Tag Archives: bullies

I was watching TV earlier and a familiar scene played out. The weak boy sees his love interest being bullied. The boy rushes to push the bully away and gets punched out. Wouldn’t it be a better option to sneak from behind and grab the attacker, giving time for the victim to escape? (Since they probably don’t care about the consequences of getting into the fight anyway)

Those scenes are a play on the traditional test of “manliness”. It plays into the usual tropes surrounding the “Nice Guy” and acts as an updated variation of the Damsel in Distress. In story and thematic terms, the scene isn’t about the right or better way to do it. Instead, it’s all about the guy proving his worth to the girl. Even though he loses, he saves her and she feels grateful that someone stepped in. It’s complete with the added bonus of pity because he was beaten up for her sake and now she feels obligated to take care of him. It results in a very cute scene where she bandages him up and fixes his wounds, they connect for the first time, and she sees him in a whole new way. The “weak” guy has proven he’s worthy mate material.

That’s what the scene is about and that’s the purpose it usually serves in the story. My issue with it is that it’s not about the girl, it’s not about the victim, it’s about the guy who jumps in. The scene is all about him showing what a good and worthy person he is to the girl so that she will eventually reward him with sex.

At it’s heart, that’s the problem with the scenario. It’s focus is entirely on the heroism of a singular character. In poorly thought out and written situations, it becomes the video game exchange we see real life guys cling to. “I like you, so I do something nice for you because I did something nice for you, you are obligated to do something nice for me in return (the thing I want)”.

1) The victim is not always grateful, is not required to be grateful, nor are they required to repay that behavior with anything, not even a thank you.

2) It’s different when it’s not a love interest. The problem doesn’t really step in until it’s a unique action. You’ll notice that these often revolve around the “I wouldn’t normally do this for anyone but you”. It’s a grand gesture, the generic/more violent equivalent of a candle light dinner or a carriage ride through Central Park except more acceptably “masculine”.

It’s just a more “realistic” version of guy saves girl from bully (much like guy saves girl from nine foot tall snarling death beast and guy rescues girl from tower) which involves the acknowledgement on the part of the creators that just because one decides to step up doesn’t that they’ll get a Saturday morning cartoon victory.

The thing to remember is that the girl is still usually treated like an object in these scenarios, even if she does run away. Normally though, the creator doesn’t put this in because they want her to actually run. They want her to stay and watch.

On the practical and less meta level:

No, it’s not a good idea to run in swinging. It’s also not a good idea to sneak up behind them. The best thing to do in that kind of scenario is actually to change the dynamics of the situation in such a way that forces the bully to back off via drawing the attention of other people like pulling a fire alarm. Even then, driving a bully off is just a short term solution. Unless the environment that allows the bully to flourish changes and their behavior is no longer tacitly accepted by those in a position of authority, the behavior will continue.

You can’t beat a bully by beating a bully and getting beat up by a bully only stops that single instance, if it stops it at all. It’s not going to stop them from going back after their victim once they’ve finished with the would be rescuer. It’s not going to stop them from going after that victim tomorrow or the day after that. The television version generally assumes that once the bully puts their beat down on someone that they’re done for good or the problem will be solved by the end of the episode.

If you have to choose between the two for a character: any act of surprise which gives the advantage will work. However, this assumes that when give a chance to run most people will. That’s… unfortunately not the case. The best scenario is that the character jumping in provides the victim with the opportunity to fight back.

One of the biggest issues with these scenarios is the assumption that if given the chance to escape, the victim will run. Confusion tends to result in dumbfounded expressions and a deer in the headlights scenario. It also assumes that there’s just one guy you have to worry about: the bully. Bullies often come with friends and they don’t work like a laser pointed hive mind. One of the friends will probably have the presence of mind to grab the girl, given that she was most likely backed into a corner or put with her back to the wall. Bullies like to push their victims into situations where they feel small and powerless, where they feel like they have no room to run.

The second problem is that, when forced into that situation, often the abused will side with their abuser. The one that intercedes provides a clear enemy for the two to unify against. The abused may feel that they are appeasing the bully by siding with them or angry at the one that is interceding because they are interrupting a private moment of shame. It depends on the person in question, but it is always a mistake to assume that the person wants to be saved. The act of stepping in can be just as damaging for their ego, their psyche, their soul as standing by and doing nothing. “Saving” a victim, a person who already feels powerless, isn’t going to help them feel powerful. After all, it isn’t your hero’s fight. It’s theirs. Help them overcome, get out of the way, or accept it may not go to plan. It can easily devolve into a situation where the intended savior is duking it out with the victim while the bully laughs in the background.

