Category Archives: Q&A

Q&A: Sword Cane

How practical is a hidden sword inside a walking stick/cane? How wide could a person go before the cane became suspiscious as to be concealing something? And would such a weapon be strong enough in serious skirmishes? Or should a user stick to simply using the cane, and perhaps having a hidden blade in the end?

Amusingly, I used to own a sword cane. I threw it out during the last move, otherwise I could post pictures.

The sword canes I’ve seen have been screw on arrangements. Externally, they look like a normal cane with a metal band just below the grip (which isn’t unusual for normal canes either).

They use very narrow blades to maintain the silhouette of a normal cane. This is a necessary component of the design, by the way. The entire point is to have a hidden blade, which falls apart when you’re carrying around something that looks more like a scabbard than a cane. You’re talking about a blade that’s going to be, at most, around 1/2″ across, and usually around 24″ to 25″ long.

The primary purpose of these things was as a self defense tool. It’s not a weapon intended for heavy combat, just to deal with one guy armed with a knife.

To some extent, overall practicality depends on the individual weapon, not sword canes as a whole. For example, the one I owned featured a very loose blade, which could be rattled by shaking the grip slightly. Rattling it may serve the intended purpose of scaring off a potential mugger, but I wouldn’t have wanted to take the thing into a fight.

-Starke

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Q&A: Character Motivations

Do you have any advice on subtly guiding readers to villainize a character so that they dismiss the character’s legitimate concerns over another person’s trustworthiness? I am hoping the perceived personalities will help, but I don’t want to rely on them alone.

Well, you hit on the answer: Make the concerns legitimate. Not just the concerns you want to discredit, but also the reasons your other characters have to discount their observations.

When you’re writing it can be very easy to get tunnel vision and view the world through the lens of your protagonist. Your audience will gleefully follow that cue in turn. It’s part of why there are a lot of novels with the protagonist acting in egregious ways, but fans will (and do) disregard it, because the protagonist thinks that behavior’s fine.

This is how characters like Harry Potter function. The character operates from a limited perspective of the world, makes snap judgments based on their perspective, and as a result, devalues legitimate advice and insights from people who know what they’re talking about. I’ll stress, there’s nothing wrong with a character having this kind of an approach, so long as the author understands that this is a flaw.

There is nothing wrong with having a character say, “yeah, but that’s just Steve, and we all know what an idiot he is.” So long as you remember, as the author, that Steve may have a point, and licking that light socket was probably not a great idea.

So, let’s step back for a second and start over: As the author, you control the game board. That’s your job. You set up the characters, the arena they operate in, and direct them. You know that the sky is going to fall in six minutes, and that poking the toad over there is a spectacularly bad, idea. But, your characters don’t.

In a story told from the position of one character, you’re presenting the narrative from a limited perspective. You need to understand the entire situation, but your character doesn’t, and shouldn’t. They see and react to the information they have access to.

Now, the hard part, staying within this weird little metaphor, every other character in your story is another piece on the board. Looking at the information they have, and acting accordingly. Everyone has their own goals, and perspective. Just like your character, their perspective is limited. They may have more information. They may have less. What they know shapes their opinions and perspectives.

AND. THEY. REMEMBER.

The simple answer is to go back and ask how does your protagonist feel about the character. If they like them, and have had positive experiences in the past, they’re more likely to accept that character’s viewpoint. If that character has betrayed them in the past, or worked against them, then they’ll discount the value of their advice.

Past actions are incredibly important factors if you’re dealing with characters who’ve changed loyalties. It’s entirely plausible your protagonist would hold a grudge against a former foe, who’s switched sides and is working with them now. Conversely, if the protagonist has had a change of heart, then they’re more likely to face distrust and opposition among their new allies.

Okay, so, maybe someone does know that the sky is going to fall if you poke that toad. Maybe they didn’t make that information clear because, “NO! AREYOUOUTOFYOURGODDAMNMIND!? DONTDOTHAT; THEFUCKINGSKYWILLFALL!” Maybe they’ve cried wolf before. Maybe your protagonist thinks poking the toad is a key to immortality and Steve just wants that for himself.

You’re correct, personality does matter. It affects prejudices, and how we weight information. Some of this is subconscious, but it works. Consider which you find more credible, some Rasputin looking homeless dude raving about the end of the world, or a composed academic? Personality and presentations matter, particularly during first impressions. Even if the Rasputin looking fellow comes back, shaved, with the crazy toned down, they’ll still be weighed against their previous iteration, by characters who originally met them in that state.

