Tag Archives: female fighters

Q&A: Fight Like A Girl Or, Don’t

Anonymous said to howtofightwrite:

What do you think about Aiki Flinthart’s book on “Fight Like a Girl”? Like on the subject of girls fighting differently and I quote from an interview with Aiki.

“Women do fight differently to men, and anyone who says they don’t is making stuff up because women are physiologically, psychologically, emotionally and biologically different from men, and to pretend they aren’t is ridiculous.”

The reason why I ask this is that given it is hard to find a site or writer that has some experience in martial Arts and not invalidate female fighters. But the quote from an interview with a woman who has experience with martial art and survivor of assault throws me off and I wanted to ask this blog’s opinion on this book. Also this is one few books that directly tackles the subject on writing female fighters. I see this book alongside with this blog with seemingly contradicting statements.

So, what I will say as a female martial artist who started training at the age of five, who was trained by individuals from a wide variety of backgrounds, including female instructors, who earned three black belts before they were twenty, and who also taught martial arts is — we don’t train women differently.

Ignoring the fact that Aiki Flinthart’s statement has two redundancies, (Physiologically and biologically are the same, and psychologically and emotionally are also the same) the fact of the matter is the reason why you can’t find a lot of writing that focuses on female fighters is because most martial arts advice isn’t written with the gender divide in mind. The gender divide is irrelevant to technique and training. Everyone, regardless of age, is trained the same way, they learn the same techniques. They’re tested on the same skills. They largely express the same philosophies if trained in the same martial system. The reason why I say that men and women aren’t fundamentally different as fighters is because both use the same fundamentals. We fight the way we’re trained to fight.

Reality, ultimately, doesn’t support her argument.

The follow-up argument of, “well, there just aren’t enough female martial artists to know” is also patently false. There are hundreds of thousands of female martial artists all across the world, probably millions. There are enough for the Olympics to have women’s divisions in multiple categories per accepted martial art per country. There are martial arts like Wing Chun which were created by women, and those martial arts are practiced by men. Pick up any martial arts instructional book. The philosophy and/or techniques there all apply to you. Male or female, you could learn these techniques if you’re willing to put in the time and effort.

The irony is you actually do yourself a disservice by chasing for girls when looking to create a female warrior. It’ll lead you to feeling like you’re being excluded when you’re not. It’ll lead you to exclude perfectly viable combat options, attitudes, and learned behaviors because you assume they’re men only. Most importantly, you’ll start from a false position of “how does a woman solve this problem with violence” when the important question you should be asking is, “how does my character choose to solve this problem with violence.”

The one major component Flinthart doesn’t include, because it doesn’t support her argument, is the social differences between men and women. From birth, boys and girls are socialized differently due to cultural gender expectations for their societal role. Now, socialization is very real, but socialization varies heavily by individual cultures. What is socially acceptable for a woman in one society may be completely different from the expectations of another. 

For example, you may go, “there’s no real history of women warriors on film and tv.” (False, but let’s roll with it.) And my response is, “on who’s television?” Then, I direct you to Hong Kong and Chinese cinema where there’s a well established history of female martial artists because, culturally, there’s a well established history of female martial artists. You’ll often see multiple female practitioners per film on both the protagonist and antagonist’s side. Sometimes, they’re the protagonists. There’s television shows where the male characters have female masters who train them in the martial arts. (Seriously, go to Viki. Learn to love subtitles, and, if you need a place to start, Michelle Yeoh’s filmography is a good one. Girls with Guns is/was a major subgenre in Hong Kong action cinema.)

We can move the goalposts here at this point and argue, “but, Michi, male and female warriors aren’t treated as equals in Hong Kong and Chinese cinema!”

The answer is, of course, that many societies are still patriarchal and societal expectations for women still exist. However, male and female warriors still use the same techniques, so there’s clearly nothing biological going on there. Also, every one of those films needs female stunt doubles and the actresses are either trained martial artists going in or also trained by martial arts choreographers. This isn’t some small subset, this is an entire industry.

