Tag Archives: fight scene reference

Is it possible to fight without hands? Like if one is handcuffed or their hand(s) are injured? If possible, how effective would it be?

You can fight with your legs,with your shoulders, with your head, and with your mouth (assuming you can get close enough).

The caveat to this, of course, when it comes to the legs is being able to adjust your balance to fight with your hands bound. Martial combat utilizes the whole body for any technique, and the arms are an important part of balancing yourself when you’re on one leg. So, when your hands are tied behind your back, this disrupts their ability to balance themselves.

The other caveat to the legs is they are more difficult than the average hand to hand technique to master. They also don’t work as well in tight spaces unless you’re using a martial art designed for them such as Krav Maga, the martial art developed and used by the Israeli Defense Force.

It should be said, the first responsibility of a prisoner is to escape. If your character is in a position where they’re injured or trying to get away from their captors, they don’t have the time to be sitting around trying to take every opponent as they come nor should they want to. Unless they have some character flaw with a crazed need to prove themselves while fighting at an extreme disadvantage, their first priority is going to be getting away or getting their hands free so they can up their chances of survival.

This can ultimately be any kind of sequence you want, the old Jackie Chan and Jet Li movies often have fun over the top fight scenes where their trying to fend off multiple enemies while their hands are bound. It involves a lot of ducking, dodging, running, trying to free their hands, inevitably finding a way between using their opponent’s attacks (like with a sword) to cut their bindings, or something else before they can finally turn around and fight freely.

Usually, these sorts of scenes involve the character making use of their environment. (As all good fight scenes should.) Giving you a chance to show their cleverness and ability to innovate on the fly. An unarmed character with their hands bound isn’t going to have a lot of options against an enemy with a weapon, but they can utilize their environment do the fighting for them.

This can be simple stuff like using objects such as tables to separate them from their opponent, tricking their enemy into burying a sword in a chair instead of them, then kicking away the chair and disarming them, etc.

A more grounded sequence usually involves a bull rush breakout, stealth, playing dead, or sometimes just throwing yourself off a cliff.

The basic answer is: fight for flight. You don’t want to stick around while fighting at a disadvantage against people who have use of all their limbs, and probably weapons. Especially if it’s more than one person.

Don’t get caught up in the idea that skill is defined by winning, it isn’t. You can get about as far with social engineering as you can with violence. A character who is capable of risk assessment, and able to make choices based off their ability and environment is the way of showing a character knows what they’re doing. Sometimes, the choice really is escape so they can live to fight another day. When your character has a greater goal in mind, they really can’t afford to lose too much of their valuable time dispatching Mook Number 3. When your character is debating whether or not they’re going to fight, always ask: what do they get out of it versus the risks involved?

There’s a great episode in Justice League: Unlimited where Batman is caught by the Luthor’s evil league and he uses it as an opportunity to get intel and socially engineer the situation so they turn against each other.

There are lots of ways to take scenes like this which may not be immediately apparent, but are always opportunities to emphasize a character’s particular skill set.

Not everyone needs to be ripping out their captors’ jugulars with their teeth.

-Michi

((I have bronchitis, so I apologize for everything being a little slow this week))

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One versus Group: Writing that Wuxia Action Scene

Having spent some time watching the pilot episode of AMC’s Into the Badlands with Daniel Wu, I was inspired to talk about writing the one vs group scenario. We’ve talked about the realistic side of the individual versus group combat in the past, and how difficult it is to pull off in real life. However, I’m sure most of you dream of writing your own action heroes someday (if not right now) and the hallmark of the action hero that sells them hardest is not the end fight. It’s how well they handle the group.

Group combat is difficult, both on the real world side and creation side. The logic of the 1vX scenario is that facing the multiple grunts is too difficult for the standard combatant to handle. Only “one of the best” can do it. Thus, it puts those combatants who can in a league of their own.

On the creation side, the 1vX is also one of the most entertaining types of fight scenes. It’s fast paced, visually rich, and designed to showcase a character’s skills. They are never, and should never be, one size fits all. After all, in a fictional context, the purpose of these fights are expository. They’re there to inform you of who the character is, very quickly, in a very perfunctory show vs tell. A choreographer or writer who can put together an entertaining 1vX fight scene will sell their character’s creativity, ingenuity, and skills to the audience without them ever realizing that’s what was happening. Even if all the character does is run away, we learn a lot from how they choose to handle groups.

In a martial arts movie, these sequences are used for bonding the audience and the protagonist. They do this more quickly than any other fight scene type. While also pulling the double duty of elevating the villain and their skill level as we wind our way toward the final fight.

Action cinema like all other media has coded tropes that communicate information to you without ever saying it. The group fight in an action movie, especially a finely paced one, is essential for selling a master combatant to the audience.  

In film, the 1vX is a common standard for action heroes, and I’ve seen novels where the author has attempted to imitate it. Some have success and others not so much. Success generally depends on understanding the tropes they’re trying to imitate, both how combat works and how the narrative of the fight presents the character to the audience.

This is why learning both sides of the martial arts world, from practical to performance, is necessary for building your narrative. While understanding how a group fight functions in reality is essential, storytelling is built on easily communicable tropes. Every culture has assigned flags that indicate who a character is and their purpose to the story, and those change over time. With film, it can be a myriad of visual items and one of the big ones is color. When written, it can be character actions, objects, clothing, anything really. So inured are we that, most of the time, when we’re consuming we don’t even notice they’re there and in the beginning when we’re writing we don’t even notice we’re making the same choices. These tropes are easier to recognize in the media of other cultures but, at the same time, when we don’t know their purpose we miss them entirely.

In a real world sense, fighting a group is about time, how much you have and how much you lose, where the enemies are, and how to balance them. This translates to the screen and into the language of the scene.

See, kung fu action movie group fights are not about trading blows as much as they are about tempo.

Yes, tempo.

Like a properly choreographed dance sequence, it’s rhythm.

You want a kung fu style action sequence in your novel, you’ve got to find a way to translate the rhythm into text. And where is the rhythm, you may wonder? It’s in the exchange of blows. In the thrust, and block, and kick, and fall. In the loosening and tightening of muscles, in inhale and the exhale. Do you hear it?

There’s a drumbeat in your character’s soul.

Traditional martial arts counts beats by breath, on the inhale and the exhale. The inhale marks the beginning of the movement, and the exhale is on the end. The inhale before and the exhale on the strike, when all the muscles tighten up, then you move again. You can count your strikes by number, on the breath, like in dance. One, two, three, and kiap.

Hear it.

That’s the sound of a combination.

Block, punch, and grab. Pause to sweep the ankle. Yank their hand to your waist. Against their will, they slide on; shoulder to hip. And you turn into the throw.

Your opponent flies into their incoming fellow.

Kick backwards as the enemy rushes in behind, hear them stumble, and spin to face them. Roundhouse to the head, pause, give the audience a moment to breathe then… Twist sideways as your next opponent lunges in, the blade passes your waist. Seize the wrist, step back, and yank them with you. Free hand to their elbow, thrust into joint break.

Elbow crunches. Appropriate scream follows.

Kick them away.

Remaining opponents have paused from fear. One clutches his busted arm, fingers coated in blood. Another helps the fallen to his feet.

Face them, and smile. Gesture ‘come’ with fingers.

Say, “Let’s go.”

You count the pieces of the technique, on the inhale and the exhale, and break them apart to create that tempo. Notice, the action comes from all sides. Often, from the direction the camera wasn’t pointed so you get the moment of, “oh crap!”

Now, it’s important to remember there’s a stunt actor que. There was one in the piece above. You notice it best in the terrible movies and shows, where you see them line up one at a time and wait their turn. A scene with a truly skilled performer and choreographer is such you won’t even notice the que because the action is happening so quickly it feels simultaneous.

