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Brawl vs Martial Arts

I'll take Brawl, thank you.

Wheeee! *smack*

-- Mailanka

Good thing i had Ebon Shadow Form up and my Thunderbolt shield out

-- Killed

Urge to kill... rising... -- DaveFayram

<overdub>Your Brawl style is great.. but my Dragon Style will defeat it! </overdub>

-- MidKnight

... riiiiising ...

Who was silly enough to even suggest the name of this post?? hehe Well as long as we don't get GladiusPopuli(AKA TheScreenJockey) in here, no one will go about swearing their heads off about the subject.

... falling.... Homer: Noo beer... no tv... make homer... Marge: Go Crazy? Homer: Don't mind if i do!


Sadly that honor belongs to me, i figured it'd only be a matter of time before some of the more notorious board trolls found somewhere else to duke it out so rather than have a million new pages and running arguments across pages i made this one.


Can’t… resist… compulsion to write…

Okay, so we have Brawl and Martial Arts. So how do we differentiate them? Well, I watched Enter the Dragon a few weeks ago, and Bruce Lee has a very nifty quote in an early scene, part of which is, “And when there is an opportunity, I do not hit - it hits all by itself.” Martial artists talk about the flow of energy through the body rather than about mere physical strength. And the Prismatic Arrangement of Creation Form essentially allows you to become one with Creation, an effect that can be duplicated by anyone who knows enough other Forms. So…

What if Martial Arts in Exalted are not merely systems of physical combat? What if all of the spirituality and ritual is not merely there for learning purposes, but is an integral part of the art? What if the martial artist does not use her own strength and speed, but instead taps into the fundamental Forms of creation and borrows their strength and speed for her own? What if the Martial Arts, even the mortal form, are actually a form of magic?

This explains why one can only use a single Form Charm at a time; the martial artist is emulating and thus becoming one with one of the threads of the tapestry of Creation, and cannot do this with more than one of the cosmic Forms at a given time (until she learns Prismatic Arrangement of Creation Form, anyway). And, most interestingly, this approach finally establishes a meaningful difference between Martial Arts and the other combat Abilities. If the Martial Arts are a form of magic, then they can be affected by magic in ways that other combat skills cannot. One could use sorcery or Charms to insulate a target or an area from the Forms that the martial artist draws on, blocking the use of Martial Arts for those affected. Conversely, by drawing on the link, certain spells or Charms might tap the essence of a Form, perhaps allowing a Martial Artist to take on the shape of the Form (shapechange an Immaculate into a Dragon, anyone?).

And most simply (though uncanonically), if martial arts are magical in nature, then Charms that have no effect on magical attacks won’t stop martial arts attacks… even normal ones made by normal martial artists. Suddenly, we can emulate the old Shaolin Temple stories, with peasant monks laying the smack down on unwary non-Immaculate DBs who find that many of their defensive Charms just don’t work.  ;) Contrariwise, defenses that only work against magic (are there any?) will stop martial artists while having no effect on brawlers.

What do you think?

- Quendalon

The Li-Rock Criterion is simple and effective:

If I can imagine Jet Li doing it, it is Martial Arts.

If I can imagine the Rock doing it, it is Brawl.

You don't have to futz around with all this BS about sensing ki or strength versus speed or East versus West or instructive versus empirical. All you need to do is think of the move, then decide whether it would seem more natural being done by a kung-fu star, or a pro wrestler. It works every time for me.


What criterion do you use to differentiate between Melee and armed Martial Arts? How would you describe a Melee specialist's use of a seven-section staff to make it look different from a martial artist with the same weapon?

- Quendalon

Since the seven-section staff requires you to have MA 4 to use it, it'll have the same kung-fu look whether or not you're using your Melee score instead of MA.

I don't have a similarly pat answer for Brawl weapons, but that's not actually salient to the matter at hand. A more appropriate question would be to ask what the difference between armed MA and armed Brawl is, which is again handily resolved by the Li-Rock Criterion, or a similarly cinematic method.

For an example of how the same weapon can be used as both MA and Brawl and remain distinctive, watch X-Men 2. Skip to the fight between Wolverine and Deathstryke. Wolvie is using his tiger claws in what is obviously a Brawl style. Deathstryke is using hers in a Martial Arts style.


Okay, the seven-section staff was a bad example. I don't have my books with me, so could you please pick a Martial Arts weapon that doesn't have a MA requirement and isn't a brawling aid? There'll be no weaseling around the spirit of my question on a technicality.  :)

- Quendalon

There is no Martial Arts weapon that doesn't have a MA requirement, unless you're talking about the Immaculate styles. I'll assume you are. That's also easy, since Immaculates get certain bonuses when using their signature weapons that other people using those weapons don't. You can tell the Immaculate with a tetsubo from the Melee guy with a tetsubo because the Immaculate swings it much faster. You can tell the Air Immaculate from the Thrown guy because the Immaculate hurls half-a-dozen chakrams at once. And so on.

In an in-game sense, the Immaculates are also probably wielding their weapons in a fashion different from how Melee monkeys do. For example: in the Scorpion King, the Rock makes much use of a scimitar-like weapon. In Tai Chi Master, Jet Li uses a similar (though lighter and more flexible) weapon. However, despite the similarities in weapon design, the two actors use completely different fighting styles. Rock uses what is almost certainly a Melee style -- a flourish here and there, but nothing too flashy. Jet Li, on the other hand, does all the characteristic kung fu stuff, with blade-waving feints and such. In addition, the two men's bodies are moving in completely different ways. The Rock is using a generic Melee stance, where he's basically standing up straight (unless he's ducking under a swing or diving across the room or whatever). Li is obviously doing Martial Arts because as he fights with his sword, he's doing flashy katas -- when he ducks, or crouches, or spins around, it isn't necessarily in reaction to anything his opponent is doing. He's doing it because that's how his MA sword style works. If he was using Melee, he'd look more like a European fencer.

Corollary to the Li-Rock Criterion: the flashier the style is overall, the more likely it is to be MA.


Um... so all Martial Arts weapons require MA, but your example involves both participants using a Melee weapon? The MA user in your example is doing something that I can't replicate in Exalted using the available ruleset, so I find it less than entirely satisfying.  :(

Personally, I can ignore the artificiality of the Brawl/MA distinction, but it breaks down for me once you get into the Melee/MA distinction. Aside from my own understanding of Western-style fencing from when I used to fence, I'll note that cinematic European swordsmanship can be just as flashy and acrobatic as cinematic Asian sworsdmanship (think of the Three Musketeers or Zorro), with lots of ducking and crouching and spinning. I guess you can then say that Melee is anything using the old Conan-swinging-a-broadsword approach, and that swashbuckling European fencing also falls under MA, but in my opinion that's even worse.

Also, there's the old problem of the MA 5 / Melee 0 character who can clip your eyebrows with a couple of passes from his hooked swords, but who's likely to lop off his own foot if you give him a couple of ordinary swords that are lacking in the hook department.


The example I gave isn't perfectly replicable (no MA in Exalted has slashing sword as a signature weapon), but it's fully analogous to, say, a Melee guy wielding two short swords and a Fire Dragon MA guy wielding two short swords.

There actually is overlap between MA and Melee (and Brawl and Melee for that matter). However, I don't think that it really causes problems with distinguishing between the two abilities, since there isn't the potential for complete overlap like Brawl v. MA. Certain weapons are designated as MA weapons; you need MA to use them. If you are super-skilled in Melee, you'll be even better at using them. The best defense I can come up with for this on the spot is to compare the situation to D&D 3+, where certain skills offer "synergy bonuses" to certain other skills. For example, if you have a certain number of ranks in Tumble, you get a bonus to all your Balance checks because a skilled Tumbler should obviously develop better-than-average Balance. Your Melee score in Exalted is doing the same thing for your MA weapon use: you need to know MA to use these weapons, but if your Melee is very high, you gain a bonus due to your encyclopedic understanding of all weapons that don't require MA. This bonus is reflected by allowing you to use the higher of the two ability scores. This obviously doesn't map 1:1 to the D&D situation -- synergy is a general case in D&D (most skills allow synergy bonuses), while it's a special case in Exalted (only Melee does it). But the underlying idea is, I think, very similar.

