Signature Techniques and Understanding the Basics

there is a character by the name of Saito Hajime in Rurouni Kenshin (or Samurai X) (also the author is terrible person) who is notable for having a single move with minor variation depending on the situation, that being a highly exaggerated charging sword thrust, and supposedly based on a technique practiced by the actual Saito Hajime in real life where you take an extra step and let go of the right hand to extend your reach during a stab. This got me wondering, when and how should one blur the line between realistic and stylistic? And is there a merit to “master one technique to perfection” ala “I fear the man who trained one kick a thousand times”?

Bruce Lee’s line, “I fear the man who trained one kick a thousand times” isn’t actually related to one trick ponies or people who practice and master one technique. What it actually means is, “I fear the person who has mastered the basics more than the person who went out and learned all the flashy, superficial shit.” People who come from a martial arts backgrounds and have been in martial arts schools all know the kind of person Lee is referring to. In the real world, you can’t create a workable fighting style off one single technique, no matter how good that technique is. Lee’s quote doesn’t exist to validate Shounen anime’s obsession with the one trick pony. (There’s a reason why One Punch Man is brilliant and hilarious satire.)

That said, the Signature Technique has it’s place, every martial arts practitioner is going to have techniques they gravitate towards, like better, and, as a result, practice more than others. This becomes the best technique in their arsenal because they put the most effort into it, and, in the end, they can become over reliant on it. They might even neglect other, crucial techniques they need to be successful.

You see this one all the time in real life with martial artists from different schools. A good example is Taekwondo practitioners who spar regularly, most of them can’t guard their face for the life of them because TKD sparring is almost totally kick based. (This is because you get 2 points if you land with a kick to the body versus one with hands. Hands to the head is 2, but with a kick is 3.) Instead, their hands will gravitate down or they’ll grab their pant legs and hike them up to lift the hem out of the way of their feet. This is bad, they know its bad, and they do it anyway.

As for when to blur the line between reality and fiction, you answered your own question when you were looking into the real Saito Hajime and a technique he was said to practice. It’s right here, from your question, of what made Saito’s technique unique, “an extra step and let go of the right hand to extend your reach during a stab.

This, right here, is the reality that justifies the fiction. The justification isn’t actually that this technique was real. The detail alone justifies every artistic decision built off of it. Realism is in the ability to explain what is happening and why in detail.

Part of what makes Saito Hajime feel so real as a character is his ability to explain his technique, his methodology, and his beliefs to the audience. The details of Saito’s technique elevate it and these details resonate with our understanding of reality. As we, the audience, gain understanding, the technique feels more plausible. More importantly, we, the audience, see Saito’s singularly focused, unrelenting, determined personality reflected in his technique and this helps us understand his character better. Our newly formed understanding further cements the character as a “real” person in the context of the narrative.

Saito is a master class in how to marry a character’s identity to their martial combat style and an excellent example of how to manifest that philosophy through the techniques they practice.

Saito is the only character in Rurouni Kenshin who singularly practices one simple technique. The other characters have specialties and preferences, but they all practice a range of different attacks or use different body parts to execute variations on a technique. Not Saito, Saito has one technique with extremely minor variation and he would not be believable at all if his character did not support this decision 110%. Saito’s technique represents his black and white worldview, his religious adherence to the Shinsengumi code, “Aku Soku Zan” or “Slay Evil Immediately.” The thrust itself is beautiful poetry for Saito because the thrust requires total, unflinching commitment without reservation or hesitation. By putting his whole life on the line for one brilliant strike, Saito slays evil immediately.

Saito’s extreme specialization is the artistic rendition of “show, don’t tell” or “exposit, don’t explain.”

You can’t get to where Saito is without understanding the risks involved with certain techniques and building a character’s personality around their decision to take those risks. This is why reality is important because real world applications for techniques inform their meaning and that meaning travels into fiction. You don’t need a background in iaijutsu or kenjutsu to grasp the risks involved in Saito’s thrust. However, understanding can be helpful to recognize the way he commits his whole body into the strike means any mistake or miscalculation will get him fucked. This plays into the high risk, high reward nature of his combat style. That high risk approach is where the narrative builds tension into his fights. Rurouni Kenshin’s narrative never forgets extremes have their costs.

You can go a long way with detail and a functional martial philosophy to justify a character’s actions/beliefs within the story. You need reality to provide the little technical details to make your stylistic desires functional and believable. Saito’s technique enhances his believability but only because the technique itself can be drawn so realistically from the historical record. This is to say, you need to understand violence to effectively write violence, or, at the very least, be able to draw from the experiences of others in your own research to effectively create the simulacra.

