Episode 17: Maori Martial Arts, Bartitsu, and can an Uruk bench-press a motorcycle? With Tony Wolf

Episode 17: Maori Martial Arts, Bartitsu, and can an Uruk bench-press a motorcycle? With Tony Wolf


Tony Wolf is an author, lecturer, antiquarian, and has trained in a very wide range of martial arts. In this conversation we discuss everything from Maori martial arts to Professional Wrestling, Victorian combatives to the Lord of the Rings (he designed the fighting styles for the different peoples of Middle Earth).
And yes, he answers the question: can an Uruk bench press a motorcycle?

In the show we discuss the Maori martial art Te Mau Taiaha, and he mentions the reality TV series called "Toa" ("Warrior").  In addition, Tony recommends "The Dead Lands", “which is basically "Apocalypto" set in prehistoric New Zealand.  Lots of stylistically accurate fighting.”
The weapon is a Taiaha:

Taiaha, from http://www.ahua-nzmaoriart.com/

You can find his many books at his Amazon author page here.
You can see his excellent documentary on the Suffragettes’ martial arts training, “No Man Shall Protect Us” here:

No Man Shall Protect Us: The Hidden History of the Suffragette Bodyguards from Wolf Point Media on Vimeo.


And you can find his equally interesting Bartitsu documentary “Bartitsu: The Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes” on DVD here: http://www.freelanceacademypress.com/bartitsu.aspx

Episode Transcription

GW: Hello everyone, and welcome to the show. This is Guy Windsor, also known as The Sword Guy. And I'm here today with Tony Wolf, a martial artist and author, antiquarian and lecturer who I've known for many years. He is perhaps best known in our circles for books like The Bartitsu Compendium, which is a very thorough study of the late 19th century art of Bartitsu which I’m sure Tony will be talking a lot about later. And also the book Ancient Sword Play, which looks at the very first, or first as far as we know, reconstruction of historical martial arts back again at the end of the 19th century. He has many other books, which I hope we'll get into, But you should not miss the Suffrajitsu Graphic novels and his most recent book is The Life and Fantastical “Crimes” of Spring Heeled Jack. And if that isn't an excellent title for a book, I don't know what is. So without further ado, Tony, welcome to the show.

TW: Thank you so much for having me, Guy. It's a pleasure to be here.

GW: It's nice to see you again. So just to orient everyone, whereabouts in the world are you, Tony?

TW: In Chicago, of all places, Chicago, Illinois, in the USA.

GW: You're not from there originally though?

TW: How could you tell? No, I relocated here after a period of traveLling around the world a lot. I’m originally from New Zealand. Wellington, New Zealand. During my travels during the early 2000s, I started to travel pretty extensively to the point where I was on the road, typically at least six months out of a given year.

GW: That’s a lot.

TW: Yes, it was. I’m too old for that now. But during one of those travels, I met a lady in Chicago and we fell in love and got married and ended up living here.

GW: That's the best reason to live in a place, isn't it?

TW: It kind of is.

GW: So according to your bio, you began training martial arts in 1978, which is even longer than me, sir. And there aren't many people in our sphere who can say that. So specifically, you were doing Taekwondo and I know you've trained just about everything else as well. So what have been some of your favourite styles and what drew you to them?

TW: Oh, wow, favourite styles. I love Capoeira. I have never had a chance to study that in depth or for any extended period of time. But it is a joyous art. The art of the free, they used to call it. Te mau taiaha, which I’ll have to explain, because no one outside of New Zealand knows what that is. And that is one of the traditional Maori martial arts. The way I look at it is every martial art is kind of a microcosm of the culture that created it and in some cases, of the personalities of the people who created it, and Taiaha has this fascinating ritual component. It's very effective. It's difficult to describe the weapon, the Taiaha. New Zealanders know about it, at least culturally, if not technically, in the sense of martial arts. But it's a kind of a combination staff and spear or staff and short spear weapon. The art itself is a very highly efficient method of hand-to-hand combat. But what really drew me to that was the ritual and the poetry of the way that style is structured.

GW: Feel free to go into the weeds. What are we talking about? I mean, I've been to New Zealand. I saw a display of a Maori warrior who had a like a four foot long wooden weapon, and he was brandishing it, not too dissimilarly to a longsword. But there was clearly lots of display elements in there as well, like facial expressions and things like that. So is that what we're talking about?

TW: Four foot would be on the short side for a Taiaha. But almost certainly. I mean, very few people know, but the Maori had a fantastically detailed system of martial arts. All sorts of weapons that people have never heard of, which unfortunately have just been forgotten other than the general form of what the weapon was. This is the frustrating thing for me, I was interested and became interested in kind of martial arts exotica when I was very young, when I was a young teenager, I spent a lot of time in the dojos and so forth, but about equal time in the libraries and was very quickly drawn to the exotic and the unusual. And it occurred to me at the age of about 13 or something; I'm living in New Zealand, I know that pre-European contact Maori cultures had all manner of weapons because I'm familiar with the basics of them. The ceremonial use in Haka and that sort of thing. But clearly they also had systematized methods of hand-to-hand fighting. So what can we find out about them? I did the research that I could decades before the Internet, found some interesting stuff written by ethnographers in the late 19th century, early 20th century. But all of this was just at the time, just really prior to the time, when the various tribal styles that had in fact persisted during the rather dark years of the early and mid 20th century when the cultural thrust was towards assimilation.

GW: Right.

TW: But some of the tribal styles had, in fact, been maintained to various levels of sophistication. And at the time that I became interested in it, that was all still basically underground at the time. But once I was in my early 20s, it was just starting to sort of appear in any sort of public arena. And that was when I first got my training with a guy called Steve Hiperry in Hastings in the Hawke's Bay and unfortunately I didn't know of anyone who was teaching the art in Wellington, just where I was living. I got a little bit more training here and there over the years. But really since then, since the mid late 1980s, the art has become organized kind of on the same model as, say, Asian martial arts. So nowadays, if I was that age now, I would really be able to go along to a local Marae, which is the word for a meeting area, sort of like a community context, and there'd be a good chance that I'd be able to take Taiaha classes, which is an opportunity I would certainly have loved when I was in my early 20s.

GW: I can imagine. Do you practice that at all?

TW: When I was younger. I haven't for years; it was one of the styles that we used as reference for some of the Lord of the Rings stuff. Actually, like the use of the Elvish two handed sword. I’ll talk about the Lord of the Rings business later on, but we very deliberately didn't adopt techniques or stylistic markers from any real world martial arts when we were developing that stuff, but we did have a Taiaha expert come in for what's called “movement reference” and we’ve got some of his work on video. But I was talking before about the ritual and the poetry. And you will have seen if you saw somebody doing a ceremonial display with a Taiaha. There's a lot of flash and flourish to that aspect of the style because it was so thoroughly interwoven into the fabric of pre-European contact Maori culture.

