blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
Most of you have stuck with me for an entire year now, and I can't tell you how much your support and faith means to me.

I'm enough of an introvert that I don't experience writing and creating as particularly lonely endeavors, but they can certainly be fertile ground for bouts of doubt and anxiety.

Seeing your support, month after month, turns doubt into confidence and anxiety into determination.

We'll still get an Article of Violence this month, but I also wanted to do something extra for you.

Thus you have a story--not a holiday story, precisely, but one of and for the heart.

May your holidays be wonderful, and the coming year filled with hope.

Love,
Blair

About My Girl




#SFWApro
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
This article originally appeared for patrons only at Patreon.


Grounding and energy generation—the basis of so many combat and meditative arts in real life, and referred to directly or indirectly in a multitude of fictional magic and fighting systems. In the latter, it’s often described as rooting, or as drawing from the earth, or in other non-specific and spiritual-sounding ways. Gripping the earth with our feet, sinking or connecting, and other aspects of energy use.

I’ve also seen some rather ridiculous demonstrations that can best be deemed Karate Magic or Sensei-Fu—the great and powerful master who uses a pinky finger and hand-wave-um to send faithful students tumbling and sprawling as a demonstration of great power drawn from the earth and channeled into superhuman chi. Here’s an example of what happens when self-delusion walks into reality.

Ahem.

I’m more of a practical gal, I suppose.

Yes, I could say grounding gives you a connection to the earth beneath your feet—and indeed modern research demonstrates an incredible energy exchange when one walks barefoot on soil—but that isn’t extensively useful in a sudden and unexpected fight.

Think about it: the notion of “grounding” as tapping into the earth’s energy means you cannot expect your powerful techniques to work if you’re on a boat, on a plane, in a high-rise, or having to defend yourself within the confines of a spaceship. Or, for that matter, on a yoga mat on the gym’s second floor. Grounding might make one feel connected with the earth or with the universe, but that’s the result of the act rather than the act itself. It’s a metaphor that has, by some instructors and fiction writers, been taken way too far.

Grounding is not a spiritual act dependent upon the Think Method.

Now, I’m not trash-talking fictional magic systems that depend upon inherent elemental power. Frankly, I love elemental magic. (I’ve this little series called Desert Rising, after all!) What I don’t much love is the pseudo martial arts training that presents earthly grounding as a reality-based component of non-magical fight training and skill. What I really dislike is seeing those fictional depictions show up in real-life training folks have paid good money for.

Example: One of my Viable Paradise instructors has extensive Aikido training, and the depth of his skill—and therefore the quality of his instruction—is evident in every line of his body. I recall studying him during one discussion session, when he was merely standing off to one side. I remember thinking to myself, “If I tried to punch him, I’d be the one falling over from the recoil.”

(Is that an odd thing to think? Probably. Unless you tend to think about this stuff all the time. Honestly, I didn’t want to hit him!)

But why did I think that? It wasn’t because he was stiff and stoic. It wasn’t because he played at puffing out his chest and acting tough. It was because he was so obviously balanced, stable, and comfortable. He was both stone and sapling—solid and rooted and flexible.

And when I caught a glimpse of him moving through a couple techniques, that sense of solidity in motion remained.

That’s grounding. For reals.

***

The most bland description, and therefore the most useful and educational place to start, is simple: grounding is the use of biomechanics to choose how and when your body moves.

Grounding comes down to choosing one’s structure—or, perhaps even more basic, one’s posture. If you’re wavering or falling over often, posture is often to blame. If as a martial arts student, you’re stumbling when you strike an opponent or a heavy bag, your posture is again most often to blame.*

Certainly I can tell a student to “sink.” To “connect with the ground.” To “find their stability.” If I’m not a very skilled teacher, I keep repeating those things until the student either finds the right body alignment through trial and error or, as is often the case with intermediate students, quits in frustration. (There is a reason, my darlings, why so many brown belt students drop out…)

So… fix the posture, and fix the technique, right?

Well… yes and no.

Grounding involves the coordination of muscle groups we don’t usually think about. You let your knees bend a little. You take the muscles of your pelvic floor and “lift” them toward your diaphragm. You straighten the outward curve of your lower spine. Bonus points can be earned for being able to tense and relax the upper inner thighs while keeping your knees aligned over your feet. (Just the inner thighs, mind. Tensing other parts of the thigh actually reduces your ability to move quickly.)

Now drop your shoulders (I add that part because the one thing the majority of adult students do when thinking about what the rest of their body is doing is tense and lift their shoulders) and align those shoulders over your hips. Adjust your chin so your eyes are level and your ears are aligned between your shoulders—not in front of them or behind them. Take a deep breath that expands deep in your belly without lifting your shoulders or pushing out your upper chest.

Go ahead and try it. I know you want to.

Those instructions are the bare bones, nothing more, and they are not the only words and actions that will produce results. They are simply the ones I’ve learned. I could toss in koshi and gamaku, chat a bit about the stability of the muscles connecting ribcage to pelvis, talk about the expansion of vertebrae spacing and the shape of the bottom of your feet… There are as many ways to verbally describe the process as there are applications of it.

On the other hand, were you standing in front of me, I could touch your body in four places to help you identify the muscles we’re talking about,** push your shoulders and hips a couple times, and have you grounded. At least in that moment.

Then I’d tell you to shake out your limbs, walk a circle around the mat, and try it again. We’d do this until you could identify the parts of your body that were tense and the parts that were relaxed, with both touch and words. Then I’d have you run kata or spar, and randomly ask you to ground yourself and explain the process. Yes, yes, I know fighting doesn’t involve words, but our intellectual processing does, and though words can get in the way of physical learning at times, deeper understanding and lasting learning usually includes them. The ability to define something physically and verbally ensures your “thinking” brain will eventually get out of the way so your body can do what it must.

Eventually, you’d be able to settle your body into a grounded posture without running a mental checklist. And I’ll tell you now—that feels really, really good.

So… that’s it, right? Grounding in a nutshell!

Nope.

Grounding when you’re standing still is pretty simple, truly. The real learning comes into play when grounding must be done while punching, kicking, blocking, evading… When one must be in motion. When grounding isn’t about connecting with what’s beneath your feet, but about choosing your body’s structure as it moves.

It sounds like a contradiction at first, the grounding while moving thing. But consider what I said above—that grounding isn’t dependent on the physical ground—and it’ll begin to make sense.

If I bump your shoulder, you’ll shift to absorb the force. Do you shift at the waist or the shoulders? The hips? The knees or ankles? If your feet move, where do they go? What happens to your chin? What do your arms do? If your body rotates, how much and in what direction?

Those answers are all part of grounding.

***

Musicians ground themselves with posture proper to their instrument in order to play their best. Backpackers adjust their loads based upon biomechanics in order to reduce strain and injury. Artists know the alignment of their bodies affects the translation of vision into intention. Workers who lift heavy loads learn the importance of using certain muscles more than others. Increasingly, athletics is using science to coach promising athletes by deciphering micro-movements, joint rotation, and ligament/tendon coordination. And there is an entire field of workplace ergonomics dedicated to determining the proper physical alignment for everything from answering the phone to deboning chickens on an assembly line.

There is nothing magical and mystical about fighters doing the same thing.

Accepting—indeed, being excited by the prospect—that grounding is, ahem, grounded in science that can be studied and understood by any average person doesn’t in any way detract from the skill required to achieve it and the awesome results of practicing it. Understanding enhances those things.

Now consider that knowledge in light of writing about fighters and their training.

How long will it take a new fighter to understand and implement grounding if their teacher tells them to feel the earth and sink, and waits for the fighter to figure it out?

How long will it take a new fighter to understand and implement grounding if their teacher demands an exact posture because the needs of war won’t wait upon a student’s soul-searching?

The methods of training depend upon the urgency of the need. Soldiers who have the luxury of three, four, or five years of training without constant threat of deployment will be taught differently than those who have a couple weeks at most before losses on the front line require them to step into hand-to-hand combat in defense of their territory. Ye gads, I’d certainly hope they’d be trained differently!

The same goes for the teaching of grounding. When it’s a more spiritual and internal quest—a personal search for a connection with self and the greater world—we can afford to take our time with ambiguous and interpretive language. When it’s intended to support a fighter’s ability to fight—to survive—practicality rules.

And in real life, there are scant few reasons other than ego or inexperience to withhold specific information from students.

This article originally appeared for patrons only at Patreon. Because they’re wonderful patrons, they support making the articles on self-defense and fight scenes available to everyone within a month of the original posting. But Patrons have access to exclusive content and other benefits as well. So if you find it valuable and helpful, thank the patrons, and consider becoming one yourself!

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blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
For years, the Oster merchant Neb has been nagging at me to finish his story. For years, I've been trying to do so. But now--thanks to the whisper of another character who said simply, "It's me, ma'am. Don't worry about them."--the story is rumbling along apace. A truly, not a moment too soon. I needed a break from the heaviness that can be SheyKhala.

