Q&A: An Amateur Professional

Hi guys! I have a character who’s a dangerous criminal, highly proficient in hand-to-hand combat and using weapons (from knives to sniper rifles) just how realistic is it for him to win in a fight against a marine (who served for well over 5 years) and what points should I cover in their physical conflicts? Since one was professionally trained and the other (criminal) self-taught? With the criminal using underhanded tactics opposed to the marine who prefers “clean” fights?

It’s been awhile since I’ve come down on someone, but there’s a lot here:

Marines aren’t paladins. For all the jokes about Marines being idiots, they’re smart enough to treat combat seriously. This is their job, and they’ll (almost) always maintain a degree of professionalism about killing some John Wick wannabe.

Self-taught fighters suck. Combat is a skillset, like any other. You can learn on your own, but you’ll never be good enough to compete against someone with formal training. Combat’s a little different from most skills because, if you screw up and fail, you die. In case there’s some confusion here, death is not a particularly useful learning experience.

Someone without formal hand-to-hand training isn’t going to win in a fight with a Marine. No matter how “dangerous” they see themselves. It’s not about fighting dirty, it’s simply that your character doesn’t know what they’re doing.

As for what would happen? Your character would attack, the Marine would interrupt the strike and end them. That fast.

Remember, Marines are trained to kill people. That’s their job. Their hand-to-hand training is focused on this. In fact, instructors overseeing sparring are specifically cautioned to look for recruits that are devolving into, “sport fighting.” Every action the Marine takes needs to either be creating an opening or finishing their opponent.

You can learn to shoot with enough ammunition. In fact, once you do know how to shoot, you need to spend some time with your gun and ammunition to get a feel for exactly how it will handle. No, “I’ve got this cheap ammo, but I use special stuff in the field,” won’t cut it. You need to practice with you’re carrying.

You cannot learn to win a gunfight on a shooting range, no matter how much ammunition you bring. Putting a bullet where you want it when you’re on a range is no problem. However, it won’t teach you what you need to know in order to deal with a live fire situation.

I’m reminded of a story from a soldier who wrote an article for Cracked, back when that site was still good. The guys they were fighting had learned to shoot from video games and TV. He described the rookie mistakes he saw, such as the enemy fighters dropping behind couches to take cover. Thing is even a handgun round will go through that. So, someone ducks behind the furniture, you just shoot through it.

When it comes to vehicles, the engine block will stop a bullet, and that’s pretty much it. The rest of the car can conceal where you are, but it doesn’t protect you from incoming fire. If your hitman watched Taken and tries to take cover behind a car door, the Marine will simply shoot through that.

There’s a phrase I’ve used before, which will be immediately familiar to your Marine, “the only unfair fight is the one you lose.” Combat isn’t about having a “good, clean, brawl.” Dirty fighting isn’t some forbidden collection of highly effective fighting techniques, it’s just stuff you were told not to as a kid, because the risk of injury was too high. As an adult who is trying to kill their foe, the concept is not relevant. So-called dirty fighting is throwing sand in someone’s eyes. It’s a sucker punch before the bell rings or someone yells, “go!” It’s shooting the medic first. You want to hammer into your head that dirty fighting is just about going outside a formalized socially constructed structure which tells you what fighting should be i.e. duels and everyone does it. Everyone wants to go home alive and therefore no one fights fair. Remember, marines are trained to shoot through the hostage.

A Marine is not a policeman. Police are required to uphold specific standards, are governed by rules and laws regarding “use of force” that are more limited because they’re supposed to be dealing with civilians who break the law. Marines are soldiers first.

What you’re presenting, right now, is an amateur going up against professionals. That’s not going to end well.

Flip this around for a second, though, and there’s nothing wrong with writing some ex-special forces operator who’s transitioned over into criminal activity. I’d like to say there’s not precedence, but that would be a lie. Unsurprisingly, being trained to kill people for a living meshes remarkably well with killing people for a living as an independent contractor. Government pay is not that great, and someone with that skill set could, potentially, make a lot of money killing people for unscrupulous individuals.

The doesn’t mean your assassin would go around explaining their full backstory, that would be a liability, but they wouldn’t be self-taught. It also doesn’t mean they’re American, they could just as easily be ex-SAS, ex-Spetsnaz, or from any number of other special forces or militarized intelligence agencies.

When writing an assassin, or anyone else who kills professionally, you want to avoid, “fights.” If they’re going to kill someone, they want to engineer the situation so that their foes cannot react in time. In the case of that Marine, it probably means shooting them in the back of the head, rather than letting it turn into a melee.

If there’s no upside to fighting someone, your character shouldn’t do it. They’re not here to prove how much of a badass they are; they know they can kill everyone in the room. They’re here to get the job done, get paid, and get out safely. Starting an unnecessary fight works against those goals.


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