Tag Archives: creative tips

Q&A: Write It

I’ve been a fan of this page for a long time, and this isn’t a combat question, but it is a writing question. I’ve had a horrible plot and character idea since I was eleven, a twist on religion and the multiverse. I do not want to write that idea, it’s confusing to myself even. Whenever I try and write something else, I suffer from writers block and can only think of that world. Is there an escape from this damnation?

Write it.

The answer to any idea that won’t leave you alone is to write it. You’re not eleven years old anymore, there are things you can do with this setting and this story that you couldn’t then. It’s hanging on because it wants to be told. You can lock it up in a deep dark place when you’re done and never show it to anyone. There’s writing Starke and I will never show or share with anyone.

Just do yourself a favor, escape from purgatory.

Let it out.

It doesn’t have to be in total, just in pieces. You can try letting it free then working on something else at the same time. Much as your conscious mind insists it’s a terrible idea, there is a part of you that is desperate for this story to get out. So, listen to this part of you.

Give it life.

You will not be judged by every horrible idea you begin with, and honestly many, many ideas are terrible in the beginning.  If we don’t let ourselves be awful we never give ourselves the chance to become great.

Writing is a process, like with everything. We never have all the answers in the beginning, just an idea. A spark that lives in the quiet corner of our minds. Most of us will never have an idea that emerges whole. When I get far enough in a story, (usually around 20,000 words) I need to step back and do research as a breather. I did through research materials and get a sense for where I want the world to be like. This is the part for me where the most interesting ideas happen, the story changes and a new plot emerges. Give your creative mind time to get there. What you imagine and what makes it onto the page will be different, and it will be further refined as time goes on.

This is also the part where I tell you that every single horrible thought and plot you think up has the potential to become your best writing. The bad ideas are the ones that initially sound good, then disappear on the evening tide. The really good ones? They’re the ideas that stick with you. They come back, time and again. There’s something in them which attracts your mind, a nugget of creative brilliance or some exploration you haven’t realized you need yet.

One of the most important truths as a writer is learning to listen to yourself. Beneath all the noise of the outside world, society, and our thoughts, there’s another voice in there.

Creativity lives in what interests and excites us, often in what seems terrible but we just can’t let it go. It isn’t in the politically correct, or the should be’s, or the best ideas. Sometimes, it’s silly, and confusing, and disconcerting, and you don’t know what to do.

Let the eleven year old you come out to play.  Give them the gift they weren’t able or ready to give themselves. If you can come up with no other reason to write this story then do it for them.

Tell them their story.

We find peace when we remember to love ourselves, when we love the shades of who we were. Those people in our past, who we’ve outgrown but never left behind. Writing is, in many ways, an expression of the dreams we never lost. Some stories stick around until we find the words to express them, when we’re ready to tell them. In that moment, they become more insistent. When they do, they’re telling you that you’re ready. There are doors in all our hearts which take us back in time to the dreams we had when we were young. The voice of our inner child is the source of creativity, its where our magic and wonder exists. Writing is just an extension of playing make believe. Canonized and uplifted, maybe, but that’s what it is. Listen to the parts of you that remembers joy without judgement or criticism. All ideas are horrible in initial concept. In the end, we all write about what we want rather than what’s right. Self-acceptance is, perhaps, the most important part of any creative pursuit. Creative catharsis as it were.

We cannot write for any audience other than ourselves until we learn to write selfishly. This means engaging with the silly ideas, the terrible ideas, the horrible ideas, the destructive ideas, the frustrating ideas, the cliche ideas, and all the others when they decide to stick around. It’s not just okay to be selfish, it’s necessary. The creative must believe in themselves, and realize that sometimes we don’t get to decide which stories we tell. Sometimes, we tell them because want to. Sometimes because we need to. Listen to your inner world. When the same idea returns time and again, brought to the beach that is your conscious mind, accept it for what it is. Don’t fight the tide.

You may find, when you finally do tell this story, you’ll be greeted not by a stranger but an old friend who wondered why you were gone so long.

-Michi

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Avoiding the Combat Sue/Stu

We often treat Mary Sue like she’s the greatest offense to the literary world. Down with Sue! Or, so the chant goes. Less commonly heard is; Down with the Stu! But, I digress. There’s no shame in writing a Mary or a Gary, we’ve all done it. Mary Sue is the embodiment of the power fantasy and I don’t mean that on a literary level, I mean it on a basic, reality level. Mary Sue is a personal fantasy, she’s the dream. She is the inspiration we find in stories and the first stepping stone on the path to creation.

Mary Sue and Gary Stu are most obvious in fanfiction because they don’t belong. We know they don’t because the characters don’t follow the behavioral paths we expect. Check out, this short story Fan Fiction by Shannon K. Garrity of Narbonic.com for the webcomic Girl Genius by Phil and Kaja Folio as a great (non-chastizing) send up of Mary Sue.

Remember, if you want to write then you need to first give yourself permission to fantasize.

Let’s talk about some simple ways to take your Sue to the next level.

It’s not the skills your character possesses or how powerful they are that creates the uncanny valley–a term normally applied to video games but works in the context of almost human, but not quite right–of the Stu. It’s not whether or not their actions or abilities are realistic. Realism is created in setting by the rules and laws and our own societal expectations for gender are already unrealistic. No, a Sue comes from the removal of a single important element: there are no guarantees.

Combat is a risky business. This is a truth that is always in play, regardless of whether your character is a drunken wastrel stumbling out of a bar or the greatest swordsman in the land. Your super skilled combat professional can be murdered easily by a mook who catches them off guard, just as easily as they could be by the main villain in his tall tower. Combat is contextual. It relies on luck as much as it does skill. Every time your character leaps into a fight, they are endangering their life, their health, their mental well being, and the lives of their friends and family. This can be a difficult concept to grasp if the entire point of a character is to feel powerful, unstoppable, or invulnerable to harm. Sues and Stus invariably are about creating a sense of safety in the narrative. They’re so strong we don’t need to worry about them. This is a mistake if the author buys into their overconfidence because it cuts the character’s enemies and even their friends entirely out of the equation.

Spike: But you can kill a hundred, a thousand, a thousand thousand, and the armies of hell besides, and all we need is for one of us, just one, sooner or later to have the thing we’re all hoping for.
Buffy: And that would be what?
Spike: One… good… day.

Do any of your characters ask: why can’t that day be today?

Sports movies heavily favor the underdogs. They’re more interesting and more intriguing because it’s all about beating the odds and coming from behind to do the thing no one expects through hard work and dedication. These rules apply just as easily to your mooks as they do to your heroes. There is no such thing as: “I’m so good it doesn’t matter” except in a character’s own head. Being able to fight isn’t an automatic pass past physical realities and laws of chance. If your character is so powerful that people live in fear of them, hate them, reject them from society then there will be those characters that will move to destroy the thing they fear. They will attempt to eradicate it and eliminate it, or may simply throw rocks at it from the safety of a window. People do not like to be made afraid and they will often lash out against the perceived source of that fear. These may be innocent people on the street as easily as it can be the story’s villain.

