Tactics and Strategies in the Martial Arts

This is kind of dual purpose blog post.  I don’t hit on martial arts as much as I have in the past because I’m focusing more on the writing side of things, but I still study and teach Kenpo so the martial arts are very much on my mind.  For those of you studying martial arts, this is useful information because oftentimes we forgo a lot of the beginnings of the fight in favor of the finality of beating holy hell out of an opponent.  For those of you writing fight scenes, this will give you a bit of an insider look at fighting and very fluid nature of combat.

First up, a couple definitions:

Strategy:  Strategy in a fight is similar to a strategy in warfare.  It’s the overarching goal, the intended end result of the conflict.  This could be escaping with minimal contact or rendering the opponent unable to continue fighting.  Of, if you’re Batman, simply causing a lot of pain is enough.

batman dark knight image 1

Tactic: A tactic is a way of achieving the strategic goal.  If the strategy is escaping with minimal contact a tactic would be placating the attacker.  If the strategy is rendering the opponent unable to fight a solid kick to the knee would be a good tactic.

It’s important to realize that tactics must align with the strategy.  If a strategy is to escape with minimal contact then a ground and pound tactic simply won’t work; a throw and then running away would be more in line with the strategic goal because a throw is very good at knocking the wind out of someone’s sails, giving you time to escape.  Ground and pound is more in line with teaching punks a lesson.

Not certain what happened to her clothes.

Not certain what happened to her clothes, but I’m little leery of questioning her about it.

Most people don’t enter a fight situation without some strategy at least lurking in the back of their head.  The strategy could range from “I want to get this person’s wallet and get the heck out of here” to “I’m going to teach this punk a lesson for looking at my girl.”  Strategic goals in fights, especially street fights, are wildly unpredictable and prone to change during the fight.  This is an important note for writers.  All too often fight scenes in books (and movies) have a very simplistic approach to the rationale for a fight and the tactics and strategy never change.

Strategies can change quickly in a fight because fighting is dynamic by nature.  It’s likely that both people will start the fight with the strategic goal of “winning” the fight, but as it becomes more and more obvious that the strategy isn’t working goals will change from attack to defense.  It’s also important to realize fights can start and end extremely quickly.  The long, drawn-out fights of the movies simply aren’t realistic.  Take, for instance, this:

Three strikes.

Three strikes, you’re out.  This looks very Kenpo to me.

The attacker’s strategy was like to end the fight with one punch.  The tactic was to move in quickly and decisively with a single shot to the face.  If you’ve ever been punched in the nose you know it’s debilitating: sinuses fill out, eyes start watering, it gets difficult to breathe. all in all not a fun thing.  The defender had a strategic goal that seemed to be to end the fight as quickly as possible.  As such, he didn’t limit himself to s a single decisive blow and instead chose a tactic of a defense followed multiple strikes designed to cause mechanical damage, which is pretty much Kenpo’s philosophy of fighting: hit him a lot in places that are going to hurt.  Fights can be over very, very quickly.

Trained fighters can go for a long time in a sporting environment, but even then Rhonda Rousey, in her first MMA fight, took out Hayden Munoz in 23 seconds.  And that’s without doing any of the real nasty stuff like kicking someone in the side of the knee.  Bear in mind, though, that trained fighters are trained to make sure the other person can get up and fight again in the future.  It’s sport fighting, not trying to cripple an opponent.  Back in the old days of Pankration this wasn’t necessarily the case but the ancient Greeks were a pretty surly bunch.

A couple weeks ago someone posted a video on one of the various martial arts groups on Facebook.  It was pretty grainy and wobbly and showed two guys fighting – don’t worry, they were actors – in a parking garage.  One thing led to another and the smaller guy threw the bigger guy and tried to go for a submission using an arm bar.  Problem was, the bigger guy wasn’t looking for a submission and wound up stabbing the smaller guy in the chest a few times with a knife he fished out of his pocket.

The moral of the story was never go to the ground in a street fight.  Plenty of Jiu Jitsu guys disagreed and a huge amount of dick waving took place.  In the end, of course, no one could agree with anyone else, but a good time was had by all.  By which I mean nothing was accomplished.  Shocking, I know, that trained martial artists can rarely agree that other systems might have some valid points.


Shocked. I am shocked.

