Tag Archives: Starke answers

I’m a seventeen year old girl and I haven’t fought or done anything like that before and I was just wondering if you had any tips you were willing to share for a complete beginner?

I’m sorry, the focus of the blog is fight scene writing advice, not fighting advice.

There’s a really simple reason for this: you can’t teach someone how to fight by talking about it. Sooner or later, you need to be there. A lot of hand to hand training depends on muscle memory, get that wrong, and you’re screwed.

The only way that’s going to work is if you go out, find a dojo or school, and start taking lessons. Many four year colleges offer Karate as a physical fitness requirement, so if you’re planning on going off to college this year or next, you can start there.

If you’re not, Karate schools are all over the place, if you’re in a larger metro area you can probably find Krav Maga, Jujitsu, or any of the dozen other martial arts that bill themselves as “self defense” forms.

But, actually teaching you just isn’t something we can do in this format. I’m sorry.

-Starke

Starke is right, training for fighting is a very hands on experience. For a complete beginner, you really need an instructor there to correct bad posture, fix your stance work, and adjust your punches and kicks. This isn’t something we can do by remote, or frankly that you can learn from a video. This is why I get so irritated with the self-defense videos that occasionally float around, it isn’t that the information in them isn’t good, it’s that a raw beginner won’t get what they need from them. Combat is no good unless you practice.

However, if learning martial arts is what you want to do, whether it’s for self-defense (you’re seventeen, you may be going off to college this year or next) or just because you’re interested, then I can give you some advice on how to get started (and how to convince your parents to pay for it, if you can’t yourself).

1) Spend some time researching different martial arts styles online before you approach your parents with the idea, if you decide to start when you’re eighteen then legally it’s not a problem, but your parents will probably want to be informed anyway. Know what you want (and how much it’s going to cost) before you ask, be as informed about it as possible. If you can, try to find some different schools in the area that support the style you want to learn and visit them with one or both of your parents. Spend some time talking to the instructor (have a list of questions ready) and chat with the dojo students after class (they’ll be in a rush before class). Decide for yourself if this is a learning atmosphere that will fit you. Since you’re seventeen, you’ll probably be in the adult class in the evening, so check to make sure your class schedule will fit with the school’s hours. Because you’re a minor, your parents will need to be present to sign forms with you if you decide this is what you want and having them get to know the school’s instructors will give them another reason to pay for your lessons if you can’t afford them yourself.

2) If you take Starke’s advice about physical fitness programs at your college then disregard this. So, you’ve found your martial art but you haven’t visited a dojo yet with your parents or your guardian. I don’t know them, so I can’t give you any specific advice on temperament, but here are a few options that I know have worked for other students of mine and their families in the past:

a) The self-defense reason is a big one, as a young woman you’re going off to college or in your final year of high school, where you’ll be alone without your parents or guardian possibly for the first time. Any parent would feel uneasy about this with their children, but it’s hard for girls. I know I worry about any future daughters I might have and I don’t even have kids yet. The threats you could face in college are a real, honest reason to want to learn to protect yourself and one your parents can probably relate to (if they’re good parents who worry about your safety). By doing the ground work yourself, you show them how serious you are about it, which puts you in a better position than just saying “I want to learn how to fight”.

b) If this is your last year of high school or you’re going to a college that’s close to home, suggest taking lessons as a family bonding exercise. I know a lot of parents who signed up with their children or their teens (and who kept practicing long after their kids stopped coming). It can be a great, stress free way to get to know your parent and them to know you. If you don’t think it will appeal to your parents and you have siblings (who are of a similar age and you can convince to go with you) then recruit them to help gang up on your parents. It’s easier with two, especially if you have research to back you up. (This is not how my brother and I did it, I started and then my parents thought the school was so good that they enrolled him, but my mother used it as a sibling bonding exercise. I can’t say it worked, but we both got to third and fourth degree respectively, so who knows.)

Look, martial arts are something you can start at any age, I’ve seen everyone from twelve year olds to cancer survivors earn their black belt.

I don’t know if that answers the question, but I hope it helps.

