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March 24, 2012 10:27 AM   Subscribe

The (Totally) Phantom Menace ... light sabre duelling techniques examined

Compare and contrast... Empire, Rob Roy, Crouching Tiger, Princess Bride, The Four Musketeers, Deluge, The Duellists, Robin Hood, Scaramouche, Raiders
Bonus: Kill Bill - Ballroom Blitz
posted by fearfulsymmetry (64 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Where does that British computer generated voice come from?
posted by Meatbomb at 10:37 AM on March 24, 2012


It sounds like the default Xtranormal voice.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 10:40 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Another lovely skewering. That freaking movie is a gold mine.
posted by Trochanter at 10:40 AM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I will say though, that in the old days part of learning to be an actor was learning to fight with swords. It was one of the courses you took at school. So you had people who had a couple of years of training as opposed to a couple of weeks pre-production.
posted by Trochanter at 10:48 AM on March 24, 2012


No swash was buckled during the making of this film.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:49 AM on March 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


you mean no buckles were swashed!
posted by Fraxas at 11:03 AM on March 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yes, folks, the lightsaber fighting is designed to give the illusion of a fight when viewed in the context of the movie. The illusion will break down if viewed out of that context.

I will never forgive Lucas for the crushing sense of disappointment I had on the opening night of Phantom Menace, but that has nothing to do with the lightsaber battles.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 11:03 AM on March 24, 2012


Hahahah.

I was thinking "Oh, yet another mocking of Phantom Menace" - but this was actually funny. It pointed out the absurdity of fight choreography.

What's interesting: Didn't the popularity of Crouching Tiger have a big influence on Lucas? The sword-fighting in the first Trilogy was typical European-style fencing, then they tried to go to this Asian style kung-fu techniques.

You might be able to find similar incongruities if you scan through all the tape in CTHD, but I do remember when the movie came out the fights were intense. You really did feel like they were trying to kill each-other, like any slipup might mean death.

In the movie The Seven Samurai had a sword fight scene early on in the movie. It seemed a lot more 'realistic'. Two guys run at each other, they swing their swords, and one of them drops dead.

They had a film scholar do the commentary track. It was pretty interesting, and the guy explained how it was actually all in the footwork, because the guy who didn't die had his knee in the right place (or whatever) like half a second in advance, he ended up walking away alive.

here's the scene itself (actually, my memory was a bit off - only one guys was running)
posted by delmoi at 11:05 AM on March 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


This clip, shows another short samurai movie fight. It's a practice fight with bamboo sticks, but also shows how, had they been real swords it would be over in one swing.

It seems kind of more like tennis, you know in most tennis games the ball doesn't usually go back and forth that many times before someone misses. The problem is with a 'real' sword fight, one miss - you're dead
posted by delmoi at 11:12 AM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Dammit, those were those only good scenes in that movie, don't ruin them for me too.
posted by octothorpe at 11:13 AM on March 24, 2012


Philosopher Dirtbike: You set up your shots to create the illusion of proximity. Or you don't and you sit in front of your monitor drinking your latté grandé.

delmoi, the sword fights in Satoichi were essentially one mistake fights as well. I was also going to mention tennis vollies. The super long ones become legendary.
posted by Trochanter at 11:17 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I give that a 10 for editing, and minus 1 million for irritating speech syntesizer animation. I don't understand why anybody thinks that's a good idea. (Definitely better than Xtranormal though.)
posted by Horace Rumpole at 11:23 AM on March 24, 2012


Speech synthesizer voice, I mean.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 11:23 AM on March 24, 2012


delmoi - that bit from 7 samurai is EXCELLENT. Perfect counter attack.

I used to fence at an amateur-competitive level, and I like that bit so much because it's so accurate. Control distance and elicit an attack from your opponent at a time and range of your choosing, making the dodge trivial. Counter-attack after your opponent has missed and is off-balance.

Modern Olympic fencing has a lot of this. Take a look at some of the touches from this 2008 Olympic bout. Tons of movement up and down the strip as both fencers try to elicit or land attacks and counter-attacks.

This video is a little better, with slow-mo breakdowns of touches so you can get a better sense for the two fencers looking for the timing and distance.

