Tag Archives: training

I have a character, not the main character but he’s still fairly important to the story, who is the top fighter at a training facility and knows he’s the top fighter. Long story short, he winds up in a fight with a younger student who is the best of his year but compared to the entire school mediocre. The better student gets cocky during the fight and allows a couple hits to get in by unintentionally dropping his guard, cliched I know. Any recommendations for what happens during the fight?

I’m going to reiterate here that we don’t solve fight scenes. We post information so that you can solve fight scenes.

The key problem with this sequence is the attempt to manufacture cheap drama. The danger to the character doesn’t feel real because you’re having him make convenient mistakes. The mistake the audience will expect. This is why it feels cliche and why you’re having trouble.

My question is: why is this sequence important to the story? What function does it serve?

It doesn’t help the character in question, all this is going to teach them is that they can screw around and fuck up with a less experienced student and still pull out a victory. If you were looking to teach them a lesson about being careful, then it’s not going to happen here.

“If we were using real swords you’d be dead!” “But we weren’t and I’m not. You lost. Go throw your empty threats at someone who cares.”

This tells the reader nothing about the character that that wasn’t already previously established by the fact that the character is the best in the school. If you want them to worry about him then give him a challenge that legitimately hits him in an uncomfortable place, otherwise it’s going to feel like ego padding.

The scene description reads: “This is what might have happened to the character! They could have gotten really hurt!” “Did they?” “No…” “Well, meh.”

The cockiness is a weakness that could be legitimately established in a fight sequence that will ultimately matter to the story and to the reader. It’s either justifiably deserved as a character trait or it’s not. However, let’s talk about “the best” for a moment.

Here’s the second problem: this character is supposed to be “The Best” in their school.

There are two kinds of “Bests”. The Big Fish in a Small Pond (these are characters who run on talent, rest on their laurels, are in it for the perks, and don’t work very hard) and the real “Bests” (these are the workaholics, they are devoted, spend every spare minute of every day dedicated to developing their talent, they’re the first up in the morning and the last to leave, when they’re not training, they’re cleaning their gear to a polish, studying theory, or any amount of other minutia important to the practice of their art, they do fuck around and goof off but usually only with people they know well, they live in a lonely state of being admired by their fellow students and despised for the amount of time the teacher spends on them. They spend a great deal of time observing and studying the world around them and are constantly working to improve themselves. They know that every up and comer is gunning for their position, they don’t have the luxury of not working hard or not loving what they do.)

One of these is legitimate and one of these generally falls apart the minute they get out of their native environment. Both will ultimately struggle in a greater world where talent and hard work are not necessarily enough to earn you anything in your chosen field, but the disciplined, hardworking “best” who long ago learned that talent only gets you so far is more poised to make it. This is especially true of characters who will be facing life or death situations when they leave school.

The problem is that your character isn’t actually being cocky, he’s being lazy. It’s a common mistake by a lot of writers when it comes to training. This guy looked at this other character and said “Eh, I don’t need to try that hard today”. He was, according to the question, right. He knows this other character isn’t good enough to beat him. But instead of facing him earnestly anyway, he slacks off and turns his mind to other things. The other character surprises him just enough to bring his mind back to the fight and he goes “oh”, then dispatches him. Like he could have all along if he’d just been paying attention or given a damn.


A lazy Big Fish in a Small Pond is one that is not long for this world when they swim out into the bigger ocean. They certainly can be interesting characters once their dreams have been crushed by the hard weight of reality, but this one is a fighter who will presumably be fighting other warriors intending to kill him. Fighters who already know that not keeping their mind on the task at hand means a quick death (and one they may get anyway).

Think about your character some more and decide what it is that you are trying to convey. Weigh the necessity of the scene and think about why you’re having trouble with it. Is it because you don’t know enough about the fighting style and combat? Or is it because your characters aren’t working with you?

Try the John Cleese approach to creativity. The first answer we come up with is rarely the right or most creative one. Think about the problem some more and see what else you can come up with. If the answer feels cliche to you already then it will to the reader. If you can’t come up with a way to get yourself interested in or excited about the events that feel cliche, then it’s time to go back to the drawing board.

Trust in yourself and in your creations, you’ll figure it out.


