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Naziyah Mahmood is a Scottish astrophysicist, aerospace engineer, aspiring citizen astronaut, STEM ambassador, model, writer, and artist. And of course, she’s mad about swords. In our conversation we talk about Naziyah’s love for the Eastern sword arts, primarily Haidong Gumdo. But there’s a diversion into Ancient Roman twin-sword-wielding gladiators…
We also talk about training with a visual impairment, being underestimated, and the importance of self-expression.
Here is a link to Naziyah’s film, A New Beginning, produced with Lee Fletcher Photography. There are swords, lightsabers and an absolutely freezing Scottish castle backdrop:
Where to find Naziyah:
- Blog: https://naziyahmahmood.wordpress.com/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/NinjabiNaz
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/naziyahmahmood/
GW: I'm here today with Naziyah Mahmood, who is an astrophysicist, aerospace engineer, aspiring citizen astronaut, martial artist, STEM ambassador, model, writer and artist. That is quite a list. So without further ado, Naziyah, welcome to the show.
NM: Well, thank you for having me, Guy. It's wonderful to be speaking to everybody here today. Well, virtually, in a recording format.
GW: Yeah, it's good to keep the listeners in mind. Now, actually, I first came across you, because one of my listeners suggested that I invite you onto the show and they sent me a link to a video of you doing sword work in the Scottish countryside. Now I can tell from your voice that you are Scottish.
NM: Yes. Hard to miss that.
GW: I ask everyone to where they are. So whereabouts in Scotland are you?
NM: I’m born and raised in Glasgow, Scotland, although the nature of my work does mean I need to travel around quite a lot. Home base is Scotland, so yeah, based in good old Glasgow and I basically, long story short, I have quite a mixed background. So when people see me, they usually don't expect the Scottish accent to come out. But yes, so culturally, I'm born and raised in Scotland. My mother's English, my dad is from South East Asia with our background. And you know, we have lineage from like all over in terms of Pakistan, India, Saudi Arabia and so on too through a lot of the Persian countries. So a very big mixed pot.
GW: Excellent. And being in Glasgow, you are within striking distance of the Kelvingrove Museum.
NM: Yes. I have spent a lot of time in there.
GW: I can imagine. And it has my armour. They have a suit of armour in there. It’s called the Avant Armour. And I mean, they've had it for years. They don't seem to realise that by rights, it belongs to me. They are just sitting on it. It’s totally unfair.
NM: I was about to ask, when you said it's my armour, is it that you've lent out to the museum? Is it yours? Is it the case that somebody stole it?
GW: No, it's just the moment I saw it, I was like, that's the armour. I'm not really that into armour generally. Many of my colleagues are massive armoured combat fans, and I'm an unarmoured sort of person. But when I saw it and it has these enormous elbow cots, just like in Fiore’s manuscript and it was just like, “That’s my armour!”
NM: That's me in a nutshell.
GW: And why is it stuck behind glass? Why aren’t they giving it back to me? Because clearly that armour is mine really.
NM: They have a great collection. I mean, the last time I went along, maybe I mean, a lot of it is probably just because of lockdown reasons and so on. The displays did look a lot more thinned out. I don't know if they've been having to put more into storage or something, but which was a little bit upsetting. But I mean, they do have a really good collection.
GW: So, yeah, it's amazing. And actually, if you're nice to them, they'll let you into the vaults. They have this massive storage facility. And the last time I was up there, I mean, I’ve gone to Scotland many times since, but I was in Scotland for a sword fighting event in Edinburgh and we were taken by the organisers to this place in Glasgow, where it's not a museum, it is a storage facility for arms and armour, and they got like all these swords and things out for us to pick up and play with.
NM: So it was there is quite a strong scene here because as an alumnus of the University of Glasgow, I was the president and founder of one of my own societies there, but we were very closely linked with a lot of the other kind of what we would call the geek societies. So whether it's gaming, anime, manga and so on. But that also included links with the role playing Society or LARP, and also Kendo and so on as well. So it spread across quite a lot of different interests. And I do recall they would sometimes have events within the kind of main hall area of the university, and it would just bring together people from different types of European sword arts. So a lot of the time they did have displays coming across from the Kelvingrove Museum, there was some actually displayed in the museum that’s in the University of Glasgow. Oh, what was it called again? It's on the tip of my tongue, and I'm always going to forget. Yes, it was a small one inside of it, which weirdly also display a few of their pieces as well. So it's quite good.
GW: Things have moved on. I was at Edinburgh University in the early 90s and started a historical fencing club there in 1992. I think it was maybe 1993 and there was nothing like that. We were these sort of lone weirdos who had no friends. It was terrible.
NM: I mean, I'll be honest, my, well, no, it wasn't my first introduction, because my first introduction to historical European martial arts are to any type of LARP society even, or role play societies who liked that as their interest was a little bit earlier. However, there were some very eccentric individuals within certain societies there who would very strongly put people off joining, to be honest, which is such a shame. It's such a shame because being somebody who's always had a love for swords in general, although my speciality is more so in the Eastern sword arts, it was just a shame to see this, especially when it's those who were the ones pushing for getting more membership. And you know, it was there's always been that conflict, I guess, within universities to get more people in. And then there's the whole, I don't know, ego trip that would happen. And again, this is across any club that you would have. So unfortunately, one of my introductions wasn't the greatest. But then when I did go in and look into it myself, I began to find it so much more fascinating. Don't take your interest just from those around you.
GW: And also don't let anyone put you off.
NM: Exactly. Definitely.
GW: Because not everyone in the club or in the in the area of interest is going to be behaving like that one particular person.
NM: Definitely Hence, the reason I thought, you know, go along and do my own research, looking at myself or looking to other clubs and societies outwith that one institution where I could learn more about it. And I ended up joining a fencing class, actually afterwards.
GW: Which one?
NM: Classical fencing. This was actually part of the University of Glasgow. That was one of my first fencing classes. So I spent a bit of time on obviously the foil, epee, sabre, as well. But I did then end up moving across more so back to the eastern arts, because my heart's just always been there. But anyway, I’m not trying to jump topics here.
GW: No, that's fine. I'm happy to move around. So obviously we're talking about swords. So I know you've been training in Haidong Gumdo for about 13 years now. So what drew you to swords and how did you get started? What was that process like?
