Tag Archives: martial arts

What styles/weapons would you suggest for a fighter who is a bit shorter/stocky, and is modified (scifi style) and has to deal with multiple, large, or powerful opponents(aliens and such). She’d need to fight both ranged and up close and personal, and she would need to be able to completely dispatch opponents as well as remove them from a fight without (too) serious injury. (I know, far fetched) And does personality affect what style someone uses(in your opinion)? I’m sorry if this is too vauge.

We get these questions about body type a lot, especially in regards to fighting and what style an author should pick. Ultimately, it’s more of a perspective issue and it’s understandable since the vast majority of Hollywood and Anime have a love affair with the “Five Man Band”. Anime often puts forward unique and individual fighting styles which match a character’s body in order to make them more visually distinct i.e. the big guy usually wields the big honking ass sword and relies on physical strength and the rail thin glasses guy is a tactician who is dexterous and quick, often with flawless technique. The Five Man Band is a very successful technique, at least visually. It works under the same rules for writing which state that you shouldn’t give characters similar sounding/looking names because it because it becomes difficult to distinguish them.

It’s probably the worst decider when it comes to choosing a fighting style for a character. Training itself changes and molds the body. If your female character starts out lithe and lean, learns a combat art which heavily favors the upper body such as boxing or kick boxing, she won’t remain that way for long. She’ll develop musculature in her chest which widens it (her breasts will also, probably, shrink), her legs will become thicker and more stocky, she’ll become more weighted in her upper body, her neck will thicken from the development of her shoulder muscles. Depending on her dedication, she’ll gain some very nice definition in those arms. You can expect a little thickness in the jaw. Depending on the kind of training and how long she’s been doing it, she may possess a scar across one eyebrow and her nose probably won’t be entirely straight.

Training molds you to it. Stop and take a look at professional or Olympic athletes like gymnasts or runners. Look at the U.S. Armed Forces, especially by division, and you’ll see something similar. Even though there are slight differences, there’s also a fairly impressive uniformity of body type. That’s the training. If I had to state a real pet peeve, it’s that this gets routinely ignored for female characters because it often leads to them possessing an “unconventional” body. By unconventional, I mean that they aren’t often within the standards or weight range of what society considers to be feminine or beautiful.

There’s a part to training where the body is sculpted and can significantly change what a person looks like. Professional trainers in Hollywood who cater to actors employ different training regimens to achieve different looks, to create a specific type of body. It’s actually something to keep in mind when looking at any actor: you’re seeing months, if not years, of dieting and specific physical training to achieve a singular result.

The kind of training a character engages in won’t change their height or the length of their arms, but it will have a significant influence on what they look like. What that is depends on the training involved.

So, what are the deciding factors?

What are they doing? What are they fighting? What is their job? What is their background? Who is training them?

The problem with “short/stocky woman” faces “multiple larger/more powerful opponents” is that’s the life of every short woman ever and they will need to learn to deal with it regardless of the martial style they pick. Martial arts are designed around the idea that the opponent will be a human being, and everything from the approach to the psychology is geared toward that. You don’t go box a bear and expect it to work the same way, because a bear and a human come with different considerations, different dangers. Now, people did box with bears. Bear boxing was a real side show performance, but bear boxing and regular boxing are different. Why? One of them is a bear. Also, the bears were historically abused and mistreated by having their teeth and claws removed in order to make it possible. Or, the boxer would have died.

My point is that the enemy one faces is the deciding factor in how one fights. You don’t go hand to hand with a Xenomorph. You don’t go hand to hand with a tentacle monster. You can go hand to hand with a Klingon, but it will be unpleasant.

The problem is that there is no one size fits all solution, not in real life and not in a future where everything is much, much more complicated.

Combat is a form of problem solving. To figure out what you’re solving, you have to figure out what the problem is. Then, you justify the solution. Martial training is used to support a setting, but to have one you need an enemy and aliens come in all shapes and sizes. And, the more variety there is, the more new and inventive ways one must come up with to counter the threat.

Subduing an opponent is all well and good, provided the character has a means to support that approach. This could be through tools such as handcuffs or weapons like a taser or a futuristic form of stun gun. The question is looking at the right group for the solution you want. In this case, if you want a character who uses a form of professional combat that predominantly focuses on non-lethal takedowns and subdual, you’re looking at police, their martial techniques and their H2H. When you’re looking for professional groups with a combat focus that orient on using violence as a non-lethal means to solving problems that’s law enforcement. It’s their job, they develop down that route. Other combat professionals don’t have the luxury. A great example of a fictional militarized police force is the Peacekeepers from Farscape.

Martial arts that come off of bloodsport are the runner up with varying degrees of success. The reason is that unless we’re talking about a death match, bloodsport is primarily entertainment and the goal of the fight is to entertain so it shies away from quick kills or more pragmatic combat. It becomes a war of attrition. However, these are martial arts with a primary focus on dueling and fighting single opponents. If there’s one lesson to take from Gina Carano’s Haywire, it’s that putting the wrong kind of combat on a character is debilitating. Carano is a fantastic martial artist, but MMA is far too slow and discordant for a spy thriller.

