Tag Archives: michi answers

Q&A: Nerding Out, There’s no Shortcuts for Research and Learning

Anonymous said to howtofightwrite:

Do you have any tips on thinking up interesting fight scenes and how to get ideas on movements, weapon use etc? 🙂

In a way, you’re trying to run before you can stand by putting emphasis on interesting. By interesting, I assume you mean spectacle, which isn’t a criticism. All Hollywood fight scenes in cinema (with a few rare exceptions) prioritize spectacle over realism. It’s important to remember that spectacle is visual entertainment i.e. the scenes are geared to specifically capture the imagination via movement that you watch. Spectacle doesn’t translate readily to the page because it’s a different medium. The “set you on your ass” realization which should come with that is every fight scene you watch in live action from the excellent to the terrible is choreographed by martial arts masters with decades of experience and a team of stuntmen whose entire job is creating an entertaining sequence in line with the director’s vision. This is in line with every published author you’ve read having spent decades honing their craft.

That’s why I say “don’t try to run before you can stand” because when you’re at zero the worst person to compare yourself to is master. It’s only after you gain appreciation for the art, learn how tall the mountain is, how much effort went into scaling it, and begin the climb yourself that you write interesting fight scenes.

The art of writing is really, at the end of the day, the art of being a perpetual student. You get ideas by learning what things are, how they work, and why. Martial arts from martial history to the uses of violence in the real world, the effect of violence on the psyche, the changes training makes to both the body and and the mind, to it’s use in modern day entertainment is all on the table to be learned. So, pick up a book, crack open YouTube, it’s time to study.

An interesting fight scene, requires an interesting scene, which requires an interesting story...

Consider you’ve been consuming violence through media for your entire life but when the time came to put your ideas to the page, you didn’t know how to bring them out. That’s because even though you’ve watched carefully sanitized violence occur on your television, you don’t understand the grounding behind it, how it works, and why. Learning and consuming are distinct and separate skills. Beginning to critically examine the media you consume to figure out how these stories have the effect they do and why is an important first step.

A good fight scene is ultimately built on the nuts and bolts provided by a lot of other scenes to build a good story. Violence in entertainment acts as a form of catharsis. Catharsis is the release of narrative tension rather than the building of it. After every fight scene you need to build tension again within the consequences of the action and the decisions made by your characters, unless that release of tension is at the end of your story.

A good fight scene is a payoff for the goals and motivations of your characters, and treated as intrinsic to who they are rather than the way they fight acting as a separate aspect or aesthetic bolted on top of them. On a functional level, violence is an act of problem solving. A fight scene is your characters choosing to solve their problem in this particular way and it is imperative that you, the author, establish the groundwork for their decision before the scene occurs.

Interesting fight scenes are created by interesting characters making interesting decisions and dealing with the resulting fallout from their choices. Consequences are part of what establish “realism” or create the suspension of disbelief.

When you write a story, you create a pact with your reader. A promise that your story will function in accordance with the rules and laws you’ve set forth that govern your setting. It doesn’t matter what genre you write in, whether that’s fantasy or contemporary. When you break your rules for whatever reason, even if it’s to save your characters, you break your audience’s suspension of disbelief and your fiction dies. Basically, if you write yourself into a corner with a villain who is too strong and/or imbalanced against your protagonists, be brave enough to let them win and learn to balance your narrative better next time.

The rules you create are intrinsic to your fight scenes and maintaining your audience’s suspension of disbelief, and you will be tempted to break these rules when you run into issues, such as characters being injured, or captured, or dying when you don’t want them to. Or not being willing to to put your main cast in real jeopardy, to risk their lives because you need them for other parts of the story down the line. Your story runs on its own internal logic and there’s a lot of ways you can completely fuck your stakes for a “cool” moment. And, honestly, you will. Failure is a key part of learning. You’ll learn by trying out ideas and coming up empty, but every failure feeds into every success. You won’t know how to balance tension in your story until you learn to balance tension in your story.

Basically, you’ll never learn how to write an interesting fight scene until you master the art of writing an interesting scene. You can’t get anywhere if your audience doesn’t care.

Think critically about the media you consume…

I know I said this above, but this is important. If you want to tell interesting stories, you need to learn how stories work and the best way to learn how they work is by critically analyzing the media you consume. The best ideas you’re going to get for your own scenes is through what you see whether that’s in fiction, live action film/television, comics, cartoons, anime, history, or from the people in your life.

Ask questions. Like, why did I enjoy this? What specifically about this scene did I enjoy? How did the author get me to feel this? What were the previous scenes that built into this moment within the narrative?

Art begins in imitation. There are no original ideas, just interesting interpretations and influences/inspirations the audience may not immediately recognize. The works of those you love will become part of you, they’ll inspire you, and factor into the stories you tell. We color within the lines until we become dissatisfied with self-imposed limitations and want to draw outside them.

By learning how the stories you love work and function, what inspired their creators, what influenced their work, you can choose what aspects you’ll take with you and what you’ll leave behind. Otherwise, in copying, you’ll grab a lot of the nuts and bolts working under the surface that you didn’t intend. It’s cool to love Star Trek and it’s characters, and want to adopt them into your own work, but if you don’t take the time to understand Rodenberry’s goals in his writing, his themes and intentions, then those themes, ideals, and beliefs (which are built into the character’s bones) are coming with you whether you want them or not.

A story is never just a string of actions. By stepping beyond imitation, by going full theft, sacrificing the original into the flames of your imagination, you leapfrog off inspiration to your own creation.

If you’re not sure how to do this, there’s plenty of excellent critical breakdowns of media properties all over YouTube to show you the way.

Love Star Wars and want to write a story like it? Read Dune. Watch Akira Kurosawa’s filmography, watch the Westerns which inspired Kurosawa, and then watch the Westerns that were inspired by him. Study the psychological texts and philosophy of Carl Jung. Then, watch Star Wars again. The interpretations of interpretations through the lens of an interpretation or inspiration can help you gain new understanding for how something you love is put together.

The only trade off is you’ll never see that work the same way again.

Learn all the things…

You want to get ideas for how humans move for your fight scenes, you need to learn how humans move.

Again, you can find inspiration for this anywhere. Go to the park and watch people run around. Take a martial arts class. Sign up for fencing. Watch videos online. Ideas are everywhere. Once you have an idea, once you see something you like, commit to learning about it, learn everything about it that you can. Start with regular Google searches and escalate from there. Become a nerd.

Seriously, become a nerd.

If you love Rurouni Kenshin learn about Kendo, Iaido, Jiu-Jutsu, and the other samurai arts, study the Meiji period of Japanese history and the real individuals a lot of the characters were based on. Read historical accounts of duels between samurai. Read The Book of the Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi. Learn how the katana cuts in comparison to other swords of it’s type. Watch videos where sword nerds tear the myth of the katana apart. Hell, play Hakuoki for a completely alternative take on the Shinsengumi.

Be a nerd.

Personally, I watch the fights of the Fate/Stay Night series a lot. I maintain subscriptions to most streaming services. I kept all my college texts. My shelves are full of all kinds of pencil and paper RPGs, books of myth, books on magic including ones that catalogue real historical events people thought were magic, political texts, philosophy texts, books on martial arts from various different masters, comics, instructional manuals on writing, survival manuals, lots of fantasy novels, etc. I keep tons of reference material on hand from a lifetime of collecting, and you should start a collection too. You should also love the internet and your local library because we artists are poor.

Writing is an art, writing well takes work, but it’s a craft that can be learned if you’re willing to put effort into learning it. Learning to make use of a world full of reference material will help you.

-Michi

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Q&A: The Rapier, the Cloak, and the Whip

antiv3nom said to howtofightwrite:

hi! i know in the gtn post y’all did, you mentioned that capes and whips can be used as offhand weapons for rapiers, but i haven’t been able to find any good resources on how exactly that would work, so could you many explain some of the basics? apologies if this is outside your wheelhouse!!

I mean, a little, but we can get you moving in the right direction.

One of the best resources for historical martial arts is free and it’s Wikitenaur.

At Wikitenaur, you can read translations of historical martial arts treatises of created by fencing masters from the 14th to the 19th century from the German to the Engish to the French and the Spanish. Reading the treatises can be a little dense if you lack a grounding in martial arts, or any familiarity reading historical manuals that (while some have pictures) won’t provide too many definitions as they were written with the expectation readers already had a knowledge base. However, there’s a lot of great information here about all types of different weapons combat from the sword to the baton to medieval grappling techniques to fighting in armor versus without armor, all in addition to whatever else you might be looking for regarding the rapier. Useful to know about. Useful to use.

(This is where I found information on using the whip with a rapier, though I don’t recall which Master pointed it out. It wasn’t common, but it worked.) You’re probably better off looking at Filipino Escrima, or the whip itself separately. It’s a weapon that is very difficult to practice with safely, so you won’t find as many videos with people messing around with one.

I’ll discuss the whip’s general uses as a off hand harassment tool below.

Let’s talk about The Cloak:

The cloak is used in a way that somewhat similar as a tool of harassment, visual disruption, and also as a quasi-shield. It should make sense that the cloak was far more common as an off-hand tool. People wore cloaks, and any too you have already on hand is always better than a tool you have to remember to bring with you. The cloak is actually a really good one too.

Matt Easton discusses the uses for the cloak in fencing here. (He has a lot of really useful videos about Historical European Martial Arts.)

Giovanni Rapisardi gives a more in depth demonstration with the cloak. (Video is in Italian with subtitles.)

An hour long crash course from the Tavern Knight’s Barracks with a lot of discussion on the cloak.

Martin Fabian’s The Fabulous Cape video is Part 8 of his Learn the Rapier series.

This video from Salle Saint-George demos the Spanish rapier with the cloak, this might be helpful for some of you as the Spanish rapier is, at times, visually different from it’s Italian counterpart. I’ll include this video of Italian style versus Spanish style from DennisLuko for emphasis.

Then, two dudes from the Academy of Historical Fencing who show that just chucking a cloak at your opponent is a viable combat move.

