The Quest for Salubrity with Becky Caldwell

Greetings, friends!

The following is my interview with Becky Caldwell, the ring leader of The Audacious League and “The Quest for Salubrity.” If you’re a nerd and you want to get in shape, Becky’s got the motivational tool for you. If you like what you’ve read here, join the next “Quest for Salubrity” here.

A: Hi Becky, how are you? Thanks for talking with me today.

B: Good, how are you?


A: Good. It’s good to talk to you. Thanks for taking time to talk to me today about The Quest for Salubrity. So I’m looking at your facebook event for the next Quest for Salubrity and it’s hosted by the Audacious League. Could you tell my readers what The Audacious League is?

B: The Audacious League is my team of health and fitness fans who go through “The Quest for Salubrity” and its sequel “The Battle for Salubrity.” It’s my hosting group for these programs. If I were to build a production company, it would be called The Audacious League.


A: Well “salubrity” sounds like a $5 word. Could you tell us what salubrity actually means and why you chose to use that for the name of your quest?

B: “Salubrity” is Latin for a state of healthfulness; it’s the state of being healthy. I wanted to create an imaginary world, an imaginary world, a fictional world, and through that world, we would travel as a group to find our best health and wellness. I chose the word “salubrity” because it’s not English. If you do “Quest for Health,” it sounds like a lot of hard work and zero fun. That’s why I chose the word, “salubrity” because it sounds more interesting. It’s a great descriptive word once you know what it means and what we do, but I think it also sends you to a great mental place. We get bogged down in the words “health” and “fitness.” I didn’t want people to be weighed down with that. I wanted this to be a fun process. I wanted to approach health and fitness from a different perspective. It’s hard enough work, right? Exercise, keeping your stress level down, getting enough sleep…when you just talk about that, it’s simply not fun. I do not have fun eating kale! If someone said to me, “I want you to join this group where we eat a lot of kale and do pushups,” that would not be my cup of tea. When someone says, “Hey, let’s join ‘The Quest for Salubrity.’” That sounds interesting to me; I want to know more about that. It sounds like something that being a gamer nerd, I could get into. The sequel to “The Quest for Salubrity” is “The Battle for Salubrity.” Once you find your salubrity, your version of what your own health and wellness is, you have to fight to keep it. We created “The Battle for Salubrity” which delves more deeply into each of those areas of good health so we can start to master it and to make it into a habit.


A: Well, that sounds like something up my alley. I’m trying to work towards better health and wellness for myself. That’s never been something that’s been super easy for me to do. So if someone were to sign up for The Quest for Salubrity, can you tell me what does a typical day or week in The Quest for Salubrity look like?

B: Typically, the first week is what I call the “slapping water” week. I’ll go a ahead and put it out there, the first week is kind of a bummer. You have to slap some water before you’re ready to draw back the arrow. If you’ve seen the Arrow TV show, then you know that Oliver Queen goes through a whole training of slapping water, which kind of sucks, right? But that’s what builds up your patience, your strength in certain areas, builds your focus. The first week for us is all about mindset. Why are we doing this? What’s important to us? What are the consequences if we don’t make it to salubrity? What are we afraid of? What are we giving up to take this journey and who our traveling companion is—oh, that’s an element of “The Quest” that I didn’t mention. We each pick a traveling companion from fiction, so someone from TV, movies, or literature. What that does for us is that it gets us to look at ourselves from someone else’s perspective. We are often our own worst critic and it’s hard for us to say something nice about ourselves. However, if we look at ourselves through someone else’s eyes, it’s easier to say, “Oh wow, she really rocked out that workout this week.” “She’s really awesome with her nutrition program,” or “Wow, she’s super strong!” These are things we won’t say about ourselves, but we could easily say them through our companion and that makes us feel less like we’re bragging, less of a weirdo. Then we identify our secret weapon, which is something we can turn to when the going gets tough, and we also identify our feat of strength, which is a goal that we can’t do now, but would really like to do one day. So for me, my feat of strength is a handstand. I can’t do one right now, but I would love to be able to kick up next to a wall and do a handstand someday. My secret weapon tends to be my web cam. Because I tend to eat bad food secretly, but if my web cam is on, guess who’s not going to shove a pound of M&Ms in her face? That would be me. My traveling companion is always River Song from Doctor Who because we meet in opposite ends of our timeline. She knows my future and as the sort of game master of the quest, I have to know everybody’s future as I’m taking the journey myself. But other people have chosen Indiana Jones, Captain America…one of my favorite recent ones is Tyler Durden from Fight Club.


A: I guess they’re not allowed to talk about that, right?


