Combat training doesn’t automatically purge someone’s insecurities. It does, however, provide them with a base to build up confidence in themselves that can be extended into other aspects of their life. Over time, their confidence in their ability to fight and the pride they have in the skills they’ve developed marginalizes the other insecurities.
Instead of saying “I’m worth nothing to no one”, they say “yeah, I may look like an ogre but look at what I’ve done. I can be my own person and be proud of that person”. For them in the beginning, this means that even if they don’t think they’re good for anything else, they still have that one thing that they know they can do.
This is one of those funny questions that actually comes back to women, particularly American women and Martial Arts. In our current society, women are raised to believe that the only value they have is in their looks and are taught the only way they know they look good is if someone else notices them. Their values become built entirely around what other people think of them and how other people are interpreting their looks and actions. Martial arts as a sport is self-involved, instead of looking at others, you’re forced to look at yourself and find something of value inside yourself if you want to succeed. I faced some serious problems with diagnosed clinical depression in high school and often felt like “I’m a horrible, terrible, no good, awful person who is useless to everybody” but even as my brain said all that the small martial artist portion responded “but at least I can do full splits, perform a perfect front kick over my head, and choke a full grown man out in fifteen seconds.”
The training’s not going to purge your character’s insecurities, but they will have some measure of confidence and faith in themselves, even when the rest of the world is trying to completely rip it away from them. Fighting is a tangible achievement, skill is achieved through years of hard work. We can’t just throw that under the bus.
In the real world, martial training (almost always) builds self confidence. This is one of those easy to overlook character building elements. What it means is, martial artists don’t, normally, have crippling self-esteem issues, they are less likely to be bullies, and less likely to be bullied. (Michi Note: this counts on a physical level only, martial artists and other trained combatants are just as open to being verbally mocked and emotionally abused. It’s just less likely that it will escalate to physical violence beyond some basic intimidation.)
This is a general rule based off experience with many different martial artists from a variety of backgrounds over the years, but there are exceptions. Keep in mind that martial artists are people, just like everyone else, with their own unique outliers and edge cases. So, first, remember that this article is about “most” martial artists, and if your character is supposed to be some fringe case then that’s fine. You just need to make sure you point out that they are a fringe case, or else your audience might assume the behavior is normal within the context of the story.
Second, martial arts training won’t cure mental illness. It can provide good coping mechanisms, but if a character has self-esteem issues from a personality disorder, then, again, that’s fine. (However, the normal caveat about mental illnesses applies: if you don’t want to be offensive, don’t write about one you don’t have a lot of experience with. It’s best to spend time with people who have the disorder that you know well, if you were not born with the disability yourself, and a clinical understanding of how it functions is also a good idea.)
Ultimately, if you are wanting to write a character with serious self-esteem issues, you can’t simultaneously say they’re a great fighter. It just doesn’t mesh with reality; like a professional chef who has no sense of taste or smell. It’s a possible character, but it’s weird, and contradictory. We’ve talked a lot about how the mind influences a fight, what we believe about ourselves and our own skills will influence the outcome. Negative beliefs like “I won’t get away, I’m too small and fragile, I suck, I’m terrible, I’ll get in trouble if I hurt someone, it’s better if I don’t do anything at all,” etc, have the serious potential to lead to a losing bout or the death of that character. The body is the weapon, but mind is what wields the body. Talent only gets you so far, undeveloped natural talent is just that: undeveloped. Natural talent is nothing compared to training and experience, and prodigies are nothing without the will and desire to make something of themselves. Those whose lives have always been easy have a very difficult time when the going gets tough (and it will always, eventually become tough). They are unused to facing resistance and are more likely to give up because of it.
So, a character with serious self-esteem issues will have to get (or has already gotten) over them in training, at least in the context of their training and their skills, or they won’t last long. Now, a lack of confidence in the beginning along with minimal skill can be a driving force for a character to desire to become better. But that changes the character from a negative outlook to a positive one: “I can do this, I want to become better, I will work harder,” etc, thus hurting the story’s concept of a character with shattered self-confidence, because a character with no self-confidence at all won’t really be able to believe in themselves.