Basically, the trick with the cloak is that if you wrap it properly around your arm, you create an excellent guard against cuts. (Thick fabric, there’s a reason you shouldn’t underestimate padded armor.) The cloak hangs over part of your body, obscuring your low-line from your opponent’s sight. You can use the cloak as a harassment tool, you can swing it at them to distract and visually cloak your own movements while thrusting (not unlike a matador), even wrapping and trapping an opponent’s blade for a disarm. You can even chuck it into their face. If the cloak is brightly colored, that adds to the visual confusion for your opponent as they attempt to hit you.

Useful, fashionable, and you were probably already wearing one.

Now, let’s discuss everyone’s favorite off hand for Zorro, The Whip:

This was never a popular choice. The whip was not a common weapon to see on the streets of Western Europe and, even the shorter lengths are difficult to use in densely packed streets. You can probably guess where it would be more commonplace without me having to tell you and the reasons why someone from the period might be carrying one.

The whip falls into the category of other soft weapons of it’s type, like the Chinese whip chain and the rope dart, where it’s a very powerful and useful weapon to understand how to use but also extremely difficult to master in a way that will be helpful during the frenzy of live combat.

As an offhand weapon, the whip is a weapon of pure harassment. For the most part, without modification to make it more lethal, it only does surface damage but when you’re hit with it? It hurts. It’s also loud, which is me saying you can use that cracking noise for intimidation. It has reach, quite possibly more than your rapier. The whip strikes on an arcing pattern that is nearly impossible to accurately predict or block, which, while your opponent is distracted by trying to counter the whip, creates the opening you need to thrust with your sword (assuming you’re close enough). So, you don’t use these two in conjunction so much as you’d use one to destroy your opponent’s guard to create the openings for the other. The whip, being the more unpredictable, requires more focus, making the rapier the secondary of the two.

However, for all its strong points, the whip can be undone by your opponent’s choice of clothing. It isn’t good for cutting, or going through heavier material. Basically, the whip’s threat is friction.

In summary, the whip is fast, potentially loud, difficult to see, difficult to predict, visually confusing, has reach, can tangle up, even disable an opponent, but is limited by its ability to only inflict surface damage, high skill level requirement (it’s one of those weapons where you either get it or you don’t), and complex nature.

Probably the best whip work I’ve seen for fight scenes on film come from Anthony Hopkins in Mask of Zorro and (if we remember Trevor Belmont’s whip is magic and animated) Trevor Belmont in Castlevania.

Probably better as the offhand weapon of a second string anime villain your protagonist has to overcome rather than in the hands of your protagonist themselves. Ultimately, also a better weapon for visual media rather than written. Still, if you can figure out how to make it work on the page, it’s a fun option to keep in your back pocket.

– 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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The Rapier: Seven Minutes in Hell Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (Gideon the Ninth and the Perils of Pop Culture)

Anonymous said to howtofightwrite:

Have you read Gideon the Ninth? What did you think of the swordplay? I found it ridiculous, Gideon is supposedly so “strong” she uses a “Greatsword” with one hand.

I’ll be honest, I got about seventy pages into Gideon the Ninth before I gave up due to the novel’s pacing issues. So, in terms of sins, the swordplay itself rated pretty low. The reason one reads Gideon the Ninth is for lesbian necromancers in space, and it’s good for that. I’ve no judgments on anyone who enjoyed it, dumb space fantasy fun is one of my favorite genres. Gideon’s combat sins are the same as pretty much every other novel, they’re the same legion of sins you see when any writer takes conventional wisdom and pop culture knowledge at face value without giving it any thought. 

The short answer to Gideon the Ninth and pretty much anything to do with swordplay from conventional understanding of weapon utility to training to the wisdom spouted by the main character’s titular teacher is: it’s all wrong, often hilariously so, to the point of being nonsensical. So wrong, in fact, that I question whether or not this character was actually trained to fight because she couldn’t grasp the fundamentals. (Longsword and rapier? Not that different.) However, while Gideon was exceedingly wrong with great confidence, she’s very in line with our cultural perceptions of swords.As a result, Gideon is very convincing if you don’t think about what she’s saying too much.

Let’s start with the basics:

  1. The longsword is the battlefield warrior’s weapon. 
  2. The rapier is the tooty fruity dainty noble’s fancy dueling weapon. (It’s super fancy because it’s French.)
  3. And if you just nodded along to those descriptions, oh boy, is this post going to blow your mind.

Here’s our first foray, rapier is not a French word, rapier is derived from a French word, but is an English and/or German word. They didn’t care enough to get the pronunciation right, which sounds exactly like the English and the Germans in regards to the French. It’s also a horrible mistake if you follow suit. The French happen to be great at stabbing people. You’re welcome.

I’m not going to focus on Gideon’s issues with the zweihander or claymore. We’ve discussed the weight of swords at length in the past and how these large weapons only weigh about eight pounds because, in the real world, you’re expected to use them all day. (No, really.) In this post, we’re going to focus on the sword Gideon truly does dirty in quintessential fantasy fashion and that sword is the rapier and it’s shorter sibling, the smallsword.

One of the major problems of Fantasy as a genre, usually pulling from Dungeons & Dragons, is it tends to look at the past as The Past. A bleary amalgamation of stuff slammed together in an incoherent jumble that doesn’t really make sense but seems like it does if you don’t look too closely. Any fantasy setting, for example, that lets you have a greatsword but not a single-shot handgun is a little confused about history. So, a lot of weapons that are actually sequential technological evolutions during society’s growth and progression toward the modern era get held up as the same as their ancient counterparts. Oftentimes, these are weapons separated by hundreds of years and, in some cases, thousands. The zweihander, for example, is not a medieval weapon, it’s early modern and post the invention of the gun. It’s a 16th century weapon, and requires the smithing technologies of the era in order to exist. Your DnD Barbarian patterned off the Visigoths or the Norse using a greatsword is the same as your hard bitten 1920s P.I. using a goddamn phaser. It’s anachronistic. Now, why is this important to the rapier?

The rapier comes from an era when everyone got to have swords and the swords themselves were seen as status symbols. The rapier was not just the weapon of the super rich, but the weapon of the rising middle/merchant class. While it did see battlefield use, they were also weapons carried for self-defense and in polite society. Due to its light weight, they could be carried as a fashion accessory, just like high heels for both men (and women.) Which is where our cultural bias for the rapier being a non-serious weapon comes from, but it was the military fashion of the time because it was the military sidearm. The rapier is a weapon for killing and it is very efficient at its job. The rapier, if you didn’t know, is one step off Europe’s pinnacle of sword technology. The epee stood at the peak, which was a weapon so quick it was famous for what was called the double suicide where the duel ended with both duelists killing each other at the same time. The rapier, the smallsword, and, really, all the thrusting swords epitomize, “you’ll be seven minutes in hell before the Devil knows you’re dead.”

This is a problem that follows the weapon into modern sport fencing where we have to use electronic scoring because it is too fast for the judges to follow with their eyes. As an Olympic sport, it’s one of the reasons why fencing really struggles to draw an audience because your brain genuinely cannot process what’s happening. Again, one of the most common injuries for smallsword masters (and these are instructors who trained others professionally) was the loss of an eye. The thrusting family is fast.

Ignoring for the moment that Gideon confuses the rapier with modern fencing as most pop culture does, the narrative runs into a basic issue when it comes to training. The narrative wants Gideon to maintain her smug attitude in regards to the rapier’s frippery, so Gideon never gains an appreciation for the rapier’s rather absurd lethality (even in comparison to other swords.) This is functionally impossible from a realistic standpoint because you can’t train on a weapon without gaining some appreciation for it, even if you don’t like it or it’s not your preference. 

I’d actually say the greatest sin of Gideon is the way it writes off modern fencing without attempting to understand it. I say modern fencing because neither Gideon nor the narrative is utilizing the historical techniques of the rapier but rather falling back on the audience’s conventional understanding of fencing, which is modern fencing. Modern fencing grew out of the military sabre and the smallsword or epee, respectively. It is important to note that Gideon is not using historical smallsword fencing either, but rather the idea of it. In essence, Gideon’s fencing is Mel Brooks’ Robin Hood yelling, “Parry, parry, thrust, thrust! Good!” at the Sheriff of Rottingham.

The problem is that any character who has a juvenile disdain for the weapon they’re training with is a major red flag for an author’s inexperience. Experienced writers who’ve worked with weapons will write characters who have disdain for certain weapons and preferences for others but the character will express a grounded, detailed reason for their preference. Those reasons may be petty, as real world complaints often are, but they can provide you with a reason regarding the weapon’s function beyond “this is a girly sword.” (The rapier is three and a half feet of fuck you. The rapier is a needle razor blade of death.) I’ll put it in blunt terms, at the beginning of the novel, Gideon essentially whines about one of the most lethal swords ever created not being masculine enough for her tastes. And to that, we all say, fuck you too.

This is why we do our research. Remember, the Musketeers carried rapiers. As did most other soldiers of the period. So, complaining that it’s not a battlefield sword is kind of stupid. Especially since the battlefields of Gideon’s setting aren’t really explained very well.

So, now, I’m going to go over some pieces from Gideon’s text that really stood out to me as wrong and we should address why they’re wrong so you don’t replicate them in your own work. Then, I’ll give you an example from an author who famously did it right.

“She spent six hours a day learning where to put her feet when she wielded a one-handed sword,”

Gideon the Ninth, 59

This is the sort of statement that sounds good when you don’t think about it, but I’m not actually certain what it means in context. The longsword, which is a 19th century term and usually what we think of when referring to the Arming sword (which can be wielded two handed when it has a longer hilt for greater leverage) can be wielded with one hand and often was either on its own or in conjunction with a shield. The rapier/the thrusting blade family are not the only weapons you wield with one hand, most swords can be, even those that normally use two.

The idea that martial combat is ultimately and fundamentally different between weapon types is untrue, the stances do change between weapon types but the same rules usually apply. So, if Gideon is used to training with swords, then the rapier wouldn’t be totally alien.

