By Matthew Swihart
Matthew has more than twenty (20) years’ experience in Martial Arts, with over ten (10) years’ experience as an Instructor (Sensei). He has a First Degree Black Belt (Shodan) in Shotokan Karate, a Fifth Degree Black Belt (Yondan) in Chito-Ryu Karate, and holds rank in Ryu Kyu Kobudo Hozon Shin Ko Kai (Okinawan Weapons). He has also earned the titles of Technical Expert (Renshi) and Disciple (Deshi) for his extensive training and service to Chito-Ryu Karate. Mr. Swihart has never lost a fight, and has survived through three riots in psychiatric/correctional facilities, and one gang fight which broke out around him. He is currently in the process of securing a location to bring Chito-Ryu Karate to Colorado.
Every story has conflict. This conflict can be existential, philosophical, emotional, psychological, and just about any other “—al” you can come up with. Regardless of your primary conflict, there are few stories which don’t contain at least one physical altercation, and most contain several. This means we as writers must be well-versed in various forms of physical combat.
The first question, naturally, is, what type of fighter is each character who will be throwing flesh, steel, or lead? Is he a pimply fat kid who’s only balled his hand into a fist when he couldn’t mash the buttons on his controller fast enough to defeat the Arishok, or a seasoned fighter who knows enough to not respect UFC fighters? Is she a fragile waif incapable of killing a spider, or a streetwise tough girl who carries Vaseline in her purse and never wears earrings she can’t quickly remove with one hand?
Next, you must ensure the skill-level of all fighting characters either remains the same or improves over time. It’s always a sign of bad writing when the antagonist (or antagonists’ chief goon) is shown quickly dispatching trained soldiers, then inexplicably has trouble defeating the fifteen year-old protagonist.
Fighters with little or no training are wildcards. They will miss more often than they connect, and are as likely to hurt themselves as their opponents. Afraid of getting hurt, they will back up and dance around a lot. They will attempt to mask their fear with trash talk, threats, and challenges.
Trained fighters, on the other hand, won’t speak at all. They are too busy advancing on their opponents, searching their enemy for weaknesses and tells, and watching for environmental hazards and other opponents. Moving forcefully and with purpose, trained fighters will end a fight quickly.
Once you know your combatants, you must then ask whether they are properly paired. For example, absent bad writing, no child will ever win a physical fight with a trained warrior (part of the fallacy of books and movies with child protagonists who can defeat grown-ups without assistance from other adults). Of course, good stories demand the protagonist defeat someone better trained than s/he. The trick is to maintain verisimilitude.
Over the next few posts, I’ll talk about empty hand, knife, and gun fights, as well as the importance of understanding the philosophy and history of whatever styles your characters