Monday, 30 March 2009

Grading systems and teaching syllabus. How do we fit it all in?

I posted this to the SES forum and to save time am posting it here also.

After an interesting conversation recently with some of the more advanced students in our group, I started to wonder about how the syllabus and levels are structured and the benefits of introducing grading, as commonly found in other martial art systems. I am sure this has been on other people's minds too and that Guy has given it extensive thought.

What would be some benefits of grading?
1. A solution to maintain long-term interest in swordsmanship
2. Focus training and goals
3. Reinforce the sense of achievement and progress in their studies and training

One of the main reasons for the drop in advanced student numbers is linked to their having little sense of progress, each training session introducing apparently random material drawn from the syllabus which is then not practiced again for months on end, if ever. This applies equally to the Fiorean material as to other weapon systems like 1.33. I am specifically talking about our own group here and the fact that we have quite a good "core" group speaks more of the willingness and interest of the group members than to the amorphous training programme being offered by me as class leader. I can openly admit to being able to handle the beginner's course with a fairly tight structure as laid down in the syllabus. However, the sheer volume of skills and techniques required for levels 1 and 2 "explode" after finishing the beginner's course and I am simply overwhelmed as to how to get all of this across to students of at least three different skill level cohorts at a level that meets all of their needs and which offers the possibility of regular revision. This also takes away from my own training time (but this is another topic).

I have trained karate for 4 four years and experienced several gradings (kyu) to gain a certain belt colour. I didn't really enjoy the stress that the testing engendered, but I trained hard for the gradings, with a specific set of techniques to show that my general skills were up to par, and passed them all. The feelings of achievement afterwards were worth it all. Before finding Fiore, I tried beginner's courses in Turku in Yushinikai karatejutsu, Choy Li Fut kung fu and Hokutoryu Jujutsu. I passed two gradings in the first style but dropped out in the middle because we had to pay to do the grading (100 FIM), which I disagreed with in principle, and through injury in the latter. I have got the impression that in SES we train and we are "observed" so that ultimately Guy decides if we have earned the free scholar rank and so we progress, more recently we have the coloured logos, all of which I think are good ideas and which I support.

However, if syllabus levels 1 and 2, etc. were broken up into smaller chunks, with a tighter list of techniques to be learned, followed by a grading, which needed to be satisfactorily "passed" before progressing, I am beginning to feel that the swordsmanship material would be easier to learn, teach (lead class), and give a better sense of progress/achievement than we currently have. I'm not saying that we would have to have a belt system, after all a belt just holds up your trousers.

Perhaps we could introduce some sort of training logbook for each member? Other martial styles have these and I have something similar for my scuba diving training, which covers all of the lectures(theory) I've attended, the underwaterwater syllabus in the pool and open sea(numbers of dives to specific depths), and any extra courses I've taken (Rescue Diver, Underwater archaeology, Chamber dive, cold-water dives, drift diving, boat handling etc), as well as the tests I've passed, and my current rank.

Ok, this is perhaps an odd comparison, but I think a parallel system could be applied. I've written in another thread on the SES forum about student training data and how to analyse this. Simply making a list and asking students to rank their skill levels on a scale of 1 to 5 is one way of doing it, but this only gives a vague impression of an individual's or group's "skill profile". A logbook system would be much more accurate and could easily be followed in a central database. Low level gradings could be done within a group (within Level 1), with anything higher requiring examination by Guy/Ilkka, or all gradings could be carried out on Syllabus days in Helsinki or when Guy/Ilkka/Topi visits a branch/group. So, if student X is travelling to Helsinki for a syllabus day, they might be grading or using the opportunity to find out more in depth information about the set of techniques required for his/her next grading. Syllabus days set definite goals as well as reinforcing skill levels if there is a particular "theme" for that particular day, i.e. measure.

On rereading my post, I realise that one could also look at the situation like this: Is it that the syllabus is too extensive and needs modification OR is it that as class leader, I am overwhelmed by trying to teach it?

It will be interesting to see the results of the poll I posted on this topic. That is, if SES members take the time to read my post and actively give feedback. IMO, there are too many lurkers and not enough posters.

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