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Q&A: Reality Or Entertainment? You need both.

Hi! You raise a good question on choreography. Actors can’t do realistic fight scenes and it has to look entertaining. Well, then why are we creating realistic fight scenes in writing instead of entertaining? Of course on screen it’s restrictive by the medium. Are realistic fight scenes in writing more entertaining than unrealistic movie fight scenes in writing? Or is it just because it’s writing we have free rein and not restrictive to what can be done for a movie.

Why does it have to be one or the other?

The answer is both. You want fight scenes that are entertaining and convincing, and the only way to learn how to do that is study the applications of practical combat, martial arts, choreographed fight sequences, and everything in between.

The written medium is not the visual medium, so the way one entertains their audiences is ultimately different. Besides that, the vast majority of you are not a professional fight choreographers with multiple black belts in different martial styles and years of experience in the business. You lack skilled actors and stunt performers to carry out your vision, and, because movies are a visual medium, you don’t have a moving image or even an image like in comic books or art to attract the eye. You can create an image with words, but it isn’t the same. In visual medial, this is an image you are beholden to if you want to keep your audience engaged and entertained. Realistic violence is not engaging in the same way as choreographed fights in films. They are fundamentally different due to the necessity of motion. Movies specifically go in for wide sweeping attacks like the roundhouse punch or the roundhouse kick or the wheel kick because a spinning or circular motions look better on camera. Large easily telegraphed moves so the audience can see from a distance and follow along.

In a written fight scene there is no moving image, no sound effects, no music, no lighting effects, no jump cuts, no professional actors, stunt actors, choreographers, or costume crew.

There’s just you and what you, the writer, can bring to the table.

The visual medium has different requirements than written. Try as you might, you’ll never engage your audience at the same level because you lack the tools. If you try, you’ll end up with unworkable fight scenes which are too long, unwieldy, and ultimately bore your audience.

What use is a character performing six back flips or cartwheels on page to get to the other side of the room and grab the weapon on the opposing wall?

This is a visually engaging stunt piece on screen, but the effect lays in the quality of the movement and how your eyes are stimulated by it. The over the top aspects and overlong fight scenes of your traditional action movie are a liability because their goal is to create a visual spectacle and they take a long time to get to the point. You can get to the effect much faster in a written format and be just as effective.

Now, the question you should be asking about choreographed fight scenes is precisely what those six cartwheels are conveying to the audience about this character’s combat proficiency. Why cartwheels versus them running to the opposite side of the room and grabbing the weapon? Yes, gymnastics are entertaining to watch but that’s not the only reason why they had the character cartwheel. There’s no practical reason for it, but the act is communicating an aspect of the character and the plot to you. You should learn those signals, because you can figure out how to apply those to your writing (without needing cartwheels.)

However, you’ll still face a basic issue. Can you write interesting and entertaining fight sequences if you know nothing about violence?

Let’s look at this snippet below.

Katie smiled, her fingers grazing the .44 Magnum on her hip. She pulled it, grabbed the bottle of Jack, and rolled to her feet. “Hey, Josh.”

Joshua Barnett stood across from her, his hands stuffed into the pockets of his leather jacket. Obsidian bangs fell across one eye, jaggedly cut with a razor. His look was intent on some sort of punk aesthetic, all red and black rocker tee, thick silver chains, and black designer jeans. A loose, shark tooth earring dangled on a chain off his right earlobe. He cocked his head, studying her with one, visible, inky black eye. “Look at you stealing my look.”

Katie’s lips quirked, the revolver tucked in the shadow of her thigh as she swirled amber whiskey around thick glass. She never saw much point in spending one hundred and twenty dollars on an outfit that’d be ruined by sun up. Leather was a practical choice. Spirits had an aversion to tanned flesh. Besides, leather jacket and jeans held up better when doing dirty work. She steered away from wearing earrings, piercings had a nasty habit of getting torn out. And steel-toed work boots? All the better for breaking shins.

Tianna squeaked and ducked low behind the headstone.

Josh’s eyes moved past Katie, falling to where she tried to hide. “Step away. Me and this bitch’ve got unfinished business.”

Katie snorted.

Josh took a step forward, spreading his hands in his pockets. “Hey, I’m just doing my divinely mandated duty. Am I gonna have to snap you apart like a kit-kat bar?” He grinned. “I’m kinda looking forward to tearing your weak halfsie arm out of that socket, but, you know, Cass won’t like her pet coming home broke.”

Lifting the Jack, Katie took another long drink.

Josh stood stock still, his arms half-out, and his stupid grin stuck waiting for a response. Then, he looked away. He dropped his hands and brought the black jacket back to his waist. “You never were any fun.”

“You talk too much,” Katie replied.

He nodded to the Jack Daniel’s bottle in her hand. “Hey, I’m not the one who comes to the graveyard with a weak ass club like that.” He chuckled. “Didn’t Cass teach you? Don’t bring weapons to a fist fight when you plan to go mano a mano. In a duel, it’s not sporting.”

Katie walked forward. She didn’t like to talk. As she closed, she dropped her arm. On her last step, she swung the bottle at his head.

Josh grinned, and Katie knew why. He was a full-fledged Follower of Ma’at. To him, her fastest, hardest swing moved in slow motion.

That’s why I stopped relying on hand to hand.

His forearm came up, blocked her wrist.

Their eyes met.

The .44 Magnum appeared from behind her thigh, pointed at his knee.

Josh’s eyes dropped.

Katie fired. The bullet struck flesh, hollowed through muscle into bone, and exploded. The lower half of Josh’s leg went with it. Blown off.

He tumbled to the ground, screaming.

“Fulminated mercury rounds,” Katie said. “Can’t take normal hollow points against vampires. Dense bones, denser musculature. You need a little extra. Just like Followers, Joshua.”

“Wake the Dead” – CE Schmitt & Michael J Schwarz

So, how much of this is real?

  1. Jack Daniel’s bottles are made from dense, heavy glass, and unlikely to come apart in your hand like a regular glass bottle. They work exceptionally well as clubs. (If you want to watch one in action in a visual medium, you can find it used Dirty Laundry – the Punisher short film with Thomas Jayne by Phil Joanou from Adi Shankar’s bootleg universe. This is very R. Be wary if you’re squeamish.)
  2. Fulminated mercury rounds are real. You load fulminated mercury up into hollow point rounds and create an explosive. They’re liable to explode within the chamber of a semi-automatic handgun, but the .44 Magnum is a revolver. Different delivery mechanism. Boom.
  3. Hiding a drawn gun in the shadow of your thigh is a real tactic. The position masks the profile of the gun, your arm blends with the leg, so the eye doesn’t catch it.
  4. Katie distracts Joshua from the gun and her arm’s position with a visible weapon: the bottle, then by swinging the bottle at his head. She intentionally trips his fight reflexes i.e. flashing motion in his peripheral vision and forces him to focus high. (Standard martial arts feint, where you throw a false strike to camouflage your real intentions.) This keeps Joshua from seeing the second weapon until it’s too late.

In this scene, we’ve got an underdog character turning the tables on their opponent by immediately shutting them down with superior force of arms. The fight scene lasts less than a page, but it’s effective at teaching you who this character is along with the kind of combat tactics they use.

