Tag Archives: hair

You once said no loose braids for fighting. In a series by Tamora Pierce, the Beka Cooper series, the titular character uses a loose braid but she braids a spiked strap into it so whoever grabs it would get a nasty surprise. Would that be reasonable? Or would it still be easy for it to be turned against her?

Well, you never want to put anything in your hair that can end up buried in your neck. However, that’s not the primary and most glaring issue in this case.

The problem with Beka Cooper’s solution is that she is a cop.

In the beginning books, she is a patrol officer or a “beat cop”. These cops walk what is called “a beat” or travel a specific route or around a set area on the lookout for miscreants and lawbreakers. She travels the same route every day. In large part, she arrests rather than kills her opponents.

The spiked strap is a one trick pony. It’s there to surprise her opponents when they grab her hair. Surprises like that work all of once.

People talk. The information gets around that the young pup has a spiked braid. The more she wears it, the more likely they are to notice. The cautious will avoid it. The enterprising will look to turn it into weapon they might use to their advantage. After all, there’s nothing more poetic than strangling a cop with their own braid. This one’s got a braid that’s just begging for a try. And gorgets? They don’t protect the whole neck.

The cautious that are in her beat just start wearing better protection on their hands, procure some thicker leather gloves and they’re good to go. “Heard Johnny in the clink got his hands torn up by that thing!” and “Better start wearing some more protection if you’re in the East End during Night Watch!” Braid’s still fair game.

Worst case, it’d make her even more of a target than before. It’s more of a distinguishing feature. It’s the sort of thing you remember, and what gets remembered means they think about it. They think about it, they’re more likely to come back for seconds. “You seen a Pup with spikes in her braid? Know where she runs?” More likely others have seen her. More likely they know where she lives. More likely to be tracked down.

More likely to be snuffed.

It sounds plausible, possibly even reasonable, until you stop and realize that it’s fairly worthless for the time invested. Nothing is stationary, there are no permanent fix solutions. You go out with that, someone will devote time and energy to developing a counter. The counter will make the primary solution useless. The braid is still there, the braid can still be used the same way it might’ve been if there were no spikes. Now one must come up with a new solution to a problem easily solved if they weren’t prioritizing their vanity over their own life.This is why the advice is cut off the damn hair, hide it under a helmet, or stuff it down your clothes.

This is how warfare works, by the way. This is how it progresses. Someone comes up with an idea, maybe the idea works/maybe it doesn’t, surviving enemies have seen technique and develop a counter to it, we all go back to the drawing board to modify technique so it can continue to work.

That is the problem with this solution and it’s what you should be considering with your own villains. People see what goes on around them and they respond to it. For example, the running philosophy that Batman’s presence actually caused crime to escalate in Gotham is a legitimate one. One crazy running around successfully running about causing trouble causes even more dangerous ones to come crawling out of the woodwork to challenge him.

This is actually a good thing. It’s organic growth. It’s characters responding to and living in their environment, this progression makes the story more fun. You escalate a situation, someone else will escalate further to match you. Look at any arms race in history. They are often complicated, but in simple terms it’s about not wanting someone else to be able to take what you have by force. Answering force with force is a survival mechanism. The people who believe they need a gun in their home to protect themselves if someone else breaks into their home with a gun (or just breaks into their home) aren’t really wrong.

I’ll be frank, Beka Cooper is extraordinarily well-outfitted for a police officer. Historically, money was not heavily spent on police forces and most of the time police were ex-soldiers who basically went out with the clothes on their back. Royal Guards got armor, not the guys walking the late night docks near Cheap Side.

Criminals and Cops work together very closely even when they’re on opposite sides. They exist within the same sphere, they start to know each other. That means information gets passed around. Knowledge goes both directions. Criminals are opportunistic and predatory, they don’t have the same protections that one gets from working within the law. Whatever their motives, they have to take what they can get and jump to see their goals met. This means becoming more clever, changing up their strategies, getting a foot in on who works where on what nights, where the openings are, and who is vulnerable. It will never be perfect, but they can’t afford to not take advantage of an advantage just because something stupid is in the way.

The advantage one gets from hauling someone around by their hair supersedes the threat of the spikes.