In my story I have two students sparring with wooden practice swords, student A is more experienced and a bit older than student B, thus naturally bigger and stronger. If student B suddenly throws their blade aside and attacks the other with their fists could they have a chance of beating student A if they get past their practice blade? Or would they only be able to get in a few blows before student A gets the upper hand once more?

No, they can’t win. In that scenario they will be systematically beaten by Character A and probably thoroughly thrashed under the sufferance of their instructor. This is a good thing for your story and in the long run, a good thing for Character B’s development.

Let’s talk about why:

There are a few flaws going on in your language choices about Student A that come across as cliche, even though you don’t mean for them to be. The general assumption about training is that it bulks someone up, this is commonly presented in Hollywood action movies where the “average” sized  protagonist suddenly finds themselves facing an enemy that is very, very tall and usually very bulky. The difference is obvious, however, this is a visual gag and has little bearing on reality (also because it’s a visual gag, it’s not really helpful for writing unless you want to play into cliche).

For sword combat, replace stronger with faster (this will be true regardless of whether it’s a long sword, a claymore, or a rapier) and bigger with more agile. You can also add more cunning and more controlled, especially if Student A is at the stage of using fast talking and insults to distract their opponent between strikes. A character who can fast talk while fighting is one where the strikes and blows they are using have become enough of a second nature that they can turn their mind to strategy and character assessment. Yes, smack talk is actually a legitimate strategy during a fight, assuming the character has the conditioning and breath get away with it.

If this is what Student A is like (and this is what most training sequence enemies are like) then the comparison is this: Student B is the average new recruit for the track team and they’re sprinting against it’s best member. As Student B sprints, the track team member keeps pace beside them spitting out insults, you want to say something, but Student B can’t because they’re too busy sucking down oxygen. However, this spurs them to try harder and run faster, faster and faster, in silence, harder than they’ve ever run before. They think hey, I’m doing pretty good. Until they get to the final turn and Student A opens up their stride and sprints off like it’s nothing leaving Student B huffing and puffing. But Student B is still angry, so they chase them as hard and as fast as they can (or they give up). They don’t catch them, they are soundly defeated.

However, it’s not a defeat because not only now do they have an understanding of how far down the totem pole they are, they’ve been given a rival to chase, and best of all, they’ve pushed themselves (with Student A’s help) to find a source of inner strength they might not have known they had. They’ve learned more through defeat than they did through victory.

This is why many instructors do in fact put students, especially new ones, into “no win scenarios” against more powerful opponents. Kirk’s Kobayashi Maru feel good/ego stroking antics aside: facing and being beaten by an opponent that is better than you in a controlled environment, learning what that feels like, and how easily you can be manipulated is an important step towards becoming a better warrior.

The best fighters are cautious and disciplined strategists. They may be congenial and friendly, but they are very much in control of themselves, their emotions, and their environment. Student A is already in control of the fight and that in a nutshell is why Student B can’t win, even when they attempt to change the rules.

Okay, let’s talk about Student B:

Getting frustrated and throwing down or throwing away a weapon is actually a common beginner mistake, so brava! This is a good learning experience. The thought process is: this isn’t working, so I better try something else. However, it’s a bad idea because the wooden blade was what kept the fight anywhere near even and without it, they’re screwed.

Student B either throws aside their blade because they think it’s a good idea or they’ve been driven to do it out of anger. If it’s anger, it’s a better idea for them to throw the sword at Student A and then lunges. This is the only semi-saving grace for them because (stupid as it is) it suggests that they have some grasp of strategy. Otherwise, they’re just ditching the sword in favor of lunging at an opponent who still has their weapon and now has greater reach.

If Student B throws away the sword and lunges, then all Student A has to do is hold their sword out and let B “impale” themselves on it. Short, quick, and boom it’s over. If they throw it at A, then A has to knock it away or risk getting hit. However, if they do throw it at A, A is going to be a little upset about it especially since B just broke the rules and risked both their safety on a stupid stunt. If B throws the sword at A, then B is in the wrong (even though they’ll feel like they were in the right).

Their master/instructor will then probably allow A to thrash B (within reason, no long term damage) so that they can fully feel their mistake and then will assign them some sort of punishment work afterwards. They’ll punish A too because A did give in to anger after B threw the sword at their head.

