Forum: Writing Warfare in M-e

Discussing: The physical basics: endurance

The physical basics: endurance

(Cross-posted to the list)

Inspired by a discussion with Miryam and a continuing conversation
with Ainae, I thought I would try to collect data from the lot of you
who voluntarily put yourselves in harm's way for the fun of it.

Fight scenes. We love them. The more outnumbered, the better, because the brighter Our Heroes/Heroines (tm) shine if they win. And even if they don't, still, you can't help but love them for going down
gloriously. Cf. Háma, Boromir, Faramir (who was lucky to live), Húrin,
Fingolfin.

It also seems to be more usual for women to claim that they're hard to
write. I will grant that formations are a mess to keep track of, but I
personally rather enjoy the fight scenes, so I'll shut up on this one.

But whether we love writing them or dread writing them, we could all
use some basic data. So, if you do practice a martial art or do
studies of human endurance or mediaeval warfare, please respond:

1) What is, in your opinion/experience, the longest a single person
could continue to fight effectively if not given a break? Miryam gave
figures on a Greek hoplite lasting between 15-20 minutes in standard
gear, versus 3 minutes and under for unarmed combat. Assuming slightly (but not radically) greater endurance for M-e Elves and possibly also for Men (especially Númenoreans/Dúnedain), how long do you think they could last in a Húrin-style last stand? On average? How long do you think they could last if they got ambushed in an alley somewhere without a weapon?

2) Injuries incurred in a fight: do you feel them? Can you keep moving
if hurt? How realistic was movie!Boromir's last stand in this respect?
Related question: what sorts of training injuries do you sustain, and
how long do they take to heal? On average? At most?

3) If you had to describe a sparring match to someone else (or a real
life attack) how would you do it? What sorts of things happen
mentally? How well are you able to follow what's going on around you,
and how do you track other people's movements (this is sort of
especially interesting to me if you otherwise have very poor abilities
when it comes to keeping track of where things are)?

4) How much of a difference does it make if you have one other person with you to help watch your back in a fight? Does that increase the amount of time you can continue the fight? Or would it still have to
end in something like five minutes at most?

5) When you read something like "X had no idea how much time had
passed, but of a sudden, he realized the battle was over", how much
time do you assume has actually passed, based on your experience or research?

6) Do you know of any good resources that would give answers to such questions?

 

 

Re: The physical basics: endurance

I fence in real life, which is a bit different from the swordfighting they would have done on Middle-earth but I can answer some of the questions. To an extent anyway. I have done competitions, where it actually matters whether you win or lose, but when its a matter of life and death its going to be a tad different.

1) What is, in your opinion/experience, the longest a single person
could continue to fight effectively if not given a break?


3 minutes of time spent continously fighting is a long time. When I say continuously I do mean without stopping at all.

2) Related question: what sorts of training injuries do you sustain, and how long do they take to heal? On average? At most?

Bruises, mainly. It can get nasty if you get hit on the hand, but even then we're talking nasty bruises, possibly with some blood involved depending on how hard you're hit and how much padding is between your skin and the outside world.

After lots of training you can do nasty things to your right knee which hurt, but no idea what they're actually called That's with a one-handed weapon though, you'd have to move differently with a two-handed sword in which case you'd probably balance the pressure between each knees.

3) If you had to describe a sparring match to someone else (or a real life attack) how would you do it?

Personally I love watching fight scenes and hate reading them. There's nothing more boring than reading 'X hit Y, Y blocked then hit X, X ducked' etc.

What sorts of things happen mentally?

When I'm fighting the only important thing is my opponent and their sword. I don't notice anything else going on at all. While I'm waiting to start I'm thinking of possible attacks, how my opponent might react to them and what I could do against their reactions.

