Tag Archives: how to fight write

A Quick Thank You

Thanks to all those who’ve become Patrons of How to Fight Write, we’re currently about 1/6th of the way to our first goal. Which is huge! Really, that’s amazing. You’re amazing! Thank you!

I know this is a crazy season, where money is tight and we thank you so much for giving us support in these hard times.

For those who haven’t seen our new campaign yet, I hope you’ll check it out. Even if it doesn’t seem like much, a single dollar per month can add up to a lot and really makes a difference.

More than anything else, Starke and I want to be able to keep giving back to this wonderful community and continue helping you all fulfill your writing goals. With your support, we’re a few steps closer to making that dream a reality.

So, thank you! If you haven’t seen it yet then please check it out, consider becoming a Patron, and help us produce even more cool stuff to help with all your fight scene needs!

-Michi and Starke

“Practical” Combat

Let’s talk about “practical” for a second. In the world of martial arts, and really everything associated with combat, “practical” is a loaded term; it refers to any style or weapon that’s intended for actual combat. It’s distinct from sport or non-combat martial arts, like Tai Bo. In the case of weapons it distinguishes between actual combat weapons and display weapons, like the rainbow knife on my desk.

So, if you’re asking, what’s the most effective combat style, then, whatever fits. There are plenty of active combat forms available to civilians, and military or police characters will know their organization’s hand to hand form. It’s not uncommon for police to actively start looking into other martial arts as a result of their training. Similarly, as I recall (and I could be wrong about this), it’s fairly common for military personnel in overseas postings, to pick up local martial arts and bring them back.

Generally speaking, practical styles split into two families, with a lot of crossover; subdual and lethal. Subdual styles involve restraining the opponent, and holding them in place, usually via joint locks, throws and holds. Most police hand to hand forms, and almost all self defense training are focused on subdual.

Lethal styles are ones that involve quickly breaking someone so they stop screaming and thrashing. Almost all military styles fall into this header. Some exceptions are Chin Na and modern Systema, which borrow heavily from subdual techniques. Where most subdual forms are content to lock a joint, lethal styles will frequently follow with a break.

If your character is a civilian, then you’re probably looking at any of the modern self defense schools. It is probably the most prolific, practical martial style today, and easy to explain in a character’s back story.

If you’re looking for something slightly more obscure, then Krav Maga or Muay Thai are both options. But, Krav Maga is about a decade out of date from the actual military form, and Muay Thai is technically a sport form. Granted, that sport involves tagging someone in the kidneys until they piss blood and die, but still.

If your character is in one of the few places in the world where they can get training in it, Systema’s also an option. In its modern form, it looks more like a subdual form, but it is quite lethal. Unfortunately, it also means your character needs to have come from someplace with a large Russian population. If the character is American, that means : Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Seattle, or Miami.

Finally, if you’re willing to do some research on your own, there are a number of Ninjitsu schools in the US. Functionally, it’s not really that different from any other Japanese form, except that it hasn’t been defanged into a sport form yet. Just make sure, if you go this route, to make that completely clear to the reader.

-Starke

Not sure if this has been asked before, but how do you write a scene that involves a gunfight? Obviously engagements happen at beyond point-blank so how does that work?

First off, I’m sorry this took so long to write up, this is a much deeper topic, and there will be some full articles on the subject coming in the near future.

But, to your question, the short answer is; not much, really. Fights at close range are very short, and will involve characters firing as quickly as they can at one another.

Some of the same assumptions also hold true, characters who have training and experience will win out over characters that don’t know what they’re doing.

The biggest difference is with guns, there is no playing nice. Any character that’s injured from getting hit will be seriously injured. Healing from a gunshot wound will probably involve months of recovery.

As with other weapons, guns are unique to one another. A character that’s used to using a USP .45 will be at a serious disadvantage if you hand them an M1911. Some of the basic theory and practice caries over, but the way you operate one is different from the other.

Bullets will penetrate light cover. If you’ve played a lot of recent military themed shooters, this should be a familiar concept, but games tend to undercut how severe this can be. If your character is opening fire with a handgun, there’s a real risk the bullets will blow through walls, cars, and whatever else, and hit someone they didn’t intend to.

