The DAREarts Grade six students are transfixed on the broadsword flashing in a man’s hand. “You won’t watch a movie in the same way again.” says Fight Choreographer Matt Richardson. “We’re ruining violence for you!”
Every fight you see is a form of story telling. Who’s the protagonist, antagonist? What’s the style? It has to have a kind of integrity; marshal viability- does it make sense?
Evolution of the sword
He talks about the history of the sword and fighting in general. “Ancient martial arts held on strongly in the East. Western civilization forgot. Firearms came along, and the Scottish and English thought, we don’t need these anymore. But there were small pockets of people who held on to some of the old styles of fighting. That’s what we see in the big movies and fantasy films.”
The sword was originally meant to defend in warfare. There are things in fencing you’d never do in an actual sword fight. You don’t cut with fencing. He puts away the broadsword and brings out a rapier.
He talks about what people did in the old days to survive. Many people hired themselves as fighters. “Knights” – some were noble, some were not. Some taught others how to fight. Duels, believe it or not, are still legal in some countries.
Kaitlin steps in. Matt sets up a scenario: she’s a Scottish land owner. Someone steals some of her livestock. She goes to the magistrate, and looks for help. There is a trial by combat. If the antagonist wins, she loses. God would not let a person who is false win against someone on the battlefield who is not true. “God is on our side.” We know that’s not the case. Life isn’t always fair. He explains that people hired professionals to duel.
I love how he just hands them the swords, knowing that they’ll handle them with respect.
“The sword changed when people dropped the armour. Someone invented the rapier.” It only takes a poke. The idea is to thrust, rather than swing. This is in the time of the three Musketeers, Cerano, Reformation, Elizabethan times. The swords became lighter and lighter. It became a fashion to wear a sword. Civilians used it, not soldiers.
“Don’t worry, we’ll be working with fake swords.” The kids respond, “Awwwww!”
Matt gives a big smile. “Who would like to be punched in the face?” Hands go up. I can’t help it. I love this guy. An actor and fight instructor with over fifteen years of experience as a professional from Disney Cruises to Stratford. He introduces us to a safe way to fight on stage.
Evan steps up. He is the target. Matt lands a punch on his face and Evan doesn’t move. The kids react. “oooooh!” Then Matt sets up the step by step build of a single hit. It takes a while. Eye contact. Communication. When the hand goes past your face, you complete the effect by swinging your head and putting your hand to your cheek. The puncher hits his chest and makes a noise that sounds like a punch. That’s called “napping”. See? Ruined it for you, too!
Now: the swords!
“How do we swing these without killing each other?” Sydney volunteers, and they mime fighting. The beautiful thing about this is that the kids are learning how to be ready for anything. Finding a centre of balance. Facing your opponent. Eye contact. If you stand sideways, you have the strength and structure to resist. Legs sideways, Body forward. En Guard!
Safety was the primary focus when the students had the swords in their hands.
The students learn five parry positions. They learn how to hold a sword safely. How to maintain balance. Most important, how to maintain constant communication. They take on an instant grace. The concentration in their faces is a beautiful thing to see. They focus. They listen carefully because our instructor is funny and clever, “…and look at your wrist watch. Point at your puppy. Look at the back of my hand. Parry three. Point up. Cross the body… your point is glued in space. The point is a fulcrum.”
Then they build the choreography. They get specific. I was entertained the whole time, watching the change in the students. Learned a few things, too.
These kids are learning about discipline in a big way. They’re getting a different idea of what goes on in movies and on stage. They’re getting a history lesson. A whole new world is opening up to them, one different than the smaller one they’ve been exposed to. This just might ignite an interest in a whole new set of possibilities.
Isn’t that the point?