Tag Archives: martial arts

Choosing the Right Martial Art

This is more of a personal question but what MA you’d recommend to a 30 something? There’s krav maga courses at my city but I’m not sure if krav is actually good? I’ve read conflicting opinions on it

It its native environment, Krav Maga is very effective. Krav Maga was developed by the Israeli Defense Force and designed around combat in very tight quarters. It’s entirely built to operate in modern Israeli urban warfare. That’s also the problem.

Krav Maga was, originally, designed to kill opposing combatants. In its original form, it was ill suited for police or self defense roles, and would have been a disaster for sports and recreational martial artists.

What followed was that Krav Maga filtered out of the IDF. The martial art was revised and modified for people who had different needs. Police didn’t need a martial art that could kill people, they needed one that could keep the suspect alive. Recreational martial artists needed something they could practice safely. MMA fighters looked at the potential applications in sport.

So, roughly 50 years after Krav Maga escaped the IDF, there’s now multiple variants of the martial art. It’s not even that there’s a single sport variant, or a single self-defense variant, because each instructor is going to have a slightly different take on it, and that will filter down to their students. These tend to be almost imperceptible, initially, but when you’re talking over multiple decades, distinct schools of thought will start to emerge.

If someone is teaching Krav Maga as an exercise routine, that’s not going to be what you want if you’re looking for a self defense style. Beyond that, not all schools are created equal. You will find quality differences based on the skill of a school’s instructors. Two different schools practicing the same martial art could produce students of radically different proficiency.

This is where it’s a bit tricky for me. Because I don’t have a background in Krav Maga, I can’t tell you exactly what to look for in a school to immediately determine if it’s what you’re looking for.

Beyond that, a lot of recreational or sport schools will advertise themselves as, “self-defense.” The easy one to point out is Karate. 99 times out of 100, if a Karate school is offering itself as self-defense, it’s not going to deliver on that. It’s going to offer the recreational form of the martial art (because, that’s what actually exists), and at best may offer some practical self-defense considerations above that, but it’s not a good martial art for self defense (unless, you’re really worried about attacks from time traveling samurai from the 17th and 18th centuries.)

So, is Krav Maga a bad martial art? No. It’s an entirely legitimate choice. However, if you’re thinking you can take eight weeks of Krav Maga and come out the other side with hand to hand skills on par with IDF Special Forces, that’s not going to happen.

I’ll admit, I’m biased, but if you’re looking for self-defense training, my recommendation would be Judo as a base. Particularly the, “self-defense,” strand of Judo used by Law Enforcement, if you can find that. (Usually, this will be via police or sheriff’s department community outreach programs.) This is especially useful, because the most important part of self-defense isn’t the martial arts, it’s the threat management skills. Actually, a major red flag with a, “self-defense,” course is if there isn’t a priority given to non-combat skills, such as explaining threat psychology, or methods to make you less attractive as a potential victim. In self-defense, avoiding combat entirely is far safer, and thus more desirable, than testing your combat skills.

If you’re after something spiritual or physical exercise, you have a lot of options, and honestly, most schools will accommodate this goal pretty nicely. If you’ve got the option, Judo and Aikido are my first thoughts here, Karate isn’t a bad choice. There isn’t a categorically wrong answer. If you’re worried about your physical condition, then Tai Chi may a good choice.

If you’re looking to get into competitive martial arts (such as MMA), at your age, I’d strongly recommend against it. As we get older, our bodies slow down (a fact, I’m pretty sure you’re well aware of), and competitive fighting is something that takes an enormous toll on you. When you’re young, you don’t realize just how much damage you’re taking, but all that abuse stacks up. Starting older is an option, but you don’t have the benefit of being able to bounce back from that wear and tear. That said, Muay Thai has been extremely popular as of late. Though there are a lot of popular martial arts, and sport focused Krav Maga isn’t a bad option. The same technical considerations that make it an effective CQC martial art still work in a competitive bout.

If you need practical hand-to-hand training, you probably already have the contacts you’d need to get access to the military strand of Krav Maga, but, then again, if this was the case, you probably wouldn’t need to ask, “why do I see conflicting opinions on it?” You’d be buying a ticket to Israel. If that’s your goal, and you don’t have the contacts, you’re going to be disappointed. You’re unlikely to randomly come across a school teaching practical Krav Maga. Even if you did, it would not be the right choice for, “normal,” self-defense needs. If you want self-defense training, find an off-duty cop moonlighting as a martial arts instructor.

-Starke

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Q&A: Martial Arts, Any Age, Anytime

Anonymous asked:

This is less a writing question and more a “your blog has awakened something in me” question. I’m 31, hideously unfit, and also a wimp. I also have a longstanding interest in martial arts that I’ve never pursued due to aforementioned poor fitness and wimpy nature. Am I kidding myself by thinking I could learn a martial art? Am I better off simply enjoying it as a spectator, or is it worth finding a class?

It’s never too late!

People can start martial arts at any age. The littles (ages five to seven) are the most common in the vast majority of martial arts schools because their parents are looking for afterschool activities, but plenty of people start in their twenties, thirties, forties, fifties, sixties, seventies, even eighties, and beyond. One of my testing partners, Dave, started doing martial arts in his early fifties as an activity to do with his kids, and continued long after they quit. Last time, I checked in with him, he’d earned his fourth degree black belt and was a part time instructor at our dojo. One year, there was an eighty year old cancer survivor who got her black belt. And, during my third degree test, my regular practice partner was a woman in her forties who was recovering from a stroke. Any age, any time.

