So I’ve kept this in my askbox for a while because I’m not sure how to respond to it. I give prompts and some writing advice on this blog. This question is way outside my limited expertise. I’ll throw it out there in case someone has an answer.
@howtofightwrite this might be up your alley
So, one armed fighters.
We’ve brought up Nick Newell before who is a professional UFC fighter who was born with a congenital amputation of his left arm. The difference between him and this character is he’s not missing his arm, it ends at his elbow. He uses his left arm as a way to provide holds and pressure when grappling that make it almost impossible to escape from due to him not having a full sized arm.
Gottfried “Götz” von Berlichingen (1480 – 23 July 1562)
otherwise known as
of the Iron Hand. He was a mercenary who lost about as much of his arm as Nick Newell in battle and replaced it with an iron prosthesis that he used in combat. He held the sword with his prosthetic and used the shield in his left hand. (He could even write with his second prosthetic. Yes, with a quill.) This guy was real, successful, badass, and died of old age. I’d read his bio. He’s an awesome bit of history.
However, when looking to write a character with any disability (whether physical or mental) it is important to not imagine them performing the exact same way as everyone else (otherwise called full-bodied, able-bodied). You’ve got to write from the perspective of someone who has a disability, who is missing their arm. They’ve got to come up with new ways to fight that work for them rather than trying to force them to fight like someone who has two working arms. It is absolutely possible for your character to fight professionally and be very successful at it, but she will do it her own way.
Look at two examples above, these are men who turned their disabilities from what most people would consider detriments into assets. By coming up with unique solutions suitable for them, their approach to combat became extremely difficult for others to counter.
In the grapple, Newell can apply pressure on angles that cannot be gotten to.
Götz figured out how to use his sword in battle without wrist movement. Think about that. That’s incredible.
Unless we’re dealing with futuristic (or even just modern) tech, there’s no way for this character, who is poor and a child, living in a pit to rig up a full prosthetic that functions to the same degree as an arm. And, who else would pay for someone to create it? Their manager has other mouths to feed.
They don’t need that second arm to sword fight. They’ll just use one of the many swords meant to be wielded one handed. They’re going to learn how to fight without that second arm.
The problem is you’re coming at this from the perspective of what you want then trying to jury rig to it instead of from the perspective of what would make sense to this character and what they would choose for themselves. This is usually the major failure of any able-bodied person writing a disabled character: you don’t think the way they do.
They are a character who has grown up without a second arm. A second arm is what other people have, it is not part of their regular life. They’ve learned to live without it. They’ve had to. Everything you think about doing with two arms or hands, they do with one. In training, they’d simply learn to compensate for that arm not being there. They also don’t have to worry about it or defend it when it combat, opening them up to potentially being more aggressive.
There’s also a high likelihood she’d use her feet a lot more.
This is the “not a martial artist” problem. Most people who’ve never done martial arts only consider two limbs, they don’t think of all four (and the head).
Then, there’s the fact she’s a child. Children fighting adults are automatically at a disadvantage. It is one hell of a gap, one she’ll need to be very quick and aggressive about overcoming. (I won’t ask why she’s not fighting in her age group. Take them by surprise works more reliably on children and young teens than seasoned adults.)
So, as a treatment, we’ve got a hyper-aggressive child combatant who wields a sword and uses their feet via kicks and footwork to make up the difference. They’ll have spent a lot of time learning counters to attacks focused on the side of their body without an arm. (If you want common tactics, the perceived area of weakness is where the initial attacks will be focused. That is the behavior this girl will turn to her advantage.)
You’ve got to learn how to re-examine and see the world from their perspective, just like you would if you were writing someone from another culture or ethnic background.
Lastly, I know gladiatorial arenas are popular as a place for characters to get their fighting chops but here’s the thing:
They’re a business.
Assume for a moment this is a fantasy setting that is following a medieval or roman archetype. For someone to be a functional pit fighter, you’ve got to feed them, clothe them, board them for years. You’ve gotta invest in them and it will be years before you see a return on that investment.
So, say your city is dystopic fantasy like Lankhmar from Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. You’ve got an entire city of urchins and orphans to pick from when yanking kids out of the gutter to stick in an arena, so why her? This may sound cruel, but think about it from the perspective of an investor. Why do you pick the girl with one arm versus the girl who still has both but is missing an eye or the kid you just caught trying to pick your pocket?
The truth is (this is where we come back to Nick Newell) it is really hard to stage fights against someone with one arm.
For the other competitor, either they just got beat up by someone with one arm or the fighter with one arm has demonstrated that they’re better than someone with two. (This is the reason why Nick Newell had difficulty getting fights in the UFC, after the years he spent trying to convince multiple gyms to take him on before locating one that would.)
From a business perspective, matching anyone against her is a lose/lose for them. For the competitor, for their manager, and possibly for the arena itself.
Pit fighting is entertainment. All gladiatorial combat, all bloodsport is entertainment. That is its primary purpose and why it exists. If the fight is not entertaining to the audience then it is worthless. If the fighter does not make money, they are worthless. Like all entertainment, there’s a threshold of cruelty the audience doesn’t want to see.
