Category Archives: Q&A

Q&A: Relationship Advice

I’m going to break this “question” into two pieces. They’re related, but they really need to be addressed separately.

Wow if someone expected me to automatically know their triggers without telling them and then threw me without making sure I was okay after, I’d leave them. You can’t expect your non-combat s/o to do all the work and for the combat s/o to none. I have several triggers but I make sure to tell my s/o what they are.

In broad strokes, I agree with completely.

If someone expects you to automatically know who they are; that’s a problem. It happens, but it’s a problem, and it’s not the kind you should dismiss. Relationships require communication. They require work. They require mutual respect. There’s the romantic ideal of an effortless relationship, but that is just a fantasy; kinda like being a superhero.

It’s very easy to fall in love with someone that does not exist. People do it all the time. They think they know the object of their attraction, but they never really take the time to pay attention and find out who that person is. To some extent, this is human nature. You meet someone, start a crush, fill in the blanks, and then expect them to still be the same person in daylight.

It doesn’t work that way.

Like I said, honest communication is vital. You need to talk to someone to start to get an idea of who they are. Watching them is also important, but if you don’t communicate, you don’t have a baseline. You can’t expect everyone to be able to explain everything about themselves; most people aren’t that introspective. However, it will go a long way. So, yes, talk to them. Learn who they really are. Be honest, because if you’re not, you’ve only yourself to blame if they believe you.

What’s worse are the people who expect someone else to magically conform to their ideal version of them. This is abusive, and depressingly common. Many people, when presented with the reality of their significant other, expect them to cede their identity in favor of the illusory version.

It sucks, but you can’t have a relationship with a dream. Sooner or later, someone’s going to get hurt.

With only one exception, every single incident I can point to, where someone tripped another’s reflexes, it’s come out of a lack of respect, so let’s talk about that.

Relationships require mutual respect. Not, one way. Not, “you must respect them,” because the inverse is also true. If you’re not respecting one another, it’s not really a relationship of equals, or even healthy.

Ambushing someone, regardless of what you think their feelings on the subject will be, is disrespectful. You’re saying that what you intend to do is more important than them consenting to your action. Then you’re taking the extra step to deprive them of the opportunity to consent. You can’t say, “I’m going to do what I want without permission,” and say you respect that person. These are mutually exclusive.

Context is important, and there are plenty of situations where people will engage in behavior with each other that you wouldn’t. There’s also plenty of behavior you might participate in that someone else wouldn’t.

How do you know this context? Get to know your partner. Seriously. If you don’t know them, you don’t have a relationship with them, you’re involved with an illusion, and cannot respect the actual person you’re using as a proxy.

If your friend says, “hey, I do martial arts.” You might express interest in trying to figure out what that means. The same goes for your crush, regardless of their sex or gender.

If your friend says, “hey, I don’t like it when you startle me like that.”

Don’t do it.

The signs are there long before you ever trigger someone’s reflexes, and that starts with paying attention to what they tell you a long time before anything drastic occurs. If you respect another person, you respect their boundaries. You want to get to know them, learn the situations where they’re comfortable. You’ll pay attention to their body language. These reactions don’t come from nowhere, and, in general, the extreme examples are when the other person ignored every other sign leading up to the moment where the combat response happens.

Like I said, this experience happened once with a significant other in my teens. It has never happened with strangers, or other kids in High School, or in college. The only other person who has ever triggered my reflexes is my brother, who is a fourth degree black belt. These stories are always about an intentional act taken by another person when they disregard stated boundaries and comfort zones.

Tripping the fight reflexes are not common occurrences. They’re extreme examples that happen with a specific trigger action and are a result of ignoring the other person’s boundaries. You’ll figure it out if you respect the other person enough to pay attention to them.

If someone engages in unprovoked violent towards you, leave. There’s no room for debate here. It’s over. Time to move on.

However, conflating physical abuse with these specific instances is also a problem.  But… I didn’t do anything wrong. Yes, you did. If this happens, then you ignored the warning signs to the point where a response that occurs once in a decade (and only with provocation) happened to you.

You’ve learned a concept exists and, like a kid in a candy store, think the natural occurrence of combat reflexes unintentionally damaging a significant other because they stepped wrong is far more common than it actually is — which is next to never.

I’m going to go out on a limb and guess you don’t know anyone who actually has these reflexes, or been in a community where they’re common. So, trust me, when I say I know more about this situation and what triggers it than you do.

You know what this behavior gets used for, don’t you?

Bullying.

Kids without combat training, just like you, will use this on kids with combat training or just sensitive reflexes because they A) don’t believe the other child when they say stop, and B) because they know they’ll get sympathy when/if the other child goes off. They get away with bullying and look like a victim when the inevitable occurs. They want the emotional response you had to protect them from the big bad child over there, even though they were the instigators.

If you think this doesn’t happen in relationships, think again. Abuse goes both ways, and having a capacity for violence doesn’t necessarily protect you from it. You do get a lot less belief and sympathy when the abuse, be it emotional or physical occurs, because of uninformed attitudes which buy into the idea violence equals strength.

I have more stories about these kinds of people than I do the other.

 I think, in a romantic situation in fiction, the non-combat s/o shouldn’t be ‘punished’ in the narrative and trauma-related responses shouldn’t be ‘weaker’.

As with the above statement, I agree fundamentally, but it’s a little more complicated. If you’re writing a couple, it’s important that they have some kind of equilibrium between each other. The advice above still applies: they need to be able to communicate with one another, there needs to be a baseline of trust and respect, but they also need to both bring something to the table. I in the real world, that’s work, but in fiction it can easily be their skill set.

It’s easy to become fixated on violence as an overly useful skill set. This isn’t true to life, and it can be very important to remember that non-combatant characters have lives beyond violence.

The simple thing is to remember that all of your characters, whether they’re in a relationship with one another or not, need to be characters in their own right. You need some balance to show them as functional people, or they become trophies and McGuffins; which brings us to your complaint.

At a certain level, combat is like any other skill your characters may have. A character who doesn’t have any combat skills can’t fight effectively, a character who can’t pick locks, can’t sneak into places, a character who is unskilled with computers can’t diagnose their own technical issues, a character who isn’t trained in criminal investigation isn’t going to know how to investigate a murder. A character who’s basically honest will have an extremely hard time lying convincingly.