If your character has a goal that involves protecting someone else from muggers, it’s important to remember that the muggers or whoever won’t all turn to fight when they leap in. When you have a good scene, this is an important source of tension for your hero. It gives them a reason to clear through the mob, forces the audience to focus on the necessity of speed, and a point to work towards. It also lets you do humorous things like throw one enemy your character is fighting into the other when they get too close to the protectee or stuck dragging them backwards. (This is also why you should never fight around an official protectee.)

Your characters aren’t puppets hanging still on their strings, they’re moving even when you’re not focusing on them. This is important because it lets you have moments of surprise in the scene. Like the character being seized from behind, or someone screaming as they’re about to be killed and the character has disengage, kick someone into a wall, and leap the other direction. They don’t have time to finish them forever, you see.

You build up your beats, mixing them all in together.

Your character gets thrown across the bar. (Beat.) Lands hard. (Beat). Rolls top over end. (Beat.) Notices a bottle of whiskey in hardened glass (like Jack Daniel’s. In a funny scene, they maybe take a drink. Also, that’s two beats.) Up they come (beat), crack their attacker across the face. (Beat).  Back over the bar. (Beat.) With a kick. (Beat.) Swing their club. (Beat. Beat.) Think they’re done, turn to yell at a friend still fighting, get clocked across the back of the head. Stumble, turn, and off we go again.

Then there’s the myriad of little beats in between the actions. Count every fall, every hit, every roll. The length of your sentences changes the rhythm. You’ve got to count. the time. it takes. to finish your scene. Fast, fast, slow, fast. One (breathe), two (chamber), three (strike), four (recoil), five (reset). When you get faster, they combine together into one, two, three. Remember, slow is for exhaustion, injuries, recovery, and long actions. Fast is for the quick hits.

Slow gives the audience time to refresh, catch up, time to breathe, just like the character. When the scene is unbalanced, it overwhelms. You’ve got to give your audience time to follow the action. That means breathers. Those breathers can come at any point, they’re where the action slows before rolling back into the rush.

Commonly, these are in the injuries, the received hits by the primary character. In group fights, they happen when a character is knocked from the fight (whether permanently or temporarily), they happen when the character runs, dodges into another room, or moves to a new scene location, does a slow transition between combat partners, or gets a moment where they fight one on one instead of in a rush of multiples.

There should always be a moment in the middle where you’re character is ducking and dodging being attacked from multiple sides all at the same time. This is going to be a challenge, especially if you are a neophyte and know nothing about either combat or action. It’s difficult enough to imagine one fight, but controlling a battlefield, moving between your dance partners, and fighting from all four sides is not how most of us are trained to think.

Unless we’ve practiced martial arts.

This is part of what katas are for, you know.

And choreography? It’s just a kata. There’s the kicker in it all. Understanding martial arts, traditional martial arts, is what’s most important to grasping the magic behind a wuxia style action scene. It’s performance martial arts. It’s all martial arts, at its best and worst. It isn’t what you want to be dealing with in real life, and that knowledge is precisely why these characters are held up as supremely skilled in their narratives.

So, how do you translate a visual medium into a written one?

When it comes to the page, the length of your sentences dictates the amount of time each technique takes. The longer the sentence, the longer it takes to read and absorb then the more time the action takes in the reader’s mind. You control the time it takes with your words, with the form of the paragraph, with the rhythm of language.

Punctuation exists to punctuate. Cut unnecessary words. Learn to be specific. Pinpoint. Figure out which techniques take more time, more energy, and budget techniques for those moments. Standing is quick, grapple is slow, and ground wastes time. It costs time to get up again. The time you took writing your character running over a wall to avoid a hit is the time it took for an enemy to kill their protectee.

What?

Yes, simultaneous action is happening that the reader doesn’t see. That’s the sleight of hand. As the writer, you control the amount of time your character has, but janking that time around screws with the audience and the character. Thus, we up both tension and tempo.

Time, baby. It’s all about time.

Where are you losing sentences? When is an action unnecessary? What is distracting from your action? Is that distraction what you want? Sometimes, it can be helpful.

When you’re writing action the time it takes for you to write a character did a thing is the amount of time it takes to do the thing. Sometimes, long sentences are good. Remember, those moments you take to describing scene or setting changes as the fight moves can act as breathers. As can the moments it takes for the fighter to reassess. Too much action too quickly is mentally exhausting for the reader. Difficult sentences are harder to follow, long sentences give you that moment to relax the mind. Knowing that, at a more advanced level, you can pace them to experience what your character is experiencing in the structure.

So, there is no one size fits all.

The only usual rule is that wilder, less trained combatants are more uncontrolled, more sloppy, more loosey goosey. The more crisp and controlled a fighter is, the more mechanical they are, then the better they are. The untrained fighter and noncombatant fights can be just as fun to write as the upper echelon, they’re also easier.

“I’m unpredictable.”

“I’ve predicted the unpredictable before, kid.”

If you’ve heard that one before, take a drink.

The less a character knows, than the less skill you need to fake. The more advanced they are, then the higher the limit. A character isn’t good just because you say they are, they need to prove it. So, that’s all up to you. The good news is that while good action is hard to come by, bad action is so prevalent that general audiences can’t tell it’s not bacon.

When writing action sequences, choreography is what you want. Learn to fake so well it becomes a kind of reality inside your story. So you never disrupt your audience’s suspension of disbelief, so the more they know the more willing they are to suspend it.

This is where action movies and wuxia films are important, the more you consume, the more you think critically, the more you try to understand what is at play then the better you will get. You’re not looking at them for realism, you’re looking at them for entertainment and how to transfer those techniques onto the page.

The good news for you: you don’t need wires. You just need imagination.

-Michi

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Would going off into the mountains to train with the Ultimate Master™ of whatever fighting discipline and thus become the Ultimate Master™ yourself actually produce a skilled fighter? Wouldn’t it be better to train with multiple people so you don’t end up inheriting all of one person’s weaknesses, or relying on your opponent to have those particular weaknesses? Can you get legitimate fighting experience in a controlled environment, or is there a limit to how much you can learn in the classroom?

Just for a heads up, the “Ultimate Master” or the “Old Man on the Mountain” is usually referencing Eastern mysticism and is a long standing genre convention in cinema.  When used in fiction, it always involves some kind of pilgrimage. It also has roots in reality, enough so that a whole genre of Chinese cinema builds itself around the concept.

Now, other cultures have this concept too, and there are European branches that defy what has become the expected fictional norms. However, when you decide to follow this train of thought for your character, it’s important to recognize what the trope is, where it comes from, and what its hallmarks and audience expectations are.

If you don’t want to write a character for whom their martial arts training is a quasi-religious experience, grounding itself in philosophy and spirituality, then this trope is not for you.

In a simple, much more recognizable Western example, if you don’t imagine yourself writing a Jedi then this trope is not for you.

9/10 that’s pretty much what the trope is, and, real talk, the more spiritual side of martial arts can do some pretty crazy shit in reality. I’ve seen American martial arts masters bend rebar with their clavicles, break baseball bats with their shins, break ten bricks with their hands, and that’s the more commonplace energy manipulation you’ll see in a standard martial arts school far from their traditions.

The conceptual idea that martial arts give you superpowers is rooted in the real world. Dragon Ball Z for example, takes real world martial arts philosophies and dials them over 9,000. Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back utilizes real philosophy with real world application when training Luke. For Lucas, this is mostly by accident but nevertheless if you’ve ever been in martial arts training Yoda sounds suspiciously similar.

The philosophy at play is spiritual/religious in nature, but also real. The idea is that through training, you will reach a point of inner spiritual ascension. Upon taking this first step in understanding, you reach a new plateau of spiritual and physical harmony that is beyond what the average martial artist can access. (Ronin Warriors) That’s what the mountain training is about, that’s what its for, and that’s why the neophyte is not usually the one who seeks out the Wise Man on the Mountain. (Yu Yu Hakusho) Usually, its a secondary or tertiary step in your training. You go to the mountain when the time comes to look inward, rather than outward. When you want to face yourself.

