Friday, December 16, 2011

Orcish Martial Arts?
Image of this badass orc
borrowed without permission.

The idea of martial arts in fantasy has been bandied around and used for a long time. However, it is usually in relation to the more “civilized” races. But, imagine if a culture such as Orcs had developed an organized fighting art.

In order to imagine this, one has to first define what kind of culture the Orcs in question live in. There seems to be as many different types of Orcs and Orc Cultures as there are fantasy writers willing to write about them. From Tolkien’s hate-filled brutes, to Stan Nicholl’s near-human warriors of honor, to World of Warcraft’s tribal crusaders; the common threads seem to be that Orcs are strong, brutal warriors. So, it would stand to reason that any fighting art developed by Orcs, regardless of culture, would be filled with offensive strikes, debilitating defenses, and the mindset that “anything goes” in a fight.

As an eclectic martial artist myself (though way out of shape and practice), I am drawn to the more direct, non-flashy styles of fighting; boxing, kickboxing, Krav Maga, etc. I think Orcs would feel the same way. In fact, I would wager that your average Orc would get a huge kick (no pun intended) out of MMA. So, in my mind, an Orcish martial art would resemble that. Imagine Randy Couture with green skin and tusks.

For techniques we’re looking at a lot of heavy punches, direct kicks, and maybe some simple joint locks and throws. But Orcs wouldn’t abide by no rules, so head butts, groin shots and rabbit punches would be pretty normal. Hell, even a bite or finger gouge would be called for, should the need arise. Punches and kicks would be heavy, with the aim of crushing flesh and bone. Joint locks would be designed to break limbs, or at least disable them. And throws would preferably involve a solid object to aim your opponent’s body at.

An Orcish martial art would probably operate on the principle of “The best defense is a good offense.” While blocking an attack would be something that would be done, it would most often be done in a way that the blocked appendage would suffer some damage. Basically, an incoming punch makes the arm your new target, etc. And like many Asian arts, defending yourself while making a simultaneous counter-attack would be the norm. Add to this dodging, bobbing, and weaving, and you have all the defense you need.

I always envisioned Orcs who “train” doing so in very strenuous ways. Physical strength and endurance would be paramount, so many of their exercises would involve developing those attributes. Kettle bells are an ancient tool for strength-training, and I envisioned in one story I was writing that Orcs would use something similar. Basically two round stones of equal weight, with rope handles attached. There are tons of exercises one could do with these, not the least of which would be to simply carry them from place to place.

Your average Orc village won’t have access to any kind of gym equipment, so calisthenics would be largely used. Push ups, pull ups, and squats might form the foundation. Then add in running, rope-climbing, and moving around various sizes of logs and stones. For an idea of the kinds of things Orcs might do, watch a Strong Man Competition or Highland Games. Those guys are animals!

As anyone who has ever punched a heavy bag, or even a person, can attest, if your knuckles aren’t either protected or conditioned (or ideally both), you can hurt yourself pretty bad. And that will end your fight or training session real quick. So, how would Orcs condition their knuckles? The answer: Punch a tree. Similar to how Wing Chun artists use a wooden dummy and sand bags, Orcs would practice punching solid objects that, while solid enough to resist their force, would be pliable enough to not break every bone upon impact. A nice, ripe Pine is perfect. The bark is thick, and the trunk is solid. Besides, who cares about trees anyways? They’re an asset. The same could go for kicks, knee strikes, and elbow strikes. You ever see Van Damme’s Kickboxer? That’s some harsh, Orcish training right there.

Most formal martial arts involve choreographed movements done in a specific order, usually referred to as forms or katas. These are designed to develop muscle memory on how the body moves from one technique to the next logical technique, in response to a likely attack or target. However, Orcs would probably eschew such formalities. Rather than performing a “dance” with an imaginary foe, Orcs are more likely to test their knowledge and abilities on live targets. Ideally, each other. Therefore, students in a class would be encouraged to pick fights with one-another. These might be formal challenges, or on-the-spot walking up and punching someone. No hard feelings are usually left after it’s over. And if they are, so what? Are you an Orc or a pansy Elf?

That being said, chances are Orcs would be pragmatic enough to know to pull back a little. Especially when applying joint locks and other wrestling-type moves. Pile-driving your foe’s head into a rock might work when fighting for your life. But in practice, well, it’s just a waste of resources. If you kill your foe in practice, who are you going to practice with next time? And when it comes down to it, if you go to battle, you want as many fighting-worthy mates with you as possible.

So, what do we have now? We have a brutal, no-holds-barred style of fighting that closely resembles a WWE wrestling match combined with the Spartan agoge. Savvy martial artists might come to the conclusion that this martial art could be seen as Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do on steroids. Either way, Orcs who practice this art would be formidable, scary, and downright nasty in a fight. But, it wouldn’t stop there. This unarmed form is just the beginning. Once the Orc learns to deal damage and mayhem with his bare hands (and feet, knees, elbows, head, teeth…) he gets to learn to apply all of that to weapons!

So, what do we call this art? Ideas?


Charles Gramlich said...

I have Ruenn in the Talera books do a few martial arts type moves although I never explain exactly what it is.

Joe Bonadonna said...

Excellent blog, Tom!!!!Author Ted (T.C.) Rypel is another authority on martial arts. His (so far) 5-volume sage of "Gonji The Samurai" gets very much into Bushido and martial arts.

Sharlin said...

I'm an avoid Warcraft player and RPer myself and this has been most useful. My Orc Gherrek (and I had a rogue called Gortek too, will have to get that book now :p) is a real brawler and grappler, him and his mate are always tussling and scrapping for fun and in that there's rules, no closed fisted blows etc, but you are right, against anyone else their fighting would be brutal and efficient, not showy, but 'designed' to do maximum damage in the minimum amount of time. *faves this blog*