Bad Fight Scenes by Tom Schreck

I’m very pleased to welcome author and boxing aficionado/official Tom Schreck to the blog today to set a few things straight about how fights go down in the real world. Hey, fiction is fiction, but it still wouldn’t hurt authors to play things a little closer to the truth when their characters go for the KO. And speaking of knockouts, tomorrow I’ll be reviewing Tom’s latest Duffy Dombrowski novel, The Vegas Knockout.

Bad Fight Scenes by Tom SchreckI make part of my living evaluating fights. I’m a pro boxing judge with the World Boxing Association and I do world title fights. I’m also still a gym rat who crawls between the ropes to mix it up with other guys who have made equally ill-advised decisions on how to spend free time. Before I got into boxing I was a black belt Tae Kwon Do instructor.

I also write the Duffy Dombrowski mysteries that feature a run-of-the-mill pro boxer who works as a social worker during the day. He has a few more wins than losses, but almost every time the caliber of his opponents is stepped up he gets beat.

Like most writers I’m an avid mystery reader. I’m okay with the whole willing suspension of disbelief thing but really bad fight scenes bother me. Just like a gun guy would hate to read something about the wrong cartridge going into the wrong type of gun (I’m not a gun guy), I bristle when I come across authors that just don’t get how fights go. What to they do that’s wrong?

Here are some of my favorites.

  1. The kung-fu guy who can go from standing straight up not doing anything to kicking someone in the head. Look, there are karate guys with great skills but they don’t defy physics. Un-stretched muscle will tear when it’s put under such trauma so quickly. It’s almost impossible to do with tight jeans too.
  2. My apologies to the ladies but 110lb women cannot beat up 250lb guys. Even 13th degree black belt women aren’t coming out victorious against tough guys. Again, its physics and a woman of that size is not going to be able to generate the force to injure a strong man who is that big.
  3. Punching someone in the head will break your knuckles and possibly the bones in the back of your hand. Your hand will swell and you won’t be able to use it. Pro boxers with taped hands and gloves frequently break their hands when they go knuckle to forehead.
  4. Guys who fight a lot can take shots and endure more pain than those who don’t, even if the individual who doesn’t fight has very strong resolve.
  5. Boxers beat karate guys. Sorry karate guys. Boxers train at full contact all the time, they fight better competition, and much of karate doesn’t work in street applications.
  6. Wrestlers and other grapplers can beat boxers especially if the fight goes to the ground, which most street fights do.
  7. Usually it is very hard to knock someone unconscious and for very long. I watch the very best in the world and in the hundreds of fights I’ve judged fighters have been rendered unconscious only a couple of times, and for seconds not minutes.
  8. Most real street fights are very short, particularly if one of the combatants is a trained fighter.
  9. Guys who fight don’t mouth off, they don’t threaten and they don’t make a show of it. It is far easier to cut to the chase and throw the first punch and end things while the other guy is still talking.
  10. Everyone gets their ass kicked, even Spenser and Hawk. Ali lost, Joe Louis lost, Ray Robinson lost and yes, even Chuck Norris lost. Guys who never lose are truly part of fiction.

Fight scenes in fiction are filled with clichés, and as we know clichés are usually a sign of bad writing. Fights, in and out of the ring, are filled with enough real drama that they don’t have to be exaggerated to make them entertaining.

Tom Schreck is the author of the Duffy Dombrowski Mysteries, the latest of which is The Vegas Knockout. Tom graduated from the University of Notre Dame and has a master’s degree in psychology—and a black belt. He previously worked as the director of an inner-city drug clinic and today juggles several jobs: communications director for a program for people with disabilities, adjunct psychology professor, freelance writer, and World Championship Boxing official. He lives in Albany, New York, with his wife. To learn more about Tom, visit his website. You can also find Tom on Facebook, where he’s currently running a contest in which you could win a Kindle Fire.

– Tom Schreck on The Duffy Dombrowski Series –


  • Mike

    September 27, 2012 - 5:57 PM

    To add, so many of you people make me laugh. You talk of physics, yet you have NO knowledge.

