Tag Archives: The Basics

Fight Write: A Basic Upper Body Primer (Fists)

In this post, I’m going to talk about basic strikes using the upper body. I’m breaking up blocks, kicks, and the body strike zones to make the information absorption easier. My major caveat here is that all the techniques I’m going to talk about are based from my own Tae Kwan Do/MMA/Muay Thai background and therefore not always applicable depending on which Martial Art you plan on using. While they are similar, all Martial Arts techniques are unique to each individual style, so research the Martial Art you plan on using, even if it’s just a trip to Wikipedia.



The basic strikes I plan on talking about in this post all relate to using the fist. These strikes are: the punch, the hammer fist, the backfist, the uppercut, and the hook.  While it’s common for martial artists to list all these strikes underneath the punch header, I’m separating them out as distinctively different for writers because movements of the body (arm position, hand position, hip pivot, and striking range) while performing them varies depending on the individual strike.

Always remember that there are more than just these and extensive variations of each, so research, research, research. But the basics are the building blocks of any solid Martial Artist and they will save your character’s life when all the fancy tricks fail. And as tempting as it can be, the most important thing for any good writer to realize is this: there is no “best” in the world of Martial Arts, only what works best for you/your character’s physiology, style, and personality. If your character’s mind is not prepared to do what the style is asking them/training their body for, then it’s no good. If the style is meant/built around a different body type and is difficult for your character to modify to the point of them being subpar then it’s no good.


The Punch:

The punch is the most basic technique of any fighter’s arsenal. Every martial art in the world has some variation of the punch and because it’s simple, it’s easy to use. So, let’s talk about it.

The punch involves pulling all five fingers into a fist, with the thumb acting as a bracer for the others. When it strikes, it drives the two front knuckles into the opponent’s soft tissue. It’s actually a common fallacy that the punch involves the whole hand. Practice forming a fist and you’ll notice the knuckles on the fore and index fingers extend forward while the others pull back. The rest of the fingers brace the hand. The reason why the punch is often taught first is because it’s a basic builder for training someone to make a fist and teaching their muscles how to tighten properly in conjunction with the blow.

A punch always drives forward with three variations: the face (the neck, the upper lip, the nose, and sometimes (in boxing) the eyebrow), the solar plexus (the midpoint in the chest), and the stomach itself (around the belly button). The height of the character and the height of their opponent will dictate their comfort level in striking to these areas. The punch is commonly taught to beginners from the waist, standing or in a horse stance (feet facing forwards, both knees bent to a 90 degree angle), or from a fighting stance (one foot forward, one foot back the length of the shoulders, shoulders and hips on a 45 degree angle). There are several variations on the punch for the more advanced writer and I will detail them in a post dedicated to them.

Common Advanced Technique: It’s not really an advanced technique, but in boxing the punch is broken up into two separate categories: the jab and the cross/straight. The jab is performed by the leading hand in the fighting stance (usually the left), it’s a fast strike that pivots off the front foot with minimal shoulder cranking, in a boxing or UFC match it’s usually the first punch thrown to test the opponent’s guard. Because of its speed, the strike is designed around stunning the opponent when it connects, thus disorienting the opponent and leaving them open to a follow up strike: usually the cross. It can also be used to keep the opponent on the defensive. The cross (right or left) is the secondary strike that follows the jab. It’s performed with the rear hand in a fighting stance, the one by the cheek that’s guarding the face, and uses the back foot to pivot the hip and create power. The cross is the power punch. Together, these two strikes create a basic combination that’s known as the double punch.

Common Beginning Mistake: When most beginners start out, they stick their thumb inside the fist in order to protect it. This will break the hand when it connects; always keep your characters fingers tight in a punch.

So, how do you write it? Here’s an example:

Alex lunged forwards, his right fist striking high. Knocking the hand away at the wrist, Anna stepped in, her back foot pivoting as she slammed her own fist into her opponent’s throat.

The Hammer Fist:

This is one of those attacks that works exactly as the name describes.

No, really.

The hand tightens into a fist, but instead of turning over to punch, it remains vertical and strikes downwards to the center of chest in the same manner as we would use a hammer to strike a nail or an anvil. This strike comes in two flavors, direct, to the nose, the wrist, the back of the head, the sternum, the groin/testicles, and the collarbone. It also works on a forty-five degree angle to the neck, usually the soft pressure point underneath the ear or the occipital bone, the mandible, or slightly lower to the carotid artery. The hammer fist does not risk the bones in the hand to a break and it spreads the force of its strikes more evenly across a small surface (the size of the fist or a small golf ball).

