Tag Archives: fight scene

Why is choking someone into unconscious normally an assumed death in movies? Don’t they have a chance to regain consciousness?

In the real world? Yeah. Killing someone by choking takes a
long time. It’s a legitimate way to kill someone, but not an efficient one, and
the timeframe you see in most films is a fraction of what you’d need to kill
someone. It is worth remembering, this can
kill you. This is one of those times where “safe” does not mean “non-lethal,”
just that it is not immediately lethal.

In films, choking is an ideal option. In a controlled
environment, it’s (relatively) safe. You can get both actors in frame together.
You’ve got a lot of options to set up the shots. Finally, it’s incredibly easy
to fake. You get the actors into position, one of them, “chokes,” the other
without putting any pressure on the windpipe or arteries, and play the scene
out.

It’s probably worth remembering, (even if some actors forget
this part), that acting is a cooperative exercise. Your job isn’t just to hit
your marks, spit your lines, and (occasionally) devour any unattended scenery; you
also need to facilitate your fellow actors’ performances. Stage fighting is an excellent
example of this. It’s not about actual
violence, but it is about working together to create the illusion. If anyone
gets hurt in the process, that means you can’t just reset and do another take,
so this is something that the production staff and performers really want to
avoid.

There are a lot of staples in film and stage violence that
do not translate to the real world. They survive because of a few factors: most
people don’t know what they’re seeing is unrealistic, it facilitates
opportunities for acting, and it is reasonably safe.

Choking is great on film, because it gives both actors
plenty of time to do whatever the script calls for. So long as no one is actually having trouble breathing, they
can do this all day until the shot comes out right. Characters die from this
because the power of plot compels them to, not because of any physiological
considerations. Audiences believe it kills characters because, “well, I’ve got
to breathe, right?” Without ever questioning how long they can actually go
without oxygen. The idea that effective chokes are about cutting off the flow
of blood to the brain never occurs to them.

If an actor does screw up, and accidentally starts choking
their coworker, you have a lot of
time to rectify that. This isn’t true for a lot of stunt fighting, where if
someone screws up, someone’s going to take a hit, and all that’s left is apologies,
or in some tragic cases, obituaries.

Choking, depending on where you put your pressure can also
include some insane stuff you probably wouldn’t think is safe. An example would
be the one handed choke that lifts the victim off the ground. You can do this a
couple ways, the easiest (without rigging) is to push them up a wall, keeping
your thumb and index finger under their jaw (against the bone), you’re actually
lifting their head, their throat is completely safe, the airway remains clear,
they can breathe, but it looks like you’re going full Darth Vader on them. Even
for someone standing right there, it can be difficult to realize the victim is
completely unharmed.

Beyond this, front facing chokes, like you’ll usually see in
films, are very difficult to use in a real situation. As I mentioned above,
they don’t really provide good access to the points you’d be trying to compress,
but, they’re also difficult to complete because the victim has a lot of options.
There’s a lot of counters to these, that range from simply pulling the hand
free, to breaking their arm at the elbow. Wrapping an arm around the attacker’s
and dragging it out of position will stop the choke, and tie up their arm.

So, no, this is something that’s used because it looks good
on film, not because it has any grounding in reality.

-Starke

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I’ve seen several photos portraying Japanese girl gangs fighting in long pleated skirts. how viable of an outfit is this in terms of combat?

I’m going to avoid talking about the cultural context for the skirts, which there is and just focus on the practicality.

The answer to any question involving combat is “it depends”, and when we talk about an article of clothing that is dependent on that specific article of clothing. It also depends on the kind of combat you plan to have your character engaging in. Street brawls are very different from armored melee. If your character is a female soldier, she’ll be dressing according to whatever regulations her military has (that could involve a skirt for dress uniforms, but battle and dress are different).

There is no “one-size fits all” approach as the field of battle matters, the kind of opponent matters, the skill level of all parties involved matters, context matters. What your intentions are matter.

