Tag Archives: writing advice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Starke

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

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

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

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

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

-Starke

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Starke

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

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

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

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

-Starke

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

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

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

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

-Starke

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

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

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

-Starke

Some Thoughts on Tension

 Hi there! Your blog is a plethora of helpful information, so thank you. I have a request–do you have any tips on writing tension? I think tension is 100% crucial to every story, but it’s hard to perfect and easy to under- or overdo. Thank you!

-beowulf-is-cooler-than-you

Thanks so much!

My advice for tension is that you always need to have your characters in some kind of real peril. There needs to be a possibility for them that they won’t win or else the tension in the scene and even for the overarching plot of the story will fall flat.

I always tell my characters both hero and antagonist that it’s an open race, whoever works the hardest will win. While I do plan my endings, I tend to get better results out of my villains if I give them the possibility of winning. I also get more worry and fear out of my heroes because they don’t know what’s going to happen next if they haven’t figured it out for themselves. One of the major tension killers in stories that I’ve seen is when a character is cheating through the author or the character isn’t facing resistance from other characters in the story and everything is going their way. A great way to build tension is to tell them ‘no’, slam doors in their face, and don’t have everything negative that happens to them somehow tie back to the villain.

For tension in fights, start building the tension before the actual combat occurs. You can build it in the way you describe the scene, what they notice about their opponent, what they know or don’t know about their opponent going in, letting the reader know that things can go screwy and actually having things go screwy in the scene itself. If they’re doing something stupid or getting into a fight because they’re angry, upset, or acting out, punish them for it. The other characters can get there too late, even if they don’t die, they can be injured. If they’re the best fighter in the group, how will the story change if they’re going into the ending on a broken arm or a broken leg? Who will be there to pick up the slack?

For example:

In The Hunger Games, how would the story have changed if Glimmer had broken Katniss’s bow and her arrows? How would it have changed if she’d broken it in front of Katniss, like when the Careers had Katniss caught up a tree and were planning to kill her? Katniss may have gotten out of the situation, but she would have lost what the novel sets up to be her greatest chance of survival and in a way, it would have been her fault as much as Glimmer’s because she abandoned the bow for safety when the Hunger Games started. Her opponents know that she’s the designated favorite to win because of that bow, again, her chances hinge on it. So, why not destroy it or get rid of it in some way?

One great way to build tension is to show your character’s greatest strength (if they’re super good at anything) and then take that away from them. The skills they’ve built their whole lives and taken pride in are no longer useful, helpful, or they’ve been cut off from the resources that allow them to make use of those skills. Suddenly, the favorite becomes the underdog and even the jaded reader is given a reason to worry.

The more real you make your story’s world, the better the tension you can create will be.

1) Always have some sort of active villain or antagonist in the story (it doesn’t have to be a person) with supporting circumstances that’s working against your character.

2) Make sure you give your character weaknesses and flaws that are useful to furthering the plot. Force the character to somehow be put into situations where they’re forced to deal with those fears and flaws. This will create great tension. Remember, a character can fail themselves.

Example: In Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, we’re introduced early to Indy’s fear of snakes. We know he’s afraid of snakes, so when he’s trying to recover a clue for the Ark and he’s faced with a whole lot of snakes, we the audience worry whether or not he can overcome that and thus we have another source of tension in the story outside of the physical antagonists to worry about.

3) Never be afraid to ratchet up the tension and run your characters ragged if that’s the kind of story you end up telling. Just remember that a story where the tension is constantly high can become boring if the character’s don’t have some kind of stress valve, the valve doesn’t have to be pleasant like most kinds of humor. There’s nothing wrong with ripping your characters apart, so long as the themes, the events, and the plot somehow support that. If it’s not, then a stress valve might be needed. A time for everyone to stop and breathe between the different bouts of action, for the tension to be released, and give the reader a chance to relax.

Think of tension like a roller coaster, you wind up, the brief gasp as you see the plunge before the bottom drops out and then the car races downward. The best rides always leave a few loops where the car has to slow down, the riders pause, laugh, and wind up again on another go before the ride completes.

I hope this has been helpful. I think that’s the best I’ve got at the moment.

-Michi

Hi there! Your blog is a plethora of helpful information, so thank you. I have a request–do you have any tips on writing tension? I think tension is 100% crucial to every story, but it’s hard to perfect and easy to under- or overdo. Thank you!

Thanks so much!

My advice for tension is that you always need to have your characters in some kind of real peril. There needs to be a possibility for them that they won’t win or else the tension in the scene and even for the overarching plot of the story will fall flat.