When you lose your advantage, you do what you have to in order to get it back. It doesn’t help, again that the solution to this problem is very simple, it’s: “thicker gloves”.

The other problem is that a spiked strap in your hair will inevitably cause more problems then it solves. It’s the character choosing to escalate a situation that doesn’t need to be escalated. Pierce pulls heavily from more modern police work and a more idealized judicial system for her Tortall setting than standard medieval Europe, so it’s also one where a character like Beka is in a profession which restricts her from killing her enemies. The guy who grabs that braid and gets a hand full of spikes will either escape and want his pound of flesh for his injury, or he’ll have friends who will want their pound in return for the arrest and the maiming.

It’s a great way for Beka to quickly make enemies, to distinguish herself as memorable, in the way that ends with rookies like her having their throat slit and their bodies dumped in ditches.

If you’re writing anything, spend some time thinking about it from the perspective of the villains. Criminals are, in large part, naturally enterprising people. They are often creative. They have to be, they’re always working on shaky ground. More than that, be a scientist. Test every “clever” solution you come up with rather than just running with it.

Play with it, consider what horrible things someone could do now that you’ve given them the option. How can they turn this to their advantage?

The clever solution in this case will open the character up to more misery and opens the door for more brutality than they were asking for to begin with. You cannot strangle someone with their own hair, it’s not tough enough for that. You can strangle them with the spiked leather strap they were dumb enough to wear in it. On the same hand, they can also grab the braid and jab the spikes into the back of Beka’s neck in that opening between the gorget and the helmet. Any weapon sharp enough to cut your enemy is sharp enough to also cut you. In an effort to deter and defend with a weapon outside the character’s own control, you’ve suddenly made that viable and far easier than it would be if they weren’t wearing it at all. More dangerous than an enemy just grabbing their hair. Worse, it’s even more likely to occur as an idea for an enemy than if they were just carrying a knife.

This isn’t just a Beka Cooper problem or a Tamora Pierce one, we’ve recommended her work before on this blog, it’s a fairly common writer/creative industry problem. The invention of complex solutions which create more issues than they solve. They seem reasonable on the surface, right up until you start thinking about all the ways it could go wrong. This can be especially difficult if you’re not used to thinking in terms of ruthless pragmatism or just plain viciousness. The sort of viciousness you don’t see in a YA novel.

For example, you’re not going to see Careers going back for the dead bodies of other children, weighting them, and floating them out into a lake to poison the water supply. Anyone dumb enough to go after an easily accessible source and lacking the resources to acquire clean water from their sponsors. Just like they didn’t set fire to the tree when they noticed Katniss was in it.

It’s the things we don’t think of that come back to bite us, mostly because we’ve no experience with them. In this case, there is a very simple solution to the hair issue that avoids all these other problems.

Cut it.

Bun it.

Braid it.

Hide it.

If you choose not to for your character, then just accept that is them signing on for the problems which come with it. That’s okay, you know. You can choose to do that. There are plenty of people out there in real life who do. There’s no need to justify it through fancy solutions that lead to greater idiocy. (Though that’s an acceptable character trait too.)

Instead of running in fear or trying to make it “better”, use it. Use it as a character choice to flesh out who they are. Maybe you’ve got a female character who uses her physical appearance, especially her hair, as a defining factor of her femininity. Explore that and the consequences which come from it, use it as a part of their plot and their exploration of identity, rather than trying to say it doesn’t matter because I can just add in X.

It makes them relatable, and more human.

There have been warriors throughout history who have culturally had long hair and had to figure out ways to mitigate it. However, don’t just pull at random from history and say but “this group did it so it’s okay!”. Look at the circumstances surrounding those choices and the context which allowed for it to work, is it the same for you? Or were you just looking for a shallow example to justify something that doesn’t really work?

Ask yourself why. Why are you so intent on making this work? Why is it necessary to defend a female character having long hair when she fights? Does yours feel like she’ll be less of a girl if she has short hair? What is the fantasy here? Why do you care so much?

Use that.

I mean it.

Writing is in large part an exploration of human experience, those experiences are at the core of good storytelling. Not just a fantasy versus reality, fantasy is reality and vice versa in fiction, but access the parts of yourself that maybe aren’t so comfortable like your insecurities, your worries, and your fears.