Once I'm actually fighting and have gone past the point of plan B, at which point I have no more plans, then it all happens a bit quicker. Most of it is on instinct by that point, some on what things I've been trying to remember from what my opponent has done before. Although there's nothing like stepping back to give yourself some more time


Nic

 

 

Re: The physical basics: endurance

My job involves physical confrontation and I can say from experience that in that situation, peripheral awareness becomes very limited so that it is less likely that what is happening around you would be noticed.
Also, adrenalin plays a big part, and that is something I think is not covered much in fight scenes. It can go one of two ways, either it fires you up (presumably this could translate with some characters into a battle frenzy?) or, when you stop, you are literally shaking all over from the adreanlin in your system.
I know that not everybody would be affected like this, but these are fairly common reactions

 

 

Re: The physical basics: endurance

I’d like to start off by apologising for the length of this post.

I’m really glad that this discussion was started, as I’ve been wondering some of this myself, and seeing what people on this site can come up with would be good.

Do all/most people who write fight scenes have some knowledge or experience, or do you just write them from images that you have in your mind?

Something I’d like to know the answer to: obviously, fighting in training/competition is different to a real life situation. Is there anyone here that has had to really defend themselves, or who knows someone that has?

Well on to one of my favourite subjects (although hopefully there are going to be people with more experience than me): unarmed combat. This is only the experience of myself and people I know.


1) What is, in your opinion/experience, the longest a single person
could continue to fight effectively if not given a break?


IMO most fight scenes in films are fairly unrealistic (although some films such as LotR manage quite well). Fights are messy and the more people there are, the messier it becomes.

I took part in a black belt grading last Saturday, and part of it was to fight continuously for 30 minutes, with a fresh person every two minutes, no holds barred (although we were wearing protection and were supposed to try and avoid causing serious injury). The person grading managed it, and fighting her definitely still hurt at the end; even though she got hurt and became tired. I can personally say that 5 minutes, full out, is a very long time.
Of course, fighting against multiple assailants ranges from hard to impossible.

How long do you think they could last if they got ambushed in an alley somewhere without a weapon?

I’d have to say that unarmed fighting against someone with weapons is really hard and so I don’t really know. Maybe experienced, trained people (elves or dunedain) would be able to take out a fairly decent number.


2) Injuries incurred in a fight: do you feel them? Can you keep moving
if hurt?


It obviously depends on the severity of the injury and the amount of adrenaline (and other things like that) in your system. I know that you can fight with broken ribs and lesser injuries. (I could see Boromir continuing fighting with one arrow in him, but I’m not so sure about the second – then again it is Boromir, and he did die nicely.)

Related question: what sorts of training injuries do you sustain, and
how long do they take to heal? On average? At most?


Generally I tend to acquire a lovely collection of bruises, which gets me some strange looks! Apart from that, the most common injures are broken/dislocated fingers and toes and very occasionally ribs.
Whilst sparring a few days ago I manage to dislocate my kneecap, it put itself back in place and I was able to continue, although it was distracting. It hurt more when I got home, so pain is definitely easier to ignore when you’re fighting, and I’m all for ignoring it.


3) What sorts of things happen mentally?

You become totally focused and you reach the stage where the reactions happen reflexively. Also, quite a lot people give off small signs before they attack. Their facial expression, a slight movement of part of their body or a flickering of their eyes. It’s hard to notice some of these things though!

A good motto: if in doubt run away!

As for tracking movements, you notice the person/people your fighting and if there’s a movement out of the corner of your eye, you might notice it, but most of your attention is on what’s in front of you.


4) How much of a difference does it make if you have one other person with you to help watch your back in a fight?

It definitely helps to have someone with you, as long as you don’t get in each other’s way. Although it’s better if you have something behind you, so that you don’t have to worry about your back – as long as you don’t let yourself be cornered.
I’d say that if you had a group of people who understood coordinated attacks; you’d have a slight problem.


Are there any instructors out there, because I’d like to see it from their POV?

 

 

Re: The physical basics: endurance

Do all/most people who write fight scenes have some knowledge or experience, or do you just write them from images that you have in your mind?

