Stunt 101: FEARLESS by Anthony De Longis
Veteran Stunt Performer Anthony De Longis Discusses His Shanghai Adventures in FEARLESS with Jet and Yuen Woo Ping (April '06). Hong Kong Calling: It all started with a phone call from IMPACT Magazine Co-Editor Mike Leeder announcing his international casting quest for the best European and American style fighters and martial artists for a new Jet Li project filming in Shanghai. One of the roles called for an actor who could portray a Spanish sword expert who was also highly skilled with a whip for two featured fights in the film’s final tournament sequences, one of which would be with the films star. I’d played Spanish sword master Ottavio Consonne in the memorable Duende episode of HIGHLANDER: the Series in an episode written for me and filmed in Paris. The role not only offered a fantastic character to inhabit, it afforded me the chance to co-choreograph the action with my pal F. Braun McAsh and introduce the uniquely Spanish style of rapier and dagger fighting to the screen for the very first time. Series star Adrian Paul was a superb protagonist, and the highlight of our collaboration was the climactic rapier and dagger fight in the rain on the Spanish “mysterious circle.” I’d also created a more effective and filmic “rolling” style of whip manipulation for Michelle Pfeiffer’s CATWOMAN in the film BATMAN RETURNS. I’ve continued to explore and evolve new theatrical and combative applications for the whip, man’s first supersonic weapon. Mike explained in his call that all his casting inquiries kept leading him back to me. Mike’s searches had taken him and his team to Japan & Europe, and most recently England where the weather had been dreary and the locations for their behind the scenes “search for the masters” documentary oppressively claustrophobic. He said the director wanted a location with better visuals and more dynamic production values. I invited Mike to visit our web link at [ for a taste of what we could offer and suggested that Rancho Indalo, our work-in-progress dream home just north of Los Angeles, would be a perfect place to shoot some auditions. We live three miles up a winding dirt road that climbs steadily to the top of a 2500 foot mountain with a 360 degree view of the surrounding hills and a “high ground” defensive position that commands the valley below and the entire approach to our hilltop aerie. In addition to the heart pounding climb with its precarious drop offs (the director filmed their progress every step of the way and at each of the three water crossings like an episode of Wild Kingdom), the location provides endless cross country horseback riding opportunities from challenging to extreme as well as an inspirational training spot for the variety of martial and weapons disciplines that I teach. We’ve hosted professional performers and enthusiastic amateurs from as far away as Germany and Australia. I’ve been a professional actor, fight director and sword & weapons specialist for over 30 years, but this was the first time a casting director ever came to audition me in my home. How cool is that? I’d invited two of my favorite sword partners, actor and film maker Bob Chapin (), and fellow actor and swordsman TJ Rotolo to also audition for the roles of the French and German swordsmen. We put on a hell of a show in my horse arena for Mike and his film crew with a variety of bladed weapons and fighting styles. My wife, Dr. Mary De Longis and I performed our synchronized bullwhip tango to show off the finesse of the whip. My friend Joe Ordaz, a talented and courageous stuntman, dressed in protective armour, so I could illustrate the explosive power and surgical precision of the whip. Ever the showman, Mike Leeder let me cut targets from his fingers with the whip from the back of my galloping horse Latigo, another first for a casting director. We finished with interviews in my living room to round out their “behind the scenes” coverage. All in all I couldn’t have asked for a better audition opportunity. When Mike first called and asked if I’d be willing to travel halfway round the world to battle Jet Li, my first thought was that I’ve been training my whole life for this opportunity and I’m ready to give it my best. After a couple of months of negotiations and filming delays, the foreign fighters had dwindled from twelve to only four, but I found myself on a plane en route to Shanghai with the promise of a featured fight with Jet and the chance to work with the legendary king of film fight action, Master Yuen Woo Ping. Before I go further, let me tell you a bit about Mike Leeder, who is nothing short of a Renaissance man. A superb writer and editor, Mike’s contribution to the success of the renowned IMPACT Magazine, can be seen in his knowing and witty articles that grace each issue. His considerable sense of humor and attention to detail makes working with him a genuine pleasure. I came to know him quite well during both the audition process and the subsequent contract negotiations and conversations on my behalf with the producers, director Ronny Yu, Jet Li himself, as well as the action coordinator, Yuen Woo Ping. Throughout the entire process, Mike championed my cause and I’m sure the other performers he recommended received the same exemplary treatment and attention. My expertise in western weapons was requested by the production team and Mike again helped immeasurably to clearly communicate my suggestions to the artistic