B: [laughs] Shoot, you’re right. I broke the first rule! Someone chose Agent May from Agents of S. H. I. E. L. D. so we’ve had some fun traveling companions along the way. A typical day then, is morning post, like an activity or challenge for the day. It’s usually not something that will take 5 hours to do. Typically, it takes like a few minutes or it’s something you incorporate into your already scheduled work out or meal plan, and then in the evening, there’s a check in post related to the day’s activities. So here’s a good one I’ll read you. This one might terrify people. Well okay, here’s a very simple one; I’ll read two. The morning post, which is posted at 6am Eastern Time, says, “Shortly after you fell asleep last night, your camp was attacked by minions, sent by your enemy, Fear. Again, you fought bravely and even employed your feat of strength—poorly. How do they keep finding you? It is clear that you need to practice more, so spend today training on your feat of strength with your companion. How does your companion help you with your training? Post a photo or video in the comments. Then the evening check-in for the day is, “Are you getting stronger”? That’s it! That’s a simple one. For example, if my feat of strength is handstands, I’ll do a couple practice handstands up against the wall and my companion helps me by encouraging me, by telling me that she knows in the future that I do a handstand in front of someone important. Then I’ll post a photo of me in the comments doing a handstand. Now this next one, might scare some people, but it is one of my favorite days—this one comes about halfway through our time together. This one employs some other fun vocabulary words—the morning challenge, Day 15: Your next waypoint is Gerisi, a town you must pass through in order to reach Salubrity. The Gafellians have given you a map to Gerisi, but before you can leave Gafell, you must perform the ritual Dance of Gratitude for the guidance that the oracles have given you. Everyone knows oracles they lack the ability to generate their own humor or fun. Because they see the imminent, they are unable to enjoy the present. They require visitors to provide them with something joyous and silly to balance out the often terrifying future that is constantly in their field of vision. Post a photo or video of your dance in the comments.


A: [laughs] That’s awesome!


B: The point is to be just as silly and crazy and awful at it as possible. Like if someone was to post the equivalent of Elaine Benes from Seinfeld dancing, those just make my day. There have been several of those, including some of my own. It’s just been so much fun. DAY 15 CHECK IN: Be sure to post your Dance of Gratitude photo or video in the comments! You can make a youtube video private so that only people with a link can access it.” Some days it will be physical, some days it will be mindset oriented, some days are nutrition-oriented, it varies.


A: That sounds like a lot of fun. Some people reading this might be interested to know if your program is run by certified trainers, or if there are other certifications with this program?

B: I am not a personal trainer; I am not a nutritionist. I want to be very clear and upfront about that, but I am a Beachbody coach. I developed this as a way for my customers to hook into an accountability group and to help motivate them to do things that are not as fun, like P90X. I developed this using Beachbody tools because they have certified trainers, they have certified nutritionists, so they have programming that works. However, you do not have to be using a Beachbody program to be a part of this. Where I am an expert is that I’ve been an events planner and a theater producer/director for 20 years. I am great at motivating people. I’m great at creating a place where joy can happen. I’m great at coaching people, at knowing what makes people tick, and what makes them want to do certain things. I’m a great motivator and that’s where my expertise lies. While I can give you some basic advice on nutrition and exercise, this is really more about you using a program that you’re already into or that you want to try. If you’re already working out with a personal trainer, then this is a supplement. If you already have a gym membership, but you’re underutilizing it, then this is a great way to get you back to the gym and to hold yourself accountable. Maybe you’re following Weight Watchers or something and it’s kind of a drag—this will help you stay on track with that.


A: Fantastic, so “The Quest for Salubrity” is much more of a motivational tool.

B: Exactly.


A: So if people want to sign up for “The Quest for Salubrity,” how can they do that and is there a deadline?

B: Yes, the deadline is April 15, 2015, which sounds like another deadline in our country. I don’t like that association, but there it is. It runs from April 20 – May 24, 2015. You sign up by messaging me on facebook at or e-mail me beckybrettcaldwell [at] gmail [dot] com.


A: Fantastic, is there a cost associated with “The Quest for Salubrity.”

B: Yes, thank you for asking. This is not a free group because you get a lot of my time. So it’s $40 to do the quest, and that’s for the 5 weeks.


A: That’s fantastic. That’s great for people who are on a budget and need to get in shape, like myself.

B: Exactly. I figure it’s roughly the cost of a gym membership and it’s cheaper than most Beachbody programs, so if you’ve got something already that you’re trying to do, but just can’t get any traction, then this is a great way to buckle down and do it.


A: Becky, I think that helps answers my questions for today. Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to talk about “The Quest for Salubrity.” I hope you have a lot of participants and lots of cool companions. I think would choose Captain Janeway from Star Trek: Voyager.

B: She would awesome!

A: My goal is to be as awesome as Captain Janeway. That’s my life goal.


B: What would be your secret weapon?

A: That’s is a great question. I think my secret weapon would probably be my iPhone and here’s why. I work from home, I’m self-employed, so most of the time I stay in my pajamas all day and I do my work, but I’m pretty sedentary. So my biggest challenge is actually getting up and going to do some sort of physical activity, even if it’s just going for a walk, because that would mean I would have to get out of my pajamas. So with my phone, I think what I would do to hold myself accountable is to take a picture of myself every day going for my jog or my workout or whatever. Take like a before or after picture where I look disgusting.


