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How to get started teaching historical martial arts

A very inexperienced Guy teaching class in 2001

Teaching can be daunting, especially for less experienced sword people. But the future of the Art entirely depends on people stepping up to lead classes. Eventually all the existing teachers will be dead- if we have no teachers coming up behind us, the whole glorious progress of the Art of Arms will falter and die. So it is very important that we lower the barriers to entry, making the process of becoming an experienced teacher as easy as possible to begin.

I do this by creating a very simple standard to live up to: are your students better off with you or without you? To start with, the teacher only needs to create a safe training environment for the students to practice in. That's it. You don't need to be particularly skilled, and certainly not more skilled than the students. You just have to be willing to take the responsibility of making sure the training environment exists, and is reasonably safe. Just doing that means the students are better off with you than without you. Job done.

Then when that’s comfortable, it would be nice for students to learn one thing per session that they didn’t know before. This requires you to know one thing more than they do. That may not actually be the case, in which case you need to know how to set up drills such that they can find out what they need to work on, and how to work on it.

It’s helpful to distinguish between teaching and coaching. Teaching is the process of adding breadth: showing the students something they didn’t know before (such as a new drill). Coaching is the process of adding depth: helping the students become better at doing something they already know.

It is much easier to teach than to coach, because it takes much less nuance in constructing the training environment.

A much more experienced Guy teaching a I.33 class in the Lonin loft.

The hardest thing for most teachers is to get out of the way and let students practice. This includes senior teachers handing over their classes to beginner teachers. It’s hard because you know that you could teach the class better. The students would improve faster. But put the long term benefit to the student body and to the Art ahead of the short term skill improvement in one group of students in one session. Over the long term, we need more teachers, and those same students who are getting a less perfect class today will be able to get great classes in the future, because the beginner teacher was give the chance to practice.

As you can probably tell, this is a very deep rabbit hole, and one which I have explored in depth and breadth for many years. I cover it in The Theory and Practice of Historical Martial Arts, pages 197-231, and will be expanding my thoughts into an entire book, hopefully in the next year. In the meantime, you may enjoy my post on how to teach a basic class.

I'm sure you have an opinion: do share!

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