Tag Archives: fight scene reference

Just how truly effective is headbutting? I know a forehead to the face can be quite damaging, but it is still your skull smashing into something and there’s always the damage you take yourself.

It’s very effective, the forehead is the most armored part of your body when it comes to bone density. The same is not true for the rest of the face or the back of the head (which is fairly soft), but the forehead is very durable. The trick is not to smash your forehead into someone else’s the way they do in the movies or to wrench your head back to make it a big motion and then slam their forehead into the other guy’s like a pair of goats going at it.

When you headbutt, you actually want to aim for the softer parts of the face beneath the forehead like the nose where it’s going to hurt a lot less when you connect. That’s why you don’t just go forward, but also down. The softer the portions of the body that you connect with then the less damage you take from the force rebounding back into you. It hurts them a lot either way.

You also don’t have to leave your opponent’s head loose when you try to
headbutt. You have two hands, grab their head by the sides or by their
hair and wrench it back for better access to the sensitive parts if
you’ve got the option. This reduces the risk of you getting hurt by them blocking with their forehead.

Clanking two foreheads against each other is going to hurt a lot. Again, you’d be running face first into the body’s natural armor. If you have nothing else (like when your hands are locked up) then using your forehead to defend against your opponent’s forehead will actually work as a defensive action. It’s going to hurt, but it’s better than a broken nose. It’s also going to hurt them, which is a good thing.

 This is also why you don’t want a big motion ever. Big motions like we see in in movies or martial arts performance are all about being eye catching, it’s about looking good/impressive and being noticeable from a distance. Movies especially are about how entertaining it is on a general level, rather than accuracy. Actual combat is comprised of very tight, very confined actions because you generate more power, waste less energy, and it’s more difficult for your opponent to react to because they’re harder to see the movements beginning.

Wrench your head back in a big way then by the time you’re ready to connect, your opponent will have lowered their own head to protect their face (or done something else) to counter that action.

The goal is always to hide what you’re doing to a certain extent so that by the time they recognize what’s happening it’s too late. If they see and you fail to connect, then they can create an opening and counter. In a normal fight between two people, that’s usually where the tension is. Every action you take is pulling from a rapidly depleting resource. Both participants need to connect, but there’s always the chance they won’t or they’ll miss or their attack will be turned against them. They’re looking reduce that risk as much as possible, and there’s no such thing as a sure bet.

Like anything else, the headbutt is effective if it connects. If it doesn’t, or if it doesn’t hit somewhere beneficial, then you pay for it.

That’s really the basic theory of all combat though.

-MIchi

If a character is grabbed in a “bear hug” from the front or back, how can they break free or fight back?

The good news is that the “bear hug” is one of the most common grabs and most self-defense courses will teach you how to break free from it because it’s surprisingly easy in concept once you know how. It’s like the one handed wrist grab, there are a lot of ways to do it.

As always, this is purely conceptual. If you actually want to learn any of what I describe in this post, then always seek out actual real world training from someone in your area.

For those that don’t know, the bear hug is when someone wraps both their arms around your body in a hug that pins your arms to your sides. Essentially, they use their body to trap you. Doing so traps their arms too, though. When you’re looking at it in an actual fight context, this normally means you’re dealing with multiple opponents. In a self defense context, it can run the gamut. You could very easily end up trapped in a bear hug by someone trying to kiss you when you don’t want to be. So, it’s not automatically linked to violent situations. It’s a useful method of intimidation used usually by someone larger to control, it’s easy to to do so it’s common, and because it’s intimidating it is effective.

When you’re trapped in a bear hug, most of the normal avenues of attack that someone who has never been trained to deal with the situation usually doesn’t think of. It’s our first instinct to actually use our hands rather than any other other part of the body, and those usually take the shape of fairly wide swings (less power, but feels powerful). So, the initial natural human reaction is going to be to flail and panic. Being trapped is terrifying, feeling like you’re helpless or powerless often causes the mind to shut down or give up. This is where the bear hug itself is actually most dangerous because panic means you don’t think critically and if you can’t think then you can’t observe your surroundings or determine a plan of attack then you can’t actually fight.

This is why mentality and your character’s mental state is very important to combat. Your ability to control your mental state is a weapon in and of itself, which is why I keep saying that training will change your character on a fundamental level.

A lot of techniques used in combat attack on two levels, the physical and the mental. They are there to exploit the way the body functions and the way the mind thinks. Which is why the ‘natural instinct’ some writers love so much as an excuse doesn’t work at all when dealing with normal trained humans. Whether or not their naturally inclined toward fighting is immaterial in regards to anything other than a character level and a willingness to learn. It may help when performing the unexpected against school yard bullies who can’t adapt to change, but not the more sophisticated ones. Human behavior is fairly easy to track, adapt to, and exploit once you’ve been at it for a while. Other than that, nobody is gonna just bust out a perfect roundhouse on natural instinct. There’s nothing natural about trained combat techniques.

This is why the bear hug is so common. It’s easy and it’s effective.

Thrashing doesn’t usually work (unless their grab is really weak). You can’t punch or elbow because the trapped arms mean no leverage, no chamber, no chamber means no arm movement, no arm movement means no punch. So, the question is: what’s left?

The answer: every other part of your body.

Breaking a bear hug is about convincing your opponent to let go usually by causing them pain. (Though persuasive conversation is not out. I know you’re asking for violent solutions, but peaceful solutions are always an option if your character can get them to work.)

Remember, you’re not trapped in here with them. They’re trapped in here with you.

So, let’s go over these in sequence and since there are many, many ways to do this, I’m absolutely sure that I won’t get anywhere close to listing them all. You also don’t have to pick one, most of these are complimentary. They’ll work if you do several of them.

Forward Facing:

The forward facing bear hug is when you’re trapped while facing them, so your nose and their nose are pretty close. Maybe they’re grinning down like a loon. The easy solution to that is the headbutt. So forehead right to their face. Biting is also an option. Kick them in the shin.

The shin sounds funny, but unless they’re wearing heavy work boots, leather boots, biker boots, or any kind of shin protection then it’s actually a very good target. It doesn’t cause much damage, but any place on your body with exposed bone or places where muscles are thin like your funny bone is direct access to a lot of nerves. Hit it and it hurts like a mother.

It’s not as good as hitting the nose because a broken/swelling/swollen nose impacts their ability to see, (tears, the nose gets larger, blood in the mouth, all very scary) but it works.