Sniff! Makes me miss fencing, not that I was ever good. I could understand and see the advanced stuff, but never make it happen. Ah well. =)
posted by kavasa at 11:44 AM on March 24, 2012


The danger of counter attacks being if you don't control distance and timing, then of course the original attack just hits you. This is why it's so frequent to see two fencers both turn towards the judge and yell and pump their fists in triumph after a touch: in part they're trying to convince the judge to award the touch to them by behaving as if it were obviously theirs. Then you get into fencing rules arcana, which gets pretty silly. Epee handles it much better: in the event of a simultaneous touch, both fencers get a point, end of story.
posted by kavasa at 11:52 AM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't like to see the sausage made.
posted by hot_monster at 12:02 PM on March 24, 2012


So the one even halfway-decent thing about that movie also terrible?
posted by shakespeherian at 12:04 PM on March 24, 2012


I remember liking the waiting for the doors bit.
posted by Trochanter at 12:08 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


For those asking, I believe that's the new British English voice Daniel from OS X 10.7. You can download all sorts of regionalized voices now in the Speech preference pane. Apple's been pretty steadily expanding their voices for other nationalities ever since launching Alex. This means, of course, you can have your computer read text with cute foreign accents now. Win win.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 12:33 PM on March 24, 2012


Where does that British computer generated voice come from?
posted by Meatbomb


From a computer.
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:46 PM on March 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


In historical fencing some styles do end up with longer 'volleys' - military sabre comes to mind first off (obviously that's one-on-one on foot, not slicing down from horseback!). Others it really is a single action which is either dealt with or you're hit (German longsword tends to this). But in either case, as mentioned in the comments on Seven Samurai, good footwork can save your life. And good footwork never involves pointless twirling.

The only bit missing from that video is a discussion of the moments when Darth Maul braces his lightsabre against his leg and mysteriously does not cut his own leg off.
posted by Coobeastie at 12:49 PM on March 24, 2012


Oh hey cool is this the thread where we're talking about the best film sword duel scenes ever? Because reverse-draw duel from Sanjuro.
posted by penduluum at 12:49 PM on March 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


I was thinking "Oh, yet another mocking of Phantom Menace" - but this was actually funny. It pointed out the absurdity of fight choreography.

No, my DAD points this out every time I have Star Wars on. My dad takes looks at Star Wars through the lens of Han Solo: "They have guns, why the fuck are they using swords, just point and blast!"
posted by Fizz at 12:53 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is perhaps one of the best explanations I've seen of fight choreography and actor safety, if done unknowingly. I still remember, after having been well trained in the stuff, going to college and seeing a fight choreographed by fencers in a show. I almost passed out with fear that someone's eye was going to be put out. It also looked kinda boring to those not thinking about safety. So we started some classes, and made fights both safer and look way cooler, basically teaching all of the techniques in this video. Ha!
posted by redbeard at 1:06 PM on March 24, 2012


Also, a favorite quote: "Stage combat - it's ugly ballet with dangerous props." -Lewis Shaw
posted by redbeard at 1:08 PM on March 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


You might be able to find similar incongruities if you scan through all the tape in CTHD, but I do remember when the movie came out the fights were intense. You really did feel like they were trying to kill each-other, like any slipup might mean death.

That was the complete opposite of what the fights were supposed to be like, though. The fights were like a dance. So much so, that Ang Lee cast Zhang Ziyi, who was an accomplished dancer, not a sword fighter, in the titular role.

In most of the fight scenes, one side is absolutely not wanting to harm the other.
The "bad guy," Jade Fox, doesn't dance. She cheats by shooting poison darts which makes her even more of a bad guy.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 1:29 PM on March 24, 2012


My understanding is that some of best and most accurate movie fencing is that in The Princess Bride.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:29 PM on March 24, 2012


Didn't the popularity of Crouching Tiger have a big influence on Lucas?

No, Phantom came out before Crouching.

Anyway, this has to be the least stupidest thing about the movie:

1) If you disagree with the extended attacks and parries, you can always fall back on the idea there are force powers at work. If you have insight into what's happening shortly in the future, and you're letting "the right thing happen", then the two equal fighters could conceivably have a very long fight. I didn't make the rules up, bit if you're discounting the internal consistency of a film then you're the one at fault.

2) You could probably take any action movie out there, and see them swinging wide by half a meter. That is unless there are very smart directors, DPs, choreographers, and actors doing it right. That's rare though.