NM: This is going to bore everybody. Or it sounds too corny or cliché, but if I'm sounding corny, I am already quite a cobb, so I am happy to do that. So I have been in the martial arts or my training began ever since I was really tiny, and the largest influence to that was my dad because my dad was ex-military and he always hoped that wanted for my sister and my brother and I to at least have some basic knowledge of self-defence, especially for my sister and myself. So when we were very young children, he'd put us into different classes. One of my first empty hand art, well they do have weapons arts in there, but in general, empty hand art that I practised and is probably one of the closest to my heart was Ninjutsu. Yeah, that was one of my earlier memories, and that really helped propel me. But when I think back, I actually realised one of the reasons I really stuck with the martial arts is because of probably what I believed to be my earliest memory. I must have only been about two or three. You know how sometimes, even if you were only two or three years old, you remember like a scene, like a flashback. You might not remember every detail, but you remember how it made you feel. And I remember being this being tiny and walking in the middle of the night, which would have been 8pm, obviously, because I was a kid, walking into the room after waking up because I'd heard some noise and in the middle of the room I can see my mum with two police officers and it turns out that she had been attacked when she was outside and she was basically going out to grab some really quick groceries for us. All I knew as a kid was somebody hurt mum. I still remember seeing like blood on the side of her head. And I just remember there was we had this little block TV and I had a little crown ornament on top of it that you would keep perfume in. And I remember staring at it so intensely, and I still remember the feeling of my little fists coming into, you know, really tensely being clenched. I very intensely remember myself thinking I'm going to grow up and become strong enough to protect mum so no one can hurt her again. Although that obviously faded away and I didn't really think about it again, maybe somewhere deep down it stayed with me because after that, I grew up always wanting to go towards doing things that help me physically also become a lot stronger. And yeah, I guess that just stayed with me. So it wasn't until more recently when I thought back and I was talking to my sister when we remembered those points in our lives. I thought, Yeah, I think that's probably where all kicked off. So although sorry, I do apologise for the really sad story. It was like a starting point for me, and I'm sure having dad as somebody who was very much into military strategy and somebody who wanted us as children to grow up to be able to defend ourselves and protect ourselves and our loved ones, that really pushed it as well. So my brother, sister and I, all three of us entered the martial arts, but it remained my passion and I continued it.
GW: I haven't thought about this for a long time, but you just reminded me of an experience. I must have been about 10 years old and I was going to the supermarket with my mom. We were living in Botswana at the time, this was in Gaborone, and we came out and these three or four guys were sort of hanging around outside the supermarket, and one of them came up to my mom and asked her something, probably something like, you got any money or whatever, and then snatched her bag and he must have had a knife in his hand because he cut the strap and he ran. And I started running after him because it was automatic, that’s my mum’s bag and my mom called me back and then thinking about, that could have gone disastrously wrong because he's a grown up and I'm a kid and he's probably got a knife.
NM: It is that instinct, I guess.
GW: But I just felt awful for months afterwards because I had failed to protect my mother from the attacker. It was just terrible.
NM: I'm so sorry that you had to go through that, and I completely empathise where I understand that feeling where even as a small child, you feel like you had some responsibility in protecting a loved one, regardless of the fact that they're much older and they're adults and you're just a child. I think that's something that's embedded in us, that protective instinct. And I guess this is where a lot of our motivations can stem from going forward, whether it's to do with our careers, whether it's to do with our passions and hobbies, you know, a lot of it can come from that. So I understand, like obviously later on, you must have thought, I was just a child, what could I do? It’s kind of good I didn’t get caught.
GW: Yeah, as an experienced martial artist now, the correct thing for that child to have done was to stay with his mom and then leave the parking lot immediately.
NM: I would say, even as an adult, as an experienced martial artist, having been in a unfortunately a lot of situations where I have been attacked, always by men, I have been in several situations, unfortunately, and you know thank goodness being able to use first and foremost my brains before I used my body to protect myself. But even as an adult, the best thing to always do is just get the hell out of there. Your life means more than trying to fight back. And that's one of the things I would always say to my students when I was teaching, just get the hell out of there. You don't know how many friends they've got around the corner. It's not about finishing the job. It's not about trying to appease your ego or anything like this. Just save yourself and your loved ones. Use your brain first and only physically defend if you've got no other choice.
GW: Yeah, I've never had a great interest in self-defence as a practise, because from a martial arts perspective, it’s really boring. It is mostly seeing the situation before it arises and not going into de-escalation. And a couple know a couple of things really, really well that you will apply full force immediately when the stimulus occurs. It is not nearly so interesting as two experienced people who have chosen to come together to fight.
NM: You know, this is where I think a lot of the misconception, especially amongst the general public, tends to happen, where they believe that the two are one and the same. Being a martial artist means that you have streetwise experience or something, of defending yourself in a live situation. And this is where I believe there needs to be more differentiation when we speak to people, because if somebody is going to join, you know, this could be a Gong Fo class, it could be Tai Chi. It could be historical European martial arts. It could be Kendo, whatever, for them to understand that there is a difference between martial art, martial combat and martial sports. There are differences between all of them. It is important. It is the intention and application.
GW: Yes. Anyone who takes up, 15th century swordsmanship as a way of learning self-defence is clearly deluded because it's totally unrelated to the modern situation.
NM: I have these conversations quite often with people where they'll say, yes, you might be experienced with a sword, but if somebody else has got a gun, what are you going to do? The message I'm trying to get across is I don't practise up for the sake of a life or death situation. As much as I'm kind of known for it for when I'm travelling back and forth to training, I'm not going to be walking around on the streets with my sword strapped to me.
NM: Exactly. We're law abiding citizens, believe it or not. But what I do tend to find is in some arts, you do find conversation take place about how, for example, with Haidong Gumdo, the art itself is a more modern sword art based on older military techniques. So basically, they're based on the manual called Muye Dobo Tongi, which was with its predecessors, which were coming from about the sixteen hundreds or so. These are based on military techniques, and these came to be because there was a need for national defence due to invading forces. As we know with Korean history, there's been a lot of conflict take place. And so these military techniques were then developed into combat systems. And then what we find, now, is that it's been turned into martial arts systems or sword systems that are similar. So it's based on them. But that doesn't necessarily mean we're going to run out into the street, you know? But what you do tend to find is with an art like Haidong Gumdo it's not made for just one on one combat. It is a style that is based on defence against several opponents at once.
GW: That’s interesting.
NM: So for example, again, being based on military techniques, if you were in a battle situation, if you're on the battlefield, you cannot guarantee you're only going to be facing off against one person. You're going to have people coming from all different directions. And that was one of the core elements of that teaching, which is to defend yourself, again based on military technique. But what we see nowadays is, yes, there are elements of that still in there. And another important factor is the use of those similar motions empty hand. You should be able to use a similar motions empty hand. So there's that other aspect. But again, that doesn't mean it's going to protect you against a gunshot.
GW: Or a bunch of guys with knives on the metro.
NM: Exactly. So I think it depends on the actual teaching of the art, not just the physical teaching of the art, but the teaching of the art as a whole by the instructor is quite important for them to differentiate to the students what the intention is behind these arts. So I personally, I've had the honour of being able to train in several different arts, training in different techniques. The majority of these are Far Eastern. Whether it's Chinese arts like Xing Yi, Baguazhang, Tai Chi and going onto Japanese arts like karate, Iaido, kenjutsu, Korean arts as well and so on. You see so many of the similarities, but again, it's about how it's taught to you, which is you're not just taught the physical aspect you're taught, OK, this is where it comes from. This is why it was done. And for me the practise is very much spiritual. I know that might sound odd, but there's a spiritual aspect to it that helps instill discipline. It helps instill almost a sense of this self-expression is the way I would kind of put it. To me, it's exactly what the term is. It's an art form. For example, you have sword arts where you do a lot of these flourishes, you do a lot of these spins and so on. You would not do that on a battlefield. You will get killed if you stand there spinning your sword, so it's not made for that. But depending on what style you are learning, there will be aspects of military techniques in there. So again, just depends.
