Striking From the Saddle

This post was originally published on Academie Duello’s blog in April 2013, and is part of a series detailing the requirements for the Green Spur, or first rank of the Mounted Combat program.

The final item on the Green Spur checklist is:

Describe the mechanics required to keep your seat when striking from horseback.

Cadre NoirAnd here we come back to that Independant Seat once more.  It keeps cropping up because it is probably the most important component not just of mounted combat, but of all your riding endeavours.  Riders at the famous haute école riding schools such as the Spanish Riding School and the Cadre Noir spend two years on the longe-line developing their seat before they are allowed to touch the reins.

With a balanced seat you can do almost anything, from airs above the ground such as the courbette performed by the Cadre Noir on the right, to stabbing targets over jumps like the  tent-pegger below.

tent pegging 1920s

The secret to keeping your seat when delivering sword blows is the distribution of weight in your saddle.  When we ride, we don’t sit in the saddle — we merely rest our seat bones there.  Only 40% of your weight should be in your saddle’s seat (or less, when in light seat, and none at all in two point positon).  The remainder is divided evenly between the balls of your feet.  An even better seat would have 10% of your weight in each seat-bone, and 10% in each of your inner thighs, spread evenly throughout the saddle.

With your hips directly above your heels, and your knees above your toes, and your ankles flexed so the heels are down, your lower body is now in perfect mechanical balance.  From here you can use your shoulders and arms freely, delivering cuts in all directions, without disturbing your seat.

This image of a melee from the battle of Crécy illustrates leg position beautifully:  with all the chaos around them, and the fact one combatant is about to stabbed in the back of the head, the riders never lose their leg position or base of support.


However, many illustrations also show riders with their legs pushed forward in long stirrups, with their seats braced against the high cantle, as in this picture of England’s Henry VI.

Henry VI

According to Duarte, this appeared to be a matter of personal preference and regional custom.  The braced seat, while useful when jousting or charging with a lance, provides much less balance and flexibility for delivering sword blows. The fact this position appears more often in highly stylized illustrations also makes me wonder artistic preference tended to exaggerate it.

I have found when teaching beginners that some people have a naturally balanced seat, while for others it takes much more work.  The good news, however, is that with enough practice, everybody can develop an independant seat.  If you don’t have the opportunity to spend time in the saddle every day, don’t despair: there are ways you can improve your seat with nary a horse in sight.

  • Stand with your feet a horse-width apart on the bottom stair or a doorsill, with just the toes balls of your feet resting on the step.  Bend your knees and find your balance.  This is exactly the position your legs need to be in when riding.  Practice it ever chance you get.
  • Sit backwards on chairs, with your heels beneath your hips.  If you have yoga blocks or phone books, put them under your toes so you can lower your heels.
  • ‘Ride’ a large exercise ball or a barrel. Practice lengthening your inner thigh along the surface of the barrel and feel your weight distributed evenly from seat-bone to knee.
  • Visualize.  The brain is an amazing organ that can train your muscles without moving them.  Even lying in bed and thinking about the feel of your body in the saddle will help your adopt a better position next time you get on a horse.

This concludes the series of posts that walk you through the Green Spur.  To review the material you can search under the tags Horsemanship 1, Riding 1, and Green Spur.

next: The Blue Spur Curriculum

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Cover Reveal!

I know, I know, I’ve neglected this blog for months.  What can I say? I’ve been busy!  But this is pretty exciting … the beautiful cover for Allaigna’s Song: Overture painted by Melissa Mary Duncan with layout and font design by Kris Sayer.  I could not be more thrilled!

Allaigna cover preview

Pulp Literature Press will be launching the novel at Steamworks Brew Pub on July 10th.  I hope you’ll join me there to lift a glass and celebrate!


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Brothers, Sisters, and Lullabies

With the Something Novel campaign in full swing, I thought maybe now would be a good time to share the first chapter of Allaigna’s Song: Overture for those who haven’t had a glimpse yet …

Allaigna’s Song: Overture
JM Landels

Verse 1
Brothers, Sisters, and Lullabies


If you walk down the grand staircase of Castle Osthegn, you will see a family portrait.  It is placed across the landing from the wide steps so that your eye is drawn helplessly into the picture as you descend.  Such is the skill of the Leisanmira painter that you are almost convinced the little girl on the right will jump out of the frame and take off pell-mell into the courtyard.  And you can tell that is what she wanted to be doing when the image was painted.

