Tag Archives: fight write

Q&A: In Fiction, the Groin Strike Proves Freud Right

How can i expose someone’s groin for a strike?

So, the groin strike is one of the most oversold attacks in fiction. You don’t “expose” anything. There’s not some secret or special means of getting there, it’s not particularly well protected (except when your opponent is wearing a cup, in which case… yeah, very well protected); it’s just a matter of being close enough to hit.

The groin strike with the knee features prominently in self-defense because it is:

A) easy.

B) You start within grappling range.

In most self-defense scenarios you will be defending yourself from someone who is already close enough to touch you. Someone who is standing right next to you. When you are facing them, the knee to the groin makes sense. It’s a reflexive and easy strike,  and relatively well hidden when they’re focused on something else. You can even play along, put your arms around their neck (with one hand strategically positioned on the back of their head to take control), and… bam. Knee to the groin.

However, like all pressure point strikes, the knee to the groin is a stunner and not a finisher. Whoever you hit with it will recover rapidly, which is why we combine it with other strikes.

Now, the knee to the face can be performed in the same range, and featured as the finisher in a combination with a groin strike. Again, the groin strike is not a “finish them” technique. It’s a distracting technique which opens up better protected parts of the body. You grab the other person by the back of their head, and drive their face down into your rising knee.

And… that’s about the extent of what we do with the groin.

You can kick someone there. You can punch someone there.

Both cases are more a matter of having poor aim or taking someone by surprise than a test of skill. The strike is an opportunistic one, not a dedicated martial move requiring a lot of setup because the move is risky. It doesn’t require a particular amount of skill either, you mostly just have to hit it hard enough to get lucky in clipping the nerve cluster. The issue with the groin strike is more that it’s considered a “dishonorable” move, which leads people to assume it’s a super effective one. They put it on par with throwing sand in someone’s face, but other dirty moves like throwing sand in someone’s eyes is actually much more effective as a battle tactic. There are better places to hit someone which lead to long term damage.

The short answer on exposing the groin is you don’t. You actually don’t need to because the strikes are not nearly as effective as Hollywood insists. Also, outside backroom bar brawls, most men (and women) actually do wear protection when engaging in actual combat or sparring scenarios. That protection is called the cup otherwise known as the jockstrap.

You don’t need to do anything special other than be close enough to pull off the hit. However, the question becomes why aim there? If you can get a better result from performing a front kick or a push kick into the stomach when you’ve exposed your opponent’s defenses then you’d aim there instead. The stomach has a lot of nerve endings too, you can forcibly disrupt the diaphragm, and hit a fair number of major organs. You get everything you’d get from hitting someone in the groin and more with results that last for a longer period of time.

In a friendly bout scenario, like in sparring sessions, hitting someone in the nether regions is frowned upon (especially if not accidental) and clipping occurs often enough that the intelligent wear protection.

In a self-defense scenario, a groin strike won’t be enough to stop your enemy in their tracks.

In a combat scenario, a groin strike suffers similar problems with the added benefit of likely being protected by actual armor.

Discussing groin strikes in fiction usually revolves around men, usually specifically around heterosexual women hitting heterosexual men in their “weak spot”. (If you never realized that sex is what this specific joke is about in fiction then I’m sorry, and, yes, this is a way to hypersexualize your female fighter. Why do you ask?) However, it is worth noting that groin strikes work on women.

If you write female fighters or just female characters in general, please do not fall for this bit of fiction about groin strikes. In the world of popculture fantasy, they’re just a means of proving Freud right. Everything is about titillation and the genitals.

In the real world, and I say this as someone with extensive experience in martial arts, the groin is not some secret weak point that must be defended at all costs. The groin is either convenient or just meh.

-Michi

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Q&A: Short Fighters and Centers of Gravity

any specifics to be mindful of on writing a very short fighter? like under five feet tall? i don’t necessarily mean children, just like, ppl who are short

I’m going to discuss writing short combatants below, but I want to make it clear. What I’m going to be discussing is about adults, not children. You want to set a clear distinction between the two in your mind right now. Children are their own category, broken down into several separate categories of roughly 1-5, 6-8, 9-10, 11-14, 15-16, 17-19. Segment them out by age categories, break apart older and younger teens, and keep a beat for mental/intellectual/emotional maturity in line with their physical growth rates. Children are different from adults, and different ages face different challenges.

When you’re writing children, you need to take their age into consideration, the fact they’re bodies are still changing and growing, the fact their minds are maturing. They don’t have the same capacity as adults, the understanding, or the ability to utilize their experiences to the same degree. The problems for children are not just in their size, but in their brains, in the softness of their bones, in the bodies that are constantly changing, emotions only just emerging, which combined with a lack of experience and maturity often put them at a significant disadvantage.

A twelve year old who is set against a seasoned killer faces a lot more problems than just a height difference, would face those same challenges even if they were the same height.

Now, let’s talk about short fighters. They’re not much difference from anyone else, nothing more than a different set of natural advantages, that may not even mean much in the grand scheme. Spend too much time obsessing on physiological differences and you’ll end up thinking they’re the only thing that matters. There’s not that much difference between someone who is 4″10 versus someone who is 5″1 or 5″2 in terms of combat.

What you want to understand about the size of humans is that the benefits are mostly in the mind. There are a lot of culturally defined stereotypes, conventional wisdom, and cries of “realism” when it comes to martial combat that are complete bunk. The perception that short people are at an automatic disadvantage is one of them. Every body type comes with their own strengths and weaknesses, learning to compensate for the weaknesses and take advantage of the strengths is what training is all about. You’re going to need to throw out most of your internalized prejudices and start over. You’ll find you’re full of biases when you really get down to thinking about it,  ones you’ve subconsciously picked up over the years, and, I want to make this very clear, addressing them doesn’t mean you’re a bad person.

Center of Gravity – People who are short are closer to the ground. This is important because  the center of gravity is your body’s balance point. This is your body’s point of stability, and useful to know about for a large variety of exercises. This point changes based on each individual human being, with constant motion, and is somewhat subjective. So, everyone has to locate this point within themselves and find their own individual balance.-

However, what you need to know about for the purpose of this question is: Short people are very difficult to knock over if they know how to create their base and set their weight.

Now, the center of gravity in a man versus in a woman are physiologically different. A man’s is located in his chest, and a woman’s is approximately in her pelvis. Physiological differences mean men and women will show progress in different exercises more quickly because they’re more naturally inclined toward them. A woman’s balance point being lower lends itself to more stability in the lower body. From a practical perspective, what this means is that a man has to spread his legs wider and get lower in his stances in order to achieve the same physical stability as his female counterpart, and likewise a tall man has to bend his knees more than a short guy for similar results.

This is a taught advantage, not a natural advantage.

What does this mean?

Well, it doesn’t mean much of anything except that short people are naturally better at grappling than taller people. If they know how to set their feet and get down low then good luck throwing them. You won’t pick them up. They’re not going anywhere. After all, throws are not strength based (someone who is tall is not necessarily going to be stronger than someone who is short) but are instead dependent on destabilizing your opponent’s base (the position of their feet, and stance) then utilizing their own force against them.

Someone who is short is much closer to the earth than someone who is tall, and this advantage lends them more stability. Weight isn’t weight, and strength isn’t strength. The martial arts battle is primarily over an ever-shifting balance point and breaking your opponent’s stability. You’ve got to work harder to get them to fall over.

The Intimidation Station – Tall people can be naturally intimidating, because conventional wisdom says they are. Intimidation happens in the mind. However, short people can be intimidating, because intimidation comes from presence, not physicality.

Here’s something to keep in mind when writing short characters: When you’re short, you live in a world of tall. You’re used to being (physically) looked down on. These characters will have been learning to compensate (if they need to) from day one, so the idea they’ll fall apart while facing off against someone significantly taller than they are is silly… really silly. They’ll be more used to fighting tall people than someone who generally fights people of equal height or mild differences. If you’re used to constantly being at a “disadvantage” then that state becomes normal and you learn to just roll with it.

Aggression – Short fighters can be, but are not uniformly, or always more aggressive combatants, and women are often more actively aggressive in combat than men. This doesn’t mean they have more aggressive personalities, but they can be much more pro-active when it comes to rolling over into an offensive mode.

Reach – You’ll hear this one brought up a lot, mostly by people who don’t really understand the concept. Reach matters more with weapons than with bodies.

I hear a lot of writers searching for “natural” advantages, or see an over reliance on those perceived advantages in fiction. The reality of success lies with technique and hard work, not the body you were born with or the talents you were gifted with. You’ve got to polish what you have. In hand to hand, there are plenty of ways to compensate for a difference in height. The primary means of overcoming distance is footwork, not the length of your arms or legs.

Mind Over Matter – In terms of physiology, the rules aren’t hard and fast. They’re not black and white. There’s no can and can’t. There’s mind over matter, mind over internalized biases, and mind over perceived impossibilities. What there isn’t is magic. No matter who they are, your character will never be suddenly amazing or skip all the perilous trials of learning. There’s pain, yes, embarrassment, frustration, and failures, which are all part of building character. Skill requires training and practice. It’s difficult, it takes time, and you’ll need to do a lot of pushing past what you believe to be physically possible (rather than what is) before you’re done.

What your character perceives about their own abilities and their actual abilities are not one and the same, the same is true of their potential. The hill may seem impossible from the bottom, but we progress up it one step at a time.

Here’s one last thing to keep in mind:

They’re short. So, what?

-Michi

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Q&A: You can be thinking or fighting… Listen, you want to be fighting.

When somebody is fighting, how much space is in their head for thinking? Sometimes you see writers put entire monologues in their character’s head, and that seems a bit excessive, but once moves become instinctive is it easier to notice/observe and process thoughts? So maybe it would be somewhere between “Thinking constantly of my movements” and “Let me theorize about my opponent’s background for paragraphs on end.”

You have enough time to make snap decisions, but that’s about it. If you actually stop and think during combat you’ll get hit because you weren’t focused on what was happening in front of you. The point of training is to internalize combat techniques to the point where they, and even combinations, become reflexive. This is because you don’t have time to think about how a technique is performed during combat where a fraction of a fraction of a second can be the deciding factor between victory and defeat. The goal is to give you the choice to act rather than just react. The time link between your brain and your muscles is dropped to near instantaneous in reaction so you know what to do next without having to think about it because you don’t have time to think.

See > Decide > Act is reduced to See > Act.

There’s no realization. There’s just action.

While you were thinking about what you wanted to do, I hit you. Your indecision is my opening to exploit. The world will not wait for you to be ready, and your narrative shouldn’t be waiting for your character’s either.

