Granados: Fight choreographer keeps it real, and safe

December 13, 2013 

The last time I trained in the martial arts was when I was 8 years old. I achieved a red belt in taekwondo, which isn’t bad at all. Of course, back then any adult could have fought me off just by holding a hand against my forehead while I swung wildly. All these years later, I might just make a formidable warrior, if only I had the discipline to take up the fighting arts once again. But I don’t. I’d rather just look like I know what I’m doing.

That’s where North Raleigh resident Jeff Jones comes into play. Did you know there is such a thing as the Society of American Fight Directors? There is, and Jones is certified by it to teach actors in theater and movies those wild moves that could convince the casual viewer that a couch potato like me is a ninja master.

“It’s not fighting,” he said. “Actual fighting is very short. Actual fighting is very fast. And you have a hard time following it if you try to watch it.”

What he makes is a theatrical experience. He’s done some film, but the bulk of his work is done on stage. He got into the scene when he was an undergraduate at William & Mary. He had a minor part in a production of “The Pirates of Penzance.”

“The fights that were in it were amazing. I mean, they were just awesome,” he said. “I never thought about how actors made this kind of moment. I always sort of thought, ‘They figure it out, they put it together.’ ”

That experience opened up the way for him to become a fight choreographer, something he’s been doing for more than 20 years.

And he can teach you how to look like you know all sorts of fighting skills -- cavalry mounted sabre, Aikido, Tai chi. He can even show you how to use a 19th century long rifle if needed.

He’s currently working on “Richard III” at the Durham School of the Arts. In the spring he will once again lend his expertise to the Carolina Ballet for its production of “Romeo and Juliet.” And if you just want some personal classes, he can do that, too. Just e-mail him:

Patrick Campbell learned from Jones. He has an ordinary day job, but in his free time he does film, mostly directing, but he’s done his share of acting as well.

He said experience with stage and film fighting is fairly prevalent in the Triangle given how much theater we have.

“Any theater production that you get into, almost anything that you want to put on stage with any kind of emotion, you may have a physical component,” he said.

He works with Jones from time to time, getting expertise for any fights he may have to film. Campbell says it’s a completely different story when you’re talking about moviemaking versus theater.

“On stage you only have to do it once a night,” he said. “On film you’re going to have to do it 20 times by the end of the day.”

And the training for film fights is more extensive, according to Campbell.

“They’ll take the time and money to train that person,” he said of film. “Most stage actors, they’re working from show to show. They’re not going to have a lot of time.”

Of course, the real reason for fight training, in addition to making things look cool, is to keep actors safe. Anytime two people are swinging at each other, accidents can happen. It’s the job of people like Jones to keep that to a minimum.

“It could be the coolest move in the world, but if you can only do it once and then you’re hurt, that’s your livelihood,” he said.

Jones continues to be amazed at the number of people in the area who have some experience with fight choreography.

“Every year, I hear about or run into someone who does what I do,” he said.

Maybe you could be next. Send him an e-mail. Find out what fake fighting lies in your future. You know you want to.

Alex Granados writes about people, places and traditions in North Raleigh and beyond. Contact him at

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