1. What is fight choreography?
  2. Where does a fight begin?
  3. Why have fight scenes?
  4. What's the most dangerous form of combat?

What is fight choreography?

As I tell my students, fight choreography is NOT about violence. It is a mixture of dance and illusion. It isn't about how tough you are. It's about how good you look.

The first rule of stage combat is "Safety first, safety last, safety always." If you get hurt, you can't perform. If you can't perform, you don't get paid. (It's always about the money, isn't it?)

Actor combatants must work together in a spirit of cooperation to create an effective fight scene. Actors who do not get along with each other have a very difficult time creating a good-looking fight. You can't be selfish in a fight scene. Attempting to make yourself look good only makes the fight look staged and ridiculous.

The only way for you to look good in a fight scene is to work at making your partner look good. The victim sells the punch with the reaction, but the aggressor needs to provide a punch worth reacting to.

Fight choreography is the technique of creating an individual or series of seemingly violent actions in a believable (not necessarily realistic) manner within the given context of a production.

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Where does a fight begin?

A fight begins with characterization. If the audience doesn't know about the characters or doesn't care about the characters, it makes little difference if a character is hurt, or if the character wins or loses. Great fight moves still make for a ho-hum fight scene if there is nothing at stake for the people watching the fight.

A fight scene begins long before the first blow is struck, when the audience gets to know the people involved, begins to care about those people, and begins to understand why those characters are fighting each other. Once the characters and their motivations are known, the audience begins to care about who wins, who loses, who gets hurt, etc. The audience begins to take sides, experiencing the elation of success and the agony of defeat. Otherwise, it's just two people duking it out for no apparent reason.

If the answer to the question, "Who won?" is, "Who cares?" the fight scene is a failure.

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Why have fight scenes?

People fight for three basic reasons:

  1. They have no choice. Emotionally, physically, or morally, the person is backed into a corner where fighting is the only option left available.
  2. They are enraged to the point that they can no longer contain themselves. Anger has replaced logical thought.
  3. They assume they can win. This is the reason bullies fight. Pick someone weak, easily beatable, to gain power over the people around you. Most countries start wars for this reason ("I want your resources, and I'm tough enough to take them from you.")

Fight scenes reflect the inner emotional makeup and personality of the character. Fight scenes help to define the traits of the character being portrayed. Fight scenes also help move the plot forward, demonstrating the urgency and necessity (or lack thereof) of any given situation.

Fight scenes can be as much a statement against violence as they can be for violence. They cut both ways. If a fight scene is so horrific the audience members rally against it, the fight scene has done as much to promote peace as someone dedicated to non-violence.

A fight scene is an artistic statement. It isn't a contest between two people intent on bashing each other's brains out, even though that may be just what it looks like. My personal feeling is that if a fight scene demonstrates the consequences of violence in a manner which brings no harm to the participants, that real violence can be averted.

If a fight scene merely looks "cool" it does a disservice to society in general. Fights are fun when done for play, but should never be allowed to escalate to the real thing. Having fight scenes in our entertainment is the best way of making this point.

It IS cool. It IS fun. It IS exciting. Fight scenes should exist for the pure pleasure of it.

That said, the very real element of danger should never be overlooked, ignored, or diminished. It's kinda like riding a rollercoaster; you want it to be safe, but to assume that it always is ruins the adrenaline rush for everyone.

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What's the most dangerous form of combat?

I ask this question a lot in my workshops. People usually respond with swords. Swords scare people. But because swords scare people, it tends to cause fewer injuries in a stage combat scenario.

Unarmed combat is the most dangerous form of stage combat.


Distance and respect.

To fight with your fists, you have to get up close, which leaves little time to react and adapt to changes or mistakes. Using weapons means you have a longer reach, so you stand farther apart. That extra distance allows you to see what's coming at you more easily and gives you more time to react to it.

How long have you owned or used a sword? Never? 10+ years? Compared to that, how long have you owned and used your hands? All your life. Are you afraid of someone with a sword in their hands? Maybe, a little. Are you afraid of someone with hands on the ends of their arms? Nope. Not at all.

The point is, a weapon immediately engenders respect. Both the person holding the weapon and the person facing the weapon have a cautious attitude about it. People don't respect their hands because they have learned to not fear them. They know hands can be licensed to kill, but that it rarely the first thought that crosses the mind.

People also assume that they know their bodies and are in control of them. Yet how many times have you accidentally hit someone near you when making a large gesture? We've all done it. It's because we don't respect our bodies as weapons, or as particularly dangerous. That lack of respect causes more accidents simply because we don't think we can do any real harm.

The single most dangerous move in all of unarmed combat? The full contact face slap. Ask me to explain that one to you some time. (It requires a demonstration.)

The single most utilized move in all of stage combat? The face slap.

And you probably thought only martial artists performed unarmed stage combat.

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