Consider this:

In the real world a street fight is over within twenty five seconds. With specific techniques, you can kill another human with your bare hands in seven seconds. That includes both the time it takes to do the technique and the time it takes for them to die. The reduction of time from seconds to fractions of seconds is the ultimate goal because the faster you are then the better chance you have. You want to get out ahead of your enemy’s brain and finish acting before they have a chance to realize what’s happening/happened to them.

All real observations and decisions happen before the fight begins. This is why tactical awareness is a key skill for any warrior, martial artist, or self-defense practitioner. This where your ability to be aware of your surroundings and observe human behavior will help you know when you are in danger. You can get into the necessary mental state where you are ready to fight before the fight begins, saving yourself on crucial seconds which could be the difference between victory and defeat. Being prepared for a fight reduces your reaction time before the first bullet is fired or the first punch is ever thrown. You don’t need to realize you’re in danger, figure out what you’re going to do, come to terms with harming another human being, and try to buy time until you’re ready, at which point the battle is already over. No, you know you’re in danger and you react accordingly in the moment.

“I didn’t really have time to think about what I was going to do. By the time I realized I was in danger, I was dead.

I saw myself falling, I remember that. The world shifted sideways. I hit the ground. My shoulder landed first. Then, I saw his face. Saw him looking down at me.

He grinned, a big toothy grin. The gun barrel moved. A blinding flash, then everything… you know, everything went dark.

I woke up here. With you.”

When you’re writing a fight scene, it’s important to realize that each sentence represents the progression of time and time doesn’t wait for your character to be ready. Speaking and thinking are not free actions, they represent critical seconds where your character could be acting either by attacking or defending. The narrative’s progression shouldn’t stop just because they’re thinking. Their opponents shouldn’t politely wait for the character to be ready.

Now, dialogue can be used as a defensive action and a strategic means of buying time for recovery. However, if your character strikes up a conversation with their enemy understand that what they’ve done is actually end the fight scene, ended the engagement  until the start of the next engagement. Dialogue can disrupt the flow of combat as a combat tactic, but thinking can’t.

For violence in the narrative, you actually need to stay on point or you lose your tension in the scene. In a visual medium like comics or movies, violence is often treated as spectacle. In a movie, what you’re actually enjoying isn’t the violence itself but the acrobatic movements of professional stunt performers. Certain types of movement on film are incredibly engaging visually and the film doesn’t lose much by letting these actors go at it for prolonged periods.

As writers utilizing a written medium you don’t have that option. You’re not a professional stunt choreographer and stunt actor, and even if you were you don’t get the perks visual action buys for you. You don’t get spectacle, you get novelty, and you’ve got to keep the scene moving quickly so your audience remains invested.

You want short and sweet with lots of little fights interspersed by running for your life or buying time or getting to cover instead of long, drawn out battles.

Treat each sentence like it’s a second. That’s enough time for an attack and for the attack to be over. Enough for several attacks if you’re good at conserving time.

Attack > Hit > Next Action.

Attack > Deflect or Attack > Deflect + Counter > Next Action.

Character A punches. Character B catches punch, steps forward, uses other hand to strike under the chin with their palm and force A’s head up.

If B sits around thinking about what they’re going to do next from this position then they give A time to attack them and take back the fight’s inertia. Once you have the inertia, you want to keep moving. While you’ve got your opponent off balance you want to make the most of their defenseless state while you still can. Consistent action doesn’t give them time to recover, but waiting does. Drifting into your thoughts while you consider your next move also gives your enemy time to recover.

Notice also, Character B just changed ranges within a single second. They went from punch range straight into grappling range and put A into a bad situation where they can’t see what’s going on. They’ve set themselves up for several options. One is to force A backward by applying pressure to their head until they fall over or transition their hand across A’s face to their ear and put them into a sideways throw utilizing the head, the wrist they captured, and their front leg.

If you just went… what? It’s this:

The hand on the wrist yanks backwards and pulls their opponent forward. This puts them off balance. The hand on the head applies pressure sideways and forces the head sideways. Where the head goes, the body follows. They turn sideways, catching their opponent’s back leg with their front leg and use that calf/knee as the tripping mechanism. This forces all the balance onto the destabilized front leg, which while already on the ball of the foot will give as the ankle twists, and when it does they are put on the ground.

Now, A is on the ground and B is still standing. B can do what they want from here to A, but unless A is very good at fighting while prone and finds a way to take B to the ground with them then the fight is over. Likewise, your fight scene is over in less than a minute.

That’s the other side of training.  You don’t just spend your time learning one or two techniques so you can do them without thinking about it. You train to link those techniques together into combinations so when the time for the next action comes you already know what to do.

The character doesn’t have to plot out: “I’m going to catch his punch, put my hand under his chin, and ram my opponent into that wall over there. After, I’ll rest my forearm on his windpipe to apply pressure and cut off airflow but not completely choke him.” They already know because they trained to do all that without thinking about it. This gives them time to perform an entire string of complex actions before their enemy has time to realize what’s happening to them. There’s also the classic, “From the position with my hand under his chin, I’ll transition my arm up and around his throat into a guillotine with my forearm on his windpipe then knee him in the groin before lifting up into the choke.”

“I hit you with the roundhouse to your ribs with my front leg and knock the air out of you, then retract into a chamber, swing my leg across to hit you in the head with a hook kick while you’re stumbling sideways, which dazes you and gives me opportunity to transition into a standing jump roundhouse off my back leg. Bye bye.”

This is the slightly more advanced concept called setup. You use your basic techniques in combination to fire off the large action finisher. This is actually what your characters beyond green belt level are fighting for the opportunity to do. (And… yes, some variants of taekwondo jump kicks and other discipline’s jump kicks can be performed with one foot already off the ground because the power leg that initiates the jump is the one which transitions into the kick. That’s where the momentum is.)

The ultimate goal is to reduce risk for yourself while maximizing the other person’s. Your character should be doing their observations and planning in the moments before the fight begins, not while the fight is occurring. You can get most of what you need through observation, and if you get a chance to observe their fights before you fight them then all the better.

You want your exposition in the moments between fights as a padding out breather for your audience before the next fight starts. Whenever the fight ends, the fight scene part of the scene ends. You’ll probably have multiple little fights which constitute a larger fight, but it’ll be easier for you to think of the scenes as scenes.

What you don’t want to be doing is thinking about what you’re going to be doing in the moment because then you’re not focused on acting and are instead taking a ridgehand to the head, which at worst will cost you two points on the sparring scorecard. This is much better than taking the bladed inside of your enemy’s hand to your temple. You didn’t just give them the opportunity to hit you, you let them hit you with an incredibly powerful but heavily telegraphed strike.

Your body will react for you, but you’re still piloting the vehicle. In some ways, it’s like driving and not driving on a highway. No, this is driving in a winding canyon with everyone around you going sixty to eighty miles per hour. If you space out that could be difference between your survival and you going off a cliff. You’ve got about enough awareness to say, “there’s an asshole tailgating me, and I better ease off the gas ’cause that’s a twenty mile an hour turn ahead.” So, if you’re not focused then your body won’t be either. So, you’ve got to focus on what’s immediately happening in front of you in order to react to it. Training just carves away all the excess thinking which will slow you down, like trying to remember how to do a technique, or trying to decide on which technique, or spend too much time focusing on strategy, or cracking wise. This way your reaction times have been shaved down to .25 seconds and you can perform several actions before the single second is over.

Realize > React > Act.

“I need to fight now” is a sentence you don’t have time for because by the time you’ve said it the punch has already arrived. The air is also now gone from your lungs, so you’ll need to breathe again before you act. On the page, a fight flowing at the pace time progresses while you’re thinking will look like this.

Shit!

Punch.

He’s not—

Punch.

Giving—

Punch.

Me—

Punch.

Time to—

Punch.

React!

That’s five potential punches per thought, and only if they miss. If you’re very lucky, your character may manage to multitask by thinking and dodge at the same time. However, because their focus is split they will be slower and may miss objects in their environment which can trip them.

So, was the time spent on thinking worth it?

For all that people talk about the simplicity of violence, you should know that hand to hand violence is actually very mechanically complex. You’ve got to be doing a lot of complex actions at the same time, which is why you train to perform them. However, that doesn’t mean the time you rid yourself of thinking of how to perform them is freeing you up for other things. You’ve freed yourself up for near instantaneous action. This is your trade off. If you pack other thoughts in where those previous thoughts were then you’re actually slowing yourself back down. Your focus is spent on the action itself. Your character’s goal is actually to finish the fight within a single sentence rather than an entire paragraph. That’s what all participants of violence want, for the fight to be over as quickly as possible. H2H is also the slowest form of violence with the least amount of risk when it comes to sudden death. With weapons, you better not be thinking because a mistake will result in broken arms, fatal stabbings, and getting shot.

You can think or you can fight.

Trust me, you want to be fighting.

-Michi

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Q&A: Using Violence

Hey I’m pretty far along in a book I’m working on, there’s a lot of hand to hand combat mixed with swords, bows and arrows and some guns (flintlock style). I’ve been doing a good job of keeping things fresh but as I’m coming towards the end of it I’m having a hard time varying the different styles so it doesn’t get stale. I was wondering if you had any tips to help my action scenes from getting stale? Thanks!

This is going to be one of those concepts that sounds utterly bizarre at first, but violence isn’t interesting.

It might be slightly more accurate to say, violence by itself is not interesting or engaging. Real world violence, especially, is not entertaining and violence for entertainment often follows when the violence is expected to carry itself. What makes an action sequence work is the mise en scène. Violence, in a narrative, has diminishing returns. If you prefer, you could phrase it as the audience builds tolerance to violence over time, but either term works.

So, let’s unpack these two pieces.

Violence, by itself is rarely interesting. This is, probably, the main issue you’re running into. The stuff that sells a fight scene is all of the stuff accompanying it. It’s the stakes.

When writing an action sequence, the important thing to remember is why your characters are there. It can be very easy to lose track of the larger context in the moment, but that’s what keeps the reader invested.

There are exceptions to the, “never interesting,” position. With some martial artists, the appeal really is simply the spectacle. They’re putting on an impressive physical performance, that’s engaging. Cool. But, it’s not the violence, which may sound like an incredibly fine distinction until you really think about it. You don’t watch someone like Jackie Chan, Jet Li, or Van Damme for the story or the acting, it’s the sheer spectacle of the physical performance.  Though, Jackie Chan may be a bad example, because you’re probably watching him for the comedy beats.

I realize this might sound slightly pretentious. “No one cares about your hero punching that guy, they need to experience why he punches them.” But, the reality is remarkably grounded. Your character decided to engage in this way. You need to convey that to the reader. And yes, sometimes the reason really is because: “damn that was cool.” There are ways to make that kind of spectacle work, but in general, it’s easier to remember why your character is acting, and keep their behavior rooted in who they are, and reflect that back to the audience.

