Tag Archives: fight scene advice

Q&A: The Elaborate Fall and Controlling Your Center of Balance

Anonymous asked:

I kinda want to hint at a character’s martial arts skills by having them trip and respond using skills taught in martial arts. Perhaps it may not be martial arts specific, but anything else where keeping steady and taking tumbles well is important, idk skateboard, acrobatic? Perhaps it matters why the trip occurs, like missing a step or stepped on loose tile, small moving obstacle ran into them?

Did you mean, physically adjusting my body to restore my center of balance and counter a fall?

Any form of activity which trains you to maintain your balance/center of gravity and develops control over your core muscles will help you save yourself from falls. This is most forms of physical activity, but not limited to martial arts, dance, skateboarding, acrobatics, yoga, cross-country running, sprinting, most track and field related sports, most sports, etc. It’s an exhaustive list.

They’re probably not going to trip, tip forward, turn the fall into a forward shoulder roll in the middle of the street, and calmly just walk it off like “no biggie.” That’s a lot more effort than the average fall is worth. (The average person’s confused reaction would be hilarious though, and that’s why the elaborate fall is a comedy trope. There’s also nothing subtle about it.)

Honestly, there’d be no overblown response which would force a character to use their “skills” i.e. techniques for falling because losing your balance is really common when you’re training. Techniques for falls are really techniques for how to fall safely when thrown and spreading the force out so you take the impact on a greater area. For example: if you slap the floor on the moment of impact, you reduce the effectiveness of your opponent’s throw and limit the damage done to yourself.

Lost balance is resolved by utilizing your core muscles (your abdominals) to correct your posture in the moment, set your weight if necessary, and bring your body back into balance. That’s it. You don’t think about it, you’ve practiced so often you just do it. The mental process for tripping is, “oh no, I’m falling. There’s the ground. Oh, now I am not falling.”

The best scenarios are, “Oop… Nope. We’re good.”

Taekwondo gives you a lot of practice standing on one leg, so you learn to balance your body at all kinds of weird angles. We learn our central balance point is a fulcrum. I cannot tell you how many times this has occurred on ice and my body just auto adjusts to counter how I am out of balance. Sideways? If your ankle can resolve the problem on it’s own, opposing arm out and lean toward it. Falling forward? Bend your knees and squat. Falling backward? Lean forward. Foot slipping out from under you? Go with it and start a split. In 98% of ice slips, my butt never hits the ground.

The reason why is that when you train in martial arts (and I’m going to discuss martial arts specifically, but this is applicable to other sports) you develop fine motor control, fine motor control and awareness of your body lends itself to a greater internal sense of balance. What does this mean? I will realize when I am out of balance sooner than the average person and my response time is faster, meaning the corrections likely go into place before passing the point of no return. The point of no return is when your body has passed a point where your fall can be stopped in it’s arc. If you pass that point, gravity takes over and nothing you do can save you. The same thing happens with strikes if you want to block them, you have to stop the strike before the extension otherwise the blow will go right through you. It’s dependent on your inner timing.

If you want to hint at a character’s background in martial arts, a better option is going to be their reputation for auto-correction and fixing their falls. “Jack’s got a really good sense of balance. Like, creepy good. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Jack fall.” I was somewhat notorious among my friends in high school for my ability to stay in balance. People notice when you’re good at things that they are not good at, especially girls who like to complain about being clumsy. Someone being very centered can become very creepy if you spend enough time around them.

It’s like getting asked, “where’d you get that bruise?” And responding, “uh? Dunno.” And you really don’t know because it could’ve been anywhere. You just get so many, you stop noticing.

You’d really need to get a handle on how balance and balance adjustment works if you wanted to try and pull off balance adjustments seen in genres like Wuxia or Xianxia. These scenes are usually there to be comedic or act as a genre specific tell for a specific kind of martial artist. Basically, it’s there to subtly (or, in most cases, unsubtly) tip the audience off to the fact the character is literally superhuman. So, when you see a martial artist do this in a martial arts film, they do this elaborate stunt (often on wires) because it’s a martial arts film or television show and not because people do it in real life. It’s a specific genre convention heavily dependent on Martial Arts Give You Superpowers in conjunction with the specific brand found in East Asian storytelling. You’ll be hard pressed to get the elaborate fall working outside the martial arts genre because, well, outside of East Asian storytelling tradition and other cultures where martial arts hold an enshrined existence, they don’t give you superpowers.

(If you’ve been uncritically consuming Japanese anime, Jackie Chan films, Into the Badlands, martial arts based k-dramas, wuxia and xianxia c-dramas on Netflix/Amazon Prime/YouTube/Vicki like the Untamed, or even Marvel’s recent outing in Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, I can understand where the elaborate fall might become confusing.)

– Michi

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Q&A: Valentina Shevchenko is Awesome!

The women’s deadlift record is less than 700 pounds, the men’s is more than 1100. Every medalist of the 2016 800m women’s Olympic race was XY intersex. Denying science doesn’t make you progressive.

I want you to know, every other martial arts I read this question off to has burst out laughing. This includes male martial artists. Then, they all pointed out why it was dumb.

Using unrelated scientific data to support a reactionary position doesn’t make you progressive either. Turning to weightlifting for “proof” in relation to the combat arts is the number one most common refuge by people who have no idea what they’re talking about. They turn to weightlifting because they think that physical strength i.e what you can deadlift is important proof for superiority, even if it’s meaningless in context.

Men can lift more. So what? We know they can. Men have a much easier time building up their upper body strength than women do. I’ve said it before on this blog. Women have an easier time building up their lower body strength. Women also have a lower center of gravity, which makes them more difficult to throw if they’ve learned how to properly set their weight. The overspecialization of the weightlifter with their musculature means they can’t actually achieve full extension on their strikes and halves their power. Which is why this specific argument is funny. They’re also ineligible for military service because they’re overweight.

My friend who has competed in archery tournaments internationally once had a group of bodybuilders come into her archery range. They wanted to do a marketing photo shoot where they were drawing the bows. Here’s the funny part: they couldn’t draw the bows. They’d developed their biceps and triceps, but hadn’t properly developed the necessary muscles in their shoulders. They couldn’t draw. After learning the proper technique, they still struggled.

You’re offering up statistics that don’t apply in hopes that they’ll prove some kind of point about male superiority. However, the question is male superiority in regards to what?

I’ve never argued men aren’t capable, just that women’s skills and ability are misrepresented. Nothing stops me from appreciating individuals for the skills and experience they bring to the table. Barfing up statistics that mean nothing in context to the argument you’re trying to make does nothing for the argument itself. Misrepresenting those statistics does a disservice to everyone involved, and just makes you look like a fool.

I don’t care about gender or sex because what matters is the person in front of me, not general assumptions about superiority which may or may not apply.

On to question number two:

In other words, you believe with a straight face that Valentina Shevchenko would have even odds against Stipe Miocic?

After having looked at these two fighters and their records, I’m going to assume you didn’t do any research because Valentina Shevchenko is a straight up terrible pick for your argument.

We’ll get to that in a minute. Let’s start with the UFC problem.