However, the point is not what’s real; only metric you’re graded on is what you can convince your audience of. There’s plenty of embellishment in this scene, but the actions and behaviors of the characters are grounded in a real place. They’re behaving logically, in ways which make sense to them, and are on par with what we might expect of someone with their combat background. While “realistic” is not what makes a scene enjoyable, it can help you create more interesting fight sequences and sell the idea your character knows what they’re doing. A large part of what makes this scene interesting is the entire ten page setup that you’re missing, the emotional investment in Katie and why she’s brutally murdering another teen, which is part of what’s needed to get the reader invested in the fight on page.

Remember, fight sequences are often a release of tension. They ultimately create more problems than they solve as violence invariably escalates out of control, but they serve as a stress valve for the narrative and, with good ones, a reward for your audience.

If you know nothing about violence, the weapons used, how strategy works, and what the techniques look like, can you write the scene you imagine? Can you telegraph to your audience through classic show don’t tell? Did you realize there was more to show don’t tell for written fight scenes than simply showing your characters fighting? Do you know what makes a fight scene entertaining?

A writer has different tools available in their arsenal to create an entertaining fight sequence, but in order to write that sequence you need to understand how violence works. The physicality of it, the kinetics of it, the psychology of it, the way violence feels, tastes, and smells.

You’ve made a basic mistake in your assumption about “realistic”. Narrative Realism is based in the substructure of your story. Realism is whatever the rules are in your setting say is real. What creates suspension of disbelief for your audience is how well you adhere to those rules, this covenant you create with your audience. When your audience cries, “unrealistic!” You’ve broken their suspension of disbelief, you’ve broken the established narrative rules of your setting. You broke your covenant with your audience.

The goal of understanding “realistic” lies in learning about the realities of violence as combat, understanding the entertainment factor requires looking at the art portion of martial arts.

You need both.

Structuring a scene requires understanding violence from both an unrealistic and realistic perspective. You need to know what you’re sacrificing in order to be entertaining, heighten your tension and character drama, and then what you’re keeping. Your characters’ goals, decisions, and the way they choose to take action will be based in realism and a realistic extension of what makes sense for them. Meanwhile, the combat element will be driven from the perspective of entertainment choreography which is based in, you guessed it, real martial arts.

He had a handsome face, far as humans went, and a smug expression. Her fingers clenched into fists. She wanted to beat his smug face in.

He lifted a hand, and flicked his fingers. “Give me your best shot.”

Lunging across the distance, Katie came at him low. Her first strike a feint, she cut under his block and drove her left fist into his solar plexus. The Mark above her heart burned, energy flowing into her fists. Pinpoint like a brass knuckle overlay. Her mind hazy with deja vu. She punched him a second time in his abdomen with her right, then cut up. Her strike caught him under the chin. She drove her follow-up elbow into his throat.

Garrett grunted, stumbling backwards.

She ducked past him when he retaliated. Wheeling, she kicked him in the calf. Her leg came up, and she slammed her heel into his kidney.

Garrett turned, seizing her ankle. With one arm, he flung her over the couch.

Katie landed hard on the coffee table. The table gave way, cracking apart in a spray of wood and glass. She hit the floor. Pain spiked through her back, glass shards cut through her jacket and skin. She tasted copper on her tongue. Electricity swarmed the fingers on her left hand, alive and tingling.

He wiped the blood off his mouth.

She rolled back, kicked up, and landed on her feet.

“Wake the Dead” by CE Schmitt and Michael J Schwarz

We’ve got two characters who are not human, so the normal rules don’t apply. Still, we’re following the standard progression in the combat from Katie based on distance. She lunges strikes him with her left then her right fist in his stomach, up into an upper cut, and then follows up with an elbow to the throat after creating her opening. The upper cut knocks his chin up, exposing his throat and the arm drops into a perfect position to deliver a powerful blow with a close-quarters strike. That is four strikes together. This is called a combination. More importantly, these are four strikes structured with an understanding of both distance and placement i.e. how close you need to be in order for the strike to realistically work.

Like Katie, Garrett is not human and he has super-strength. He can throw her like a ragdoll with one arm from a standing position without needing any extra help from her incoming momentum. He gets hit by her heel, has it driven into his kidney via some version of an axe kick, and then he retaliates by one arming her across the room. This is him showing his superhuman resilience, even though the reader is liable to brush it off because of what they’re used to seeing from action movies.

The goal here is to be entertaining, to attract the imagination, but what helps sell the fight is the writer’s familiarity with the subject matter.

As a writer, knowledge is your ouroboros. Everything feeds together in a never ending cycle. The more you learn, the better the writer you become. If you want to write entertaining fight sequences, you need to learn as much about violence as you can in all its different aspects. You need to figure out why violence is entertaining, why these acts capture the human imagination, and also how they actually work within the real world so you can bring that knowledge to your fiction. Every new bit of knowledge you uncover is a new tool in your box which can be applied to your writing.

And you shouldn’t stop with violence.

Learn as much as you can about everything you can get your hands on. The more you explore, the more you discover, and the more you learn to operationalize knowledge gained, the better the writer you will be.

Q&A: A Setting’s Philosophy is Realism

Wow, okay, didn’t expect a whole discussion on Sith philosophy… My question was more like, does Kylo Ren punching his own physical wound help him in that specific fight? Does it keep him from passing out, does it help his body perform any better, that sort of thing.

That’s because the most realistic aspect of Star Wars is the combat philosophy running behind the Jedi and the Sith, and they’re not totally terrible as a way to start learning about how philosophy influences martial combat. They are ultimately an extension of the trope: Martial Arts Give You Superpowers. This is not unique to Star Wars, and comes primarily from Eastern philosophies like the Tao and how they were applied to the martial styles developed there. Martial arts often do look like magic to the casual observer. Besides that, the enlightenment/understanding of yourself, your body, and the universe directly correlates with your ability to throw an opponent across the room. The best thing you can do for yourself is understand that Star Wars, specifically the Original Trilogy, are useful as an introduction to this side of martial arts.

There’s not much point in discussing the mechanics of the final fight between Kylo Ren versus Finn and Rey in The Force Awakens. It isn’t a great fight scene, and one that only serves to undercut Kylo Ren’s competency both as a combatant and as a villain. It’s bad on a multitude of levels from character, narrative consistency to choreography, though the cinematography itself is nice enough when we’re not comparing it to the Original Trilogy. Even injured, that was a fight which should’ve been no contest for Kylo Ren. Or allowed Rey to use the weapons she was actually good at using, rather than a weapon which is very good at cutting off your own limbs when you make a mistake. The lightsaber is the three-section staff of Star Wars, if you don’t know what you’re doing then you’re guaranteed a concussion first time out. (No, that is not a joke. The three-section staff does that to real martial artists all the time.)