 

The other thing is that violence is exhausting. This is true for both the real thing, and for your audience. The more violence you use in your story, the harder it will be to keep them engaged with the material. This also applies for severity, though it’s a little easier to see at work there; include a scene that’s far too brutal, and watch your readers disconnect from the material and wander off.

Unfortunately, precisely defining how much violence your story can support is not a hard and fast system. I would say, when writing and you come to a potential action sequence, ask yourself if you really need a fight there.

There’s a weird irony with violence, sometimes, the anticipation is better than the delivery. You can tease the audience with the idea that a fight is about to break out, and then find a way to release the pressure, rather than forcing your characters into combat. The anxiety over what could happen, especially if your characters are seriously disadvantaged, can vastly outweigh the impact of just another fight scene. As with outright violence, this will lose its impact over time, but it can help you keep your audience on their toes.

Over time, violence is fatiguing. Keeping fight scenes short and to the point can help. If you’ve got a fight that’s lasting more than a couple pages, you might want to consider breaking it up, and reusing parts for different encounters.

Repetition is another concept that can kill the flow of a story. If you’re writing another fight scene ten pages later, and it’s basically the same as the previous ones, just with one or two slightly modified details, it might be time to cut it. There are writing techniques that employ repetition, particularly in comedy, but that’s about creating callbacks and payoffs, not regurgitating the previous scene with slight variations.

As a writer, violence is a tool you can use. Using it can work, threatening it can also work, but, in order to keep its edge, you need to use it sparingly. Otherwise, the entire narrative can easily bog down in an endless procession of boss fights.

Now, I’m gong to contradict myself here a little, violence can be entertaining. However, you need to understand that the violence is there for entertainment. All the violence and fight scenes you see on television are devised with this in mind. When unsupported by every other narrative aspect, they exist purely to entertain. The difference between these choreographers and most authors is that they are professional fight choreographers often with black belts in multiple martial arts. They understand how to pace a scene, what will look good on film, which actions will be visually impressive and have a vast toolkit to work from in order to bring the entertainment portion of the fight to life. Violence is not entertaining on its own, it is created to be visually interesting and a massive amount of work is put into creating functional entertainment. What you enjoy when you watch an action movie is the work of the choreographers involved, the skill of the stunt doubles, the hard work put in by the actors, the musical scoring, the set design, and everything else which keeps the movie running.

To mimic this in fiction, you must internalize this understanding and learn to do similar work on the page. The writer is the fight choreographer, the actors, the stunt doubles, the set and costume designers. You are creating a musical score in the structure and rhythm of your sentences, in your visual descriptions. You are going to do the entire work of a full set crew in order to achieve about half as much. Creating interesting violence on the page requires understanding that martial arts choreography is an art form in and of itself. And it is, you know, there are entire divisions in many different martial arts tournaments now devoted to structured competitive choreography. These are creators who agonize over every punch and kick, every physical transition, every throw, carefully putting together the scene, practicing it out over the course of months, for, at most, forty-five seconds to a minute’s worth of action.

Writing convincing and entertaining action takes a great deal of practice, and involves actively working as hard as you can to learn everything you can about violence. In knowledgeable hands, two swords of slightly different lengths could become a tense fight where the protagonist faces a significant disadvantage and a hard uphill climb in a terrific test of skill. Or, it could just be a scene about two people with two swords. The trick is understanding concepts like reach, order of operation in fight progression, the advantages provided by different sword types, the techniques used by fencers, and more to make a fight work. The smallest differences in a fight can create incredibly tight stakes, but you need to know they’re there in order to include them.

Start by sitting down with your favorite novel sequences and movie fight scenes, start asking yourself what you liked about it and why it worked for you. Look into who created it, the work that went in, and what the surrounding narrative stakes are. What are the internal stakes within the scene itself, why is the protagonist fighting at a disadvantage? What caused their disadvantage? Why is that interesting? What tools are the characters using? Are they making full use of their available options? What is the decision making process? How is that helping and hindering them?

If you’ve reached the point where the violence is boring, then move on to understanding that you need to be the one who makes the scene interesting. You first must pinpoint why the violence has become boring, and usually that begins with a lack of stakes.

-Starke

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Self-Defense: The Predator is Exploiting You

How practical are those self-defence (the kind learnt in a few lessons) moves being taught to women in a real life situation?

Editing Note: I, normally, never do this, but I’m culling out the rest of this question. There was some additional, irrelevant, inflammatory material tacked on, but this part is worth answering.

The very short answer is, “yes.” When you see someone practicing an adapted Judo wrist lock, or a throw on a YouTube video someone linked to your dash, it probably works. I’ve seen a few that don’t, but a lot of those are functional techniques that can be taught in an accelerated environment over 6 to 8 weeks. (Honestly, most of those can be trained, individually, in an afternoon.)

But, we don’t link those. Without exception, those techniques will not work without training. They’re also not going to be reliable if your only self-defense training was a six hour seminar fifteen years ago.

The most important lessons you will ever learn in a self-defense seminar are not about your body. They’re about your mind and your approach to a situation where you are in danger. People like to categorize this as “men” and “women”, but it’s not. Acts of violence are acts. Violence is about action. It is a choice made by one human being to do harm to another.  In these situations, you’re looking at an actor and a recipient of the action. The recipient is the victim, the recipient feels out of control, they’re startled, frightened, and they’re intrinsically playing catch up to a premeditated decision made by the other party.

This is the advantage of your attacker in any situation. Whether the abuse is physical or verbal, you must understand that they are decisions made by another person to do you harm. Because that decision precipitates the action, the attacker is already ahead in terms of mental calculations. A predator picks out their prey, they find a way to get close to their prey, they choose them. What you need to understand upfront is these acts are choices by an individual, and those choices are where their power over their victim resides. That’s what let’s them control the moment. Control, not strength, is victory.

Once you grasp this, concepts like strength become less important. A woman can overpower a man in a violent situation, a woman can be an attacker and an abuser. This isn’t because she’s necessarily physically stronger than the man, or because she’s an anomaly, but rather because she made the decision first. She got there first, she decided first. That’s her advantage. Those crucial seconds in decision making are the difference between victory and defeat, whether you are doing or having something done to you.

Self-defense is trying to teach the recipient how to be an actor. A good seminar is trying to train you to retrain your mind, the way you look at your environment, teach you how to make threat assessments, and how to quickly transition from paralyzing panic to launching yourself into action. That switch over within your mind is what will ultimately be the deciding factor in terms of victory or defeat. This is the major difference between a trained combatant and a civilian. Trained combatants are primed to go, often to preempt an attack and be ready when it comes. This doesn’t always work, but they’re better at it than the average person. They’re quicker on the mental rollover, and they know those crucial seconds at the beginning of a fight are the difference between victory and defeat. When it comes to male predators, active decisions versus panic, fear, and surprise is often mistaken for physical strength. They feel stronger because they’re attempting to initially overwhelm, and, once you’re overwhelmed, they believe you won’t fight back.

Self-defense training does work. However, like all training,  what you get out of it directly relates the effort you put in.

So, two parts. Simply seeing someone demonstrate a technique isn’t enough to replicate it. Practicing a technique for a few hours in a controlled environment isn’t enough to perform it reliably in a tense situation. This is the problem with those videos, and can be a problem with some self-defense classes.

For example: Yes, you can roll your hand out of someone grabbing your wrist, reverse it, and then use that as leverage to force them to their knees. Without checking, do you know where to put your thumb to make sure the second part of that actually works? Do you understand how to do the first part? Because it is simple, but it relies on an understanding of how the human grip functions, and which parts are strongest. You won’t get that from simply watching a couple in a .gif screwing around. That’s the technique you watched, but what do you do next? Because you don’t have much time to get your next action in motion before they’ll respond. It’s a good technique, and as part of a larger strategy it can, absolutely, save your life. However, it also requires you know what you’re doing, which you won’t get from watching someone from a video in 2014.

The second part is you need to practice your training. If you don’t practice until it becomes second nature, you will have to think about what you’re doing in combat. This will slow you down, and will get you seriously injured or killed.

Let me give you a concrete example of this: I can’t do throws. I mean, I understand the theory, in some cases I remember pieces of the technique, but I don’t actually remember how to do them. I can’t remember enough of it to make them work in a live situation. Now, if you’ve been around here long enough, and paid enough attention, you probably know my background is Police Adapted Judo. This is a martial art with a large number of throws. This is a martial art that will happily send someone to the ground, and then follow them there. Most martial arts won’t intentionally go to ground fighting and stay there, but this one will. I can’t remember the throws. I didn’t practice them after I learned them, and now, 20 years later, that’s gone. I could relearn them, and it would probably be easier than starting from scratch, but I cannot actually use those in a fight.

(To be fair, this isn’t entirely true, there are one or two Judo throws I still remember, but the vast majority are effectively gone.)

The entire reason why traditional martial arts training is slow, is because the goal is to “rewire” your reactions. You’re learning entirely new kinds of movement. You’re training new responses, and then working them in, until you get to the point where you can simply, “do,” the thing, and you don’t have to think about doing it. There’s no shortcut for that.

Self-defense, and a lot of accelerated combat training, turn the expectations around. Instead of working these new patterns into your movements first, and then learning to apply it, you start by teaching someone how to use this training, and then you get them to work it in on their own time. This results in a shorter turnaround, but you sacrifice versatility. You train to specific attack patterns rather than learning to assemble what you’re doing on the fly. It also results in training that is more volatile, meaning it’s easier to lose it if you don’t keep up with practicing what you’ve learned.

The end result is that, yes, the stuff you learn in those courses can be highly effective. Given time, training, and commitment, it can result in a martial artist who has an excellent skill set for ensuring their own safety.

There’s another, far less sexy, part to any comprehensive self-defense course: Risk assessment and avoidance. This isn’t about learning how to throw someone over your shoulder, or run your knee into their face, it’s how to avoid getting into those situations in the first place. Some of this is physical, for example, but a lot of it is teaching someone how to avoid being profiled as a potential victim. We cover some details of this from time to time. Things like maintaining situational awareness may not sound as cool as talking about how you could potentially break a dude’s wrist, but it is infinitely more useful in ensuring you can effectively avoid situations where you’d need to. These skills keep you safe.

Things like being able to quickly formulate an exit plan are also very useful , and any good self defense class will include them. As with the rest, this is an excellent survival skill, but it’s not about the violence; combat is simply one tool that you can employ to affect an escape.

As with all martial arts, the quality of your instructor will affect the quality of your training. However, assuming you have solid training, and you’ve kept up with it, this stuff can safe your life.

