Swordfighting 101: Frying Pans

Swordfighting 101: Frying Pans

One of the very first weapons that I learned in my combat classes in college was how to wield a frying pan.  It was dubbed “clown fighting” because of the ridiculousness you feel using a frying pan as a weapon.  However, any chef worth their weight in hummus can tell you just how deadly these seemingly useless pans can be.

Depending on what kind of pan your character happens to grab in their kitchen while being attacked will greatly depend on what that pan can do.  We’ll look at three specific sizes: the “one egg” pan, then normal skillet, and the wok.

First, start with the size and weight of the pan.  A lot of this will also depend on the type of pan you have.  Cast iron pans can cause a lot more weight damage, but they will also be a lot heavier to wield.  The newer Teflon pans will be lighter, but they will also break easily.  You will also need to look at the handle.  Is it welded on, or have a tiny screw that keeps it in place?  Ones that are screwed on will break off on a solid hit to someone, whereas welded ones have a bit more resistance.

Next, you will want to look at the size of the base of the frying pan.  This is going to be your impact area.  The wider the base, the more of the body it can hit.  The larger the pan is will also make it a bit less wind-resistant when swinging – stupid physics.  Let’s say you’re aiming for the head – the “one egg” one will probably break a jaw with a good swing because it will be able to impact all your energy into a small area.  The wok and regular pan will hit the entire face, but the impact will also spread over it.  This will more than likely  cause a headache with a regular pan, but could rattle the brain and knock out the victim on a cast iron pan.

You can also “stab” with a frying pan.  Holding onto the handle of a regular pan and thrust into the stomach of the attacker can knock the wind out of them (and then follow up with an uppercut of the pan to their chin to knock their head backwards and out cold!).  This won’t work as well with a “one egg” as it’s a smaller circumference around the pan, however it is better suited for swinging at hands to disarm knives.

The wok is awkward for stabbing motions as the top of the wok is wider than the base and will lose the force from the handle due to the shape of it.   Woks are great, though, for using it’s special bowl-like design to cup a shoulder or a head to make the person move and throw them off balance.

Never use the handle of a frying pan as a weapon.  They are fragile and it is awkward to hold onto the pan side and use it to fight.

There are other things that you can add to a fight scene using a frying pan in a kitchen fight:

Heat: having the pan sitting on the stove waiting to be used would have the base of the pan nice and hot. Remember that some pans have a spiral design on the bottom, so if they get hit with that on flesh, it will leave behind a burn in the design.

Cooking: was the person already cooking something?  They can fling the food at the person attacking them, and then fight with a hot pan.  Bonus if there is hot oil or grease in the pan – that could end the fight right there.

Also, remember the realism for frying pan scenes: a regular frying pan will only last a few good hits before it’s dented or the handle breaks. If it’s a colored pan, chances are that the color has flaked off.  Also, ones that are treated to be non-stick have a coating that will break off into white flakes when dented as well.  The wielder’s arm will get tired fast swinging around a cast iron pan if they are not used to using their arm muscles for prolonged periods of time.

The best advice I can give on choosing the weapon for your character comes down to have you have in your house so that you can understand your weapon as your character uses it. Frying pans can be a fun weapon to wield in any story, as long as you keep the believability of it to the scene.  Enjoy finding a way to bring this into your next novel!

 

Image from Tangled © Walt Disney Pictures.
Swordfighting 101: Knives

Swordfighting 101: Knives

I received an e-mail from MACE reminding me that June is Knife Fighting Awareness Month, and felt that it was my duty to pass along a good set of information to my readers about this deadly weapon and how your characters can wield it.

Everyone knows what a knife looks like – you have some right in your kitchen.  In combat terms, it’s defined as a metal or stone blade, extending from a handle.  There is no set “length” when a knife becomes classified as a sword, but it’s more on the style of the blade.  The average changeover though can be around 12-18 inches when it becomes classified as a sword.  In the USA, the police are given the distinction on being able to classify whether the blade is a sword or knife in arrests.