I always tell my characters both hero and antagonist that it’s an open race, whoever works the hardest will win. While I do plan my endings, I tend to get better results out of my villains if I give them the possibility of winning. I also get more worry and fear out of my heroes because they don’t know what’s going to happen next if they haven’t figured it out for themselves. One of the major tension killers in stories that I’ve seen in stories is when a character is cheating through the author or the character isn’t facing resistance from other characters in the story and everything is going their way. A great way to build tension is to tell them ‘no’, slam doors in their face, and don’t have everything negative that happens to them somehow tie back to the villain.

For tension in fights, start building the tension before the actual combat occurs. You can build it in the way you describe the scene, what they notice about their opponent, what they know or don’t know about their opponent going in, letting the reader know that things can go screwy and actually having things go screwy in the scene itself. If they’re doing something stupid or getting into a fight because they’re angry, upset, or acting out, punish them for it. The other characters can get there too late, even if they don’t die, they can be injured. If they’re the best fighter in the group, how will the story change if they’re going into the ending on a broken arm or a broken leg? Who will be there to pick up the slack?

For example:

In The Hunger Games, how would the story have changed if Glimmer had broken Katniss’s bow and her arrows? How would it have changed if she’d broken it in front of Katniss, like when the Careers had Katniss caught up a tree and were planning to kill her? Katniss may have gotten out of the situation, but she would have lost what the novel sets up to be her greatest chance of survival and in a way, it would have been her fault as much as Glimmer’s because she abandoned the bow for safety when the Hunger Games started. Her opponents know that she’s the designated favorite to win because of that bow, again, her chances hinge on it. So, why not destroy it or get rid of it in some way?

One great way to build tension is to show your character’s greatest strength (if they’re super good at anything) and then take that away from them. The skills they’ve built their whole lives and taken pride in are no longer useful, helpful, or they’ve been cut off from the resources that allow them to make use of those skills. Suddenly, the favorite becomes the underdog and even the jaded reader is given a reason to worry. 

The more real you make your story’s world, the better the tension you can create will be.

1) Always have some sort of active villain or antagonist in the story (it doesn’t have to be a person) with supporting circumstances that’s working against your character.

2) Make sure you give your character weaknesses and flaws that are useful to furthering the plot. Force the character to somehow be put into situations where they’re forced to deal with those fears and flaws. This will create great tension. Remember, a character can fail themselves.

Example: In Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, we’re introduced early to Indy’s fear of snakes. We know he’s afraid of snakes, so when he’s trying to recover a clue for the Ark and he’s faced with a whole lot of snakes, we the audience worry whether or not he can overcome that and thus we have another source of tension in the story outside of the physical antagonists to worry about.

3) Never be afraid to ratchet up the tension and run your characters ragged if that’s the kind of story you end up telling. Just remember that a story where the tension is constantly high can become boring if the character’s don’t have some kind of stress valve, the valve doesn’t have to be pleasant like most kinds of humor. There’s nothing wrong with ripping your characters apart, so long as the themes, the events, and the plot somehow support that. If it’s not, then a stress valve might be needed. A time for everyone to stop and breathe between the different bouts of action, for the tension to be released, and give the reader a chance to relax.

Think of tension like a roller coaster, you wind up, the brief gasp as you see the plunge before the bottom drops out and then the car races downward. The best rides always leave a few loops where the car has to slow down, the riders pause, laugh, and wind up again on another go before the ride completes.

I hope this has been helpful. I think that’s the best I’ve got at the moment.

-Michi

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f9rtmxJrKwc

John Cleese on Creativity (by bedroomstudiotube)

This lecture by John Clesse has some very important implications both for you as a writer but also for your characters, with wider implications for what they can get away with in their behavior in combat situations.(Though he doesn’t discuss that in the video.)

The idea is this: combat happens when your characters in the Closed mode, it’s a high pressure environment where your characters need to make decisions immediately and decisively with no room for error or doubt. Humor in those situations is a luxury. It pushes the character into a more contemplative mode, the Open mode. It gets them thinking when they don’t have the time to be thinking( a distraction) in a fight.

Trash talking, joking, and one liners can happen before and after a fight, but not during. The only sort of trash talk that can occur during is the sort where your character doesn’t have to stop and think about it, but even then, remember that talking is not a free action. It requires breath, takes oxygen that should be going to your character’s muscles, while both loosening and relaxing the jaw which leaves your character more open to a knockout blow or biting their own tongue when they get hit.