In most residential or business settings, you won’t find cover thick enough to stop a handgun round, meaning the whole “take cover behind that couch/upended table/car door/lawn chair” tactic doesn’t actually work. Throwing a conference table on its side may look cool, but it won’t save your characters from getting perforated.

Military combat is a completely different animal. It focuses on long range fire, suppressing a target (keeping them from moving or firing back), while other squad members move in to eliminate them.

This tactic makes its way back into gunfights involving trained characters. In a firefight, their primary goal should be getting out of sight, and moving around to the side or behind their attackers.

-Starke

Since you mentioned Jack Bauer and I’m a huge 24 fan, could you talk more about his fighting style? Also, what would be a believable background/fighting style for a character like him? Thank you very much!

As I recall, Jack mostly uses Krav Maga, with some other CQC techniques mixed in. I don’t think we’ve actually talked about Krav Maga yet; it’s a modern combat style designed by the Israeli Defense Force, which focuses on very close quarters combat. It’s a little strange that a Federal Agent would be using them, but, it isn’t completely unreasonable. The style was very popular for a few years back in the early 2000s, and you can still find schools for it in the US.

It’s one of the few actual combat styles that you can get training in “off the street,” though the civilian version is probably about ten years out of date.

Now, as much as I love 24 in a minute to minute context, there’s a lot of stuff in its background that just doesn’t work.

CTU is supposed to be a military or CIA operation. Before the Department of Homeland Security, domestic counterterrorism was a bit of a bureaucratic mess. Theoretically the FBI had jurisdiction, and if it was a bombing, they were the ones called in to investigate. After 9/11, the DHS was set up to coordinate intelligence gathering from the CIA, NSA, and FBI, to assist in the prevention of future terrorist attacks. It outright consumed a few agencies, including the Secret Service, ICE, and, I think, the DSS.

In theory, the CIA has never been allowed to operate domestically; the same is also theoretically true of the NSA. Now, that’s never really been the case, domestic actions by the CIA go back at least to the 1950s, and Echelon, an NSA surveillance network, dates back to the mid 60s. Obviously, this stuff goes down the rabbit hole fast, but the critical thing to take away is that, even after the PRISM leaks, the CIA and NSA aren’t allowed to operate openly on US soil. Meaning, at least in the world we live in, CTU would be a legal impossibility.

If you’re writing a counterterrorism agent in the federal government, today, you’re looking at FBI or DHS. DHS’s primary interest is supposed to be sharing intelligence, not acting on it, so really, if you want a Jack Bauer type counterterrorist investigator, you’re probably looking at a Special Agent in the FBI.

If you want the specific requirements for a character to be an FBI Special Agent, I could rattle what I remember off the top of my head, or just link this: https://fbijobs.gov/114.asp

The short version is, no serious physical impairments, including colorblindness, or less than 20/40 vision, no serious criminal record, at least a four year degree, between the ages of 23 and 37 (when they’re recruited). But, that link goes into some interesting details. (Also, question 17 still cracks me up, until I remember that it really was one of the most common questions they were getting for years.)

What it doesn’t cover is that military service, or a background in law enforcement is a plus. It’s not technically necessary, but a character who didn’t serve, and wasn’t a cop, will be somewhat socially isolated. As far as I know, this isn’t malicious; it’s just that the Agent in question won’t have the same shared experiences to help with making friends and networking.

The FBI does their hand to hand training at Quantico. I don’t have any real details on it, but it’s safe to assume it’s a fairly standard police hand to hand variant. Given recent trends in police tactics, it’s entirely possible that it’s started incorporating military hand to hand techniques.

If you want to avoid the FBI for some specific reason, all of this is still a pretty reasonable baseline for any federal agent.

Jack’s background in Special Forces is, let’s call it “difficult to justify”. Ex-Special Forces has become a flashcard for badass, but, as with a lot of things, it tends to get massively misunderstood by people on the outside. I’ll probably come back to this at a later date, but, in general, people who come out of the Special Forces programs aren’t really well suited for jobs in law enforcement. Most often, this is used to designate a character as trained in combat, just like, literally, everyone  that serves in the Armed Services.