But it did get me thinking along the line of tactics and strategies in a fight.  In the video there were two very mismatched strategies: the big guy wanted to pummel the little guy and didn’t how much damage he did.  People like this are dangerous.  The little guy didn’t want to fight and when he did engage he chose a strategy of making the bigger guy submit and a tactic that necessitated getting in real close.  His tactic was was a simple hip throw followed by a cross body arm bar.

One of these.

One of these.

Unfortunately, people who are really keyed up rarely submit and the little guy – even though he seemed to know what he was doing – wound up with a chest full of steel for his troubles.

What should he have done?  Submission holds are good for the ring, but in an abandoned parking garage there’s no ref to make sure the guy who just tapped out stays tapped out.  In my opinion he should have done as much as possible to disrupt the attacker and high-tailed it out of there or fully committed with the intent of destroying his opponent’s ability to fight back.  Both could have started with that hip throw. Hip throws are effective (hell, any throw can be) at knocking the wind out of someone and followed it up by either a: bolting or b: stomping on the big guy’s nuts and ankles.  And maybe his face, too, depending on circumstances.

So, then, what does this have to do with writing?  Simple really and it’s mostly character development stuff.  Most people will avoid a fight at all costs.  Anyone willingly entering a fight will have to have a good (enough) reason to fight, something they want to accomplish by fighting, and a plan for how they’re going to accomplish their tasks.  It all comes down mental justification, a strategy, and a set of tactics for accomplishing that strategy.

Last December I wrote a post on Writing the Martial Arts that took apart a Kenpo technique, examined what it would probably do, and tried to make some decent fiction out of that technique.  The general gist was in order to write a fight scene you have to be able to visualize the space the fighters are in and have some idea of how people react to being struck.  Now, to take that a step further – and make the characters that much more realistic – you really need to examine why they’ll fight, what they hope to get out of the fight, and how they’re going to fight.

Not every fight needs to be a fight to the death.

Now, one last little bit.  This video has been floating around Facebook for months now, billed as a US Marine vs a Bohemian Kickboxer.


It’s actually a scene from Never Back Down.  No US Marines or Bohemian Kickboxers (whatever the hell that means) were harmed in the making of this gif.

The funny thing is I work with a couple Marines, one of whom was stationed in Thailand.  He says in Thailand it’s not all that uncommon for anyone to walk into a Muay Thai ring.  Some of the Marines in his company got drunk and tried it.  They got beaten senseless.  Apparently they guy I work with told them “Well, your first mistake was stepping into the ring drunk…”

Military folks are often regarded as being fighting machines.  Granted, hand to hand combat is one of the things they study and there are some dangerous folks out there, but your average member of the military may have only been through a few weeks or months of training.  They’re usually not inept at fighting but they’re hardly unstoppable killing machines.  Except maybe the SEALs.  Those guys are scary.

That’s another little tidbit to throw into your next book.


Go read my post on ebook formatting before you begin; this is a follow-on post that focuses on HTML and its good buddy CSS.  If you’re already up on formatting, you’re all good to go.  You definitely don’t have to format the same way I do.  Everyone has a process flow that works for them.  If you don’t have a process flow or want to see a bit more about formatting, check out the post.  If not, no worries.  Carry on.

Once you’ve finished writing your novel or story the journey is only partway over.  You’ve got edit it, format it, make the dreaded table of contentsmake a cover, and get the file ready for publication.  There are services and people out there who do most of this for you but for those of you who like to get your fingers covered with digital dirt the following links will at least get you started.

The post on formatting goes through a lot of the process of formatting and getting the file ready for publication, but there are a few more tricks that might come in handy.  If you’ve never designed a web site you might not be familiar with the twin heroes of web design: HTML and CSS.  The HyperText Markup Language and Cascading Style Sheets work together to define the look and feel a website.  Think of them as extremely lightweight programming languages even though neither of them technically fall into the realm of programming.

For instance, this is programming:

la.alertID = rdr.IsDBNull(9) ? Guid.Empty : new Guid(rdr[“AlertID”].ToString());

This is HTML:

<p>I’m a tag!</p>

This is CSS:

p{font-family: sans-serif;}


Don’t worry.  Things are only strange until you get to know them.  As the Skipper says, “An enemy is just a friend who hasn’t betrayed you yet.”  To get your head around HTML and CSS you don’t need to understand programming at all, especially since this post is focusing on HTML and CSS for eBooks.  Once you hit the realm of web sites the complexity increases dramatically, but an eBook is a pretty straightforward thing.