The little girl was me.

There are other, more formal, paintings of my family members, individual and grouped, spread throughout the fortress.  But the one at the bottom of the stairs is the only one that tells me a story.  In this painting I am shown in my favourite red tunic of soft flannel – the one my nurse turned into handkerchiefs when I grew too large for it – and loose-fitting trousers, rolled to the calf above grubby bare feet.  My mother’s arm is around me, her fingers creasing the cloth beneath my arm.  It is a half-hearted grip, as if holding me still takes more effort than she can afford.  Her eyes are tired and her skin pale.  Wisps of curly blonde hair escape a hastily pinned coif, and the bodice of her dress is askew, barely containing blue-veined and swollen breasts.

The head of the family, Lord Osthegn, Allenis Andreg, Duke of Teillai and Warden of the Clearwater Plains, stands behind and to her right.  A possessive arm rests on her shoulders; the other is proudly akimbo.  He beams with joy, and this is the only portrait that paints him so.  In truth, it is the happiest my three-year-old self ever saw him.  The subject of his joy rests in Mother’s right arm, its bawling ruddy face showing a remarkable resemblance to the Duke already.  I don’t know why the artist didn’t choose to portray the baby content at the breast or with an idiosyncratic smile as most painters would, but I’m glad he didn’t.  This is how I remember my brother Allenry when he arrived to interrupt my life, and I appreciate the painting’s candour.

I recall that day, or one of those days.  After sitting for the painter, I ran outside into the bustling lower court, where chickens scratched in the warm sun of late spring, men-at-arms practised sword drills, and my nurse Angeley tended the herb garden.  I didn’t want to talk to her right then, so I slipped between the tight-packed limbs of the hedge maze, following my own small, secret trails to the centre.  I sat down in the yellowish gravel and buried my feet in sun-warmed chippings.  I had a tight, lumpy feeling in my chest and warmth behind my eyes, but I didn’t want to cry.  I was not going to cry over him.

There were footsteps on the gravel, trying not to be heard.

“Go away!”  I threw a handful of pebbles at the place I knew she’d appear.  “Leave me alone!”

My nurse bent down and examined the stones that had tumbled on the mossy verge of the path.  She turned her head to look at me, her face crinkling into laugh lines.

“It’s the Huntress, Allaigna.”  She held out a sun-browned hand to me.  “Come and look.”

Curiosity overcame my resistance, as she knew it would, and I crawled over to see.  Her fingers picked out the constellation of stones.

“Here is her head, and shoulder.  This grey-blue one is the tip of her sword and here,” she delineated an arc of pebbles, “is her bow.”

With a child’s literal obstinacy I replied, “She doesn’t have any feet.”

“Too true, Allaigna.  Where do you think they are?”

I shrugged.  “Over there?”  I pointed to where I’d gathered the fistful of rocks.

Angeley nodded, her eyes clouding over as they did when she was deep in thought.  I followed her gaze, wondering what she could see past the impenetrable green of the hedge.

“Mmm.  I think you’re right dear.  Now tell me:  what’s the matter?”

The storm came back over me and I hunched into myself.  Angeley waited, her hand resting on my back.  Even today, I can sometimes feel that warmth between my shoulder blades when I need resolve.

“I hate him,” I mumbled into my knees.

“Allenry.”  It wasn’t a question.

The lumpy feeling returned, and despite my best efforts, my eyes started watering.

“He ruined it!”

The tears began in earnest and Angeley lifted me into her arms, humming softly.

“I know, I know,” she murmured, “he’s taken over your Mama … for the time being.  That’s what babies do, you know.  Mama and Allenry need each other now.  But you have me.”

I wasn’t mollified. “But you’ll be his nurse, too!”

She shook her head.  “No, darling.  I came to this house to help birth and raise you.  Your Mama and Papa will have to find someone else to help with Allenry and their other children.”

Now I was appalled. “Other children?”

She laughed.  “There will be more siblings for you Allaigna.  You may get that little sister after all.  You might even grow to like Allenry.”

I frowned, emphatic.  “Uh – uh.”

She kissed me on the head, silencing the protest.  “Never say never, dear one. Whatever you may think of him, he’s of your blood, and you will need each other one day.”