We’ve talked about the UFC before. Prize fighting is entertainment, the structure of prize fighting is for entertainment, and they will never put forward fights that are not for entertainment. This is gladiator combat, the big brother of the WWE. There is no point in speculating about matchups that will never exist. Given “even odds” are dependent on a betting structure designed to make the fight as exciting as possible rather than be a reflection of skill… well, the obvious answer should be obvious. They wouldn’t give her even odds because the whole point of selling such a the match up in the current UFC system is underdog versus the big dog. Not because it’s true, but because it’s more exciting that way. The UFC would need substantially different rules regarding matchups to give this question any validity.

Why are you insulting these two professional fighters in some mistaken drive to prove male superiority? Why are you foolish enough to assume “odds” mean anything in a sports system designed specifically to drive viewers to bet? The odds are literally the betting odds, and the betting odds are decided by a very different system unrelated to the fighter’s skills. Therefore, they’re not a good source for scientific veracity.

If you’re question is do I think Valentina Shevchenko could fight Stipe Miocic and win, the answer is: have you looked at this woman’s record? She is awesome!

She’s been active since 2003, from 2003 to 2015 Shevchenko collectively won more than 50 amateur/pro matches in K-1, Muay Thai, and kickboxing. She has 81 total bouts today, including UFC, across these three sports to her name. Of those 81, she has 74 wins. Miocic has 21 bouts, and 18 wins. Miocic has been active since 2010. He has 21 and only in the UFC. Miocic is considered the best UFC heavyweight fighter. His major background is wrestling and football, and he has trained in boxing. Shevchenko is considered to be one of the best female Muay Thai fighters in the world. She’s one eight gold medals, five of them consecutive. When she was twelve, she knocked out a twenty-two year old. Her background is taekwondo, Muay Thai, kickboxing, and judo.

I don’t think you did any research before you picked these two off a list. This is why you shouldn’t judge people based off their height, weight, and looks. Between the two fighters, she has vastly more experience and a precision style that specifically counters his. This is a bad match up for him. You should’ve cited Ronda Rousey.

However, it wouldn’t mean anything if he lost and she won or if she lost and he won. The whole argument is pointless because combat in the real world doesn’t care about statistical advantage. Whoever survives wins. There’s more to winning than a weight difference. You’ve already disrespected both these combatants who have impressive backgrounds and accomplishments to prove… what, exactly? Women can’t compete with men in the heavyweight division? Men in the heavyweight division are better fighters than every other division? Or did you choose the heavyweight division and its fighters because it’s the most celebrated one? (Do you not like the welterweights?) You don’t honestly believe Stipe Micocic is the best fighter in the UFC because he’s the current heavyweight champion, do you?

There’s a women’s division in the UFC now. Ten years ago, people like you said there never would be because women either couldn’t fight or no one would want to watch them fight. Yet, here we are. People ignore there’s a long history of female fighters in gladiatorial combat, but it’s there. There are female warriors scattered throughout history, in countless cultures, who fought on many battlefields. After all, Julie d’Aubigny, also known as La Maupin, was one of the finest fencers of her day. She was trained alongside the boys by her father at birth, she fought and defeated many men in duels in 16th century France.

None of this means anything in regards to you anyway. After all, you’re not Stipe Miocic. Stipe Miocic defeating Valentina Shevchenko in a hypothetical contest does nothing for you. It proves nothing for you. Not when Valentina Shevchenko would wipe the floor with both of us. I don’t think you’d want to stand in the ring with her during a fair bout.

Supposed male superiority won’t help you much when the person you’re making comparisons to is light years ahead of you, the person making the assertion. This is why this argument is pointless. Combat is about whether or not you can fight the person in front of you and win, it’s about dealing with the situation you’re in, not some hypothetical best who is over there somewhere. If I’m not fighting them, then, in the moment, I don’t care about them.

I’m not going to worry about men, plural, but the singular man, what he can do and what he can’t. This must be the most terrifying concept for you, that you will be judged not for what you are but who you are. Viewed for your accomplishments, your personality, what you have to offer, and not some predisposed standing society has gifted to you by the benefit of your sex.

Step back, start asking yourself some hard questions about why you need male superiority in all respects to matter. That says more about you than you’re willing to admit.


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Q&A: Movement Hides Movement

I believe you’ve mentioned in the past about the ‘bouncing’ or ‘hopping’ that boxers/martial artists do to stay light on their feet, etc. but I don’t see HEMA/other weapon based martial arts doing this. Is there a reason why?

You see this in HEMA all the time, they’re just not bouncing with their feet. (Though you’ll see them do the shifting.) They’re moving their sword. Modern fencers bounce, they have to, they’ve got a lot of movement to cover. However, the sword tip flicking back and forth or circling off the wrist’s subtle shifting in the air working off the same principle as Ali’s “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” It may not be as visually pronounced, but it’s there.

See, you’re thinking that its about feet. It’s not just that, beginners make this mistake a lot. They see an action and assume that’s the answer instead of looking at the underlying principle then seeking to apply that principle to a different context. A warrior wielding a sword has different needs in order to be successful than a boxer fighting under very specific rules. Staying light on your feet is a matter of adjusting your stance so you lean forward onto the balls of your feet rather than sitting on your heel. This position allows for a shift into immediate action like a sprinter on the starting line.

Bouncing is footwork. It is footwork to cover your footwork that covers your footwork. The point of bouncing is to cloak the tells signaling when you’re about to strike by constantly staying in motion.

Your body has lots of tells for when it’s about to attack, it will betray you. Your eyes will betray you. (I mean it, if you don’t train your eyes to take in the whole body then they’ll move to their desired target point. Even moderately skilled fighters watch their opponent’s eyes and their chest.) Your feet will betray you. Your chest will betray you. Your hips will betray you. Your arms will betray you. Your legs will betray you. With a sword, it’s… in all those things and the weapon itself. Action is predicated by action. Some of those tells are more visible than others.  A single technique may look fluid to the outside observer, but it is actually a multitude of little actions chained together. Those actions have a beginning and they have an end. The beginning of the action is where the tell is. The beginnings of a technique predicate the strike and where it will go.

Martial arts trains the eye, especially your peripheral vision, to watch for movement rather than specific techniques. Your brain is trained to recognize patterns and respond to those patterns, predicting and preempting the act before it comes. This is how we block and how we dodge. You move when they move, move as they move. You don’t wait to see what they’ll do, then move. From the beginning motion of the eyes to the pectoral muscles to the shift in the shoulder, you can see the punch beginning. Blink and you’ll miss it.

Blocking and dodging are about timing. You want to block an incoming attack, you have to preempt. Catch it mid motion. In the middle, before the action completes. When the action passes past the chamber and into extension then its too late. Their momentum is behind them. You either need to redirect or get out of the way.

Bouncing, or shifting your weight back and forth from your front leg to your back, acts as a means to cover those crucial early seconds before an attack. You’re basically overloading the eye with motion so the brain has difficulty tracking which limb is moving when. It’s the basic act of giving yourself cover.