-Michi

First, let me say thank you for this blog. Your posts have helped me more than most of my own research combined. You guys deserve some kind of Writer’s Badge of Honour. Now, I have a follow-up question to your sword-related post: My setting is roughly a blend of 1600s central Europe and a fantasy nordic country. My MMC is a tribe leader’s second-in-command and wields a longsword. But what kind of weapons would normal people use? Axes? Knives? Clubs? Any answer would be greatly appreciated :)

The only things I’d add to that list are staves, spears, pikes, and… well, guns.

The thing is 1600s Europe was rapidly heading into an era when the firearm was the primary weapon on the battlefield. Matchlock muskets had been around for, about, 150 years, and 1610 saw the introduction of the flintlock, so depending on what part of the seventeenth century you’re using, these could be a real weapon in your setting, or just an expensive, rare, novelty.

These weren’t accurate weapons, the rifle was still over two centuries away, and smoothbore firearms usually just put a bullet in the general vicinity of where you’re pointing. This is what led to the massed musket infantry formations firing in volleys.

The key here is “fantasy.” That alone gives you a lot of latitude to play with the world, and change the assumptions of how it functions. If your culture is based on some perpetuation of the Vikings, then, you’re looking at a mix of longswords, and axes. For ranged weapons, you’d either be looking at bows, spears, or (if you want to make them a part of your setting) early firearms.

-Starke

So in my story my character is beat up (bullying) and I just want to know-how many punches and kicks are hospital worthy? I need to have her able to go back to class without needing attention basically. Really, I need help on the whole of it together-being beat up and how much her best friend (muscled, tall, strong) would take. Yeah. I need help because now I’m scared it is not accurate.

One; it just depends on the strike. The good news is, if the people attacking your character don’t know what they’re doing, the human body can take an absolutely absurd amount of damage.

Without going into a huge article on internal injuries, when you’re dealing with an untrained fighter, like most bullies, the answer is, “quite a bit.”

I’m going to make a quick aside: because of the way they fight most bullies do not (usually) develop into street fighters. They rely on violence, but they’re motivations don’t lead them to want to be better combatants. They don’t look at moves they see elsewhere and keep playing with them until they can do them. In short, when I’m talking about untrained fighters this time; I don’t mean street fighters.

Anyway, there are a couple vulnerable places that can turn lethal quickly: the neck & throat, head, lower back and spine. For your purposes, you’ll want to avoid blows to these.

Blows to the upper torso, stomach, arms, legs, and even (to some extent) the face, aren’t that dangerous, for a couple reasons. Note: this isn’t true with trained fighters, but, we’re dealing with bullies here.

The first is muscles. Tensed muscles are amazing at absorbing blunt impacts. The skin will still bruise, but for the most part, if someone has managed to tense up their muscles properly, simple punches won’t do too much damage.

I’ll probably never type this again on this blog, but: you can probably try this right now. Feel your stomach, poke it a bit. Now, tense up your abdominal muscles and try it again. The same principle applies to someone trying to punch your character.

Even with proper tensing, blows will still cause bruising, and can be painful, but they won’t be life threatening. For reference, the kind of bruising we’re talking about is bleeding that occurs just under the skin.

For the arms and legs the situation is a little different. The legs are basically nothing but dense muscles that are almost always tense. And, for untrained fighters, and even most trained ones, kicking or punching below the waist are awkward strikes.

For trained combatants, strikes to the arm always involve locking it in place first. If a combatant fails to do that, or doesn’t understand that it’s necessary, the arm will be pushed away before being injured. What this means is, most of the force generated hitting someone in the arm is lost to simple physics.

The face is a complex situation. A lot of untrained fighters will try to punch people in the face. It’s a nice, natural, visceral strike, and a really stupid one. Boxers and UFC fighters target the face because they’re wearing fiberglass armor over their hands. This is there to protect the bones in their knuckles. Without that armor, blows to the face are very hazardous to the attacker; there’s an uneven and fairly sturdy bone structure, which will wreck your bully’s hand.

I just got through talking about concussions, but the other thing near your face, and your character’s face, is their forehead; also known as the single thickest part of your skull. Punches to the forehead are, singularly ineffective. In turn, head butting someone in the face is a very effective technique in the rare situations where it’s viable. It’s also an easy and natural reflex to duck your forehead into the path of an incoming punch.