I mentioned people linking videos before, and honestly, there’s always something heartbreaking to me about those post. Someone always chimes in saying something to the effect of, “reblogging, because if I’d seen this, I could have prevented X.” I’m sorry, I really am, but, when it’s couched like that, it’s almost never true. If they’d known how to do that, then it might have made a difference, but watching an 8 second .gif is no substitute for training.

Training is not a panacea, but it does offer more options. It can keep you safe. What they’ve seen in a video is one of those options, usually an option of last resort that’s already somewhat risky, but it is an option.  However, taken by itself, one technique is not a universal solution.

Something else happens with martial arts training (doesn’t matter if it’s traditional, or accelerated) which can make you substantially safer: It builds self-confidence. This makes you less appealing prospect to people who are looking for potential victims. It will not eliminate all threats, but it is a major boon for giving you the ability to maintain control when others are trying to take it from you.

If those, “if I’d seen this,” comments resonate with you, either because you’ve been there, or you’re afraid of being there; I would strongly recommend finding a reputable self-defense class in your area and enrolling. Many colleges and community centers offer classes. Even your local police may run one as an outreach program. This stuff does work. It can save your life. But, you do need to learn the full skill set. Some local martial arts schools may offer effective self-defense training as well.

Self-defense and martial training in general are trying to drill into you the skills necessary to take the power back in a situation where your life is under threat. Those begin, first and foremost, in your mind. Your power lies in your control over the situation, in taking back the control from someone trying to wrest it from you, in taking ownership of the situation, and pushing back. To do that, you have to believe it. You can’t fight yourself and someone else at the same time. This is, ironically, where the quintessential Yoda quote comes in: “do or do not, there is no try.” There is no room for second guessing, for questioning, or wondering whether this will be possible. You must do. When you are in the middle of battling yourself, battling cultural conditioning, battling the inhibitors put on your behavior to prevent you from actively taking control, you won’t be able to effectively defend yourself from someone who has already made the decision to hurt you.

The difference between you and your attacker is in the Sun Tzu quote, “Thus it is in war the victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won, whereas he who is destined to defeat first fights and afterwards looks for victory.”

When you believe you’ve lost, well, you’ve lost. This is what the predator is banking on. They believe they will win, and you will accept that defeat is inevitable. When you begin with the assumption they’re stronger than you, you’ve let them fool you. You’re already well down that road to losing the fight before it ever began. After all, violence requires commitment. The predator is relying on your inability to make that commitment in the moment, to give up, and ultimately cede them control over what happens to you. The human predator is like every other. They aren’t here for a fight, they’re looking to exploit their victim for the easy victory. That doesn’t mean their victim is weak, either. A predator is looking for an easy victory because they are ultimately weak. They’re searching for a safe win. They want the odds stacked in their favor. They don’t want to deal with resistance. They want the situation to be under their control from the beginning to end because they don’t want to take any real risks.

After all, this isn’t about strength. This is about someone exploiting the way the human mind works under pressure, and the societal conditioning already in place. The predator isn’t stronger than you. He’s exploiting your natural behavior, he’s exploiting societal behavior, social norms, and expectations. He is structuring the situation to specifically put you at a disadvantage. The playing field is not level by intentional design. This has nothing to do with natural differences in physiology, and by thinking that way you cede them an advantage they don’t deserve.

They’re not stronger than you. They’re not better than you. They’re not smarter than you. They just made the decision before you did; knowing they could exploit your immediate, natural reaction. If you ever have to question what base instinct looks like in a human being, this is it. The predators are actively exploiting your fight or flight instinct with the expectation you will take the third option and freeze.

Before techniques, the the first truth you need to accept is that the scales are weighted unevenly by human hands; not by nature’s. Which means, you too have the potential to go and tip them right back into your favor. Or just break the scales.

You don’t have to fight by their rules.

-Michi and Starke

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Q&A: Uneven Balance is a Tension Killer

I have a scene in my book where the two main characters fight soon after meeting one another, in an area where no one else gets in their way and they have a lot of flat empty space. Both are very skilled, but only one of them has weapons. It’s set in medieval times, so they only have daggers and such. The character that isn’t armed needs to win, and I’m not entirely sure how, realistically, he would.

I’d ask what two highly skilled characters are doing getting into such a silly situation when they know better, especially the one caught without their weapons. However, real people do stupid things too.  For all I know, they might of been drinking. Just know, the higher the level of training then the less likely it is for two characters to fight when they don’t absolutely have to.  Justification is good. Make sure you’ve got a reason for them to fight that feels natural for both characters beyond needing them to fight for the plot. I don’t know why they’re fighting, for all I know it could’ve started off a drunken row with one yelling, “Anything you can do, I can do better! I can do anything better than you!

These characters don’t actually exist, but it’s important to get yourself in the habit of thinking they could die. I could die is one of the major thoughts that will occur in the mind of anyone who is highly skilled, and more likely to occur than it is with someone who isn’t sufficiently trained.

Hotheads to who jump into fights at a moments notice over a slight or insult with something to prove are beginners. They’re not (usually) seasoned soldiers. Seasoned combatants understand the costs and consequences of violence, both to themselves and the people around them. They’re more likely to make mental calculations regarding risk, assess risk, and decide whether they will or won’t fight. The soldier understands that violence is unpredictable, that death is sudden, and no form of combat is ever truly safe. One mistake is the difference between life and death. Characters who are skilled will avoid violence because they understand its costs. They have nothing to prove. Remember, a knife is one of those “hell no” weapons. No one wants to be anywhere near a knife when they’re armed with one of their own, much less unarmed.

I could die. Is this worth it? I don’t want to die. Is this worth my life?

Often in well-written fiction when you’ve got an incredibly skilled character jumping into fights all the time for no real reason, it’s because they have a death wish. When someone does want to die, simply doesn’t care about living any longer, or sees themselves as already dead then that changes the stakes. There’s also, “I like to fight” which often translates into “I like to kill” in regards to unrestrained violence. Unless there’s a rules set down, two highly skilled characters have an excellent chance of killing each other. The weapons one of these characters has brought to this fight, say, “yes, I do intend kill you. I will make you very dead.”

This doesn’t sound like its a duel, but if you were thinking it might be then I’ll lay down some facts.

Duels are highly ritualized as a form of combat, and come with very specific rules of what does and doesn’t constitute a duel. (Much less the people who can take part in them.) Duels, Code Duello, Medieval Duels. If you’re up for reading some Medieval Charters in regards to dueling as a legal means of settling disputes, here’s some. In some cases, they’re a means of settling a dispute or challenge to ones honor.  We still have duels today as a point of fact, it’s just the duelists and their swords have been replaced with lawyers. For a duel to be a duel, they’d both need to be armed. Usually with the same weapon, otherwise its not a test of skill or fair. Weapons inherently offer advantages over each other, and if you’re not fighting with the same weapon then that would be cheating. This fight between these two is not be what we’d call Right Honorable Combat, and its probably illegal.

“Daggers and such” covers a lot of ground.  It could mean one of these characters has daggers, swords, polearms, or even a flail. Also, when fighting with weapons, you’re usually fighting with intent to kill. If that wasn’t the other character’s intent, they might put their weapon away when facing off against the character who is unarmed. I’m going to assume this unarmed character is squaring off against an opponent who carries a dagger. However, I did note the plurality of weapons. You will immediately run into trouble if you don’t hammer down which weapon the unarmed character is facing, or if they decided to dual wield with the second weapon as defensive. Different weapons require different approaches as each comes with its own concerns. Distance is a major one. The only universal rule is: don’t get hit.

Start with the assumption one of these characters is actively trying to kill the other, if he wasn’t then he’d put the weapon away. Outside of highly ritualized and carefully moderate dueling structures where one might call for time at first blood, a highly skilled character will understand weapons are for killing. With weapons, especially bladed weapons, skill level isn’t a matter of deciding when you kill and when you don’t. It is a matter of deciding whether or not you care to risk your opponent’s death. If they were interested in a test of skill or even just a friendly hand to hand bought, they wouldn’t pull it to begin with. Your main character needs to win this duel because if they don’t, they’ll be either grievously wounded or dead.

Working under a predetermined outcome when writing a fight scene is the worst decision. What we want in our heads won’t necessarily translate to the page, and more importantly characters who know they’re going to live will behave differently from characters who don’t know they will. Simulating the chance of death in your mind by entertaining death as a possible outcome will force them and you to work harder. They’ve got to earn their right to survive.

Now, your character isn’t planning to win because the plot needs to progress. He’s fighting because he wants to live.

Feel the difference? We’re now six inches closer to real tension.

Highly skilled doesn’t translate to guaranteed survival, it just means you’ve got a better grasp of what’s happening, how screwed you are, and potentially have more tools to escape a bad situation. They allow the character to recognize the danger their facing, what the intent of their opponent is, and, hopefully, act accordingly before its too late. There is, however, only so much training can give. Weapons are one of the situations where an unskilled character can make up the difference against one who is highly skilled. Weapons are the great equalizer. A guy with a knife is a guy with a knife. Whether you’ve been training for five minutes or eight years, there’s a extremely high chance of death if you’re unarmed and unarmored. The difference between the person who has trained for five minutes and the one who trained for eight years is that the experienced one has a better understanding of what it means when someone pulls a knife. They know it means they’re at an 80% or greater chance of death. They know a wrong move could, at best, result in an injury they may never recover from. Their chance of victory is razor thin where the margin of error is next to none. This is why smart warriors don’t fight other people with weapons without weapons of their own or, if they cannot avoid it, change the rules.

I’m going to assume too that you’re going with the old Defeat Means Friendship trope. You want Character A to be fought to a standstill by Character B who disarms them, then when put under threat to their life surprises Character A by letting them live and giving them back their weapon. (Which promptly causes Character A to stab them if we’re being realistic, but that’s not what the trope is about. If you want this trope, please give the weapon back later.) The problem, of course, is you’ll completely undercut Character A’s combat ability if you do it wrong.

Personally, my favorite rendition of this trope is the 1938 The Adventures of Robin Hood film with Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland where Robin Hood dueled Little John on the bridge with a staff after Little John called him out over his bow. Robin took Little John’s challenge (he can’t resist a challenge), dueled with a weapon he was less familiar with, lost, and got dunked in the river. Their friendship was born out of Robin Hood’s good humor over his bath and his appreciation for Little John’s skill. (This is a great foreshadowing for the archery competition later in the movie.)

In the film, we had plenty of opportunities to see Robin’s skill earlier. Little John needed to establish himself. By having him beat Robin with the weapon that is his specialty, we as the audience understand how skilled he is. Just as when Friar Tuck fought Robin to a standstill later as Robin attempted to recruit him. (And his men pranked him about the good friar’s skill with a sword, aka they lied.) Robin’s friendships with his men evolve not from his skill or how he’s better than they are, but in his ability to handle defeat gracefully and genuinely appreciate their skills. In both moments, we see him duel to test out these potential recruits. In both, he gets a good dunking in the river that is entirely his own fault.

