Glasser Learning Pyramid Applied to Martial Arts Training

In this article, I reflect on the various learning methods present in William Glasser’s Pyramid and how they can be applied in the teaching and practice of martial arts, including the Esgrima Lusitana – Jogo do Pau. A subjective/ intuitive approach, of the various methods referenced, without focus or interest on the rigor of the percentage quantification indicared on each layer of the pyramid.

Piramide da Aprendizagem por William Glasser

The Learning Pyramid of William Glasser

Learning pyramids (this and others) are attempts to present in a schematic way the methods vs capacity of retention of a content in the human brain, generally assuming that when something is actively studied, whether it is promoting a debate, doing something in practice or teaching the content studied the information is retained more efficiently.

Not to hurt scientific susceptibilities, I begin by stating that the veracity of this model has been widely discussed and to a certain extent discredited by several authors, of which Daniel Willingham and Kåre Letrud stand out. Apparently the scientific foundations and data used to prove these numbers were “lost”.

Anyway, I think the order presented in this pyramid is more or less intuitive, it doesn’t cost me to accept that the levels presented are close to reality, despite the countless variants that in my view impede an exact quantification in the differences between layers. I remember information I learned through the report of excellent speakers and books that marked my growth and learning, and I also know that I have experienced martial arts that I can no longer repeat even if life depends on it.

There are, of course, other factors such as interest, emotion, identification with the theme, which are not included in this pyramid and which are essential and differentiating factors in memory retention, information or learning, and which would certainly shuffle the levels of this pyramid.

It is the first time I write an article in which the first few paragraphs are an explanation of the non-validity of the pretext of the same article, but let’s go forward, …

Ricardo Moura

Framing the 7 Levels of Learning in Martial Arts Teaching

Oral Presentation, Reading, Oral and Visual Presentation, Demonstration, Discussion, Practice and Teaching to third parties. I will try to explain these 7 theoretically distinct teaching methods and their possible application to the teaching of the Esgrima Lusitana – Jogo do pau and to martial arts in general. Of course I’m going to start very systematic, but in the end I’m going to mess things up. I hope that it causes you some reflection or anguish and that you translate this into comments so that we can develop the theme together.

Oral presentation

It is by principle little used in martial arts. Traditional Eastern and even Western teaching methods gave little focus to this aspect, concentrating teaching on more practical aspects. However, with regard to adult education, especially those who start practicing a martial art at an adult age, I tend to devote some time to explaining the foundations and historical bases of the JPP EL (Jogo do Pau Português – Esgrima Lusitana) as well as its bio-mechanics, strategy and combat tactics.

It is important for me that athletes, in addition to knowing how to perform technical and physical exercises, have an understanding of the medium- and long-term objectives or what is expected of the execution of a particular exercise, and how / why a particular technique has been developed.

Of course in the younger classes this will not be one of the most effective teaching strategies (by experience, the younger the class the less patience it presents for theoretical explanations). On the other hand, in adults, when the ability to mimic movements and techniques is less immediate, the understanding of reason is essential for achieving goals.

It is possible that I sometimes abuse this teaching method a bit – my students will tell – and I am constantly struggling to better control the quantity and quality of the information I transmit through this method. I advise caution with the development of speeches or reports within the training.

Livros e manuais de HEMA - Great Representation of the Art and use of Fencing,


In my learning of Oriental Martial Arts, I did not have contact with great texts or published authors. I admit that my availability and attention were small in this field, and traditional teaching also did not make much use of this method. With maturity, I noticed some additional interest in historical research, much favored by the beginning of JPP EL practice and the search for its historical and technical origins. Perhaps age and the cultural proximity has aroused more interest.

I know that in the European Historical Martial Arts the use of manuals is common practice on the part of its entusiasts. The gap in the historical continuity of these martial arts has led to its reappearance being based mainly on the study and interpretation of manuals.

Although I am not adept at learning martial arts through manuals, I can not fail to praise the dedication of those who go beyond technical and physical training and try to improve through the learning by the written word of their predecessors, especially in what concerns to learning the history and development of the martial art they practice.

Finding out who the Masters were before us, how they developed their practice and technique, where it was practiced, is in my view a personal journey of growth and solidification of knowledge that enriches the athlete and the martial art.

Apresentação de técnica de ataque e defesa para atletas de Esgrima Lusitana - Jogo do Pau

Oral and Visual Presentation

In the age of multimedia, of YouTube Channels, television and the Internet, in which each Master or enthusiast creates his own channel and spreads the knowledge he has (or hasn’t) to the seven winds. This method is increasingly being used in martial arts learning. It is available, it is visually pleasing and explores a series of senses simultaneously.

I fear it’s beeing mostly misused, hence I have written “learning,” not “teaching.” This medium, if not oriented or grounded, can include more garbage than solid learning bases.

However, even in a face-to-face training environment, this is also one of Martial Arts most outstanding means, or at least one of the most traditionally valued means. Of course, when we teach a technique, a procedure, or an exercise, the most direct way to introduce it to a class is by showing what you want, usually by running it with the senior student or assistant.

