Sunday, October 12, 2014

BAM! SLAM! KURSPLAT! How to Write a Fight w/ Martial Arts Hall of Famer Eli Jackson


Eli Jackson is the smaller fighter on the right.
Ah, but there's POWER in her small frame - and mastery.
Don't mess with the best.
Let's fight it out!

Fiona - 
It's fun to imagine and write a fight scene - but fight scenes, just like the other details in your book, have to make sense and be as accurate as possible. There are real life fighters out there who will put your book down if you're writing garbage strikes and kicks. To save you from bad reviews, I've invited Eli Jackson to visit with us. 

Eli, please tell us about your background.

Eli - 
I have over 30 years of martial arts experience in Tae Kwon Do, Isshinryu, and MMA. I was ranked 3rd in the world in fighting and 4th in forms for 2 years by NASKA (North American Sport Karate Association). I was a member of Team Pepsi when I competed. I have been inducted into 2 martial arts Halls of Fame. I currently hold a 3rd degree in Isshinryu and a 3rd degree in MMA, and I have taught martial arts for over 15 years.

I also have over 10 years experience running large events and coordinating multi-day conventions.

Fiona -
From a technical POV, when you read fight scenes what makes you skim past all the words?

Eli -  
* I skim when authors get it 
   wrong. I hate reading that 
  someone took 20 punches, 
  wiped a bit of blood from their
  lip and kept on swinging. 
* I also skim when someone puts
   in too much detail. It's as if 
   they did the research and you
   (the reader) NEED to know 
   that they did it, so they include
   every single detail they ever
   learned. It's an action scene - it
   needs to keep the pace.

Fiona -
I just read a book where the guy survived a bomb blast, pieces from the surrounding structure were embedded in his leg. He dug out the pieces, end of information. Seriously, he ran miles and had maybe five fights, and they never mentioned his thigh again. 

Can we talk for a moment Eli about the after effects of a fight? How does someone feel? - How long is recovery? Any tips you can offer?

Eli -
This is something that authors often get wrong. It takes time for bruises and breaks to heal. It often takes lots of rest and sometimes physical therapy. But that's boring, so I understand why writers sometimes skip that part. 

If you want to be realistic at all, you have to have some of that. We've all had scrapes and scratches, and we know how long it takes for them to heal.

One thing people miss is the general scars from training. Especially guys who train very hard all the time, they have crooked noses from breaks, and they have what we call "cauliflower ears" where their ears have turned inside out from being rubbed on the mat. They aren't usually the hot, sexy guys authors make their heroes out to be.

Fiona - 
I know my knuckles are often bruised and raw. You do not have a crooked nose or cauliflower ears - how does training show up on your body?

Eli - 
I train using equipment (padding and gloves), and I don't go full out. I'm not in a cage going 75% on a daily basis. But I don't have cage matches to prepare for, nor do I fight in kickboxing matches where people consistently get knocked out. So that's why I don't have those types of injuries.

But I do have injuries. I injured my shoulder a couple years ago. I ended up having surgery to fix it, and it still isn't 100%. I was in a sling for weeks and unable to use my arm much at all for months. I still have lingering pains, and I may never do a push up again. Time will tell.

Fiona -
Let's talk about that - old injuries. I have cadaver parts in both of my knees from fights that went badly. Though they are supposedly even stronger robo-knees now, I am hyper protective of them in fights because each took me a year of painful recovery. 

You have shoulder issues - does this change how you fight, and how a character would approach a fight? 

Eli -
A fighter is DEFINITELY protective of injuries (trained or not). It's built into us. For me, I use my other side more. I'm not as fast with my left arm and when given the option, I will use my strong side whether in a stand up fight or on the ground. My options are more limited based on limited strength. And if anyone starts to attack that part of my body (shoulder locks are not uncommon in a trained ground fight), I am extra protective.

Fiona -
Let's talk timing. It will be different with trained fighters v. fighting-for-her-life fighters. But these fights don't/can't go on very long. Can you offer some basic timing parameters?

Eli - 
A real fight can end after only a couple of well placed blows. A trained fighter knows that they aren't doing their job if a fight goes on much longer than that. A bar fight, however, could go back and forth for a while.

Timing will vary tremendously based on who is fighting. Two untrained fighters could have any length of fight. It depends on how much damage they're willing to do. Are they wrestling around? Is one trying to force the other to do something? Does one care if the other lives? Is it an all-out brawl where one or both is fighting for their life?