“Where to rest (what seemed to her to be) her useless, unused arm,”

Gideon the Ninth, 59

Raise your hand if you’ve ever looked at the fencing stances in films like Princess Bride or Robin Hood: Men in Tights and gone, “well, that’s just dumb.” You and Gideon have something in common, but you shouldn’t because Gideon is trained in swordplay. Gideon should understand the fundamental importance of balance. Gideon does not. (Gideon’s teacher does point out the balance part later, though rather nonsensically and the knuckle weapon makes no sense, but Gideon should already know this from her years of training.) The bagh naka and the katar/punch dagger are amazing melee tools in unarmed combat, but not useful as the offhand guard against a rapier.

Useful offhand tools for the rapier — the buckler, the parrying dagger, the cloak, and the whip. (Yes, Zorro was right.)

What is the point of that off-hand position in fencing? Balance. Yeah, those hand positions are about helping you maintain balance in your stance, allowing you to move and strike cleanly without falling over or stumbling. No matter what weapon you choose, even if you’re going hand to hand, martial combat is built around your central balance point. (In fact, there are a great many styles and techniques that focus specifically on disrupting your opponent’s balance to gain an advantage in combat.) If you haven’t guessed this, falling over is very bad.

The off-hand allows for a narrower sideways/diagonal stance (making yourself a smaller target/ more difficult to hit, more on this later) while maintaining your central axis, which also, ironically, plays into the importance of your footwork (more on this later.)

Another, very important, practical reason for the position of that off hand is it brings your shoulders into line while in your stance, allowing you to take the weight of the sword off your arm and carry it in your back. This way you take the strain off the arm, and fight longer, or fight multiple duels in succession. The rapier only weighs about two pounds, but with your arm constantly extended, it becomes a lever and the weapon grows heavier as time progresses.

One of the key aspects of martial combat that is most difficult is holding position in your stance, you’re in a constant battle against gravity and your own muscles. This is why, when you watch fights progress, you’ll see stances get shallower, hands drop from their defensive position, the arms fall out of line, etc. A well-balanced stance conserves energy.

Your shoulders being in line is one of the aspects you give up if you choose to duel wield. Why did some people just fight with one sword if other tools were convenient? Well, there are several, but one is conservation of energy.

Gideon being derogatory about this and not knowing makes Gideon look like a really shitty warrior. (Which, ironically, were my feelings at the time of reading the book.)

“How to suddenly make herself a sideways target and always move on the same stupid foot.”

Gideon the Ninth, 59

This one really caught me, “make herself a sideways target.” The weird thing for me with this is, why “suddenly” and why is being sideways bad? All martial combat happens on a diagonal, some more so than others, but everything is on a diagonal. Nobody fights squared up, nobody, no one. It’s a terrible position that is out of balance. You can literally destabilize someone by stepping between their legs and shoving their chest with one hand, and they will stumble. You fight sideways on diagonals, on specific degrees, your feet spread and in balance, with your central axis protected. Combat with a rapier is, ironically, not more sideways/on a diagonal than with a longsword.

Then, the second line “always move on the same stupid foot.” I get what this phrase is referencing, but it’s also wrong. In martial combat, you always move with the lead leg first (there are exceptions to this rule, there always are, but by and large) and then the back leg. Or, when moving forward (advancing,) the back leg and then the front leg. One foot always acts as your central balance point while moving so you don’t give your opponent an opening in your defenses or the opportunity to destabilize you. This is basic combat training. Gideon is whining about basic combat training which would apply with any weapon she trained on, including the longsword.

This is really how we tell a writer isn’t approaching combat with the idea of their character being at risk of dying. Gideon has no concerns about being up against other characters who have trained their entire lives with one of the deadliest swords, mostly because the author hasn’t fully processed that there isn’t a major difference in outcome between a battlefield and a duel to the death — both will kill you. Now, this should be a point of tension in the narrative, but it isn’t because Gideon doesn’t take the rapier or dueling to the death seriously. Your POV dictates how your reader responds.

Moving on, a very important one for all you swordsmen out there:

“This isn’t your longsword, Nav, you block with it again and I’ll make you eat it!”

Gideon the Ninth, 59

A parry is, essentially, a deflection or redirection of your opponent’s blade. Instead of taking the force, you redirect that force away from you and counter strike if the opening presents.

A block involves taking the full force of your opponent’s strike and stopping it cold. Which, I’m sure, sounds cool and tough. (Far more so than it actually is.)

You don’t block with swords, at least, not swords with edges. If you block with a sword that has an edge, you will damage the edge or break the blade. Both are bad to the functionality of the weapon. Hollywood has a variation of sword combat that’s called Flynning (after Errol Flynn) for eye-catching moves where the blades bang against each other, it looks very pretty and has no relevance to real combat. All swords parry, not just rapiers, sabres, and smallswords. Estocs can block, lightsabers (beams of pure plasma) can block, longswords? No. Or, at least, you shouldn’t.

I will forgive any reader for thinking they could because pop culture trains you to believe it’s a normal part of sword combat.

So, what does the response look like from a writer who understands the art of fencing. I’ll give you an example from Rafael Sabatini’s Master-At-Arms, which was written in the 1940s. For reference, Sabatini was popular in his time for his contributions to the swashbuckling genre.

This scene is a training scene between a main character, Quentin de Morlaix (our swordmaster) and Chevalier de Saint-Gilles (one of his inevitable rivals.)

The Chevalier complied. He launched the botte with which he had twice got home. This time, however, the stroke was not only parried but with a swift counter Morlaix hit the Chevalier vigorously over the heart.

He lowered his blade. ‘That should not have happened,’ was his quiet comment to the hotly answered: ‘That shall not happen again. On guard!’

The attack was repeated, with an increase of both vigor and speed. Yet once again it was met and answered by that hit in quarte.

The Chevalier fell back and spoke sharply in an annoyance that was shared by his scowling, startled brother. ‘But what is this, then? Were you trifling with me before?’

Morlaix was of perfect amiability. ‘You confuse a master-at-arms with an ordinary opponent, Chevalier. That is an effective botte of yours, to which I must suppose you have given much practice. The fault in its execution lies in that you offer too much body. Keep yourself narrower. Then if you are hit it will be less fatally. On guard again. So. That is better, but not good enough. Swing your left shoulder father back, more in line with your right. Now, hold yourself so, whilst making your attack. Allongez! Excellent. For whilst I counter-parry it thus,and make my riposte on the binding of the blade, I can only touch you in quinte. Thus.’

The blades were lowered again and Morlaix expounded to the discomfited swordsman. ‘That correction of your position to an unaccustomed one will have cramped you a little, so you have lost pace and force, and left it easier for the counter to get home. With practice, however, that will be overcome. When it is corrected we will come to your other faults,’ he promised, and added the cruelest cut of all: ‘You display so much aptitude it should be easy to render you really formidable.’

Master-At-Arms, 29

What should really stand out from Sabatini’s passage is the detail both in terminology and in explanation, a lot of writers skirt around detail and explanations because they don’t know and didn’t do the research. Research is hard, but when you have a solid grasp of what you’re working with, it ultimately creates better material.

The teacher who doesn’t explain, while an easy cheat, is a crappy teacher. 

What Sabatini is referring to with quarte and quinte are the eight classical parries and attack in foil fencing, basically the parts of the body he’s hitting. (I’ll point out, Quentin knows why you stay narrow and informs both Saint-Gilles and the audience: so you don’t die. Learn things, Gideon.) Interestingly, this chapter serves to establish both Quentin de Morlaix’s skill as a fencer, his rivalry with his cousins, Chevalier de Saint-Gilles and Constant which are central to the novel’s plot, and that he’s a little shit.

In short, given poor training, poor understanding, and dismal interest, Gideon would probably be murdered by a real duelist on the first strike of her first duel and then necro’d back to life. Fortunately, she lives in a setting where the rapier is not an effective weapon with which you might thoroughly humiliate your opponent.

-Michi

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Q&A: Fight Like A Girl Or, Don’t

Anonymous said to howtofightwrite:

What do you think about Aiki Flinthart’s book on “Fight Like a Girl”? Like on the subject of girls fighting differently and I quote from an interview with Aiki.

“Women do fight differently to men, and anyone who says they don’t is making stuff up because women are physiologically, psychologically, emotionally and biologically different from men, and to pretend they aren’t is ridiculous.”

The reason why I ask this is that given it is hard to find a site or writer that has some experience in martial Arts and not invalidate female fighters. But the quote from an interview with a woman who has experience with martial art and survivor of assault throws me off and I wanted to ask this blog’s opinion on this book. Also this is one few books that directly tackles the subject on writing female fighters. I see this book alongside with this blog with seemingly contradicting statements.

So, what I will say as a female martial artist who started training at the age of five, who was trained by individuals from a wide variety of backgrounds, including female instructors, who earned three black belts before they were twenty, and who also taught martial arts is — we don’t train women differently.

Ignoring the fact that Aiki Flinthart’s statement has two redundancies, (Physiologically and biologically are the same, and psychologically and emotionally are also the same) the fact of the matter is the reason why you can’t find a lot of writing that focuses on female fighters is because most martial arts advice isn’t written with the gender divide in mind. The gender divide is irrelevant to technique and training. Everyone, regardless of age, is trained the same way, they learn the same techniques. They’re tested on the same skills. They largely express the same philosophies if trained in the same martial system. The reason why I say that men and women aren’t fundamentally different as fighters is because both use the same fundamentals. We fight the way we’re trained to fight.

Reality, ultimately, doesn’t support her argument.

The follow-up argument of, “well, there just aren’t enough female martial artists to know” is also patently false. There are hundreds of thousands of female martial artists all across the world, probably millions. There are enough for the Olympics to have women’s divisions in multiple categories per accepted martial art per country. There are martial arts like Wing Chun which were created by women, and those martial arts are practiced by men. Pick up any martial arts instructional book. The philosophy and/or techniques there all apply to you. Male or female, you could learn these techniques if you’re willing to put in the time and effort.

The irony is you actually do yourself a disservice by chasing for girls when looking to create a female warrior. It’ll lead you to feeling like you’re being excluded when you’re not. It’ll lead you to exclude perfectly viable combat options, attitudes, and learned behaviors because you assume they’re men only. Most importantly, you’ll start from a false position of “how does a woman solve this problem with violence” when the important question you should be asking is, “how does my character choose to solve this problem with violence.”