This brings us to:

There will be an instructor watching this fight and they will intervene when necessary. Sparring bouts tend to happen one on one in front of the whole or half of the class (if there are enough instructors to handle more than one bout at a time). The observing students wait their turn and they learn by watching their fellows fight. Sometimes, if there’s a second rival group or section, instructors will bring the two together and have them spar each other one on one in order to build a greater sense of competitiveness and camaraderie within the respective groups.

Both Student A and Student B will be punished by their respective teachers depending on what happens after B throws down the sword. B will also have to face the criticism and humiliation in front of their fellow students, which will make the sting hurt that much more and may be the inciting action that drives them to throw the sword.

Try to remember that sparring is about learning, it’s not about beating the odds or winning and losing. The point of a character in training is not to show how talented and skilled they are, it’s to show them growing up and learning. Life isn’t always fair, but even the ruthless and most sadistic teachers often have the students’ best interests at heart. Other characters may be responding to a stimuli or understanding of the situation that Character B doesn’t have access to yet.

Let your characters fall down and make mistakes during training, that’s what training is for and why it’s there. It’s important to the development of the characters in the story.

Try to not vilify A or the instructor.

Either way:

It’s a good learning experience that will help you flesh out your characters. All of them. So, I suggest you keep it. Besides, B isn’t just soundly beaten, they lose the fight on the basis of what they thought was a good idea. That’s actually pretty great.


About how long would it take the average person to become highly proficient in boxing? Thanks in advance! Love the blog!

I know some colleges offer boxing classes or have full competitive boxing programs. So, one or two semesters should be enough time to build a student up to competitive levels.

I’ll be honest, with hand to hand styles, “highly proficient” is a lot more subjective than you might think, and it makes this question a lot harder than it would seem.

A boxer is going to have to train constantly if they want to make a professional career out of it, and they will always be at a disadvantage when facing able bodied competitors with more experience.

Note the “able bodied” part. As with all sport fighters, injuries do pile up over time, and with boxing, concussions are a real risk, and can impair a more experienced fighter.

With non-sport combatants, more recent training has the advantage. Actual combat styles, including self defense, military and police forms evolve ridiculously fast. To the point that most of my hand to hand training is completely out of date. It will still work against untrained opponents, but I can’t take that and use it against someone with police training. And, again, makes the question of “highly proficient” really hard to answer.

This isn’t an issue with most sport forms, because the rules create a stable structure to work with, and it isn’t an issue with most highly traditional forms, those are trained a specific way because that’s how it’s done, and anything else is just incorrect.

In those cases, “highly proficient” will be a very rigidly defined point, but how long it takes to get there will depend completely on the style and it’s approach to progression.


Historical Fencing Dot Org: Ken Mondschein’s Western Martial Arts, Classical Fencing, and Historical Swordsmanship Page

Historical Fencing Dot Org: Ken Mondschein’s Western Martial Arts, Classical Fencing, and Historical Swordsmanship Page

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.


One of my characters has been taking Judo classes for about 10 years. Even though she has no experience actually teaching Judo, at that point would she be able to (safely) teach her niece the basics? Or is one of those things where you should be taught how to teach, so you don’t accidentally injure your student with an incorrect teaching method?

It’s going to depend on the ranking system at her school, what her rank is, and how comfortable she is with the basic techniques that she’s teaching. It’s perfectly plausible that she could, ten years of training is more than enough time to become skilled enough to teach, but you’re going to have to answer the question of why she didn’t sign her niece up for classes at the place where she trains in order to teach her in a safe environment (and on mats, soft landings when learning how to fall are important).

But, this is the sort of really specialized question that we’re not equipped to answer here. I’d suggest checking around at the local dojos in your area and see if any of the instructors there would be willing to answer some indepth questions about rank progression and what rank someone could realistically be at in ten years. My guess is that she’d be pretty high up and perfectly qualified, but I can’t be sure and the only person who could really answer this question is someone who does and teaches judo.

