All posts by Michael Schwarz

Q&A: Stop Them

Referring to a post you made some time ago, Is there a /good/ way to stop a person from doing something stupid, violence or not?

Without, going back and checking, it’s almost certainly what I wrote at the time: Talking them down. If someone has decided to do something, and you need them to stop, your only option is to convince them not to do it. You can’t use violence to stop them. Not really. If you take them down, tie them up, or simply beat on them, you’re only delaying the inevitable. They’ll go back, and do whatever they planned to do in the first place. Or, you kill them, which creates all kinds of new problems.

If someone has set their mind on something incredibly stupid and or destructive, your only real option is to talk them out of it. You need to convince them to change their mind. Unfortunately, there’s no one, “right,” way to do this. Everyone, every situation, requires a different approach, unique to the people involved at that specific moment in time. Their background, their relationship, their experiences, their view of the world, the information they have. Everything they considered in picking their course of action is relevant in weighing how to respond to them.

Without wanting to make it sound too much like a game, there is a competitive element to this. As one of the participants, you don’t know everything that factored into the other person’s decision. You can try to get that information, try to understand how they came to that point, and then formulate a response. Sometimes it’s as simple as having information the other participant lacks. Sometimes it’s looking at the situation from a new perspective. Sometimes they’re the ones to bring you around. Sometimes there is no way to reconcile your differences, and violence really is the only option left. It all depends on the people involved, what they know, who they are, and how they know each other.

It’s worth remembering, how someone responds to violence is just as individual to them, as any other factor in this. Some people, when presented with violence will crumple, some will respond in kind, others will seek retribution. It really depends on the individuals involved, and without knowing them, it’s nearly impossible to predict how they’ll respond.

It’s also impossible to know, in the abstract, if violence will even achieve your goals. Will they see it as a sign that they should back down, and a demonstration of your conviction? A validation of their position, because you have no better response?

We’ve said it before, violence doesn’t solve problems. It just creates new ones. At best it may table the old problems for a few minutes.

If you need to stop someone, completely stop someone, you need to convince them. By itself, simply beating on thumping on someone isn’t very persuasive.

-Starke

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Q&A: Sword Injuries

Would actual sword fights end with a lot of cuts on both combatants or is it more of a “you get tagged first and your out” kind of deal?

Yes?

This one can really go either way, depending on injuries sustained. So, let’s parse this out a bit, because I might not have been really clear about this in the past.

Shallow nicks won’t do much. You’ll lose blood, but not at an appreciable rate. You’ve almost certainly sustained a few of these in your life. From a writing perspective these are basically cosmetic. From a medical perspective they’re not much more. A sword or knife can absolutely inflict these.

There are rare circumstances where these immediately relevant. Cuts to the forehead can cause blood to get in the victim’s eyes. In combat, this is a debilitating situation. Blood that gets onto the palm can make it more difficult to grasp objects or weapons. (Fresh blood is quite slick. As it dries it will become sticky, so the effect is reversed at that point.)

When you’re talking about lots of cuts, then you’re probably talking about this kind of injury. Individually these aren’t dangerous, but if they start stacking up, blood loss is cumulative, so they can potentially become life threatening, but that’s not a likely outcome for a duel.

Incidentally, if you’re writing a scene where characters are dueling to first blood, then these cuts qualify. In fact, that’s what the duelists will aim for. It’s the easiest kind of injury to sustain, and if the participants don’t want to kill one another, this is the safest route to victory.

When I’ve been talking about injuries that create a decisive advantage, I’m talking about deeper cuts; ones that open up veins or debilitate limbs. Injuries where bloodloss will lead to impairment and death.

In a duel, these will kill you. When I say things like, “with first blood, the clock is ticking, and your character will die if they don’t find a way to turn the fight around,” I’m talking about these deeper injuries. A person can survive a few shallow cuts without much ill effect, and in most cases can survive quite a few without aid. Deep cuts are immediately dangerous.

