Fight Yourself

Victim control.

It is an essential element of stage combat, but often misunderstood, and more often performed badly. It means that when there is physical contact between two actors, the apparent victim is in charge. This principle applies to pushes, pulls, grabs, strangulation, hair pulls, and most falls and throws.

Tyler Durdan

Take a lesson from Fight Club. The movie is old enough now that I don’t feel like I’m spoiling it. However, if you haven’t seen it yet, stop reading and watch it now. Seriously, it is a great film with important political and psychological messages.


There are two scenes towards the end of the movie in which “Jack,” played by Edward Norton, physically beats himself up. The first is when he quits his job. He hits himself and throws himself around his boss’ office in order to get a generous severance package. The second is when he has a fight with Tyler, who is his alter-ego, and in half the instances we see that he is actually attacking himself, even though Brad Pitt is in the other half of the shots.

Norton is playing both sides of the fight: operator and victim. As an actor, he doesn’t need to choose who is in charge of safety or who initiates the motion: he is. His punches will always have the perfect distance, he will have perfect timing, and he knows his own limits. In that way, the fight scene is easier than working with another actor.

This teaches an important lesson for many of the techniques, though. He pulls himself by the collar across the office and throws himself into a glass shelf. If he’d had a partner, his victim part would be exactly the same: a run with chest out front, and his own jump backwards into the shelf. The operator must make the audience believe that he initiated the action, while the victim has complete control of their own movement.

In the second self-fight, he performs a hair pull across the floor by himself, pushing himself across the floor with his heels. The operator must pretend that they’re pulling. (This is actually an interesting case where the operator helps by keeping the arm straight and the victim keeps them attached as if in a hair pull by holding onto the operator’s forearm. The operator can pull with their legs, as long as the hand does not grip any hair.)

Get a Hold of Yourself

As is the lesson in Fight Club overall, getting control of yourself is the main key to victim control. The operator must fight the temptation to make the attacking motion real.

A push is a gentle contact, following the victim’s reaction, but creating an outward illusion of tension through the body. In that way, the victim is completely safe because the operator is putting no real pressure on them. We practice this in class by pushing away from a wall while trying not to touch it.

Fighting By Yourself (Class Holidays)

Our holiday schedule is: No classes 21 December through 4 January inclusive. In the mean time, practice those parries and brush up on your glossary of terms.

I hope to see many of you at the Paddy Crean Workshop in a little over a week, and I’ll be teaching a Bartitsu workshop at Rapier Wit on 24 December.


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.