Category Archives: Pedagogical

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

Continue reading The Teaching Circle

Metaphysiks of Armizare

The Metaphysiks of Armizare; Theory to Doctrine, Doctrine to Practice

By Christian Cameron, IAS

This article is not founded on my belief that I am a particularly gifted swordsperson.  Rather, it is founded on the observation that too many swords people with solid training and principles in the art don’t seem to be aware of ways to think about their art or put together various essentials of training which they fully understand into a single, coherent ideal of a system, which they can thus translate into performance (and then practice).  Put simply; they know a lot, and yet, they do not fight well.

Let me add that I don’t think I’m going to tell any experienced swordsperson anything they have not heard before.  I’m just going to try to codify some things, like a philosopher or theologian. Hence that threatening word, ‘Metaphysiks.’

Continue reading Metaphysiks of Armizare

Spada Instructional Video: First Master of Zhogo Largo

Instructional video showing the execution of the First Remedy of Largo and the binary choice that results from this particular crossing.

Here begins the play of two-handed sword, in wide play. This Master has crossed his sword at the point with this opponent, and says: when I am crossed at the points, I quickly turn my sword and strike the opponent on the other side with a fendente to the head and arms; or I thrust to his face, as you will see next.

I have given you a thrust to the face, as the Master before me had said. I could have also performed the other action he mentioned: attack right after crossing swords to the right, i.e. turn a fendente to the left side, to the head and arms of the opponent, as my master before me said. – MS Ludwig XV 13, translation © Tom Leoni

The first play deals with a critical situation: the crossing of the swords near the points, and the immediate tactical choice that presents itself depending on the quality of the incrosada – the pressure placed on the Remedy Master’s sword but the Player’s sword.  For additional context, please refer to:

SWORDSMANSHIP IN THE ART OF ARMS, PART 6: ORDERING THE PLAYS OF ZOGHO LARGO

If the Remedy Master crosses – i.e. parries – and finds the line open, he will make a direct point thrust to the Player.  If he finds the line closed – i.e. the Player’s cut has pushed his sword to the right – he will quickly cut over to the other side of the sword, striking head or arms with a fendente.

It’s important to remember that the text and image shown for any given play is not a prescriptive injunction that this play can only happen exactly as shown, but rather a descriptive example of principles to be applied in any similar situation.  Therefore the same crossing – weak to weak – is also demonstrated from actions in Posta Longa and Posta di Finestra. As Fiore says:

These plays are all linked, and have remedies and counters both from the mandritto and riverso side, counter-thrusts and counter-cuts to each action, with breaks, parries, strikes and binds—all things that can be understood very, very easily. – MS Ludwig XV 13, translation © Tom Leoni

For additional information on the variable nature of applying Fiore’s martial principles, please refer to

Stable, Striking and Mutable: Fighting from the Guards of L’Arte dell’Armizare

In the demonstrations I perform the actions of the Remedy Master from a “refused” or back stance position, using a volta stabile di corpo (stable turn of the body) to add strength and structure to the defensive cut.   This mechanic is covered in further detail here:

Fundamental Mechanics: Executing a Correct Fendente

Additionally, several of the demonstrations use sharps, because the qualities of the bind with sharps are much more noticeable than with blunts – sharps “stick” momentarily, blunts don’t.  PLEASE NOTE: the blades we are using are sharp on the edges but dull at the points, that we are wearing safety gear, and that we are both well-trained.  Don’t try this at home.

The plays could also be performed from a forward stance with a step of the left foot off the line to the left.  The volta and the step could also be combined.   Though not demonstrated here, these variations are taught at Northwest Fencing Academy and in the IAS.

The Nine Dagger Remedy Masters: 5th Master

Video 5 of 9 in a short series.

In-Class Review Session for Iniziato, Compagno and Scholar candidates at Northwest Fencing Academy.  Produced by Northwest Fencing Academy for use by affiliates of  the International Armizare Society.

The remedies will be made public and the scholar’s plays put in the Member’s Area. This series covers the basic mechanics of the Nine Dagger Remedy Masters from Fiore dei Liberi’s Fior di Battaglia, which details L’Arte dell’Armizare (the Art of Arms).  The instructional emphasis is on developing proficiency in mechanics and timing, so that there’s a solid foundation for the actual scholar’s plays.

