Tag Archives: hand to hand combat

If a character partakes in regular backalley fistfights without going to a hospital inbetween, how long would it take before it started catching up to them, physically?

One.

I know we’ve said this before, but hand to hand combat takes a toll. Even if you get through a fight “unscathed,” you’re still going to have bruises on your arms from parrying, skinned knuckles, and your body will ache the next day. That’s if you know what you’re doing, and keep full control.

Any attack that lands, or misjudged strike that connects with a wall will hurt, and those can turn into serious injuries quickly. If you don’t take time to recover after each fight, the strain builds up, quickly.

An imperfectly tensed punch can easily break bones in the hand. This is something that actually happens to boxers, people who, as you might expect, have a pretty solid grasp of how to drive a fist into their opponent.

Also for a lot of untrained combatants, preconceptions on how violence should occur, will actually work against them. The example that comes to mind is simply trying to punch your opponent in the face. While this might have seemed like a good idea at the time, it’s after the fact that you realize your face is a mass of bones that are very close to the surface, and while the punch will hurt them, it will also hurt you far more than if you’d simply driven a fist into their gut and called it a day.

The other side of this is, if nothing’s broken, you’re not bleeding internally, and you didn’t tear anything, the hospital isn’t actually necessary. Cuts, scrapes and bruises heal. Muscle aches eventually fade. The entire experience may be singularly unpleasant, but it’s entirely possible your character could walk it off afterwards.

The hard thing with this kind of violence is making sure your character puts enough time between their fights, so their body can fully recover. That will take months, and there’s nothing a hospital could do to accelerate the recovery time.

But, this the first time they break something or tear a ligament, then this will have caught up with them. That could easily be their first fight.

Perhaps ironically, given its reputation, Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk is an excellent gross out fest if you want to think about what happens when untrained combatants go at each other full tilt.

I always liked the part where the narrator is giving a presentation to his bosses while bleeding profusely from his gums due to a fight from the previous day.

-Starke

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I have a character skilled in hand-to-hand combat, spear use, and swordsman ship. The thing is, does using these weapons change said character’s build? How do I show the reader something realistic without drowning it out by over detailing the fights? And do you know of any good reference for this?

Build as in body type or build as in RPG?

If it’s build as in body type, then that’s going to depend on the kind of armor he’s wearing, not the weapon he’s using. I know, it feels ironic, but it’s true. The armor is the additional weight his body is going to be lugging around and has to get used to moving quickly in, etc. Different kinds of armor create different body types.

For example, your typical martial artist will have a body type that’s similar to that of a marathon runner: long and lean. If you’re trying to identify them out of a crowd, you might accidentally pick someone who does parkour instead. Compare to someone who spends a fair amount of time wandering about in plate mail, they’ll look a little more stocky like a gymnast with a lot of muscles built up in their upper body (shoulders, back, and arms). They’ll also have thicker muscles in the neck. This isn’t because the sword is heavy, most swords were actually light weight, it’s the armor (which also isn’t that heavy, it’s cumulative over time: more weight on the body requires more stamina to keep fighting for a longer period of time and stave off fatigue).

The other thing you need to decide (though the weapon choice may have already decided it for you) is which weapon is your character’s primary? My guess would be the spear, simply because they’d always be carrying it in their hand and it’s a weapon that’s very difficult to store (you can’t put it on your hip and it’s awkward across the back), so it’s what they’d turn to first. Then, to the sword, then to the hands. The hand to hand combat they’d be most used to and use most frequently wouldn’t be punches or kicks but wrestling and grappling. The techniques you need when an opponent has gotten past your weapon’s guard and is threatening to take you to the ground. They’d be supplementary techniques for desperate situations, your character’s first instinct is going to be: always reach for the weapon. He’ll either grab for his spear or move to draw his sword, depending on what’s available. In situations where he’s feeling threatened, he’ll probably move his hand to rest on the pommel of the weapon or grip the shaft of his spear more tightly.

