW: You know, you don't really want your party guests getting murdered by the trees.
RN: Yeah, exactly. And actually, it’s happened twice before they finally cut it down.
GW: Wow. Okay. Yeah.
RN: The well, the first they thought, oh, maybe just the top branch. So they cut the top branch, but then it happened again.
GW: I have a theory. That tree was actually an Ent, but it has been frozen in place by some wizard or what have you. And it recognised one of the people there was actually an Orc in disguise. And thought, I’m not having that. Boom. Dropped a branch on their head.
RN: Oh, that's a good theory, actually. I could really see those trees kind of. Exactly. You never know, there have been so many unseen things in this world, undetected.
GW: On to slightly more sensible ground. Now, I know you have a bit of a ballet background. Could you tell us about how you got into ballet and how ballet is helping with historical martial arts?
RN: Maybe background is a bit… It's not really background because I just started three years ago.
RN: I was 45 then. And actually it is also one of my childhood dreams. I always wanted to do ballet. So the closest thing, before I took the lesson, the closest thing I come to ballet is that I watched the YouTube video and then, you know, try to do it. And then finally I Googled, and apparently there's an adult class. There's a ballet for adults. So it means that anyone without ballet training, without previous ballet training, and is above 15 is eligible. I mean, you can take that class. And then I remembered the practise that I did with YouTube. How wrong they were. Everything I did was wrong. I thought I did it right. But then yeah, it's not. Yeah. And also that's one thing that I really like about ballet, that it's just so disciplined. I would call it head to toe discipline, because you really have to think about your head and your fingers, how to move your fingers and toes, how you point, and apparently I just learnt the true meaning of stretch your leg. It's to parley. After two years, finally. I mean, it's a slow process for me finally, to do it correctly. And that my teacher is happy with my progress.
GW: But it's very nice to hear this that you can take up ballet in your forties and actually get somewhere and progress because we sort of get in many areas like ballet being one. It's like, well, if you don't start before you're eight years old, you might as well not bother. And maybe if you want to be like prima ballerina for the French National Ballet or something, that may be true.
GW: But there's no reason not to start just because you're older than most people start.
RN: Yeah, exactly. I mean, because this is only for fun. I mean, it's not really for your profession.
GW: Right? You're not a professional ballet dancer after three years of training, really?
RN: I know. Shame on me. I'm so sorry.
GW: I thought it only took a week.
RN: Shame on me.
GW: So how do you find that your ballet, does it complement the swords or does it contradict them?
RN: it's actually complement. And then because there are a lot of footwork there, I mean, how you strengthen your legs. And then I also take aerobic exercises. But I think with after taking ballet lessons, I feel that I'm more stable very quickly than what I do with regular exercise is like, you know, thigh exercise, legs exercise with aerobic, not for swords. I mean, because I realised that I have to strengthen my legs, the entire leg. Not just one part, but for a ballet, it's the entire thing. You have to strengthen it. I remember that you told me once that I look wobbly.
GW: Did I say that?
RN: I. Yeah, you did say that. And then you recommended that I do push ups to make it more stable. But then, apparently. I'm sorry. I still cannot do push ups. I did, but. But then, apparently after I did ballet, after three years, I feel like I'm more stable. My grounding is more stable. And also I'm more balanced. I'm not saying that I reached the perfect balance now, but I feel like I'm more balanced and also with extension of my leg, my arms, because in ballet, you really have to extend your arms and legs. And also while doing it beautifully, you know.
GW: Sure, yeah. I'm trying to think what kind of wobbliness would lead me to suggest push ups. Maybe your upper body wasn't very stable.
RN: Yeah, my upper body. You said that. That's my interpretation. I think my upper body is not very stable and actually, I'm really can't balance properly, you know, even when I walk sometimes I do move left and right. But with ballet, I feel like I'm more firm now with my footing and also my range of motion.
GW: Well, that should improve the ballet.
RN: Yeah. My range of motions and not just range of motion, but that I can move my leg without getting unstable, you know? It's very firm.
