Tag Archives: writing fights

Q&A: Block versus Block, Innie versus Outie

In judo I learnt to deflect a punch by pushing on the outside of the forearm (so punch from left = push to my right) and I was taught to then grab the wrist and pivot, following the attacker’s original motion and pulling them off balance. This works great because 1. you’re not opposing their motion, 2. they can’t resist, and 3. they end up with their back to you. But would it ever make sense to grab the INSIDE of their arm? >Not writing: drew a pose which feels off for this reason, and wondered.

Yes… there are even ways to perform blocks that don’t involve your opponent going past you. Judo uses this particular block as a primary foundation because it’s a great for setting up a variety of different throws. The eventual goal is not for this to end with their back to you, but for them to be on the ground. However, that particular block is Judo and there are other blocks with a similar motion that create very different options.

So, does it ever make sense to grab the inside of the arm?

Yes, when you want direct access to their entire body. Yes, when you want to knock them over onto their back. Yes, when you want to grab them by the head and put them into a throw using your front leg. Yes, when you want access to their stomach, chest, and neck.  Yes, when you want to go directly from your block into a headbutt. Yes, when you want a straight vector.

You can go up, down, in, out, get onto a variety angles for blocks and deflections depending on the following techniques you’re intending to perform. You can block kicks with your knee/shin/thigh, deflect punches with your hand or your forearm. It all depends on what you’re going to do and what tactics/strategies you’re martial art relies on.

With a inside deflection, knocking your opponent’s arm away, you catch the forearm before the arm reaches full extension and apply opposing force using your wrist rather than your hand to redirect the punch away from you on the same side rather than a cross-block/cross-deflection of lefty/lefty or righty/righty. Doing that inside block opens the body up for direct strikes. You can also gain control of the arm, and the body. Use the opportunity to go right into grappling range, past the point where they can punch you.

There are so many available options that you can do from this position that I really can’t overstate how basic it is. Everything from joint locks, to throws, to pressure points can be done by grabbing the inside of the arm. If you continue with Judo, you will eventually learn what some of these are yourself.

However, what you really want to get rid of from the very beginning are ideas about “the best” or “makes the most sense”.  All blocks and all martial arts are situational. There is no best way to do anything, ever.  There’s a multitude of ways, and most of them work.  You’ll hamstring yourself creatively if you let the fanboy attitude which creeps into martial arts debates take control. Weapons are situational, techniques are situational, blocks are situational. They all have situations where they work and where they don’t. The goal of your training is to expand your horizons so you have a multitude of options available for a variety of situations.

Whenever you ask, “is this the best way?” Know that the answer is, “well, that’s one way.” It may be a good way, but it isn’t the only way.  However, it might be the way you chose and if it is then that’s good enough. Just don’t cut yourself off from learning more, and giving yourself more options when your first instinct is “this doesn’t feel natural.” Of course it’s not, you haven’t learned how to do it yet. That’s no reason not to keep looking.


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Hello! If one character, reasonably stronger and more experienced than the other, is choking that other character with their hands around their throat, how would the victim of the attack be able to break free in a realistic manner? Where on the body should the character try to hit to stun the attacker? Is it reasonable to reach for an object to hit the attacker? Thank you in advance! (I’ve been having a little difficulty with this one.)

That’s a very specific degree of “more experienced.” Choking
someone from the front is, in general, a pretty terrible idea, and not
something you ever want to do to someone with training. It’s one of the easiest
chokes to counter, even for someone with a weekend’s self defense class. The
counters are simple and easy to remember, and there are many of them.

They will all leave
the attacker in a vulnerable position.

When you are choked, the first responsibility of the choke recipient is not to break the stranglehold but to ensure you can continue breathing as
you attempt your defense.

The first reaction when you see it coming is to drop your
chin, in an attempt to either keep your opponent from grasping your throat or
just protect your neck. This is not an escape, but it will stop the choke dead
in its tracks. Whether from the front or behind, dropping the chin is the first
line of defense.

The next step is to break the hold.

One response is to put your hands together, either in fists
or palm to palm, and drive your arms between theirs, then lever their arms off
your throat (this should happen naturally as you raise your elbows, but if it
fails, you can rotate your elbows apart keeping your wrists against one
another), and run your forehead into their face. This is all executed in a
fluid motion and leaves the attacker with a bloodied face, and probably off-balance.

Another option is to reach over across their wrists, bring
your forearm down, levering their hands off your throat, and tying them up,
while you have a free hand to work with, and (temporary) control over their
arms. Lock the wrist correctly on the way in, and you can pull it back off and
transition straight into the joint break described below.

