How Realistic Should A Story Be?

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On Facebook, indie thriller group Brass Catchers asked the following question:

What may strike me as an offensive oversight of a key feature or fact may not even register on another reader’s radar. So >how much do we authors need to worry about getting every aspect right? Are we actually limiting ourselves by fixating >on minutiae? Is the typical reader willing to forgive such mistakes in the name of verisimilitude and an otherwise >engaging storyline?

These are interesting questions without clear-cut answers. Different readers (and, by extension, media consumers) have different expectations. On one end of the spectrum, you have readers who just don’t care about facts so long as the story is enjoyable. On the other, these readers are extremely demanding and will not forgive the slightest deviation from reality. You can’t possibly write to meet everybody’s expectations.

If a writer prefers to make up Cool Awesome Stuff instead of doing the research, he’s going to appeal to the first crowd, and annoy the second. The novel Brass Catchers uses in their post exemplifies this. If a writer decides instead to produce a work of painstaking accuracy and show his work, the latter might appreciate it, but all that effort will be lost on the former — if not bore them altogether. Stephen Hunter’s Bob Lee Swagger novels delve in-depth into sniping, firearms and ammunition, but most of the jargon will be lost on people who do not come from that world.

What writers can do is to write up to the expectations of their intended audience and the conventions of their chosen genre. The market is huge enough that you don’t have to appeal to everyone – you just have to hook the kind of readers you are writing for. But this does mean you need to know who you are writing for.

Thrillers are notorious for requiring painstaking accuracy to establish verisimilitude. A significant number of thriller readers are police officers and soldiers, former or current. For these people, thrillers reflect aspects of lived experience. They know how firearms work, they know tactics, they know the tools of the trade. They know that the slightest mistake will leave people maimed or dead. They have been trained to accept nothing less than one hundred percent factual accuracy, for their lives depend on knowing how to use a tourniquet, how to clear a room, how to adjust for wind drift over distance, and other such arcana. This mindset transfers into everything they do, including how they read stories. They know that people who use tools, tactics, techniques and procedures incorrectly will die — and they don’t care if these ‘people’ happen to be fictitious characters who exist only inside a story. If writers won’t take the effort to ensure their characters will survive, or if the readers sense that these writers are artificially manipulating the environment or enemies to ensure that their characters survive their mistakes, these readers will believe that the writers either don’t care enough to do the research or not skilled enough to write convincing thrillers. Writers who want to write stories set in such unforgiving milieus must steel themselves to be as conscientious and accurate as their intended audience.

The same expectations apply to historical fiction. People who enjoy historical fiction are likely themselves students of history. They would have immersed themselves in the culture of their favourite time periods, investing time and money into learning everything there is to know about those eras. It may not be lived experience — save for historical reenactors — but these readers will be aware of established facts. Fiction that contravenes these facts through accident or negligence will not resonate with such readers, because the writers have shown that they do not embody the same dedication to historical accuracy as the readers.

While thrillers and historical fiction demand painstaking attention to detail and vast amounts of research, other genres tend to be more forgiving. Romance readers, for example, focus primarily on the romance, while horror readers want to be horrified. Specialist knowledge, such as how firearms work or the proper way to address a high-status lady are not usually important to such stories outside of equally specialist subgenres. These readers would be more likely to forgive such mistakes like taking the safety off a Glock or having a character wear a Colt Single Action Army in a story set in 1870, so long as the rest of the story feels authentic.

Different kinds of readers will have different interests, leading them to focus on different things. Thriller readers pay close attention to tradecraft while romance readers do the same for relationships. Readers are likely to forgive mistakes and fabrications outside their area of interest, but not those within their area of interest.

So what about stories that are not set in the real world?

The Art of Making Up Facts

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Science fiction and fantasy stories are differentiated from other genres by the presence of elements that clearly do not (and may never) exist in the real world, such as ultra-high-technology in the case of sci fi and magic in the case of fantasy. For such genres, writers have to walk the fine line between exercising the imagination and maintaining verisimilitude.

Once again, I think this depends on genre expectations. Or, more precisely, how you want to define your story.

Hard science fiction is defined by adherence to known science. Readers of such fiction may well be scientists themselves. Between genre conventions and reader expectations, writers who want to market their stories as hard sci fi must therefore strive to be as accurate as possible. Indeed, part of the magic of hard science fiction is to how creators can exploit known science to create interesting stories, leading to media like Planetes, Children of a Dead Earth or Corsair.

And yet even hard sci fi is less demanding than thrillers. Readers want the feel of high technology and realism but not necessarily slavish devotion to reality. Even for works lauded as hard sci fi, such as The Expanse or Starship Operators, creators have gotten away with softer science or just making stuff up. For instance, a critical plot sequence in Nemesis Games of the The Expanse series involves terrorists somehow launching swarms of kinetic kill vehicles without anyone noticing, while an episode of Starship Operators involves a showdown with a stealth warship. However, these counterfactual elements will require vast knowledge of niche subjects to detect; for everyday readers and consumers, such subjects do not fall into the category of lived experience of personal research, so they are far more willing to gloss over them — if they are, indeed, aware of such aspects to begin with.

This is not to say that writers shouldn’t do the research, rather that there is simply a bit more wiggle room for stories not set in the present day.

Outside of hard sci fi, factual accuracy matters far less than internal consistency when pertaining to these made-up elements. Readers already know that you are making stuff up, be they nanomachines or fireballs, warp drives or divine arts. They just want these imaginary elements to stay true to the rules established in-story — and for characters and societies to treat these imaginary elements as aspects of their lived experience. So, if magic in a story runs on stored mana and there are people with higher mana than most, than it would naturally lead to the rise of magic users who are defined by their higher-than-average mana and specialisation in magic, and this in turn would organically lead to the rise of magical schools to pass on knowledge and societies to govern the behaviour of such magic users.

However, this rule only applies to imaginary elements. Everything else should still accord with lived experience and known history as far as practical. Thus, you cannot state that Singapore is a part of China, or that a baseline human has four lungs. If a story does require such aspects, then the writer must justify them, placing them firmly in the category of ‘imaginary elements’. Failure to do so makes these elements look like outright mistakes or just plain carelessness, turning off readers who care about such things.

Between Fact and Fiction

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Writers are like alchemists, balancing fact and fiction to create stories that will resonate with their intended audience. Stories with a strong grounding in fact resonate with readers, allowing you to carry them off into your story world. At the very least, stories must accurately depict the quintessence of the genre they fall into: thrillers must reflect tradecraft, romance must reflect relationships, hard science fiction must reflect science. Stories that fail to meet genre conventions and reader expectations will not resonate with the intended audience, and will not be respected.

I think a reasonable standard of realism that will please everyone but the most hardened pro-realism or pro-imagination zealots is to ensure that key story elements should not contradict the targeted readers’ lived experience and known historical facts without justification. Such justification can be as complex as creating entirely new branches of science, or as simple as signalling to the reader that the story is alternate history / science fiction / fantasy or some other genre, depending on the needs of the story and the tastes of the audience. Beyond that, writers are free to exercise their imagination to the fullest.

5 Life Lessons for Autists

I won’t call myself an autist. Not yet. I don’t have a formal diagnosis. Nonetheless, I display many of the classic signs of autism: deficits in speech and communication, repetitive behaviours and rigid rituals, hyper-focus on areas of interest. And the Big Three: poor verbal and non-verbal communication skills, impaired social skills, hyper-reactive senses.

I have experienced the same challenges many autistic people have faced. Many of these challenges persist. Even so, I have met many people along the way who have illuminated the path and provided sage advice, people who have helped me make life a little brighter, a little more bearable, a little more worth living.

For National Autism Awareness Month, here are five lessons I have learned along the way.

1. Endurance

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You ready to go the distance?

The measure of a human is how he endures the unendurable and continues to function.

The world is a noisy, swirling, chaotic kinetic maelstrom of sound and motion and odour and tastes and textures. My synaesthesia marries them in unions of audible colour, tactile light and visible smells. Couple them with hyper-reactive senses and the weight of the world is too much to bear.

The slightest human caress was fire against my skin, a pat on the head needles in my mind. Singlish, the true lingua franca of my country, is an ugly irritating spiky blob on the best of days and physically painful at the worst. The screech of train brakes emits painful yellow sparks and a lingering metallic aftertaste. Every clack of a mechanical keyboard is a sharpened sledgehammer to the brain. When I took up kali training, every clash of stick on stick was an explosion of brilliant white spikes.
And the people. People yammer on and on and on, creating floods of inconsequential noise, suddenly touching others and assuming it is benign, holding people to unspoken and unarticulated standards of conduct.

There is only so much the brain can process. So much energy a person has. There will come a breaking point, when the bulwarks fail and the world comes crashing in. When every sound is a stiletto to the ear, every sight sandpaper scraping against the eye, every texture the scratching of a thousand ragged fingernails in the imperceptible space between flesh and bone. It is a sensation that is there and not there, firing nerves in places without them, an infiltration and corruption of the interstitial places between skull and cerebrospinal fluid and brain. It is the corrosion of sense and reason and the descent of chaos and pain.