GW: Have you listened to my interview with Anna Beard on this show? That's episode 87 for listeners who haven't looked at it yet. But she was making the point that the ballet training is fundamentally useful for swords. And, you know, I have no reason to dispute that. But it is nice to hear you saying basically the same thing that it’s good for balance and strength.
RN: And actually I didn't even connect it at first. I thought it's just what I want to do. I do fighting and I do ballet. There’s no connection. But yeah, there is one thing. I mean, when I smack a person in the head, I want to do it gracefully. So I think ballet can also help me do that.
GW: Maybe we should title this episode smacking people in the head gracefully.
RN: Gracefully. Yeah.
GW: Okay. So are you planning on inflicting your ballet training on your training partners in your fencing club? I think it would be good for them.
RN: I tried. Yeah, I was thinking about it. But I don't know how I incorporate it into this training because I'm myself still learning. And also, maybe not everyone is into it.
GW: Yeah, maybe. I mean, I have a suspicion that it would be good for the boys.
GW: It would teach them a little humility.
RN: Yeah, actually, I've been telling them how hard it is to train ballet and that you should never underestimate ballet dancers. Because, you know, the training is so hard. It’s head to toe dedication. You really have to dedicate all the muscles in your body. So I thought this also will be good. And I challenged them to do the first positions. And when they thought they could do it, I said, no, your leg is not straight. No, you should be straight. Okay. And then do this. And they said, Yeah, I can do this. Yeah, but point your your toe, and they start screaming. Lift your leg 45 degrees. Okay that’s easy. Point your toe then. Aargh!
GW: Yeah. I remember a long time ago one of my students had a background in capoeira. She's quite small, short. And she was just moving up to the advanced class. And I thought, because it was mostly rufty tufty boys and what have you, you know what? I'll just get her to do the warmup. And I had a quiet word with her before. Really run them into the ground, I said. So there she was cheerfully doing some of her capoeira stuff, emphasising abs and movement or whatever. And this roomful of supposedly advanced swordsmen were like squealing and crying and failing to do it. And she was cheerfully saying, oh, now I'll do it on one hand. And what it did, is it completely eliminated the possibility of any one of those boys thinking that she didn't belong in the class. She had just destroyed the lot of them. It was great. No problems integrating her into the class. It was great. Maybe you should do a kind of, like, a ballet hazing for the sword chaps in Jakarta.
RN: Well, actually, yeah, but the thing is, no one in my class thought that I didn't deserve to be there. I mean, I founded it, for God's sake.
GW: It's good to push people out of their comfort zones every now and then.
RN: Okay. Yeah. I also think that one day I'm going to challenge them again. And since they seem to be like, okay, let's try the first position first.
GW: Honestly, that ballet turnout is absolutely essential if you're going to be doing rapier or smallsword. You don't need it for the medieval stuff so much. But certainly, although for some of the medieval stuff, there are indications that you do need that ability to kind of rotate the whole leg at the hip and turn the toe to out for some of these steps that we see illustrated and yeah, most modern people simply can't do it. Because their legs don't turn that way.
RN: Oh, yeah. Yeah.
GW: So I think it's actually a useful skill.
RN: Yeah. I've been also trying to do exercises to improve my turnout. It hurts. It hurts like hell. I mean, I couldn't get up for, like, 15 minutes. It hurts so much and so hurt that I started questioning my life choice. Why am I doing this? Who am I trying to impress? No one but me. I mean, why?
GW: I’m impressed.
GW: Okay. Let's just move on from that just a little bit. We can always come back to it. Now, regular listeners may have heard my interview with Pradana, Danny, but it was a little while ago, about ten weeks, and he told us something about historical martial arts in his part of Indonesia. How do you see things growing in Jakarta? What does the culture there look like?
