Shopping Around for Your Copy of Attack, Avoid, Survive

It is no great secret that one of the purposes of this blog is to promote my book, the awesome Attack, Avoid, Survive: Essential Principles of Self Defence.

Now, being what is best described as “constructively lazy” today, when I needed to get a copy of the blurb for this book I simply typed the title into a browser and googled it. Lots of hits since it is now available from a number of outlets, but one that surprised me was a copy available from ebay. A previous customer who no longer wanted his copy? No, it wasn’t, and though I say so myself it is a book well worth hanging on to and re-reading.
Investigating the page revealed that he was asking twice the list price and claimed to have ten copies. The latter is untrue, since no buyer has yet ordered more than two copies from the publisher. This appears to be yet another middleman scheme where the customer pays £36 to the ebay vendor and they then order it for £18 from Lulu and send it on. When my book was first published a company called “Origin” were offering it on Amazon for $180, creating the impression that the title was rare and out of print, rather than just out. Again, they would have ordered a copy and charged you fee of $150+ for moving the book from one envelope to another.
Clicking on some price comparison links threw up very high prices that were presumably Origin still trying their luck, but also some intermediate value of £60 or $80. Curious I typed the title into to see what would turn up, and this is what I got.

Shows how it pays to shop around! Amazon are currently cheaper than the direct from publisher price, so go ahead and treat yourself to a copy while this lasts. Just tell yourself you are saving yourself over £100!

Don't Slip, Use a Stick

Billy Connolly once said “There is no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing”. Yesterday my girlfriend texted me suggesting we meet up during her break from work for a coffee. It has continued to snow here for the past few days so everything is covered with a couple of inches of snow. I fished out a set of Brynje mesh long johns, put on my usual boots and a down-lined coat I brought in China (they eat a lot of ducks in china so it is a great place to buy down items!). I also picked up my telescopic hiking pole. I brought this many years ago in Austria and it has accompanied me on all of my foreign travels since. If you fall in this snow and ice, I thought, you will feel real stupid knowing you had this in your room, had remembered it and didn’t use it.

So I set out in the snow to meet my girl. I encountered my landlord who made a joke about me going hiking. Meeting my girl she was also amused that I was using the hiking pole. She is, however, quite open to new ideas and within about twenty minutes she was agreeing that a pole in such conditions was a pretty smart idea and perhaps she should get one.
Coming into work today one of my colleagues had hurt herself slipping in the snow. Would a hiking pole or walking stick have prevented this? Very probably.
So our tip for today is, no matter what your age, if it is slippery where you are, get a stick!

Salute the Sun

My girlfriend told me yesterday she wanted to try some more Yoga.
“You could try 'Salute the Sun'” I told her, so today I went looking for good weblinks.
I found this rather nice video:
Obviously this lady is very flexible and well practised, so if you are new to this just try the one sequence, not seven.

Non-Slip Walking.

Several years ago when it really had been snowing heavily the path on my street had turned into an uneven sheet of compacted snow and ice. The street also has a noticeable slope to it.
As I walked down the street with my girlfriend she commented:
“We look like a pair of old people!”
…and indeed we did, carefully shuffling along holding hands.
“This is us in thirty years.” I warned her.
“OK!” she said with a radiantly happy smile.
For the many of you that do not know this:

  • On ice or snow walk with your toes turned slightly inward.
  • Slow down a bit and you are less likely to slip.

'snow Joke

“I come from the land of the ice and snow
Where the slightest touch of frost
Means the trains don't go”

For everyone in England, an ancient nation where it still comes as a complete surprise if there is a half inch of snow in winter and the entire transport system grinds to a halt.


Quick Polenta

I have often thought about putting recipes in this blog. Diet is as much an aspect of fitness as exercise, and diet is usually improved by a bit of variety.
Something I have been experimenting with this weekend is quick polenta. Polenta makes a nice alternative to rice, potatoes or pasta and is particularly good with meals that include a sauce or gravy. Polenta is also a nice savoury alternative to porridge for weekend breakfast. The instructions on my packet of polenta require it to be boiled and simmered for more than half an hour. If you have a microwave you can prepare it much more easily and with less cost of fuel or time.
Place about a quarter of a cup of cornmeal/ polenta in a bowl. Corn is very filling and nutritious so a relatively small quantity is needed.
  • Add a pinch of salt.
  • Add about a cup of water, either cold or lukewarm.
  • A dribble of oil (optional).
  • Microwave at full power for about 2 ½ minutes.
  • Give the mixture a stir then microwave for a further 2 mins.
  • Give it another stir. If you are happy with the consistency it is ready to eat, otherwise give it another 30 seconds and check again.
  • A little bit of milk and/or olive oil can be added if you wish. Other oils such as groundnut or sesame can vary the taste, as can garlic salt, herbs, spices or a dash of Worcestershire sauce.