Most martial arts instructors who run martial arts schools actually came to martial arts in their early twenties to thirties. There aren’t that many professionals in the US who began their training as a little. That’s because the US doesn’t have an established family dynasty system, and you have a better ability to choose your passions as an adult rather than as a child. 

The important thing to remember when you’re starting martial arts is that you get out what you put in and it takes time to become good. There is no end to the journey, and the journey to really get a grip on yourself can take years. (My view is a little skewed because the vast majority of my martial training took place while my body was developing, so it took a lot longer to get out of the awkward phase.) Everything about developing flexibility and endurance takes time, exercise can often feel embarrassing, silly, and even stupid. The goal is to not give up and keep coming back. Nobody is Jet Li or Jackie Chan on their first day. (Not even Jet Li and Jackie Chan.) If you see kids half your age doing incredible things on your first day, it’s important to remember they’ve been practicing for years.

I was an extremely shy and wimpy kid when I started. When I was between the ages of six and seven, I was so embarrassed about showing up late that I’d sometimes just hide in the changing room and refuse to come out. (My parents were the only ones who ever actually teased me about it, btw.) By my senior year of high school, I was an extremely chill and confident third degree black belt. Practicing martial arts is a great way to help you challenge and overcome your fears and build your confidence. If you don’t give up, the biggest blocks you’ll tear down are the ones you built in your own mind.

If you are interested in martial arts, it is absolutely 100% worth it to find a class in your local area. Just keep in mind, you may need to go through several schools before you find a martial art and a school that’s a good fit. There are so many different ones out there and most will give you the option of free first classes to get your feet wet. If one isn’t a good fit, don’t give up! Do your research and find another in your area. Training is about trust, you’ll get further with a teacher and a community you jive with.

These schools will also, usually, have classes later in the evenings that are a better fit for adults scheduling around their jobs.

Remember, martial arts schools are a really low stress environment. You’ll have fun, connect with other humans, and learn important lessons that will positively impact every part of your life. Also, if you’re a writer, it’s hugely helpful to get experience for writing those battle scenes. Really, I can’t recommend good schools with positive teachers enough.

-Michi

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Q&A: More Demystification of Martial Arts and Romance

autumnimagining said to howtofightwrite:

I just read your excellent response to the question about the martial arts romance. I was wondering if one way forward to help increase a sense of sexual or romantic tension would be to have the couple slowly go through the moves together, rather like a couple learning to dance. Slow, soft touches and gentle placements of each other’s bodies around each other. It would eliminate the intense physicality of sparring while still being consensual and might resemble a fight without risk of injury.

The irony is that the violence of the sequence doesn’t matter so long as the individuals are on the same page and the audience understands the context. The romantic tension doesn’t come from the activity itself, it’s about two people engaging in an activity they both enjoy separately together. Here’s an example of a character dynamic that, in isolation, doesn’t seem romantic but is within context.

In the 2010 action comedy R.E.D. (Retired, Extremely Dangerous), the KGB agent Ivan (Brian Cox) explains his longstanding, complex romantic relationship with the MI-6 assassin Victoria (Helen Mirren) to Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker) who is retired CIA officer Frank Moses’s (Bruce Willis’s) new girlfriend drawn into the plot’s craziness of Frank going to war with the American government after they put out a hit on him.

Ivan shows Sarah the scar on his chest where Victoria shot him as a parting gift when they parted ways at the end of the Cold War. A scar Ivan is still fond of to this day. Sarah visibly recoils, not understanding how Ivan could perceive Victoria attempting to kill him as romantic, and Ivan says (and I paraphrase), “she shot me in the chest, she could’ve shot me in the head.” What he means is, Victoria chose the maybe kill instead of the certainty. Giving herself cover to say, “well, I tried my best” when reporting in while giving him a chance to survive. This, for Victoria, was an expression of love and it’s one Ivan understands because he knows her well. They’re bonded together by a mutual shared understanding, respect, and admiration for each other’s skills even when they are, technically, enemies on opposite sides of a conflict. Ivan is one of the few individuals in Victoria’s life who knows and loves her for who she really is, a ruthless, badass, highly skilled, and extremely successful assassin. And his competence is a major reason why she loves him. (Enemies to Lovers, but We’re Still Enemies in the End.)

The problem is you’re still looking at it from the perspective of the physical interaction being what makes the interaction romantic, what shows the romance to the audience, but it isn’t. Violence isn’t romantic and martial artists physically touch each other all the time as a matter of practice. So, there’s nothing special or unique about them touching a specific person. What makes the interaction special is the context, what each character emotionally brings to the scene and their motivations.

If you’ve got two characters who really enjoy fighting and enjoy testing their skills against each other, you have the grounding for a scene where the fighting itself could become an expression of love (whether that love is romantic or platonic.) The street brawls of Yusuke Uremeshi and Kuwabara from Yu Yu Hakusho are a good example of platonic fighting that forms a foundation friendship. It’s not the fighting itself but the enjoyment of fighting for its own sake, the pride both characters take in their skills, and in testing those skills against each other which creates the bond.

