Episode 183: Want to write a training manual? How to write training manuals for historical martial artists, with Guy Windsor

Episode 183: Want to write a training manual? How to write training manuals for historical martial artists, with Guy Windsor


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This episode is an unusual one because there’s no interview. Instead, it’s an extended sample from my new audiobook, From Your Head to Their Hands: How to write, publish, and market training manuals for Historical Martial Artists. The book is designed to be short, clear and to the point, with zero fluff! Listen to this episode to get a good idea of what’s in the book.

The chapters from the audiobook that this episode includes are:

  • Introduction: what is a training manual?
  • Clarity
  • Things that get in the way: procrastination, imposter syndrome, fear, and other things
  • The publishing process
  • Publishing platforms
  • What is marketing?
  • Content marketing

To buy the book, head to swordschool.shop, or your can find it on your usual audiobook retailer.

Episode Transcript

This episode is unusual. It’s not an interview at all. It’s a generous sample of my new book, From Your Head to Their Hands: How to write, publish, and market training manuals for Historical Martial Artists. The book is designed to be short, clear and to the point, with zero fluff.

Here’s the blurb:

From Your Head to Their Hands: How to write, publish, and market training manuals for Historical Martial Artists

“Our favourite writer of instructional manuals”- Neal Stephenson, from his foreword to Swordfighting, for writers, game designers, and martial artists.

Guy Windsor’s historical martial arts training manuals are legendary. His first was published in 2004, and he’s been producing them ever since. They generate about half his income. So he is expert in writing, publishing, and marketing books for historical martial artists, and in this book he’ll teach you how to do it.

The goal of training manuals is to teach skills. This one will teach you:

  • How to write well
  • How to plan your book, or write without a plan
  • How to get reader feedback as you go
  • How to avoid procrastination and imposter syndrome
  • What tools to use
  • How to write without destroying your body
  • How to incorporate photos and videos
  • How to edit your work
  • What should be outsourced
  • How to publish: commercial, indy, or something else?
  • What metadata you need, and how to create it
  • How to choose your publishing platform
  • How to market your book
  • How to find your readers
  • How to launch
  • Everything you need to know about copyright and piracy
  • The best book marketing strategy of all time.

Also included: Guy’s article Show Your Work: how to communicate your historical martial arts research with the historical martial arts community.

If you’ve ever wanted to write a training manual for historical martial arts (or anything else), this book will show you how to do it. Buy it, read it, and get writing!



So you want to write a training manual? There are three parts to getting your book from the inside of your head into readers’ hands:

  1. writing
  2. publishing

These three activities overlap considerably; writing your book can involve making chunks of it public as you go, for marketing purposes. But it is useful to separate them, as the skills required are different.

Writing is about thinking clearly, arranging your thoughts in order, and putting them into a format that others can experience.

Publishing is making those thoughts generally available.

Marketing is letting the people who can benefit from your work know about it.

It will take a lot of work to get your book written, published, and marketed. My first book took me four years to write, but it changed my life. These days I’m a lot faster. But expect this process to take months, maybe a few years, depending on how much of your time you can give it. This book isn’t about me, but you may want to know who I am before you trust me with more of your time. If that’s the case, read About the Author on page 129.

There are basically three kinds of instructional non-fiction book. There is some overlap between the types, but their goals and therefore their structures are quite different.

An overview provides a picture of the topic. A training manual provides organised instruction and a reference resource. A workbook provides a course of instruction for the student to follow.

In this book I will keep my promise and teach you how to write training manuals, and add some extra content about creating workbooks. We are not going to look at writing overviews (though feel free to apply the general principles you’ll find in this book, if that’s what you want to write).

I have also included an extensive chapter on presenting more academic work (the ‘what’ and ‘why’ rather than the ‘how’), in Show Your Work, towards the back of this book.

I assume you already know your subject reasonably well. This book may help you organise your thoughts and present your approach more clearly.

So what exactly is a training manual? It’s a book or other medium that enables the user to develop practical skill.

You must clearly understand the difference between skill and knowledge before we proceed. Knowing how something is done is not the same as being able to do it. How many times have you watched someone get hit in fencing and thought “I know exactly what they should have done”? And how many times have you actually got hit, despite knowing exactly what you should have done?

Books are optimised to store knowledge, not to convey skill. This makes writing good training manuals harder than writing good general non-fiction. We are working in a less than ideal medium. The secret to writing good training manuals is to tell the reader what to do to get to the next level of skill.

