Questions For SCA Combat Teachers

Duke Paul of Bellatrix

This article discusses some reasons people give for not taking the time to evaluate a technique before they start using it or incorporate it into their teaching.  It also asks questions as to the rationale for the reason given.

Every teacher should answer the following questions for each technique they instruct others to use.  For each main question below, find your response(s), then answer the associated questions.

(1)  Why do you teach this technique?

(a)  It works for me.

  • Is that just because of your own physical attributes?  Are you strong or fast enough that you can make the technique work, even if it is not biomechanically sound?
  • Does your student have the attributes and skill to make it work? Are they strong or fast enough?
  • Have you evaluated all the different factors that make a technique good or bad?  Will continued use cause injury?  Have you considered other techniques to see if there is there a better option?

(b)  It feels good.

  • How will your shoulder or elbow feel later?  Will the stress caused by using it result in pain when you cool down and the adrenaline goes away?
  • Will it feel good in a few years? Are you slowly giving yourself a stress-related injury?
  • Is it effective or does it just feel good?  Almost everything feels good when you do it fast.  A lot of techniques and tactics feel good in various ways, such as making you feel strong, fast, or courageous.  However, many of them are totally ineffective.  What is actually happening with this one?

(c)  It’s what the fight books say.

  • Have you interpreted them correctly?  Translation is difficult.  The context varies considerably from the time of writing to the time of reading.
  • Does it apply in our game?  Maybe so, maybe no.  Our martial art/sport has rules, some of which will reduce the effectiveness of the techniques described in other books.

(d)  That’s the way I was taught.

  • Were you taught correctly?
  • If yes, how do you know?  Training over generations is like a game of Telephone, where a phrase is whispered from one person to the next.  The end result can be very distorted.

(e)  "The fighter who won Crown uses it."  or  "We’ve always done it that way."  or  "I saw it used at practice."  or  "I saw it online."

  • The winner of Crown may be effective because of their athletic prowess rather than the techniques employed.  The “way we’ve always done it” can be wrong.  Just because you saw something used does not mean it is effective.
  • Have you considered all of the advantages and disadvantages of the technique?

Over the decades that I’ve been in the Society, I’ve watched the coming and going of fads regarding techniques, tactics, or equipment.  Some work; many don’t.  Popularity doesn't equal effectiveness.

Some people have physical and perceptual accomplishments and attributes that allow them to effectively transcend technique to a great extent.  Their technique is okay, but certainly not optimal.  Their success is based primarily on perception, timing, and speed, but not necessarily technique. 

It is not wise to model your fighting style after them, because it is very likely that you are not like them.

(2)  What are the advantages and disadvantages of using this technique or tactic?

  • Every technique has a price.  Have you checked to see what the disadvantages are so that you know what are you giving up to gain the advantages?
  • Have you checked for cohesion to ensure that the technique fits in with other things you do or should be doing?  While the possible gains of using the technique in question may be attractive, what does using it do to the rest of your fight?
  • Have you compared it with other techniques that are used to accomplish the same thing?  Maybe one fits your style better.

(3)  Will it only work on lesser-skilled opponents?

  • If so, why bother?  Spend your time learning better ones.
  • The techniques you can use when fighting a duke will work well when you’re fighting squires.  The reverse is not necessarily true.

(4)  If it works for you, will it work for another fighter who is not as strong, fast, agile, tall, or skilled as you are?

  • Does the technique work because of its effectiveness, or because of your size, speed, or athleticism?
  • Will a 5-foot tall, 110-pound fighter be able to use it?

(5)  Is the continued use of the technique eventually going to cause injury to the user because of any of the following?

  • Repetitive stress from incorrect technique
  • Swinging with your arm not connected to, or using, your core
  • Using your wrist to change the direction of the sword
  • Using your fingers, wrist, or arm to apply power instead of using your core muscles
  • Applying torque to a joint in a biomechanically unsound position, such as:  (i) Applying power at impact with the back edge of a blade and an extended arm;   (ii) Twisting the sword with your elbow or wrist when the elbow is above your shoulder, which unlocks the shoulder);   (iii) Stopping the hand by allowing it to reach the end of the extended arm.

(6)  Do you know an effective way to teach that technique?

  • Do you know several ways? Because not everybody will understand only one way.

There are three main styles of learning: auditory, visual, and kinesthetic.  You must tell an auditory learner how to do something; you have to show a visual learner; you may have to manually move a kinesthetic learner through the motions.

I had a student who actually got confused if I continued talking after giving him a description of the technique.  I had to correct him by physically moving him through sections of it.  You will hear a lot of people say that they “learn by doing.”  This is how you get better at something you’ve already learned. 

  • Can you teach techniques and styles that you personally don’t use? Some technique or style that differs from yours may be great for a student with a different skill set or physical capabilities.

If you’re tall, can you teach effective techniques to a short student? If you are slow on your feet, can you teach techniques to your fast, agile students that will allow them to take advantage of that speed and agility?

Students might also be interested in the answers when they are evaluating a prospective teacher.


This topic is more thoroughly discussed in my book:
“The Bellatrix System – Techniques and Tactics for SCA Armored Combat”.