The problem for Flinthart is that socialization for both men and women is socially conditioned behavior, it’s no different than teaching your dog not to bark at strangers, to sit, or go outside to pee. Most of what you believe about the gender divide is social and not biological, and these behaviors are socially enforced by society at large. This is in the way they look at you, the way they treat you, the way they respond to you, and what they say to you. A lot of young women are afraid to learn martial arts due to socially conditioned fears that training for violence (or even sports) will make them less desirable, because these are “men’s things.” That’s complete bullshit.

A) A lot of the behaviors ascribed as men only are actually for everyone.

B) The vice versa is also true, many behaviors ascribed to women are also for everyone.

The sexualization of female warriors in cinema is, again, about retaining and reinforcing societal expectations for women. It has nothing to do with biology. As a woman, you may even be inclined to chase that sexualized presentation because it is safer and more culturally acceptable. If you need an example of sexualized presentation, take a look at Black Widow in Iron Man 2, Avengers, and (especially) Avengers 2 versus the portrayal of Black Widow in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

 Women are trained to believe objectification is desirable, we’re shown this relentlessly and constantly throughout our lives; starting at a very young age. Everything about sexual objectification is designed to take personhood, personal power, and the associated danger away.

Why should you describe a woman as fighting like she’s dancing? 

This is a really common one, a lot of writers describe female warriors as fighting like they’re dancing. Why? Because dancing implies beauty, and society says a good female protagonist must be beautiful, what is beautiful is desirable, and a woman’s first priority is to attract a mate.

Again, that’s bullshit. In combat, your first priority is to kill the enemy. However, that’s aggressive. We’re told being aggressive is a masculine tendency, and therefore undesirable. So, many women writers will shy away from aggression for their female fighters when they should run towards it. Women martial artists in the real world? They do.

I don’t know if anyone’s ever told you this, but female warriors are very aggressive. On average, they are more aggressive combatants than men. Not because they need to be, just because they are. It’s a side effect of what happens when you’re trained to be passive your whole life and the shackles come off. Take the sexist definition of a cat fight, now apply that to women fully trained to kill each other. It hurts.

If you haven’t realized it yet, women can be sexist. They can be misogynists. They can buy in, even female martial artists. The myth of the gender divide feels so good, it gives the people who believe it such a fantastic sense of superiority. You get to say, “I’m different from them” then “I’m different than” becomes “I’m better than.” If you’ve ever been hurt by the opposite sex, your next step gets to be, “I’ve got nothing in common with them.”

On this blog, we have never said and never will say that martial arts training is a guarantee against sexual assault. It can act as a deterrent, it may provide you with the skills you need to identify and exit a situation, but, ultimately, a sexual predator is a social predator. The belief society instills in you and insists on is that sexual assault involves being physically overpowered, but that’s only one potential aspect. A sexual predator overpowers you with fear, fear of social consequences if you say no. Fear of getting kicked from your sports team, a failing grade, a poor report to your parents, fear of reprisals if anyone finds out, fear of your word not mattering over theirs, even fear of the predator filing a police report for assault and battery. Sexual predators don’t exist in a vacuum and you don’t either. Violence in the real world has real world consequences, both legal and social. Sexual predators know society’s rules protect them, they strike from a position of power, and their gamble is on their victim being more willing to submit in the moment than face the long term consequences of fighting back. The situation is intentionally engineered to be a lose/lose. It’s all about social power. 

The fault is never with the victim, only the perpetrator.

The sad truth is those instincts are in all of us, male or female. We also all have the same capacity for evil. The high which comes from taking power from and exerting control over others is very real. I don’t blame Flinthart for her perspective, but the claim “martial artist and sexual assault surivivor” has a lot less validity in making her a source of authority than she realizes.

The truth is that if there were a fundamental physical difference between men and women when it came to martial arts, we’d have two separate training sets for both. You’d be able to find more of a focus in the martial arts community on it if it existed because women and women’s self-defense are a huge part of the market. (We’re talking millions upon millions of dollars.) Women are, in fact, so common within the martial arts community that most members of said community genuinely forget gender parity in training isn’t a well known fact. (I forget this all the time.) Rather, most people outside the martial arts community assume a masculine default when there isn’t one.