You see, Robin establishes his ability much earlier in the movie when he lays claim to the deer killed by Much the Miller to protect him from Sir Guy of Gisborne. He then carries it into Nottingham Castle. (Saxon taking an illegally killed deer into a castle full of Norman knights alone.) Dumps the deer carcass on Prince John’s table in the Great Hall during dinner, and proceeds to tell Prince John, Sir Guy, The Sheriff of Nottingham, Maid Marian, the Bishop of the Black Canons, and all his knights over the dinner he’s invited himself to that he’s planning sedition to fight John’s rule. After hearing him out, John attempts to have him killed by the castle’s men at arms and all the knights present. Robin, still alone, then fights his way out of the Castle.

In the process he shows off his sword skills, his archery skills, his moxie, his fluency with treason, his strategic/tactical ability, and his quick thinking. (The fight scene that follows is probably one of the best if you ever want to write one person versus a whole room full of people. It involves the fine art of running away with purpose and the occasional murder.)

We know about about Robin. We know he’s brash, reckless, and incredibly skilled. That’s why the later fights with Little John and Friar Tuck have so much meaning when it comes to establishing their skills. They can go toe to toe with the guy who strutted into Prince John’s castle as a wanted man then got back out again while the heavily armed and armored inhabitants tried to kill him.

Whatever purpose you have for this fight scene, it’s important to remember what it is establishing in the relationship between these two characters. Take the lesson from The Adventures of Robin Hood, and understand it isn’t enough just to win. The fight scene needs to be there for a reason. Perhaps, more importantly, the kinds of fight scenes you write must revolve around what you’re trying to say about these characters abilities. Two characters you want to be seen as evenly skilled need to fight evenly. Friendships aren’t built on superiority. The protagonist being beaten is a different category from all other fictional defeats, it doesn’t delegitimize them the way it will a character we spend less time with. For the protagonist, defeats they survive are learning experiences and we learn far more about a person by how they handle defeat than we do when they win.

Robin Hood isn’t less awesome because he loses to Little John at the bridge, he’s actually that much more incredible than he was before. We learn its not just his skills he appreciates, but those of the people who best him. We know Robin is willing to fight others on their terms for the fun of it, rather than his own. Little John being better than Robin at one skill doesn’t take away from Robin’s previous victories. Robin’s acceptance shows his abilities as a leader better than being superior with a staff he made five minutes prior.

A character fighting another character when they have a weapon and the other character doesn’t isn’t showing that both are equally skilled. It’s actually showing one with a significant advantage over the other. When the underdog beats him, the underdog is shown to be much more skilled. That’s the point of unevenly balanced fights in fiction.

Little John: “I’ve only a staff and you threaten me with a long bow and a gray goose shaft. Are you not man enough…?”

Robin Hood: “Give me time to get myself a staff.” – The Adventures of Robin Hood.

Two characters fighting with the same weapons are on an even field, this is a battle of skill. Two characters fighting with different weapons are unevenly balanced, the shifting advantages make the combat difficult and the scene becomes about one character problem solving around their disadvantage. A scene where two characters are highly skilled but one is armed and the other is not will end with the unarmed character either dying or proving they are that much more skilled than the one with the weapon.

Disarms are difficult against someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing. There is no room for error, especially with a knife which can cut six different times in six different ways before you’ve a chance to grab it. Disarming someone who knows what they’re doing with their weapon is much harder.

A knife offers no room for error, every strike has the potential to be deadly. In order to disarm your opponent, you need to catch them by the wrist (not the knife) which puts one in direct line to get stabbed. You’ve got to catch the knife while simultaneously keeping yourself outside of stabbing distance. You can kick a knife out of someone’s hand, but then you don’t control it. You can attack the person instead of the knife as some self-defense disciplines encourage, with the theory being the person can’t use their knife if they’re disabled but so long as the knife is in hand that’s the present danger. Understand that inside their range the knife is as dangerous as the gun, if not more so. The knife is still as relevant today as a weapon as it was a thousand years ago. Think about that.

Daggers are essentially short swords, but the same principle is here. To stop a knife when one is unarmed, you need an immediate and brutal response. You need an immediate and brutal response when you’re armed too. This is not a weapon where you’re given time, consideration, and distance. It is fast, brutal, and over quickly. Any hit, even a glancing blow, has the potential to be end game. Character B can’t allow themselves to suffer no injuries, otherwise they’ll spend the next few months hoping their stitches don’t get infected or they’ll bleed out before they can get medical attention. This can be a problem as, against a knife, it’s often necessary to give up a body part in order to take it. It can’t strike other, more vital places if it’s in your hand. (Not a great option.) Or buried in the bone in your forearm. (Better.)

When fighting, one actually has to work around the knife. This is easier said than done, again knives are fast. They’re near modern fencing levels of fast while also much more deadly. They’ve got a lot less distance to cover and they’re very sharp. Forget about catching the blade unless your character has solid leather gauntlets (though those might get cut), metal is better.  They’re going to need to stop the arm long enough to take hold of the wrist and twist the dagger out of the enemy’s hands.

Disarms against weapons, especially when you have none of your own, are always incredibly dangerous. Skill means you can do them at all, but it doesn’t make them any safer or any more of a good idea. Gun disarms are for when you were going to get shot anyway, and you might as well go down fighting because there’s less than a 50/50 of success. Knife disarms are the same way.

The sad truth is that disabling someone is much more difficult than killing them, it is much riskier, and you’re much more likely to die in the attempt. We double that against someone who knows what they’re doing. Weapons are serious business and they’re designed around killing human beings.

Good fight scenes are about progressing the story forward. They teach us about the personalities of the characters involved, how they work, how they think, what their morals are, and they communicate more through the character’s actions than you think. Be careful with what you’re attempting to say.

An unarmed character disarming a mook with a knife will tell us a lot about their character without damaging anyone (except the mook we may never see again.) An unarmed character encountering and disarming another major character with a knife is a very different story, especially when this is the first time we meet them.

By and large, the rules of action are these:

  1. The protagonist is the baseline for understanding all narrative violence. They are the net point, all audience understanding of skill within the narrative begins with them. You want a character the audience understands is better than the protagonist? They beat the protagonist or beat someone established as being better than. (The villain murdering your martial arts master.) By constantly winning the protagonist undercuts everyone else.
  2. Have your protagonist lose or fight opponents to a standstill, usually on mostly even ground.
  3. They can defeat and disarm an important enemy, but only that enemy has thoroughly proved their worth in battle and you don’t wish to use them anymore. It can be a redemption kickstarter, but we need to witness their villainy and skills first. The hero better earn this win.
  4. Keep your characters on a relatively even playing field for tension unless there’s a very specific reason not to. Unarmed characters versus armed characters may seem like an easy way to establish skill, but you are catapulting them into a level of action you and they may not be prepared to make good on. (Also if one character beats another at the previous character’s specialty, what’s the point of that character?)
  5. Violence escalates and your story will escalate with it. Unless utilizing a different sort of action (see: Robin Hood), you can get caught in a cycle of enemies ratcheting ever higher in skill in order to maintain tension.
  6. Your villain is either more skilled than your hero or on an even keel with their own advantages that ensure they remain dangerous, no matter the humiliations they may suffer throughout the story. (Robin Hood steals Sir Guy of Gisbourne’s tax collection while he’s traveling in the forest, kidnaps him and his men, humiliates them, and makes them walk home. Sir Guy sets up an archery tournament and takes him captive, planning to hang him. He is saved by Marian, who sneaks out of the castle and visits his men with a plan.)
  7. Set your hero at the disadvantage, but stay within the realm of reason even when that reason may feel ridiculous. (Wesley fighting Fezzik in The Princess Bride.)
  8. Understand the kind of action you want in your story. Realism is the rules of reality within your setting. Worry about abiding by them and maintaining suspension of disbelief.
  9. Do not be afraid to humiliate your hero in order to set up the skills of other characters. If Character A is the protagonist, then Character B taking the knife from him could result in a good life lesson. (This is a traditional plot point when the protagonist meets their martial arts master. Not so great for showing two characters of equal skill level.)
  10. Inside out, rather than outside in. The justification of a fight is character driven as the character justifies the narrative. Violence is a means of problem solving, if your characters are not problem solving then they’re not using their skills effectively.
  11. Fight scenes are there to support your narrative, they do not have to be there. Don’t let the fight scene override the rest of your story. Act to maintain your tension.
  12. All violence must be paid off with resulting character interaction later in the narrative. Violence almost causes more problems than it solves.

Saying two characters are highly skilled is not enough, you need to show it and show it as a means that undercuts neither. A character who has already been proven as a great fighter earlier can lose to another in order to bolster that character’s cred with the audience. Remember, the POV character and protagonist always have more starting cred to their name than any other character.

I know that doesn’t exactly answer your question, but I hope it helps.

-Michi

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Q&A: Spears and Scythes

heya. I sent an ask awhile back about two people engaged in fighting with staffed weapons. one with a cross-spear, and the other with a scythe. i should’ve mentioned it is not a farm scythe, but the war scythe (i just assume when i say scythe people know you mean not the strictly meant for farming one, but i digress). anyway, i just wanted to throw that up since im sure the thought of someone fighting with a farm scythe makes your eyes bleed by this point.

Our eyes do bleed a little bit when it comes to scythes, though I personally have no issues with the scythe as a magical weapon or a space fantasy/science fiction one. I don’t have a problem with Deathscythe from Gundam Wing. The best way to get past the scratch and sniff test is to call it a “war scythe” because then we’ll know what you’re talking about. However, if one really wants to fence with a traditional scythe, 16th century aristocrat Paulus Hector Mair has you covered. (It should be pointed out, this section of the manual is for dueling with the farm scythes rather than using it as a preferred weapon. If you look at the drawings, you’ll understand why.)

Let me start by saying that staff combat is going to look fairly different depending on culture.

It can look like this (Joachim Meyer) or like this (Andre Paurenfeindt) or like this (Paulus Hector Mair, peasant staff) or like this (Monkey Staff) or like this (Jo Sparring , Aikido), or like this (Kalaripayattu), and so on. You’re asking about European polearms so a site like Wikitenaur that catalogues and translates manuals from European masters is going to be your friend.

When discussing martial combat with polearms, the staff is important. Whether you’re talking about a spear or a war scythe, remember they’re in the same weapon family.  The staff is their base weapon.  Both build off those training techniques, and the differences come in with the weapon’s head. When you’re setting out to write any fight scene, you want to begin with understanding the base or fundamental weapon. If we don’t grasp how a staff works or functions in single combat then we won’t understand how the spear, poleaxe, halberd, or war scythe do either.

