Category Archives: Q&A

Q&A: Carotid Strike

(I don’t know of this a question for you or @scriptmedic but I’m hoping you’ll be able to help a little) how effective is the carotid strike actually? Will it actually knock someone out and does it cause brain damage like other knockouts? Is there any way to block against it or lessen the effect? Thank you so much and am very grateful for your blog ))

If I’m bluntly honest, I’m not sure how you could strike the carotid artery in a way that would cut off the flow of blood long enough to render someone unconscious without also killing them.

If you’re deliberately cutting off the flow of blood to the brain by compressing the carotid, that would be a blood choke. As we’ve said before, those can turn lethal with shocking speed. But, I’m not seeing where a strike to the neck would temporarily block the flow of blood long enough to put someone under, without cutting off the flow long enough to kill them.

Assuming you managed to find a way to do this, you’d be dealing with the same problems associated with knocking someone out. You’re cutting off oxygen to the brain and hoping you get a very specific kind of brain damage. I mean, this is the problem here; you’re asking for a way to inflict brain damage without inflicting brain damage.

Even if you did manage to put someone down, as with chokes, you’re talking about the victim being unconscious for a few seconds. So, the value of doing so is fairly limited.

The martial arts I’m aware of that practice strikes to the neck, like Krav Maga, don’t particularly care if the victim survives. They’re more interested in decisively ending a threat and, generally speaking, the dead aren’t much of a threat.

There’s an irony here; you’re describing a kill strike that the victim might be able to accidentally survive. Not, the other way around.

Writers like to use knockouts as a “safe” alternative to killing someone. I’m as guilty of this as anyone. But, the reality is that being knocked unconscious is close enough to killing someone that you really can’t selectively inflict the desired outcome. Similarly, you can’t knock someone out for long periods of time, without inflicting severe brain damage. It can, and does happen, but you can’t choose that result.

Ultimately, this stuff comes from a desire to include, “safe” violence. I’m sorry. There is no such thing. No one who engages in violence has full control over the situation. Some people like to think they do, but they’re deluding themselves. You can have characters who try to do the Batman, “I control all the factors,” but without (some very specifically tuned) superpowers, they really don’t.

Attempting to knock someone out, by any means, means you’re taking on the very real risk that the victim will end up dead. That’s a potential outcome.

-Starke

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Q&A: Snares and Triplines

Question how effective do you think wire would be if used as a trap that involves either someone falling onto them or the wire being moved around them at a very fast rate?

You mean a tripwire or bola? Those can and do work. Bolas are a bit of an oddity, though they are functional. Tripwires, in spite of their name, aren’t usually used to trip someone, but it can happen.

Normally, tripwires are used to activate (or trip) a trap. They’re a triggering device, not the trap itself. For example, run a bit of fishing line between two trees, then rig it against a grenade (technically this is a little more complicated than just tying it to the pin), and you’ll have an improvised mine.

Laser tripwires are similar. You send out a beam of light, then bounce it off a mirror, and check to see if that beam has been broken. If it does, you set off the alarm, lock the doors, and nuke Detroit.

Now, actually tripping over a line? It can happen. I mean, I’ve tripped over the coax cables in the apartment enough times. It will knock you off balance for a few seconds, but it’s not going to send most adults sprawling. So this is more of a trap for toddlers and the clumsy.

You’d get the most mileage out of these by suddenly springing them up in front of a running target. There are ways to do this, but it’s a very situational option.

Bolas are a pair (or more) weighted balls attached to the ends of a thin rope or chord. You throw these with the intention of it wrapping around an animal’s legs tripping them. From what I understand, they actually work pretty well. When the string connects the closer weight will continue traveling and secure itself to that leg, while the longer end will (usually) loop around another leg pulling itself tight as it wraps around. They’re an indigenous weapon of South America, and even saw battlefield use historically.

The downside is that learning the bola does take a lot of practice. They are fairly easy to build in the field, and it is a weapon that someone stranded in the wilderness could realistically fabricate.

So, they work but are difficult to use.

