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ALWAYS PRACTICE on an empty stomach, and preferably next to the toilet. When you are poking away at the back of your throat with a sword, trying to find the hole that it has got to go down, every time you cross a new nerve it will make you retch. Don't start off with a great big long sword; I started practicing with a small dagger, about 14 inches long. Of course, you don't swallow a razor-sharp sword first - take an oilstone and blunt the edges.

Stand straight up and look at the ceiling, push your chin forward and your head back, and then get a mouthful of bread or something and try and swallow - you can feel it going down in a straight line. It is only below the stomach that your insides start to get curved. The sword just goes straight down. But you have to learn to open your throat - it is just practice. Have you ever seen how a pigeon drinks? They hold their heads back and it seems to open their throat up. That is what you need to do.

At first you have to put the sword down really slowly and feel the way down, without really touching the edges. If it hurts, you're doing something wrong - you're not lined up properly. I can swallow 28 inches and just let the sword drop down by itself - I have cut my swords off so that they're a quarter of an inch short of hitting my stomach. If something goes wrong and you pierce the stomach, you're going to get peritonitis and possibly die. It takes years of practice.

I remember when I bought my very first sword, I just sat and looked at it for about three days, then I touched the back of my tongue with it and thought "No way!"

Gareth Churton has performed sword-swallowing all over the world as `The Master of Fire and Steel'. For bookings, call 01782 630989. He would like to make it clear that he does not encourage or advise anyone to take up sword-swallowing