RN: Okay. First of all, people still think this is weird. This martial art. It's still weird, but weirdly cool, you know? People still think this is not something that is usual, especially that when you see the feder and how this looks like and to be honest, a lot of people are still mistaking this feder for a katana. Well, people keep saying, ooh she is carrying a samurai. And also there's a group who thought that I carry a crucifix. And I remember this one lady in the bus asked me, are you a Catholic? No, because you have to understand, I mean, I wear a headscarf and this shows that I'm a muslim. But then she was so perplexed to see this thing that I carry that looks like a crucifix.
GW: Catholic nuns wear a version of a headscarf.
RN: But not like the way I wear it.
GW: No, true.
RN: They have uniforms. That poor lady looked so confused. I said, no, I'm a muslim. And this is a toy sword.
GW: A toy sword. Oh, God.
RN: I keep telling that it's a toy sword, this is for the kids.
GW: I think that's a good way of sort of undercutting any tension.
RN: Yeah, this is for kids. You usually say that.
GW: What I use at airports sometimes, if they ask, is stage combat. So, yeah. Theatre, like Shakespeare, like Macbeth and Hamlet have sword fights. And these are the things I use for those sword fights. So they're just stage props.
GW: I mean, they can be used as stage props. So it's not technically a lie, but it frames it in a way that makes them comfortable with them. Then they're not this weird external thing that they know anything about that is risky and dangerous and weird. They're not weapons. They are this comfortable thing that is just for show.
RN: Yeah. Because the type of the weapon is also weird because we are very familiar with the type of small swords. It's like when you use in kung fu. Wushu or Silat. Or whatever or whatever. But this type of sword is really strange for the public. They've never seen that, probably only in movies that they never see in real life. So yeah, that's the thing. I mean, interestingly, that the young people thought it was Katana, but it's actually the older people who thought this a crucifix.
GW: Maybe, maybe you should get a little bubble Jesus and like tie it to your sword, or an Action Man. Get an Action Man and tie it to your sword.
RN: Open their minds. Mess up in their heads a little bit.
GW: Maybe not the best idea we've ever had.
RN: Yeah. But anyway, I mean I understand this because this is not usual. This is uncommon. But the thing is, in terms of HEMA itself in Jakarta, it is actually growing. We keep having new members. And some of them actually, just like me already heard of HEMA and tried to find it and then Google and then our club names appear. That's nice. So whenever we ask, where did you how did you learn about us, from social media or we googled you.
GW: Is yours the only historical martial arts club in Jakarta?
RN: Well, there is another one. It's quite new. There's only two, but there's another one actually in Surabaya. It's in East Java. I think they're also growing. So in terms of this, yeah, I think we can see that we are growing. Not fast. I mean, not a big growth, but people start to recognise it. And actually, we were on TV a couple of times.
GW: Oh, that's cool.
RN: On national TV. And also newspapers.
GW: How did that happen?
RN: They Googled us, somehow they found us. And another one is because one of the TV show is a variety show where they go around Jakarta and see what kind of activities that people do in the parks. And at that time we just happened to have our practise session. So they just recorded on the spot.
RN: One of my neighbours said, “Is that Riri?” They called my mum and said, “I thought I saw your daughter on TV. Is that really her?” Yeah. Yeah, that's really her.
GW: Okay, we should maybe just dial back a bit. And you wanted to do historical martial arts. And you met someone who was also interested in doing the same thing, and so you just decided to start a club. Now, one of the most common questions I get asked is, “There's no club near me. What should I do? I don't really know very much about historical martial arts. What should I do?” And I always say, start a club and they are always like, “But I'm not, like, trained and qualified and all of that sort of stuff. So I can't possibly start a club.” So it's actually, I think, useful for people to hear how you without years and years of training and, you know, professional teaching qualifications in historical martial arts or any of that sort of stuff, because they don't even exist. How you set about starting a club?