Angeley was right.  I did like Allenry on and off, as siblings do, and we even became allies when our sister Lauriana usurped Mama’s body and attention once more.  Not to say there wasn’t fierce competition between us.  He grew quickly and it was clear he would have the bull-like physique of our father.  By the time I was ten, and he six, he had the height and more than breadth of me, though I outstripped him for a while once more in adolescence.  But I am getting ahead of myself.

During Allenry’s infanthood I grew farther away from my mother and closer to my nurse.  She was of the Leisanmira race, and she gave me much of her knowledge of plants and animals, healing, and midwifery.  But what I loved most was her singing.  All my early life I could hear Angeley singing.  No matter what she was doing – gardening, sewing, reading – there was a tune percolating from her throat.  It was Angeley who sang my siblings and me to bed every night.  Her lullabies were devastating in their effect, and it seemed at first I was never able to hear the end of one before my eyes fell shut and locked me in sleep.

Eventually though, whether it was because I was older or simply more stubborn than my brother and sisters, I learned to keep myself awake to the end of the song.  This allowed me to leave my bed once the lanterns were extinguished, and perch on the window seat, reading by moonlight.  It also let me to learn her songs to the end.

On a morning not long after my seventh birthday, I gained my first inkling of what those songs could do.  I was in the grange loft, playing with a litter of kittens whose half-wild mother I had wooed for many weeks.  I held a black bundle of fur in my arms and hummed a lullaby as it purred and nestled in.  From behind me, I heard clumsy fumbling on the loft ladder.

It was Allenry.  I could tell by his noisy breath and careless movements.  He wasn’t allowed into the hayloft, being too young to climb safely, but that didn’t stop him.

Irritated, I wished him away, and kept my back turned.  I did not want him here to interrupt my time with the kitten.  With ever-louder huffing and thumping, he pulled his tiny body up through the hole in the loft floor.  I sang louder, ignoring him, drowning out his presence.  Gradually his stuffy-nosed breathing slowed and deepened.  I could hear him yawn.  I reached the final chorus of my song and at last turned a glaring eye on him.  He stood, eyes closed, stubby toddler body swaying with sleep.

I watched in fascinated horror as he collapsed backward and fell down the trap door.

The next few moments were a frantic blur, and I have no idea whether I climbed or jumped down after him.  He lay wailing, his face no more than a wrinkled red apple with a giant hole in its middle.  I clapped a hand over his mouth, terrified someone would hear, and wrestled with the decisions every child makes at the scene of a sibling accident:  whether to stay and console, to run for help, or to hide and pretend not to have seen what happened.

The decision was made as Allenry’s nurse came running in, our two-year-old sister slung across her hip.

“What have ye done?  Wicked girl!” She  dumped Lauriana on the barn floor and she rushed to Allenry.

Instead of answering, I ran.

Angeley found me, hours later, hidden beneath the cloth drapery that covered the table harpsichord.  My tears had dried some time ago, and I was debating whether it was safe to sneak to the kitchens for some food.  Angeley’s head poked beneath the woven cloth.

“Are you ready to be found yet?”

I wiped my face with a dusty sleeve, no doubt making both even dirtier. “It wasn’t my fault.”

Her eyes were piercing, but not unsympathetic. “Come out from there and tell me about it.”

We sat side by side on the harpsichord bench, my short legs swinging in time to my nervous heartbeats.  I explained how Allenry had climbed into the forbidden loft – glossing over how long I’d known he was there – and tumbled backwards down the hole.  The explanation seemed plausible, and was truthful as far as it went.

Angeley, as always, sensed the unsaid.  “Why do you think he fell?”

I shrugged.

“Was he clumsy?”

I looked up, hopeful at the convenient excuse, but Angeley continued.

“Did something bump him?”

I frowned, knowing that explanation, aside from being untrue, could lead me into more trouble.

“No,” I finally pushed the words out.  “He … fell asleep.”

Angeley looked thoughtful.  “And what were you doing.”

“Holding a kitten”



“Singing what?”

I hesitated, then blushed, the extent of my guilt sinking in.  “A lullaby.”


“Again.”  Angeley’s usually soft voice was sharpened with weariness.

“Do, fa, so, fa, do… do, fa, so, fa, do fa so fa do do do dodo –” I broke off giggling.

“Enough!  You have a marvellously instinctive voice Allaigna, but you lack discipline!

I winced and reached for my cup of water.