Humans call it a meltdown.

Running is easy. Secluding yourself in your room and hiding under the covers is pleasant. All too often it is the only sane option left in an insane world.

But there will be times when that option is not available. If you’re in a boardroom meeting, suddenly leaving will jeopardise your career. If you’re standing in a military formation, breaking discipline will lead to collective punishment. If you’re in a crowded elevator frozen between floors, you have nowhere to go.

There’s only one option.

Endure.

Even if you feel that the world is closing in on your mind, you must endure. If that is the least of bad options, endure. Success goes not to the man who quits at the first sign of discomfort, but the one who endures and pushes through pain to the other side.

Autists can—and should—armour themselves against overwhelming sensory experiences however they can. I wrap my sticks in heavy tape to blunt the noise of impact. I carry Flare Audio Isolate titanium earplugs all the time. I choose clothes and accessories and equipment with an eye towards minimal sensory impact. I work in quiet rooms and stay away from noise.

But there is only so much you can do. If you wish to interact with the world, much less leave your mark on it, you must engage it fully. You must open yourself to the unceasing pandemonium that is life in the modern age. If you will not blind or deafen yourself, life will seep through in all its wonder and chaos.

You must endure.

And in enduring, you learn that it is not a fixed capacity.

As you expose yourself to greater and more frequent sounds, you desensitise yourself to them. You learn how to mitigate them, how to cope with them, how to keep functioning. You learn to recognise the signs of an autistic meltdown and either head off the symptoms or leave the area. The truest test is to function at the ragged edge of your abilities, to keep thinking and talking and responding on the threshold of a meltdown—or in the middle of one.

It is not easy, but it is necessary if you live in a bustling city like I do.

To achieve great rewards one must endure great hardships. If you would do more than merely exist, you must push through pain and suffering to achieve your goals. You must develop the ability to endure.

2. You Are Not Special

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Snowflakes melt. Don’t be one.

If you’re autistic, chances are you have an all-consuming interest. It could be anything: prime numbers, train schedules, memorising pi, baking pies, the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, the complete genealogy and medical history of a flock of sheep, the search for a Grand Unified Theory.

It doesn’t matter.

Your special interests do not make you special. If you can’t find a way to contribute to people’s lives through your special interest, you are not special.

Writing remains my singular focus in life, but I also pursued knowledge in other fields, moving from one to another in days or weeks or months. In primary school I could discuss atomic power, King Arthur and the human immune system. As a teenager I could hold court on terminal ballistics, the discography of the Bee Gees and epistemology.

None of it mattered.

Nobody was interested in such arcana. Nobody benefited from my discourses and lectures and writings. Ergo, no value was delivered through these obsessions.

It’s fine to pursue these interests as a hobby. But if you can’t find and manifest the intersection between your interests and what people desire, nobody will care about them.

Autistics will feel distressed when they cannot pursue their interests. It is tempting to drop everything to focus solely on them. But that is attachment, and attachment is the root of suffering. If you deliver no value to others, people are not going to support you or pay you or otherwise help you continue existing so you can continue to pursue your interests.

The ideal, of course, is to make a living through your passions. To get there, you must act. You cannot limit yourself to stuffing your head with information or delivering lectures to unreceptive audiences. You must act. You must be the best in your field, identify missing needs and fill them. You must be give people a reason to give you money. In my case, there is a resurging demand for excellent fiction, specially science fiction and fantasy, and I intend to fill that gap. Likewise, there is high demand for articles about self-improvement, travel, life hacks, martial arts, the craft of writing and more—and my record on Steemit speaks for itself.

It is nice to imagine that one can make a living from one’s interests, but it isn’t always so. I would love to be a professional fiction writer, but that’s not on the horizon anytime soon. There was a time when I could simply write all day and not worry about anything else, but those days are over. I have bills to pay and responsibilities to uphold. I had to scale back my writing, again and again, to accommodate reality. There will come a day when I will be a professional writer, when I can support myself through my interests…but for now, life demands its due.

Your special interests do not make you special. What you do with them does.

3. Scripts Rule Society

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How much of this scene is on autopilot?

If you will not take holy orders and seclude yourself in a hermitage, or live by yourself alone in the wilderness, you must interact with people. It is an inescapable facet of life. If you want friends and lovers and children, if you want to buy goods and services, if you want to live in the modern world with all its trappings, you have to talk to people.

Social interaction is the chief weakness of most autistics. You don’t have to be a social butterfly, but you can at least be functional in society.

Fortunately, society runs on social scripts.

Social scripts are predictable and expectable responses to specific circumstances. People who know each other exchange greetings when they meet. If someone does another wrong, the wronged party expects an apology and the offending party issues one. Societies enforce taboos and teach their members how to behave in public and private. Organisations have specific procedures and jargon so everyone is on the same page.

Imagine an intricate machine filled with uncountable numbers of enmeshed gears rotating in unison. That is society. Social scripts, especially codes of etiquette, are the lubricants that keep everything turning smoothly. They allow complete strangers to interact each other, and intimates to predict what the other party will say or do.

Social scripts enable mutual understanding and minimise conflict. Most people are unaware of these scripts. Autistics cannot afford to be—and, at the same time, can craft scripts of their own to pre-empt difficulties. For example, when buying groceries, the standard script takes six steps:

  1. Set groceries on counter
  2. Wait for cashier to register every sale and declare the price
  3. Check the price and make payment
  4. Receive change or card as necessary
  5. Double-check all items and gather them up
  6. Leave

To regular people, buying groceries is a simple, mindless transaction. It took me years to figure out how to do it smoothly. A neurotypical person may see groceries as an undifferentiated mass of stuff. For me, every bag, every good, every coin, every card, every person, every gesture, every sound, every perceivable action and object and event is a discrete item that must be logged and tracked and moved into appropriate positions or otherwise accounted for.

For autistic people, the mere act of buying groceries is a recipe for mental congestion. And that’s before accounting for off-script events.

It’s the little things: the cashier talking to you, children chatting behind you, dropping coins, incorrect change, a cash register noisier than usual, a bellicose customer. Neurotypical people may not have a problem with it, but autists with their minds busy processing the transaction will not be able to respond effectively.

If you can break down a script, you can pre-empt it and create your own scripts to your advantage. On the way to the counter you can start calculating the bill. As the cashier keys in the sales, you can prepare payment. When you pay the cashier you can take the time to check items. This frees up cognitive capacity to check items and prepare to go.

A script allows you to work with minimal cognitive load. It is a reliable heuristic governing human behaviour. Life is difficult enough; no need to make it worse

4. Empathy is A Skill

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If you can talk and think you can do this.

Neurotypical people instinctively learn social skills through everyday interaction. Autists are challenged to consciously learn them.

Empathy is a skill. Charm is a skill. All kinds of interpersonal communication are skills. Skills can be learned. If you are not brain-damaged, you can pick up the ability to communicate effectively in society.

Social scripts are useful, but they only apply to specific contexts. When events go off-script, you need to respond smoothly and appropriately. Social skills allow you to respond with a minimal of disruption. They allow you to broaden your horizons and spontaneously interact with people in multiple environments. To be an integral part of society, you must know how to talk to people. It’s not easy, but it doesn’t have to be impossible.

There are hundreds of books and websites out there that teach people, specifically autistic people, social skills, empathy and charm. After learning them, put them into practice. Start with social scripts, then graduate to unplanned encounters. Work your way up to ever-increasing levels of difficulty.

To highly introverted autists, this is extremely difficult. It requires obsessive study, the willingness to put theory into practice, the recognition that failure is inevitable and the will to get back up and try again anyway. It requires endurance and courage and sheer bloody-mindedness to keep trying. It is exhausting, but this is why you manage your energy and develop endurance.

And the rewards?

Friends, family, a career. The ability to be a functional member of society, to share your thoughts and aspirations and emotions, to find companionship, to divide sorrow and multiply joy. To live, fully and completely, in the world.

It is difficult, but it is worth it.

5. Change Yourself, Change the World

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Start with the man in the mirror

The world is not made for autists.

It’s simple demographics. Most people are neurotypical, ergo they shape society per their thought patterns, their quirks, their foibles. Many of them don’t know how to interact with autistics, many don’t want to, many don’t even care.

It’s nice to call for autism awareness. It’s nice to call for neurodiversity. It’s nice to call for autism rights. People who want to be nice will try their best to accommodate the needs of autists.

Not everyone will.

Nobody can change the world. Not by themselves.

Nobody can force people to change. Not without guns and concentration camps and the tools of dictatorship. People who demand that everybody change to accommodate them without themselves being willing to compromise are little more than bullies and petty tyrants.

You can’t change people without coercion but you can always change yourself.

You can choose many things: how you feel about events, how you act in response to stimuli, whether to change or stand fast.
Choose growth. Choose change. Choose to be the best person you can be. Choose to surround yourself with people who bring out your best.

Do this, and the world will change with you.

Summing Up

I lied.

These five lessons aren’t just for autistics. They are for everybody. Autists need them the most, but they apply to neurotypicals too.

