Monday, June 22, 2009

A Scene Martial Artists Might Enjoy

Hull stepped out of the shower, dried himself, and started for the motel's bedroom.

As he stepped, he caught sight of something in the closet door mirror facing the bathroom --

There was a man with a knife outside the door, an armspan away, and the knife drew Hull’s attention as if it were the only light in an endless darkness.

Fuck -- !

One of Hull’s own knives was on the bathroom sink behind him, next to his back-up gun but --

Hull froze. It was as if he had been suddenly drenched in liquid nitrogen.

He ... couldn’t ... move ...

Time stretched ...

It wasn’t until after Vietnam, where he’d been in half a dozen fire fights, where he’d escaped being shot, blown up, or incinerated that Hull had any real inkling of how humans were wired to deal with sudden, deadly, unexpected violence.

The Department had brought in a doctor, from, of all places, Mississippi. Hull was from Texas and he could do Southern, but this guy had an accent so thick you could nail it to a wall as a honeysuckle trellis. The doctor, nameless at The D, was a shrink, and he lectured in tandem with Van, The D’s close-combat instructor:

“People, y’all got three responses to all of a sudden lookin’ death in the eye: You will run, you will fight, or you will freeze. Those are part of a syndrome called ‘Tachypsychia,’ and it includes a buncha things -- subjective shifts in space and time and how you see and hear and feel things. You tend to get tunnel vision, hearing fades, and everything not absolutely necessary to survival in that moment gets shut down. It’s how the monkey programming works, and while my sainted mama would have a conniption if she heard me say it, when it comes to it, we are all just big, hairless monkeys, and forgive me, Jesus.

“If the danger is a rock rollin’ down a hill at you, you’ll probably run. Man grabs you round the neck, you might struggle and fight. If it’s a big ole tiger” -- this last word was pronounced “tahh-gurr” -- “probably you’ll freeze. That’s ‘cause instinctively you know that a predator’s gaze is attracted to motion -- you being a predator yourself -- so like when rabbit sees a fox, it goes dead still, on the notion that maybe the fox won’t see it.

“You don’t get a choice which one you will do, it’s way past thinkin’, and it won’t always be the same one. But which one your body chooses for you might get you kilt.

“Man with a knife comin’ in, he already sees you, and if you freeze, he gits you. In that case, runnin’ is better than freezing -- or fightin’, unless you are like ole Van here and you can knock his dick in the dirt.”

Everybody laughed at that, and the doctor smiled.

“So, you don’t get to pick which reaction will pop up, but once it does, you can change it -- if you work on it.

“You can sneak up on an armed sentry and -- 'less you get buck fever -- you can grab him, cut his throat, and hold him quiet until he bleeds out. At least that’s what Van will try and teach y’all. But that’s intent. Your conscious mind is running the show. Tachypsychia, also called Fight-or-flight Syndrome, it’s all in the hindbrain. Thing that lives there in the dark cave is the reptile part of everybody. It keeps the basic systems running, breathing, heartbeat, and all it wants to do is stay alive. It will do anything it can to manage that, but it’s not very smart -- and sometimes, it chooses wrong.

“You have to be able to get past that, in a big ole hurry. Van here has been working on that. Van?”

Van, a short, compact black man built like a pocket version of Hercules, said, “Man jumps out at you with a knife from nowhere and you freeze, you scream. Loud as you can, whatever sound you want. You want to blow his ears off, shatter glass, take down the three little pigs’s house. You want them to look up from breakfast in De-troit and go, ‘What was that?’”

Somebody behind Hull said, “Scream?”

The doctor said, “Yessum. Screaming is primal -- every culture ever went to war had guys running down a hill hollering as they went.

“Screaming does some useful things -- it warns the tribe there’s trouble; it can stun an attacking animal or human into a momentary freeze of its own; it opens the floodgates to a slew of hormones, including epinepherine -- adrenaline -- which is a powerful stimulant. Makes you stronger, faster, deadens pain, all kinds of things you might need if you are being chased by a cave bear or a Mack truck.”

