Blind martial artists do exist. They’re something of a rarity, but blindness
doesn’t mean you can’t learn martial arts. They can’t learn it the same way a
sighted martial artist would; it requires an entirely different teaching
method. Blindness also doesn’t mean they can’t win a fight. But, being able to
see is a critical advantage.
It’s the difference between knowing there’s a knife on the kitchen table,
and not. It’s the difference between knowing your opponent is going for that
knife, or not. It’s the ability to transition stance and techniques to deal
with a suddenly armed opponent.
If you’re sitting there thinking, “but, they’ll hear it.” Yes. But the sound
itself is far less informative than the ability to see what your opponent is
doing. Was that a knife? A loaded 1911? The TV remote? If you can see it, then
you know. But, if you can’t…
In fact, of the two major sensory disabilities, a deaf fighter will be far
better suited to deal with actual combat than a blind one. You can operate
without being able to hear your opponent. You’re still at a serious
disadvantage, but it is far less debilitating.
That’s the first problem, the second is escape. How does your character know
it’s a farm house? More importantly, even once they find a way outside, how do
they know what direction to run in?
If they know where they are, then that’s partially averted. If it’s their
home, they can get around, and know where to go for safety. But, if it’s
unfamiliar territory, then running won’t make things better.
Even in the best circumstances, without a disability, getting away from an
attacker takes quick thinking, situational awareness, and some running. For
someone who’s blind, that’s not impossible, but it is much more difficult. They
need to know where they are, where they can find safety, and how to get between
those two points without being harmed or killed in the process. Without using
visual cues to establish or help with any of that.
We get variations on questions fairly frequently. But, disabilities mean
there are things characters cannot do. Things a normal person could do easily
become difficult. Things a normal person could do with difficulty become
impossible. It doesn’t mean they can’t participate. Or that they don’t have
value. But it does mean, for someone living with a disability, they can’t
simply overcome it on a whim.
I say this, and I still love Daredevil. I’ll still argue he’s one of the
most compelling characters Stan Lee ever created. You can have a character who
finds strength in adversity. But, it never comes from disregarding his
We get a lot of questions that run in a similar thread to this one. “My
character lost an arm…” “Is deaf in one ear…” “Has PTSD…” “Is blind
in one eye…” “Has no lower intestine…” And it follows to the inevitable, “how
can they ignore that and do what I want?” They can’t. You shouldn’t. Ignoring
it is incredibly disrespectful to people that actually live with those
disabilities, and, to borrow a term from roleplaying games, being a munchkin.
These are very different issues from the original question, but, let’s hit each
one in turn.
The first is an extension of The Law of Conservation of Characters. This is
a term that was coined (I think) by Roger Ebert. Basically, if you’re taking
the time to put a character in your story, they need to be there for a reason.
He would use it as a test to identify the traitor/killer/surprise lagoon
monster, ahead of schedule by looking at the cast and identifying any character
that did not serve a purpose.
The extension is to turn it around and be aware of this in your own writing.
If you’re putting a character in your story, there needs to be a reason.
Further, if they have a trait (any trait) it also needs to be there for a
reason. If you’re adding a character with a disability because, “you want to,”
then you’re going to (at best) be pandering or (at worst) pretending to be inclusive to
make yourself feel better.
And, yes, actually talking about a disability is a legitimate reason to put
it in your story. If you’re writing about the experiences of someone who has
lost their sight, then that is a trait that needs to be there. If that’s the
case, then you really need to do some in depth research on the subject
If you’re adding traits to a character because they add texture to the world
or provide red herrings, that can certainly be legitimate. For example: if
you’re writing a murder mystery, and one of the suspects was a soldier who
fought against the victim’s side during “the war,” then that’s both. Also, in a
good classic murder mystery or spy thriller, a few extra red herring characters
aren’t necessarily a misstep.