director, costume designer and the property department. Over a period of several months before I got on the plane, we exchanged lengthy emails and telephone calls keeping me informed of the film’s progress and forwarding production questions. His untiring efforts assured clear and speedy resolutions to each of their requests. Along with his partner, Ean Tang, Mike made my working experience in China pleasant and uncomplicated. Their help allowed me and the other western fighters do their best work by always keeping us informed and by handling the details of communication every step of the way, including acting as translators on the set. This was invaluable as you will later see. Their untiring dilegence on my behalf left me free to focus on my performance. Without Mike’s efforts, I wouldn’t have had the chance to make my contribution to FEARLESS, and I will always be grateful. Mike is also an actor and transformed himself into the referee during the tournament sequences at the director’s request, so look for efforts on screen as well as off. Evolving the Story Specifics of a Good Film Fight: Good choreography is a conversation between characters given greater voice through action. Action that doesn't progress the story and say something unique about each character is indulgent, lazy, and a disservice to the project and the audience. Part of my job as the Sword Master or Fight Director on a project is to play detective in search of clues. I begin with the text or script; the author’s vision. Then I talk to the director to find out what he wants the action to accomplish and the scene to say to the audience; the director’s vision. The actor performing the role has the same sources of text as well as the director to guide his ideas, but he or she will have their own interpretation of how the character should be played; the artist’s vision. I have my own experience and imagination to meld all of these elements into an exciting tapestry by choosing physical elements and combinations of techniques that best tell the desired story. Working on a film is always a challenge and there will always be problems, both expected and unforeseen. Movies are like balancing on a beast that is constantly moving beneath your feet. Making movies constantly tests your abilities and demands your very best efforts at all times. I tell my students, you only have the skills you show up with on the day. The set is not the place to hone your craft. You must assume responsibility for your own training so you’ll have as many tools as possible to do the best job you can. Opportunities are scarce and second chances are very hard to come by. The more skills you’ve developed, the greater your range of choices to tell your character’s story. You can only wing it successfully, if you’ve got the skills to fly. I was to about to discover how true and prophetic my words have been. Telling the Story in the Fight Originally I was slated to have two fights, one with the bullwhip against the character of Jet’s best friend, and the second a combat with swords against Jet himself. Of course there were also supposed to be elimination rounds between a dozen fighters from many nations. By the time they got to filming the climactic tournament sequence, the fights had been trimmed to just four, with only three western fighters and a final combat against a Japanese champion. JC Leuyer played the American bare knuckle boxer and Brandon Kuemmerle, portrayed the German lancer. This was a last minute change from the planned German saber techniques Brandon had prepared so he could more easily match Jet in a battle of Chinese spear vs German military lance. I was to bring to life the style of a Spanish saber fighter facing Jet and his Chinese gin or scholar’s sword. There are three ranges of combat; long, medium and close up and personal. Each offers specific opportunities to create tension and heighten your character’s story. It can also give the camera a logical reason to follow the action to a close up of the actor’s face. In my opinion, the current mania for too close coverage robs both the performer and the audience of the actor’s full power. The character’s story should be told from the ground up, each action motivated by the feet and the hips and supported by the power of the entire body. The intelligence and dexterity, both mental and physical, of the characters is lost when all you can see are straining faces. The prevailing wisdom in many western films thinks that close up contortions of an actor’s face will draw the viewer deeper into the story of the action. Close ups are a good way to hide the physical shortcomings of your actors but I believe it confuses and distances the audience. Many directors believe that bombarding the audience with strobe quick flashes and extreme close up partial images will dazzle the viewer into believing they’ve seen a good fight. I find it accomplishes precisely the opposite. If the audience can’t follow the logic and story of the action, there is no comprehension and no empathy for your character’s peril and ultimate triumph. Thankfully, I knew Jet and Woo Ping don’t subscribe to this flawed notion of film action. I’d get the chance to use my whole body to tell my story. I was also pleased when Director Ronny Yu voiced his interest and approval for these action philosophies as expressed in my article The Sword Master’s POV for Martial Arts Insider and Sword Master Magazines. Choosing the Weapon Some swords are predominantly