When writing your combat sequences focus on what the techniques are doing, not what they are. You want to craft sensations intertwined with what the characters are feeling, leave the minutiae for when they’re not in combat. The best way to prove your character knows what they’re doing is how they behave when they’re not in combat. This frees you up to keep on point during the fight sequences.

Fight Write: Your Characters Weapon is also a Character

If I were you, I’d start checking out both the Italian School and the German School of Fencing, these are the surviving schools of European sword combat styles. Also: ARMA: Association of Renaissance Martial Arts and Wiktenauer a site run by the Historical European Martial Arts Alliance and contains the worlds largest library of historical training manuals. Both groups have experts who’ve written books on the subject, I’d check those out too.

On the spear, you need to do yourself a favor and pick which style of spear combat your character is using. I’m assuming we’re talking European for sword combat, but it’s worth remembering that almost every culture throughout history across the span of globe with access to enough iron deposits had their own variation on the sword and sword combat. This is also true for the spear. The Chinese version of spear combat is wildly different from, say, the Greek, but both are effective. So, narrow your scope. If you’re doing European forms of sword combat and not say, Chinese, I’d suggest sticking with Europe but unfortunately there aren’t that many visual examples of European spear combat available. So, heh.

The Hidden Fortress by Kurosawa show cases a sequence with spear combat. Hero with Jet Li has a phenomenal combat sequence between sword and spear. 300 uses spears, obviously, I don’t know if it’s accurate to the Greeks but it’s worth throwing on the research pile. Also: the Protector of the Small quartet by Tamora Pierce has some of the best fight scenes regarding staff/spear/glaive combat and hand to hand. I’d read her entire Tortall catalog, she’s one of the few authors I feel comfortable recommending. You can tell she’s got some experience with the techniques and this series goes over some jiujutsu holds and grapples in the early books. Those will be helpful to you.

 I also recommend picking up a copy of Wally Jay’s Small Circle Jujitsu and Taiji Chin Na The Seizing Art of Taijiquan by Dr. Yang, Jwing-Min. Dr. Yang, Jwing-Min also has several other books detailing both Tai Chi Chuan and Shaolin with a combat focus that might be worth a look. Both are great because they talk about concept, not just technique.

-Michi

I have a question, I’m wondering how to write a fight between two people using their fists. How do they defend themselves what are the right movements? I just wonder what is needed to be taken into account to write such a scene. I’m sorry if this has been answered before.

Don’t be sorry! Writing about fighting when you have no practical experience is a difficult challenge and writing fight sequences when you do is still time consuming. There are a lot pieces working together and figuring out how they function is difficult and something very few writers actually do well.

Here are a list some of our posts that may be helpful to you:

Five Simple Ways to Write Convincing Fight Sequences

Fight Write: A Basic Upper Body Primer (Open Hand)

Fight Write: A Basic Upper Body Primer (Fists)

Fight Write: The Art of Stepping

Fight Write: The Art of Blocking

Tip: Fights Start for a Reason

ObsidianMichi’s Real World Fight Facts

Fight Write: The Only Unfair Fight is the One You Lose Part 1

The Only Unfair Fight is the One You Lose Part 2 (Brutality)

Unusual Martial Art: Street Fighting

Fight Write: Art, Sport, Subdual, and Lethality

Also check anything in our Michael Janich tag, he is a very good instructor who teaches self-defense. I refer people to his videos for the work he does with concepts, where he actively explains what a technique is, what it does, and why it’s used before teaching the technique. As a writer, you need both technique and concept before you can put it on the page.

I plan on doing a write up on both elbows and knees in the near future. There’s a lot of misconceptions about how these techniques work.

Also check out Tamora Pierce’s Tortall series particularly First Test and Page in The Protector of the Small quartet. Tamora Pierce is one of the few authors that write fight scenes I feel comfortable recommending for reference.

Good hunting!

-Michi