Wednesday, April 29, 2020

The Martial Arts of Singularity Sunrise


How do you fight a full-body cyborg with unbreakable bones, Olympian muscles, superhuman reflexes, and the stamina of an Energizer battery?

Pop culture grappled with this question in games, movies, books, manga and more, with varying degrees of realism. At one end of the scale, we have the patently ridiculous, with superpowered cybernetic demi-gods using swords, brute strength, or NANOMACHINES, SON to indulge in hand-to-hand combat. At the grittier end of the scale, they try to insert nearly-plausible 'science' into fighting styles, or resort to Hollywood-fu.

Battle Angel Alita -- the manga, not the movie -- has cyborgs battling each other in the wastelands with a variety of martial arts. The most famous among them is Panzerkunst, developed by cyborgs for cyborgs, designed for use in micro- and low-gravity environments. The least-known art is koppo, an anti-cyborg martial art practiced by Figure Four, using 'oscillation strikes' originating from the elbow to deal fatal blows to cyborgs.

Neither art is meant to be believable. They give the character a distinct way of moving and fighting, which might be invaluable in a visual media. But in a hard science fiction setting like Singularity Setting, that will not do. To survive, characters must rely on martial principles, not psuedo-science and technobabble.

Ghost in the Shell is lauded as a visionary cyberpunk work, going into tremendous detail and extrapolating some real-world science. In the anime, plural, fight scenes show a mix of of striking and acrobatics, with a touch of grappling, explained away by the actors being superhuman cyborgs.

James Morgan, protagonist of Singularity Sunrise, is only human.

Morgan operates in some of the most restrictive non-permissive environments in the world. Weapons are hard to obtain, and in some missions, they are a liability more than an asset. His work brings him into close contact potential adversaries.

He doesn't want to fight. He'd rather not fight at all, or let someone else do the fighting. But if he has to fight, it'll be up close and personal against weaponized humans.

To revisit the original question: how can an ordinary human fight a cyborg in this environment?

The answer is simple.

He does not fight.

Morgan can't punch a cyborg. If he tries, he'll break his fist. He can't block a strike too. The cyborg could blow right through his defenses and possibly even break his bones. He can't rely on speed; the cyborg will be faster, and has enhanced reflexes that turns his world into bullet time.
The word 'fight' implies an exchange of blows. In an environment where you cannot exchange blows with an opponent, you don't fight him.

You destroy him.

Despite their seeming invulnerability, the fullborgs of Singularity Sunrise have a few key weaknesses. Their joints are designed to automatically detach under tremendous load to save their limbs and facilitate maintenance--those that aren't double-jointed. Tendons and artificial muscles can be severed to hinder movement--those that aren't protected behind metal shells. Lines carrying data and body fluids pass through the neck, so cutting the throat could shut down vital functions--unless the fullborg has redundant capabilities. A fullborg's brain, while housed in a biopod, is still susceptible to blunt force trauma--though military and law enforcement pods have shock absorbers.

But despite the best efforts of designers to cover the weaknesses of full-body cyborgs, fullborgs are still subject to the laws of physics. And they are only human, with human brains and human psychology and human perception.

Morgan's answer to fullborg threats in close quarters is to use soft martial arts principles, primarily aikijutsu. He blends with and redirects incoming energy instead of trying to stop it. His hand-to-hand arsenal focuses on grappling and throws, with an eye towards spiking heads into floors and breaking limbs. Strikes are limited to kicks and open-hand blows, designed to distract the target or break his balance, and only secondarily to do damage--if at all. In this sense, his martial art has much in common with koryu, the classical Japanese martial arts.

Self-defense experts recommend using a weapon in life-or-death situations. Protagonists of other books will get their hands on knives or guns or other tools readily identifiable as weapons. Morgan doesn't operate in environments that enable ready access to weapons--or, rather, weapons that look like weapons.

Morgan's weapon of choice is a Fiver. It is a hook shaped from clear plastic, modeled after TheMARK from Delta2Alpha. It can be used for many things: hanging clothes and bags, propping up a tablet, holding a keychain... and solving problems that require judicious application of kinetic energy.

The key to making this art work is softness. Not weakness, but total receptiveness and sensitivity. It is the ability to perceive incoming force and shape your body to blend with it, instead of standing your ground and being destroyed. This requires mizu no kokoro, a heart like still water, a heart that reflects the world exactly as it is.

At Morgan's level, there is no fighting. There is only engagement or evasion, disruption or destruction. He understands that his battle is not against weapons or cybernetics, but against the mind.
Deception is the cornerstone of his fight strategy. Deceiving the enemy of his intentions, actions, capabilities, plans. Morgan moves so smoothly and fluidly he seems to disappear from view and reappear at an opponent's flank or rear.

Deception like this is the mark of the high-level martial artist. The eye may see movement, but the brain can't accurately process it. Morgan moves in such a way that his opponent cannot fathom his intention until it is too late to evade. Even with superspeed or boosted reflexes, all the enemy sees is Morgan moving one way, then suddenly crashing in from another direction.

Here's an exerpt from Book 1 to illustrate this:


There were only three guards, one to an aisle. Tang from downstairs was in the middle, eyes narrowed, teeth clenched. His aura was practically invisible, but he moved with superhuman grace. A fullborg.