Here’s the problem with this: I’m talking about these like they’re two separate kinds of wounds; they’re really not. They’re both cuts. If we’re being technical, the deeper variety are “lacerations.” But, that makes it sound like there’s a clean delineation between these injuries which simply doesn’t exist.

So, I’m going to step back and put this in abstract terms, as they apply to characters for a moment.

Characters can suffer “cosmetic injuries.” These will result in bleeding. As I mentioned earlier, blood After the fight is over, they’ll hurt. Unless your character is getting covered in these things, they’ll never kill them. These can be sustained anywhere, but when you’re talking about strikes to the forearm (except along the inner arm) or to the face, bone will usually stop the strike before it gets to deep.

Characters can suffer “wounds.” These will result in a lot of bleeding, way too much bleeding. These, “start the clock.” Without medical attention, even just self inflicted first aid, these will kill your character. Usually these are sustained to limbs or the torso. Places where you can get fairly deep without striking bone.

In the real world, blood loss will impair the fighter, slowing them down, confusing them, making combat more difficult. This means their defense (if they have one) will suffer, and it will be far easier for their opponent to get through it with a kill strike. A blade through the throat or chest, for instance. This isn’t always true in fiction, but it’s a function of how the human body works that’s worth remembering.

If you’re asking, “is it plausible for a character to win a swordfight with lots of tiny cuts?” Yes. If you’re asking, “is it plausible for a character die in a swordfight with one or two deep, lethal wounds, and to be otherwise untouched?” Again, yes. It really depends on the circumstances of the fight.

I hope that clears things up some, and am genuinely sorry if I’ve confused any of you by glazing over this. That one’s my mistake.

-Starke

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Q&A: Double Bladed Weapon

Is it realistic to have a bladed weapon that operates sort of like a double ended light saber? As in you press a button or lever in the center of the hilt and blades come out of either end? Furthermore, could you see a bladed weapon fight club as something that may exist (it doesn’t have to be legal and definitely probably wouldn’t be)

On the first part? Not really.

You’ll see collapsing knives that are designed for push button deployment, out the front of the grip. But, for a full sword? No, or at least not with modern technology. Wear and abuse from normal use would quickly wreck the mechanical components. To say nothing of the blood and gore getting forced into the mechanism when you collapsed it after use.

So, again, limited to modern technology, it would be theoretically possible, but they’d have an incredibly short lifespan (maybe only single use), and be extremely annoying to clean and care for (if not outright impossible).

If you’re talking about some kind of hypothetical future tech, then, it will probably be an option some day. Self cleaning tolerances, and a mechanical stability that can’t be achieved with modern materials may make this viable. Though, at that point, this would probably be more of a novelty than a practical combat tool.

Double bladed weapons do exist. Well, I should say, double bladed knives exist, I have one somewhere. It’s awkward, difficult to hold, and I’ve still got a scar on my index finger from the first time I picked it up. These are a novelty. You buy one because you think it looks cool, not because you intend to use it.

There are a few examples of weapons that are designed to be double ended, mostly polearms, which would sometimes include functional spikes on the reverse end. It’s also not unheard of for a sword to have a sharpened, spiked pommel. That said, mounting an entire reverse blade onto a sword is something you’d usually only seriously consider if you’re either a Sith or Klingon.

On the second part, about fight clubs, “No, never; except they did.”

The basic idea of a fight club where people who don’t know what they’re doing wander in and start beating the ever living snot out of one another? Yeah, that can happen. I’ve actually been out on a farm in the middle of the night, dueling friends with plastic bokken because it seemed like fun at the time. It’s not exactly what you’ve got in mind, but that’s possible.

Thing is, there’s a huge difference between dueling with a high impact plastic katana, where screwing up means you’ve got new bruise on your knuckles, and screwing around with a live blade, where a mistake means critical injuries and death.

Organized, underground dueling also has some real world history. The only examples I’ve run across came out of 19th century military academies. I assume the reasoning is roughly the same as why I was on that Indiana farmyard in the middle of the night, it seemed like fun at the time.

