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Interlude: Swords! Or how I met Charlie, and became an author too

Charlie blindsided me by promising I'd talk about German Longsword. That's like saying, "He'll talk about his Blues band." 

It's just too big a topic!

So let me turn the tables and tell you about how swords led to me meeting Charlie, and how both Charlie and swords led to me becoming a professional author. The story is not what you'd think.

Back when the world was young, a large Goth (long hair and black clothes, rather than long hair, pointy helmet and lamellar as per Shieldwall: Barbarians!) threw me through a pile of chairs.

As he helped me up, I realised he'd cured the nagging shoulder pain I'd been suffering.

That miracle cure was the least of the many good things that stemmed from that moment. (Though if we'd turned it into an alternative therapy, perhaps we'd both be rich! Stand here madam. Try to relax while Igor lovingly hurls you through our stack of handcrafted homeopathic crystal chairs arranged on a bed of natural herbs according to a traditional feng shui pattern...)

The big Goth turned out to be Hugh Hancock, ambitious indie animator and Machinima guru. He had longer hair back then, and a cool trench coat, and a penchant for leather trousers.

The reason Hugh threw me through a pile of chairs is that we were attending a Renaissance Dagger fighting class at the Dawn Duellists Society, Scotland's first HEMA club.

HEMA isn't short for the haematoma you get when hit by a club. It's Historical European Martial Arts -- think Early Music Movement, except with pre-modern and Medieval manuals, not sheet music, and swords and daggers and spears, rather than harpsichords and hurdy-gurdies. (It should sound familiar from Charlie's Halting State, but I'm getting ahead of myself.) 

When I joined, I thought the whole thing was nuts - back then we had little or no protective gear, and had only just graduated from practicing outside a pub to a church hall - but decided to take it up for a year so I could write good sword fights. (Fifteen or so years later, I'm teaching German Longsword, have a battered suit of armour in my cupboard, and typing this with a sword-scarred hand.)

It was in our early days, before the club gained institutional experience of instructing, and Hugh and I had drifted too close to where we'd dumped the chairs. The grappling technique we were practicing worked rather better than expected so...

CRASH! Hugh threw me through a pile of chairs.

Later in the pub we bonded over storytelling, science fiction and beer.

When my literary aspirations firmed up, it was Hugh who introduced me to Charlie.

It was in the same pub as before, the now defunct Holyrood Tavern; a slice of the Moulin Rouge movie complete with absinthe, corseted beauties of all genders and orientations, and a hirsute cross-dressing barman (who only stands out in hindsight because he carried it off so well). We sweaty historical fencers would pour into the place with our oddly shaped bags of swords and hang out with the Goths who were rallying before a midweek club night. Some of us were the Goths... of my friends liked to go clubbing in his mailshirt -- back then we did battle reenactment as well. He got dancing with a beautiful young woman in a clingy latex dress. Unfortunately, the mail was covered in a light coating of oil. I'll leave what happened next to your prurient imagination...

This was when Charlie was still "up and coming" - meaning no South African security guards in tow (joke). He also had a hell of a lot more hair -- 12 on the Patrick Rothfuss Scale for SF&F Writers -- my first impression was Dr John as reimagined by Jim Henson. What with beer, contrasting lives and common interests we hit it off. Being a writer, he also borrowed our swordish hobby and repurposed it for Halting State.

Now, contrary to what you might believe, professional writers don't have some magic key to the Door of Publishing. They - We! (hurrah!) - do, however, know a bit about professionalism. Charlie introduced me to his workshop, a proper round table crit circle, where I got to hang out with the likes of Fantasy writer Alan Campbell, SF star Hannu Rajaniemi and Fantasy and Crime writer Caroline Dunford, all of whom now write professionally.

That's how I really learned to write fiction, from critting other people's work and having my own picked apart. However, that's not how I got into print.

Swords is how I got into print.

I wish I could say I carved my way through the portals of publishing and planted my bloodstained magnum opus - Swords versus Tanks (naturally)-- in the Sacred Boardroom.

Truth is, somebody who I had briefly taught was a designer for a Paradox Interactive project that needed franchise writers. Since I had an agent to prove my quality, plus a nice portfolio of unpublished work that demonstrated my special interest in Medieval mayhem, a pitch followed by a quick Skype secured a gig writing books for War of the Roses and War of the Vikings.

Meanwhile, somebody who had taught me to use a sword - Guy Windsor, international sword guru - was involved with Neal Stephenson's Clang! project, and they needed writers for the Foreworld Saga, hence my crusader story about William the Marshal in the Holy Land. (The book covers the very real and scary Sir William the Marshal's utterly missing years in the Holy Land. I believe my friend, uber Historical  Fiction diva Elizabeth Chadwick is working on a novel to fill the same gap, however I don't think she'll have the Greatest Knight brawling with Viking crusaders and battling assassins over the legendary Horn of Roland.)

So, if I hadn't taken up medieval sword fighting, I wouldn't have my wide circle of interesting friends. Nor would I be blogging here, shamelessly pimping Shieldwall: Barbarians!, my Dark Age adventure yarn set during Attila's invasion of Roman Gaul.

(Go buy it so I can afford a new sword!)



I'm glad to see that you are one of the people who appreciate William Marshal the Marshal. The man who saved England (several times).


I've visited his tomb at key moments in my life. He's been my hero since I was about ten. My son has grown up to tales of his exploits.

Actually, regarding the Marshal, I just realised I wrote this:


I don't think the Holyrood Tavern is defunct (is it?), although it's certainly been reinvented several times. I spent the nineties living in a flat above it at the back; spent a year puzzling over why my opera-loving upstairs neighbour had taken up country music, before I figured out that the chimney in the pub's back room ran up through my bedroom wall...

Not exactly relevant, but I'm not exactly dragging us off-topic :)


Not exactly relevant, but I'm not exactly dragging us off-topic

OMG there's a topic? Oh noesss. Somebody will start debating!

Holyrood 9A is a fine pub, but not an alt one.


Same here. The greatest knight who ever lived. And I am including people like Musashi Miyamoto here.


Put them against each other in a fight, and I wouldn't like to guess who might survive. But I think I know who made the history, and who wrote it.


That's a bit like Billy the Kid vs the Red Baron - different weapons systems.

The winner would be whoever managed to get the other to fight his way.


Billy the kid has a small gun, the red baron has a bigger one if only the cowboy will ride in front of his plane...

Being more sensible fo a second, how do you feel about various polearms? I have read various claims about them essentially being the go to weapon for actually killing people, but don't really have any proper knowledge of the subject.


Depends on the context. On a field with men at your shoudlers - yeah, polearm great.

A lot of combat seen by knights would be in a civilian context. A longsword is basically a colt 45.

On a battlefield, if dismounted, then I'd want an axe or polaxe depending on the date - armor cracker! - or if in a team, perhaps a two handed sword.


ANNOUNCEMENT: Lovely people, I am going out for a pint with Hugh Hancock. I'll be back in a couple of hours, though not entirely sober. Don't let that stop you posting questions and so on, I'll respond when I'm back -- assuming the very many wise people who hang out here haven't already.

Also, if you are a William Marshal fan, then please note that 47North are selling Marshal Versus the Assassins for less than the price of extra topping on your cappuccino. It's a quick read... and as far as I know I am the ONLY person to have placed the Marshal at a certain epic Crusader event he was plausibly involved in...


So, anyone up for the mutual suicide pact of katana v rapier?


Depends on the context...

Indeed. Hour-long TV "infotainment" programmes have an awful habit of oversimplifying, and avoiding context, training, tactics, and doctrine. It's rock-paper-scissors for the most part.

Arguing polearm v. sword is right up there with "was the Tiger better than the Sherman Firefly" or "was the Garand better than the SMLE". These days, it's "is the Abrams better than the Merkava". All so a programme can reduce something to "it's my Top Ten ranking of things, Yeah". Side-by-side comparisons are generally meaningless, because if it's a fair fight you're doing it wrong...

