After the Exam

I wrote recently about our first examination for Longsword Free Scholar at Academie Duello in Vancouver. This was a big milestone for the school and I was really proud of examinee Ben Davis for the work he put in to get there as well as in the community for supporting him both in the process of preparing and in the process of testing him.

We don’t have a new longsword Free Scholar. But that doesn’t make me any less proud of Ben for his results, nor make me feel that the process isn’t working.

This post originally appeared on the Path of the Sword blog. Go there for more great content on Historical European Martial Arts, training, and the journey of mastery.

The Nature of Exams

We don’t charge for our exams. Though I’m not unsupportive of schools and traditions that do in order to cover the expenses of bringing in outside examiners. I think it’s important that anyone going for an exam understands that a rank is not a product they can purchase.

It is not uncommon in our school for students to take a couple runs at a particular exam. We don’t hold our students back from engaging in an exam, provided they’ve met the core requirements, even if that rank might yet be out of reach. It is through the process of reaching that we grow.

There are many different models of examining. In some schools a student only comes to an exam when they have achieved the level. The exam itself is more of a public demonstration and pronouncement of that achievement—the punctuation at the end of the sentence.

In our school the exam is a destination, a passage forward, a feedback mechanism, and a place to experience the reward and challenges of doing something hard. There is a knowledge going into it that passing is not a given. That the exam itself really means something. There is also a knowledge that the exam is a safe place to fail and learn.

Failing Forward

There’s no real way to know what an exam is going to be like until you’ve taken it. It’s difficult to fully prepare for something without knowing its shape. Putting yourself up for a trial can be an important part of the preparation. You don’t run your first marathon thinking you’re going to win it, or even complete it. Yet after the marathon, no matter how far you got, your training will be improved and your goals more clear.

At the end of every one of our exams we give thorough feedback to our examinees, regardless of result. We also take stock as instructors to learn how we can better be serving the community of the school in how we teach and support our students.

For very complex exams as involved as the Free Scholar (and higher levels) we grade in sections and allow a student to retest just the parts where more attention is needed. This allows them to more meaningfully take stock in what has been achieved and focus their future attention appropriately. It’s also a way for us to structurally acknowledge that no matter how far you get in a marathon you certainly got farther than you would had you not run at all.

Ben passed his Grappling, Sidesword, Grappling at the Sword, and Largo and Stretto demonstrations. He did a superb job.

I’m excited about supporting him as he prepares to take this exam again this time armed with the knowledge and wisdom of this first trial.

Devon Boorman is the Co-Founder and Director of Academie Duello Centre for Swordplay, which has been active in Vancouver, Canada since 2004. Devon’s expertise centres on the Italian swordplay tradition including the arts of the Renaissance Italian rapier, sidesword, and longsword, as well as knife and unarmed techniques.
Read more from Devon Boorman.