GW: It reminded me a little bit of the Assalti in Bolognese swordsmanship, done with a two handed sword, which is basically the display that you do to establish your moral authority or to scare your opponent before the actual fencing happens.

TW: That's a very apt parallel. Yeah, and exactly the same. In perhaps a slightly more ritualistic context, but it is exactly the same function in pre-European Maori society where your skill with the Taiaha in terms of your mastery of it, the sense of your ability to manipulate the object in space, was effectively a mark of your and therefore your tribe’s mana, which is your spiritual status. But because there's this animistic thread running throughout Maori culture at that time, you have actions which make no combative sense when you use the weapons ceremonially, like there are various poses when you lift a Taiaha up - it's frustrating because unless you've seen a Taiaha, this is not going to make a lot of sense. But the spear-like end, basically it's typically five, five and a half foot long, quarterstaff-like weapon, ovular in cross section, so it's very easy to hold on, it has kind of an edge. One end, which I think is called the Ro has a broad spatulate and sharpened, almost spade-like diameter. The other end is a protruding tongue and people will have seen athletes and so on performing the Maori Haka. And you'll notice that they often stick their tongues out very dramatically and widen their nose.

GW: The chap I saw did that.

TW: This is pūkana. This is defiance, a gesture of defiance, sometimes thought, (although this goes way back into the mythology,) but it's sometimes thought to be in imitation of Tūmatauenga the god of war, sometimes manifested as a lizard. The protruding tongue, which forms the point of the spear effectively, there's an ornate carving typically separating the tongue from the shaft. And the carving is a stylized set of eyes. So there’s a sort of highly stylized face with this large, sharpened tongue protruding from it. There are postures in ceremonial Taiaha use where we lift that up so that weapon’s vertically held up upright and next to your head. And this posture makes no combative sense at all. But in animistic symbology, what you're doing is holding the tongue of your weapon up to your ear so that the eyes, which are able to see in all directions because essentially it's carved so that they face in all four directions so that the eyes are able to warn you of danger.

GW: Ah, interesting

TW: Yeah, and a number of the footwork patterns are named after the way birds move and that sort of thing.

GW: Just as an aside, I'm going to find a decent picture of a Taiaha and stick it in the show notes so people listening who want the visual can see what we're talking about.

TW: Well there is a lot of good footage these days of people using the weapon. In fact there was a reality TV show.

GW: They get everywhere.

TW: Yeah, I was very impressed with it. This was well after I'd left New Zealand, and I can't recall the title right now. We had various champions representing different parts of the country - the styles tend to go by tribe. And they had these people doing various tests of endurance and that sort of thing. And then the climax of each episode is a full contact Taiaha fight. They're wearing protective equipment, obviously. Facsimiles. But that that's interesting because it shows you know, in martial arts, there's the aphorism or the saying about how you train is how you fight and what my observation is, like in Italian martial arts, Italian folk styles and so on, certainly also in Taiaha and Capoeira and others, that doesn't really hold true because the martial style, yes it's a fighting technique, but also it serves a large number of other functions. It's a kind of initiation into traditionally manhood and it serves other social functions and so on as well. And so you get these ceremonial elements which you wouldn't attempt to pull off in the fight. But the fact that you're able to perform them, the fact that you have the strength and the coordination and so on to perform the more acrobatic or more ceremonial aspects, I think would stand you in good stead when you resort to the more directly efficient basics in an actual fight.

GW: Sure. Yeah, and most might want to have some element of display, because a lot of human violence is about displays. You see them everywhere. I mean, military uniforms of the 18th century being a great example. European military uniforms. It's like, that's not camouflage. You can't sneak from cover to cover in that. But you can certainly look the part.

TW: Yeah, precisely. I mean, there are entire cultures where, you know, the cultural enactment of war is basically a ceremony. There are tribal groups in Papua New Guinea who have been fighting ceremonial battles for decades, centuries, who knows? And they'll spend all year preparing their incredibly ornate feathered headdresses and warrior costumes and so forth. But the actual battle they will fight basically with less efficient weapons, like they won't use their hunting spears and arrows. They'll use blunts, basically. It's still dangerous, people still get wounded, people still occasionally die. But the aim of the war in that context isn't to kill each other so much as to ritually reinforce your own tribe's strength and cohesion.

GW: It's like the medieval concept of prowess.

TW:  Yes. Precisely.

GW: And if it wasn't actually dangerous, there wouldn't be any bravery component. Fascinating.

TW: Kind of a pressure valve I guess. Pressure release.

GW: Sure. OK, so you train some Taiaha. You've trained some other things. Somebody once told me that you did some pro-wrestling back in the day.

TW: I did. Yes.

GW: Which is, I guess, well, as I see it, pro-wrestling is a very high level kind of stage combat, stunt man, sort of thing, where you have a combination of actual fighting and lots of choreographed stuff, but I may have got that completely wrong. So can you tell a little something about it?

TW: I can tell you a bit about that. I am bound sentimentally by a thing called kayfabe, which means that I cannot even now go into certain details. It is a long tradition. But the way I got into pro-wrestling, I was teaching something or other. I can't even remember now if it was a martial arts class or self-defense or stunt fighting. But at this glorious old-school wrestling gym in a suburb cool called Kilbirnie in Wellington, New Zealand and I was finishing up teaching my classes regularly on Saturday mornings. And then these giants would come in as we were finishing up and fairly quickly cottoned on because I recognized some of them from a pro-wrestling show that had been phenomenally popular a number of years earlier when I was a kid, a TV show called On the Mat. They'd had a touring wrestling show, they toured throughout the country full time. And then every week there would be a televised broadcast. Incredibly popular show. And I recognized a number of these guys coming into the gym from that. OK, they're bringing pro-wrestling back, because this was just when the WWF, now the WWE I think, it was just when their Superstars of Wrestling show had massively hit pop culture, so the old school New Zealand wrestlers said, well, we'll jump on this bandwagon. And they happened to be using this wrestling gym for their training. And so at that time, I was getting into stunt work and I thought this would be an incredibly useful skill set. One day I went up to the guy who seemed to be in charge and said, look, you know, explained my situation. This would be great, can I join in? And he looked at me and said, no mate, we really need bigger guys for this game. You know, you're a bit small. And so I said, OK, fair enough. But then to me, it became the whole Shaolin Temple, waiting in the garden. And so the next week, I'd be finishing up my class, they would be coming in. I said I really would like to have a go at this, I'm quite athletic and doing martial arts for years and so on. So eventually probably to shut me up, the guy agrees, he says, “Sanna, come over here.” “Yes, boss.” Comes this booming. Over comes chief Sanna. A Samoan Matai tribal chief, tattooed thighs, my height in both directions. Just a giant man. And so the coach says, okay, Sanna go to go down to the referee's position to see what this guy can do. So Sanna drops down to the ref’s position, which in amateur wrestling is a very strongly braced position on the mat. You’re down on your hands and knees. Everything is spread. Your head's up, you’re braced against any attempt to flip you over, which is what I was challenged to do. And so I jump on him and I'm trying every dirty wrestling trick I know. Round the neck and everything. Nothing's working because not only was he an enormous man, he was also an expert amateur wrestler, and he could shift. And it was like wrestling the back end of a pickup truck. There was nothing. And they were laughing at me, of course, until in sheer desperation, I jumped onto his neck so that my legs were wrapped underneath his arms. Which is a lunatic move. It made no sense, except that at precisely that instant, he shifted his weight. The combination of me doing a lunatic thing and him shifting his weight at that instant was that he was neatly flipped over like a turtle and pinned. Now to anyone watching, it looked as if I'd pulled off an incredible wrestling throw. They patted me on the back. “All right, welcome aboard, mate. We could use someone with that talent.” So I spent the next two years or so travelling around the country, wrestling as the Canadian Wolverine.