Making combat work will require a decent amount of worldbuilding from you for each alien type, plus hammering out technology and how that affects combat. (Ray guns, stun guns, cybernetics, etc.) Martial combat is a form of both individual and cultural expression, showing their values and priorities, how they respond to threats. To know how a character fights, you need to understand the culture they belong to and how they navigate it. This goes far beyond a character’s moral makeup or their pragmatism, the values their culture ascribes to and the threats they faced are the deciding factors in how a combat style developed… which shapes a huge portion of their lives and who they are.

Start to think about creating a toolbox for this character, much in the same way you would if you were writing a paranormal story. Different strategies for different types of enemies. Depending on setting rules, you don’t use the same approach to dealing with zombies that you do with werewolves and the same is true of vampires.

Dealing with a genetically modified human will require a different approach, just like dealing with a psychic will require a different combat approach.

Dealing with different alien species will require navigating their culture as much as their combat. After all, their culture defines how and why they fight. Every alien is an individual with their own reactions and responses to the social mores they follow. And, depending on the advantages the character in question possesses, they might not even be able to go into hand to hand so they’ll need a tool to deal with that.

A character’s personality may lead them toward the job type, institution, or training they sign up for, but the training itself will have the greater affect on their personality. Whether they are an actual participant in the system or hold the job is up to you, but if you want a character fight like a professional combatant then they need a professional’s training. Which means a teacher who is a professional of some kind.

In the end, it’s really a question of what you want and the kind of story you want to tell.

-Michi

References, Resources, and Recommendations:

Farscape – We recommended this one just recently, but really. Farscape.There’s a bevy of aliens here, with characters having to make use of minimal resources in order to survive.

Babylon 5 – We usually recommend this for politics, but I recommend it for it’s worldbuilding. Everything from accounting for different alien physiology to the handling of telepaths among different races, to various martial styles based on alien cultures, to hilarious misunderstandings based on translator errors, this series has a a lot to love for any writer looking to craft science fiction.

Stargate SG1 – This may seem like an oddball recommendation, but a lot of science fiction settings have all their cultures progressing at the same rate. Stargate is all over the map and it’s an interesting look at the different ways cultures develop when dealing with or faced by advanced technology. Campy as it is, you might find some neat ideas hidden in this one.

Psycho-Pass – We rarely recommend anime, but Psycho-Pass is a wonderfully well-developed dystopic future that’s a love letter to many older cyberpunk settings from Ghost in Shell to Blade Runner to the cult classic Johnny Mnemonic. It references 1984, Gulliver’s Travels, and a surprising amount of literature in its first season. It’s for mature viewers only and is fairly disturbing. But the reason why I’m recommending it to you is that it does an excellent job with the idea of a computer deciding who lives and who dies, of guns that won’t fire unless a person is above a certain number and that will kill only if they reach another threshold beyond that. It’s cops attempting to hunt down killers in a society where their very emotions and ability to do their job are their own enemy. (I’d actually watch this one after Law & Order and Southland.)

Law & Order Law & Order isn’t just important for understanding cops, it’s actually very important to understanding people and why people commit violence.

Southland – I recommend Southland because it’s set in Los Angeles and, much like New York, there are a lot of different racial tensions that the cops need to navigate on multiple levels. It’s very informative for teaching you about how to look at and think about an environment, even one that we don’t initially perceive as hostile.

Trinity – This was a science fiction roleplaying game from White Wolf. The setting itself does a good job of bridging between real world politics, and a near future spacefaring civilization with exposure to alien civilizations.

We don’t usually add supplements for games to the list, but the Trinity Technology Manual is an exception. This goes into a lot more detail on the specific hardware in the setting, and if you’re wanting to think outside the box for dealing with enemies, this might give you some additional ideas. Just, be aware, you’ll need to have read the core book to fully understand a lot of the stuff being thrown around.

Shadowrun – As with Trinity this is another sci-fi roleplaying game. The setup is a little different, instead of traditional sci-fi, this is urban fantasy cyberpunk. You (probably) don’t need to worry about magic in your setting, but even ignoring that, this is still a setting where characters will routinely go toe to toe with things that are larger than themselves and inhumanly resilient. So it might be worth a look.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution – this game is really good for dealing with and getting you to think about the different ways of dealing with transhuman enemies. Also, the tensions brought in by transhumanism itself.

Crysis 2 – Really good if you want to write a character who has been heavily modified, doing the impossible, being put through inhuman amounts of physical abuse, and treated as interchangeable by the people around them.

Alien and Aliens – How to deal with an enemy you cannot face in single combat.

Predator and Predator 2 – Stupid, yes, but relevant. These movies are all about dealing with aliens that are predatory and as intelligent as the humans with goals of their own. Predators have some great limitations and weaknesses, but they’re not human ones and aren’t what we expect.

