Tag Archives: martial arts

What are some hurdles a person who has practiced taekwondo, fencing and aikido might have to jump when thrown into a real life or death fight? What will happen when they get much better at escalating quickly (almost too quickly) and they’re thrown into a situation where that’s the opposite of what they need to do?

By, “the opposite of what they need to do,” you mean, not
escalate the situation, or specifically work to try to limit the harm being
inflicted. You know, like an Aikido practitioner?

I know we’ve said this before, but; martial arts are not interchangeable.
They’re not just alternate move sets, or aesthetic considerations. Every
martial art, every one, brings its
own philosophies and outlooks into play. When those philosophies overlap, you
might have options to start mixing them together, or lifting elements from one
for the other. Aikido and Taekwondo don’t really have much of anything to talk
about.

Aikido is a martial art of pacifism. It works well for self defense
because the entire idea is, you stand at the center, plant your feet, and send
anyone who attacks you to the floor, so they can think about all of the mistakes
they just made.

As I said at the beginning, Aikido doesn’t escalate, at
least not on its own. This is a martial art that focuses on ending conflicts
with as little harm done as humanly possible. People will get hurt, that’s an inevitability,
but, this is a martial art that is heavily focused on avoiding escalation.

If you want to start mixing it with something else, there
are other martial arts that have common ground. Jujitsu and Judo both have some
of the same philosophical underpinnings, they’re just pretty sure that plopping
someone on the ground isn’t enough to get the message across, that sometimes
you’re going to want to get down there and make your point in person.

There are even aggressive martial arts that you can
(probably) mix Aikido with fairly effectively, including Muay Thai or Krav
Maga. Martial arts that say, “I want to get really close to someone and turn
them into goulash.” They do have common ground on the ranges that they think
combat should be taking place at.

Taekwondo doesn’t. It’s a very active martial art. It wants
to go places and kick people in the head. As a practical martial style it
shares almost nothing with Aikido. Where Aikido wants its foes close enough to
reach out and touch, Taekwondo is all about forcing your foes away, and keeping
them off balance while you drive your foot through any internal organs they
were using.

Taekwondo exists as a practical martial art, but you’re
going to be hard pressed to find that variant outside of Korea. If your
character served in the South Korean military, worked for the police or as a
bodyguard there, then it’s possible they learned this.

Taekwondo traditionally pairs with Hapkido. I don’t know
much about the martial art itself, beyond that it has a focus on joint locks.
But, these are designed to work together, and against one another, so a
practitioner in one would probably also learn the other.

Ironically, Taekwondo can also find common ground with
martial arts like Muay Thai or Krav Maga. These are all martial arts that enjoy
moving around a lot and messing people up. Where Taekwondo excels at doing this
at range, Muay Thai or Krav Maga offer options to do this up close.

Now, if you’re sitting there and wondering why I just listed
the same two martial arts as compatible to both of the ones you picked, that’s
because they have common ground with one another, the two you picked, really
kind of don’t. It’s not that martial artists never learn conflicting styles.
That does happen. But the benefit you gain from that isn’t being able to blend
them together into a single style, it’s being able to switch up your approach
to fit the situation you’re in. And, yes, escalation control is an element of your martial art.

A character who’s been trained in Aikido and (practical)
Taekwondo, would be in a very good position to work as a bodyguard. Taekwondo
allows for rapid vicious responses when called for, and Aikido allows for them
to deal with attackers in public situations where you really wouldn’t want a
bodyguard tearing apart an overly eager fan.

I’m just going to toss this one out, but fencing really
doesn’t add much to this situation. It will help with physical conditioning,
but then again they’d already be getting that from Taekwondo and Aikido.

So, if your character’s been training in Aikido, either
recreationally or practically, they shouldn’t be having issues with escalation.
Remember, escalation is where you increase the amount of force you use to a
point where combat ceases to be an appealing option for your opponent. The
entire concept is anathema to Aikido, which seeks to end combat with as little
violence as possible.

Also, there’s a side nitpick, it’s not really possible to
escalate too quickly. The issue is escalating too far. Again, the idea is that
you demonstrate a degree of violence your opponent isn’t psychologically ready
to handle, forcing them to back down.

Escalating too slowly can give them time to come to terms
with what you’re doing, but the only problem with escalating too quickly is
that you’ll use excessive force. For example, grabbing someone by the skull and
gouging out their eyes would (almost certainly) convince their friends or
allies to back down, but if the situation doesn’t warrant that kind of force,
it’s excessive, you’ve escalated too far, and there will be consequences. These
can be the obvious legal issues associated with extreme violence, or it can
provoke responses in opponents where, instead of backing down, they’ll be more
willing to retaliate in kind. For example, pulling a gun on someone’s friend
might get them to back down, where killing their friend will drive them to come
after you, where they wouldn’t have with less escalation.

The problems faced by a character who escalates too far is, that
they’ll make far more enemies, which will eventually catch up with them. This
is part of why escalation is such a tricky concept. It’s requires a substantial
amount of finesse to pull off effectively.

Escalation is also something that is seriously frowned on by
most of the recreational martial arts community. Unnecessary, and excessive
violence is a serious liability issue for the school, particularly if their
students are children (and, honestly, that’s pretty common.) A large part of
this is because of the exact problem you’re describing. The actual difficulty
is about going too far. It’s not hard to go way too far in an instant, that
happens all the time. But, unless your character is operating with some kind of
“above-the-law” protections, going too far once is a good way to end up
spending the next 25 years in a small cell.

-Starke

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I have a character (in a typical swords-and-sorcery world ala Middle Earth) who decides to fix metal ridges to the bottom of her boots that doubles as better traction and making it hirt more and deal more damage if she needs to kick in a fight. Is this realistic, or would it be too heavy to fight in?

