I spend a lot of time thinking about how to teach swordsmanship through books and videos. It’s not a simple problem, not least because every student is different, and has different needs and preferences. How the material should be ordered and presented, what photos may be needed, how much explanation is sufficient (oddly, more is not usually better — just enough for them to be able to start playing with it is usually much more effective).
When it comes to organising the material, there are basically two options: the organisation that best suits modern practitioners learning an unfamiliar physical skill, and the organisation that best suits modern historians learning an unfamiliar theoretical construct. For the former, starting with basic motion the student can do, then giving them good practical reasons for modifying them in the direction of the desired style gets the best results. For the latter, an annotated edition of the source text is my preferred approach (such as The Art of Sword Fighting in Earnest).
When it comes to learning movements, video is of course vastly better than static photographs. Nothing beats in-person instruction, of course. But at least on video your mirror neurones can go crazy copying the feeling of the motion.
I’m an avid note-taker, to the point that I make my own notebooks because I just can’t get them the way I like any other way. Moleskine? Crap paper. Leuchstemr? They’re ok, maybe, but the layouts are never quite right. A good notebook must lay flat, be made of archival paper that takes fountain-pen ink nicely, be robust enough to throw in a pocket or bag, and so on. At my seminars, I see lots of students taking notes- on their phones, on scraps of paper, even in beautiful leather bound journals with purple ink.
So I have been thinking about ways of combining the virtues of a notebook, a text book, and video courses, and have come up with a workbook format that has it all.
- Clear references to the source? Check.
- Links and QR codes to video clips? Check.
- Option to download all clips to go train in places with no wifi? Check.
- Plenty of room to take notes? Check.
- Left-handers are covered too: every video is shown both ways, and there will be a version of the workbooks that have the space for notes on the left-hand page.
I’m working on the assumption that this format will not work for everyone: some will just prefer proper books, and some just want 100% video. But I think there is a large number of people between those two extremes for whom this will be a game-changer in terms of learning swordsmanship without a formal teacher in the room.
If this seems like a great idea to you, I have a question. How would you like the notes area to be presented? Currently I have left the space completely blank, as that’s what I would prefer. But should it have a box round it? Would you like it lined (for handwriting guides)? If lined, heavy, or light? Spacing?
Tell me your preferences and I can take them into account…
Let me know in the comments below, or by email to email@example.com
I’m currently working on three different series: Rapier, Armizare, and Fiore’s Longsword.
The Rapier Series
Book 1: This covers the fundamentals, from holding the sword, footwork, guards, and basic actions. This is now done, in final layout, and I’m looking for a better print on demand solution.
Book 2: Complete the Basics. This is about half-written, and will cover all the basic actions, including passes, voids, feints, and so on.
Book 3: Skill Development. This is about turning your rapier knowledge into fencing skill, and will include a lot of material on coaching practice.
Book 4: Rapier and Dagger. Once you have a solid grounding in single rapier, you really should get your other hand into play…
The Armizare series will approximately follow the first four levels of the Swordschool Basic Syllabus, which includes wrestling and dagger plays as part of teaching the Longsword material. You can see the syllabus here:
The Fiore’s Longsword series: this will be an annotated interpretation of the Longsword sections of Il Fior di Battaglia, going through the source play by play, with video clips of how I do each action, and detailed discussion of why.
I’m also thinking about doing workbooks on conditioning, and on teaching.
Many years ago, in the tv show Friends, episode “The One with the Princess Leia Fantasy” Rachel persuades Ross to tell him his fantasy (which you can guess from the episode title) by saying “if you tell me, I might do it”.
Of course, it doesn’t quite work out that way for poor Ross, but if there are any elements of the format you’d like me to tweak, change, or add to, now would be a good time to let me know. And if there are any topics you’d like to see workbooks on, feel free to ask… if you ask me, I might write it…
The first workbook is currently uploaded to Lulu, from whence came the printed copy you see in the photos. The layout is not final- the book is being proofread at the moment, and it will be professionally laid out to improve the look, so don’t worry about that at this stage. My concern is the print quality. The paper stock is quite thin (60#, or about 90gsm), and while it seems to take fountain pen ink without too much bleed through, you can see images from the other side through the paper. See here:
Finding better quality printing is not hard, but I do not want to spend any part of my working day packing and shipping books, so I needed a print-on-demand printer with distribution, that can do a better printing job than Lulu. Lulu do offer better paper, but only with a full colour interior, which is literally ten times more expensive (even if the internal print file is black and white- you still pay for colour). Ingram Spark don’t do spiral bound, and these workbooks must lie flat, so they’re out. Kindle Print don’t have better stock quality than Lulu, so they’re out. Blurb have the same colour-option problem as Lulu.
This has lead me to partner up with Fallen Rook Publishing, run by Keith Farrell. He uses print on demand with distribution too, but he also uses short print runs and distributes books himself. So when this goes live in a couple of weeks, there will be an option to buy the print files from my Gumroad account if you want to faff about printing them at home (or can print it out for free at work), or you can buy the printed books from Fallen Rook. While you’re there, they have a ton of other interesting books you might also want to pick up…