On a setting or narrative level,  you can’t divest Kylo Ren from the Sith philosophy and the behavior patterns which make a Dark Side user strong. In this case, both the Jedi and the Sith are more bombastic echoes of what real people can achieve in real life. We can’t talk about the physical applications of what Kylo Ren does without talking about his mental state and mind set. The useful effects of beating your wounded shoulder depend entirely on your approach to pain. As for Ren himself, he’s a fantasy character in a fantasy environment powered by the Force, which is essentially a concept straight out of the Tao. Him beating his wound has about as much relevance as him destroying a console with his lightsaber, and its also self-destructive. The script calls for it so he’ll look tough or more badass, and to remind the audience that he’s wounded.

A discussion on the Sith philosophy is crucial to Kylo Ren’s behavior as a character and how he uses pain to motivate himself, because the Sith use pain to motivate themselves and that philosophy is an offshoot of a real martial arts philosophy which exists in the real world. Powered by pain is a philosophy which directly relates to your mental state, and Kylo Ren beats his wound because he’s… trying to look tough. There’s no realism worth discussing with his fight decisions. In that way, he’s a moron.

You don’t want to get the blood leaving any faster or at all because you will start passing out from blood loss. When you fight, your heart starts beating more quickly, the quicker beat means the blood moves through your body more quickly, if your body has holes the blood will exit those holes quicker too. You do any physical exercise with an open wound you will bleed out faster. If you have a wound like that, you want to seal it off as quickly as possible.

The short answer is that Kylo Ren beats his wound to be dramatic because he’s a drama queen, and he likes to remind the audience that he is in pain. If he actually wanted to do do something about his wound quickly, stop the bleed out, and motivate himself with pain he’d cauterize the wound with his lightsaber. If he wanted to double that up as an intimidation tactic, he’d cauterize while Rey and Finn are watching in order to terrify them before the battle begins. This is a Sith tactic, and a method you can use to intimidate your enemies in real life. Sith have even been known to intentionally inflict injury before a fight begins because it gets them fired up. Kylo’s really not that clever though, which is why I call him a cosplayer rather than a Sith Lord. He showboats without any real substance. A better example of what Kylo Ren tries to do is found in your average Wuxia film. The original Die Hard with Bruce Willis is also better, and probably more useful for discussing realism and realistic injuries someone would sustain in an action film.

For what Ren does to work, you need a character who’s determination goes up in conjunction to the number of injuries they sustain. As I said, this is a Sith. The more you beat on a Sith, the stronger they get. This is an outgrowth of a real world philosophy regarding pain taken to extremes, which is: the more you beat on someone, the more painful their situation gets, then the more determined they get and the more motivated they are to succeed. There are people in the real world who do this, and this is a natural outgrowth of someone who has had a very difficult life and experienced a great deal of emotional/physical pain. The more pain you experience, then the more you adjust to it, grow comfortable with it, and start shaking off injuries other people would find incredibly debilitating. Often, this happens without the individual even realizing it because their base state for “normal” is skewed beyond recognizable and they adjusted to meet that state of pain in order to survive. This is The Determinator. You can rip them to pieces and like a human terminator, they. just. keep. coming. This occurs on sheer force of will alone, because your mind is more powerful than your body.

Get up!

You beat your wound because it feels good, or you’re frustrated with your arm not functioning the way you want it to and insist on it working again. Pain feels good, and if you can’t imagine a character to whom pain feels good, who enjoys experiencing injury, or simply finds their body’s failings annoying then this character archetype is not for you. Running into real people who are shades of this in your real life might also terrify you. They’re out there, and they’re not just combat professionals, soldiers, or martial artists.

Kylo genuinely tries for this but his personality doesn’t match. Compared to other Sith in previous Star Wars movies (like Darth Vader or Count Dooku), he’s actually very wasteful in his combat style when it comes to physical action. He makes big sweeping moves, he’s ultimately very slow, leaves himself wide open, and he lacks Maul’s dramatic flair. He has a very heavy fighting style which is supposed to represent power, or link him back to Vader, but Vader had the benefit of a sword style performed by Bob Anderson. The first fight between Obi-Wan and Vader in A New Hope is actually fairly accurate to Kendo as duels go.

Kylo is the sort of character where any injury he sustains is supposed to make him more dangerous. In old school Star Wars canon, the injury he sustains in TFA shouldn’t benefit Rey at all. His injury should ramp up his connection to the Force instead, resulting in him becoming more dangerous and more deadly. That’s what the injury beating is supposed to show. However, this sense of danger is undercut by the narrative because neither Rey or Finn have any sort of training with the weapon they’re trying to use. Kylo being forced to fight on an equal playing field with Rey, even after defeating Finn, actually undercuts him as a villain and as a combatant. It frames him as incompetent when compared to his other Dark Side brethren, who all had the benefit of fighting someone who knew what they were doing or were taking it easy on someone who didn’t. (Darth Maul versus Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi, Vader versus Obi-Wan Kenobi, Luke versus Vader in Cloud City.) Kylo Ren is allowed none of those opportunities, and he is the least threatening as a result.

He’s not a character who’s personality matches one you can kick out of a plane in a desperate attempt to get rid of them only to have them show up three weeks later, royally pissed off and ready to kill you all over again. This character is the outgrowth of and natural extension of the injury beating we see Kylo Ren do. This really is who he’s supposed to be and who he’s trying to be because that’s who Vader was. Vader got all four limbs cut off by his master, half-burned to death by lava, lost/attempted to murder his wife, lost his children, and went on to terrify billions across the galaxy.

-Michi

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Q&A: Powered By Pain

Can you use pain to keep yourself going? I’ve experienced back pains where the waves hurt like hell but at the same time sort of feel good to endure. As a fiction example, I’m think Kylo Ren punching his own wound at the end of TFA.

Yes, you will learn to do it if you engage in any kind of exercise on a regular basis, especially if you do any sort of competitive sport. You don’t need to train in martial arts or be a martial combatant, but there are entire philosophies built off the concept of using the general discomfort you experience while working out as a  motivating factor. Mind over Matter is one example. The Determinator as a character archetype is another. Sith philosophy is built around this concept dialed to eleven and taken to its most toxic extreme.

The healthy usage of pain involves learning to distinguish real injuries from your body’s complaint. In this way your body protesting when you push yourself to a sprint over the last half lap at the end of a mile feels really good. Pain becomes a mental and physical block to overcome and push past to new heights. That discomfort feels good. This becomes a tool for self-empowerment, and its a cultural cornerstone for anything… and everything. It’s everywhere, you just never learned how to look for it.

I get knocked down, but I get up again. You ain’t never gonna keep me down. – Chumbawamba.

In the real world, this tops out with some very toxic behavior by athletes, martial artists, soldiers, etc, where they will themselves through serious injuries in an attempt to ignore them for short term gains and result in permanently injuring themselves. Not resting when you’re sick and trying to power through it is one example, being restless and frustrated by your injuries, getting back to training before you’ve fully healed, etc.

Whenever we come through a difficult or painful experience, that experience empowers us. What we’ve endured, whether that pain is emotional or physical becomes a source of strength. We’ve overcome, and we’re proud of that. On the flip side, Positive Pain is also the philosophical basis for “oh, you’re so weak” attitudes, putting people down because they’re not “strong enough”, and “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” are based on the idea that the pain and hardships you experience are good for you. That if you’re having trouble then all you need to do is toughen up. See also: child abuse as a disciplinary tool.