No matter where you stand on the autistic spectrum, if you are on the spectrum at all, you are as human as me and everyone else. Growth is universal to all humans. All I have done is lay bare a few aspects of growth and placed them in a frame. Frame them a different way and the lessons still apply.

Life awaiting.

Embrace it.

Martial Concepts: Principles of Footwork

When people think martial arts, they think of stunning strikes, intricate grappling and dynamic takedowns. Footwork is underappreciated in pop culture. But footwork makes these techniques work.

In some martial arts and sports, such as boxing and Muay Thai, it may be advantageous to absorb blows to less vital parts of the body in exchange for setting up a decisive blow. This is Rocky Balboa’s favourite strategy, letting his opponents wear themselves out and setting up opportunities to counterpunch. You can see this in his immortal fight against Ivan Drago.

In Filipino martial arts, when faced with an incoming blow, the preferred approach is to get out of the way. To understand why, simply replace Drago’s gloves with knives.

You can be as tough as Rocky, but mere flesh and bone isn’t going to stop steel and hardwood.

FMA originates from a weapon-based culture. The main assumption is that everyone is either armed or has ready access to a weapon. There is no way you can block a blade or stick with your body. You’ll just end up a bleeding, broken mess. Even if you don’t see a weapon, it doesn’t mean that the threat doesn’t have one—in the dark, against a small blade, you can’t tell if the threat is armed until your lifeblood gushes out on the floor.

You cannot afford to take a hit in FMA. The surest defence is to evade.

This is the guiding principle behind footwork. But it’s not the only reason to train footwork.

Footwork and Range

To understand footwork, we need to first understand range. There are three main ranges in Pekiti Tirsia Kali, my base art: largo, medio and corto. They are analogous to long, medium and short range.

At largo, you and your opponent are out of range. Neither of you can attack each other. Footwork in largo serves three purposes: place yourself in an advantageous position, bridge the distance and strike, or to escape before he and his buddies catch up to you.

In medio, you and your opponent can strike each other. This is the most dangerous zone in FMA. Assuming the two of you are equally skilled, there are three outcomes: you hit him, he hits you, or a mutual kill. Two out of three outcomes against your survival is not a winning proposition. In PTK, footwork at medio is designed to take you out of the danger zone: either out into largo, or deep into corto.

Corto is bad breath range. This is the realm of grapples, elbows and knees. PTK specialises In combat at this range: its name loosely translates into ‘chop up into little pieces’. In PTK, the goal of offensive footwork is to carry you safely into this position to finish off the threat. If the opponent resists you more effectively than you realise, or if he has friends coming to his rescue, footwork also takes you out of corto and into safety.

Footwork lets you control the range to your opponent to suit your goal. If your goal is to escape, you want to maintain distance at largo, identify a clear escape route, and run. If he tries to catch up, footwork helps you evade.

If your goal is to finish the threat, footwork places you in prime position to launch your attack. It puts you at the range and angle to employ your favourite techniques without exposing you to the enemy’s.

Against multiple opponents, mobility is critical. You cannot afford to slug it out with one guy. His buddies will flank you, slam you to the floor, and introduce you to the joys of a boot party. You need to keep moving to avoid being swarmed. This allows you to either exploit an opening to escape, or to maneuver yourself so that the threats get in each other’s way, allowing you to engage just one at a time.

Footwork and Angles

The second component of footwork is angles. Different styles have different approaches to controlling range and angles. FMA players use the analogy of a clock to describe angles of attack and movement. You can see this in the picture below.

You are the blue circle. The threat is the red oval. The lines indicate possible angles of movement. In front of you is 12 o’clock, where the threat is. He is in medio, advancing to strike you. As mentioned earlier, there are only three outcomes, and only one will go your way. You must get off the X and turn the situation around. There are four ways to do it.

The first method is to close in with a diagonal forward step. You step off on the 10 or 2 o’clock line, about 45 degrees off the line of attack. Other styles prefer the 11 or 1 o’clock, or 30 degrees. Combine this footwork with a turn towards the opponent. This places you on his flank. When the enemy sees you vanish from his 12, he needs to reorient towards you, buying you a precious moment to escape or to strike.

This is the preferred approach of PTK. PTK is an offensive-oriented art. This step places you in corto, giving you easy access to the threat’s head, throat, arms, side and legs. From here you can employ elbows, knees, stomps, traps, whatever you like. Other styles go one step deeper, circling around the threat to gain his back. From here, you can do whatever you like to him without fear of retaliation.

The second method is to step off with a diagonal rearward step (or leap). You move back on the 7 or 5 o’clock line (or 8 and 4), taking you to largo. This is not a permanent solution: a person can advance three times faster than he can move backwards. If you keep retreating like this the enemy will catch up and overwhelm you. This is a desperation move, to be employed only when you are surprised.

There are two main reasons to do this in PTK. The first is to buy you time and space to turn and run. The second is to stage a counterattack. For the latter, as you move, you take a piece of the enemy by striking at his hands while moving your body (and vital organs) out of the way. Then, with the enemy weakened, you can close into corto for the finish.

The third method is to sidestep to the 3 or 9 o’clock. This maintains the range between the two of you, but it puts you on his flank. If you have a long weapon like a stick or a staff, this lets you employ the weapon’s reach to the fullest; had you moved to corto, you would either have to give up the weapon’s advantages or employ different techniques. Further, if the opponent is bull-rushing you, this sidestep uses his momentum against him, either by giving you an opportunity to strike him before he can turn towards you, or to let him give his back to you.

The last method is the most dangerous: you move along the 12 or 6 o’clock line. You are still on the enemy’s angle of attack. But this may be your only option if you are attacked in a train, a bus or some other location where you have no room to maneuver.
If you go down the 12 o’clock, you are countercharging into corto range. This is the realm of clinches, infighting and takedowns. Once inside, there is little art here, just single-minded aggression and a desperate fury of elbows and knees, chokes and strangles, throws and takedowns. As the enemy can also do the same to you, you need to finish him off before he recovers–especially if he has a weapon.

Down the 6 o’clock, you encounter the same perils as the backward diagonal, with the added disadvantage of still being in the line of fire. Committing to retreating on the 6 o’clock is viable only if you are going to turn and run. If not, you need to use this move to set up a counterattack. When the enemy attacks, he is opening a line to his body. What you want to do is to step out into largo (ideally striking his hand), then counterstrike along the open line before he puts his guard back up. High-level players don’t even step; they just subtly sway or shift their bodies, just enough to take the target out of range, then lunge in on the counter. Floro Fighting Systems specialises in this method of countering a threat.

Notice how the players subtly sway and step back as the attack comes in, then immediately counter along the exposed line. This requires a superior sense of range and timing to pull off—but highly effective when done right.

Footwork and Fighting

Moving isn’t just about getting to safety: it powers your attack. Since you’re already burning all the calories to move your body, you might as well drive your bodyweight into the threat too.

FMA torques the hips to generate power. After completing a technique, the player is in a position that allows him to twist his hips and launch into another attack, which places him in a new position to strike yet again. This synergy is the basis of kali’s famous flow principle

For example, assume a threat is throwing a straight right punch. A kali player might crash in on the 10 o’clock line, slapping down the extended arm with his left hand and jabbing at the eyes with his right. As he retracts his right arm, he snatches the target’s arm and pulls it down. This clears the way for a left cross, a right uppercut and another left cross. Four blows in three seconds or less.

Different martial artists will have different responses. A silat player may step off-line on the 11 o’clock line and follow through with an ankle stomp, and if that doesn’t finish the job, he can whip around into a groin slap, then grip and rip. A boxer might slip the punch and shovel hook the threat’s side, then continue swarming him with punches. A judoka could attempt a throw, a Brazilian jiujitsu player might go for a takedown and a submission. But they all have one thing in common: they move off the line of attack, then use their new position to recapture the initiative.

Different styles have different methods of generating power through movement. Find the techniques that suit your body and personality best and see how your footwork can accelerate these techniques. Then drill incessantly to ingrain them.

Final Thoughts

Footwork is critical. For martial artists, proper footwork takes you out of danger and places the threat at risk of your most effective moves. For fiction creators, understanding footwork lets you choreograph exciting, dynamic fight scenes a cut above bog-standard Hollywood brawling. For gamers, proper footwork means you won’t bleed so much, especially in action RPGs.

Martial arts is about doing to the enemy without him doing the same to you. Footwork is how yo do this. If you are a martial artist – get on the mat and train.

Racism Is Not Hurt Feelings

If Social Justice Warriors are to be believed, we live in the most racist period of human history. Racists are everywhere: in school, in church, in government. The only way to deal with them is to point your fingers and shriek. And to an SJW, there is a simple test for racism: if you are offended, it is racist.

Mothership.sg ran an article detailing the ‘everyday racism’ an Indian girl, Chandralekha, described in her blog. She is a student at the Business School of the National University of Singapore, and claimed that she she experienced so much racism she broke down into tears. I went to her blog expecting stories of discrimination, bullying and violence.

What I got was the usual litany of SocJus complaints.

Racism is Everywhere!

