All posts by Chelsea Schmitt

Q&A: Unarming the Weapon Disarm

self-fulfilling-prophet asked:

What are important factors to consider when using one weapon to disarm another? i.e. using a sword to disarm someone with an axe vs using a lance or another sword

The caveat I’m going to start with is that weapon disarms, armed or unarmed, aren’t the violence “get out of jail free” card for escaping violence’s more unpleasant aspects (such as, you know, murder.) Weapon disarms are extremely difficult, time consuming, finicky, prone to failure, even in the hands of an expert. In fiction, the weapon disarm’s primary use is to demonstrate extreme skill differences between one combatant and another. 

The “extreme skill” differential makes disarms a terrible choice to lean on as an alternative if you’re planning to write a character who fights professionally but refuses to kill. (This is a Saturday Morning Cartoon character. A lot of writers who want the glory of violence but are uncomfortable with the idea of their character killing will try it.) On a literary level, disarms will screw your narrative tension hard. Beyond their use in the real world, weapon disarms are an action movie trope. They’re flashy, they’re visually fun to watch, they’re often used for comedic purpose, and, again, they provide the audience with a solid sense of superiority which connects them to a character. You’ll only see a disarm about one to three times per action movie and in very select circumstances. Disarms are what we call Fucking Around. (Trust me, you don’t want to find out.)

In the real world, attempting a disarm will probably kill you. This is true across the board. Armed or unarmed, skilled or unskilled, they are that dangerous and difficult to pull off. You’re far more likely to be killed in the attempt than you are to succeed. That’s why the real world advice is, “don’t, unless you know you’ll die anyway.” In the self-defense context, unarmed disarms are utilized only in a last ditch attempt to save your own life because it’s better to die fighting.

Now that we’ve covered the depressing reality, let’s move on.

Understanding the real world statistics for weapon disarms is crucial to writing disarms in fiction. Understanding the disarm’s combat role is crucial to correctly applying them in their fictional role and crafting characters who could convincingly use them effectively. They can rather easily destroy your character’s credibility, especially when utilized in the “get out of jail free” aspect. Or, you know, portraying them as easy.

Weapon disarms are among the most technical and tricky martial arts techniques and, realistically, if you’re here on this blog asking how to do it, you probably won’t be able to write your character doing a disarm without at least a few years of martial arts practice. Weapons or no weapons, the functional idea is basically the same. However, even understanding the theory, it’ll be difficult to grasp the mechanics without practicing those mechanics yourself. If you don’t understand how the weapon moves and the applicable techniques, you won’t be able to write a disarm because disarms are all about manipulating those movements and techniques past the point of no return. To put it simply, weapon disarms are joint locks. 

Yeah, you heard me.

The functional goal, theoretically, of a disarm is to get your opponent into a position via angles and pressure that makes it fundamentally impossible (from the perspective of body mechanics) for them to hold onto their weapon. That’s where the whole “extreme skill” differential or demonstrated mastery comes in. Your goal is not to take the weapon. Your goal is to force your opponent to let go of their weapon. The perspective difference here is very important. Disarms can be done by accident, but the chance of lucking into a traditional one is low (outside of numbing out someone’s hand or arm, which also works.) To get there, you have to go in with intent to disarm and control the fight from start to finish. If you can’t control your opponent and the flow of the fight, you can’t disarm them. 

Disarms also require overlooking opportunities which may end the fight more quickly. This extends the fight, meaning you have to fight longer to achieve the same objective. Ultimately, it’s an unsustainable practice outside of specific encounters/contexts. Given your opponent’s objective is not the same as yours i.e. “disarm” vs “end the fight by any means,” you provide them with more opportunities to defeat you using this method. This puts you, the one seeking to disarm, at an extreme disadvantage. This gets worse when discussing different weapon types, especially those of differing lengths, because, depending on which weapon you have, you might already be at an extreme disadvantage due to a combat concept called reach.

The length of your weapon determines how much distance is required for contact. A shorter weapon means you need to go to greater lengths to strike your opponent, while a longer weapon means you can strike sooner. Most swords are longer than the hand ax, for example, and have greater reach. Spears and staves are longer than most swords.

I don’t even want to think about disarming someone who has a spear if you only have a sword, or (worse) an axe. The stabilizing control of hands on the mid-shaft and end shaft is just brutal. Choosing to go for a disarm is consciously deciding to shift the arrow from horrifically screwed to completely fucked. (You’ll have a similar problem with any two handed weapon, so swords where the hilts are long enough for two hands are also an issue. You can’t do the fencing disarm commonly seen in film with any sword other than that specific type: sabre, epee, foil. The rapier can also be done, but the point of contact is different because the weapon is longer.) It is a lot easier to do disarms with weapons of the same type than weapons of different types, unless you’re using a weapon (or set of weapons) specifically designed for disarms, trapping, and breaking such as the deer horn knives from Baguazhang. However, weapons designed for combat in one culture do not seamlessly transition to having the same effectiveness against similar weapon types from other cultures. (Points to Laini Taylor and Daughter of Smoke and Bone for realizing deer horn knives exist, points deducted for trying to unironically use an the earth version in battle against space angels and their swords of unknown origin.)

There is no one size fits all.

This brings us to our next problem.

The types of disarms you can do is heavily dependent on the type of weapon you have, which is me saying: design matters. Historically, weapons weren’t actually standardized and there are many different types within a familial subgroup that extend far beyond the question of, “two hands or one?” There are all kinds of little quirks that could completely screw a warrior attempting a disarm, such as the length and curvature of the axe head and the length of the shaft because these will adjust whether or not you can catch/hold/lock the axe with your blade or spear shaft and the angle necessary to force the weapon from your opponent’s hand. And all this gray area theory is before we get the actual skill of your opponent themselves.

If you’re starting to think this sounds like complex math, you’re right. This is why in the risk vs cost benefit analysis, disarms lose out. They cost significantly more than they’re worth, especially since you can’t even guarantee you’ll have defeated your opponent once you’ve removed their weapon. Even if you succeed, you haven’t won. Why? Violence is not that clean. Once you’ve demonstrated you’re unwilling to kill to protect your own life, you are dead.

So, what can you do instead? Attack the wielder, not the weapon.

Attacking the body makes your life significantly easier and that’s why we’re trained to do it. It is much better to ensure your opponent cannot fight than it is to take their weapon because taking your opponent’s weapon does not ensure your opponent cannot fight. If your immediate knee-jerk reaction to this is, “but I don’t want my character to hurt anyone” then maybe you need to rethink their choice in using combat as their means of problem-solving. There’s no non-violent violence, not even in Aikido.

This is where attacking or disabling the hand or the arm comes in. If you persistently smack the hand or the wrist (rather than jabbing it with the pointy,) you’ll numb the hand. (You could also potentially break the bones, but let’s ignore that for a moment.) Once the hand starts to numb, your opponents grip on their weapon will loosen and, eventually, they’ll be forced to let it go. One of the problems of wielding weapons is that if you’re clashing too much, the vibrations from the force of impact will tire out your hands and arms over time. This is why you’ll occasionally see martial artist characters smacking their opponents (who they don’t want to kill) with the flat of their blade or hitting their extremities with a staff, etc. While it might be played for laughs, they’re actually bruising their opponent’s muscles to make fighting more difficult.

Or, you can just roll with black humor.

“You said you were going to disarm them.”

“Yes, they are now disarmed.”

“They’re dead, Jess.”

“They’ll never hold a weapon again. That’s disarmed.”

Or, lop off the limbs. That joke works too.

-Michi

This blog is supported through Patreon. If you enjoy our content, please consider becoming a Patron. Every contribution helps keep us online, and writing. If you already are a Patron, thank you, and come join us on Discord.

Q&A: The Elaborate Fall and Controlling Your Center of Balance

Anonymous asked:

I kinda want to hint at a character’s martial arts skills by having them trip and respond using skills taught in martial arts. Perhaps it may not be martial arts specific, but anything else where keeping steady and taking tumbles well is important, idk skateboard, acrobatic? Perhaps it matters why the trip occurs, like missing a step or stepped on loose tile, small moving obstacle ran into them?

Did you mean, physically adjusting my body to restore my center of balance and counter a fall?

Any form of activity which trains you to maintain your balance/center of gravity and develops control over your core muscles will help you save yourself from falls. This is most forms of physical activity, but not limited to martial arts, dance, skateboarding, acrobatics, yoga, cross-country running, sprinting, most track and field related sports, most sports, etc. It’s an exhaustive list.

They’re probably not going to trip, tip forward, turn the fall into a forward shoulder roll in the middle of the street, and calmly just walk it off like “no biggie.” That’s a lot more effort than the average fall is worth. (The average person’s confused reaction would be hilarious though, and that’s why the elaborate fall is a comedy trope. There’s also nothing subtle about it.)

Honestly, there’d be no overblown response which would force a character to use their “skills” i.e. techniques for falling because losing your balance is really common when you’re training. Techniques for falls are really techniques for how to fall safely when thrown and spreading the force out so you take the impact on a greater area. For example: if you slap the floor on the moment of impact, you reduce the effectiveness of your opponent’s throw and limit the damage done to yourself.

Lost balance is resolved by utilizing your core muscles (your abdominals) to correct your posture in the moment, set your weight if necessary, and bring your body back into balance. That’s it. You don’t think about it, you’ve practiced so often you just do it. The mental process for tripping is, “oh no, I’m falling. There’s the ground. Oh, now I am not falling.”

The best scenarios are, “Oop… Nope. We’re good.”

Taekwondo gives you a lot of practice standing on one leg, so you learn to balance your body at all kinds of weird angles. We learn our central balance point is a fulcrum. I cannot tell you how many times this has occurred on ice and my body just auto adjusts to counter how I am out of balance. Sideways? If your ankle can resolve the problem on it’s own, opposing arm out and lean toward it. Falling forward? Bend your knees and squat. Falling backward? Lean forward. Foot slipping out from under you? Go with it and start a split. In 98% of ice slips, my butt never hits the ground.