 Common Advanced Technique: The Hammer Fist doesn’t really have one, it can however be performed on a diagonal for easier access to more sensitive areas.

Common Beginner Mistake: The hammer fist is a fairly safe strike, so long as the beginner remembers to keep their fingers tight with their thumb bracing their fist and their wrist aligned with the hand. Also, because of the hammer fist’s wind up, the beginner often forgets to keep their free hand up, protecting their face. The hammer fist is a powerful strike, but it leaves openings that can be exploited by a clever opponent. Remember, because it’s slow, this strike is not an opening move unless the opponent is already prone.


Alex came in low, shooting forwards with his arms spread wide. He’s going to tackle me, Anna thought. He had the height and weight advantage. If he got her on the ground then the fight would be over. I can thrash all I want, but it won’t do much good. Still, going forward also left him vulnerable. He’s expecting me to attempt a sprawl, but why risk the timing? Swinging her leg sideways, she turned her body completely one hundred and eighty degrees to his. By the time he was able to stop, it would be too late. Drawing her arm back, she struck downwards with the bottom of her fist. Her hand slammed into the back of his neck, into the vulnerable point where skeleton joined with skull, with the force of a hammer.

The Backfist

 As the name suggests, the backfist uses the back of the hand, specifically the knuckles, to strike the opponents softer regions. Like with the above punch the backfist strikes with the tops of the front two knuckles, pulling the leading arm back diagonally across the body and striking outward to the temple or the throat. The advantage of the backfist is that it’s fast. When it lands, the backfist disorients the opponent and like all strikes to the head, it may cause them to stumble.

In Tae Kwon Do, this strike is also commonly used as a distractor to create an opening in the opponent’s guard by striking within the opponent’s outside field of peripheral vision, thus tricking the brain into attempting to block high while simultaneously striking low with a punch to the gut or ribs. The backfist/cross combination is one of the most basic techniques taught to new trainees. It’s also useful, in sparring circumstances, by instructors who wish to remind a lazy student to guard their head.

Common Advanced Technique: The spinning backfist. Using a technique similar to spin kicks such as the wheel kick, the fighter spins 360 degrees to either the right or left and strikes their opponent with their leading hand (the side they spun to the left or right with). This increases the power of the strike by including the extra momentum of the spin. However, it is very easy for the beginner to become disoriented and for the user to be knocked off their feet by their opponent’s counter.

Common Beginner Mistake: If the student is wearing hand-guards (brass knuckles, UFC fiberglass gloves, handwraps, wrist-wraps) the backfist is very useful in a real world situation. If they’re not, they risk breaking their knuckles on their opponent’s skull when they miss the temple. The backfist is one of those attacks that requires a higher level of accuracy than most of the other strikes on this list for that reason. It’s a powerful strike, but carries with it a greater risk versus reward.


The instructor dropped his hand in front of them. “Go!” He yelled.

Anna lunged in. Her opponent, Regina had strong legs, but like all those new to sparring, she had some bad habits regarding the protection of the head. Drawing her left hand back to the side of her face, Anna struck out with the back of her fist. Landing an easy, visible hit to Regina’s head, she slammed her right hand into the other woman’s chest pad.

“Three points!“

The Uppercut

 The uppercut is a very specific strike most commonly seen in variations of boxing and kickboxing. This technique involves driving the fist upwards, usually to strike under the opponent’s chin and knock the head back. The uppercut can also be driven forward on a diagonal into the stomach and solar plexus, also though more uncommonly to the nose and eyes (though only when wearing hand-guards). Unlike the backfist, the punch, and the hammer fist, the uppercut requires the wielder be within fairly close proximity to their opponent.  Like most punches in boxing, the uppercut can be thrown with either hand.

Common Advanced Technique: Like the Hammer Fist, there really isn’t one.

Common Beginner Mistake: The most common beginner mistake with the uppercut is a timing failure, knowing when and how to use a technique is a matter of practice. Like all strikes, the uppercut can leave the user open to exacting counters when used improperly or when they miss. If your character is new and decides to use this technique, do not be afraid to punish them for it.


It was supposed to be an easy follow-up to the hook, just drop her weight low and pivot her back foot while thrusting her left arm and hip upwards. If she was lucky, well, she’d score a knock out and the round would be over. But Alex’s hand came down and knocked her arm sideways, his other fist slammed into her nose. She heard the crunch of cartilage ringing in her ears as blinding white hot pain shot through her brain. Then, his knee drove forwards into her belly. Knees hitting the floor, she grasped her stomach.

It hurt more than she thought it would.