thrusting weapons such as the small sword. Some are best at thrusting but can also cut, such as the rapier. The military saber is predominantly a cutting weapon that is also capable of effective and illusive thrusting attacks. It’s greatest advantages are a sturdy and substantial hand guard and the ability to inflict damage from a distance with both the edge and the point. The nature of any bladed weapon dictates how it should be utilized to its full fighting potential. Each weapon has strengths and weaknesses. I’d been asked to offer suggestions for sword designs and with the help of my long time friend and weapons maker extraordinaire, Dave Baker (contact at ), we created a perfect fighting weapon. Dave is also a swordsman, so each sword he designs and manufactures fits and balances easily in the hand and flows naturally from one action to the next. For my character, we settled on a weapon inspired by the 1904 Austrian military saber. Although I was a Spanish cavalry officer, this design was an almost universal standard for European military sabers and offered a workable filmic compromise. Using the model from my own collection, Dave crafted a beautifully balanced weapon from scratch, with a gently curving aluminum blade for surgically precise cuts and thrusts while protecting the hand behind its wrap around perforated hand guard. It looked great and was so easy to wield, I commissioned a second saber to be sure we’d have two camera ready hero swords when I arrived in China. After filming, I kept one and presented the other to Jet. I prefer working with aluminum bladed weapons and not steel, even when the steel blades are dulled. Using sharpened swords is a foolish and absolutely unnecessary risk and has no business in creating the illusion of combat that is the heart of good film and stage action. I’ve had to resort to steel on several projects, due to time, money or limited location manufacturing capabilities, but aluminum is always my first choice. It has less weight, while retaining the substance and blade profile of steel. It’s still metal, and therefore hazardous, but it’s easier to manage and control. But the Chinese team had their own preferences. The first decision Woo Ping made was to change our curved 1904 cavalry saber to a straight bladed 1911 model Patton saber. This would match Jet’s straight bladed doubled edged Chinese scholar’s sword with a similar straight bladed European counterpart, my only advantage being the sturdy hand guard. This caused a flurry of activity in the props department as they labored virtually overnight to create perfect bamboo bladed replicas of the Patton saber I had also brought with me. Long a tradition in Chinese and Japanese action film, this was my first opportunity to utilize bamboo blades in a film fight. Covered in shiny metallic mylar skin, each weapon was crafted to resemble perfectly it’s sharp steel counterpart. Being much lighter, they are easier to wield but they require full body support for each action in order to create the illusion of a weighted steel blade. While it’s unlikely that you’ll break any limbs if an accident occurs the way a steel or even aluminum blade can produce, bamboo blades are not without risk. At the speeds Jet and I performed, a wrap to the face or the back of the hands would shatter small bones and the sharp points could easily pierce eyes, throats or other exposed flesh. As the Sword Master or Fight Director, I always incorporate the seeds of combative truth to provide an accurate foundation for the story. When there is sufficient time and rehearsal, my favorite way to choreograph is to evolve the story until it flows smoothly and logically from moment to moment to tell the story of these specific characters in conflict. This provides the audience and the camera with a clear and dynamic narrative for the fight’s emotional progression. My opponent initiates an attack. I offer a series of defensive options and follow up offensive responses, then choose the ones that best tell the desired story. I like to clarify the changing moments of jeopardy by working to create the precise environment for the chosen technique to be the best response to thwart that specific attack and create an opening in my opponent’s defenses. My partner responds to this new peril with an answer of their own. And so on, until the crafted phrase tells the exciting, and visually dynamic story we desire. Then we play with tempo and rhythm to accent and clarify the emotional elements for the audience and camera. This is how I like to work. But this isn’t my party. I’m a guest in Woo Ping and Jet Li’s house. I wondered how they like to make their magic. They work a little differently in China Time to “”Stand and Deliver.” After a week of waiting and training to stay at the peak of readiness, the day arrived for me to experience first hand the Chinese creative process. I was really looking forward to working at this high level, to step into Jet’s arena and provide the motivation and reactions to help him tell his character’s story. I knew the fights would be good. They always are when Jet and Woo Ping and his team are involved. But not everyone works the same way to arrive at effective and dynamic story action and I was curious to discover what they had in store for me. I met Jet for the first time when I climbed the stairs to the raised tournament platform and shook his hand. We immediately set to work. Under the supervision of both Jet and Woo