The reason why is that when you train in martial arts (and I’m going to discuss martial arts specifically, but this is applicable to other sports) you develop fine motor control, fine motor control and awareness of your body lends itself to a greater internal sense of balance. What does this mean? I will realize when I am out of balance sooner than the average person and my response time is faster, meaning the corrections likely go into place before passing the point of no return. The point of no return is when your body has passed a point where your fall can be stopped in it’s arc. If you pass that point, gravity takes over and nothing you do can save you. The same thing happens with strikes if you want to block them, you have to stop the strike before the extension otherwise the blow will go right through you. It’s dependent on your inner timing.

If you want to hint at a character’s background in martial arts, a better option is going to be their reputation for auto-correction and fixing their falls. “Jack’s got a really good sense of balance. Like, creepy good. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Jack fall.” I was somewhat notorious among my friends in high school for my ability to stay in balance. People notice when you’re good at things that they are not good at, especially girls who like to complain about being clumsy. Someone being very centered can become very creepy if you spend enough time around them.

It’s like getting asked, “where’d you get that bruise?” And responding, “uh? Dunno.” And you really don’t know because it could’ve been anywhere. You just get so many, you stop noticing.

You’d really need to get a handle on how balance and balance adjustment works if you wanted to try and pull off balance adjustments seen in genres like Wuxia or Xianxia. These scenes are usually there to be comedic or act as a genre specific tell for a specific kind of martial artist. Basically, it’s there to subtly (or, in most cases, unsubtly) tip the audience off to the fact the character is literally superhuman. So, when you see a martial artist do this in a martial arts film, they do this elaborate stunt (often on wires) because it’s a martial arts film or television show and not because people do it in real life. It’s a specific genre convention heavily dependent on Martial Arts Give You Superpowers in conjunction with the specific brand found in East Asian storytelling. You’ll be hard pressed to get the elaborate fall working outside the martial arts genre because, well, outside of East Asian storytelling tradition and other cultures where martial arts hold an enshrined existence, they don’t give you superpowers.

(If you’ve been uncritically consuming Japanese anime, Jackie Chan films, Into the Badlands, martial arts based k-dramas, wuxia and xianxia c-dramas on Netflix/Amazon Prime/YouTube/Vicki like the Untamed, or even Marvel’s recent outing in Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, I can understand where the elaborate fall might become confusing.)

– Michi

This blog is supported through Patreon. If you enjoy our content, please consider becoming a Patron. Every contribution helps keep us online, and writing. If you already are a Patron, thank you, and come join us on Discord.

The Butterfly Effect: Pitfalls of Converting Your Fanfiction into an Original Work

The disclaimer I’m going to put at the beginning of this post is I know fanfiction vs original fiction is a touchy subject.

Fanfiction exists, I’ve written fanfiction, I’m not making any value judgements on fanfiction as a hobby, a passion, or a craft learning tool. If you like writing fanfiction and aren’t interested in converting your works into original fiction for publication, this post isn’t for you. If you’re the sort of person who feels threatened or delegitimized by discussions about the benefits and weaknesses of fanfiction as a tool for learning craft, this post isn’t the place to throw your tantrum. Got it? Good. Let’s move on.

One of the lies you’ll hear when you’re thinking about transitioning any fanfiction work you’ve written into an original work such as a short story or novel you can send on submission is that there’s no difference between fanfiction and an original work and that the conversion is easy.

It isn’t. 

They’ll list off all the authors who have admitted to writing fanfiction or converted their works from fanfic into “real” fic like Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments vis-à-vis Harry Potter, E.L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey  vis-à-vis Twilight, even trying to nail JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings vis-à-vis the entire tradition of European folklore with extra special helpings of Beowulf, Norse, and Celtic myth. These arguments equate inspiration and adaptation to fanfiction without any contextual nuance. “Everything is really just fanfiction anyway,” they say. Which? No.

It’s important to understand that these arguments are defensive by nature and exist more to reassure the person making the argument than to convince anyone else. It’s an argument meant for the echo chamber and the ears of those who already agree, a defensive knee-jerk reaction, and an expression of insecurity. This can be confusing if you’re genuinely trying to make a conversion because the defensive discourse surrounding the “legitimacy” of fanfiction will ultimately point you in the wrong direction. 

There are very important differences between fanfiction and an original work that have nothing to do with your writing’s quality or your skills as a writer. The relevant pitfalls are structure and, most importantly, context. 

Fanfiction is in the name, the work is designed to exist supplementally to the work it’s based on and cannot stand on its own without its point of origin. The entire genre is referential by nature, you’re not just using another creator’s work as inspiration for your own work, you’re writing stories in that creator’s world. It’s more akin to tracing than fanart, which is where fanfiction acts as an excellent learning tool. You can learn a lot about drawing and drawing well from tracing. You can learn a lot about writing and writing well from fanfiction, whether you’re working within the provided template, practicing other styles outside your own, or taking the work apart and restructuring it in new and different ways to fit your imagination. Fanfiction’s problem when transitioning to an original work is in its contextual reliance on another narrative. You’re using a complete creation as your launch pad, there are going to be problems baked into the very bones of your narrative you may not even be aware of; even in a completely different story which only uses the characters of the original work like your Coffee Shop AU.

At the end of the day, fanfiction is all about playing in someone else’s sandbox and, no matter how cool the castle is, everything you’ve built is full of their sand.

The professional form of fanfiction is tie-in fiction. With tie-in fiction, the work is written with the expectation you’re already aware of the property the story is based on and its world, meaning you know many of the rules, foibles, characterization, and world building coming in. This means, none of it needs to be explained to your reader. You can skip it. This is a serious problem if you’re trying to convert a fanfic into an original work. A lot of the steps you could skip as a fanfic writer cannot be skipped with original fiction because an original work lacks the benefit of prior understanding. As I said, the issue for an original work conversion is in the bones of your fanfiction rather than the surface read. This has nothing to do with a writer’s skill, but rather their intention when they originally started writing and all the aspects of a work they accidentally brought with them when they copied.

If you go back and review each of the examples I listed, you’ll find those works can all stand on their own merits. However you may feel about the authors or the quality of the work itself, none of them require prior knowledge from having read the original source material to understand the story, the characters, and their world. You don’t need to have read Beowulf to understand The Lord of the Rings. You don’t need a Cambridge scholar’s understanding of European myth in general to enjoy The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit, though it may enhance your experience and the same is true for The Lord of the Rings vis-à-vis the entire fantasy genre. You don’t need to know Robert Jordan was deconstructing The Lord of the Rings and the Chosen One trope to enjoy The Wheel of Time, just like you don’t need to have read Pride and Prejudice to enjoy Bridget Jones’s Diary. That’s the difference between inspiration and fanfiction. One is a complete work capable of standing on its own merits outside of required prior knowledge and the other is inherently tied to the prior work in the very fundamentals of the text.

The necessity of context is why you can’t just palette swap the surface of your fanfiction and call it ready for publication. We need to go deeper. When drafting and rewriting, the butterfly effect is real. When you change one thing, whether it’s events in a single scene or a single decision, much less an entire character, you alter your narrative’s internal logic. Internal logic is what your plot runs on. It’s the basis on which all your characters are making their decisions (Why you? Why now?) to propel your narrative forward. In a palette swap of a fanfiction for an original work, you no longer have the characters you were previously using for your plot. Their world is different and, as a result, they are different people. Your reader no longer has the benefit of prior knowledge regarding the character’s history, their characterization, and no expectation for how they’re supposed to behave. The butterfly effect kicks in.

Let me give you an example, you’ve written a piece of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine fanfiction with Julian Bashere in the starring role. He’s trapped on a prison planet controlled by The Dominion with Miles and Kira (and Ducat.) The scientists in charge of the prison planet want his help unlocking the secrets of an ancient alien technology that’s been lost to the ages. Julian is torn between his love of science and his hatred for the enemy, all the while his friends are secretly plotting an escape behind his back.

Okay, we’ve decided to make our changes. We now have Not-Julian in an industrialized fantasy setting trapped on a fantasy prison island reminiscent of Australia and Alcatraz. No one has ever escaped from it. He’s a freedom fighter captured by the ruling regime after they conquered his homeland, and we know he committed some sort of horrible crime but the details are kept secret. He’s in love with Not-Miles, and Not-Kira is a complete stranger. The scientists in charge of the facility want his help unlocking the secrets of an ancient fantasy technology that belonged to a long dead race of a previous era. He’s no longer torn about helping them and is focused only on his own survival. All the while, his lover is being blackmailed by a complete stranger and secretly plotting an escape behind his back.

Have you noticed the problems with the narrative’s internal logic yet? Why do the scientists need Not-Julian, who is just a freedom fighter?

The problem for this setup is that Julian Bashere is not just a Starfleet doctor. He is a minor celebrity within his field and considered one of the greatest scientific minds of his generation, meaning it makes perfect sense within the narrative for even highly advanced alien races to turn to him or blackmail him for help. If you take that prior knowledge away without adding any additional justification that supports his level of involvement within the plot (like not just being a brilliant and famous scientist, but also being a specialist) and let it run… it no longer makes sense, especially the degree of access to sensitive information Not-Julian gets within the narrative as a result. In fact, the decision to keep this the same makes your narrative worse. Now you no longer have a narrative running on internal logic, you have external logic. External logic is when the justification and reasoning for a character to know what they know comes from outside the story. The narrative’s justification for Not-Julian’s position is now “because he’s our POV and main character.” That’s bad writing.

This is the butterfly effect. You wrote your story for one set of characters as the driving force of the action and now those characters are different people. They live in a different world, have different stimuli, different needs, and potentially completely different backgrounds. It’s the same as when you do an adaptation but change important key details at the beginning and keep the same end result. You weaken your narrative because the chain of events which justified that ending is now broken. How does your story as written make sense? It doesn’t. Unless, you start from the very beginning and do all the important detail work in the building blocks to reorient the character and their world into a new, harmonized existence.