The Drunkard is set in the same lands as my novels, and readers will recognize reference to the land of Osterloh as the enemy not yet fully seen in the current storylines. We have threats and fights and battles and blood-hungry beings... but your narrator Neb is a sharp-tongued man with a knack for odd phrasings and secrets that are both softer and harder then he's really comfortable talking about. And no matter what you might hear, he'll have you know he is held in the highest esteem by those merchants who share his penchant for almost-licit dealings, and can count on any of them to nudge the border guards at the proper moment and with the appropriate coin (supplied, of course, by Neb himself).

The dear folks currently supporting me on Patreon will have exclusive, patron-only access to the novella as it unfolds. The first part is up at Patreon now. For a dollar a month, you can join up! I'll also be revamping my Patreon page and offerings in the coming month, so if you've some patron-input you'd like to share, please do!

So here's a taste of The Drunkard.

Um... wait, I didn't mean it quite that way...

Ahem.

The Drunkard

Here’s how those storytelling dimwits begin the tale:


He rode into town at sunset, just as prophecy had foretold. The folk feared to meet his cold stare as he reckoned the worth of their lives against the risking of his own, for he alone could deliver them from the ancient evil that had descended upon Entibar.


Pah.


Blah, blah, PAH.


First of all, there was no prophecy. Just some babble from old Plegar, who forgot more often than not to pull up his trousers before tottering into the hostel for breakfast. There was no impressive arrival, either. Near as I could figure, the drunkard staggered out of some tavern in Jendayi, passed out amongst sacks of goatswool in the back of my wagon, went overlooked at the border crossing from Calligar to Osterloh, and slept all the way to Entibar. That’s where I found him—just as I’d pulled the wagon alongside my humble mudbrick home—when I tossed a half-empty jug of cheap Calligari wine over the back of the wagon bench.


He yipped like a puppy over that little tap on the head.


"Who in all hells are you?" I demanded when he lurched to his knees. He answered by puking over the wagon's side. By the look of his shirt and open longvest, he'd given the same answer numerous times before since his last visit to the laundry.


I drew the knife I kept secreted under the wagon bench, then climbed down the wheel. The knife wasn't much, but I could stick him if I had to. Or run, despite my stiff back, and yell loud enough to rouse a warrior before the drunkard caught up. I lived outside town, but there was a watchpost over the hill. Someone would hear me if I made an effort.


The man wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. I assumed there were eyes behind the ropes of dark hair slung over his face.

"Gimme a drink," he slurred, his voice raw from retching. "Gimme a drink, old man."


I'm older, not old, so I kicked a cloud of dust at him—an insult that said I'd rather bury him than look at him. "Your last drink is in the dirt, dunghead. Scrape it up and take it with you."


He pushed his hair back to reveal bloodshot eyes amidst circles of bruises. Someone had given him the what-for with both fists. Probably someone familiar with his fine deportment and sweet discourse.


"You're not... Where am I?"


"In my wagon, dunghead."


"But I'm supposed to be..." He stared at his shaking hands. Without another word for me, he snatched up my wine jug like a dying man who'd found the elixir of immortality. I gaped as he gulped. I'd never seen a man so frantic for wine.


"More," he croaked when he'd drained the last.


"This isn't a hostel," I snapped back. "And I'm no hoskeep looking to please a customer."


"You don't want to see me sober, old man."


"I don't want to see you at all."


The drunkard swayed from the wagon's edge far enough to reveal what I'd not noticed before. A very long dagger, like those worn by Calligari warriors for the sort of up-close fighting Osters like me had nightmares about. There was peace between Calligar and Osterloh now, but it was still new and not universally favored.


And I'd thought to poke him with my knife, which now seemed as menacing as straw. Limp straw. My late wife always told me my temper would escort me to my grave.


He jerked his longvest over the dagger as if I'd forget it if I couldn't see it. "Don't run," he said. "Just gimme the drink, I'll be gone."

"I'll get to the watchpost and bring back warriors before you can blink. Sober warriors."


"Don't. Run."


I ran, forgetting to yell. Behind me I heard the clatter of my wagon's gate, then a solid thud. I rounded my home's corner and fell against the wall, sucking air through clenched teeth. My back was in worse shape than I thought.


All I heard was the rustling of tamarisk trees. Unless the Calligari was traipsing tippy-toe over the gritty earth, he wasn't pursuing me. I tightened my hold on the knife and peeked around the corner.


That drunken Calligari was sprawled face down in the dirt. The wagon gate hung open above him. I'd been meaning to fix the latch for a month, and decided the gods loved me enough to have made me procrastinate. If they loved me more, the Calligari had broken his neck. I squinted, counted to twenty, and never once saw him twitch.


I whispered, "Deliver me from malice and dishonor," then kissed my knife's blade as I'd been taught decades ago, during the few months I'd trained as a warrior. A fighter's life hadn't agreed with me then, and my present aversion remained quite hale.


Once I convinced my back it wouldn't hurt any worse if I moved than it did standing still, I faced my wagon. Goatswool wasn't a tempting prize for thieves, but silver was stashed amongst the wool, and those coins were necessary to keep me in the apothecary's good graces. My back wasn't getting better, and I suspected my knees would soon vie for attention. Without a medicinal or two, my trading days were finished, as well as my ability to meet other obligations.


So I determined to summon the watch after my silver was stashed elsewhere. No sense in encouraging questions I didn't wish to answer. I hadn't spent fourteen years guarding my nearly-licit trade dealings to have them spoiled by a drunkard.


Up close, he looked near enough to dead to be of no concern. Knife set on the wagon bench, I crept past him and hauled my aching self up the wheel. I'd be lucky if my back didn't cinch up in mid-reach. Fortunately, I never had to endure such torment. Unfortunately, deliverance came on the edge of the dagger that suddenly appeared between my arm and ribs.


"No time left," the Calligari said, his accent hardening. "Do you have another jug?"


A dozen answers of good wit came to mind, but none were so sharp as that dagger, so I merely sighed. "Two, to be precise. Beer."


He withdrew the dagger without so much as snagging my sleeve. "Fetch it."


"My donkeys—"


"Won't die out here. Keep wasting time, and we will."


Oh, lovely. I'd trundled home a drunkard bent on killing himself and present company if I couldn't keep him soused. I eased down from the wheel and faced my captor. He stank of sweat, mildew, and his recent digestive troubles. No squint-lines framed his blackened eyes, which bleakened my outlook for the future. Calligari warriors were half-crazy by nature, and this one had the aid of fermentation and youth to bolster his madness. I thought one last time of racing for the watchpost, my aching back be damned. But he kept his dagger ready, and running with a blade skewering my thigh would likely prove beyond my abilities.


"I shouldn't be here," he muttered.


"On that we agree."


He flinched, then bared his teeth as if angry I'd had the audacity to overhear him. "I can't fight the demons today."


I snorted, and hobbled toward my home. "No doubt your 'demons' are more terrible than anyone else's troubles."


"Pray gods you never find out."


I found myself abruptly and utterly lacking in curiosity, and opted against begging divine intervention. Since the gods had proved fickle with their favor, I'd be more particular with my prayers.



There's more to Part One--not to mention the many upcoming parts!--so if you're interested in going forward, please check out Patreon for more information.!



blairmacg: (belt)

In 2013, I made a mistake that still affects my physical abilities—everything from Okinawan weapons training to using a screwdriver.

Two students, father and son, began classes at my dojo. The son was an energetic eight-year-old. The father was a six-foot-six retired drill sergeant who’d trained in a similar style about twenty years prior, but who wanted to start again as a white belt in order to train with his son, and had observed enough of my classes to decide he wanted me as an instructor. He was the kind of returning student who makes a sensei’s job easier by acknowledging long-ago rank is not a measure of present ability. He was fun, supportive of his son and other students, perfectly respectful, and quick to smile. I liked him. Still do.

As I mentioned in The Snarky Partner, I teach hold escapes not only as a basic self-defense technique, but as foundational training for partner work. That’s what the man and his son were learning, alongside another dozen or so new students. As usual, one of the first escapes I taught was a shoulder-hold escape: the bad guy grabs your shoulder, and you break the hold. It’s a totally simple technique I’ve taught and performed thousands of times. I not only know how to teach it in a few minutes, I know the counters, the means to avoid injury, the importance of release, and so forth. So I worked my way around the circle of young and older students, letting them each try it a couple of times with me as their partner, before reaching the father.

I reached up to take hold of his shoulder with my right hand. Just as I grabbed, a younger student starting spinning in place. I gave the child my attention for two seconds—”John, eyes on Sensei!”—and that’s when the father whipped his arm around to perform the escape.

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No matter how nice and skilled a stranger seems, never assume you share the same ground rules for contact. Not even shared terminology is a sign of safety. My version of “testing strikes” might not be anywhere near what you expect. You do not want to discover that difference during the flash-second face and fist share the same space.