Ping, Didi Koo and Woo Ping’s brother Eagle Yuen created each phrase with Didi playing Jet’s part and Eagle portraying a western saber fighter. I was a little concerned when their first moves for me consisted of three retracting arm pumping point pokes at Jet’s face. This is not a technique I would ever use, especially in the opening salvos of an encounter. A good swordsman never retracts his arm to deliver an attack. This negates his advantage of distance and offers a clear opportunity for a devastating counter time strike by his opponent. I realized, to my dismay, that their fight team thought western swordplay consisted of the techniques they had seen in Hollywood movies! With few exceptions, these are usually a poorly executed miasma of misinformation. They were also choreographing my western saber like a Chinese sword without taking into account the advantages offered by my substantial steel hand guard. This did not bode well but I resisted the urge for legitimate protest and walked their ideas with one of the other members of the fight team. I tried to offer a couple of minor suggestions to improve the look and effectiveness of my attacks, but they were insistent on their selections for this first phrase and I realized I had a choice. The action was my only acting opportunity to tell my character’s story. I couldn’t service the project or myself by looking inept and performing badly, but if I was difficult and made a fuss, I’d probably get myself doubled by one of their fight team. Obviously this would limit my characterization opportunities considerably. Or I could step back and focus on the big picture. This is Jet’s film and my job is to be a strong and challenging adversary that believably motivates the extremely cool moves the team was choreographing for him to execute. I’d have to bring my Spanish character’s western style of fighting to life utilizing their choreography and I’d have to do it instinctually and intuitively while performing the action. There wouldn’t be a lot of rehearsal or time to try things and they certainly weren’t going to slow their creative process to accommodate me so I’d have to do all this on the fly. To play in this league, I’d have to work by their rules of engagement. Fortunately I’ve been training for over three decades with the sword and this was a doable accommodation. Zero to Sixty Miles Per Hour I continued to walk their ideas indicating to Jet precisely where on his body I planned to target each cut and thrust. This area of basic safety was one the team had neglected in their rush to make up the five days they were behind in their shooting schedule. If we’d had the opportunity to train together as originally planned, this would have been addressed, I’m sure. I would also have had the chance to feel the rhythm and pace the Chinese team used to execute their choreography as well as explore the dynamics of their footwork and distance, both critical to creating a safe and exciting combative illusion. This missed opportunity is the only regret I have for my entire adventure in Shanghai. Safety for Jet was the one place I refused to compromise. Without making it a separate issue and having the process grind to a halt, I verbalized to Jet where precisely I would be cutting and thrusting for each of the attacks the team had created while we walked the moves. I always build in several layers of safety whenever I’m performing. Absolute control of the weapon is accomplished by the use of a pivoting grip that make the blade an accurate extension of the hand and arm, driven by the torso and supported by the legs. The second layer of safety is targeting to specific places on the body for every attack. A cut to the shoulder, a slash across the belly or a thrust to the face must be precise and exact and the delivered with the same accuracy and commitment every time, or someone is going to get hurt. Exact targeting also clarifies the jeopardy and clearly illustrates each specific danger to the audience. Parries that really work allow the partner to commit fully to each attack. Finally, controlling distance makes sure each action takes place in the correct relationship to the technique and the partner. Footwork is an essential and much underdeveloped skill for most performers. In both a real fight and a choreographed theatrical illusion, controlling distance is essential to survival and victory. Staged combats are essentially partner katas that depend on sensitivity and awareness to your partner’s energy and movements to execute most effectively. Distances for both the body and the weapons are constantly adjusting and changing and each filming take is individual and unique even though the choreography remains the same. Jet understood immediately my concerns and was very appreciative. He said that I was very skilled and I obviously had a lot of experience making films and handling weapons. He said, “I can see you’re very interested in my safety.” I assured him that I was, not wanting to be remembered as the guy who hit Jet in the face with a sword. “So am I,” he said, and gave me one of his rare beaming smiles. With our safety net in place, we were free to go all out and that’s just what we did. Partnering Jet took my very best efforts at every moment and I joyfully embraced this challenge. The Process As soon as the fight team had created an exchange Jet and Woo Ping liked, Jet stepped in and he and I walked the choreography only two or three times before they rolled