Meanwhile, as a former Battalion Hide and Seek Team member, I would suggest that a well-sited and decently-concealed Observation Post means my Artillery-Jutsu will defeat anyone's Gun-Fu. The ability to see the ground, read a map, and work a radio wins; just about every time.

Meanwhile, as one of my Corporals once pointed out, "there's not a Ninja on the planet that's harder than a glass ashtray"...


Just to ask another truly annoying question, what's the best sword for modern home defense? And for a bonus point, why don't such swords show up more in modern urban fantasies?


Easy. The bayonet on the end of your service rifle / shotgun (google "trench gun").

And if you don't have to be in the room, don't mind the rather extreme redecoration costs, or have noise-tolerant neighbours, you could always use those tiny little blades that fly in all directions at extreme velocity once the grenade goes off.

For the bonus point, because it makes it for a rather short story... "Excru..."BANGBANGBANG!


Well back from the pub later than expected. Hugh and I spent 5 minutes cobbling together change for my bus home, then I found out it was 0040! Spent more money on the taxi than I did on beer.

Re the conversation so far:

Different optimum contexts make for excellent fiction. How about artillery spotter versus sniper? Whale rider vs skimmer pilot?

A sword would be next to useless for home defense unless you have training in it. They tend to turn in the hand, or just miss, and blundering in the dark, you're likely to cut yourself. Go google "samurai sword" attacks - I think you'll find very few fatalities per attack compared to guns. A baseball bat is far more dangerous than a sword.

Regarding Urban Fantasy -- I dunno. Perhaps nobody wanted to do swords after Highlander. Swords are hard to conceal. I used to have great fun pointing out the ill-concealed weapons of a local reenactment group. Top tip: brown paper and string will NOT conceal your daneaxe


Here's the home defense problem:

  • I don't live in a bad neighborhood, so the change of actually having to engage is pretty low.
  • I do live in dense housing with a bunch of bedrooms, especially kids' bedrooms, within easy bullet range of my place. Ethically, I'm not comfortable with a rifle, because if I miss, I may well end up hitting someone I know.
  • Distance to engage is a few meters or less.
  • My preferred home defense weapon actually is a spear, which I do practice with. However, a sword would be a decent second choice, especially the one I have that's got a decent point on it.
  • As for carrying weapons in public, can I introduce you gentlemen to the pleasures of carrying khukuri knives in shoulder bags? I've been doing it for years, when I go out to weed. Never had a problem yet. The other trick is to carry what's obviously a tai chi sword and dress in workout clothes. I've gotten plenty of comments (from everyone from police to gang members), but no one's ever checked to see if a particular sword is sharp or not, nor have they bothered me. Wrapping it up in a scarf and carrying it in a obviously non-threatening way helps too.

    If, hypothetically and in an urban fantasy, you wanted to carry a magic blade in public, dressing it with a cheap, tai chi style hilt and sheath, then wrapping it up in a scarf, is a great way to divert attention.


    In general a sword for home defense almost never makes sense. Even in the complete absence of firearms (there are special ammo you can buy that doesn't penetrate walls) you are better off with a short spear or a knife

    Like this guy used

    Also whenever talking about swords in an historical context it's important to specify time period. HEMA mostly focuses on the very tail end of a swords relevance as a serious battlefield weapon (15th-16th century). During this time period plate armor was becoming common, two handed pole axes and pikes were the primary weapon, while even two handed swords were relegated to civilian dueling or emergency backup weapons on the battlefield.

    However, move backward a couple hundred years and that is not the case. However since no manuals survive from that time period and the oral tradition was lost, no one really knows how swords were used in that time period.

    Also if you carry you kurkuri concealed in that shoulder bag, in California at least , that is a felony that can easily get you five years in prison so be careful with that


    Swords are hard to conceal.

    I'm more concerned about afterward.

    In my limited experience, if I can talk my way out of a fight when I'm holding a weapon, I can talk my way out of that fight even easier when I'm not holding a weapon.

    So for me, the weapon isn't there to persuade people not to attack me, it's there to be used.

    And afterward I'm likely to have some explaining to do.

    "Mr. Thomas, that's quite a nifty little pocket flamethrower you have there. How is it you were carrying it concealed when you didn't expect trouble?"

    And if I explain that I was expecting some possibility of trouble, then there's the natural next question. "Well, Mr. Thomas, when you thought that if you went to that place at that time that you might need to use your concealed weapon, why did you go to that place at that time?"

    I'm left reflecting that I would have been better off if I ran away faster after using the weapon. Or better yet, I should have run away faster before using the weapon. Or better still, arranged not to be in that place at that time at all.

    I think if you're going to carry a concealed weapon at all, it's probably better that it be something which has some other primary use. It should not look like a weapon. It should look like something that somebody would have to be truly desperate to consider using as a weapon. Then if gods forbid you do get into some desperate situation you at least have that, the other guys might underestimate it and you, and supposing you survive you have a better chance that your version of what happened will be acceptable.


    I agree with you J Thomas, the main risk of carrying a weapon is the way it changes your mindset from avoiding a fight to not avoiding it. I remember when i was a young man and used to carry concealed (I had a permit) I would almost seek out trouble. Running away as fast as you can while screaming your head off is a highly survivable strategy

    However if you are going to go to a gunfight you should bring a gun to it, and in the US at least, odds are any serious criminal is going to have a firearm


    I've got to admit, I usually carry things that aren't obviously weapons, and anything that could be thought of as a weapon (like a khukuri used for chopping down palm seedlings) is concealed mostly so that I don't freak people out.

    The point (as in Ringworld) is that I'm not obviously armed, and I don't carry myself as if I was armed. I'd rather the issue of being armed was...ambiguous. It's better that people are stopping to think about it and talking to me, rather than thinking about fighting (See, I'm not armed, these big sharp tools are for weeding. Really!).

    In any case, the talk about carrying swords is for urban fantasy. Just as you can carry an orange vest and a clip board and go all sorts of places by being functionally invisible, in an urban fantasy novel, it's perfectly possible to look like a tai chi practitioner and carry a sword. It's odd that so few authors bother to use such tricks.


    Manga and anime has Sagara Sousuke from Full Metal Panic, a teenaged mercenary who grew up as a child soldier and who is now assigned to be a close-quarters bodyguard to a schoolgirl, Chidori who he has to rescue on a regular basis. He carries a lot of military hardware but since he always wears a school uniform it's assumed to be toys, airsoft weapons and the like.


    This reminds me a lot of the martial arts/MMA topics a while back. Keeping weapons for self-defence/home protection is largely irrational these days - even if you don't accidentally stab or shoot yourself the chances of needing to protect yourself from a lethal attack are anything from small to vanishingly small worldwide and have been dropping for decades. The latest studies show that even in the South American hellholes that top the murder rates its mostly likely to happen in specific places and at specific times between members of the criminal class. Added to which producing a weapon raises the stakes for both sides.

    If you want to prepare for the most dangerous form of violence anyone here is likely to see: phonebook->councilors->domestic violence and if anything actually happens don't for goodness shake use a weapon or anything that would look back in a picture of the other side in the divorce court (like those submission holds).

    Of course if you're going to Syria take a tank, or one of those artillery battalions mentioned above.


    My problems with swords for home defense include...

    ...they don't leave much moral or legal wiggle room.

    ...means keeping a sharp 3ft blade to hand.

    ...expensive and likely to be confiscated as evidence.

    ...really bad for the public image of HEMA

    ...I fence for fun. I don't want to flash back to decapitating somebody every time I do that.

    However if you are going to go to a gunfight you should bring a gun to it, and in the US at least, odds are any serious criminal is going to have a firearm.

    By the same token, if you are going to go to a knife fight, you should bring a knife. Bringing a gun to a knife fight is only slightly less stupid than the other way around.

    Since in a modern urban setting it's routine for strangers to pass well within grappling distance, carrying a ranged weapon is probably the wrong choice for self-defence.


