The essence of agility…

… is mastery of your craft.

I was recently reading As You Wish, Cary Elwes’ account of the making of The Princess Bride. If you haven’t read the book: it’s a good read, and well worth your time. If you haven’t seen the movie… inconceivable.

The duel between Westley (Cary Elwes) and Inigo (Mandy Patinkin) is regarded as one of the greatest movie duels of all time. It was choreographed by the legendary Bob Anderson (British 1952 Olympian and coach of the British national foil team) and Peter Diamond (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Highlander, Star Wars), and was one of the last scenes to be shot because the director was adamant that there were to be no body doubles or stunt people in the duel. This meant that Elwes and Patinkin spent many months learning to fence, and fence well.

During the actual filming of the scene, on one of the final days of shooting, the choreography wasn’t working for the camera and Anderson, encouraged by Patinkin, approached the director and suggested that they re-choreograph the sequence on the fly.

In Patinkin’s words:

We only had about twenty minutes, and we rechoreographed that whole sequence, which we had spent weeks choreographing within an inch of its life. We had learned the skill, the basics of fencing, so clearly that Cary and I, with Bob and Peter’s expert guidance, were able to redo the whole sequence up the steps in less than half an hour. That was the highlight of the whole film for me, because we had really learned a skill and we were able to implement it instantly. That was quite thrilling.

My greatest memory and pleasure, in terms of fencing, was the fact that we became proficient enough to improvise on a dime.