Thursday, August 15, 2019

Teaching a Basic Introductory Class for the First Time: Some Thoughts

A couple people I've talked to have expressed some trepidation in terms of teaching a class. I think that generally people are pretty good with teaching one or two people for a vague amount of time, but as soon as it turns into an indeterminate amount of people for a one hour time slot, things get super weird.

I get it. It's weird and intimidating and full of wargh. So rather than drop duplicate thoughts at individuals, I'm going to Write A Blog Post About It!

First up, this is intended to really apply to a specific type of class - an introductory or low-experience class for a primarily physical thing. (Like, say, "Your First Look At Capo Ferro" or whatever.) That isn't to say that someone couldn't find some really useful things for teaching, I don't know, a basic embroidery class here, but I'm just putting that out there so you know where I'm coming from in some ways.

Second, a lot of this is going to sound pretty basic. If you don't need to do everything here, awesome! Good! On the other hand, I've found that these are usually good ways to get organized for a class, keep yourself on topic in on time, and also to make standing up in front of strangers and saying things to be a bit easier.

Here we go!

Before we do anything else, remember to be reasonable about what you're going to accomplish in an hour long class. Let's be super honest here, nobody that you teach is going to Achieve Mastery in that time. On the other hand, you'll probably be able to introduce a number of concepts, give them a leg up on diving into a manual, teach them some drills to work on later, and maybe give a more experienced student a different way of looking at an idea. If you're going to accomplish these things though, you need to keep yourself (and therefore the class) on track and avoid accidentally diving down any rabbit holes, spending too much time on any one thing, getting out of order, or running ahead of yourself. How do you do this?

Outline Your Class

Outlines. Outline your class. This isn't a class handout, it's solely for you - so it doesn't need any more detail than what you require to remind you what's going on.

Now you could be thinking that you know the material back to front and don't need an outline. And yeah, you probably do! But knowing it and even being able to teach it one on one isn't the same as teaching a sizable class where you need to monitor multiple students and give each of them slices of your attention.

So, seriously. Take a few minutes and outline your class.

When you do your first outline, it might be pretty detailed. That's fine! Outline everything. Things like "Introduce myself" and "Who was Giganti" are all things that can absolutely end up in there, as well as the bits and bobs under those headers. (You'd be surprised how easy it is to forget to introduce yourself at the beginning of a class.) For instance, my first Fabris outline had a section that looked something like this:

  • Four Italian Guards
    • (Quickly show in order from drawing the sword to explain 1, 2, 3, 4 ordering.)
    • Remember to use off-hand elbow to aid in body structure!
    • Terza
      • Default guard
      • Technically outside
    • Quarta
      • Inside
      • Rotate from wrist
      • Shoulder involvement
    • Seconda
      • Outside
      • Rotate from shoulder, not wrist
    • Prime
      • Outside
      • Shoulder rotation and support
      • Hand shifting
    • Bastard guards
That's a lot! When I was first starting to work on preparing a class though, it was what I really needed to organize my thoughts. After the first couple practices, both solo and with a test audience (I'll get to those in a bit!) I pared it down a little:
  • Four Italian Guards
    • Off hand elbow; sword arm wrist vs shoulder
    • Terza
    • Quarta
    • Seconda
    • Prime
    • Bastard guards
After I taught my first couple of real classes and got my routine down, my outline shifted to:
  • Four Italian Guards
Seriously. Outlining your class will be the biggest thing to let you organize your thoughts, make sure you're going to cover things in order and not skip anything, and keep you on track. It's a really big deal. Once you've done that though, we need to work on applying it. To do that, we need to...

Practice Teaching Your Class

Everything gets better with practice, right? Here's where we accomplish a lot of things at once - we'll test run the material for time, we'll get comfortable with talking about it all out loud, and eventually we'll get comfortable with people staring at us while we teach.