    A stout walking stick has its merits. Sherlock Holmes was a practised exponent of singlestick, boxing and swordsmanship. Modesty Blaise and Willie Garvin have been known to use quarterstaves, successfully of course.

    There was a TV series, long ago, about martial arts around the world, called "The Way of the Warrior". It did get beyond Japan and China, and did say something about the shift from fighting skills to martial arts. (Goodness, 1983...) Apparently, one reason why Miyamato Musashi is considered second-rate by some in Japan is that he didn't pass on his skills. We don't really know about what William the Marshal did in that line, but any household at that status-level would have been training boys to be knights.

    And didn't samurai-class Japanese women learn to use the naginata?

    I've certainly carried dangerous sharp objects on the street. It's maybe not quite the same under Scots law but I would have the lawful authority/good reason defence, as I was clearing a fallen tree from the highway. That's set out in the 1988 Criminal Justice Act, but politicians have been coming down hard on knives since then. Looking at some of the things they've done, there could be some interesting interactions for anyone keen on gardening.


    There are indeed whole Western Martial Arts systems built around walking sticks. Google "Gentlemen's Defense".

    The Marshal had a big household of young knights and seems to have had an ethos of looking after his people, so I assume they were well trained.

    Part of what makes the Marshal a worthy hero even nowadays is that he comes across as fundamentally decent. For example, one of his deeds was helping a widow get a mattress out of a building when Henry II was razing a town. On his deathbed, he worried about making sure everybody would get their new cloaks at Christmas.

    There were other people who were good at killing people -- Richard I seems to have been an amazing warrior, and there was this Iberian nutjob called Don Pero Nino who bears reading about. However, none of them were people you would want to have a beer with.

    Also, I don't think the Marshal actually killed a lot of people. He only fought in a handful of battles and skirmishes, and what with the wargear of the time, taking down a fellow knight didn't usually leave him dead. So he was about smiting more than slaying.

    Musashi came from quite a different culture. My impression is that they fought an awful lot of lethal duels just for the sake of pecking order - is this correct?

    If so, this is much more like the horrible duelling culture of late 17th early 18th century France, where you could go out for a bottle of wine, take part in a 3 on 3 duel not of your making, just for the hell of it, and come home in a hearse.


    "As for carrying weapons in public, can I introduce you gentlemen to the pleasures of carrying khukuri knives in shoulder bags? I've been doing it for years, when I go out to weed."

    Gardeners often think they have weed problems, but yours must be something different again! Which alternate universe is it that you live in?


    A rather good setting for a story, I think.

    "As I was pruning my triffids..."


    "My problems with swords for home defense include..."

    Plus the fact that ALL weapons are almost completely useless against the usual forms of trouble in the UK or USA, when what seems to be a harmless visitor turns nasty with no notice and when close to you, or when a group passing in the street suddenly turn nasty. It's technical bullshit that even an expert can (reliably) draw a weapon and defeat a surrounding group with weapons drawn and nasty intentions. And, as you say, treating all encounters as likely to be hostile leads to a society where old age is not a common cause of death.

    The same applies to defence against wild animals, incidentally, even of the most dangerous sort. Using your brain and staying out of trouble is the only decent defence.


    Home invasions do happen, and there are times when a noise has you get out of bed to check the house... and if you have kids sleeping in a different room, then you don't have the option to barricade yourself into one room and phone the police. In such circumstances, some kind of weapon does seem a good idea.

    A sword is still a bad choice for the reasons I stated, especially the issue of keeping it to hand.

    I think that really a night stick or baseball bat is good enough for such situations. Your objectives in the unlikely event of a confrontation would be first to deter and warn off, and only then to defend with force. If you were defending, then you only need to put the other guy down, you don't need to slay him.


    In my bedroom there is a 3 foot long old broomstick that holds the window open when I want to open it fully, e.g. during a hot summer.
    What Martin says is correct.


    Its hard to find any statistics for home invasions but I'd submit that they're mostly publicised precisely because they're rare. If someone was really worried I'd suggest investing in better doors and locks. When I see recommendations for knives, bats, nightsticks and so on I can't help but think that the headline is going to read "Paranoid man who discussed purchasing weapons on the internet beats neighbor's 14 year old daughter to death, claims 'accident'. Friends of the victim say she was out late celebrating a birthday...."


    Since in a modern urban setting it's routine for strangers to pass well within grappling distance, carrying a ranged weapon is probably the wrong choice for self-defence.

    If someone with any resources or creativity wants you dead, you will be dead. One of the least imaginative ways is with a sniper rifle from far enough away that you don't notice them. But however it works, you will be dying before you notice there is an attack on. The level of effort that gets used to protect heads of state is about what it would take to protect you.

    If you have any chance of survival to speak of, it must be a conditional attack -- they only want you dead if they can't get what they want without that. Violent confrontation is a form of negotiation. "There is something I want you to do, and I want it enough that I've taken the big risk of showing you I'm dangerous instead of killing you."

    So all self-defense is defense against ritual attack. Attack designed to show you that you are in danger and should give in. (Plus random attacks by crazy people.) Most of the uproar about police violence is from police who don't follow the rituals, who kill people that are probably surrendering and who seriously hurt or kill people that have surrendered.

    Which self defense method works best against ritual attack depends a whole lot on which rituals the other guys are using. The better you can predict that, the more you know what to do.

    Often, if you can predict what they want, it's better to just give it to them. That feels bad if you have a brittle self-respect, but is it really an issue you'd kill somebody for? If you're pretty sure it isn't.... Plus there's the chance you could be injured or killed. (That doesn't apply if you think they'd kill you after they got what they want.)

    There's the moral issue that you don't want them to think they can get away with that sort of thing. But they believe they're right or they wouldn't be doing it. Society is not improved if you teach people they mustn't take risky decisive action to get what's right. Much harder to teach them they have no right to what they think they deserve.

    It's a dangerous ritual you could die in. If somebody hasn't already killed you, s/he almost certainly wants you to listen to him/her, and won't actually do anything worse than break a few ribs or knock out a few teeth until s/he's said everything s/he wants to. It follows that if you get a chance to reply, and if you want to attack and get surprise -- and surprise is worth 40 pounds of muscle or 5 years training -- you should do it mid-thought. Nobody expects you to interrupt yourself, to give up your chance to be listened to.

    It's usually better not to participate in this ritual in the first place. Unless it's somebody who's personally important to you.


    THe term "Home invasion" is one of those annoying USA imports to the UK. What usually happens is that sometimes someone sneaks in to steal something quietly, and when you disturb them mid-steal, they usually run away rather than confront you, if only because they've got a long record and being seen and identified to the local police (Who it they are halfway decent will know about their tendencies already) is a bad thing. There are sometimes headlines about people being tied up and their house ransacked, but those are pretty rare.


    yes, buy a yappy dog or a loud alarm system, get some flood lights that'll wake up the street. Weapons are a power fantasy even if you're not half asleep or hungover or so twitchy with adrenalin you accidentally brain a family member an actual movie style invasion has you outnumbered and hitting them is just going to make them mad. Run away, delay, go to the kids room and tip some heavy furniture over the door while you call the police.

    And keep in mind that any actual intruder is more likely to be the neighbor's drunk kid trying to sneak home without waking up mum and dad and climbing through the wrong window rather than a visit from Alex and his droogs.


    A lot of wisdom on this thread! I think, however, that a lot of this depends on tactical context, as in the layout of your home, location and number of bedrooms to defend and so on.

    Being prepared for something that is statistically unlikely is not itself a bad thing. Part of being prepared is thinking it through so you don't by default, say, decapitate the neighbor's drunk kid who climbed in the wrong window.

    I think we're talking about armed home defense because it's a much more interesting topic than how to talk your way out of violence, which is self evidently a good first resort.


    Home defense blade - a knife. Not enough room in my house to swing a sword or spear.

