Tag Archives: fightwrite answers

when would the person who isn’t a trained fighter win against a trained one?

Shotgun. When they bring eight or nine of their friends along to help. When they start by running somebody down with a car. The action needs to be premeditated for them to carry it off successfully. If they are within grabbing distance and they don’t have the advantage of some kind of weapon (a gun), they’re pretty screwed. It’s important to remember that while most trained combatants can stop a crowbar and they can definitely stop a baseball bat (weight distribution on the baseball bat makes it very easy to block), they’ll have a hard time stopping a bullet. This is actually part of the reason why some self-defense experts suggest keeping a gun in the home in the case of home invasion.

Anyway the break down is: numbers and superior force (gun or car or something similar). In the case of a medieval era, a horse will work if your character knows how to ride.

-Starke

i literally love your blog and your posts because they’re so detailed~! and esp the ones regarding female fighters. coming from a bit of martial arts background myself, and being a girl, i fully appreciate everything you’re saying because i’ve felt/encountered a lot of it, i and hope more people pay attention to those points you’ve made! so, yeah, all in all, this is fabulous, and i’m definitely going to reblog a lot.

Thank you so much!

I spend a lot of time having to work back from what was normal for me growing up and what isn’t common knowledge for most people. Then, it has to get translated into an explanation that’s easy for someone without the background to understand. I’ll be honest, until we did the street fighting post, I had no idea what an untrained fighter looked like. For my entire MA experience, I’ve always been surrounded by people who knew what they’re doing. Starke’s helpful for that though, he’s spent a lot of time around people who don’t. We had several long conversations that involved me going “people really do that? Why? …wow…that’s embarrassing…”. And then I had to go to YouTube to look at the homemade street fighting videos and I was all…WTF is that?

So, I’m glad the stuff we’re putting up is helping. Us female martial artists have to stick together!

-Michi

how does a person fight if they are only depending on instincts? no training, not even a fighter, just a person trying to defend themselves from harm.

It sounds cruel to say this, but essentially? They flail.

Unless they’ve been raised in a cave, they’ll be affected on some level by what they’ve seen work around them, be that the local militia or television. There’s going to be a fair amount of hair grabbing, if their opponent’s hair is long. They’ll push at their opponent, though if their opponent is larger it’s not going to do them much good. An untrained person, for the most part, is at the mercy of someone larger and heavier. They just don’t know what to do with the weight and it’ll crush them. They’ll flail against it, but again, they won’t know how to do harm so the lasting damage they can put out is minimal.

They’ll smack at them, either with slaps or some variation of closed fists, but they’ll be using their upper body, for the most part only their arms and shoulders. Which, again, won’t do them much good. They’ll go down, usually on the first or second solid hit.

Human instincts are shit on their own, I’m sorry. A human gets caught between their fight or flight response and usually against a tougher opponent, their first instinct is going to be “huddle up in a small ball and wait for it to be over”. This is true of both men and women, by the way. There is no magical genome in the human body, buried in our ancestral memories that can tell us how to save ourselves in a bad situation.

I don’t know if that helps.

-Michi

hi, i just read your post on archery, and i was wondering if you had any advice for writing a scene where someone gets stabbed with an arrow?

Stabbing someone with an arrow is actually a lot harder than it sounds. Consider this: arrows are made to be aerodynamic, not to give you a good grip. So, for a character attempting to stab someone with an arrow, they’ll find that they’re hand is constantly slipping down the shaft. This makes penetration, even into the soft parts of the body, incredibly difficult. You need a good grip to get the stabbing part down, so they have to go hard, fast, and with absolutely zero hesitation on the part of the wielder. You need a lot of force to get an arrow to penetrate and it should go somewhere soft and unprotected like the eye or into the throat.

That said, it isn’t impossible. What is impossible is actually firing the arrow afterwards, because your character is going to damage it no matter what they try.

I hope that helps!

-Starke and Michi

Do you have any insight on the use of a spear or pike in battle?

We got this ask earlier (it’s the first one under the tag: obsidianmichi answers) so if you want to look that up, it’ll give you more insight. My answer is: yes, a little, but most of what I’ve been trained in is basic staff fighting, which is essentially the spear without the pointy-end. We’ll probably be doing a write up on it soon, like we did with archery.

