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Welcome to the Sick Individual Productions “Basic Staged Weapons Combat Page”.

Here I am aiming to explain to you the basics of staged weapon combat as I have learnt and used myself for many film and live performances. I hope that it helps the beginner and experienced practitioner alike. Although below is more focused for live performances the same theories apply to film performances. On film you just have to consider the angles that you want it shot in more carefully. So all you backyard ninja and jedi lets begin training!

Before we go any further I must point out that I will accept no responsibility at all for you hurting yourself, hurting others or damaging any property by following the techniques outlined below. You train, read and use these teachings at YOUR own risk!!!  And be prepared: This tutorial is large!

Sick Individual
Sword Fighting

You can see examples of
Sick Individual Productions
Sword Fighting Techniques
by viewing the following films:

Dark Prophecy

Two Knights Ago

Highlander Advert


Staged combat is all about practise, gaining confidence, having fun and most of all its about trust. Trust can be seen in various forms: trusting yourself to wield the weapon with precision and safety, trusting your opponent to wield the weapon with precision and safety, and also trusting the producer/director for his guidance and for looking after the welfare of their cast and crew. Staged combat can cover such situations as that of a mass medieval battle to that of a one on one sword duel to the death. Show combat is NOT and I stress NOT real combat. It is a skilled and highly rehearsed act, and far more extended and flamboyant then real combat. The point of it is to put on a “show” for the audience, who ever and what ever medium they may be watching. Unless your planning it, the fight is far more extended than in real life. Normally a swordsman would aim to end the fight with one single cut motion, you do not want to waste energy or risk injury with a prolonged encounter. For entertainment value however the duel would go for much longer. People are very conditioned these days to that of viewing the Hollywood style of combat and fighting where the hero normally takes a shocking beating and then comes out on top. The extended fight scene is much more entertaining.

Real combat is very much different to this. One clear example of this is seeing how messy and basic a normal pub fight is. One guy may get blindsided and be punched in the nose and simply collapse on the ground….end of fight. Also in real life most fights end up in a grappling situation, not a fast flowing and beautiful looking clean and crisp encounter. The belief in Hollywood fighting being believable often leaves people disenchanted when they go to train for real and find out how much hard work and basic in form most combat really is. Also having been stabbed, punched, kicked and cut myself, I can tell you that it does not feel very good and is a very painful experience. Professionals get hurt themselves at times even after lifetimes of experience.

Anyway enough of my harping on about all this, I must also say that there are in fact slight parallels between stage sword fighting and real sword fighting. You will gain a lot of confidence, fitness and faster reaction times from practising staged combat than you would from just sitting on the couch and watching videos all day.

The fact is that you wish to entertain the audience is it not? So to do this you must train with the weapon, look natural whilst using it and act along with the performance. There is no other way of pulling this off successfully. YOU MUST TRAIN AT SOME POINT IN YOUR CAREER!!!! There is no easy route to attaining the skills taught here.

It is also no good trying to build a show/film around a combat scene. The vast majority of people will bore of this and most of you will not have the effective skill to pull this off, so remember that a good plot and scenario are also extremely handy to have.


Lets move on to training. I will start off by saying that you must understand that this is not a Martial Art or form of self-defence. As stated above, these techniques are just for entertaining people.

Some major considerations:

  1. Practise rehearse practise rehearse!!

  2. Go at the speed your partner and yourself are comfortable with.

  3. Follow the routine as it has been rehearsed. Do not deviate!!

  4. Don’t be over excited and get carried away with your force.

  5. Never try to hurt your opponent!!

  6. Never fight whilst intoxicated, drugged or in a bad mood!!

  7. Never strike in anger!!

  8. If you are injured in any way, stop immediately and assess the damage.

  9. If your opponent accidentally hits you do not take it personally and never try to get revenge!

For this tutorial I am mainly focusing on the use of the double-handed sword, which is very popular in use today. Be it a broadsword, Katana or lightsabre, all the below techniques apply in the same fashion. You can apply the techniques to all melee weaponry though. The two-handed sword is common for most people and easier than a lot of weapons to control in motion. When selecting a sword make sure that it is the hardest degree of steel that you can afford. The sad fact is that all swords get damaged during a fight and lesser steel versions may not last very long at all. I have seen some cast alloy swords only last a few practise hits at times. This could lead to you having a very expensive past time indeed, and not too mention the safety concerns involved. To avoid damage to your sword some people employ the method of blocking your edged-strike to the flat of their sword, instead of blocking and striking edge to edge. This is very helpful for softer steeled swords, but it will normally cause the blockings sword to bend upon impact. Some truly hardened steel swords blocking in this way can easily snap or shatter, so always try to be aware of what your sword is capable of and can handle in training.