Her first complaint came from orientation:

We had a lot of games and for some reason, it required everyone to say some “phrases” in Mandarin. I can’t speak Mandarin >because I have never learnt it. I struggled to remember the phrases and say it properly. But I tried my best. Having noticed >this, my group’s leader came up to me and asked me how come I didn’t know Chinese? I was taken aback because no one has >asked me that before. Like it was an expectation. Everyone in Singapore is supposed to know. I told him that I didn’t take >Chinese in school. He got very confused. If the question that he had already asked wasn’t bad enough, he then asked me if I >was a Singaporean and if I was born in Singapore. That was a slap on my face. My nationality was questioned because I didn’t >speak Chinese. Wow. It was just plain ignorance. I can’t remember what I said after that or if I even said anything at all. I was >just stunned. Since primary school, I have been on the receiving end of Appunehneh jokes and jokes on my skin colour. It >doesn’t help that you’re a girl and that too a fat one. I had foolishly hoped that when I go to university, it would all stop >because people would be less ignorant. I realized that it had just taken another form.”

I’ve been asked similar questions my entire life. I have been asked if I were American, Australian, British, Taiwanese, a Chinese national, a Hong Konger, Korean, a New Zealander, a Eurasian or half-Indian half-Chinese. (The answer is no.) I don’t speak with a Singaporean accent and I don’t speak Singlish. My voice and appearance throws off a lot of people. It is annoying to field the same questions over and over and over again, but these questions indicate that the questioner wants to know more about you.

The alternative is that they don’t care about you and don’t want to learn more about you. Or are too afraid to be called racists for asking.

Yes, the group leader in question was insensitive and ignorant. But these are not sins equivalent to racism. He did not insult her, attack her, exclude her from activities, or shun her. All he did was say something stupid. It was an opportunity for Chandralekha to correct his misconceptions, but she chose to feel offended and justify it by calling him racist.

Her next complaint goes:

During breaks, I would sometimes join my classmates but they would often speak in Mandarin and I would just not >understand. I gave them the benefit of the doubt that they did not know that I did not understand Mandarin. One day, during >a class on cross cultural communication, I shared my experience in NUS Business School where sometimes people leave me >out in conversations by speaking in Mandarin. Following that public confession, it just never happened to me again. Maybe it >was my fault that I did not tell them the first time they did it. Wait, I think I did. They probably thought that I was just joking. >But this is what makes it difficult. You would have to forever be explaining and earning your rights. It would just never come >easy.

I’ve been in groups where I’m in the linguistic minority. I’ve been in groups where Malays speak Malays to each other, Indians interacting in Tamil, Chinese speaking in dialects. It doesn’t bother me because I am not the subject of the conversation. They’re not speaking to exclude anyone; they’re just using a language both parties are familiar with. It is the height of selfishness to assume that you must be part of every conversation whenever you’re in a group, even if it’s about topics that aren’t relevant to you. Singaporean etiquette is to always use English when talking to someone who doesn’t speak your mother tongue, unless you know the other party shares the same language as you. Since everyone around the writer spoke English after she made her preferences known, they aren’t being deliberately racist.

Racism is only involved if people are deliberately shunning minorities using language, and even then, they wouldn’t just insist on a different tongue: they would turn away from the person, close the circle, look only at each other and never engage the person being excluded. People don’t exclude others simply by using a different language. They will demonstrate a cluster of behaviours, from subtle body language to outright requests for the ostracised person to leave. The writer has provided no descriptions of their body language. If these groups did not do any of this, then they aren’t being racist — the people are likely just having separate conversations while she is in the vicinity.

If you want people to know where you are coming from, you have to tell them. Humans are not telepaths. They won’t know what you are thinking or your preferences unless you tell them. Expecting people to always know your preferences without telling them is being immature. If you want to be part of a conversation, you have to let people know. It’s basic human behaviour, evidently lost on people like Chandralekha.

Her last complaint was this:

To commemorate NUS Business School’s 50th Anniversary, there was a Special notebook giveaway at the BBA office. There >were limited number of books and being the Kiasu Singaporean who loves freebies, I went to the NUS BBA office to collect it. >While the people before me were allowed to just take it and leave, when it came to my turn, the staff told me that they were >only for NUS BBA students. I said that I am one. He asked me to show my matriculation card but seeing that I was going to >take it out, he said nevermind and giggled. I stared at him. In a vain attempt of lightening up the situation, he said that he’s a >racist and giggled again. I just took the book and left immediately. I was disgusted by the entire event. That was just another >reminder that I would have to forever be explaining and earning my rights.”

There will always be idiots. How you handle idiots tells the world what kind of person you are. This is a minor matter. He did not attack her, insult her, deny her the freebie, or otherwise inflict any kind of harm against her. Her response is to get offended and complain about the inconvenience of having to assert herself.

Society runs by unspoken codes of conduct, but in the First World, the assumption is that these codes are sacrosanct. There is no formal education in assertive communication, and conversely, no explicit expectation that you have to stand up for yourself. When some jerk violates this code of behaviour, many modern youths like Chandralekha have no idea how to handle them. If they swing towards SJW and progressive tendencies, inevitably they will screech about how they have to keep explaining themselves.

It is incredibly selfish and immature to assume that the world must bend to your whims just because you don’t feel comfortable asserting your boundaries. Throughout my life, I have experienced constant taunting, insults, bullying and swarms of SJWs. I’ve been called a race traitor by members of my own race, and had people of other races insinuate I’m a fraud because of my name. Whining about how they were behaving didn’t do any good. People like that don’t care about how you feel. You can’t change those people, but you can change how you perceive and handle them.

Throughout her post, we have seen exactly zero incidences of racism. There is plenty of insensitivity on display, but not actual racism. She has not suffered physical violence, unfair marking, deprivation of resources, or any other such actions. She simply felt offended over and over again about trivial matters.

The Age of the Crybully

Babies and children have no frame of reference for life. When they experience an emotion, it is so huge and overwhelming they don’t know how to respond appropriately. When they want something, they whine and cry until their parents tend to them. If something doesn’t go their way, they continue to cry and throw tantrums. As they grow older, they learn how society works, pick up communication skills, and learn how to self-soothe when hurt and how to calibrate their responses and actions to suit the audience and situation.

SJWs are the exception. They still act like babies, screeching and crying and raging whenever they feel hurt. ‘Everyday racism’ is an excuse to find offense in everything to maintain the two minute hate. Instead of dealing with the situation, they want to guilt-trip or intimidate everybody around them into obeying their whims. They don’t want to grow up and enter adulthood; they want everyone else to coddle them. They are crybullies.

It’s clear Chandralekha has no idea what racism looks like. It is corrupt cops pulling over people of the wrong skin colour and cooking up excuses to levy punishing fines, teachers marking down minorities, governments restricting minorities from taking public office or exercising their rights, allegedly neutral organisations casting out people for being of the wrong race. It is violence and deprivation and exclusion from mainstream society. She has experienced none of these. Instead, she blew up her hurt feelings way out of proportion.

Chandralekha has not exposed racism to the world. She has merely exposed the smallness of her heart.

Crybullies prevent people like Chandralekha from growing up. They encourage and reward people for acting like babies by showering them with soothing words and SocJus dogma. Organisations further incentivise these crybullies by publicly supporting them or bowing to their every demand. By painting themselves as victims, crybullies manipulate society to meet their demands. They are overgrown children whining to adults.

Childhood is over. It is time to grow up.

Photo credits:

Everyone I don’t like is Hitler: KnowYourMeme
Racism everywhere: Memegenerator
Weaponised victimhood: Firebreathing Christian

Why Singapore Literature Turns Me Off

Once again, the arts community is promoting Singapore literature through social media and the mainstream media. The latest initiative is #BuySingLit, billed as “an industry-led movement to celebrate stories from Singapore”.

Once again, the news turns me off SingLit.

A History of Disappointment

As a child I was a voracious reader. I read every book I got my hands on, no matter the subject. I inhaled encyclopedias, fairy tales, the Norse epics, Greek and Roman mythology, world folklore, comics, and so many more stories. In the mornings I would read about hobgoblins and dragons, in the afternoons I studied atomic theory and photography, in the evenings I followed the exploits of supersoldiers and scientists.

At the age of 12 I grew conscious of Singapore literature and the classics, and began to seek them out. Catherine Lim, Gopal Baratham, Goh Poh Seng, Russell Lee, Wena Poon, Joanne Hon and other less-famous writers. Always I compared them to the other stories I’ve read, and found them wanting.

My synesthesia won’t allow me to read books. Instead, I experience them.

Ernest Hemingway’s prose is lean and taut and muscular, demanding a hundred percent of your attention. Michael Connelly’s stories are as black as a murderer’s heart and as slick as ice. Tom Clancy alternates ponderous white slabs with blazing crimson streaks. J. K. Rowling began as smooth caramel, but her later works transformed into dark coffee shot through with green and gold. J. R. R. Tolkien seminal work, The Lord of the Rings, stretches out into lush green vistas and soaring grey mountains. John C. Wright ignites fireworks with his words, blending them together into gold and bronze and violet and emerald on every page.