TLDR: A detailed lie is better than incoherent gibberish.

Remember, though, One Trick Ponies aren’t believable alone. They can be made believable by a narrative that supports them. Kenshin’s Saito can get away with a lot because he isn’t the narrative’s main character, he doesn’t have to bear the burden of consistently facing new challenges, coming up with new approaches, or revealing new techniques to keep audience engagement. He can show up, do his thing, fight a couple of enemies, make a few small changes, and leave. This gives Saito more freedom to have a singular focus than a character who has to shoulder multiple story arcs across two hundred or three hundred chapters.

While it’s not a discussion I want to get into right now, there’s a larger conversation to be had about marrying a character’s martial combat style, techniques, and perspective to the culture within the narrative. (If you’re looking for inspiration to snarf, Saito is not a character who is going to travel well outside of Japan because the details supporting his approach to violence are uniquely Japanese, including his “one holy technique” approach. The Japanese have a very ceremonial, very formalized, almost religious approach to combat that you don’t see outside of Japan.)

The real Saito’s technique had actual practical applications within the sphere of the Japanese sword arts. The goal of his technique was to gain greater reach over his opponent. Saito sacrificed power by losing the second hand but gained reach, meaning that in a head to head he could hit his opponent sooner while his opponent came up short or he’d have more mobility in his upper body to turn sideways and avoid taking their sword strike to his upper body. Basically, he sacrificed power for reach and upper body flexibility/mobility much like a rapier duelist. He likely utilized the second step as a way to gain momentum and minimize the power lost by giving up the second hand. Sacrificing the second hand also freed it up for maintaining balance, meaning he could move more quickly. A body on a 45 degree angle maintains balance better than a body that’s forward facing. (He also didn’t have to puncture or punch through armor, so that’s there too.)

This strike demonstrates a mentality of someone looking to gain an extreme advantage over their opponent and, given his reputation, probably did exactly that. It’s a battlefield mentality, a survival calculus, “how can I do the most damage to my enemy while taking the least amount of damage possible (preferably no damage.)” This is the mindset of a real person who wants to live. As you can see, that’s a very different application than the fictional Saito but the real world usually requires more cunning and flexibility. You’re also seeing the reasoning for why the rapier overtook the longsword. The stronger attack doesn’t equal the more effective one. What matters is what your power does to your opponent rather than the simple factor of power you possess.

If you want to see a Japanese creator whose characters do get approximated and successfully adapted into Western media (in part because they were adapted from Western media), I’d suggest looking at the Hollywood adaptations of Kurosawa’s work.

Everyone blends style and reality from formalism to realism. You find the place between the two lines that fits your narrative and works for you and you live there. The only way to figure out where you fall on the spectrum is through trial and error. Failure is part of learning.

-Michi

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Whip Swords

How viable are whip swords in actual combat? I know things like the Urumi existed in real life, but would something like the Sword of the Creator from Fire Emblem 3 Houses be feasible? I feel like that’s probably a fantasy-only weapon, but they sure do look cool.

The difference here is that the urumi exists, and, as far as I know, that’s as close as reality has ever gotten to a whip sword. The other real examples would be multi-section staves (usually, three section), and various flails.

Fire Emblem’s Sword of the Creator isn’t possible. Meaning, from an engineering standpoint, it would be impossible to build the weapon using modern technology. It might be possible at some point in the future, but even then it would be more of a novelty.

The issue with the Sword of the Creator is that it’s a segmented blade which snaps apart into multiple segments. These segments need to be able to separate enough for there to be play between them when the sword is in whip mode, but latch together securely enough that it will function as a sword in combat. That’s not possible with non-magical means. So, you have a weapon where, “if it was real,” it would snap apart, unpredictably, in combat. To put this in technical terms, “that’s a very bad thing.”

This isn’t a problem with the in-setting item, because it’s a magical (or, at least pseudo-magical) artifact. So, being able to instantly fuse or shatter the blade, and convert it into different modes is plausible enough.

This biggest issue for viability with weapons like this, and this includes the Urumi, is the danger the weapon poses to its user. There’s a real risk of the sword bouncing off an object, and whipping back on the user. With enough skill and experience, you can mitigate this, but it creates a significant skill floor, that makes the weapon impractical for general use.