I'm not saying it looks good or was done correctly, but with all the other faults that film has this is pretty much a non-issue.
posted by P.o.B. at 2:45 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


After I did kendo for a while, I was never really able to watch a lot of movie sword fights the same way again. Star Wars, even the original trilogy to some extent, is an especially bad offender. This video did an excellent job of illustrating my main issue, which is the twofold problem of strikes that would never hit anything. It doesn't make sense to swing at the air near a person, but it also doesn't make sense to try to block a sword swung at the air near a person either. If anything, the second mistake is more egregious, since it gives up an excellent opportunity for a real strike. Sometimes one does want to attack the other persons weapon, but only to move it somewhere that makes it easier for your attack on their body.

The second issue is the role of the body in the cut. Look at those Kurosawa clips. In the Seven Samurai one, you see the winner of the duel almost hop and use the momentum of his body coming down and twisting to deliver the actual power of the cut. In the Sanjuro one, you can see Mifune using his legs. Arms are good for aiming precisely, and that means not swinging the sword with your muscles too tensed (watch Highlander for hoooooooorible failures at this) until the very last moment. Even a strong push from the arms can't compete with leg muscles and the momentum of the whole body, also. I'm sure this holds true in western fencing, well.

The third issue is one of the most basic tactics, the control of the center line between you and your opponent. This relates to the bit in the video where Obi Wan moves his lightsaber out of the way as Darth Maul comes in closer. All the time in Star Wars fights, someone has their lightsaber way off to the side and the other guy just waits for it to come in to block, instead of darting straight at the opponent. If your sword is directly between you and your opponent, then everything else being equal you can strike more places more quickly than they can. Going back to the Seven Samurai duel, you can view the winner as shifting the center after the attacker foolishly committed to a cut. In doing so, he gets unopposed control of the new center and slices him but good. One can read the Sanjuro duel from this perspective as well. The tension comes from the fact that the opponents not only don't have their swords drawn, but they are ridiculously close to one another, way closer than one could even normally hold a katana. It becomes a duel of how to draw in such a way as to most immediately get control of the center, instead of have your sword off to the side. The fancy reverse draw achieves this very nicely, and I have still never entirely understood how exactly the sword gets free of the scabbard so fast and in such a tight space.
posted by Schismatic at 2:55 PM on March 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'm not a sword fighting master, but I'm positive the basic mechanics and tactics of use for an Épée, Katana, and two-handed broadsword are very different.
posted by P.o.B. at 3:33 PM on March 24, 2012


Schismatic - actually in modern Western fencing there's no real thought given to power transfer to the blade. Some of the most satisfying touches are where the lights go off and your opponent has no idea what happened because they didn't even feel it. Most blade control comes from thumb and forefinger.

POB - not really. It's just Newtonian physics. The principles transfer to unarmed combat as well.
posted by kavasa at 3:53 PM on March 24, 2012


This is no worse than any other movie fight choreography, and usually a lot better.

And the backstory (Jedi using the force) can be used to hand-wave away another choreography issue that plagues other movies - when one actor shifts his weight or arm to begin the appropriate parry to an attack the opponent has not signalled yet. Because the future of the dance is known by all parties, the signals don't read correctly, but Jedi react to the future, so all is fine.

TPM also at leas tries to tell a story of strategic choices and tactics through the choreography, not many movies manage that. I like it. Pity it's wrapped in a shit sandwich.
posted by -harlequin- at 4:07 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


not really. It's just Newtonian physics. The principles transfer to unarmed combat as well.

This is wrong in so many ways, but this is pretty much outside the scope of the movie and I just remembered how useless it is to argue about combat in text when simple demonstrations clears up about 90% discrepancies in talk.

Pity it's wrapped in a shit sandwich.

Exactly. Why take umbrage with the condiments?
posted by P.o.B. at 4:14 PM on March 24, 2012


Captain Obvious notes that the more efficient a motion is, the less of it there is to see. The more wasteful and ridiculous a motion, the more spectacular it is. If you're making a visual movie about space knights, you've already decided that you need to be aiming for "spectacular", not "realistic".

So serious criticism is inherently misguided, but humorous criticism like this video is awesome :)
posted by -harlequin- at 4:15 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


To be clear I though the video was funny, but not because the stupidity is somehow only found in TPM. Actually, I wouldn't mind seeing a how series of a type of WTFStunts!?
posted by P.o.B. at 4:22 PM on March 24, 2012


My dad takes looks at Star Wars through the lens of Han Solo: "They have guns, why the fuck are they using swords, just point and blast!"