-Starke

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Q&A: Breasts and Breastplates

I’ve read your posts on female armor, and it really helped me with designing armor for my female superhero, but I have a concern: would wearing a flat breastplate inhibit a well-endowed woman? It almost seems like it would make it hard for her to breathe, especially if she’s bigger and taller than average (my character stands at 6′ 2″)

That… is an anime gag.

There are medical conditions which can cause this, but if there’s breathing issues then that’s a clothing issue and if the armor is causing you to be short of breath then… the armor is useless and not doing its job.

Corsets and any sort of binding that doesn’t allow the lungs/chest cavity/ribs/diaphragm to expand will cause shortness of breath in… either gender. It is historically more common in women because of, well, fashion. You didn’t need to be well-endowed to fall prey to the whale-bone corsets of the 18th century. (Which also led to miscarriages.)

The argument you’re referring to is one common among fanboys, primarily as a justification for boobplate and the fetishistic armor choices for female superheroes. For all it’s claims to realism, it has zero bearing on reality.

The weight of your boobs doesn’t make you short of breath or hamper your ability to breathe. It can, in some cases, be painful during high energy activities when they’re bouncing around but the solution is called a sports bra. (Besides, big boobs can disappear fast depending on the type of activity. You ever seen runners or professional female athletes in almost… well, anything? Muscle burns fat, and your chest muscles will start with your chest. No fat, they shrink.)

The Most Common Superpower joke is that women get to keep theirs and stay conventionally attractive when engaging in highly aerobic activity.

If we want to start with the issue in the presentation of female action heroes it begins here. (And that men, and some women, usually don’t understand how breasts work.) Or have this idea the issue has never been addressed because women don’t participate in sport activity anyway.

Breasts. Are. Just. There.

She’s a superhero. Her armor is custom designed. If whoever made her armor didn’t take into account the size of her chest or provide support then they are crappy at their job and armor design in general.

The issues we run into with armor is when it is either:

A) Not yours. Or..

B) One size fits all, but you’d still be able to function in it.

If you can’t move in the armor then that’s an issue that needs to be addressed at a design level but it’s not insurmountable. This is why armorers and tailors exist.

Besides, if the other option you’re considering is boob plate then that wouldn’t solve the issue. I guarantee boob plate is more uncomfortable, and will guide weapon points straight to your heart. This is an argument I’ve seen brought up a lot (by men) to justify the existence of boobplate or going without armor for “realism”. It is not only BS, it’s annoying. It ignores both reality (female combatants of history) and human ingenuity to prop up outdated sexism. It’s like they think female athletes never address the issues of their chest size. Well, I’m here to tell you: we already solved this one and it’s called a sports bra. In the real world, we get a bras that are designed to support the weight of our boobage during athletic activities.

Women can, however, STILL RUN without problems with a regular bra or even no support at all.

You, however, may want to address the underlying sexism nipping at your approach to this character. If you genuinely believe cramming big breasts into a tactical vest is going to cause breathing issues then you’ve got a lot of your own to work out. That is also the problem with sexism. The misinformation is so baked into every bit of common knowledge meant to justify a certain sexist approach then held up as realistic that most people never think about it.

Again, the kind of breathing issues we’re talking about come from corsets and not armor. A corset tightens your waist, and will result in issues because of the diaphram/stomach can’t expand. When performing aerobic exercise, you need your diaphragm (thus expanding your ribs) to breathe. The diaphragm allows more air to pass through your body, which means more oxygen in your blood being carried to your muscles. Without them, you’re stuck breathing entirely with your upper chest, and that will be a problem when engaging in athletic activity. If the expansion of the chest is also cut off, then… you’re really up a creek. This is what causes the fainting fits of the 18th century. Women wearing clothing that doesn’t allow them to draw enough oxygen into their bodies to keep their brains cognizant.

It’s also why you never want to bind your breasts with anything like Ace bandages because Ace bandages are designed to continually constrict around an injury and create pressure to halt the blood flow. They can tighten so much that they crack the breastbone or the ribcage, and that is what causes shortness of breath rather than the breasts themselves being bound.

You don’t get this problem if you bind with just cloth, but it’s also shit for support.