When put into a public scenario, bullies generally work in groups unless they have some sort of relationship to the victim or they know no one else is likely to interfere. By their nature a bully is a coward, their own fears are what cause them to lash out. They prefer to play with a stacked deck.

What supports a bully is the surrounding social structure. Bullies will attack from a position of power, they have an ace in the deck which keeps them out of trouble. This could be their position as a favored student, the knowledge that the teachers won’t or can’t intervene, they have a parent on staff (like the Principle’s kid), or some other factor which lets them get away with their actions. Their position attracts friends and toadies who support them.

A bully doesn’t come from nowhere and they don’t thrive just because they are mean. To write situations with them, you really have to sit down and hammer out where they are getting their power from and whose backing they actually have. A student with a parent on the School Board can bully their teacher into giving them preferential treatment by holding their job hostage. This is a scenario that actually happens. The same is true for students who realize that their teacher has no power to actually discipline them.

Who holds the power? Where does that power come from? Once you’ve figured it out, then you can discover how to rid of it or disrupt it.

Fighting is a short term solution, at best. Even if they’re defeated, bullies come back or they move on to other targets. The assumption that just because someone loses it’s over forever is a mistake.

Don’t fall prey to it.

-Michi

I have a scene where my main char (18/yo, been training the past 6 years) is attacked by a group of 17-18/yo boys (footballers, strong brawlers but no martial art training). It’s your typical bullying thing gone violent, and my char steps in to protect the two victims. What size of group do you think a single person could reasonably fight off while protecting others, and what sorts of styles would be suited to this? Also, what kind of damage might he end up taking in the course of this?

The answer to the damage question is splatter into the pavement and die. This doesn’t mean your idea isn’t a realistic one. There are plenty of martial artists out there who would attempt to jump in and fight. However, by doing so they would only make a bad situation worse.

So, let me do a walkthrough of the factors, the fallout, the kind of training you get from martial arts programs versus the training a teen would need but can’t get, and the kind of character who could legitimately pull it off. This sort of character is probably not the droid you’re looking for. I’ll also talk about alternate, non-violent solutions to this problem that would have a better chance of working.

The rest of this is an in depth exploration under the cut. Fair warning, it’s long.

Four Limbs Versus Twenty-Six Aren’t Good Odds

When it’s a numbers game (and it always is with groups), who does and doesn’t have martial training quickly goes out the window. The only time this really changes is when the character in question is trained in threat management like you get with special forces and other highly trained operatives, the ones who are good at setting up situations where any move their enemy makes is the wrong one. Your teen can’t do that, they don’t really have the background or the general willingness to jump to the level or brutality necessary to succeed.

Group combat is difficult. A master of thirty or forty years would have difficulty dealing with six (losing would be a real option), there’s a story on the Man on Fire commentary tracks about a special forces guy hired to defend the set getting splattered by six untrained men at a local bar. I can say at 18 with thirteen years of martial arts experience under my belt, I wouldn’t have tried it. This doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have tried to stop it, I had a long history of sticking my nose into situations where it didn’t belong. I’d have known that trying to use violence to stop them was a losing proposition.

Violence happens fast, we’re talking fights ending in seconds. The average one on one street fight ends in 25, you can kill someone in seven seconds if you know what you’re doing. Taking on six guys requires real combat experience and a willingness to go to extremes, the sort that’s above and beyond the kind you can get from practicing in a dojo.

Here’s the thing:

Martial Arts Don’t Make You Batman

In the United States, the kind of training your character would have access to is recreational or sport martial arts. These are classes on the same level as after-school sports, horseback riding, art lessons, summer camps, and other extra-curricular activities parents feel comfortable sticking their kids into until they can collect them after they get off work.

They don’t teach you how to street fight or what will happen in a real fight, one where there are no mats, no friends, and no instructors to step in when things get to bad. Martial arts schools don’t train kids with the expectation that they’ll ever have to use their training outside of select safe spaces like tournaments or the sparring ring. The kind of training offered where a character could be trained to deal with the real world (such as with Michael Janich or other more brutal styles, a ninjutsu school in Kentucky only took students who studied another martial art and only via reference) are always limited to 18 and over. Adults are generally considered to be more trustworthy and more capable of using the knowledge responsibly. They also are less likely to take students who have a history of knocking someone to the ground and slamming their head into the concrete until their skull caves in.