GW: The Canadian Wolverine? OK, all right. The bad is the “heel” and the nice guy is the “face”, so which were you, the face or the heel?

TW: Well, interesting, because I was about half as big as everybody else we assumed that I would be a face, a baby face, because I'd have the crowd sympathy. That didn’t work, we discovered instantly. I was weightlifting and so on, but I'm like five feet, six inches tall. And so no matter how much weight lifting I did, I just wasn't taken seriously in the ring. So we instantly reconceive the Wolverine as a heel, as a bad guy. And so I’d mouth off to the audience and we created this sort of sneaky little trickster persona. And that went over really well. And that they bought me perfectly well as a heel with what was my best attempt at the time at a Canadian accent, which later on I said basically I sound like I came from the Bronx, but I guess New Zealanders in the 80s didn't know that. Or that’s what I tell myself. Yeah, it's great fun. A very colourful lifestyle when you're doing that work full time. Terrific training and stunt performance.

GW: It strikes me that they're doing basically like stunt shows, at a really high level on a daily basis. And it's amazing to me that they're not just dying of broken necks, when I watch what they’re doing.

TW: Oh, you do want to get out of that game, in my opinion, while you still can. But, yeah, the thing with what we were doing was I was at the absolute tail end of old-school, British blue collar pro-wrestling. In that the guys that I was working with were mostly bouncers, dock workers. The people who worked in the… truckers, that sort of thing. These days, a lot of professional wrestlers are, you know, videogame geeks.

GW: Really?

TW: Yeah. But no, we were at the tail end of the old British style. And that meant that everything we did in the ring was improvised. There was nothing choreographed in the way that you'd stage a stunt fight for TV or film or a stage fight. You train and train and train until literally, no matter what the guy throws at you, you can respond not only in character, but in a way that keeps the keeps the story going and, as it were, plausible. And it's a high art. When describing it to acting students, I compare it to the Comedia del Arte. It's basically combat improvisation at an acrobatic level. It's enormously exhilarating to perform.

GW: So did you know who was going to win? I mean, was that scripted?

TW: That falls under this thing called kayfabe.

GW: Oh, OK. So what is kayfabe?

TW: Kayfabe is an old-school carney term. It's a slang and it implies there are things that are kept in house. I'm sure these days if people are intrigued, they can look and there's a whole bunch of people who will have broken kayfabe. But sentimentally on this…

GW: You are not going to be one of them. I respect that. That's perfectly fine. OK. So having gone from pro wrestling, did that take you then into stage combat or combat improvisation? Where did you go from there?

TW: That was all happening at the same time and at this stage it's hard for me to remember. I mean, I had been doing at least stage combat before I started pro wrestling and then that and stunt work and also when I got into historical fencing, it was all happening at the same time, kind of a heady period.

GW: Tell me about getting in historical fencing. I mean, most of the listeners of this show will be sword people. At least, that's my assumption. So how did you get into the historical side of things and what did that look like? Well, in the old days.

TW: Here I've got to go back to when I was a young teenager again and, you know, just for younger listeners, you need to imagine a world not only without the Internet, but if you're living in Wellington, New Zealand, during the mid 80s, if you become interested in something, like I remember writing when I was maybe 13 years old or something in a diary, wouldn't it be cool if you could do Three Musketeers sword fighting as a sport for real? No sense that that was something that was being done anywhere because, you know, I just wasn't aware of it. You know, you'd have a thought or you might see something briefly on a TV show, you might read a paragraph in a book. And then that was it. There was no other way to find out about this stuff. So anyway, I followed through with these interests in unusual martial arts things. I found Arthur Wise’s book in the library.

GW: That's a great book.

TW: Yeah. The Art and History of Personal Combat. As I was doing Taekwando and then Filipino martial arts and kickboxing and a bunch of other things, sort of more mainstream stuff, I sustained this interest in the unusual and came across the Wise book. And so I'm poring through saying, okay, obviously this is something that could be described as a martial art because they're doing all these things. But the nature of the Wise book is there's not a whole hell of a lot of explanation going on. There’s a lot of very intricate pictures.

GW: Yes. It's more like a survey. If I remember rightly, it's been a while since I've read it, but I think he ends up with fighter planes. Duels in the air between pilots.

TW: The bulk of it is illustrations from historical fencing manuals. But there's very little by the way of translation. There's really no technical translations. So when I first started doing historical fencing, we used to just call it “historical reenactment” in I guess the late 80s. We were just blissfully unaware of the entire body of historical fencing material. There were rumours that at a university in Auckland, there was a mysterious book that had been written by a fighter in the 1500s or something. But without travelling to Auckland, which I eventually did, (Auckland’s another city in New Zealand by the way,) there was just nothing. So we just made it up. Peter Lyon was making swords and you'd make quarterstaves and improvise your way through. Focus on the ergonomics of the weapons themselves. Whatever you intuitively did from having watched movies and TV shows. And so you were just kind of making it up, as you will. Well, I did eventually find the book. It was a copy of the Victorian edition of George Silver’s works, although again, I only had a couple of hours at the Auckland University library to pore through this thing. But that was fascinating. And I remember it had a joke that actually made me laugh out loud, which impressed me because it’d been written in fifteen whatever.

GW: 1599, that’s when it was published.

TW: Yes. There was a joke in there, something about, remember the old proverb, it’s good sleeping in a whole skin, which made me laugh out loud.

GW: That's quite something for a grumpy old English bloke from 500 years ago.