The economics aren’t there. The training isn’t there. The philosophy isn’t there. We can’t lie to ourselves by saying there aren’t enough women for it to be an oversight. I mean, you could, a lot of people do, but that doesn’t make it true.

Don’t make me drag out all the videos from that time the whole HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts) online community had a collective conniption when right wing personalities/misogynists said women couldn’t lift a sword or wear plate armor. It was bullshit then and it’s bullshit now.

What’s uncomfortable for a lot of female writers when working with female warriors and looking for references is the sensation, “but, if I do this, my character is behaving like a man.” That’s natural, these behaviors (which are necessary to be effective combatants) have been designated by society as masculine. They aren’t though. They’re normal behaviors for someone who has been trained in this style to fight. The appropriate answer is, “my character is behaving like a warrior.”

Listen to the wise words of martial arts masters in instructional manuals and on YouTube. They’re as much for you as they are the men in your life. Take it from a kid raised in martial arts, I’ve often found I have more in common with male action heroes than female ones (unless they’re from Hong Kong.) There’s a reason for that, and it has nothing to do with the limitations of sex or gender.

-Michi

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Q&A: Sparring

My protagonist needs to win a “friendly” spar against a fellow Marine who has at least six inches and a hundred pounds on her. How does she beat him? He’s a bodybuilder who’s more into the aesthetic of strength than actual balanced fitness, so she probably has the edge in endurance and agility, but as long as they’re both at least pretending they’re not trying to seriously hurt each other, his sheer size still seems like it outweighs everything else.

I’m going to take issue with some things here.

We’ve said this before, but, apparently this needs to be discussed again. Sparring isn’t about winning or losing, it’s a part of your training.

Sparring is not, “play fighting,” it’s about learning to put techniques together.

Most of martial arts training consists of practicing the motions until they are reflexive and second nature. It’s about retraining your body until you don’t have to think about what you’re going to do, and simply do it. This won’t win a fight, for that you need to learn to transition smoothly from one technique to the next.

Sparring is the process of learning to turn the techniques you drilled with into something you could actually use against a real opponent.

Sparring isn’t about winning or losing. It’s not a low stakes fight your characters can do to show off. It’s your character learning to chain their techniques together.

How’s she going to beat him? She’s certified in MCMAP. She’ll do it using her training. But, they’re both trained in MCMAP, so this is the next issue.

When it comes to creating a character, who they are is the sum of their experiences, training, and views. Your characters are Marines.

Your marine can’t weight 100 lbs more than her. At most, he can weigh about 60 lbs more than her. This is because the Marines have very strict weight requirements. If your character is 66 inches tall, she must weigh between 117 and 170 lbs. Now, the Marines kinda expect her to be trending towards the upper end of that spectrum, because muscle mass is heavy.

If your character is 66 inches tall and her foe has six inches on her, that’d put him at 72 inches (6 feet), and he can weigh between 140 and 184.

See the problem? He literally cannot exceed her weight by 100 lbs with them both passing physical. You can adjust the heights a bit, but, without pulling apart the entire chart, there’s just not enough range for that kind of weight difference unless he’s much taller than her.

This is also where the whole, body builder idea doesn’t quite work. Marines are specifically pushed towards balanced fitness. The goal is to turn out effective combatants, not meatheads who think their pecs of steel will stop a bullet.

I get that the idea here was to show up the misogynistic meathead, but that’s not a marine.

Also, stereotypes aside, I’ve never met a dumb marine. A few idiots who were in the army, and at least one navy vet prone to dubious life choices, but never a marine. They’re weird, but not dumb.

The military’s training structure prioritizes teamwork. They are not single operators, they are a unit. They train with their unit, and fight with their unit. Soldiers live and die by their ability to work together. All the hellish training Marines go through is there in part to build that bond, not just between individuals but with everyone who shares a similar experience.