RN: Okay. It's a little bit difficult here because first of all, well, you have to have to have a source to learn it. And the thing is, most of the sources are in English. Even though there are a lot of people who speak English in Indonesia, but maybe not to the extent that they want to really read it from a book. And second, there is always a possibility that you interpret it wrong. Just like when I tried to do ballet from YouTube and I ended up getting everything wrong. Yeah. Yeah. So, yeah, for me, I don't know. I mean, you can always try, but one thing, just read a lot, not just from YouTube, but also you can also discuss it now because nowadays also it's easier for us to communicate long distance, like remote. Maybe if they want to start a club first, really study it and then discuss it with the people that who's been doing it for quite some time. It's like, Pradana is a good source. Because he reads a lot, I mean a lot is like a lot.
GW: Yeah. I spoke to him. I know. But leaving aside the sort of the technical fencing, training stuff like the specifics of actually starting a club. So what do you do to start a club?
RN: Maybe you do it like me ask a friend to teach you.
GW: So you had a friend who you could who had some experience or whatever. You could get started that way. But you started a club and people are joining the club and whatever. You went from being two people who are whacking each other with swords into actually starting a club. How did that happen?
RN: Oh. Okay. How did that happen? How did that happen?
GW: You must have decided at some point to start the club.
RN: Yeah, I decided to start a club. And when I remember, I was kind of pestering him, you know, badgering him to please teach me. I want to be able to wield a sword like Aragorn. And so we finally started. And then we spread the words around to some of our friends. So, hey, we are going to start this, so let's join. Actually, at that time, we what we did was just let's start first. We didn't even think how it was going to be in the future. And to be honest, I myself didn't think that we could have gone this way, like we finally managed to have our feders, the steel, which is difficult to get because we have to import it. And then we finally slowly getting this gear, equipments and then people. Start adding members, people start finding us and then get interested. So I think, yeah. I think the first thing is that you have to have enough love to do it. From you. So you yourself, you have to be really dedicated for this. So you can't expect, let's say, to wait for your friend to join you. If you are already dedicated, usually you find your way, and then you find someone to share your passion with. Just start first.
GW: Yeah. I think you're absolutely right. Like, if I was on my own training in a park somewhere, people will come up and ask me about stuff and if I wanted to, we could pretty quickly get a club together just by training on my own in a park to start with. So I think you are right. At what point did you did you formally, legally incorporate a club with paperwork and all that sort of stuff?
RN: Okay. We don't have paperwork. Until now this is still very informal. We don't even charge our members. It's all free of charge, but you have to buy your own equipment because we realised that if we charge people it means that people would expect that we are experts. But let's face it, we're not.
GW: You’ve been doing this for quite a while.
RN: Quite a while. Yeah, it's been quite a while actually. Last week we on seventh February was our anniversary. I think it's our fifth.
GW: Okay. I just flag to back this up for the listeners. You have going for five years as a totally informal club with no paperwork, no dues, nothing.
RN: No. Nothing.
GW: Okay. Right. And you were kind of skipping over that bit. But actually, that's really interesting because a lot of people have in their heads that the only way to do this is to basically start a legal club, you know, like a nonprofit making organisation or a company or something like that, and have all of this sort of massive infrastructure in place. And so it gets very awful. But you are basically just a group of people who like getting together in a park and whacking each other. Excellent. And it’s been going for five years.
RN: Yes it is five years and we are growing, actually. I was surprised myself.
GW: Okay. So this is without any legal or financial structures in place?
GW: Perfect. Right. Okay. That's actually quite huge.
GW: Yeah, because. Because there is this very common, I think it's driven by the litigious society in America and the sort of legal culture in Britain where everyone's concerned about liability, everyone's concerned about getting sued, everyone's concerned about having insurance and all that sort of stuff. And that stops them just getting together with their friends and having fun.
GW: But it's really helpful, I think, to have this clear example of a club that's growing. It's been doing really, really nicely. It's been going for five years and there is no legal paperwork of any kind.
RN: No. Maybe because also there's this culture in Indonesia that we you do it at your own risk, you know, just do whatever, do it at your own risk. You got smacked, you got bruised. You want that?
GW: Okay. Yeah, that's a fair point. When I started my school in Finland, I never once took out any insurance for it. Because the thing is, in Finland, if you go to a sword fighting club and you get your arm broken and you go to court to sue somebody because you've got your arm broken. The judge is going to look at you and say you were doing sword fighting and you got your arm broken and you're complaining to me, why exactly? So I have never carried any insurance, which freaks people out in Britain and America. And all the Finns think it is completely normal.
