TAKE THE HIT - Asking Fighters to Critique My Gladiatrix
Updated: Feb 17
ENTERING THE ARENA - Gladiators Hijack My Life
GLADIATRIX - "Gladia-what?!" Female Gladiator
STAMINA - Academia Critiques My Gladiatrix, So I Become a History Major Instead of Studying Literature & Writing
24 years old
I sit with my knees drawn up and my arms wrapped around them on my couch. For some inexplicable reason, I adore this couch. I got it from the thrift store for fifteen dollars, my garish, 1970s sea of silvery-cream velour, dotted with orange and goldenrod flowers. My gaze burrows into one of the forest green leaves. It’s curled up tight like I am. I wish I could shrink myself down and crawl inside that leaf. Only then would I feel safe enough to peep up at him.
He’s reading the first chapter of my gladiator novel--the opening fight scene between a famous champion and the woman who has disguised her gender beneath armor, a breast-binding, and a closed-face helmet.
It’s taken months for me to dare show him this chapter. He is the closest thing to a gladiator I’ve ever known--a lithe, quick-footed, foe-obliterator. A fine-boned powerhouse in medieval armor and a heraldic coat more vivid than my couch. When I first met him, he held the rank of champion. He was a squire then. Now he’s a knight.
He’s been teaching me how to wield weapons much lighter than the ones that were first put into my hands, and I feel like it’s finally beginning to click for the first time since I started. He’s a natural teacher, enthusiastic and encouraging, detailed and exacting.
He’s also the man I love, so his opinion is…
Well, it's weightier than my armor and that gargantuan war shield I’ve stopped trying to huck on the battlefield.
He starts in on the last page. My heart chokes me. It’s up there in my throat, pounding, pounding, on the edge of its esophageal seat as it peeks up to watch him through the corner of my eye. My heart is stupider than I am, trying to gauge his reaction.
It’ll be fine. Whatever critiques he has will only improve the scene. You already know that from Kyle's feedback. That was invaluable information from a longtime martial artist that you never could have acquired without being brave enough to start asking fighters to help you edit this story.
He is not Kyle.
No, he's not. But today you get the opinion of a fighter who actually uses armor and weapons. It'll be all right. It’ll be more than all right. You know how to take a hit from him. He only blasts you to better teach you, and the proof is right there in your hands every time you pick up a weapon.
It’s also in my new boyfriend's hands at this very moment, because I couldn’t have edited this old fight sequence without everything he’s been teaching me. I mean, come on. I first wrote the thing when I was seventeen, long before I’d ever picked up a weapon or learned what it felt like to heft armor.
He flips the bulk of the chapter back over the final page. The whole thing drops into his lap. Nothing but his eyes move--two blue javelins hurling skepticism at me in advance of his words: “Is this some kind of femi-nazi book?”
Like his nine-foot spear straight into my diaphragm.
“Wh-what?” I can barely get the sound out my mouth. Can barely squeeze it past the remains of my obliterated heart. The once-beating, once glowing organ slides down my throat like goo and splats into the bottom of my guts.
His look says it all: if that snippet of a story would have been Chapter One of a book, he would have chucked the whole thing over his shoulder in disgusted disbelief. He never would have read another word.
“I mean, come on,” he snickers, lips mashed up. He swats off a laugh through his nose. “Really?”
Otherwise why the hell has he been teaching me how to fight?
His "let's get back to reality" look assures me that his words are for my own good. "So you've got this champion and his opponent is..."
She's a fucking champion.
And no, she's not as experienced or as famous as my male gladiator is. That's why I wrote the fight scene the way I did. So why am I wasting my time learning to fight from this man if it’s so inconceivable to him that a female could ever beat a male? More so, why is he wasting his time? Because over ninety percent of the opponents he’s training me to fight against are men, most of them considerably bigger than I am.
Oh, what? Is it simply inconceivable that a no-name gladiatrix from the sticks with a Miyagi-like mentor could ever learn to face an almighty champion from a much bigger city and win?
Huh. Sounds like two other people we know. Except he’s supposedly my Miyagi.
Certain incidents flash through my mind. Certain comments. That day he made fun of me in the car. His demeaning comments about that embarrassing thing I have no control over. Those lies he believed about me so easily. The big lie he told me himself, and those other smaller...semi-truths left open to my interpretation because I was missing some important information. Are there others that I just haven't yet figured out?
I suddenly wonder if the biggest reason he’s been giving me any time on the field is because he’s got his dick in me, and that his every encouraging word has been the means to lubricate my twat.
