Tag Archives: karate

Fighting Q&A

The three of us here on Attacking the Page were recently interviewed by Angela Knight for her class on writing fight scenes.  For today’s post I thought I’d share one of those questions and the answers that each of us gave.

I’d also love to know some ‘sneaky’ tricks/punches a woman could pull on a man who surprises her with an attack since not all my female protags are warriors, just strong women with strong self-preservation senses.

Melinda’s answer:  Chops or punches to the Adam’s apple, palm strikes to the nose, knees or kicks to the groin, thumb gouges to the eyes, boxing the ears. Generally, the soft areas that run from a man’s face to his groin are all good targets.

Kathy adds: Kicks to the knees could take a guy down as well.

Rayna adds: I’m a fan of elbow strikes, at least for in close fighting. I can hit someone harder with my elbow then my hand. I don’t want to hurt my hand, my elbow can take more of an impact. Plus a quick shot to the gut or chin can stun someone just long enough for me to get away or at least put enough distance between us so I can use my legs, which is my stronger weapon.

I thought I’d also share this interesting instructional video on different types of elbow strike.

What Does She Want From Her Hero?

Scott and I on Tsuken Island (Okinawa, Japan)

After recently turning in my manuscript, synopsis, and blurb to my agent to pitch, I’ve been brainstorming my next novel and could use your help. The hero of this story is the brother of the last story’s hero, so his personality, goals, and motivation are pretty well defined already.


This is a romance novel and my hero needs a heroine. I’ve been racking my gray matter trying to come up with the kind of woman this hero needs. I figured since he has a strong personality, and thinks a little too highly of himself, he needs a strong woman who isn’t impressed by his macho attitude (he’s not really macho, he just thinks he is…think Howard Wolowitz on the Big Bang Theory, only not as nerdy or creepy).

Back to the heroine.

I want her to be physically strong, confident and teach karate (hey, everyone says write what you know, so I figured why not a karate instructor?) and she comes from a big family. My hero only has one family member so this will be a big adjustment for him especially when confronted with a few protective older brothers. 🙂  Not that the heroine needs their protection. She’s pretty good at handling things herself. Oh, did I mention she’s the hero’s sensei? Yup, the hero figures he can’t become a vigilante if he doesn’t know how to fight, and so joins her karate dojo. But he soon learns there’s more to being a “superhero” than punching and kicking.

Now for the part I need your help with…

If the heroine is already a strong, confident woman who owns her own business, what can she learn or gain by being with the hero? What is her vulnerability? What is her character arc? How does she grow to be a better person? Why does she find love with this hero and not anyone else?

Perhaps the answer lies in her reasons for her becoming a dedicated martial artist. I just wish I knew what that reason was. Any suggestions?

~K.M. Fawcett

Long Live The Okinawans

Okinawa, Japan (the birthplace of karate) is home to a people with one of the longest life expectancies in the world. Not only do Okinawans boast the highest rate of centenarians (people who are 100+ years old), their incidence of heart disease, stroke, and cancer is extremely low. Women in Okinawa experience fewer complications from menopause, such as hot flashes and hip fractures. 

Why do Okinawans live so long, and why are they so remarkably healthy into their senior years? Some credit can be given to genetics, but most evidence points toward their lifestyle.  

DIET – Okinawans eat a low calorie plant based diet. They eat many colorful veggies (more colorful = more nutrients), fruits, seaweed, soy products, green tea, fish, and some pork. They also practice Hara Hachi Bu. That is, they eat until they are 80% full, unlike American’s who tend to eat until their supersized plates are clean even though they’ve already loosened their belts a notch.

EXERCISE – Okinawans have an active lifestyle. They engage in regular exercise, like walking, gardening, dancing, and practicing karate as a part of their daily life. Just think of the core muscles that are constantly engaged in order to sit on the floor rather than a chair. It’s not as easy as it looks.