Compared to all that, every Singaporean writer produces thin mist of pale shades. Some are white, some are yellow, some are brown. Occasionally the mist parts to reveal black-on-white shapes as shallow as the ink that produce them. Other writers make the mist so thick and sticky and dry it feels like wading through a hail of glue drops frozen in the air. These stories are plain, staid, prosaic, illogical, shallow, boring, unreadable — and nearly interchangeable.

Singaporean genre fiction consistently ranks the lowest among the books I have read. Star Sapphire by Joan Hon is a romance story thinly veiled as science fiction, and not a particularly memorable one at that. The Singapore Noir anthology is bleakly bland while Best of Singapore Erotica fails to titillate. Douglas Chua and Barry Chen claim to write thrillers, but I have found their stories more useful as reusable sleeping aids. Only two writers caught my eye: Johann S. Lee, whose writing is competent but unremarkable (and I don’t swing towards gay male romance stories), and Neil Humphreys (who was born in England), specifically his thrillers.

The majority of Singapore’s prose output is high-brow literature, and even that fails the test. Baratham’s A Candle or the Sun promises a spy story focusing on a radical Christian sect, but all that stands out is that the protagonist seemed very concerned over whether he (and his manager) was gay — and that the secret police seemed pointlessly sadistic and otherwise inefficient. Lions in Winter by Wena Poon has multiple scenes that possessed neither a story arc nor relatable characters, yet claimed to be stories. Little Ironies: Stories of Singapore by Catherine Lim is little more than dry sepia. Held against the starkness of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, the hidden depths of Road Dahl or the dark absurdity of Jean-Paul Sartre, these stories were limp and colourless.

Even so, I tried to participate in Singapore’s literary circles. I joined writers’ groups — and left soon after. I paid to attend workshops and classes — and learned nothing. I joined writers’ events and seminars — and all I found was navel-gazing, bloviating and boredom.

Everything But Writing

The chief problem as I see it is that the Singapore writing scene is about everything but writing.

Every writers’ group I have joined were for hobbyists. They brought together like-minded people to talk about their own writing, encourage them to write and participate in writing activities. This isn’t wrong per se, but I am not a hobbyist. I aim to be a professional. Professionals delve deep into craft and examine the state of the industry. These groups did not.

Programmes at writers’ events do not build up writers. #BuySingLit‘s events have art displays, treasure hunts and book tours. Only a handful of workshops are geared towards writing — and even those workshops are foundation-level courses. The same holds true for Singapore’s premier writing event, the Singapore Writers Festival. SWF has film screenings, music, history, panel discussions — anything and everything about the writers’ craft, or, indeed, writing. Contrast this to events like Dragoncon or Thrillfest, which teach more about the art, craft and business of writing in three days than SWF does in a month. The instructors at Dragoncon and Thrillfest go into the kind of detail that is sorely lacking in Singapore. I don’t have anything against the non-writing oriented events in local writing events, but one would think that the events, being about writing, would at least focus on the core audience and try to do more than teach beginner-level writing craft.

Singaporean publishers are only interested in a specific type of literature: stories about Singapore culture set in Singapore aimed at a Singaporean audience and foreigners who enjoy reading about Singapore. Writers who do not fit the mold will not find much support from the industry. While publishers are free to pursue whatever business model they like, people like me, a Hugo Award nominated science fiction and fantasy writer who will not limit his stories to Singapore, will have to look elsewhere. Likewise, Singapore’s mainstream media tends to focus on Singaporean writers who have either published through the usual publishing houses, or who are too big and controversial to ignore.

Add them all up, and what you have is a culture that encourages newbies to write and people to feel good. Not a culture that encourages people to sustain their writing or to further hone their craft. The only goal is producing a novel, anthology, poetry collection or whatever, not about living journey about pursuing a career at writing or the art of the written word. When someone publishes a work, the usual cry of “Support local talent!” echoes in the usual circles, without anyone paying heed to the actual quality of the content. Indeed, a couple of the stories and writers I mentioned above were award winners — and the award-winners of today aren’t better.

No Country for Writers?

Sturgeon’s Law states that ninety percent of anything is crud. In Singapore’s case, there aren’t enough writers to have a statistically significant ten percent of non-crud stories.

I intend to change that.

I’ve been writing fiction since I was 12 years old. My published fiction writing career spans 4 years. Later this year, I will publish at least one novel through Castalia House and one short story through Silver Empire’s [Lyonesse] (http://lyonesse.silverempire.org/) programme. I am already working on a bunch of other stories, which will be revealed in due course. If Singapore is no country for writers like me, then I will find other avenues to publish my works.

I will also be passing on the tricks of the trade. It’s been a long time coming, and now I feel ready to give back to the wider community of writers. Expect more posts zooming in on the way of the pen.

Fundamentally, I don’t care whether stories, especially mine, can be labelled SingLit or not. I care about good writing, wherever they may come from. Since my country continues to disappoint me, I will reach out to a wider audience.

Film Analysis: Fifty Shades of Grey Franchise

The Fifty Shades of Grey movies surpasses the original prose trilogy while capturing its original spirit. Unlike the novel, I could endure the film until the end — mostly by picking apart everything wrong about them. With the release of Fifty Shades Darker, I’m confident that I cannot be further entertained by the franchise.

Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

In Fifty Shades of Grey, literature senior Anastasia Steele interviews billionaire entrepreneur Christian Grey and is utterly attracted to him. Grey instantly falls for her, and begins to pursue her. Classic female fantasy. If Grey were a homeless bum or just an everyman, this would be a psychological thriller, but since Grey is a billionaire it’s billed as a romance.

It’s easy to understand why she is attracted to him. Christian Grey is wealthy, powerful and not ugly. But what does he see in her?

It’s obvious that neither E L James nor the scriptwriter have any inkling about the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Billionaires do not live in the same world as regular people. The one percent hang out at exclusive clubs and societies that cater to the ultra-wealthy. They attend galas, pageants and social events to network with their fellow one-percenters and strike up marriage alliances. They are the guests of honour everywhere they go.

In these appearances, they smile and strut and schmooze and scheme. They know they are the movers and shakers of society, and they know that there will always be people waiting to pounce on the slightest sign of weakness. Thus, they have to learn impeccable manners and social skills, and see and be seen only by the luminaries of the world. The companions they bring to these events reflect their wealth, status and taste; they choose their mates very selectively and demand a hundred percent at all times.

An eligible bachelor like Grey will have no end of women throwing themselves at his feet. He will be invited to events where supermodels, actresses, athletes and fellow billionaires will be in attendance. During meetings with clients and investors, there will be no shortage of opportunities to meet glamorous hostesses or hire gorgeous escorts. More ordinary women (like Ana!) would do everything in their power to gain the privilege of a single night with him. Wealth and power are the most potent female aphrodisiacs in the world, and men like Grey would be spoiled for choice.

So why Ana?

Anastasia Steele is slim and pretty, but she is not supermodel material. She doesn’t demonstrate any sign of superior intelligence — her one shot at this, when interviewing Christian, was entirely unmemorable. The movies offer no opportunities for her to demonstrate qualities like resilience, independence and determination to him. As she makes abundantly clear, she does not share Christian’s sexual tastes.

Men like Christian Grey can afford to be picky. People do not become billionaires by the age of 27 by thinking like regular people. A man like that knows that he has to be highly selective to hire the right employees, and be ruthless in firing those who fail to meet his standards. Christian isn’t a complete naif either; he’s implied to have plenty of sexual experience in his past. Ana clearly doesn’t completely suit him — so why should he care about her?

The answer is simple: the series is not about Christian Grey. It is about the enduring female fantasy of being swept off her feet by a powerful man who finds her irresistible.

Romance? What Romance?

Romance stories are driven by interactions between the main characters. But when characters are flat, the story falls flat.

Take a look at Vox Day’s socio-sexual hierarchy and Heartiste’s Dating Market Value Test for Men. Grey is described as ‘dominant’, ‘brilliant’ and ‘intimidating’. By all accounts he should be an alpha or a sigma. But he acts like a low beta (Heartiste) or delta (Vox Day).

A high-value man seduces women by careful displays of wealth and attention, attracting them to him. Grey lavishes time and money on Ana, but receives no financial gain in return. A high-value man sets the pace of the relationship — he may negotiate boundaries with his mate, but the relationship is on his terms. Grey does everything Ana asks of him without the slightest complaint or protest. A high-value man employs wit, charm, game and deep penetration to win women over. Grey’s dialogue is either utterly bland or breathless proclamations of how much he adores Ana. A high-value man will run background checks on potential mates to guard himself, and hide that fact from people. Grey casually surrenders that knowledge to Ana without even drawing a concession. A high-value man seeks to maximise profit and cedes ground in negotiations only reluctantly. Grey displays none of the drive that makes men billionaires. A high-value man maintains frame. Grey surrenders it.

Christian Grey doesn’t act like a dominant high-status male. He doesn’t even act like a billionaire. Men like that do not have the luxury of dropping or delaying appointments on a whim just to chase a girl, not if they want to land the multi-million dollar deals that made them rich in the first place. They know that women are everywhere, but a sales opportunity may be once in a lifetime. They will remain focused on their mission of making money, especially if they are single, and only turn their attention to their women after they are done.

