Running long classes
In my last post, I talked about Running Short Classes. I talked about the challenges that can be involved in running a short class, and I gave advice on how to run a short class. Potentially equally challenging can be running a long class.
As mentioned briefly in my last post, time management is often an issue for beginning instructors, and I gave the most common noticeable example of this, which is newer instructors getting through all their material too quickly. This would normally lead to the instructor desperately trying to fill the rest of the class.
It is also worth mentioning that what exactly constitutes a long class will vary a lot from person to person. Someone who is new to instructing may think that an hour long class sounds like a very long time, while a more experienced instructor may consider a long class to be a several hour long seminar.
Pace yourself, and let things take time
The first, and simplest, piece of advice is simply to pace yourself. There’s no need to race to the end of the material, or to hurry the students through all the drills and techniques you want to cover. While you shouldn’t have students perform the same drill or technique for so long they get bored, you also need to make sure they get plenty of practice, and giving them lots of time before you introduce the next drill or technique will ensure that they have the time they need, and that you don’t run out of drills and techniques too quickly.
Practice the fundamentals
If you start your class by launching straight into the advanced techniques you want to cover, again you run the risk of running through those techniques too quickly. Instead, why not build up slowly to those advanced techniques? If you spend some time on practicing fundamental skills your students will benefit, as even advanced students could always do with more practice of the fundamentals. In Consolidate and Simplify, I argued that all classes, regardless of level of the students, should be pitched so that it would be possible for a beginner to join in. This type of mentality will help your advanced students to cement their basics, and transition more easily to more difficult to perform techniques, as well as helping to ensure that you manage the time of a long class better.
You don’t need to go through all the possible basics, but you could easily spend time working on cutting mechanics, or tightening their parries etc. If the source you are going to present a class on has particular bio-mechanical quirks, then why not spend some time at the start of the class helping your students to become comfortable with them? For example, classes on Meyer often teach his techniques with longsword or other weapons, but completely ignore the basis of the footwork and stances he demonstrates. With a longer class, there is plenty of time to dedicate training time to aspects such as these.
Explore the same technique from different angles
If I decide to teach a long class on a source with very few plays, it would be easy to not spend too much time on each individual play and move through them too quickly. Instead of just presenting a technique, drilling it for a few minutes and then moving on, you can spend time training the same technique from different perspectives, or isolating certain aspects of the technique. You could practice the same technique multiple times, but with different levels of resistance and intensity. Instead of just presenting the technique and moving on, you could dedicate a few drills geared around the student selecting the correct timing or distance to perform the technique at for example.
I don’t like to leave my students practicing the exact same thing for too long, but by changing the parameters of the drills, students can work on and benefit from the same techniques or skills for a much longer amount of time than if the parameters and variables of the drills weren’t changed.
Manage intensity and complexity
In my article on running short classes, I talked about maintaining a high level of intensity throughout the class. In a longer class, this is not possible; students will get very tired and be unable to drill effectively at the end of the class. In a longer class intensity must be carefully managed. If the entire class is low intensity though, the advanced students who need a certain level of intensity in their practice will not benefit. Intensity therefore needs to wax and wane throughout the class, with periods of high intensity, and periods of low intensity in which the students can recover to some degree. Students need to be challenged, but if the intensity is not carefully managed over a long class, they will simply become too tired to benefit towards the end.
The same applies to the perceived complexity and difficulty of the techniques. Even if the students are not being pushed too much physically, they can become mentally exhausted if they spend too long on complicated drills and techniques in which they have a lot of things to think about.
As a teacher, you may want to think about mixing in drills that the students will perceive as being easier from a psychological perspective. Without periods in which the student has less to think about and can mentally recharge, then again students will become too exhausted by the end of the class.
Having to fill a long time with drills and techniques can come across as a very daunting task. By taking your time, making sure to spend enough time practicing the fundamentals, and exploring techniques from different angles running a long class, and avoiding the problem of running out of material to teach, can become much easier. Finally, by managing the physical intensity you ask from the students and the complexity of drills you present to them, you can help the students to get the most they can out of a long class as well.