“What are you doing in my house?” Marisol D’Andrea shouts as she spots an intruder, a man who previously tried to kill her.
“I’ve come to finish the job,” growls Stanley Gonsalves as he prepares to attack with a pair of swords.
Unfortunately, he has tangled with the wrong woman. D’Andrea, skilled in defence, disarms the assassin and encircles his throat with the swords.
Rather than gasping in horror, the onlookers cheer. After all, this isn’t a real confrontation, but a fight scene choreographed by Ram Reyes of Ram Tactix for students in his weekly stunt fighting class. D’Andrea and Gonsalves and their cheering classmates are aspiring actors, all working to improve their weaponry skills to improve their chances of obtaining roles in television and film productions.
Reyes, an actor and stunt performer himself, began teaching stunt fighting to others in 2019 as a way of enhancing his own training.
“I took a lot of workshops, but they weren’t regular and I wanted to work on it more, so I began my own group,” said Reyes. “It gave me more visibility and opportunities.”
Initially, he offered training free of charge and held lessons in local parks. However, Ontario’s climate isn’t hospitable to outdoor classes year-round, so Reyes now charges a fee that goes toward renting indoor facilities. Generally, the class meets on Sundays in a Mississauga martial arts gym, fitting its hours around the classes scheduled there. He promotes the classes on Facebook.
As class time approached, students trickled in. In a recent class, there were four men and four women ranging in age from 19 to 50-something. The women wore leggings and loose tops; the men cotton pants and T-shirts, gear that lets them move easily and fluidly. Shoes come off as the floor is covered with exercise mats.
“I accept anyone — all ages, genders and ethnicities — even without any martial arts background,” said Reyes, who began studying karate as an eight-year-old in the Philippines. “Safety is a priority for me, too. I don’t want anyone to get hurt.”
The class began with a warm-up. Students stood in a circle and Reyes threw punches, asking the students to move their heads as if absorbing a hit.
Next came falls. Chloe Henson demonstrated the techniques to her classmates, falling on her back and her side as Reyes gave advice on doing so safely. Then, it was on to weapons — and safety glasses. The students practised with fake pistols that make a gunshot noise, learning not to point the guns straight down to prevent ricochets. Soon, they were rolling and coming up firing.
Rubber knives that have the heft of the real thing were next. Pairs of students took turns stabbing and blocking an attack. Fighting sticks followed, then swords, then boxing gloves. Grunts of exertion echoed in the gym while Reyes offered advice on positioning and technique.
“With a stick or a lead pipe, you don’t target someone’s legs,” he told the class. “As you bend, they can hit you over the head.
“It’s not about being aggressive; it’s about fighting smart.”
After the weapons training, each student had the opportunity to star in fight scene choreography that Reyes devised individually for each of them, taking into account their skill levels and strengths. D’Andrea fought her assassin, for example; Henson killed a mob boss or two with pistols. Reyes or student Mridul Sharma filmed the choreography using a cellphone camera and microphone; each student gets a clip of their work to post online or show to agents.
Reyes’ students are enthusiastic and grateful for the opportunity to add new skills to their portfolio.
“The more skills you accumulate, the more marketable you are,” said D’Andrea, a Toronto apprentice with the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists, a.k.a. ACTRA, who is eager for larger roles. “I see it on the set; it’s important to be versatile.”
Sharma, 25, an aspiring actor from Brampton who has worked in Punjabi music videos, said, “As an actor, I am trying to acquire as many tools as I can so that I can shine somewhere.”
He is encouraged by the current move toward including more diverse actors in productions, noting that 40 per cent of the world’s population is South Asian, but Hollywood lags far behind in representation.
As for Henson, 19, an acting and film student at Niagara College, “I love getting to do different choreography and set moves. Ram is always mixing it up and we’re learning new things. My end goal is to be a superhero or villain in a Marvel TV show.”
Reyes believes that with patience, training and hard work, everyone in the class can develop his or her unique skills.
“Some are good with hand-to-hand combat, others with weapons,” he said. “I’m the enhancer. It’s my job to unlock their hidden potential and bring it out of them. We want to work as stunt actors with lines and recognition, although the ultimate objective is to be an actor who does our own stunts like Tom Cruise or Angelina Jolie.”
Meanwhile, it’s knives out and ready to engage.