Tag Archives: writing reference

Let’s Get Physical: Training and Physical Contact

I’ll probably do quite a few posts on training and all the aspects at play there from the perspective of student and instructor, but let’s start with this one. I warn: this post may be a jumbled confused mess, but that’s because while the physical contact aspect is an important part of the training experience, it can be a little embarrassing to talk about. I’ll do more posts on the subject, but I felt like I needed to get this one out there.

I’ll be honest, most combat training (any kind of combat training really) involves a lot of man-handling of the student on the part of the instructor. Whether it’s pushing the student lower in their stretching exercises, gripping the leg to show the path of the roundhouse kick, pulling back their shoulders, fixing their stances, or just offering up your unprotected hands as stationary targets so that the student can get the feel of the double punch, (I should say this is all long before we get into the really sensitive stuff like grappling) training involves a lot of physical contact.

A lot. It’s likely that a child from a household where the culture of physical affirmation is rare will receive more physical affection from their martial arts masters than they do from their own parents. So on any given day in a martial arts school, you may walk in to find adults touching kids in what appear to be very weird places (knees, shoulders, hips), or doing the same with young adults and teens, or the same with each other. They slap each other on the back, give high fives, pats on the head; you may even find complete strangers hugging each other like they’re best friends even though they have nothing in common except their uniforms. I cannot count how many random strangers I have hugged in my lifetime and I never saw again after that, I have hugged men and women of all ages, shapes, and sizes as part of a greeting simply because we were part of the same organization. The people you train with often are more than just friends, they become a second family.

This can be very confusing to an outside observer who doesn’t really have the context to associate what they’re seeing with what’s considered “normal” behavior, especially when it’s between members of the opposite sex (or same-sex). It’s the sort of thing that can be especially confusing for students who begin as teens and young adults, especially if they’re in a school that has head and assistant instructors between their late teens to early thirties. It can be easy to misinterpret the contact in early sessions, but as the student progresses they will adjust and become used to it.

So, let’s talk about the sort of physical contact you see on the training floor:

Adjusting the body:

For a student to learn a technique, they have to master a few different stages. While a student can often mimic their instructor’s movements, they often miss out on key details like hand and foot position. It’s their instructor’s job to catch and fix the student’s mistakes. This means that when working with basic techniques whether as stand-alone or in forms like katas. The head instructor and his or her assistants (usually students they’ve trained who’ve risen to the upper belt ranks) will watch and wander through the group stopping to correct small things: such as pushing the font leg in the front stance wider, adjusting hand position by gripping the wrist, pulling back on or straightening the student’s shoulders to keep them from slouching, telling them to lean further forward. Different instructors in different schools will do different things, but whether it’s a martial arts school or a military academy, you can bet your character has gotten used to people putting their hands on them even if it’s from someone they may not be particularly comfortable with.

So, why is the contact necessary?

A large part of martial training is building muscle memory, but no student is going to be perfect their first time out. The more repetitions (reps) and the more practice a student gets, the better they will perform. But without course correction a student can develop bad habits, in the beginning the body doesn’t want to work and the mind must enforce its will to keep focus during training. The muscles need to remember the appropriate positions so that when the student does the technique at full speed they don’t get hurt. Once you physically correct a student, their body is more likely to remember the sensation and they are better able to push themselves there. Instead of guessing what it’s supposed to look like based on what they’ve seen, they now know what it feels like. The latter is easier to achieve than the former.

It’s especially important when teaching little kids kicks, their body is just developing its sense of balance and the older instructor can quite easily show them what to do by guiding their leg and the position of their body. It’s a very common exercise with roundhouse kicks which, because of the way the leg arcs in front of the body, can be difficult to grasp the first time around. Once the child has the sensation, they pick up the technique and improve their performance very quickly.

Kids Raised in the System:

Kids who have been raised in the system or reared to fight are more used to this level of contact than older students. They relax more easily under their instructors hands, they adopt techniques more quickly, and students who began as children (even in a different style) can learn new styles much more rapidly in just a few sessions than older, less experienced students. There is actually some truth in Cassandra Cain’s ability to effectively learn and adopt techniques into her fighting style that she’s only seen once, though the child in question doesn’t need to have as violent a background. I, for instance, can replicate most of the techniques I see in the instructional videos floating around the internet, whereas they’re pretty worthless to someone without the same level of training.

This is partly because of the way my brain learned, from a young age, how to translate the visual data I receive into a physical form. I start working with the basic underlay of what I’m seeing, the stance, the hand position, the feet position, and then replicate it without needing much guidance.

They can, however, be very dense when it comes to figuring out if someone else likes them. For obvious reasons, many kids who are raised in the martial arts system get used to physical contact as an expression of feelings like friendship, approval, affirmation, etc. Those signals get crossways of trying to physically show someone you’re interested, especially if the other individual is from outside the school or the martial artist lifestyle. Depending on the culture at play, something like a hug can mean anything from “hi! how are you?” to “omg, he/she is touching me!”.

It can lead to misunderstandings and trouble.

The Relationship between Student and Instructor:

I won’t really go into student and teacher relationships here that much other than to say: it’s icky, please don’t. The power dynamic at play can get screwy very quickly. My advice: If you want to combine love interest with teacher, the best way to do it is between two people who are older but of similar age and similar rank, a pair of thirty year old third degree and first degree black belts going out is less squicky than the third degree head instructor and a new white belt.

Or keep the love interest to an assistant instructor instead of the master or head instructor, they have less authority over your character’s training and are less likely to screw up the training of the other characters who are training with your characters.

Or have their love interest training them in a new skill after they’ve already mastered several of their own. This puts the two characters on a more even footing.

The more responsibility that’s at play, like the instructor being responsible for whether the character and their friends live or die (Like Four in Divergent) or responsible for whether or not a character passes their training (Kara Thrace in Battlestar Galactica), the more quickly the relationships snowball towards uncomfortable territory. Conflicts of interest are nice and drama-filled, but they also run a genuine risk of dismantling what the Instructor character is supposed to be about and what the student is supposed to be learning. It’s a conflict you should think about long and hard before deciding to include it in your story.

-Michi

Character Development: Let’s Talk Snark

Snark can be a great tool in your author’s dialogue box. It can be wielded well and when used well it can be responsible for creating some solid heroes and villains. So, if it sounds like I’m bashing snark, well, I’m not. I’m a fan of snark and of sass, and I enjoy heroes with a healthy dose of sarcastic wit.

But, snark comes with it’s downsides. It’s not appropriate for all situations and used in the wrong ones, it can actually be very damaging to both the tension and the story. Snark can damage the threat level of your bad guys, it can weaken and degrade your minor characters, especially your protagonist’s relationship with them (if they’re your snarker). It can be used in situations where being snarky is senseless, useless, and even stupid. While this isn’t a bad thing on it’s own, it can be very good if that’s the author’s intention in the scene, when the senseless stupid snark is the means of the character achieving what they were after in a situation where such snark would usually be detrimental or downright suicidal, it’s generally very damaging to characters, tension, plot, and the overarching story.

So, let’s talk snark:

1) Know who your character is snarking at:

If you want to prove your character is intelligent (or that they’re self-destructive), they need to be capable of assessing the situation and moderating their behavior appropriately. It’s one thing to be snarky to a friend or someone your character knows well. It’s quite another for them to be snarking off at an authority figure, or any character who is in a position of power that is greater than the character’s own. It’s especially bad if that authority figure is someone the character has come to and needs assistance or permission from. (Like in Ilona Andrews’ Magic Bites, where her bounty hunter/mercenary protagonist got snarky while trying to convince the head of the area’s Magical Police Force to let her assist their investigation into the death of her mentor.)

It’s one thing to have a problem with authority, it’s another when the character is actually actively sabotaging their own efforts and the author doesn’t realize it. Think about this:

2) Snark is a defensive mechanism: snark is a defensive mechanism used to drive other people away from a character. Unlike other forms of humor, it requires making someone else look stupid to be successful. Someone’s going to have to be the butt of the joke, someone’s going to have to look bad for the protagonist to look good. Most people, especially when they are in the room to hear it aren’t going to be happy. A character whose authority relies on maintaining control of the situation and being in charge, isn’t going to be very happy when they’re mocked to their face. If they’re someone tolerant, they’ll just be more likely to say: “lol no”, when the protagonist comes calling. If they’re someone like the local crime boss, they’ll have to retaliate. Let’s just say, I hope the protagonist enjoys having all their teeth pulled with a pair of rusty pliers.

