On University, and New Folks   7 comments

A week ago, I went to University to teach some classes. (Gawin was supposed to come co-teach, but life intervened.) Our classes were three:

Rapier Melee Fundamentals – providing a mental framework for new fighters to process melee, based on how my own brain works in melee. When in measure, focus on swords: stymie threats, look for opportunities. When not in measure, look around: evaluate the battle according to easy and highly visible heuristics, and act accordingly, giving orders if necessary.

Building a Melee Unit – providing some advice for training melee, building esprit de corps, and getting your local friends out to events, regardless of how big your practice is.

Training and Drilling for Fencing – giving some basic information on building a training regimen: pitfalls to avoid, useful mechanics to include, and a handy evaluation heuristic applicable to general fitness and to fencing-specific skills.

The specifics of each could probably get a blog post of their own, here.

Attendance was 5-7 for each class, but things did not go as smoothly as I had hoped. My classes were intended for, and advertised for, relative novices; but as it turned out, most of my students were complete newbies – on the order of “has not gone to first practice or held a sword yet, but might be interested”. So for the majority of them, the first class was over their heads; the second was above their pay grade; and the third assumed too much commitment.

I had come with lots of enthusiasm, but it’s hard to respond to questions like “what’s a provost?” and “I don’t have a local practice; what should I do?” I tried to adjust on the fly, but I don’t know that I communicated much useful information.

I recall Dante’s “Dreyfus Level 1” (it’s a few posts down from here). Didn’t make sense to me at the time. Now it does. I was teaching a class for level 2’s and 3’s to level 1’s.

There were a few heavy guys in the melee-unit class and a couple Black Diamond scholars scattered throughout, so it wasn’t a total waste. Still, I’m not happy about the outcome; but frankly I’m not sure what to make of it. On the one hand, I should have figured out their level of experience beforehand, and had some talking points intended for people above or below the expected audience; on the other, they showed up, and the class descriptions weren’t particularly ambiguous.

Things to remember for next time:

1. Include contact information on the handouts.
2. Survey class for experience before beginning, and have a plan if you get a group you weren’t expecting
3. Be more specific with class descriptions

The classes themselves, and their presentation, flowed pretty well. I digressed a couple times or went off the syllabus, but that’s largely inevitable with my current experience.

I was wondering, when building the handouts, just how much information should be included on paper. Ideally it’s a summary or a syllabus, and I elaborate on each point as I hit it, but I wonder how much information is retained from the talky bits. Perhaps

4. Encourage note-taking. Occasionally remind students with the phrase “here’s something you’ll want to write down”.

A Few Words on New Folks and Ranking Systems, Tangential to the First Half of This Post.

Anyone who has done fitness will appreciate the value of a good numerical model – it allows us a more objective system of measurement, from which we can set goals, tabulate progress, tailor programs, etc. All well and good. Dante has two such systems that I’ve come to use reflexively – his five-point “relative skill of opponent assessment” and his five-step Dreyfus model.

But these don’t have widespread acceptance in Atlantia. The closest we get is our scarf system, which is a poor measure because prowess is not the determiner. I am a Free Scholar; there are some Provosts who are not a challenge for me, and there are Scholars I fear (hi, Torse!). Likewise, there are Free Scholars who are far better than me (Ben, Armand) and Free Scholars who are considerably worse.

When we pretend like this isn’t true, we get one-sided melee teams. But more to the point, the lack of a solid scale means that it’s very difficult to measure progress – even relative progress – and we tend not to divide our fencers into different pools based on ability. So Johnny Just-Authorized-Today goes out to Ymir and fights Celric and Wistric. Celric and Wistric feel bad for one-shotting him, but it’s not their fault they’re trying to win. Johnny goes out to weekly practice, but everyone’s getting better at about the same rate he is, so he doesn’t feel like he’s improving. Johnny’s motivation to hit up events, especially those that are far away, is somewhat dampened by his perception that he’s going to eat sword all day.

There’s not much we can do about people who have the wrong mindset and think they’ll place in their first tourney, or that they’ll earn a WS after two or three years. But it’d be damn nice for us to have something to keep the junior-grade fighters enthusiastic.

Ideas for Something

At major events (the ones with a guaranteed draw of 30+) I see no reason why we can’t have two tournaments. Set up a separate Scholar’s Tournament for the lower-end fighters. Allow anyone to enter, but make the main tournament high-prestige, and strongly encourage Sea-Dragon-level fencers to graduate out.

Space/time constraints? Yeah, they exist. Figure it out.

MoL’s also keep tournament records, and there’s been talk of migrating to a computer database. It’d be possible, though not easy, to rig up simple ranking system (or, if you want to get fancy, an ELO system).

There’s resistance to this idea, because we treasure everyone’s feelings and don’t want anyone to feel like shit because they’re 278/293. We also don’t want the rankings to be abused, to eclipse the prestige of the scarves, or to become benchmarks for promotion or awards.

But that’s silly. It’d be trivial to address these concerns.

Hey, it just so happens that I’m RMIC at War of the Wings this year …

Posted March 8, 2014 by Ruairc in Events, Musings

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