Always dedicate points in your story for the times when your characters are capable of cracking jokes to release the tension (before and after) and when they need to buckle down for work (the fight itself).

So, watch the video, it’s useful and informative plus it’s John Cleese. It’s hilarious.

Empowered: Self-Confidence, Bullies, and the Martial Artist

In the real world, martial training (almost always) builds self confidence. This is one of those easy to overlook character building elements. What it means is, martial artists don’t, normally, have crippling self-esteem issues, they are less likely to be bullies, and less likely to be bullied. (Michi Note: this counts on a physical level only, martial artists and other trained combatants are just as open to being verbally mocked and emotionally abused. It’s just less likely that it will escalate to physical violence beyond some basic intimidation.)

This is a general rule based off experience with many different martial artists from a variety of backgrounds over the years, but there are exceptions. Keep in mind that martial artists are people, just like everyone else, with their own unique outliers and edge cases. So, first, remember that this article is about “most” martial artists, and if your character is supposed to be some fringe case then that’s fine. You just need to make sure you point out that they are a fringe case, or else your audience might assume the behavior is normal within the context of the story.

Second, martial arts training won’t cure mental illness. It can provide good coping mechanisms, but if a character has self-esteem issues from a personality disorder, then, again, that’s fine. (However, the normal caveat about mental illnesses applies: if you don’t want to be offensive, don’t write about one you don’t have a lot of experience with. It’s best to spend time with people who have the disorder that you know well, if you were not born with the disability yourself, and a clinical understanding of how it functions is also a good idea.)

Ultimately, if you are wanting to write a character with serious self-esteem issues, you can’t simultaneously say they’re a great fighter. It just doesn’t mesh with reality; like a professional chef who has no sense of taste or smell. It’s a possible character, but it’s weird, and contradictory. We’ve talked a lot about how the mind influences a fight, what we believe about ourselves and our own skills will influence the outcome. Negative beliefs like “I won’t get away, I’m too small and fragile, I suck, I’m terrible, I’ll get in trouble if I hurt someone, it’s better if I don’t do anything at all,” etc, have the serious potential to lead to a losing bout or the death of that character. The body is the weapon, but mind is what wields the body. Talent only gets you so far, undeveloped natural talent is just that: undeveloped. Natural talent is nothing compared to training and experience, and prodigies are nothing without the will and desire to make something of themselves. Those whose lives have always been easy have a very difficult time when the going gets tough (and it will always, eventually become tough). They are unused to facing resistance and are more likely to give up because of it.

So, a character with serious self-esteem issues will have to get (or has already gotten) over them in training, at least in the context of their training and their skills, or they won’t last long. Now, a lack of confidence in the beginning along with minimal skill can be a driving force for a character to desire to become better. But that changes the character from a negative outlook to a positive one: “I can do this, I want to become better, I will work harder,” etc, thus hurting the story’s concept of a character with shattered self-confidence, because a character with no self-confidence at all won’t really be able to believe in themselves.

I’d be lying if I said, I knew exactly why martial training builds confidence. I suspect; it’s a culmination of the ability to defend against potential attackers, the normal result of learning a new skill, and possibly some of the thought processes martial arts training attempts to instill. (Michi Note: There are some principles of the Fight Club mentality at play, this coupled with discipline and a general focus on respect and humility, help to keep the jock mentality at bay. Overcoming your own fears has a powerful effect on the way you see yourself, especially if it revolves around overcoming and working through significant amounts of pain and exhaustion.)

Additionally, martial art schools present a lot of opportunity for someone to keep challenging themselves, and pushing further. This means that any impulse to be “top dog”, will be captured and channeled within their school, rather than against random people on the street or in their (normal) school. They are focused and goal oriented in their desire for self-betterment and in a good school surrounded by those who will help them (and those they can also help) to achieve their goals. Martial arts, for the most part, is a focus on self-betterment and self-empowerment. (Michi Note: Professional fighters have a habit of landing in the jock mentality, but that might be because of a tangible “top dog” position coupled with money and fame.)

Martial artists make poor targets for bullying. This comes down to how bullies usually pick their targets, they’re looking for weaker prey. Bullying (almost always) originates from internal self-confidence issues. Training won’t always cure a bully of their behavior, but it reduces the appeal. Martial artists are unlikely to become bullies after their training. In fact, the confidence most martial artists present usually removes them from the bully target category. This doesn’t mean they’re immune, a bully can misread the martial artist, and I’m not accounting for stupid bullies here. (Ones that think they’re actually better fighters than the martial artist, and deliberately seek them out, in an effort to assert their dominance. (Though, I’d strongly caution you against using deliberately “stupid” characters in your writing. It’s very easy to end up with a character that adds nothing to the story.)) If the bully does misjudge the martial artist, their ability to defend themselves is usually enough to send the bully looking for a new victim.