They all factor into the decision making process. What you need to do when looking at articles of clothing and trying do decide if it’s a yes or no is learn to think from the internal perspective of someone who would actually be engaging in physical conflict. If you’re thinking of someone heading into a dangerous situation where they couldn’t outwardly look like they were expecting trouble then the question is: if you expected to be caught and forced to fight, what kind of clothing would you prefer to be caught in?

It starts with you and we work our way out from there as you learn more about the conditional nature of combat. When it comes to Hollywood, the irony is that most of the clothing male action heroes wear will work for basic street combat whereas the clothing for women won’t. Would you want to be hunting monsters through the sewers in six inch heels? Probably not.

For what the girl gangs are doing, it works. In fact, it works better than a miniskirt or any other tight clothing common for women in the US or the leather bondage outfits you often see women fighting in on television. You’ll still see women in the real world wear those. Not because it works, mind you, but because they’re afraid they won’t be perceived as feminine, sexy, or attractive. They overcompensate in the wrong direction, the same way Hollywood and media do, and for the exact same reasons.

Sometimes, people make choices that have nothing to do with what’s appropriate or what works. Sometimes, they’re trying to balance between societal expectations, cultural mores, gender constraints, and what they’re trying to accomplish. Sometimes they’re trying to be outside the box and inside the box at the same time. And, sometimes, they can get away with it. What they’re doing and who they’re fighting means they’ve a greater margin for error, versus someone faced with an enemy where they need every advantage they can get.

What you want, especially with street fighting, is freedom of movement.

This is why you often see tank tops or very loose fitting shirts on military personnel. If you’ve got a shirt that fits tightly around the shoulders, that’ll impede your movement, restrict the rotation of the shoulder. If you’re pants are too tight or limit flexibility, then that slows you down and will limit how high you can kick, how well your leg moves, etc.

You want durable clothing.

Clothing that protects you in a fall or when you’re rolling around on the ground. If you can’t see it absorbing impact or protecting you from scrapes when you hit the earth, then it isn’t a good pick.

You want clothes that breathe.

Combat is a high energy exercise, it’s frenetic, it’s fast, and it takes a lot of exertion. If you’ve ever brought the wrong kind of clothing when you’re going jogging or watched makeup melt off girls in P.E. class then you know what I’m talking about. Clothes that cause you to overheat, that don’t allow the heat to escape your body, that you can’t run or sprint in, will actively do you harm in a fight. By participating in exercise with a high energy output, you are already heating up your body. (This is part of why we sweat, we’re cooling our body down.) The hotter you get, the faster you burn through your water. The hotter you get, the faster you reach a point of critical exhaustion which will get you killed.

However, “what works” for combat is heavily dependent on the kind of combat your character plans to (or potentially might) engage in. The rules change based on what you’re doing, what you need, what the chances of success are, who the enemy is, the terrain you’re fighting on.

There’s also the other side, beyond practicality, which is you know, cultural expectations and considerations. How your character feels about gender norms, whether they care about being perceived as feminine or masculine, whether they care about expectations, whether they’re vain, or willing to get themselves killed over fashion.

There’s also the part in fiction where how someone is dressed becomes an indicator for how serious the situation is/threat level is. That’s a visual tell you see used often in film and television.

Remember, skill and experience don’t free you from the same constraints that affect other characters. They just mean your character can make more intelligent choices based on what they know. They can get away with more, but it will still catch up to them in the end.

So, be Helen Mirrim in R.E.D. and take out armed gunmen with a reinforced clutch and the element of surprise.

Try thinking about the situation from the perspective of the character involved rather than overall generic rules. Practicality changes on a situational basis, and there are plenty of people who will go Rule of Cool in real life. This is especially true of gangs, where efficacy loses out to intimidation.

People are people. All the factors going into a decision may not be the ones you expect or are looking for.

-Michi

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There are weapons that have spiked and nubby/non-spiked varieties, like maces, right? Some maces have sharpened points and some don’t. So, what are the benefits of using one over the other?

Your talking about a morningstar, which is actually a weapon type separate from the mace. You can use fantasy author Ciarra Ballantine’s handy chart for distinguishing your bludgeoning weapons if you like, it may help you when it comes to telling the mace, flail, and morningstar apart.

As for why the spikes? All the better to bludgeon you with, my dear.

The primary use for these weapons in combat was against knights and other armored foes (though some priest orders in the Catholic church were famous for carrying them and wielding them against unarmored peasants, this is where the Cleric in DnD comes from). The basic idea is you crack the plate like a tin can, the point of a mace is to just drive force through the armor until it hits the person inside, or crushes them. The spikes add to the benefits you get off the mace. They’re for punching through the armor and into the body.

A sword can’t beat someone through their armor, it’ll damage the edge. You can pierce the armor by holding the blade of the sword in your hands and driving it in, which is the point of the estoc. Or you take the hilt and start beating on their armor with that.

A mace cuts out that middleman, allowing you to hammer someone to death and force your way through their armor. The morningstar adds spikes to that equation. So, if the mace is a hammer then the morningstar is you wanting to put a nail into someone so you’ve soldered the nail onto it to put the nails into them.

If it helps, think about it like going after someone with a baseball bat. Baseball bat is good, nails in the baseball bat is better.

The flail is the same way. You put a spiked ball on a chain and swing it about to hit people with it to bust up their armor, because you get more force from a steel ball spinning on a chain than you generate with your arm.

As for the benefits? It’s really a question of how badly do you want to fuck that other guy up, and how viciously do you want to go about it.

You can go into combat wielding a flail in one hand and a shield in the other against a knight with their sword and gain a significant advantage because it moves in directions that are difficult to counter. It generates enough force to damage both the plate and person inside.

I mean, there are other reasons why someone might choose to carry these weapons but those are some of the big ones. As a function of its design, the morningstar has a greater reach than the mace.

It’s a club, it doesn’t take that much finesse to wield in comparison to a sword and its highly effective at what it is designed to do. The bludgeoning weapons are fairly uncomplicated, though they make a big mess.

From a writing standpoint in your fiction, the maces and morningstars tend to carry some stigma in comparison to swords. They’re in the same family as the club. Basically, they’re treated as thuggish weapons. As opposed to the blade, which is a noble, elegant weapon based in skill and finesse. Its treated as less legitimate. Or, it belongs to the Crusaders and used by religious groups only.

Take these preconceptions into account when using the mace, but don’t hitch your cart to them. A character can be defined by their weapon choice, but don’t put too much stock in the conventional fictional definitions. A character who uses a mace is not necessarily a brute, just as a character who uses a sword is not necessarily a noble warrior or someone wielding a rapier having a rapier wit. Fiction and cultural motifs often have little to do with the reality of what the weapons were actually for, and end up getting it wrong more often than they’re right.

Axes also fall under another category. They’re the weapon of the savage, brutish, primal warrior, but they’re not. They’re just another weapon type.

It’s a choice, a combat approach.

The sword is the weapon of kings, a symbol of civilization and nobility. The weapon of the hero. A hero who wields a sword is more noble than one who wields another “lesser” weapon type. It’s not. It’s just another approach to combat, a tool.

Understanding these stereotypes is important because they will follow you and influence you, whether you realize it or not. They’ll also influence your reader. By understanding that they’re there, you can account for them and combat them in your narrative. In ignorance, you’re at their mercy. Countless other storytellers have already laid this groundwork for you, but you do get to decide what you’ll do with it.

-Michi

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What challenges would a character with extensive training in modern fencing face in switching to *real* blades and using them for the first time in a life or death swordfight?

Dying.

Modern fencing and historical fencing are different beasts. The sword weight is different. The sword length is different. The weapon class is different. Everything is different, including the vectors of attack and the possibility of death. Now, to be fair, someone who went from historical (HEMA) fencing into a sudden life or death duel with a historical personage would also be screwed. They’d be slightly less screwed, but still screwed. The same is pretty much true when you put most sports martial artists up against cops or professional soldiers. They’re not trained for it.

Modern fencing has moved in the direction that is beneficial to itself as a sport rather than as a form of combat. There are a great many techniques performed by fencers that are excellent in competition but would get you killed (or at least a double suicide) in a live bout with live weapons.

This is true of any type of sport martial art. When you remove death from the equation, people have the opportunity to be more reckless and, in some ways, more creative than they would be if there was a chance of actual impalement on an enemy’s blade.

The real problem for this character though is going to be the blade weight. Even if they’re just shifting to a historical epee from a modern one, they’re going to pick up a few pounds. Given no time to adjust, that additional weight will hamper everything from speed to accuracy to their endurance. The time they waste adjusting to blade weight is time their enemy has to break their defenses and stab them. They will face similar difficult with the historical sabre. That’s if they’re lucky enough to hit a historical period with a blade they recognize. They won’t know what to do with the rapier, or any of the other swords.

There are also three types of modern fencing blades that each have their own associated rule set. This could be a problem for them.

Fencing Rules for the Novice Parent has a good breakdown, but I’ll list the basics here.

The Foil – thrusting only, hits only count when struck with the tip of the blade. Striking is limited to the torso, but covers the groin, neck, and back.

The Epee – the epee like the historical epee is a dueling sword, strikes include the whole body. Thrusting weapon, scored only with the tip.

The Sabre – the traditional sabre is a military/cavalry weapon, it is curved. It’s a cutting and thrusting weapon, and the entire upper body is an available target. So, this includes the arms.

It’s worth noting that “cut” and “thrust” with modern fencing weapons mean which part of the blade touches the opponent’s body. It is possible to be hurt with a modern fencing blade when not wearing protective gear, but it’s nowhere near as dangerous as the historical swords.

You don’t have to take my word for the differences though. Here’s Matt Easton talking about the differences between sport fencing and historical fencing. He refers to it as a game of “electrified tag”. Modern fencing isn’t about swordsmanship in a classic sense, it’s about scoring points and getting around the (rather restrictive) rules.

This doesn’t mean the sport doesn’t have value, it does. It’s an incredible form of exercise, show of athleticism, developing incredible reaction speed and timing. It’s great for your brain. It isn’t combat. It doesn’t prepare you for combat.

However, assuming they survive, those ancillary skills they mastered in sport fencing can be re-applied to a study of historical fencing. They go into this story athletic, quick thinking, strategic, creative, and with reaction times that are well above average. Sport fencers are fast on their feet.

There’s some good maneuvering that can be done with this character on a story level, but their skill set isn’t on a 1 to 1 parity with a practiced swordsman straight out of history.

-Michi

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Also, if functional two-handed longswords aren’t heavy and require skill and control, and functional war bows require a lot of strength, then (buying into gender stereotypes for a moment) why not give the swords to the women and the bows to the men?

You’re asking me to explain gender stereotypes to you and how those stereotypes influence what we’ll call “conventional wisdom” in a way that ultimately has no relationship to reality.

It’s like asking, “if women have always fought then why do people keep insisting there were no women warriors?”

Sexism, stereotypes, and even some cultural conventions have nothing to do with reality. To begin with the premise you started with, you’re already challenging stereotypes with the idea that women have any role in combat at all. Now, you’re asking “why aren’t women front line combatants while men are relegated to artillery?”

That’s hitting the ground running when everyone else is still up on the helicopter wondering if women can even make the jump. When most people are wondering whether it’s possible for women to fight at all, despite a large bevy of historic women who’ve bucked the trend. This is a subject on which PhD research papers are built, exploring social mores, conventions, gender roles, and stereotypes handed down to us century by century that insist women have no role in combat at all, that war and combat are “men’s work”, to be glorified for men by men and men alone.

So, why would the sword, which is a symbol of leadership, kingship, and heroes, be given to a woman?

We live in a culture that can barely acknowledge women have different body types, that their bodies are influenced and changed by the kind of exercise they engage in. We live in a culture that fights tooth and nail against taking female sports professionals seriously. We live in a culture where women being forced to register for the draft is up for debate, and large swaths would prefer they didn’t. We live in a culture where plenty of girls still see recreational martial arts as not for them, not because they don’t want to, but because they think they can’t do it.

Now, you’re here arguing for the fiction because that’s what’s been presented by the vast majority of media and culture as true.

Consider the number of female professionals and enthusiasts today, from the army to the police to the martial artists to the traditional fencers to the HEMA fencers. There has and always will be a strong interest by women in the combat arts. However, cultural perceptions and acceptability will also always be a factor. To ask the question you did is to both overlook the pervasive nature of sexism and disregard its normalization by buying into the idea that “if this is true then we’d see widespread evidence of it” without bothering to look. To overlook misinformation. To overlook gender bias. To ignore the fact that female contributions to history are, by and large, routinely ignored.

We live in a culture that can barely acknowledge women have different body types. We live in a culture where a vast number of women become disillusioned with working out because they were never taught muscle weighs more than fat. That weight gain is a natural first step to a work out because their bodies are building up muscle then the muscle will inevitably begin devouring the fat and they lose weight.

If one works out their upper body, consistently and constantly, whether male or female, they will develop those muscles. Drawing a bow works out the upper body as it relies on strength in the arms, shoulders, and chest muscles. This will lead to a much thicker upper body and strong shoulders, which is not necessarily an appealing mental image for someone buying into cultural stereotypes about feminine beauty.

There are very few female characters who accurately represent what a
women would look like after their training and often, in fiction, the
feminine ideal of physical beauty is what’s chased. Wish fulfillment
fantasies, generally, have little room for reality.

Assume instead that the person who is making the choice buys into the stereotypes. They’re looking for a kind of combat that is more safe, more feminine that active physical conflict. They may say they are about “female power”, but are buying into the idea that the bow is a safe, ranged weapon that requires less physical exertion/danger than a sword.

If you’re confused the stereotype is:

“Women are weak and therefore not suited to close combat. I know! I’ll give her a bow. Bows are ranged weapons, so she can kill at range, stay outside of combat without having to get her hands dirty.”

Never assume people argue from a position of knowledge, most of the time we work from a position of perception.

The sword also has the longstanding symbolic reputation as the weapon of the Chosen One in literature.

So, watch writers trip over themselves to make sure certain characters never get to lay their hands on one.

-Michi

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Are nunchucks actually a good weapon? It feels like a baseball bat would give the same result while being less complex to use.

One of these is a weapon, one of these is not.

(Hint: it’s the nunchaku. That’s the weapon.)

The nunchaku is essentially a short flail. It generates a lot of force on rotation and the loose chain allows for you to carry the full force of the swing into an opponent. A single swing can break your face. The nunchaku does so with a lot less effort and windup on the part of the wielder that you’d need when using a bat, while being far more effective.

Imagine for a moment another person walking up to you in a heavy trench coat. They reach inside and out comes the nunchaku, with a single flick of their wrist they’ve sent a bar of pure steel whipping across your face.

That’s the amount of time they needed to break your jaw.

Now, instead of being finished like one would with a bat, the nunchaku is spinning on that chain. The recoil it has when it hits an object allows the wielder to easily transition into building greater force. A strike across puts it in position to hit you again, this time with greater force than it did on the first strike. They strike diagonally across your head, specifically aiming for your temple, which now will have killed you.

Two strikes for the price of one, while maintaining a clean stance, all with a lot less effort than it takes to swing a bat.

Bats are designed to hit baseballs and all the force ends up in the tip, if you want to be successful when you hit someone else with them then you have to connect with that tip. Bats are ridiculously easy to stop on the basis of two things:

1) To take full advantage of the swing, they require the full wind up. This is a huge telegraphed motion. Any heavily telegraphed body movement is easy to dodge.

2) You either step back when they swing and let it go past, then go forward in the opening left available or you just keep going forward and let the mid point of the bat hit your ribs. It’ll hurt some, but that isn’t where the weighted point behind the force is. Their hands are tied up. So, you hit them.

The nunchaku is used in a single hand, leaving one free for defense. It can be switched between different hands to great effect. A trained wielder is usually ambidextrous, allowing them to switch off as needed or carry two if they feel like it. They use their body to catch, cushion, and redirect the strikes.

The nunchaku’s body is generally made of wood or metal. It’s extraordinarily easy to conceal, which is why it is banned in several states. It is an exceptionally good weapon if you know how to use it and can be a very painful weapon (for you) if you don’t.

It will give you many more options in strike pattern than a bat, opening up the whole of the human body, without loss of defense.

It’s fast and builds momentum faster, in fact, than the bat due to the chain.

It is easier to use than a bat, carries less associated risk than a bat, and allows for better defense. Bruce Lee made a career using the nunchaku on film which was considered by and large too risky because you cannot totally control how hard you strike the other person.

It’s not a weapon you carry if you intend to avoid cracking open another person’s head like an egg.

When asking yourself: which is the more effective weapon?

Always ask yourself: which one is the weapon?

In absence of all other context, that’s probably the most effective one.

-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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I’ve often heard that knife fights are mutual suicide, simply because it’s so hard to avoid getting hurt while disabling an opponent. Is that true? If so, could you give any tips on writing a realistic knife fight between two relatively equally skilled characters?

We did a post called “Knife Fighting Do’s and Don’t’s” which you might find helpful, it’s also full of links to other resources which may be helpful.

Knife fights are dangerous, in large part because every blow is potentially fatal due to cumulative bleed out/nicking something important or even seemingly unimportant, there is no time for error much less room as combat happens remarkably quickly with the high lethality causing a sudden end, and the fight itself often happens in a blitz.

Even in the hands of someone who has no idea what they’re doing, the knife is incredibly dangerous. Just bull rushing into someone and stabbing them repeatedly in the sides or gut often as many as ten to twenty times will kill them. This is often the case in muggings, for example, and why the knife is a very popular choice. You don’t need skill in order to kill someone with a bladed weapon. You don’t even really need it to be effective beyond understanding the concepts like slashing and thrusting, swinging wildly in the heat of the moment is remarkably effective in this case.

This is the first and perhaps most important tips to writing a character who is experienced and skilled, they understand the dangers inherent in the weapon they are wielding, they recognize it, respect it, and respond accordingly. One of the problems some writers get into when trying to convey skill is to go with the approach of, “it’s not a problem for me, but it will be for you”. This is valid, the problem is that they assume the danger is nullified rather than their character’s comprehension of that danger being the deciding factor. If I know the risks involved, I can take more or navigate more easily than someone with no experience at all. However, the danger itself never goes away. No matter how skilled you are every fight can end with you lying bloody on the ground.

That’s just the way it is.

If you write a character who fights, they and you should always carry the worry of them dying in the back of their minds. And if they don’t, then you should figure out why instead of assuming it’s natural because they have “skills”.

All right, let’s dig in: Knives

Remember, two hands.

When people who have never done martial arts (and even sometimes people who have) there’s often an over focus on the weapon or on the striking, the hitting. In knife fighting and just in general, the off hand or the second hand/hand without the blade is extremely important for both defense and control. All blocking, deflecting, and the openings created will be made with the off-hand. You stop the arm with one hand, cut it with the knife. This protects you and allows you to keep fighting. The off-hand may become a sacrificial body part as necessary to lock up the enemy blade, getting the knife lodged somewhere non-vital if perhaps unpleasant is sometimes necessary to opening the path to victory.

Defense is important.

The blades will not be clashing like a swordfight (which they shouldn’t be clashing in a swordfight anyway, but that’s a different kettle). All blocks, defenses, and redirects will happen with that other hand.

Keep It Tight

Tempting as it is to use words like “swinging” or others in a similar vein, try to keep your vocabulary to descriptors that imply tight, controlled motion. You don’t want a feel that’s wild and out of control but rather intentional, directed, and focused.

“He lunged forward, swinging wildly.”

Versus:

“He stepped back, off-hand catching the wrist and redirecting the incoming dagger. Slashing his blade across the back of the enemy’s hand, he dropped down. With a forward lunge, he cut up along the underside of the arm, tucked tight, and drove his weapon into their gut.”

Debilitate, Disable, Finish:

If you have the option to lunge for the kill then great, but the best way to keep your enemy from stabbing you on the way out is to get rid of their weapon first. Attacking the hand that holds the weapon on your way in ensures that you can get rid of it. The best way to avoid a double suicide is to not be so focused on killing your opponent that you forget about their weapon. The guy you just stabbed six times in the gut can still stab you before he collapses.

Prioritize your threats.

If you have the opportunity to remove the participant before the weapon then fine, but 9/10 you’re going to want to focus on ridding them of their ability to kill you on the way out before moving in.

Move, Move, Move

It can be difficult to think in multiple directions, especially if you have no experience with two bodies interacting. They aren’t going to stand there hacking at each other, they’re going to try to create openings. As any hit from the knife can be deadly due to cumulative bleed out, avoidance is the primary name of the game.

Understand Anatomy

While knife fighting is fast and vicious, it’s also very much about anatomy. You get get downright surgical with a knife if you want and when writing your fiction it’s best to brush up on all the tendons, ligaments, veins, and so forth that are close to the surface and up for grabs or slashes in this case.

Medical knowledge will help you with combat in general, but with knife fighting you really want to know what can get cut to make X stop working before moving in for the kill. It sounds simple in practice, difficult in execution.

Study Actual Knife Combat/Combatants

This may seem like a no brainer, but if you really want to understand what it looks like when someone experienced handles a blade then you want to spend some time looking at guys like Michael Janich, the bladed weapons practice in Silat, Krav Maga, Marines, etc. It’s best to get that experience in person, but YouTube will also be your friend here. There are a lot different martial styles which include knives as part of their disciplines.

Take everything with a grain of salt and remember that videos online won’t make you an expert. If you’re a US citizen, you can also track down most of the Department of Defense manuals for the military available for free online. Some of the information such as that from Rex Applegate is outdated but finding his books and reading through them may help you imagine.

Half of writing anything is studying, learning what it is, what it does, learning so you can imagine the techniques in different ways. Theory for a writer is just important, if not more so than technique. You may not be able to perform it in life, but if you can grasp the theory then you can start applying that to your characters and their approaches to different situations.

Remember Violence is Problem Solving, Think of Your Character’s Personality.

Learning that all combat is not universal, that different approaches exist will help you branch out when writing your characters and allow you to develop combat styles unique to them. A good example of a narrative which does this is Season 2 of Netflix’s Daredevil, wherein Matt, Elektra, Frank Castle, and Wilson Fisk all have different approaches to using violence as a means of solving problems, where the way they fight is also an expression of who they are as people. The kinds of violence your character engages and the way they choose to utilize violence as a means of problem solving is an expression of their personality, not just their skill level.

Two characters of similar skill level can have very different fighting styles, even if they’ve studied in the same style. Take into account who these characters are and let that dictate how they choose to use violence. Not all characters are going to be efficient killing machines. Some are going to be joyous free spirits bouncing their way from one enemy to another, leaping and bounding with a blood streaked grin across their face.

You may think you know nothing, but take what you learn and then apply that knowledge to your character. Let them decide what to do with it. They might use it, they might ignore it.

Don’t sweat the small stuff.

What is most important here is figuring out how to sell the scene to your audience in a variety of different forms.

-Michi

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If werewolves could be badly wounded by firearms, but not killed and the only way to kill them for sure was to cut their heads off, what would be an appropriate choice of tools for such job? I’m thinking about something that could be quite easily concealed under a coat and not too heavy, yet still viable to be used as a weapon in a melee if need arises.

The simple answer is: carry more than one weapon.

Rather than trying to force a weapon to fulfill two separate needs (a ranged weapon like a gun that is also a melee weapon), take two. I mean, if it’s completely necessary and you can’t give up the idea of a ranged weapon that can also be used in melee then you can always take a bayonet. It’s not going to work for taking off the head unless you detach it from the rifle or shotgun but it is an option. A bayonet is essentially a long knife or a short sword depending on how you want to define it that attaches to the barrel and allows the gun to be used as an impromptu melee weapon. It’s not as good as an actual melee weapon (which is why soldiers also carry knives), but it serves it’s intended purpose.

However, when attached to the barrel, the rifle’s use as a melee weapon is limited in terms of motion. The gun isn’t designed for that kind of motion, it can basically slash diagonally and stab. So, if your character needs an actual melee weapon then they should carry a secondary or tertiary weapon to support them at close range. Whether that’s a tool like a machete that can be hidden easily under the coat and will work well for taking off the head or some other kind of silver sword.

I always liked the story in Hunter the Reckoning’s Storyteller’s Handbook about gang members trying to trade in their silver jewelry only to be told that they could actually buy silver bullets. Which is true, your monster hunter actually can purchase them. However, because they were so expensive and because you could never be totally sure, many of the setting’s gangbangers started putting silver bullets as the third round in rather than carrying a full cartridge. The logic was essentially that if the first two didn’t work then the third probably would. (Except it wouldn’t always as the setting had monsters with similar powers and different weaknesses such as the WereCrocs who were weak to gold rather than silver and mages with points in Life and willing to risk the backlash, Gangrel or Vampires with Protean, etc.)

While I get the appeal of a “signature weapon”, the truth is that most people simply carry more than one weapon as you’re bound to encounter different situations/scenarios and no single weapon will ever have an advantage in all of them. Try to limit yourself to about four, but in this case this character might carry as their loadout:

A rifle – for long to mid-range, especially when outdoors for picking off enemies at a distance.

A shotgun – for close range and because you can load it with a variety of different types of ammunition from buckshot, to needles, to turning it into an impromptu flamethrower. My personal opinion is that the versatility of the shotgun lends itself really well to monster hunting in particular because you can load it up with all sorts of stuff and it’s very damaging at close range.

A pistol – the pistol is just a good middle of the road weapon, it’s small enough to conceal on your person, and it’ll have more of an advantage indoors than the rifle and even the shotgun. If you’re in a situation with very cramped quarters, then the pistol is your friend as it’s unlikely to get caught on the environment in the way a longer weapon will. Depending on the type of pistol, you can load it up with different kinds of ammunition.

A short sword/knife/sword – this is the actual melee weapon. I’m more partial to the short sword for monster hunting due to it being easier to conceal than a long sword, it’s important to remember in accordance with werewolves that in general swords are not good for hunting animals. They’re meant for humans, not nine foot snarling death beasts. If you have the room then the traditional melee weapon for hunting animals of this kind is actually the spear. The spear’s length gives it substantially stopping power when it comes to the greater force of impact that an animal like a boar can generate when it charges or a wolf can when it lunges. The spear also allows you to keep the range advantage with a much larger enemy that you give up in choosing a shorter weapon. However, in a modern setting the spear will have a disadvantage indoors and give up a lot of maneuverability as an all-purpose weapon that your hunter may not be able to afford. Keep the knife or short sword as a means of taking off the head after the werewolf has been disabled and as a last ditch.

Use any variety of European longsword for the coolness factor or denotation of the One True Hero. The long sword itself is symbolic in Western Literature, so if you want your hero to be a Chosen One or a Noble Undercover then the sword is a great way to point to that without dropping a prophecy to accompany it. Just make sure to recognize the fantasy tropes and what they promise your audience because the use of tropes can mean making promises you’re unaware of and don’t intend to keep. The longsword more than any other medieval weapon has special/important cultural meaning in Western mythology/storytelling. If you’d like to avoid the standard fantasy tropes either subvert them or avoid the sword all together.

The katana is also highly symbolic if that’s your choice, however in the hands of anyone not Japanese it can easily become laden with Orientalism. So, be careful, or at least research the accompanying symbolism both for Western audiences in the recent decades and it’s meaning/importance to Japanese culture.

I hope that helps.

-Michi

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