You don’t need to prove your female character can fight. She’s a Marine. She can kill someone. She’s trained to do it. That’s not a question. Writing a sparring session on the idea she needs to win puts you in the wrong mindset, because, again, sparring is not about winning or losing. Sparring is all about figuring out how to use the skills you’ve been drilling in a free-flow environment where you act and react to an opponent.

If you don’t believe me, let’s quote the Marine’s own training manual:

1. PURPOSE. The purpose of body sparring is to bridge from static to dynamic and inoculation to interpersonal violence.

a. Bridge from Static to Dynamic. Body sparring is the bridge between static punches and a dynamic environment. This is the final stage of training after executing punches in the air and on pads. Free sparring gives Marines the opportunity to apply the individual techniques they have learned in a realistic environment with a live resisting opponent. Executing techniques one at a time in the air is much different than using them together against another person who is defending themselves and also trying to hurt you.

b .Inoculation to Interpersonal Violence. Inoculation is the process of introducing something to the body so it can defend itself in the future. By introducing Marines to violence on a personal level, they will be more prepared for a real close combat scenario.

This is a learning experience, not a contest.

Sparring is just about providing a live experience with a resisting partner, not an exercise in who can hurt the other more.

The part you’re having an issue with is that you don’t know what it is Marines are trained to do. The good news is they make their training manuals available online. So, in the event you’re willing and able to do the research, you can write an entire sequence that is up to code.

2. CONDUCT OF THE BOUT. Free sparring is a training tool designed to develop Marines’ skills and confidence, and must not become a fight club or beat-down.

This is the problem with almost all sparring sequences in fiction. If you’re using it for dramatic tension then you’ve already sabotaged the purpose of the exercise, and your character’s own training. No competent instructor will pair up two people who have a legitimate beef with each other, because neither will learn anything from it. Any instructor who wants to stack the deck against a misogynistic meathead will stack the deck so hard against him that he can’t win, and has no method of recourse. They use someone who has already finished training or one of the TAs. They can also turn it into a good learning exercise for said meathead about making assumptions and assuming size matters. There’s nothing like the experience of someone half your size tossing you around the room to bring the point home.

However, it won’t be your female character currently in training who makes that point. She can’t. She doesn’t have the experience or the skill for the defeat to be so total that it sticks in the student’s memory forever. The woman who makes this example will be someone who has finished their training. This teaches your male students a valuable lesson and gives your female students motivation, and a reminder to work towards when the going gets tough.

The only way this scenario works on face value with the antagonism angle is if she’s sparring someone much greener than her who she has no problems turning into mush.

b. Maturity. All Marines must control their egos and tempers at all times. Marines who demonstrate immaturity, lack of control, or unsportsmanlike conduct will not be allowed to participate.

Sparring is not a free space to beat the crap out of someone you don’t like. The only grading score here is that you can achieve a kill with a simulated weapon before your opponent. That’s all the Marines care about. And in case you thought they didn’t have rules for girls… you were wrong.

b. Safety Gear. The safety gear required for body sparring is head gear, mouthpiece, 16 ounce (minimum) boxing gloves, and groin protection. Females must also wear a flak jacket for added protection for the female anatomy.

Did you envision your characters wearing protection in this sparring session? They better be.

Remember…

Training not only the physical but also the mental is crucial to the development of the combative mindset. Body sparring prepares the Marine to function when faced with stress and violence. These skills are the building block to developing the physical skills and combative mindset vital to success on the battlefield.

Whatever other goals for this scene you may have as a writer, you want to keep the above in mind. This is what your characters’ sparring session is for. If they are not learning this lesson through this training in your narrative then you are failing them as well as yourself. You are also failing in showing their combat ability and professionalism. Marine is a mindset, it is a profession, and will become a core part of your character’s personal identity. If you haven’t begun researching who the Marines are, what they do, what their outlook on life is, and how they behave… now would be good time to start. This is who your character (male or female) is going to be at the end of their training.

How does your character “win”? By using her training. Now, go take another look at MCMAP (Marine Corps Martial Arts Program.)