3) Snark is a sign of control: characters who have leeway to be sarcastic are usually the characters who are in charge or have power in the situation. These are the characters in charge of running the local army base, the jackass cop who is arresting your rebel protagonist. These are the characters who can get away with it, the characters who snark when they know the person they’re snarking at can’t fight back. Nobody really wants to put up with a jackass who makes them feel like shit most of the time. If your hero is constantly snarking off at authority and at their buddies because they feel out of control, maybe that’s a reason why they shoudn’t have friends. So, if your hero is snarking at your villain, it better be because they’re trying to make that villain angry enough to fight stupid or distract them, not because they believe the villain’s not a threat (and they’re proven right).

4) Snark is a good way to make someone angry: Like I said above: someone’s gotta be the butt of the joke. If you’re character’s going all John McClane snarky on someone because their tongue is the last weapon they have in a situation where their outmanned, outgunned, and dragging themselves through a skyscraper on bloody feet then…fine. Snark can be a great way for your protagonist to cover what they’re actually doing by getting the other guy angry. This is a great use of snark, so long as you remember the part about being outgunned and on the defensive. It doesn’t really work when your protagonist is in control of a situation at the end of the fight or just generally acting like an intellectual or emotional bully.

Or…they’re just not funny.

But let’s rewind that back. Snark is a good way to make someone angry. Your reader should never be questioning (unless you want them to question) why someone would ever want help your character, especially if all they’ll get from it is pain and misery. John Constantine ran into this problem on one of his more well handled comic runs, he kept getting his friends killed and he started running out of friends. Now, Constantine is a conartist (and arguably a villain protagonist), he’s a self-centered jerk, he’s an all-around asshole, he’s an adrenaline junkie, and the people in his setting generally respond to him like he is one. Including denying him assistance when he asks for it because they know they’re not going to get anything from it except pain and misery.

He spends a great deal of his time in a few of his comic runs backtracking, capitulating, and trying to talk people around into assisting him before he screws them over and gets them killed. It’s a theme.

I love Hellblazer, but let’s not pretend Constantine’s a nice guy people like. At least, not when he’s in the hands of a competent writer *cough* Garth Ennis *cough*.

5) They’re that damn good: Boba Fett is pretty much the only character I can think of who actually fits this description. He’s the best bounty hunter in the galaxy, everyone quivers at the sound of his name, and he’s actually far too skilled and useful for Vader to annihilate him for the crime of mouthing off. He’s not replaceable. Every other character in the story (including Luke) was replaceable. Yoda and Obi-wan even had a backup ready in case he failed. There are almost no characters in the universe who are so good that they can say: “You need me, so I can do and say whatever I want.” A Chosen One with that mentality who survives is a Chosen One who has the author cheating for them.

Look: Stories have to have an internal logical consistency. This internal logical consistency is what generates suspension of disbelief in the reader. You’ve got to stay inside it, if you break it, you break your setting and your story. Your character, even if they happen to be the better version of you, is someone who has to live in the setting world you create. They have to be responsible for what they do and say, even when they’re saying and doing the things you might wish you could do. Other characters will respond to them based on their own worldview, their own values, and their own needs or desires in combination with your character’s actions.

The local police chief isn’t going to want a newbie nobody assisting on his investigation, mucking around crime scenes, and mucking up evidence. Especially when that newbie nobody has no background in investigation and has a close personal tie to the deceased. It’s all well and good to say: well, they’re good enough so why would he turn them down? 1) Why would he need them in the first place?  2) Conflict of interest is a real problem. Revenge isn’t a legitimate motivation to give to a cop, it’s an understandable one, but it’s just going to get crossways of what they’re trying to accomplish.

It’s okay to have a character who is the Constantine level of self-destructive, it can create a good story. But make sure that’s the kind of story you want to be telling first, not “oh shit! I just made my biggest villain look like an idiot, now the tension bubble is gone and the reader might not be afraid of them anymore!”

I can’t worry about your character going into their final fight if I’ve already been convinced they’re going to come out alive.

The Writing Café: Why First Chapters Really Matter

The Writing Café: Why First Chapters Really Matter

Weapon Primer: Basic Kicks Part 3 (Combinations + Your Character)

Disclaimer: This is not an article designed to teach you how to kick. This article is designed to teach you about kicks, the principles behind them, and how to include them in your writing. For the uninitiated, you can risk a lifetime of injuries in your legs by practicing any of these without sufficient stretching and an instructor present. If the martial arts are something you’re interested in pursuing, feel free to message us and we can talk about the steps you can take to find a school that might work for you. Remember, we’re not liable for the damage you do to yourself or others in absence of proper training.

This is the third part of the primer on Basic Kicks, go here and here to read the first two. So, we’ve covered the kicks, some of the footwork, and how to do them.  But without basic understanding of where and when kicks are useful for your fighting sequences, they’re pretty much useless. In this section we’re going to talk about how you handle kicks in fight sequences, talk about kicking combinations and the difference between them and exhibition kicks. We’ll also give a few more tips on how to apply them to the characters you craft, some advice for writing them in your fight scenes, review our basic terminology and finally: give you some good reference material to further improve your studies. The more you know; the better writer you will be.

So, let’s get down to it.

Why is kicking important?

Pros: Kicks are a valuable part of any martial style and are well worth the difficulty that comes with mastering them. While more risky than hand techniques, they come with an advantage of speed, power, reach, and exceptional accuracy if your character has the requisite level of training. You can kick much, much harder than you can punch. A character can put more force behind kicks. Kicks can provide superb defense, keeping the other fighters off balance and your character out of arms reach. They can end the fight quickly, causing significant amounts of internal injuries, broken bones, and even death (often through grievous head wounds and concussions). They give you four limbs with which to attack instead of just two and can help make fight scenes more dynamic in the reader’s imagination.

Cons: That said kicks can come with some significant cons to balance them out. Many kicks are virtually useless once an opponent penetrates the fighter’s guard. (See: the Kicking Conundrum) They rely managing the opponent and keeping them far enough away for the vast majority of their arsenal to remain useful. If an opponent catches the leg, the fight is over. I can tell you that hopping across the floor to keep up with someone who has your leg tucked under their arm, even in just a friendly situation, is terrifying. You can’t extract it from them. You just have to trust that they’ll let you go. You can’t do that in a combat situation. Remember, there are no perfect techniques and no guaranteed victories. Each one has a counter and even when you and your character work hard, sometimes it’s just not enough, sometimes there’s someone better. No injury is free.

Common Combinations versus Double-Kicks:

Let’s start with Double-Kicks.

Double-Kicks: You’ve probably seen double-kicks in action if you’ve gone to any Taekwondo tournament. But let’s assume you haven’t. What is a double-kick? A double-kick is a kick, usually using the front leg, where two kicks are done with a single leg without the foot ever touching the ground. Sounds impressive, right? They are an exceptional display of control and skill when executed well. This can be confusing for non-practitioners who see them, because they look impressive and are very advanced. So, using them in a combat sequence will prove how talented their character is. But double-kicks aren’t combat kicks.

Double-Kicks like the low-high (low-high roundhouse, low-high side kick) and the double roundhouse aren’t combat kicks, they’re kicks designed to help the practitioner develop their balance, accuracy, flexibility, and fine muscular control. They’re usually taught between red belt (sometimes at brown belt) to black belt and are included in some of the higher level forms.

So, why don’t double-kicks work for combat?

The reason for this is simple, unlike in Hollywood, humans normally move away from what’s causing them pain. They will stumble, they will move back, or step away. Think back to your physics lessons for your scenes, what happens when force encounters force? Double-kicks are stationary. A character caught in the middle of a double-kick cannot give chase. Kicks generate a lot of force and they need follow-through (complete extension of the leg into the opponent) to be effective. A Double-Kick relies on balance, instead of the character going through the opponent. They have to pull their leg back to try again and don’t take into account the idea of the other person moving. Like I said, they’re not designed for combat. They are a great balance exercise and they will still look damn impressive when showing off to your friends (if you ever show off to your friends, I never did, non-martial artists just don’t understand).

Basic Kicking Combinations: Combinations are a martial artist’s bread and butter. They’re an important part of any character’s martial training. They build the connections in the brain that allow a fighter to transfer easily between different techniques, so instead of just throwing one, they can consecutively throw two, three, or four. Kicking combinations can only be done by characters that are trained, characters with a higher level of training will eventually start switching up their combinations and crafting their own. Remember, combinations are more like guidelines than actual rules. For kickers, they teach what kicks work together and flow naturally into one another, thus saving time and grief on using kicks whose movements (ending hip position, footwork) clash with each other. An example would be: combining a sidekick with a wheel kick as opposed to a sidekick and a back kick.

Now, let’s bring the rest of this guide into play and see how well you can follow along with these basic combinations:

1)      Slide front kick, front kick

2)      Front kick, roundhouse

3)      Roundhouse, sidekick

4)      Roundhouse, slide sidekick

5)      Sidekick, back kick

6)      Slide sidekick, back kick

7)      Slide sidekick, back kick, front kick, double-punch

8)      Front kick, roundhouse, back kick

9)      Slide front kick, front kick, roundhouse, slide sidekick, back kick

10)   Slide roundhouse, hook kick, cross-step roundhouse, wheel kick

I’m kidding on the last one, that’s rather advanced (red belt). You tack on the double-punch to the end of all of the above if it’s being performed in class.

How to Build Your Own:

If you were wondering why this guide in particular is so damn long, this is why. As writers, but (mostly) non-practitioners you don’t have the advantage of being able to experiment with your scenes before you put them down on paper. The reason for the step-by-step instruction is so you can learn the ins and outs of the kicks without having to learn to use them yourselves even if they’re imported piecemeal into your writing. Once you start being able to visualize the kicks in your mind, you can start putting them together into different combinations, combining them with hand motions as you become more advanced in your understanding. Your characters won’t always hit the enemy, but what matters is convincing your audience that you know what you’re talking about. So, some things to consider when putting together your own combinations:

Ignore the legs and ask where did my character’s feet land? What direction are their hips facing? Are they pointed sideways (finished a sidekick) or towards the opponent (front kick, roundhouse, punch)? Is someone coming in from the side (throw sidekick)? Or from behind (back kick)? Do they need to turn or come across (roundhouse)? How close are they to the opponent (punch, grab, or sidekick)?

Think beyond just techniques to the situation. The more you practice, the better you’ll get. Remember, there are thousands of different combinations out there. So, don’t worry about it too much unless the scene you’re writing is anatomically impossible or you’re performing a kill strike and calling it self-defense.

Kicking and Your Character:

You don’t have to include kicks if you’re not comfortable with them. In fact, if we’ve gotten this far and it’s all confusion, I really recommend avoiding them. Kicking is a very specialized skill and characters who practice them require specialized backgrounds. Not all martial artists can kick or kick well enough to get away with it in combat. Many of my Instructors, the ones who began training in martial arts at an older age, were only passable. Kicking wasn’t what they were good at, but they were still excellent in every other aspect. So, remember, you don’t need kicks and they’re much easier to screw up even in a fictional context than hand technique.

Kicking is not a required trait for a female fighter. While women do have a better sense of balance and flexibility, any woman who begins her training even into her early teens will have some difficulty with kicks (balance + muscular control) and older than that she’ll run into the same problems her male counterparts have. The older you get, the more difficult it is to master kicks in a combat context. The speed and fine muscle control just isn’t there. Besides, a woman’s only value isn’t in her legs.

Traits of a Kicker:

Beyond the obvious (limber, flexible, etc), here are a few traits that characters who use kicks as their primary offense will have.

They think with their feet:  A character that comes from a kicking discipline will have a “feet first” mentality. They’ll be more aware of other characters and keep a wider circle of awareness around their body (the extension of the leg), they’re usually aware of any other character who has entered into “kicking range”.

The knees go: snap, crackle, pop. This is one of the things they won’t tell you, but fighting is hard on the body. Even just training for it, you begin to wear out your body at an early age. Most kickers have knee problems later in life and even if they don’t, you can hear their body when they kneel down or bend over: snap, crackle, pop, the sound of the cartilage in their joints rubbing together. It doesn’t mean much of anything, but it’s common in most Taekwondo artists. My knees were going snap, crackle, pop by the time I was twelve years old. It isn’t painful for the practitioner, but it does make the listener wince and go: ‘oooh, ouch’.

Calluses: Kickers have hardened feet from years on the mats; no amount of lotion will ever soften them.

Writing Kicks in Your Fight Sequences:

We went over everything associated with the basic kicks in this write up not because all of it needs to be included in on the page, but because it’s part of what you need to be thinking about when you write them. There’s no reason to take the audience through a step-by-step accounting of every technique unless they’re a complete beginner. For most characters, these techniques will have already naturally become part of who they are, how they move, and how they think. They won’t consider the step-by-step because they already know how to do them. The problem is that you are not your character even though they are built out of your experiences and your imagination. If you don’t know, they can’t know, even though they should. It can be very frustrating.

So, let’s talk about the parts your scenes should focus on:

Impact: Remember our terminology and be specific: where on the body is your character hitting or being hit by their opponent? What parts of the body are they using, foot and leg don’t cut it, details are key. Compare:

Bad example: Samantha yanked her leg back and rammed her foot into Steven’s stomach.

Better example: Samantha yanked her leg back and struck out, ramming the blade of her foot into Steven’s stomach.

The differences are minor, but the visualization for the audience is better. You don’t need much, techniques happen fast, so you must attempt to marry brevity with detail to create scenes that move quickly. Remember, time doesn’t stop for us in real life when we stop to think about stuff, so it shouldn’t for your character.

Focus on what the technique does, not what the technique is: Use of proper terminology is great, but most people won’t know what that means and the effect is lessened. It feels like reading a textbook, instead of a fight.

Bad example: Samantha hit Steve with a hammer blow to the chest and then drove a sidekick into the side of his knee.

Better example: Samantha drove the bottom of her fist down into the center of Steve’s chest, like a hammer striking a nail. As he stumbled back, she whipped her knee up and around, tucking it tight against her stomach. Then she struck out with her left leg, driving the blade of her foot through the side of his knee. It gave way with a crunch and he howled, falling to the ground.

Any writing is about communicating ‘what happened’ to the reader, the rules for ‘show, don’t tell’ apply to writing fight scenes too. This is why writing fight scenes is so hard, because you need more than just the technique, you need: how to do it, what it does, where can it connect, what are the effects, and how will others respond to my character’s actions?

Most martial artists won’t provide that information for you, because they don’t need it. There are no easy answers to writing, just the ones you find for yourself. Give yourself some time to learn and you’ll come out the other side better than you began.

Review: Basic Terminology

The Fighting Stance: the beginning defensive stance for fighters

The Chamber: The position of the knee and the intermediate step between the foot on the ground and the kick in the air.

The Ball: the front part of the foot, between the arch and the toes.

The Blade: the outside edge of the foot

The Top: the top of the foot, point the toes

The Heel: the hardened back of the foot, behind the arch

Front Kick: a kick done while facing forwards, uses the ball of the foot

Side Kick: a kick done while facing sideways, uses the blade of the foot

Roundhouse: a kick done while the leg arcs around and across the front of the body, uses the ball of the foot

Back Kick: a kick done when the back is facing the opponent, uses the heel of the foot

Snap Kick: a fast version of the above kicks, a half-kick that strikes to the lower regions of the body, often taught in self defense

Turnover: when the hip turns over so the strike can connect, this happens during the chamber.

Follow-through: the concept of going through your target, instead of stopping at the body

The slide step: a step done while sliding forwards, kicks are done with the front leg

The cross-step: a step done where the legs make a cross-shape, turning the front leg into the powerful back leg

Review: Homework

Yeah, yeah, I know, boo. But this is just a guide, to actually learn more about how to use kicks in combat, you’re going to have to do more research and visual aids always help. The films and television series on this list aren’t great art or even great movies, but that’s not why you’re watching them is it? We suffer for our art, after all, and the martial artists in these films and shows are pretty damn incredible. If you’re watching any of the really good “Kung Fu” movies out of China, just try to keep in mind that Wire-Fu is a thing, so take some of the more elaborate stunts with a grain of salt. Remember, kicks are complicated and difficult to be really good at once you’re past a certain age. The pool for the media you can turn to that includes them is very small and must be performed by martial artists for the required speed and fluidity. (Summer Glau, though she is an excellent actress, ballerina, and terminator, has terrible form. You can’t skip this list by watching Serenity, I’m sorry. The same is true of Buffy and honestly, most of Joss Whedon’s work.)

Jean-Claude Van Damme: I haven’t seen most of his movies (which are terrible), but as a martial artist the man is incredible. His claim to fame is kickboxing, so he does fancy leg work better than just about anyone else on screen.  This is one of the few series of movies where you’ll ever see wheel kicks on film, especially the jump wheel kick. Check it out in Expendables 2 during his fight with Stallone, the man has perfect form.

Bruce Lee: The Master and progenitor of Jeet Kun Do. That said, the hype is real, Bruce Lee was a fantastic martial artist who defied a great many conventions and pretty much widened the gap for Asians in Hollywood. We’ve got a long way to go to push it further, but for martial artists, his movies are some of the finest. From the Green Hornet to Enter the Dragon, Bruce Lee

Chuck Norris: I don’t really recommend Chuck Norris’s movies or his politics, unless you’re into pain. But the man is a master of the roundhouse kick and his fight scenes in Walker Texas Ranger, while silly, are a good example of some basic kicking techniques. You can also watch him deliver a Chuck Norris joke in character (while mocking his own movies) in Expendables 2. Chuck Norris like Kareem Abdul Jabbar was a student of Bruce Lee. (Also, check out Bruce Lee’s filmed fight with Kareem from the last movie he was filming before his death. There aren’t enough examples of black martial artists on film in Hollywood.)

Jet Li: All of it, no, seriously, including the badly subtitled obscure ones from China and the silly ones in the U.S. like Romeo Must Die (African-American crime families fight Asian-American crime families and the only white dude to be seen anywhere are working for the NFL. Also, Jet Li does incredible tricks with plastic ties) and Lethal Weapon IV where he takes apart a gun with his knees. (I don’t care if he’s the bad guy in that movie, I will never be over that stunt, omg!) Jet Li has a huge catalogue of movies on both sides of the Pacific Ocean and when it comes to studying up on writing fights most of them are worth a watch at least once.

Jackie Chan: Jackie Chan is the joker version of Jet Li, he does a lot of stunts and his movies are comedies, but he’s just as good and possibly more entertaining. Drunken Master is an incredible exhibition of skill all on its own and he’s done some of the craziest stunts.

The Karate Kid (Remake) Also, check out the Karate Kid remake as another decent Hollywood movie that pretty much skips white folks entirely. The sequences in it are very good and all the actors are fantastic. The young Chinese martial artists in the movie are fantastic and Jaden Smith is very good. It’s a great movie about martial arts, spirituality, and one of the only places you’ll get to see a good representation of competition and tournament culture. Michelle Yeoh also has a cameo where she faces off with a cobra.

Mortal Combat: It’s a cult classic and it’s really dumb, but the fight scenes really are pretty good. Don’t feel bad about popping in this flick in and watching it when you’re bored one evening. It might be worth your while.

The Mortal Combat Legacy: This mini-series is full of martial artists and stuntmen doing martial arts things and is free to watch on YouTube. This list is mostly full of boys and girl martial artists (especially ones who use kicks) can be hard to find, but check out the second episode of the Kitana and Mileena two-parter for some excellent girl on girl brawling action in the first scene.

GI Joe: The Rise of the Cobra (Ray Park and Byung-hun Lee (and their child counterparts)) Ray Park was the stuntman who played both Darth Maul and Toad in Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace and X-men respectively (famous for Storm’s “what happens when a toad gets hit by lightning” line), but he’s at his best as Snake Eyes in the ridiculously silly GI Joe movies. Throw in the excellent Byung-hun Lee as his counterpart villain Storm Shadow and you get some very impressive fight sequences. The flashback sequences between these two rivals as children are also pretty incredible. I’m rather eagerly awaiting the sequel on DVD to watch their rematch.

I would recommend Gina Carano, but I don’t like Haywire. For multiple reasons, you’d be better served looking up her actual fights and only if you’re really interested in a study of grappling moves. Those are what she’s best at. So, she really doesn’t have a place on this list. If someone more versed in some of the excellent movies out of China wants to recommend some female martial artists, we’ll put ‘em up.

Michelle Yeoh: She’s considered one of the greatest of female action movie martial artists, so if you’re starved for women who can kick butt, check out some of her films. Or catch her in the Supercop series opposite Jackie Chan. She’s a better example of what a ballerina can do when combined with martial training. But like Summer Glau, the tells never quite go away.

Finally: Human Weapon, the now defunct show on the history channel. The Discovery Channel has or had its own version, but it’s not as entertaining or as informative. Human Weapon isn’t great and it’s not always accurate (it is TV). It’s a great window into a lot of different martial arts from around the world. It’s a great starting primer to use as a launch for your research. You can find most of the episodes for it on YouTube.

Also, check out our article: The Points Where Weapons Become Useless for more information about when to kick and when not to.

-Michi 1, 2, 3

FightWrite: Martial Arts versus Dancing

othersidhe asked: Are there dances that incorporate actual Martial Arts? My character is a dancer but not a fighter, and his dances look like MA. The moves would not be viable in an actual fight, correct? I would think training for dancing would be very different from fighting. Should I have him trying to learn MA to improve his dancing, or does that matter?

Capoeira is the only martial art I know of that specifically incorporates dancing and it does so for a very specific reason. When the African slaves were brought to Brazil, they knew that they needed to a way to preserve their traditional fighting arts but had to do so in a way that appeared innocuous. Weapons and fighting were forbidden for slaves, so they developed Capoeira. Capoeira is a martial form that’s been specifically designed to look like dancing to trick the viewer into seeing something that’s not there. But it’s evolution was one that was based in necessity and not choice.

That’s pretty much it, Joss Whedon got into trouble with Summer Glau’s fight sequences in Serenity because he tried to have her learn one of the most difficult of all the martial forms: Wushu (which is a catchall phrase for Kung Fu, but the style itself is the official form of the Chinese Government), which looks light, airy, and whose practitioners move with boneless grace. To the untrained eye it could (and for some does) look like interpretive dance. The issue for her was that while her training as a ballerina was designed to make her light as air, the crucial moment of switchover from light to weight isn’t there in her hits. Her connections with the stuntmen in her strikes are more of a batting motion, like watching a kitten try to play with a butterfly. It’s cute, but the trained observer doesn’t expect it to, you know, do anything. Again, it’s not her fault, Michelle Yeoh has the same problem in some of her early work when she was making the transition from ballerina to martial artist. Her technical skill is better even in the early days(but if there’s one thing the Chinese movie industry does well it’s action), but when she also throws her hits it’s without the expectation of connecting, so the muscles don’t tighten up right in the split second before the hit occurs. They either tighten up too early or, in Summer Glau’s case, don’t at all. Much like Yeoh, I fully expect Summer Glau to rapidly improve over time, her fighting is actually much better in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

The problem is that dance and MA are doing two different things even when their motions are similar. A dancer doesn’t train to expect resistance as they move from one pattern to the next, their legs and arms will move without the possibility of being intentionally impeded by someone else’s body. A martial artist trains with the idea that they will be fighting someone else, after they learn their combinations a good instructor will put their student on pads and paddles so that they can practice for their foot connecting with someone else. The muscles must be trained to relax and then tighten in the split second prior to impact and then relax again less than a second afterward, if the muscles tighten too early then a kick or a punch will lose the strength of force and impact, too late and it’s bouncing off their stomach or head. So, no, the dances won’t work in an actual fight.

Studying an MA won’t really help his dancing, because again what he needs to do to dance and what the MA is asking him to do are two different things. If you’re really looking for a supplementary skill set that can lead him to MA, I suggest gymnastics and tumbling (real tumbling, not Tumblr tumbling). Most high end MA performers study gymnastics to help them improve and supplement their performance art (for tournament demonstrations and open forms). This is an example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2k_frX9bmpU

That’s the West Coast World Action Team doing what they do best at the 2002 Master Test. It’s called Tricking, it’s a part and parcel to the other side of tournament exhibitions. The performance side of MA is pretty much as close as you get to dance, but as you can see here even that’s different. (There’s a decent chance I was there either volunteering or testing, though I don’t think I was testing…the test lasts all day (for the masters it’s three to four days), this was during the night show the testers put on for family and friends.) The little one is Destiny Reyes, she’s about six or seven.

Anyway, I hope that’s helpful.

-Michi

wetmattos said: Oh, I know one which has great resemblance to dancing: Taekkyeon! tinyurl.com/luwcp2e It has shared moves with some korean folk dances! I’ve heard as well of martial arts being hidden as dancing in other places, I’ll take a look :3

I wouldn’t be surprised if it was more common, the trick is to watch the kicks and the points when the hands intend to connect. The point where they tighten up is certainly much faster than Taekwondo but you still get that teeny bit of “kick and stick” right when the kick is at it’s climax before it recoils. It’s similar to some of the more esoteric looking Kung Fu disciplines that really do look like dance. Still, Taekkyeon is beautiful, so thanks for sharing!

Weapon Primer: Basic Kicks (Part 2, Kicks + Footwork)

Disclaimer: This is not an article designed to teach you how to kick. This article is designed to teach you about kicks, the principles behind them, and how to include them in your writing. For the uninitiated, you can risk a lifetime of injuries in your legs by practicing any of these without sufficient stretching and an instructor present. If the martial arts are something you’re interested in pursuing, feel free to message us and we can talk about the steps you can take to find a school that might work for you. Remember, we’re not liable for the damage you do to yourself or others in absence of proper training.


This is the second part of the Weapons Primer on Kicks. In the first part, we discussed basic body parts and terminology for kicks and went over the parts of the feet are used in combat. Read the first one here. In this primer we’ll be discussing the four basic kicks themselves: the front kick, roundhouse, side kick, and back kick. We’ll also talk about some of the requirements your character will need to make their kicks effective and some of the important footwork. This is all basics, we’ll be dealing with advanced kicks later. I (Michi) am a Taekwondo practitioner first and foremost when it comes to my technique, so this primer is written from that perspective. Some other fighting disciplines that use kicks as primary are: Savate, Muay’Thai, and Kickboxing. The four basic kicks appear in almost every martial art (though the technical base supporting them changes), if the martial art you choose does not draw it’s techniques from an Asian base (such as the French’s Savate, Brazil’s Capoeira, or Russia’s Systema), then the techniques will look different from what we’re used to seeing out of Hollywood. So, research as needed.

The Kicks:

The Front Kick: The front kick is, as you can probably guess given its name, a forward facing kick. Out of all the kicks on this list, it’s the easiest to learn and requires the fewest muscles stretched to perform. It’s fairly easy to develop flexibility in the hamstrings, compared to other muscles on the body.

Step-by Step: To begin a front kick, your character must be facing their opponent with shoulders, toes, and upper torso pointed towards the enemy. The kick can be performed with the back foot or the front foot by combining it with a slide step forwards. The back is more common.  The knee drives straight up, much like any knee into the chamber, for the front kick, the knee faces the enemy. The toes pull back towards your fighter and the ankle locks into place, then lower half of the leg snaps upwards driving the ball of the foot into either the stomach, the chest, or to the face.

The Roundhouse: The roundhouse is one of the most common kicks you’ll see on screen. It’s easy to learn, to perform, and its circular motion means that it looks better on camera. The roundhouse has two different versions for how it can connect: the top of the foot or the ball. The top of the foot is safer and used in sparring drills or professional sports like Kickboxing or Taekwondo. The roundhouse is an easy, safe kick. Its rotational power is much stronger than a front kick and is less risky (both in balance and visibility) than the more powerful side kick. The leg moves across the body and makes for an easy transition into any spin kick such as the back kick, the wheel kick, or the tornado kick. For any character that practices a martial art which bases itself in kicking techniques, the roundhouse will be an important part of their bread and butter repertoire.

 Step-by-Step: The fighter begins this kick facing their opponent, usually in a fighting stance but if the character is limber enough and has excellent balance they can kick from any standing position. The step-by-step instruction is pretty much the same in theory for both legs. The knee comes up on a diagonal, the balancing foot shifts to point behind the fighter on a 90 degree angle, it either extends up along the line of the hip (faster but weaker using the top of the foot) or the hip flips over to strike in a line across the body and drives the ball of the foot into the stomach, the ribcage, or the chest. A limber fighter can go to the face, but it requires more turn-over in the hips for a solid connection. A roundhouse like any other kick can break bones if it connects solidly enough. The shoulders in the upper body twist with the kick as it extends outwards and the upper body leans back slightly to adjust for balance. The shoulders will follow the leg if the roundhouse precedes going into a turn and point down as the hip fully turns over.

(Pro-Tip: You can tell whether the hips have turned over or not from the position of the foot, if it points upwards on a diagonal then the hips have not turned over, if it points down on a diagonal (the proper position) whether or not the foot is horizontal to the leg with the toes pulled back and the ball extended then the hips have turned over and the leg can sweep across through the body, either stepping through or pulling back. If your character is using the roundhouse to transition into a spin kick, the hip must turn over.)

The Side Kick: The side kick is the most powerful kick on this list. If there is one kick a military expert or police officer will be familiar with, it’s the side kick. It’s also one of the most difficult kicks on this list to learn and like the others is unusual to turn up in any curriculum where the student is required to learn the techniques in a few weeks or months. (Its snap kick version is common in self-defense courses, but that’s because the students don’t need to get it above the waist.) True to its name, the side kick must be performed when the hips are pointing sideways at the target. It’s commonly used against enemies who attack from the side and it saves time, because the fighter doesn’t actually have to turn. It’s slower and more obvious than the other two because the hips have further to go before the kick can be executed. The sidekick strikes with either the blade of the foot or the heel depending on the style.

To use this kick as an opening gambit (or at all), pair it with the slide step to create the speedy slide side kick.  Or take a trick from the Russians and grab your opponent first, by the hand or arm so they can’t escape, then drive the foot into the enemy’s side, breaking their ribcage and plowing the bones into their internal organs or alternately, if your character is limber enough into the side of the knee (both of these techniques are either permanently crippling or kill strikes, so use with caution).

The side kick is most easily performed if the hips are already on a line towards the opponent. So, this step by step has more to do with the slide side kick, but the principles are the same. Trying to drag one leg all the way across the body to kick outwards is awkward, so keep that in mind when kicking with the back leg. The side kick can be done to hit an opponent coming from behind, this is known as a reverse side kick or it can easily become a back kick. (Michi Note: The side kick and the back kick can look exactly the same to someone who has never been taught the difference between them and honestly, the differences are minor. We’ll discuss the back kick in the back kick section.)

Step-by-Step: The fighter will start facing their opponent, usually in some form of fighting stance. Turning their hips towards the opponent (the body turns in on the same vector as the leg they plan to kick with as they face sideways), the toes of the balancing leg turn outwards to approximately between 135 and a full 180 degrees, so that the foot faces the direction opposite from that the kick is headed. The knee comes up, the foot pulled sideways on a horizontal so the blade of the foot is facing the opponent. Then, the knee tucks in against the stomach as the upper body leans backwards to adjust for balance as the hip turns and strikes outwards with the blade of the foot.

The side kick, most importantly, can be used in extremely close quarters if the character is limber enough. The others become useless if the opponent gets inside the leg range, this won’t happen with a side kick, which can be thrown even if the character is pressed up tightly against their opponent.

The Back Kick: The back kick is basically the side kick thrown while spinning (if going forward) or the side kick thrown if the enemy is coming in from behind: so, backwards. It’s a little more complicated than that, but this is the general gist. The main difference is that the back kick uses the heel to connect with instead of the blade of the foot (and the chamber can be slightly different, it’s not in Taekwondo which has two different versions: the back kick and the mule kick). So, if you encounter the side kick versus back kick debate just remember: martial artists are like any nerd, they like to argue about which martial style or technique is best. My advice: don’t sweat it, if what you’re doing works for you then stick with it. It will only matter to characters who are traditionalists and sticklers over style.

Step-by-Step: The fighter begins facing their opponent while in a fighting stance. They turn their upper body and look over their right shoulder as it faces their opponent. Both feet shift to face the opposite direction with the heels facing the opponent, the front leg of the fighting stance has become the balancing leg. The knee of the back leg lifts up into a chamber tucked in against the stomach and the leg extends out wards to strike the opponent with the heel of the foot. The back of the body faces the opponent as the fighter looks over their shoulder. When the fighter steps down and resets position, they have switched the legs (right to left, left to right) they were leading with (switched sides).

So, what’s the difference between a side kick and a back kick?

Traditionally, a back kick strikes with the heel instead of the blade of the foot. This is easily recognized by the position of the toes which point on a diagonal downwards, which tells us that the hips have fully turned over. In the chamber of the back kick, the knee points more towards the ground before extending outwards, another sign of hip position.

The Snap Kick: These are the versions of the kicks taught in self-defense, if the kicks are taught at all. They don’t usually go above the waist (though the roundhouse version can) and are more like stomps than kicks. The snap kick is essentially a half-kick; the turnover of the hips isn’t required and can be done by characters if they’re striking to the legs without much need for stretching. These kicks usually go to the groin, the mid-thigh, or the outside or inside of knee. (Pro-Tip: The knee won’t break if you hit it head on or from behind and it can take a lot of weight coming down on top of it, the side of the knee can’t take much and is weaker overall. However, a broken knee is a permanent injury. Even if they can recover the ability to walk on it, they will always limp.)

Some of the Steps (Basic Footwork Terminology):

Kicking effectively requires a lot of footwork and the ability to transfer position easily between the legs beyond just kicking using the back leg or the front leg. The front leg must also easily become the back leg and the back leg becomes the front leg for a dynamic offense and defense. A fighter who specializes in kicking will always have their legs in motion and because of this the footwork supporting the techniques can be difficult to understand. When we watch kicking demonstrations, the legs flying through the air every which way are very distracting and can, for some, end up feeling a bit more like a magic trick than an exhibition of skill.

While a kick can be performed with either leg, it’s generally assumed that if the kick is named on its own that your character is using their back leg. Any kick done using the below steps will have the name of the step in front of it to detail what the kick is and what the student is being asked to do with their feet. Below are three common steps taught between the ranks of white to blue and brown belt in Taekwondo. It’s not all of them, but it’s a good start.

Switching Sides: This is learned at white belt, the basic idea of this step is to allow for the fighter to switch between leading legs quickly. This allows them to easily mask their movements by shifting the weight back and forth between their legs.  It sounds similar to a cross-step but these are actually two different steps.

Step-by-Step: The fighter begins in a fighting stance facing their opponent. They proceed to hop, using both legs to transfer position between legs to switch things up. The whole body moves into another fighting stance, it just happens to have the right leg leading instead of the left. A good Taekwondo fighter will be able to speedily hop between left to right and right to left to confuse their opponent, it looks fancy when done quickly, but it’s actually very simple.

In ever kick done with the back leg moving forwards, the fighter will again switch their stance. This is not the same as switching sides. The foot instead comes down in a new position than the one it left as the fighter goes towards their opponent. When we talk about ambidexterity in kicking, this is why.

The Slide Step: The slide step is used to close distance between the fighter and their opponent, while also allowing them to gain the momentum they need to effectively use their front leg. Kicks that use the slide step get the word slide attached to their name as an indication that it’s a separate technique. So, slide front kick, slide side kick, slide roundhouse. You don’t really slide for spin kicks like the back kick; those always use the back leg. (You can, of course, the slide back kick does exist as a technique. The step does the same thing. It just doesn’t make the back kick that much faster, unlike combining it with a side kick or roundhouse.)

Step-by-Step: To perform a slide step, the fighter will step forward with their front leg while in a fighting stance. The back leg will slide forwards until it the heels of the back foot and front foot are touching, with the back foot pointed on a 50 degree angle outwards. Imagine it on a dial on a map, the front foot is pointing North and the back foot is pointing either East or West, depending on which side is leading (left side front foot: the back right foot points East, right front side: the back left foot points West) when the heels are touching or are close enough, the front leg pulls up into a chamber for the kick in question and kicks outwards.

The Cross-Step: The cross-step is a fast step, faster in fact than the slide, it’s meant to allow a fighter to switch their front leg to their back leg without having to change position. Since the legs hop to create a cross-shape, the body twists allowing for more powerful kicks with greater momentum. It will also quickly close distance between the fighter and their opponent, bringing them into kicking range. Kicks that use the cross-step have the term cross-step attached in front of their name such as cross-step roundhouse, cross-step sidekick, cross-step axe kick, etc. Again, this is irrelevant for spin kicks.

Step-by-Step: The fighter is standing in a fighting stance, let’s assume with the left leg forwards (common among those who are right handed). The fighter hops as the back leg goes forward and the front leg goes back to create a cross-shape, the back half of the cross lifts up into a fast kick.

Feints: We talked about feints in the section The Art of Blocking, those were for hands. Feints are a part of fighting. We call it the Art of Tricking Your Opponent, so how do does a character trick someone with their feet? Beginning students do believe it’s all in the feet, they stamp or stomp the ground with their front foot to convince their sparring partner that they’re about to attack. But for a feint to work, it needs to be more subtle. While a good fighter may shift their foot, they’ll also be shifting their legs, their hips and their shoulders with tells to suggest that a kick is about to begin. Taekwondo matches can be very boring because it ends up being nothing but feints with the first person moving being the loser, try not to worry about that.

The Requirements for Kicks:

I’ll be honest here, kicking is the domain of those who train and usually they keep to kicks from a specific style, unless their training has branched out. For a character to be able to kick well enough to use them in combat, especially to use combinations, they have to have begun training at a young age: usually between four and twelve. After that, the brain has developed to the point where it cannot build the necessary connections to transmit the data quickly enough from brain to leg and foot. Actually do deal in necessary simultaneous control more muscle groups to maintain balance, build muscle memory to achieve the required speed, accuracy, and power. Flexibility is just one of the necessary requirements. In my experience, teens that start as late as fourteen are handicapped by a good few seconds while their brain transmits the data to their legs. The older your character is, the harder it will be for them to develop the necessary flexibility and fine muscle control. (There are exceptions to this rule such as if your character was a dancer or competitively practiced some other type of exercise that demanded a fine amount of muscular control. It’s not the same, though and their ability to change up combinations in combat will be hampered.)

So, what does a kicker need?

-A character who fights, especially one who kicks much stretch at least three times a week, once in the morning, once in the evening, and train almost every day to maintain their flexibility and combat readiness.

-Some of the stretches include: butterfly stretch, the inverted butterfly stretch, full or side splits, front splits (left side, and right side), some sort of hamstring stretches, jumping jacks to warm up the muscles, and some varieties of kicking that involve swinging the leg straight up until the top of foot touches the forehead (usually they cannot get it that high).

Your character does not need to be able to do a complete side split to be able to kick above their head (visually impressive), they just need a decent one.

(Michi Note: Someone who begins older can develop flexibility (and the ability to kick over their heads), along with a satisfactory level of accuracy and power. While the speed portion may not seem important, it’s the difference between being caught camera and moving so fast the camera can’t catch your motions. Most people won’t be able to tell the difference between someone who trained as a child and someone who began training as an adult. It won’t hurt your characters martial prowess anywhere but in their legs.)

That’s all for today, in the next segment, we’ll discuss the value kicks have in combat, some of the different kicking combinations and the principles behind them, how to incorporate kicks into your fight scenes and your characters, and give you some outside sources to continue your research and watch some folks who know what they’re doing.

-Michi

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Weapon Primer: Basic Kicks Part 1 (Body Parts)

Disclaimer: This is not an article designed to teach you how to kick. This article is designed to teach you about kicks, the principles behind them, and how to include them in your writing. For the uninitiated, you can risk a lifetime of injuries in your legs by practicing any of these without sufficient stretching and an instructor present. If the martial arts are something you’re interested in pursuing, feel free to message us and we can talk about the steps you can take to find a school that might work for you. Remember, we’re not liable for the damage you do to yourself or others in absence of proper training.

In this article, we’re going to talk about the four basic kicks and how they work. We’ll also be talking about the different terminology for the parts of the foot that are used for combat and try to help you understand how the foot, knee, leg, hip, and even the upper body work together to create a kick. Keep in mind, this primer is just focusing on basics. You won’t really learn the principles of how to write “the flying Taekwondo death kick, the teleportation death kick, and the flying death kick of doom” as Starke calls them in this article. You need the kicks that build into those and the principles they teach about balance and momentum first. Learn how to write the kick on the ground before you put it into the air. Remember, basics are the building blocks of a fighting style. A character with fancy tricks but a weak base is a character who is just asking to be knocked over.

So, let’s start with the bread and butter kicks. No matter what martial art your character studies, they will learn some sort of variation of these four: the front kick, the roundhouse, the side kick, and the back kick. These four can all be done jumping, both from a standing position and while running. These four can also be used to form a variety of different combinations that a character could, if they begin training early enough, perform in combat situations and provide a solid defense against opponents who primarily use fists. If you wanted to know when longer reach starts making a difference, well, it’s in the legs.

Let’s begin with the foot and work our way up from there.

The Foot:

The ball: The ball is the front pad of your foot, between the toes and the arch. This is the part of the foot used to deliver momentum in hand to hand strikes, to bounce, and to provide quick movement. If your character is going to pivot, they’ll do so on the ball of the foot. The ball is useful in a variety of kicks, but primarily in the front kick and the roundhouse.

The blade: The blade is the outside edge of the foot, opposite from the instep. It sees less use than the other parts of the foot, though the instep sees even less than it does. It’s commonly used in some varieties of side kick (depending on style) and other, more uncommon kicks like the outside crescent kick.

The instep: the instep is the inside of the foot, not many kicks use this part of the foot and none we’re going to talk about in this article. The only kick I can remember off hand that uses it is the inside crescent kick.

The heel: A lot of kicks use the heel. It’s a tough and solid part of the foot that’s great for dealing damage. It’s most common in the back kick, some varieties of side kick (depending on style), the mule kick, the axe kick, the hook kick, and the wheel kick.

The top of the foot: this is mostly just for sparring and competition to make some kicks safer, the top of the foot does less damage than the other parts when it connects. The reason is that it spreads the kinetic force over a wider area. However, if your character is wearing shoes or some sort of footwear in which they cannot pull their toes back, then this is the best way to perform the roundhouse without risk of a broken toe. I have broken boards with a roundhouse using the top of the foot, so keep in mind that any kick that connects solidly can be dangerous.

The Set Up + Basic Terminology:

The Fighting Stance: Every martial art will have its own variation on the fighting stance; each one is built around the tenets of the style. So, you’ll need more research to study up on just what this stance looks like for the style you’re planning on using. Since we’re dealing with kicks, the stance I’ll be detailing is the Taekwondo one.

Step-by-Step:  From a standing position, your character will either step forwards (offensive) or backwards (defensive) into this stance. The feet will be on a diagonal from each other, the back foot turning outwards on a 45 degree angle facing the opponent and tips forward onto the ball of the foot. The hands come up matching the feet, with the left (or right) slightly forwards with the right (back) guarding the cheekbone. (Protip: because of the reliance on the legs as the primary weapon, Taekwondo fighters have a nasty habit of dropping their hands when they fight. This is less true of other kicking martial arts like Kickboxing, where more hand techniques are mixed in with kicking techniques.)

The Front Leg: Much like the jab and right cross in boxing, the front leg represents the speed leg, while the back represents the power leg. Kicks done with the front leg are often combined with a slide step forwards to achieve even faster momentum. Unlike in the Boxing combo, it’s not necessary to kick with the leading leg to begin a combination.

The Back Leg: This is the power leg and is used for power strikes. A leg swinging up from the back achieves greater momentum than the forward leg, which comes from a shorter distance. It is not as fast. It’s always the leg that is furthest back on the fighting stance diagonal.

You may have noticed that the legs lack the left and right tags like the fists do. The reason for this is that the legs will constantly switch between these two positions during combat depending on what position the legs land in after a kick. A good Taekwondo fighter will be ambidextrous, moving fluidly from one kick to the next as the situation calls for it and be comfortable using any kick, from any position, with either leg. (This is good in theory. However, most fighters tend to favor the side they’re strongest with for their power leg. The higher level the kick, the more obvious it will become.) A fighter who uses hands has little reason or need to switch their stance up other than to confuse their opponent.

The Chamber: The chamber is the intermediate step between the beginning of the kick and the end of it. It’s usually the points where the knee bends as the leg comes up and the hip turns over, before the leg unfurls to connect. The chamber will decide where the kick is going and how high it’s going to go from its positioning. Every kick has some sort of chamber.

-Michi

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I think this will be at least three pieces, the kicks and the steps are next, then character information and the stuff you need to know to make them work. I’ll post those when I’m done and link them here.

Crime Novels: “Undercover Officers” & Reference Materials for Research

The following is taken from Police Procedure & Investigation: A Guide For Writers by Lee Lofland and published by Howdunit.I recommend all three books in the series. The Forensics book and the book on poisons are all worth the money. If you’re low on cash, put them on your Christmas list. If you want to write crime novels, procedurals, or anything involving the police or investigations, it’s really worth a look.

This is taken from the first portion of the section on Undercover Cops, which is really interesting in it’s own right. So, take a look.

Police officers who work undercover are usually detectives from one division or another within a police department. Any officer, from any section of a police department, may be called upon to work a covert assignment; however, to work in the capacity as an undercover officer (UC), they must first learn to rid themselves of all the habits that would give them away as cops. Police officers have a tendency to walk with their arms out and away from their bodies a bit more than the average person, because they’re so used to wearing a gun. If police officers allow their arms to hang normally at their sides, the hammer of their sidearms (pistols or revolvers) will cut, scratch, or scrape the skin near their elbows.

Police officers prefer to sit with their backs to the wall when in public buildings, such as restaurants. This habit allows the officer to watch the entrance and exits of the business, and prevents a criminal from sneaking up on him. Officers have a tendency to absent-mindedly tug upwardon their belts or waistbands–pulling up their pants, because they’re used to the weight of their equipment hanging from their Sam Browne belts.

Police officers are naturally suspicious of people, so they have a tendency to examine others carefully with their eyes, watching every move. They stand with a familiar defensive stance–one foot slightly forward with their gun-hand side to the rear. Police officers look people directly in the eyes when speaking, and they wear clothing that almost spells out the word cop, such as the combination of black, spit-shined shoes with jeans.

Seasoned police officers ask questions–lots of them. They constantly interrogate people; they’re hyperaware of their surroundings, and they drive defensively, always wearing their seatbelts and their hands positioned at the 10 and 2 positions on the steering wheel. These are great traits for uniformed police officers, but not for cops who are attempting to hide their identities.

Crooks look for these surefire signs of police officers. They watch the actions of anyone new in their group, and they ask questions. They ask if the stranger is a police officer, and they sometimes test the newcomers by asking them to perform illegal acts…Officers can be forced to expose their identities, or blow their covers, if a heinous crime is about to take place. They must stop the commission of any capital crime, such as murder or rape. Sometimes the officers are fortunate and can stop the crime by alerting back-up officers and having them foil the crime, which allows the undercover officer to maintain his secret identity.

Police officers have been known to work “deep undercover,” keeping their identities hidden for periods as long as two or three years. This deep undercover mission is the most difficult assignment an officer can encounter. Working in an assumed role for such a lengthy period can have adverse effects. The officer can easily succumb to a criminal lifestyle. He’s surrounded by the criminal element for so long he begins to think and act like the very criminals who are the targets of his investigation. Undercover officers sometimes develop actual friendships with these criminals. It’s important for a department to rotate undercover assignments to prevent officers from giving in to the pressures associated with the project.

Police officers are human. They have emotions like anyone else, and they can become sympathetic or emotionally attached to their target criminals; therefore it’s up to supervisors to monitor the officer’s well-being and state of mind. In the event that adverse mannerisms or behaviors develop in the officer’s character, her assignment to the mission should be terminated immediately. (p. 89-90)

Police Procedure & Investigation: A Guide for Writers by Lee Lofland

The book is really good, I’m telling you. Some other good sources of research in media for undercover operatives are:

Reservoir Dogs (1992) Quentin Tarantino

The Departed (2006) Martin Scorsese

The Shield (2002-2008) with Michael Chiklis

Heat (1995) Michael Mann with Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Val Kilmer. (This isn’t undercover, so much as a story about the similarities between cops and the crooks they chase.)

I really recommend looking into police procedure and investigation techniques, even if your character is a PI and not a cop. The more you know, the more realistic your story will get. If anything, the major problem I’ve found with most of the Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy stories that lean towards the PI is a genuine lack of understanding for how cops, investigations, and people who live the lifestyle actually function.

So, I hope this helps.

-Michi

5 Stupid Habits You Develop Growing Up in a Broken Home

5 Stupid Habits You Develop Growing Up in a Broken Home

FightWrite: The Art of Blocking

For a lot of authors, there’s a frustrating hold to the old adage “the best defense is a good offense”. There’s an overwhelming amount of material that focuses on just force on force. Thus, fight sequences in novels end up less like the Matrix and more like when you have two action figures being mashed into each other. It all ends up feeling rather plastic and fake, especially when the reader stops and tries to envision it in their mind. If you’re not careful, fights can end up feeling very mechanical and are often anatomically impossible. Even when they are, the fight sequences often make little sense. The human fighter takes too much damage, they get every lucky break (as in they don’t break anything), the body positioning is all wrong for the strike, the fight goes on too long, etc, we’ve all seen it.

Often, the problem is that the author is thinking too much about how to do damage, how to prove their character is badass. They end up with un-moderated aggression at worst or at best, a character who never defends and for all intents and purposes doesn’t even seem to know how to. This isn’t bad if you are creating a character who is supposed to be an all-out aggressor, who can’t control themselves or their fighting style (such as most street fighters). If you’re trying to create any other kind of character, however, then…oops.

So, in this article, we’ll be talking about why blocking is important to your writing, your fighting characters, and your fight scenes, the principles of blocking, how to implement blocks, and some of the different kind of blocks that exist.

Why is blocking important?

I’ve said this before, but in the real world fighting relies on strategy, tactics, making use of basic body mechanics, and trying not to get hit. A fighter needs to be able to protect their vital areas like their head, their stomach, their groin, and well, any of the soft parts of the body with important organs. Blocking is part and parcel to surviving a fight. It is part of showing not just your character’s skill but also their control and their fighting education. The first response of a trained character when encountering an attack is to dodge or to block, not to attack. The attack is secondary, a counter to the first attack after they have negated the chance of injury. Attacks are what allow your character to win fights, blocks are what allow your character to walk away at the end of them. So, let’s get a little more in depth.

