The Teaching Circle
The teaching circle

The Teaching Circle

The Teaching Circle in Martial Arts

Much of what I’m going to put down in writing below is likely in the “obvious” category for many of you reading this. Much of it, through the failings attributed to human nature, also fits into the “oft neglected” category, because despite having the knowledge, it doesn’t always carry over into practise – something I am most certainly guilty of on occasion. In the interest of helping some of our more fledgling instructors, and reminding some of our more experienced instructors, I’m going to lay down a few fundamentals, or “ABCs” of teaching martial arts, and despite the title of the article, they apply to teaching any subject matter.

Moving directly to the subject of this article, one can observe that there are several steps involved in teaching any subject. These can be summarised as follows:

  1. Set goals
  2. Plan and prepare
  3. Execute
  4. Assess and correct
  5. Revise and repeat


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Alphabet - Fiore’s art is a holistic one, adaptable to a variety of situations and circumstances (in armis, sine armis…). Why then, is so little said of the mechanics of cuts and the tactical framework for initiating an attack?  Popular wisdom says Fiore’s art was not intended for use by newcomers to the art, but rather by experienced men-at-arms. This is easily backed up by even a cursory read through the introductory material, where Fiore lists his accomplishments in preparing men for feats of arms – a veritable who’s who of well-known medieval fighters.


Continue Reading SWORDSMANSHIP IN THE ART OF ARMS, PART TWO: The Seven Blows of the Sword

Evaluating physical skills

This article continues our pedagogical series by focusing on evaluation methods for physical skills. These evaluation schemes can be either formal or informal as previous articles have detailed, with their primary purpose being to provide the evaluator with a proper picture of the students’ abilities, strengths, growth, and points upon which to improve. This picture also provides the student with a global picture of where his abilities lay, and provides important feedback for continued progress. Finally, it should provide a reference point for future evaluations to ensure progress is being made, by providing a baseline for comparison.

The best method for providing lasting feedback on student’s progression is with a dichotomic evaluation scheme, as this article will present. In a nutshell, while there are many and varied methods of formal and informal evaluation (see Ranks and curricula, part II for more), the simple fact of evaluating physical skills is a student either can or cannot perform a particular skill or technique. This article will present different evaluation schemes and provide examples of why a dichotomic scheme is preferred for evaluating martial skills.

Percentage scores

Besides the perennial (and widespread) trope of evaluating a student by observing and saying “yup, looks good,” (a horribly insufficient method) the most familiar modern scheme we know of is in the form of percentage grades. We’ve been raised on this scheme, and are used to and familiar with it, but it has serious disadvantages in terms of evaluating physical skills, competence, and providing feedback. An example follows.


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Ranks, curricula, and pedagogy, Part III

This last article in our three part series will focus on attaining long term goals through short term planning, i.e.: lesson plans and pedagogy. If you’re arriving at this article without having read the rest of the series, I strongly suggest you begin with part I.

The Lesson Plan

As seen in part I of the series, the lesson plan is derived from the curriculum. A simple list of things to do written on a napkin can serve as a lesson plan, but I would suggest preparing a more in-depth plan for better results.Philo_mediev

The lesson plan acts as your guide for the class, helping you stay on point, focused, and working towards your stated curricular goals. It helps you plan, time-wise, and can help with your pedagogy. Let’s look at a simplified, yet detailed lesson plan for a fictional class, returning to our fictional art from part I, the “military corkscrew”, again so that we may focus on the pedagogy rather than the techniques of any given system. I would normally use a table to better organise the lesson plan, but the space available here doesn’t lend itself well to that, so please bear with me!


Continue Reading Ranks, curricula, and pedagogy, Part III

Ranks, curricula, and pedagogy, Part II

This second article in our three post series will focus on ranking systems and student evaluation. You can find part I here.

Ranking Systems – good or bad?

There is some debate in the martial arts community about the relevance or usefulness of ranks. Some democratically organised clubs often find them elitist and have no place for them. Many professional schools use them and prefer ranking systems. The International Armizare Society is solidly in favour of ranking systems as a pedagogical and organisational tool, for reasons that will become clear below.

Ranks are common and widely used, despite not always being recognised as such. Beginning with the modern Asian belt system as an obvious example, students progress through a series of coloured belts known as “kyu“, each belt signifying they have achieved a certain level of technical skill or learned “x” number of new techniques before moving on to obtain their “dan” levels (a further classification for advanced students).kyu

Other Japanese systems use menkyo (teaching licenses). The English Maisters of Defence used the Scholar, Free Scholar, Provost and Maister system. Moving away from martial arts, trades and guilds historically (and today) used ranks: apprentice, journeyman and master. Universities employ a similar paradigm: Freshman, Sophomore, Junior and Senior, or if you prefer, Bachelor’s, Masters and Doctorate levels.

Even elementary and high school grades are meant to classify a student according to their level of achievement. All these disparate systems have one thing in common: they are levels of progression through curricula. While there are a variety of opinions surrounding the use of ranks, they are certainly a practical and widely used means for marking advancement – clearly, such systems have a usefulness beyond satisfying simple hubris. (more…)

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Ranks, curricula, and pedagogy, Part I

This article is the first in a series of three articles that will cover curriculum building and its importance in the continued advancement and improvement of your students. I will use this as a foundation for the articles that follow, touching on ranking systems and finally, pedagogy and structuring and running a successful class and how to address different types of students by varying pedagogical approaches.fight training (more…)

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Applied Armizare – Fiore’s Five Throws


Fiore dei Liberi is known as the founder of a fully-functional, holistic system of combat, used with and without weapons, that he named l’arte dell’armizare — the Art of Arms. Grappling without weapons forms the introductory section of at least two manuscripts, and is known by practitioners as abrazare, or “the art of embracing.”

Dei Liberi is often referred to by modern practitioners (erroneously, but that is a subject for a separate article) as a“wrestling master” when comparisons are made with his Germanic contemporaries . In point of fact, there is precious little in the way of wrestling instruction in the corpus of works attributed to Maestro dei Liberi, and what is present is predominantly a repetition of techniques across a variety of weapons. A portion of this is undoubtedly due to his focus on a holistic style of combat. For this reason, not only is much of the underlying structure for a wrestling system found integrated into the dagger remedies, but also throughout dei Liberi’s self-referential work.


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