Everything Milspec has to be available publicly. If you want to write soldiers, say thank you to Uncle Sam. You can read up on all of the training documentation online. Therefore, there is no excuse for you not to do your homework. They will tell you exactly how the Marines handle sparring, put together by Marines for Marines, and you too can follow the training outline.

I will leave you with this last instructor note:

Unsafe Conditions. It is the referee’s, and RSO’s, responsibility to immediately stop the fight if they see any unsafe condition such as a defenseless fighter, safety gear problems, or if a fighter is injured. A fighter is defenseless if they appear unable or unwilling to intelligently defend themselves by exposing their back, falling to the ground, dropping their weapons,or dropping theirs hands. If any safety gear is unserviceable, missing, or not fitted properly the fight must be stopped to correct the problem. If a fighter appears to be injured, by screaming or yelling, the fight must be stopped. Once the unsafe condition is corrected, the referee will restart the fight.

-Starke & Michi

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What sort of sword would you recommend for a female fighter? I have also heard that the sword was a secondary weapon, but the time period is pre – guns and I have no a clue how much muscle is needed to fire a crossbow vs a long/short bow? Which one?

My best recommendation is to stop thinking about this character as a girl first and fighter second. You’re trying to come up with ways to make the fighting possible for her, instead of accepting that combat is a skill that can be developed by anyone given the proper amount of training and dedication. What weapon would you give this character if they were male?

That’s your answer.

As for picking weapons, I tend to pick weapons as a part of character creation and developing backstory (that blows up a little if the character is already established). I have a habit of doing this the same way I would write a crime: Motive. Method. Opportunity.

Motive: Why did this character want to learn to fight? What reason did they have to seek out training?

Most times, even in a family of established fighters, a character has to make the decision to train and to fight. This decision is a personal one and it can be anything from a desire for self protection to dreaming of being a knight in ballad. If you are working with a setting where female warriors are uncommon, then the character’s motivation for going against societal norms becomes that much more important.

Learning to fight is hard work and depending on that character’s background may well ruin any chance at conventional beauty/traditional womanhood/marriage opportunities that will better the standing of their families. It’s more than just an unusual choice, depending on the setting and gender constraints it could very well be an incredibly selfish one.

So, it’s important to establish that as part of the character.

Method: Who taught them? The good combatants have a teacher and the sword is a weapon that requires instruction, both in the manner of caring for the weapon and how to use it against other opponents. The character is going to need a teacher who can teach them to use that specific version of the weapon.

Did they have an in house tutor like Brienne of Tarth or Arya Starke? Did they receive their training when they joined the local military or militia? Did they have a parent train them? Were they carrying a blade that was common amongst peasants of their time like the arming sword or a weapon that was more regularly associated with the nobility like the long sword?

Opportunity: And what is a method if the character has no opportunity to take it? Think about your character’s background and social constraints, then pick a path that makes the most sense for them and was common for the people of their time (or the time/culture you’re basing it off of). The method they use will inevitably lead them to the right weapon.

This is where research is your friend, by narrowing down your path to profession and time period, you can better establish what your options are.

Remember: any weapon will work. Combat is a skill that can be learned and the only real physical barrier to entry is how hard you’re willing to work to learn it and the opportunities given to learn.

I didn’t pick taekwondo because it was the best suited to my size and body type, I picked the Ernie Reyes organization because they put on a performance at my elementary school that I really enjoyed. I saw it, said “I want to be able to do that”, took home the flier, and my parents signed me up.

I knew a lot of other kids (both boys and girls) who got into martial arts because they loved Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers.

The longbow versus crossbow question is actually fairly easy, both require a fair amount of strength to wield, but the truth is that care for the weapon is the most important point to maintain ease of drawing. Both require regular oiling and careful, specialized handling to ensure that they remain in a ready state of use.