Kuwabara comes back time and time again for another sound beating because he enjoys fighting a challenging, superior opponent. Kuwabara respects Yusuke’s raw, scrappy fighting talent (long before Yusuke ever dies and gains spirit powers) while Yusuke comes to respect Kuwabara’s bullheaded tenacity and realizes that his rivalry with Kuwabara wasn’t antagonistic like he thought but rather a gesture of friendship. This friendship wouldn’t work if both characters didn’t genuinely love fighting rather than using violence as a tool of domination or a means to take power over another individual.

One of the problems for some authors (mostly American authors) is that some cultures (American culture, especially for boys) are extremely touch-starved or engage in touch-starvation due to more rigid social mores and restrictions. So, the act of touching another person gains more importance, often being read by the audience as sexual even when there are other important connotations at play. The problem they face (which acts as a form of culture shock) is that martial sub-cultures are extremely touch-heavy by necessity, you can’t train without constantly touching someone else and being touched, so the expectations that might be perceived in the mere act of touching just aren’t there.

Example: the only characters who get really excited by an instructor laying a hand on their stomach to remind them to tighten their gut and breathe from their diaphragm is the neophyte and constant training quickly disabuses them of that romantic notion unless they choose to cling to it.

Now, the same action could become romantic. However, it’s the sort of the action which requires both characters to be on the same page, when screwing around instead of focusing becomes mutual as opposed to the same action detracting from the lesson.

What I’m saying is that it’s not martial arts that brings people together, but their individual love for the martial arts that brings people together.

The act of training is cooperative interaction, but we ultimately train because we want to become better. It’s difficult to focus when you’re thinking about how much you like (or would like to bone) your training partner. The martial arts trainee usually learns to compartmentalize and put aside those feelings for the duration of training. Romance becomes a secondary consideration dealt with in the before and in the after, rather than the moment. For romance to work it’s way into the scene, it has to be what the scene is about with both characters on the same page with both ultimately okay when it comes to screwing around.

The irony is, the same is true with characters in an all out battle against each other while on opposite sides of the conflict. If you can define your characters as idealogues who separate their personal interests or romantic feelings from their work, there’s nothing inherently abusive in them trying to kill each other. They love each other, yes, but there’s this belief or code or aspect of themselves which they love more. It’s when the romance is tied to the violence and the pain they inflict on each other that situation and romance becomes abusive.

Writing your character taking it too far in a training exercise, harming their romantic interest as a means to realize they have feelings, and using one character’s injury to justify them growing closer with the person who hurt them? That’s where the asymmetrical power structure and abuse are.

Two characters who really enjoy sparring, who especially enjoy sparring with each other, sparring together? That’s fine.

Characters training together? So long as they can put their feelings aside in the moment and knuckle down, it’s cool.

For romance to work at all, your characters need to be characters. What violence is useful for is creating challenging circumstances which push characters to grow, evolve, and change. The choices we make in response to violence and in committing violence can reveal us for who we truly are, stripping away the false notions and preconceptions common in the infatuation phase of a relationship. It’s very common for people to fall in love with who they perceive someone to be or who they decide they are, the person they create within their own heads, rather than the actual person themselves. (Ironically, it happens more commonly in the romance genre and fiction in general than most authors would enjoy to copping to.)

If you’re going to sit down and write a romance, regardless of whether it’s a romance with characters who are warriors or martial artists, ask yourself some specific questions:

  1. Why do they enjoy being with this person?
  2. What is it about them (beyond the physical) that they like?
  3. What hobbies and interests do they have in common?
  4. What are the quiet moments in your story where each of these characters looks at the other and goes internally, “I really like you.”
  5. What do they admire about the other character?
  6. What annoys them about the other character? (Not hate, annoys, irritates, gets under their skin.)
  7. Are the aspects that they admire and which irritate real or they are perceptions the character has that aren’t exhibited by the other character on the page? (Is what your character sees in their love interest representative of what the audience sees?)
  8. What do they believe in, in absence of their love interest?
  9. If they are a warrior, why do they fight? Who, or what, do they fight for?
  10. Are those feelings compatible with their lover interest’s goals?
  11. What do they respect about their love interest?

-Michi

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Q&A: Practical and Recreational

Hey, there was a post when you said a modern person’s recreational skill was completely useless as a Roman soldier. Now, my story doesn’t do time travel, but I was wondering if there might be an issue in my modern day story with recreational martial arts practictioners having skill clashes with modern day jobs, anything from police officers to security guards. Whether it’s recreational first -> job or job first -> recreational.

I don’t remember that part of the previous question. The main point I was trying to make at the time was that the time traveler’s technological and scientific knowledge would be far more meaningful than any combat training.

As a general rule, someone with a practical background will have a significant (or downright insurmountable) advantage over someone with a recreational background. Someone with a competitive sports background (such as boxing or MMA) will land somewhere between these points, though it’s hard to quantify exactly where. Though, they fare well against someone with a practical background.

Police (or any Law Enforcement), military, and similar backgrounds will always land on the practical side, and their training will be kept up to date while they’re in active service. For our purposes, if a LEO also practices a recreational martial art, they’re still going to have practical combat training, though the philosophical elements from their recreational background will also be present in their personality.