You’ve got to fake out the eye in order to get them to block, then strike somewhere unexpected. The high/low combination techniques you’ll see in many martial arts are devoted to this fake out. As are the bursting techniques of Krav Maga. (Krav Maga is extremely effective.) If you don’t do martial arts, I get why this might be a little more difficult to understand. This is maybe green belt level for strategic and technical understanding. Feints are easy to grasp in concept but difficult if you’ve never seen them in practice with other techniques. Also, there is a necessary component in understanding the interplay between a techniques success and its footwork. Or, even, just what footwork is. (Universally the most basic and fundamental part of a martial art, necessary to success, and also most overlooked.)

Muhammad Ali level bouncing is exhausting. Remaining constantly in motion is exhausting. 90% of the time when watching sparring practice, you’ll see the kids go from bounce, bounce, bounce to flat footed in less than a minute. It requires dedicated conditioning in order to sustain the pace. You will get tired much faster than if you remain still, you need to train for it and a lot of people don’t. This includes professional fighters.

Martial arts is not one size fits all, different schools are going to have their own means of cloaking their motion in order to hide their attacks. Different individuals are going to figure out their own ways of doing it. Though many in boxing mimic it now, Ali’s fighting style was revolutionary for his time.


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Q&A: God of War

How physically (in)feasible would weapons like the Blades of Chaos from God of War be in real life (the in-game nonsense about attachment aside)? The blades themselves are too big to be accurate thrown weapons, which I’m assuming the chains are supposed to compensate for, but I don’t quite understand the aerodynamics and weights versus a meteor hammer (or other, slightly more conventional weapon of that sort).

The short answer is, they’re not. For the exact reason you mentioned, the Blades of Chaos are far too heavy to use, this is before you even consider throwing them. Man at Arms built one back in 2013. To make the thing work, they actually used a lighter steel alloy, scaled it down, and ported it to get the weight of the blade under 10lbs. Even ignoring the part where Kratos is throwing them, these are stupidly big blades.

So the overall size isn’t an option. You can chalk this up to art design, or superpowers, if you want, but the swords are simply oversized to the point that they’re unusable. If you want to say, “that’s art design,” sure. That’s fine. It’s not authentic to the real world, but you’re talking about a steroid junkie who was resurrected from the dead hunting down and killing the Greek Gods, so, there’s not a lot of point to arguing if his swords are too large for a human to wield them. Just, you know, keep in mind, that’s part of the material’s visual aesthetic.

As with using them, they’re too heavy to throw at someone. That said, sticking a blade on the end of a length of rope or chain was a real weapon that saw use in China. We’ve talked about rope darts or kunai before. These are, basically, a small throwing dagger that is controlled by the user via the attached chain or chord. These are pretty popular in martial arts films, and they are a real option. There’s also a number of blunt variants, including the meteor hammer you mentioned. In those cases, you’re less worried about aerodynamics, and more interested in using the chain to control where and how the weapon spins. Sort of like a yo-yo, of horrific death and dismemberment.

There are practical points for both the Blades of Chaos and the rope dart, but they’re fundamentally different contexts.

Rope darts, and similar weapons are incredibly hard to deal with defensively. Against a trained user, they’re nearly impossible to block or parry.  Beyond that, they can be incredibly hard to predict. They’re also very difficult to use. It takes a lot of training and practice to actually put the blade where you want it. This means that a skilled practitioner can give these some very idiosyncratic strike arcs.

The Blades of Chaos are designed to do something you usually don’t want in a weapon: They’re designed to telegraph the user’s actions, and it is incredibly important that they do so.

For those of you unfamiliar with the God of War franchise, it’s a character action game where you control Kratos, an undead, Spartan warrior. Gameplay is (primarily) presented from an isometric perspective, where Kratos takes up somewhere around 2%-5% of the screen at any given moment. Part of this is to provide a sense of scale, and the series has a frequent sub-theme of sticking him next to incomprehensibly massive enemies. So, making him visually small is thematically important. It’s also important from a gameplay perspective. The player needs to be able to see the entire arena they’re currently fighting in, so that they can track enemy movement, and avoid attacks.

The chains attached to the Blades of Chaos provide two critical functions. They provide several medium range attacks for the player, and they offer the player feedback. That’s the telegraphing thing I mentioned earlier.

Given the way combat flows in the franchise, the ranged attack options are critical. The idea is that they player will be involved in melee combat, and continue to engage in it immediately after killing an opponent. There’s a number of ways to deal with this design goal, including lunge attacks or medium range options. As far as I know, God of War does both. The blades are also used as traversal tools, both in a chain pull to move the player around the battlefield (that’s a lunge move), and as climbing aids for some of those massive boss fights. (And some miniboss fights.)

In a character action game, telegraphing your attacks is actually fairly important. It runs contrary to actual combat doctrine for the exact reason that you’d never want to do this in a fight. In a game, you need to know exactly what your character is doing at all times. You also need to know what your enemies are doing. Because, as a genre, character action games tend to ramp up the speed of combat significantly, and maintain a high tempo, this means you’re not going to have the time to take a measured look at your opponent and evaluate their movements. So, for it to be playable, everything needs to be telegraphed. If you don’t, the combat will become nearly unplayable or, worse, feel unresponsive and inconsistent.

The cartoonist proportions of the blades are (I suspect) largely because you need to convey information to the player, in game, quickly. They’re comically oversized, but that’s because you need to be able to track them on your TV, from the couch, when Kratos is smaller than an action figure. The part where they ignite when used just gives you clear information on what you just did, where that hit landed and, (most importantly), when you’ll be able to do something else.

That last part is a huge component behind why all of this is so important for a game like God of War. (Not just a video game in general, but this specific genre.) When you’re designing a game, it’s important to understand what aesthetic elements communicate to the player. There’s a lot of parts to this, and it’s not always as simple as just the art style.

This is also why you don’t want to take stuff straight out of a video game without seriously considering what it was doing there in the first place. In this case, it’s telegraphing.

That said, if you’re drawing art, the whole oversized weapon aesthetic can serve (roughly) the same purpose: to communicate the progress of combat clearly. It also gives you more space for fine detail work on the weapons, which may work into your overall aesthetic as well. It’s not realistic, but there are artistic merits to the style.

When you’re in a real fight, the last thing you want is your opponent to know what you’re doing. This is one of the things the rope dart excels at, and part of why a lot of martial arts focus on keeping your movements inside the body’s profile. Humans process objects by identifying the outlines, and it will (usually) lump a person together as a single object, or a small collection of objects, meaning tracking motion inside that outline is actually harder. It’s not that you can’t see it, just that there’s a momentary lag of your brain going, “wait, what was that? I wasn’t paying attention.” In a fight, that can be fatal.

When you see stuff like this actually play out in video games, it tends to result in feeling like you couldn’t tell what was happening, or attacks came out of nowhere. In short, it’s not fun.

Television and films often use large exaggerated movements for the same reason, to convey what’s happening. It’s part of why the roundhouse punch is so prominent on screen (particularly up into the late 60s), when attempting the actual move in a fight is borderline suicidal. (The other reason this persisted is, it’s a very easy attack to whiff for the camera. Meaning it makes life much easier on the actors. Additionally, the long windup means the other actor has plenty of warning to cue their reaction. Again, the opposite of what you’d want in a real fight.)


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Q&A: Blood in the Eyes

Hey! Is it possible to take both of an opponent’s eyes out with a single swipe of a sword without amputating the nose? Thanks so much in advance!

