For those of us who come from a non-combat, non-Martial Arts background, watching action sequences in movies, television, and MMA fights, or even reading them in a book the action can seem almost magical. Of course, it is. The fights in television shows and even in the ring are designed to be as entertaining and as safe for the actors/fighters as possible. The rules of the street and even natural human behavior are often ignored to put on a better show.
What does this mean for authors? Well, if you use these things as your fighting basics, your characters won’t ever pass the scratch and sniff test and the fight sequences in your book or fanfiction will never achieve their potential.
So, below the cut are some simple rules from a Black Belt to help you get started. Happy writing!
1) Fights end fast.
On the street your character will realistically only be able to perform eight moves before they’re finished and if they fire off any kicks, reduce that number by two. This is true of any martial artist, regardless of their level and skill. If your fight sequence lasts more than a page, then it’s gone on for too long, so keep it short and figure that thirty seconds to a minute equals one to three paragraphs. Fights are exhausting, end stop, so finish it and move on.
2) Always Keep Moving
A fight is built on constant motion, if your character is standing flat footed, they’re going to be bowled over. Back up, shift from side to side, bounce on the balls of your feet, and stay aware for second and third additions to the fight. Moving hides the body’s tells from the character’s opponent and will mask their strikes as they dodge. Remember that timing is everything and a wasted move is wasted energy, when your character misses (and they will) deduct the move from the eight they have to finish the fight.
3) The Bad Guys Never Queue
While there is a difference when fighting untrained versus trained groups, one thing is always true: the bad guys never queue. What do I mean? Well, if you love Buffy the Vampire Slayer, pull out the first or second season, then start paying close attention to the fights. One thing you’ll notice is a Hollywood standard: the stuntmen all line up and come in separately, instead of together and the hero fights them one at a time. In the real world, groups always come in together, instead they often surround their targets to pound on the back’s soft tissue. This is why backing up is essential, if you are surrounded and can’t escape, then it’s over.
4) The Maximum Number of Opponents a Single Master Can Take On is Eight
The realistic number a very experienced fighter can face at one time on their own is no more than eight. If there are any more and they are outside the eyes and brain’s ability to track and the information will overload. If your character attempts to fight more in a straight on bout, they will lose. If your character is not a master, eight opponents, even unskilled ones, are going to wreck their day. The best advice for fighting groups I’ve ever been given is to run away.
5) It’s Never Shameful to Run From a Fight
Always know what your character can take and what they can’t, if they are skilled fighters they will also know. Fighting a losing battle is not a
sign of bravery, but stupidity, in the real world, a fighter’s first goal is to survive. Take a page from the Self-Defense Handbook, do just enough damage to disengage and prevent an opponent from following, then get away before they’re killed.
6) People die. Fast.
The goal of a fight is not only to hurt your opponent, but also to kill
them. The human body, for all it’s strengths, is ridiculously fragile. A blow to the throat, to the solar plexus, or a slamming an opponent’s head into the concrete are all more than enough to kill them. The writer must always be aware that their character could die at any moment and from any opponent, it doesn’t matter if they are the hero or the villain, a master will die just as easily from a blow to the temple or a knife stabbing their kidney as a beginner. Remember, even if your character is only participating in a training exercise or a supervised bout, injury and death are always possibilities, even when it’s accidental.
7) The Greatest Threat to an Untrained/Inexperienced Fighter is
It doesn’t matter how much natural talent a character possesses, there’s a reason why beginners in any martial arts program are forbidden from sparring and when they are then it’s only in very controlled circumstances: they will hurt themselves. A technique performed before the muscles have been properly prepared will lead to injury.
Example: Have you ever attempted to perform a roundhouse kick or seen little kids after a movie trying to practice their favorite moves? Yes? What did that look like, I’m betting slow, staid, and barely able to get their leg up over their hip or maintain their balance. It’s not uncommon for them to fall over or even twist an ankle. Why? Because even a movement as simple as a roundhouse kick is actually fairly complex. The leg comes up in the knee, the foot on the ground shifts to point sideways and then to a forty five degree angle, the hip turns over as the leg extends and the toes pull back to slam the ball of the foot into the opponent’s side, which, of course, leads to broken ribs when the strike connects. When I was seven years old and a blue belt, I once stubbed my toes on my opponet when I was point sparring, because in the foot pads I couldn’t pull them back. This is why in Tae Kwan Do point sparring the foot points and you hit with the flat top of the foot to avoid injury. However, black belts will still kick hard enough to leave bruises, even through the padding.
Second Example: In some forms of Karate they do full contact sparring a.k.a no pads, but it is for black belts only. Why? Because only the black belts have the training and skill to avoid hurting themselves, much less their opponents. I once heard a story from a friend about a training session involving two green belts when their instructor wasn’t paying attention and allowed them to spar, full contact. What happened? Both green belts kicked, their kicks collided with each other, and both ended up with broken legs.
The average green belt is someone who has consistently trained between two to five years. If you’re character is a beginner then they are in the same danger as those green belts were.
Never forget it.
8) A broken bone is a broken bone
If you’re character breaks a bone, from a rib to a leg, then that’s it. Game over. This is why you never punch someone in the face. Why? The hand is full of small, delicate bones, any of them break and your character is out a hand for the next two (?) to five (?) months or longer. Your opponent’s face is full of dense, heavy bones, designed to protect the body’s most valuable assets, much like rock beats scissors, face usually beats hand. So, why risk it?
Forget what you’ve seen in MMA or in Boxing or in the Movies. MMA fighters and Boxers protect their hands with gloves and the Movies fake it. The bones in the face are much tougher than the bones in the hands, so keep it to open hand strikes and if you must go blow for blow, a backhand to the temple or a punch to the soft tissue of the throat will save your character and finish the fight faster.
Or in the words of Burn Notice’s Michael Westen “In a fight, you have to be careful not to break the little bones in your hand on someone’s face. That’s why I like bathrooms… lots of hard surfaces.”
Why have your character break themselves on someone else when they can break their opponent on with a much lower risk to themselves?
9) Dual Wielding is Not Actually a Thing
Except in rare cases and small weapons such as knives or eskrima, dual wielding has no place in regular combat. Why? Because you need your free hand to block and in the case ofa firearm to reload and stabilize the weapon. The enemy with the most is rarely the one who wins, the character with the ability to apply their defensive damage to somone is the one who wins. Dual wielding makes that harder, not easier.
A) Dual wielding hand guns: no accuracy and even if your character does spray and prey, the reload times (two guns take up both hands) and the 15 round magazines makes them less effective than a single SMG. Our brains are not designed to handle the mismatched parallax data and therefore cannot process how far away the target is, thus no accuracy.
B) Dual wielding swords: the blades will get in each other’s way, full stop, and if you cannot hit your opponent, you cannot kill them.
Does it look cool? Maybe. Is it practical? Oh, god no. Remember, practicality is your character’s means of not dying horribly, so don’t discount it just because you think they need to be X-treme.
10) Don’t forget to block
In a fight, blocking will save your character’s life. It is also the means of creating openings by which they can attack. Blocking incoming strikes is an essential basic part of every single martial art, so learn how to make the most of it for your character. It doesn’t matter how high their dexterity is or how skilled they are at dodging, if a character is in a fight they are going to get hit. So, how about learning the fine art of making sure the recieving blow doesn’t kill them. Defense is more important than offense if you want your character to survive.