Screen combat/stage fencing vs real swordsmanship

Screen combat/stage fencing vs real swordsmanship

hi folks Matty stand here scholar gladiatorial and so often people asked me to review movie fights and I'm perfectly happy to do that now we'll continue doing them I get so many requests to review the Princess Bride the famous deal where they reference the different fencing masters I was going to say rapier fencing last have been actual fact they they cover side sword ones as well they kind of go a bit earlier than rapier they go I think they mention Marat so I like I will review that at some point although I have to be completely honest I know lots of people absolutely love that fight in the Princess Bride but I'm not a huge fan of that film call me I don't know call me what you like but you know there are some essentially kids films it is a kid's film there are lots of kids films like labyrinth and legend and stuff of that kind of era and genre that I do like but The Princess Bride is never really done in the thing for me I find it really cheesy but um the fights in it are pure staged fencing okay and I'm kind of accidentally doing a bit of a review of that fight here and but that's what I want to work around too is saying that stage combat stage choreography is really far removed from actual sword fighting and um I'm working on various projects at the moment one of which is with a TV company but it's not choreography based and friends of mine have worked recently with movies and tv series doing similar stuff and and I have to say what one of the problems is that TV and film companies come sometimes to sword fighting experts like me or anyone else and they say can you train our can you train our actors to make a cool fight and I generally say no that's not really what I do what what I do is I train people to hit each other and the problem is actors are specifically training not to each other and and stage choreography is an art and and a skill in itself and it has its own laws and its own ways of achieving what we'll both be an entertaining fight a safe fight is possible to be filled and that's very important because remember that most fights if you just stand over the camera you can film them but that's not how fights in films or TV series work you need to have usually two or three cameras one of them's probably planning around or moving and it's actually very complicated to choreograph a fight that will meet all of the criteria for a movie or a film fight and I don't really have much experience of that where I do have experience of course is knowing what fights look like and what they should look like and the history behind them and the weapons and all that kind of stuff so yes that's where I sometimes get involved with these kind of productions is advising as a consultant to say well if you change that a bit if you change this a bit if you you know the person with the spear really shouldn't be going in that close or that person with a dagger really wants to get in close as quickly as possible and not stand at sword distance and thinking about it as a martial artist and this is very often what historically by historically I mean in the last 50 years what stage choreographers have not been very good at and a lot of my rants in movie fight reviews or TV fight reviews that I do on my channel here are based on are where stage choreographers have overlooked fundamental laws of martial behavior the example I mentioned with the person with a knife against a person with a sword if I have a knife and you have a sword I'm going to be utterly if I can't run away and if I've got to fight you I'm going to be utterly preoccupied with looking for that one opening that split-second where I can close distance to my dagger range okay I'm not going to play out here and try and duel you with it with it with a knife against your sword because I'm in a distance where you can hit me but I can't hit you okay so I want to change that to being a distance where I can hit you easily and you can't hit me so easily because I'm inside the range of your weapon but I'm at the perfect range for my weapon so these are the sort of things that we think about in Hema and historical fencing and in fact if any Marshall I should think about things are not and that stage choreographers don't the final thing I will mention on this is that when you're watching movie fights one of the most common problems or flaws if you want to ruin it for yourself and I have to say when you start practicing martial arts or particularly swordsmanship and when you see fights on screen for a long period of time it will probably ruin your enjoyment of some of these fights because your look at edge go ah that is bollocks um but after you get over that period of that bollocks eventually you come through the other side you come out of the tunnel you go our you know it's going to be bollocks you just enjoy it for what it is so I mean I can watch Game of Thrones or and you know Lord of the Rings or whatever and I can just enjoy the show okay I'm not gonna it doesn't bother me that they're using the weapons wrong there are basic things that they're doing stupid in the fight um it bothers me a bit but it doesn't bother me as much as it used and but one thing I will tell you to look for I but only look for it if you're prepared to have the fights ruined for you and that is distance okay so if we use my fingers my fingers our swords and my hands are the people's bodies okay a lot of sword fights on screen do this okay so the swords are moving at the distance of the sword but they're not moving close enough to hit the people's bodies watch those people on the screen and it doesn't matter whether you're watching a really good choreography like in often in things like Seven Samurai even Kurosawa films fall into this trap sometimes but even if you're looking at a more kind of brutal graphic kind of violence like in ironclad or Braveheart things like this where they're more bit more bloody and they're trying to learn more gritty or gladiator most of the fights you'll see the weapons don't come within distance of the actors bodies usually when they attack if I give what I give a big roar and you're focusing on the fact that this person's holding a sword and look they're being really physical and using lots of strength ah looking at their face and you're looking at their muscles and they're doing this but they're not close enough to hit anyone okay and it is a really fundamentally basic problem with most stage choreography and most fighting on screen and you even see it with you even sit when people are duking it out with fists and stuff as well they're going like this and there's like their fist is that far away from the person's head you know people are dodging or blocking or whatever they're blocking out here because the fist is nowhere near them and it's exactly the same thing with swords and so look for that if you're prepared to have these fights ruined don't look for it if you don't want it look to see how rare it does happen sometimes how rare it is that our blade actually if the person didn't block they didn't parry how it would that blade hit the person and especially when you see from side to side good cinematographers good cameramen will make sure that the fight is like this you've got one person here in one person here so you can't really tell the distance but when the two people are side to side and fighting you'll often see that their swords are like this they're not like that at the range that it should be this finally enough leads to some problems in Hema because many people who start training Hema initially they have real problems getting close enough they don't realize how close you have to be to wound someone with a sword and obviously with a point slightly further away than the cut but nevertheless to hit someone with a sword you need to be fairly close to them and hit someone with a knife you need to be really close to them okay so there we go guys stage choreography a very different thing to real swordsmanship and but the people who do real sword and rip can help the choreographers to make their fights look better they can help the directors to make the more historical or more real looking fight and if you want if you're willing to ruin some of your favorite fight scenes on film look for the distance thing I mentioned and see if their weapons are actually ever coming close enough to actually hit the other person cheers folks thank you for watching please subscribe and feel free to follow us on Facebook

