Are there/ What are things to take into consideration when writing fight scenes with fat characters? I have a fat female character who gets into a lot of fights and may have congenital pain indifference (which is another monster in itself.) I just want to make her fight scenes realistic. I’ll be digging around your blog for more inspiration as fighting characters were never a thing for me before now. (smh why must they have minds of their own)

I present you with Sammo Hung. And Sammo Hung versus Donnie Yen. And a young Sammo Hung in Enter the Fat Dragon. Sammo Hung is a very famous actor in Chinese cinema, he’s contemporary of Jackie Chan and is a well-known fight choreographer. He’s also overweight and can kick your ass. It’s also worth remembering that there are “overweight” stunt doubles in Hollywood, one for every overweight actor that can’t handle a prat fall.

The short version is that overweight doesn’t automatically equal unhealthy. It’s also not as big an impediment as most people like to pretend it is. A lot of fitness tries to force people to conform to certain body types, which are easier to achieve by some and ultimately impossible by others. At the end of the day, your body is your body. It can only be changed so much through exercise.

If this character doesn’t work out much, hasn’t developed muscle beneath the fat and leads a mostly sedentary existence then the fat is going to matter. Then, it’s a sign that she’s unhealthy. However, if she’s spent time working out, training, building up her stamina, flexibility, and muscle mass beneath it all? Yeah. Sure. There’s really not that much to consider.

Martial artists come in all shapes and sizes.

She’s not locked into any particular fighting style due to her size.

The advantage of the fat is going to essentially be extra armor and she may be a little less tight in terms of her fighting style. More mass means more force, but it also creates more inertia which works both for and against you. Basically, she’ll hit hard and, initially, she had trouble stopping. More likely over rotation until she learned to compensate.

If she’s been fighting for a while and has actual training, then she’s learned to compensate. She won’t look that much different other than martial artists or professions she’s surrounded by, other than she’ll hear a lot of comments like “Damn! That fat chick can kick high!” (Because it is known that overweight women cannot be as competent as skinny ones.) It won’t save her from derogatory comments or the general population constantly underestimating her abilities until she’s a known quantity, but that’s there.

If she’s fighting without training, then it’s a different kettle of fish. She’ll have learned to compensate some, but not a lot. Even without the pain indifference, it’s hard to hurt her. Especially if she’s figured out how to tense her stomach. Muscle and fat both function as a kind of natural body armor. Muscle, being hard, can be trained to lock up to take impact and reduce the amount of force that can penetrate into the body. Dealing with fat is a little like trying to punch a beanbag chair, with tensed muscles underneath it, the force gets spread across a wider area because a softer surface is being punched. When both work in concert with each other in a body which naturally leans toward that weight, it can be every intimidating.

However, like with anything else, if she doesn’t know how to use her body or fight then she’s at risk for causing greater injury. The more force one can bring to bear, the more likely it can rebound back onto you. This means greater strain on her joints, particularly her ankles and her knees. She’s going to lean toward over-rotation when she punches or attempts a kick because of the mass involved. When one performs a punch or a kick like a roundhouse, the body turns and twists in order to create force. The twisting occurs in the shoulders, the hips, and the feet. Over-rotation refers to turning too far when the force carries through and putting undue stress on the joints. Anyone can fall prey to over-rotation, but the more mass one has then the more common it is. More than that, your body naturally wants to over-rotate because it feels good. It makes you feel powerful.

You’ll generally see it happen with nearly ever single person who doesn’t know how to punch.

What’s going to get her isn’t the fat, it’s the pain indifference. That’s the real killer. The difference between indifference and insensitivity, I think, is that she can actually process the pain coming in and register it’s there but doesn’t react to it. If she uses it to her advantage the indifference can have a psychological effect (short term) on those she’s fighting, but the side effect may be that she also considers herself invulnerable or even invincible. She knows she can get hurt, but it doesn’t matter.

That is a very dangerous mental place to be in.

Pain is actually very important to the business of martial combat. Not just the giving and the receiving of it. Pain is important as a character building exercise, for pushing through adversity and continuing when things get tough. It’s important for building empathy and understanding the weight of your own responsibility in regards to the skills you have. You know what can be done because it has been done to you and thus are more circumspect about using those skills recklessly without regard for another person’s safety. It impacts your ability to accurately make threat assessments and decide whether or not a fight is worth it. Pain is actually what you feel when you work out as you rip and stretch your muscles to build new ones. Learning the difference between good pain and bad pain is very necessary toward knowing when to push your body, when to stop, and when to auto-correct.

Someone who doesn’t feel pain or is congenitally is unlikely to know when to stop and will come away with extra flaws in their technique that they didn’t correct. Your character’s teachers would’ve fixed it in the beginning, but flaws come back over time if the student doesn’t put the corrections into practice and if they can’t feel the difference. That difference is often pain, how much pain and whether or not it’s good pain. Fixing your footwork, deepening your stances, stopping over-rotation, and a host of other issues rely on the person being able to feel the difference.

Pain both good and bad in various gradations is that difference. It’s not just that you feel it, it’s learning why it matters.

Pain suppression is the helpful skill, but anyone who trains learns it. They experience the pain coming in but they decide whether or not it matters. Knowing where you’re hurt, what’s hurting you, and being able to determine whether or not that pain is important enough to change tactics or even stop is exceedingly important.

Combat is one part physical and one part psychological, and the psychological is vastly more important. A character who believes that they can’t be hurt or are invulnerable is one that will get killed in very short order. They take more chances. Get into fights that they shouldn’t. And, well, die. Your opponent can and will use overconfidence against you, especially if they have time to figure out what precisely is going on. Then, they put a plan into play that will let them get what they’re after.

Recognize the strengths. Identify the weaknesses. Exploit.

This is not a specialty skill that only the really brainy get. This is normal. Everybody is trained to do this and most people who engage in scenarios regarding high personal risk learn it very quickly.

Her issue is that she can be tricked, fairly easily, into going beyond her limits. Her mental fortitude may be in issue when she faces challenges switch suddenly from easy and safe to very hard. She’ll be thrown for a loop when an activity that she views as “safe” because of her invincibility suddenly becomes “not safe”. Then, her congenital indifference to pain goes from advantageous to very frightening. Then, her own body is working against her. She may not know how to stop it.

-Michi

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