As an author, try running in place for 60 seconds. When you do it, lift your knees above your waist and keep the pace up as fast as you can. That's what it feels like to be in a fight. 

Adrenaline helps, but only so much. It gives you a great burst up front, but it also drains you faster than normal. 

A real fight won't go more than 2 min and MOST fights are going to be maybe 30 seconds. Granted, there are ALWAYS exceptions, but a good rule of thumb is to put yourself in your character's shoes and ask yourself how much their body could handle.

Fiona -
What does it really take to knock someone out? How long until they usually get up?

Eli -
It takes training or luck to knock someone out. While a trained fighter knows where to hit and how to strike, the ability to do that on a moving opponent is extremely difficult. With that said, we've all seen it happen. So it can be done. It will happen more for a trained fighter, but it isn't a given.

How long it takes to get back up depends on the strike or choke and it also depends on the person who went down.

Fiona -
Eli, we met at Writer's Police Academy, and I pointed out to a fellow writer that you stand with your weight on your back foot and your front foot is ready - like a sheathed weapon. 

You're getting ready to have your own writers' weekend. Can you tell us all about it and maybe share a few tidbits that writers might pick up while there?

Eli - 
I feel like all my answers about fights are "it depends," but that's just kind of true. Every situation is different. This is why we recommend talking to someone about your specific scene. Getting it right is harder than just using some general guidelines.

I am the CEO of Griffyn Ink Publishing. I have over 15 books published currently. I am not a writer, but I am an avid reader. I believe in giving authors the opportunity to present the stories they want to write, so my authors have a lot of freedom. We try not to make them write something simply because someone somewhere thinks it might sell. We want quality writing and great stories.

We are putting together an amazing weekend full of fighters and business professionals to show writers how to write fight scenes. 

We want them to see the different types of fighting up close and ask the experts questions about their specific scenes. 

We will have martial artists, military professionals, physicists (teaching a class on space battles, specifically gravity and lasers), a doctor (to discuss what happens to the body), gun specialists, historians who specialize in weapons, and so much more. 

We are also bringing in NY Times best selling authors (Sherrilyn Kenyon and Jon Jefferson) to discuss how to write tension and hand-to-hand scenes. We will also have publishers, artists, publicists, and brand managers.

But our coolest feature is Rent-A-Ninja. Attendees can work with 1 to 3 ninjas to play out their very own scenes and ask questions. Our trained fighters will walk through what the writer has in mind and offer suggestions. The writer can also see and experience what things really look and feel like.

Fiona - 
This is such an exciting opportunity - can you tell us when and where and give us the link?

Eli - 
We will be in Nashville, TN April 17-19 at the Inn at Opryland. The link is

Fiona - 
Eli - we always ask this question - tell us about your favorite scar. 

Eli - 
I have 3 small scars on my left hand where I was drug across a driveway trying to break up a dogfight. I think it lasted about 7 or 8 seconds, but it felt like an eternity. 

It was amazing how the chemicals released in my body made me hyper-aware of everything going on and seemed to slow down time. 

I was afraid, but not enough to get out of the fight. What surprised me even more was the time it took afterward to feel "normal" again. It was almost 24 hours before I didn't feel like I was high on something and hyper-alert. And I still remember what happened very clearly as if it is burned into my brain.

Fiona - 
As we close, what piece of information do you wish all writers knew BEFORE they constructed a fight scene?

Eli - 
I hope all authors know that there are details that they don't know. They need to talk to someone before they write a fight scene. The mistakes are glaring to anyone who knows what is going on. 

Body mechanics play a huge part in a fight, as do angles of attack, reaction times, counters, state of mind, etc. Seeing it done (even in a mock situation) and understanding WHY it happens the way it does will make it so much clearer to the writer.

BEFORE conducting a fight scene, try it. You don't have to actually hit anyone, but stand in front of someone and see how you lift your arm and how you guard your body. See where your strike will fall and how your opponent would react. See what that sets up for the opponent to do in reaction.

Fight scenes are like chess matches. Every move dictates the board for the next move. I can't plan to use my favorite choke hold unless the opportunity presents itself. I can do things to set that up, but my opponent may see an opening I didn't realize and the whole scene changes instantly. Fights are reactionary because the playing field is constantly changing.

Fiona -
It's a chess game for a trained fighter. I know you probably can't remember this far back in your fight career - but adrenaline has a way of making you do stupid stuff, and you end up being very reactive.