This is where an old axiom becomes very important:

Bad writers copy.

Good writers steal.

A lot of fanfic writers hear the first section “bad writers copy” and immediately think it pertains to them, and it doesn’t. (However, if “bad writers copy” did just make you feel defensive then your brain’s gone and told on you. Congrats. You’re copying.) 

The difference between JRR Tolkien and fanfic is that JRR Tolkien stole. He stole flagrantly, he stole shamelessly, and he made all of it his own within the context of his narrative, his characterization, and his worldbuilding.

If you want to convert a work, you need to steal. You need to take someone else’s property and make it wholly your own. There are lots of ways you can achieve this, one of the easiest is actually going harder toward the original property rather than running from it. You don’t need to change everything if the world your characters exist in remains mostly the same. In the case of Star Trek, there’s an entire genre influenced by its existence.

Okay, let’s go back to Not-Julian. How could you restructure the scenario to keep your narrative’s goals mostly in line with your original fanfiction? Let’s see.

After a failed rebellion against the Federation of Planets, freedom fighter Jackson Ran is sentenced to the prison moon of Azkabar; a place from which no one has ever escaped. Together with his lover, Mac, and their CO, Kendra, he’s destined to spend the rest of his life mining duranium for the enemy. However, Doctor Jaybrin of the Federation soon arrives to make Jackson an offer.

Once Jackson was a star scientist studying the technology of the lost alien race. Jaybrin needs Jackon’s help unlocking a key genome keeping the Federation from accessing their surviving weapons technology. In return for Jackson’s help, Jaybrin will use his influence to provide Mac safer work, better meals, and living quarters. With Mac’s health taking a turn for the worse, Jackson can’t refuse.

As Jackson grows closer with Jaybrin, Mac and Kendra plot their escape from Azkabar. A plan Mac knows he must keep from Jackson now that the love of his life has become the enemy.

Reminder, this was our fanfiction:

Julian Bashere’s trapped on a prison planet controlled by The Dominion with Miles and Kira (and Ducat.) The scientists in charge of the prison planet want his help unlocking the secrets of an ancient alien technology that’s been lost to the ages. Julian is torn between his love of science and his hatred for the enemy, all the while his friends are secretly plotting an escape behind his back.

The narrative of the new original work remains very similar to the DS9 fanfiction, however, many of the key details which allowed the narrative to function remain the same. The themes and goals of the work are the same, and it doesn’t scream Star Trek. You’ve just got a sci-fi novel.

One of the downsides of fanfiction is that it can lead to authors feeling illegitimate, even delegitimized, like their work isn’t as valid because they’re using another person’s creativity as a launchpad. This sense of illegitimacy overwhelms the author’s original goals and can lead to them running from their story, trying to make it as different as possible to cover up it’s fanfiction origins. That’s the one direction you shouldn’t take.

It’s important to remember we’re all influenced and all inspired by the media in our lives. We can even begin to feel reliant on others for our creativity. Remember that the goal of converting your work from fanfiction to original fiction is for your work to stand on its own without being reliant on contextual knowledge or outside structural support. It doesn’t have to be good. (It could be.) It doesn’t have to be successful. (It could be.) It just needs a self-contained existence. You don’t need to be ashamed of your novel’s origins. Recognize that while your story needs to change, it doesn’t need to change drastically. If you read the works I mentioned and the original fanfiction back to back, you may notice that on a surface read they do feel remarkably like a palate swap. Yet each one is capable of standing on its own merits. Why? 

These works didn’t stray that far from their authors’ original intentions. They were given the grounding in worldbuilding and characterization to allow a reader with no prior knowledge or fandom background to jump straight in.

A self-contained existence is the real dividing line between fanfiction and original fiction.

-Michi

This blog is supported through Patreon. If you enjoy our content, please consider becoming a Patron. Every contribution helps keep us online, and writing. If you already are a Patron, thank you, and come join us on Discord.

The Fight Scenes in Ava and the Importance of Tempo

Anonymous asked:

What do u think about the fight in Ava movie (u can find it in YT searching “Ava – Jessica Chastain – [Hotel Fight]”)?

It’s serviceable.

This is me saying, “it’s fine.” Not great, but not terrible either. It’s mostly just, “eh.” If you’re a veteran viewer of these types of action movies, you can tell the director really made an effort for the stylistic realism of similar thrillers like The Bourne Identity, but lacked the practice and familiarity with these sorts of scenes to carry it off. Which, really, shouldn’t surprise anyone looking at his filmography.

I want to make it clear that if there’s any failures here (and there are), it’s on the part of the director and not the actors. I’m also going to ignore Colin Farrell in this scene because I’ve seen him in better action movies, and he’s doing a really good job of moderating his performance. (For the record, this is an actor skill level issue and not a gender one. Farrell is skilled at adjusting his performance to his costar and he largely deserves credit for the equal footing here. Cinematic fight scenes are cooperative, not combative and the best stuntmen make the actors look amazing. Look at this scene with Colin Farrell and Edward Norton from Pride and Glory. Farrell can’t take entire credit for speed here, because the film has actually been sped up.)

It’s not on the level of Bourne’s let me kill you six or seven times in thirty seconds, but the beautiful cinematography that’s reflective in movies like Bourne, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Salt, or Charlize Theron’s Atomic Blonde isn’t there. If you want hyper realistic gun work, you go to Michael Mann films like Collateral and, more recently, though not a Michael Mann production, John Wick. If you compare to fight scenes from these films, you’ll notice Ava’s fight scene itself is neither hyper-realistic, nor visually interesting. That’s the real kiss of death here, and why it’s serviceable.

The gun sequence was fine, Farrell was doing a sloppy CAR which is why he looks a little wonky compared to Chastain, but it fell apart when they hit the hand to hand section. The hits aren’t in the same zip code as the opponent’s face, there’s a painful lack of force, and it’s very slow even at the very beginning. It’s almost levels of Buffy first season bad, where 90% of the fight scenes is very obviously just the stunt doubles going at it. Compare to this fight sequence from Into the Badlands with Emily Beecham, can you track how many times she’s switched out for her stunt double? (Hint: it’s almost all the long shots with acrobatic stunts, and a few of the back shots.) The way it’s intercut, you’d probably never notice.

And that is where the problem for Ava lies. In terms of pacing, it plods.

Into the Badlands is choreographed by a stunt team out of Hong Kong, it’s all in the wuxia tradition, and doesn’t give two shits realism. Ava is trying for faux Hollywood realism over stylized violence, but doesn’t want to commit to it.

Part of the problem for Ava is there’s a distinctive speed difference in hand to hand combat where the stunt doubles are performing versus when the actors are, which hurts the scene’s pacing. And, there’s always a difference in tempo between stunt doubles and the actors, but when the difference is vast, it hurts believability. Again, the scene is really useful if you’re trying to parse what makes violence interesting and watchable outside of narrative context, because the director hasn’t figured it out. He’s imitating other styles he’s seen but has yet to settle on a distinctive one of his own. The fight scene also lacks visual personality to set it apart from other mediocre action films.

I mean, if all you want is hot women kicking ass then you’ve got Luc Besson’s entire filmography and Chastain is not sexualized any less here than the women in Besson’s films. (And, yes, I’m aware of the allegations against him, and, if you’ve watched his movies, they’d come as no surprise. He’s really on brand for Hollywood’s faux strong female character, pop feminism, kickass sex doll. It’s a lot harder to throw a coin and not hit a sexual predator when trying to learn things, so consume your media wisely.) Compare Ava’s fight scene here to Anna’s, both are technically superhero assassins. You can feel the tempo difference, and it’s not just because one is a group fight scene. (This scene from Anna also has a long cut where it’s just the stunt double, can you find her?)

One of the neat tricks from Anna’s fight scene is the broken plate, because the plate is broken and therefore bladed, the actor doesn’t have to pretend they’re putting in more force in order to be convincing.

So, how can you use film choreography to improve your own fight scenes?

One thing to remember is that film is a visual medium where the written word is mental and, potentially, auditory. You get further with sensation, and your goal is to ultimately be convincing rather than right. The reason to Learn How Things Work is so you get to pick and choose your own rules, you decide what to keep and what to discard in the service of your work rather than being bound by someone else’s choices. If you can define reality, you can create it.

You can learn a lot about staging from film, the usage of environmental props, and start training your mind to consider where your characters are fighting and what they can potentially use.

Choreography is very important. Choreography is a large part of what makes violence engaging outside of emotional involvement via the narrative. (Violence on its own is actually boring.)

Stuntman queuing is remarkably useful when balancing group fights on the page where you sometimes need to drop and pick up minor characters in text.

Lending weight to your character’s hits. One of the major differences between good fight scenes and bad fight scenes on film is the weight of the onscreen hit. If a hit feels heavy i.e. the force appears to have been generated for it, it feels more real. Otherwise, you’re just relying on motion to entertain the eye.

Your audience has a basic understanding of physics, so certain tactics will look more real than others. (Regardless of whether or not they’re factually true.)

The importance of setting goals with your fight scenes for tone and impact, just like all your scenes.

The more you learn, the larger your toolbox is.

-Michi

This blog is supported through Patreon. If you enjoy our content, please consider becoming a Patron. Every contribution helps keep us online, and writing. If you already are a Patron, thank you, and come join us on Discord.

Q&A: Let’s Talk About Force

How do I portray injuries and how it affects people during fights correctly? There’s always portrayals of bones cracking, blood spewing from mouth, direct hits to the head and other weak points, etc during fights. Yet they continue on fighting, or if they go down, they’re up soon. But exactly how much can someone take or continue to fight after such injuries? Assuming more or less normal humans, no superpowers, but they might be in very good condition.

Most of what you’re describing is Hollywood’s license, but your teeth aren’t as well secured inside your mouth as most people think. If you don’t lock your jaw when you’re struck, you’re at risk for biting the inside of your cheek or even biting off parts of your tongue. (That’s why we wear mouthguards.) This is where the spitting of the blood comes from. Direct hits to the head are bad, but you can sometimes focus through them depending on the severity of the injury. (Also, what hit you in the head and how hard.)