I’m going to be that pedantic asshole here for a second and remind you that Middle Earth is High Fantasy, and if we’re going with Lord of the Rings then it’s Epic Fantasy. “Sword and Sorcery” is actually a different sub-genre of fantasy established (mainly) by Fritz Leiber and Robert E. Howard. The famous narratives surround the adventures of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser and Conan the Barbarian.

You will probably break your brain trying to figure out all the fantasy subcategories from dark fantasy, to low fantasy, to gaslamp, but the distinction here is important. “Sword and Sorcery” is a sub-genre is a set up where the fantasy focuses on the personal costs to the characters rather than a sweeping epic. It’s generally populated with anti-heroes, but if you’re writing a story that involves a small group of friends on an adventure and they are focused on personal growth over epic battles then you’ve got Swords and Sorcery.

However, if you don’t understand your genre then you eventually end up in this situation: Dragon Age (epic fantasy) versus Dragon Age 2 (sword and sorcery).

If you want my advice though, I’d say you pull a Tolkien and start researching medieval combat. Too many authors attempt to come up with “clever”, more “modern“ solutions in order to give their characters an edge that people in the middle ages either actually solved or just weren’t applicable.

In this case, it’s probably both and definitely the latter. Steel ridges on the bottom of the boot aren’t going to add anything to the foot’s stopping power. The reason for this is that stiffening up the sole in a boot or shoe that you intend to use for kicking is a bad idea.

When you’re looking at application of force via a punch or a kick, you learn quickly that the body position and posture ensure that the force is distributed over a small area rather than a large one.

In simple terms = the smaller the area, the more penetrating force you get.

For example, the reason why a boxer’s fracture occurs in the fore and index finger on the hand is because that’s where the connecting force is being applied. The rest of the hand is reinforcing those two fingers. Ultimately, a similar principle applies with the foot.

The whole bottom of the foot isn’t used for kicking, except in a very few circumstances (like the push kick, which does exactly what it’s defined as). Kicks use the blade of the foot (the outside edge), the ball of the foot, and the heel. Sometimes, the top of the foot is used. When you use the whole of the foot to kick i.e. spreading the force across a wider surface, you get the push kick rather than the front kick. The push kick is a defensive kick, used for maintaining distance. You bury your foot into the other person’s gut and shove, like a literal push. You use your foot to push your opponent away from you. (This is the point where some of you may be realizing that martial techniques are often given literal names that correspond directly to their purpose, which will help you in the future when figuring out what X technique does. Case in point = triangle choke (arm forms a triangle and chokes) and the arm bar (opponent’s arm is extended to form a literal bar).)

The front kick  = leg kicks toward the front (point of impact: ball of the foot)

The side kick = turn sideways in order to kick (point of impact: blade of the foot or heel, depending on type)

The roundhouse = the leg comes across the body, literally swings around to kick. (point of impact: either ball or top of the foot depending on type of kick used.)

The back kick/spinning sidekick = your back faces your opponent when you kick. (Point of impact: Heel.)

The hook kick = leg’s chamber forms a hook as it kicks. (Point of impact: Heel)

The spinning hook kick/wheel kick = you spin and perform a hook kick. (Point of impact: Heel)

The axe kick = leg lifts and drives the heel on a sharp downward angle like an axe. (Point of impact: Heel.)

The shin kick = instead of connecting with the foot, this Muay Thai kick connects with the shin. (Point of impact: Shin.)

The mule kick = you know how mules and horses kick with their hind legs? Yeah, it looks like that. (Point of impact: heel.)

The push kick = A defensive kick which pushes an opponent away from you to create distance.  (Point of impact: the entire underside of the foot.)

When you see someone breaking down a door with their foot in the movies, they are, usually, using a push kick.

If you’re wearing boots that don’t allow for much articulation of the ankle or bending in the foot then your character isn’t going to do much kicking. Kicks are easiest to do with no shoes on, then in sneakers. There’s a lot of bendy, rotational, mechanical detail that goes on with kicks like the side kick or the roundhouse. Add in that kicks are risky business, going up on one leg is sacrificing a lot for attack, and their use in most modern combat is confined almost entirely to the mid/lower body.

With the way kicks function, there’s no point to affixing steel to the bottom of the boot. It won’t matter if they’re fighting someone unarmored and if they’re armored then they’re best bet will be going after the joints left exposed in the armor for articulation like the knee. You wear steel on the top of the foot to protect the foot and the toes, and on the shin.

If you don’t plan on having her kick as a major part of her fighting style, then I suggest going with a medieval variant of the steel toed boots. The boot will be too heavy for fancy kicking, but you get to upgrade kicking someone in the shin from “OH GOD WHY” to “OH GOD YOU BROKE IT!”

Something similar to the sabaton.

I’ll be honest, cool as they are, kicks aren’t the easiest to pull off especially in a combat situation. Most fighters, especially when going up against enemies in armor, will avoid them entirely. Unless you’re doing a lot stretching and remaining loose, getting practice in, they’re very difficult to do cold. Do to the necessity of going up on one leg, kicks end up in the category of risky business.

Also, unless you’re building your setting on “Rule of Cool”, avoid the spin kicks. While devastating when they connect, the average combatant isn’t going to want to risk taking their eyes off their opponent for any length of time. They also aren’t going to want to expose their back to the enemy.

You need your spine and your kidneys.

The back kick and its brother the mule kick will get the most mileage off an enemy coming in from behind you. However, take care of the opponent in front of you first. Otherwise, it’ll put them in the perfect position to grab your head with all the other openings provided to pick from.

