When I was a kid, I gained my knowledge of fighting styles through Hollywood movies and cartoons. My juvenile mind truly believed, with all my heart, a one-hundred-and-ten-pound female could stand toe-to-toe with a beastly two-hundred-pound male.
I wrote the first Silver Ninja (Prototype series) with an adolescent knowledge of combat. No one told me punching someone in the face could break your wrist. I didn’t know Jeet Kun Do was a book on fighting philosophy and that Aikido was known as Bullshido. I wrote the first book not knowing this one critical fact.
Everything I knew about fighting was wrong.
Years ago, my girlfriend (now wife) enrolled me in a Krav Maga class. She wanted me to regain confidence after two men knocked me out and robbed me while I was walking home late one night. I took the classes and got a taste of what combat felt like. I never anticipated how much my shins would burn and how much getting hit (even with protection) hurt.
While taking the course, one of the instructors told the women not to believe the Hollywood movies when it came to self-defense. He emphasized that most men were stronger than women and if ever caught in a fight, run away and escape. “If you want to see how a fight against you and a man would really go down watch The Kingdom. Jennifer Garner’s fight scene is the most realistic I’ve seen in a film so far.”
I’ll spare you the agony of watching that boring movie and link the fight scene here.
In this movie, the giant terrorist throws Jennifer Garner around like a rag doll. He slams her into walls, picks her up over his shoulder, and smacks her around until she gets assistance from the hostage.
The Kingdom as terrible as it was, changed my perspective on fight scenes forever.
I grew to appreciate the more grounded, realistic fight scenes. There was a certain thrill in not knowing whether the heroine was going to win. I felt more invested in the fight the more the heroine struggled to win. Bonus if she ended the fight with an over-the-top finisher.
In real-life, a two-hundred-pound male will crush a woman of one hundred and ten pounds.
Scenes like this:
Quickly became a chore to watch. Beautiful spinning kicks, leg chokes, and backflips were a great way to get your female protagonist slammed into a wall. In fiction that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
I also think Black Widow is a boring character so my opinion may be biased.
There is a stigma that women should not be portrayed as physically weaker than men.
In the Black Widow clips, you see how she can fight anyone regardless of size, skill, or race (with the exception of the Hulk). Yet, this is a woman without any superpowers. I can believe Wonder Woman can hold her own because of her super strength. But Black Widow? No matter how well-trained, I cannot believe she’s capable of doing this, not without getting hurt. Besides, where’s the conflict?
After I wrote The Silver Ninja: Indoctrination, I realized that I wanted my fight scenes to be more grounded in reality. I wanted to describe the sweat dripping down her neck, the burning in her lungs. The reader needed to feel the soreness in her belly reddened by blows, the sting of a painful uppercut. She could win the fight, but she had to work for it.
I argue that a physically weaker woman (or a woman who fails) is more interesting to watch/read than a physically capable one.
This may sound contradictory coming from me, a pro-woman author but hear me out. Since the very beginning I’ve always established Cindy as a muscular powerhouse. She’s not tall, but she’s strong and hits like a truck. She’s a capable fighter and is more athletic than the average woman.
However, if you put an elite athlete like Cindy up against an elite male athlete, like say MMA fighter Chuck Lidell, or even the gargantuan Brock Lesnar, do you think she can win? No need to Google their images, I’ve included photos for you.
Can you imagine little, beefy Cindy fighting these guys?
For size comparison, this would be her.
If I’m going to be honest, I’d love to see the match up. Cindy without her suit against these human gorillas would be crazy.
I’ve read threads where male partners discuss holding back their strength so as not to hurt their wives and girlfriends by accident. I’ve read counter threads where fit, athletic women were upset at discovering how much stronger their male partners were.
Women who were stronger than men were the exception not the rule.
This is a biological fact (for now). As more women gain interest in combat sports, later generations may evolve to become just as strong as the men. Queen Latifah is believable as a fighter in the Equalizer because she’s bigger, heavier, and looks like she could take a punch. Scarlett Johansson on the other hand, is way too small and wouldn’t be able to hit hard enough. Charlize Theron is mostly convincing because of her height, but in terms of weight she could easily get thrown around.