So, why worry about HTML and CSS in a post that’s supposed to be for authors?  The simple answer is this: an eBook is really nothing more than a very basic website and your eReader is really nothing more than a cut-down web browser.  In a lot of ways it makes an enormous amount of sense to use web technologies for eBook publishing.  They’re established technologies that most developers have already wrapped their heads around and it makes for portable data, which was what the Internet was going for all along.

The HTML code defines what’s in your book and gives it a basic breakdown of what’s a paragraph and what’s title and so on.  The CSS code takes that information and tells the browser how to render it into something that looks decent on a screen.  You don’t have to code out the whole thing from scratch.  If you’re using a modern-ish writing platform like Word, Scrivener, OpenOffice, LibreOffice, or any other number of tools, the program is creating the HTML and CSS for you as you type and format.  All you need to worry about is tweaking the occasional HTML tag or CSS instruction to make things perfect.

If you’re still worried about the idea of coding, don’t fret.  Here, have a kiss from a giraffe.


See! All better!

So, you’ve got everything written and formatted and converted to an epub file, but there are those nagging little things you want to change.  For me, it’s always the damned Table of Contents.  Others might see the epub rendered and want to change some things on the fly.  In order to do that, you need to have a basic understanding of HTML and CSS.  Since an eBook is just a website, I’m going to eschew the complicated stuff and just put together a simple site with some text and then do some basic formatting.

Here’s a simple HTML file with no CSS references in it.  Okay, so there’s one, but it’s commented out and I’m lazy.


and here’s a CSS file that I’ve already done some work on.


And this is what the page looks like in Chrome.

Yuck. Gross.

Yuck. Gross.

So, let’s link up the HTML and CSS files.  Conveniently, I’ve already done this.  If you look back in the HTML file up in the <head> section, you should see a line that looks like this:

<link href=”stylesheet.css” rel=”stylesheet” type=”text/css” />

This links the HTML file to the CSS file.  Now we can make changes to the CSS file and the changes will … cascade to the HTML file.  Meaning any time the browser sees a thing with a particular class name (or a particular type of thing, like an <a> tag), it looks back to the CSS file to figure out how to render it.  If there is no set of specified rules about how to render something, the browser just uses some default values.

So, the files are linked, but we haven’t told the individual elements of the HTML file what parts of the CSS file they’re associated with.  That’s why the screenshot of the site in Chrome looks like crap; those are the default ways of rendering HTML in Chrome.  So, we’ll start at the top with the title and work our way down.

To link the title element (Henchmen) to the correct class in the CSS file, I just have to tell the HTML file what class a title is.  Right now the code that generates the Henchmen line looks like this:


That just means its an HTML paragraph.  To make it all purdy and stuff, I’m going to associate that one thing with a part of the CSS file.  All I have to do is change <p>Henchmen</p> to this:

<p class=”BookTitle”>Henchmen</p> and I get this:

Better, but it still needs some work.

Better, but it still needs some work.

If I start hooking up the rest of the elements in the HTML file, like so:

Each tag now has a class associated with it.

Each p tag now has a class associated with it.

I get this:


Not perfect, but good enough for jazz and government work.

CSS and HTML can do an awful lot more than what I’m showing here.  For instance, check out the CSS Zen Garden sometime.  It’s a site that lets designers use their own CSS files to style the site and it’s an excellent example of what you can do with it.  Obviously, what the talented folks over at the Zen Garden are doing is far more in-depth than anything that will wind up in an eBook any time soon, but it does demonstrate what you can do with CSS.

The rule of thumb in eBook CSS and HTML is to keep it simple, but there are some common CSS settings that will come in handy.  For instance, here’s an example of CSS that Calibre defined for me based on Word formatting when I put Arise together.