The asshole response is to grip their skull by the temples,
and put your thumbs through their eye sockets. Good luck maintaining a choke
while you’re trying to keep someone from taking your eyes out. This assumes
your arms are of roughly equal length, which, they really should be close

The forward choke with the hands around the throat takes
forever. It takes four to five minutes to put someone out with it and even then
you’re not guaranteed the kill. You’ve got to keep it going past the point they
pass out or they’ll start breathing again. In a fight, it’s the “until next
week” choke. So, there’s a good chance they’ll get frustrated, make a mistake,
and end up much closer than they should.

The reason why Hollywood loves it is because, by comparison,
it’s safe. There’s a phenomenal margin for error. You can put two guys on set,
and even if you screw up catastrophically the chances are that they’ll walk
away fine. It’s a very difficult choke to actually kill someone with.

I’m assuming this is with both hands, because you said it
was, but for those of you wondering about how you deal with someone trying to
choke you with one hand, that is one of the worst ways you can grab a foe. You
can simply reach across their wrist, grab it, rotate across towards the thumb,
which will extend the arm, then when the bone locks drive your other hand into
their hyper-extended elbow against the natural pivot. Or, if you’re slightly
less bloodthirsty, you simply apply pressure, instead of striking, locking the
joint and driving them to their knees.

Chokes from behind are much harder to deal with. The
critical moment is if the victim can interrupt the choke before it actually
gets under the chin. This can be accomplished by dipping the head and using the
jaw to protect the throat. If you’re willing, you can also use your teeth as a
deterrent. This can also be accomplished with your hands. …wedging the arm;
if you can bite with your hands, please do not let us know.

There are several ways to position your hands, some of which
feed directly into throws.

If all of this fails, and you have someone with their arm
wrapped around your neck, trying to choke you, you can still snap your head
back, driving your skull into their face. Contrary to what you may have learned
from TV, head butting someone does not require a lot of windup. Your neck is
ready to go, most of the time. In fact, drawing back is usually a classic
beginner’s mistake. You can assist this by reaching over your head, and getting
a firm grip on their skull, to ensure they don’t pull away before you strike.

You can also double over (at the waist), dragging them with
you, and then throw yourself backwards into whatever’s nearby and relatively
solid. Bonus points if it’s something that will connect with their lower back
on impact. And, yes, even someone in fair to average physical condition absolutely can do this to someone larger
than them. It’s because you’re using leverage, and your legs can support far
more weight than you think. For reference: I was trained on this as a kid before
I hit 5ft, and could reliably do it to 200lb adults while I was in training.
(Throws too, for that matter.)

As with chokes from the front, you can still choose to be an
asshole. Reaching over, finding the temples, and taking out the eyes is an
option. The downside is you have to guess where their eyes are, the upside is
everyone’s skull is roughly the same
shape, so it won’t take long, and you can still make the ordeal a horrifically unpleasant
experience for your attacker in a matter of seconds.

Really, the problem with chokes, in general, is that they
don’t secure the victim’s limbs. For a martial artist that is a huge mistake.
It means they have a lot of options to utterly ruin your day. Conceptually you
can address the choke itself, and use that as a transition into a retaliatory
strike. Or you can ignore the choke (obstructing the flow of oxygen to the
brain takes a while to kick in) and exploit the attacker’s lack of defenses.
Choking from behind helps to mitigate that a little, but, really it only
requires that the victim be more willing to use their environment.

Ironically, dealing with someone trying to choke you from
behind is actually harder when they’re shorter than you. You can still pick
them up and take them with you, but things like head butting get significantly


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A character of mine is entering a battle royale. While her sister is all for going out and taking heads, she personally is more of a defender. Can you think of any weapons or tools that are good at keeping enemies away? Besides “a really big shield,” like my friends are all suggesting.

You know, hunkering down and letting your enemies eliminate each other is actually a solid battle strategy. If your character is handy and depending on the type of battle royale they’re in/lay of the land, etc, then it’s possible that they could actually take a Home Alone approach which is make a castle and booby trap the crap out of everything.

The same problems would accompany this approach as a long siege, such as lack of provisions, boredom, and the fact they have no idea what’s going on around them.

It’s up to you to make it interesting though.

The short answer is that you can actually pick anything you want, a weapon’s use changes based on how you do or don’t use it. There are no “safe” weapons, they’re all dangerous. Your character could pick up a rifle and take it with her then only use it when defending the stairwell up to the area she’s chosen as her “safe space”. That’s using the weapon defensively, rather than kicking the door down into someone’s house and going in guns blazing. Going in guns blazing is offensive.

It really is all about how you choose to use it. Weapons don’t make you anything. They’re just tools like every single other tool out there. They’re made to do a job, but the one who wields them chooses the application.

Your character fights defensively or wants to, but there are a lot of ways to do that and how they do it is going to depend a lot on the rules of the Battle itself. How it’s set up, what they have access to, where they can go, etc. Defense is often defined by offense and vice versa.

The best way to defend yourself from combat is to avoid it, get away from it.

Get to higher ground, find a place where your character knows they can control the terrain, and prepare to defend it after the easy pickings have been picked off.

Try to remember this though: your character fights defensively and injures someone so they can escape, then that person will be picked off or killed by someone else later. Shuffling the blame doesn’t make them any less of a murderer. This is a natural course that some people do choose to take because they are trying to protect their morality or they can’t stomach killing. Your character can choose to do it, just recognize that this doesn’t actually make them a better person.

There aren’t any save your morals softballs in this situation unless your character’s end goals are a prison break. The hunted either eventually becomes the hunter, turn the tables, or they do something else to ensure they get out alive… or they don’t. They die.

Unless you’re changing the rules a lot, a battle royale is essentially a survival story. It doesn’t matter if it’s Ridley Scott’s Gladiator, The Running Man, or 2000′s Japanese action thriller Battle Royale. Your character’s goals will change how the narrative plays out, their desires and their wants. Revenge on the person or people who betrayed them/put them in this situation. Desire to survive, live, go home to their families. They need money. Whatever.

“I want to survive but I don’t want to kill anyone” is a classic cliche, and the point of this one narratively is that the character is eventually forced to choose. They must choose between their own survival and their desire to not kill anyone.

For example, The Hunger Games could have ended with Rue as the victor. The narrative links Rue to Katniss’ sister Prim as the innocent child. The role of the protector is to save the child and inevitably to sacrifice their life for them. This link would cause Katniss to sacrifice her life after everyone else died to ensure Rue’s victory. Natural tragic ending to the trope.

Every character has multiple paths based on the narrative themes you choose to play with and ultimately those themes are going to be more important than the weapons you choose to give them. They may have synergy with their weapon or not.

You can have them pick a weapon they have no idea how to use based on a very different decision making process. This can lead to a fascinating series of events all on its own as the character learns about violence on the go.

If your character doesn’t know much about weapons, then they’ll pick based on what they think the best choice is rather than what your or I do. I don’t pick weapons based on what I think the best are for the situation. I actually pick them based on what my character knows/understands about the world/their own training with a side of their personality. While one of my characters can use multitudes of weapons, she really, really loves her shotgun. You could not pay her to fence with a 19th century British saber, but she could kill you with it. Another of my characters loves her longsword because she practices HEMA. Another you will only ever pry her Glock 17 out of her cold, dead fingers.

They all have very different versions of what “defensive” looks like or would look like, even if you dropped them into a Battle Royale. The first one would avoid everyone they could and just make a beeline toward whoever dropped them into this situation, making the executive choice to only murder those responsible and the ones who choose to stand by them or get in her way. The second would try to get the participants to join up and work together in order to figure on a way out. The last one would win the competition and then kill everyone involved on their way out.

All of these options are actually defensive, even when taking the offensive. Defense is protecting yourself from harm. That’s all it means. Whether that’s a blocked punch or murdering the stalker following you through the bushes that’s planning to put your head on a spike. Fighting defensively can simply be not aggressively pursuing your enemy. Or aggressively pursuing the right one. In females A, B, and C above you see three different choices that express their personality types and their morals.

A doesn’t care about the Royale itself or the people in it, but she’s interested in ensuring it never happens again. Instead of accepting the status quo, she’ll go after the source. It will most likely end brutally and there will be spectacular explosions as an example is made.

B would like those smart enough and willing to survive actually manage to survive, she’s the type of leader who pulls people together making the most of their skills in order to figure out an escape plan.

C knows her best chance at killing those responsible is to play along, so she’ll play the game perfectly until the end when she murders them all.

Defense is what you make it.

So, what does your character think a “defensive” weapon is? A gun? A knife? A cudgel? A can of pepper spray? A tazer?

While it’s good to give your character a weapon that is appropriate to the situation, it’s doubly important to give them a weapon that they understand how to use. If you pulled up a list of weapons off the internet and stared at the pictures, what weapon would your character gravitate toward?

Research that one. Figure out it’s strengths, limitations, how it is normally used. Then step back to your setting, the events that will be happening/playing out in this battle and think about what you’ve learned about this weapon from your research. Whether they’ll work well or not doesn’t matter because that’s what your character picked.

Don’t munchkin it.

Roll with the punches.

Figuring out how your character will choose to use their weapon in the environment and circumstances they’ve found themselves in is half the fun.

Their weapon is not going to save them. They are going to save themselves. Maybe the weapon will help and maybe it won’t, maybe it’ll help them in some battles but not others.


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Recommended… Reading?

If you want to be a writer, you need to read constantly, right? I mean, this is what we’ve all been told, repeatedly. So, when we’re asked to provide a list of reading recommendations for learning to write fight scenes we turn out a list of TV and films. Why?

The unpleasant truth is: ultimately, learning to write is something you need to learn for yourself. You need to go out, and write. Usually, you can learn from reading other writers, but when it comes to fight scenes, this doesn’t quite work.

The reason we recommend so few literary sources, when suggesting you look for good fight scenes isn’t because there aren’t any well written examples, it’s because there’s very few you can actually learn from, at an introductory level.

In writing, you need a concrete vision of what you’re describing. The reader creates this for themselves. But, when you’re standing on the other side, trying to write a fight scene, you can’t rely on the image you’ve put together if you don’t have a solid grasp of how combat works.

This isn’t something you can fake with short sentences or jumbled perceptions. If you don’t know what’s happening in a scene, your readers won’t. The best you can hope to do is trick your reader into thinking they know what they’re reading. (This is also why we tend to load our answers with a lot of background information. It’s an attempt to give you the tools to understand what you’re asking about.)

So, we recommend film and TV.

When we’re recommending films, we tend to be fairly picky, the material itself doesn’t have to be good, though, that is a perk, but the cinematography has to be clear and easy to follow. This is part of why we won’t recommend The Bourne Supremacy or Ultimatum. While the fights are actually quite good, everything is shot in a shakycam style that makes it really difficult to actually follow the fights.

It’s also why we’ll recommend (arguably) bad films, like Mortal Combat (1995). The martial arts are pretty good, and the cinematography is very clear. You’re never at a loss to follow what’s happening on screen.

You’ll always have a concrete grasp of what’s going on, and you can use that to start using that to work on your grasp how combat works.

As a writer, film and TV are your still life. You can study them over and over. You can write out what you see, and then check it against the original. You can subject your friends to it, and ask them to verify what you’ve written. In short, you can tell if you’ve gotten it right.

You will see things in film that you almost never see in print. This can include physical reactions to violence that a writer without a combat background won’t think to include.

This is the world we live in; it’s a massive cascading wave of cause and effect splattering out in all directions. As a writer you need to relate the major effects to your reader, but the minor details are what sell the scene. Use them with moderation and they’ll add authenticity to your work.

You can still pick up some writing advice from watching films, and we do recommend some for that, but when it comes to fight scenes, you’ll probably learn more from film.


Realistically, say a character was knocked unconscious for around ten seconds or so, would they be able to get up and get back to whatever they were doing (like: running, fighting, etc.) and also what would they be feeling when they woke up? Basically if my character is knocked out and wakes up, can my other characters pull him along until they’re out of harms way or would he be too fucked up to move?

I’d go with too fucked up to move. Remember, getting knocked out, even for a few seconds, is still a very serious concussion, and by extension a life threatening injury.

Off the top of my head, the symptoms should be: nausea, vertigo, (I think) blurred vision, and difficulty tracking (so, carrying on a conversation is also out).

This is actually what that “how many fingers am I holding up?” cliche is based on, it’s one way to judge if someone’s suffered a concussion, another is looking at pupil dilatation (by shining a light in their eye).

It’s also worth pointing out, because concussions are cumulative over time, these symptoms will actually get worse, and characters can’t learn to power through them. If your character’s getting clocked over the head repeatedly, they’ll end up dying from a blow to the head fairly quickly.

As a quick aside, there isn’t a safe way to render someone unconscious. I’ve been assuming a blow to the head, but tranquilizers require very specific doses (which vary based on weight and metabolism), and if you misjudge it even slightly, you can end up having no real effect, or outright killing the character you’re trying to tranq.


kickassfanfic said: You say ‘cumulative over time’ – is that indefinitely? Like if you haven’t been concussed in, say, two years, or TEN years, I dunno, and you get whonked upside the head again, is it just as bad as if your first whonk was the day before?

Not completely. Here’s the thing, when you suffer a concussion, what happens is your brain gets bounced off the inside of your skull. This results in bruising on the brain itself.

Someone who’s suffered a concussion is at substantially greater risk of suffering another, and any concussion they suffer will be more dangerous to them. This diminishes over time, but it never goes away fully. In other words, no, your brain never fully heals.

I’m sorry, I am oversimplifying things here. This is a really complex topic, and I’m not a doctor; but, from a writing standpoint? Yes. If your character is getting knocked unconscious, it will always be worse than the last time, regardless of if it was yesterday, or twenty years ago. If your character is getting clocked on the back of the head more than once or twice, they’re going to die.