Sharing and exploring martial arts with others is an awesome thing, and anyone you’d want to learn with won’t be affronted by establishing boundaries and setting expectations before things get physical. Students well-trained will appreciate and share your insistence on knowing parameters ahead of contact.

As always, questions and comments are most welcome!

This article originally appeared for patrons only at Patreon. So if you find it valuable and helpful, please consider becoming a patron  so I can continue providing the content you like!

For more self-defense and fight-writing related articles, check out this page.

blairmacg: (belt)

One of my business writing clients is a company headed by twin brothers. Big twin brothers who have worked hands-on construction for almost forty years. On the business side, they’re great clients. On the personal interaction side, they are a great deal of fun. After a recent business lunch that included talk of martial arts, the few-minutes-younger brother asked if I thought I’d “be able to take” the few-minutes-older brother if he tried to attack me. I looked the older brother up and down and smiled. “Sure! My thumb will still fit in his eye socket.”

There was a moment of surprised silence before the laughter and nodding. It was one of those good-natured exchanges based more on fun curiosity and comfortable friendship than the need to challenge.

But friendship and curiosity aren’t always elements in those conversations, and when they’re absent…

Every now and then, the mention of martial arts in a group conversation results in an edged challenge from a stranger who—apparently threatened by the very thought of martial arts—wants to cut down that threat right away, with words or with fists. Most do come from men (though I did have a fearsome experience with a woman who claimed she had top-secret CIA training she wanted to demonstrate…).

While some challenges are set out with overt hostility, most are made in a mocking tone that quickly becomes, “What’s your problem? I was just joking!” if the conversation doesn’t go their way and the need to save face arises. In that way, it’s similar to the “I’m just awkward” creepiness seeking to cover its rear when exposed.

Depending on the setting and company, these challenges range from a middling annoyance to a heart-racing adrenaline trigger. Every martial arts student will have different reactions and different methods to deal with the challenges, depending on a combination of personality, experience, and training philosophies. Every instructor will have different advice, based on the same. This is mine.

***

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blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

It is easy — terribly easy —to shake a man’s faith in himself.

To take advantage of that to break a man’s spirit is the devil’s work.

–George Bernard Shaw

Train or talk about martial arts and self-defense long enough, and someone will invariably want to test you.  It’s usually annoying or amusing to varying degrees, depending on the person’s attitude, but it can sometimes be frightening.

I’ll talk about that frightening aspect next month.  This time, I want to talk about a specific sort of challenge most often laid down before the new student whose combination of budding knowledge and excited inexperience makes them vulnerable to emotional undermining.

It happens early on in training, usually in the first month or two.  A student who has been doing well walks into class with a little less confidence.    A little less enthusiasm.  Why?

“Sensei, my boyfriend wanted to see me do that wrist escape we learned last week, and it didn’t work!”

This sensei hates when this happens.  The disappointment and self-doubt in a student is painful to see, and even more painful for the student to feel.  All the student’s excitement over learning something new—the poise of gained confidence in one’s ability—broken down in a few minutes by someone who professes to care.

I hate it.  I hate with vim and passion.

It isn’t always a boyfriend.  It might be a husband, father, mother, sibling, or school classmate.  But no matter the role, the person sees themselves holding the same position: a superior whose station must be reinforced, and whose station is threatened by the student’s sense of consent-based self-determination.

Oh, sure, some of those folks will claim the most-est and best-est of intentions.


  • “I don’t want you to have a false sense of security.”

  • “You need to know you can’t always win.”

  • “I just want to be realistic.”

And sometimes the comments are more direct and honest.


  • “I told you that karate stuff wouldn’t work.”

  • “Don’t start thinking you’re all that special.”

  • “You’re pretty stupid, thinking you can beat me.”

But no matter the spoken reason, the underlying motivation is almost always the same:


  • “To prove myself stronger and smarter, I must prove you are weak, incapable, and less worthy.”

Yes, I hate it.

*****

Teaching self-defense as a years-long curriculum accessible to students of diverse ages and abilities requires deliberation and forethought on a different scale than a weekend empowerment workshop.  (Not better or lesser, mind you.  Just different.)  So one of the first things I teach students under the “self-defense” topic is a collection of basic hold escapes—what to do if someone grabs your wrist, elbow, shoulder, or shirt front.

The simple techniques teach a skill, certainly, but also the rules and expectations of working with a partner.  Students also learn the principles of leverage and torque, grounding and balance, general body awareness, and the connection between the decision to take action and the resulting consequences.

Hold escapes are a very big deal.

I and my more senior students are always the students’ first partners.  Once the basic maneuvers of a escape are taught sans contact, we start grabbing students. We start off with the tight grip and quick release meant to build competence and confidence.  The better the students’ technique, the more difficult we make it to escape, and we adjust it for each student.  The goal is to encourage, and require, progressive improvement.

We set and enforce standards, and most importantly, tell students to not only respect their boundaries, but to enforce their boundaries with calm skill.

It’s called “teaching.”

Then comes the moment the student, excited and confident, goes home to a person who isn’t all that excited, let alone passing supportive of the student’s martial arts training.  That person listens to the student talk about the cool wrist escape she learned just an hour or so ago.  And that person sees the opportunity to prove their own superior strength.

So that person offers to be a “partner,” and grabs the student’s wrist with as much force as possible (and usually with a grip or angle the particular wrist escape isn’t designed to counter).  The student struggles.  The student, who has known the technique for all of a couple hours, and practiced the technique a couple dozen times at the most, fails to break the full-power, all-strength hold of their supposedly supportive partner.

That “partner” happily reinforces the student’s sense of failure and weakness.

The student feels like a failure.

The other person feels fantastic, having confirmed their superiority.

I.  Hate. This.

Truly, the person who feels the need to subjugate a person they supposedly love and care for is, in my eyes, the weak and frightened one.  It’s the person who’d mock a teenager for learning the difference between the gas and brake pedal before speeding onto an ice-covered highway.  It’s the person who thinks it’s funny to drop someone into a warzone before they’ve learned how to load a rifle.  It’s the jerk who believes proof of strength lies in how well they can beat up someone in handcuffs.

It’s punching down.

It’s weakness.

It’s pathetic.

So… after a year or so of teaching, and seeing this drama play out over and over, I made a couple alterations to the lessons.

Yes, I still teach hold escapes.  Yes, I teach them with the same limitations.

Then I tell the students the truth:  “Someone is going to test you.  Someone will want to see if you can really, truly, escape.  And someone will want to prove you can’t do anything at all.  If you try the hold escape, and it doesn’t work, it isn’t because you failed.  It’s because the person holding you thinks they have to beat you.  And that person thinks your fear of hurting them is greater than your fear of being hurt by them.”

Really, that’s the truth of it.  I’ve seen it in the smirks and eyerolls these “supportive” partners give when the student explains to me the hold escape didn’t work.

The Snarky Partner depends on your passivity.  She wants you to hesitate.  He wants you to be afraid of trying.  She wants you to let a loud-mouthed person prove his superiority. He wants to demonstrate his strength is really oh-wow cool.  She wants to make certain you doubt your strength and courage.  He wants to demonstrate how unworthy and incapable you are of determining consent.  The Snarky Partner wants, above all else, to undermine a person’s confidence in self-direction, self-defense, self-determination.

And it doesn’t matter if the Snarky Partner doesn’t actually, deep-down wish you harm.  Because all those things the Snarky Partner wants to prove are the same the attacker wants you to believe: you’re weak, you’re unsure, you’re not worth your own fight.

*****

It isn’t unusual for the Snarky Partner to be the one who accompanies the student to the dojo.  In my experience, the Snarky Partner sometimes goes to great lengths to ensure they’re in attendance because they want to watch the class—to see what the students are taught, how the students are taught, and to find out “tricks” that can be used to encourage a student’s failure.

Whenever possible, I hold my Snarky Partner speech right in front of the watching family and friends.  (Once, I even took the empty center seat in the front row of the observation area because one parent had, week after week, demonstrated his inability to understand by yanking his small son around and laughing at him.) I’ll talk specifically and thoroughly about the Snarky Partner, how to counter that person, and—most importantly—how to either dismiss them as irrelevant or use them as a self-teaching opportunity.

That’s usually enough to end the home-based Snarkers.

But out in real life, where it’s possible you’ll encounter a person who needs to bolster their own ego at another’s expense, chit-chats from Sensei don’t much work.

If my students are children, I must tread a bit carefully for numerous reasons.   They might have abusive parents I haven’t yet sussed out (and I’ve sussed out more than a handful, my darlings), so I must keep in mind the consequences a child might face if they resist a parent.  They might face a challenge at school, where defending one’s self against physical attacks is considered horrifyingly dangerous and grounds for suspension or expulsion.  They might lack the support of a backbone-empowered adult (like the father who let his son be beaten up, day after day and year after year, because he was afraid they’d be sued if his son fought back).

