As I think about what I'll do for my next TSD test, I'm thinking a lot about the difference between a martial arts exhibition, a demo for a skills test, and choreographing a fight scene for a play. I just told the MSCD Stage Combat class yesterday that stage combat isn't really about fighting, it's about telling a story. But these three types of staged fighting tend to get blended together in an unlearned audience's mind. Here's my encapsulation of the the three:
- Martial Arts Exhibition: Have you seen those karate competitions with all the spinning mirrored staffs, the aerial cartwheels, and the screaming? I wouldn't consider that martial arts, but an exhibition. I mean, look at them--they're scored based on difficulty of acrobatics just like a gymnast would be. It's not even a sport, with points scored on pins or throws. Even an exhibition like the BQC folks did a couple years ago at the Boulder Creek Fest is focused on flashy, cool-looking moves, not practical ones (though the BQC certainly were more practical than the karate demonstrations I mention), because the purpose of the demo is for spectacle.
- Skills Test: Again, it's about purpose. A skills test (whether in martial arts or stage combat) is meant to show a judge how well one does certain moves. So a demo for a skills test will be less overtly flashy, but still will have a prescribed number and list of moves that a judge expects to see. Again, I'm reminded (hi, Olympics) of gymnastics or ice skating, in that there is a list of certain moves that the demonstrator is expected to show, and the judgment is based on how well one accomplishes those. Showing off in a skills test doesn't necessarily get one the best score (or the certificate or next belt). The purpose of the skills test is assessment.
- Theatrical Fight Scene: A piece of choreography for a play has nothing to do with the above. A character is always going for an objective, a goal. She uses tactics to get the objective, and will run into obstacles on the way. A play begins when a character wants something, tension builds as the character tries to get it, then ends when the objective is achieved. In most plays, characters use words to accomplish their goals. When a character has used all her words to no avail, that's when she resorts to physicality. A fight scene erupts in a play when the characters run out of words to express themselves, and so must (so they feel) resort to violence. So the purpose of a theatrical fight scene is to further the action of the story.