Guy's Blog

Guy frequently keeps this blog updated with thoughts, challenges, interviews and more!

Tag: online courses

Back in the bad old days I used to have to choose between swinging swords and working. Every time I picked up a sword, my wrists would swell up and my hands would be useless. It was hell.

Then I met a kung-fu instructor, Num, who in 20 agonising minutes fixed my wrists. And in the next 20 minutes, showed me how to keep them fixed.

Since then I have taught this system to hundreds of my students, and successfully treated many of them for tendonitis problems that were getting in the way of their training. The biggest cause of the problem is computer use. It promotes poor posture, and it forces the small muscles that control your hands to work at low intensity for hours at a time. No wonder things swell up and stop working.

I have had videos of forearm exercises and massage techniques up online for years now, but most people find a properly structured course easier to follow so I have shot and edited one, and uploaded it to the Swordschool Online teachable platform, here.

This course is entirely free; I view this kind of essential maintenance training as part of your birthright as a human being. Please share this with whoever you think might benefit from it.

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:

https://youtu.be/zYMBassGxJ8

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!

 

Just yesterday Louise Mann, a student on my Knee Maintenance course, sent me a review she had written. It blew me away, so I'm sharing it here, with her permission.

Part 1: A gentle warm up.

Excellent safety advice regarding not following along slavishly, but actually knowing and understanding your own physical limitations and acting appropriately.

Great explanation of where the hips are located, and thus where the movement should be localised. Memorable description of how far you should be looking to squat!

Part 2: Mindful stepping, and balance practice.

The mindful stepping exercise was most instructive. I go barefoot, or wear thin-soled shoes as much of the time as possible, but even then (as I rarely walk around blindfolded) I don’t think that much about what my feet are doing. Having to concentrate on receiving feedback from my feet whilst walking about felt quite strange to begin with, but the longer I did the exercise, the more normal this became. Definitely something to continue with and improve.

Balancing on one leg was easy to begin with – then came level 2 with eyes closed. Absolutely hopeless to begin with and was just glad that no-one was observing my efforts! As with the mindful stepping, this simple exercise showed how easy it is to lose concentration and therefore body awareness.

The ‘book reading’ exercise is probably not one I’ll be using at my local bookshop any time soon as I find squatting more comfortable. However, it certainly is a good strengthening exercise, as well as have some flexibility component as well.

Part 3: Training your knees to move correctly.

This is the best explanation I have ever seen regarding how a knee should track over the foot. The information about ankle and hip mobility is crucial.

Part 4: How to massage your knees.

Invaluable. For myself, the best part of the course. The point about checking as to whether the massaged leg feels better than the unmassaged one is so obvious, yet probably overlooked by most people.

Concluding thoughts.

Clearly shot video with excellent sound throughout. Instruction clear and to the point. Caveats used where appropriate (particularly with regard to warm up).

The quality and depth of this course has led me to the conclusion that I will have to buy some (perhaps all) of your other online offerings! Many thanks for making this course freely available to all.

Louise Mann 08-12-2016

Interested? You can find the course here. If you've already taken it, I'd be glad to hear what you thought of it.

“If you haven’t got your health, you haven’t got anything!”

Truer words were never spoken, certainly not by Count Rugen anyway.*

Way back in the dawn of time when I began training martial arts, I was enraptured by the idea of martial arts training being a balance between breaking people and fixing them, by the notion of the martial artist as a healer as well as a warrior. This is one of the reasons I was drawn to T’ai Chi; it is usually associated with healthy practice. And it’s why I was so taken by Tai Shin Mun kung fu (you can read more about that here). I literally owe my career to the not-so-tender ministrations of their instructor, Num, who fixed my wrists for me back in 2000.

This is the background behind my obsession with mechanics and correct movement. Not so much for martial efficiency, though it certainly does that, but more because I want to be able to train until I die (sometime in my early 100s). I am blessed with a crap skeleton, which creaks and breaks and sends lances of agony up my spine if I fail to keep up my practice, or if I practice just a little bit wrong. Blessed because it has forced me to learn absolutely correct movement, which has in turn allowed me to share that knowledge with my students, freeing many of them from long-term pain, and undoing, or at least halting, the damage caused by poor mechanics.

I cannot abide the idea of anyone who needs this knowledge not having free access to it, certainly not for such a poor reason as lack of funds, so I have extracted the essentials from my footwork course, shot some extra footage, and put together a short ‘keep my knees working forever’ course. The course is 100% free and without strings attached. I want you to be healthy. Go, be healthy.

http://swordschool.teachable.com/p/free-course-knee-maintenance

I am also planning a weapons-handling course, which will include forearm conditioning and maintenance. I’ll release the essential health component of that course free too, so you can keep your arms working properly despite the depredations of computers and couches.

It was my birthday yesterday, and I intended to launch this then (I approve of the Hobbit custom of giving presents on your birthday), but I was sadly too busy opening presents, drinking wine, and generally having fun, so it's an early Christmas present instead.

*if you don't know who Count Rugen is, you very badly need to drop what you're doing and watch the Princess Bride. See here:

I'm a Luddite, it’s true. I resist the march of technological progress because I think that most new technologies aren't labour saving life enhancing devices at all. I was saying this back in the ‘80s when people were extolling the new ‘desktop publishing' thing. “What used to take two weeks can now be done in a single day!” they cried. “Great” I replied. “Do you get the rest of the fortnight off?”

No. What happens, every time, is that as capacity increases, expectations rise, and so you end up with an increase in productivity and more work being done for the same pay. Not fair, and not helpful, except to those who own the fruits of your labour.

But, and this is a very big BUT (I like big buts), there are areas where all this new-fangled gadgetry does actually help people. HEMA would barely exist without the internet, because it is such a niche interest that finding fellow enthusiasts was very hard before the web came along. And for those of us trying to make a living serving those enthusiasts, I think it would be impossible without things like print-on-demand technology, easy-to-use web building tools, and communications of all sorts. I have students in Chile who can send me videos of themselves doing my Longsword Syllabus Form for me to comment on and help them improve. Fantastic.

This is a screen capture not a video link because the video is set to “Unlisted”. Chaps, if it's ok to share it, let me know…

I've also come round to the idea that while the actual use of force (responding to pressure in the bind, that sort of thing) cannot really be taught over the net, there is a place for online courses to help self-study. Lots of people use my Syllabus Wiki in various ways to help them learn, but I am taking a great big step right now and am plunging into creating online courses. The first one is now live, and you can see it here.

I'm using the Teachable platform, because it seems to be the best in class for what I need it to do; unlike Udemy, for instance, I can directly control things like pricing, and tracking student progress.

Another major benefit of the internet is that I can reach vastly more people virtually than I ever could in person. And some of those people are excited by the work I’m doing and want to help. My School and I have benefitted enormously over the years from people volunteering their skills to help. Ilkka Hartikainen shooting the photos and laying out two of my books, for instance. Jari Juslin shooting the photos for the last three. And when I arrived in Ipswich, Curtis Fee (of The Barebones Company) showing up to help unload the lorry for another instance. And when I mentioned the projects I was working on, well, turns out he has a bunch of useful professional skills, which he has applied to making the online school interface vastly more beautiful than it was.
Isn’t this pretty?


It's an exciting time to be teaching swordsmanship, that's for sure. Right now my head is simply buzzing with ideas for other courses that I can create to teach online. Breathing. Meditation. Mechanics. Dagger. Longsword. Imagine if when students finally find a group they can join, or start one themselves, and they already have decent fundamentals in place. Wow.

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