Adopting a masculine role or traits that feel more “masculine” can be uncomfortable. Writing female characters who are active, action characters can be and often is them taking on a narrative role that isn’t usually deemed acceptable. And if you think there isn’t a strong backlash against female characters who don’t properly adhere to gender norms even just within the minds of their writer then, what can I say? You’re wrong.

Women are often expected to meet impossible standards. A female character who participates in violence can end up as non-stereotypical as it gets, but there are just as many forces which try to conform them back into the support role/damsel in distress box. This can happen to female characters even when they’re the protagonists of their own narratives. It has before and it will happen again, often on accident.

I, personally, have to fight against my internalized sexism every time I
sit down to write. It is difficult to escape that box, to find the line
between expectations, reality, and personhood. Pro points go to Tamora Pierce and many authors like her, both male and female, who have worked hard to widen and diversify those fictional roles. Providing us with many different characters, rather than singular voices. No one will ever hit the mark every single time. One failure does not discredit them for the rest of the good they do. Just don’t take everything as a gospel truth.

Addressing internalized
sexism within yourself rather than avoiding it will help you write
better. In the end, regardless of what they look like, how they come
off, or feel about themselves, addressing your own hangups will make you
better and it’ll help you write characters who are more than just the fantasy definition of “strong”.

Lastly, let me say that Tamora Pierce is, without a doubt, one of the best writers in the Young
Adult genre today. Her work addresses many important issues in regards to sexism, particularly institutionalized sexism, and she is incredibly influential. Hers are one of the better examples of true “Feminist” literature in the sub genre as they address the cultural effects of sexism and how characters both male and female deal with those realities, rather than just being books with a “Strong Female Protagonist”. As a writer, she is, at heart, an idealist and the expression of that idealism, those good people fighting the good fight is where her work is at its best. Despite it’s popularity, I’ve never felt that Beka Cooper’s novels were some of her strongest narratives.

There’s a certain amount of cold pragmatism at the heart of police work, it’s the place where the idealism which makes Protector of the Small so uplifting is drowned in the bay’s murky, stagnant blood filled waters next to the floating corpse of a six year old with a crushed-in skull. Crime fiction is really where the idealistic go to be crushed by the establishment’s unending weight.

The corruption, the darker aspects of human nature, and the exploration of the hero in it’s mirror are where that’s at. Didn’t really happen with Beka for me.

Those are just my thoughts on the issue.

I’d appreciate never hearing about that damn strap again though.

-Michi

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Did you guys get my ask about fighting with long hair? I never saw it answered…I asked about the logistics and realistic complications of having long, unbound hair in close range fights.

We’ve answered questions similar to this one in the past. The simple answer is the old adage: “Where the head goes, the body follows.”

Control the head. You control the fight.

Grabbing someone by their hair is an easy means to controlling the head. You see people with no training go for this one all the time, especially with women. It’s not just men versus women, it’s also women versus women. It also happens to men with long hair. It’s easy, it’s quick, and it hurts like hell.

This is the major reason why long hair, especially left unbound, and at very close ranges, is trouble. It’s an easy grab. It’s also very painful for the person on the receiving end, your hair is dead but the follicles are full of nerve endings. Very, very, very painful when grabbed. More than that, you can haul them around by their hair and use that pain to control the head. There more hair there is, the looser it is, then the easier it is.

It gets in the way, it gets in your eyes, it snags on your surroundings. It’s bad news bears. The last thing you want after being knocked to the ground is some jackass stepping on your hair and forcing you to choose between actually tearing it out as you try to escape (ouch) or lying there and taking it as his buddy starts launching kicks into your stomach/ribs/head.

And, no, that’s not an abstract. Hair is trouble.

Bind it into a tight braid, roll it up beneath a hat, and get it out of the way. You don’t want it around when shit starts going down. Hair grabs, scalp grabs are an easy thing that every basic idiot knows how to do. It’ll still happen with short hair, it’s just harder to maintain a grip and you have to get closer.

Allow me to repeat that anyone, anyone will do this when presented with the opportunity. It doesn’t matter if they’re fresh of the street or have twenty years of training. The ones who know what they’re doing will know what it does, the ones without it will just go for it on instinct alone.

