My magic system is quite basic it revolves around runes and drawing them in the air.If skilled enough you can not do that . or if the spell is so simple you dont need to unless exhausted. how would martial arts evolve in this world would there even be a need for martial arts? edit:what i mean is close range combat your opponent is very close to you. anything that can be used in that range(medieval wise)

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    $\begingroup$ Think of martial arts as a way to memorize the runes more easily, to combine them more effectively, and to interrupt your opponents "casting" better. $\endgroup$
    – Erik
    Aug 22, 2019 at 6:27
  • $\begingroup$ Btw, if I remember correctly, there was a trilogy, or at least one book, where runes had to be drawn in order to use magic. The protagonist gets this ability and it takes him most of the story to figure out, that the runes' base is the lay of the land, which changed some time ago - turning what was considered a curse into an upside again. $\endgroup$
    – Erik
    Aug 22, 2019 at 6:34
  • $\begingroup$ So, you draw the runes in the air and it takes effect immediately? This reminds me of the game Arx Fatalis where that's how you cast spells - you trace runes on the screen with your mouse. You have to do it in real time, so if there is anybody around, you have a hard time, although you could memorise few spells. Anyway, are we talking martial arts using magic or martial arts that don't use magic but aim to be used against people who do? $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Aug 22, 2019 at 7:19
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    $\begingroup$ It's your story if you want martial arts you can have them. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Aug 22, 2019 at 14:51
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    $\begingroup$ @Erik You must be thinking of Elantris by Brandon Sanderson - it's one of my all-time favorites. $\endgroup$
    – Dubukay
    Aug 22, 2019 at 16:27

9 Answers 9


There are two broad situations for martial arts and magic in your case:

You want to use martial arts against somebody who uses magic

Since the enemy has to do some gesticulation to draw a rune in the air, the most effective strategy would be to never let them do that. So, the main points of such a martial art would be to

  1. Close the gap very quickly - you don't want to give the enemy breathing room to cast their spells.
  2. Continually occupy the enemy's hands to prevent them from casting.

Both of these exist to various degrees in martial arts today - for example wing chun mainly focuses on fighting with your hands against opponents who might be armed, and includes a lot of movements that redirect your opponent's hands in order to divert a blow, create an opening, and strike. Police are also trained to restrain opponents and bind their hands. And so on.

If using weapons, the strikes would be aimed at the opponent's hands to further reinforce the "no casting" principle. Blunt objects can encourage the enemy to block instead of cast and blunt trauma might break bones and thus disrupt their casting or at least force them to keep their hands to block. Cutting weapons, on the other hand, will nudge the opponents to keep his hands away. This achieves a similar effect - they will not want to start drawing runes if they risk cuts. And severe cuts can severely disrupt the spellcasting, perhaps permanently.

You want to use magic as part of martial arts

In this case, the martial artist can cast and wants to use that during a fight. In some ways, it works like the inverse of the above - a spellcaster wants to stay away from the opponent, in order to be free to draw runes. The martial art would then be based on what exactly they can do with magic, so it will be tailored towards that. Here is some examples:

  • if fireballs (causing a sizeable explosion) are a possibility, then being mobile and bombarding the enemy is a viable strategy. Probably better against groups.
  • if it's merely directing flame around like a jet stream, or a flaming whip, or otherwise small amounts that are dangerous to individuals but hardly groups, then shorter distance would be more suited. This could be treated almost like an armed martial art, only the spellcaster needs to cast their magic and wield it, instead of drawing a sword, so focus is on very fast casting of a versatile weapon (e.g., column of fire is impressive but harder to maintain and aim at moving targets, but a sword made of fire that one can swing is a lot more flexible).
    • Some variations would lean more heavily on spellcasting, in which case they would probably clash and try to disengage in order to cast one more spell, clash again, create breathing room for a spellcasting, etc. This should generally build up the power and complexity of spells, the goal is to occupy the opponent for a bit and then "upgrade" your spellcasting. For example, before the fight one could cast a simple rune that makes their first punch extra powerful - they use that to get the opponent reeling and cast a spell to summon a stick, strike the opponent few times and cast a spell to turn the stick into steel, do few strikes and turn the steel club into a sword, swing few times then enchant the sword with fire, etc.
  • self-improvement magic where the caster makes themselves stronger, faster, better or maybe even grants themselves advantages like iron claws, flaming fists, etc., would generally be treated as unarmed martial arts but can also act as the above - casting a spell before engaging and then fighting. Although attack, disengage, cast, attack, disengage, cast, attack can also work - perhaps the spellcaster would first give themselves better reflexes, then harder skin, then stronger strikes, etc.

