Competition Stage Combat

Taking inspiration from Major Wes’ post on this very blog called Staged Sword Press, let’s talk about competitive stage combat.


Art Contests

In sporting competition, there is obvious scoring with the ball kicked across a line, or touches with a sword tip. Artistic expression has its own competitions, but they must be scored by a competent jury.

Today, we see artistic contests all over television.

  • So You Think You Can Dance
  • Eurovision Song Contest
  • American Idol (and the new X Factor, which sounds like a mutation of that)

But the precursor to these were Olympic games that included judging of gymnastics, diving, synchronized swimming, figure skating and other athletic endeavours that had an important artistic component. Skill was measured not only in terms of strength, speed and accuracy, but equally with elegance, balance, timing and virtuosity.

Of course, the tradition originated far before this, with musicians, dancers and actors auditioning for roles in professional companies, or to be the king’s court players.


The event cited by Major Wes was called The World Stage Fencing Championship. In his article, Wes pondered how the competition was scored, so here is the Rules PDF.

Here’s the important parts:

The competition is categorized into Solo forms, Group forms (simultaneous identical moves), Duels (2 people, obviously), and Battles. Staged fights may have spoken text or music or both, but the fighting must comprise about 75% of the time. Speaking of which, all performances are timed, with forms 1-3 minutes, Duels 3-5 minutes and Battles 5-7 minutes.

Three historical divisions are distinguished within those categories: A. Ancient to medieval; B. Renaissance to 19th century; and C. Freestyle which comprises modern weapons, fantasy scenarios and anachronisms — but it’s okay if your music is modern regardless.

A panel of judges grades each performance (they are timed too!) in the manner of dance or figure skating contests: 10 points for technical, 10 points for artistic expression, 10 points for overall (balance of participants, audience reception, etc).

Canadian Content

Wes’ question to me was: “Why are there no Canadians in these competitions?” There are plenty of teams from France, Russia, and even Kazakhstan, but you’ll also notice nobody from the USA, England, or Australia, the main players in English-speaking stage combat. The World Stage Fencing Championship is mostly a European contest, and not for any reason other than travel convenience.

That’s okay, there are other events…


So, where can you see and someday compete in Artistic Fencing Competitions?

  • The aforementioned World Stage Fencing Championship took place in Portugal this August and last year, but has had other venues. I don’t know where it will be next year. Here’s some images
  • The newest entry is CombatCon, which took place in Las Vegas in July. Toronto-based Siobhan and Matt Richardson won this contest in 2011. Here’s a video they created afterward with the same choreography: Trespasser Fight Film
  • Don’t forget the annual workshops in which participants earn their certification with various organizations. Of course, there are multiple winners, but the format is very much the same:

Come to think about it, why aren’t there more of these? Maybe there shouldn’t be…

The Perversity of Artistic Competition

Did you know that poetry used to be an Olympic event?

I can’t help but editorialize topics like this. But I’ll keep it short today, before people start spearing me off this high horse.

Art is difficult. Before you can express yourself and contribute to the culture, you must train until you are highly skilled. Only then can you start to deliver a message that people will listen to, whether though music, movement or visuals. What message? You have to consider your ethical position and your understanding of storytelling, design and sense of proportion. To avoid cliche and repetition, you must have a nuanced understanding of art history. After all that, most people think you’re a flake anyway.

To make artists compete is to diminish art to entertainment. Art is a large component of culture and an important way of connecting to each other and commenting on our society, whether positive and romantic or critical and disturbing. Let’s encourage artitsts and support them rather than putting them in a gladiatorial pit.

What’s Your Favourite Film Fight?

I get asked that question all the time. The most recent time was Randy Packer at CNAT.

My answer is: It’s not a competition.


David McCormick Head of Stage Combat at Academie Duello and certified Instructor with Fight Directors Canada. Head of Bartitsu at Academie Duello, the longest continuously running Bartitsu program in the world.
Read more from David McCormick.