The real trick to avoiding the Combat Sue is to force your character to deal with their setting, to be a coherent part of a world that doesn’t always function around them and can continue on if they aren’t present or choose not to play along. Stus and Sues need to be needed, if they aren’t there the world in the novel stops turning. They solve their problems, usually with asspulls and in the case of the Combat Sue always with violence. Except, violence isn’t the solution to every problem, violence can often make a situation worse. Every character your character kills is someone’s son, someone’s daughter, someone’s father, someone’s mother, someone’s mother, there’s nothing stopping their surviving family from swearing vengeance. This is before we get into complex political implications if your character murders or harms a character that is in a protected position of power such as a lord in a neighboring country. As Witty Hawke says during Sebastian’s second mission in Dragon Age 2 to take vengeance for his murdered family: “This is why the cycle of violence never ends.” Said in jest, but it is how the cycle continues.

Your character’s fight scenes can’t exist in a vacuum, everything they do will affect someone else. The choices they make and how they deal with those choices will affect the story. How other characters respond to their actions will also affect the story, give your side characters the freedom to make up their own minds.

-Michi

On Writing: Psychological Shock

There are two different kinds of shock that can easily be confused with each other: physiological shock from receiving a grievous injury and psychological shock which is an acute stress reaction to a terrifying or traumatic event. In this article, we’re going to talk about how a writer can communicate that their character is experiencing psychological shock without having to outright state it. There are many tips out there that are useful for writing fight scenes and most of them won’t be helpful when your story requires coupling an action sequence with an acute stress reaction.

So, let’s go below the cut and talk about it.

In this, we’re going to talk about psychological shock from the writer’s perspective and how to use it. However, we are not medical professionals. For a full understanding of psychological shock, more research will be required.

What is an acute stress reaction?

An acute stress reaction comes from experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. This could be anything from watching a random passerby get gutted by a mugger, being attacked by a mugger, finding a family member dead in their bed, being the victim of violence, experiencing a betrayal by a close friend, being on the wrong end of a gun, etc.

This experience links into both the fight or flight response and the combat stress response.

Okay, so what does that mean?

If you’ve never experienced an acute stress reaction before to a traumatic event in your own life then manufacturing it on the page may be difficult. Even if you have, reliving the experience in your own mind in order to get it right can be incredibly traumatizing. What is most important to presenting shock in your story is not that you focus entirely on getting the exact symptoms right, it’s getting the feeling right and making sure that the same feeling infuses every aspect of the scene if it’s being written in either First Person or Third Person Limited.

I mean everything from pacing to word choice should be representative of selling the experience to your audience. This is how you make anything in your story authentic. You have to sell it as if you were experiencing it yourself.  Method acting will help; imagining the scene as if it were happening to you will help if you’re willing to go there.

How to do that:

I personally describe shock as feeling sluggish and dazed. I felt far away from my body, far away from reality and what was happening around me. Information came in slow, but my reaction to it was dull and, depending on the situation, nonexistent. In events that happened after, I remembered everything that had happened with perfect clarity but it still felt like I had been on autopilot. For me, how hard I get rocked by shock often depends on what I was expecting going into the event. If I’m completely blindsided, it can take a while to recover. If I was prepared for it or had begun preparations for it, I have less to work through before getting back to the regular world. I apply this to my characters when working through how they feel about events and what parts of the process they get caught in.

You can communicate shock fairly easily through some simple techniques.

Remove the active verbs.

Compare:

Looking down at her hand, Margaret saw blood.

Versus:

Margaret looked down at her hand and saw blood.

One of these is fast and I’ll admit, the one with “looking” sounds better, but it also moves more quickly and feels more active. When you want your sentences to move more slowly, to feel more sluggish, it’s worth taking a step back and taking your time because from the character’s perspective everything has slowed down. (Always remember though, time is keeping pace for the other characters in the scene unless they are likewise affected, so keep them moving at normal speeds.)

Long sentences interspersed with short sentences.

Margaret looked down at her hand and saw blood. Blood. Whose blood? My blood. No. No, it couldn’t be. It couldn’t be her blood.

By interspersing long sentences with short ones, you can develop an awkward, intentionally jerky feel in the pacing which adds to the sense that the character is feeling out of sorts and distant to what’s happening around them.

Repetition

 Margaret looked down at her hand and saw blood. Blood. Whose blood? My blood. No. No, it couldn’t be. It couldn’t be her blood.

We can use repetition of the same word over and over to emphasize that sense of distance; that the character is taking a while to come to terms with what he or she is experiencing. The information is taking a while to sink in. We also add in a denial of the reality present which results from surprise.

“He shot me! You shot me! Derrick! Why would you shoot me?”

Shock can follow your characters for a while, so even at later points in the story it’s important to call back to it through changes in your character’s behavior. So, remember to keep track of that. Whether it’s pain from the wound:

Her cheek hurt. Why would it hurt? Oh right, Margaret thought, she’d been shot.

or from a distinct change in their lifestyle:

I turned my head, hand tightening on the remote. Dad always came home at five after five and he’d give me hell if he caught me watching television. I waited, listening for the familiar thrum of the Ford Taurus as it wound up the driveway, the catch of the headlights on the windows, the blur of green through the white shades. On the tube, Batman laughed but no grinding wheels came up the asphalt. It was just another car passing our front door outside.

Oh. I paused. Oh, right. Dad wasn’t coming home from work today. Dad wasn’t coming home ever again.

Give it a try. See what you turn out.

Happy Writing!

-Michi

Weapon Primer: Elbows and Knees

There’s a lot of misinformation out there about elbow and knee techniques, especially regarding their combat versatility, power, and general usefulness. In fact, this will probably be a very short article because there’s not actually that much to talk about.

Let’s start by bringing this close to home and talk about the source of your elbow and your knee.

Elbows and Knees are joints:

This is very important to remember, not just because your character is going to be working with half of their arm and half of their leg instead of the whole one, but also because elbow and knee strikes are high risk versus high reward. Your elbow and your knee are joints. This means that unlike breaking a toe or a finger in your punch or kick, you break your elbow or your knee on a hard surface and its goodbye arm and leg movement. A broken joint is major surgery with the possible side of the arm never moving right again.

So, where do you take the elbow or the knee: soft targets.

A soft target is a part of the body that is unprotected by bone like the stomach, the groin, or the front/side/back of the neck.  You don’t really want your character putting their elbow anywhere near the vicinity of someone else’s face, unless they’re doing an elbow strike that comes up under the jaw. This is because the most armored part of the human body is the face.

Remember that feeling you had the last time you banged your elbow against a hard surface like a metal pole or a wall, or a wooden desk? Yeah, that’s what putting your elbow into someone else’s face is going to feel like.  An elbow is not a powerful enough strike to be worth that risk.

Limited range of motion means less power:

When used appropriately in close quarters situations, elbows and knees can be very effective strikes. The problem is that on their own they don’t have much power.  Elbows and knees are joints; this means that unlike a punch you cannot achieve a full rotation of the body. Remember, power comes from extension and from the hips, shoulders, and joints working together to achieve maximum effect. An elbow and knee halves that equation because you can only use your hips and your shoulders, instead of the full arm or full leg. Less momentum equals less inertia which equals less force which equals less power overall. A fair amount of fighting does come down to physics.

Now, you’re probably thinking: but I’ve always been told the best way to take a guy down was by kneeing him in the groin? Yes, but that’s not because the knee is a powerful strike. The groin has more nerve endings than anywhere else on the body, when struck the reaction is painful immediate in either gender. A knee has a better chance of reaching the groin than the foot, this is because the odds are the girl is going to be standing near to the guy already and the pants are a great visual guiding line for someone who doesn’t know what they are doing.

