Category Archives: Q&A

So, this isn’t exactly a writing question, but I’m not sure where else to ask. Is it at all possible for someone with chronic wrist pain, such that they can’t take impacts on their hands for any significant length of time, to still learn a martial art? And if so, what martial arts would be best, like ones that focus more on kicks or grappling?

There are students with all sorts of disabilities who are training right now. So, don’t let that stop you.

I’ve worked with martial artists who had a variety of health issues, from those recovering from cancer to eighty year olds training for their black belts. I know of students in other programs ranging from blindness to deafness to only having one arm. Lots of kids with glasses train, and take their glasses off for sparring. One of my training partners for my third degree test was a woman who’d recently recovered from a stroke and had specific health concerns we worked around. There was a certain pace she needed to train at, which was fine. Master Reyes was upfront about it with me when he assigned me to work with her, and she was upfront about it with me. She passed her test by the way.

It is very common in martial arts schools to have students who have specific health concerns, chronic pain, and injuries. It is part of the job of the instructors at these schools to develop work arounds together with their students.  Whether the instructor needs to keep an eye on the time because one of the kids you’re training needs to take their meds during your class. These are all issues that can be worked out. (Consider the number of geriatric students who come in on the regular. There are quite a few.)

As martial arts instructors, we are legally obligated to care for our students when they’re on our floor. (And we care about them because they’re family.) You’ll find plenty of teachers who also have or have had injuries whether they’re permanent or not. One of my master’s had a blown out knee from a gymnastics injury, he was thirty years old and he limped around the floor.

People of all ages, all dispositions, and all backgrounds come through a martial arts studio’s door. Sometimes, they’re people with chronic pain, sometimes they have heart issues, sometimes they’re diabetics. 

A healthy body is not a necessary requirement for recreation the same way it is in the military or the police. In a healthy martial arts school, you will find instructors who are more than happy to work with you and find solutions that fit your needs. Unless you take a boxing-type martial art like Kickboxing or Muay Thai (and even then), you will be hitting air 90% of the time.

It’ll take time to work out your limits and to find alternative options. However, it will be up to you find those limits. Stay in touch with your doctor. Over time you will learn how to discern between good pain and bad pain, and you’ll be better able to moderate what you can do and how long your participate. It’ll also be up to you to keep your instructor updated.

As for which martial art would work best, I’d actually advise you to start with what you want to be learning (90% of success begins with interest) and work your way around to finding a studio in your area who’d be willing to make the accommodations you need. Those are the people you want to be entrusting your safety to. Those men and women are the good beans. Work with the people who want to work with you towards your success.

When you have a disability or chronic pain here’s what you do when looking for a school:

1) Start with a martial art that interests you.

There’s absolutely no reason why your disability or injury should stand in the way of you learning what you want. I guarantee there is a school out there full of martial arts masters who’ll become a second family to you. So, you should start with what you want. Want to fight like a ninja turtle? (I did when I was five, okay.) Run over to imdb.com or somewhere similar to figure out what the martial arts used in the movie were. Once you have that in hand, go to the internet and look up videos on the Tube. Want to study that? Great! To Google!

2) Do research over what is available in your area.

This is the tough part, your choices are going to be limited based on what’s available and feasible to reach. You may not find what you want available in your area. Google for the local martial arts schools in your area (this goes faster once you have a beat on martial arts you want), and see what comes up. Find one you like? Read the reviews, and make sure to look them up on other review sites like Yelp. Make a list of several (yes, several) you’d be interested in. Always have backups in case the first doesn’t work out. You’re probably going to want family schools, but go with what you want. You’re a customer, and if you sign up, you are going to paying them to provide you with a service. Keep that in mind.

3) Make the call

Once you have the schools and the numbers, give them a call. Most martial arts schools have someone working the desk and reception while the instructors teach. This is the person who makes the appointments and handles the gear.

Ask them if it’d be possible to visit the school, make an appointment, and look in on a class. (You don’t need to be upfront about your needs yet.) This is a common practice for students scouting out schools, so no need to be shy. I recommend looking in on an adult class as it’ll be easier to talk to those students after.