Hi. I joined a martial arts club so I could learn self confidence/self defense. But yesterday I was taught by a guy who made me so uncomfortable, I don’t want to go again. I cant believe the irony! I wanted to learn self defense against misogynists & ended up being taught by one who roughed me up & pretended it was a lesson. He kept saying “girls are so much worse than boys” (about school bullies, like at over 20 yrs old that’s why I joined?) & when I disagreed he aggressively pulled me. Advice?

Get out of the class.

This guy obviously has nothing to teach that you’re interested in learning and in the words of the Karate Kid: “There are no bad students, just bad teachers.” You don’t have to go, you don’t have to stick it out, this is not a toughness test. You have the right to say “no” and go find an instructor who will help you achieve the goals you set for yourself as opposed to working out his personal issues on you.

This is not acceptable. It is not okay. Leave.

I cannot stress that enough.

LEAVE.

If this guy is the one running the school, then find another school. If he’s not and is working under a leadership then (if you feel comfortable talking to them), you should let them know. If this is a position or attitude that they endorse, then, again, leave. Unfortunately, that may be all you can do. Safeguarding yourself is important. You are important. You are entitled to a safe, constructive learning environment with someone you trust and who believes in you. This guy is obviously not giving you that, therefore he is neither entitled to your time or your money.

Abusive environments in martial arts schools are not normal. However, they do happen. Assholes exist and, unfortunately, regardless of training, shitty people will continue to be shitty.

So, get out. You don’t want to go back? Great. Don’t. You don’t have to. This is not you giving up. This is not cowardice. This is not you failing. He has failed you. If you do to get a refund, bring a friend. Don’t go back without one, or two, or three. There’s safety in numbers. Whatever you need to feel safe.

Here’s what you shouldn’t do.

Don’t let this guy scare you off getting what you want. Okay? He’s not the norm and those goals you mentioned: building self-confidence and learning to defend yourself? That’s admirable. I’m proud of you for finding the courage to go after what you want. Tackling new experiences is very brave and I’m sorry this situation has been so horrible. All my hugs to you. Those things you want? You deserve them. Find a different school.

Martial arts schools are like any community, they’re all different. Think about the different cliques in your high school, even the people who seem very similar can be vastly different. What you need is to find an environment where you feel comfortable. Find someone you want to learn from.

Martial arts require trust and respect, it’s a shared path between teacher and student. You need to find a teacher you respect and one who respects you. A good teacher is one who believes in you. They believe in their students, they are invested in their development, they are with you ever step of the way, and they are a second family. They will not disregard your fears, they will listen to you, and together you will work toward achieving what you need. It’s a partnership. Because of that, it’s important to remember that not every teacher can provide what you’re looking for. This is why finding the right one is so important. Remember, what’s right for me or Starke may not be right for you. We all learn differently and thrive in different learning environments.

Most importantly: This is supposed to be fun.

I’m going to borrow a section from The Ultimate Guide to Tai Chi, an article by Dr. John Painter where he discusses selecting a school. This is going to be specifically about Tai Chi, but really, it’s good advice for any martial art.

to find a school to suit your needs, you should first decide just what you expect to gain from studying tai chi chuan. Do you simply want better health, or do you want to learn tai chi to defend yourself, or to enhance your internal power? Or all of the above? Getting in touch with your needs is a good idea before you start your quest.

Where to Look
In most large cities across the United States, there are usually several teachers available. Look in the yellow pages or ask around to compile a list of candidates. Checking with the local community college programs is another option. Anyone who wishes to study this art should identify as many teachers as possible in the area. Then go visit the training sites of each. Some may be in a commercial gymnasium, or a church hall, or a college gymnasium, while other classes are taught in parks. The authenticity of the art does not rely on the place in which it is practiced. However, for a beginner, it generally is best to have a quiet serene environment in which to train.
If the site matches your needs, call the instructor and ask to visit an actual class. It’s most helpful to observe both a beginner’s and advanced class to determine how you might progress as a student of that particular school. Avoid a teacher who will not allow visitors during class time. Legitimate teachers have nothing to hide and do not conduct “secret” classes. (pg XIV)

I also suggest checking Yelp and other sites to see if the school is listed. Not all experiences are going to be favorable, but this is an easy way to check the pulse before leaping right in.

This part is the one I feel is most important.

Once you have located a teacher to visit, do what the Chinese say: “Empty your cup.” Let go of any expectations about how a competent tai chi chuan teacher should look, act, or sound.

Good teachers come in all shapes, sizes, and nationalities and in both sexes (genders). A teacher does not have to be Chinese to have a command of the art. A good teacher has to communicate the basic principles in a clear and concise manner—this is essential.
The hallmark of excellence in teaching is not how the teacher performs, but how he or she gets you to perform. No matter how many awards are won or how perfectly the forms are executed for the class, if the person in question cannot explain in simple terms, or communicate in some way how you can do the technique, you are not looking at a good teacher! (pg XIV, bolded for emphasis)

Learning is about you, the student. The teacher’s job is to serve the needs of the student. If those needs are not being served, then the teacher has failed or is not a good one. When you look for your next school (leave this one), look for someone who makes you feel comfortable, whose class is comfortable and relaxed, who promotes an environment where you feel comfortable learning.