And if the woman keeps complaining about it? She’s fired and replaced without a second thought.

Christian Grey acts like every woman’s fantasy. He is rich and powerful, but eats out of Ana’s hand. He has the ability to devote time, money and attention on her, and will change his essential nature for her. He won’t ever chase other, higher-status women with more compatible sexual fantasies because he is utterly obsessed with her.

And in the real world, men who act like Christian Grey become hollowed-out shells of their former selves, losing everything that made them great.

Characters? What characters?

Every person in the film franchise revolves around Anastasia Steele. Their thoughts, feelings and actions revolve entirely around her. When she is not in the frame, they cease to exist. Case in point: Fifty Shades Darker.

The trailer promises that people from Christian’s past shows up. They do, but not in any significant way.

Mrs Robinson, the woman who originally seduced Christian, makes hostile remarks at Ana and…nothing more. As Christian’s business partner, she has leverage over him. She can whisper into his ear, spread rumours about Ana and use her resources to make life difficult for Ana. Instead, the movie resolves the conflict simply by having Ana throw water on her and walk away.

In the real world, women as powerful as Mrs Robinson don’t act directly. They will plot their revenge, hire thugs and lawyers, and ruin their target without any trace of suspicion falling on her. It may feel good to throw water on her, but people like Mrs Robinson won’t rest until she or her target is destroyed. And Christian ought to know that too. The movie shows no attempt to resolve the conflict, wasting an opportunity for drama.

Leila Williams, Christian’s former submissive, also shows up. She appears for a few scenes, utters a couple of lines, and fades away. There is no sense of personality or motivation to her. The one moment she makes an impact is when she breaks into Ana’s home. And even then, Ana’s reaction isn’t one of fear for her safety (what if someone else breaks in?) or relief (thank God Christian and his bodyguard dealt with this madwoman) but jealousy. Leila is simply a device to make Ana jealous, compelling Christian to further emasculate himself through signalling his loyalty. Once Leila has served her purpose, she disappears.

Jack Hyde was Ana’s boss, working as Commissioning Editor at Seattle Independent Publishing. When he first shows up, he serves to make Christian jealous. His existence signals to the audience that Ana is attractive to other men. When the three meet at a bar, Christian introduces himself to Jack by saying, “I’m the boyfriend.” This is a signal of anger, jealousy and insecurity; it is a definition of identity based on someone else instead of who he is. It is what an ordinary man would do, not a true high-status man.

In the real world, a true dominant would smile broadly, focus his gaze on Jack, extend his hand and say, “Hi. I’m Christian. Nice meeting you.” At the same time, he would wrap his arm around Ana’s waist and pull her into him. This is a demonstration of confidence, superiority, ownership and frame — without openly giving Jack a reason to get mad at him.

Later, Jack threatens to expose Ana’s relationship with Christian unless she provides sexual favours and tries to assault her. She fights her way out (the only time we see courage from her), then runs outside into Christian’s arms. Christian moves to have him fired. Jack naturally seethes at this treatment and plots Christian’s downfall, paving the way for the next story. Here, he simply exists to provide an element of danger and set up the next story.

In the real world, a man like Christian wouldn’t settle for having him fired. He would call the police and use his influence to have Jack locked away for sexual assault. Any regular person would do that, but once Jack is off-screen, he is immediately forgiven of all sins. This makes no sense whatsoever — unless you want a reason for the next story.

Kink? What kink?

All I will say about the sex scenes is that you can find much harder porn on the Internet for free.

Bondage, domination, sadism and masochism is the forbidden fruit that draws in customers. It is taboo, yet dramatic and glamorous. But its on-screen portrayal is tame. The movies walk the fine line between showing just enough BDSM to tantalise the audience while staying clear of the hardcore aspect that will alienate the vanilla audience — and errs on the side of the latter.

It’s All About Ana

Despite being named after Christian Grey, Fifty Shades is all about Ana. She effortlessly attracts and changes a wealthy man, but has no need to mold herself to him. She is the focus of his attentions, but since she can tell him off and he respects her limits, he isn’t really a stalker. There is just enough kink to lure in the audience, but it’s always on her terms and he never pushes her. She doesn’t have to do anything to earn Christian’s affections, but he makes grandiose displays for her. She enjoys the attention and wealth of a billionaire, and has no need to hold up her end of the relationship.

Fifty Shades of Grey is the perfect female fantasy. It allows a female audience to insert themselves into Ana’s shoes and pretend that they, too, can haul in a billionaire without having to lift a finger. No matter how cringe-worthy you may find the franchise, it is the textbook for understanding the solipsism, fantasy and hypergamy of the modern female.

Credits:

Fifty Shades Darker No More Secrets Poster: Universal
Christian Grey: Fanpop
Fifty Shades of Grey still: Aceshowbiz
Leila Williams: The Daily Mail
Meh: Media Makeameme
Fifty Shades Darker No More Rules Poster: Universal

The Price of Iron

If you wish to get stronger through the gym or the blade, the iron will demand its due.

It is inevitable. You must take every precaution you can to avoid unnecessary injuries, but if you want to grow you have to operate at the furthest reaches of your capability. You need to test and push your limits. Inevitably, error creeps in, muscles fail, and the iron bites.

I’ve practiced martial arts for the past three years. Followed a semiregular gym routine for the past five months. I’ve experienced blisters, blisters upon blisters, and calluses ripping off to expose naked flesh and nerves. I’ve been struck in the head, legs, fingers, wrist and groin more times than I cared for. I’ve bled upon my training grounds and my tools. As I type this freshly-torn skin on my left hand continues to remind me of its presence, as do the patches of battered flesh on my other right hand.

Pain for most people is one-dimensional. A tactile sensation, no more. For me, it combines with synaesthesia, flashing into two or three. The pain in my left palm is a curvy yellow lump, distant but insistent. When I touch my protocalluses, they are bubbles of white. I’ve experienced red pain, hot and, furious radiating down my limbs, cooling into gold and white as it poured out my fingertips and tongue. I’ve had pain that manifests as a solid white wall of sharp icy edges tearing into my brain, slamming into the entirety of my being, overriding sight and sound, smell and touch.

And compared to the other martial artists and warriors I’ve studied, this is nothing.

The iron is a cruel and uncaring teacher, but through pain it transforms you. To grow muscles, you must first tear them down with heavy labour. Repeated rough trauma hardens and toughens soft skin. Through familiarity with pain, the body learns its limits and the mind understands that an undefeated will can overcome pain. Endurance is developed through pushing through in spite of non-debilitating pain. If you are still functional, if nothing is broken or deranged or bleeding profusely, you are still good to go. When you are accustomed to minor hurts, you can face future ones with a smile and a laugh; when other pains come upon you, be they heartbreak or offense or rage or sorrow, you know in your bones that you have endured similar hurts and mastered heavier iron, and you can endure these too. And when the pains of training grow lesser, you know you are harder — and ready to take on greater weight.

But pain is not an excuse for self-destruction. It is a call for self-awareness. When training you have to be mindful of your movements and your capabilities. If you do not train with proper form, agony awaits. If you dare the iron more than your body can take, it will smash you. In the gym, this means pinched nerves, blown backs, broken bones. On the field, sticks and fists will find unprotected joints and flesh. On the street, you will to the hospital or the morgue. Sharp or throbbing pain is a sign that you’re doing something wrong. A sudden loss of sensation is a symptom of impending injury. Pain in your bones or joints and loss of range of movement requires immediate attention. In the gym, if you hit the weights with bad form you will hurt yourself; if you dare weights heavier than your body can handle, you will hurt yourself even more. If you keep getting hit during training, you must re-examine your defence and your footwork. If you do not correct your mistakes, you will destroy yourself.

The iron does not care about you. Only you can take care of yourself.

The iron is a harsh teacher, and its price is pain. Through the pain you become harder, tougher, stronger, more like iron in mind and body, better able to cope with the wounds and insults of life. The pain also teaches moderation and awareness, demanding you to perfect your form, keep yourself healthy and do only what you are capable of. If you want to grow stronger, more capable, better able to take the slings and arrows of life and return the favour tenfold, then pay the price of iron and be transformed.

The Boston Tea Party and the Washington Riots are Not the Same

Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery attempted to draw moral equivalency between the Boston Tea Party and the Washington riots.

They are not the same. I can’t tell if it’s willful ignorance of history or deliberate distortion of the record, but when dealing with the far left, there is no difference.

By drawing comparisons to the Boston Tea Party, the Left is attempting to legitise wanton acts of destruction and rioting. They are attempting to create a narrative to justify future riots, the same kind of riots seen in Ferguson and Baltimore. But the Tea Party is not the same as a riot.

The Boston Tea Party


(W.D. Cooper. Boston Tea Party., The History of North America. London: E. Newberry, 1789. Engraving. Plate opposite p. 58. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress)

The primary target of the Boston Tea Party was the East India Company, a government-granted monopoly that benefited directly from the Tea Act passed by King George.

