Side-project Swords

We all have things we do to ground ourselves. Call it procrastination, or centering, or meditation, or just a hobby. Sometimes we turn to mental escapism, through movies or video games or novels, or to physical escapism, getting out in nature or otherwise away from home or office. So long as they don’t reach the point of interfering with the other things required for functional adulting, it’s healthy.

One of the things that I turn to when I can is making things. Masks, knives, swords, other props, sometimes costume stuff… especially at times when the work I’m “supposed” to be doing involves sitting in front of a computer and being purely an academic, it can be grounding to work with something real, something like non-intellectual problem-solving, and something with tangible progress. It’s also nice sometimes to work on a project that isn’t directly connected to my career and being judged for my expertise. When I’m working on a sword handle or something like that, I sometimes screw up, but nobody’s disappointed with me but me, and I can just move on. I’m no Lewis Shaw, or Jesse Belskey, or Tom Fiocchi… and I’m not pretending to be.

One of these I got as far as gluing the leather grip on before realizing I didn’t like it, it was too fat and not elegant, so I ripped the leather back off and re-shaped it. And that was fine. Granted, I don’t always have the time for projects like this really, and there are plenty of other things I should be working on – and am, in my own bursts – but it’s nice to have been able to spend some time on these. Apart from maybe a little more polishing, I think they’re done.

C8BD3611-601B-4042-A46E-9078C28FF24CThese are more of the LG Martial Arts hardware on Tinker line blades, as discussed in a previous post.  Pending the sudden acquisition of a forge and welding gear (and the time to learn how to use it all well) this is probably as close as I’ll come to making my own steel swords for now.

The end product is pretty satisfying, although the ceilings in my new basement are low enough and full of exposed duct work, pipes, and bare bulbs that swinging them around much isn’t an option there. I’m a bit worried that the humidity here is enough of a factor that even just going back and forth between the dehumidifier-controlled basement shop/storage and the outside might change the fit enough to risk something cracking if I made any of these too tight a fit, but hopefully things like the grip wraps will help with that, and the wood handle is sealed as well for that reason. Not sure when I’ll get to play with these for real, but it’s something to look forward to. One of these days I want to pick up a sharp blade blank and try some cutting practice with one of these too, but that might need to wait until I’ve established better relations with the neighbors…


Overdue Update

Grabbing a moment of quiet to post a long-overdue update/announcement; for those who don’t have other contact with me and don’t already know, I’m leaving my position at the University of Wyoming this summer, and will be starting a new one in the Fall at Case Western Reserve University, in Cleveland, Ohio. I’ll be primarily serving as the movement and stage combat specialist for the MFA program run in conjunction with Cleveland Playhouse, but also teaching some in the BA program as well.

I’m very much looking forward to the expanded opportunities in theatre and film that will be available to me in Cleveland – a huge step up from Laramie, Wyoming at any rate. There are some things I’ll miss, and this does mean stepping down from the SAG-AFTRA CO Local board, stepping down as Rocky Mountain regional representative for the SAFD (the capable Samantha Ann Egle is taking my place), and the end of the UWYO Stage Combat Workshop that I founded and ran for my four years here. But I think it’s something that needs to happen, for a wide range of reasons, ranging from state politics and budget issues in Wyoming, administrative and department-level politics, work/life balance, and more.

These moves are always stressful and complicated, but I really think this will be an improvement once the dust settles. Fight Designer props is temporarily shut down and will re-open for business some time in the Fall, as an Ohio-based business.

New props projects are also on hold, as everything’s had to be packed up. As always, there’s a list of things I’d love to get to given the chance – blade blanks to hilt up, a YouTube channel I was going to develop and switch most of my theatrical firearms stuff over to (PewTube!), etc. and there’s a new book I’m needing to buckle down and really start on in earnest. I’ve got a series of puppetry workshops I’m running for a high school group in Laramie before we move at the end of the month, as well. Busy, exciting times!


