Workbooks for Independent Study Groups

I’m not happy with my longsword unit. It jumps around too much, doesn’t focus on core skills as much as I like, and requires someone who half-way knows what they are doing to lead.

What’s worse is any mistakes the leader makes gets repeatedly drilled into the students until they start teaching the same bad practices. I see this in my current instructors, and if I’m being honest, myself.

Usually it goes down like this:

  1. One student stands in a posture or throws an easily defeated attack. Often without masks or other protective gear.
  2. The other student performs the desired action, often intentionally doing it wrong to avoid actually striking the other person.
  3. The instructor tells the students they are wrong unless they exactly matched the body position the instructor imagines to be the best. Since neither student is making an earnest attempt, there is no way to evaluate the instructor’s judgment.

Dissatisfied with this, I scrapped my lesson plans and started over with two workbooks. These workbooks get away from fully scripted drills and lectures. Instead they encourage the students figure out things for themselves through guided experimentation.

I call these workbooks because the there are blanks all over the place for students to record the outcome of the drills. They are free to take really detailed notes, or simply check off the actions as they become comfortable with them.

The drill are designed with some basic precepts.

The students must be able to run the drills by themselves.

Class shouldn’t be cancelled just because the instructor isn’t unavailable that day. And in many cases there simply isn’t an instructor to be had.

An instructor can get things started and help solve problems, but in the end the students must take control of their education. And the first step towards that is being able to learn independently.

The drills rely on the students to judge success.

I can’t stress that enough. The student, not the instructor, decides whether or not the action was done correctly based solely on factors such as “Did they complete the action?”, “Were they hit in the process?”, and “Did they feel safe throughout the action?”.

If it didn’t match the drill exactly, so what? As long as the student can reliably reproduce positive results while sparing the goal has been achieved.

The concept of Indes must be in every partner drill from the beginning.

We often shelter new students from having to think. We tell them exactly what each actor in the play is going to do and then make them repeat it over an over again until their brain turns to mush.

I’ve been working with a complete novice. She isn’t afraid or confused when I don’t tell her which line she will need to parry on. In fact, it’s the opposite. My student wants to make instant decisions using only the information she can get from watching my body and sword.

Drills are open to interpretation.

There are countless variables that come into play during sparing including height, reach, power, speed, terrain, etc. An overly ridged drill that controls for all variables is often a useless drill because the student cannot setup the exact circumstances he practiced.

Overly ridged drills are also susceptible to misinterpretation. If the instructor demands the students always step wide when a narrow step is preferable, the error will never be caught. No one will even attempt the narrow step. This is why the student must be allowed to play with the variables and determine for himself which is correct.

Level 1 Workbooks

The level one workbooks are about the basics. They only look at guards and primary attacks from those guards. That said, there is a lot of work to be done. With 9 lines (including the thrust) to learn how to defend from nearly a dozen guards, this will take some time.

German Longsword Workbook – Level 1

German Longsword Workbook – Level 1 – Added review questions for each lesson

Bolognese Sword and Buckler Workbook – Level 1

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9 Responses to Workbooks for Independent Study Groups

  1. Aaron Harmon says:

    I am unabashedly stealing these wholesale.

    • Grauenwolf says:

      By all means, just let me know how it works out so we can improve them over time.

      I added a couple illustrations of thrusting with the longsword and review questions for each lesson, so you’ll probably want the updated copy. In the next couple of days I’ll be adding the same to the Sword and Buckler workbook.

      We also have a Facebook group where we post the work in progress as Word files that you can edit.

  2. Alex Flake says:

    please come out with the next workbook on the longsword. preferably Meyer, but I plan on reading both. This first workbook has some very useful lessons in it, and I deeply appreciate you doing this since I have to learn this stuff on my own.

    • Grauenwolf says:

      We have a 2nd longsword workbook based on Mair. But we’re not entirely happy with it so we’ve decided to abandon it in favor of Meyer. I have no idea when that workbook will be ready, I’m still trying to figure out what order that I want to learn things in.

      Here is an updated list of all our “published” work books. You’ll find that the longsword book has changed slightly.

      Scholars of Alcala – Renaissance Sword Fighting

      San Diego, CA
      25 Fencers

      Our group is named for Saint Didacus of Alcalá, known locally as San Diego. As a lay brother he, like common merchants and tradesmen, would have learned sword fighting for bot…

      Next Meetup

      Alcala: Sunday Open Session

      Sunday, Aug 24, 2014, 2:00 PM
      1 Attending

      Check out this Meetup Group →

    • Grauenwolf says:

      In case you didn’t see it, a preview of our Meyer workbook is on the “Rethinking Meyer” post.

  3. Alex Flake says:

    Hey Grauenwolf. Me again. Just thought I’d make a suggestion for one of your workbooks. You should introduce ringen am schwert techniques. Also, for people who might not already know them, you should introduce the different types of cuts/strikes. Just a suggestion…

    • Grauenwolf says:

      Which cuts/strikes are you talking about? I thought we listed them all in the beginning.

      John wants to put together a book for ringen, it is just a matter of finding the time.

      • Alex Flake says:

        I’m referring to things such as abschneiden or krumphau. Basically any cuts other than the master cuts that you’ve already taught.

      • Grauenwolf says:

        Have you seen the 4th revision the Mair study guide? It includes the Krumphau in lesson 6.

        I’ll add Abschneiden if you can find a specific play in Mair or Meyer that uses it.

        Also keep in mind is that these are study guides, not manuals. Though someday they become that good, right now they aren’t meant to teach techniques so much as help decide what to learn next.

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