IKIGAI – A reason for getting up in the morning. A sense of purpose. Okinawans discover which activities bring them joy and contentment, and engage in those activities. A sense of accomplishment and satisfaction in what they are doing gives them a sense of purpose, and brings meaning to their lives. In the US, so much of our ikigai is tied to our careers, and then retirement strips that away. Finding something to retire to will increase longevity, though you don’t have to wait until retirement to find your ikigai. I believe I’ve found mine in fiction writing (even if I never *gasp* get published, writing brings me joy).

FAMILY/COMMUNITY – Being surrounded with a support network increases longevity. It is not unusual for aging parents and grandparents to live with their children. Okinawans also seek out like-minded people to be with, for example, a gardening club, dance circle, or friendship club.

SPIRITUALITY – Faith and religion keep many centenarians feeling balanced and protected from life’s troubles.

LOW STRESS –  Whereas punctuality is paramount in Japan and the US, Okinawans believe in an unhurried lifestyle. It doesn’t matter if a task is finished in an hour or three hours, as long as it gets done.

How does your longevity stack up to the Okinawans’? What area (or areas) do you need to improve? Do you have an ikigai? What is it? Please leave your thoughts in the comments. 

Live long and stay healthy!

~K.M. Fawcett

It’s Hidden in the Dance

This weekend some of our karate students, my husband, and I were invited to a kanpai (celebration), where we had the pleasure of being entertained by Okinawan dancers. What I find fascinating about traditional Okinawan dance is that karate techniques are hidden within them, especially in the traditional young men’s dance. I’ve seen some of these dances before, and enjoy pointing out the techniques and stances we do in our katas (forms) as the dancers perform.

Below are pictures of the Sachiyo Ito & Company dancers (located in Manhattan) performing a traditional Okinawan court dance, a yotsudake dance. The performers wore beautiful, brightly colored bingata kimono and lotus flower headdresses. As they danced, they sounded the yotsudake, which are four bamboo pieces held in their hands and clapped together similar to castanets.  I tried to include video, but had trouble.  If I can get that working, I’ll put it up.

After doing a little internet research on this graceful and elegant dance, I learned that the dance is about welcoming the guest and showing the host’s gratitude, as well as joy of entertaining.

After their performance, they asked if anyone wanted to come up and dance. You bet I did! I downed the rest of my awamori (a distilled Okinawan liquor) and joined in along with most of the women there and a few men too. I had a great time! No video of me dancing. 🙂  But here is a picture of me from the back.

And another… (Am I dancing or making a dog shadow puppet?)

All this hidden meaning got me wondering. Are there dances from other cultures with secrets buried within them? Irish dancing maybe? Hmm…

~K.M. Fawcett

The Devil Is In The Translation

This past weekend I attended another outstanding karate seminar given by my teacher’s teacher, AJ Advincula. Though I learned a lot while training, my biggest lesson came later that evening after dinner. I learned the language barrier is a tough wall to scale, and sometimes the things you believe you understand, you don’t really.

An Oni Mask

During a discussion of ghosts of Okinawa, the conversation turned toward oni. Oni are demons or devils from Japanese foklore. I first learned about them in 2008 on a trip to Okinawa. I had visited a relative of Sensei Advincula’s and saw hanging on the wall a scary looking mask of a red devil face with horns. His relative told me the name of the mask (my notes say “Yasamen” but I must have written it wrong as it doesn’t come up in Google searches), and that it was for good luck and a protector in the same way shisa are. Then she told me the mask was no oni. Umm, ok. If the nice Okinawan lady tells me the devil mask wasn’t a demon, who am I to argue? Right?

Fast forward to this past weekend and our oni conversation. Sensei said the mask on his relative’s wall was an oni. “But sensei,” I replied, “she assured me it wasn’t.”

