Tag Archives: obsidianmichi answers

How would a teenager’s personality be affected if they were trained in fighting an survival techniques since childhood?

I’d like to give an answer to this question, but the problem is that it actually encompasses a wide range of backgrounds. All of which can create significantly different personality types. Here’s a short list:

The child of uber-environmentalists or hippies, spent their weekends camping, learning the wonders of nature, and their weeks practicing Tai Chi.

The child of extreme survivalists, who spent their childhood learning self-sufficiency in the wilderness and how to drill a skull with their hunting rifle at a hundred yards.

A Boy Scout (or Girl Scout depending on merit badges), especially one who grew up in Montana, Wyoming, or anywhere that has no sensitivity to guns. (There’s a reason why an Eagle Scout gets an automatic rank bump when they enlist in the US Military.)

The kid who got boxed up and sent off to a Military Academy or Boot Camp.

The upper-middle class kid whose parents shoved them into every single martial arts program and or camping/environmentalist program in order to get them out of the house and out from underfoot.

The same upper-middle class background as the above kid, except the child did it to escape their parents.

The kid who grew up on the streets of a major metropolitan city and had to scrounge for every meal until they learned boxing after landing in Juvie.

The kid who grew up on the streets in a major metropolitan city and had to scrounging for every meal until they were discovered and taken off the streets by a kindly boxing coach.

This is only a small number of the unlimited possibilities and even within the subset, the personalities created while not unique are many.

The important truth to remember when thinking about personalities for your character is that personalities are developed through individual experiences. Change a minute detail like the kid had an instructor who liked them to the kid had an instructor who ignored them and you change the experience thus changing the effect on the personality.

A specific kind of training can develop an outlook the individual adopts. An outlook is the way someone views and sees the world around them, but training is only part of the equation. Home life, friendships, school experiences, religious background, political background, these are all aspects of our experiences informing who we are and how we look at the world. They also inform what we choose to do with the skill sets we have.

It’s also important to remember that the training outlooks for each individual martial art is different. They take on the aspects of what they were or currently are meant for and the values of the culture they come from. Taekwondo, for example, pushes the importance of community to it’s trainees. Giving back is the watch word, we have a responsibility to take what we know, what we’ve learned from our training, and use it to benefit others (not in the superhero sense). This mostly takes the form of mentoring other students in the dojang, but it also encompasses community service and other projects outside the school. In fact, in order to progress up the belt ranks, each student must write an essay as part of their final exam detailing what their understanding of their training is.

However, a child who has always had difficulty making friends or comes from difficult family circumstances may adopt these tenants differently from a child who has loving parents and lots of friends outside the school.

Think about what kind of survival training and fighting training your teenager had. What were they being trained to do? Was it self-defense? Purely for recreation? Health and fitness? Hunting monsters? Post-apocalypse survival? Why were they learning this in the first place? What sort of community surrounded them while they were growing up? Was it an insular one? Did they have regular access to individuals outside their family group? How present were their parents? Is this a family thing or something they decided to pursue on their own?

Once you’ve outlined their background and figured out what kind of training you want them to have, you can then fill in the blanks by limiting your search to martial combat and skill sets which cover what you’re looking for. This limits your search so it becomes easier. Try not to have a concrete idea in mind, otherwise you’ll end up rejecting the real world information you dig up because it doesn’t exactly match the idea in your head. Once you’ve absorbed the knowledge, then you can route back and get the character you’re looking for (or maybe one you weren’t). You’ll have a better understanding of the experiences they might have been through and thus a firmer grasp of the sort of personality they could have. By filling in their background, the person starts to become realized.

When doing this with teenagers, you may have to do some jury-rigging if you want them to have a skill set that’s not normally available to a teen with their background such as military grade Systema or military grade Krav Maga. You’ll have to figure out how they got that training and create a firm understanding of why they were trained that way. You’ll also have to accept that this training will change them in ways that are noticeable to other characters around them. People, even kids, are very good at picking out dangerous individuals and avoiding them on a gut level, even if they don’t consciously know why they’re doing it. A kid with this kind of training may also have difficulty relating to others or even seeing other individuals as individuals. Their concept of right to life may be abstract at best and they’ll already know how to push themselves through significant mental hoops in order to justify killing someone.