GW: What you train and how you train it are two fundamentally different things. Some people will train a particular art to get fit. Some will train it because they are thinking about self-defence, some people will train the same thing because they're thinking about spiritual practises or whatever. One art can fulfil many of these functions. It just changes how it's taught and how it's practised, as they're really, really good. Book about this called Meditations on Violence by a chap called Rory Miller. He's actually been on the show before. It's absolutely superb, and it goes into detail as to what the goals of various different martial arts are, and how you can tell what the actual goal is, and therefore how you can figure out what a particular martial art is good for. So if you train, he doesn't use his example, if you train a 17th century rapier and you want to win boxing matches, you're doing the wrong thing. And there's a fundamental difference between an agreed combat, like a boxing match or even a formal duel where you know when it's going to happen, where it's going to happen, it's literally fenced off from normal society and there are spectators. That is one thing. Being mugged outside the pub is something else altogether.
NM: Exactly. This is where I would say this crosses into the realm of martial combat. And this is where, for example, you know that age-old cliche where people have to come around speaking about, you know, what's the best style for this, that or the other? But you know, it's like, I know everybody listening is just going to be like, Yes, we've all heard this a thousand times over because we all have. And as soon as somebody hears that you're a martial artist, that's always one of the most common questions you get. And it still baffles me. It's like saying, Oh, what is the best medium of paint to use, you know? And it's like, that depends on the skill of the painter. It depends on what your outcome needs to be, what you're actually painting, the canvas, you know, and so on. There's no such thing, so it just really gets me. It really annoys me.
GW: Can I just point out, I didn't ask that question. That wasn’t me.
NM: I know you didn’t. I think that’s one of those questions we just do not ever bring up in martial circles because there have been countless debates, arguments and so on over this, which I find useless because in terms of talking about the applications, techniques, what is useful within certain circumstances, that is very different. Like you just said, I'm not going to start jumping into Santi Shi or a different form type when I am being mugged in front of a pub. But at the same time, I could then say to myself from the arts that I have done what would be the most beneficial form of defence that I could take from them. So there is that part of it, which is still allowing for some form of analysis. But in terms of saying, what's the best art out there.
GW: I have a rule of thumb when it comes to like martial arts versus self-defence. If you get changed into different clothes before you train, it's probably not self-defence.
NM: Yes. It’s not street application.
GW: If you go to work in a business suit and business shoes and you've got your briefcase or something with you? And then you go to the pub afterwards with your mates or whatever, and then you're coming out of the pub and stuff happens. You need to be able to deal with it in those clothes, in those shoes, in that situation.
NM: This is this is where some of the classes I did attend, especially my younger years, I did quite enjoy because it was a case of being told, especially with Ninjutsu, for example, being told you should be able to apply these techniques in your day to day life. That is one of the important angles that we look at. So whether you're in your day to day clothes, you don't need to be in a gi or uniform to be doing this. Obviously, there's a difference if you're in a wedding dress in heels or something, but still, if you need to be able to defend yourself. But again, application is where it all comes down to, I think
GW: OK, let's take a slight left turn because I actually skipped over a question because we started getting into swords and I wasn’t going to stop that. But I do need know about the astrophysics and the aerospace engineering and all that. So, what exactly does an astrophysicist and an aerospace engineer actually do? And do you think you'll ever get into space?
NM: OK, so not all too different from what we were talking about in terms of martial arts and martial combat. Astrophysics and aerospace engineering, think of them as two sides of the one coin. One is the science and methodology. The other is the tangible application. So with astrophysics, it's basically there to push the limits of our very, very limited human knowledge in order to understand the universe and in turn, existence in itself. It is the deep research and analysis of what we are able to learn about the universe, the cosmos and so on. But keeping in mind our own knowledge, I mean, we are just a blip in history right now, a tiny blip. But when you look at the timeline of humanity compared to how long the universe has been around for, into the tens of billions of years. Our knowledge is incredibly limited, but that's what keeps it really exciting, and that's why I love the sciences because one of the things I find is the more you learn, the more you realise the less you know. But that is one of the most exciting parts of it because it feels like the learning will never end. So the astrophysics is the scientific research. Whereas with the aerospace engineering, that offers you a way to tangibly explore the universe in the cosmos. And it uses science to then help us to bring understanding also into the state of the Earth itself as well. So this is where we talk about something like Earth observation. So Earth observation uses something called remote sensing, so satellites, to be able to analyse the state of the Earth. So whether it's to do with ice sheets, whether it's to do with the state of the soil in the ground, whether it's to do with the atmospheres and so on as well, it helps us to then quantify our climate change parameters to understand the state of the Earth currently and where it's going as well. So that's just Earth observation in itself. But if you were to look outward, there's like deep space exploration, whether it's to do with other stellar entities or if it's to do with planetary exploration as well, it brings both of them together. So very much two sides of the one coin.
GW: OK, so an aerospace engineer kind of builds satellites and spaceships and things and an astrophysicist understands how to get it from one place to the other because they know how these things interact.
NM: So think of it this way. If we were on an adventure, the astrophysicist would be the one with the map and the compass, and the aerospace engineer would be the one with the machete cutting down all the rubbish. Not the rubbish, but all of the plants around you try to actually get us where we need to go.
GW: Okay, so what do you do in that field, exactly?
NM: So I have been able to do both upstream and downstream. So when we talk about upstream, it means basically building the satellites, working on the subsystems, so whether it's working on propulsion subsystems or structural thermal science.
GW: Hang on. You actually build rockets?
GW: Finally, I have a rocket scientist on the show. It’s not rocket science, yes it is rocket science, please carry on.