  • Mike

    September 27, 2012 - 5:53 PM

    What is this guy talking about? He’s full of it on a few counts.

  • Jeff Barr

    September 14, 2012 - 7:23 PM

    There are more martial arts than Karate. Wing Chun, for example, was invented by a woman–and yes, a trained WC woman can best a thug on the street. A trained, competent boxer, of course, s a different story–but a well trained, skilled WC woman could beat a poorly-trained boxer in real combat.
    You do mention Kung Fu, but you’re referring to hollywood chop-sockey movies, not real-world KF in action. Of course KF can’t overcome biology or physics.

  • le0pard13

    May 24, 2012 - 3:11 PM

    Great post. Tom always brings ‘violence clarity’ to such discussions (as a lurker on his web site can attest). And as Elizabeth already mentioned, while a woman is not going to overpower a much larger opponent, “down and dirty” tactics come into play. A friend in law enforcement once told me the fights he hated to get in the middle of (to break apart) were those that involved a female (one or many) because you didn’t know what would happen. He could predict how a guy would react, but when a woman was in the mix, all bets were off.

  • Thomas Pluck

    May 23, 2012 - 8:56 AM

    All great advice from someone who has obviously trained and fought a lot. This stuff bugs me, too.

    I’ve known some women who can punch well, but I am a 250lb thug. I’ve endured kicks to the groin in helping women train in self-defense, and their success always comes down to two things: eye gouges and nut grabs (okay, four things, technically). Not a kick. Men instinctively protect their boys from knees. Grab and twist.

    You can fight through a lot of pain. Arm locks, wrist locks. A knee to the liver, not so much. And a nut twist? Good luck.

    If you want a 110lb woman to overpower big men, we have the technology. Tasers, stun guns, collapsible batons. But they don’t work all the time, either. I know one fighter who yanked the Taser electrodes out of his chest when the cops came knocking at his door.

    • Elizabeth A. White

      May 23, 2012 - 10:18 AM

      Speaking as a woman of small stature, I’ve always been annoyed at books and films/TV that made it look like a “well trained” woman of any size can wipe the floor with a large, aggressive male attacker(s). As both you and Tom pointed out, simple physics defy that being possible.

      I lift weights, I’m aggressive and hot tempered, and I’ve trained through to Brown Belt level in Shaolin Kempo Karate… but I’d never be so delusional as to think I could take on in a straight up fight a large man intent on doing me harm. Eyes, throat, knees, groin. Those are the targets, down and dirty, plain and simple.

  • Chris

    May 22, 2012 - 12:30 PM

    Very interesting stuff there. Great read. I think #6 and #8 are dead on. Real life, the fight is quick and usually ends up on the ground.

  • sabrina ogden

    May 22, 2012 - 12:29 PM

    Pretty cool information, and I love the photo with the pup! Looking forward to the review tomorrow.

  • Tom

    May 22, 2012 - 11:40 AM

    Thanks Guys.

    Charles–It DOES really hurt. pro boxers often break their hands despite being professionally wrapped taped and gloved. Someone who throws an incorrect punch to say,the forehead is very likely to screw up their hand and maybe forearm. A fighter once broke a bone in his forearm punching me on top of the head.

    Gerald–there are some real ways to knock someone out but it’s a matter of either great force or precision. A good shot on the point of the chin that snaps the head around violently will do it. The cliched karate chop to the right spot on the neck can do it and a really hard shot, anywhere but especially at the back of the head can do it.

    Go to youtube and search knockouts and watch the shots that do it. it would be the same shots in a street fight.

  • Charles Wingfield

    May 22, 2012 - 11:28 AM

    I hate the 1 punch K.O. thing too! And thanks for confirming #3, Tom, because though I’ve never hit anyone it just seems logical that punching someone in the head – bone – with no padding on your hand would really, really hurt.

  • Gerald So

    May 22, 2012 - 11:13 AM

    Thanks for the info, Tom. My main TV/movie fight complaint is when someone gets knocked unconscious with one punch to the face. It doesn’t seem possible unless the victim has been sufficiently softened up. If there is a spot you can hit to knock someone out instantly, what’s to say the instigator will hit that spot exactly in one try?