Tag Archives: highlander

Question about fantasy. If person has lived for thousands of years, would she be able to master all martial arts and weapons if she has the desire to do so? Or would different conflicting art start hindering one another and make it impossible to master later styles? And would brain be able to memorize everything?

I’m not sure if there’s actually a limit, at least so far as the brain is concerned.

There is a finite limit to the amount of crap we can stuff into our brains, simply as a function of eventually we’re going to die. When you take that limit away, I’m not sure anyone actually knows what happens. There are some educated guesses out there, but they’re just that, guesses. Dose everyone with anti-agapics and ask me again in 500 years, and I might have a real answer.

I am certain you can’t master every martial art, just like you can’t learn to perform all the music. It’s just a volume issue. The last 70 years have seen the rise of hundreds of different martial arts. There isn’t enough time to master all of them before news one are developed.

This is before you remember that most martial arts are living things. If it’s 1193, and you master swordplay, you can’t just file that away and say, “oh, I know how to use a sword forever now.” By 1280 blade combat would look completely different, by 1400 it would be a new animal again.

Part of the reason why we don’t have the European combat styles is because they naturally evolved over time, and the techniques that were no longer useful got jettisoned. Eventually it became a status symbol, then a hobby and a sport. For your character, it’s not enough to simply know how to fight with a sword in one era, they need to keep up to date. Which imposes a practical limit.

Now, can she become frighteningly well versed in multiple combat styles? Yes, almost certainly. She has the time to learn multiple styles, develop a massive repertoire of techniques, and the experience to use them effectively.

The Highlander TV series comes to mind as an immediate potential example. There was also a spin-off, Highlander: The Raven. In some ways they’re almost more in line with modern vampire TV, but they do present a decent mix of characters that are cocky enough to think they can’t be harmed by normal opponents, while still having a reason to actually stay up to date on their combat training.


What are some movies or tv shows that do an excellent job at fight (and gun) scenes? I wanted to know what you think, so that I can use them as a reference — be it for drawing or writing a story.

Okay, there’s an easy way to do this and a useful way, let’s start with the useful route. Find names. Not actors, and not usually directors. You’re looking for stunt choreographers, sword masters, or fight choreographers. Unfortunately the name for the positions vary. They will usually be credited in the stunts section on IMDB, if you’re using it. These are the people that actually train the actors and stunt performers. I’ll be honest, these guys can be a pain to track down. If you’re looking for excellent swordplay, the late Bob Anderson is probably the place to start. If you want hand to hand choreography, you’ve got more options, find someone who’s style looks good, and see if you can find other entries in their career where they’re actually coordinating the stunts.

Also, shows will trade off stunt coordinators, sometimes on an episode by episode basis, 24 had at least four different coordinators over the years. Films will sometimes trade off stunt coordinators when they shoot in different cities. So, if you’re looking at a specific fight, make sure you find the stunt coordinator from that episode or scene.

Everyone in stunts are criminally under-appreciated. These are often, very talented martial artists whose names you’ll never know. Tracking down a specific stunt fighter can be tricky, following their career can be even harder, but it is more likely to be useful than a loose list of random films and shows.

So, here’s the random list of films and shows that can get you started:

The Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings films have absolutely fantastic swordplay. Some of it is a bit over the top, Tolkien’s races of men aren’t really human, like the setting’s Elves and Dwarves, they’re a mythical race of super beings, so keep in mind that normal people can’t actually fight while being turned into an arrow pincushion.

Heat and Collateral. Both are focused on highly trained professional criminals with military backgrounds. Heat climaxes around the halfway mark with a North Hollywood shooting style bloodbath. Michael Mann’s work also deserves special mention for his commentaries. After you’ve watched Heat and Collateral, go back and rewatch them with the director’s commentary. Some of this is simple cinematography, or story development (which should still be useful for you), but some of it gets into his observations on criminology, and operations. The remake of Miami Vice also has a standout commentary from Mann (as I recall).

Spartan is focused on a semi-anonymous government operative. It’s treatment of violence is instructional. Also, if you’re writing characters with military hand to hand training, this is what they will do to people.

Strange Days. This is one of the rare films where the violence is really unsettling. It hammers home a lot of things we say on a regular basis, like how going up against multiple combatants is a losing game. (Also, one of the antagonists is a rapist who kills his victims, so a Trigger Warning: Rape is in full effect.)