Martial arts train you to deal with one opponent, if you’re lucky, they may instruct you on how to deal with to. But what you learn in those lessons is that you can only fight one person at a time and unlike in the movies, the group is unlikely to wait their turn. They aren’t going to come at you one at a time, they’ll come in together and if they have a history of doing this then they’ll use teamwork.

Your character is already strapped down by having to protect two other people, six guys can easily split up to go three to three, three for your character, three for the two who won’t fight back. Or four to two, four for your character and two for the two who won’t fight back. Martial arts aren’t going to teach your character about exit strategies beyond the basic “end it quickly and run away”, they won’t teach your character on how to defend two people while fighting off the six guys who want to hurt them. They’ll be outflanked with no room to run and limited room to maneuver, which will get them hurt or killed.

Fighting on concrete means concussions, broken bones, fractured skulls, knocked out teeth, even if they manage to put one guy down, they’ll be blind to the other one coming in behind them.

Which brings us to:

Football Players: They’re More Dangerous Than You Think

Football emphasizes teamwork and taking hits, these guys are very used to using their body to physically knock an opponent to the ground. They’re actually more dangerous than wrestlers or baseball players in that respect because they can and will work together instead of fighting alone.

While they might just use their fists with two victims who are unlikely to fight back, the minute their safety is legitimately threatened by our hero, they’ll fall back on the tried and true methods of what they know works on the field. This is: charging, shoulder checking, and knocking someone to the ground via their waist. This is bad enough when in pads on grass (football still hosts an absurd amount of injuries and deaths), now imagine a three hundred pound linebacker slamming into your protagonist, lifting him off the ground, and slamming him straight down into the cold, hard concrete.

When I say splattered. I’m not joking.

The best way to avoid these sorts of attacks is to get out of the way (it’s not to attempt to punch or kick), however if they do then the three hundred pound linebacker charges straight into the two people our hero was trying to protect. Toro, toro. The second way to effectively deal with a charge is to sprawl, the subject essentially falls forward while kicking their legs back to land on top of the charger by wrapping their forearm around their attacker’s throat. They then use their body weight to take them to the ground, but now our hero is on the ground with five other players standing around them. They’re now at their mercy.

The most important problem is not the physical one, it’s the part where the players are part of a larger team. This team has a vested interest in keeping their members in one piece and avenging them if they can’t play in the game next Saturday. Remember, your character isn’t just making an enemy out of the six guys they’re about to face down. They’re going to make enemies out of their team, their coach, and anyone in the school or town who has an interest in the team’s success. This isn’t going to be an isolated incident, this is an action that will change their life and become a central point of conflict that will follow them through the story.

Basically, they’re looking at a no-win scenario if they try to take the football players head on. In many places across the United States, Football is an important part of the High School curriculum and football players are neatly protected. A good football team/sports program brings in revenue and prestige to the school, which helps the administration and looks good on a Principle’s resume. Football players are protected, any damage they take in a fight could mean that they can’t play at the next game, which hurts the team and that makes enemies. The sort you can’t really punch your way past.

Legal Ramifications:

Violence has consequences, those consequences are physical, social, and legal. At 18 years of age with six years of martial arts training, this character would likely be looking at charges of aggravated assault and possibly attempted homicide if they tried to fight these football players, especially if they inflicted any lasting damage. At 18, they’d be tried as an adult and looking at real jail time along with a ruined future.

18 is usually a senior, they’re looking at college applications, SATs, and getting out of the hellhole that is high school. If they fight, regardless of what happens, those plans are over for them. The kind of violence they’d need to escape their scrap in one piece is actually pretty far over the line of what’s generally considered acceptable.

All you need for this to go really screwy is for the coach to have a brother who is a cop or the local police chief to have a son on the team. Worse, if the son of the police chief is one of the kids who get beat up. This isn’t your character going after individuals no one is going to care about or people they’ll never see again. They’re going up against people they have to live with, go to school with, and suffer the consequences from.

So, the question is can your character’s family afford a good lawyer?

Social Ramifications:

Hollywood and media lie about the way people react to violence and the consequences violent action can have on someone’s social life. No matter how many pretty an action sequence may look on television, the fact of the matter is that violence is monstrous. When humans are faced with an enemy they perceive as truly dangerous, a lizard part of their brain flips and they start seeing the other person not as a person but as a feral animal to be avoided.

If the students of the school didn’t see your character as a dangerous person before he fended off six bullies, they will afterwards if he succeeds. The kinds of brutal techniques he’d need to use to finish the fight quickly would ensure that. In the end, he’d set himself up as more dangerous than the football players. They’re a known quantity, they’re violence is at a level other teenagers can understand. A martial artist has the training, if they can carry it off, to bring the realities of violence home. It’s fine when it’s on television or in a video game, but no one wants to wake up and realize they’re a peasant in A Game of Thrones.