Your body will protect your head. That’s instinctual. If your head is in danger, your body will move to protect it. That’s not always beneficial to you because as we’ve said before native instinct can and will get you killed. It leads to some very stupid choices, like rolling onto your stomach while someone else is sitting on your back beating your head to escape. (That just traps you with no means of defending yourself, but it’s natural instinct.) The same will happen with your hair. Natural instinct when your head is trapped is predictable and it can be abused/exploited by someone else.

“Real fighting” is that there are no rules, nothing is off limits, you use every advantage you can to survive. If you don’t someone else will, and they will use the openings you’ve left open against you. That’s it.

Now, if you want the fantasy of the warrior woman with the long flowing locks who flawlessly kicks ass and goes back inside to drink a scotch then by all means run with it. Accept the fantasy for what it is and go to town. That’s the vast majority of female action protagonists in fiction.

People love them. They’ll go down defending them.

You want that? Do it. Embrace it.

Embrace it for everyone.

Because there is nothing worse than a piece of media that claims to be realistic then invents a whole separate subset of rules for its female characters in order to have its cake and eat it too. (I’m looking at you, Dark Knight Rises. Otherwise known as the moment we realized Catwoman’s current comics costume was more realistic. Short hair. Hood to cover head. Goggles. Boots.)

The logistics are:

People grab it. It hurts. It can kill you.

It gets stuck on things. It hurts.

It gets in your eyes.

When it gets pinned under your body, it hurts.

Throwing it in someone else’s face makes it easier for them to grab.

It gets stuck on things.

It hurts.

It hurts like hell.

If you must have your hair long, then put it in a braid. Put it in a tight bun. Nothing loose, no loose braids, no loose ponytails, no loose hair. Very tight, bind that shit down. Get it up and out of the way.

-Michi

-A wild long-haired person appears- re: hair pulling: Generally, I think a neat French braid that you then dropped down the collar of your clothing would work nicely to keep it outta the way in a fight. A milkmaid braid would probably work too. Or, putting things like spikes in a plain braid would teach some people not to pull hair. Also! If it’s a cultural thing to have long hair, is it possible as well that it’s culturally unacceptable to pull hair in a fight, making it a relative non-issue?

Nah, people will still pull hair (and other less savory things) even when it’s culturally unacceptable. There’s always a delineation between what people are supposed to do (or their culture says they behave) and how we actually behave. Some knights did actually follow the Code of Chivalry (including the part that involves suicide for failure), but most didn’t. The same is actually true for the samurai, because killing your most experienced and well-trained warriors for screwing up just isn’t cost effective in the long run.

There’s a similar truth to be had with the hair and high heels (and Beka Cooper’s gorget). In European tradition, there are essentially two different strains of thought, one comes out of the Northern Germanic tribes and their willingness to wear long hair because it’s a very good insulator. It had nothing to do with combat and everything to do with comfort. The short hair tradition comes from the Romans, where having short hair was an indicator of military service. Outside of military service, male or female they didn’t care, but for combat you had to crop it. While it’s become a gender difference now, short hair once meant (and still does mean) combat professional/warrior/military for Europe. Long hair can be worn by those, such as officers and others who are unlikely to see combat. Even today in the American military, men and women must both have hair that doesn’t touch the collar because it’s the most effective method available.

On the Eastern side, such as in China and Japan, they tied their hair up before going into combat, often in some form of bun and then wore a helmet over it. This is the second most effective method of preventing your hair from being used against you as a weapon. It’s a simple, easy, and readily available solution to the problem.

It doesn’t have to be complicated, it’s actually very easy. Now, wearing spikes in your hair is, ultimately, going to be more dangerous to you in the long run than it is to whoever is planning on attacking you. It’s essentially an unnecessary fashion accessory for a problem that could be solved easily by Beka just wearing her hair short (in testimony to European combat tradition for lower class personnel) or hiding it down her collar (like you already suggested). Now, the gorget justification surprised me because I remember Beka Cooper essentially working as a constable in the slums of Tortall’s capital city and that’s a very expensive piece of equipment to gift someone who has the life expectancy of a mayfly. The gorget was originally worn by women in the middle ages as a piece of linen worn around the throat, it later became a steel or leather neck protector between the backplate and breastplate of platemail. In the renaissance, they were larger and extended down the front and back to protect the heart. Usually, it would be gifted as part of the military uniform for heavy armor units. The guards at the Tower of London, for example, traditionally wear gorgets as part of their uniform. It’s a very prestigious position which puts them ahead of the general rank and file. A constable is on the low end of the equipment pay scale, a constable working the slums isn’t going to rank high for the best equipment.