Burn Notice, sometimes. The early seasons are better about this, but the narrator does offer some pretty solid advice, from talking about how to stage an ambush to explaining why you can’t just burst in shooting, this will give you a lot of the “why”, that controls what your characters do.

24. The writing’s hit or miss, and some of the seasons don’t really coalesce into a single story. You’ll probably learn more about staging and executing cliffhangers from the series (that is it’s forte), but it keeps the violence brief and explosive. It also goes through characters like kleenex, so it’s worth watching for that. The torture scenes waffle, and you’re going to have to use your own judgment on what you’ll accept. If you want to use torture, this is a good primer, then watch Burn Notice to remember why torture just doesn’t work.

If you’re dealing with a setting where some of your characters (particularly your villains) have superpowers, Blade Runner. Most of the combat in the film is unusually slow, as the replicants try to subdue their foes with their strength alone. It does show why the whole “stronger = better fighters” is crap. It’s also a fairly solid presentation of a character who is effectively a hired killer, going up against foes that can literally rip him limb from limb.

Highlander: The Series. Adrian Paul’s hand to hand form is a little unusual, but he is pretty good. The show alternates between actors someone tried to train in martial arts, and good martial artists turned actors. Still, there’s a lot of good swordplay, and writing that’s far better than it has any business being. If you’re wanting to write immortals of any streak (including especially vampires), this is a must see. The sword work in the first two seasons were choreographed by Bob Anderson, so, if you’re using swords, keep this one in mind.

If you’ve never seen it, watch Aliens. The first film is good, but not really relevant for this list. The important thing going in is that Aliens is a Vietnam war film set in space. Disciplined, well equipped soldiers up against a guerrilla force.

The film adaptation of Starship Troopers takes some of the same themes and pulls it clean into uncomfortable territory. I’m not going to recommend it for its combat, (though, that is well presented), but I would say it’s worth watching for the insight into military jingoism. Then realize you’ve been basically cheering for Nazis and now want to go vomit blood.

For reference: the film of Starship Troopers is a subversive parody, and the critical cue is seeing Paul Verhoeven’s name as the director. Similarly, Robocop (1987) is a pretty brutal take down of using violence to solve problems. Though, again, this is played straight.

Man on Fire (2004). I keep wanting to skip this one, but the fact is, it’s actually pretty good for what it’s doing. It also manages to convey, in a visceral sense how unexpected violence in the real world can feel. Though, I’ve probably spoiled that sensation by listing it on here. Forget that you read this here, forget the title, forget the fiery image on the cover and go watch it.

Sandbaggers is probably the most realistic presentation of violence in the espionage genre. Which is to say, avoiding it at all costs.

The only Tarantino film I’d actually recommend is Reservoir Dogs. The violence is self contained, and the bulk of the writing is the characters responding to the violence. This is actually some pretty smart writing, and you can probably learn something from it. (For the record, I like most of his work, but, it’s just not as applicable here.)

Mortal Combat (1995) is a goofy movie. But, as we’ve said before, the martial arts are technically good, and slow enough you can follow.

I almost never recommend video games, but, Spec Ops: The Line is an exception. (You can ignore the prior games in the franchise, they’re completely unrelated.) At first glance it looks like a conventional cover-based modern military shooter, it isn’t. The game isn’t particularly realistic, at least the combat isn’t, it’s also not conventionally “fun.” But, it is a very solid study of combat fatigue as well as the burdens and responsibilities of command.

This is a game that will make you do really horrible things, wear you down, and leave you numb and exhausted. If you want to tell the story of an action hero presented with real combat, you really need to play this. No, you need to play this. Nothing will cure a casual violence addiction faster.

Watching LP videos won’t carry the same effect, this is one of those times where you really need to be the one responsible for your actions, to get the full effect.

This is a Heart of Darkness homage (it’s not really an adaptation), if you want a hint of where it’s going thematically.

(Also, TW: Violence, because Spec Ops gets really messed up in a way nothing else on the list approaches.)


My character is a vigilante in the Wild West. However, he is over 300 years old, a cursed Mayan criminal doomed to wander the Earth punishing criminals for his own misdeeds. He posses superhuman strength, agility, and speed, as well as resurrects completely healed if and only if he is killed; as well as a Ghost Rider-like ability to condemn criminals like How “realistic” would it be for him to rarely if ever miss when shooting his revolver, and have mastered several different fighting styles?