It’s important to remember that most bullies aren’t looking to be seriously challenged and there is a huge difference between a character getting up in the bully’s face and giving them the casual brush off. If there are a number of individuals present to back up the leader bully, then the leader bully might be forced into a situation where they have to retaliate.

(Michi Note: when I was eleven, there was a girl in my class who was upset when I challenged “what she wanted” during an in class Greek Gods roleplay. Afterwards, she tried to physically intimidate me (with her much greater height and stockier body by crowding my personal space) into capitulating and never challenging her opinion in class again. Her attitude and body language suggested that she was used to being able to cow the other girls and even boys because she was so much taller and so much stockier than the rest of us. I was confused, because it was just a class exercise and I was playing my role. So, I told her “no” and wandered off. I found “bitch” scratched into my desk the next day, but it never went any further than that and she actively avoided me from then on. The fact she was trying to intimidate me didn’t even occur to me until years later, I just thought it was strange at the time…by that point I was pretty oblivious to bullies anyway.)

Sanctioned Violence versus Unsanctioned Violence:

It’s important to remember that the above only really applies if you’re character is a martial artist. A martial artist’s violence isn’t sanctioned. If they fight in the real world they face much the same, if not greater, legal threat as the person who is attacking them. They aren’t protected by law or by the government the same way someone employed by the government or a private firm working with the government is.

Characters in professions where the violence is sanctioned face different temptations. When a cop kills someone, they’re up before the review board and often, the crime is swept under the rug. If a soldier kills someone (unless they kill another soldier) then for the most part, they were just doing their job. There is a serious temptation to become a bully or have a bully appear in places where the power dynamics are different, especially in jobs where the perpetrator doesn’t have to fear any sort of reprisal.

It’s also important to think about for authors, not just from an in-world context but also outside of it. We’ll do an article on the dangers of action protagonists and ending up with a bully, because it’s a common occurrence in fiction to have heroes who are nothing more than author sanctioned bullies. It’s very easy, especially in a world where all violence is controlled by the author, to end up with a character that never faces consequences for their actions even when they are performing bully behavior, whether that be emotional or physical.

In Summary:

So, keep in mind that martial artists don’t normally end up as football style “Karate Kid” jocks and your character can’t really win a hand to hand fight without some level of self-confidence. This doesn’t mean they’re overconfident, they can be confused and worried by experiences that are new and different to them. But their lack of self-confidence in those areas can’t be crippling and can’t really extend into all aspects of how they view themselves and their lives.

-Starke

(Michi Note: we’re still moving, we were working on this one slowly all weekend. We’ll try to get other stuff up, but we’re heading into a major push this week and weekend to try to get everything out and moved. We probably won’t have internet the week after that. We’re trying but life stuff comes first.)

silver-tongue-bastard:

jayarrarr:

John Hodgman’s Advice to Writers

John Hodgman is an author and former literary agent. You may recognize him for his stint on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

One of the most important lessons you will ever hear about writing; get life experience.

This is so important to writing about fight scenes. Write what you know, but knowing what you know…that’s the hard part. Remember, all the advice in the world won’t make up for practical experience.

For example: my ardent desire to become a power ranger at five years old has served me remarkably well. Yup, it wasn’t the bullying. It was the part where power rangers were awesome. Anyway, just a thought.

-Michi

Fight Write: Some Thoughts on Height and Weight

“She’s taller than me, heavier too. She’s got the height and weight advantage.”

This sounds good, doesn’t it? It sounds right and reasonable, like the character knows what they’re talking about. Except, they don’t. Assume for a second that the character who says this is maybe five foot six and the girl who says this is maybe five foot two, and that seems like a big difference. It certainly is visually, but the two have a difference of maybe twenty to forty pounds between them. That’s not actually a lot, even if one was to knock the other over. So, when does weight matter? When is height important? The answer is not often and not a lot, depending on training. An untrained fighter is mostly at the mercy of their opponent’s brute strength, so height and weight start to become very important. But what about for the trained fighter? The approach varies, depending on the style and the size of fighter.

