Love this blog, realistic fighting is one thing you can’t get a feel for from research. Do you have any recommendations for things to keep in mind when two people are fighting as a team against several bad guys? Assuming the two train together and fight together fairly often.

The tactics will change substantially between characters and situation depending on whether or not they’re carrying guns or were trained in a military context. I say military over police or FBI because the military training is all about protecting, defending, and attacking as a unit, not as an individual. Since yours are probably not and I’m guessing you mean hand to hand, I’ll give my advice from that outlook.

Assuming your two characters view each other as evenly matched (and one won’t try to take the brunt of the opposing force on their own), they’re more likely to know each others weaknesses and trust in each others strengths. There will be a level of trust there that will for the most part ensure that they won’t get in each others way.

And while fighting back to back sounds good in theory (it looks great in a movie!) but in a group, it’s terrible. Because of the amount of pushing and jostling that goes on and because standing still is an unbelievably bad idea (unless you’re an Aikido or Tai Chi practioner), they’re more likely to split a group of enemies up evenly by pulling them off in different directions and fighting alone. This way, they’ll be free to drag their own opponents into each other without having to worry about screwing over their partner by accident (and accidents always happen). Remember, in hand to hand, a character can only really reliably fight one opponent at a time, so when fighting against groups, it’s a lot of bouncing around trying to get their opponents to hit each other instead of them, so they can conserve energy.

It also gives you the opportunity to build in narrative tension if there’s an uneven number of opponents, if the opponents in one fight are more coordinated than usual and refuse to be baited from going after their primary target, and things start going south. Remember, bad guys, even one-off ones are people too and some of them also have a history of fighting together. You can get a lot with just a little work on random mook motivation.

As with anything, the more opponents there are, the greater the chance for failure. To stay realistic, try to keep it between four or six (two and three per fighter). Finally, it’s important to keep in mind in fights that things always go wrong or in an unexpected direction on some level for both parties. The personalities of your characters and their own fighting outlook will affect the fight just as much as their technique. A good fighter doesn’t play around with their opponent, but a lot do anyway.

Tip: A Good Martial Artist Can Come From Anywhere

All around the world, martial arts from many different countries are a major cultural export. I say this because it’s important to remember that your characters race, ethnicity, and gender don’t necessarily need to reflect their style’s culture or country of origin. One of the greatest beauties of the MAs is that anyone can start at any age and find both meaning and value. I’ve seen twelve year olds earn their black belts side by side with eighty year old cancer survivors. While I trained in Taekwondo and the master instructor of my dojo was Asian, he was not Korean, instead he was Japanese-American. His master and the master co-founders of the entire organization were a Filipino-American man and an African-American man. The instructor who had the greatest effect on me was (or his family was) an immigrant from Ecuador.

A good martial artist can come from anywhere and while they can’t necessarily be just anyone (just those who put in the time and effort), there’s no need for an author to limit their imagination with a student of any traditional art because their race, gender, or ethnicity doesn’t fit with what media has prepared us for.

When it comes to martial arts specifically, it’s important to remember that the make-up of a school you might expect is not there in actuality. Many people are drawn to the martial arts from many different walks of life, and while there is certainly some very interesting mysticism and philosophical tenants grounded in some of the Eastern MAs, in a modern context the techniques and philosophies are more than able to transfer into backstories the author needs. All the author needs to do is be aware and sensitive of the culture and philosophy ingrained in the martial art they choose.

If you are working with a historical context, research as needed. Either way, you might be surprised.

I love your blog!!! I’m writing a spy fiction novel which requires a lot of details on combat and training – I’m planning to have weapons and also physical combat. Seeing as I know nothing of it, this blog is literally saving my life. THANK YOU SO MUCH!

You’re very welcome!

Starke and I are going to do some write ups on spies vs. assassins and spies in particular soon (ish?), we’ve got a lot of stuff we’re putting together. But in the mean time, let me direct you to some helpful media that’s both very informative when it comes to talking about what a spy is, because the way most folks (even really good writers) approach them in fiction is completely wrongheaded.

Spies are all about social engineering over combat, though they do have training, if a spy is forced to fight it usually means something has gone very wrong and shit has hit the fan. Here are some examples that I’ve personally found really useful for distinguishing the difference between a spy versus an assassin. For reference, James Bond and Movie!Bourne both fall into the assassin category.