On Perfect Length

I believe I have mentioned George Silver before on this blog. For those of you that don’t recall he was an Elizabethan gentleman famous for his criticism of the rapier. Many modern fencers revile him and often misquote him because of this, often having never actually read his arguments and oblivious to the fact that the very long rapiers of his day were very different to the epée and foils of the modern fencers.
One of the concepts that Silver has that has intrigued me is that certain weapons should be matched in proportion to the size of their user, which he terms as a weapon having “Perfect length”. Too long a sword is a hindrance in a packed melee and a shorter blade is more agile (at least for a weapon that is swung). Silver's method was:
“To know the perfect length of your sword, you shall stand with your sword and dagger drawn…… keeping out straight your dagger arm, drawing back your sword as far as conveniently you can, not opening the elbow joint of your sword arm, and look what you can draw within your dagger, that is the just length of your sword, to be made according to your own stature…..The perfect length of your two handed sword is, the blade to be the length of the blade of your single sword.”
The picture really sums this up better:

From this you can see that the swordsman can withdraw the point of his sword within the radius of his other hand to thrust. In a packed melee one can envision the swordsman grabbing a foe or pushing him away to arm’s length to run him through, even if there was not room to swing a weapon. We’ll call Silver’s way of determining optimum length “The Silver Measure”.

These two photos illustrate one of the reasons you would not want a sword that is too long. In the first photo the guy in brown has grappled the swordsman (Paul Wagner) and is doubtless about to thrown him to the ground and stomp him dead. The sword is short enough that the swordsman can stab the grappler before this can happen. In the second illustration (from the cover of a book by Paul Wagner) you can see that the swordsman in purple has gained control of his foes arms with his buckler arm and is bringing his point into action to finish the fight before he can free himself.
If you want to know more about Silver then I can recommend Paul Wagner’s Book Master of Defence: The Works of George Silver”
While I can understand Silver’s logic, his illustration for determining “perfect length” seemed a bit ambivalent to me. Thinking on the subject it occurred to me that the optimum length for a sword could be defined as:
“The shortest blade that can defend the remotest part of your body.”
The shorter a blade is the more agile it will be, at least for a swung weapon. If we take your remotest area to be your ankle your blade should be just long enough to protect this. Weapons such as quarterstaffs, spears and other polearms are often applied against the shin or ankle.
You can find this distance by holding a yardstick and letting your arm hang by your side. I’m 5'11" and long legged, so for me this distance measures as about 30". When moving around your legs are going to be slightly bent so there is a degree of leeway in this measurement. Luckily, katanas can be found with 29" blades so I am catered for. A bonus of selecting your blade length this way is that this also gives a sword that is not too long when worn on the belt. A shorter blade is also faster to draw and bring into action.
Since I came up with that theory I’ve found recommendations that the correct length for a katana is one that allows you to hold your arm by your side without the tip touching the ground, so I was on the right lines. We’ll call this way of determining optimum length “The Katana Measure”. Sometime later I came across this table of recommend blade lengths for katanas based on height. These recommendations suggest that a blade be around 38-40% of the user’s height.

The other night it also occurred to me that the distance I got measuring from my hand down to my ankle is very close to the length of my arm, fingertips to shoulder. According to Vitruvius the length of an arm from fingertips to armpit should be 3/8ths of the total height, which is about 37.5%, so the length from fingertips to shoulder will be close to the 38-40% recommended above.
Using Silver’s method (if I am doing it right) gives me a much longer maximum length for a blade, about 36", just over half my total height. According to Paul Wagner’s book most Elizabethan swords of the type Silver was likely to have favoured have blades of up to 35". Remember that I am above the average height for a modern male (5'8-5'9"). I think the Elizabethan era was one of those periods when the average Englishman was shorter than modern times, so a 35" sword would have been quite long in proportion. Some of the rapiers Silver loathed were four to five feet long, overall. Queen Elizabeth was also annoyed by the fashion for overly long swords and decreed anyone entering the gates of London with a sword longer than a yard in the blade would have the excess broken off.
Having a sword just long enough to defend your ankle seems very logical, but with the possible exception of the Japanese seems to be quite rare. Viking swords are about 30" in blade length. Like many early Medieval populations, the Vikings tended to be well exercised and reasonably healthy so were probably at least equal to modern people in average height. In the middle ages in Europe swords got longer, varying from about 33-38". One reason for this may have been the increasing emphasis on mounted warfare, where greater reach was desirable. Improved armour would also have been a factor. Weapons got heavier and longer for increased effect on armour. Improved protection also made the defensive capabilities of weapons of less importance. The cut and thrust sword seems to have remained this size through to the industrial age. Many of the European and North American infantry swords from later periods seem to average 32" in the blade. This would have been more than 40% of the average height of this period. I have number of swords of 32" length and while many of them are nice weapons they do feel too long and a little too heavy. Shaving a few inches off the blade would doubtless make them faster, handier and even more practical to wear.
I am going to leave the subject here for the moment, but it is likely that the topic of proportional length will arise again, not just in respect to swords.