Tag Archives: martial arts

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

Unusual Martial Art: Escrima

This is a martial style from the Philippine Islands. It’s a very useful MA to know about, especially since it’s not one that usually appears in western fiction. You may or may not be familiar with it, if not, then here are some basics to whet your whistle.ery

Escrima is a martial art that focuses primarily on wielding a short bamboo stick and a knife, sometimes it includes two bamboo sticks of similar to varying length, or just one. The style strikes at the hand, the wrist, the upper arm, the head, the knee, and the center (the solar plexus and stomach).

The style basis itself around the idea that the opponent is armed, it focuses first on blocks, disarms, and then attacks. It’s style sometimes resembles modern fencing, but it is far more utilitarian.

The basics of this Martial Art, while not fancy, are fairly easy for a beginner to learn.

Something to remember: This is one of the few styles in the world that makes dual wielding attractive and practical, the bamboo stick functions as both for attacking and defending while the knife follows up with fast, lethal strikes.

Fight Write: How Do You Choose a Martial Art?

The weapon choices and martial style that an author makes for their character is just one more expression of who they are. What we choose tells the reader a great deal about them without the author having to spend time a lot of time elaborating on what it is and what that means. So here area few simple questions to ask yourself when picking out a MA:

1) Ask yourself: what sort of person is my character?

Often times, authors choose Martial Arts based on what they look like, not on how well they mesh with the character’s outlook/job. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is actually an excellent example of this, in the first few seasons she uses a basic punching and kicking style based mostly out of Tae Kwan Do because it’s more visually dynamic. But the style rarely reflects the sort of fighting she’s actually doing, nor her personality. Buffy is a heavy hitter, she enjoys beating on others in a very close environment. She enjoys slamming them into walls and doors. She’s not actually a well-trained fighter, instead she relies mostly on her superpowers to get the job done. Comparatively, Tae Kwan Do requires an immense amount of training. It’s a style that focuses on accuracy, control, and speed over physical power to finish the fight quickly. It’s unsuitable for a fighter a) doesn’t spend a lot of time stretching and b) who doesn’t want to put a lot of effort in to become good at it.

Now, compare the choices made in Buffy to those in Avatar: the Last Airbender. In Avatar, the character’s personalities are a reference to the four elements and the styles they practice are based primarily around those elements. Aang as a character can be hyper and flighty, zooming from place to place on his air scooter. Katara is a Yin/Yang like water, capable of both extreme anger and extreme kindness, her personality is built around a complex set of pushes and pulls. Like the water she wields, she can be both stubborn and flexible in her outlook.

2) What does my character do?

If you have trouble with the first question, the second best place to start with a character and an MA is their job. What do they do? Are they a dried up policeman/woman? Then, their training will be based in what’s commonly taught to police officers with possible additions from outside sources that they pick up on their own time. Army/Marine/Air Force are the same, however their training is similar but separate, the hand to hand styles the Military uses are constantly in development and are constantly being updated to stay relevant. If your character is former Special Forces/CIA/FBI then they’re training will no longer be up to date, no matter how good they were initially.

So, make sure you pick a style that is relevant to what your character does for a living or is being asked to do.

3) Research the Style’s History

Every MA is based around a specific ideal, it was designed to counter or combat an enemy and the techniques reflect that history, even if they have been updated for a modern era. Knowing the history of the style will allow you, the author, to understand the philosophy inherent in the style itself and whether or not that will be suitable for your character.

Again, don’t pick based on what looks good or cool to you, choose what’s appropriate to your character and a style that will help you build a better story. The old adage is: Write What You Know and if you don’t know, then it’s time to study up.

Below are some examples to help you get started¸ happy writing!

Krav Maga: This is an Israeli Martial Art taught to their military forces. It’s increasingly being known as one of the best modern combat styles in the world, though that’s up for debate. It is a fighting style that, for the most part, bases it’s strikes in boxing and kickboxing with elbow, kicks, and knee strikes that have a passing similarity Muay Thai. It is an intense and aggressive MA designed around the idea of tight urban combat and close quarters fighting. Krav Maga is a heavy hitter, one that is growing in popularity for self-defense training and in the MMA arena.

Characters Krav Maga is Appropriate For: Aggressive characters and brutal characters, both male and female. It’s useful to characters who fight in an urban environment and worth looking to if you want to create a street fighter who is constantly looking to be in their opponents face all the time. Krav Maga works off the idea that your opponent doesn’t understand what they’re doing and will win by virtue of overwhelming force. Hit as hard as possible, as fast as possible, as quickly as possible while terrifying your opponent into submission. It’s an up close and personal style, if your character likes to constantly be within grabbing distance of their opponent this is one for them.

Tae Kwan Do: Like I talked about above, Tae Kwan Do is all about control, precision, and speed. This MA is for a character who is incredibly limber, small, and light. It’s a fighting style that works very well for both women and men, women especially because it bases it’s strength in kicks as primary over punches and requires an intense level of flexibility. Tae Kwan Do is all about building powerful momentum through a variety of kicks both offensively and defensively. It’s a style built around keeping your opponent away from you and finishing the fight quickly with the body’s strongest weapons. Tae Kwan Do kicks aim for the chest and the head.

Characters Tae Kwan Do is Appropriate For: Tae Kwan Do is best suited to characters who began training at an early age, who have a solid sense of balance, and are very flexible. Tae Kwan Do is a very effective fighting form, even in a modern world, especially when it’s weaknesses (hands) are compensated with by training in additional MAs. But, it is difficult to learn and those who come to it late will have trouble mastering it and/or achieving the required level of flexibility. A character must have near perfect control over their muscles and an almost complete synergy between body and mind to be effective. For reference: a traditional Tae Kwan Do master will be able to perform three to four kicks on a single leg, before that foot ever touches the ground. They will then be able to follow up those kicks with another strike from the same leg, by simply sliding into the next one. If your character is a slacker or doesn’t want to train, this is not the form for them.

If you’re looking to avoid Asian styles, one no nonsense alternate kicking style is the French Savate. It’s one of the major, surviving European MAs and a good style to study up on, especially if you’re interested in having a character from a European background who combines kicking techniques with fencing.

Reference:

 If you want to spend some money and avoid Wikipedia, I recommend picking up Gurps: Martial Arts which is a good primer on a variety of different MAs and some good solid background ideas that you can give to a character to make them realistic. You can usually find it used or on Amazon, if you don’t want to pay full price.

 The History Channel’s now defunct Human Weapon is sadly no longer on the air, but you can find it’s episodes on YouTube. It’s an informative show and an excellent more in depth primer on a bunch of different MAs, including some non-Asian biggies like Savate, Russia’s Sambo, and Greece’s Pankration. They also took a look at the Marines’ hand to hand combat style, if you’re looking to write a military character this is a good resource. It’s also a nice look at fights between fighters trained in one kind of MA learning another and fighting with an unfamiliar style.

 Once you find the style you want to study, it’ll be easier to find information on the web, at your local library, and talking to Instructors who run dojos in your area.

Happy Writing!

-Michi