You can have battle couples, where both of them are trained and proficient in combat. They may be in the thick of it together with similar skills, or they may have different focuses that they can work together. By the same measure, you can have couples with similar skillsets, such as hacking, or subterfuge, with similar considerations. Or, you can have characters that have very little overlap in their skills, but can still work together in differing capacities.

The problem comes in when you say, “this skill set” is more valid than that one. In some occasions that may be true, but it’s something you want to be careful about.

On a related issue, it is worth pulling characters out of their comfort zone regularly. A character who never encounters a problem they need to get creative with can easily become monotonous, in a, “when all you have is a hammer,” kind of way. This is one of the times where having a couple with mismatched skills can become incredibly useful. Especially if your combat capable character is just as out of place when they’re in their partner’s area of expertise.

If you have a character that’s permanently out of their depth, especially pairing them with someone who’s hyper-competent, that’s flirting with bad writing. I can think of a few counter-examples, but this is something you should be very cautious about.

There’s a real trend in the real world of people not believing people when they say, “don’t do this. I don’t like it.” This is the basis of the trope we were discussing. If you triggered someone’s fight reflexes, chances are very good that it wasn’t an accident. The person who did it just didn’t believe the other person when they said, “don’t do that.” You made a bad assumption that the non-combat S/O is going to be the one with the trauma responses or even that the combat triggers are trauma related at all. Or that they’d cause trauma to the non-combat S/O. If you interpreted one as “weaker” than the other because they don’t have the same skills as their combat S/O, then that one is on you.

Relationships are built on trust. Trust is built on communication and mutual respect. These mishaps happen specifically when boundaries are not respected, when the other person is not believed because these aspects of who they are doesn’t fit the image their S/O has of them. While these are ingrained reflexes, it does actually take work to get someone to reflexively lash out.

Modifying your behavior for the person you love is not a big deal when they’re doing the same for you. If someone you like says, “I don’t like you tickling me.” Then, don’t tickle them. If they say, “Please, don’t flash your hand in my face.” Don’t flash your hand in their face.

If you feel adjusting your behavior is unfair, don’t date.

-Michi

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Q&A: Wired Reflexes

Is the moment where a trained character not being able to control their “fight reflexes” or whatever ends up hurting an innocent bystander or loved one a real thing? Like somebody sneaks up on you from behind and you just elbow them in the groin or something? Or flip them over? Then you’re like, “Oh shit babe, don’t scare me like that”.

I did this to my now ex-boyfriend when I was fifteen and a freshman in high school. We were at my house, in my kitchen. He came up behind me with the plan to hug me (bear hug style) and, before his arms had even gotten around me, I elbowed him right in the gut. Full strength strike with a full extension and he walked right into it. The arm went out and came right back into his stomach, aimed at his diaphragm. He coughed, bowled over, and it took about five full minutes before he recovered.

After asking if he was okay, my exact response was: “You can’t come up behind me like that.”

The one aspect you’re missing in this whole scenario is you think this is a fear based response. It isn’t. I wasn’t scared, and neither are the characters you’re describing. Fight reflexes are hardwired responses to specific movements occurring within your environment, movement happening or beginning within your peripheral vision. I actually had the widest peripheral vision out of my entire science class when we measured in the eight grade due entirely to my martial arts training. The goal of this training is to see the movement coming before the motion begins. You’re trained to see it before it starts and respond immediately. In a fight scenario you have tenths of a second between blocking a hit and getting struck. If you want to stop a blow, you need to go when they do and get there before they reach extension. You don’t wait, you just go.

The key to understanding what happened with my ex was the bear hug.  He was behind me, his arms were out and coming around my body. My training dictates a response before his arms get a chance to lock in, so my reflexes kicked in. There was no emotion involved, it happened because that’s what I’d spent ten years training my body to do. The training worked exactly as intended, the only difference was the person it happened to. What we got was a false flag, but in the same scenario where I was actually in danger I’d have responded the same way. I’d have started the fight with the would be attacker bowled over, unable to breathe, derailed by what happened, and at my mercy. The battle over before it had a chance to begin, which is what we’re training to do.

Starke’s had a few of them himself, but has been able to stop himself before following through. His friend’s father, a Vietnam vet, once grabbed one of their mutual friends by the throat when he failed to announce himself before walking into the room. Starke’s friend’s father was up out of his chair, turned around, and had his hand around his throat before he registered who he was looking at. According to Starke, he didn’t apologize.

This isn’t PTSD or mental illness. This is the training we were given working as intended. When you’re in a situation where you need to move without consciously ordering your body to do so, which is the beginning of most fights, your reflexes take over. The difference between victory and defeat lies in the first initial tenths of a second before the fight begins.

The only difference here is context. You go flashing your hand in the peripheral vision of someone with combat training and you may end up with a response you weren’t expecting, even when that person is someone you love and who loves you. (And you shouldn’t be flashing your hand in their peripheral vision if you love them.)

The fear response is going to come for your significant other. There’s a vast gap between consciously knowing your loved one can hurt you and experiencing it first hand. My ex-boyfriend was a jock who played soccer. He used to overpowering other male teens if he got into a brawl. However he justified it to himself afterwards, he got wrecked by his 128 pound girlfriend without ever having the opportunity to defend himself and he had to live with the knowledge she could do it again if she wanted to. He didn’t look at me the same way after that. It is one thing to consciously understand, another to know they can hurt you, really hurt you in the blink of an eye, and another after to know they just might on accident. Your safety is gone, and you might experience the vertigo of being unable to exert control over your situation. There are plenty of real life relationships which end due to this problem.

If you’ve never been thrown before, you might not understand how terrifying it is. If you’ve never been thrown full force into a hardwood floor, you definitely aren’t going to grasp how much it hurts and how out of control you feel when you’re significant other is standing over you going, “oh, hey.”