The willingness of the character in question to act has nothing to do with it, what they want has nothing to do with it, all that matters is that they crushed a linebacker’s trachea. If they could do it to him, then what could he do to them?

Friends will abandon him. People he cares about will turn their backs. People will whisper or fall quiet when he passes. It’s a lonely existence being a social pariah and for the remainder of his time at his high school this is how people will respond to him.

It really sucks.

Bully Groups Take Time to Flourish:

Six guys didn’t just wake up one morning and decide to beat the shit out of some kids on the way home. A bully group the size of six is one years in the making and suggests a protected position within the school. Bullies get to groups when they are allowed to flourish, when they are successful. They usually start out as a bully or a bully with a lackey.

You should keep in mind that your character is engaging with a known quantity here, one that is protected by someone in the authority ranks. They do this because they can get away with it, but it’s always bad to assume that if they can your character can.

We have a mistaken view of what “the right thing” looks like. If you really want your character to be engaging for the right reasons, then this is an important truth to keep in mind:

Escalation Makes a Situation More Violent:

Bullies maintain their power through inflicting their fears and authority onto others. If the situation your character is about to engage in is already becoming violent then interceding with physical violence will only make it more so. They are upping the chances of someone getting hurt, not decreasing it.

For anyone who isn’t the target, beating up a bully is a short term solution at best and disastrous at worst. Confronting a bully or an abuser while they are in process of abusing a victim will only make it worse for the victim in the long term. The bully will come back when your character isn’t there and the pain they inflict on their target may be worse as they take their frustrations out on them.

This is why these feel good tactics don’t work. Your character interceding here and playing hero will only soothe his own ego. He saw a bad situation happening and responded, but he’s not there for what happens in the bathroom the next day or behind the bleachers. He’s not there to deal with the bully in the numerous other targets still available. In order for the bully to maintain their position, they have to re-establish their authority over their group and their targets. If they can’t do it with your main character, then they will turn to more convenient targets.

Answering violence with more violence doesn’t lead to peace, you can’t cow someone into submission. Your character’s goal is to help the people the bullies are beating on, to stop the situation before it can progress further. An ego stroking isn’t the answer and, unless your character is intent on monstrous action, violence isn’t either.

Heroism is Inherently Self-Sacrifical and Self-Destructive:

For the most part, we’ve come to directly associate heroism with violence because it’s easier and simpler to comprehend. Self-sacrifice and swallowing your own pride is messy and often inglorious. Still, if you want your character to play hero here then they’re going to have to avoid making a bad situation worse. If they jump in they could get the people they’re trying to help hurt, themselves hurt, just as quickly as the football players get hurt.

Figuring out how to help someone else without compromising your own safety is a difficult thing, but there are plenty of other methods your character could use. In a real world situation, I would say run for an authority figure and if your character has a friend present that’s what they should do.

After all, the goal here is to stop the bullies from hurting these characters not your character proving how badass they are. If the scene is about showing how your character is a badass then stop. Take a step back and remember that heroism is sacrificing yourself for other people, the act is all about other characters and not your protagonist. If they’re only going to make the situation worse then they shouldn’t intervene at all.

There’s a Difference Between Intelligent Bravery and Stupidity:

When my brother was in high school, he had a friend who was planning to commit suicide. During lunch in their junior year, he left to go to the bathroom but they noticed something was off and checked his backpack. In it, they found a suicide note. His friend planned to commit suicide on the train tracks that ran past our high school, this had become a trend back during my freshman year and it was an awful one. They went to the tracks and found him standing on them as the train was coming, my brother and his other friend leapt onto the tracks and wrestled their friend off safely.

Then, instead of letting him go, they promptly hustled him straight off to the councilor’s office so that he could get the help he needed. What they did was very brave, they could have all gotten hit by the train. My brother’s friend is still alive today.

The reason why I’m telling this story isn’t because it took two guys (one of whom was a fourth degree black belt) to get their friend off a track. I’m telling the story because it’s always important to recognize the limits of what you can do. My brother could have let his friend go back to class and assumed just because he’d pulled him off once that it was over. It wouldn’t have been over, because nothing would have been there to stop his friend from going right back to the tracks, waiting for another train, and ruining not only his own life but the life of the driver and the lives of the passengers on board. Instead, they got him to someone who could help him, who could alert his family, work through the problem and save his life.