B: [laughs] That’s awesome. What would be your feat of strength?

A: I think my feat of strength would be being able to run longer than two or three minutes without feeling like I’m going to die. I think honestly my feat of strength would be that. I’m not a runner. I’m short and have little legs. If you know the quote from Full House, Michelle says, “Wait for me, I have little legs!” that’s me, every day. I think being able to run and not feel like I’m going to die would be great. I think at this point I could run even run half a mile or even close to that, so in the long run, I think might feat of strength would be to run a mile without stopping.


B: That’s a good one, especially in a zombie apocalypse.

A: For sure. If there’s ever a zombie apocalypse, I’m getting nommed first.

B: That’s like number one, “cardio,” from Zombieland, and number two, “double tap.”


A: Well Becky, thanks again for taking time to talk with me today, I really appreciate it.

B: Thank you so much, Ashley. I really appreciate it. Take care.

Posted in Just For Fun, Nerd News | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Happy New Year and Friday Fandom Five – New Year’s Nerding

Happy New Year! Saved by Faithfulness

As you might have noticed, 2014 was a VERY full year for me. My personal life went a little crazy, but things are slowly getting back to normal now. I’m looking forward to 2015 and all the great things I’ve got planned, one namely being blogging on a regular basis. I’m kicking off the new year with a neat blogging idea my friend Megan Gotch at The Nerdy Girlie implements called “Fandom Five,” where she lists 5 cool things in a fandom she loves. I’d like to follow suit and feature them on Fridays. Here’s my Friday Fandom Five for the New Year–five nerdy things I’d like to explore in the new

New Year’s Nerding!

  1. Podcasts. If you’ve known me for any length of time, you know that I’m a self-professed podcast junkie. However, I’ve not listened to a new-to-me podcast in over a year. I’ve got a few that I’m going to try out, but first, I need to make more space on my little laptop. If you have favorites, please leave me a recommendation in the comments.
  2. Tabletop Gaming. Over the past year, my husband and I have developed a deeper love for Tabletop Gaming. We were casual Catan players before, but now we’ve dug deeper into the tabletop addiction. For Christmas this year, we received 5 different board games and are looking forward to trying them all out. What do you like to play? I’d love to try new games this year!
  3. Reading. What do you like to read? Right now, I’ve not had a lot of time to read many things outside of my coursework at Mythgard Institute. (I’m looking forward to Science Fiction II this term–still time to sign up, by the way)! What were your favorite books from the past year? I do most of my reading through audiobooks now, so pass your favorites along!
  4. Conventions. North Carolina is somewhat of a Nerd Center in the southeast. Despite all the great conventions and fandom-related events nearby, I’ve not had the time or opportunity to attend any! Shameful! I’d love to visit a fun fan event in the area this year, maybe even a more than one! What is your favorite con to attend?
  5. Retro Gaming. One of my Christmas gifts this year was a Sega Genesis–a system I always wanted as a kid, but never had. All I need to do now is order some Surge and I’ll be 11 years old again. I’ve always loved the older games more than the newer ones, so I’m planning to collect some more games for this system and maybe fulfill 6-year-old Ashley’s dream of owning a NES and Atari 2600. Do you have a favorite classic gaming system? What was your favorite game as a kid? Any recommendations for the Sega Genesis? I’d love to hear from you.

What is your Fandom Five? What nerdy things are you exploring in the New Year?

Posted in Just For Fun | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Nerd Fighters! Swordfighting with Tom Farmer

Greetings, Nerd Warriors!  Tom Headshot

I ran into some bumps in the road and had a few family emergencies in the last months of 2013.  Regretfully, this lead to many a distraction from this blog.  Things are smoothing out now.  I’ve recharged my batteries and I’m ready to tackle writing again.  Today I bring back the blog with an interview I did a few months ago with my friend and college classmate, Tom Farmer.  Tom, aside from being an author, photographer, wrangler of cats and iguanas, and kilt-wearing cool guy, is a sword-fighting coach at the Knoxville Academy of the Blade in Knoxville, Tennessee.  Tom was kind enough to sit down for an interview with me.  Next follows a transcription of our talk where we discuss the finer points of sword play, our love of nerdy things, and a bit of the history behind sword-fighting.

Ash: Hi Tom!  How are you?
Tom: Doing pretty good. How are you doing today?

Ash: Doing pretty good, doing pretty good. Thanks for taking time to talk with me. I appreciate that. So we’re going to talk a little bit today about sword-fighting, and Tom, you’ve done sword-fighting for quite a while. How long have you been playing with swords and stuff?
Tom: I started fencing, like sport fencing, or Olympic fencing, however you want to look at it in 2001 or maybe 2000.  I’ve been doing that pretty constantly since then.  I’ve been doing historical fencing, saber, rapier, longsword, that kind of stuff since 2005.