The other version of this trope is you have a character who was taken in by the Man on the Mountain as a child and raised in a hereditary martial art until they leave (Rurouni Kenshin), to test themselves out in the world. Where they go out and find other martial artists and, for whatever reason, fight them as a test of their abilities. (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) Or they are sent out into the world on some kind of a mission. (Iron Fist, The Empire Strikes Back) If you have watched any amount of shounen/fighting anime or any wuxia cinema, I guarantee you’ve seen this one before.

You’re basically talking about people who spend their whole lives training, and who are going to be fighting a lot. You want to fight the guy who learned to channel themselves in meditation while standing in a freezing waterfall for four to six hours? No, you don’t, especially when you know the purpose of meditation in martial arts. These are the guys with the ability to balance themselves on the top of their head. Its also worth pointing out that the balancing on the head has a real combat application, the purpose is to train balance and physical control. If this person can achieve perfect balance on their head, what are you going to do about knocking them over when they’re actually on their feet? These are kinds of skills you will never achieve unless you’ve spent a significant portion of your life in isolation training your body to a level of physical excellence that is so far beyond the average you seem superhuman.

This is the level above Jet Li playing the villain in Lethal Weapon 4, where it’s all normal and then… wham. Try to remember too, when you’re watching any Jet Li, Jackie Chan, or Donnie Yen film, that the camera is often losing frames on their fight sequences because they are moving too fast for it to follow. Or they are slowing way down.

That’s just approaching pinnacles of excellence in performance martial arts.

It’s worth thinking about it this way, you’ve got a character who goes up to the mountain and comes back. They’ve spent their years, paid their dues, put in the time, and achieved that pinnacle. Now, the rest of the world is moving in slow motion. Physically, mentally, spiritually, they have reached a plateau beyond what the other (standard) combatants are capable of. These enemies are slower, less aware, riddled with flaws, and do not make the most of their energy. They also adjust faster to new challenges as they test themselves in the world at large.

The Man on the Mountain isn’t classroom training. It is not a safe environment. It is one part martial training, one part spiritual exercise, and one part survival training. What happens on the mountain is never standard martial arts training, it is never safe. Whether it’s what you saw in Mulan, hopping over a raging river from pole to pole the size of your foot, fishing from the river with your hands, or any number of other countless exercises you’ve seen in anime and martial arts movies that were glossed over. The jacket routine in Jackie Chan’s The Karate Kid which culminates in this sequence. (Did you know The Karate Kid is an Old Man on the Mountain movie? All of them are.) Some of those techniques may have looked really dumb, but most of them had a purpose.

This is about testing yourself beyond your limits.

It’s the quintessential difference between student and master.

So, do they have weaknesses? Not if the master knew what he was doing. If he or she didn’t, if they were dicking around or the training didn’t properly sink in, then yeah, they’ll have lots of weaknesses. If not, they’re moving into the territory One Punch Man is subverting, mocking, and critiquing.

-Michi

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Hi! I’m writing a character who’s had no actual training in any kind of combat style, and isn’t agile, but has lots of strength and endurance, and who’s weapon of choice is a spiked club (basically, she fights like a bull). What would be a good strategy for her to use against an opponent who’s weaker, but more accurate with his attacks and very well trained with a broadsword?

Well, she’s fucked.

I know that sounds harsh and I’m about to explain to why, if taken at face value, your character would get killed. We’re going talk about weapons, how they work, generalized versus specialized, and a concept called reach.

Reach or Distance: Distance to target i.e. how close do you have to be in order to hit the other guy. It’s very important to be able to judge distance in combat because the teeniest error in judgement can be the difference between a hit and an almost hit. While reach is a key part of hand to hand training, it’s even more vital when it comes to understanding weapon’s combat. Particularly, how different weapons play against each other. It shouldn’t shock you (though it surprises some people) that different weapons come in different lengths. The length of the weapon changes the weapon’s reach or distance it takes to hit an opponent.

This becomes more important when talking about theoretical combat between two different weapons, especially when the difference in length can be anywhere from a few inches to several feet. A few centimeters can be the difference between life and death, and there’s a rather vast difference in length between a longsword and a club.

Distance is important, because if the other guy can hit you before you can hit them then you’ve got problems. This is why the saying, “never bring a knife to a gunfight” exists. The thought process is if the guy twenty feet away has the gun and you’ve got a knife, you’re pretty thoroughly screwed.

I’m going to assume you meant a longsword when you said “broadsword” and not a Roman gladius. In this situation, the guy with the longsword can strike the girl with the club well before she reaches a range where she can hit him. He can do so safely and with far better defensive capabilities when it comes to deflecting her club, while the club on its own doesn’t provide much as a means of protection. It’s a solid offensive weapon in the right circumstances, but there’s a reason why it’s paired with the shield.

If she rushes to close the gap, she will get killed even more quickly.

Differences in Damage: This not about which weapon deals damage better, but the kind of damage they deal. The kind of damage they deal directly relates to how the weapon is designed to move, and as a result the path of movement it needs to take in order to achieve results.

The club/mace/morningstar have weighted tips just like a bat. The idea that physical (weightlifting style) strength is necessary to wield them is a misnomer, you don’t need to be in order to wield them. The weapon is weighted so that it naturally achieves greater momentum when swung, the momentum is what achieves the strength behind the blow rather than the strength in the arm itself. Speed, ultimately, is more necessary to the success of the club than physical strength. The faster you swing, the greater your momentum, and the harder you hit as a result. The strength is in the force of impact.

Neat, huh? We tend to think the Europeans of the Middle Ages as dumb brutes or assume the Barbarian tropes, but they were efficient when it came to figuring out means of killing each other and overcoming obstacles… like armor.

The problem with club is that it’s short. This is not a problem when you’re most likely facing enemies that are unarmored and aren’t carrying weapons or carrying weapons of similar size, but it becomes one when facing a longer weapon. Especially one that is as deadly as the sword, especially when that sword is in the hands of someone who knows how to use it.

In Europe, the sword was the great generalist weapon. It’s somewhat akin to the modern handgun in terms of popularity and usefulness in a wide variety of situations. They’re both sidearms, but they can both fulfill roles outside their designed function. The sword is deadly.

Fiction often downplays just how deadly the longsword sword is. But trust me, it wouldn’t come in so many different variations or be the model Europeans kept coming back to if it didn’t work. It’s such a useful weapon that it became part of our cultural consciousness, surviving down in different forms through countless ages, to become a symbol of kingship.

The sword is not the best weapon, it is a secondary weapon or sidearm. What makes it dangerous is the extraordinary ease in which it allows one person to kill another and the wide variety of varying circumstances in which it is useful.

The sword deals damage through very specific points of impact and any glancing blow it makes can end up being fatal. It also strikes on a more confined pattern than the club, making it’s attacks both faster, more difficult to see, and requiring less time for windup. You don’t need to pierce deeply into the body to reach muscles, find tendons, or to cause someone to bleed. Whether it’s punctured via the tip or caught in a glancing slice, all those wounds become debilitating. Debilitation leads to death.

“What’s he going to do? Poke me to death?”

“Yes, actually.”

People don’t come with specially armored skin. The sword is designed to pierce and efficiently carve up the human body, even a cut just an inch or two deep can quickly become debilitating.

Blood loss is a legit strategy.

Strategy: Strategy is a plan of action. It starts with recognizing your own capabilities and weaknesses in relation to your opponent versus their strengths and their weaknesses.

When you’re writing strategy, you should be bound by the limitations of your character. You don’t have to be, but it’s more honest to who they are. Think about the events from the character’s perspective, chucking out everything except what they know and understand about the world, their combat abilities, their opponents, and their limitations.

