Getting better is a nice feeling. It’s good to win more fights, it’s good to find techniques that were once awkward now flow easily. When you teach, you make students get better. Usually, improvement is noticeable to the student and the teacher both. Or at least, it feels like it is.

The use of the “Master” title has come up a lot recently in online WMA/HEMA discussions. I’ve always stuck with a simple convention, the old saying I learned years ago: It takes ten years to become a Master. Bestowing the title of Master on someone after ten years should involve nothing more than making sure the candidate was actually training correctly and paying attention for those ten years. I realize this is not enough time for anyone to learn to fly by willpower alone and shoot fire from their mouths, but sadly, I suppose, we live in a real world where humans can learn attainable skills in a lifetime…sometimes less.

So how do you make sure someone has been training correctly and paying attention? Putting aside the end result of the training, what should we, as trainers, be doing for 9 and 11/12th years with a student? This is where we as teachers need to be paying attention to our students.

In my nutrition coaching, what we think about a certain diet doesn’t matter. Only results matter. We have to look at hard numbers collected over time. We measure not just weight and body composition, but blood chemistry, sports performance and even daily mood scores. If the numbers don’t show change, the diet is wrong. It doesn’t matter if it’s the popular diet, or if the latest research says it’s the best diet. If the clients numbers don’t improve, we change the diet until we see improvement.

I can look at my students and pat myself on the back that they are getting more awesome with every class, but if I don’t have numbers to back that feeling up, I got nothing. It’s so easy to let things slide by and fall apart for a single student, or to let someone good fail at being great because you went with your gut. You need someway of tracking progress. Even if it’s just by assigning an “Awesome Level” of zero to each student on their first class, and amending it at the end of class…over six months you should be able to see if any problems are cropping up with some students.

You aren’t going to be able to do much with the Awesome Level ranking, though. It’s only one number. And it really only rates how you feel about each student each class. To have a more effective assessment, you need to track more numbers. Maybe in addition to Awesome, you want to track things like Smile level or Bounciness. Or Glower, if that’s your thing. Even relatively stupid things chosen arbitrarily can give you some insight into your students.

Most people choose to evaluate students on exam performance of a selection of techniques. You might rate a longsword student on their execution of the five master blows, or a rapier student on his lunge and basic parries. Give a value from one to five on their performance. Over time you have a good report of a students progress. You might decided that reaching a certain number score on a selection of techniques allows a student to claim a rank.

Other people prefer to evaluate based solely on the end product…the fight. FightMetric shows one way of rating MMA fighters based on their ring performance. Similar methods can be used for armed work.

It matters less what and how you rate people, and more that you do, and that your method be consistent and repeatable. If I chose to rate my fighters by Midochlorian Quotient, I better be able to teach someone else how to rate people on that scale. The method should also reflect real world results and explain them. If two fighters spar for a number of passes, and one consistently beats the other, my rating system should not only explain and predict that outcome, it should also clearly illustrate what the losing fighter needs to work on in order to come ahead.

In my opinion, and ideal system would rate a student on weapon sparring, boxing and wrestling bouting, sport specific fitness and mindset. It would fit hand-in-hand with my coaching teams approach, our overall training program, and our students expectations.