Friday, January 30, 2009

Martial Arts Writers


Genre fiction, such as science fiction, fantasy, espionage, mystery, etc. seems an easy venue for martial arts material. You usually have good guys, bad guys, and a fair amount of activity and contention compared to mainstream writing. A lot of fight scenes, shoot 'em ups, and fast action.

In science fiction and fantasy, there are a fair number of well-known writers who have spent serious time training in martial arts.

I'm not talking here about those who are adept enough at research to fool a reader, nor those who took a few weeks of training at the local dojo or strapped on boxing gloves for a couple rounds when they were at summer camp. Nor ex-military guys who got something in basic training, like Drake, Deitz, and Bunch. They know the gun-stuff and the boots-on-the-ground material, but not so much the hand-to-hand.

Yeah, Sherlock Holmes was a master of Baritsu, the Sandmen had Omnite, and Modesty Blaise had her kick-ass fu. And who can forget Chiun's Sinaju? But those were all arts de l'esprit, made up of mental cloth ...

Offhand, first few writers that come to mind, writing in English, and with apologies to those I missed: Roger Zelazny, Vonda McIntyre and Liz Lynn, who all reached dan-level in aikido. Pat Murphy and Rich Kadrey, Steve Barnes, Dave Smeds, and across the aisle in the thriller section, Barry Eisler's John Rain series. Joe Lansdale, who also writes a lot of horror. Piers Anthony did a martial arts' series in the 70's, when he was still a student of judo. Fritz Leiber was a fencer in his youth.

There are a few fantasy writers whose books I've read who offered martial arts credentials on the inside back cover of the dust jacket, but I confess I can't recall their names at the moment. And a couple who claim to be martial artists about whom I have my doubts, and one in particular with whom I'd love to cross hands ...

And me, of course. I modestly assert than nobody in the English language has written more in their fiction about silat than I -- I was about it before I knew it existed ...

So, who else? If you know of martial artists who are fiction writers -- not from what's in their books, but from a source that talks about their art, put 'em forth. Be interesting to see a list.

22 comments:

Tiel Aisha Ansari said...

There are a lot of writers out there with fencing backgrounds. Sean McMullen, I think Greg Keyes, Scott Lynch.

I have the impression that a lot of writers in the late Marion Zimmer Bradley's circle had done at least SCA fighting (not going to argue whether that should be called martial art or not): some enhanced the experience with classical/period style fencing. And her brother, Paul Edwin Zimmer, was an accomplished fencer in several styles and writer in his own right (never read anything by him).

Hey, doesn't that Daniel Moran guy do some kinda like karate or sumthin?..

Steve Perry said...

Nope. Dan is a smoke-blower -- and I mean that in the most complimentary writing sense. Basketball is his game.

It's the mark of a good writer to be able to fool people who know something when you don't know it into believing you are one of them. There are some pretty good fight scenes written by people who have never lifted anything heavier than a pencil. If you look closely enough, you can usually pick up something that's a little off in most such sequences when they are done by non-combatants, but the really good writers do enough research to fake it pretty well.

Dan Gambiera said...

Bartitsu was a real martial art created by E.W. Barton-Wright in the 1890s. It included boxing, Judo/Ju Jutsu, stick fighting and other bits and pieces. Like most martial arts organizations it fell apart pretty quickly, but Doyle didn't make it up.

Oh, yes. How could we forget the immortal (or at least undead) martial arts scenes in Tegne? I'm hoping that lots and lots of whiskey and crack cocaine might do the trick.

A number of SF writers have done martial arts. Many fewer have done it well.

Dan Gambiera said...

Jim Butcher, S. M. Stirling, the author of the Poison Study series, E. Hoffman Price, Zelazny, Paul Zimmer...

Dan Moran said...

Thanks -- "smoke blower" is apt. I am shallowly informed in a remarkably wide variety of areas ....

I boxed some when I was younger, but I quit when I got knocked out three times in a row -- it seemed like a shaky way to make money, even for a broke teenager working at Taco Bell. Club boxers are the guys who can't speak without slurring at 35, and that was going to be me if I'd kept at it. I was fast and strong, but the good fighters were as strong and faster.

Year or two ago I sought out a local boxing gym, thinking about getting in for some light sparring -- guy who owned the place talked to me for 10 minutes, found out I was already blind in one eye, and told me to leave....