The practical answer for learning how to portray injuries is to take martial arts classes. Not because you’re going to get hurt, but because you’ll learn how people fight, what martial arts techniques are designed to do, and mind over matter. Write what you know is real advice and it’s good advice, and if you don’t know — learn. (And I mean learn in a safe environment from professionals and not by trying to throw punches in a backyard. YouTube is supplementary.) There’s a physicality to violence, even recreational, sport violence, that has to be experienced before you can replicate it accurately.

Learning the limitations of adrenaline is also useful. When your body’s adrenaline kicks in, you feel significantly less pain from injuries received. (This doesn’t mean the injuries are any less severe because you can’t feel them.) When your mind isn’t aware of pain, you can force your body to do some pretty insane things. Adrenaline is your body’s natural reaction during periods of high activity, danger, or acts as a response to stress. It’s there to help you survive, but doesn’t always work in beneficial ways.

The other way to really understand injuries is to study medicine, particularly the outcomes of shootings, bar fights, and other violent encounters. This one is going to be dependent on how strong your stomach is.

So, how far are you willing to go for your art?

Fortunately, most readers don’t care about accuracy. Most people couldn’t tell you the difference between the use of a spear and the use of a bow when hunting. They couldn’t tell you how long deep bruises last (or any bruises) or the length of time it takes to recover from a sprain, much less a broken bone. They don’t realize muscular conditioning decays over time. They don’t know how deep a knife needs to penetrate in order to hinder the movement of your muscles (not very) or how even your sweat can become deadly. Hell, most people don’t know bullets go through walls, car doors, couches, and chairs.

You have a lot more room to maneuver than you think and that means you get to choose the degree of reality you want. No one is going to care so long as you create a facsimile within your narrative that feels real from the bottom to the top. That is suspension of disbelief’s power.

Let’s get started.

The first truth you must accept is that everything you see from Hollywood is inaccurate unless the work specifically went out of it’s way to be accurate, and even then it’s subject to artistic license. (And, it’s important to grasp this because everything you do as a writer is subject to artistic license. Sometimes the presentation is a failing on the part of the creators and sometimes it’s a choice.)

Everything about Hollywood violence is structured around entertainment, including the injuries.

Every Hollywood action hero, whether we’re told they have super powers or not, is actually a superhero because they can walk off inhuman levels of punishment.

Even Bruce Willis’ John McClain in the original Die Hard, which is an action film devoted cataloguing the kind of injuries one would realistically sustain while engaging in heroic antics and using John’s accumulation of ever more grievous injuries to propel the narrative forward, isn’t entirely realistic. Hollywood most often uses the puffy, swollen, blackened, ugly way someone’s face looks after getting socked multiple times as comedy. If you want an example of the vast gap between semi-reality and the fiction you consume regularly, watch the first Die Hard and then the last Die Hard back to back.

The reality of the levels of punishment which can be endured is for someone to keep fighting? More than you imagine, but not much as you’d think. You’re not going to walk off a broken leg. The average street fight lasts twenty five seconds. That’s twenty five seconds, not twenty five minutes, and that’s people who don’t know what they’re doing. We romanticize violence to the point where we forget that martial combat is the science of injuring and killing other humans. Humans as a species are very good at killing each other, we’ve spent epochs developing the art. (That doesn’t mean you, the individual, would automatically be good at it or have any native instinct for it. The type of violence most people imagine are learned skills.)

The goal of a professional is to end the threat as quickly as possible while reducing the risk to yourself. The shape this goal takes fluctuates based on context and circumstance, but ultimately stays the same. Risk assessment is important for a writer to learn because their character’s ability to assess risk and their ability to create risk creates tension.

The question of injuries is a question of force application. This is me saying that when you’re asking about injuries, you’re looking at the end result rather than the beginning. Writing strong fight scenes relies on understanding the physicality of violence, which translates to — physics.

If I hit you on a straight line, you will go backwards. If I hit you on a diagonal, you will go sideways. The amount you move may depend on how you set your weight (stance) or how much force I used. Force is generated by momentum, momentum is generated by motion, the more momentum you have the greater the force applied. A kick hits harder than a punch, a kick or punch that is spinning will hit harder than standing, and flying (or jumping) hits hardest of all. A combination of running, jumping, and spinning is top tier. And no, you probably won’t get up quickly from somebody delivering a standing jump front kick to your face, much less a running jump front kick. You might not get up at all. 

Note: a standing jump front kick is when you go from zero to jump front kick without any additional movement. This is different from a popup jump front kick, which is also standing but both legs leave the ground at the same time. In the traditional jump front kick, the front knee pumps first to gain height and the jumping leg is the kicking leg. The kicking leg chambers mid air, the kick completes at the height of the jump, and you land. What this means is someone can theoretically take a jump front kick to the face while standing within distance for your average conversation. (Think about that for a second. Now consider, the popup was designed to conserve even more space because you go straight up rather than forward and up.)

However, the greater the momentum, the larger the motion. The larger the motion, the more effort it takes and the more the motion is visible, and that means the greater chance the strike will miss. Wasted energy is costly. Missing leaves you open to retaliation. That’s why small effective movements are valued over larger, more difficult ones, and also why weapons exist.

What hit you and where?

The problem with lack of knowledge is you think you’re asking a question that’s easy to answer, but isn’t because the subject is actually vast. Large bodies of fiction and nonfiction are dedicated to your question. It’s a good metaphor for the complex reality of life. The reality is most of what people can do or can’t do, will do or won’t do, comes down to the individual.

A better approach to writing fight scenes is to break down the individual injuries the character sustained and try to figure out what your character’s reaction is.

Your character just got cracked across the face and spat one of their molars onto the pavement, how does that make them feel?

Your character’s nose is broken. This inhibits their ability to breathe, to seek, to smell, to talk without sounding very strange, and it hurts. Can they focus?

Your character got stabbed in their shoulder joint. They can no longer use their right arm to fight. What do they do?

Most violence is designed to be debilitating to reduce your opponent’s combat effectiveness even if you don’t succeed in your primary goal. The pain you feel is incidental because the full extent may not even be felt until the fight is over, meaning pain isn’t a guaranteed deterrent or even a distraction. Your character can ignore pain, but they can’t ignore the breath that got knocked out of their lungs. They can’t ignore a swelling eye impeding their ability to see. They can’t ignore blood from a split eyebrow bleeding into their eye. They can’t ignore a direct strike to their throat damaging their ability to breathe, even if it’s just in the short term. Maybe they can ignore the strike they took to their shoulder or directly to the joint, but they also can’t because the damage means their arm is moving more slowly. That arm moving more slowly, even if it’s only slightly or isn’t stopped completely, is a victory. A slower arm creates gaps in defense, damages an opponent’s internal sense of timing, allowing a fighter to get closer to a more vital target. Injuries sustained in one fight can result in death during another, even if you win.

Everyone has their limit, but nebulous generalities don’t help setting those limits. The goal for you is to figure out what your character’s limits are and then write within them or the character’s struggles in pushing past those limits. Limits are mental and they’re physical, most often set by what a character believes they can do versus what they can actually do.

So, you know, set two limits. The one that can’t be surpassed and the one made to be broken.

-Michi

This blog is supported through Patreon. If you enjoy our content, please consider becoming a Patron. Every contribution helps keep us online, and writing. If you already are a Patron, thank you, and come join us on Discord.

Q&A: The Truth in 1vX and How it Works

Is it just a trope that your MC can handle fighting multiple lackeys at once especially when they’re treated like useless who get cut down with barely a fight and then be evenly matched 1v1 with the big bad? or perhps this only makes sense if the lackeys are uncombat trained.

The way 1vX is treated in fiction as a method to establish the main character’s prowess and build up the Big Bad is just a fictional trope.

However, the 1vX is a very important (perhaps even foundational) trope for any sort of action narrative and there’s a real world reason (or, really, several important reasons) which provides the basis for both the trope’s existence and its popularity.

In the real world, fighting multiple opponents at once, especially without any weapons or armaments that provide a significant advantage against your foes (such as staff versus sword, even multiple swords, or unarmored versus plate) is nearly impossible. You are almost guaranteed death. Numbers matter, two people of mediocre skill or even no skill can overwhelm one well-trained individual. The scenario’s 1 has to manage a lot of incoming information at once with zero margin for error. A good analogy for 1vX is juggling live knives while someone hurls rocks at your head or shoots at you with a gun, one slip and it’s goodbye. Now, real people do survive these encounters, but that’s largely a matter of luck. Many more who find themselves in these situations, who are just as skilled or even more skilled, are critically injured or die. The real world doesn’t have skill plateaus the way fiction or video games do. Martial training is about giving yourself a better chance at survival, it doesn’t assure your survival. Nothing can assure your survival.

So, why is the 1vX so popular? The logic is simple. If your hero can survive fighting multiple enemies at once, or, even better, do so with ease, they must be supremely skilled. The commander of these opponents, especially the ones who pressure the skilled hero, must, by extension, also be extremely skilled as they’re capable of keeping these well-trained individuals under control. Better yet, a 1vX provides the opportunity to pressure and showcase your character’s skills in ways a 1v1 simply can’t. For visual mediums, these scenes are often visually interesting due to the constant movement and highly entertaining.

If you can successfully pull it off, 1vX is the ultimate form of show.

Honestly, the number of times I’ve heard players in various MMOs ask for “1vX builds” for PvP (it’s a lot) should tell you how popular and imagination grabbing the concept is. Coming across a skilled PvPer is one place in the “real world” where you can see the trope come alive. And, as someone who has 1vX’ed in Elder Scrolls Online, I can tell you, there’s a rush that comes with knocking off four other players at once or healing through the combined damage of a zerg. 1vX means Supreme Skill because very few people can 1vX well or successfully, placing those who can among the best, which earns respect. (Again, video games are not reflective of the real world outside of psychological warfare.)