Angeley continued, sighing.  “It’s not enough to sing from memory and play with your voice.  You must know each note:  its resonance, its flavour, its relationship to other notes –”

I interrupted with another giggle. “Which one’s the annoying brother?”

As soon as the words were out, I wished them back.  The vague tint of blame I felt sure had settled on me after Allenry’s fall had not yet faded.  Fortunately, of the adults in my life, Angeley was the least likely to chastise me.  Her eyes narrowed and she continued as if the interruption hadn’t happened.

“How can you expect to harness a sound’s power if you release it willy-nilly into the aether without thought or guidance?”

I stayed quiet this time.

She sighed.  “I push you so hard, my dear, because you have such potential.”

I saw the opportunity for a change of topic. “What do you mean?  Why do I have any more … potential,” I disliked this new word, and the uncomfortable feeling of obligation that came with it, “than Allenry, or Lauriana?”

“Not more, dear.  Different.  Why does the oak grow taller than the ash?  Why does the courser run faster than the carthorse, and why does the carthorse pull a heavier load?  It’s what makes you you.”

Even at the age of seven, I knew there was more difference between a draught horse and a racehorse than between Allenry and me, but I left that point lying.

“Father can’t sing.  And Mama hardly ever does.  So it’s not in my blood.”

“There’s more to a person’s blood than shows in either parent, Allaigna.  And besides, your mother has the same potential.  She’s simply never developed it.”


“Lost opportunity.” Angeley paused, distracted for a moment.  “Now, again.” She rapped the harpsichord, beating out the rhythm. “One, four, five, four, one … one, four, five, four, one….”

I began to repeat the pattern when, abruptly, she stopped me.

“Enough,” she said, closing the harpsichord.  “Your sisters will be born soon.”

She bustled out of the room in a flurry of colourful skirts before I could ask her how she knew, and what in the world she meant by the extra s in “sisters”.


The full novel is due to be released in May 2017, pending successful funding of the Something Novel Kickstarter campaign.  You can pre-purchase it here, along with Mel Anastasiou’s Stella Ryman and the Fairmount Manor Mysteries, or just throw a buck in the hat to help the cause.

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Stella Ryman, a sleuth for all ages

Have I mentioned how much I love Mel Anastasiou’s Stella Ryman and the Fairmount Manor Mysteries?

Of course, I may be biased.  I was there when Stella was born, in Mel’s beautiful house on Bowen Island, overlooking the water, with the sun flickering through the towering trees around us.  In fact, I feel sure the opening sentence that came from Mel’s pen in that Hour Stories session, and which has remained unchanged since, was a product of benevolent Bowen sunshine.

On this particular sun-and-shade April morning at Fairmount Manor, Stella Ryman no more entertained the idea of becoming an amateur sleuth than she had of entering next spring’s Boston Marathon.            

(Isn’t that brilliant?  I’m sure that a hundred years from now it will be one of those oft-quoted first lines, right alongside “It is a truth universally acknowledged …”)

But Mel’s prose isn’t just elegant and witty … it’s also warm, compassionate, and insightful.

stella-ad-pink-smallIn Stella she has written a character who is brave, intelligent, wise, and stubborn, but who is also trapped.  Stuck in a care home, limited by physical frailty, and at the mercy of her slightly less-than-reliable memory, she is nonetheless a warrior, seeking justice for the powerless within the walls of the Fairmount Manor care home.  While the context is mundane and the situations treated with gentle humour — the erratic wisdom of Mad Cassandra Browning, the convoluted plot to allow Thelma to take an unsupervised bath, the snarky observations of ‘The Greek Chorus’ of elderly harpies — Mel’s sharp and compassionate writing makes us care about defending the defenceless and righting the wrongs of the nursing home as much as Stella does.

Heroes come in all shapes, sizes, ages, and abilities; and Stella, for all her eighty years and circumscribed life, is a hero that can stand proud in any Hall of Worthies.

If you haven’t yet met Stella, or if you have and want to get to know her better, consider ordering a copy on Pulp Literature‘s Something Novel Kickstarter campaign.  I guarantee you won’t be disappointed!


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How Not to Cut Your Horse

This post was originally published on Academie Duello’s blog in March 2013, and is part of a series detailing the requirements for the Green Spur, or first rank of the Mounted Combat program.