The point is to cause pain as quickly as possible. The goal is to get the arms to let go so you can free your hands. Holding onto someone requires that you keep thinking about it and focusing on that. Pain is distracting. When you damage the face anywhere, the hands will automatically start to rise to defend it. Natural instinct.

Once their hands no longer around you then you are free. Run or fight, you’re choice.

From Behind:

Again, there are a lot of ways to break free from this and the same principles apply. I should say that most of these come with corresponding holds/locks/grabs/attacks, but I’m not going to go over them because we’d be here all day. Also, I really don’t want anyone getting in the habit of thinking there’s only one way. A major problem in recreational martial arts self-defense beyond just the problems in writing is that you get locked into repetitive actions or single techniques because there’s not enough freedom to be spontaneous. This is for safety reasons, but it also hampers growth.

What I want you as writers to really think about when looking at your scenes is “what does my character do next?” and not assume there’s a right answer to this question. Because this is all in your imagination, you’re not in a situation where you could be hurting someone for real. Think about it.

What your character does once they’re free can tell you a lot about who they are.

So:

Go limp, forcing them to hold the whole of your dead weight. They go from holding 30 something or less to a hundred or more. Boom.

Drive the heel into their shin. The heel works even better than your toes.

Lean forward against the hands, then spring back driving the back of the head into their unprotected face.

Clasping both hands together in front of you, bring them up above your head. This leverages against their grip, forcing their hands to pop open. Step sideways, drive elbow into gut.

From Behind, if they aren’t trapping the arms:

Lift hands to face, grab skull, put thumbs against the eyes.

All the rest still work.

I know there are others, I just don’t remember them.

Remember, this blog and any internet information/videos are not a substitute for real training. If you are interested in learning self-defense or practicing martial arts, seek out training from a qualified professional in your area.

Please use whatever information you find here responsibly.

-Michi

Are there/ What are things to take into consideration when writing fight scenes with fat characters? I have a fat female character who gets into a lot of fights and may have congenital pain indifference (which is another monster in itself.) I just want to make her fight scenes realistic. I’ll be digging around your blog for more inspiration as fighting characters were never a thing for me before now. (smh why must they have minds of their own)

I present you with Sammo Hung. And Sammo Hung versus Donnie Yen. And a young Sammo Hung in Enter the Fat Dragon. Sammo Hung is a very famous actor in Chinese cinema, he’s contemporary of Jackie Chan and is a well-known fight choreographer. He’s also overweight and can kick your ass. It’s also worth remembering that there are “overweight” stunt doubles in Hollywood, one for every overweight actor that can’t handle a prat fall.

The short version is that overweight doesn’t automatically equal unhealthy. It’s also not as big an impediment as most people like to pretend it is. A lot of fitness tries to force people to conform to certain body types, which are easier to achieve by some and ultimately impossible by others. At the end of the day, your body is your body. It can only be changed so much through exercise.

If this character doesn’t work out much, hasn’t developed muscle beneath the fat and leads a mostly sedentary existence then the fat is going to matter. Then, it’s a sign that she’s unhealthy. However, if she’s spent time working out, training, building up her stamina, flexibility, and muscle mass beneath it all? Yeah. Sure. There’s really not that much to consider.

Martial artists come in all shapes and sizes.

She’s not locked into any particular fighting style due to her size.

The advantage of the fat is going to essentially be extra armor and she may be a little less tight in terms of her fighting style. More mass means more force, but it also creates more inertia which works both for and against you. Basically, she’ll hit hard and, initially, she had trouble stopping. More likely over rotation until she learned to compensate.

If she’s been fighting for a while and has actual training, then she’s learned to compensate. She won’t look that much different other than martial artists or professions she’s surrounded by, other than she’ll hear a lot of comments like “Damn! That fat chick can kick high!” (Because it is known that overweight women cannot be as competent as skinny ones.) It won’t save her from derogatory comments or the general population constantly underestimating her abilities until she’s a known quantity, but that’s there.

If she’s fighting without training, then it’s a different kettle of fish. She’ll have learned to compensate some, but not a lot. Even without the pain indifference, it’s hard to hurt her. Especially if she’s figured out how to tense her stomach. Muscle and fat both function as a kind of natural body armor. Muscle, being hard, can be trained to lock up to take impact and reduce the amount of force that can penetrate into the body. Dealing with fat is a little like trying to punch a beanbag chair, with tensed muscles underneath it, the force gets spread across a wider area because a softer surface is being punched. When both work in concert with each other in a body which naturally leans toward that weight, it can be every intimidating.

However, like with anything else, if she doesn’t know how to use her body or fight then she’s at risk for causing greater injury. The more force one can bring to bear, the more likely it can rebound back onto you. This means greater strain on her joints, particularly her ankles and her knees. She’s going to lean toward over-rotation when she punches or attempts a kick because of the mass involved. When one performs a punch or a kick like a roundhouse, the body turns and twists in order to create force. The twisting occurs in the shoulders, the hips, and the feet. Over-rotation refers to turning too far when the force carries through and putting undue stress on the joints. Anyone can fall prey to over-rotation, but the more mass one has then the more common it is. More than that, your body naturally wants to over-rotate because it feels good. It makes you feel powerful.

You’ll generally see it happen with nearly ever single person who doesn’t know how to punch.

What’s going to get her isn’t the fat, it’s the pain indifference. That’s the real killer. The difference between indifference and insensitivity, I think, is that she can actually process the pain coming in and register it’s there but doesn’t react to it. If she uses it to her advantage the indifference can have a psychological effect (short term) on those she’s fighting, but the side effect may be that she also considers herself invulnerable or even invincible. She knows she can get hurt, but it doesn’t matter.

That is a very dangerous mental place to be in.

Pain is actually very important to the business of martial combat. Not just the giving and the receiving of it. Pain is important as a character building exercise, for pushing through adversity and continuing when things get tough. It’s important for building empathy and understanding the weight of your own responsibility in regards to the skills you have. You know what can be done because it has been done to you and thus are more circumspect about using those skills recklessly without regard for another person’s safety. It impacts your ability to accurately make threat assessments and decide whether or not a fight is worth it. Pain is actually what you feel when you work out as you rip and stretch your muscles to build new ones. Learning the difference between good pain and bad pain is very necessary toward knowing when to push your body, when to stop, and when to auto-correct.

Someone who doesn’t feel pain or is congenitally is unlikely to know when to stop and will come away with extra flaws in their technique that they didn’t correct. Your character’s teachers would’ve fixed it in the beginning, but flaws come back over time if the student doesn’t put the corrections into practice and if they can’t feel the difference. That difference is often pain, how much pain and whether or not it’s good pain. Fixing your footwork, deepening your stances, stopping over-rotation, and a host of other issues rely on the person being able to feel the difference.