Of course, in the case of military academies, we’re talking about students who’d actually been trained to use their blades, so it’s not exactly a fight club. Still stupid and dangerous, but they (kind of) knew what they were doing.

So, my first impulse on this subject is wrong. I’d say, “no one can possibly be that stupid,” except of course, I have been exactly that stupid. I also knew a couple idiots that decided to fight each other with a fire axe and cheap katana in their living room, without ever considering that, maybe, this was a horrifically bad idea. Tragically, they both survived unharmed.

As for a full on fight club? Not so much. When you have people who don’t know what they’re doing throwing punches, the potential risk of injury is, somewhat, limited. Untrained combatants are not a huge threat to one another. They can get some good shots in, and can make it hurt, but actually messing someone else up requires concepts like power generation and a vague idea of where to connect. Without them, it’s just guys flailing impotently at each other.

Blades are inherently dangerous. You don’t need to know how to put together an effective defense, or understand how to generate force, driving four pounds of steel into some poor schmuck doesn’t require training. Training does help; it teaches you how to put up a defense, and how to circumvent your opponent’s, but it’s not necessary for accidental death and dismemberment.

The fundamental problem with a bladed fight club is that the participants need to survive. They need to be in a condition where they can fight again next week. Getting carved up by a stray blow will put a damper on that. To say nothing of a stray death.

In Fight Club, the titular club was an expression of violent catharsis. For random guys who’ve never experienced real violence, it was an escape that presented the illusion of danger, without putting the participants in actual jeopardy. This kept the attrition rate fairly low, and allowed the group to grow. For something like this, that is absolutely critical.

If you start arming the participants, it would only take watching one guy getting opened up, and spraying blood all over the place before you might think, “maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.” When you start hemorrhaging members like this, it becomes impossible to keep the numbers up, and the club would die off quickly; figuratively or literally.

-Starke

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Q&A: Bayonets

Would it be useful or realistic to attach a knife to a gun? Would it be in anyway helpful in a fight in a smaller space or would it just get in the way and be unhelpful?

Well, that’s called a bayonet. They do exist. These date back to single shot firearms, where you’d be left without a functional weapon while reloading in an era when melee combat was still the norm. As with a lot of elements of military tradition and hardware, bayonets have massively outlived their usefulness.

Modern bayonets are (usually) functional combat knives with attachment points designed to lock onto a rifle. That said, some rifles do include integrated bayonets, which can be collapsed and stored on the gun.

Generally speaking, the only time you’d use a bayonet is when the rifle cannot be fired. Either because it’s out of ammunition, malfunctioning, or you’re in some incredibly specific situation where firing it would be a profoundly bad idea. Otherwise, even in close quarters, you’re better off pumping two or three rounds into someone.

Which leads back to the question about usefulness; not very. Detachable ones can be useful in the sense that you need a knife and just happen to be carrying one, but a well equipped combatant should have a knife or other cutting implement in easy reach regardless. In very rare circumstances, it’s a good augment for your rifle, but that’s more of an, “in theory,” consideration than a practical application.

Sticking a bayonet on a pistol (or revolver) isn’t a great idea. You’ll see these occasionally as novelty items, but you’d be better off simply bringing a separate knife. The one advantage a bayonet has, when it’s mounted on a rifle, is reach. Slapping one on a pistol makes the blade harder to control, without increasing its range.

-Starke

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Q&A: Retired Assassins

How realistic is it for the retired agent/spy/assassin to come back and kick just as much butt as they did years before? Does such training come back to you easily if you haven’t used it in a long while or will you be rusty enough to get killed?

Parts of this are realistic, others not so much.

If you’ve spent enough time training techniques, this stuff gets baked into the way you move. It’s not, “oh, I’ll do this to someone;” it’s just there. Training can also affect how you look at the world; this is true as a general statement on life, but it also applies here. Again, as with muscle memory, this is always there, always affecting how you view your surroundings and the people in them.

So, in that sense, yes. A veteran character coming back after years away from the job will still have their skills and training. Some of that will be rusty, but this stuff sticks with you. Especially if you were maintaining your training for years. That said, they’ll still get their teeth kicked in.