The Eight Cuts, Contorted for the Saddle

Cast your mind back to the eight cuts which are available to the swordsman on foot.


Now consider:

… which sword blows can and should be thrown from horseback to a mounted rider and a fighter on the ground

As you face forward in the saddle, an immediate obstacle comes into view: your horse’s neck. The squalembratti and sotani (descending and rising diagonal cuts) are obviously still available, and these are indeed the most common cuts used in mounted combat.  But how do you deliver a tondo, fendente or montante (horizontal and vertical cuts) without cutting your horse’s head off?

In fact, all eight cuts are available from the saddle, but only by rotating your torso.  This is where that independant seat I harp on about is so important.  With your lower body absolutely still and square in the saddle to direct your horse, your shoulders and chest should be able to rotate to deliver horizontal and vertical cuts to an opponent beside you without endangering your horse.

That said, there are some physical limitations.  Cuts over the reining hand (ie, on the near side of your horse if you are right-handed) will be more difficult and have less reach and power than those on your sword (off) side.  Downward and horizontal cuts on this side to an opponent are awkward, but rising cuts can be quite effective.

With tondi, even though your have twisted your torso to avoid your horse, you still need to take care to limit the follow-through of your cut, especially when cutting forward.  Because of this, horizontal cuts are often better delivered high, above your horse’s normal head-carriage, and are more useful against mounted opponents than against those on the ground.

Rising cuts on the sword side run the risk of entangling the reins, or worse, hitting your horse in the face.  This is especially true of false-edge cuts, and it’s a good habit to encourage a slight left flexion in your horse’s neck when delivering a rising falso from the right.

Rising cuts are also good first attacks against an opponent on the ground.  Approaching with your sword in a low guard protects your horse, and finishing your cut high allows you to follow up with a descending roverso as you pass out of reach.

You won’t be expected to demonstrate these cuts from horseback at the Green Spur level. First we want to see that you can perform them without taking chips out of your wooden falsemount’s head; and at this level all you need is an awareness of the cutting lines necessary to avoid your horse’s body.

Now that you’ve been visuallizing the spatial qualities of mounted combat, take a look at this image and tell me why you can’t always trust mediaeval artists!the-impossible-cut

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Pulp Literature: Something Novel

Yes, the rumours are true:  Pulp Lit is branching into novel publishing, and the first buds of this offshoot will be Mel Anastasiou‘s Stella Ryman and the Fairmount Manor Mysteries and my own Allaigna’s Song: Overture.stella-allaigna-2-small

This has been a long time coming, and it’s pretty darned exciting for both of us.  Pulp Literature is running a Kickstarter to fund the two books.  It’s called Something Novel and I hope you’ll wander on over and take a look when it launches on November 1st.

There are a whole bunch of early bird rewards for people who back us in the first couple of days, and I think you’ll find them enticing.  But most of all, I hope you’ll want to be among the first to hold these two books in your hands when they roll off the presses.  Come and have a peek …

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Mounted Mechanics

This post was originally published on Academie Duello’s blog in March 2013, and is part of a series detailing the requirements for the Green Spur, or first rank of the Mounted Combat program.

finestra-mountedLast week we took a brief tour through the mounted combat arsenal as part of the Swordplay Knowledge section.  For the last portion of the Green Spur checklist we ask that you are familiar, at least in theory, with the general mechanics of swordplay from horseback, and how it differs from fighting on foot.

Mounted Swordplay Knowledge

  • Describe the mechanics and timing of throwing a sword blow from horseback.
  • Describe which sword blows can and should be thrown from horseback to a mounted rider and a fighter on the ground.
  • Describe the mechanics required to keep your seat when striking from horseback.

Mechanics and Timing

In Fiore’s mounted section, all plays are described either from the walk or the canter, as the trot was considered too rough a gait for an armoured knight with long stirrups.  Although Dom Duarte later describes the Ginetta saddle which was used with shorter stirrups and a two-point position that would have made trotting more comfortable and easier on the horse, we still consider the walk and canter to be the more important gaits for mounted combat.

Delivering blows at the walk

Because the walk is a smooth four-beat gait, the rider does not need to worry about the rhythm of the horse’s movement when considering the timing of blows.  When both horses are moving, the measure closes faster than when the opponents are on foot, and the mounted swordsman needs to get used to throwing cuts slightly sooner than he might from the ground.