Surely you pointed out to him that every time someone is dumb enough to just point and blast at a jedi, the sabre simply slings the shot right back, killing the guy with the gun? A gun offers no defence against incoming shots (including your own coming back at you), while a sabre can be used defensively.

To be fair, Han Solo shot Vader, and Solo wasn't killed instantly, but he didn't achieve anything either, but your dad isn't paying attention :)
posted by -harlequin- at 4:33 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


"The principles transfer to unarmed combat as well."

It depends a bit on exactly how basic the principles we are talking about are, but I'll agree with this statement. I used to draw a fair amount of inspiration from The Tao of Jeet Kune Do by Bruce Lee, who in turn directly lifted a large amount of material from fencing texts.

"Some of the most satisfying touches are where the lights go off and your opponent has no idea what happened because they didn't even feel it."

Now here you're just dead wrong ;). I prefer the swoosh of an opposition thrust violently expelling my opponents blade and the satisfying thud as you strike through your opponent followed by the smash as the guards collide and your opponent's weapon is left dangling by the power cord. But I take it you didn't study the German school of epee?

"This is no worse than any other movie fight choreography, and usually a lot better."

No no no. Watch the first Duellists link in the OP and see if you can type that again with a straight face.
posted by Manjusri at 4:35 PM on March 24, 2012


Some of the most satisfying touches are where the lights go off and your opponent has no idea what happened because they didn't even feel it. Most blade control comes from thumb and forefinger.


I think we're actually saying the same thing, namely that precision comes from the hand(s) and arm, power comes from elsewhere. I should have specified that I meant martial, "want to kill the other guy," type of swordplay, which differs hugely from both modern fencing and modern kendo. I wouldn't be at all surprised if the design of the rapier balances the equation more towards precision, but to actually stab someone I'd guess that you'd want a bit more power than you described.

If you're making a visual movie about space knights, you've already decided that you need to be aiming for "spectacular", not "realistic".

To me, where I get taken out of the movie isn't about the actual forms employed, it's from being able to see intent. Chinese swordsmanship looks different from Japanese looks different from fencing and from western broadswords, and certainly lightsabers are going to look way different from all of these. This holds with all martial arts, not the least being boxing. But two guys, often off-balance for no good reason, hitting the air in front of them simultaneously doesn't look spectacular, it looks amateurish. All you need to do is make one of the strikes actually have a chance of hitting the opponent and you're already 90% of the way there. I have no idea about theatrical combat, but I'd imagine one of the nice things about the big circular strokes that one always sees with lightsabers (because they look awesome blurred out in space that way) is that you can block them a nice safe distance from the body.
posted by Schismatic at 4:52 PM on March 24, 2012


It depends a bit on exactly how basic the principles we are talking about are, but I'll agree with this statement. I used to draw a fair amount of inspiration from The Tao of Jeet Kune Do by Bruce Lee, who in turn directly lifted a large amount of material from fencing texts.
Yeah, my college fencing coach (who was also an accomplished martial artist) loved quoting Lee talking about "empty handed fencing".

I know you're half-joking about the guard-clashing/disarm thing, but yeah, I haaaaaaaaaaated that macho BS at tournaments. Power is not speed, however, and I usually had an easy time beating them. ;) (Note that I fenced sabre, rather than epee)

Regarding lightsaber choreography: I wonder if part of the difficulty is that the blades are added in with special effects? It's probably tough really getting into the combat just waving around a handle and trying to guess where blade contact happens.
posted by kavasa at 5:04 PM on March 24, 2012


There is a stick that takes the place of the blade, they aren't just waving around handles.
posted by shakespeherian at 5:12 PM on March 24, 2012


Both Lee and Ueshiba liked to talk a lot of philosophy, and I don't think it's any kind of weird correlation that both of the martial arts they created are probably the most misunderstood around.
posted by P.o.B. at 5:42 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Some promo thing I saw in 1999 for Phantom Menace interviewed the fight choreogapher, who was asked if they had sped up the footage in the lightsabre duel. He said that Ray Park and Ewan MacGregor were so enthusiastic about thwacking each other, the editors had actually had to digitally slow them down a little.