TW: So anyway, I was basically out of the historical reenactment combat by the time the first Talhoffer images and so forth started filtering out. In fact, as that was happening, that was pretty much when I was starting on Lord of the Rings. But my main interest in that field, I particularly enjoyed quarterstaff fencing. And so my main interest at that point was professional because clearly from reading Wise or from looking at the pictures in Wise anyway, it was a huge corpus of information that could hugely benefit and certainly diversify what people were doing in terms of staging fights for Shakespearean productions. So as far as I was concerned, the faster people figured that stuff out, the better off the professional stage combat would be.

GW: Yes. I couldn't agree more. OK. Now I have in my notes that you have a thing called combat improvisation, which is something that you teach or used to teach.

TW: Yes, I do.

GW: And there are tantalizing glimpses of it on the Internet. But would you care to go into a little bit? Explain what it's all about?

TW: Sure. Yeah. That is something that I really dates back again to the 80s, I guess. When I first started to teach actors stage combat and what I observed over a period of years, was that initially I was teaching tricks. I was teaching a system of techniques: five ways to stage a slap and eight thrusts with your sword and that sort of thing. What I found was once I trained that first generation of actors and then I’d meet up with them immediately after they graduated, we'd be doing productions on stage. And now the context has shifted. I'm no longer teaching on the stage combat at school, I'm working with them as fellow professionals in a big theater show, TV or whatever. I found that they remembered the moves. They remembered at least some of the moves I had shown them. But they didn't have the versatility that was required of them because if we were if I was doing, say, a show like The Legend of William Tell, which was set in this fantasy world, there were weapons that we certainly had never covered in stage combat. There was a whole sort of movement aesthetic because each of the fantasy cultures for that TV series had their own aesthetic and obviously their own way of moving. If we hadn't covered those things specifically while they were at drama school a number of years before, we were basically beginning from scratch. And so I thought there had to be a better way.

GW: They were lacking fundamentals, basically.

TW: Well, no, they knew the fundamentals, but the fundamentals were very narrow in application. The fundamentals were technical, but they weren't adaptable.

GW: Right. So no principles, really.

TW: Yeah. So what I did was go back into my martial art studies. This idea of attribute training was kind of a wind blowing through the world tree of the Martial Arts during the 80s. It's a post-Jeet Kune Do thing, you know, the idea that rather than compiling enormous lists of techniques to master, you should look at the attributes, the movement skills and the athletic skills that allow you to execute the techniques, with the idea that once that if you master those, then you can sharpen and specialize them into any number of techniques later on. And so that became my guiding philosophy and teaching stage combat. And I developed over the course of a number of years, and particularly when I started to travel and teach internationally, a whole series, kind of an open-ended series, of games and exercises designed to teach seven basic skills. These are movement skills, but really fundamental stuff. Things like what I used to call “synergy”, which is your tactile responsiveness and in historical fencing it’s fühlen in the German tradition, and I can't call to mind the word for that in Italian.

GW: You’re probably thinking of sentimento di ferro.

TW: Thank you. And there was the sentiment of the blade as well, I think, when Hutton was writing about it all, and maybe Burton. Anyway, that stuff. So it occurred to me that that’s not specific to any weapon or even to the fact that you're holding a weapon at all. You can do it as we have done when you railroaded me into doing pushing hands.

GW: Railroaded?! Literally every time Tony and I have been in the same room for the first time in a year or so, like when we meet at an event, we end up doing some kind of push hands type stuff. Literally every time.

TW: That is true. But in my defense, it was railroading from my point of view, because I had never actually done pushing hands before. Pushing hands with you was the first time I've ever done it.

GW: You're kidding.

TW: No, I'm not.

GW: Then how then how on earth did we end up doing it?

TW: I don't know. I think well, I think what happened, like my impression, I remember the first time you came up to me and said, do you want to push hands? I’ll have a go at it. I think it was because you'd probably seen me do some of these synergy exercises.

GW: Right. Yes.

TW: It was true recently enough that I had some Tai Chi in the background, but it wasn’t a class that I'd studied. What I did have through the development of the exercises was a fairly decent understanding of these fundamentals, things like alignment, which is the ability to hold yourself upright and move through space.

GW: Grounding and structure and that sort of thing.

TW: Yeah, and synergy, which is this tactile responsiveness. So yeah I had those. And so to bring it back into the question about combat improv, I, in this fever of invention that lasted a number of years, brought together this this sort of open ended system of exercises that taught those skills, those attributes, and that became the basis of my teaching first stage combat and then increasingly martial arts as well, because I found it worked really, really well. I'm focusing not so much on the detail of the technique at the beginning, but on your ability to move effectively in combat. And once people have those attributes under their belt, once they understand extension, alignment, synergy, cascade, the seven skills, then they can spend the rest of their lives honing those skills in all sorts of different technical and tactical and stylistic directions. That's the basic thing.

GW: You can spot a martial artist, by the way they move. Doesn't matter what they've done. You can often guess what they can be. You can always spot that person who has been trained properly. That person knows how to kick and punch a bit. That person can actually move. I mean, it's really clear.

TW: Yeah, it is. And what I find is that you can gain this sort of broad based attributional or skills level, body knowledge, ability, by training in one very broad based style or by cross training in a number of specialized styles. Even if those styles focus more on technique, you'll pick up the movement skills over time through basically muscle repetition. My approach in combat improv was to basically flip that on its head, to teach the skills more or less independently of technique. And then to focus on the technical applications, just it's another and I found kind of a faster way to arrive at the same goal point.

GW: To my mind, it has always made sense to train the body first. Because the way I describe it to students is if I'm seventy five kilos and my sword is a bit less than two, the sword is like one percent of the total combination and it makes sense to get the sword delivery system working properly. It's like if you have the best drill bit in the world, if your drill doesn't work, the drill bit is useless. So spend time building the power drill to put the drill bit into.

TW: And I think a lot of people have different ways of describing the same approach. The only clarification I would make is that that often translates into sort of pure athleticism in the sense of that you need to have the strength and the endurance and so forth. That's all absolutely true. And you do. I just kind of expanded that into this more slightly conceptual realm of coordination, skills, kinesthetic skills. And sort of systematized it at that level. But, yeah, really it was just another way of arriving at that [place] where we all want to be, which is to as quickly and efficiently as possible impart a system of skills that will allow people to fight.

GW: Sure, absolutely. OK, now you wrote the book Ancient Sword Play: The Revival of Elizabethan Fencing in Victorian London, which is about Hutton and Castle and that gang. Now, this is particularly important to me because I have The Sword and the Centuries in my study. I'm looking at it right now and the copy I have belonged to my grandfather, and there's a pencil written note in the beginning in my grandfather's hand saying that, oh, I've said this before on the podcast, but never mind. It bears repeating that in my grandfather's hand, it says that Leon Paul, Fencing Master in London, tells us that Captain Hutton used to have himself blindfolded on occasion before fencing one or other of his students. So my grandfather, who was a fencer, fenced with Leon Paul, Leon Paul fenced with Alfred Hutton, and my grandfather gave me my first ever fencing lesson. So technically, I’m sort of like an offshoot of that original revival of Elizabethan fencing in Victorian London.