Burn Notice, (2007-Current) The story of burned spy Michael Westin as he tries to survive in Miami and uncover who burned him, he helps down on their luck people on the side. The latest few seasons are kinda meh but the first two are an absolute must watch, Westin’s internal monologue makes the show pretty much an example of “How To Be A Spy”. It has the added bonus of all the advice being practical and all the devices working because they tested all of it. Some of the bomb stuff is wrong (chemicals mostly), but that’s to be expected. If you take a look at nothing else (or can’t find them) on this list, look into this one. (It’s also really good!)

Spy Game (2001) with Brad Pitt and Robert Redford. Half the movie is Redford’s character flashing back to training Brad Pitt’s character on how to be a spy (very useful and good information), the rest is him working using a variety of bluffing and social engineering techniques to secure the same character’s release from a Chinese prison without ever leaving his office. It’s worth a look on that alone, the training examples are also incredibly useful.

Queen & Country – This comic book gem by Greg Rucka is based, somewhat on Sandbaggers a British television show from the seventies (also on the list). It’s one of the only books I’ve ever come across with a realistic and believable female spy as it’s central protagonist (as opposed to non-believable and non-realistic). It’s also a good example of how intelligence gathering functions and how British spies work in particular.

Sandbaggers (1978) This British television show is going to be harder to find, but not impossible. It’s good to look at, not just for field agents, but also their minders and how spies are often caught up with their own country’s internal politics and bureaucracy. It’s a precarious balance between duty to their charges and their responsibility to their superiors and the good of their country. Even if this isn’t the central tenant to what you’re thinking about doing, it can be a great reference for creating background characters and tensions.

The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum. The book, not the movie, where Jason Bourne is an amnesiac spy trying to convince everyone that he is an assassin in order to fulfill a mission he barely remembers in an attempt to uncover his past. It has some great stuff on how spies behave, social engineering, and a really solid female supporting character who is much more than just a love interest. (Marie rocks.)

Starke would probably have some more suggestions but he’s sleeping, if you need more information, our askbox is always open.

Some contrary examples for assassins:

Collateral (2004) with Jamie Foxx and Tom Cruise. A cab driver is held hostage by a contract killer and forced to drive him around Los Angeles for a night. To get into the role, Cruise dressed in a FedEx/ UPS/Mail Order uniform and went around town delivering packages in an effort to get into character and see if most people really didn’t look past the uniform. None of them did.

Spartan (2004) with Val Kilmer, watch it. The investigation into a the kidnapping of the daughter of a high ranking government official. It’s got some good info and is great for comparison to the spies.

The Bourne Movies with Matt Damon. He’s an assassin and the movies are a little boring but it’s good for reference and he does some good work here and there with his avoiding detection.

Some Examples I’m not sure on, but you should watch anyway:

Ronin (1998) with Robert DeNiro and Jean Reno, a freelancing former U.S. Intelligence agent is trying to track down a package wanted by both the Irish and the Russians. This is another great example of social engineering and it’s a great movie!

I hope any and all of this turns out to be useful and happy writing!

Sleepless: moniquill: The Writers Helpers: Tip: Women Are Not Weaker Than…

Sleepless: moniquill: The Writers Helpers: Tip: Women Are Not Weaker Than…

Fight Write: On Hair Pulling

Where the head goes, the body follows.

This is one of the most important tenants of self-defense and it’s why every combatant, male or female, should keep their hair either short or bound to their heads in a braid that is so skin tight the fingers cannot seize it. The fighter who does not risks having the back of their head grabbed in the middle of combat by providing a decent, easily accessible grip for their opponent. Regardless of what television will tell you, the ponytail is not good enough.

The hair is a much easier target than attempting a headlock or grabbing behind the neck. Once an opponent has their target in their grasp and control of their head, they can take them almost anywhere they wish.

Your hair may be dead, but beneath the skin it is very much alive. Wrap your fingers in your own hair and pull, you’ll find it to be fairly painful, then, imagine the pull from the hands of someone who doesn’t care about your feelings or maybe your hair was pulled by someone when you were younger. It can hurt a great deal and pain has a way of locking us up when we are unprepared or it or when we haven’t been properly trained to deal with it.

It’s important to remember, no matter what folks say about hair pulling, that it is a real, acceptable, and commonly used tactic, especially against women. It will also work against men with hair long enough for a good grip. Honor has very little place in real world combat, remember that an advantage taken is an advantage gained and the only true imperative is survival.

