A is for Actors On Guard
Actors On Guard, by Dale Anthony Girard – a great book on the use of the rapier and dagger for stage and screen.
A young man, a kid really, is doing choreography with a rapier, musketeer blade (double wide épée), cup hilt. He does the choreography well with his partner, an experienced actor and stage combat veteran named Dave. Dave is waiting for the kid to start his schtick.
“What’s the real thing like?”
So it begins.
“I bet I could hold my own in a fight with one of these.” The kid’s looking at the blade with confidence.
“Sure you could,” Dave says. He’s tired from almost three hours of fencing choreography – two classes, a beginner’s class and an advanced. This is the advanced class. He’s sweating and perspiring. He worked all night at his seventeen-year proofreading job, graveyard shift. He won’t go to sleep until that evening – if he can last. Its been 24 hours since he slept.
“Seriously, Dave,” the kid says. “Why won’t Joe fence against me?”
“Just stick with the choreography.”
“I bet I could fence against you.” The kid thrusts his blade tip at Dave’s chest.
Dave bats it away with his hand – his leather gloved hand. He’s more awake now. “You’re not a fencer,” he says with just a bit of an edge. “You’re an actor.”
“I’m pretty good,” the kid’s bouncing on the balls of his feet. “I could fence.”
“Joe,” Dave shouts and turns away from the kid. “Kid wants to see what it’s like to fence.”
An older man, probably in his seventies – the decades speaking in the lines of his face – rouses himself from reading the paper at the teacher’s desk. He slaps the newspaper shut and stands up, pushing his chair back. “David,” he shouts back. The rest of the class stops their work on the days choreography to see what’s happening. “Get the kid suited up.” He smooths back his white hair with his fingers and walks over to a locker, pulls out his gear. Dave gets the kid suited up with fencing jacket, mask, glove, competitive sabre. The old man suits up in similar whites. His fits loosely, like he used to fill it out more. Still he wears it with familiarity. He walks past the kid with his helmut under his arm. He turns smartly. Dave has pushed the rest of the class back so they’re all against the wall – out of range. All except the kid. Dave’s put him in the center with the old man.
“We’ll do three touches,” the old man says. “Dave, you’ll judge.” Dave nods and the old man salutes him, the kid, and the audience, then puts on his mask. The kid, a huge smile on his face, copies him.
“Fencers ready?” Dave asks.
The old man nods and says, “Yes, sir.” He is still. His sabre in the line of three.
Dave repeats his question to the kid. The kid is nervously swaying back and forth, the blade moving from side to side.
“Fencers ready? Dave asks him a third time.
He nods finally.
Before the kid can take a step forward the old man slashes his sabre’s edge across his chest. The kid stumbles back a step clutching his chest with his free hand. He rubs it smartly.
Dave hears him breathing shallowly. He knows that one hurt, even with a canvas jacket on.
The old man cuts the kids arm and the kid grabs the place where he was hit.
“You ok?” Dave asks sweetly.
The kid nods.
The old man waits this time. He drops his guard down, inviting the kid in to an open target. The kid attacks. He cuts to the old man’s head. The old man parries easily in five and smacks the kid hard in the head, hard enough to make him stagger back a step and to make the rest of the class gasp.
The old man swipes off his helmut and throws it to Dave. “Carry on,” he says and retreats back to his desk where his paper waits for him.
Dave directs the others to go back to their choreography. He walks up to the kid. “Ready for choreography?” he asks.
The kid nods. He’s still wearing his mask. He still hasn’t moved.
For the A-Z challenge I’ll be talking sword-play, every letter of the alphabet. I love to fence and I love to do the choreography of stage fencing. Outside of playing rugby there’s just about nothing better. As a writer who’s first book has more fencing and stage combat in it than most I hope this unique expertise can help others figure out how to write about the use of the sword whether it’s a small sword, a foil, a broadsword, a bastard sword, or a rapier and dagger. Maybe it’ll help with your next fantasy novel or historical. If you have questions, ask. Otherwise onward tomorrow to B.