So, in theory, a character who can 1vX is a character in a very small, elite skill pool. In theory, their opponent should be established as a better warrior than they are. The end result is an easy build up to a very interesting fight within your narrative. I say, in theory, because, like 1vXing in the real world, the reality of crafting a good 1vX fight scene is far more difficult than one might imagine it to be. It’s not enough to write your character fighting, they have to fight convincingly.

A bad 1vX scene can easily show the opposite of your intention, establishing your character as someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing or, worse, a character who’s victories come from the power of plot. A bad 1vX scene is the main character in Gameboard of the Gods, who, while trying to save her future love interest from a gang of six, stopped to put each one in a submission hold and left the others with plenty of time to kill the person she was trying to rescue. That’s bad.

1vX is about showing your character’s ability to prioritize threats. It is about showing their ability to manage the battlefield and control the flow of combat. These are highly advanced skills that can’t be learned from watching a couple of MMA bouts. It’s not just about their physical skill, but their intelligence, their cleverness, their battlefield awareness, their tactical capability, their ability to strategize on the fly, utilize their environment, and effectively choose which skills serve them best in achieving their long term goals. 1vX is not about fighting multiple opponents, it’s about managing threats and prioritizing the dangers within the group. It’s a masterclass in effectively selecting who dies first.

In 1vX, you can’t sit around individually fighting 1v1 or you’ll die. When your focus is locked on one opponent, the others will jump you. You can’t sit around fighting forever. When they wear you down (and they will), you’re dead. You need to knock off threats, remove their numbers, and lose the support players. Cleanly forcing submissions takes time, and, when you’re fighting against multiple opponents, you don’t have ten minutes to choke someone out and hope they won’t wake up five seconds later. You don’t even have thirty seconds for a blood choke. You’ve got about a second to stick your knife in your opponent’s carotid and hope you’ve got it deep enough that after you pull it free they bleed out.

The reality of 1vX on film is that you’re not really seeing 1vX, so much as you’re seeing 1v1v1v1v1v1v1v1v1v1v1v1v1v1v1v1v1v1 multiplied by the number of available stuntmen; with a maybe added bonus of 1v2 if your actor and stunt team are up to par. Film practices a system called queuing where the actor or their stunt double is only (stage) fighting one person at a time and everybody takes their turn, but the group is being shuffled in such a way that general audiences don’t usually notice. The practice is elevated to visual art by martial artists like Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee, Jean Claude Van Damme, Jet Li, Michelle Yeoh, and Chuck Norris. And can be painfully obvious when done poorly, or in low budget. (Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s early seasons are an example of queuing at it’s worst. Black Widow’s hallway fight scene in Iron Man 2 isn’t bad, but is a good example to really see queuing in action. Loaded Weapon used the stuntman queue as a sight gag.) It’s a visual sleight of hand, but is a useful system for authors to learn for a medium where you don’t have live bodies and actions only happen in words on the page. Queueing is about convincing your audience that your character is fighting multiple opponents, while making life a little easier for yourself.

If you want to be able to write good 1vX fights, you need to gain an appreciation for how much skill it requires for someone to fight 1vX. More importantly, you need to actually respect your mooks, and put in the work to establish them. If your mooks suck and are treated as useless, low level flunkies, fighting them doesn’t make your character look good or skilled. A threat that isn’t a real threat does nothing to establish a character’s prowess or your Big Bad’s effectiveness. A Big Bad with crappy flunkies isn’t that scary and does nothing to enhance your hero. This is the Cycle of Enhancement. Your mooks exist to make your hero look good, your mooks looking good enhances the danger presented by your main villain, your hero looking good beating your mooks enhances the danger presented by the main villain who is established to be more powerful than the hero.

Your audience can write off the supporting background characters, but you, the author, should never do so.

– Michi

This blog is supported through Patreon. If you enjoy our content, please consider becoming a Patron. Every contribution helps keep us online, and writing. If you already are a Patron, thank you, and come join us on Discord.

PS: And because I walk my talk, here’s a screenshot from one of my quad kill matches in ESO.

https://cdn.discordapp.com/attachments/802337967329902612/867590890322395206/Screenshot_20190123_060716-1024x576.png
I’m Elyssa Frey up there.

Q&A: Nerding Out, There’s no Shortcuts for Research and Learning

Anonymous said to howtofightwrite:

Do you have any tips on thinking up interesting fight scenes and how to get ideas on movements, weapon use etc? 🙂

In a way, you’re trying to run before you can stand by putting emphasis on interesting. By interesting, I assume you mean spectacle, which isn’t a criticism. All Hollywood fight scenes in cinema (with a few rare exceptions) prioritize spectacle over realism. It’s important to remember that spectacle is visual entertainment i.e. the scenes are geared to specifically capture the imagination via movement that you watch. Spectacle doesn’t translate readily to the page because it’s a different medium. The “set you on your ass” realization which should come with that is every fight scene you watch in live action from the excellent to the terrible is choreographed by martial arts masters with decades of experience and a team of stuntmen whose entire job is creating an entertaining sequence in line with the director’s vision. This is in line with every published author you’ve read having spent decades honing their craft.

That’s why I say “don’t try to run before you can stand” because when you’re at zero the worst person to compare yourself to is master. It’s only after you gain appreciation for the art, learn how tall the mountain is, how much effort went into scaling it, and begin the climb yourself that you write interesting fight scenes.

The art of writing is really, at the end of the day, the art of being a perpetual student. You get ideas by learning what things are, how they work, and why. Martial arts from martial history to the uses of violence in the real world, the effect of violence on the psyche, the changes training makes to both the body and and the mind, to it’s use in modern day entertainment is all on the table to be learned. So, pick up a book, crack open YouTube, it’s time to study.

An interesting fight scene, requires an interesting scene, which requires an interesting story...

Consider you’ve been consuming violence through media for your entire life but when the time came to put your ideas to the page, you didn’t know how to bring them out. That’s because even though you’ve watched carefully sanitized violence occur on your television, you don’t understand the grounding behind it, how it works, and why. Learning and consuming are distinct and separate skills. Beginning to critically examine the media you consume to figure out how these stories have the effect they do and why is an important first step.

A good fight scene is ultimately built on the nuts and bolts provided by a lot of other scenes to build a good story. Violence in entertainment acts as a form of catharsis. Catharsis is the release of narrative tension rather than the building of it. After every fight scene you need to build tension again within the consequences of the action and the decisions made by your characters, unless that release of tension is at the end of your story.

A good fight scene is a payoff for the goals and motivations of your characters, and treated as intrinsic to who they are rather than the way they fight acting as a separate aspect or aesthetic bolted on top of them. On a functional level, violence is an act of problem solving. A fight scene is your characters choosing to solve their problem in this particular way and it is imperative that you, the author, establish the groundwork for their decision before the scene occurs.

Interesting fight scenes are created by interesting characters making interesting decisions and dealing with the resulting fallout from their choices. Consequences are part of what establish “realism” or create the suspension of disbelief.

When you write a story, you create a pact with your reader. A promise that your story will function in accordance with the rules and laws you’ve set forth that govern your setting. It doesn’t matter what genre you write in, whether that’s fantasy or contemporary. When you break your rules for whatever reason, even if it’s to save your characters, you break your audience’s suspension of disbelief and your fiction dies. Basically, if you write yourself into a corner with a villain who is too strong and/or imbalanced against your protagonists, be brave enough to let them win and learn to balance your narrative better next time.

The rules you create are intrinsic to your fight scenes and maintaining your audience’s suspension of disbelief, and you will be tempted to break these rules when you run into issues, such as characters being injured, or captured, or dying when you don’t want them to. Or not being willing to to put your main cast in real jeopardy, to risk their lives because you need them for other parts of the story down the line. Your story runs on its own internal logic and there’s a lot of ways you can completely fuck your stakes for a “cool” moment. And, honestly, you will. Failure is a key part of learning. You’ll learn by trying out ideas and coming up empty, but every failure feeds into every success. You won’t know how to balance tension in your story until you learn to balance tension in your story.

Basically, you’ll never learn how to write an interesting fight scene until you master the art of writing an interesting scene. You can’t get anywhere if your audience doesn’t care.

Think critically about the media you consume…

I know I said this above, but this is important. If you want to tell interesting stories, you need to learn how stories work and the best way to learn how they work is by critically analyzing the media you consume. The best ideas you’re going to get for your own scenes is through what you see whether that’s in fiction, live action film/television, comics, cartoons, anime, history, or from the people in your life.

Ask questions. Like, why did I enjoy this? What specifically about this scene did I enjoy? How did the author get me to feel this? What were the previous scenes that built into this moment within the narrative?

Art begins in imitation. There are no original ideas, just interesting interpretations and influences/inspirations the audience may not immediately recognize. The works of those you love will become part of you, they’ll inspire you, and factor into the stories you tell. We color within the lines until we become dissatisfied with self-imposed limitations and want to draw outside them.

By learning how the stories you love work and function, what inspired their creators, what influenced their work, you can choose what aspects you’ll take with you and what you’ll leave behind. Otherwise, in copying, you’ll grab a lot of the nuts and bolts working under the surface that you didn’t intend. It’s cool to love Star Trek and it’s characters, and want to adopt them into your own work, but if you don’t take the time to understand Rodenberry’s goals in his writing, his themes and intentions, then those themes, ideals, and beliefs (which are built into the character’s bones) are coming with you whether you want them or not.

A story is never just a string of actions. By stepping beyond imitation, by going full theft, sacrificing the original into the flames of your imagination, you leapfrog off inspiration to your own creation.

If you’re not sure how to do this, there’s plenty of excellent critical breakdowns of media properties all over YouTube to show you the way.

Love Star Wars and want to write a story like it? Read Dune. Watch Akira Kurosawa’s filmography, watch the Westerns which inspired Kurosawa, and then watch the Westerns that were inspired by him. Study the psychological texts and philosophy of Carl Jung. Then, watch Star Wars again. The interpretations of interpretations through the lens of an interpretation or inspiration can help you gain new understanding for how something you love is put together.