I’d also read the first book in the Protector of the Small series because several sequences in there handle some basic training in throws like learning how to fall without hurting yourself. Much like jump kicks, throws can be difficult to grasp in concept because they have a lot of pieces moving together to make it work. It might be helpful to look at that in a written format. I’d also recommend picking up a self-help martial arts book on Judo. Check the names of the authors online to see what their background is and pick one that goes over the lifestyle in the dojo and the ranking system beyond just technique. You’re going to want a basic overview of the style, training in the style, and examples of how to find a proper school so that you know what kind of school this character trained in.

In many different martial arts schools students are asked to give their time to assist up coming students when they reach a certain rank, so it’s likely that your character already has some experience teaching in an assistant capacity. The important thing to remember is that there is a difference between helping someone else teach a class and running one yourself. Even if your character feels like they could do it, they’re going to run into some pretty serious obstacles as they adjust to their student’s needs. When you practice a lot of the information becomes ingrained and eventually you stop really thinking about the parts and pieces that make it work. An instructor has to back track out from their own experiences and really explain the concepts to their student in a way that the student can understand, and that takes practice.

No matter what this character does, there are going to be a few bumps in the road. Teaching is very rewarding but it can also be very frustrating, especially if the character ends up focusing too much on their own experiences and doesn’t spend enough time thinking about their student’s needs.


Hi! I was wondering if I could have some tips on how to write someone teaching another person how to sword fight. I know some pretty basic things (stance, positions of swords) and how it’s different than fencing, but I could really use some extra help (or a nudge towards some good, reliable resources if you guys aren’t sure on how to help)!! Thanks!

First, I suggest you pick up a technical manual or how to guide on the type of weapons combat you want to write. Italian School of Fencing and German School of Fencing are going to be easiest to find, you can probably pick up a few manuals off Amazon or at your local used bookstore pretty cheaply. It’s worth going over the different kinds of blade combat and sport fencing may give you some insights into training.  Wikitenaur has historical manuals for other sword types and could be helpful. I’d also recommend checking out a Fencing studio/school in your area and talking to them about the specifics. Highlander’s second season has a good episode where Macleod teaches Ritchie how to fight. It’s good because it starts with him doing it wrong first (he’s angry at Ritchie and angry at himself) and then doing it the right way. The Protector of the Small quartet by Tamora Pierce is good for this also, so read it. I also recommend the Jackie Chan Karate Kid flick because it’s actually a good primer on training the right way with a good instructor versus training the wrong way with a bad one.

Let me break down how training works and why some of this is important because the underlying essentials stay the same between different forms in how people are taught. The skills that are taught first are the ones that will be the most lasting and most important to a student’s growth and development.

Start: stance

Stances are important because they are the base on which we rely on most heavily in combat. Before any student thinks about learning the higher level techniques, they need to start with stances. Stances are what keep you from getting knocked over, provide you with your balance when getting knocked around, and are important to keep you from stumbling when you get hit. Stances are all about foot position and where and how you bend your knees, they’re about keeping your back upright and maintaining proper position. Everything comes back to stances and they are the base for all techniques.

Stances are usually the hardest part of any lesson because when kids sign up, they w ant to get right to the hitting and the swinging. They see other, more advanced students getting to do all the fun stuff and they wonder: why can’t that be me? Most authors skip this stage of the training because they think it’s boring, they want the student to jump right to handling the weapon. But, someone with a shitty stance won’t get far and if they fail to learn how to do their stances in the proper way then all their technique will suffer as a result.

A student may not even be handed a weapon on their first day, they may instead spend their whole lesson with the instructor and other students going over different positions. Their stances will constantly be corrected physically by their instructor and their instructor will not be shy about moving the student’s body about until they are in the right position. This is important because the body needs to remember and once a student knows what it’s supposed to feel like, they can find that position again

Stances train patience. They are the first step to instilling discipline into the student because the student has to wait and they teach the student that fighting well is a little more complicated then it first appears. A good stance develops the necessary muscles in the legs and core, they also begin to teach the student the process of shifting between tense and loose muscles. This is important for striking.

Sometimes, new students want to die after the first day. Learning to use and develop their muscles can be very painful.

