Hand to hand is a bit different from armed, especially armored, but okay.
The answer is pretty simple.
Tall fighters, especially male fighters, have a rather serious issue that’s often
overlooked: their center of gravity. It’s higher up off the ground than the
average person, and a great many men (like the Mountain) do not drop low enough
into their stances to compensate. The taller they are, the lower they need to
go to counterbalance their size. Attack their feet, or their legs. Attack their
center. Whatever you need to destabilize them. A lot of tall fighters have
issues with their base. There are other flaws, but that’s often a big one.
Cutting the legs out from under of your enemy is a real tactic, or I should
say: cutting them down to size.
Stab him in the foot. (Yeah, no, real combat tactic.)
Here’s a question: you ever hear the story about David versus Goliath?
Probably, most people know the story of the shepherd boy who defeated the
greatest, largest warrior in single combat with a sling.
The story is a parable, and a life lesson. It’s also a little more
complicated than just brains over brawn. If you take anything from the story,
the big one is going to be: never fight your enemy on their terms.
Understand where their strengths are, where you’re strengths are, and change
What a big fighter has going for them is the intimidation factor, and mind
games in combat are a huge deal. It’s not so much about physical prowess as
much as what your enemy believes about your physical prowess. Or you
believe about your opponent’s. What you believe will affect how you fight, how
hard you fight, and how well you fight. Go into a fight believing you’re at a
disadvantage or will lose and you’ll lose.
Assessing your enemy’s strengths for their weaknesses is the winning
strategy. If never addressed, big fighters will have a lot of flaws because
their opponents often cede them the field in their minds. This is especially
true when in training, and training is the foundation of skill. When people
treat you like you’re invincible, you’ll start to believe you are. And that’s
how you get an over reliance on a natural advantage with no compensation for
the flaws it brings.
The problem is that many people treat size and body types like they’re all
or nothing. For every advantage one has, there’s a disadvantage to go with it.
A fighter with a heavy reliance on what nature has given them (size, strength,
what have you) often neglects more crucial skills if never addressed. You can
have big fighters with exceptional levels of skill, but those are the ones
who’ve realized they can’t brute force their way through every problem. When
they don’t, their technique is sloppy.
Now, really, really, really big people often have to work doubly hard to
develop their coordination because fighting with a big, lanky body is
The trick when you have (or feel like you have) the disadvantage is not to
meet the enemy on their terms. The best fighters figure out how to exploit
their opponent’s strengths in order to expose their weaknesses and fight with
an advantage. The bad fighters are the ones who choose to fight at a
disadvantage, who don’t prepare to face their enemy, and try to use the same
tactics over and over. The smart ones change up, they are proactive, and
understand the battlefield flows.
Ultimately, that’s what makes for the “best” fighter.
Fear is the biggest strength for someone who is massive in size, not
their strength and not their bulk. When you are frightened, you become
reactive, you cease to actively think, and fail to problem solve. The moment
you are defeated in your mind, that is the moment you lose. It doesn’t matter
how many steps it takes in the real world after the fact, cede the field in
your mind and it’s over. Intimidation can win that fight before the battle ever
begins, and the biggest kid on the playground is as natural as intimidation
The Mountain isn’t great because of his skill, but the fact that he makes
everyone around him afraid. His personal ruthlessness and cruelty back up that
size, and strengthens his ability to intimidate. When facing the Mountain,
you’re faced with fear over the (very real) consequences of what he’ll do to
He’s valuable because he’s frightening, not because he’s good at fighting.
The good at fighting is the bonus that makes him more frightening.
Understanding the affect the mind has on combat is like 70% to victory.
Understanding the assumptions made and why we make them is important to writing
scenes with characters like this. If you put stock in the Mountain’s size,
rather than the Mountain’s reputation then you miss where his strengths
actually lie and why people are afraid of him.
The Mountain’s reputation is as a ruthless killing machine who delights in
rape, murder, and pillage. Torture is his specialty. He does not abide by the
code of chivalry or rules of knightly honor. He’s a sadist. For him, there’s no
such thing as just warfare. He thirsts for blood and battle. He’s protected by
one of the most powerful houses in the GOT universe, and he earns his pay as
His size is just a plus. He could be just as terrifying at 5″4, and then
you’d have the joy of underestimating him before he put a knife through your
eye. If he was small, he’d be even more terrifying because there’d be more
bodies. His size doesn’t change who he is under the hood, it’s just one more
attribute he’s utilizing to its fullest potential.
Stereotypes about tall and short people are just that. Stereotypes.
Every body type has its drawbacks, and their natural advantages can be made
to work against them. Tall fighters are more gangly, their center of gravity is
further away from the earth, their weight puts additional stress on their joints
(especially their knees), and if they never work at addressing their issues
they can be slower to start. You can also have overweight/heavy weight martial
artists like Sammo Hung,
where there’s virtually no difference between them and a martial artist half
their size. Skill can close the gap. Understanding of your own strengths and
weaknesses also helps. Knowledge is power. Training yourself out of society’s
instilled biases is hard, but necessary. This is especially true if you perceive
yourself to be the underdog.
Not automatically assuming bigger equals better is the first step. The
second is realizing that the best warriors are not decided by outside metrics,
but rather through an inward understanding of how to utilize their strengths and
address their weaknesses.
On that note, I’ll leave you with a compilation of Cynthia Rothrock’s fight scenes. Cythnia Rothrock is a Hong Kong action star, a winner of world championships in the 80s, she has a wide variety of black belt level training in multiple martial arts, and is one of the most famous westerners to make it in the Hong Kong action scene.
Why end with this? Well, exposure to female movie martial artists runs the gamut between low to non-existent and that lack of exposure to different body types is where most misunderstandings about size come from.