Tag Archives: fightwrite answers

//Awesome Tumblr here, I look forward to mining this for data. || I’m not through the archive completely, but most of what I have seen seems to focus on the level of the fight. Which of course makes sense. However, having written in a group setting for quite a while, I’ve found that realistic fight scenes also consider the reaction of bystanders and the effects of the fight on the surrounding environment. || Obvious, but easy to forget about when caught up in writing the fighting! Discuss? —T.

Well, there’s a lot to cover. We only started this Tumblr about a month ago, so obviously we haven’t gotten around to talking about everything yet. We both figured it would be best to start at the level of the fight and work outwards, eventually talking about fighting in different settings and the different considerations that brings with it.

When talking about bystanders and including them it’s important to consider whether or not the bystanders are going to want to join in, which means the author has to know who they are, what they want, and if they have any relation at all to what’s going on (or just like fighting!). A lot of people will just mill around, some will call for the cops, and others will try to break it up.

Fighting with bystanders present also can say a lot about the protagonists, the antagonists, and their views on collateral damage. One character going after another with a street sweeper in a crowd is different from two people going at each other in a hand to hand fight.

It’s important to think about the particulars, the set up, the weapons, what’s available in the area, who is in the area, and whether or not your characters care about what’s about to happen and who it will effect. The decisions they make based around those things will be defining for who they are.

We’ll be discussing all this at length, but we are only two and there is a lot to cover on the subject.

I hope that answers your question!


(2/2)- it’s always been like “punch and punch and kick and oh god i’m having a panic attack I forgot everything that I learned in training what the hell is going on” which wasn’t what I expected at all since I mean, I had trained and I thought I was ready and did good in non-contact sparring, but when I actually got hit for the first time my mind just freaked out. I’m not really sure which way to go for this character though- the cliched instinct or my own exp with panic?

I’d actually say a little of both, but mostly whatever you’re most comfortable with. As with everything, the first time is usually a confusing mess and a lot depends, not just on the character’s mental reactions, but also based on who they are fighting and what that person’s skill level is. In some situations, against opponents who don’t know what they’re doing, a character can have those few moments in which to panic, flail, and lock up before the trained instincts finally kick in. They’ll probably be okay if they’re training hasn’t been botched, which it can be. Especially if they’ve never connected their hits with an actual person before.

If they’re fighting against someone who does know what they’re doing, then the time they have suss themselves out is astronomically shortened.

It’s always important to keep in mind that just because a character can hurt someone doesn’t mean they’ll be mentally prepared for it or for the fall out that happens afterward. It’s good you’ve pretty much figured that out. Our brains are hardwired first for survival and second for a preservation of the species, most people, even some trained fighters, have a hard time actually committing to hurting others. The brain controls the body, so if the brain won’t or doesn’t want to connect and injure the attacker, then the body won’t either.

So decide: do you want your character to win the fight? It’s okay if they don’t, it’s okay if they get pounded. They might learn more from that.

If they do win, how do they feel about it afterwards?

Combat is a messy, uncomfortable, and dangerous experience. Your character will be dealing with a lot of emotional fallout even just from the statement “It wasn’t like I thought it would be" or “I hurt someone else", how do they feel about that?

As a general rule: always go with what you know, there’s more emotion to pull from and modify that way. I’ve had plenty of experiences where my brain just clears and I know what I need to do, then do it in situations where everyone else around me has been locked up by panic, but that’s not everybody. It might be hard for you to write that sort of surreal experience if you’ve never had it happen to yourself and that’s okay.

There aren’t any real right answers here (with the exception of select few cases surrounding professions) and writing is pretty much always subjective. If you’re already labeling the instinct as cliche, it’s probably a good idea to go another route.


Referring to your most recent post, what if they only believe they are useful when fighting? Like “Damn I look like an ogre but at least I can fight.”

Combat training doesn’t automatically purge someone’s insecurities. It does, however, provide them with a base to build up confidence in themselves that can be extended into other aspects of their life. Over time, their confidence in their ability to fight and the pride they have in the skills they’ve developed marginalizes the other insecurities.