    Carrying in public? I just used to put a katana in a bag and sling it across my shoulders. People assumed I was going fishing. It even worked when I brought it into the country as I walked through the "nothing to declare" at Heathrow.


    yes, buy a yappy dog or a loud alarm system, get some flood lights that'll wake up the street.

    Yes! A cell phone is one of the best home defenses, though not perfect. Send a photo of your intruder to somebody elsewhere. He can't get that photo unsent. If he stops to think even a moment, he does better to leave immediately rather than commit more crimes and become more identifiable.


    Yes one of the reasons I upgraded to a modern phone back when was an awareness that people were using it to document stuff, e.g. car accident.

    I wonder is there a desktop app that takes a photo and immediately uploads it?


    "Home invasions do happen, .... In such circumstances, some kind of weapon does seem a good idea."

    It does. All of the statistics and experts agree that it isn't, at least as far as lethal weapons are concerned, and CERTAINLY not in the hands of anyone inexperienced in hand-to-hand combat (and, no, role-playing games etc. do not count). Lots of people have been killed by accident in a tussle, or the intruder (or his colleague) has taken the weapon away and used it, plus the points made by other people and my next point.

    Whether a stick is a good idea or a bad one, I don't know. The problem with even a fist is that it ups the ante, and an intruder is likely to panic, whereupon he might respond by attacking but would otherwise have run away. And, of course, there may be a second intruder you haven't seen.


    Triffids? Pretty close: cardoon, aka wild artichoke. I tend a park, and just upwind of the park is a field full of cardoon, which, if you don't know about them, are basically giant thistles that are difficult to kill without herbicide. Since they're on private land (slated for development, incidentally) and I don't have a pesticide applicator's license, I do the next best thing: chop off all the cardoon flowers every spring, so that they can't spread their seeds into the park.

    The weird thing about cardoon, as about many plants, is that when they bolt and send up flower stalks, they biologically commit to the whole process of producing seeds. If you interrupt them halfway through by chopping off the blooms before they set seed, they still devote large amounts of resources to that beheaded flowering stalk, and this sets them back for the rest of the year. If you tried to rip them out of the ground, they'd just resprout vigorously from their enormous taproots. By leaving them stranded halfway through their sexual cycle, I've actually managed to kill a fair number, as well as preventing the windborne seeds from landing in the park and spreading the infestation.

    So every spring, I spend a couple of days walking around with a khukuri, beheading cardoon. If you have a sword and a field of cardoon nearby, they're great targets, albeit prickly ones. If you cut them too late in the morning, the open flowers are full of bees, which adds to the excitement.


    Then there is the case of a guy I met who was rather well trained in Karate. One night he was in bed, no lights, and someone started to open his bedroom window. He waited until the intruder was nicely framed and then delivered a perfect gyaku-zuki to the center of his face. Whereupon the intruder disappeared. It was an upper storey bedroom.

    Of course, maybe it was a drunken neighbour who had forgotten his keys trying to get into what he thought was his own house. In which case, it was his mistake.


    Yes. The type of thing I would have in mind would be to present an intruder with an escape route...possibly making a lot of noise as I processed through the house hoping to avoid actually seeing them.


    The story of a karate guy coming home late on night in Edinburgh. Some young men attacked him. He thought: I'll throw a few kicks to keep them busy while I work out what to do... turned out the kicks took them all out.


    There is an old story I have heard from people who could name the person involved: a viking reenactor returning home after a weekend of fun. The movie "An American Werewolf in London" has a werewolf attack in a tunnel under central London, a very long foot-corridor linking stations. (Tottenham Court Road is the usual place listed, but this tunnel may be at another place, perhaps the Bank/Monument complex) And, so the story goes, with viking was walking down the very same corridor when somebody tried to mug him. With a knife.

    So what's the easiest way to carry a functional mail shirt on the Underground?

    That's right, you wear it. The weight is reasonably distributed, and a greatcoat or similar covers up the oddity.

    I think the story has grown in the telling. The mugger has a knife, says "This is a knife," tries to use it, and it breaks. The viking draws his sword in that rather impractical back-scabbard style from his rucksack, says "You call that a knife? This is a knife!", and chases him down that long corridor. Well, the film was fairly recent when I first heard the story. Maybe that line was used. And CCTV was less common in those days.

    I have the feeling that if that story wasn't true, it ought to be.


    Ha! Nice to read about the DDS. Guy taught me in his school in Helsinki over ten years ago, and he was the best martial arts teacher I had had. I haven't been trained by him in a long while, except for one short session where he taught my team from work.

    He keeps doing these talks about swords every year in Ropecon which have been fun and informative.

    Also, it's a small world. Or a large Internet.


    I heard the same story around 1985. Was LARPing at Peckforton Castle


    There is an old story I have heard from people who could name the person involved: a viking reenactor returning home after a weekend of fun.


    And with a beard, bulky profile and shambling gait, he looked like a hippy or tramp...

    Yes, I too have heard that story and it's nice to hear somebody else tell it, and so well.


    Hi Mikko - I wonder if we met when we were visiting him in Helsinki?

    Of course, he now has a book on Swordfighting for Writers ( which I must get around to reviewing.


    "Then there is the case of a guy I met who was rather well trained in Karate. "

    Nice story, now how many people beside him have you met who have actually had an intruder in their house while they were there?

    As Cynic says the statistics and experts suggest all these power fantasies are just that - sure there's the occasional home owner who impales a viking raider on a self made pike or throws his bowl of pet piranha in the face of that post-apocalyptic gang member. And yes we all like to think we'd wake up as alert as Schwarzenegger rolling out of bed like a panther, smoothly hefting a bat and laying waste to our foes. But real world? Friday night, 2 am, had a couple of glasses of wine with dinner? maybe some medication because who doesn't these days? Guessing most of us are the wrong side of 40? Chances are a bunch of hyped up home invaders are going to take your weapon and shove it up your... nose.


    Is there a central hub/club for sword engravers? A friend received a sword as a gift ... and the fine jewelry engravers are not exactly chomping on the bit to undertake this project.


    My dad, with 30 years experience in east central Scotland dealing with everything from drunks to car crashes to habutual criminals, holds that having a dog is a good way to keep burglars away. For obvious reasons.

    (And yes, you numpties, there are things you can do to dogs, but all more complicated and likely to add to your problems later; much simpler to burgle the house next door without a dog)


    This post finally got me around to read the copy of George Dubys book on Guillaume le Marechal.

    Someone upthread wrote they'd like to have a beer with the guy. There's this episode where Guillaume meets a man travelling with a lady, has a short talk with them and sees that the guy is a monk (has a monks haircut under his cap). After some pestering, they admit to having an affair and eloping. When the monk tells Guillaume that he plans to support them by investing (a lot of) money with some moneylenders, Guillaume robs them, and gives the money to his peers later for feasting. The explanation why this is the moral thing to do from Guillaumes perspective was fascinating.

    Oh, another thing, the story of how his biography was written, over several years, at request of his son? That yould also make a good read, with the author running around and getting different versions of the same event from Guillaumes friends and trying to find out what to write. You could easily wiggle some crime fiction in there.


    Rather unlikely in my case. Despite being well over 40 I still train martial arts one evening a week and gym for another 3. At 90+ kg I can't say I have ever had any serious trouble probably because I don't go looking for it, and trouble tends to avoid me as being not cost effective. As for drugs, I do quite a few, but they are all designed to raise performance, not diminish it.


    That's fair enough there's certainly going to be outliers - if you say you'll be perfectly alert and awake at 2am despite the exercise, happily able to handle a group of faster younger people looking for trouble in close quarters without making things worse for yourself then hey great, you're the exception to the rule about confrontations with unknown intruders.


    I doubt whether they would be faster, especially if they are untrained, and I sleep very lightly these days. Maybe I'll post a video of me doing a few punches and kicks, since it's something I have been thinking of doing for years but never got around to. In the meantime, my speed is about the same as these guys (same art): OTOH, my stamina is probably less. I doubt I could keep up a full speed fight for more than about 30-45 seconds. But in the real thing that's an eternity.