Kylo Ren is a terrible example of the Sith utilization of pain as a tool for personal empowerment, he’s not on the radar for the crazy stuff they get up to, and barely for the real philosophy. He certainly doesn’t use the philosophy or purse it in a meaningful way. Lord Sleeps With Vibroblades is probably the best example of this Sith taken to the extreme end. (In Legends, the Sith are secondary to the true Pain Kings of Star Wars i.e. the Yuuzhan Vong. They make the Sith pain obsession look healthy by comparison.) Kylo Ren’s not really out there for a Sith or martial arts philosophies about using pain to give yourself a power up/invincible/make you immortal. Which is a thing in Star Wars with the Force. The more you beat on a Sith, the more you fight them, the more powerful they become. In the case of Darth Sion, you literally have to talk him to death.

Luke fighting against Vader is Luke playing to Vader’s strengths, which is why Vader spends the entire battle in Return of the Jedi attempting to emotionally unsettle him. Luke Skywalker versus Darth Vader is a philosophical conflict, which is part of what lends the scene so much weight.

The Sith use their emotional conflict, inner turmoil, and internal strife to empower themselves. That is… Sith. Their training is actively physically and emotionally abusive in order to transform them into a character Powered By Pain. They don’t whine about it, they conquer it, they take pleasure in it, they enjoy suffering. They turn that pain into power, and inflict their negative emotions, their own suffering onto others. Some of the most powerful Sith are internally being torn apart, all the time, they’re tearing themselves apart. They start out abuse victims and those who survive conquer to become abusers themselves, that is the Sith cycle at its core. They’ll inflict trauma and misery and pain and suffering and and loss and terrible injury because the emotions those experiences will bring out make you strong. Access the Dark Side with raw rage, terror,  constant/immense physical pain, weaponize all three, add a dose of killer ruthlessness, and you get Darth Vader.

Look at him.

He’s in constant pain, his pain makes him angry,  leaves him enraged, and his hate for the world makes him a terrible force to be reckoned with. He is empowered by pain, by fear, and by rage. He’s mastered his emotions, weaponized them, and now forces others to experience shades of what he has.

Through pain, find strength. Through rage, find clarity. Through injury, know thyself.

A Sith is a wounded animal lashing out at the world around them,  raw, passionate, terrified, selfish, self-obsessed, incredibly destructive to those they encounter and just as desperately self-destructive. They taught to be that way by their master, then become it themselves as they learn to their own inner struggle. A Jedi finds strength in making peace with their wounds, in healing, where a Sith takes strength from letting themselves bleed. A Sith stalls out the healing process, and breaks their drivers stick in order to remain stuck in Stage Two out of the Five Stages of Grief: Anger.

If you lack a solid understanding of the way rage presents itself within the human condition, its varied nature, and varied approaches then you’ll end up with an angsty, whiny, immature teenager like Kylo Ren. You end up thinking the pain is what’s important, the rage is important, but rage poorly directed is impotent in the narrative scheme. Without maturity in your understanding, you get a child lashing out in a temper tantrum. They’re going nowhere.

Kylo Ren destroys a console with his lightsaber (wasteful) when things don’t go his way, he actively destroys what he needs to succeed. Darth Vader murders the admiral or captain responsible for the mission’s failure and immediately replaces them with a more motivated underling, he’s getting rid of impediments to success. One is a petulant self-sabotaging child, the other is the worst day shift manager who is still getting shit done.

Pain is not the important part, the willpower and drive to endure and overcome is. You’ve got to do something with your pain. This pain becomes part of what motivates you to succeed.

This is ten percent luck
Twenty percent skill
Fifteen percent concentrated power of will
Five percent pleasure
Fifty percent pain
And a hundred percent reason to remember the name.
– “Remember the Name”, Fort Minor

“The world treated me poorly so I will respond in kind” is really the starting point for a Sith, and this attitude upgrades into high key drama with black cloaks and sworn oaths of vengeance. They are living incarnations of the Id run amok, often wallowing in the worst aspects of humanity driven to the darkest extremes, but their pain (usually) comes from a real place. What makes them so compelling, I think, is that their behavior and their experiences are a natural extension of what the audience has experienced in their own lives. Their response to that pain is cathartic, and the attitude is natural; even sympathetic. We’ve all wanted to be selfish, devoted to our own ambitions at the expense of all else without societal judgement. The Sith are easier to understand than the Jedi.

Kylo Ren is a terrible example of this philosophy because he doesn’t take ownership of his pain, he blames others for his injuries, he doesn’t weaponize his suffering. In comparison to other Sith, his pain and internal strife are window dressing. They don’t mean much on a narrative level, his pain isn’t driving him to become stronger. He’s not using his passionate and painful emotions to fuel his strength, achieve greater enlightenment, or his strengthen connection to the Dark Side of the Force. He complains about the pain he experiences, he complains about how unfair life is, he complains about being in pain and seeks audience sympathy for the “unjust circumstances” surrounding his life. He’s like a whiny teenager,and, since he’s thirty, his development’s pretty arrested. That’s… not great, Bob. Compare him to Dooku, Ventress, and Anakin Skywalker. Their pain and rage catapulted them into actual narrative action, became the foundations of their characters, and led to ambitions they pursued for their own personal gratification.

Powered by Pain is a personality type that finds its extreme in The Determinator, they are willpower embodied. The more difficult the situation becomes the stronger they get, the more they’re energized by events, and they just keep getting up time after time. No matter what you inflict, they keep coming.

Characters who embody this philosophy even just a little are either those who find strength in what they’ve endured, or bullies lashing out at the world around them as they run from pain. You will either be a slave to pain, or you will face pain and take control of what hurts you. In this process, you’ll either become a kinder, more compassionate individual or someone who is colder, crueler, more distant, less sympathetic, and even elitist toward others’ “weakness” on the emotional spectrum.

The TLDR to your question is: yes.

Overcoming pain is absolutely one means of personal empowerment, both physically and psychologically, and an experience every single person reading this has shared to varying degrees (even if they don’t realize it.)

The problem is the conversation is so much larger than you might imagine, so fundamental to a multitude of cultures around the world, so embedded in the human psyche and popular culture that we really can’t have a quick discussion about it.

‘Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play
And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate
Baby, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
I shake it off, I shake it off.
– “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift
Yes, even Taylor Swift has this philosophy going on.

So, do me a favor, and leave Kylo Ren at the door. He can’t come in. He’s a weak-willed, lilly-livered wannabe with delusions of grandeur. He’s a bully, he has a “strong” exterior but his insides are crumbling. He’s more a vague cosplay than the genuine article, playacting. The Elric brothers from FMA are much better examples when it comes to using personal tragedy and physical injury as a motivating force to achieve your goals. They’re a much more positive example too.

If you want to be empowered by pain, you’ve got to run at your problems and not away from them. Use your fear as a catapult, let it propel you toward conquest.

-Michi

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Just how fit are cheerleaders? What fighting styles might suit them best, given the muscles they use the most? Any weapon suggestions? I’m doing some research, but i’m not understanding it. I always understand your blog, though! My character will be fighting monsters larger than her, if that helps any. Thank you in advance! You’re the best!

