Hi everyone, I’m afraid this is a recycled blog post from a while back in my writing career. It’s by FAR the most popular thing I ever wrote on my writing blog…a blog which has died a gruesome death since I jumped webhosts and needs rebuilding into something that actually works.
So while I’m alternately praising and cursing PHP and HTML, I thought I’d put this blog up. There are a great deal of fighting myths around on the net and some of them creep into people’s fiction.
I’ve tweaked the article a little, but it’s mostly still the same article. I hope it helps you write your fight scenes.
Here are ten of the most common myths I’ve seen used by writers in fight scenes:
1. You Can Kill Someone by Shoving Their Nose Back Into Their Brain
This one’s been around for a long, long time. Since Imperial China in fact. The idea is simple enough: a powerful blow with the heel of the hand to the base of the nose drives a splinter of bone into the brain of the victim…and they die.
Except that they don’t. You might break the cartilage in their nose, and it certainly hurts (I’ve broken my nose so many times I can just crunch it back into place*) but you can’t shove a bone back into someone’s brain because there are no bones there.
Yes, I know it happened in The Last Boy Scout. That movie is full of lies.
It is possible (theoretically) to kill someone by striking just above the bridge of the nose, but the amount of force required is astronomical. You could have a super powered character killing this way, but even for them it would be far easier to just break someone’s neck. For a normal person to manage it without a sledgehammer is unlikely at best.
The other reason this is so unlikely is that people just don’t hold still in a brawl, the precision required for this sort of blow is beyond anyone except professional fighters and true martial arts masters.
2. Getting Knocked Out Is No Big Deal
We get this in fiction a lot. Batman spends so much time unconscious you have to wonder if he just likes taking naps on the job.
Sadly the reality is that being knocked out, whether by a blow to the head or being drugged can easily kill you. In fact it’s far easier to accidentally kill someone while trying to knock them out than it is to keep them reliably unconscious for more than a minute or so.
Secondly, concussions are cumulative. Have a look at boxers as they age. The ones whose style involves getting smacked in the head a lot often develop degenerative brain conditions such as Parkinson’s Disease and Pugilistic Dementia. Our brains are sensitive instruments and they only shut down when they have absolutely no other choice.
I’ve been knocked cold twice. Each time when I came to I immediately felt intensely ill and it took me several minutes before I even knew where I was. If it had happened in a street fight I would not have been leaping to the attack at that point unless you count vomiting on someone’s shoes an opening gambit.
3. Pressure Points Work In Real Fights
Nope. Sorry but this just isn’t true. Yes there are pain compliance points on the body that can cause you a lot of grief if someone puts pressure on them. The problem is that you have to hold very still in order for these to be effective.
The second problem is adrenaline. If you try a pressure point attack on someone in a fight, they might not even feel it because the adrenaline will dull any pain they should be feeling. Adrenaline will also affect you ability to apply anything that requires fine motor movement as that part of your brain that handles fine motor movement goes into shutdown the moment you get scared or excited.
There are however structural weak points on the body, and attacks on these do work in real fights. A hard punch to the point of the jaw will knock most people out. A kick to the liver hurts so much it will incapacitate the receiver for several minutes (if you don’t believe me find a local Thai boxing gym and take a kick to the liver from one their fighters). Joint locks like kneebars, kimuras** and choke holds all attack parts of the body with structural weaknesses. These really do work but take some skill to apply.
4. A Kick To The Groin is Game Over
While a hard blow to the groin does tend to end fights if it lands cleanly, it’s not the combative panacea it’s made to be. First of all, most people really do not want to be kicked in the groin and they will go to quite extreme measures to protect that area of themselves.
Secondly even after a very hard shot, most men get between three and five seconds before the pain sets in so badly they’re incapacitated. Pretty much every athlete that plays contact sports will know this and can keep working until the pain sets in. Guys who don’t know about the three seconds they have often go down the moment they get hit because even the initial pain is frightening.
There are also some guys who for whatever reason are predicting they are going to take a shot to the groin at some point, and they buy a groin guard. Great if they’re a good person doing good things, not so great if they’re bad guys who’ve thought ahead.
5. A Kick To The Groin Is Just Painful
Actually a hard kick in the nuts can seriously injure a full grown man. It’s played for humour in fiction but what’s almost never shown is just how bad a groin shot can be.
While it’s true that a kick to the groin isn’t necessarily the end of the fight (see above) if a man does take a kick from a strong, trained opponent then the sheer shock of the pain caused is enough to send that man into shock. While it’s rarely fatal it can cause the testicles rupture, at which point they have to be removed.
