Performance Traits and Virtues

Mastering a physical skill is a long process. Although most beginners need to learn the fundamental movements and the terminology to identify them, there is a constant development at all levels of general traits and valuable “soft” skills. Despite the lack of attention given to these virtues, they are universally acknowledged among the best performers.

Stage Combat Virtues

What are the traits or virtues that lead to better stage combat performance?

  • Precision: The ability to point at a target accurately and quickly, especially with a tool in hand.
  • Focus: Mental precision, or the ability to keep one’s mind on the task at hand.
  • Listening to feedback: Being open to criticism and opinions of partners, directors and onlookers.
  • Flexibility: The physical ability to move body parts through a wide range of motion, especially valuable for martial arts featuring kicks.
  • Strength: General physical ability to move your own weight in any direction, and to move an external load.
  • Balance: The physical ability to avoid falling, or to support objects or partners so they do not fall.
  • Endurance: The physical ability to keep doing work for a long time.
  • Memory for movement: “Muscle memory” to replicate your position and timing to create choreography.
  • Memory for words: Being able to repeat your scripted lines while performing your physical skill.
  • Patience: The mental skill of maintaining serenity in the face of your own mistakes, the mistakes of your partners and changes made by your director. Accepting that it takes time to get it right.
  • Proprioception: “Body Awareness” or the ability to know where every part of your body is, and what it looks like from the outside.
  • And more….


Lists of virtues are hard to remember and implement. I’d suggest the following synthesis:

Match each letter with a number

1. Outside genuine appearance of…
2. Control the precision of…
3. Endurance for effort of…
4. Memory and replication of…

a. Muscular-skeletal skill
b. Mental intent or character

Challenge yourself

Pick a skill or virtue to develop each class and each week of training. Write it in your training log to remind yourself what you’re really working on while learning a new movement.

Skills are Not Enough

Whether you’re naturally gifted at physical feats or you’ve devoted hours every day to developing your craft, it’s nothing compared to the deeper skills you need for mastery. When performing alone, perhaps you can get away with pure skill. But when performing with a partner, under the direction of a design team, and for the entertainment of an audience, those virtues get you through.

You can always learn a new skill. For some shows you’ll invent new skills to wield fantasy weapons. But what will remain constant, and what your coworkers will praise you for, are these virtues that also need practice.

Become generally capable in body, mind and cooperation.

Build Your Skills

In January, you can join our Intro to Stage Combat to get the fundamentals and then join our ongoing stage combat class. Choose Tuesdays 8-10pm or Thursdays 8-10pm.

Also in January, sign up for the Fight Directors Canada Basic Certification course, called Combat Acting. You don’t need any prior knowledge, but it’s designed for professional actors, so being able to memorize lines and understand basic stage-craft will be taken for granted. That’s Sunday through Friday for three weeks, 1pm-5pm starting 10 January.

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.