The Hook

The hook is another specialized strike that’s common mostly to boxing and kickboxing. It’s a horizontal blow that comes in sideways, swinging around to connect with the ribs or the jaw. When it connects to the occipital bone in the jaw it’s a knockout strike. It can be performed with either hand.

Common Advanced Technique: The check hook. The difference between the check hook and the regular hook is entirely a matter of footwork, much like the spinning backfist, it’s what the feet are doing that makes the difference in the attack. The check hook is performed in boxing when the opponent lunges, the boxer pivots their left foot and swings their back foot 180 degrees sideways, driving the hook  into the opponent’s jaw as they rush past.

Common Beginner Mistake: A failure to connect the lower body with the upper body. Please remember: always think about the feet and the hips in conjunction with the upper body.


 When his right-cross came, she slipped underneath it. Stepping sideways, head low, she twisted her front foot and swung her left fist around, driving it straight into his ribs.

 Fist Strikes and Damage:

The hand is full of many small, delicate bones and the front of the face (the forehead and the cheekbones) is the most heavily armored part of the human body. The brain is the most important part of keeping us alive, so it makes sense. So please, unless your character is some variant of a boxer or UFC fighter don’t have them punch to the face. If their hands are unprotected or unarmored, they’re going to break something. When most martial artists talk about punching to the face, they usually mean it in a “sport” capacity, not a self-defense one. Always make sure to research the martial art you are using and modify it appropriately if you mean to use it in a self-defense context.

It’s often a misnomer of non-practitioners that the boxing gloves, fiberglass gloves, or handwraps seen in most professional boxing/kickboxing sports are there for the safety of the opponent. They are not, they are there to reinforce a fighter’s fist and minimize the risk of a metacarpal injury.

When striking with any fist strike, the wrist must be aligned with the hand to prevent injury. Your fighter must keep the muscles of the fist and the wrist tight.

I’ll link the other primers on the open hand strikes and elbows together for easy viewing when I get them up.

As always, happy writing!

Fight Write: The Points Where Weapons Become Useless

Springing to his feet, he bent his bow powerfully and drove his last shaft point-blank at a great hairy shape that soared up at his throat. The arrow was a flying beam of moonlight that flashed onward with but a blur in its course, the were-beast plunged convulsively in midair and crashed headlong, shot through and through.

Then, the rest were on him, in a nightmare rush of blazing eyes and dripping fangs. His fiercely driven sword shore the first asunder; then the desperate impact of the others bore him down. He crushed a narrow skull with the pommel of his hilt, feeling the bone splinter and blood and brains gush over his hand; then, dropping the sword, useless at such deadly close quarters, he caught the throats of the two horrors which were ripping and tearing at him in silent fury.

The Queen of the Black Coast by Robert E. Howard

If you’ve never read anything from Conan: The Barbarian by Robert E. Howard, then shame on you. When it comes to Sword and Sorcery, Howard is still the giant in the genre and the second father of modern fantasy. Honestly, when it comes to fight scenes, Howard is still the man.

Anyway, I’m not posting the above quote here just to fangirl or because the above is really well written. It is, but it illustrates an important point about weapons combat and your characters.

Notice how Conan starts with the bow and when his enemies get into sword range, he discards it. This is because the weapon has now become useless and it will be a detrimental to him to hold onto it, the same is true for the sword, once his enemies get inside its guard. Once his sword is gone, he grapples with his fists and the melee becomes more desperate.

This is a reality to combat that holds true for all weapons and all melee strikes. When I was training in Tae Kwon Do, my instructors referred to these spaces around the body as “hot zones”.

For example: with a roundhouse kick, the opponent needed to be in range of the length of the leg between the foot and shin for the kick to be effective.  If the opponent has gotten close enough that they are above the knee when the leg is extended, then it’s no good. Or alternately, if the opponent was within grabbing distance of the throat and we were nose to nose, a punch was useless and it was time to go to an elbow, a knee, or into a grapple. Most modern handguns are only useful between the ranges of 10 to 50 feet, anywhere closer than that and you can’t aim.

Every weapon has a different hot zone and a point where in truly close quarters they are no longer useful, it requires a fair amount of research to determine when that is.

As with everything regarding writing, the more you know, the better your character will be and the better the fight scene you’ll write.


Fight Write: The Art of Stepping

Learning to fight always begins with the feet, so if you want to write about fighting: learn to start paying attention. It can be easy to get distracted by the hands and start thinking that’s all there is to throwing a good punch, or the feet and think that’s all there is to throwing a good kick. Before a punch is ever thrown, a good martial artist always steps. The step can be forwards, sideways, or on a diagonal, and it can involve the front foot or the back one, but a step is always involved. Let’s talk about why:

A step closes distance.