Anyway, I concur with the mefites above that whatever other shortcomings TPM has -- and they are legion -- the lightsabre duel remains the best bit. I will hear no carping criticism of it.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:45 PM on March 24, 2012


Funny. Reminded me of the Plinkett Reviews of Phantom. Funnier.
posted by bigZLiLk at 6:17 PM on March 24, 2012


You really don't know the first thing about Jeet Kune Do, do you POB? He often didn't even change the terminology from western fencing in his writing.
posted by Manjusri at 6:52 PM on March 24, 2012


My understanding is that some of best and most accurate movie fencing is that in The Princess Bride.

The fight scenes in The Princess Bride look a lot like traditional theatrical stage combat. But I don't get the sense they look much like what two actual dudes trying to kill the fuck out of each other with swords would look like.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:04 PM on March 24, 2012


I'm not a sword fighting master, but I'm positive the basic mechanics and tactics of use for an Épée, Katana, and two-handed broadsword are very different.

Rubbish. You just put on some Queen and backflip away.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 9:20 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


To be fair, Han Solo shot Vader, and Solo wasn't killed instantly

That's because Vader didn't use his lightsaber to deflect the shot back, he used his hand to stop it. Still, Be Like Han.

I'm no sword-fighting expert, but the fights in the Clone Wars series have some interesting choreography going on, with different fighters having distinct techniques. I guess it's a lot easier to do when you don't have to worry about a live actors safety.
posted by WhackyparseThis at 9:26 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Agreed about The Princess Bride, but it is quality stage fencing. William Hobbs is the fight director to watch for that visceral sense of realism. But I went on about this at some length a while ago.

"Power is not speed, however"

Power is speed + leverage right? As Schismatic noted my power came from a very quick fleche (first step) not from the arm. I'll agree that punching or whipping brutally with a blade is the height of boorishness and has no place in civilized competition.
posted by Manjusri at 9:57 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Another lovely skewering.

I see what you did there...
posted by ShutterBun at 10:32 PM on March 24, 2012


* looks at video *

Funny, but that's just stage fighting, man. You can pick that stuff out of almost anything. The Empire Strikes Back, Kurosawa, whatever. If they wanted to make nerds really mad they'd pick on Game of Thrones. In any case it's exaggerated motions of actors fighting each others' blades. The good fights disguise that. The really great ones, like the first duel in The Duellists and the final duel in Rob Roy, also show you how the combatants are thinking. (The fencing in The Princess Bride is good but doesn't actually have that dimension – on the other hand of course they are not left-handed)

That old AskMe thread that Manjusri linked to was very good, lots of knowledgeable people talking. I blab on a bit too.
posted by furiousthought at 11:08 PM on March 24, 2012


Power is speed + leverage right?

That's something I've always wondered. Lightsabers have blades made of energy, right? Delicious, zero-mass energy. That throws off the expected center of gravity something fierce, and means that bladeplay with a lightsaber has a lot more leverage and force exerted on the grip than you might expect, especially when you're striking at your opponent's blade.

Maybe striking that far out is just a way of leveraging a disarm.
posted by mikurski at 11:09 PM on March 24, 2012


"The really great ones ... show you how the combatants are thinking. "

Exactly. There's something about the way Bob Anderson moves as Vader in Empire that twitches in the back of my head, and reminds me of the way my fencing coach would guide me non-verbally to attack in the proper tempo. I'm pretty sure he's deliberately emulating a fencing master, until Luke lands a lucky blow and he gets down to business.
posted by Manjusri at 11:39 PM on March 24, 2012


Power is speed + leverage right? As Schismatic noted my power came from a very quick fleche (first step) not from the arm. I'll agree that punching or whipping brutally with a blade is the height of boorishness and has no place in civilized competition.
The point is that you don't need power in modern olympic fencing. I can always move my fingers faster than the fastest most athletic fencing god can move their entire arm. I can always move my arm faster than you can move your entire body. Someone that just tries to crunch through defense with brute force is a jerk, and a jerk that's going to lose.

If you need to generate power (because you're actually trying to kill someone), then your strikes will start with your feet and pick up power with each joint in your body. But if you just need to close a circuit, you need merely twitch your fingers.

Fleches are exciting, but rarely practical. Also outlawed in competitive saber since before I started fencing.
There is a stick that takes the place of the blade, they aren't just waving around handles.
Oh. Then there's no excuse, really.
posted by kavasa at 12:25 AM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Fleches are exciting, but rarely practical. Also outlawed in competitive saber since before I started fencing.