Cheerleading:

Cheerleading is a sport, especially in the nationally competitive range. It’s like combining dancing with gymnastics except as a choreographed team event. It’s a grueling sport with athletes who are in pretty incredible condition, and like similar sports runs the risk of serious blowouts in the joints which will result in semi-permanent to permanent injury.

When you’re setting up a cheerleading character, the most important thing to remember is that cheerleading is a team sport. This is a character who is better at working with and relying on others than going it alone. The other thing to remember is that they’re athletes. These are driven, competitive, hardworking, and intense personality types when it comes to their sport. These are the girls who ditch their boyfriends for practice (if they have them), and sacrifice their off hours to being the best they can be. Like any athlete training for the pinnacle of they’re sacrificing a lot of personal/life time to be the best they can be. Netflix has the reality show: Cheer Squad, which may help you some. Bring It On is, of course, a classic.

Remember, this is a character who is used to working in a team when under pressure and has a social outlet. They won’t transfer well to working alone, and you’re going to need to either address this or remember to create their cheer buddies. If you want a similar kind of athlete whose sports background primary gears them for working solo when out on in competition then you want a gymnast.

This is part of the real life dynamic where Buffy the Vampire Slayer really lies to you, because if you went with the cheerleader background you’d end up with twenty girls fighting monsters rather than just one. Only one might have superpowers, but you can bet your bottom dollar the others would be ride or die. For the Sisterhood!

So, what does this net you for starting them as a martial artist/monster hunter? It cuts out a lot of the ancillary issues.

We’ve got someone who is: courageous, fearless, a high achiever, nicely conditioned, flexible, with an athletic history which means she’ll breeze through endurance training and the vast majority of basic physical conditioning has been taken care of. She’s got a running start.

You can push her a lot harder in basic training than you can your average recruit who starts with zip. She’s got more control over her body, so she’ll adapt faster. Cheer is just far enough off the basic combat move set that the two shouldn’t conflict too badly when it comes to her currently conditioned reflexes. Coming out of a background in choreography, she’s going to need some retraining for her timing and gets more comfortable with free flowing chaos.

If you wanted a character with parkour for a background, then this is one which can be adapted fairly quickly.

Monster Hunting:

So, you’ve got a big decision to make on the Urban Fantasy front for how this character is going to go about fighting monsters and solving crime. So, I’ll break it down by some of the big supernatural shows.

The “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” – The Buffy modus is essentially fisticuffs. You get a superpowered heroine whose essential means of fighting monsters is punching them out. There are a few other weapons here and there like crossbows, axes, and swords, but guns are persona non grata. You get magic from the support characters and someone else does the research.

In the end, Buffy’s approach to the supernatural is fairly limited on the combat front with the interesting bits happening in other parts of the narrative like the character’s personal relationships. If you want a pure human approaching the supernatural from a combat perspective then Buffy is not right for you.

The “Supernatural” – The Winchester brothers… aren’t quite human, but close enough. This model is The X-Files and Urban Fantasy Private Investigator. Your character is more of a Jack of All Trades. They need to be able to do it all: research, fighting with a primary focus on guns, and investigation (especially in the early seasons). This is “determine what the monster is and figure out how to kill it” mode with the occasional problem that can’t be solved. 

The “Charmed” – Magic is the solution. This is where the primary solution to defeating the monsters is through magic. Magic is the weapon, and the focus, and normal weapons are mostly useless.

Unless they’ve got some sort of special, mystical weapon or a setting clear on its rules, a character who hunts monsters needs a fairly wide array of skills because the ancient monsters of myth, folklore, and fairy tales often require diverse solutions that are all fairly specific.

The decisions between guns or not, the level of technology your character will be using/relying on, their skill at researching and hunting down hidden truths in forgotten folklore, and their flexibility with alternative solutions are all on the table. Whether your setting has a “barrier” between the mundane and supernatural world is also a big decision as that will affect what level of strangeness your character can get away with.

When looking at a “standard” weapon for the character to carry, you want one that will fit a wide variety of situations or the ones the character is most likely to encounter.

-Michi

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Is there such thing called as “too much dialogue” in a story? Like can it ruin my story or make it less interesting?

You can have a story that runs entirely on dialogue and nothing else. No description, no nothing, just dialogue. Not even acted, just written. The question is not whether or not there can be too much or too little. The question lands squarely on your shoulders: is your dialogue interesting?

We can’t answer that for you. This is where you’ve got to experiment with your own writing. Mastering the fine art of dialogue takes time and effort, and mistakes. With really good dialogue, you’re characters can be saying nothing while still saying something and be entertaining to listen to all at the same time. Good dialogue moves the plot forward, develops relationships between characters, conveys critical information, often without the reader noticing.

Conversation instead of explanation.

-Michi

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would you say the sith academy from the star wars universe fits for an abusive training situation?

Yes.

However, I want to point out that when you’re talking about scenarios where the teachers are sadists that’s:

1) Not what makes their training good, but is rather the method that secures the students’ loyalty.

2) Useless if the students don’t receive an education.

The problem is that in order for the setup to succeed the students still need to be taught. Which… means you still do all the “boring” and “mundane” stuff. Contrary to popular fictional conception, cruelty doesn’t make you learn faster. More than that, in poor hands, cruelty will trap you in a shock and awe setup where you’re continually having to escalate your measures in order to keep the students on their toes and the audience engaged. This is what we’ll call “not good, Bob” when dealing with a training setup because the author inevitably focuses on playing up the instructor’s sadism and not on the students education. When this happens, we get nothing but a dysfunctional methodology that creates broken dolls who aren’t particularly good at fighting.

What cruelty will provide (when not overplayed) is motivation. Cruelty can be an excellent motivational tool, but only if you give your student the tools to succeed.

When writing “sadistic training” it is important to keep your eye on the prize and the goals of the trainer in mind. Unless we’re talking an elite force (like a Sith or the Imperial Guard) where you don’t actually need many of them and they aren’t your main force, then a meat grinder scenario is not a good one. You can still have a sadistic training scenario but there’ll be a lot less death. (One can be sadistic and successful without killing a single trainee or letting them die.) 

They want to create a student who is either an exceptional warrior or just a good one and a student who is loyal to them or their organization. They may be a creation of this system, and genuinely believe in it. You can have a trainer who engages in sadistic training methods because that’s how they were trained, not because they enjoy being sadists. These guys are even more dangerous than the other types, as none of the flaws usually found in sadistic teachers apply to True Believers. They’re not in it for the power trip, or because they like being a bully but because they believe in the system. If you’ve got a sadistic training methodology, disseminated and practiced by multiple individuals in an organization then you’ll be dealing with True Believers. If so, then may God have mercy on your poor characters’ souls.

A trainer who was raised on the system they’re teaching knows all the tricks a student can pull. They’ve seen it before and seen it from within the student’s barracks. So, good luck putting anything past them, especially in any modern or futuristic world where they’ve no problem hiding cameras everywhere.

