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The Writing Café: Things I wish I’d see more in YA books

The Writing Café: Things I wish I’d see more in YA books

How would you write boxing for a character? Like stances, punches ect ect.

Well, keep in mind that I only have a passing familiarity with boxing, so if you really want to write it, you’re going to have to do more research. (And you should always be doing more research anyway because the information you glean from one source is never as the one you gain through your own work.)

Boxing is one of the oldest surviving Eurpoean martial forms and has been part of the fine tradition of gambling for many centuries. However, training in boxing has currently passed almost entirely into the realm of sport fighting and out of the realm of traditional combat. Today, boxing can be learned for self-defense but most of those who practice it do so to either become a professional fighter or for health and fitness reasons.

You may be wondering, what does the history of boxing have to do with writing it? Well, like civilization itself, combat evolves. How I would write boxing in 2013 is very different from, say, how I would write a character who boxes in 1908, or one who boxes in 1803, and so on. Fortunately for you, however, boxing is a sport that is very well documented. I recommend some research of it’s history if you haven’t yet, mostly because it will help show the kind of characters who become professional fighters, the tradition of boxing in the “Western”/European/American military, and of course, what the culture that surrounds modern boxing.

Remember, it’s not enough to write a character who can box, you also have to create a realistic persona to go with it and a surrounding back story that supports them. A character who started boxing as recreation at their local YMCA is going to be very different from the character for whom professional boxing was the only way to escape poverty, and they both will be different from the character who learned to box at college and worked the collegiate sports circuit (and whether that was East or West Coast in America), they will also be different from the character who started boxing because they joined the Military and went to one of the officer Academies like Westpoint where boxing is a tradition.

Okay, so let’s talk about boxing.

First, I want you to check out this post: FightWrite: A Basic Upper Body Primer (Fists) because it does cover some of the basic punches and how they work.

Boxing is limited almost entirely to the upper body, with the exception of knees, and, in a modern context, almost all the strikes are based around the assumption that your hands are wearing boxing gloves or, at the very least, some sort of wrap for reinforcement. A common beginner mistake is assuming that the boxing gloves are there to protect the opponent’s face, they aren’t. They are there to protect the hands from a metacarpal break (fracturing the fragile bones in the fingers). A metacarpal break is commonly called a “boxer break” or a “boxer fracture” for this reason, a broken finger bone is a common injury for a professional boxer. The incidents of serious head injuries actually increased after the introduction of the boxing glove because fighters could suddenly punch to the face without fear of injury.

This is important because this is how your character is going to be trained, unless they receive supplementary training for when they are assaulted on the street, they will follow their first instinct and today, the opening boxing strikes do go to the head.

Because of it’s reliance entirely on the upper body, boxing has to happen in very close quarters aka inside arm range. This means that if the fight doesn’t begin with a face to face altercation then the boxer has to close the distance. Boxers will be at a disadvantage against kickers if they can’t get past the legs and may also be at a disadvantage against grappling experts and joint locking practitioners if they can’t knock them out before they get a good grip on their arms/legs/shoulders/head etc. It goes without saying that they will also be off balance against an armed opponent, especially a knife or crowbar/club/tire iron. That said, boxing would not have survived so long if it was not an extremely effective martial form and, also, fun to watch.

Some terminology:

The Fighting Stance: The fighting stance for boxing is a very square one, both shoulders face the opponent on an even line, the back foot is on the ball and bent at a 45 degree angle. The boxer leans forward slightly on the front foot, tilting forward, ready to spring into action. Both hands are up to protect the face, with the fast hand (usually the left) slightly forward with the right hovering right at the cheekbone. The power hand (right or left) will always match the foot that’s tilted onto the ball, because of the greater hip rotation provided by the pivot of the back foot.

Blocks: Boxing blocks are very simply and are great when studying conservation of movement. Unlike some of the more traditional martial arts that use big movements, blocks in boxing rarely move much. They involve batting and pushing the incoming hands away from the face, freeing the fighter up to retaliate quickly. When they need to protect the head from a high strike like a haymaker, the fighter tucks their elbow up against their head in a triangle to take the incoming hit.

Slip: The slip is when the weight drops and the head tilts slightly to get out of the way of an incoming attack. A slip will often lead into a hook or an uppercut, because the lower positioning of the body allows for greater rotation of the hips and puts the fighter into a position to easily attack the ribcage.

The clinch: When the fighter gets in close enough that he can wrap his hands around the back of his opponent’s head, the clinch is often accompanied by powerful knee strikes while the other fighter attempts to defend himself from a disadvantaged position.

The jab: This is the opening punch used to soften up an opponent’s defenses before delivering a cross. The jab is always the front hand or the fast hand and while it doesn’t deal much damage, it can pound away on an opponent to create openings for much stronger attacks.

The cross or the straight right: The cross is the back hand or the power hand, this punch achieves a full rotation of the hips. It’s slower due to the windup, but is much stronger. In a professional fight, the cross often aims for the cheek, the nose, and the eyebrow (to cause bleeds). These attacks correspond to the same side as the punch, so one fighter’s right connects to the fighter’s left side of their face.

The hook: the hook is a punch that comes across and aims for the ribcage. The hook can also go high, if the opening is right, and aim for the back end of the jaw to the gap between the jaw and the rest of the skull, right beneath the ear. A successful hit here will cause a knockout.

The uppercut: The uppercut is a punch that comes up, underneath the jaw or drives into the stomach/solar plexus region of the body.

Elbows: I think boxing allows elbow strikes, these usually go to the face if the opponents are close enough for them.

Shoulder check: ramming the shoulder into the chest.

Hip check: ramming the hip into the opponent’s side, when on a horizontal angle.

Strategy: most professional and collegiate fights rely on a significant amount of strategizing pre-fight for success. A similar kind of strategy will be at play if the fighter finds himself or herself in combat on the street. So, it might be worth reading through a few memoirs and how to books to get a solid feel for what the basics of those strategies are. You want to write a boxer, you’ve got to write a character who thinks like one.

There’s a lot more to it than this, but this should be enough to get you started. Also, do yourself a favor and start learning the differences between professional boxing and Olympic boxing. Then, watch some professional fights if you haven’t yet. You can find quite a few for free on Youtube. Have fun!

-Michi

Hi, I just found out something rather obvious that there are different fighting styles for different cultures. What would a Russian fighting style look like?

Well, believe it or not, there are actually quite a few of them.

The two big ones used by the Russian Military are Systema which translates to “The System” and Sambo. Sambo comes in a few different flavors, such as the variety used for sports and the version used by the Russian Military. Systema is military only, though you can find a few schools in the United States that teach it as a form of self-defense.

Systema is more about joint locking and screwing with someone’s body.

Sambo is more about grappling.

Neither of these martial systems were inspired by their southern neighbors. They are unique to Russia.

-Michi

(via http://www.youtube.com/attribution_link?a=9_t6jCPSL_FsXuWJV8YbDg&u=/watch?v=O8RWLxlzTiM&feature=share)

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.

http://www.youtube.com/attribution_link?a=nCzpVS5EE-VFAN-goZTZeQ&u=/watch?v=SOU9jLLMw0Y&feature=share

http://www.youtube.com/attribution_link?a=nCzpVS5EE-VFAN-goZTZeQ&u=/watch?v=SOU9jLLMw0Y&feature=share

Now I’m curious. Which martial styles cater to female strengths?

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.

-Michi

You touched on nunchaku earlier and mentioned a more in-depth article on that particular weapon was in the works. Will we be seeing it soon? I have a character who uses them and would love to read more about them.

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.

-Michi

Well the thing you wrote about women fighting was a good read. Now my experience with female fighters weren’t that they were stronger, but have more control. My experience has been boxing so might be wrong. In that control I’ve seen female fighters be powerful in a different way then male. That female fighters may not have the same strength as male fighters because their strength is different then theirs. Would that be wrong?

capricorn-child:

fuckyourwritinghabits:

howtofightwrite:

Yeah, boxing is a bad test example. The “problem” with boxing is that because the strikes are, for the most part, upper body only, men do posses a much greater advantage when it comes to physical strength. Men can develop their upper body much more quickly and much more fully than women can. Whereas female strength develops more quickly in the core muscles and the lower body. They also have a much harder time building up “weightlifter muscles” and an easier time with “runners muscles”. That’s not a medical definition, but I can’t remember the terms right now.

When we look at boxing, even with the wider hips, the natural advantages that females possess just don’t come into play. This is just the way boxing works, for the most part. Add full rotation of the legs like in kickboxing and the field shifts dramatically. Add in joint locking techniques and free standing grappling, it’ll look different again.

The second problem that women face, and this one is much more important, are the psychological blocks they have developed from living in a patriarchal society. The beliefs a woman has about herself  will be her biggest barrier to learning how to fight effectively. “I don’t want to hurt anyone, I can’t do that, I’m not a bad person, I’ll get in trouble” etc are all part of mental barriers that come into play when faced with a male (and sometimes even female) opponent.

The differences between men and women on a purely physical level aren’t really that substantial. When we compare their fighting ability on a cultural and psychological one, the difference is enormous.

We see this one come into play a lot with writing, especially with the latest influx of “badass” female heroines. In most of those cases, the character themselves isn’t the reason for their success. The success is based on X, be that their superpowers, their base fighting ability (which is treated as separate from their personality), the way that other characters around them underestimate them on the basis of their size and gender. But none of that actually has anything to do with who they are as a person or how they see the world around them. There’s some extra reason why these girls and women can win that has nothing to do with them, but instead their victories are based in outside forces at work around them and how those forces fuck up.

The expectation is the same in the beginning for many of the female students I’ve taught and it’s something that they have to get over if they’re going to succeed in their training. Mental willingness to go the extra mile and push past the self-imposed mental limits will actually make the difference over base physical strength.

In the article, I wasn’t just talking about perceived physical differences, though they are important, because success in combat is learning how to play to your strengths. But, I was also talking about mental strength and what we believe about ourselves, how we see ourselves, and our capability for success.

When someone goes into a fight against someone else on the belief that they are going to lose merely based on their gender, they will. Now, across the board women aren’t necessarily stronger than men either. That one is going to come down to the individuals in question. The important thing to remember is that they’re just not weaker and that, at least in the mind, begins to level the playing field.

-Michi

OH MY GOD THEY SAID PATRIARCHAL SOCIETY this is the best blog.

when I did martial arts my sensei [who had a -lot- of experience] said girls tend to have better technique than boys, because to fight someone who is stronger, heavier and has a better reach than you, you have to really use skill and the way they teach you to use the opponent’s moves and weight against them.

This is true, but in some ways only partially so. I had this opinion too, until I stopped and thought about it. But the perception is, and this perception is general, is that the weight is the important factor. Since most martial arts are developed around the idea of making full use of weight, it is in a sense true. Men on average weigh more than women, so they get to coat. However, that’s only half the equation. Ultimately, what it comes down to is physics. Force = mass x acceleration.

Men have the greater mass, but because they do inertia works against them. They’re slower to start and slower to stop, which accounts for the lack of precision in their technique. Women weigh less, but they can accelerate faster and because they lack the problem with inertia, they reset much more quickly. This is where the average female martial artists greater precision comes from. She can start and stop whenever she wants and because she’s lighter. This means she hits slightly less hard but can hit her opponent more times in rapid succession than a man can. (The strength differential is ultimately more minimal). Thus, resulting in greater bodily control. When Starke and I discussed this, I ended up likening the female strengths to the Italian School of Fencing and male ones to the German School. The German School uses the longsword/broadsword for reference where the Italian School uses the light blades: foil, rapier, sabre. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise when I tell you that women happen to be extremely good at fencing. Both sports will mess up someone’s day, but they do it in different ways. Those differences are actually very important.

Now, in most martial arts, including many of the Japanese ones, you’re not really going to see this come into play unless the female practitioners begin to modify the style for themselves. The reason is that the average martial arts are built to play to male strengths, not female ones. They’re built around making use of the weight advantage, not the speed one. This translates into a general thought process that revolves around women being less proficient combatants because they lack the male advantages (generally taller and heavier) instead of feeding the female ones (lighter body, hits happen in rapid succession, making use of a lower center of gravity).

This is just on the basis of body. It doesn’t touch on the additional problems created by societal gender bias or how that can travel as a sub-component of the martial art and the societal attitudes that surround a martial artist as they are learning. Much of what is considered to be conventional wisdom, isn’t.

For most men, the best thing to do is focus on a “top down” mentality. Focus on building the upper body primarily, with an emphasis on hand techniques and using their greater size to force someone down. For women, I’ve found, the best approach is to focus on “bottom up”, start the student with an increased focus on leg strength, leg placement, hip rotation, and making full use of their lower center of gravity. Build muscle mass with an emphasis on speed. In most styles this will amount to “better technique”, but that’s not quite what’s happening.

My thoughts on the subject anyway and those are based in my martial arts experiences.

-Michi

what would be the best way to describe being beaten? not exactly torture, but during the fight, and getting hit without just saying a punch to the stomach, and what would be the best reaction of that? i know some, like to your stomach can knock the breath out of you, but among other things?

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.

-Michi

(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.)