The other thing that’s important to remember about kicks is that due to their risky business (very big motion, up on one leg, total commitment), you gotta be fast. Wearing heavy footwear will impede the speed, which ultimately both lessens the power of the kick and makes it easier to avoid/block/counter.

The one thing you don’t want is to throw your leg out there only to have the other person catch it and then break your knee. Or, you know, drag you around the field until you fall down.

No, really, it happens. If you ever want to know about the horrors that can be committed on a captured leg, check out Hapkido.

TLDR: Just give them some normal protection for their feet.

Please.

While the most risky, kicks are the most powerful of the hand to hand techniques. They don’t need help to make them more effective against unarmored opponents. They crush organs and break bones just fine all by themselves.

Your bones, even, if you screw up. (Hello, Sixth Grade.)

If they are facing enemies in armor then take weapons.

-Michi

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that moment when your grandmaster stops class to help a black belt candidate learn how to do a brick break and then turns it into a life lesson ?

I grabbed my phone to capture a video for when she breaks it, and I’m glad I got this motivating speech. The clip is just over a minute.

Caption: Grandmaster standing in front of a thick concrete block upon two others, with a student who is going to attempt breaking it, in front of a class: “think through, think through. This is, you know, guys, breaking is a metaphor for breaking through stuff. You know the challenges that you have – I’ve seen 240lb linebackers, football tough guys [tough guy noise] they can’t break one. It’s in here [points to head]. During testing, they got their black belts, they’ve been kicking everybody and they’re really strong, they’re like this, right? [poses like bodybuilder].

They come and they go ahhhhhh eeek [winds up to break but pauses short]. Stops. The reason is, the brain is really powerful and so what happens is, it tells you, ‘That’s a brick. That’s a brick. I cannot break that!’ And as soon as your brain says that, subconsciously when you say that, your hand just stops because your brain stops everything in motion. And so the biggest guys can’t break through this. Until they learn how to do that. And then after, after 2 years, 2 years, 240-50 pound guy, big guy [flexs again] he broke eleven after 2 years of training.

But he had to train himself to do that: ‘I can do it, I can do it.’ So, this is, you can do this. But you have to tell yourself you can do it. You know what I tell my little dragons (toddler class)? Yes I can? Or I say ‘can you do it?’ and they say ‘YES I CAN!’ It’s the same deal, you have to look at that and say ‘I can go right through that.’ And then you have to convince yourself, (student’s name), you have to believe it, and the belief has to become real, and then you make that happen.

And so, that happens with anything you can do. Any endeavor that you come across. Okay? Right? You wanna be the next Bill Gates? If you tell yourself, ‘Ah, man, that’s already been done’ then you’ve already lost. That’s exactly the same thing! You have to start thinking about that. That – [points at brick] – you have to break through that barrier.”

My reasons for posting this excellent motivational speech to this blog for you writers is two fold. The first is that it’s an important life lesson and reminder about mind over body. Overcoming your own inner negativity is difficult and something I still struggle with when approaching my daily life. Reminding myself that ‘Yes, I can’ and believing in myself are very difficult for me when dealing with depression. To fight through the feeling that I’m worthless and have nothing to contribute. I actually broke three bricks when I was eighteen after passing my third degree black belt test, the first two on the first impact using a palm strike and the third with my forearm/elbow. I had a bruise the size of my forearm for about a month and a tiny scar left over to this day. (That isn’t normally what happens.) However, it took me nearly ten years to accept the life lesson that the brick offered.

It was really scary because you have to look past the brick, aim beyond it, in order to break it. It also has absolutely nothing to do with physical strength, but in overcoming the barriers your mind creates for you. The truth is that we’re all a lot more powerful than we think we are. It’s not some mysterious gift that some people have over others, but rather a willingness to overcome the internal barriers we set for ourselves that say X is beyond us. As the Grandmaster states above, when you say ‘I could never’ then you’ve already lost.

The great misconception most people, not just writers, bring to martial arts or fighting in general is that’s about “the biggest and the best”. This pervades popular culture to the point that perfectly legitimate characters are seen as unrealistic due to the false reality created by the media. We get questions in our inbox all the time about “How can my physically weak character learn to fight?” or “How can my female character learn to fight?”

There is no special path to combat. There is only patience, dedication, and hard work. What is so beautiful about characters for authors who embrace this in their understanding is that they realize that there is nothing holding these characters back. They become action characters, driving their own narrative. Fighting is not some aspect separate from their personality, they are in control and that’s the moment when a character becomes empowered by their narrative.

They are an active force driving their story forward rather than a passive one. They control themselves, they control their own mind, and they are in control of their own destiny.

It’s not the act of violence which empowers a character or person in their life, it’s the realization of their freedom to make decisions for themselves and that those decisions push the narrative forward. They take power and the responsibility which comes with it. When someone is forced to do something, they are not empowered. When they choose to do something, even if they are afraid, even if it is terrible, even if it is a hard choice, a bad one, or a wrong one, then they are.

The ultimately best part about all of this realization is that it’s within your power to make the change. It will take time and hard work, it won’t happen all at once, but you can train yourself to overcome those things which make you afraid or fill you with the belief that what is before you isn’t meant for “someone like me”.

Even if you don’t believe in yourself now, you can train yourself to.

There is no right way, just a way and you’ll find the one which works best for you.