three cameras to capture the action from multiple angles. Jet immediately exploded into a full speed blur of motion, and Jet at full speed is really something. It was like dodging and dancing with a formula one race car capable of zero to sixty instantly from a standing stop. After we’d shot our first phrase I said to Jet, “you’re like fighting a Ferrari.” He laughed and said I was pretty good too and compared me to a Porche or BMW. Coming from Jet Li, that’s a compliment I can live with! After the first phrase the fight team saw that I could work at Jet’s pace, remember long sequences of choreography and execute whatever they came up with. There was no longer any worry about my being doubled and we kept creating and filming at a blistering pace. The team assembled a phrase, Jet and I walked it a couple of times adjusting to each other’s responses and then we shot it. Woo Ping watched the monitors and requested specific tweaks in speed or internal blade positioning to get the exact visual story he wanted. One of the advantages Woo Ping has earned in his long career is to get to edit his own fight footage, which is what makes his action so seamless and effective. We usually shot two takes but rarely more than three before winning Woo Ping’s approving, “Good,” and moved on to spontaneously create the next entirely new phrase. “This gweilo knows what he’s doing.” As the fight team came to trust my skills and knowledge, it became increasingly easier to offer the occasional suggestion when a move was awkward or didn’t flow logically for me. After the first two phrases they allowed me rework their combinations for variety and to best suit my character’s style of body and blade movement as long as I arrived at the exact time and place necessary to motivate Jet’s responses to the attacks they had designed. Mike Leeder told me that early on one of the fight team had demanded, “Who’s choreographing this, us or the gweilo?” and Woo Ping replied, “This gweilo knows what he’s doing.” That gave my confidence a welcome boost. Every action beat has four story telling opportunities; the moment before, the action, the reaction, the moment after. Each moment is vital to the illusion of combat that you and your partner are trying to create. It’s very important to realize the power and story potential each element has to offer and to take full advantage of the opportunities each can provide to clarify and justify your action choices. I often like to extend a moment to articulate the acting beat, but Jet and Woo Ping achieve the same result through unremitting speed and syncopation of rhythms to create their visual dynamics. At least that’s how they’d chosen to tell the story of our sword encounter. Trained fighters respond to the energy they perceive, sometimes intuitively. Good choreography should strive to create the specific combative environment for the chosen choreographic technique to be the logical and correct one to successfully thwart the opponent’s attack. This creates a more realistic story and invites the audience to truly participate in the fight because they can follow the logic and perceive the shifting vulnerability and danger for each individual as the encounter progresses. None of this was a conscious or intellectual process while we actually performing. Everything was an organic, in-the-moment cause and effect response to Jet’s energy & execution of each attack and defense, and his responses to mine. In combat you must commit totally to each attack, yet when creating the theatrical illusion of combat you must always control the power and penetration of each cut and thrust to avoid injuring your partner if anything at all goes wrong. Commit to the moment but always be ready for anything if your partner has a lapse in memory or slips or stumbles or simply changes their reaction to your energy organically due to the lack of rehearsals. Both Jet and I were in full performance mode and all of my senses were at their peak, including my peripheral vision and awareness. I felt alive in the way you can only feel when you are working at your peak potential and everything is meshing perfectly. It was a challenging and totally exhilarating experience; everything I’d hoped for when I imagined getting this opportunity. The quest for the second weapon, The whip is one of civilized man’s oldest and most powerful and versatile tools. Images dating back to 3000 BC, in both the Chinese and Egyptian cultures, illustrate whips helping man control and motivate a variety of animals—both wild and domestic. The whip is the ultimate flexible weapon: precision, power and almost unlimited versatility in one explosive package. It is also civilized man’s first supersonic weapon. The speed of sound is 1085 feet per second. The tip of the whip shatters the sound barrier! Literally faster than a speeding bullet, the tip of the whip can reach speeds of up to 1400 feet per second and cut through exposed flesh like a knife. I’ve spent the last twenty years developing and performing my own distinctive methods for using the whip for film, television and in my martial studies. I’m currently creating a multi-range combative protocol for the whip and I’d polished a couple of unique techniques in the hopes of using them in Jet’s film. Remember, the original plan was to have me wield a whip in one of my fights. Although this encounter was eliminated when the number of fighters was trimmed, I’d never given up hope of introducing my newest whip