For some reason, we think the bigger the weapon, the more dangerous it is. So what do we do when we want the small woman on the protagonist’s team to look scary? Give her a big freaking sword, of course!
Let’s call our small female on the team Meg. Meg is 5’0″ (152 cm) and weighs 90 pounds (40 kg). Everyone say, “Hi, Meg!”
Meg fights alongside Groug the Warrior King. Groug is seven feet tall (213 cm) and weighs 300 pounds (136 kg) in his full armor. Everyone say, “Hi, Groug!”
See Groug’s weapon? Its name is Skullcleaver. It weighs seventy pounds (32 kg).
So when Groug is shot by a lucky orc arrow and falls to the ground, Meg decides to save the day. She crosses to Groug’s fallen body, clasps a tiny hand around Skullcleaver’s handle, and…
Utterly fails to lift it.
Despite how cool it looks to have a character wield a weapon the size of themselves, physics say no. Sure, some people can bench press their own weight, but have them try swinging the weights around like a flail, and they’re going to have a problem. When writing fight scenes, it’s important to remember that every body type has limitations. Let’s talk about some of them.
1. Tiny people do not wield big weapons.
When a weapon becomes bigger than you, it starts exerting more force on your body than your muscles can compensate for. You don’t swing the weapon so much as it swings you.
Small characters should not run around with huge swords, monstrous battleaxes, or really heavy armor. They also should not carry the super buff guy off the field when Lucky the Orc shoots him.
2. The bigger the opponent, the less you want to block their attacks.
Even if Meg has super strength and can swing a gigantic sword around, she’s not going to want to block Groug the Warrior King’s attacks. (This is after he’s mind-controlled by the villain, of course.) The force of his attack would still exert enough force on Meg to break her bones, or at least knock her over.
Shields and parries protect your body from the sharp edges of a weapon. They do not stop trainloads of blunt force from coming through and shattering you.
3. Smaller people can deal more damage from inside a bigger opponent’s range.
I am 5’2″. I spar with this one opponent who is a lot taller than me. She can throw a kick straight over my arm while it’s extended over my head. One of the least intuitive pieces of advice I ever received was, “Get inside her range!” I used to try to back up and stay outside the reach of the opponent’s longer arms and legs. Unfortunately, this meant I could never land a hit, since her range was longer than mine.
By getting inside her range, I could land my own blows with their full force, while simultaneously taking away the force of her attacks. (The further away an attacking thingie is from your center, the faster it travels and the more force it deals when it hits. This is the principle behind baseball bats.) So in a tight situation, the best thing for a smaller opponent to do against a larger opponent may be to run toward them, not away.
4. Big things are slow.
Meg may not be able to wield Skullcleaver the battleaxe, but she can probably outmaneuver it. Heavy weapons take a longer time to get moving quickly, and once they’re moving you really don’t want to stop them and change direction. It takes way more effort to reverse the direction of a swinging broadsword than it does a skinny rapier.
So if Meg has a small sword, all she needs to do is avoid Skullcleaver’s attacks until she finds an opening, and then dart in and strike. Chances are, the bigger weapon will have too much momentum for its wielder to parry her attack. (Then she needs to get out of the way, but you get the idea.)
5. No amount of training makes up for a size disadvantage.
No matter how hard I train or how many martial arts I study, I will always have a disadvantage against a bigger opponent. Maybe I know a bunch of different jiu-jitsu locks, but if a 300 pound guy knows how to distribute his weight properly, he can probably keep me pinned for a while in a sparring match. Like Meg in the above example, I’m going to have to wait for him to make a mistake that I can use to my advantage.
The smaller person in a fight scene will usually wind up fighting defensively until the bigger person screws up. The exception to this would be if the smaller person WAY outclasses the bigger person in terms of skill. In an evenly matched fight, the smaller opponent will have to be creative and lucky to pull in a victory.
6. The bigger they are, the harder they fall…and that sucks if you’re underneath them.
The success of a fall as a fighting strategy largely depends on who lands on the bottom. If a smaller opponent trips a larger opponent, the larger opponent may meet a rough landing on the ground because of their weight. It may take them a moment to refocus and continue the fight.
However, if the larger opponent knows what they’re doing and uses the fall to twist and land on top of the smaller opponent…the fight may be over right there. Have your characters use tripping tactics wisely. They can backfire.
I hope you’ve found this information useful. When you’re not sure if a move would be possible for someone of your character’s body type, find a local martial arts teacher and ask. (Or post your questions here, and I’ll do my best to answer them. Possibly with pictures!)
This information is provided for assistance in writing fight scenes only, not for real-life application.