The other kind of tissue that’s almost as good at protecting internal organs is fat. Body fat will absorb some of the force of a blow. It’s not as effective as tensed muscles, but it’s actually harder to beat someone who’s overweight than someone who’s physically fit. This also includes the breasts, though there are some other factors at work there. I know Michi just did a post on them earlier today, so there’s probably going to be a more detailed write-up of them in the future.

We’ve had a post on bullying in the works for awhile, though the move did a number on our rhythm, so it might be a bit before that one’s ready to go up.

-Starke

I have a question: if a person were to be stabbed with a small knife, say, a pocket knife, where on the body would the stabbing do the least damage? For the purposes of my scene, the character would likely be stabbed near the hip or possibly the shoulder area. I just need to gauge whether or not I’d have to change the fight to fit the plot (the stabbed character wins the fight and is able to carry on their journey – perhaps I need to change the stab to a cut?)

Honestly, if I wanted to stab a character and not incapacitate them? My first thought would actually be the hand. It would restrict their use of it for a while, but it could be quickly bandaged, and it’s probably the “best" place to get stabbed.

Thing is, most places, stab wounds are non-trivial. There’s some places you can get stabbed, like the shoulder blade, where the blade will hit bone before it does anything really nasty.

But, as a guideline; three inches of penetration, nearly anywhere on the body, is a life threatening wound. That deep and the odds are unpleasantly good that you’ll hit an internal organ or an artery.

Depending on the size of the knife that’s either possible or not. But, yeah, I’d say go with the hand. It’s a nice visual injury, and if you want, it can easily become a permanent wound for your character to carry with them. It’s easy to get the hand in the path of the knife without much work. And, it’s one of the few stab wounds you can really walk away from.

-Starke

Realistically, say a character was knocked unconscious for around ten seconds or so, would they be able to get up and get back to whatever they were doing (like: running, fighting, etc.) and also what would they be feeling when they woke up? Basically if my character is knocked out and wakes up, can my other characters pull him along until they’re out of harms way or would he be too fucked up to move?

I’d go with too fucked up to move. Remember, getting knocked out, even for a few seconds, is still a very serious concussion, and by extension a life threatening injury.

Off the top of my head, the symptoms should be: nausea, vertigo, (I think) blurred vision, and difficulty tracking (so, carrying on a conversation is also out).

This is actually what that “how many fingers am I holding up?” cliche is based on, it’s one way to judge if someone’s suffered a concussion, another is looking at pupil dilatation (by shining a light in their eye).

It’s also worth pointing out, because concussions are cumulative over time, these symptoms will actually get worse, and characters can’t learn to power through them. If your character’s getting clocked over the head repeatedly, they’ll end up dying from a blow to the head fairly quickly.

As a quick aside, there isn’t a safe way to render someone unconscious. I’ve been assuming a blow to the head, but tranquilizers require very specific doses (which vary based on weight and metabolism), and if you misjudge it even slightly, you can end up having no real effect, or outright killing the character you’re trying to tranq.

-Starke

kickassfanfic said: You say ‘cumulative over time’ – is that indefinitely? Like if you haven’t been concussed in, say, two years, or TEN years, I dunno, and you get whonked upside the head again, is it just as bad as if your first whonk was the day before?

Not completely. Here’s the thing, when you suffer a concussion, what happens is your brain gets bounced off the inside of your skull. This results in bruising on the brain itself.

Someone who’s suffered a concussion is at substantially greater risk of suffering another, and any concussion they suffer will be more dangerous to them. This diminishes over time, but it never goes away fully. In other words, no, your brain never fully heals.

I’m sorry, I am oversimplifying things here. This is a really complex topic, and I’m not a doctor; but, from a writing standpoint? Yes. If your character is getting knocked unconscious, it will always be worse than the last time, regardless of if it was yesterday, or twenty years ago. If your character is getting clocked on the back of the head more than once or twice, they’re going to die.

-Starke

Hi! I’m trying to write a mecha story, and the mech fights with a lazer scythe. I realise it would be hard to apply real life training to a mecha situation, but is there any advice you can give on how a human would use a scythe-type weapon even semi realistically that I could then apply in larger scale for the mecha? Even if its something that the pilot himself trains in or something. I love this tumblr! Thank you :)

Honestly? Not much. The scythe isn’t, and never has been a weapon. It can be used as an improvised weapon in a pinch, but, to the best of my knowledge there’s never been a formalized combat style involving one. Real scythes were designed around a simple, horizontal swiping motion to, well, scythe down grain. The blade was on the edge facing the user, meaning to use it as a weapon you would have to strike past your foe and pull towards you. When you’re dealing with grain, that’s useful, when you’re dealing with someone wanting to remove your internal organs, it’s a bad thing.