So I tell them this:  “Karate is something to be proud of, but not something to brag about.  If you tell people you know karate, some bad person will try to prove you don’t.  It’s better if you keep your knowledge here, at the dojo, and don’t try to show off to others.  But if you are ever afraid, and if you ever have questions, you come talk to me, and I promise to keep what you tell me safe.  And if you have to use your karate to really, truly defend yourself, I will back you up.  Just remember that the longer you’re here, the more you’ll learn, and every person who is a sensei wants to help you because we were all white belts, too.”

If my students are all adults, I tell them something with a bit more… oomph.

I tell them about Snarky Partners and their usual motives.  As you might guess, I almost always have at least one adult student who’d like to explain why a Snarky Partner doesn’t really mean to be snarky.

“Could they see you were upset?” I ask.

“Well, yes.  But it was just a joke!”

“Were you laughing?”

“Well… no…”

“Then smack ’em upside the head to make them stop!”

There is often some awkward laughter at this point—mostly over the idea of inflicting a small amount of physical discomfort on someone.

So I add this: “The Snarky Partner is hurting you and shaming you.  There is nothing morally wrong with making them stop.  And if that person thinks it’s all right when they hurt you, and not all right when you stop them, you need to think about what that means to you and your children.”

Yes, I do indeed say that—flat out, without mumble-speak censoring.

Because it is true.   Because I hate seeing folks who ought to be supported and encouraged have to instead explain away the overbearing snickering of someone who is being mean.

Some Snarky Partners really don’t understand what they’re doing to their partner/child/spouse.  They do indeed think dragging a weaker person around is just plain funny.  And a subset of these folks take well to being told and will change their behavior.  I’ve even had a boyfriend approach me to ask the best way to help!

Those are the easy ones.  The tough cases require a bit more of a direct approach.  So I go on to explain one of the foundational concepts of successful self-defense: you don’t have to make an attacker let go.  You can instead motivate them to let go.

Ram the heel of your hand—the hand they’re not holding—right between their eyebrows or under their chin.  Or grind your knuckles into the back of the hand holding you.  Or set your foot on the side of their knee and say you’ll kick if they don’t let go.  Or just give them an open hand slap across the mouth.   Yank on an ear.  Poke them in the armpit.  Spit.

No, the Snarky Partner will not be expecting any of those things.

They might try to tell you that as a way of excusing the fact they let go, to make you feel bad for making them stop their bad behavior.  They might even fall back on, “That’s not fair!”

Which…  Oh, ye gads.

Really, my darlings, I cannot even force myself to write about that piece of ridiculousness.

Y’see, self-defense isn’t about being stronger and tougher than an attacker, or even working some clever technique against an attacker.  It’s about doing what the attacker doesn’t expect and gaining the few precious seconds you need to escape.  But most importantly, it’s knowing—deep down and without a doubt—that you are worth defending.  That you’re worth your own defending, and you don’t need someone else to defend you in order to understand your own value.

The Snarky Partner doesn’t like that much.

They can go on not liking it for as long as they wish.

You don’t have to go on with them.



This article originally appeared for patrons only at Patreon.  Because they’re wonderful patrons, they support making the articles on self-defense and fight scenes available to everyone within a month of the original posting.  So if you find it valuable and helpful, thank the patrons, and consider becoming one yourself!

#SFWApro

blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
As you might or might not know, my darling wonderful and faithful Hyundai has needed some work for awhile now. I garaged it about two months ago, knowing I'd have fix-it funds by the end of July, and began driving the Jeep. No biggie.

Last weekend, my sis and I traded cars so she could take her boys camping. No biggie. I picked up the Jeep and, as is my driving habit unless it's damned cold or pouring rain, rolled down the windows. Thus I heard a not-really-great grinding noise when applying the brakes. Not much of a biggie, really. My father and I can change out break pads fairly easily.

So Monday we popped off the wheel, and discovered a nice handful of broken-up metal rattling around in there.

That's a biggie beyond my and my father's ability.

And thus the crisis of yesterday: Do I cancel 4th Street and put those funds toward fixing the secondary car, or do I attend 4th Street and just... deal without a car the best I can for a few weeks?

Y'see, even though the work out here has been better, I've been playing catch-up, and am still working to regain the financial buffer that was eaten by moving from Indiana to Colorado. I have the money for 4th Street OR the vehicle repair. Not both. And that's crummy right now.

I don't want anyone to think I'm unable to make ends meet on the important stuff. This isn't that sort of crisis. It just... sucks. It means no camping, no dashing out to meet someone, extensive coordination to continue helping watch my sister's kids (made more complicated by the fact she lives on the Air Force Base), and much pre-planning to confirm client meetings.

And it shuts down almost completely the ability to find quiet and solitude. Truly, that's the part making the choice tough. Until the end of July, I won't have adequate funds. Until the end of July, I won't have an independent living space. (We're remodeling, so...). Until the end of July, please forgive me if I whine and gnash my teeth. Taking a short evening drive has been keeping me quite sane. We'll find out this week if my hips can hold up long enough to replace the drive with an adequate walk.

And in the midst of all that, some people made my all weepy-eyed with offers to help. Honestly, my first impulse is to shoo that away out of... pride? Habit? Ego? All of those things? But I'm also coming to understand for myself what I've so often told others, and choosing to not push away.

So. *deep breath*

  • I do have a Patreon! One dollar gets you in the door, and more dollars gets you more. :) We're aaaaaalmost halfway to the goal of adding a monthly video. Check out the reward levels, and do check out the milestones. If you're in the mood to support, I'd be grateful to have you aboard. And if you're looking to be helpful, that's a speedy and direct way.


  • If you're already a patron, or cannot/don't wish to be one, your help spreading the word is extremely helpful.


  • As always, buying the available books--for yourself or someone else--is a gift that gives twice: once when you purchase, and once when your purchase bumps the novel's visibility for other potential buyers. Leaving a review on the book-buying site, or even a rating at Goodreads, also helps!


  • Breath of Stone's release is looming near, and on its heels is the silly little cookbook, so you'll have a chance to pick up something new as well!


  • And if you're attending 4th Street, please say hello to me. :-)







blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

If I haven’t made huge mistakes in the trauma/recovery area, I’m thinking I can wrap up revisions on Breath of Stone by the end of the weekend. I’d like to say sooner, but I’ve perhaps a couple hours a day for it through the next seven days. (When I sell more books, I’ll get to do fewer non-fiction projects…)  Then I must draft cover copy, and that’s just… SIGH.

I’ll be posting a couple chapters for patrons over at Patreon, along with this month’s article on injuries and trauma and healing.

There is a second Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off underway! I’m thinking of putting Sword and Chant in the mix. It’s a love-it-or-hate-it kind of novel. Even some of the most complimentary reviews mention it’s difficult to define. And it’s written in omni viewpoint.  More than ever, the response will depend on the reviewer randomly assigned the odd thing.

I’ve found new places I want to camp!  Pawnee Grasslands, Toadstool Geologic Park, Paint Mines, Palo Duro, Bisti Badlands….  And of course these longings are strongest when over a foot and a half of snow sits outside my door.

Have you see the schedule for the Nebulas?  There is cool, cool stuff happening there, and the cost of the conference itself is, in my opinion, darn good.  Alas, the Chicago location is far too expensive for me.  Maybe next time.

I’ll still be taping my own NOTx talk on the most important aspect of self-publishing!  I was trying to set up a small audience, but I don’t think that’s going to happen any time soon, alas, so it’ll likely just be me talking to you.

Lastly, the ankle is improving more quickly than I would have anticipated.  Just walking, there is nothing but a lingering tightness.  Going upstairs is quite workable.  Going downstairs happens slowly and stiffly, one stair at a time.  Side to side motion isn’t all that fun, and rotation doesn’t feel very good at all.  But progress!  It’s healing!


And if you haven't yet picked up your latest StoryBundle, please amble on over and do so. Our charity this time is Girls Write Now--a fantastic group dedicated to mentoring girls and improving their writing skills for success in all life endeavors. You'll also find in the bundle ten great reads from ten fantastic indie writers whose creativity, style, and craft is exceptional!



And now, back to work!

#SFWApro

blairmacg: (belt)

This article originally appeared for patrons only at Patreon.  Because they’re wonderful patrons, they support making the articles on self-defense and fight scenes available to everyone within a month of the original posting.  So if you like it, thank the patrons, or consider becoming one yourself!

*  *  *  *

Run away when you can!  First rule of self-defense!

Hang around martial arts and self-defense instructors long enough, you’re bound to hear this advice given over and over.  Some would tout it as the most important advice, but it’s most akin to, “Major in engineering (or whatever is financially lucrative),” or perhaps “Always eat organic foods.”