NM: Oh yes, okay, I get that one a lot. Yeah. So basically working on upstream means working on creating the mission. So my main forte, in a sense is what we call mission analysis. It's using all the programming and calculations and astro dynamics to understand how are we going to get the satellite from ground into where it needs to be around the Earth into orbit. But that requires a lot of very, very, very, very fine tuning because you need to take into consideration everything from the mass of your satellite, the velocity it can reach, to where you're launching from. And, like the shape of it, everything, everything comes into it. So mission analysis is kind of like the heart of it in a sense, and then you get all these subsystems around it. So I've worked on that and I've worked on a lot of missions from different space agencies. So more closely with ESA, which is the European Space Agency. Support your local agencies, people, but also, you know, NASA and we've now got the UK space agency as well, worked alongside other kind of international ones, too. So it's quite exciting. Currently, my current job, I work on what we call the downstream, which is utilising the data we receive from the satellites in order to understand more about the Earth and to then be able to push for action. So I am currently with an organisation called Spire Global, and through that we have one of the largest constellations of low-Earth orbit nanosatellites in the world. We have had our one hundred and fiftieth launch just a couple of weeks ago on a Space X rocket, with over 120 in orbit right now or in operation, we are able to get information about all those parameters I just told you about and also to do with maritime aviation weather, not just about the department I’m in, called Earth Intelligence. So right now I work in Earth Intelligence and we are able to then use those parameters to then work with research institutions, agencies, whether it's commercial companies and so on, to kind of give back in a way. So we are working on understanding more about sea ice, the melting of it. That in itself is indicative of climate change and when we see the melting of the sea ice, it actually has an effect on us globally because it's not just about what's happening in that region. You see the rise of sea levels, you see the changes to the kind of biomes and marine life within that area as well, the migration of fishes. And that in itself takes off this entire kind of ripple effect, butterfly effect that reaches us and beyond. So whether it's sea ice, whether it's looking at the Earth's surface, whether it's looking at the many atmospheres, we also deal with space weather. Which is to do with the effects of the Sun on the Earth. I mean, you can have a situation where you have something called a coronal mass ejection or a solar flare. It gives off such high energetic particles that it has the ability to wipe electronics on board satellites. Also on board planes and even terrestrially on ground as well. So having this kind of information, utilising it, allowing for prediction and forecast, as well, is a lot of what is done in the space sector in terms of data.
GW: OK, where to start with that? This is great. I support the notion that, OK, most kids growing up, a lot of them either want to be an astronaut or a sword fighter. And you are apparently both. So my first question? Well, not quite an astronaut yet, but we’re getting there. My first question is, presumably you were good at maths and science and stuff at school and you went to university and studied physics? Astrophysics? What did you do.
NM: There are a lot of paths you can take to get into the space sector. So it's not just the traditional university path, though, that is what I did. Well, actually, the funny thing is, ever since I was this tiny, chubby little kid running around, I used to go around telling everybody I wanted to become a neurosurgeon. I wanted to go into neurology because growing up, that's what I always thought I wanted to do. I got all the way to my fifth year of high school, which is your final year of your high school in Scotland. And it wasn't until I met my physics teacher who was an absolute nut job, who was also an ninjutsu practitioner who showed me how much I enjoyed physics. So I applied to both physics and astronomy, and then I also applied to medicine. I was very lucky to have been given a place for both, and it was a case of do I do with what my head's always told me or what my instinct now tells me I enjoy. I always act on my instinct. It usually keeps me safe to an extent. I do get into a lot of stupid situations, but my instinct is what saves me. So I went for that and I never looked back. And so I went to university, studied physics and astronomy, specialising in then physics with astrophysics. And that was my honours degree. Then I went on to do my post-grad in aerospace engineering, space mission analysis and design, which includes modules like Astro Dynamics, Spacecraft Systems and so on. From there, I then went into industry, and when I was with uni, I was already working on some like ESA projects anyway to do with Moon Landers. But then I then went into industry and started working, within different sectors of space there as well. So that was the route I took. But nowadays I remember somebody in my operations team was actually from a law background, but it's because he had really good problem solving skills that he got in. You know, we have transferable skills so somebody can go to college and then from college, maybe two years after in uni or something, somebody else could do an apprenticeship somewhere. And there's so many different paths into the STEM sectors. So yeah, it's exciting.
GW: And you want to actually go into space, correct?
NM: I’d like to. One thing a lot of people don't notice about me when I talk to them because I give direct eye contact is that I'm visually impaired, I’m partially blind. So that brings a whole other spanner into the swordswomanship. So it was actually the martial arts that really helped me find my feet. That was another reason it meant a lot to me. Whereas in my day to day life, I am an absolute klutz, I will trip over my own foot. But when I am training, I am more aware of my surroundings than ever, and I try to apply that to my day to day life. This is why I can get around without bumping into things too much. This is where I thought, you know, maybe I won't ever be able to apply to become an astronaut. But what we're finding that is with our with agencies like ESA, who have recently come up with their corps for astronauts, basically they are beginning to take in those with different types of impairments. And going forward with the advancement of technology, there will hopefully be more and more assistance being made available. But I am currently a second round candidate by Space for Humanity as a U.S. citizen astronaut programme with them. So fingers crossed. I go to the first round, so I think it was whittled down from something like tens of thousands of people or something. Have no clue why they got me in, but here's hoping.
GW: I think an astrophysicist and an aerospace engineer probably helped a little bit.
NM: Yeah, I mean, it helps, but I think a lot of it is also to do with curiosity. So I am also a STEM ambassador, so I give a lot of kind of talks to universities, schools, colleges, companies, charities about the STEM sector. So that's science, technology, engineering, mathematics. And one of the words I usually like to bring up is about curiosity, because in a nutshell, that's what a scientist has or what they are. They're curious, they're always curious. They always want to learn more. And I guess that's what these programmes look for. It's not necessarily always about you have to have a space background. A lot of those who got in may not have had that. They could have been from a law background or they could have been a dentist or something. But it's more about having that passion for learning. And that's something that's always meant a lot to me in my life.
GW: OK. So I sort of have this vision in my head of astronauts being, you know, super fit, ex test pilots, basically, because all the really famous astronauts from the 60s were super fit test pilots. And I'm currently learning to fly planes myself, and it's absolutely awesome. But I'm guessing that a modern astronaut isn't necessarily a pilot.
NM: Not necessarily. It is a very strong advantage to have taken some forms of flight lessons beforehand or having your PPL. But what tends to happen is once you do go through, as long as you've shown that you're competent within the different tests that they do put out, you are given the training then. So of course, having some form of flight training is because it basically means things like hand-eye coordination. It means having the processing speed to understand what to do in high pressure situations and so on. If you can then display that in other ways, it means you have the ability to hopefully pick up that type of training going forward, which they could offer. So it depends on the agency. It depends on, where this is coming from, what their resources are and so on.
GW: So, OK, so there's actually real hope that you might get into space.
NM: Fingers crossed. I would really love to do so because one of the one of the kind of reasons for the Space for Humanity, citizen astronaut programme, is to get people up there who are day to day people, who aren’t billionaires, who aren't people who haven’t had a route in because they knew somebody in that industry and they could then experience what we call the overview effect, which is when you are sitting, well, floating outside of the higher atmospheres looking down at the earth, you can be on the ISS, you can be in a different type of module looking down. The feeling of connection you have with the Earth. This overview of the Earth that you then experience, it's been shown that on amongst many of the astronauts that have gone up, the experience is a very emotional bond that takes place, which makes them want to then do more on the Earth and then allow for more opportunities for others and then do more charitable work and so on as well. So yes, there is a very strong science engineering part of it, but there's also almost like the philosophical side as well. And that's what this organisation pushes for. So you're able to do that. And then upon experiencing that, share that insight with people from around the world. You look to then help address the UN Sustainable Development Goals, working towards those as well and working with different organisations to make the world a better place if possible.