The one major component Flinthart doesn’t include, because it doesn’t support her argument, is the social differences between men and women. From birth, boys and girls are socialized differently due to cultural gender expectations for their societal role. Now, socialization is very real, but socialization varies heavily by individual cultures. What is socially acceptable for a woman in one society may be completely different from the expectations of another. 

For example, you may go, “there’s no real history of women warriors on film and tv.” (False, but let’s roll with it.) And my response is, “on who’s television?” Then, I direct you to Hong Kong and Chinese cinema where there’s a well established history of female martial artists because, culturally, there’s a well established history of female martial artists. You’ll often see multiple female practitioners per film on both the protagonist and antagonist’s side. Sometimes, they’re the protagonists. There’s television shows where the male characters have female masters who train them in the martial arts. (Seriously, go to Viki. Learn to love subtitles, and, if you need a place to start, Michelle Yeoh’s filmography is a good one. Girls with Guns is/was a major subgenre in Hong Kong action cinema.)

We can move the goalposts here at this point and argue, “but, Michi, male and female warriors aren’t treated as equals in Hong Kong and Chinese cinema!”

The answer is, of course, that many societies are still patriarchal and societal expectations for women still exist. However, male and female warriors still use the same techniques, so there’s clearly nothing biological going on there. Also, every one of those films needs female stunt doubles and the actresses are either trained martial artists going in or also trained by martial arts choreographers. This isn’t some small subset, this is an entire industry.

The problem for Flinthart is that socialization for both men and women is socially conditioned behavior, it’s no different than teaching your dog not to bark at strangers, to sit, or go outside to pee. Most of what you believe about the gender divide is social and not biological, and these behaviors are socially enforced by society at large. This is in the way they look at you, the way they treat you, the way they respond to you, and what they say to you. A lot of young women are afraid to learn martial arts due to socially conditioned fears that training for violence (or even sports) will make them less desirable, because these are “men’s things.” That’s complete bullshit.

A) A lot of the behaviors ascribed as men only are actually for everyone.

B) The vice versa is also true, many behaviors ascribed to women are also for everyone.

The sexualization of female warriors in cinema is, again, about retaining and reinforcing societal expectations for women. It has nothing to do with biology. As a woman, you may even be inclined to chase that sexualized presentation because it is safer and more culturally acceptable. If you need an example of sexualized presentation, take a look at Black Widow in Iron Man 2, Avengers, and (especially) Avengers 2 versus the portrayal of Black Widow in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

 Women are trained to believe objectification is desirable, we’re shown this relentlessly and constantly throughout our lives; starting at a very young age. Everything about sexual objectification is designed to take personhood, personal power, and the associated danger away.

Why should you describe a woman as fighting like she’s dancing? 

This is a really common one, a lot of writers describe female warriors as fighting like they’re dancing. Why? Because dancing implies beauty, and society says a good female protagonist must be beautiful, what is beautiful is desirable, and a woman’s first priority is to attract a mate.

Again, that’s bullshit. In combat, your first priority is to kill the enemy. However, that’s aggressive. We’re told being aggressive is a masculine tendency, and therefore undesirable. So, many women writers will shy away from aggression for their female fighters when they should run towards it. Women martial artists in the real world? They do.

I don’t know if anyone’s ever told you this, but female warriors are very aggressive. On average, they are more aggressive combatants than men. Not because they need to be, just because they are. It’s a side effect of what happens when you’re trained to be passive your whole life and the shackles come off. Take the sexist definition of a cat fight, now apply that to women fully trained to kill each other. It hurts.

If you haven’t realized it yet, women can be sexist. They can be misogynists. They can buy in, even female martial artists. The myth of the gender divide feels so good, it gives the people who believe it such a fantastic sense of superiority. You get to say, “I’m different from them” then “I’m different than” becomes “I’m better than.” If you’ve ever been hurt by the opposite sex, your next step gets to be, “I’ve got nothing in common with them.”

On this blog, we have never said and never will say that martial arts training is a guarantee against sexual assault. It can act as a deterrent, it may provide you with the skills you need to identify and exit a situation, but, ultimately, a sexual predator is a social predator. The belief society instills in you and insists on is that sexual assault involves being physically overpowered, but that’s only one potential aspect. A sexual predator overpowers you with fear, fear of social consequences if you say no. Fear of getting kicked from your sports team, a failing grade, a poor report to your parents, fear of reprisals if anyone finds out, fear of your word not mattering over theirs, even fear of the predator filing a police report for assault and battery. Sexual predators don’t exist in a vacuum and you don’t either. Violence in the real world has real world consequences, both legal and social. Sexual predators know society’s rules protect them, they strike from a position of power, and their gamble is on their victim being more willing to submit in the moment than face the long term consequences of fighting back. The situation is intentionally engineered to be a lose/lose. It’s all about social power. 

The fault is never with the victim, only the perpetrator.

The sad truth is those instincts are in all of us, male or female. We also all have the same capacity for evil. The high which comes from taking power from and exerting control over others is very real. I don’t blame Flinthart for her perspective, but the claim “martial artist and sexual assault surivivor” has a lot less validity in making her a source of authority than she realizes.

The truth is that if there were a fundamental physical difference between men and women when it came to martial arts, we’d have two separate training sets for both. You’d be able to find more of a focus in the martial arts community on it if it existed because women and women’s self-defense are a huge part of the market. (We’re talking millions upon millions of dollars.) Women are, in fact, so common within the martial arts community that most members of said community genuinely forget gender parity in training isn’t a well known fact. (I forget this all the time.) Rather, most people outside the martial arts community assume a masculine default when there isn’t one.

The economics aren’t there. The training isn’t there. The philosophy isn’t there. We can’t lie to ourselves by saying there aren’t enough women for it to be an oversight. I mean, you could, a lot of people do, but that doesn’t make it true.

Don’t make me drag out all the videos from that time the whole HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts) online community had a collective conniption when right wing personalities/misogynists said women couldn’t lift a sword or wear plate armor. It was bullshit then and it’s bullshit now.

What’s uncomfortable for a lot of female writers when working with female warriors and looking for references is the sensation, “but, if I do this, my character is behaving like a man.” That’s natural, these behaviors (which are necessary to be effective combatants) have been designated by society as masculine. They aren’t though. They’re normal behaviors for someone who has been trained in this style to fight. The appropriate answer is, “my character is behaving like a warrior.”

Listen to the wise words of martial arts masters in instructional manuals and on YouTube. They’re as much for you as they are the men in your life. Take it from a kid raised in martial arts, I’ve often found I have more in common with male action heroes than female ones (unless they’re from Hong Kong.) There’s a reason for that, and it has nothing to do with the limitations of sex or gender.

-Michi

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Q&A: How To Punch

How can I properly show the difference in size/ability/personality when two characters are fist fighting? Do a bigger and stronger guy throw a punch differently than his younger shorter opponent? Is that even a thing in real life?

The great irony, despite all media has taught you, is that two people of different heights, weights, and genders will actually fight (mostly) the same way if they are they are trained in the martial same style. Everybody learns the same move set, what makes the difference is how well they execute it and how disciplined they are when they start to flag.

The easiest are with people who don’t know what they’re doing versus people who do. For trained fighters, a lot of personality is going to get shed when they settle in and focus. You can have a cocky shit who talks a lot of trash outside the ring before the match and then say absolutely nothing inside it. Talk wastes air and you need oxygen to keep your endurance up. The person who talks during the fight gets punched, and should because they’re not focused. They deserve it.

No, they really do. Competitive fighters will take advantage of that kind of distraction. If someone’s talking in the ring, they’re doing it at a safe distance (at starting distance/outside arms reach) while both they and their opponent are searching for an opening.

The best fighters are the ones with the highest technical proficiency and the least amounts shits to give about their opponent’s future.

Let’s talk about technical proficiency for a second:

Technical proficiency relates to how skilled your character is i.e. how good they are at executing their techniques. What is technique?

It’s more than just a punch. It’s every minute movement involved in the movement of your body as it executes that punch. This includes

A) Your stance: the width of your feet in comparison to your shoulders, the degree at which your knees are bent, creating a centralized point of balance as you move.

B) The twist of your hips as you punch. This is, in combination with your shoulders, is your main generator of momentum i.e. power. (Yes, this has nothing to do with how many muscles you have.)

C) The position of your hands in relation to their distance from your face before you throw your punch. (This would be part of the fighting stance.)

D) The twist of your shoulders in time with your hips. Did they move together or are they out of slightly sync?

E) The position of your elbows. Were they inside or outside the body, is your arm in line with your shoulder when it extends?

F) The extension of your arm. Did you overextend past that front foot in your stance and put yourself out of balance?

G) Did you properly lock your fist when you punched? This is all five fingers clenched together when you punch, locked by your thumb. If your thumb is inside your fingers or outside your hand, you’re at risk of breaking your fingers. (Yes, beginners do this.)

H) Did you lock your wrist in line with your fist and your elbow and your shoulder? (Yes, beginners also do this.)

I) Did you do lock up at the fraction of a second before you struck your target? Thus applying maximum force? Momentum = movement + speed. If you lock too early, you slow down in the critical instant before striking and blunt your force/create more opportunity to be blocked.(Yes, beginners do this. They also flinch.) Punching a target, even a soft target, hurts. It will hurt when you do everything perfectly. That’s before we get to the psychological aspect of hurting someone else and the affect of that indecision on your physical body.

J) Did you return to resting or flow smoothly into your next combination/strike? Or did you just stand there like an idiot?

K) How quickly did you manage it? Again, this entire move happens within a fraction of a second, often too quickly for the untrained eye to follow. It’s fast. (Fun Fact: film cameras lose frames of professional martial artists/martial arts actors like Jet Li and Jackie Chan when they go full tilt.) Most of the time, audiences at professional matches mistake and respond to the secondary, follow-up strikes rather than the actual winning hit.