Ironically, one of the more realistic takes I’ve seen on this was in the middle seasons of 24. In the early seasons, the protagonist, Jack Bauer, is a federal counterterrorist agent. After the third season he’s basically on his own, and no longer a part of the agency that trained him. By the fifth season (about 3 years later) he’s at a point where he’s getting his ass handed to him by a security guard.

The problem is something we’ve explained, repeatedly. Hand to hand combat is not static. The training I got 20 years ago doesn’t apply now. It will work against untrained opponents. Basic physiology doesn’t change. However, going up against opponents who’ve been keeping their training up to date, (or are some of the people responsible for updating the techniques in the first place), is not going to end well.

Something I know we haven’t discussed on this subject is how this updating happens. It requires contact with people who are actually using their training practically. Seeing what people are doing isn’t something that you can do sitting on a mountain top. You need to actually be immersed in the community. You look for how people are adapting to the techniques you’re training others in, and look for ways to get around those counters.

In the case of law enforcement, one major source if intelligence to guide updates is watching what criminals are teaching each other in prison. Career criminals will look for ways to counter police hand to hand, and once they have that, will (usually) share it with people they work and/or socialize with.

A veteran coming in after years away may be able to execute their training perfectly, and still get taken down by a rookie who received their training last year, because they were trained to counter the veteran’s approach.

Updating is about looking for the things that are most prevalent, and finding ways to defend against them. It’s very likely your veteran will understand this concept. Whether that affects their behavior is more of a characterization question.

Incidentally, this doesn’t just apply to hand to hand, it’s also a relevant concept when you’re talking about things like tradecraft.

Tradecraft is the shorthand for techniques used in intelligence gathering. It’s (somewhat) all encompassing. So, anything from social engineering to dead drops or even the way you set up surveillance could be lumped in under this header.

Just like hand to hand training, this stuff does go out of date. Usually once someone’s actually exploited a method and gotten caught doing it. Though, sometimes it’s preventative.

The irony is, when it comes to being a spy, the biggest problem is being a veteran, not being out of practice. It’s being a veteran. When a spy starts their career, no one knows who they are, they have no reputation, they’ve never turned up in strange places, they’re just someone walking around, taking in the sights, maybe doing a job for some NGO.

Even if a spy is never caught, as they work, their name will start ending up on desks, in lists of witnesses, employees, or whatever. Once is not a pattern, but as their name keeps coming up over the years, it becomes easier to identify them. Potential enemies start keeping files, and gradually filling them with what they know. This means it is much harder for a veteran spy to operate in the field undetected, than it is for a rookie.

There’s a similar issue for assassins. Either they’re a complete ghost, no one knows who they are, and may not even believe they ever existed, or (more likely), if they were working for a government (or any other large, overt organization, like a corporation), they’re in the same boat as a veteran spy. People may not know your character is an assassin, but they will know that they worked for someone. Which in turn, will put them on guard, and make your character’s life much harder.

There are concepts a veteran will have internalized, which someone without training won’t understand or grasp. Thing that just don’t go out of style. For example, bullets will blow through most residential walls and furniture. So, if someone’s taking cover behind a couch, kitchen wall, or car door, it’s far more expedient to simply shoot through whatever’s in your way. Another concept is one I’ve mentioned recently, you reload when you have the time, not when you’ve run your gun dry.

Similarly, experience they’ve learned from may still be relevant. Being able to read someone’s intentions, know when they’re about to resort to violence, or simply knowing the value of good intelligence aren’t going to go away because your character spent the last five years pretending to be a well-adjusted human being.

-Starke

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Q&A: Shock

In film often when characters get stabbed/assaulted they can often continue to fight or don’t pass out immediately. How does adrenaline or shock factor into the physical reaction, especially when the character isn’t a cop or military and isn’t accustomed to being in these violent situations. How long would they be able to function before they crash? Is it possible to run away or even fight?

