Cooperative violence: Stage combat group gathers for battle

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The only locally sourced product you’ll get at this co-op is a spring-steel knife to the gut.

When someone says the word “co-op,” most people think of a food co-op, or an apartment building managed by a disgruntled board of heavy-handed tyrants, but one Brooklyn cooperative, which splits its time between the Brooklyn Lyceum and Washington Park, is dedicated to providing its members with something else entirely — battle.

“Essentially, I’ve been studying staged combat for about five years, and I wanted to do something more,” said J. Robert Coppola, founder of Big Damn Heroes, a staged combat and theatrical violence cooperative. “I wanted to do something where you had a more consistent chance of training, getting together with like-minded people, and doing new combat stuff.”

Big Damn Heroes, a cooperative where members pool melee weapons and combat skills, meets every Tuesday at the Brooklyn Lyceum during the winter and at Washington Park when it’s warm, and its members work to train each other, not to be deadly, but to be safe when battling on stage, at renaissance fairs, or in attractions like Medieval Times.

“One of the big things we practice is safety first,” said Coppola. “We make sure everyone is out of distance, and we practice to make our strikes very specific and very accurate, and there are a lot of techniques for safely executing staged combat.”

Coppola himself is the group’s fight captain, and is among the cooperative’s more experienced theatrical warriors, as evidenced by the six different weapon proficiencies he’s been certified in by the Society of American Fight Directors, which include unarmed fighting, single sword style, rapier and dagger style, broad sword combat, knife fighting, and quarterstaff.

But those who do — it turns out — can’t teach.

“There’s not really a place out there to teach how to teach stage combat. Its something you learn in the field,” he said. “I don’t assume at any point that I’m good enough to teach anyone the actually in and outs, which is why I’m not the teacher, I’m the fight captain.”

While the members of the co-op is all help each other learn, they are bringing in actual teachers who come in for a few days and teach different weapon styles.

All the members share weapons amongst each other, but, again, Coppola’s collection of medieval steel is the most impressive.

“She’s still young, but she’s growing,” said the fight captain, referring to his armory.

Coppola’s theatrical violence co-op meets at the Brooklyn Lyceum (227 Fourth Ave. at President St. in Park Slope) or Washington Park (Third Street between Fifth and Fourth avenues) on Tuesdays. Visit, or email to join.

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at or by calling (718) 260-4514.
Updated 10:11 pm, July 9, 2018
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