There’s no hard and fast rules for a security guard. They may have old practical training, they may be up to date (especially if it’s a cop who moonlights as security guard), or they may have a sports or recreational background. The training they have will depend on whether their employer cares. A lot of security guards are simply tasked with observing, and passing that on to the police. Training them to martial arts is unnecessary for them to do their job, and may encourage them to intervene.

High end security firms will either put money into their employee’s training, or have some specific expectations for what they can do. When we’re talking about more specialized roles like principal protection (bodyguards) practical combat training is a must.

Private Military Companies will probably have military hand to hand training, though it may be slightly out of date, or second hand.

I’m going to make a slightly inaccurate generalization here: The difference between law enforcement hand-to-hand and military hand-to-hand is that the former is more interested in being able to subdue a foe, and the latter is more interested in being able to kill a foe. Now, that is a generalization, military training does have subdual options, and police can escalate to lethal force. In some cases, these will be part of the same martial arts family, or even the same martial art.

You could definitely construct a hierarchy of backgrounds, where, “this is better than that,” but that could easily degenerate into the non-productive, “my martial art is better than yours,” arguments. The simple answer is, recreational martial artists do not prepare for combat, and as a result are less suited to it. Practical martial artists train to use their abilities in live situations, and are better prepared when that happens. Additionally, practical martial artists need to continue updating their training on a semi-regular basis. This involves adapting their training to better fit the current environment their working in, and being “the most up to date” is a significant advantage.

-Starke

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Q&A: Multiple Martial Arts

A lot of times in the comics/superhero stuff somebody will have this whole long laundry list of different martial arts they’ve studied. I can see how it could be beneficial to dabble a bit in different styles, but is there a point where it would be better to just stick to one style and learn that really well? Is there truth to the “knows every martial art” master, or is it mainly just the author trying to make their character sound impressive?

This the result of someone trying to make their character (or themselves) sound impressive and in the process, cuing you in to the fact that they don’t know what they’re talking about.

Achieving mastery of a single martial art is a lifelong exercise. This will take decades of hard work. Even if you were to live forever, there simply wouldn’t be time to learn every martial art, as they evolved and changed. There isn’t enough time to keep up with everything, to say nothing of catching up.

If we focus on getting a character’s martial arts to basic combat proficiency, instead of actual mastery, that’s still going to take years in most traditional schools. You learn the fundamentals, and gradually learn to apply them.

If you’ve been paying attention to the blog, you’ll know this is the exact opposite of how practical hand-to-hand training works. If you’re studying something like the modern law enforcement variant of Judo, or MAP, you’re going to be learning how to use it on someone immediately, because you need to be up to speed within eight weeks of starting the class. This is proficiency, not mastery. You’re also going to need refreshers and updates because this is not static.

To an extent, when you start learning a new martial art, you need to start over. It’s not like you master a martial art, and then you can just roll over and pick up another one. You need to go through the basics, because they will be different. In many cases this is a point of failure. You have trained your muscle memory to do things one way, and you’re now being asked to do it differently. You’re being asked to do it, “wrong.”

I was supremely lucky. In college, I took Shotokan for the phys ed credits. The class’s Sensei was an off-duty cop who taught Karate as adjunct faculty. This meant he was more understanding of the residual Judo positions in my muscle memory. For example: he was more concerned that my curled knuckles on a palm strike were in a braced position, rather than that my fingers were extended. From a Karate perspective, I was trained to do it, “wrong.”

For many martial artists who try to start a new discipline, they will not have the benefit of an instructor who shares their background. Quirks that are a result of their previous teaching may be viewed as flaws. If you have a solid foundation. If your hand to hand style has a solid identity, this is fine. It will result in conversations with your instructor, and they may, or may not, be accepting of that. If the differences are irreconcilable, it may be impossible for you to learn this martial art.

So, we’re basically left with three real groups who practice multiple martial arts.

The rarest are actual masters. They’ve mastered a martial art, and now they’re auditing others. They’re not masters of those arts. They’re not even practitioners. They’re looking for something new to learn. In some cases they may be looking to start their own martial art. This is slightly more common than you might think. Most often these new martial arts are referred to as a school or style of the original martial art. The basics are the same, but there will be distinct elements that reflect the school’s founder. In some cases, you may see entire “genealogies,” where one school resulted in another, and another.

You can find masters who have extensively studied two martial arts, with the intention of producing a unified style. An example of this would be Ginchin Funakoshi, who fused two of the Okinawan schools of Karate together to create what would become Shotokan.

I skimmed over this, but it is easier to learn multiple schools of the same martial art. The fundamentals should be compatible, and even at more advanced levels, there will be similarities that make life easier for the martial artist. In contrast if you step out of your martial art entirely, you are, at best, starting over.

The second group are practitioners who have a martial art, and are looking for any techniques they can adapt. This is similar to the masters above, but tends to occur on the practical side. These are martial artists who are looking to expand their repertoire. Being able to perform the martial art as a whole is less important than being able to replicate specific techniques for themselves.

Mixed in with this group are experienced martial artists who are looking for, “something.” I made this sound a little mercenary earlier, but it can be philosophical, or even spiritual. A martial artist can take classes in another martial art simply because they’re curious about that style’s philosophy.