There are many different kinds of knifes which are variations of the style of blade and the handle.  Some other names you may have heard of would include switchblades, balisongs, daggers, poignard, dirks, bayonets,  stilettos (not the shoes), machetes, bowies, and countless others in many languages.  You can also put a shiv into this classification, but they are “knife like” weapons that are usually handmade by someone (i.e. a prisoner in jail) and can contain multiple pieces, uneven edges, and break easily.

When you’re choosing a knife for your character, you will want to look very closely at the time period you’re writing in, the country the character originated in, and if they are in the military, the history of the types of weapon that specific branch had.  A common place reader may not know the difference between blades, but if you are writing military fiction, you will want to be as exact as you can in the description, even if you never name the blade itself.

Obviously, if your character has a history where they got their blades from a gunrunner, then you can have fun finding the deadliest looking knife that would capture their eye.  Weapons have histories, though, so you would want to respect it if you’re going to make your character use the knife more than just cutting his steak or something he grabbed from the pawn shop.  You can have fun creating a glorious family history for a weapon, and will find that your audience may make the weapon a “character” in your story if you do it right.

Depending on what kind of genre you’re writing in, you can also create your own knife design for your character.  However, unless you plan to include a picture of the weapon in your novel or a rendition of it on your website, you will want to use a knife that already exists in our world somewhere and then build off it.  That way the reader can have an image in their head to start off with.

 

Now onto the combat itself – knife on knife fights are very rare in the real world.  There is the phrase from The Untouchables about bringing a knife to a gun fight… now those kinds of fights are a lot more common in the real world, with hand vs. hand, and gun vs. gun being the most common.  Your character would have to have a reason to have the knife on them as opposed to other weapons, and hope that their opponent doesn’t carry something that has a bang to it.

A knife fight is very personal, as you have to be up close to your opponent to attack them (unless you’re throwing the knife)

There are four ways to grip a normal knife, and they are best described by where your thumb is while holding it.I’ve linked a video below that will show you visually each of the grips described.

The first position is the one people use every day.  The knife is held in your hand with the thumb on the handle right before the blade starts.  This is a good “cutting” position. It is called the forward saber grip in Jujutsu. It extends the blade out in front of you the longest distance from your body, and allows you to attack objects that are coming at you from any direction.  If you are swiping the blade across, you can put your thumb on the back of the blade if it has a dull side, and that will add force and pressure to your blade if you hit an object.  It does not help, though, if you have a double-sided blade since you risk cutting into your own thumb when you hit resistance.

The second position is where the thumb is tucked under the handle, similar to how you hold a hammer, and the blade is pointing up.  This is the forward hammer grip in Jujutsu.  Your hand will have a stronger grip on the knife, but you lose distance with this grip since the blade isn’t able to extend as far.  This grip is better for this up close knife fights where you are thrusting the knife upwards and into body parts.

The third is the reverse hammer grip.  Basically it is the same as above, but it is with the blade pointing down.  It’s commonly known as the “Psycho” grip, being made famous in the movie when used by the character Normal Bates.  It’s a grip that has you stabbing downwards, but you can also use it to slash since your arm will follow along with the blade, bringing your arm to protect your body as well as using your elbow to follow up with hits.

And the fourth is reverse saber grip, in which the blade rests against your forearm and your thumb is along the bottom of the handle.  It’s really a defensive grip, in which you can hide the blade and attack only if needed.  It’s not a cutting or a stabbing grip, but can be used to slash at an enemy if they get too close.

Most straight knives, like early swords, lack a fuller (the blood groove) from later swords.  Because of this, there is always a good chance that a blade can get stuck inside of the body when stabbed because of the suction.  It can also become stuck in ribs and the spine if aimed there.  The longer the blade is, the more likely it is to happen.

There are also knifes with serrated edges that will allow the person to cut through bone.  These are found on many hunter knives, as well as some military knifes.