Obviously, the Urumi does exist, and weapons that pose a significant danger to an untrained user are defensible worldbuilding. (Lightsabers come to mind.) It’s also possible that the Sword of the Creator is actually intelligent, or at the very least, guided by its user, to the point that it isn’t really a whip, and more of a, serpentine weapon. Again, this plausible for magic (or technology from the other side of Clarke’s Law.)

Are weapons like this viable in the real world? Not really. There’s no way to engineer a sword that can break into pieces, and then reassemble itself with anything even approaching the needed level of stability. You may be able to make a display piece, that exhibits the behavior, and that would be a piece of visually interesting art, but it wouldn’t be a usable sword.

Incidentally, these are the same issues with Bloodborne’s Threaded Cane. Visually, it’s an amazing weapon, but, completely impossible to produce, and actively dangerous to the user.

In fiction, weapons like this are pretty easy to excuse if they offer enough entertainment value to the audience. It’s not a coincidence that both of these examples are from video games, and so you’re presenting the audience with a visual spectacle. Like you said, they look cool, and I fully agree. You’re also presenting the audience with a play experience (which unique to games), and that can also help to sell the audience on a weapon, even when it’s not particularly plausible. However, it does make translating weapons like this from a visual media into written prose particularly tricky, and outside of games (whether that’s tabletop or video games), being able to simply provide a power fantasy to the audience isn’t, necessarily, going to be enough to sell them on a cool new sword, no matter how awesome it is in your mind.

-Starke

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The UCMJ and Unfriendly Fire

So, imagine if one soldier got into a fight with enemy, the fist to fist kind and he’s loosing. If the soldiers team mates come, would there be any law to prevent them from shooting? Would they be charged with anything if their bullets accidently harmed or killed the soldier?

So, this is a little vague, but the answer is, almost certainly, yes.

I’m not an expert on military law, and the exact circumstances you’re presenting are somewhat unclear.

The US Military operates under the Uniform Military Code of Justice (UMCJ), and you can search the text of this online, if you’d like.

A couple of highlights, dueling is illegal (Article 114.) This is assuming that the fight between the soldier and the enemy was not warfare related, and was previously arranged. Normally, Article 114 assumes that the parties will be fighting using lethal weapons, so not a fist fight.

Article 134 covers negligent and willful discharge of firearms. Either one of these could certainly apply, depending on the specific circumstances. Article 134, Paragraph 100a, covers reckless engagement, and firing into a melee between two individuals, when one is friendly, could certainly apply, especially if they hit the friendly.

It’s worth noting that, while there are a lot of potential legal issues, if this is part of a military operation, it’s unlikely criminal charges would be filed, unless things went seriously off the rails. However, if this was part of a planned, coherent, operation, it’s unlikely that a squad would let itself scatter to the point where one of the members would be in a literal fist fight with an enemy combatant.

On the other hand, if the, “enemy,” is a civilian, and this occurred while soldiers were on leave. For example, a soldier gets drunk, mouths off at a local (this could be a violation of Article 117, if both are subject to the UCMJ), provokes a brawl (this could be a 116 violation), one of his squaddies pulls a gun (which he shouldn’t have while on leave, and is an Article 121 violation), and opens fire on the “enemy” (this is probably a 134 violation, probably a 124 violation if they survive, and either a 117 or 118 if they didn’t. (Murder and Manslaughter.)) Yeah, some Military laws were broken.

The short version is, if the soldiers are doing their job, even if the situation got a little out of hand, it probably wouldn’t result in criminal charges, unless something went seriously off the rails. (For example, if the perceived hostile was in fact part of a diplomatic security detail, or another neutral, third party.)

If the soldiers are off, “doing their own thing,” and weren’t supposed to be there in the first place, then this is a legal minefield.

-Starke

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The Logistics and Considerations of Giants in War

we’re getting to speculation on a fantasy scenario, but what would be the logistics of a giant army? like what would be their main strength and weaknessses as a force? I’m making a campaign villain with giants as the main enemy faction but I don’t see much depictions of them as an organized forces with plate armor and such instead of dumb primitive brutes, let alone how they would fare in melee combat against enemy combatant that is about a third of their height on average

The first example that comes to mind is Warhammer’s Ogre Kingdoms. Technically, they’re, “only,” slightly under twice the size of a normal human, and they’re in a setting with other armies that incorporate massive units of their own.

The Ogre Kingdoms do illustrate what is, probably, the single largest consideration for an army of giants: Food. Getting enough food to feed a significant force of massive fighters is going to be a serious problem. Warhammer being Warhammer, that setting ramps this up to cartoonish caricature, but if you’re wondering about the weaknesses of an army like this, keeping everyone fed comes high on the list.