However, this isn’t a normal background or normal setup for a character or even something normal/average/even bad parents would allow to happen to their child. You’ll have to set up their background to justify it and allow your other characters to act accordingly.

-Michi

I have a character (I haven’t even given him a name yet) and he’s the main characters love interest… But they haven’t met yet. When would be the best time introduce him in the book?

My general rule of thumb on love interests is to try to incorporate them into the story as early as possible and to ensure that they are fully fleshed out characters with their own arc in the story. A successful love interest is one that is a recognizable individual and, for me anyway, the best part about even a romantic subplot is watching the two characters interactions as they fall in love. In a novel that runs between 70,000 to 100,000 words that’s not a lot of time to fit in a subplot beneath the main plot if the love interest is introduced in the middle or at the end.

However, the real problem is that you haven’t figured out who this character is yet. If you don’t know who he is, what he likes, what his goals and dreams are, and the itty bitty minutia of quirks that make people so interesting, how can you know what his place in the story is or even if he’s going to be suitable to even be the love interest?

The thing about falling in love is that it is in essence, a learning experience. In my opinion, that’s the joy of the early stages love. The joy that comes after the infatuation stage. The joy of discovery, of finding the person behind the mask. I’m going to borrow the lyrics from The King and I song “Getting to Know You”.

Getting to know you,

Getting to know all about you.

Getting to like you,

Getting to hope you like me.

Getting to know you,

Getting to feel free and easy

When I am with you,

Getting to know what to say

Haven’t you noticed

Suddenly I’m bright and breezy?

Because of all the beautiful and new

Things I’m learning about you

Day by day.

However, for a love story to really take root, the characters need time to get to know each other and the reader needs time to get to know them. This can only happen though if there’s fertile ground for that to take root, otherwise you’ll end up falling back on generic language that usually relates to being in love but not what it means to be in love with Character X.

Love takes two and each character needs to be fully realized with their own roles in the story outside of their romantic subplot. This doesn’t mean the love interest needs to be as important as the main character in the greater context of the novel, but they do need to be present and relevant.

The other important point is this: love comes in several different stages, but there is a difference between a character falling in love with their preconceived notions of who someone is (or who they want them to be) and falling in love with the actual person in question. This happens all the time in real life in many different kinds of relationships, so your character discovering a dichotomy between who they think someone is and who they actually are is incredibly important.

To do that well, you’ll need two characters who are put into situations where they must interact with each other on a regular basis. They have to get to know each other, see each other for who they really are, and not look away. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

For me, real love is about finding someone with whom I can trust my broken pieces to. The safe refuge in the storm. The person who is willing to look at me, in all my imperfections, and not ask me to change to suit them. I don’t want the person who wants the best version of me, I want the person who wants me. As I am. No unnecessary edits to the personality to make me more palatable. A gloriously imperfect love between two flawed human beings. (Which I do have, thanks.)

There is nothing more frustrating for me as a reader than not knowing why two characters are getting together or, worse, that the process of them getting together is held off for several books when the couple’s issues could easily be resolved in one.

Writing romantic subplots is difficult. Good luck!

-Michi

What sort of sword would you recommend for a female fighter? I have also heard that the sword was a secondary weapon, but the time period is pre – guns and I have no a clue how much muscle is needed to fire a crossbow vs a long/short bow? Which one?

My best recommendation is to stop thinking about this character as a girl first and fighter second. You’re trying to come up with ways to make the fighting possible for her, instead of accepting that combat is a skill that can be developed by anyone given the proper amount of training and dedication. What weapon would you give this character if they were male?

That’s your answer.

As for picking weapons, I tend to pick weapons as a part of character creation and developing backstory (that blows up a little if the character is already established). I have a habit of doing this the same way I would write a crime: Motive. Method. Opportunity.

Motive: Why did this character want to learn to fight? What reason did they have to seek out training?

Most times, even in a family of established fighters, a character has to make the decision to train and to fight. This decision is a personal one and it can be anything from a desire for self protection to dreaming of being a knight in ballad. If you are working with a setting where female warriors are uncommon, then the character’s motivation for going against societal norms becomes that much more important.