The final group have no idea what they’re doing. They’ll join a school, take classes until their interest wains, wander off, and then their interest is piqued, they’ll scamper in someplace new, and repeat the process. They have no foundation, or worse, it’s an unworkable mess of a half-dozen other martial arts. These are the ones who will proudly proclaim, “I’ve studied a dozen different martial arts.” You’ve studied eight, do you have belt rankings in any of them? Of course not.

Now, in defense of the last group, it is important to find a martial art that fits you, and that means you might jump through a few before you find one that’s a good match. That’s not who I’m talking about. I’m talking about the ones who bounce the moment things stop being fun.

Learning martial arts, particularly in traditional schools is not easy. It takes time and dedication. You need to find the drive to keep going even when you feel like giving up. You will be pushed beyond the limits of what you thought you could do. That is difficult. I would argue, it is worthwhile.

The funny thing about this entire concept is, there’s no point. Okay, so martial arts have their own strengths and weaknesses. Learning a second martial art can help shore up some of those weakness, in theory. In practice, if it’s a reputable martial art, those weaknesses won’t matter much. You were trained around those weaknesses, and they probably can’t be exploited in any meaningful way. Most of the time, picking up a second martial art wouldn’t benefit you. (Yes, there are some specific edge cases, where two martial arts may compliment each other, but that gets into very technical territory.)

Learn your style. Stick to it. The value in “dabbling,” is in expanding your knowledge of how other people solve the challenges they face. It can be valuable, but don’t do it at the expense of furthering your training.

-Starke

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Q&A: And Q and A

1) What type of martial arts would you recommend authors learn to write hand to hand combat? 2) Which type(s) apply best to understanding large battles? 3) Are there any styles that teach sword fighting?

One

Whatever you want. If you want to learn a martial art, pick one that interests you. Get your base of knowledge there. The things you learn will help you understand what you’re seeing when you look at other martial arts for your characters.

I frequently say that you need to tailor your character’s martial arts training to who they are. That’s still true, and if you’re writing a character with a specific background, you’ll need to know about their martial art, but that’s not the same as being proficient in it. Learn a martial art that interests you, and stick with it. It’ll take time, and it won’t be easy, but you’ll have a broader base of experiences to draw on when the time comes to write.

If you understand your martial art, and you can remember that different martial arts solve problems in different ways, you’ll be in a much better position to look at videos of someone and understand how to write that.

Two

None of the above. Martial arts are, “how you fight,” not how you command.

The best sources for learning about battlefield combat are history and, probably, tabletop war games. In a rare moment, I do not mean Warhammer here, I’m talking about things like Avalon Hill’s catalog of historical scenario games.

This may sound a little weird, but that kind of “simulation” war game does have value as a training tool, so (with a competent opponent) it will let you experiment with what does, and does not, work. Somewhat obviously, it does need to be tailored to the era you’re talking about. Games focused on Roman Legions will have limited applications when your setting is early modern, for example. That said, while niche, the strategy wargaming market is insatiable, so there is absolutely stuff out there that will fit your specific needs.

While wargaming will let you experiment, history will teach you what people tried, what worked, and what didn’t. It’s a vital component of this. There is a massive body of literature devoted to analyzing historical battles and the lessons learned.

If you’re asking about the experience of being on the ground in mass melee, then HEMA is probably the only martial art that will give you that experience in a safe environment.

Three

Yes.

Most Chinese martial arts, and some from other parts of south east Asian have sword forms. The overall structure is that you’ll learn the hand to hand components, and then move up to various weapon forms. It’s a holistic approach to combat training.

In Japanese martial arts, the sword is segregated off into separate martial arts: Kendo and Iaido. Just, for the record, this isn’t, “sword fighting,” it’s how you use a katana. That might sound like a minor distinction, but the katana has some serious design limitations that require special handling.

European martial arts did cover the use of swords, but most of those martial arts have been lost. What survives are training manuals. HEMA seeks to reconstruct those martial arts, but it’s not a perfect recreation. That said, HEMA will give you some historical context for sword combat, how that looked and felt.

Beyond that, fencing is an evolution from European sword martial arts, and there are a few examples like Polish Cross Cutting, which do survive to one degree or another, while mainstream fencing is an evolution from the lighter blades that came into fashion in the early modern era.

So, there are options, and this stuff is not interchangeable. If you’re looking at a pseudo-European fantasy setting, then Kendo isn’t going to work for what you want, you’ll want HEMA, Polish Cross Cutting, or to consult the surviving training manuscripts. Once you know the basics, understanding what you see elsewhere does become much easier.

So, learn what you want to start with, study actual battlefield warfare to understand how battles work, and then research the martial arts that would be appropriate for your characters. You don’t need to practice the same martial arts your characters would, but you do want a base to be able to understand their training.

-Starke

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Q&A: Incomplete Question

I wanted to try out martial arts so I was in a trial lesson today, and the first thing they showed us(my friend came with me), after stretches, was a joint lock. We were kinda just following along with a normal class but I thought….

We never got the rest of this, so I’m going offer my best guess.

In most martial arts joint locks are intermediate techniques. They’re not the basis of the martial art. They are very useful. So, they’re good to know, but not central.

With some martial arts (Judo and Aikido come to mind here), joint locks are fundamental. If you’re training in Judo you need to know some locks. That’s not negotiable; almost everything you do is based off of them.

