Tag Archives: martial arts

The Learning Curve

Lately, we’ve talked a lot about characters that are experts in their field. What about the beginners or the people with a little experience under their belts, but who are far from expert.  Not every character has to be the biggest, baddest or even the most experienced. It can be just as fun and engaging to write/read about a character that’s still learning.

Think of the comedic potential of a newbie. Newbies aren’t going to be smooth and fluid. They are going to be awkward and jerky and potentially a little accident prone until they get a better understanding of how their bodies should be moving through the techniques.  I remember the first time I used a bo staff in class. I thought I was doing so great. I was picking up the moves to the kata no problem and then WHACK! I hit myself in the head with with staff doing a figure eight. At that point, I rubbed my head and did a quick look around to make sure no one had seen my little mishap, and moved forward. Or course, I held the staff a little further away from that point on.

Newbies also don’t think like a martial artist with years of training.  Blackbelts have developed the ability to quickly assess an attack and react. To see all of the possible defenses and counterattacks. A newbie hasn’t develop that ability yet. They will know the moves, but they may not yet be able to see all of their fighting options.  One of my works in progress has a fight scene in which one of my heroes, who is still very much a beginning martial artist, is in a fight for his life. The villain happens  to position himself perfectly, allowing my hero to perform a textbook technique. As he completes the maneuver ‘Woohoo, it worked!’ runs through his mind  quickly followed by ‘Oh crap, now what?” when the villain counters.

Sometimes the novice strikes just the right note for both reader and writer since we’ve all been there at some point. I’m not just talking about martial artists or high action characters, this can apply to any character. We’ve all had to stumble through the learning process making embarrassing blunders and exciting achievements along the way.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this so please jump in and share. Do you have a preference when you read/write? Do you lean more towards the characters that excel at what they are doing? Do you enjoy reading about the rookies?

I guess I’m on the fence. I love, for example, reading about Eve Dallas kicking butt and taking names, but I enjoyed just as much watching Peabody learn and grow.

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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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Safety Tip of the Week: Learn to Defend Yourself

We’ve talked about the common sense things you can do to try and avoid becoming a victim. We’ve also talked about the various products you can use to defend yourself. This week we talk about learning to defend yourself, because  no matter how vigilant you are, you still may find yourself in the position of having to protect yourself.

There are a multitude of martial arts out there that you can learn that will teach you practical self defense techniques. Karate is a striking martial art using punching, kicking, knee and elbow strikes as well as  open-handed techniques to defend yourself against an attack. Melinda, Kathy, and I study different styles of karate. Kathy studies Isshinryu Karate, a much more tradition style of karate. Melinda and I study Kenpo Karate which is sort of a hybridized style to begin with that also incorporates elements of aikido, kung fu, and jiu jitsu.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is another martial art that can be especially beneficial to woman. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a self-defense system that focuses on grappling and ground fighting. It emphasizes the principle that a smaller, weaker person can successfully defend themself against a bigger, stronger assailant by using leverage and proper technique.

There are many benefits to studying a martial art such as:

  • Increased reflexes and coordination
  • Increased stamina and strength
  • Increased flexibility and balance
  • Improved concentration
  • Stress reduction
  • Increased self-esteem and self respect
  • Increased confidence levels

Plus, the regular classes will help you build muscle memory. The more you practice the movements, the more automatic they become, and the faster you’ll be able to react in the event of attack. If you’re not sure what martial art will suit you, try a variety. Call various studios and see if they offer trial classes. Sometimes, local recreation centers will offer a variety of different classes relatively inexpensively.

However, if studying a martial art really isn’t your cup of tea. There are numerous self defense classes you can take. Check with local recreation centers and police departments. They may offer or be able to suggest local self defense programs. One especially good program is the Rape Escape program developed by self defense and women’s safety expert, Steve Kardian. This is a four part program that is designed for the real world. The first part entitled Fight Like a Girl(FLAG) teaches self defense techniques that the average woman can use in realistic sexual assault situations. In other words, you don’t need to have a martial arts background to learn and remember these techniques.

As Kathy discussed in her post on Being a Hard Target, most assailants look for the person that appears to be the easy, unsuspecting target. Whether you learn a martial or take a self defense class the one thing you will gain is the confidence of knowing that should the need arise you can defend yourself. This confidence will shine through and can help lessen the likelihood of you being victimized.

Passing the Test

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned in a previous post, there were two main reasons that I started taking karate. Obviously fitness, but also because there is an end goal that you’re working toward, earning the coveted black belt.  As the saying goes, with a little hard work and determination, you can accomplish anything. I recently had the opportunity to see this adage in action while observing part of the testing that I, with a little luck, hope to be participating in myself one day.

