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!

Layout of a lesson plan

Besides the introductory material, titles, etc., each part of the lesson should cover a few points:

  1. The activity
  2. The duration
  3. The pedagogical formula (we’ll see more on this later)
  4. What the students are doing
  5. What the teacher is doing
  6. The objective of the activity
  7. What is needed for the exercise.

The activities presented in the lesson plan below will be presented in the above order, separated by semicolons.

Class: Military Corksrew, intermediate level

Time allotted: 1 hour

Objective: Present basic mechanics and footwork for the use of the military corkscrew, specifically the spiral thrust, in keeping with the objectives for the level 2 curriculum.

Introduction: greetings, explanation of upcoming class; 3 minutes; Lecture; Explaining to the class ; listening; Setting up class expectations; nothing.

Warm up: Series of exercises, focusing on upper body strength; 10 minutes; Demonstration; Leading exercises; following instructor lead; Warm up to prevent injury and prepare for class; nothing.

Review of previous lesson: Passing footwork drill; 5 minutes; Peer teaching; Observing; Following lead of peer instructor; Review for retention; nothing.

Spiral thrust exercise: Paired thrusting exercise, using passing and gathered steps, partner provides varying targets; 15 minutes; Demonstration; Demonstrating technique and mechanics; Observing and performing drill; Overall objective is practise the spiral thrust, with a focus on footwork; military corkscrew trainers.

Spiral thrust defence: Paired defence exercise, parry high and low spiral thrusts; 15 minutes; Demonstration; Demonstrate defences against high and low line thrusts; Observing and performing drill; Overall objective is defending versus the spiral thrust, with a particular focus on the structure of the parry; military corskscrew simulators.

Formal evaluation: Paired spiral thrust defence; 10 minutes; peer evaluation; Provide guidance to evaluating students; evaluate peers; Objective is to provide feedback on progress of the defensive technique; military corkscrew simulators, evaluation sheets.

End of class: Presentation of next lesson and goodbye; 2 minutes; Lecture; Speaking to class; Listening attentively; Provide feedback on class and creating a desire to attend next class; nothing.

Let’s go over each of the above items in turn to see what’s going on.

Obviously, the class is for military corkscrew, intermediate level class. The objective of the class is presented, and should be in keeping with the curriculum’s goals.

We then begin with an introduction. This sets the table for the class, provides a greeting, gets students into the proper mindset, and prepares them for what is to come.

The warm up is self-explanatory, but in this instance, it is led by a student (a pedagogical approach), and the focus is on upper body strength. Each warm up can be tailored to different needs, and I would suggest varying them to suit the particular class or fill gaps in training.

This is followed by a review of the last class. This is essential to helping your students retain skills. When learning physical skills, repetition is key.

The next block sees two techniques: the “spiral” thrust and its counters. These use traditional demonstration as a pedagogical tool, but you’ll notice the objectives are different. In the first drill, there is a focus on the footwork. Sure, you’ll check structure, precision, etc., but you’re really looking at footwork. You may even do so exclusively. In the second drill, you’re observing structure in forming the defence.

We pursue with a formal evaluation using a peer review formula. Students should be given evaluation sheets, put into groups, and evaluate one another. As we’ll see below, this is a pedagogical device to help students become active in their participation.

Each part of the presented lesson plan is discretionary, but the better prepared you are, the more professional your classes will be, and the smoother they will run. Remember also that the allotted times are guidelines only. No lesson plan is set in stone. You may have allotted insufficient time for an exercise – no problem, adjust accordingly. You may find students need to exercise more, or a certain pattern of problems emerges among the students – take time to address them. The lesson plan is an aid, and should not be an impediment.


Pedagogy is the Art and Science of providing education, practised as a discipline. Pedagogy specifically refers to teaching children, whereas andragogy is the discipline of teaching to adults, but we generally refer to the science of teaching and its methods as “pedagogy.”

