Episode 120 Finding your niche, with Mila Jędrzejewska

Episode 120 Finding your niche, with Mila Jędrzejewska

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Mila Jędrzejewska runs Audatia Creative, a professional services company for businesses in the historical martial arts space. In this conversation, we hear what led Mila to start up her own business, why she focuses on our particular niche, and how Guy and Mila are working together.

Mila describes her experiences of sexism in the sword world and racism in the business world and we discuss the privilege of being able to work in a fulfilling job that you love.

For the question, ‘What would you do with £1 million to improve historical martial arts worldwide?’ Guy gives his own idea of what he would like to do with the money. Would you be interested in a dedicated historical martial arts online platform, a “Swordbook”, if you will? Guy’s vision is a not-for-profit online space with zero tolerance for trolling, mansplaining, disrespectful behaviour of any kind, where you can talk about swords (or watch cat videos) with fellow swordy folk. If you follow Guy on social media, look out for a poll in Instagram Stories on the subject.

Also, as you will hear, Mila is looking for someone to join her team, so if you have graphic design and social media experience, and you are mad about swords, get in touch with her: https://audatiacreative.com/contact/




GW: I’m here today with Mila Jedrzejewska, who no doubt will be correcting my pronunciation of her surname in just a moment. She is a historical martial arts practitioner and founder of the first and as far as I know, only professional services company for businesses in the historical martial arts space. I should perhaps mention that when I went looking for Mila as a podcast guest, I stumbled upon her business. And yes, we are now working together on some secret projects. So without further ado, Mila, welcome to the show.


MJ: Hi, Guy. Thank you for having me. And just as a side note, your pronunciation is actually spot on. It's even better than my own boyfriend.


GW: Wow. Okay. Maybe I should study Polish. That would be fun. Well, I did OK with Finnish. So I think if you can handle Finnish, you can handle pretty much any language the world chooses to throw at you.


MJ: Okay. I'll be more than happy to have a full conversation in Polish with you if you'd like. So let's say a year from now?


GW: Maybe a year and a half. Just to orient everyone, so whereabouts in the world are you?


MJ: So currently I'm actually in the Netherlands, in Leiden, which is approximately 30 minutes’ drive from Amsterdam, just, you know, a place that usually everyone recognises.


GW: Sure.


MJ: Mm hmm. So I've been here for the past, oh, my goodness, four and a half years, I believe. So I actually left the motherland in pursuit of adventure. Okay, here I am.


GW: What was the adventure?


MJ: So basically, I'm the type of person that really have issues finding their place. You know, I've been roaming from one city to another. I covered a couple of countries along the way, and I actually settled in the Netherlands for a guy. So I met my now fiancée at a HEMA event, because where else? And we got together and was pretty much in a long distance relationship until we decided either we take it to the next level or we just, you know, cut things here and now. Here I am, you know, close to five years later, still with the same person, more cuts on the horizon, and swords for sure.


GW: Well, yes. I know what it's like to move to a foreign country and to be living in a foreign country and working there and what have you. Because, you know, I've done it in Finland. And then actually when I moved to the UK it really felt like moving to a foreign country because while I'm technically British, I haven't actually lived in Britain, in England, since I was five.


MJ: I really understand that.


GW: So what is it like conducting business in the Netherlands as a Polish person? I mean, do you have to speak English all the time? Have you learnt Dutch?


MJ: Okay. So we are entering the realm of very uncomfortable questions. Um, yeah. Basically, how is it to conduct a business as a Polish person in the Netherlands? Well, let's put it like that. Being a foreigner in a country always comes with a lot of struggles, whether they are job related, whether they're family related. It's a whole bunch of things that you need to unpack. But when it comes to the business side of things, there is a reason why I set up my own company. So let's start with that. Because when I moved to the Netherlands, I first started to look for a job that I was already developing in. So as you know, it's marketing and graphic design, and I had tremendous issues to actually get started. And I'm afraid that my nationality also played a role because I had several very uncomfortable instances where, for instance, my CV was rejected if it had a Polish surname, but if I submitted the same CV but with a Dutch surname, exactly the same thing, suddenly I was invited for a second round of interview. So things like that makes you wonder. And I had that experience for well over a year before I decided that, hey, you know, it's time to take matters in my own hands. So if I am not able to find a career path in the Netherlands, I'm going to create it myself. And this is pretty much where I am at three years later, I have my own business. I run that with success. And I'm really proud of where I got here. But the start was, let's say, very difficult.


GW: Yeah, I had no idea that you started your business because no one would give you a job in Holland because you are Polish. That's obviously very, very crap. But also ultimately it's for you, at least for your clients, it's turned out to be a good thing.


MJ: You know, the thing is that the Netherlands is perceived to be a very tolerant country and for sure in a lot of fields they are. However, there is still quite a bit of an issue of racism when it comes to employment. And Slavic people especially are facing that. But it's not only in the Netherlands, it's the West in general, because we are perceived that we should be doing specific types of manual jobs, for instance. And sometimes it can go over someone's head that hey, there is a little bit more to life than just working on the factory line, for instance, that we have education. Polish people, for instance, are one of the best educated nations in the world. So many of us graduate from university with honours.


GW: And they have difficulty getting hired afterwards because of where you happen to be from.


MJ: So yeah. But I don't let that stop me, pretty much.


GW: I've got the impression you don't let much stop you, to be honest.


MJ: No. I'm stubborn as fuck. Let's put this like this. And, you know, if one door is closed I’m either going to find the second one. Or I'm just going to enter, you know.


GW: Get a fire axe and chop it down.


MJ: Pretty much. You need to fight in life for what you want and what you believe in. Nothing is handed down to you.


GW: Okay. So you originally went to Holland for a sword fighting event. So you were doing swords and whatnot before that. So did you get into the sword thing?


MJ: So my beginning with sword fighting is unfortunately a rather sad story.


GW: Go on then.