Well, with the power of the iPad, we did some research and sure enough I learned that not only was the mask an oni, it was a NOH mask. Noh is a traditional Japanese musical drama where the characters are masked. So all this time I thought she was saying that the mask was “no oni” (not a demon) when the mask was “Noh oni” (a demon mask from a play)!

So what does this lesson have to do with martial arts?

Many American soldiers stationed on Okinawa after World War II studied Isshinryu karate. Upon their return to the US, they opened up their own dojos (schools). Unfortunately, most of these first generation American pioneers of Isshinryu had been stationed on Okinawa for a short time. A typical tour of duty was only thirteen months. They didn’t have time to learn all the finer points and, therefore, didn’t understand how to make their karate work best. They also got much of the history and terminology incorrect because of language barriers. For example, the founder of Isshinryu karate, Master Tatsuo Shimabuku, created a kata (form) called Sunusu or Sunsu for short. Sunusu is translated to mean “father of the old man” or “father of the old man’s house”. Meaning that Master Shimabuku had named this kata after his grandfather. A marine student had asked the master about sunsu, and the master replied, “strong man”. To this day some Isshinryu sensei incorrectly teach that sunsu translates to strong man. What got lost in translation was that the master’s grandfather (for whom he named the kata) was a very strong man.

I had often wondered why there was so much incorrect information being passed down in certain lineages of Isshinryu karate. I now know it’s because what one person believes they understand may not, in fact, be understood at all. The devil is in the translation. DesiSmileys.com

~K.M. Fawcett

You Give Karate a Bad Name

Disrespect is ugly. Especially when it comes from a black belt and parent, and is directed toward a nine-year-old child.

A few weeks ago, we took our students to a karate tournament. While our school’s focus is on self-defense, not competition, we do offer our students two opportunities a year to participate in a no contact/light contact tournament. Every time we go to one, I am reminded again why I dislike them.

It was the nine-year old brown belt group’s final match in point kumite, (or “tag” as I sometimes call it since the first person to pass the other’s guard and make contact receives a point). A boy from our school and a girl from another competed in this final round, which would determine first place. Both competitors fought aggressively. Then the girl popped our student in the face. Twice. Hey, karate is a contact sport. It’s a fight. These things happen. Increased adrenalin paired with excitement or frustration often leads to lack of control. The girl was disqualified as per the rules.

Now, as anyone who has been popped in the nose knows, the body’s natural response is to tear up. When the boy wiped his eyes, a black belt man (the girl’s dad?) enthusiastically jumped in front of a black belt woman with a camera (the girl’s mom?) and exclaims, “He’s crying. Get a picture!”

Excuuuse me!

A grown man of advanced rank was excited about the tears of a nine-year-old to want a memento of it?

I was pissed. I didn’t care what rank this guy held, I let him know what he said was disrespectful. They ignored me and slinked away (I’d like to think it was because they were embarrassed, but more likely they went to show the girl the picture). Another sensei (teacher) with a red and black stripe belt (meaning 7th degree or higher) from the same school had been standing between the mom and me, and asked what happened. I don’t know how he missed it, he was standing right next to them when the guy said it…loudly, I might add. After I told him what happened, he started his spiel about how they have tough girls in their dojo and that they don’t treat their girls differently from the boys. Um, hello! I don’t give a flying front kick how tough the girls are in your school. You’re totally missing the point. This isn’t about the girl. At all. This is about your adult black belt parents disrespecting a competitor, disrespecting the competitor’s teachers and parents standing nearby, and demonstrating poor sportsmanship.

Seriously, is that really what you want your students to learn? “Hey kids…it doesn’t matter if your techniques lack control or you get disqualified; we’re going to celebrate the fact that you made a boy cry. And here’s the framed photo to prove how tough you are!”

I wonder if they’d feel the same way if the boy popped the girl in the face and his parents said, “Quick take a picture. She’s crying.”

~ K.M. Fawcett

Size Matters

There are differences between the way men and women fight.  Some are physical due to size and strength discrepancies.  Others are psychological or physiological.