    You do realise your post isn't actually an answer to what notsam wrote?


    I side with the ones who believe that a wallet isn't worth fighting for, and the best response to a threat of violence is to run away or remain calm and cooperative.

    However, it occurs to me that women have to worry about being raped by violent attackers. Any female commentators want to weigh in on the merits or otherwise of self defence weapons for women?

    (And no I'm not saying that men can't or don't get raped. I'm saying we generally don't worry about it.)


    Whilst you are almost all correct in the referred to post, you are wrong on one thing.

    " However since no manuals survive from that time period"

    The Royal Armouries MS I.33 survives from circa 1300 or so. Admittedly the current theory is that it is more to do with judicial duelling than precise battlefield combat, it nevertheless shows ways of using swords that people would have found useful. And I've found it useful on the re-enactment field and one on one combat.


    Hugh, you have thrown a live grenade into the room and the first guy who jumps on it is not protecting his buddies or anybody else.

    About your first paragraph, say that somebody offers you 50 pounds to kill somebody. You think you can do it competently and probably not get into any trouble over it, though there's always a risk. Do you do it? I'm guessing not.

    Say you have 50 pounds on you, and somebody wants to take it from you. You can probably stop him, but it's hard to be sure you won't kill him. There's always that chance in any serious fight -- for example, if he falls down and hits his head on concrete that could do it right there. You probably won't get in trouble for it, self defense and all that, though there's always a risk.

    There's a big difference between killing somebody to earn 50 pounds versus killing somebody to keep your own 50 pounds. But there's a big similarity too, and it's killing somebody for 50 pounds either way.

    There are people who make a big mystique about killing. They say it changes a man forever, that people who know how can glance at a man and tell he has killed another man, etc. It's utter bullshit. But you're likely to obsess over it for hours, imagining what you could have done different. It will affect your dreams.

    And usually the other guy is somebody who wants to feel powerful, who feels like he doesn't get listened to enough. He'd be better off reading escapist fantasy than carrying a weapon. Or maybe he got exposed to the wrong kind of fantasy.


    Well, here is the simple answer. The vast majority of "young people", even the trained ones, are not faster than I am.


    "But you're likely to obsess over it for hours, imagining what you could have done different. It will affect your dreams."

    Yes, for a short while (a few days), and no. But then again, everyone responds to stress differently and a lot of it seems to be genetic. Mr Psychopath suffers from none of it.


    The clerk incident is a bit squirmy. However, clerics were pretty much regarded as parasites and the couple were criminals. If it were two monks absconding with money from the monastery, we wouldn't feel so uncomfortable about the incident.

    Duby is good, but the translation of the original poem is better...


    Oh and I put the "WTF spearmen in a tourney" and the "low branch" incidents into the opening of my book.



    Dave Grossman isn't just a MilSF writer, he wrote a fascinating book on the subject: "On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society".

    He makes very interesting points about the factors that minimise the psychological impact of killing.


    The best way to minimize the psychological cost of killing when it involves neurotypical soldiers is to distance them from it. PTSD is far less common among the arty and airforce personnel because in general (unless it all goes wrong) they don't get to see up close what they have done. Nor do they see the occasional horrible fate of some of their friends or innocent civilians. There are rather interesting military projects being undertaken using brain stimulation tech. The objective being to minimize "stray thoughts" when focusing on the main task ie get on with shooting and don't have nagging doubts about what you are doing or what might happen to you. This is a rather interesting tip-of-the-iceberg article from a civilian POV:


    So kinda two Therese about the whole home defense things,

    1: is it a risk that is worth hedging fo? 2: is a weapon on prem an effective hedge

    1: has to take into account the odds of the risk (low) the cost of the hedge (very low) and the severity of the outcome being avoided . IMO based on 1: alone there is good "pro" argument, yes the odds of anything ever happening are slim but the cost of a knife or gun is effectively zero even when compared to things like car endurance

    2: is a lot more nuanced and depends on individual eccentricity. My feeling is for the average home owner there is a strong "no" argument here since most are not going to have the training to do the right thing and actually run a strong risk of making the situation worse

    However "average" in 2: is probably not a good way of thinking since the distribution is likely not a normal one (at least in the U.S.). There are a lot of combat vets these days. A fair number of people with other backgrounds or avocations that skew toward knowing what they are doing with weapons

    Also to combat scenario is not as one sided as some make out, while it's true that homeowner is probably facing younger, stronger and potentially more numerous opponents he has several significant advantages. He is on defense. He can find a dark corner, wait and hide in ambush. This is very effective with firearms. He also has the police on his side, many burglars can likely be defeated by the homeowner discharging his weapon into the ceiling and then waiting.

    So it probably depends. But I think it's important to be realistic a lot your level of training


    1: is it a risk that is worth hedging fo? 2: is a weapon on prem an effective hedge

    If it's fun to think about things like that, then doing a reasonable amount of preparation is its own reward.

    Chances are you won't get a burglar when you aren't home, much less when you are. If it happens, it's likely to be one or more of the neighbor kids looking for a thrill and not professionals. In much of the USA you are more likely to be raided by the police who have gotten a wrong address, than by anyone else.

    But put all that aside. Imagine that five well-trained young people with automatic weapons have decided they want to play lasertag or paintball with you in your house, with real ammo, and with no notice. They aren't worried about making noise, they will shoot wherever they think you might be, and as soon as they've confirmed you're down they'll run away. What do you do?

    Is that too grim? OK, you wake up when your power quits and various things in your bedroom stop working. None of your electric lights are working, except flashlights etc. You don't know what you're up against at all but you sense there may be an intruder. Unknown to you, a 70-year-old crazy homeless man has sneaked into your house. He's completely unpredictable because he's crazy. He found one of your kitchen knives and he intends to stab you with it, and he shut down your circuit breakers. He sees well in the dark. What do you do?

    There's nothing wrong with fantasies like that. Unless, having planned them out, sometime in the face of great uncertainty you act on them.

    If it is the police breaking into your home at 3 AM, any sudden motion on your part can get you killed. That includes dropping to the floor when you hear the first gunshot and raising your hands and yelling "I surrender!". If you really want to plan ways to survive a home invasion, you should prepare to freeze and be perfectly still until it's over. But that's no fun.

    It's about fantasies where you get to feel powerful. That's valuable and important.


    Not enough room in my house to swing a sword or spear.

    Rapiers and their smaller descendents, urban self-defense weapons of choice in western Europe for a long time, were primarily thrusting weapons. I've had opportunities to handle period weapons -- the blade geometry of many of them suggest the edges were never intended to be sharpened. A hallway, even a narrow one, provides enough room to use the weapon as intended. Given a narrow blade and a sharp point, it's remarkably easy to penetrate to a lethal depth.


    There's little reason to swing a spear.

    I've got narrow hallways, which is precisely why I decided to practice with a spear. Unlike a rapier, you can use all the muscles of your body to stab with the point, and you can also control the distance of contact from a few feet to six feet (my spear is over two meters long).

    Basically, if you can play pool at all, you've already got the basic idea of how to use a spear. You just need to practice to make sure the point goes where you want it to go, quickly, repeatedly, and with varying degrees of force.

    There's a reason why the rank and file used to get spears, not swords. They're relatively cheap, quite adaptable, and they're effective at what they do, which, in my case, is help me exercise my shoulders and keep my aim in, just in case...


    I have a rock-paper-scissors question for those who want to think about the "best melee weapon evva!":

    Say you travel around the late medievial europe, and expect all kinds of trouble: brawls turning nasty,urban muggings, rural muggings, rural muggings where the attackers are a bunch of knights on horseback attacking your caravan ...

    What weapon(s) do you carry, to allow you a decent chance of surviving all this? You have to carry them all.

    I know, this is not a realistic scenario, but the kind of stuff the protagonist of a novel finds herself in often.