Would he shift to pure dickishness if I ever got to the point where I could defeat him? I really hope he's not like other teachers I've known, seemingly attentive and helpful, while covertly making sure I can never quite reach my full potential. If I ever started showing signs of really getting this whole fighting thing, would he downright sabotage me like my most toxic teachers have? Is he actually undermining me when we train? Because that comment--"femi-nazi"--I find that completely demoralizing, and it undermines everything he's ever said to encourage me on the field.
If he is this skeptical and condescending about my gladiatrix...
Ishavanni is not me. She might have inherited some of my quirks and characteristics, but so have my other characters, and there are a bunch of key differences between the Giant-Slayer and me. I'm not only talking about the fact that she's a glamazon nearly six-feet tall. She is a very different animal when it comes to fighting. It's one of the things she was born to do, and she's been pursuing it since she was a little girl.
So if he thinks that she's bullshit, what must he think of piddly little me? I suddenly can't help fearing that he's actually a sexist prick under that charming smile, incapable of fathoming the notion that someone like me could ever beat someone like him, given the right encouragement and training.
Well, obviously I'm never going to receive it from him. Not in writing fight scenes. Not in fighting, period.
Image by Kirk Lanier
In a last-ditch effort to defend my gladiatrix’s existence as she is, I pull out my best lawyerly rhetoric, but the proof is all there in my boyfriend's eyes. Come to think of it, the patronizing way he looks down his nose at me is the hot-stuff fighter-jock version of that writing professor in college.
Genre fiction = prepubescent tripe.
Female champion = same thing.
And these guys are by no means the only ones who have reacted to my story this way. If it's not condescension about writing fantasy in general, then it's this issue with the fact that my Giant-Slayer has tits and the giants in question do not.
She is not a boxer. She is not a wrestler. And besides, weight-class discrepancy does not automatically dictate victory and loss, especially when you're dealing with bladed weapons. I'd like to see any big bruiser out-muscle a slash to the throat or skewered eyeballs. Height, weight, and reach do not guarantee anything.
The Romans knew that. They enjoyed pitting light-armored and heavy-armored fighters against each other. Fast and maneuverable vs. hefty and protected. They craved these kinds of discrepancies for the interest factor, especially when somebody could get creative and crafty, upsetting what "should have been" an obvious trouncing.
Which is exactly what I've drafted in this opening fight scene: an unlikely upset.
If I had written my underdog victor with a penis, would my boyfriend have dived straight into fight critique to help me make the scene viable? Would we, at this very moment, be standing up, reenacting the combat sequence? Or does his prejudice extend to anybody who isn't over six feet tall like he is?
Huh. I guess that's something else I've written into that opening match. Because the almighty Dread Lord of the Arena makes some pretty hefty ASSumptions about how guaranteed he is to win his fight against a smaller, rattier opponent.
Makes me yearn to see my boyfriend get his ass thrashed by that fast, furious, nasty little whirling dervish of a knight from Ansteorra that I drooled over during pickup fights at Pennsic last year.
I take my pages back and don’t say another word about it. Instead, I carry them into that one deep closet and crawl in behind the long coats and dresses. Only then do I turn on my pocket flashlight. I cross out a bunch of stuff in that opening fight sequence in an attempt to figure out how I can make this female protagonist the slightest bit palatable to the mysoginistic world of fantasy writers, fighters, readers, publishers, and nerds who say they love women in armor.
Sure. As long as said women are wearing little else and it’s really their amazing Jedi tit-tricks that win the day, not their fighting skill.
I swear, some days I truly am Ishavanni, in an uphill battle against a deluge of swaggering pricks looking down their big-bulge noses as they try to swat me down onto my dick-sucking knees where they think I belong. Don't get me wrong. It can be fun down there. I enjoy it mightily in the right circumstances.
But I also love towering over them as they lie on their backs in the dirt, staring up at the point of the weapon I've got aimed between their eyes.
Thus far in my life, I haven't found many men who are attracted to me in that moment. Not in this fighting thing. Not in sports. Really not in smarts.
And that's too bad. Because we could've had a whole lot of fun together.
CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE
--UP NEXT: 9/11 - 20 Years Ago Yesterday
--OR: I write a lot about The Arena
--OR: if you're interested in what finally got me into a karate dojo, you can read about that HERE
IF YOU MISSED THIS GEEKERY THE FIRST TIME:
1) The Gladiators
-- 10 More Things You May Not Know About Gladiators - especially if all you know is the Hollywood version
--The Insane Real Life of a Gladiator (Bwahaha! He said, "Commode-us.")
--What did the Gladiators wear and fight with? - way more than the Usual Suspects we see onscreen
--The Argument: Were Gladiators Vegan? - major carbs, some protein & fats and YES - a mineral-bomb drink made of ash. Yummy. My gladiators have named this concoction "Ass--I mean, Ash Swill."
--Fascinating Facts About Those Ancient Arena Sex Symbols