Confirmation bias is another relevant factor. This is the drive to actively seek out information that supports your understanding of the world while actively discounting information that contradicts it. If your protagonist really wants to believe that toad will give them immortality, they may very well ignore the advice of people they respect, and normally agree with, when they’re told it’s really an amphibious button to initiate the end times.

The really important thing to walk away with is the idea that you don’t need to vilify other characters’ positions. If your character has a legitimate reason not to follow it, then that’s all you need. Trust your audience make their own decisions on who they should be listening to.

-Starke

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Q&A Followup: Roundhouse Kicks

skypig357:

Are you differentiating between a Thai style cut kick and a TKD style? Are you lumping both under roundhouse?

And obviously target selection is huge. Common peroneal thigh vs side of waist, for instance. Or brachial plexus.

Low TKD roundhouse kicks below the belt are usually feints with a switchover to strike high in the same action, they combine into a double kick.

I tend to put the Thai kicks in their own separate category from the general roundhouse because the hip movement (specifically turning over to go downwards instead of lateral, which makes sense given the stabilizing foot stays mostly pointed forward), rotation, foot placement, and points of contact are all different. The Thai cut kick has its own name, it’s separate from the roundhouse though they’re visually similar… I guess? The traditional roundhouse will have difficulty targeting the legs due it’s chamber, which is the Thai kicks’ specialty. I understand the confusion, the snap kick version of the TKD roundhouse that is mostly seen in sparring doesn’t move the front leg much but it also lacks turnover. You lift the knee in a front kick chamber and strike on an upward diagonal rather than horizontal. It’s a point sparring kick rather than a combat kick. Thai kicks can be used at much closer ranges with hip turnover, which you know.

Still, we’re getting into the variant ranges of kicks that are visually similar (I guess?) but very different in execution. There’s more than three different versions of the TKD roundhouse. The one I’m talking about is the roundhouse you see on television, the general roundhouse. This is the basic martial arts roundhouse with slight, minor variations between styles from TKD to Shotokan. It’s going to be the most recognizable to the widest audience.

The Thai kicks are unique, even in comparison to modern kickboxing with the way they move. The major difference between Muay Thai kicks and kicks from other martial styles is the range at which they function, which you know. Thai kicks work in the hand range versus the traditional kick range. Plus, the option to strike with the shin.

Krav Maga is the same way, it’s a different kick.

Muay Thai is a creature all it’s own, and deservedly so. In twenty years (or less) do its proliferation in the West and adoption in MMA/Hollywood, it’s going to have it’s own recognizable and famous version. That’s probably going to be one of the versions of the low kick that utilizes the shin.

Roundhouse tends be used as a catchall for lots of martial arts kicks, including kicks that have nothing to do with each other. I went with the generic. If I was doing the straight TKD kick, I’d mention the variety of different chambers for it depending on stance. I’m going with the one most people outside the martial arts community will be familiar with.

Call it the Chuck Norris roundhouse if it makes you feel better.

-Michi

Q&A: Roundhouse Kicks

How do roundhouse kicks work? Are they actually combat efficient?

The roundhouse kick is a common kick seen in street fights, and for this reason lots of counters have been developed for it. So, it does work, it is effective, and easy to do compared to other kicks. It’s powerful (though not as powerful as the sidekick or back kick), but is the riskiest because it’s easy to trap.

Of the four beginning kicks, the roundhouse is the only kick that comes across the body. The others all strike directly. The roundhouse targets the side of the body or enemies in the fighting stance. This is part of what makes the roundhouse more visible than the other kicks. Your peripheral vision is great for noticing motion coming in on the edge of your vision, and circles are eye-catching. The roundhouse kick is an arc. Like all kicks, it’s one big body movement coming at you in flashing neon lights.

As a general rule, kicks are always riskier than punches. They’re reliant on speed and balance, and they come with obvious tells. Still, kicks are much more powerful than a punch, delivering more force at high speeds directly into the body. After all, with more risks come more rewards.

A single well placed kick can end a fight before it begins… if you can land it.

As for whether the roundhouse is combat efficient, that really depends on the individual and how limber they are. Cold kicks will punish you, pull your hamstrings, and wreck your legs if you’re not stretching on the regular. Your success with using kicks in combat is almost entirely dependent on your flexibility. When jumping into straight into a fight, you don’t get a time out for a five to ten minute warm up.

With that covered, let’s get down to the basics for the roundhouse.