1Ash: So you’ve been doing this for a minimum of like 10-12 years.
Tom: Right. I’m not by any means an expert, but I’m definitely familiar with it.  I’ll put it that way.

Ash: That’s definitely really cool.  Now you say you’ve done this since about 2001 at the start.  What got you into fencing?
Tom: Partly it’s because I’ve always had kind of “nerdy” parents. My parents read Lord of the Rings and I read Lord of the Rings in elementary school and had that kind of childhood. But part of it is when in ’99, 2000 or so I found part of my dad’s old fencing gear from where he fenced in college at Vanderbilt.  And you know as all young teenagers, 12-13 year olds can be, I badgered the heck out of him until we found a local fencing group and picked it back up.

Ash: Very cool, very cool.  You were very fortunate to have such “nerdy” parents. My dad’s not really into nerdy kind of stuff, but it always surprises everyone when I tell them “Yeah, I first watched Star WarsIndiana Jones, and other stuff like that with my mom!”  They’re all like, “Girls aren’t supposed to like that! That’s weird!”
Tom: Yeah, it was always Star Trek and Star Wars. The funny thing is like Star Trek and Star Wars were my mom–a lot of sci-fi TV was my mom, but sci-fi books came from my dad.  And fantasy books like, Lord of the Rings and that kind of stuff came from my mom. 2

Ash: Well cool. I guess my nerdiness comes from my mom’s side then, not so much from my dad’s, but still, that’s really cool that your parents are both into those sort of things. It’s kind of ingrained; it’s awesome. Cool! So tell me about the different styles.  You said you started fencing and then you picked up other kinds of swordplay.  Tell me about that.
Tom: Depending on how you look at it, they’re either anywhere from a small handful of different styles if you want to lump a whole bunch of them together to if you look worldwide, easily hundreds of them, if you count individual schools and traditions and things. But modern fencing, what you see in the Olympics has the foil, the epee, and sabre, are descended from historical weapons, one way or the other. Then historically, the biggest groups of historical weaponry you tend to see are rapier, sabre, longsword, and sword and buckler. And within those, there are dozens if not more individual disciplines, schools, and masters and whatnot. Modern fencing tends to be a little more, um–unified is not necessarily the right word because there’s still different teachers that teach things different ways, but while you look at a rapier and it’s like here we have this rapier manual in 1540 and then we have another rapier manual that’s written in 1720 and they’re different because the weapons are slightly different and the context is different. A sport fencing book written in the US six months ago is going to be the same as a sport fencing book written in Russia right now.

3Ash: Okay, interesting.  Cool.  Okay, now you teach at the Knoxville Academy of the Blade.  What styles do you teach there?
Tom: I teach beginning foil. We’ve actually got three beginning foil classes. We’ve got a kids’ foil, the other two are basically both beginner/intermediate, but one is sort of de facto, a youth 12-18 and the other one is adult. I usually work with the teenage group, and then I also teach sabre based on what you’d see in the 19th century, the work of people like Alfred Hutton and Henry Angelo.  I’m also the assistant rapier teacher. Our head rapier teacher focuses mostly on Italian. That’s mostly what I focus on. We’ve both got different schools that we’ve both learned about in-depth, but we both work together on that.  And then I’m also working on a longsword curriculum based on the work of Johannes Liechtenhauer and his tradition.

Ash: About how many students are at the Knoxville Academy of the Blade?
Tom: On any given night, during the school year–because we have so many teenagers–attendance can be down, it can be anywhere from 4-12 or 14 people. Over the summer, when people are on summer break, and they don’t have homework tying them up and that kind of stuff, we can see attendance anywhere from those kinds of numbers up to 20-25 people a night. We’ve got individual people, 30-40 on roll, but obviously everybody doesn’t show up at the same time. 4

Ash: Wow! So are these classes taught like, well, when I imagine fencing, I always imagine like a one-on-one, but I guess these are taught in more like a classroom setting and you’ve got students partnered up with other students, right?
Tom: Right.

Ash: Wow! That’s really cool. I had no idea that there was such a big interest for that in Knoxville. So that’s really neat.  I’m glad to see another sport making a little headway in Knoxville other than football.
Tom: Yep!