MJ: Probably as a lot of people I have been growing up fascinated with Lord of the Rings, with games, with knights, all the stories that pretty much bring us together. But when I decided that I would like to learn sword fighting because I mean, who wouldn’t like to do that? Who wouldn’t like to try it? I found a group that was teaching sword fighting in my hometown in Poland. But when I approached them and asked whether, hey, you know, I would like to learn, can you please show me? I heard that since I am a woman, I cannot be taught.


GW: Oh fuck. I didn't know that still happened.


MJ: Yeah, that wasn't the nineties. That was around 2010 or so, 2009, earlier than that. That's still pretty fresh history.


GW: What absolute twats.


MJ: Yeah. Apparently since I'm a woman, they should be taking dancing lessons. Well, anyone who's seen me dancing, they know that I for sure need them. That's one thing. I don't enjoy it. So, yeah, that was the first instance. I was simply rejected by the first group that I approached. And as you can imagine that felt like quite a defeat and I was still extremely young. So rejection at this point, you know, you feel that way more severely than when you're 30, 40, 50. And at that time I decided not to pursue it in an organised way. So what my brother did is he actually made me a sabre, you know, out of a steel rod. It was heavy as fuck, but he actually made it himself and he gave it to me. Yeah, that was really sweet. And not long after that, I graduated from university, and I found a job at SPES. I once I actually got connected with the people at SPES, I got introduced to a healthy club culture where it wasn't a problem that I'm a woman. I mean.


GW: Why should it be?


MJ: Why should it be? But, you know, the history actually proves that part of this.


GW: So hang on, your first job after university was with SPES?


MJ: Yep.


GW: There are going to be some listeners who don't know who SPES are. So if you could just explain.


MJ: So SPES historical fencing gear is one of the biggest manufacturers of historical martial arts gear pretty much in the world. They were the first one who created a jacket that, well, most of us are still wearing today. The AP jacket, either light or, you know, the regular one. They created the really solid gloves for people to use during sparring. So what we now know as lobster gloves. So there are literally one of the first companies to start a business around our space that was dedicated for historical fencing and not just re-enactment. So that was really amazing, you know, to be a part of.


GW: Of what were you doing for them?


MJ: I was actually running a sales department. Believe it or not, they trusted me with that. But I was doing sales department, customer service. So everything that goes around that, I actually started to first play with social media because, what was it, 10 years ago, 12 years ago, we were all just starting using Facebook as a platform to exchange ideas or to build community.


GW: Wow. Okay. So you’re there working at SPES in their sales department and you take up swords in a local club or do the guys at SPES do swords?


MJ: Actually, Andrzej, the owner of historical fencing, he was running a club. So I was doing the classes over there and experienced what it's like to actually learn sword fighting from people who love it. And I would say that was kind of in the job description that you should be doing HEMA if you wanted to work for the company. You know that small print that at the end of the agreement that you get. But it was it was really fun, you know, I loved that. And I started to travel to events and yeah.


GW: So were you travelling to events as a fencer or as a SPES rep or both?


MJ: Mostly as a fencer. At the time when I was at SPES, I was mostly doing office work. I don't think that they were comfortable to just let me run in the wild like that. But I started to build some local events to meet people, to build the network and of course, Facebook. So social media started to be a big focus of my work because pretty much all the HEMA is there. So ten years later, we are mostly, you know, looking towards Facebook groups. And that's where most of the conversation happens, right?


GW: Yeah. I don't go there myself, as you know, but yes.


MJ: That’s why you have me.


GW: Exactly. So were you working with SPES all the way up until he moved to Holland?


MJ: No. So I stayed at SPES for about a year and a half or so, and then I was offered a job in Germany, so I decided to take it and it was pretty much running a HEMA shop over there. Sword Experts, it was in Hannover.


GW: Okay.


MJ: So I pretty much continued from one HEMA company to another.


GW: Okay.


MJ: I was very young at the time. It was such a huge change. Just to move to a foreign country.


GW: Do you speak German?


MJ: I did. Now I just speak Dutch because something just happens to me if I'm supposed to switch between German and Dutch.


GW: You can’t. They are too close together.


MJ: Yeah, exactly. But yeah. So I was in Germany for about two years running a shop over there, and I decided that that was a little bit too much for me. So I decided to go back to Poland. However, I moved to Łódź  and I started to work for a company that sells faux fur and leather. So that's a completely different thing. However, there are still one of the biggest manufacturers in Europe. So it was a very good place to be and to learn. And over there I pretty much started to develop graphic design. So I decided I really wanted to focus on marketing. This is something that makes me happy instead of chasing the numbers.


GW: Yeah.


MJ: So that was Łódź . Then I was spending a lot of time in Brabant in the Netherlands. So, you know, I was going back and forth pretty much.


GW: Yeah. They're not that far apart then, I mean. Netherlands and Poland. They’re quite close together. It could have been a lot worse. I mean, if it was Portugal and Poland you would have struggled a bit.


MJ: No, I don't think that the climate would agree with me. But no it's about, I don't know, 1200 kilometres probably.


GW: Yeah.


MJ: So I still was looking for my place. Let's put it like that. But when I was in Łódź , I visited one of the events in the Netherlands, the Dutch Lions Cup. And that's pretty much where I reconnected with Oskar, with my partner. So from there on, we pretty much got together. We tried the long distance thing, as I mentioned to you. And after six months, I pretty much uprooted my whole life and moved to the Netherlands to be with him, to adopt kitties, grow our first little armoury.


GW: Excellent. Okay. And so you worked for two significant stock amongst large companies, equipment companies, and then for a leather and fur producer. And then moved to the Netherlands, look for a job doing something marketing related, and then decided, fuck it, I'm just going to start a company.


MJ: And then, you know, the thing about marketing is, and I think about any job that you do, you need to like what you do every day. If you have a hatred for your workplace then you're not going to be happy. And I was also weighing that.


