Some thoughts on teaching, largly copied from Tajima Sensei.
Anyone who teaches the tournament arts of the SCA should realise the responsibility of teaching as the importance of good teaching is much higher in the SCA than most other sports/martial arts. It is necessary for both the teacher and student to set the same goal and work together to approach it. Students have a lot of different ideas: some want to to be King one day, some want to be Knights, some may want to take part in wars and others may want to wield a sword in armour. Often it is a little bit of all of these. The teacher must understand and accept what the student wants (of cause if he or she has the wrong idea, the teacher should correct this) and also understand that each person has different levels of time and commitment. But whatever the reasons and commitment, everyone must master the fundamentals of swordsmanship and the teacher is responsible for that.
Swordsmanship in the SCA is often taught as an afterthought or in a haphazard manner. Too often a student is shown a few basic moves and then put into harness and expected to learn as they go with nothing in the way of organised and clear teaching and training. Teaching the fundamentals is not an easy task. We get bored with repetitive exercises and it is just more fun trying to hit your friends in a sparring session. This article then attempts to go in a slightly different direction. I am happy if by reading this, you try something different and think about teaching, practice and training a little different from the norm.
Unfortunately there are teachers out there who can not teach simply because they do not have a firm understanding of the fundamentals of swordsmanship. Then there are others who are teaching as a way of fulfilling their own ego. There also those who have a poor attitude or they just have not learnt how to teach:
1. Impatient – shout and make students nervous of making mistakes.
2. Arrogant – talks too much to show off what they know and teach for their own aggrandisement.
3. Too hard – does not take into account the physical strength/fitness of each student
4. Too hasty – move to the next stage before the student understands something and/or put students into harness too soon
5. No explanation – do not explain the purpose and reason of what they are teaching
6. Can teach but cannot correct – do not notice the students incorrect habits or they can notice and analyse the cause but do not know how to correct them, and
7. Not balanced – teach only the things they are good at. Things that are common are lack of communication, carful observation and respect towards the learners and their will to learn.
It always takes a bit of courage to learn anything new, especially something like swordsmanship. Knights do not always make good teachers because they sometimes lack the attitude of respecting beginners. It is not easy for them to understand the psychology of beginners or gradual learners because it was a long time since they were beginners.
The Four Main Tasks of Teaching
1. Understand: Understand the personality type, level, motivation, needs, problems, advantages and disadvantages of the student.
2. Model: Demonstrate what the student must do and how. If you cannot do this then get someone who can as seeing is believing for the student. The teacher also needs to be a role model for knightly behaviour.
3. Teach: Impart both the mental and physical side of the basics efficiently according to the level of the students.
4. Correct: It is best is the student has been taught correctly and does not have any bad habits. However if they have already picked up any bad habits, it is necessary to correct them as early as possible. It takes three times as much effort to get rid of a bad habit as it does to build a correct one. To correct bad habits, just do not look at the habit itself, but look to how and why it occurs, then think of the best way to correct it. Too many teachers just criticise or comment, but commentary without givinga solution is not teaching.
Of cause good teachers do not do the things that poor one do. I can also add a few things they can do as well. The main thing to remember is that we teach for the student and not for us. It is important that we keep improving our own skills as we can only teach the things we can do ourselves.
1. Always be positive and encourage the student.
2. Do not say “Don’t” always say “do this” instead.
3. Do not say “this is what I do”; say “I want you to do…”
4. Do not say “no” or “that is wrong”,
5. Let them realise they have improved by saying “yes”, “that’s it”, etc
6. Find something good about the student and praise them from the heart. There is always something good, even if it is just turning up.
7. Make sure the student feels they have made progress or learnt something new every time.
8. Make students think and understand the why of what they are doing.
9. Be polite. Speak softly; be sure in what you are doing.
10. Try to understand your students as much as possible by listening to them or asking them questions.
11. Never get angry or impatient. Learning swordsmanship takes time.
12. Be observant, notice how the students armour is working, is anything not right, are they striking with the blade?
How to Teach
There is a lot of material out there on teaching and coaching. Here are a few things that are important to the attitude of teaching:
1. Be specific, avoid general and abstract expressions. Instead of saying “your defence is good”, say “you are keeping your shield in the correct position”.
2. Break it down, during sparing it is necessary to do several different movements at the same time or in a correct sequence. Teach each component or movement separately before bringing it all together.
3. Pell work is vital to understanding how the body and sword must work together to produce speed and power.
4. Footwork is important and we do not spend enough time on it. Make sure the students stance and balance is correct. Are they moving properly?
5. Allow the student to succeed. Allow a well executed attack though. Yes you can probably block and beginners attack but you must let the student understand that a given technique can work.
6. We are sparing, not fighting. Fighting is what happens between angry people and always ends badly; we are sparring in armour with weapons.
7. Keep an eye on their gear and harness. Some bad habits come from poorly fitting armour or badly strapped shields.
We often do not talk about manners or etiquette in our training sessions. I think that some level of formality is important. This is about generating respect and focus for all those involved and the time spent. In introducing some level of formality you impart to the student a respect for what they are doing. Explain what you want the student to do and maybe demonstrate it. Get them to call when they are ready and finished. In any training session, there is only one teacher, ensure that you respect others so they in turn respect you.