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Would it be probable that a character who is somewhat minimally trained could beat someone with a bit more training than them if the more trained person is cocky and lets their guard down? The scene I’m writing isn’t a battle scene exactly, it’s kind of a training type deal, and both characters are a part of a small rebel army and are in a practice duel situation.

It is certainly possible, but for the sequence to work, it’s going to depend heavily on several factors.

1) What the style that they are learning is.

The meaning behind “Slightly better trained” or having spent slightly longer training can change drastically based on which the style the characters are learning.

Not all martial arts and combat forms are created equal, each one is designed for a specific purpose, and like any form of technological advancement, it changes as it evolves. The police and the military both use eight week training courses in hand to hand that are designed so that the soldiers and the cops can pick the techniques up very quickly. These styles have a hard limit, because the students don’t have a lot of time to adjust to them. They learn what they need to know and move on. Soldiers who come out of these training programs end up fairly equal, for the most part but the difference between two trainees who are separated by a week or even just a day of training is drastic.

Some styles that are worth looking into: M.A.P. and CQB (US Military), CQC (US Police), Krav Maga (Israeli Defense Force), Systema and Sambo (Russian Special Forces).

Compare these to a styles to a combat art like Shotokan Karate or Taekwondo, where it can take years (if ever) to achieve any kind of real combat proficiency. Depending on the style, the belt ranking system, the school, and the instructor, two students with a single belt rank of difference like a brown belt versus a blue belt or a yellow belt versus a green belt can be fairly even. However, these styles are designed to be picked up at a much slower pace than military forces can allot time for. Now, many martial arts practitioners do end up stronger combatants in the long run (if they’ve been learning how to fight in the real world), but it takes a substantial time investment that works better for an individual than in a system where high turnover is necessary.

In short: it could happen, but that scenario is more likely to occur in a martial arts dojo than between two soldiers of different levels of training. It’s also fairly likely to happen between two soldiers who’ve both completed their training course and one has spent slightly more time in the field. Now, it can happen over the course of training, but you’re ultimately going to get more mileage out of characters who’ve come up together at the same time with one simply having been singled out as the “best” in the class. This way, instead of having to surmount an accelerated training course, the characters have to get over their own mental obstacles. Which brings us to number 2.

2) The mind plays a key role in victory or defeat

It’s important to remember that people aren’t machines or like characters in a video game. You can’t simply slot X allotment of powers onto them and expect them to perform at maximum capacity all the time. A belt ranking system in a martial arts dojo isn’t so much a sign post for how good a character is, but what they’ve learned, overcome, and accomplished in the course of their training. Depending on the school, a brown belt can defeat a lazy black belt if that black belt doesn’t continually put the work in to keep their skills sharp. If someone hits the top and just rests on their laurels, they’ll get taken by an up and comer assuming that we as the audience (in a story context) have seen the character putting the extra work in to get to that point. The other half is that the brown belt is going to have to work very, very hard to defeat the lazy black belt, simply on the grounds that the black belt knows so much more than they do.

A character can be off their game for any number of reasons and, ironically, most of those reasons don’t boil down to overconfidence. It could be bad news from home, the wife serving them with divorce papers an hour before the fight, strain from surviving their first battle out in the field, or what they witness during a time of war. It could even be something as simple as what they are and aren’t allowed to get away with in a training context. What someone is willing to do on the training floor against one of their buddies can be different from what they’ll do to a complete stranger on the battlefield.

The character with less training winning the duel is ultimately going to rest on how the other character is feeling that day, and on one other crucial bit:

3) Can the character take advantage of someone else’s mental state?

You never want to write a gimme, especially with a fight sequence. The duel between these two characters could set the stage for the rest of the book and regardless of who comes out on top, it should feel that the character earned the victory or, if done well, they don’t but it’s not from something they did. A character can win a fight but leave the audience unsatisfied, if that’s intentional and leaves the POV character unsatisfied as well then great, but if it’s unintentional then it’s a problem.

You’re going to walk a very thin line here because a better character being cocky and letting their guard down is cliche. Now, I’m not saying don’t do it. Cliche works for a reason, but you have to remember that it is and work extra hard to make sure it doesn’t feel like every other version of this fight I could find by just picking up a book off my shelf.

Ultimately, Character B wins X because Character C is a cocky asshole has been played to death. The Character B also feels like they’ve won on a technicality and not through anything they did. If they do win on a technicality, then that doesn’t really tell the audience anything or give them a reason to invest in the character. However, if Character B is shown working very hard to defeat cock asshole Character C and Character C loses because they assumed X about Character B, when B moved forward off that point, then the victory will be satisfactory to the audience. A character who works hard to win, who works hard to be more than they are, and who earns their victories is always more appealing in the long run than a character who is “just that good”.

You’ve got to balance them both, but an outside reason for victory is never as good as an internal one.


Hey there, folks! Be welcome home! Have a question for ya, here it is: How can one with a simple knife or dagger fend themselves against an user of swords/clubs/any longer weapon, really. Also, this same dagger user, fighting against someone who uses swords and shielf. Thanks in advance, for everything :D

Shank them. Shank them before they see you.

You can stand and fight, but a dagger or even a short sword/long dagger is at a significant disadvantage against someone wielding a long sword. The problem isn’t necessarily a better weapon (it is) or a more skilled fighter, the trouble is reach. When it comes to weapons, reach and weapons that are further up the technology tree will have a significant advantage over one that’s further down. We don’t tend to think about medieval weaponry and swords, particularly long swords as technology but they are.  So, let’s break weapon lengths down. Someone working with a sword or club will be at a disadvantage against someone wielding a staff or spear, particularly if that staff or spear is metal plated and can take someone hacking at it. They did actually do this in Europe. When facing someone carrying a weapon that is the same as your own, spear versus spear, sword versus sword, then it becomes an actual contest of skill. The long sword has greater reach than a short sword and the dagger, putting the dagger wielder at the disadvantage because to win they have to fight their way past a very dangerous weapon before they can even get into striking range. Throwing a shield in on top of that is just unfair.

For you, the comparison is similar to punches versus kicks, someone who primarily uses kicks will keep the other person out of range and if they’re kept at range, they can’t do damage (unless they can catch the leg). Cun Lee does very well on the MMA circuit, for example, because most of the fighters he faces come from a boxing/wrestling/jiujutsu background and he uses a mix of taekwondo and muay thai kicks to keep them at range and knock them out.

So, how do they fend off an opponent with superior force? The best answer is: don’t fight on their terms. Stop and think about the strengths of the dagger as a weapon, it’s either a supporting add on used in desperate circumstances or its a weapon of surprise. It can be hidden fairly easily and does incredible amounts of damage swiftly in close quarters, in the ranges where the sword and staff become less useful (if you’re working against a European long sword watch out for the pommel, it’s a close quarters weapon if the sword is already out of it’s sheath…a shield can also be used as a bashing weapon to knock someone back). The character just has to figure out how to get there.

So, disengage, run away, come back later when they don’t expect it and shank them. Or take them by surprise the first time out, then run and hide. It’s not noble, it’s not pretty, but it works.