GW: So your background as a STEM ambassador would actually help with that because you already have a practise of going out and telling people about this cool stuff.
NM: Well, I hope so, I guess. A big part of it is the mentoring and teaching part. So yes, when you first approach, whether it's different organisations, you're talking to people and the topic comes up of, you know, stem ambassadorship and teaching and all this. They're like, great. And then they hear about like your time through the majority of your life, being within the martial arts and especially they're specialising in weapon arts. And then when you when you tell them about the beauty and the artistic nature of it, they're right on board. They love it. Yeah, which is great. You're like spreading the word for that without meaning to.
GW: So yeah, it's funny. I'll be having conversations with people, maybe in the place where I go flying. And, you know, we’re talking planes, whatever. And then for some reason, somebody says something about swords. And then suddenly the whole conversation just switches.
NM: Do you get that when you can be doing anything? But even if you're talking to somebody else, you hear somebody else. The word “sword”, you won't hear any of the conversation, the word “sword” or your name. You'll hear that you'll suddenly be like where? You’ll turn around looking for the conversation so you can jump in there. It's exciting.
GW: Absolutely. And it's interesting to see how this holistic vision of like you have the swords and the martial arts and the science and engineering and the STEM stuff. And it's not these separate boxes that you're put in. It is one giant box with many parts that you move between.
NM: You know when you have these conversations and a lot of people assume that you can only do one thing or the other and maybe at maximum one or two? But as we were talking about before, transferable skills, this is something you can apply through all of your life. It's not just to do with work or your career, but it's not just about your professional skills. This is to do with you as a person. So as somebody, for example, I'm a woman of faith. I am a Muslim woman, which means that spirituality is quite important to me. Now when I practise in martial arts, for me, that is a form of self-expression, it is a form of spirituality for me as well. I mean, if this is something someone else enjoys that's completely fine, I'm not putting it down. But for me, I don't really get a buzz out of watching or being part of events where there's two people in a ring beating the snot out of one another and people cheer on. So if that’s the kind of sports people like them, people, please feel free. I'm sure it's really, really enjoyable, but that's not me. For me, it is about my own form of self-expression. That's one of the reasons why having been in my main art, which is Haidong Gumdo for so long, it's actually been over 15 years now. My god, I feel old. So I think the blog post you may have read was an older one. But yeah, so I was very blessed to have met a teacher who not only took me on as almost like an apprentice or his main protégé, in a sense. But keeping in mind that I take a lot of taboo boxes for people, you're a woman, woman of colour, woman of faith, a woman with an impairment, visual impairment and so on. For a lot of people, especially when you go back a decade or two, you know, these are kind of taboo boxes that they would see, but he saw past a lot of this, while still being able to as human beings, we respect one another and we trained in several arts together with this being our main art because that was the one that he took. He was a senior presence of it for the UK at the time and within Scotland. So having that connection and we chose to disassociate ourselves from tournaments and competitions. Again, nothing wrong with those like that, each their own. It's just for us we got to a point where we just wanted to concentrate on our own training. Simple as that. You know, after you've taught for so long and you've been there, done that. Basically, it gets to a point where you don't care what others say. You don't care about the rules one association is making over the other. Let's all get real right now, for people to believe that every martial arts associate association in the world of Federation have no forms of corruption, have no forms of conflict, is very unrealistic.
GW: I don’t think anybody believes that.
NM: Oh, I've actually had conversations where people are so adamant that their association is perfect and I'm like, I've personally not, but I've been part of several. I've left several. And yeah, they've got their strong points. Some of them have such great methodologies and teachings. But when with a lot of organisations, you can pay four or five hundred pounds and suddenly you're given a first dan after not having trained at all, barely being trained. I'm not going to hide this and I think this is something that people should be more aware of. That is something that happens quite a lot. I've noticed it more so because of this is where my expertise is within far eastern arts. It does happen quite a lot, whereas you get those who do actually honour the training. But with a lot of organisations, it's not unknown for there to be that level of or that type of corruption, that's what I'm going to call it. And that's something that really pushed me away from. Again, I'm not saying all of them are like this, but personally made me just want to concentrate on my own training.
GW: I do the same. I have no formal involvement with any organisations at all. Some organisations are necessary because they do things like they create a credible reason for insurance companies to issue insurance. So they have their function. And also, it can be useful to have an association where somebody knows where to go to find people doing this kind of thing.
NM: Yes, definitely. Or the other one is for documenting. That’s another aspect.
GW: And tournaments. For most people doing swordsmanship, at some point in their training, getting some tournament experience is really, really useful. And the tournament themselves provide not just that training opportunity, but they also provide a market that creates the economic situation in which it makes it worth people's while to produce training equipment that everyone else can also use.
NM: It also creates awareness of those arts in themselves for others to then learn about them.
GW: I mean, I'm quite happy that all that's happening, but I want absolutely nothing to do with it myself. I produce my own stuff. I write my books and I write my courses, I do my research. I do my training. I do my teaching. I have no interest in any organisations whatsoever.
NM: That’s where that personal journey is, and that's why I'm on that same boat. Basically, where again, please anyone listening, don't think this is me attacking associations or anything of that kind because I have seen several that are fantastic and just the job they do in raising awareness and getting people on board, increasing levels of diversity in them, it's fantastic. But it's just once you've been there, done that for quite a long time, and you know, like you said, you've done a lot of the tournaments and competitions, you just decide to go on your own journey in a sense. And that is probably when I noticed my own form of personal growth accelerate, when I concentrated just on the art for the sake of the art itself. And I mean, again, this is personal anyway, and it was great to then be able to apply it to my own form of self-expression. So again, this is probably a very spiritual angle to be taking, but that's just what I enjoy about it.
GW: And honestly, it's been my angle since forever. There is no practical rationale for swinging swords around in the 21st century. There really isn't. We do it for other reasons.
NM: Because of my visual impairment, I've had this ever since I can remember. But being in the martial arts allowed, you know, when one of your senses goes down, your other one's heighten and I always say you almost gain almost, I want to see another sense, but it's a keen sense of awareness. You need to be aware of what's around you. Being in the martial arts, especially arts which focussed on awareness in that sense helped me find my feet. I count a lot on my hearing. That's how I get around day to day. But at the same time, being in a situation where I am doing some form of sparring in a class or training or whatever. Things like knowing how to time myself according to the feeling of motion in front of me, that might sound really strange, but for someone who's visually impaired, we find ourselves needing all of these little quips to help us make fast decisions. It helps you in your day to day life, basically. So things like crossing a road. The amount of times I've almost been knocked over because I have a very quiet but very powerful sneeze where I squeak and I go flying. I look like somebody tugged me from the stomach really hard and the number of times my friends have had to grab me by the arm because I’ve almost sneezed into traffic. But that's a different story. But the amount of times where I'm trying to cross the road and I cannot see left/right very well, especially if it's a lower lighting situations or if there's a car coming around the corner. I'm about to cross, but I very much have to consciously listen hard or feel, you know, especially just as you're standing, sometimes you can feel that vibration below you telling you there's a car coming around the corner. Something as simple as that is what we count on. And the martial arts really help me to hone in on that, to hone those skills.