The roundhouse is the second kick you’ll learn in most martial arts systems, after the front kick and before the sidekick. It relies on the rotational power of the hips to bring the leg across the body, striking with either the top or the ball of the foot. The attack comes on a diagonal, with points at either the head, stomach/ribs, or (in some variation) the legs/upper thigh. The structure of the roundhouse is as follows:

1) Beginning Stance:

Unlike the front kick which can be done from any forward facing, standing position, the roundhouse requires you be in a fighting stance.

A stance is a basic part of martial arts, but usually skipped over by Hollywood and beginners for strikes. Strikes are the big flashy moves that get attention because they are flashy. As with everything, the building blocks are often skipped.

Stances are what we call your “base” or how you set your body and your feet. Most martial arts disciplines will have a full set of stances from the front stance to the horse stance, and they will be referred to by different names. The fighting stance is easily recognizable. As it is the stance you’ll see everyone drop into on or off screen when they’re getting ready to fight.

The fighting stance is meant for basic defensive positioning, allowing you to move quickly. In Taekwondo, the fighting stance is one foot forward and the other foot is a step behind (about the width of your shoulders) on a diagonal. The back foot twists sideways roughly to a 45 degree angle, the front foot points forward. Your upper body turns on a diagonal following your back foot. Your hands clench to fists, and rise to your face. The hand over the front foot extends out, the other hand hovers beside your cheek. Your elbows come in, just inside the silhouette of your body. Your knees bend. Weight will adjust in a tilt slightly forward or slightly back depending on attack vector. The bouncing seen in sparring tournaments or boxing is meant to cover these weight shifts. In the fighting stance, you should never stand flat footed.

This is the basic protective stance for sparring.

Body Reader Note: Elbow, hand, upper body, and feet placement are all dead giveaways when someone doesn’t know what they’re doing. Failure begins with your feet. The hands especially, most beginners do not keep their hands far enough apart, their elbows come out too far from the body. Beginners will often leave the front foot flat on the ground with their weight unbalanced, slowing their reaction time.

On Weight Shifts: Leaning back generally means a kick as the upper body tilts backward
for balance when the leg extends. Forward for hands. Settled on the back
leg can also be a defensive posture, versus weight forward which is
more aggressive. You want to be on the balls of your feet because that means quicker response times.

2) Chamber

The chamber is the intermediary step between the fighting stance and the kick. This is when you lift your leg off the ground with knee bent. The transition between chamber and kick is where most of the classic mistakes happen. You chamber with either the front or back leg. For the roundhouse kick, the foot left on the ground twists on a ninety degree angle. Your foot to your body should form a perfect right angle. (This is why the roundhouse kick is easy, you only shift another forty-five degrees rather than the full 180 for the sidekick.) The knee is on a similar forty-five degree, ready to extend across the body.

The upper body doesn’t move that much with the roundhouse, unlike the sidekick where the whole upper body tilts onto a forty-five as the leg extends. It tilts ever so slightly to retain balance as you kick and your hips twist.

3) The Kick

As I said before, the roundhouse strikes horizontally or diagonally across the body. It is true to its name. It comes around in a circular motion. The leg extends and swings across/through the opponent’s body as the hips simultaneously twist. When done in a simultaneous motion, the supporting foot twists to a ninety degree angle at the same moment the hips turn over. The upper body tilts with the hips. The leg swings through.

If the hips don’t turn over, then the kick is what we call a “snap kick”. In the case of the roundhouse, this is a kick than snaps up off the knee on a forty-five degree diagonal. It is fast but without power, and usually performed with the front leg only.

Power comes from the hips. You can lay in as much speed as you like, but without turnover there’s no power. (Snap kicks find their best use as openers in point sparring.)

The second problem with most kicks is visualization. You don’t stop when you reach the enemy, you kick through them. This carries the impact and force further.

The roundhouse strikes with either the top of the foot or the ball of the foot. Ball of the foot requires you pull your toes back, or else you’ll break them. Top is the speed kick (light, fast), ball is the power kick (can break ribs). Top of the foot is generally only seen in sparring exercises when your feet are protected by pads, but it’s a good option when you’re wearing shoes and your toes can’t bend.

4) Recoil

This is the return to the chamber. After extension finishes, the leg snaps back out of danger. If your opponent doesn’t catch your leg in the moment before the full extension, they can still catch it after the fact. Quick recoil is as essential to a kick’s success as the extension. It’s also necessary to keep us from overextending.

After they’ve mastered the chamber and extension, beginners will often have difficulty with this step. It has all the same problems as the chamber, just going in the opposite direction. A good recoil is a sign of strong control over the leg.

5) Plant

Return to start or prepare for transition into the next kick. The leg comes down, plants itself on the floor, and the fighter is ready to either continue attacking or begin defending.

