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I have a friend who is a practitioner of HEMA (Historic European Martial Arts), and who adores telling me all about realistic fighting techniques and why all the fight scenes I love suck. Well, I know he's right, but I'd want any world I build to have flashy fighting scenes anyway.

So... What would be a good reasoning for flashy fighting styles to be practical? You can assume any facts about the world, but the people fighting should be symmetric opponents.

Note: Flashy fighting does not mean stupid fighting. I'm taking it to mean "more dramatic overswings and full-body blows" rather than "Spin around holding two longswords at arms length".

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  • $\begingroup$ You can use it to distract your opponent then sneak a volley of "one inch punch" at any vital points all just happens to locate at groin region this is how a fight should be like lol. $\endgroup$ – user6760 May 14 '15 at 11:09
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    $\begingroup$ Superhuman abilities often make for awesome fighting scenes. Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn is an example of this. $\endgroup$ – Nathan Merrill May 14 '15 at 14:06
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    $\begingroup$ can you give us a rough idea of time period or stye of fighting. sword fights on horseback and laser armed infantry taking on space-bugs in the future are very different fight scenes. Also, are you comfortable with introduction with magic, psychics, or sufficiently advanced technology? $\endgroup$ – dsollen May 14 '15 at 14:52
  • $\begingroup$ @dsollen I would like if it was fantasy-based. That tag is gone now, haha. I'm imagining early medieval, if anything. $\endgroup$ – Feaurie Vladskovitz May 14 '15 at 16:30
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe take a look at the Kyoshi Warriors from Avatar the Last Air Bender. Most people agree it translates to Aikido in real life. Lots of spins, throws, holds, etc. so it looks really cool, the only thing is it has a noticeable lack of striking. $\endgroup$ – HadesHerald May 14 '15 at 16:41

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A possible solution is to use weapons that somehow generate a gyroscopic effect. This is used in Star Wars lore as the reason why Lightsabers are so hard for anyone but a Jedi to use.

In short, a weapon that generates a gyroscopic effect would be resistant to changes in its velocity. When the weapon is at rest, it would resist any attempt to make it move...but once you got it moving, it would resist being stopped.

HEMA combat is based around a lot of short, abrupt strikes with a blade; if you had a weapon that was hard to start or stop from moving, then the better solution would be rapid, flowing strikes that never ceased to move. As it is easier to redirect momentum than to stop it entirely, you would want to create a fighting style based on circular motions that flow your attacks and defenses into each other in a seamless pattern.

This would give you your dramatic overswings and power strikes, because you would never want your weapon to stop moving. A logical reason for a weapon that does this is that it would hit much harder than a normal weapon would...because when it hits something, it still resists being stopped, and would deliver more Force for an equivalent strike.

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  • $\begingroup$ In terms of moving the weapon, is gyroscopic stabilization really all that different from inertial mass? It seems like using a heavy weapon would have the exact same effects that you describe here. $\endgroup$ – KSmarts May 14 '15 at 15:43
  • $\begingroup$ @KSmarts You could, in theory, replicate this with an ultra-heavy material. 'Heavy Weapons' are generally also very large weapons, and they tend to be clumsy by dint of their sheer size. And increased length messes with Angular Momentum, making precision control harder. A gyroscopic weapon would have an advantage in that it could easily pack the 'punch' of a massive weapon into a much smaller weapon that, when the gyro was turned off would be easy to carry around due to low weight. $\endgroup$ – guildsbounty May 14 '15 at 15:59
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    $\begingroup$ Also, to use a heavy weapon, you have to be strong enough to heft it around. With a gryo-weapon, it doesn't take significant strength to hold it off the ground (since it can be quite light weight), and you can build the momentum of the weapon steadily, rather than having to heft it up to speed all at once. You'd probably see people spinning their weapon up with flourishes before they closed to contact range, so they had momentum built up well in advance, without having to brute force it up to speed. $\endgroup$ – guildsbounty May 14 '15 at 16:01
  • $\begingroup$ I love this idea. Now I have an urge to go practice with a heavy weapon... $\endgroup$ – Aify May 14 '15 at 16:30
  • $\begingroup$ @guildsbounty And then when you have high momentum, you are unable to change the plane of your swing (much like in bicycle), I doubt it's such a great advantage. $\endgroup$ – dtldarek May 14 '15 at 21:14
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The easiest solution is to add an audience or other social aspect to fighting. A fight is not necessarily about killing people, it could easily be about impressing somebody. Or about entertaining the audience. Or about proving that you know the proper forms. Or about intimidating the opponent.

