Tag Archives: fightwrite

Illusion versus Reality: Some Thoughts on Media Fight Sequences

It’s important to remember that most of the conventional wisdom about force application we have in popular culture comes from observations made about various sport styles and exhibition fighting, such as in movies and staged fights at martial arts tournaments. The assumption becomes that those moves were chosen to be allowed because they are more effective, not less. The problem though with that assumption is that while goal of fighting is to win, it’s also to do so with relative safety and not kill the opponent. Injure, wound, and maim perhaps, but again not kill.

The same is true for both tournament demonstration and media in general. When it comes to evaluating whether a television show, a video on the internet, or what they see at a tournament demonstration will be useful for imagining and creating fight scenes, a creator is required to keep three things in mind:

1) The decision on what techniques to use is primarily governed by what will look good on screen or on the floor and not practicality.

2) The action is safe for the performer to demonstrate without injury to themselves under extremely controlled circumstances. In media, this works double for the actor, the stunt double, and their work with the stunt coordinator.

3) The goal is to create something convincing for the audience, not something that is actually reflective of reality.

It’s important to remember that in demonstration performances and movies that there’s a lot of work, sometimes days, weeks, and even months that goes into crafting those scenes, preparing the actors, and putting together the performance. The other important thing to remember is that because movies and demonstrations are primarily an illusion, they can get away with a great deal more than the human body actually can in their action sequences. These fights are designed around the audience being able to follow the action, but even the best of them are often horribly impractical by design. Many authors when they try to write fight scenes look to movies, comics, and video games for easily accessible action that they can translate into their stories and that’s fine. The only problem is that often, because they are unfamiliar with physical action they end up including the same flaws from the movies into their books.

In a movie, the fight scenes are actually long exhibition fights that have been cut together into a single sequence. This means that on film, even after the editing of the fight, you get unnatural pauses where the stuntmen/women are resetting their positions and essentially taking a breather before they move on to the next action sequence. The reason for this, of course, is that if you just forced the stuntmen to continuously run, they’d keel over from exhaustion about half-way through. If an author does not step back and examine the action from an external perspective, they run a real risk of including these same flaws into their novel. There are plenty of examples in already published works where this happens and they are easy to find, once you know what to look for.

Divergent for example, is a major offender. So is City of Bones, for obvious reasons. The combat in Marie Brennan’s Warrior is essentially a Turn Based RPG. YA in general has a great many authors chasing after Joss Whedon and thus invoking the Whedon/Comic Book problem where they stand around talking and then they fight, then they stop and talk, and then they fight, and then they circle, and then again, they fight. Tamora Pierce is one of the few authors in the YA genre I can point to that escapes this trap, but then she knows what she’s talking about and it shows.

I (Michi) will also cop to having the Whedon problem, I watched (and loved) a great many Whedon shows when I was younger and the internalization of a lot of his flaws as well as his successes is something I struggle regularly against even when I should know better.

Remember, all media feeds into each other and into the culture at large. When looking at media for reference, it’s important to not only look at the internal consistencies, plot, and characters but also the outside motivations of what, why, and reality’s constrictions. Written work reflects, not just into other novels, but also into movies, television, video games, and comic books. So, it’s important to evaluate the constraints of the media you’re working with and its flaws while transferring some of the actions and ideas into your work.

What will work well in a visually medium for action doesn’t weather well on the page, nor will it pass the scratch and sniff test when it passes before someone who knows what to look for when dealing with fighters and fighting. So, the goal is to work toward generating the emotions in your audience that we experience when watching a well put together action sequence through a different avenue than what the director and stunt choreographer created for the movie itself.

As always, there are exceptions to every rule and there are a great many movies and television shows that work excellently as reference material. These are just some basic things to think about when looking at media for reference and some of the dangers that are associated with taking stuff wholesale without examining it from all aspects.

On the subject of RPGs and writing, Starke and I are putting together a reference article dealing with the merits and flaws of Pencil and Paper RPGs when working with characters and fight sequences. So heads up Brennan fans, we’ll be talking more about Warrior in that article.

This was supposed to be the Open Hand Primer but I ended up getting sidetracked with a tangent, it’s coming soon, I promise.

As always, happy writing!