The first thing you'll want to do is set a timer to 50 minutes. I know, you've got an hour for the class! Doesn't matter. Take 50 minutes. You want to leave time for questions at the end of the class, questions during the class, and time spent while your students stand up with their swords and work through things that you're teaching them. Ten minutes for that is - at least for me - a pretty reasonable toss at the dart board to begin with.

Now stand by yourself in a room and start teaching. 

Yeah, by yourself. Not in front of a mirror or anything, and not with people around. Just stand up and start working through the class out loud. You're going for two big things here - you're checking for time, and you're working on just getting comfortable talking like you're a teacher and covering the material at a nice easy pace.

If you're anything like a lot of people I know, you might notice that you're really speeding through and talking pretty quickly. Pay attention to this, and just relax and stay casual. You may also notice as you do this a couple times that you'll develop turns of phrase that you use to explain concepts out loud. Saying all these things out loud really is different than just going through it all inside your head - you want to really tie the physical parts of standing naturally, speaking clearly, and covering the material together.

(As an aside, this is something that you can do through your whole career - I find myself talking through teaching small snippets and concepts to get my head around them while I'm driving, or walking around doing chores by myself. Just the act of speaking out loud helps solidify how I'm going to explain them to a class.)

Do this a couple of times. Pay attention to the timer, but don't get too stressed about it. You're mostly doing that to make sure you don't run over or under by a huge amount - a minute or two in either direction isn't all that big a deal. It's easy to go over and try to pack too much material into an introductory class though, so be prepared to find a better, earlier, ending point. Don't be afraid to reorganize and trim down your outline and come back to this! You should find that it'll get easier to work through everything verbally after a couple practices. That's when it's time to find a couple friends.

This is when you teach the whole class to some friends. Usually four is a good number if you can get that many - it'll let you pair up people if that's helpful for practicing things, but it's also just large enough to force you to move between students and not just focus on a single pair.

Remember to teach them like you don't know them, and this time set the timer to the full 60 minutes. Talk to your friends afterwards, and talk about how well you communicated, time spent on various concepts, and other broad issues like that. There'll probably be a bunch of nitpicky things to fix too, but this isn't about those - we just want to get you to the point where you can make it through your class.

Go And Do It!

You've done your prep! Outline in hand, clock or timer somewhere (there's never one in a teaching area when you want one), you've talked to yourself a whole lot about what you're teaching, and you're pretty confident talking in front of some friends. Go out and do the thing!

A Few Last Tips

Remember, when you have a sizable class, keep moving through everyone there. Give bits of your attention to everyone - this means that even more than because of the time limitations, you're not looking to get everyone to perfect. You won't even get them to 90%. 70% is probably okay, and if you're touching on some complicated things, maybe not even that much. This is fine. You're not there to drill them to perfect, you're there to give them tools to do that on their own.

I like to make sure people know how to get in touch with me afterwards if they have followup questions. This also means that I personally don't usually use handouts; this is partly because in the middle of an event like Pennsic, that's just one less thing I need to stress out about remembering, but also because I tend to think of the manual that I'm teaching from as the handout. Most every major rapier manual is extremely easy to purchase, and generally at very reasonable prices. Even the days of the long out of print Chivalry Bookshelf edition of Fabris are behind us now! Print on demand press has been very good to us.

You can always treat the ideas I've tossed out here as a loop to refine your material. Go tweak your handout, test the material, and do it all over again.

Go audit classes from people who you think are good teachers. Don't take the class - you'll probably get distracted by the actual class material - but watch them and take notes on teaching techniques they're using. Most people will be happy to talk to you afterwards about that aspect of their class!

Finally, I'm sure you've heard horror stories about That Terrible Student who just keeps asking off-topic questions, or pulls things like "well okay but I wouldn't respond like the play says, I'd do this instead..." In all honesty, I think I've had all of one person like that in all the classes I've taught, and they were pretty mild about it. Just be firm, push off-topic questions to the end of the class, and remind people that this is the response you're drilling and that they owe it to their partner to be a good partner themselves. That's usually all it takes.