TW: And I’ve pushed hands with you, however reluctantly… I can't possibly cap that story, Guy, but in terms of lineage, I was talking before about our stunt team in the 80s, one of our guys, one of our stunt men, was a direct descendant of the Angelos dynasty. And we asked him about it and honestly, at that remove, he didn't know a great deal about it, but he said that a number of members of his family did fence as a matter of tradition. Obviously in the modern style, but that had passed down, at least to his generation in New Zealand of the 80s.

GW: That is super cool. Okay. Now, so we're currently living through the second revival of historical martial arts. Would you like to tell us a little bit about what basically was in your book Ancient Sword Play? Yes, everyone should go off and read it. And I'm sure everyone listening to this will go out and buy it and read it straight away. But what was it like?

TW: Well, I mean, I got interested in that subject because as you'll recall, during the heady early days of online human communication, basically it was the Wild West with sort of an early scholarly bent. But, you know, people were aware of Hutton and Castle, basically, because the books were much more available to most of us through public libraries in the 80s and 90s.

GW: And they were recently published and they were in English.

TW: Yeah. And as we all collectively started to find out more, as the Talhoffers and the de’i Liberi and all of those sorts of things started to become available, I think there was a sort of a mass turning against Hutton and Castle. They became known collectively as “the Victorians”, as if they were this sort of unit which they really weren't. And I think it was because it was partly contained within contemporary 1990s, early 2000s, a general bias against the Victorians, as in the Victorian mindset. And there was a sense that we were rapidly surpassing what they knew. But that was based on our reading of a couple of Hutton's books. But that just became the way people spoke of them, fairly quickly as I recall. It became rather dismissive. You talk about Hutton and Castle and the Victorians - they made all these mistakes and so on.

GW: Castle does refer to the foil as the epitome of fine swordsmanship. He talks about the “rough, untutored fighting” of the Middle Ages.

TW: Exactly. Yes. But what people imagined at that time, I certainly did, was that he was this fusty old white bearded Victorian gentleman pooh poohing the whole thing from a sort of Darwinian perspective. What people don't realize, and I didn't realize until I started researching Ancient Swordplay, the book, was that he was a 27 year old prodigy when he wrote Schools and Masters of Fence, which he wrote in this fever of enthusiasm and adventure, but as a very young man. A very young genius, basically with unique at that time access to certain historical treatises and manuscripts. But there was a bunch that he didn't have. For example, as far as I was able to determine when I wrote Ancient Swordplay a few years ago now, he had no access, although he had an enormous library, and via Hutton as well, a huge library of texts relating to, say, 17th, 18th century fencing, especially the rapier version. They may only have had access to one longsword treatise, which I think might have been, and I’m going to butcher the pronunciation, but it was Pauernfeindt, something like that in German. It was very obscure even today, but it seems like that was the one that Hutton eventually got a hold of. So when he wrote those lines, those sort of dismissive lines about historical fencing, he was writing from a position of being really very highly educated in the rapierist tradition but knowing very little, other than maybe seeing some old woodcuts, of the two handed sword. And he jumped the gun. As a young 27 year old man of his time, he jumped the gun in that regard. But to his credit, as I discovered when I was researching the book, he modified his opinion later in life as more of the older treatises became available to him. And if you read his lectures and so on, published decades after Schools and Masters of Fence. And this is probably through Hutton's influence because Hutton always had a much stronger interest in the practical applications of the sword. You start to see Castle coming around to his point of view.

GW: Interesting.

TW: Yeah. And again, that's the sort of thing that came up as I was doing the research. I thought, you know, people really need to reassess these guys, really understanding the context that they were writing in, you know, the pragmatic details of the circumstances, the fact that Castle was only 27 when he wrote this book. The fact that Hutton, when he was writing his books, they were intended… is it Old Sword Play that reads like an instruction manual? I think it is.

GW: Yeah.

TW: Yeah. And I'm sure that those were written as in-house manuals initially. So, for example, when he, and again I'm thinking back a few years to this research, but Castle's approach to rapier completely disregarded the cut, as I recall.

GW: I haven’t read it recently, but that sounds about right.

TW: And I think his approach to longsword play disregarded the thrust, I can't recall the detail unfortunately. But when you understand that his context in writing, as I'm sure that they were intended as in-house manuals for his very small cadre of students - we're only talking about five or six young soldiers. And then for whatever reason, they did publish the books, but I believe going by the evidence that I came up with, that those were not a matter of him making mistakes, but rather of him deliberately and artificially altering the style to make particular points in his demonstrations. He wanted to convey to an audience of middle class and upper class English folk during the late 1800s, this is the nature of this style. This is the gist of the style. He wasn't interested in getting into the weeds. And obviously with his background, he knew damn well that, yes, you could cut with certain kinds of rapiers and you could certainly thrust with a longsword. There's no question that he knew that. The interesting question from my point of view is why he made those alterations in terms of his public displays.

GW: OK. Fascinating. And of course, this is a period which Bartitsu comes about. You had a documentary out called The Lost Martial Art of Sherlock Holmes. And another one, actually, which I watched this very morning. And it's fascinating: The Hidden History of the Suffragette Bodyguards, which is “no man will defend me”.

TW: The full title is No Man Shall Protect US: The Hidden History of the Suffragette Bodyguards. I have an incurable tendency towards Victorianate titles.

GW: That’s what happened is you get yourself immersed in a period, you pick up the ticks.

TW: My brother, who's a PR expert, tells me that that's my brand and I have to run with it.

GW: So what drew you to Bartitsu? I mean I've seen you do demonstrations of it and it's fascinating. But why particularly Bartitsu?