The only trade off is you’ll never see that work the same way again.

Learn all the things…

You want to get ideas for how humans move for your fight scenes, you need to learn how humans move.

Again, you can find inspiration for this anywhere. Go to the park and watch people run around. Take a martial arts class. Sign up for fencing. Watch videos online. Ideas are everywhere. Once you have an idea, once you see something you like, commit to learning about it, learn everything about it that you can. Start with regular Google searches and escalate from there. Become a nerd.

Seriously, become a nerd.

If you love Rurouni Kenshin learn about Kendo, Iaido, Jiu-Jutsu, and the other samurai arts, study the Meiji period of Japanese history and the real individuals a lot of the characters were based on. Read historical accounts of duels between samurai. Read The Book of the Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi. Learn how the katana cuts in comparison to other swords of it’s type. Watch videos where sword nerds tear the myth of the katana apart. Hell, play Hakuoki for a completely alternative take on the Shinsengumi.

Be a nerd.

Personally, I watch the fights of the Fate/Stay Night series a lot. I maintain subscriptions to most streaming services. I kept all my college texts. My shelves are full of all kinds of pencil and paper RPGs, books of myth, books on magic including ones that catalogue real historical events people thought were magic, political texts, philosophy texts, books on martial arts from various different masters, comics, instructional manuals on writing, survival manuals, lots of fantasy novels, etc. I keep tons of reference material on hand from a lifetime of collecting, and you should start a collection too. You should also love the internet and your local library because we artists are poor.

Writing is an art, writing well takes work, but it’s a craft that can be learned if you’re willing to put effort into learning it. Learning to make use of a world full of reference material will help you.

-Michi

This blog is supported through Patreon. If you enjoy our content, please consider becoming a Patron. Every contribution helps keep us online, and writing. If you already are a Patron, thank you, and come join us on Discord.

Q&A: The Rapier, the Cloak, and the Whip

antiv3nom said to howtofightwrite:

hi! i know in the gtn post y’all did, you mentioned that capes and whips can be used as offhand weapons for rapiers, but i haven’t been able to find any good resources on how exactly that would work, so could you many explain some of the basics? apologies if this is outside your wheelhouse!!

I mean, a little, but we can get you moving in the right direction.

One of the best resources for historical martial arts is free and it’s Wikitenaur.

At Wikitenaur, you can read translations of historical martial arts treatises of created by fencing masters from the 14th to the 19th century from the German to the Engish to the French and the Spanish. Reading the treatises can be a little dense if you lack a grounding in martial arts, or any familiarity reading historical manuals that (while some have pictures) won’t provide too many definitions as they were written with the expectation readers already had a knowledge base. However, there’s a lot of great information here about all types of different weapons combat from the sword to the baton to medieval grappling techniques to fighting in armor versus without armor, all in addition to whatever else you might be looking for regarding the rapier. Useful to know about. Useful to use.

(This is where I found information on using the whip with a rapier, though I don’t recall which Master pointed it out. It wasn’t common, but it worked.) You’re probably better off looking at Filipino Escrima, or the whip itself separately. It’s a weapon that is very difficult to practice with safely, so you won’t find as many videos with people messing around with one.

I’ll discuss the whip’s general uses as a off hand harassment tool below.

Let’s talk about The Cloak:

The cloak is used in a way that somewhat similar as a tool of harassment, visual disruption, and also as a quasi-shield. It should make sense that the cloak was far more common as an off-hand tool. People wore cloaks, and any too you have already on hand is always better than a tool you have to remember to bring with you. The cloak is actually a really good one too.

Matt Easton discusses the uses for the cloak in fencing here. (He has a lot of really useful videos about Historical European Martial Arts.)

Giovanni Rapisardi gives a more in depth demonstration with the cloak. (Video is in Italian with subtitles.)

An hour long crash course from the Tavern Knight’s Barracks with a lot of discussion on the cloak.

Martin Fabian’s The Fabulous Cape video is Part 8 of his Learn the Rapier series.

This video from Salle Saint-George demos the Spanish rapier with the cloak, this might be helpful for some of you as the Spanish rapier is, at times, visually different from it’s Italian counterpart. I’ll include this video of Italian style versus Spanish style from DennisLuko for emphasis.

Then, two dudes from the Academy of Historical Fencing who show that just chucking a cloak at your opponent is a viable combat move.

Basically, the trick with the cloak is that if you wrap it properly around your arm, you create an excellent guard against cuts. (Thick fabric, there’s a reason you shouldn’t underestimate padded armor.) The cloak hangs over part of your body, obscuring your low-line from your opponent’s sight. You can use the cloak as a harassment tool, you can swing it at them to distract and visually cloak your own movements while thrusting (not unlike a matador), even wrapping and trapping an opponent’s blade for a disarm. You can even chuck it into their face. If the cloak is brightly colored, that adds to the visual confusion for your opponent as they attempt to hit you.

Useful, fashionable, and you were probably already wearing one.

Now, let’s discuss everyone’s favorite off hand for Zorro, The Whip:

This was never a popular choice. The whip was not a common weapon to see on the streets of Western Europe and, even the shorter lengths are difficult to use in densely packed streets. You can probably guess where it would be more commonplace without me having to tell you and the reasons why someone from the period might be carrying one.

The whip falls into the category of other soft weapons of it’s type, like the Chinese whip chain and the rope dart, where it’s a very powerful and useful weapon to understand how to use but also extremely difficult to master in a way that will be helpful during the frenzy of live combat.

As an offhand weapon, the whip is a weapon of pure harassment. For the most part, without modification to make it more lethal, it only does surface damage but when you’re hit with it? It hurts. It’s also loud, which is me saying you can use that cracking noise for intimidation. It has reach, quite possibly more than your rapier. The whip strikes on an arcing pattern that is nearly impossible to accurately predict or block, which, while your opponent is distracted by trying to counter the whip, creates the opening you need to thrust with your sword (assuming you’re close enough). So, you don’t use these two in conjunction so much as you’d use one to destroy your opponent’s guard to create the openings for the other. The whip, being the more unpredictable, requires more focus, making the rapier the secondary of the two.

However, for all its strong points, the whip can be undone by your opponent’s choice of clothing. It isn’t good for cutting, or going through heavier material. Basically, the whip’s threat is friction.

In summary, the whip is fast, potentially loud, difficult to see, difficult to predict, visually confusing, has reach, can tangle up, even disable an opponent, but is limited by its ability to only inflict surface damage, high skill level requirement (it’s one of those weapons where you either get it or you don’t), and complex nature.

Probably the best whip work I’ve seen for fight scenes on film come from Anthony Hopkins in Mask of Zorro and (if we remember Trevor Belmont’s whip is magic and animated) Trevor Belmont in Castlevania.

Probably better as the offhand weapon of a second string anime villain your protagonist has to overcome rather than in the hands of your protagonist themselves. Ultimately, also a better weapon for visual media rather than written. Still, if you can figure out how to make it work on the page, it’s a fun option to keep in your back pocket.

– Michi

This blog is supported through Patreon. If you enjoy our content, please consider becoming a Patron. Every contribution helps keep us online, and writing. If you already are a Patron, thank you, and come join us on Discord.

Q&A: More Demystification of Martial Arts and Romance

autumnimagining said to howtofightwrite:

I just read your excellent response to the question about the martial arts romance. I was wondering if one way forward to help increase a sense of sexual or romantic tension would be to have the couple slowly go through the moves together, rather like a couple learning to dance. Slow, soft touches and gentle placements of each other’s bodies around each other. It would eliminate the intense physicality of sparring while still being consensual and might resemble a fight without risk of injury.

The irony is that the violence of the sequence doesn’t matter so long as the individuals are on the same page and the audience understands the context. The romantic tension doesn’t come from the activity itself, it’s about two people engaging in an activity they both enjoy separately together. Here’s an example of a character dynamic that, in isolation, doesn’t seem romantic but is within context.

In the 2010 action comedy R.E.D. (Retired, Extremely Dangerous), the KGB agent Ivan (Brian Cox) explains his longstanding, complex romantic relationship with the MI-6 assassin Victoria (Helen Mirren) to Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker) who is retired CIA officer Frank Moses’s (Bruce Willis’s) new girlfriend drawn into the plot’s craziness of Frank going to war with the American government after they put out a hit on him.

Ivan shows Sarah the scar on his chest where Victoria shot him as a parting gift when they parted ways at the end of the Cold War. A scar Ivan is still fond of to this day. Sarah visibly recoils, not understanding how Ivan could perceive Victoria attempting to kill him as romantic, and Ivan says (and I paraphrase), “she shot me in the chest, she could’ve shot me in the head.” What he means is, Victoria chose the maybe kill instead of the certainty. Giving herself cover to say, “well, I tried my best” when reporting in while giving him a chance to survive. This, for Victoria, was an expression of love and it’s one Ivan understands because he knows her well. They’re bonded together by a mutual shared understanding, respect, and admiration for each other’s skills even when they are, technically, enemies on opposite sides of a conflict. Ivan is one of the few individuals in Victoria’s life who knows and loves her for who she really is, a ruthless, badass, highly skilled, and extremely successful assassin. And his competence is a major reason why she loves him. (Enemies to Lovers, but We’re Still Enemies in the End.)

The problem is you’re still looking at it from the perspective of the physical interaction being what makes the interaction romantic, what shows the romance to the audience, but it isn’t. Violence isn’t romantic and martial artists physically touch each other all the time as a matter of practice. So, there’s nothing special or unique about them touching a specific person. What makes the interaction special is the context, what each character emotionally brings to the scene and their motivations.

If you’ve got two characters who really enjoy fighting and enjoy testing their skills against each other, you have the grounding for a scene where the fighting itself could become an expression of love (whether that love is romantic or platonic.) The street brawls of Yusuke Uremeshi and Kuwabara from Yu Yu Hakusho are a good example of platonic fighting that forms a foundation friendship. It’s not the fighting itself but the enjoyment of fighting for its own sake, the pride both characters take in their skills, and in testing those skills against each other which creates the bond.