With the exception of a few, pertinent points, height and weight actually matter a lot less than you might think they do. So, let’s talk about the advantages and the disadvantages of these two. Maybe, we’ll even debunk a few preconceptions along the way.

Small versus Tall:

It’s important to say when I talk about height and “short” on this blog, that we say short as the descriptor for anyone under 5”10 or around 6”. This may sound strange for some of you, because that relegates most women to the position of “short” even when they’ve been considered “tall” their whole lives. I could say this has to do with a median of male heights and most fighters in America being around six feet, but the truth is it has nothing to do with a person’s actual height at all. The difference is a mental one and small versus tall is reoriented into “advantaged” versus “disadvantaged” fighters. This is where the male versus female outlooks become relevant. Male versus female is not so much a difference in body type as much as a difference in how they see the world around them and shift their combat style accordingly. Tall, male versus short, female is usually how many martial artists break it down. However, because these are learned skills that doesn’t mean that the outlook cannot be adopted by a student of either gender, regardless of how physically tall or short they are.

This is where things get complicated. Most of the common wisdom about fighting that gets spread in society has zero basis in reality, the mind, how it sees the world, and what it’s been prepared for is actually much more important than a character’s physiology or their body type.

Remember, like any weapon, it’s the mind that wields the body, not the other way around. How someone sees themselves is more relevant to how they fight than what shape their body is.

There are only two questions you should really ask when your character is facing a taller or shorter opponent (someone who is taller or shorter than they are): what has my character been trained to do? Have they been trained to deal with opponents who are taller or shorter than themselves?

Most fighters who have trained to think of themselves as “tall” will discount a shorter opponent if they have no experience fighting them. A character with a “short” outlook will tend not to discount anyone on the basis that they’re used to being the smallest, weakest thing in the room and they have to fight harder to prove themselves.

On the physical side:

A character who is lower to the ground will have a lower center of gravity, this means that they won’t have to bend their legs as far to reach a stable stance to keep themselves from being knocked over. This also means that when dealing with a heavier opponent (while standing), they have more time to adjust for the weight before they drop so low that their knees can’t support them anymore. They will also have a better sense of balance, if they’ve been trained for that.

On the whole when we’re talking about women (in the physical sense only), the female body is more compact than the male one. Everything is just a little tighter and more evenly proportioned. This doesn’t mean women can’t be lanky, but they are usually less so than men. This affects their sense of balance and their ability to adjust under the weight of a heavier opponent, it’s true that a woman usually will be unable to develop the brawn of a man but they counter that by having better coordination and control overall.

Weight:

There’s some confusion about weight and fighting, for this I blame Hollywood and our “health” culture. It’s important to keep in mind that being on the heavier side, particularly for women, isn’t necessarily a sign of being unhealthy. On average, most fighters are ten to twenty pounds heavier than someone who works out primarily as a weight loss system. It’s rare to find a female fighter who is under 125 pounds. Even the thinnest female fighters have a habit of averaging out to about 130 to 145, even up to 150-160, without any significant difference in what they look like visually, this is because muscles are heavy. In fact, they are much heavier than fat, though they take up less space.

Then, some people are just built more heavily than others and no matter what they do, will just be heavy. If combat was something only skinny people could do, the world would probably have been at peace a long time ago and the Viking tribes of Northern Europe wouldn’t have conquered half the globe. Sometimes, weight just happens as we get older. So, it’s important to remember that muscle can be built up underneath fat, it can exist under fat, and if the person in question (male or female) is heavier than others in the class this isn’t an immediate detriment to their speed, flexibility, or power. It can be if they don’t have the muscles to support their body or if they’ve just started building those muscles.

I doubt anyone in their right mind would tell me that Sammo Hung, an old friend of Jackie Chan cannot fight.

Heavy Fighters: It’s important to remember that though heavier or even overweight fighters are not necessarily impeded by their weight, that there are some things they have to adjust for. But they have their own advantages too.

Balance: a heavier fighter is carrying around more mass than a light weight one, that’s not necessarily more power that they can generate, but they can build up more momentum once they get going. Again, strength in combat is related to speed more than physical strength. A heavier fighter can be like a freight train and you don’t want to be in their way once they start moving. Still, as in physics: the faster you go, the harder it is to stop. If a heavier fighter misses, it’s going to be slightly more difficult for them to readjust and reorient, so they have to moderate their speed. A heavier fighter’s kicks will still be very effective, but they may find their mass getting in the way if they try to kick above the waist. More weight also means more strain on the knees, so a heavy fighter will have to spend a lot of time learning to adjust their stances and footwork to compensate for their bulk. But the differences between “thin” versus “fat” fighting styles are so minimal that I usually forget to mention them. This isn’t to be exclusionary, it’s more that on a basic level it doesn’t matter and when it does, the positives outweigh the negatives.

