Category Archives: Arms, Armor & Fighting

Heavy Gear? Knight vs Soldier vs Firefighter

Demonstration of relative mobility issues of a modern soldier, a firefighter, and a knight in full kit. There are some obvious differences in the ages and fitness/stamina level of the participants, but this should give some indication of agility and fighting ability of knights in armor.
 

Kung fu as the God That Failed

Truly fascinating article regarding disappointment in the wake of cultish enthusiasm.

A big part of martial arts instruction is clarity in what you are teaching. Practical application and traditional form both have their place and feed into each other — the way ballet can supplement a football player’s training. If you’re more in tune with your body, you’re more in tune with your environment.

Coping with setbacks from physical injury to disillusion will be part of your experience under a good teacher. Ideally, you learn mental and emotional resilience alongside calisthenics. Finding one art to rule them all is a non-quest, because it’s never about one style being more effective than another; it’s about learning what works for your body-type, your personality, and the challenges you’re likely to face.

via Kung fu as the God That Failed.

Worbla Halloween Mask

This year I have to wait until after Halloween to go trick-or-treating because it’s convention time.

This weekend is Convolution, featuring guests of honor Brian & Wendy Froud who helped bring Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal to life. I’ll get to meet lots of creative pros from writers and costumers to fire-dancers and falconers. The convention theme this year is the Realm of Dreams. Saturday can only mean one thing:  the Goblin King’s Masquerade Ball.

I don’t own any dresses, or masks for that matter.

What I did have was a grab-bag of steel and leather armor pieces, and some thermoplastic scrap worbla left over from another project. Making a mask with worbla is super easy, just grab your heat gun and get to work.

MASK CONSTRUCTION!

1.  Make a pattern out of paper.  Put it on your face. Look in the mirror. See if it makes you happy.  If not, cut it up.

  • I folded the fangs under to make them more symmetrical, and decided that I liked the look so I kept it.
  • I aimed for a combo of sharp edges and curving, organic shapes — somewhere between Maximus’ helmet from Gladiator, and the wrought-iron beauty of a Nazgul crown.
  • Scaling back the design was necessary, because I hate stuff on my face and wanted to minimize the weight.
  • Make sure that your pattern conforms to the shape of your face, including the bridge of your nose.

Base mask with cheek spikes folded under. Top strip will become ‘crown’ pieces.

2. Cut out your pattern, trace it onto the worbla with a sharpie marker.

3. Cut out the your worbla mask. Worbla is very thin, like the kind of cardboard they use for cereal boxes. General-use scissors will do you fine. If you have to cut fine details, use an x-acto knife or razor blade that’s spent some time under the heat gun. Warm knife through butter.

4. Heat up the worbla with a heat gun and press it to your face so it’s nice and form-fitting.

  • Protip:  make sure it still fits no matter what your mood. I tried to smile in it after I’d finished, and my cheeks shoved the mask right into my eyes. Not very dignified. Now you know why Batman’s so unhappy. Can’t smile in his mask.

5. Use the heat gun gently on the decorative and base pieces until they’re warm but not floppy. Press the shiny sides together, no adhesive necessary.

Remember what I said about your pattern actually conforming to your face? The strip across my cheek wasn’t long enough to attach to the nose-guard. I cut out and affixed a little bridge piece. You can pinch the plastic together like clay until it cools. Flaws add character to rugged, barbaric costumes. It’s the princess dresses that suck to make.

I

Messy, but not unfixable. Trim off excess and sand smooth if desired.

6. Check for symmetry, string-holes and other details.  If your mask doesn’t conform to your face, you can re-heat and re-shape it once or twice more.  After that it gets too thin. If you have leftover worbla snippets, you can heat them up and sculpt them like clay. I added one to each cheek to make it look welded.

7. Hey, a mask!  Let’s paint!

Sittin’ pretty.

8. I used Rub ‘n Buff wax metallic finish to make it look like steel.

  • Gesso was not necessary with the wax finish. Nor was a seal.
  • I tried pewter and silver leaf RNB, and settled on silver. Pewter is a bit darker, and looked more like stone than metal.
  • Apply with a Q-tip in little circles.  Make sure you rub it in really well, a little drop will cover a few inches of surface area, and you don’t want it to rub off.

9. To get the patina, I used black acrylic paint and spit. Normal people use paint and water. Maybe the fumes got to me.

  • Darken the negative space to make your decorative details stand out.
  • Very lightly dry-brush black acrylic paint around the eyes, cheeks, teeth, and any other parts that would regularly come in contact with human grime.