That's it! That's my not remotely patented method for prepping classes when you haven't taught much yet.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Pennsic 48 Recap Post!

So Pennsic 48 happened! It had a number of things I wanted and needed, a few things I sure didn't want or need, and some pretty surprisingly good moments.

I did land grab. I didn't really want to do it, but I did it because I for sure did want a camp this year. It was an Experience, and one that I don't reeeeeeally need to do again. I could be convinced - pretty easily, honestly - to show up earlier during Peace Week, but I just don't need to be there without the full collection of My People, especially when my brain decides to be terrible.

Either way though, we had a camp! It happened! Many thanks to Llewellyn for making the trip down with me and being a Very Able Companion for the whole experience - it would have turned the corner into Ridiculously Bad without him. Also, I think that having some new people do the land grab thing highlighted things in the process (and things in the trailer!) which could be improved just because new folks doing the thing tends to make those things show up. So that was actually a pretty good upshot from it all.

My fencing wasn't as all encompassing as it usually is; my tennis elbow was bad enough that I fought in the heroic champs and then decided to marshal all the war point battles just to be sure that I could save it for the By the Book tournament, which is always a highlight. (I was hoping to be able to manage the Ansteorran tournament as well, but no such luck.) I always love the By the Book - there are always so many exemplars of period styles in there, and the sword-nerding as we all stand around and watch is top-notch. This year, I ended up winning both the tournament itself as well as best in style (Fabris, natch) with LOGOS coming in second in both of those. I was extremely stoked, I can tell you what. Absolutely worth taking the battles off to manage that! Getting in some pickups with LOGOS as well was super great; getting my once-yearly Fabris tuneup is always, always worth it.

I missed being out on the field with my friends and contributing to the rapier army, but if I'm not going to fight there's basically no reason not to marshal! That said, I found myself legitimately enjoying the marshaling. Being able to get a number of different vantage points was pretty neat, and being able to do something about it when someone - on either side - was skirting the rules? That was pretty neat.

I pulled a bunch of marshal in charge shifts on the field. A bunch during the first week - being able to just sit and relax and watch the world go by was a lot of what I needed. Being able to sit and watch a torrential thunderstorm come in while I was standing by myself was honestly also amazing. Generally though, I figured that if I was going to be sitting around up there anyway and there was an open shift, I'd just do something useful and hang out at the desk. (As an aside, the small marshal's tent off to the side of the main rapier tent? Amazing and I love it.)

I managed to not attend any classes - some that I wanted to attend were on top of things I couldn't miss, and other ones were just at odd times or I was feeling off so I just kept hanging out behind a desk. I did end up teaching a Fabris class though, which was pretty great!

Finally, the people. There are people who I only ever manage to see at Pennsic, which makes me want to go to far-away places and see them more. I met a couple excellent people from Drachenwald, and there's always Lochac to consider, too. Friends who are closer are still also fantastic to get to hang out with for days on end, and there were a lot of lazy afternoon and late night conversations which meant a lot to me.

So overall, a pretty okay Pennsic. Like usual, I'm coming out with a to-do list of good and helpful things to do - the first of which (aside from unpacking and doing laundry) is this very blog post so I'm going to hit publish now and get working on more good things! (Like using this blog more often.)

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

What We've Been Up To

So in the last couple months, what have I been up to?

I've been doing PT for my arm. It's not fun, but it's getting better. Fencing isn't the Way It Used To Be, but it's a ton closer to it than it was just before the surgery, so I really can't be too unhappy. Of course, I feel like I've backslid a lot, so I'm trying to shore things up. Gotta do more drills, focus on body mechanics and positioning, and then move into blade mechanics and moving smoothly from the balls of my feet.

Similar to before the surgery, I'm getting a lot more cloak work in then I ever did before, which is pretty grand. I don't feel like I can rely on it yet, but getting to work through plays with it and compare it to similar dagger plays from Fabris is proving really interesting.