Good fighters, male or female, know what works for them.  They train moves to see how their own bodies respond and to find out if they are able to make different techniques work.  For self-defense/combat fighting, it’s important to practice the moves on opponents of varying sizes, shapes and abilities.  A 250 pound male isn’t going to be as easy to hip throw as a 130 pound female.  But the biggest guy goes down like a tree if you sweep his feet out from under him.  Conversely, leg sweeps are harder to accomplish on short, stocky men.

Smaller size can be put to advantage. Men in my classes sometimes comment that it’s harder for them to do certain holds, locks and traps on women. Larger hands have difficulty maintaining intricate grips on slender limbs.  Sometimes women can slide right on out.  Joint locks are harder to perform on women because females are naturally more flexible.  It can also be harder to knock a woman off balance because her center of gravity is lower.

Women need to use leverage as much as possible when fighting and to avoid being hit. TV and movie fights aside, in reality, one fist to the face is devastating to a woman’s small bones.  A trained female fighter also isn’t going to slug a guy in the jaw.  It’s her bones that will break in that contest as well.  Strikes to soft targets are a female’s best bet. Kicks/knees to the groin or belly allow a woman to use the largest muscles in her body, her legs, to deliver a blow to a man’s weakest points, which fall in a straight line from a man’s face to his groin.  If hand strikes to the face are required, then a woman should use a heel palm instead of a fist to keep her fingers intact.  A chop or half-fist (fingers bent at the second joint) fits nicely in the throat.  Eyes can be gouged with fingers or thumbs.

I’ve found that my female students are often more technically correct.  Because of their smaller size, women have to be more precise. If they don’t perform the maneuver perfectly, it won’t work on someone with a hundred pound weight advantage.  Men can muscle over technical errors.

In addition to size/strength issues, men are hard-wired differently than women.  Males are naturally more aggressive.  They have a reflex in their brain. When they are struck, they automatically strike back with equal force. (This is another reason why women should never initiate a striking match with a man.  She’s better off leveraging her body into an optimal position for a crippling blow to a soft target.)   Young male fighters often have to learn to control their natural responses in order to keep a cool head.  Strategy is a critical element to any fight.  There are exceptions to every rule, but most women will avoid physical confrontation until they’re backed into a corner or their children are threatened.

In my own experience, I’ve found that in the sparring ring, men will come right out swinging.  Women, myself included, tend to hand back and wait.  They fight reactively.  I like to get a sense of my opponent’s style.  Then I wait for him to commit to a strike and use his momentum against him.

All in all, size and gender do matter.  The best way for a fighter to overcome physical and psychological differences is by using the most important organ in the human body:  the brain.

Melinda’s “Size Matters” blog first posted at Romance University over the summer.

Physical Characteristis of a Martial Artist

First of all, if your character seriously studies and practices martial arts, he or she is going to be kick-butt fit.  Martial arts work the entire body.  Core strength is a must.  While they can be wiry, fighters aren’t usually skinny, but strong and fit, with six-pack abs.  Muscles aren’t necessarily big, but well-defined.

Bag work and sparring build up calluses on the hands and feet.  Calluses on the feet can be thick because most training is done barefoot.  Some fighters may also have calcium build up and thickened bones from often repeated impacts.  In Muay Thai, the shin is used for both for kicking and blocking kicks. Thai fighters condition their shins by kicking trees.  That’s right.  TREES.

I can tell you from experience that karate is tough on a manicure.  Your character may paint her toenails a dark color to camouflage purple or black discolorations.  I’ll even confess to painting the skin when missing a nail altogether.  Martial artists break and dislocate fingers and toes.  If she’s been practicing blocks in class, she’ll have bruises, especially on her forearm and shins.  Weapons training, specifically with arnis sticks and bo staffs, often results in bruised hands.  Check out the video on Modern Arnis training below.  Everyone that practices drills like these gets hit.

