Retract!

First, an interesting share, courtesy of a mailing list I’m still on for a martial study group headed by sci-fi author Neal Stephenson. This appears to have won some sort of design contest for sporting equipment, with the thought of it being used as a Western Martial Arts training tool. I’ve handled old military bayonet trainers that had similar retractability, and seemed reliable enough- although once you run out of that few inches of give, it’s just as jarring as a rigid pole.

For stage combat, retractable blades have been out of favor for some time- they’re mechanical devices, and as such are prone to occasional failure, especially when combined with sticky corn syrup stage blood, costumes, nervous actors jabbing at an angle, etc; so they’re a bit of a recipe for eventual liability. I have one now, purchased as a historical curiosity at a costume shop sale. Might scavenge the hilt parts, or might just keep it as a conversation piece, but I don’t think I’ll ever use it on stage. This new thing does seem to be well built, and it’s interesting to see if it catches on with the WMA crowd- or sees use theatrically. The give on the thrust does allow for more stiffness in the blade; the usual approach is to rely on the ability of the blade to bend on a thrust to give you a measure of safety, but that can lead to whippy blades that don’t react properly during blade contact or high speed moves.

Don't try this at home

In other news: I’ve got my tickets to go to Banff, and am looking forward to that. Just had an audition for Henry V, which I have mixed feelings about- not the show, just my involvement and my audition, as was the only grad student auditioning for my peers amongst those I’ve TA’d, taught, and fight directed… and some of them probably blew me out of the water, acting wise. I believe I’ve done one other monologue-style audition in the last half dozen years at least, and none for anyone here, so I’ve got some hangups to work through. The plan is to be doing more auditioning soon, and make sure I’m doing at least some sort of acting next Semester, since that’s something I’ve neglected in lieu of stage combat and stuntwork this last decade.

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3 Comments

  1. Posted December 2, 2010 at 5:30 am | Permalink

    Wish I could be at Banff. 🙂

    I so agree about retractable blades (or any weapon–two different recent local productions of Dracula recently used retractable stakes for Dracula’s killing, which I don’t think was the best choice at all)–mainly because a retractable weapon is usually so obvious to even an uneducated audience. Really.
    Jenn

  2. Posted December 2, 2010 at 5:36 am | Permalink

    There is no perfect solution. Rubber sometimes stays bent or wobbles prematurely, stiff blades you have to cheat the angles… ultimately you have to count on the same basic elements: good staging, good execution, and audience suspension of disbelief (which is usually on your side if the acting is good). My main beef with retractables is too many people just saw them as a fix-all; “Oh, we don’t have to worry about any of that, we’ll just get a trick blade and you can just stab him”. The end result is often then both unsafe and ineffective. In live theatre the audience knows it isn’t real.

    However, in film, they do still use retractable blades regularly… they just only have to work well once or twice, they have fancy blood rigging and foley work to help sell the illusion, they’re custom made for the gag, and they can always clean up any visible seams in post.

  3. Posted December 2, 2010 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

    Yep, ironic that the safety feature is often what causes unsafe use.


One Trackback

  1. By Bonzuko » Don’t Use Retractable Anything, IMO on December 3, 2010 at 2:36 pm

    […] First, read this: https://fightdesigner.wordpress.com/2010/12/02/retract/#comment-133 […]

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