Tag Archives: injuries

When I was 11 and training in martial arts (internationally​ competitive and consistently​ placed in every competition) I had to spar against an adult in clads for practice and did break their ribs with a well placed kick and because they’d forgotten their chest padding. So, just speaking from personal experience that a child could break an adults ribs, but I was a very highly trained kid who’d been in karate for several years at that point.

Well, that was the point of my response. The character in question had no training. You know as well as I do what someone with no martial arts training throwing a kick looks like. What chances would you give them in a managing to successfully perform the technique in a fight for their life? The odds are not in their favor.

Just from my experience teaching martial arts, the number of kids who could what you did at age eleven in a sparring match is tiny. Possibly by dumb luck. If you competed internationally then you were obviously in the top tier, and that puts you in a league far beyond what most kids are capable of. Most adults too, for that matter.

Consider though, the amount of time per day you spent training for your
competitions in comparison to your classmates including those in
whatever school you went to. In all the karate students in all the world, you were probably in the top percentile of a select group that ever makes it that far. I can list on one hand the number of martial artists I’ve known who went to international competitions. That’ll really skew your perspective.

And, of course, the chances of sparring injuries increase substantially when we forget our pads.

While we’re on the subject of injuries:

My brother almost lost his leg, for example, when he decided to throw a roundhouse kick at Starke when they first met. My brother was eighteen (and a fourth degree black belt, who should know better) and Starke had police self-defense training from a cop in Wyoming when he was a kid. The cop was a little on the crazier side and taught small children the standard joint breaks they were teaching at the time to regular officers. One of them was the defense against the roundhouse kick, which includes a knee break. My brother came very close to walking with a limp for the rest of his life. Instead, he went on to become a boxing national champion in the welterweight division.

Those of you who’ve heard about my brother before might remember the time he almost lost an eye when our instructors were dumb enough to let two young black belts spar with UFC fiberglass gloves and perform head blows. To this day, he is (just a little) walleyed.

Then, of course, there’s the story I got off Starke from one of his karate friends in college. The two brown belts that the black belts let spar without restrictions and each of them ended up with a broken leg.

Not everyone highly trained is smart or responsible. Sometimes, they’re really, really dumb. Or not paying attention. Or criminally negligible.

Let this be a lesson to every writer out there who wants to write a “No Pads” sparring session with beginners or… just in general. There’s a really good chance that if no one’s paying attention someone will be leaving with broken bones even if the match started with the best of intentions.

This also isn’t counting what happens when the kids decide to spar and no one with sense is there to stop it. That happens too.

And then there’s the part that’ll horrify some of the readers out there, which is martial artists swap these kinds of stories around with each other and laugh about it after the fact. The explanation for this behavior is injuries get normalized when you’re in a culture where the chance for experiencing them is high. This happens with soldiers and cops too, in regards to their own. Then martial artists, soldiers, and cops will swap these stories with each other, because its one of the parts of all three cultures which cross over. It’s like the stories you tell about family vacations, and stupid things your friends did, except its about breaking ribs, dislocating joints and the time you watched someone’s leg turn into a screw. Panic in the moment, but funny later.

If you’re outside that culture, the casual disregard will sometimes sound absolutely bonkers. That casual attitude, however, is a nice tell for someone who’s been in the business awhile. The chance being injured or seeing an injury happen on a training mat or walking the beat is something you’ve adjusted too. Not that you want it to, but you’ve seen it. Plus, you’re getting little minor injuries all the time which helps when it comes to handling them.

Figuring out how to present various normalized mental states for characters of different backgrounds is hard because we’re so used to thinking about our state of normal. The problem is everyone’s version of “Normal” is different.

-Michi

Do you suppose that a person who’s spent about 2.5 years training themselves to withstand/ignore pain by say experiencing 4th degree burns over his entire body, would be able to throw one punch before collapsing after being stabbed in the lung?