Pain both good and bad in various gradations is that difference. It’s not just that you feel it, it’s learning why it matters.

Pain suppression is the helpful skill, but anyone who trains learns it. They experience the pain coming in but they decide whether or not it matters. Knowing where you’re hurt, what’s hurting you, and being able to determine whether or not that pain is important enough to change tactics or even stop is exceedingly important.

Combat is one part physical and one part psychological, and the psychological is vastly more important. A character who believes that they can’t be hurt or are invulnerable is one that will get killed in very short order. They take more chances. Get into fights that they shouldn’t. And, well, die. Your opponent can and will use overconfidence against you, especially if they have time to figure out what precisely is going on. Then, they put a plan into play that will let them get what they’re after.

Recognize the strengths. Identify the weaknesses. Exploit.

This is not a specialty skill that only the really brainy get. This is normal. Everybody is trained to do this and most people who engage in scenarios regarding high personal risk learn it very quickly.

Her issue is that she can be tricked, fairly easily, into going beyond her limits. Her mental fortitude may be in issue when she faces challenges switch suddenly from easy and safe to very hard. She’ll be thrown for a loop when an activity that she views as “safe” because of her invincibility suddenly becomes “not safe”. Then, her congenital indifference to pain goes from advantageous to very frightening. Then, her own body is working against her. She may not know how to stop it.

-Michi

Hey! I may have asked this before (memory is fuzzy), but how effective would a chain be as a weapon? Not one with spikes or blades, but just a length of thick chain (the kind you’d use bolt cutters to cut) about the length of your average guy’s arm, with a padlock at the end?

I could have sworn we’d handled this one. But, I can’t find it. Anyway, chain by itself will make for a fairly effective improvised whip. Adding a padlock, or any other solid weight to one end would turn it into a kind if improvised flail. In both cases, you’re talking about weapons that can do a fair amount of damage.

With chains there’s enough size variation that you could end up with links too light to do anything meaningful. If it’s a chain that was used to lock a gate, or even just a bike, then it should be heavy enough to inflict some nasty injuries, even without the lock.

Without a weight, I’m not sure if arm length is long enough to really build momentum easily. But, when you add a padlock, and that stops being an issue. The weight (it doesn’t have to be a padlock) turns the weapon into a kind of flail. At that point the flexible portion (chain in your case, but you could just as easily use electrical cable, nylon rope, or any other flexible material on hand) is only there to generate momentum, which you deliver via the weight. Arm length should be enough to seriously injure or kill.

Again, it’s possible you’d end up with a padlock too small to do anything serious, but a medium lock, and even some bike locks, will be large enough to wreck someone, once you get them moving fast enough. As with the chains, there’s a lot of variety, but any lock
intended for commercial or industrial use should be solid enough to work
nicely.

Most padlocks can easily take more abuse than you’d be inflicting from using it as a flail, so that’s not a problem. These were designed to take a few kicks from an angry bystander, or being backed over by a truck, so connecting with someone’s skull isn’t going to be much more strenuous.

As far as I know, there isn’t much sophisticated about using these things.

If it’s long enough, you hold it with both hands, about shoulder’s width apart, and generate momentum with the leading hand. Most quick strikes are dealt that way, but you can release the leading hand, or adjust the grip on the fly to extend the reach.

The distance between the weight and the leading hand will directly control how fast it generates momentum. It’s easier to get it moving, then ease your leading hand back down before striking, than generating momentum using the full length of chain.

Your primary goal is to strike with the weight, rather than with the flexible portion. If you fail that, the weight will wrap around anything you connect with, as its reach allows. Tangling it around your foe’s neck or weapon isn’t a problem, but tangling it around a steam pipe or clothesline is a big one.

If it’s not long enough for a two handed grip (arm’s length wouldn’t be), you hold it with one hand. (Possibly running it across the palm, over the back of the hand, and through the palm again to aid with grip.) You then generate momentum with that wrist, since your off hand doesn’t do much at all. Because you’ve only got one hand on the weapon, you can’t regulate it’s momentum or reach, and need to account for those with every swing. It’s also slightly harder to protect it against being tangled, as a result.

-Starke

In media, throwing swords and knives and even axes almost always works. In reality, assuming you were aiming at a stationary target with nothing in the way, just how effective would throwing a bladed weapon be?

This might sound like a cop out, but it depends on what the weapon is. Specific dedicated throwing weapons did exist. Off hand the Javelin comes to mind (I know, it’s not what you’re thinking of, but there it is). Dedicated throwing knives do exist. I’m not sure if there were dedicated throwing axe designs, or if it was just re-purposing convenient hand axes.

Getting hit with a javelin is bad news. Some varieties, like the Roman Pilum, were designed to penetrate shields. The Pilum was also reportedly able to punch through armor, due to its design. It also sidestepped the real problem with most thrown weapons: Even if you kill someone in the process, you’re giving your enemies an extra weapon to use on you.

Getting hit with a flying axe is not going to do you any favors. Axe strikes are nasty, and having one lobbed into you is close enough.

It’s one of those weird cases where, I know it happened, but I don’t know much about it’s actual use in warfare.

Modern axe throwing is usually end over end. With the axe spinning on the point of balance. You can find videos of this pretty easily. As with knife throwing, it’s a hobby for some people, and you can even buy targets marketed for throwing axes. The modern throwing axes I’ve seen favor a single large curved blade on the head, and a haft that curves towards the blade. I have no idea if that’s just ergonomics, or if it actually helps with throwing. I suspect the latter, but, that’s just a guess.

The one thing I’m fairly sure of is you weren’t throwing your only axe. You’d throw spares, so you still had a weapon on you. The last thing you want to do is give someone else your last weapon.

Throwing knives are really more of a party trick than a viable combat option. It’s one of these things where films and media makes it look a lot more useful than it actually is. In the handful of situations where you just need to put a knife in that guy over there, and walking 15 feet sounds too much like work, throwing a knife is a legitimate option. Otherwise, you’re better off delivering it by hand. Into their kidney or through their favorite artery.

Or you could shoot them. There’s no risk of them throwing the bullet back. Just a thought.

Dedicated throwing daggers tend to be just a blade without much, or any grip, since a knife is usually thrown by gripping the tip between the thumb and forefinger, and flicking the wrist while releasing the blade. I’ve never been able to get the hang of it, though I do have a real knack for misjudging the spin and connecting with the target with the handle.

