These two are from the Academy of Historical Fencing and they are sparring with a spear versus a sword and buckler. The sword is a light blade, but here’s a good example of European spear combat. Notice, they hold the end of the weapon to extend it’s reach and maximize the momentum with quick bursts.
A fair number of them do, actually. Many of the kicking forms like Taekwondo, Muay Thai, and other forms of Kickboxing are really good for women because they teach one to use the full body. The joint lock disciplines are also excellent, because joint locking relies on leverage, accuracy, and body placement, not physical strength.
Women are also very good at wrestling because of their lower center of gravity, which once mastered, can be used to destabilize their opponents. One of the physical female advantages is having a lower center of gravity than their male counterparts as a simple part of their physiological makeup. You have to learn how to make your body work together to take advantage of it though.
Female power comes from the center and below the waist (which doesn’t negate the upper body) by focusing on martial arts that focus on those things (which is most of them) and having an instructor who won’t handicap his or her female students by forcing them to fight one way instead of adjusting their teaching style to the students technique.
Techniques will only get you so far to learn well one needs a good instructor. Also, learning how to think and fight with the entire body is important. I wish I could say that it was as simple as just a physical match up of statistics, but it’s not.
Unfortunately, I can’t really do a weapon primer on the nunchaku until I reclaim them from my mother’s house in California. The same is true for the staff, it would be too difficult to do a write up on both weapons without having them in hand to mess around with. So, it won’t come up until after Thanksgiving.
But, here are some basic points to keep in mind when working with the nunchaku.
1) It is not a weapon of the Samurai.
The nunchaku is an Okinawan weapon that comes out of the Karate disciplines, so many of the outlooks of budo and honor that come with the Japanese warrior class simply don’t apply to it. The nunchaku is not an honorable weapon and it does not belong on a character who follows, what the West anyway views as, traditional ideals. You can’t take a character who is supposed to have what is considered to be a traditional warrior code or samurai outlook and hand them a nunchaku. It won’t work, the way the weapon works and the outlook behind it are too different. (You can take a character who is subverting that mentality and give them a nunchaku, because why not.)
2) A nunchaku functions more like a whip than a baton
The nunchaku is a weapon that creates power through rotation, you hold one end and spin the other. The chain or rope connecting the two pieces allows the weapon to gain a more significant force and also be more flexible in it’s approach. When rotating, it is controlled almost entirely by the wrist, where subtle shifts allow the wielder to change both the application of force and direction. However, because of it’s free nature, there is a certain level of control to the force application that the wielder will never have.
This is part of the reason why the nunchaku is outlawed without owning a concealed weapons permit. Unlike the balisong, the nunchaku is a very dangerous weapon and can quite easily be used, even by a beginner, to kill someone else.
3) When learning to use the nunchaku, expect pain.
The nunchaku is a fantastic weapon. However, when training, many of the stops and transitions require catching the loose end with your own body. Now, over time the wielder develops the necessary skill to keep from hurting themselves but in the beginning that level of control isn’t there. When one of my friends was training on the three-section staff, he had to wear headgear. The reason was that while he could control the first two pieces relatively well, the third was always coming up to clock him in the back of the head. Even the most basic beginning strikes with the nunchaku require catching on both the lower and upper body, if your character started their training on a non-padded weapon (which is traditional), it’s likely that they ended each training session with a bevy of bumps and bruises on their shoulder blades and both sides of their ribcage.
Now, the pain works as a form of encouragement for the student to develop the required level of control. Still, it hurts! As with all training mishaps, assume your character has clocked himself or herself in a few uncomfortable places at least once.
I’ll get into the nitty gritty later, once I can practice with it again. But, hopefully that’ll give you a headstart for now.
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.
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.
How a character reacts to a hit to the stomach will depend on whether or not they had the presence of mind to tighten their abdominal muscles before the impact occurs. This is where the concept of the breath being knocked out of the body comes from, it’s a natural reaction to being hit. If you exhale all the air from your lungs, you’ll notice that your abdominal muscles automatically tighen and the body, particularly the shoulders, curl inwards pulling back. This is the concept behind the kihap, or the loud shout, that occurs in most martial arts when hitting the target. The kihap forces all the air from the lungs, making the muscles of the attackers body tighten at the key moments before impact with their victims body. The problem, of course, with the reaction is that it won’t really help to mitigate the effects of punch to the stomach if the exhalation occurs after the punch is thrown.