GW: I wish I'd known that. I hate swords, but I just took up swords anyway, just to sort of make loads of money. And so I'm miserable all the time and I still haven’t made loads of money and yeah.


MJ: You’re not good at this whole advertising thing are you?


GW: No, I'm really not. I couldn't agree more. You're going to spend an awful lot of your adult life at work so it should be something I think that you either you either believe it to be truly meaningful, in which case it is nice if you enjoy it, but it doesn't truly matter. Or you really enjoy it, or both. I’ve gone with both.


MJ: If you can find both, that's perfect. I think that's the place where I can say that I combine both because I genuinely believe in what I do. I see how much it helps businesses in our community, how much it helps the people that are behind the businesses. Because I really hate just having a professional relationship. Professional relationship is just as if you had the stick up your arse.


GW: They are not real. They don't really exist because all, all human relationships is by definition personal. I have a basic rule. If I wouldn't if I wouldn't want to hang out with the person and go for a beer or something. I wouldn't hire them.


MJ: Yep. This is simply not something that's going to work. We need to like each other. We need to enjoy talking to each other. And pretty much the relationship develops. You know, I travel to see my clients and become friends. Still are. And I just love doing that. When we meet at the event, we need to be able to look at each other in the eye and, yeah, we still feel good, you know?


GW: Yes. And the notion that you can somehow separate. It's like it's ‘only business’. I just don't buy it. Some people live that way, and I think that's probably why they hate their jobs.


MJ: Probably. But I also admire people who can do that, because sometimes, and I think that you agree with me, sometimes you also need to know how to unplug.


GW: Yeah, for sure.


MJ: How to close your computer and how to go and spend time with your family. With your friends and just not think about that. That's something I'm still working on.


GW: It's hard. For me it got easier when I had kids, because the kids are vastly more important than the business or the swords or any other aspect of it. So I have no trouble dropping business stuff, if there’s some kind of emergency with the kids. But also I always sort of prioritise time with the children, I don't go away too often. Well, put it this way, when my oldest child was about four and I was pushing her on the swing and she really, really liked being pushed on the swing. And I'd spent about an hour a day pushing her on the swing pretty much since she was about six months old. Old enough to sit in the swing. But, you know, the kids are having a really good time. And we were playing and it's great fun, but in the back of my mind, I just did a little mini calculation as to how many hours I spent pushing the swing. And I figured out that in that time I could easily have written another book. But in that same thought it was but this is a much better way of spending time.


MJ: You can never trade those hours.


GW: Exactly. Yeah. They are only little for a short while.


MJ: That’s what’s going to matter when she grows up, she's going to be looking at those moments spent with her dad.


GW: Yeah, it was Father's Day on Sunday. And I have two daughters and I generally do better one on one anyway, I just prefer one on one rather than a big group. And yes, we do stuff as a family. On Father's Day, I get to do what I want, pretty much. So I got each child to choose a thing they wanted to do with me, just the two of us. And my eldest wanted to go for a drive down to Felixstowe to walk along the esplanade thing, whatever you call it.


MJ: Pier.


GW: And we chatted for like two and a half hours. It was awesome. And my youngest wanted to go to ninja tag and race around scoring points. You have this wrist tag thing and there are these lights on this assault course thing and you have to climb up things and crawl through things and go around scoring points.


MJ: How did you do?


GW: I did all right. I got a 23,000 points. She got 16,300. But last time we went, I got 16,000 and she got 6000. So, you know, we're both getting better. And she was really hoping she's going to beat me this time. She beat my last score.


MJ: An improvement then, though. One day she’s going to kick your arse, I believe.


GW: Of course she will. It's only a matter of time and practise. Yeah. So the notion that really I should have got some work done is just absurd.


MJ: No, you can't think like that. Be in the moment. Enjoy your family.


GW: Yeah, but, you know, frankly, there are an awful lot of people who don't have that luxury. Because if they do that, the family doesn't eat. Or gets kicked out of the house. The business side of things basically pays for me being able to take as much time off as I want to hang out with my children while they still want to hang out with their old man.


MJ: I think that both of us need to appreciate that we are in a pretty comfortable position to be able to do that. And for instance, I come from a house where my parents didn't have the luxury to spend so much time with us because they had to go to work. They were working shifts, constantly passing each other in the doorway and needing to care for me and my brother. So I didn’t have that. Whenever we had some time off, they tried to take us for trips, try to do some fun things together. But for sure, we didn't have as much time as we would like to. And that's what I'm trying to do now, trying to reclaim the lost time and spent as much time with my parents as I can. I take my laptop to Poland so I can just drop things for a week and nothing will be burning and just be with my mom.


GW: Yeah. It's important. We don't normally go to such serious territory on this show. There's an ethical component to, I think everyone should basically be able to make enough money to be able to take as much time off as they need to go spend with their kids. And yes, I could do it and that's great. But it would be really, really good if everyone else could do it, too.


MJ: Well, the point is that as human beings, unfortunately, we also stopped prioritising mental health and everything revolves around making money, going to work. And what I personally find extremely annoying is that you are not able to support a family, for instance, from a single income. That's a dream long gone. Two incomes is already quite difficult, but more manageable. However, on top of that, you still have a lot of housework. You need to spend time preparing meals, making sure that your house is clean. Spending time with your children. And we absolutely don't reward that. We expect that someone is going to work for 8 hours and then spend another few hours working at home. And how are you supposed to make it?


GW: Well, I have never accepted that proposition as a way of living at all. It's like, no. Some people and I think I'm very lazy because I don't work 40 hours a week. I really don't. I maybe get 4 hours of pretty intense work done pretty much five days a week. And then if I'm travelling and teaching, that's on top. But I think an awful lot of what people spend those 8 hours doing is bollocks. It's not necessary.


MJ: It's already proven that you should work for three or four days a week, tops. For what, six, 7 hours maybe.