I’d be lying if I said, I knew exactly why martial training builds confidence. I suspect; it’s a culmination of the ability to defend against potential attackers, the normal result of learning a new skill, and possibly some of the thought processes martial arts training attempts to instill. (Michi Note: There are some principles of the Fight Club mentality at play, this coupled with discipline and a general focus on respect and humility, help to keep the jock mentality at bay. Overcoming your own fears has a powerful effect on the way you see yourself, especially if it revolves around overcoming and working through significant amounts of pain and exhaustion.)
Additionally, martial art schools present a lot of opportunity for someone to keep challenging themselves, and pushing further. This means that any impulse to be “top dog”, will be captured and channeled within their school, rather than against random people on the street or in their (normal) school. They are focused and goal oriented in their desire for self-betterment and in a good school surrounded by those who will help them (and those they can also help) to achieve their goals. Martial arts, for the most part, is a focus on self-betterment and self-empowerment. (Michi Note: Professional fighters have a habit of landing in the jock mentality, but that might be because of a tangible “top dog” position coupled with money and fame.)
Martial artists make poor targets for bullying. This comes down to how bullies usually pick their targets, they’re looking for weaker prey. Bullying (almost always) originates from internal self-confidence issues. Training won’t always cure a bully of their behavior, but it reduces the appeal. Martial artists are unlikely to become bullies after their training. In fact, the confidence most martial artists present usually removes them from the bully target category. This doesn’t mean they’re immune, a bully can misread the martial artist, and I’m not accounting for stupid bullies here. (Ones that think they’re actually better fighters than the martial artist, and deliberately seek them out, in an effort to assert their dominance. (Though, I’d strongly caution you against using deliberately “stupid” characters in your writing. It’s very easy to end up with a character that adds nothing to the story.)) If the bully does misjudge the martial artist, their ability to defend themselves is usually enough to send the bully looking for a new victim.
It’s important to remember that most bullies aren’t looking to be seriously challenged and there is a huge difference between a character getting up in the bully’s face and giving them the casual brush off. If there are a number of individuals present to back up the leader bully, then the leader bully might be forced into a situation where they have to retaliate.
(Michi Note: when I was eleven, there was a girl in my class who was upset when I challenged “what she wanted” during an in class Greek Gods roleplay. Afterwards, she tried to physically intimidate me (with her much greater height and stockier body by crowding my personal space) into capitulating and never challenging her opinion in class again. Her attitude and body language suggested that she was used to being able to cow the other girls and even boys because she was so much taller and so much stockier than the rest of us. I was confused, because it was just a class exercise and I was playing my role. So, I told her “no” and wandered off. I found “bitch” scratched into my desk the next day, but it never went any further than that and she actively avoided me from then on. The fact she was trying to intimidate me didn’t even occur to me until years later, I just thought it was strange at the time…by that point I was pretty oblivious to bullies anyway.)
Sanctioned Violence versus Unsanctioned Violence:
It’s important to remember that the above only really applies if you’re character is a martial artist. A martial artist’s violence isn’t sanctioned. If they fight in the real world they face much the same, if not greater, legal threat as the person who is attacking them. They aren’t protected by law or by the government the same way someone employed by the government or a private firm working with the government is.
Characters in professions where the violence is sanctioned face different temptations. When a cop kills someone, they’re up before the review board and often, the crime is swept under the rug. If a soldier kills someone (unless they kill another soldier) then for the most part, they were just doing their job. There is a serious temptation to become a bully or have a bully appear in places where the power dynamics are different, especially in jobs where the perpetrator doesn’t have to fear any sort of reprisal.
It’s also important to think about for authors, not just from an in-world context but also outside of it. We’ll do an article on the dangers of action protagonists and ending up with a bully, because it’s a common occurrence in fiction to have heroes who are nothing more than author sanctioned bullies. It’s very easy, especially in a world where all violence is controlled by the author, to end up with a character that never faces consequences for their actions even when they are performing bully behavior, whether that be emotional or physical.
So, keep in mind that martial artists don’t normally end up as football style “Karate Kid” jocks and your character can’t really win a hand to hand fight without some level of self-confidence. This doesn’t mean they’re overconfident, they can be confused and worried by experiences that are new and different to them. But their lack of self-confidence in those areas can’t be crippling and can’t really extend into all aspects of how they view themselves and their lives.