TW: Guess what? It stretches back to when I was a kid and a martial arts nut kid. And I remember vividly reading this Sherlock Holmes encyclopedia. I don't remember why I was reading it. Apparently this has caused a bit of a misconception in the modern Bartitsu world. It's not that I was a Sherlock Holmes nut who then moved into martial arts because of my interest in Bartitsu. It was far from that. But I can't remember why I would have been reading a Sherlock Holmes encyclopedia because I had never read the stories as a kid, I really had no interest in him. But for whatever reason, the vivid memory of that is sitting at the age of 13 or 14 and reading this thing, coming across this reference to “Baritsu” and a definition in this thing, and there were some pictures were I decades later discovered were of Barton-Wright, demonstrating his style. And there was this single line description. It described Baritsu as the Victorian version of Jiu Jitsu. And I think I was hooked from that moment because I was fascinated by the implications. What does that mean? The Victorian version of Jiu Jitsu? But again, I'm in Wellington, New Zealand, in the mid 1980s. You can go to the library, look up Bartitsu, there's nothing at all. Occasionally, in the couple of decades following that, you'd come across a single reference in a footnote to an old judo book or something. But it was this massive mystery. Until then, it may well have been you, somebody posted to the old Western Arts Yahoo! Groups forum that was one of the main conduits for Western martial art discussion online in the early days. And they quoted a little passage from what was probably Hutton’s Old Sword Play, where he made this throwaway line about the Bartitsu club being “the headquarters of Ancient Sword Play in England”. And when I read that quote, this little snippet, all of this childhood interest came in through my teens and early 20s, all that interest suddenly came flooding back. Okay, what the hell was going on at this place called the Bartitsu Club, where they were practicing a Victorian version of Jiu Jitsu, which had somehow become the headquarters for ancient sword play in England? I picked up along the lines that they were practicing some sort of fighting with overcoats and walking sticks. I was just what the hell were these people doing? And fortunately, there were another couple of people in the world, maybe five people anyway, who'd been paying attention to this stuff and had been wondering about it for decades. So we got together. A guy called Will Thomas, a novelist had also been interested. He set up another Yahoo! Group because it was the way we talked to back in the day. It gradually gathered a head of steam and what fascinated me about Bartitsu wasn't just the style. There was an immense curiosity about what they were doing. But there was also a more sustaining curiosity about who they were and why they were doing what they did and what happened to it, because Bartitsu, unlike many martial arts, is a story with a beginning, a middle and an end. And I just became obsessed with learning what that story was. And so the technical practice of the style was almost like a byproduct of my interest in the socio-politics and the personalities involved.

GW: OK. And it has a beginning, a middle and an end. Would you like to summarize that for the listeners who might be curious about Bartitsu?

TW: OK listeners, please bear in mind, that this was my passion for the best part of 20 years. I’ve produced documentaries on the subject, I’ve edited, written, books, articles and so on. Guy, you encouraged me to get lost in the weeds. This could take a while.

GW: I’ve got all the time in the world, mate.

TW: I believe you. I will try to give the precis vision anyway. So basically this English chap, Edward Barton-Wright. Kind of an adventurous guy. He traveled around Europe and what we call the Straits Settlements, Indonesia, Portugal and various places. He professed to have had a lifelong interest in the arts of self-defense. We don't know much about it, but as a young man, he'd studied at a Parisian university or university in France anyway. He probably picked up his Savate there. He picked up some boxing. Somewhere along the lines, possibly in Portugal, he'd studied knife fighting. He'd picked up some fencing. By the time he arrived in Japan in 1895, he was a fairly athletic, as far as anyone can determine, a fairly street hardened champ. And he became fascinated with Japanese martial arts, particularly Jiu Jitsu, the Shinden Fudo Ryū school. And as it happened, he was working for an English outfit in Kobe, Japan. And as it happened, a teacher there in the Shinden Fudo Ryū school was one of the relatively few Japanese sensei at that time who were opening their schools up to Westerners. And so Barton-Wright, by sheer virtue of being the right guy in the right place at the right time, became one of the very first Westerners to study Asian martial arts formally. He did that for about three years. He returns to London in 1898 and somewhere along the line he came up with this extraordinarily novel idea which was, let’s take the best elements of all these different fighting styles from Japan and from Europe and then from wherever else we can find them. Let's combine them together. Let's create a new martial art, a new system. Under this umbrella we’ll bring together the best people, the best trainers, we’ll set up an exclusive club in London. And it will be this new art of self-defense, which he called with no undue modesty, Bartitsu. It is a symbol of his surname and then “itsu”, which in sort of bastardized Japanese, it really implies Barton-Wright’s techniques, but Barton-Wright himself, having coined the word, has the privilege to define it. And he would define it as self-defense in every form. So that's the accepted definition.

GW: It's like the original Jeet Kune Do.

TW: Yeah, he was he was Bruce Lee 70 years before. Ahead of time. It's exactly the original premise of Jeet Kune Do, only you know, in late Victorian England, which again is just part of the fascination for me. And so that's what he did. He initially started performing demonstrations, particularly of Jiu Jitsu, which was fantastically novel at this time in London. It was a sensation because it latched on onto a number of pop culture obsessions of that time. There was an obsession with criminality for all sorts of socio-cultural reasons. Newspapers were increasingly reporting on the “hooligan menace”, which is this middle class cultural fear that the working classes, or especially the criminal classes were invading and they were after your families and all that sort of thing. It’s just sensationalism. But it also tied in with the pop culture obsession with physical culture and of Orientalism, which was maybe slightly patronizing, but was a genuine interest, particularly at this time, in matters Japanese, because, of course, Japan had only been opened to the Western world for a short period of time by, say, circa 1900. And so Barton-Wright again was the right guy in the right place at the right time. He set up a club eventually. I'm just racing through a lot of interesting history here.

GW: If people want to know more about this, they can go and buy your book.

