Making Up Class on the Fly

Writing a blog post is a lot harder that creating a class to teach for the night. As I sit around in the morning, sipping my coffee with the deadline ticking ever closer, I have to think about what I want to write. Some days it’s easy. I hit the keyboard with my focus in front of me, crank the music, and spill it all out in one long burst. Other days I muddle and can barely crank out one paragraph after the other, each just barely connected to the next.

Most days it’s work. Every day I have to write something that will interest someone, that will give at least one reader something to think about or talk about for the day. My goal is to reach for that every day…but it’s like a long conversation with a good friend. Sometimes you just feel talked out, and want to just sip your drink for a few moments and enjoy some companionable silence. You know eventually something will pop into your mind. With more than one friend, and a one sided conversation, I have to keep the words flowing without pause.

I’m not the kind of person who can really pick an artificial point and lay it out, with my Five Reasons Why or Ten Things You Should Do or What The Cool Fighters Like. Even if it’s crap writing and not really on a topic anyone would be interested in, I have to write what it’s in my heart to write for the day. Without a titch of inspiration, nothing comes out. So my first task for each day is to spend some time ignoring the chatter in my head, and try to discern what it is I’m really interested in or concerned about.

Today is a class day, and I’m teaching tonight. It’s a boxing night, which means around the usual workout and fencing sessions, I have to have a half-hour boxing lesson ready to go. Which would be okay, but monday was a wrestling night, and all my mind can think of for class today is teaching that really nifty catch entry to leg locks against the guard. I positively hunger to teach that, but it’s going to have to wait until next monday.

The workout portion of the class I’ve already planned to incorporate a few new handstand prep drills, so that’s covered. Rapier work is going to be more slow practice of the “pitch and catch” ideology we are experimenting with to teach the transition from Destreza lead to a Marozzo fallback. So that’s covered as well. And as I type that, I recall that we are in the process of incorporating some modern boxing concepts into our rapier footwork. Last boxing class we worked on a variant sidestep, and it was not good.

The students had a difficult time pulling the action off the correct way. Despite my instructions and corrections, everyone seemed to default to doing things in the way most familiar to them. That taught me that I was on the wrong track and made me skip that lesson for the night, so I need to return to it tonight from a different angle. I need some prep exercises that reward the development towards the correct action, so that students will organically discover how to do the action themselves. Ideally they should all have lightbulb moments of realizing how they can apply the new technique.

I can hit the web and dig up a bunch of fight footage to look for an action that fits the bill, or I hit the books and look for inspiration from anatomy and muscle chains. Or I can take some time to myself and visualize me teaching the lesson to a student, and fixing errors as they come up, until a lesson or drill pops into my head. Barring all of that, I can just show up to class, tell everyone what I want them to do and why, get them sparring and let them figure it out for themselves. Valkyrie students have shown quite the ability to do that. It’s given me a trust in them that’s a new thing for me as a teacher.

As I said at the top, teaching class is easier than writing a blog post. Teaching is a conversation where I can state a topic, and everyone has something meaningful to contribute. They talk with words, questions, challenges and actions. An error in drill execution is nothing more than an intelligent question thoughtfully phrased. The student who drifts through the drill assuming they get it, is an arrogant challenge to the thesis statement. Sometimes teaching is just debate moderation, other times it’s more like being a note-taker in the best brainstorming session ever.

Some classes are stellar hits, some fizzle. It’s easier to aim for the hits and get good instead of great when teaching, no matter how bad the material turns out to be, as long as you are open to the conversation.

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