What Happens To You Before, During, and After a Fight?

By J. B. Nash - 24 August 2020

In writing, it’s easy to have your character demonstrate their brand new skills they JUST learned and whip out some wicked complicated moves. This is because we as regular human beings are sitting at our writing desks madly scribbling down that “perfect fight scene” and are not in any sort of danger at the moment (unless there’s no more tea).

It can be tough to visualize a scene if we haven’t been through it ourselves. Interestingly, the same mechanisms that arise before, during, and after a fight are the same ones that cause us to feel anxious or fearful in day to day situations (a speech for example). So what happens to a person when they’re suddenly surrounded by shadowy figures in an alleyway in the middle of the night?

Okay, so your character finds themselves face to face with a stalker. Or a minotaur with a personal grudge. Take your pick. Realistically, what would happen to the character during and after a fight? 

1. The Body Gets an Adrenaline Rush

That’s both good and bad. It acquires a sort of “super strength” that allows some people to even lift the side of a car and I’m not kidding you. Adrenaline is a hormone. It helps the body react more quickly. The heart beats quicker, they start sweating, the breath quickens, limbs are jittery, fine motor skills deteriorate, the ability to feel pain decreases and reaction time increases, according to Healthline.

Even as the fight dies out, the rush may still last for days. With a sudden onset of hormones, it will cause the body to become very fatigued as the effect wears off. 

2. The Body Goes Into “Fight or Flight” Mode

Once again, that pesky adrenaline hormone is to blame. In this case the instincts take over. The body must act quickly before it’s hit! All five senses become sharper, and this is the reason why people are able to dodge an oncoming car before they even think about what they’re doing.

Often times you’ll hear people talk about their harrowing experiences as if it’s a dream they can barely remember. This is because the same mind that normally takes its time processing what’s around a person just skips that step and dives right into the action. 

3. Sight Turns Into Tunnel Vision

Tunnel vision is when the person’s peripheral vision narrows dramatically. Essentially, they see everything in front of them, but nothing beside, above, or below. Almost as if looking through a tunnel. Hence the name.

Tunnel vision is potentially dangerous as the person has no idea if an attacker is coming at them from the side. Or above. Or below. Limiting perception. A trained person can evade or reduce this effect with trained concentration and the ability to calm the nerves.

4. The Body Switches To Memory Mode

This means that muscle memory sticks with what the person has trained to perform to the point that it’s automatic. Think about walking. You don’t need to think strategically when taking every single step because you’ve done it so much it’s natural to you. Same with defense techniques. The mind doesn’t have time to think, so it falls back into what’s natural for it.

Ever heard the phrase by Bruce Lee that goes: “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” It takes thousands upon thousands of repetitions for a movement to become the body’s natural reaction.

Don’t expect people to think it’s realistic when your character whips out perfect combos in flawless succession just when they took a one-day retreat to that temple high in the mountains where they trained with their mysterious bald-headed master who whacked them with a staff every time they breathed incorrectly. 

5. Fear Can Take Over

This can be tough to overcome, especially if a person perceives their opponent as being much stronger. However, if they internalize the attacker as being weaker, they’re easier to face. And, well, confidence grows. All of sudden their opponents seem less of a threat in the first place.

Along with confidence, a trained person must learn to concentrate on creating an opening without getting wrapped up in a certain technique and just waiting for the opportunity. One, you don’t have time, and two, it might not even happen. I’ve done this too many times in sparring. What ends up happening is: I lose the opportunity for a better move and they gain the upper hand simply by attacking first.

A way I try to maintain my awareness and remain calm and fluid in an altercation (without my mental state melting into a puddle) is just learning to breathe correctly. The breathing is the most important aspect because without oxygen dizziness and lightheadedness occurs. 

Yet another boost of confidence is just training harder. Remember that mysterious temple monk high in the snowy mountains? Go back to them and train, what are you waiting for?  

6. In an Established Society, They Can Face Legal Repercussions

For example, in the U.S., if a person is fully or partially responsible for provoking or directly causing a fight, they may get charged for “disturbing the peace.” And this would including using harsh language, challenging someone to fight, or participating in a public fight without consent from both parties in an established and controlled setting (like a martial arts studio for example).

This is a misdemeanor, which could potentially land them in jail with a fine to pay off. There are also charges for battery and assault, so be very aware of these consequences. Not only that, but there’s also self-defense to consider. The judge still has to determine whether or not they acted completely in self-defense, or used “excessive force” to handle the situation.

Think of it this way: If the attacker is suddenly on the ground and unconscious, the best action is to just walk away and call the police, not continuously kick them. If the victim continues to engage, suddenly they become the attacker. There’s nothing more defenseless than an unconscious person.

Even in your fantasy realm, establishing rules is a basic necessity for a realistic society. Having a few legal repercussions so the person doesn’t get away with all their misdeeds scot free can bring another dimension to your writing. 

Of course, this is open up for discussion and not every situation is going to be the same. It’s always good to get information from multiple and more reliable sources, since this based on my personal experience and what I’ve learned from training in martial arts. However, I hope you find this helpful in writing more realistic scenes.


“When a Fight Becomes Assault and Battery.” Coastal Legal Center, https://www.coastallegalcenter.com/when-a-fight-becomes-assault-and-battery/

Cafasso, Jacquelyn. (2018). “What is adrenaline?” Healthline, retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/adrenaline-rush