A poor plant means that you’ve now messed up your fighting stance. If the foot comes down in the wrong place, the stance becomes unbalanced. A stance that is either too wide or two shallow creates opportunities for your opponent to destabilize you and make it difficult to attack again without over extending.

Those are the steps of the roundhouse. Throw them all together and you’ve got the full kick. The roundhouse has a very specific usage in martial arts that makes it valuable. The purpose of the roundhouse is simple: it’s a kick built for striking an enemy who is also in a fighting stance.

When our bodies are turned on a diagonal our vitals are better protected than they are when we’re forward facing. It becomes difficult, or more risky for a direct forward strike to land. The roundhouse attacks in a circle, coming around from the side and on angle. It creates a new vector attack those protected vitals like the stomach.

This is why the roundhouse is a popular kick. It is simple, and effective at ghosting around the first, opening opposition. (It’s also easily blocked with both hands and legs, but that’s a story for another day.) However, this is not why Chuck Norris’ roundhouse became the stuff of legend.

Perhaps more so than the sidekick, the roundhouse is iconic in popular culture.
The roundhouse looks fantastic on film.

It has a beautiful silhouette, it’s eye catching but also easy to follow. It looks more dynamic than most of the other basic kicks, and it’s simple. An actor you’ve only got three months to train before filming can learn the basics of this kick. They won’t look great, but no one can tell. It doesn’t require the same flexibility as the more advanced kicks like the axe kick. Nor does it require the finesse, balance, or control of the sidekick. It’s the sort of kick where general audiences can’t tell if the practitioner is new or their technique sucks, and blends easily with the stunt doubles. Audiences have a difficult time telling the difference between a kick with power and a kick without power.

The roundhouse is the most common kick seen in taekwondo tournaments, and very common in kickboxing for its speed. It is faster and easier than the front kick and the sidekick due to the twist necessary to throw the leg across the body. With the roundhouse, momentum will do most of the work for you. This is why it’s the most common kick to see untrained fighters attempt to mimic, and why it gets used on the streets.

It can be effective without much training, but that person can be totally screwed when paired against someone who knows what they’re doing. Due to it’s vector, the roundhouse is the easiest kick to catch. Whether it’s caught and hooked under the arm for a knee break or the full thing gets caught and lifted into a throw, it doesn’t matter. A poorly performed or unlucky roundhouse can really screw you over. The other problem is that the circular motion of the roundhouse makes it the least camouflaged by the body and the easiest to see coming.

So, yes, the roundhouse can be combat efficient. They’re also dependent on your ability to follow through the steps on rough terrain where friction is not amenable to foot twists. They come with obvious tells for when the kick is about to happen, and there are a lot of counters developed to deal with them.

Whether coming or going, for one side or the other, the roundhouse has the potential to wreck your day.

-Michi

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Q&A: Small Arms Monster Hunting

HI! I was wondering what modern light infantry firearms would you recommend for killing giant monsters around size and weight of elephants but with agility more akin to cats. I was thinking heavy round assault rifles and or grenade launchers.

Well, not, “light,” but I kinda suspect you mean, “small arms.” The first thing that comes to mind is a .50 anti-material rifle. That’s not just because I did an ask on the Barrett AM rifle a few days ago.

With something that nimble, you wouldn’t want to get within half a mile of it, if you didn’t need to. And, because of how sound works, at those ranges, it wouldn’t even hear the gunshot before the round connected. (Technically, it would never hear the actual gunshot, just the bullet breaking the speed barrier.) Depending on how the critters are put together, a high-explosive round might be the best payload, but I don’t know how well their accuracy holds up at long ranges.

Getting close enough to use a grenade launcher (usually around 100-200m) doesn’t sound like a good idea. At least not if they’re that fast and agile.

(For reference the M203 under-barrel grenade launcher is accurate up to around 150m, beyond that you can still put a round general vicinity of over there at up to 350m.)

By, “heavy round,” I assume you mean automatic rifles chambered in 7.62mm (and some other .30 rounds), at which point, that’s usually a battle rifle. I mean, it’s possible you might get the desired result from riddling the things with an H&K G3, but getting that close when you don’t need to be still sounds like a bad idea to me.

-Starke

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Q&A: Followup: Followup: What am I Doing Here Again?

I think you answered the wrong ask with the long rule of cool answer? The question was if flaming arrow or fire weapon were ever actually used?

That question was a followup to another question answered about a day earlier, which was a followup to yet another question about flaming weapons. It was essentially asking why flaming weapons get used in Hollywood so much if the ones shown aren’t historically accurate.

