Student first, instructor second.

Student first, instructor second.

This is a saying that I hold dear, many think that when you transition into teaching, it should be the other way around. As an instructor of martial arts in Ireland, I have always preached being the student first. I find many instructors are unwilling to allow themselves to continue learning from others when they start teaching. There are many reasons for this including ego and politics. It leads to many choosing to not participate in new experiences and therefore losing out on valuable learning opportunities.

I raise this point as I believe it to be vital to not only the growth of the teacher, but also to the growth of their school and students. When teaching a student a discipline, you are essentially teaching them to be as good as, if not better than yourself. In order for this development to continue it is important for instructors to continue to grow themselves in order to better teach their students.

The individual rather than the collective.

My approach to teaching has always been a personal one. Whether I am teaching a class with twenty, thirty or just one student, the priority is to build a connection with each student. We all move differently, think differently and respond differently to situations and experiences. One technique or way of moving will work for one student but not for another. Subtle changes in how the movement or technique is performed and taught can aid in the universal understanding of the technique.

Teaching the individual is in my opinion the ideal way of getting the best possible results in training, this in turn can be difficult for the teacher, as you are no longer teaching the same set curriculum or movement to ten but instead teaching variations tailored to suit multiple ways of moving. This approach can be argued as being the wrong approach as it is more time consuming for a teacher but also many believe that techniques should be performed identically from individual to individual.

Concepts and principles, not techniques.

 Many traditional martial artists would argue that the process of teaching everyone the exact same mimicking movement is the best method of teaching. The reason I find the traditional approach to be the less optimal approach is because it affects the students and the class as a whole, as each student is expected to move and act the exact same. In my opinion, many instructors and teachers get sucked into following what is written to exacting parameters rather than taking what I myself find to be the most important aspect, that of the underlining concept and principle behind the movement.

Now do not get me wrong following the movement as it is written or thought is not wrong, I find it more that people are too afraid to change or adapt the movement slightly in order to make it work. Reasons for this can range from traditions passed down to issues regarding HEMA’s authenticity.

Teaching adaptability and not being afraid to take what you learn and change it to better suit your needs is in my opinion the best approach. In regards to HEMA and re-constructing western martial arts, it is important to build a base line and curriculum that is faithful to the art and the master who (thankfully) wrote it all down. However it is also important to teach the art while not being afraid to change and adapt it when necessary.

We can see this approach in many old systems, for example Vincentio Saviolo was known for traveling and learning from many other masters. Some believe his system is made entirely from the teachings of several different masters who Saviolo learnt from. Taking what worked and constructing it into a system. This is an example of an individual who was not afraid to take and most likely adapt what he knew to formulate a very effective system.


I would just like to conclude by saying do not be afraid to learn and adapt what you know. Faithfully rebuilding the art is important but learning how to than adapt that art to work for the many individuals that will come for instruction is the key responsibility of an instructor. It is also the responsibility of the instructor to continue learning, for themselves and for the benefit of their students.

Till next time,

Thank you for reading.