GW: Yeah. And there are examples in Europe in martial history of swordsman who were blind and very good. One, it’s in Hutton, I think, he was simply asked the length of his opponent's sword in inches, and they would begin with the blades crossed, and then he could just handle anybody. That's really cool.
NM: So whenever I was doing partner sparring, the moment you are able to touch swords, that's when I'm like, OK, I know where I'm where I am. I know what to do. I know where my footing is going. That really helps. But there's times when you begin and you don't do that, depending on what type of form you're about to do or whatever. In that case, it's just about listening. And when you're ready, know they're using a similar sword to you. Obviously, each sword they'll have it customised to their own length, to their own height and so on. But it'll be similar enough that you know that it's within this type of length. You can predict you know where you need to be.
GW: And also, most trickery in swordsmanship is done through showing somebody something that's not true. And if they can't see it, you can't lie to them.
NM: So within Ninjutsu, I always remember, it was one of my earlier arts, but with Ninjutsu, we used to talk about the different elements we trained under, and one was basically translates to “void”, meaning the element of surprise. And this is where it could be anything in terms of you are standing and somebody comes towards you. Anything from stomping your foot and yelling all of a sudden to catch them off guard and really push them back, to how you would look like you're about to take a longer lunge, but you actually take a shorter one and then jump forward again. However, whatever you decide to do. Those are the kind of techniques that we then put to use, especially when you have a disadvantage in some way or another. You have to use that to your advantage. So yeah, I see where these martial artists you were speaking about, the swordsmen who want to touch tips of the sword.
GW: The video that got sent to me was very artistically produced and actually I got to you through the photographer who shot the video.
NM: No, no, no. I know the one you’re talking about. The light sabers.
GW: It’s fantastic. It was great. Actually, this is the interesting thing because I am some random bloke on the internet and women on the internet have a really hard time of random blokes randomly contacting them, telling them all sorts of shit. So actually, it was kind of handy that there was this friendly photographer who would sort of pass my message on. Clearly you're fundamentally an artist in that you're creating these videos and you write and you do visual arts. It seems to me that this is all kind of connected to the martial arts and connected to the aerospace engineering and what have you. It’s this one sort of artistic vision, but what is your medium of choice?
NM: So to say that I have a medium of choice would be a lie because for me, it very much depends on how I am feeling and how I wish to express myself. So as you were saying, you mentioned all the different things, but they're all interconnected in some way. So for me, as I said before, with the martial arts, I find it a form of self-expression when I am able to just train and be in my own zone in the sense, yet be more aware of my surroundings than ever. It's almost when you look at, for example, training in Haidong Gumdo, especially in what we would call San Gumdo, which is to do with the twin swords. It can feel very dance like, almost. And there's a very kind of, I don't want to say hypnotic, but when you're training, you get into a trance like state almost. Again, the whole spiritual side of it more so. And that kind of then translates into a form of self-expression in itself. Now I'm also a short story writer and poet and I have been published. But again, that's something I've also been doing since I was a kid, expressing myself through my written work. So I do have not all of it, but some of it on my blog page, which I haven't updated for a long, long time because life gets in the way. Especially work. But again, it very much depends on how I'm feeling at that time, where if I feel I need to get something down on paper, I will do so. If I feel like I need to paint it on a canvas, I will do so. For me, it's never about, is anyone going to see this, is it good enough? Will it make sense to anyone else? Because that is my form of self-expression. That is my expression taking place. Whether it makes sense to others or not isn't the point. It's for me to be able to put it onto some form of tangible medium to get it out of my system in a sense. And of course, I really love the fact that others will be able to see it, read it and also appreciate it, especially if they find it relatable. But it's very much to do with how I'm feeling. I couldn't limit myself to one, and I know that again that sounds so cliché, but I understand why some people say that because I don't want to limit myself. I don't want to bind myself into this box where I only allow myself to do one thing.
GW: Yeah, it comes out, sometimes people say, Guy, you’re a swordsman. Well, yeah, kind of. Well, yeah, I also am a writer and I produce courses and I am a woodworker and I've taken up restoring antique watches and probably my most important art form at the moment is parenting.
NM: Yeah, that's like a 40 hour a day job. That is an art form in itself.
GW: It is absolutely something. I’ll tell you something, I don't know how I would have been able to come this far with the parenting thing without the swordsmanship training.
NM: Exactly. Because it's your outlet.
GW: No, no, no, no. Not just that. When kids come into the world, they are who they are. And that is very often not who you expect. So any expectations you have as to how your baby is going to turn out are always going to be confounded in some way. In a sword fight the thing that gets you really messed up is your expectations, that you expect a person to do this and they do this. So you have to have no expectations. You see what's in front of you. And you have to have some kind of clear vision of the outcome you want.
NM: You have to be very present in that moment. Which I feel it can be very difficult. It's harder to do than people realise, to be present.
GW: And it's very hard to do on almost no sleep when your child has just decided not to eat for a day and is screaming at you because they're hungry but refusing to eat. Like, for instance. That's one of the minor early challenges of parenting. But I mean, to me, the parenting is not different to the swords, is not different to the woodwork, is not different to all the other things I do. It's one life.
NM: Yeah. So think of it this way again. There are similarities. Or we can draw parallels where just like with the sword arts, you cannot have expectation of what your opponent's going to do. So instead, all you can do is realise what you're doing is giving up a sense of wanting to control the situation, of course, like having some form of you want to be in control of yourself. But you cannot be in control of somebody else. So in doing so, what you have to do is be in control of yourself, but also be present and aware of what is happening. And that's the same with children. You can't necessarily control what they do and the tantrums they throw. And the fact they're not sleeping and so on. 2:00 in the morning, they're still waking you up, throwing things around. But what you all you really can do is take control of the situation and when they see you, you project. So if they see you in control and they see that you are calm, that will affect them. Just like in a situation when you are sparring with somebody, your opponent will pick up on your demeanour. So if you seem nervous, they will pick up on that and they will almost feel playful then to make you more nervous. If you come across as very grounded and really prepared. They'll also pick up on that. So a lot of what I find is in the different arts I have trained in and in systems I have trained in. A lot of it is about how you present yourself in that first moment, in that first stance you are taking and you're facing off in a sense. How you present yourself is also very important. It's what you project.
GW: Yeah, and there are examples in the literature of deliberately projecting like fear, for example. You pretend to be more afraid than you are to get them overconfident so that they can fall into your trap.