The temptation to make “run away” the foundational principle of self-defense lies in its simplicity.  But since the advice is usually given rather than taught, its limitations are rarely considered, and how to use it as a successful and integrated portion of an overall strategy isn’t much discussed.

The most important piece of self-defense advice is actually, “Avoid the fight, or make it as short as possible.”  That’s the defining strategy to avoid harm to self and others.  “Run away” is but one of many possible tactics in support of that strategy.   But the conditions under which it’s the best  option are limited, and teaching it as one’s primary technique is as responsible as teaching everyone in the world to take the stairs instead of the elevator in order to improve their health.

Since most self-defense instructors were taught by—and teach, and are themselves—people of a certain baseline fitness and physical mobility, the assumptions behind “run away” aren’t always examined.  So let’s take a look at them, and narrow down the circumstances under which running is indeed the best option.

First, understand running away is not a passive act.  It is resistance.  It is an escalation.

The moment a victim chooses to run, the attacker must decide if the victim is a lost opportunity—not worth additional action—or a threat to survival.  If the fleeing victim is thought to pose a threat, the attacker must then decide whether the best way to neutralize the threat is to escape it by doing their own running, or to capture and control it.  And if capture is determined to be best, the victim is no longer running from a fight.  He’s being chased down by one.

Mind you, I’m not against running.  I am for understanding and teaching its limitations.  Such as…

1.  Running-is-best assumes you have both greater speed and stamina than your attacker, and you happen to be wearing more running-appropriate clothing and footwear as well.

Certainly some folks can train well and hard to increase their ability to run.  Certainly folks can choose to always wear run-friendly shoes (or, as some advocate, learn to run like the wind in heels). Certainly many more folks would sigh over those options because…

2.  Running-is-best assumes you don’t have a limiting physical condition.  Asthma, gout, arthritis, injuries, third-trimester pregnancy, vertigo…  I can’t tell you how many self-defense teachers will brush those concerns aside with, “Adrenaline will make it possible!” or “You’ll be surprised what you can do when you have to!” or the most toxic “You can do it if you really try!”

And if we all clap our hands and really-o truly-o believe, Tinkerbell shall fly again.

Y’all know by now I deal with hip dysplasia.  That hip has collapsed unexpectedly while I’m just walking.  I and others who deal with similar and more severe issues know better than to count on The Think Method as our primary means of escaping trouble with a capital T.

3.  Running-is-best assumes you aren’t in the company of someone who needs your help in the face of a threat.  A child.   An older parent.  A partner or friend who uses mobility aids to get around.  Someone who has, say, hip dysplasia.

Most assuredly, you might still be able to run.  But it’s bad form to leave behind those who can’t run away from what you’re escaping.

4.  And running-is-best assumes you have a place to run to that is better than where you’re running from.  I understand the urge to believe anywhere is better, but that’s a false—and therefore dangerous—belief.

Consider the 11-year-old boy who, lost in the woods, hid from would-be rescuers for four days because his parents had been very clear on “stay away from strangers,” but never added, “go toward these people.”  And all it takes is one wrong turn to go from a populated area that might discourage an attacker to a deserted alley holding no deterrence at all.

To sum up: The tactic of running is most likely to succeed when you are alone, dressed to run, fit and able to run faster and farther than your attacker, and have a safe destination in mind.

So… what about all those other times?

Buy time, and buy it loudly.

As I said above, every act of resistance—every choice that is not total compliance—is an escalation of the encounter.  The attacker’s response to the escalation is not within the victim’s scope of control, but the victim can do things to deter or narrow responses.

Chase down a victim is not the same decision as chase down a victim who already jammed fingers into my eyes. Or rammed knuckles into the windpipe.  Or whipped a cane against the knee.  Or swung a loaded diaper bag across the nose.

You see, every single act of resistance before the running (or the jogging, or the limping) adds a variable to your attacker’s plans.  Increasing the number of variables tends to decrease the assumption of success.

Unpredictability increases the likelihood of failure, and failure for an attacker means physical pain, public discovery, loss of freedom, and possibly death.  Merely running gives the attacker a single calculation to perform.  Striking and screaming before running exacerbates the attacker’s doubts.

Since I know I can’t count on my hip to hold up under pressure, I will choose my strikes according to how much they’ll slow pursuit.  I will always choose a kick to the knee over a punch to the jaw, a sharp jab to the eye over a shove to the chest, and a fist to the throat over a knee to the gut.  I might be able to sprint; I might have a leg collapse in mid-stride.  Thus I want to leave my attacker struggling to breathe, or see, or limp rather than capable of chasing me down in rage because I bopped him in the mouth.

And do not for a moment buy in to the judgment of, “If your attacker is so close you can’t run away, you’ve already done something wrong.”  It’s a snooty philosophy that assumes telepathic and precognitive skills alongside a life lived either in utter solitude or perpetual paranoia.

Yes, it’s true: a well-trained person will have the skills, calm, and reflexes to attempt to talk an attacker down, or redirect the aggression, just as a well-trained person in the right circumstances can indeed run away without suffering further consequence.  And it’s really nice to think of running away as an element of non-violence without its own moral cost.

But everyone else in the world–everyone who does not at this instant have amazing, or even foundational, physical abilities, and everyone who does not at this moment have two, three, five, fifteen years of training–deserves to have options right now.  And brushing away that truth with, “Hey, just run away!” isn’t all that helpful.

So why, you ask after all that, is running touted as the bestest and most common self-defense advice?

Quite simply, because most teachers teach only the able-bodied, or the close-to-able-bodied.  Most instructors never have to answer a fearful, “But what can I do?” from a man using a cane or a woman a month from giving birth.  Most instructors don’t even mention the cascade of decisions that come into play when a person must consider what their choices will mean for the six-year-old at their side.

Telling someone to always run away first is simple.  Following such advice often isn’t.

So absolutely run if you’re able to run, and if the consequences of running are acceptable to you.  Just know your intentions, understand your assumptions, and consider your options before you do.

If you found this article valuable, and would like to see more, consider becoming a supporter through Patreon!

#SFWApro

blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
This article originally appeared for patrons only at Patreon.  Because they’re wonderful patrons, they support making the articles on self-defense and fight scenes available to everyone within a month of the original posting.  So if you like it, thank the patrons, or consider becoming one yourself!


Before I hit the tactics, I want to share this most marvelous video by Karate Culture on the grappling techniques within traditional Okinawan kata.  If you’ve read my articles for awhile, you’ll know I’m not a fan of teaching throws as a universal self-defense technique because their application is limited mostly to people who are quite able-bodied, well-trained, and being targeted by a single attacker.  That doesn’t mean I don’t like, train, teach, and use grappling!  Just check out the awesomeness of that video.  You won’t regret it.

And now…

1. Applying good craft to writing fight scenes is 95% of the battle.

Grammar is about writing well and properly—a necessary skill if we want readers to sink into our stories rather than decipher odd and misleading sentence constructions.

But storytelling?  That’s the craft I’m talking about.

You understand how to structure a scene, describe a new setting, and define a character’s role in the secondary world you’ve created.  You know how to portray a character’s stroll through the prison yard or verbal argument in the mess hall.  You’ve shown the joy they feel partaking in gardening, the intrigue of hunting for secrets in a library, the fear of creeping through a forest on a moonless night, the simple process of walking from personal lodgings to, say, the riverfront.

You successfully write action as part of building plot and character.

Fight scenes are no different.  Really, truly, my darlings, they are no different.

The fight scene isn’t something separate from the story itself, no more than describing setting or revealing backstory or creating the dialog of an argument is a break from forward action.  Apply the same tools of craft you use everywhere else.

2. Communicating combat principles is more important than relaying combat details.

I’m certain someone will ping me for saying so, but it’s true.

The make and model and emissions output and towing capability and average heat generation and speaker alignment are the most important elements of a car chase, right?  Or maybe it’s the composition of the road’s asphalt, angles of the corners, temperature of the tires, and the history of road construction that readers most want to know about while the bad guy speeds away, yes?

Oh, please, no.  While all those things will impact a car chase, rare is the reader who wants to have all those elements related in detail in the midst of a car chase as if they must soon solve a word problem based on the available listed data.

Do you want me to tell you how the materials of the tires interact with the hot pavement on that Texas road?  Or do you want me to describe how the stink of burned rubber and smoke made me grit my teeth and squint as I chased after the murderer who knew the Texas backroads better than I ever would?

Don’t get mired in step-by-step instructionals on body positions and fist trajectory. Use instead the principles of fighting.  Speed, mass, leverage, and momentum.  Pain, focus, struggle, and fear.  Expectation and surprise.  Determination and exhaustion.  Landing the punch is damned important, but the consequence of the punch and the reason it was thrown is what moves character and story forward.

Besides, a reader shouldn’t need to pull out a slew of action figures to envision what’s actually happening.  (On the other hand, you might need those action figures, depending on the complexity of the fight.  I’m not ashamed to say I’ve staged stuffed animals on my office floor to keep track of things.  A little sheepish, maybe, but not ashamed.)

