Martial Arts and the Perfection of One’s Character

Well-developed characterization will help bring your story to life by making your characters believable and real. In order to convincingly depict a character’s appearance, thoughts, beliefs, behaviors and actions, you must understand him fully. Today’s blog post will explore some questions you should answer when creating your credible martial arts character.

First of all…

– Why is it important for the character to know martial arts?

– How much will the martial arts impact the story?

– What do you want to accomplish in the story using martial arts? If there is no course of action that occurs or philosophy that is followed by having a martial arts character, then there is no reason for him to have this background.

The 1984 movie THE KARATE KID demonstrates the characterization of two martial arts teachers, Mr. Miyagi and the Cobra Kai sensei, John Kreese. Both men had mad skills, but Mr. Miyagi believed karate should be used for self-defense only. He was humble, yet confident in his karate. The Cobra Kai sensei, on the other hand, was arrogant and cared only about kicking butt. He believed mercy was for the weak.

Think about your character. Does she brag about fights she’s been in or the tournaments she’s won? Does she display her trophies in her house or dojo (karate school)? Is she humble?

Does she practice martial arts for sport, fitness, self-defense or combat? What style does she study? This is important to know because different styles emphasize different techniques and philosophies. (I’ll blog more about this at a later date.) What is her personal philosophy and does it reflect the teachings of her style?  Does she know how to use a weapon or just her bare hands? What is her skill level? How long has she been training? How much knowledge of the art does she have?

How has the martial arts shaped your character’s life? Was there something in her past that led her to take classes? What was it? Has she overcome her fears? Is she taking classes to round out her training in another field? For example, a police officer.

How much is the martial arts a part of his life now? Does he still take classes? Teach? Does his martial arts training influence the way he behaves?  His code of honor? His cultural beliefs? The foods he eats? The décor of his home? Does he have sparring gear and/or weapons lying around the house or vehicle? Does he have a home dojo? A punching bag? A makiwara? Other martial arts equipment?

How does his martial arts impact his appearance? Is he small and wiry and quick? Does he have thick forearms? Does he have bruises? cuts? Big knuckles? Scars? Injuries? Does he wear t-shirts or a jacket with his school logo or patch on it? Adding little details can make your characters more vivid.

Although your reader may not need to know all the above information, it is important you do. These details will shape your character’s life, beliefs, decisions and actions. Remember, the consequences of those actions is what drives your story forward. The deeper your understanding of your martial arts character, the more believable and realistic he will be.

What other questions can you ask when developing your martial arts character?


~KM Fawcett

9 responses to “Martial Arts and the Perfection of One’s Character

  1. Great thoughts here. Not only do they apply to a character involved in martial arts, but to any pursuit. Thanks ladies!

  2. So true, Gwen.

  3. Hi, Kathy,

    Great article. I like how your questions can be easily applied to other walks of life a character may come from. I’ll look to this as a reference!

    Joanna Aislinn
    The Wild Rose Press

  4. I have to add, many of mine might not be martial artists per se, but for me to show a fight, I feel I have to make sure I’ve done the choreography. For me, that means a martial arts fight sequence.

    As for self defense? have you checked out – they’re building a community of self defense information and trying to make sure it’s valid, real, and focused.

    And, I have to agree…the biggest concern for me in my writing…why was my character drawn to learning the art of fighting?

  5. Great Site! Very informative. The SKKA also offers home based martial arts courses at a low cost! We are endorsed by professionals with a worldwide student base. Check us out.

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