Okay, so, two problems up front. The first being
that: Fourth degree burns aren’t painful. There may be some exceptions, but the
nerve endings are cooked, so nothing remains to transmit to the brain that this
should hurt, or even that the injury is occurring. The second is that: Fourth
degree burns don’t heal. As I mentioned a second ago, fourth degree burns are
where the tissue has been cooked, the meat itself is dead at this point.

Without immediate and extensive medical treatment,
fourth degree burns are life threatening injuries. These are where the burn
gets into the deep tissue, destroying muscles, ligaments, tendons, and any nerves
unfortunate enough to be affected. Usually, fourth degree burns penetrate to
the bone, so if it’s a limb, that’s not coming back.

Also, note the word I used above, “cooked.” That’s a
pretty good description of the kind of damage we’re talking about here. It’s
not something your character can walk away from.

Second, following up on what I said the other day
about injuries, pain, and adrenaline. If you missed it, the very short version
is that adrenaline actually impairs your ability to feel pain (to a degree), so
if you’re in combat and take a bullet, or get stabbed.

To an extent, none of this matters, a character can
keep fighting with a collapsed lung, but their ability to breathe will be
impaired. Lungs function operate based on controlled air pressure, so when they’re
punctured, they tend to deflate, halving the victim’s ability to breathe. They’d
suffer everything that comes along with hypoxia: Shortness of breath,
lightheaded, easily fatigued, and confusion, (I assume the confusion would take
a few minutes, but I’m not 100% certain). A collapsed lung can also cause the
victim to go into shock.

There is a point to teaching people to manage pain,
and the methods for that, ranging from extremely intensive exercise to some
varieties of very controlled physical abuse, but setting someone on fire does
not qualify as either, and fourth degree burns are something that will halt
your character’s training, it won’t toughen them up, but will turn them into a slab
of meat, cooked well done.

The issue is, a lot of writers take the idea of
things like extreme training, and push it way past any reasonable stopping
point. Fourth degree burns is up there with shooting a character to teach them
to control pain. Unless they have superpowers, it will transition from the
kinds of pain someone can learn from and into actually killing the student. A
character might get to the point where they’re being struck with a staff and
taking the blows without injury through proper muscle control, but you’re not
going to run them through with a sword, or set them on fire. That doesn’t teach
anything, and will seriously injure the student.

Following on that, the purpose of striking a student
is to teach them to take blows without being injured. They’re learning to tense
the muscles so the impact doesn’t cause harm.

Exercise is where you learn to tune out pain.
Someone used to sprinting on wet sand will be far better suited to powering
through pain than someone who was repeatedly set on fire by a sadistic
instructor. Also, I called this extreme exercise earlier, but this stuff is
still pretty tame. It will include things like asking the students to exercise
in unpleasant circumstances, not ones that pose an actual treat to them.

So, in short, yes, they can keep fighting, though it’s
not going to be as simple as they fall over, they’ll slow down, start losing
track of what’s going on, probably get far more seriously injured because they’re
still trying to participate against unimpaired foes, and then collapse.

-Starke

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Watching a James Bond movie, I noticed James gets shot, winces a little and continues on as normal, bleeding and all. Is that plausible? Later in in the movie, he gets shot again, falls unconscious onto a river and survives with recovery. I’ve never been shot but I’d imagine that even if my body is pumping adrenaline, I would be in pain. Is there such thing as “getting used” to getting shot to the point where you can just carry on after an injury? I suppose it also depends on where you got shot.

No, or at least not through that logic.
You don’t build up a tolerance for getting shot, but people can, and do, keep
fighting through gunshot wounds.

It’s fairly common for someone to not
realize they’ve been shot. Adrenaline actually deadens the sensation of pain,
and so they’ll take a bullet, then begin feeling fatigue as they bleed to death
and, eventually collapse. In situations where the bullet missed hitting
anything vital, and the actual bloodloss is slow, they can remain functional
for quite some time. This is one of the reasons you’ll frequently see
characters checking themselves for injuries after a fight. This is also one of
the reasons why you’ll see “professional” characters firing multiple shots in
quick succession. It’s not that one bullet won’t get the job done, it’s that
depending on where it hits, a single wound won’t stop their foe.

