Tuesday, March 16, 2010

History of the Swiss Knot - By George Odell

The dinner party was fun. Good friends. Good food. Good wine. And, perhaps best of all - great running conversation... Yet after our guests had left, my wife Adrienne nonchalantly asked, "why don't you talk about things other than running? Things like religion, politics and history." In an effort to show her and you that I have some other, albeit shallow, dimensions, let me share with you the history of the Swiss Knot as told by George Odell. But first an abbreviated and potentially incorrect history of George...

George is a local trail runner. In fact, George may hold the unofficial record for the most summits of Granduer Peak. Most days of the year George will run to the top in the early morning hours before going to work at Doppelmayr ctec - the ski lift manufacturer where he is an engineer. For year's George has made the claim that while he might not be the fastest person on the trails - he is the ONLY person who has never had a shoe become untied. When I first heard this claim, my reaction was "bullshit!"

Well, after finally hearing George's story - something about his mother being a descendent of an old world cobbler in the Swiss Alps, George eating Museli for breakfast everyday and being the only kid in grade school wearing lederhosen, loving to play the trumpet (while purportedly wearing his lederhosen), and of course, George being made by his Swiss mother to tie his patent leather shoes every morning with the infamous Swiss Knot- I knew the history that follows could not have been made up and must therefore be fact.

So George, thank you for sharing the knot (as a regular user - I can attest that it truly never comes untied) and for sharing this history...

By George Odell
Many of you have by now heard of and are now regularly using the Swiss Knot. As you know, this shoelace knot is a Godsend to Ultra Runners, parents with small children and professional bowlers, among others. This Knot is quick and easy to tie and WILL NOT become untied until you pull either end of the shoelace rendering your foot instantly free of its hot and steamy confines.

Like so many other modern day marvels that we take for granted, (the ball point pen, charged-coupled devices, and canned shaving cream, etc) the Swiss Knot also has its own story to be told. This story is not the "Humble Beginning Story" (sauté spoons), the "Serendipitous Beginning Story" (White Out) or the "Hard Work Beginning" (airplanes). The History of the Swiss Knot is all about stopping 15th & 16th century cavalry charges by impaling horse and rider with 22 ft long lances by 100 man blocks of highly trained Swiss mercenaries. What we are talking about here is the Swiss Pike Phalanx. The Swiss Pike Phalanx changed the way battles were fought from the time they first appeared at the battle of Vaumarcus (1476) until about 200 years later when other battlefield advancements rendered this tactic obsolete.

The close quarters of these blocks of pike pointing Swiss was the key to their success. They could travel across a field at a full run, shoulder to shoulder in a block formation, and quickly change directions at a leader's command. Imagine, if you would, a very large remote controlled porcupine. This particular battlefield tactic, although very successful, did not lend itself well to certain battle-time activities such as stopping to take a leak or worse: stopping to tie your shoe.

In fact, one early pike battle did nearly end in disaster for the Swiss because of untied shoe laces. It should be emphasized that the effectiveness of the Swiss Pike Phalanx depended entirely on its close shoulder to shoulder formation of pikes to repel cavalry charges and infantry assaults. So, during The Luxemburg Turnip Rebellion, at the fourth battle of Kluge (1490), approx 6 or 7 pikemen dropped rank to retie their rawhide laces. With a gap of only 6 or 7 men in the phalanx, Kriegmahler's second flank was able to penetrate a lesser phalanx and kill all pikemen associated with it. The Phalanx simply could not successfully engage in close quarters combat.

The Swiss commander of the battle took note of this untied shoelace incident and upon his return to Geneva the following spring, commissioned a young, energetic cobbler by the name of Henri Duzer to develop a knot suitable for battlefield use. Henri happily set himself to the task knowing full well that a failure on his part would result in a dungeon style imprisonment (shackles, rats, toothless jailers). The resulting knot saved the Swiss Pike Phalanx, saved Henrie from the toothless jailer and enables us to run long distances over rugged terrain without ever having to stop to tie a shoe.

So for the most part, the elements of the Swiss Pike Phalanx, The Luxemburg Turnip Rebellion and even Henri Duzer have passed into that practically indiscernible clutter pile of European history. The Swiss Knot, however, managed to survive, brought to this county by a young Swiss woman in the early 1950's. This woman, often mistaken for Jacqueline Kennedy, tied her children’s shoes with the Knot. Her children, (I being one if them) tied their children’s shoes with the Knot.

I’ve shown this Knot to a lot people over the years, and very few were interested in its use. But this Knot has enjoyed resurgence in popularity, especially with the local Ultra Runners who virtually never have to stop to retie their shoes during a run.


peter said...

Absolutely the most superb knot in the world. Many thanks George, and to know the true history of the knot is priceless.
The Swiss knot was the difference for me in last year's Wasatch 100. I dropped an hour and 40 minutes of senseless shoe tying from my previous best time.

Even better my children never have untied shoes playing soccer.

Many thanks to your mum.

Professor Shoelace said...

It would be even better if you shared how the knot was tied. Is it one of the knots shown on Ian's Shoelace Site?

Christian said...

Prof Shoelace, I checked Ian's excellent website and could not find the Swiss Knot anywhere on there. Watch for a follow up post in the next day or two where I'll reveal the secret of the Swiss Knot.

peter said...

Dear Professor,
The "Swiss Knot" is "Ian's secure knot", though there is another method than the one shown to tie this knot. Stay tuned.

Rich said...

Wow, I dont know what to say! Thanks -Rich

Jeff Gerke said...

I tried out Ian's secure knot on my run today. If it is the same as the Swiss Knot then I'm sold.