Like the bow, the spear is one of the oldest weapons in existence. Just about every culture at one point in history or another has used the spear in battle, but since you mentioned the pike, I’m guessing you mean combat in medieval Europe. There’s a huge difference in style between Europe and China, for example. The Greeks also made great use of the spear (for it’s greater length) as a primary weapon.

The question is though, do you want to know how the spear was used tactically in battle by footmen in mass numbers or in single combat?

The answer to that question is actually very different, because in tight quarters the best use for the spear is to point it at an incoming opponent and make use of the weapon’s greater length such as against cavalry. The pike was a primary defense against cavalry (examples of massed pikemen are the Orcs versus Rohan Cavalry in Lord of the Rings), where it was used as stopping power against incoming horses. The spear was a common weapon because it’s easier to train someone on than a sword and is cheaper to produce.

In single combat a spear, particularly one made entirely of metal like some in China, has a greater reach than a sword and it can attack from the front (the pointy-end), it can sweep across from side to side, and switch to the back (the butt) to create a very fluid defense. The wielder has fewer worries about dulling the weapon because only the tip is sharp and a very solid wooden staff, such as the quarter-staff can actually withstand a slashing attack by a sword.

The spear can also be used in conjunction with a shield like the Greeks did, but that ends back up in the realm of basic stabbing and a frontal assault.

The only thing spears aren’t really good for is throwing, but that’s just because you have now lost your spear and need to go retrieve it if you wish to continue fighting.

The spear is a dynamic weapon, all you need to do is pick what culture, region, and historical period you want to begin your search and you’ll find a huge amount of data to sift through.

-Michi

Same anon* Also spears… I’m writing a fantasy story, and I’m getting most of the other weapons down, but the spear is aggravating me and how it should be used. This ask is slightly more important x)

We’re doing a post on the bow for another anon. We’ll be putting that one up tomorrow. The twin daggers? You might have to content yourself with general knife fighting when doing your research, we can do a post on that. But to start with, I really recommend taking a look at Michael Janich’s videos Stay Safe Media over on YouTube. He talks Self-Defense training, but his style is focused on defending yourself with a knife and what you can do with it. It’s helpful because if you are starting with nothing, it can be a difficult weapon to grasp.

The spear is actually pretty easy once you get the hang of it. It was a very common weapon among troops during the medieval period because 1) it was easier for the pole men to learn than a sword or a bow, swords were more of a status symbol anyway in both Europe and Japan. 2) It was exceptionally useful for taking on cavalry. The Greeks, the Romans, and the Chinese all made good use of the spear and their styles are all pretty different. Also, keep in mind that spears are cheaper to mass produce than a sword because of the higher wood to metal ratio.

So, how do you work with a spear? Start by studying up on basic staff fighting (none-pointy end variety), staff fighting and spear fighting are essentially the same thing because it’s the same weapon with a tip added on the end. I say this because when we stop and look at staff fighting, it’ll give you a better idea of the spear’s defensive capabilities as well as it’s offensive.

Here are some basic strikes:

The basic staff strikes create an X in front of the body. The first strike goes high to the temple or the neck with the top part of the staff, the second strikes low to the thigh or the knee, now the top of the spear is back beside it’s user’s face, it’s come across the body. The top beside the face, now strikes downwards to the opponent’s other thigh, switching the position of the hands, the character strikes again with the bottom part of the spear to the other side of the face or neck. Then, they reset and start all over again.

The other three are: straight forward into the gut or chest (where the spear aspect becomes relevant), straight downwards from above to the head, or flipping the bottom of the staff up to strike between the legs to the groin region.

The staff can be difficult for writers to grasp because it’s a dynamic weapon that strikes with both ends as easily as it defends and there aren’t a lot of good examples of staff/spear in fiction compared to the other more (not really) flashy (romantic) weapons.

I have some basic training in both basic staff and Wushu styles. This is why I recommend sticking with basic European styles before trying the swirly ones, they’re a little more complicated and harder to pull off in a fiction context.

A good source to turn to for examples in fiction is:

The Protector of the Small series by Tamora Pierce. She goes into a great deal of information on the staff as a basic weapon with her protagonist preferring it as a primary. It has the added bonus of training sequences too, which will help you with things to think about.

