|LW: What got you interested
getting into being a sword master? Did you say to yourself as a kid,
Gee, I'm going to be a sword master when I grow up?
FBM: Well no, you never really say that. I am an actor and I was
before and during the time that I was doing this and I still am an
actor. So, when I was in theater school there were two years where we
got sword training and unarmed combat training. It wasn't like you did
nothing else for two years but during the third year and fourth year,
once a week, you would have a three hour sword class and a three hour
unarmed combat class, and the same thing when I went to study theater in
I studied at the Royal Academy of Theater Arts. This training gave me
a sort of "Oh this is neat!" and while I was at University and
while I was at theater school I was also a competitive fencer. Which of
course is an entirely different thing. But still it involves the use of
LW: Is that foil fencing you're referring to?
FBM: It's foil, epee and saber, which is a cutting weapon. But I was
doing that at the same time and I had always been interested in the
history of arms and armor so when I first started acting professionally
for damn near the first five years of my whole career I did nothing but
LW: Which has a lot of sword fighting in it.
Yeah, and I played a lot of characters that had to fight and when I
was at Stratford I was apprenticing myself, informally to the sword
Master Paddy Crean, and I had choreographed
some things in theater school, but knowing how to handle a weapon is not
the same thing as knowing how to choreograph. So, studying with him was
extremely valuable and the last year at Stratford we were doing so many
of the histories and since we operated in three different theaters, that
they asked me whether or not I would like to choreograph several of the
shows. It was simply physically impossible for Paddy to do them all, he
couldn't if he wanted to. So, I did and I got some very good reviews on
them and then when I moved to Toronto I started choreographing fairly
After that I started traveling quite regularly to England and Europe
to try to hook up with choreographers who had been in the business for,
you know, as long as their had been a business to learn the proper way
That's when I started seriously studying at the museums and what not
and not only looking at the arms and armor, but getting into the
historical texts and documents. I started to do the research that I felt
was necessary. I like doing things historically authentically, because I
think that there are already enough myths and legends and improper and
inaccurate history taught by movies, I don't want to add to that.
But on the other hand at it's core, every sword is used in it's own
distinctive way, and that distinctive way is mainly due to culture and
the way culture approaches fighting. But, it also has to do with the
kind of sword - it's weight design, grip and hand protection design. So,
one of the things that I have found by studying the original
manuscripts, and by choreographing myself in the early days by a sort of
trial and error, was that if you used historically authentic techniques,
it was actually safer because you were not forcing the weapon to do
something the weapon was not designed to do.
That I found was a very important lesson and so, I do
historically authentic choreography as much as possible because when
people are watching a fight, it's supposed to be a history lesson.
There's a story being told, characters in context, the fight is
a dramatic entity, it's there to advance the plot. And it's a visual
medium, and it has to be visually stimulating and that doesn't
necessarily mean it's historically accurate. But I try and use these
techniques as much as I can because as I said their safer and because
they definitely do lend a much definitely different appearance to the
fight. They are distinctive. So that's basically how I got into it, love
of history and finding out somewhat accidentally that I had a talent for
it and that it was something that was very few people do professionally.
LW: Were you surprised at the relatively small amount of people
that actually had some kind of experience or training in sword and
FBM: I was sort of aware of it before hand because in theater
schools today, because of money constraints and budgets, fewer theater
schools are teaching these disciplines than they did when I was going to
theater school in the 1970's.
|Generally speaking, these are so highly
specialized skills that the person who teaches these things in theater
schools, that's all the person teaches. So when they are looking to trim
the budget down, generally speaking, they're cutting out the courses
that are being taught by highly specialized people.
My old theater school no longer offers these courses. Mind you, I
have been back several times over the course of years to teach sessional
courses on these disciplines, but there is no permanent training there
anymore. That is the case with a lot of theater schools around the
country in Canada and the United States.
Also, the thing is with younger actors now a days , there's not
so many younger actors that are actually going to theater schools.
LW: What kind of school do they go to then?
FBM: They don't go to any. Whereas, they do they go to little theater
schools that teach one individual course. Take improv on Wednesday
nights, take voice on Monday nights, things like this. I
have taught at a couple of those myself and they're good schools but,
the thing is that they are learning the craft one discipline at a
If they had to take the same amount of courses that I took in theater
school for 4 and half years, it would take them the next twenty years
of their life to get it all in. So, part of it is that a lot of
young actors don't have any training at all, where it is, that if they
do, it is in one or two things.
Improv or voice or I'll go take Accents down at the union or
something like that, so that's part of the problem and the other thing
is the sport is not a hugely popular sport, so there aren't that many
actors who have fenced competitively, learning fencing at the Y or
anything like this. That doesn't help a huge amount.
Plus, the idea behind competitive fencing is, you move fast
and you hit, which is the whole antithesis of what you are trying to do
in theater, but it means that you've have some kind of training
in footwork, holding a sword, parries, defense, it's better than nothing
at all. It's better than being a complete novice.
LW: I felt lucky because I got to study 17th century rapier and
dagger fencing at the HB studios in New York by Joe Daly, and was quite
surprised that they actually carried that kind of course.