Proper application will overcome a lot of limitations. Unfortunately, an author needs to know what those applications are before they can use the technique in their work.

So, where does your character need to be to the other person for their technique to have a chance in hell of working?

You need to be nose to nose:

There’s a very quick way to double check that: lift your arm and put it out in front of your face, now bend your hand back to your face. See your elbow? That’s pretty much the full length of the rotation. Your character is going to be nose to nose with their attacker, probably in some sort of grappling situation. A front facing choke performed with either one or two hands has more range than an elbow strike. Elbows and knees are for those moments when you don’t have room to punch or kick, when you’re so close you can smell the other person’s deodorant and what they had for breakfast.

So, when should your character be using these strikes?

Elbows and knees are for when you’re trying to gain complete control of the attacker:

Elbows and knees don’t actually do that much damage compared to punches or kicks, but their limited range of motion means that the attacker can get away with quick subsequent repetitions and you don’t want to permanently injure your opponent. This is why they are often taught in self-defense because they are both easier to learn in a short period of time than punches and kicks, but also because there’s not a lot of chance that the student will actually permanently injure their opponent which keeps them mostly out of trouble with the law.

You can actually perform multiple elbow strikes to someone’s windpipe without risk of crushing it, compare to the half-palm strike which has a much greater chance of doing just that. The elbow and knee are good for stun locks, but not for killing.

So, what techniques can you perform with an elbow or a knee?

Let’s talk about it:

The Elbow:

Though the elbow only has a very limited range of motion, there are places where it truly does excel. The elbow is one of the only hand/arm techniques that can be performed in all four directions and the easiest and most natural one to do against an enemy that’s looking to grab your character in a bear hug. (A bear hug is a technique in which the opponent wraps their arms around both of yours and lifts you up off the ground, squeezing and nullifying your motion so that their buddy can come and pound on you.) When a character is coming in from behind but is too close for an effective kick, an elbow to the gut can provide the time they need to turn while opening their attacker up to an effective counter.

The bony tip of the elbow is rarely used in combat, because yes that is indeed exposed bone. Exposed bone against a hard surface is very painful and a person has quite a few bony places on their body. So, that advice Divergent gave about sharp knees and elbows being an advantage? That’s complete bull.

Here are the different directions you can perform with an elbow strike:

Forward: the elbow comes across in a diagonal arc in front of the face. This strike hits with the meaty portion of the forearm and not the bony tip, while it can go to the nose, it’s best to stick with safe places like the neck. This one will only work when your character is driving their body forward.

Up: Too close for an uppercut? Bring that elbow up under the jaw! Again, this hits with the safe, meaty portion of the forearm and not the elbow’s tip.

Sideways: Left or right will depend on which arm your character is using, the elbow drives out sideways into the incoming attacker. Again, usually aiming for the neck or the pressure point in the upper arm, because this strike does use the tip of the elbow your character is going to want to aim for soft places. Also, this strike has very limited range of motion and high is the only place it can really go.

Back: Bring that elbow back and the arm creates a natural triangle right into the opponent’s gut. If your character can time it right, this is an exceptionally useful defense when faced with someone attacking from behind.

Down: So, you’ve exposed the back of your opponent’s neck but you don’t want to risk a massive injury to his or her spinal column, drive that elbow downwards. Unlike the knife hand, this move is legal in MMA.

The Knee:

The knee is a nice stealth strike to the lower portions of the body, the movement of walking up to someone else can mask the character’s intentions and a solid strike to the pressure point midway up the thigh can take a leg out early in the fight. Unfortunately, because of the knees limited range of motion it only has one direction: forward. It also can’t reach the face and, depending on who your character is fighting, even the groin without help.

To use a knee as a finishing movement for a fight, it needs to be combined with a clinch. In boxing, a clinch is when an opponent has their hands around your head and is controlling your range of motion. Remember, where the head goes the body follows. The elbows close in around the face and they grip you tightly, driving their knee up into your body. Because of the clinch, the knee can reach the groin and even the stomach region which can be devastating for the fighter. When in the clinch, the opponent can even pull the head down and drive their knee up into your character’s face.

This is where the knee gets its reputation from and why it is bad news bears for your character or their opponent in that sort of situation.

-Michi

Writing Exercise #2: Blocks and Counters

Today, we’re going to pass out an exercise for writing about counters. A counter is a combination technique that combines a block with a follow-up strike. The ability to combine defensive techniques with offensive ones is an important part of any character’s martial training. Characters who do use blocks and counters are characters who have had some sort of formal training. Check out our article Unusual Martial Art: Street Fighting for more information on the differences between trained and untrained combatants.

So, let’s get down to it! Using the information found in FightWrite: The Art of Blocking and FightWrite: A Basic Upper Body Primer (Fists) write a fight scene that includes:

1) an attack by the scene’s antagonist

2) a block by the protagonist

3) a follow up attack by the protagonist after they’ve blocked

Switch it up to write the protagonist losing if you feel so inclined. The lead up to the fight scene may be as long as you like, but the fight itself should happen in a single paragraph (five sentences or less) and you must describe the techniques used without naming them. Try to avoid kicks for now, unless you’re very comfortable with spacing and distance. Hands range usually means your character is past the point of effective kicking range (but within knee range).

Tips: The hand or arm that blocks and the hand that counters are two different hands or sides of the body so keep track of where the hands go and what they’re doing.

Try to use strong or powerful verbs like slam or slammed, drive or drove, ram or rammed instead of hit.

Example: she hit him with her fist.

Example: she slammed her fist into his throat.

Strikes have a physical weight to them that must be conveyed to the reader in order for the scene to be successful.

Below the cut is my attempt. Have fun!

-Michi

Lisa MacAvoy had known it wouldn’t be long until Marvin jumped her in some dank back alley behind McKinney Senior High. The trouble had started back when he’d made a pass at her in the lunch line back in September. Well, pass made it sound too pleasant. He’d grabbed her boob, she’d dumped him face first into a neighboring tray full of Mac and Cheese. He’d never been happy about that.

But I got suspended, so fair’s fair.

Marvin swung in, fist arcing at her into a wild roundhouse. He was big, strong from lifting weights every day in the gym after school.

It’d be over if she gave him the time to grab her.

Lisa stepped forward, ramming both her hands out into his arm. Her left went to the middle of Marvin’s forearm, the right to the soft pressure point between his bicep and triceps. Marvin’s body came to a sudden stop. Lisa didn’t waste time, her right hand reached up to grasp the back of Marvin’s neck. She slammed his face down as her knee drove upwards and the two connected with a messy crack.

Weapon Primer: Basic Kicks Part 3 (Combinations + Your Character)

Disclaimer: This is not an article designed to teach you how to kick. This article is designed to teach you about kicks, the principles behind them, and how to include them in your writing. For the uninitiated, you can risk a lifetime of injuries in your legs by practicing any of these without sufficient stretching and an instructor present. If the martial arts are something you’re interested in pursuing, feel free to message us and we can talk about the steps you can take to find a school that might work for you. Remember, we’re not liable for the damage you do to yourself or others in absence of proper training.

