I have taken thousands of lives, maybe hundreds of thousands. I've also died a countless number of times. That's the advantage of staged violence…all the thrills of a a deadly sword battle with none of the consequences.
2. What was your worst accident?
It's going to sound lame, but we train really hard to avoid accidents. Fortunately, most incidents are little more than hitting a finger or twisting an ankle. At the rehearsal for a CSI: NY episode, several stunt guys and I were fighting in a junkyard on a 3 story pile of cars. We carefully mapped out our ascent to make sure we had secure footing on the climb. I forgot that one of the car hoods was only propped up by a thin rod, so it slammed shut under my weight and I slipped into a narrow gap between the cars. My body was unscathed, but my pride was a whole other matter as the other stunt guys watched me awkwardly shimmy my way out.
3. How does one become a swordsman?
In a modern world, sword fighting mostly is relegated to competitive sports like fencing or kendo and the world of entertainment. In my case, it started off with an enduring passion that would not be ignored. I found myself seeking opportunities to play with swords. I studied martial arts as a kid, took stage combat classes in high school and college and eventually fell in with an amazingly talented group of stunt fighters at Tim Weske's Swordplay Studios in CA.
4. What’s your favorite weapon?
It's hard for me to say what my favorite weapon is without a few qualifiers, since it would really depend on what I was going to be doing with it. I love nunchucks for demonstrations or just playing around. Bow and arrow would have to be my projectile weapon of choice, but if I had to defend myself against a clan of ninja assassins, a horde of orcs or an army of rabid zombies, I'll take a pair of single-handed broadswords and let the bodies hit the floor.
5. What got you into sword fighting?
I like to tell people I fashioned my first sword out of my own umbilical chord, delivered myself and carved a "T" into the first doctor that tried to spank me, but the truth is I've always felt like I was born into the wrong era. Some people spend their entire lives trying to figure out what they want to do. I'm one of the blessed ones who knew exactly what I wanted to do from birth. As a child I was always drawn to tales of heroic warriors like King Arthur, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and The Legend of Zelda. I guess I just never grew out of it.
6. Do you need a license to use a weapon/sword?
It's nothing like needing a license to carry a firearm, but there are certifications you can get for certain weapons that are meant to serve as a sort of recognition of proficiency. Honestly though, at least in my experience, while the training is certainly valuable, the certification is more symbolic than of any actual practical value.
7. Any tips you want to say to aspiring swords people?
If there's one thing I've observed teaching film/stage combat it's that people instinctively put way too much emphasis on the weapon. Excalibur, the sword in the stone, is of no dramatic consequence until Arthur draws it out. The sword isn't what gives purpose to Arthur, it is Arthur that gives purpose to the sword. As audience members, our interest in the story is far more contingent on the wielder than the weapon. The first thing I try to communicate to my students is that the sword is merely a super cool prop to help tell a story. The real focus should be on the footwork and body mechanics. I would recommend that aspiring sword people get involved in a fencing club or martial arts studio to develop a strong foundation in movement and to fine tune body awareness.
8. Do you have any battle scars?
Other than a few sword dings on the knuckles, on the job mishaps are very rare because what we are doing is inherently very dangerous, so we tend to be very hyper aware and conscientious. All my scars come from very mundane and domestic miscalculations of my own surroundings, like splitting my head on a cabinet door I forgot or didn't know was open or heroically attempting to rescue falling lamps. I only hurt myself in very stupid ways.
TJ Cencula hails from Chicago and also teaches at the famous Sword Play in Burbank, CA. For more info, check out www.warriorshowdown.com