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) with Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland for the fight sequence between Little John and Robin Hood on the bridge.

-Michi

One of my MCs needs to train a large group of people how to fight. The story is set in the future, where there’s no divided military force — it’s all one force, and the MC is a twenty-four year old military prodigy. He’s also 6’5 and about 220 pounds, while the people he’s teaching are mostly poor, starving, and untrained except for maybe the occasional street fight. He doesn’t have any resources except for those available in a city setting. What styles would he know, and what should he teach?

Starke:

Let’s start with your character’s background: “Prodigies” don’t generally go over well with military bureaucracies. Fundamentally, militaries tend to be insular. They dislike people coming in and telling them they need to do something different and there’s a real tradition of, “it was good enough for me, in my day, so it’s good enough for the boys,” mentality. Officers that step out of line from that have a habit of getting sidelined, decommissioned, and in some cases even court martialed.

So, here’s a question: is your character a prodigy in the sense that they’re racing up the chain of command or are they a prodigy in the sense that they’re a maverick thinker? Remember, these are mutually exclusive choices. Below is a discussion of both, so think them through before you pick. (If you haven’t already)

If your character is racing through the chain of command, then they will have an inflexible outlook. Their primary objective will be training their troops in what they were trained to do, in the exact same way they were trained, or (at the very least) as close as they can get to what their instructors taught them.

This means, for the inflexible soldier, that we’re talking training on rifles and shotguns, basic military hand to hand, knife-work, bayonets, and urban combat. Yes, the American Military still drills in bayonet charges even though the last time they actually used a bayonet charge was in 1896. Militaries change slowly, glacially slowly, they continue to add new techniques but retain a heavy focus on what worked in the past as I mentioned above. Unless your character has a background in other types of training (which is very unlikely given their age), they won’t be training snipers or any of the other stealth focused specialists. They’ll stick to the basics of what they know will work and what they’re comfortable with.

If they’re a maverick thinker, then you’re going to need to decide where their prodigious skill is. In an excessive oversimplification, pick between: strategy, tactics, operations or logistics. You’re looking at creating a commander, not a specialist, so making them really good at hand-to-hand or specific weaponry is out. I mean that.

Strategy is your goal (likely). If your character is trying to hold a city against an invading force, then their strategy might be fortification and entrenchment, luring the invading force in and exploiting the environment, or some other method. Remember, strategists use others to do their fighting for them. They are more valuable off the battlefield than on and rely on others to command small groups away from home. If you’re looking to create a “Leader of Men” in the sense of your character leading them onto the battlefield, then the strategist is out. (Michi Note: an example of good strategists in fiction is John Sheridan from Babylon 5)

Operations covers the smaller steps necessary to realize a strategy. If the goal is to fortify the city, then operations will cover getting the building materials, taking and holding areas that are vital to keeping control of the city, or protecting the civilian population. They are good at conservation, leadership, social interaction, managing bureaucracy, and the distribution of manpower for both non-combat and combat. An Operations specialist can fight, but like the strategist they are more useful off the battlefield than they are on it. (Michi Note: an example of good operations specialists is Keladry of Mindelan from the Protector of the Small series by Tamora Pierce, especially in Lady Knight.)

Tactics are the front line decisions. “Take that building,” “get some suppressing fire over there,” “take out that armor,” and so on. This is a character that is good for leading small guerrilla units and planning around single action events, they aren’t great at seeing the long game but they’re needed on the front lines instead of at the rear. They are excellent at working with a small fighting force and seeing the openings the enemy leaves or managing openings created on the battlefield. If you choose tactics specialist, remember that you’re going to have to create other characters who can manage the responsibilities behind the lines while he’s off fighting. Tactics specialists are good at leading small units, not large ones. (Michi Note: Really good tactics specialists are hard to find in fiction because they are harder to write, it’s easy to dumb it down or confuse it with strategy. Sam and Fiona from Burn Notice are both tacticians and very different kinds, so you can see the difference between a military approach and a more guerrilla fighting style, compare with Michael Westen, who is a strategist.)

