Monday, October 31, 2011

What's it all about, Archie...?

One of the things I believe in, because it’s worth believing in, is that there is a balance, symmetry and reciprocity to the universe.
Physicists say, “For every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction."
“As ye sow, so shall ye reap,” quoth Christian clerics.
Others call it “karma.”
“What goes around, comes around,” according to Manny, the ex-boxer who sold porn-lite at his news stand on the corner of Bad Luck and Trouble in my old neighborhood.

In the Rob Roy piece, the parties have agreed to “no quarter,” which means, “no mercy,” a duel to the death. 

Rob is highly motivated – Archie has raped Rob’s lady – and completely committed, though not highly confident.
Archie is not as highly motivated emotionally, but is supremely confident, convinced of his own superiority, not only technically, but culturally. Being defeated by a mere “Rob Roy,” is really unthinkable to him. For him it’s a game of cat-and-mouse, and Archie’s the one doing the purring.

Archie is in what would be the “longer/weaker position by virtue of his weapon and his speed/agility.
Rob is in the shorter/stronger position.
Archie’s best chance of victory is “defensive out-fighting.” Rob’s best chance is “offensive in-fighting,”  Archie should wear down his opponent with a “death of a thousand cuts” while staying out of range as much as possible, and moving out of line when he can’t stay out of range.  Rob should “cut off the ring” minimizing Archie’s mobility, and close distance to deliver a decisive blow.
It’s a classic confrontation. Ali-Frazier. Ali-Foreman. Douglas-Tyson.
And this is exactly what Hobbs (MY favorite choreographer, too) has them do.

As the fight progresses, Archie is having it all his own way.
He avoids trading blows with Rob, is continuously changing the angle, retreating immediately to his distance after each foray, and using the point to keep Rob at bay. He inflicts several wounds, each one successively more serious. When engaged, his focus is impeccable. He’s the predator.

Rob is completely frustrated. His blows are powerful, but predictable. He’s unable to close the distance, or corner the wily Archie. His assaults grow weaker and slower, and easier for Archie to deal with --- increasing Archie’s confidence each time.

Then comes the critical moment.
Rob is down.
What Archie should do now, is deliver the coup de grace and kill Rob, as they had agreed in the beginning: no quarter.
But he doesn’t do that.

His arrogance – founded in no small way in the cultural certainty of his superiority, but also alloyed with his personal vanity – allows him to assume he’s invincible and that his unsophisticated opponent is beaten.   
Instead of dispatching Rob quickly and cleanly, Archie pauses to indulge in a bit of unnecessary cruelty, taunting his opponent with a “you asked for it” reminder of their deadly agreement, and also taking the opportunity to posture for his benefactor.

This is the moment when what goes around, finally comes around.

Archie has closed the distance with Rob and stands preening – and immobile – before him. He shifts his focus away from his prey, like a cat now bored with an inert and no-longer-entertaining mouse.

Rob seizes this opportunity – and Archie’s blade. For a moment Archie is bewildered, doesn’t quite comprehend what is happening or what it means. And by the time he does understand it, it’s too late.

That universal reciprocity, that balance, that symmetry that I choose to believe in, finally sends Archie’s karmic pendulum hurtling back in his direction. His rigid conviction in his own class-superiority and personal superiority had caused him to believe he had license to do whatever he willed with complete impunity, but, in the end, the forces he himself set in motion were his undoing.

You might say Archie’s karma ran over his dogma.

It’s a good lesson.

And a timely one, too.



  1. I have read accounts of small sword duels where both participants suffered numerous stab wounds and continued to fight on. I have also read what the Highland broad sword could do and how quickly it could be done.

    Nevertheless, the fight scene at the end of Rob Roy was spectacular both in it's execution and it's message.

  2. Excellent deconstruction of the fight. And exactly why I LOVE Hobbs' work. It's not enough to understand how a particular weapon is used, or what a fight for a particular period should look like - Hobbs goes the extra mile to make the characters' fighting style illuminate their character.

    I missed that in the new Three Musketteers in 3d. Bob Anderson did a terrific job, to be sure. There are some really beautiful sequences, some I'm certain to steal if I ever get a chance. But everyone seemed to fight 'the same'. Sure, there was a nod toward Porthos' strength, and Aramis did the sign of the cross to indicate his piety - stock moves nowadays (pretty much based on Hobb's characterization from the Richard Lester Films) - But once the participants all began to fight - the fights were super smooth - very fluid - non stop blade work.

    Like stylized ballet. Pretty, and the fights ended up with a kill - so one could say 'lethal'.

    But not frightening. Not 'dangerous'.

    But maybe that's just me. The film overall was... about a "B". Catch a matinee, or rent it from Netflix.


    A little tongue in cheek, but no less impressive in it's choreography.

  4. Thank you all for your comments!

    There certainly are accounts of smallsword "duels" that seem to have devolved into chaotic brawls. In a fight, anything can happen. Not everyone who packs heat is a Wild Bill calibre pistolero.

    And it's definitely worth noting that the deadliest wound is not necessarily the most immediately incapacitating and vice versa.

    It's very difficult to capture the rhythm and feel of a real fight. Most real fights are short.
    Those that aren't are not, in my experience and research, non-stop giddy-up. Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die. There is uncertainty, hesitation, meaning pauses. The pauses in fights are important, like the pauses in music. A "rest" is not an absence of music, but an integral part of the temporal structure of the fight.
    EVERYONE fights differently, even though they may share certain characteristics (usually bad habits acquired from imitating their teacher!) How each individual uses a particular weapon reveals everything about them. Cross blades with someone for a few minutes, and you know them better than all their family and friends do.
    In a play or film, the fight should reveal character and move the dramatic purpose forward.
    It CAN have the bizarre moment of macabre humor, but I doubt it seems funny to the combatants.

    Hobbs' work sets the bar very high. He has an incredible feel for what's "real." I wonder how he got it.


  5. I read Hobbs' book every couple of months or so and am still in sheer awe of the man's talent, dedication, and vision. His choreography is what I aspire to.


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