This is going to be a rough ride for some of you, so we’re listing this with a trigger warning for violence. Fighting is very violent, any aspect of the human condition that deals with survival usually is. I believe it’s important for authors to be aware of the full brutality of combat so they can go in with their eyes open and taper back as they see fit. The only way to ever truly be in control of your story is when you have as much information about the subject matter as possible. This includes delving into some basic aspects of human psychology and how that affects combat. We’ll be breaking this article up into two to focus on two very important but different aspects of brutal combat.
“The only unfair fight is the one you lose.”
The first time I heard this phrase was in a self defense class when I was about twelve or thirteen. At the time, I’d come to fights with the idealistic belief that there was some kind of fair play involved in how to fight someone. There isn’t.
I’ve since heard the phrase from several former military men and a few cops. Here’s what it really means. You do whatever you need to, to survive a fight. In the real world, a lot of these moves have serious legal consequences, if they’re used outside of a life and death situation, and they probably should in your story as well.
The moves I’m going to talk about are both based on a simple psychological assumption. The idea is to look at people the same way you look at any other social animal. Then have your character present the illusion of being more of a monster than they actually are, in order to scare off aggressors.
This works with untrained thugs, bullies, and petty criminals. It will not work as well on characters who have extensive experience with combat and or the aftermath of violence.
Gouging out someone’s eyes is an excellent counter to choking. This is best achieved by gripping the skill with the thumbs next to the eye, and the index and middle finger near the ear, and pushing the character’s thumbs into their eyesockets.
Going for the eyes, before beginning the actual gouge, will usually evoke a very primal response and force a character to stop choking their victim while they try to deal with the gouger’s hands. Gouges can be done from behind, if the victim is being garroted or held, simply by having the victim reach over their head and behind them. Finally a successful gouge will make other combatants leery of closing in on the gouger for fear of joining the Blind Justice crowd.
Tooth and Claw: Biting vs. Scratching
The strongest muscles in your body are located just below your cheekbone. Regardless of if you believe if it was simple efficiency or divine inspiration, your mouth and teeth are designed to separate meat from, well, pretty much anything.
On the bright side, people are made mostly of meat, so, if it comes down to it, taking a chunk out of someone’s shoulder is just a new application of something you practice three times a day.
Forget zombies, the worst bite a human can suffer is from another human. Our mouths are loaded with bacteria that we’re used to, but other people… not so much. Even if your character doesn’t take a piece off, the injury will need actual medical attention, and explaining away a bite wound to a medical professional or a cop can be very difficult.
Additionally, depending on how you bite, your molars can apply enough force to crush some smaller bones; completely, and permanently, crippling their hand.
After biting off a chunk, your character’s going to want to spit it out, along with as much of the blood as possible. There are a lot of potential pathogens that can be spread from blood or tissue contact (off hand; some flavors of Hepatitis and of course HIV/AIDS are the two most dangerous possibilities) , so, your character is taking on a fairly serious health risk from chowing down. As with the eye gouge, this is going to make other attackers back off; with the logic of, “if she just bit off his fucking ear, what’s she going to do to me!?”
There’s also a pretty serious psychological block about going toe to toe with someone who’s covered in someone else’s blood. This is just as true of people attacking your character.
In contrast, scratching, and this is personal experience, just doesn’t seem to be that viable. You do some surface damage to the tissue, and you do get some skin samples, but it’s far more socially acceptable, and far less dangerous. It won’t have the psychological effect you want and can actually spur more aggression.