This is the third part of the primer on Basic Kicks, go here and here to read the first two. So, we’ve covered the kicks, some of the footwork, and how to do them.  But without basic understanding of where and when kicks are useful for your fighting sequences, they’re pretty much useless. In this section we’re going to talk about how you handle kicks in fight sequences, talk about kicking combinations and the difference between them and exhibition kicks. We’ll also give a few more tips on how to apply them to the characters you craft, some advice for writing them in your fight scenes, review our basic terminology and finally: give you some good reference material to further improve your studies. The more you know; the better writer you will be.

So, let’s get down to it.

Why is kicking important?

Pros: Kicks are a valuable part of any martial style and are well worth the difficulty that comes with mastering them. While more risky than hand techniques, they come with an advantage of speed, power, reach, and exceptional accuracy if your character has the requisite level of training. You can kick much, much harder than you can punch. A character can put more force behind kicks. Kicks can provide superb defense, keeping the other fighters off balance and your character out of arms reach. They can end the fight quickly, causing significant amounts of internal injuries, broken bones, and even death (often through grievous head wounds and concussions). They give you four limbs with which to attack instead of just two and can help make fight scenes more dynamic in the reader’s imagination.

Cons: That said kicks can come with some significant cons to balance them out. Many kicks are virtually useless once an opponent penetrates the fighter’s guard. (See: the Kicking Conundrum) They rely managing the opponent and keeping them far enough away for the vast majority of their arsenal to remain useful. If an opponent catches the leg, the fight is over. I can tell you that hopping across the floor to keep up with someone who has your leg tucked under their arm, even in just a friendly situation, is terrifying. You can’t extract it from them. You just have to trust that they’ll let you go. You can’t do that in a combat situation. Remember, there are no perfect techniques and no guaranteed victories. Each one has a counter and even when you and your character work hard, sometimes it’s just not enough, sometimes there’s someone better. No injury is free.

Common Combinations versus Double-Kicks:

Let’s start with Double-Kicks.

Double-Kicks: You’ve probably seen double-kicks in action if you’ve gone to any Taekwondo tournament. But let’s assume you haven’t. What is a double-kick? A double-kick is a kick, usually using the front leg, where two kicks are done with a single leg without the foot ever touching the ground. Sounds impressive, right? They are an exceptional display of control and skill when executed well. This can be confusing for non-practitioners who see them, because they look impressive and are very advanced. So, using them in a combat sequence will prove how talented their character is. But double-kicks aren’t combat kicks.

Double-Kicks like the low-high (low-high roundhouse, low-high side kick) and the double roundhouse aren’t combat kicks, they’re kicks designed to help the practitioner develop their balance, accuracy, flexibility, and fine muscular control. They’re usually taught between red belt (sometimes at brown belt) to black belt and are included in some of the higher level forms.

So, why don’t double-kicks work for combat?

The reason for this is simple, unlike in Hollywood, humans normally move away from what’s causing them pain. They will stumble, they will move back, or step away. Think back to your physics lessons for your scenes, what happens when force encounters force? Double-kicks are stationary. A character caught in the middle of a double-kick cannot give chase. Kicks generate a lot of force and they need follow-through (complete extension of the leg into the opponent) to be effective. A Double-Kick relies on balance, instead of the character going through the opponent. They have to pull their leg back to try again and don’t take into account the idea of the other person moving. Like I said, they’re not designed for combat. They are a great balance exercise and they will still look damn impressive when showing off to your friends (if you ever show off to your friends, I never did, non-martial artists just don’t understand).

Basic Kicking Combinations: Combinations are a martial artist’s bread and butter. They’re an important part of any character’s martial training. They build the connections in the brain that allow a fighter to transfer easily between different techniques, so instead of just throwing one, they can consecutively throw two, three, or four. Kicking combinations can only be done by characters that are trained, characters with a higher level of training will eventually start switching up their combinations and crafting their own. Remember, combinations are more like guidelines than actual rules. For kickers, they teach what kicks work together and flow naturally into one another, thus saving time and grief on using kicks whose movements (ending hip position, footwork) clash with each other. An example would be: combining a sidekick with a wheel kick as opposed to a sidekick and a back kick.

Now, let’s bring the rest of this guide into play and see how well you can follow along with these basic combinations:

1)      Slide front kick, front kick

2)      Front kick, roundhouse

3)      Roundhouse, sidekick

4)      Roundhouse, slide sidekick

5)      Sidekick, back kick

6)      Slide sidekick, back kick

7)      Slide sidekick, back kick, front kick, double-punch

8)      Front kick, roundhouse, back kick

9)      Slide front kick, front kick, roundhouse, slide sidekick, back kick

10)   Slide roundhouse, hook kick, cross-step roundhouse, wheel kick

I’m kidding on the last one, that’s rather advanced (red belt). You tack on the double-punch to the end of all of the above if it’s being performed in class.

How to Build Your Own:

If you were wondering why this guide in particular is so damn long, this is why. As writers, but (mostly) non-practitioners you don’t have the advantage of being able to experiment with your scenes before you put them down on paper. The reason for the step-by-step instruction is so you can learn the ins and outs of the kicks without having to learn to use them yourselves even if they’re imported piecemeal into your writing. Once you start being able to visualize the kicks in your mind, you can start putting them together into different combinations, combining them with hand motions as you become more advanced in your understanding. Your characters won’t always hit the enemy, but what matters is convincing your audience that you know what you’re talking about. So, some things to consider when putting together your own combinations:

Ignore the legs and ask where did my character’s feet land? What direction are their hips facing? Are they pointed sideways (finished a sidekick) or towards the opponent (front kick, roundhouse, punch)? Is someone coming in from the side (throw sidekick)? Or from behind (back kick)? Do they need to turn or come across (roundhouse)? How close are they to the opponent (punch, grab, or sidekick)?

Think beyond just techniques to the situation. The more you practice, the better you’ll get. Remember, there are thousands of different combinations out there. So, don’t worry about it too much unless the scene you’re writing is anatomically impossible or you’re performing a kill strike and calling it self-defense.

Kicking and Your Character:

You don’t have to include kicks if you’re not comfortable with them. In fact, if we’ve gotten this far and it’s all confusion, I really recommend avoiding them. Kicking is a very specialized skill and characters who practice them require specialized backgrounds. Not all martial artists can kick or kick well enough to get away with it in combat. Many of my Instructors, the ones who began training in martial arts at an older age, were only passable. Kicking wasn’t what they were good at, but they were still excellent in every other aspect. So, remember, you don’t need kicks and they’re much easier to screw up even in a fictional context than hand technique.

Kicking is not a required trait for a female fighter. While women do have a better sense of balance and flexibility, any woman who begins her training even into her early teens will have some difficulty with kicks (balance + muscular control) and older than that she’ll run into the same problems her male counterparts have. The older you get, the more difficult it is to master kicks in a combat context. The speed and fine muscle control just isn’t there. Besides, a woman’s only value isn’t in her legs.

Traits of a Kicker:

Beyond the obvious (limber, flexible, etc), here are a few traits that characters who use kicks as their primary offense will have.

They think with their feet:  A character that comes from a kicking discipline will have a “feet first” mentality. They’ll be more aware of other characters and keep a wider circle of awareness around their body (the extension of the leg), they’re usually aware of any other character who has entered into “kicking range”.