There are only so many strategies I could give, but it’s better if you start to use the above to formulate your own in conjunction with what you know about these two characters, where they are, what their goals are, what they want, and what the stakes of their conflict are.

The human element in combat is never to be overlooked. A lot of the time, talking about this can feel like a more complicated game of rock, paper, scissors. The problem is it isn’t that clear cut. While knowing what a weapon can do and what it can’t do is all fine and dandy (and important to writing your fight scenes), the heart of the fight are the people who participate. Two people can be given the same arsenal and use to it to extraordinarily different results. They change the rules by deciding what they will do, what they won’t do, what they want, and what kind of people they are.

It’s not so much that the baseline rules change, but rather how people choose to work within them.

I can’t answer any of those questions. They’re your characters, you’ve got to do it yourself.

So, what I need everyone who follows us to do is take your concept of physical strength and it’s importance to combat and then chuck it out a window.

You have a character who wanders into combat, fights like a battering ram, and thrashes about until everyone is dead. This will work against people who are unarmed and have no idea what they’re doing.

She’s fighting an opponent who is better trained, better armed, and carrying a weapon with much greater reach (I am assuming when you say “broadsword”, you mean a longsword and not a Roman gladius). The longsword is actually longer than her arm. Just as importantly, the strike patterns of the club lend themselves to large openings in the defenses.

This is why when someone fights with a mace, they usually bring a shield and plate mail. If you’re going to be raising your arms above your head, you better be wearing protection.

If she bull rushes him in an attempt to knock him down, she will either end up impaled on the sword itself or he’ll let her go past him and carve the sword up her back.

She’s got to figure out how to get close enough to hit him, and he has a weapon that is 1) very quick and 2) long enough to ensure she can’t in any easy way. If she’s not wearing armor, she can’t just wade in. It’s also worth remembering that sword training includes striking soft targets like the legs and the arms before going for the center. She could get close enough, think she’s in the clear, and end up with his blade pierced through her boot.

What I am saying is that if she fights him on an even keel in an honest duel: the deck is stacked against her. More importantly, she’s stacked the deck against herself. She’s wielding an inferior weapon against an opponent with superior training and a superior weapon, one far more deft at making use of openings, greater reach, and with greater defensive capabilities.

You have to be able to reach your enemy in order to hit them.

Right now, you’re trying to treat these two characters like they’re equals. If you recognize how utterly fucked she is, you can work within her limitations and possibly pull off a victory. However, the strategy she chooses to use is a reflection of who she is as a person. Strategy itself lives within a person’s ability to recognize and operationalize their strengths and weaknesses while acknowledging the person across from them. You also need to know how to use the environment and other factors outside of just statistics.

Statistically, she’s screwed. If she’s aware enough to realize that she needs to gain a different type of advantage (an emotional or psychological one) over her opponent, then great. If she’s a dumb, brute force type character unable to register that just because someone looks inferior doesn’t mean they actually are then she’s most likely dead.

An opponent with superior training and wielding a superior weapon is a difficult challenge to overcome. An opponent with inferior training who knows just enough wield a superior weapon, even badly, is a difficult challenge to overcome.

Weapons are not just aesthetic choices. They are not created equal. Each one comes specifically designed for certain situations. A sword and a club are two very different weapons, with the sword designed for a wider range of uses. It’s a much more flexible weapon.

A shield with armor (at the very least protection for the legs, feet, arms, and hands), or trading in the club for a staff (that she knows how to use) to regain the reach advantage would help her.

The assumption made by those who understand nothing about combat is that the guy with the sword is always going to strike for center mass or the main part of the body. However, one of the key parts of combat is the concept of carving your way inward. The sword can cut and damage, even superficially, any part of your body that is unarmored. Taking out hands, legs, feet, and arms if they can’t reach the middle is all acceptable. She raises her club to swing at him and he drives the blade’s tip into her armpit. It might sound silly, but that’s a legitimate target point.

There’s an artery there, striking it means fast bleedout and ruins your opponent’s ability to use their arm. He’ll have been trained to aim for it by his swordmasters because it’s also one of the openings left in plate. The same is true for the knees, or the inside of the thigh. He’ll naturally aim for the joints because those are the openings left due to the need for articulation.

Hands and arms are major targets in sword duels. The understanding is that if they can’t fight then they can’t stop you from killing them.

Untrained fighters tend to offer up those targets more regularly and frequently because they don’t realize that they need to protect them. Stabbing someone in the foot is not glamorous, but it works.

So, she needs a way to counter that sword, it’s speed, and it’s reach. It could be as simple as adding a parrying dagger or a shield if she can one hand the club. The strategy begins with finding a way to nullify the sword, protect herself so she can get close enough (without taking debilitating damage) and end the fight.

As she is now, she’s pretty doomed. Running at him won’t work. Rushing him will not work. The usual bullish skills she relies on are naturally countered by the length of his weapon and his training. She’s basically in a position of “bringing a knife to a gun fight”. If she cannot strike him down before the sword comes out then she is in some serious trouble.

It’s not impossible, but don’t treat them like equals. Treat her like she’s fighting at a severe disadvantage. (No, not because she’s a girl. It’s because she’s ill equipped and has no combat understanding other than learned experience.) Knowing that and working within it is the necessary understanding that’s key to victory.

-Michi

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(1/2) I’m writing a scene where two knights are fighting each other on horseback. So not a cavalry charge but rather a duel between the two. But it’s so difficult to get it to feel real when I don’t know anything about horses or how mounted combat differs from ground combat. I’ve researched the ground combat quite a lot (with a lot of help from you guys, thank you so much for your awesome work!) and feel comfortable with that writing being good enough, especially after trying out HEMA myself.

(2/2)
But the research for the mounted combat is proving to be difficult. I
can only find either cavalry tactics or information about modern
dressage riding which isn’t really what I’m looking for. Do you guys (or
any of your followers?) have any horse experience or know anything
about how medieval-ish mounted dueling could work? Or know where to
point me in my continued research?

I will admit that mounted combat is not our area of expertise. I’ve looked into it before and it is difficult to find information. I’d pick up any books they point you towards though.

As you’ve probably already figured out, this is a fairly specialized area of study so finding more about it will be difficult on your part. However, there is plenty out there on horses themselves, how they work, and how to ride them. I recommend starting there. Once you get a more solid grasp of how horses behave, how they move, how they think, and how they work then writing mounted combat is going to become much easier.

I’d even recommend going on a few trail rides if you have the resources, but horseback riding is expensive so I totally understand if that’s outside your means. I was a bit of a horse nut when I was a kid, so I had the benefit of reading a lot of books on the subject and indulgent parents who let me ride until it became too expensive. Learning about the importance of seat, holding the reins, controlling the horse with your knees, and just general riding skills aren’t necessary for writing but they’re going to help you sell it to your reader. If you aren’t up on the different gaits, their importance, the seats that move with them, or the speed at which a horse travels at them then you’re going to be in trouble. For example, close range mounted combat like in a duel will most likely happen at a trot rather than a walk, a canter, or a gallop. The reason for this being that the trot will allow you to gain speed, but still circle tightly, give better control in close quarters without locking you into position. Canter is too fast. Gallop is way, way too fast.

Changing pressure in your seat and with your reins can signal your horse to go faster or slower on command, along with a host of other signals. You can nudge with your heels too and most knights did use spurs, but there’s more to it than just kicking a horse to go forward.

Getting used to what your character’s horse might do beneath them requires studying riding before combat. Which means, you were actually on the right track when looking at dressage. You can also study what it looks like when horses fight.