 

Like always, before you start to write out a fight scene, watch a few movies that have good scenes in them to see how the body moves with the weapon. Don’t know where to start?  Independent File Channel put together a list of their 15 Favorite Movie Knife Scenes that can start you off.  I recommend the one for The Hunted.

And remember: You don’t need to be too detailed in each swing of the weapon, but it will help you choreograph the fight in your head so you know what happens and can decide what to describe, and what to just imply.  Don’t bore the reader since they will want to imagine the scene in their own heads.  Just give them enough to go off of that can make them see what you want them too.

Enjoy writing that knife fight!

 

Other Resources:

10 Deadliest Combat Knifes / Daggers : In you are in need of picking a knife for your villain, here is a nice list to shop off of.

Knife Fighting Basics – The Grip : This video from Jujutsu.org will show you visually the four grips.

How to Throw a Knife: There are a lot of YouTube videos on knife throwing.  This gentleman breaks it down really well.

Swordfighting 101: Broadsword

Swordfighting 101: Broadsword

Weapon: Broadsword

Time Period: 13th to 17th century.

Origins: Europe

Also known as: two-handed sword, longsword, greatsword, warsword, claymore, and a whole lot of others depending on your reference material and the era you are writing in.

 

 

You’ve all seen this weapon in use on more than one occasion if you’ve ever watched a fantasy or Medieval set movie.  The broadsword is the most famous for being the weapon of the knights in that shining armor.  You’ve seen them used in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Rob Roy, Braveheart, and well, the list goes on forever.

Why is it called a broadsword?  To answer that, I will quote my friends at the Maryland Renaissance Festival’s Fight School: the use of the term “Broadsword” did not become common place until it was found as a high commodity among Victorian collectors when they found this weapon abroad… and not sticking in one.  The weapon that most people are referring to when they say broadsword is actually the longsword.  However, it is not the “bastard sword”, as that is technically another sword known as the short sword (and we’ll discuss this at another time).

The first thing to remember about this weapon is that it’s heavy.  The average weapon weight was 5-7 pounds and can get larger and heavier as you head into the greatsword and warsword variations.  The blade alone measures about 3-4 feet long, and most who carry it wield it with two hands.  Using the weapon for long periods of time would make the wielder’s arms and shoulders hurt as they are learning to use them.  You would also have hand and wrist cramps from gripping the weapon, similar to carpel tunnel syndrome.  And like with any weapon, your thighs would be sore from the repetition of movements.

Using two hands, movement with the weapon is limited.  Imagine your hands gripping a sword handle (or a golf club) and try to attack without letting either hand off the weapon.  You’ll see that the fact you have elbows getting in the way that you can’t have the same moves that a rapier-wielding person would.

Because of the size, weight, and limitations of movement when fighting, this weapon tends to be the most barbaric of the sword family.  This is your “hack and slash” weapon, as most of the damage from it comes from swinging it instead of stabbing.  To be able to control where you want the weapon to go, you have to learn how to use the inertia from the blade’s swinging to direct it.  This is not a weapon to use if you want to create and fancy duel, but instead for the battlefield of carnage.

This weapon is hard to stop once in motion, and usually only stops when hitting an object or slowing down the upward movement of the weapon.  Trying to stop or redirect the weapon any other way can cause the wielder to get thrown off balance, and possible arm and shoulder pain.

One of the things that this weapon is known for is that because of the inertia and weight, it would kill people more from broken bones than actual stabbing.  It is also the weapon that will cleave off body parts easily.  Because of that, broadswords make excellent weapons for the zombie apocalypse and everyone should keep on in their closet or under their bed if they have this fear.

The best way I found to choreograph this weapon in your writing space is to have a fake sword to hold and move around your space with.  If you do not have an actual broadsword in your home, you can substitute the cheap foam swords found at any toy store.  You can also use a lightsaber type toy and just imagine the guard being there.  As a sidenote, broadsword fighting is one of the styles melded into the style used for the famous Star Wars weapons.