My final advice on writing a character like Jack Bauer is; don’t. The only reason Bauer works at all is Kiefer Sutherland’s performance; he’s walking a very fine tightrope to keep the character likable. On paper, without an actor to kludge the character into line, that’s going to be a very difficult mark to hit.

-Starke

For Starke: Are there any weapons that you can legally carry around anywhere? And Michi, how much damage can one do as retaliation to an attack? Is it a punch in return for a punch, or can you do more? And are you allowed to act if they threaten to hit you, or do you have to wait until they start to do so?

Okay, these are actually both legal questions, so I’m going to take them both. Up front, I’m not a lawyer; I took a few pre-law classes in college before realizing that my liver wouldn’t survive law school. So, if you’re in a situation where these aren’t abstract questions for writing, go find an actual lawyer immediately. Now, with that out of the way:

On weapons? Short answer: no. If it’s a weapon, there’s going to be places you can’t take it legally. This goes across the board from firearms to staves, to knives. Sooner or later, you’re going to go one of those places.

On top of that, weapon laws vary pretty wildly based on a lot of specific details. A knife that’s legal in one state won’t always be legal in another. For instance: spring loaded knives (Switchblades and OTP tacticals) are legal in South Dakota and Wyoming, but illegal in Washington and California. Some states measure blade length, but stop measuring it when the blade becomes serrated, while others don’t care about serration, and will simply classify a knife as a weapon based on its overall length. A pocket knife (with something under a 2 inch blade) is perfectly legal in most places, but you can’t take it into a TSA cordon. Even, Firearms, which are legal with the proper licensing in most places, are illegal in DC.

There are improvised weapons you can usually get through a security checkpoint, or even a frisking reliably. A heavy key ring or a nice heavy ballpoint pen, for instance. But, police and security guards who are working a checkpoint have one job; keep people from taking things through. Tactical pens may sound like a good idea, but it’s a huge red flag to a cop at a checkpoint. They read the same things you do, and they know when a pen is designed to be a concealable weapon.

As to how much force you can use to defend yourself? Yeah, this is also a very complex subject. Basically under most American law, if threatened, you can defend yourself, but you can only use enough force to allow yourself to retreat to safety.

What constitutes a threat varies from state to state, and can vary from case to case, based on context. Sometimes, technical assault is necessary before you can defend yourself, other times, the threat of violence is sufficient.

How much force you can use depends on who you are, how well trained you are, and what the situation is. If your character is a black belt, they’re going to be on a much tighter leash than someone who had one self defense seminar in college.

Justifiable homicide requires that you are in immediate, reasonable, fear for your life, and cannot retreat to any safety. Someone must be trying to kill you, and you cannot have another option. But, we’re back to the context part, some states have laws called “Stand your Ground laws”, or “Castle Laws”, these allow you to use lethal force when you have an option to retreat. Some states, require that you be in your home for them to take effect, (California and New York, as I recall), while others only require that someone is attacking you, (Texas and, now rather infamously, Florida).

Also, justifiable homicide is, what’s known as an “affirmative defense”, that means, you’ll get arrested, go to trial, and then, instead of saying, “no, I didn’t do this,” you effectively say, “yes, I did this, but I had to because of X.”

I’m going to step back a bit, and say this; if you’re going to use the law and legal consequences in your writing, you’re going to need to do a lot of reading, and a lot of research. Watching a lot of the original Law & Order series is helpful, but it’s not going to cut it. Most states have their criminal code posted online, these days, and from what I remember, most libraries should have a legal section.

When you’re reading it, just take it slow, and be very literal about everything. When you hit a reference to somewhere else in the code, look it up, find out what that means, and come back. It can take some time and effort, but it will give you useful information.

Additionally, you should find a friend or friend of the family who is a lawyer and pick their brains for as much as you can. Law, like medicine and a few other fields, is one of those areas where it’s basically impossible for a writer to fake it, and still get a good story.

-Starke

So in my story my character is beat up (bullying) and I just want to know-how many punches and kicks are hospital worthy? I need to have her able to go back to class without needing attention basically. Really, I need help on the whole of it together-being beat up and how much her best friend (muscled, tall, strong) would take. Yeah. I need help because now I’m scared it is not accurate.

One; it just depends on the strike. The good news is, if the people attacking your character don’t know what they’re doing, the human body can take an absolutely absurd amount of damage.

