A Heroic Day

On Monday last week I was sat in the departures hall at Vancouver airport when I got a message from my friend Samantha Swords. She suggested I attend an event in London that weekend called the Hero Round Table. She had spoken at one, and had suggested to the organiser, Matt Langdon, that he invite me along. Truthfully, I’m a bit sceptical of events based on short ‘inspiring’ talks; I’m not a huge fan of TED, for instance. Sure, there’s some value in some of the talks, but the whole format seems set up to be superficial and entertaining rather than truly valuable. I’m also really suspicious of any kind of hype. I was just back from a two week trip on an 8 hour time difference, so I was heavily inclined to stay home, but I talked it over with my wife, and she said I should go if I wanted to, so I did.

The day began with a talk by a schoolteacher from Norwich, Andy Fisher. Whose main hobby, other than some pretty extreme sports? Knife throwing. That’s our kind of chap. He was presenting there because he’s recently written a book, The Hero Forge (I haven’t read it yet so can’t comment on it, but his talk was excellent which bodes well). He was followed by author Marcus Alexander, who does longsword with the Schola Gladiatoria in London.

The speakers ranged from whistle-blowing accountant Wendy Addison to academic student of heroism, Prof. Ari Kohen, to author Elizabeth Svodoba, who (as the website says) “wrote the book on heroism”: What Makes a Hero?: The Surprising Science of Selflessness. (Again, not read it yet so can’t comment on it, but her talk was interesting so…). They were all good, some more interesting than others, but while I enjoyed the talks, there weren’t any ideas expressed that were completely new to me. But then professional swordsmen aren’t anybody’s target audience. And, as Derek Sivers puts it: if more information were the answer, we’d all be billionaires with perfect abs.

As is usually the case at conference-type events, the real gold is found in the spaces between the presentations. In the first place, the organiser of the event, Katherine Barton, challenged us all to introduce ourselves to five new people that day. I hate doing that. I like meeting new people, but I usually do so in cases where it’s obvious who I am (like I’m teaching a seminar), or I’m introduced by a common acquaintance. Dammit, introducing yourself is so un-English. But I damn well did it, getting to six cold introductions by the end of the day. And thereby met some really interesting folk (including the organiser of an event called Sword Punk!). I introduced myself to Katherine, which seemed only fair. And she introduced me to Dan Edwardes, founder of Parkour Generations, because he trained traditional koryu swordsmanship in Japan for years… What is it with these swordsmen cropping up everywhere? could it be that there’s a connection between an interest in heroism and a desire to swing swords? There was even an ex-student of mine, Rasmus Vanagand, who came to some of my seminars in Linköping back in the early days.

Towards the end of the day, coming out of a panel discussion, I saw a chap doing burpees in a corner of the foyer. Naturally, I went over, took off my jacket, and joined in. Goddamn it he pumped those horrid things out. I was completely knackered. He finished his 300 (you read that right). I’d managed perhaps 40.

I found out about 10 minutes later that it was Joe de Sena. Founder of the Spartan Race. Legendary endurance athlete. Complete lunatic (in our kind of way).

He gave a copy of his latest book, Spartan Fit!, to everyone at the event. I’ve read it, and it’s well worth your time. Short and to the point, no fluff (as is no doubt the Spartan way!) it’s got me seriously considering training for an obstacle race…

The video may give the impression that I spent the whole time squatting on the floor. Blame Matt, he took this on his phone at the least flattering moment, honest. Joe signed my copy of his book, “Guy, you are a Spartan! we did 50 burpees today!” I think he exaggerates- I maybe did 40.

Perhaps there’s something in this whole Hero thing?

My day’s highlights were burpees with Joe, chatting to Dan, Katherine, Marcus and Andy, and getting a window into how other people approach the problem of training people to handle frightening situations.

To sum up: don’t judge by appearances; when opportunities present themselves, jump at them; get outside your comfort zone; meet new people; join in.

A big thank you to Matt Langdon for inviting me, and to Samantha Swords for giving him the idea. Sam, drinks on me :)

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