You are not being selfish. It’s okay to say no. If the school cannot provide what you need, then feel free to look elsewhere. This is why looking at multiple schools is important. Much like applying to college, you’re looking for a place where the learning environment is right for you.

Do you trust this person? Do you feel safe? Are there other women present in your classes? Are they present in the higher classes? Are there female instructors? When you observe a class, how does the instructor treat them? How do the students behave? Do they look comfortable and happy?

Again from The Ultimate Guide to Tai Chi:

Taking the Pulse of the Class

When visiting the school, talk to the students and find out what they like about the program. Watch the classes and see if the students are having fun learning. It is best to avoid teachers who run their classes like a military camp or who never smile. Discipline is important and should be part of the class, but remember that tai chi chuan is based on Taoism, and Taoists do not take things as seriously as many of their Zen-oriented brothers in budo. Look for laughter.

You want laughter. You want comfort and friendliness. People who smile, who are warm, friendly, and welcoming. Community is what keeps you going when things get tough.

This is what’s most important. Women are often taught to sacrifice themselves for the good of others, to put aside their own needs in order to make someone else more comfortable. Screw that. Trust your instincts. They are right. If you find yourself having to make a lot of justifications, if this school is somewhere you don’t want to be, if you don’t feel like you’re learning, if you don’t feel valued, and you don’t feel respected both by your instructor and the other students then it’s time to go somewhere else.

Take care of yourself first.

I’m sorry this experience has been rough for you and your instructor is an asshole. Don’t give up. The sense of betrayal you’re feeling right now is natural. It’s not your fault. It’s his fault. You don’t have to go it alone. Most importantly, find a safe place.

Don’t go back.

(If you absolutely must, take a friend. If you are nervous about signing up at another school or even just visiting, again, bring a friend. Someone you trust, someone who will look out for you.)

-Michi

I’m curious – you mentioned in a previous ask that you can’t be a master of both gymnastics and a martial art at the same time. Does this also apply to someone who’s been doing a martial art since childhood and wants to continue on with it, is dedicated to mastering it etc… but also does *recreational*… I dunno, dancing? Would one influence or be apparent in the other? How far can you go with getting the dance forms down before the martial arts training interferes (if it does)?

You can do it until you run out of time. If you’re talking about someone who dances professionally, there is no time for martial arts. That’s their life. When you’re putting in a 16 hour work day on your physically demanding job, you’re not going to pop out and go for more exertion… well, most people won’t anyway.

Dancers that have free time do sometimes practice recreational martial arts. I mean, it’s one way to work off stress. Some forms like Tai Chi can be fantastic relaxation. But, unless they give up dancing, and commit their life to their martial art, they’ll never be masters.

They probably won’t even be particularly good, but so long as they’re paying their dues, putting forward legitimate effort, and showing some improvement, their instructors will probably be happy. The critical part is paying the dues. Remember: your dancer’s hobby is their job.

But, you will never achieve martial arts mastery by day tripping. It’s not something that you get for putting in an hour a week for twenty or thirty years.

It’s a time commitment as extensive and strenuous as their day job. You can be a professional dancer… or a professional martial artist. You can’t be both. There aren’t enough hours in the day. And, since I didn’t say it, but probably need to anyway, you can’t be an “amateur master” of anything. Actually mastering something anything requires a serious commitment.

Also, when I’m talking about training interfering, what I tend to glaze over is, this is something your character will be subconsciously choosing for themselves.

If one of these things is making them money, the other is costing them money, and they’re basically happy with their life, the priority will be obvious. If they’re not happy with their job, then that will show, and they’ll be looking for new employment; based on what I know of how competitive professional dance is as a career path.

Finally, training atrophies. Martial arts, and dancing, aren’t like riding a bike. If you don’t use it, you do lose it. Not all of it, not the information, but the ability to actually perform? Yes, that stuff needs to be maintained or it will slip. Just because your dancer was a martial artist as a kid doesn’t mean they can still perform as an adult. If they haven’t been using it, they won’t be able to keep pace with someone who has had more recent training, to say nothing of more training. In a real fight, without maintaining their skills, they’re going to have a hard time dealing with untrained opponents.

-Starke

“Martial arts each come with their own personal philosophies and ideologies, there’s an inherent outlook that changes how a student perceives the world around them as they train.” Can you tell me more about what they are for specific martial arts, at least those you know well? I think of starting to give my characters martial arts that fits their worldviews and personalities.

It might not sound like it, but this is really a very complicated question. The short answer is “no.” And, I’ve been wrestling with this question for awhile, honestly.

The problem is, a martial arts’ philosophy is baked in by the people that created it. Their philosophies were, in turn, influenced by their culture, and the world they lived in.