Breathing issues are a problem for men when they wear clothing styles that ensure their diaphragms can’t expand or just don’t breathe with their diaphragm when fighting.

If her armor causing shortness of breath then that’s not armor, it’s fetish gear. It may be great for a bondage session but it’s not meant to be worn combat. (And if what she’s wearing is causing shortness of breath anyway, then she just needs to stop wearing it. That’s still the fault of her clothing and not her breasts.)

Besides, a woman with large breasts would have issues finding bras that fit her anyway and would probably be specially ordering them. Most malls and sports stores have bras for A, B, C, and some D but not a lot. DD’s can have trouble finding comfortable breastwear, especially ones in the six foot range.

-Michi

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Q&A: Devil May Cry

Let’s suspend disbelief for a second and assume that someone like Dante from DMC can swing a greatsword as big as a human being around like it’s made of tissue paper. How strong would that person need to be or what would be the advantage of using such a heavy and huge sword? Dante is very fast with it so I’m guessing its weight wouldn’t be an issue. Dante also uses other weapons in the games, would he be more effective with another weapon? Sorry, I’ve just always wondered about that.

Granted, I’ve never played any of the Devil May Cry series. Actually, the only Capcom series I’ve got any history with is RE (and I guess Dragon’s Dogma now). That said, I’m pretty sure Dante is a half-demon, and as a result, comically strong. It’s also probably the justification for his utter disregard for the laws of physics.

Being able to toss your opponent 20 feet, or chuck a midtown bus at your foes isn’t a function of strength. That factors in, but the real problem is physics. It doesn’t really matter how strong you are, you can’t swing something that has more mass than you. At least, not the way you’d usually think of swinging a weapon. You could get into some kind of mutual dance of flying murder steel, but that’s not the same thing. This apparently isn’t an issue for Dante, because he has some supernatural control over inertia, gravity, mass manipulation, or something. Which, he’s a half demon, if that’s part of his power-set, fine, I can dig it.

-Starke

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Q&A: Stiletto Heels

Out of curiosity, how realistic is stabbing someone with the heel of a stiletto shoe?

It is realistic in that can and does actually happen.

It’s most commonly seen in bars when drunken angry women get into fights and hit the other person with their shoes, but you can blind someone with a stiletto heel so there’s that.

Is it effective?

It really depends on if you know where to aim and get very lucky, or just get lucky. The eye going is probably the best endgame result. It is worth saying that you can take out the eye with just about anything, including a number 2 pencil.

I don’t really recommend it.

If it’s the only thing you’ve got, then it’s better than nothing.

-Michi

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Q&A: Dual Wielding

Is dual wielding (like two swords, a sword and a knife or two knives) an actual effectiv fighting style or just something that looks cool??

With two swords, not really. There’s a few stray examples. It’s not so much ineffective as incredibly difficult. With that in mind, you can absolutely learn how to do this as an exhibition technique. Which, yes, ends up in the range of something that looks cool.

A sword and an off hand dagger has a lot of utility. The off hand dagger actually becomes a defensive tool.This can range from something like a stiletto, used to deflect an incoming strike, or it can include a swordbreaker, which depending on circumstances might simply hold your opponent’s blade in place while you turn them into goulash with your sword.

It’s probably worth remembering that the parrying dagger is more common when dealing with lighter blades, while sword breakers were more common when dealing with heavier, slower, blades.

Dual daggers are a legitimate, hyper-aggressive, knife fighting option. You’re trading any kind of defense for more opportunities to attack. When the user has the element of surprise it can make a bad situation so much worse, but if their foe can respond, it can go wrong for the dual wielder very quickly.

If you’re wondering how a knife can go from being a defensive tool to an offense option, it has to do with the ranges you’re engaging at. Incidentally, a swordsman with an off hand dagger does have the option to attack at extremely close ranges where they can’t attack with their sword.

I know we’ve said this before, but weapons have specific ranges. Get too close, and you can’t use them anymore. A sword works best at a little over arm’s length. For example: A sword won’t do much good

while you’re lying on top of your foe. On the other hand, if you can reach out and touch someone, knives are always good to go. The advantage for a sword is it will add 36-40 inches to your reach.