FBM: I think New York is a good case in point, because it has a lot
of live theater. There is a demand for training there.
LW: I definitely acquired an appreciation for the difficulty of
what you do, in that class and our Swords Master - Joe had commented
that he seemed to have a lot more people in his class ever since
Highlander the Series came on the scene. (He laughs) But Joe did tell us
that what we were doing on stage was a lot different than what you were
doing on the set, because unlike filming, there is no cut…let's do it
again. It has to be right the first time…
FBM: There is a big difference between doing a stage play and
filming because you have - rehearsal time!
Normally, one of the things I would do, when I was choreographing for
live theater is, I would sit in on a weeks worth of rehearsals.
Then, when I started to choreograph, I had a handle on the direction
that the actor was trying to take his character.
One of the problems on Highlander- for myself; that I was always
aware of , was because I had to choreograph these fights before the
actor actually appeared on the set, I was very conscious of the artistic
choices he might not make. Because I'm approaching the script not just
as an action, I am approaching the script as an actor, saying what would
that character do under stress, what would he not do, how far would he
go to win, basically it's not just a question of what move to make, It's
a question of why to make it, what may I not do, where is his panic
level, which only the actor playing the role should be able to
So, in a lot of cases I was very aware that I am imposing an
interpretation on the fight that is not necessarily what the actor
would, but unfortunately with the time constraints, you simply have no
Sometimes, when you're working with an experienced actor a person
who's got some sword training and fighting, there has to be some leeway
where I go, "Ok, this is what I've done in the choreography what do
you think, are you comfortable with that? What would you do with
it, as the character? Maybe we can tweak this a bit. You know to make
the fight more personal, or yours." so, that was an option.
| Normally, you'd have to do
that, whereas on stage I like to coordinate the fight with the actors.
But, then again, you have the time.
There were times when I had weeks - when I was choreographing Henry
VI parts one, two and three, we rehearsed fights in those three plays
for three months.
Yeah, you have to do it right the first time, there is no cut, can I
do the second phrase over again. It's an entirely different thing. Also
in Movies and television the camera is your audience. And you can move
you're audience and you can only let them see what you want them to see.
Whereas in theater, when you're on stage you are stuck with the sight
lines that are in that particular theater
LW: Did Adrian Paul have any previous training in sword work before
you came on board during the third season of Highlander? Was he
comfortable with the Katana?
FBM: Oh, he was very comfortable. The prior choreographer Bob
Anderson had studied the sword in Japan for about six months
before doing the first Star Wars movie. He had taught Adrian, and
he had left during about the half way point of the second season or a
little past the midway point. He had taught Adrian quite a bit and
then two other choreographers, who came in one at a time who had
collectively finished the second season, and obviously they must of
taught Adrian some stuff too.
Plus, Adrian had been taking martial arts for a couple of years
before we started the series, and he was a dancer so he was very
physically aware and very adept and so, he picked things up very, very
quickly. Over the years I have started adding to his knowledge, you
know, one fight at time, and every fight I tried to do something new,
something different that we had never seen before.
I introduced him the Korean style of fighting, you know, where the
sword is reversed in your grip. We started doing that pretty much right
off. And then we added things over the years but he was quite adept, and
comfortable with the katana when I got there.
I had to sort of teach him my vocabulary of the sword because every
choreographer, even though there are things we share in common in terms
of terminology, everyone works a little bit differently. It's always a
little strange to change fight directors In the middle when you have
worked with one person for one half.
I use historical authenticity in most fights, so I have a tendency to
have a completely different vocabulary in terms of describing things. So
we have to kind of go back to zero and start up a kind of mutual
language between the two of us.
LW: One of my absolute favorite battles is one where you
choreographed Adrian Paul fighting against Anthony De Longis in
Duende. It was really great. I consider it one of the most
extraordinary fight scenes I've ever seen that has been captured on
FBM: Well Thank You, I think it would have been
considerably different if it would of been two different
LW: Oh Certainly.
FBM: Obviously. They had good chemistry, especially the
physical difficulties we were working with doing that last scene in the pouring
LW: Oh, I think I saw some of the outtakes from that at G-5 and
Legacy. They were hilarious.
FBM: Well it's pretty funny until you consider the fact that
they were using Steel blades, not aluminum, because the aluminum would
have to have been made so thin that it would have bent every time we
contacted. That particular style we were using was the authentic circle
of Sebo, and the Spanish fight with the arm fully extended, you're
basically working with a steel blade that's less than six inches away
from your face.
Plus, I had wanted them to mix some sand into the paint on the circle
so that there would be a grit surface laid down that wouldn't sort of
wash off or obscure the actual diagram itself. And then the put
the lines of the diagram down with electrical tape so, if they pulled up
they would catch your foot.
LW: I understand that you have a small role as Adam Copeland's
Henchman in Endgame. What can you tell us about that?
FBM: Well I don't think I would be giving too much away to tell you,
I play a character called Laritic and I'm in one of the more humorous
scenes in the movie, it's an actual battle sequence where I and several
of the evil immortals attack the principal actors. It was a lot of fun
to do. Even though I had choreographed it, I had to practice like
See more of Braun's Interview on our Swords
Master and Endgame Pages.