Taking these questions in reverse order: Yeah, kinda, sometimes, and it varies wildly, based on the injuries sustained. Also, it’s not the adrenaline crash that kills you.

Adrenaline rushes mean that you’re often unaware of injuries sustained in the moment. I’ve never been fully certain if adrenaline actually dulls the pain response, or if it simply causes your brain to ignore it. Either way, while you’re under an adrenaline rush you can suffer injuries and be unaware of them. It’s why you’ll sometimes see characters (and, for that matter, real people, with prior experience) checking themselves for injuries after combat (or any other traumatic event). It is entirely possible to be wounded and have no idea it’s happened until you’re trying to figure out where all that blood is coming from.

Depending on what you’ve just been through, coming down off an adrenaline rush can be deeply unpleasant. Your brain is sure something’s fucked up, but it can’t pin down exactly what or where, so it’s going to take that out on you, and everything aches. Adrenaline crashes won’t kill you. (There may be some weird outliers here for people with heart conditions, but, in general.) A crash may make you wish you were dead, or make you want to throw up on people, but it’s not lethal.

In the moment an adrenaline means that you can suffer (fairly severe) injuries and keep on fighting. If the injury doesn’t outright disable a limb, you can keep using it, even if that’s a very bad idea. Getting stabbed or shot is no guarantee that someone will sit down and peacefully bleed to death. Actually, shooting someone is a pretty good way to ensure they won’t sit down and bleed to death without protest.

When you’re trying to figure out how long it will take someone to die, you’re actually asking about how fast someone bleeds out. This relates directly to the injuries sustained. Someone who’s had a knife driven into their neck isn’t going to keep fighting. Someone who had it run through their bicep or buried in their shoulder blade, probably can.

We’ve covered blood loss before (and I strongly recommend you take a look at that tag, if you haven’t), but that’s the real factor here that controls if someone can fight. If they still have enough blood in their body to function. Lose too much, your ability to fight is impaired, and you’ll eventually fall unconscious and die.

Blood loss is why concepts like, “first blood,” are important in duels. Once that happens, the clock is ticking for that character; the longer the fight goes, the more their ability will decay, and unless they find a way to turn it around, they will die. (Even if they manage to prevail, they may still die without medical attention.)

Fighting through a stab wound is a fantastically bad idea. Engaging in any physically strenuous activity that raises your heart rate, (for example: fighting someone, or running away), will speed up blood loss, meaning impairment kicks in sooner. Still, the point of adrenaline is to keep you functional after sustaining an injury, so that you can survive.

If someone suffers an injury which disables them in some way, such as breaking an arm, there’s no powering through that. Adrenaline won’t let you override shattered bones. The biomechanical pulley system of muscles and tendons simply doesn’t work with broken bones.

So, the short answer is, “yeah, kinda.” You can keep fighting after being attacked. So far as it goes, there’s plenty of cases where someone took a stray bullet and kept on fighting, only to bleed to death later.

-Starke

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Q&A: Practical Wear

What makes an outfit practical or impractical to fight in? Would an acrobat’s outfit with some decent shoes be okay to fight in? Any suggestions on how to make an outfit frilly/girly without sacrificing (too much) practicality? (Trying to come up with practical[ish] Magical Girl outfits – know it’s not your genre probably – there are certain expectations for frilliness even for tomboyish characters)

You’re, basically, looking for three things: How well can you move in it, does it give potential foes anything to grab, and does it offer any protection?

If you can’t move freely in your clothes, you can’t fight in them. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about them being tight enough to restrict movement, or if they make it difficult to walk around. Tight skirts, high heels, tailored suits; it doesn’t matter; they’ll all limit your ability to fight.

With footwear, you’re looking primarily at how well you can stand and move in it. Shoes and boots designed to grip the floor are (usually) the best options here. So, things like sneakers or work boots are good options. Rubberized soles will help you keep your footing far better when you’re standing in someone’s blood than a dress shoe or high heels.