When the Sons of Liberty boarded the Dartmouth, Eleanor and the Beaver they destroyed the tea — and only the tea. They did not sink the ships. They did not attack the crew. They did not lay waste to the port.

It was a deliberate, focused act of violence aimed at property, with a government-linked monopoly as the primary target and the government itself as the secondary target. It did not involve anyone who was not a beneficiary of the Tea Act. Even so, the Sons of Liberty — and everybody else, including their allies and sympathisers — recognised that the protest itself was illegal. The colonial government did not suppress the Tea Party because the colonial government supported the cause, not because the protest was legal.

The Boston Tea Party itself was the culmination of decades of colonial frustration with the British government. The colonials believed it was not fair for King George to levy taxes on the colonies without granting them representation in Parliament. They saw King George and Parliament as remote rulers far removed from the goings-on in their lands, utilising taxes and the Regulars to keep the colonials in check. Despite decades of arguments, London did not budge. Taxation without representation was the order of the day. When the Tea Act passed, it undercut the livelihoods of colonial tea merchants while propping up a government monopoly on the brink of collapse. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

The Black Blocs of Washington

Now contrast this with the riots in Washington, fronted by the infamous Black Bloc.

This is in no way comparable to the Tea Party. The Tea Party did not deliberately attack people. The Washington rioters attacked police officers, and smashed windows and torched cars belonging to private businesses and individuals unaffiliated with President Donald Trump or the Federal government.

Disrupt J20 was an excuse to indulge in random acts of gratuitous violence. The rioters didn’t target anyone or anything belonging to Trump or his administration. They simply attacked ordinary Americans who live in a city that overwhelmingly voted against Trump, a President who has not done significant anything yet.

Think about that: the progressives, anarchists, antifascists and other groups were attacking their own supporters, in a country that prides itself on freedom of speech and peaceful assembly. Instead of peaceful protests and petitions in a nation known for responding to such methods, the rioters indulged in violence.

The Washington riots had far more to do with the Stamp Act riots than the Tea Party. And the Stamp Act rioters, it should be remembered, were so destructive that the Founding Fathers sought to distance themselves from them.

The Slippery Slope

To be fair, the Boston Tea Party and the Washington riots have one thing in common: they were both acts of political violence.

Political violence rots the body politic. It is an irrevocable step towards chaos and bloodshed. Mob violence signals to everyone that the political process has failed, and it is time to unleash the beasts within. History tells us that mob violence is the death of liberty, democracy and civilisation. From the fall of the Roman Republic to Byzantium during the Imperial Exile, the French Terror to the Cultural Revolution, mob violence is a symptom of coming chaos.

The Boston Tea Party irrevocably led to the American Revolutionary War. America looks fondly upon the Tea Party today because America won the war. Had the British won, the textbooks and the popular narratives would be far different indeed.

The Washington riots allow Progressives to tell themselves that mob violence is acceptable, and a preferred tactic in future controversies. But this is a delusion. The riots also tell the Hard Right what to expect when the Progressives come for them.

I have seen discussions of armaments and tactics among the militant right. They are ready and willing to inflict bloodshed on a scale beyond what the Left can dream of. The Left calls for gun control, safe spaces and feminism; the Right believes in gun ownership, training and preparation. The Progressives may bring boots and clubs and stones; the Hard Right will wield AR-15s and Molotov cocktails and IEDs.

If the culture war goes hot, who do you think will win?

How to Write Different Kinds of Violence

I don’t read a lot of fiction these days. My tastes run towards action-packed thrillers, and as I discussed elsewhere, many writers have no idea how to write authentic action scenes. Outside the thriller genre, I can only name a small handful of writers who can instill in action sequences the ring of truth.

In a certain cyberpunk/space opera novel, the protagonist, a former Special Operations type turned private detective, encounters a thug on the streets. The thug woofs a challenge. The protagonist says, “Back off!” To underscore his point, he unleashes a series of strikes at the air, showing how he can kill the thug with his bare hands.

I can’t tell you how that encounter ends, because that was the point I closed the book — permanently.

Contrast this to Chapter 3 of Barry Eisler’s The Detachment. Here, protagonist John Rain discovers he is being tailed. Rain uses stealth and surprise to turn the tables, eliminating the threats.

That encounter had the ring of truth. But pay attention also to the flashback in the middle of the chapter, in which Rain describes how he dealt with a bully. Between the ambush and the flashback, Eisler elucidates the principles of violence authors should aspire to capture in their own work.

Types of Violence

Violence is an instrument to achieve a goal. From this perspective, there are two kinds of violence: social violence and asocial violence. The former is for status and image, the latter is for resources.

The cyberpunk example is classic social violence. By dancing his hands in the air protagonist hopes to impress the thug and establish dominance. By contrast, John Rain employed asocial violence to defend himself: the resource in question is Rain’s life.

Asocial and social violence have vastly different stakes and different goals. The resulting manifestation would naturally be vastly different.

The Monkey Dance

Imagine a pair of monkeys sizing up each other. They puff their chests and spread their arms, making themselves look bigger. Waddling up to each other, they hoot and shriek and gesticulate. At some point, one of three things happen.

*One of them submits and leaves
*One of them attacks, leading to a scuffle
*A higher status monkey breaks up the encounter

Humans behave in remarkably similar ways, which is where Rory Miller coined the termMonkey Dance. In his book Meditations on Violence, Miller describes it as a ritual with predictable steps. In American culture, it goes like this.

  1. Make eye contact with a hard stare
  2. Issue a verbal challenge, i.e. “What are you looking at?”
  3. Close the distance to bad breath range, sometimes ending in a chest bump
  4. Poke or push to the chest
  5. Punch

Here we see a progression of violence. First someone initiates the challenge and establishes status. As he closes, he continues mouthing off to psychologically prepare himself and to provoke the other guy into joining the monkey dance. Once in range, the chest bump and push serve as stepping stones, acclimatising the challenger to laying hands on the other person — and, if the challenger were skilled enough, to allow him to gauge the distance. When the blood is up and he is committed, he throws a punch, and the fight breaks out.

The point of a monkey dance is to achieve status, not usually to take a life. Monkey dances are not usually lethal by design. People committed to the dance do not usually strike from ambush, call for help, pull weapons midway, use deadly strikes or finish off the loser. Crippling injuries or deaths are usually accidental. If a target is down, the challenger usuallywon’t stomp the target into paste. On the other hand, a challenger would gladly knock out a target with a punch…and the target may fall on a hard surface and break his neck. But more often than not, the loser usually gets to walk away.

The same dynamic applies even where weapons are involved. In honour duels, the point is not to kill the other party — it’s to prove both parties’ bravery. Most duels, especially in the West, tended to be fought to first blood, not to the death. After scoring first blood, both sides can walk away with their honour satisfied: the winner has proven his skill at arms while the loser has shown that he is willing to risk life and limb. Note that this does not apply to blood feuds settled through duels, or to cultures where even the slightest insult must be answered with deadly force.

This concept, however, breaks down for the Group Monkey Dance. This is another dominance game, in which members of a group compete for status and prove their loyalty to the group by showing how vicious they can be to an outsider.

This is the gang recruit brutalising an innocent person to the cheers of his new crew. The knockout game, the happy slap, the king hit. At the far end, it is the Imperial Japanese soldier bayoneting a prisoner, a squad of Waffen-SS gang-raping a civilian, the concentration camp guards competing to kill the most number of Jews in the shortest time.

The Monkey Dance is a non-lethal ritual to puff up the challenger. The Group Monkey Dance reinforces group loyalty through atrocity. Predatory violence is something else altogether.

The Predator

Asocial violence is about attaining resources. The victim is seen as an obstacle, an enabler or the objective. Think of it as an armed guard protecting a bank vault, the manager who holds the key to the vault, or the CEO whose high-profile assassination will terrorise the people.

The attack is a premeditated act of violence that enables the aggressor to take what he wants with minimal risk to himself. It will not be a fight in which both sides have a chance to exchange blows. It is not a contest with rules and referees. If weapons are available, they will be used. If killing is required, so be it.

Versus ritualistic monkey dancing, predatory violence is remarkably simple. It boils down to this: get close and unleash hell.

There are two main ways to get close. The first is to use the terrain to conceal yourself and set up an ambush. The second is to charm the target until you are as close as you can, then strike.

Simple. Brutal. Effective.

Implications for Writers

To write violence effectively, you need to know four things.

  1. What do the parties involved want?
  2. What is their background with violence?
  3. What skills, resources, advantages and disadvantages do they possess?
  4. What does their environment allow them to do and prevent them from doing, and what are their culture’s rules of violence?

Let’s go back to the cyberpunk example. The protagonist wants to move on with his investigation and walk away alive, while the thug wants to inflate his ego. The protagonist is former military Spec Ops, the thug is a street fighter. The protagonist has the benefit of decades of training and combat experience, while the thug knows the terrain and is accustomed to dealing with innocents. They are on a wide, empty street, with no opportunities for cover or concealment, and Western monkey dancing rules are in effect.

