Image of Kendo c.1920. The fencer on the right is in chudan-no-kamae. Image taken from Wikipedia.
Is it useful to take a similar position or technique from another martial art, adopt into our HEMA practice?
This is a question that does come up every so often when someone with non-HEMA experience discusses the idea of setting up a HEMA club. Of course it seems like quite a reasonable idea to continue teaching the non-HEMA material with which you are familiar, and there are probably techniques from your previous training that would be useful in various situations in HEMA sparring.
I worked through this process myself, several years ago, when I started looking at HEMA after spending around fourteen years studying karate. I had achieved my 3rd dan black belt in karate, and I thought that importing some karate techniques and concepts would help to shore up any of the many deficiencies I perceived in the HEMA systems I was trying to learn.
However, with more experience of HEMA now, I can see quite clearly that the biggest and most important deficiency was my own lack of skill at the systems I was trying to learn! Now I know that these systems can deal with almost any problem (within the appropriate context) if I apply the techniques and concepts properly – and if I need to solve a problem in a different context, I just use a different (and more appropriate) system.
Keith demonstrating a technique with John during a training session.
One of the ideas that causes problems for a lot of people across the world is the idea that whatever you want to do has to be right, or perfect, before you begin.
People delay opening a business until the “perfect” moment, and then never quite manage to open up. People keep planning their novel, adding more and more detail to their world, but never quite end up writing the story. People decide that they don’t want to put themselves forward as an instructor of HEMA until they understand it properly – and so clubs never quite take off.
The padded cap by Skulltec is a wonderful little garment to wear on your head beneath your fencing mask. The cap was developed to help athletes reduce their risk of concussions during sports, and for this precise reason it has significant value for practitioners of historical fencing.
One of the skills that is quite important for people who often help their instructors with the delivery of a lesson is being a good assistant instructor. An assistant instructor should be there to assist the instructor, as the name implies. However, I have noticed that many assistant instructors are not always good at being assistants. Many of them seem to want to compete with the main instructor for attention from the students. Some are desperate to tell the students how they would do things, while others simply want to add asides they think the students might find interesting.
Students can be left unclear as to who is the actual instructor, and they are often left trying to work out two slightly different sets of instruction from two different instructors, unsure which they should be listening to. Alternatively, if both the instructor and the assistant instructor are talking to the group, this can lead to unnecessary repetition. So with this in mind, I’ve written four rules for assistant instructors.
Back in 2013 I wrote a post called Teaching Skills, and Presenting a Class, in which I presented seven rules for instructors. This post then inspired several other posts on the same subject  . However, as I said in my original article, we should all be trying to improve our skills at instructing, and as quite some time has passed since I wrote the article, I thought it would be worth revisiting and updating it.
I think the original rules are still good rules, however some are slightly redundant, and others too specific. We should always be trying to convey information to our students as effectively as we can, and this includes not giving them redundant information, and focusing on teaching them general principles they can apply to a wide variety of situations, rather than focusing on very specific applications of technique that they can only use in specific situations. Rules for how to instruct therefore should cover a principle of teaching that can applied to many situations, rather than being a specific rule that only applies in some situations.
There are many skills that are important to a good teacher. Obviously, a teacher should have various teaching skills, and there are a lot of articles on this blog that talk about this. However, today I would like to briefly think about research. Research is traditionally seen as a being separate from instructing. Obviously, most HEMA instructors will (hopefully) at least have read some manuscripts or books relevant to what they’re teaching, but not all instructors will do much (or anything) in the way of serious research, which I believe is a problem.
It is true that researching and instructing are separate skill sets, and that being good at one does not make you good at the other, in much the same way that simply being a good fighter does not make you into a good instructor. Someone who is good at research would still need to spend lots of time developing their teaching skills through both theory and practice to be a good teacher.
In most martial arts, not being a good researcher is not as problematic, because there isn’t as great a need to follow any one particular method of doing things, nor do they need to research any contextual issues (although there still are research topics they would benefit from like physiology or teaching theory). For HEMA however, it is a greater problem, because an instructor who does no research at all can either only teach what they have been taught, or they can teach things that may or may not be in the manuals, and they risk stagnating and moving further away from the H in HEMA. If an instructor does research, they are better equipped to check and recheck their own interpretations or to uncover new information that may help them or their students better understand the techniques they know, principles or mechanics behind those techniques, or contextual and historical contexts behind those techniques. Additionally, moving further into research is an excellent reason to challenge yourself. By doing research, you also help other instructors and researchers, as they can build on or use the research you produce, furthering the entire discipline. On a different level, doing research will let you present new techniques to keep your students interested. For example, if you frequently teach the same workshop, then by doing research, you can find new techniques to teach, or new areas to focus on, giving people who’ve been to that workshop before a reason to stay interested.
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.
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.
Today I wanted to talk a bit about instructing, and how to instruct. Instructing is a very important skill, however it can often be ignored, or it can be underdeveloped.
Firstly, I want to point out that being a good fighter does not make you a good instructor. I have been in class by excellent fighters who could not teach very well, and I know I’ve heard plenty of other people say this as well, so it seems to be a relatively well recognised skill. Being a good researcher also doesn’t necessarily make you a good teacher either. More worryingly, even some people who have been instructing for years and seem to think they are good teachers can in reality be poor at teaching.
Teaching is a skill, and one that takes a long time and a lot of effort to be developed. It can’t be done quickly, and it can’t be ignored. When I first started instructing, I thought that I was really good. As I get better at instructing, I realise that how I was instructing previously was actually quite poor, and even now, I don’t let myself get complacent thinking that I don’t need to keep developing my instructing skills, because I really do. I think all instructors can keep developing their instructing skills, and because they can, they should. You can always become a better instructor, and I hope that this post today gives people a few thoughts on how to accomplish that.
This week I am going to take a look at what traits we look for in an AHA instructor (aka: a “black shirt”). A big part of my job for the past couple of years has been the identifying of individuals that are suitable to make the transition from student to instructor within the organisation. I thought it may help some of you running your own clubs to see how I undertake that thought process and the reasoning behind those traits being important. Although I identify instructors across all the AHA programmes I will be focusing primarily on the Combat Instructors in this article.