The response you’re going to get is not, “oh my god, what have I done” either or intense remorse. It’s more “oops” and “don’t do that.” We all knew exactly what we were doing when we did it, we just didn’t remember who we were doing it to. For the person without these trained reflexes, this response can seem cold and unfeeling. Like their significant other doesn’t care they just hurt them. From the combat SO’s perspective, their significant other did something incredibly stupid and they’d rather they didn’t do it again. They worked very hard to develop these reflexes and incorporate them into part of their identity. There is no switch to turn them on or off. They’re always on.

Now, these ingrained fight responses are avoidable if you recognize that they’re there, they will happen, and you take steps to avoid triggering them. This can be as simple as “please say something before you walk into the room” or “let me know you’re there before you tap me on the shoulder” or “tap me on the waist instead” and “don’t hug me from behind.” The more serious the person’s experiences, the more necessary this becomes. The reflex can be consciously restrained, but it takes genuine effort to cut yourself off at the pass before you follow through. There’s mental pain involved, and you spend a great deal of time after the fact fighting the ingrained reaction off.

This is part of why it’s easier for two people with combat training to date each other than date someone without combat training. Their SO is aware of the situation, shares it, understands their limitations, and will work to circumnavigate without needing to talk about it.

Starke and I do this with each other, and we haven’t ever had a problem.

Media will often play this trope for laughs, which is a problem. Or roll these fight reactions into PTSD or mental illness, which is also a problem. Or they’ll have the combat SO be disingenuous in their reactions like you were suggesting to show how dangerous they are.

The mixed up part of this conversation that’s difficult for non-martial artists or combat veterans to understand is it’s much easier for you to avoid tapping me on the shoulder than it is for me to avoid throwing you if you try tapping me on the shoulder when a hand moving in that specific way within my peripheral vision is a motion I’ve spent ten years re-training my response to.

If you care about your SO, you shouldn’t ask them to fight themselves in order to be around you.

Remember, the non-combat SO initiated the situation. They acted first. They violated their SO’s boundaries. The only difference here between a combat and a non-combat SO is the ability to preemptively physically stop someone from violating their boundaries without requiring a verbal response. The combat SO wouldn’t have responded the way they did if the other person hadn’t initiated. If you are in a relationship with someone, you need to respect their boundaries and what they are comfortable with.

If your SO is someone who’s ingrained response is to throw someone when they sneak up behind them, then you should not only know not to sneak up on them but have enough empathy to understand this action is a violation of their personal space. This is also a violation of the trust their combat SO places in them. The non-combat SO is not the victim of their partner’s uncontrolled violence or experienced an intentional desire to do them harm. They acted first. They shouldn’t treat their combat SO’s combat reflexes like a light switch where exceptions can be made. In this situation, the non-combat SO is actually the one not respecting their partner and in the wrong.

The moral of this story is that when I was fifteen my then boyfriend violated my physical boundaries, did not let me know his intentions before acting, did not ask if his action was okay with me, and took an elbow to the gut for his trouble. I didn’t feel remorse at the time for knocking the wind out of him, I still don’t now. Ultimately, the response stuck with me. The action convinced fifteen year old me that maybe I didn’t want him touching me after all, which is what led to our break up. And, in the end, I was the one who broke up with him.

That said, in my whole life, I’ve only ever experienced my combat reflexes getting triggered in a way where the response was immediate three times.

People aren’t props. The main issue with this trope in fiction where the set up is supposed to lead to intense remorse from the combat SO which results in a cute scenario after is that the non-combat SO violated their SO’s boundaries. They don’t really care about them, or not enough to respect the other person’s experiences. If they repeat, they definitely don’t.

If your knee-jerk response is “but I shouldn’t have to change my behavior” then you shouldn’t date them, period. If they’re out there intentionally hurting you that’s different, you should run away fast. However, everyone has their boundaries. Learn to respect them before intentionally triggering someone with combat training.

-Michi

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Q&A: Impractical Footwear

Would wearing high heels be a good tactical strategy for a female combatant? Because stilettos have a sharp point at the end that can poke somebody’s eye out, right? Tell me if this is logical or impractical.

flowerapplejacks

It’s impractical. So, in order, “no,” and, “yes, but still impractical.”

There’s some history here. High heels started as an evolution from men’s cavalry boots. So, there was a practical application: a slightly raised heel would grip into the stirrup more securely than a flat sole would. These went from combat wear, to men’s fashion, to women’s fashion, where the height of the heel increased dramatically. You could think of them as a 17th century version of all those stolen hoodies.

You’ll still see a slightly raised heel on things like motorcycle or cowboy boots, and those can be practical combat wear, but we’re talking about a 1 inch heel at most (see above.) Unlike high heels, these won’t disrupt the user’s balance, and they will provide protection to the foot itself, from casual injury. Again, these are practical considerations for their use, if you need to lock your foot into a stirrup, a raised heel will help you do that.

Ask any bouncer who’s had the job long enough, and you’ll find stories about drunken women trying to take each other’s eyes out with stiletto heels. This happens. They’ll take the shoe off and try to brain someone with it. As an improvised weapon, it’s not great. Wouldn’t recommend.

I mentioned this, but high heels shift your balance. They force the hips forward, increasing the curve of the spine, and pushing the chest out. Women’s high heels are about modifying the wearer’s posture to make them more attractive. This doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to run or fight in them, just that you’ll almost certainly wish you weren’t. In fact, if someone is in a dangerous situation wearing high heels, in most cases they’re better off removing them and going barefoot. (Yes, breaking the heel is, technically, an option, though it has it’s own issues.)

So, what you’re describing is impractical. If your character is planning for trouble, they’re better off in flats.

-Starke

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Q&A: Dual Wielding: Power and Control

is it actually possible to wield dual weapons like swords and axes? I ask because I always thought swords were kind of heavy

galaxytiger700

Yes, it’s possible. You’re also understandably mistaken.

The weight of a given sword or axe will vary depending on the individual artifact. So, you could reasonably find an absurdly heavy ornamental sword, designed for display, which would be impractical to use because of its weight. These certainly existed, and there are many surviving examples. But a sword intended for combat would be quite light.

In fact, it’s possible, though somewhat more taxing, to wield the “heavy” 2h swords like the Zweihander or Claymore with one hand. The key piece of information is, even the large greatswords rarely exceeded 8lbs (~3.6kg.) Put this in a frame of reference you’re (probably) familiar with: A gallon of milk weighs more than that.