Even in situations where the bullet
damages vital internal organs, like the lungs, it’s sometimes possible the
victim still won’t realize they’ve been hit until after the fact. Ironically,
this can include headshots, which are only lethal about 98% of the time.

So, getting shot, or hit by shrapnel, is
something that you can, absolutely, keep fighting through. It’s not that you’re
dealing with a character who’s so badass they can go through the pain, it’s
that in most cases they do not know they’ve been hit. If there is an
unrealistic element to this, it’s that Bond felt the hit, and responded to it, not
that he could keep fighting afterwards.

-Starke

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Hi there. All this films about action/fantasy heroes downplay a lot the pain and injuries the characters suffer for the sake of the pace. In real life, is there any sort of training to endure pain better, or it is all fiction? I am hoping to write a soldier (special soldier, fantasy setting) that is in pain from a shoulder injury (no blood, just soft tissue, recurring injury), so any tips would be welcome. Thanks!

It’s not so much special training against pain, so much as it’s contextualized by training and experience. What you do becomes normal over time, so the more used you are to getting injured then the more inured to it you become. This happens to athletes and soldiers all the time. The more dangerous the job, the greater the chance of injury, then the more used to it they are.

@readingwithavengeance once told a story on her blog about a soldier in Iraq who got a gut wound, grossed out his regiment by going to the dining area with his guts hanging out while waiting for pickup so he could get taken to surgery. His exposed intestines were protected by a plastic bag, but, you know, perfect time for shit on a shingle.

Remember, what might sound horrific to you is normal for someone else. Normal is relative to events in your life and your experiences. A lot of the problems that come with martial arts and training in fiction are born off the idea that because the author’s normal is normal then their character must need or be doing something special. When, in actuality, all their character has done is adjust to a new normal that most who go through the same would experience.

The ability to endure pain is a lot more common and a lot less special than fiction makes it out to be.

Someone who has gone through a great deal of emotional trauma will be better at enduring it than someone who has not.

Why?

Practice.

The same is true for physical pain.

As with everything, practice makes perfect.

One part of training is learning to work through pain because training is painful. Developing endurance, training up your muscles is painful. It hurts. But to complete your training or do your techniques, you have to force yourself through it and overtime you improve.

Part of training is learning the difference between good pain (my muscles are lazy) and bad pain (my muscles are seriously injured), but in the beginning it’s all just pain.

Pain is the body’s way of speaking to you. The problem is that your brain instills a lot of false limits, so there’s what your body’s used to doing, what you believe you can do, and what you can actually do. Most people underestimate themselves, they listen to their body and stop when it hurts. Physical training teaches you about the different kinds of pain your body experiences, how to work with it, how to ignore it, how to suppress it, and how to overcome it. It’s not a special lesson, it’s one you learn by consistent repetition.

You got to be tired, you wake up hurting, but still you have to go out and train. You’re not injured, your body just hurts. Physical training involves either breaking your muscles down (such as weight lifting and body building, you tear your muscles to build muscle) or stretching and lengthening them with endurance training like running. It hurts, but it’s not an acceptable excuse to stop.

A large part of training is acclimatizing, you’re getting your body and mind ready and/or used to the strain they will be put under when actively participating in their future endeavor.

Army Drill Sergeants, particularly yell at recruits in Basic in order to simulate and stimulate stress in the trainees with the goal to acclimatize them to continue working, thinking, acting, and fighting while they are under stress.

You want to try to put together a rifle with some asshole screaming in your ear and telling you that you’re the worthless scum of a bootlicking cocksucker? Well, if you can do that then you’ll probably be able to do it when your friends are dying around you and bullets are flying over your head.