.block_5 {

color: black;

display: block;

font-family: serif;

font-size: 0.83333em;

line-height: 1.2;

text-indent: 0;

margin: 0;

padding: 0


Most of it’s pretty obvious but there are a couple oddballs.  display:block, for instance.  Block just means start this element on a new line and take up as much screen real estate as possible before wrapping.   For a kind of decent example look at this page.  Each time there’s a paragraph break there’s an extra line added.  Each paragraph has about 1.2 to 1.5 line spacing, but between paragraphs there’s a 2.0 line space.  The paragraphs are likely defined as block elements with a specific line height.  Each time I hit enter, I get a new paragraph with a new block element, those are spaced around 2.0 or so.

A couple other tags that might come in handy are orphans and widows (Thanks to S.K. Holmesley for pointing this out to me).  An orphan is the first line of a paragraph that gets left on page 1 while the rest of the paragraph continues on page 2.  It looks wonky to see just the first line, so you can set orphans: 2; or however many lines need to be left.  A widow is exactly the opposite, it’s the number of lines that have to fall to the next page if a paragraph gets split.  widows: 2; would ensure at least two lines of the paragraph fall on the next page.  If you have a paragraph where you have to worry about both orphans and widows you either have very small pages or may want to break that paragraph up a bit more.

The CSS generated by programs like calibre is basically the same stuff you see here, there’s just more of it.  Every CSS/HTML interaction works exactly the same way.  If you open an epub in Sigil and something looks off, examine the HTML, find out what class it thinks it is and use that information to look up what the CSS is doing.  If you don’t like it, change it.

It’s pretty hard to seriously mess things up with CSS, but it can be done.  Follow the old standard of backing things up before you mess with them and you’ll be fine.

For more information on CSS, check out W3 Schools CSS reference.

Congrats.  You made it through.  Have a picture of a boxer.


Book Review – A Twofer from John Hennessy

I’ve got a special going on this week, two reviews for the price of one.  It wasn’t entirely intentional, but I couldn’t pass up a vampire book and a book on marital arts from the same author.  Now, if only John Hennessy would write a martial arts story about vampires I could sleep at night.  The first review is for Hennessy’s Murderous Little Darlings, the first tale in his series about young vampires.  The second is for The Essence of Martial Arts, Hennesy’s treatise on, among other things, Kung Fu.  Both are entertaining reads, well written and well thought out.  The first is a must read for anyone interested in vampires.  The other is a bit more rarified; if you’re into martial arts it’s a fascinating read.

First up: Murderous Little Darlings

Remember vampires?  The real vampires, not the ones that sparkle in the sunlight.  They were hunters.  Predators.  They fed on blood and were completely unapologetic about it.  Deacon Frost, the bad guy from Blade said it best:


“For fuck’s sake, these people are our food, not our allies.”

The vampires in Murderous Little Darlings are young, little more than children with a taste for blood.  It’s a short story that explores what it’s like growing up vampire.  While the story has a twist ending (that I won’t reveal here), there are elements of the story that make me wonder if there’s a further twist that hasn’t been explored yet.  There are multiple books in the series ranging from short like Murderous Little Darlings, to longer works that I have yet to read.  I need – need – to read the others now because I really want to know what the overarching story is and whether I’m correct about my assumption.

That need to read to more is the mark of a good story; you become invested in it and want to know how it ends.  Had this been a poorly crafted tale I would have finished it with a “well, that just happened” mentality and moved on, but the characters have stuck in my craw and I want to know what happens to them.  This first story is like the opening salvo, a bloody good yarn that introduces you to some kids who are struggling to understand their world and their place in it.

I have a feeling their place will be, shall we say, interesting.

So, if you like vampires and want to see a better take on them than certain recent stories have done, check out Murderous Little Darlings.  You won’t be disappointed.


Next up is The Essence of Martial Arts,

This is a treatise John Hennessy has put together on his years of experience in the martial arts.  It focuses a lot on Kung Fu, specifically Wing Chun, but there are notes on his experiences with Karate and Tai Chi as well.

A bit of background for those not in the know.  The Chinese martial arts encompass a wide variety of styles and systems ranging from the antics of Drunken Boxing through the various animal styles and into things like Hun Gar and Wing Chun.  They all fall under the blanket term Kung Fu, which actually refers to a skill that is learned or a talent.  Some people insist on referring to the Chinese martial arts as wushu, which is probably a more apt term but Kung Fu has stuck.