-Michi

Hello! Long-time reader, first-time query. I know y’all often talk about Tamora Pierce and her representations of fight scenes and fighting. Something I’ve noticed she often does is emphasize how her characters learn pattern dances or patterns with their weapons. How useful are these for someone learning how to use a weapon, or how central might they be to training? You wouldn’t be able to use them in battle very often, would you? Thanks! :D

They’re a real and important part of training, but the chances of using them in combat is close to never. About the most you’re ever likely to use are the transitions and the smaller combinations. Every martial art has their own term for “Pattern Dance”. In Japanese, which are the martial arts Pierce pulls heavily from in Protector of the Small, it’s “kata”. Kel’s glaive “pattern dances” are from naginatajutsu. (Or, at least, they’re supposed to be.)

For reference: Kata versus Sparring

Taekwondo Koryo

The usual, convenient english terminology used is “form” and that’s how I’ll be referring to the practice in this post.

Definition: A form is a routine or set pattern of movements, either preset or freestyle that is a major component of many different martial arts. Basically, it’s just a routine like any other. In concept, it’s not actually different from dances or the routines seen in competitive gymnastics. They can be performed in single or with a partner, as is often the case when practicing with weapons.

Forms predominantly emphasize their focus on technique and act as a means of of testing a student’s training by putting what they’ve learned together into a single routine. They advance in complexity as the student themselves advances in their training. Sometimes, you’ll hear martial artists refer to them as techniques usable in combat, but they’re not. Live combat itself has no room for such fixed patterns. Think of it like working from a script. Combat requires you being able to adjust yourself, to put your techniques together, and be spontaneous. Sparring is where someone the actual practice for combat occurs, but sparring is useless if your technique is crap.

Forms are where all the technical details are honed and perfected. It’s the student putting what they’ve learned into practice, in a specific pattern of movement designed to teach them about flow, transition, and synchronizing breathing to attack. The transitional flow from one technique into another, moving from one combination to another, from one stance to the next, changing direction, all while managing to nail each technique is exceedingly difficult. Forms aren’t where you learn to face multiple opponents, but they are where you learn how to change direction. They’re where you start to familiarize yourself with attacks outside of a single line and transition into different ones.

Mostly though, it’s a combination and compilation of every technical you’ve been practicing in training. The way one shows they’ve mastered their base and their techniques. How skilled your student is in their technique actually depends on how well they perform their forms rather than their sparring.

“Building your base” refers to the beginning, the way you stand, the way you breathe, your stances, and your single techniques. You start at the beginning and work your way up, repeating the same techniques over and over until you do nothing but eat, breathe, and dream them. The form is the culmination of that base, of those techniques, and how well it’s come together. Without a solid base, your technique suffers. If your technique suffers, nowhere will that be more evident than in your forms.

It’s a rote pattern, set practice, and beautiful when set into motion. Forms themselves comprise the major portion of the performance art aspect of martial arts.

If your character has “beautiful technique” then their forms are where that’s actually established. If they’re in a regular martial arts school training, then the forms are a part of their instructor’s evaluation of their ability and testing between belt ranks.

So, yes, they’re real. No, you don’t use the full thing in combat. What gets used is the smaller combinations inside them and the techniques practiced outside of that, often drills performed with a partner. Combat is, in large part, about pattern recognition. One of the major aspects of training is to teach your body to react before an attack begins or notice it’s early stages, to predict, and then either act or counteract while on the defensive.

It will be a major part of any character’s training, both by themselves and with a partner. Rote patterns practiced over and over and over in drills until they can do it while they eat, breathe, and dream.

As for the term “pattern dances” that’s the term Pierce chose to use for her fantasy setting. The Yamani culture is basically just medieval Japan with the serial numbers filed off. Patterns, forms, routines, or the proper corresponding term for the martial art like “kata” for Japanese/Okinawan martial arts are all acceptable.

Kel’s habits, like getting up early to practice in her quarters, those are good traits to have your character pick up.

-Michi

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Hi! So I am a blue belt in Tae Kwon Do and I was wondering if I could ask you for some advice. How do I not get so frustrated at my lack of skill? A few days ago I was in the kids’ class and I started freaking out in front of all the children because my kicks were coming out sloppy, then later in the adults’ class I started crying for the same reason. And every test I have, I always breakdown during the forms because I get stuck… Advice?

You’re thinking too much, you’re stressed, and you’re possibly making bad comparisons about where you think you should be at versus where you are.

Think about it this way:

White – Green: Beginner

Blue – Red: Intermediate

Red – Black: Advanced

Blue Belt is the transition period, the beginning of the intermediate belt ranks, where everything starts to get harder. You take on more responsibility (in your case teaching), you’re asked to commit more time, and the techniques become more complicated. You’re stepping out of the honeymoon stage and starting to realize how little you actually know. It’s just like writing actually, where you write a story, fall in love with it, think it’s the best thing ever, then you come back three to six months later and all you see are the flaws. Right now, you’re in the flaws stage. You aren’t as good as you thought you were. That’s okay.

More importantly, that’s normal.

So, take a step back and breathe.

Your instructors wouldn’t have you demonstrate for the lower belt ranks if they thought your technique was shit. If they thought your technique was shit, they’d tell you. Trust me.

They’re asking you to demonstrate because you’re an assistant and they like your technique. Your technique is where it’s supposed to be at for your rank (or it could be better). They have a better objective view of you than you do. Objectivity is good.

This is where I say that you’re thinking too much. You are so focused on doing it right that you’re forgetting to do it. Like most martial arts, Taekwondo at the higher levels is actually based in muscle memory. The more you do, the less you think. You perform the repetitions enough times that you don’t have to think about it, your body knows. You perform better when you’re relaxed. All that worry and confusion is sneaking in, and it’s making your technique worse because you keep trying to force it. Then, you punish yourself for not doing it right and it becomes a vicious cycle.