The longbow is for characters like hunters, scouts, and nobles. Someone who grew up learning to or needing to hunt as a means for providing for their families. It can fire more rapidly than a crossbow, but requires more time to learn, more practice, and more training to be used effectively. In mass combat, archers were used in the same manner modern artillery is used today. The crossbow surpassed the longbow for the same reason that the gun surpassed the crossbow: it took a shorter amount of time to become as or more deadly than the other weapon, thus cheaper to replace when your troops fell. A lost archer is one to two to ten years of experience, compared to a lost crossbowman or gunman which is “point that way and fire”.

The crossbow is probably for a character who was trained via the military. A military trained character, depending on the time frame, will also be proficient in the use of anti cavalry tactics and pole arms. A female military conscript could easily just be a peasant girl whose mother dressed her up as a boy to either hide her from the men or hide a more valuable male sibling from the soldiers looking for recruits. It was not uncommon for peasants in the medieval period to be called up as levies to support their lord on the battlefield. They were usually just handed a spear and sent off to die, but there might be some workable ideas in there.

Training molds the body into a more suitable shape for the physical activity. So, if your fighter is a noblewoman, don’t expect her to keep the secret  for long. Also, servants talk. People are observant. They will know.

Some things to think about.

-Michi

How would my girl character be able to defeat my male character in hand to hand combat? Clearly, it won’t be easy to do so through physical means, but are they any clever moves or tricks she could pull to win?

With respect, you’re approaching this the wrong way. Unless your intent is to take your character out at the kneecaps.

She doesn’t need clever moves or tricks to win. If she actually knows how to fight, she can win.

There is no real strength gap between the sexes. There’s a social expectation. There’s culturally acceptable activities. But, there isn’t a real strength difference. This is one of those societal illusions that doesn’t relate to reality. You don’t need to write your female characters as superheroes or trick fighters to come out on top against normal male opponents. They just need to know how to fight.

It actually devalues your character to say they need special means to win in a fight. You’re saying, “I need to make my character special so they can compete.” You don’t. You will make stronger, better, more compelling characters, when you avoid cheating them past adversity.

What you need to change isn’t in your story, it’s your perspective, as a human being looking at the world.

(Also, you might want to read Women are not Weaker than Men.)

-Starke

deepredroom:

A reminder that “male” armour usually works just as well with female bodies. If you’re trying to design something practical, useful and historical looking (or even just something the follows the laws of physics), never ever put in boob cups. Aside from the fact they give the armour a sort of “focus point” for swords, falling down on them would send the shock right into the sternum. Regular plate armour leaves enough space between the chest for small to medium sized boobs anyway. But say the girl underneath is a buxom lass, you can still avoid that cleavage, boob cup shape while leaving enough space for her melons.

But aside from plate, things like the top picture, chainmail and all sorts of leather armour are unisex. I know you might be thinking that the feminine thing to do when designing a female warrior is to show off a bit of thigh or neck or cleavage or something, but really, understand that if the goal of that armour is to protect completely, putting an obvious gap in it is a terrible idea and she’ll surely get stabbed very quickly.

And don’t feed me the “it’s magic, I don’t got to explain shit” line. Bollox. Magic armour and forcefields need to make some sense too. Show me something that LOOKS like it’s generating a barrier over the character instead of just saying “Oh the G-string of Invulnerability is just as good as wearing full plate anyway”. If that’s the case, everyone would wear it. And why can’t they just tie it around their belt? Make me believe that your magic armour and spells have logic to them. If not, please don’t play your world straight. I’m all for super stylised designs as long as they’re sold as such, but if you’re trying to make a world that feels real enough for people to believe and get immersed in, think this stuff out. If you’ve designed someone with sparse, gapped armour that shows skin, give your character a reason to wear it.

This showed up on my crawl while I was packing up (and getting ready to carry) another load of comic books. Figured some of you might like it. We need more recognition for women warriors and a better focus on practical gear for them in fiction. If there’s one thing that really hurts a female character’s believability, its the lack of appropriate dress sense and gear. It’s nice to want to have it all, but sometimes we’ve got to make sacrifices for common sense.