43 Replies to “Screen combat/stage fencing vs real swordsmanship”

  1. Thanks for sharing .
    To each their own. I love the Princess Bride . The cheese is part of its charm . 😃

  2. Could you review the sword duel in the film 'Scaramouche'?. Said to be the longest sword fight
    in movies

  3. part of dramatic tension is that people
    ARENT doing what they could be doing
    — at least yet — to succeed

  4. Princess Bride is fun starting and good chuckles at times
    but ultimately NOT satisfying so its a sign of discernment
    and even more character to publicly state
    it AINT all that

  5. I recently watched a YouTube video of the ROH rehearsing the 'Death of Tybalt' scene from Romeo and Juliet [ <> ]. The sword fight involved a lot of overhead contacts, to-and-fro. The instructor's term for one form of this sounded like 'twyler' (e.g., at 0:26, 1:05 and 3.27 of the video) but I've been unable to find any term even remotely resembling this, either on fencing websites or on stage combat sites. Can you suggest what might actually have been said, as it's now driving me mad!! Many thanks!

  6. Sooo… while most actors are at safe distances (I notice beginners do it in sparring too, you can often entice them to strike at your hand)… but do you ever see dangerous stunts or distances where you worry if someone on set is going to be stabbed?

  7. The Princess Bride isn't a kids film, there's waaaaay too much stuff in it that they wouldn't get much less understand. It was written as a satire of kids films. It was cheesy on purpose, much like a mel gibson film like Robin Hood Men In TIghts. It's supposed to be corny and funny and sarcastic.
    If you go into it expecting a serious movie then of course you're not going to enjoy it. In my opinion it's a masterpiece of witty sarcasm and irony, it does all it sets out to achieve.

  8. Matt you should perhaps take someone up on the offer if they ever ask for your expertise in swordsmanship for TV or cinema. Not saying you should be the lead choreographer, as that position requires experience. But as a consultant, definitely. It would be a wonderful change to see fights achieve a higher level of realism. Perhaps suggest slow motion moves to capture the nuances of a sword fight. Just a thought. You seem happy to share your knowledge here.. why not in stage combat?

  9. Nice hook punches in the video what kind of pugilised martial art did you practice in your past? MMA,Mauy Thai,Western boxing ,Kick boxing?

  10. It's not just with HEMA people have a problem with gauging distance, in most fist fights, a lot of people don't realize how far they have to have their fist or leg travel to land a hit. It's a common problem with beginner boxers, they can't quite judge the distance on which their fists will land.

  11. Hey, Matt.

    Sorry if my domain of the English language isn't perfect, but its only my second language and I learned at school.

    My name is Tiago, I'm 38 and I am a Portuguese actor, director, fight choreographer, fencing master and martial artist. I have practiced fencing and eastern martial arts since I was 3, first with my father and as time went on with different teachers especially Carlos Lee and Bruno Rebello (in eastern martial arts) and masters (especially Eugénio Roque). I was there, a bit because of my father, at the start of the HEMA movement in Portugal (for the last 10 years or so). I've practiced with different visiting teachers and masters all kinds of fencing, from modern fencing (in the last 5 years I have been in training and became a master-at-arms under the Portuguese Fencing Federation and Academie D'Armes Internationale), but also pole arm work, long sword (and variations, we started with Fiore but eveolved from there), rapière (love it with a dagger but a buckler or a cape are great as well) and also the Godinho's montante work (by the way check out the ancient Portuguese technique of jogo do pau and see if you see what I saw before I get time to write an essay on it – I don't have the time so take your time). I have also worked a bit on ancient classic weapons and tactics (Roman, Greecks, Lusitanos) and army tactics and organizations mostly because of my work as choreographer for medieval markets with military orders teems.