This is even more important when it comes to forms. If you can do it in class, then you can do it in the test. So, relax. Breathe deeply. Trust yourself. Your body knows what to do. Or, the actual Star Wars line I like for this, “Let go of your conscious self and act on instinct”. Turn off your inner critic.

Your head is what’s tripping you up here. So, let go of everything else. Stress. Fear. Worry. Or any of the parts which give you trouble. Focus on doing. Think of it like moving meditation, let there be nothing happening upstairs.

1) Ask your instructors what you can do to improve. They know you and your technique better than I do.

2) If you’re breaking down and crying because you think your technique is no good, then maybe it’s time to move back to a less stressful position. Tell your teachers about your problem and ask that they maybe call on someone else for a little while. No shame in that. Honest communication between you and your instructors about your mental state is important. You may not be ready for the responsibility and stress that comes with teaching. That’s okay. Teaching is stressful. More than that, it’s a learning experience.

3) Re-evaluating your technique while passing it on is supposed to happen. That’s normal. We teach because it helps us become better. The first step is recognizing the issues. The second is acceptance that we aren’t what we thought we were. The third is patience. Improvement happens slowly, gradually, inch by inch. Be patient with yourself. You aren’t going to be equal to your instructors tomorrow. They and the older students been doing this longer than you. Forgive your mistakes. Focus on the technique itself, on what you can do to become better rather than chastising yourself for not being good enough.

We’ve all been where you are. We were all white belts once. We all had terrible technique once. (Some of us still do.) We all thought we had terrible technique when our technique was actually kind of awesome. (Some of us still do.) We’ve all suffered from fear and feelings of inadequacy. (Some of us still do.)

Keep working at it. Be positive. Trust yourself. You will be better.

Giving back to your community is important, but not if it’s driving you to a mental breakdown. Your health what is most important here and if your teachers can’t or won’t see that, then that’s not your issue. It’s theirs. You may need to find another school. However, I’m sure that if they know the extent to which this is troubling you that they’ll be more than happy to help. Think about focusing on just being a blue belt.

Give yourself time to adjust. Your at the beginning of a journey that may last your entire life. So, no need to rush. We all travel at our own pace.

Remember, this is supposed to be fun.

Smile.

No, I mean it. Smile. Are you smiling? Good.

You’re doing just fine.

-Michi

Just stumbled across your blog. Love it. Omg the dancing thing, I trained as a fencer and while the dancers I trained with did have good core strength the problem was that in fencing you ARENT supposed to keep to a rhythm while you are moving. You can’t move in a predictable rhythmic way. We were NEVER allowed to do drills while music was playing. If you move in that fashion you will get nailed every time.

Yes. That’s pretty much the main issue with dancing. The body becomes trained to respond to specific rhythmic cues that are matched in time with the music. This is part of the reason why so many dancers have managed to cross-over into convincing stunt work. Stunt choreography is ultimately choreography, it’s predictable. The ducks and dodge rolls seen on screen are a routine, one that is practiced over and over and over again.

The performer is still working within that pattern. It’s important for safety that the pattern remains unchanged. Learning choreography can be helpful to writers when they’re trying to stage a fight inside their brains, but the issue is when this gets translated out into the belief that dancers make for superior martial artists. (A trait commonly given to female characters like Black Widow, rather than male ones. If anyone suggested that Batman train in ballet for undercover work and to improve himself as a combatant, most people would laugh. It probably would still be one of the best workouts he’d ever had.)

It’s a great point though. Thanks for contributing!

-Michi

What styles/weapons would you suggest for a fighter who is a bit shorter/stocky, and is modified (scifi style) and has to deal with multiple, large, or powerful opponents(aliens and such). She’d need to fight both ranged and up close and personal, and she would need to be able to completely dispatch opponents as well as remove them from a fight without (too) serious injury. (I know, far fetched) And does personality affect what style someone uses(in your opinion)? I’m sorry if this is too vauge.

We get these questions about body type a lot, especially in regards to fighting and what style an author should pick. Ultimately, it’s more of a perspective issue and it’s understandable since the vast majority of Hollywood and Anime have a love affair with the “Five Man Band”. Anime often puts forward unique and individual fighting styles which match a character’s body in order to make them more visually distinct i.e. the big guy usually wields the big honking ass sword and relies on physical strength and the rail thin glasses guy is a tactician who is dexterous and quick, often with flawless technique. The Five Man Band is a very successful technique, at least visually. It works under the same rules for writing which state that you shouldn’t give characters similar sounding/looking names because it because it becomes difficult to distinguish them.

It’s probably the worst decider when it comes to choosing a fighting style for a character. Training itself changes and molds the body. If your female character starts out lithe and lean, learns a combat art which heavily favors the upper body such as boxing or kick boxing, she won’t remain that way for long. She’ll develop musculature in her chest which widens it (her breasts will also, probably, shrink), her legs will become thicker and more stocky, she’ll become more weighted in her upper body, her neck will thicken from the development of her shoulder muscles. Depending on her dedication, she’ll gain some very nice definition in those arms. You can expect a little thickness in the jaw. Depending on the kind of training and how long she’s been doing it, she may possess a scar across one eyebrow and her nose probably won’t be entirely straight.

Training molds you to it. Stop and take a look at professional or Olympic athletes like gymnasts or runners. Look at the U.S. Armed Forces, especially by division, and you’ll see something similar. Even though there are slight differences, there’s also a fairly impressive uniformity of body type. That’s the training. If I had to state a real pet peeve, it’s that this gets routinely ignored for female characters because it often leads to them possessing an “unconventional” body. By unconventional, I mean that they aren’t often within the standards or weight range of what society considers to be feminine or beautiful.

