Adapting Destreza for the screen
Applying it to a scene
A fight is similar to that of a scene, it has a start, a middle and an end. The main difference is in the time. A real fight can take, at the start a very short or long time to actually begin. Both combatants circling each other, neither wanting to make the first move as it could very well be their last. This is similar to that or a fight sequence. Both can begin outside of distance or in distance (blades touching) the main difference between the two is most evident in the middle of each fight.
Generally in a real fight once the first exchange has happened, someone is going to be hurt or dead. That is after all the goal. This is useful however in building a scene that has the protagonist fighting a few non-essential characters before getting to the main fight.
For an example let’s break down the middle of a fight. From a fencing point of view:
Enter distance,(blade close or touching one another)
Then the following happens in quick succession.
If possible subjugate the opponent’s blade (move their point off line left or right) Step off to medio de perporsional (middle distance) stepping off to an angle to the left or right of the opponent while taking their point off you and gaining a leverage advantage on their sword with yours. (Your sword crossed on top of theirs)
As soon as you have this superior position of both distance, leverage and body mechanics you would step transversely or curved to the side of the opponent and thrust or cut them to the head or chest. Once you hit them you would quickly retreat under the cover of your own sword and make ready for what comes next (the late stage of the fight i.e for performance or another opponent when fencing.)
The late stage of the fight would begin as the middle stage ends, either by killing a non-essential character or if in a fight with the main opponent they luckily recover or counter your assault (attack) This stage can be as long or as short as you wish to make it, often ending in an over the top flourish of attacks or dramatic spin, Although it is possible to end this type of scene in a martially viable way.
A fight for film and tv will of course be longer with both participants countering and reengaging each other a lot more then what would actually happen. This is fine, as it allows for a demonstration of true skill and ability. The entertainment value and theatrical show does not come from breaking these principles but rather from retaining them and using body language, expression and reactions to being hit, an example of this would be: parry a high attack (catching their blade on yours) and punch through your opponent causing them to stumble back.
This would make sense to the viewer both martially and theatrically when you then follow up the attack with cuts and thrusts that are badly parried by the opponent due to being off balance and stunned.
To sum it up, the fight is kept clean and professional looking while maintaining the principles and concepts of martial arts and body mechanics. The theatrics come from knowing when not to uphold these principles and concepts, by landing a hit or having them stumble or perform a counter attack badly. All the while this will come across to the viewer as a reasonable yet entertaining response.
The use of martial arts in film and tv is of great benefit to our community. I believe it is necessary that more studios and fight choreographers realise that a fight can be more than just a hack and slash affair. It can be elegant, make sense and be martially sound while still looking great.
It is my hope that this continues to change, as Gray School of Arms launches its 6 week fight choreography course for actors and performers. We hope that those of you reading this and those of you who attend will spread the idea that fight scenes can be more and should be.