RN: Yeah. I mean, if you want to have your insurance, arrange your own insurance.
GW: I think I’d very much enjoy the culture in Jakarta somehow.
RN: Oh, yeah, we're very flexible.
GW: Physically after all that ballet.
RN: Oh, yeah.
GW: Now, as you are probably aware, I have a couple of questions that I tend to ask my guests. The first of those is, and this could be in any area. What is the best part that you haven't acted on?
RN: What is the best idea I have been acted on? I don't know if it's the best, but I've been thinking about maybe starting a blog or something about doing things when you are already 40 years old. I mean, doing something just like do ballet, take up this sword fencing. I mean, I do it in my forties. Because actually I feel physically better in my forties than in my twenties. People will keep saying, “Oh, I miss my twenties. I was so strong.” And it's not me. I mean, in my twenties I was so lousy. I was not fit. I was so weak. I couldn't carry heavier things without getting sick the next day. And then I got sick a lot. And especially during my high school, and I got sick quite a lot. And there's to the point that my friend didn't want to hang out with me. Because they thought, let's not invite Riri because we don't know if she would get sick suddenly. So, yeah, I think for me, I'm sorry if I sound to be a big headed by saying this, but I kind of proud of myself because now I've got muscles. You can't see it. But I, I promise you, I've got muscles in my arms and also in my legs. So I don't know if this is also the kind of mindset in in your country. But in Indonesia, when you start hitting 40, you start preparing your own funeral. You're old now, you have to think about death now you're going to die. Yeah, surely we are going to die. But who says this is because of old age? A lot of people die right after they're born, right? A lot of babies died right after they were born or a lot of people died young. Some of my friends said, yeah, we have to think about one day we are going to die. Yeah, one day. What if it is the next 20 years? What if you die in 80 years? So what are you going to do before that?
GW: You could die today, but it's likely that you'll still be here in 40 years time.
RN: Yeah, it's also likely.
GW: So you might as well do what you want to do now. And do your best to have fun in the next 40 years.
RN: Exactly. And if let's say I die tomorrow, I can say I learned swords and I can do ballet.
GW: Yeah. And at your funeral they can have your ballet slippers and your sword.
RN: Yes, exactly. I should start arranging my funeral like this.
GW: Okay. I think longship. Viking longship, burn it. So you're on the ship with your sword and your ballet slippers and get your friends who do archery to shoot fire arrows into the ship. I think that's the way to do it.
RN: Yeah, but as a muslim, I have to be buried.
GW: Oh, fine. Okay. Then be buried with your sword. Take it with you.
RN: Oh, well, actually, my friend already got a dip on my sword. “When you die, these swords go to me. Make sure you put it in your will.”
GW: Oh, okay. Then I’ve got a brilliant idea. You should buy a really nice sword for you to train with, and for you to be buried with later. Your friend can have these other ones and you buy yourself right now a really nice sword, just in case you need to get buried with it tomorrow.
RN: Yeah, I think that's a good idea.
GW: Perfect excuse to buy a sword. You need something decent to get buried with.
RN: Yeah. I'll have my sword and then my tutu skirt and my ballet slippers.
GW: Perfect. And in 500 years’ time, archaeologists are going to be really confused.
RN: What the hell is this?
GW: The tutu and the sword... Yeah actually I think honestly living a life in such a way as to confuse future archaeologists is probably a good way to live.
GW: Okay. So say you're going to start a blog about taking up interesting pursuits in your forties. Or fifties or sixties or seventies.