These scenarios happen outside warfare in entertainment fighting, trial by combat, formal duel and ritualized tests of skill. Basically civilian fighting which is quite separate from combat fighting. If your setting has a strong tradition of such practice, their martial arts might include flashy moves.

(This answer was initially much longer, but I removed lots of rambling tangential to the question.)

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    $\begingroup$ Cue Gladiator: he lived only because the crowd loved him. $\endgroup$ – Matthieu M. May 14 '15 at 14:39
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    $\begingroup$ +1 Much of what makes fighting so not-flashy is that it has a simple goal: to prevent the other human from accomplishing his goals. If his goals are as simple as yours, non-flashy techniques telegraph less information, and improve your chances. However, if you have a reason to be able to telegraph information to the audience (or a higher power) and STILL kill them, you will see flashier moves. At least until you face an opponent that skips the flash and just "fights dirty." Then the flashy moves are a death sentence. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon May 14 '15 at 15:44
  • $\begingroup$ I think cats playing with prey are another case where "entertainment" is an essential part of the art of killing. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon May 14 '15 at 15:45
  • $\begingroup$ See also: professional wrestling. $\endgroup$ – ckersch May 14 '15 at 15:50
  • $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon Good point with cats actually, flashy moves might be useful when fighting relatively safe opponents to allow live training. You could kill the goblin fast or you could be flashy and spend ten minutes on it and get ten minutes of actual fighting time. It would be worth quite a lot of training time. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi May 14 '15 at 19:05
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This answer describes a solution for a soft sci-fi scenario which is internally consistent but not necessarily founded on hard science.

More jumping, less standing around

One reason why real-life fencing is rather static, is because defense is more important than offense and the most reliable way to defend is not to dodge but to parade the attack with your weapon. That means fighters keep their weapon close to their bodies to parade any enemy attacks.

To favor a more offensive and mobile fighting style, have energy-based melee weapons which can not block each other. That means the only way to prevent getting hit is dodging. Your fighters will jump and roll around a lot during combat, making for some very spectacular acrobatics.

Wider swings

The only reason why you would use a spectacular wide swing instead of a short poke is because it gives you much more speed and thus more impact energy. This could matter when your target got some kind of protection which negates any impacts which are not fast enough. The only way to build up enough momentum to break through is to use wider swings.

Armor would be counter-productive, because it would make the fighters less mobile. But what about a personal force field which covers the whole body and only lets the aforementioned energy weapons pass through when they move very fast?

This force-field technology could also be used to justify why nobody brings a gun to an energy-sword fight: Have the force-fields block any personal firearms but not personal melee energy weapons.

Going beyond human capabilities

The major factor which holds your fighters down is their human clumsiness. Only a few extraordinary humans possess the agility, dexterity, strength and spacial awareness to perform all these movie-like stunts, and even those only when choreographed carefully. To see such action pulled off in life-or-death combat by your relatable everyman protagonist, you need to augment them somehow. You could, for example, give your futuristic high-tech fighters exoskeletons or artificial limbs which enhance their speed and jumping capabilities and neuro-implants or drugs which enhance their reaction speed and spatial awareness.

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    $\begingroup$ "SYSTEM HACK. REBOOTING EXO SUIT NOW" $\endgroup$ – wposeyjr May 14 '15 at 12:45
  • $\begingroup$ Eh, jumping and rolling to evade an unblockable weapon is still not the best idea ever. You can't change direction while airborne (leaving you vulnerable to a follow-up strike) and rolling makes you look away from your opponent. $\endgroup$ – guildsbounty May 14 '15 at 12:57
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    $\begingroup$ @guildsbounty Maybe personal, thought-controlled gravity generators which operate in short bursts, thus allowing to suddenly accelerate the users body in any desired direction without having to push off of a surface? $\endgroup$ – Philipp May 14 '15 at 13:05
  • $\begingroup$ @Philipp That would work better. $\endgroup$ – guildsbounty May 14 '15 at 13:09
  • $\begingroup$ @wposeyjr I don't know where that quote is from, but it sounds like it could come from the scenario I am thinking about. $\endgroup$ – Philipp May 14 '15 at 13:14
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As Philipp said - defence is more important than offence. So lessen it from the equation by giving fighters extra defence, allowing them to focus more of bypassing that then defending themselves. I'm thinking particularly of Dune where fighters had energy shields that worked better the more force was used - so bullets were completely ineffective and the only weapons that made sense were knives and similar. If you have to fight slowly, your technique is much more important than your lucky or quick strikes. You'll be encouraged to make flashy moves to disorient or distract your opponent from the relatively slow strike you'll finally make when you have the right opening, and can ignore anyone who just jumps at you.

