Thursday, February 28, 2019

My body as a Japanese Pagoda

Maintaining and controlling balance under adverse physical conditions can be tricky. There are some opinions that the ankle and hips can deal with much of the demands on the body for sustaining balance and then as the task becomes more challenging for the body the upper body starts to kick in in order to support extra needs to get balance back under control – here is great article that supports that notion. I found this article great and also some of the other ones it pointed to.

So, what does an actor do when their upper body is already engaged in other physical needs? E.g. when both arms are welding two weapons or when the upper body is involved in the act of a physical grappling scenario. How then does the upper body support balance choices?

To answer this dilemma the image that has always come to my mind is best expressed through the design of the Japanese pagoda. Its ability to withstand earthquakes is a testament to its design. What a fantastic structure. The understanding that my ankles, hips and upper body work in an isolated scheme and as a global scheme is important. Developing a strong neurological pathway through conscious develop is the key. Much like the way the joins work in the pagoda – watch this video to see what I mean.

When I feel my ankles being compromised then I ensure my hips and upper body and engaged and compensating for the lack of ankles being accessed and conversely for when other schemes (hips or upper body) are compromised. The global scheme of my body is well connected I just need to tap into it to maximise that effective instrument.

To be continued

Sunday, February 24, 2019

why maintain training?

Objective for Stage Combat Teacher. To train and educate stage combat to actors.

Challenge for Stage Combat Teacher. Ensure that the training will withstand the length of their career to combat the issue that no doubt there will be no regular maintenance of skills. To over come that challenge one must have a strong conceptual approach that is more than just a series of techniques. Or encourage an actor to maintain training...

To ensure that an actor can perform a violent moment; armed or unarmed and, or a slapstick / comedy routine while navigating the stage or area of performance, without any danger to other performers, crew, audience or equipment in a safe and believable manner at the height of any emotionally demanding situation or scene. The actor must be strongly disciplined and well versed in the art of stage combat. Like any profession this ideal ability could only happen if the skills in question have been taught in a diligently affective methodical way and are maintained on a regular basis over the course of the actor’s professional career.

Over the years I have born witness to some wonderful exponents of the art form of stage combat both actors and teachers, but unfortunately what I have observed for the most part in my career with respect to actors performing or training in stage combat and teachers of stage combat alike is:

  • Actors without any skills
  • Actors with a poor level of base knowledge
  • No attention or thought given to a ‘building block of knowledge’ method or process of teaching required to effectively deliver the subject matter with any sustainability of the actor’s career
  • A lack of comprehension on the teacher’s behalf of how to integrate the subject matter into and actor’s career and or process
  • Geographical challenges for instructors to maintain or challenge their own skill development
  • A lack of qualified in a lot of teachers (globally)High level of self-taught experts

From my observation I have ascertained this situation can be attributed to but is not limited to some points of concern:
Little or no attitude or desire from actors to maintain the skill

  • A lack of time to maintain the skill
  • A deficiency of funds to maintain the skill, usually because actors are out of work
  • A lack of appreciation of the skills
  • An under valuation of the subject matter
  • A lack of universities providing the subject or next to not enough time schedules to deliver any strong syllabus
As a result of the above observations; the common denominator faced by qualified Fight Directors is unskilled actors (or next to no skills) in the work force. If actors are unversed physically with the skill of stage combat, then artistic choices as a fight director are usually compromised in order to maintain a safe working environment. What compounds this problem is when actors are unskilled and coupled with no real control of emotions in the heat of performance then extra care and concessions need to be made in a bid to protect other actors involved in the scene and more importantly the actor who has no emotional control. 

While performing stage combat in context of a scene or moment on screen or stage, despite the actor’s ability or inability to control their emotional and physical needs; and even regardless of their technique or their style of acting. A balance needs to be struck amid the relationship that exists between the emotional and physical demands in order to maintain believability and safety. So I guess I’m just saying find the time to maintain the skills required of you as an actor to be an asset in the workforce just as you might maintain your voice.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

the foot bone is connected to the hip bone…

Every time I come back from The Paddy Crean International Workshop there are always loads of epiphanies running around in my subconscious that are yet to be fully realised. It usually takes months for them to eventually find their way to the surface of my conscious mind. This trip was a much the same, but one epiphany landed with me instantaneously.
 I was lucky enough to be observing a class by Anthony and Mary De Longis when Anthony made the smallest remark which rang bells for me. It was the smallest comment, and he probably acquired it from another master. But the expression finally gave me a new succinct way of explaining something I was always over explaining and over complicating to my students. “Your feet unlock your hips”
The reason this maxim was so insightful for me is that I often spend a lot of energy on student’s awareness of their ‘hip relationship” (ie where are your hips aligned and ensuring it’s a choice not an accident). But for a student to successfully navigate the concept of hip relationship they really need to be in complete awareness of what their feet are doing. Which I get; and have always ensured good footwork is happening – but the word ‘unlock’ in this principle is the key.
The muscles that support the tibia, fibula and feet bones allow the foot to either flex, extend the foot, flex or extend the toes and or support the structure of the foot. This complex system allows for the feet to move, rotate, supinate, pronate etc and thus provide the upper part of the legs and importantly the hips to have a greater range of movement and greater control and diversity in alignment.
For me the foot or should I say when all aspects of foot control and manipulation are used. Meaning the three points of contact: ball, heel and toes are used cohesively and independently of each other they support my hips and thus in turn my centre of gravity. By breaking the foot down into these six points of contact (i.e. three on each foot) it equips me with the dexterity and control I need for awareness of placement of my base, braking ability, potential for acceleration and stability. The feet really do have to potential to unlock our hips on so many levels.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