Hair pulling is very common in fights among groups, such as in clubs, mobs, etc as a means of taking someone down. The best advice for when someone takes you or your character by the hair or by the head is to go with them, not politely, but in the same general direction by ramming sideways, forwards, or backwards in the direction of their grip and to keep going until they fall or are driven into a wall or another individual. This will keep you from being injured or having your hair yanked out, it will also save on the pain because it releases tension.

I’m the anon asking about the character who lived the majority of his life in South America. I forgot to mention that he lived a large chunk of his life in poor areas, frequently moving due to trouble his family would get into, and so there were times were he lived in the streets.

The two most major Brazilian MAs I know of are Capoeira, a martial art that is descended from Africa and was created by the slaves as a method to retain their fighting traditions by hiding them as a form of dance, the other is Brazilian Jiu-jutsu, as you mentioned. I think the most important thing to remember about all traditional MAs is that they take time to learn, if your character moved around a lot then he would constantly have to be finding new schools and instructors to train him. He most likely would spend a good portion of his time covering the basics that he already knew as the instructors established for themselves what he already knows and what he doesn’t. His skill would be decided mostly by how much time he spent training outside of lessons. Also, remember that MA training through a professional school can be both expensive and time consuming, expect the lessons to take up a half hour to an hour of his time no less than three to five times per week on regular intervals. If he is trained by a specific instructor on a personal basis, then it could be a lot more. If he is trained by his parents (the easiest under the circumstances) it may be his whole life like a lot of the kids I knew whose parents were instructors.

Decide this for yourself.

If he lives on the streets and you want a martial art that is specifically Brazilian, I’d suggest Capoeira. It involves dancing, tumbling, and other exercises that make it more of a stealth MA and he could make money off his skills as a street performer. It is a very unique style, however, so make sure you’re comfortable with writing it.

Other than that, it may be he picked up his skills from a non-professional source such as the local gangs and other forms of general street fighting. A character can still be an effective fighter from a non-traditional background, especially if he’s fighting other non-professionally trained combatants. It’s only when we get into it with professionals (of varying degrees of efficiency) that the shit really starts to hit the fan.

I hope this helps!

Hello, new followers! I’m so glad you’ve found my blog and hopefully it’ll be at least a little educational. It seems most of you started following me (us, sometimes, but mostly me, Michi, hi!) from my post about “Women Are Not Stronger Than Men”, I don’t do too many posts about women versus men, but I plan on doing more about female protagonists and women and fighting, plus more information about real world fighting versus staged/movie/book fight scenes in general. I don’t post a lot, I mostly try for one a day, I know that’s low for tumblr, but it’s mostly content I and Starke generate ourselves from personal experience and what we dig up through research for our own work.

It’s hard for me to remember sometimes that what’s common knowledge for me, the stuff I basically grew up knowing, isn’t what most of us learn. So, if you ever have any questions about women and fighting, women and weapons, self defense, or just fighting, fight scenes, etc, in general feel free to ask!

Fight Write: Art, Sport, Subdual, and Lethality

In this post, I’m going to break Martial Arts down into four subcategories: Art, Sport, Subdual, and Lethality. These are general distinctions that relate to the practitioner’s outlook and what they’re training for as opposed to the styles themselves. The reason behind why someone is training and what they are being trained to do is actually much more important than what the style or techniques were originally intended for.

Styles evolve and change over time, the effective ones stay and the ineffective ones go as combat itself evolves. A good place to study up on rapid martial evolution is in the history of Europe, where the countries were in near constant war over a limited set of highly valuable resources. European combat evolved and changed quickly and constantly because it was necessary to for the different countries to keep themselves from being conquered by their neighbors. There was a nearly constant discarding of any traditional forms for something more practical to the times. This is part of why it’s important to study the cultural background of any MA you look at, no matter where it’s from, and compare that to what you need from it. Styles change with the cultures they’re part of, even ones that were imported from elsewhere. The techniques themselves are more easily ingrained by body and mind than the philosophy that spawned them.

Usually when talking about Martial Arts, you see the styles broken down into hard and soft, hard is an aggressive straightforward style like Karate and soft is an inward, philosophical style that revolves around not subduing your opponent, but allowing your opponent to subdue themselves through “gentle” redirection. We leave the term gentle open to negotiation depending on both viewer and outlook, sometimes there is nothing soft about a soft style. For reference: Chinese Tai Chi and Japanese Aikido are two of the more recognizable soft styles. Personally, we find this terminology to be misleading, because it does not cover all the myriad of ways these two cross over as the different styles influence one another through cross-contamination.

