A common problem for small or new HEMA clubs is how to ensure that everyone keeps practising the fundamentals, while still introducing new things for the more experienced members. How do you manage a class with several different levels of experience and skill?
I find that it is not so difficult, and you can combine both fundamentals and new material into a single session on a regular basis.
Making the warm up even more useful
I like to build fundamentals into the warm up. The warm up is there at the beginning of the session to get people into the right mindset for the session and to prepare the body for the exercise that will be coming – it doesn’t need to be physical training like running, push ups, sit ups, all that sort of thing. In fact, I would typically advise against doing that sort of thing as part of the warm up, because there are better things you can be doing with your time.
Let’s say you have a 2-hour lesson. If the first half hour is your warm up, then you can cover quite a lot of basics in this half hour by doing plenty of repetitions and solo drilling of basic cuts and other simple actions. Then you can build on this and move onto other things, keeping it all relatively simple, while developing the complexity over the course of the session.
For some ideas about what you could do, please consider my video training course on warming up exercises and simple technical exercises to help with the basics.
No interpretation should be so complicated that you need to spend a whole session on it before people can even start doing it in a useful setting. Any interpretation should typically be a gross body movement in a particular direction or fashion, and is therefore something you can cover or revisit during the warm up. Therefore, you can use the warm up to bring everyone up to speed on the technique or motion that they will need for the rest of the session.
When you use the warm up constructively in this fashion, it is not a problem if people have attended all the sessions (because more practice of fundamentals is always good), or if they have missed some sessions (because the warm up helps people catch up to where they need to be for this particular session), or even if it is their very first session (because the warm up shows them the one or two movements or techniques they will need for the rest of the session).
What about planning a series of lessons?
If you build a tight curriculum where each lesson builds on the lesson that came before, the whole thing is made more difficult when someone misses a session, and might be broken outright if someone misses two or three sessions.
I typically don’t write a curriculum that follows directly from the previous sessions because of these problems. Instead, I try to develop further some skills that we may have learned before, and so each of my lessons looks at a skill from a particular point of view and thus helps everyone improve at it.
For example, at one point I ran a short arc of 6 weeks of footwork lessons at my club – but they were all “footwork from a different point of view”, and we were looking at how to improve our footwork while maintaining a functional body structure in a variety of different situations.
The lessons did not build on each other directly, but they worked together very well and helped improve the students who turn up for all the lessons. At the same time, it was not a problem if people missed one or two or three of the sessions, because they were still receiving some lessons on footwork from some different points of view, and so my goal for the set of lessons was still accomplished successfully.
My advice for planning a curriculum of lessons is not to worry too much about one lesson being a prerequisite for another, because you will just make your own life more difficult when people inevitably miss a session. Instead, plan a series of thematically-linked sessions, where each session reinforces the other sessions, but where no single lesson is a prerequisite for another.
This method keeps everything really easy for me, which is a main priority of mine when I am teaching. If my life becomes more complicated, then I can’t give the best service as an instructor, because I’m trying to navigate the complexity of running the club in what might be less than ideal circumstances. If I can simplify the process of running the club and planning lessons, then I can put more of my efforts into providing the best quality of instruction for everyone who is present.
Everyone needs to spend time returning to the basics, because fundamentals are important and we have to keep training them so that we can rely on them with confidence. At the same time, people need new information, otherwise their interest will wane and their practice with plateau.
This method of running sessions ensures that everyone spends some time on the fundamentals in every single session, while still having an opportunity to learn something new as the exercises become more complicated and as you investigate how to use these techniques and movements in a variety of different situations.
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Keith Farrell teaches HEMA professionally, often at international events (why not hire me to teach at your event?), and has an interest in coaching instructors to become better teachers. I teach regularly at Liverpool HEMA, and help behind the scenes with running HEMA in Glasgow at the Vanguard Centre.