The only thought on the scythe I can think of would be to treat it like an axe or pick. You could look at some forms of axe combat, particularly the bearded axe, which involves building momentum in a crossing figure eight motion.

For writing a mecha story in general, I would suggest taking a look at the GURPS Mecha book by David Pulver. Like most of the GURPS supplements, it spends a lot of time talking about considerations for world building and how to pace a longer story or series. I’m not an expert, but the material it presents looks solid enough at first glance, and should give you some help with your story. A few caveats: it spends almost no time talking about melee combat in Mecha, and it does assume you have the core GURPS book and Compendium I, though, from a writing standpoint, those aren’t actually necessary.

-Starke

wetmattos said: I’ve seen, once, a video of a scythe fighter, and according to him the most difficult thing on wielding it is to maintain balance – but it seems viable (even if really risky) enough. Sending the video! youtube.com/watch?v…

That’s actually a pretty good suggestion, at least on a visual level. What you’re seeing there looks like a form of Wushu staff technique.

It’s not a practical way to fight with a scythe, but, given we’re talking about Mecha fighting, it doesn’t need to be.

-Starke

What do you know about people being knocked out? How much force, how much damage, how quick can you recover?

Being knocked out is by definition brain damage, it’s a concussion serious enough to have caused the brain to essentially take a vacation. I think the limit is about two minutes for a head strike, if your character is down longer than that, then they’re dead.

The best part is that this doesn’t actually require a lot of force. The brain is basically four pounds of warm butter suspended in fluid, it doesn’t take much knocking about before it decides it wants to be elsewhere.

This is why even high school level football claims casualties from time to time and that’s with protective gear.

-Starke

Surprise and mental state would also be important to consider in a trained vs untrained fight. The even an untrained fighter could do a lot of damage with a sucker-punch. An untrained fighter might also do something that a trained fighter wouldn’t expect or be able to defend against. Someone under the influence of drugs or otherwise compromised by rage or other emotions might also be able to shrug off enough damage to severely injure a trained fighter.

Starke:

Surprise is absolutely critical; the rest, not so much.

Here’s the thing, if your untrained combatant is the aggressor, then they’ll need to hit the trained martial artist with overwhelming force before the martial artist can respond. Full stop.

The “before the martial artist can respond” part, is where we get into the surprise range. If your untrained combatant can’t end the fight with the first strike, then the situation will go badly for them.

I should probably point out, what I’m calling a “martial artist” here is ridiculously broad. This isn’t just formal schools, I’m lumping in just about anyone who’s undergone basic hand to hand training here.

When I’m saying “untrained”, I’m actually excluding street fighters, and people who have a fair amount of hand to hand experience but little formal training. They’re an edge case that doesn’t follow the rules consistently.

Untrained combatants tend to fight very predictably, and any martial artist who’s gone through even basic self defense, will have been taught to counter most of an untrained fighter’s repertoire.

An untrained fighter can’t do a lot of damage with a sucker punch. Certainly not enough to incapacitate a trained combatant. The opposite is not true, a trained martial artist, particularly from Karate, can use a sucker punch as a takedown strike against someone who hasn’t been conditioned to tense their abdominal muscles before a hit.

Getting a combatant angry can have one of two results, and again, we’re back to the trained/untrained thing. An untrained combatant will start to lose control (usually) when angry (making them less dangerous). A trained combatant will usually get more brutal.

Here’s a thing worth pointing out, most conventional self defense, and even a lot of non-military training, like police hand to hand, places a premium on the safety of both combatants. Angering a combatant trained in any of these forms (and this includes most martial artists trained as recreation, who’ve had some self defense classes splashed over their training), will at best cause them to start striking more brutally, and with less concern for their opponent’s well-being.

When you’re talking about drugs, I’m going to go out on a limb and assume you mean things like PCP, not, say, mescaline. Because if your untrained combatant is tripping balls… it’s funny, but they’re not really that dangerous to a trained combatant.