GW: And that's one of the things I like about working with freelancers rather than employees is that a freelancer agrees a certain amount of work to be done for a certain amount of money, like make me a book cover or lay out a book or whatever. And if they have a way of doing it to the necessary standard in half an hour or it takes 5 hours I don't know or care. They charge what they charge for the job is done. And if it looks like they're getting an hourly rate of like 300 quid it now, good for them. If I can afford to pay that much for that thing, I don't have any vested interest in saying oh yes but you were 10 minutes late getting into work this morning. We need to have a discussion about this.


MJ: No, no. That wouldn’t go. But you know, what's your path as a freelancer? Ideally, if you're in a position where you can already do that, it should reflect your experience. So if I'm bringing to the table 12 years of experience, professional experience, this should be rewarded. You know, at the job you get I don't know, what's the standard wage right now? Let's say €15 per hour. Maybe if you're higher. Then it's a bit of a joke.


GW: Yeah. And 2000 work hours a year. That's 30,000 a year. Taxes off that. That's not a lot to live on if it takes up all of your time.


MJ: And then try to get the mortgage on that, for instance. In the Netherlands, we have a huge housing crisis. It's impossible to get the mortgage without sacrificing your first born and liver on top of that.


GW: I used to be just the first born. But now they want half your liver too. That's true. And a kidney, if it's a nice house.


MJ: Kidney. Yeah.


GW: Okay. So your company, Audatia Creative, is the first historical martial arts professional service company. So I'm guessing that most people listening don't actually know what that is.


MJ: Probably not.


GW: Because honestly, I’m not 100% sure and I’ve hired you, so there we go.


MJ: Okay. It means that I had the very good pitch. What my company focuses on is giving a platform for the brands to share their story, share their work, because we have so many amazing creators amongst us. We have you with your amazing collection of books. We have sword makers. We have gear manufacturers. And what I focus on is making sure that we know about the wonderful work that they do, that we can create a community around the vision that they have.


GW: Okay. That's like the top level strategic view of what you are doing. What are the actual specific individual things you might do, so somebody might hire you to do what?


MJ: For instance, one of the things that I do is manage social media platforms. I usually focus on Facebook and Instagram since most of our community is actually located over there. I create the marketing strategy, which we're discussing what exactly we're doing with our goals and how we're going to achieve them. I am creating content calendar, which pretty much describes what we are posting, when, what exactly do we want to achieve with the graphics and the information that we are sharing? I am also doing audits for HEMA companies and clubs actually where I'm just going into the details of their social media activity and being as critical as I can because the audits are pretty much bitching about what's going wrong and making suggestions how to improve. And I try to approach it in a relaxed way. You know, what I hate is working with people that have a stick up their arse. So if someone is one of them, we were definitely not getting along. But if you're crazy, if you have that spark of creativity about you, then we’re going to have an excellent time.


GW: Okay. That's a pretty good explanation of what a professional services company in this case is doing. So you're creating graphics and social media posts and things like that to post on your client's social media platforms, to basically make the people who already like the client like them more. And to get the word out so that people who haven't necessarily heard of your client yet are more likely to hear about them and get a positive impression, is that fair?


MJ: Exactly. I mean, there are so many companies that serve that spotlight.


GW: Just as a matter of transparency, I should point out, when this thing goes live in, it's probably going to go out in August, you will have been handling my social media for about a month by that point. I would guess that the average person who listens to the show, who has come across me on social media, will go, what the hell is going on with Guy’s Facebook because he's never here. But suddenly all this stuff is happening.


MJ: Suddenly, beautiful graphics. Suddenly responding to your comments.


GW: So suddenly it feels so professional. And you just mentioned something in passing, but we haven't said before. But you're actually going to be answering comments. So somebody comments on something. It's the funniest thing to me, right? Let’s say I'm running ads on Facebook for one of my courses, people will comment on that ad as if it was like a regular post. Which makes no sense to me and it would never occur to me in a million years to do that because why would you comment on an ad it doesn't make sense. But people do. And because I don't go there, I don't see this until maybe somebody two weeks later sends me an email saying, did you realise that so-and-so made a very snarky remark about you? But I don't want to know that. Or did you know that someone is asking whether they can get this e-book you're advertising as a print book? Well, I should go in and tell them, yes, actually, of course you can. But I don't to do that. I don't want to go into Facebook because the minute I go into Facebook, what will happen is I would get distracted from what it was I went to do. And I will lose half an hour to random shite and almost certainly see something that is upsetting or distressing in some way. It could be about somebody saying something nasty about one of my books or about me personally. It could be something that has happened to the world and everyone seems to think it's a good idea to share pictures of dead puppies or something. And if I go there, I'm just going to waste a lot of time and be miserable. So I just don't go. So you're going to go there for me.


MJ: Pretty much. Let's face it, Internet can be a very dangerous place, and you should never go alone. But the thing is that most of our community is really wonderful people. So the feedback that we are receiving is heartwarming, is positive. But there is always this one dickhead who just comes to spoil your day. And their main focus is just to make sure that you're as miserable as they are. And the goal is don't engage. Just leave it. If you approach it with love and positivity this probably won't work. If you approach it in the same manner as they do you have a shitstorm. So I try to avoid that. There's always someone who's not going to like what you're doing. Who’s always going to have something to say about your work, about your dog, you know, whatever you're doing. But, you know, let them.


GW: Yeah, my view is I don't ever share anything that if I don’t think I'm doing people a favour by sharing it. And when I do come across trolling stuff, I just ignore. Block or delete if that's available or just ignore it. But it's still unpleasant.


MJ: It is, and I understand that. If you can, for instance, if you are a creator, any form, it's better to hire someone who's going to manage, for instance, the comments and the audience for you and just filter. So you don't think personally what someone is saying.


GW: If somebody says something horrible about my friend's book, I know that poster is an idiot, but it's not personally offensive to me. It doesn't make me feel particularly bad, right? Because I know this is just the stuff that when you produce a book, some people are going to hate it, some people going to hate you for writing it. It doesn't matter what the book is. This is always true. So I can take that detached attitude to my friend's work. But when it's my own, it's like, that's my baby. You can't call it ugly, or I'll get very upset.