Spit not pictured.

Check out your handiwork under different types of light to make sure you achieved the effect you wanted.

Combine that mask with black studded gauntlets, one segmented steel pauldron, black leather thigh-boots and a $12 black dress and you are all set to invade the Goblin Masquerade.  Dressed for a pit fight. Oops.

In the realm of dreams, I’ll rep the nightmares any day.

50+ likes on this post by Thanksgiving, and I’ll upload a snapshot of the whole getup.

The shadow is not inherently evil. If it is ignored or denied, it may become monstrous to compensate. Only then is it likely to “demonically possess” its owner, leading to compulsive, exaggerated, “evil” behavior.”
–  Rob Brezsny

All war is deception.”
– Sun Tzu

Taking a Stand With Your Writing

That window loves starting fights.

Taking a stand invites conflict, and conflict sucks.

Creating conflict is a writer’s business. On a regular basis we blow things up, destroy marriages, incite revolutions and kick the good guy when she’s down. Conflict moves a story along, so writers are obligated to become as comfortable with conflict as we are with sitting down for long periods of time.

As we develop comfort and confidence, our own opinions will crop up in the manuscript. Our characters will rant, or deal with a problem the way we think everyone ought to. Hell, your entire story could be a manifesto. In any of these cases, there will be fallout.

As someone who hates arguing, I have to say it’s a lot easier to handle in fiction. I can tweak both sides until my hero wins. Real life isn’t like that.

Whether you’re defending a creative choice or your sociopolitical stance, you will come up against people who disagree. Here’s how to handle that situation.

1. Keep Your Cool

No matter how passionately you feel about the topic, keep your cool. Your words can and will be used against you—especially in the digital age. If you demonstrate that you’re emotionally invested, your opponents will seek to win by irritating you rather than discussing the matter at hand. Eloquence is a greater ally than anger. They’ll have to earn their victory if you…

2. Do Your Research

Opinions based on belief and passion will be important to you, but it’s hard to sell someone else on your ideas unless they have the same belief and passion. Whether you’re writing about something you haven’t personally experienced, or defending your position on abortion—read up on it. Support your arguments. In the same vein…

3. Be Gracious When You’re Wrong

Some arguments are based on emotion, and some are based on data. If you find that your argument isn’t up to snuff, find out why. The purpose of all conflict is to resolve an issue. If you’re not open to new ideas, it’s a lecture—not a discussion. Whenever you’re talking or writing about something sensitive…

4. Keep Your Aim in Mind

Are you trying to affect social change with your words? Are you trying to entertain, educate or eradicate? In short, is the conversation you’re having worth the fight it may become?

If the answer is yes, take that stand. You stand there and defend yourself with everything you’ve got. If you’re wrong, be gracious; but if you’re right, fight. If you believe something to the core of your being, it’ll be all over your work. You won’t be able to hide it, and you won’t be able to stop people from going after you. Don’t get caught flat-footed by saying something stupid.

If you manage to create peace, harmony and understanding by taking a stand, more power to you. When you review your manuscript for grammar and spelling, consider the content too. Be sure you understand the ramifications of where you’re standing. A level head, broad education, personal accountability and a clear path will help you bridge the gap between opposing sides. Be centered. Don’t look for a fight, but if it comes make sure you’re ready.

If the writing is honest it cannot be separated from the man who wrote it.

―Tennessee Williams

One mark of a great soldier is that he fight on his own terms or fights not at all.”
― Sun Tzu

Men and Women Should Train Together. Equally.

In fiction, in fantasy, and in real life, men and women should train together. Equally. If we can share a planet, we can share interests. Asgarda, a women’s martial arts commune in Eastern Europe,  is a well-intentioned vision of what NOT to do.

A few weeks ago I saw a Facebook post from a friend of mine that read, “FIERCE LADIES DOING FIERCE THINGS, have you heard of this?!?!?!?” which brought me to this site: Asgarda | PLANET°

“Photography by Guillaume Herbaut In the Ukraine, a country where females are victims of sexual trafficking and gender oppression, a new tribe of empowered women is emerging.”

The web-site goes on to describe the feminist lifestyle these women have adopted in the isolation of the Carpathian Mountains. Their leader is a woman named Katerina Tarnouska. Tarnouska was inspired by Ukrainian politician Yulia Volodymyrivna Tymoshenko; who served two terms as Prime Minister, lead the “Fatherland” party and co-led the Orange Revolution. I don’t know that calling them amazons is appropriate because their warriorship seems to be more about hype for a summer-camp rather than a mental/physical practice.