    My bet would probably be a spear, an axe and something shortish and stabby (and the person to bring a rapier would probably be at a great advantage ...)


    I appreciate it all depends on whom you are facing, but I wouldn't use a 6ft stabbing spear down a long narrow hallway, on the grounds that once they are past your point there isn't much you can do.
    Of course if the attackers are normal thuggish sorts without much experience you are likely to be fine. Against me or many people I know, you'll be toast.


    Getting past the point in a narrow hallway is kind of a weird situation, given that I'd most likely be facing someone with a gun or a knife, where getting their weapon out of line and making my first hit count is the most important problem to solve. Their grabbing my spear shaft is a problem, certainly, but it's even more of a problem with something like a rapier, where the entire blade is out front and I've only got one hand on the hilt.

    If that kind of thing actually worries you, you might want to check out the Cold Steel assegai, and see what you think. You can do other things besides stabbing with spears, you just don't swing them around like they're zweihanders, as Michael Cain seemed to think.


    Getting past the point in a narrow hallway is kind of a weird situation, given that I'd most likely be facing someone with a gun or a knife

    I don't want to face somebody with a gun in a narrow hallway, on the assumption that if he hasn't already shot me then he has some reason not to, and if I start attacking him he has less reason not to.

    And I'm no expert, but if I had a knife and I was facing somebody with a spear in a narrow hallway, I'd need to be real dedicated to try to get close to him so I could stick him. I'd rather run, and if he chases me try to find a door that I might close on him or possibly trap the spear in.

    Failing that, my instinct is to throw the knife at his face and while he's distracted try to grab the spear with both hands. When we're close and the spear belongs to both of us that evens things out some and then it depends on initiative.

    But this is all hypothetical since with any luck I'll never face anybody with a spear in a narrow hallway, with either of us holding the spear. I think your main point was the most important one -- you get to exercise your shoulders (and also keep your aim in).


    Indeed, an assegai was what I thought you meant at first, but then you said 2m long. As for gun/ knife, J Thomas has covered them already.


    It's also worth looking up the advice for bayonet fighting at night. The only hint I'll give is that it's not about fencing.

    If you've got a knife and your opponent has a spear and is on his home turf, by far the best defense is to get out of his range and stay that way.

    In any case, neither of us will ever end up facing the other armed in a hallway, so this is all hypothetical. Aside from trying to help people become a bit less ignorant about spears, the big point here is that if you're going to insist on doing home defense, find something that gives you a benefit other than feeding your paranoia and giving you a distorted idea of how safe you are. If you like guns and can afford bullets and regular time on the range, go for it. If not, find something else. For example, I understand that frying pan throwing is a traditional western martial art too...


    So how many of our urban commandos practice running round their house in the dark? I'm guessing that even the guy who spends four hours a day mediating so he can cut a falling cherry blossom in half has a non-trivial chance of tripping over the TV remote someone bumped and face-planting on the coffee table when he goes to deliver his thirty seconds of smack down. Any fight is a risk no matter how well someone is trained, and close quarters, potentially with family members nearby pushes those risks up higher still.

    But lets say everything goes perfectly, the guy in the hallway gets a spear in the gut. Someone else goes flying through a window. No pulled punches for the teenaged girl (or it might be a nail-file in the spleen), yes sir she's going to be explaining that scar to her kids in twenty years time. And the one who tripped over the rug and hit his head on the banister? Well its up to his parents whether or not to pull the plug but he sure got a lesson in social responsibility.

    I wonder how that police interview goes; "I felt threatened" "Sir you just put four teenagers in intensive care why didn't you call the police?" - but who an I kidding, they were probably 'ethnic' right, the kindly bobby plants a pat on a shoulder and sympathise "We should never have let so many of those people into the country". The neighbors will all turn out to cheer, the Daily Mail will rub a piece on how this never would have happened in King Richard's day when a man's home was literally his castle and children, peasants and johnny foreigner knew their place.

    Then at the end of the day, sitting proud and secure in their favorite armchair sipping a cocoa our hero has only one question to answer: is it better to go with drugs or therapy for the flashbacks? Because experimental military brain stimulation isn't yet available to the public.


    The responses are: 1. Yes, you have to get used to moving around your house in the dark. There are books on this topic, though they are written for night-fighting from the military perspective. Good training for this is regularly getting a drink from the kitchen without turning any lights on.

  • If you have time to call 911, do so. Otherwise, have someone else call 911 after they get into the closet.

  • When the officers show up, what you should be saying is "I was afraid they were going to kill us." Anyone who's broken into a house a night and confronted the armed owner in the dark should be glad to have stab wounds as opposed to a load of buckshot fired from close range: they're easier to stitch up if they don't bleed out by the time the paramedics arrive. Hell, the homeowner can even use a bunch of tampons or pads to start staunching the bleeding if it's gone that far and the invader is no longer a threat.

  • 80:

    So how many of our urban commandos practice running round their house in the dark?

    I do, but not to be ready to fight in the dark. I just like to practice my kinesthetic senses. If I think there's an intruder in the house, I want light. That may make me a better target if he wants to kill me, but it gives me a much better chance to find out what's going on before I have to decide what to do about it.

    I've had one intruder so far. I was living in an apartment in the poorest neighborhood in a rich area. My neighbors were hispanic, korean, and old retired people who hadn't gone into nursing homes yet. My wife did not feel comfortable with the door locked. One night I got up to use the bathroom and there was a chubby hispanic guy already using it. I shut the door and waited for him to come out, we smiled at each other and I escorted him to the door. He didn't admit to knowing any english and he looked drunk. Likely he was visiting somebody else and just got lost.

    Any fight is a risk no matter how well someone is trained, and close quarters, potentially with family members nearby pushes those risks up higher still.

    Sure, and it's a risk for the other guy too. Nobody wants to get into fights except people who have something to prove, like prove how good they are at fighting. Or they have a deadly grievance and want you dead more than they care about risks to themselves. And maybe a few idiots feel like they won't be real men until they've killed somebody. Stuff like that. There's an excellent chance the other guy will prefer to walk away if he can.

    I wonder how that police interview goes; "I felt threatened" "Sir you just put four teenagers in intensive care why didn't you call the police?"

    That can be bad, and there's always the chance the police will make trouble for you that can last for months or years, but if you weren't lying about how threatened you felt, that's better than some of the alternatives you were imagining or almost-imagining.

    Then at the end of the day, sitting proud and secure in their favorite armchair sipping a cocoa our hero has only one question to answer: is it better to go with drugs or therapy for the flashbacks?

    That really does vary with the person. My own theory is that the more you feel that there is nothing wrong, that everything happened as it should, the less it will bother you.

    The more you feel like something should have been different, the worse it will feel.

    If I'm right, you'll probably have the least afterthoughts if you are firmly convinced that you were doing God's will, that the sinners were individually responsible for their own sins and deserved God's punishment as delivered through you, and that you definitely did 100% the right thing. That is, if you are a psychopath.


    "If I think there's an intruder in the house, I want light. That may make me a better target if he wants to kill me, but it gives me a much better chance to find out what's going on before I have to decide what to do about it."

    I'd like light too, and noise, not just to see but the more attention you're likely to attract the greater chance of scaring an intruder off. The dark thing I probably didn't express well - I walk round in the dark too - what I was trying to get at is in a potentially fast moving situation with intruders you've potentially got all sorts of obstacles that wouldn't usually be there, dropped beer bottles, broken glass from the window they smashed did you have time to lace up your combat boots or are you shuffling round in slippers? Maybe there's people out there who sleep with their boots on... Anyway glad you didn't stab the guy using your bathroom :)

    re Hetro on the police - sure if you've got a decent lawyer you're unlikely to be in any real trouble for self defense (but that depends how far you go again - I recall a case in England back in the 90s(?) where a farmer got in trouble for setting up traps in his house) but if people are seriously injured or killed the very least you'd expect is some long unpleasant question sessions and you may or may not have to spend time in court (does your job give you time off for that? maybe your boss thinks you're a hero for beating up some meth-heads, maybe she thinks you're a monster for murdering some poor misguided children) - point being there's a fair chance you're going to have some serious disruption to your life even if you don't get seriously hurt yourself (and god forbid someone decides an example of some sort must be made - even if they make you the hero there'll be a lot of people in vehement disagreement).