We get a lot of questions about setting weapons on fire, and my point was that the movies and media you consume aren’t about accuracy. You shouldn’t look to them for truth, not even most of the “historical” ones because their needs are different. Rather they’re a place to start your search into history, which is vast. Fire and explosions have both been part of historical military campaigns but not in the way Hollywood will show you. Not the way that gets propagated throughout various fandoms, and not the way we see it represented on screen.

When you’re imagining fire arrows, you’re not thinking of early grenade like explosives in fields mined with gunpowder or Genghis Khan demanding all the dog and birds from a city he intended to conquer and then setting them on fire before releasing them. They’re not imagining flaming oil poured down from the battlements or catapults lobbing whatever it was they set on fire into a town. When they’re asking about fire arrows, they’re asking about the fire arrows seen in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (as Robin Hood: Men in Tights succinctly put it, “every time they do one these movies, they burn down the village!”) Or the flaming sword from The Scorpion King.

Fire has its place in mass battles and riots when it comes to burning shit down.

A quick internet search will find you all kinds of traditional uses for fire as a military weapon, the problem is that they’re not the ones most of those who come into our askbox are looking for. They’re not looking for artillery, they’re looking for a way to make what they saw in a movie realistic because they’ve been told realism is paramount to writing good fiction.

When you’re looking at whatever media you’re consuming, you should pretty much always assume Rule of Cool unless otherwise stated.

I wrote the post because that is what needs to be said. As a writer, it is important to be honest with yourself when you sit down to write whatever you intend to write. If Rule of Cool is what you’re looking for (which is what the vast majority of people who write fight scenes want) then just take a breath and accept it. You’ll be happier, you’ll understand your needs better and know what to focus on. There’s been an obsession lately about “realism” in battle sequences that aren’t particularly realistic but somehow makes them more legitimate than ones that aren’t.

Q&A: Attack On Titan

i’m not sure that you’d have an answer to this but how feasible are the fighting scenes in attack on titan? How difficult would it be to use the ODM gear featured in the series? What type of muscle would you need and what physical toll would it have on your body? Would it even be possible to go that fast and maneuver around as easily as they show it?

You ever been on a rollercoaster? Not the traditional wooden ones, but the kind of rollercoaster that hates you and wants you to die horribly? Where the track is above you and you’ve got some serious neck protection as you go round, and round, and round on high speeds? The one that tries to turn you into hamburger? Yeah, good.

Now, imagine that combined with the Nasa centrifuge.

Or, just watch ShoddyCast’s “The SCIENCE! Behind Power Armor in Fallout 4″

That’s what the fight scenes in Attack on Titan would be like. You’d break your neck and liquefy your internal organs in fairly short order. The amount of damage done to the human body via deceleration at high speeds is rather insane. So, no it is not possible. (Spiderman isn’t real either.)

However, realism is not why we watch anime. Anime characters don’t worry about physics. Neither should you.

Except whenever you get into a car.

Drive safely.

-Michi

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How viable is a tonfa in modern street fighting setting? (well, to be more accurate, Hong Kong during 1988, but I digress). I know that guns are going to beat it out regardless, because guns, but in the case they aren’t available, would it be a good weapon for a gang member to carry around?

Yeah, Hong Kong is a very different set of considerations from simply, “modern street fighting.” Specifically, firearms laws there are far more strict than in the US, and the danger of running into someone using a gun is much lower than if you set your story in 1980s Los Angeles.

Obviously, if your characters are going up against the police, then that starts to become a serious consideration again, but for street level combat, there’s a very real probability that the people they’re fighting won’t have access to firearms either.

Now my knowledge on the subject is strictly 1999, so some of this may have been different under British rule, but my understanding is that under the PRC, arms smuggling is a capital offense. Possession of an unlicensed firearm is a serious felony that can carry a life sentence.

What little I can dig up from pre-1999, suggest that even before the British left, it was extremely restricted. You could own a firearm, but you not allowed to own, or store, ammunition. You needed to purchase, and use it, at the gun club, where you shot.

There were exemptions for people who dealt with large quantities of cash, gems, or other untraceable wealth, as part of their job. That may have persisted, I’m uncertain.

Within that specific context, yeah, I could see the tonfa being useful for someone dealing with street level crime. Ironically, they might be better off unarmed and using whatever they can find in their environment opportunistically, simply because of law enforcement attention. The full list of prohibited weapons is a bit vague in places. Near as I can tell, the tonfa isn’t explicitly restricted, but an officer might class it under one of those headers and arrest your character anyway.