No Martial Artist exists in a vacuum, they are constantly influenced by their fights, their opponents, their training, and their own philosophy regarding their fighting and fighting in general. Every MA has an outlook and a personal philosophy, even if their philosophy is just that having a one is unnecessary.

It’s also important to note that hard and soft relate to Asian Martial Arts, more specifically to those from China, Japan, and Korea. These Martial Arts are intensely tied up within their own cultural traditions and because any discussion of this terminology generally revolves around Eastern philosophies, the terms do not relate well to Western MAs like boxing, fencing, M.A.P., Systema, Krav Maga, and Sambo or South American MAs like Capoeira, all of which come with a very specific outlook relating to their own country of origin. It also doesn’t function well with outside understanding of forms like Ninjutsu, Judo, and Jiu-jutsu that incorporate both hard and soft movements respectively. Some would say that Jiu-Jutsu is just the hard version of Aikido and some would not, this is why this distinction gets sticky.

Not just that, says the well-informed author, but didn’t the Marines appropriate a great many techniques from Judo and Chin Na during their time stationed in Japan and China as they developed M.A.P.?

Indeed they did, but it’s important to remember that the Marines don’t care about the outlook or the cultural philosophy that provided the basis for those techniques. While they may share their techniques with other styles, the way the Marines condition and train soldiers to use them bears almost no similarity to the original intention.

Martial Styles represent the culture that surrounds them, so let’s break it down into something simpler.

Art: Art is for a practitioner with a spiritual outlook. Many Martial Arts masters fall into this category, regardless of style. It’s the study of the body, the spirit, and the mind and developing those connections through meditation and intensive training. This outlook is a lifestyle that involves constant self-improvement and introspection. Its intention is non-combative, though the practitioner can also train for that. Aikido and Tai-Chi can fall into this category (though a practitioner can land in other categories too), but this can also include any Chinese MA from Shaolin to Wushu, or any MA where the training focus is on self, on beauty, and perfection.

Common Artistic/Spiritual Martial Arts:

Tai Chi (China), Aikido (Japan), Capoeira (Brazil), Kalari (India), Kyudo (Japan), Wushu Kung Fu (China), Karate (Japan), etc

Sport: This is the Martial Artist who trains primarily for the arena, whether that’s professional prize fighting, death matches, or the Olympics. The trainee is prepared around a certain set of rules of what they can and cannot do. Authors who wish to write these characters will have to study up on the specific rules behind the intended training. This should be self-explanatory, but it can get confusing when the same Martial Arts like Sambo, Muay Thai, and Krav Maga fall under this label and the Lethal one. The difference is not in the techniques, but the type of preparation the trainee receives from their instructor. Someone who trains for matches does not do so with the likelihood of death as an immediate part of the equation. While they know it may happen, they also know it’ll probably be accidental or a result of their (or their opponent’s) stupidity. Actively murdering an opponent in the ring is detrimental to most fighters’ careers.

I also include work out Martial Arts in this list.

If you want to write Gladiators, it’s important to remember that Gladiators themselves are an investment of time and money on the part of their benefactor. Death matches are uncommon not because people don’t want to see it (there are more than a few who would watch), but because the number of people out there who will come back again and again to watch their favorites participate next week outnumber them. The tournament officials can’t earn money off a dead or crippled gladiator, even when there are more than enough eager replacements. When modern MMA first began, they tried the “Anything Goes but Death” mind set. They learned quickly that it wasn’t worth it on a financial level. Professional Gladiator deaths in Ancient Rome were actually pretty uncommon for the same reason. Always follow the money, it’ll usually lead you to the right place.

Common Sport Martial Arts:

Boxing (America/Europe), Kickboxing (America/Europe), Savate (France), MMA (Mixed Bag), Sambo (Russia), Judo (Japan), Muay Thai (Thailand), Tae Kwon Do (Korea), Karate (Japan), Pancratium/Mu Tau (Greece), Capoeira (Brazil), Krav Maga (MMA), etc.