NM: You feign fear, you feign ignorance. Oh yeah. So that's actually come in handy for me before. But it's not that I feigned it. It's just people would look at me, assume that I had no clue or I was a beginner. There's been times when, for example, where we had some people walk in to the class and I had a habit and I know I shouldn't have, but I was let off for it, which I shouldn't have been. But I had a habit of always wearing my white belt, even when I was much past, like for second dan. It's just because sometimes if it was just myself, my teacher and maybe like one of the other students we would, we would sometimes just do that because it makes you remember your foundations and keep on building upon those and just to solidify those, you know. So sometimes we’d do that. You'd have somebody walk in and you can tell it's probably somebody who's never really been in a martial art, let alone a sword art before. And it's the case of my teachers like, OK, then you can train against her, and they would feel almost offended. You know, not only the fact that she's a white belt, but she just seems like she doesn't have a clue. And these are sometimes it would be other teachers. My teacher would be giggling in the corner because he was mischievous. He was very mischievous in a good way. And so we’d gone somewhere else to teach another class, and he was he was then also giving instruction to the teacher of that class. So and so they're talking, he said, OK, you can then train against her. And obviously he didn't want to say that he felt offended, but he came across and said, you know, don’t worry, I won't do anything too quick. So I just want you to come at me with a straight cut or a diagonal uppercut or whatever. I completely forgot I can be oblivious in some ways. I forgot that I was wearing a white belt and I was like, Oh. OK. You know, if that's what you want and then, you know, we just hear sijak, you know, as in Hajime meaning start. And before he's lifted his sword to get into stance, you're already kind of almost passed and all you hear is “She's not a white belt!” I was just like, Oh, I'm so sorry, I forgot. Obviously you wouldn't really do that a more official tournament or anything like that. This was just more like friendly play within a smaller class at the time. But yeah, just not to take people for granted obviously, if you are teacher and you're against or a master within the art form and you are against somebody who looks like a white belt, you're going to try and be supportive and help them. But it's just those moments that make you laugh when you look back in hindsight.
GW: OK. So what do I have to do to make you switch to the dark side of the force, come into European historical martial arts, like armizare, rapier and so on?
NM: So when you see that, I know the others can't see this, but I wonder if you can see my Dark Saber?
GW: Oh my God. That’s a Mandalorian Dark Saber.
NM: Yes. So funnily enough, this was this is always sitting here, so you can't see my living room, but it's kind of like the wax work museum for geek things all over. You can see like structures behind me, or figurines.
GW: They're like robots and things.
NM: Yeah. So the place is covered. But so the video that you saw combined my sword training with lightsabers and just behind that video was I had been sent a duel-worthy lightsaber by an Australian company Part Time Hero Props to just review for them. And I normally wouldn't do that, but they were really nice people and I thought, yeah, I'll just give it a go. So this was me to be duel-worthy, for sparring purposes. And the way they test it is they dropped it onto concrete from four stories high. Not so much as a scratch on it or the light doesn't go out. So it was really well-made and what I was supposed to do is just make a two minute video of me sitting there talking about like the physics of it, the engineering work behind it and what I thought about it, in actual application. So I contacted Lee, the photographer, the videographer and photographer that you reached out to and we decided, OK, you know what? We can just make this a little bit more so and maybe put in a little bit of the actual sword work on it. What happened ended up as two very cold afternoons in the ruins of a castle nearby. It was probably like minus nine or minus 10. And I'm just wearing my doboc, you know, and it's freezing. So my hands were so cold I could barely hold my sword during those parts. But it was there was no choreography. It was all made up on the spot and it was just supposed to be a bit of fun for us. It wasn't supposed to be something that ended up getting shared like on different platforms like hundreds of thousands of times, in which case I was kicking myself. I was like, I'm not even, I look like I'm so off form, my cuts are not at good angles, what was I doing? I do. But then, yeah, people saw that, they saw the lightsabers and how you then apply it to the same forms you're doing in Haidong Gumdo or what other arts I was practising and they were just like, oh, it's from the colour, I can't tell. Is that a yellow sabre, which would be like the Templars? Or is it red? Are you a Sith? Or would it be a different colour for a Jedi? And so in a way, nobody really knows the answer. So I could already be part of the dark side. If that's what you're asking me.
GW: What I what I mean is there any chance of you taking up rapier or longsword?
NM: I would definitely love to try again. I mean, before, like I said, it was primarily classical fencing I tried. One that I would really enjoy is longsword, some form of longsword because I've never actually had a go. So I would like to try that. Yes, I would like to try this. But I know that in terms of where my passion lies, it is primarily within my Korean, Japanese swords, Chinese as well. I do have like some daos and jians that I use for Xing Yi Bagua and so on. But that is where my passion lies. I think just more so of how I’ve spiritually bonded in that sense. But I would love to try. I almost had a go at being trained as a dimachaerus. OK, so this is a whole different story, like Gladiator. So long story short, and I'm really bad at this. I'm very sorry, listeners. Is that I was approached by a TV channel, and normally I am really not one for TV and so on. But they said to me that they were looking to make a documentary, so I'm kind of OK with that, if it's to do with research and history, then I am kind of on board. And the idea was they were looking to they were looking to emulate what it was like to be a gladiator and what would happen was it would mean that they were going to choose a couple of different trainers, primarily from the UK, to be training about 40 participants within those certain styles. Now it meant that we thought we were going to work very closely with them. I am so sorry. I forget Matt’s surname. Very well-known within the HEMA community.
GW: Matt Easton?
NM: Probably. I'm sorry. I'm just so bad with surnames. It was a case of we'd be studying together, and then we would also be looking to train in those styles before actually then teaching, of course, later on. But the reason they approached me was because they knew that I have twin sword experience. Although it is in a different art form, they were looking for somebody to teach as a dimachaerus, so they had somebody else to be a hoplomachus and so on. And what it would mean is that everybody is then taken to somewhere in far eastern Europe and you live each day emulating the same way that the gladiators would live, down to what you're eating, down to how you're dressing, your sleeping quarters and so on as well. So when they got in touch about this, I did let them know I've never trained in this sword style before, but happy to learn or even apply my own twin sword experience if that helps. But you would need to make it clear to those watching that my experience is not in that, I wouldn't want to pretend, you know? And yeah, it was all going great and it was all coming across. They were even getting the armour made for the different trainers and so on. It was really exciting. For me, it was just I finally get to add a Gladius to my collection. I don’t have on. That was my main part, you know, so I'd have either two gladii or a siccae, but I was like, either way, you know, I get to get these. I didn't have them in my collection. And unfortunately, last minute, the funding for their programme dropped because they could only allocate the funding to one out of the five programmes that were chosen. And it went to another one. I was just like, who voted for these other ones. Come on, this is gladiator combat.
GW: The whole point of the show is “Buy Naz a gladius.” That's the point of it.
NM: A gladius or introduce me to other types of sword forms. Like I said, most of my experience is in Far Eastern, but also some Middle Eastern as well. But yes, I almost had a gladius to add to my collection. I guess if I had to go out and buy a sword right now, that would be a really hard question.
GW: What sword would you buy next?
NM: Yeah. I can't answer that.
GW: I didn’t actually ask you, but now that you said it, I'm curious. Gladius, perhaps?