RN: Even though when you are actually not fit. Because I wasn't fit. I wasn't fit, so unfit. I remember once I was in a gym and my friend, we both do a treadmill. And then my friend said, “Oh, I can't do more than 15 minutes. I haven't done any exercises before.” And I was like, “You haven't done any exercises before and you could do 15 minutes on treadmill?” I could only do 5 minutes already. I was already out of breath. I thought I was dying, you know? But then after a couple of years consistently, I mean, I also build it up really slowly. It's not like right away. Not after three months. No, that's impossible. After years, I suddenly realised that I could run on a treadmill for 15 minutes, and I wasn’t out of my breath.
GW: There you go.
RN: Yeah, I stopped it because it was because it was boring.
GW: I mean, I don’t do treadmills at all. I have no idea how long I would last on a treadmill.
RN: Jogging, also it makes me boring. So this makes me realise. Apparently you just train just according to your pace. Because a lot of people like trying to push themselves. And also gotten a little bit annoyed when my friend said, “Only 5 minutes? Come on, you can do more.” It's like, “Yeah, you don't live in this body, dude.”
GW: Okay. You can start a blog about being, like, completely unfit, untrained and what have you, in your forties and actually getting into things like sword fighting and ballet. I think that’s a brilliant idea. I think you should do it.
RN: I don't know. I think it takes too much time. That’s why I haven’t acted on it because it's just something that I thought, you know, maybe just to encourage people or in my forties because like I said I don't know about in your country but Indonesia again, apart from starting preparing their funeral, they start to feel that they are weak. It's like oh no I cannot climb the stairs anymore I think because I’m too old. I said no, it’s because you don't exercise.
GW: Right. I mean if you're 90 and having difficulty getting up upstairs, it might be because you're old, but if you're 40, it's because you haven't been exercising.
RN: You haven't been exercising. That's why.
RN: So that's how I broke my body left and right when I started doing ballet, you know, I hurt my knees once. I couldn't get up the stairs without my knee hurting, so I had to put on a brace for like one month. People started saying that's because you're old. And I said, no, that's because I'm weak. My body is not trained for this.
GW: Right. But you can train your body for it and not be any more. It’s miraculous.
RN: Yes. You can train the body and it is not weak any more.
GW: And the thing is, there's nothing you can do about the passage of time. You're going to get older, no matter what you do. But it's entirely up to you whether you exercise.
RN: Exactly. Yeah. Just do small exercises, for instance. I start also weight lifting, do the weight exercise. I start with one kilograms of dumbbell.
GW: Excellent. That's a good starting weight.
RN: And after a couple of years, suddenly yesterday I started with four kilograms.
GW: There you go.
RN: I mean, start with one and then two kilograms. And then yesterday I do weightlifting again. I thought, hey, this two kilogram is just too light. I mean, I don't even feel it anymore.
RN: So I do four kilograms, so. I mean, it's slowly, gradually there is progress.
GW: In fact, any the jump from one kilo to two kilos is 100% improvement.
RN: Yeah. And two kilos to four kilos is another 100%.
GW: Yeah. I think you are right that there's a sort of fatalism about, “Oh, well, I'm getting older, there's nothing I can do about that, so I might as well just not bother.” Whereas, in fact, if you just do something about it, yes, you're still going to get older. But you can add strength and you add have flexibility and you can be fitter and healthier, stronger, and you can swing swords around, whatever age.
RN: Yeah, exactly. So I mean, my friend said, yeah, I can't do this again because I'm we are in already in our forties. I was like, did you see me got beaten by the boys with the steel swords? That's kind of exercise. And did you try ballet? I'm sorry. I’m kind of a little bit cocky.
GW: Well, good. My last question. You've been in the historical martial arts scene for five or six years now. And you pay attention to what's going on around you, obviously. If somebody gave you, if I gave you $1,000,000 which I don't have, to spend it proving historical arts worldwide, how would you spend the money?
RN: How I would spend my money. Okay. That is a tough question. There is this one thing that I come across in my mind. This is actually something that when I went to Malaysia and Singapore that I couldn't bring my own steel to the country because it's clearly sad that we can't bring even toy sword to that. So I don't know, maybe if we can lobby the countries to allow equipment as a sports equipment.
GW: Okay. So to lobby the governments in your part of the world to recognise historical martial arts swords as sports equipment.