It’s also worth remembering that a sword with an off-hand pistol was a real option up into the 19th century. You’d open an encounter by putting a bullet in someone, and then use the sword.

-Starke

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Q&A: Vet Your Sources

I suggest you read The Templars and the Assassins: Militia of Heaven by James Wasserman. Very interesting read. A lot of what we know about the historical Assassins is slandar by their enemies. Also the characters of Assassin’s Creed are just as interesting as their historical counterparts. How Ubisoft took the legends of both orders and expanded them is amazing and a stroke of sheer brilliance.

When you’re conducting research: One of the first steps is to vet the author. Who are they? What’s their background? Once you understand that, you can make an intelligent assessment of what you’re reading.

For example, Wasserman is not a trained historian. In fact, as far as I can tell he doesn’t hold any formal degree. His area of expertise is mysticism and the occult. His own bio describes him as, “an admirer of the teachings of Aleister Crowley.” So, if you were researching modern American mysticism, he might be a decent point or reference. Detailed historical analysis? Not so much.

Another thing to consider, when writing non-fiction is that bold claims require strong evidence. In very general terms, claims don’t get much bolder than, “everything you know about this thing is wrong.”

Wasserman… doesn’t really do that. He collected a lot of interesting tidbits of trivia, though given the errors I found from skimming through the first few chapters, I wouldn’t trust any of it without first verifying in more credible sources.

Wasserman also appears to lack the ability to evaluate the quality of his evidence. This is a very important skill in academic literature, particularly when evaluating historical events. Not everything said or written is true, and as an academic, it falls on the author to evaluate the available evidence. This often involves looking at the larger context of contemporary events, the agendas of people involved, and the amount of surviving primary sources.

For example, confessions obtained under torture usually aren’t viewed as particularly credible. As we’ve said before, turns out when you apply enough force to someone, they’ll tell you whatever they think you want to hear, rather than actually coughing up the truth. Torture is a crude tool used to confirm your version of reality, and is not a functional investigative tool. And then Wasserman takes these confessions at face value, and tries to find some way to square them away with reality.

Yes, I am frustrated by Wasserman. He takes a fascinating part of history and injects it with confirmation bias so severe it would make a YouTube commenter blush. As a writer, there’s a real reason you should study history. Looking at why people, real people, took the actions they did can really help you understand how individuals think, and the options your characters have.

What Wasserman does very well is demonstrate how you can take real people and events, and distort them to fit your setting. (To be fair, it’s not an intentional demonstration.) This can be useful when you’re working off some “secret history of the world,” story, or when you’re writing an alt-history setting. If you want to write a story where the Assassins were secret defenders of an alien civilization that secretly founded western civilization, then Wasserman and Erich von Däniken are probably authors you should investigate closely. Also Assassin’s Creed, for the Dan Brown on mescaline vibe, and because that  is the plot for Assassin’s Creed. (Though, von Däniken is pretty good for that flavor of weirdness in general.)

But, hey, at least Wasserman managed to secure an endorsement from a Golden Dawn magus for the back cover. So, you know, he’s got that going for him.

-Starke

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Q&A: Swords in the Modern World

Okay 1. I love your blog. 2. I have a character who’s very strong and she is constantly fighting for her life. I planned on giving her a katana as a weapon but after I read your post about how katanas suck I was like “Okay, so I won’t give her a katana.” But what sword would someone be able to use in the modern world pretty effectively while actually using it to defend themselves?

There’s a real reason why we don’t use swords anymore.

Beyond the problems posed by guns (and knives for that matter), the sword is simply inconvenient in a modern environment. You could still carry one (depending on country/state restrictions on weapons… maybe not, especially not without a permit), but people will look at you funny. And, maybe, be a little worried about your mental health if you walked into the local MiniMart with a real, sharpened, honest to god longsword belted to your hip.

It’s basically the equivalent of walking into a store or getting into a taxicab with an AR15 strapped to your chest. Except, weirder.