Learning to fight is hard work and depending on that character’s background may well ruin any chance at conventional beauty/traditional womanhood/marriage opportunities that will better the standing of their families. It’s more than just an unusual choice, depending on the setting and gender constraints it could very well be an incredibly selfish one.

So, it’s important to establish that as part of the character.

Method: Who taught them? The good combatants have a teacher and the sword is a weapon that requires instruction, both in the manner of caring for the weapon and how to use it against other opponents. The character is going to need a teacher who can teach them to use that specific version of the weapon.

Did they have an in house tutor like Brienne of Tarth or Arya Starke? Did they receive their training when they joined the local military or militia? Did they have a parent train them? Were they carrying a blade that was common amongst peasants of their time like the arming sword or a weapon that was more regularly associated with the nobility like the long sword?

Opportunity: And what is a method if the character has no opportunity to take it? Think about your character’s background and social constraints, then pick a path that makes the most sense for them and was common for the people of their time (or the time/culture you’re basing it off of). The method they use will inevitably lead them to the right weapon.

This is where research is your friend, by narrowing down your path to profession and time period, you can better establish what your options are.

Remember: any weapon will work. Combat is a skill that can be learned and the only real physical barrier to entry is how hard you’re willing to work to learn it and the opportunities given to learn.

I didn’t pick taekwondo because it was the best suited to my size and body type, I picked the Ernie Reyes organization because they put on a performance at my elementary school that I really enjoyed. I saw it, said “I want to be able to do that”, took home the flier, and my parents signed me up.

I knew a lot of other kids (both boys and girls) who got into martial arts because they loved Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers.

The longbow versus crossbow question is actually fairly easy, both require a fair amount of strength to wield, but the truth is that care for the weapon is the most important point to maintain ease of drawing. Both require regular oiling and careful, specialized handling to ensure that they remain in a ready state of use.

The longbow is for characters like hunters, scouts, and nobles. Someone who grew up learning to or needing to hunt as a means for providing for their families. It can fire more rapidly than a crossbow, but requires more time to learn, more practice, and more training to be used effectively. In mass combat, archers were used in the same manner modern artillery is used today. The crossbow surpassed the longbow for the same reason that the gun surpassed the crossbow: it took a shorter amount of time to become as or more deadly than the other weapon, thus cheaper to replace when your troops fell. A lost archer is one to two to ten years of experience, compared to a lost crossbowman or gunman which is “point that way and fire”.

The crossbow is probably for a character who was trained via the military. A military trained character, depending on the time frame, will also be proficient in the use of anti cavalry tactics and pole arms. A female military conscript could easily just be a peasant girl whose mother dressed her up as a boy to either hide her from the men or hide a more valuable male sibling from the soldiers looking for recruits. It was not uncommon for peasants in the medieval period to be called up as levies to support their lord on the battlefield. They were usually just handed a spear and sent off to die, but there might be some workable ideas in there.

Training molds the body into a more suitable shape for the physical activity. So, if your fighter is a noblewoman, don’t expect her to keep the secret  for long. Also, servants talk. People are observant. They will know.

Some things to think about.

-Michi

How do I write a training? All my attempts to describe a training for teenagers are silly.

The best way to learn how to write training is to experience it for yourself or, at the very least, observe.The most honest way to do this is to select the martial art that you want your character training in and find a local school that is willing to let you sit in and watch their training sessions. It’s common practice in many schools to open up their classes to prospective students. Ask the instructors in charge specific questions about training (even if you think they’re stupid) and about training teenagers. I suggest this because while there are base similarities in how to prepare and teach both body and mind, each style (and each school) often have unique perspectives on what works best for them. The only way you can know what those are is either by asking or by experiencing it for yourself.

In most non-training story narratives, writers have a nasty habit of going too hard and being too brutal. Many seem to believe that all training works the same way as R Lee Ermey in Full Metal Jacket. R Lee Ermey was a staff sergeant in the Marines and his style of teaching was specific to both the Marines and the 70s. Unless you’re specifically writing a Vietnam War era drill sergeant, I suggest looking elsewhere.

