How to make Martial Arts Credible in Fantasy Setting?

Discussion in 'General Writing Discussion' started by Braveheart174, Sep 15, 2011.

  1.  
    Braveheart174

    Braveheart174 Strider of Shadow

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    Hello, this is my first thread on this forum.

    I am in the midst of putting together research to begin writing a fantasy novel, and am having problems creating my main character. Because I am still in the planning period, I have yet to give names to my characters. So please bear with me.

    The main character of my story is a young man in his 20s who travels across the world in search of "truth" regarding the history and culture of a race of dark elves long viewed upon by the humans as being the descendants of that world's devil.

    The words that sum up my main character is, "knowledge is power". While he is able to hold his own in hand-to-hand combat, my main character's specialty lies in his ability to deduce the actions and behaviors of individuals based on his observations and analysis of their history. As such, when in battle, my main character will often defeat his opponents by exposing them of their weaknesses.

    However unlike some heroes of the fantasy genre such as Lord of the Ring's Aragon or the Corean Chronicle's Allucius, my main character is a man who adheres to using weapons that can mortally harm his opponents. He is a man who believes that death is neither a means of attaining peace nor a way of bringing about resolution to conflict; he will only kill when he has no other options left.

    In the meantime, the main character fights using a style of martial arts when confronting opponents in combat. Weapon of choice depends on the character's surroundings: A pair of iron tonfas for close quarters combat. A 6-foot staff in more open spaced areas.

    However, the problem that I now face is figuring out if my main character's fighting style would be considered credible in the type of world he lives in. As he travels across the land, my main character will come across opponents of different sizes, shapes, and fighting styles. If his opponent were to fight him wearing a heavy set of armor and a large sheild, how would it be possible for him to win and still make sense?

    On top of that, some of the things that my character will come across may not even be of men; he may come across a creature whose skin is so dense that not even the sword of the world's largest Orc could cut open (I'm not planning on using Orcs in my story. That was just an example).

    Finally, there's the issue with having martial arts in my story's setting. My fantasy world is more based on Medieval Europe and the Industrial Revolution than on anything Eastern (although I may hint at Japanese folklore when introducing certain creatures in the future). If the guy walks into a bar, and wipes the floor with a couple of thugs using something seen in a Bruce Lee movie, wouldn't that seem just a little inconsistent?

    I am at my wits end trying to come up with a solution. I don't want to make my character into a sword wielder because there have already been so many of those kinds of heroes in fantasy (I don't want to make a clone of Eragon). However, I am starting to wonder if maybe carrying a sword is the only way of surviving in the type of world he lives in. :(
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    Quokka

    Quokka wandering

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    Plenty of stories mix historical facts and fiction, including fighting styles. That in itself isn't an issue just keep it consistant for the character. You can use 'real' terminology or describe it more generically or action based rather than bring across terms and names that wont suit the world. How many times have you read a medieval fantasy where the assasin/thief character brings out the Bruce Lee moves?

    Most martial arts involve some form of understanding the human body and how it works, pressure points, circulation, balance/centre of gravity, joints etc. So the same attack or move is often developed seperately in different sytems anyway, with variations.

    So you might not say a character applied a rear naked choke but you could describe him creating an oppening, turning the opponent, snaking his arm over the shoulder etc.


    Blunt weapons certainly can compete on an even footing with blades, many swords around at the time of armour and shields we're designed to crush the opponents armour and so were basically blunt weapons anyway. You could always incorporate it into the story, if he/she knows their weapons wont be effective it's up to them to find another means, running away, use the environment? Anyway I'd think that if the impact from a 6ft staff doesn't affect an opponent a blade wouldn't have much luck either.
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2011
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    chrispenycate

    chrispenycate resident pedantissimo Staff Member

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    I take it that is "abstains from" rather than "adheres to"?


    Quarterstaves (or pilgrim's staves) were widely used as weapons in mediaeval and early modern western Europe. With or without iron ferrules on the ends they were multi-purpose tools – walking stick for irregular roads and general lever as well as tent post that doesn't need cutting – so it would have been difficult for authorities to ban their existence. I don't know how sophisticated fighting techniques with these would have got, but I have read of a move called "le moulinet" where the entire staff was spun rapidly about its centre, knocking away weapons of opponents by pure inertia. Something like this would surely involve considerable training and practice, and there may well have been schools or masters and apprentices.

    Of course, the main 'selling point' of this as a weapon was its cheapness, so perhaps there would be little stimulus (beyond survival) to learning advanced techniques. If he developed all his own moves (or adapted them from sword styles taught to nobles), in an environment limited to strike and parry it could be quite a surprising innovation.