Logistics is all about procuring the resources you need to continue fighting. Usually this is involves locating, scavenging, and wrangling from a variety of sources the food, munitions, and other equipment your soldiers need. Unlike the other three, this is something a lot of officers pawn off onto subordinates, so it’s possible your character has no real familiarity with it. Logistics could be his weakness, in fact, and that’s something to keep in mind. That said, given the way the military treats people who don’t fall into line or exhibit an annoyingly unusual level of skill, it’s not unreasonable for your character to have been shuffled into logistics as a punishment. Remember, the military punishes individuality and exceptionalism. It does so quickly, efficiently, and with a surprising amount of viciousness. A character skilled in logistics will often be cunning, good with money and resource management, must have good social skills, and a surprising knowledge of the underlying idiosyncrasies to running a military force that most of the other specialists may overlook because these things were always provided for them. Like the strategist and the operations specialist they will be most useful behind the lines. (Michi Note: because authors often overlook the importance of logistics, there aren’t a lot of good examples. One though is Radar from M.A.S.H.)

With a younger prodigy, you’re actually restricting yourself quite a bit compared to an older, more seasoned officer in their thirties or forties. The older officer has had the necessary time to pick up some unorthodox approaches to all of these areas, while a prodigy needs to focus. We often ignore the value of experience in our culture, but youth and talent are not equal to age, skill, and a knowledge of fighting gained through real world practice. Remember, an older soldier has had time to practice and hone a wide variety of skills, while a young officer, even a seasoned one, will have had to focus their training on a single point. Talent means nothing against practice and command experience.

For looking at writing an unconventional military officer, I’d suggest the Ciaphas Cain: Hero of the Imperium novels by Sandy Mitchell and Seasons 2-4 of Babylon 5 (Michi Note: Skip 1 as it has a different main protagonist). In particular the early Cain novels can teach you a lot about leadership in combat as well as some basic social engineering and management of interpersonal conflicts within the regiment.

Now, I’m going to cover some other possible backgrounds, just to explain what they are and what they represent.

Military Intelligence: this one might sound cool in theory, but these guys aren’t military spies. There are no James Bond’s to be had here, this is strictly a desk job. The reality is that Intelligence Officers work to collect and analyze any information they can get from a very safe space behind enemy lines. They have no authority or influence over combat, beyond what they can decode, and have no say in how that information is used. They also have no experience in using it. (Michi Note: This is not the droid you’re looking for.)

Special Forces: Again, cool in theory, but in reality they’re not really that useful from a character building perspective. Special Forces Operators are just troops with very specialized training. So all you actually get is a flag to say how cool, special, and badass your character is, without actually giving them any useful combat skills, tactical skills, or leadership skills. They’re really good at being set on a target (by someone else) and killing it.  That’s about it. There’s nothing here that you won’t get normally by saying the character is ex-military, from a story standpoint, Special Forces protagonists are pretty worthless. (Michi Note: They are also overused as fuck, please do yourself a favor and avoid the cliché.)

Michi:

Again, your character is going to be training his forces in basic hand to hand and rifles (not handguns) or shotguns because of the ease at which they will learn the skills quickly. Military training is all about providing simple, practical, easy to use skills that can be learned within a few weeks or months instead of years. For an example: take a look at the Marine M.A.P. episode from the now defunct Human Weapon, (you can find full episodes of the show on YouTube) there’s some really good information to be had there as Marine trainers show some basic techniques that will be pretty easy for you to write, along with some basic military history and the general attitudes of the military in general and military training in particular. Explore the history of the Military, with a focus on military tactics versus guerilla warfare; much of what you want to work with already exists in the history books. I would suggest a focus on both the Army and the Marines for your character.

It’s also important to remember that just because your character is skilled at one aspect of military life, doesn’t mean they’ll A) be good at everything and B) good at instructing. Define early, for yourself, what his weaknesses are so that you can challenge him with them. Remember, training isn’t about height or weight; it’s about being able to convey information clearly and concisely to others. A good teacher keeps their focus on their trainees and off of themselves.