Things like long coats, ties, free flowing skirts, scarves, hoodies, or of course capes, won’t usually limit your mobility, but they can give an opponent something to grab. Once that happens, that article of clothing will limit your mobility (some). This is also a factor that’s difficult to completely eliminate. Practiced martial artists can, and do, go for collar or lapel grabs on clothing you might think would pass. That said, there are some special cases here.

If the article of clothing will tear away freely, it’s (kind of) a wash. You’re still talking about losing clothes, which isn’t usually something you want, but it means you’re not getting dragged out of position by an attacker.

If the combatant is ready for it, it’s possible to use something like this as a firing point to retaliate. If you know, roughly, where their hand is, it’s much easier to extrapolate where the rest of them is in relation to you. This still doesn’t make fighting in long flowing garments a good idea.

The final factor, almost by definition, doesn’t really apply with magical girls as a genre, and can get a little weird when you’re talking about any superhuman characters.

Ideally, if you’re planning to get into a fight, you’ll want durable clothing that will take a few hits, and hopefully shield you from harm. Materials like leather and denim hold up much better than lighter fabrics. Insulation in a jacket will take some kinetic force from a strike (not a lot, but still), so it’s better than just jeans and a tee, or even a denim jacket. This also gets into a discussion we’ve had before. Protection is often about making tradeoffs.

An insulated leather jacket will (slightly) reduce your mobility. It will give an opponent something they can grab. But, it will also offer protection from stray hits and while parrying incoming strikes. It won’t protect against gunshots, or against a sword, and if that’s what your character was likely to face, they’d need armor to deal with those threats instead.

Somewhat obviously, exposed skin isn’t offered any protection. Technically, skin itself is protection for your body, and it does function as your first line of defense against infection, but that’s mostly academic in this context.

This is also where, magical girls, and most superhero subgenres, deliberately start straying from reality, without actually being unrealistic (in the literary sense). What matters is if your character has some kind of protection from the threats they’re facing. It doesn’t matter if that’s an ancient alien artifact, a mystical gemstone, or the weaponized power of friendship. That is what protects your character, not her denim vest. You’re also talking about characters where the threats they face are, effectively, impossible to mitigate through mundane means. Again, a leather jacket, no matter how snazzy, won’t do much against a death beam from some snarling murderbeast, or blows from a sword with an enchantment that drains the soul from anyone who touches it. As I’ve said before, you select your armor to deal with the threats you’re likely to face, and when it comes to magical girls, those threats are (almost always) going to be far beyond anything you could physically protect against.

Normally, you wouldn’t want to fight off an arisen god of war in a school girl uniform, but it’s not like a flak vest would offer any more protection against a threat like that.

-Starke

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Q&A: Kicking the Magazine

How feasable and/or effective would it be to eject an empty handgun magazine and kick it (accuratley) towards an opponent from mid-fall during a close quarters fight (say a melee attacker rushing down a corridor towards the kicker)?

No, and no.

So, first thing is that, depending on the handgun, the magazine may not drop freely. This is a preference feature. Some people prefer to release the magazine and pull it free, while others prefer to allow the magazine to drop freely into their hand when ejected. There isn’t really a, “better,” option here. Both positions come down to what the user finds more intuitive and comfortable.

If you’re wondering, this isn’t something that’s likely to trip up an experienced shooter. Anyone who’s spent time on a variety of firearms should be able to adapt to the gun they’re handling. You can also tell if the magazine will drop away when you load a magazine; based on the amount of friction experienced.

Even with a pistol where the magazine can drop freely, you’re not going to want to literally drop the magazine on the floor, or kick it. Handgun magazines are expensive; Depending on the model of handgun, those could cost anywhere from $10 to over $100 (on some rarer pistols). (I was specifically looking at a Bren Ten magazine for the upper end of the spectrum, if anyone’s wondering.) If anyone’s thinking back to the Desert Eagle post from a couple months ago, those magazines will set you back a little under $50 each. You do not use these once and discard them.

You also don’t, usually, want to eject empty magazines. Much like your car, you never want to run a gun dry. While it’s fairly easy, in a controlled situation, or on a range to keep track of how many times you’ve fired, and to know the exact state of your weapon; this is much more difficult in a real firefight.