A one-handed European sword would weigh somewhere between 2 to 4lbs (~0.9-1.8kg). Easy enough to lift and operate in a single hand without issues. Early modern light blades, like the rapier, would weigh even less.

Saying they’re too heavy to wield in one hand is, kind of, ridiculous. Now, it is defensible to make this mistake. A lot of RPGs get pretty sloppy with weapon weights. D&D used to err at the upper edge, so if you crack open a 3rd edition book, it’ll give you the upper values I just listed as the default weight. (5th Edition’s corrected this with average weights.) Fire up something like Skyrim, and it will glibly tell you that a Steel Greatsword weighs 17 “units,” whatever the hell those are. Though, you could be forgiven for thinking that Bethesda meant 17lbs.

There’s a similar misconception with armor. The idea that armor is heavy and cumbersome. Sometimes taken to the point that there are people who legitimately believe a knight in full plate who was knocked over couldn’t get back up. Again, as with the display and parade weapons, there is a little truth to this. Particularly with armor designed for tournaments, that really impair the user’s mobility in the game of greater protection. However, any combat equipment that is too cumbersome or heavy to use in a real fight is fundamentally flawed.

Swords and other weapons intended for combat were kept light. Strength is not the issue, endurance is. If you’re going to be fighting all day, a heavier weapon will wear you out faster. While you could lift and swing a 20lb sword around, it would quickly exhaust you. This is fine if you’re working out, trying to build up conditioning, or putting on a performance, but when you’re trying to kill someone, that’s a detriment. If it’s heavier, it’ll be harder to control and more exhausting.

As a result, even the big, “heavy,” swords were kept pretty light. They’re agile, lethal, and require skill to use effectively. When fighting an armored opponent, the goal was (usually) to find gaps in their armor and run it in through there, rather than flailing wildly and hoping the kinetic force got the job done. (Hint: it wouldn’t.)

So, is it possible to dual wield an axe and sword? Well, yes. It is. It also wasn’t done with any frequency. You’re, ironically, better equipped to face off an opponent two handing a single blade or axe, than you are if you try dual wielding. This goes back to what I just said, the heavier the weapon the less control, and more exhausting it is. If you have your offhand free to aid use of the sword, you can use it to help with control and power, making far more dangerous, than an opponent who’s splitting their attention on two offensive weapons.

While I’m not being explicit, most of this also applies to an axe.

There’s one very common form of dual wielding that most people don’t think about: The sword and shield. Yes, this is dual wielding. The shield is a weapon, more defensive, making it less viable for use on its own, but still a weapon. 

So, the short answer is that people did dual wield, just not in the way you’re thinking. Wielding two offensive weapons will, counter-intuitively, put the combatant at a significant disadvantage against an opponent with one weapon.

There’s an argument for a sufficiently skilled combatant dual wielding, or an experienced combatant using an off hand weapon opportunistically. (Such as grabbing a discarded weapon to exploit a moment’s vulnerability.)

The main reason to have a character dual wielding is because it’s visually dynamic. As with many other things, if you’re not working in a visual medium, that effect will be lost, and you’re making more work for yourself without the benefit.

-Starke

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Q&A: The Force of a Knockout

How hard does one actually have to hit someone to knock them unconscious? It’s a really common thing in media, but never fully explained. I know it’s not the most crucial detail I’m just curious. P.s. this blogs content is incredible.

The prevalence of the knockout in fiction and visual media like television is actually for narrative convenience. When you have a situation where there’s no easy way to end a scene and you don’t want the character to kill or permanently injury the other guy, then a knockout is a convenient way to end the scene. Fiction uses the knockout as a convenient tool, often to the point where it becomes a crutch, in order to quickly switch from one sequence to another. The end result is often consequence free violence.

A knockout is when the other person falls unconscious from being hit. This is the brain saying, “I don’t want to be here anymore. I give up.” And passing out. Given the brain is the necessary organ which controls your entire body, if it fails in function, you don’t live, it can’t stay shut off for an extended period of time. Knockouts usually only last for a few seconds, and you’ll see this one with boxing and their ten count. If a boxer can get up again after being knockout out in ten seconds, then they can continue. If not, the match is over. If they don’t wake up within the ten seconds, they’re rushed to the hospital. If a human is knocked out for a significant length of time then there’s a chance they’re not waking up… ever.

Now, knockouts are difficult to achieve with just your hands. It’s very difficult to knock a human out in general, but the arm doesn’t generate enough force on its own in a basic strike to successfully knock someone out. You either need repeat actions (which are unlikely to cut it, and you don’t want to punch someone in the face because you’re likely to break the bones in your hand), use a greater method of delivering force to the head like with your feet, or aim for a pressure point like the jaw or the temple. The knockout punch in boxing is a hook punch that aims for the point of separation where your jaw connects with the upper portion of your skull. This is pressure point, a cluster of nerves, which when successfully struck can potentially cause a knock out. (Potentially, this is not a guarantee, and it is a difficult mark to hit even when you’ve created the opening to get there.)

So, the second reason for the prevalence of the knockout punch in fiction is that as a stage punch, the hook, haymaker, or round punch completes the Hollywood trifecta. The hook is easy to learn, easy to whiff, and looks impressive. It is also cost effective, and most of your actors can learn to make it look good without needing to switch them in and out with their stunt doubles. Round houses and wheel kicks are stunts requiring a higher level of technical proficiency, and are more dangerous because they have a greater chance of knocking someone out on connection.

Hand strikes to the head that aim for knockouts are the hook aiming for the point where the jaw meets the upper portion of the skull, the ridgehand strike aiming for your temple where there’s a gap in your skull and soft tissue. We’ve also got strikes like the spinning backhand, which targets the temple and generates greater force than the average hand strike by spinning. Now, when we move onto spinning strikes, jumping strikes, and kicks, we’re discussing the real force delivering blows of martial arts.