Remember, this is a business so they’re going to try to sell you. If you get easily flustered remember to write up and bring a list of questions to ask that you wrote up beforehand.

4) Look in on a class

Before you sign up for the first lesson, look in on a class first. Half the success of any martial arts program is going to be how well you sync with the people who are going to teach you. Watching a class lets you scout out an instructor’s teaching style and talk to the students without pressure. Come a little early so you can watch the students file in, how they interact with each other, and the warm ups.

Think about it like dating. You want a match who works for you.

The general feel and attitude of a good school is one that is relaxed. The teacher is in good spirits, humble, and explains easily. The students look happy when they’re on the floor, they’re in a good mood, social with each other both before and after class, and everyone is generally happy. They’re focused when they’re on the floor. Students who are happy with their school will try to sell you on it if you ask. They’re enthusiastic! You are looking for a warm, friendly, relaxed, and happy environment.

Trust me, you’ll know it when you see it.

You don’t want to be in a school that’s controlling, where the instructor is uptight, angry, or yells at their students. If they’re prideful or act like the source of all wisdom, then you don’t want to be there. You don’t want a place where the students seem unhappy. If you walk into a place like this, leave. You don’t have to bring up your health issues. Know it’s not for you. Look elsewhere.

5) Talk to the instructor

Whoever you talk with on the phone will probably have told the school’s owner or instructor that you’ll be there, so don’t be surprised if they seek out out either before or after the class. If they don’t and you like what you see, introduce yourself. Express your interest and ask if you can set up an appointment (either now if you like it) or at a later date where you can talk more. Let the instructor sell you on their school.

You can either bring up your health issues at this point, or later when you talk to them again. See what they say. It is important to be upfront about it because whoever you will be training with values your health and safety. That is part of their job. Do not forget it.

You will, probably, find plenty of instructors who’ve worked with students that had health issues before. They’re either going to say thanks but no thanks, (if that’s the case, look elsewhere, you want the masters who want you) or they’re going to ask you some questions about your specific needs.

If you decide you like this person and their school, make an appointment to take the first beginner’s lesson. (This is usually free! Sometimes, you get a free gi too! Heyo!)

6) Take the First Lesson

What it says on the tin. They may ask you about your needs again, if they don’t remember or don’t bring it up then remind them. Anyway, take the lesson, see how you feel.

Like it? Like the price package? Yay! Sign up.

Don’t like it? Repeat steps 2-6 with another school.

7) Double Check With Your Doctor (Bonus, Important Step)

I’d double check your needs and discuss this course with your doctor in step 2, but do it again anyway. The school may ask for your medical documentation anyway, and you will, of course, need to sign a waiver. Have a list of everything that might possibly go wrong and what the signs are when your wrists have had too much. Give it to your new instructors, they will put it in your file and reference back to it over your time spent training with them.

8) Start Taking Classes

You’ve made it to Step 8. The last step. The big kahuna. Enjoy your new martial arts life. Remember to keep working to build the bond of trust between you and your teacher. Don’t be afraid to bring up your needs and remind them if they forget.

When I was a little bean, I broke my leg. During the latter half of my recovery after I finally got off the crutches, I still had specific activities I couldn’t engage in. I went back to my martial arts school, and started training again. I went from not being able to run (so I had to do other exercises when everyone else did) to not being able to jump (No jumping till June) until I was finally free. (”You can’t jump yet, right?” “No, busabumnim! I can jump today! I can jump!”) My instructors were with me every step of the way, easing me (twelve year old bean) back into it so I could test for my black belt the next year. It was a slow process, but it happened.

In the right school where you feel comfortable and trust your teachers, it’ll be the same for you. There’ll be things you can do, and things you can only do a little, and maybe things you can’t do at all. That’s not a mark against you.

The most important thing here is honesty. Your limitations are not insurmountable. A good school with good teachers will figure out how to work around them, and if you sign on that is what you will be paying them to do.