Watch a few movies that use the weapon in a historical fashion (and not a Matrix type fight or Star Wars) and see how the wielder has to invest their entire body in moving the weapon around.  Look at where they aim, how they attack, and how they kill.  Also remember that with any weapon, the fighter will also use their body to try and kick, hit, throw object, and block things coming at them.  Move yourself around to decide how you want to fight to look like if you were filming this for a movie.  Get a friend to come be a stand-in for the other character.  Write down every step.  Take notes on what your body did to get that movement and how it felt to you.

Don’t forget to add in the terrain your character will be fighting in when making your choreography.  A broadsword is used a lot differently in an open field than if you were in the middle of a heavily dense forest or in the middle of a desert.  Are there walls, boulders, trees, roots – anything that would trip up your characters or afford them cover?  Add in these elements to create advantages and disadvantages for both the character and his/her opponent.

Major writer tip: Do not write out your entire choreography on the page.  People cannot see the details in the beautiful scene you just created – especially if you go into the technical terms that describe the slashes, parries, etc.  If you are adamant on writing out the fight, find the novel of a movie that you have watched previously with sword fighting.  Sit down with both and watch the scene and then compare it to the novel.  The best example I have would be the fight in “The Princess Bride” between Inigo and Westley.  Please note that they are using rapiers and not broadswords, and use this only to see how to write a good scene you have the visualization for.  Watch it on the screen, and then see how Goldman views that fight through the eyes of Inigo as it happens.

The choreography you’re creating is essentially a piece of research you’re developing for the novel.  What you want to do is use the choreography as a guide to how they move, what may go on in their heads, and who wins and how they win.  You fill in those blanks with creative dressing that will let the reader have a sense of the speed, urgency and emotion in the fight, but not the step by step details of who moves where.  You want to show the fight, not tell it.

Below are some reference notes for the technical bits and pieces, as well as a few links to more information online.  Also, if you are able to go to the Maryland Renaissance Festival (August – October every year outside of Annapolis), spend a day and make sure to watch both Fight School performances.  The four men who work it are very knowledgeable and friendly, and you will get a lot of information on this weapon – and others – from them.

 

Main Parts of the Broadsword:

Pommel – this is Latin for “the tiny apple”.  It is the knob at the base of the sword.  It’s used for a few things: the screw that keeps the sword put together; an object to keep your hands from sliding off the hilt; a place to hold and use force when stabbing down; and you can use it as a blunt force object to hit or “pummel” someone (notice the change in the first vowel to distinguish the difference in word).

Handle –This is where your hands go to hold the weapon. This is NOT called a hilt (see below).

Quillion – the guard.  Basically, it’s the cross shaped piece that separates the blade from the handle.  Its main purpose is to keep swords that strike from sliding down the blade and cutting off fingers.

Forte’ – the unsharpened part of the blade; starting from the Quillion and up to about 1/2 to 2/3 of the blade.  This part is unsharpened for a few reasons, but mainly for a wielder to be able to lay a hand on the weapon and use it for defense if needed and not cut themselves.  This is also the strongest part of the weapon.

Foible – the sharpened part, or tip.  This is the part you would use to cut and stab people with.  It’s also the weakest part of the sword, and would be the part that broke off in battles.

Fuller – aka the “blood grove”.  It’s a center channel that some versions of the sword have cut into the blade in the Forte’, and its makes the blade lighter.  The channeling of the blood of thy enemy is a misconception.  It does, however, stop the suction that occurs when pulling the blade free after stabbing someone.

Hilt – mistakenly referred to as the handle, the hilt is actually three pieces of the sword: Pommel, Handle, and Quillion.  Basically, everything that isn’t the blade.

 

Links:

Deadliest Weapon Wiki entry on the Broadsword

Association for Renaissance Martial Arts: Terminology Page

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