Sharp blades and lightsabers: not every hit should count as a cut

One of the issues that seem to continually crop up with new students is that they have very unrealistic expectations of what a sharp blade can do. For example, I teach medieval German dagger, and several techniques found with dagger treatises involve gripping the blade of your dagger. See this folio from Talhoffer from example:

I frequently get asked after class if the daggers would have been blunt, as the students seem to believe that these techniques would be impossible with a sharp dagger, and that you’d cut your own hand. I find that relating the potential damage done by sharp weapons to potential damage down by kitchen knives helps. Most people will have held a kitchen knife by the blade at some point, and won’t have cut themselves. Similarly, everyone knows that if you take a kitchen knife and just use it to press down on a steak, you will never cut the steak. You need to draw the blade backwards and forwards to cut it. Everyone recognises this about kitchen knives, which they use often, but not about daggers and swords, because they don’t use these often, even if the same rules of physics should apply in both cases. Sharp blades are not lightsabers.

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7 Rules for Instructors

This article has been written and submitted by Daria Izdebska, one of the instructors within the Academy of Historical Arts.

I am not only a martial arts instructor, but also a language tutor and an academic teacher. This variety of experiences has helped me realise that some aspects of teaching are universal, no matter what subject you teach, what kind of students you have or how often you instruct. At the same time, each and every teaching situation is unique. It is therefore at once a very easy task to come up with seven rules for instructors, and a very difficult one, because I could come up with much more than just seven pieces of advice. Many aspects of teaching are interrelated and make sense only when discussed in conjunction with each other.

The advice I lay out below is the result of my own experiences as a teacher and instructor, but also as a student who is looking for the best teacher I can have. Some of it may be difficult to put fully into practice, depending on the particular teaching situations and environments, but I believe this this is the ideal we should all be striving for.

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7 Fundamental Rules for Instructors

Keith Farrell teaching "halfswording" for 15th century German armoured combat (kampffechten) at the Vanguard 2012 event held at the University of Glasgow.

This article follows on from a previous article by Alex Bourdas, expanding upon his original concept and providing an alternative point of view. Alex’s article can be read here:

Instructing martial arts can be a difficult task. It is very much a skill that needs to be developed. In the previous article, Alex put forward 7 fundamental rules that he believes instructors must practice and work to improve. He has asked me to write about the 7 fundamental rules that I believe instructors need to work on, so here they are:

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7 Rules for Instructors Challenge.


So today I am taking part in a posting challenge set by Alex in which we discuss our personal seven golden rules for instructors. To be clear I have not read Alex’s and will only do so upon completion of my own so that I am not influenced by his previous essay, if there is a degree of overlap I can only apologise.

Last night I couldn’t sleep and happened to come across a quote in Marozzo that I loved and felt would fit well with today’s article:

“I want you to know that it is a beautiful mystery to know how to teach people well, more than to just play; for a man, if he knows how to play well and does not know how to teach, is not good (he is single): but one that knows how to teach well, is good for many people; and know that when he knows the one and the other, he is of double virtue and is a double master.”

This is an idea we often discuss in the AHA especially with regards to HEMA instruction as it is often the case that people assume a good fighter will make a good teacher and this is a flawed idea but those who are good fighters and good teachers are the highest calibre instructors. This quote could also apply well to good training partners but that is a discussion for another time.

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Teaching skills, and structuring a class

In my last post, I talked about how to present a class to your students:

Equally important to presenting a class is structuring a class well. I have been in classes where the instructor might have been able to present the class well, yet the class was still lacking overall because it seemingly consisted of random techniques being taught with little rhyme or reason. This is just as damaging to a class as an instructor who might be able to structure the class well, but lacks the presentation skills to pull it off successfully.

The most important thing to bear in mind is that the class must have a structure, and that you know what it is going to be in advance. I don’t write out lesson plans, but I do think about what I’m going to teach and how I’m going to teach it before I teach it. When I first started instructing regularly, I wouldn’t always give enough thought before hand, meaning I had to more or less make up the class on the spot, and I have been in classes by others where it was apparent they were doing this too. This is poor instructing technique, and it is very obvious to the students that the class hasn’t been thought through enough beforehand.

There will be times when you may have to teach a class that you didn’t plan for. For example, maybe the instructor who was meant to be teaching that night couldn’t make it for whatever reason. In cases like this, you want to always have a rough lesson plan in mind, along with a handful of useful techniques and drills.

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