Now:

To my martial arts followers, please leave enthusiastic recommendations of your school and your master in the reblogs or comments so our Anon friend here gets an example of what to look for in their search.

Thank you!

-Michi

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Any way to get your breath back after getting winded? And I mean like, getting hit hard enough in the back or stomach that the wind gets knocked out of you and you can’t breathe for almost a minute. I had it happen to me as a kid and nearly fainted, and I can’t be sure whether or not me smacking my own back actually helped or not.

So, what happens when the wind gets knocked out of you is that all the air in your lungs is forcibly ejected from your body. (Literally, the wind gets knocked out of you.) The only way to recover from that is to get the wind back into your body, and that is all posture.

When we’re winded, our first instinct is often to lean over. You’re breathing heavily, your back gets tired, and you just hang there. (Basically what happens when you get punched in the gut, except the gut punch is the more severe version.) This is one of those bad instincts because it keeps you from getting that air.

You’ve got to get yourself upright and breathing, get the oxygen back into your lungs. The oxygen goes from your lungs to your blood to your tired muscles including your new injuries in the abdominal muscles and that’s what helps you recover.

You’ve got to straighten, open your chest, and force yourself to take long, deep, controlled breaths with your diaphragm. Your body won’t want to do that. It’s gonna hurt. Your body is going to want to stay bowled over. However, when you’re hanging there your ability to breathe is negligible. You won’t get enough air into your lungs for it to matter. Unless you’re doing a sport or practicing martial arts they’re not going to tell you how important breathing is.

One of the first things they will teach you in any martial art is how to breathe. Most people breathe using either their lungs or their stomach, you don’t do either. You breathe with your diaphragm. The faster you get air back into your body then the faster you recover. (This works in the short term too, the more oxygen you get into your lungs then the faster that gets to your muscles which helps them recover. If you cannot breathe then you cannot fight for long periods, or perform any sport. That hissing sound you often hear in martial arts movies that lots of people make fun of? That’s them breathing. The kihap is also breathing. They’ve trained their bodies to exhale on the strike, which negates the chance of having the wind knocked out of you when you’re hit in the stomach.) The more we work out and practice at this then the stronger our lungs get and the better we become at breathing.

Breathing is a learned skill.

The best part about rigorous physical exercise is that you’re used to being out of breath so you learn to work through it, recover faster, and get back in the game. Practice is how you get your breath back.

Basically, you had to straighten in order to smack your back which is what let you recover your breath.

-Michi

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Q&A: Lightsaber Physics

Regarding lightsaber physics, I believe the official version is that they basically have artificial inertia, because the blade is in constant motion (and as such does have an edge), and this is mainly used to justify really lengthy wind ups for attacks (like what Kylo Ren does). On the other hand, we see plenty of Jedi fighting like the things weigh nothing, so I think it’s a case by case basis to justify fighting styles, rather than fighting styles being derived from it

automata-systemata-hydromata

The specific logic is that lightsaber physics changed over time, during the development of the films. When Lucas was working on A New Hope, he approached it with the idea that the actual blades were quite heavy. As in the actual projection of light/plasma/whatever had substantial mass. Though from here on out, I’ll be talking about the actual props.

The stunt choreographers patterned, their fights off a mixture of 1940s Hollywood swashbuckler duels, modern fencing, and kendo. There were also other factors, including that the stunt blades themselves were quite fragile. (I want to say they were made of fiberglass, but I’m not completely positive.) I’ve also read that David Prowse had a bad habit of breaking his lightsaber blade on set. This is part of why the style in ANH is so tentative. The actors are trying not to break their props. Also, fun trivia, you can see them knocking dust off their blades when they come into contact in ANH.

Some of this logic carried over into Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. I’m not sure exactly how much, but you can look at all three as a coherent unit. One of the few big changes was much more durable lightsaber props.

In going back to do Phantom Menace, the stunt choreographers came to Lucas and said, something to the effect of, “look what we can do, if we one hand these things.” The result is much faster and flashier combat, which you can see in the prequels. As I recall, the specific justification from Lucas was that the Jedi were at the height of their martial training before the purge, so you’re seeing the best lightsaber practitioners in history.