-Michi

Fight Write: “Learn To Fight Like A Woman”

When most martial artists utter this phrase, they don’t mean it as an insult. That may surprise some of you, but in most of the martial arts community (at least, the part of it I grew up in) women are actually well-respected. A smart male martial artist knows that women martial artists bring a different perspective to the table and that it’s one that cannot be discounted. Some of this is what I came up with while working on a post talking about height and weight, but since I might not be able to get that up today, I thought I’d leave you with this.

I’m going to break this down into two aspects: mental and physical. The mental aspects work across the board, some may see the physical part as exclusionary. But when talking about martial arts, we have to discuss both the body and the mind in equal measure. The body cannot function without the mind and the mind cannot fight without the body, both are important. This is going to be general information, this is because fighting is subjective based on the individual practitioner. Everyone fights differently and how they fight has more to do with who their instructor was, what they were trained to do, and how they see the world around them than it does with gender or body type. Your character will learn to make use of what they have, because they won’t really have the option of anything else.

Mental:

It’s important to note that many smaller male martial artists I’ve known have talked about the advantages of having a female instructor. This is because women, on the whole, learn to fight from a disadvantaged position. The vast majority of women will almost always be faced with a larger, usually male, attacker and they have trained themselves to fight with that knowledge. So, they’ve learned to make use of what they have. This begins with the way they see the world.

It’s important to remember that when I say “larger attacker” we’re usually talking about a difference between eighty to a hundred pounds and a height difference of several inches. From a mental standpoint, facing someone larger and taller than yourself can be intimidating. It’s easy to become afraid and petrified by that fear. “He’s bigger than me, he’s larger than me, he’s going to hurt me, and there’s nothing I can do because he’s stronger”. In America we’ve been conditioned to believe that bigger is better, more over less, and the largest opponent always wins.

Women have to actively work at getting over all the social programming that tells them how they should behave and how they should see themselves in relation to the men around them. Female characters who start training between the ages of four and seven will be less prone to this, but the intimidation level is still a hurdle they have to master. It requires an active approach to problem solving, learning how to get in first and fast, and overcome the fear of facing a larger opponent or a male opponent even when the physical differences have little bearing on reality.

The way we see the world is the way we approach it and in a world that seeks to actively strip women of both their power and their confidence, developing a solid base to work from is much harder than it sounds. But for a female fighter to be successful, she must first prove to herself that she can do it and then, she has to fight hard in her training to make it a reality.

It’s important to remember, then, for your own characters that a female fighter or “action hero” is never a passive player. If they trained from a young age, then they’ve already fought against all the reasons why they shouldn’t be doing this and if they still are, then they won. Even if they are insecure about some aspects of social life, they will have a strong basis in who they are and the skills that got them here.

After all, to fight like a woman is to fight like an underdog and all those battles are hard fought and hard won. There’s nothing like adversity to build character.

Physical:

There are a lot of different body types out there in the world and there’s no way we can cover all of them. Women lack a man’s capacity for brawn in the upper arms and shoulders, but they come with a different set of advantages. We already talked about hips and power in the “Women Are Not Weaker Than Men” post, so I’m going to skip over that.

On the whole women have a lower center of gravity, better coordination, more natural flexibility, and better balance than men because their bodies are more compact. Women tend to have shorter torsos, shorter legs and shorter arms than men. This doesn’t mean they are more in tune with their bodies, that comes from training. But it does mean they can combine their lower center of gravity with their better sense of balance and coordination to be more precise in their attacks. While they lack the ability to brute force their way through situations, this actually makes them better and more adaptable fighters. When male martial artists say: “fight like a woman”, they mean: don’t rely on your brawn, learn to understand your body, and learn to let gravity do the work for you.

Women have more to lose from having sloppy technique, so they tend to spend more time investing in the study of body mechanics and gravity, over just developing their muscle strength. Speed is important yes, but it’s the precision that’s the killer. Knowing where you want to go and where to put your body to make it happen, where the human body is vulnerable and the places people don’t think it’s vulnerable (but really is) are all important.

Women tend to be quicker about dispatching their opponents and they spend less time playing around. They’re also, on the whole, more serious and more devoted to their studies. Any good female fighter knows that she won’t get far by coasting on natural talent and that she has more to lose in a real life situation if she does.