In a fight, we are normally too far away from our opponent to attack. We need to step forward to reach them. As we close the distance, we bring them (and ourselves) in range for a strike. Each strike requires a different amount of distance from the opponent, so make sure you know how close the character needs to be for them to connect.

A step creates momentum.

The body requires momentum for follow through. Follow through is when a strike connects hard and the arm, shoulder, or leg push farther than they would normally in training. The body uses the step forward to create a driving momentum behind the arm as the hips pivot to strike the opponent, without the momentum the strike is less effective.

A step allows a character to get out of the way.

If someone is charging to tackle, the best option is to get out of the way. The best solution to get out of the way is to step. Even if a character is slipping under a blow, they are going to step first in one direction or another.

So when writing a fight scene, remember to track your character’s steps.

Two verbs, I see a lot in fight scenes are “rush” and “charge”. They are good, powerful, and attractive words. They are perfect to use in a select number of circumstances. However, before you apply any verbs to a scene stop and consider: does a rush require one step? Two steps? Or three steps? Ask: how close will this bring my character to their opponent? Multiple steps, even fast ones, often leave a character open to attack. Rushing and charging both involve running, so a character’s body will be tilted forwards, perfect to be on the receiving blow of a knee, a knife hand, or a hammer blow to the back of their head. Make sure the words you’re using are right for the situation and remember: even tackle isn’t a perfect way of taking someone down. It can be met with a sprawl, which leads to a choke, which leads to a blackout (and death) for your character or their opponent.

Always ask yourself in any scene: where are my character’s feet, what are my character’s feet doing.

Here’s a not at all perfect example:

He came at her, right hand lashing out. There was no room to dodge, nowhere to go other than forwards. So, forward she went. Stepping in, her left hand came up to block. Batting his wrist downwards, she used the force of her momentum to rotate her shoulder and hips back as her right hand formed a fist. Then, she struck. Her fist drove forwards, aiming for the soft flesh of his throat. He gasped as knuckles collided with skin and his windpipe crumpled.

Stumbling back, his hands went to his neck.

Clutching it, he looked up at her as panic spread across his face. She didn’t bother to smile as her knee drew into her chest and her foot struck out, plowing into his belly. When his knees hit the ground, she knew the fight was over.

He wouldn’t be getting back up again.

Tip: Your character should bounce

The term “bouncing”, often seen in Kickboxing, Muay Thai, Boxing, and Tae Kwan Do sparring in Martial Arts means something different than what we normally think of as bouncing. In MA it’s a very small motion that revolves around shifting your weight on the balls of your feet while lifting your heels off the ground to create a rocking motion as their entire body moves back and forth.

This is important because the movement masks the body’s tells of when an opponent or your character is going to attack and puts them in a position to stay mobile. Mobility is important, because the body’s ability to attack and defend is based on the ability to shift weight quickly, whether it’s dodging, punching, or blocking. No MA starts with the hands, it begins with the feet and training the body to work together.

It’s important to understand that most movies and television shows, we look to for advice on fight scenes will often show the actor as flat footed, instead of in constant motion. Flat footed is when the foot is flat against the ground, leading to stability in stance work but it also means the fighter’s movements are much slower.

This is actually a pretty safe technique, so try it out:

In an open space in your room, living room, or hallway, start by standing with one foot forward and the other behind on the line of your shoulders, the back knee should bend as you bring your back foot up onto the ball. This is called a  “fighting stance” in the non-korean speaking version of Tae Kwan Do.

Now try it flat footed, then go back to the ball. Feel the difference as your body tips forward slightly from resting to active and you’ll start understanding what I mean. If you want to get adventurous try shifting your weight from the back foot to the front foot and then reverse it, do it slowly, then as you get more confident go faster.

Tip: Understand the Basics

Much like understanding grammar is a basic for learning how to write, understanding the beginning tenants of any Martial Art is essential to it’s practice. The basics are the building blocks of technique, any technique, from being a excellent painter to handling a firearm. As a writer, we control everything that happens in a character’s universe, so it’s essential to understand not just how something works but what it does and why it’s important.

It’s tempting to want to just jump straight to the action, but for the sake of your characters and writing believable fight scenes, it’s important to walk before you run. Just as How? What? Where? and Why? are important questions to a story’s plot, they are also important to a punch or a kick.

The basics are what teach us the how, the what, and the why so we can perform in the where. Master your basics and you start mastering your character. There will always be someone in your audience who will know if you don’t put the work in and for those that didn’t, they might learn something new.

Fight Write: How Do You Choose a Martial Art?

