Tag Archives: training reference

How would a teenager’s personality be affected if they were trained in fighting an survival techniques since childhood?

I’d like to give an answer to this question, but the problem is that it actually encompasses a wide range of backgrounds. All of which can create significantly different personality types. Here’s a short list:

The child of uber-environmentalists or hippies, spent their weekends camping, learning the wonders of nature, and their weeks practicing Tai Chi.

The child of extreme survivalists, who spent their childhood learning self-sufficiency in the wilderness and how to drill a skull with their hunting rifle at a hundred yards.

A Boy Scout (or Girl Scout depending on merit badges), especially one who grew up in Montana, Wyoming, or anywhere that has no sensitivity to guns. (There’s a reason why an Eagle Scout gets an automatic rank bump when they enlist in the US Military.)

The kid who got boxed up and sent off to a Military Academy or Boot Camp.

The upper-middle class kid whose parents shoved them into every single martial arts program and or camping/environmentalist program in order to get them out of the house and out from underfoot.

The same upper-middle class background as the above kid, except the child did it to escape their parents.

The kid who grew up on the streets of a major metropolitan city and had to scrounge for every meal until they learned boxing after landing in Juvie.

The kid who grew up on the streets in a major metropolitan city and had to scrounging for every meal until they were discovered and taken off the streets by a kindly boxing coach.

This is only a small number of the unlimited possibilities and even within the subset, the personalities created while not unique are many.

The important truth to remember when thinking about personalities for your character is that personalities are developed through individual experiences. Change a minute detail like the kid had an instructor who liked them to the kid had an instructor who ignored them and you change the experience thus changing the effect on the personality.

A specific kind of training can develop an outlook the individual adopts. An outlook is the way someone views and sees the world around them, but training is only part of the equation. Home life, friendships, school experiences, religious background, political background, these are all aspects of our experiences informing who we are and how we look at the world. They also inform what we choose to do with the skill sets we have.

It’s also important to remember that the training outlooks for each individual martial art is different. They take on the aspects of what they were or currently are meant for and the values of the culture they come from. Taekwondo, for example, pushes the importance of community to it’s trainees. Giving back is the watch word, we have a responsibility to take what we know, what we’ve learned from our training, and use it to benefit others (not in the superhero sense). This mostly takes the form of mentoring other students in the dojang, but it also encompasses community service and other projects outside the school. In fact, in order to progress up the belt ranks, each student must write an essay as part of their final exam detailing what their understanding of their training is.

However, a child who has always had difficulty making friends or comes from difficult family circumstances may adopt these tenants differently from a child who has loving parents and lots of friends outside the school.

Think about what kind of survival training and fighting training your teenager had. What were they being trained to do? Was it self-defense? Purely for recreation? Health and fitness? Hunting monsters? Post-apocalypse survival? Why were they learning this in the first place? What sort of community surrounded them while they were growing up? Was it an insular one? Did they have regular access to individuals outside their family group? How present were their parents? Is this a family thing or something they decided to pursue on their own?

Once you’ve outlined their background and figured out what kind of training you want them to have, you can then fill in the blanks by limiting your search to martial combat and skill sets which cover what you’re looking for. This limits your search so it becomes easier. Try not to have a concrete idea in mind, otherwise you’ll end up rejecting the real world information you dig up because it doesn’t exactly match the idea in your head. Once you’ve absorbed the knowledge, then you can route back and get the character you’re looking for (or maybe one you weren’t). You’ll have a better understanding of the experiences they might have been through and thus a firmer grasp of the sort of personality they could have. By filling in their background, the person starts to become realized.

When doing this with teenagers, you may have to do some jury-rigging if you want them to have a skill set that’s not normally available to a teen with their background such as military grade Systema or military grade Krav Maga. You’ll have to figure out how they got that training and create a firm understanding of why they were trained that way. You’ll also have to accept that this training will change them in ways that are noticeable to other characters around them. People, even kids, are very good at picking out dangerous individuals and avoiding them on a gut level, even if they don’t consciously know why they’re doing it. A kid with this kind of training may also have difficulty relating to others or even seeing other individuals as individuals. Their concept of right to life may be abstract at best and they’ll already know how to push themselves through significant mental hoops in order to justify killing someone.

However, this isn’t a normal background or normal setup for a character or even something normal/average/even bad parents would allow to happen to their child. You’ll have to set up their background to justify it and allow your other characters to act accordingly.