These are only some of the considerations toward basic technical proficiency, there are more and more ways you can screw up a simple, basic punch. When we say someone has “flawless technique,” we mean they can execute every aspect of the technique flawlessly from start to finish. The best contenders will all be in that range, especially when looked at by outsiders. A strong technical foundation is essential to success. In fact, it’s necessary. Strong foundations aren’t just needed for strong defenses, offenses, or executing your techniques successfully, they’re also energy efficient. A fighter with an excellent foundation and high technical proficiency continues when the their opponent with a shoddy foundation flags. You can win when you’re opponent is tired.

If you have a poor foundation, you are poor in everything. You’re technique is inefficient, you’re slower, your defense has more openings, your movements are bigger and thus have more tells, wasted movements means you’re wasting more energy. You’ve essentially hobbled yourself.

Now, poor foundations can be fixed. Technique is tightened with practice. The more experience a fighter has, the more they’re willing to address their flaws and work toward improvement then they have a chance to become better. Martial arts is skill based, not talent based. The person who works the hardest, the longest, and is the most determined is one who eventually stands among the best.

The best way to address this in your writing is to start looking at different how to videos on YouTube from martial arts masters discussing how to perform different techniques. You’ll be able to see the breakdowns, have them explained, and see what it looks like when a person with experience does it right. If you’re trying to write a character describing another character as inexperienced, it helps at least get a window into what the technique is supposed to look like.

I must say though, that even with a technique as simple as a single punch (whether front hand or backhand) there’s a lot of variation in technical detail between different martial styles. So, different characters could punch in different ways depending on their backgrounds.

-Michi

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Follow-up: Rey is Kinda a Problem

If you wanted to highlight a Mary Sue/Gary Stu style character on your blog, you could have chosen Luke instead, as his instant skill with lightsabers/the force is much less believable than Rey’s. The fact that you went after a rare sci fi female lead and echoed the voices of so many misogynist male fans is just disappointing to me. This is not what I’ve come to expect from this blog.

seekingidlewild

Luke is, actually, a pretty good counter example. His, “instant skill with a lightsaber,” consists of pointing it at his own face as soon as it is handed to him.

In A New Hope, the height of his demonstrated ability is to avoid lopping off his own limbs while trying to learn how to parry blasts from the remote. In the first film, Luke’s preferred weapon is an E11 Blaster Rifle. The first time we see him use his lightsaber in combat is a single swipe with it on Hoth in Empire Strikes Back. Luke doesn’t use his lightsaber in combat in the first film.

So, in ANH he gets limited training from Obi-Wan. This is enough for him to start learning Force Pull, though he clearly struggles with it. Having been, “learning on his own,” for three years, he still struggles with very basic Jedi powers, and this is as someone who has been told that The Force exists, and received some introductory training. He barely manages to pull the saber to him in time to save his own life from a wampa.

Rey has the ability to override a Sith Lord’s Force Pull. She has the ability to use Affect Mind, and she has lightsaber proficiency on par with, again, a Sith Lord.

So, back to Luke, he goes to Dagobah receives training from Yoda, a Jedi Master, and returns with a slightly stronger grasp of how to use The Force, and operate a lightsaber. Vader immediately hands him his ass.

The duel on Cloud City is a bit of a sham. It fits what I said about balancing your challenges against the strength of your heroes. Vader knows Luke is his son. He spent decades cleaning up the remains of the Jedi Order. He’s able to go toe-to-toe with Obi-Wan without issue. Luke has a couple weeks of training under his belt. The only reason he’s able to survive is because of two conflicting factors. The Emperor wants Luke alive, “as a prize,” and Vader is having conflicting ideas about killing his own son.

Jump ahead to Return of the Jedi, and we see that Luke learned force choke, and has learned affect mind by this point. However, the finale still runs into another duel against Vader that’s a sham. Again, the point isn’t about killing Luke. Vader doesn’t want to kill his own son, he wants to turn Luke to the dark side, turn on The Emperor together, and take control of The Empire. Luke doesn’t want to fight his father, he’s trying to turn him from the dark side. Palpatine wants Luke to kill Vader and take his place, but he’d be fairly happy so long as one of them takes a dirt nap.

Again, this is not about Luke being a godlike fighter, it’s about him working through his incredibly dysfunctional family issues.

Rey’s got none of that. Kylo is a psychopath who has no qualms about waxing his own father. He doesn’t care about her. He’s a weak, and whiny villain on his own merits, but he is still A Dark Lord of the Sith. He has completed force training. He’s gone toe to toe with with trained Jedi and somehow avoided dying. There is nothing to keep Kylo from killing Rey in the first film except her inexplicable use of active Force powers and specific Force related combat skills (like fighting with a lightsaber) at odds with every other screen canon protagonist.

Let me break this down:

Luke: minimal training, struggles against wildlife, captured by possessed teddy bears, loses his hand in domestic argument. Dude never has his shit together.

Anakin: significant training, holds his own against other Jedi and Sith, but can’t beat Sith without a tag team. Loses limbs during academic dispute.

Rey: no training, no prior knowledge of the Force, defeats Sith Lord on first outing.

Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, and Rey are the only characters in screen canon who can beat Sith Lords in single combat. I don’t know about you, but something is off with this list.

This is unfortunate because Daisy Ridley is actually really good. So is Adam Driver. There was a lot of excellent casting in those films, but they’re undermined by shoddy writing. There’s roughly two thirds of a decent film there, and then everything derails.

J.J. Abrams and George Lucas have something in common. They’re both extremely fond of emulating material they found elsewhere, repackaging and re-purposing it. This where you’ll find a lot of Kurosawa “homages,” in the original trilogy, and why The Force Awakens is almost a beat for beat retread of A New Hope. In the process, something got seriously scrambled.

The version of Luke that you’re thinking of, the egregious Mary Sue, doesn’t actually exist on screen. It’s pop culture gestalt, conflating the original trilogy into a jumbled clip show bereft of context. Parts, the duels with Vader lose their narrative context. Parts from Anakin in the prequels may get meshed in for good measure. (There is a legitimate argument that Anakin is a Mary Sue in The Phantom Menace, and the only reason I don’t want to delve into that topic is because it involves thinking about TPM for more time than is absolutely necessary.)

The worst part is, those misogynistic shitheads aren’t threatened by Rey. Rey doesn’t have the potency to hold their attention. They’re pissed with Captain Marvel. Carol Danvers drives them into a frenzy, because she is a very powerful character, and their only attack is to accuse her of being a Mary Sue.

The point we’re at now, a small cadre of fans who’ve gone off the deep end have no response to critique of Rey beyond crying about how it’s misogynistic. Which, doesn’t help your case.

You can do better. There are much better female leads in Science Fiction and Fantasy. Off the top of my head, Ellen Ripley (Alien, Aliens) and Sarah Conner (Terminator 2) set a much higher bar for female protagonists in science fiction who completely own their space. I already mentioned her, but Captain Marvel is easily another example from recent years. Moving beyond that you have characters like Aeryn Sun (Farscape), Ambassador Delenn (Babylon 5), and Captain Janeway (Star Trek: Voyager). And if one second you think Aeryn or Delenn aren’t leads, because they’re not getting top billing in ensemble shows, you really need to sit down and actually watch those.

If you want to see why old guard Star Wars fans are pissed with Rey, grab a copy of Heir to the Empire, and then realize that Disney erased all of that from existence to pave the way for Rey. We lost the version of Leia who became the leader of The New Republic. We lost Jaina Solo and Mara Jade. They destroyed all of that so J. J. Abrams could regurgitate a stale rendition of A New Hope without competition.

So, no. Fans who lost decades worth of characters they loved are going to be a little upset, especially when the replacement is breaking all the rules in a setting they adore and still can’t manage to make the stage. More importantly, if a female character needs to break the rules to appear powerful in their setting that’s not feminism or girl power.

This is an exceptional post, but perhaps consider that Rey raised herself on a desert planet? She probably learned to tap into the force to survive, even if she didn’t know exactly what she was doing. I wouldn’t call her a Mary Sue for that. Unless you’re going to call Luke a Gary Stu for being able to destroy the death star while flying an x-wing for the first time. If a character is believable if you switch the pronouns, the character isn’t the problem.

kahziel

The irony here is, there’s elements for both parts. We know from the three untrained Jedi we encounter in the films that force sensitivity manifests with heightened skills. Being force sensitive makes you unusually talented at the things you focus on. Of those three, Luke is the least egregious. If we were to ignore the active force powers and lightsaber proficiency, (and inexplicable piloting skills), Rey would be fine, unfortunately, we can’t.

With Rey, we do see that she has an unnatural aptitude for finding and maintaining scrap on Jakku. That she’s been able to survive as long as she has is a pretty good sign that she’s force sensitive, and that’s consistent with what we’ve seen before. That part is absolutely fine. The problem is the situations where her skill hasn’t been set up.

When we first meet Anakin in TPM, he’s already a supernaturally skilled podracer pilot. I’d like to be able to purge the entirety of the podracers from my memory, but we’re all here together now, and I’m pretty sure Sartre only said what he did about hell because he didn’t know that TPM would exist one day.

All these years later, I still have issues with Anakin piloting a fighter for TPM‘s finale, but, I’d be lying if I said the vast majority of that film isn’t a massive, painful blur for me.

What we see from Luke is reasonable. We’re told he wants to be a pilot, and it’s something that he’s been training for. His initial goal is to leave Tatooine, and enroll at The Imperial Academy. He claims he’s “not such a bad pilot.” We’re later told that he’s been practicing precision shooting at high speed using a sub-orbital fighter. (It was later stated in background material that the T-16’s controls and handling were similar to the X-Wing, though I suspect Lucas was thinking of piloting as a kind of universal skill, and the connection between the T-16 and X-Wing were retrofitted on later.) We see Obi-Wan teaching him to use the force in a way that specifically sets up the trench run. The biggest offender here is, simply, that there’s a lot of telling rather than showing. When you dig into earlier drafts of the script, there were scenes outlined that couldn’t be shot in ’76/’77, so the resulting development was dumped back into exposition. As a writing decision, this is something you’d want to avoid, but when we’re talking about a film, shooting considerations may require less optimal solutions.