The knees go: snap, crackle, pop. This is one of the things they won’t tell you, but fighting is hard on the body. Even just training for it, you begin to wear out your body at an early age. Most kickers have knee problems later in life and even if they don’t, you can hear their body when they kneel down or bend over: snap, crackle, pop, the sound of the cartilage in their joints rubbing together. It doesn’t mean much of anything, but it’s common in most Taekwondo artists. My knees were going snap, crackle, pop by the time I was twelve years old. It isn’t painful for the practitioner, but it does make the listener wince and go: ‘oooh, ouch’.

Calluses: Kickers have hardened feet from years on the mats; no amount of lotion will ever soften them.

Writing Kicks in Your Fight Sequences:

We went over everything associated with the basic kicks in this write up not because all of it needs to be included in on the page, but because it’s part of what you need to be thinking about when you write them. There’s no reason to take the audience through a step-by-step accounting of every technique unless they’re a complete beginner. For most characters, these techniques will have already naturally become part of who they are, how they move, and how they think. They won’t consider the step-by-step because they already know how to do them. The problem is that you are not your character even though they are built out of your experiences and your imagination. If you don’t know, they can’t know, even though they should. It can be very frustrating.

So, let’s talk about the parts your scenes should focus on:

Impact: Remember our terminology and be specific: where on the body is your character hitting or being hit by their opponent? What parts of the body are they using, foot and leg don’t cut it, details are key. Compare:

Bad example: Samantha yanked her leg back and rammed her foot into Steven’s stomach.

Better example: Samantha yanked her leg back and struck out, ramming the blade of her foot into Steven’s stomach.

The differences are minor, but the visualization for the audience is better. You don’t need much, techniques happen fast, so you must attempt to marry brevity with detail to create scenes that move quickly. Remember, time doesn’t stop for us in real life when we stop to think about stuff, so it shouldn’t for your character.

Focus on what the technique does, not what the technique is: Use of proper terminology is great, but most people won’t know what that means and the effect is lessened. It feels like reading a textbook, instead of a fight.

Bad example: Samantha hit Steve with a hammer blow to the chest and then drove a sidekick into the side of his knee.

Better example: Samantha drove the bottom of her fist down into the center of Steve’s chest, like a hammer striking a nail. As he stumbled back, she whipped her knee up and around, tucking it tight against her stomach. Then she struck out with her left leg, driving the blade of her foot through the side of his knee. It gave way with a crunch and he howled, falling to the ground.

Any writing is about communicating ‘what happened’ to the reader, the rules for ‘show, don’t tell’ apply to writing fight scenes too. This is why writing fight scenes is so hard, because you need more than just the technique, you need: how to do it, what it does, where can it connect, what are the effects, and how will others respond to my character’s actions?

Most martial artists won’t provide that information for you, because they don’t need it. There are no easy answers to writing, just the ones you find for yourself. Give yourself some time to learn and you’ll come out the other side better than you began.

Review: Basic Terminology

The Fighting Stance: the beginning defensive stance for fighters

The Chamber: The position of the knee and the intermediate step between the foot on the ground and the kick in the air.

The Ball: the front part of the foot, between the arch and the toes.

The Blade: the outside edge of the foot

The Top: the top of the foot, point the toes

The Heel: the hardened back of the foot, behind the arch

Front Kick: a kick done while facing forwards, uses the ball of the foot

Side Kick: a kick done while facing sideways, uses the blade of the foot

Roundhouse: a kick done while the leg arcs around and across the front of the body, uses the ball of the foot

Back Kick: a kick done when the back is facing the opponent, uses the heel of the foot

Snap Kick: a fast version of the above kicks, a half-kick that strikes to the lower regions of the body, often taught in self defense

Turnover: when the hip turns over so the strike can connect, this happens during the chamber.

Follow-through: the concept of going through your target, instead of stopping at the body

The slide step: a step done while sliding forwards, kicks are done with the front leg

The cross-step: a step done where the legs make a cross-shape, turning the front leg into the powerful back leg

Review: Homework

Yeah, yeah, I know, boo. But this is just a guide, to actually learn more about how to use kicks in combat, you’re going to have to do more research and visual aids always help. The films and television series on this list aren’t great art or even great movies, but that’s not why you’re watching them is it? We suffer for our art, after all, and the martial artists in these films and shows are pretty damn incredible. If you’re watching any of the really good “Kung Fu” movies out of China, just try to keep in mind that Wire-Fu is a thing, so take some of the more elaborate stunts with a grain of salt. Remember, kicks are complicated and difficult to be really good at once you’re past a certain age. The pool for the media you can turn to that includes them is very small and must be performed by martial artists for the required speed and fluidity. (Summer Glau, though she is an excellent actress, ballerina, and terminator, has terrible form. You can’t skip this list by watching Serenity, I’m sorry. The same is true of Buffy and honestly, most of Joss Whedon’s work.)

Jean-Claude Van Damme: I haven’t seen most of his movies (which are terrible), but as a martial artist the man is incredible. His claim to fame is kickboxing, so he does fancy leg work better than just about anyone else on screen.  This is one of the few series of movies where you’ll ever see wheel kicks on film, especially the jump wheel kick. Check it out in Expendables 2 during his fight with Stallone, the man has perfect form.

Bruce Lee: The Master and progenitor of Jeet Kun Do. That said, the hype is real, Bruce Lee was a fantastic martial artist who defied a great many conventions and pretty much widened the gap for Asians in Hollywood. We’ve got a long way to go to push it further, but for martial artists, his movies are some of the finest. From the Green Hornet to Enter the Dragon, Bruce Lee

Chuck Norris: I don’t really recommend Chuck Norris’s movies or his politics, unless you’re into pain. But the man is a master of the roundhouse kick and his fight scenes in Walker Texas Ranger, while silly, are a good example of some basic kicking techniques. You can also watch him deliver a Chuck Norris joke in character (while mocking his own movies) in Expendables 2. Chuck Norris like Kareem Abdul Jabbar was a student of Bruce Lee. (Also, check out Bruce Lee’s filmed fight with Kareem from the last movie he was filming before his death. There aren’t enough examples of black martial artists on film in Hollywood.)

Jet Li: All of it, no, seriously, including the badly subtitled obscure ones from China and the silly ones in the U.S. like Romeo Must Die (African-American crime families fight Asian-American crime families and the only white dude to be seen anywhere are working for the NFL. Also, Jet Li does incredible tricks with plastic ties) and Lethal Weapon IV where he takes apart a gun with his knees. (I don’t care if he’s the bad guy in that movie, I will never be over that stunt, omg!) Jet Li has a huge catalogue of movies on both sides of the Pacific Ocean and when it comes to studying up on writing fights most of them are worth a watch at least once.

Jackie Chan: Jackie Chan is the joker version of Jet Li, he does a lot of stunts and his movies are comedies, but he’s just as good and possibly more entertaining. Drunken Master is an incredible exhibition of skill all on its own and he’s done some of the craziest stunts.

The Karate Kid (Remake) Also, check out the Karate Kid remake as another decent Hollywood movie that pretty much skips white folks entirely. The sequences in it are very good and all the actors are fantastic. The young Chinese martial artists in the movie are fantastic and Jaden Smith is very good. It’s a great movie about martial arts, spirituality, and one of the only places you’ll get to see a good representation of competition and tournament culture. Michelle Yeoh also has a cameo where she faces off with a cobra.

