Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Featured FightWriter: Lisa Godfrees

Featured FightWriter: Lisa Godfrees
Lisa Godfrees (Gedfrides)

Lisa writes: I have a question for you. I LOVE the show Dark Matter (Have you seen it?) but it drives me crazy in all the fight scenes where people continually spin away from each other and the other person waits patiently for them to spin all the way around before attacking again. Why would you turn your back on an opponent during a fight?

That is an excellent observation, Lisa. You are a warrior at heart. Ok, let's look at the scene she sent.

This question comes at the perfect time as I did blade work last week. Ok, where to start. First, let's look at what's right. From the get-go, each woman keeps her eye on her opponent as she takes her weapon in hand. That is crazy important and Knifey Stuff 101. If I drop my practice knife while training, I watch my coach while I pick it up. If I don't, he'll "get" me! Also, I handle it as a real blade at all times. So, I don't hand it to anyone blade first nor do I ever hold it that way. That's not in the video. I'm just telling ya.

Also, they both have legit grips on their knives. (Just the actual grip - how the hand holds the handle.) You can hold the handle forward (straight) or reverse (I call it "stabby style"). You can make all the basic slashes/cuts using either grip. The reverse grip is handy for hooking things like a stick being swung at you. If you use a forward grip, the stick will slide off and be active again. "Stabby style," and you maintain more control over the stick in the hook you've created with the blade and your arm.

Lastly, the choreography is lovely. Which, sadly, leads us to the negative points. That's all it is, choreography. The scene director was keeping it visually interesting. In a real knife fight between two educated fighters, you won't have all that spinning. It's wasted motion and good fighting is efficient. You move as little as possible and make every move count.

That said, if somebody comes spinning at you with a knife, just get out of the way. Don't try to take them down. To do so you'd have to attack their trunk or legs which would put the blade above your eye line and that is never good. Unless of course you could manage to take them down while also containing their arms which would be perilous as there is a knife ablazin'. On a side note, if you feel you need to spin in order for your blade to be deadly, you need to change knives. Nowish.

It's also important to know that blades aren't a straight extension of your forearm. They move and change angles constantly because THE BLADE KEEPS MOVING at all times. You keep it going even when you stab. You stab, retract, stab, retract, etc., etc., boom, boom, boom. The only exception being a warning strike. In that case, you make a non lethal strike i.e. to the top of the arm, as the first woman did, then back off. Otherwise, that sucker keeps flashing at all angles.

The position in which the women are holding their knives - not gripping - is kind of legit. My coach's "ready" stance is with his knife above his head. The other coaches each hold blades their own ways, often out to the side. But, you wouldn't want to ever hold the knife with both hands. You need one arm to defend. And you don't want to stand so sideways that your knife has to travel so far. You stand more squarely, one foot slightly forward.

Finally, if the second woman wanted to stab the first so badly, why did she elbow her then kick her away? If she could elbow her in the back, she could slash the side of the neck especially with a reverse grip. But, for that matter, why didn't the first woman just shoot the second Indiana Jones style? Also, I love that the poison wasn't activated until the first woman spoke of it. That is handy! Oh, and you are super right, Lisa, you never turn your back on your opponent. Ever.

HOWEVER AND ABOVE ALL, it was interesting to watch and really that's what matters. A real fight scene would have been less frenetic and way more bloody neither of which would have suited the scene or the show. (Knife slashes are mega gross. I cannot stress that enough.) The only people who see the flaws in this scene are the knife fighters and they are few and far between. And, I really doubt they would be so offended they'd stop watching the show. So, flaws and all, I put this in the "kinda cool," pile.

Thank you so much, Lisa, for sending this in! Until the next time at, get blood on your pages! And, if you want to be the featured FightWriter, send your question through the form on the left. I'll do my best to answer it or find somebody who can. I'm kinda waiting for somebody to send something that requires ME to do a video. (Insert impish grin.)

Lisa Godfrees is fascinated with creatures that don't exist, especially Jackalopes. She was a forensic scientist for over a decade and still testifies as a technical expert in the court room. She is a light programmer extraordinaire, incredibly punny, an oxford comma enthusiast (LIKE ALL RATIONAL THINKERS), mom of two, wife of one, hybrid homeschool parent and self-proclaimed data junkie. She's also the author of about a half dozen great short stories featured in anthologies as well as the co-author of Mind Writer. Check out her site, her blog and her new book!