In contrast, something like Shotokan doesn’t depend on joint locks, and they’ll probably be presented in abbreviated form, at least in introductory courses.

Both Shotokan and Judo do seek to control how your opponent can attack. However, they have different ways to do this, and as a result, different priorities in how they train you.

This isn’t intended as a jab at you, but, saying, “trying out martial arts,” is a bit like saying, “I decided to try that ‘car’ thing.” It’s not very specific, and could cover a lot of different forms of driving. With that in mind, I don’t know what your instructor’s priorities would have been.

Also, because you were auditing a class, it’s possible you were dropped into the middle of something. Joint locks are pretty safe to train people on, they restrict movement, but unless someone’s doing something very wrong, there’s no significant risk of injury.

When picking a martial art, you do want to make sure it’s a good fit for you. Reasons to learn a martial art include practical combat (and self-defense) training, physical fitness, sports, or even spiritual growth. Knowing what you’re looking for can help you choose the one that’s right for you.

The same thing is true of your instructor’s style. There’s a lot of different approaches to teaching martial arts. If you’re not comfortable with the school’s approach, you’re free to look elsewhere. This isn’t like public education, you do have the freedom to look around and see if another school will better fit your goals. Though, I do recommend if you have an issue with the approach you try talking to your instructors to understand their methods before simply wandering off.

Unrelated to everything above, as a writer, you do want to work within your limits. Tumblr’s Ask system has a fixed number of characters you can use. If you’re running up against that limit, you probably want to start making decisions on what to cut, so you can get under that. There’s an irony here, formal education will ask you to pad your work, while almost any other situation rewards brevity.

I hope that addresses the issue you were asking about, but like I said, we never got the back end of this question.

-Starke

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Q&A: Never to Late to Start

I want to learn a martial art but I am 25. I feel like I’m too old to train my body for something new. I even tried to take figure skating classes a year ago and it was embarrassing and frustrating. Everyone who great at something seemed to learn when they were kids. I read books all day and do well with learning new intellectual things but struggle with learning new physical skills.

Twenty-five is not too young. I’ve seen people get their black belts in their eighties, I’ve seen cancer survivors get their black belts, one of my major training partners for my third degree black belt was a woman in her mid forties who’d survived a stroke and the other was a man in his late forties/early fifties. Dave went on to get his fourth degree, and is still a part-time instructor at our martial arts school to this day. He got into martial arts because of his kids, and stayed long after they quit because he loved it.

Believe it or not, most martial arts masters and instructors at most schools actually started in their late teens/early twenties. You get the rare ones who start when they’re five or twelve, but most of the ones who start as kids eventually quit. They lose interest, and go on to do something else.

You’re not going to get past the embarrassing and frustrating part if you’re embarrassed by struggling, nothing regarding physical activity is going to click quickly. Training your body to do something new takes time. Realistically, in a recreational martial arts school where you train three days a week for forty-five minutes to an hour a day, the techniques will start to click about three months after you start. That’s if you’re consistent with showing up to training, and if you try hard. At two years, the techniques are going to feel good and you’ll be limber enough/coordinated enough to start doing them well. Four years to six years in is when you usually test for your first black belt, so that’s when you actually start getting good.

However, it’s only embarrassing and frustrating if you let it be.

There’s a real reason why willpower and fortitude are the most admired traits in martial arts. You don’t give up in the face of adversity. Mostly, this is a learned skill. The vast majority of people who start give up within the first three months. They get frustrated and they get bored because they’re not progressing fast enough. Physical activity is the beast where the conditioning part feels miserable until you reach a point where your body clicks, you plateau, it gets easy, and then you start all over again. There are no short cuts, you just have to do it.

It’s important to remember that the stunt actors you see in the movies have made martial arts and martial arts choreography their careers. The people you see who started as kids have all been doing this for anywhere between five to fourteen years depending on how old they are now. You don’t get to see how they looked when they started out, which most of them will admit was pretty terrible in comparison to what you’re currently seeing.

You’ve got to give yourself permission to suck. Give yourself permission to say, “yeah, I’m doing okay.” Realize everyone you train with has been where you are, at the beginning, at the bottom of the mountain and intimidated by the climb. It’s going to take awhile for your body to catch up to what your mind imagines, and you probably won’t be able to do a high kick day one. Or day two, or by day three. It takes time for your body to build up coordination, to develop your balance, and work on your flexibility.

Be honest with yourself about what you really want from the martial art experience. There’s nothing to stop you at twenty-five from eventually competing on the martial arts circuit if that’s what you want, but if you just want to practice recreationally or get skills for self-defense then try not to beat yourself up for not being Jet Li.

Focus on the progress you are making, rather than what you’re not doing right. Try to have fun. Find a good, supportive community, most martial arts schools aren’t what people imagine. They’re family affairs with people who start from all different ages and are from different walks of life. They’re communal, rather than competitive. They’ll push you to find the best version of yourself, if you’re willing to put in the time.