I’ve spent a large amount of time in the Japanese and Okinawan arts (Shodinji Do, Kenjutsu) and the Asian-American fused Kenpo, but don’t know a whole about the Chinese arts, so this was an interesting read to me.  When you get right down to it, martial arts are martial arts and while they may look different, they all share certain similarities.  A punch is just a punch, a kick is just a kick as Bruce Lee would say.

John Hennessy has spent decades studying and teaching martial arts and I found his insights fascinating, especially the parts about training.  The Essence of Martial Arts is, in some ways, Hennessy’s notebook about his travels.  Even if you’re not interested in the martial arts (and I don’t know why you wouldn’t be), this is just a good book to read to understand why people study fighting even when they’re not really interested in fighting.  There are stories of how and why he started studying, where it’s come in handy in real-life situations, and some of the things he’s found as he’s traveled the path.

If you’re thinking about studying martial arts, this is a good place to start; Hennessy knows his material and presents it in an understandable way without resorting to nonsense.  He’s also one of the few martial artists I’ve read who is smart enough to draw a distinction between what we do in sparring and what we do in real life.  If you’re more advanced, The Essence of Martial Arts is still a good read because no matter how much experience you’ve got, you’ll still find something useful in here.


John’s written a lot more than just these two books, these just happened to pop out at me.  Trust me, though, I’ll be reading more of his work in the future.

Find John Hennessy’s complete catalog on Amazon.

Get Murderous Little Darlings here and get hooked

Find The Essence of the Martial Arts here

Follow John on Twitter

Check out his blog

Book Review – Timberwolf by Tom Julian

One of the cool things about being an author is you get to know other authors.  Sometimes, if you’re really nice to those other authors, they let you read things that haven’t been released yet.  This is the case with Tom Julian’s Timberwolf.  If all goes as planned and my evil schemes come to fruition I’ll be able to say I had the first blog review of the first book of someone who’s probably going to become a big name in Sci-Fi in coming years.

Excuse me whilst I twirl my mustache evilly.

Soon the Rebellion will be crushed... What? Wrong character and wrong story? Sorry.

Soon the Rebellion will be crushed… What? Wrong character and wrong story? Sorry.

The Timberwolf in the title refers to the main character of the book, a straight-forward guy named Timberwolf Velez.  He’s a fighter, a straight-shooter, and a guy with a big damned spider stuck in his head.  It’s hard to not like Timberwolf, or at the very least respect him.

In the future, as humanity finally got off its collective butt and started out for the stars, we discovered that we were not the only sentient life in the galaxy.  We took our tools, our petty worries, our warlike nature, and – perhaps worst of all – our religious beliefs out among the stars with us.  When we encountered alien life we found it was incompatible with our religious views.  How can God have created us in his image and also created giant mind-bending spiders in his image?  Someone, it would seem, is lying and those guys over there look pretty freaky so they must be the ones that need to go.

See! Bongos! Heretics!

See! Bongos! Heretics!

Religious dogma being what it is, we exterminated (or attempted to exterminate) every bit of sentient life we came across on the grounds that God meant for that happen.  This is the backdrop to Timberwolf.  The story takes place after humanity has mopped the floor with almost everyone except the Arnok (the aforementioned spiders).  True to the best science fiction stories, Timberwolf has a human heart; it’s not about the combat suits or space ships, it’s about the people and their motivations for doing what they do.  Like all good sci-fi, the bad guys trend more toward morally ambiguous than flat-out evil and the good guys are only slightly less morally ambiguous.  This gives us a well-rounded cast of characters that you can actually relate to.  Even the giant spider is relatable (for those of you not terrified by the thought of giant mind-controlling spiders).

The downside to all that war is there are people out there who want to continue it and will do anything in their power to finally get rid of the mote in God’s eye (the giant spiders).  There are groups who only want money and power, a group who will stop at nothing to prevent another war, and our good friend Timberwolf Velez, who just wants the spider out of his head.


Don’t mind me, I’m just trying to overcome my fear of spiders.

There are some seriously big themes covered in this novel, and they’re covered well.  Religion takes a couple shots on the nose, as do regular human greed, and our tendency to attempt to justify our horrible actions through flimsy excuses.  There is one serious shot across the bow of religious dogmatism that comes toward the end of the novel as the antagonist (who himself is actually relatable, too) is watching the events he conspired to create unfold in ways he didn’t anticipate, but you’ll just have to read the novel to see what I’m talking about.  It’s a moment that is uplifting and soul crushing all at the same time, a perfect single line.