Training is not a mystical mysterious experience, it is at it’s core all about a teacher and a student. It’s about learning much in the same way you do in a high school or college classroom except that it involves physical activity. The best way to write a training sequence is to discover what is being taught, what knowledge is being imparted to the students, and how the teacher is choosing to teach the student that information.

A good instructor will push a student past their self-conceived physical limits and out of their comfort zone without pushing them past their actual physical limits. Unlike in Divergence, no one will be left to flounder and guess at what they should be doing. Techniques will be shown to the students by the instructor and then the students will be asked to perform them under the instructors supervision. They will repeat the technique through a series of repetitions, often breaking it down into pieces and performing it on a count so that the student develops a full understanding of all the pieces of what they are doing. On each count they will be asked to hold position while the instructor and their assistants check the students’ body positions and make corrections. It will be slow and, for many students, it will be frustrating. Expectations will often be dashed when faced with the slow accumulation of knowledge, but that is also important because it teaches the student patience and respect for what they are learning. Humility, patience, perseverance, and generosity of spirit are all qualities that the student is being taught as they learn to fight. Learning when it is appropriate to fight is as important as learning how to fight. This is true of both Eastern and Western martial arts, where the student is taught to fight in defense of themselves, defense of their home, and defense of their homeland.

The difficulty with writing a training sequence is that the author has to be a teacher. It’s their job to communicate how something is done to the reader, not just to the characters. In order to write an effective training sequence, you yourself have to be an authority on the subject. This is part of why I feel the Karate Kid remake actually works better at this aspect than the original because Jackie Chan was teaching Jaden Smith during production and they developed an authentic rapport. This is also why Tamora Pierce’s Protector of the Small quartet and Trickster’s Choice/Trickster’s Queen novels are successful because they have done the research but ,more importantly, knew what the end product of the training would be.

We don’t train someone for training’s sake, we are training them to do something. Once you figure out what the end goal of the training is, then you can limit your search to the appropriate skill sets and venues that specialize in what you are trying to create. Once you know that, you then do extensive research on the subject until you understand everything you can about it. Then, you can write your scene.

So, ask yourself some simple questions:

What am I training my characters to do?

Does what I’ve chosen for them to learn match up with what I want them to do (for example, if you want your characters to be aggressive fighters then aikido is not the right choice)?

If yes, then awesome. If no, then does what they are being trained to do make sense for what their culture expects or requires of them? Do they feel it’s something they need to be learning?

What are the skill sets the real world professions require? (If you’re having trouble figuring out the above this might help to get you started.)

I hope this helped answer your question. I know it’s a little long winded and roundabout.

-Michi

Thank you for having such an awesome blog. I always appreciate the knowledge and realism you guys answer questions with (like that people’s inexperienced characters would really lose in a fight against someone trained or their biological reactions to being injured, etc, which many books ignore completely). I was wondering if you would expand on a person’s natural fight-or-flight response to being in danger, especially if they are untrained or the situation is out of their normal life. Thank you!

There’s a bunch of different possible responses to fight or flight, there are lots of ways that it can go horribly wrong for the person who is experiencing it. Fight or flight is a natural instinctive response that is there to save your life, the problem is that instinct is a killer. Relying on your natural instincts will get your killed, I don’t really care if you’re a supernaturally endowed Vampire Slayer or an average person on the street. There’s a reason why martial combat involves retraining the instincts and, in most cases, outright replaces them with an entirely different set of responses is because the natural ones stink.

A lot of books try to cheat their way out of that with characters just “instinctively knowing” what to do because that’s easier for the author to use as opposed to crafting a character that can deal with the situation. Unfortunately, a character who is relying on their instincts is one that’s no longer rationally processing information and is running on their emotions, their fear and their terror. These emotions can be powerful tools, assuming the person is still in charge of their higher brain functions. If they’ve given in, then it can become deadly for them.