There’s a couple solutions, and they have different implications.

The first is taking what they need while raiding. If you have a trained squad of giants rolling into a village, the local farmers aren’t going to have many options to stop them from grabbing whatever livestock they want and wandering off. This is especially true if the giants have no qualms about eating the villagers. In which case, a relatively small, giant army could easily wipe out most of the outlying villages before marching on major cities.

This confers some major advantages for the giants. They don’t need a coherent logistical base to support them, so if they’ve gathered in sufficient numbers, they don’t need a war machine. They can travel (nearly) as far as they want without their logistical chain breaking down (because there isn’t one.)

The trade-off is, if they’re operating without any permanent bases, they’d be extremely vulnerable to sieges. Unless they have massive food stores in their cities and fortresses.

The second would be a sufficiently massive agricultural base, and logistical chain, backing them. The larger the army, the larger the nation that fielded them would need to be. This almost exactly flips the advantages and disadvantages of the previous solution. They’d need a strong logistics chain, and have a very limited ability to advance, (unless they’re supporting it raiding), and their fortifications would be incredibly resistant to sieges. It’s also possible that any army laying siege to a giant fortress would have to contend with patrols of giants wandering into and disrupting their camps. This could actually make these sieges particularly dangerous.

Their ability to produce arms and armor is related to two questions. Are they producing their own equipment? What is their overall level of technological development?

If they’re producing their own gear, then chances are they need production facilities. Smithies, access to iron (or fictional materials such as orichalcum.) If they’re fielding weapons and armor that are similar to scaled up human gear, chances are that it needs to be made from something other than steel, or they need to be exceptionally skilled smiths.

Something we’ve talked about in the past, but the use of the greatsword was delayed by centuries because smiths didn’t have access to steel that could structurally support the design. If you have a 20ft tall giant swinging around a 15ft sword, you’d basically need access to super alloys. modern steel, or mythical materials to make that weapon a reality. You could not do it with iron, and you’d be hard pressed to do it with steel from more than a few centuries ago.

The needed technical proficiency applies regardless of whether the giants are producing their own weapons or not. But, if they’re not, then you’re more likely to see more scavenged or improvised weapons. Such as a giant slapping people around with the beam of a trebuchet or a fallen tree trunk.

The biggest issue with armor would just be getting enough metal to outfit them in the first place. Obviously, if they have access to mines then they could collect the materials themselves, securing access to more metal would be something that could drive an organized nation to war.

As for the final question, turning them loose on conventional infantry would be a bloodbath. Polearms and artillery would be legitimately dangerous to an unarmored giant. Lighter weapons, like sword and shield infantry, archers, and gunpowder infantry would (likely) be completely outclassed, and easily dispatched. Mounted units armed with polearms could pose a threat, while other mounted units would likely fall behind. Even with polearms, engaging would probably result in devastating casualties. (There’s a potential edge case here with marksmen being able to target the eyes specifically. This isn’t, realistically, an option for pre-rifled handgunners, however for skilled bowmen or crossbowmen, it could drop a few giants.)

This is assuming that the giants have proportionately thick skin that resists casual abuse, which seems like a safe assumption.

If the giants are fielding full plate armored units, yeah, the poleams and artillery are your best options, but the casualties suffered would be even higher.

You do not want to get into a fight with a 20ft tall full plate fighter.

-Starke

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Hand Injuries That Could Prevent Using a Sword

Hi! I was wondering if you’d be able to tell me about some hand/arm injuries that could permanently prevent someone from wielding a sword? Sorry if this is a weird ask..

It’s not so much weird, as vague. There’s a lot of range on this. I mean, a severe CTE could prevent someone from effectively using a sword, though, obviously, that would come with some other, more significant, symptoms.

So, the most obvious answers are:

Loss of the hand or arm. If you don’t have an arm, you can’t pick up a sword with it. This one is kinda self explanatory. Worth remembering Götz von Berlichingen. He will come up, basically ever time we talk about lopping off a hand. A Bavarian mercenary, he lost his right hand to cannon fire in 1504, and had prosthetic replacements made, which he would continue to use while campaigning over the next 40 years.

While less dramatic, the loss of fingers can leave you without the ability to hold a sword. Also, I suspect, the loss of the thumb. I won’t rule out the possibility of custom modified blades specifically for individuals who’ve lost digits, but, generally safe to assume they can’t just pick up a sword.