The Sith Academies of the EU run the gamut between sophisticated mind fuckery and hatchet level meat grinders. When they’re meat grinders, all they do is pointlessly waste resources. And, yes, there’s been more than one Sith Academy and the concept probably predates whichever one you’re thinking of. Korriban, for example, originates in Tales of the Jedi. Anything that predates Lucas’ “Rule of Two” will have the suggestion of an academy, and the Rule of Two came into established canon with the prequels. (Whether anyone remembers Brakiss, Zekk, and the one from Young Jedi Knights is another question entirely.)

So, here’s some training don’ts:

1) When your trainer kills, have them kill with purpose.

The way a teacher kills one of their trainees may seem random to their students, but if this is a methodology then there is a firm reason behind the why and the who. Trust they’ve picked their target before they ever walked into the room. They may change their mind in a snap decision once they’re dealing with the students, but a plan is always at play. Remember, a successful sadistic instructor plans and executes training their students like any other operation.

2) The first brutal murder will never achieve the same affect on its subjects again, so use it wisely.

Shock and awe works… once. If you want shock to keep working, then you’ve got to change tactics and attack where the subject feels safe rather than trying the same technique over and over again.

The problem with most sadistic training setups is they’ll take the ideas, but keep attempting to use the same tactics in repetition. No. To keep your skin in this game, you better be switching up.

3) Sadistic training is the torture methodology, if you don’t understand how A leads to C then you won’t grasp its lasting effects or why it works.

I’m going to keep pointing out that sadistic training is a mind game and not a physical game. Competent torture is about controlling the subject’s state of mind and reconditioning them to give you what you want. This is why it’s a far more effective as a form of control than information gathering.

Sadistic training is the same way. The goal is not to kill off what matters to the subject. The goal is to get the subject to kill off what matters to them for you. Whether this is their parents, their old life, their pet Skippy, a girlfriend/boyfriend, a friendship they’ve formed during their training, it doesn’t matter. They’ll kill whatever symbolic part of themselves they were holding onto, the piece which makes them who they are. A trainer creates a pressure gate to lead the student where they want them to go, so the student and their peers will kill in themselves what the trainer can’t.

“The Corps is mother, the Corps is father,” as PsiCorps says on Babylon 5.

When dealing with someone competent, this is insidious. Remember, the trainer controls the student’s whole world, who they interact with, whether they’re allowed contact with the outside world, and what happens to them.

It’s like dealing with your parents, if your parents were perfectly willing to blow your brains out. With no outlets, no friends except the ones you’re allowed and can’t trust, no other authority figures to turn to, no internet, no connection to the outside world, and armed guards to catch you when you run.

4) There is always a carrot to go with the stick.

Abusive tactics aren’t successful if there’s no carrot. This is an enhancement of regular training, not the sole form of training. Abuse by itself doesn’t make someone a better martial combatant (or good at fighting at all).

The problem with a lot of “sadistic training setups” is the author goes overboard. They want to make it obvious that the teacher is bad, and give the story no room to breathe. Give the characters no time to sort themselves out. The teacher’s abuse is there to make a point and specific intervals, and it won’t happen on the regular. If it’s regular, you adapt to it. The uncertainty and the lack of comfort is what keeps it scary.

A trainer won’t just abuse, they’ll also offer a sympathetic ear, be encouraging, and act as a mentor to their students. When their students have earned their wisdom then they share. This gives students a feeling superiority over others, reminds them that they’re special, and they want to work harder for their teacher or toward their goal.

As a reward, their trainer may give their students the opportunity to watch the more advanced students or the warriors they admire in practice or sparring so they have a goal to work towards.

5) The goals are always clear, and can be accomplished. It’s the goalposts that shift.

The trainer is very good at telling their students what they want, on giving them a venue to develop skill before upending them again. Like I said, abusive training is an utterly pointless practice if the process of learning is skipped.

If you want to write an abusive setup then you need to learn how normal training is supposed to work first because the abuse is just another added layer. This is why there’s a tendency to assume this training is just “more hardcore”. 

6) Punishment is not the point, what punishment gets you is the point.

Reward them when they’re good, punish them when they’re bad. Write punishment with purpose. The trainer wants their student to think, consider, and come to an understanding. Punishment is supposed to make one side too uncomfortable so one starts looking at good behavior as acceptable. Unless there’s a reason to be ambiguous, the student must know why they’re being punished.

7) When you’re looking at a situation with plans to axe a few of your trainees, the troublemakers and the problem children will be first on the slate to die.

This is one of those favored misconceptions with some authors, where the belief that a student’s “special talents” and “status” override everything else. Here’s the honest truth: a trainer working under a sadistic methodology wants loyalty over skill. No amount of ‘natural talent’ or ‘skill’ will save these troublemakers because they’re challenging the trainer’s control over the rest of the class.

Now, there are ways to manipulate any problem child into good behavior without obvious punishment whether its by convincing them they’re special, flattering them, separating them out from the others, and making them feel important or like they’re “winning” the power struggle.

If they can’t be convinced to play along, though, then it’s ‘too bad, so sad’ and will be offed. At this point, it’s attrition. Better to risk losing one, even a promising one, than it is losing the whole group. A student with less potential but loyal is better than one with high potential but unwilling to cooperate. After all, natural skill is just potential. A metric for the greatness one might achieve. If the talented student isn’t going to put effort into honing that potential, then it’s just a waste. Better to have the student who works hard, strives for success, is clever, and wants to please their teacher.

Now, back to Star Wars.

On the whole, when looking at the Sith, you’re going to find a lot of the good, the bad, the mediocre, and everything in between. With the current EU, we’re usually dealing with the meat grinder. In this case, the meat grinder rears its head anytime there’s a lack of respect for the rarity of Force Sensitives. Even in a galaxy full of trillions, the pool of candidates who are Force Sensitive is extraordinarily small. The number with the ability to actually become Jedi or Sith is a tiny fraction of that pool. They’re so rare, in fact, that it’s easier for a Sith Lord to risk themselves targeting adult Jedi or Jedi trainees for conversion than it is to go through the trouble of finding new candidates.

Think about that.

It’s not a Sith Academy if they don’t raid the Jedi Temple for recruits at least once. Given the Sith’s training methods, there should always be fewer Sith than Jedi by order of attrition. The Jedi may send their students away if they don’t make the cut, but they don’t kill them during training. The Sith blow through their candidates faster, thus needing more raw bodies while churning out fewer Sith as a result.

A good Sith Academy is one where the students are terrorizing the local population of whatever planet they’re inhabiting rather than each other. Where their methods are harsh, but the vast majority of their students don’t die in training. If you want more Sith out there than Jedi, then their period of training is ultimately shorter and they’re released to terrorize the universe more quickly. If a Sith can be trained in, say, four years compared to a Jedi’s fourteen to twenty then there will obviously be more of them.

However, the Sith will ultimately need more recruits and bodies than the Jedi because the Sith die faster. Which creates a shortage when your talent pool is already limited.

In The Old Republic, when a Sith player leads the Attack on Tython they’re given a lightside/darkside option at the end. The lightside option is to release the prisoners. The darkside option is to kill the prisoners. Here’s the problem: these prisoners are Jedi padawans.

When you have a limited talent pool, are at war, and are constantly losing your highly skilled warriors to the enemy, what do you do?

