I have just created a syllabus for creating a syllabus. You read that right. The end product of my Recreate Historical Swordsmanship from Historical Sources course is a complete syllabus for the style of swordsmanship that you are researching. You can see the spiffy video intro here:
I created this course because many people have difficulty approaching the academic side of HEMA; the original sources can seem daunting, and figuring out how to approach them and develop a live training system from their pages is a major challenge for anyone. The course provides the assistance that beginner researchers need to help them get a working syllabus out of a fencing manual.
I have been creating syllabi for a long time; the seed of the current Swordschool syllabus was planted in a seminar I taught in Turku in 2001. I followed my instinct and in the course of the day, came up with five core drills. The only one of them that has survived almost intact is the current “Second Drill”. I won’t embarrass myself by describing the rest. They were state of the art in 2001, but in those days historical swordsmanship was developing faster than computer technology. We have come a long way.
While I have created many syllabi, I have never taught syllabus creation as a specific skill before so this has been mind-meltingly hard to pin down. I cracked it when I realised that I needed to define the end-point first, and then create the structure that would lead students to it. This part of the course is in three sections: Create the Cornerstone, Build the Foundation, and Construct the Syllabus. You begin by reducing the material to one key drill, then expand that to a small set of easily memorised drills, then use them as a framework for building the rest of the system. The three sections of the course should have been written in reverse order. As it happens, I began with the first section “Create the Cornerstone”. It covers how drills should be designed, what they are for, and how to figure out which elements of your system should be included in the most foundational drill in your system. But the next stage “Build the Foundation” had me stumped for a long time. I know how to do it, I’ve done it many times. But I couldn’t figure out how to explain it. Then it came to me: start with the end. So I wrote up how to create an entire syllabus (in “Construct your Syllabus”), and then worked back from there to explain how to create the foundation of that syllabus.
The course also covers choosing a source to work from, analysing its context, analysing the source, developing a basic interpretation, fencing theory, and a ton of other material.
I know some novelists who always start with the last scene of the novel, so they know where the book is going. Others who start from the first scene, and have no idea where they’re going, and yet others who plan the whole book out scene by scene and don’t write a line until they have the whole structure. I think that the students on this course will probably have the same mix of personalities as my writer friends— it strikes me as a universal human phenomenon. Clearly, when it comes to creating this course, I’m a start at the beginning, switch to the end, and then fill in the middle sort of person! I also used a completely new (to me) technique: I shot a first draft of the video, sent it off for transcription, then edited the transcription into a script for the video that ended up being published. It seems to work by engaging parts of my mind I’d had trouble bringing to bear on the problem.
You can see the course curriculum here (scroll down); a lot of it is free to access, so take a look!