Mortal Combat: It’s a cult classic and it’s really dumb, but the fight scenes really are pretty good. Don’t feel bad about popping in this flick in and watching it when you’re bored one evening. It might be worth your while.

The Mortal Combat Legacy: This mini-series is full of martial artists and stuntmen doing martial arts things and is free to watch on YouTube. This list is mostly full of boys and girl martial artists (especially ones who use kicks) can be hard to find, but check out the second episode of the Kitana and Mileena two-parter for some excellent girl on girl brawling action in the first scene.

GI Joe: The Rise of the Cobra (Ray Park and Byung-hun Lee (and their child counterparts)) Ray Park was the stuntman who played both Darth Maul and Toad in Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace and X-men respectively (famous for Storm’s “what happens when a toad gets hit by lightning” line), but he’s at his best as Snake Eyes in the ridiculously silly GI Joe movies. Throw in the excellent Byung-hun Lee as his counterpart villain Storm Shadow and you get some very impressive fight sequences. The flashback sequences between these two rivals as children are also pretty incredible. I’m rather eagerly awaiting the sequel on DVD to watch their rematch.

I would recommend Gina Carano, but I don’t like Haywire. For multiple reasons, you’d be better served looking up her actual fights and only if you’re really interested in a study of grappling moves. Those are what she’s best at. So, she really doesn’t have a place on this list. If someone more versed in some of the excellent movies out of China wants to recommend some female martial artists, we’ll put ‘em up.

Michelle Yeoh: She’s considered one of the greatest of female action movie martial artists, so if you’re starved for women who can kick butt, check out some of her films. Or catch her in the Supercop series opposite Jackie Chan. She’s a better example of what a ballerina can do when combined with martial training. But like Summer Glau, the tells never quite go away.

Finally: Human Weapon, the now defunct show on the history channel. The Discovery Channel has or had its own version, but it’s not as entertaining or as informative. Human Weapon isn’t great and it’s not always accurate (it is TV). It’s a great window into a lot of different martial arts from around the world. It’s a great starting primer to use as a launch for your research. You can find most of the episodes for it on YouTube.

Also, check out our article: The Points Where Weapons Become Useless for more information about when to kick and when not to.

-Michi 1, 2, 3

FightWrite: The Art of Blocking

For a lot of authors, there’s a frustrating hold to the old adage “the best defense is a good offense”. There’s an overwhelming amount of material that focuses on just force on force. Thus, fight sequences in novels end up less like the Matrix and more like when you have two action figures being mashed into each other. It all ends up feeling rather plastic and fake, especially when the reader stops and tries to envision it in their mind. If you’re not careful, fights can end up feeling very mechanical and are often anatomically impossible. Even when they are, the fight sequences often make little sense. The human fighter takes too much damage, they get every lucky break (as in they don’t break anything), the body positioning is all wrong for the strike, the fight goes on too long, etc, we’ve all seen it.

Often, the problem is that the author is thinking too much about how to do damage, how to prove their character is badass. They end up with un-moderated aggression at worst or at best, a character who never defends and for all intents and purposes doesn’t even seem to know how to. This isn’t bad if you are creating a character who is supposed to be an all-out aggressor, who can’t control themselves or their fighting style (such as most street fighters). If you’re trying to create any other kind of character, however, then…oops.

So, in this article, we’ll be talking about why blocking is important to your writing, your fighting characters, and your fight scenes, the principles of blocking, how to implement blocks, and some of the different kind of blocks that exist.

Why is blocking important?

I’ve said this before, but in the real world fighting relies on strategy, tactics, making use of basic body mechanics, and trying not to get hit. A fighter needs to be able to protect their vital areas like their head, their stomach, their groin, and well, any of the soft parts of the body with important organs. Blocking is part and parcel to surviving a fight. It is part of showing not just your character’s skill but also their control and their fighting education. The first response of a trained character when encountering an attack is to dodge or to block, not to attack. The attack is secondary, a counter to the first attack after they have negated the chance of injury. Attacks are what allow your character to win fights, blocks are what allow your character to walk away at the end of them. So, let’s get a little more in depth.

A character who blocks is one who has accepted the idea that they can take damage.

As writers, we control everything that happens to our characters. Sometimes, what hasn’t occurred to us won’t occur to them. This happens a lot in action oriented stories and instead of a character coming off as knowledgeable, they sound arrogant. Often, this arrogance is unintentional on the part of the author, mostly because they’re thinking in gaming terms. Their protagonist is level twenty and the person they’re fighting to get information from is level 6, obviously said person can’t hurt them because they’re so low down the totem pole.

No. Every fight is dangerous. Every fighter, even a wild and untrained one leaves the opportunity for something to go wrong and for them to get themselves injured. If your character is in a setting with guns, then anyone can grab a gun and shoot your character. If your character is in a fantasy setting, then the would be attacker can always leave and get more friends or their family can report your character to the city guard or the Watch for brawling. Unless your character is someone like Superman (and even if they are), any fight they enter into is one where they risk physical harm to themselves. They can die; even a grand master can be killed by the lout with the knife on the street if they aren’t paying attention.

Getting hit hurts, but getting it in the arm hurts less than a concussion.

This one should be self-explanatory, but like I said above any fight is dangerous and there’s a chance that any hit can get lucky. The better the individual your character is fighting against, the higher the stakes get. If they can’t defend themselves from damage, why should your audience believe they can dish it out?

Blocking will let your character manage to control the fight against weaker characters without hurting them.

I’ll be honest. It looks bad when your fifteen year Special Forces/Mercenary badass protagonist is beating the village bully boys into the ground. Even if they are bullies, in a narrative context there’s no reason for your character to become a bully by bullying bullies unless that’s what you want them to be doing. It’s not okay for a stronger character to bully a bully, even when that bully bullied them when they were small and weak. If a hero is what you want, then you can’t have them taking revenge or beating up characters that the audience knows are weaker than they are. It looks bad and it sends the wrong message. Figure something else out, force on force just creates more force and more bad blood. What your character does will ripple outwards beyond just the fight and their negative attitudes can have negative effects on their circumstances.

Remember, the message you’re putting out matters. So, be careful.

The Principles of Blocking:

Blocking is how to take and redirect hits so that the fighter doesn’t die. On a strategic level, blocks create openings in the opponent’s guard by foiling the attack they committed to. So let’s talk about the places on the body where the kinetic force of a strike can be fairly easily disrupted.

The goal of a block is either to redirect the force away from the body, disperse it over a wider area, or take it in a place that will matter less to your fighting ability and let you keep going. Different strikes require different blocks and there are a multitude of different blocks that can be applied to different strikes. If that sounds confusing then congratulations, you’re halfway there.

So, you don’t want to take the force that’s being applied, but to disrupt it. This means that catching the fist or taking the fist with your hand directly is pretty much out. This is the sort of thing that looks cool in the movies, but is actually pretty idiotic. Your character doesn’t have time to deal with the resulting bruise on their hand or broken bones. They’re going to need that hand for punching and blocking.