If your characters get struck in the groin, make sure there are consequences. It can’t just be shrugged off in a few moments, if it’s a hard hit it will be some time before they can do anything except pray for death.
6. Grappling Beats Everything
Er…this one’s harder. It’s not true but there’s an element of truth to the idea that grappling trumps all other fighting styles. It comes partly from the first UFC competitions where a slight Brazilian man name Royce Gracie ran rough shod over his much larger opponents using his families grappling art Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
As a grappler (mostly) I can say that if you’re an experienced grappler fighting someone who doesn’t know how to fight on the ground, or stop you from taking them to the down, then it’s going to be very hard for them to beat you even if they’re larger than you.
However, this assumes that they’re unarmed, alone and don’t know enough stand up grappling (wrestling, judo etc) to keep the fight standing so they can knock you out. It also assumes you’re standing on a surface that’s safe to roll around on.
In my experience grappling is awesome, and a lot of fun, but it needs to be supplemented with other styles.
7. Grappling Is Useless In Real Fights
Despite what I’ve said above, don’t discount grappling as an option for your characters.
The myth says that a good street fighter will either knock a grappler out before the grappler can take them down or use dirty tricks to hurt the grappler before they can be choked unconscious or have a bone broken.
I can say from my own personal experiences that this just isn’t true. Before I studied grappling I tried my hand against a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu fighter who consistently beat me to the punch (and kick) before I could hit him. I was hardly a hard hitter at that point but I was very quick and I still couldn’t hit him before he took me down.
Once I was on the ground I never had a chance to use any dirty tricks because he held me in positions that gave me no chance at all to fight back. If I’d tried to eye gouge or bite him I would have been handing him my arms or throat to attack before I could have hurt him. Plus of course there would have been no reason he couldn’t have gouged me back if he’d wanted to.
8. You Can Punch People In The Head With Impunity
If your hero punches an opponent in the head without either some from of hand protection or a serious amount of training and conditioning, then chances are they’ll break their hand.
Your hand is full of small bones and the human skull is basically one huge bone (more so for some than others). Punches generate a lot of force if thrown correctly and if you hit one of the harder parts of the head (like the forehead) it’s easy to fracture those little bones. In fact it’s so common it’s known as a boxer’s or brawler’s fracture.
If you hit someone in the mouth then you easily get a bit of tooth lodged in your hand. This not only hurts (trust me) it can get infected really easily because human mouths are basically nightclubs for various kinds of disgusting bacterium.
This can add some nice detail to the aftermath of your fight scenes and even if you ignore the injuries you can at least add realism by hanging a lampshade on it.
9. Complex, Esoteric Martial Arts Are Better
All things told one of the best martial arts out there is boxing. Boxers are fit, conditioned to fight, used to getting punched and hit harder than you would believe possible.
I’ve done a lot of different martial arts over the last twenty years (God I feel old) and I can say that the only ones that have helped out at all when I’ve been fighting have been boxing, Muay Thai (Thai Boxing) and the BJJ/wrestling hybrid I’ve been taught.
Everything else failed me when it counted and I took a beating.
It’s not true for everyone; there will be Kung Fu masters who are badass and masters of even more esoteric styles that can really fight…but there also plenty of football players that can really fight despite never being taught how to throw a punch.
Simple, repetitive moves are easy to remember even when you’re under stress. That punch you’ve thrown forty thousand times in training will be the one that comes out when you get mugged.
10. Martial Arts Guarantee A Win
I wish this was true but it just isn’t. All martial arts can do is improve your odds of defeating someone you didn’t have a chance against before. A bigger person can still knock you out with one hefty punch. Someone who’s armed can cut you to ribbons or shoot you dead before you can fire a kick off.
Even if you’re better than they are, anyone can be surprised. I’ve been punched in the back of the head by people I never even knew were standing there.
If you need to humble your hero this can be used to great effect in your story. Have them surprised by a weaker opponent, or simply overwhelm them with numbers. No one martial art can guarantee you’ll come away from a confrontation unscathed.
Not even the ones made by Smith and Wesson.
You Tell Me
What martial myths have you seen? Do you disagree with me on any of these (history would suggest I’m wrong about at least one of them)? Let me know in the comments.
* Sadly a lot of my broken noses have been user failure rather than enemy action. I’m amazed I can keep breathing without injuring myself.
** A kind of bent arm shoulder lock