Novices working with nunchaku (nunchucks) wear helmets if they’re smart.  Long-time grapplers (as in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu) have a distinctive curl to their calves and feet.  They become very dexterous with their lower limbs.

So, investigate that character’s background and add those small details that make them more real on the page.  And feel free to contact us at Attacking the Page or email us individually with questions about a fight scene or your character’s background in martial arts.

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Guest Blogger – Dennis Clarkston

Our guest blogger today is Dennis Clarkston.  He is a third degree black belt in an eclectic martial arts called Kajukenfu Budo Kai Kenpo Karate. His work with Kenpo started back in 1985 and he currently assists two instructors in the Natchitoches, La. area.  Due to a heart ailment, he is not able to enjoy martial arts as well as he should.  But he refuses to let it stop him.

Dennis’s interest in writing came about in first grade when a blank page called out for him to fill it with a story.  In 1983, he learned to use his mom’s 1940’s era Underwood typewriter and began typing his Great American Science Fiction Novel.  Though not published yet, he enjoys writing and often melds martial arts with his writing to build action scenes.

He is a member of RWA, the North Louisiana StoryTellers and Authors of Romance (Nola Stars) (Bossier City, La.) and the American Christian Fiction Writers.  You can contact Dennis at clark-stone@suddenlink.net or DennisClarkston@gmail.com or visit him at www.clark-stone.net or blog.clark-stone.net.

Welcome, Dennis!

Hello!  The ladies from “Attacking the Page” invited me to a guest on their blog.  My name is Dennis Clarkston.  I am a 3rd Dan in Kajukenfu Budo Kai Kenpo Karate.  Did someone say “Huh?”  (Big Grin)

Kajukenfu Budo Kai Kenpo Karate is an eclectic style of martial arts developed by Professor Harold R. Laranang Sr. (1940-1998) in 1970.  He combined his knowledge of several martial art styles to form this modern martial arts system.  His first dojo opened at Fort Polk with his first students being military personnel stationed at the army post in Leesville, La.  Due to his military commitments, Professor Laranang (10th Dan) taught his style in Hawaii, Minnesota, and Germany.   Wherever the army stationed him, he would seek out other martial artists so he could expand his knowledge.

The Kajukenfu name is an acronym of some of the varying styles that influenced it.

Ka – Karate

Ju – Judo/Jujitsu

Ken – Kenpo

Fu – Kung Fu

Kajukenfu Kenpo contains elements of Kosho-ryu Kempo, Iaido/Kenjutsu, Kendo, Kajukembo, Tae Kwan Do, Goju-ryu, Sil Laum Kung Fu, Okinawan Kobudo, Shotokan, Kotokan Judo, Filipino Kali, and Aikido.  The base style is Kenpo (Law of the Fist). Along with the hard style techniques of punches, strikes and blocks of Kenpo, Professor Laranang incorporated kicks, throws, falls, rolls, breakaways, self-defense techniques, Aikido, takedowns, traps as well as various weapons.

The basic system has not changed too much over the years.  Kata (Form) is taught so that the student can learn and perfect her/his techniques.  A Kata has been described as a dance.  This is where the martial artist executes a series of punches, blocks, strikes, kicks and other techniques in a sequence that simulates a fight.  Kajukenfu has both empty-hand and weapon Kata.

The current master of the system is Professor John Pereda, 7th Dan.  He teaches Kajukenfu at a Thomson, Ga., YMCA.  Shihan-Sama Bruce Adams, 6th Dan, teaches classes at Northwestern State University and O’Sensei Romulus Roquemore, 4th Dan, teaches at the Louisiana School for Math, Arts and Science – both in Natchitoches, La.