Throwing swords is a very bad idea. It did happen. There’s actually surviving training manuals that talk about it, and suggest methods. Those same training manuals will also call you an idiot, well, technically a “knave,” for even considering it, but, it can be done.

Historically, a thrown sword would be gripped over the shoulder, across the guard, fingers toward the pommel, palm on the flat of the blade, and then thrown in line with the blade, like a spear.

I want to say actual use of this was mostly restricted to judicial duels, but, I’m not completely certain. Judicial duels would also see combatants bringing swords with threaded pommels, unscrewing them before the duel and then throwing it as a distraction. There’s a lot of question as to how, exactly, that worked, but it does pop up in training manuals as something to do or worry about your opponent doing.

-Starke

My current character is in a situation where she has to learn to fight well enough to bring down gangsters very, very fast. A friend said she could learn the basics (character has a friend who teaches self defense) and then do the rest on instinct. It was also suggested that since she has no qualms about honor, she can fight dirty; hair-pulling, sand in the eyes, etc. My question is, is this realistic? (Character can also travel almost instantaneously through shadows, if that helps)

Not really.

Self-defense is one of those justifications that don’t work, because the one day to three work self-defense courses aren’t about teaching someone how to lay on a beat down. They don’t teach you how to fight, they teach you how to get away. What self-defense is most useful for is teaching you how to respond to bad situations and how to extricate yourself from them. It doesn’t usually come with a solid technical base and if you don’t practice, you’ll rapidly lose the skills. Self-defense is fantastic for teaching you new ways to look at your environment to locate threats and, most importantly, learning how to spot incoming trouble. It will also teach you how to avoid looking like a target. With self-defense, the preventative measures that are easily adopted and learning about the way a predator thinks are more useful than the technical. Self-defense does work, but it’s not a replacement for combat training. Much in the same way recreational martial arts are not a replacement for military or police hand to hand.

Instinct is usually the cheat by the lazy author who doesn’t know what they’re doing. Your actual, native instincts are far more likely to get you killed in combat because those are the first aspects of human nature combat training exploits. A character who has been training since the age of five to kill people can probably rely on their instincts in combat (they are unlikely to, but they can) because their instincts have been completely retrained and they’ve learned how to avoid the more exploitative ones. Half of combat training (and this is six month to many years of training) is about taking your shitty instincts and rebuilding them into new and better ones. Ones that are less easily exploited and preparing the mind to deal with the general horror of combat. (The first time always goes wrong anyway, the preparation is to get you into a place where you can survive it and then learn from the experience.)

There will be plenty of times in your life when trusting your instincts is a good idea, often even leading up to the moment that first punch is thrown. If something around you feels off, it often is. Your intuition may pick up on things that your brain hasn’t caught up to yet, I know mine does.

In combat, though, no. Basic human instinct will be exploited, it is predictable and any practiced combatant will prey on it. The sleeping warrior inside a person is their own determination and willpower, not the ability to automatically kick ass once they’ve spent five minutes introduced to the proper tools.

Also, gangsters and other criminals are excellent at exploiting human nature. These guys may not have any traditional training, either. What they do have though is an outlook and a “kill or be killed” mentality. They also have experience and that experience is probably about 200x more vicious than anything this character has gone through. I actually recommend sitting down and going through the historical backlog for gangsters and gangster films because they often have a very specific mentality, also a tendency for some extreme brutality. (This is gangsters across the board, no matter the historical period or racial identity.)

The gangster is the guy who takes a tire iron or a nine iron out of his trunk and proceeds to break their legs, then their arms, then continue to beat them until they’re nothing more than chunky salsa on the sidewalk. They may have some version of “honor” or personal code that they hold to, but trust me when I say that version is not the one you’re thinking of. Their strongest loyalty will be to the “Brotherhood” i.e. the other gangsters, particularly their gang, the outlook is very much “us against the world”. After all, gangs specifically have their roots in marginalized groups that go unprotected by the larger society. While the gang itself may eventually evolve to the point of terrorizing or oppressing their neighborhood, they did begin as a form of protection. They provide or say they are providing the community with goods and protection services not provided by the outside majority.

You also can’t expect them to pull their punches or give her leeway because she’s a girl. Their social and gender politics will be based on whichever culture they come from, but if she’s not a member of the same cultural group then their norms won’t protect her and if she is then it gives them a different kind of license for rejecting their authority. Just in general, it’s a bad idea to assume one’s gender or cultural will protect them from any kind of retaliatory action. This is especially true to those who reject standard cultural norms or values. And honestly, any plan that relies on your character’s opponents being either stupid or better/honorable people is a bad plan. (It’s also not feminism. Any story where the author looks at the camera and tells the audience “don’t worry, they won’t hurt her as badly because she’s a girl” is pure sexism.)

Petty street level criminals don’t have the luxury of letting someone go and they really don’t have it when they exist in a culture of toxic masculinity that has been supercharged. Gang members walk a pretty fine line the vast majority of the time. Their toughness is always in question and if they’re seen as being “weak” then it can have deadly consequences for them. The younger they are, the worse it’ll be. Mad Max: Fury Road is probably a decent example of this kind of masculinity.

The one thing you must never do with gangsters is assume that they’re stupid. Uneducated? Maybe. Never stupid. You don’t survive in the world they live in by being stupid. To quote Capote, “The problem with living outside the law is that you no longer have it’s protection.”

A stupid gangster is a dead gangster and even the smart ones have no guarantee they’ll live very long. This is before we get to the ones that have been to prison and back or are ex-military. Whatever your character does, they’re going to figure it out and start to counter.

This is a good thing for you as a writer because it’ll keep your character from turning into a one trick pony and work as a means to keep the tension high.

Some alternate solutions:

This character needs to rely on their brain and their observational skills primarily, not on the idea that they can brute force their way to success. Besides that, not every character needs to be Black Widow to be awesome. Your character has the background that will make her a scrappy fighter at best and that’s okay. This gives you more room to focus on survivalist tendencies and adaptation than kick ass fighting skills. The scrappy, driven, but fragile survivalist pushing forward on their own willpower is a great character.

She’s tackling enemies that are more than likely much too big for her. She’s the underdog and, even with her powers, she always will be. That’s fine. What this character needs is going to be courage, brains, and guts with a will to walk into fire when there’s zero chance of walking back out again.

This is what the classic action heroes are built on.

You don’t always get to see it with female protagonists, but there are a few.