NM: Well, I guess if I got the gladius, I would want to at least get some training using it as well. In which case, it's more about the time allocation to another art right now, which is very difficult. But I don't know. There's a Korean sword called a Samgakdo, which is more of a modern term used for it's like a triangular cross-sectional sword. So the sword called the Jingum, meaning true sword is what you would use within Haidong Gumdo for cutting. So it's very similar to the anatomy of a katana, except a bit lighter, blade is slightly broader and a tiny, tiny, bit less curved. But otherwise, they are quite similar in application. This one has more of a triangular cross-section, though, and used primarily for like straw cutting and so on. But there is a really beautiful one I've got my eyes on, so I thought I'd probably go for that next. But now that you mention it, I mean, another thing, another one I don't have in my collection. Being Scottish, I don't have a claymore.
GW: You don’t? You definitely should.
NM: Definitely, considering I live in Scotland, I'm born and raised here. I don't have a claymore.
GW: That’s shocking.
NM: It’s like blasphemy. For me, it's not just about buying a sword to add to a collection. I'd love to have the chance to experience some training with it as well, to learn all about it.
GW: Owning a sword is trivial.
NM: Do you know anyone in Scotland who teaches gladiators?
GW: Let me think. I will give that some thought I'll get back to our listeners. If you know someone, please drop me an email and I will send it on to Naz.
NM: If any of you know, somebody who is trained as a dimachaerus for, you know, like the gladiator combat styles. Let me know. That would be really interesting. Just looking up, they were known as a bit rarer. Not really the most common of gladiator warrior types. And there's not much on them. There's not as much literature out there on the dimachaeri as opposed to a lot of the others. So it would be great to learn more about them, actually. I mean, again, it was just because my martial arts research is primarily being towards eastern martial arts, so it would be good to learn.
GW: OK, now my last question. You've done many things. So I am guessing you are one of those people that when you get an idea, you tend to act on it. But what is the best idea you haven't acted on?
NM: There's a lot of those. So I have a very overactive mind and I go on five different tangents at once. This entire discussion will probably show the listeners that I do that. I jump from one topic to another. And I apologise. But there's been so many times I've thought of something and I thought that would be fantastic and I've just never got around to it. Other things I have acted on, but I never had my name to put to it later, which was a bit hurtful. But you know, it does happen within the research realms like actually helping on the detection of the Higgs Boson. So I was working on particle physics experimental projects with the LHC for Cern and having a hand in that. But then because I was just an undergraduate, not having my name then put to it, there are things like that. But then you have a part of actually being like, you know what? I've detected the strange gap and like the energy levels, it corresponds to it. But am I doing something wrong? I couldn’t have found it, right? Not saying, I'm the one that found it, for anyone listening. But yes, just things like that. But I guess two things. One of them was there was another, funnily enough, another channel reached out to me once asking if I would like to be on a show again, a documentary where I travelled the world learning the different martial arts of each country I pass through. That would be a dream. I was like, yes, please, yes, thank you. But again, it never went through. Unfortunately, it was a case of, we're thinking to have it as an idea. It's not been confirmed yet, but it's an idea. And we just want to know if it was to go through, would you be interested? I was like, yes, yes, please. This is this would be amazing. So wasn't my idea, but it's something that I would have loved to have acted on. How great would that be?
GW: I have a friend who did it. I have a friend in Finland called Arman Alizad. They did a TV show where he went to various different places, including like, I think there was Korea and China and Russia.
NM: Indonesia, Thailand, those kind of places.
GW: Yeah, yeah. And he would train in the place for a bit under this particular teacher. And then there would be a fight at the end where he would get the ever living shit kicked out of him. The name of the show was Kill Arman. That was the name of the show. It was absolutely brilliant.
NM: Oh my gosh. I really have to watch this now.
GW: It’s in Finnish. So, yeah, Kill Arman, for Finnish TV. It was absolutely brilliant.
NM: I guess for this one, it was more of a case of it being more like for the sake of education. So you learn about the art, you talk about it with the with the schools and teachers there, you practise it as well. I don't think it's much about as much about, you know, there's this fight at the end when you get the snot kicked out of you. Though that would have been still fun. The other one is I always had this idea of building a cosmic washing machine.
GW: A what?
NM: A cosmic washing machine. OK, let me explain this before you're like, you're an idiot. So obviously, maybe one day something will exist that’s similar. It's just when I was a kid, this came into my head like, how great would it be if I can build a cosmic washing machine where I can take the Earth, put it in, and it washes out all the bad people. OK, I know, very childish. But you did ask me an idea I never acted on. That was from when I was like eight years old. I always loved even growing up, I loved the idea of a cosmic washing machine where it washes out all the corruption and just like evil and all sorts. So, I mean, OK, I highly doubt. I highly doubt even with scientific advancements, we’d never do that because it's not profitable. As you grow older, you realise a lot of it comes from profits by businesses and corporations.
GW: Also, there's a there's an element of judgement in there. What counts as evil?
NM: Yeah, I remember thinking of that as a child. I remember thinking, how would we then quantify what is bad and what isn't? But I guess I remember thinking again, as a kid, it would be a scale if somebody goes above this level and has done this many crimes and badness and they get washed in the cosmic washing machine. It doesn't kill them, it brings them back. But just as good people.
GW: Oh, it doesn’t get rid of them, it cleanses them.
NM: It cleanses them. Yes, I know that sounds really silly, but you asked the idea that was never acted on. That was from when I was eight years old. But I've always loved the idea of a cosmic washing machine. I mean, I'm in a close enough field. But yeah, I don't think that's ever going to happen, but never say never.
GW: No. we're talking about like a sliding scale or spectrum of behaviour and so somebody who ends up in the washing machine and somebody who doesn't are practically indistinguishable where you look at just the two of them. It's only when you look at the whole spectrum there’s a line there.
NM: And then who decides what that scale is, you know, like, is it going to be where you can get world leaders that do terrible things, but they get let go of because they've made it law for it to be allowed or, you know, whatever.
GW: Yeah. Well, actually, as a designer and probably chief engineer on the project, I guess you would get to decide it.
NM: Well, I guess that would also depend on who the programme managers are and so on. It would usually be allocated to the more business side. But this is where I would worry. But yeah, I guess it was just an idea as a kid. But otherwise, of course, there have been other ones, whether it's to do with my more science and STEM activities, or just to do with personal moments in life as well where I had an idea and I thought it would be great to do this, for example, with me being so close to going into medicine, something that I thought I'd always wanted to do. And then suddenly, it didn't act on it, but what came out of it was something I enjoyed so much I never looked back. I never once said, oh, I wish I had gone into medicine. Even if the job field within the space sector can be quite difficult to get into. Not as much anymore because of the boom in the space sector. There's a lot more happening recently. But yeah, I've never really questioned that because like you said before you follow your instincts and it leads you somewhere you need to be.
GW: That is a brilliant place to finish. Thank you so much for joining me today. It has been lovely getting to meet you.
NM: Well, thank you so much for having me, Guy. And again, I apologise for all my ramblings to everybody. So everybody knows me for this, that's tough luck.