Q&A: Multiple Foes

Love this blog, realistic fighting is one thing you can’t get a feel for from research. Do you have any recommendations for things to keep in mind when two people are fighting as a team against several bad guys? Assuming the two train together and fight together fairly often.

The tactics will change substantially between characters and situation depending on whether or not they’re carrying guns or were trained in a military context. I say military over police or FBI because the military training is all about protecting, defending, and attacking as a unit, not as an individual. Since yours are probably not and I’m guessing you mean hand to hand, I’ll give my advice from that outlook.

Assuming your two characters view each other as evenly matched (and one won’t try to take the brunt of the opposing force on their own), they’re more likely to know each others weaknesses and trust in each others strengths. There will be a level of trust there that will for the most part ensure that they won’t get in each others way.

And while fighting back to back sounds good in theory (it looks great in a movie!) but in a group, it’s terrible. Because of the amount of pushing and jostling that goes on and because standing still is an unbelievably bad idea (unless you’re an Aikido or Tai Chi practioner), they’re more likely to split a group of enemies up evenly by pulling them off in different directions and fighting alone. This way, they’ll be free to drag their own opponents into each other without having to worry about screwing over their partner by accident (and accidents always happen). Remember, in hand to hand, a character can only really reliably fight one opponent at a time, so when fighting against groups, it’s a lot of bouncing around trying to get their opponents to hit each other instead of them, so they can conserve energy.

It also gives you the opportunity to build in narrative tension if there’s an uneven number of opponents, if the opponents in one fight are more coordinated than usual and refuse to be baited from going after their primary target, and things start going south. Remember, bad guys, even one-off ones are people too and some of them also have a history of fighting together. You can get a lot with just a little work on random mook motivation.

As with anything, the more opponents there are, the greater the chance for failure. To stay realistic, try to keep it between four or six (two and three per fighter). Finally, it’s important to keep in mind in fights that things always go wrong or in an unexpected direction on some level for both parties. The personalities of your characters and their own fighting outlook will affect the fight just as much as their technique. A good fighter doesn’t play around with their opponent, but a lot do anyway.

-Michi

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Tip: A Good Martial Artist Can Come From Anywhere

All around the world, martial arts from many different countries are a major cultural export. I say this because it’s important to remember that your characters race, ethnicity, and gender don’t necessarily need to reflect their style’s culture or country of origin. One of the greatest beauties of the MAs is that anyone can start at any age and find both meaning and value. I’ve seen twelve year olds earn their black belts side by side with eighty year old cancer survivors. While I trained in Taekwondo and the master instructor of my dojo was Asian, he was not Korean, instead he was Japanese-American. His master and the master co-founders of the entire organization were a Filipino-American man and an African-American man. The instructor who had the greatest effect on me was (or his family was) an immigrant from Ecuador.

A good martial artist can come from anywhere and while they can’t necessarily be just anyone (just those who put in the time and effort), there’s no need for an author to limit their imagination with a student of any traditional art because their race, gender, or ethnicity doesn’t fit with what media has prepared us for.

When it comes to martial arts specifically, it’s important to remember that the make-up of a school you might expect is not there in actuality. Many people are drawn to the martial arts from many different walks of life, and while there is certainly some very interesting mysticism and philosophical tenants grounded in some of the Eastern MAs, in a modern context the techniques and philosophies are more than able to transfer into backstories the author needs. All the author needs to do is be aware and sensitive of the culture and philosophy ingrained in the martial art they choose.

If you are working with a historical context, research as needed. Either way, you might be surprised.

Fight Write: On Hair Pulling

Where the head goes, the body follows.

This is one of the most important tenants of self-defense and it’s why every combatant, male or female, should keep their hair either short or bound to their heads in a braid that is so skin tight the fingers cannot seize it. The fighter who does not risks having the back of their head grabbed in the middle of combat by providing a decent, easily accessible grip for their opponent. Regardless of what television will tell you, the ponytail is not good enough.

The hair is a much easier target than attempting a headlock or grabbing behind the neck. Once an opponent has their target in their grasp and control of their head, they can take them almost anywhere they wish.

Your hair may be dead, but beneath the skin it is very much alive. Wrap your fingers in your own hair and pull, you’ll find it to be fairly painful, then, imagine the pull from the hands of someone who doesn’t care about your feelings or maybe your hair was pulled by someone when you were younger. It can hurt a great deal and pain has a way of locking us up when we are unprepared or it or when we haven’t been properly trained to deal with it.

