Why on Earth? Sword swallowing
Could anyone be a sword-swallower? How do I go about learning the techniques?
Of all the old carnival stunts, sword-swallowing is probably the one that has most people shaking their heads in disbelief. The theory that the swords are trick ones which somehow collapse into the hilt is still widely believed. But sword-swallowing is actually an entirely genuine skill that can be learned by anyone with a bit of patience and a lot of willingness to stomach the - considerable - risks.
The trick is all about posture. Stand absolutely upright and tilt your jaw to the correct angle, and your mouth, throat, oesophagus and stomach form a single straight line ready to accommodate a sword - or anything else you care to thrust into them.
Next, a couple of important hints. The tip of your sword should be sharp, so you can show any doubters it’s a real blade by sticking it into something. But the edges must be completely blunt, or you’ll slice your throat to ribbons with extremely messy results. So you’re going to need to get a special blade forged by your local armourer, which won’t be cheap. Remember that under no circumstances should the tip of the sword touch your stomach wall. Go an inch too far and peritonitis will be the least of your worries. I’m sure you’ve heard the horror stories about the sword swallower who straightened up during a performance, snapping off the blade and allowing it to drop straight through to his intestines, so there’ll be no need to remind you take special care with that posture.
Now it’s just a matter of overcoming the gag reflex. This can only be done by constant practice and it’s going to be a messy job. But give it a couple of months and you’ll find you’re vomiting a lot less than you were.
That’s all there is to it, really. You’ll find you can swallow all sorts of interesting things for added effect - old showman Dan Mannix, author of Memoirs of a Sword-Swallower, recommends a corkscrew-shaped blade, ‘which made my Adam’s apple leap about like a flea on a hot griddle as it went down, producing a peculiarly horrible effect that went over big’. He saw other performers down red-hot blades - you’ll need to swallow an asbestos scabbard first for this one - and even experimented with lighted neon tubes. But neon’s pretty deadly - shatter a tube and you’ll end up with a stomach full of glass shards and a severely reduced life expectancy.