(Michi Note: we’re still moving, we were working on this one slowly all weekend. We’ll try to get other stuff up, but we’re heading into a major push this week and weekend to try to get everything out and moved. We probably won’t have internet the week after that. We’re trying but life stuff comes first.)
Focused Impact Volume 1: A Practical Course In Self-Defense With Tactical Pens (by StaySafeMedia)
We haven’t had a lot of time to come up with anything new. (Moving sucks!) Anyway, I’m leaving this here for you guys. In this video, Michael Janich (a self-defense expert) talks about using a tactical pen (any metal pen will work) as an alternate form of self-defense.
We’re still planning on doing a write up on improvised weapons, but I thought this would be good to get some of you thinking about what sort of weapons a character can carry that won’t be immediately identified.
If you can, watch the video a few times to get an idea, not just on how to fight with a pen, but how to control an attacker.
Notice: when he grabs, he grabs to the upper arm, this greatly limits the possibility of movement by the assailant by eliminating their ability to use their elbow. While the shoulder can be dangerous without the rest of the arm, it’s difficult, especially if you take out the legs. The upper arm also has a pressure point half-way up the inside where the bicep and the triceps connect. This is also why he suggests striking to the inside of the thigh half-way up the upper leg, again, to a pressure point. Also, when he traps the foot while attacking.
These are all ways a smaller, weaker fighter (any fighter really) can nullify the strength advantage and control their opponent’s movements to limit their avenues of attack.
Warning: Please, do not go searching for your pressure points if it’s your first time. The pressure points connect to your nervous system, messing around with them can be highly dangerous to the continual functionality of your body. If you insist, never cross-grab (search for two pressure points on different sides of your body), pick the left or the right, never both. With a cross-grab you’ll send two different signals through your heart, which can get crossways and damage it. So, don’t. Write it only or take a class. This stuff is very dangerous, so always practice under the eye of a trained professional.
We’re sorry we haven’t been able to put anything out for the last few days, we’re a little over a week off needing to be completely moved out of our apartment (and not bankrupt ourselves on moving expenses), so we’ve been doing a lot of heavy lifting up and down many flights of stairs. This wouldn’t be so bad on it’s own, but unfortunately we’re also having to help Starke’s parents with their own move. We’re sort of co-moving atm, so it’s just the four of us moving two packrat households of worth of stuff.
Unfortunately, this leaves little room for writing. We’ll try to get a few things up this weekend and next week, but if posts are slow it’s because our arms, backs, and legs hurt far too much to even attempt to be creative or type for any length of time.
Anyway, we’ll return the blog to it’s regularly scheduled daily program after we’ve got everything sorted.
Anyway, I hope you are all having a lovely weekend!
John Hodgman’s Advice to Writers
John Hodgman is an author and former literary agent. You may recognize him for his stint on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
One of the most important lessons you will ever hear about writing; get life experience.
This is so important to writing about fight scenes. Write what you know, but knowing what you know…that’s the hard part. Remember, all the advice in the world won’t make up for practical experience.
For example: my ardent desire to become a power ranger at five years old has served me remarkably well. Yup, it wasn’t the bullying. It was the part where power rangers were awesome. Anyway, just a thought.
I sorta found this hilarious last night (but it was 3am). Also, hi new followers! We usually post one article a day, but since we’re in the middle of moving sometimes we might skip a day. Today we might skip a day, given that it’s pack up the kitchen without breaking your back Wednesday and this weekend is our Super Schlepping Weekend (Kitchen and Living Room Edition) #1.
Anyway, we hope you enjoy your stay. If you need anything our askbox is always open!
The way a trained combatant watches someone, whether it’s a potential attacker or just a friend at the bar is different from how an untrained person does. This is to be expected, when the writer is a practitioner who knows what they’re doing. But I’ve seen it skipped over often by other writers. I do understand why, of course, this is actually a very difficult thing to do if you haven’t been trained to do it, told what to look for, or spent a significant amount of time in the sparring arena. So, let’s talk about a trained fighter’s ability to track movement, tells the body exhibits before a strike, and what your character will notice before they’re even in the thick of it.