The doctor continued: “And as Van has discovered, it breaks the trance. You need to recognize that you are frozen -- that’s hard, because your mind might have frozen along with your body, and you might feel warm and comfortable and like you just got up from a nice nap, or had a couple-three beers. But it’s a lie, and you have to figure that out PDQ. So, it’s scream and move, those two go together.”

Somebody else asked, “What if your attacker has a buddy? Won’t yelling tell him where you are?”

“That’d be tactical stuff. Van?”

“If the guy with the knife gets it planted in your aorta, he could have the fuckin’ Chinese army behind him and it won’t matter to you. Take care of him first, then worry about somebody else. You will have the training to deal with an incoming knife. I’m not saying you won’t get cut, because if you stand and play with a knife fighter who knows his ass from his elbow, you surely will get cut -- anybody tells you anything else is trying to sell you something. It might be you dodge and haul ass, or it might be you go in and take a cut to get control of the knife, but that is going to depend on the situation. You won’t know until you get there what the best thing is gonna be ...”

Maybe half a second had passed, but a lot can happen in a half second when time slows down --

Hull screamed. It was a gutteral, throat-rasping, loud “Ahhh!” the noise you make when you see a monster in a dream, and it galvinized him into motion. He stepped in as the knifer, a tall, heavyset man with hair so black it had to be dyed, lunged with the knife, going for the stab to the belly --

Limited to his hands and naked, Hull turned, put his right shoulder on a line with the attacker’s sternum and chopped down, one-two! his left hand a back-up and monitor, his right a hammer fist, like a man trying to break a stack of concrete blocks. He didn’t think about his target, he just covered his line, from head to groin, and such was the power of his strike that he felt the man’s radius break under his fist.

Breaking an outstretched arm is usually a pretty good disarm, but Black Hair was tough; he held onto the knife, even though he yelled in pain at the impact, which knocked his arm down, and he’d already started to retract his weapon --

Hull caught the man’s wrist with his right hand, the elbow with his left, pulled left and pushed in right, clearing the elbow from the body and shoving the knife toward the attacker. Holding on with all he had, he crossed his hands in front of his body waist-high, using the gripped elbow and wrist for leverage that twisted the man’s shoulder. Black Hair still held onto the knife, but the edge slashed across his own belly and it was sharp -- it cut deep, sliced right through the shirt and skin and muscle --

Hull reversed his motion again, angled the blade’s point slightly, and buried it in the man side, just above his right kidney --

Now the attacker let go of the knife --

Too late now --

Hull brought his left arm up, slammed the forearm into Black Hair’s face at the same moment he hooked his right foot behind the man’s right ankle. Black Hair fell backward, and Hull kept his instep latched to the falling man’s ankle so he couldn’t step out of it --

He hit the floor, hard, and Hull was ready with the follow-up stomp, square on Black Hair’s nose.

The front kick to the man’s temple was probably overkill, but better safe than sorry.

Hull spun away, looking for other targets, but if there had been any, they were gone now.

He looked down, noticed the back of his left forearm was cut, blood running down his arm and dripping off his elbow. It was going to take six or eight stitches to close the wound, and he hadn’t even noticed when he’d been sliced.


Jeff Mott said...

My martial arts is limited and far in the past, but that was great. I want this book :)

Dosbears said...

Have you finished "Bristlecone"?

jks9199 said...

Wow! Great scene...

Curiosity makes me ask where you got the scream response idea, though...

Steve Perry said...

I've knowN about the three lizard brain options for years, have experienced the Tachypsychia Effect myself and written about it more than a few times, so that's old news. (I think Maas Ayoob coined the term, but the syndrome has been recognized for a long time.)

Rory has spoken to the need to recognize a freeze -- and he gets an acknowledgment in the novel -- but not, as I recall, as to the particulars of how to break the trance, only that you had to come up with something.