Both parts I and II of this series have touched on pedagogy and pedagogical differentiation. In this section, I’d like to outline what pedagogical differentiation is, and give some methods for helping you vary your methods and pedagogical formulas (teaching strategies).

You may have noticed that different students learn at different rates, or at the very least, learn in different ways. Without delving into the various ways people learn (a series of books in itself) or the theory of multiple intelligences (fodder for another article, I’m sure), suffice to say that each person has a lens through which they view the world, and through which they filter and accept information. Your job is to address as many as those filters as possible. Thankfully, they fall into several large categories to help us reach as wide an audience as possible. There are a vast array of pedagogical formulas (methods of presenting information) that a teacher can use, with many of them lending themselves better to a traditional classroom situation, rather than a martial arts class, but below you’ll find several that can be used in a typical session (or over a series of classes) to better reach different student types.

When planning how to use these pedagogical devices, you need to make a decision as to how best to dispense them. Are you teaching principles or techniques? Principles are generally learned over a longer period of time as compared to a technique. When teaching principles, you can spread out the pedagogical formulas over several classes, to reach your students. When teaching techniques, better to vary over the course of one class, or several classes if doing a series of related classes. A concrete example will make this clearer, after I’ve presented the individual formulas. Finally, here’s a golden rule of thumb: the more your students work, the less you do. The better you prepare your classes and vary your strategies, the less you will work in class, and the more your students will be involved in their own learning process.


The lecture, sometimes called the presentation, is the classic form of delivering information. The teacher speaks, students listen and absorb what the teacher is saying. It is also the least effective of the methods, and should be used sparingly. Obviously, it lends itself well to all kinds of situations, but is best left for announcements and vital information you can’t transmit otherwise.


Probably the most oft-used formula in martial arts teaching, it is so well used for a reason. Being physical arts, most students learn movement cues by imitation. You show them what a technique looks like, and they repeat it. It is a perfect tool for initiating students to a technique, and bears the formulaic crown for a reason. When employing this method, remember: demonstrate, explain (or use a formula below), and demonstrate again.

Peer teaching

Sometimes, students have insight into how they internalised or learned a technique that may help a student. This strategy is win-win, in that the student being taught gains the benefit of that insight, and the student teaching learns the technique and principles much more thoroughly, since they are using a different set of cognitive processes to teach the technique. In short, they have to think about it, rather than imitate it. This strategy can be used individually, or by using a student to demonstrate a technique to the class.

Peer evaluation

In the same way that peer teaching forces the student to think about what he is demonstrating or explaining, peer evaluation forces a student to think about what constitutes good technique, form, timing, etc. Provide students with criteria to evaluate, and you will obtain much better results than just “look at what he’s doing and critique.” – there’s too much going on there for a student to think about. An alternate form of peer evaluation is called co-evaluation, where the evaluator evaluates, and the subject auto-evaluates. Notes are then exchanged and compared.

Group projects

Following the golden rule above, form groups and give them projects, or otherwise have them work as a team. Give them a technique, and ask them to work through it together. Give them a play or a plate from a manuscript (military corkscrew comes to mind), and have them study it. This can even be done over the course of several classes, setting aside time before the group presents its findings. Let them present it before making corrections or additions.


Closely related to the group project, the presentation can be individual or group in nature. Assign a technique or principle to a student or students, and ask them to present to the class on it. You can assign delays from zero (a kind of informal evaluation, see part II) to minutes, to days or weeks, depending on the complexity of the presentation, but as a rule, it should be kept relatively simple, else it becomes a research project.

Research Project

A research project can also be individual or group in nature, but is generally a longer-term time investment than the simple presentation or group project. I would suggest using them as requirements for rank or other significant milestones, given the complexity of the task and the time involved. The benefits for the student, however, are telling, at least for the chosen subject (e.g.: an exploration of the expression of tempo in Fiore dei Liberi’s manuscripts.)


