Alright.  Rather than gripe and moan about the problems (perceived or otherwise) the school (being myself, in the main…) are having, I figured I’d take my own advice when faced with students who are unhappy about something and come up with solutions rather than complaints.  Let’s be positive!
So, yes – growing pains.  How to deal with it?  Well, there is no easy solution to this, except that I will have to adapt to the differing needs of 4-5 students versus 20.  It is after all a happy problem.  Certainly, many of the solutions presented below will help here as well.
  1. More and better drilling.  I need to change the method of drilling, and be less lax about how it is done.  Some people tend to go outside the drill, and while I don’t mind so much with senior students, the newer ones need to stick to it.  Furthermore, there will be more structure to them – counting out repetitions, etc.  Less free-form drilling, if you were.  In fact, even paired drills will at first be done solo, or at least out of distance so the partner can respond and get the form right.
  2. Bridging the gap better.  Gear drills to segue and flow into limited freeplay and “choice” techniques, where the student is presented with different options.  More flow drills.  In fact, while on the subject of drills, I will on occasion take an entire class to do one drill – a pedagogical tool taken from friend and respected instructor Maestro Sean Hayes of the Northwest Academy of Arms.
  3. Slow speed free-play, and more limited freeplay where students are restricted to a certain subset of techniques.  Role playing is good too, where they get to sound out each technique – “if you do this, I do this, and then you do this, and then…”  Then we can see if it fits the system or is a known technique from the system.
  4. More discipline.  In general.  It seems like they need it, and with the influx of students, things quickly get out of hand.  No  more screwing around, and I will not tolerate people talking while I am explaining techniques or simply doing their own D&D; conversations in the back while the rest of the class is moving on.  You want to talk D&D;, fine.  Do it after class.
  5. Speaking of discipline – I have been generous in lending out things so people can play and whatnot.  The school has formal equipment requirements for doing drills and for doing freeplay.  I will enforce these.  No equipment.  No play.  Period.  For those of you wondering what those are – here it is.  Quite simple, in fact:
    1. For drilling, after the first semester (12 weeks): steel waster (Tinker blunts are the school’s “official” training weapon – we can provide blunt tips for them, which are required) and fencing masks.  School uniform.  Gloves are a definite good idea. Cost, all told: about $350
    2. For freeplay and advanced contact drilling at speed: back of head protection of some kind (Negrini has some in rubber for $25$ or so).  Hand protection in the form of gauntlets or a minimum of lacrosse gloves with joint overlap.  A gambeson or other padded garment.  Rigid elbow protection is not required, but is a good idea. If it`s not historical, hide it under your gambeson.  This requires more investment, obviously, but is necessary for freeplay.  We will no longer lend out things for freeplay.  Get your own!  While this may at first seem harsh, it imparts responsibility to the student for his own protection.  Those motivated enough to get with it will buy the necessary equipment and progress.
    3. I will put together starter kits and freeplay kits with the required basic level of equipment.  Feel free to get your own, if need be.
So – simply enforcing our own rules and making people responsible for themselves should go a long way to easing my frustration.  I will, of course, need some help in this regard.  I will call upon the senior students to help me with this, if nothing else by setting the example.  Yes, we have changed alot over the past year or so.  This requires some adjustment – I think for the better.  But as the captain on this boat, I need to steer it safely to shore.
Is there a timeline for all this? Well, yes and no.  I will implement the disciplinary part immediately, of course, since safety and school decorum rely on it.  As for the rest, well, creating good drills is time-consuming, as is sourcing equipment and suppliers.  This is a goal I’ll set for September, when classes begin anew after our summer break.  In this, I include revised objectives for the Companion test, since the last ones were transitional in nature between our old “regime” if you will and the new.  The test will be slightly more demanding, and be largely drill-based, where students will need to learn a series of drills – both solo and paired along with some light freeplay.  I need to develop those drills as well, and frankly, I don’t expect any student to gain Companion rank in under 2 years of training when this is done.  There will always be adjustments, of course, and this is one of them.  Our last set of criteria was good, but I’m going to make them slightly more stringent and “standardised”.  At least, that’s the hope.