3. Do not mistake sport fighting and performance fighting for actual fighting.

The past few decades have seen an incredible rise in tournament martial arts, particularly for children.  As a result, a great many martial arts schools teach primarily techniques with an emphasis on strikes and kicks that will score points, and discourage, through penalties and punishments, techniques intended to end a fight quickly by seriously injuring your opponent.

These rules are appropriate for the setting.  Few parents want to see their middle school child get her throat smashed in and her knee dislocated.  But the rules have consequences when the distinction between sport-centered training and fight-centered training is smudged over student-teacher generations.  In a high-pressure hurt-or-be-hurt confrontation, those students won’t go for the fight-ending attacks unless they have been trained to fight in non-tournament settings.

There is also an entire tournament track for martial arts weapons performance, some of which involve setting routines to music.  There are staffs and swords twirled and tossed, or nunchaku whirled in tight circles around the body, and there are often jump-kicks and back-flips thrown in for flash and dash.  These have as much to do with the act of fighting as rifle drill teams do with shooting, or majorettes do with stick-fighting.

Yes, they all take skill and have roots in combat training, but no soldier is going to start twirling and tossing his gun in the middle of a fight.  And critical and high-stakes fight scenes shouldn’t read like a retelling of a tournament.

When characters fight to prove ability or dominance, sparring techniques and targets are appropriate, just as it’s considered appropriate to punch a person playing grab-ass without consent but not considered appropriate to carve remove the person’s windpipe.

But a trained fighter trying to avoid being killed won’t expend a bunch of time tagging the villain’s jaw and punching to the gut.  Knuckles to the throat work much more quickly.  Fight scenes shouldn’t be one-blow affairs, but a person fighting for life itself is highly motivated to keep trying to make it so.

Indiana Jones opted out of using his whip to defeat the sword-spinning man in the marketplace.  And Han shot first.  Smart characters.

4.  The most interesting fights focus on revealing weaknesses, not forcing greater strength.

I never much liked watching sport fighting.  It all looked like little more than two people bashing on each other until one just couldn’t take it anymore.  Then I learned what went into a fight—angles, footwork, targeting, drills done so often the body moved without hesitation, experience that turned those base reactions into flowing responses—and realized brute strength was the lesser power in comparison.

Such it is with writing the fight scene.

We like to watch the protagonist find the strength—of body, of will, of heart—to drag herself to her feet one… last… time… to take down the villain with a final, all-encompassing blow.  We cheer the grit, the perseverance, the determination, the spirit of well-earned triumph.  The final battle!  The climax!  The victory over self and enemy!

But the truth is, the protagonist wins because she also finds, attacks, and exploits the villain’s weakness—just as the villain has done to her all along.  Rather than expend all your writerly energy building up the protagonist to impossible levels of power and strength, invest it knowing too the villain’s weaknesses.

What the characters choose to do with each others’ weaknesses usually creates greater depth than forging a bigger, badder weapon.

A battle of power against power requires constant escalation, and that stops being interesting after awhile.  Searching out and evaluating weaknesses is a twisty, curvy process of surprises and unpredictability.  It happens quickly in hand-to-hand combat, to be sure, but it happens nonetheless.

(This is applicable to plots, too, btw.)

5.  Know the expectations of your target audience.

This is where all the possible nuances of advice items #2 and #3 come into play.

Readers of different subgenres hold unique expectations of how worldbuilding or technology or character emotions should be presented, explored, and emphasized.  The same goes for rendering fights and action.  It isn’t a matter of one subgenre wanting more or less of a fight than another. Rather, readers expect different aspects of a fight to play greater or lesser roles in the narrative.

A paranormal romance reader wants a fight scene that is just as well written as a military SF reader does, but wants different pieces of that fight to receive more attention.

The differences expose why one reader bounces off a flashy, drawn-out fight scene that other readers rave about, or finds depth and realism in a fight scene that seems to have little physical description amidst a great deal of emotional reactions.  And that understanding circles back up to the first point: fight scenes require the same considerations of craft as any other part of the writing process.  Know what your readers expect from your action scenes, and construct them accordingly.

Questions?  Comments?  Disagreements?  All are welcome!

blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

This article originally appeared for patrons at Patreon. Due to its length, I’ve broken it into two parts.  Part One can be found here, and includes discussion of the chokes in general and defensive considerations of air chokes in particular.  This section discusses defense against blood chokes, and offense of both blood and air chokes.

***

Being choked from behind—when the attacker uses biceps and forearm as a vice on the sides of the neck for that blood choke—is a very different experience. It can be more of a “Hey, what are doing back there?” experience because the pain isn’t always as acute as the air choke. By the time you hit the, “Hey, I feel funny…” realization, you’re halfway to any set of techniques being useless because everything below the neck will soon stop listening to you.

Read more... )

***

This post is made possible through the generous support of patrons via Patreon–where all self-defense articles and fight scene breakdowns are posted for an exclusive period before being made available to the public.  If you’d like to see the articles sooner, be part of choosing article topics, or check out other benefits, consider becoming a patron!

#SFWApro

blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
This article originally appeared for patrons at Patreon. Due to its length, I’ve broken it into two parts.  Part One includes discussion of the chokes in general and defensive considerations of air chokes in particular.  Part Two discusses defense against blood chokes, and offense of both blood and air chokes.

Some time ago, I shared my frustration with a fight scene I saw on television. (Yeah, go figure, right?) The scene showed our hero valiantly fighting a bad guy with direct and aggressive blocks and strikes… until the bad buy got his hands around her throat. Then that supposedly well-trained and aggressive fighter seemed to lose all training and sense, and battled the person choking her by grabbing his wrists to attempt pulling his hands away.

Gah.

Now, a situation like that—a trained fighter demonstrating sudden incompetence and/or panic—is totally possible if the fighter never received proper training for a suddenly-changed situation. And many martial arts schools don’t teach how to set or escape a choke, and some that do teach them do so poorly. But in the instance mentioned above, when the character’s extensive training had been established through backstory and on-screen action, the abrupt shift from good fighter to startled victim on the floor happened so another character could arrive to save the day.

Gaaaahhhh…!

That’s not bad fight-scene writing. That’s bad writing: a storyline that sacrificed being true to the character for the sake of a forced plot point.

***

Being choked is a frightening thing. Really frightening. It’s the training experience most likely to put my adult students on edge, and I plan accordingly by including time to establish comfort and trust. But even when folks have trained together for awhile, permitting someone to apply pressure to the neck kicks off all sorts of adrenaline-fueled aversions. I’ve had students on the verge of tears, students pace the mat to calm down, break into nervous laughter, or close their eyes and take deep breaths as a trusted peer sets hands at their throat or tightens an arm around their neck. Chokes set off all our THIS IS NOT RIGHT STOP I MUST FIGHT RUN MAKE IT GO AWAY triggers.

And with good reason. Some well-set chokes can incapacitate a person in seconds. Some can cause a lasting and/or fatal injury in even less time, even though death itself might take unconsciousness and death take longer to occur. There isn’t much time to escape, and the stakes are high if you don’t.

There is no tap-out in real life.


Read more... )
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
This article originally appeared at Patreon.

There are a ton of “How To Write Fights” books and articles and blog posts and whatevers out there.  Most of them repeat the same advice that—while mostly valid and accurate to varying degrees—remains rudimentary for beginning writers and horribly redundant for experienced writers looking to improve their craft.

*shelves temptation to discuss the search for resources readily available to experienced writers looked to be even better*

I want these articles to be more than “the basics.”  By using great fight scenes as examples, we’ll explore what works, how it works, and why it works.  The goal is to move beyond technical skill—good fight scene—and look at the fight scene of exceptional craft—compelling story.

A few disclaimers before I begin:

First, I will never rip apart a fight scene for the sole purpose of pointing out everything it does wrong.  Sure, it’s tempting now and then, and I’ll likely more than once give you my fight-scene peeves, but I’m not here to tear down another writer.

Second, the nature of deconstructing scenes means there will be varying levels of spoiler-y stuff to deal with.  I’ll do my best to keep it to a minimum, but…  Well.  Please take those words to heart, my darlings.

Third, the fight scenes I choose will come from stories I like.  I don’t give a flying flip if the author publishes independently, with a small press, or under a trade publisher.    We’re here to talk craft, my darlings, not business.

Fourth, I’ll add a purchase link for the stories we’ll be examining.  If the fight scene looks interesting and you haven’t read the book, do the writer a service and pick up their work.  At this moment, I’m not setting up affiliate links, though I’ll likely do so in the future, and will notify you when it happens.

Lastly, these are my opinions and impressions.  If you’re the writer of the scene I’m highlighting, and you want to jump into the conversation, PLEASE DO SO!!  Because that would be totally cool.