MJ: You know? I can say that don't take it personally. Don't dive into comments section. But I do have experiences like that as well. I mean, I have my Instagram channel Messer Girl and I post HEMA related things over there. And quite often I'm also getting comments from people not necessarily related to the community. As in, you're a woman, why are you using swords? Back to 2009 and, you know, flashbacks and everything or that wouldn't work in the street, which is just one of my favourites.


GW: What street do you live on? I mean, Jesus, chop somebody’s head off with a sword, it works on any street.


MJ: Mean, what I have over here are cats and seagulls in the street. And, you know, that's the extent. But for the love of God, you know, I get lots of stuff like that and I shouldn't dive into it. So I try not to, but it still affects me. I mean, I'm a person. I have feelings. So I want to share with people, what I love doing, right. I don't want to invite someone like that.


GW: And as a woman, you probably also get lots and lots of like concern trolling or mansplaining, do you get a lot of that?


MJ: I do.


GW: Why am I not surprised? It's like every woman I ever talk to has this exact same problem.


MJ: But the thing is, when we discuss things like that amongst women, non-binary folk, we have the same stories. And since every one of us has the same story about harassment, why aren't we doing something about that? Why is it still a problem? 2022 and we deal with shit like that.


GW: What is there to be done? What practical steps can be taken that would actually work?


MJ: I think that a lot also depends on our upbringing because women in general are brought up to take less space, to be polite and to be accommodating. And personally, I'm trying to fight this.


GW: Just on a site note, you should meet my younger daughter. She has not absorbed any of that from the culture around her.


MJ: Very good. You know, it's going to be easier for her. But the thing is that you don’t owe anyone politeness. You don't owe anyone smiles. You don't know anyone to be accommodating. And what we need to learn is pretty much how to stand our ground and how to reclaim that space that has been taken from us. How to reclaim the voiceless.


GW: You're looking at it from the perspective of what women can do. I was thinking more like how do we stop the behaviour that's causing the problem?


MJ: Well, for instance, we can stop with the practise of missing stairs in the community, when we know that the person exhibits concerning behaviour, quite often we just discuss this, for instance, at the events with whispers or over a beer. We don't necessarily correct that behaviour in the public space.


GW: Okay. Yeah. Missing stair. I'm familiar with it, but it's I'm guessing half the listeners will probably not know what that is.


MJ: So a missing stair is a person that everyone knows that they should stay away from, but no one really speaks out loud about that. So it's a well, let's put that frankly, a predator, for instance, whether it's a man or a woman. We have those people.


GW: Okay. So that's sort of in the real world, in real life, as it were. Online I think maybe one simple thing would be a system of effective reporting to the platform and the platform actually doing something about it. That might work.


MJ: That might be helpful, but we all know that Facebook is not really a place to do that. Nor Instagram, it's just one the universe.


GW: But yeah, but the problem with both of those platforms is that the customers are the advertisers, not the profile owners. The people on the platform are not the customers. So the business cares about its customers. It doesn't care about it's not customers. Wouldn't it be awesome if you actually had to pay for something like Facebook? Maybe like $2 a month or something? That by itself, I think, would cut out most of it.


MJ: Interesting. I think that we take for granted things that are free.


GW: But also, when it's free, you have no rights. You have no real right to complain. You have no real right to change anything. And things can be changed at whim. I mean, this is why, when we were chatting yesterday about content scheduling and that sort of stuff, I never, not for a long time, post directly on places like Facebook. So I don't create a post in Facebook. I create a post on my blog that I own and I share to Facebook because I don't want to build things on a platform which I don't have an ownership stake in, because then I'm not the customer. Same reason I moved all my videos off YouTube and deleted my YouTube account. And I moved them onto Vimeo because on Vimeo I'm the customer. I pay them money to host my videos. The relationship is really clear. On YouTube I am just somebody producing free content for them to make advertising money off, which doesn't ever strike me as a good thing.


MJ: Unfortunately not. However, we also need to take into account where is your customer? Our HEMA customers are on Facebook.


GW: Which is why I'm paying you to sort them out for me.


MJ: You need to be there pretty much where your community is. Our community is predominantly located on Facebook, you know, years ago it was forums.


GW: But my discord server is quite active. For people who if they buy a book or support me on Patreon or buy a course or whatever, they get invited onto the discord server. And so there's like a filtering process. But also all of my podcast guests are invited. Not all of them come. But I will be sending you an invite. You are very welcome to come. Entirely non-professional. This is just you yourself. You don't have to work there, you could just chat with sword people. And so far, it's been running for well over a year, maybe two years now. And it's lovely. You go there and people talk about sword stuff and manuscripts and gardening and various other things that they are interested in and share pictures of that new sword and that sort of thing. And there's absolutely no snark at all.


MJ: That's interesting because whenever you engage in a conversation on Facebook in one of the groups, Jesus, you know, first ten comments, they might be on topic and then it goes, you know.


GW: Yeah, it goes to shit so quickly.


MJ: Exactly. And though I just spoke to Oskar, why is he molesting the keyboard so much and he's or someone disagrees with me.


GW: Like, no, no, no.


MJ: No.


GW: No, don't go there. Because though you could spend your whole life correcting people who are wrong on the Internet and they would still not agree with you.


MJ: No, I do think, however, that it's one of his favourite pastime activities.


GW: Well, if you enjoy it, then fine.


MJ: But I have to say that I miss the warm atmosphere of actually discussion, of having healthy conversation with people without going personal. Just two folks enjoying the same hobby, nerding out, as you say about a new sword, I would like to be able to do that.


GW: Well, I'll send you a discord link.


MJ: Looking forward to that.


GW: I will do it straight away. There's no need to wait until this comes out.


MJ: Yeah, that sounds like a fantastic place.