Learning not to be immediately discouraged by something your not immediately good at is difficult. It may take a few tries to find a martial art and a school which fit you. I can’t promise the experience won’t be frustrating at times and occasionally embarrassing because it is, you’re going to fall down even when you’re really good. You’ll get sweaty, and gross, and your face will be a red mess, you’ll get out of breath, you can pull muscles, even break bones. There will be days when you want to quit, want to give up. However, there’s no better feeling that conquering your own body. No better feeling than conquering your fear. The sensation you get where everything just clicks into place, and just works is great. The point where it stops being hard and starts really feeling good? The fantastic thud of landing a powerful kick on the training pads? Those are the moments you live for.

Martial arts is a fun, rewarding experience. Martial arts is for everyone willing to put in the effort. There is no cut off, only the hurdles you build in your own mind and your own perceptions. Ultimately, life is what we make it. Training in martial arts, what you’ll eventually learn is, most of the time, the only thing stopping you is you.

So, don’t let fear, frustration, or embarrassment stop you from getting what you want. The only way to know is to start, stick with it, and not give up if studying your martial art is what you want to be doing. Also, study a martial art you’re actually interested in because that’s half the initial battle.

-Michi

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Q&A: Flashy Martial Arts

If melee is all about not exposing yourself and not using up all your stamina, why are eastern martial arts so flashy? Like, with spins and flips? Wouldn’t an enemy just tackle them or stab them while they’re jumping?

Most of the time, Eastern martial arts aren’t particularly flashy.

The big exceptions are things like Wushu, where it’s performance art. That’s not about getting into a fight and winning, it’s about putting on a show. The same thing is true on film; the fight is about presenting an appealing set of visuals.

Turns out, when you have performers who are in excellent physical condition, and you ask them to put on a show, they can do a pretty good job of it. It has no relation to reality, and becomes a genre convention.

Why would you ask someone to engage in acrobatics for your fight scene? Because it looks really cool.

A lot of Chinese Wushu practitioners have been training since childhood. This includes people like Jackie Chan and Jet Li. They’re fantastic entertainers. They’ve spent their entire lives dedicated to martial arts, and as a result, when asked to put on a show, the results are amazing.

Now, that’s a performance, not a fight. In live combat, movement is generally minimized, stamina is conserved, and, anyone who knows what they’re doing will aim to end the fight quickly. Most of the time, that means the flashy stuff stays at home.

There are exceptions, and there is a reason. Stuff like Taekwondo keeps some elements. Those flashy moves, where someone leaps into the air and drives a spin kick into your head will kill you.

That’s not a joke.

That’s not hyperbole.

When you get your entire body moving, driving a strike into someone’s head, if it connects properly, can kill.

It’s risky. I was going to say, “in a real fight,” but Michi tore her leg apart doing a tornado kick. This stuff is not easy, and can seriously harm the practitioner if anything goes wrong. However, it can end the fight on the spot.

Spin kicks, of any variety, are no joke. They drive a shocking amount of force into the target. Kicks in general, are fairly advanced. Even basic kicks require prior training, and the flashy stuff is not easy. However, they deliver a lot of force.

There seems to be a semi-common perception by people who’ve never trained or experienced violence, that people are far more mobile than they really are. If someone’s doing flips to get away from you, you’re not going to be able to simply walk over and shank them mid-bounce. If they’re flipping towards you, you’re going to have a hard time lining up a strike before they connect. Now, you’re exceedingly unlikely to see someone flipping around in an actual fight because, as you mentioned, that’s extremely taxing, but someone doing that isn’t as vulnerable as you might think.

There’s some other stuff that looks flashy if you don’t know what you’re doing, but is practical. Throws are a good example of this. They look flashy. You just grab your opponent and bounce them around the room. The truth is, most throws are pretty easy to execute. They don’t take much energy, and you’re often using your opponent’s momentum to carry the throw. These are also very effective as your attacker ends up on the ground. They won’t end a fight, but they can quickly shift the balance.

Weapon tricks can also look flashy, but are low energy. Things like reversing the grip on a knife can be casually done by an experienced fighter. It’ll look cool, but it’s trivial in the moment, with practical uses.

So, the short answer is, if you’re watching martial arts movies, you’re not seeing how violence actually works. You’re seeing a performance. Those performances aren’t intended to reflect the real world. They’re supposed to be high-energy, and visually engaging. It is art, but it’s not emulating life.

-Starke

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Q&A: Yes, Kicks are a Thing

My cousin is a fan of the character Archer from the series ‘Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works’. He was curious if Archer’s habit of kicking a foe away from him to gain distance in a close-combat fight with weapons is something belonging to a particular martial arts style. Do you know if this is the case? How reliable would that tactic be in real life? Seems to me that there’s a big chance of your opponent grabbing your leg, after all.

It’s not a specific martial art, because nearly every martial art has their own variation on this one. Martial arts have a concept called distance, or range, which governs the ranges one can fight at with different weapon types. This runs from swords to knives to kicks to hands and then to grappling, and after grappling we’re on the ground. Unless specifically attempted to alter, combat invariably moves inwards from your feet to your hands to grappling and then the ground. Now, this means you have specific techniques which can be used at specific ranges and once you get too close or too far away those techniques become significantly less useful.

So, if you’re a warrior like Archer who relies on specific ranges in order to be effective then what do you do? You’ve got to find a way to get your enemy back into the range you want, which is away from you. Now, under normal circumstances, one would most likely consider using their hands. This is what most non-combatants are going to gravitate towards, because kicks require training to be able to pull off in combat. They’re powerful, but they’re also high risk. However, Archer needs his legs. He dual wields his blades in close quarters, he can’t use his hands without sacrificing one or both of his blades. Those blades cost mana to resummon, over time this will become costly to his reserves and takes time. He won’t drop them unless the situation requires it. So, he falls back to a secondary option by utilizing his legs and feet for defense/control.