Sarah Connor from Terminator 1 and 2. Ripley from Alien and Aliens. Possibly Furiosa from Mad Max: Fury Road as I haven’t seen the movie. You’re looking for plots about normal women pushed to extraordinary measures by circumstance.

She’ll probably be heavily reliant on that superpower, just a heads up. It is her only means of evening the playing field and may keep her alive long enough to adapt.

This character is not a head to head fighter. She doesn’t have the ability or the time to be, so play to her strengths. Ambush. Ambush. Ambush. In the shadows and out to BAM, then back into the shadows. Run and hide. Try to lure them into places with low or bad lighting. (They’re going to figure this out, so it won’t work for the long term but in the beginning then yes.)

Worth noting that ambushing takes work and forethought, it also requires brains and observational skills. It can be very exciting due to burst and release tension, so long as you make the consequences of failure clear. This is high risk, high reward combat. You take them down fast and silent (silently as possible, she’ll bungle this a few times) or not at all. Run and hide may eventually transform to run and gun over the course of the story, but this is a character who needs to keep moving in order to maintain her advantage.

If she has to kill them fast, then the answer is not hand to hand. It’s weapons. It could be a gun, but more likely it’ll be something she can swing while ducking in and out of the shadows. Crowbar or tire iron across the back of the head, then back into the shadows. She doesn’t have the time or skill to be fancy here, but you don’t need either of those to be effective.

Honor has no place here, it’s something she can moralize about or feel guilty over but discard it. It won’t help. Have her prioritize turning off the lights.

Start developing that power over the course of the story. What else can it do? What new ways can she make it work for her that she hasn’t thought of before? Can she start to perform new techniques with it. I suggest looking at Obtenebration from Vampire the Masquerade. You can also check out the Darkness, though I don’t know how helpful it’ll be.

Gangsters usually like to work in groups, so she’s got to split the group up to be able to tackle them one at a time. Fighting groups as a group is not recommended because they are many and she is one. They are used to working together, they will circle up, and one will distract while the others nail her.

Treat her as fragile when you write, any combat screw up is going to hurt. She’s going to get hurt. This will be a war of attrition and she’ll come to the end bloody. There’s absolutely no way to avoid injury.

Remember, combat situations are mostly about problem solving. A character can only solve the situation with the skills they have. Half of writing and character building is learning how to bring what you want and what you have together to create something satisfying. Three weeks of training or a single self-defense session is not going to give a character the ability to take on five guys in one on one.

So, don’t try.

Do something else. Get creative. You are creative. Come up with alternate solutions to the problem. So what if your character doesn’t actually know how to fight, it doesn’t mean she can’t still be awesome.

Some Things to Remember:

1) The first time out always sucks.

If your character has never killed anyone before or been in a fight before, then she’s going to screw up her first time. In that event, coming out alive is a victory. This isn’t a sign of weakness or a failing, it happens to everyone. Combat is hard. Violence is scary. Things will probably go screwy, get a little haphazard, and she may fail instead of succeed. That’s okay.

2) Don’t forget the emotional consequences.

Your character is not a robot. Anger. Guilt. Fear. Sadness. Worry. These are all natural. You might want to familiarize yourself with the seven stages of grief as a reference point. Both the act of inflicting and receiving violence is traumatizing, especially when asked to go from 0 to Kill. Getting upset, guilty and feeling bad are normal. Try not to let it degenerate into angst/wangst. Still, she’s human. Emotions are not a sign of weakness. They’re natural.

3) Learn from experience, not instinct.

I talked above about how instinct is the solution of the lazy writer. Experience, on the other hand, is the solution of a good one. Grade A Bad Ass is not something a character is, it’s a state they work towards and earn over the course of the story. One of the best ways to keep your fight sequences fresh is to have the character learn from their successes and failures, then apply those lessons to their next fight. They reflect on what didn’t work and on the ideas that nearly got them killed, they think about their enemy, they come up with new solutions. Whether that’s upgrading or adding additional weapons, missing less often when they nail a bad guy across the back of the head, or stopping to survey their surroundings before going in, this leads to the writer constantly showing their character’s evolution and makes that arc part of the story.

The character goes from passive to active, their combat style becomes a part of their character arc, and you guarantee that every fight is different because you’re figuring it out with them.

References and Resources:

Die Hard, the ultimate war of attrition and willpower. Your character is obviously not a cop, but if you’ve never seen this movie then watch it. It’s one guy versus a group of criminals, trapped in a tower with limited ammunition and no shoes. While not realistic per say, Die Hard busted on the action scene with a real willingness to make it’s protagonist pay and show them taking damage throughout the film.

16 Blocks This is another Bruce Willis action movie, but I like it. A broken down NYC detective is set to escort a petty criminal to the courthouse. Works well until the other cops want the criminal dead. It’s an intense run for your life scenario and a fun one. It could give you ideas.

Home Alone This one may seem like a weird choice, but it actually isn’t. A small child has no chance in one on one with two adults, so he’s making use of what he has: knowledge of his environment and his excellent pranking skills. He’s successful because he starts thinking outside the box and finds a means to fight that plays to his strengths. Your character doesn’t need to build elaborate traps, but it’s worth figuring out where the box is and how to get outside of it.

Hope that helps!

-Michi

When picking out something to use as an improvised weapon, what would be the most important thing to take into account about it?

That you take what’s available. The trick about “improvised” weapon is that it’s improvised.

Or according to Google’s dictionary:

im·pro·visedˈimprəˌvīzd/

adjective

adjective:

improvised

created and performed spontaneously or without preparation; impromptu.“an improvised short speech”

done or made using whatever is available; makeshift.“we slept on improvised beds”

For example, your character is at a bar and they are about to be attacked or threatened by another angry person (drunk or not). They might grab their beer bottle by the neck and slam it down on that person’s head. They also might grab a mug and hit them with it, they might throw their drink in that person’s eyes before they lunge in to go to town. Assuming the chairs are wieldly and they’re backed into a corner, they might pick it up off the floor and attempt to either hit someone with it or keep them at bay using the legs. It’s going to be awkward, but whatever works.

Think about the environment they’re in, think about what is around in that environment that they have access to, and most importantly what every day household item your character thinks is going to make for a good weapon. The vast majority of these are going to be snap decisions made with limited information while under pressure.

You have the better ones a more experienced character and less law abiding character might choose to carry around with them or keep in their car. Then, it’s more likely they’ll carry whatever they can easily explain away.