Nerve damage could leave the hand or arm partially paralyzed, resulting in the inability to effectively wield a sword, without complete loss of the arm. These can originate from relatively minor injuries, if they damage the nerves. I had a friend who had lost sensation on a patch of their palm because of a (non-poisonous) snake bite. (The snake had damaged the nerve connection to that part of his hand.) Though, this didn’t affect his overall usage of the hand, you could easily end up with a penetrating wound like this either disabling some fingers, or the hand entirely.

Probably worth knowing, that some animal venoms can result in tissue atrophy, or necrosis (meaning, the meat literally rots off of the body.) It’s pretty horrifying, and, yeah, get the wrong spider bite on your hand without access to modern medical resources, and you could easily lose it.

Improperly healed broken bones in the hand could impair the manual dexterity enough to limit, or outright prevent the use of a sword. I’m a little fuzzier on exactly how this could happen, but because the bones in your hand are pretty delicate, it’s not a short list.

Somewhat obviously, this isn’t an exhaustive list of possibilities. I’m still thinking of other things that could potentially mess up the hand to the point where you wouldn’t be able to use a sword. Likely, the answer is as simple as it getting stomped on by a horse, or losing some fingers to someone else’s blade, but there are a lot of ways the human body can break.

-Starke

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Considerations When Writing Ambidextrous Characters

What kind of advantage, if any, would a swordfighter (specifically one with an arming sword) get from being ambidextrous? I’ve been thinking of revamping a story I wrote as a teenager and to 16-year-old me the ability to switch sword hands mid-combat was one of the main ways to show how Extra Special Badass my main character was, but I figured I should check before I bring that over to the (heavily) rewritten edition

A few things come to mind, with one being distinctly more artificial than the others.

The artificial example is that your character can continue fighting even if they lose the use of one of their hands. The reason I’m calling this artificial is because, chances are, any injury that took their arm or hand out of use, will probably also be serious enough to impair their ability to fight, beyond just that limb. (Blood loss and pain are likely to be the major issues here.)

One, very real, advantage is architectural. Medieval castles and fortifications were specifically designed with right hand dominance in mind. Many were built so that an assaulting force would have their right arms pressed against the wall. This manifests in the spiral of staircases, where an ascending assaulter is moving clockwise, and their right arm is against the center axis, while a defender above them will have their right arm free to strike from the outer radius, giving them more freedom of to attack. You’ll also see this pattern with some straight stairways along the sides of walls, so that the assaulters will have their arms pressed against the fortification, while defenders have their right arms over open space.

Somewhat obviously, if you’re ambidextrous, you can swap hands and ignore this kind of restriction. While it’s highly specific to the spaces you’re fighting in, being ambidextrous (or even just competent with your off hand) can help when fighting in very cramped spaces. (This is even relevant in the modern era, and it’s a good idea to learn how to shoot accurately with your off hand, even if you don’t expect to do so. If you’re left handed, this is borderline necessary, because you will encounter firearms that are specifically contoured or configured for a right handed shooter.)

One thing that ambidexterity doesn’t really help with is dual wielding. The best recorded historical example of dual wielding is, probably, the sword and shield. Now, being ambidextrous would help your character flip their sword and shield to the opposite hands (this would still require a bit of fumbling with switching the weapons over, so, not something to do in the middle of combat, but the option is there.

Ambidexterity is one of those character traits that sounds like this was a character you came up with as a teenager. There’s no shame in that, and this isn’t at your expense. We have all made some questionable writing decisions when we were younger, and in this case it’s not that bad. There are ambidextrous people. It’s real, and it’s realistic for someone to have some degree of ambidexterity.

Roughly 1% of the population is truly ambidextrous, with a much larger portion of the population who have some degree of self-trained ambidexterity.

Self trained ambidexterity especially common among left handed individuals who need to use everyday items that cannot be used left handed, and it is much cheaper to learn to use a pair of scissors with your right hand, rather than buying special, and expensive, left handed scissors, only to have the things disappear after a month when someone else, “borrows,” and loses them.

Ambidexterity has applications (more, a range of general utility, like being able to write with either hand, or being able to easily work a mechanism while holding something heavy in their other hand. Ironically, with characters, it’s the kind of trait you don’t really need to call out and say, “yeah, my character is ambidextrous.” Either they can perform acts proficiently with their “off-hand” or they can’t, and most readers won’t notice, unless the limitations (which your character doesn’t have) are called out.

