Q&A: Prosthetics

Do you have any thoughts in general on disabled characters fighting or disabled people wanting to learn to fight in general (inside or outside of a classroom setting)? Realism is important but I find the way people dismiss the idea overly pessimistic so as to be kind of unrealistic in itself. But I suppose it depends on the disability and who the characters are fighting. Edward Elric is the only positive example I can think of that doesn’t put Ed on the sidelines for missing limbs.

The thing about characters like Edward Elric, and I suppose Adam Jenson, is that they have combat grade prosthetic replacements. (Not sure what it says that my immediate thought after FMA is the Deus Ex reboot, but, whatever.)

The thing about a disability, when it comes to combat is, it’s only a disadvantage if it impairs the user. At some levels it doesn’t matter if someone has all of their original parts, so long as they have all the parts they need.

In the case of both examples I just gave, the replaced limbs are actually upgrades. They incorporate functionality beyond the originals. Unless, they were supposed to have arm blades to begin with.

There’s historical precedence as well. Götz von Berlichingen was a 16th century German mercenary who lost his right arm to canon fire during a siege on Landshut in southern Germany. He replaced it with a prosthetic and continued to fight as a mercenary for decades. Incidentally, on the anime theme, Götz is almost certainly the inspiration for Guts from Berserk.

So, there is some, real precedence, for someone to be combat capable with a missing limb. And, of course, when you’re talking about a setting with combat grade cybernetics or magic, it’s entirely possible they may have the technology to replace lost limbs.

So, in settings like that, if your character has their prosthetic in working order, that’s not really a disability in the specific context of combat. In some cases, it’s an advantage. A metal or cybernetic replacement will be more durable than the original meat. That said, unless it’s specifically able to self-repair, any damage is persistent, and it would (probably) require maintenance and upkeep of some sort. Same thing holds true for eyes, ears, other things. If your setting allows those to be replaced with a prosthetic that is at least as good as the original body part, there’s no problem here.

If someone is straight up missing a limb, that’s going to seriously impair their ability to fight. This isn’t just a disability issue either. If you’ve two functioning arms, and one of them is seriously injured to the point where you can’t use it in the fight, that’s basically the same disadvantage as someone who lost the use of theirs years ago, or never had one.

Also worth noting that in the real world, prosthetics have come a long way in the last few years. I haven’t seen anything I’d call combat grade out there, but it will happen, sooner than we’d expect.

I mentioned it in passing, but it’s a similar story with eyes or blindness. If your character has cybernetic replacements, or has gems of true seeing fused into their sockets and connected to their mind through enchantment, it really doesn’t matter if they don’t have their original eyes, they can see. In some cases they may have superior functionality.

There’s another edge case here, a character with an enhanced prosthetic eye might not need both eyes to function, provided it offers range finding function. You can file this under, “be creative.”

Also, if you do have a character with prosthetics, you’ll probably want to spend some time focusing on that. It’s an important part of who your character is, and how they interact with the world around them. It’s also aspect of their experience which is going to be unfamiliar to most readers.

The manga version of Full Metal Alchemist pays a lot of attention to Edward’s prosthetics, and their effects on him. So, the arm isn’t just a cosmetic freebie, it’s a part of the character and something that needs constant attention and work. It’s a good model to take if you’re wanting to go this route.

I’m just going to add here, there’s nothing wrong with someone who has a disability wanting to learn Martial Arts. This happens all the time, and it can be an excellent, positive, experience for them.

Not every teacher or school is the same, and I’m sure there are some out there who don’t live up to the standards I’m about to set, but any good martial arts instructor will seek to aid each student, and adapt for their physical limitations.

I’m all for people with physical disabilities finding a martial art that fits them, if that’s what they want. It can be helpful, both on an emotional, and physical therapy, level.

If you are disabled, regardless of the severity, and want to learn a martial art, go for it. Seriously. It will require effort on your part, but that’s going true of everyone, disabled or not. Special accommodations may be necessary, but that’s part of your instructor’s job. Above all, be honest with your instructors about your limitations. 

-Starke

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