Writing the martial arts

Here’s a couple of terms for you to digest for a moment: jargon and argot.

They both describe a similar concept.  The gist of both definitions is they’re a customized vocabulary used by a subset of the population that have a particular meaning to that subset.  Trade vocabularies, if you will.  The IT world is full of jargon.  I’ve spent entire days subnetting IP addresses or instantiating classes.  A delegate in programming is damn sight different from a delegate in politics.

The key difference between jargon and argot is their intended use.  Jargon is just a customized vocabulary that evolves.  Argot is a custom vocabulary meant to exclude outsiders from understanding the meanings.  I picked up the idea of argot from an Intercultural Comm class I took when I working on my Master’s degree.  Outside of academia, I haven’t heard it used much.  Subnets and classes are perfect examples of jargon.  Lolspeak is a pretty good example of argot.

Interestingly, if you stop and think about it, most jargon eventually evolves into argot, sometimes accidentally sometimes intentionally.  It’s doubtful that Lolspeak was intentionally designed to make it difficult for outsiders to understand since it originated with people texting on phones with limited keyboards, but it’s the closest example I can come up with.

The martial arts world is no different.  We have terms that we use that aren’t even necessarily interchangeable between systems.  A wheel kick in Kenpo is a hook kick in Jeet Kun Do and a roundhouse kick in Muay Thai.  There are, to be sure, subtle differences in how those kicks are executed between various systems but the basic concept of a kick that hits from the side remains the same.

So then, and this is where the writing part comes in.  Most people in the world are not versed in martial arts terms and even those of us who grew up on Kung Fu Theater might have some problems interpreting the various nuances.

Master of the Flying Guillotine is still one of my favorites.

Master of the Flying Guillotine is still one of my favorites.

This was one of the problems I found when I was writing Henchmen.  It’s got a fair amount of martial arts in it because you’re supposed to write what you know (I know Kenpo) but I wanted to make it understandable.  Whether or not I was successful is open to interpretation, but it did force me to think about how I described things.  In my Kenpo school I can say “Darkness” and everyone who has learned that technique can do it.  Perfect example of argot.

So, let’s break it down and see if we can take a somewhat common Kenpo technique and make it work in a fiction environment.  I chose Thundering Hammers, largely because it’s an easy enough technique to understand but has just enough built in argot to make it a little weird.  It’s also one of the few Kenpo techniques that most schools seem to use to some degree or another.

As a side note, and this is just a personal defense thing: the hammer fist is a very effective tool for striking without worrying about things like breaking your fist.

About to get more than the purple purse he bargained for.  A hammer fist to the temple is an effective and safe strike.

That purse doesn’t even go with his outfit.

We’ll start with a technical description (essentially my own notes from I learned it for my green belt, lo those many years ago).

Thundering Hammers: Green belt chart

Attack: The opponent is attacking with a right punch, right foot lead, stepping in and punching at the same time.

Defense: As we step forward into the attack move slightly to the left to slip past the incoming punch and execute left inward block to deflect the opponent’s fist.  This should place us nearly hip to hip with the attacker.  From this position, execute a right rising hammer fist using the top of the fist to strike the opponent’s groin.  It’s imperative that this strike be powerful; drive it with legs and hips.    Expectation: this will stop the attacker’s forward movement and cause him/her to collapse at the knees and start to bend forward at the waist.  From here, the right foot slides back and to the left as we adjust our position to continue the attack.  Execute a downward hammer fist with our right hand to the opponent’s clavicle, furthering their bend at the knees.  The left hand now executes a left downward hammer fist to the kidney.  This should pull the opponent’s head back up slightly.  The left foot now steps back and slightly to the right to prepare our position for next strike.  The right hand executes a back knuckle to the back of the opponent’s head, forcing their head toward the ground.  Before the opponent can fall, the right hand executes an upward palm strike to the opponent’s face.  Target is the probably the nose or some other soft target.  The right hand now forms a claw.  The left foot shuffles back slightly and as we move backward we use our momentum to pull the opponent – using the claw hand – forward and further off balance.