We can knock someone out by varying means, as pointed out above, by application through pressure points. The others include cutting off flow of oxygen or blood to the brain by means of a strike, choke, or submission hold. The frontal portion of the skull is a where some of the strongest bones in your body reside, and is well protected against most of the dangers you’ll come across. Punching someone’s face with your bare hand is actually more liable to break you than you are to break them, which is why the advice is to aim for soft targets on the body, or the throat. Or hit someone in the back of the head, where the skull is softer.

Now, you asked specifically about the amount of force necessary to knock someone out. Which is to say, you asked how to give them a concussion.

Force = Momentum

So, the greater your momentum, the greater your chance of dealing a knockout blow.

  • Someone who is running at you will hit you much harder than someone standing still.
  • Your legs are much more powerful than your arms.
  • Spinning and jumping are means of gaining speed, which lends to greater momentum when connection occurs.

Ergo, a technique which combines running, jumping, and spinning with a kick will deal the greatest force all together than just one or two. However, one on its own is enough to knock someone out because all three together can kill you. As can one, just by itself. Go watch some compilation knockout videos for martial arts, specifically from kickboxing, and you’ll see what I mean. This will look very different from what you’re used to seeing on television.

If you’re sitting here, thinking that sounds like a lot of work for a knockout… you’d be correct. Knockouts are actually rare. They’re the intervening place between dazed/stunned and death, where the brain has decided it doesn’t want to function anymore. Concussions aren’t convenient or safe, and can result in long term damage to the individual who experiences one. With fictional knockouts, they’re essentially just deaths that the narrative uses as a convenient method to rid itself of Mook A. This doesn’t cover the damage the victim can do to themselves in the uncontrolled fall, if you don’t catch them on the way down, which could also permanently injure or kill them.

The actual process of subduing someone without permanently injuring or killing them is very involved, much more risky, and takes a long time. Then, there’s the question of what’s to be done with them afterwards. This requires they give up, don’t run off to get their friends, and rally. If you subdue them to the point where you can tie them up and leave them, their buddies might find them and even if they’re no longer in a position to fight they can still provide their friends with actionable intelligence on you, your goals, your fighting style, etc.

So, in real life, you’ve got to make a choice about what you’re going to do. How much time you have to waste. How you’re going to reach your objective because time doesn’t stand still and wait for you to finish. They’re working toward their own objectives, and its a race to see who is going to get there first.

In fiction, the knockout is a convenient crutch which ensures you don’t have to. The fight is over, but you don’t have to ask questions about what happens next to the other character. There’s comfort here, and the presentation of realism without being realistic. Very little of what you see in fictionalized media/television is connected to reality. This starts with the techniques they use, which are big motions clearly designed to send tells which allow you, the audience, to understand what’s going on.

Knockouts in fiction are the same way. They’re a convenient means of moving and removing your pieces through slight of hand that your audience is already conditioned to accept. This feels legitimate, and if you take nothing else away from this learning experience then you should understand that the feeling of legitimacy and internalized logic of the scene sells far more to your audience than any reality because they don’t as a whole know what the reality looks like.

Often, when asking questions about force, the question is wrong. Force in martial arts isn’t generated by physical strength but from momentum the body generate while in motion. The development of your musculature is for control and endurance, which is what allows you to fight longer. A human being is not fragile against natural threats. Most of fighting is not a metric of force v. force, but a combination of strategy, tactics, and opening techniques which lead to more damaging techniques. When we start adding in weapons, then the situation changes. For example, the kind of force I could deliver with my arm and hand alone changes when I use a steel pipe. It would be easier for me to use a lead pipe to bash your head in than it would be for me to kick you in the head with a wheel kick.

TLDR of this post is: knockouts are hard to set up in real life, they’re rare without having someone beat on for an extended period of time, and they’re convenient in fiction because they set up a situation where the audience believes you’ve gotten rid of the other character without having to ask moral questions about killing them

-Michi

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Q&A: Knee to the Face

If my protag managed to get the person they’re fighting to kind of double over (probably by punching them in the gut) would it be at all realistic for them to break the other guy’s nose by slamming his head down while also bring long their knee up?

Yes, that’s an extremely common and effective strike combination. Well, the sucker punch, less so, but running a knee into their groin or stomach, then following with a quick knee strike to the face is. Face strikes are an excellent stun, and it’s more effective than relying on a knee to the groin incapacitating your opponent. There’s the added bonus of a lot of blood from the nose, but the real kicker for the knee strike to the face is the force generated by slamming their head down into the rising knee. The force comes from two directions, not just one. This is what makes the knee to the face more effective than the knee to other parts of the lower body.

You’re going to do more to them than break their nose. They’ll be dazed, disoriented, and bleeding profusely from their nose. They’ll also be crying, not from the pain but because a broken nose will do that to you. Depending on your character’s combat tactics and amount of time they have available, they’re free to bring the head up (because they’ve still got hold of it) and repeat steps two and three. Or, they may move on to working the body over because they’ve got the other character in a state where they’ll have difficulty fighting back.

A lot of combat combat works like this. Create an opening, and immediately exploit it before your opponent can react. This is how real combat works, but you don’t often see it from writers without a background in violence. They’re working off the attack, defend, attack rules turn based combat from RPGs, or the queing system from television. Real violence is a function of taking the initiative from your opponent and pound on them until they can no longer retaliate. Combination strikes, the process of stringing multiple attacks together into a cohesive combat strategy, are often difficult for the unitiated to wrap their heads around. For a lot of readers, thinking ahead in combat like this will impress them.

A lot of basic attacks utilize a simple one-two setup-exploit structure like the sucker punch with the follow up knee to the face. Getting your hands on your opponent’s head and bringing it into a solid knee strike is an effective tactic utilized by many different martial arts from around the world. The technique is also an easy one two the slightly better than average schoolyard bully can master.

The big thing with head strikes is making sure the bones you’re connecting with are more solid than the bones you’re striking. For example, you do not want to strike the forehead. It’s basically just a large, heavy, bone plate. Either side of the forehead, where the plates meet, is an excellent target. You’re aiming for a structural weakness. The face is made up of a lot of relatively fragile structures, with a chunk of soft cartilage for good measure. Your thigh, in contrast, is a massive, solid, load bearing, bone, reinforced with heavy musculature. Yeah, hit them with the end of that. Their face is way more fragile. (Your kneecap should be pretty securely locked in place when you connect, unless you’ve got some serious medical condition.)