But, at the same time, you do need to consider what those traits are, and if
they’re appropriate for the story you’re trying to tell. If you’re writing
about a character escaping from kidnappers, then blindness or being a
paraplegic will throw a monkey wrench into the entire endeavor.
If you’re writing a murder mystery, and the character with the clear motive
couldn’t be the killer, because they’re blind, and the victim was sniped… then
that’s a piece of the puzzle.
I’m singling out mysteries here, because that’s one of few the genres that
embraces red herrings as plot devices.
If you’re simply adding disabilities to a character because you want to be,
“inclusive…” Please, for fuck sake; stop. It’s not inclusive, it is, at best,
pandering, and frequently, insulting.
So, let’s talk about munchkins, and what they mean to you as a writer.
If you’re somehow not familiar with the term, a munchkin is an RPG player
who aggressively builds their characters to be as powerful as possible,
subverting the rules and common sense as needed. As far as I know, the term
dates back to UseNet posts in the early 90s, though the word itself is borrowed
from The Wizard of Oz books.
The closest literary relative would be a Mary Sue, but that’s not really an
applicable analogy because of the methods a Munchkin uses to optimize their
character. Munchkinism is heavily dependent on a game’s specific rules, but, in
extremely broad strokes, a Munchkin will take penalties in something they don’t
care about in order to boost the capabilities they’re using to exploit the
What does this mean? It goes back to what I was saying a minute ago. If you’re
giving your character a trait, it needs to be there for a reason. The basic
trade off mechanic that munchkins feed on is one that makes a lot of sense in
building a character. If you have a character who is socially inept, but very
intelligent, that makes sense as a basic design tradeoff. It is a quick
reliable way to remind yourself that your characters are different people. One
does this, another does that.
Frequently, in Munchkinism, you’re looking for ways to take penalties that
won’t actually matter, because you can just work around them, or trade the
penalties elsewhere. If you’re building a character as a combat piece, and nothing
else, that’s not really a problem. But, in roleplaying, as with writing, the
first goal is to tell a story, not to demonstrate your prowess as a rules
You’ll see elements of this in some Mary Sues. The character, as written,
has some horrible flaw that just… gets… ignored, by everyone. We’re told
they’re socially awkward, but see no evidence of it in the actual text. We’re
told they can’t drive, but we’re never shown any of day to day hindrance that causes.
We’re told they’re pathologically afraid of violence… because they’re
fantastic at it? That’s not how that works.
And, that’s the problem with a lot of these questions. They boil down to, “I
slapped a penalty on my character, now how do I cheat my way around it?” You
don’t. You shouldn’t. Embrace it.
When you’re writing, you create the world and set the rules. You might be
borrowing those rules from some approximation of reality, but you set them. What
makes characters interesting isn’t the things they can do, it’s the things that
limit them. The things you put in front of your character that they can’t
overcome without significant effort, or that they’re unwilling to yield
against, even when it breaks them. In creating your world, you need to set
those limits and work within them, rather than looking for ways to subvert them.
Characters who work against their limits are far more interesting and
memorable than ones who slip the bounds and stomp off. Sometimes that means you’ve
written a character who can’t fight. You can go two ways with that; they refuse
to admit they’re not up for it, and keep getting beaten down, or they try to
work their way around without resorting to violence.
How does a blind character get out of a rural farmhouse where they’re being
held? By being smarter or more manipulative than their captors. By working out
the weak links in the social fabric of their captors. By finding a way to
contact someone in the outside world. By thinking, really, thinking about their
situation, and making sure they have a plan for what they’ll do next. (Get a
knife, stab the guy… what’s next?) That you’re asking, suggests you have no
more of an idea than I do, and you have more information on the setting.
Does blindness give them access to any more information that a sighted
character wouldn’t have? Maybe. But, if asked about a character with no prior
history of violence, my final advice would be the same. You set up a situation
where violence should be the last resort, and has the greatest risk of getting
your character killed. Unless they want to die, their own ability in risk
assessment should have pointed them somewhere else.