What style makes the most sense for magic users

A non-magic user would naturally not be using magic, hence they will go for the first approach - attack fast and keep the opponent from casting. This is quite effective against other non-magic users, too - after all, that's a core idea for a lot of current real world martial arts.

However, what about two magic users? If they are going to fight what would make more sense to train in - casting more magic or fighting like a mundane person?

I'd argue that the best martial art would be mostly about fighting without magic but might involve very simple spells that can boost your combat. Perhaps a fully fledged fireball is too slow and too complex to cast - it might be 2-3 seconds but that's too much during a fight. But if you can do the magical equivalent of a push in the time it takes for somebody to swing at you, then you can unbalance them or redirect them and in general aid your combat but not rely on magic. If you rely on spells you are vulnerable to being disabled by, for example, somebody grabbing your hands or wrestling you to the ground. If you don't need magic to win fights, then you are more likely to win fights.

However, it's possible that one goes hard for the opposite direction. Having a martial art that relies on using the biggest spells you can as fast as you can, in order to finish the fight as early as you can. It's high risk high reward and it's unlikely to be practised very widely. People who blow up five houses in order to avoid a drunken brawl are not going to be very well liked and smarter people with a grudge will just ambush the spellcaster. Still, it could serve as a deterrent from such attacks - if you can't knock out the walking nuclear weapon quickly enough, you might get incinerated or your whole village might go up in flames from them just defending themselves. So, it can serve as a good intimidation technique but two such mages attacking one another would likely mean mutual destruction. Thus, it's not very desirable.


Chi Blockers or equivalent

In Avatar, The Last Airbender, Chi blockers use martial art attacks to disable the abilities of benders. Chi blocking is a martial arts skill that a non bender can use to defend against a bender.

enter image description here

If someone can cast runes by drawing in the air, martial arts would be aimed at stopping, interrupting and blocking such moves whilst the caster's martial arts would be built around defending yourself while incorporating casting as part of the move


The answer to this question depends on what you believe "martial arts" means. There are at least as many definitions as there are practitioners. However, I do find the most common trait is that they teach one to be able to fight in a way which is worth learning even if one never fights in their entire life. In that sense, your martial arts would evolve naturally exactly as they did here. The only difference may be that, instead of relying on fists and swords, they rely on teaching how to grapple with spells which are otherwise too dangerous to use in civilized interactions. I don't know a single martial art which lacks a "here are things you don't do unless your life is on the line" aspects, and they all teach them in a way which does not oblige you to go pick a fight just to make good on the effort you took mastering it. Surely the same goes for spells as well.

A student said to his master: "You teach me fighting but you talk about peace.  How do you reconcile the two?"  The master replied: "It is better to be a warrior in a garden than to be a gardener in a war."


It depends on each step in the situation.

For example, trying to hit someone with your fist can take a second. But drawing a simple 4 line rune while under stress can already take longer than that. Just imagine you are trying to write "Hi" faster than someone trying to punch you and you get the drift. I mean seriously "Hi" without the dot on the I is already as simple as it gets, it's a 4 line "rune"* and I dare bet there's barely anyone who could draw one right now in the air accurately or quickly enough. And even with training I think that punching someone is still going to be faster forcing the opponent to dodge or block.

So like any other martial arts it would be a constant struggle between what you are doing and what your opponent is doing. Is he falling back? Then you'd better get after him/her or they might have time for a simple (or worse a complex!) rune. Is he trying to hold you off with one arm? Check what the other arm is doing because he might be attempting to make a rune with the other one! Maybe he just drops the idea of using runes altogether because it's too distracting to focus on what rune you want to use and when while you also have dozens of quick and slow options for combat.