Not exactly what you’re asking, but cutting someone’s forehead so that they’ll get blood in their eyes, temporarily blinding them, was a real tactic. That does work.

Actually taking out the eyes in a single, linear strike, without hitting the nose? I don’t think so. To be fair, even a fairly deep cut to the bridge of the nose wouldn’t amputate, and a slash across the face that would sever the nose wouldn’t connect with the eyes, because of how they rest in their sockets.

Maybe I’m missing something obvious, in which case, I’m sorry. Still, if you want to blind your character temporarily, in combat, cuts to the forehead will do that.


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Q&A: Fight Scene Sentences

Based on my reading, fight scenes tend to be best written with shorter sentences and use sluglines to help avoid it from becoming a wall of text. The writer should add details of what happens, but focus more on giving the desired feel of the scene than an list of every strike.

Sure, that’s one way to go about it but I’d hazard though that it is possible to have a fascinating fight sequence which is a wall of text. (And, actually, I’m sure there are in The Lord of the Rings and probably War and Peace or the more downright confusing translations of Father’s and Son’s, I’m just too lazy to go digging.) A scene is defined by how successfully it manages to keep the reader’s attention so they remain invested in the action occurring on the page.

The issue with writing advice of any kind is that any ground rules laid down will be broken in fairly short order by a hundred other books. The other problem is that the vast of advice majority depends on the styles of the times rather than the writing itself. A fight scene can be anywhere from a single sentence to five or even ten pages long, or longer. There’s no clear metrics for creativity.

The only rule is there aren’t any rules. Not even when it comes to grammar. The only metric for success is based on what you can get away with, and how well you hold the attention of your audience. Many of the best writers we remember were people with enough confidence to look at the rulebook and throw it out the window. Writing is mostly trial and error, and figuring out what works best for us as individual creatives. The best thing to do is throw out the shoulds and learn to trust yourself. Take the Barbossa line from Pirates of the Caribbean to heart, “the Code is more what you call guidelines than actual rules.”

The great secret of every creative you admire is that we’re all mostly making it up as we go along. The only quality you truly need is the willingness and courage to leap off the platform without looking back, and see if maybe you’ll fly. 99% of writing is learning how to nor give a crap about what other people think. Or, what we think other people think. The voices that whisper we’ll never do it right and that we’re not good enough.

Don’t listen to the voices.
Go with your gut.


Besides, talking sentence is almost pointless because everyone’s writing style is different and their narrative structure is also different. The best fight scenes are like dessert or a topping, they serve as a means to enhance your narrative and build it up rather act as a full course meal. Each scene and sequence are a dish to go with that meal or just an ingredient. Sometimes, they might be able to function as meals unto themselves but are excellent when consumed together.

The best fight sequences are the ones which maintain the audience’s suspension of disbelief. They can go about doing that in a number of ways, from utilizing the five senses to the author making excellent use of their set pieces, but usually come together when the author has a solid grasp of what they want from the scene and understand how to go about getting it.

The how is usually what trips people up, how to translate what we’ve envisioned in our minds to the page. The more you understand about a subject, any subject then the better you’ll be at figuring out how to get what you want. This may involve some reevaluation of what, specifically, you wanted to begin with in order to start asking the right questions.

The more you understand about warfare, and how warfare has grown, changed, and transitioned throughout history then the better you’ll be at writing magical, fantasy battles.

If you want to write Rurouni Kenshin anime fight scenes, starting with research into Kendo, Iaido, Budo, and that specific historical period in Japanese history will ultimately help you parse through where inspiration was drawn.

Sometimes, we need to ask the wrong questions before getting to the right answers. You want to write in a similar vein to what you’ve drawn inspiration from then start with understanding how it works.

It may suck when looking for a quick and easy answer, but the truth is that good work isn’t easy. It’s difficult. It takes a lot of investment, both mental and emotional. And there will never be anyone who can get to the bottom of what you want better than you can, because you know what you’re looking for. You just need to figure out how to get there. Investigation, essentially, is key to writing good fight scenes.

When you understand basic concepts like distance and the order of operation in a fight, moving between different zones until we end up on the ground, then the fight sequences won’t feel like just a static listing of techniques. Instead, they become interesting due to the fight actually moving. (The issue with many fight scenes is lack of progression.)

The second issue is choreography. When writing fight scenes, the writer’s closest relation is a film’s stunt choreographer. That’s a different set of priorities beyond just “realistic or no?” because a novel, like a movie has its own setting rules that it abides by outside the realm of the real world. The key issue for many writers is they either don’t know enough about martial arts or have a ready grasp of various techniques to choreograph a fight. Then get down on themselves, forgetting that fight choreography is a craft in and of itself. The best scenes we see in movies are often choreographed by seasoned, if not master, martial artists. 9/10 when you’ve got someone asking for a fight scene, they’re asking for choreography. They want to know how to structure a fight so it’s interesting to read/watch.

A fight scene that utilizes it’s environment, laying down the groundwork and foreshadowing objects like staircases as the fight progresses will create a sense of catharsis for the audience when a character finally throws another down those stairs. Or grabs a frying pan off the counter. Or starts throwing plates. Or is out numbered against a group of bullies, and maneuvers their way around the hallway to pull the fire alarm. (They see the fire alarm before they get jumped, or when they’re trying to figure out what to do, then try to get to it.)

Fight scenes work when we understand a character’s needs, desires, and wants rather than focusing on a need to “show, don’t tell” their fighting ability by making them fight.

Poor fight scenes aren’t just badly written, they serve no purpose other than “proving a character’s fighting ability to the audience” and often feel out of place in the narrative. They are a violation of the character’s stated goals and needs, and often work under a different setting rule set which has no interaction with the main story itself. Poor fight scenes are boring, the illusion breaks and the characters are just paper dolls being mashed together.

After that, the sentence structure is just structure.

In fiction writing, we use sentence structure, grammar, word choice, and even white space on the page as a means of crafting tension and tempo. Tempo in fiction is manipulating the speed at which someone reads. An easy solution is to use progressively shorter sentences to build a sense of tension and imitate the feel that events are actually moving faster. Long sentences feel slower because they take longer to read. That’s the basics, anyway, it becomes a great deal more complicated than that once we get into the inner workings of a single sentence. There’s also beat, rhythm, and rhyme schemes.

If you want to learn how to manipulate emotional experiences in very few words then poetry is what you should be reading.

Basically, all these require various skills. There’s no easy way to develop these skills beyond hard work, practice, and trial and error.

The first step is: get over the fear of failing.

You’ll try, you may fail, it may not work the way you want on the first go. You’ll probably have to go back to the drawing board multiple times, and that’s okay. You’re not alone if you sit at your computer watching a single fight sequence you love on repeat a few hundred times trying to figure out how it works. That’s normal.

It takes work to gain knowledge and then figure out how to apply it contextually. You’ve got to learn about the subject then learn how to make that knowledge work for you. The process is often embarrassing, sometimes clumsy, and we may feel like we suck because we’re unfairly comparing ourselves to experts in the field. A writer is a perpetual student seeking out new knowledge and new information. Whatever we’re digging into will always be more complicated than we initially thought.