Characters that have come out of the military are defined by their need for structure, unity, and discipline. This puts them at odds (even today) with civilians, who value freedom and individuality over conformity. You have a great opportunity for tension in the ranks present in your story simply from the difference in background and outlook. Keep in mind that a character who has been constantly punished for his individuality by his superiors will be less likely to give up the structure to which he has become accustomed. If he’s a career officer then his time in the Military defines who he is and how he sees the world. If he’s leading a resistance then a part of him will be at odds with his own training, thus creating internal tension. These decisions are never easy and thus it’s your responsibility to him to make it not seem so. Many people, especially exceptional ones, join the Military because they believe in the message, the system, and the cause. It’s hard to give up those beliefs, even in the face of overwhelming evidence. (Again, we both suggest Seasons 2-4 of Babylon 5 as required viewing for dealing with military officers who turn against their own out of a desire to uphold the morals they’ve been sworn to protect.)

I think this covers your question, but if we’ve missed anything feel free to remind us. As always, our ask box is always open. Happy writing!

Love this blog, realistic fighting is one thing you can’t get a feel for from research. Do you have any recommendations for things to keep in mind when two people are fighting as a team against several bad guys? Assuming the two train together and fight together fairly often.

The tactics will change substantially between characters and situation depending on whether or not they’re carrying guns or were trained in a military context. I say military over police or FBI because the military training is all about protecting, defending, and attacking as a unit, not as an individual. Since yours are probably not and I’m guessing you mean hand to hand, I’ll give my advice from that outlook.

Assuming your two characters view each other as evenly matched (and one won’t try to take the brunt of the opposing force on their own), they’re more likely to know each others weaknesses and trust in each others strengths. There will be a level of trust there that will for the most part ensure that they won’t get in each others way.

And while fighting back to back sounds good in theory (it looks great in a movie!) but in a group, it’s terrible. Because of the amount of pushing and jostling that goes on and because standing still is an unbelievably bad idea (unless you’re an Aikido or Tai Chi practioner), they’re more likely to split a group of enemies up evenly by pulling them off in different directions and fighting alone. This way, they’ll be free to drag their own opponents into each other without having to worry about screwing over their partner by accident (and accidents always happen). Remember, in hand to hand, a character can only really reliably fight one opponent at a time, so when fighting against groups, it’s a lot of bouncing around trying to get their opponents to hit each other instead of them, so they can conserve energy.

It also gives you the opportunity to build in narrative tension if there’s an uneven number of opponents, if the opponents in one fight are more coordinated than usual and refuse to be baited from going after their primary target, and things start going south. Remember, bad guys, even one-off ones are people too and some of them also have a history of fighting together. You can get a lot with just a little work on random mook motivation.

As with anything, the more opponents there are, the greater the chance for failure. To stay realistic, try to keep it between four or six (two and three per fighter). Finally, it’s important to keep in mind in fights that things always go wrong or in an unexpected direction on some level for both parties. The personalities of your characters and their own fighting outlook will affect the fight just as much as their technique. A good fighter doesn’t play around with their opponent, but a lot do anyway.

I love your blog!!! I’m writing a spy fiction novel which requires a lot of details on combat and training – I’m planning to have weapons and also physical combat. Seeing as I know nothing of it, this blog is literally saving my life. THANK YOU SO MUCH!

You’re very welcome!

Starke and I are going to do some write ups on spies vs. assassins and spies in particular soon (ish?), we’ve got a lot of stuff we’re putting together. But in the mean time, let me direct you to some helpful media that’s both very informative when it comes to talking about what a spy is, because the way most folks (even really good writers) approach them in fiction is completely wrongheaded.

Spies are all about social engineering over combat, though they do have training, if a spy is forced to fight it usually means something has gone very wrong and shit has hit the fan. Here are some examples that I’ve personally found really useful for distinguishing the difference between a spy versus an assassin. For reference, James Bond and Movie!Bourne both fall into the assassin category.

Burn Notice, (2007-Current) The story of burned spy Michael Westin as he tries to survive in Miami and uncover who burned him, he helps down on their luck people on the side. The latest few seasons are kinda meh but the first two are an absolute must watch, Westin’s internal monologue makes the show pretty much an example of “How To Be A Spy”. It has the added bonus of all the advice being practical and all the devices working because they tested all of it. Some of the bomb stuff is wrong (chemicals mostly), but that’s to be expected. If you take a look at nothing else (or can’t find them) on this list, look into this one. (It’s also really good!)