Guillaume Herbaut’s photos looked strange. The girls are model-thin. The women I trained with in China were thin also, but they were built for speed and had lots of visible muscle mass. The Asgarda girls are bony. They’re a little limp-wristed when they hold the weapons. Their martial arts instructor, Volodymyr Stepanovytch, is a man. There’s no evidence that they get their food and other supplies from women’s groups so the claim of “autonomy from men” is hazy at best.

As far as shots of a martial arts camp, there’s a massive difference between this:

And This:

Master Yuan and B. Beckett

There’s a big difference between training and a pose, re-enforced by what they chose to wear. Martial arts poses should demonstrate balance, strength and flexibility — the results of training, not the fantasy of training.

As I flipped through the rest of the photos, and I’m disappointed to say that this whole thing seems bogus. In a country where sex-trafficking is still a problem, a shaved head, boxing gloves and a glower won’t cut it as self defense. Martial arts are all well and good, but if slavers really want to take you, they’ll have guns.

Context is important. As we already discussed, warriors need the right tools for the right job. The pleather halter top and skirt numbers make it more likely you’ll end up on a Russian Brides web site.

Coilhouse featured a video of the girls performing, and I must say their technique is sloppy. Even if it were just dance. I did find it interesting that their teacher practices “Combat Hopak,” which is a blend of Japanese Karate and Ukranian traditional dance. Capoiera (Brazillian dance + music + martial arts) and Tricking (martial arts + gymnastics) are two examples of martial arts that integrated dancing, so maybe Hopak is going in that direction.

The purpose of traditional martial arts training is to fine-tune yourself, and dance can accomplish the same goal. Training shows you all of the tools in your toolbox on physical, mental, and spiritual levels. When you’re physically strong enough, and your hand is steady enough, you can start building your inner self with those tools. Exercise engages your mind and body, while discipline and ritual engage your soul.

It’s more likely that Asgarda was geared toward that kind of personal development rather than the hardcore discipline I saw in other places. Coilhouse pointed out that many of the girls were college students enjoying a summer camp to promote feminist values. The Telegraph interviewed Tymoshenko, who expressed a passion for encouraging young women on this path of empowerment and self-determination. After digging around Asgarda’s Russian web site with the help of a translator, it confirmed that the program is aimed at feminist and female-empowerment workshops. One particularly lighthearted example was this:

“23 2008 – Freckles April 27 Amazons with gopakivtsyami Shevchenko celebrated the freckles in the grove. First, circle dances, singing freckles, amused themselves in the game, followed by another exhibition.”

Back in 2009 there were over 150 members. Today, I think it’s been shut down. The Sensationalist PR may have contributed to that, just as it has backfired with the Iran Ninjitsu Club. The best way to support feminist goals is to transform them into humanist goals like training men and women side-by-side. We’re stronger when we stand together.

How to Write Realistic Brawls/Scraps/Fights

Come at me, meow!

Realism* is your best friend when dealing with a fight. We already know realism makes romance and erotica come alive, and it’s the same with a fight. Without realism, the erotica will be limp, the romance will be un-relatable, and the fight will be boring.

*As much realism as you can have when magic and super-speed are involved, but more on that later.

Combat is a physical, visceral thing. Showing, not telling, is key. Spending words on your characters’ thoughts will slow down the action. If you’re getting mugged, do you think your mugger would pause while you reflected on your unfortunate circumstances?

No! He’d take your damn wallet and run!

That level of urgency is important in a fight. Do warriors analyze the situation? Of course, but that analysis is instant. Their experience and ingenuity will be better reflected in your writing by describing what they DO, not what they THINK.

Just as a physicist will be unimpressed if you write bad science, fighters will be unimpressed if you write bad fights. Always ask if you’re not sure!

Here are some quick principles and a practice exercise to help you tighten up flabby fight scenes.

BLOW-BY-BLOW! The best written combat sequences obey the following rules:

  1. Short, direct sentences. Make them clear and to the point.
  2. Vivid description. By vivid I mean specific, not florid.  “She was hit hard in the face by his elbow,” is awful. “He broke her nose,” is alright. “His elbow slammed into her nose with a  sickening crunch,” is better.
  3. A blow-by-blow account. This is the difference between a good scene and a great  scene, and sportscasters have known this for years. Chat with your local dojo’s demo-team instructor, or watch movies choreographed by Yuen Woo-Ping. They’ll give you good examples of sequence. (Ideally you could sign up for martial arts classes yourself!)