Switching the pronouns doesn’t fix anything. There are plenty of male Mary Sues, just like there are plenty of powerful female characters who are not Sues. A female version of Luke wouldn’t be a Mary Sue; a male version of Rey would still be one.

I don’t fault Rey for having an intuitive grasp of The Force. I fault her for having fully developed Force powers, and lightsaber proficiency, without training.

But…Rey does do force training? What the fuck? This is a strange post

theskyexists

With whom? Han may believe in the existence of The Force, but he’s no Jedi. He can’t teach her how to use the force. She has no one to train with in The Force Awakens. You’re thinking of the second movie, That Which Shall Not Be Named, the rough draft from Rian Johnson where she gets her training with Luke. She fights Kylo in the first film completely unaided. This is where her Mary Sue rep comes from and why she never shakes it.

What she does is spontaneously manifest Force abilities. By that point, we had six films that hammered home the idea this not how you gain force powers. If that was the case, Vader’s crusade to exterminate the Jedi Order would have been fundamentally impossible, as the Order would be reinforced by spontaneous Jedi popping up. This retroactively makes all of Palpatine’s plotting from The Phantom Menace to Return of the Jedi both pointless and incomprehensibly stupid. Makes you wonder why the Jedi need to recruit kids young if Jedi just pop up fully formed like daisies.

This is before we look at the lightsaber. That is an incredibly difficult, and dangerous to use, a weapon, which Rey has no problem operating, in spite of having no formal combat training of any kind. Much less fighting on an even keel with a trained Sith Lord who has been handling one for most of his life.

This is like a character who hears about the existence of martial arts, and then instantly gains advanced combat proficiency… by shadow boxing for a few minutes. Yeah, that’s a Mary Sue. (And, the comparison of Jedi training to martial arts comes Lucas himself.)

My point is: Rey is not the representation you’re looking for. There are a lot of fantastic, well-rounded, and well-acted female characters with a wide variety of personalities and outlooks in the science fiction genre if you’re willing to look for them. Daisy Ridley does her best, but she can’t save Rey. That’s unfortunate, but crying misogyny or trying to rewrite the films doesn’t help your argument stand up to scrutiny.

-Starke & Michi

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Q&A: The Drawbacks of Teleportation

bakahimesama said to howtofightwrite:

I’m trying to write battle scenes in a war with an overpowered MC. The main character is 1 of only 5 mages in the whole world (she gained the favor of a God). Her power is the ability to teleport herself, and up to 2 other people, anywhere she can see. She has been knighted, and is currently being used as a “secret weapon” against to weaken and confuse the enemy. Would guerrilla style tactics be the best method? And how would the enemy effectively counter her, without a mage on their side?

When you call a character overpowered, it’s because you’ve already decided in your mind that they’re unbeatable. This is bad for your tension, and your combat sequences, and your story in general.

If you don’t know how a character can be beaten, then it’s because you haven’t given them, their powers, their strengths, and their weaknesses enough thought.

Your character is only one of five mages in the world who can do magic, but if all she can do is teleport and is limited to being able to see where she’s going then that’s not really overpowered. You just need to acknowledge the power’s weaknesses. She’s also not going to be a “secret weapon” for very long, extended encounters with enemies will solve that problem. (If you’re justification is, “no one will believe that!” then you may want to re-think it. First time? Yes. The next five or six? No.) If she’s actively using her powers and lacking in mental modification powers like telepathy, she’ll never kill enough of them to keep the secret safe. At some point, the secret will be blown. Likely sooner than later. Also, just in general, people talk. If your character was a nobody who got knighted after they received their powers, people (not just the enemy) are going to want to know why.

Don’t underestimate the characters without powers and their ability to both acknowledge and adapt to new situations. Don’t underestimate intellectual curiosity, or curiosity in general from side characters. Many writers do to their detriment. Remember, your main character isn’t the only one who can affect the world around them or the narrative.

Now, let’s talk about teleportation.

Teleportation:

By itself, teleportation isn’t actually an OP superpower. Like all superpowers, it can feel overpowered in the right hands with a character who can use the skill effectively and creatively. Teleportation can have devastating results, but, by itself, with a character who can teleport themselves (and two friends) rather than teleporting other people at range, they’re already limited in what they can do. If their reaction times are human (rather than supernaturally enhanced), if they don’t have the ability to read the situation before they jump then they’re going blind, and they’re even more limited. They’re also not that difficult to counter.

A character who can’t teleport an opponent at range, can’t teleport their opponent into space, into the sun, into the Marianas Trench, or kill them with fall damage (and the added psychological horror of dropping them on their comrades) without significant risk to themselves. They also can’t teleport themselves to total safety if things go wrong. If they have to look and see where they’re going as opposed to seeing where they want to be in their mind (like say five miles in the air or on a mountain peak), then their ability to use teleportation in combat will be significantly slowed.

If they can only teleport places they can see, then they can’t get to someone who’s outside their line of sight. They can’t conveniently get to high priority targets like commanders and generals who may not be on the front lines, and are unable to surgically disrupt the enemy’s ability to plan their battle without significant effort prior. There’s no casual, “your general’s encampment is way over there, right? Imma gonna go kill him. Peace.”

The teleportation/telepathy/precognition combo is brutal if the character is an assassin. Rip the secret location from your enemy’s brain, check what trouble you’d get into if you went there, and then go there.

If the teleportation is a conscious decision which requires focus rather than a reflexive ability, allowing for movement without thinking, then it’s combat advantage is also more limited.

Martial combat, for reference, is reflexive. The goal of training is for you to be able to decide what to do and do it without needing to think about the mechanics. You’ve trained your body to react to specific stimulus, meaning you can react and even attack before your conscious mind has time to catch up. When the focus is in your conscious mind, requiring concentration, you can only perform one action at a time. This means your MC would be at her most vulnerable in the moments before and after her jump, and that would be the point an enemy would exploit.

This translates into: teleport then attack versus teleport and attack.

One way to get around this issue is to have some physical component to the teleportation which allows for the port to also become an attack by itself. There’s lots of singular teleportation powers/gap closers in games which do this, but it’s something to consider for your mage character.

Personal Transport versus Ranged:

The problem with singular teleportation versus ranged teleportation is your only real advantage is surprise. It’s a great power for someone who specializes in ambush tactics, but can quickly turn into a one trick pony if the writer and character aren’t careful.

The key to understanding any power is grasping both it’s strengths, and it’s limitations. Most characters you see in fiction that have OP teleportation skills like Ciri from The Witcher or Nightcrawler from X-men either have a subset of secondary powers they can utilize to enhance those powers or the teleportation itself is a secondary to their greater abilities. 

For example: if you want a character who can appear multiple places and attack the same enemy in the same moment like Ciri does in The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt, then you also need a character who can control time and space. In Ciri’s case, her teleportation abilities are a byproduct of her true powers, which are primarily instantaneous dimensional travel and the ability to control the flow of time. 

Teleportation does not allow you to appear in multiple places at the same time, unless you’re also breaking dimensional physics, have the ability to spawn clones, or speed up the flow of time so it’s actually your after image someone else is seeing as you complete multiple attacks (seemingly) in a single moment.

The problem with ambush tactics are they’re not built for prolonged conflict, if the MC’s reflexes aren’t better than the individual they’re attacking then it’s possible they and their teleportation could be defeated or driven off by an unpowered human opponent of superior combat ability.

Combat teleportation can come with a lot of issues: 

  • Visual Tells —  when the character is moving in and out. 
  • Audible Cues — sound of the air they’ve taken with them disappearing and reappearing, or similar disruptions. 
  • Timing – time delays for them in the moment they disappear and reappear. If they’re not actually carving holes and moving through a different dimension for travel, they may not be able to completely control the timing of their re-entry. So, they have to mentally calculate it. This means if their opponent figures out their attack patterns and strategies, they can predict where they’ll reappear and be waiting with a surprise of their own.
  • Reflexes – a character who is gifted with powers, rather than having them naturally occur, is going to need to train their reflexes even more thoroughly for combat teleportation than the one who came by it naturally. While regular teleportation isn’t going to be much of an issue, short burst teleportation in a high stress environment where you could be coming out into an opponent’s weapon, or getting shot at range is a different beast. If teleporting isn’t a reflexive action to protect from danger that doesn’t require concentration, this is easier.

Remember, a character can only protect themselves from dangers they’re aware of. This leaves them incredibly vulnerable to weaponry, tactics, and ambushes outside their perceptions. They are limited by what they know, what they see, what they hear, and their own strategic and tactical abilities.

Don’t get so caught up in your character that you give them access to everything you know about the world they live in. You need to keep them separate from you and let them make their own mistakes. When you’ve got a character who is supposed to be hyper-competent, your first instinct might be to cheat for them. If they’re your protagonist, do yourself a favor. Don’t.

Countering Superpowers: Target the person, not the powers.

This one may seem counterintuitive, but it shouldn’t be. Counters are about your techniques, yes, but long term strategy is also about sussing out the habits and preferences of your opponent. Their strengths and their weaknesses. An army is not one person, it’s a lot of people working together toward a common goal. They have an advantage your MC doesn’t: multiple creative minds working to solve a problem. More importantly, the combat strategists and tacticians are also usually backed up a solid network of spies and informants about all the strategies/advantages their opponent has.

The longer a technique is in the wild, the more opportunity the enemy has to see it and develop counters around it. The clever enemy general will use battlefield observation and your MC as their guinea pig for developing a means to kill them.

The problem of the teleporter is you don’t know where they’re going to show up. This is true if you don’t know who the teleporter is, but familiarity breeds contempt. The more your MC participates in battles, the more familiar their enemies are going to become with their style, their strategy, their preferences, how their morals and personality quirks affect their battlefield choices. They can move quickly, yes, but they can’t take an army with them.

There are some easy counters like ranged weapons. (Can they escape a bullet, an arrow, or a cannon barrage if they don’t know it’s coming?) Martial combat is predictive by nature, put the blade where they’re going to appear and let them impale themselves (less difficult than it sounds.) Bait and bodyguards, wherein you set a rather nice trap and put everything you’ve learned about them to use. 

If teleportation relies on concentration — disrupt it. 

If the teleportation is reflexive — exploit it.