Me, both. The fight scenes I've written that involve hand-to-hand are based entirely on my experiences studying submission grappling - somewhat on my own physical experience, and somewhat on theory and the grapplers I've watched in training and in competition. However, when weapons are involved, I have no personal experience except for one semester of college fencing, so I rely largely on things like the Sharpe series of films set during the Napoleanic wars. They seem reasonably realistic, compared with most films, insofar as the fights aren't at all "have at thee!" with people waving swords around and performing acrobatic feats.

I took part in a black belt grading last Saturday,

What fighting style?

and part of it was to fight continuously for 30 minutes, with a fresh person every two minutes, no holds barred (although we were wearing protection and were supposed to try and avoid causing serious injury).

That sounds like one of the training exercises our fighters go through when they're training for a competition. One guy in the middle fights each teammate, two minutes per teammate, and they rotate in and out for fifteen to thirty minutes, depending. And it's all-out - one of the benefits of grappling is that you can train absolutely full-on without much fear of injury (no strikes in grappling). By the end, the guy in the middle is worn out, but he still takes his two minutes with the next guy in the middle.

Of course, fighting against multiple assailants ranges from hard to impossible.

Indeed.

2) Injuries incurred in a fight: do you feel them? Can you keep moving
if hurt?

It obviously depends on the severity of the injury and the amount of adrenaline (and other things like that) in your system. I know that you can fight with broken ribs and lesser injuries. (I could see Boromir continuing fighting with one arrow in him, but I’m not so sure about the second – then again it is Boromir, and he did die nicely.)


I think it depends on the person, the injuries, and the circumstances. I think the big difference between fighting with injuries during training or competition and fighting with injuries in Boromir's situation would be that in training and competition, no one's life is at stake. I think the adrenaline that would have been pumping into Boromir's bloodstream could easily have kept him going through multiple arrow wounds until one pierced, say, the heart, or a lung or something.

Generally I tend to acquire a lovely collection of bruises, which gets me some strange looks!

Heh. You too? The first time I went to my doctor after I started training I had to reassure him about the source of the multitude of bruises I had. I've stopped worrying about the looks I get from strangers at the grocery store, though.

Also, quite a lot people give off small signs before they attack. Their facial expression, a slight movement of part of their body or a flickering of their eyes. It’s hard to notice some of these things though!

One of the most interesting things our instructor has us do, from time to time, is roll (spar) with our eyes closed. I often have my eyes closed when I'm grappling anyway, because you feel so much more - you feel these tiny, subtle shifts in weight, in tension, in your opponent's muscles, and grip. If you dig on the little signs people give before they attack, you might really dig grappling, if you don't already study it.

A good motto: if in doubt run away!

Indeed! Most of the time, the best fight is the one you don't have.

 

 

Re: The physical basics: endurance

Since I'm co-writing a Faramir-centric story (off-site, and probably to remain so) that will entail battles and bloodshed in later chapters, and I know next to nothing about writing LOTR-style battles, I was curious about your mentioning that Faramir was lucky to live. Do you mean movie-Faramir or book-Faramir? The wound that he received in the book was not a critical one, it was already beginning to heal when Aragorn examined him at the Houses of Healing; yet Faramir was apparently close to death at that point, due to, in the book, the combination of considerable stress and fatigue and sorrow and the Black Breath of the Nazgul, along with the less grave arrow wound. Did you mean that Faramir was lucky to survive the retreat from the Causeway forts in the book, or the earlier return across the Pelennor what with the Nazgul on flying beasts playing their favorite game of shriek-n-shred? Is it reasonable to assume that Faramir, or any other warrior of Gondor or Rohan (or Aragorn) could fight for several hours straight in a battle situation, with much of that time being spent in hand-to-hand fighting or fighting on horseback? Raksha

 

 

