Saturday, 28 February 2015

World Sword Swallowing Day

So today is a glorious day, a day that the world remembers the brave and insane nutbars who decide to swallow swords for our twisted pleasure!

I kid you not ladies and gents, February 28th is World Sword Swallowing Day. So what I want to do, is give you some small facts regarding this esoteric entertainment eccentricity.
Also please, please, please do not try this at home (unless of course you are a professional sword swallower)!

What is sword swallowing?
According to most encylopedia’s:

"Sword swallowing is a magician’s trick dating back to ancient Greece and Rome, involving the swallowing of a sword without bodily injury."

However in reality, sword swallowing is not an illusion or a trick. It is a real feat of physical and mental strength.

What is considered a sword?
A sword is a weapon having various forms but typically consisting of a long straight, or slightly curved blade, sharp edged on one, or both sides with one end pointed and the other fixed in a hilt or a handle.
However the Sword Swallowers Association International (SSAI) defines a swords as:

“a weapon, with a non-folding, non-retractable solid steel or metal single-edged or double-edged blade at least 1/2 inch (1.27 cm) in width and 16 inches (40 cm) to 20 inches (50.8 cm) in length, and not recommended to exceed 24 inches (61 cm) in length except in extreme circumstances for performance purposes" 

So the SSAI define sword swallowing as:

“the act of inserting a solid metal blade at least 16 inches long into the mouth, down the oesophagus, through the oesophageal sphincter and into the stomach"

To become a member of the SSAI, one has to be at least 18 years old and can prove that they can swallow at least 18 inches of a solid sword blade (And you thought getting into a pub underage was tough!).

How many Sword Swallowers are there?
There are less than a few dozen professional sword swallowers left actively performing around the world today. 

In addition, there are a few dozen surviving injured or retired veteran sword swallowers who have swallowed a sword at one time in their lives, and a small number of beginners who have managed to swallow a sword at least one time in their lives, but may not be actively performing as full-time professionals.
In comparison with other rare or dangerous occupations and passions,

•  there are over 2.1 million skydives jumped each year
•  there are over 80,000 Elvis impersonators since 1977
•  there are over 12,000 professional bullriders in the world
•  over 2249 people have successfully climbed Mt. Everest since 1953
•  over 1000 people have run the 4 minute mile over 4700 times since 1954
•  over 750 astronauts have flown in outer space since 1961

(please note these numbers were correct as of 2012)
Yet there are less than a few dozen professional sword swallowers left actively performing the 4000 year old ancient art around the world today.
Out of a world population of over 7 billion people in the world today, that makes each sword swallower unique at being about 1 out of every 250 million people in the world.

Is it dangerous?


What else do Sword Swallowers Swallow?
Sword swallowers often swallow a variety of implements including sword blades, daggers, bayonets, and other objects besides swords to add to their acts. Here are a few of the various sword types that sword swallowers have been known to swallow:

Flamberge Sword
  • Dagger
  • Bayonet
  • Eight-sided Sai
  • Double-edged sword
  • Rapier
  • Fencing foil
  • Sabre
  • Cutlass
  • Wakasashi
  • Malaysian Kris sword
  • Flamberge serpentine sword (Red Stuart, Dan Meyer, Andrew Stanton) 
  • Broadsword (Red Stuart, Charon Henning, Dan Meyer)
  • Curved Persian Shamshir sword (Brad Byers, Dai Andrews, Dan Meyer)
Other implements sword swallowers have swallowed: 

  • Coat hanger   (several)
  • Arrow   (Phil DePalo)
  • Drumstick   (Alex Zander)
  • Oil dipstick   (Dai Andrews, Dan Meyer, Jim Ball, others)
  • Long chopsticks   (David Straitjacket)
  • Long thermometer   (Jewels)
  • Long screwdriver   (Johnny Fox, Dan Meyer, Thomas Blackthorne, others)
  • Long handled spoon   (Johnny Fox, Sebastien K.)
  • Pocket watch on a chain   (Cliquot)
  • Surgical forceps   (Dan Meyer)
  • Long scissors (Johnny Fox, Natasha Veruschka, Dan Meyer, others)
  • Straight razor   (Edith Clifford, Dan Meyer)
  • Saw blade   (Edith Clifford, Mimi Garneau, Dan Meyer)
  • Hedge clippers   (Dan Meyer)
  • Neon tube  (Johnny Meah, Natasha Veruschka, others)
  • Pool cue   (Shamus, Tommy Breen)
  • Gyroscope handle with spinning gyroscope   (Keith Nelson)
  • Flaming sword with blade on fire   (Dan Meyer)
  • Chair leg   (Amy Saunders, Thomas Blackthorne)
  • Swedish "Sparkstötting" sled runner (Niklas FolkegĂ„rd)
  • Sword shot down throat by pistol (Karmi, Edith Clifford, John Trower)
  • Gun barrel   (Karmi, Johnny Fox, Keith Nelson)
  • Carriage axle   (Prince Nelson)
  • Car axle   (Red Stuart)
  • Running jackhammer   (Thomas Blackthorne) 