This is the same danger with punching, and other hand strikes. Your hand has twenty-seven delicate bones, they allow for fantastic flexibility, and utility, but your opponent’s skull has eight fused plates, and fourteen in the face. Still want to punch them there? Personal advice, aim for someplace softer, or use something better suited to abuse than your hand. (Your knee is much better suited for that.)

So, let’s talk about combat inertia for a second. This is an abstract concept, but it’s a way to explain why combos like this work. It’s easy to get into a “turn-based” view combat. Your character takes an action, their opponent acts, your character acts again. In the real world, combat rarely works like this unless both fighters are completely exhausted.

Combatants are often looking for ways to exploit their opponent’s defenses, find/create an opening, and use this lead in as a launchpad for their real attacks. Tagging someone in the groin, or in the gut, won’t incapacitate your opponent, but it can buy you a little inertia to follow up. Usually, a knee to the face won’t put your opponent down. But, use the first to transition into the second and you’ve bought some time. No turn for them right now.

Here’s a fun thing about this specific combo. You can do it from nearly anywhere. If you’re on either side of your opponent, or facing them, you can deliver a quick strike to their gut, and follow it with knee strike. Usually from one knee strike to another, though punches and elbow strikes can certainly get you started depending on the exact positioning. Anything that will make your opponent double over. Depending on placement, this can smoothly transition into a number of chokeholds. This is a tool, and it can be mixed with fluidly mix with other options. The sucker punch to the stomach, into a knee strike to the face, can easily transition into a guillotine choke when forward facing or a standard triangle choke from the side. The strike can transition into a push kick, such as sucker punch, knee strike, push kick to the stomach where you crank the knee to your chest and shoot your foot outward. Or, simply rinse, lather, repeat with the knee to the face until they can’t stand up anymore.

Also, inertia doesn’t mean you have to stop at two strikes. You can keep going until you wear yourself out. The important thing is being efficient, and not getting into a situation where you’ve exhausted yourself against a fresh foe.

Combining, or chaining, moves like this is an important part of hand-to-hand combat. Surviving a fight means keeping control of a situation, and refusing to let your opponent(s) do the same. Preventing them from ever attacking, because they’re too disoriented by your attacks is a good way to do exactly that.

-Starke

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Q&A: Abuse and Training

I read something about coaches hitting or dragging athletes around when they make mistakes. Some see this as abuse and others as standard that produces winners. But this reminded me of the post about abusive teachers not being very effective. Any thoughts? Where is the line? Is it different or the same for sports? Should athletes or martial arts students tolerate what might be considered abuse because they want to be there or is there a line they should look for between conditioning and abuse?

The line is when it transitions from conditioning to abuse. What you’re describing? That’s abuse.

The line is consent. You go to someone; say, “I need to get better at this, push me.” That’s the road to conditioning. That’s training. You’re consenting, you’re signing up, and you’re asking someone to push you until you can do things you didn’t believe were possible.

In a lot of ways, Martial Arts training is all about this. It’s asking someone to help you push yourself past the illusory boundaries you believed were real.

Also, important to understand, this requires mutual trust. You’re trusting your instructor that they have your best interests at heart, and that they know what they’re doing. They trust you to give your all, and that you’re trying to improve.

This relationship is a two-way street. It’s not a relationship of equals, but you are working with your instructor to improve.

This is also true of coaches. A good coach is there to talk you through. To teach you about the game you’re playing. To guide. To help you learn. To push you. Because that’s why you’re there.

There’s a simple truth, personal growth is uncomfortable. Sometimes it hurts. It requires you to do things you don’t want to. A good coach, or instructor, will put a path in front of you and tell you to go. To push you. While also paying attention to ensure you don’t harm yourself in the process. It’s the goal you’ve set in front of yourself, and telling you how to get there. They’re there to help you get there safely.

An abuser doesn’t care what you want. Their goals are what’s important. There’s no two way street. You do what they say or else. Your well being is, at best, an afterthought. They may tell themselves that they get results, that they’re providing a necessary lesson. Tough love. But, in the end, you’re not working together, they’re just working you over until you do what they say, or you break. At best, you might get somewhere in the vicinity of where you wanted to be unharmed. More likely, you’ll be wounded (emotionally or physically) along the way. Your safety wasn’t a consideration, just the end abuser’s goal.

Physical abuse, like you’re describing, happens, but it’s somewhat rare. Emotional abuse is far more common and insidious. Again, it’s not cooperative. The difference is just whether the experience is physically or emotionally painful. Ironically, this is the easier of the two to recognize subjectively. If you have an instructor or coach that makes you feel like shit, who is pressuring you and using your connection to your teammates to push you past your established physical limits, that’s emotional abuse.

The worst part is this transition can happen after consent is given. You can ask for a push, and the instructor turns around and pounds on you. This doesn’t really change the line. You trusted them, and they violated it. Unfortunately, for many, the realization that something’s amiss only happens when a serious harm occurs. The lesser injuries, stresses, and psychological strain, tend to get missed.

The thing about abusive teachers is, they’re not effective. I can say that from personal experience. I had a swim instructor nearly kill me when I was younger. All I learned was to stay the hell away from swimming pools.

Abusive methods can result in short term behavioral changes. That is to say, yes, you can pound on someone to, maybe, make them do what you want right now. But, it comes with steep long-term costs. Anyone who says that abuse builds character, or toughens people up is coming out of a position where they really do not care about the well being of their charges.

Not everyone who’s abused realizes it. Depending on your background, this is one of those incredibly counter-intuitive statements. Someone who thinks that coming away from a lesson or training feeling wounded may legitimately believe that’s normal. That everyone feels that. If they’re still getting some value out of their training, they may even believe that this is the way things should be. This is where a lot of abusive coaches and instructors come from. They went through this kind of hazing, so they believe it must be necessary.

The hard part about this is, there’s a gray area which is entirely subjective. It’s abusive if the behavior is harmful, but not abusive, if both participants can build from it. As with a lot of social interactions, context is key.

