Strategies for Auditory Learning

At the end of a workshop delivered by Guy Windsor recently, Guy asked all of his students "Did you have every opportunity to get what you wanted from today's session?" This was a subtle shift from a question I had heard him ask two year's prior "Did you get what you wanted from today's workshop?"

It is up to us as students to get everything we can from our instructors. Yes, our teachers can maximize their skills and improve their delivery but in the end, all they can do is provide their students with opportunities to get what they want.

For this week's post in our continuing series on empowered learning, I am going to suggest some strategies for maximizing our auditory learning abilities. If new knowledge is pleasing to your ears: read on!

Help Your Ears

Hearing loss is a common, yet under-acknowledged, phenomenon in our society. It can be present at birth or come from listening to loud music, noisy work environments, or just general living. If you have even a mild hearing loss it can make it difficult to hear in a space with lots of background noise or to hear instructors whose voices fall into a certain frequency.

Even without a hearing loss, some environments can be challenging for anyone's hearing. I know that Academie Duello can get very noisy, especially when it's filled with 50 students actively clanging swords together along with the voices of 3 instructors.

A present instructor will gather their students in, but even if they don't you can take charge of your listening environment:

  • Move closer (but be mindful of safety).
  • Make sure you're in front of the instructor.
  • Ask the instructor to speak louder.
  • Ask the instructor to repeat themselves (trust me someone else wants this too).
  • Take off any protective gear that is masking your ears.

Repeat Out Loud What You Hear and See

If you are auditorially inclined then speaking or hearing your own words can help you with memorization and retention. As you watch a demonstration, or immediately following it, say out loud the major points of what you are seeing or hearing. This could be expressing a set of steps or "headings" for the activity. For example, an instructor might ask you to perform a three-part exercise you might then summarize that aloud for yourself: "Attack from right shoulder. Counter defence. Enter... etc". Keep your summarizing brief and in your own words — unless you're trying to memorize the instructor's vocabulary you might find it easier to translate what they're doing into a language that is more familiar to you.

Repeat The Exercise to Your Partner

A good way to process new information is to tell someone else about it. After receiving an exercise from your instructor you could ask your partner if you could repeat it to them and have them concur with you. This can be useful for both you and your partner and will help you perform the exercise immediately and retain it for later.


Many teachers use mnemonics to help their students retain information, such as the common athletics first aid acronym for responding to twists and sprains: RICE (Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate). If your instructor doesn't give you a handy acronym, try making one up for yourself. This might be difficult to do in the moment but if you take notes you could endeavour to do this as part of your after class review. If you come up with good ones, please share them with all of us in the comments!


Many people join book clubs so that they can better process what they read by employing their auditory skills. Asking questions (even those you already have an answer for), responding to questions, and making observations can all be excellent methods for increasing retention and comprehension. Look for opportunities in class to engage in discussion (within reason). Also, consider making discussion part of your between class practice routine.

Swordplay is a skill that lives in both your body and your mind. To be a master not only requires performing the skill physically but being able to express it and pass it to others not just practically but through rich and informative language.

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.