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Forum Index > Off-topic Talk > Medieval fight scene choreography: Please advise! Reply to topic
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Jean Thibodeau

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PostPosted: Tue 17 Aug, 2010 9:28 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Chad Arnow wrote:
Jean Thibodeau wrote:

The one against many can work if he can position himself so that no more than 2 can attack at a time: Killing the first two in half a second would make the 5 others " pause " and have a problem finding the courage to be the next two to attack.

Any position where no more than 2 can attack at a time would be one in which the hero would be cornered, right? Otherwise, while Untrained Dolt 1 & 2 attack, Untrained Dolt 3-6 would circle behind and knock him off while he was busy with UD 1 & 2. .

First lets say that realistically one against many is never good odds of survival or winning. Wink Cool

So. terrain and mobility helps if one can keep only one or two within striking range. Even on a flat featureless large fighting area one can move to keep one opponent in the way of the others, getting surrounded is always a great hazard and not easy to avoid if the opponents have half a brain. Oh, and if successful the defender would have to quickly dispatch each enemy in quick succession: Something he might well be able to do if 10X as skilled.

The ideal scenario is the bridge defence or narrow corridor where no more than 2 opponents can get at you at one time and there are historical precedents for a single warrior holding a bridge for a considerable amount of time.

Smart enemies would just stand back and call in archers or crossbowmen or use any other missile weapons.

If we assume at least a whole order of superior skill to the single fighter he can take them out one or two at a time until he tires out.

On an other Topic I mention that we practice one against three bouting exercises that leads to using space efficiently to not get surrounded but in this exercise the 3 only make one attack each and withdraw but it does give the defender a " stress test " about using the right guards at the right time as there is no time but to react. I also mentioned that one has to not focus on any particular opponent but keep a 1000 yard stare and use one's peripheral vision and never forget about one of the opponents.

Very interesting and fun exercise but realistically if the attackers did more than one attack and binded the sword of the defender the other two could easily take advantage of this " pause " to attack as well.

So I can't say that I have lived through the 3 to 1 situation in a real fight but I have had fun trying it out.

You can easily give up your freedom. You have to fight hard to get it back!
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Benjamin H. Abbott

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PostPosted: Tue 17 Aug, 2010 2:10 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

While Joseph Swetnam thought nobody could successfully face two opponents in the open, there are various historical accounts of outnumbered combatants winning or at least surviving. For example, see Deadliest Men and More of the Deadliest Men Who Ever Lived. You have John Purcell, who alone used a knife to defeat a band of nine robbers. You have Sir Kenelm Digby, who fought off fifteen better-equipped Spaniards. You have Jonathan R. Davis, who overcame eleven bandits, killing seven with bullets and four with his bowie knife.

We've little way of knowing how accurate these stories are. Digby's is perhaps the most impressive, as his foes had lantern shields that dazzled his eyes, shirts of mail, and steel caps. He held them off at length in a narrow alley, which interestingly matches with what Swetnam considered possible. However, once they beset him from both sides, he rushed through their lines and escaped the trap. The account also happens to give a fascinating look at the effectiveness of armor, with two cases of it preventing wounds. To me, that suggests a certain level of veracity. Digby does not present himself as some mail-rending king from the heroic tradition.

When you read the details of conflicts like these, you'll see that the mass rush strategy isn't necessarily more realistic than the Hollywood one-at-a-time scenario. With Purcell and Digby, those in the larger force showed some reluctance to engage. I'm sure trained soldiers could and did do it, but the problem with simply charging in together is that you might die. To effectively overwhelm sometime, each member of the group has to be willing to suffer maiming or death. An example from The De Soto Chronicles neatly illustrates this point:

The Spaniards who saw it ran to the rescue with their swords in their hands. The Indian, taking from his master the one [sword] that he was wearing, came out to meet them so fiercely and boldly that though there were more than fifty of them he held them off in a wide circle, using the sword with both hands with such agility of body and desperation of spirit that he showed well his desire and eagerness to kill someone before they should kill him. The Castilians drew away from him, not wishing to receive injury in killing a desperate man. Thus the Indian kept circling around in every direction attacking everyone, none of them being willing to attack him until they brought weapons with handles with which to kill him.

To me, one of the most ridiculous things about sword fights in movies and games is how the mooks commonly all die on the hero's blade rather than running away. That's serious morale. In the Digby example above, his opponents gave up once he killed the leader. The robbers left Purcell's house after he killed or wounded five of them. (You should note how he fought them in succession because of the confined circumstances and their caution.) In general, humans try to avoid getting hurt. I can't think of a movie that shows this well, but separated attacks make a lot of sense if you consider fear.

I've experienced this in the simple drill of two daggers against one longsword. Sure, if we rush together, one of us is moderately likely to get a stab in. But one of us is almost assuredly going to get clobbered. I'd rather avoid that. Even with padded sparring weapons, I would often try to circle around and/or let my partner go in first for better survival odds. Sometimes this works, sometimes it gives the longsword enough time to wallop both daggers. I suspect large group dynamics and live steel would make the plan of letting somebody else go ahead extremely appealing. This doesn't look like the Hollywood-style sequential meat grinder, though. The brave members go first; if they fall, everyone else either goes for swarm tactics or treads Cobb's traverse. It can go back and forth, but few groups have the tenacity (or stupidity!) to self-destruct entirely.