Spy Game (2001) with Brad Pitt and Robert Redford. Half the movie is Redford’s character flashing back to training Brad Pitt’s character on how to be a spy (very useful and good information), the rest is him working using a variety of bluffing and social engineering techniques to secure the same character’s release from a Chinese prison without ever leaving his office. It’s worth a look on that alone, the training examples are also incredibly useful.

Queen & Country – This comic book gem by Greg Rucka is based, somewhat on Sandbaggers a British television show from the seventies (also on the list). It’s one of the only books I’ve ever come across with a realistic and believable female spy as it’s central protagonist (as opposed to non-believable and non-realistic). It’s also a good example of how intelligence gathering functions and how British spies work in particular.

Sandbaggers (1978) This British television show is going to be harder to find, but not impossible. It’s good to look at, not just for field agents, but also their minders and how spies are often caught up with their own country’s internal politics and bureaucracy. It’s a precarious balance between duty to their charges and their responsibility to their superiors and the good of their country. Even if this isn’t the central tenant to what you’re thinking about doing, it can be a great reference for creating background characters and tensions.

The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum. The book, not the movie, where Jason Bourne is an amnesiac spy trying to convince everyone that he is an assassin in order to fulfill a mission he barely remembers in an attempt to uncover his past. It has some great stuff on how spies behave, social engineering, and a really solid female supporting character who is much more than just a love interest. (Marie rocks.)

Starke would probably have some more suggestions but he’s sleeping, if you need more information, our askbox is always open.

Some contrary examples for assassins:

Collateral (2004) with Jamie Foxx and Tom Cruise. A cab driver is held hostage by a contract killer and forced to drive him around Los Angeles for a night. To get into the role, Cruise dressed in a FedEx/ UPS/Mail Order uniform and went around town delivering packages in an effort to get into character and see if most people really didn’t look past the uniform. None of them did.

Spartan (2004) with Val Kilmer, watch it. The investigation into a the kidnapping of the daughter of a high ranking government official. It’s got some good info and is great for comparison to the spies.

The Bourne Movies with Matt Damon. He’s an assassin and the movies are a little boring but it’s good for reference and he does some good work here and there with his avoiding detection.

Some Examples I’m not sure on, but you should watch anyway:

Ronin (1998) with Robert DeNiro and Jean Reno, a freelancing former U.S. Intelligence agent is trying to track down a package wanted by both the Irish and the Russians. This is another great example of social engineering and it’s a great movie!

I hope any and all of this turns out to be useful and happy writing!

I’m the anon asking about the character who lived the majority of his life in South America. I forgot to mention that he lived a large chunk of his life in poor areas, frequently moving due to trouble his family would get into, and so there were times were he lived in the streets.

The two most major Brazilian MAs I know of are Capoeira, a martial art that is descended from Africa and was created by the slaves as a method to retain their fighting traditions by hiding them as a form of dance, the other is Brazilian Jiu-jutsu, as you mentioned. I think the most important thing to remember about all traditional MAs is that they take time to learn, if your character moved around a lot then he would constantly have to be finding new schools and instructors to train him. He most likely would spend a good portion of his time covering the basics that he already knew as the instructors established for themselves what he already knows and what he doesn’t. His skill would be decided mostly by how much time he spent training outside of lessons. Also, remember that MA training through a professional school can be both expensive and time consuming, expect the lessons to take up a half hour to an hour of his time no less than three to five times per week on regular intervals. If he is trained by a specific instructor on a personal basis, then it could be a lot more. If he is trained by his parents (the easiest under the circumstances) it may be his whole life like a lot of the kids I knew whose parents were instructors.

Decide this for yourself.

If he lives on the streets and you want a martial art that is specifically Brazilian, I’d suggest Capoeira. It involves dancing, tumbling, and other exercises that make it more of a stealth MA and he could make money off his skills as a street performer. It is a very unique style, however, so make sure you’re comfortable with writing it.

Other than that, it may be he picked up his skills from a non-professional source such as the local gangs and other forms of general street fighting. A character can still be an effective fighter from a non-traditional background, especially if he’s fighting other non-professionally trained combatants. It’s only when we get into it with professionals (of varying degrees of efficiency) that the shit really starts to hit the fan.

I hope this helps!