Incidentally, while writing this, the thing that keeps coming to mind is Sleeping Dogs. This was a criminally underrated GTA style game set in 2012 Hong Kong, where you played as an undercover cop infiltrating the Triads. It’s a little off what you’re talking about, but is still a fascinating examination of the tensions for a character who’s operating undercover in a criminal organization.

-Starke

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hey i’m creating a race of fairies and since they generally have small builds and metal such as iron cold steel are deadly to them what are some good materials to use for the fairies to craft their weapons, i considered gems but doing some research i realized substance like diamonds and crystal are utterly impractical even for the fairies.

Well, fairies are magic. If a fairy wanted to wield a diamond sword, they could and no audience would question it. Magic is the solution to a lot of problems. The weakness of a weapon forged with magic is, of course, a steel blade but that only matters if they’re encountering humans wielding steel on the regular. Fairies can do whatever they want and dance merrily on the graves of scientists the world over, so don’t let that stop you.

Blades of pure light.

Blades of diamond.

Blades from plants.

Fairies wielding magma blades or swords forged from stardust.

A sword of glass containing the beating heart and heat of the sun.

Futuristic fairies who behave like aliens in Iron Man style power armor formed from plastics/polymers wielding lightsabers and firing bolts of plasma.

They’re fairies. Sky’s the limit here. Except, it’s not because then we catapult ourselves out into space. Go however far your imagination takes you.

Look to myth for your solutions, especially the Celtic Sidhe. Unless you’re dealing with a modern setting (and even if you are) mythology has already developed solutions. It’s a great place to start your search.

However, here are some things I’ll point out:

Cold Iron/Cold Steel are a reference to a specific forging technique rather than a type of metal, though in folklore it can just mean steel swords. Still, this will open up your options some.

Cold Iron for fairies dates back to when iron forging was still mostly new, or less common. There’s certainly lore out there with mythological fairies fighting warriors wielding iron blades, but were unbeatable until new forging techniques were developed.

Ask yourself: is it the forging technique which makes these swords dangerous to your fairies or is it the metal itself? In which case, then you can cut out “cold” as it’s just steel.

Here’s the Wikipedia article about iron in folklore. It may help you some in your search.

If you want to write Urban Fantasy with fairies then I’d go with the forging process rather steel itself. The reason is that they couldn’t go anywhere. At least, not places like the US or Europe or anywhere there’s a high steel content in the buildings, cars, and sewer systems. Even with a shift to polymers too much of the major metropolitan centers in the developed world are built on steel bones. Science fiction fairies re-emerging in the future where all metals are polymers has more potential.

Honestly, any army from a period using steel or iron weapons could curb stomp fairies if they’re allergic to the metal. Using the forging process moves all to some and then down to almost none, making way for the future fairyocalypse of 2018.

-Michi

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So I’m going to write this character who grew up for a major part of her young life in a fighting pit without an arm, she mainly relied on the “that girl without an arm can’t be a threat” and then beat their butts when their backs were turned, and I’d like her to be able to wield a sword and shield, and I’m trying to work out the logistics of that, like would it make sense for her to have a piece of wood attached to her stump to better support the shield and stuff, or am I wrong?

lillybean730:

promptsblog:

So I’ve kept this in my askbox for a while because I’m not sure how to respond to it. I give prompts and some writing advice on this blog.  This question is way outside my limited expertise. I’ll throw it out there in case someone has an answer.

@howtofightwrite this might be up your alley

So, one armed fighters.

We’ve brought up Nick Newell before who is a professional UFC fighter who was born with a congenital amputation of his left arm. The difference between him and this character is he’s not missing his arm, it ends at his elbow. He uses his left arm as a way to provide holds and pressure when grappling that make it almost impossible to escape from due to him not having a full sized arm.

There’s also
Gottfried “Götz” von Berlichingen (1480 – 23 July 1562)

otherwise known as
Götz

of the Iron Hand. He was a mercenary who lost about as much of his arm as Nick Newell in battle and replaced it with an iron prosthesis that he used in combat. He held the sword with his prosthetic and used the shield in his left hand. (He could even write with his second prosthetic. Yes, with a quill.) This guy was real, successful, badass, and died of old age. I’d read his bio. He’s an awesome bit of history.

However, when looking to write a character with any disability (whether physical or mental) it is important to not imagine them performing the exact same way as everyone else (otherwise called full-bodied, able-bodied). You’ve got to write from the perspective of someone who has a disability, who is missing their arm. They’ve got to come up with new ways to fight that work for them rather than trying to force them to fight like someone who has two working arms. It is absolutely possible for your character to fight professionally and be very successful at it, but she will do it her own way.