    Anyway on the topic of weapons it seems to me for home protection the trouble with knives, spears, swords and so on is that it puts you at considerable risk even with training. What you really need for protection is something intimidating, something that will make people run rather than think they've got a chance of wrestling that sword off you. Therefor I present:

    The Black & Decker 35cm GK1935T Electric Chainsaw (80GBP) because nothing cuts through the haze of drink and drugs to the the little animal part of the brain that thinks 'I'm going to die horribly' as a mechanised garden implement. Added bonus as a strength equalizer for the smaller framed, doesn't matter how big they are between you you'll keep the local blood spatter guy employed for days after. (the 40cm blade version for extra horror movie effect is only 10 quid more)


    Rules vary among jurisdictions. We've had a few home invasions in my city where the perps came in, assaulted the home owners, beat them, tied them, and left them for others to find. We've also had a lot more where it was kids breaking in to get stuff, often during the day, when I'm home working. And we've had a few long police sieges where the house was full of dead people when the cops finally went in (murder-suicide). Where I am, they've let people walk on self defense, and we do have the "castle defense rule," which is that homeowners don't have to retreat from a conflict with an intruder in their own home.

    The chance of any of this actually happening to me is still close to zero, and I'm not seriously worried. What bothers me, again, is that any gunshot is likely to end up in someone else's bedroom. If I have to explain to a cop why I speared someone rather than shooting them, hopefully that will make more than a little sense to the investigator.

    As for chainsaws, they are scary, but they're also not terribly maneuverable. I wouldn't want to go up against someone with a chainsaw unless I had something like a cushion or something to jam the blade, but I really wouldn't want to pick up the chainsaw by my bed, get it started, and scare off the intruder. That's really awkward.

    One tool I used to have was an old bolt action 12 gauge. As a gun, it sucked, but the sound of the bolt getting cocked was most distinctive and very, very loud. I kept it around for awhile just for the sound of the bolt, in case I had to scare someone off. I didn't have any ammo for it, and if someone had ever challenged me with it, I would have used it like a bayonet.


    I often walk around my house in the dark, and I also keep a big heavy torch by the bed. The instrument of choice, but not something I would turn on until the last moment.

    "And maybe a few idiots feel like they won't be real men until they've killed somebody."

    Very occasionally a predator will accidentally prey, unknowingly, on Mr Psycho and come off extremely badly. Crime can be a hazardous occupation.


    ... if people are seriously injured or killed the very least you'd expect is some long unpleasant question sessions and you may or may not have to spend time in court....

    Over here that seems to be pot luck. The best explanation I have is maybe when the police are very busy they'll take any plausible story and minimise the paperwork, and when they're bored they'll pay a whole lot of attention for a long time. There's nothing you can depend on with them, which to me makes them scarier.

    Anyway on the topic of weapons it seems to me for home protection the trouble with knives, spears, swords and so on is that it puts you at considerable risk even with training.

    I think this is the basic mindset that causes the trouble. We want to avoid risk.

    People think about the tiny possibility of trouble, and they want to minimise the risk in that case, and they come up with weird ideas. Like, if you want a really intimidating weapon, you can hardly do worse than a flamethrower. It's hard to miss, and people can see the flame coming toward them better than a red laser attached to a gun. Of course there are certain disadvantages even if you never actually ever use it....

    Most of the time, when people see they are wrong they will back down whether or not you have the bigger weapon. They will do that easier if they are not in immediate fear for their lives, because that's an important distraction. Given the opportunity to walk away from a confrontation they will usually walk away. So raising the level of threat will, in itself, increase your risk.

    It helps when there's a strong chance the other guy will think you are in the right. If he thinks he's right and he won't agree to arbitration or taking it to court, then you want to look as crazy-dangerous as possible. But usually a big threat display will complicate the situation. If you can give the other guy a way to save face without trying to kill you, that's a win.

    A walking-cane might be good for a nonthreatening weapon. Affect a limp. I knew a martial arts teacher -- an old man -- who did that. He went on a real-estate tour in the inner city, and somehow he got separated from the group. They found him cackling in an alley with four unconscious (claimed) attackers. It enhanced his reputation for martial arts tremendously, at little risk to him.

    Most of the nonthreatening weapons I can think of are lethal. They're mostly good for killing people, not for ending a fight. But it's risky to beat somebody up some and then give him a chance to get away. He may instead pull out a lethal weapon he hasn't shown you before, and use it. Once it turns into a physical confrontation with somebody you don't know well, there aren't any good reliable solutions. Every outcome is potentially pretty bad. But it's fun to fantasize about winning.


    And we've had a few long police sieges where the house was full of dead people when the cops finally went in (murder-suicide).

    That inspires my paranoid fantasies. The police do their level best to prevent the suspected murderer from communicating with the media or with anybody, or from getting away. At the end there are no survivors to tell their side of it. It makes more sense that it was somebody who was having psychological problems that got out of hand, and he wound up killing himself and everybody he loved. There's no plausible reason for the police ever to kill somebody and all witnesses. I mean there's no reason they would ever want to do that. And the police can't arrange conspiracies where lots of them agree to a crime and keep quiet about it; they don't have that much solidarity. They're part of the government, and we've seen the government can never ever keep secrets. [/sarcasm]

    And yet it is paranoid fantasies. There's never any real evidence that the police have done anything wrong. A few neighbors saying "They seemed so happy together, I just can't imagine it" is par for the course, that isn't evidence.

    If you're paranoid, and figure there's no real evidence how many of the murders were actually committed by police in addition to the times they kill people who appear to be resisting arrest, then you're stuck with the question what to do. If the police decide to invade your home and kill you, weapons are only a liability. Your only real chance comes if they let you surrender. But not having weapons is no defense; they can plant murder weapons on you once you're dead. It seems like there's no obvious defense at all. They're way scarier than random criminals. And yet, sometimes the best thing you can do is voluntarily call them to come help you.


    sooo... I suggest keeping a chainsaw on the bedside table and the reaction is "cool but I like a torch" or "yes but maybe you need to think more lethal"?


    Much interesting discussion about perceived vs actual risks, and the consequences of reacting with possibly deadly force vs not.

    But still, as far as I can tell it's all men here.

    Anecdotally my female friends have quite different perceptions of the risk of violence to them in (Western, Anglosphere) everyday society. I'm genuinely interested in whether women might also have different ideas about the use of weapons for self defence.

    OK, maybe there aren't any women reading this topic or they don't want to comment. But someone surely has studied this?


    "What weapon(s) do you carry, to allow you a decent chance of surviving all this? You have to carry them all"

    I'd carry a longsword and a dagger. That's pretty much what people actually did carry in that situation and I don't think I can come up with a better solution.

    On the question of "People in the house". I've actually experienced it. I'm a slow riser and not a morning person. When my mum came into my bedroom and said "I've got a burglar downstairs, I've given him coffee" I was instantly more awake than I've ever been before or since.

    She'd caught him carrying our computer out of the house (when a computer was 6 months wages). He instantly switched to "I'm very drunk, is this my house?" She willingly played along.

    It's a long story but lots of discussion ensued with us both trying to not escalate to violence until he pushed my Mum. Then I went totally mental. He fought back until in the process of trying to gouge my eye out he got a finger into my mouth. I bit it as hard as I could and that took the fight out of him until the cops arrived. (15 minutes clamped down on a finger with my mouth filling with blood was pretty unpleasant)

    Many years later I studied German Longsword (which is lots more than just longsword) about 4 hours a week. I was completely crap at it. I doubt I was any better at fighting after 6 months than I was when I went beserker on the burglar. If you actually want to fight intruders, then German Longsword would be ideal however just from a cost benefit calculation it's stupid. You need to spend hours training every week. Spend that time on a second job and buy a good back to base home security system, emergency lighting and home sprinkler and you'll be streets ahead. If I had it to do over again I'd have yelled downstairs "take the computer and piss off, we've called the cops".