Let's see. The East has a grappling experiment now! It's slow to take off - this time of year means we're all inside, and most floors are less forgiving to fall on than grass, and mats can be hard to come by. There'll be a small class/show and tell thing at Birka though, and Anastasia and I are planning to do a practice tour if we can to get more people up and running. I've really been enjoying the compare and contrast of different plays that this can open up though, as well as letting me get to really work with Fiore's knife defenses in a more freeform environment. Good stuff, and it shows me where some pretty giant holes are in my understanding - both practical and research - which is always nice to be updated on.

Speaking of research, I just wasn't able to pull together my paper for A&S Champs. The winter's been pretty bad for me, and sleep has been a terrible lie. I'm a little down about it, but I'll help out at the competition in other ways, and pull it together for later. It isn't like I'm going to stop researching and learning and teaching, anyway.

Oh also, VISS! It's a VISS year, and this year I'll be mainlining a Fabris-based intensive, which means I'll be mentally rolling around in a lot of material to really internalize, as well as things I can actually use as I'm assembling a Book Two work. So that's awesome! I always look forward to VISS, and I'm hoping that this year it'll really knock this funk off me but good.

Right, it's time for drills.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Catching Up, and also, Random Musings on Prowess and A&S

It's been a while since I've posted here. Some of it is being down an arm for a while - which means typing anything meaningful was hard - and some of it was straight-up depression sapping my will to do anything useful, or focus, or whatever. It's a mess.

But I'm doing somewhat better, so I'm dusting off a draft entry and making it into something useful here! While I'm doing that, let's touch on other stuff that I'm poking at:

  • Like I mentioned in a previous entry, I'm poking at some post-period sources which show some serious Fabris influence, mostly to see if they mention anything relevant to his Book Two. I managed to grab a copy of Pascha's "Proper Description of Thrust-Fencing with the Single Rapier," put out by Fallen Rook Publishing. (In the US, it's available from Purpleheart Armory.) Also known by its shelf number of Mscr. Dresd. C. 13, this text has a section which is explicitly the author's take on "The proceeding with resolution" in the style of Fabris! It doesn't seem to have any of the theory, simply the practical flowchart information - overall, that's in keeping with the very straightforward style of this manual - but it's still very interesting to contrast with Fabris.
  • Related to the above, I'm hoping to have something reasonable in progress by this weekend to discuss with folks at St. Elegius. If not, I won't beat myself up over it but I'll still try and kick ideas for a paper and display around with people.
  • I get to judge a Martial A&S challenge at St. Elegius, and I'm excited about that!
  • Before my surgery, I started doing a lot more work with cloak because it was a lot easier on my arm than a dagger was - and wow, it rapidly became one of my most favorite forms. I can't wait to use that as a rehab form and spend more time on it. It's helpful that Fabris' cloak system is extremely simple and straightforward.

Also, I've had some older thoughts kicking around that I kind of want to think-out-loud with up here. At Pennsic (remember Pennsic?) I had a really thought-provoking side conversation with Ibrahim, after the really great Martial Arts and Sciences panel that Doroga put together for us all.

In short, it was "how much does prowess enter into the equation for determining skill at an aspect of historical martial study?" Though it was a short discussion, as we both had things we needed to run off to (in the way of Pennsic) we touched on a number of rabbitholes and I wanted to take some time this morning and kick them around here for thought, in a mostly rambling stream of consciousness post.

So broadly speaking, I think this problem comes about when we consider that - at least in the East, I think - that "martial A&S study" falls into two buckets: that which we can (mostly) do under the existing rapier rule set, and that which we cannot. The latter portion doesn't really impact this discussion; while I've looked at things like sickle combat and the like, we can't do it so we don't really look at "how well someone does it in combat" as part of their evaluation. Okay, so let's just focus on people who study period combat which they can use as part of their rapier (or C&T, whichever) combat.