EDITOR'S NOTE: No, wait, I sit corrected -- I went back and had a look at Rory's book, and he *does* mention that a scream is a good way to clear a freeze, among other things.

I didn't think such was my original notion -- but I believe I first heard it way back in karate training.

Physiologically-speaking, and if you train it, a sudden scream does kick in overdrive.

I grew up hearing the rebel yell, and a scream can be a cause as well an an effect ...

taintmonger said...

So many great knife quotes:
"There are 2 ways to leave a knife fight: in an ambulance or in a hearse."
The SEALs apparently say: "Fight a gun, run from a knife."

I enjoyed the scene, and it's trademark Steve Perry combat flow. The one thing I got caught up on was which hand Black Hair held the knife in. I figured out at the push/pull, but it took me out of the scene a little as I tried to picture it in my head. I imagine most readers aren't as hung up on blocking and choreography details as I am.

steve-vh said...

We used to ask "have you actually practiced screaming"?

TerryD said...

Fantastic scene, reminds me a bit of a few scenes from The Musashi Flex (Really hoping you do another Matador univesrse book , hint, hint)
A pleasure to read, as always.

jks9199 said...

Cool; I missed that in Rory's book. I guess I'll just have to re-read it.

I'm always looking for tools to break freezes -- because, as you wrote, they WILL happen to anyone. The more you've seen, the more realistically it's been presented, the less it'll happen -- but it still happens.

Steve Perry said...

This is, by the by, a scene from Bristlecone, a book that is about halfway through the first draft. I've had a couple other projects I had to play with, so this one is proceeding somewhat more slowly than would be the norm. With any luck, I'll get the draft finished by the end of the summer or early fall.

As for the attacker's leading hand, I tend to forget that some of the readers will be stone knife freaks and that might be a little unclear if they want to try it.

By saying Hull put his right shoulder toward Black Hair's sternum, that was the giveaway -- we tend to position shoulder-to-sternum inside, or shoulder-to-shoulder outside. But I need to remember that not everybody does it that way.

Easy enough to fix. I'll just say "right lead" when I rewrite the sequence.

Todd Erven said...

I liked it; very nice.

Where did you get the picture? My college roommate had a CD of Alexisonfire and that is the cover art.

They describe their music as sounding like "two Catholic high-school girls in mid-knife-fight" and I don't quite picture you to be a fan.

Steve Perry said...

I plugged in "knife fight" into the search engine, this one came up on a blog somewhere, no attribution.

Pretty much my musical preferences tapered off pre-disco and pre-punk -- blues, classical, big band, geezer rock ...

Todd Erven said...

That's too bad. Picturing you rocking out to an Ontario, hard-punk band was kinda funny.

Steve Perry said...

Yeah, and you might as well picture me walking on water -- 'cause that's more likely to happen ...

Dan Moran said...

You don't know what you're missing.

steve-vh said...

"Pretty much my musical preferences tapered off pre-disco and pre-punk "

So as The Pursuit of Happpines says, "I'm an adult now"?

steve-vh said...

Speaking of not everyone does it that way, in FMA they alway call your empty hand the "live hand".
Working with my Krav Maga instructor, he calls the empty hand the dead hand. "We call the one with the knife in it the live hand, that's the one that's going to do nasty sh** to you"

Steve Perry said...

Oh, I know what I'm missing. That's why I'm missing it.
You were my age, you'd probably be taking a pass on it, too. Yes, it's dynamic stuff, but I listened to dynamic stuff long before most of the punk generation were born. I don't begrudge them their music, but I was already formed when it came along and musically and lyrically, I didn't hear anything new.

Social protest has been around as long as people have had voices or instruments, and three-chord rock is right out of three-chord blues. Speeding it up and adding a baby-on-crank-heartbeat-drum doesn't change it ...

It's a passing parade, and I don't need to see those floats again ...