There are a few forms, like Tai Chi, MAP and Krav Maga that are fairly open about their philosophical cores. The vast majority however, don’t really articulate their philosophy directly. The reason for this is that the philosophy overall will be learned by practicing the martial art and become ingrained in the student over time. As the student advances in rank, they will begin to think about the martial art and how it applies to their own life. This is the point where the martial art’s internal philosophy is actively considered, but usually only as it applies to the individual student as part of their growth. In isolation, a martial art’s philosophy is nice but not relevant. The philosophies tend to make more sense once you know the context of where they’re from, why they were developed, and what the martial art was used for.

For example: Karate was originally developed in Okinawa and has a long martial tradition that predates the invasion and occupation by the Japanese. During the occupation, the martial art evolved to directly subvert the martial techniques of the Samurai. That’s traditional Aikido, Jujitsu, and the other Samurai martial arts. The recognizable Okinawan weapons, such as the nunchaku, and sai are not only designed to utterly subvert the traditional martial weapons of the Japanese like the katana and kill the occupying Samurai, but to do so with weapons that are not distinctly recognizable as weapons. Weapons which can be carried in plain sight carried by people who were risking death merely for owning them. In modern day Japan, the multiple variants of Karate are incredibly popular and have been adopted as part of the Japanese cultural tradition. While each vein of of Karate remembers it’s past differently, all come from a past struggle against an occupying force.

If you don’t know the history of Japan and Okinawa, or believe that the islands of Japan have always been one nation, then understanding the philosophy is going to be much harder.

I’ve said before, one of the central tenants of Aikido is the Dynamic Sphere. It is about making yourself the eye of the storm and encouraging the world to revolve around you. Now, from a purely American perspective, this draws up images of being selfish and self-centered (particularly for women). It’s worth remembering in translation that this is not a question of importance, it’s a function of the martial art’s physical philosophy. In practice, Aikido is not a mobile martial art. It works by creating a base connection to the earth, by stabilizing the body’s energy, and using this tranquility to turn the attacker’s force against them. This is where the eye of the storm metaphor comes from, the raging storm is defined by active, violent winds. At it’s center, the eye is peaceful and balanced. The struggle of the Aikido student is in becoming that center, in achieving their own balance with the world around them.

I’m being poetic, but the basic idea is sound.

Karate is about creating an irresistible force that cannot be diverted and driving forward through all obstacles. On the surface, they seem completely unrelated, but the ancestor of one informed the other.

If at this point, you’re starting to feel pretty good, I have to remind you that we are only discussing these philosophies on a basic, surface level. The Orientalism of Star Wars is that the philosophy of the Force is based on the Tao. Many of the pop cultural, quasi-mystical training soundbites we get from a thousand different authors aping the 1980s Karate Kid, Star Wars, and similar films are bastardizations of real training mentalities. Honest to god, the concept of being a stone in the river has a real place in some martial arts.

What you’re really asking is, “who are these people of Earth?”

Here’s the truth: every human civilization in history has fought. Every civilization has, at one time, been forced to answer “what does all this death and destruction mean to me?” The splintered philosophies of those peoples to violence are scattered across thousands of different answers throughout human history.

What are the philosophies of the various marital arts? We all are. And, I’m sorry if that sounds pretentious or pseudo-mystical, but all of the various civilizations have answered that question differently.

-Starke

PSA: What Do You Call A Chinese Martial Arts Master?

I’m not going to name names, but I read a novel recently that left me very upset. So, I’m going to talk about an aspect of martial arts that I’ve discussed before but this time I’m going to go in depth. Again, I’m not naming names, but if the fans recognize who I’m talking about…well, I’m sorry.

Terminology

When you choose a martial art, or a distinctive weapon from a martial art, please, please, please get at least some of the terminology right. In the novel I read, the heroine refers to the Chinese martial arts master who trained her on her weapon as “sensei”. Did you just cringe? I did. FightWriters, this is a five minute Google search. Really. If the character is trained in the martial art’s country of origin, they should know at least some of the basic terminology. “Sensei” is correct for the heroines other two martial arts, which are karate and aikido. However, “Sifu” is appropriate to China.

It might seem like a common mistake, especially if you’re practicing multiple martial arts at the same time. It’s not. The terms become an easy way to distinguish between instructors. I have never confused my Sifu with my Kwanjangnim or my Sabumnim with my Sensei.

So, please, don’t get caught out like that. It sends the message to the readership who knows that the author didn’t care at all about the culture, the country, or the martial art in question, that they were just looking for something cool or an easy out to make their character sound legitimate. I’m not even going to point out that most of the Chinese martial art traditions have a fairly strict hierarchy about when a trainee begins to practice the weapon and that learning the weapon in absence of any other martial art instruction is weird. A simple wiki search will tell you that this one goes with Baguazhang, the same martial art that was used as the basis for Airbenders in Avatar.

Movement Style and Philosophy

When you choose a martial style, it’s a good idea to work out through study (even just through instructional videos on YouTube) what the style looks like and how it behaves in a combat situation. In the novel, the main character is aggressive. We have her leaping over couches to slam another character into a wall, pressing guns into eyeballs, and other similar actions that represent a very swift, mobile style that requires an actively aggressive mentality.