    Oh, I didn't really explain why I think German Longsword would be ideal on intruders.

    Here in Australia, intruders don't have handguns. They do however have bloody big kitchen knives. The one described above had a bloody great long one but he'd put it down to carry my computer, which doubtless saved my life.

    Now if have a kitchen knife and you really know your shit, you can take on someone armed with a longsword and if they don't know their shit, you can kill them. However the chances of someone being good with a dagger against your longsword is basically zero. Longsword fights are short. 2-3 seconds after starting, someone dies. Those protracted Hollywood fencing duels up and down stairs and leaping off balconies etc. didn't happen. There's plenty of moves you can make that work well in confined spaces like hallways. Indeed the wild haymaker swings that you see in movie fights would get you so killed so quickly that it's not funny.

    Now gun v longsword, I don't know. I think that if you got within range then the sword would have the edge over the gun. Longswords don't wound people as a general rule. You'd probably just go for a straight thrust to the chest (it's the biggest target). Longsword was developed to answer the rise of light armour, so a sternum wouldn't even slow you down. If the training took over it would probably cause you to take a rising swipe with the edge as they brought up their gun. Probably remove their gun arm.

    Interestingly if you know what you're doing and you get within hand range, you can pretty easily shoot them with their own gun. If someone sticks a gun in your face and doesn't instantly shoot, grab their hand and push it up. The gun will discharge over your head. At the same time swing your other hand round and whack them in the elbow (bending their arm). Pull back with that hand and push forward with the first hand. That folds their arm up until the gun points at their head. Then just put your finger over theirs and squeeze off a shot. Once you've practised it a couple of times, you'll never be able to watch a Hollywood movie again, I promise.


    Oh, and another addendum to that burglar story. The cops said "You should have killed him" "but you'd have arrested me!" "no we wouldn't" "you'd have had to" "urrrgh, yeah, we would have wouldn't we"


    I suggest keeping a chainsaw on the bedside table and the reaction is "cool but I like a torch" or "yes but maybe you need to think more lethal"?

    My reaction is, people want to be safe, but there is no safety.

    The more threatening the weapon you have, the more likely the other guy will run away because he's scared of it and you. On the other hand, the more scared he gets the less predictable he gets. If you look real scary he just might shoot you when he wouldn't otherwise, and later he'll be telling the police "I was just so scared, I thought he was about to kill me."

    The more lethal your weapon, the better your chance to kill him before he can do anything. But you're only safe from him if you kill him quick, if you hesitate he might be scared enough to kill you first. So you are pretty much stuck shooting first and asking questions later. This has obvious disadvantages.

    Luckily these situations are very rare. When they happen your best choice is usually to allow the other guy a clear line of retreat, and encourage him to take it. If there's a disagreement about rights, work out an agreement to get it arbitrated. Attack only as a last resort, and then fight wholeheartedly to win. If he attacks first then you have a big disadvantage, but he will have a big legal disadvantage which might matter to him.

    You can't eliminate your risks because life is risky. If you want to study a martial art -- escrima, or sambo, or aikido, or the roman sling, or Latvian bucket fighting, or whatever -- then go ahead. It will be good exercise and probably lots of fun. After you get good at a martial art, try not to do anything too stupid with it.


    OK, maybe there aren't any women reading this topic or they don't want to comment. But someone surely has studied this?

    Hugh Fisher, don't do that. Just don't go there.

    It's quite plausible that no woman who's heard about this, wants to get involved in this dicsussion. I told my wife about it briefly and she definitely did not.

    However, as soon as a man says something about it, some women will attack. They will explain that no man can ever understand anything about what life is like for a woman, because they are men. However these particular women are experts on every other woman's experience because they are women. And they don't need any mansplaining patriarchs to spout off about it. Almost inevitably some men will try to start some sort of dialogue, and they will get shouted down since after all no man can understand anything about rape culture, even if they are personally responsible for it -- and not unlikely one or more of them will get banned (lacking the sense to shut up when women are splaining).

    Do you want that?


    In the U.S. the laws around use of deadly force vary significantly by state. In many states you can kill someone who is n your house , provided you are in fear of your life, without much legal ramifications. A few require you to attempt to remove yourself from th situation

    Calling 911 however is generally not a good option. Response times are such that on the best you can hope for is the bad guy gets caught, rarely will the cops show up in time to prevent the crime. Police are designed to catch criminals after the fact not to prevent crimes


    It's not very sexy but I've always felt that if you're faced with an intruder in your home and have run out of options to avoid confrontation you could do a lot worse than the humble fire extinguisher...

    They've got enough range to keep you outside arms reach, they've got enough dispersal to make aiming a matter of pointing it in roughly the right direction, and a few pounds of fine powder, foam, or freezing CO2 spray in the face (accompanied by a loud noise) seems likely to take anyone's mind of mayhem for long enough to either make your escape or use the substantial lump of metal you're holding to further spoil their day.

    And who's going to ask why you had a few fire extinguishers aroud the house?


    And who's going to ask why you had a few fire extinguishers aroud the house?

    That's brilliant! It's hard to miss. Very distracting. Not very lethal at all. Especially the powder tends to mark a person, if the police pick him up a couple of hours later they'll tend to know who he is.

    Here's why it doesn't fit into the conventional thinking:

    Once violence starts, it doesn't stop until all parties are ready for it to stop. If you make an attack that just makes somebody angry, they're likely to hurt you more.

    So for example, if somebody has a gun and they haven't shot at you, and you temporarily blind them with a fire extinguisher, after they stop being disoriented they might decide to shoot you. It's their choice.

    So unless you accept that, once you have temporarily incapacitated them, you must then decide what to do. You can run away. You can try to reason with them. You can rush them and try to disarm them. You can try to kill them at that point, or you can try to tie them up or something. But if you allow them their free choice, they will do whatever they choose.

    Attacking and then running away might be better than just running away. It depends. A nonlethal attack followed by threat of lethal attack might be good. If you rush them and succeed at capturing them for the police to pick up later, that's good provided it works. But if something goes wrong, it could go very wrong. First of course you could get hurt or killed. But you could get into legal trouble later, particularly if the other guy gets hurt or killed. You are attacking him when he is not an immediate threat. When you are the attacker, it opens you up for possible legal trouble later. Even in a place that tends to approve of killing people on your property, you can get into legal trouble if you do something unusual. If it isn't clear how the laws apply to your case, you could become the test case that decides it. That could go on for years.

    People instinctively try to avoid possible legal trouble. So it tends to settle in people's minds into a simple logic. Somebody is a threat. They are probably crazy so you can't depend on them to be reasonable. Any chance you give them to use free will, might leave them killing you. So the safest thing is to kill them first. The legal system is complicated and scary, but if you tell them you were afraid for your life at the moment you killed somebody who was attacking you, that appears to be your single best chance. If asked why you stopped to reload and kept shooting after they were on the ground already dead, tell them you were still scared.

    The reasoning is simple and easy to follow. It gives the answer people tend to want to hear. They want to believe they have no reasonable choice but to kill somebody. It all fits together seamlessly.


    My father used to have a very nice broadsword made in Konstanz and presented to him as a gift.

    He arrived home one night just as burglars left the house by the back door with his cd collection, my mother's jewelry and the broadsword.

    He was very fortunate not to have got home a few minutes earlier, as things could have been very nasty.

    Remember, weapons don't care who owns them. They just care who holds them.

    If anyone comes across a sword engraved "Knight of Konstanz", please contact the UK police - and if possible, me.



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    This page contains a single entry by M Harold Page published on May 29, 2015 9:28 AM.

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