A horse can strike with his/her forelegs, it can kick with it’s hindquarters. It can be taught to rear on command. It can bite. It can knock someone over with it’s shoulder or flanks. When you look at the pretty dressage riding and wonder what use it has, just imagine the horse swinging around into someone, striking with it’s forelegs, or stamping an enemy. The horse sidestepping closer to an enemy slightly too far away so your knight can strike with their blade and then urge them forward by launching forward into a quick trot or canter. Dressage is the surviving base art form for mounted combat. It’s all about exercising precise control over your mount, the kind of control that you need when in tight quarters and specialized gaits for short steps that carry the horse just far enough.

Combining that with what you’ve learned in HEMA is a great start to understanding mounted combat, especially since the base for swordplay on horseback is swordplay on the ground.

Media:

Two Worlds: Two Worlds is a bit of a frustrating mess as a game, it’s open world, it’s a translation, and it uses a very awkward variant of ye olde english that may drive you insane. However, the horse riding in this game is second to none. It is frustrating as shit, which you know what? Good. You’re not riding a motorcycle. It’s one of the few games that will actually simulate momentum on horseback which can get awkward when you’re trying to run someone down at a full gallop.

Mount and Blade: Confession, I have not played Mount and Blade but I do know that it has a stalwart reputation for medieval strategies and tactics involving horses. This is more on the cavalry line, but I figured I’d throw it out there anyway.

Protector of the Small: I will probably always recommend these books, but yes for mounted combat and read for Peachblossom and the riding specifically. There is mounted combat in these books, especially in Squire. I’d read all of them though. They’re supernaturally intelligent, but Pierce does an excellent job nailing the body language and cues for the horses.

A Knight’s Tale: Is it jousting? Yes. Is it based on sports? Yes. However, I’ve found it’s come in handy when trying to write mounted combat sequences in the past for me and it might come in handy as a source of inspiration for you.

The Black Stallion: Is it dated? Yes. Yes, it is. But it’s a fun romp about a boy befriending a horse and outracing them all. It may give you ideas for friendship building between your characters and their steeds should you decide to go in that direction.

Reading anything by Marguerite Henry will also help with capturing the images of and developing personalities for your horses. I read these like a fiend in third grade, my copy of King of the Wind and Black Gold were falling apart by the end, but they still come in handy for imagery and description.

Conveying the feel can be as important, if not more so than getting all the technicalities right. Figuring out how to sell a horse in motion on a static page is tough, so it’s best to work with some great examples.

Here are some links:

Mounted Fencing: The mounted fencing category on Wikitenaur. These may be helpful to pointing toward different surviving manuals talking about fencing on horseback, there are some translations available like Fiore’s, however it may be less helpful without corresponding understanding of horses. It is a good place to get started though.

Mounted HEMA: A blog devoted entirely to HEMA on horseback, discussion of historical manuals and training guides for the horses. It’s worth noting that a lot of mounted combat is going to be similar to ground combat, so all that study you did with swords in regular HEMA will come in handy.

The Jousting Life: The Jousting Life is another blog devoted to following the sport of modern jousting which is slowly gaining popularity. They have useful glossaries and discussion of reviving the sport. There’s also suggestions of what horsemanship arts like dressage or polo that you could look at to help with your understanding of horses.

Scholagladitoria talking about the importance of reins.

As much as dressage itself might seem to be roundabout, the sport itself is actually descended from the kind of horsemanship and control you’d need for mounted combat. Looking at it will ultimately be more helpful to you than you might realize upfront. Stuff like this and this, while more specialized now than would’ve been then can be helpful for inspiring the imagination once you get yourself grounded in the basics.

Hopefully this will be helpful in getting you started. If anyone else has any good information, references, or just wants to share your favorite book on horses, please chime in either as a comment or a reblog.

-Michi

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In my story, one of my main characters must learn some fighting techniques in a short period of time, but my secondary character (who will teach the main characters) would prefer to teach mainly self-defensive moves. I guess, what I’m trying to ask is, are there any martial arts that are either easy to learn, mainly self defence moves, or possibly even both? Thank you so much in advance!

Self-Defense techniques are among the easiest techniques to learn quickly. That’s by design. You have someone for a few hours, at best a few weeks, and you need to instill in them training techniques which are simple, easy to do, and easy to remember. More importantly, the best of them usually make use of the body’s natural movements such as Michael Janich’s self-defense variant based on Silat. The body learns it quicker, it becomes easy to remember, and you fall back into it fairly naturally if taught correctly. This is most, if not almost all, Self-Defense strains of martial arts. Some strains can be overly complicated or are just bastardizations of techniques which will end up being less than helpful if you haven’t been practicing them at least three days a week.

For example, I remember the theory behind most of the wrist locks I was taught to do and I can sort of do them. The only one I can do quickly and reliably enough to aid me in a combat situation is the first escape, where you roll your wrist against the thumb, twist your wrist, and yank free. Why? It’s simple, easy to remember, and doesn’t involve a lot of complex/complicated movement or control over someone else’s body.

Comparatively, the simpler self-defense techniques I was taught, the ones that are simple movements, those I remember. Striking the top of a closed fist along the bone with my knuckles, driving my first knuckle below the belly button and turning in order to empty the bladder, pushing apart two hands testing each other’s grips by applying pressure to their thumbs, etc. That stuff I remember. You also learn faster if your teacher explains the why to you and what the techniques are used for rather than just letting you figure it out for yourself which is the more standard top down approach in some Eastern martial arts.

However, what is most important to understand is self-defense does not equal combat training or having the ability to fight. Self-Defense is not give you the power to kick lots of ass, it’s gives you techniques, methodology, and ways of understanding a bad situation so as better to extricate yourself from it. Self-Defense doesn’t teach you how to fight, it teaches you how to get away.

That’s a very critical and crucial distinction, one that is often ignored.

If you have a character who prefers to teach another self-defense moves rather than combat, it means they’re intentionally truncating what they know in order to focus on one very specific aspect of combat. That very specific aspect is called how to run away.

It’s also How To Avoid Fighting 101, How to Get Away With Your Body Intact, How to Fuck Up Your Opponent So They Can’t Chase You, Did I Mention You Can’t Fight? Run, Idiot.

Otherwise known as: I Didn’t Train You So You Could Go Out And Get Yourself Killed.

If you want that approach, consider it carefully because the teacher’s intentions here are going to be very important. You could very easily end up with a self-defense instructor like the Sheriff’s Deputy who taught Starke when he was thirteen, where the self-defense moves were just standard police training joint breaks. Then, you’ve got martial arts like Aikido which have an inward focus and place an emphasis on peaceful resolution to conflict.

It can go either way, self-defense can either be very violent or not violent at all. Either way, it’s focus is usually on survival, on assessing the situations you’ve found yourself in, on avoiding danger, on using body language to drive off predators, on figuring out that you’re in danger, and assessing how to get out of it. This may involve violent means of resolution, but not always. The true goal of self-defense is to make yourself “not worth it” as a target, thereby ending the danger before it begins.

For women, the best self-defense focuses on threats which begin within an extraordinarily close radius. While a predator popping out of the bushes is a threat, they’re more likely to face trouble from someone they know or someone who has managed to get within their physical comfort zone.

You will get a lot of arguments over what the “best” method of self-defense is, in the same way that they’ll argue over the best martial art, but most everyone can agree that it’s the one which works.

The most basic point of fact is: this character of yours is trained
in what they’re trained in, they choose what they impart to their
students. You can have a character who is trained in a very deadly
martial style but refuses to pass those aspects on to their students. In
that sense, it doesn’t matter which martial art you give them.
All martial arts can serve as self-defense when their teachers impart
the basics plus life experience and nix the deadlier aspects or parts of
the training that they don’t feel comfortable passing on.

At the end of the day, it’s not about the techniques themselves but the teacher, the students, and the intentions behind it. The most gentle teacher in the world can train a killer simply on the basis of the student choosing to use the techniques that way. A student can come out of a purely self-defense background and try to use those techniques in ways that they shouldn’t. A student can be trained to kill, but restrain themselves from it.