The first thing to understand about training manuals is that they must be very precisely targeted.

The Principles of Navigation may be an awesome book, but it can’t be a training manual. Navigation on foot is totally different from navigating at sea or in an aircraft. Navigating using a map and compass is totally different from navigating by the stars.

‘How to navigate across country on foot with map and compass’

‘How to find your way around New York using public transport’

‘How to navigate under visual flight rules’

These could all be training manuals.

What clear and well-defined set of skills is your training manual going to enable your readers to attain?

Before we jump in, a word of advice about taking advice. Nothing I say is gospel. You can probably do very well by just doing what I say, but if a piece of advice goes against your sense of what you want your book to be, ignore me. It’s your book; it will be your name on the cover.

When I teach a student their first basic strikes, I don’t load them down with all the things they eventually need to get right: foot position; hip alignment; grounding; shoulder relaxation; grip on the weapon; edge alignment; etc. etc. Instead, I get them moving with a simple action they can already do and modify that action bit by bit towards perfection, making only one small correction at a time. This book works the same way. It is not a comprehensive list of all the possible options, but a sensible starting point from which you can develop your writing, publishing, and marketing skills.

And as you gain experience, you may find yourself disagreeing with my approach, and finding other ways of getting the book you want out into the world. That’s as it should be: but you won’t get there by doing a thousand hours of research into all the options. You’ll get there by trying things out, and finding your own best path. This book is deliberately short: it will get you started, and get you moving in the right direction.

Learn by doing!



The curse of most inexperienced writers is that they preferentially utilise counterproductively Daedalian (dare I say Byzantine?) locution and phraseology, rendering obfuscation where pellucid clarity is desired.

Yes, they use long words when short ones will do. And long complicated sentences, when short simple ones are usually better. And passive voice (is desired) when active voice (you want) is better.

This comes from defensiveness. If you are worried that people will attack your work, you try to make each sentence individually impregnable. And you try to sound clever. It is much better to be absolutely clear about what you mean, so when people agree or disagree with you, they are actually responding to what you meant. The best book on writing non-fiction I know of is William Zinsser’s On Writing Well.

The elements of clarity are:

  • word choice
  • sentence structure
  • brevity

Let’s take these one at a time.

Word choice is simple: shorter, more common words are better. They are not always adequate. Sometimes the correct word is a new piece of terminology (mandritto fendente anyone?) which must be defined on first use (mandritto fendente is a forehand descending blow). If you are going to use more than about six such words, include a glossary in the back of the book. A glossary is a list of unusual words that have been used in your book, with their definitions.

At this point medieval scholars are leaping about and demanding I expand my definition of ‘glossary’, because it can mean an awful lot of other things. But, in the context of this book, my definition is sufficient for the reader it is intended for, i.e. a person who didn’t know what a glossary was.

Sentence structure is an art which exists on a spectrum with Hemingway at one end using Very. Short. Sentences. and Charles Dickens at the other end, using beautifully expansive sentences, with sub-clause after sub-clause, employing evolutions of English that beguile and bewitch the reader, and making them wonder when the next full stop (‘period’ for my American friends) is coming up?

For writing a training manual go with Hemingway. If you are already such a master of prose that you can write like Dickens while clearly transmitting practical instruction, then you don’t need this section of the book.

Brevity means using fewer words. Less is not more. But it is usually more clear.

Layout means arranging your words on the page to make it as easy as possible for your reader to grasp what you want them to do.

Compare the following options, A and B:



Parrying drill one: Stand on guard with your sword in measure, and when your partner lunges at your face (you should wear a mask), parry with the forte of the sword (the half of the blade nearest the handle), and thrust at their face (also in a mask). Go slowly and gently.

Parrying drill two: stand on guard with your sword one step out of measure, and when your partner steps forward into measure, you thrust at their face (you should wear a mask and so should they), and they parry with the forte of their sword and thrust at your face, nice and gently.



The half of your blade nearest the handle is the ‘forte’.

All drills must be done with both fencers wearing masks.

All actions should be slow and careful at this stage.

Parrying drill 1:

You and your partner stand on guard, in measure.

Partner thrusts at your face with a lunge.

Parry with your forte,

and thrust at your partner’s face.

Parrying drill 2:

You and your partner stand on guard, one step out of measure.

Partner steps into measure.

Thrust at their face with a lunge.

