All posts by Chelsea Schmitt

Welcome New Followers!

This is somewhat belated for some of you and for that I apologize. I’m glad to see the information I’m putting up has been useful! Please remember that my ask box is always open and it takes questions about anything, though I may be slow about responding. I’ll get down to creating a side bar eventually and while this won’t be the most active writing blog out there as I’m working on getting my own work published at the moment, I’ll try to at least put something up once a day.

Happy writing!

Fight Write: The Points Where Weapons Become Useless

Springing to his feet, he bent his bow powerfully and drove his last shaft point-blank at a great hairy shape that soared up at his throat. The arrow was a flying beam of moonlight that flashed onward with but a blur in its course, the were-beast plunged convulsively in midair and crashed headlong, shot through and through.

Then, the rest were on him, in a nightmare rush of blazing eyes and dripping fangs. His fiercely driven sword shore the first asunder; then the desperate impact of the others bore him down. He crushed a narrow skull with the pommel of his hilt, feeling the bone splinter and blood and brains gush over his hand; then, dropping the sword, useless at such deadly close quarters, he caught the throats of the two horrors which were ripping and tearing at him in silent fury.

The Queen of the Black Coast by Robert E. Howard

If you’ve never read anything from Conan: The Barbarian by Robert E. Howard, then shame on you. When it comes to Sword and Sorcery, Howard is still the giant in the genre and the second father of modern fantasy. Honestly, when it comes to fight scenes, Howard is still the man.

Anyway, I’m not posting the above quote here just to fangirl or because the above is really well written. It is, but it illustrates an important point about weapons combat and your characters.

Notice how Conan starts with the bow and when his enemies get into sword range, he discards it. This is because the weapon has now become useless and it will be a detrimental to him to hold onto it, the same is true for the sword, once his enemies get inside its guard. Once his sword is gone, he grapples with his fists and the melee becomes more desperate.

This is a reality to combat that holds true for all weapons and all melee strikes. When I was training in Tae Kwon Do, my instructors referred to these spaces around the body as “hot zones”.

For example: with a roundhouse kick, the opponent needed to be in range of the length of the leg between the foot and shin for the kick to be effective.  If the opponent has gotten close enough that they are above the knee when the leg is extended, then it’s no good. Or alternately, if the opponent was within grabbing distance of the throat and we were nose to nose, a punch was useless and it was time to go to an elbow, a knee, or into a grapple. Most modern handguns are only useful between the ranges of 10 to 50 feet, anywhere closer than that and you can’t aim.

Every weapon has a different hot zone and a point where in truly close quarters they are no longer useful, it requires a fair amount of research to determine when that is.

As with everything regarding writing, the more you know, the better your character will be and the better the fight scene you’ll write.

-Michi

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Fight Write: The Art of Stepping

Learning to fight always begins with the feet, so if you want to write about fighting: learn to start paying attention. It can be easy to get distracted by the hands and start thinking that’s all there is to throwing a good punch, or the feet and think that’s all there is to throwing a good kick. Before a punch is ever thrown, a good martial artist always steps. The step can be forwards, sideways, or on a diagonal, and it can involve the front foot or the back one, but a step is always involved. Let’s talk about why:

A step closes distance.

In a fight, we are normally too far away from our opponent to attack. We need to step forward to reach them. As we close the distance, we bring them (and ourselves) in range for a strike. Each strike requires a different amount of distance from the opponent, so make sure you know how close the character needs to be for them to connect.

A step creates momentum.

The body requires momentum for follow through. Follow through is when a strike connects hard and the arm, shoulder, or leg push farther than they would normally in training. The body uses the step forward to create a driving momentum behind the arm as the hips pivot to strike the opponent, without the momentum the strike is less effective.

A step allows a character to get out of the way.

If someone is charging to tackle, the best option is to get out of the way. The best solution to get out of the way is to step. Even if a character is slipping under a blow, they are going to step first in one direction or another.

So when writing a fight scene, remember to track your character’s steps.

Two verbs, I see a lot in fight scenes are “rush” and “charge”. They are good, powerful, and attractive words. They are perfect to use in a select number of circumstances. However, before you apply any verbs to a scene stop and consider: does a rush require one step? Two steps? Or three steps? Ask: how close will this bring my character to their opponent? Multiple steps, even fast ones, often leave a character open to attack. Rushing and charging both involve running, so a character’s body will be tilted forwards, perfect to be on the receiving blow of a knee, a knife hand, or a hammer blow to the back of their head. Make sure the words you’re using are right for the situation and remember: even tackle isn’t a perfect way of taking someone down. It can be met with a sprawl, which leads to a choke, which leads to a blackout (and death) for your character or their opponent.

