Gave up on the roman numerals. I was having nightmares of being back in 8th grade. AUUGHHH!!!!
So, how do you write a fight scene?
To write “fists and feet flying” is cheap. I mean, Robert Heinlein used to do stuff like that, because being bedridden, he never learned how to do it. So he couldn’t write about it.
A thousand old videos and documentaries are available on Martial Arts. And now getting video lessons on YouTube is the modern equivalent of a Lion Dance ceremony. The buyer can watch videos for days before deciding on a style and a school.
So there’s your first answer. What kind of personality does your protagonist (or antagonist) have? Find the martial art that fits that personality.
Near-sighted? Wing Chun kung fu. That’s the reason Bruce Lee chose that style.
Watch videos of martial arts. Think of one-word summaries for that style. Watch the person doing that style, and decide personality wise how close they are to your protagonist?
Try a few classes of it. You need to give at least a month to start to get a feel for it. To really understand a martial art requires two years’ study. I’m going back in this weekend and adding in YouTube videos of some documentaries and martial arts, so that you can see.
Now, here’s the trick – you may learn a lot of Chinese and Japanese terms as you investigate the art. Try to avoid using phrases like “Shihonage”. YOU may learn this means “Four winds throwing”, but the reader will not grasp it unless they’re learning Aikido.
“Carpenter settled back into a crouch, weight on his rear leg. His front leg lifted, knee bent, then lashed out with blinding speed. The balls of his foot smashed into the nose of Mr. Clean, staggering him backward. Mr. Clean shook his head, trying to clear his vision.”
Say that. Your reads may not understand “Mawashi-geri”. I’m pretty sure they won’t.
Mr. Clean seized Carpenter’s lapels, and butted Carpenter in the face with his forehead. Carpenter dropped his weight, yanking Mr. Clean off balance. Carpenter shifted his weight, and slammed a short punch to Mr. Clean’s throat. The balding man gurgled, eyes bugging as he fell back.
Notice some of the words I’ve used – seized, yank, crouch, settle, smash, stagger, slam. If you’ve EVER been hit or kicked in a real martial arts fight, you’ll understand why I use those words. Literally, there are Shotokan techniques that can hit you with the impact of being hit by a car. “Punched” doesn’t describe it. “Smashed” or “Crashed” works better.
Besides, it’s good writing.
Let me take Tekki Shodan, and describe that as a martial arts fight.
Carpenter kept his back to the wall, trapped between them. If he came off that wall, they could get him around the neck, and lights out. The one on his side stamped at Carpenter’s knee. Carpenter swung his leg upward to avoid the kick, then snapped down, finding the kneecap of the attacker. Bone crunched loudly as the attacker screamed, dropping to the ground and rolling.
Carpenter shifted his weight, delivering a low side kick to the other man. He slung his shoulder forward, projecting the writhing man to the ground.
The shaven headed man at Carpenter’s side charged recklessly, as Carpenter freed his arm. He slammed both his fists towards the charging man, hitting the man’s open hand before it could grasp him. Carpenter’s other fist smashed the shaven headed man in the teeth.
Carpenter looked to his right, staring down the other man to the side. The man took off running, not wanting to share in the fate of his compatriots.
Carpenter stared forward. The spiky haired ringleader hesitated, then charged the smaller man. Carpenter lifted his left fist to his head as the ringleader seized Carpenter’s wrist. Carpenter whacked the ringleader on the temple with his left fist, bowling him over.
“Might want to re-think this.” carpenter warned. The Ringleader got to his feet, and shook himself off.
“I never re-think.” The ringleader snapped.
“Here’s your first lesson.” Carpenter lunged off the wall.
Smash, Hammer. Strike. Slam. Crunch. Whack. PUT the reader into the fight. There’s no sound effects in books, so you’ve got to use words that have the bone jarring sounds in their own title. “Ran at” becomes “Charged”.
Now, unless you are a Shotokan black belt, you’d probably never know this is Tekki Shodan. The returning wave kick is taught as a way to avoid a foot sweep, but we’re looking at possible bunkai as well – and kicking the kneecap of an attacker that’s got you pinned to the wall is a possible application of the returning wave kick. I remember once describing Bassai Dai as one of the most brutal katas ever made, because at one point you do a move that could be interpreted as throwing someone to the ground and stamping on them. Other Shotokan black belts really were astounded by that, because they’d never considered that move in that way.
Notice (if you know the form) I eliminated one attacker. Tekki has left and right repetition, so you can eliminate one of the moves.
One more thing – I avoided filter words in this as much as possible. I could have put “he knew” – but that digs the reader one level out of the scene. “he saw, He knew, he felt”… these now take you out of the immediacy of the scene.
notice a projection in the form. now, Tekki Shodan is no longer taught with projections, but once upon a time, Shotokan Karate had throws and projections. See the films of Nakayama Sensei teaching Karate in the 1940’s.
Carpenter, my martial arts knowing protagonist, is also a Shotokan historian, and knows that throws and joint locks were taught in Shotokan in the beginning. Nakayama streamlined Shotokan at one point, or perhaps simply left off teaching those moves, because they weren’t often done, he got busy, and forgot to teach them after that date. I’m going with number 2.
Carpenter learned them, and remembers them.
If you have to take the time to perhaps sketch out the fight scene with stick figures, do it.