Eli -
You absolutely do! It's reactionary for everyone. A trained fighter just has a toolbox to work from and knows which tools to use for which situation.

Fiona -
One last question, can you tell us about tunnel vision in a fight and if someone questioned you (the police) afterwards what would you be able to tell them about what had happened?

Eli -
Tunnel vision is extremely common when you are threatened. Your brain puts all it's power into the threat, and so you can become extremely aware of every little detail about that one thing, excluding everything else around you. 

That's why it can feel like slow motion: because you took in so much information. Later, if you were talking to the police, you might remember exactly how the fight went, but you might also not remember anything about the person yelling at you from 2 feet away the entire time or even the person who tried to pull you out of the fight.

Fiona -
And that detail might turn out badly - especially if it is a police officer ordering you to stop. It's very possible you never heard them. Or never saw the man with the gun coming up on your right...

You can also reach Eli Jackson on Facebook LINK
and Twitter @AuthorsCombat

Thank you so much for stopping by. And thank you for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.


  1. Love this. Eli is especially very cool in person. But when she and AJ are talking, it's like listening to the same voice in stereo. Very weird.

    But seriously, this is great stuff. I too studied martial arts, and in my action scenes, I try to be as realistic as I can, yet still entertaining. Another big mistake writer's make is that they get the movements all wrong - like throwing a roundhouse kick from a position where that move makes no sense. Or defies physics.

  2. I just visited ACA website. Oh, my gosh! I want to rent a ninja! I wonder what I'm doing in April. This is genius!

    Thanks for the great tips on writing combat. I'll be sharing these links with all my writer friends and with all my buds over at NaNo this year!

  3. Hi Gals. Got a question, please. I'm plotting the third novel in my series. In the first, forensic psychiatrist, John Trenton is a third degree BB in Tae Kwan Do. He took a bullet in his right shoulder in the rescue of his wife in the climax. In the second in the series which takes place nine months later, forensic psychiatrist Frank Khaos is a third degree BB in BJJ and owns an MMA training gym. In the third, which takes place eleven months after the first, I'm bringing in both the HH from the first and second. The two men know each other and have sparred in the cage. My question is, how would Trenton's bullet wound affect his ability in a fight? I know I have to research bullet wounds and their healing time, but I do want some residual effects. How would his shoulder rotation and mobility be impaired? How would he compensate? Trenton is 46, 6 ft. 220. Khaos is 44, 6 ft. 4. and 270. Trenton is non military. Khaos is ex military, medic in special forces. Given their age, how long should a match between them last? I'll translate that to the length of a scene. Thank you so much! I'd love to attend AuthorsCombatAcademy. It would be perfect for me, though I have no MA training personally. The first novel is being released in the spring, so I'll know the release date closer to Feb. and be able to plan. Thank you so much! Best, Ronnie

    1. Trenton's bullet wound will absolutely impact his ability to fight. How much? Well that really depends on a whole range of things. Ex. What kind of bullet was it round nose, hollow point, hydroshock.. How close was the shooter? How deeply did the bullet penetrate? Where in the shoulder? What was the damage? How much of it was fixed in surgery? Did he have regular rehab? Was he working with a professional to get range of motion and strength? Getting shot is a BIG deal. It is long term painful, long term weakening, and long term mobility issues.

      Trenton would focus on being hyper protective of that side, and focus on footwork and using weapons (is this a street fight?) and his strong arm. Khaos would focus on injuring Trenton's shoulder.

      The truth about fights is - it's easy to get VERY hurt VERY fast. Think a minute or two. The length of the fight depends on the risk involved in losing, and the willingness to feel pain and be damaged/do damage. For example a character might say, "I wouldn't fight you for my purse, but if you came after my kids I wouldn't stop no matter the cost until they were safe."

      Special Forces trumps 3rd dan TKD.

      Hope this helps.

  4. This is good stuff. Fight scenes--like love scenes--are so often, so badly done, I simply cringe at the results. You don't have to hold a belt in martial arts or be a golden gloves champion, or barroom brawl master. Just go for a walk. Trip on the sidewalk seam? It happens in fights, too. Tired after 15 minutes (about half a mile)? Most IRL fights last like 15 seconds. The love scenes allegory (alligator?) is my favorite crit reference. Few want to read a 20 page love scene. Even less want to read a 20 page fight scene. Less is way, WAY more.