GW: Yeah. It's lovely. And we've got Michael Chidester and Jessica Finley discussing aspects of a German manuscript. I just read it and go, I didn't know that. So what made you think that there was, and you're clearly right to think this, it is not a ‘what were you thinking?’ question; What makes you think that there was actually a role or a niche for your company within such a specific small niche of the market worldwide. Historical martial arts is tiny compared to, say, baseball.


MJ: It's very tiny. And most people also know each other, right? At the events, you know, we catch up during the weekends. I wanted to make sure that people can continue doing what they love. So if you're writing books, I would like you to keep doing that. I want you to be able to create the courses for your students. You don't need to take care of other sides of business. Like, genuinely, you should focus only what makes you happy. You don't have to take care of every aspect of running a company.


GW: I've had an accountant since I moved to Finland in 2001 and I've never done my own accounts at all, ever. Why would I?


MJ: I am not touching that either. It's like me and numbers, that's not a good combination. I stay away from that. But I wanted to be able to help companies who need to get the word out about the wonderful projects that they do, but they don't have time. If you ever discussed, for instance, with sword makers, they are the most busy people I've come across in my life.


GW: And they work such long hours.


MJ: Oh, my God. Monday through Sunday. Sunrise to sundown pretty much. And the other thing is, the companies don't have budgets to hire dedicated people on a contract that will be doing 40 hours, like we said, work for them. So I think that it's extremely important to be flexible. And as a freelancer, as someone who runs their own business, I can do that. I can devote 5 hours to this company. I can devote 20 hours to this company to make sure that all their needs are met and they're not breaking the bank doing that.


GW: Okay. Did you actually do any like market research or business plans or anything like that before you started?


MJ: I did. Actually, low key, I think that I performed the biggest market research in the HEMA community, listing all the clubs that we have in the world. It took me actually several months.


GW: By which time it’s almost certainly out of date because there would be another club that’s started and then this one club has died.


MJ: Yeah, actually the sad thing is that a lot of clubs didn't make it through the pandemic.


GW: That's true.


MJ: They had to close doors and that's really unfortunate. But yes, I did plenty of market research or business strategies. This is not something that I fully enjoy. If I have to do that, I will. But I will always take creative work over that.


GW: Yeah. I've never done a business plan in my life.


MJ: And how is it going for you?


GW: Just fine.


MJ: Exactly. Not everyone needs it. You know, I was surprised, like when I was talking to fresh business owners in some countries you actually need to bring a business plan to the Chamber of Commerce when you register a business.


GW: Oh really? I didn’t know that.


MJ: I didn't have that. You know, I just went I registered and I thought that I’ll figure it out along the way. Either it works or it doesn’t, and if it doesn’t I will figure out something else.


GW: Yeah. And to my mind, the main purpose of a business plan is to persuade banks or investors or whatever to give you money. And if you're not looking for investors, what do you want a business plan for? Because it is mostly made up anyway, and it's predictions of the future which will never, ever come true. Even if you're very, very good, they're not going to be exactly right.


MJ: Exactly. Well, for me, for instance, this is not the business model that I want to pursue. If you have investors, you have so many leashes around your neck. Restraints. You owe people explanations, results, most important and I wouldn't like to do that. If it's me and my team, we have way more flexibility to do whatever we want to do.


GW: Yeah. A client is like an investor in that sense. It's a certain accountability. Like, you say you are going to do this stuff by this time, because otherwise you lose your credibility. But it's not the same thing as an investor.


MJ: No, it's a completely different relationship. I know a couple of my friends would have to deal, for instance, with investors, and they're one of the most stressed people I know in my life. So no, I am happy just running my business as it is, probably bringing on board someone in the near future because unfortunately or fortunately, my company is quite popular. So right now I am actually in need of someone who's going to help me out over here.


GW: Okay. This is a good opportunity to be really specific about what you want and say on air, because there may be somebody listening who is mad about swords. Likes what they’ve heard you talking for the last hour, thinks, oh, she's nice. And has the necessary skill set.


MJ: I genuinely am looking for someone who first and foremost loves HEMA. If you have any form of creative sense, if you love working with graphic design, if you are familiar with how social media works, that's enough for me.


GW: So the graphic design, social media experience, you like social media and you are mad about swords. So that's actually a pretty, pretty level, fairly broad skills that you should get. There's no shortage of people with those qualifications. Do they have to live in Holland?


MJ: No, absolutely not. Some of my team members live in Poland, for instance. Some of them are in the States, but that's completely irrelevant. But they need to be passionate about HEMA and what we do. If we have that, we can develop anything else. So if that sounds like something you would like to do, just get in touch. info@audatiacreative.com.


GW: You just put your email address out on the Internet. Oh, no.


MJ: I did that, but I have spam filter. I refuse any dick pictures, OK.


GW: Yeah. What I was going to say is, if you go to the shownotes page for this episode, you can find a contact page for me and I will happily relay any message you have for Mila. But now you've just gone and put your email address out there.


MJ: I just skipped that. Why give you more work?


GW: Well, that's very sweet of you. Okay, so. So I've never actually used this podcast as a kind of historical martial arts specific LinkedIn. But who knows? You may get your perfect hire through it.


MJ: There is a first time for everything. It would genuinely be nice to have someone where I can, spark the ideas with or come up with some new, amazing projects.


GW: So you're looking at someone to sort of build graphics and manage social media accounts and also sort of take a kind of creative interest in the business itself.


MJ: Kind of like a mini me. So I'm happy to teach someone what I know, what I learned during my ten years, pretty much of working with HEMA and be able to develop this apart from HEMA. I actually have also contacts with companies creating movie props, re-enactment gear. So the niche is kind of expanding as well, but they're always working with something that's nerdy, I refuse to just do mainstream because that's not fun.