No matter how tough or powerful your character is inside your story, they lack the authority and the ability to actually stop these bullies for any length of time. If they are intent on stopping them from hurting these other characters, then they are going to need to find another way to disrupt them and put them into the path of an authority figure who can deal with them.

A martial arts character will be trained to seek out authority instead of fighting or, at the very least, luring authority to them. The knee-jerk black eye of shame reaction for “telling” or “snitching” doesn’t apply here. For six years, this character will have had it beaten into their skull (like I did with mine), if you see a problem on the floor get an instructor.

There are only two good ways to stop a group.

1) Make it impossible for the fight to happen (good if you wish to avoid jail time)

2) Respond with such overwhelming force that they are unwilling to take it further (is your character prepared to cripple individuals with no real provocation? From behind? With a fire extinguisher? No? Good. This approach is more suitable to drug dealers and mob enforcers, not eighteen year old martial artists.)

Here are some simpler solutions than beating them up:

Stand on the outside of the group and attempt to talk them down while a friend runs for a teacher. The longer they can keep them talking, the less time they have for fighting and a greater chance more people will stumble on them and make fighting difficult. A fight not started is a victory.

Stand by the teacher’s lounge and yell “FIGHT” really loudly. Same with any nearby classroom that’s bound to have a teacher inside.

Get out their cell phone and record, then upload it to YouTube. They can tell the Football Players that they did, but they should prepare to be jumped and have their phone destroyed.

Pull a fire alarm. They’ll get in trouble for this, but no one will see them as a monster and their side of the story won’t be automatically dismissed on virtue of their actions. Also, it works. Loud sounds freak people out.

Final Thoughts:

Knowing when to fight and when to walk away is the most important lesson any martial artist ever learns. Sometimes, you have to take actions that don’t benefit yourself and sometimes, you have to walk away from a bad situation when every fiber of your being is screaming at you to do something. It’s important to recognize when you do that you’re not walking away because you’re a coward but because there’s no way for you to make the situation better by engaging. This isn’t going to change. Whether you have six or sixteen years of martial arts training, there will always be battles you can’t win.

This doesn’t mean turn your back entirely, offering support and encouragement to the victim is the way to go if you really want to help them. We can’t fight someone’s battles for them, but they don’t have to face them alone. If your character really wants to help these bullied victims, he’ll offer to take them around to his martial arts school and introduce them to his master. He’ll provide them with the opportunity to change their own life and give them the means to fight their own battles.

Can’t do that if he’s packed off to prison or makes them afraid of him though, so, some things to think about.

-Michi

Fear is the Mind Killer: How to Avoid the Bully

Whenever you write a character who deals in violence, there is a threat that they will become a bully. This is a problem that every writer faces because we control the events of a narrative and thus the outcome of every fight. Even an author with the best of intentions can create a bully unintentionally and that’s a problem. In real life, it is all too easy to become a bully, whether that bully is emotional, intellectual, or physical is ultimately irrelevant. Your character doesn’t ever need to throw a punch and they can still end up one.

Remember, there is nothing inherently wrong with having a bully as your setting’s protagonist. When done well, bully characters like Vic Mackie from The Shield are deeply relateable and complex.  The problem comes when an author does not realize that they have created one and with the way Hollywood structures its films these days and the general attitude towards violence, a bully can be created all too easily. So, let’s talk about the ways bully characters are created and how to avoid them.

What is a bully?

A bully is someone who uses violence or the threat of violence to get what they want. This violence can be physical, emotional, or psychological. Emotional and intellectual violence often take the form of shame or shaming, a character who uses their snark or intellect to abuse others or shame them into shutting up is a bully.

How does one create a bully?

On a psychological level, a bully is created through fear. They mask their own fear with anger, so when they are pushed to feel afraid they react violently. The more terrified they are, the harder they lash out.

The problem with a bully is that they are not in control, instead of facing their fears they avoid them, run from them, or try to force reality to conform to a state where they won’t have to deal with them usually through the abuse of others. A bully cannot allow themselves to be vulnerable or the sham of the power they’ve created will be exposed. A bully’s power is consensual. They have power because they are given it, not because they take it. A bully convinces someone to give them their power through fear, it’s just that it’s their own fear that they are projecting onto others and not the fears of the individual in question.

In a written work, the protagonist may become a bully not just because of their own fears but by double jeopardy, they could be representing the author’s. This is how they are easy to create, especially when the character is the “better version” of the author or a wish fulfillment character who has been allowed to run rampant.