There’s a part to training where the body is sculpted and can significantly change what a person looks like. Professional trainers in Hollywood who cater to actors employ different training regimens to achieve different looks, to create a specific type of body. It’s actually something to keep in mind when looking at any actor: you’re seeing months, if not years, of dieting and specific physical training to achieve a singular result.

The kind of training a character engages in won’t change their height or the length of their arms, but it will have a significant influence on what they look like. What that is depends on the training involved.

So, what are the deciding factors?

What are they doing? What are they fighting? What is their job? What is their background? Who is training them?

The problem with “short/stocky woman” faces “multiple larger/more powerful opponents” is that’s the life of every short woman ever and they will need to learn to deal with it regardless of the martial style they pick. Martial arts are designed around the idea that the opponent will be a human being, and everything from the approach to the psychology is geared toward that. You don’t go box a bear and expect it to work the same way, because a bear and a human come with different considerations, different dangers. Now, people did box with bears. Bear boxing was a real side show performance, but bear boxing and regular boxing are different. Why? One of them is a bear. Also, the bears were historically abused and mistreated by having their teeth and claws removed in order to make it possible. Or, the boxer would have died.

My point is that the enemy one faces is the deciding factor in how one fights. You don’t go hand to hand with a Xenomorph. You don’t go hand to hand with a tentacle monster. You can go hand to hand with a Klingon, but it will be unpleasant.

The problem is that there is no one size fits all solution, not in real life and not in a future where everything is much, much more complicated.

Combat is a form of problem solving. To figure out what you’re solving, you have to figure out what the problem is. Then, you justify the solution. Martial training is used to support a setting, but to have one you need an enemy and aliens come in all shapes and sizes. And, the more variety there is, the more new and inventive ways one must come up with to counter the threat.

Subduing an opponent is all well and good, provided the character has a means to support that approach. This could be through tools such as handcuffs or weapons like a taser or a futuristic form of stun gun. The question is looking at the right group for the solution you want. In this case, if you want a character who uses a form of professional combat that predominantly focuses on non-lethal takedowns and subdual, you’re looking at police, their martial techniques and their H2H. When you’re looking for professional groups with a combat focus that orient on using violence as a non-lethal means to solving problems that’s law enforcement. It’s their job, they develop down that route. Other combat professionals don’t have the luxury. A great example of a fictional militarized police force is the Peacekeepers from Farscape.

Martial arts that come off of bloodsport are the runner up with varying degrees of success. The reason is that unless we’re talking about a death match, bloodsport is primarily entertainment and the goal of the fight is to entertain so it shies away from quick kills or more pragmatic combat. It becomes a war of attrition. However, these are martial arts with a primary focus on dueling and fighting single opponents. If there’s one lesson to take from Gina Carano’s Haywire, it’s that putting the wrong kind of combat on a character is debilitating. Carano is a fantastic martial artist, but MMA is far too slow and discordant for a spy thriller.

Making combat work will require a decent amount of worldbuilding from you for each alien type, plus hammering out technology and how that affects combat. (Ray guns, stun guns, cybernetics, etc.) Martial combat is a form of both individual and cultural expression, showing their values and priorities, how they respond to threats. To know how a character fights, you need to understand the culture they belong to and how they navigate it. This goes far beyond a character’s moral makeup or their pragmatism, the values their culture ascribes to and the threats they faced are the deciding factors in how a combat style developed… which shapes a huge portion of their lives and who they are.

Start to think about creating a toolbox for this character, much in the same way you would if you were writing a paranormal story. Different strategies for different types of enemies. Depending on setting rules, you don’t use the same approach to dealing with zombies that you do with werewolves and the same is true of vampires.

Dealing with a genetically modified human will require a different approach, just like dealing with a psychic will require a different combat approach.

Dealing with different alien species will require navigating their culture as much as their combat. After all, their culture defines how and why they fight. Every alien is an individual with their own reactions and responses to the social mores they follow. And, depending on the advantages the character in question possesses, they might not even be able to go into hand to hand so they’ll need a tool to deal with that.

A character’s personality may lead them toward the job type, institution, or training they sign up for, but the training itself will have the greater affect on their personality. Whether they are an actual participant in the system or hold the job is up to you, but if you want a character fight like a professional combatant then they need a professional’s training. Which means a teacher who is a professional of some kind.

In the end, it’s really a question of what you want and the kind of story you want to tell.

-Michi

References, Resources, and Recommendations:

Farscape – We recommended this one just recently, but really. Farscape.There’s a bevy of aliens here, with characters having to make use of minimal resources in order to survive.

Babylon 5 – We usually recommend this for politics, but I recommend it for it’s worldbuilding. Everything from accounting for different alien physiology to the handling of telepaths among different races, to various martial styles based on alien cultures, to hilarious misunderstandings based on translator errors, this series has a a lot to love for any writer looking to craft science fiction.

Stargate SG1 – This may seem like an oddball recommendation, but a lot of science fiction settings have all their cultures progressing at the same rate. Stargate is all over the map and it’s an interesting look at the different ways cultures develop when dealing with or faced by advanced technology. Campy as it is, you might find some neat ideas hidden in this one.

Psycho-Pass – We rarely recommend anime, but Psycho-Pass is a wonderfully well-developed dystopic future that’s a love letter to many older cyberpunk settings from Ghost in Shell to Blade Runner to the cult classic Johnny Mnemonic. It references 1984, Gulliver’s Travels, and a surprising amount of literature in its first season. It’s for mature viewers only and is fairly disturbing. But the reason why I’m recommending it to you is that it does an excellent job with the idea of a computer deciding who lives and who dies, of guns that won’t fire unless a person is above a certain number and that will kill only if they reach another threshold beyond that. It’s cops attempting to hunt down killers in a society where their very emotions and ability to do their job are their own enemy. (I’d actually watch this one after Law & Order and Southland.)