TLDR: It’s difficult to write fight scene involving guns if you don’t know how guns or bullets work. That follows for everything else.


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Two characters (A and B) are fighting in zero gravity, in a medium sized room (12 feet by 14 feet). A is about 40-30 pounds smaller than B, who is about 200-210 pounds. A is quicker than B but B can take more blows than A. They both are trained to a high level in karate, judo, and Kendo, and both are physically fit. B is very good at Kyudo. They have no weapons, but shrapnel and debris are everywhere. How might this battle go down and who would win?

They’re fighting in zero-g. None of what you’ve listed here actually matters, not even their weight, because it doesn’t help them when fighting in ZERO GRAVITY. Martial arts designed to work with gravity, don’t work in the cold depths of space as they’re relying on mechanics and physical laws that aren’t present. Whoever adapts fastest is the one who wins.

However, and this is an important point for anyone sending in questions, we can’t tell you how to write your fight scenes. We won’t create them for you, we can tell you how a thing works and pass on resources to help you get where you want to go but we can’t tell you how the fight will go down.

You, the writer, are the source and it is up to you to figure out how it will happen and who will win. Combat relies on more than just where people fight, their height and their weight, what they have access to. It also involves a lot of setting information, relies on narrative flow, themes, and the personalities of the characters involved. It is your story. You do it.

This is a good lesson when it comes to learning. If you want your character to be a fighter skilled in five different martial arts with a high belt ranking then YOU, yes, YOU need to put your nose to the grindstone and get researching. It’s all up to you. You are the one who is telling this story. It is up to you to convince your audience, however you choose to do so.

You don’t need me to tell you how, you need to learn how so that you can write it on your own and that starts with learning how the individual martial arts you want your character to know work then you start the long process of figuring out how they work together. Along the way, you’ll learn that judo and kendo are mostly useless for live combat because they are sport forms. This is intentional, its there in the “do” as opposed to “jutsu”. “Do” signifies the martial art’s transition into an art form rather than a combat form. There are parts of it which are still applicable, but combat is no longer its primary purpose as a training outlook. You’d also learn that “karate” is an umbrella for multiple Okinawan martial disciplines that are unique and distinct in their practices.

You want to do it, you need to learn how they work and then how they work together. If you can’t do that, take a step back. Start with one instead of three or four.

You want to write fights in zero gravity? You might start by learning how zero gravity functions, watch videos of astronauts in space, and figure out the importance of gravity itself. For earth based combat, gravity is necessary for the techniques to function. They’re all built with the idea that you will be fighting on earth. They won’t work the same way in a zero-g environment.

Research on your own is important. You may not need to practice a martial art in order to write it, but you do need to learn its concepts. You need the foundations, and the theory behind how the techniques are supposed to work. You can learn that multiple ways and you can internalize those concepts far more quickly than the years it takes to train to physical competence in a single martial art. This is also where I say I hope that Character A is somewhere between 35 to 50 for their “high level” of skill in three martial styles. Traditional martial arts, particularly karate, judo, and kendo, take awhile to learn. You’re looking at upwards of five years to the first black belt, or longer depending on how firmly they hold to tradition. Some schools won’t let anyone but an adult test for black belt at all.

While this is happening all in your imagination, the writer always has to put their money where their mouth is. They’ve got to prove their character’s competence to their audience and its up to you to do it.

So, start at the bottom and work your way up. The more you learn, then the easier it will be to conceptually put together these fight scenes on your own.

That is the goal of this blog. We’re not here to write your fight scenes. We can theorize how a scene might go down in abstract, tell you how some martial arts work on a conceptual level, and teach you about the psychology and logic behind the mystification of combat forms. However, the work is yours.

You do it.


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I’ve seen several photos portraying Japanese girl gangs fighting in long pleated skirts. how viable of an outfit is this in terms of combat?

I’m going to avoid talking about the cultural context for the skirts, which there is and just focus on the practicality.

The answer to any question involving combat is “it depends”, and when we talk about an article of clothing that is dependent on that specific article of clothing. It also depends on the kind of combat you plan to have your character engaging in. Street brawls are very different from armored melee. If your character is a female soldier, she’ll be dressing according to whatever regulations her military has (that could involve a skirt for dress uniforms, but battle and dress are different).

There is no “one-size fits all” approach as the field of battle matters, the kind of opponent matters, the skill level of all parties involved matters, context matters. What your intentions are matter.

They all factor into the decision making process. What you need to do when looking at articles of clothing and trying do decide if it’s a yes or no is learn to think from the internal perspective of someone who would actually be engaging in physical conflict. If you’re thinking of someone heading into a dangerous situation where they couldn’t outwardly look like they were expecting trouble then the question is: if you expected to be caught and forced to fight, what kind of clothing would you prefer to be caught in?

It starts with you and we work our way out from there as you learn more about the conditional nature of combat. When it comes to Hollywood, the irony is that most of the clothing male action heroes wear will work for basic street combat whereas the clothing for women won’t. Would you want to be hunting monsters through the sewers in six inch heels? Probably not.

For what the girl gangs are doing, it works. In fact, it works better than a miniskirt or any other tight clothing common for women in the US or the leather bondage outfits you often see women fighting in on television. You’ll still see women in the real world wear those. Not because it works, mind you, but because they’re afraid they won’t be perceived as feminine, sexy, or attractive. They overcompensate in the wrong direction, the same way Hollywood and media do, and for the exact same reasons.

Sometimes, people make choices that have nothing to do with what’s appropriate or what works. Sometimes, they’re trying to balance between societal expectations, cultural mores, gender constraints, and what they’re trying to accomplish. Sometimes they’re trying to be outside the box and inside the box at the same time. And, sometimes, they can get away with it. What they’re doing and who they’re fighting means they’ve a greater margin for error, versus someone faced with an enemy where they need every advantage they can get.

What you want, especially with street fighting, is freedom of movement.

This is why you often see tank tops or very loose fitting shirts on military personnel. If you’ve got a shirt that fits tightly around the shoulders, that’ll impede your movement, restrict the rotation of the shoulder. If you’re pants are too tight or limit flexibility, then that slows you down and will limit how high you can kick, how well your leg moves, etc.

You want durable clothing.

Clothing that protects you in a fall or when you’re rolling around on the ground. If you can’t see it absorbing impact or protecting you from scrapes when you hit the earth, then it isn’t a good pick.

You want clothes that breathe.

Combat is a high energy exercise, it’s frenetic, it’s fast, and it takes a lot of exertion. If you’ve ever brought the wrong kind of clothing when you’re going jogging or watched makeup melt off girls in P.E. class then you know what I’m talking about. Clothes that cause you to overheat, that don’t allow the heat to escape your body, that you can’t run or sprint in, will actively do you harm in a fight. By participating in exercise with a high energy output, you are already heating up your body. (This is part of why we sweat, we’re cooling our body down.) The hotter you get, the faster you burn through your water. The hotter you get, the faster you reach a point of critical exhaustion which will get you killed.

However, “what works” for combat is heavily dependent on the kind of combat your character plans to (or potentially might) engage in. The rules change based on what you’re doing, what you need, what the chances of success are, who the enemy is, the terrain you’re fighting on.