Always ask yourself in any scene: where are my character’s feet, what are my character’s feet doing.

Here’s a not at all perfect example:

He came at her, right hand lashing out. There was no room to dodge, nowhere to go other than forwards. So, forward she went. Stepping in, her left hand came up to block. Batting his wrist downwards, she used the force of her momentum to rotate her shoulder and hips back as her right hand formed a fist. Then, she struck. Her fist drove forwards, aiming for the soft flesh of his throat. He gasped as knuckles collided with skin and his windpipe crumpled.

Stumbling back, his hands went to his neck.

Clutching it, he looked up at her as panic spread across his face. She didn’t bother to smile as her knee drew into her chest and her foot struck out, plowing into his belly. When his knees hit the ground, she knew the fight was over.

He wouldn’t be getting back up again.

Tip: If your character is a raw beginner and you want them to learn fast, pick an easy style.

There are styles and weapons that are easy to learn and those that are not. I posted earlier about how to choose a MA that’s right for your character and, in a way, this is an extension of that.

What are some styles that can be learned easily? It might be hard to find them if we don’t know where to start looking. The answer is the kind that were developed for that express purpose. You want the martial styles that are still in use, the ones used (or were used) by military forces to train a large number of beginners for the battlefield. Alternately, take a look at basic self-defense training courses, these are techniques that are designed to be picked up quickly over the course of one or two sessions and without it being necessary for a master to look over your character’s shoulder.

Some occasionally overlooked weapons that are fairly easy to learn:

The Staff – ignoring the spinning, whirling beauty of the Wushu staff, the staff and the quarterstaff are very utilitarian, basic weapons. The strikes are basic and easy to pick up through rote practice, it’s a weapon that can be learned over the course of months instead of years and is fairly dangerous right out of the gate. Stick a metal tip on the end and you’ve got a spear, but that just makes it more deadly.

The Hatchet– The hand axe or the hatchet was one of the primary weapons of the Vikings, it’s more utilitarian and less romantic than a sword, but it’s another one of those weapons that doesn’t require much training to become proficient. It’s not that heavy and it is far easier to explain away to a city guard or a police officer than a sword or a firearm. Since the hatchet is essentially a bladed club, other club-like weapons also fall into this category: the crowbar, the wrench, and the heavy flashlight.

The Crossbow– Much like the Hatchet, the crossbow is less romantic than a longbow, but there’s a reason this weapon overtook it’s predecessor (and why firearms eventually overtook it). It’s a very easy weapon to train someone on, they will learn it quickly and with a surprising amount of accuracy. It and the bow have the distinction of true stealth, unlike the gun they can kill silently.

The Shotgun – this is a weapon that’s less romantic than the handgun or the rifle, but it’s much easier to learn. While most firearms are designed around ease of use, the shotgun’s scatterfire makes it easier operate in an actual situation. The downside, of course, is that you cannot hit a single target with absolute certainty, but buckshot will nail something. For a writer, the shotgun also provides a nice level of unpredictability, because even if the character is sure they’re going to hit what they’re aiming at, there’s a high likelihood of collateral damage in the process. For the audience, it’s a nail biting, desperate weapon and that’s a good thing.

The Slingshot – It’s easy to get a hold of, you can still buy them today, they sell them to children, and ammo for them can be picked right up off the ground. In some parts of America, the slingshot is still used for hunting small game. It’s also worth pointing out that in poor (and not so poor countries) the older version of the slingshot, the sling is still the weapon of choice for young children around the world. With practice, it’s level of accuracy is deadly. Use David and Goliath as a primer and you might come up with something interesting.

Tip: Your character should bounce

The term “bouncing”, often seen in Kickboxing, Muay Thai, Boxing, and Tae Kwan Do sparring in Martial Arts means something different than what we normally think of as bouncing. In MA it’s a very small motion that revolves around shifting your weight on the balls of your feet while lifting your heels off the ground to create a rocking motion as their entire body moves back and forth.

This is important because the movement masks the body’s tells of when an opponent or your character is going to attack and puts them in a position to stay mobile. Mobility is important, because the body’s ability to attack and defend is based on the ability to shift weight quickly, whether it’s dodging, punching, or blocking. No MA starts with the hands, it begins with the feet and training the body to work together.

It’s important to understand that most movies and television shows, we look to for advice on fight scenes will often show the actor as flat footed, instead of in constant motion. Flat footed is when the foot is flat against the ground, leading to stability in stance work but it also means the fighter’s movements are much slower.

This is actually a pretty safe technique, so try it out:

In an open space in your room, living room, or hallway, start by standing with one foot forward and the other behind on the line of your shoulders, the back knee should bend as you bring your back foot up onto the ball. This is called a  “fighting stance” in the non-korean speaking version of Tae Kwan Do.

