A cinematic sword fight.

So, suppose there was a movie that in one scene featured a sword fight. Now, this is just hypothetical. And suppose to prepare for filming the duel they had two fencing masters to train the actors and choreograph the dual. And for 4-6 months whenever the actors had “down time” they were training. Remember, this is just hypothetical. And suppose a very important part of the scene was that they were fencing right handed but then reveal to each other that they were really left handed and switched to fighting with their strong hands/arms.

So what I’m wondering is would they train to fence with both hands or just fence left handed, practice a switch from right to left, and flip the film over in post production to make it look like they fenced right handed for a while? Maybe some mirror image costuming too.

They would just hire stuntmen instead.

They would probably just practice the exact routine needed for shooting over and over and over.

They would probably train for 4 to 6 months, 8 to 10 hours a day, with former Olympic fencers. They would study not only their own choreography, but the other’s as well, until they literally knew the fight backwards and forwards. And then they would perform the scene over and over again until it was perfect.

At least, that’s what Cary Elwes and Mandy Patinkin did.

Well, say they did that. Still, would they learn to fence with both hands or just one and flip the film over in post production?

I vote “learn to fence with both hands.” I fenced for a while … purely recreationally. We routinely switched hands just to break things up. I think it is very reasonable to suppose they learned both hands.

The swordplay you see in films and television (yes, even Game of Thrones) bears little resemblance to actual edged weapon combat. Swordsmen would never beat each others blades against one another deliberately as that would damage the edge; they would dodge or use shields to deflect an opposing blade while aspiring to contact with their own blade. Real sword fights are over in a few strokes at most, hence why Rob Reiner had to work to extend the fight in The Princess Bride to such length.


Actual moves (those the director wants) are practiced, period. The cast of the first Conan were trained by a Kendo instructor.

The final duel in Rob Roy proved that the director is the one who makes the sword fight great, not the choreographer-trainer. Framing during the duel was perfect throughout, allowing the audience to maintain a sense of direction. No useless close-ups or gore scenes. It forced the trainer (William Hobbes) to do realistic choreographs and coups. No going around it.

Cary’s book on the filming of PB is an excellent read.

Most films with very little budget for realism, they would hire a coordinator who come up with the scene and the actors would just practice that. No need to waste time learning theory or how to actually fence. Good films with good budget will go all out with the training.

They’d have to do more than just flip the film over in post, at least, if they wanted it to be seamless. They’d have to have reversed versions of the character’s outfits, and maybe build double sets. In PB, for example, right before Wesley reverses hands, they fight their way up a stone staircase. If they’d flipped the film after he switches hands, the staircase would be going down in the opposite direction. Also, their belts and scabbards would have to be reversed, but that’s an easier fix - their outfits are otherwise pretty symmetrical. Of course, they don’t swap hands at the same time, so even if they did reverse the film, Patinkin, at the very least, would still need to spend some time training with his off-hand.

I’m not sure the extent to which using your non-dominant hand for things other than fine manipulation (like writing) is an issue, though. Look at dancers whose choreography requires precise arm movements, and they’re generally pretty precise with both arms, not just the dominant one.

FWIW, the sword fight in The Princess Bride is just a bit under three minutes long. Longer than a real sword fight, sure, but it’s pretty zippy for a movie duel. The fight at the end of Rob Roy is almost twice that long.

Real sword fights with rapiers and sabers generally follow the right-of-way system simply because fighters are trained that way. So you still have a lot of parries and wards. With medieval long sword fighting, it’s all a matter of timing your blow to get past the shield and land a telling blow on the opponent’s armor. With katanas, swords aren’t really meant to clash, except for some trapping moves using the spine of the blade. I cringe whenever they show katanas clashed edge-to-edge repeatedly.

So, all those references in period fencing texts about how to properly parry and beat, just fantasy?

And you don’t parry with the sharp edge of your blade. You should always do so with the forte/ricasso, which isn’t sharpened.