Figuring Out a Character’s Fighting Style

I like reading stories with fights, so I write stories with fights. Yesterday I made a passing remark on Twitter that I like figuring out fighting styles for different characters, but that wasn’t enough for some people and they were like, “Tell me more!” and, “What’s your process!” so here we go.

I should let y’all know that I have seven years experience in Taekwondo and two in Muay Thai, so thinking about fighting is just something I do whether in the context of a story or not. I like punching things, and I really like kicking things. I think fighting is fun.

Very quick, very basic run down: Taekwondo, especially the sport of TKD, is mostly kicking. Lots of fancy spinning and jumping kicks that look really flashy and are really fun to do. You kick with the top of your foot. You block with your arms. Muay Thai keeps things grounded and adds in a lot more punching and allows elbows and knees. You both kick and block with your shins.

When I’m thinking up a fighting style for a character, I don’t always have the name of a specific style in mind, like, “This person knows Wu Shu,” or whatever. It depends on the character and the circumstances of their fighting knowledge. I think some examples will help me explain.

My character that’s the best fighter is Darien. He’s an soldier in the angelic army, so he’s used to flying around and fighting other things that fly, or swooping down and fighting things that can’t fly while staying airborne. He doesn’t think of gravity quite the same a mile or so off the ground as we would down here, so he dives in for a hit and keeps going. Or he can block an attack from an enemy with his sword while kicking another in the face. He doesn’t have to have one foot planted on the ground to kick, or be conscious of jumping and landing. He can come at the enemy from all angles, but he also has to be aware that they can do the same.

But he can fight on the ground if he has to, like if he’s inside or his wings are hurt or something. He would still use those same skills in this new environment. There would be a lot of kicking and jumping on to/off of things for leverage. A lot of twisting and darting past people. 

Then there’s Darien’s as-of-yet-unnamed friend. She’s a relatively new character and is the face behind the tweet that started this mess. While Darien’s a big guy, the Friend is smaller in stature and doesn’t have the raw power that he does. She’s strong, but she’s better at being fast. So where Darien would dart in and deliver a powerful blow while moving on, the Friend gets there a bit faster and can afford to linger and land a few more punches before moving out of reach.

In a different story I’ve got in the works, our main character Ian doesn’t start out a fighter, but has to learn some self defense out of necessity. Did I mention there were ghosts? Oh yes, he can see ghosts and sometimes they’re violent, so he has to protect himself. But his enemy is one that can go through walls and disappear, so he has to compensate for that with various spells and special weapons. He’s learning on the job though, so he makes a lot of mistakes. His moves are clumsy. There’s not a lot of need for fancy jumping and his style is all around less elegant than Darien’s (don’t even try and tell me a well placed knee to the face isn’t one of the most beautiful things you’ve ever seen). If a spirit flies out of reach then he either has to follow it on the ground or wait for it to come back down (or force it down with a spell).

In a third story (and the only one I currently have online for the reading pleasure of the public at, we have FBI Intern Simon. His goal is to be a Special Agent, and he’s been planning this for a while. In preparation, he’s had a good number of years of martial arts training, just one part in the plan to be the Best Candidate Possible. Most likely he trained in Taekwondo, because there are TKD gyms on basically every corner (seriously there’s one in every shopping center). But Simon gets flustered easily and hasn’t ever been in a real fight, so when he’s in a situation where someone is trying to cause him actual bodily harm for the first time, he screams the entire time he fights back. Not a battle cry even, but a scared scream. Which actually helps him to land those kicks because his opponents are confused just long enough for Simon’s Flight instinct to turn to Fight.

Then there’s Jackson, one of the Agents that supervises Simon. Jackson was a Marine in a combat zone; he doesn’t care about your rules and what’s fair or not. Whatever gets the threat out of the way the quickest is all that matters. Jackson fights dirty and probably gives Simon all kinds of tips like, “Don’t be afraid to punch them in the dick,” because he’s such a helpful supervisor.

So that’s what I got. That’s all there is to my “process,” as it is, which isn’t really much of a process. Make note of a cool move you see in a movie, or if you hear the name of a fighting style you didn’t know about previously, look it up on YouTube to see what it’s all about. Take into account a character’s background. All right, so they’re a good fighter, but where did they learn to fight and under what circumstances? And then don’t have them throw a spinning hook kick if they were taught never to turn their back on an opponent.

Just my two cents; hope it helps.