R. Lee Ermey, actor and former Staff Sergeant/Drill Instructor in the Marine Corps made this approach famous in Full Metal Jacket.

For people used to receiving minor physical injuries (scrapes, cuts, muscle pain, bruises), injuries just start to sort of roll off them. They still hurt, but you keep working despite them. You acclimatize, you create a new sense of normal, and adapt. You figure out the limits of your injury and then start managing around it.

The question for soldier’s with injuries isn’t just whether or not it causes them pain. Does it significantly impact their ability to do their job? Can they still meet the physical requirements? That’s not just an executive decision you make as an author, but one that happens in conjunction with the rules you’ve set up for your world and the organizations in it.

This is the part where we talk about bureaucratic rules. If you’re writing a mercenary then it doesn’t really matter. It’s possible, depending on the era which you draw your inspiration for your military, that it won’t matter in the regular army either. However, every army has standards and those standards must be met by the participating soldiers. There’s a lot more to an army than fieldwork.

Soldiers do not assign themselves, soldiers are assigned by a higher authority figure.

Your soldier has to meet their military’s physical fitness standards in order to continue operating as a soldier in the field. If they can’t meet those standards then they are a liability to the men they serve with and will be placed elsewhere. (Soldiers are not lone wolves, they are cooperative beasts. They are part of a unit, that unit works together. If you haven’t spent time thinking about the Company and the cadre of characters your soldier serves with, then it’s probably best to start.)

If his recurring injury does not significantly impact motor function or his ability to perform/meet the necessary standards then it’s just pain.

Pain is suppressed. Pain is dealt with. Pain is ignored.

For him, that’s normal. It won’t be odd to anyone in his unit unless they’re new and he certainly won’t be the only one suffering from an old injury/scar that is a reminder of his mistakes.

It’s sort of along the same lines conceptually as the old man whose bones ache every time there’s a change in air pressure or a storm moves in.

The key to selling this kind of injury in your fiction is to present as normal. Maybe not normal to you or your reader, but it is for him. He didn’t go through any special training to achieve the ability to ignore his pain. That’s ultimately a false note.

If he can’t work through his pain, then he can’t do his job. If he can’t do his job then people die. He prioritizes what has to be done to do his job over his physical well-being. That’s part of his training.
All training involves pain.

He has pain, he got used to it.

It really is as simple as that.

-Michi

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Is there a functional purpose to ‘wavy’ blades such as a flamberge or the kris/keris dagger or are they purely aesthetic? Would they inflict and different kind of wounds than a straight blade?

It’s not aesthetic, though I’m not completely certain what the consequences are.

Usually the cited reason is the blade causes less suction. With knives, this tends to get presented as something that makes it harder to pull a blade back out of someone, though, really, if you got it in there in the first place, through intact tissue, pulling it back out shouldn’t be much of a barrier.

If it does actually generate less suction, it probably means the wound can’t seal around the blade to reduce bleeding, if it’s left behind. (Incidentally, first aid for someone who’s been stabbed is to leave the knife in the wound. Pulling it out will dramatically increase the blood loss through the wound, and you can kill someone that way while trying to help them.)

It may just be to increase the blade’s ability to wound while avoiding serration, and the difficulty with trying to sharpen or hone a serrated blade.

-Starke

So, in this hypothetical written situation, one character is run through from behind with a sword broad enough to cut his spine and major internal blood vessels, and he falls to the floor- would he have enough time to leave a short voicemail for the other main character before he bled to death? I know that films consistently portray being run through as some sort of insta-kill but I doubt the veracity of that entirely. (Bear in mind the one doing the stabbing is a very strong, nonhuman thing)

They might have time to, but with considerations like shock and pain, I’m not sure they’d actually be able to. Given how quickly fine motor control goes, he probably wouldn’t be able to dial a phone before the oncoming shock got too severe.

To say nothing of him keeping his mind clear enough to express, well, anything useful. Again, pain does an amazing job of completely messing with your ability to think straight.