The nature of the defence following a cut is different as well.  From the ground an opponent’s riposte will still come from the front or slightly to the side.  When both horses are moving, the riposte is often an attack from behind, which makes the window guards (finestra and finestra sinestra) particulary helpful in guarding the moving target of your side and back.

Holding your horse back, and even reining back as your opponent approaches measure is a way to control the timing of your blow.  A nudge with the legs as you deliver your blow will send your horse forward, adding power to the cut or thrust, and quickly moving you away from your opponen’ts counterattack.

Much of mounted combat at the walk involves turns on the forehand and haunches, and leg yields into and away from your opponent to protect your horse and gain the advantage of position.

Delivering blows at the canter

The canter was used for mass cavalry charges, quick in-and-out attacks, and running down opponents on the ground, as well as for tournament spectacle.  The timing of hand and foot — that is, the timing of your hands with your horse’s feet — depends on whether you are cutting or thrusting.

muybridge-canterTo understand timing, first you need to understand the canter.  This is a 3-beat gait with a moment of suspension.  The sequence of footfalls is:

  1. Outside hind (line 2 in the above Muybridge sequence)
  2. Inside hind and outside fore (line 3)
  3. Inside fore (line 4 & 1)
  4. A moment of suspension, when all four legs are off the ground (end of line 1)

This gives the characteristic da-da-DUM beat recognizable in the William Tell Overture and coconut-assisted in Monty Python’s Holy Grail.

The Cut

A descending cut is best delivered on the 3rd beat of the canter, when the leading foreleg is hitting the ground.  This adds the horse’s momentum to your own, creating the most powerful blow.  The surge forward from the moment of suspension gives the most forward impulsion, therefore upward cuts can be delivered at the same time as, or just fractionally later than descending blows.

The Thrust

For targetting accuracy you want your thrust to be delivered in the smoothest part of the canter.  This is the moment of suspension, just after the downward beat of the leading leg.  As well as delivering sword thrusts, this is the moment of the canter that will give you the most accuracy at lancing spears or the quintain.

Since we don’t even ask you to canter at the Green Spur level, never mind use a sword or spear at the canter, this is all theoretical knowledge for the time being.  However, when you are watching horses canter, use this knowledge to imagine yourself delivering your cuts and thrusts at the proper moment.  Watching knowledgeably from the ground is a great way to improve your technique from the saddle.

next week: types of sword blows from the saddle

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Getting Your Feet Wet

jm-landels-workshop-nov-8-2016On Tuesday November 8th I’ll be giving a talk at the Royal City Literary Arts Society entitled ‘Getting Your Feet Wet‘.  It’s about submitting to literary journals and magazines as stepping stone in your writing career, but really, what does that have to do with feet?

The idiom ‘getting your feet wet’ has become common enough that we no longer really think about the metaphor, which is probably a good thing.  I live in BC’s lower mainland, and when my feet get wet it’s usually because my boots have been soaked through from rain, or even more thrilling, been pulled right off my feet in knee-deep December mud at the barn.  Wet feet is seldom something I go out of my way to find.

A better metaphor is perhaps the precursor, ‘dipping your toes in the water’.  This at least brings images of the seashore on a day that’s warm enough for swimming.  Your friends try to convince you the water’s fine, but that first touch sure feels icy on your bare feet, and you might hop back a step.  Still, if you screw your courage to the sticking place you will get your feet wet … and your ankles even.  By the time you’re up to your knees, your feet no longer mind being wet at all.  Soon you’ll be fully afloat and  telling your friends, ‘come in, the water’s fine!’

Submitting our writing to an editor can have the same frisson as stepping into the ocean.  Despite the happy swimmers we see out there, the fear of rejection is chilling.  And indeed, our feet (our writing, that is) may not quite be ready for the water.  We might need to feel the icy sting of rejection, jump back, hop from foot to foot (revise, rewrite, throw out and write something better) many times before our feet are inured to cold.

Small press magazines and literary journals are shoreline tidepools:  a little warmer, a little calmer, and a little easier to step into than the open ocean of publishing.  Test your toes in these friendlier markets while you hone your writing for the big time.  This workshop will guide you through the submissions process, including finding the best markets for your work, tracking your submissions, catching an editor’s eye, what you can expect once you’ve hit ‘send’, and what you can expect once a story has been accepted.

