The British Federation for Historical Swordplay

Candidate Advice

Note that this is not a ‘guide to passing IL1’ and is not an official BFHS document. It is merely the observations of the Chief Assessor, whatever that may be worth to you.

The IL1 is a basic coaching certificate. It is sufficient to get insurance and teach, but it is intended that IL1 coaches will generally operate under the auspices of a more senior or more experienced instructor. IL2+ is under development but may be some time from implementation.

Although IL1 is a basic qualification, the bar is quite high. Anyone who is thinking in terms of ‘getting their IL1’ as a bit of a formality needs to rethink and prepare properly. People can and do fail, and appropriate preparation is the key to ensuring this does not happen to you.

The IL1 assessment is to ensure that all BFHS coaches are safe and competent, and also to protect the federation, the coach and their students in the event of an incident once the instructor begins teaching under the federation banner.

What a coach does in their own class, on their own responsibility, is of course their own business, but the BFHS has standards which must be met in order to pass the assessment. The opinions of candidates, their coaches or even the assessors themselves are not relevant to this – for IL1 assessment the requirements are laid down by BFHS policy and the assessors must use them whether or not they agree. This means that the assessors might well sympathise with your position but still fail you on safety grounds.

The overall most important concept here is: Show the assessors what they need to see. 

That is to say, be seen to do and say things that meet the criteria. Creating a contrived box-ticking exercise is not really in the spirit of the assessment, but it is wise to build your class around the criteria that will be assessed. Some advice on that, in no particular order, follows.

Historical Authenticity and Martial Context

The IL1 assessment is not about historical interpretation, i.e. the assessors cannot fail a candidate because they disagree with their interpretation of source material. However, an IL1 lesson must be put in historical and martial context. This translates to making at least some mention of the source material and its period, and of course teaching from a practical application (i.e. fighting with swords or other weapons) standpoint rather than as a technical exercise.

Waffling on at length about your favourite treatise is not a good idea, however. What is needed is a short statement on what is being taught and where it comes from, and an ongoing appreciation of the weapon that you are teaching as a weapon or fighting system. A lesson that is excellent from a technical standpoint but lacks context will drop points.


The only way to instantly fail IL1 is on safety grounds – an otherwise perfect lesson can still fail for this reason. There are two issues here – the first is predominantly one of class management. Firm control over the students, with clear stops and starts, will avoid many incidental safety issues. The instructor should not become so wrapped up in teaching that they forget about the large, fast-moving pieces of metal nearby.

As to safety equipment, the guideline is that safety equipment must be sufficient for what COULD HAPPEN in a given exercise, not merely what happens when everything goes according to plan. Erring on the side of safety is wise at all times, not just an assessment.

My own personal recommendation would be to use the same protective equipment as would be expected in freeplay. No bare skin should be showing, and mask, gloves and a fencing jacket or equivalent protection should be used for any drill using metal blades or nylon that could be ragged. Additional protection may be relevant, e.g. elbow protection for cutting swords. As noted elsewhere, what you think is adequate in your own club is your business; the criteria for IL1 are set by the BFHS. Your instructor assessment is not the time to make a point about what you think the safety standard should be!

Some of the criteria are easy to forget about, such as ensuring safety checks are made before the class or taking the student’s history into account. Be seen to do these things, even if it is a little contrived. Asking an individual lesson student if they are ready to start and if they have any medical or injury issues; asking students to check their blades before starting. These things take seconds but are easy to omit. The best way to avoid this is to make it a habit to do them (which is probably good practice anyway).

Class Management and General Teaching

Class Management is a key part of teaching, and it is assessed. Be mindful of your use of space, positioning of yourself and the students, and so forth. Remember so demonstrate from various angles but if you are going to speak for any length of time, do it from a suitable position rather than wherever you ended up after the last drill.

Speak clearly and loudly, and look at the students when you talk to them! If you lack confidence at this aspect of teaching, get some practice at teaching groups – it will be worse on the assessment. Likewise, control the class firmly and clearly; get students to stop and start as necessary, and do not be afraid to halt a drill and reset students whose positioning has become wayward.

You cannot know how much the students you get will know, so it is best to create a self-contained lesson rather than one that depends on previous knowledge. A good lesson has a short introduction and then involves the students as quickly as possible. A format of teach/drill/teach/drill is highly workable, with the content broken into segments with more explanation as the students grasp what they are doing. Avoid turning your lesson into a lecture or demonstration – the students should be active and involved as much as possible.

