We are nearing completion revision 7 of our longsword workbook so I thought this would be a good time to reiterate the core principles behind our training manuals.
First and foremost, we’re looking for ways to improve retention. It doesn’t matter how good the instruction is if the student forgets most of what he learned from one class to the next. To this end, we are using a combination of several learning styles:
Written Lesson Plans
While it can be hard to gauge how much material is going to be covered in any given class, there is little reason to not have a pre-planned lesson plan. Even in research focused classes doing preliminary interpretations you should know up front what plays you intend to look at and in what order.
Without access to the lesson plan, students are unable to take charge of their own studies. All they can do is make it to class on time, try to pay attention, and hope they don’t miss anything. And woe be the student who misses a week.
With a syllabus in hand, the student knows what to expect before they even show up for class. They can read about the topics to be covered ahead of time, reducing the amount of direct lecture needed. And it will help jog the memory when
Written Instruction for Drills
A failing of many students is that they don’t practice on their own between classes. But it is hard to blame them, as they often can’t reconstruct the exact drills from their hastily written class notes.
To remove this barrier, we are putting in all of the drills that we intend to cover in class directly in the workbook. Not only will this allow students to review the material at home, it may also make it easier for them to follow along in class.
As new drills of pedagogical importance are discovered we will have to update the workbook, but this should at least provide a core set for the student to use in the mean time.
Students have a natural desire to experiment. They don’t want to just blindly follow instructions, they want to experiment. They want to see what works for themselves, often exploring well beyond the confines of the drill.
If you don’t provide an outlet for this curiosity the student may become combative. They’ll interrupt lectures and try to counter the technique being demonstrated before the technique is fully explained.
Our method of dealing with this is to provide experimental drills. Some of these drills are designed to lead the student to a particular conclusion. Think of them as a “show, don’t tell” style of instruction.
Other experimental drills are open-ended, allowing the student to find their own answers to questions such as “How would you counter this attack?”
In any other class, students are well aware that they need to take notes. But put them in a martial art class and many of them forget to even bring a pencil.
This is problematic because writing is a really good way to reinforce the memory. Many students never refer to the their notes, it is merely the process of writing them down that makes the information stick. Other will regularly refresh themselves by consulting their notes.
To encourage the taking of notes, many of the exercises have spaces in the workbook to record their findings. This is especially important for experimental drills where the knowledge the student gained cannot be easily recovered if lost.
Open-Ended Discussion Questions
Just as students like to experiment, they often like to debate. Providing open-ended discussion questions allows for debate to occur in a controlled manner at an appropriate time.
Discussion questions also promote active learning. It requires the student to be engaged, rather than just passively going through the motions.
Another way for a student to reinforce his memory is through the use of drawings. While artistic skill is preferable, even stick figures can be sufficient for illustrating the placement of the feet, the bend of knee, and the incline of the body.
Drawings are also useful for the instructor. They reveal what the student considers to be important about the guard or technique. Verbal verbal confirmation often fails in this regard because the student is tempted to just parrot what the instructor wants to hear.
It isn’t feasible to include all the information the student needs to learn in the workbook. To even attempt to would entail basically copying the entire historic manual. At the same time, you can’t spend the entire class on just lecture. And eventually you’ll want the students to learn to read the historic text on their own.
So for this aspect, the workbook includes optional reading assignments from the manual.
Future Plans: Offline Verbal and Visual Instruction
Since these manuals are meant to be used by independent study groups, we need to augment the workbook with videos. As they are recorded, they will be added the Scholars of Alcala Channel on YouTube.
You can see a preview of our new Meyer Longsword 1 workbook in the link below. If this works out as well as we hope, we intend to eventually produce comparable workbooks for each of the topics we research or teach.