Timberwolf will be released August 20, 2015.  Be sure to get a copy.

“Humanity has expanded beyond the borders of Earth into the far reaches of space. Human ingenuity has also expanded—as well as its theology.
On one side of an interplanetary war: a new religious order, dedicated to the expansion of human enlightenment. On another side, loosely connected to the order but hardly on the same page: the military, dedicated to the expansion of human influence.
And then there are the aliens. Worlds beyond understanding. Planets beyond comprehension. Forces which represent threats that cannot be calculated, and so must be eliminated.
Timberwolf is a soldier with too many voices in his head. Gray is a bishop with grander ambitions than his church. Highland is a planet run entirely by artificial intelligence—all of these factors point to the same conclusion: God has a story for everyone—or so the scripture of the day says.
This story is just beginning.”


Get it here (on or after August 20, 2015)

Check out Tom’s Facebook Page for Timberwolf

 Check out Tom on Twitter

New Mexico Paranormal

Back when I was working on Arise I needed something terrible to have happened to Wilford to explain why he is the way he is.  Basically, I needed a monster, something that his DHS team stumbled upon and it shredded them.  I wanted it to be a native New Mexican monster but aside from Navajo Skinwalkers and La Llorona, I was pretty uninformed about most of the critters that roam the New Mexico darkness looking for flesh.

Believe me, when it gets dark in New Mexico it gets really dark.

I started digging around, looking up the myths and legends of New Mexico and came across the old story of Coco.  A bogeyman was a perfect thing for Wilford’s team to run into and made for a nice backdrop to the story.  I love the idea that not only do certain people know there are monsters out there, they fully understand there’s really not much guns and body armor can do against the supernatural.  That kind of knowledge drove Wilford and even though he’s portrayed as kind of a bad guy, he’s really just more of a dick than anything else.  It’s his understanding that he wants to save the world from the monsters but can’t effectively fight the monsters that causes the schism in his psyche.  He ultimately does gain the ability to fight back and begins to see everything but people as a bad thing.  He’s got a story in the upcoming Clock Man that should be out in a month or two that will serve as a setup for Henchmen 3 which will be released at some point; I’m still hammering out the plot details in my head right now.

Anyway, back to monsters of the paranormal kind.  A lot of our traditional monsters evolved from Native American myths and Spanish intermingling.  The tragic story of La Llorona is a classic example and so is the story of Coco, the bogeyman of northern New Mexico.  I’ve covered those stories in earlier blog posts, as well as a few others, but since most of the stories are oral, it’s difficult to suss them out on the Internet.  Likewise finding things at the library was difficult.  Apparently the paranormal stories of New Mexico that don’t involve aliens are considered something of a niche market.

We spent this last weekend in Taos, one of New Mexico’s many art towns, hiking and generally exploring.  While we were wandering around I found a book store and was pulled in by its gravitational field.  I find it difficult to avoid bookstores.  The one in Taos was nothing compared to the Southwest Book Trader in Durango, CO but SBT is in a class all its own.  Somewhere, buried in the depths of SBT (50000+ books in a maybe 1500 sqf store), is the recipe for the Universe.  I didn’t find the recipe for the Universe at the book store in Taos, but I did find this:


And it is chock full of stories of vampires, werewolves, La Llorona, bogeymen, brujas, and all sorts of things that go bump in the night.

If Wilford wants to rid the world of monsters (including Steven and Eve), he’s going to have his hands full.  His solution to that problem is covered in a novelette entitled “The Hunt” that will be part of the Clock Man collection.

New Mexico Book of the Undead

Defective Release Party! 17th August.

If you happen to be looking for something to read, you’ve got time to hit the Institute before Defective comes out!

Kayla Howarth

launch party


Come join us for the release of three amazing YA books!

Awaken (New Bloods Trilogy Part 1) by Michelle Byran

Ethan’s Secret by Patrick Hodges

Defective (The Institute Series Part 3)


Defective is due for release on September 1st, but will be available for pre-order from the 17th of August! There will be ARCs to be won at the party, as well as gifts and swag from the other authors involved.

Attend the party to ask us questions, play some games, and have a lot of fun!

View original post