Fighting From the Top or the Bottom?

If you’ve ever done Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu or any type of grappling, you know that there are Top Fighters and Bottom Fighters. 

You know, guys that like to tie-up and work a takedown straight to Mount, Side, and Scarf. Those are the Top Fighters.

And then, you’ve got the guys who like to lay on their backs and work triangles and arm bars from guard or ½ guard. Those are the Bottom Fighters. 

What does that have to do with Pulp Fiction, you might ask?

Well, because the fight game isn’t the only game that this concept applies to…


After discussing and analyzing many Pulp Fiction genre movies with my good friends James Lafond and Rusty, I realized the idea of the Top and Bottom Fighter applies in the narrative structure of Pulp Fiction stories, too.

And what’s more, in different stages of my life, I’ve been drawn to each kind in a different way, depending on my life circumstances of the time. 

Take for example movies like Rod Taylor’s Time Machine (1960), Sean Connery’s first 007 adventure Dr. No (1962), and Charlton Heston’s sci-fi epics Planet of the Apes (1968) and Omega Man (1971).

In stories like these, you’ve got the heroes a long way from home. They might have a sidekick or two, but they don’t have any back-up. They’re on the enemy’s turf…on islands and in jungles and deserts and cavernous lairs and even the very future itself! 

The deck is stacked against them, because they are fighting the enemy and his tyrannical, sadistic, predatory social order. 

The heroes, they may be fighting on behalf of Western Civilization’s social order, but they are so far away from its confines, there is no way it can provide any amount of back up or reinforcements! 


In these cases, the Heroes, they’re the Bottom Fighter. 

But do you know why they always succeed?

Because they act like they are Fighting from the Top! 

You see, in their minds, they have already won, and their enemies are as powerful as bugs about to be squashed!

This kind of mentality carries them through even though the decks are stacked against them. 

Most people, they don’t have this mentality. It’s just not something that crosses their minds. They think that if the deck is stacked against them, it must be over.

But not these heroes. 

And that’s why they can go out on their own, penetrating the social order of the evil enemy, and bringing it’s tyrannical, predatory artifice to its knees!


Now on the opposite end of the scale, you’ve got movies like the kind made famous by the Duke himself, good old John Wayne! Duke played plenty of roles as the Bottom Fighter, but today, he’s most famous for playing guys Fighting from the Top.

Here is the sheriff, the general, the warlord in all his glory…with an army of die-hard heroes under his command, all ready to smash the predatory foe encroaching on the borders of the West with lascivious fangs bared for the kill! 

Here, the enemy is attacking the social order of Western Civilization…the home of the Indo-European Western Warrior…and here is that social order striking back in protection and revenge in all of its might.

Here you’ve got War and Western movies like The Flying Tigers (1942), Rio Grande (1950), Rio Bravo (1960), and many, many others. 

In these adventures, the Imperial Japanese, Apache Indians, and Outlaw Bandits come to murder and plunder, and the Duke and his crew have got to throw them back–and then track the predatory foe down in their lairs and set things right. 

That, my friends, is Fighting from the Top. 


It’s not just War and Western movies, you see this Top Fighting phenomena in, either. 

In his excellent book, Monsters and Mad Scientists: A Cultural History of the Horror Movie, scholar Andrew Tudor explains that the horror movies made from 1933-1968 fit into this pattern, too. A monster comes and preys upon the community, and it’s up to a handful of heroes with expert skills to stop the horror dead in its tracks!

One great example is the Sci-Fi action epic Them! (1955), where giant, radioactive predatory ants go attack the United States, and FBI Agent James Arness (of Gunsmoke! fame) and New Mexico State Trooper James Whitmore have got to track down their secrets before leading the US Army in a battle to the death against the Queen Ant’s hordes in her villainous lair! 

Tales like Thing From Another World (1951), Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1954), It Came From Beneath the Sea (1956), and It! The Terror From Beyond Outer Space! (1958) are all great samplings of this fantastic genre. 


So what kind of stories do you like to read or watch? What kind of stories do you like to write? Which of these categories resonate with you, and why? 

Check them all out, and after you have been amazed by their awesome display of heroics and death-defying courage, think them over good and hard.

You might just surprise yourself at what you find!


Richard Barrett

Categories Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close