The “Martial Arts” fight scene: This form of fight scene focuses on the mechanics of the combat. Typically, the combat is explained blow-by-blow, action-by-counter action (or action/reaction/counter-action). Most often the protagonist uses a form of martial arts and often the training in this art is included in the storyline or backstory. The art does not have to be hand-to-hand. It can be swordsmanship, archery or any other form of martial training. Off the top of my head, some authors who use this technique well are Steve Perry, Eric Van Lustbader, and Jenifer Roberson.
Example: The Musashi Flex (2006) by Steve Perry
Mourn fired his right elbow, caught Weems on the left ear, staggered him, but when he tried to follow up, Weems ducked the next punch and slammed his fist into Mourn’s solar plexus, knocking his wind out--
Mourn dropped to the ground and swept with his left leg. Caught Weems on the left calf and knocked him off-balance, but Weems dived away, hit in a shoulder roll, and came up--
Before Mourn could get to his feet, Weems jumped in—Jesu, he was fast!—and snapped a front kick. He blew through Mourn’s block, caught him under the left armpit, broke a couple more ribs, and lifted him with the force of it--
Mourn went with the kick, rolled away, barely avoided the stomp to his head, and managed to get into a siloh squat.
Weems recognized the danger, circled to get behind him...
What makes this work:
More than proficient at martial arts himself, Perry uses a lot of references to techniques, but does not overdo the details of the form. The action can be very vague at times, like in this example: “Harnet darted in, threw a quick slash, and jumped back." The bottom line is that actual, vivid details are used sparingly, but when they are used, they are graphic, violent and precise. Perry’s detail lets the reader recreate the fight in their own minds step-by-step, but he doesn't micromanage the fight so much that the reading gets bogged down, except when he wants them to have precise details.
Why it doesn’t always work:
The writing is very cerebral and the fight scenes can lack emotion. The technique is used more to establish the expertise level of the characters, but at times it prevents the reader from getting any thrill from the fight. While some fight scenes have emotion, the emotion tends to be focused on something other than the fight or they center on the events leading up to or surrounding the fight. This technique can sometimes feel forced because a professional fighter should be able to clear his mind and focus on the fight, unless, of course, it is intended to be an event so important that it prevents the character from focusing.
This method can sometimes use a lot of words to write a little action, dedicating pages to describe just a few moments of fighting. If not careful, the fight scene can literally turn into detailed stage direction.
Notice in the above excerpt, Perry uses a lot of action verbs that are analogous to weapons, tools and machines. The fighters “fire” punches, “wrench” things, fists “shoot” out or forward, men “launch” attacks, etc. This is a science fiction piece, so it is acceptable, but writers need to watch the terms they use in fantasy or period pieces. We don’t want to “fire” or things before gunpowder is invented because the term would not exist. Perry also uses a lot of vague, nondescript action verbs: Fighters “angle,” “circle,” “dodge,” “dart” and “lunge” quite a bit.