Partner parries with their forte and thrusts at your face.

Options A and B carry all the same information, but I’ll bet real money that for 99% of readers, 99% of the time, B is clearer. All the background information that stays true at every step is put first. What the ‘forte’ is, wear masks, go gently. And every step of the drills is laid out so that you can see who is doing what, in what order. I’ve bolded the names of the drill so your eye can skip to the bit you want. I did the same with the four elements of clarity (word choice, sentence structure, brevity, layout) above.

I find using a simple template helpful for layout. I’ll address that later.



Writing is the bit everyone worries about, but there’s no need. It’s actually a pretty small part of the overall book production process. Compared to how much work you must have put into your art to be ready to write a training manual about it, the writing isn’t such a big deal.



Procrastination is usually a problem of priorities. You decide that vacuuming the hallway is more important than writing your book. Or answering emails is more important than writing your book. You may be correct. I don’t know. But here’s a thought for you. You’re putting off writing either because you don’t know how to do it (that’s what this book is for), you don’t think you’re good enough (imposter syndrome), or you’re afraid.

You may have neurological issues which makes your brain procrastinate more than usual. In which case you need coping strategies, and possibly medical intervention of some kind. That’s beyond the scope of this book, but there are plenty of others out there that might help. A friend with ADHD recommended this: guywindsor.net/adhdhelp



Who the hell do you think you are to be writing a training manual?

You’re certainly not perfect. Nobody is. But imposter syndrome is an irrational fear, so we should knock it on the head.

If you are completely confident in your amazing expertise then you are as deluded as if you are completely confident of your amazing ineptitude. Virtue lies in between, where you can accurately assess your strengths and weaknesses, and work to strengthen your weaknesses and take advantage of your strengths, and thus get better at the thing you’re trying to do.

Despite external evidence of your competence, you have an irrational fear of being exposed as a fraud. Irrational fears are not easily dismissed by reason or evidence. If you are suffering from imposter syndrome then being suddenly presented with evidence of how competent you truly are isn’t necessarily going to help. What may help would be reframing those feelings, and reframing the situation, to enable you to accomplish the thing that you are trying to accomplish, despite the imposter syndrome.

Here’s a thought: write your training manual to establish for yourself whether you know your subject or not, and to get a deeper understanding of your subject. Share it with some advance readers so they can tell you whether it’s useful or not.

If they say it’s useful, publish it. Because who are you to keep helpful things to yourself?

The only question that matters is, are your readers better off with your book or without it? The only way to know the answer is to ask them.



What are you afraid of? If it’s exposure as a fraud, that’s imposter syndrome: see above. If it’s your book failing, not coming up to some standard you think it should be held to, try this:

Don’t publish it until at least ten people have told you they want to read it.

If it’s fear of success, what does that mean? You’re afraid of your book making a trillion dollars, and losing your privacy because everyone in the world now knows who you are? Well, don’t worry, it won’t, and they won’t. Even a wildly successful book, selling a million copies, still only gets seen by about 1% of people. And if it ever becomes a problem, you can sacrifice a few hundred thousand more book sales by just refusing to do any publicity. Or maybe you’re afraid that people will love your book, and so think you’re more expert than you are. That’s more likely. But even so, if you’re careful not to claim to be an expert, then it’s not up to you what they think. This is just another version of imposter syndrome.

Maybe you just need permission. Well, here you go. I hereby grant you permission to write your book.

You can download your free Artistic Licence from the resources page here: guywindsor.net/writingtmresources



Other things get in the way when you confuse urgent with important. You’re a writer now, so you should know what those two words mean, and they are not the same. With any task, any demand on your time, things are always one of these:

  1. urgent and important
  2. important but not urgent
  3. urgent but not important
  4. neither important nor urgent.

(This is the famous “Eisenhower Matrix”, which stems from a 1954 speech to the Second Assembly of the World Council of Churches. Former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was quoting Dr J. Roscoe Miller, president of Northwestern University, said: "I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.”)

That’s it. Anything urgent and important, do now. Put this book down and go! Then get on with anything important but not urgent.

Everything else can go to hell.

Feeding a hungry toddler? Urgent and important.

Writing your book? Important.

Publishing your book? Important

Shit on social media? Not important. Don’t bother.

Marketing emails from anyone except me? Not important either, however ‘urgent’ they try to appear.