Currently, I assist teaching classes with both Shihan-Sama Bruce and O’Sensei Romulus and I learn something new every class.  One way to truly learn and understand martial arts is to teach it.  What may be clear for one person may confuse another. I believe that coming up with different approaches of teaching a technique or explaining a concept added a new dimension to my martial arts knowledge.  One can hear the instructor tell him/her the dynamics and purpose of a technique.  It takes teaching that technique to a student to really drive those points home.

The only advice I can give on picking a martial art is pick one that fits your personality.  Each style has something to offer, so cross-training in other style is beneficial.

Does Your Character Have Style?

In Martial Arts and the Perfection of One’s Character, I’ve blogged about characterization and the martial arts.  Today’s post will focus on the different types of martial arts your characters might study.  Realize that you may also need to delve deeper and understand the specific style within the type.

For example, the type of martial arts I study is Karate. The style of karate I study is Isshinryu Karate (meaning one heart way or whole hearted way).  My style emphasizes a vertical fist with the thumb on top, which aligns the wrist bones and makes for a strong weapon.  Isshinryu also emphasizes muscle blocks.  Other styles of karate may emphasize bone blocks, a twist punch, deep stances and deep breathing.  As Tatsuo Shimabuku (the founder of Isshinryu Karate) had once said, “all bottles are good,” meaning that all martial arts are good.  However, not all martial arts are the same.  And as a writer, you need to know the differences if you want your character and your story to sound authentic.

It is also important to know the correct vernacular your style uses.  If your character practices Tae Kwon Do, do not let him call it Karate. Tae Kwon Do is Korean.  Karate is Japanese.  Yes, there is a difference.  Don’t make me throw your book against the wall because you’re using incorrect vocabulary.  Here’s another example, a karate school is a Dojo.  A Tae Kwon Do School is a DojangSensei is teacher in Japanese.  Sifu is teacher in Chinese.

In addition to proper vernacular, you should be familiar with the techniques each style emphasizes.  Akido practitioners will use more throws and movement to evade their attacker, whereas a character that practices Muay Tai will use mostly strikes.  If you don’t want to get caught up in the nuances of each style, have your character study multiple styles or practice a form of American Freestyle, where they learn many techniques from different styles all in one school.  However, this character probably won’t have as deep a cultural knowledge in any one style because they are not practicing a strict traditional art.

Below is a chart listing different types of martial arts, their primary focus, and their county of origin.  It is by no means comprehensive.  It’s merely a jumping off point for your research.

Pentjak Silat Striking and weapons Archipelago (Malaysia to New Guinea)
Capoeira Kicks, sweeps, head strikes, evasive moves, rolls Brazil
Kung Fu Adept, skilled through hard work Striking and throwing China
T’ai Chi Chuan Supreme ultimate fist “internal” martial art, moving postures, powerful pushes China
Wing Chun Kung Fu striking, balance, trapping China
Savate Boxing – striking, kicking France
Indian Martial Arts India
Kendo Way of the sword fencing Japan
Judo Gentle way throwing, break falls, ground fighting, joint locks Japan
Jujutsu or Jujitsu Art of softness; Way of yielding Most variety – Uses attacker’s energy against him, grappling,  joint locks, holds, throwing, striking, weapons Japan/  Brazil
Iaido sword combat Japan
Kyudo The way of the bow Archery Japan
Ninjutsu & Shuriken-Do Uses strategy and tactics of unconventional warfare, guerrilla warfare, and art of espionage (ninja) Japan
Sumo grappling Japan
Aikido The way of harmonious spirit throwing, moving to avoid attacks, not a system of self defense Japan
Taekwondo The way of kicking and punching striking Korea
Ryukyu Kobujutsu Old martial way of Okinawa Weapons Okinawa
Karate Do The way of empty hand striking Okinawa/ Japan
Escrima Fencing Stick and sword fighting Philippines
Sambo Grappling Russia
Muay Thai (Thai Boxing) striking, grappling in a standing position Thailand
Kick Boxing striking Western
Hybrids ie Jeet Kun Do, MMA, American karate

~KM Fawcett

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