And with that, let’s start with an action scene from the opening chapter of Myke Cole’s Gemini Cell (purchase link).

GeminiCellCover

I originally envisioned these analysis pieces to be of short sections of scenes.  But I’ve been kicking around varying ways to discuss an issue I’ve seen come up now and again—characters whose actual physical fighting is well-written, yet seem to be missing the mindset that would support such great fighting abilities.  (See, The Mindset That Matters.)

Gemini Cell offers a great opportunity to highlight a fighter whose mindset is fully integrated.  So this fight breakdown will be a little different than others.  It’ll have fewer explorations of specific word choices, physical actions, and so forth.  Instead I’ll focus on the wider perspective because there are so many things here done well.

The scene I pulled is from the opening chapter depicting a SEAL team infiltrating a cargo ship at sea. Major plot spoilers are non-existent in the sections I’ll be using, though you’ll of course have an idea of what happens in the fight itself.

It’s a different kind of fight scene.  Rather, it’s a fight scene presented differently.  It doesn’t adhere to or concern itself with the “standard” fight-scene advice.

It doesn’t work well in spite of that fact.  It works well because of it.  Because Cole has chosen to do far, far more with this action scene than provide action.

The action encompasses the entire chapter, so I’m not going to tear apart every line.  Instead I’ll excerpt sections to illustrate what makes the whole thing work together, giving general comments and specific ones.

We’ll start about a quarter of the way through the opening chapter.



“Cut the chatter,” came in Ahmed’s voice as they rejoined the team and began weaving through the piled metal containers.  The ship groaned beneath them as it drifted around its anchor and the swell began to hit it directly on the beam.  The cloud cover was thick above them.  When the hell’s it going to clear?  With  nearly no ambient light, the shadows coiled in every niche and recess among the stacks of conex boxes, putting Schweitzer’s reflexes on edge.

The bridge’s windows were dark, but Schweitzer knew that meant nothing.  A crewman of the watch was most certainly on duty, hopefully sleeping, his binoculars resting on his belly.  He glimpsed the windows one last time, the signal mast rising about it, before it was lost from sight as the towering stacks covered them.


Do you see those sentences?  Especially those loooong sentences full of scene-building?  They come in the midst of the action.  After the enemy has been engaged.  After people have died.  And the pattern of long sentences, with lots of details and observations and complexities that introduce the reader to characters and setting, continues for over a dozen paragraphs that include maneuvers of stealth, gunfire, and other violence.

So let’s look at what all those long sentences, descriptions, and such tell us.  I’m not talking about what the words describe.  I’m instead referring to what we learn about the POV character—James Schweitzer—as a result of his observations and choices.

The longer and more complex sentences, coupled with the details, reveal a man whose experience has made a fight normal rather than unusual, who is accustomed to the surge of adrenaline (and its consequences).  He is a warrior fully immersed in the fight.  His thinking mind is immersed—something I rarely see understood by non-fighting writers—so he sees the fight as an integrated part of his being.

It isn’t disjointed and frantic.  It’s a day on the job.  It’s smooth and flowing.  While no experienced fighter would call a fight predictable, Schweitzer’s viewpoint tells us the fight is familiar.  The visual representation would be a single fluid and camera-steady shot viewed over the shoulder of a highly competent fighter.  And a fighter who, when life and death is playing tug-of-war, notices all of this—



Both men were ignoring the plastic stick, dropping to their knees and raising military-grade carbines, fitted with modified sights and extended magazines as advanced as the gear the SEALs carried.  They looked nothing like the armed seamen Schweitzer had taken out.  They wore black bodysuits, NODs mounted to high-quality Kevlar helmets, torsos enveloped in military-grade body armor that would stop most rounds fired into their center mass.


–is danged near guaranteed to give me a story that has the smarts to match its action.

So here we are, pages into an extended action scene told in specific and smart language that hasn’t slipped into the hokey “Look! It’s a big doo-doo fight!” pattern of jabbing my brain with choppy sentences to describe solely physical action for paragraphs on end.  I’ve slipped from trusting the writer—an abstract decision—into trusting the viewpoint character—an immersive experience—and am happily riding along on his shoulder.

Have you ever been to Disneyland?  Ridden one of the story-based rides like Pirates of the Caribbean or The Haunted Mansion?  If you have, the opening chapter of Gemini Cell is at this point the ride’s introductory section.  The ride before the ride.  It’s the darkening, increasingly claustrophobic journey from the quiet bayou into shadowy tunnels echoing with stark warnings. It’s the descending elevator that takes you from the interesting oddity of paintings that shift with a head-tilt to the screaming deadly stakes of a dead body hanging over your head.

Then we take the blind plummet into darkness.



Shouts.  A voice was crying out behind them, ragged and coughing, but loud enough to do the job.

Chang rolled back around the corner, returned a moment later. “Your guy, Coastie.”


The shift to short sentences here isn’t really about suddenly signaling, “Here’s the fight!”  Nope.  It’s about tension, not pacing. It shows us our viewpoint character is now uncomfortable.  And if a guy as steady and competent as Schweitzer is worried, you can be damned sure I’m worried, too.

The pressure of the operation, especially one in which he’s mostly unseen and anonymous, hasn’t truly and deeply disrupted his composure before.  But now something doesn’t fit his narrative, has jolted his internal expectations.  Even though Schweitzer has been fighting and in jeopardy from the novel’s opening—conditions that would have sent an “average” fighter into short-sentence mode from the start—it’s this unexpected interruption of forward movement that puts a bump in his flow.

We have Shouts. Not Someone shouted or the stupid-clunky He heard shouting.  We have instead a single word that tells us, “At least one human is making lots of noise that others will hear, and since we’ve established we’d recognize the voices of our own guys, we know it’s an enemy.”

That’s an impressive and hard-working word there, Shouts.

Then we have A voice was crying out. Not a person.  Just a voice.  Disembodied.  Unidentified maybe because the author wants to raise momentary suspense with mystery, but I read it more as indication of who Schweitzer considers worth consideration.  It’s confirmation that this isn’t an ally who is shouting, and it underscores the viewpoint warrior’s mindset.  The enemies he has encountered exist as things vastly separated from his very human and real companions.   Period.

I love that Cole then chose the phrase “to do the job” to concisely express the threat.  The reader knows “the job” is to disrupt the mission of Schweitzer’s group by alerting others to the infiltration and rousing those others into taking deadly action.  But it would totally suck to say all that.  Cole trusts the reader to follow along, and this reader appreciates the trust.

And here’s another immersion point: Schweitzer isn’t going to pause to explain something like that to the reader.  Schweitzer expects you to keep up.

Now look at the following single sentence from Chang.  We don’t even get a proper conjunction.  (Insert Schoolhouse Rock moment.)  Schweitzer doesn’t have time for no stinking conjunction right now.  We shouldn’t be wasting time on a three-letter word, either.  Seconds matter, damn it, so quit your bitching.

This is when and where those short sentences matter enough to make an impact.  The contrast is a tool used to get the reader’s attention.  It’s the sudden turn the roller coaster takes right before you slam into a wall.  Sure, you missed that sudden death, but there’s something even worse just up ahead.

Chang’s three-word summation of the life-threatening problem is lovely.  Your guy, Coastie. Now we know who’s shouting, whose fault it is, and Chang’s preference for naming fault with a moniker that sets one person outside the team’s cohesion.

That’s a damn fine bundle of stuff packed into four sentences.

A rapid exchange of dialog follows, and a handful more of punchy sentences.  Then Schweitzer gives himself a single command:  Focus.  The narrative resumes with detailed observations and varied sentence structures.  Schweitzer has rammed himself back into op-mode, which is on one hand incredibly composed, and on the other exceptionally intense, as the action pounds onward.

After a little while, we come to my writer-brain’s favorite little section in the whole chapter.



Within moments, they both abandoned the tight target box and let their shots roam in the interest of being able to put more bullets in more people more quickly.  Schweitzer shot one of the enemy operators in his gut—miserable aim by his standards and likely stopped by the body armor, but the force drove the man off his feet and he tumbled from the top of the stack, shrieking, to slam into silence against the deck below.  Schweitzer’s eyes tracked and moved, sighting targets and shooting them, his hand mechanically releasing his empty magazine and shuffling it over two inches so the full one, duct-taped alongside, could move into the gun’s smoking ammunition well with barely a second lost before the carbine’s bolt slid home, and he was shooting again.

Bang.  Target down.  On to the next.  Move.  Bang.  Target down.  On to the next.  Move again.


Those two paragraphs do All the Things, my darlings.

Again we have these longer and detail-filled sentences, but now we feel as if we’re on the downhill and picking up speed.  There’s a sense that everything is happening at once, and maybe we need to read faster so we don’t miss something.

Let their shots roam… I love this most awesome phrase.  I kept thinking, “Request permission to send my bullets on a walkabout, ma’am!”