    A bit short for mounted opponents (but you'd be a bit conspicuous with a fifteen foot pike) with properly seasoned hardwood you can ignore all the clichés about "lopping through the stick" with a sword; that might have happened with freshly cut spear shafts, when armies travelled only carrying the heads. While the lack of a sharp bit would mean shields wouldn't need to be so heavy, any armour heavy enough to prevent blows breaking bones and pulping flesh would slow the opponent sufficiently that tripping manoeuvres and attacks from unexpected directions could probably put him on the ground, and incapable of leaping to his feet.

    Mind you, considering this as a "non-lethal weapon" is questionable. Rupturing a gut from blunt impact would, considering medical techniques. have been just as fatal as sticking a sharp object through it, and probably more protracted. It is no mercy to leave a fighter irreparably crippled, condemned to beggary or starvation. Indeed, the word "mercy" was frequently used for putting someone out of his misery, either on the battlefield or after an accident.

    Their opinion of medical practitioners obviously paralleled mine.

    Oh, and welcome in.
  4.  
    Quokka

    Quokka wandering

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    Agree with Chris on that one, 'non-lethal' can only be applied to the intent of the user not the weapon. All weapons can be lethal including bare hands.

    Another thing to keep in mind especially if your character isn't going to have super human strength is that they don't have to be swinging a barn door to be effective. Impact is a result of speed and mass and so a lighter weapon can sometimes hit harder. Kali sticks made from rattan are lightweight but the speed they can be swung means they are both capable of being lethal/ breaking bones and also extremely hard to block. Same applies to staffs and bos where the extra length means generating higher speeds at the tip.
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    Toby Frost

    Toby Frost Active Member

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    For what it's worth, there were European medieval and renaissance styles of fighting that involved martial-arts type moves, rather than just random furious hitting. Many faded away as society moved on and guns became more prevalent, and as settling disputes with fighting became less common. There is a website of a society of western historical martial arts, but I forget its name, I'm afraid.

    It also depends how you present the martial arts. I can't imagine a medieval pilgrim leaping through the air kung-fu style, but unless you're very good at it to begin with, this probably isn't a great way to fight someone. I can imagine a knight or traveller knowing how to punch, lock and throw much like a WW2 commando, with or without a particular mystique behind it.
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    The Judge

    The Judge Truth. Order. Moderation. Staff Member

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    ARMA is one http://www.thearma.org/about.htm -- I found the website long on repetition and short on real facts, but there's enough there to start with. There are plenty of websites about using longswords which also deal with wrestling and throwing moves which will be of interest.

    Savate is a french martial art and although it developed in the early 1800s I can't believe that the back streets of Marseilles weren't just as busy with kick-boxing thugs a good 400 years earlier, so those moves might help.

    Just a point in passing, you say "My fantasy world is more based on Medieval Europe and the Industrial Revolution" as if they were co-terminous. You do realise that "medieval" as a tag doesn't usually describe anything post 1500, and not a lot after about 1450 I'd have thought, but the Industrial Revolution as commonly known doesn't pre-date 1750? Those 250-300 years cover an awful lot of ground.
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    Braveheart174

    Braveheart174 Strider of Shadow

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    What I mean by that is that I would incorporate some elements from the Medieval Europe such as Knights while at the same time incorporate points of the Industrial Revolution such as trains.
    It would be a world where technology is powered by steam rather than gas, but is still keeping to its traditional roots by having an Empire control the land.
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    psychotick

    psychotick Dangerously confused

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    Hi,

    Could your character be a monk? Many ascetic orders are reputed to have non-lethal fighting styles and not just Kung Fu. Many would allow their members to carry blunt weapons, ie walking sticks, quarter staffs etc. They are practical tools as well as weapons.

    My question though would be, if your character is going into a battle scenario, not killing the bad guy is likely to be counter-productive. There is a reason that sharp edged weapons dominated in wars. If your enemy gets up ten minutes later, you haven't really achieved much in knocking him down. Whatever his views, he needs a way to make sure that his enemies stay down for a good long while.

    Cheers.
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    Primitius

    Primitius New Member

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    In my WIP I have a particular group that utilize martial arts style combat, and I found the most important thing in getting that to work in the setting, was creating a historical reason for its existence in the first place. So I developed a sub-sect of a somewhat eastern-influenced religion which features in my work, and decided that the very code of this fighting style would be informed by the philisophical/moral views of that religion.
    Sorry if this is not really an answer to your questions, but I guess what I am getting at is that it helps if you have a bit of background about why these fighting styles exist in the world in the first place. Afterall, it would definitely be jarring if he were the only character privvy to this style of combat.
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    BookStop

    BookStop If you see a stranger...