A single leap carried Varien to wall above the Templar’s courtyard, and he dropped inside. The magical barrier rose behind him, rippling in the air as Sariel circled overhead. The first Templar in the yard stood with his back to him, an old gruff man with a craggy face. Varien thrust the tip of his spear through his neck, severing the spinal column and exiting the esophagus— a single clean stroke. Planting his bare foot on the Templar’s padded back, Varien kicked him forward.

“Rolf!” cried a wide eyed, flaxen haired youth on the training sands.

The Templar stumbled, gurling. His hands clawed at his throat, blood rushing down his neck and collapsed on the green.

One of the girls closest to the wrought iron gate leapt for it. Her hands flashing with the dispelling magic Templars prided themselves on. She lay her hand flat against it, then released. Grabbing the bars, she gave it a hard shake. The gate stood firm. Her eyes widened.

Well, well, there may some life in them after all, his lips twitched.

A step forward and he crossed the courtyard, re-appearing between the trainees practicing sword technique on the sands.

The first boy cried out.

Varien struck him hard across the jaw with the butt of his spear. Leaning back as the second boy lunged, blade sweeping into a downward hew, he rolled around behind him. The boy stumbled. A single, one handed thrust sent the spear point through his chest. Whipping it free, Varien spun his spear round and sent it on an upward diagonal through the first boy’s neck.

Together, they died without a sound.

In a written fight scene, the importance doesn’t lie in being technically accurate. What helps is understanding how the weapon is supposed to work and, as a result, how it moves.

As you see in the example of above, Varien thrusts with the spear but he also utilizes the butt of the spear to strike. Switching up between various angles to strike between the first and second boy. He uses both sides of his weapon. He strikes the first with the butt of his spear to take him out of the fight, gets out of the way of the second boy’s strike, rolls around behind him and kills him with a thrust. Then, we see him switch the spear back over to strike in the other direction.

The danger with a polearm in a fight scene is focusing too much on the spear point and forgetting the shaft. In dueling, the staff is dual sided. We use the tip and the butt with the shaft itself for blocking.

The staff is a dynamic weapon, it moves. Sweeping arcs rolling into thrusts, striking with both sides of the weapon, changing hands, you’ve got a full eight point strike pattern that has the possibility to constantly be in rotation.

The major difference between a spear and a scythe is the spear point utilizes thrusting as the weapon focus while the scythe makes use of a heavier head for slashing (see also: the naginata). Both the spear and the warscythe can cut and thrust, but each has moved toward a single specialty. A weapon’s specialty drives it’s strike patterns, how it moves, and that dictates how we translate it on the page.

The spear wielder is going to stab and the war scythe is going to cut, and both will make use of the basic staff patterns for striking. If they come from the same culture or master’s style then they’ll use the same staff patterns, if they come from different schools then they won’t. What matters for you as the writer is learning how to visualize their move sets so you can choreograph them on the page.

Cut translates into: down, across, diagonal, around, rotate, swing. This is a circular pattern, you’ve got to line up the blade on to the strike, so if you’re going to swing it sideways, the whole weapon must rotate sideways so the blade points at the opponent. One hand guides the weapon, the other yanks back to create leverage for the blow.

Stab translates to: thrust, forward, jab, stab, drive, etc.  You want words that exhibit forward and direct momentum. The attack lines will be direct, and the spear is not going to move much off it’s focal point.

The war scythe is going to make use of leverage while the spear comes at you directly.  If it helps imagine one as a sabre and the other as a rapier. Circular versus direct.

Also, consider the hands. These weapons are both predominately two handed weapons. Though the spear can be used one handed, and it is in some schools of thought.  However, it’s thrusting power is diminished because one arm does not equal two. You can couch it like a lance. One handed will allow for some angles that can’t be reached otherwise. The spear can be dual wielded, but (and this is the big but) if you have trouble imagining one spear in motion then good luck trying it with two. They can also be thrown, but if you throw it remember that needs to be recovered.

We utilize our hands on a staff weapon in a manner similar to the longsword, one hand acts as the guiding hand and the other is the rotational hand or the power hand. With the war scythe, that second hand is going to be important because the second hand is where we get our leverage. Hand position on these weapons is often fluid, you can move up or down. The further from the center of the staff weapon you get, then the more reach you have. There’s also more power in the swing, but you also have slightly less control.

Remember, you can strike to all points of the body so going for the lower body like the feet and the legs are options.

Head (both sides and to), throat, chest, stomach, groin, arms, hands, legs, and feet.

The cross on the spear is just a cross-guard, it keeps whatever you’re poking from climbing up the weapon to reach you. There’s no special move set associated with it, really. A cross-spear won’t over penetrate, and the defensive measure keeps you from losing it in your target.

-Michi

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One versus Group: Writing that Wuxia Action Scene

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, tempo.

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

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

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

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

Hear it.

That’s the sound of a combination.

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

Your opponent flies into their incoming fellow.

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

Elbow crunches. Appropriate scream follows.

Kick them away.

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

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

Say, “Let’s go.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unless we’ve practiced martial arts.

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

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

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

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

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

What?

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

Time, baby. It’s all about time.

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

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

So, there is no one size fits all.

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

“I’m unpredictable.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Michi

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How do roundhouse kicks work? Are they actually combat efficient?

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howtofightwrite:

skypig357:

howtofightwrite:

The roundhouse kick is a common kick seen in street fights, and for this reason lots of counters have been developed for it. So, it does work, it is effective, and easy to do compared to other kicks. It’s powerful (though not as powerful as the sidekick or back kick), but is the riskiest because it’s easy to trap.

Of the four beginning kicks, the roundhouse is the only kick that comes across the body. The others all strike directly. The roundhouse targets the side of the body or enemies in the fighting stance. This is part of what makes the roundhouse more visible than the other kicks. Your peripheral vision is great for noticing motion coming in on the edge of your vision, and circles are eye-catching. The roundhouse kick is an arc. Like all kicks, it’s one big body movement coming at you in flashing neon lights.

As a general rule, kicks are always riskier than punches. They’re reliant on speed and balance, and they come with obvious tells. Still, kicks are much more powerful than a punch, delivering more force at high speeds directly into the body. After all, with more risks come more rewards.

A single well placed kick can end a fight before it begins… if you can land it.

As for whether the roundhouse is combat efficient, that really depends on the individual and how limber they are. Cold kicks will punish you, pull your hamstrings, and wreck your legs if you’re not stretching on the regular. Your success with using kicks in combat is almost entirely dependent on your flexibility. When jumping into straight into a fight, you don’t get a time out for a five to ten minute warm up.

With that covered, let’s get down to the basics for the roundhouse.

The roundhouse is the second kick you’ll learn in most martial arts systems, after the front kick and before the sidekick. It relies on the rotational power of the hips to bring the leg across the body, striking with either the top or the ball of the foot. The attack comes on a diagonal, with points at either the head, stomach/ribs, or (in some variation) the legs/upper thigh. The structure of the roundhouse is as follows:

1) Beginning Stance:

Unlike the front kick which can be done from any forward facing, standing position, the roundhouse requires you be in a fighting stance.

A stance is a basic part of martial arts, but usually skipped over by Hollywood and beginners for strikes. Strikes are the big flashy moves that get attention because they are flashy. As with everything, the building blocks are often skipped.

Stances are what we call your “base” or how you set your body and your feet. Most martial arts disciplines will have a full set of stances from the front stance to the horse stance, and they will be referred to by different names. The fighting stance is easily recognizable. As it is the stance you’ll see everyone drop into on or off screen when they’re getting ready to fight.

The fighting stance is meant for basic defensive positioning, allowing you to move quickly. In Taekwondo, the fighting stance is one foot forward and the other foot is a step behind (about the width of your shoulders) on a diagonal. The back foot twists sideways roughly to a 45 degree angle, the front foot points forward. Your upper body turns on a diagonal following your back foot. Your hands clench to fists, and rise to your face. The hand over the front foot extends out, the other hand hovers beside your cheek. Your elbows come in, just inside the silhouette of your body. Your knees bend. Weight will adjust in a tilt slightly forward or slightly back depending on attack vector. The bouncing seen in sparring tournaments or boxing is meant to cover these weight shifts. In the fighting stance, you should never stand flat footed.

This is the basic protective stance for sparring. The It is more difficult to strike someone when the

Body Reader Note: Elbow, hand, upper body, and feet placement are all dead giveaways when someone doesn’t know what they’re doing. Failure begins with your feet. The hands especially, most beginners do not keep their hands far enough apart, their elbows come out too far from the body. Beginners will often leave the front foot flat on the ground with their weight unbalanced, slowing their reaction time.

On Weight Shifts: Leaning back generally means a kick as the upper body tilts backward
for balance when the leg extends. Forward for hands. Settled on the back
leg can also be a defensive posture, versus weight forward which is
more aggressive. You want to be on the balls of your feet because that means quicker response times.

2) Chamber

The chamber is the intermediary step between the fighting stance and the kick. This is when you lift your leg off the ground with knee bent. The transition between chamber and kick is where most of the classic mistakes happen. You chamber with either the front or back leg. For the roundhouse kick, the foot left on the ground twists on a ninety degree angle. Your foot to your body should form a perfect right angle. (This is why the roundhouse kick is easy, you only shift another forty-five degrees rather than the full 180 for the sidekick.) The knee is on a similar forty-five degree, ready to extend across the body.

The upper body doesn’t move that much with the roundhouse, unlike the sidekick where the whole upper body tilts onto a forty-five as the leg extends. It tilts ever so slightly to retain balance as you kick and your hips twist.

3) The Kick

As I said before, the roundhouse strikes horizontally or diagonally across the body. It is true to its name. It comes around in a circular motion. The leg extends and swings across/through the opponent’s body as the hips simultaneously twist. When done in a simultaneous motion, the supporting foot twists to a ninety degree angle at the same moment the hips turn over. The upper body tilts with the hips. The leg swings through.

If the hips don’t turn over, then the kick is what we call a “snap kick”. In the case of the roundhouse, this is a kick than snaps up off the knee on a forty-five degree diagonal. It is fast but without power, and usually performed with the front leg only.

Power comes from the hips. You can lay in as much speed as you like, but without turnover there’s no power. (Snap kicks find their best use as openers in point sparring.)

The second problem with most kicks is visualization. You don’t stop when you reach the enemy, you kick through them. This carries the impact and force further.