Cas/Hanwei Tinker Line Customization: LG Martial Arts and the Printed Armoury

There’s a backlog of things I’ve been meaning to post about, but as I’ve recently finished what will probably be the last of my custom projects for a while, let’s start with that. When I get around to posting again (I’ve been and will be busy!) there’s plenty of news to share, however! But on to the toys:

One of the interesting lines of products catering primarily to the HEMA crowd but peripherally also stage combat is the Tinker line of Cas/Hanwei production swords. Originally designed by master swordsmith, all-around good person, and Seattle buddy Michael “Tinker” Pierce under contract with Cas/Hanwei, these offer affordable cutting and sparring swords with interchangable blades, sharp or blunt, in a variety of styles including longswords, bastard swords, single-handed medieval cruciform, and more. They aren’t made to the usual beefy standards of our traditional stage combat steel blunts, but are designed first and foremost for either cutting practice (in the sharps) or armored sparring, if you put an archery blunt on the tip. The edges may feel a bit thin for those who learned on things like Starfire blades in the 80s or 90s, but these certainly handle and look better than those basic LS32s (although they rang so great!), so in terms of safety, it’s probably an even trade-off, and depending on where you get them, these may be cheaper than something from stage standbys like Baltimore Knife & Sword or even Rogue Steel.

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I’ve been interested in these since I first heard they were coming out, back when I still lived in Seattle, and the first one of these blades I got was a sample I bought off Tinker himself, then hilted with a spare cross and a pommel I made from bar steel, mostly with an angle grinder. That took forever, and was a less than ideal process, but I’ve generally liked the resulting sword, and it was my go-to for demonstrating longsword work for years.


A younger me teaching in 2010 with my self-finished Tinker Longsword blade.

Within recent years, however, enough demand grew for more custom versions of these Tinkers (without the sloppy, messy, loud, and time consuming angle grinder work). In stepped LG Martial Arts/The Printed Armoury to fill that niche, with a line of replacement pommels and crosses that work on several of the Tinker line blades.

Several stage combat vendors have started using these, such as Jesse Belsky, as a quick way to get a nice custom look. My friend Benaiah Anderson, who studied sword making under the late Dennis Graves, recently used a set and compared it to a mechanic mounting new wheels… less satisfying than making your own, but certainly faster.  But then, he’s used to being able to do more on his own than I can:

For those hoping for plug-and-play, though, these are not quite that. Even ones with the higher finish level will still need some fitting most likely, but that’s not LG’s fault; Cas/Hanwei quality control is to blame here, as when I got my first ones of these, the cross guards wouldn’t slide all the way down on either of the two supposedly matching blade blanks, but they certainly went down further on one than on the other. When the first one was fit to the first blank, it still only went about 3/4 of the way down its mate. So count on some quality time with a file making these fit right… but that’s better than having them be too loose. Some of the pommels may need work as well.



Initial wood grip and finishing on one. The other, you can see this is as far as the cross will go without filing.

There’s also been patterns uploaded for 3d printable grips. Haven’t tried that yet, and some reports have said they’re brittle if you print in the wrong type of plastic. I’m curious though, and may try one some time.

Fittings are available in various finish levels. I got some of each, to try them out. The one I just finished was the medieval single hand sword, but I also have some bastard sword fittings I’ll have to finish up probably next year some time.

You can see some fit better than others out of the box, but that’s also the blank; that finished cross only slides all the way down on one of the two blanks I bought (which were back-ordered for almost a year, and just came in this weekend). The Viscount longsword pommel needed a fair bit of filing inside it as well.

Here’s a quick comparison of blades:

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From left: Hanwei Tinker Line stock bastard sword, H/T Longsword with Viscount fittings and handmade grip, H/T Early Medieval Single Hand Sword with Dunvegan fittings and custom grip, and the Hanwei Practical Single-Hand sword.

In terms of handling, honestly the new one isn’t as different from the Hanwei Practical Single-Hand as I’d expected, although the pommel nut lets you keep it tight, unlike the practical’s peened tang. I did shorten the grip a bit, grinding off some of the shoulders of the tang to allow for a smaller handle, which fits me well now. I did a cord wrap over the wood, and then rayskin over that (left over from my last wallet after the inside parts fell apart). I do like how the bluing turned out on the furniture.


after the cord wrap was done

The Viscount style longsword I like the looks of, but the pommel’s a bit pointy in areas where I like to put my off hand, so if I was finishing a rough cast one, I might round those off a bit more. While it’s uglier, the one I made with an angle grinder is more comfy to use.

Conclusions? Not at all a bad option to have. I haven’t used these enough to say how well the blades hold up to an extended run, or how good the fittings feel after a full day of use, but for me, as an occasional hobbyist without a full shop, it’s a nice compromise between DIY customization and buying stock.




