Remembering Fight Choreographer William Hobbs

William Hobbs
Jan 29 1939 - July 10 2018

The great William Hobbs has had a profound influence on our journey along the path of the sword. We thought on this anniversary of his death we would look back at our post acknowledging his work. It was some of the inspiration to spark our deep desire to study history, the sword and its use and all things related. His work still ranks with some of the best sword fights on screen and something we love to watch.

William Hobbs and Frank Finlay in the fight at the bar.
Frank Finlay and William Hobbs in The Three Musketeers 1973

His use of the practical in theatrical combat differentiated the look and feel of the fights he designed from some of the tropes of film combat seen in earlier generations. While flare and swagger were most important in fight depictions in early sword movies, Hobbs brought an intensity of realness to his combat on screen and stage. This coincided with a move to the reality of life in films in the 60s and 70s. This combination resulted in some of the most iconic sword fights on film and emulated ever since.

Smallsword duel in The Duelist.
Smallsword duel in The Duellist

He emphasized acting the fight. To be in control and create the reality of the moment. Whether with the character inspired combats of the Musketeer fights, the brutality of the final duel in Rob Roy or the deadly earnest intent of The Duellist. The moments of still quiet in the duel scenes from this last movie carry a tension that was usually ignored in sword combat presentations.

 The brutal sabre duel in The Duelist
Sabre duel in The Duellist a brutal fight.

The theatrical reality of Hobbs fights brought an intensity to the films he worked on in ways that communicated the visceral experience to the audience that the swashbuckling films of a couple of decades earlier did not. The staging of combat to communicate is not an easy thing to do. A real fight is often minimal and over quickly, the fight in theatre and film is a furtherance of the story. It is two, or more individuals working together to entertain and tell that story. Hobbs did this very well.

Fight on the Ice The Three Musketeers.
The fight on the ice from The Three Musketeers

Some of his movies include

The Three Musketeers 1973

The Four Musketeers: Milady's Revenge 1974

Captain Kronos- Vampire Hunter 1974

Royal Flash 1975

Robin and Marian 1976

The Duelist 1977

Joseph Andrews 1977

Flash Gordon 1980 

Excalibur movie still

Excalibur 1981

The Meaning of Life 1983 (segment "The Crimson Permanent Assurance")

Ladyhawke 1985

Brazil 1985

Pirates 1986

Willow 1988

Dangerous Liaisons 1988

The Return of the Musketeers 1989

Cyrano de Bergerac 1990

Hamlet 1990

Robin Hood 1991

Final duel in Rob Roy.

Rob Roy 1995

Dangerous Beauty 1998

The Man in the Iron Mask 1998

Shakespeare in Love 1998

The Avengers 1998

The Count of Monte Cristo 2002

Cassanova 2005

Game of Thrones 2011

Hobbs working on fights in Musketeers movie.
Hobbs working through choreography 

Here is William Hobbs in his Cameo in The Three Musketeers 1973 fight starts about 2:04 fighting the great actor Frank Finlay.

 Books he wrote:

Techniques of the Stage Fight 1967

Stage Combat "The Action to the Word" 1980

Fight Direction for Stage and Screen 1995


William Hobbs obituary in The Guardian.


Nathan Clough, Ph.D. is Vice President of Arms and Armor and a member of the governing board of The Oakeshott Institute. He is a historical martial artist and a former university professor of cultural geography.  He has given presentations on historical arms at events including Longpoint and Combatcon, and presented scholarly papers at, among others, The International Congress on Medieval Studies.

Craig Johnson is the Production Manager of Arms and Armor and Secretary of The Oakeshott Institute. He has taught and published on the history of arms, armor and western martial arts for over 30 years. He has lectured at several schools and Universities, WMAW, HEMAC, 4W, and ICMS at Kalamazoo. His experiences include iron smelting, jousting, theatrical combat instruction and choreography, historical research, European martial arts and crafting weapons and armor since 1985.

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