stylings on film. I couldn’t think of a better place to apply my creative efforts than as the second weapon my character pulled when the going got tough against Jet. I’d been lobbying for this ever since it was suggested that the Spaniard would ultimately produce a companion weapon to try to give myself an advantage. Typical bad guy stuff but I wanted something totally unique and not just a second sword or hidden dagger. But the team had another surprise for me. By the second day of filming, I could feel the momentum of the fight was nearing its climax. If there was to be a second weapon, it was now or never. In a quiet moment between shots I talked to Jet about pulling the whip from a place of concealment as my second weapon. J et said, “You don’t have a second weapon now. You’re an honorable fighter, a hero. We’re going to exchange swords. Didn’t anyone tell you?” Well no. No one had mentioned this impromptu promotion from bad guy to respected adversary. An unexpected reward for my efforts. Although it’s not in Ronny Yu’s final cut of the film, Woo Ping shot this surprisingly touching moment. I hope it makes it into the DVD extras. It goes much better when Woo Ping is in a good mood. I’d been told that things always went better when Jet and Woo Ping were in a good mood, but delays in filming had put them behind and the mood among the fight team was a bit tense when we first began. However, with the success and speed of completion of the opening phrases, the mood relaxed and everyone was working with smiles and a relaxed mood. Jet and I finished our entire fight coverage in less than two days and we were able to catch the company up three of the five days they were behind in their shooting schedule. This is a good way to make a first impression and I hope our successes lead to other overseas opportunities. In between takes I had the chance to talk with their wonderful and amazing Director of Photography, Ah Poon. Mike Leeder told me Ah Poon used to be an action film performer before he moved behind the camera. Ah Poon and I got along famously and he started showing me wing chun kung fu techniques saying he could see the parallels in my sword work. This was very gratifying and we had a very good time sharing and exploring techniques in between shots. Apparently this was a first and Jet made a point of taking pictures of Ah Poon and I playing. It was a very good time and I felt very honored to have Ah Poon take the time to offer me some of his considerable knowledge. By the middle of my second day we were crafting the final phrase of our fight where Jet barely avoids my furious assault and ducks, spins and disarms me with a surprising and incredibly adept reversal. It required razor thin timing and total commitment on both our parts to execute. Jet and Woo Ping debated the rhythm of the final move and Woo Ping jumped up to demonstrate what he wanted. He executed the drop and spin and the surprise ascending “little blossom” thrust perfectly but while deep in the twisting pose, he began to lose his balance. So slowly as to be almost imperceptible, Woo Ping swayed and toppled like a tree falling in super slow motion but without ever losing his perfect form. There was a moment of hushed silence, then Woo Ping, looking like a dead dog with his legs in the air, starting laughing and kicking his feet and crawling around on all fours cackling and joking with the team. Everyone broke up. Woo Ping was having a great time and I knew that he was pleased and satisfied with the work. I treasure that moment. I’ll wager very few have the privilege of seeing the master that relaxed and playful. Looking Forward and Looking Back FEARLESS opened in Hong Kong last January, a mere five months after principal photography, to much deserved acclaim. I’ve seen a Chinese language only version of the film and the action of the western fighters opens the film’s tournament sequence. I got the chance to see my own work with Jet, as well as the rest of the films considerable action. All of the fights are wonderful, of course, and visually stunning. How could they be anything less with the skills of Jet Li, Woo Ping and director Ronny Yu and their talented team of performers? Each fight sequence takes full advantage of Ronny Yu’s excellent direction, Jet’s incredible skills as well as that of his partners and the creativity of Woo Ping and the entire fight team and they push the story opportunities of each location to the fullest. The fights incorporate the gold standard in top level wire work, superb gymnastics and the occasional visual assists that post production tweaks can offer to add to the visual impact and tell their story in grand and glorious fashion. The fight with Jet and the Spanish swordsman has almost no close-ups and only essential insert shots. Only those that advance the specifics of the moment are included. The rest of the story is told with our entire bodies moving all out, with the action covered in full figure master sequences rather than shot and assembled in bits. There is a purity to watching two performers bring their characters to life and tell an exciting action story with only the give and take between experienced and skilled performers, without any tricks or high tech assists. I’m very proud of our work together and very pleased to make my contribution to the success of this project. I hope FEARLESS garners the attention and acclaim it deserves. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat!