Freefall fighting
December 7, 2010 11:34 AM   Subscribe

Say you were going to create a martial art for fighting in zero gravity. What would it look like?

Would it be more like karate (striking with punches and kicks), or more like judo (grapples and throws)? What kind of moves would be possible/desirable? How would one compensate for being in freefall? What are all the considerations you would need to allow for?

Take, for instance, the hallway fight scene in Inception. Or if the battle room fights in Ender's Game were fought one-on-one, and unarmed. Suppose that the two opponents had all the time in the world to prepare and train for such a fight. What crazy/cool shit could two trained fighters do to one another?
posted by mumblingmynah to Grab Bag (20 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Some joint locks would be problematic, if not impossible. For example, in a kimura or an old-school hammerlock, you would likely end up just rotating in space -- you'd apply pressure, but you and your opponent would just start spinning. On the other hand, an armbar like this one, in which the limb is bent over a fulcrum between two opposing forces, would still work. That's what I would focus on.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:47 AM on December 7, 2010

Martial artist and sf writer Steve Barnes has covered this territory. The answer there to your question as given, short version: karate.
posted by Zed at 11:48 AM on December 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I asked a similar question a while back. You might like some of the answers.
posted by d. z. wang at 11:54 AM on December 7, 2010

Well, to do any damage you would need to apply force from opposing sides to avoid sending you and your opponent flying. So clenches with knees, headlocks with punches, and joint locks that have at least two points of control (grabbing shoulder and wrist with hands) would all work.

Or, you could piss yourself and throw globules of urine at your opponent.
posted by benzenedream at 11:56 AM on December 7, 2010

Hitting someone would be problematic - kicks would be pretty useless. An old bouncer trick, for huge guys beating on smaller guys, is to grab hold of a guy's shirt or hair, and drag him into the fist as much as launch the fist into his face. Ensures contact every time, and the punch is stronger. This would work in zero G where most of the momentum would otherwise be transferred into moving him around the room instead of sending his nose down his throat... the trick would be to be the one with the best grip to wail away at their opponent.

So a martial art would focus on how to get a handle on your opponent. I would imagine there would be an element of sumo to this, where the opponents would try to grab onto, and be slapped away from, their opponent as either seeks the more advantageous grip.
posted by Slap*Happy at 12:09 PM on December 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Any combat in freefall would likely involve getting one's opponent to a hard surface as quickly as possible. So- grappling in flight and using momentum to either turn your opponent (allowing you to land with your legs braced against a bulkhead, enabling you to strike or hold your opponent), or propelling your opponent directly into a hard surface or object.

Training might involve exercises that would allow one to quickly adapt to rapid changes in orientation- doing things to confuse the inner ear and then quickly recover. Also lots of practice getting your legs between you and any approaching surface.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:12 PM on December 7, 2010

Or you could just grab somone around the hips with your legs and stab them repeatedly.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:13 PM on December 7, 2010

This is out of left field, but an apt comparison is fighting in hockey. Fighting on ice is kind of like zero-g in two dimensions. If you punch someone when you're both on skates, you'd normally just fly away from each other. So the fighters will generally use their left hands to hold on to the other's jersey, and the right hand to wail away as much as the can. It's pretty much the only way to make the fight work.

A strategy that developed in the 90s was for someone about to get into a fight to just take their own jersey right off. This way their opponent can't get a good grip on them, and the jersey-less fighter is at a distinct advantage. The NHL respondent by requiring all players to have their jerseys tied down to their shorts at all time. I assume similar issues would arise in real zero-g.
posted by auto-correct at 12:21 PM on December 7, 2010 [5 favorites]

The first one to wrap his leg around his opponent and gouge their eyes out wins.

Everything is based around attacking the eyes, jaw, and throat. Weakest parts on the body, don't need much leverage to do killing damage. Hook your finger inside the cheek and rip. Knife hand to the side of the windpipe. Grab the hair/beard with one hand, palm-heel strike to the jaw while yanking the head forward. As the palm heel connect with the jaw, the fingernail rake the eyes. No punching, you'll just break your hand. The base of the palm at the end of your forearm is a battering ram with a deployable eye-claw.

Humans did not evolve to move in zero g. All our natural instincts, neurology, and body mechanics are completely alien to the environment. Then there's the dictum that any street fight that lasts more than 2 seconds devolves into unpredictable chaos.

End it quickly and decisively, or try and get all cool in the midst of swirling, violent chaos that all the hundreds of thousands of years of evolution that you are the product of have done absolutely nothing to prepare you for.

Fighters in zero g won't be Bruce Lee, they'll be Michael "Desolation" Jones
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 12:27 PM on December 7, 2010

there would probably be a whole set of new moves like getting your opponent spinning so fast they become disoriented
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 12:38 PM on December 7, 2010

Another thing to add -- look at water safety, life-saving resources. Lifeguards have a handful of defensive moves when dealing with panicking people, who will mindlessly grapple with them in the water in an attempt to hold onto something. Lifeguards have kicks, separation and grappling techniques to get a handle on people that would otherwise drown both of them.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:59 PM on December 7, 2010

I seem to remember Ender's Game going into a lot of detail on this - the main issue is that you have to lose your sense of 'up' and 'down' and just focus on surfaces becoming launching areas
posted by Mchelly at 1:08 PM on December 7, 2010

Well, I suppose you could throw out almost everything except grappling and crowding your opponent.