Instead of saying “I’m worth nothing to no one”, they say “yeah, I may look like an ogre but look at what I’ve done. I can be my own person and be proud of that person”. For them in the beginning, this means that even if they don’t think they’re good for anything else, they still have that one thing that they know they can do.

This is one of those funny questions that actually comes back to women, particularly American women and Martial Arts. In our current society, women are raised to believe that the only value they have is in their looks and are taught the only way they know they look good is if someone else notices them. Their values become built entirely around what other people think of them and how other people are interpreting their looks and actions. Martial arts as a sport is self-involved, instead of looking at others, you’re forced to look at yourself and find something of value inside yourself if you want to succeed. I faced some serious problems with diagnosed clinical depression in high school and often felt like “I’m a horrible, terrible, no good, awful person who is useless to everybody” but even as my brain said all that the small martial artist portion responded “but at least I can do full splits, perform a perfect front kick over my head, and choke a full grown man out in fifteen seconds.”

The training’s not going to purge your character’s insecurities, but they will have some measure of confidence and faith in themselves, even when the rest of the world is trying to completely rip it away from them. Fighting is a tangible achievement, skill is achieved through years of hard work. We can’t just throw that under the bus.


What do you know about people being knocked out? How much force, how much damage, how quick can you recover?

Being knocked out is by definition brain damage, it’s a concussion serious enough to have caused the brain to essentially take a vacation. I think the limit is about two minutes for a head strike, if your character is down longer than that, then they’re dead.

The best part is that this doesn’t actually require a lot of force. The brain is basically four pounds of warm butter suspended in fluid, it doesn’t take much knocking about before it decides it wants to be elsewhere.

This is why even high school level football claims casualties from time to time and that’s with protective gear.


Surprise and mental state would also be important to consider in a trained vs untrained fight. The even an untrained fighter could do a lot of damage with a sucker-punch. An untrained fighter might also do something that a trained fighter wouldn’t expect or be able to defend against. Someone under the influence of drugs or otherwise compromised by rage or other emotions might also be able to shrug off enough damage to severely injure a trained fighter.


Surprise is absolutely critical; the rest, not so much.

Here’s the thing, if your untrained combatant is the aggressor, then they’ll need to hit the trained martial artist with overwhelming force before the martial artist can respond. Full stop.

The “before the martial artist can respond” part, is where we get into the surprise range. If your untrained combatant can’t end the fight with the first strike, then the situation will go badly for them.

I should probably point out, what I’m calling a “martial artist” here is ridiculously broad. This isn’t just formal schools, I’m lumping in just about anyone who’s undergone basic hand to hand training here.

When I’m saying “untrained”, I’m actually excluding street fighters, and people who have a fair amount of hand to hand experience but little formal training. They’re an edge case that doesn’t follow the rules consistently.

Untrained combatants tend to fight very predictably, and any martial artist who’s gone through even basic self defense, will have been taught to counter most of an untrained fighter’s repertoire.

An untrained fighter can’t do a lot of damage with a sucker punch. Certainly not enough to incapacitate a trained combatant. The opposite is not true, a trained martial artist, particularly from Karate, can use a sucker punch as a takedown strike against someone who hasn’t been conditioned to tense their abdominal muscles before a hit.

Getting a combatant angry can have one of two results, and again, we’re back to the trained/untrained thing. An untrained combatant will start to lose control (usually) when angry (making them less dangerous). A trained combatant will usually get more brutal.

Here’s a thing worth pointing out, most conventional self defense, and even a lot of non-military training, like police hand to hand, places a premium on the safety of both combatants. Angering a combatant trained in any of these forms (and this includes most martial artists trained as recreation, who’ve had some self defense classes splashed over their training), will at best cause them to start striking more brutally, and with less concern for their opponent’s well-being.

When you’re talking about drugs, I’m going to go out on a limb and assume you mean things like PCP, not, say, mescaline. Because if your untrained combatant is tripping balls… it’s funny, but they’re not really that dangerous to a trained combatant.

Things like PCP, where pain response is deadened, and even some fugue rage state change the rules a little, but not enough. Your untrained combatant is going to be sacrificing efficacy for a little more durability… but, here’s the thing, it won’t really help them.