5Ash: Very cool.  Awesome, so we talked a little bit about swordplay, a little bit about your classes, what’s the best kind of equipment, say if somebody wanted to sign-up for your class or if they wanted to sign up for another fencing class, if they’re not in your area, what is the best kind of equipment a beginner should get?
Tom: Well, if they’re coming to our classes, we’ve got gear we can loan them until they can get their own gear and that usually helps people find what they need and like best. In general for sport fencing, you’re going to need at minimum, a mask, a glove, and a fencing jacket. If you’re under 18 or if you’ve had any chest surgery or any of that kind of stuff, we recommend that you wear a plastic chest plate underneath your jacket, and then if you’re going to be fencing a lot, there’s an additional layer that just goes underneath your leading arm called a plastron. There’s a bunch of different manufacturers and they all make them slightly different, some are longer in torso, some are cut different ways. But for historical fencing–rapier, sabre, longsword, and everything–the gear needs vary because obviously you’re going to want something slightly heavier for longsword than you would for a rapier. So for those, depending the weapon, we recommend a rigid gorget, which is basically a collar made of leather and metal plates to protect your neck. You want a second glove–one for both hands–because unlike sport fencing, historical fencing does involve both hands. And sometimes you may want additional padding on the arms, or additional padding on the outside of the mask and things like that.

Ash: So we’ve touched a little on the history of fencing. I didn’t realize or would have even thought about, for example you mentioned a fencing book from the 1500s might be different 200 years later just based on the type of weaponry used. Can you tell a little bit of the difference between historic fencing and modern, and a little bit of how we got to what we have now?
Tom: Well the short version is modern fencing is a martial sport. You know, it’s still a martial art in a lot of ways because it involves direct physical competition, but it’s not a traditional martial art, like say karate even, whereas historical fencing tends to be more like a martial art. It can be presented more that way anyway. Modern fencing–the three weapons like I said–descended from historical weapons, a variety of different historical weapons. The sabre is the most obvious; it descended from the sabres of the 19th century. They are pretty similar to modern sport sabres. You started seeing lighter blades about that time rather than the big heavy chopping cavalry type sabres. The foil descended really from 2 places–one is the smallsword–which itself descended from the rapier and became sort of a dueling sword. It also descended from basically a heavier version of itself that was used as a training weapon for the dueling sword. The epee, the third of the modern fencing weapon descended from the dueling sword.  The dueling sword, which itself descended from the rapier and so you have this progression from a rapier, a weapon that’s basically you know for street fighting to a very formalized dueling weapon to a very codified, there are rules and there are points into a sport weapon. But speaking of historic weapons, take for example, the rapier because there is a plethora of information on it. Numerically you’ve got the most existing books on it. And the rapier from say 1500 is going to be different from the rapier of 1700. You’ve got advances in metallurgy that allow you to make stronger, lighter blades. You see longer more flexible blades as well. So what you see in earlier rapier work is what we tend to call “cut and thrust” work. It’s a wider, heavier blade. It’s not a broadsword, it’s very well-balanced like a rapier, there’s a lot of thrusting work, but it’s a wider, heavier blade with a lot of cuts and that kind of work. And as you end up with the tradition going to longer, thinner blades you get much more thrust oriented work, which itself leads to longer blades. There’s more to a thrust because people realize that they can make sturdier blades with this new metallurgy and the thrust is able to kill somebody from 6 inches further away and that six inches means you live and they don’t! So the next person is going to take that technique of “Don’t try to cut their head off. Just slap them in the face because it’s safer!” and they’re going to add a few inches to the end of their blade so they can start people from a few inches farther away. And so you end up with some rapiers have blades up to 44-46.” There are some other examples too of even longer blades. I personally don’t prefer them that long. I personally like my swords a bit shorter, a bit more maneuverable. But you do see that sort of thing develop of 8 inches, 10 inches longer than you saw a few centuries beforehand. 6

Ash: I never would have thought about that. That’s really interesting. What’s the average rapier length now? Does it still vary that much or is it again, based on your preferences?
Tom: In a lot of ways, it’s based on your preferences. There are advantages to either a long blade or a short blade. I don’t know very many people who go for the super long blades any more. Not for a one-handed sword. You’ll see two-handed swords, longswords, estocs, and that kind of thing with very long blades, but I’ve only met one, maybe two people who routinely fence with a 44 inch blade. The guy who’s our head rapier coach, he fences with a 40 inch blade, which a lot of people are using nowadays. I prefer a 35-36″ blade, personally, because the longer blades do give you a little more reach, but you do have a little more leverage in your parry and binds and that kind of thing with a shorter blade.

Ash: That’s really fascinating. I didn’t know that at all. It’s really cool. Thanks for that information. I love movies and I know you do too. Do the movies get it right when it comes to swordplay?
Tom: A bit.

Ash: Ha! A bit…I’m sure that’s a loaded question.
Tom: As a general rule, the answer is no because in a lot of ways, real sword fighting, if you know what’s going on, is really cool and flashy, but in a lot of ways real sword fighting is like, “Okay, we’re going to duel now.” And you stand there and stare at each other for 30 seconds and there’s like 3 motions and somebody falls over dead.