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    I don't thinkit would be jarring at all to have only one character skilled in a completely different form of combat. Who knows, maybe his father or a beloved uncle was trained int he east and came back west for some reason 9maybe he was abandoned with monks, lost his lady love and relocated for that reason - just one of any number of things that could explain it ) and trained up his family in his ways. odesn't have to be religion based, just a set of beliefs.

    I think it would be a rollicking good juxtaposition and something I can say I've not read before, so perhaps Braveheart is relly onto to something new. har to do with so much out there.

    I would suggest brushing up on martial arts styles and wordage to make things clear for the reader, though. No one likes to read fighting sequences that aren't somewhat accurate sounding and believable. I only say this, as having no martial arts skill myself, I would write very amatuerish fight scenes.
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    Jake Reynolds

    Jake Reynolds Wordslinger

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    Hey Braveheart,

    The answer is simple. It will be as credible as you allow your history to be. You may even be able to work into your story that the martial arts came from the elves themselves, and his teacher might have lived with them for a long time (prompting perhaps a plot reason for the main character to be searching for them). Alternatively, many of the japanese weapons came from farmers revolting against the rule of the samurai. Though the history is a little more complicated than that, many martial arts weapons come from that which woudl be found on a farm (staff for all manner of things, sai were used for putting seed holes in the ground, nunchaku rice threshers, etc).

    If you create a credible history, then you can do whatever you wish. As to fight scenes, whatever the world, swinging a staff is swinging a staff.
  12.  
    thegreywolf

    thegreywolf Science fiction fantasy

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    Hi Braveheart.

    Why not make it a spiritual martial art, so although he is landing blows on the being physical form they are in actual fact directed at his opponents 'soul' as it were. The spiritual extension of a living beings is absorbing the main force of the attack and like the body the soul has weak points where it is joined to the physical body. This would eliminate the issue regarding the stature of the people he his fighting, it would also set him up for fighting some sort of nemesis that did not posses a soul or 'spiritual essence' to attack.

    Let me know what you think?

    regards

    Grey Wolf
  13.  
    Hobbit_Feet

    Hobbit_Feet New Member

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    Hi

    I know it's an old post but I'd thought this would be a good time to comment as i'm new. I love fantasy novels of all kinds from Conan, to Discworld, David Gemell to name but a few.

    I also have a very keen interest in martial arts. At the moment I practice Foshan Wing Chun under a very good sifu. He has introduced me to a variety of martial arts form Bartitsu, Japanese sword play and English martial arts.

    I was actually thinking of combining all of my knowledge and developing a martial art for fantasy settings, as in stage combat or for Live Action Roleplaying. At the moment i'm just playing around with a few moves in historic boxing and weapons play from kung fu (staff and sword). I hope that i do gain an interest and maybe teach at some point.

    I hope this is relevant

    Hobbit Feet
  14.  
    Brian Turner

    Brian Turner Brian G. Turner Staff Member

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    I just watched a film called "Reclaiming the Blade" that makes the point that every society developed it's own martial arts - but that the arrival of gunpowder made them obselete and caused them to die out.

    The reason we have such a good handle on Japanese martial arts is because Japan was closed to the west - and its innovations, especially guns - until the 19th century.

    That meant that Japanese martial arts didn't get to fade out before a resurgent interest kept them alive, and why we know so much about them - Karate, Judo, Kung Fu, Akido, etc etc

    However, there are groups trying to recreate what is being called Western Martial Arts, and there are historical books available which detail hand to hand fighting methods of 15th century europe. I just bought one as part of my weapons research, but found it was more about "wrestling" moves, which are basically all blocks, blows, and throws.

    Here's the one I got - still in print and not too pricey:
    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Sigmund-Rin...4998/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1360021773&sr=8-2

    Many others, alas, are out of print and are being sold at over £100 a book.

    Just in case you want to really research this. :)

    But the bottom line - Europeans had martial arts. Unfortunately, their secrets died out and no tradition survives, but a revival is underway using the few historical sources we have left.