-Starke

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Q&A: Handgun Accomidations

How can my character who is missing a thumb use a handgun? Can some kind of handicap device to built? Or would you recommend using their non dominant hand that does have a thumb?

So, this kinda depends on a couple things. In general, the first suggestion would be to learn to shoot off hand. It’s easier, and you don’t lose much accuracy with practice.

Normally, first metacarpis creates a natural resting point for a handgun grip (and most firearms), allowing the weapon to transfer recoil into the user. If your character is completely missing their thumb (as in all three bones are missing), this resting point will be absent, and without some kind of careful accommodation (such as a completely custom grip, or surgery), it would probably be impossible to control recoil.

If the thumb had been lost as the result of trauma, it’s likely that the first metacarpal would still be intact, meaning their grip would be less secure, but recoil would be manageable. Again, using the off hand would probably be preferable, but it would be possible for them to use a firearm with the thumbless hand.

There’s an additional consideration here. Some firearms are not designed to be used in the left hand. This isn’t a unique issue for your character. How ambidextrous friendly a handgun is varies by the individual models, sometimes even within different generations of the same gun.

Generally speaking, there’s three tiers of ambidexterity in handguns. Firearms that cannot be reversed at all, ones that are normally ambidextrous, or mostly ambidextrous, and ones that can be easily converted depending on the hand.

What this means for you is, you may need to check the specific firearm you’re thinking of.

The issues to look at on a handgun are the grip, magazine release, slide release, and safety.

Asymmetric grips are a little unusual in handguns. They’re more common with sporting rifles. In cases like this, you’d need an entirely separate replacement grip to fit the off hand. In a few rare cases, it may not be possible to replace the grip at all.

Asymmetric magazine releases are more common. This includes things like the 1911, Glocks, Beretta 92, and some SIGs. These use a simple push button magazine release, which is mounted at the bottom of the trigger guard. It’s easily accessible with your thumb, while holding the firearm with your right hand. However, depending on your grip in your off hand, you may need to adjust the pistol significantly to kick the magazine out when holding the gun left handed.

Additionally, because these magazine releases rest under the middle finger while holding the gun with the left hand, it’s possible to accidentally drop the magazine when firing, due to recoil on some models, for some shooters.

There are several, semi-common, magazine release methods that are ambidextrous. A pair of levers located in line with the trigger guard, which can be pressed down to release the mag. Sometimes, instead of a single push button, there will be one on either side of the frame. These usually will work if either button is pressed. Finally, an older style is a simple mechanical catch at the base of the grip which holds the magazine in place. Pressing this back will allow the user to reload. This last variation poses a unique challenge to your character, because, you press the catch back with your thumb, then pull down on the magazine with one of your other fingers, without a thumb, it would be significantly harder to reload a firearm that uses this style of magazine release.

To be fair, reloading may pose a unique challenge to your character, as you use your thumb to manipulate the magazine. This might be less significant if they’re simply discarding partial and spent magazines, but that’s expensive.

The slide release is a lever or button which will allow the slide to close after it’s been locked open. Usually, it will lock open after cycling with an empty magazine. This significantly speeds up reloading on an empty firearm, and provides useful information to the user that the gun is dry. In many cases, this is mounted along the slide, and can be accessed by depressing it with your thumb. However, if you’re holding the firearm in your left hand, you may need to reach over the slide to close it and cycle the first round into battery.

Swapping the slide release over to the opposite side is sometimes possible, but requires the user to replace the slide, and release lever in most cases. Now, some manufacturers do release entire kits, or mirrored versions of their pistols for left handed shooters. Though, fully mirrored weapons are something of an oddity.

It’s also worth noting that, replacing the slide will sometimes also reverse the ejection port. This isn’t a huge thing most of the time, but can make the gun more comfortable for a left-handed shooter, as the brass will be ejected away from their face rather than towards it.

Also, as a bit of random trivia: Many first person shooters feature reversed ejection ports on their firearms, so that the gun ejects brass in front of the user. There’s no technical reason for this, it’s done to make the gun more mechanically interesting when fired.

Ambidextrous safeties are more common, but it’s entirely possible a left-handed shooter will have to reach over the weapon to adjust these controls.

Now, I’ve been saying left-handed, on the assumption that your character is right handed. If your character is left handed, it will probably be easier for them to operate a firearm with their right hand, and stabilize with their left. Reloading would still be a challenge, however, simply because of the size, and weight of the magazines.

So, it depends on the exact condition of your character’s hand. If they’re right handed, and only missing a digit or two from their thumb, it might still be easier to use it in that hand. If they’re left handed, firing right-handed is probably the way to go. If they’re right handed, and the thumb is completely missing, down to the wrist, then the left hand is probably the way to go. Though, it is possible there might be some kind of custom wrist locking grip, I’m unaware of, that would allow them to operate it in their dominant hand without issue.

-Starke

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Q&A: John Wick

so on the topic of hitmen, how do you guys feel about john wick? like, his skills and how he fights and how vengeful he is compared to real hitmen?

Compared to people who may not, actually, exist?

We’ve talked about this before, but the sort of “master assassin,” for characters like John Wick, Leon (from The Professional), Vincent (from Collateral) or Agent 47, probably, maybe, don’t exist. There are certainly assassins out there who’ve escaped capture, but it’s an open question if this kind of top grade, professional killer exists.

The idea of their existence makes sense. At least, the idea of former intelligence officers, and people similar skill sets going private, and killing for money, makes sense. It does happen with mercenaries and some organized crime groups (Cartels in particular actively court ex-special operators in their territory), so it makes sense.  But we don’t know that they’re real.

Within that context, it’s complicated.

Up front, I like what I’ve seen, but I’ve never sat down and watched the films in their entirety. Keanu Reeves is still a fantastic actor, and he puts in an excellent performance. He’s also spent a lot of time working out the technical aspects. So, his weapon handling, and hand to hand work looks authentic. This includes a lot of stuff with handguns you don’t usually see outside of CQB training.

In particular, the films are very good at showing Wick quickly transition between multiple stances and approaches. This has left some people with the perception that the Center-Axis Relock stance is some kind of firearm enhanced hand to hand style, which it’s not. He rotates between that and more conventional shooting stances as the situation warrants.