Ash: [laughs] Doesn’t make for good battle scenes then.
Tom: It really doesn’t. But you know, take for example The Highlander TV series. The sword-fighting in that is actually very accurate *dramatic pause* for a TV show. Because what you see in Highlander is a lot of historically based sword-fighting. The weapons are being used accurately for the most part for what they are. You’re not seeing people trying to use broadswords like foils or rapiers like sabres or anything like that. But by the same token, it’s still flashy-fied for TV. Oddly enough, the original Star Wars trilogy has some of the best sword work out of a lot of movies. It’s very obvious it’s very eastern based. They’re using a katana type approach to lightsabers. Now the new trilogy is all about spins and back flips and flashiness and there’s absolutely no realism there whatsoever.

Ash: So you don’t see too many sword fighters acting like Yoda in Episode II where he’s pretty much a jackrabbit on crack, that sort of thing.
Tom: Well, jackrabbit on crack could be applied to a few people I know because they’re really active. They will literally run circles around people in the field. But in terms of jumping and doing back flips, no. To that being effective there are a few actions, people with one-handed swords and no shields start fighting a guy with a spear, you might see a spin because it’s one continuous movement to knock the spear away do this jumping spin forward and cut the guy’s head off before he can hit you with the spear again. The closest thing I’ve seen in a real sparring is when I was fencing my friend a while back and I had both of his blades locked up in one of mine and he steps back and does this spin thing. I’m momentarily so confused that I don’t have time to stab him.

Ash: Oh, wow!
Tom: I was like, “What is he doing?! Why is he spinning in a circle?!”

Ash: [laughs] It sounds like that is more of a confusion kind of maneuver, or based on what you’re fighting against it might be required. You might not have people in your classes jumping around and doing flips while swinging swords.
Tom: Nope. Talking about movies, for anyone who might want to go see some good fight choreography, there are 2 movies that I can think of off the top of my head and you can find the fight scenes on youtube–one of them is a Polish movie and I believe it’s called The Deluge, search for “the deluge sabre duel” and there’s a movie Ridley Scott directed called The Duelist that has some really good smallsword work.

Ash: Cool! What’s the absolute worst example of swordplay you’ve ever seen on a film or a television show?
Tom: Leaving aside the Star Wars prequel trilogy–the worst–I honestly don’t know because I tend to forget the really bad ones. I can point out some good ones–The Lord of the Rings had some really good fighting. The Princess Bride had some good fighting.

Ash: Oh that’s encouraging.
Tom: And The Princess Bride is a perfect example of historically accurate sword-fighting that’s been prettied up for a movie. Because obviously there’s the flipping and all kinds of the stuff that the man in black and Inigo Montoya do on the clifftop. What’s neat about it is when you watch that fight and they’re trading back and forth and they say, “Aha, I see you’ve studied your Agrippa! Well, I will counter with Capo Ferro!” If you watch, they’re actually adopting their guards. Those are real fencing masters that they’re mentioning. And as they talk about them, they’re actually adopting the guards and shifting from style to style based on who they’re talking about.

Ash: It’s stuff like that I really appreciate. I’m going to have to go back and watch that and maybe go study a little Agrippa and the other guy beforehand, but wow, that’s really interesting. I really appreciate when movies and musicians do things that like that you’re not going to catch unless you’re really paying attention. That’s so cool.
Tom: I agree.

Ash: Tom, if people in the Knoxville, Tennessee area were interested in signing up for the Knoxville Academy of the Blade, how would they do that?
Tom: The easiest way is in person, but to find our class schedule, our location, our contact info and all that, the easiest way to do that is via our Facebook page, which is That’s got our phone number, the address of where we practice and all that stuff.

Ash: Tom, thank you so much for taking time to talk with me today. I appreciate all this good information about fencing. This would be something I would be interested in pursuing sometime when my life is a little less crazy. But thank you again for talking with me and telling me a little more about fencing. I appreciate.
Tom: You’re welcome. Can you think of any other questions that you might like to add?

Ash: I can’t think of any right now, but can you think of anything else you would like to throw in that might be important?
Tom: Other than shameless plugs to come take my classes, let’s see…we’ve covered movies, we’ve covered very super briefly the evolution of swords to what we have nowadays…those are the biggest things, the biggest questions most people have. Other than that, I can’t think of anything else to add.

Ash: Well, thanks again for taking time to talk with me.
Tom: And anytime you’d like to do another one of these just let me know and we’ll set up a time to do another one.

Big thanks to Tom for allowing me some time for an interview. If you’d like to learn more about Knoxville Academy of the Blade or sign-up for lessons, you can visit their website, like them on Facebook, e-mail them at academyoftheblade [at], or contact them by phone at (865) 321-1214.

If you’d like to learn more about Tom, connect with him on Facebook at his photography page, Fourth Wall Photography. You’ll find lots of cool pictures of architecture, animals, and natural photography, all of which “breaks the fourth wall.”

Be on the lookout for more articles and posts here. I’ve got a book review, some movie reviews, and some thoughts on being a nerd in general. Thanks for rolling with me. 

