Share this post on:

Goals & Backwards Planning

One of the often forgotten (and maligned) parts of the martial arts community in general, and HEMA/historical martial arts in specific, is the art & science of teaching. You read that right – teaching, like fencing, is both an art and a science. My goal is to start laying out the science part of things which will give you as instructor the space to develop your art. Why do I get to talk about this?

I have a Masters degree in Teaching from Oregon State University, taught Elementary School (ages 6 – 11) for seven years, and have been teaching and running a Preschool (ages six months – 5) for the last 3 years. So yeah, without hubris I will say that I am qualified to teach y’all about curriculum planning. 


The key with any quality curriculum is having a clear and attainable goal for your students at the end of the period. These periods may be as long as you choose – a month, three months, a quarter, a year, etc. But always, ALWAYS, start from your end goal and work backwards. 

A good goal, whether personal or for your students, should be SMART1– Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic/Relevant, & Timely

Getty images

  • Specific – the goal is unambiguous. 
  • Measurable – there is a way to make sure you know when the goal is achieved. 
  • Achievable – the goal is something your students can actually do. 
  • Realistic/Relevant – the goal is related to what the student is learning. 
  • Timely – the goal is time-bound. 

Okay so what do those really mean? Saying “I want my students to be better at sparring” is a good starting point but is shite as a goal itself. While the goal is, arguably, Measurable, & Relevant it is in no way Specific. “Better at sparring” is too ambiguous. Similarly, “I want my students to know the source material better” is Achievable, but isn’t Measurable nor Specific. Lucky for you, dear reader, I have a wonderful little sentence stem for you:

At the end of {insert time period here} students will be able to2 {specific goal} as measured by {assessment method}.

Backwards Planning

So now we have our goal, how do we go about figuring out the best way to get our students there? After all, how often do you go on a trip without having a final destination in mind? In order to get from here you need to know where “there” is. This is where the SWBAT goal comes in. 

Looking at the first example above, let’s make it better. “I want my students to be better at sparring” is a nice sentiment but too broad to be a true SMART goal. Let’s use the sentence stem and make it better:

At the end of The Winter Invitational Tournament students will be able to improve their parry/ripostes under pressure as measured by winning a minimum of 3 points per bout for each bout.

Let’s check it against our SMART criteria:

  • Specific – the specificity here is on using parry/riposte mechanics.
  • Measurable – it’s easy to track points earned in a tournament setting. This is great because it provides concrete areas for growth depending on the results. 
  • Achievable – if you’re students are competing in tournaments a 60% success rating should be doable. 
  • Relevant – for a club that competes using tournaments as assessment tools makes sense. 
  • Timely – a specific tournament is selected. 

Let’s now take the second example above.  I’ll be turning “I want my students to understand the source material better” into my own goal for HDA.  Let’s use our SWBAT sentence stem:

At the end of 3 months, students will be able to demonstrate Mendoza’s strikes & defenses as measured by successfully completing both parts of Mendoza’s Lessons 1 and 2.

Let’s check it against our SMART criteria:

  • Specific – looking at the goal you know exactly what is expected of the students – Mendoza’s strikes & defenses. 
  • Measurable – the assessment is completing both halves, Master & Student, as laid out in Mendoza’s lessons. This encompasses both giving the strikes & defending the strikes. 
  • Achievable – this is something my students can do. Even students with no martial arts experience can achieve this goal. 
  • Relevant – HDA is in our Empty Hand unit of which Mendoza is ⅓ of the covered curriculum.
  • Timely – the goal is time-bound to 3 months, the length of our units at HDA. 

Now that we have a SMART end goal for the unit we need to figure out how we go about breaking down the unit into lessons that will help our students achieve the goal. But that is a topic for another post…


  1. You’re in the education realm now. We are almost as bad as the military when it comes to acronyms. Enjoy. 
  2. Lovingly shortened in my training and notes to SWBAT – students will be able to – see? Another acronym
Share this post on:

One Comment

  1. Pingback: Curriculum & Lesson Planning – Part 2 – High Desert Armizare

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *