Tag Archives: fight scene

Kelso and the Whip

Aurora cracked the whip and it lashed outward, hot plasma edges wrapping
around Kelso’s midsection. It twined up her body, cut through her shirt
and into her back. Searing pain followed. It sank into her back, crisp
stench of burning skin filling the hall.

This months $3 subscriber benefit is live. In this one, I use an example to provide a discussion on some different problem solving methods by characters with powers/magic and their reactivity in the scene. Mainly a discussion surrounding a character being limited by circumstance, one being limited by another individual socially, and one who self-limits themselves in accordance with their goals.

If you’re one of our $3 subs give us a shout if you like or have questions. This blog is supported through Patreon and we always appreciate feedback.

-Michi

You mentioned that joint locks are harder on double jointed people. I’m curious if being double jointed in the shoulders (as well as able to bend my elbows and knees slightly backwards) would allow me to escape some holds better?

In general, but it depends on the person performing the lock, the person in the hold, and how much they know about each other. It also depends on the locks themselves, different techniques do different things and rely on different angles to create pressure. Joint locks are, in large part, about creating leverage and putting the joint on an angle where it becomes painful for it to move. So, it follows that it’s more difficult to put someone with greater flexibility in their joints in a lock because you have to bend it further than you’re used to.

You create leverage, apply pressure, and that causes pain because the joint bends in a way it’s not meant to. And, yes, if you’re not in pain then it’s easier to escape. More so if you’re opponent doesn’t know and isn’t used to working with a training partner who is double jointed, since they’ll initiate the technique to the point they’re used to then stop. This can give the person who is double jointed (or any person who is not fully in the lock) a means to escape, since they aren’t actually trapped.

In short, yes.

-Michi

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What would be a fighting style for Hawkgirl/any human with actual wings on their back? They’re mostly shown just mowing down their enemies from above, I get that, but I’m talking like, in a fist fight or where they’re fighting on the ground and having to dodge blows and jump around, how maneuverable would they be with wings folded behind them?

Well, you have to consider that they have wings. Any creature with wings gives up a certain measure of maneuverability on the ground. Depending on the type of wings, they’re going to be more vulnerable there. Think about it like attaching a fairly heavy contraption to both your shoulder blades that’s also pretty delicate. Organic wings with hollow bones are very fragile.

If we’re talking about Archangel from X-men, who has had his wings ripped out and replaced with metal ones then it’s a different story.

So, depending on the rules you’ve decided to use in your story, it could be fairly maneuverable to ground equals death. Or, at least, no flying for six months if ever. They’d be giving up a lot of their maneuverability on the ground as the wings will get in the way even when folded. There’s also the extra weight to account for which will unbalance them. It’s important to remember that the martial combat techniques we have are designed for humans and human bodies. This doesn’t mean they couldn’t be modified for someone with a different body type or concerns, but adding wings will throw off the body’s equilibrium. In nature, some creatures have wings for a reason and their behavior is built around that. They trade aerial movement for the ability to move well on the ground. The wings are going to get in the way when you’re fighting, especially if you’re trying to use any sort of human combat techniques. This is because combat actually relies more heavily on power or force generated through momentum than it does strength.

You need rotation, balance, and the ability to turn the body. If the elbow is getting caught in the wings, or the extra weight tips them when they pull their arm back, turn their hips, or what have you then it could be very dangerous.

The only thing I can think of the wings being helpful for is sending multiple enemies stumbling back when they open or buffeting.

The character could fight on the ground if they really want to, but it won’t be the place where they have the advantage.

-Michi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Starke

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

We love it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope that answers your question.

-Michi

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I’m writing this prompt scene, and my MC (female, most likely a spy) is being backed into a corner by this apparently drunk guy who’s making these advances. I don’t have any training in martial arts (so wish I did), so I’m not sure how exactly she would go about getting out of the situation, like what moves she would make to cripple him and get past to leave. Any help? Love the site!! ❤️😊 Liz

The Spy:

If she’s a spy then fighting in that situation is a terrible idea, a spy wants to make as few waves as possible and do nothing to compromise their identity.

Consider these two questions when writing any action sequence both from an internal character perspective and from an outside view overlooking the whole scene (including background characters related to the drunk guy, drunk guys like that are rarely ever acting alone).

Can I?

Then, should I?

The “can I” is fairly simple, can my character solve this problem with violence?

Yes, she has the training necessary to solve it that way, but the real question at the base of it is: should she? Should she solve the problem with violence? Remember, violence is not the only solution. More than that, a spy rarely uses violence unless they have to. It’s too messy, it draws too much attention, and will draw even more attention for a woman especially in an environment where she’s not supposed to have those skills than they will for a  man. Spies need to keep their cover identity intact, and they need to keep the long game in mind. If she is a spy then her goal is to not stand out, to do nothing that will have this drunken idiot suspecting she was anything other than a random girl he met in some bar and do it in a way that will not attract the attention of whoever else is in that bar. She doesn’t just have to worry about drunk guy remembering her, she has to worry about his friends, about the random patrons in the bar (who could be reporting back to authority figures, who could be off-duty members of the police, who could report her to the police like the bartender, and the last thing she wants is any authority looking for her. This includes friendly authority. Spies are predominantly criminals, even on their own turf they’re sacrificial pawns without much of a safety net.)

In this situation, if she is a spy, she is acting in opposition and impeding her own goals by fighting.

Ask yourself, who is in the bar that supports the drunk guy? If two people get into a fight at a club what usually happens? The answer is fairly simple: lots of other people intervene. If she acts as the aggressor, then they are more likely to act in defense of the drunk guy making advances. So, instead of creating an easy exit solution, she stuck dealing with more people. They’re either asking her “hey are you okay?”, they’re trying to fight her, they’re trying to arrest her, etc. This is what I mean when I say that violence often creates more problems than it solves. There is a very specific environment that exists within the rules of social decorum, disrupting the environment means everyone is suddenly looking at you.

So what does the spy do? They deal with the situation. Their job description is manipulating people, that is what they do. They’re dealing with someone who is cognitively impaired. This is not a challenge. This is a ground ball. This is easy.

So, the guy is making advances and interfering with their ability to do their job. How do they get rid of him?

Charm.

That’s the answer you expect because women are supposed to be charming. They’re supposed to be nice and sweet. A female spy can and should use society expectations for her gender to her advantage, on all levels and in all directions. Were she in a situation where she didn’t have to hurry, she could play to this guy’s ego, ply him with more drinks until he passed out, convince him to go into an ally or walk her home or whatever until she ditched him in a crowd. That’s the long way.

The quick and dirty way is to go the other direction by making herself unfuckable. Unlikeable. Gross. The trick is not to say, “I don’t want it” or provide resistance. It’s to make him not want it anymore. He’s here because he’s interested and tuned up on liquid courage, he will go away the minute he decides it’s a bad idea. It will draw almost no attention.

Talk about having fleas, itch the crotch, complain about rashes in unfortunate places, talk about having a pain in the jaw, a rotten tooth, the stories about last six guys she slept with, start crying about her ex-boyfriend/last lover (and not in a pitiful way), about the pigs, anything you can think of within reason or feels plausible.

Her goal is for him to look at her and say: disgusting.

He’s drunk, if done right, this will happen fairly short order. So when she makes an excuse to leave after talking about her seven cats (and how they maybe sleep in really unfortunate places), he’s more than happy to let her.

Writing spies is difficult for a lot of writers because it takes a fair amount of confidence. You need to be willing to let your character not be the center, for them to let other people believe nasty things about them that are untrue. For them to be overlooked. More importantly for them to use the people around them and those in their environment in order to achieve their goals.

A female spy is not someone constrained by the social rules, mores, and gender restrictions. Manipulating those rules to her advantage is the job description. From the best to the worst, everything is in her arsenal. The kind of behavior that makes a woman terrible like manipulating/scheming/using people and we are actively shamed for is the exact behavior she engages in. Unrepentantly.

All the things you’d never do in your regular life, which might seem disgusting, uncomfortable, or cruel are available. All usury is allowed. If she is a spy, then she is a manipulator. Let her use social expectations to her advantage. Let her manipulate.

Take the command of the situation.

The Drunk Guy is Your Patsy:

More importantly, your spy has now has an asset. Don’t think of the drunk guy as an impediment, Drunk Guy is a tool. He already has something he wants from her, he’s already impaired, she can use him however she wants. Shove him into any situation. He won’t remember anything when he wakes up in police custody in the morning.

Her job is social manipulation. This guy is a willing victim. Use him.

Trust me, you can get more places with two and less suspicion than you can with one. Especially when that one is probably going to puke up all over the place. People don’t want to be around that. They want to get out of the way. More trouble for them.

This is what spies do. They exploit that shit.

This guy is Christmas.

She can hide behind him, be the responsible caretaker while he’s falling all over himself, and he’ll be the one they remember. More than that, he wakes up in a hotel room he shouldn’t be in with people asking questions about, “where’s the laptop?” and all he can reply with is, “A girl???”

She escapes free and the police will be his problem now.

The Cliche:

The other thing to remember is that this sequence where the guy backs the well-trained girl into a corner and she proceeds to beat his ass with zero consequences while everyone laughs is a cliche.

I mean that. More than that, it’s stupid. It’s what I call “faux feminism good feels”. Buffy falls into this category a lot. It doesn’t mean shit and relies on the basic idea that a girl beating up someone up is such a surprise that no one will believe it or the act of getting beat up by a girl is too embarrassing so they get away scot free.

It runs the gamut from big to small, but what it ends up being is female characters are transformed into bullies. Whether it’s Wonder Woman forcing a guy who insulted her to admit that he cross-dresses in her outfit in front of a crowd to Buffy shoving a bully into a vending machine (while emasculating Xander at the same time). The fantasy is “taking back the power”. A safe way for the asshole to get what’s coming to them.

At the end of the day, it’s a revenge scene. It’s public humiliation. A cheap way for a female character assert that she is a bad ass. One which assumes that she’s playing under “untrained woman” rules rather than “trained combatant that happens to be female” rules. Trained combatant actually supersedes normal female because a trained character has to consider use of force aka is the level of force they’re applying to the situation acceptable to the one they’re in. (Well, they don’t but if they don’t then there should be consequences.)

The more training someone has then the more responsibility they take for their actions. The more training someone has, the less likely they are to attempt to solve their problems with violence.

Feminism is about understanding that women and men are equals, we’re all people. We’re not better, we’re not worse. We’re all capable of the same awfulness. We carve out way past the bullshit social structures and politics to realize that it isn’t an absolute. However, we also get the quote from Truman Capote: “The problem with being outside the law is you no longer have it’s protection.”

If you choose to excise the gender politics and social constraints that come with being female then you are no longer protected by those same rules. If your female character is actively breaking the gender rules, then you cannot expect her to be protected by them and shouldn’t rely on that as justification in your narrative.

A true feminist narrative is not actually “girl power”. As a genre, it’s what happens to women when they reject societal norms and gender roles to go their own way. The lives they live and the consequences they face, the realities of their situations and their choices. Responsibility is taken. It’s not just men v. women, but also women v. women. The women who stand by and benefit from the social structure/gender politics, and those who don’t. Their stories. It’s an exploration of humanity. It’s humanizing.

The trick to making women real is not in wish fulfillment, it’s in rejecting the idea that any woman (especially white women) receives special status based on her gender.

Think about the situation from the perspective of the person in it, the considerations they have rather than thinking about it from the perspective of “my character is the protagonist”. Don’t assume main character standing will ever or should ever protect a character from consequences, just like expectations about their gender doesn’t.

They’re in a bar full of strangers that see them as two, fairly equal, people having a disagreement.

A Bar Full of Witnesses? Not a Great Place to Fight

The problem with bars is that people are already primed for violent altercations to occur. Not everyone is violent, but when people get drunk they can get argumentative, and that argumentative can often escalate into violence. This is both men and women, so there are no gender protections here. The people there are also ready to deal with it if the fights break out.

What I said above about people intervening? Yeah, it’s a great way to make a situation go from bad to worse. Doubly bad for a character trying to travel incognito. More than that, does she know who this guy is?

In the Frank Miller comic Sin City, in “The Big Fat Kill”, Dwight ends up in a scuffle with some drunks where they all end up dead. What was the problem? Cops. Jackie Boy was a cop, crooked cop but still a cop. All the trouble spirals out from there. Think you’re killing someone dumb but no, the drunk is a goddamn hero cop.

Even if she isn’t a spy and it’s just a fight, if she’s gotta don’t do it in the bar.

Bad idea.

This is especially true if she isn’t a regular and the drunk is, where the joint is more likely filled with his friends and acquaintances willing to jump to his defense. More than that, we’ve got a bartender forced to maintain his business, his money, his tips. Odds are he’ll side with his regulars.

I guarantee you that to the average person crippling a guy for unwanted advances is actually over the line.

It’s a terrible Catch 22.

So, where does that leave her?

What Does It Get Me?

The quintessential question when planning out any scene. Weighing the benefits versus the cost. Is there a reason this scene needs to happen? Why do you want it to happen? What do you the author get out of it? What do your characters (yes, plural) get out of it? What function does it serve in the story? Why is it important?

What does it get you?

How does this act help you achieve your goals?

In no way is this me saying don’t do this. In fact, there’s a very specific reason to start a fight.

Create a Distraction

Starting a fight is a great distraction for all the reasons listed above. Your character gets everyone’s attention, they’re all looking at them, and in the distraction, they slip away to achieve whatever goal they came there for in the first place. It’s a huge clusterfuck.

That’s the point.

Distraction.

Which, in this case, deck the guy. Punch him in the throat or the nose, then kick him into the nearest table of drunken, angry, and argumentative idiots. (Basically drive the foot into the stomach and thrust forward rather than up into what works as a shove more than a kick, so he stumbles backwards. It’s called a push kick for a reason.)

There’s always a chance they’ll come back at her, but hey. If she doesn’t have time to bait and a distraction is needed then that’ll work.

Thus, drunken angry escalation commences.

It isn’t the best solution, it’ll also ensure she can never go back to that bar.

So, write wisely.

-Michi

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if my character isn’t the most muscular but has a bit of experience with things like school fights, how could he be injured by a guy who is a bit muscular but has no fighting experience?

The muscular guy does something which surprises him.

Here’s the thing about all levels of combat that most people seem to miss. They think, “oh, I have a certain level of skill and therefore I’m safe”. Or in this case, “my character has a certain level of skill, they’re unbeatable by anyone less skilled than they are”. The less training someone has, the less they’ve internalized how little they actually know, the more likely they are to be surprised and ultimately undone by an attack or behavior which comes out of left field.

There’s a certain level to fighting which is about expectation, you can only prepare for what you know and, as with anything, there’s always the risk of growing too comfortable. Overconfident. The character thinks, “hey I can do this, I’ve survived this, I’m tough shit!” Which you know what, maybe, but it’s when they start looking down their nose at someone they believe is less than they are that they get clocked. Skill is not actually as represented in a video game. It’s more like Rock, Paper, Scissors except that every so often someone breaks the rules and throws down Bomb, or Glue, or Lightsaber or one of the other really weird invented ones which don’t belong.

They changed the rules, laugh, and say “haha, I won”.

The irony is that people with no fighting experience do have the opportunity to change the rules on someone with some experience, depending on that level of experience. The reason being that you come into a fight with a certain expectation for how they’re supposed to behave. When we’re talking about bullies, this is how bullies operate. The bully operates from a position of power on an understanding of behavior within the social strata both on how their victim will operate or react (how likely the bully is to get in trouble) and the likelihood of reactions on the parts of authority figures. The vast majority of bullies strike from a protected position of power.

Your character went into their altercation with an expectation of certain behaviors from the other guy, the other guy responded in a way that they weren’t prepared for, and they get hurt.

The problem with the way training and any kind of combat experience gets treated in the media is that, for the most part, it refuses to accept human limitations. It’s the basic problem where when one doesn’t understand how something works they go, “magic!” Also, video games where there are a strict set of unbreakable rules. Like taking a Level 25 character into a Level 11 zone and they roflstomp their enemies with one hand tied behind their back.

There are no guarantees of anything working. Ever.

Like the varying levels of martial training, experience with fights means a potential greater awareness of surrounding and a slightly higher ability to predict what someone will do. Being able to predict what someone will do gives a better chance of noticing when they’re going to do something and react in time. Whether it’s in seeing the beginnings of movements which look familiar, remembering that even when the other guy is bleeding on the ground he’s not necessarily subdued, or what have you.

Your character made some kind of mistake or miscalculation. That miscalculation lead to him losing control of the fight. When he lost control of the fight, lost the initiative, had the tide turn against him, he wasn’t able to right himself (which is pretty damn hard to be honest).

Every single person, no matter their size, their height, their weight, their gender, or their level of experience, has it in them to hurt someone else if they get pushed to the point where the fight instinct overcomes their flight instinct. They may not be very good at it, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be successful.

Try to remember that your character is limited by the virtue of his experiences. He is not omniscient. Don’t let him peek over your shoulder. Keep the dungeon master screen up at all times.

And think about it.

Where is his head at? What doesn’t he expect? What would surprise him?

And for the other guy.

What is he feeling? Pain? Guilt? Humiliation? Fear? Anger? Pure undiluted rage? What is going on inside him that could lead him to just snapping and going for it? Is he the kind of guy that’s just going to lunge, tackle the other guy, go down on top of him, and just start pounding away at his head with wild swings while screaming at the top of his lungs?

It could be anything.

Really.

The less training someone has, the more instinctual and gut reactive their response. And that means when pushed to a certain breaking point, people can get a little… base, I suppose. That can get terrifying.

-Michi

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