No flippers required!summer


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The Mounted Arsenal

This post was originally published on Academie Duello‘s blog in March 2013, and is part of a series detailing the requirements for the Green Spur, or first rank of the Mounted Combat program.


Swordplay Knowledge: mounted weaponry

Aside from knowing your way around a sword, we also ask in the Green Spur that you have a basic knowledge of the types of weapons typically used from horseback:

  • Describe two different types of cavalry sword
  • Describe three alternate types of mounted weapons

Broadly speaking, any type of weapon you can manage to use while on horseback is a mounted weapon, but historically some have proven more useful than others.

Cavalry Swords

The two types of swords commonly seen in Mounted Combat in the Western European tradition have been the knight’s longsword, which was covered in detail last week, and the cavalry sabre, which came into use later and lasted until horses were no longer used for battlefield charges.

Both these swords are strong cutting weapons, although the sabre typically has only one cutting edge to the longsword’s two, is not as easy to couch in the thrust, and lacks the long grip and pommel useful for disarms.  The advantage of the sabre however, is that its shorter, slightly curved blade is quicker and easier to draw from under the reins.


The measure closes fast from horseback, and the ability to switch from thrust to cut is an important feature of a cavalry sword.  Anything longer than a longsword may as well be considered a lance when mounted.  Greatswords were not used from horseback as they were too heavy to use one-handed.  Rapiers might have been worn for show by mounted nobles, but their length and lack of cutting power would have made them impractical for mounted combat, as would the ornate guards which tend to entangle reins.

Other Mounted Weapons

As the segments from the Bayeux Tapestry at the top and below show, a variety of other weapons were used in mediaeval mounted combat.

Spear: Perhaps the oldest mounted weapon, the spear, both thrown and couched, has been used since the days of chariot warfare.  These mounted polearms developed different shaped heads and shafts depending on their use.  The jousting lance evolved from the spear, and its use continues in modern-day tent-pegging


Clubs and maces: There are several instances in the Bayeux Tapestry of ornate maces and simple wooden clubs.  In later years mounted knights would often use a short-handled flail, mace or morning-star as a back-up to the sword.


Bows: Although there are visual depictions of mounted archers in mediaeval documents, there was not the same culture of horse-archery in the West as there was in Eastern Europe and Asia.  Many of the archers in European armies were more like dragoons, riding to battle, but shooting from the ground.  However, lighter cross-bows and stone-bows were used mounted for hunting and warfare in the Renaissance and Early Modern periods.


Grappling:  Not a weapon as such, but grapples and throws were an important part of mounted combat.  They were accomplished unarmed, or with pommels, spear shafts, or whatever part of a weapon was to hand.


Next week:  the mechanics of mounted swordplay

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Death Throes of Dinosaurs

What we are witnessing in America, and around the world really, is the noisy death throes of sexist, racist, and homophobic culture. dying dinosaur
The world as a whole is not as bad as it was 100, 50, or even 20 years ago. A hundred years ago women in North America couldn’t vote. Fifty years ago Jim Crow laws were still lingering in some US states. And same sex marriage has only been legal across Canada for just over a decade.
Yes, there are still pockets: countries, regions, and groups of people where women are oppressed, where being gay is illegal, and where having a different skin colour is dangerous.
But in most western societies it is not socially acceptable to seem sexist, racist, or homophobic. That alone is a huge step forward, despite the fact that rape culture still exists, that assholes are making laws telling us what bathrooms to use, and that being black in America is still bad for your health.
The dinosaurs out there — the notallmen, the sad puppies, Fox News, the ‘War on Christmas’ bletherers, the Trump supporters — they can smell the change in the wind and it frightens them.  It’s the death of the bad old ways, the perceived erosion of their privilege, whether it be white, male, cis … whatever, that has them shitting in their shoes.  It’s not a conscious fear.  It’s a knee-jerk, gut reaction, and believe it or not it’s a good sign.
If this ingrained privilege weren’t eroding we wouldn’t be hearing the titanic roars of fear-driven protest from the rabid right.  They would be quietly drinking beer, playing golf, and only bothering to vote if it didn’t interfere with watching a football game.  Society is changing and leaving them behind.  The deafening noise comes as they thrash and howl in the rising waters.  Watch with compassion, but don’t allow them to capsize your boat.
America, we know you are better than Trump and his howling dinosaurs.  Stay safe while the death throes run their course.
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