Friday, November 25, 2011


"Suppose there's no such thing as learning, or intuition, or skill, or thought. Suppose instead that it's all just memory; suppose that every cut and counter-cut and parry and block is just recollection of the same fight fought out a lifetime ago. Suppose the draw is religion, the sword before and the sword after, because when the hand closes around the hilt, the sword has already been drawn and swung, and the skin cut open. Suppose that nothing is learned—languages, names, skills, factsonly remembered from the last time round, which was nothing more than a memory of the time before that, the same sequence of moves repeated over and over at the instructor's word of command until they're perfect, and that's religion."

Saturday, November 5, 2011

teaching new skills

Someone on the Belegarth forums was going to be teaching at weekend training event and was asking for advice about how to present material and work with students in a group setting. I started writing out some bits, then remembered how every other interaction on that forum went and stopped. Then I finished writing them and here they are:

From Guru Mike Casto-
Every lesson should:

Revisit a basic concept - show them how there is more to learn about something they thought they knew

Present a new concept

Give some future material - something they can't pull off now, but is new/intriguing and that they can work towards having in the future

I really like the "these things are the same but different" style lesson. You take a concept, and show it in different forms. For example, with the basic concept of opposition (blocking out an opponent's line of attack as you're hitting them), you could have an attack with opposition, a parry-riposte with opposition, and a counter-attack with opposition. Beginners feel like they've just learned a whole slew of new things but had something to hang on to while you took them through it. More experienced students get a new linking insight between several things, often unlocking comprehension and making them think of other new possibilities. For a seminar that wants some 1h sword, 2h sword, double stick material, rather than tackling the basics of all the different weapon types, you take, say, a single line of attack, and show uses and application in all the weapon types. This could get boiled down to how to stand and physically do it if they need a lot of work, or expand into several variations and distances if they don't.


When correcting individually in a group setting, you can list briefly three or four things to change. Self-directed students will file them away and pull them out to work on their own later. Then, just pick ONE thing for correction right now. Give details, move 'em physically into place if you have to, demonstrate if they need it. Let them rep it three or four times, correcting ONLY that one thing, if they get that right, just say good and have them do it again, don't correct something else unless it is critical. A lot of over-teaching happens here, where you correct one thing, then when they do it once you correct something else, and then they lose that first thing, and then you move on to another student thinking you've showed them two things but they really just lose both.


One of the easiest ways to help someone learn a new skill is to pay attention to any sign of positive or negative transference. Positive transference is when the skill they are learning is similar to something else they know- plugging in that knowledge can immediately boost the skill. Noting negative transference can be even more important- a different skill that they know is getting in the way, and telling them explicitly that what they are doing is NOT like that will help them clear the slate instead of trying to force a different skill to be something it's not.

At coaches college, we got some material about stages of learning a physical skill. They broke it down something like this:

Stage 1: Cognitive. Mistakes are common, all movements are consciously controlled.
Stage 2: Autonomous. Mistakes are rarer, thought not necessary unless things get off track
Stage 3: Associative. Mistakes are very rare, no thought necessary, skill can be combined with other skills.

It's important to realize that these are stages that must be progressed through. It's tempting to tell a student to just stop thinking and do, because you know that's how it's done when you've got it, and, indeed, it can be useful and necessary to do so... but only after they've progressed past the cognitive stage. When they are first introduced to a movement, they HAVE to think about it, telling them not to will not accelerate the process. Only encourage them to not think about it once you're sure they actually have the skill.