There’s also the other side, beyond practicality, which is you know, cultural expectations and considerations. How your character feels about gender norms, whether they care about being perceived as feminine or masculine, whether they care about expectations, whether they’re vain, or willing to get themselves killed over fashion.

There’s also the part in fiction where how someone is dressed becomes an indicator for how serious the situation is/threat level is. That’s a visual tell you see used often in film and television.

Remember, skill and experience don’t free you from the same constraints that affect other characters. They just mean your character can make more intelligent choices based on what they know. They can get away with more, but it will still catch up to them in the end.

So, be Helen Mirrim in R.E.D. and take out armed gunmen with a reinforced clutch and the element of surprise.

Try thinking about the situation from the perspective of the character involved rather than overall generic rules. Practicality changes on a situational basis, and there are plenty of people who will go Rule of Cool in real life. This is especially true of gangs, where efficacy loses out to intimidation.

People are people. All the factors going into a decision may not be the ones you expect or are looking for.


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In the story that I’m writing, my character gets into a fight in a bathroom. The man she’s fighting comes up from behind her and grabs her by the hair. In response, she grabs him by the temples and shoves her thumbs into his eyes, causing him to let go. She in turn then grabs him by the back of the head and slams his forehead down onto the corner of a porcelain sink. Given she’s 5’9, 150 lbs, & physically fit but has no fighting training, how much/what kind of damage is she actually going to do?

Well, she just took out his eyes. Then she bounced his head off a wall. So, he’s done. Not dead, probably. He’s done though. He’s going to have more problems with the fact he can’t see now.

The problem with this scenario is that it’s the kind of rapid escalation you see from hyper-agressive self-defense training. This is ex-special forces, wet works, spy, ex-military levels of violence. It’s in the switch over, and the follow up.

You can have someone with no training do it. It’s possible, but they are going to shut down so hard afterwards. In an adrenaline rush, she doesn’t have the control to not take his eyes out. So, she just stuck her thumbs into his eyes. That’s not fun. That alone will shut her down. He’s screaming, and now her hands are covered in blood.

Like you don’t do combos like this without a lot of training. Or, you know, she’s got no regard for another person’s humanity. However, that reaction suggests she’s done this before.

The problem isn’t that these techniques (even as a string) are difficult to execute. It’s the violence. She has no experience with it. This is the kind of response you get off of Jason Bourne (Film version) and Jack Bauer. You don’t get it off of Michael Westen from Burn Notice.

What this says is:

This is the response from someone who likes their victories to be as
decisive as possible and damn the methods. Whatever gets them to that
win fastest. They are used to their enemies escalating as quickly with lethal force and go there first. They obliterate opposition.

This is a mindset that takes a long time germinate. It is what you get from ex-special forces. They’ve had time to master the kick over from normal state and into violence, their kick over is immediate, and then they escalate to lethal force.

The only thing missing here for a confirmed kill is a few more blows to
the head via the sink, and then she crushes his throat with her foot.

Now, he may already be dead. The extra is just for confirmation.

Your character just killed someone. At the very least, they blinded him. How they did it is not normal, and you may want to reassess just how much they know about combat. This is not the behavior of someone who has never been in a fight. This is the behavior of someone who has a close, personal relationship with turning people into sausage.

Here’s what someone with no training does when they get grabbed from behind: they freeze or they flail.

Conventional self-defense programs will have taught her to rock her body weight and slam the back of her head into his face, which causes his nose to bleed and the pain may force him to let go. Or drive her heel into his shin. Or do both.

You can actually do these things, and even (if you’re lucky) succeed at them without practice. The point of techniques in a good, conventional self-defense program is that they are easily instilled into the muscle memory. Which means, these are often basic techniques which do come fairly naturally and stay for a very long time. They’re meant to provide you with the opportunity to escape, so you can run.

This means, you can happen on these basics in a fight completely by accident. You could end up slamming the back of your head into someone’s nose just by flailing if you flail forward and back. The schoolyard bully who beats people up in grade school figured some of these out. Like the sucker punch to the stomach. Punches hurt a lot less when they’re hitting soft targets, and the stomach is a very effective place to hit with immediate results.

The major problem for someone with no experience dealing with violent situations is the mental hangups. You don’t just switch over and do. You have to decide to do. You have to decide to respond. Decide hurt someone else. Then you have to decide how you’re going to do it. In a person without training, this can amount to a lot of paralyzing seconds. When you’re talking about characters who have immediate, violent responses, they’re people who have enough experience that their decision is immediate. They don’t do it by accident, they made the choice. And deciding to hurt people, especially as the level of violence escalates from a broken nose to blinding someone else to death, takes practice.

For women, depending on how they’ve been socialized, this can be very difficult. Some have an easier time of it than others, but violence (especially this kind) rolls right up against everything the greater society tells you a woman is supposed to be. Getting over that hump is difficult, it’s harder when you’re scared, and even harder when you haven’t had any preparation at all.

The problem for you, I think, is that you’re still getting caught up in the idea that size and weight, training versus no training, have some basic diminishing effect on how successful someone is at combat. I mean that you’re thinking of it in terms of video game levels.

Combat is really about decision making, how confident you are and how comfortable you are in the level of violence of which you’re participating. Figuring out what your character can do is based on three things.

1) They have the ability to get themselves into the mindset quickly.

2) They have the experience to be confident in doing and comfortable with what they level of violence they’ve chosen to participate in.

3) They have the muscle memory and familiarity with the techniques to use them in a dangerous situation/stressful environment.

What they know how to do matters, what their intentions are matters, and the kind of violence they’ve chosen to perform matters a lot when it comes to figuring out where they are on the scale.

So, when you ask yourself or your character:

“What’s the first thing you if someone grabs you?”

Their answer is: Scream.

We’re on the right track for a beginner, or someone you just pulled off the street.

If their answer is: Stick their fingers in their eyes.

They’re on a slightly different level when it comes to what they know.

Horrifically mangling people is not normal, natural human behavior. You work your way up to it. Mostly because it requires being able to look at another person as two hundred pounds of ambulatory meat. You’ve dehumanized them inside your head to point of being a problem that needs to be removed from your environment. It can be developed, and not just by training. Depending on your environment and socialization, it can occur naturally. However, it does mean you’ve grown up in some kind of hazardous environment.

A person who has gotten to this point isn’t someone who is having their first violent experience. Their collecting frequent flier miles.

Over time, the ability to escalate builds. You don’t train to it, you develop it from personal experience. As you experience violence and violent encounters, you learn how fast you can escalate. You learn new points to escalate to, you learn what you need to do in order to keep yourself from harm. It is learned, and not in a safe environment.

This is why I say its the response of someone who is in the range of ex-special forces. They have gone so far that they don’t manage, or attempt to control, or worry about the fallout, they just do. They’ve reached the point where this response is reasonable, where if they don’t immediately respond this way then they will die. It’s this or death.

Now, that doesn’t mean your imagined scene is wrong. It just means there may be more to this character and their background than they’ve decided to share with you.

This is why, honestly, understanding escalation of violence is important. Why understanding reasonable force is important. So you know what your characters chosen method of response says about them and act accordingly.