I don't disrespect the martial arts, though I do think that a lot of the people in them would do better for themselves to buy some pepper spray and stay out of bad neighborhoods. One of the things I like about Perry's work is his recognition of the centrality of guns in modern violence -- a lot of martial arts writers just pretend that Indy never did shoot that guy with the sword.

Steve Perry said...

Point taken on the Bartisu, though Doyle didn't know it, only Holmes did, so same difference, viz the writing.

Anonymous said...

"And a couple who claim to be martial artists about whom I have my doubts, and one in particular with whom I'd love to cross hands ..."

That's got to be Harlan Ellison, right?

That was the first name that jumped out at me as missing form your list.

Considering his litigious nature...

Dan Gambiera said...

Dan, forget pepper spray.
Seriously, just forget it.

That crap is a completely worthless response to real violence. If you want I can start quoting chapter, verse, anecdote and large scale study. But that would be boring.

People do martial arts for many reasons of which self defense is only one. It's usually not the most important no matter what they say. The ones who are serious about self defense almost always come around to realizing that they have opposable thumbs for a reason.

Most of the time I still recommend starting without weapons. The best tool in the world doesn't do anything without the will to use it. Getting the body to do things and go through the emotional preparation for violence is the quickest and most effective way of making the necessary changes in the students. Then you can give them weapons with some confidence that they'll be ready for the fight and not go to pieces. And if the magic wand doesn't work they'll keep going.

Anonymous said...

dont know about pepper spray being worthless.. having been in corrections i can say it has its uses. if i was a woman and needed something to buy a second or two. the right spray would be useful. Thing is, pepper spray is just like a firearm, if you aren't trained and proficient, or you cant draw and aim it. it is useless. most attacks are going to be surprise and everyone is going to have problems with that. point taken about physically/ mentally prepared. i used to plan in my head what i would do if the sh** hit the fan and even a basic plan helped my reactions. langdon

Steve Perry said...

Nah, Harlan wasn't ever into martial arts, he was just a tough little bastard who was willing to stand his ground. He was in the Army, and I expect he has had more than a couple of punch-up, but I don't recall he ever did any martial arts training per se.

I like Harlan. One of him is enough, but we need the one.

Guy I'm talking about is somebody who loudly and repeatedly claims to be expert in things martial and literary. I've seen his work, so I know that claim is inflated, and I suspect the martial aspect is also puffed up. Might be true, but when somebody goes on and on about how good they are, it does make you wonder. Most of the guys I've run into who really know their stuff tend to keep a lid on it.

Not to say that a windbag can't be skilled, but talking the talk is not walking the walk ...

Steve Perry said...

Oh, and either Doyle got it wrong or there was a typo, because Holmes was not a master of "bartitsu," but of "baritsu."

AF1 said...

Matthew Woodring Stover trained at the Degerberg Academy in Chicago.

Tuhon Bill McGrath of pekiti tirsia fame has written 2 fantasy books in an ongoing series...but he's probably not considered a big time writer.

Steve Perry said...

I hadn't heard about Tuhon McGrath's novels, but since I don't consider myself a big-time writer, either, that isn't a requirement.

Tiel's unpublished novel has some good fight sequences, and it's only a matter of will and time until that book or the sequel finds its way into print.

Matt Stover I know from Star Wars. Jim Butcher, of course, I should have known that from the Roman Legion books. Haven't read any Paul Zimmer in a coon's age.

Dan Gambiera said...

Anonymous, pepper spray has its uses, just not as a self defense tool against violent assault in life-threatening situations. Your professional uses for it are a little different. You've got fists, clubs, extra guards and if worse comes to worse the National Guard to back it up.

As a substitute for learning how to fight or for situations where a bigger, stronger violent person is trying to commit a life-threatening crime against you it's a lousy choice.

Dan Moran said...

"As a substitute for learning how to fight or for situations where a bigger, stronger violent person is trying to commit a life-threatening crime against you it's a lousy choice."

They're all lousy options, and the scenario matters. For a woman who has no identified expectation of violence in her life spray can be a useful tool -- though not as useful as carefully choosing the people he associates with the places she goes.

I wouldn't advise a gun for most people under most circumstances -- but I bought one for my wife, and made sure she knew how to use it, when her ex-husband left her voice mail threatening her with "bloodsport." Circumstances matter.

Dan Gambiera said...

Circumstances matter, certainly. Being somewhere else when the fight starts or the predator preys is the best of all possible worlds. That isn't always the one we find ourselves in.

Being familiar with violence and aggression from the inside makes it a lot easier to recognize in others. Recognizing it makes you less likely to shut it out and hope that it goes away and more likely to react constructively. And those, in turn, make you a much less attractive target for predators.