A character who blocks is one who has accepted the idea that they can take damage.

As writers, we control everything that happens to our characters. Sometimes, what hasn’t occurred to us won’t occur to them. This happens a lot in action oriented stories and instead of a character coming off as knowledgeable, they sound arrogant. Often, this arrogance is unintentional on the part of the author, mostly because they’re thinking in gaming terms. Their protagonist is level twenty and the person they’re fighting to get information from is level 6, obviously said person can’t hurt them because they’re so low down the totem pole.

No. Every fight is dangerous. Every fighter, even a wild and untrained one leaves the opportunity for something to go wrong and for them to get themselves injured. If your character is in a setting with guns, then anyone can grab a gun and shoot your character. If your character is in a fantasy setting, then the would be attacker can always leave and get more friends or their family can report your character to the city guard or the Watch for brawling. Unless your character is someone like Superman (and even if they are), any fight they enter into is one where they risk physical harm to themselves. They can die; even a grand master can be killed by the lout with the knife on the street if they aren’t paying attention.

Getting hit hurts, but getting it in the arm hurts less than a concussion.

This one should be self-explanatory, but like I said above any fight is dangerous and there’s a chance that any hit can get lucky. The better the individual your character is fighting against, the higher the stakes get. If they can’t defend themselves from damage, why should your audience believe they can dish it out?

Blocking will let your character manage to control the fight against weaker characters without hurting them.

I’ll be honest. It looks bad when your fifteen year Special Forces/Mercenary badass protagonist is beating the village bully boys into the ground. Even if they are bullies, in a narrative context there’s no reason for your character to become a bully by bullying bullies unless that’s what you want them to be doing. It’s not okay for a stronger character to bully a bully, even when that bully bullied them when they were small and weak. If a hero is what you want, then you can’t have them taking revenge or beating up characters that the audience knows are weaker than they are. It looks bad and it sends the wrong message. Figure something else out, force on force just creates more force and more bad blood. What your character does will ripple outwards beyond just the fight and their negative attitudes can have negative effects on their circumstances.

Remember, the message you’re putting out matters. So, be careful.

The Principles of Blocking:

Blocking is how to take and redirect hits so that the fighter doesn’t die. On a strategic level, blocks create openings in the opponent’s guard by foiling the attack they committed to. So let’s talk about the places on the body where the kinetic force of a strike can be fairly easily disrupted.

The goal of a block is either to redirect the force away from the body, disperse it over a wider area, or take it in a place that will matter less to your fighting ability and let you keep going. Different strikes require different blocks and there are a multitude of different blocks that can be applied to different strikes. If that sounds confusing then congratulations, you’re halfway there.

So, you don’t want to take the force that’s being applied, but to disrupt it. This means that catching the fist or taking the fist with your hand directly is pretty much out. This is the sort of thing that looks cool in the movies, but is actually pretty idiotic. Your character doesn’t have time to deal with the resulting bruise on their hand or broken bones. They’re going to need that hand for punching and blocking.

The goal of a block is to identify the point of power in the strike such as in the hand or the ball of the foot and stop it by moving further up the body to the vulnerable places. Some of these places are:

The wrist

The forearm

The elbow

The shoulder

The ankle

The shin

The knee

Common Blocks:

Cross-Block: The cross-block is basically where you use the opposite side hand (matching your right to their left) to either catch or redirect the strike away from you. This is commonly taught to beginners and young children because it’s easy to learn and doesn’t go against natural instinct. Remember, your brain is cross wired to opposing sides. It’s more natural to block a right side strike with your left side than it is with the same side. If your character is self-taught and they block at all, these are the ones they’re most likely to use.  Cross-blocks are more difficult to use against kicks.

Same-Side Block: This is when your fighter blocks a hit in mirror to their opponent, a left is met with a left and a right with a right. These blocks are commonly seen in boxing to take incoming straight strikes by pushing the hands downwards and away from the face. The hand can also drop to defend against kicks by catching the shin or hooking the arm under the knee. A same-side block is trained and it takes less time to execute than a cross-block. However, it takes time to replace the body’s natural protection instinct and difficult to mimic without a lot of practice.

Knee Blocks: This is a common block against kicks like the roundhouse, less useful against the side kick or the front kick. The knee comes up and pushes out against the force of the other kick, usually at the shin or the opponent’s knee.

Elbow Guard: The elbow guard is when you tuck your elbow up into a triangle shape and press the inside of your arm against your head. This is another block from boxing used to protect the head against curving strikes like the roundhouse punch, hooks, and haymakers. The fighter will usually also tuck their shoulders up and tighten against the blow by exhaling outwards.

Blocking with the shin and the forearm: In traditional martial arts forms like Shotokan Karate and some of the others, it’s common to have students block strikes with their forearms or their shins.  However, it takes a long time to build up the bone density to be able to take those strikes and because the bone is so close the surface of the skin (unprotected by muscles) it can hurt to take strikes there, students who do often develop a habit of flinching before the hit lands, which is an opening that a clever enemy can exploit. So, the forearm is a great place to take hits, so long as it’s not bone on bone contact or it’s something they’ve gotten used to in their own training. If it is, then make sure you say so somewhere in the text.

Blocks and Counters: It may surprise you to learn that most martial arts have as many blocks as they do attacks, in fact most of the early technique chains that are taught involve blocks and the follow-up counters. They train the students to think about not just what they are doing in the moment, but what comes after. In the second form taught in Taekwondo (or at least the second one we taught in our curriculum), the base technique chain that held the form together was upper defense, front kick, punch. The upper defense used the forearm to block downwards strikes like a knife hand or a hammer fist to protect the head, then a front kick to the chest in retaliation, followed by a punch landing in a front stance to the stomach as the finisher, then you turn and do the same for the other side.

An untrained or self-trained character may be able to block, but it’ll take them a lot more time to counter. They, like most of the population, will be more likely to believe in force on force as opposed to defend and counter. It’s actually one of those all-important distinguishing traits between trained and untrained. Remember, just because your character blocked their hit the first time doesn’t mean they won’t try to hit your protagonist again if your protagonist gives them the crucial few seconds of recovery.

Feints: Your character’s block can also create openings in their guard if they move to block against feint, such as the Taekwondo combination of a backhand and right punch. It’s not common for characters who don’t know what they’re doing to use feints.

Untrained Blocking:

I’ll be honest, blocking relies a lot on timing and while there are natural reactions the body exhibits to being struck or threatened, most of those aren’t actively useful without a lot of guiding, shaping, and practice with partners. The tenents are fairly easy to grasp on a conceptual level, but are difficult in actual practice. Until then, your character is pretty much flailing at whatever object managed to get caught in their peripheral vision.

How to Implement Blocks in Your Fight Scenes:

For a character who is trained, blocking is going to be second nature. Their body will be prepping before the strike starts (Michi Note: Refer to our FightWrite: Watch the Whole Body post) and their body may actually start reacting to just about any movement that comes towards them, including someone coming in to pat their head, stroke their cheek, or hug them from behind. Their brain may not catch their body before it has time to catch up or may stop halfway, if you’re looking for humor. Blocking for them has been trained as an instinctual reaction, one that replaced some of their old untrained instincts. So, don’t worry if your character seems uncool if they start the fight on the defense, that’s pretty normal for someone being attacked.

Try to think about your character’s bodies and the strikes you’re having them perform, try to visualize the attacks in your mind before you put it on the page, if it helps sketch it out in an outline format first of what you want to have happen and then try to implement it in your story. Don’t worry about it coming out perfect the first time, everyone edits and rewrites. If writing fight scenes is new to you and you don’t have any real background in combat, it may be hard in the beginning. That’s okay, you’re just learning a new skill and everybody falls on their face the first few times. Track your progress and celebrate when you improve.

Some things to keep in mind:

Dodging is easier to write, because it doesn’t disrupt the flow of combat as much and is easier to visualize. However, dodging is tiring. Fighting is also tiring, your character has a limited amount of stamina, so only have them dodge once or twice, this is why blocking is important.

Blocking is pretty much always reactive. Your character is reacting to another characters action. Then, they take action themselves by attacking. It’s easier to write a block if you know what your other character is planning to attack with, this will also give you the opportunity to think about and work with your protagonist’s opponent. If you get to know who they’re fighting and what that character favors in their style then writing the fight scene is actually lot easier.

Start thinking about the mechanics of your own body and how it all functions together. If you can break apart how the body works then it’s much easier to break apart a strike in your mind and to write it as part of the scene.

Other helpful articles on this blog: FightWrite: Watch the Whole Body and FightWrite: The Art of Stepping

-Michi