Before I cannonball into this rabbithole, I want to preface with this: any statements about "what the A&S community is looking for" are coming from my experiences and viewpoint - which could be wrong, or missing some key information. So there's that!

Alright, so. If we're looking at someone who studies a historic master, and dives super deep into them, and learns and teaches and does all the stuff that we want to see out of someone learning a period skill... what do we want to see out of their practical application of that art? (Which is to say, "do we care if they win with it?") This is a weird question to look at, because I can absolutely make arguments on either side of it, or present scenarios where it does or doesn't matter as much.

Part of this discussion is the fact that pure research of skills and knowledge is absolutely a thing. For instance, if someone is studying period shipbuilding, I certainly don't expect them to go out and build a ship as part of their research; that's patently unreasonable. On the other hand, if someone is researching something that they could do, there seems to be an expectation that they go do it to some degree or another - so the hangup becomes "if their depth of knowledge is remarkable, they understand it, they can discuss it, they can teach it, but they lack the practical application of the knowledge, is that enough?"

I'd like to say that, ideally, yes. If someone has read and researched and thought and presented and taught, that should be enough. (My usual analogy here is something like "how many great boxing coaches are also titlewinners? Maybe not a lot, but they still know what they're about.") But on the other hand (there are a lot of other hands in this thought process) I want to be able to really test someone's understanding of how combat should work, and perhaps the best way for that is to actually work through those plays with them on the field. Perhaps that need not be fully combatively - in other words, it need not be an antagonistic and competitive field - but I would still like to work through the plays with someone, and that means that they should be able to perform the actions cleanly and well. To me, that says a lot about their understanding of, appreciation for, and mastery of a concept, technique, and Master.

On yet another hand, I think that how someone approaches it can impact things. Is it purely a line of research for them, or is it a martial art? Certainly, the A&S community has people who do solely research and they're appreciated for it. Also, I think that in many ways, in competitions, martial research is presented as research and not a performance or as a martial art per se. So there's also that.

I'm not sure I have a solid answer for this yet. I know that I really love to see these techniques performed to the fullest extent that we're able - and in some cases that's on the field in armor, and in others that's slowly and carefully in a collaborative setting. Ideally, I think that when performed combatively, practice and understanding of period technique leads to martial prowess - and seeing that played out is also pretty great.

So, yeah. No real answers, but just kicking thoughts around.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

A.V.B Norman's "The Rapier and Small-Sword" reprints available!

This is a seriously exciting thing. No, like, more exciting than that.

A.V.B. Norman's absolutely amazing catalog and classification of rapier hilts has been out of print for years; probably decades. It's a fantastic work to have for serious researchers of the rapier, and an absolute pain to get your hands on - a quick google search as I type this post up shows used copies going for about $300 and up, converted from British pounds.

Now though, we have an authorized reprint. This is a facsimile of the 1980 edition, and is going for £32.50, or about $43, converted as I'm writing this.

I have no idea how long this reprint will be available for, so jumping on this is probably a good call. I can say that while I don't bust out my copy of Norman often, when I do, it is utterly irreplaceable as a resource for what it covers.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Dual Entry - Brain vs Body and Secondary Fabris Sources

First up, Brain vs Body!

I've been noticing that for the past handful of practices, I've been really down on myself about my single rapier fencing.

Granted, I might have been feeling down in general. My tennis elbow is flaring (yes, again) and that's always going to be a drain. Also, lack of sleep and other stuff going on. Still though, this feels different - I'm being very hypercritical of what I'm doing, how messy it all seems, and how I'm just not able to execute the plays that I want.

Some of it, I think, is because I'm trying to execute something despite what my opponent is giving me. This is absolutely something that comes up in practice for a lot of us, especially when we've been reading or drilling certain actions. We want to try and use what we've been focusing on, but our opponent isn't often so accommodating - either they're not giving us the setup we need for the action we want to use, or as we often see in the SCA, there's a lack of commitment to their action for us to capitalize on. Or, well, both.