A bully can happen when an author cannot handle being the butt of the joke, when they have a fight with or present an idea they believe in inside their book without presenting a counter argument or giving the other characters the opportunity to fight back. We are at risk to creating a bully when we say: “It’s going to be this way because I said so” and never give the other characters a chance at the spotlight. If your characters are winning by means of humiliation then they may be a bully. If they have the attitude of “see how much better I am than you”, again, they may indeed be a bully.

It’s easy to accidentally create bullies in our written worlds because in the end, the author controls everything. Characters cannot respond in ways that the author doesn’t anticipate or allow and when the variables are all too easy to control it becomes easy to win.

A bully can be created when we fail to give voice to our secondary characters. A bully can be created when the author plays favorites. A bully can be created when the writer dictates the state of the setting, if you do not allow for the opportunity of variables and for the unexpected to occur, and plan for that unexpected state, or even allow your characters to believe that they may in fact lose then we double the possibility that a bully has already appeared in your work. They are most likely on the winning side.

How do you avoid the bully?

The answer is simple, but also hard. As authors, we put a great deal of stock in our characters, we feel what they feel and in some ways live their vicariously through our imaginations. The greater the depths of emotion we can pull from ourselves then the more real they are. The trade off, of course, is that when they lose we feel it. If they are mocked, we may feel humiliated. If one of the problems they encounter runs up against the authors fears, then a bully may be created on accident by the virtue of the author not wishing to face their own fears and force the reality they’ve created to conform to what they want.

The problem with that, of course, as much as our writing is a fiction and fantasy, it must also reflect aspects of the real world and real human emotion. We write because we have something to say and a story to tell, a story that does not jive with the reality of it’s setting is one that leaves a reader feeling unfulfilled. We must justify everything our characters do and many of the problems we face in our world are ones that they will also face in theirs.

So, let your character lose. Force them to face the consequences of their actions. Allow other characters to disagree with them without them being evil. It doesn’t matter the reason why your character did what they did, those reasons may not matter to the farmer whose property was destroyed by the rampaging golem or the surviving priest from the church that was burned down to save a town from a pesky demon. The family of the possessed may not be grateful that your protagonist killed their child. Allow characters to judge your protagonist by what they see in front of them and on the merit of what they know of the protagonists’ actions. Actions can have unintended consequences, don’t be afraid to address them and allow your protagonist to shoulder the appropriate blame (or inappropriate, in some cases).

Don’t be afraid to call them out for what they do. Acknowledge their flaws. Let them make mistakes and be wrong, even when it’s critical. Every character must earn their happy ending and in most cases we actually decide their fates when we are putting them together in the pre-planning stages before a story ever gets off the ground.

Remember, violence always has consequences and those consequences are often unpleasant. A character who participates in acts of violence will be changed by them and the reasons why they participate will not necessarily change how other people around them will see them. Those reasons are important for how they live with themselves, other characters will always have their own reasons. Also, allow other characters to make up their own minds.

A character can become a bully, even when they are bullied themselves.

My two cents,

-Michi

So in my story my character is beat up (bullying) and I just want to know-how many punches and kicks are hospital worthy? I need to have her able to go back to class without needing attention basically. Really, I need help on the whole of it together-being beat up and how much her best friend (muscled, tall, strong) would take. Yeah. I need help because now I’m scared it is not accurate.

One; it just depends on the strike. The good news is, if the people attacking your character don’t know what they’re doing, the human body can take an absolutely absurd amount of damage.

Without going into a huge article on internal injuries, when you’re dealing with an untrained fighter, like most bullies, the answer is, “quite a bit.”

I’m going to make a quick aside: because of the way they fight most bullies do not (usually) develop into street fighters. They rely on violence, but they’re motivations don’t lead them to want to be better combatants. They don’t look at moves they see elsewhere and keep playing with them until they can do them. In short, when I’m talking about untrained fighters this time; I don’t mean street fighters.

Anyway, there are a couple vulnerable places that can turn lethal quickly: the neck & throat, head, lower back and spine. For your purposes, you’ll want to avoid blows to these.

Blows to the upper torso, stomach, arms, legs, and even (to some extent) the face, aren’t that dangerous, for a couple reasons. Note: this isn’t true with trained fighters, but, we’re dealing with bullies here.

The first is muscles. Tensed muscles are amazing at absorbing blunt impacts. The skin will still bruise, but for the most part, if someone has managed to tense up their muscles properly, simple punches won’t do too much damage.

I’ll probably never type this again on this blog, but: you can probably try this right now. Feel your stomach, poke it a bit. Now, tense up your abdominal muscles and try it again. The same principle applies to someone trying to punch your character.

