I recently answered some questions for an upcoming group interview on Booklife — a website supplementing Jeff VanderMeer’s book of the same name — about the effect of martial arts training on writing and vice versa.
In working on the questions, it occurred to me that one thing writing taught me about martial arts is that you can’t use inside jargon to describe techniques and principles about the art to other people. For example, in my story “Blindsided by Venus in the House of Mars” — available in the BVC anthology Rocket Boy and the Geek Girls (that’s a commercial) — I was faced with a fight scene.
In my mind, I described the scene as: “Jace is doing iriminage on Ane, but as he goes to throw her, she grabs his arm, takes a sacrifice fall, and sends him flying.” Which makes perfect sense, if you know how to do iriminage and a sacrifice fall. I can see it perfectly. But if you don’t train in Aikido, it isn’t going to mean anything to you. So here’s what I wrote (in this excerpt, “I” is Ane and “he” is Jace):
Now he spun me around, one hand tight on my neck, holding my head firmly against his body, the other loosely resting on my arm. I grabbed hold of the loose arm with both hands, and went with the backwards fall when he half picked me up with his hip and threw me.
And, just as in our first fight, I jerked his arm as I went, and he flew through the air.
Figuring out how to describe fight scenes in English is great training for a project I’m working on right now: a presentation at WisCon that incorporates Aikido, self defense, feminism, and fiction.
Not only do I have to make sure I can talk about Aikido principles and basic self defense in language that makes sense to those who have never trained in a martial art, but I also have to show why I consider these ideas to be integrated. The connections are all clear to me, but they’re embedded more in the right side of my brain; that is, I understand how these things fit together, but I haven’t put it into words.
One way I’m planning to approach it is to tell a couple of stories, because stories often convey a lot more than the most conscientiously detailed factual presentations. (You can read one of the stories I plan to tell here.) I’m also planning to have people get up and move. It’s a lot easier to explain Aikido principles by having people walk through a couple of very basic (non-threatening) moves.
But I still have to make sure I don’t lapse into jargon or make leaps that are clear to me but not to someone who hasn’t been thinking about these connections for the past 15 years or so.
Communication. It’s really all about communication. And if your audience doesn’t understand you, you aren’t communicating.
That’s true of writing of any kind. It’s true of speaking and other public performance. Funny enough, it’s true of Aikido, too; the art is built on communication between attacker and defender, so that a conflict is resolved instead of escalating into something worse.
The interesting thing about communication — whether in stories or on the Aikido mat — is that the more you begin to understand it, the more avenues of misunderstanding you uncover.
But it’s a good path in life to take up challenging activities that always show you something more just when you think you’ve attained mastery.
Nancy Jane’s novella, Changeling, is now being serialized on Book View Cafe. You can start at Chapter 1 here; a new chapter will be posted every Sunday. An e-book edition of the whole book will soon be available for a modest price.