If your life is currently full of things that are both genuinely important and truly urgent, then you may not have time to write a book right now. That’s ok. Try when things have calmed down.

It’s vital to have downtime. Sleep is both urgent and important, and recharging your creative batteries is important and can become urgent. Same goes for maintaining key relationships. But if the adults in your life can’t give you some slack to write a book in, do they have your best interests at heart?

Don’t let anyone, even your mum, tell you that their thing is urgent unless it really is. (For the record, my mum would never say anything is urgent, unless it really, really is.)

Or the government. Sure, it’s important to stay on their good side: they have money, courts, jails, and guns. But so long as you don’t ignore them completely, they can probably wait. File your taxes, on time by preference. Show up when required. But don’t give them a single brain-cycle more than you want to.



The publishing process goes like this:

  1. Get the cover made. You can do this at any time. I sometimes get mine early in the writing process to inspire me to finish the damn book.
  2. Send the polished draft to layout, or lay it out yourself and generate the print and ebook files you need.
  3. Assemble the metadata.
  4. Upload your print and ebook files to the various platforms.
  5. Tell the readers that it’s out.



What publisher accounts do you need? Well, that depends how complicated you want to get.

There are basically three ways to sell your books on the internet. I’ll put them in order of profitability.

Direct sales: this means you sell your book in your online shop to your readers and you get almost all the money and all the data (who bought what).

Platform sales: you sell your book in other people’s shops, such as actual bookshops, Amazon, Kobo, etc. You get quite a lot of the money, and none of the data.

Exclusive sales: you sell your book on one platform only (usually Amazon’s KDP Select program). This means your ebook is only available to buy on Amazon, but you can sell your print versions elsewhere. This agreement lasts three months, and auto-renews, but you can cancel after the three months. This opens up various marketing options (such as price promotions), but again you don’t get any data, and you tend to make less money per sale because of the price promotions.



Professionals with a long history of self-publishing tend to have a lot of separate accounts (on Apple Books, Google Play, Kobo, Amazon KDP, etc etc – this is called ‘going wide’), but there are services that will do most of that for you. As of January 2024, I recommend the following:

Amazon’s KDP, for kindle ebooks and paperback. I don’t use their hardback service.

Draft2Digital for wide ebook distribution. I don’t use their paperback service.

IngramSpark for wide print distribution. I use them for paperbacks and hardbacks only. I don’t use their ebook service.

Findaway Voices for audiobook distribution.



Direct sales are the most profitable way to sell your books, but they entail a lot of work to set up, and some extra costs. As a rule of thumb, only consider direct sales if you expect to sell at least 200 books in a year through your own shop, or have at least 2,000 people on your mailing list. As of January 2024, I use and recommend the following:

Shopify for the storefront, because it is currently the only sales platform that integrates with a print on demand service. If you want to be ebook only, then Gumroad. If you have a WordPress website you could integrate the WooCommerce plugin with Bookvault instead of using Shopify.

Bookvault for print on demand, which integrates with Shopify (and WooCommerce on WordPress).

Bookfunnel for managing the tech side of direct ebook and audiobook sales. You do not want to be explaining ‘side-loading’ yourself.

So what should you do? That depends on your goals and your current situation. If you have a reasonable email list (see the Marketing section if you don’t know what I’m talking about), and can expect decent sales, then I would focus on selling direct, and only release the book widely a few months after you’ve captured as many of the highest value sales as possible.

If you don’t have much of a readership yet, then I’d suggest the following:

  1. Wide print with IngramSpark.
  2. Amazon print with KDP.
  3. Three months of exclusive ebook sales on Amazon KDP Select, to take advantage of their massive readership.
  4. Build your email list at the same time.
  5. Then wide ebook distribution with Draft2Digital.

We’ll look at bringing readers from the large platforms into your ecosystem in the next chapter.

All of the platforms want your business, so they have excellent how-to guides for formatting your work and uploading it correctly. Once you have chosen your platforms, create the necessary accounts and start publishing!



Marketing is the process of letting the people who want your stuff know that they can have it.

Imagine your favourite band played a gig last weekend in your home town, but you didn’t know about it. You’d be gutted.

Now imagine the lead singer contacted you a couple of weeks beforehand, invited you to the gig, and just for good measure sent you a discount code for the tickets or a bit of the band merch.

You’d be thrilled, right?

When marketing is done correctly, your readers will thank you for letting them know.

