Learn Screen Fighting (How to film fight scenes PART 2)

Time to learn some Screen Fighting moves for your fight scenes!

Welcome to Part 2 of my breakdown of how to make your own fight scenes and learn fight choreography!

I am writing this series from my personal experiences in the action film industry, as I attempt to breakdown the science of how to make your own fight scene and learn fight choreography!
Part 1 >> How to study Fight Scenes
Part 3 >> Learning basic Fight Moves

If you missed it, make sure to read the first post in the series, How to study and pick apart Fight Scenes.

Today we will begin learning some actual screen fighting moves that you can take into your own fight choreography practices, and fight scenes!

Disclaimer: Rustic B is a trained professional working in the Hollywood stunt industry. Anything you learn on this blog, that you attempt, is done so at your own risk. Have fun, and stay safe guys!

Bruce Lee fights Kareem Abdul Jabbar in a timeless example of good screen fighting.
Bruce Lee vs Kareem Abdul Jabbar in Game of Death (click to watch the fight)

Good fight choreography that impresses time and again, consists of three components; Movement, Distance, and Timing.

Movement includes all of the actual moves you see people performing. In hand-to-hand combat these can be further broken down, into Handwork and Footwork. Below, I’ve made a list of essential, basic movements you will need to learn in order to be able to perform and create your own fight choreography. You will want to learn the correct fighting way to perform these moves, after which we will slightly modify them for fight choreography. Weapons is another key for creating impressive fight scenes, but I will cover these in a future article.

You don’t need to use any special equipment to learn the moves below. Unless you have access to some pads to practice on, just focus on getting comfortable moving in your own skin. (Look up tutorials for these moves on YouTube for now, I will film some examples in future.)

Handwork (punches, blocks)
– Jab
– Cross
– Hook
– Uppercut
– Blocks for Punches
– Blocks for Kicks

Footwork (kicks)
– Roundhouse
– Front
– Side
– Hook
– Spinning Hook
– Fighting Stances
– Blocks for Kicks

Practice in front of a mirror if you can. This advice was given to me by some of the best stunt people in the industry. Perfect the way your moves look and feel to you, as you flow from one to the next. There are some very misleading fight scenes up on youtube today, where the performance has good energy and the camera, edit, and sound are superb..yet the performers look like they’re punching air, wildly swinging, or holding back..a mirror would help these people!

Imagine some targets in the air in front of you, and practice hitting those marks over and over. This skill will be important on the set, where you and your partner’s safety will depend on how much control you have over your body. Even the most messy looking fights you see on the big screen are performed by people who know what they’re doing and are working together to make it “look” messy, while remaining in complete control.

Bruce Lee fought Jackie Chan in Enter the Dragon.
Bruce Lee fought Jackie Chan in Enter the Dragon

String together several moves into combos and practice them with a focus on fluidity while also being light on your feet.

“Fight Choreography is a dance, a choreographed performance that comes together when everyone works together and plays off each other’s distance and timing.”

Proper Distance and Timing is the next important key to good screen fighting. The best fighters in the film industry are able to make split-second adjustments in their movements, to adapt to their partner’s style. This comes from working with actors, many of whom aren’t trained in fight choreography, where it becomes the stunt performer’s job to keep their partner safe.

Your knowledge of distance and timing will come with experience, as you work with different types of people and learn which hits sell on camera and which don’t. A good rule of thumb for proper distance and timing in a fight, is if it starts feeling crowded or like you’re going too fast, back up and slow down! Many beginners start crowding the person they’re working with, and the choreography just starts looking bad.

Don’t rush your movements. Most of the fight scenes I have filmed for Movies and TV were actually performed at 80-90 percent speed. In reality, if you get your movements to look fluid, you can film a fight scene at 70 percent speed and still make it look really good.

Keep your hips at a 45 degree angle to your partner, instead of facing directly at them. Keeping your hips at slightly off center will make your punches/swings look bigger and will allow you to look like you’re moving (while all you’re doing is switching your stances in place to adjust for distance).

The best fighters in the industry can make anyone look good. When your fight practice isn’t going too well, and your partner can’t make the necessary adjustments, remember that you can always change something about your own movements to make the necessary hits sell.

Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris fight in this iconic example of screen fighting. Learn fight choreography and how to film fight scenes by reading this article.
Bruce Lee vs Chuck Norris in Way of the Dragon

Train, Train and Train! It’s time for your screen fighting HOMEWORK!

Practice the moves I outlined above in front of a mirror! Once you’re comfortable, start practicing some Shadow Boxing

Learn one “extra curricular” move that impresses you. Start thinking on your feet and take one of the moves you’d like to try (from last week’s notes) and research how you can learn it. (I learned almost everything I know from YouTube, it is truly a “modern oracle”.)

Write in your training journal, keep track of which moves you have learned and which you still need to perfect. Start keeping notes of your workouts, this will be an amazing motivational tool!

EXTRA CREDIT:
Find some friends who are interested in learning screen fighting! It can seem impossible (it did so for me), but I assure you that if you look hard enough you will find someone who is down to throw down! Once you have a training buddy, start going through some fight choreography together. Start with some simple combinations of jabs, crosses, hooks, while your partner bobs and weaves around your punches. Also, start thinking of where a hypothetical camera could be filming you from and where the best angle in your mind is to sell your hits.

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Now get out there, Warm Up, TRAIN HARD, stay safe, and most importantly, HAVE FUN!

> > > Next, learn how to Film realistic Fight Choreography on Camera!

< < < Check out last week's article on How to Study Fight Scenes

About

Rustic Bodomov is a Hollywood Stuntman and Stunt Coordinator, who shares his experiences in the action film industry. He also creates instructional and entertainment YouTube content under the name Rustic B

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