You reload when you think you might be getting low, or when you’ve got time and ammo to spare, you put the partial magazine in a different pocket from your fresh mags, and replace it with a fresh one. The last place you ever want to be is in a situation like the one you just described: staring at someone who wants to kill you with an empty gun in your hand.

Fresh mags are heavy. That is to say, depending on the gun, a fully loaded magazine can easily weigh more than a pound. Most of that weight comes from the loaded rounds; the magazine itself is just a thin plastic or metal shell to hold and feed them into the firearm. They’re really not designed to take much abuse, and depending on the magazine, may be somewhat fragile.

Under controlled circumstances, kicking a falling object is something that a practiced martial artist should be able to do easily. Putting it in the rough vicinity of where they want it is also quite doable. Being able to do either of these things in an actual combat situation, not so much.

This is the kind of stunt you’d expect to see in a John Woo film, (I’d be slightly surprised if he hasn’t done some variation of this), and I know I’ve seen it on film before, somewhere. It’s in that range of slightly ludicrous that plays well when you’re working with characters that are (at least) slightly superhuman. But, if you’re dealing with normal, mortal, characters, this is neither feasible nor effective.

-Starke

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Q&A: Unarmed Parry

How realistic is stopping a knife from killing you by grabbing the blade with your hands?

Kind of. It’s realistic in the sense that it can and does happen. At the same time, it probably won’t save your life. Knife wounds to the palms, (called, “defensive wounds,”) are fairly common when someone has been attacked by a knife wielding opponent. Usually, what happens is they’ll attempt to block the knife by putting up their hands, palms out, and their palms and fingers will take the initial assault. That I’m most familiar with the term from autopsies should say a lot about how well this usually works out for the victim.

If you’re dealing with a situation, where someone’s trying to stab you and your only option is to catch the blade with your hand, it is better than dying. However, it is also a very temporary solution, and one you can’t repeat after using. It’s also, probably, not your best option.

When you bleed, your body is trying to do two things; first clean the wound and expel any foreign objects in it, then seal the wound over to allow the tissue to heal. Fresh blood is aggravatingly slick. Once exposed to oxygen, blood becomes tacky and coagulates over the course of a few minutes. (Specific clotting times vary based on a number of factors. For example: if your character is an alcoholic, their blood’s ability to clot will be severely impaired.) It only remains tacky for a few minutes, and will then harden into a solid mass, so the window here is fairly narrow.

When you take a knife to the hand, you’re going to bleed all over your hand. That means your hands will get slick, and have a harder time gripping the blade. This is before you consider the part where your hand is actually getting cut to pieces. Eventually the blood will clot (whether you survive long enough to see this or not), at which point gripping the blade would become easier, but that’s not a realistic consideration because the fight won’t last long enough to get there.

As I’ve said before, your body functions on a kind of pulley system. Your muscles pull on tendons which in turn tense against your skeleton, causing your limbs to move. When you start cutting tendons, the pulley system starts to break down. Some of the most delicate pieces of this system are in your hands and feet. Start carving those apart, and your hand will not work. This isn’t an, “oh, I can force my way through on sheer willpower,” situation. The mechanical components critical to making your hands work will be damaged or destroyed. The spirit may be willing, but the flesh has been turned into butterflyed steak. Catching a knife with your hand will stop that strike, but it means your hand will not work again. Yes, if you survive, it can be repaired surgically, but that’s not going to keep you alive.

The better option, if you have sufficient manual dexterity to catch the blade is to catch your opponent’s wrist instead. Again, this isn’t a great position to be in, and wrist grabs are some of the weakest and riskiest holds, but it is far better than trying to grab their knife. Your arm or hand might get nicked by the blade, but that is vastly preferable to taking a direct blade to the hand. Going for the wrist is a legitimate strategy and a part of some knife fighting doctrine. Granted, your best option would be to maintain distance, and never let a knife wielder get close enough to attack, but that’s not always a practical option.

-Starke

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