Things like PCP, where pain response is deadened, and even some fugue rage state change the rules a little, but not enough. Your untrained combatant is going to be sacrificing efficacy for a little more durability… but, here’s the thing, it won’t really help them.

Depending on what your martial artist has been trained in, someone under the influence of PCP can be a legitimate threat. Akido, Judo, and Jujitsu, fighters wouldn’t face any real threat from someone on PCP, while someone trained in Karate (because of the way it’s joint locks work) could be in serious trouble.

Most trained fighters, when confronted with someone on PCP should know enough to break away and get out of the fight. And that actually goes for some circumstances that could apply elsewhere. I was being snarky earlier, but a martial artist, when presented with a firearm, should know enough to get the hell out of there before they get shot.

Michi:

You’ll have a great deal of trouble taking a trained combatant by surprise from a face to face assault, especially if you attempt to sucker-punch to the face or even just the stomach or the groin. This is because they’re eyes and body have already been trained to watch for strikes, they’ll see the motion beginning in someone else’s body and sucker-punches are heavily telegraphed.

If you do connect, they better go down on the first blow. This is hard, especially since for most martial artists and trained combatants the first strike acts more like a wake-up call and their brain and body go: “oh! okay! I’m here!” If you can get them with a knife before they know what’s happening great, the same goes for a taser or a cattle prod.

If they’re the aggressor, then they already have an objective, they already know what they’re going after, and without help, your character won’t be able to regain control of the fight.

For a trained combatant, surprise and anger just trip the brain over into a more focused place. They feel the rush of the adrenaline and they settle, the world becomes clearer, then they act. They’ll do this in any panicked situation. This isn’t true for untrained combatants, they tend to lock up in a fear response, anger makes them lose control and they become less dangerous.

You might be able to get a trained combatant from behind, but even this is hard. Martial artists tend to be very aware of anyone entering their personal space, even from behind. I once had a moment with my now ex-boyfriend in high school where he came in for a hug from behind and he surprised me, so I elbowed him in the gut. It was an automatic response. He hadn’t even touched me yet, but it happened anyway.

A combatant has been trained for their body to respond automatically, they train against other people who have also been trained, and I’ll be honest, watching an untrained combatant is like looking at someone fighting in slow-motion. It’s a strange, surreal experience for me.

It’s also important to point out that most of the aggressive “jock” responses you get from untrained male combatants, aren’t what you get from trained ones. The over-aggression comes from insecurity, like any bully, but usually a martial artist knows what they are doing, how to do it, and are confident and secure in their ability to protect themselves. They don’t need to prove their mettle in a fight because they’ve already proven it to themselves.

This is an important tell, by the way, in a character noticing the difference between someone who knows what they are doing and someone who doesn’t.

I think we’ve covered the bases here. I hope that answers the question.

when would the person who isn’t a trained fighter win against a trained one?

Shotgun. When they bring eight or nine of their friends along to help. When they start by running somebody down with a car. The action needs to be premeditated for them to carry it off successfully. If they are within grabbing distance and they don’t have the advantage of some kind of weapon (a gun), they’re pretty screwed. It’s important to remember that while most trained combatants can stop a crowbar and they can definitely stop a baseball bat (weight distribution on the baseball bat makes it very easy to block), they’ll have a hard time stopping a bullet. This is actually part of the reason why some self-defense experts suggest keeping a gun in the home in the case of home invasion.

Anyway the break down is: numbers and superior force (gun or car or something similar). In the case of a medieval era, a horse will work if your character knows how to ride.

-Starke

hi, i just read your post on archery, and i was wondering if you had any advice for writing a scene where someone gets stabbed with an arrow?

Stabbing someone with an arrow is actually a lot harder than it sounds. Consider this: arrows are made to be aerodynamic, not to give you a good grip. So, for a character attempting to stab someone with an arrow, they’ll find that they’re hand is constantly slipping down the shaft. This makes penetration, even into the soft parts of the body, incredibly difficult. You need a good grip to get the stabbing part down, so they have to go hard, fast, and with absolutely zero hesitation on the part of the wielder. You need a lot of force to get an arrow to penetrate and it should go somewhere soft and unprotected like the eye or into the throat.

That said, it isn’t impossible. What is impossible is actually firing the arrow afterwards, because your character is going to damage it no matter what they try.

I hope that helps!

-Starke and Michi