    However, someone interviewed in "Reclaiming the Blade" makes the point that there were fundamental similarities between Western and Japanese martial arts.
  15.  
    SJAB

    SJAB The storyteller

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    Just a couple of British groups, members of which I have known personally for many years. There is a wealth of information out there, you just have to dig a lot more than a general google search.

    http://www.fioredeiliberi.org/

    http://www.the-exiles.org.uk/

    The Victorian Martial Arts are ideal for a steampunk genre book

    Fiore dei Liberi and the other Italian masters are suitable for adapting to most fantasy settings. Personally I used the I-33 manuscript on sword and buckler for a fantasy novel I wrote a couple of years ago. I actually saw and touched (with white gloves) the original manuscript in the Royal Armouries at Leeds.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Armouries_Ms._I.33

    Sometimes you can get away with sitting on your backside googling information. But for the likes of swordplay I found attending training sessions of groups such as the above, watching the moves and talking to people that train and practice taught me a lot more about the use of a sword than any internet page. Also handling a sword (repoductions and actual 13th century single sword in one case) helps a great deal in separating all the myths from the fact.
  16.  
    Hobbit_Feet

    Hobbit_Feet New Member

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    Cheers guys.

    I do handle swords every week as I do a tai chi form as well as two staff forms, one for wing chun the other tai chi. Plus I also use the butterfly knives.

    But yes i do agree that a great deal of training is needed. I've never been one to sit on my backside and learn from a computer

    Hobbit Feet
    Last edited: Feb 5, 2013
  17.  
    Brian Turner

    Brian Turner Brian G. Turner Staff Member

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    Shame I'm not in London to join those groups. :(

    No worries, and welcome to chronicles, Hobbit Feet. :)
  18.  
    Mirannan

    Mirannan Member

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    Just as an example, wrestling has been around for thousands of years. There is a reason why Graeco-Roman wrestling is in the Olympics, after all! It's a bit more of an open question whether Western martial arts were well enough developed to give the user much of a chance against an armoured knight, however.
  19.  
    Stephen4444

    Stephen4444 Nikolai March 4, 1852

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    There are literally thousands of martial arts. There are combinations, that are a martial art in itself (Bruce Lee's Jeet Kune Do)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeet_Kune_Do)

    His theory, was to use parts of different martial arts that work for you. IE, if you're short certain moves work better in a chosen martial art than others. If the weapons (knife play) of another martial art worked better for short people, then adopt that part of that martial art.


    There are two basic classifications of martial arts, "Internal" and "External." For the sake of keeping this post short...
    I will partially elaborate on one of them, and then give you a link to do your own research.

    A way that a less powerful person can defeat a more powerful and well-armed opponent is through the internal fighting arts. Or internal Kung-Fu (yes kung-fu means fighting arts… so Karate, Kendo, Tae Kwon Do, Judo, etc., are all Kung-Fu; but all those I named, are external martial arts.) The INTERNAL KUNG-FU you need is Chen-style t'ai chi ch'uan; (Erlu-second set of blood fist style…)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chen-style_t'ai_chi_ch'uan

    Chen Taijiquan is the origin of Chinese martial arts, and the deadliest.
    The master practitioner absorbs the power of his attacker (Like a coiled spring) through a trained process called Silk Cocoon Reeling.
    The attacked then redirects the force, and directs it at his opponent. Every inch of his body is considered a weapon. It does not matter if he strikes you with a fist, wrist, elbow, arm, shoulder he will deal damage to you. They are trained to create power in their blows by something called fa jin (Dou Jin) or (shaking power) Demonstrated by one of the best current masters I've ever seen (linked below.) Watch closely at the last half minute of the video. rewind it, watch it again and say "DAMN!" If you don't have an epiphany... then you were never meant to understand fighting or martial arts.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eJuudvIMZs0

    In this martial art, they never retreat; and someone in armor with a long sword has no chance in close quarters with one of these masters. Look at the links I gave you, If any questions I will direct you to other links that will help you in your fantasy world.
  20.  
    kromanjon

    kromanjon New Member

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    That's a very interesting and derogatory tone you got there Stephen. So if I didn't have an epiphany after watching a form, several thousand years old, twice, then I shouldn't practice martial arts at all? Damn. I've just wasted 22 years of my life.

    On topic though, like alot of people have said almost every society have created some form of martial arts. One of the oldest styles, if not THE oldest style, is acctually indian and was created for the very purpose of being able to fight against armored opponents.

    Creating a fantasy world, even though it's based on a western setting doesn't mean you have to use western martail arts. What tends to clash is the philosophy behind the martial arts so that is where som work has to be done. Try to keep in mind who had the need to develop a martial art, what would be the point of said martail art, then you can get into what kind of techniques will be part of it.

    Fighting monsters is a whole other thing. When it gets to that I suggest to write what you feel is right and then let a martail artist (or several) read the scene in question and see if they find it plausible. You should also let other writers read the scene to check pacing and such as always.

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