For example, would you question why someone would keep a heavy duty metal flashlight in their driver’s side door? Obviously, it’s in case the car gets stuck at night. It’s not because it’s heavy, easy to wield, small enough to hide behind the leg, and great at cracking bones. You can also shine it in someone’s eyes, much in the same way you can use the high beams in your car to blind an enemy. That’s just a pleasant side benefit to a useful tool.

Why does a character keep a tire iron in their trunk? In case they get a flat, right? You’re less likely to think that the character used it to break three people’s arms last week on a collection round.

A car door can be an improvised weapon. Someone approaches to drag a character out of their car and instead of politely waiting, they slam it into them when they get close. Then, when they’re stumbling, crack them in the face or the arm with that heavy flashlight. Or they drag their fingers into the door, then open it and shut repeatedly several times until you crush (or even sever) their fingers. The heavier the car door, the better. In the same way, a door in your own home can become an improvised weapon. The character listens carefully, waiting for them to get close or reach or draw back to break it down, then they open it into them.

If you can pick it up and is decently solid, it can become a weapon. A rolled up newspaper can be a weapon. A plate can be a weapon. A frying pan is an excellent weapon, nice, metal, sturdy, especially one that’s been sitting on a hot range or if one were cooking anything in it.

A backpack carrying text books or any heavy books can become a weapon.

Car keys are a weapon.

A broom is a weapon.

Your character can be as safe or as vicious as they want. Play a game with yourself, look around the room and ask “if I were being attacked right now, what would I grab?”. Then, ask your character that question, think about it from their reaction and their background. Think about what they’d do or what they’d choose if they started with nothing and it had to be right now.

Think about where they are and what’s around them. Think about what they have access to. Think about their environment. Then, don’t ask yourself “what would be the best choice for this situation” because your character doesn’t have the time for a “best choice”. They’ve got time for “I see it, I grab it, I hope it helps”. (Also, “I hope I know what to do with it once I have it in my hands”.)

The problem that comes in with a lot of writing of violence is that you can’t munchkin it. Well, you can, but it kills all tension. The advice Toph gives Aang in the second season of Avatar: the Last Airbender when teaching him earthbending. There is no cool move or trickety trick that‘s going to get you through that rock, you’ve just got to dig in. Commit. Write the scene. They’re in it now, they’ve got to be the ones to get themselves out.

One of the hardest parts of writing in general, not just violence, is that sometimes the story doesn’t go the way you expected or planned. Sometimes, it takes off in a whole new direction. Instead of fighting it, let the current take you. See where you end up. Run with it. Live in the moment.

So what if your character grabbed a useless weapon or what they’re trying to improvise doesn’t work out? It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to die. (They could.) It’s more a question of what they do next rather than trying to brute force the situation into one that works to their benefit.

A character is defined by what they do when things go wrong, when things don’t work quite right, how they adapt to their changing environment. Their resourcefulness, their cleverness, their ability to maneuver or even fuck up a situation. Their actions could make the situation better, but they could also make it worse. They can make mistakes. They can screw up.

That doesn’t make them bad characters. Or say anything bad about them if they aren’t particularly good at fighting. What makes a badass a badass is how they deal with situations, not the fact that they can kick the ass of everyone in the room. Your character will always have to earn the title anyway, rather than starting with it as a default. So long as the mistakes your character makes are incorporated into their development then it doesn’t really matter.

Take chances. Make mistakes. Put them on the defensive. Make them think. Make yourself think. Imagine different ways out of a bad situation. Think about the consequences. If your character does X how do the other characters respond? Do they get angrier? Do they become scared? How do they try to take back control? Which one feels like the right course for this character? Imagine it from the perspective of a different character. How would they do it differently?

Think about it. That’s pretty much all you need to do.

-Michi

How do I write a combat scene where the fighters are grappling without putting in excess detail. I don’t want to write out blow by blow but I also don’t want to undersell the action.

You’re going to have to figure out whether it’s standing grappling or on the ground. If it starts standing, it’s going to end on the ground. Grappling can be very dynamic, if you understand the basic thought process.

1) It’s all happening in a very tight space.

Grappling means you’ve moved past the point of punches and kicks (aka you are too close for them to work) unless we’re talking about some very specific kinds of techniques designed for work in a space with limited arm movement such as the uppercut or a knee.

At this distance, the general point is to destabilize your opponent so you can put them on the ground. (Preferably without going with them, but if you must be the one on top.) This means a fair amount of shoving, seizing of the arms, grabbing the neck, chokeholds, etc, but sequences where the two fighters are essentially just dragging each other about in an effort to get the other to lose their balance. This can mean knocking each other into walls, tables, chairs, or just maneuvering their feet.

The general assumption with grappling is that it’s all about upper body strength. It’s actually not, where you put your feet and your ability to maintain your balance so that you stay standing is far more important. You’re close enough to smell what the other person ate for breakfast, there is no room for full extension of the arms. You’re going to go round, and round.

2) We all fall down

This will not last long, however, because someone is going down and it’s going to be hard. Write them falling over.

3) Someone is going to land on top.

Ground fighting is a scramble. The one who goes down first and lands on the bottom, the one who goes down second and ends up on top has the advantage. It’s also a question of gravity and weight, weight matters a lot more on the ground than it does while standing.

180-280 pounds bearing down on your chest is a lot, 120-170 is also a lot.A 90 pound woman can hold a significant advantage over someone while sitting on them. People are heavy, if you’re on the bottom that’s essentially you trying to lift that or shake it off. Without decent training, most people don’t know how. Most people don’t know how to make their arms and legs work together on the ground, long before we get into even basic grappling techniques.

If you land on your stomach and they’re on your back then it’s over. Their weight will bear down on you, they can pin you to the ground, grab your head, slam it into the pavement, choke you out, and you can’t do a goddamn thing to stop it. You can’t really get up and crawl away, no matter how strong you are. It is, however, the first instinct to flip over onto your stomach as opposed to staying on your back. This is one of the places where natural instinct will screw you over.

Being on top can be the difference between victory and defeat, especially depending on whether the one of the bottom managed to trap them between their legs or they escaped to jump onto the stomach. If your character knows how to lock up an opponent in the guard, then fine. If you have no experience with holding someone in “the guard” (aka you wrap your legs around their waist to keep them away from you), then don’t bother really. It’s more likely whoever got on top has managed to bypass this stage.

From the position sitting on the stomach, it’s the perfect position to start wailing on the other guy. They can just hit them a metric ton or move to try to strangle them. The punches may not be that effective, but they’re going to hurt a lot. You can expect at least a broken nose if any land on the face.

