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Old 15th September 2011, 09:02 AM   #1 (permalink)
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How to make Martial Arts Credible in Fantasy Setting?

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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Old 15th September 2011, 09:25 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Re: How to make Martial Arts Credible in Fantasy Setting?

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 by Quokka; 15th September 2011 at 09:37 AM.
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Old 15th September 2011, 10:13 AM   #3 (permalink)
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Re: How to make Martial Arts Credible in Fantasy Setting?

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who adheres to using weapons that can mortally harm his opponents.
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.
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Old 15th September 2011, 10:43 AM   #4 (permalink)
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Re: How to make Martial Arts Credible in Fantasy Setting?

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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Old 15th September 2011, 01:37 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Re: How to make Martial Arts Credible in Fantasy Setting?

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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Old 15th September 2011, 06:09 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Re: How to make Martial Arts Credible in Fantasy Setting?

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Originally Posted by Toby Frost View Post
There is a website of a society of western historical martial arts, but I forget its name, I'm afraid.
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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Old 16th September 2011, 04:19 AM   #7 (permalink)
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Re: How to make Martial Arts Credible in Fantasy Setting?

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Originally Posted by The Judge View Post

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.
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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Old 18th September 2011, 08:24 AM   #8 (permalink)
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Re: How to make Martial Arts Credible in Fantasy Setting?

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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Old 19th September 2011, 03:47 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Re: How to make Martial Arts Credible in Fantasy Setting?

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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Old 19th September 2011, 03:58 PM   #10 (permalink)
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Re: How to make Martial Arts Credible in Fantasy Setting?

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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Old 28th September 2011, 05:25 PM   #11 (permalink)
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Re: How to make Martial Arts Credible in Fantasy Setting?

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.
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Old 29th September 2011, 09:13 PM   #12 (permalink)
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Re: How to make Martial Arts Credible in Fantasy Setting?

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

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Old 4th February 2013, 08:03 PM   #13 (permalink)
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Re: How to make Martial Arts Credible in Fantasy Setting?

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

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Old 4th February 2013, 11:52 PM   #14 (permalink)
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Re: How to make Martial Arts Credible in Fantasy Setting?

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Originally Posted by Braveheart174 View Post
Finally, there's the issue with having martial arts in my story's setting.
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-Ring...0021773&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.
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Old 5th February 2013, 07:31 AM   #15 (permalink)
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Re: How to make Martial Arts Credible in Fantasy Setting?

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.
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