Wednesday, August 3, 2011

And Now for Something Completely Different

That’s what I did this weekend: Something different.

The husband of a friend of mine was asked to teach a self-defense class at the local Y, aimed at women starting their first year of college. Since he never taught this type of class before, he asked me, his sister, his wife, and a couple of her friends to come over to their house to practice the class. He’d get a chance to troubleshoot the material while we learned how to defend ourselves.

Now, I have never taken a self-defense course in my life. I’m at the taller end of the spectrum and athletic in the sense that I played sports in high school and still do stuff to stay in shape. I’d like to think I’m not an easy target, which is probably why I’ve never been in a situation where I’ve needed to “defend” myself.

But it just so happens that I put a lot of my female characters in situations where they need to defend themselves, and until this weekend, I only had my imagination to guide me in crafting those scenes.


The class had a presentation component and then a hands-on part where we practiced kicks, punches, and techniques to maim opponents. It was surprisingly fun and hugely informative – especially for that writing part of my brain.

For example, personal attacks are usually power-based crimes, where the offender is seeking control over another person (sex is only part of the equation). And it is essential that they win the confrontation. In the attacker’s frame of mind, they must be justified in attacking, there must be no other alternatives, the benefits of the attack outweigh any consequences, and they must have the ability to attack. Without all these factors, they will choose another victim or opportunity to strike.

There are certain behaviors that can signal trouble:

Forced teaming – where the attacker will align themselves with you in a certain situation to gain trust and receive preferential treatment.

Charm – a learned social skill directed at you to receive preferential treatment

Too many details – the attacker creates a story to gain your trust but includes too many details to create illusion of authenticity

Typecasting – the attacker fits you into a social group you don’t want to be a part of so that you react against it and behave in the manner the attacker wants.

Loansharking – the attacker gives you something you didn’t ask for so you feel indebted to them

Unsolicited promise – The attacker says, “I’m just going to do x, and that’s it. I promise.” You believe them and let down your guard.

People who discount the word “No” – You say no. The attacker presses the issue, and you say, “Well, ok.” Cycle continues, chipping away at your consistency so that when you say no and mean it, the attacker disbelieves you.

Many of these behaviors are also found during the courtship and seduction of characters in romance novels as well. I’m not sure what the lesson there is, but it’s something to think about…

I also got a review of flight-or-fight behaviors:
  • Tunnel vision
  • Acceleration of heart and lungs
  • Constriction of blood vessels to unneeded parts of the body
  • Dilation of blood vessels to muscles
  • Shakiness
  • Degradation of fine muscle control
Some of these behaviors show up in my actions scenes, and some of them I’ll be sure to include for that extra punch of authenticity.

Also – and I can’t stress this enough – doing the actual punches and kicks and whatnot opened up a whole mess of sensory impressions I can use in my fight scenes. Before, I would envision a scene and write it down, relying primarily on visual impressions. I thought that was enough. I was wrong.

Now I know the proper techniques of some moves and can better explain them. I know what it feels like to be that close to another person with your hand on their windpipe or your knuckles knotted in their hair. It makes a huge difference, and if you can add those details to your story, it will certainly kick things up a notch.

Have you ever done something on a lark and had the experience enrich your writing abilities?

5 comments:

Caitlin Vincent said...

I've been training in the Gracie system of Jiu-Jitsu for about three years now and it has certainly helped be "choreograph" fight scences. Not everything applies (since I'm pretty sure that grappling wasn't a normal or significant part of Viking training or battle) but understanding the flow and psychology of a fight has been enormously helpful.

anonymeet said...

Hey, awesome post on so many levels - for the writing inspiration and also just as a what to watch out for post!

For my last WiP, I took sword fighting lessons. It was done because of my WiP, so it's not exactly a response to your question, but that sorta counts right? A lot of my sword fighting instructor's tips made it into the manuscript!

Bluestocking said...

Hi Caitlin. Thanks for stopping by! I've been toying with learning some martial art, but always seem to chicken out -- so glad you've found it useful!

Anonymeet -- you never told me you took swordfighting lessons! You've been holding out on me :)

Caitlin Vincent said...

I have an award for you, if you'd like to come claim it. Thought I'd direct some of my meager blog traffic over to your :)

Laura Marcella said...

Very cool! I've always wanted to take a self-defense class. Glad you picked up some new things for your writing and for life!

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