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I can think of a few ways.

For "more dramatic overswings and full-body blows" put at least one of the combatants in full plate armour. There are a few ways to beat a man in plate, and one of those is with a poleaxe - basically a Very Big Hammer on a very long handle, with which you hit said man very very hard.

As has been intimated elsewhere, put the combatants in a competition with particular rules and equipment. Why are so many punches thrown in a boxing match? Because the hands are protected by gloves. Why is Taekwondo dominated by big kicks? Because the rules mean nothing else is worth doing. Why is the foil fencer not attacking? It's not his turn (or 'right of way') yet.

And maybe my favourite if you want some acrobatics - the combatants are fighting "abroad" on a planet with much lower gravity than they were born to. They'd be much tougher than the natives, able to run faster, wear more armour, wield heavier weapons, jump higher and further - you can imagine one of these tanks leaping into a native formation and laying about them.

Finally the sci-fi trope of 'powered armour' could combine the outcomes of points one and two.

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  • $\begingroup$ Actually...the best way to take Plate is with a long, thin thrusting weapon...like a rapier. The plate-wearer is slow because of the mass, and there has to be gaps in the armor for him to be able to move. Stab him in the joints. Also, the broadsword was specifically designed to counter plate armor...it's meant to be an armor-piercing weapon. There were other weapons designed for puncturing Plate as well...'crushing' plate was actually pretty uncommon. PS: Pollaxe is not a hammer. It's an Axe. And it was usually a spike on the weapon that was used for armor penetration, not the chopping motion. $\endgroup$ – guildsbounty May 14 '15 at 16:08
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    $\begingroup$ @guildsbounty Literally everything you said there is wrong. You would not attack plate by thrusting with a rapier, the gaps are small and will be backed by mail and a gambeson - if you want to beat plate with a sword you use half-swording and a lot of force. Swords have never really been anti-armour weapons, especially broad ones. Here is a poleaxe - note the combined hammer and axe head: ed.toton.org/photos/2012/scabbard_poleaxe/b3031.jpg $\endgroup$ – Grimm The Opiner May 14 '15 at 16:34
  • $\begingroup$ cont'd: The hammer of a poleaxe didn't cause harm by crushing armour, but by concussion transmitted through the armour. The most effective weapons against plate armour did work by concussion or crushing, with some exceptions like a couched lance or a bodkin tipped arrow. The spike on a poleaxe could be driven through the gaps in armour, especially once you'd knocked the other guy on his arse with the hammer. Oh, and men in plate were not cumbersome, the armour is surprisingly light and the weight is well distributed, and the wearer is totally nails. $\endgroup$ – Grimm The Opiner May 14 '15 at 16:34
  • $\begingroup$ Grimm, a bit more research showed that hammers were a bit more useful than I thought...thank you. However, aiming for the gaps with a thrusting weapon, or using a sword to pierce the armor were valid, taught methods of defeating plate. As for the pollaxe, I discovered that there are several different designs. We were both right, on that count...many designs traded the 'hammer' piece for a spike instead. Also, fluted plate armor was much more resistant to blunt trauma. Refer to the German schools of swordfighting and their absolute dedication for aiming for weak spots in armor to compensate $\endgroup$ – guildsbounty May 14 '15 at 16:44
  • $\begingroup$ Actually, surprisingly, chain mail kinda sucks against stabby things. Most of its purpose is to create a kinda "wave" that forces slashes to roll right off. It's so effective that a steel katana couldn't cut through iron-based mail. So a lance or a rapier (though I would be careful with the latter, those thing are SUPER fragile when compared to normal swords) would poke through and open up holes in the chain mail. $\endgroup$ – HadesHerald May 14 '15 at 16:49
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There is always the HP Lovecraft reason: Non-Euclidean geometry. Fighting can look like just about anything when a straight line is not the closest path between two points!

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What if the God of Fighting likes a good show?

This would require a magic setting. But maybe there's a god who likes flashy, and rewards it. Probably not in obvious ways, but through luck/accuracy.

So a big, dramatic blow is more likely to land, and harder to dodge than you'd expect from a purely mechanical universe. More likely to strike a weak point in your opponents armor, or hit just right to cleave through them, etc.

Quick, efficient moves are the opposite - they are less likely to strike, or to strike well. They almost never hit critical/weak points, even when aiming for them - instead they strike wrong, or deflect away. When they do hit, the wounds are shallower than you'd expect, just missing vulnerable points.