About as realistic as the rest. Most of the time when people talk about “realism” in fiction, they’re butchering the term. In a world where Mayan gods stalk the earth 1500 years after the civilization that worshiped them crumbled to dust, inflicting superpowers on the unwary, it’s not unrealistic at all for you to have a character that’s freakishly accurate with handguns after 300 years of practice, and or mastered several different martial arts. It’s internally consistent, and to an extent, that’s all “realistic” means when we’re talking about fantasy.

What might not be realistic is the idea that he’s alone. That throughout human history, the Mayan gods have never “cursed” others with similar immortality.

Remember, for the nineteenth century, a lot of the modern martial arts didn’t exist, or would have fiercely protected. Your character can’t have learned any Chinese or Japanese forms in that era.

And, while martial arts like Systema have a long history, the modern form is completely different from the historical versions of the form. So, if you really want a martial arts background, you’re going to have to do some research. Also, using the term “martial arts” to refer to unarmed forms is strictly a twentieth century invention.

Really, you’re going to have to decide how much anachronism you’re willing to accept, and then do a lot of research to keep your material appropriate.

So, some a lot of recommendations:

I’m assuming you’ve already looked at the westerns with quasi supernatural protagonists. If you haven’t, I’d start with Hang ‘Em High, High Plains Drifter, and A Fistful of Dollars. The entire “I thought we killed him” avenging hero is almost it’s own sub-genre in westerns.

Deadlands was a Comedy/Horror/Western RPG in the 90s. The setting is an alternate 1880s American west where the supernatural has broken free and the end of the world may be nigh. It includes an entire mechanic set for playing the classic returned from the grave hero.

Brimestone isn’t a western, but it’s worth looking at (if you can find it). The central character was a cop who died and went to hell in 1983. The show picks up in 1998, there’s been an escape from Hell, and the Devil (played by John Glover) sends him back to earth to hunt down the damned.

Kurosawa’s Yojimbo and the American remake Last Man Standing may seem like odd recommendations, but they’re both worth watching. Neither story is supernatural, but they both deal with a lone fighter clearing a town of two competing gangs.

Millennium is an even stranger recommendation, set in the late 90s, it’s a horror/crime series that deals with a burned out ex-FBI investigator who may, or may not, posses psychic powers. The show has an ongoing supernatural element that is kept very low key until the final season. At it’s core, it’s a story about a man being forced to stand against evil by some supernatural force. Fair warning: each season shifts tone sharply, so it’s effectively three different shows; the first two should be useful for you.

The Dark Tower by Steven King is a series I still need to finish, but what I’ve read of this post apocalyptic/horror/western is good, really good. It might be off tone, but it could be very useful for you, especially in setting up a gunfighter.

The Saint of Killers from Vertigo Comics’ Preacher might be worth looking at. I could do a full article unpacking that comic, but it could be useful if you have the time and resources.

Finally, the Highlander TV series is on point. The original show follows a 400 year old immortal wandering the earth. He doesn’t have a compulsion to get involved, but it should give you some good ideas for how to handle your character. Especially if you want to have him interacting with a cadre of normal characters who follow him.


Aside from Lord of the Rings what movies/books have good depictions of sword or knife fights?

Anything involving Bob Anderson as the swordmaster or fight coordinator. That includes all three Lord of the Rings films, the Pirates of the Caribbean films, the Antonio Banderas Zorro films, the Highlander TV series, and a lot of Errol Flynn films.

Also you should check out the ARMA instructional videos. They’re useful for providing a functional understanding of sword fights you’ll need to write them.

For using swords, my first thought is actually Andrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher books. The fight scenes themselves aren’t that useful, but there’s some solid information scattered through the books.

We’ve got a couple questions pending about knife fights, but the short version is: they don’t happen. At least not the way they’re presented on film or in books. Knife fights are about shanking someone and wandering off, to the point that the hidden blade kills in the original Assassin’s Creed are about the extent of “realistic” knife fighting.

The best source on knives is probably from Michael Janich. He’s developed quite a bit on the subject. It’s not going to historically appropriate, but for using knives in a modern context, it should be helpful.