It’s nice to grab a few minutes this morning to write a post. Nothing in mind today, like usual, but I’m in the mood to feel like I’m talking to someone. I’m really glad you are in the mood to hear about teaching, because that’s exactly what I’m feeling like talking about this morning.

The last big post I wrote was the second in a series that explained what we were doing for assessments for our students. That project was a ton of fun, but we still haven’t presented the results to the students yet. The initial assessments were done on the spot, finished up by the time the students finished their assessment bouts, but the instructor team decided we wanted to all get together as a group and review each assessment as an exercise.

We want to find a common ground in how we look at students, and what we want to see them improve in, and how we want to guide them to that improvement. I’ve got the experience and training edge, but Squeak has a fine and sharp mind with a superior education. As a result, she is often able to figure out what my intentions are and put them into better practice than I can. This is something I value and rely upon, and I think is critical for our very first round of assessments.

As well, Squeak has her own method of teaching, and is quite far into polishing her own approach to fencing. I may have founded this school, but it walks on the legs of those who teach after me, and they need to be strong enough to not just stand on their own, but go farther than my legs could ever go. So no assessments without Squeak’s input.

And we need She-Hulk as well. She doesn’t teach, but she’s got a decade of experience in swordplay and packs some serious brainpower behind those biceps. It’s why she earned the nickname. If you don’t read the comics, fictional She-Hulk impressed me when I was a young man because she was super-strong, attractive, and super-smart…earning a living as a top lawyer. Our real She-Hulk rarely comments on students, but when she does, it’s usually not only a major correction, but it’s also precise and generally something I’ve overlooked. In her quiet way she has become my second and more reliable set of eyes.

In time our teaching/coaching staff will grow, but the seeds of it are in our interactions right now. Confidence is an extremely rare thing for me, and often leads me to waffle on things, but this isn’t one of those cases. I’m happy to push ahead with improving students now, but honestly they can wait. The opportunity to grow ourselves as a teaching body? To set the groundwork for our future, larger school? Can’t pass that up. Sadly, the three of us are astoundingly busy with other projects. But we’ll find time, and damned soon!

To wrap up on the assessment process itself, last time I talked about what my thought process would be when I looked over a student’s result. This confused some people, so I’ll go ahead and explain the next step. I’d avoided this in my original explanation because I wanted to show how we can use some of the concepts from modern sport science (ie. actually measuring progress instead of just trusting our own impressions) and athletic coaching to give us some tools for our martial arts instruction. My assumption was that those who were interested would understand how this doesn’t relate to our individual teaching methods, and would understand that they were expected to use their own methods. As an example I’ll explain my own method.

Working with our mythical example student (Me), I have a lovely set of numbers and suggestions. I’ll show the student the spider chart so that they have a clean, easy to understand visual representation of strong points and weak points. This is for the visual learners. It gives them a single mental reference point that they can recall and keep in mind instructions. For those who cue off of words, I’ll explain the weak and strong points, and give some corrections. Using our sample student (keeping in mind previous experience with this student that doesn’t show on the assessment), it would go something like this:

“Your swordwork, tactics and counters look good. You’ve got some good comfort with the blade, good awareness of what’s going on in a fight and you know how to set up shots on people. I’m not seeing you trust your point work enough on the attack. You seem to lose confidence once you start to reach forward, so we’re going to work on that for the next while. I want to see you develop a good line attack on the body, so let me show what I’m thinking…”

At this point I’m going to have the student hold their blade up, and demonstrate the kind of attack I want to see. I will show them the kind of thing I see them normally do, and then have them try the new attack. In this case, it’s an early extension with a deep lunge. Technically easy, beginner class stuff, but very difficult to perform correctly against good fighters. Our discussion should take no more than five minutes, and the student should have one single skill they think they are working on.

In future classes, I will use that single skill to focus my instructions to that student. I can build a complex of skills to support and add to that single skill, and give him the physical drills he needs to build those. When wrestling, for example, I can direct his efforts towards attaining takedowns by teaching more drive from the hips, deeper reach and commitment to single legs and two-on-ones, and explain how these actions build up ability for deep lunges with control.

In order to remember all my directions for all my students, I use a memory palace technique. I’ve previously memorized the positions of twelve stars in the sky. I can go out on any clear night, stand in one spot, and find each star in sequence. I do this frequently so that the memory is always clear and easily recalled. It’s easy to imagine four words “stored” with each star, which gives me 48 reference places. Each word can handily recall one image. In this case I can use a visual memory of each student doing something odd and memorable…not a problem in our school! From that image, it’s easy to store shorthand notes of assessment. Usually only a few words are enough to recall most of what I need to work on with each student.

Sadly getting older means memory gets more cluttered and needs more organization, so notes or a class tablet might be more necessary in future, but for now it works well. Hope this is some use to you.