Kuwabara comes back time and time again for another sound beating because he enjoys fighting a challenging, superior opponent. Kuwabara respects Yusuke’s raw, scrappy fighting talent (long before Yusuke ever dies and gains spirit powers) while Yusuke comes to respect Kuwabara’s bullheaded tenacity and realizes that his rivalry with Kuwabara wasn’t antagonistic like he thought but rather a gesture of friendship. This friendship wouldn’t work if both characters didn’t genuinely love fighting rather than using violence as a tool of domination or a means to take power over another individual.

One of the problems for some authors (mostly American authors) is that some cultures (American culture, especially for boys) are extremely touch-starved or engage in touch-starvation due to more rigid social mores and restrictions. So, the act of touching another person gains more importance, often being read by the audience as sexual even when there are other important connotations at play. The problem they face (which acts as a form of culture shock) is that martial sub-cultures are extremely touch-heavy by necessity, you can’t train without constantly touching someone else and being touched, so the expectations that might be perceived in the mere act of touching just aren’t there.

Example: the only characters who get really excited by an instructor laying a hand on their stomach to remind them to tighten their gut and breathe from their diaphragm is the neophyte and constant training quickly disabuses them of that romantic notion unless they choose to cling to it.

Now, the same action could become romantic. However, it’s the sort of the action which requires both characters to be on the same page, when screwing around instead of focusing becomes mutual as opposed to the same action detracting from the lesson.

What I’m saying is that it’s not martial arts that brings people together, but their individual love for the martial arts that brings people together.

The act of training is cooperative interaction, but we ultimately train because we want to become better. It’s difficult to focus when you’re thinking about how much you like (or would like to bone) your training partner. The martial arts trainee usually learns to compartmentalize and put aside those feelings for the duration of training. Romance becomes a secondary consideration dealt with in the before and in the after, rather than the moment. For romance to work it’s way into the scene, it has to be what the scene is about with both characters on the same page with both ultimately okay when it comes to screwing around.

The irony is, the same is true with characters in an all out battle against each other while on opposite sides of the conflict. If you can define your characters as idealogues who separate their personal interests or romantic feelings from their work, there’s nothing inherently abusive in them trying to kill each other. They love each other, yes, but there’s this belief or code or aspect of themselves which they love more. It’s when the romance is tied to the violence and the pain they inflict on each other that situation and romance becomes abusive.

Writing your character taking it too far in a training exercise, harming their romantic interest as a means to realize they have feelings, and using one character’s injury to justify them growing closer with the person who hurt them? That’s where the asymmetrical power structure and abuse are.

Two characters who really enjoy sparring, who especially enjoy sparring with each other, sparring together? That’s fine.

Characters training together? So long as they can put their feelings aside in the moment and knuckle down, it’s cool.

For romance to work at all, your characters need to be characters. What violence is useful for is creating challenging circumstances which push characters to grow, evolve, and change. The choices we make in response to violence and in committing violence can reveal us for who we truly are, stripping away the false notions and preconceptions common in the infatuation phase of a relationship. It’s very common for people to fall in love with who they perceive someone to be or who they decide they are, the person they create within their own heads, rather than the actual person themselves. (Ironically, it happens more commonly in the romance genre and fiction in general than most authors would enjoy to copping to.)

If you’re going to sit down and write a romance, regardless of whether it’s a romance with characters who are warriors or martial artists, ask yourself some specific questions:

  1. Why do they enjoy being with this person?
  2. What is it about them (beyond the physical) that they like?
  3. What hobbies and interests do they have in common?
  4. What are the quiet moments in your story where each of these characters looks at the other and goes internally, “I really like you.”
  5. What do they admire about the other character?
  6. What annoys them about the other character? (Not hate, annoys, irritates, gets under their skin.)
  7. Are the aspects that they admire and which irritate real or they are perceptions the character has that aren’t exhibited by the other character on the page? (Is what your character sees in their love interest representative of what the audience sees?)
  8. What do they believe in, in absence of their love interest?
  9. If they are a warrior, why do they fight? Who, or what, do they fight for?
  10. Are those feelings compatible with their lover interest’s goals?
  11. What do they respect about their love interest?

-Michi

This blog is supported through Patreon. If you enjoy our content, please consider becoming a Patron. Every contribution helps keep us online, and writing. If you already are a Patron, thank you, and come join us on Discord.

The Rapier: Seven Minutes in Hell Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (Gideon the Ninth and the Perils of Pop Culture)

Anonymous said to howtofightwrite:

Have you read Gideon the Ninth? What did you think of the swordplay? I found it ridiculous, Gideon is supposedly so “strong” she uses a “Greatsword” with one hand.

I’ll be honest, I got about seventy pages into Gideon the Ninth before I gave up due to the novel’s pacing issues. So, in terms of sins, the swordplay itself rated pretty low. The reason one reads Gideon the Ninth is for lesbian necromancers in space, and it’s good for that. I’ve no judgments on anyone who enjoyed it, dumb space fantasy fun is one of my favorite genres. Gideon’s combat sins are the same as pretty much every other novel, they’re the same legion of sins you see when any writer takes conventional wisdom and pop culture knowledge at face value without giving it any thought. 

The short answer to Gideon the Ninth and pretty much anything to do with swordplay from conventional understanding of weapon utility to training to the wisdom spouted by the main character’s titular teacher is: it’s all wrong, often hilariously so, to the point of being nonsensical. So wrong, in fact, that I question whether or not this character was actually trained to fight because she couldn’t grasp the fundamentals. (Longsword and rapier? Not that different.) However, while Gideon was exceedingly wrong with great confidence, she’s very in line with our cultural perceptions of swords.As a result, Gideon is very convincing if you don’t think about what she’s saying too much.

Let’s start with the basics:

  1. The longsword is the battlefield warrior’s weapon. 
  2. The rapier is the tooty fruity dainty noble’s fancy dueling weapon. (It’s super fancy because it’s French.)
  3. And if you just nodded along to those descriptions, oh boy, is this post going to blow your mind.

Here’s our first foray, rapier is not a French word, rapier is derived from a French word, but is an English and/or German word. They didn’t care enough to get the pronunciation right, which sounds exactly like the English and the Germans in regards to the French. It’s also a horrible mistake if you follow suit. The French happen to be great at stabbing people. You’re welcome.

I’m not going to focus on Gideon’s issues with the zweihander or claymore. We’ve discussed the weight of swords at length in the past and how these large weapons only weigh about eight pounds because, in the real world, you’re expected to use them all day. (No, really.) In this post, we’re going to focus on the sword Gideon truly does dirty in quintessential fantasy fashion and that sword is the rapier and it’s shorter sibling, the smallsword.

One of the major problems of Fantasy as a genre, usually pulling from Dungeons & Dragons, is it tends to look at the past as The Past. A bleary amalgamation of stuff slammed together in an incoherent jumble that doesn’t really make sense but seems like it does if you don’t look too closely. Any fantasy setting, for example, that lets you have a greatsword but not a single-shot handgun is a little confused about history. So, a lot of weapons that are actually sequential technological evolutions during society’s growth and progression toward the modern era get held up as the same as their ancient counterparts. Oftentimes, these are weapons separated by hundreds of years and, in some cases, thousands. The zweihander, for example, is not a medieval weapon, it’s early modern and post the invention of the gun. It’s a 16th century weapon, and requires the smithing technologies of the era in order to exist. Your DnD Barbarian patterned off the Visigoths or the Norse using a greatsword is the same as your hard bitten 1920s P.I. using a goddamn phaser. It’s anachronistic. Now, why is this important to the rapier?

The rapier comes from an era when everyone got to have swords and the swords themselves were seen as status symbols. The rapier was not just the weapon of the super rich, but the weapon of the rising middle/merchant class. While it did see battlefield use, they were also weapons carried for self-defense and in polite society. Due to its light weight, they could be carried as a fashion accessory, just like high heels for both men (and women.) Which is where our cultural bias for the rapier being a non-serious weapon comes from, but it was the military fashion of the time because it was the military sidearm. The rapier is a weapon for killing and it is very efficient at its job. The rapier, if you didn’t know, is one step off Europe’s pinnacle of sword technology. The epee stood at the peak, which was a weapon so quick it was famous for what was called the double suicide where the duel ended with both duelists killing each other at the same time. The rapier, the smallsword, and, really, all the thrusting swords epitomize, “you’ll be seven minutes in hell before the Devil knows you’re dead.”

This is a problem that follows the weapon into modern sport fencing where we have to use electronic scoring because it is too fast for the judges to follow with their eyes. As an Olympic sport, it’s one of the reasons why fencing really struggles to draw an audience because your brain genuinely cannot process what’s happening. Again, one of the most common injuries for smallsword masters (and these are instructors who trained others professionally) was the loss of an eye. The thrusting family is fast.

Ignoring for the moment that Gideon confuses the rapier with modern fencing as most pop culture does, the narrative runs into a basic issue when it comes to training. The narrative wants Gideon to maintain her smug attitude in regards to the rapier’s frippery, so Gideon never gains an appreciation for the rapier’s rather absurd lethality (even in comparison to other swords.) This is functionally impossible from a realistic standpoint because you can’t train on a weapon without gaining some appreciation for it, even if you don’t like it or it’s not your preference. 

I’d actually say the greatest sin of Gideon is the way it writes off modern fencing without attempting to understand it. I say modern fencing because neither Gideon nor the narrative is utilizing the historical techniques of the rapier but rather falling back on the audience’s conventional understanding of fencing, which is modern fencing. Modern fencing grew out of the military sabre and the smallsword or epee, respectively. It is important to note that Gideon is not using historical smallsword fencing either, but rather the idea of it. In essence, Gideon’s fencing is Mel Brooks’ Robin Hood yelling, “Parry, parry, thrust, thrust! Good!” at the Sheriff of Rottingham.

