Diary of a Sword Swallower (Part 1)

by The Queen of Swords


Do not try this on your own.


The things you are about to read should NEVER be attempted, 

These stunts if not done properly can cause harm or even be fatal.


Sideshow World itís staff and all parties associated with this site strenuously advises against self-teaching or attempting the stunts in this article. We assume no liability for injuries, damage or death sustained through the personal use of information contained on this website.


My initial inspiration for taking up sword swallowing was somewhat underwhelming. It started with a phone call from my sister who called to tell me that Michael, her boyfriend of, like, eight years, had proposed to her, and that she was now engaged. For no apparent reason, even to myself, I told her that for her wedding I would learn sword swallowing and perform at the ceremony. She responded negatively, saying that if I did, she would kill me.

Over time, my flippant interest in sword swallowing formed into a dedicated fascination with the talent, its "old world" feel, the parallels with the yoga practice of "mind over matter" and control of the senses, and that the accoutrement of choice is the sword, a symbolically intricate icon.

Not to leave out the fact that it's totally freaky, which is almost always great. Who doesn't like a little freaky here and there?

I started looking around for a place or person to learn sword swallowing from. I never lived out my ?daring idiot? potential, so I decided against self-teaching the art. After a little research I discovered the Coney Island Sideshow school, which covers most of the talents in the show, such as fire eating, bed of nails, human block head, magic, etc. But, I didn't really care for all those things, and wondered really how in depth the school covered sword swallowing. Plus, putting a three inch nail into my head isn't terribly appealing.

Swords in torso, fine. Nails in brain, no thanks.

I emailed the professor of the school asking about the program, and checking to see if it would be possible to do private lessons. It took several months before I heard a reply. I figured it wasn't in my cards or they didn't want to teach the talent, but after some time I finally heard back. Adam (my teacher) had gotten the blessings from the other Sideshow performers to teach sword swallowing privately, and wanted to speak with me about my interest. It was at this point that I realized I might actually become a sword swallower, and all of a sudden it seemed totally weird.

When I initially spoke with Adam on the phone, he seemed considerate but hesitant about my learning the art. He explained that if I were to ask to learn fire breathing, for example, he could guarantee I would learn it eventually. Sword swallowing, however is a whole other beast. He said there was no guarantee I would actually ever swallow swords, and that it really depended on what was going on "internally." I asked him if he meant psychologically, anatomically, or both. He asked me if I had ever been a smoker. He said that the only way to describe the difficulty of learning sword swallowing was to compare it to quitting smoking. Your cognitive, conscious brain is saying "I would really like to quit smoking," but your body is addicted, so it's definitely not wanting you to quit smoking. Additionally, your subconscious mind is also emotionally and psychologically addicted to smoking, so it's also not on board. Sword swallowing is in a similar vein, in that your brain may think "Hey, this is weird and cool, I'd like to swallow swords." However, your body, with its various gag reflexes and innate objections to swallowing solids, really doesn't want you to put a metal object down your torso.

On top of that, there is the subconscious (and conscious) fears that go along with performing the feat of sword swallowing. All of a sudden, practicing sword swallowing to the point of success seemed much more far off than my original intent. Suddenly, that "weird and cool" stuff doesn't quite cut it.

I spoke with him about my interest in yoga, meditation, and general mindfulness practices. Once I explained that my interest in sword swallowing was for its yogic qualities, the mind over matter aspect of the talent, how its working with opening the body past fear using control of the senses, Adam's attitude changed completely. He told me that his teacher of sword swallowing, the founder of the Coney Island Circus Sideshow, had taught him that sword swallowing was a yogic practice. His teacher would begin each lesson with pranayama (breath control) and a short meditation. He taught that the art of sword swallowing was all about monitoring the movement of the sword with one pointed concentration. He told me that he thought I would be a great student, and we could start the following week.


Continue to Part 2


These New Old Traditions


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