Teaching a workshop for the first time: Planning

It starts so simple – you see someone twisting their wrist like a pretzel or their feet pointing towards the “enemy” three rows from them, you go and correct them, and a decade later you are an assistant-instructor and you just got your first workshop invitation.

Okay, this is actually nothing too big – not an international event, just a local one. I will be teaching for two hours, about a dozen students, and I can do whatever I want.

But I actually cannot. See, I have this wish to do a good workshop my first time, so just showing up, sword on shoulder, and teaching some stuff off the top of my head will not be enough.

I do have experience teaching – both in our school as an assistant and as a solo instructor from time to time, and at our big summer training camp.

However, an event (abroad) means people who do not train in the manner we do from day 1; people who may or may not have trained in the same fundamentals we do, or studied the system we do.

Thankfully, I know most of the people that might be in my workshop and I have some idea of their level of knowledge and the systems they are familiar with. It seems having your first teaching experience close to home has its advantages.

But that is still not enough, so for the next 2 weeks I need to plan out, write down, analyze, test and replan my workshop. And this article is the first step of that process.

Liechtenauer’s sword and buckler

First – what do I teach and what is my goal? I have naturally chosen to go for sword and buckler. It is a weapon combination that my hosts are largely unfamiliar with, yet it compliments what they already do quite nicely.

Not to mention that our school is, well, quite good with sword and buckler. And sword and buckler has been one of my main research topics in recent times.

Next question – what is the goal? You cannot teach a group of people an entirely new tool in 2 hours. That is 120 minutes – sometimes not even good enough for a good movie. You need a simple, limited, straightforward task.

I have decided to show a core of sword & buckler play and at the same time present a key manuscript that I believe is often unfairly ignored because of its size – Andre Liegniczer’s sword and buckler treatise.

It is just 6 plays, 2 pages (depending on the copy), and many regard it as some sort of an afterthought bonus in the Liechtenauer tradition. This short treatise, however, contains not just 6, but dozens of techniques, and it is closely connected to the main Liechtenauer (read: Longsword blossfechten) stuff.

Anyone with a good basis in Liechtenauer or good skills with a one-handed sword of another type can take this manuscript on pretty easily. It is like an unexpectedly deep expansion pack with hidden gameplay – you can blaze through it in an afternoon, but if you take your time, you might find yourself spending weeks on it and still coming back for more.

And to emphasize this more, I’ll focus on just the first play of Liegniczer, which is pretty much the Zornhau Ort play from core Liechtenauer blossfechten with longsword.

So the goal is – give a taste of a core principle of Liechtenauer sword & buckler through simple examples in a short and accessible source.

Scheduling

Yes, when you are going to have a timeslot at an event, there is no option for “lets play 15 minutes more”, nor is there a chance for a do-over next week. Any time wasted is wasted opportunity – for me to present my stuff and for the HEMAists to take something of value from it.

So I plan to schedule the whole workshop to a minute. Sure, I’ll add buffers around every part, I will have to take into account warm-up and check the time while I teach. But the advantage is a much lower risk of ending the workshop with: “Well, that’s all, folks, I wanted to show you one awesome thing more, but we are out of time.”

Some prior information helps – for example, I know I am teaching first for the day, so while it is acceptable to go through a quick warm-up after people have had hours of workshops before that, when you are first, the duty for a proper warm-up falls on you.

I will try to keep the warm-up under 20 minutes. That leaves me with 100 minutes for actual fencing.

As a first draft idea I plan to create 6 slots, each 15 minutes long, which makes a total of 90 minutes and leaves 10 minutes for boring stuff like drinking water, changing gear, answering unexpected questions, etc.

Which means at most 5 minutes of explaining each of the 6 drills/exercises and 10 minutes of practice time. Of course, I will not aim to be explaining stuff for 5 minutes straight. Some of the exercises might need to be shown and talked about in 3 minutes, and then 2 minutes would be left for questions or extra practice.

What comes next?

That seems like a fast-paced workshop, doesn’t it? Well, for now. That is the goal of this plan and this article – to describe the skeleton of my workshop and create a basic idea of how it will go.

The next step is writing down and choosing particular drills, which comes next week and will lead to another article, which might turn into a painfully detailed interpretation of Liegniczer’s first play. After that is testing, and the test subjects will be some poor souls from our school. It is a limited test, as they know what I will be showing. It is still a good opportunity to get some feedback and write another article. And then comes a revision of the plan and a final plan for the workshop. Well, it will be a curious three weeks.

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