Just some things to think about.

-Michi

Women Are Not Weaker Than Men

Divorce yourself from this idea right now, author. While I’m sure it is the narrative you’ve been presented with your entire life, I’m here to tell you that it isn’t true. Women do find building up muscles in the upper body more difficult than men, but since power does not come from the arms, it’s actually a superfluous distinction. Women build up muscles in the lower body and in the core muscles (abdominal) very rapidly.

Skill in combat is not a matter of biology, but in training and dedication. Remember, if your female character fights, she’s neither unique nor special. In my experience as a martial artist and a martial arts instructor, there are on average per class 2 girls to every 10 boys, with the female number either remaining constant or doubling as the class goes up in age. While there are fewer female combatants around than male, it’s not hard to find 20 women to every 100 men. Extrapolate that out and think about it, women who fight are not as rare as you might have previously imagined.

Here are a few things to consider:

Power comes from the hips.

I will harp on this until the end of time until everyone shakes the myth of punch strength being decided by arm muscle strength out of their heads. The strength of the strike comes from the pivot of the hips and guess what? Women have wider hips than men, thus a greater opportunity to generate more power and hit their opponents harder. Combine this advantage with a low-center of gravity and the ability to push that center even lower  and you have a fighter capable, not just in power, but able to topple much larger opponents.

Women have a lower center of gravity.

This is the advantage of the short fighter, it’s the same for short men and short women, a tall woman fighting a shorter woman will encounter the same resistance as a tall man fighting a short one. I list this as a female advantage because most women will always find themselves facing larger opponents. So, it’s important for an author to keep in mind.

So, how does this work? A center of gravity is the height difference from the ground to your core, around the belly button. The shorter the fighter, the lower their center of gravity, the lower the center of gravity the closer they are to the earth, the closer they are to the earth the better their ability to generate a stable base and the harder they are to knock over. A fighter who knows where to put their feet and weight to make use of their center is a hard one to take to the ground. This is one way for women to overcome the height and weight disadvantage.

Women are naturally more resistant to pain and fatigue than men, have a greater potential for stamina, and can fight harder for longer.

It’s important to note: it’s not just that men cannot biologically carry a child to term and survive the birth, but if they did with their current make-up, they would die. So, you may call it the miracle of childbirth, but a woman’s body is gifted with a much greater level of resilience than their male counterparts. While these abilities must be honed and improved through training, the natural talent is already present in every woman’s body.

The only combatants who ever actively terrified me were women.

I’ve met a great many master martial artists from a great many different styles, all of whom I deeply respect, and can trust in their ability to utterly annihilate me. But the female black belt sparring division, my first thought on encountering those women as a teenager was: “I want to spar with the boys.”

Women live in a very different world than men do, they live in a world that is comprised of dangers even in places that are supposed to be safe. A woman cannot walk down a street alone, never mind if it’s at night, without wondering if an attack will happen. Rape and other acts of violence are very real, every day threats, and women live with the knowledge that the places they have been told to go to for protection will disregard them, laugh at them, and judge them on their worth for “allowing” these acts to happen to them. Every woman, even the ones like me who began at a young age, will eventually be faced with the realization that they may have to use what they know against another person one day. This is not fantasy assessment full of wishful thinking, but a cold reality. What if one day I have to hurt someone else? What if one day I have to kill them? The women who practice and prepare through forms of combat do so with that in mind, with the knowledge that they are the underdogs and that one day, they may have to use that training to fight for their lives.

The ferocity with which they beat on each other in sparring matches is a reflection of that. Remember, these are women who have shaken off the socially ingrained idea of ’I can’t hurt anyone’ and moved on to ’I will break you if you hurt me’. They follow that up with: you will never walk right again.

Unless your character comes from a very different society, this attitude will be part of who they are. Women who are trained and dedicated have the capacity to be terrifying, especially in a patriarchal society. Why? It’s not the behavior that most men expect.

-Michi

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