I have seen many characters, especially female ones, go to this level of violence when it’s not the author’s intention. They wanted something slightly more normal. They do it because they think its cool, or bad ass, or some level above normal, or because Jack Bauer did it. It’s what they thought the appropriate response was, and they were wrong. (And when they do it with law enforcement, well, they dumb.)

The kind of violence a character chooses to participate in and enact on another person says a lot about them. It’s another expression of who they are, it’s a clue into their character, and it’s a clue to their past. It is, very much, show don’t tell.

You need to know what exactly it is you’re showing. When you know, you can have others respond to it and have control over where it goes.

A sane, rational person’s response when happening upon this scene is “what the fuck was that?” It’s the sort of scene that turns her into the scary, terrifying aggressor. It doesn’t matter what her victim’s intentions were, because she went so far over the line there is no coming back. Well, not in polite society. From the perspective of an outsider inside the setting (not you, not her, not the reader) she looks like a monster straight out of a horror movie. She dehumanized herself. It is worse for her, now, if he lives.

See when it comes to the rest of humanity, there’s such a thing as overdoing it. Brutality alienates, it defies and defiles ethics and morality. A character who participates is segregated out because they’re no longer “safe”. Not all violence causes a visceral, negative reaction in those who witness it or its aftermath, but the more brutal it is then the more genuinely terrifying they become.

And it is the actions themselves, it’s not the character’s intentions, experience, context, or moral alignment. They don’t get off or excused for being new, if anything that makes it worse for them because that means this is their default state.

Now, this means nothing when it comes to the quality of the work or audience investment. You can get the audience on board for it, just look at 24 and Jack Bauer or Walter White. Sell it right, and people will root for anything. However, like with those shows, there need to be in setting consequences and recognition of the behavior. There are characters we love in concept, and characters we would hate to be in the same room with. Make no mistake, anyone who would tear another human’s throat out with their teeth or pinning them to their chair as they forced their eye open and held a ball point pen just above their pupil is downright terrifying. Their actions may be entirely justified in the narrative’s own context, they may justify them to themselves, but outside justification doesn’t govern visceral, knee-jerk reactions. Taking someone’s eyes out will freak out another human’s survival instincts.

Forget your attachment to your character for the moment. How would you react if you walked in on a 5″9, 150 pound woman pounding a man’s head into the sink? Her hands covered with blood, clothes spattered, his as she isn’t bleeding.

It’s a different reaction from walking in on the same woman struggling against a grown man whose nose is bleeding, clawing at his face, and beating him with her purse while screaming, “No, No, No!” Or just, “not today, motherfucker!”

Both these situations offer interesting story dynamics and characters, but its important to figure out which one is what you want because they are not the same. They are not even in the same hemisphere.

A character doesn’t need to be a great warrior, capable combatant, or brutal fighter. They can be great without that, they don’t need to succeed when they fight back, and they can utilize their other strengths to craft tense, brilliant sequences. They can flail, and struggle. Scream, and cry. Stand frozen like a deer in the headlights. Hide in the restroom stall, crouched on top of the toilet with their hand clapped over their mouth. Run away.

The most important thing when crafting a character is to be honest.

I know, you probably didn’t intend for the thumbs to go into the eyes. They will though, because she’s either scared and high on adrenaline who doesn’t have any idea where his eyes actually are as she can’t see them or a practiced combat who really doesn’t give a fuck.

There’s a reason why brutality is a real life scare tactic, why shock value is an embraced tactic on film. It’ll freak you out, and it doesn’t discriminate.

The best narratives accept these sorts of actions for what they are, treat the effects they have on the characters, and deal with them honestly, the worst assume the rules are different because Protagonist.

In the end, learning how to balance force with narrative necessity, a character’s personality/characterization, and the consequences will lead to a more fulfilling story. Be honest with yourself about who this character is and who you want them to be. Ultimately, that’s where the best scenes and the best badassery come from.

Nothing is stopping her from stomping his foot, pushing him into a stall, hitting him with the door before fleeing toward the exit and locking him inside the bathroom.


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One versus Group: Writing that Wuxia Action Scene

Having spent some time watching the pilot episode of AMC’s Into the Badlands with Daniel Wu, I was inspired to talk about writing the one vs group scenario. We’ve talked about the realistic side of the individual versus group combat in the past, and how difficult it is to pull off in real life. However, I’m sure most of you dream of writing your own action heroes someday (if not right now) and the hallmark of the action hero that sells them hardest is not the end fight. It’s how well they handle the group.

Group combat is difficult, both on the real world side and creation side. The logic of the 1vX scenario is that facing the multiple grunts is too difficult for the standard combatant to handle. Only “one of the best” can do it. Thus, it puts those combatants who can in a league of their own.

On the creation side, the 1vX is also one of the most entertaining types of fight scenes. It’s fast paced, visually rich, and designed to showcase a character’s skills. They are never, and should never be, one size fits all. After all, in a fictional context, the purpose of these fights are expository. They’re there to inform you of who the character is, very quickly, in a very perfunctory show vs tell. A choreographer or writer who can put together an entertaining 1vX fight scene will sell their character’s creativity, ingenuity, and skills to the audience without them ever realizing that’s what was happening. Even if all the character does is run away, we learn a lot from how they choose to handle groups.

In a martial arts movie, these sequences are used for bonding the audience and the protagonist. They do this more quickly than any other fight scene type. While also pulling the double duty of elevating the villain and their skill level as we wind our way toward the final fight.

Action cinema like all other media has coded tropes that communicate information to you without ever saying it. The group fight in an action movie, especially a finely paced one, is essential for selling a master combatant to the audience.  

In film, the 1vX is a common standard for action heroes, and I’ve seen novels where the author has attempted to imitate it. Some have success and others not so much. Success generally depends on understanding the tropes they’re trying to imitate, both how combat works and how the narrative of the fight presents the character to the audience.

This is why learning both sides of the martial arts world, from practical to performance, is necessary for building your narrative. While understanding how a group fight functions in reality is essential, storytelling is built on easily communicable tropes. Every culture has assigned flags that indicate who a character is and their purpose to the story, and those change over time. With film, it can be a myriad of visual items and one of the big ones is color. When written, it can be character actions, objects, clothing, anything really. So inured are we that, most of the time, when we’re consuming we don’t even notice they’re there and in the beginning when we’re writing we don’t even notice we’re making the same choices. These tropes are easier to recognize in the media of other cultures but, at the same time, when we don’t know their purpose we miss them entirely.

In a real world sense, fighting a group is about time, how much you have and how much you lose, where the enemies are, and how to balance them. This translates to the screen and into the language of the scene.

See, kung fu action movie group fights are not about trading blows as much as they are about tempo.

Yes, tempo.

Like a properly choreographed dance sequence, it’s rhythm.

You want a kung fu style action sequence in your novel, you’ve got to find a way to translate the rhythm into text. And where is the rhythm, you may wonder? It’s in the exchange of blows. In the thrust, and block, and kick, and fall. In the loosening and tightening of muscles, in inhale and the exhale. Do you hear it?

There’s a drumbeat in your character’s soul.