Hi! I apologize in advance if this isn’t the right place to ask this kind of question, but I read through a couple of your tags and you seemed to be answering quite a bit of stuff about the psychology connected to fighting, so… I’m trying to write a fanfic for a story where I feel the author really didn’t do his research on the fighting/training. There’s one thing in particular that’s been bugging me; (continued in 2)

(2) He has one of those Super Elite Secret Ninja organizations, and it’s claimed that they are raised together in pairs ‘like brothers’ and then suddenly forced to fight to the death when they’re – I’d guess around 14. This is supposedly to ‘kill their emotions’; it’s claimed that after that they don’t have emotions and are obedient to their leader. I… have a feeling that it wouldn’t work that way, but I don’t know much, so I wanted to check it against somebody more knowledgable.

You’re right, it doesn’t work that way.

The mistake the original author made is one that is very common. I’m going to use a historical example, the Spartans are generally used when writing these kinds of stories because their training methods for preparing children are more brutal than, say, the Vikings. (Brutality doesn’t necessarily make for a better warrior.) Often cited is this one:

The Spartans would take their boys and place them in special camps, they would purposefully limit the amount of food given to the trainees. In order to survive, the children were forced to steal. If the children were caught, they were beaten within an inch of their life.

Many authors look at this concept and assume that the brutality was the lesson. The idea is basically: “looking at this shocked my emotions into shutting down, that must be the goal of the training exercise” and they don’t take it further. But, brutality is only a tool. The goal of the Spartan training method was to teach the idea of consequences. The children were expected to steal food and they weren’t doing anything wrong, what they were being punished for was being caught stealing. Those that succeeded at successfully stealing food without being caught were not punished, they were rewarded. The extra food allowed them to become stronger, better, and more capable of keeping up with their training. The ones who failed at stealing food or sneakily fighting the others for it died.

When you encounter these sorts of methods, you have to look past the brutality to the inherent concept of what the lesson is there to teach. It’s best not to discard these lessons as lesser or bad simply because they are unpalatable. If you understand what the lessons are there to teach, then you will understand the kind of person the training is creating.

The concept of “two enter and one leaves” is actually a common practice among highly elite/specialized military units. The Army Rangers engage in this practice (though their fights aren’t to the death) and so do many others. The goal of this though isn’t to “kill the emotions”, it’s to generate an intense feeling of loyalty to the leadership by the participants proving their dedication. Loyalty does not equal obedience, you need emotions for loyalty.

Pause, stop looking at the killing and think about what the roommate really represents to the character in question. They are their closest companion, their confidant, their battle buddy. They may have been the character’s source of support, the one who helped carry them through their training. When the characters dreamed of joining the organization, it was always with the idea that their friend would be by their side. The roommate is more important than family, more important than friendship. This is a bond that connects to the deepest part of the protagonists soul.

This is who he is being asked to kill.

The character killing his roommate is him proving how much he wants to join the brotherhood. The goal of the lesson is to show that there is no emotional connection more important than the ideals of the brotherhood. Killing his roommate ensures that he will consistently place his loyalty to this organization above any bonds of friendship or love with any single individual he meets later in his life. Essentially, the goal is to create an incorruptible fanatic who will remain utterly devoted to the ideal of the organization long after the organization itself is ashes and rubble.

The goal of the organization is not to kill off his emotions or even his ability to connect with other people. It’s an act of embracing the ideals of the organization over any individual person. He is devoted to a higher cause, whether that cause is a person or a greater system of belief.

A good personality to look at for this kind of behavior would be Kir Kanos from Crimson Empire, who remains a devoted servant of the Emperor and hunting for vengeance long after the Guard has been destroyed and the Emperor dies. Even when he does develop a relationship with a member of the Rebellion, it can’t override his devotion to revenge. He’s notable for remaining loyal to the ideals of the Empire, not the individuals and throughout the comic’s run hunts down those Imperial betrayers who are seeking to use the Empire for their own gain. The training sequences are worth looking at.

However, this will really only work with mature young adults in their late teens (18-19) at the earliest. The reason for this is this level of psychological manipulation requires an emotionally mature mind capable of comprehending what is being asked to do. To build the best, most devoted warriors, you need your warriors to make the decision that this is what they want. It’s not about having the best warrior, if they’ve survived this far into training then they are among the best. It’s about who wants it most, who is willing to fight the hardest, you want the one who wants to be in. These sorts or death matches are really about characters embracing their commitment to the cause. The individuals, friends, family, the people you trust do not matter, the ideal is all that matters. In particular, killing a roommate is teaching the lesson: “One day, you may be asked to kill your brother to protect the ideal, to rid us of corruption. Can you? Prove it.”