Timing is important, and not always entirely predictable. You MUST keep an eye on the clock and be ready to close up your lesson before covering everything if it is taking a long time to get through some of the content. Your assessment is on how you deliver your material, not how much material you deliver.

General Notes

The assessors are required to assess based on what they see on the day, not what they know you are capable of. So, although some details may seem trivial, you would be well advised to BE SEEN TO DO what you are supposed to do rather than hoping the assessors realise that you did it. They are not looking for amateur theatre, but the assessment is very much a presentation on your part; you are presenting yourself as someone who can teach fencing in a safe and hopefully somewhat interesting manner.

In short, don’t just plan the content of your lesson. Plan how you are going to deliver it, with attention to matters like safety, necessary equipment, class management and timing. One of the commonest problems encountered in all forms of teaching is working within the time available.

In particular:

  • Study the criteria and be sure you know what is expected of you.
  • Be seen to carry out safety checks and so forth
  • Use sufficient safety equipment – err on the side of caution
  • Speak clearly
  • Control your class firmly. Show and tell them what you want them to do and how to do it
  • Engage with your class and look for feedback as to whether they are ‘getting it’ or not
  • Get the class active with drills or practice as much as possible
  • Remember to include historical context and martial applications
  • Teach from the basics – stance, guard, footwork etc. should be an integral part of what you demonstrate
  • Do not try to do anything too complex

The Assessment Format

Risk Assessment – this is normally done as a group activity. Each candidate will be asked to spot a potential hazard and suggest a fix or mitigation. There is no time for lectures on H&S law, thankfully, so this is a matter of (for example) pointing to the giant pool of flammable oil in front of the door and noting it as both a slip and fiery death hazard. Fix? Maybe clean it up, mark it at least… you get the idea.

Warm Up – each candidate must show the assessors that they understand how to do a warm up of an appropriate nature. Each will have a short time to demonstrate a warm-up exercise for the body part or general area that they have been assigned. As a set of examples:


  1. General whole-body start (gentle)
  2. Increasing tempo (more vigorous)
  3. Neck and Shoulders
  4. Chest/upper back
  5. Torso and lower body
  6. Arms and shoulders
  7. Wrists and forearms
  8. Hips and Legs
  9. Ankles
  10. Ready-to-go whole body final movements.

Remember that the assessors are looking for a short demonstration and participation rather than a lengthy process. Also, the assessors want to see warm-up exercises not fitness work – planks, pushups and the like serve a different purpose to the warm–up exercises normally done before fencing. Note that you are not trying to cover everything – it is better do present one exercise, well done, than a crowded mess that attempts to be comprehensive.

Class Lesson – you will teach your 20-minute class lesson in front of the assessors. This is a nerve-wracking experience and you can expect a few errors due to nerves. If you make a mistake because of nerves, the best option is to admit it and carry on. The assessors will be marking positively, which means that they are looking for reasons to pass you. Be seen to carry out your safety checks, explain clearly, control your class firmly and don’t get so wrapped up in your content or delivery that you forget about your surroundings. Safety is of paramount importance.

Note also that IL1 is about delivery, not content. The assessors are not unduly concerned with whether your interpretation matches theirs; they care about whether you can teach a fencing lesson in a safe and effective manner.

Individual Lesson – you will teach a 10-minute individual lesson. Be mindful of space, timings and other considerations as above.

Notification – the assessors will meet after the event and discuss the candidates’ performance. No notifications can be given on the day of the assessment. You will be notified by email as soon as possible of whether you have passed, passed with advisory, or not passed.

Remember that IL1 is an ‘initial’ coaching qualification, but the bar is pretty high. It has to be; we owe it to instructors not to let them start teaching in their own right until they are ready, and we owe it to their students to ensure that a Fed. IL1 coach is of a high standard. We also owe it to all previous candidates to ensure that the standard remains high. You can fail, but the most likely reasons are lack of preparation and/or complacency. The way to avoid this (to state it again) is to prepare by noting the criteria, building a lesson that meets them and also delivers a decent fencing lesson, and get some practice.

The latter is particularly important if you normally work in a study-group environment or otherwise do not teach in a formal class environment. The skills of managing a class, even a small one, require some practice to learn. They are fundamental to achieving recognition as a BFHS instructor, even if your own group does not require teaching in this manner.

Overall, preparation is your key to success. Not merely formulating the lesson but also practicing delivering it. If you have a decent set of basic coaching skills and you know your material, then the IL1 assessment is not too difficult (though it will still be horribly stressful) providing you understand what is expected of you.

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