It’s important to remember, no matter what folks say about hair pulling, that it is a real, acceptable, and commonly used tactic, especially against women. It will also work against men with hair long enough for a good grip. Honor has very little place in real world combat, remember that an advantage taken is an advantage gained and the only true imperative is survival.

Hair pulling is very common in fights among groups, such as in clubs, mobs, etc as a means of taking someone down. The best advice for when someone takes you or your character by the hair or by the head is to go with them, not politely, but in the same general direction by ramming sideways, forwards, or backwards in the direction of their grip and to keep going until they fall or are driven into a wall or another individual. This will keep you from being injured or having your hair yanked out, it will also save on the pain because it releases tension.

Fight Write: Art, Sport, Subdual, and Lethality

In this post, I’m going to break Martial Arts down into four subcategories: Art, Sport, Subdual, and Lethality. These are general distinctions that relate to the practitioner’s outlook and what they’re training for as opposed to the styles themselves. The reason behind why someone is training and what they are being trained to do is actually much more important than what the style or techniques were originally intended for.

Styles evolve and change over time, the effective ones stay and the ineffective ones go as combat itself evolves. A good place to study up on rapid martial evolution is in the history of Europe, where the countries were in near constant war over a limited set of highly valuable resources. European combat evolved and changed quickly and constantly because it was necessary to for the different countries to keep themselves from being conquered by their neighbors. There was a nearly constant discarding of any traditional forms for something more practical to the times. This is part of why it’s important to study the cultural background of any MA you look at, no matter where it’s from, and compare that to what you need from it. Styles change with the cultures they’re part of, even ones that were imported from elsewhere. The techniques themselves are more easily ingrained by body and mind than the philosophy that spawned them.

Usually when talking about Martial Arts, you see the styles broken down into hard and soft, hard is an aggressive straightforward style like Karate and soft is an inward, philosophical style that revolves around not subduing your opponent, but allowing your opponent to subdue themselves through “gentle” redirection. We leave the term gentle open to negotiation depending on both viewer and outlook, sometimes there is nothing soft about a soft style. For reference: Chinese Tai Chi and Japanese Aikido are two of the more recognizable soft styles. Personally, we find this terminology to be misleading, because it does not cover all the myriad of ways these two cross over as the different styles influence one another through cross-contamination.

No Martial Artist exists in a vacuum, they are constantly influenced by their fights, their opponents, their training, and their own philosophy regarding their fighting and fighting in general. Every MA has an outlook and a personal philosophy, even if their philosophy is just that having a one is unnecessary.

It’s also important to note that hard and soft relate to Asian Martial Arts, more specifically to those from China, Japan, and Korea. These Martial Arts are intensely tied up within their own cultural traditions and because any discussion of this terminology generally revolves around Eastern philosophies, the terms do not relate well to Western MAs like boxing, fencing, M.A.P., Systema, Krav Maga, and Sambo or South American MAs like Capoeira, all of which come with a very specific outlook relating to their own country of origin. It also doesn’t function well with outside understanding of forms like Ninjutsu, Judo, and Jiu-jutsu that incorporate both hard and soft movements respectively. Some would say that Jiu-Jutsu is just the hard version of Aikido and some would not, this is why this distinction gets sticky.

Not just that, says the well-informed author, but didn’t the Marines appropriate a great many techniques from Judo and Chin Na during their time stationed in Japan and China as they developed M.A.P.?

Indeed they did, but it’s important to remember that the Marines don’t care about the outlook or the cultural philosophy that provided the basis for those techniques. While they may share their techniques with other styles, the way the Marines condition and train soldiers to use them bears almost no similarity to the original intention.

Martial Styles represent the culture that surrounds them, so let’s break it down into something simpler.

Art: Art is for a practitioner with a spiritual outlook. Many Martial Arts masters fall into this category, regardless of style. It’s the study of the body, the spirit, and the mind and developing those connections through meditation and intensive training. This outlook is a lifestyle that involves constant self-improvement and introspection. Its intention is non-combative, though the practitioner can also train for that. Aikido and Tai-Chi can fall into this category (though a practitioner can land in other categories too), but this can also include any Chinese MA from Shaolin to Wushu, or any MA where the training focus is on self, on beauty, and perfection.

