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David McCormick - Stage combat with Fight Directors Canada


Mr. David McCormick


Mr. McCormick started his martial arts training in Shotokan Karate, at the tender age of six. He then got training in the art of Judo, Kyokushinkai Karate and other more reality based martial arts, including Krav Maga, Kali and Bartitsu, which can be considered his primary martial art. Certified as an instructor with the Fight Directors Canada, Mr. McCormick's has directed and acted in many productions. He also teaches classes and seminars on various aspects of stage fighting.


How did you get involved with the Fight Director Canada organization?

I studied drama at the University of Waterloo and had the opportunity to take a stage combat course there. I asked the instructor where I could learn more, because I was in love with the idea of combining martial arts with theatre. He pointed me to Rapier Wit stage combat in Toronto, where I earned my Basic Certification with Fight Directors Canada (FDC).

FDC logo


What is the mission of the FDC?

We want every actor to learn the basics of stage combat because it will come up in every career. No other aspect of acting has as much potential danger. Therefore, we want every age and fitness level to have access to the training. We are not exclusive to a high fitness level, and we do not aim to increase the fitness level for basic students.


Who are the main customers of the FDC?

For fight direction, I have equal interest from theatre and film productions. The movie industry makes use of stunt men and stunt coordinators, but when they want actors to perform fights, they need a specialist to train them, such as myself. In theatre, there are no stunt-doubles, so a fight choreographer is essential for sword fights as well as hair-pulls and slaps. Those techniques sound simple, but without a fight director they are all too often done in ways that risk serious injury, or else done so timidly that they don't look real.

Photo taken from


Why can't just any martial arts master take the direction of a staged fight?

On the design side of things, an expert martial artist may try to choreograph fights, but they will be constrained by their own style, and they will not have the awareness of story-building, audience reception, and the techniques we use to make a fight look real without putting the performers at risk. FDC aims to educate about the illusion of violence in performance, which is not merely throwing intense moves, but designing a fight that tells a story.


What story is there to tell within a fight?

A fight within a film or play is always about the conflict between two characters. Why are they fighting? What outcome would they like (to kill the other guy, to stop the bomb, to prove their toughness, etc)? What aspects of their personality are expressed in their style (deception, strength, nobility, etc)?

Beyond character, every fight has a beginning middle and end. How does the fight start - as an ambush, a duel, verbal insults? How does it end - admitting defeat, knockout, both falling off a cliff? And then there's everything in between - ferocity, fatigue, frustration, wounds. All of these elements are storytelling tools, not fight techniques. If you choose to put an injury early in the fight, it will change the dynamics of the remaining conflict.

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The story telling must also account for the historical framework (maybe Roman gladiators, maybe French nobleman, maybe modern boxers). And it exists within the stipulations of a director who decides the duration of the fight, his preference for equipment, the set, costumes and special effects.

Without a story, a fight is merely a demonstration of choreographed moves. We choose to watch martial arts films that have characters we sympathize with, facing dangerous opponents, and with a reason to fight. We get nervous when it looks like they might lose. We get excited when they realize the foe's weakness. The story of a fight is what engages the audience, and it is the only reason a fight exists at all.


So I guess it takes a lot more than martial arts mastery to make it to the major leagues of show business…

In short, a properly trained fight director is creative, knowledgeable about every fighting style in history, able to teach and communicate clearly to performers, aware of the special language and equipment of stage and screen, and to be a versatile collaborator with directors and other members of a team.


So what kind of work can a martial artist hope to get from the show business industry?

Many well-trained martial artists can break into stunt work if they have worked on their accuracy and understand a bit about camera angles. Fight Directors Canada is not aimed at master martial artists. We are about two things: training actors and training fight choreographers.

Acting is a difficult trade by itself, so expert martial artists should not underestimate the time and training required to become an action star. And actors just starting out would be better off learning stage combat than starting any real-world martial art.

Umbrella Self-Defence Workshop, given by Mr. McCormick
Photo taken from


Is it easier for a stage fighting student to get into the movie industry, compared to a martial artist?

That is a difficult question because there are a lot of interpretations. If you're aiming to be a stunt person, you need more skills than merely martial arts. Most stunt people also do horseback riding, stunt driving, high falls and fire. Having training at a stunt school is the best way in there. If you're aiming to be a martial arts movie star, it is far more important that you get an agent, acting lessons and a demo reel. It is very unlikely that you will ever have your own movie, but you may be a featured villain if you're lucky. Again, go to a stunt school, then join a stunt team, and make sure the head of your team knows that you're interested in acting, not just fighting. Finally, for those who want to become a stunt coordinator, understand that it will take years to work your way up to that.

I know it sounds harsh, but actors already know that the movie industry is one of the worst ways to make a living. Why else do you hear about actors who are waiters? Most do not make enough money to live on, working only a few weeks out of the year. Some derive a bit more success, but can't sustain the public's interest for more than a few years. It's like the lottery: don't play unless you're ready to lose. But if you've got the guts, the persistence, the looks and the contacts, go for it.


Do you have any comments or opinions on martial artists in the movie like Jackie Chan, Steven Seagal or Tony Jaa?

I prefer not to critique specific actors, stuntmen or stunt coordinators because we are all constrained by various forces behind the scenes. A great fighter can be badly filmed. A great coordinator may not be given sufficient rehearsal time. A great scene may be edited poorly. Most of these things are beyond the control of any given individual. Everyone knows a great fight scene when they see it, so you don't need me to point it out.

photo taken from Wikimedia commons


Knowing that safety and aesthetics are of utmost importance in your field, how much of the original martial arts do a play or movie retain?

The authenticity of martial arts in movies is always a collaboration between the artistic vision of the director and the stunt coordinator. In some cases (Hong Kong genre), the production strives to be completely genuine. Sometimes this looks too staged, since the fighters are always in perfect form. Other times, the director wants a very dirty fight to enhance the realism. In those cases, styles are mixed and techniques are not textbook versions. Every martial artist knows that different quicker techniques are used in sparring than in forms, and a filmmaker must decide what side is emphasized.

The Karate Kid (1984), known by karate enthusiasts as a movie with factually correct karate concepts but unrealistic fights.
photo taken from


What benefits sets stage training apart from other martial arts schools?

Those who want to look like action heroes will go beyond the basics where we train at a higher intensity. Those who attain Advanced Actor-Combatant certification are the best action performers in Canada, and have the awesome levels of endurance, control, intensity and knowledge. Beyond those benefits shared with other martial arts, training in stage combat also imparts cooperative skills, improved historical context, better sensitivity to partners' needs and communication by subtle cues. In terms of general benefits and life-skills, I'd put 3 years of stage combat.


To learn more about Mr. David McCormick and Stage fighting, please visit


Interview done by Hao Wong
Copyright ©2010 All rights reserved

Last Updated on Sunday, 21 November 2010 20:17  

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