It’s easy to assume that this is about creating an emotionless killing machine, but it’s not. It’s about creating a fanatic. If this is starting to sound an awful lot like fundamentalist religious cults, then congrats! This is very similar to the psychology cults use to ensnare members.

A child, even in their early teens, can’t fully make those decisions. 14 is too young to have them killing their friends. Introducing death into the equation there is an excellent way to create shock troopers/child soldiers/suicide bombers, because the authority doesn’t care about ensuring their emotional stability. The kids are prepped with the idea of their own immortality, but they are being sent in to die. They aren’t expected to live long and they don’t need to understand.

Your Elite Ninja School is looking for a long term investment. I’d suggest looking into Military Academies/Boot Camps/The Boy Scouts if you’re going to rewrite (or just write for yourself) the childhoods for these characters. These characters are going to be raised with the idea that they are valued, important, and special. Their training will be hard, but they are part of the elite. The select few. They will trust in their authority figures and, later, they will kill for them.

A person who understands what they are being asked to do and chooses to participate is far more valuable than one who has to be tricked into it. They are also much harder to corrupt and the personal sacrifices they make strengthen their commitment.

If you change it, then change it so that killing the roommate happens as part of the graduation exam, make it the final challenge. You can also start introducing death as part of training accidents earlier at around 16/17 by making training more dangerous (adding in training with real weapons for example). One of my favorites from Crimson Empire was Vader coming in during the middle point of their training and killing the best in the class as a lesson to the others. It’s important to keep in mind that every trainee is expendable, even the most talented. Killing the best reminds the students that there are always more dangerous opponents and will spur them to work harder. After all, if that guy died then anyone could.

I hope that helps.


How do I write a training? All my attempts to describe a training for teenagers are silly.

The best way to learn how to write training is to experience it for yourself or, at the very least, observe.The most honest way to do this is to select the martial art that you want your character training in and find a local school that is willing to let you sit in and watch their training sessions. It’s common practice in many schools to open up their classes to prospective students. Ask the instructors in charge specific questions about training (even if you think they’re stupid) and about training teenagers. I suggest this because while there are base similarities in how to prepare and teach both body and mind, each style (and each school) often have unique perspectives on what works best for them. The only way you can know what those are is either by asking or by experiencing it for yourself.

In most non-training story narratives, writers have a nasty habit of going too hard and being too brutal. Many seem to believe that all training works the same way as R Lee Ermey in Full Metal Jacket. R Lee Ermey was a staff sergeant in the Marines and his style of teaching was specific to both the Marines and the 70s. Unless you’re specifically writing a Vietnam War era drill sergeant, I suggest looking elsewhere.

Training is not a mystical mysterious experience, it is at it’s core all about a teacher and a student. It’s about learning much in the same way you do in a high school or college classroom except that it involves physical activity. The best way to write a training sequence is to discover what is being taught, what knowledge is being imparted to the students, and how the teacher is choosing to teach the student that information.

A good instructor will push a student past their self-conceived physical limits and out of their comfort zone without pushing them past their actual physical limits. Unlike in Divergence, no one will be left to flounder and guess at what they should be doing. Techniques will be shown to the students by the instructor and then the students will be asked to perform them under the instructors supervision. They will repeat the technique through a series of repetitions, often breaking it down into pieces and performing it on a count so that the student develops a full understanding of all the pieces of what they are doing. On each count they will be asked to hold position while the instructor and their assistants check the students’ body positions and make corrections. It will be slow and, for many students, it will be frustrating. Expectations will often be dashed when faced with the slow accumulation of knowledge, but that is also important because it teaches the student patience and respect for what they are learning. Humility, patience, perseverance, and generosity of spirit are all qualities that the student is being taught as they learn to fight. Learning when it is appropriate to fight is as important as learning how to fight. This is true of both Eastern and Western martial arts, where the student is taught to fight in defense of themselves, defense of their home, and defense of their homeland.

The difficulty with writing a training sequence is that the author has to be a teacher. It’s their job to communicate how something is done to the reader, not just to the characters. In order to write an effective training sequence, you yourself have to be an authority on the subject. This is part of why I feel the Karate Kid remake actually works better at this aspect than the original because Jackie Chan was teaching Jaden Smith during production and they developed an authentic rapport. This is also why Tamora Pierce’s Protector of the Small quartet and Trickster’s Choice/Trickster’s Queen novels are successful because they have done the research but ,more importantly, knew what the end product of the training would be.

We don’t train someone for training’s sake, we are training them to do something. Once you figure out what the end goal of the training is, then you can limit your search to the appropriate skill sets and venues that specialize in what you are trying to create. Once you know that, you then do extensive research on the subject until you understand everything you can about it. Then, you can write your scene.