-Starke

If you had one bad leg (fine for walking, not agile/strong enough to run on) how could you compensate for it in a fist fight?

You mean like what I have to deal with on a day to day basis?

Actually, this one’s pretty simple: Depending on the injury, you wouldn’t be able to get into lower stances, which is a distinct disadvantage. A lower center of gravity is harder to knock over, and has an advantage for power generation.

Also, it would impair your ability to kick. In my case, I can’t really drill in traditional kicks, because my knee will start to go after about 10 minutes. I can execute them, and I’ve been trained in a few, but my technique is permanently sloppy, because I don’t have the option to drill it until I have the technique down.

-Starke

What kind of wound would cause the slowest yet surely inevitable death in the middle ages?

Bacterial infection. Any minor injury that leads to an infection and is left untreated, particularly on the torso, or head. This actually persists into the mid-modern era, and it’s only, really, modern antibiotics and an understanding of the need to protect wounds against bacteria that have finally moved this out of the fatal and into the treatable range.

European medicine in the middle ages looks more like creative torture to a modern observer. But, if you don’t outright kill someone, humans are ridiculously hearty and can survive trauma that will flat out kill nearly any other animal on the planet, even without medical attention. This means killing someone with a non-lethal wound is surprisingly hard.

The examples that still apply tend to be things like rupturing internal organs (like the kidneys or liver), which will kill you, but the blood loss will take awhile.

-Starke

I have a character, about seventeen, who, one day, had her entire arm covered with numerous scars and burns. How would that affect her use of that arm?

I don’t know. That’s going to depend on the specific scars and what damage the original wounds did.

Burns can do all sorts of nasty things to your character’s tissue. Scars aren’t likely to do much on their own, though the original injuries could have severed tendons, cut nerves, or just carved up the arm.

So, really, the question you should be asking is, “what happened to her arm?”

Nerves that have been nicked by a blade (or claw, or bite) can result in dead patches further down the arm, or on the hand, that no longer have a sense of touch. Severed nerves can result in partial or complete paralysis of the affected limb, and this is stuff that does not heal.

I’ve, fortunately, never had to deal with a burn more severe than specs of flying cooking grease, so I’ve forgotten a lot of what I learned about burns. But, here’s the thing I do remember (outside of rare circumstances) burns that are severe enough to scar transition into immediately life threatening very quickly. Second Degree burns can scar and require skin grafts, but anything past that will probably kill your character if she doesn’t get medical attention, and medical attention will probably include lopping off the arm.

For reference: First Degree is superficial, without blistering, Second Degree is superficial with blistering and/or cracking of the skin, third degree is a deep tissue burn, and fourth degree is fully cooked.)

On the personal experience front, my left thumb is actually a little numb as I’m typing this. I burned it on a frying pan about a week ago. There’s no visible scaring, though it’s actually somewhat possible I’ll never get full feeling back. Just, you know, food for thought.

I’ve also been on the receiving end of an electrical burn, once. (Technically, it was about 11% of the voltage you need to actually classify for an electrical burn. But, it’s easier than saying, “I got shocked.”) The thing that stuck with me was a tingling sensation. For about a week after, felt like the fingers were twitching, even when I could see that my hand was (basically) still.

So, yeah, burns are not happiness.

-Starke

What kind of injuries would a soldier have to sustain to end up permanently blinded? Would, say, them being near an explosion work/be plausible?

Yes. Anything that damages the eye has a potential to result in permanent blindness, this includes shrapnel from a blast. Eyes can also be burned with intense heat, damaged via chemical exposure.

Now… your character’s probably going to have some scaring on their face in addition to being blind, but it is quite possible.

-Starke

perspi-looks said: Not to mention anything that causes a hit to the head, which means your brain can knock against your skull. Damage to the visual centers or optical nerves could happen that way, which may leave your character blind without much facial scarring.

Perpsi’s right, and I need coffee. Thank you for catching that.