My experience of having people do fleches on me and a little of vice versa was that they were practical enough. Also, I fenced (not saber) while fleches were a thing, and the reason they were outlawed in competitive saber is that they were a little too practical. As in, just about every touch consisted of two fleches, or one fleche and the other guy backpedaling down the piste.
posted by furiousthought at 1:17 AM on March 25, 2012


I'm the first to preach finger play, but you are somewhat incorrect about power and completely wrong about the fleche. As furiousthought said, they removed it from sabre because it was too effective; it was the only footwork being used. It remains very popular in epee and foil. It was my bread and butter move at a fairly high level in national competition.

You seem to be confusing power with strength, which can be useful but less so. If power were an irrelevant property, then leverage would also be, and we wouldn't have terms like forte and foible to refer to the strong and weak parts of the blade. I'll grant you that it is least important in sabre, but even there if your parry is insufficient to block the attack, you lose the point.

In epee, and to a lesser extent foil, power is extremely important when attacks are made in opposition, that is with the blades in contact, to force the defenders blade out of position (this was one of the key concepts Lee adopted BTW). Strength also comes into play here by effectively lengthening your forte and your opponents foible.

"Someone that just tries to crunch through defense with brute force is a jerk"

Dude. It's a combat sport. I would always tone down the power on the practice floor or against the fairer sex but when it comes to competition versus men, it's on. I catch you making some weak sauce parries you better believe I'm going to throw a hard cut and see if I can power through it. I was actually more of a finger guy than most, but my favorite tactic versus superior point control was to hammer them with beats until they clamp down, and then go finesse.
posted by Manjusri at 1:57 AM on March 25, 2012


You seem to be confusing power with strength
No? You may have made a distinction between the words that seems useful to you, but that doesn't mean that it's a universal definition about which I'm confused. When I said "power" I meant something like "force generated by effort of the muscles".

Leverage is definitely a separate thing, and I've certainly disarmed people with beats on the blade that didn't have a whole lot of power/strength in them. Forte to foible with a short slide along their blade and if they're not careful, it'll pop it out of their hand.
Dude. It's a combat sport. I would always tone down the power on the practice floor or against the fairer sex but when it comes to competition versus men, it's on. I catch you making some weak sauce parries you better believe I'm going to throw a hard cut and see if I can power through it.
What a silly thing to say!

It's not combat. MMA/boxing/kickboxing/K1 are combat sports. You're not awarded extra points for hitting harder. There's no scoring criteria for incapacitation of your opponent. If fencing is a combat sport, then so is tennis.

And again, power is necessarily slow. If someone is winding up for some big RARGH I CRUSH YOUR PARRY attack, I'll just attack into prep and retreat out before it lands. If you're the sort of guy that likes to do huge lunging attacks, I'll just elicit one and parry with distance, then bop you lightly on the head after it misses. The oafish brute fencer relies on inexperience and fear and hurting people so they're afraid of getting hit - the guys that lose the bout but leave you with long bruises down your back from their very late, brutal counters whipping over your shoulder.

In case it's not clear - I am talking about bad fencers that try to substitute strength for skill. They're easy to beat because you have to wind up to generate power - think of a guy hauling back for a big haymaker punch - but they can push around certain fencers at the little local HS gym tournaments they're confined to. If you're not one of these guys you needn't feel like you have to defend them.

Also the "fairer sex" thing is silly - they can use the same simple counters I could, and again, it's not like I was ever even a USFA A-rated fencer.

All that said! I could easily be wrong re: fleches, they were never really a part of my fencing landscape. =)
posted by kavasa at 1:01 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


The fight scenes in The Princess Bride look a lot like traditional theatrical stage combat. But I don't get the sense they look much like what two actual dudes trying to kill the fuck out of each other with swords would look like.

But that's exactly the story being told - each man is so supremely confident of his ability to survive that both are more curious about learning how the other plays the game, than they are dead set on killing the guy quickly.
posted by -harlequin- at 1:30 PM on March 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm pretty sure he's [Vader] deliberately emulating a fencing master, until Luke lands a lucky blow and he gets down to business.