Now try it flat footed, then go back to the ball. Feel the difference as your body tips forward slightly from resting to active and you’ll start understanding what I mean. If you want to get adventurous try shifting your weight from the back foot to the front foot and then reverse it, do it slowly, then as you get more confident go faster.

Unusual Martial Art: Escrima

This is a martial style from the Philippine Islands. It’s a very useful MA to know about, especially since it’s not one that usually appears in western fiction. You may or may not be familiar with it, if not, then here are some basics to whet your whistle.ery

Escrima is a martial art that focuses primarily on wielding a short bamboo stick and a knife, sometimes it includes two bamboo sticks of similar to varying length, or just one. The style strikes at the hand, the wrist, the upper arm, the head, the knee, and the center (the solar plexus and stomach).

The style basis itself around the idea that the opponent is armed, it focuses first on blocks, disarms, and then attacks. It’s style sometimes resembles modern fencing, but it is far more utilitarian.

The basics of this Martial Art, while not fancy, are fairly easy for a beginner to learn.

Something to remember: This is one of the few styles in the world that makes dual wielding attractive and practical, the bamboo stick functions as both for attacking and defending while the knife follows up with fast, lethal strikes.

Tip: Understand the Basics

Much like understanding grammar is a basic for learning how to write, understanding the beginning tenants of any Martial Art is essential to it’s practice. The basics are the building blocks of technique, any technique, from being a excellent painter to handling a firearm. As a writer, we control everything that happens in a character’s universe, so it’s essential to understand not just how something works but what it does and why it’s important.

It’s tempting to want to just jump straight to the action, but for the sake of your characters and writing believable fight scenes, it’s important to walk before you run. Just as How? What? Where? and Why? are important questions to a story’s plot, they are also important to a punch or a kick.

The basics are what teach us the how, the what, and the why so we can perform in the where. Master your basics and you start mastering your character. There will always be someone in your audience who will know if you don’t put the work in and for those that didn’t, they might learn something new.

Fight Write: How Do You Choose a Martial Art?

The weapon choices and martial style that an author makes for their character is just one more expression of who they are. What we choose tells the reader a great deal about them without the author having to spend time a lot of time elaborating on what it is and what that means. So here area few simple questions to ask yourself when picking out a MA:

1) Ask yourself: what sort of person is my character?

Often times, authors choose Martial Arts based on what they look like, not on how well they mesh with the character’s outlook/job. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is actually an excellent example of this, in the first few seasons she uses a basic punching and kicking style based mostly out of Tae Kwan Do because it’s more visually dynamic. But the style rarely reflects the sort of fighting she’s actually doing, nor her personality. Buffy is a heavy hitter, she enjoys beating on others in a very close environment. She enjoys slamming them into walls and doors. She’s not actually a well-trained fighter, instead she relies mostly on her superpowers to get the job done. Comparatively, Tae Kwan Do requires an immense amount of training. It’s a style that focuses on accuracy, control, and speed over physical power to finish the fight quickly. It’s unsuitable for a fighter a) doesn’t spend a lot of time stretching and b) who doesn’t want to put a lot of effort in to become good at it.

Now, compare the choices made in Buffy to those in Avatar: the Last Airbender. In Avatar, the character’s personalities are a reference to the four elements and the styles they practice are based primarily around those elements. Aang as a character can be hyper and flighty, zooming from place to place on his air scooter. Katara is a Yin/Yang like water, capable of both extreme anger and extreme kindness, her personality is built around a complex set of pushes and pulls. Like the water she wields, she can be both stubborn and flexible in her outlook.

2) What does my character do?

If you have trouble with the first question, the second best place to start with a character and an MA is their job. What do they do? Are they a dried up policeman/woman? Then, their training will be based in what’s commonly taught to police officers with possible additions from outside sources that they pick up on their own time. Army/Marine/Air Force are the same, however their training is similar but separate, the hand to hand styles the Military uses are constantly in development and are constantly being updated to stay relevant. If your character is former Special Forces/CIA/FBI then they’re training will no longer be up to date, no matter how good they were initially.

So, make sure you pick a style that is relevant to what your character does for a living or is being asked to do.

3) Research the Style’s History

Every MA is based around a specific ideal, it was designed to counter or combat an enemy and the techniques reflect that history, even if they have been updated for a modern era. Knowing the history of the style will allow you, the author, to understand the philosophy inherent in the style itself and whether or not that will be suitable for your character.

Again, don’t pick based on what looks good or cool to you, choose what’s appropriate to your character and a style that will help you build a better story. The old adage is: Write What You Know and if you don’t know, then it’s time to study up.

Below are some examples to help you get started¸ happy writing!