In particular, Wick’s stance shifts plugs one of the weaknesses of CAR. It’s more difficult to acquire targets if you don’t know exactly where they’ll be, while more traditional stances handle that better, and allow for faster aiming, but leave the user’s weapon more exposed. 

So, all of this makes sense, and looks consistent with someone who had significant combat training from some source. The only real nitpick here is that Wick’s training is a little bit too up to date for the character’s backstory. CAR is a very modern stance, and it hasn’t really disseminated into the general population yet.

I’m far more inclined to cut it slack than I am with something like Taken, where the character’s hand to hand training is unworkable for his situation. But, it’s a little out of place. That said, it is the right tool for the job.

Now, I’m going to blame The Internet, at large, for something. This is unfair, because I know better. But, the, “he’s avenging his dog,” meme is what got me to pass on the film originally. If you’re looking at that and saying, “this is the reason,” then, no, it doesn’t make sense, but it’s not the real motivation.

I hate being the one to kill a joke like this, because inevitably, someone’s going to say, “yeah, but we all understood that,” and someone’s going to pipe up that they didn’t get it was a joke, or just keep quiet.

So, no, this isn’t a guy taking revenge for his dog, it’s a guy who used to work for the Russian mob, who thinks his old boss is trying to wax him being proactive and taking apart the organization. That’s reasonable. Maybe even three films reasonable, depends on how thorough he wants to be.

There is one thing that bugs me a little. So, Wick’s hand to hand is (mostly) Judo, his handgun stances range between CAR, Isosceles, and Weaver. This is all entirely reasonable for someone with a background in the American military, police, or intelligence communities. It’s a little weird on someone who was supposed to be a hitman for the Russians. At least, with the character’s background, and the film’s apparent time frame (CAR is a very recent pistol stance.) It’s not a deal breaker, and I still think it’s some of the best action sequences I’ve seen in years. So, this is more of a nit-pick than a serious criticism.

So, on the whole? My impressions of the films have been extremely positive. I’ve simply haven’t kept up with my to-watch list of films.

-Starke

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Q&A: Prosthetics

Do you have any thoughts in general on disabled characters fighting or disabled people wanting to learn to fight in general (inside or outside of a classroom setting)? Realism is important but I find the way people dismiss the idea overly pessimistic so as to be kind of unrealistic in itself. But I suppose it depends on the disability and who the characters are fighting. Edward Elric is the only positive example I can think of that doesn’t put Ed on the sidelines for missing limbs.

The thing about characters like Edward Elric, and I suppose Adam Jenson, is that they have combat grade prosthetic replacements. (Not sure what it says that my immediate thought after FMA is the Deus Ex reboot, but, whatever.)

The thing about a disability, when it comes to combat is, it’s only a disadvantage if it impairs the user. At some levels it doesn’t matter if someone has all of their original parts, so long as they have all the parts they need.

In the case of both examples I just gave, the replaced limbs are actually upgrades. They incorporate functionality beyond the originals. Unless, they were supposed to have arm blades to begin with.

There’s historical precedence as well. Götz von Berlichingen was a 16th century German mercenary who lost his right arm to canon fire during a siege on Landshut in southern Germany. He replaced it with a prosthetic and continued to fight as a mercenary for decades. Incidentally, on the anime theme, Götz is almost certainly the inspiration for Guts from Berserk.

So, there is some, real precedence, for someone to be combat capable with a missing limb. And, of course, when you’re talking about a setting with combat grade cybernetics or magic, it’s entirely possible they may have the technology to replace lost limbs.

So, in settings like that, if your character has their prosthetic in working order, that’s not really a disability in the specific context of combat. In some cases, it’s an advantage. A metal or cybernetic replacement will be more durable than the original meat. That said, unless it’s specifically able to self-repair, any damage is persistent, and it would (probably) require maintenance and upkeep of some sort. Same thing holds true for eyes, ears, other things. If your setting allows those to be replaced with a prosthetic that is at least as good as the original body part, there’s no problem here.

If someone is straight up missing a limb, that’s going to seriously impair their ability to fight. This isn’t just a disability issue either. If you’ve two functioning arms, and one of them is seriously injured to the point where you can’t use it in the fight, that’s basically the same disadvantage as someone who lost the use of theirs years ago, or never had one.

Also worth noting that in the real world, prosthetics have come a long way in the last few years. I haven’t seen anything I’d call combat grade out there, but it will happen, sooner than we’d expect.

I mentioned it in passing, but it’s a similar story with eyes or blindness. If your character has cybernetic replacements, or has gems of true seeing fused into their sockets and connected to their mind through enchantment, it really doesn’t matter if they don’t have their original eyes, they can see. In some cases they may have superior functionality.

There’s another edge case here, a character with an enhanced prosthetic eye might not need both eyes to function, provided it offers range finding function. You can file this under, “be creative.”

Also, if you do have a character with prosthetics, you’ll probably want to spend some time focusing on that. It’s an important part of who your character is, and how they interact with the world around them. It’s also aspect of their experience which is going to be unfamiliar to most readers.

The manga version of Full Metal Alchemist pays a lot of attention to Edward’s prosthetics, and their effects on him. So, the arm isn’t just a cosmetic freebie, it’s a part of the character and something that needs constant attention and work. It’s a good model to take if you’re wanting to go this route.

I’m just going to add here, there’s nothing wrong with someone who has a disability wanting to learn Martial Arts. This happens all the time, and it can be an excellent, positive, experience for them.

Not every teacher or school is the same, and I’m sure there are some out there who don’t live up to the standards I’m about to set, but any good martial arts instructor will seek to aid each student, and adapt for their physical limitations.

I’m all for people with physical disabilities finding a martial art that fits them, if that’s what they want. It can be helpful, both on an emotional, and physical therapy, level.

If you are disabled, regardless of the severity, and want to learn a martial art, go for it. Seriously. It will require effort on your part, but that’s going true of everyone, disabled or not. Special accommodations may be necessary, but that’s part of your instructor’s job. Above all, be honest with your instructors about your limitations. 

-Starke

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