They aren’t going to want to see an able-bodied adult (especially male) beating up a one armed girl. There’s nothing fun about watching that. There’s nothing fun about betting on that. If there’s no audience for it, she has no career and they kick her out of the pit. Any experienced professional would know that going in, you’d need another character who overcame their own good business sense in order to give her a chance.
This kind of manager character will fly directly in the face of your Dickensian fantasy of the self-made little urchin girl who overcame the ills and evils of the world.
Now, Newell did manage to get fights but it took him awhile. He was a great fighter. He met a
lot of other fighters who considered their careers and said no. They
didn’t want to fight him.
The problem is entertainment sports are not about ability, they are about image.
There is a real reason why the UFC is not booking female fighters versus male fighters. They could, but they won’t. Not because a woman couldn’t fight a man or potentially win, but because it’d be a lose/lose for everyone involved. It’d be a lose for the male competitor if he lost to the woman or won against her (he needs to think about his career), it’d be a lose for the woman because if she lost then she’d confirm gender stereotypes and if she won then she couldn’t go back to women’s league. Both their salaries and winnings are paid for by the people who come to their next fight.
Bare-knuckle boxing in the 19th century had female fighters, they fought men, they fought women, they fought everyone. They were adults not kids, and this was backdoor street fighting rather than organized gladiatorial business with promotion.
There were female gladiators in Rome. On a business level, Roman gladiators worked in a manner very similar to modern boxing and the UFC.
In fantasy we’ve got our Gurney Hallack’s and our Feyd Rautha’s.
None of this means this character you’ve created can’t have a career, it just means that you as the author needs to sit down and figure out what your in setting audience considers entertaining, will put down money for, gamble on, and wants to see.
This is going to take some legwork on your part.
None of this is to say this female character can’t become a pit fighter or is invalid or the story idea stupid, it just means there are considerations to make from a setting perspective outside the character herself.
You’ve got to think from the perspective of the people who took her on, their needs, their wants, their desires, and what they saw in her that made them go “yeah, this one works for me.”
If you had any dreams about an angst filled romp where this character was forced into this life and didn’t want to be there then I’ve got some bad news. In the world of professional fighting, if you do not figure out some reason to fight then your career will be short and end swiftly. It may simply be the three square meals a day and the safe-ish place to sleep at night.
The people who are successful at bloodsport are the ones who dedicate themselves to it. This is especially true for women in a sexist environment, where everyone is telling them, “no, this isn’t for you. No, you can’t do it.” If you’ve got a woman breaking barriers then its due to her sticking a big, fat middle finger in society’s face.
Here’s some things to consider:
1) Unless these fighters are coming out of extreme isolation where they hear nothing about the outside world, “that girl without an arm can’t be a threat” is a mistake that’ll be made once. It is not persistent, and it is not an advantage after the first victory. Once she proves herself, they will begin looking for new ways to defeat her. A snake lying still only gets a surprise on their first strike.
2) Don’t assume she’ll get special treatment because she’s female or underestimated because of her gender. Female fighters aren’t rare or special. If you haven’t considered other women in the pit, you may want to redraft. If they’ll pull one girl, they’ll pull more. (A little girl with one arm isn’t going to be anyone’s first choice. So, where are the others who came before her?)
3) There are plenty of men who won’t care she’s a little girl and fight her seriously. Men aren’t stupid. Gender and a disability are not the advantage you think they are. Whatever advantage in expectation they might’ve brought will die on the table very quickly and you’ll never see it from the skilled professionals. Once they realize she’s dangerous, the gloves come off. (This is especially true if their life is on the line.)
4) If she’s pit fighting, she’s not the only fighter missing a limb. So, don’t treat her as a unique snowflake no one’s ever seen before. If they’re fighting with edged weapons then losing limbs will be fairly common.
5) Pit fighting, like any form of gladiatorial sport, is entertainment. Historically, bloodsport is connected to gambling and has more in common with cinema than an actual battlefield.
6) If you’ve got a pit where the star performers are getting killed, where are they getting the replacements from? (And why are they killing them in the first place? That’s bad business. It was actually uncommon in Rome for gladiators to die in the arena, especially popular ones with fans. Oh, did they have fans… and advertising gigs. Why kill your investment?)
7) The goal of a business is to make money. A pit is a sizeable operation that takes a lot of money to keep it going. Even if everything is above board rather than illegal, you’ve still got to have a lot of people on payroll beyond what your fighters cost (whether they’re free or slaves, you have to put money into them). You need to secure money somehow. Whether that’s gambling, wealthy patrons, or prostituting your fighters out to women and men who’ll pay for an hour in the sack, it doesn’t matter. (Rome did all three.) Figure out the economics.
8) A character who trains to fight in bloodsport is not comparable to a trained soldier. They have different motivations and different needs. Don’t assume one is the other.
Give Gladiator a re-watch if you haven’t already, it is surprisingly accurate to history and what you should be considering when setting up any kind of professional bloodsport or arena.
The UFC’s reality TV show The Ultimate Fighter is probably worth a look for research purposes, also great for character reference as there’s a lot of professional fighters and wannabes training to become professionals. It is a reality tv show though, so keep that in mind.
There’s also the history of various fighting sports from all over the world from muay thai to to sumo to pankration to sambo. That’ll help you too when it comes to imagining other fighter types.