Depending on what your martial artist has been trained in, someone under the influence of PCP can be a legitimate threat. Akido, Judo, and Jujitsu, fighters wouldn’t face any real threat from someone on PCP, while someone trained in Karate (because of the way it’s joint locks work) could be in serious trouble.

Most trained fighters, when confronted with someone on PCP should know enough to break away and get out of the fight. And that actually goes for some circumstances that could apply elsewhere. I was being snarky earlier, but a martial artist, when presented with a firearm, should know enough to get the hell out of there before they get shot.


You’ll have a great deal of trouble taking a trained combatant by surprise from a face to face assault, especially if you attempt to sucker-punch to the face or even just the stomach or the groin. This is because they’re eyes and body have already been trained to watch for strikes, they’ll see the motion beginning in someone else’s body and sucker-punches are heavily telegraphed.

If you do connect, they better go down on the first blow. This is hard, especially since for most martial artists and trained combatants the first strike acts more like a wake-up call and their brain and body go: “oh! okay! I’m here!” If you can get them with a knife before they know what’s happening great, the same goes for a taser or a cattle prod.

If they’re the aggressor, then they already have an objective, they already know what they’re going after, and without help, your character won’t be able to regain control of the fight.

For a trained combatant, surprise and anger just trip the brain over into a more focused place. They feel the rush of the adrenaline and they settle, the world becomes clearer, then they act. They’ll do this in any panicked situation. This isn’t true for untrained combatants, they tend to lock up in a fear response, anger makes them lose control and they become less dangerous.

You might be able to get a trained combatant from behind, but even this is hard. Martial artists tend to be very aware of anyone entering their personal space, even from behind. I once had a moment with my now ex-boyfriend in high school where he came in for a hug from behind and he surprised me, so I elbowed him in the gut. It was an automatic response. He hadn’t even touched me yet, but it happened anyway.

A combatant has been trained for their body to respond automatically, they train against other people who have also been trained, and I’ll be honest, watching an untrained combatant is like looking at someone fighting in slow-motion. It’s a strange, surreal experience for me.

It’s also important to point out that most of the aggressive “jock” responses you get from untrained male combatants, aren’t what you get from trained ones. The over-aggression comes from insecurity, like any bully, but usually a martial artist knows what they are doing, how to do it, and are confident and secure in their ability to protect themselves. They don’t need to prove their mettle in a fight because they’ve already proven it to themselves.

This is an important tell, by the way, in a character noticing the difference between someone who knows what they are doing and someone who doesn’t.

I think we’ve covered the bases here. I hope that answers the question.

when would the person who isn’t a trained fighter win against a trained one?

Shotgun. When they bring eight or nine of their friends along to help. When they start by running somebody down with a car. The action needs to be premeditated for them to carry it off successfully. If they are within grabbing distance and they don’t have the advantage of some kind of weapon (a gun), they’re pretty screwed. It’s important to remember that while most trained combatants can stop a crowbar and they can definitely stop a baseball bat (weight distribution on the baseball bat makes it very easy to block), they’ll have a hard time stopping a bullet. This is actually part of the reason why some self-defense experts suggest keeping a gun in the home in the case of home invasion.

Anyway the break down is: numbers and superior force (gun or car or something similar). In the case of a medieval era, a horse will work if your character knows how to ride.


i literally love your blog and your posts because they’re so detailed~! and esp the ones regarding female fighters. coming from a bit of martial arts background myself, and being a girl, i fully appreciate everything you’re saying because i’ve felt/encountered a lot of it, i and hope more people pay attention to those points you’ve made! so, yeah, all in all, this is fabulous, and i’m definitely going to reblog a lot.

Thank you so much!

I spend a lot of time having to work back from what was normal for me growing up and what isn’t common knowledge for most people. Then, it has to get translated into an explanation that’s easy for someone without the background to understand. I’ll be honest, until we did the street fighting post, I had no idea what an untrained fighter looked like. For my entire MA experience, I’ve always been surrounded by people who knew what they’re doing. Starke’s helpful for that though, he’s spent a lot of time around people who don’t. We had several long conversations that involved me going “people really do that? Why? …wow…that’s embarrassing…”. And then I had to go to YouTube to look at the homemade street fighting videos and I was all…WTF is that?

