When Inigo and the Dread Pirate duel atop the Cliffs of Insanity, they quip about different sword fighting styles, such as "Agrippa".

Did the choreography of this duel use actual sword forms, by the same or different names? Or was it all as accurate as the final crazed twirling (that is to say, completely silly and no form at all, see video)?

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    You killed my father. Prepare to die! – Molag Bal Jun 14 '16 at 0:41
  • @amaranth Argh! I was a minute too late! – steelersquirrel Jun 14 '16 at 0:43
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    The styles they refer to are real, but I don't know enough to tell if they're using them. – Adeptus Jun 14 '16 at 1:18
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    The 'final crazed twirling' isn't quite what it looks like; it's something that Martial artists and blade artists both know (I'm only an amateur at both, but I've done it before) -- When the opponent is getting tired/flustered/etc., a flurry of faux-strikes will tend to make them overcompensate in response, moving them from a bad position to an entirely untenable one. Basically, they freak out a bit, and try to block/counter a series of attacks that, when at their best, they would simply ignore or counter with a stop-thrust or something similar. It can be a quick way to end a worn down enemy. – K-H-W Jun 14 '16 at 1:28
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    @CreationEdge - It looks that way, but if you watch closely, Wesley is still in control and is spinning his blade back and forth while Inigo keeps flailing at it (just a moment before, he was swinging wildly) -- Inigo has failed at finesse, and is trying to get a single hard strike to basically stop the intricate play and give himself some space to regain control. Wesley knows what he's doing; once Inigo is clearly struggling, he flips his blade at Inigo's hair (just missing the ear), further distracting him, before smacking the blade from his hand. – K-H-W Jun 15 '16 at 6:54

By all indications "The Greatest Swordfight in Modern Times" was a homage to the swashbuckling feats of Errol Flynn and early Zorro movies. While Elwes and Patinkin were trained by Olympic fencers, the fight is all scripted and for show rather than being reminiscent of an actual fighting style.

From IMDB:

In order to create the Greatest Swordfight in Modern Times, Cary Elwes and Mandy Patinkin trained for months with Peter Diamond and Bob Anderson, who between them had been in the Olympics; worked on Bond, Lord of the Rings, Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), and Star Wars films; and coached Errol Flynn and Burt Lancaster. Every spare moment on set was spent practicing. Eventually, when they showed Rob Reiner the swordfight for the movie, he was underwhelmed and requested that it be at least three minutes long rather than the current one minute. They added steps to the set, watched more swashbuckling movies for inspiration, re-choreographed the scene, and ended up with a three minute and 10 second fight which took the better part of a week to film from all angles.

From the New York Post:

The scene that required the most preparation was the duel between Westley and Inigo, described in the screenplay as “The Greatest Swordfight in Modern Times.”

Goldman had spent months researching fencing and filled the script with references to particular styles and defenses.

Elwes and Patinkin trained for nearly three months, working with stunt coordinators on the choreography. The actors begin the scene fighting with their left hands, then, in a twist, switch to their right.

The actors and choreographers were sent back to the drawing board and lengthened the sequence to nearly 3 minutes by borrowing elements from other swashbuckling movies such as “The Mark of Zorro” and “The Sea Hawk.”

  • But they were trained by experts and had someone choreograph it, so isn't it still possible they're using some fencing techniques? Or is all fencinc simply "fencing"? – user31178 Jun 14 '16 at 1:11
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    And any more info on this line: "filled the script with references to particular styles and defenses"? – user31178 Jun 14 '16 at 1:13
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    This is a great start, but it doesn't explain what connection exists between the styles in the script and the styles actually used. If inspired by swashbuckling films, it seems the answer may be that they are not very related? – Mat Cauthon Jun 14 '16 at 2:31
  • The comment above is the only reason I'm holding out on accepting this. Was Agrippa a real form, and did they use or imitate it? Swordfighting and martial arts are something I don't know enough about to analyze. – user31178 Aug 21 '16 at 16:23

The greatest analysis of that scene from a technical perspective that I've ever seen is at this site and was done by a guy who wrote a book about rapier fencing. According to his analysis:

However, the actual choreography turns out on further study to bear no resemblance whatsoever to the fencing methods of the historical masters in question. This should come as no surprise, given that the goals of stage and screen combat are that no-one should die, and everyone should see what is happening: and the goals of real combat are to kill the enemy, which is best accomplished if no-one can see what’s going on. There are skills common to both, of course, such as control of measure and weapons handling, but the core intent could not be more different.

This makes it clear that they were just doing Hollywood showmanship instead of using the moves they were talking about. Further down in the page I linked to you can see a demonstration video with some of the actual styles.


This dialogue in the scene does indeed reference several notable swordsmen, but the script literally calls for the greatest swashbuckling Flynning* of all time. Here's the script, right before it gets to the I Am Not Left Handed** -

The two men are almost flying across the rocky terrain, never losing balance, never coming close to stumbling; the battle rages with incredible finesse, first one and then the other gaining the advantage, and by now, it's clear that this isn't just two athletes going at it, it's a lot more that that. This is two legendary swashbucklers and they're in their prime, it's Burt Lancaster in "The Crimson Pirate" battling Errol Flynn in "Robin Hood" and then, incredibly, the action begins going even faster than before as we CUT TO:

The script even mentions at the start of the fight how they're not really engaged close enough to harm each other -

No, what we have here is two men, two athletes, and they look to be too faraway to damage each other, but each time one makes even the tiniest feint, the other counters, and there is silence, and as they start to circle

*- Warning - TvTropes link, but to sum up, Flynning is entirely about making swordfighting look good as opposed to depicting actual swordfighting

**- I'm addicted, and you were warned.

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    I clicked those links telling to myself "I can do it, I'm stronger than that". I should've known... – Mauricio Pasquier Juan Sep 2 '16 at 5:51

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