First run of assessments done. Rapier sparring took up our entire night on the previous Monday, and the wrestling assessments completely destroyed the whole class and left us exhausted enough that we finished class a half hour early on Thursday.
It will take me another week to work through all the video footage, alone and with the other instructors, to write up and clarify the individual assessments. Rough initial impressions are already done. All that is left is to justify our impressions with detailed review of video. As a teacher, it’s been an wonderful process for me. A quick glance at the first summary has given me months of lessons to teach, as it easily revealed some common weaknesses in the school.
The process will take some streamlining. Our first plan was to have each student take center stage and fight for five touches against all the other students. This gave us a video pool for each student of seeing how they fought fifty engagements. Great plan, but we didn’t count on just how long it would take, and there were issues with the different approaches students took to fighting.
We needed to assess each student on a wide range of techniques, not just what they preferred to do. So we instructed them to try to show us all the things they knew how to do, not just what they knew best. This worked okay. What didn’t work okay was that some students had a tendency to not just give the student being assessed a good fight, but instead wanted to do their best to really, really win every bout.
This resulted in some really, really drawn out bouts where one student was trying to demonstrate a skill, and the other student was waffling about and playing at range, waiting for the perfect opportunity to land a shot when an opening finally presented itself. A fair strategy — but not an ideal testing environment. Not when you have another 450 bouts to go in the evening, and the camera battery showing signs of fading…
Next time we will run the assessments with the students fighting a number of bouts against the examiners. That way, we will be able to coax out what we need to see, finding the hidden strengths and weaknesses we really want to assess.
I did promise we would share our rapier assessment system, so here we go…
We assess six areas of swordplay. Each area is individually assessed in two aspects: Structure and Engagement. Your Structure is the alignment, position, and power you bring to a fight, and they way you set yourself up mechanically to execute an action. Engagement is how you interact with your opponent’s blade and body — it’s how you handle your plan’s contact with the enemy. This gives us a total of twelve score-able abilities, and each is assigned a value from zero to ten. A zero would be the expected score for an average person with no interest in swordplay just trying things out for a lark, and a ten would fit someone who is ready to become a professional, if such a thing existed in this sport.
After scoring a student, we map out their results on a spider or radar graph. Our goal with each student is not to reach tens, but to get each student to a perfect circle. Ideally, we want to raise their weakest scores to match their highest score. Some of this may happen in class, but most of the improvements will likely come in the form of individual instruction.
Here are our six areas, with some examples of the skills we assess for each one:
Structure – blade position, precision/accuracy
Engagement – line choice, control of the opponent’s blade
Structure – guard, foot placement and body alignment
Engagement – speed, footwork flow, angulation/position relative to opponent
Structure – hand/foot timing, blade angulation, fluidity of linked cuts
Engagement – integration with thrusts/counters, flow through opponent’s defenses
Structure – lunge form, extension
Engagement – defense while attacking, target choice
Structure – offhand position, parry position, disengage form
Engagement – parry effectiveness, recovery
Structure – measure awareness and control (of self and opponent)
Engagement – use of tempo (offensive and defensive)
And here is an example of one of the assessment exchanges:
Hopefully this system can be of use to many of you. It’s intended to be applicable to any school of rapier play, corrections can easily be placed in the context of lessons from any period master. Adaption to longsword, staff or knife work should be trivial. We also assess students on boxing, wrestling, mindset and fitness using this method.
I’d be remiss in not giving some credit. The original idea was mine, but it wouldn’t have made it to this form without some very hard work from Courtney Rice and Kaja Sadowski. Courtney provided key insights and the prodding I needed, and Kaja was able to translate what was in my brain into an actual useable and explainable format. She actually was able to show me what I really meant, not what I thought I meant. Without that feedback it would have been a total mess. Our school is fortunate to have such talented management and teaching staff.