I also highly recommend training with bamboo swords (bokkens) or wooden sticks at first until you get confident with the blocking and attacking motions. Also this will lengthen the lifetime of your actual stage swords and will lessen the degree of injuries. I would also recommend for obvious reasons to steer clear of “live” or sharpened blades. Using training swords is a great to warm up with before a performance or a shoot. I introduce trainees into contact training with the use of bokkens, staffs and tonfa batons.  This gets them used to being hit, used of hitting back and gets their reactions working swiftly.

Swords to Avoid Fighting With:

This is for your short-term and long-term welfare so please read. Just a few general hints on what types of swords not generally use if you can help it.

  • Generally swords that are meant to be only a decorative ornament. They are usually made of very soft metal and are not very sturdy
  • Swords that have been only spot welded together in parts. This is very brittle and can break without notice.
  • Avoid using swords that are sharp, or as we say “LIVE”. Considering the amount of injuries that can easily arise by sword fighting I would try to lessen the chances of any wounds.
  • Also avoid mixing swords of varying steel strengths. Normally only the stronger sword will survive!!
In time you will acquire great control over your weapons and attacking motions. This will help you pull the strike if need be and lessen the force of the blow when it strikes. During a broadsword fight once in front of a live audience and with steel swords, my partner and I were going at it really hard and we were also free fighting which adds more of an element of danger. He did not block my vertical strike in time and I managed, some how, to pull the sword up within an inch of his head and managed not to cleave it in two. This was a prime example of control and luckily I did not hit him at all. Even if I had of hit him though with control the injury would have been far less in impact. This is important for all forms of stage/screen combat, including hand-to-hand or weaponry fights.

This is a diagram portraying The 6 Basic Attack Zones as taught to me and is very common amongst the performance fighting circles

Below are the six basic strikes described.

Basic Defences:

It is essential to block, and with your sword. You must block the strike away from your body, and before it has any chance to strike you!!

I have seen people be struck and I have been injured myself through poor blocking techniques. Otherwise you are going to be very sore and sorry! Below are the basic blocks to parry the six basic strikes.




1. This is the basic vertical cut, perpendicular to the ground and is clearly aiming to come down onto the head. This is probably the most common attack used most times.

1. Raise the sword above your head and parallel to the ground. Make sure your sword is above your head. This is a common fault and often leads to the head being struck! Some people also like to have the defending sword tilted slightly to the ground so the attack glances off. With which hand is in front is your own preference, most people practise with the next move in mind and from which side next you are going to attack or defend from.

2. This is a horizontal cut, parallel to the ground and aimed at the opponents left shoulder.

2. Move you sword to the left side of your body at a comfortable distance away from it and confidently parry the strike. Try to keep your sword as vertical as possible with the blade central to your shoulders.

3. This is a horizontal cut, parallel to the ground and aimed at the opponent’s right shoulder.

3. Move you sword to the right side of your body at a comfortable distance away from it and confidently parry the strike. Try to keep your sword as vertical as possible with the blade central to your shoulders.

4. A downward swinging cut to the opponents left leg. A rough angle of 45 degrees is most commonly used with the sword glancing down.

4. Swing the sword down to your left side at a 45-degree angle and parry the attack away from your lower body. Make sure your blade is pointing down towards the ground.

5. A downward swinging cut to the opponents right leg. A rough angle of 45 degrees is most commonly used with the sword glancing down.

5. Swing the sword down to your right side at a 45-degree angle and parry the attack away from your lower body. Make sure your blade is pointing down towards the ground.

6. A thrust to the centre of your opponent’s torso. This is clearly the most dangerous manoeuvre and requires a lot of practise. This thrust commonly also incorporates a lunge forward with the body. Many people have trouble using and defending against this attack. You can of course thrust at multiple heightened targets at the centre line if planned for and rehearsed.

6. Now this is important because no one wants to be gutted! A nice and tight downward swinging defence is the most common technique used here. The attack is simply knocked to one side and slides past you. Keep you sword nice and vertical and strike the sword to whatever side you are comfortable with. There  are of course more detailed blocks for this technique, which involve angling in to your opponent or away from them.
Offensive Notes

With rehearsal and lots of practise you will be able to judge the required force to use for the fight you are wishing to portray. Do not go full force at your opponent at any time! This is where confidence and distancing also come into play. 