Without going into a huge article on internal injuries, when you’re dealing with an untrained fighter, like most bullies, the answer is, “quite a bit.”

I’m going to make a quick aside: because of the way they fight most bullies do not (usually) develop into street fighters. They rely on violence, but they’re motivations don’t lead them to want to be better combatants. They don’t look at moves they see elsewhere and keep playing with them until they can do them. In short, when I’m talking about untrained fighters this time; I don’t mean street fighters.

Anyway, there are a couple vulnerable places that can turn lethal quickly: the neck & throat, head, lower back and spine. For your purposes, you’ll want to avoid blows to these.

Blows to the upper torso, stomach, arms, legs, and even (to some extent) the face, aren’t that dangerous, for a couple reasons. Note: this isn’t true with trained fighters, but, we’re dealing with bullies here.

The first is muscles. Tensed muscles are amazing at absorbing blunt impacts. The skin will still bruise, but for the most part, if someone has managed to tense up their muscles properly, simple punches won’t do too much damage.

I’ll probably never type this again on this blog, but: you can probably try this right now. Feel your stomach, poke it a bit. Now, tense up your abdominal muscles and try it again. The same principle applies to someone trying to punch your character.

Even with proper tensing, blows will still cause bruising, and can be painful, but they won’t be life threatening. For reference, the kind of bruising we’re talking about is bleeding that occurs just under the skin.

For the arms and legs the situation is a little different. The legs are basically nothing but dense muscles that are almost always tense. And, for untrained fighters, and even most trained ones, kicking or punching below the waist are awkward strikes.

For trained combatants, strikes to the arm always involve locking it in place first. If a combatant fails to do that, or doesn’t understand that it’s necessary, the arm will be pushed away before being injured. What this means is, most of the force generated hitting someone in the arm is lost to simple physics.

The face is a complex situation. A lot of untrained fighters will try to punch people in the face. It’s a nice, natural, visceral strike, and a really stupid one. Boxers and UFC fighters target the face because they’re wearing fiberglass armor over their hands. This is there to protect the bones in their knuckles. Without that armor, blows to the face are very hazardous to the attacker; there’s an uneven and fairly sturdy bone structure, which will wreck your bully’s hand.

I just got through talking about concussions, but the other thing near your face, and your character’s face, is their forehead; also known as the single thickest part of your skull. Punches to the forehead are, singularly ineffective. In turn, head butting someone in the face is a very effective technique in the rare situations where it’s viable. It’s also an easy and natural reflex to duck your forehead into the path of an incoming punch.

The other kind of tissue that’s almost as good at protecting internal organs is fat. Body fat will absorb some of the force of a blow. It’s not as effective as tensed muscles, but it’s actually harder to beat someone who’s overweight than someone who’s physically fit. This also includes the breasts, though there are some other factors at work there. I know Michi just did a post on them earlier today, so there’s probably going to be a more detailed write-up of them in the future.

We’ve had a post on bullying in the works for awhile, though the move did a number on our rhythm, so it might be a bit before that one’s ready to go up.

-Starke

I have a question: if a person were to be stabbed with a small knife, say, a pocket knife, where on the body would the stabbing do the least damage? For the purposes of my scene, the character would likely be stabbed near the hip or possibly the shoulder area. I just need to gauge whether or not I’d have to change the fight to fit the plot (the stabbed character wins the fight and is able to carry on their journey – perhaps I need to change the stab to a cut?)

Honestly, if I wanted to stab a character and not incapacitate them? My first thought would actually be the hand. It would restrict their use of it for a while, but it could be quickly bandaged, and it’s probably the “best" place to get stabbed.

Thing is, most places, stab wounds are non-trivial. There’s some places you can get stabbed, like the shoulder blade, where the blade will hit bone before it does anything really nasty.

But, as a guideline; three inches of penetration, nearly anywhere on the body, is a life threatening wound. That deep and the odds are unpleasantly good that you’ll hit an internal organ or an artery.

Depending on the size of the knife that’s either possible or not. But, yeah, I’d say go with the hand. It’s a nice visual injury, and if you want, it can easily become a permanent wound for your character to carry with them. It’s easy to get the hand in the path of the knife without much work. And, it’s one of the few stab wounds you can really walk away from.