Look at two examples above, these are men who turned their disabilities from what most people would consider detriments into assets. By coming up with unique solutions suitable for them, their approach to combat became extremely difficult for others to counter.

In the grapple, Newell can apply pressure on angles that cannot be gotten to.

Götz figured out how to use his sword in battle without wrist movement. Think about that. That’s incredible.

Unless we’re dealing with futuristic (or even just modern) tech, there’s no way for this character, who is poor and a child, living in a pit to rig up a full prosthetic that functions to the same degree as an arm. And, who else would pay for someone to create it? Their manager has other mouths to feed.

They don’t need that second arm to sword fight. They’ll just use one of the many swords meant to be wielded one handed. They’re going to learn how to fight without that second arm.

The problem is you’re coming at this from the perspective of what you want then trying to jury rig to it instead of from the perspective of what would make sense to this character and what they would choose for themselves. This is usually the major failure of any able-bodied person writing a disabled character: you don’t think the way they do.

They are a character who has grown up without a second arm. A second arm is what other people have, it is not part of their regular life. They’ve learned to live without it. They’ve had to. Everything you think about doing with two arms or hands, they do with one. In training, they’d simply learn to compensate for that arm not being there. They also don’t have to worry about it or defend it when it combat, opening them up to potentially being more aggressive.

There’s also a high likelihood she’d use her feet a lot more.

This is the “not a martial artist” problem. Most people who’ve never done martial arts only consider two limbs, they don’t think of all four (and the head).

Then, there’s the fact she’s a child. Children fighting adults are automatically at a disadvantage. It is one hell of a gap, one she’ll need to be very quick and aggressive about overcoming. (I won’t ask why she’s not fighting in her age group. Take them by surprise works more reliably on children and young teens than seasoned adults.)

So, as a treatment, we’ve got a hyper-aggressive child combatant who wields a sword and uses their feet via kicks and footwork to make up the difference. They’ll have spent a lot of time learning counters to attacks focused on the side of their body without an arm. (If you want common tactics, the perceived area of weakness is where the initial attacks will be focused. That is the behavior this girl will turn to her advantage.)

You’ve got to learn how to re-examine and see the world from their perspective, just like you would if you were writing someone from another culture or ethnic background.

Lastly, I know gladiatorial arenas are popular as a place for characters to get their fighting chops but here’s the thing:

They’re a business.

Assume for a moment this is a fantasy setting that is following a medieval or roman archetype. For someone to be a functional pit fighter, you’ve got to feed them, clothe them, board them for years. You’ve gotta invest in them and it will be years before you see a return on that investment.

So, say your city is dystopic fantasy like Lankhmar from Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. You’ve got an entire city of urchins and orphans to pick from when yanking kids out of the gutter to stick in an arena, so why her? This may sound cruel, but think about it from the perspective of an investor. Why do you pick the girl with one arm versus the girl who still has both but is missing an eye or the kid you just caught trying to pick your pocket?

The truth is (this is where we come back to Nick Newell) it is really hard to stage fights against someone with one arm.

For the other competitor, either they just got beat up by someone with one arm or the fighter with one arm has demonstrated that they’re better than someone with two. (This is the reason why Nick Newell had difficulty getting fights in the UFC, after the years he spent trying to convince multiple gyms to take him on before locating one that would.)

From a business perspective, matching anyone against her is a lose/lose for them. For the competitor, for their manager, and possibly for the arena itself.

Pit fighting is entertainment. All gladiatorial combat, all bloodsport is entertainment. That is its primary purpose and why it exists. If the fight is not entertaining to the audience then it is worthless. If the fighter does not make money, they are worthless. Like all entertainment, there’s a threshold of cruelty the audience doesn’t want to see.

They aren’t going to want to see an able-bodied adult (especially male) beating up a one armed girl. There’s nothing fun about watching that. There’s nothing fun about betting on that. If there’s no audience for it, she has no career and they kick her out of the pit. Any experienced professional would know that going in, you’d need another character who overcame their own good business sense in order to give her a chance.

This kind of manager character will fly directly in the face of your Dickensian fantasy of the self-made little urchin girl who overcame the ills and evils of the world.

Now, Newell did manage to get fights but it took him awhile. He was a great fighter. He met a
lot of other fighters who considered their careers and said no. They
didn’t want to fight him.

The problem is entertainment sports are not about ability, they are about image.

There is a real reason why the UFC is not booking female fighters versus male fighters. They could, but they won’t. Not because a woman couldn’t fight a man or potentially win, but because it’d be a lose/lose for everyone involved. It’d be a lose for the male competitor if he lost to the woman or won against her (he needs to think about his career), it’d be a lose for the woman because if she lost then she’d confirm gender stereotypes and if she won then she couldn’t go back to women’s league. Both their salaries and winnings are paid for by the people who come to their next fight.