Also, you can’t conceal it. You’re going to get arrested. You’re gonna get tased. No, I’m not kidding that really happened to a man carrying a katana on his back in SoCal.

This is not the only example. There are a lot of people who carry swords… and a lot people who get tased for their trouble.

The other human beings around you will see that sword as an active potential threat to their safety, and swords don’t have a gun lobby lobbying for the right to carry them wherever. The cops will arrest you. It is no longer culturally acceptable to openly carry these weapons as a matter of practice.

Society has moved on.

Now, in a fictional context we can fudge the rules a bit. Still, you should be aware of the realities especially if you’re writing toward modern fiction. The modern world is one you’re readers will be intimately familiar with, so if you’re working outside the set norms it’d behoove you to explain yourself.

Swords make sense in Urban Fantasy settings or cultures where guns have (inexplicably in many cases) ceased to work. (And if you’ve got any technology with a combustion engine, you’re going to have guns. Or explosives. The theory behind the gun is simply you use an explosion to propel an object at high velocities in the direction you want. What we have now is just a refinement of that thought process. If you have fireworks, someone will inevitably hit on the idea that you can shoot fireworks at your enemies then work to improve the process. We call this science.)

What a character does on their own property is their business, but it’s a different story when they’re out in public.

If you’re serious about your character carrying a sword, then these are issues that should be addressed or, at least, considered.

-Michi

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Q&A: Paralytic Poisons

Would you happen to know how fast it would realistically take someone to keel over when struck with a dart coated in a paralysing drug?

With the quick caveat that I’m not a doctor; from what I remember, most paralytics will take effect in under a minute, and kill the victim in under five. Most of these will cause respiratory arrest. You’ve paralyzed them, so they can’t go anywhere, but you’ve also paralyzed their lungs, so they’ll also stop doing that pesky breathing thing.

If you’ve got someone on life support, there are some real medical applications for this. Particularly in surgery. When it’s administered in the field, they’re dead.

You’ll also find a few animals that administer paralytic poisons. This is some seriously scary stuff. Same problem though, in higher forms of animal life (read anything with lungs) it will stop respiration and result in the victim asphyxiating because their lungs are paralyzed.

The mode of action, as I recall, is that the poison actually interferes (or blocks) the neurotransmitters responsible for muscle control. It doesn’t matter how badly the victim wants to move, their body can’t get the message.

-Starke

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Q&A: Larger Foes

I don’t know if you watch GOT, but how hard would it be to fight someone like the mountain hand-to-hand? (well, armed, like in the show). Does being big like him really makes for a better fighter?

Hand to hand is a bit different from armed, especially armored, but okay. The answer is pretty simple.

Start low.

Tall fighters, especially male fighters, have a rather serious issue that’s often overlooked: their center of gravity. It’s higher up off the ground than the average person, and a great many men (like the Mountain) do not drop low enough into their stances to compensate. The taller they are, the lower they need to go to counterbalance their size. Attack their feet, or their legs. Attack their center. Whatever you need to destabilize them. A lot of tall fighters have issues with their base. There are other flaws, but that’s often a big one.

Cutting the legs out from under of your enemy is a real tactic, or I should say: cutting them down to size.

Stab him in the foot. (Yeah, no, real combat tactic.)

Here’s a question: you ever hear the story about David versus Goliath? Probably, most people know the story of the shepherd boy who defeated the greatest, largest warrior in single combat with a sling.

The story is a parable, and a life lesson. It’s also a little more complicated than just brains over brawn. If you take anything from the story, the big one is going to be: never fight your enemy on their terms. Understand where their strengths are, where you’re strengths are, and change the rules.

What a big fighter has going for them is the intimidation factor, and mind games in combat are a huge deal. It’s not so much about physical prowess as much as what your enemy believes about your physical prowess. Or you believe about your opponent’s. What you believe will affect how you fight, how hard you fight, and how well you fight. Go into a fight believing you’re at a disadvantage or will lose and you’ll lose.