The answer is abide by the classic Sith tactic of stealing the apprentices for yourself. Killing them is a waste. Releasing them is stupid. Taking them to replace your losses is the smart choice. After all, the Jedi would do the same to you. (They do. They do it all the time. In Star Wars, the Sith and Jedi are playing ping pong with the individual members of both orders as the balls. There are numerous Sith rehabilitated into Jedi and Jedi who’ve become Sith. Light to Dark, Dark to Light, then back again.)

I bring this up because this is how you know when characters with this attitude are written in accordance to their setting. They can’t be written in generalities, the author needs to take into account the context and setting specifics which will be at play when it comes to making a decision.

When evil overrules necessity or common sense, you’ve got a problem. Well, you do if it’s not your intention for the character to be engaging in “stupid evil”. All approaches are legit, so long as you meant to do it and serves the story.

The question when either playing with or reading about a Sith Academy is, “do you understand the purpose and philosophy behind what’s happening?”

The lightside and the darkside are a clumsy attempt at Taoist philosophy. The Jedi and Sith are meant to present incompatible ways of life, and more than just an easily digestible code. There’s a lot of play in the “Survival of the Fittest” and “I’ve got Mine” mentalities, but a true Sith believes the struggle itself is what makes us strong.

Let’s look at the sequence between Luke and the Emperor in Return of the Jedi:

-The Emperor has Vader bring Luke aboard the Death Star, everything from that point on including the trap he lays for the Rebellion is part of getting under Luke’s skin.

-While Vader is in active conflict with Luke, he’s also the centerpiece of the power struggle between Luke and the Emperor.

-Both Vader and the Emperor are pressuring Luke in multiple ways to find what makes him angry. They show him how powerless he is by attacking the Rebels in front of him, forcing him to fight, threatening Leia, etc.

-They want him angry. Why? It’s because the Emperor’s goal is ultimately for Luke to destroy what he came to save whether that’s the Rebels or his father. The underlying belief is this crushing failure will expose the futility of Luke’s beliefs, lead him to abandon them, and join the darkside.

-This fight is also a test for Vader, though the Emperor is certain of his control over him.

-The Emperor wants a younger model and new apprentice to replace the old one, but if Luke can’t be swayed then he has no issue having Vader murder what he wanted i.e. his last link to his previous life.

-The Emperor fails because he underestimates Vader, rather than Luke. This happens when Vader’s desire to save his son trumps his loyalty to the Emperor, and leads him to make the ultimate sacrifice.

If you want to understand the difference between Jedi versus Sith, and the power of sadistic training then the final struggle of Return of the Jedi is important to understand. The Emperor had so much control over Vader that Vader valued his personal power over what used to be the most important aspect of his life: protecting his family.

For Vader, we see the struggle is real. When we see him in Empire Strikes Back, he has no problem hacking Luke’s hand off. We find out he’s known Luke is his son for some time, but the boy’s still just a pawn necessary to help him replace the Emperor. The offer Vader makes to Luke at the end of Empire is not one of love, but power. “Together, we’ll rule the galaxy as father and son.” It’s manipulative, designed to appeal to Luke’s desires for family, for his father, and disrupt Luke’s beliefs. Vader means to wrong foot him, make him desperate, and utilize these emotions to take power over Luke. When Luke falls, Vader doesn’t jump after him. Vader doesn’t consider Luke’s life important enough to jeopardize himself over.

The choice Vader makes at the end of Jedi is one of love. He’s hurt when he grabs the Emperor, having lost a hand. The Emperor is shooting electricity everywhere, and Vader’s systems are especially susceptible. Vader understands the sacrifice he’s making when he grabs the Emperor. This is his transition, in his final moments. This is what makes him a Jedi again.

As a haphazard circle, selfish love transformed Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader while sacrificial love brought him back. Selfish love led to fear of loss, fear of loss led him to the hating those who “stole” his loved ones, and then he needed to control everything in order to make sure he never lost or felt these emotions again. Control led him to needing more and more power, until power itself was all that mattered.

When you’re looking for abusive environments or training methods, take an honest look at the Vader from the Original Trilogy. In a simple sense, that’s what the results look like.

-Michi

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Hi, first of: Thanks for running this blog, it’s incredibly helpful! I was wondering what the youngest possible/plausible age is for a character to start MMA training? And if my character has been doing MMA for 10+ years, won multiple tournaments, etc., would she be able/allowed to assist in training others? Thanks in advance!

So, MMA stands for Mixed Martial Arts. Mixed Martial Arts is just that. Mixed Martial Arts. The basic idea is they’ve been training a style (or multiple styles) to cover all their bases i.e. hands, feet, and groundfighting. They use fancier terms like “striking”, but that’s what it is. MMA is more a type of competition than a martial art in and of itself. Starting with “MMA” as a chosen martial art for your character is just going to confuse you and your research. The problem is that MMA is a culturally coded term for martial artists, professional fighters, and anyone into that kind of sport. The term gets flung around like a catchall, but the people who know will understand what you mean. This is where writers and those outside the community get tripped up because they think these martial artists are talking about a real martial art rather than an entire, vast subset of various disciplines from all over the world. Like any other culture, misuse of the term will automatically expose the author’s ignorance on the subject.

So, saying, “my character has been practicing MMA for ten years and participated in tournaments” will mean either, “my character is a professional fighter somewhere in their late twenties/early thirties” or “my character participated in tournaments where multiple martial arts were in attendance and the rules were changed to allow them to mix.” This would not be the whole tournament but rather a smaller (usually sparring or open form) division with others specifically for these various styles.

A character can be training in Krav Maga and Sambo and still be MMA, just like another training in kickboxing, jiujutsu, and karate will also be MMA. The idea behind MMA is anything goes, and they do mean anything. You could get collegiate wrestlers going up against brazilian jiujutsu artists with a side of tai chi chuan, and people might go, “weird, but okay”. A school might advertise themselves as MMA, but there’s always a named martial art underneath the generalities.

MMA as terminology is inextricably linked to the UFC, because… that’s where it starts. The idea behind the UFC and MMA in general was to create an arena bloodsport of “anything goes”, opened to martial artists of varying styles rather than sticking to older rules like the ones found in boxing. Rather than specializing in boxing or kickboxing, a fighter would need to be a master of multiple combat areas rather than being limited to only hands, hands and feet, or the ground. This is why it’s called Mixed Martial Arts as the fighters might need to branch out into other disciplines to fill in their style’s gaps.

Now, MMA has narrowed over the years and is on track to becoming a combat style all its own but it isn’t there yet.

The issue for you is going to be the UFC. If you were imaging some sort of no holds barred, competitive bloodsport for this character then they’d need to be 18 or older when they started competing. They’d also need a manager, a promoter, a sponsor, a team, and all the other ancillary details that come with being a professional fighter. This means that if your character started training when they were eight, then they’d be eighteen now and couldn’t have participated in tournaments unless they were the standard martial arts tournaments and those are far more limited in what they accept for categories. When we’re talking tournament, Mixed Martial Arts is just a code for “professional fighter”.

Due to the dangers involved, they don’t let kids fight in professional tournaments. They might let them outside the US, depending on legal age of adulthood, but you won’t find young teens in MMA tournaments where professional combat is highly regulated.