Who chooses to do what with what they know is ultimately the real question. Pick the martial art that makes sense to the teacher’s background, then truncate it down after studying the perspectives of self-defense professionals.

I’ve listed a few below in order to get you started, hopefully they’ll help.

-Michi

References + Resources:

Michael Janich, you can follow him on Stay Safe Media.

I like Janich as a resource because he’s very informative. His focus is on using edged weapons in self-defense, but there’s a lot of helpful information in his videos. They are truncated and a bit of a taster for his DVD series. The first link takes you to Black Belt Magazine’s YouTube channel where you can find a lot of other martial arts professionals featured.

Kelly McCann

McCann has been popular. I don’t agree with him about everything, but different voices are helpful.

Geoff Thompson

Geoff Thompson has a lot of interesting information about street fights versus martial arts, both he and McCann will talk about mindset. I’d go through his videos and listen to him talk. He talks a lot about it from the perspective of personal experience and the unexpected. Other people, improvised weapons, the importance of preemption and posturing, etc. If you like what he has to say, you can check out his website.

Here is a list of martial arts from Black Belt Magazine. It’s an opinion piece so take it with a grain of salt if you disagree or it doesn’t help.

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I started watching Daredevil Season 2 and so far the choreography doesn’t seem very good, mostly random backflips magical chain-whipping and punching already down opponents in the face for no practical reason. Am I missing something major or does it just get way better further in?

Yeah, you’re confusing flash for substance, and then looking for flash. The TV series skews hard towards actual combat concerns, rather than creating superficially good looking fights, it’s showing plausible ones (if you can get past the superheros shrugging off inhuman amounts of punishment and that the people they’re punching should probably be dead).

There’s a lot of stuff there that’s mostly authentic to how fights actually shake out. Including considerations like the idea that just because someone’s on the ground, doesn’t mean they’re going to stay there. Which is what the punching downed foes is about.

Also, someone connecting with a chain that heavy will wreck you. It’s actually rather telling that you don’t often see stunt performers messing around with chains. These things are just about as dangerous as films and TV will suggest, and there’s no easy way to whiff strikes with them. The last time Michi says she saw someone use a chain that heavy in their fight scenes was Sylvester Stallone in Expendables 2. He kept the pair of them several feet away from Van Damme in their fight scene for obvious reasons. Those are the same reasons why Van Damme didn’t take the jump wheel kicks anywhere near his head. You’re looking at the kind of stunts meant for movies with a movie budget rather than television. The same is true when they do a flip and “land” on the guy. When doing tricks and flips on a television budget, you’ll often see the stunt performers giving whoever is doing it a wide berth. This is for safety reasons due to the danger both to the performer if the trick goes wrong and the fact that no one wants 180-220 pounds of dead weight to fall on them. They really don’t want it when followed by the incredible amount of kinetic force which you need to carry you through a flip. With the stunts, we’re looking at a show that has budgeted for near movie quality fight scenes or they’re very good at making the most of what they have.

Another thing you didn’t mention is the slight sloppiness that saturates the combat. I can see why that sloppiness might throw you off. In theory, this is something you’d usually chastise the choreographer for. In theory, you want everything to look sharp and clean. But, that kind of sloppiness is actually how real combat looks with trained combatants. It’s there as a deliberate design aesthetic at work here. It feeds into the authenticity, but it also feeds into the thematic nature of Daredevil as a character. The superhero who is fraying at the edges and deteriorating in front of you as a result of his crusade.

The other big thing with Daredevil’s choreography, and it’s easy to miss if you don’t realize what it entails, are those long shots. When you’re shooting a film or TV series, you get your stunt performers in, and they’ll shoot pieces of a fight, then you splice it together in editing. This can easily take all day, because you’ll shoot each punch and parry a couple times, then thread the whole thing together in editing. It’s easy for the stunt actors, because they just need to hit their marks, then they can take a few minutes to recover, while everyone resets the scene.

When you start stacking up techniques in a single shot, it gets trickier, because instead of needing to perform one or two techniques, they need to nail everything in that shot. The longer the shot goes, the harder it becomes, because your stunt actors need to go through the entire shot, before they can take a break.

What you’ll then see in Daredevil are continuous shots that never cut away. For a stunt actor, this stuff is murderous. They all need to get the choreography right, or they have to do the whole thing over again. This is also very strenuous physical activity. Think of a fight like a sprint, rather than a marathon. You’re going all out as hard as you can, as fast as you can. When it’s one or two blows, that’s pretty easy to manage, and recover from, but when you’re following someone down a staircase? When you’ve got minutes of screen time without any cuts? That’s some seriously impressive work from the entire team. Combine that with actors in costumes that severely restrict their ability to see, and working with legitimately difficult weapon elements, and the entire thing becomes really impressive, from a technical standpoint.

Seriously, the stunt performers on that show are fantastic. They’ve got some very difficult material to work with, and they’re turning out quality results. The choreography probably isn’t what you expect from a superhero show, but it is some of the best on TV.

-Starke

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About the Daredevil post, you mentioned in there how some of the hits look like they could kill, and in other posts how it’s difficult to do disabling blows without risking either killing the person or not doing enough damage. But do you think because of Matt’s senses this wouldn’t be a problem? He can monitor his opponent’s heartbeat, breathing, and any internal damage so he knows exactly what kind of shape they’re in. At the very least he could choke someone out safely. Thoughts?

Nah, Daredevil’s whole shtick in the comics is that he’s riding the line between becoming a killer and staying clean. You should always worry that he’s going to cross that line. It’s one of the main themes of the character and it’s present in both seasons. Much as Daredevil gets presented as the “Marvel Batman”, Matt is not Bruce Wayne. Bruce Wayne’s schtick is that he’s a control freak. Matt Murdock’s is that he’s always on the verge of losing that control.

The temptation is always there and the threat for him is that he always could, even on accident. It’s important to remember that he’s accidentally killed people in the comics and done so in the Frank Miller run that the writer’s are pulling heavily from. We even see him ascribing Nobu’s death in Season 1 to being an accident because he burned to death rather than killing him with his bare hands. He even says at the end of the season that nobody died, meaning he didn’t kill anyone because he held himself back from the temptation of killing Fisk and chose to count Nobu’s death (in which he was a participant) as an accident which was not his fault.

This is actually very important to understanding Matt Murdock’s personality and how he deals with the consequences of his actions. Matt is someone who is driven by his concept of morality, but underneath the surface he is also a masochist. He beats people up because he enjoys it and he feels guilty about enjoying it, but covers that by saying he’s doing the right thing. Essentially? He’s weaponized his Catholic guilt.
And we haven’t even gotten to the Daredevil villains who really put Matt Murdock’s “No Kill” policy to the test.

Which, considering he’s always on the edge of breaking it 90% of the time, is actually very impressive.

There will be villains that he should kill, that the audience will want him to kill, that he’ll desperately want to kill, but he won’t because his principles are more important to him than the reality. He’ll be made to suffer for that choice over, and over, and over again.

That’s just Daredevil though.

He accidentally kills the random mooks and goes on to spare the villains that will never change their ways. He’s much more likely to take care when he’s in the company of someone like Elektra or the Punisher.
He’s a hypocrite like that.

At the very least though, we can say the hypocrisy is thematic and part of his personality. It’s something he’s called out for, often by other characters in the comics and in the show. Matt is supposed to be a hypocrite, paving the road to hell with his own good intentions, and the narrative knowing that makes it about 1k times better than similar narratives where they never acknowledge it. Matt is not not a protagonist ordained by the story to always be in the right. The question of whether or not he should even be a vigilante in the first place is one one of the driving themes of his story. Is he any better than the bad guys? Sometimes, he becomes the bad guys. (But, I hope we can all agree that the arc where he becomes the new Kingpin is stupid. Though to be fair, everyone around him thought it was stupid too.)