Picture a room full of  gi(uniform) clad people, standing before a row of instructors. Now imaging going through a collection of forms/katas over and over again, your every move scrutinized.  All the while the instructors are throwing out questions about the various techniques. What’s the name of that move? What’s the theory behind the collection of moves that makes up this section of the kata, etc, etc. It’s not enough to know the blocks and strikes to perform, but also why you’re performing them and how to vary them. It was intense to watch. I can only imagine what it was like to be out there.

The next section of testing was sparring and, for me, the most intimidating part. First because up until now I’ve basically been beating the heck out of an invisible attacker. So the thought of really getting hit is intimidating. This was no Daniel Larusso, first to three points wins thing. This was a sparring and endurance test all rolled into one. One person stayed on the mat for four minutes while facing fresh opponent after fresh opponent. I was exhausted and sore just watching, but I did understand the point.  In part it was about conditioning, but more so it was about not giving up.

For a lowly orange belt like myself I have quite a ways to go before I’ll have to face this particular challenge, but I didn’t start this journey just to quit. I suppose the same thing could be said about being a writer. I don’t think any of us started writing and trying to get published just to walk away when things don’t go the way you expect. In a lot of ways it’s similar to testing. You start all eager and somewhat clueless. Then you get scrutinized, judged, and knocked down a few times. Through it all you keep you eye on that end goal. In then end, I like to think, we all achieve some degree of success be it simply completing a manuscript, hitting it big on the New York Times list or a myriad of possibilities in between.

In conclusion to my story about black belt testing, I’d like to offer a huge round of congratulations to Melinda Leigh for earning her second-degree black belt.

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Training for Martial Artists

Martial arts in and of itself is an awesome, full body workout. But most martial artists also train to improve their speed, conditioning and skill level. If your hero or heroine practices martial arts or depends on his fighting skills for survival, practice and conditioning will a significant part of his lifestyle.

A fighter’s power originates in his center. Kicking, punching and grappling require core strength. Weight training is utilized, but so are exercises like yoga and pilates, which also improve balance and flexibility necessary for martial arts.

Fighting requires aerobic conditioning or endurance, but being able to respond with a short burst of intense energy is also important.  Martial artists commonly use interval training to improve their anaerobic conditioning.  An example of interval training would be three minutes of easy jogging followed by a one minute sprint, two minutes of easy jogging, then a thirty second full-out run.  The lengths of the intervals are varied, as is the intensity of each.  The more irregular the workout, the better.

Fighters workout in constantly varying ways to continue to challenge their bodies.  Jumping rope is a popular cardio exercise for boxers and martial artists.  It encompasses physical exertion, rhythm, and coordination, three vital skills for all types of fighting.  Fighters run, they climb ropes, lift kettle bells, throw and carry medicine balls.  They drill with repetitive kicks and punches on heavy bags and with partners using hand-held mitts and bags.  Fighters do endless varieties of push-ups.  And this is a MMA (mixed martial arts) fighter’s idea of a sit-up.

Drills are specific exercises meant to teach patterns in fighting.  An example would be something like this.  The trainer throws a punch.  The fighter move his head out of the path, parries or blocks the punch, then counters with a punch to a practice mitt held next to the trainer’s jaw.  The same pattern is repeated many times.  Drills help fighters develop muscle memory so they respond to a strike quickly.

Sparring is practice fighting.  Participants typically pad up with protective head gear, mouth guards, padded gloves and boots. Sometimes even shin and forearm pads area worn to avoid the painful bruises that result from blocking kicks and punches. Male fighters wear special, heavy-duty athletic cups.

The type and intensity of training will depend upon the martial artist’s need and style.  A character who studies Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu will utilize different exercises that someone who trains in Kenpo.  Do some research to add the proper detail to your hero or heroine’s workout.

Get a KICK Out of Your Fight Scenes

We already reviewed how you can use fighting terminology to make your action scenes more interesting in the Add PUNCH to your Action Scenes post.  More specific words add power to your pages.  This week we’ll focus on kicking.

Kicks are stronger than punches because leg muscles are larger than those in the upper body.  In the Fight Like A Girl self-defense seminar, we teach women to use kicks, which engage the strongest part of her body, her legs, against her attacker’s weakest targets, which fall in a straight line from his nose to his groin.

Other styles of martial arts may have additional, less common kicks, but these are the basic kicks in kenpo karate.

Front snap kick – a quick kick that utilized the snapping of the knee joint for power. The toes are curled back and the ball of the foot is used as the weapon. Knees, groin and stomach are common targets.