The weapon choices and martial style that an author makes for their character is just one more expression of who they are. What we choose tells the reader a great deal about them without the author having to spend time a lot of time elaborating on what it is and what that means. So here area few simple questions to ask yourself when picking out a MA:

1) Ask yourself: what sort of person is my character?

Often times, authors choose Martial Arts based on what they look like, not on how well they mesh with the character’s outlook/job. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is actually an excellent example of this, in the first few seasons she uses a basic punching and kicking style based mostly out of Tae Kwan Do because it’s more visually dynamic. But the style rarely reflects the sort of fighting she’s actually doing, nor her personality. Buffy is a heavy hitter, she enjoys beating on others in a very close environment. She enjoys slamming them into walls and doors. She’s not actually a well-trained fighter, instead she relies mostly on her superpowers to get the job done. Comparatively, Tae Kwan Do requires an immense amount of training. It’s a style that focuses on accuracy, control, and speed over physical power to finish the fight quickly. It’s unsuitable for a fighter a) doesn’t spend a lot of time stretching and b) who doesn’t want to put a lot of effort in to become good at it.

Now, compare the choices made in Buffy to those in Avatar: the Last Airbender. In Avatar, the character’s personalities are a reference to the four elements and the styles they practice are based primarily around those elements. Aang as a character can be hyper and flighty, zooming from place to place on his air scooter. Katara is a Yin/Yang like water, capable of both extreme anger and extreme kindness, her personality is built around a complex set of pushes and pulls. Like the water she wields, she can be both stubborn and flexible in her outlook.

2) What does my character do?

If you have trouble with the first question, the second best place to start with a character and an MA is their job. What do they do? Are they a dried up policeman/woman? Then, their training will be based in what’s commonly taught to police officers with possible additions from outside sources that they pick up on their own time. Army/Marine/Air Force are the same, however their training is similar but separate, the hand to hand styles the Military uses are constantly in development and are constantly being updated to stay relevant. If your character is former Special Forces/CIA/FBI then they’re training will no longer be up to date, no matter how good they were initially.

So, make sure you pick a style that is relevant to what your character does for a living or is being asked to do.

3) Research the Style’s History

Every MA is based around a specific ideal, it was designed to counter or combat an enemy and the techniques reflect that history, even if they have been updated for a modern era. Knowing the history of the style will allow you, the author, to understand the philosophy inherent in the style itself and whether or not that will be suitable for your character.

Again, don’t pick based on what looks good or cool to you, choose what’s appropriate to your character and a style that will help you build a better story. The old adage is: Write What You Know and if you don’t know, then it’s time to study up.

Below are some examples to help you get started¸ happy writing!

Krav Maga: This is an Israeli Martial Art taught to their military forces. It’s increasingly being known as one of the best modern combat styles in the world, though that’s up for debate. It is a fighting style that, for the most part, bases it’s strikes in boxing and kickboxing with elbow, kicks, and knee strikes that have a passing similarity Muay Thai. It is an intense and aggressive MA designed around the idea of tight urban combat and close quarters fighting. Krav Maga is a heavy hitter, one that is growing in popularity for self-defense training and in the MMA arena.

Characters Krav Maga is Appropriate For: Aggressive characters and brutal characters, both male and female. It’s useful to characters who fight in an urban environment and worth looking to if you want to create a street fighter who is constantly looking to be in their opponents face all the time. Krav Maga works off the idea that your opponent doesn’t understand what they’re doing and will win by virtue of overwhelming force. Hit as hard as possible, as fast as possible, as quickly as possible while terrifying your opponent into submission. It’s an up close and personal style, if your character likes to constantly be within grabbing distance of their opponent this is one for them.

Tae Kwan Do: Like I talked about above, Tae Kwan Do is all about control, precision, and speed. This MA is for a character who is incredibly limber, small, and light. It’s a fighting style that works very well for both women and men, women especially because it bases it’s strength in kicks as primary over punches and requires an intense level of flexibility. Tae Kwan Do is all about building powerful momentum through a variety of kicks both offensively and defensively. It’s a style built around keeping your opponent away from you and finishing the fight quickly with the body’s strongest weapons. Tae Kwan Do kicks aim for the chest and the head.

Characters Tae Kwan Do is Appropriate For: Tae Kwan Do is best suited to characters who began training at an early age, who have a solid sense of balance, and are very flexible. Tae Kwan Do is a very effective fighting form, even in a modern world, especially when it’s weaknesses (hands) are compensated with by training in additional MAs. But, it is difficult to learn and those who come to it late will have trouble mastering it and/or achieving the required level of flexibility. A character must have near perfect control over their muscles and an almost complete synergy between body and mind to be effective. For reference: a traditional Tae Kwan Do master will be able to perform three to four kicks on a single leg, before that foot ever touches the ground. They will then be able to follow up those kicks with another strike from the same leg, by simply sliding into the next one. If your character is a slacker or doesn’t want to train, this is not the form for them.