Law & Order Law & Order isn’t just important for understanding cops, it’s actually very important to understanding people and why people commit violence.

Southland – I recommend Southland because it’s set in Los Angeles and, much like New York, there are a lot of different racial tensions that the cops need to navigate on multiple levels. It’s very informative for teaching you about how to look at and think about an environment, even one that we don’t initially perceive as hostile.

Trinity – This was a science fiction roleplaying game from White Wolf. The setting itself does a good job of bridging between real world politics, and a near future spacefaring civilization with exposure to alien civilizations.

We don’t usually add supplements for games to the list, but the Trinity Technology Manual is an exception. This goes into a lot more detail on the specific hardware in the setting, and if you’re wanting to think outside the box for dealing with enemies, this might give you some additional ideas. Just, be aware, you’ll need to have read the core book to fully understand a lot of the stuff being thrown around.

Shadowrun – As with Trinity this is another sci-fi roleplaying game. The setup is a little different, instead of traditional sci-fi, this is urban fantasy cyberpunk. You (probably) don’t need to worry about magic in your setting, but even ignoring that, this is still a setting where characters will routinely go toe to toe with things that are larger than themselves and inhumanly resilient. So it might be worth a look.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution – this game is really good for dealing with and getting you to think about the different ways of dealing with transhuman enemies. Also, the tensions brought in by transhumanism itself.

Crysis 2 – Really good if you want to write a character who has been heavily modified, doing the impossible, being put through inhuman amounts of physical abuse, and treated as interchangeable by the people around them.

Alien and Aliens – How to deal with an enemy you cannot face in single combat.

Predator and Predator 2 – Stupid, yes, but relevant. These movies are all about dealing with aliens that are predatory and as intelligent as the humans with goals of their own. Predators have some great limitations and weaknesses, but they’re not human ones and aren’t what we expect.

Hi. I joined a martial arts club so I could learn self confidence/self defense. But yesterday I was taught by a guy who made me so uncomfortable, I don’t want to go again. I cant believe the irony! I wanted to learn self defense against misogynists & ended up being taught by one who roughed me up & pretended it was a lesson. He kept saying “girls are so much worse than boys” (about school bullies, like at over 20 yrs old that’s why I joined?) & when I disagreed he aggressively pulled me. Advice?

Get out of the class.

This guy obviously has nothing to teach that you’re interested in learning and in the words of the Karate Kid: “There are no bad students, just bad teachers.” You don’t have to go, you don’t have to stick it out, this is not a toughness test. You have the right to say “no” and go find an instructor who will help you achieve the goals you set for yourself as opposed to working out his personal issues on you.

This is not acceptable. It is not okay. Leave.

I cannot stress that enough.

LEAVE.

If this guy is the one running the school, then find another school. If he’s not and is working under a leadership then (if you feel comfortable talking to them), you should let them know. If this is a position or attitude that they endorse, then, again, leave. Unfortunately, that may be all you can do. Safeguarding yourself is important. You are important. You are entitled to a safe, constructive learning environment with someone you trust and who believes in you. This guy is obviously not giving you that, therefore he is neither entitled to your time or your money.

Abusive environments in martial arts schools are not normal. However, they do happen. Assholes exist and, unfortunately, regardless of training, shitty people will continue to be shitty.

So, get out. You don’t want to go back? Great. Don’t. You don’t have to. This is not you giving up. This is not cowardice. This is not you failing. He has failed you. If you do to get a refund, bring a friend. Don’t go back without one, or two, or three. There’s safety in numbers. Whatever you need to feel safe.

Here’s what you shouldn’t do.

Don’t let this guy scare you off getting what you want. Okay? He’s not the norm and those goals you mentioned: building self-confidence and learning to defend yourself? That’s admirable. I’m proud of you for finding the courage to go after what you want. Tackling new experiences is very brave and I’m sorry this situation has been so horrible. All my hugs to you. Those things you want? You deserve them. Find a different school.

Martial arts schools are like any community, they’re all different. Think about the different cliques in your high school, even the people who seem very similar can be vastly different. What you need is to find an environment where you feel comfortable. Find someone you want to learn from.

Martial arts require trust and respect, it’s a shared path between teacher and student. You need to find a teacher you respect and one who respects you. A good teacher is one who believes in you. They believe in their students, they are invested in their development, they are with you ever step of the way, and they are a second family. They will not disregard your fears, they will listen to you, and together you will work toward achieving what you need. It’s a partnership. Because of that, it’s important to remember that not every teacher can provide what you’re looking for. This is why finding the right one is so important. Remember, what’s right for me or Starke may not be right for you. We all learn differently and thrive in different learning environments.

Most importantly: This is supposed to be fun.

I’m going to borrow a section from The Ultimate Guide to Tai Chi, an article by Dr. John Painter where he discusses selecting a school. This is going to be specifically about Tai Chi, but really, it’s good advice for any martial art.

to find a school to suit your needs, you should first decide just what you expect to gain from studying tai chi chuan. Do you simply want better health, or do you want to learn tai chi to defend yourself, or to enhance your internal power? Or all of the above? Getting in touch with your needs is a good idea before you start your quest.