Ironically, for the combat applications mentioned above, your character will come across as more of a badass if they’re not ambidextrous. If they have to switch hands, fighting on with their off-hand at a disadvantage, and still soldier on to victory, it’s more impressive, “more badass,” for them to overcome the limitation than to have a custom curated, “oh I don’t face this adversity,” token to play.

Hand dominance is weird, when it comes to fictional characters. Clearly they should have it, but most of the time, it’s not commented on. It’s not really relevant. Even in live action media, most of the time, characters will inherit their hand dominance from the actor playing them. This is why, focusing on ambidexterity as a combat advantage is a little strange to me.

The up shot is, I’m not saying, “don’t do it.” It’s your character, it’s a credible characteristic, it does add some unusual flavor to them without straining plausibility. My gut impulse is to say that it doesn’t really benefit the character, but it’s not detrimental, and it could certainly add texture.

There was a piece of advice from a roleplaying guide I read years ago; remember to design your characters so they have a mix of combat and social options available to them. You don’t want to be in a situation where one of the players has focused exclusively on combat, and then when the party is in a town, they will have no meaningful ability to participate in the story. (I’m paraphrasing, this is from first edition Exalted‘s core book.)

I think it’s good advice in general, but in relation to ambidexterity, this is something you can use to fluidly flavor a lot of the character’s non-combat activities. If you can find ways to reliably incorporate into their everyday activities, it will make them unique (without feeling like you’re trying to make them special.)

-Starke

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The Rate of Gun Ownership Among Deer is Startlingly Low

How much does hunting resemble fighting in a real battle/duelling/etc?

Movies about noble people makes it look like it’s just a sport that doesn’t tie into real life fighting, but real people I know (tho mostly macho men) that go hunting treat it like it’s a manly man thing to do, only one step away from going to war.

Thank you! Have a good day.

So, this may come as a shock, but the number of deer who shoot back at hunters is shockingly low. So, that’s a significant difference.

Hunting skills can be repurposed to track and execute other humans. It’s not analogous to duels or battles, but you can hunt people. Some of the skills can be repurposed. Precision shooting, stealth, and tracking are all useful. However, humans are much more likely to turn on you, and and lay effective traps or ambushes.

Under normal circumstances, hunting is inherently an asymmetrical activity. The hunter enjoys almost insurmountable advantages over their prey (when they’re not hunting sapient beings.) That doesn’t mean it’s, “safe.” Deer in particular, can be quite dangerous, if sufficiently provoked. Of course, hunting predators (like bears or wolves) comes with the inherent danger, of the animal deciding to hunting the hunter.

So, of course, you end up with the guys using high power rifles to hunt an animal at long range. At that point, the macho element is just cultural norms, and it’s entirely possible that someone (particularly an individual who is somewhat insecure in their masculinity) would attempt to associate it with other stereotypically masculine behaviors. Like going to war, or mistaking Coors and Budweiser for beer. Using those behaviors as affirmation that, yes, they can open every jar in the fridge. Though, why they may view asserting dominance over a jar of pickles as proof of their masculinity is an enigma.

Also, some people like to go out in the woods and get lost for a few days, or weeks. It’s weird. I had my fill of sleeping on the ground when I was a teenager. At that point, some of it is just the trappings of the activity that gets you out of the house and away from the rest of the human race. Hunting and fishing are good excuses for that, especially if you think, “hiking,” sounds like, “mobile mosquito feeder.”

-Starke

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The Role of Honor as a Social Control Mechanism

I had always wondered about a certain aspect in martial arts or combat media that features some martial arts, and that is the “evil” or “dark” style that is considered reprehensible and immortal, and the style is… using guns, poisons, bombs, traps, hidden weapons, and so on. Every time there’s a battle with such practitioners, they always gets called “dishonorable” or “evil” or maybe even cowardly. But then you also have “if this was a real fight, you’d be dead” trope when it comes to something like a mock duel vs a duel to the death, which often shows how in a “real fight” there’s no use for honor and such and would often have the protagonist of such genre be fighting as dirty as possible and be treated as badass. My question then is… well, what exactly is “honor” in a fight? Isn’t “dirty tricks” like sands in the eyes to resolve combat as quickly as possible the most desired trick? What exactly should be the balance between “pragmatism” and “honor”, whatever the latter is?

Okay, so, I’ll have to level with you, I have never heard of a martial arts style that considers IEDs as an important technique. Also, martial arts that incorporate firearms are more of a myth than reality. There are disarms, but there’s no such thing as a, “gun kata.” That’s pure fiction.

Honor isn’t about good and evil, it’s not about right and wrong: Honor is about threat control. Honor is defined by those in power, and then applied to those below them, to ensure they cannot rise up and disrupt the status quo.

“The only unfair fight is the one you lose,” thought process comes out of the understanding that giving your foe a fair chance to kill you is an utterly terrible idea. Especially against a better trained and better equipped foe, getting into a stand-up fight is suicidal.

It’s dishonorable to run from a fight? Who does this benefit? Dying because you wouldn’t break and escape just means you’re dead.

It’s dishonorable to attack someone from behind? Again, this only really benefits your foe. It’s about tricking you into putting yourself into a more vulnerable position.

But, why is this a rule? Why is it dishonorable to stab someone in the back, but not to stab them in the face? In the distant past, when nobles fought on the battlefield, stabbing someone in the back meant you didn’t know who you had just killed. However, if you saw their face before killing them, it meant you could properly assess whether they were one of the enemy nobles, meaning they should be ransomed back, rather than summarily killed on the battlefield. It made the battlefield less dangerous for the nobility, but no safer for the peasantry, and also helped to further enrich the winning nobles. But, of course, the person who is expected to behave, “honorably,” was the conscripted foot soldier, who would see no benefit from, “being honorable,” but may face harsh retribution if they killed someone they shouldn’t have.

(This, also explains a large part of why guns and bombs can be considered dishonorable. These are indiscriminate, and therefore, a threat to those who set the rules.)

Honor is meaningless to a corpse. However, if you’re in a position of power, dishonor is incredibly valuable. Dishonor becomes a tool to politically weaken (or in some cases outright eliminate) a threat. Dishonor can be applied through mere allegations. Dishonor can also apply social stigmas, and if it applies to a family, can be used to undermine entire factions.

Because it’s dishonorable to lie, all but your most transparent lies can be used to implicate, and dishonor, your potential rivals. Best of all, questioning the honor of the powerful is often behavior that permits immediate, and vicious, retribution. So, even if someone does realize you’re lying through your teeth, it gives you the pretext to eliminate them.

Honor is not, and never has been, about being a good person. It was never about morality or ethics. It is a weapon, wielded by those in power, against those beneath them. The first, and most effective lie honor presents is the idea that this is about being a good person. It is insidious, because, for the person with good intentions, it will lead them to punish themselves, if they step out of line.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to do the right thing. In many cases, that is laudable. However, honor is a about perverting that into a system where you will voluntarily hand advantage to your foes,

This isn’t just codes of honor. Laws (both secular and religious) can be used in similar ways. To punish and marginalize potential foes, while simultaneously entrenching your own powerbase.

In many cases, codes of honor can support ethical, or moral behavior. It’s something to consider carefully before fully ejecting the concept. However, living to see the next sunrise is more important than being honorable. It may be important to make your actions appear honorable, after the fact, but that’s more about political damage control. The most important thing to understand about honor is that its real purpose is not what it appears to be. It was always a lie, designed to get you to put yourself at a disadvantage.

-Starke

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The Motivations and Economics Behind Freelance Arms Dealers

If you’re a profit-driven criminal like an arms dealer, what’s your motive when you align with insurgents against a government? Unless they’re on the verge of collapse, doesn’t it always make more business sense to side with the people running the country?

The problem with selling to the nation itself is two-fold. First, the nation already has an arms dealer, and second, you don’t have enough stock to keep them happy.

The first problem is a function of geopolitics. If you pick a lesser developed country on the map, chances are extremely good that the established government already receives arms from an outside source. The three largest arms dealers in the world are the United States of America, The Russian Federation, and The People’s Republic of China.

For example: if you’re trying to arm a small country’s military, and they have about 50k standing troops, you’re not just looking to sell them 50k rifles. You need to sell them several thousand rounds of ammunition per weapon, and suddenly you’re looking at needing to move at least a hundred million rounds of ammunition into the country. On top of that, they need heavy equipment, tanks, aircraft, and replacement parts for all of those systems. So, even if you do find a way to obtain all those resources, it turns out the nation’s already buying ex-Soviet hardware from a foreign nation.

A brief aside about Soviet designs (the AK-47 is the poster child for this, but it’s, mostly, true of nearly all Soviet era military hardware), they’re incredibly easy to build. People can joke about the quality of Soviet era trucks, or the merits of the AR15 pattern rifle, but you can (almost, literally) start commercially producing functional AK47s in a shack out in the wilderness.