Also somewhat related to peer evaluation and presentations, have students perform techniques in drill or sparring. Ask a student (or students, or the students performing the techniques to auto-analyse – another form of evaluation) to observe, and comment on any of several factors: why the technique succeeded, why it failed, why someone got hit, who committed a fault, was the structure of the technique correct/adequate, were the footwork patterns correct, were the mechanics of the cut correct, were techniques done in proper tempo, etc.

The benefits of this kind of analysis are many, and allow the student to think about his or others performance and their point of failure (or success!) It is a form of evaluation either auto or peer, and is invaluable to student progress.

Discussion Groups

Often overlooked, but the discussion group is a significant method for allowing students to exchange over techniques, principles, even information that is otherwise not directly related to technique (context, period art analysis, etc.)

Many schools have an informal discussion group via the after-class pub. Others utilise forums or internal mailing lists or Facebook groups. Consider having an in-class discussion group, and remember you can combine strategies – this melds well with the presentation or group project, even the analysis strategy.


While any pedagogical formula can use media as an aid, it is considered a strategy in itself. In fact, the more senses you involve and stimuli you provide, the more you will reach your students. Some require visual aids, or even video (despite your best efforts at demonstrating live in their presence). Others need diagrams or flowcharts. Whatever you can produce to aid the student, you are encouraged to do so: video, presentations, diagrams, flow charts, manuscript images, technique breakdowns, synoptic tables, checklists, or anything else that may be of aid to a student.

A teaching arc

Finally, as an example, I will provide a sample teaching arc. A teaching arc is a series of classes addressing related principles and techniques, with an overall objective. For the purposes of this example, I’ll be using techniques from Fiore dei Liberi’s arte dell’armizare to build a series of four classes into an arc. Inventing an art wholesale for the purposes of an example is difficult, and I hope the reader will find an example based on a real art more concrete, and thus, more useful in its application.

Class 1

Rising thrusts from porta di ferro mezana, dente di zenghiaro, and tutta porta di ferro. – Demonstration

First defence: scambiar di punta – student demonstration

Analysis of the tempo of the defence – group work, each group presents its findings after fifteen minutes of work.

Discussion: What could be another valid defence versus rising thrusts?

End class by introducing the rompere di punta for the next class. Assign group work for two weeks hence: tempo and proper time in attack and defence with the thrust, preferably with examples from the manuscript. Maintain groups from earlier.

Class 2 –

Proper structure of a thrust from below – presentation by students chosen at random.

Review of the scambiar di punta – presented by student.

Rompere di punta – media presentation (projected images)

Discussion – how does the rompere work.

Rompere drills – Demonstration

Mixed rompere and scambiar drills – analysis of graceful failure from one to the other, with focus on tempo and structure.

End class with a question period and introduction of scambiar di punta from posta di finestra.

Class 3

Review of previous classes by groups working in threes, practising scambiar and rompere at speed. Analysis by observer.

Demonstrate scambiar di punta from posta di finestra

Drill scambiar from posta di finestra.

Discuss how scambiar can degrade gracefully into rompere.

Have students present their impressions of the timing difference between a “rising” scambiar and one from posta di finestra.

Class 4

Review the various scambiar and rompere scenarios – peer demonstration

Perform formal evaluation of rompere and scambiar by co-evaluation.

Students present group projects on tempo.

This four class arc utilises a variety of methods. On the surface, the first class pertains to the scambiar di punta, the second class the rompere di punta, the third class on variants, with the fourth class bringing it together as a whole, but the overarching theme is ‘thrusts: structure and tempo,’ given the distribution of exercises on tempo across all four classes.

In the end, the methods presented above, as well as in parts I and II, are but a small part of the panoply of pedagogical formulas and techniques available to the teacher/instructor, and form the object of several lifetimes of continued study and improvement. I would encourage the reader to look further into these techniques and teaching strategies and come up with their own methods that are best suited to their particular teaching style. The ultimate goal being, of course, the progress and success (however you define success) of your students.

Keep their interests at the forefront, and they will reward you with their continued development – a teacher’s greatest compensation. As stereotypically sentimental as it sounds, teaching is a labour of love. Let that sentiment lead you.