Re: The physical basics: endurance

Is it reasonable to assume that Faramir, or any other warrior of Gondor or Rohan (or Aragorn) could fight for several hours straight in a battle situation, with much of that time being spent in hand-to-hand fighting or fighting on horseback? No. Not continuously. There would have to be breathers! They could fight for hours, but not all out for the whole time! One of my favorite (squicky) bits of knowledge from the battles of the medieval period was that men's leg armour would fill up with blood that dripped down from wounds taken higher up. You don't usually see details like that in modern writings. There are some SCA videos on the web that show unscripted fights between heavy-armoured fighters. Here's an example Fight Video It's a long QuickTime. Edit: If I could spell this would be easier... Gwynnyd

 

 

Re: The physical basics: endurance

I'm planning to have my Men of Gondor fight a several-hour battle in chain mail rather than full plate armor, it just seemed more sensible, since they'd be on the ground rather than on the walls of Minas Tirith, and some of that ground will be marshy; and I can't imagine Aragorn bouncing about in one of those tin-can armor suits. Maybe they'll wear metal breastplates, though. So the ROTK movie's scene of what looked like at least a few hours of hand-to-hand nonstop fighting at Osgiliath after the forces of Mordor first landed would actually have been a no-go, or at least the men of Gondor being all killed quicker instead of a good portion of them escaping to then ride and run across the Pelennor? Or the movie battle at the Black Gate, which looked like at least a couple of hours of equally heavy, if not heavier (they had trolls) hand-to-hand fighting, would that also not really work (except maybe for elves and Gandalf and Gimli and some Gondorians of Numenorean blood, all of whom had greater stamina than a normal human, and then of course there's Pippin Trollkiller!) Thanx for the viddy link. I'm keeping it in my favorites; hopefully I'll figure out how to open it someday. Raksha

 

 

Re: The physical basics: endurance

Thanx for the viddy link. I'm keeping it in my favorites; hopefully I'll figure out how to open it someday. Hmm, I just clicked on it and it took me to the page and played the video. The direct link is http://electricocean.com/67/content-5.html You just have to give fighters time to get their breath back. Give them a couple fights and rest of a few minutes. They won't need hours. They just get literally winded and need time to breathe. Gwynnyd

 

 