Subdual: This is the outlook that focuses on subduing the opponent over killing them. These Martial Arts often focus on joint locks, throws, pressure points, and breaks over general striking, some of them are designed around easy understanding and application; others take much longer to learn. It’s important to remember that the outlook of these practitioners is to injure their opponent just enough to stop them, while they may be prepared to kill, this is not their primary objective nor the goal.

Common Subdual Martial Arts:

Aiki-Jutsu (Japan), Jujutsu (Japan), Tai Chi (China), Chin Na (China), Sambo (Russia), Hapkido (Korea, Korean Law Enforcement), American Law Enforcement Hand to Hand (America), American Law Enforcement Self-Defense (The style taught to civilians in HtH), General Self-Defense (Multiple Non-Military Strains of above MAs), Brazilian Jujutsu (Brazil), Krav Maga Self-Defense, etc.

Lethality: Almost all martial styles were originally lethal ones and with the right training most can be again, but this is about outlook. The practitioner of one of these styles is someone who has been trained to kill, this is their primary objective. So, these are the martial arts that are designed specifically around killing the opponent as quickly as possible. They are the most actively combative of all the different Martial Arts and have suffered the least from degradation into the above sport styles. These are all killing styles and if you choose any of them for your character, it’s important that you understand what that means. There’s nothing worse than a dissonance between a practitioner and their style, especially given what it says about what they were trained to do. A character that practices any of these is trained to kill, full stop. They may be able to restrain themselves, but killing quickly and efficiently once threatened or on command will be the first instinctual reaction. Most of these will be Martial Styles practiced by the Military and Special Forces divisions from around the world.

Common Lethal Martial Arts:

M.A.P. (Marines), Krav Maga (Israeli Defense Force), Sambo (Spetznaz), Systema (The System, Spetznaz), Pentjak Silat (Indonesia), Ninjutsu (Japan), Military Strain Self-Defense, etc.

Always remember: your character’s Martial Art is a reflection of who they are and depending on the background you choose to give them, a part of that will be non-negotiable if they are to be believable. I’ve experienced some training in a Lethal MA (Ninjutsu) and these are very different styles when compared to the rest of the above in both utility and purpose. So please, prepare yourself appropriately.

Hey! I’ve been backreading your blog and I love it–I’ve gotten a ton of useful advice already! However, I’m curious about your “fight scenes should be a page or less” guideline, since I know you’re referring to prose. As it happens I’m writing a comic–what do you think is a good guideline for length in a fight scene that’s visual rather than written? Thanks so much.

Thanks for the ask!

Since this question is pretty general, we’ll give a few suggestions. If you’re looking for gritty realism with unpowered characters then try to keep it under 2 pages, but remember you’ve got to provide enough detail that show the fight is clearly choreographed. You’ll need to be able to convey the action to the reader so that they can follow along, while also being able to keep the narrative tension high. The longer the fight, the harder this is.

For most powered characters, superheroes, etc, you can double it to four pages. Though, I strongly encourage you to still look for a way to end it quickly. There’s nothing worse, from a narrative and reader perspective than a fight that goes: and then, and then, and then. It can be easy to get caught up in the flow of the action, both written and visual, and become excited over your creation. This is natural and understandable, after all, you created it! But I encourage restraint.

Also, it’s a good idea to check out artists in the genre that you admire and see what they do, not even in art style but just in planning and conservation of the action in the way they tell their story.

And remember, the action always serves the narrative, not the other way around.

Good luck!

Stupid Gun Mistakes Every Writer Makes

heyrph:

by Chuck Dixon

THE SILENCED REVOLVER

If you’re dumb enough to put a silencer on a revolver then you’ll discover that all the noise you hoped to suppress will escape from around the cylinder. See, an automatic is a sealed system allowing gas to vent only from the end of the barrel. So all your sound is coming from the barrel as well. A revolver is not sealed. There’s a gap twixt the cylinder and the barrel where they meet. This gap allows the cylinder to turn. It also allows gas and noise to escape.

THE “EMPTY” AUTOMATIC

We’ve all seen the scene where on adversary has the drop on another at the end of a gunfight. One guy holds out an automatic to the other guy’s head, says a take away line (“This is where the rubber meets the road, scumbag.) and then…click. The gun’s empty! Well, when an automatic has fired its last cartridge the slide atop the action locks back. They would both know the gun was empty. At the same time the firing mechanism locks back as well so no “click”. If you need to have a scene like this make sure your character’s armed with a revolver.

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Advice and suggestions for writing fight scenes.