Second: the care and maintenance of the weapon

Sometimes, this one comes first. A warrior who cannot maintain their weapon is a bad warrior with shoddy equipment. This includes the care and maintenance of the warrior’s body. Eating, staying hydrated, exercise, and stretching are all part of this. In a modern martial arts school this will be touched upon but the instructor has no means of enforcing these lessons outside the school. If your student is one that’s handed over to the school for their development, then their life is going to be carefully monitored and structured.

It’s important that a student learns to respect their body, to respect themselves, and to respect their fellow students. Students need to understand their limits so that they learn how far to push and how fast is safe. When you’re taught your life has value, it becomes more worthy of protecting and the student is less likely to hurt themselves or others in training.

A student will not be given a live blade until the end of their training. Real swords are not used for training, even at advanced levels. A sword becomes dull when it’s used and a good weapon should not be in the hands of a beginner. Students may be given a practice sword instead to care for and they will be told to treat and care for it the same way they would a real one. Practice swords may be made out of metal or wood (such as the bokken), but they are dull and blunted, so the student does not accidentally cut themselves or their partners during training. That said, a practice sword is a real weapon (it is a bashing weapon). It can be used for combat, and should be treated by the student with the same respect they’d give a live blade. If they cannot properly care for their practice sword, then their instructors will not expect them to be able to care for a real one. The same will be true of any other weapon they learn to use and their armor.

Third: holding the sword

Holding the sword may receive a lesson of it’s own, with the students learning and practicing different positions with the sword while standing and then in their stances. They may learn one or two basic striking patterns this lesson, but the instructor will spend most of their time making sure that the grip and arm position are sound. They may use an advanced student or one of the better students in the class as a dummy. (This is the reward for being the best in the class, by the way, you get to be the instructor’s practice dummy.)

Again, the instructor will spend most of their time correcting the movements of the students, adjusting their arms, adjusting their hands, readjusting their stance. This is part of why I find the whole: “physical contact in a training sequence must mean love or attraction!” bit in some romances to be so funny. You’re going to spend most of your early years as a student (and the rest of your martial arts career) getting maneuvered about by your teachers. After a while, that kind of physical contact just becomes so normal that you stop noticing and just go limp. (You tighten back up when they have you in position again.) They aren’t always gentle either. The instructor may do things like poke the small of the back  or below to shoulder blades to get the student to stop slouching, kick the student’s foot out to force them into a deeper stance, push their knee out or up with their foot or whack them on the stomach to get them to tighten their abdomen. How rough the instructor gets will depend on how advanced the student is and how well they know each other. They’ll get more rough as time goes on, instead of less. Instructors will often start gentle to help the student build confidence in the beginning, then become rougher and stricter as they advance. The higher up your character gets the more they will be expected to do.

Fourth: Practicing techniques

A student will always learn their techniques before they are sent out to spar or practice dueling. Practice Combat is practice combat and it teaches you nothing if you don’t have some idea of what you’re doing. The idea behind sparring is to put a student into the arena to learn how fighting works, how the skills they’re learning can be used, and to develop confidence in their technique. If the student has no idea how to use their fists, their sword, or their staff, then all sparring is going to teach them is that they don’t know how to do any of those things. It’s a bad idea to tear someone down before you build them up and developing confidence is a large part of what makes a fighter successful. Fighting before they are ready only serves to be debilitating in the long run and without the necessary component of an instructor telling the student what they need to do and how to fix it, all that happens is the student ends the day thinking that they suck and that they’re never going to get better.

A student will learn a technique by watching their instructor. They will then practice that technique in the air, possibly in the mirror if one is available. Once they have the basic movement down, they will be given a training partner. Another student who is of equal skill to them. If there are an uneven number of students, then one student may be partnered off with the Instructor’s assistant or an older student or they will be put on rotation with another group. The match ups will be changed once the students get comfortable with their training partners. Instructors may match students up or they may let students choose their own partners, they may pair everyone off with the same gender but usually they’ll mix it up. The more experience a student gets dealing with different body types and enemies, then the more well rounded they will be in the long run.

There will be no freestyle. Your student is a long way from being able to develop their own techniques or use what they know safely without being observed. Students goofing off will be punished with extra work and if it persists, they may be asked to sit out the class.

They may be allowed to hit their practice partner if they are wearing some sort of armor or padding, however, this may be put off until they are at a more advanced level or using a very light practice sword.

