Tag Archives: combat psychology

Fight Write: The Only Unfair Fight is the One You Lose (Part 2: Brutality)

This is the second part of our article “The Only Fair Fight is the One You Lose”, if you haven’t read the first part “The Nietzschean Defense” please do so. This article refers to some of the other more brutal aspects of combat. Again, we believe it’s important for every writer who wants to work with combat to understand it in its entirety. This includes the bloody, uncomfortable aspects of it.

Knowing when, where, and how far to push your character is a key part of writing a combatant. If you don’t know where the upper limits are, how can you write a character who defies them or worse, how can you write a character who goes there? This part of the article is the slightly gentler side of things. You know, if, for any reason, you don’t want your characters psyching out their enemies by becoming a monster in their personal horror movie. Below are are a few more mild options. These focus on ending the fight definitively and quickly before the fight has even gotten started. Again, we’ll be listing this with a trigger warning.

Joint Break

There are two kinds of joint breaks, elbow and knee. Elbow breaks are strictly defensive counterstrikes designed to cripple the attacker’s arm. Knee strikes exist as both defensive and offensive strikes.

Most elbow breaks rely on catching a strike, twisting the attacker’s hand like a normal arm lock, but, instead of applying force against the elbow to subdue the attacker, the martial artist follows with a hard strike to the back of the attacker’s elbow. If properly executed the strike will hyperextend the limb, tearing muscle tissue, and destroying the joint.

Defensive knee breaks work off a similar system; trapping the attacker’s leg during a kick, and delivering a hard strike to the knee.

Knee breaks also exist as a variety of kicks to the leg, designed to force the joint to tear. To break the knee all your character needs to do, is strike it so it bends in any direction except the one it had originally.

As with the attacks in the previous article; joint breaks are viewed as very egregious in the real world. These are injuries that will never properly heal without significant medical attention and surgery.

About 14 years ago, I hyperextended my knee while running. While, this was substantially less destructive than an actual joint break; I was on crutches for about a month, and was still using a cane to get around six months later. Even with physical therapy, this is an injury that’s never fully healed.

Breaking an enemy’s joint will effectively remove them from the fight, as they’ll slip into shock.

The Head Slam

We’ve talked about hair pulling, but this is the real payoff. The character seizes their opponent’s head, either by the hair, across the back of the skull, in the grip described in the eye gouging section, or by grabbing their face. They then start pounding the head into any nearby solid object with as much force as they can muster.

This works best as a preemptive strike. While a large character could grab an enemy mid fight and start slamming their head into things, jumping a character and using the force to repeatedly slam their head into the pavement is just as viable for a smaller character.

Films are somewhat fond of using these attacks, though they often downplay the danger involved. One or two strikes to the head will seriously impair any combatant.

Strikes to the front of the skull are slightly less effective, because of the heavier bone structure in the forehead, but with these attacks, exterior physical damage isn’t the point; inflicting brain damage is.

Head slams have an advantage over normal combat techniques: there’s little to no risk of hand injury from them. There’s also an equally serious disadvantage. Head slams can easily kill the other combatant, and the factors which control this are completely outside your character’s control. Bounce the brain off the skull to hard, or in just the wrong way, and they have a corpse to contend with.

The Groin

Everyone reading this should have some general familiarity with the concept of groin strikes. “Kick ‘em in the nuts, and down they go.”

This actually works on combatants regardless of their gender, though kicking women in the genitals requires slightly more accuracy to be effective since the striking region is much narrower. (Michi Note: I received an accidental knee to the groin during my third degree black belt test and it wasn’t much more than a clip, but it hurt like a…anyway, it’ll knock a girl out of the fight as same as a man.) If you’re wondering why: the clitoris is just as sensitive as the penis and has as many (or more) nerve endings. It’s just smaller, so it’s harder to hit.

-Starke

Fight Write: The Only Unfair Fight Is the One You Lose (Part 1: The Nietzchean Defense)

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 Psychology

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.

The Eyes

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.

-Starke