Watch the Chest: You can see the muscles moving in the chest, beneath even a heavy coat, before they ever reach the shoulders or the arms. It’s a much better method of identifying which hand the attacker is going to lead with than just watching their hands or their shoulders. The muscles in the chest provide a clear view of the torso, straight down to the hips, which is where the lead in for a kick always begins. When you know what they’re going to do, it becomes easy to avoid it. Over time, a character will check for this automatically without even thinking about it.
Watch the Eyes: The eyes telegraph, they telegraph a lot about what a person is thinking or feeling before they even begin to think about attacking. You’ll see a lot of trained fighters scanning an area as they walk to the car or enter into a busy bar, getting a layout of their surroundings, and checking out and noting each of the faces, how long they hold their gaze, etc. Humans are also animals and what the eyes say about dominance and submission will often tell a lot about the way an individual will react. Staring into someone else’s eyes for a length of time can be a sign of dominance, dropping your gaze quickly can be a sign of submission. Staring into someone else’s eyes for any length of time during a fight can have a somewhat hypnotic, uncomfortable effect on the opposing individual.
In a fight, the eyes often drop to the strike zone the attacker is intending to hit. This can be faked of course, but that’s unusual. The split second where someone is trying to remember where they put their weapon, be it on their belt is an opening. If they aren’t watching you, this gives you an opening to attack. I was once told by a woman, who heard it from a cop, that there’s a disturbing trend among young women who consider it rude to say no when someone asks them the time. Stop and think about this:
A man comes up and asks “Excuse me, do you know what time it is?”, the woman like so many now a days, doesn’t wear a watch and her phone is in her purse. She says, “sure, just one second” and reaches into her purse or pocket to get her phone, her eyes leave the man, he clocks her over the head and drags her off into the bushes.
It can happen that fast.
Wide Peripheral Vision: Martial artists have a habit of having very wide peripheral vision, this is also true of soldiers. They are trained that way and are used to blocking strikes that come from outside their field of vision.
Training Means You React Faster: Someone who is trained will react faster than someone who is not, they will react along the lines of how they’ve been trained. They see the shoulder in the beginnings of a punch, they will react with a block, the vector of the strike and their training will determine what kind of block it is. After the block, there will be some sort of counter.
We’re talking the time it takes for your brain to realize something is wrong, that information to reach your hand or leg and for the muscles to react. For a trained combatant this will be a matter of .5 seconds as opposed to a full 2 to 5 seconds. It’s important to note that some variations of Martial Arts training like Krav Maga specifically work to bring the speed of reaction down to around .25 seconds through drills and widening the student’s field of peripheral vision.
So, how does this translate into your writing?
When your character is out and about, even if they’re filled with concerns about their own life or in the midst of an intense conversation, throw in a sentence about what they notice in the world around them. They may not even really notice that they’re doing it, but for the audience it will be a tell.
It’ll go something like: ‘Thought’, the guy over there has his hands on his hips, could be a knife. ‘Thought’, the girl he’s with is too invested in her book to notice. ‘Self-absorbed thought’, rain on the ground makes it muddy, finding my footing will be difficult, should I go over there? ‘And so on.’
Description + choice= action. Always remember that when a character takes action, they are also taking the responsibility for that action onto themselves.
Before the first punch or kick is even thrown, have them notice the movement in the chest and torso, notice where another character’s eyes are looking, or even just have them be aware of the posture of the other character’s in the room. This doesn’t require lengthy description of every little detail, just a throwaway line about how someone else is standing, where their feet are, where the weapon is, and where their hands are in position to their face and to the character before the fight happens. You can bury it in a paragraph way on top of the page or on a different page in the buildup. When a fight starts, it should be immediate.
His chest and shoulder pulled back. Then, he swung. But Alice’s left hand was already moving as she caught his roundhouse with her wrist and drove her right fist into his throat.
Being knocked out is by definition brain damage, it’s a concussion serious enough to have caused the brain to essentially take a vacation. I think the limit is about two minutes for a head strike, if your character is down longer than that, then they’re dead.
The best part is that this doesn’t actually require a lot of force. The brain is basically four pounds of warm butter suspended in fluid, it doesn’t take much knocking about before it decides it wants to be elsewhere.
This is why even high school level football claims casualties from time to time and that’s with protective gear.