This is the direct opposite of the kind of scammy shit that passes for marketing in the wider internet. You are not trying to sell people things they don’t need and can’t afford. You’ve written this training manual to help people. Anyone who actually needs your book will be glad to be told about it. So tell them.

Tools and tactics change incredibly fast in this area, so we’ll just go over the principles.

Many moons ago, my friend Hugh Hancock gave me some marketing advice. The key takeaway was this: “the money is in the list”. It literally changed my life.

Say it with me: “the money is in the list”.

This has always been true, and probably will always be true. Once upon a time that was physical mailing addresses, but for the last 25 years or so, it’s usually email addresses.



Your own URL, such as guywindsor.net

I have about 40 URLs registered, but you only need one. I’d suggest using your name, or the name of your HMA school (assuming you own the school), and the best suffix (.com, .net etc) that you can afford. Registration shouldn’t cost more than about £10/year. Don’t use the name of your book, because writing is addictive and you’ll probably end up with lots of books once you get started.

Most registration services come with an email account. You need your own-domain email address (such as help@swordschool.com, or guy@guywindsor.com) because email list service providers require a privately owned email address to send your emails from. They won’t accept free email addresses (gmail, hotmail, etc) because it makes it that little bit harder for the spammers out there.

An email list management service, such as Mailchimp, Mailerlite, or Convertkit. There are lots to choose from, and choose carefully. Changing over once you have a bunch of people on your list is a massive pain. You don’t need anything fancy, and most have a free tier. Once you have enough people on your list that you have to pay for it, well, with a list that big you should be making more than enough money to cover it.

Ideally, you’d also have your own website, on your own bit of the internet. Do not use free hosting (such as a social media site or a free blogging platform). They can change their rules at any time, and you can lose everything you built. If you are not paying for it, you are not the customer, you are the product. Be the customer. I pay for my URLs and web hosting, though I do use a free content management system (Wordpress, though I have pro-level themes, so I get actual customer support).

The website itself doesn’t need to be fancy. You can start with a single page, with an email list sign-up form.

The most critical thing is that you have a way to create redirectable links through a website you own, and a place on the internet where people can sign up for your list.

Websites and lists cost money, so if you have to choose between the website and the list management, go with the list. All of the providers worth using will host landing pages (a website page where people can sign up) as part of the service.



The goal of content marketing is to get people to know, like, and trust you, before you try to sell them your book. This is the most cost-effective way to make people believe your book is worth their time. If you have been blogging, posting videos, sharing your newsletter, or generally helping people with your work for free, when you have a book about the same subject they will know immediately whether they want it or not. If they know, like, and trust you, and are interested in the specific topic of your book, they’ll buy it.

This is why you should start sharing your work long before the book comes out. Don’t worry about people stealing your best ideas. Ideas are easy, common, and free. Execution is hard, rare, and expensive.

Some people do well with a weekly, or even a daily, content production schedule. Personally, I’m much more haphazard. If you have the kind of brain that does well with routine, then the experts suggest planning out six months’ or a year’s worth of content in advance. I have never been good at regularity, so my blog posts over the years have been extremely haphazard. But I published my podcast (The Sword Guy) weekly for three years, before moving to a fortnightly schedule. I don’t know why that format bypassed my usual allergy to regularity, but it did. Fortnightly is exactly half the work of weekly, but still feels regular to the listeners.

It is generally better to publish to schedule so your fans will know when to expect the next thing. I’d suggest weekly, fortnightly, or monthly, depending on your ability to create content regularly. The key is to produce at least a couple of months’ worth of content in advance, so even if you need to take a break, you can schedule your backlog and the fans will still get their fix. I had eight episodes of The Sword Guy recorded and edited before launching the show.

You should ideally post your content on websites you own or services you pay for then share it through your newsletter and to the various social media sites. This is because building your content archive on internet real estate that you do not own is extremely risky. One change of the terms of service, or one malicious comment, and your entire oeuvre may be wiped out.

I use HootSuite to schedule all my social media posts. This is good for two reasons. You can upload stuff in advance, making regular posting much easier, and it keeps you off the social media platforms themselves. Social media platforms are built by highly paid engineers to get and keep your attention. You are not smarter than they are; in a contest of their skill and your will, they will win. If you want to have time to write, stay off the socials. Interact with your people through your mailing list.

From a marketing perspective your goal with every piece of content is to get the people who like it onto your mailing list, so every piece of content should include an invitation for them to join.

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