So, I’m glad the stuff we’re putting up is helping. Us female martial artists have to stick together!


how does a person fight if they are only depending on instincts? no training, not even a fighter, just a person trying to defend themselves from harm.

It sounds cruel to say this, but essentially? They flail.

Unless they’ve been raised in a cave, they’ll be affected on some level by what they’ve seen work around them, be that the local militia or television. There’s going to be a fair amount of hair grabbing, if their opponent’s hair is long. They’ll push at their opponent, though if their opponent is larger it’s not going to do them much good. An untrained person, for the most part, is at the mercy of someone larger and heavier. They just don’t know what to do with the weight and it’ll crush them. They’ll flail against it, but again, they won’t know how to do harm so the lasting damage they can put out is minimal.

They’ll smack at them, either with slaps or some variation of closed fists, but they’ll be using their upper body, for the most part only their arms and shoulders. Which, again, won’t do them much good. They’ll go down, usually on the first or second solid hit.

Human instincts are shit on their own, I’m sorry. A human gets caught between their fight or flight response and usually against a tougher opponent, their first instinct is going to be “huddle up in a small ball and wait for it to be over”. This is true of both men and women, by the way. There is no magical genome in the human body, buried in our ancestral memories that can tell us how to save ourselves in a bad situation.

I don’t know if that helps.


hi, i just read your post on archery, and i was wondering if you had any advice for writing a scene where someone gets stabbed with an arrow?

Stabbing someone with an arrow is actually a lot harder than it sounds. Consider this: arrows are made to be aerodynamic, not to give you a good grip. So, for a character attempting to stab someone with an arrow, they’ll find that they’re hand is constantly slipping down the shaft. This makes penetration, even into the soft parts of the body, incredibly difficult. You need a good grip to get the stabbing part down, so they have to go hard, fast, and with absolutely zero hesitation on the part of the wielder. You need a lot of force to get an arrow to penetrate and it should go somewhere soft and unprotected like the eye or into the throat.

That said, it isn’t impossible. What is impossible is actually firing the arrow afterwards, because your character is going to damage it no matter what they try.

I hope that helps!

-Starke and Michi

Do you have any insight on the use of a spear or pike in battle?

We got this ask earlier (it’s the first one under the tag: obsidianmichi answers) so if you want to look that up, it’ll give you more insight. My answer is: yes, a little, but most of what I’ve been trained in is basic staff fighting, which is essentially the spear without the pointy-end. We’ll probably be doing a write up on it soon, like we did with archery.

Like the bow, the spear is one of the oldest weapons in existence. Just about every culture at one point in history or another has used the spear in battle, but since you mentioned the pike, I’m guessing you mean combat in medieval Europe. There’s a huge difference in style between Europe and China, for example. The Greeks also made great use of the spear (for it’s greater length) as a primary weapon.

The question is though, do you want to know how the spear was used tactically in battle by footmen in mass numbers or in single combat?

The answer to that question is actually very different, because in tight quarters the best use for the spear is to point it at an incoming opponent and make use of the weapon’s greater length such as against cavalry. The pike was a primary defense against cavalry (examples of massed pikemen are the Orcs versus Rohan Cavalry in Lord of the Rings), where it was used as stopping power against incoming horses. The spear was a common weapon because it’s easier to train someone on than a sword and is cheaper to produce.

In single combat a spear, particularly one made entirely of metal like some in China, has a greater reach than a sword and it can attack from the front (the pointy-end), it can sweep across from side to side, and switch to the back (the butt) to create a very fluid defense. The wielder has fewer worries about dulling the weapon because only the tip is sharp and a very solid wooden staff, such as the quarter-staff can actually withstand a slashing attack by a sword.

The spear can also be used in conjunction with a shield like the Greeks did, but that ends back up in the realm of basic stabbing and a frontal assault.

The only thing spears aren’t really good for is throwing, but that’s just because you have now lost your spear and need to go retrieve it if you wish to continue fighting.

The spear is a dynamic weapon, all you need to do is pick what culture, region, and historical period you want to begin your search and you’ll find a huge amount of data to sift through.