The reason for this is not because the slums are less important, but that upon the death of an officer you have a greater chance of losing their equipment to the local thugs. An officer wandering around in expensive equipment becomes both a target for the local criminal element to take down (like a juicy duck being led to the slaughter) because they can sell that equipment and makes it harder for the officer to identify with the rest of the locals who live in the neighborhood (who they need to be able to do their job). In a sense, you want the uniform to distance the officer from the locals, but not so much that it sets them apart into a visibly different social class. Stomping around the slums in fancy armor is just a reminder to them that your character thinks that they’re better, more reason for there to be resentment, and the faster the character will die because no one is going to step in to help them when things go south. The last thing an authority wants is their enforcement group fully relegated to the status of Other by their own people. When the people view the enforcers as Other, the enforcers will often come to view them as Other, which essentially leads to Martial Law or the quote from Commander Adama in the BSG reboot about why you never want to put the military in charge of policing your civilians. (Hint: It has something to do with the military being trained to fight enemies and the police being trained to protect the people, when the military become the police then the people become the enemy.)

If Beka received her gear because of her special relation with the Provost, then that just sets her apart from the other cops and is likely to generate resentment over her special treatment. It also makes her a more likely target by the criminal element in the city (though she’s supposedly protected by the King of Thieves, but he can’t be everywhere and w/e for this example), who know that she would be a good target to loot. If all the cops in the city get gorgets, then that’s really a rather expensive proposition for the Magistrate that won’t be worthwhile in the long run because of the high likelihood of losing them to the city’s criminal element.

The spikes are dumb, there’s no way of getting around that and no number of justifications that are going to make it better regardless if what culture their from. It makes more sense to wear them as part of a hair net, but that’s still likely to get the character stuck in a wall or the hair caught on themselves. It ultimately leads to an unnecessary level of preparation for a character who is going to be constantly on call and need to be able to get ready quickly. A character in a culture with a reason for having long hair isn’t going to wear something in their hair that can tear it, because it’s counter productive.

I admire Tamora Pierce a great deal as an author, for forwarding the cause of female combatants, and for writing complex and realistic female protagonists in her work. This one just isn’t going to get better though and there isn’t much more we can say on the subject, so I’m going to call it here.

-Michi

I have a character with long hair (because of cultural reasons), so what hairstyle would you recommend to keep it out of the way in a fight?

oocbox:

obsidianmichi:

muttluver:

howtofightwrite:

We did an article on this! FightWrite: On Hair Pulling

You want a hairstyle that keeps the long hair tightly bound (skin tight) so that no opponent can get a good grip. A loose ponytail isn’t good enough. Modern “conventional” wisdom likes to assume that only girls are wussy enough to pull each others’ hair or that it’s “cheap”. It’s actually not true. Regardless of what is right or fair, both men and women will yank someone else around by their hair in a fight. The reason is that the hair is full of nerve endings, when yanked on their cause pain, and a good solid grip on someone’s head means that you can control where they go in a fight.

A character with long hair is going to need to keep their hair bound up and out of the way, or their opponent will snatch it and yank. The longer and looser the hair, the easier this is.

A ponytail, a loose braid, and even a loose bun will allow another character to simply walk up behind the character and take a hold of them, or grab it during a fight when they get in close enough. There’s no practical reason to ignore the hair, so most don’t.

-Michi

So what type of hairstyle would that be? The only thing I can think of (that would leave little to no room for hair pulling) is a really tight, complicated braid that kinda winds around your skull, all fancy-like.

….clearly I don’t work with hair very much.

In the article, I mention a female cop who used to bind her hair skin-tight to her skull in a braid, then pin it to the back of her head. Not a wrap around, just a coil. Any hairstyle like that will work, so long as you make sure it’s tight and close to the skull so that they can’t get a good grip even on the hair that’s bound up. Now, the hair will loosen over time as you’re fighting. So, it’s something the character is going to have to watch out for as the fight progresses.

