TWElfth Night

Twelfth Night: Training Kunoichi, Pt. 2

I’ve always been a writer. But for most of my life, I have also been an actor. As a matter of fact for many years, I was a classically trained professional stage and screen performer.

That meant I had to learn how to use a sword.

I took classes in stage combat, but I also joined my college fencing club, picking up the saber (which was the closest thing to the kind of sword fighting I had already learned as an actor).*

In one production of Romeo and Juliet, I played Tybalt, the guy who turns the whole play from RomCom to tragedy in just a few short, action-filled scenes before Romeo kills him. Tybalt’s death sets off the chain of events that leads to the play’s tragic end; even in death, Tybalt makes everyone else’s life a mess.

The production was set in a “neverwhen” cross between Renaissance Verona, medieval Japan, and a post-apacalyptic Road Warrior world of violence and disaster. And the fight choreographer decided to have me handle a rapier as if it were a katana.

(I know I have pictures of this somewhere, but this was in the pre-digital dark ages, so for now I’ll have to ask you to image me: 21, skinny, tan, with lots of dark hair, holding my sword above my head in the pose of The Bamboo Bud.)

In any case, I have drawn on my experiences as a fencer as I’ve written the combat and training scenes in the Seasons of the Sword books.

I’ve also used it to help my wife as she’s directed stage productions requiring combat.

As I mentioned a couple of weeks back, I worked with the cast of Maura’s current production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, which includes both silly and not-so-silly combat scenes. It’s also one of my favorite plays: the perfect balance of comedy, romance, and just enough action to keep things interesting.

Working with one young woman (Isabel) and two young gentlemen (Gibson and Chris) to develop a fight where she very effectively mops the floor with them.

I promised some pictures. Here they are, from last night’s dress rehearsal:

Valentine thought he was the attacker; Antonia had other plans
Curio thought he was the attacker; Antonia has other plans
Valentine parries a cut to the head, but...
Curio parries a cut to the head, but…
...has to dive out of the way
…has to dive out of the way
Valentine tries to use his height advantage
Valentine tries to use his height advantage. Nope.
Nope
Nope again.
You'd think he'd learn
You’d think he’d learn
Ouch
Ouch
Two up, two down
Two up, two down

The whole fight lasts about twenty seconds. Doesn’t sound like a very long time, but it’s plenty on stage, and in real combat, it’s an eternity — long enough for the adrenaline rush of fight-or-flight panic to wear off, and long enough for the better fighter to win. As I said: Antonia’s plan here is to take out Curio and Valentine completely before they can use their size and numbers to overwhelm her.

And it works, too.

This production, by the way, is set in 1968 — which explains the wild clothes and psychedelic colors! Anyone who can fight like that in blue go-go boots certainly has style, don’t you think?

In case you’re wondering, having won, Antonia turns her swords over to the young “gentleman” in the green jacket. Who is in fact a young woman: Viola.

There have been stories of women warriors for as long as we have stories. We know from history that some of those stories were factual.

It is that kind of story that I’m trying to write in the Seasons of the Sword.


* Yes, Howard, if you’re reading this: I still have faint scars on my left hand that I stupidly left out for you to hit. Serves me right for bringing a rapier to a saber fight.

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