This rule is true even for trained martial artists. If you’ve been trained specifically to subvert an instinct, then you can take advantage of anyone who hasn’t been conditioned against that specific instinctual reaction. Starke did this to me when he showed me bursting (which is a technique common to Krav Maga where two strikes happen simultaneously instead of as a one and two in a combination), I’ve been trained to deal with one strike not two at the same time. So, I instinctively moved to block the one that came high, instead of the important one which was coming into my stomach. I’m trained to respond to any form of movement entering into my peripheral vision, but not to look for two strikes at the same time. So, I’ll respond to the one I see first. This won’t actually work against someone who is untrained, because the attack is betting on a very specific kind of response from a trained combatant.

Combat works by being one step ahead of where someone else’s training already is and it takes work to stay ahead of the curve. Not to bash on Joss Whedon and Buffy too hard, but the sad truth is, if the show played out under real world rules, that Buffy could be taken down by any decent martial artist. She has an over reliance on her own instincts and acts with the expectation that she’ll naturally know what to do instead of working under the assumption that she has to train to stay one step ahead of the competition. Forget about other characters with superpowers, Buffy could be taken out by Mulder from the X-files and he routinely gets his ass handed to him by characters with more combat training throughout the show’s run.

Some common reactions to fight or flight:

Freezing up. It’s common for someone to go with neither fight or flight, instead they get stuck between the two. Their brain is pulling them in two different directions and the end result is that they do nothing at all.

Running away. This is the flight response. However, the problem with the flight response is that the person in question is not necessarily in control of which way that they are running away. They’re just trying to flee. Instead of taking inventory of their surroundings and choosing the best route that will lead them away from danger, the individual in question has about a 50/50 chance of ending up in a situation that’s worse than the one they were in before. This could involve fleeing into a dead end alley, not running far enough away, not taking cover if the person who is chasing them has a gun, or turning around and fleeing into the arms of a secondary captor. They’re just running, that’s it. Running without purpose or thought. This will also not stop the person who initially triggered this response from chasing them. At that point, it’s a question of who has the better athletic ability and who is running with their brain turned on. It’s hard to get away if you’re not thinking about where you’re going.

Fighting back. Then, there’s the fight response. It’s worth noting that just because someone responds by fighting that doesn’t mean that they’re actually going to be any good at it. They could be powered by a lot of things, anger, rage, adrenaline. But, here’s the issue: fighting on anger alone is fighting stupid. People who fight on anger forget that they can be hurt and they become reckless. If the initial aggressor has kept their cool then they are the ones that are actually in control of the fight. Sometimes, pain is enough to knock someone back into reality and that’s when fear takes over again. Then, the fight stops, the person who acted on instinct loses their steam, and they lose.

The Fugue State. We make a big deal about fugue states and berserkers, but the problem with a fugue state is that the person in it is still only acting on anger and rage. The fugue state does not endow them with any more skill then they previously had and they are in even less control of their body than the person who just acted on the anger response. If the person in the fugue state has blacked out, then all they are doing is acting on instinct alone and while they may not notice the fact that they’ve been hurt they’re even more vulnerable to an aggressor who can manipulate someone’s instinctive reactions to their benefit. If the fugue state fails to scare the aggressors into backing off or unsettle them so that their technique suffers, then there’s very little else it can do. It works against the average schoolyard bullies, but that’s about it.

There’s variations within all of these, but nothing else we’d categorize as unique. It’s worth looking into more though if you’re interested. People can react in a variety of ways, but whether or not those ways are going to be helpful to their specific circumstance is questionable.

I hope that helps!

-Michi

I have a character who grew up doing parkour and the like — they lost their left eye at seventeen. How would this affect their fighting skills — hand-to-hand and with a knife?

The problem here is a lack of depth perception. With one eye, it’s difficult to tell how far away something is whether that’s an incoming knife or the edge of a building. This could be very dangerous for them while just doing parkour really rely on being able to judge how far away something is. Even just a few centimeters could be the difference between a broken ankle, a broken arm, a broken leg or worse from a fall. There’s a good chance that when they lost their eye, they really lost the ability to do parkour the way they used to.

Parkour is not a fighting style. So, for an untrained fighter having lost an eye that could be really bad if the way they keep their skills sharp is through street fights. A fighter who trains regularly can adapt to it and may even be able to fight just as well as they used to in the long run, though their fighting style will have significantly changed in order to adapt to their injury. However, they’ll need time, a good work ethic, a solid instructor, and understanding training partners to help them get there.