Miserable aim by his standards…  Under extreme pressure in a mission going sideways, he’s critiquing his aim—even though the shot took the enemy out.  Process matters to this guy.  How something gets done is just as important as whether something gets done because how is something within his control.

And the entire one-sentence description of reloading is a thing of beauty.  There are no unnecessary bogging details; we’re told only what’s important in that barely-a-second Schweitzer gives himself, and in retrospect, that’s a whole damned lot of necessary.

Then we reach that second paragraph—the short and sharp parts that are supposed to make us feel frantic.  But their deliberate nature actually slows us down.  Focus, Schweitzer is telling us.  Don’t outrun your own feet.

(I don’t much write fanfic per se, but I do hear random snippets of dialog from characters at times.)

Bang.  We are done wasting time with extra words.  Forget the conjunctions, we don’t even have time for italics.  Bang is statement, not a sound.  Stark and emotionless.  Alone but for the period at the end.

And we haven’t even hit the cool and spooky stuff, and the most intense fighting, that this one chapter has to offer you.  But we’ve seen plenty at this point to establish one the most important traits of a strong fight scene.

It isn’t how pow-bam cool the techniques are (though those factors will indeed be more important when we start examining hand-to-hand fight scenes).  It isn’t imposing a pre-ordained rhythm on your fight scene (though understanding the rhythm of a fight helps you know how to break up expectations).

It is absolutely about the choices the writer makes to reveal, expose, and illustrate what kind of fighter the character is.  The mindset that will drive the character not only in the fight, but in the story before and after the fight.

Questions, comments, and ideas?  Share them, pretty please!

And for goodness sake, go buy Myke Cole’s book.

If you like this fight scene breakdown, and want to see more articles on writing fight scenes and understanding self-defense, check out Patreon.

(And I was ALL EXCITED to tell you my Patreon is almost $80 now... but Patreon is having some glitches, so less than half that amount is visible to the public. That doesn't at all dim my own excitement and gratitude, but I do wish it showed the truth! :) )

#SFWApro


blairmacg: (Default)

My Darlings Most Patient and Understanding,

I awoke one morning last week with a solution to the writing logjam I've been hammering at for a couple, three weeks now.  So I spent some hours playing with it--sketching dialog (that's always my Step One), writing bridges, checking timelines--and determined that, yes indeed, it would work.

And there was much rejoicing throughout the land!  Well, my home, at least.  It included nachos and bacon.

This solution includes five new chapters, and I'm excited to write each one.  After fleshing out the notes well enough that I can call future work on them "revisions" rather than "writing from outline," I printed out the whole thing.

I don't print unless and until I'm ready to call what I'm printing an actual draft.

So.  Official first draft achieved, clocking in at 117K.  We'll see what it is once all the changes and additions are made.

There's a wee bit of additional good news as well.  Book Three is almost 50% written already.  There will not not not not again be so many months between novels.

And... I have no title for Book Three (and Four, which is all planned out, too).  I need titles.  I cannot come up with anything that rhymes with bone and stone without hitting my giggle-factors.  (Silence of Cone!  Twilight of Phone!  Tone and Moan!)  And for consistency's sake, I'd like the second pair to have the same rhythm as the first pair.  More on that when I have ideas for bouncing.

I'm working on the fight analysis piece for Patreon, too.  It'll be from Myke Cole's Gemini Cell, a novel I recently read and love-love-loved for so many reasons.  Rather than talk about what does and doesn't work -- that depends too much of genre, subgenre, and targeted audience -- it will instead focus on pacing, word choice, pov submersion, and so forth.

Though the fight scene articles will be Patreon-only, I'll be posting the first one here as well so folks know what I mean when I refer to them. (By the by, I will never use a fight scene I think fails.  While it can be instructive, I'd rather remain positive.)


So there we go! Even with the holidays approached, I've managed to work through about a fourth of the revisions in the last week. I'm growing happier and happier with the process and the outcome. And truly, I'm thrilled that the solution to my banging-head-against-wall problem results in, essentially, an additional book.
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

It’s a day of, “Finally!” mixed with a bunch of “Already?” and an expected amount of “Gulp.”

Patreon is a new and exciting platform for me. It’s a bit like Kickstarter for on-going creative work, and gives me a chance to make the creative process into a community endeavor that invites readers to step into experience.

PatreonHeader

The individual rewards for my patrons range from first-eyes access to all self-defense articles to receiving my feedback on your own fight scenes and becoming a character in an upcoming novel. The community milestones range from creating print editions of the novels to my commitment to offer self-defense and/or fight-writing seminars at different conventions.

So if that alone is enough to convince you to investigate, go forth and check out the rest! Maybe if we hit a certain goal by a certain time, we’ll have a whiskey-fueled Twitter party.

If you’d like to know more (about the Patreon, not the whiskey) before committing to that click, read on:

***

At a recent convention in Colorado, I sat on three panels: how to write great villains, exploring violence in fantasy literature, and writing engaging fight scenes.

Do we detect a theme here, my darlings?

I’m Blair MacGregor.  The fiction and non-fiction I write goes a long way toward explaining my participation in those panels.  Reviewers describe my fantasy novels as brutal, gritty, character-driven,  and realistic military fantasy.  Even my most well-intentioned characters must choose between what is good and what is necessary… then live with the consequences of their choices.  You can find more information about the novels here.

The non-fiction my readers love most explores self-defense and martial arts—sometimes with applications to storytelling, and sometimes with applications to real life.  To give you the most dynamic information possible, I draw on over fourteen years of martial arts and self-defense training, twelve years of teaching, and more than a little bit of life experience.  The articles challenge perspectives, debunk myths, call out dangerous claims, and provide factual information.  Here’s an example of the articles I write.  Here’s an example of why I write them.

By becoming a patron, you’re supporting the fiction and the non-fiction.  The characters who must decide if their cause is worth the consequences.  The real-life people who deserve to know how best to protect themselves from the bad guys.  The storytelling that benefits from understanding when, why, and how violence is effective, and when, why, and how fighters make their decisions.

So I’ve put together appreciation levels for individual patrons and milestones for the collective community.  Individual appreciations range from “first-eyes” access to all self-defense articles to being “cast” in one of my stories to direct personal feedback on your fight scenes.  Community milestones include fight scene analysis, interviews, and more.  (Someone mentioned videos, so maybe… )

These will evolve and expand and diversify as we get to know each other better, so feel free to make your suggestions!   Above all, my darlings, thank you so much for your interest and investment.  Your feedback is always welcome.

***

Read more details here! Thank you to everyone in advance for the support and encouragement.

And just a little reminder that I’ve an infrequent newsletter as well.

#SFWApro

blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
So I'm getting ready to launch a Patreon.

Yep. Fixin' to get ready.

*fidget*

I really want to do it right now. This weekend. Sometime before next week. Sometime, like, today. Or tomorrow morning.

The prevailing wisdom is that launches do best Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.

Sigh.

Maybe what I'll do instead is share bits and pieces of it?
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
As in, I mentioned in public that I'm considering Patreon. So in between coaching my nephews through schoolwork and chores -- hours during which absolutely nothing creative can occur -- I read through all the How It Works stuff on the Patreon website, poked around different creator projects to get a feel for things, and sketched out some notes while the boys finished math.

And I have IDEAS.

Y'see, I don't want to put up a campaign solely for the purpose of supporting novel writing. I mean, in the end, that's what happens, but that alone seems so... not quite what I want to propose. But I was having trouble coming up with something I could provide patrons on an ongoing basis. I'm not a short story writer and, no matter how much anyone pays me, I cannot suddenly become one. I am not a visual artist, so cannot provide people with wonderful pretties. I'm not willing to commit to a chapter-per schedule at this time (though that might change as Life becomes more secure).

But I write about fighting and self-defense and violence--sometimes in the context of writing, but most often in a more general context that can be used by writers and others. These are the most-read articles I've written. I've the martial arts background, basic weapon familiarity, stage combat training and experience, and ongoing access to resources to learn more.

So here are some of my feeling-things-out thoughts:

On the side of patron levels:
-- Basic support level provides access to monthly content that'll be exclusive to patrons for three to six months. Topics would range from self-defense notions to information on different styles and training, to writing application. Anyone can submit questions and topics, too.
-- Maybe a slightly higher support level that'll include... I don't know yet? Mention in acknowledgements of published work and question/answer priority?
-- A much higher level for personal feedback/critique of a fight scene and/or answering specific questions on an ongoing basis (like... editorial coaching for fight scenes).

On the side of cumulative goals:
-- A set total goal for a monthly article. Were I writing these at the "pro" per-word rates, it'd come in about $120 per article, which I'm mentioning as a reference.
-- A higher total goal for a second piece of content. (Another article, or line-by-line analysis of an existing fight/action scene, its choices, and what the choices reveal?)
-- And something else I'm not thinking of?

Would this be of value and interest to folks?

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