From the Kung Fu days of Bruce Lee to modern-day sword fights in “Game of Thrones,” stage combat has long been a vital component of movies, television and the theater.

Whether it’s epic gang warfare, a slap in the face, a fall down the stairs or a prince sweeping a damsel in distress off her feet, you might wonder how actors make it look so real.

We turned to the experts at the University of Houston School of Theatre and Dance to give us some tricks of the trade. UH is the only university in the country with two faculty members, Adam Noble and Jack Young, certified by the Society of American Fight Directors (SAFD).

Whether it’s epic gang warfare, a slap in the face, a fall down the stairs or a prince sweeping a damsel in distress off her feet, you might wonder how actors make it look so real.

So before you get En Garde, it’s important to understand two basic concepts—Partnering and Targeting. The first refers to performing with your fellow combatant. And the second is making sure the moves are not only safe, but also convincing—that your audience buys it.

Now to the action! Want to punch somebody? Here are two choices.

A successful stage punch without contact involves working the angles together to make sure the gap between one’s fist and its target is not visible to the audience, making the punch believable.

A full-contact punch actually makes contact with major muscle groups, but the punch pops off the muscle rather than directly hitting it. Important note: Always avoid making contact with bones and joints.

Now it’s time to add in the sounds, or “Knaps,” as they’re called in the business. Those can come from furtively smacking your pectoral muscles with a closed fist for a punch or open-handed for a slap. Some actors have even been known to use props like water bottles to mimic the sound of crunching bones.

The key in all this is to sell the pain to an audience and make sure no one gets hurt in the process.

“We are performing these tricks in the same way a magician gets you to look at one place while he distracts you,” Young said. “You want to make the audience believe the characters are in trouble, not the actors who play them. The goal is to work together to create the illusion that you are working against each other.”