Another important aspect is not to “fight air”. This is where it is clearly visible to the viewer that your intended strikes would never have hit your opponent. This often makes the fight look very soft. It is not logical or energy efficient to block a strike that will clearly not hit you, and most people out there are fairly logical. With rehearsal and confidence all of the fighters should be able to get in nice and close to each other and strike at a reasonable speed and force. You must be able to and feel confident with the ability to pull your strike as much as possible it you need to. This would happen if amidst a fight your opponent forgets the sequence, looses his footing/balance or is injured and unable to quickly block. With lots of practise you will also be able to invent and try many other types of strikes and defensive counters for these strikes.

This is the wrong way to block a vertical strike!!!!

As described in defensive action no.1, Raise the sword ABOVE your head.

If at anytime you are injured during practise or the actual performance then STOP and access the damage. You may want to fight again sometime in the future. Always keep a first aid kit on hand and a phone nearby to dial emergency if need be. There are usually no minor injuries due in sword fighting. Generally the hands cop a degree of punishment over time, whether it is via the sword, staff or knife. I recommend wearing leather gloves, as thick as you feel comfortable with, during weapons training to try to lessen any accidental impact.

Now before every practise and show/shoot you should warm your limbs and body up with a basic stretching regime. Stretching will decrease the chances of muscle tear injuries and will increase your range if bodily motions. This will help speed and fluidity increase more rapidly.

The Fight

Now we have the basics out of the way we can get to the choreography of the actual fight sequence. This is never an easy task and usually has to be tailored to suit the film/show that you are working on. As mentioned above, a show does not normally revolve around a fight scene so it must be woven carefully into the plot. I also prefer actual weapon-to-weapon contact and force in my manoeuvres. I think it adds more realism and intention to the fight.

Some points to ponder

  • Make sure the fight is fluent and flows well. Ensure all fighters have nice comfortable stances and are balanced
  • The actors usually have to look confident with their weapons and actions
  • Do not “fight the air” and use as real distancing as possible
  • The actors have to “ACT” within the fight. They perhaps have to give the impression of desperation, effort, injury or exhaustion.
  • Try to incorporate hand-to-hand strikes and fast grappling manoeuvres into the fight to make it more interesting to the viewer.
  • Enjoy the performance/shoot & have fun.

I prefer to write the sequence down in paper first. If the duel is only between two people then I write down each one’s moves step by step and the other fighters moves in response. Sit down and work out what the fight is trying to achieve, what the fighters are capable of and what the setting allows.

Once down on paper run through it very slowly with the fighters in a distinct step-by-step motion. Start assessing early on if any changes for any reasons need to be made. Once the fighters have the gist of it memory then start rehearsing it at a slightly faster speed and with increasingly more gusto. Full speed and required force cannot be used until the fight has been learnt and is 100% completely natural to the fighters. They must have everything correct. This will take time and sometimes a lot of time. This is totally unavoidable, even for seasoned fighters. During this process introduce the costumes and the actual swords that are intended to be in use for the actual performance (if not already used so), so that the actors are used to the weights and feel of their equipment.
Stances used within the fight will vary accordingly to the styles and time periods that you are trying to reflect. These can be found out by watching a video that reflects what you are after or be studying historical book on the subject. Just make sure you move smoothly and balanced between stances. Many stances you see in movies are usually not very combat effective. One stance I love is where the hero has their front arm extended virtually straight out towards the enemy and his backhand is holding their sword above their head. In reality I would cut off that leading hand straight away.

Wether for stage or screen, assemble the fighters early and have a briefing of the fight and what is to be expected. The fight should be rehearsed a couple of times at a nice comfortable speed and then once at full speed and power. Any last minute concerns should be addresses here.

Problems During The Fight

Problems and glitches can commonly occur during the actual performance. One common one is that of a performer forgetting the combat sequence. In a live show it is important not to just stop at this point and look like the fight has gone astray. Maintain eye contact with your opponent and quickly respond or try to act along with the slight mistake. The audience generally does not know what is meant to come next and the error can be cleverly disguised. If need be begin to quickly circle your opponent and keep the motion continuing, then launch into the next attack sequence that you know if you or your partner has given some sort of eye or head nodding indication. Communication is very important during these problems. With lots of past rehearsal fighters should be easily able to get back into the groove of the routine.

The worst sword fight I was involved in was for a Jewish Festival one day in Melbourne. We had to fight on top of a classroom roof in the guise of being pirates. The roof for a start was corrugated and we did not learn of this until the day. Too cut a long story short one of the swords broke during the first exchange of blows. We had to quickly adapt so we both drew daggers and started a quick little twin weapon non-rehearsed fight sequence. Too top it off I was hit in the head by a flying Mars Bar from the crowd!!! But at least we kept the fight flowing and moving!

The worst thing that can happen, and especially live, is an injury. As mentioned above, if at anytime you are injured, stop the fight and assess the injury. Proceed off stage or to a safe, calm area as fast as you can. Once assessed then the fighter can decide wether they can continue or not! If in any doubt or the case warrants it, please seek expert medical attention as fast as possible. The problem here is that during a fight you will be hyped up and full of adrenalin. In this state you tend to less pain when injured. Your judgement of the severity of it may also be underrated.  Remember we are only playing heroes or villains for the performance, not for real. I have seen and experienced many injuries in the past. Ranging from small cuts and bruises, to major wounds, head injuries and partial amputations. Some of these during light practise also.

One way of getting really good at two-handed sword fighting is to learn an actual Martial Art that uses and incorporates sword work. This will help you immensely with proper stances and techniques, also with confidence and fitness.

Also some fun practise of “free-fighting” where the fighters attack each other nice, lightly and with care using any technique that they wish and countering how they wish. This gets the fighters thinking more about their actions, improves reaction times and is an ease from the ingrained notion if the rehearsed fight. I recommend using bokkens or wooden swords for this phase. Also make sure that the combatants do not get carried away with the actions and try to score shots into each other’s bodies.

You are also advised to watch action movies involving sword combat and see what works for them and the angles and techniques that they use to shoot the fight.

Simple Drill:

A simple training drill to learn the basic attack and defence techniques is to work with a partner and follow the directions below.

  • One person attacks with offensive techniques 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6.
  • The other person defends against these techniques with defensive techniques 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6.
  • Then simply reverse rolls and try to continue the flow and momentum of the fight.

This drill is a simple extension of the basics and you must remember that power and techniques comes from the basics. All other techniques and motions just extend upon these motions


Basic Sword Fight:

Below is a basic choreographed swordfight involving 2 people and some basic hand-to-hand move that I have used for live shows. The fight is simply between the White Knight and Black Knight and uses the techniques above for attacking and defending. Each step is noted as being “AT”: attacking or “DF”: defending.

White Knight (AT): 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6

Black Knight (DF): 2, 3, 4, 5, and 3 (less controlled “looking” swipe to the side of the head)

White Knight (DF): Ducks under the arcing swipe

Black Knight (AT): 1 ,1, and 1

White Knight (DF): Runs under the last vertical strike and both fighters quickly turn and face

White Knight (AT): Charges in, 2, and spins

Black Knight (AT):  2, 5 cut whilst White Knight spins

White Knight (DF): Blocks 5

Black Knight (AT): Kicks to back of White Knight’s knees, backhands to the faces, this spins White Knight over and he attempts to get up on all fours. Black Knight then kicks White Knight to the stomach (using flat of foot) and White Knight rolls over on his back and acts with the impact.

White Knight (DF): Attempts to reach for his sword, whilst still on his back.

Black Knight (AT): 1 to the ground where White Knight is reaching.

White Knight (DF): reaches sword in time and whilst still down delivers a 4 cut

Black Knight (AT): Black Knight blocks 4 and delivers 1, 1 to the still fallen White Knight

White Knight (DF): Blocks the first 1 and rolls out of the way of the second 1 and gets up to his feet.

White Knight (AT): Attacks with 2, 2 and a 3

Black Knight (DF): Blocks 2, 2, 3 and attacks with a 1

White Knight (AT): White Knight surges forward with 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5

White Knight (AT): Continues attack with 3, 4, 5, 6, 1

White Knight (AT): From the last 1 lunges forward with 6. (kill) Sword on the 6 is aimed to the non-audience side and it is seen to pass through the Black Knight who acts with the input

White Knight (AT): Optional. Black Knight grabs hold of sword and the White Knight thrusts his sword in deeper and withdrawals the sword quickly as the Black Knight slumps to the ground dead

Above is a simple and easy to manage sword fight. As you have read, wrestling and hand to hand combat methods can be easily incorporated into the act. Also other types of melee weapons can be covered and practised in the same way. Simply always think safety and have a lot of fun while learning and performing the above techniques.


Grant Meredith
Shane Hoffmann

© 2003
Grant Meredith
Sick Individual Productions

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