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Nerd News – 10/8/13

Loads of great content up in this week’s Nerd News!  Firefly Kids

  • Looks like there will be another Narnia movie in the works.  I enjoyed the first one, but the last two were a bit on the shaky side for me.  The Silver Chair might just be my favorite Narnia book, so I hope they do it justice.  Here’s hoping for Tom Baker to reprise his role as Puddleglum.
  • My good friend and “fiancé-in-law” Chris Yokel shared a really interesting comparison between Firefly and Joss Whedon’s newest, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. series.  Check it out on his blog.
  • I know in your social media perusing, you’re likely bombarded with approximately 300 bajillion, 25 flying fafillion BuzzFeed lists.  They’re either hilarious or obnoxious.  Allow me to share a delightful one with you here today–10 Classic Fandoms Imagined as Kids that Will Warm Your Heart.  
  • Looking for some spooky Halloween films that will make you think, spook you, but not knock you for a loop with gore and violence?  My friend Dr. Amy Sturgis can help you out.  Personally, I don’t do horror, but Amy’s thoughts on these films have compelled me to watch a few in years past and I’ve really enjoyed them.  Check out all the Halloween fun here on her blog.
Posted in Books, Comic Books, Just For Fun, Movie, Nerd News, TV | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Avengers Series Part I: Iron Man (2008)

How many of you folks are excited for the next run of Avengers films? With Thor: The M Payoff 1shtDark World coming up in just over a month, I thought it would be fun to review all the Avengers films here on the blog in chronological order. First up, 2008’s Iron Man.

Let me begin by saying this: aside from Batman and Christopher Reeve’s Superman, I am 100% a Marvel girl. I’ve had a longstanding love affair with comic books (going on 22 years), and the majority of them are Marvel. Much of this is likely due to my love of the early-mid 90s X-Men and Spider-man series that ran on Fox Kids Saturday mornings. Somehow or another, the mid 90s Iron Man series eluded my radar. In fact, the only Iron Man comic I own is an alternate universe issue and the first page details Tony Stark waxing philosophical about the proper way to snap a man’s neck. Needless to say, 10 year old me was slightly traumatized by that first page and I’m not sure that I bothered to read the rest. After that, I stuck to older back issues of my favorite heroes. They were a little tamer on the violence and just a little brighter than the comics of the mid 90s.

I say all that to say this–my familiarity with Iron Man of the comics is small. Outside his appearance in the Marvel Superheroes Secret Wars series (1984), I’ve never picked up another Iron Man book. Keeping all that in mind, I wasn’t really all that jazzed about seeing Iron Man in the theaters. Don’t get me wrong, I would see it in the theater, but probably not opening weekend. As it happened, the movie came out about the time of one of my best friend’s birthdays. This friend of mine is all about some Iron Man. We went out to see the movie to celebrate. At the beginning of the movie, I found myself unable to stomach Tony Stark’s arrogance, but he grew on me by the end of the film. I was pleasantly surprised to see myself cheering for Stark by the film’s end and even liking him. This happy surprise along with Samuel L. Jackson’s interesting new glimpse into Nick Fury made for one of the best movie surprised I’d had in quite a long time.

I don’t know that I’d watched Iron Man more than once since then, so I picked it up from the public library to see if it still held up. I was pleasantly surprised all over again and here are a few reasons why.

  1. I have a fairly high standard for my superhero movies. I love superheroes and I love the potential they have to create three-dimensional stories on the big screen. Just because superheroes tend to be brightly colored and star in comic books does not mean they are devoid of literary value. (I had a serious debate w/ a classmate over this in college, so don’t get me started). What impressed me about Iron Man is the writer’s ability to tell Tony Stark’s story and make him more than just, for lack of a better word, cartoonish. Is he a bit egotistical? Sure, but so is the Stark of the comics. They take him from a simple egomaniac only out for a good time and turn him into a likable guy who learns how to care about some one other than himself. This plot happens in a lot of movies, but I think it’s made a little more interesting by the addition of a crazy weaponized suit or two.
  2. Robert Downey, Jr. I’m not sure that I’d ever seen a movie of his prior to Iron Man, but as soon as I saw a photo of him, I thought, “Well, at least he looks the part.” His ability to pull off the snark and be funny, not obnoxious is probably his greatest achievement with the character. RDJ does a great job establishing himself as Tony Stark. In fact, his Sherlock Holmes is so similar, I wouldn’t be surprised if his own personality was similar in real life. Aside from RDJ, I really dig the entire cast. Gwyneth Paltrow is an excellent Pepper, and I love Jeff Bridges as Obadiah Stane/Iron Monger. He’s fantastic at rough and tumble characters, be they good or bad (think Rooster Cogburn in 2010’s True Grit). His voice adds a sinister growl to the character, making him a fantastic villain. I would have liked to have seen a little more Rhodey, and although many folks prefer Don Cheadle, I thought Terrance Howard gave a great performance.
  3. The story. As I mentioned before, my Iron Man knowledge is fairly limited, so I can’t comment on accuracy/continuity with the comic. What I can comment on is the excellence of the writer’s ability to tell a cohesive story that is easy to follow for both comic book fans and comic book newcomers alike. Origin stories are interesting to most audiences because they level the playing field; they put everyone on the same page. I think this is why this movie had a little greater success than the two sequels, among other reasons. The plot is great, added to a great cast, you’ve got a quality film.
  4. The Avengers Connection. This is over first insight into the Avengers film that would come along 4 years later. I did own a S.H.I.E.L.D. comic growing up, and being a big fan of many of the early/mid 90s Marvel cartoons (as well as some of the newer ones), was no stranger to Nick Fury. What I was not expecting was to see Samuel L. Jackson. Please don’t misunderstand–I’m not one of those southern white folks who gets all uppity about a person of color playing a role traditionally held by a white person. In fact, I think it’s much more interesting when it happens (I think speciffically about The Rock in the remake of Walking Tall and Angel Coulby as Gwen in the BBC’s Merlin series). Samuel L. Jackson has the sass and confident demeanor to play Nick Fury well. I like him very much as Fury, and his invitation to a larger overarching story made me that much more compelled to see the rest of the films.