Aikido and Karate on the other hand…

Aikido is a style that entirely about non-aggression. In fact, its philosophy involves hurting the aggressor as little as possible. A perfectly executed technique is meant to send an enemy away with such perfect control that they bounce on the ground and roll away entirely unharmed. It functions off of a concept called “The Dynamic Sphere”, in which the practitioner acts as the center of their axis and uses their body as the centralized point to redirect their opponents away from them. An aikido practitioner does not chase their opponents; they wait for their opponent to come to them. This is part of why aikido is such a popular self-defense style. It’s perfect for a character that genuinely does not want to hurt someone else and actively discourages aggression.

There are many different variations of karate and since the novel never specified, I’m going to assume that the author was referring to shotokan which is one of the most common and easily found outside of Japan. Karate is also not really movement based, compared to most modern forms it’s actually fairly stationary. If I was going to describe it in a fight scene, what comes to mind are the powerful fluid movements and solid connections when it hits. Shotokan, in particular, is very mechanical when compared to other martial forms like Muay Thai or Krav Maga. In the right circumstances, karate can be devastating, but those circumstances don’t really involve leaping forward to slam someone’s head into the wall as the opening move.

I can guess why the author chose aikido and karate. In America, they are both well-known and popular martial art styles. Karate specifically is one of the most recognizable “buzzword” martial arts. It’s like “black belt”. Say it and the average person on the street will know what it means, or at least, they’ll know the culturally accepted meaning that exists within the mass social consciousness.

Throwing the words out there just doesn’t convince me unless they get backed up and to back them up, you have to start by developing a basic respect for the style you’re inputting into your novel. You don’t have to get it 100% right. In fact, even just the basics that can be gleaned from Wikipedia articles and YouTube videos will be sufficient.

“What do you call a Chinese martial arts master?”

This has been a Michi rant.

-Michi

ofsevenseas said: Depending on which dialect region of China they’re in, it might also be inappropriate to use ‘sifu’, which is the Cantonese word for ‘master’

That’s true, I was trying to keep the rant uncomplicated. But the truth is that in depth research is always important and China is a diverse country with many different dialects.

Well the thing you wrote about women fighting was a good read. Now my experience with female fighters weren’t that they were stronger, but have more control. My experience has been boxing so might be wrong. In that control I’ve seen female fighters be powerful in a different way then male. That female fighters may not have the same strength as male fighters because their strength is different then theirs. Would that be wrong?

capricorn-child:

fuckyourwritinghabits:

howtofightwrite:

Yeah, boxing is a bad test example. The “problem” with boxing is that because the strikes are, for the most part, upper body only, men do posses a much greater advantage when it comes to physical strength. Men can develop their upper body much more quickly and much more fully than women can. Whereas female strength develops more quickly in the core muscles and the lower body. They also have a much harder time building up “weightlifter muscles” and an easier time with “runners muscles”. That’s not a medical definition, but I can’t remember the terms right now.

When we look at boxing, even with the wider hips, the natural advantages that females possess just don’t come into play. This is just the way boxing works, for the most part. Add full rotation of the legs like in kickboxing and the field shifts dramatically. Add in joint locking techniques and free standing grappling, it’ll look different again.

The second problem that women face, and this one is much more important, are the psychological blocks they have developed from living in a patriarchal society. The beliefs a woman has about herself  will be her biggest barrier to learning how to fight effectively. “I don’t want to hurt anyone, I can’t do that, I’m not a bad person, I’ll get in trouble” etc are all part of mental barriers that come into play when faced with a male (and sometimes even female) opponent.

The differences between men and women on a purely physical level aren’t really that substantial. When we compare their fighting ability on a cultural and psychological one, the difference is enormous.

We see this one come into play a lot with writing, especially with the latest influx of “badass” female heroines. In most of those cases, the character themselves isn’t the reason for their success. The success is based on X, be that their superpowers, their base fighting ability (which is treated as separate from their personality), the way that other characters around them underestimate them on the basis of their size and gender. But none of that actually has anything to do with who they are as a person or how they see the world around them. There’s some extra reason why these girls and women can win that has nothing to do with them, but instead their victories are based in outside forces at work around them and how those forces fuck up.

The expectation is the same in the beginning for many of the female students I’ve taught and it’s something that they have to get over if they’re going to succeed in their training. Mental willingness to go the extra mile and push past the self-imposed mental limits will actually make the difference over base physical strength.

In the article, I wasn’t just talking about perceived physical differences, though they are important, because success in combat is learning how to play to your strengths. But, I was also talking about mental strength and what we believe about ourselves, how we see ourselves, and our capability for success.

When someone goes into a fight against someone else on the belief that they are going to lose merely based on their gender, they will. Now, across the board women aren’t necessarily stronger than men either. That one is going to come down to the individuals in question. The important thing to remember is that they’re just not weaker and that, at least in the mind, begins to level the playing field.