The video is fairly self-explanatory, but I’ll be happy to take questions over on the forums.  Note that this just covers basic execution of the Remedy.  We’ll cover various plays in later videos.

Candidates for all ranks are expected to be able to analyze mechanics as well as perform them, with execution skills increasing per level.

The Nine Dagger Remedy Masters: 3rd Master

Video 3 of 9 in a short series.

In-Class Review Session for Iniziato, Compagno and Scholar candidates at Northwest Fencing Academy.  Produced by Northwest Fencing Academy for use by affiliates of  the International Armizare Society.

The remedies will be made public and the scholar’s plays put in the Member’s Area. This series covers the basic mechanics of the Nine Dagger Remedy Masters from Fiore dei Liberi’s Fior di Battaglia, which details L’Arte dell’Armizare (the Art of Arms).  The instructional emphasis is on developing proficiency in mechanics and timing, so that there’s a solid foundation for the actual scholar’s plays.

The video is fairly self-explanatory, but I’ll be happy to take questions over on the forums.  Note that this just covers basic execution of the Remedy.  We’ll cover various plays in later videos.

Candidates for all ranks are expected to be able to analyze mechanics as well as perform them, with execution skills increasing per level.

The Nine Dagger Remedy Masters: 2nd Master

Video 2 of 9 in a short series.

In-Class Review Session for Iniziato, Compagno and Scholar candidates at Northwest Fencing Academy.  Produced by Northwest Fencing Academy for use by affiliates of  the International Armizare Society.

The remedies will be made public and the scholar’s plays put in the Member’s Area. This series covers the basic mechanics of the Nine Dagger Remedy Masters from Fiore dei Liberi’s Fior di Battaglia, which details L’Arte dell’Armizare (the Art of Arms).  The instructional emphasis is on developing proficiency in mechanics and timing, so that there’s a solid foundation for the actual scholar’s plays.

The video is fairly self-explanatory, but I’ll be happy to take questions over on the forums.  Note that this just covers basic execution of the Remedy, plus a simple armbar.  We’ll cover various plays in later videos.

Candidates for all ranks are expected to be able to analyze mechanics as well as perform them, with execution skills increasing per level.

The Nine Dagger Remedy Masters: 1st Master

Video 1 of 9 in a short series.

In-Class Review Session for Iniziato, Compagno and Scholar candidates at Northwest Fencing Academy.  Produced by Northwest Fencing Academy for use by affiliates of  the International Armizare Society.  The remedies will be made public and the scholar’s plays put in the Member’s Area.

This covers the basic mechanics of the Nine Dagger Remedy Masters from Fiore dei Liberi’s Fior di Battaglia, which details L’Arte dell’Armizare (the Art of Arms).  The instructional emphasis is on developing proficiency in mechanics and timing, so that there’s a solid foundation for the actual scholar’s plays. The dagger strip (which is technically not a Fiore play) is something I use for teaching fundamental mechanical concepts of structure, timing, and movement. In reality, the other fellow will put up a fight, which is where the actual plays come in.

Candidates for all ranks are expected to be able to analyze mechanics as well as perform them, with execution skills increasing per level.  The video is fairly self-explanatory, but I’ll be happy to take questions over on the forums.  Note that this just covers basic execution of the Remedy, plus mechanics of the dagger strip.  We’ll cover various plays in later videos.

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.

Continue reading Evaluating physical skills

Actions with Intent

In-Class Video – March 2016
Sean Hayes
Isaac Prier

When practicing technique, or specific tactical applications of technique, it’s critical for both partners in a drill to maintain realistic intent.

Artificially stopping or otherwise altering the natural momentum and follow-through of an action leads to an incorrect understanding of the martial principle the action is intended to teach.

This short video is a in-class discussion of proper intention in the attack, which allows the defender to properly perform the technique.  Obviously, this applies to all aspects of the art, and is also vital to correct practice of more complicated, multi-step drills.  Finally, by practicing proper intent, the student learns to calibrate the necessary degree of force when actually fighting.