Even with proper tensing, blows will still cause bruising, and can be painful, but they won’t be life threatening. For reference, the kind of bruising we’re talking about is bleeding that occurs just under the skin.

For the arms and legs the situation is a little different. The legs are basically nothing but dense muscles that are almost always tense. And, for untrained fighters, and even most trained ones, kicking or punching below the waist are awkward strikes.

For trained combatants, strikes to the arm always involve locking it in place first. If a combatant fails to do that, or doesn’t understand that it’s necessary, the arm will be pushed away before being injured. What this means is, most of the force generated hitting someone in the arm is lost to simple physics.

The face is a complex situation. A lot of untrained fighters will try to punch people in the face. It’s a nice, natural, visceral strike, and a really stupid one. Boxers and UFC fighters target the face because they’re wearing fiberglass armor over their hands. This is there to protect the bones in their knuckles. Without that armor, blows to the face are very hazardous to the attacker; there’s an uneven and fairly sturdy bone structure, which will wreck your bully’s hand.

I just got through talking about concussions, but the other thing near your face, and your character’s face, is their forehead; also known as the single thickest part of your skull. Punches to the forehead are, singularly ineffective. In turn, head butting someone in the face is a very effective technique in the rare situations where it’s viable. It’s also an easy and natural reflex to duck your forehead into the path of an incoming punch.

The other kind of tissue that’s almost as good at protecting internal organs is fat. Body fat will absorb some of the force of a blow. It’s not as effective as tensed muscles, but it’s actually harder to beat someone who’s overweight than someone who’s physically fit. This also includes the breasts, though there are some other factors at work there. I know Michi just did a post on them earlier today, so there’s probably going to be a more detailed write-up of them in the future.

We’ve had a post on bullying in the works for awhile, though the move did a number on our rhythm, so it might be a bit before that one’s ready to go up.

-Starke

Empowered: Self-Confidence, Bullies, and the Martial Artist

In the real world, martial training (almost always) builds self confidence. This is one of those easy to overlook character building elements. What it means is, martial artists don’t, normally, have crippling self-esteem issues, they are less likely to be bullies, and less likely to be bullied. (Michi Note: this counts on a physical level only, martial artists and other trained combatants are just as open to being verbally mocked and emotionally abused. It’s just less likely that it will escalate to physical violence beyond some basic intimidation.)

This is a general rule based off experience with many different martial artists from a variety of backgrounds over the years, but there are exceptions. Keep in mind that martial artists are people, just like everyone else, with their own unique outliers and edge cases. So, first, remember that this article is about “most” martial artists, and if your character is supposed to be some fringe case then that’s fine. You just need to make sure you point out that they are a fringe case, or else your audience might assume the behavior is normal within the context of the story.

Second, martial arts training won’t cure mental illness. It can provide good coping mechanisms, but if a character has self-esteem issues from a personality disorder, then, again, that’s fine. (However, the normal caveat about mental illnesses applies: if you don’t want to be offensive, don’t write about one you don’t have a lot of experience with. It’s best to spend time with people who have the disorder that you know well, if you were not born with the disability yourself, and a clinical understanding of how it functions is also a good idea.)

Ultimately, if you are wanting to write a character with serious self-esteem issues, you can’t simultaneously say they’re a great fighter. It just doesn’t mesh with reality; like a professional chef who has no sense of taste or smell. It’s a possible character, but it’s weird, and contradictory. We’ve talked a lot about how the mind influences a fight, what we believe about ourselves and our own skills will influence the outcome. Negative beliefs like “I won’t get away, I’m too small and fragile, I suck, I’m terrible, I’ll get in trouble if I hurt someone, it’s better if I don’t do anything at all,” etc, have the serious potential to lead to a losing bout or the death of that character. The body is the weapon, but mind is what wields the body. Talent only gets you so far, undeveloped natural talent is just that: undeveloped. Natural talent is nothing compared to training and experience, and prodigies are nothing without the will and desire to make something of themselves. Those whose lives have always been easy have a very difficult time when the going gets tough (and it will always, eventually become tough). They are unused to facing resistance and are more likely to give up because of it.

So, a character with serious self-esteem issues will have to get (or has already gotten) over them in training, at least in the context of their training and their skills, or they won’t last long. Now, a lack of confidence in the beginning along with minimal skill can be a driving force for a character to desire to become better. But that changes the character from a negative outlook to a positive one: “I can do this, I want to become better, I will work harder,” etc, thus hurting the story’s concept of a character with shattered self-confidence, because a character with no self-confidence at all won’t really be able to believe in themselves.