radius & ulna

The relationship between sword and forearm is a wonderous example of the body moving in harmony with an object that was well designed. If you think a little deeper about the design of both sword and forearm there is a fantastic correlation to be had between the edges of the weapon and the bones within the forearm.
When I am manipulating a sword either cutting, thrusting, parrying, or even just freely moving the sword through space. I try to imagine the way the radius and ulna move. To be specific the way in which the false edge moves with the radius and in turn how the ulna moves with the true edge of the sword.
By visualising this relationship, I enhance my ability to move in synchronization with the blade and more over the way in which it may have been designed. In turn I am extending my intention through the whole sword. From thought, through my centre to the tip of the sword.
The amazing design of the forearm in terms of its ability to pronate and supinate allows for such a great range of movement. The combination and use of my thumb, pointer finger and middle to pinkie finger provide an interface with the hilt of the sword to gain control of the blade. With practice I can combine specific placements my fingers to advance the best performance of the blade regardless of the hilt shape i.e. swept hilt, sabre hilt or a simple cross guard.
The more the actor gains (literal) inside knowledge of the anatomical function of this process the more they will gain control of the sword being manipulate in their hands.  I would even go so far as to say any prop being wielded by an actor could benefit from this greater understanding.
To be continued…

don't give up your centre

Spiritually and combatively if we give up our centre we are undone. When you lean on some thing or some one how much do you give away your centre? 

When you lean on a balcony to take in view do you give all your weight over to the balcony? If the balcony gave way you would fall. It would be advantageous to take agency over our centre so we don’t fall over or get hurt.

Whether performing stage combat or doing movement of any form that requires shared body weight. It is important that we don’t give up our centre. Maintaining your own balance is integral so if you give away your centre it will be even harder to maintain balance. 

Combatively speaking your opponent will often be attempting to take your centre away form you so if you give it up you’ve done a lot of their work for them. So it would behove us in the replication of combat to not give away our centre. 

I have a maxim: "don’t compromise your own structure to get what you want." In simple terms I mean if you allow you own centre to operate away from your base without any care you will be placing yourself in danger. To be specific: danger of falling probably. 

Thursday, September 20, 2018

the victim does NOT do all the work...

I was reflecting on some thoughts and concepts that I was introduced as gospel in stage combat the other day. One of the fundamental principles I was told when I started my formal stage combat training was – the victim does all the work.

A maxim that states that while performing something like a hair grab for example the victim is the one leading the move. Here is a link to an example of the thinking I am referring to – hair grab YouTube link. (disclaimer – I am in no way having a go at this tutorial it is just an example)

Hopefully you took a quick look at the video it’s only a minute long – here is my problem with this line of thinking. The main concern for me is that the aggressor becomes a passenger in the experience. It necessitates that the aggressor must ‘follow’ the victim when in fact the image we are generally trying to convey to the audience is that the aggressor is the ‘dominate force’. It is another great example of making stage combat look stagey. Which again reinforces my notion that we should not be calling it stage combat in the first place. After all when I play a doctor on stage I’m not referred as a stage doctor am I? I’m called a doctor. But I digress.

I am curious by nature and therefore question everything; so why can’t the aggressor control some aspects of this technique? We know it’s not real… we know we are working together to create the illusion... so why does only one of the actors have to ‘control’ everything?

If we look at a waltz as correlation to the work, I am describing; the lead person is ‘guiding’ the other through two strong points of contact - the hand and the back. But even in this scenario the person being led knows the choreography it’s just these points of contact allow for subtlety and nuance in the delivery of the choreography. So why not bring the same level of subtlety and nuance via listening to combat for stage and screen?

I am not saying the victim has it easy, if we look at the dance for example the person being led must do it backwards for want of a better phrase. It’s just that I feel there is a better way to represent this type of violence. Which could be through stronger structure and alignment and guided communication from the ‘aggressor’. In the example in that video linked above - even if the male actor had grabbed the female actor’s elbow to create another point of contact he could have looked a little more involved with the picture / story.

Anyway, my one year old is hungry so must away. Hope that pricked your curiosity as well.

Stay curious...

You Tube Channel

Thursday, September 13, 2018

the wonder of gravity

Gravity is something that is always acting on us and yet it’s not until we have a bad fall that we realise how much it is acting on us. 
The trick when falling, tumbling and rolling is to learn how to develop the appropriate amount of force and momentum to exert so as to be in harmony with gravity. Too much force and too little force - both have unfortunate results. 
I like to enter these sorts of moves with an image of focusing on the first half of the technique. For example, if I were to do a forward roll. I focus on the amount of energy required to get my feet above my head knowing the gravity will take care of the rest. Rather than putting enough energy in to complete the whole roll. This approach also aids with the process of feeling like I have more time during the technique.  
I can also consider gravity when asked to ‘push’ another actor and choreographically they are to ‘fall’ over. For me when I’m pushing the actor to the floor. I’m doing this with the full understanding that I’m making a connection between their centre of gravity and their base knowing full well that gravity is in the equation. 
Visually I’m portraying the image that I should be robbing them if their centre and thus over balancing them. However internally I’m guiding the actor in harmony with gravity. I know traditional thinking is the victim does all the work. However, the reality is that I’m still involved in the work and connected to the other actor so if that is the case my thinking is: how can I best help them find the floor? Then answer lies in working with gravity.  
“You must learn to avoid the jar that affects the nervous system and organs which are in line and through which the jar is transmitted. When a man expects to fall upon his feet he will instinctively bend his knees and hips at the moment of impact and very little of the jar reaches the body.”
Chapter IV – Lupino Lane’s – How to Become a Comedian