The roundhouse strikes with either the top of the foot or the ball of the foot. Ball of the foot requires you pull your toes back, or else you’ll break them. Top is the speed kick (light, fast), ball is the power kick (can break ribs). Top of the foot is generally only seen in sparring exercises when your feet are protected by pads, but it’s a good option when you’re wearing shoes and your toes can’t bend.

4) Recoil

This is the return to the chamber. After extension finishes, the leg snaps back out of danger. If your opponent doesn’t catch your leg in the moment before the full extension, they can still catch it after the fact. Quick recoil is as essential to a kick’s success as the extension. It’s also necessary to keep us from overextending.

After they’ve mastered the chamber and extension, beginners will often have difficulty with this step. It has all the same problems as the chamber, just going in the opposite direction. A good recoil is a sign of strong control over the leg.

5) Plant

Return to start or prepare for transition into the next kick. The leg comes down, plants itself on the floor, and the fighter is ready to either continue attacking or begin defending.

A poor plant means that you’ve now messed up your fighting stance. If the foot comes down in the wrong place, the stance becomes unbalanced. A stance that is either too wide or two shallow creates opportunities for your opponent to destabilize you and make it difficult to attack again without over extending.

Those are the steps of the roundhouse. Throw them all together and you’ve got the full kick. The roundhouse has a very specific usage in martial arts that makes it valuable. The purpose of the roundhouse is simple: it’s a kick built for striking an enemy who is also in a fighting stance.

When our bodies are turned on a diagonal our vitals are better protected than they are when we’re forward facing. It becomes difficult, or more risky for a direct forward strike to land. The roundhouse attacks in a circle, coming around from the side and on angle. It creates a new vector attack those protected vitals like the stomach.

This is why the roundhouse is a popular kick. It is simple, and effective at ghosting around the first, opening opposition. (It’s also easily blocked with both hands and legs, but that’s a story for another day.) However, this is not why Chuck Norris’ roundhouse became the stuff of legend.

Perhaps more so than the sidekick, the roundhouse is iconic in popular culture.
The roundhouse looks fantastic on film. 

It has a beautiful silhouette, it’s eye catching but also easy to follow. It looks more dynamic than most of the other basic kicks, and it’s simple. An actor you’ve only got three months to train before filming can learn the basics of this kick. They won’t look great, but no one can tell. It doesn’t require the same flexibility as the more advanced kicks like the axe kick. Nor does it require the finesse, balance, or control of the sidekick. It’s the sort of kick where general audiences can’t tell if the practitioner is new or their technique sucks, and blends easily with the stunt doubles. Audiences have a difficult time telling the difference between a kick with power and a kick without power.

The roundhouse is the most common kick seen in taekwondo tournaments, and very common in kickboxing for its speed. It is faster and easier than the front kick and the sidekick due to the twist necessary to throw the leg across the body. With the roundhouse, momentum will do most of the work for you. This is why it’s the most common kick to see untrained fighters attempt to mimic, and why it gets used on the streets.

It can be effective without much training, but that person can be totally screwed when paired against someone who knows what they’re doing. Due to it’s vector, the roundhouse is the easiest kick to catch. Whether it’s caught and hooked under the arm for a knee break or the full thing gets caught and lifted into a throw, it doesn’t matter. A poorly performed or unlucky roundhouse can really screw you over. The other problem is that the circular motion of the roundhouse makes it the least camouflaged by the body and the easiest to see coming.

So, yes, the roundhouse can be combat efficient. They’re also dependent on your ability to follow through the steps on rough terrain where friction is not amenable to foot twists. They come with obvious tells for when the kick is about to happen, and there are a lot of counters developed to deal with them.

Whether coming or going, for one side or the other, the roundhouse has the potential to wreck your day.

 -Michi

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Are you differentiating between a Thai style cut kick and a TKD style? Are you lumping both under roundhouse?

And obviously target selection is huge. Common peroneal thigh vs side of waist, for instance. Or brachial plexus.

Low TKD roundhouse kicks below the belt are usually feints with a switchover to strike high in the same action, they combine into a double kick.

I tend to put the Thai kicks in their own separate category from the general roundhouse because the hip movement (specifically turning over to go downwards instead of lateral, which makes sense given the stabilizing foot stays mostly pointed forward), rotation, foot placement, and points of contact are all different. The Thai cut kick has its own name, it’s separate from the roundhouse though they’re visually similar… I guess? The traditional roundhouse will have difficulty targeting the legs due it’s chamber, which is the Thai kicks’ specialty. I understand the confusion, the snap kick version of the TKD roundhouse that is mostly seen in sparring doesn’t move the front leg much but it also lacks turnover. You lift the knee in a front kick chamber and strike on an upward diagonal rather than horizontal. It’s a point sparring kick rather than a combat kick. Thai kicks can be used at much closer ranges with hip turnover, which you know.

Still, we’re getting into the variant ranges of kicks that are visually similar (I guess?) but very different in execution. There’s more than three different versions of the TKD roundhouse. The one I’m talking about is the roundhouse you see on television, the general roundhouse. This is the basic martial arts roundhouse with slight, minor variations between styles from TKD to Shotokan. It’s going to be the most recognizable to the widest audience.

The Thai kicks are unique, even in comparison to modern kickboxing with the way they move. The major difference between Muay Thai kicks and kicks from other martial styles is the range at which they function, which you know. Thai kicks work in the hand range versus the traditional kick range. Plus, the option to strike with the shin.

Krav Maga is the same way, it’s a different kick.

Muay Thai is a creature all it’s own, and deservedly so. In twenty years (or less) do its proliferation in the West and adoption in MMA/Hollywood, it’s going to have it’s own recognizable and famous version. That’s probably going to be one of the versions of the low kick that utilizes the shin.

Roundhouse tends be used as a catchall for lots of martial arts kicks, including kicks that have nothing to do with each other. I went with the generic. If I was doing the straight TKD kick, I’d mention the variety of different chambers for it depending on stance. I’m going with the one most people outside the martial arts community will be familiar with.

Call it the Chuck Norris roundhouse if it makes you feel better.

-Michi

Got it. I was thinking they were roundhouse kicks, but different variants. Cousins maybe. Both work in similar arcs but with different mechanics. But those different mechanics maid them markedly different kicks.

I’d always been taught there are four kicks – front, side, round and oblique. And lots and lots of flavors of each

Yeah, those are the four basic kicks. (Though some systems just lump the back kick in with the sidekick as a spinning sidekick, the difference depends on the chamber and whether you’re striking with the blade of the foot or the heel.) There’s also the hook kick, the crescent kick (inside and outside), the axe kick, the mule kick, the push kick, and so many others.

The mule kick, for example, might initially look like a back kick because you look over your shoulder and strike with your heel. The difference is in the chamber which looks like a mule or horse preparing to kick backwards. It comes straight back and then drives up into the stomach, more similar to an elbow than a sidekick. The use for the mule kick as a combination kick in TKD is with the front kick. You kick the opponent facing you then, utilizing the momentum of the recoil, swing your leg down straight backward into the mule kick. You do it all in one, singular motion. The kicking leg never touches the ground.

We can’t do this with a back kick. Or, at least, we can’t without readjusting our hip position. The chamber is slightly to the side of our body rather than directly underneath it. The hips still need to turn over. With the mule kick, the hips are in the same position as the front kick. You just roll one into the other.

The push kick sort of looks like the front kick, but the chamber pulls the knee to the chest and then uses the whole foot to push forward. It’s a shove with your foot.

This makes sense when you realize TKD mostly focuses on the feet and legs as the primary weapons rather than the hands. When combat constantly progresses inwards and you’ve got an opponent moving into punching range, you need to force them back to where your kicks are effective.

It’s the opposite of a martial art like Muay Thai where the kicks are all about successfully using powerful legs strikes in close-quarters.

TKD is all about being able transition between and utilize multiple kicks with one leg, sometimes without ever planting between strikes. You can do an entire combination off just your front leg. Begin with an axe kick (top of the head) transitions into a roundhouse (side of the head), which transitions back across into a hook kick (heel strikes the other side of the head) then you can follow up with a more powerful roundhouse off the back leg to the head.

Traditional TKD is the art of how to win slap fights with your feet. It builds off the idea you’re going to be throwing three or four kicks in a row rather than just one. Blocks with your knee transition into kicks with the blocking leg or jump kicks off the back leg. If you come out of a non-kicking tradition then TKD and other martial arts like it are going to be a little weird, confusing, and possibly nonsensical. TKD uses its kicks like a boxer uses a jab. The kicks themselves aren’t finishers, they’re the set up for a powerful final blow. Spin kicks and jump kicks are chancy as hell by themselves, but if you’ve successful destabilized your opponent first then the risk drops. A TKD master should be able to create a 360 degree defense with just their legs.  As a discipline, it’s the “Look, ma! No hands!” of martial arts. 

“Let me feint with a roundhouse to your head, and then switch to a
roundhouse off my back leg while my front leg is still in the air.” 

I know, it sounds utterly ridiculous. If you ever wanted to know why TKD became one of Hollywood’s staples for stunt martial arts or it’s worldwide popularity, it’s due to the fact it is ridiculously fun to watch.

A hook kick with the front leg drops to become a slide sidekick with the front kick, then we roll into a roundhouse with the back leg and from there swing right into a wheel kick. The back leg becomes the front leg, and the front leg becomes the new power leg on the spin. ((If any of our followers are wondering, this is where most fictional fight scenes involving kicks fail. The author doesn’t understand kicks or their transitions well enough to make sense of the chain.))

For you writers, this is what I mean by thinking with your feet: front leg/lead leg roundhouse into a hook kick into a slide sidekick then into a running jump sidekick. ((If you missed it, that’s an entire combination on one leg.)) You lead with your feet, rather than your hands. We go feet first. Or, from a basic standing position, front kick into a popup jump front kick. The standing front kick steps forward into the fighting stance, from the fighting stance we with jump with both legs to pop up. The back leg switches, chambers, and strikes with a front kick. Then our leg tucks in recoil and we land back in a fighting stance, what was once our back leg becomes the new front leg.

Popup jump kicks are done from a standing position. You jump off both legs, and then your legs switch midair.

This is what makes the popup different from the standard pump with the front leg and jump off the back leg in a regular jump kick. If that wasn’t enough in the way of fun, popups can be done together quickly in combination. They just switch back and forth between legs.

Pop. Pop. Pop.

Lots of these kicks are referred to by different names in different systems or even within the same system but different schools. What differentiates kicks into their own family is basically hip position, strike vectors, and points of impact.

If anyone is wondering why I’m continuing this discussion it’s because I love talking about TKD kicks and what we can do with them.

I’m a huge nerd, and they’re so much fun.