GW: And also it's difficult to find the people who are interested in that specific thing. It's like it's really easy to find people who are interested in swords generally, longswords in particular, medieval Italian longsword in very particular. And if they're into that, they're probably going to like my books and my courses on that subject. Whereas just swords in general, it's is too general. It’s not specific enough. I think it's really helpful if you have any kind of product to be able to make it really, really specific exactly who it's for and it's in that target easy and from the target it will expand out into a broader market.


MJ: You know, the thing is that you need to also have specific knowledge how the niche works. Where to find your customer. Where to find your people. And I am not going to jump into another niche. Let's say restaurants. I know nothing about restaurants. I love going there, but I wouldn't feel comfortable offering my services to a pub, for instance. That's not what interests me. I have no knowledge of what their customers like, what they're doing. Whereas when it comes to HEMA, this is my job, this is my hobby, this is my passion, my work. And yeah, I pretty much know everything about the world. I have people who do so many wonderful things. That's what I want to do.


GW: Excellent. So what is the best idea you haven't acted on yet?


MJ: Well, you know, when you actually forward the questions to me because, side note, I got a couple of questions to prepare for our podcast. I was actually talking to Oskar and he told me something really funny, funny for me. It’s I always act on every single idea I have, and either it works or it doesn't. But I don’t let things lie. I've tried so many different things in my life. I used to be, for instance, a private detective.


GW: Hold on a second! You were a private detective?


MJ: I was actually, for a couple of years I was doing that in Poland.


GW: Where in Poland?


MJ: My hometown in Poland.


GW: Okay. And what did it entail?


MJ: Oh obviously, I can talk a lot about what actions we did, but there  were quite a lot of undercover visits. Let's put it like that. Companies looking for people as well.


GW: Finding missing persons. Divorces? Were there many divorce cases where somebody thinks their spouse is having an affair and you go tail them.


MJ: There were cases like that, but I’ve never touched them. You never know what exactly the story is. I don’t to do something where I chose the wrong side, you know. So I stayed clear from that. But theft, investigating theft, for instance, stuff like that.


GW: How did you get into that?


MJ: Well, I was a broke student and I needed money.


GW: Okay.


MJ: Yeah, pretty much.


GW: So you applied to an agency and they trained you?


MJ: Well, everything was kind of a little bit more in the shadows, let’s put it like that. There were never any official training. You just met with the agency and they were screening you. Do you have the brains to do that? Is your appearance, let's say, common enough that you can easily blend in with the society if you, for instance, need to track someone. So things like that. It was also very helpful that I spoke multiple languages. I spoke Polish, English, German, Spanish, Latin, actually.


GW: Not so also useful for a private investigator, probably.


MJ: No, but very fancy.


GW: Yes, very fancy.


MJ: Yeah. So I did that for a while and I was doing it until it actually lost its appeal and I wanted to try something new. But that's the thing, if you have an idea, just act on it. Either you suck at it or you don't, you can do it for a day or you can do it for ten years, like for instance with the swords. So I don't have ideas I don't act on. If something goes into my head, I just try to make it happen.


GW: So do you have any filter for really bad ideas? So you don’t end up being something incredibly stupid?


MJ: No.


GW: I have that problem too. I'm in the middle of doing something that I know is absolutely brilliant. Then I go, okay, hang on. This is really stupid.


MJ: Well, I have Oskar, he is voice of reason in this relationship.


GW: My wife serves a similar role.


MJ: Yeah, it's useful to have that.


GW: Sometimes I don't run the idea by her because I know she's going to shoot it down and I want to try it anyway.


MJ: Exactly. I'm sorry, Oskar, if you're listening. Sometimes when I know that he's definitely going to say no, I just don't tell him.


GW: Yeah.


MJ: He’s wonderful enough that when I actually do something that I shouldn't and I come back to complain, he doesn't say I told you so, or like, you shouldn't do that. It's like he's always comforting. He’s amazing.


GW: Good. That's what it's supposed to be like. My wife is the same. Maybe my wife is actually Oskar. They sound very similar.


MJ: I think that everyone should have their own Oscar.


GW: Okay. Well my next question is ‘and if someone gave you €1,000,000 to spend improving historical martial arts worldwide, how would you spend it?’ Robotic Oskars is obviously the right answer.


MJ: Yeah, but they definitely need to have the fancy moustache that he has.


GW: You can put that on a robot.


MJ: Yeah. If we can add, like, pomade to the box, that should also be good.


GW: Okay. But in all seriousness, I don't think perhaps robotic Oskars can be done for just a million Euros. And they're not really that historical martial arts specific. So how would you spend the money?


MJ: You know what? I would love to be able to create events as a safe space for women, non-binary people and marginalised people, and be able to offer scholarships, for instance.


GW: Okay, I know such events do exist. I know Fran Lacuata, for instance.


MJ: Exactly. So we have By the Sword in the UK. There used to be also a Frauen Tech in Germany. But I haven't heard anything about that. And I think there might be something in Canada. But we are discussing three events that I am aware of worldwide.


GW: Know my friend Kaja runs Big Gay Sword Day, which is similar in theme.


MJ: She’s in Canada, right?


GW: Yeah, they’re in Vancouver. And a friend of mine, Connor, in Texas. He's also run a Big Gay Sword Day for his club. This is the same sort of idea, I think. But then would you use the money for the event or for the scholarships?


MJ: Both. So one part of the idea was to create the events and second scholarships, but scholarships for people to be able to attend the events that they normally can’t afford. If you have a look, for instance, of the line-up of instructors, at most of the events, this is like 80, 90% of men, and women - not much. And the thing is that we have so many women with amazing ideas that are able to run fascinating workshops, but we just don't invite them. So I would be able to pay the fare, the accommodation, pay them for teaching and have them there. That'll be pretty awesome.


GW: That would.


MJ: Out of curiosity, what would you do with the million euros?


