BFHS IL2 Assessment May 2019
It was a day long in coming, but on May 25th 2019 the first BFHS IL2 assessment took place. The event was hosted by SSS (Durham), who provided lunch and snacks in the usual manner. Those who have attended a SSS (Durham) event know what that means…!
The IL2 programme has a threefold purpose:
Accreditation: The IL2 and higher qualifications are aimed at experienced instructors who have had time to develop their skills as both fencers and teachers of fencing. Whilst it is possible to carefully concoct a lesson designed to meet the criteria of IL1, a candidate for IL2 must personify those criteria. In short, an IL2 candidate should be capable of passing an IL1 assessment without preparation. They must also demonstrate a deep knowledge of their chosen system, good biomechanics and technique, and sound coaching skills. The BFHS does not award IL2 and higher qualifications on a ‘time served’ basis. It is the experience gained and put into use that matters, not the elapsed time since the last assessment. Needless to say, given the individuals involved in this assessment, the standard in all areas was extremely high which established a benchmark for future candidates.
Assurance: The IL2 course includes a significant taught component, and a 23,000-word coaching manual unique to the BFHS. Candidates are expected to be familiar with the course material ahead of time, working through the taught material with the assessor/trainer during the first part of the course. This process ensures that all BFHS IL2 instructors are familiar with their duties and obligations, documentation requirements, policies on disability and inclusivity, and so forth. In addition, the course material contains a significant amount of instructional theory regarding the teaching process and the choice of class activities.
Sharing of Experience: The IL2 is not merely a ‘taught’ module. Candidates are required to demonstrate their understanding of the concepts contained within it and their own interpretation of the teaching methods described. This is more than an assessment process; it allows experience and ideas to be shared among advanced coaches within the BFHS.
Overall, the intention of the IL2 programme is to create a guarantee that an instructor has a full toolkit of teaching and drilling methods, an understanding of coaching theory, and a knowledge of the legal and more general requirements to be an instructor of historical martial arts. In addition, it is an opportunity to raise the overall coaching standard of the BFHS by sharing experience.
The IL2 Programme
The IL2 programme was created by Chief Assessor Martin J Dougherty, building upon 30 years’ experience as a fencing coach, martial arts instructor and educator. It is based on a programme developed around 2009-10 for a different martial arts body, which was partially implemented before political changes in the organisation derailed the project. Significant revisions were made to tailor the material to historical martial arts whilst retaining the common core found in all forms of instruction. A trial in 2016 showed the programme to be satisfactory and after various delays it was implemented on May 25th 2019. The BFHS IL2 is therefore both new and mature. It is open to experienced BFHS instructors, who must:
- Hold IL1.
- Have gained a significant amount of instructional experience.
- Have developed a thorough understanding of at least one historical martial arts system.
- Train and teach regularly.
- Meet the BFHS standards for conduct, professionalism and integrity.
- Have a sponsor (IL2 holder or Regional Assessor) who is willing to vouch for their capabilities.
‘A significant amount of instructional experience’ is difficult to quantify, and it is not desirable to place a specific value upon it. An IL1 holder who has taught 2-4 hours a week for a year is a more suitable candidate than one who has trained on and off for 5 years after taking IL1, or someone who has qualified at IL1 but gained no teaching experience since. The only relevant test is whether a candidate has gained enough experience – and reflected upon it usefully – to be able to teach at a high level.
Six candidates presented themselves on May 25th. Chris Barker, Mark Thomson and Nate Zettle represented SSS (Durham) with John Hodgson from Tudor Rose School of Defence, Mark Hillyard from Academie Glorianna and Kim Young from Aberdeen Swordsmanship Group. The years of experience accrued by this group of candidates are somewhat frightening to consider.
Including the course assessor/trainer, the instructors present represented a cross-section of the activities of the BFHS. Experts in longsword, sidesword, rapier, military sabre, backsword, smallsword and cutlass all demonstrated the application of the course principles to their chosen weapon or system. This resulted in some very different takes on the same principle – a variable response drill, for example, can be performed static or in a formal one-step manner, or whilst circling in a fluid manner in the style of Silver’s backsword.
The same comments apply to all other forms of drill and their applications, and it was here that the value of the course truly became apparent. Different instructors, thinking in patterns guided by their own ‘home’ weapon and system, demonstrated different ways of using the same concept. Some of these were enthusiastically seized by other candidates and particularly the assessor. By only accepting the most experienced candidates for IL2, the BFHS has ensured that the programme increases in value each time it is run – candidates give as well as take.
The day overall ran smoothly, with plenty of biscuits and coffee. The expected timings were met, allowing time for a discussion where needed and a sharing of experiences during the taught segment. After a break for lunch the practical component began, which also ran to time. That is not to say any of this was easy for the candidates. There are a few little surprises concealed within the practical segment, forcing instructors to think on their feet and come up with a drill or means of teaching a concept based on their coaching experience and knowledge of their home system. A good instructor should be able to do this and, as it turns out, all the May 25th candidates can. There was at least one little surprise for the assessor, too….
A few moments stood out throughout the day. The bemusement of a chap who’d come to cut the grass upon walking into a room full of people with swords was one. The assessor being told ‘we do something similar but your way is better’ was a personal highlight, as might be imagined. John Hodgson of Tudor Rose School of Defence reaching the end of the day alive might, on another occasion, not have elicited comment but given present circumstances his diligence on even being at the event at all is worthy of comment.
It was a delight to see such skilful fencers and instructors in action. The lethal fluidity of motion and the precise economy of effort, combined with eloquence and depth of knowledge, demonstrated that the BFHS has some of the best historical fencing instructors within its ranks… yet these people are not above shouting ‘eat my rapier!’ when it seems appropriate. There may have been giggles at that.
And finally, we must comment on the sheer chutzpah of asking the assessor to be a demonstration partner. It was the right choice, given the skill sets available, but all the same the sheer cheek of it was… in truth it was entirely in character for our organisation and our coaching programme. Nobody is so good they do not make mistakes, and those of us who presume to tell others how to do it must be prepared to demonstrate our own skills.
But no. It’s not a precedent.
May 25th was a landmark in the history of the BFHS. The coaching programme is at the heart of our activities, and it is something no other historical martial arts organisation in this country comes close to. The success of this first assessment day has opened the door for further IL2 assessments, which in turn permits IL3 to be implemented. At the present time, the IL3 manual is complete and the course format is set. All we need is to accredit enough IL2 instructors to make an IL3 assessment viable. That process is in hand; we are currently discussing a location and date for the next IL2 course.