-Michi

So I’m going to write this character who grew up for a major part of her young life in a fighting pit without an arm, she mainly relied on the “that girl without an arm can’t be a threat” and then beat their butts when their backs were turned, and I’d like her to be able to wield a sword and shield, and I’m trying to work out the logistics of that, like would it make sense for her to have a piece of wood attached to her stump to better support the shield and stuff, or am I wrong?

lillybean730:

promptsblog:

So I’ve kept this in my askbox for a while because I’m not sure how to respond to it. I give prompts and some writing advice on this blog.  This question is way outside my limited expertise. I’ll throw it out there in case someone has an answer.

@howtofightwrite this might be up your alley

So, one armed fighters.

We’ve brought up Nick Newell before who is a professional UFC fighter who was born with a congenital amputation of his left arm. The difference between him and this character is he’s not missing his arm, it ends at his elbow. He uses his left arm as a way to provide holds and pressure when grappling that make it almost impossible to escape from due to him not having a full sized arm.

There’s also
Gottfried “Götz” von Berlichingen (1480 – 23 July 1562)

otherwise known as
Götz

of the Iron Hand. He was a mercenary who lost about as much of his arm as Nick Newell in battle and replaced it with an iron prosthesis that he used in combat. He held the sword with his prosthetic and used the shield in his left hand. (He could even write with his second prosthetic. Yes, with a quill.) This guy was real, successful, badass, and died of old age. I’d read his bio. He’s an awesome bit of history.

However, when looking to write a character with any disability (whether physical or mental) it is important to not imagine them performing the exact same way as everyone else (otherwise called full-bodied, able-bodied). You’ve got to write from the perspective of someone who has a disability, who is missing their arm. They’ve got to come up with new ways to fight that work for them rather than trying to force them to fight like someone who has two working arms. It is absolutely possible for your character to fight professionally and be very successful at it, but she will do it her own way.

Look at two examples above, these are men who turned their disabilities from what most people would consider detriments into assets. By coming up with unique solutions suitable for them, their approach to combat became extremely difficult for others to counter.

In the grapple, Newell can apply pressure on angles that cannot be gotten to.

Götz figured out how to use his sword in battle without wrist movement. Think about that. That’s incredible.

Unless we’re dealing with futuristic (or even just modern) tech, there’s no way for this character, who is poor and a child, living in a pit to rig up a full prosthetic that functions to the same degree as an arm. And, who else would pay for someone to create it? Their manager has other mouths to feed.

They don’t need that second arm to sword fight. They’ll just use one of the many swords meant to be wielded one handed. They’re going to learn how to fight without that second arm.

The problem is you’re coming at this from the perspective of what you want then trying to jury rig to it instead of from the perspective of what would make sense to this character and what they would choose for themselves. This is usually the major failure of any able-bodied person writing a disabled character: you don’t think the way they do.

They are a character who has grown up without a second arm. A second arm is what other people have, it is not part of their regular life. They’ve learned to live without it. They’ve had to. Everything you think about doing with two arms or hands, they do with one. In training, they’d simply learn to compensate for that arm not being there. They also don’t have to worry about it or defend it when it combat, opening them up to potentially being more aggressive.

There’s also a high likelihood she’d use her feet a lot more.

This is the “not a martial artist” problem. Most people who’ve never done martial arts only consider two limbs, they don’t think of all four (and the head).

Then, there’s the fact she’s a child. Children fighting adults are automatically at a disadvantage. It is one hell of a gap, one she’ll need to be very quick and aggressive about overcoming. (I won’t ask why she’s not fighting in her age group. Take them by surprise works more reliably on children and young teens than seasoned adults.)

So, as a treatment, we’ve got a hyper-aggressive child combatant who wields a sword and uses their feet via kicks and footwork to make up the difference. They’ll have spent a lot of time learning counters to attacks focused on the side of their body without an arm. (If you want common tactics, the perceived area of weakness is where the initial attacks will be focused. That is the behavior this girl will turn to her advantage.)

You’ve got to learn how to re-examine and see the world from their perspective, just like you would if you were writing someone from another culture or ethnic background.

Lastly, I know gladiatorial arenas are popular as a place for characters to get their fighting chops but here’s the thing:

They’re a business.

Assume for a moment this is a fantasy setting that is following a medieval or roman archetype. For someone to be a functional pit fighter, you’ve got to feed them, clothe them, board them for years. You’ve gotta invest in them and it will be years before you see a return on that investment.

So, say your city is dystopic fantasy like Lankhmar from Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. You’ve got an entire city of urchins and orphans to pick from when yanking kids out of the gutter to stick in an arena, so why her? This may sound cruel, but think about it from the perspective of an investor. Why do you pick the girl with one arm versus the girl who still has both but is missing an eye or the kid you just caught trying to pick your pocket?

The truth is (this is where we come back to Nick Newell) it is really hard to stage fights against someone with one arm.

For the other competitor, either they just got beat up by someone with one arm or the fighter with one arm has demonstrated that they’re better than someone with two. (This is the reason why Nick Newell had difficulty getting fights in the UFC, after the years he spent trying to convince multiple gyms to take him on before locating one that would.)

From a business perspective, matching anyone against her is a lose/lose for them. For the competitor, for their manager, and possibly for the arena itself.

Pit fighting is entertainment. All gladiatorial combat, all bloodsport is entertainment. That is its primary purpose and why it exists. If the fight is not entertaining to the audience then it is worthless. If the fighter does not make money, they are worthless. Like all entertainment, there’s a threshold of cruelty the audience doesn’t want to see.

They aren’t going to want to see an able-bodied adult (especially male) beating up a one armed girl. There’s nothing fun about watching that. There’s nothing fun about betting on that. If there’s no audience for it, she has no career and they kick her out of the pit. Any experienced professional would know that going in, you’d need another character who overcame their own good business sense in order to give her a chance.

This kind of manager character will fly directly in the face of your Dickensian fantasy of the self-made little urchin girl who overcame the ills and evils of the world.

Now, Newell did manage to get fights but it took him awhile. He was a great fighter. He met a
lot of other fighters who considered their careers and said no. They
didn’t want to fight him.

The problem is entertainment sports are not about ability, they are about image.

There is a real reason why the UFC is not booking female fighters versus male fighters. They could, but they won’t. Not because a woman couldn’t fight a man or potentially win, but because it’d be a lose/lose for everyone involved. It’d be a lose for the male competitor if he lost to the woman or won against her (he needs to think about his career), it’d be a lose for the woman because if she lost then she’d confirm gender stereotypes and if she won then she couldn’t go back to women’s league. Both their salaries and winnings are paid for by the people who come to their next fight.

Bare-knuckle boxing in the 19th century had female fighters, they fought men, they fought women, they fought everyone. They were adults not kids, and this was backdoor street fighting rather than organized gladiatorial business with promotion.

There were female gladiators in Rome. On a business level, Roman gladiators worked in a manner very similar to modern boxing and the UFC.

In fantasy we’ve got our Gurney Hallack’s and our Feyd Rautha’s.

None of this means this character you’ve created can’t have a career, it just means that you as the author needs to sit down and figure out what your in setting audience considers entertaining, will put down money for, gamble on, and wants to see.

This is going to take some legwork on your part.

None of this is to say this female character can’t become a pit fighter or is invalid or the story idea stupid, it just means there are considerations to make from a setting perspective outside the character herself.

You’ve got to think from the perspective of the people who took her on, their needs, their wants, their desires, and what they saw in her that made them go “yeah, this one works for me.”

If you had any dreams about an angst filled romp where this character was forced into this life and didn’t want to be there then I’ve got some bad news. In the world of professional fighting, if you do not figure out some reason to fight then your career will be short and end swiftly. It may simply be the three square meals a day and the safe-ish place to sleep at night.

The people who are successful at bloodsport are the ones who dedicate themselves to it. This is especially true for women in a sexist environment, where everyone is telling them, “no, this isn’t for you. No, you can’t do it.” If you’ve got a woman breaking barriers then its due to her sticking a big, fat middle finger in society’s face.

Here’s some things to consider:

1) Unless these fighters are coming out of extreme isolation where they hear nothing about the outside world, “that girl without an arm can’t be a threat” is a mistake that’ll be made once. It is not persistent, and it is not an advantage after the first victory. Once she proves herself, they will begin looking for new ways to defeat her. A snake lying still only gets a surprise on their first strike.

2) Don’t assume she’ll get special treatment because she’s female or underestimated because of her gender. Female fighters aren’t rare or special. If you haven’t considered other women in the pit, you may want to redraft. If they’ll pull one girl, they’ll pull more. (A little girl with one arm isn’t going to be anyone’s first choice. So, where are the others who came before her?)

3) There are plenty of men who won’t care she’s a little girl and fight her seriously. Men aren’t stupid. Gender and a disability are not the advantage you think they are. Whatever advantage in expectation they might’ve brought will die on the table very quickly and you’ll never see it from the skilled professionals. Once they realize she’s dangerous, the gloves come off. (This is especially true if their life is on the line.)

4) If she’s pit fighting, she’s not the only fighter missing a limb. So, don’t treat her as a unique snowflake no one’s ever seen before. If they’re fighting with edged weapons then losing limbs will be fairly common.

5) Pit fighting, like any form of gladiatorial sport, is entertainment. Historically, bloodsport is connected to gambling and has more in common with cinema than an actual battlefield.

6) If you’ve got a pit where the star performers are getting killed, where are they getting the replacements from? (And why are they killing them in the first place? That’s bad business. It was actually uncommon in Rome for gladiators to die in the arena, especially popular ones with fans. Oh, did they have fans… and advertising gigs. Why kill your investment?)

7) The goal of a business is to make money. A pit is a sizeable operation that takes a lot of money to keep it going. Even if everything is above board rather than illegal, you’ve still got to have a lot of people on payroll beyond what your fighters cost (whether they’re free or slaves, you have to put money into them). You need to secure money somehow. Whether that’s gambling, wealthy patrons, or prostituting your fighters out to women and men who’ll pay for an hour in the sack, it doesn’t matter. (Rome did all three.) Figure out the economics.

8) A character who trains to fight in bloodsport is not comparable to a trained soldier. They have different motivations and different needs. Don’t assume one is the other.

Give Gladiator a re-watch if you haven’t already, it is surprisingly accurate to history and what you should be considering when setting up any kind of professional bloodsport or arena.

Also Spartacus, and if you’re over eighteen Spartacus: Blood and Sand.

The UFC’s reality TV show The Ultimate Fighter is probably worth a look for research purposes, also great for character reference as there’s a lot of professional fighters and wannabes training to become professionals. It is a reality tv show though, so keep that in mind.

There’s also the history of various fighting sports from all over the world from muay thai to to sumo to pankration to sambo. That’ll help you too when it comes to imagining other fighter types.

We have tags for gladiators and bloodsports.

Good luck.

-Michi

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