There is a bit of interest in the Beginners Combat Course that we are developing here in Canberra so I thought I would give an overview of what it all entails.
Firstly I need to acknowledge the work of Syr Gemini. It is his system and training methods I have basically copied wholesale and I cannot thank him enough.
The Combat Beginners Course is a eight week program that aims to introduce the basic principles and techniques of tournament combat, construction of swords and shields along with some of the etiquette and culture of SCA tournaments.
At the end of the eight weeks we put students in armour and give them a run at full speed sparring. If they then decide that they want to continue with their combat training we move them though to the Intermediate Course and then authorisation.
Two beginner’s courses are held annually, commencing at the start of each semester in February and July. We currently are using a park next to a small scout hall. I think it would run much better if we had a suitable indoor venue.
In 2012 we will be charging people $20 each to take the course. I think it should be more, but small steps at this stage. I think this is a necessary thing to be doing. It says to new people that you are being serious, people will be more inclined to turn up if they have paid. It also gives the Beginners Course a revenue source for for equipment, printing etc.
Classes run for an hour at first and then get a little longer towards the end.
It is VERY important that we stay to the curriculum and not try to introduce too many new ideas in the one session. There is a poor tendency in the SCA to try to impart too many new lessons at the one time and this just frustrates or confuses students.
We supply all the equipment that is needed. We made up about 20 training swords. These were made from dead sticks that people were not using. We retaped them, carved proper grips and gave them cross guards made from hose and tape. It is important to take some time a care in making this gear, again it is about looking professional and organised. It was also important to make the practice swords look as much like a real sword as possible as we are teaching people about swordsmanship not stick fighting.
We have two types of shield, small hand bucklers and round shields.
The hand buckles are just made of plywood about 10 inches in diameter with two D-shaped holes cut out so you have a centre grip. These are good to start with as they are light, so students can hold them in position correctly without their arms getting tired and they are easy to transport and store.
We also have about 10 round shields (I need to make more). These are 24 inches in diameter, strapped but with no edging. These are also painted with a cross indicating the strong and weak points of the shield. We use the rounds as they are a reasonable shield to start with, you must learn to move and block correctly without the benefit of corners, it tends not to get in the way of the students attacks, gives us a standard shield to use/teach and can be used both right and left handed.
Currently there is only have one pell available. I would like to have about five (or more for the larger classes). This has resulted in us having to use the more experienced combatants as ‘live pells’, not always the ideal situation.
I would also like to get some of the ‘soft swords’ (sort of boffers) so we can do some drills at a medium pace without armour, but this will have to wait for now.
We advise students that they do not need to get their own kit just yet. We run a shield and sword making workshop as part of the Intermediate Course and start working on getting their harness together after that.
The group here has provided $1,500 to enable us to start getting some loner kits together. This together with stuff we have unused around the workshop means there are two full harnesses and other gear to fit people of various size and build. I would like to build the loner collection to at least four complete kits. The loner gear is stored together and is all packed away at the end of the session.
We always try to start on time. This means I have to turn up at least 1/2 hour to an hour to get the gear organised and get ready. It is just as important to finish on time as well.
I have written a few notes about the role of the teacher here.
I try to make the classes as formal as possible. This enables me to control the group, as we have had an average of 20 students at a time, and to instill a sense of focus and professionalism to what we are doing. An example of this is the start of any drills. The instructor calls the drill, “ear-to-ear to 6. Find your range and call ready”. The students then get into stance/guard/range and call “ready”. The instructor then calls the time of the drill, “ear-to-ear 6. Cut! Cut! Cut!”
We sometimes need to divide the class into two or more groups due to numbers. What happens here is we rotate the groups though different drills. This needs several assistant instructors, and we could not run our classes with out the assistance of some of the regular combatants.
The lesson plans are out lined in the course handout. I have a print ready version here.
Again, it is important to present the lessons step by step. Each new technique should be building or developing from the previous lessons.
This is something that I have found Gemini’s Oplomachia ideal, as the techniques are straight forward to explain and form a coherent combat system. Some of the terms we use are here.
You can use what ever school of fighting you are happy with teaching, just ensure that you are presenting the material in a sensible fashion.
This year we are looking at doing some additional marketing for the Course. Last year we mainly focused on the university O-Week. I am hoping to get posters up in the local comic book and gaming stores. There is also the possibility of us doing some marketing with the university sporting clubs.
As a part of the Beginners Course I am setting up a section of the group’s website to provide additional resources, reading and links. Politarchopolis Combat Pages.
I also use a Facebook Group to send out messages and class times reminders.
So there are some of the basics of what the Beginners Course is and does. I think it is critical that we start to get a lot more organised about how we (the SCA) market ourselves and promote the tournament arts. We have a lot of competition. Internally from the fencing community and externally from the metal weapons, WMA and LARP groups. We are no longer the only folks playing with swords out there.
If anyone wants anymore information or details then please feel free to drop me a line.