If you’re looking to avoid Asian styles, one no nonsense alternate kicking style is the French Savate. It’s one of the major, surviving European MAs and a good style to study up on, especially if you’re interested in having a character from a European background who combines kicking techniques with fencing.


 If you want to spend some money and avoid Wikipedia, I recommend picking up Gurps: Martial Arts which is a good primer on a variety of different MAs and some good solid background ideas that you can give to a character to make them realistic. You can usually find it used or on Amazon, if you don’t want to pay full price.

 The History Channel’s now defunct Human Weapon is sadly no longer on the air, but you can find it’s episodes on YouTube. It’s an informative show and an excellent more in depth primer on a bunch of different MAs, including some non-Asian biggies like Savate, Russia’s Sambo, and Greece’s Pankration. They also took a look at the Marines’ hand to hand combat style, if you’re looking to write a military character this is a good resource. It’s also a nice look at fights between fighters trained in one kind of MA learning another and fighting with an unfamiliar style.

 Once you find the style you want to study, it’ll be easier to find information on the web, at your local library, and talking to Instructors who run dojos in your area.

Happy Writing!


Tip: It doesn’t matter how good you are, you’re going to hurt tomorrow.

The first rule of fighting is:

1) Don’t Get Hit

The second rule of fighting is:

2) You Will Get Hit

Here’s a fact of life: real fights start cold, your character will have zero time to warm up their body or prepare their muscles. They won’t have a chance to get their body into perfect condition before the first attack comes, so the chances of them pulling or straining a muscle is high, even if they win the fight. They will be bruised, they will be battered, and their injuries will stay with them for weeks, if not months.

One of the hardest truths of combat is that no injury ever really heals. Even with medical attention, the injury will stay with the character. For an example: Go watch some of Jackie Chan’s earliest movies and then one like “The Karate/Kung Fu Kid”. You’ll notice that even though he is still an amazing fighter, he cannot really walk straight anymore. And Jackie Chan doesn’t even actually fight, he just practices martial arts and occasionally jumps off the Brooklyn Bridge.

Fighting puts constant stress on the body and wears it out quickly, even if your character is taking fewer hits and isn’t stupid, they’re still going to hurt in the aftermath. Whether or not your character takes pride in their bumps and bruises is up to them, but the body will wear out. If you as a writer ignore that, then your characterization and story will suffer.


Fight Write: Don’t Underestimate the Slap

Women get a bad rap sometimes from men because of the way they fight. Sometimes men are stupid, this is one of those cases.

The slap is not the most powerful attack in a fighter’s arsenal, in fact, it’s rarely in a fighter’s arsenal at all. Let’s talk about why:

1) It’s a very visible strike

Much like a haymaker or a roundhouse punch, a slap winds up from within an opponent’s field of vision, because it draws back inside our peripheral vision and the motion behind it is so large, the opponent knows it’s coming. A strike that takes a long time to wind up takes more effort from the fighter but is easier to block. This is why the roundhouse punch and the wild haymaker come at the end of the fight or are delivered when the opponent is off balance.

2) Slaps are low damage

The open palm strikes sideways, across the face, it aims for the cheek as opposed to the eye, the nose, the upper lip, or the temple. Slaps are stunning blows, they knock the opponent off balance and force them to back up. They hurt, often causing swelling in the cheek, but the chances of bones breaking are low and the chances of the attacker harming themselves with the strike is much lower than a punch.

One of the main reasons why the slap is a favored tactic of wife beaters (other than it being easy to deliver) is that while most of them are interested in punishing their wives, they are not interested in damaging them long term, thus it’s easier to hide from others so long as their victim acquiesces.

So, what are the advantages of the slap?

1) It’s a fast strike


2) For the untrained it can be performed with minimal risk to themselves

Because the force of the blow is distributed across the palm or the back of the hand, it’s unlikely that the blow will break the smaller more sensitive bones in the hand.  The bitch-slap allows someone to use their knuckles without risking them to a break.

3) If the strike succeeds, it can be used to create openings in the opponent’s guard to open the way for a strong follow-up

Pain is a method of distraction, pain induces usually a fear response in the opponent, giving one fighter an advantage over the other. Distracting an opponent with pain in one part of their body, leaves them vulnerable to being struck somewhere else. Remember, fights are as much about tactics as they are about speed and power. Block, distract, finish.