Front thrust kick – a stronger kick using a forward thrust from the hip to add power. The weapon can be the ball of the foot, the entire sole of the foot or the heel, depending on position.

Roundhouse –  a turning kick with the rear leg. The fighter turns 180 degrees, using the top of her foot or shin bone as the weapon in a sweeping arc.  The roundhouse is a strong kick due to the torque created by the twisting of the fighter’s body (similar to a golf club or baseball bat swing), but has one big drawback. Since it has a wide arc, the opponent can see it coming.

Side kick – The fighter draws her knee to her chest and fires the kick outward, stomping her heel and/or blade of her foot on her attacker.  The sidekick is very strong due to the engagement of most of the major leg muscles.  Side kicks are debilitating just about anywhere, but I love the knees and ribs as targets.

Stomp – A variation of the side kick and just what it sounds like. You heroine can stomp on her opponent’s instep. If you like, she can scrape her shoe all the way down his shin on the way.

Hook kick – The foot is extended beyond the target. The lower leg is drawn back in a hamstring curl, striking with the heel of the foot. Not terribly powerful but very sneaky if executed properly.

Knee strikes are effective blows when your heroine is too close to fire off a kick. You all know the best target for knees is the groin. But consider knees strikes to the face or abdomen if your opponent is bent over.

The standard kicks above can be combined in a series. Each of these kicks can also be done while spinning and/or jumping as shown in many TV shows and action movies. For some awesome karate fight scenes, check out the Transporter 2. Jason Statham has a background in martial arts that enables him to performs his own fight scenes.  Although the usefulness of these fancy kicks in a real fight (as in not choreographed for film or TV) is questionable, they sure are fun to watch.

The Novice Prospective

It’s my turn. The undisputed rookie of the group. I’ve only been studying karate for about three months now, so my point of view will be vastly different from Melinda’s and Kathy’s. So, if you’re looking to create a character that is just stepping on the mat for the first time, I can definitely help you out there.

For me learning karate is about self defense and physical fitness.  That’s not the case for everyone and it may not be the case for your character. So what is your character’s motivation for taking up a martial art, joining a gym, heck signing up for  pottery lessons?

Let me start by telling you a little about my first class.

The first time I went to a class it felt a bit like jumping into the deep end of the pool without any water wings. Sure, I was excited. I’d wanted to take karate for ages, so I was stoked to finally be doing it instead of just contemplating it.  I was the only white belt amongst a rainbow of other colors. Suffice it to say, I was a might bit nervous. I kept hoping that Melinda would walk through the door and there would be at least one familiar face in the room, but no such luck.

Class started with your usual warm up and stretching, of course seeing as how it had been a while since I’d done anything this high impact, let’s just say things weren’t as flexible as they used to be. Then on to bag work. One by one the students approached the bag and with confident ease executed kicks and punches with a power that moved the standing bag across the floor. Of course when my turn came, the impact barely made a sound or an indent in the foam, forget about moving the bag. About half way through this exercise my arms started to feel like rubber bands, but I pushed ahead, determined to make it through. Oh, and did I neglect to mention that interspersed with the standing bag work were series of sit ups and push ups? What had I gotten myself into?

Next we moved into the curriculum part of class. This is the fun part for me. Don’t get me wrong, the bag work can be fun and really cathartic. I remember receiving a rejection letter just before I had to head to class. After beating on the bag for a while,  I felt decidedly better. But, I digress.  During this period, we go through the various  combination and katas or forms that you need to  have learned in order to qualify to test for the next belt. This is fun because you’re finally putting those kicks, punches, etc. together in a cohesive combination of movements. It makes you feel like you actually could defend yourself if you should ever need to instead of flailing wildly at an attacker. Plus,  being the lone low man on the totem pole can have it’s advantages, because you get to learn some of the more advanced stuff a little sooner. I’m currently a yellow belt, soon to be testing for orange, and I’ve already started learning the purple belt techniques.

At any rate, I tell you all of this with a duel purpose. First, I want to demonstrate to the non-martial artists who read this blog that stepping on to the mat isn’t as scary as it initially seems. So, if you’ve ever thought about taking up a martial art, stop thinking about it and do it.

Second, I wanted to offer some food for thought when creating characters that are entering new territory whether it be martial arts or anything else. When you have years of experience your outlook is going to be vastly different from someone just starting out. You may not remember the determination that pushed you to walk into that studio,  nerves that filled you,  or the soreness in muscles you didn’t know you had after the fact. You need to keep all of this  in mind as you write so that your reader can experience all of those emotions along side of your character.

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