Thursday, 12 April 2012

K is for...

Kung fu, Karate, Kali, Kendo, and a whole host of other martial arts. One hard thing to do when you’re writing is to convey the idea that a character has practiced a specific fighting system, or to create an adequate distinction between two characters using different ones. Most of the time, it doesn’t matter, but sometimes it is more important. Any time that you mention them having practiced something specific, then ideally that should come out in any fight that shows up with them.

So how do you do it? One thing is to get a reasonable knowledge of whatever martial art you’re portraying, or at least of the core flavour. Bruce Lee made the point that there aren’t really any different ways of fighting, because we have two arms and two legs, the ability to throw the same moves. Yet there is often a difference in feel, and it is that quality of movement than is often the easiest thing to write.

You’d also want to stick to the core of the art. In theory, most martial arts contain most things to some degree, but the things people think about are the things at the heart of them. When people think about Taekwondo, for example, they think of fancy high kicks, or they think of throws when describing Jujitsu. Yet Taekwondo has throws and Jujitsu kicks. The point is that when conveying flavour, you can’t focus on that.

If you were writing, for example, a swordfight between a kali practitioner and a kendo one, then of course the kendoka would use a two handed grip rather than using two blades, and the kali fighter would have a sword and dagger. The kendo fighter would probably move in fast, controlled, focussed movements with a lot of precise power. The kali fighter would probably move in at close range with lots of rapid striking, triangular footwork and trapping. It’s not about portraying the whole of an art, but just one more way to give a distinct feel to a character.

9 comments:

Joshua said...

I guess that's why I always write characters that have no training, on purpose.

Personally, I want to learn Krav Maga.

fidel said...

Kick-boxing too ...?

stu said...

Also Krabi Krabong and Kalaripayattu, but I forgot about them too.

Joshua, it's often a very good self defence system, though as someone who writes on the subject after 25 years or so of assorted martial arts, I'll say that there are some commercial 'krav maga' schools that seem to have little to do with it, and that it's the attitudes and knowledge of the individual teacher that are most important.

Wendy Tyler Ryan said...

That's why I write fantasy. If I don't feel confident about fighting techniques, even after researching them, it doesn't matter. Some will be truth and some will be imagination. But then that is what writing is!

Colin Smith said...

This is something I would *never* have given a moment's thought to if I were writing a martial arts fighter in combat, but you're right. It's these details that elevate our storytelling. Even if it's beyond the needs of the story to say that the combatant is, say, a kendo master, it's important that the writer knows this, and writes the fight scenes accordingly.

Great point, and a great article. Thanks, Stu!

Oh, and hello to East Yorkshire! I'm living in the US now, but went to University in Hull more years ago than I care to remember. :)

Libby said...

I'm assuming you've studied a lot of fight tactics. You sound extremely knowledgeable.

Julie Daines said...

Hey! I did karate for k today too! Great thoughts on writing about martial arts. My friend wrote a book about a girl trained in karate, and she came over and had my son (black belt) act out the moves so she could write them realistically.

stu said...

Colin, it's good to see that someone else went to one of the three great British universities.

Wendy, for fantasy, it's mostly a case of having people fight in a way that reflects their character.

Crack You Whip said...

I tell people that my Kung fu is the "stuff legends are made of" as I am my own character. Actually, I just flail.

I did enjoy reading your post:)