With this in mind, when the encounter begins, the easiest thing to do is for the protagonist to hold up his hands, back up and say, “Sorry, bro. It’s been a long day and I’m just spacing out. I’ll be leaving now, okay?”

The protagonist is ex-military with extensive experience in undercover operations. If neutralising the thug won’t help him achieve his goals, why would he do it? Better to keep a low profile and walk away.

But let’s say the thug presses on anyway. He’s itching for a fight, and his friends behind him are egging him on.

“Not so fast, bro,” he says. “You’re on our turf now. You gotta pay the tax.”

The thug’s friends fan out, getting ready to cut the protagonist off. Here, we see the beginnings of a Group Monkey Dance, coupled with the opportunity for asocial violence — i.e. to get the protagonist’s wallet. Social and asocial violence aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, and opportunities for one or the other may emerge as events unfold.

How do you handle the situation? Here’s an example:

The detective halts, his hands still raised.

“Sorry, man, I didn’t know this was your turf. But I don’t have anything in my wallet, ‘kay? If that’s fine with you, I’m leaving, okay?”

The thug smirks and steps up.

“Can’t pay the tax? Then we’ll just take it in–”

The detective jabs the thug’s eyes. The thug howls and rears back. The detective slams a V-hand strike into his exposed throat and drives his knee into his groin. The thug falls, his voice fading into a strange click-click-click. The detective lifts his foot and axe-kicks him in the head.

The other criminals are rooted to the spot. The detective coolly regards them.

“Your friend needs a hospital.”

He walks away, leaving the bad guys to their fate.

In this case, the detective short-circuits social violence with asocial violence. He lures in the thug with deceptive dialogue, strikes when he is distracted, and escalates beyond the point where the thugs are mentally prepared for. This causes the thugs to freeze as they try to process the new circumstances. He gives the gangsters a face-saving exit and quickly leaves before they can recover.

Note that the tactics involved would be much different if the protagonist were a civilian with no martial background. Instead of luring the bad guy in, the best approach would be to turn and sprint to safety. It’s an open street; there’s nothing stopping him from escaping if he’s fit enough.

Social violence is about status and image. Asocial violence is about quickly, efficiently and safely obtaining resources. To win, either refuse the fight by leaving the scene, or overwhelm the other guy before he can do the same unto you.

The first step to writing authentic action scenes is to know what kind of violence you’re writing about, and how well your characters fare and fit in those situations. Interesting things happen when characters are forced to overcome overwhelming force, navigate different cultures, or when they bring different violence paradigms to play. A battle-hardened warrior may scorn the idea of duels to first blood, or his culture may not even recognise such things, so whenever he fights someone it is always a duel to the death. A tipsy civilian may quickly find himself out of his depth after insulting a group of off-duty Marines. And so on.

Further Reading

The above is drawn heavily from Miller’s Meditations on Violence. However, it is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Violence is a massive subject that no one person can cover in a single post. For further reading, look up Marc MacYoung, Rory Miller, Lawrence A Kane, Kris Wilder, Ed Calderon (aka Edpoint) and Jin Roh (the blogger). In particular, I recommend No Nonsense Self Defense and the Conflict Communications Group. To see how violence paradigms are applied in fiction, I recommend Barry Eisler, Marcus Wynne and Loren Christensen.

Writing is about truth. Writing violence is about reflecting the truth of violence. If your fiction involves realistic violence, doing the research pays handsome dividends.

(First published on Steemit.com)

Tired Tropes: the Tsundere

Welcome to Tired Tropes, in which I dissect popular tropes I find annoying. While tropes are tools, they can be overused or done badly, and Tired Tropes are especially gregarious examples of them. Here, I take on the tsundere.

The tsundere is a staple of Japanese media. She—for the overwhelming majority of tsunderes are female—is defined by switching between harsh (‘tsun’) and lovestruck (‘dere’) personalities, due to how she feels towards a love interest and her reaction to having these feelings. While Tropes are Not Bad, it takes great skill to properly utilise tsundere archetype, and many, many, many creators have failed to do it properly.

When people think tsunderes they think Type A tsunderes: harsh and aloof as her default setting, but sweet or vulnerable towards her love interest…eventually. And by ‘harsh’ I mean abusive. Examples abound in media: Louise Francoise le Blanc de la Valliere from Zero no Tsukaima, Ayatsuji Tsukasa of Amagami, Kirisaki Chitoge in Nisekoi, and so on.

Type B tsunderes, who have dere as their default setting, are also abound, but I haven’t encountered (too many) problems with their portrayals. This post will focus exclusively on the ultra-Type A tsunderes: the abusive types.

In the real world, abuse has consequences. It inflicts horrendous psychological damage on the victim over time. More assertive individuals would simply refuse to have anything to do with such people, or turn to the authorities (or arrest them, if they are the authorities). In fiction, for some reason, abuse is rewarded with love.

Louise physically and emotionally abuses Hiraga Saito throughout the entire series, including berating him, whipping him and punishing him whenever she gets jealous of another girl who talks to him—and they become the official couple. Ayatsuji blackmails Tachibana Junichi into helping her by threatening to accuse him of sexual assault when he accidentally picks up her diary—and in her route she becomes his lover. Kirisaki Chitoge is abusive, haughty and violent towards Ichijou Raku, especially in the early chapters—and he falls for her anyway.

Writing is about truth. Tropes are a tool to point the reader towards truth. And the truth of the world is that if a woman were arrogant, abrasive, manipulative and outright violent towards anyone, she is not girlfriend or wife material. This is a clear indicator of intimate partner violence—better known as domestic violence. And yet the relationships described above are portrayed as loving relationships.

Consider what would happen if the gender roles were flipped: if male tsunderes abuse their female love interests. There is no expectation that the relationship would end well. Yet this portrayal of female tsunderes endures. After all, Abuse is Okay if it’s Female on Male.

This is not to say that the tsundere archetype should be abandoned, rather that it should be deployed with skill.

Instead of playing abuse for laughs, especially in a serious work of fiction, it should be explored to the bitter end. Unflinchingly explore the consequences of being around someone who switches between harsh and sweet at the drop of a hat. The result is confusion, a tendency to walk on eggshells around her, and a dysfunctional relationship. More assertive characters will stand up and put a stop to such nonsense, or ruthlessly cut out these people from their lives.

If the tone of the story is comedic or light-hearted, downplay the violence or abuse to the point where it won’t actually harm anyone. Imagine the female lightly punching a male’s arm or softly bouncing her fists against his chest without actually hurting him, or limiting the use of insults and retorts. This provides insight into her character without crossing the line. Or, as in the case of Kaze no Stigma, the female may be lashing out at the male with full force, while the male easily avoids or no-sells the attack with boredom or amused mastery. In either event, it is immediately clear that what happens isn’t abuse, as it doesn’t actually affect the target in any meaningful way.

If the male does have a background in martial arts and/or a profession that requires the regular use of force (soldier, mercenary, police, etc.), show the real-world results of attempting to abuse that person. Force will be met with force, dodged or redirected. These are survival mechanisms, so deeply ingrained that they cannot be turned off so easily. Such people will also have no tolerance for abuse: either the tsundere shapes up or is dropped.

Steins;Gate.full.742594.jpg

An example of the Type A tsundere romance done right is Steins;Gate. Makise Kurisu is a classic Type A tsundere, who developed her acerbic tongue after being looked down on for being the youngest scientist in her lab. Okabe Rintarou roleplays a mad scientist all the time, to the point where nearly everyone thinks he acts like a twelve-year-old, and also displays classic tsundere characteristics. Unlike other media, the character dynamic is both hilarious and realistic, thanks to the way it’s handled.

While Makise and Okabe bicker over literally anything, their interactions showcase both chemistry and growing respect for each other. Makise maintains her tsun side by talking in scientific terms when annoyed, acting cynically towards Okabe, and (in the Japanese version) by using rude forms of address, while reserving her ultra-tsun moments for times when it’s justified—such as reacting to a perverted joke about her, usually with a sharp remark. And she doesn’t abuse people who don’t annoy her, like Shiina Mayuri. Okabe, in turn, feeds off her energy, responding with aplomb and genuinely hilarious comebacks.

Most importantly, when the chips are down and push comes to shove, Makise drops the tsundere act. She demonstrates her brilliance as a scientist, supports Okabe through difficult situations, and acts as a loyal member of his lab team. In this sense, Makise is more than just a two-dimensional character; she is a complete character who drives the story. And in the end, she (mostly) drops the tsun act and acts more affectionately towards Okabe.

Looking at Steins;Gate we see an instance of effectively deploying a Type A tsundere without alienating the audience. She doesn’t go overboard with her harshness, or when she does it’s met with resistance. She shows character development over time instead of flipflopping back and forth. Most of all, she is more than just an archetype: she contributes meaningfully to the story, becoming more than just a set of clichéd behaviours.

The tsundere archetype in of itself is not bad. But when poorly handled, it is a portrayal of female abuse and generates violent dissonance with the truth of the world. Properly crafting a Type A tsundere requires careful calibration of her character, showing her harshness without crossing the line into unchecked abuse, while giving her opportunities to be more than just a cliche.