Assessing your enemy’s strengths for their weaknesses is the winning strategy. If never addressed, big fighters will have a lot of flaws because their opponents often cede them the field in their minds. This is especially true when in training, and training is the foundation of skill. When people treat you like you’re invincible, you’ll start to believe you are. And that’s how you get an over reliance on a natural advantage with no compensation for the flaws it brings.

The problem is that many people treat size and body types like they’re all or nothing. For every advantage one has, there’s a disadvantage to go with it. A fighter with a heavy reliance on what nature has given them (size, strength, what have you) often neglects more crucial skills if never addressed. You can have big fighters with exceptional levels of skill, but those are the ones who’ve realized they can’t brute force their way through every problem. When they don’t, their technique is sloppy.

Now, really, really, really big people often have to work doubly hard to develop their coordination because fighting with a big, lanky body is difficult.

The trick when you have (or feel like you have) the disadvantage is not to meet the enemy on their terms. The best fighters figure out how to exploit their opponent’s strengths in order to expose their weaknesses and fight with an advantage. The bad fighters are the ones who choose to fight at a disadvantage, who don’t prepare to face their enemy, and try to use the same tactics over and over. The smart ones change up, they are proactive, and understand the battlefield flows.

Ultimately, that’s what makes for the “best” fighter.

Fear is the biggest strength for someone who is massive in size, not their strength and not their bulk. When you are frightened, you become reactive, you cease to actively think, and fail to problem solve. The moment you are defeated in your mind, that is the moment you lose. It doesn’t matter how many steps it takes in the real world after the fact, cede the field in your mind and it’s over. Intimidation can win that fight before the battle ever begins, and the biggest kid on the playground is as natural as intimidation gets.

The Mountain isn’t great because of his skill, but the fact that he makes everyone around him afraid. His personal ruthlessness and cruelty back up that size, and strengthens his ability to intimidate. When facing the Mountain, you’re faced with fear over the (very real) consequences of what he’ll do to you.

He’s valuable because he’s frightening, not because he’s good at fighting. The good at fighting is the bonus that makes him more frightening.

Understanding the affect the mind has on combat is like 70% to victory. Understanding the assumptions made and why we make them is important to writing scenes with characters like this. If you put stock in the Mountain’s size, rather than the Mountain’s reputation then you miss where his strengths actually lie and why people are afraid of him.

The Mountain’s reputation is as a ruthless killing machine who delights in rape, murder, and pillage. Torture is his specialty. He does not abide by the code of chivalry or rules of knightly honor. He’s a sadist. For him, there’s no such thing as just warfare. He thirsts for blood and battle. He’s protected by one of the most powerful houses in the GOT universe, and he earns his pay as their enforcer.

His size is just a plus. He could be just as terrifying at 5?4, and then you’d have the joy of underestimating him before he put a knife through your eye. If he was small, he’d be even more terrifying because there’d be more bodies. His size doesn’t change who he is under the hood, it’s just one more attribute he’s utilizing to its fullest potential.

Stereotypes about tall and short people are just that. Stereotypes.

Every body type has its drawbacks, and their natural advantages can be made to work against them. Tall fighters are more gangly, their center of gravity is further away from the earth, their weight puts additional stress on their joints (especially their knees), and if they never work at addressing their issues they can be slower to start. You can also have overweight/heavy weight martial artists like Sammo Hung, where there’s virtually no difference between them and a martial artist half their size. Skill can close the gap. Understanding of your own strengths and weaknesses also helps. Knowledge is power. Training yourself out of society’s instilled biases is hard, but necessary. This is especially true if you perceive yourself to be the underdog.

Not automatically assuming bigger equals better is the first step. The second is realizing that the best warriors are not decided by outside metrics, but rather through an inward understanding of how to utilize their strengths and address their weaknesses.

On that note, I’ll leave you with a compilation of Cynthia Rothrock’s fight scenes. Cythnia Rothrock is a Hong Kong action star, a winner of world championships in the 80s, she has a wide variety of black belt level training in multiple martial arts, and is one of the most famous westerners to make it in the Hong Kong action scene.

Why end with this? Well, exposure to female movie martial artists runs the gamut between low to non-existent and that lack of exposure to different body types is where most misunderstandings about size come from.

-Michi

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