STAGE KOMBAT: The Real Person Behind the Fake Fighting

STAGE KOMBAT: The Real Person Behind the Fake Fighting

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photo credit Jamie WeCanseb.jpg

Sebastian Jacek-Cote sits behind the reception desk at Le Gym, casually waving and greeting customers as they enter. Even sitting, it is hard not to notice Seb's athletic 6 foot 3 frame, although today there are very few people around to notice. It is an early Saturday morning close to the holidays, and the almost deserted entrance way makes an ideal place to ask Seb a few questions about his life.  


Seb has only been a personal trainer for about a year. Previously, Seb swam competitively and trained in martial arts and stunt work, before getting involved with weightlifting as a way to improve his performance. Already a swim instructor, he wanted to become a personal trainer in order to share those skills with the people he trained and performed with, as well as "to help the give them a more well-rounded training."


He was interested in martial arts from a young age; "like most 12 year old boys it was always cool to imagine being one of those crazy Kung Fu fighters in the movies," but it wasn't until he started doing stunt work and choreography in theatre school that he began training seriously. From there a "weird joining of ideas" led him and two of his friends to create the group Sketch Kombat, a martial arts stunt choreography troupe for performances and short films. The group has been together for three years now and has completed two short films, one of which is still in post-production, two staged theatre performances and one flash mob. The flash mob was a ninja fight at a fringe festival one busy afternoon. "At first a lot of people were confused because there were two ninjas and myself and a girl in regular dress who were just a part of the crowd, and then two ninjas started accosting random people and so we jumped in and started fighting and everyone was really entertained."


Reaction to the group has been "overwhelmingly positive" and "very curious". Seb believes this is because "most people's experience is [either] very poor [underfunded] sword fighting on stage or over the top ridiculous fights in movies, so most of the stuff we try to do is clean, entertaining high paced as realistic as possible; obviously with some creative license with what people can do and survive." He says with a chuckle.


The current project was filmed this summer and it included a "large amount of scripting, writing, storyboarding to make it as logical and entertaining story so that it has some depth besides just the fighting." Several months of preparation and rehearsal for a 5 - 6 day shoot followed by months of post-production, the fan film style of "The Punisher" is the largest project Sketch Kombat has done.


Now that they've experienced a large scale production, Seb says in the future they will be doing a mix of large and small scale productions, though nothing has been decided yet. The future of the group depends largely on its ability to support itself monetarily. Currently the group supports itself, with help from an indie-go-go fundraiser for its recent large production. Indie-go-go is a website that helps fundraise for art projects, as consumers interested in the project will provide money in exchange for perks such as a DVD copy upon project completion.


The physically demanding job of fight choreography comes with its fair share of injuries, though most are minor cuts and bruises. Seb notes that while everyone works hard to make sure it is performed safely and properly, "there will always be slight mistakes and slip ups, but we always try to best to do our work in such a way that a mistake will never be serious."


When asked what his most serious fight related injury was, Seb replied "a chair to the face during a live theatre performance." Though they had properly choreographed it to be realistic looking and safe, the distance between them during the performance changed and the chair made contact with his face. "My adrenaline was really high from performing [so] I went with it and reacted as if it was going to plan. I didn't have time to feel any pain." It wasn't until after the performance that he noticed his bleeding nose and numb face but "it felt good because apparently the hit looked really real and good and we got a really good reaction to it."


While a bleeding nose heals quickly, Seb's had another more serious injury that didn't occur during stage fighting. A seemingly minor knee injury obtained while training for white crane kung fu aggravated an existing condition Seb had, known as Pigmented Villonodular Synovitis (PVNS), where fluid surrounds the patella and knee and starts to turn tumorous and solidify. The fluid in his knee became entirely solid and he had to have surgery to remove it.


The effect on Seb was intense, enduring a year of uncertainty before a diagnosis was made and treatment could begin. "Emotionally it sucked." Seb said, "I went from doing a lot of extremely physically intense things to having trouble walking at times." The surgery itself was invasive and Seb had to endure weeks on bed rest followed by crutches and a cane before finally being able to walk. Seb struggled with the emotional aftermath of the surgery, but he isn't one to dwell on the past. He instead chooses to focus on the future; "It's yet to be seen how the knee will react long term to what they did... but the knee seems to be better than before [the surgery]."


Athletes aren't known for giving up, and with Seb's work ethic and desire to train, I have no doubt that he'll be back in top fighting form in no time.

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