More aware. Better prepared. More capable. Less likely to be chosen as a victim. What's the downside?

When faced with deadly force and retreat isn't a realistic option only the ability to command deadly force will really do. If you're bigger, stronger, faster, on better drugs and better trained than the other guys, good for you. If you're not, then having the best equalizer you can (legally) hold onto with both hands is a great comfort. Those opposable thumbs have to be good for something besides text messaging. It may not be perfect, but it beats screaming for help.

It's good that your wife knows how to shoot. It's good that she has the option of OC. My personal quirk is a burning desire that everyone, women in particular, have access to the training and tools that allow them to make their own choices in these matters, choices based on good information.

We have the data on pepper spray. ASLET only recommends it for "non-compliant but non-violent suspects", not for someone who is trying to stick a knife or body part into you without permission. The only two systematic studies by large metropolitan PDs which I have read indicated that it hurt as often as it helped and that more than half the time the officer got hosed with it as well as the suspect. The massive studies by Modern Warrior and the final part of just about every OC course out there show that anyone who is motivated and goal-oriented will work through the pain. The first time I was pepper sprayed it was a complete surprise. Tiel can attest that I suddenly became motivated and goal oriented.

And just as icing in the cake, the guy who ran the original FBI training center trials served several years in prison as a result. He took a bribe of close to a million dollars from the original manufacturer to cook the protocols to make it seem more effective than it really was. That was just a little while before the FTC forced MSI Mace, Inc. to withdraw all claims about OC being an effective agent to stop violent assault and to file an official statement to that effect.

The stuff has its uses, but they're limited. It's far down on the list of effective tools.

And that's my final word on the subject

Anonymous said...

Steven Gould, the guy who wrote "Jumper" and "Wildside" studied Aikido pretty seriously, and it was a pretty major part of his sci-fi novel "Helm".

--Aaron

Dan Moran said...

And that's my final word on the subject

I really hope it's not -- I'm willing to learn better. The advice I've given women concerned about their safety, over the years, has gone:

1. Avoid bad men
2. Avoid bad neighborhoods
3. Get a tool to permit you to create distance (spray) and run like hell while screaming like hell ....

Some form of unarmed combat that prepares you for the shock of fear and adrenaline has always struck me as a good idea as well -- but I'm skeptical thereafter. Those people who are willing to put really substantial time and energy into learning a combat discipline, and staying on top of it, can alter their odds ... but then you're into something like the Drake equation: likelihood of a happening, times likelihood of b happening, times cost of preparing c ... and so on.

I've got a wife, sisters, a mother, daughters & friends: if you'd give different advice to your standard issue average-sized woman with no known bad guys in her life, I'd be interested in hearing it, and whether you're interested in responding, I'm really not being (intentionally) disrespectful in asking.

Steve Perry said...

Dan --

Todd and Tiel used to teach women's self-defense classes at a local college. Once, when Todd had penumonia, another silat student and I stood in for him on the final exam, as it were.

We dressed in soft armor, with gloves and helmets and crotch protectors and all, and "attacked" the young women. The attacks weren't full-out, nor were they making use of our fighting skills. Mostly, we just jumped on them or grabbed them, or tackled them and took them to the ground.

What they knew was not enough to defeat a skilled fighter. But they had learned to fight back, to make a lot of noise and to carry on as much as possible.

One of the women managed to tear my helmet off and use it to pound on me pretty good.

Could I have decked any (or all) of them? Certainly. But what learned was that a determined resistance served them better than passive acceptance.

For a small person to beat a larger one requires greater skill. For a small woman to beat a larger man needs much more, because women are generally weaker physically than a man the same size, and less aggressive, plus all those cultural taboos about women hitting and all.

I don't agree with Todd that pepper spray isn't useful. It is, but not all the time against everybody.
Same for any weapon -- stun gun, knife, pistol, shoulder-mounted rocket launcher.

What needs to be addressed is attitude. If a woman believes: You might kill or rape me, but you are going to have to work really hard to do it and I am going to hurt you as much as I can when you try. She's better off.

Kai Jones said...

I think Tara Harper has studied martial arts, but I'm not sure.

Steve Perry said...

Tara did, but I don't think she's still training. She does a lot of research -- it's sometimes a race with her to get esoteric martial arts books at the local Powell's when they show up.

Kai Jones said...

Heh. We went to high school together, were reasonably close friends then, even traded a boyfriend back and forth.