You don’t attack the powers, you attack the person wielding them. If you don’t need to kill them to achieve victory then this is even easier, all you have to do is distract them away from the battlefield. Distract them. Delay them. Feed them poor information. Lead them away from the fight so that by the time they realized they’ve taken the bait, hook, line, and sinker, the battle is over.

Your MC is both empowered by and held back by human emotion. Their feelings like fear, rage, embarrassment, hatred, overconfidence, etc, can be used against them. You need to figure out their personality flaws, and then craft enemies who can use those against them.

Don’t just think about your MC as the only target for these villains. If they’re fighting an enemy army, then that army will be interested in more than just them. Your MC is an impediment.

Your villains also need to stand on their own as strong characters. Find the internal and external antagonists for the narrative. Your villains should get just as much love, if not more love, and care as your hero. Antagonists are the backbone of the novel. Without a strong one, you’re dead in the water.

– Michi

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How do roundhouse kicks work? Are they actually combat efficient?

skypig357:

howtofightwrite:

skypig357:

howtofightwrite:

The roundhouse kick is a common kick seen in street fights, and for this reason lots of counters have been developed for it. So, it does work, it is effective, and easy to do compared to other kicks. It’s powerful (though not as powerful as the sidekick or back kick), but is the riskiest because it’s easy to trap.

Of the four beginning kicks, the roundhouse is the only kick that comes across the body. The others all strike directly. The roundhouse targets the side of the body or enemies in the fighting stance. This is part of what makes the roundhouse more visible than the other kicks. Your peripheral vision is great for noticing motion coming in on the edge of your vision, and circles are eye-catching. The roundhouse kick is an arc. Like all kicks, it’s one big body movement coming at you in flashing neon lights.

As a general rule, kicks are always riskier than punches. They’re reliant on speed and balance, and they come with obvious tells. Still, kicks are much more powerful than a punch, delivering more force at high speeds directly into the body. After all, with more risks come more rewards.

A single well placed kick can end a fight before it begins… if you can land it.

As for whether the roundhouse is combat efficient, that really depends on the individual and how limber they are. Cold kicks will punish you, pull your hamstrings, and wreck your legs if you’re not stretching on the regular. Your success with using kicks in combat is almost entirely dependent on your flexibility. When jumping into straight into a fight, you don’t get a time out for a five to ten minute warm up.

With that covered, let’s get down to the basics for the roundhouse.

The roundhouse is the second kick you’ll learn in most martial arts systems, after the front kick and before the sidekick. It relies on the rotational power of the hips to bring the leg across the body, striking with either the top or the ball of the foot. The attack comes on a diagonal, with points at either the head, stomach/ribs, or (in some variation) the legs/upper thigh. The structure of the roundhouse is as follows:

1) Beginning Stance:

Unlike the front kick which can be done from any forward facing, standing position, the roundhouse requires you be in a fighting stance.

A stance is a basic part of martial arts, but usually skipped over by Hollywood and beginners for strikes. Strikes are the big flashy moves that get attention because they are flashy. As with everything, the building blocks are often skipped.

Stances are what we call your “base” or how you set your body and your feet. Most martial arts disciplines will have a full set of stances from the front stance to the horse stance, and they will be referred to by different names. The fighting stance is easily recognizable. As it is the stance you’ll see everyone drop into on or off screen when they’re getting ready to fight.

The fighting stance is meant for basic defensive positioning, allowing you to move quickly. In Taekwondo, the fighting stance is one foot forward and the other foot is a step behind (about the width of your shoulders) on a diagonal. The back foot twists sideways roughly to a 45 degree angle, the front foot points forward. Your upper body turns on a diagonal following your back foot. Your hands clench to fists, and rise to your face. The hand over the front foot extends out, the other hand hovers beside your cheek. Your elbows come in, just inside the silhouette of your body. Your knees bend. Weight will adjust in a tilt slightly forward or slightly back depending on attack vector. The bouncing seen in sparring tournaments or boxing is meant to cover these weight shifts. In the fighting stance, you should never stand flat footed.

This is the basic protective stance for sparring. The It is more difficult to strike someone when the

Body Reader Note: Elbow, hand, upper body, and feet placement are all dead giveaways when someone doesn’t know what they’re doing. Failure begins with your feet. The hands especially, most beginners do not keep their hands far enough apart, their elbows come out too far from the body. Beginners will often leave the front foot flat on the ground with their weight unbalanced, slowing their reaction time.

On Weight Shifts: Leaning back generally means a kick as the upper body tilts backward
for balance when the leg extends. Forward for hands. Settled on the back
leg can also be a defensive posture, versus weight forward which is
more aggressive. You want to be on the balls of your feet because that means quicker response times.

2) Chamber

The chamber is the intermediary step between the fighting stance and the kick. This is when you lift your leg off the ground with knee bent. The transition between chamber and kick is where most of the classic mistakes happen. You chamber with either the front or back leg. For the roundhouse kick, the foot left on the ground twists on a ninety degree angle. Your foot to your body should form a perfect right angle. (This is why the roundhouse kick is easy, you only shift another forty-five degrees rather than the full 180 for the sidekick.) The knee is on a similar forty-five degree, ready to extend across the body.

The upper body doesn’t move that much with the roundhouse, unlike the sidekick where the whole upper body tilts onto a forty-five as the leg extends. It tilts ever so slightly to retain balance as you kick and your hips twist.

3) The Kick

As I said before, the roundhouse strikes horizontally or diagonally across the body. It is true to its name. It comes around in a circular motion. The leg extends and swings across/through the opponent’s body as the hips simultaneously twist. When done in a simultaneous motion, the supporting foot twists to a ninety degree angle at the same moment the hips turn over. The upper body tilts with the hips. The leg swings through.

If the hips don’t turn over, then the kick is what we call a “snap kick”. In the case of the roundhouse, this is a kick than snaps up off the knee on a forty-five degree diagonal. It is fast but without power, and usually performed with the front leg only.

Power comes from the hips. You can lay in as much speed as you like, but without turnover there’s no power. (Snap kicks find their best use as openers in point sparring.)

The second problem with most kicks is visualization. You don’t stop when you reach the enemy, you kick through them. This carries the impact and force further.

The roundhouse strikes with either the top of the foot or the ball of the foot. Ball of the foot requires you pull your toes back, or else you’ll break them. Top is the speed kick (light, fast), ball is the power kick (can break ribs). Top of the foot is generally only seen in sparring exercises when your feet are protected by pads, but it’s a good option when you’re wearing shoes and your toes can’t bend.

4) Recoil

This is the return to the chamber. After extension finishes, the leg snaps back out of danger. If your opponent doesn’t catch your leg in the moment before the full extension, they can still catch it after the fact. Quick recoil is as essential to a kick’s success as the extension. It’s also necessary to keep us from overextending.

After they’ve mastered the chamber and extension, beginners will often have difficulty with this step. It has all the same problems as the chamber, just going in the opposite direction. A good recoil is a sign of strong control over the leg.

5) Plant

Return to start or prepare for transition into the next kick. The leg comes down, plants itself on the floor, and the fighter is ready to either continue attacking or begin defending.

A poor plant means that you’ve now messed up your fighting stance. If the foot comes down in the wrong place, the stance becomes unbalanced. A stance that is either too wide or two shallow creates opportunities for your opponent to destabilize you and make it difficult to attack again without over extending.

Those are the steps of the roundhouse. Throw them all together and you’ve got the full kick. The roundhouse has a very specific usage in martial arts that makes it valuable. The purpose of the roundhouse is simple: it’s a kick built for striking an enemy who is also in a fighting stance.

When our bodies are turned on a diagonal our vitals are better protected than they are when we’re forward facing. It becomes difficult, or more risky for a direct forward strike to land. The roundhouse attacks in a circle, coming around from the side and on angle. It creates a new vector attack those protected vitals like the stomach.

This is why the roundhouse is a popular kick. It is simple, and effective at ghosting around the first, opening opposition. (It’s also easily blocked with both hands and legs, but that’s a story for another day.) However, this is not why Chuck Norris’ roundhouse became the stuff of legend.

Perhaps more so than the sidekick, the roundhouse is iconic in popular culture.
The roundhouse looks fantastic on film. 

It has a beautiful silhouette, it’s eye catching but also easy to follow. It looks more dynamic than most of the other basic kicks, and it’s simple. An actor you’ve only got three months to train before filming can learn the basics of this kick. They won’t look great, but no one can tell. It doesn’t require the same flexibility as the more advanced kicks like the axe kick. Nor does it require the finesse, balance, or control of the sidekick. It’s the sort of kick where general audiences can’t tell if the practitioner is new or their technique sucks, and blends easily with the stunt doubles. Audiences have a difficult time telling the difference between a kick with power and a kick without power.

The roundhouse is the most common kick seen in taekwondo tournaments, and very common in kickboxing for its speed. It is faster and easier than the front kick and the sidekick due to the twist necessary to throw the leg across the body. With the roundhouse, momentum will do most of the work for you. This is why it’s the most common kick to see untrained fighters attempt to mimic, and why it gets used on the streets.

It can be effective without much training, but that person can be totally screwed when paired against someone who knows what they’re doing. Due to it’s vector, the roundhouse is the easiest kick to catch. Whether it’s caught and hooked under the arm for a knee break or the full thing gets caught and lifted into a throw, it doesn’t matter. A poorly performed or unlucky roundhouse can really screw you over. The other problem is that the circular motion of the roundhouse makes it the least camouflaged by the body and the easiest to see coming.

So, yes, the roundhouse can be combat efficient. They’re also dependent on your ability to follow through the steps on rough terrain where friction is not amenable to foot twists. They come with obvious tells for when the kick is about to happen, and there are a lot of counters developed to deal with them.

Whether coming or going, for one side or the other, the roundhouse has the potential to wreck your day.

 -Michi

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Are you differentiating between a Thai style cut kick and a TKD style? Are you lumping both under roundhouse?

And obviously target selection is huge. Common peroneal thigh vs side of waist, for instance. Or brachial plexus.

Low TKD roundhouse kicks below the belt are usually feints with a switchover to strike high in the same action, they combine into a double kick.