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Site Is Part of the Fight

In The Art of War, Sun Tzu assures that if a leader treats his
soldiers as sons they will follow him into the deepest valley. Why the deepest valley? Because a valley is a notoriously bad place to do battle. So much so that going there required more than skill from a fighter. In that sort of landscape, every physical and tactical advantage can quickly be lost. All the army would have left would be what they would need above all: trust in their commander. 

The environment in which a battle takes place can change the entire battle. It can immediately impart advantage or impose disadvantage. It determines the weaponry, the battle strategy, the vehicles of war, the style of fighting and can just as easily render each and every one of those ineffective. It can make numbers irrelevant, physical strength inconsequential and training inapplicable. To me, it’s importance is second only to the reason the fight is taking place. (See post  The WHY Changes the Fight)

The Lord of the Rings gives us a great example of how the site affects the fight. The stronghold of Helm's Deep was defended by 2,000 men of Rohan against more than 10,000 troops of Saruman. Watch this movie clip (sorry, book purists) and notice how each side uses the construction of the castle to their advantage. 

Ok, how did the construction of the fortress mitigate the number of Saruman's forces? They had to use ladders to climb the wall. And, as only one creature could climb at the time, the Rohirrim only had to battle a few at a go versus the entire lot at once. Legolas and Gimli found them to be easy pickings.

Speaking of ladders, why do you suppose Saruman chose to use them and diminish his power of numbers rather than employing more aggressive siege weaponry? (Ladders are considered siege weaponry. Yes, bunk beds come with siege weaponry.) They could have used a trebuchet to launch flaming pots of oil and a mangonel to attack the wall both of which would have protected troop numbers. Instead, the Orcs used a battering ram, explosives, ladders and those crazy long spears all of which have to be used in close proximity.

Well, consider the landscape of Helm's Deep. The valley was surrounded by high hills. Rolling a lot of large equipment through that landscape would have been difficult even for Orcs. They chose to use their energy to carry what was more portable. (A battering ram can be carried in pieces easier than larger items.) So, the terrain chose the weapons more than Saruman did.

Also, I'm not sure if you could tell, but there was only one entry point into the actual fortress. Those inside had to fight off no more than the number able to bottle neck through it. In another scene you would have seen the Rohirrim ride on horseback through the bottle neck onto the raised pathway leading to the outside, knocking off Orcs as they went. Again, they only had to battle a few at the time versus the entire army.

How did Saruman's forces use the construction to their advantage? They attacked through the culvert. Destroying it took down the entire wall. And, the thing about a wall is that it only works if it's up.

Terrain and building construct aren't the only ways a site can effect a fight. Climate of the location can as well. Wooden rifle stocks are effected by all climate extremes. Arrows aren’t as precise in mountain winds. Cold can alter the viscosity in machinery lubrication. Heat can warp equipment. And, any severe weather condition can ruin even the best laid plans.

But, above all, climate can effect a soldier. It can be mortally wounding at worst. But, even if it simply causes physical discomfort, that alone effects mood which can directly effect physical stamina and therefore the ability to use one's skills. A tired body will betray a tireless mind.  

The size of an area can change matters as well. A narrow corridor does a great disservice to weapons that require circular momentum i.e. nunchucks (which I have a lesson in soon - insert giddy giggle). A thickly wooded area with low branches isn’t the best for a fighter of great size. And, a clearing isn’t optimal for a small fighter who could use a buffer.
(How different would this Bruce Lee scene be if the two were in a narrow hallway? Very. But still, epic!!!)

When crafting your fight scene, consider the physical space and environment in which it happens: 

* How much of it is usable? Is it limited by walls, furniture, boulders, chasms or shoal filled rivers? 
* What roll does the terrain play? Is it rocky, steep, iced over? Can a horse traverse it? Can a human? Is it a buffer or a hinderance?
*  What about the climate? Does it effect weaponry or morale? What clothing is best suited for it? Will your hero regret wearing chain mail? 
*  Can the surroundings be a part of battle strategy and a comrade to your hero? Or is it a tool for the opposition?