The problem is that any character who has a juvenile disdain for the weapon they’re training with is a major red flag for an author’s inexperience. Experienced writers who’ve worked with weapons will write characters who have disdain for certain weapons and preferences for others but the character will express a grounded, detailed reason for their preference. Those reasons may be petty, as real world complaints often are, but they can provide you with a reason regarding the weapon’s function beyond “this is a girly sword.” (The rapier is three and a half feet of fuck you. The rapier is a needle razor blade of death.) I’ll put it in blunt terms, at the beginning of the novel, Gideon essentially whines about one of the most lethal swords ever created not being masculine enough for her tastes. And to that, we all say, fuck you too.

This is why we do our research. Remember, the Musketeers carried rapiers. As did most other soldiers of the period. So, complaining that it’s not a battlefield sword is kind of stupid. Especially since the battlefields of Gideon’s setting aren’t really explained very well.

So, now, I’m going to go over some pieces from Gideon’s text that really stood out to me as wrong and we should address why they’re wrong so you don’t replicate them in your own work. Then, I’ll give you an example from an author who famously did it right.

“She spent six hours a day learning where to put her feet when she wielded a one-handed sword,”

Gideon the Ninth, 59

This is the sort of statement that sounds good when you don’t think about it, but I’m not actually certain what it means in context. The longsword, which is a 19th century term and usually what we think of when referring to the Arming sword (which can be wielded two handed when it has a longer hilt for greater leverage) can be wielded with one hand and often was either on its own or in conjunction with a shield. The rapier/the thrusting blade family are not the only weapons you wield with one hand, most swords can be, even those that normally use two.

The idea that martial combat is ultimately and fundamentally different between weapon types is untrue, the stances do change between weapon types but the same rules usually apply. So, if Gideon is used to training with swords, then the rapier wouldn’t be totally alien.

“Where to rest (what seemed to her to be) her useless, unused arm,”

Gideon the Ninth, 59

Raise your hand if you’ve ever looked at the fencing stances in films like Princess Bride or Robin Hood: Men in Tights and gone, “well, that’s just dumb.” You and Gideon have something in common, but you shouldn’t because Gideon is trained in swordplay. Gideon should understand the fundamental importance of balance. Gideon does not. (Gideon’s teacher does point out the balance part later, though rather nonsensically and the knuckle weapon makes no sense, but Gideon should already know this from her years of training.) The bagh naka and the katar/punch dagger are amazing melee tools in unarmed combat, but not useful as the offhand guard against a rapier.

Useful offhand tools for the rapier — the buckler, the parrying dagger, the cloak, and the whip. (Yes, Zorro was right.)

What is the point of that off-hand position in fencing? Balance. Yeah, those hand positions are about helping you maintain balance in your stance, allowing you to move and strike cleanly without falling over or stumbling. No matter what weapon you choose, even if you’re going hand to hand, martial combat is built around your central balance point. (In fact, there are a great many styles and techniques that focus specifically on disrupting your opponent’s balance to gain an advantage in combat.) If you haven’t guessed this, falling over is very bad.

The off-hand allows for a narrower sideways/diagonal stance (making yourself a smaller target/ more difficult to hit, more on this later) while maintaining your central axis, which also, ironically, plays into the importance of your footwork (more on this later.)

Another, very important, practical reason for the position of that off hand is it brings your shoulders into line while in your stance, allowing you to take the weight of the sword off your arm and carry it in your back. This way you take the strain off the arm, and fight longer, or fight multiple duels in succession. The rapier only weighs about two pounds, but with your arm constantly extended, it becomes a lever and the weapon grows heavier as time progresses.

One of the key aspects of martial combat that is most difficult is holding position in your stance, you’re in a constant battle against gravity and your own muscles. This is why, when you watch fights progress, you’ll see stances get shallower, hands drop from their defensive position, the arms fall out of line, etc. A well-balanced stance conserves energy.

Your shoulders being in line is one of the aspects you give up if you choose to duel wield. Why did some people just fight with one sword if other tools were convenient? Well, there are several, but one is conservation of energy.

Gideon being derogatory about this and not knowing makes Gideon look like a really shitty warrior. (Which, ironically, were my feelings at the time of reading the book.)

“How to suddenly make herself a sideways target and always move on the same stupid foot.”

Gideon the Ninth, 59

This one really caught me, “make herself a sideways target.” The weird thing for me with this is, why “suddenly” and why is being sideways bad? All martial combat happens on a diagonal, some more so than others, but everything is on a diagonal. Nobody fights squared up, nobody, no one. It’s a terrible position that is out of balance. You can literally destabilize someone by stepping between their legs and shoving their chest with one hand, and they will stumble. You fight sideways on diagonals, on specific degrees, your feet spread and in balance, with your central axis protected. Combat with a rapier is, ironically, not more sideways/on a diagonal than with a longsword.

Then, the second line “always move on the same stupid foot.” I get what this phrase is referencing, but it’s also wrong. In martial combat, you always move with the lead leg first (there are exceptions to this rule, there always are, but by and large) and then the back leg. Or, when moving forward (advancing,) the back leg and then the front leg. One foot always acts as your central balance point while moving so you don’t give your opponent an opening in your defenses or the opportunity to destabilize you. This is basic combat training. Gideon is whining about basic combat training which would apply with any weapon she trained on, including the longsword.

This is really how we tell a writer isn’t approaching combat with the idea of their character being at risk of dying. Gideon has no concerns about being up against other characters who have trained their entire lives with one of the deadliest swords, mostly because the author hasn’t fully processed that there isn’t a major difference in outcome between a battlefield and a duel to the death — both will kill you. Now, this should be a point of tension in the narrative, but it isn’t because Gideon doesn’t take the rapier or dueling to the death seriously. Your POV dictates how your reader responds.

Moving on, a very important one for all you swordsmen out there:

“This isn’t your longsword, Nav, you block with it again and I’ll make you eat it!”

Gideon the Ninth, 59

A parry is, essentially, a deflection or redirection of your opponent’s blade. Instead of taking the force, you redirect that force away from you and counter strike if the opening presents.

A block involves taking the full force of your opponent’s strike and stopping it cold. Which, I’m sure, sounds cool and tough. (Far more so than it actually is.)

You don’t block with swords, at least, not swords with edges. If you block with a sword that has an edge, you will damage the edge or break the blade. Both are bad to the functionality of the weapon. Hollywood has a variation of sword combat that’s called Flynning (after Errol Flynn) for eye-catching moves where the blades bang against each other, it looks very pretty and has no relevance to real combat. All swords parry, not just rapiers, sabres, and smallswords. Estocs can block, lightsabers (beams of pure plasma) can block, longswords? No. Or, at least, you shouldn’t.

I will forgive any reader for thinking they could because pop culture trains you to believe it’s a normal part of sword combat.

So, what does the response look like from a writer who understands the art of fencing. I’ll give you an example from Rafael Sabatini’s Master-At-Arms, which was written in the 1940s. For reference, Sabatini was popular in his time for his contributions to the swashbuckling genre.

This scene is a training scene between a main character, Quentin de Morlaix (our swordmaster) and Chevalier de Saint-Gilles (one of his inevitable rivals.)

The Chevalier complied. He launched the botte with which he had twice got home. This time, however, the stroke was not only parried but with a swift counter Morlaix hit the Chevalier vigorously over the heart.

He lowered his blade. ‘That should not have happened,’ was his quiet comment to the hotly answered: ‘That shall not happen again. On guard!’

The attack was repeated, with an increase of both vigor and speed. Yet once again it was met and answered by that hit in quarte.

The Chevalier fell back and spoke sharply in an annoyance that was shared by his scowling, startled brother. ‘But what is this, then? Were you trifling with me before?’

Morlaix was of perfect amiability. ‘You confuse a master-at-arms with an ordinary opponent, Chevalier. That is an effective botte of yours, to which I must suppose you have given much practice. The fault in its execution lies in that you offer too much body. Keep yourself narrower. Then if you are hit it will be less fatally. On guard again. So. That is better, but not good enough. Swing your left shoulder father back, more in line with your right. Now, hold yourself so, whilst making your attack. Allongez! Excellent. For whilst I counter-parry it thus,and make my riposte on the binding of the blade, I can only touch you in quinte. Thus.’

The blades were lowered again and Morlaix expounded to the discomfited swordsman. ‘That correction of your position to an unaccustomed one will have cramped you a little, so you have lost pace and force, and left it easier for the counter to get home. With practice, however, that will be overcome. When it is corrected we will come to your other faults,’ he promised, and added the cruelest cut of all: ‘You display so much aptitude it should be easy to render you really formidable.’

Master-At-Arms, 29

What should really stand out from Sabatini’s passage is the detail both in terminology and in explanation, a lot of writers skirt around detail and explanations because they don’t know and didn’t do the research. Research is hard, but when you have a solid grasp of what you’re working with, it ultimately creates better material.

The teacher who doesn’t explain, while an easy cheat, is a crappy teacher. 

What Sabatini is referring to with quarte and quinte are the eight classical parries and attack in foil fencing, basically the parts of the body he’s hitting. (I’ll point out, Quentin knows why you stay narrow and informs both Saint-Gilles and the audience: so you don’t die. Learn things, Gideon.) Interestingly, this chapter serves to establish both Quentin de Morlaix’s skill as a fencer, his rivalry with his cousins, Chevalier de Saint-Gilles and Constant which are central to the novel’s plot, and that he’s a little shit.

In short, given poor training, poor understanding, and dismal interest, Gideon would probably be murdered by a real duelist on the first strike of her first duel and then necro’d back to life. Fortunately, she lives in a setting where the rapier is not an effective weapon with which you might thoroughly humiliate your opponent.

-Michi

This blog is supported through Patreon. If you enjoy our content, please consider becoming a Patron. Every contribution helps keep us online, and writing. If you already are a Patron, thank you, and come join us on Discord.