Re: The physical basics: endurance

Interesting conversation you got here. Think I'll put in my two cents. Warning, though; it's a little unconventional. Many of my answers will be based off a LoTR LARP that I participate in a few times a year. But, I have to say, it's definately given me some insight as to what a person is capable of. I'll sprinkle in a little fencing experience, too. That said... Question 1: Length of a fight. I seem to remember being in a few rather long bouts in Fencing when I was in high school. When there was a miss-match in skill, the bout was fast (as in the guy who was bad got just lambasted by the guy who was amazingly good), but a well-matched set of opponents, doing a fifteen-touch bout could go as long as 15 minutes or so. Mind you, that's with modern fencing gear, which is a lot lighter than plate or chain mail. But the en garde stance is physically demanding in and of itself and the masks are a whole heck of a lot warmer than you might expect. A well-trained soldier in full plate or chain would probably be fairly comparable. Question 2: Injuries. Can you keep going? Oh, yes! All it takes is enough andrenaline. I speak from personal experience on this one. In that LARP I mentioned, I've done everything from twist my knee to get heat stroke. I had enough motivation to keep going (namely, if I didn't keep up with my group, I'd be hopelessly lost in a woods), and so I just did. The instance of the heat stroke was actually so bad someone had to stop me and force me to drink something. If you're motivated enough, you just keep going. Plain and simple. I've climbed whole mountains, carrying swords and a backpack full of stuff, wearing all black, with the sun beating down on me in 80 degree weather that way. Heh. And my life wasn't even particularly on the line. It's pretty amazing what you can do when you have to do it. Question 3: Describing fights. My general strategy is typically to use terminology. If I talk fencing, I'll use terms like "parry," "riposte," and "stop cut." If I talk about my LARP, I'll use terms like "bounce," "sack time," and "orked." (And no, I don't have a typo in the last term. It really is supposed to be orc as a verb.) This has the unfortunate drawback of needing to explain these terms to the uninitiated, however, so I try to avoid doing in it my fanfic. Instead, I'll try to describe what actually happens. However, I do find that knowing the terminology helps to plan a battle in my mind and therefore helps me describe it and know what is possible or likely. My other strategy is to describe the smallest scale of a fight that I can. Typically, this means describing one-on-one fights. I find it gives a piece of writing a nice, personal feel to it, as the chosen fight usually centers on a character that the story has been following. Question 4: Having backup. I can't really talk with much authoriy on this one. I've only ever done one-on-one fights in fencing and my LARP uses a complex system of points rather than actual fighting to have "battles." (Turns out there's a pesky little law about not having live steel in state parks... who knew?) But my guess would be that it all depends on how many people you're fighting against. If it's two people against fifty, I'd say you could probably still only go for so long before you just got plain tired and then got skewered. But if it was two people against a single opponent, you might be able to fight in shifts, in a way; one person does the main fighting for a while and the other watches any open places, then you switch, giving the first guy something of a break. But, as I said, I can't really speak with any authoriy on this one. Question 5: Passage of time. It all depends on the context. Evenly matched opponents would fight longer than someone really good trouncing someone who's terrible. A vast battle with thousands of people involved would likely go a lot longer than a one-on-one fight. If one side has archers or cavalry and the other side doesn't, that could also go a long way toward cutting down on battle time. I'd say the best thing to do would be to describe the context as best you can, at least to yourself, think about how the battle would be fought, think about how much time it would take to do it, and add it up. But, it's definately going to vary from battle to battle. Question 6: Resources. Print resources, I know of none, off hand. The best kind of research, IMHO, is going out and doing it. For example, if you want to know the plight of a standard-bearer in a march, go carry an eight-foot flag pole with a 30-inch flag attached to it (or something that can pass as a reasonable facsimile) through a woods, then try and describe the term "encumbered." You learn really quickly what's possible and what isn't, that way. I've learned that it's highly unlikely that anyone who lives in a woods would carry a sword or a bow on their back, for instance; it gets caught on branches like you wouldn't believe. Anyhow, that came out a whole lot longer than I figured it would. Hope some of my rambling has been useful. ^_^ Berz.

 

 

Re: The physical basics: endurance

Got to say that from my very limited experience people carrying on despite injuries does seem feasible. Generally I've found that more serious injuries -SQUICK WARNING!!!!! - eg big chunk ripped out of knee, flesh hanging down, bone or cartelige (sp?) or something white visible - were far less 'painful' at the time of impact than far more minor things. (On the other hand the only time I've been punched full force in the face by an adult it hurt so much I've never been able to understand how cops in TV shows keep going despite multiple punches - obviously less wussy than me (though I was only 11 or so.)) I believe in the real world there have been instances of people being stabbed and then walking on for a reasonable while without even realising it too, Avon

 

 

Re: The physical basics: endurance

What was an adult doing punching a child in the face? I've never been able to understand how cops in TV shows keep going despite multiple punches either. Especially since I know enough to be able to tell when they should be on the floor, and miraculously they're not. I've never been punched or kicked full force and judging by how much it hurts when they're being pulled, I never want to be. Just in case anyone is wondering, it's hard to fight when you've had your nose broken - especially since your eyes water and there's blood everywhere. Endurance wise, unarmed fighting for about half an hour in one go is really tiring – particularly with fresh opponents – but I’ve done it for an hour or so with a short break every 5 minutes and it’s not that bad. I know almost nothing about medieval style fighting, but it would be a lot harder with heavy weapons and some form of armour.

 

 

Re: The physical basics: endurance

What was an adult doing punching a child in the face? Yeah, I'd like to know the answer to that one ;-) I just walked past him in a shopping centre... I'm very poor with faces and it is just possible that it was the son of our next door neighbour, but as far as I know it was a stranger. I guess I'm just damned grateful that it wasn't my nose and it didn't break my cheekbone - just split the skin over it. Yich! Don't think I'm the streetfighter type ;-) Avon

 

 

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