Traditional martial arts counts beats by breath, on the inhale and the exhale. The inhale marks the beginning of the movement, and the exhale is on the end. The inhale before and the exhale on the strike, when all the muscles tighten up, then you move again. You can count your strikes by number, on the breath, like in dance. One, two, three, and kiap.

Hear it.

That’s the sound of a combination.

Block, punch, and grab. Pause to sweep the ankle. Yank their hand to your waist. Against their will, they slide on; shoulder to hip. And you turn into the throw.

Your opponent flies into their incoming fellow.

Kick backwards as the enemy rushes in behind, hear them stumble, and spin to face them. Roundhouse to the head, pause, give the audience a moment to breathe then… Twist sideways as your next opponent lunges in, the blade passes your waist. Seize the wrist, step back, and yank them with you. Free hand to their elbow, thrust into joint break.

Elbow crunches. Appropriate scream follows.

Kick them away.

Remaining opponents have paused from fear. One clutches his busted arm, fingers coated in blood. Another helps the fallen to his feet.

Face them, and smile. Gesture ‘come’ with fingers.

Say, “Let’s go.”

You count the pieces of the technique, on the inhale and the exhale, and break them apart to create that tempo. Notice, the action comes from all sides. Often, from the direction the camera wasn’t pointed so you get the moment of, “oh crap!”

Now, it’s important to remember there’s a stunt actor que. There was one in the piece above. You notice it best in the terrible movies and shows, where you see them line up one at a time and wait their turn. A scene with a truly skilled performer and choreographer is such you won’t even notice the que because the action is happening so quickly it feels simultaneous.

If your character has a goal that involves protecting someone else from muggers, it’s important to remember that the muggers or whoever won’t all turn to fight when they leap in. When you have a good scene, this is an important source of tension for your hero. It gives them a reason to clear through the mob, forces the audience to focus on the necessity of speed, and a point to work towards. It also lets you do humorous things like throw one enemy your character is fighting into the other when they get too close to the protectee or stuck dragging them backwards. (This is also why you should never fight around an official protectee.)

Your characters aren’t puppets hanging still on their strings, they’re moving even when you’re not focusing on them. This is important because it lets you have moments of surprise in the scene. Like the character being seized from behind, or someone screaming as they’re about to be killed and the character has disengage, kick someone into a wall, and leap the other direction. They don’t have time to finish them forever, you see.

You build up your beats, mixing them all in together.

Your character gets thrown across the bar. (Beat.) Lands hard. (Beat). Rolls top over end. (Beat.) Notices a bottle of whiskey in hardened glass (like Jack Daniel’s. In a funny scene, they maybe take a drink. Also, that’s two beats.) Up they come (beat), crack their attacker across the face. (Beat).  Back over the bar. (Beat.) With a kick. (Beat.) Swing their club. (Beat. Beat.) Think they’re done, turn to yell at a friend still fighting, get clocked across the back of the head. Stumble, turn, and off we go again.

Then there’s the myriad of little beats in between the actions. Count every fall, every hit, every roll. The length of your sentences changes the rhythm. You’ve got to count. the time. it takes. to finish your scene. Fast, fast, slow, fast. One (breathe), two (chamber), three (strike), four (recoil), five (reset). When you get faster, they combine together into one, two, three. Remember, slow is for exhaustion, injuries, recovery, and long actions. Fast is for the quick hits.

Slow gives the audience time to refresh, catch up, time to breathe, just like the character. When the scene is unbalanced, it overwhelms. You’ve got to give your audience time to follow the action. That means breathers. Those breathers can come at any point, they’re where the action slows before rolling back into the rush.

Commonly, these are in the injuries, the received hits by the primary character. In group fights, they happen when a character is knocked from the fight (whether permanently or temporarily), they happen when the character runs, dodges into another room, or moves to a new scene location, does a slow transition between combat partners, or gets a moment where they fight one on one instead of in a rush of multiples.

There should always be a moment in the middle where you’re character is ducking and dodging being attacked from multiple sides all at the same time. This is going to be a challenge, especially if you are a neophyte and know nothing about either combat or action. It’s difficult enough to imagine one fight, but controlling a battlefield, moving between your dance partners, and fighting from all four sides is not how most of us are trained to think.

Unless we’ve practiced martial arts.

This is part of what katas are for, you know.

And choreography? It’s just a kata. There’s the kicker in it all. Understanding martial arts, traditional martial arts, is what’s most important to grasping the magic behind a wuxia style action scene. It’s performance martial arts. It’s all martial arts, at its best and worst. It isn’t what you want to be dealing with in real life, and that knowledge is precisely why these characters are held up as supremely skilled in their narratives.

So, how do you translate a visual medium into a written one?

When it comes to the page, the length of your sentences dictates the amount of time each technique takes. The longer the sentence, the longer it takes to read and absorb then the more time the action takes in the reader’s mind. You control the time it takes with your words, with the form of the paragraph, with the rhythm of language.

Punctuation exists to punctuate. Cut unnecessary words. Learn to be specific. Pinpoint. Figure out which techniques take more time, more energy, and budget techniques for those moments. Standing is quick, grapple is slow, and ground wastes time. It costs time to get up again. The time you took writing your character running over a wall to avoid a hit is the time it took for an enemy to kill their protectee.


Yes, simultaneous action is happening that the reader doesn’t see. That’s the sleight of hand. As the writer, you control the amount of time your character has, but janking that time around screws with the audience and the character. Thus, we up both tension and tempo.

Time, baby. It’s all about time.

Where are you losing sentences? When is an action unnecessary? What is distracting from your action? Is that distraction what you want? Sometimes, it can be helpful.

When you’re writing action the time it takes for you to write a character did a thing is the amount of time it takes to do the thing. Sometimes, long sentences are good. Remember, those moments you take to describing scene or setting changes as the fight moves can act as breathers. As can the moments it takes for the fighter to reassess. Too much action too quickly is mentally exhausting for the reader. Difficult sentences are harder to follow, long sentences give you that moment to relax the mind. Knowing that, at a more advanced level, you can pace them to experience what your character is experiencing in the structure.

So, there is no one size fits all.

The only usual rule is that wilder, less trained combatants are more uncontrolled, more sloppy, more loosey goosey. The more crisp and controlled a fighter is, the more mechanical they are, then the better they are. The untrained fighter and noncombatant fights can be just as fun to write as the upper echelon, they’re also easier.

“I’m unpredictable.”

“I’ve predicted the unpredictable before, kid.”

If you’ve heard that one before, take a drink.

The less a character knows, than the less skill you need to fake. The more advanced they are, then the higher the limit. A character isn’t good just because you say they are, they need to prove it. So, that’s all up to you. The good news is that while good action is hard to come by, bad action is so prevalent that general audiences can’t tell it’s not bacon.

When writing action sequences, choreography is what you want. Learn to fake so well it becomes a kind of reality inside your story. So you never disrupt your audience’s suspension of disbelief, so the more they know the more willing they are to suspend it.

This is where action movies and wuxia films are important, the more you consume, the more you think critically, the more you try to understand what is at play then the better you will get. You’re not looking at them for realism, you’re looking at them for entertainment and how to transfer those techniques onto the page.

The good news for you: you don’t need wires. You just need imagination.


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