There is not much to add on this aspect. Anyone who has already taken a class in any martial art was sure to see a small demonstration of what the teacher intends for the students to repeat later. The time and number of repetitions that we can develop in this type of learning depend very much on the students. A younger audience will grasp what is intended much faster than a senior audience and as such will want to move quickly into practice.

There are also many technological resources at our disposal that we can and should use to improve our technique or training. A graphic, a scheme, an animation, a technical demonstration, can help explain the training, the technique, an objective, an error.

Especially when training with sticks and batons and we need to explain the route expected for the tip of the stick during a blow as well as the body or hands during a movement. The ability to make a drawing, to mark a line or a scheme, is a tool that should never be discarded.

A mirror and a marker can be a fantastic tool during a workout to show what can not be achieved by other means.

Treino de Combate com Protecções de Esgrima Lusitana Cascais

Demonstration and Practice

I may be a little mistaken about characterizing these points, but the way I understand “demonstrating” goes a little further than the basic “showing”. Coming from the exact sciences, I have always regarded the demonstration in the most scientific aspect of the word, or even in its mathematical sense:

“A finite sequence of arguments restricted to the rules of logic showing that a statement is necessarily true when certain axioms are assumed”.


I also can not separate “Demonstration” from “Practice”, but I’ll explain later why.

Although many “martial arts” are stylized and point the the opposite direction of the practical application of their techniques in combat scenarios or confrontation, in the case of JPP-EL our work is always focused on technical learning with a view to its practical application. As such, in addition to learning through the methods described above, much of our training is done through the demonstration and experimentation of our technique and our state of development.

There is no better way or learning of the JPP-EL technique than that based on the understanding of the technique through its application, and the systematic testing of this application. The teacher must be willing and able to demonstrate the effectiveness of a defense or attack when faced with a situation where he or she does not have full control of all factors.

It is common for me to answer some of my students questions with “ I have some doubt about that, but let’s test / experiment to see if it is possible, feasible, correct or not”. This “demonstration” and modesty should be current practice in JPP-EL training.

Of course, before demonstrating or experiencing what we train with a student, it is necessary to develop a serious teaching work with other methods and, through continued “Practice”, to promote the repetition of exercises that lead the student to test their learning in scenarios of growing unpredictability, and to learn from these tests the limits of their techniques and the ways in which they need to develop it.

So for me, and in the teaching of JPP-EL, the separation of these two teaching methods, “Demonstration” and “Practice”, is only theoretical, they are presented closely connected and usually simultaneously.

Group Discussion

As the Portuguese language is very complicated (and English is not simple), I will distinguish between 2 different “discussions”:
1- Discussion of different views and opinions;
2- Work discussion on specific aspects.

Being a bit radical in this respect, I can say that in my opinion there is no place for the 1st option in training during teaching a martial art.

OK, has no place in teaching a technique. Of course you can always discuss general aspects of martial art, interpretations and strategies, methods of competition, scores, influences … but in this article I refer to the teaching of martial arts not to coffee conversation.

Discussion on specific aspects of the technique is always to be praised. Understanding a subject or theme is clearly best assimilated if we get there by ourselves, or by rationalizing or debating the same. However, and in the effort to keep our martial art combat effective, I am adept of experimenting at the expense of group discussion, or as a complement for this method of learning, as far as Jogo do Pau – Esgrima Lusitana is concerned.

I am not a fundamentalist, or even very interested in testing everything in combat, but even for this, it is necessary to know first what you want to test, and in what parameters. To this end, the contribution of all (teachers and students) is healthy and should be encouraged

For me, a student today is a teacher in the future. I am interested in cultivating their critical thinking, creativity and intelligence, and as such, its important to share some decisions about how to test / train certain aspects of the technique. I know this is not an approach for everyone, especially for the more traditionalists who cultivate a rigid hierarchy headed by a Master, but that is my approach.

Aula de Esgrima Lusitana Jogo do Pau em Cascais

Teach Others

Yes, the title explains itself. If we are serious and respect our students, the search for how to explain the technique, how to train, how to teach effectively and how to transform a student into a JJP-EL athlete or another martial art, is a process that it forces us to know deeply what we are teaching so that we can use all the strategies and means at our disposal to pass this knowledge.

Each student is different , it is not possible to teach everyone the same way, explain the same way. It is essential to understand what you are teaching in such a way that it is possible to convey that knowledge in the way that is best understood by a particular student.

This passing of knowledge can not be based on a finite and stable knowledge bucket that you can spill on the student. It is a process that in itself generates more knowledge and a deeper knowledge of the matter that is taught.

This method is in my view the ultimate process of martial artist development, bare in mind that for me it’s not a limit or a goal, it is a process.

If you have come here and read all that is above, my congratulations on patience and my sincere thanks for all the attention. Comment, critique or share your experience on the subject.

Ricardo Moura

Best of luck for your teaching or learning process.

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