The guard on the right, Li, had an unusual aura. Above the waist his aura blossomed in reddish hues; past his hips he was thin and cold and white. A halfborg, then; he had replaced his legs with cybernetic ones.

Chen, the last guard, was the youngest and most ordinary of them all. Short and stocky, acne scarring his face, his aura was a wild, flickering flame of orange and yellow light.

Luo backed up against the wall, his face a mask of fear. Morgan dismissed him immediately.
All three guards stopped just short of the master server alcove, hemmed in by the servers on their flanks.

“You are trespassing in a secure area,” Tang said. “Come with us now.”

Morgan visualized an enso. A bold, black line against a white field circling into itself, breaking off just before its point of origin. His neural mesh responded, stimulating neuron clusters, altering his neurochemistry, bringing out the deep stillness within him.

He was Calm.

“No,” Morgan said.

“No?” Tang repeated in disbelief.

Then Morgan remembered who he was supposed to be.

“Don’t bullshit me. We have every right to be here.”

Tang sneered.

You don’t bullshit me! We know you’re not ZYE employees. Who the hell are you?”

“Who the hell am I? I’m from the Hong Kong branch—”

Fei hua! I called the Hong Kong audit team leader just now. There’s no snap audit scheduled for today, and he’s never heard of you.”

“The hell you say!” Morgan blustered, but his emotions were just shallow ripples that left the deep stillness untouched. “Just this morning, Manager Koh told me himself to come down here and—”

“Come with us. We will discuss this in the security room. If not, we are authorized to use reasonable force to detain you.”

“We can talk this over—”

“Yes, in the security room.”

Ogrod looked at Morgan, her eyes wide open, her void-black irises sharply contrasting against pure white sclera.

“What do we do?” she asked.

She was completely calm.

Morgan pointed knifehands at Tang. “Who’s in charge here? You?”


He gestured at Chen, blading his upper torso.


He turned to Li.

“Or you?”

“Mr. Luo, step back—” Tang said.

Morgan pointed at Tang, swinging his right foot back. “Oh, it’s you, isn’t it?”

And lunged.

At Chen.

His right hand extended, stretching his chest. His left hand whipped out, fingers outstretched.

Chen froze.

Morgan’s fingers raked across his eyes. Chen screamed, hands flying for his face. Morgan torqued his forearm through a tight circle, clenched his fist, and hammered Chen in the temple. Chen stumbled to the left, bumping against a server cage.

Morgan stepped on Chen’s left foot, seized Chen’s head, and slammed his skull into the other server cage. The cage rattled under the stupendous blow, but Chen was still up.

Morgan pushed him down. A line of resistance shot through Morgan’s leg. And Chen’s ankle snapped.

Chen sprawled over the floor, screaming, all the fight gone from him.

“Run!” Morgan roared.

He kicked Chen in the face and ran for the exit.

Men shouted. Boots pounded. Morgan reached for his rear pocket and drew his Fiver. He emerged from the aisle, orienting towards the door. Ogrod brushed past him, beating him to it by a second, and grabbed the knob. Turned.

Nothing happened.

“STOP!Tang shouted.

Morgan spun around.

The guards stepped out of the aisles. Tang to the front, Li to the left. Both cyborgs had batons in hand, bodies bladed towards him.

Morgan brought his hands to his chest.

“Put your hands up now!” Tang shouted.

“Get the door,” Morgan said.

Morgan lunged. His muscles fired in symphony, every movement clean and pure, utter stillness in violent motion, his Fiver extending above his head to describe a perfect arc through the air. Tang whipped his baton up to block the strike. But at the last moment, Morgan dropped his Fiver under Tang’s guard and blasted it into his chin.

The guard staggered. Morgan pivoted into him, slamming his shoulder into his torso, seizing his right wrist in his left hand, snapping his right arm up and under the tricep. He dug the Fiver into the crook of the elbow, forcing the arm to bend, then clasped his hands together. Tang tried to wriggle free, but Morgan had locked him up too tight. Morgan stepped through a counter-clockwise half circle, forcing Tang to turn with him, taking him off balance.

And torqued his hips.

With a loud POP, Tang’s arm erupted from its socket. The rest of him collapsed, hit the floor head-first, and sprawled out in a broken, moaning heap. Morgan made space and scanned and—
 Li closed in, legs a pumping blue blur, baton raised. With a yell, he swung.

Morgan pivoted into the attack, arms forming a spearhead. He didn’t block the attack, he just allowed his forearms to redirect the energy, allowed the weapon arm to shoot past his ear, then turned and allowed the Fiver to pollaxe Li in the jaw.

The blow smashed Li against the server cage. He remained mostly upright for a moment, defying the iron law of gravity, before slumping down on the floor.

Li groaned softly, his eyes rolling to expose the whites. Morgan released him, retrieved his baton and scanned.

Ogrod held the door open, staring silently at him.


Close combat in Singularity Sunrise is unforgiving. Arts like aikijutsu are complex and hard to learn, requiring a harmonization of physics and body mechanics, yet necessary operators that remain merely human. Since it takes so long to learn, augmented and fullborg operatives who don't need as much training time, or don't need such complex skills, are favored in combatant roles.

How can James Morgan, a man with minimal augmentations, hope to keep up with militarized fullborgs? To find out, back SINGULARITY SUNRISE now!

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