Let's also not forget that Vader's is NOT trying to kill Luke. So his prime directive for the whole fight is more like "defend yourself as needed, give Luke a good scare, but for the love of wookiees DON't kill him!"
posted by ShutterBun at 2:08 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I know that movies are a different beast, but one of the main principles of theatrical stage combat is that you NEVER do anything that has a chance of injuring the person you are "fighting". Pretty much 99% of stage combat is how to make things look cool anyway while keeping that in mind.

I am sure this means that there are sometimes people in the audience with the perception to realize that the blow you are swinging is actually aimed at the air in front of the other person. But when the alternative to this is that one person getting distracted at the wrong moment and missing a block one night means they end up in the hospital ... it's not even remotely worth the risk.
posted by kyrademon at 4:10 PM on March 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


I will say though, that in the old days part of learning to be an actor was learning to fight with swords. It was one of the courses you took at school. So you had people who had a couple of years of training as opposed to a couple of weeks pre-production.

Trochanter, you can't tell that by looking at some of the movies from the old days. Still utterly unrealistic. Still two people swinging weapons at intentionally safe ranges/targets. Still not dueling.


My understanding is that some of best and most accurate movie fencing is that in The Princess Bride.

Not even close, shakespeherian. The names mentioned in the duel are actual historical teachers of fence. The fighting is close-in, but they ignore their points - I've never seen a modern fencer do that in a bout, and General Patton would have waded in bare-fisted and struck both of them down. And, of course, there's the unnecessary gymnastics.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:36 AM on March 26, 2012


Trochanter, you can't tell that by looking at some of the movies from the old days.

Yeah, there are a lot more badly filmed sword fights than good, that's for sure. Flynn was not trained, but I think Rathbone was -- in fact, I think he did fence.
posted by Trochanter at 12:18 PM on March 26, 2012


I've been paying attention to the swordsfights in some of the stuff I've seen recently (Spartacus and Game of Thrones) and they probably could be as blatent as Phantom but with a bit of competent direction, decent camera angles and editing and the actors selling the action in a content where you cared about the characters you really don't notice it. Sadly most of the time Phantom lacked that...
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:05 PM on March 26, 2012


Kavasa:"When I said "power" I meant something like "force generated by effort of the muscles".

Actually, you were using the term to characterise my attack, which is a product of strength (produced by the muscles) augmented by leverage.

"Forte to foible with a short slide along their blade

This is called a froissement, and it's a power move. You have too many misconceptions for me to parry them all, but no, properly executed powerful moves do not require a windup, and no, retreats are not faster than attacks. The retreat allows you some control over when distance closes but a determined attack is faster than a retreat.

"It's not combat.

Of course it is. Ritualized combat. You do know the rules of boxing are basically derived from fencing, right? You don't strike each other in tennis, although there are psychological similarities.

"I am talking about bad fencers that try to substitute strength for skill. "

A good fencer uses what is available to him. I use anything at my disposal within the confines of the rules and sportsmanship. Strength, height, endurance, mental toughness, etc. Hitting people illegally is simply brutality, not sure why your talking about that. Striking through an insufficient parry is using power to score a point.

"Also the "fairer sex" thing is silly - they can use the same simple counters I could, and again, it's not like I was ever even a USFA A-rated fencer.

You're using that word again, I don't think it means what you think it means. You do know that they separate competitions by sex because of the differences in strength and quickness, right? At the lower levels they allow the women to fence with the men, but this is just because there are typically not enough women for a quality tournament.

My regular training partners were some of the best women in the country. It would be silly and gauche for me to use power against them, as it would be unrealistic training for them, and I would lose the benefit of learning from their superior technique. Not to mention women bruise more easily, and it's just not cool.

Anyway, clearly our experiences of the sport are vastly different. Perhaps the principles are not so common after all.
posted by Manjusri at 2:24 AM on March 28, 2012


IamBroom: There's some room to criticize Errol Flynn for not being grounded in technique, but his adversaries were typically very good, and he brought a lot of enthusiam, athleticism and panache to the table. I wouldn't at all describe what they were doing as safe; injuries were quite common.

I completely disagree with you on The Three Musketeers. That was one of William Hobb's early works, and he also plays the two-handed swordsman who confronts Porthos in the Inn. Great stage fencing, and a wonderful movie that really does capture the flavor of the book.

And yes, the Princess Bride is widely acclaimed for the quality of the fencing.
posted by Manjusri at 2:36 AM on March 28, 2012


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