As with almost everything to do with combat, timing is key.
Basically, the character is going to feel like they want to throw up. They may actually throw up. A hit to the stomach will force it back into an unnatural position, one that is very uncomfortable. Dizziness, dropping the head as the body comes forward to protect the stomach, arms automatically moving to protect (i.e. wrap their arms around) the injured area. You can also expect a sudden flood of adrenaline if the victim is taken by surprise and sometimes even if they’re not as the body kicks over into fight or flight mode.
So, there could be a sudden increase in heart rate, a loss of fine motor control, a bitter taste in the mouth, etc. And of course, because all the air has suddenly left the body, they’ll be attempting to suck it down like there’s no tomorrow. The effects will be more immediate if the attack is unexpected, so: shock, surprise, anger, fear, panic, all these mental reactions can be used to stun lock the mind and leave the victim incapable of fighting back. If the person in question is unused to experiencing that kind of pain, the effects will be greater and the recovery much more slow. The more used to this particular variety of pain they are, the more hardened they will be to it.
Don’t think of it as an immunity, but rather something more easily ignored. It’s similar in concept to the idea of working out. In the beginning, your muscles are screaming and you feel like you’re going to die. But, as time passes and you keep working at it, it gets easier and the pain of your muscles doing things they don’t want to do becomes more familiar and more easily ignored. Taking a hit is relatively similar, though much more immediate and difficult to overcome.
When getting hit in the face, such as the nose, expect rapid swelling and possibly blood. So, a warm, wet feeling on the face, a taste of copper in the mouth, a sharp stinging pain right between the eyes, it will interfere with vision. Tasting your own blood is a rather surreal experience. People, for the most part, do not react well to it. The head snaps back and will again, drop forward right into the next hit if the victim isn’t careful. Any hit to the face (or really at all) invites the possibility of biting the tongue, especially if the victim isn’t wearing a mouth guard. If that happens, there will be more blood in the mouth, pain, panic, and gagging. For a hit below the eye expect rapid swelling, stinging pain, and loss of vision. There will be visible bruises that will last for, oh, a good week or more afterward.
Bruises are common in all parts of the body when they get hit and they last a long time. If your character fights constantly, they will show that wear and tear in all it’s glory on their body. It can last for a month, depending on how deep the bruises go. When I was training it wasn’t uncommon for me to find small welts all over my body, so much so that when I see a bruise now I just shrug it off.
During my third degree test, I took a roundhouse to my forearm and it became one, big mass of a bruise. I had a matched set for about two weeks, because I’d used the other arm for brick breaking.
The hand of the attacker will also bruise and possibly cut the skin, both on the victim’s body and the attacker’s knuckles. It’s worth remembering that a proper punch is necessary to keep the hand from breaking many of the small bones on impact. But hitting someone else is going to sting. Attacking better protected places on the body, like the rib cage, or the face, will be more obvious as opposed to hitting in the soft places like the throat or the stomach, still the hands will show signs of being in a fight regardless.
This is why the concept of “I don’t want to hurt anyone” is a nice sentiment, but complete bull. Want has nothing to do with it. Combat is a choice. If you fight or fight back, you’re going to hurt someone even if that person is just yourself. The question is not really “do I hurt them at all” but how far do you go and can you live with the consequences.
In specific instances, there’s the possibility of friction burns from the clothes rubbing against the body.
And of course, the most important and long lasting effect on the mind: shame. Also, guilt.
There’s more to it, but at that point it’s a good idea to start looking through medical and forensics textbooks on the subject. This is a little morbid, but in order to generate the right kind of feeling, you may want to stop and look at images of people who have been battered. Hollywood is very clean and combat is ugly. If you want to know how to describe something, you need to know what it actually looks like and decide whether or not it’s something you want to bring into your story.
(Edit: I should also point out that there is no “best” way to do anything, just the best that you’re capable of while working with the scene and how the themes there fit within the overall narrative. Violence is an excellent way to evoke emotion, but readers do have a threshold. How realistic you are is going to depend a lot on what you want them to be seeing and feeling when they read that scene. A sequence that is too vicious and too raw without properly being set up by the narrative runs the risk of knocking the reader out of the moment. This isn’t me saying don’t do it, just make sure you’re balancing realism with the needs of your story. A brutal beating is a key moment for a character, but it shouldn’t happen on the page more than once in a book that’s not dealing with abuse and brutal beatings (and even sometimes when it is). Work with what you’re capable of writing and marry that to what your comfortable with, after you’ve assessed what those limits are, feel free to push away at them as needed.
In the end, you’re the only one who can really figure out what your story needs to function.)
The trick with realism in fantasy lies in the rules you set up for that setting. This is why world building is incredibly important and why someone saying “I can do what I want because it’s just fantasy!” is both true and ultimately false. A character who exists in a world that’s very similar to our own will function under similar rules to our own world, a character who exists in a fantasy setting will fall under the rules that have been set up for that world. Fictional worlds require rules because they create tension. In a lot of ways, regardless of whether your character is handling a firearm or a fireball, what makes or breaks a story are those rules, how well you as the author set them up, and how well you adhere to them.
What a character can and can’t get away with will be defined by those rules. Now, superpowers whether they are magical or natural add an extra challenge because they ultimately raise the stakes. Magic will get away from you very quickly if it’s not balanced by cost in a fictional world. A character who can do anything, but has no restrictions, ultimately ends up boring because we as the audience has no reason to care about them or worry about whether or not they’ll succeed, whether they’ll survive the next ten minutes.
Realism begins in the restrictions you place on your setting, in the cultures you craft, and how your character reacts as a product of that culture. It’s in how well your plot and character actions sync up in the world you’ve created. After that, the realism of the fight scenes is like icing on top of a very well-made cake. If you don’t have that, then it’s just icing and while great icing is delicious on it’s own, it pales when it compliments a great cake.
I’m actually really hungry right now, I don’t know if you can tell.
Anyway, you have to make sure you don’t let your imagination run away with you and because it’s fantasy, it is ridiculously easy to have that happen. Now, the easiest way I’ve managed to start setting rules (and it’s hard) is to take an RPG system I’m familiar with like GURPS, World of Darkness, or Exalted, pick powers, and just start plugging in numbers. The White Wolf ones are good over D&D because they spear head character development in conjunction with the superpowers. Now, you know what your character can and can’t get away with. Stick to that and follow those rules, track their trajectory and always craft antagonists who are their equal or better. The antagonists will require their own character sheets, even the throw away mooks your character is fighting.
Why? Because every character in the story is there for a reason and a fight is between two or more people. So long as the fight stays within the setting established rules and the character stays within the themes the story has set up, then it’ll be fine. It’ll feel real to the reader. Upgrade your understanding as needed. Be careful. And you’ll be fine.
I think you’re going to want to be very careful when including sexism, even casual sexism into a narrative especially when violence is going to be an important part of that narrative. The attitude that comes from underestimating smaller characters or female ones isn’t one based in physiology, but psychological and, more importantly, societal attitudes.
These attitudes will not necessarily carry over when dealing with professionals. When working with the characters surrounding her, you’re going to need to remember two very important points: men are not stupid and female fighters are not rare, special creatures that will be ignored on basis of gender or size. Her cover will be blown the minute she starts fighting and will probably be given away long before then on the basis of body type, walk, the way she holds herself, and her movement pattern. Once that cover is blown, if the society she exists in is indeed much more hard lined and patriarchal, she’ll be regarded with a great deal more suspicion.
Professional warriors are a completely different animal than a non-professional one, they might overlook her in the beginning but when they turn around it will be with the same hard intensity that they use to treat everyone else. Unless she’s actively killing every man she comes across, her “secret” won’t be a secret for very long and if she is very good, then she will establish a reputation much more quickly than a male simply because she’ll be easier to pick out. Her position will be precarious.
Some really good reference material for this is: The Song of the Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce, Protector of the Small series again by Tamora Pierce, The Soprano Sorceress series by L.E. Modesitt Jr.
Below are the materials we wrote up dealing with this issue. You may also want to remember that for female fighters in patriarchal societies the dangers that they face are much higher than their male counterparts and the force they use will usually match that. They are often much harder than the men, and much more willing to take the force further instead of less because more force is often required to be convincing.
Yes, a character can train their flexibility and strength even if they don’t have regular access to facilities or a trainer. Important training like conditioning and flexibility can be done solo, and will be an important part of any serious, athletic character even when they do have access to a trainer and appropriate facilities.
Most high schools and colleges have a track, bleachers, and other amenities that are available to the public for use when school is not in session. I’m not talking about the weight lifting gym or anything like that (though if your character is a student, they may be able to take advantage of it by going through the appropriate channels). For liability reasons, the weight lifting gym in a high school, even a public one, will be closed to anyone who isn’t an athlete. But the track? The bleachers? The pullup bars? And other amenities? Those they can use.
If you have any experience doing conditioning training (building stamina, lung capacity, etc) then use that. If you don’t and I’m guessing this is true, we’ll go over some simple training exercises below and talk about the problems with pushing the boundaries of believability.
Now, when working with conditioning, it’s important to not over exaggerate. In many instances when I’ve been reading, I’ve found authors who didn’t have much experience with training pushing themselves either too high or too low. For example, in the scope of full out physical exertion five minutes is a long goddamn time. A usual workout for a character is going to only last between fifteen to thirty minutes, not an hour. They’re going to need to take breaks between one minute to five minutes and if they’re alone then they’ll have to moderate that for themselves. The length of the break will change based on the amount of exertion, say if they’ve been running bleachers, or a mile, or wind sprints, then take five once the repetitions are complete. If they’ve been doing pushups or situps, then a one minute break for some water is applicable.
They will probably feel the desire to cheat, if they do that’s okay just make sure it comes back to bite them later, working out is very hard. Characters who aren’t used to working out will slack off when there’s no one there to watch them. When someone is held accountable only to themselves then things tend to slip. It’s good to have a workout buddy, someone who will push the character forward past their self-perceived limits, but those are also hard to come by.
When doing conditioning, count it out not by time spent but in number of repetitions or reps. Doing pushups for a full minute (fifty/sixty pushups for sixty seconds) is not a beginner sport, serious athletes will do it, but it’s difficult. When working, keep it simple. 5 repetitions of 10 is good for someone who is very experienced whether that’s pushups, situps, leg lifts, or any of the vast number of other exercises out there. When you break the number out, it means they did 50 of each. You can stretch and do reps anywhere, on the bench at school, in front of the television, it doesn’t matter. The place doesn’t need to be special, what is important is that your character is doing them.
Here’s the average layout of the workout we used to do in our Saturday Morning Trainings, these trainings usually lasted between 6:00AM to 7:00AM:
5:30AM to 6:00AM: run a warm up lap before the instructor arrives and stretch.
6:00AM: run a mile (mile will last between 6-14 minutes depending on student and the student’s conditioning, the faster you run, the longer your break)
6:15AM: Practice forms or stances around the track.
6:20AM: Wind sprints/Run a “Korean” Mile (this is what we called it, but line everyone up in a line and send them jogging, last person in line sprints to the front, then over, and over, until the mile (usually for us just a lap or two around the track) is complete. The less teamwork, the harder it is for everyone. The team must slow down to keep pace with their slower members or the line gets really long.)
6:30AM: Practice kicks. (On the chain link fence, we spread out, and practiced our kicks as the instructor counted out the numbers of 1-5. 1: beginning position, 2: chamber, 3: kick, hold kick, 4: chamber, 5: drop the leg. Position changes when he speaks, so you could hold the leg there for a long time.)
6:45AM: Run bleachers. Students younger than twelve or thirteen run the stairs between the bleachers, teens and adults run the actual ones. Count out 5 repetitions, pair the children closer together so that they race.
6:50AM: wind down/cool off. Pushups, situps, and leg lifts. 2-5 repetitions of 10, depending. (2 for pushups and leg lifts, 5 for situps if time allows).
7:00AM: stretch. Everybody goes home.
As for stretching, you don’t need someone else there to help your character stretch. My advice: go to your local bookstore or library and buy or check out a book that’s dedicated to teaching someone how to work out on their own. It will cover all the major pitfalls and missteps a beginner will have, while also helping you add a sense of realism.
You also might want to think about starting to work out for yourself. The actions alone won’t be enough to convey the feelings or mental stress of working out. We can’t really fake remembering the feeling of a runner’s high, personal experience will make you a better writer in the long run.
And please, never ever use second hand training gear that doesn’t fit you. It won’t work and is more dangerous in the long run, it will also hamper your character’s ability to perform and is more likely to get them injured. Now, most workout/weightlifting machines can be adjusted to someone’s personal settings. So, it’s not the end of the world.
Figure out what your character is training to do, then develop a routine that will develop those aspects of their body’s muscular structure. All the training in the world won’t help if they’re developing their body to do the wrong things. All training and all workouts are not created equal.
I hope that helps.