I’d be lying if I said, I knew exactly why martial training builds confidence. I suspect; it’s a culmination of the ability to defend against potential attackers, the normal result of learning a new skill, and possibly some of the thought processes martial arts training attempts to instill. (Michi Note: There are some principles of the Fight Club mentality at play, this coupled with discipline and a general focus on respect and humility, help to keep the jock mentality at bay. Overcoming your own fears has a powerful effect on the way you see yourself, especially if it revolves around overcoming and working through significant amounts of pain and exhaustion.)

Additionally, martial art schools present a lot of opportunity for someone to keep challenging themselves, and pushing further. This means that any impulse to be “top dog”, will be captured and channeled within their school, rather than against random people on the street or in their (normal) school. They are focused and goal oriented in their desire for self-betterment and in a good school surrounded by those who will help them (and those they can also help) to achieve their goals. Martial arts, for the most part, is a focus on self-betterment and self-empowerment. (Michi Note: Professional fighters have a habit of landing in the jock mentality, but that might be because of a tangible “top dog” position coupled with money and fame.)

Martial artists make poor targets for bullying. This comes down to how bullies usually pick their targets, they’re looking for weaker prey. Bullying (almost always) originates from internal self-confidence issues. Training won’t always cure a bully of their behavior, but it reduces the appeal. Martial artists are unlikely to become bullies after their training. In fact, the confidence most martial artists present usually removes them from the bully target category. This doesn’t mean they’re immune, a bully can misread the martial artist, and I’m not accounting for stupid bullies here. (Ones that think they’re actually better fighters than the martial artist, and deliberately seek them out, in an effort to assert their dominance. (Though, I’d strongly caution you against using deliberately “stupid” characters in your writing. It’s very easy to end up with a character that adds nothing to the story.)) If the bully does misjudge the martial artist, their ability to defend themselves is usually enough to send the bully looking for a new victim.

It’s important to remember that most bullies aren’t looking to be seriously challenged and there is a huge difference between a character getting up in the bully’s face and giving them the casual brush off. If there are a number of individuals present to back up the leader bully, then the leader bully might be forced into a situation where they have to retaliate.

(Michi Note: when I was eleven, there was a girl in my class who was upset when I challenged “what she wanted” during an in class Greek Gods roleplay. Afterwards, she tried to physically intimidate me (with her much greater height and stockier body by crowding my personal space) into capitulating and never challenging her opinion in class again. Her attitude and body language suggested that she was used to being able to cow the other girls and even boys because she was so much taller and so much stockier than the rest of us. I was confused, because it was just a class exercise and I was playing my role. So, I told her “no” and wandered off. I found “bitch” scratched into my desk the next day, but it never went any further than that and she actively avoided me from then on. The fact she was trying to intimidate me didn’t even occur to me until years later, I just thought it was strange at the time…by that point I was pretty oblivious to bullies anyway.)

Sanctioned Violence versus Unsanctioned Violence:

It’s important to remember that the above only really applies if you’re character is a martial artist. A martial artist’s violence isn’t sanctioned. If they fight in the real world they face much the same, if not greater, legal threat as the person who is attacking them. They aren’t protected by law or by the government the same way someone employed by the government or a private firm working with the government is.

Characters in professions where the violence is sanctioned face different temptations. When a cop kills someone, they’re up before the review board and often, the crime is swept under the rug. If a soldier kills someone (unless they kill another soldier) then for the most part, they were just doing their job. There is a serious temptation to become a bully or have a bully appear in places where the power dynamics are different, especially in jobs where the perpetrator doesn’t have to fear any sort of reprisal.

It’s also important to think about for authors, not just from an in-world context but also outside of it. We’ll do an article on the dangers of action protagonists and ending up with a bully, because it’s a common occurrence in fiction to have heroes who are nothing more than author sanctioned bullies. It’s very easy, especially in a world where all violence is controlled by the author, to end up with a character that never faces consequences for their actions even when they are performing bully behavior, whether that be emotional or physical.

In Summary:

So, keep in mind that martial artists don’t normally end up as football style “Karate Kid” jocks and your character can’t really win a hand to hand fight without some level of self-confidence. This doesn’t mean they’re overconfident, they can be confused and worried by experiences that are new and different to them. But their lack of self-confidence in those areas can’t be crippling and can’t really extend into all aspects of how they view themselves and their lives.

-Starke

(Michi Note: we’re still moving, we were working on this one slowly all weekend. We’ll try to get other stuff up, but we’re heading into a major push this week and weekend to try to get everything out and moved. We probably won’t have internet the week after that. We’re trying but life stuff comes first.)