Because of how fast knife fighting is and how quickly it ends, I can’t really answer that question. The lack of depth perception could lead to more mistakes and, when fighting with a knife, all you need is one to end your life. If they can’t tell how far away someone is then a miss could be fatal much in the same way it would be with parkour.

That’s all I’ve got.

-Michi

A character is trained to endure pain and injuries, how does that training look like?

Honestly, there’s no real way to tell. They look like people and the training affects each individual in unique ways. It will change their personality, but what that change is? That depends on the individual in question. You may know, but most of the other characters probably won’t unless the character in question has told them or they’ve seen him or her in action.

It’s a little cheesy but I’ll throw out an example from Stargate SG-1.

We have Jack, we have Sam, and we have Teal’c. They have all been trained to endure pain and work while injured. Eventually, Daniel gains this ability through his own experiences in the Stargate program. What do they have in common in their personalities? What specific tells do they share? They’ve all been through it, but if you knew nothing about them when you met would you know?

It gets more confusing if we throw Teyla, Ronon, and Sheppard on the pile from Stargate Atlantis. Ronon and Teal’c fulfill the same role in the narrative and have a baseline of similar experiences, however they are very different as individuals.

People are not simple and how they respond to adversity isn’t something that can be broken down to a simple statistic. It’s made worse by the fact that all training is not the same, not all experiences are the same, and people change based on what they’ve gone through. You can put two different people of similar personalities through the same meat grinder and end up with wildly different results in how they’ve changed and who they’ve become.

-Michi

If a 16-year-old girl was shot in the arm, is there any way she could fight afterward? She doesn’t have to fight on her feet, she merely needs to knock someone out.

It’s going to depend on where she was shot in the arm, if she’s used to dealing with shock, and if any arteries were nicked. If we’re talking about your average middle class sixteen year old (male or female) who has never been around guns and never been in any physical danger then it’s unlikely. If we’re talking about a sixteen year old who grew up around guns and in situations where physical violence was a part of their general experience growing up, then it’s possible.

There are still some problems, however.

1) The person who shot her probably still has the gun and they’ve already proven that they’re willing to kill her. (They proved that the moment they drew the gun, firing it was just extra incentive.)

2) How is she going to knock them out? When someone gets shot while standing, the shock of it of it tends to make them automatically sink to the floor. Curling up into a ball, clutching the arm, and tucking in the knees, is a natural safety response that the body practices when it’s injured. If she’s not trained to fight that response, she probably won’t. So, the person who shot her is still standing and she’s now sitting. If she’s going to knock them out, then she’ll need some kind of ranged weapon that she can use while on the floor. This is preferably one that she brought with her or that got knocked away in the earlier scuffle. Something like a taser would be a good idea. The character, however, has to be willing to risk death (has to believe the person who shot them wants to kill them) and that there’s no way out except to fight back. This is not most people, especially not those who have grown up in a privileged environment.

3) Fighting makes the body bleed out faster. No matter where she was shot, she’s still bleeding. Shock, fear, and then combat all elevate your heart rate and the blood starts pumping through the body faster. If there is a hole in the body, then it causes the injured person to bleed out faster. This is why you’re supposed to sit down and breathe slowly until help arrives. Your character’s body has a limited amount of blood and the moment she got shot, the clock started ticking. She may not realize it, but if she gets up and fights, she’ll only be losing blood faster. She’s going to be at odds with her body’s own instinct to survive if she’s going to go after the person who shot her, because at this point fight or flight is dead.

The most important question here?

Is your sixteen year old willing to die to knock out (or kill) the person who harmed her?

If the answer is yes, then yes, she can fight back. If it’s no, then she probably can’t.

-Michi

One of my characters has been taking Judo classes for about 10 years. Even though she has no experience actually teaching Judo, at that point would she be able to (safely) teach her niece the basics? Or is one of those things where you should be taught how to teach, so you don’t accidentally injure your student with an incorrect teaching method?

It’s going to depend on the ranking system at her school, what her rank is, and how comfortable she is with the basic techniques that she’s teaching. It’s perfectly plausible that she could, ten years of training is more than enough time to become skilled enough to teach, but you’re going to have to answer the question of why she didn’t sign her niece up for classes at the place where she trains in order to teach her in a safe environment (and on mats, soft landings when learning how to fall are important).