The "how can we tell fencing is not MA" issue can be dealt with by realizing that armed combat is only a small subset of what MA is about. Mostly, MA is unarmed combat. D'Artagnan can jump around and wave his saber all he wants, and it won't make him a martial artist in the Exalted sense of the words. He can even do the occasional bell-punch or kick to his enemy's midriff when the opportunity presents itself. However, his fighting style revolves completely around his sword; there is no version of fencing which is practiced with bare hands. It's Melee. D'Artagnan is not using his Melee ability to punch or kick his opponents; he's probably using Brawl.

By contrast, all weaponry -- even signature weaponry -- is optional for Exalted MA. Lyta prefers to fight with her tiger claws, obviously, but she could do just as well without them, and (key concept) her style would still be identifiable as Tiger Style even without the signature weapon. Tiger Style isn't based around tiger claws in the same way that any Melee style imaginable is based around having a weapon in your hands. Same deal with all the other MA styles. A lot of people don't seem to really get this distinction; just go to MartialArts and I'm sure you'll find at least three styles which rely on their signature weapons.

The reason the MA guy can handle hook swords like a pro but can't make head or tail of a straight sword is that Exalted handles weapons in an extremely simplified, generalized way (as I'm sure you're aware). Melee guys are assumed to train with all weapons that don't have a MA requirement; MA guys are assumed to train only with weapons that have a MA requirement. If anything, the MA guy is closer to being "realistic," since he's not gaining quite such a comically broad skill set. This is just a general side-effect of the Exalted ability system; the abilities (except red-headed stepchild Dodge) are so inclusive that hilarity often ensues.

(As a side note, I think another fairly important thing to realize about fighting styles in general is that they almost always involve training in more than one ability. Learning ninjutsu isn't just MA; it's also Stealth, and probably Thrown, too. Learning fencing is Melee, but it's also Dodge, and maybe even a little Brawl. Any kind of martial training whatsoever will probably include Athletics, Endurance, and Resistance. This is where many of the similarities between the three hand-to-hand combat styles come from.)


This thread is drifting; to bring it back I'll talk a little about my distinction between Brawl and MA.

Brawl is about using your body to hurt people.

Martial Arts are about applying physical principles to hurt people.

Likewise, supernatural Brawl is about using your body better, or making your body better; supernatural MA is about applying supernatural principles, or using physical principles in unnaturally effective ways.

This allows us to make a distinction between the two methods of fighting: There is a corpus of maneuvers that can be performed unarmed; the 'special unarmed combat maneuvers' in the combat chapter of the corebook are a subset of these. An examination of the combat mechanics and some real-world fighting techniques (capoeira and aikido are fresh in my mind) show that some of these techniques are abstracted out into the system or represented via Stunts, while others have maneuvers attached. Assume that these maneuvers can be characterized by their physical qualities, via a set of binary features (every technique is x or not x, where x is some quality like circular, vertical, joint-lock, etc.

Brawlers don't consciously use these features; they have a 'vocabulary' of techniques they have learned, with no principled distinction between those and those that they have not learned. Martial Artists, on the other hand, learn a repertoire of principles, and are capable of using a technique when they can use the principles it applies. Then we can define styles by their repertoire of principles, and so some styles will be perpetually unable to do certain things while specializing in others, while a master brawler has unlimited flexibility in learning techniques as he sees fit. We can use weapons as techniques here and explain how hookswords are different than estocs and shamshirs in reference to their geometry, and have an implicit definition of compatible weapons of an MA style as 'weapons that use the same principles as the style'.

The strength of this is that it gives us a line between Brawl and MA at the natural rather than supernatural level, at the cost of rather intense complexity.

- FourWillowsWeeping

Hokay. I usally just go by the Li vs Rock criterion for deciding what a visually described move is for Brawl vs Martial Arts.

But why have the two be distinct Abilities? What is gained?

Put another way- wrap Martial Arts under Brawl. Replace it with Polearms, as distinguished from normal melee by the visual style of the weapon being used. Hell, it's still more mechanically distinct- polearms are more useful than swords in a some situations.