4) It carries a fairly low energy cost, allowing a fighter to fight longer with less effort

Yes, it’s a low damage strike that won’t finish the fight fast, however, a feint that saves your character energy is energy they can apply later or use to get away. In the realm of strikes, a slap is cheap and it can be performed many more times in short succession than a punch or a kick.

Protip: Don’t confuse the slap with a more traditional open palm strike. The palm strike hits with the lower meaty portion of the palm and they come in straight to the nose, throat, or solar plexus. A palm strike can crush the throat or connect with the nose and force the broken cartilage up into the brain. This is a killing strike, but one that is often overlooked. The palm strike rarely appears in movies for this reason, it’s also not very cinematic.


Tip: Fights Start For A Reason

Often in novels and television shows, it can seem like fights start for no reason at all. The author bases their fights around a moral stand point, the other character is a bully, they are a bad person, or evil, and there are often no follow up consequences.

It’s actually rare in life to find a living person who wanders around randomly spoiling for a fight. Now, they do exist, I know people who’ve met a few, but the amount that they actually appear in fiction is actually rather ridiculous.

Someone who’s planning to start a fight will actively assess several different factors. Here are some basic ones:

-They will weigh their chance of injury and death versus success

-They will look at the numbers advantage (does their opponent have more people than they do)

-What is the target’s social connections

-What fallout will occur with victory and defeat

-What they can gain from the fight versus what they will lose

-The cost of victory

Even if your villain is a minor character, spend some time with them, and examine what their motivation is. The same is true for your hero. Most victories are won in combat without ever firing a shot and someone trained and untrained will notice (sometimes subconsciously) the difference between a character who is pretending they know how to fuck someone up and a character who really does.

What one character knows about another will change the underlying reasons for why they are fighting and remember, no fight  is free. There are always consequences.


ObsidianMichi’s Real World Fight Facts

For those of us who come from a non-combat, non-Martial Arts background, watching action sequences in movies, television, and MMA fights, or even reading them in a book the action can seem almost magical. Of course, it is. The fights in television shows and even in the ring are designed to be as entertaining and as safe for the actors/fighters as possible. The rules of the street and even natural human behavior are often ignored to put on a better show.

What does this mean for authors? Well, if you use these things as your fighting basics, your characters won’t ever pass the scratch and sniff test and the fight sequences in your book or fanfiction will never achieve their potential.

So, below the cut are some simple rules from a Black Belt to help you get started. Happy writing!

1) Fights end fast.

On the street your character will realistically only be able to perform eight moves before they’re finished and if they fire off any kicks, reduce that number by two. This is true of any martial artist, regardless of their level and skill. If your fight sequence lasts more than a page, then it’s gone on for too long, so keep it short and figure that thirty seconds to a minute equals one to three paragraphs. Fights are exhausting, end stop, so finish it and move on.

2) Always Keep Moving

A fight is built on constant motion, if your character is standing flat footed, they’re going to be bowled over. Back up, shift from side to side, bounce on the balls of your feet, and stay aware for second and third additions to the fight. Moving hides the body’s tells from the character’s opponent and will mask their strikes as they dodge. Remember that timing is everything and a wasted move is wasted energy, when your character misses (and they will) deduct the move from the eight they have to finish the fight.

3) The Bad Guys Never Queue

While there is a difference when fighting untrained versus trained groups, one thing is always true: the bad guys never queue. What do I mean? Well, if you love Buffy the Vampire Slayer, pull out the first or second season, then start paying close attention to the fights. One thing you’ll notice is a Hollywood standard: the stuntmen all line up and come in separately, instead of together and the hero fights them one at a time. In the real world, groups always come in together, instead they often surround their targets to pound on the back’s soft tissue. This is why backing up is essential, if you are surrounded and can’t escape, then it’s over.

4) The Maximum Number of Opponents a Single Master Can Take On is Eight

The realistic number a very experienced fighter can face at one time on their own is no more than eight. If there are any more and they are outside the eyes and brain’s ability to track and the information will overload. If your character attempts to fight more in a straight on bout, they will lose. If your character is not a master, eight opponents, even unskilled ones, are going to wreck their day. The best advice for fighting groups I’ve ever been given is to run away.

5) It’s Never Shameful to Run From a Fight

Always know what your character can take and what they can’t, if they are skilled fighters they will also know. Fighting a losing battle is not a
sign of bravery, but stupidity, in the real world, a fighter’s first goal is to survive. Take a page from the Self-Defense Handbook, do just enough damage to disengage and prevent an opponent from following, then get away before they’re killed.

6) People die. Fast.