TW: If we'd been doing this interview a couple of years ago, I would have directed them to the Bartitsu Society website. But unfortunately, that is temporarily no more. Anyway, racing through. He set up a club in London, Shaftesbury Avenue in the Soho district. Very nice district, still is today. You can still visit the building where his club was set up. And I have a number of times gone on pilgrimages. The club itself, as far as we can make out, was a fairly Spartan arrangement, and it was in a very large basement of a very large building. And he invited expert instructors from various parts of the world, brought over several guys from Japan, a couple of whom left after a disagreement very shortly after that. But then he brought in another couple, Yukio Tani and Sadakazu Uyenishi, very young, but also very highly talented Jiu Jitsu experts. From Switzerland, Pierre Vigny, who came in as a Savate expert and had also devised his own fantastically innovative system of self-defense with walking sticks and umbrellas. A very powerful young Swiss wrestler guy called Armand Cherpillod who came in as the physical culture and wrestling instructor, although the style of wrestling he was teaching isn't exactly clear. And for a couple of gloriously interesting years, the Bartitsu club was kind of a place to see and be seen and they were doing demonstrations. Barton-Wright took especially the Japanese champions out on the musical hall circuit, so they were challenging big European strongmen and wrestlers – “Come up on stage, gentlemen, test your skills against these boys from Japan.” Now, the fact that the European challengers were required to fight in the Jiu Jitsu style cemented the Bartitsu club's reputation, because although both Tani and Uyenishi were tiny guys, they were both very highly skilled Jiu Jitsuka. And of course, Jiu Jitsu being a submission wrestling style, it was unlike anything that had been seen in Europe for hundreds of years, and they tended to make pretty short work of the challengers. And there were all sorts of controversies and challenges from the boxing community and the wrestling community and wars of words in the physical culture magazines, and it was all quite exciting for several very interesting years. During early 1902, for reasons that after 18 years of incredibly intensive research, we are still not absolutely certain, the club folded. The club folded. They had a swansong in the form of a basically successful tour of the provinces where they took the club on the road and they performed in challenges and exhibitions at Oxford University and Cambridge and various places. But the Bartitsu club in London was no more. And so by mid-1902 onwards the instructors scattered, many of them went on to very successful careers as wrestlers and as some self-defense martial arts instructors. Barton-Wright himself seems to have basically abandoned the whole field as a work in progress in 1902, went on to lead a slightly less colourful life but still quite controversial as a specialist in all sorts of electrical health apparatus, but basically died a pauper, rather sadly. For a man who'd had such a colourful early life, died as a pauper and was buried in then what was literally called a pauper's grave. He lived a long life, though, lived until he was in his early 90s. I visited the site of his grave and because it was a pauper's grave site they didn’t install individual markers so you can go to the area of ground where he and a number of other people were buried, which was which was a sobering experience, I actually did that as part of the documentary production. And so that was that was it, and that might have been the entire story of Bartitsu and it might have been this flash in the pan thing that happened for a few years, around 1900, if not for the fact that it was written into the Sherlock Holmes stories. And at a particular high point in the Sherlock Holmes stories, I won't go through the entire thing, but basically it transpires that when Sherlock Holmes faced his arch nemesis, the evil Professor Moriarty, at the brink of the Reichenbach waterfall, an incredibly exciting literary scene, a literary classic moment. The two of them, it is deduced by Watson later on, appear to have tumbled to their death. It's later on revealed that Holmes, in fact, survived and hurled Moriarty to his doom through his use of what Sir Arthur Conan Doyle infamously wrote as “Baritsu”, rather than as “Bartitsu”. I very, very strongly suspect that that was just Conan Doyle, who wasn't really up with all this Bartitsu wrestling stuff, copied that misspelling verbatim from a headline in the London Times. So I suspect that all Conan Doyle knew about it was that it was an art of Japanese wrestling that was called “Baritsu”. But he wrote it in. And because although Bartitsu was fairly quickly forgotten, the fact that Sherlock Holmes was the most popular literary character literally in the world throughout much of the 20th century, that ensured the people kept wondering, well what the hell is he talking about?

GW: It's the ultimate celebrity endorsement.

TW: It is, yeah. In a very cack-handed and strange way. And so that that reference certainly fuelled the revival of interest in Bartitsu because Sherlock Holmes fandom was still massive when we began that project about 20 years ago. The whole enterprise was given a gigantic boost when the Sherlock Holmes movie came out. The movie, the first one with Robert Downey Junior. I literally watched it happen in real time. I knew the guy who was the fight choreographer for the movie is now a colleague of mine, Richard Ryan. We sent the production copies of the Bartitsu compendium for use as reference. We never expected, because I know how the how that business works, we never expected to see it on screen. So taking that for granted, we knew that this was going to be the first time ever that Victorian London and Sherlock Holmes in particular, were specifically associated with martial arts and action and all that stuff. First time that it ever happened in pop culture. And it did and I watched it in real time. The hits on the Bartitsu Wikipedia page went up eight hundred per cent overnight. The Bartitsu compendium, all of the stuff, it had been the fringe of the fringe. We used to literally joke about the idea of what we were doing with the Bartitsu revival ever hitting the mainstream.

GW: Us longsword people were like the mainstream of historical martial arts. And you Bartitsu guys were very much on the fringes and of course, longsword is on the fringes of martial arts. So, yeah, you are literally on the very fringes of the fringes.

TW: And we used to joke about it and it happened. And overnight, all of a sudden it is articles in the New York Times and it's TV interviews and a very heady period of several years. And that suddenly put us on the pop culture map for better or worse. I would say that there were drawbacks to that as well as benefits from that. That effectively is a highly condensed precis version of the budget history.

GW: So you kept it down under two hours. I'm very impressed.

TW: Me too.

GW: You mentioned Lord of the Rings earlier. And according to my research, you are the cultural fighting style designer for the movies. Of course, you know, every sword person in the world has an opinion about Lord of the Rings and the fighting in Lord of the Rings and what have you. So from the horse's mouth, as it were, what was it like being part of it?

TW: Well, I mean, it's only sort of from the horse's mouth. But I have to explain that. I need to explain what I actually did and what a Cultural Fighting Styles Designer might conceivably be. So, anyway, I worked with Peter Jackson on a number of previous movies. I got my first stunt job actually with a stunt man called Peter Hassall on one of his first movies, which is called Braindead, and he refers to it as “splat stick”. It probably still holds some sort of record as the goriest film ever made. And it was a bizarre zombie story set in Wellington in the 1950s. That was my first ever professional stunt gig. And then I worked with them again on a really fun historical mockumentary called Forgotten Silver, which is probably one of Peter Jackson's lesser known works, but I thoroughly recommend everybody watch it. I did a whole bunch of that. That movie actually was my record for onscreen deaths as a stuntman. I think I died seven times in different characters, different roles.

GW: That’s called Forgotten Silver? I’ll put a note in the show notes.

