How to Deliver Intention and Intensity


There was a recent study Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on how people evaluate musical performances in contests shows that hearing the audio matters less than viewing the musician perform, even compared with a no-audio video. Check out the summary at Scientific American’s 60-Second Science Blog

  • Condition 1: audio only (compare the music on its virtues)
  • Condition 2: video with audio (see the whole picture, just as the professional judges did)
  • Condition 3: video with no audio (comparing only the passion and activity of the musician)

Untrained hearers were put in one of those three conditions, and asked to evaluate different contestants in a professional music contest. Compared with professional judges, the untrained participants chose the winners more accurately in the third condition, with no audio, than the other groups. Actually, the professionals also picked the winners best with no audio.

You might say that this means that professional music judges are clearly being biased by the performers’ presentation rather than their technical performance, such that even amateurs can judge a professional contest by their own bias towards active and passionate playing regardless of technical proficiency. Others take a less cynical position: that tiny mistakes and imperfections can be more than compensated for with a passionate performance.

But whatever your interpretation, this gives you a clear message for your performance on stage while fighting or dancing or acting: The impression of your performance depends far more on your energy and acting than on perfection or minor changes to the method you use. This is true even of professional judges like critics.

So try to be technically great, but you’ll be judged far more on your intention and energy than on perfect placement or incredible speed.

How to Show Intention

Read my article on Character in Choreography, or take these tips:

  1. When attacking, look at your targets. Dart your eyes from target to target like a hawk.
  2. Reach with the tip of the sword or weapon to elongate your whole body, especially the lead elbow.
  3. When on defense, allow yourself to recoil and move off-line away from the attack.
  4. Breathe audibly throughout. Between phrases you should be panting. (If you’re so fit that you can fight at full speed without losing your breath, then pretend: it’s acting.)

How to Practice Intensity

I think an excellent way to learn violent intention without fighting and worrying about safety and technicality is to practice delivering threats:

100 Greatest Movie Threats (NSFW: foul language)

The 100 Greatest Movie Threats of All Time

New Stage Combat Programs

Don’t forget our two new stage combat programs with Academie Duello:

  • FDC Certification: 7-week course starting 23-September
  • Performance Class: Ongoing training for certified actors and martial artists
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.