What is the History of Sword Swallowing?
Sword swallowing originated about 4000 years ago in India around 2000 BC by fakirs and shaman priests who developed the art along with fire-walking on hot coals, snake handling, and other ascetic religious practices, as demonstration of their invulnerability, power, and connection with their gods. Legend has it that sword swallowing began in either the region that is now Andhra Pradesh or Karnataka, India, and there is still a tribe known as the Konda Dhora tribe in the state of Andhra Pradesh where the ancient art of sword swallowing was rumored to be passed down from father to son for centuries. Unfortunately, there is little evidence of this practice today. 

From India, sword swallowing spread to China, Greece, Rome, Europe, and the rest of the world. Sword swallowing was often seen at festivals throughout the ancient Roman empire. Capuleius, in his Metamorphoseon, tells of seeing the feat in Athens, performed by a juggler on horseback, and sword swallowers were mentioned in 410 AD during the Teutonic fight for Rome. 

The art and practice of sword swallowing traveled north from India into China around 750 AD, and became popular in Japan in the 8th century. It was often seen as part of an acrobatic form of entertainment known as Sangaku, which also featured juggling, tightrope walking, contortion, and other related skills. This type of performance art was "street theater" and the performers traveled throughout Japan. Sangaku, like other forms of drama popular in Japan prior to the 11th century, traced its origins to southern China and India.

The Dervish Orders of the Sufis reflect the meeting of Islam and Hindu thought in the 8th century ("dervish" is Persian for "beggar.") Some Dervish orders wander, others beg alms, and others live in Sufi monasteries. Some are religious entertainers hired to chant the zikr dirge, and some only perform Dervish ceremonies on special occasions. Dervishes are known for working themselves into frenzies, whirling themselves about, and committing great feats of strength (this is where we get the term "Whirling Dervishes"). One of the Dervish orders founded in 1182 AD was the order of Rifais who eat glass, walk on hot coals, and swallow swords. 

Sword swallowing spread north from Greece and Rome into Europe at the hands of medieval jongleurs and other street performers who performed in public areas. In the Middle Ages, sword swallowers, like magicians, jugglers and other entertainers, were often condemned and persecuted by the Catholic Church. Still, in most places they were popular with the common folk, and the tradition of the wandering entertainer remained strong. By the mid-17th century, performers wandered more freely and became common sights on street corners and at festivals across Europe. Sword swallowing began to die out in Europe in the late 1800s, and in Sweden in 1893 when variety shows were formally outlawed.

Sword swallowing came to America in 1817, but did not start becoming popular in America until 1893 when sword swallowers were one of the hit features of the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. In the 1890s, sword swallowing became an expected part of traveling sideshows, which flourished from around 1899 to the 1950's. In the 1950's, with the increasing popularity and cost efficiency of mechanical rides at carnivals, one by one the side shows began to disappear, and with the growing popularity of TV, the Internet, video games and other forms of entertainment in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, the popularity of sideshows and sword swallowing began to decrease. Since 1981, there have been only a very small number of the old-fashioned traveling 10-in-1 sideshows left touring the United States.

There is one question on this blog which has not been answered, why? What would possess a person to take a bladed object and slide it into their mouth. Well I cannot answer that question for you, but let me leave you this Video by world accomplished Sword Swallower Dan Meyer. Hopefully he can shed some light on the practice. I seriously suggest you watch this video if you want to feel like a superhero.

And to everyone out there today, regardless of if you swallow swords or not. Keep your chin up :).

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating reading!

    I feel bad just having those sword cocktail sticks go into my mouth, let alone a full size one!!!


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