To be fair, I don’t know what the thought process is for the lightsaber use in Awakenings.

The important takeaway is, that how lightsabers function has changed to fit the capabilities of the film production staff. So, trying to extrapolate something coherent out of that is going to be kinda tricky. Still, kudos to the EU writers who made a genuine attempt, and kept at it as the entire approach was reworked as the prequels released.

-Starke

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Incidentally, TIL there’s a quick post keybind that I hit with my pinky when I went to hit backspace. I still don’t know what that keybind is, but at least I know it exists now.

i feel obligated to state that my younger sibling read the amputating eyes with a sword post, looked up, and then said yes you can do it. go from the back of their head. this was funnier in the moment

Kudos to your younger sibling for being inventive. I like the way they think. However, unless they intended to stop at the brain, I’ll remind them that the question is a single sweep and the skull is still bone. They’d have to take out the whole back of the skull lengthwise to get to those eyes.

I’m afraid we must deduct points for an inventive solution when the effort to get there takes more energy than a frontal approach. However, I will add some back because I like out of the box thinking and solid problem solving.

Ten points to their favored House.

-Michi

Q&A: Star Wars: The Reversed Lightsaber Grip

I’ve been watching the Clone Wars on Netflix. In it, the character Ahsoka uses two lightsabers which she holds in reverse grip, that is to say so that they point backwards parallel to her forearms instead of in front of her at her enemies. I know that this is a technique sometimes used in knife fighting, but, as someone with fencing experience, I can’t help but find it incredibly awkward and inefficient with a full-length sword. Is it based on a real technique, or is it just rule of cool?

There’s no real application for it. There are reasons to reverse grip a knife, not so much with a full length blade.

The in universe justification is that Ahsoka and Starkiller both use a controversial, or ancient, (pick whichever feels more appropriate in the moment) version of the Shien style (or Form V, if you prefer). Shien is a style focused on dealing with multiple opponents simultaneously, and had a focus on quick retaliations after a defensive parry, as well as heavy strikes. In theory, Ahsoka’s using the same lightsaber form as Luke and Anakin, just with a different resting position for their blade. Supposedly, the reverse grip
allows the user to generate wider arcs that strike across multiple targets more easily. I say supposedly, because that honestly sounds like an after the fact justification to me. Though, it’s possible there’s some consideration to how lightsabers handle momentum that isn’t occurring to me.

For those of you unfamiliar with the forms, the old Star Wars expanded universe broke lightsaber combat down into seven distinct forms, (and then kept adding more.) Each one is numbered, and alternately has multiple names. In large part, these exist to justify the various actors having different approaches to the lightsabers across the franchise. And there are a lot of after-the-fact justifications for why Luke’s use of a lightsaber looks different from Obi-Wan’s, and why Obi-Wan’s changes between the prequels and the original trilogy. Beyond that, most Jedi are assumed to be proficient in roughly three styles of their choosing.

There is some interesting concepts buried in there, especially when you get past the official seven forms. For example, Trakata, where the blade is disabled and reignited mid-strike to bypass blocks and generally mess with the opponent. So, what Ahsoka is doing probably isn’t completely without merit. I know with Starkiller the justification was that it kept the blade out of his way while performing acrobatic maneuvering. It’s another explanation that sounds dubious, though slightly more plausible.

So, basically, no, it’s there to make her more visually distinct. This is a large factor in most of the unique lightsaber variants across the franchise. There’s in universe justifications, but those follow the goal of making a character stand out. That is a legitimate goal. Particularly when you’re dealing with a setting that juggles hundreds of major characters.

The subversive way to phrase it would probably be some variation of, “when everyone’s special, no one is,” but when you’re talking about Star Wars, as a whole, particularly the old Extended Universe, it does sell the idea of a diverse universe with a ton of distinct characters bouncing around in it. Also, the more characters you add, even when their stories are individually distinct, the harder it becomes to separate them out. I’m going to offend some people here, including myself, but, when you take two characters like Corran Horn and Kyle Katarn, and stick them next to each other, it can be kinda tricky to explain what makes them distinct, to someone unfamiliar with the setting.