RN: As sports equipment.
GW: So that you don't have all these legal restrictions on owning and using swords. That’s a good idea.
RN: Yeah. Because I want to. When I go to countries for that, Singapore and Malaysia. I want to bring my own, so we don't have to take turns. I mean, some of the clubs have excellent collection of weapons that we don't have to wait for somebody to turn. But, you know, still, it's nicer that if you bring your own steel, right?
GW: Yeah, there's also if the activity is legally recognised and its equipment is legally accepted as a legitimate thing to have, then it also opens the door to all sorts of other things. Like maybe if you need to rent out a hall for a seminar or something and you go to the hall owners and say, look, we're having this activity and they can see that it's something that's recognised by the Government as a legitimate thing to be doing. So there's no there's no concerns about, you know, letting a bunch of lunatics with swords run around your expensive training facility. So do sports fencers have trouble moving their foils in and out of the country?
RN: Well, actually, I don't know. But since they already have the National Federation, there's a representation of fencers. So I think it's a lot easier to carry around their sabres. What about in your part of your country? Is HEMA already recognised as a sport?
GW: No. I think we don't have any particular problems like that. The only places I've had difficulty travelling with swords where I've actually been is Singapore. I just don't take swords because you have to have a licence to bring a sword into the country and you get all sorts of problems if you don’t. And Victoria State in Australia. When entering Australia direct to Melbourne, if I’m taking swords with me, I have to have paperwork with me saying that I'm a legitimate member of a club in Victoria and basically proving that these swords are going to be held in accordance to these laws and looked after in this particular way. It's a whole load of bullshit really. But so those are the only two places where there have been any restrictions. In America they don’t care. In Britain they don’t care. I've flown swords in and out of Britain and the rest of Europe and America. It doesn't blow up, so they don't care. And it’s not drugs, so they don’t care. It poses no risk to anybody. It doesn't pose any risk to the aircraft. They're not illegal weapons in the way that guns are legally restricted. I’ve not had a problem with it, but these days I just take hand luggage anyway because everywhere I go there are swords. And so, you know, the, the stress and hassle of carrying the bloody things from one place to another. It's like, why bother? There's going to be swprds I can borrow when I got there.
RN: Hmm. Yeah. Oh, I remember my first workshop is in Malaysia and we have lots of visitors from Philippines. So apparently in Southeast Asia this sport has already garnered some audience. So probably we should in Southeast Asia, I mean, maybe if we have this millions of dollars like lobbying the countries saying that first, that this is a sword, this is not a crucifix.
GW: Not a samurai sword either.
RN: Yeah, it's not samurai. And then just get a recognition that this is a sport. I mean, maybe it doesn't have to be to the extent that we can get government funding, because usually with funding comes other things.
GW: Strings attached.
RN: There are strings attached. That's not really nice strings usually. Yeah. So just give a recognition so that we can carry our gear safe without.
GW: So maybe a Southeast Asian Federation of Historical Martial Arts.
RN: We don't have that kind of federation.
GW: Use the money to create this federation, something which can then lobby the various governments to say, yes, this is a legitimate activity. These are not weapons carried by lunatics in the streets. So it's all quite safe, honest, guv.
RN: Yeah, something like that.
GW: Interesting. Yeah. You're the first person, I think, whose thought of using it to make it illegal to bring weapons into the country. Because in large chunks of the world, it isn't an issue, but it's nice to shine a spotlight on that particular issue over in Singapore, and Malaysia.
GW: That was an awkward pause.
RN: Yeah. What happened? You're thinking of something? You never thought that we had this kind of problem?
GW: No, I knew about the kind of problem. But, you know, you're the first one of my guests to mention using the imaginary money to address that specific issue. Which is interesting.
RN: Yeah, because I really like to travel, to go to, you know. And then carry it around in peace.
GW: That's cool. All right. Well, thank you very much for joining me today, Riri. It's been lovely talking to you.
RN: Likewise. It's been nice. Nice interview. Nice talking to you, too.