I tend to put the Thai kicks in their own separate category from the general roundhouse because the hip movement (specifically turning over to go downwards instead of lateral, which makes sense given the stabilizing foot stays mostly pointed forward), rotation, foot placement, and points of contact are all different. The Thai cut kick has its own name, it’s separate from the roundhouse though they’re visually similar… I guess? The traditional roundhouse will have difficulty targeting the legs due it’s chamber, which is the Thai kicks’ specialty. I understand the confusion, the snap kick version of the TKD roundhouse that is mostly seen in sparring doesn’t move the front leg much but it also lacks turnover. You lift the knee in a front kick chamber and strike on an upward diagonal rather than horizontal. It’s a point sparring kick rather than a combat kick. Thai kicks can be used at much closer ranges with hip turnover, which you know.

Still, we’re getting into the variant ranges of kicks that are visually similar (I guess?) but very different in execution. There’s more than three different versions of the TKD roundhouse. The one I’m talking about is the roundhouse you see on television, the general roundhouse. This is the basic martial arts roundhouse with slight, minor variations between styles from TKD to Shotokan. It’s going to be the most recognizable to the widest audience.

The Thai kicks are unique, even in comparison to modern kickboxing with the way they move. The major difference between Muay Thai kicks and kicks from other martial styles is the range at which they function, which you know. Thai kicks work in the hand range versus the traditional kick range. Plus, the option to strike with the shin.

Krav Maga is the same way, it’s a different kick.

Muay Thai is a creature all it’s own, and deservedly so. In twenty years (or less) do its proliferation in the West and adoption in MMA/Hollywood, it’s going to have it’s own recognizable and famous version. That’s probably going to be one of the versions of the low kick that utilizes the shin.

Roundhouse tends be used as a catchall for lots of martial arts kicks, including kicks that have nothing to do with each other. I went with the generic. If I was doing the straight TKD kick, I’d mention the variety of different chambers for it depending on stance. I’m going with the one most people outside the martial arts community will be familiar with.

Call it the Chuck Norris roundhouse if it makes you feel better.

-Michi

Got it. I was thinking they were roundhouse kicks, but different variants. Cousins maybe. Both work in similar arcs but with different mechanics. But those different mechanics maid them markedly different kicks.

I’d always been taught there are four kicks – front, side, round and oblique. And lots and lots of flavors of each

Yeah, those are the four basic kicks. (Though some systems just lump the back kick in with the sidekick as a spinning sidekick, the difference depends on the chamber and whether you’re striking with the blade of the foot or the heel.) There’s also the hook kick, the crescent kick (inside and outside), the axe kick, the mule kick, the push kick, and so many others.

The mule kick, for example, might initially look like a back kick because you look over your shoulder and strike with your heel. The difference is in the chamber which looks like a mule or horse preparing to kick backwards. It comes straight back and then drives up into the stomach, more similar to an elbow than a sidekick. The use for the mule kick as a combination kick in TKD is with the front kick. You kick the opponent facing you then, utilizing the momentum of the recoil, swing your leg down straight backward into the mule kick. You do it all in one, singular motion. The kicking leg never touches the ground.

We can’t do this with a back kick. Or, at least, we can’t without readjusting our hip position. The chamber is slightly to the side of our body rather than directly underneath it. The hips still need to turn over. With the mule kick, the hips are in the same position as the front kick. You just roll one into the other.

The push kick sort of looks like the front kick, but the chamber pulls the knee to the chest and then uses the whole foot to push forward. It’s a shove with your foot.

This makes sense when you realize TKD mostly focuses on the feet and legs as the primary weapons rather than the hands. When combat constantly progresses inwards and you’ve got an opponent moving into punching range, you need to force them back to where your kicks are effective.

It’s the opposite of a martial art like Muay Thai where the kicks are all about successfully using powerful legs strikes in close-quarters.

TKD is all about being able transition between and utilize multiple kicks with one leg, sometimes without ever planting between strikes. You can do an entire combination off just your front leg. Begin with an axe kick (top of the head) transitions into a roundhouse (side of the head), which transitions back across into a hook kick (heel strikes the other side of the head) then you can follow up with a more powerful roundhouse off the back leg to the head.

Traditional TKD is the art of how to win slap fights with your feet. It builds off the idea you’re going to be throwing three or four kicks in a row rather than just one. Blocks with your knee transition into kicks with the blocking leg or jump kicks off the back leg. If you come out of a non-kicking tradition then TKD and other martial arts like it are going to be a little weird, confusing, and possibly nonsensical. TKD uses its kicks like a boxer uses a jab. The kicks themselves aren’t finishers, they’re the set up for a powerful final blow. Spin kicks and jump kicks are chancy as hell by themselves, but if you’ve successful destabilized your opponent first then the risk drops. A TKD master should be able to create a 360 degree defense with just their legs.  As a discipline, it’s the “Look, ma! No hands!” of martial arts. 

“Let me feint with a roundhouse to your head, and then switch to a
roundhouse off my back leg while my front leg is still in the air.” 

I know, it sounds utterly ridiculous. If you ever wanted to know why TKD became one of Hollywood’s staples for stunt martial arts or it’s worldwide popularity, it’s due to the fact it is ridiculously fun to watch.

A hook kick with the front leg drops to become a slide sidekick with the front kick, then we roll into a roundhouse with the back leg and from there swing right into a wheel kick. The back leg becomes the front leg, and the front leg becomes the new power leg on the spin. ((If any of our followers are wondering, this is where most fictional fight scenes involving kicks fail. The author doesn’t understand kicks or their transitions well enough to make sense of the chain.))

For you writers, this is what I mean by thinking with your feet: front leg/lead leg roundhouse into a hook kick into a slide sidekick then into a running jump sidekick. ((If you missed it, that’s an entire combination on one leg.)) You lead with your feet, rather than your hands. We go feet first. Or, from a basic standing position, front kick into a popup jump front kick. The standing front kick steps forward into the fighting stance, from the fighting stance we with jump with both legs to pop up. The back leg switches, chambers, and strikes with a front kick. Then our leg tucks in recoil and we land back in a fighting stance, what was once our back leg becomes the new front leg.

Popup jump kicks are done from a standing position. You jump off both legs, and then your legs switch midair.

This is what makes the popup different from the standard pump with the front leg and jump off the back leg in a regular jump kick. If that wasn’t enough in the way of fun, popups can be done together quickly in combination. They just switch back and forth between legs.

Pop. Pop. Pop.

Lots of these kicks are referred to by different names in different systems or even within the same system but different schools. What differentiates kicks into their own family is basically hip position, strike vectors, and points of impact.

If anyone is wondering why I’m continuing this discussion it’s because I love talking about TKD kicks and what we can do with them.

I’m a huge nerd, and they’re so much fun.

-Michi

So I just played the Witcher 3 game, and I was marveling at the fighting style Geralt uses. Obviously there are so many differences between that game and realistic swordplay, but the main one I wanted to know about was where you’d store your sword when you’re not fighting. I know you’ve said storing a sword on your back isn’t very practical, but what I’m wondering is where you’d store a long sword or a hand-and-a-half sword. Would it still be at the hip? Thanks in advance for the reply!

I love the Witcher 3′s combat system, so you get no arguments from me.

The sword is called a sidearm, you may have heard that term before in reference to handguns. It’s the same, the modern handgun has replaced the sword as a weapon but serves a similar purpose both functionally in combat and culturally. You wear it buckled on your hip.

For a weapon to function, it needs to be in a place that’s easily reached and at the ready. Whether it’s a sword buckled on our back or the staff we left in our room or the pepper spray buried at the bottom of our purse. A weapon doesn’t do us a lot of good if we don’t have access to it.

When you’re trying to come up with ways your character might store or what places on their body they carry their weapons, here’s some simple rules.

1) Accessible

2) Easily drawn

3) Nowhere that hinders

4) Sensible i.e. not annoying

The action of drawing your weapon, whether it is a knife, a gun, or a sword should be one smooth motion that transitions quickly into a defensive stance. If you’re about to be attacked or in process of being attacked then time is a luxury you don’t have.

On to the Witcher:

The Sword’s Path has a great breakdown on The Witcher 3 combat vs HEMA (Historical Martial Arts) fencing. I would give it a look. He talks a lot about the fundamentals of sword combat and how you could use techniques similar to what we see in the Witcher 3 but would actually work. He also does a great job of explaining the fundamentals and logic behind it. He’s got a nice video for beginners interested in HEMA with a great breakdown of the longsword and lots of resources.

I’d also checkout sieniawskifencing, a channel run by
Sztuka Krzyżowa dedicated to the Polish fencing discipline called Cross-Cutting, Sabre Cross-Cutting, or Polish Sabre Cross-Cutting. Compare with Scholagladiatoria dueling with what will be probably be the more familiar 19th century British military sabre.

The Witcher 3 is a video game made by Polish developers. The games are loosely based on The Witcher series. The books are written by a Polish author, Andre Sapkowski and are basically the Polish Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter. If you ever want to hear Sapkowski get testy about the video games, you can find it. (Read his books, you’ll understand.)

Both draw heavily on Polish history, Polish culture, Polish fairy tales/mythology, and the Polish approach to medieval/renaissance/longsword combat in their design rather than what we see from Western Europe like France, Germany, England, etc. They’re Polish. Sword combat in Western and Eastern Europe is not unified, it varies culture to culture, sometimes a lot within the same culture, and the limitation in HEMA is that its a historical reconstruction based on the sources available. The only documentation we have is from the people who bothered to write it down, and were lucky enough to have their writings survive. So, pointing to a historical text and saying “that’s how this German swordmaster did it” doesn’t help us that much when it comes to looking at Poland.

Geralt’s fighting style is obviously over the top and built on flourishes, but I remember seeing that The Witcher 3′s combat was based off a fencing style or there were fencers who consulted. I unfortunately can’t source it. However, if you look at Polish Sabre Cross-Cutting you may see some move sets that are similar even though they’re performed with a sabre instead of a longsword.

The combat in The Witcher 3 is not quite as far out of reach as you might think. It just needs a little tweaking and less spinning.

-Michi

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