One basic way to defeat this is to buck, the bottom person widens their legs, braces their feet, and jerks their hips straight up much like a reversed bucking bronco in an attempt to unseat the other person. The success of the technique will depend on how well the other person can keep their balance (and the bottom’s skill at keeping it up under pressure). Done right, the top’s body is going to come forward, the bottom grabs one or both of their arms, twists their hips, and rolls sideways into their opponent’s guard thus reversing position.

More realistically though, someone’s just going to end the grappling bout with their face getting pounded into the concrete.

That’s all assuming no one breaks anything on the way down and no one hits or lands on their head. If one goes down and the other doesn’t, then they’re just going to start kicking and stomping them.

Never go to the ground unless you have to. You’ll still end up there.

Shit happens.

You don’t have to say everything, you do have to paint a clear picture of what is happening. Move swiftly from one action to the next, keep a sense of kinetic motion going, play up the tension, make sure you know what position is a good one and what is a bad one, and manipulate your characters into them.

-Michi

Okay, real talk? How realistic/normal is it to see spinning blades in sword duels like we saw in the Star Wars prequels? What is the point of something like that anyway, besides to look pretty for the audience?

The spinning (the spinning of the blade not the body) or figure eight rotation in front of the body is what’s usually called a “flourish” or flourishing. It’s more of a training technique used to limber up the wrist/practice control of the blade while gaining momentum. The other big use for the flourish is as a means of intimidation, essentially it allows you to show off your skill to an opponent before the fight begins. Much like bouncing on the balls of your feet, it can be used to hide the tells of an incoming attack. It’s going to work better (or at all) with shorter blade than a longer one, and it works especially well with longarms/polearms. The lightsaber is in the range of too long for it to really be effective and does end up in the range of a lot of wasted movement if it’s used during a regular fight. You do see a lot of flourishing in some of the Chinese styles (though not all of them), and it’s especially common in Wushu.

On terms of the Star Wars prequels versus the Original Trilogy, the OT is more accurate while the prequels are more exciting (but will also get you killed quickly). Actually spinning/turning your back to an opponent in while combat with a sword will just end you.

In terms of real fighting versus movie fighting, quick small motions are generally better than large, swinging ones. Where as large motions are easier for movies because they are more exciting and easier to see. Large motions are both a waste of energy and come with obvious tells which announce what you’re about to do to your opponent. A combatants are trained to read the body and its minute tells like the movement of the eyes that tell where the strike is going, the twitching of pectoral muscles in the chest, the shifting of the hips, long before we get to obvious aspects like a clenching fist or stepping back into a stance. Observational skills like reading your opponent in order to predict what they’ll do are a standard part of the martial arts training package. Some people are better at it than others, but everyone does learn them simply via practice.

There are things a person can do, whether they are aware of it or not, to mitigate an opponent’s ability to read them.

Moving around the way boxers and many other martial arts schools do when they bounce is one. The shuffling step you’ll often see in Taekwondo sparring when they shift their front foot, lift their knee slightly, and stamp in a jerky motion which can transition into a feint in order to hide the leading leg is another. And the flourish can be used in this way, though not as effectively.

Loose “baggy” clothes (which fit well), for example, that cover the chest and the legs are preferable to tight clothes that expose most of the body. (They also breathe better.) Loose clothing can camouflage the beginning microseconds behind your movements and give you a small advantage. This is also where the “distraction defense” for women wearing sexy women’s clothing comes from. The assumption is that a woman’s body is so distracting it will leave men senseless and offer the woman some advantage over them by attacking. The “distraction defense” is just a stupid justification made, primarily by men, to put female combatants in stupid sexy clothing. Seriously, that’s all it is. It’s not on par with a male predator asking a woman for the time in order to trick her into looking at her watch, purse, or phone so he can grab her by the hair and knock her out. The woman in question loses out on freedom of movement, protection, and a host of other aspects which are important to her ability to fight. It’s a situation where the disadvantages far outweigh the benefits. If she starts the fight in a disadvantageous position due to her choice of clothing then it was not, in fact, an intelligent choice and no amount of mental gymnastics will make it so.

It’s also insulting to everyone involved. Not only does it assume that all male combatants are heterosexual (which they are obviously not), it also assumes the outrageous Puritanical belief that when faced with the prospect of sex every male individual will immediately lose his goddamn mind. It also assumes the women in question will always be facing men. Finally, it assumes that a woman will always be more concerned with looking good than her ability to survive. (If you must, honestly, be Helen Mirren in Red.)

Now, back our regularly scheduled discussion on flourishes.

This is more like what you can expect.

You’ll actually see a flourish or two in some of the videos, including the spinning on approach but they also tend to stop just shy of the strike if the intimidation fails.

And, of course, scholagladitoria on what movies get wrong about longswords. He’s a HEMA instructor and talks a lot about the different kinds of historical fencing. Very helpful for anyone wanting to write about any kind of historical sword combat (or swords in general). His video on dual wielding, is worthwhile for anyone interested in looking into it. He also reviews television and movies, like this one Oberyn Martell versus the Mountain.

Skallagrim is a great Youtube resource. His video 101 Common Beginner Mistakes (and Basics) is probably a must. And he does a lot of delving into fictional representation of sword combat, weapons, etc and whether or not they’re unrealistic. (They usually aren’t.) He and Scholagladitoria really are best for “real talk”.

On the subject of using flourishes in writing:

Flourishes are best used as an expression of a character’s personality rather than a sign of their combat skill. This can go two ways because flourishes are among the easiest techniques to learn to do.

You have The Mask of Zorro approach where Alejandro uses it in this training sequence. Here, it’s an expression of his inexperience and his preference for flashy, showy, “impressive” looking moves that emphasize how little he knows about sword combat. Don de la Vega shows us this by knocking the blade right out of his hand with a single swipe. It’s a great comedic moment, but it also allows us a little into of Alejandro’s personality that mirror the other aspects of him that we witness throughout the movie. The short answer is that like Oberyn Martell, he likes to play around and will often take chances he doesn’t need to because it’s more fun that way. He doesn’t just know he’s better, he needs to show he’s better.

This is a trait particularly common to swashbucklers as a genre and the excessive confidence to the point of overconfidence can be both a positive and a negative.

If you’ve got a character who likes to do a lot of flourishes when they fight, it might simply be that they like to be the center of attention. They like to showboat. They like to use big, flashy, impressive looking techniques in the lead in as a means of intimidation. It’s essentially a mind game.

The trick as the writer is not to be tricked. If they are actually as good as they think they are (and they may well be), they do need to prove it. As de la Vega shows when he slaps down Alejandro’s blade, it can all just be an illusion. All flash with no substance and no technique to support it.