With Daredevil, it’s never a question of what he can and can’t do. It’s what he will and won’t do. He could do what you’re suggesting, if he’s paying attention and doesn’t get caught in the rush. Which…

There’s a difference between what the powers allow and the personality in play, and Daredevil is a character who is remarkably human. One who is prone to mistakes. He’s a fantastic character and part of that character is the part where he’s a mess. One who is working out his inner demons by taking out people who he perceives as threats to the safety of his neighborhood. Due to all his flaws, foibles, failings, Daredevil is one of the most human characters in the Marvel universe. He’s not very good at keeping a handle on his secret identity, so quite a few of his enemies figure it out and use it against him. He doesn’t have superhuman resistance to damage, he just keeps getting back up. Much of what he does is, in large part, on his own willpower.

I think, really, this is what makes Daredevil such an interesting character and one really worth looking at when setting up your own characters who fight. There’s a nasty habit when it comes to conforming a character’s personality to their fighting style or have their knowledge alone dictate their actions.

There’s what they know and what they’ve learned, then there’s who they are, and that all comes back to direct how they fight.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with a character making choices that directly contradict their own morals, their own best interests, and which fly directly in the face of everything they’re supposed to know how to do.

What is most important here is that choice on the part of the character, rather than just assuming it’s right. At heart, Matt Murdock is a character who is extraordinarily self-destructive. It’s part of who he is as a person and as a superhero. It’s part of his character. He makes bad choices.

He tries, but he also sometimes fails.

And that is what makes him interesting and compelling as a character.

Not the choices themselves but the logical reasoning behind them, the part where who he is becomes the driving factor. Ultimately, when we talk about organic writing we’re discussing characters making choices that are in line with who they’ve shown themselves to be. Even when it’s unfortunate or we disagree with those choices, we can ultimately be content with them because it fits with what we’ve seen them do within the story itself.

The short answer is: Matt’s powers could make his combat safer if he were a different person, but that isn’t who he is and it isn’t how he fights. He’s much more reckless, he gives into his emotions, and is much more inclined toward brutal beatings than controlling his environment. We can joke about the Daredevil helmet and “seeing red”, but it is a very true statement when it comes to Matt Murdock.

The Punisher is, ironically, better at disabling shots than Daredevil. He’s just choosing not to use them and focuses on efficiently killing his opponents instead.

-Michi

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How do you feel the new Daredevil series has handled their choreography?

We love it.

It’s not just that the fight scene choreography is really very fun, but there’s a lot of attention to detail in Daredevil. There’s often a real sense of weight to the hits, and it feels like people are getting hits. There’s a sense of exhaustion as the fights proceed and everything begins to slow near the end. You start to feel how tired Matt is by the end and general exhaustion is actually extremely rare in these types of shows. It also fits thematically with what Daredevil is trying to convey about Matt Murdock and the kind of hero he is. Ultimately, Daredevil is about punishment, both giving and taking, about someone who takes a lot of punishment and keeps getting back up. You see that represented in Daredevil’s choreography.

You can tell that the showrunners hired one or multiple stunt choreographers capable of giving them what they were looking for in terms of character expression and development and that they took their fight scenes very seriously.

It’s especially noticeable in Season 2, but every character has a fighting style that matches their personality and background.

Daredevil is, at heart, really a blue-collar brawler. I don’t mean that
in terms of his training, though you can see boxing featuring heavily
into his combat style, but as a mentality and as a part of his
personality.

You can see his rage when he fights, see him seething, see that pummeling of villains and street toughs as an expression of his frustration. Those stress lines, that barely contained fury, it all acts as a means of showing the audience more about who Matt Murdock is and actively supports the character building the narrative is trying to show. As Daredevil, Matt Murdock is always walking a very fine line that he flirts with crossing. It’s all there in those fight scenes. The action sequences all serve a purpose both in furthering the story and showing Matt’s character. Charlie Cox is actually pretty good, fast enough on some of his shots where they will lose frames because the camera can’t catch it. The transition between him and his double(s) is pretty seamless, which is fantastic.

Daredevil and The Punisher are night and day by comparison. Frank is angry, exceedingly angry, always angry, but you don’t see that translate into his fighting. Unlike Matt Murdock, he’s military and it shows. His fighting is explosive, and he has a brutal but more refined style. He isn’t a brawler, he fights to end. He’s solid, he’s straightforward, and he doesn’t go in for any of that ninja shit. Daredevil fights to break, The Punisher fights to kill. He’s much more explosive and much more raw in terms of brute strength. Special props to John Berenthal for managing to keep his elbows inside his body line when striking. Elbows in is a concept a lot of actors, especially ones without a martial arts background struggle with. I have no idea what Berenthal’s history is but I truly appreciate his lack of chicken wings.

Elektra is wild. You can tell when she’s fighting that she’s here to have a good time. She’s more fluid, athletic, and acrobatic in her combat style than either Daredevil or the Punisher. Where Matt enjoys it but feels guilty about it and often regrets how far he takes it, Elektra has no regrets. She revels like a true adrenaline junkie in the center of the chaos. You can see it in the way that she fights and it’s a unique character trait. She’s not fighting that way because that’s just how women fight in the way that Hollywood usually presents it. Elektra is a risky fighter. As a character she walks on the wild side, she takes risks and that’s evident in how she fights, in the openings she leaves in her defenses. Whatever else can be said, her fighting style fits her personality.

A lot of productions overlook the importance of actors, especially women, being able to convincingly sell the action part of their role. Often it’s worse for the girls because they’re invariably asked to perform techniques which are more advanced and more difficult than their male counterparts. As a general rule, girls are asked to kick more (especially roundhouse and sidekicks) and perform more acrobatics than male characters. Sometimes it may seem like we judge actresses too harshly on this blog, but that’s often because the techniques they’re asked to do are difficult. Difficult to learn and be comfortable with and perform effectively in just three months. This is as much a problem in some of the big name productions as it is in low budget.

When I heard that Daredevil had cast Elodie Yung (from G.I. Joe 2) as Elektra, I was kind of ecstatic. One of my big fears was that they were going to once again cast an actress who couldn’t convincingly do the stunts. I’d already seen her keep up with Ray Park (Snake Eyes, Darth Maul, Toad) so I had zero doubts on that front. Aaaand, I still don’t. She’s been great.

The stunt actors in Daredevil are really great too, especially when you consider that Daredevil’s are doing all that while visually impaired and with limited peripheral vision. It’s one of the few (Western) shows I’ve seen where the gymnastics actually make sense and feel like they’re fluidly part of the fight rather than them just… existing. This has to do with the closeness between the stunt actors when they perform them, usually when you have cartwheels or flips on screen (especially in low budget productions), you can see them give the actor a wide berth. Here the gymnastics lead into things and are, in Daredevil’s case, used as finishers for his fights. He lands hard and has difficulty getting up after.

Gunfire actually gets treated as relatively dangerous. So, you often see the characters prioritizing enemies with guns or the gun itself first. There’s logic going on, which is nice.

One of the neat things about Daredevil’s choreography is that they tend to do these really long shots (not just the Hallway/Stairwell scenes) in which the fights play out and that takes so much talent on the part of the choreographer and the actors to keep it interesting. The longer the shot the more difficult it is.

I mean, you have to take everything with a grain of salt, as… there are a few things Daredevil does that make one question whether or not he’s killing people. However, I can say that neither I or Starke are routinely thrown out of the action by inconsistencies and action which doesn’t match with the storytelling. That happens more often than you’d think.

All in all, our opinion on Daredevil is A+.

I hope that answers your question.

-Michi

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What are the advantages and disadvantages of relying on your instincts alone in a fight?

Your instincts will get you killed.