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  • $\begingroup$ Heh, I thought of this too. I might also be considering this. $\endgroup$ – Feaurie Vladskovitz May 17 '15 at 4:23
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I'd imagine that fighting with incredibly impractical weapons might lead to an interesting show. For instance, making them really heavy will lead to those longer wind-up times, and make it harder to stop your momentum which leads to overswinging. Even blocking will become a difficult process, so turning your block into a deadly counterstrike would be difficult. Also, a weapon without a pointy end means you'll have to slash your target to death, which requires you to get a lot more close and personal.

I'm not sure how you could justify this in a medieval or modern setting, but I imagine in a futuristic setting, fighting with a sort of energy sword might have this effect. Maybe armor is way better in the future, so the only way to hurt your opponent is to cut them up with a blade of plasma generated by a big, clunky, sword-shaped machine. Since it's so heavy and the blade only covers a part of the weapon (since there's plasma emitters on both ends, there is no point), it'll take a lot of precision and power to get it to the target, which should lead to interesting drawn-out swordfighting against evenly matched opponents. Heck, you could probably even say that striking two of these things together gets them stuck, which could lead to those great sword-locking scenes they always do in the movies.

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In MMA fights are usually somewhat realistic in a sense that rules are meant to prevent injury rather then enforce a style, as such most of them look less flashy then movies, but flashy moves are still possible and even sometimes effective, look up Anthony Pettis off the cage kick, or a nice flying armbar (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MdDG5QaJI_0). Some fights have been just generally impressive in terms of their ferocity (Don Frye vs Takayama).

So I would look at various impressive moves and fights in MMA because they were all done by regular people in real life, and such are about as realistic as can be asked for. Granted they are not common, but then I'm guessing you are not writing about common fighter either :)

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A few people have touched on the use of varied weapons- another family of arms that require consistent and smooth movement are whip, rope and chain weapons. These are interesting because they are highly effective in the right hands, can be packed down very small and require skill and flowing movement to use well. In fact, as was mentioned in @guildsbounty's answer, they behave in a fairly gyroscopic manner. They are also very hard to block because they will simply bend around most things placed in their way and also offer opportunities for disarming an opponent. The biggest risk to the user is if the opponent catches their weapon and takes control of it, but if you have two experienced chain fighters, this would probably be a part of their style and pulling anything like that through an opponents hands could result in painful burns. If you look at a traditional weapon like the kurisigama you might get an idea of how these might operate.

One thing to be aware of with any of these "fancy" fighting styles is that they favour the individual - they are not really battlefield styles. This is because all those big flamboyant movements take up a lot of space and if you are packed up close in a battle line you are likely to cause more problems to your allies than your opponents. This is one reason that line fight battle tactics tend to look fairly similar through history and few people were more effective than the roman "disable enemy shields, walk forward, stab" approach to frontline combat.

Consequently if your heroes are in a large battle you probably want to put them with the skirmishers and given them plenty of room to swing.

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Add an external source of energy that's channeled by "flashy" moves.

For real life, there's two main reasons you don't see big flashy moves - they leave you open for counterattack (meaning someone who is just trying to win will shank you while you're setting up), and they take more energy for the same (or less!) effect. (As a Vampire Slayer put it best: what's powering that kick, raw enthusiasm?)

So, as a fighter who is busy trying not to die, there needs to be an advantage to the extra flailing - and specifically, an advantage to combat. And that means there needs to be some additional energy coming into the equation that makes the swing extra-strong or fast or whatevs.

Now, you could flavor this as generic superheroism, or as a ki power (Mortal Kombat or the classic "your kung-fu is weak"), or as magic (Airbending). But the key point is that doing this makes you fight better.

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IF your setting is on Earth or an Earth like setting, then perhaps the best way to hand wave a "flashy" fighting style would be to require the use and generation of momentum to unbalance and knock down your opponent for the killing blow.

This would be sort of the opposite of Aikido, which uses your opponents momentum against them (the Aikido practitioner generally is static or moving relatively slowly against his opponent), but a "spinning" style where you generate momentum to grasp and throw your opponent, while they are doing the same against you (or moving in the opposite direction to negate your momentum) sounds close to what you are asking for.

If your fighting style is in a low gravity world or in zero gravity (somewhat like the battle school of Ender's Game), then different rules wold apply. "Flashy" moves would be needed to change your momentum vectors, either to get into the fight or to avoid blows.

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