Where to Look
In most large cities across the United States, there are usually several teachers available. Look in the yellow pages or ask around to compile a list of candidates. Checking with the local community college programs is another option. Anyone who wishes to study this art should identify as many teachers as possible in the area. Then go visit the training sites of each. Some may be in a commercial gymnasium, or a church hall, or a college gymnasium, while other classes are taught in parks. The authenticity of the art does not rely on the place in which it is practiced. However, for a beginner, it generally is best to have a quiet serene environment in which to train.
If the site matches your needs, call the instructor and ask to visit an actual class. It’s most helpful to observe both a beginner’s and advanced class to determine how you might progress as a student of that particular school. Avoid a teacher who will not allow visitors during class time. Legitimate teachers have nothing to hide and do not conduct “secret” classes. (pg XIV)

I also suggest checking Yelp and other sites to see if the school is listed. Not all experiences are going to be favorable, but this is an easy way to check the pulse before leaping right in.

This part is the one I feel is most important.

Once you have located a teacher to visit, do what the Chinese say: “Empty your cup.” Let go of any expectations about how a competent tai chi chuan teacher should look, act, or sound.

Good teachers come in all shapes, sizes, and nationalities and in both sexes (genders). A teacher does not have to be Chinese to have a command of the art. A good teacher has to communicate the basic principles in a clear and concise manner—this is essential.
The hallmark of excellence in teaching is not how the teacher performs, but how he or she gets you to perform. No matter how many awards are won or how perfectly the forms are executed for the class, if the person in question cannot explain in simple terms, or communicate in some way how you can do the technique, you are not looking at a good teacher! (pg XIV, bolded for emphasis)

Learning is about you, the student. The teacher’s job is to serve the needs of the student. If those needs are not being served, then the teacher has failed or is not a good one. When you look for your next school (leave this one), look for someone who makes you feel comfortable, whose class is comfortable and relaxed, who promotes an environment where you feel comfortable learning.

You are not being selfish. It’s okay to say no. If the school cannot provide what you need, then feel free to look elsewhere. This is why looking at multiple schools is important. Much like applying to college, you’re looking for a place where the learning environment is right for you.

Do you trust this person? Do you feel safe? Are there other women present in your classes? Are they present in the higher classes? Are there female instructors? When you observe a class, how does the instructor treat them? How do the students behave? Do they look comfortable and happy?

Again from The Ultimate Guide to Tai Chi:

Taking the Pulse of the Class

When visiting the school, talk to the students and find out what they like about the program. Watch the classes and see if the students are having fun learning. It is best to avoid teachers who run their classes like a military camp or who never smile. Discipline is important and should be part of the class, but remember that tai chi chuan is based on Taoism, and Taoists do not take things as seriously as many of their Zen-oriented brothers in budo. Look for laughter.

You want laughter. You want comfort and friendliness. People who smile, who are warm, friendly, and welcoming. Community is what keeps you going when things get tough.

This is what’s most important. Women are often taught to sacrifice themselves for the good of others, to put aside their own needs in order to make someone else more comfortable. Screw that. Trust your instincts. They are right. If you find yourself having to make a lot of justifications, if this school is somewhere you don’t want to be, if you don’t feel like you’re learning, if you don’t feel valued, and you don’t feel respected both by your instructor and the other students then it’s time to go somewhere else.

Take care of yourself first.

I’m sorry this experience has been rough for you and your instructor is an asshole. Don’t give up. The sense of betrayal you’re feeling right now is natural. It’s not your fault. It’s his fault. You don’t have to go it alone. Most importantly, find a safe place.

Don’t go back.

(If you absolutely must, take a friend. If you are nervous about signing up at another school or even just visiting, again, bring a friend. Someone you trust, someone who will look out for you.)

-Michi

I’m curious – you mentioned in a previous ask that you can’t be a master of both gymnastics and a martial art at the same time. Does this also apply to someone who’s been doing a martial art since childhood and wants to continue on with it, is dedicated to mastering it etc… but also does *recreational*… I dunno, dancing? Would one influence or be apparent in the other? How far can you go with getting the dance forms down before the martial arts training interferes (if it does)?

You can do it until you run out of time. If you’re talking about someone who dances professionally, there is no time for martial arts. That’s their life. When you’re putting in a 16 hour work day on your physically demanding job, you’re not going to pop out and go for more exertion… well, most people won’t anyway.

Dancers that have free time do sometimes practice recreational martial arts. I mean, it’s one way to work off stress. Some forms like Tai Chi can be fantastic relaxation. But, unless they give up dancing, and commit their life to their martial art, they’ll never be masters.

They probably won’t even be particularly good, but so long as they’re paying their dues, putting forward legitimate effort, and showing some improvement, their instructors will probably be happy. The critical part is paying the dues. Remember: your dancer’s hobby is their job.

But, you will never achieve martial arts mastery by day tripping. It’s not something that you get for putting in an hour a week for twenty or thirty years.

It’s a time commitment as extensive and strenuous as their day job. You can be a professional dancer… or a professional martial artist. You can’t be both. There aren’t enough hours in the day. And, since I didn’t say it, but probably need to anyway, you can’t be an “amateur master” of anything. Actually mastering something anything requires a serious commitment.

Also, when I’m talking about training interfering, what I tend to glaze over is, this is something your character will be subconsciously choosing for themselves.

If one of these things is making them money, the other is costing them money, and they’re basically happy with their life, the priority will be obvious. If they’re not happy with their job, then that will show, and they’ll be looking for new employment; based on what I know of how competitive professional dance is as a career path.

Finally, training atrophies. Martial arts, and dancing, aren’t like riding a bike. If you don’t use it, you do lose it. Not all of it, not the information, but the ability to actually perform? Yes, that stuff needs to be maintained or it will slip. Just because your dancer was a martial artist as a kid doesn’t mean they can still perform as an adult. If they haven’t been using it, they won’t be able to keep pace with someone who has had more recent training, to say nothing of more training. In a real fight, without maintaining their skills, they’re going to have a hard time dealing with untrained opponents.

-Starke