The trade off is, taking large steps to try to differentiate a character can result in serious pushback. For whatever the reason, the community just does not accept and mocks that character mercilessly. Which was the case with Starkiller. I honestly could not tell you why Ahsoka never generated the same reaction. At least, not conclusively.

-Starke

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Q&A: Blood in the Eyes

Hey! Is it possible to take both of an opponent’s eyes out with a single swipe of a sword without amputating the nose? Thanks so much in advance!

Not exactly what you’re asking, but cutting someone’s forehead so that they’ll get blood in their eyes, temporarily blinding them, was a real tactic. That does work.

Actually taking out the eyes in a single, linear strike, without hitting the nose? I don’t think so. To be fair, even a fairly deep cut to the bridge of the nose wouldn’t amputate, and a slash across the face that would sever the nose wouldn’t connect with the eyes, because of how they rest in their sockets.

Maybe I’m missing something obvious, in which case, I’m sorry. Still, if you want to blind your character temporarily, in combat, cuts to the forehead will do that.

-Starke

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Q&A: Monster Hunting with Polearms

Do ya’ll have any input on weapons (Maybe a polearm type) against beasts? (Nothing that would be larger than a XL Draft Horse, so no house-sized dragons or bus-long wyrms) I’ve been considering a halberd for my MC, and he’s going to be faced with various types of beasts on foot.

That is one of the uses of polearms. Not fighting monsters, but dealing with potentially dangerous animals. Within that context, the halberd probably isn’t the best option.

The only thing that I’d be concerned about is that the halberd is a variety of poleaxe. Usually, they had a spike or piercing blade on the end, which would allow you to poke something, but the primary blade was used in chopping strikes. So your character wouldn’t be getting much use out of that. In turn this adds more weight out on the end of the weapon, making it harder to maneuver. I don’t want to say, “more ponderous,” because it should still work, and is a legitimate selection, it’s just that there are better options out there.

Specifically, weapons like the boar spear or spetum would probably do the job slightly better than a halberd. Possibly with an axe as his sidearm. Though, nearly any polearm will allow him to attack without being disemboweled, which is the important part, and why polearms were historically used as hunting tools.

Some of this is speculative, and would depend on exactly what he’s facing. I’m sitting here thinking of something like a bear or werewolf, but if he’s fighting some kind of cephalopod, and needs to lop off pieces, then a halberd may make more sense.

-Starke

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Q&A: Followup: Amnesia

beezelbubbles:

Wait… Can we get some love for Long Kiss Goodnight for amnesia spy who doesn’t know they’re a spy? A lady spy at that?

Yes. Yes, you can. I’ll admit, I don’t think of it often, but The Long Kiss Goodnight is a good action film. If you’re wanting something in the genre with a female lead, yeah, watch it. This film deserves a lot more attention than it got.

Also, True Lies comes to mind, in a similar vein. Though there’s no amnesia plot in that. In theory it’s a Schwarzenegger film, but Jamie Lee Curtis does a pretty good job of owning it whenever she’s on screen.

-Starke

Q&A: Anti-Material Rifles

Hello, I don’t see a lot of resources for sniper gun injuries, especially that of .50 cal rounds. I have a character that had the bone at her lower leg (near the ankle) shot by a .50. How bad would the damage be when compared to the same bullet actually hitting the ankle bone or the leg muscle?

So, there’s a weirdness with the .50 round: It’s not supposed to be used for precision shooting. It is used that way. There are many precision rifles chambered to various 12.7mm cartridges, including the .50 BMG. But, they’re not really intended for use on people.

(To be clear, every time I’m talking about a .50 from here on out, I’m referring to the 12.7x99mm rifle cartridge. Incidentally, if you were to simply search for .50 wounds, you would probably get a mix of rifle and pistol wounds, since there are many distinct 12.7mm rounds in circulation.)

The .50 BMG was originally designed during the First World War, with the intention of use as an anti-aircraft round. These entered service in the ‘20s and saw extensive use during WWII as an anti-vehicle round. This is it’s intended role, even today.