-Michi

OH MY GOD THEY SAID PATRIARCHAL SOCIETY this is the best blog.

when I did martial arts my sensei [who had a -lot- of experience] said girls tend to have better technique than boys, because to fight someone who is stronger, heavier and has a better reach than you, you have to really use skill and the way they teach you to use the opponent’s moves and weight against them.

This is true, but in some ways only partially so. I had this opinion too, until I stopped and thought about it. But the perception is, and this perception is general, is that the weight is the important factor. Since most martial arts are developed around the idea of making full use of weight, it is in a sense true. Men on average weigh more than women, so they get to coat. However, that’s only half the equation. Ultimately, what it comes down to is physics. Force = mass x acceleration.

Men have the greater mass, but because they do inertia works against them. They’re slower to start and slower to stop, which accounts for the lack of precision in their technique. Women weigh less, but they can accelerate faster and because they lack the problem with inertia, they reset much more quickly. This is where the average female martial artists greater precision comes from. She can start and stop whenever she wants and because she’s lighter. This means she hits slightly less hard but can hit her opponent more times in rapid succession than a man can. (The strength differential is ultimately more minimal). Thus, resulting in greater bodily control. When Starke and I discussed this, I ended up likening the female strengths to the Italian School of Fencing and male ones to the German School. The German School uses the longsword/broadsword for reference where the Italian School uses the light blades: foil, rapier, sabre. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise when I tell you that women happen to be extremely good at fencing. Both sports will mess up someone’s day, but they do it in different ways. Those differences are actually very important.

Now, in most martial arts, including many of the Japanese ones, you’re not really going to see this come into play unless the female practitioners begin to modify the style for themselves. The reason is that the average martial arts are built to play to male strengths, not female ones. They’re built around making use of the weight advantage, not the speed one. This translates into a general thought process that revolves around women being less proficient combatants because they lack the male advantages (generally taller and heavier) instead of feeding the female ones (lighter body, hits happen in rapid succession, making use of a lower center of gravity).

This is just on the basis of body. It doesn’t touch on the additional problems created by societal gender bias or how that can travel as a sub-component of the martial art and the societal attitudes that surround a martial artist as they are learning. Much of what is considered to be conventional wisdom, isn’t.

For most men, the best thing to do is focus on a “top down” mentality. Focus on building the upper body primarily, with an emphasis on hand techniques and using their greater size to force someone down. For women, I’ve found, the best approach is to focus on “bottom up”, start the student with an increased focus on leg strength, leg placement, hip rotation, and making full use of their lower center of gravity. Build muscle mass with an emphasis on speed. In most styles this will amount to “better technique”, but that’s not quite what’s happening.

My thoughts on the subject anyway and those are based in my martial arts experiences.

-Michi

Oh, just thought of something… Some time ago, someone asked if a dancer could fight, and I came to the decision that, perhaps, if he would use something close to the idea behind Yang style Taijiquan, since there is very little tension in the movements, as you mostly direct the enemy around your core and throw and push and pull… Hard to do, but perhaps possible :3

That was othersidhe’s question and I think it was more along the lines of the dancer’s dances made it look like he could fight instead of actually being able to fight and whether or not there were any martial styles that overlapped with dancing instead of hiding your martial art inside of a dance and hoping no one notices or looks too closely to see the tells.

There are definitely ways to make it work, the problem is that the author actually needs to work hard to justify the why part of the equation. You can, ironically, get more mileage out of a character who looks like they’re capable of fighting via their dancing versus a character who looks like they’re fighting in their dancing and can actually fight.

It’s a deception question, a martial art that’s designed to look like a dance but now looks like fighting has broken the illusion. The goal in hiding a martial art in a dance is to make the character look less dangerous as opposed to making them look more dangerous. However, disguising the martial art, whatever martial art that is, takes a fair amount of work on the part of the martial artist. So, there has to be a significant and important reason for why they are expending that much effort.

For example: most of the major martial arts out there that incorporate dance (like Taekkyon or Capoeira) do so because there was a reason why the martial forms needed to be hidden and the practice of traditional martial combat was outlawed. The other reason why a martial style may include dance (such as in some folk dances from different cultures around the world) is because the dance expresses something important to the understanding of the cultures’ celebrations or belief system and the martial style itself. This is pretty much part of where the performance aspect of modern Tournament culture in the US comes from.

People always find ways around restrictions. Some of the most famous weaponry (excluding the katana) out of Japan like the nunchaku and the kama were originally farming tools used by peasants to defend themselves against bandits. During the Edo era in Japan only the Samurai class was allowed to own weapons, peasants were forced to rely on their local lord or samurai for protection. But no system works perfectly, so they developed weapons and martial forms out of the tools they used daily, in order to hide what they needed to protect themselves from those who would punish them.

So it’s more a question of: is there a reason why they should be hiding their martial art and are there enough people around them who are doing the same to be able to support the illusion? For a style to actually be a style there has to be more than one or two people practicing it, otherwise what your character is doing starts to look very obvious to the outside observer even one who is not familiar with the culture in question.