Common Artistic/Spiritual Martial Arts:

Tai Chi (China), Aikido (Japan), Capoeira (Brazil), Kalari (India), Kyudo (Japan), Wushu Kung Fu (China), Karate (Japan), etc

Sport: This is the Martial Artist who trains primarily for the arena, whether that’s professional prize fighting, death matches, or the Olympics. The trainee is prepared around a certain set of rules of what they can and cannot do. Authors who wish to write these characters will have to study up on the specific rules behind the intended training. This should be self-explanatory, but it can get confusing when the same Martial Arts like Sambo, Muay Thai, and Krav Maga fall under this label and the Lethal one. The difference is not in the techniques, but the type of preparation the trainee receives from their instructor. Someone who trains for matches does not do so with the likelihood of death as an immediate part of the equation. While they know it may happen, they also know it’ll probably be accidental or a result of their (or their opponent’s) stupidity. Actively murdering an opponent in the ring is detrimental to most fighters’ careers.

I also include work out Martial Arts in this list.

If you want to write Gladiators, it’s important to remember that Gladiators themselves are an investment of time and money on the part of their benefactor. Death matches are uncommon not because people don’t want to see it (there are more than a few who would watch), but because the number of people out there who will come back again and again to watch their favorites participate next week outnumber them. The tournament officials can’t earn money off a dead or crippled gladiator, even when there are more than enough eager replacements. When modern MMA first began, they tried the “Anything Goes but Death” mind set. They learned quickly that it wasn’t worth it on a financial level. Professional Gladiator deaths in Ancient Rome were actually pretty uncommon for the same reason. Always follow the money, it’ll usually lead you to the right place.

Common Sport Martial Arts:

Boxing (America/Europe), Kickboxing (America/Europe), Savate (France), MMA (Mixed Bag), Sambo (Russia), Judo (Japan), Muay Thai (Thailand), Tae Kwon Do (Korea), Karate (Japan), Pancratium/Mu Tau (Greece), Capoeira (Brazil), Krav Maga (MMA), etc.

Subdual: This is the outlook that focuses on subduing the opponent over killing them. These Martial Arts often focus on joint locks, throws, pressure points, and breaks over general striking, some of them are designed around easy understanding and application; others take much longer to learn. It’s important to remember that the outlook of these practitioners is to injure their opponent just enough to stop them, while they may be prepared to kill, this is not their primary objective nor the goal.

Common Subdual Martial Arts:

Aiki-Jutsu (Japan), Jujutsu (Japan), Tai Chi (China), Chin Na (China), Sambo (Russia), Hapkido (Korea, Korean Law Enforcement), American Law Enforcement Hand to Hand (America), American Law Enforcement Self-Defense (The style taught to civilians in HtH), General Self-Defense (Multiple Non-Military Strains of above MAs), Brazilian Jujutsu (Brazil), Krav Maga Self-Defense, etc.

Lethality: Almost all martial styles were originally lethal ones and with the right training most can be again, but this is about outlook. The practitioner of one of these styles is someone who has been trained to kill, this is their primary objective. So, these are the martial arts that are designed specifically around killing the opponent as quickly as possible. They are the most actively combative of all the different Martial Arts and have suffered the least from degradation into the above sport styles. These are all killing styles and if you choose any of them for your character, it’s important that you understand what that means. There’s nothing worse than a dissonance between a practitioner and their style, especially given what it says about what they were trained to do. A character that practices any of these is trained to kill, full stop. They may be able to restrain themselves, but killing quickly and efficiently once threatened or on command will be the first instinctual reaction. Most of these will be Martial Styles practiced by the Military and Special Forces divisions from around the world.

Common Lethal Martial Arts:

M.A.P. (Marines), Krav Maga (Israeli Defense Force), Sambo (Spetznaz), Systema (The System, Spetznaz), Pentjak Silat (Indonesia), Ninjutsu (Japan), Military Strain Self-Defense, etc.

Always remember: your character’s Martial Art is a reflection of who they are and depending on the background you choose to give them, a part of that will be non-negotiable if they are to be believable. I’ve experienced some training in a Lethal MA (Ninjutsu) and these are very different styles when compared to the rest of the above in both utility and purpose. So please, prepare yourself appropriately.