Krav Maga: This is an Israeli Martial Art taught to their military forces. It’s increasingly being known as one of the best modern combat styles in the world, though that’s up for debate. It is a fighting style that, for the most part, bases it’s strikes in boxing and kickboxing with elbow, kicks, and knee strikes that have a passing similarity Muay Thai. It is an intense and aggressive MA designed around the idea of tight urban combat and close quarters fighting. Krav Maga is a heavy hitter, one that is growing in popularity for self-defense training and in the MMA arena.

Characters Krav Maga is Appropriate For: Aggressive characters and brutal characters, both male and female. It’s useful to characters who fight in an urban environment and worth looking to if you want to create a street fighter who is constantly looking to be in their opponents face all the time. Krav Maga works off the idea that your opponent doesn’t understand what they’re doing and will win by virtue of overwhelming force. Hit as hard as possible, as fast as possible, as quickly as possible while terrifying your opponent into submission. It’s an up close and personal style, if your character likes to constantly be within grabbing distance of their opponent this is one for them.

Tae Kwan Do: Like I talked about above, Tae Kwan Do is all about control, precision, and speed. This MA is for a character who is incredibly limber, small, and light. It’s a fighting style that works very well for both women and men, women especially because it bases it’s strength in kicks as primary over punches and requires an intense level of flexibility. Tae Kwan Do is all about building powerful momentum through a variety of kicks both offensively and defensively. It’s a style built around keeping your opponent away from you and finishing the fight quickly with the body’s strongest weapons. Tae Kwan Do kicks aim for the chest and the head.

Characters Tae Kwan Do is Appropriate For: Tae Kwan Do is best suited to characters who began training at an early age, who have a solid sense of balance, and are very flexible. Tae Kwan Do is a very effective fighting form, even in a modern world, especially when it’s weaknesses (hands) are compensated with by training in additional MAs. But, it is difficult to learn and those who come to it late will have trouble mastering it and/or achieving the required level of flexibility. A character must have near perfect control over their muscles and an almost complete synergy between body and mind to be effective. For reference: a traditional Tae Kwan Do master will be able to perform three to four kicks on a single leg, before that foot ever touches the ground. They will then be able to follow up those kicks with another strike from the same leg, by simply sliding into the next one. If your character is a slacker or doesn’t want to train, this is not the form for them.

If you’re looking to avoid Asian styles, one no nonsense alternate kicking style is the French Savate. It’s one of the major, surviving European MAs and a good style to study up on, especially if you’re interested in having a character from a European background who combines kicking techniques with fencing.

Reference:

 If you want to spend some money and avoid Wikipedia, I recommend picking up Gurps: Martial Arts which is a good primer on a variety of different MAs and some good solid background ideas that you can give to a character to make them realistic. You can usually find it used or on Amazon, if you don’t want to pay full price.

 The History Channel’s now defunct Human Weapon is sadly no longer on the air, but you can find it’s episodes on YouTube. It’s an informative show and an excellent more in depth primer on a bunch of different MAs, including some non-Asian biggies like Savate, Russia’s Sambo, and Greece’s Pankration. They also took a look at the Marines’ hand to hand combat style, if you’re looking to write a military character this is a good resource. It’s also a nice look at fights between fighters trained in one kind of MA learning another and fighting with an unfamiliar style.

 Once you find the style you want to study, it’ll be easier to find information on the web, at your local library, and talking to Instructors who run dojos in your area.

Happy Writing!

-Michi

Tip: It doesn’t matter how good you are, you’re going to hurt tomorrow.

The first rule of fighting is:

1) Don’t Get Hit

The second rule of fighting is:

2) You Will Get Hit


Here’s a fact of life: real fights start cold, your character will have zero time to warm up their body or prepare their muscles. They won’t have a chance to get their body into perfect condition before the first attack comes, so the chances of them pulling or straining a muscle is high, even if they win the fight. They will be bruised, they will be battered, and their injuries will stay with them for weeks, if not months.

One of the hardest truths of combat is that no injury ever really heals. Even with medical attention, the injury will stay with the character. For an example: Go watch some of Jackie Chan’s earliest movies and then one like “The Karate/Kung Fu Kid”. You’ll notice that even though he is still an amazing fighter, he cannot really walk straight anymore. And Jackie Chan doesn’t even actually fight, he just practices martial arts and occasionally jumps off the Brooklyn Bridge.

Fighting puts constant stress on the body and wears it out quickly, even if your character is taking fewer hits and isn’t stupid, they’re still going to hurt in the aftermath. Whether or not your character takes pride in their bumps and bruises is up to them, but the body will wear out. If you as a writer ignore that, then your characterization and story will suffer.

-Michi