Contrasting dynamic skills adds tension and excitement
Watching a fight the viewer hopes to see some tension and excitement. Fight choreographers and organisers try to arrange this by matching opponents with similar abilities but complimentary strengths and weaknesses. One classic approach is to pair off long range versus short range, such as the famous kung fu trope of spear vs sword, and the more recent MMA striker vs grappler. In classic western boxing a fighter’s manager would build up a young fighter against easy wins, then at fight 7 or 8, they’d test their mettle and match them against a older contender… youth and speed vs old age and guile.
Sword vs. Spear
Kung fu as entertainment, from classic Chinese opera through to movies, has classic battles between complementary weapons and styles, e.g. Northern kung fu (mostly kicking and leaping) vs Southern kung fu (mostly stationary punching and trapping). The most famous tropes that choreographers love to play with is the sword vs. spear fight. Can the swordsman close the gap and overcome the reach advantage of the spear wielder, or can the spear keep the sword at bay? These strengths and weaknesses allow master choreographers to create exciting fight sequences.
Wonderful examples exploring variations on this theme exist, but a choice selection of some of the best in recent films include this scene from Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon:
Another classic example of this dynamic is from Hero:
And this wonderful modern version of the same theme (here: knife vs baton), brilliantly executed in SPL: Kill Zone
A final example, a period set piece battle, with modern choreographers camera work and the amazing skills of Donnie Yen.
The joke is that his skills are so superior he uses a feather duster rather than a spear, but it is fundamentally the same classic kung fu movie trope.
Grapplers vs Strikers
Mixed martial arts fights (such as the UFC) also try ensure exciting matches by pairing infighters (such as wrestlers or grapplers) against opponents who are more comfortable against long range fighters (such as boxers or muay thai kick boxers.) As the sport has matured fighters have become more well rounded in their skills, which leads to fewer pure play “boxer vs wrestler” matches.
The Ronda Rousey vs Holly Holm fight was another “classic” grappler vs striker contest.
Real Life Isn’t Entertainment
The point of real fighting is to win, not provide viewers with an exciting show. In the real world, smart combatants seek overwhelming superiority (whenever possible) rather than a fair fight. Decisive victory is more important than an exciting evenly matched clash. Recent historic examples include the Second Battle of El Alamein and General Colin Powell’s emphasis on “overwhelming…capabilities.”
This is where cyber becomes exciting to observe. They adversaries have sufficient technical / operational capabilities for a fair fight — everyone has decent implants, functional exploits, complete working toolchains, teams of trained operators, and decent coffee budgets.
The FSB coffee budget is higher than the security budget of most of their targets.
— thaddeus e. grugq (@thegrugq) August 21, 2016
The major differences between combatants in cyber are the theoretical and strategic models that opposing teams follow. This is the level where the keen observer is rewarded with exciting contrasts in strengths and weaknesses. There are a few world class teams operating, and most of us never get to catch more than a glimpse. There is a huge amount of hacking that goes on constantly around the clock, yet it is still a rare exception when a top tier nation state team is exposed.
All the world a stage
Pitting two equally skilled opponents against each other, but providing them with offensive and defensive strengths and weaknesses that complement each other, creates dramatic tension. But this is limited to the tactical level. For the real connoisseur, the tension is at the strategic level.
Strategy is different from fights. A fighter seeks to win, but the strategist seeks continuing advantage.
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