Overall, Iron Man is a great start for the best string of superhero films to come along from Marvel. As much as I love the X-Men and their films, I think the Avengers series of films, by focusing a film on each hero, has the opportunity for greater depth and character development. For this first film, Iron Man gets 4/5 stars from me.

Posted in Comic Books, DVD, Movie | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Nerd News – 10/1/13

Who did it better--Kirk or Spock?

Who did it better–Kirk or Spock?

I’d like to make an attempt at weekly Nerd News here on the blog.  Check out what’s up in your favorite fandoms each Tuesday.  If you have some Nerd News you think ought to be shared, please send me a message via the Contact Form.  I’ll review it for approval and contact you if I share it.  Please include your website, if you’d like me to point readers back to you.  (I’m always happy to spread the link love around).  Without further ado, here’s this week’s Nerd News!

  • Government shutdown got you in the dumps?  Fear not; Captain Kirk is on the case.  Kudos to George Takei for always adding a little humor to my day.  And puns.  Oh Mylanta, the puns.
  • Brace yourself Star Wars fans!  Looks like some super nerds at MIT have just taken us one step closer to real-life lightsabers!  This will take cosplay up to a whole new level, and perhaps increase ER visits for dismemberment as well.
  • A new trailer for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug dropped last night.  Have you seen it?  What do you think?  You can view the trailer here.
  • Looking for some Halloween fun?  Dr. Amy Sturgis–Potter Pundit, Sherlock Scholar, Halloween Historian, among many other titles–has an excellent Halloween fest on her blog.  She updates daily during October with spooky stories, images, and links.  Amy is one of the kindest people I’ve ever met, not to mention, she’s my professor at Mythgard this semester.
  • Speaking of Halloween fun, check out the Countdown to Halloween for some scary shenanigans from all around the web for the month of October.
  • I’ve been featured as a guest blogger on one of my new favorite places on the web, The Retroist.  If you’re a vintage gaming fan, read about my memories with the Magnavox Odyssey2.  Retroist is a great place to follow, especially around Halloween, for great nerdy nostalgia.  He has an excellent podcast to go along with it as well.  I plan to write more for The Retroist in the future.
  • I’ve created a Facebook fan page for my blog and writing services.  If you’re on Facebook, do me a solid and like my page!

Did I miss anything from the past week?  Leave a comment and share the link love with everyone here.

Posted in Books, Just For Fun, Movie, Nerd News, Websites | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Brand new Firefly stories? No joke!

That’s right folks!

L-R: Jayne, Kaylee, Shepherd Book, Simon, Inara, Mal, Zoe, Wash, and River

L-R: Jayne, Kaylee, Shepherd Book, Simon, Inara, Mal, Zoe, Wash, and River

Your favorite band of misfits, thieves, and space outlaws are back!  The Hollywood Reporter posted that Buffy the Vampire Slayer comic artist Georges Jeanty will be taking the helm for the art of a brand new Firefly comic, which will take place after the 2005 Serenity movie.  There is no word yet on who is writing the series, but the prospect of more Firefly canon is incredibly exciting to me.

What’s your opinion?  Should there be more Firefly stories?  (I don’t know anyone who would say otherwise, but I’d love to hear about it if you disagree)!  What would you like to see happen?  I’m long overdue for a re-watch, but I would love to see them explore Jayne’s character a little further in-depth.  There are few things in this world that bring me greater delight than hearing Adam Baldwin growl.  I’m eager to see it in comic form.  So if you’ve got opinions, FIRE!

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