GW: I keep getting asking these questions to the guests. There's been over 100 guests so far. So I've gotten a lot of different answers. But they tend to boil down into creating events, creating scholarships. Making equipment more available. Creating a permanent centre, like a research centre with, basically like a castle with like training halls and armouries and a stables and a place for archery. There's all sorts of possibilities. The thing I think historical martial arts is fundamentally missing. Is a properly moderated international space like Facebook, but properly moderated, all the arseholes get filtered out. And the reason it would take quite a lot of money is you'd have to build it. And then you'd have to run it. And the people running it should be paid to run it and the people on it should pay to be on it. But in proportion to what is reasonable, given their financial status. So some people may be paying a dollar a month and other people might be paying fifty dollars a month. If you took all the historical martial arts Facebook groups that exist and you put them all on one platform and made it not Facebook. You know, zero tolerance for trolling, mansplaining, disrespectful behaviour of any kind, that sort of thing. So that people would get kicked off immediately. I mean there would have to be a review process. You can't say, oh, somebody was mean to me, and off they go.


MJ: Yeah, but actually when you report an issue, it's dealt with.


GW: When you report an issue it’s actually dealt with by human being in a timely manner. The thing is, Facebook has a billion users or more. They can't reasonably do that. The proportion of users on Facebook to Facebook employees must be something close to a thousand to one.


MJ: Just last week I got the information about my report that I filed two years ago.


GW: Okay.


MJ: It was rejected, by the way. How rude.


GW: Fuck them. But then think like we'd only be talking about maybe 10,000 people. Maybe 20,000. If we include the SCA, as we should, they're actually quite a bit bigger but they have a bunch of stuff that isn't the swords. So a lot of the SCA people wouldn't necessarily be interested because it's not the SCA stuff that they do. Maybe it's 50,000 people. Which is small by Internet standards.


MJ: More manageable.


GW: It’s manageable. Exactly. And it could be managed by admins and moderators. And having the filter of you actually have to pay for it. But it's not run as a business for profit, it is run as a service to the community that the community pays for. So the million euros would get us started maybe. I think €10 million. It is my imaginary money so I am going to add an extra nine. Because I think then there would be better interactions between more people. And if the whole thing was set up entirely for the benefit of the art itself and it would make money, probably. If you have got 50,000 people paying an average of $20 a month, that is $1,000,000 a month in turnover. That is a lot of money that we could put towards scholarships, paying translators, creating permanent training spaces, subsidising equipment sales so that, for example, our friend Anthony in France can send weapons to some country that has a poor exchange rate with the euro, I don’t know, Peru maybe. And so the community as a whole subsidises the community. That's fucking genius. What do you think?


MJ: So are we discussing a new project?


GW: Yeah, maybe, maybe. And for me, like the shibboleth test is. Would I actually want to spend time on there?


MJ: I like a lot of people would like to.


GW: I think they would. But the problem is getting people from Facebook on to this Swordbook, whatever it's going to be called.


MJ: Well, if you allow cat videos, I'm pretty sure we can manage.


GW: Well, I think there would have to be a separate category of cat videos because it's well known that every internet project that does not have cat videos on it fails. So we'd have to have a category for the cat videos just to insure the project against failure.


MJ: I have a really good example in front of me right now.


GW: Yes, for the listeners, Mila’s cat has made an appearance and is now getting the attention it deserves.


MJ: Well, we could give it the shot. Let's see. I am really curious actually investigate this, out of pure curiosity, whether something like that would have a chance to succeed.


GW: Yeah. See, I think it would. It has just come to mind, I used to rent office space from the university here in Ipswich and there was a bloke there who ran something just like that for truckers in the UK.


MJ: Truckers. I’m not their niche.


GW: Yeah, right. It’s a defined niche. Truck drivers have specific needs, specific interests, specific information is useful to them that is not useful to other people. Specific skills that they may want to develop or talk about. Have you ever seen a really experienced truck driver loading the back of his lorry with those wire frame things that they take milk crates around in them? Oh, my God. These people have skills. And his business, which was doing very well and making him a fortune, was making a whole bunch of truckers in the UK very, very happy. If he could do that for truckers. I don't see why we couldn't do that for sword people.


MJ: You know what? After we are done with our lovely chat, you can let me know when this one goes live and pretty much create a poll, you know, on Facebook and Instagram, asking people whether they would be actually interested in a platform purely dedicated to HEMA.


GW: We have to drop the ‘E’. Because it's not just historical European martial arts, it's historical martial arts generally. I will die on this hill if I need to, because otherwise, like my friend Dr. Khorosani, who does Persian martial arts, he can’t come. And honestly, he would kick most of our arses. He's really, really good at sword fighting and it would be silly to not include him. To my mind, the ‘H’ is sufficient because what defines what we do is that we care about the sources, and we get our martial art from written sources from people who are long dead. That's what makes them historical. That process, if the sources exist, can be done this with sources from any period, any culture, any country, any language. I'm not aware of sufficiently detailed sources that have been written in Japanese, for instance. Most of them tend to be much more like Zettel, but without all the glosses that make the Zettel useful. But if they existed, we could have the historical martial arts approach could be applied to Japanese art or Filipino art or whatever. You just need to have written sources. So we need to drop the ‘E’ off the project.


MJ: I think we can drop the ‘E’ because I just think about that a lot of people use that ‘E’ as a matter of gatekeeping and that's fucking disgusting. The art is there to enjoy it by everyone. And I would love to, for instance, learn more about Persian martial arts. So maybe I should have a chat with your friend.


GW: He's been on the show. You can listen to his podcast episode and I'll happily to put you in touch. He's a is a fascinating bloke and I met him in New Zealand and I watched him teach and I watched him do a bit of sparring. I would happily fence him any day. I would not want to fight him ever.


MJ: Do you think that this would work in the street?


GW: Yeah, pretty much any street where they don't have guns.


MJ: So. Yeah, sounds amazing. Let's do this.


GW: Well, maybe we shall. Maybe we shall. Let’s see. All right. Well, thank you so much for joining me today. And it's been lovely talking to you.


MJ: Thanks for the chat. Was a pleasure.



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