Monday, May 9, 2011

The Structure of the Individual Lesson, part 3: Elements of the Lesson

In this installment of The Structure of the Individual Lesson, I want to provide you with some definitions as a starting place for discussing the specific profiles of each type of lesson, which will come in Part IV.

Elements of the Lesson

The lesson is made up of a number of elements used in infinitely variable ways.


Each lesson will have a particular THEME or focus, comprising a series of exercises with a common purpose or objective. For example, a lesson might focus on the beat, on the counter-time, on the coupe, on distance, point control, etc.

Each lesson will also comprise three specific phases: the warm-up, the body of the lesson and the cool-down.

The warm-up phase includes simple actions that the student knows well to stimulate the fingers, hand, eye and legs, preparing the student mentally and physically for more demanding effort.

The body of the lesson includes the focus of the lesson, interspersing periods of work and rest, alternating attack and defense, with peaks and valleys, gradually building in intensity.

The cool-down is a brief anti-climax comprising a very simple action that the student can do well, the purpose being to relax the student and leave him in a positive frame of mind, ie., with an enhanced self-concept and a feeling of competence, confidence, control and committment that leaves him looking forward enthusiastically to the next lesson.

Variable Components of the Lesson


The specific signal used by the master to elicit a specific response from the student is a CUE. Every cue should have ONE SPECIFIC PREFERRED RESPONSE and simulate the context of combat as closely as possible. This recognition/respose is the very foundation of the lesson.


An execution of a given action, ie., a cue and a response done one time.


A given number of reps completed without a rest interval between them.


A brief recovery period which may be inactive (the student relaxes, stretches, takes a couple of deep breaths) or active (the student does a low-intensity set of parry-riposte while recovering from a high-intensity set of balestra-lunges).


The total time of the lessons. On the average, a lesson should be of 20-30 minutes' duration. Remember that there is an inverse relationship between duration and intensity. You can work hard or you can work long, but you cannot work hard AND long. (If you wish, you may test this for yourself by determining your best speed in the 100 yard dash, and then running at that pace for 30 minutes. Good luck.)


The real time required or allowed for the student to perform one repetition of the action.


The rate at which successive reps and sets follow the previous one, relative to the intervening rest.


The level of difficulty created by the number of different cues that the student must recognize and the number and nature of movements involved in the execution of the response.


The relationship between the energy demand and the period of time in which it is expended. The same work done in less time indicates a higher intensity, likewise, more work done in the same period of time. Simply, how "hard" the student is working. Intensity is the sum total of complexity, speed, pace and duration.


Feedback refers to the nature an amount of reinforcement the master provides to the student. Although most people in general respond similarly to similar kinds of feedback, specific individuals may respond well or poorly to specific kinds of feedback. To know what specific words, phrases, images etc to use, you must know your student very well.

One form of feedback is tactile: the touch. When the student performs correctly, he is rewarded by making a touch. Poor performance must result in failure to make the touch, or in receiving a touch from the master.

Reinforcement must also be provided verbally, with either affirmation, correction  or both.  I believe in using 99.99% positive feedback- rarely, if ever, negative feedback, and then only for a bloody good reason. No one likes to be scolded and few respond to it well. I don't. Use humor, if you like, but never ridicule. You must support, encourage and nurture your student as you would an infant learing to walk. Demand a high level of precision, but demand it gently. You must remember the power you have as a teacher and never abuse it.

About the only time I use negative feedback is when I find a student suffering "brain-lock. Something sharp and sudden will frequently be successful in helping the student "re-set" and return to the flow of the lesson.
It's important to remember that 90% of communication is NON-VERBAL and includes such para-verbal elements as volume, pitch, tone and inflection as well as body language and expression. All these communication elements must be employed judiciously for effective feedback.

Further, you must determine that the student has understood the message you sent as you intended it.
Sometimes what a student thought he heard is not what you thought you said.

Likewise, use positive corrections. They get better results than negative ones. For example, it is better to say "Good; now, more opposition," than to say "No, you didn't give enough opposition," or "extend your arm," rather than "don't bend your arm."

Basically, don't say "don't" - correct with advice on what to DO, rather than what NOT to do.

Horsemen sometimes talk about "rewarding the try."  This is the practice of providing positive reinforcement for even the slightest change of behavior in the right direction.
It's very effective in "shaping" behavior and I strongly recommend it.

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