Fifth: Sparring

The students get to freestyle. But only in pairs and only one at a time. This is for advanced students who have learned their lessons and techniques well. They are ready to take their next step into a wider world. However, they will be carefully observed and monitored by their instructors. The first time they spar, in fact, will usually be against the instructor or one of the instructor’s assistants instead of another student. (This sometimes leads to a cute/funny visual in a Taekwondo dojang when a teeny six year old yellow belt is chasing an adult black belt around the floor.)

This is just a condensed version of training. It is more complicated than this, but hopefully it will get you thinking in the right direction. Weapons instructors tend to be very physical people on the whole. They don’t do “hands off” because it’s a part of their job. If you’ve grown up in a culture that eschews physical contact and values personal space, then this can be a jarring and uncomfortable experience.


I have heard that women who believe themselves to be “naturally” weaker can end up going 110% in a fight (especially joke-roughhousing or just being new to sparring) and accidentally hurt someone because they didn’t realize they’re not limp noodles. Is that a common thing or “anecdata” that my friend told me? I want to use it for my character but I don’t know if her (experienced) partner should be surprised or just disgruntled.

I’d go with disgruntled, but not for the reasons you’re thinking of.

First, not knowing your own strength is an issue, for both men and women. But, without training or experience, most combatants have a hard time generating force. Which outright cripples their damage, regardless of gender.

Second, your character isn’t going to be able to surprise their partner, at least not by hitting harder than they’d expect. If they’ve been training in contact sparring (of any kind), they’ll be used to taking hits. And your character isn’t going to be able to best them. They have training and experience on their side, and that will win them the fight.

Third, and this isn’t what you were directly asking about, you don’t train someone in martial arts by having them spar with anyone.

Sparring is something reserved for advanced martial artists because, if you let beginners spar, they’ll just end up seriously hurting each other. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but getting caught “sparring” will get you kicked out of most martial arts classes. Usually, you won’t see anyone below black belt, involved in unsupervised sparring.

There are a couple, very specific exceptions, that aren’t technically sparring, but could be mistaken for it:

Some katas require a training partner. It’s not actually sparring, they both have a script they’re following. Usually this is either because the kata contains material that requires another human sized object to throw or because the practitioner is having their skills evaluated. If it’s the latter, then this is probably, strictly, no contact. Meaning, the martial artists never touch one another.

When practicing a specific technique that requires a partner, including throws, blocks, holds, hold counters and joint locks. The issue here is, these techniques really can’t be drilled without a living partner.

When a technique can be drilled by shadowboxing, most of the time, that’s what the instructor will have their class practice. Remember, they’re there to teach their students, not kill them.

As a martial artist advances through the ranks, they will be allowed to participate in supervised sparring. This will be with a master observing their techniques and responses, but it won’t happen before they’ve been trained to have a solid grasp of the basics.

This is a little different with the Military’s eight week training programs. But, again sparring is something that’s only introduced after the basics of hand to hand are established.

There is nothing you can learn from having your ass handed to you by a more experienced fighter, before you know what you’re doing. The same is true for your character.

If your character is a master of one form, and is seeking admission to another school, then you might have the classic evaluation duel. Where the point is to prove that your character has the requisite skill. It’s a little cliche, but at least it makes some sense there.

Extracting that cliche and applying it to a new recruit isn’t something a credible martial arts school would do, unless they’re card carrying Saturday morning cartoon supervillians.


Hello! I’m writing a story where some of the characters have had training with weapons such as swords, spears and so on. The problem is, is that I don’t know how long it would take to go from being a novice to an expert. How many months or years would it take?

Traditional, European, knight training would last fourteen years. Starting when the prospective knight turned seven, and lasting until they were twenty-one. They’d spend seven years serving as a page before becoming a squire at fourteen. Obviously, that encompassed a bit more than just training on a sword, but it’s a good starting point. In a modern context, you can probably train to an expert level with a sword in five or six years.

For a spear, I’m inclined to say six months for combat proficiency. From what I know, polearms are a lot easier to train on. To actually become an expert? You’re probably still looking at years of training, but, and I could be wrong, in conventional combat, spears have a much lower skill ceiling than swords. So, I’m inclined to say the extra time and effort would be wasted.


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.