End result: If all goes well, the opponent will be incapacitated and face down on the ground.

Further responses: It’s technically possible to kick the opponent in the head, but it would probably be overkill.  Cover out and escape.

Yee haw.  That’s some excitement right there.  For a bit more of a visual example, check this Youtube video.  AKKA’s Thundering Hammers is slightly different, but this is close enough for jazz and government work.  The video gives a pretty good example of body positioning and where the strikes will land, even if it’s not spot on with what we teach.

So, now you’ve got the technical description of the technique and a basic understanding of what to expect.  From a pure learning perspective, you’re probably ready to practice on a partner.  Don’t try it immediately on an opponent, it’s nigh impossible to learn something to that level from a video a text description.

Still, it’s not exactly what I’d call compelling writing.  We need dynamism if we’re going to have some action and adventure here, so let’s try to put it into fiction:

A cold rage burned in Chan’s mind.  With every taunt Rory threw at him, Chan’s desire to hurt the other man grew.  The fight had gone on too long, he’d spent too much time in snake mode, playing with his food and picking at Rory’s weaknesses.  It was time to unleash the monkey.

Rory’s smirking face was an example of everything that was wrong with this place; all the lies, all the pain, all the death.  Chan longed to charge forward, but the monkey was patient.  Wait, it whispered, wait for him to come to you.  Fight where you want to fight, not where he wants to fight.

Time slowed as a deadly calm rolled over Chan.  A slight twitch from Rory telegraphed the fast right hand.  The man was going to step in and strike, covering the distance and smashing Chan’s face in one neat move.  Chan steps slightly to the left, slipping the attack, and put up a right hand to block.  As he stopped next to Rory, Chan’s fist shot forward from his waist straight into the man’s groin.  The man in black howled a scream of pain familiar to everyone that’s had his testicles smashed.

They wind up right next to each other, shoulder to sagging shoulder.  The monkey begged Chan to press on, to finish the fight once and for all.  A simple movement of his right foot changes his position as the master raised a fist ready to beat down the beast.  Chan’s deep southern growl echoed the names of everyone Rory had hurt in his mad quest for power over this realm.

“Amanda,” he snarled as his right hand hammered Rory’s clavicle.  Rory’s body drooped forward.

“Nelson,” Chan growled as his left hand slammed into Rory’s kidney.  The other man’s back straightened from the pain.

“Kevin!” Chan yelled and slammed the back of his fist into the back of the beast’s head.  As Rory’s face hastened to meet the floor, Chan decided it wasn’t done yet.  His hand, still moving after smashing Rory’s head kept moving down before suddenly changing direction and opening.  Chan’s palm slammed into Rory’s nose.

Rory collapsed, Chan’s hand on his shattered nose the only thing holding him upright.  With one final bit of rage, Chan’s fingers closed into a claw.  “Alyssa,” he growled.  Chan stepped back and pulled on Rory’s face.  His strong fingers ripped canals into the other man’s face as he pulled him forward by the face.

There was blood under Chan’s finger nails as he watched the Beast of Aluna fall face-forward into the ground.  Not ready to be fooled again, Chan stepped back, ready to continue pummeling the man if he so much as moved.  Rory’s head bounced once on the hot pavement before the man lay prone and still.

Okay, so it’s a rough draft, but you’ve got to admit, it’s a hell of lot more interesting than the technical description.  Hopefully, it’s easy enough to understand, too.

Now, just so we don’t wind up taking ourselves too seriously, let’s hear Master Ken’s (another Albuquerque guy!) take on Kenpo.

Tiger claw!

Tiger claw!

Take it away, Master Ken.

6 thoughts on “Writing the martial arts

  1. Pingback: Tactics and Strategies in the Martial Arts | Eric Lahti

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