In the early 80s, someone got it in their head to build a precision rifle around these things. The result were firearms like the Barrett M82. This 30lb monster is, probably, the rifle you’re thinking of.

Thing is, these rifles fire a round that was intended for taking out vehicles, not people. As a result, they’re designed to deliver a terrifying amount of force to the target. The point is you put one of these into a truck’s engine block to kill it. Which doesn’t work 100% of the time, but a few extra hits will usually get the point across. You put one of these into a person, they’re done.

I don’t have hard data on what these things will do to a person. There is an inaccurate myth that near misses can kill from the atmospheric shockwave alone, which isn’t true. There’s also stories about these things taking limbs off on a hit. Based on what I’ve seen with these rounds and ballistic gel tests, that seems credible. Put one into someone and you could easily end up looking at an eight inch exit wound.

Connecting with the ankle probably means the foot is gone. I don’t mean damaged irrevocably, “we’ll need to amputate.” I mean, anything below the point of impact is missing.

Traditionally, precision rifles used against living targets is chambered somewhere around .30. The classic examples are .308 and .30-06, though there are others, and I’ve heard good things about 6.5mm rounds. Even then, a shot to the ankle means your character probably isn’t walking again without reconstructive surgery. A shot to the bone will break it. A shot into the meat can cause some serious tissue disruption, but assuming it doesn’t nick something important, and the impact didn’t fracture their leg, they should be able to survive.

The use of a .50 rifle as a sniper’s rifle is for extremely long range shooting. These are the guns you break out when you need to hit something over a mile away. If you have a character that needs to put assassinate someone riding in an armored Limo, a .50 will do that. If your character needs to put a bullet in someone from the dark side of the moon, then the .50 is the right choice. Because, if it connects, there’s very little risk of the target getting back up.

-Starke

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How viable is muscle memory that it trumps amnesia? Say, Jason Bourne who doesn’t remember a thing, but still knows assassin-fu? Thanks for your advice!

Bourne isn’t running on muscle memory. He suffers from a variant of retrograde amnesia which affects his ability to remember who he is, but doesn’t affect his skills. From what I’ve read on the subject, it’s entirely possible for an amnesiac to retain basic knowledge, in isolation from specific memories. Which is to say, this can happen.

There are details about exactly how Bourne’s amnesia manifests itself that may be unrealistic. An individual can retain general knowledge, and skills, but that doesn’t mean they’re not impaired, and when you’re talking about something like tradecraft, being in full possession of your faculties is a little important.

For whatever it’s worth, the only time I’ve ever interacted with an amnesiac, they were suffering from anterograde amnesia. This is the inability to form new memories after a triggering event. (You can see this one demonstrated in Memento, if you’re wanting a point of reference.) So, I can’t really speak to how accurate Ludlum’s work was when it comes to that element.

In a 1986 interview, Ludlum claimed that he came up with the idea
for the Bourne trilogy after suffering retrograde amnesia and losing
about 12 hours. The old advice is, “write what you know,” and apparently Ludlum did, in this case.

I know I’ve recommended it before, but if you’re thinking about writing spy fiction, The Bourne Identity is a book you really should read. The 2002 adaptation is also good, but it uses the same premise to tell a very different story.

Normally, I would strongly caution writers against using
amnesia in their stories, unless they have something fairly creative
they want to do with it. This has more to do with amnesia plotlines
being run into the ground, and becoming horribly cliche over the years. Memento uses it as a jumping off point for an interesting narrative format. Bourne uses it to play around with the spy as a character archetype. Bourne also uses it to play up the traditional mystery of a character who doesn’t know who they are, or who they can trust. That’s one of the approaches you probably want to avoid.

Because amnesia works so well for establishing a blank slate, and giving the audience a point of view character who is exactly as unfamiliar with the world as they are, it’s become cliche. I fully believe there are methods to use amnesia as a useful narrative tool for your work, but a lot of the more obvious approaches have already been done to death.

-Starke

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