The goal of a fight is not only to hurt your opponent, but also to kill
them. The human body, for all it’s strengths, is ridiculously fragile. A blow to the throat, to the solar plexus, or a slamming an opponent’s head into the concrete are all more than enough to kill them. The writer must always be aware that their character could die at any moment and from any opponent, it doesn’t matter if they are the hero or the villain, a master will die just as easily from a blow to the temple or a knife stabbing their kidney as a beginner. Remember, even if your character is only participating in a training exercise or a supervised bout, injury and death are always possibilities, even when it’s accidental.

7) The Greatest Threat to an Untrained/Inexperienced Fighter is


It doesn’t matter how much natural talent a character possesses, there’s a reason why beginners in any martial arts program are forbidden from sparring and when they are then it’s only in very controlled circumstances: they will hurt themselves. A technique performed before the muscles have been properly prepared will lead to injury.

Example: Have you ever attempted to perform a roundhouse kick or seen little kids after a movie trying to practice their favorite moves? Yes? What did that look like, I’m betting slow, staid, and barely able to get their leg up over their hip or maintain their balance. It’s not uncommon for them to fall over or even twist an ankle. Why? Because even a movement as simple as a roundhouse kick is actually fairly complex. The leg comes up in the knee, the foot on the ground shifts to point sideways and then to a forty five degree angle, the hip turns over as the leg extends and the toes pull back to slam the ball of the foot into the opponent’s side, which, of course, leads to broken ribs when the strike connects. When I was seven years old and a blue belt, I once stubbed my toes on my opponet when I was point sparring, because in the foot pads I couldn’t pull them back. This is why in Tae Kwan Do point sparring the foot points and you hit with the flat top of the foot to avoid injury. However, black belts will still kick hard enough to leave bruises, even through the padding.

Second Example: In some forms of Karate they do full contact sparring a.k.a no pads, but it is for black belts only. Why? Because only the black belts have the training and skill to avoid hurting themselves, much less their opponents. I once heard a story from a friend about a training session involving two green belts when their instructor wasn’t paying attention and allowed them to spar, full contact. What happened? Both green belts kicked, their kicks collided with each other, and both ended up with broken legs.

The average green belt is someone who has consistently trained between two to five years. If you’re character is a beginner then they are in the same danger as those green belts were.

Never forget it.

8) A broken bone is a broken bone

If you’re character breaks a bone, from a rib to a leg, then that’s it. Game over. This is why you never punch someone in the face. Why? The hand is full of small, delicate bones, any of them break and your character is out a hand for the next two (?) to five (?) months or longer. Your opponent’s face is full of dense, heavy bones, designed to protect the body’s most valuable assets, much like rock beats scissors, face usually beats hand. So, why risk it?

Forget what you’ve seen in MMA or in Boxing or in the Movies. MMA fighters and Boxers protect their hands with gloves and the Movies fake it. The bones in the face are much tougher than the bones in the hands, so keep it to open hand strikes and if you must go blow for blow, a backhand to the temple or a punch to the soft tissue of the throat will save your character and finish the fight faster.

Or in the words of Burn Notice’s Michael Westen “In a fight, you have to be careful not to break the little bones in your hand on someone’s face. That’s why I like bathrooms… lots of hard surfaces.”

Why have your character break themselves on someone else when they can break their opponent on with a much lower risk to themselves?

9) Dual Wielding is Not Actually a Thing

Except in rare cases and small weapons such as knives or eskrima, dual wielding has no place in regular combat. Why? Because you need your free hand to block and in the case ofa firearm to reload and stabilize the weapon. The enemy with the most is rarely the one who wins, the character with the ability to apply their defensive damage to somone is the one who wins. Dual wielding makes that harder, not easier.

A) Dual wielding hand guns: no accuracy and even if your character does spray and prey, the reload times (two guns take up both hands) and the 15 round magazines makes them less effective than a single SMG. Our brains are not designed to handle the mismatched parallax data and therefore cannot process how far away the target is, thus no accuracy.

B) Dual wielding swords: the blades will get in each other’s way, full stop, and if you cannot hit your opponent, you cannot kill them.

Does it look cool? Maybe. Is it practical? Oh, god no. Remember, practicality is your character’s means of not dying horribly, so don’t discount it just because you think they need to be X-treme.

10) Don’t forget to block

In a fight, blocking will save your character’s life. It is also the means of creating openings by which they can attack. Blocking incoming strikes is an essential basic part of every single martial art, so learn how to make the most of it for your character. It doesn’t matter how high their dexterity is or how skilled they are at dodging, if a character is in a fight they are going to get hit. So, how about learning the fine art of making sure the recieving blow doesn’t kill them. Defense is more important than offense if you want your character to survive.