The site can change the fight. Don’t just make a battle scene. Make the scene part of the battle. After all, it can be the decision maker and strategy breaker.

Until the next round at, get blood on your pages!

Also, Happy Thanksgiving. I never imagined this blog would exist much less be what it has become. It is the brainchild of you all. I'm extremely thankful for all of you that read, respond, and make requests from this site. In two months, your numbers are edging, at this writing, on 10,000 from all parts of the globe. God bless you. And, as I say to all my fighter friends before they get into the ring, may God keep you safe and make you dangerous!

(This video has nothing to do with the post, I just like it. It's a Minecraft recreation of the fortress of Rohan. It has the caves and everything. :) )

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The WHY Changes the Fight

In The Art of War, Sun Tzu advises, “to a surroundedenemy, you must leave a way of escape.” Why? Because it changes why the enemy is fighting, and the why changes the fight. The skill of the soldiers won’t change. The weaponry and terrain will remain the same. However, without an exit, without an alternative to certain death, the enemy no longer fights to win. He fights to survive. And, to survive, one is more likely to fight to the death. 

 The whys surrounding a fight are the MOST important considerations in crafting a fight scene. They make the reader aware of what’s at stake, how much there is to lose or to gain which, in turn, determines and explains the speed, style and ferocity of the fight. The whys can also impart advantage and negate a disparity of size and skill in an opponent as well.  

  At the surface, there may be many reasons why your character is fighting. But, dig deeper and you will see that quite often they all connect to one. In the case of Sun Tzu’s opponents, why do they fight differently once surrounded? It’s not for survival. In that moment, when they see no way of escape, it's not the desire to live that drives them. It is the fear of death, of what lies beyond life, of how their death will impact the people who make their lives worth living. 

In almost all cases, fear is at the root of every why. And that is NOT a bad thing.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Many fights have been fought for other reasons such as love or honor. A mother will fight like an animal out of love for her child. Soldiers will fight for their country out of honor. I agree that is absolutely part of why they enter the fray, but that's not why they fight. When the sun glints off the blade, when the bullets cut through the air, the mother fights out of fear of losing the child, of the child being disabled, of the child being in pain, of how that event will impact their child’s future, their siblings’ futures or their own. And, the soldier fights for fear of their family losing freedom, of their family losing them, of evil triumphing, of everything changing, of everything staying the same.

  Even if your character is seemingly lacking in emotion (not counting robots or Vulcans here) and is genuinely psychotic, that is the result of one of three things: physical illness, substance use, mental illness. In the case of the last two, substance (drug) abuse can be due to covering up pain, which is connected to the fear of feeling that pain again or whatever originally caused that pain. In the case of mental illness, that can be the result of chronic fear and a means of self preservation in the face of it.

 Even when a fight response is immediate, one of survival instinct i.e. fight, flight, freeze, when there is seemingly no time for emotion to be attached, fear is there. It’s what raises the hairs on the backs of our necks before we even realize we have reason to be afraid. It is by no means a hallmark of cowardice or frailty. Heeded wisely, and utilized correctly, fear is the greatest of gifts, the most formidable of allies. It defends us, it warns us, it teaches us and it can make us into something no other emotion can. We would all do well to listen to its call more often. (If you haven't read The Gift of Fear, do so.)

Remember, without fear, there is no bravery! If you remember nothing else from this post, remember that. Bravery does not exist without fear. Every single time you find yourself avoiding something because of fear, ask yourself if the Lord is blessing you with the opportunity to be brave. 

Every fighter is afraid. Every single one. As Cus D'Amato, legendary coach of Mike Tyson said,"The figher's that's gone into the ring and hasn't experienced fear is either a liar or a psychopath." 
However, do not make the common mistake of allowing fear, or any emotion, to invade the action of a fight scene. One does not feel emotion in the throes of a fight. What does continue into the fray are the physical effects of the emotions that preceded it. In a previous post, Scene of the Attack a guest recounted being attacked by a half dozen people. She noted that she only felt fear for a split second. What she felt while being beaten was something very different.  

  Another common error is assuming that any emotion will give a character skills they didn’t previously possess. Adrenaline may give you greater strength and a hefty dose of chutzpah, but it will not give you a new history. So, if your character suddenly wields a weapon to protect a loved one, do not give them the ability to skillfully use it unless they have training. And, if they have training, the reader should be made aware of the fact.  