Fundamental Mechanics: Executing a Correct Fendente

From time to time IAS will release Member’s Area content (normally only available to affiliates) to the general public, in the interests of promoting L’Arte dell’Armizare and the Academy’s approach to it.  This post is an in-depth lesson and video detailing the execution of a fundamental action: the fendente, and is part of a series of in-depth Fundamentals videos.

The video details the specifics of the fendente itself; the lesson refers to partnered body mechanics exercises that are reviewed before the fendente lesson is begun.  Those videos are not shown here (but are in the Member’s Area).

Lesson 1: Fundamental Body & Sword Mechanics

Level: Fundamental/Beginning

Description: Students will learn to execute both mandritto and riverso fendenti from Posta di Donna diritta (mandritto side) and Posta di Donna sinistra (on the riverso side) using correct body mechanics.

Prerequisites: None.

Goals: To properly engage arms, shoulders, hips and legs to power the blow in a true time (hand before body and feet) into a tactically sound and physically stable ending position.

Continue reading Fundamental Mechanics: Executing a Correct Fendente

Measuring Success: the Role of Freeplay & Competition in Training

Freeplay

IAS Schools employs a variety of models for freeplay (sparring).  The bridge between strict drills and complete freeplay is in the form of exercises with certain parameters in which actions are limited to specific techniques.  Such exercises can more or less limit the scope of possibilities, and are designed to focus the student’s attention on specific aspects of the art as applied in the fight.  Since any limitation introduced necessarily distorts the reality of the art’s application, conditions in these drills are usually changed frequently from more limitations to fewer, consistent with the student’s level of ability.

Sean Hayes (r) fighting Axel Petterson (l)
The author (right) fighting Axel Petterson at Longpoint 2014. Axel took 1st in the tournament.

It is important to understand that even freeplay has limitations placed on it.  The most obvious limitations are that we use blunt weapons and protective equipment, we play so as to minimize the possibility of injury, and our intent is not lethal – quite the opposite!  Safety is always our first priority.  The effect of all this is to remove the very natural fear one would have with sharp weapons and lethal intent, to remove the caution that fear would inspire, and to encourage behavior that is not consistent with a real fight.

Because of these considerations, students must: Continue reading Measuring Success: the Role of Freeplay & Competition in Training

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. Continue reading Ranks, curricula, and pedagogy, Part II

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 Continue reading Ranks, curricula, and pedagogy, Part I

Applied Armizare – Fiore’s Five Throws

Introduction

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.

Continue reading Applied Armizare – Fiore’s Five Throws

Memory and Performance: Visual and Rhetorical Strategies of Il Fior di Battaglia

(First presented at the Renaissance Society of America’s Venice conference in 2010. Presented also as part of an academic session followed by an armoured combat demonstration, organized by Dr. Regina Pskai, at the American Association for Italian Studies conference at University of Oregon, 2013)

This paper is part of a larger study on medieval and Renaissance martial arts manuscripts, their art historical context, their relationship to medieval arts of memory, and the practical interpretation of the arts they represent. I will address the work of Mary Carruthers and Kathryn Starkey on medieval techniques of reading to show how a medieval martial arts manuscript makes use of visual rhetorical devices to address the problems inherent in notating fencing actions. MS Ludwig XV 13, dated to 1410 and commonly known by its title Il Fior di Battaglia or Flower of Battle, is a Northern Italian manuscript by a military captain named Fiore dei Liberi. The manuscript, currently held by the J. Paul Getty Museum, is a complex performance document which employs specific notational techniques to record for later use the elements of a physical performance.

The difficulties of understanding and interpreting historical martial arts texts lie partly with their semiotic remoteness from the present day. It is not simply that the teachers of those traditions are now long dead, or that the manuscripts themselves invariably seem to assume some prior knowledge of the arts they record, but also that they employ a literary, academic, and artistic vocabulary that is different from our own. To arrive at reasonable interpretations of the physical performance and use of these arts requires study of the complete cultural context in which these arts were performed. Only with this type of study can we begin to assign degrees of confidence to our interpretations of these arts.
Continue reading Memory and Performance: Visual and Rhetorical Strategies of Il Fior di Battaglia