Falling Again

Tis the season for ice once again! It’s been a busy half year since I took time to do any updates, but here’s a few:

One of the NPR reporters for Here and Now took a bad spill on some ice this week, and started looking around for advice on how to mitigate things like that. She pretty quickly came across the piece in the New York Times that I was interviewed for last year. I got an email from one of her producers on Wednesday asking for an interview, and by 7am Thursday I was in a studio at Wyoming Public Radio, being interviewed by Robin Young (who is in Boston) about falling. Two pieces came out of that, the radio spot that aired and a more print-friendly piece. As with the NYT piece, there’s plenty of people asking for video, so if I ever have extra free time (hah!) that’s maybe something I should look into…

Amongst the projects I’ve been busy with this last 7 months:

I directed The Fantasticks for the Snowy Range Summer Theatre.

19420602_10154414056526557_1230039512612078527_nWe received meritorious achievement awards from the American College Theatre Festival Region VII for my directing, the ensemble, the music direction, and more, but it was clouded by controversy over the show’s built-in use of “Indian” disguises for the abduction scene, which is something that deserves a thesis more than a passing mention in a blog post, but I don’t have time for that now. I assistant directed a show for the new playwrights festival at the Kennedy Center in DC this summer. I co-directed the original production of Fascism! The Musical this Fall with the writer and songwriter at the University of Wyoming:

(there’s a playlist of teaser clips I made there if you want to keep poking around)

As this is ostensibly a stage combat, stunts, and prop weaponry industry blog, I’ll also point out that what was going to be “a props light show” ended up having a full SWAT team at the finale, plus another number about guns on campus.


I’m in the midst of directing A Bright Room Called Day now.

I’ve gotten another book contract, which I’ve yet to really start, and will share more about later. Published another article in The Fight Master. Got a chapter in for a book on Physical Dramaturgy that should come out this year. I attended the biennial SAG-AFTRA National Convention as an elected delegate from the CO Local (where I’m also a board member now), as well as four regional theatre conferences/festivals (WY State Drama, TX Thespians, N. TX Auditions, CO ThesCon), gave some workshops on campus for our High School Open House, created a video montage and started a longer documentary style project for the Paddy Crean International Stage Combat Workshops:

I’m sure I’m forgetting some things in there… but it’s been a pretty full summer and Fall!


Flashback Friday

In lieu of a post here, let me just link to a guest blog post I did for Zombie Orpheus Productions, over on their site, discussing the fight coordination and armoury work I did for them on The Gamers: Dorkness Rising and GAM3RS: Hands of Fate.


Click here. Go there. Read.

UWYO Workshop

No time for a proper post; I hope to catch up a bit in the coming weeks, as I might get some time between the end of classes and the beginning of full time rehearsals for The Fantasticks, which I’m directing and then touring in June.

Biggest upcoming thing, though, is this weekend’s Third Annual UWYO Stage Combat Workshop. I hope some of you can join us – it’s grant subsidized thanks to the Wyoming Arts Council, making it the cheapest SAFD sanctioned stage combat workshop in the country. Come check it out!
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New Toys

Coming out of hiding for a quick post – there’s been a fair bit of interest in blank firing gun reviews, state-of-the-market posts, etc. so here’s a video I put together after rehearsal the other day. You can tell from the circles around the eyes and tendency to ramble that I’m tired, but these are some models I think will be perfect for your indie film projects.

There’s a backlog of posts I intend/ed to post, and may catch up on some time, but for now I’m working 13-15 hour days most of the week, so there’s not much time for producing social media content (unless it’s for work – I’ve done a few video trailers for them this year).

But with luck and time, there will be more about the shows I’m working on, the video gear I’ve been playing with, the Paddy Crean workshop, and some general stuff on props I’ve been meaning to write up (like how to best pack and ship them), as well as perhaps a companion piece to the New York Times article on Falling that I was interviewed for last year.


The Longsword/Broadsword divide

One of the relatively recent and ongoing debates within the Society of American Fight Directors revolves around a category we’ve been calling “Broadsword” for years. It’s a slightly problematic term, since it’s historically been used for a variety of things, and not at all specifically for the hand-and-a-half cruciform swords the SAFD uses to to refer to – something that probably has as much to do with pop culture and misinformation than historical research. Calling it a broadsword probably won’t make any D&D players bat an eye, for example. But stylistically, functionally, and historically the most accurate parallel would be the longsword, something that has been experiencing a second (or third, if you include the Victorian-era rediscovery with folks like Hutton) renaissance.