If you were in zero gravity and assuming you have no guarantee that there'll be something to hold on to, or rebound off of, then any high impact would only push you and your opponent apart; that would be desirable for a defender but not for an attacker. Any strikes which required the limbs to extend much would thus not be useful unless you were certain it would end the fight. Hence, crowding.

Once you've crowded someone then a few things need to happen. One is you need to anchor yourself to them somehow, otherwise - again - strikes will push you apart. So you grab their shirt, or a wrist, or whatever. You hold on to them. Then you start in with strikes, which (being at such close quarters) will probably look quite a bit like muay thai in that it will use knees and elbows a lot if it's to do any good. Strike with both knees and your free arm. Or crowd them, get them into a bodyscissors, use both free arms and elbow strike the head. Not pretty but it'd get the job done.

The biggest hurdle would be completely realigning your sense of how the world works. Whoever adapts to that in the shortest order would probably come out on top. For example if you tried long strikes you'd realize how much of the work gravity usually does - it's not just your leg pushing forward but your other leg pushing back on the ground. That sort of thing. Basically whoever abandons concepts like up or down first is the winner.

As far as cool moves - and interesting ways to end it quickly - consider this.

You'd need to get near a hard surface, and get your back to it as soon as you can. After that, there are any number of techniques which would accomplish this but the end result is the same so I'll just toss one out: First, of course, you would need to do this quickly and in one motion. When not in a grapple, you grab your opponent's hair (much more useful in zero-G since it will actually act as a load-bearing handhold). Bracing yourself against the hard surface (a particularly graceful fighter could do so with a hand since this move only needs one hand to work), you kick forward as hard as you can in the general area of their knees. This will send their lower body flying backwards, relative to you, and at the same time you would push their head down and let go of their hair.

If executed properly they will now be spinning lengthwise away from you (and therefore the hard surface). But as they're in zero gravity, then as long as they don't get a grip on anything solid or any other hard surface then they have no way to stop spinning. At that point the threat they present is reduced to making sure they don't get too close to anything they could use to stabilize themselves.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 1:12 PM on December 7, 2010

...practice getting your legs between you and any approaching surface.
...just focus on surfaces becoming launching areas

If this was in a space station or some such enclosure, perhaps you could use both feet to launch yourself off one surface towards another. Being prepared to hit the other surface feet first (some kind of tuck and flail combo to turn around) you repeat, bouncing all around your opponent, until you have an advantageous orientation to him.

With no surfaces, this special purpose move occurred to me: grab opponent by the cuffs of his pants, hold them close to your face. Kick him in the face with both feet, now you scissor out from him, pivoting on your handholds. When you both meet again at the 180 degree point, kick him again in the back of the head, in the opposite direction for you (kick forward then kick backward.) Bounce back and forth like this.
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:34 PM on December 7, 2010

Dittoing Ender's Game.

Also, Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan saga has a culture genetically engineered to live in zero-G. Diplomatic Immunity describes their free-fall ballet.
posted by kestrel251 at 2:05 PM on December 7, 2010

If we dispense with the art part of the question, I'd be inclined towards biting and choking.
posted by advicepig at 3:10 PM on December 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Bruce Sterling's excellent Schismatrix talks about zero g judo - as I recall it's all about the centre of mass and joint locks, getting the opponent spinning and using their mass to dislocate limbs etc.
posted by Sebmojo at 6:25 PM on December 7, 2010

I guess a big issue is whether you have walls/floors to brace against. A lot of people have mentioned spinning the other person; but if you can't brace yourself, you're going to end up spinning yourself an equal amount (angular momentum is conserved).
posted by auto-correct at 8:18 PM on December 7, 2010

If you've been in zero g long enough to develop a fighting style, then you've been in zero g long enough to lose a serious amount of muscle tissue and bone density. That means you avoid prolonged grappling, you use your opponent's momentum to make up for lost strength, and you don't punch or kick unless it will end the fight. Throws, combined with an awareness of the walls, will be decisive.
posted by Iridic at 9:45 PM on December 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

As far as grappling, wrestling in its current form would be mostly useless, as it's great for takedowns and maintaining top position.

But a lot of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) would be relevant -- especially gi-based, as it teaches you how to use grips on clothing to control another person's body. And by pulling your opponent in close, you pretty much nullify their striking ability. The concepts of top vs. bottom game would be gone, as they rely on both gravity and a floor behind your opponent to block their movement. Actually the entire hierarchy of positions (full guard, half-guard, side-control, mount, back) would need to be rethought, and most of the open guard positions (including x-guard, de la Riva, etc.) would be all but useless. Pulling full guard would be identical to getting mount (VERY strong attacking position), for example, and a lot of focus would center on getting/preventing full guard.

Many attacks ("submissions", in the sport) would still work very well. Most chokes would work: Rear naked chokes, collar chokes, triangles, arm triangles. A lot of joint locks would work: kimura from guard (you're using their legs to keep them from spinning away), americana, all sorts of armbars, kneebars, wrist locks.

Training BJJ regularly would help maintain muscle mass, bone density, and endurance, giving the fighter a tremendous advantage in these areas against someone else who has also been in zero-g for a while. Keep in mind that a lot of the "lethal" striking attacks (eye gouges and groin attacks come to mind) are impossible to train at full speed unless you have a very accommodating training partner (robot? slave? clone?).
posted by LordSludge at 8:17 AM on December 8, 2010

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