-Michi

I’ve seen Tamora Pierce use a braid with barbed wire in it for Beka Cooper. I don’t know how practical that actually is but it seems to work?

I’m going to go with that’s not a good idea. It is one that sounds good on the surface, but it comes with a host of problems that don’t really make it worth it.

1) You have to thread the barbed wire into your hair and take it out, even if you use thick gloves you run the risk of nicking both the back of your neck, destroying your clothes, and harming your scalp. You’d also need someone else to put it in.

2) The hair will get tangled in the barbed wire, pull on it, and make it a bitch to take out at the end of the day. The barbed wire can hook into your clothes, the skin on the back of your neck, someone else’s clothes as you’re patrolling on a busy street, random objects you brush up against, catching on wooden walls and doorways, and just about anything else you can think of.

3) It’s probably just going to end up hurting the character more in the long run. The same is true to pins or needles. You don’t want to be wearing something that’s as likely to hurt you as it is to hurt the people your fighting.

Barbed wire is less than 150 years old, so I don’t buy that people did it historically. The best idea is to look into how Manchurian warriors (and other cultures that had similar traditions) did it, because the queue was important to their cultural traditions. The best solution is simply to tie it tightly and then hide it under a hat or a helmet so that your opponent has to go through something else to get to the hair, which makes it a less appealing target. A short ponytail, for example, can be pinned up under a cap.

-Michi

I have a character with long hair (because of cultural reasons), so what hairstyle would you recommend to keep it out of the way in a fight?

We did an article on this! FightWrite: On Hair Pulling

You want a hairstyle that keeps the long hair tightly bound (skin tight) so that no opponent can get a good grip. A loose ponytail isn’t good enough. Modern “conventional” wisdom likes to assume that only girls are wussy enough to pull each others’ hair or that it’s “cheap”. It’s actually not true. Regardless of what is right or fair, both men and women will yank someone else around by their hair in a fight. The reason is that the hair is full of nerve endings, when yanked on their cause pain, and a good solid grip on someone’s head means that you can control where they go in a fight.

A character with long hair is going to need to keep their hair bound up and out of the way, or their opponent will snatch it and yank. The longer and looser the hair, the easier this is.

A ponytail, a loose braid, and even a loose bun will allow another character to simply walk up behind the character and take a hold of them, or grab it during a fight when they get in close enough. There’s no practical reason to ignore the hair, so most don’t.

-Michi

Fight Write: On Hair Pulling

Where the head goes, the body follows.

This is one of the most important tenants of self-defense and it’s why every combatant, male or female, should keep their hair either short or bound to their heads in a braid that is so skin tight the fingers cannot seize it. The fighter who does not risks having the back of their head grabbed in the middle of combat by providing a decent, easily accessible grip for their opponent. Regardless of what television will tell you, the ponytail is not good enough.

The hair is a much easier target than attempting a headlock or grabbing behind the neck. Once an opponent has their target in their grasp and control of their head, they can take them almost anywhere they wish.

Your hair may be dead, but beneath the skin it is very much alive. Wrap your fingers in your own hair and pull, you’ll find it to be fairly painful, then, imagine the pull from the hands of someone who doesn’t care about your feelings or maybe your hair was pulled by someone when you were younger. It can hurt a great deal and pain has a way of locking us up when we are unprepared or it or when we haven’t been properly trained to deal with it.

It’s important to remember, no matter what folks say about hair pulling, that it is a real, acceptable, and commonly used tactic, especially against women. It will also work against men with hair long enough for a good grip. Honor has very little place in real world combat, remember that an advantage taken is an advantage gained and the only true imperative is survival.

Hair pulling is very common in fights among groups, such as in clubs, mobs, etc as a means of taking someone down. The best advice for when someone takes you or your character by the hair or by the head is to go with them, not politely, but in the same general direction by ramming sideways, forwards, or backwards in the direction of their grip and to keep going until they fall or are driven into a wall or another individual. This will keep you from being injured or having your hair yanked out, it will also save on the pain because it releases tension.