“Fetch me my longsword, ho!” – Lord Montague

We now have a wealth of translations and reprints available, active HEMA and WMA groups scattered around the globe, longsword fencing tournaments, specialized vendors making fencing feders and sharps for cutting practice, ongoing conversations between those who go deep into the German or Italian traditions… exciting developments, most of which I’ve watched happen since I first started in stage combat, and while I dabbled, enjoyed, and incorporated some of this into my work, the depth of knowledge and skill  that has disseminated has left me in the dust.

So we now have various levels of experience, comfort, and interest in this within stage combat. Many of us initially trained in a very different, much more stagey system, using way over-weighted props, slower tempos, exaggerated movements, etc. – but there’s also various places where we can see European reenactors, HEMA groups, or a select few stage combat choreographers who try to reconcile the deadly techniques of combative or competitive longsword (which frequently includes things like stabs to the face) with the needs of dramatic storytelling. I remember the gasps from those of us on the Paddy Crean workshop field trip down to the Royal Armoury at Leeds in ’00, before the Edinburgh workshop, when we first saw the interpreters there do a full-speed thrust towards someone’s face, or the glee we had at watching Paul Macdonald and Andrea Lupo Sinclair take each other down with longsword binds and grappling.

It’s been slow to work its way into the mainstream though, either in live theatre or video, but it’s happening. Since I’ve seen several of these examples go viral in the past few months amongst my social media channels, I thought I’d compile and share a few favorites here:

First, more of a demo reel than story, but here’s the one and only Nigel Poulton (of both the Australian and American fight societies, and probably a few more besides) demonstrating some of what he’s been working on.


Another that was making the rounds this past week or two, from people I don’t personally know but who’ve been playing with mixing WMA content in for years now:


…and stepping away from the Germans,  here’s one for the Italian fans:

The inserts of the Fiore plates are a nice touch – it’s used a bit like the planning sequences in the Robert Downy Jr. “Sherlock Holmes” movies (featuring the excellent work of Fight Master Richard Ryan), but also shows the great interpretation of the historical material.  A shorter excerpt of just that section has been making the rounds as well.

Sadly the closest study group to me is still several hours’ drive away, but I’ll get to play with some of this again I suspect at this winter’s Paddy Crean Workshop, where I’m very excited to be returning as staff. Come join us in Banff – it’s not too late to register!



Blank firing penetration test

So in the Theatrical Firearms Workshop this afternoon, someone asked, after seeing some of the paper tests, if a blank would tear the same kind of hole through skin and flesh, or if we’re harder than paper.

Good question, I said. Thankfully, I’ve never had to find out. I also didn’t happen to have any ballistic gel handy.

I did remember that from my martial arts background, water bottles or milk jugs filled with water are often used for cutting tests, as they supposedly approximate the resistance you’d get from cutting at a person. One of the students happened to have an empty small Pepsi bottle, so we tried that. I imagine that a milk jug, being softer, would probably have been penetrated, but this was not. The first shot, at a distance of a few inches from the muzzle of the Retay XR front-venting 9mmPAK blank gun, knocked the thing back, blew off some of the wrapper, and singed the plastic, but did not change its shape at all. The second, at point blank, did deform it a bit, whether due to heat or pressure.


And just for kicks, here’s another student with a top-venting Asi also in slow-mo:

Comedy of Errors

Several things have been keeping me busy of late, perhaps excusing the lack of posts here, but the man in one would be our first Fall production at the University of Wyoming, William Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, slightly edited and re-staged to fit a completely modern setting. Here’s a brief unofficial promo I threw together for it around 1am Friday night, after our first dress rehearsal:

We open Tuesday, and run through a matinee next Sunday. Tickets available at or at the box office.

It’s been a good opportunity for me to try out some of me new video capabilities, playing with the Sony a6300 I bought a couple months ago. Given time, I’ll probably make a post of all that later, for indie filmmakers interested in using the a6300 – it was a shift for me, going from a Canon 60D DSLR to the Sony mirrorless, but so far I’m happy with it’s ability to do the things I want it to do. I’ve yet to make full use of its capabilities, since I don’t have the software to handle 4K footage, for example, but it’s good I’m getting more comfortable with it now, since I’m anticipating doing some videography for the Paddy Crean workshop this winter, and planning to run a filmmaking class this Spring.

If anyone is local, come to the show and say hi!


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