In conclusion, I think it's reasonable for a hero to take on nearly any odds if psychology is taken into account. One can beat seven if he or she has iron will while they do not. Though it's fantasy, Tolkien got this exactly right. The orcs habitually run away in the face of extraordinary prowess. When Gimli kills two of twelve, the rest flee. Boromir routs an initial band of dozens; a second group of around a hundred decide, a little like de la Vega's Spaniards, that they have to kill him from a distance. The numbers are inflated beyond any credible historical account, of course, but the dynamics are perfect.
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Steven H

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PostPosted: Tue 17 Aug, 2010 2:46 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hello Michael,

I really appreciate your desire for better combat in your movie.

However, I must say: Get professional fight choreographers.

Fight choreography is inherently dangerous. The most important element to any fight choreography is the safety of the performers. Nothing else is as important.

I've been studying Medieval fencing for four and a half years and I still tell directors that I can't do choreography for them. If you were in the States I recommend the SAFD. Find whatever organization trains and accredits fight choreographers in your part of the world.

I have no desire to rain on your parade. But I have even less desire to see people get hurt.

Good luck with this endeavour! I look forward to the final product.


Kunstbruder - Boston area Historical Combat Study
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Chad Arnow
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PostPosted: Tue 17 Aug, 2010 5:05 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

You raise some good points. But these scenarios aren't the same as in this movie fight.

Digby: First, Digby wasn't alone, which changes things. Second, when the thugs tried to come in from behind him, Digby fought his way out and fled. And Digby did indeed find himself a location where he was in effect cornered, making it difficult to be surrounded, which is something I talked about the hero in the film needing to do if he were to stand his ground. Happy

So Digby showed situational awareness, locating himself as much as he could in a defensible location and fleeing when his safety was no longer assured.

The Purcell situation is also different: he laid in wait and used surprise to kill/wound the first three or four people. He also used doors, hiding spots, and his better knowledge of the house.

I'll admit the Davis fight is impressive, though we aren't left with much detail about what went down. I would guess Davis had some sort of cover to withstand the bullets of 14 men. Unless they were all incredibly bad shots... Happy

In the Digby and Purcell situations, the protagonists used terrain/structures/surroundings to their benefit. In other words, tactics. One fled when the outcome was uncertain. One used surprise. Even though I believe these stories were all sensationalized at least a little bit (why would robbers stop fighting to pull their comrades bodies out? Etc.), they ring more true because the protagonists did more than stand there and fight people turn by turn. The protagonists didn't just stand there, ringed by bad guys, calmly fighting off one or two at a time like in the scene.

Sure, psychology can factor in. The hive/herd mentality isn't always efficient/effective. But isn't there another way to accomplish a film's goal than to trot out an old cliche that is at least not very plausible, even though it may be possible?

The shield thing is an attempt at tactics and I can appreciate the effort even if I find it to be not very plausible.

I still don't understand why V2 didn't take out M while M was using his shield and mace to dispatch V1...

Do what you feel advances your story most effectively and dramatically, of course. I'm just pointing out things I personally find lack varying levels of plausibility.


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Benjamin H. Abbott

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PostPosted: Tue 17 Aug, 2010 7:58 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I should have clarified that I wasn't commenting on the details on the fight scene in question. I generally agree with y'all's criticism. Mainly I reject the idea that mass the rush is inherently more realistic than the Hollywood standard. Garcilaso's Spaniards effectively pulled an Indiana Jones there. Though far from cowards in general, none of them would face the desperate swordsman. They waited for halberds and partisans to arrive. You'll notice that the Indian's technique roughly matches what Giacomo di Grassi described (with mild disapproval) as the common use of the two-handed sword against many opponents: wide, fast blows that inspire terror. As di Grassi wrote, brave and skillful players can overcome this, but in practice a lot people would rather avoid closing with a steel whirlwind.

I agree use of terrain and surprise tend to be critical in these situations. Even Boromir made his last stand with a great tree behind him. I'll outline the ways of beating the odds I consider most common and plausible:

Limited Space: Though Swetnam perhaps pessimistically thought no fencer could defeat two serious adversaries in the open, he still acknowledged that a lone sword could stand against many in an alley or other narrow spot. The Digby example and the various tales of bridge defense support this notion.

Ambush: Getting the jump on people makes quite a difference. That was how they say Musashi defeated Hanshichiro and company. A sneak attack can throw a large group into confusion.

Fear: Few wish to suffer maiming and death. A bit of hesitation and disorder can be enough to alone a single combatant to survive otherwise fatal circumstances.

Superior Equipment: You'll find plentiful accounts of the well-protected enduring attack after attack. I don't know of any sources that definitely show it as most come from battles and involve nobility, but I suspect full armor made it considerably harder to win through numbers. Reach also helps; Silver thought the staff should defeat two swords and daggers given equal skill. Richard Peeke supposedly overcame three Spaniards with rapiers and daggers using a makeshift staff.

These elements are often combined, as with the Digby and Purcell examples. (Though in no instance did the victor hold better arms. One amazing aspect of the Digby case is how they had shields, helms, and mail while he only had a sword.) With such advantages, it's reasonable for a lucky protagonist to scatter (though not massacre!) ten or more. Without them, I'm not sure. I believe a German manual suggests the possibly of defeating six of the unskilled. Swetnam didn't think anybody could manage so much as two.
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