These principles apply equally to gun fights and magical onslaughts. I don’t know much about tank/ship/spaceship combat, so let’s omit vehicles for now. All the same, seeing the essential steps of the dance will give it beauty.

EXERCISE ~ LINKING ACTION AND REACTION

reaction

Kill Bill, 2003

Take a short fight scene, slow it down, and practice describing  the sequence of strikes. Capture the sequence first, and add details later. I chose THIS RANDOM VIDEO as an example. I’ve named the woman in pink “Kelly,” and her opponent’s new name is “Mary.”

STEP I: Break the moves down to their simplest choreography 

Kelly punches Mary.

Kelly looks at her knuckles.

Mary kicks Kelly in the groin.

Mary drops.

Mary grabs Kelly‘s hair.

Mary drags Kelly across the floor.

Kelly tries to get up.

Mary throws Kelly into a table.

Check the video again to make sure you didn’t miss anything. They do the same sequence twice.

Now that you have the skeleton of the action, you have a clear view of how each fighter acts and reacts to the other.

STEP II: Relate A’s actions directly to B’s actions.

“You knew this would happen,” Mary said. Kelly smiled, and punched Mary in the eye. Mary’s head snapped back while Kelly looked at her bruised knuckle. Mary took a step forward and kicked Kelly in the groin, which made Kelly drop to her knees. Mary then grabbed Kelly by the ponytail and dragged her across the floor. Kelly kicked and screamed. She tried to get up, but Mary threw her into the table. Mary put a hand to her eye, growled and stomped away. 

STEP III: Edit to give it life. Omit unnecessary action, shorten sentences, break up paragraphs and add tiny embellishments for color.

“You knew this would happen,” Mary laughed.


Kelly smirked for half a second, then socked Mary in the eye. Mary’s head snapped back.


The shock didn’t last. Mary lunged, kicking Kelly in the groin. Kelly dropped to her knees. Mary grabbed a chunk of Kelly’s hair and dragged her kicking and screaming across the floor.

Kelly tried to scramble to her feet, but Mary was stronger. Mary slammed Kelly into the table, and Kelly dropped like a sack of rocks.

Clutching her stinging eye, Mary stormed off.

To Recap:

Principles:

  • Short, direct sentences.
  • Vivid, specific description.
  • A blow-by-blow account.

Steps:

STEP I: Break the moves down to their simplest choreography.

STEP II: Relate A’s actions directly to B’s actions.

STEP III: Edit to give it life. Omit unnecessary action, shorten sentences, break up paragraphs and add tiny embellishments for style.

Final Notes:

  • I omitted some of the details I felt slowed down the narrative, including grunting and screaming. The body language was enough.
  • I spent more time describing actions that took longer to execute. Your words are like a film reel, dedicate the time only where it agrees with pacing.
  • Only use active verbs. “Kelly was punched by Mary” sounds like a crime report. “Mary punched Kelly” sounds like it hurt.

Based on the text, you should be able to re-create the fight. Ask yourself, was the pacing the same? Did you feel the same way reading the text as watching the video? Most importantly, are you creating an authentic fight, or mimicking what’s been done before?

Red Sonja (1985). I love this movie, but standards have gone way up since then. Don’t recycle the same tricks.

This example is very basic. The point is to practice flow and sequence. As your instincts get stronger, steps I and II will merge, and you can get right down to the fun stuff like spurting blood and what it feels like to have bone fragments grinding against each other.

I couldn’t find any good quotes by Joe Abercrombie about writing combat, but R. A. Salvatore nailed it right on the head. In my opinion, those two are the absolute best combat writers in fiction. As someone with over twenty years of martial arts study, working with demonstration teams, stage-fighting and practical application, I’ve learned the value of writing sequences that are both pretty and realistic.

Writing a fight scene is about mechanics (it’s got to make sense to  people who know something about fighting–kind of like the science in a  science fiction book has to pass the physicist test!)… Mostly, a good fight  scene is about the pacing. I notice that my sentences get shorter,  paragraphs become single sentences or even sentence fragments, and  characters are too involved in staying alive to muse about the meaning  of life.” –R.A. Salvatore

Questions? Critiques? Leave a note.