 Ok, so we know that a why can change a fight and that why is almost always rooted in fear - which isn't a bad thing. Wouldn't that make all fights look the same since they are all rooted in the same emotion? No. Fear is a common emotion, but the response it brings out is unique to the person feeling it. How your character chooses to use that fear is what will make the difference. 

 What does this look like on paper? Well, here are a couple examples of a character’s fight changing as their why changes. All the whys are rooted in fear. But, as what causes that fear adjusts, so does the physical response:

Held at gunpoint, a man freezes, wide-eyed (fear of death). Seeing the thug look at his baby in the stroller beside him, he clenches his fists, flares his nostrils and lunges for the gun (fear of losing his child).

On Black Friday, a quiet pre-school teacher, allows another shopper to snatch a deeply discounted iPad out of her hands and makes no attempt to retrieve it (fear of retribution). Five years later, during a zombie apocalypse, a man attempts to steal a can of beans from her and she stabs him in the face (fear of hunger which will make her weak, which will make her slow, which could mean her death or worse, becoming a zombie).

  Remember, no fight simply happens. There is always a why driving it, and that why is generally rooted in fear and that is NOT a bad thing. Be sure that your reader knows the why and the fear clinging to it. Make the fight fit that fear and both must suit the character. Dig deep, go beyond the surface, be real, be vulnerable, make your character shake, scream, charge, cower, bear arms, bear teeth and drag the reader right along side them. 

  Be the writer that's not afraid to embrace fear. Why not? What are you afraid of?

If you aren't afraid, you aren't brave.

  Until the next round at, get blood on your pages.



Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Liver Punches

In my humble opinion, one most under-appreciated strikes is one to the liver. It will absolutely bring down an opponent and, if hard enough, will cause them to lose consciousness. Granted, a hard blow to just about any organ can do that as the sudden trauma causes a cascade of bad events effecting heart rate and blood vessel dilation. 

The liver, however, is especially vulnerable. It's the largest internal organ, about 3 pounds, sits in the abdomen, facing an opponent, and is slightly exposed under the ribs. Strangely, it takes a second or two, but when the liver is struck hard enough the body WILL go down and not simply from the debilitating pain. It simply can't help itself. Here's why:

The reason for the (body) collapse is, when your blood pressure’s going down, your body tries to instinctively control the blood pressure, and if it can’t raise the heart rate or restrict the blood vessels, it puts the body in a supine position so that it can maintain some blood flow to the brain. Because if you lose blood pressure to the brain, obviously it’s not compatible with life.

If you have a great disparity in size between characters, a blow to the right side of the abdomen will bring the larger opponent down 100% of the time. However, be certain the severity of the strike matches the size of the opponent. Larger bodies have more muscle and fat. You have to be certain you account for the greater mass. Also, if you make that larger fighter a lefty the scenario will be more plausible as a fighter who engages with his right shoulder forward puts the liver front and center. (Remember, the power hand is always back.)

I've attached three videos. The first is Bas Rutten's liver shot (punch). Bas is a legend in MMA, a member of the UFC Hall of Fame and a warrior for Christ. If you love fighting and you don't know Bas, you should. Bas isn't the one teaching in the video for some reason, but know the technique is his! And, you do need to know how to do it because it is not simply a strike to the side. Most of that is protected by the ribs. You have to make contact with the abs just below the ribs which is pretty darn tricky.  

The second is a kick to the liver known as the Bas Rutten Special! The third is a heavy weight taking a liver shot that I added just to prove to you that heavy weights will hit the mat as well. Notice that in each the fighter not only goes down but curls into a fetal position. This isn't just due to pain but also the body's natural response to protect itself. In other words, a liver punch generally doesn't make somebody fall flat on his back. Don't make that mistake.  

So, go back and take another look at that fight scene. Be sure the liver is available and not covered by armor, mail or the ilk. Get in close, strike fast, strike hard, and upwardly precise. Give the recipient a moment or two, then let the debilitating pain hit and drop them to the ground in a crescent shaped heap. Rest assured, the giver of said present will have time to escape, dispatch or simply stand back and enjoy the moment like a "Bas". (I LOVE that guy!)


 Until the next round at, get blood on your pages!