TW: Somehow or other, and I cannot remember how, at around about this time I read a script that Peter had written for a movie called Blubberhead. And this was a sort of a Monty Python take on Lord of the Rings, the swords and sorcery genre, and the movie was never made. But I cannot remember how I got hold of a script. It may have been a sort of black-market type thing. I'm not sure. But I remember having read a description of one character, I think it was a villain, having a weird fighting style and reading the script under those circumstances, that phrase stuck in my mind. So I kind of knew that Peter had this interest in the idea of fighting styles. He is not a martial artist himself but he has a sort of a geek interest in that field. So I started to hear vague rumours, although everything was extremely secretive about this Lord of the Rings thing that he was doing. I was initially called into the project, oddly enough, to test one of what were called the big rigs. These were the enormously elaborate stilt armatures for use. The theory was that we would use those to create shots where you have human sized actors playing hobbits who are supposed to be three feet six inches tall in the frame with normal sized humans. So the notion was we'd use these big rig stilt costumes basically to massively increase actors’ heights. It gets very complicated and I'm not sure they ended up using this very much. But that was my first thing on the movie because I was short and athletic. They brought me in early on to test a big rig. And then I think I mentioned there the idea that basically I'd be happy to do this. But I was basically a fight guy, a stunt man and a fight guy. I was then called in to do a sort of audition for a role. And it wasn't Cultural Fighting Styles Designer because I invented that title. But it was when the digital effects department, which got underway at least a year before the rest of the production did, were auditioning people to come in and do fight stuff for them, for motion capture. And your listeners are probably au fait with motion capture these days. But back then, in the late 90s, it was absolutely cutting edge stuff. Yeah, the gigantic majority of people outside the film industry had never heard of this thing called motion capture. But the digital effects people needed to have mocap data. They needed to have people moving around in fighting ways, basically, so that they would have something to do. And so they brought me in for that purpose and I came and prepped. Man, I brought in every weapon I had, I brought in duelling shields and longswords and everything. It was probably the single strangest audition I've ever done, though I haven't done all that many of those. I'm probably not speaking out of school to describe it just a little bit, to give you a sense of the flavour. There was a quite a large group of people watching. I was there with all of my weapons and tools and stuff lined up. There were a couple of what are called maquettes, which are highly detailed models. One of them was of an Uruk warrior, a member of the Uruk Hai. And there were some facsimile weapons which had been made basically out of aluminium and then padding. And that was it. Now, due to the incredible secrecy of the production, they were not allowed to tell me really anything beyond showing me these models. And their expectation was that basically they were calling in martial artists and so on with the idea that the martial artist would demonstrate their fighting style, whether it's historical fencing or Kinjitsu or whatever. This panel of creatives who were already working on the project would video record that, would then go away and say, okay, well, what he's doing looks a bit like what we have in mind for this character, so we'll use them. Now, I came in, I think uniquely, I'm not sure, but I think it's likely. With a background of stunt work and particularly stage combat, I came in as a creative. And that made all the difference. They were asking if you just demonstrate your style, and I said, well, no, I can't. Because, you know, clearly what we're trying to do here is basically devise a fighting style that matches this character. This thing I didn't even know it was called an Uruk. But what I can do is using these props and looking at this character, I can do an improvisation. If I was given time, then I could create an entire fighting style for the culture that this character comes from. And they went, Oh. And so that's what I did. I picked up the prop weapons, did an improvisation, and as much of the character I could glean from looking at the maquette. And a short time later on, they called me in and said, would you like to do this job? And so that was the first part of the job, entirely working with the motion capture department again because they were ready to go on long, long ahead of when any actors would be brought on board or the first unit stuff started happening. And what that evolved into by default was becoming a fighting styles designer. We added “cultural” to it because initially the different types of Lord of the Rings characters, the Rohirrim and the Uruks and the Elves and so forth were being referred to within the production as “races”. I pointed out that a fighting style is a cultural artefact. It's not a matter of race. I think they were using Tolkien's language by default. So it became Cultural Fighting Styles Design. That was my job for a couple of years. I read the books, which weren’t frankly a huge amount of help because Tolkein, he's okay at describing the sweep of battles, he would occasionally say something like Frodo took a short stab at the cave troll's foot. But when you when you were trying to design fighting styles to the level of granular detail of things like, for purposes of comparison, can an Uruk Hai bench press a motorcycle?

GW: I have to know. Can an Uruk Hai bench press a motorcycle?

TW: Yes.

GW: Wow.

TW: The stronger ones could. I mean, I'm thinking back 20 years now, but I think we decided that they could do that if push came to shove. But I mean, the level of detail we were working with, Tolkien's books weren't really a great deal of help. But what was of enormous help was what all the other production departments were doing, because what I was doing was conceptual design work exactly the same way people were familiar with the way costume designers and set designers and so on create the aesthetic of the world based on where the source material is. And so the Elves are my favorite example because they had this kind of Art Nouveau curvilinear aesthetic which is present, and the detail that we were all working to was just phenomenal. I mean, you would literally not believe the level of detail that went into all of that stuff, belt buckles, things that are never in a million years going to be seen on screen. But if you were in the production, you could look at a belt buckle and say, okay, that's Orkish, that’s Elvish. And it's that level of granular detail applied to everything, including all the fighting styles.

GW: That’s what makes great art.

TW: Yes, it was. I'm not saying that what I did was necessarily great art, but that's what made some pretty great movies. Well, my challenge really was to adapt the aesthetics that were emerging from the other production departments into something that was a plausible fighting style, in some cases, series of fighting styles, for each of these major cultures. So I worked with, I can't even remember now the list, but basically with all of the cultures, where there's a scene, a mass battle in the movies.

GW: Do you have a favourite?

TW: Yeah, I like the Elvish style best, the Elvish two handed sword. But again, I need to stress all of this was preproduction, conceptual artwork, basically. So the task was to devise the styles through all manners. We did improvisation, we did sparring, we did character work as actors, all kinds of things. And then to train the stunt team, iterations of the stunt team, as people came and left in each of the styles. So we had the bootcamps. We had the elf bootcamp and the orc bootcamp.

GW: I would love to go to an elf bootcamp

TW: The elf bootcamp was one of my favourites. I really loved the Elvish stuff. And I think I mentioned this in one of the documentaries, when I say Lord of the Rings documentaries, but I'm not sure if it made it into the doc or not. But with the Elvish stuff, that was the only one where I felt like I wasn't creating something new, but rather rediscovering something that was very old. That was just the feeling, the vibe of it. We trained the stunt crew we were working very extensively with at that point, both with the live action stunt people and also, again, with the motion capture people. By the time actors started coming on board, that whole project was winding down because the design work was basically done. I did work with a couple of the actors who came on board early. But by the time the live action production was in full swing that was job over and I was doing other things.

GW: OK, so that sounds like you talked yourself into a really, really interesting job.

TW: Yeah. Again, just the right place, right time.

GW: That's a foundation with most success, isn't it?

TW: Maybe yeah, it really was. It was circumstance.

GW: Part of my job on this podcast is to keep an eye on the time. And I have singularly failed to do that. And we are well past the appointed hour. So let me say thank you very much, Tony, for coming on the show. It's been a real pleasure talking to you. I hope we can get together and chat again sometime soon, whether we record it or not.

TW: That would be my pleasure as well. Yeah, well, you know, we're all locked down and we're all being very safe. And the more of this sort of thing that happens, frankly, the better as far as I'm concerned. I'm already doing a number of lectures and so on. The more of that happens, the happier I think the world is.

GW: Excellent. Thank you, Tony.

TW: Thank you.

GW: Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoyed my conversation today with Tony Wolf. Remember to go along to www.guywindsor.net/podcast-2 for the episode show notes, which includes a picture of a Taiaha and the video on Suffrajitsu that Tony made. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any video of an Uruk bench pressing a motorcycle, so you're just going to have to take his word for it. You will also, of course, be able to get your free copy of Sword Fighting for Writers, Game Designers and Martial Artists. Next week we have Kendra Brown talking about translating Florius from the Latin and women in armour and things like that. You don't want to miss it. So remember to subscribe to the podcast wherever you get your podcast from. And if you'd like to support the show, please go to www.patreon.com/theswordguy. Patrons get access to the guest list in advance and can pose questions for me to ask the future guests when I interview them and they also get access to the episode transcriptions which are being processed at the moment. So thank you very much for listening and I look forward to seeing you next week.

Back to blog

More longsword goodness

Are you madly medieval? Learn medieval Italian martial arts here, blending historical accuracy with practical training.

Use the filters to refine your search to your preferred level of difficulty and product type.