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  • Writer's pictureErol Mehmet

Swordsmanship - touche!

Updated: May 26, 2020


On the battlefield, the value of swordsmanship diminished after the introduction of firearms. However, in the acting and stunt world, swordsmanship is a valuable asset and there have been many great movies with impressive sword fighting scenes.

On the big screen, the tv and online we can watch fights and battle scenes that have been choreographed and performed to such an impressive standard that they keep audiences all over the world on the edge of their seats.

Movies such as:

Choreographing a sword-fighting scene involves different elements. The aim, distance, energy, timing and strength. Awareness of those around you, ability, reactions, camera angle, setting and type of weapon being used.

Through the ages, swords have had a varying degree of differences relating to hit/crossguard/grip and pommel designs. The first-ever sword was made of ancient copper dating back to 3,300 BC.

In 2000 BC the ancient Egyptians used a Khopesh, in 1000 BC a Greek foot soldier would use an Xphos and in 300 BC the Roman gladiators used a sword called a gladius.

The Celtic, Samurai, Cruciform, Long & Great and Side swords came AD. As did the Rapier, Cutlass, Smallsword, Sabre and Dress/Ceremonial. Current day, we use the Foil, Epee and Sabre. Of course, magical, mystical and fantasy weapons have been created, all adding to the excitement of a battle scene.

There are many considerations such as the fitness and flexibility of the actor or stuntman. The weight of the weapons and the need for reinforced staging in some scenes where there are lots of people involved with lots of weapons. Spacial awareness, stability, precise choreography and safety is key.

Research plays a big part in coordinating a sword fight, what weapon for what era and how was that weapon used. For example:

  • The ‘warrior’ - such as a Viking, an elite warrior with a heavy sword, innovative battle tactics, high energy and morale

  • The 'gladiator' - a Myrmillo gladiator fought with a sword, restricted in movement by heavy armour and carrying a shield

  • The 'Samurai' - a sword fighter that worked at fast speed. Great attention to the making of the sword was taken, the mastery of the swordsmith with an apparent mix of supernatural attention to detail created the ultimate sword

  • The 'knights' in shining armour - knights tended to use the longsword and use a technique called ‘half-swording’

  • Luke Skywalker - Luke had the lightsaber that sheared through rock and light enough to give Luke full movement during his fight scenes

  • Hobbits - ‘Sting’ was just a dagger used by a standard size elve but to a hobbit, it was a mighty sword!

Whether it be the swashbuckling sword fighting style like in King Arthur, the hard-hitting style like in Kill Bill or the martial art style like in Crouching tiger, hidden dragon - the safety of the actor and stuntman is of the utmost importance.

Unfortunately, accidents do happen…

In 1947 the actor Harold Norman was stabbed during the final sword fight in Act 5 of Macbeth, he died of his wounds. He was accidentally stabbed in the chest by a fellow actor and died later from the wound.

I have been in some interesting sword fights (including with my brother involving large sticks) but I won’t live by the sword, die by the sword and I definitely won’t be in Act 5 of a production of Macbeth.

You can contact me on 07770934916 for more information about fight coordinating.

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