-Michi

FightWrite: Martial Arts versus Dancing

othersidhe asked: Are there dances that incorporate actual Martial Arts? My character is a dancer but not a fighter, and his dances look like MA. The moves would not be viable in an actual fight, correct? I would think training for dancing would be very different from fighting. Should I have him trying to learn MA to improve his dancing, or does that matter?

Capoeira is the only martial art I know of that specifically incorporates dancing and it does so for a very specific reason. When the African slaves were brought to Brazil, they knew that they needed to a way to preserve their traditional fighting arts but had to do so in a way that appeared innocuous. Weapons and fighting were forbidden for slaves, so they developed Capoeira. Capoeira is a martial form that’s been specifically designed to look like dancing to trick the viewer into seeing something that’s not there. But it’s evolution was one that was based in necessity and not choice.

That’s pretty much it, Joss Whedon got into trouble with Summer Glau’s fight sequences in Serenity because he tried to have her learn one of the most difficult of all the martial forms: Wushu (which is a catchall phrase for Kung Fu, but the style itself is the official form of the Chinese Government), which looks light, airy, and whose practitioners move with boneless grace. To the untrained eye it could (and for some does) look like interpretive dance. The issue for her was that while her training as a ballerina was designed to make her light as air, the crucial moment of switchover from light to weight isn’t there in her hits. Her connections with the stuntmen in her strikes are more of a batting motion, like watching a kitten try to play with a butterfly. It’s cute, but the trained observer doesn’t expect it to, you know, do anything. Again, it’s not her fault, Michelle Yeoh has the same problem in some of her early work when she was making the transition from ballerina to martial artist. Her technical skill is better even in the early days(but if there’s one thing the Chinese movie industry does well it’s action), but when she also throws her hits it’s without the expectation of connecting, so the muscles don’t tighten up right in the split second before the hit occurs. They either tighten up too early or, in Summer Glau’s case, don’t at all. Much like Yeoh, I fully expect Summer Glau to rapidly improve over time, her fighting is actually much better in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

The problem is that dance and MA are doing two different things even when their motions are similar. A dancer doesn’t train to expect resistance as they move from one pattern to the next, their legs and arms will move without the possibility of being intentionally impeded by someone else’s body. A martial artist trains with the idea that they will be fighting someone else, after they learn their combinations a good instructor will put their student on pads and paddles so that they can practice for their foot connecting with someone else. The muscles must be trained to relax and then tighten in the split second prior to impact and then relax again less than a second afterward, if the muscles tighten too early then a kick or a punch will lose the strength of force and impact, too late and it’s bouncing off their stomach or head. So, no, the dances won’t work in an actual fight.

Studying an MA won’t really help his dancing, because again what he needs to do to dance and what the MA is asking him to do are two different things. If you’re really looking for a supplementary skill set that can lead him to MA, I suggest gymnastics and tumbling (real tumbling, not Tumblr tumbling). Most high end MA performers study gymnastics to help them improve and supplement their performance art (for tournament demonstrations and open forms). This is an example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2k_frX9bmpU

That’s the West Coast World Action Team doing what they do best at the 2002 Master Test. It’s called Tricking, it’s a part and parcel to the other side of tournament exhibitions. The performance side of MA is pretty much as close as you get to dance, but as you can see here even that’s different. (There’s a decent chance I was there either volunteering or testing, though I don’t think I was testing…the test lasts all day (for the masters it’s three to four days), this was during the night show the testers put on for family and friends.) The little one is Destiny Reyes, she’s about six or seven.

Anyway, I hope that’s helpful.

-Michi

wetmattos said: Oh, I know one which has great resemblance to dancing: Taekkyeon! tinyurl.com/luwcp2e It has shared moves with some korean folk dances! I’ve heard as well of martial arts being hidden as dancing in other places, I’ll take a look :3

I wouldn’t be surprised if it was more common, the trick is to watch the kicks and the points when the hands intend to connect. The point where they tighten up is certainly much faster than Taekwondo but you still get that teeny bit of “kick and stick” right when the kick is at it’s climax before it recoils. It’s similar to some of the more esoteric looking Kung Fu disciplines that really do look like dance. Still, Taekkyeon is beautiful, so thanks for sharing!

wetmattos said: Gotta love the effort you do to make these things <3 By the way, you’re intending to cover which kinds of kicks? Knowing your taekwondo training, I’m expecting great variety, but I would love to see some capoeira kicks being featured as well :3


The basic kicks first that everyone uses in one form or another, the first we learn and the easiest to recognize: front kick, sidekick, back kick, and roundhouse. However, I’m going to include some of the combinations you can do with these kicks, the differences between combat kicks versus exhibition, and the principles involved so you guys can create your own combos for your characters. I am not an expert on capoeira, sadly. I could probably break them down in concept, because I understand the basic physiological limitations underlying them, but that’s where my familiarity with the style’s technique ends.

But all kicks are, ultimately, similar because there is only so much we can do with our bodies to achieve the necessary effects. You’ll be able to apply most of what I’m talking about to capoeira by changing a few details here and there where appropriate.

-Michi