-Starke

Realistically, say a character was knocked unconscious for around ten seconds or so, would they be able to get up and get back to whatever they were doing (like: running, fighting, etc.) and also what would they be feeling when they woke up? Basically if my character is knocked out and wakes up, can my other characters pull him along until they’re out of harms way or would he be too fucked up to move?

I’d go with too fucked up to move. Remember, getting knocked out, even for a few seconds, is still a very serious concussion, and by extension a life threatening injury.

Off the top of my head, the symptoms should be: nausea, vertigo, (I think) blurred vision, and difficulty tracking (so, carrying on a conversation is also out).

This is actually what that “how many fingers am I holding up?” cliche is based on, it’s one way to judge if someone’s suffered a concussion, another is looking at pupil dilatation (by shining a light in their eye).

It’s also worth pointing out, because concussions are cumulative over time, these symptoms will actually get worse, and characters can’t learn to power through them. If your character’s getting clocked over the head repeatedly, they’ll end up dying from a blow to the head fairly quickly.

As a quick aside, there isn’t a safe way to render someone unconscious. I’ve been assuming a blow to the head, but tranquilizers require very specific doses (which vary based on weight and metabolism), and if you misjudge it even slightly, you can end up having no real effect, or outright killing the character you’re trying to tranq.

-Starke

kickassfanfic said: You say ‘cumulative over time’ – is that indefinitely? Like if you haven’t been concussed in, say, two years, or TEN years, I dunno, and you get whonked upside the head again, is it just as bad as if your first whonk was the day before?

Not completely. Here’s the thing, when you suffer a concussion, what happens is your brain gets bounced off the inside of your skull. This results in bruising on the brain itself.

Someone who’s suffered a concussion is at substantially greater risk of suffering another, and any concussion they suffer will be more dangerous to them. This diminishes over time, but it never goes away fully. In other words, no, your brain never fully heals.

I’m sorry, I am oversimplifying things here. This is a really complex topic, and I’m not a doctor; but, from a writing standpoint? Yes. If your character is getting knocked unconscious, it will always be worse than the last time, regardless of if it was yesterday, or twenty years ago. If your character is getting clocked on the back of the head more than once or twice, they’re going to die.

-Starke

Hi! I’m trying to write a mecha story, and the mech fights with a lazer scythe. I realise it would be hard to apply real life training to a mecha situation, but is there any advice you can give on how a human would use a scythe-type weapon even semi realistically that I could then apply in larger scale for the mecha? Even if its something that the pilot himself trains in or something. I love this tumblr! Thank you :)

Honestly? Not much. The scythe isn’t, and never has been a weapon. It can be used as an improvised weapon in a pinch, but, to the best of my knowledge there’s never been a formalized combat style involving one. Real scythes were designed around a simple, horizontal swiping motion to, well, scythe down grain. The blade was on the edge facing the user, meaning to use it as a weapon you would have to strike past your foe and pull towards you. When you’re dealing with grain, that’s useful, when you’re dealing with someone wanting to remove your internal organs, it’s a bad thing.

The only thought on the scythe I can think of would be to treat it like an axe or pick. You could look at some forms of axe combat, particularly the bearded axe, which involves building momentum in a crossing figure eight motion.

For writing a mecha story in general, I would suggest taking a look at the GURPS Mecha book by David Pulver. Like most of the GURPS supplements, it spends a lot of time talking about considerations for world building and how to pace a longer story or series. I’m not an expert, but the material it presents looks solid enough at first glance, and should give you some help with your story. A few caveats: it spends almost no time talking about melee combat in Mecha, and it does assume you have the core GURPS book and Compendium I, though, from a writing standpoint, those aren’t actually necessary.

-Starke

wetmattos said: I’ve seen, once, a video of a scythe fighter, and according to him the most difficult thing on wielding it is to maintain balance – but it seems viable (even if really risky) enough. Sending the video! youtube.com/watch?v…

That’s actually a pretty good suggestion, at least on a visual level. What you’re seeing there looks like a form of Wushu staff technique.

It’s not a practical way to fight with a scythe, but, given we’re talking about Mecha fighting, it doesn’t need to be.

-Starke