So, while the real world example I just cited does buy their arms from the Russians and Ukrainian governments, it’s not that unreasonable for any nation with a marginally developed industrial center, to be able to start turning out cheap, but effective, firearms.

In contrast, as a freelance arms dealer, you’ve got, maybe, a couple thousand Rhodesian FALs. That’s not going to interest the legitimate government, it’s not enough, the quality is too low, and you can’t ramp up the supply to match the demands of an ongoing military conflict. But, if the rebels pay you up front, you can give them enough arms to get started… at that point, it’s not really about arming them for the long haul, it doesn’t matter if they succeed or die, and if they do succeed, maybe, hopefully, they paid you enough to kick some more hardware their way. Or, they die, you got your money, and when the dust settles, you can bribe a few soldiers to hand over a few crates of confiscated arms, wander into the next nation, and start all over again.

Except, that’s not the only possibility. Because it’s quite possible you’re not selling Rhodesian FALs, you’re selling something a little more modern. Maybe they’re M14s, almost factory fresh. When anyone asks where you got them, you give the same answer you would have given with the FALs; you bribed some soldiers to lose a few shipments, but that’s simply not true. What you have is already bought and paid for by another foreign nation, who wants you arming these rebels, wants you stirring the pot, and handed the shipments off to you to start some fireworks. You’re not, “a spy,” that’s far too classy, you’re what you say, “an arms dealer,” but you’re also covertly working for a foreign government’s intelligence agency. Your handler wanders in and tells you who to sell to, and off you go to strike up a new deal.

Freelance arms dealers go to the people who will pay. Rebels with no funds to purchase arms aren’t getting anything on credit. Governments don’t often need arms dealers, and may also be unable to pay.

Arms dealers with backing in the intelligence community aren’t interested in supporting the government; they’re in country to help start and support a proxy war.

When you want to sell weapons to governments, the solution is to get into weapons manufacturing, not gunrunning.

-Starke

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Keeping Your Fighters Well Fed is Vital to Their Success

I have multiple fighter characters who are also poor and sometimes starving beggars. How would this less than optimal physical health affect what a fighter might need? My story is sort of fantasy but there isn’t a lot a magic at least when it’s about people.

Disastrously.

So, any extreme physical activity will require a pretty significant caloric intake. Meaning, if you’re fighting, you need to be well fed. There are countless aphorisms and clichés about the importance of logistics to military campaigns (such as, “an army moves on its stomach”) and there’s a truth here: It is vitally important that your fighters are well fed.

So, the big problems from chronic malnutrition for your characters are: an impaired immune system (meaning they’ll get sick more easily and have more difficulty fighting it off), generalized fatigue and weakness, cognitive impairment (difficulty thinking and focusing), and a slowed healing rate.

Slightly less severe, but they’ll also have increased difficulty maintaining their body temperature, meaning they’ll frequently feel cold. This has some real applications if you’re needing to wait overnight somewhere watching for someone.

If your character is underage, chronic malnutrition is catastrophic, as it will permanently impair their physical and mental development.

So, the short version is, your characters will be weaker, slower, more prone to injury and illness, less able to recover from injuries taken, and less able to focus on the fight in front of them.

You really cannot win a fight if you’re not getting enough to eat.

In a larger context, if you’re leading a group, and you can’t feed your fighters, your group will scatter. It’s one of those Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs things, if you literally cannot keep your people alive, they have no reason to follow you. If you can keep them fed, but can’t keep them safe, they may stick around until that illusion is shattered, but then they’ll be looking for something better. If you can do both of those things, then you need to worry about keeping them happy, and need to worry about giving them a purpose.

One place where shoddy writers will manufacture drama is in these kinds of survival situations, but, because they didn’t consider Maslow’s Hierarchy, the whole thing will feel a bit, “off.” They’ll have characters who are facing a lethal threat, but they’ll be upset about accommodations, or engage in political infighting. Things that are, absolutely, not a concern when characters are being hunted, or facing starvation.

So, the short version, you need to feed your fighters. Following that, unless you’re setting up some kind of authoritarian cult, you need to feed your other members as well. After that, your fighters need to be able to protect the other members of the group (to some degree. And, there is a reasonable tension in their difficulty with that point.) If they can’t protect the group, then the group will hemorrhage members. If they can’t feed the non-combat members, they’ll leave, and if they can’t feed anyone, the group will splinter and the individuals will go looking for someplace where they can avoid starving to death.

-Starke

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Advice and suggestions for writing fight scenes.