So, go pick a style that is under the MMA header and start researching that. Most of those specific styles will have tournaments your character could participate in under the age of eighteen, and (if they were good enough) travel around the country/world competing. Some of them even have Olympic options (Ronda Rousey is a bronze medalist in Judo), and a high school wrestling background is also on the table.

Ten years is certainly enough time for them to start volunteering as an instructor. Martial Arts assistant instructor is a common part time job for older teens in many martial arts schools, even below black belt. If you volunteer your instructors will often let older/more advanced students assist with the youngin’s or adults at belt levels below theirs. These are the students that assist with the classes, they do not run the classes, and at most will be working with smaller groups of students.

The role of the Head Instructor or Master Instructor is a full time job, so your character would have a much harder time competing and running a school at the same time. Someone who is heavily into martial arts competition will spend a lot of time (and I do mean a lot) practicing in their school, so they will be heavily invested in the culture and usually that means roped into assisting when there’s a large class on the floor.

This blog is supported through Patreon. If you enjoy our content, please consider becoming a Patron. Every contribution helps keep us online, and writing. If you already are a Patron, thank you.

-Michi

I saw your posts about muscle mass not being a factor and just wanted to let you know that in grappling sports your weight is massively important, and let’s be honest the bigger you are the harder you punch and thats something that can’t really he denied if they know what they’re doing.

image

Did I say or did I not say we’ve answered many questions like this before? There are entire posts on grappling and the problems of weight elsewhere on this blog. Learn to see the point of a question for what it is.

-Michi

Is it plausible for a relatively inexperienced fighter to defeat a trained guard/soldier in a knife fight? I seem to remember a lot of references to how knife fights are chaotic and quickly fatal, as well as based a lot on luck. Assuming it isn’t plausible, what advantages might the inexperienced fighter need (getting the jump, starting with the only weapon, etc) to make victory from their side seem likely? Thanks in advance.

The problem with this question is that guards don’t travel alone and soldiers don’t either. A good security setup ensures an attacker won’t have the opportunity to ambush the guards, at least not more than one. The entire goal of security is to not leave people alone where they can be isolated and picked off. Basically, if a guard can be ambushed then there’s no point in putting them there. If you don’t have the manpower for multiple guards, then you create choke points and controlled access.

You want people with overlapping fields of view. So if someone goes down or gets attacked, they don’t have to call it in. There’s already another person available to call in the attack and move to stop the attacker.

Ironically, of all the things Assassin’s Creed isn’t useful for, the later games are helpful for this. Even then Assassin’s Creed security is usually pretty shoddy in comparison to the real thing. (If you just had flashbacks to all the times your assassin got caught and killed on a stealth entry, that’s the way it often goes.)

A setup where the guards can be picked off one at a time out on the fringes is the opposite of security.

So, while a relatively inexperienced fighter could defeat a trained guard or soldier in a knife fight assuming they had the element of surprise, could get the weapon out before the soldier noticed, got their courage up, and rushed in to stab the guard/soldier in the side nine or ten times.

The question is could they manage all that without being discovered?

The answer is probably no. In addition to that cheerful thought when they’re discovered, they’re either dead or captured depending on how the other guards are feeling. While they might manage to kill one guard, the others will get them. This is the basic issue when it comes to any secured location, be it a prison, a bank, a military base, a castle, or a rebel stronghold.

Soldiers work in groups. Guards travel in twos, at least, with another somewhere above handling overwatch. Anywhere you find one, you can bet there’s probably around five more ahead all in strategic points overlooking each other. With the added bonus that they understand the layout of wherever they are better than the person trying to break in or break out.

The point of a secured location is that it’s secure. You can do it all with humans. Cameras are just dessert, they’re nice but they’re not necessary and the human eyes are positioned to cover the holes anyway. Fighting your way past a guard will inevitably lead to more guards swarming the area.

The best thing to do for someone who is relatively inexperienced is avoid the guards, rather than fight them. Someone trained in infiltration can fight, but the trick here is that they know how to. Even then, competent guards are no joke.

-Michi

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If muscle mass has only a small impact on fight abilities, what’s with the prevalence of weight classes? And why are martial arts and boxing champions generally men?

See, you were trying to sneak around it with that start on muscle mass but this is about the idea that women can fight and or fight as well as a man. We get these questions a lot, and the answer is always the same. However, the question itself always displays the asker’s ignorance on the subject matter and about combat in general. You aren’t the first to go, “but boxing!!!” as if it means something or is a winning point. Usually, “muscles” is a go to standard because that’s what so many have been led to believe makes men superior.

When I get these questions, I can always tell this person who asked has never been to a martial arts competition of any kind. If they had, they would know Women’s Divisions are a standard practice. They would also know that with an exception of major tournaments where there are enough participants to justify it, the girls and the boys spar each other at the ranks below black belt. Sometimes, the boys win. Sometimes, the girls win. The breakdown is by age (adults/kids) and belt rank, not by gender.

I’ll tell you though, none of the boy’s in the black belt division
wanted to jump in with the girls. Those girls were vicious. Men’s
sparring was much more laid back, and slower. Women’s TKD… yeesh.

Again, in most martial arts tournaments there are no weight classes. The breakdown is by age and rank, with gender as a secondary when there are enough participants to justify multiple divisions. Weight classes are a boxing tradition and other, similar bloodsports which rears it’s head when they have enough participants to justify one. In many Taekwondo tournaments, you can easily end up with a 150 pound black belt sparring one weighing in at 250. And you won’t know what they weigh anyway because there is no “weighing in”.

I’ve explained before why there are weight classes in boxing. The moment you stop and realize that it’s a sport with a purpose to make money, the reasoning behind the weight classes will become fairly clear. (Hint: it’s entertainment and aesthetics.)

That said, the “boxing champions are generally men” crap is, well, crap. They don’t let women box men professionally, or at the collegiate level. It’s hard to make a case for muscle mass when citing professional sports where women are barred from competing. Now, there was a time when there were women boxers who boxed with each other and against men. In the 1800s, it was called bareknuckle boxing. This is the granddaddy version of modern boxing, when it was all back alleys without gloves or handwraps.

That said, women’s boxing is making a comeback at the collegiate level. There’s a National Champion in Women’s Collegiate Boxing walking around somewhere in the US right now. There are multiple female martial arts champions from a variety of disciplines wandering around all over the world. The UFC has opened a division for female fighters. This is like asking why there aren’t female wrestlers (there are) or female quarterbacks (there are).
One of the greatest snipers in history is a woman.

You just don’t hear about them or the women who did the hard work pushing back to fight for the categories to be re-added.

That said, comparing the restrictions applied in sports to a person’s “fighting ability” is a mistake. You’re not asking an honest question so much as floundering for a popular misconception. It’s essentially the same as saying, “it’s ridiculous for there to be female fighters in this historical fiction because there were no female warriors”.

1) That assertion is patently false.

2) When one gender is barred from participating by the established rules of a modern sport whose history you don’t understand, you can’t then turn around and ask why most of the champions are men.

History makes a case for a lot of female combatants throughout history, but you’re not going to know they’re there if you don’t go looking for them. Their accomplishments tend to get wiped out.

-Michi

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