Even Atomic Blonde fails in the realism category, but the fight scenes are way cooler than Black Widow’s.
The nice thing about Atomic Blonde is that the battles aren’t easy for her. She has to use her environment to survive and it’s fairly easy for the men to throw her around. If the movie had a better story and not two-dimensional characters, it could have been a great film for a female protagonist.
Cindy’s short stature and relatively light weight forced me to re-think how a woman of her size could fight a trained killer.
Practical combat techniques make for more visually aggressive fight scenes
In the real world, when the stakes are life and death, you fight to survive. This means using dirty tactics like biting, hair pulling, groin shots, and using the environment. Having a man or woman be weaker than the opponent actually makes the fight more interesting. One of the most consistent compliments I receive on my Silver Ninja stories are how great the action sequences are. This is because I don’t allow the fact that she is a woman prevent me from letting her fail.
She still fights people that are bigger and stronger than her. And this is the key that makes my action sequences a bit more unique to my style of writing. I don’t avoid portraying Cindy as weak, I embrace it. Through that weakness she has to use her intelligence to overcome stronger opponents.
In Narco Hotel, I have Cindy get into combat with trained assassins from the DeMarcos drug cartel. These are not beefy men, but they are killers. She has to use all of her resources and ingenuity to survive one attacker. Cindy is not averse to throwing objects, biting off their skin, and scratching out their eyes. She will do anything and everything to win.
So no, she won’t jump onto someone’s neck and flip them over with her legs. Maybe if it’s a finisher or a move that can take out multiple opponents, but it would have to be special circumstances.
A realistic fight scene doesn’t mean I don’t indulge in superhero fantasy.
Although it is way more interesting and dramatic to have the weaker hero fight against the stronger enemy. There is still excitement when the hero becomes the apex predator. I.E. Batman.
Cindy’s suit is the equalizer against more powerful opponents. When Cindy powers up she becomes an unstoppable force. Her suit allows me the opportunity to give back the power taken away from her.
The main issue with indulging in the superhero fantasy is that these fight scenes or action sequences have to be kept brief or the stakes have to keep getting higher and higher. Once your character is too powerful, the fight scenes lose entertainment value. You either have to add a villain of equal or greater power or wrap it up before it overstays its welcome.
In conclusion, don’t be afraid to let your female protagonist fail in a fight scene.
Weakness does not always have to be negative, especially in fiction. Having a female character lose or struggle against a male character doesn’t have to be a political statement. The purpose of having a weaker character is to create conflict. She’s not weak because she’s a woman. She’s weak because the story needs drama and is more believable this way.
One of the reasons I de-powered Cindy in Narco Hotel was due to the fact that her fight scenes were boring. Anytime she wore the suit, the criminals couldn’t beat her. They couldn’t break her armor, they couldn’t punch her, they couldn’t do anything to her. This is one of the many reasons why Superman stories are so difficult to write. There’s a reason Superman fights villains like Brainiac while Batman still handles street level thugs. Batman can die from a bullet, Superman can’t.
I don’t mean to brag or toot my own horn, but I think the key fight scenes in Narco Hotel are some of my best works. A Bitter Winter had more pizazz, but Narco Hotel had the gritty realism I was striving for. Links for purchase are down below.
Then the DeMarcos Cartel invaded New York City.
Day by day they spread their corruption throughout the five boroughs, leading to a rise in beheadings, shootouts, drug overdoses, and police murdering innocent citizens.
Even with the city decaying all around her, Cindy was terrified of transforming into the Silver Ninja. It would mean returning to a life of barely controlled rage and endless violence.
Unfortunately for her, Commissioner Gates knows who the Silver Ninja is and her dark secret. If she doesn’t suit up and help him stop the DeMarcos, her secret will be exposed, and her family will suffer the consequences.
The price for peace is blood.More info →