The “Professional” fight scene: While this technique is similar to the “Martial Art” technique, there are some differences that make it a superior. Like the “Martial Art” technique, there are some play-by-play moments, but they are done purposefully to show how efficient the character fights, not for the sake of showing the technique and moves. There is a subtle difference. To really get a sense of this method, think of it as watching a fight scene under a strobe light, with the author choosing which moments are lit and which are dark.
Example: The Way of Shadows (2008) by Brent Weeks
The young Khalidoran’s sword had barely cleared its scabbard when Kylar disemboweled him. Then he danced past the man, throwing a knife with his left hand, parting hardened leather armor and ribs with an upward cut, and guiding a sword hand past his side and the sword into another soldier’s body in a smooth motion. Kylar jerked his head forward into a highlander’s face and spun with the man quickly. The man’s back absorbed the captain’s halberd with a meaty crunch.
Kylar dropped under a slash and stabbed up into a highlander’s groin with his wakizashi. On his back, he knocked the man backward with a kick, and used the force of the kick to spring to his feet.
Six men were dead or down. Four remained. The first was impetuous. He charged with a yell, something about Kylar killing his brother. A parry and riposte, and brother joined brother. The last three moved forward together.
What makes it work:
The fight scene moves quickly and efficiently, not lingering on a lot of back-and-forth attacks and parries. This works very well when we want to display a protagonist that is an expert...well in Kylar's case above, a master.
There is little feeling in the fight scene. In the third paragraph above, the protagonist’s nonchalance subtly gives some insight into how he feels, but as a whole, this type of fight scene does not have time for emotion and feeling. Fighting is a time of action; feelings come later. This is obviously a generalization and not the rule for every fight in the book. A first kill, for instance, has more insight into the character’s emotional state, but still an insignificant amount in comparison to the “Here’s What I’m Thinking” style.
Why it doesn’t always work:
Blink and you miss something! While you can often skim paragraphs in a “Martial Arts” fight scene, you can’t do this while reading the “professional” method because the writing sacrifices clarity for speed. In the three small paragraphs above, the protagonist dispatches six attackers. At times, this technique can feel rushed and leave the reader breathless and confused. In the section above, I personally had to pause at the line “On his back...” because I didn’t know how or who had ended up on the ground. It wasn’t clear.
As the scene above shows, there is as much, if not more, focus on the damage that results from the attacks than on the fight itself. While not as bloody and gruesome as the “carnage” technique, there is generally the same amount of death and damage. The difference is in the shorter, cleaner descriptions. The author does not spend his or her time focusing on the damage.