Natural Armor: Fat provides the body with natural armor. It covers the muscles and provides some small measure of padding for the fall. Armies don’t want their soldiers weighing in at 300 pounds, but martial artists aren’t normally army. Fat also has a nice side effect of covering up the body’s pressure points and keeping them from being visible. On a physical level women have a natural coat of fat that covers the muscles and keeps the definition from showing (except in certain circumstances of muscle development), this is why it’s difficult for women to learn pressure points when they practice with each other. An overly muscled individual provides nice targets on their arms, chest, and legs.

When fat absorbs some the impact, it can be more difficult to damage a heavy opponent.

On the Ground: On soft areas like in muddy rivers or on the ground weight is king, especially if the fighter is used to adjusting for their weight. When lying flat on the ground or even just kneeling, the natural advantages of a shorter fighter are nullified. This is because it’s harder to adjust for the weight of a heavier person without the use of your legs, relying only on your arms, hips, and your ability to disrupt their position. Fighting is hard for women on the ground, because against men, they are usually dealing with an opponent who has at least forty pounds on them, while this difference is negligible while standing, the ground is an entirely different story. Greater weight + gravity = killer.

When Does Weight Matter? From the standing position it only starts to really matter when you’re facing an opponent that has between eighty to hundred pounds on your character. This isn’t a killing blow, it’s just important to note, especially if they get themselves into a situation where they are putting all their weight on top of the smaller person. You can adjust to handle the weight, of course, but there’s always the possibility that they will sink down far enough that your character’s knees will bend too far. The added momentum only helps them if your character is unable to block or they connect solidly, but it’s not going to be that much worse than if they were hit by someone of equal size and weight.

It’s also important to remember that even a tall, heavy character with a good stance can be difficult to bring down if your characters try to fight them like they would anyone else. The answer? Don’t fight them like you would anyone else. Start low and work your way up.

The exception to this rule, of course, is street fighting. Street fighters don’t really know what they are doing and so the weight and size of another fighter really start to matter there. All this advice is for a character who already knows how to fight.

Greater Reach:

I’ll be honest, greater reach only really matters in two places: when you’re on the defensive and when you’re working with a longarm such as a staff or a sword. The theory for greater reach is this: it will be harder for your opponent to hit you, while it’s easier for you to hit them because you don’t have as far to go.

This isn’t going to matter when there’s only a difference of a few inches. This isn’t even really going to matter if the smaller individual has been trained to fight against larger opponents. And it’s really, really, not going to matter if it’s just hand to hand with no kicks involved. The reason is that legs are longer than the arms and kicking involves leaning backwards instead of forwards with the punch.

The only time in my life I ever remember being really frustrated with a height difference was when I was five or six years old as a yellow belt out on my first sparring experience against our much taller second-degree black belt African-American Instructor, Alan. Alan was in his early twenties, well over six feet, and had very, very long legs. I was four foot nothing and my tiny legs could not reach him, while his were excellent at hitting me. It was very frustrating, especially since I had no clue what I was doing. (He did let me hit him a few times, but my little legs could only reach mid-way up his thigh.)

Speed is actually much more important than reach, being able to get in and out fast while taking minimal damage is when things start getting impressive. Outside of that, it’s not really a big deal.

Professional Fighting:

This is where you really hear the terms height and weight bandied about and they say it exactly like that, on repeat, over and over. Why? It sounds good. An announcer’s job is to drum up the excitement of the crowd, to get people yelling, to get them betting. The height and weight advantage can create a very clear picture in the eyes of the audience for who has the longest odds (if that’s the case). The goal is to convince the audience and the compulsive gamblers to bet on the loser, creating the ideal of the tough, scrappy underdog that people want to succeed. Not because they will, no, in the eyes of the tournament, they don’t have a chance. But they will have succeeded in taking the audience’s money by convincing them that the longshot might very well just be a sure thing. Or, alternately, it makes for a good show. Remember, professional fighting is as much about showmanship as it is about sportsmanship.

MMA fighters, boxers, and kickboxers are all broken up into separate class distribution based on weight. With these guys, we’re talking a difference of five to forty pounds (maybe, but usually not). That’s not actually a very big difference.

-Michi