But, this is the sort of really specialized question that we’re not equipped to answer here. I’d suggest checking around at the local dojos in your area and see if any of the instructors there would be willing to answer some indepth questions about rank progression and what rank someone could realistically be at in ten years. My guess is that she’d be pretty high up and perfectly qualified, but I can’t be sure and the only person who could really answer this question is someone who does and teaches judo.

I’d also read the first book in the Protector of the Small series because several sequences in there handle some basic training in throws like learning how to fall without hurting yourself. Much like jump kicks, throws can be difficult to grasp in concept because they have a lot of pieces moving together to make it work. It might be helpful to look at that in a written format. I’d also recommend picking up a self-help martial arts book on Judo. Check the names of the authors online to see what their background is and pick one that goes over the lifestyle in the dojo and the ranking system beyond just technique. You’re going to want a basic overview of the style, training in the style, and examples of how to find a proper school so that you know what kind of school this character trained in.

In many different martial arts schools students are asked to give their time to assist up coming students when they reach a certain rank, so it’s likely that your character already has some experience teaching in an assistant capacity. The important thing to remember is that there is a difference between helping someone else teach a class and running one yourself. Even if your character feels like they could do it, they’re going to run into some pretty serious obstacles as they adjust to their student’s needs. When you practice a lot of the information becomes ingrained and eventually you stop really thinking about the parts and pieces that make it work. An instructor has to back track out from their own experiences and really explain the concepts to their student in a way that the student can understand, and that takes practice.

No matter what this character does, there are going to be a few bumps in the road. Teaching is very rewarding but it can also be very frustrating, especially if the character ends up focusing too much on their own experiences and doesn’t spend enough time thinking about their student’s needs.

-Michi

I have a character who’s taught themselves to ‘fight’ with a shortstaff – about Jō size. They’ve mostly learnt by practice, and by watching movies or tv shows involving staves and mimicking them. They don’t so much know what they’re doing as know how to look like they do. What would be some likely bad habits for actual fights they might have picked up?

I’d check out our post: Unusual Martial Art: Street Fighting to start giving you some ideas on the bad habits street fighters pick up. But, let’s go over some of the important pieces:

1) They’ll completely lack a base

A base is your footwork and stances, this is commonly the most boring and most ignored part of combat when you’re looking at movies and television. Unless the actor on the screen has been trained, they have terrible stances. Because your fighter has been training themselves, they’ll have been distracted entirely by the visual beauty of the staff work and completely ignore, or figure they already understand, the footwork.

As such, they won’t be able to take a hit from someone who knows what they’re doing and their attack power will be halved.

2) Bad hand position

Because they’ve been teaching themselves, they’ve never been taught how to hold a staff or how to transition their grip. Thus, their hands will constantly shift towards the center of the staff as they fight. They’ll even think this is preferable because it makes the staff go faster and appear closer to the speeds that they’re trying to mimick. However, the closer the hands get to the center point on the staff, then the more they lose control. This is untrue about all staff forms (like wushu where many techniques work off the center/balance point) but it will be true for someone who is untrained.

Even when it appears mostly right to the casual observer, the trained combatant will notice the points when control of the staff is completely lost like when it bounces off the fighters back when they are spinning it.

3) Basics are traded for flash

If your character is learning entirely from movies that involve actors who know what they’re doing with a staff, then it’s likely that they’re trying to imitate the flashier techniques. They’ll have a greater focus on spinning the weapon over smacking other people with it and probably show off by balancing the staff on their index finger (simple), bouncing it off their arms or shoulders (again, simple), and other simple manipulations that are easy to learn.

Since their understanding will be based almost entirely on movies and their own practice (with or without a partner) then their knowledge will be completely undercut because they lack a whole style and are making do with simple techniques.

They’ll also chain techniques more slowly and lack the ability to chain techniques together that they haven’t seen done before.

They won’t be able to fight other characters who know what they’re doing, though they may believe that they’re just as good (or better) than they are. However, they’ll also be very slow in comparison to those fighters.

-Michi