- DariusSolluman

What is gained by creating a new Polearms ability? There isn't any mechanical differentiation between those and, say, bokken, katars, knuckle spikes, etc., except varying weapon parameters. Granted, IRL there is a distinctive difference, but in-game you'd have to create additional rules for it. If we're to be dividing by existant mechanical differentiation rather than by real-world considerations, I'd rather made a distinction between travelling, combat horsemanship, and so on. - FourWillowsWeeping
That's exactly my point. There's no mechanical distinction between Brawl and Martial Arts, although there's eight kinds of flavor difference. That's why they shouldn't be distinct Abilities, any more than a pure flavor difference between the Abilities of Melee and Polearms should exist. I don't know what should replace Brawl (I lie- Tactics should replace Brawl ;) but it should be replaced in any case. - DariusSolluman
I see your point and raise you one - since we're talking about changing the deep structure of the game, we should have no qualms about changing shallow structure. What makes folding two abilities together to introduce a third superior to posing rules that differentiate the existing abilities? - FourWillowsWeeping
Nothing at all*, if you keep the two abilities roughly balanced. Most of the differentation rules I've seen seem to give a distinct advantage to Martial Arts with nothing for Brawl, and/or makes Martial Arts much harder to get. I personally kinda like the idea that each dot of Martial Arts you get gives you a +1 'Style' advantage you can put in Speed, Accuracy, Damage or Defense, and you can buy Martial Arts multiple times for multiple Styles.
But that's not what the discussion here has been about. Here, it's been, 'Martial Arts is visually distinct from Brawl', a fact no one is actually contesting. - DariusSolluman
  • An arguablly superior point to introducing a new Ability instead of mechanically differentating the existing ones is to provide for an Ability that someone feels is missing.
I was thinking about it and I think perhaps we should compare both Martial Arts and Brawl in a simple but complete manner, by asking questions and giving the answer.
What? The answer is the same here for Brawl and Martial Arts for the most part, beating people and things up (without looking to Ebon Shadow Style). How? Again, mostly the same. Both use punches, kicks, holds, throws, and some strikes. There is a tendancy for Martial Arts Charms to have a subtlety that Brawl Charms don't (read most Form Charms, they have a not quite obvious effect, like the hynotizing effect of Snake Form.) When? Again, mostly the same, in combat. Where? Except for your incredibly specialized Martial Arts, perhaps to be used in the air or water only, both Brawl and Martial Arts can be used anywhere.
And the final question... Why? Oh, and suddenly there is a large difference. Brawl has a simple answer. You hit like this because it works, it works well, it is effecient. As I see it, Brawl is all about being practical. You hit harder, faster, or in a way that hits more with one attack. With Martial Arts, it's not so simple. There really is a basic philosophy behind why you do things this way or that. It's not just a matter of what works. They do use things that work, but you need that philosophy, to understand it, and maybe (probably) believe in it for Martial Arts. This is especially true for the Charms of Martial Arts.
I think back to anime (and some different sources). In Shadow Skill, Gau has a high level of general skill, and greater strength and toughness than most, and his agility equals the general number of the best fighters. Yet, he has problems with even the basics, and the secret special abilities of his Martial Art escape him because he just doesn't understand. I do think Martial Arts should be harder to learn (though for a skilled martial artist who doesn't find a style he agrees with, creating a style he likes is the most common path, even in the history of our world. "I don't get Dragon Style, so I'll make my own and beat you up to prove it works!" The Brawler doesn't have that problem. It's very modular. Though it's probably easiest to be taught, someone with similar skill who watches a particular move (or Charm) is likely going to be able to copy it. If they realize it's a bit out of their current range, they usually can see what it needs, because Brawl is about practical fighting without anything else. Again, martial artist has to make an entirely new style of martial arts (which means a number of styles is reasonable given the history of Exalted) where a Brawler just adds a new move or two. Just my idea though. - haren

Here's an interesting perspective to apply: Street Fighter II characters*.

Blanka: Brawl

Chun Li: Martial Arts (duh)

Dhalsim: Martial Arts (that limb-stretching bit is practically a Charm)

E. Honda: Martial Arts, but barely

Guile: Brawl

Ken: Martial Arts

Ryu: Martial Arts

Zangief: Brawl (again, duh)

Balrog: Brawl (super-duh)

Vega: Martial Arts

Sagat: Martial Arts

M. Bison: Martial Arts

Cammy: Brawl, barely

Dee Jay: Martial Arts, I think

Fei Long: Martial Arts (Ultimate Duh)

T. Hawk: Brawl

(* Characters from Super Street Fighter II, using American names for the bosses. Only taking standard "hit the button without fancy controller motions" moves into consideration. Oh, and Akuma's style is Martial Arts)--RichardX1