Bare-knuckle boxing in the 19th century had female fighters, they fought men, they fought women, they fought everyone. They were adults not kids, and this was backdoor street fighting rather than organized gladiatorial business with promotion.

There were female gladiators in Rome. On a business level, Roman gladiators worked in a manner very similar to modern boxing and the UFC.

In fantasy we’ve got our Gurney Hallack’s and our Feyd Rautha’s.

None of this means this character you’ve created can’t have a career, it just means that you as the author needs to sit down and figure out what your in setting audience considers entertaining, will put down money for, gamble on, and wants to see.

This is going to take some legwork on your part.

None of this is to say this female character can’t become a pit fighter or is invalid or the story idea stupid, it just means there are considerations to make from a setting perspective outside the character herself.

You’ve got to think from the perspective of the people who took her on, their needs, their wants, their desires, and what they saw in her that made them go “yeah, this one works for me.”

If you had any dreams about an angst filled romp where this character was forced into this life and didn’t want to be there then I’ve got some bad news. In the world of professional fighting, if you do not figure out some reason to fight then your career will be short and end swiftly. It may simply be the three square meals a day and the safe-ish place to sleep at night.

The people who are successful at bloodsport are the ones who dedicate themselves to it. This is especially true for women in a sexist environment, where everyone is telling them, “no, this isn’t for you. No, you can’t do it.” If you’ve got a woman breaking barriers then its due to her sticking a big, fat middle finger in society’s face.

Here’s some things to consider:

1) Unless these fighters are coming out of extreme isolation where they hear nothing about the outside world, “that girl without an arm can’t be a threat” is a mistake that’ll be made once. It is not persistent, and it is not an advantage after the first victory. Once she proves herself, they will begin looking for new ways to defeat her. A snake lying still only gets a surprise on their first strike.

2) Don’t assume she’ll get special treatment because she’s female or underestimated because of her gender. Female fighters aren’t rare or special. If you haven’t considered other women in the pit, you may want to redraft. If they’ll pull one girl, they’ll pull more. (A little girl with one arm isn’t going to be anyone’s first choice. So, where are the others who came before her?)

3) There are plenty of men who won’t care she’s a little girl and fight her seriously. Men aren’t stupid. Gender and a disability are not the advantage you think they are. Whatever advantage in expectation they might’ve brought will die on the table very quickly and you’ll never see it from the skilled professionals. Once they realize she’s dangerous, the gloves come off. (This is especially true if their life is on the line.)

4) If she’s pit fighting, she’s not the only fighter missing a limb. So, don’t treat her as a unique snowflake no one’s ever seen before. If they’re fighting with edged weapons then losing limbs will be fairly common.

5) Pit fighting, like any form of gladiatorial sport, is entertainment. Historically, bloodsport is connected to gambling and has more in common with cinema than an actual battlefield.

6) If you’ve got a pit where the star performers are getting killed, where are they getting the replacements from? (And why are they killing them in the first place? That’s bad business. It was actually uncommon in Rome for gladiators to die in the arena, especially popular ones with fans. Oh, did they have fans… and advertising gigs. Why kill your investment?)

7) The goal of a business is to make money. A pit is a sizeable operation that takes a lot of money to keep it going. Even if everything is above board rather than illegal, you’ve still got to have a lot of people on payroll beyond what your fighters cost (whether they’re free or slaves, you have to put money into them). You need to secure money somehow. Whether that’s gambling, wealthy patrons, or prostituting your fighters out to women and men who’ll pay for an hour in the sack, it doesn’t matter. (Rome did all three.) Figure out the economics.

8) A character who trains to fight in bloodsport is not comparable to a trained soldier. They have different motivations and different needs. Don’t assume one is the other.

Give Gladiator a re-watch if you haven’t already, it is surprisingly accurate to history and what you should be considering when setting up any kind of professional bloodsport or arena.

Also Spartacus, and if you’re over eighteen Spartacus: Blood and Sand.

The UFC’s reality TV show The Ultimate Fighter is probably worth a look for research purposes, also great for character reference as there’s a lot of professional fighters and wannabes training to become professionals. It is a reality tv show though, so keep that in mind.

There’s also the history of various fighting sports from all over the world from muay thai to to sumo to pankration to sambo. That’ll help you too when it comes to imagining other fighter types.

We have tags for gladiators and bloodsports.

Good luck.

-Michi

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