Tag Archives: code of honor

Why are techniques such as biting, scratching, pulling air, jabbing people in the eyes, and going for the groin considered underhanded or “fighting dirty”? They definitely hurt and they could buy you more time to escape…

Because they’re dishonorable. Phrased that way, it might sound kind of stupid, but that is the logic behind why these get treated the way they do. Another example would be shooting, or stabbing, someone in the back, or gouging out an eye.

Also, these techniques aren’t created equal. Some of them will legitimately end a fight, others will just annoy an attacker.

Tearing a chunk out of someone with your teeth is a very effective way to convince them not to mess with you. Biting has some serious social stigmas associated with it. Human bites are very dangerous. The bacteria in your mouth are a major health hazard to anyone you play Pacman on. This is before considering that you can deliver a lot of force with your teeth. Your mouth is designed for tearing apart meat, much like the meat found in your foe’s arm or neck.

Biting someone can kill them. It’s also not a great idea, because you’re exposing yourself directly to their blood. If they have a blood communicable disease, then there could be serious health implications for you in the future.

Scratching someone doesn’t really work. In most cases, it will annoy them, at best. Even with long nails, the only damage you’ll do is superficial. One rare exception is if you rake the eyes. But, honestly, targeting the eyes is another underhanded tactic.

Pulling hair is iffy. It gives you some control over the head (if you hold on.) Unfortunately it also puts you very close to your opponent, and if depending on their tolerance for pain, it ties up one of your hands for limited advantage. If you’re using their hair as a tool for bouncing their skull off a hard surface, then it is an option, but on its own, this does nothing but irritate your opponent.

Tagging someone in the groin will piss them off. Depending on the individual, it might not do much else. Pop culture will teach you that this is an instant off switch for any guy. Reality will sometimes shrug off the blow, and retaliate. It will hurt, but connecting with enough force to incapacitate is not a certainty.

A lot of our concepts about what is acceptable behavior in a fight is inherited from historical rules of engagement. Rules which were originally designed to prevent a medieval peasant from accidentally killing a noble instead of capturing them for ransom, still filter up to the surface today, in prohibitions about killing someone without seeing their face.

In very general terms, dirty fighting is anything that undermines the rules of “fair fight,” and the general idea that combat is about a direct physical contest between two opponents.

It’s important to understand that concepts like honor and dirty fighting are defined entirely social norms and values. Social norms dictate what is acceptable behavior in combat. There’s nothing intrinsic about any of these techniques that make them evil, or particularly underhanded, but our society says, “don’t do this, it’s beneath you.” So, it’s “dirty,” because social norms said so.


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Forgive me for asking about tropes but… what are your thoughts on the “Honour before reason” trope? You think a good warrior/soldier, one who deals with people trying to kill her in daily life/job could work with this trope or it will change their view on things such as killing?(as in, she chooses to not use a bow because it seems dishonourable or something like that – personally I think that’s being a hypocrite). How could this apply to real life?

Honor before reason is actually a real thing that happens for some people, both on an individual level and at an institutional one.

One example of it at in institutional level was the US Military’s approach to snipers. During the first World War, the US established a specialized school for training snipers. After the war ended, the school was disbanded, only to be reformed during World War II, disbanded, reformed for Korea, disbanded, and finally reformed during the Vietnam War.

It was shut down between wars because the role of a sniper was viewed as dishonorable, and Flag Officers wasted no time in getting rid of it as soon as they could. Even though it meant, when the next war rolled around, they were starting from scratch all over again.

In a lot of ways, your personal code of honor defines your moral boundaries, and helps you to create an identity for who you are. Or at least who you believe you are. You don’t have to call this “honor,” but it’s as good a label as any.

True story: I used to know a guy who held up one rule for himself (actually he held up a lot more than just one rule, but he tended to single this one out), he wouldn’t get a job as a janitor. It was a position that was (ironically) cleaner than what he was already doing, less stressful, less physically taxing, and paid better, but, he wouldn’t apply, didn’t want to do it, and refused, because he didn’t want to “sink that low.” That’s “honor before reason”, and I suspect we all have boundaries like that.

It can be pride, it can be moralistic, it can be anything really. But, when you’re making a decision based on your view of how the world should work, or who you believe yourself to be, over what the world tells you, or what the “best” course of action actually is, that’s probably “honor before reason,” or a close relative of it.

And yes, it can be warped to an insane degree. People do approach the world with very skewed perspectives on how things should be, or what they believe their role is. Which can lead to people making idiotic decisions based on who they believe they are, or how they want the world to work.

Now, usually, when invoking this, we’re thinking of someone who has an incredibly inflexible code of honor, but, that can, and does happen. But, at a slightly more abstract level, this is everywhere.

Also, honestly, a lot of people are hypocrites in one way or another. Think of it like the old Star Wars quote, the more you try to define who other people should be, the more you likely you’ll violate one of your own rules.

If it’s just you, and you’re not holding others to account on your rules of how things should be, then you’re probably not going to be a hypocrite, but, in an era of “someone on the internet was wrong,” that can be hard if you don’t think about it in advance.

On one hand, killing is killing. It’s all wrong. There is no “good murder” as opposed to “evil murder.” It’s all choosing to end the life of a fellow human being “because reasons.”

Saying that some means of killing them are more reprehensible than others is… well, it’s not entirely without merit. Let’s use a word I know you’ve seen before, but might not have seen in this way, “discrimination.”

In warfare discrimination refers to your ability to kill the specific individual you intended, and not, say, his buddy standing next to him, or that civilian that happened to get caught in the blast radius. In warfare, discrimination is one of the fundamental elements of Just War Theory, and it is generally a good thing. It’s your ability to kill the enemy, without accidentally killing a bunch of innocent bystanders in the process.

When it comes to selecting your weapons, some will discriminate more effectively than others. Historically bows were rather poor at discrimination. Archers would fire in volleys which would put the arrows in the general vicinity of way over there. If you’re view of the warfare is fundamentally built by St. Augustine and his articulation of Jus Bellum, (like most European military forces in the last 2,000 years) then the idea of just randomly killing the enemy, instead of killing an individual could be somewhat problematic.

Further, if your view of warfare requires meeting on an equal field, then your own archers launching a volley in to soften the enemy infantry is a necessary evil. Necessary, because they’ll do it to you, but evil, because this isn’t how warfare should be fought. It creates a peculiar moment where killing someone in one way can be dishonorable, and depending on how adamant your personal code of honor is, it could be a real issue.

This is before we even get into looking at how formalized codes of honor come about. Formalized codes, like Chivalry and Bushido, are (fundamentally) built around maintaining the status quo. They’re there to reign in your forces. In the case of European codes, there was a strong focus placed on killing someone face to face, and not killing someone until you’d actually seen their face. The reason was simple; it wasn’t about fairness in combat, it was to keep you from accidentally snuffing a noble on the battlefield.

Now, obviously, if you’re an archer, putting an arrow somewhere over the rainbow, you don’t know who you killed, or if you killed anyone at all. But for an infantry fighter, the prospect of accidentally killing one of the people you were supposed to capture, haul back, and ransom, could be deeply unsettling.

What does this mean over long term? It’s like the old axiom about how “no plan survives first contact with the enemy.” Once you’re actually fighting for your life, your code of honor undergoes an acid test. It might corrode or it might become the anchor you cling to. You can call that “strength of character” if you like, or “honor before reason.” But, ultimately, that’s a question about who your character really is, under the surface, after everything goes off the rails; which is probably best left for you to decide and answer.