Youth Stage Combat

What’s good for kids, especially your little actors? Why is the stage combat course age 16 and up?

Physical, Mental and Emotional

I do not have offspring, but I do have an opinion about how they should be raised. Maybe I should rethink this entire post. No, I have too many requests for kids’ classes that I have to talk about this issue.

I think every child should be taught how to control their body, how to control their mind, and how to control their emotions. Fortunately, many pursuits outside of school will engage all three.

Options

Playing music and eventually competing in musical contests certainly works the mental and emotional muscles, and it trains specific motor control, but I feel it is not overall fitness. The fingers or the breath may become very precise, but those aren’t generalizable. A talented violinist does not do better at swordplay.

Most other physical pursuits will fulfill all three domains.

  • Dance is a great choice. Balance and precision are practiced, strength is gained through active motion as well as holding a pose, and understanding the body in space and rhythm. Mental faculties of focus and mental endurance are encouraged. Dance is almost entirely collaborative, which teaches good lessons; while fears of performance can be overcome.
  • Martial Arts, especially stylized ones, are great to start early. The ability to master many kicks can give a kid tremendous confidence, no to mention flexibility, precision and fast-twitch strength and reflexes. Obviously this is great if your child wants to become an action-hero, but make sure they’re getting time with meditation and slow forms to foster their self-control.
  • Gymnastics and circus are great, but choose wisely. Some places are not structured enough for kids. The skills of flipping and balancing and swinging are very challenging, so children may learn patience, but in the wrong hands, they may just learn that they can give up and that’s okay. However, many schools are great and have the structure in the form of drills, progressions and set times for all activities. In the end, a good gymnast is often the best performer because they have the discipline, the physical skills, and the ability to perform under pressure.
  • Team sports of all kinds are my least favoured option, but not without merit. If you love a sport, you will love that your child is involved, just don’t push them too hard. Team sports often don’t have the well-rounded mental game, and I think they leave moral problems in the formative mind.

Regardless of what you approve for your child’s extra-curricular activities, remember to praise them for their efforts, not for their successes, and especially not for how nice they looked. It is vitally important that in every instance they understand that only effort is to be applauded, not being beautiful or more intelligent, or winning out of sheer luck. The best adults are those who work hard and don’t give up when things get hard.

Moral

So I guess we’ve stumbled onto the ethical angle again. Obviously, we’re talking about young people and what classes you want to enroll them in, so the question is: Why? If it’s just babysitting, then just let them pick anything.

But if you’re reading this because you’re interested in the best choice for the long-term and perhaps a career in action-movies, then we need to talk about what’s “good”. So yes, what’s good is a strong and flexible body, a mind that can focus and have patience to solve problems, and emotions that are tested by winning and losing, preferably with some performance element so they’re not afraid to stand in front of people.

But we also need moral people, and that’s not just the domain of the church. The teachers and facilitators of your child’s activities are role models and authority figures. Their work methods reflect their attitudes about:

  • Cooperation and fairness
  • Natural talent and work
  • Reward and punishment, including revenge
  • Reverence for the past, loyalty and nationalism

I hope you agree with me that sports coaches have your child’s attention when they talk about winning medals, and why that’s important. Choose the right coach to speak to them who shares your values.

Stage Combat is Not for Kids

I think that parents want their kids in stage combat for one of two reasons:

  1. They think it’s safer than swordplay or martial arts
  2. Their child is an actor, and they want to take action roles

So let’s address these in turn: any martial arts school, Eastern or Western, who has many children injured should not be in business. Find out if it’s safe, even if it’s a sport. Don’t choose stage combat when the other options are just as safe.

And if it’s the performer thing, your child-actor should spend their time with acting classes. If they’re already enrolled, and you want more skills, get them doing something outside the entertainment industry. They’ll be better adjusted and well-rounded people, which will only be better for their career than immersion in our industry of illusions.

Why do I seem to be against teaching children?

First of all, I think that all actors should have the basics of stage combat for their own safety. I teach workshops at high schools for just that reason.

However, there are two reasons why I don’t feel that it’s good to offer ongoing deeper training in stage combat. The first is simple: Young actors find it hard enough to find a mark, make a gesture at the correct cue, and deliver lines without prompting. Creating the illusion of violence requires not only precision of movement that adjusts with every rehearsal and reset, but also to imagine what the audience or the camera is seeing. The ability to imagine what one looks like from 10 meters away from a certain angle is simply not possible until a certain age, around 16.

Secondly, stage combat demands a mature mind in the moral sense. Why? We deal with real violence, the intention to cause harm, and what might motivate that. It’s not mere exercise. Fight Master Daniel Levinson talked with me about this a few weeks ago on Skype. We want to play a death scene that is touching, a torture that is creepy, a murder that is dark, or a rape that is terrifying. Even in a martial arts class, the kicks are either for points or against a big cushion. Students are never seeing the real effects of violence. But the stage combat actor must imagine it. And it’s not right to subject kids to that.

Your child will never be offered to do their own stunts. No production in the world is that irresponsible. So if it won’t be used in their career, their efforts are better expressed elsewhere. Let them study swordplay with rubber replicas.

Youth Swordplay? Yes.

If you want them to look accurate with a sword, enrol them in Academie Duello youth swordplay. It is just as safe as stage combat.

Knight Camp for March Break has just wrapped up, and that means Knight Camp (Summer) is coming up. Every week in July and August is a day-camp in which your child can learn not only sword and archery, but also shield-making, European history, and a Knightly Virtue every day.

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