    Because of my background, after I completed my bachelor's degree in acting I specialized in stage fight and artistic fencing (or stage fencing, i think you call it there).

    Presently I study ancient techniques mostly to adapt them to stage fencing.

    I have been enjoying your videos and, in my opinion, you are absolutely correct.
    Modern fencing doesn't teach swordsmanship (well the epée still has a lot of techniques that are similar to its grandmother the rapière and the logic is pretty much the same as in HEMA since it doens't have the priority rule, but the displacement and weapon flexibility, meh – I only worked so hard at becoming a fencing master in that sport to have institutional recognition in Portugal – HEMA still doesn't have).

    And… YES! Stage fencing is a a discipline all of its own.

    Like in stage fight you have to sacrifice what would be proper technical execution, in martial arts, for the safety of the actors playing the scene, and success of the narrative. The distance has to be longer for both safety and comprehension of the action by the public. Or a distance in which the weapon is passed and if there is a hit it woun't be with the nastier bit, but always according on the purpose of the action in the narrative.The objective is to help in developing a narrative and not hitting each other. I mean… show aside… most of the times people are not wearing proper protection so, even with blunt weapons, chances were they would get killed.

    There are a lot of principles that we can bend a bit, but shouldn't break, that help sell the action and, most importantly, protect the people on set or stage.

    Also when writing a fight choreography you must develop a specific sensibility to the scene timing and feeling, and you have to pray that the director and the editor know how to assemble the footage in order to sell it. You must help set whatever feeling the director wants to create in the audience, while telling the tale and characterizing the characters. That is why most fights last for minutes instead of the seconds.

    Doing it well is really hard and many times producers get people from modern fencing to do it, or even HEMA, that don't know how to adapt certain principles and… damn. On the other hand there are also people that know only the stage fighting principle and have no understanding of a certain specific weapon or epoch. I mean… light sabres you can do pretty much what you like (except that cross guard in Kylo Ren's weapon – I mean really?) because is pure fantasy. With other weapons and settings not so much.

    Its great that they get guys like you to advise, though. And if you ever want to do really good choreographies (its really diferent from demonstrating with a pre set of movements, although many people don't understand this) just study the principles really well. With your knowledge you could do really interesting work.

    Artistic fencing or stage fencing is not the artistic part of fencing… it is fencing in the service of art.

    Still, keep up the good work. I am enjoying listening to your knowledge and opinions – pretty much in line with my own (but you have a lot more weapons than I do). And if you ever feel like you need a second opinion about something stage related (or not, just a second informed opinion) just send me a message or something for one of my work emails ([email protected]). I am always glad to extend a helping hand to a fellow swords enthusiast.

    Oh, oh… almost forgot… if you decide to participate in the tournament let me know. I'll probably be there judging self defense or something. It has lots of styles and contenders, HEMA people come to compete in their own area but there are lots of masters and grand master sharing their knowledge and Portugal has great weather.


  12. The thing I've noticed is that when you have a reasonably realistic fight, like the Tyrone Power vs Basil Rathbone duel in the Zorro movie from 1935, and you show it to someone who doesn't know much about swords it's too fast and too complex for them to actually follow the action. So everything has to be slowed down and done with ridiculously large movements for the majority of the audience to feel like they understand what's going on.

  13. I wonder if it's possible to make full-contact fighting as safe as it needs to be for realistic film fights.

    Like maybe super well made LARP weapons and a few camera tricks so they look less chunky.

    Or hire a couple of HEMA practitioners and just digitally superimpose the actor's heads XD

  14. Well, here's the best fusion of stage combat & HEMA I've seen so far:

  15. Perhaps it's just something on behind the scenes and not actually seeing the part filmed, but it also seems like the choreographed fights have their movements slowed. I've always postulated a theory as to if some are filmed with the actors moving slowly, but having editing make them seemingly move quicker or normal speed. Though maybe it's just me with martial arts experience, but I always thought that trying to close the distance with what you have if you can't run away was just common sense.

  16. I would like to see you do a review of the sword fight between Athos and Edmond in The Musketeers Season 2 episode 5

  17. Matt – A relatively unknown movie you may enjoy and review – The House of Angelo (Aka the house of swords)

  18. how old are you? the princess bride is a classic for us 80's kids. just like the goonies and back to the future.

  19. You know, when you do the acting with that slightly strained voice, you sound a bit like Lindybeige did in his review of the fighting techniques of "Helen of Troy".

  20. I am both a historical/sport fencer and an actor combatant. I agree with much of what you said. The one thing that people need to keep in mind is that in real life : every action has an equal and opposite reaction, but on stage/camera: every action has whatever reaction we want. The job is to tell a story and good fights speak through the movements and intentions of the actors.

  21. Having had my first sabre class with your school, and being a martial artist specializing in unarmed, I have to say my problem is the opposite. Instinctively I want to close the distance and hit the opponent in the face with the pommel.

  22. Excluding the levitation et cetera, I am curious what you thought of the sword fights in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon".

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