The goal of a block is to identify the point of power in the strike such as in the hand or the ball of the foot and stop it by moving further up the body to the vulnerable places. Some of these places are:

The wrist

The forearm

The elbow

The shoulder

The ankle

The shin

The knee

Common Blocks:

Cross-Block: The cross-block is basically where you use the opposite side hand (matching your right to their left) to either catch or redirect the strike away from you. This is commonly taught to beginners and young children because it’s easy to learn and doesn’t go against natural instinct. Remember, your brain is cross wired to opposing sides. It’s more natural to block a right side strike with your left side than it is with the same side. If your character is self-taught and they block at all, these are the ones they’re most likely to use.  Cross-blocks are more difficult to use against kicks.

Same-Side Block: This is when your fighter blocks a hit in mirror to their opponent, a left is met with a left and a right with a right. These blocks are commonly seen in boxing to take incoming straight strikes by pushing the hands downwards and away from the face. The hand can also drop to defend against kicks by catching the shin or hooking the arm under the knee. A same-side block is trained and it takes less time to execute than a cross-block. However, it takes time to replace the body’s natural protection instinct and difficult to mimic without a lot of practice.

Knee Blocks: This is a common block against kicks like the roundhouse, less useful against the side kick or the front kick. The knee comes up and pushes out against the force of the other kick, usually at the shin or the opponent’s knee.

Elbow Guard: The elbow guard is when you tuck your elbow up into a triangle shape and press the inside of your arm against your head. This is another block from boxing used to protect the head against curving strikes like the roundhouse punch, hooks, and haymakers. The fighter will usually also tuck their shoulders up and tighten against the blow by exhaling outwards.

Blocking with the shin and the forearm: In traditional martial arts forms like Shotokan Karate and some of the others, it’s common to have students block strikes with their forearms or their shins.  However, it takes a long time to build up the bone density to be able to take those strikes and because the bone is so close the surface of the skin (unprotected by muscles) it can hurt to take strikes there, students who do often develop a habit of flinching before the hit lands, which is an opening that a clever enemy can exploit. So, the forearm is a great place to take hits, so long as it’s not bone on bone contact or it’s something they’ve gotten used to in their own training. If it is, then make sure you say so somewhere in the text.

Blocks and Counters: It may surprise you to learn that most martial arts have as many blocks as they do attacks, in fact most of the early technique chains that are taught involve blocks and the follow-up counters. They train the students to think about not just what they are doing in the moment, but what comes after. In the second form taught in Taekwondo (or at least the second one we taught in our curriculum), the base technique chain that held the form together was upper defense, front kick, punch. The upper defense used the forearm to block downwards strikes like a knife hand or a hammer fist to protect the head, then a front kick to the chest in retaliation, followed by a punch landing in a front stance to the stomach as the finisher, then you turn and do the same for the other side.

An untrained or self-trained character may be able to block, but it’ll take them a lot more time to counter. They, like most of the population, will be more likely to believe in force on force as opposed to defend and counter. It’s actually one of those all-important distinguishing traits between trained and untrained. Remember, just because your character blocked their hit the first time doesn’t mean they won’t try to hit your protagonist again if your protagonist gives them the crucial few seconds of recovery.

Feints: Your character’s block can also create openings in their guard if they move to block against feint, such as the Taekwondo combination of a backhand and right punch. It’s not common for characters who don’t know what they’re doing to use feints.

Untrained Blocking:

I’ll be honest, blocking relies a lot on timing and while there are natural reactions the body exhibits to being struck or threatened, most of those aren’t actively useful without a lot of guiding, shaping, and practice with partners. The tenents are fairly easy to grasp on a conceptual level, but are difficult in actual practice. Until then, your character is pretty much flailing at whatever object managed to get caught in their peripheral vision.

How to Implement Blocks in Your Fight Scenes:

For a character who is trained, blocking is going to be second nature. Their body will be prepping before the strike starts (Michi Note: Refer to our FightWrite: Watch the Whole Body post) and their body may actually start reacting to just about any movement that comes towards them, including someone coming in to pat their head, stroke their cheek, or hug them from behind. Their brain may not catch their body before it has time to catch up or may stop halfway, if you’re looking for humor. Blocking for them has been trained as an instinctual reaction, one that replaced some of their old untrained instincts. So, don’t worry if your character seems uncool if they start the fight on the defense, that’s pretty normal for someone being attacked.

Try to think about your character’s bodies and the strikes you’re having them perform, try to visualize the attacks in your mind before you put it on the page, if it helps sketch it out in an outline format first of what you want to have happen and then try to implement it in your story. Don’t worry about it coming out perfect the first time, everyone edits and rewrites. If writing fight scenes is new to you and you don’t have any real background in combat, it may be hard in the beginning. That’s okay, you’re just learning a new skill and everybody falls on their face the first few times. Track your progress and celebrate when you improve.

Some things to keep in mind:

Dodging is easier to write, because it doesn’t disrupt the flow of combat as much and is easier to visualize. However, dodging is tiring. Fighting is also tiring, your character has a limited amount of stamina, so only have them dodge once or twice, this is why blocking is important.

Blocking is pretty much always reactive. Your character is reacting to another characters action. Then, they take action themselves by attacking. It’s easier to write a block if you know what your other character is planning to attack with, this will also give you the opportunity to think about and work with your protagonist’s opponent. If you get to know who they’re fighting and what that character favors in their style then writing the fight scene is actually lot easier.

Start thinking about the mechanics of your own body and how it all functions together. If you can break apart how the body works then it’s much easier to break apart a strike in your mind and to write it as part of the scene.

Other helpful articles on this blog: FightWrite: Watch the Whole Body and FightWrite: The Art of Stepping

-Michi

Weapon Primer: The Sword (Europe)

The sword is one of the most iconic weapons you can give your character. Unfortunately, this also means swords are very contextual; depending on your setting, your sword will say a lot about the character you give it to, regardless of your intent.

This post’s going to be a little different from our normal fare. Usually, when we’re doing a write-up of a style or weapon, we just talk about how you use it in combat, and how it behaves; with swords, we’re going to also need to talk about what they mean for your settings and cover some of their history.

That said, you should not be citing this for historical accuracy. I’m going to be condensing thousands of years of history into a very short primer. What this means is, I’m glossing over some historical idiosyncrasies. If you’re using an actual historical setting, and not an amalgam of an era, then you’re going to need to do more research on the people and weapons of that time.

The Shortsword:

Shortswords are among the earliest examples of the weapon, dating back to the Bronze Age. These started out as simple blades between 12 and 24 inches in length. The length of a shortsword was limited by the available forging technology. Early Iron Age shortswords were single bladed, while later ones, such as the Roman Gladius were double edged.

The shortsword itself lacks a lot of the subtlety and grace that we usually associate with swords. The characters were likely trained to use the weapon in tight formations with other soldiers, with a focus on chopping strikes. Duels between character wielding shortswords are more like writing knife fighting.

The Greeks, ancient Egyptians, and Romans all used shortswords as standard military weapons, supplemented with spears. If your setting is patterned off any ancient Mediterranean culture, the shortsword will probably be viewed as the weapon of a soldier or a veteran. There is a catch here, single bladed shortswords doubled as machetes in climates where they were needed, so depending on your setting there may be a distinction between shortswords that are tools and those that are weapons.

The Longsword:

Longswords are dependent on more advanced forging techniques. The first longswords emerged late in the first millennium AD. By the 1100s they had evolved into the European longsword we’re familiar with. Unlike the shortsword, the longsword was, for the most part, rare and expensive in Europe during the medieval era.