Control, in addition to knowing how, when, and which weapon to use it with, is the difference between a master and an apprentice.

-Michi

I’m the author the last anon mentioned. What you said about sparring makes a lot of sense; I’m working on changing stuff to fit. Here’s another question: The point of the scene is to set character A up as a hand-to-hand fighter who seriously challenges B, the MC. (This informs a later plot point.) How can you clearly show the advantage going back and forth in a close match without landing any blows, esp. for readers who equate damage done with skill in those kinds of scenes?

I’m already sensing a few issues with this. Though, the problem may simply be the way you’re thinking about it. So, I’ll go through them and start with my big glaring red flag which is the question at the bottom.

Skill =/= Damage

This is a very common mistake by most people who have never had any sort of martial training. It’s also an attitude that is fairly common amongst “street” fighters aka the idiots who like to punch each other out in their backyards and call it training. It all sounds very impressive, until you’ve learned how easy it is to actually hurt someone else. Then, the prospect of causing injury to another person is a lot less impressive. Even with just a few basic lessons, it’s remarkably easy and metrics don’t make it any more impressive. And yes, you are the one equating damage with skill, not your readers.

Allow me to talk to you about skill for second.

Hurting your training partner in a training accident is actually a sign of insufficient skill. It means they lack control over both themselves and their technique. Skill is not in how much damage a character is able to dish out, it’s in their ability to choose how much damage they dish out. Skill is in control, both over your body and over yourself. There’s technical proficiency with the technique, and again technical proficiency is about how well you perform, how well you control the minute movements of your body, and not, really, in your ability to produce the expected result. The technique will produce the expected result and that’s why you practice it in a controlled environment with a trusted partner so you can feel its effects and know why it should be respected. (This includes Police officers practicing full moves on each other during training and that training is almost always single technique, so they know how it feels.

You don’t choke another person out in the sparring arena just to prove how tough you are. (Though if they fail to tap out and no one intervenes then that’s on everyone.) That’s the kind of macho bullshit nobody’s got time for.

It’s dangerous, it endangers both participants, and starts to kill the level of trust you need to work with someone during practice. Let alone sparring. When two people practice together, they are making an agreement to aid each other and to keep each other safe. You get into cases where this doesn’t happen, there are plenty of stories where bullies use practice matches as a means to inflict “accidental” damage on their target. Two Tamora Pierce stories involve this, Protector of the Small and The Song of the Lioness with characters who, for their own reasons, decide to use a practice match as a means to maim the protagonist.

Now, I grant you: from an entertainment standpoint it’s sensational as hell. You feel like you’re creating a great gasp moment with “oh my gosh, he cut his knuckles on her face!”

However, this is the sort of injury that either…

A) Happens by complete accident, such as that anecdotal story I sometimes tell where the instructors weren’t watching and two brown belts were allowed to spar each other in a manner above their level. Both connected and broke their legs. When this happens, it’s usually a sign of lack of skill and lack of attention on the part of the people in charge to watch them. And then, there’s…

B) They wanted to hurt them and they’re just going to use the above as an excuse.

This also means that they are willing to take the hit on looking bad because at least some of the onus for the injuries will be on them.

Control is the big differentiation between trained and untrained, it’s the ability to choose where, when, and how much. 9/10 it also means course correction, being able to read the situation when you’re in the heat of the moment and yank yourself back off the cliff. Sometimes, this includes modifying your attack, possibly even stopping it, after you’ve committed. There are techniques where after we misread a situation and commit to an action there’s nothing we can do. Either the realization comes too late, changing course would only ensure the other person got more hurt, or we don’t realize something is wrong until after. It happens to everyone.

Still, the mistake is in assuming it’s a sign of skill.

What makes these characters skilled is how close they are and how capable they are in comparison with the end purpose of their training. Which begs the question: what are they training and practicing to do? If the answer is “to fight people!” then you might want to rethink it. Every career in the combat arts comes with training specialized to help its students achieve success at their career. Stop and think about the career you want these characters to engage in. What will they be doing? What skills do they need to have? How does what you’ve set up for a career correspond with the expectations present in real-world professions? If you do get lost, confused, or unsure then looking at these will probably help and get you thinking along avenues you might not have previously considered.

All training has purpose and its goal is to inevitably make you better at what your intending to do. The biggest issue might simply be that you’re thinking about this sequence like it’s a fight. It’s not. It’s a training exercise, and the in universe point is to both to practice what you know and to learn.

I mean, I have the meta reason for why this sequence exists: it informs a plot point, it’s there to show the audience both fighters are skilled, and one is more skilled than the other. That’s all information there for you as the author, which is nice to have for the future, and is utterly useless in the now.

Forget about that.

What are they learning? What are they supposed to be doing? Why aren’t they doing that? Why are they doing this? How do they feel?

What’s missing here is motive. You have the plot in mind, and as a writer what’s happening in this scene is justifying character behavior in another down the line. However, you also need to make sure your characters have a reason for how they are behaving in this scene.

When it comes to sparring:

The reason why sparring works as a training exercise is the inclusion of limits and a different system to score how well they are doing. You just have to decide what those limits are, look at different martial arts to get a feel for what you want to run with. Most of the good Self-Help books at your local bookstore or library will have the rules, and if those are a bust then you can always look them up online.

Most average television and movie fight scenes like on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where there’s a lot of stop, pause, and banter runs a lot closer to what you can expect from a sparring session. The session is relaxed, the players have the necessary time to pause, joke, and talk shit to each other. You can get away with this a lot more readily in a sparring session because the characters in question aren’t fighting for their lives or focusing on staying alive. They also have time to breathe. There’s also a teacher standing nearby, watching, and participating. They both know that they are safe and that can lead to some looser behavior.

Sparring sessions are longer. They’ll run for several minutes as opposed to several seconds. The characters worry more about running out the clock and scoring their points than they do survival, even in the toughest environments. That’s also okay. Again, the point of a sparring session is to learn. Sparring provides us with the opportunity to experiment, to learn strategies, to figure out which techniques we’ve been learning are the ones which work best for us in a stress free environment. It’s also an excellent means of building confidence. A beat down, “real world” as it might be, just leads to frustration. Beating someone up (even when they’re at equal levels) is just beating them, it doesn’t teach them anything.

Again, the point isn’t to win. The point is to learn. You can learn just as much from losing as winning, sometimes more so.

Stop worrying about reader expectations.

You define what skill is and what skill means in terms of your story. With proper in story communication,