So, ask yourself some simple questions:

What am I training my characters to do?

Does what I’ve chosen for them to learn match up with what I want them to do (for example, if you want your characters to be aggressive fighters then aikido is not the right choice)?

If yes, then awesome. If no, then does what they are being trained to do make sense for what their culture expects or requires of them? Do they feel it’s something they need to be learning?

What are the skill sets the real world professions require? (If you’re having trouble figuring out the above this might help to get you started.)

I hope this helped answer your question. I know it’s a little long winded and roundabout.


You have a great blog! I wouldn’t know half the things about fight writing if I hadn’t been led here. My question is: how long does it take for a person to become adept at fighting? My protagonist used to do basic training, like jogging and stuff just to stay fit, but now she has to learn to fight using short-range weapons. How long will it take for her to get at least decent at fighting if she trains for approximately 3 hours a day?

Thank you!

The answer to your question is: it depends on a lot of factors. What the weapons that they are learning how to use are, how old they are, whether they have any previous level of combat training (even if they just did recreational kickboxing workouts), who is training them, the style or styles they are learning, what the quality level of the training they are receiving is, what they are learning to do with the weapons, how hard they are working at the training versus how fast they need to be able to use those skills, the reasons behind why they need those skills, and of course who or what they are learning to fight against.

In most recreational martial arts programs and even competitive martial arts programs, it will take years for the student to become proficient in the style. The average is three to five, it can also take much longer than that to develop actual combat proficiency. There’s a difference between learning the techniques used to fight and learning to actually fight, this is part of the reason why so many people out there look down their noses at black belts. To them, what use is a black belt if the person who wears it is just going to lose out the average street thug?

Here’s what they don’t see. In most styles, the ranking system isn’t a symbol of an individual’s combat proficiency, but instead a sign of their mastery of technique. It’s a symbol of what they know and how good they are at the style they’ve learned. Now, most martial arts systems are actually older fighting forms or the revival of old fighting forms that did see military use. However, in a modern combat context they are also outdated, this means the tactics that the techniques are teaching the student to defend against (on average) are not the tactics a modern mugger or street thug will use when they are attacked on the street. This doesn’t mean that the techniques are irrelevant, it just means that they need to be modified for the situations the student will find themselves facing. Often, in order to become combat proficient, the student must find another instructor or source of information to develop that proficiency. Other, more modern, combat styles and self-defense courses are useful for learning to couple what the student already knows with what to do in the situations they will be faced with.

It’s not enough for someone to just learn how to do a technique, they must also learn what to do with it, and develop the willingness to actually do it when the necessary time arises. I, for example, didn’t learn how to stay cool in panic level situations from my martial arts experiences. I developed the talent, mostly, because I grew up in a house with parents who yelled (a lot).

Now, you may be wondering what this has to do with your character. The reason is to make sure that you choose the right path for your character that will help them be what you need them to be for your story. Military training and police training are highly intensive but only eight weeks long, a character who has a trainer who is a retired police officer or formerly in the military (or both) giving them personal instruction will reduce the amount of time it will take them to learn to fight. The trade off is that the training will be much more intensive on a personal level.

Since you didn’t mention which weapons they’d be training in, I should mention that most weapons are designed for killing. In fact, it’s very easy to kill someone with a knife or a baton. (It’s actually much easier to kill someone else period, even in hand to hand.) So, if you’re character is planning to use subdual methods, they’ll need specialized training. Someone like Michael Janich is a good resource to study up on, because the form he developed focuses on personal self-defense with a live weapon and he’s also great at communicating the concept behind the technique, which you’ll need if you’re going to try writing the technique.

You’ll also need to stop and think about what opponents she’s training to face. The time it takes to become proficient against a mugger versus the time it takes to become proficient against a professional killer (whether that be organized crime, military professionals, cops, etc) is pretty big. If she’s facing professionals, then she’ll also be at a disadvantage because in the beginning she’ll be lacking real world experience.

So, how fast will it take her to get decent? Let’s say that if she’s using a personal instructor instead of group classes and with a focus on real world combat: three months.

Good short range weapons are: escrima stick and a knife. If she’s studying one of the Filipino fighting forms like Pentjak Silat, she’ll learn how to dual wield those two weapons together. An example of a dual escrima stick user in fiction is Nightwing. The escrima stick is very effective weapon and, when using body shots, has a slightly higher margin for error. You can also conceal them easily beneath a coat and, when using bamboo ones, sneak them past metal detectors.

So, it’s worth thinking about.