As with most weapons, how your character has been trained will massively influence the way they wield a longsword. Most longsword combat you see in films is built off of dueling schools; which differs from most sword combat in the use of parries. Blade on blade parrying is very destructive to a sword. While this isn’t an issue for an aristocrat who won’t be fighting another duel this month (or was using a rapier), for a soldier or knight, it is a critical issue. Their training was to evade incoming attacks, rather than to block with the sword.

Most longswords are double bladed, allowing the combatant to rapidly reverse a hew (slash); this allows for rapid flurries of multiple strikes. Most combat with the weapon focuses on quick strikes, with as much efficiency of motion as possible. Wide heavy strikes have a limited place in combat, while spinning strikes (what you see from Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings films) is almost exclusively an exposition technique.

Depending on your setting, a longsword can say a lot about who your character is. If your setting is patterned off of a Viking or Celtic themed era, then the longsword is a fairly normal weapon for raiders and warriors.

If you’re using a realistic medieval setting, then swords are very rare, and the purview of nobles, their knights, and the rare elite mercenary. If you’re using a variant of the standard medieval fantasy world, then the longsword becomes a sign of nobility. Giving a peasant a sword to subtly hint that they’re really the long lost true heir to the kingdom is, well, cliché. Even Star Wars does this, accidentally.

Fencing Swords:

Unlike other swords, fencing blades began as civilian weapons. They doubled as a sixteenth and seventeenth century fashion statement, and a weapon for dueling.

Fencing weapons are one of the easiest to study, if you have an interest, the foil, epee, and saber are have all been preserved as sport styles. With a very important caveat: unlike most sport martial arts, fencing reduces its lethality by blunting the weapon, and armoring the combatants; the underlying style is still incredibly lethal. Remove the armor and the blade caps, and a fencer’s training is as dangerous as a practical martial style.

Fencing is where we get most of the blade on blade parrying from. Rapiers are, in general, much more focused on stabbing, rather than slashing, so the blade is, somewhat less critical than the tip.

Fencing is also (probably) where we get the concept of dual wielding swords. As early as the sixteenth century, it was fairly common to pair a rapier with a shortsword or buckler. The shortsword was used to parry incoming attacks, rather than as an offensive weapon.

Fencing blades are one of the easiest weapons to justify training in, for a modern character. Fencing schools still exist throughout Europe and America. It’s viewed as an elitist sport and is usually in the domain of the rich, much like horseback riding in urban and suburban areas. It’s a very expensive hobby. (Michi Note: I looked into fencing once when I was younger, Stanford ran three to four week summer courses. For reference: it cost 400 dollars, this was in the late 1990s and didn’t cover the cost of the equipment. My martial arts lessons cost less than that to pay up for the whole year.) Part of this is because fencing is a very difficult sport to spectate; matches are fast, and the scoring is very complex. Most modern fencers are trained in styles that originated in the nineteenth century.

They’re also one of the easiest weapons to see some actual sword work with. A lot of old Hollywood films, used fencing coaches for all of their sword fights, so, there’s a large body of work out there. It’s not perfect, but it’s a good starting place. (Michi Note: the old swashbuckling films, particularly the Errol Flynn films that star Basil Rathbone such as Captain Blood or the Adventures of Robin Hood and the old Zorro movies are pretty great. But really, any of the old Hollywood swashbuckler films from the 1920s to the early 1950s.)

If you’re using a renaissance era setting, and your character’s family is wealthy (either because of nobility, or as a merchant or artisan), the Rapier, Foil, or Epee is a reasonable choice. It doesn’t carry as much baggage as a normal longsword would. This is the weapon of a fop who wants to pretend they’re a warrior, the weapon of a noble who wants the world to see his status, the weapon of an actual professional duelist, or some combination of the above.

Cavalry Swords:

Cavalry swords, like the scimitar and saber are long thin curved blades designed to be used from horseback. These are primarily slashing weapons. The blade is curved to avoid getting caught in an opponent while rushing past them on horseback. The crossguard is contoured with the same goal. These started filtering into Europe from the Middle East around 1200, about the same time the first firearms made their way into European warfare.

As European powers transitioned to using firearms as their favored weapon of war (roughly the 1400s to the 1700s), the sword, along with other melee weapons started to fall out of favor.

Probably because of the difficulty of reloading on the move, cavalry kept their swords. As with other combatants they would start with a volley of gunfire, but then switch over to swords during the charge. This disrupted enemy infantry, who were trying to reload.

Also, early firearms weren’t accurate; rifling wasn’t invented until the 1700s, before that it was incredibly difficult to hit specific targets, as the bullet would tumble randomly once it left the barrel.

This led to another significant change on who would be carrying a sword. If your setting is based on the Napoleonic era onward, the saber was the badge of office for a military officer, or cavalryman (or cavalrywoman). For that matter, the saber actually still exists as an optional part of an officer’s dress uniform in a number of martial services, and was a common as an officer’s badge of commission up into the First World War.

If your setting is an Age of Sail style world, then you’re looking at a variant; the Cutlass. It grew out of officers being given swords to indicate their rank, and wandered off on its own. It isn’t completely historically accurate to give all your pirates and sailors swords, but, because of the nature of boarding a ship at sea, cutlasses and pistols were common weapon choices. At this point, I’d say, you’re within the expectations of the genre, and have fun.

Idiosyncrasies:

I’m going to point out a couple of those idiosyncrasies I skimmed over, before anyone asks. The longsword didn’t get more expensive in the dark ages, the economy of Europe changed, and the sword became comparatively more expensive. I’m not going to do a full write up on medieval European economics, I’m sorry. (There is a very good write up on D&D economics here: http://forum.candlekeep.com/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=10821 which can be applied to most medieval fantasy settings.)

The saber is, historically, both a fencing blade and a cavalry blade. Actually the introduction of the scimitar into Europe might be part of where the fencing blades originated from, I’m unsure.

Finally, there were longswords before the Vikings; they date back to the seventeenth century BC. They also were a vastly different weapon in combat from the longsword that evolved from the Viking Sword.

-Starke

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f9rtmxJrKwc

John Cleese on Creativity (by bedroomstudiotube)

This lecture by John Clesse has some very important implications both for you as a writer but also for your characters, with wider implications for what they can get away with in their behavior in combat situations.(Though he doesn’t discuss that in the video.)

The idea is this: combat happens when your characters in the Closed mode, it’s a high pressure environment where your characters need to make decisions immediately and decisively with no room for error or doubt. Humor in those situations is a luxury. It pushes the character into a more contemplative mode, the Open mode. It gets them thinking when they don’t have the time to be thinking( a distraction) in a fight.

Trash talking, joking, and one liners can happen before and after a fight, but not during. The only sort of trash talk that can occur during is the sort where your character doesn’t have to stop and think about it, but even then, remember that talking is not a free action. It requires breath, takes oxygen that should be going to your character’s muscles, while both loosening and relaxing the jaw which leaves your character more open to a knockout blow or biting their own tongue when they get hit.

Always dedicate points in your story for the times when your characters are capable of cracking jokes to release the tension (before and after) and when they need to buckle down for work (the fight itself).

So, watch the video, it’s useful and informative plus it’s John Cleese. It’s hilarious.

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.

-Michi