More than that though, I think that I'm running into a developmental hurdle which I don't see too many people talking about, but I do see people hitting and getting very frustrated by - your brain is internalizing an action as a concept before it's able to really make your body do it as you understand it. Basically, you can see what you should be doing, but you just can't seem to make it work.

Of course, if you have a tendency toward being hypercritical of yourself (hi!) this ends up being one of the worst mental places you can get into, despite it being part of normal skill development.

It might not always be the case for what's happening, but especially if you've really been focusing on training and expanding your skill set, it's worth considering as a cause.

Second up, Secondary Sources!

So one of the pieces of feedback I got at Kingdom A&S Champs was that I should be using more (any, really) secondary sources for Fabris. Problem is, I just don't know of anyone who's specifically writing on Fabris. (Capo Fero I could do easily enough, but Fabris? Not so much.) Depending on what I wanted to focus on, I could possibly reference some training videos but they'd be behind a paywall. (Though I did for a moment think that this would really just up the accuracy of any of my papers in terms of making them feel like real academic publishing, right?)

Aaaanyhow, I ended up tripping over a pair of manuals which I might end up mining for insights as secondary sources; just not modern ones. First is New Discourse on the Art of Fencing, translated by Reinier van Noort - originally titled Newer Discurs der Rittermeßigen und Weitberümbten Kunst des Fechtens, by Joachim Köppe. Köppe's manual was published in 1619 in Magdeberg, Germany - after meeting Salvatore Fabris in Paris in 1608 or 1609, where he says that Fabris gave Köppe himself a copy of Fabris' own treatise! Certainly, Köppe's manual is absolutely in the style of Fabris, though he takes pains to point out that he did not plagiarize Fabris' own book, pointing out that while he gained many insights from Fabris there is material in his own book that a reader would not find in Fabris'. Of special interest is Köppe's chapter on "resolution," which I hope will provide his interpretations of principles presented in Fabris' Book Two - proceeding towards your opponent with resolution.

The second book is Of the Single Rapier, also a translation by Reinier van Noort. This is a translation of Grondige Beschryvinge van de Edele ende Ridderlijcke Scherm- ofte Wapen-Konste, by Johannes Georgius Bruchius, published in 1671 in Leiden, in the Netherlands. Interestingly, after Köppe took many pains to point out that he did not plagiarize Fabris' work, it seems as though Köppe was himself plagiarized by Bruchius, among others. That said, there is material in Bruchius' work which is original, and I hope to be able to mine this book for some thoughts as well.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

April Update Time

Nothing super new since the last update, but let's not let this blog just lie around completely dead, right?

Practice continues apace! So does conditioning work, when my schedule, son, and health allow. So that's good. I'm trying to be better about being kind to myself when my meat-car isn't allowing me to do what I want at a practice or at the gym, and buckling down and doing what I can.

The regional practice we had in Carolingia was a blast, fencing at Mudthaw was great (the C&T tourney was fantastic!), and seeing a couple old faces show up at local practices has also been fun. Need more of that.

I should really get around to editing the draft post I've got sitting around on competition, mastery, headspace, and journey over destination. That'll take a lot of focus to make sure that I get it right, but I'm hoping that next week I can finally get that up. (Warning: it'll probably still be super rambling and messy, but whatever.)

I'm definitely teaching a class on Fabris' forte guards at EK 50 Year, which should be fun. It'll by necessity touch on Book Two, but not go into any great detail there. There's also going to be a By the Book Tournament that I have some very high hopes for. I'm really looking forward to all of that, along with what will no doubt be a bunch of ad-hoc teaching around the field. Good times!

(I'm also thinking of doing a class sometime based on the period methods "to fence a bestial man" which should be a hoot.)

Balfar's is in a couple weeks, and I'm planning on marshaling the melees, and doing So. Many. Pickups. All the pickups forever.

And that's all the news that's fit to report right now!