That’s pretty much the first rule. Whether it’s fight or flight, you’re screwed coming or going. The reason being when you rely on your instincts, you’ve usually turned off your brain. If you’re not thinking your way out of the situation, then you’re in trouble. You’ve ceded control to your opponent.

That’s bad.

The first thing to remember is that “natural instinct” is a known quantity. The way we fight has been part of our consistent cultural evolution for, probably, as long as we’ve existed as a species. Our instincts? Those haven’t actually changed that much.

The first thing anyone learns to do when fighting, whether they’re trained or not, is subvert a less experienced enemy. Your average schoolyard bully can take advantage of your natural instincts. Like flinching, for example. Someone thrusts their hand into your face, your eyes squeeze shut, you tense up, and depending on how quick you are then maybe raise your hands. That’s a natural instinct to protect yourself from harm, by the way.

Your natural instinct is not to catch the hand by the wrist. It isn’t to block. Or even lunge at them. Oh no. It’s close your eyes and protect your face. Your eyes are one of those primary ‘protect at all cost’ parts of your body.

Now, your eyes are closed. You can’t see. You’re wide open.

Free sucker punch to your stomach.

Here’s the thing, your instincts can be great for a lot of different situations. Learning to trust your gut and your intuition? That’s important. The same instincts that can get you killed or badly injured in a fight will save your life in a car crash. Trusting your body, trusting your intuition, learning to accept that part of you actually is important because your instincts are predominately there to protect you.

The problem is that your instincts are based around the most basic kind of survival. There is no separate part of your body that just innately “knows” how to fight or even protect yourself. It certainly doesn’t know the most efficient way to do that. It will sacrifice other parts of your body to protect the most necessary ones, the ones that will keep you breathing. And, often in doing so, expose you to more harm.

For example, when you’re on the ground and being hit, your first instinct is actually to turtle up. Your face and your stomach area are full of important organs you need to survive, so you’ll roll over onto your stomach, cover your head, and expose your back to your enemy. Maybe you’ll attempt to crawl away.

This will leave you pinned with no ability to fight back. When it comes to striking with your limbs on the ground, you need to be facing your opponent. Can’t do that if you’re on your back. You can’t even kick if you’re flat against the ground because there’s no way to move your legs. So, your opponent can just keep wailing on the back of your head until you pass out and/or die.

Even punching, which everyone thinks is natural, yes? This is not a part of your natural repertoire. Even if you’ve never been trained to punch, when you do you’re actually imitating what you’ve seen either on the part of television or other sources. Punching isn’t something you instinctually know how to do. It’s a learned behavior, and a trained movement.

And the people who’ve never been trained to punch? They’re bad at it. More given to wide wild swings that feel good, but generate less power. They fight almost entirely with their upper body rather than utilizing their entire body, leading to the mistaken assumption that combat effectiveness is entirely reliant on upper body strength.

The big guy must be best, they say. Why? He has the most strength!

Then, you train in martial arts, and learn that tall people have a much harder time maintaining their balance than someone small and compact. They are much easier to destabilize and knock over, having to spread their legs wider and drop lower in their stances than someone short. Center of gravity is higher and, therefore, one must go lower.

Go figure.

For a lot of people, their natural instinct when learning to punch is to stick their thumb inside their fist. Why? To protect the thumb. Seems logical. Except, you need the thumb to reinforce the other fingers so that you don’t break your hand when you connect.

Run on instinct and you will flee blindly. As in, your brain is turned off and you are not running with purpose, this means you will go wherever. 50/50 chance or less that you will actually escape because you didn’t think about where you were going. This means you could run down a blind alley, end up in a dead end, run into gunfire, into enemies, whatever. You didn’t even pick a direction, you just went.

You want to use your teeth in a fight? That’s natural. Sink your teeth into some guy’s neck and you’re head/neck will naturally move to tear out as much flesh as possible. Like you’d see with any dog.

This is the big problem with instinct. To say that you’re fighting like an animal is wrong because that conjures up the wrong idea, ironically. We say, “fighting like an animal” and assume it means violent, wild, and vicious. What I actually mean is that an animal has a set array of instinctual responses when faced with a threat. You don’t learn how to fight a dog like you would a human because dogs, as wonderful and effective as they are, have a very set way that they attack and, while they do learn, it doesn’t change. When you’re faced with a dog, you can count on the dog to react within a very specific frame of behaviors that can be countered fairly easily when you know what you’re looking for. A dog is always dangerous, but if you understand how dogs behave then you know what to expect. Even dogs that have been trained to attack.

When you fight on instinct? You are the dog.

And you will never be fighting “purely on instinct” because, unless you live in a vacuum or underground in isolation, you’re surrounded by examples of violence and violent behavior. You’re inundated with the concept of combat, often so much so that the average person often believes they already know how. They don’t have to learn because they’ve been exposed to so many examples of it. In the vast majority of street fights you can find online you’ll notice that they aren’t fighting on instinct. They’re imitating what they’ve seen from the movies, MMA, boxing, or other forms of professional fighting. Often even Professional Wrestling and that’s just stunt actors having fun.

Then, we have examples right here on Tumblr where there’s constant reblogging of self-defense tips without the caveat that you need to find a real professional to teach you how to use what you’re seeing. On the belief that because one can see and understand the concept cognitively they can then do it physically.

This is before we get to the myth of “natural talent > training”. Media presents the idea constantly that violence is something you “just know how to do”, often cheapening the years of work and dedication of the artists in question telling those stories. You don’t need to sign up for self-defense classes, girls. Your natural instincts will protect you!

We’re so inundated with violence through media or in our surroundings that we’ve come to think that it’s just a natural behavior. Many authors, screenwriters, and directors play it off as that too because thinking about fighting like it’s magic is easier than actually figuring out how it works.

Let me be frank, while violence may be a part of who we are as a species, there’s nothing natural about modern combat. Combat is science, it’s based on learning about the human body and human psychology then subverting that to your own advantage. It is the inverse of medicine, using a greater understanding of how another person thinks, moves, and behaves in order to harm them. Many martial arts and military combat forms are highly sophisticated in terms of all three levels.

Combat training, regardless of what kind it is, will retrain your instincts. It retrains the way you think and move, even behave, so that you’re better able to respond to threats. It teaches you how to move in order to generate the most power while receiving the least injury and where to strike on the body in order to be effective.

When a hand comes toward my face, my hands come up but my eyes don’t close. I may move to intercept the hand, knock it away by stepping forward into a fighting stance or back into one and out of the way. My back foot lifts onto the ball so my heel is off the ground, I shift my weight forward onto my front foot, my shoulders turns slightly sideways. And there, I’m in my fighting stance/ready position.

This all happens without me thinking about it because years of drilling have trained me to respond that way when it comes to movement my brain perceives as threatening. I can choose whether to act on it, and over time it has become a natural part how I respond to threats. However, it’s a trained response. It isn’t natural. It can be taught, it can be learned by anyone with enough time and practice, but it won’t happen as a part of the basic instinctual package.

This is where it all falls apart.

Honestly, it is easier to treat combat like magic. Like high level combat is some basic integral part of the character’s person and they’re so talented that they just innately know how, they don’t need to engage in too much training or understand the culture. They don’t need to be changed by the experience. It makes life easy for the author. If fighting is just innately a part of whatever character you create, then they can have whatever personality you like.

And, you know, that’s fine. There are countless beloved characters out there whose personalities don’t reflect what they do or the world they live in. They’re entertaining, they’re enjoyable, and, in many cases, beloved. I mean, the Mean Girl formula is at play in many a YA novel even though there’s no reason for it. “These characters have trained their whole life to kill, yet they’re going to engage in the exact same behavior seen in a stereotypical Beverly Hills cheerleader on television that’s only worried about whether she’ll be getting that new Buick for her birthday.”

Basically, instinct is an easy out. It’s not, but it gets treated that way. Then, it becomes conventional wisdom and we see it everywhere.

-Michi

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