Hence that specific kick. In Taekwondo, we call it the push kick. It isn’t about damaging your opponent so much as pushing them back. This kick is specifically utilized in getting your opponent into the range you want them, i.e. the range where you are more effective. For Archer, this means getting a melee enemy away from him and back into a better range for his weapons.

Here’s the thing to understand about kicks:

Strike to strike they are incredibly powerful. Power comes from your body’s momentum. Momentum is gained by torque, or twisting your body and joints in order to gain power to strike. The whole body moves. For a punch, this means using your shoulders and hips together at the same moment with your arm in order to connect. Kicks involve one of your legs taking flight, they’re heavier, stronger, faster, and utilize greater rotation than you will ever get off your hands and arms. They are a martial arts mainstay for this reason, even in the disciplines where they are not the specialty. If you ever wind up facing someone with a kicking specialty that knows how to properly utilize their legs, watch out.

You can catch a kick, you can block a kick, and they are riskier because they require more motion which is easier to see coming. If your opponent manages to capture your leg, then the fight is over for all intents in purposes. For this reason, a kick is often part of a finisher or at the end of a combination. They distract your attention with other techniques, and then the kick comes. Blocking a kick is also risky, not just because their powerful but catching a kick requires you be able to preempt it and catch it before  the leg enters extension. This means you have to stop the kick while its still in chamber stage, and you need to guess that they’ll be committing to risky business or else you just lost your defense to a feint. Blocking a kick rather than dodging a kick requires you move your hands or a leg to stop the kick. A push kick cranks all the way into the chest before it extends and acts as a shove outward, which means it can be done in tight confines like when in the hand range where most of the general kicks (in disciplines other than Muay Thai) become useless. You can also grab your opponent at that distance and crank your leg right into their stomach/chest. They can’t go anywhere and they’re forced to take the full blow rather than absorbing some into the stumble/fall. Take a roundhouse to your forearm and you’ll walk around with a bruise the size of your forearm for several weeks, at least. Time your block wrong, and that can easily translate into broken bones.

It’s easy to discount kicks if you’ve never seen them in action, and most self-defense experts will say you shouldn’t use them. This is because they take longer to master, are more dangerous, and have greater requirements in overall flexibility in order to be used effectively. You can’t effectively learn the sidekick in a two week crash course. However, the kicks are a defined pillar in the four pillars of martial arts. (Fists, Feet, Ground Fighting, Standing Grappling/Joint Locks.) Sometimes, it can be broken into five. If kicks were totally useless, or too risky, they wouldn’t exist as a focus.

  Kicks are powerful enough as techniques to be worth the risk.

For writers, especially writers without a martial arts background, this is going to be difficult. You’re not used to thinking with your feet, or utilizing the wide array of options which come with footwork and kicks. The key to understanding the utility of kicks lies in the if,  if they can catch your leg. If they can stop you. If they see it coming. If you miss.  But, what if you don’t?

The reward you gain in success runs about equal to the chance of failure. These techniques are high risk, high reward.

Now, envisioning this is going to be where most writers will run into problems. Hands are easy, you can wrap your mind around them as a basic concept. The strengths and weaknesses of the leg are similar, but its too easy to start seeing catching a leg coming at you full speed to be easy as catching a hand.

It isn’t.

A foot buried in your stomach in full extension is much more dangerous than a sucker punch, even if you tense your abdominal muscles a large portion of that force is going to go right through you. The timing risks are higher in failure with a leg than they are with the hands.

Archer is essentially performing a sucker punch with his leg on an incoming enemy, and then he’s saying, “get away from me.” He does this without ever having to lose hold of or sacrifice his weapons in a situation where he very well might have to. This is why warriors carry somewhere around two to four weapons on their person at all times. Total specialization in archery makes you next to useless when knocked into sword range, short sword range, or knife range. If you’re in a situation where someone else can hit you, they’re too close and you’ve ceded your advantage. You want to not be there anymore, or you want them to not be there anymore. Either way, you need the ability to either switch to a different weapon, or force them to be somewhere else. This kick is the definition of, “be somewhere else.” It creates the needed opportunity to move someone from standing grappling to kick range. Which is why lots of martial arts actually do use some variation of it or keep it in their back pocket as part of a larger tactical approach.

The one thing I can give the Fate/Stay Night anime series is that they excel at showing ranges for weapons and incorporating them into the different character’s combat styles. I mean, it is very Japanese, but studying up on Lancer versus Archer versus Berserker versus Saber is not a bad place to start if you’re looking to grasp how different weapon types can function when dialed to eleven. The characters do utilize strategies and tactics when fighting each other, which is nice. They’re usually, loosely, working off some real world combat concepts in the way the weaponry pairs off. The series is pretty good about balancing out the strengths and weaknesses against each other to create tension in the fights. Saber having trouble closing on Lancer is a real problem someone with a sword will face against a spear. I mean, the setting is war games with heroes from history in a battle royal martial arts competition.

-Michi

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