*Yes I know there's a 5th line for needing to move your hand in position towards the I.


Super Martial Arts is a kind of magic

There is more than one path to power.

While some learn spells and runes to command the elements and shape the fabric of reality with their minds, others train their bodies to the breaking point until they unlock a new flavor of magic - one that looks like mundane combat skill, but allows its practitioner to move beyond the limits of what should be possible for a human to do.

In other words, the Muscle Wizard Casts Fist.

Forget breaking boards, these guys can break boulders. More importantly, they can train themselves to resist the spells of more traditional mages through sheer force of will, allowing them to rush down a ranged caster and beat them senseless.

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    $\begingroup$ Physics defying wire fu, blocking weapons and projectiles (including magical ones) with the palms of your hands, jumping from buildings and landing with a ground-shattering superhero landing, moving so fast you become invisible to muggles... sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from genuine martial arts skills. Shonen Anime like Dragonball, One Piece or Naruto have plenty of examples. $\endgroup$
    – Philipp
    Aug 22, 2019 at 10:57

When I saw the title, the first thing that comes to my mind is the Naruto world. They have martial arts, magic, runes ... In this world the ninjas use their magic to do almost anything, from combat to cooking. I think that your world has a lower level of fantasy, but may be you can extrapolate some concepts. For example, one element that is recurrent in Naruto are the explosive tags. Explosive tags are pieces of paper with some runes written which explodes when the caster wants. Ninjas use them all the time, from protecting a chest to throwing them with a kunai.

enter image description here

When I see some magic in films and books I alwais think how this kind of magic can be use to make advance the civilization. I think Naruto is a good example. In Avatar:Legend of Korra they make something similar when they firebenders, who can throw lightning besides fire, use their ability to power up the electricity for cities or industries.

In resume, as I see it, is not about how magic change martial arts, but how martial arts adapt and use the magic in their benefit. Also, you can take good ideas from those worlds mentioned (Avatar and Naruto).

However, like Thorne says, in Avatar they have those Chi blockers. Not need to go in an imaginary world to get a similar example. Krav Maga is a martial art developed for the Israel Defense Forces. One of its most important aspects is how to fight unarmed against an armed enemy (whit a knife, a pistol or a rifle). Those elements can be "the magic" of our world.

enter image description here

Now we see two very diferents paths a martial art could take in this world. Both can be choosen in the same world and both can be interesting.

One thing you can be sure is that the warrior would seek the most efficient and deadly way they can perform, according to their personal limitations.


Martial arts are highly localised and depended on the weapons available in the region. If the government banned personal weapons then no weapons were used, European martial arts mostly used swords, many Eastern martial arts are unarmed, some also include archery.

Hence in a world with magic, martial arts will include the use of magic. They may also include bows, swords etc. but magic will be a key element. In many cases the art involves using the opponents attack against them. Perhaps if shooting burning arrows requires drawing a rune in the air and firing an arrow through it, then you would attack your opponent through his own rune.

Much now depends on how you build your magic system.

However there will be branches in your martial arts. Just as you currently see specialisations on how to defend against armed opponents while unarmed, you will now see how to defend against magic while armed, how to defend against an armed opponent with magic, how to defend against magic while unarmed, etc.

The most important of these disciplines is likely to be the combination of magic and weapons as a single package. Martial arts are fundamentally about the self, it's training for a warrior not training for a soldier, and the combined weapon and magic user known as a battlemage will be the most versatile warrior.


In my personal opinion if you talk about martial art that is supposed to be effective...it doesn’t has to do anything with looking nice. It has to be direct and effective by

  1. Using your opponents gap in his defenses
  2. While having a posture that puts you in less danger
  3. Using the knowledge of body’s weak points and joints limits to overpower you opponent (especially on the floor
  4. Having created muscle memory so that you can react without much thinking,
  5. yet your muscle memory has to be trained in such a way that it does not react always in the same way but to the situation
  6. Keep unnecessary movement to a minimum. You don’t have to use your foot to hit the head if you can use your fist.

The thing is especially when in close combat or even on the ground your actions drawing symbols with your body in the air will most likely create openings for your opponent. You can’t draw a symbol continuously when a fists hits you in the head or a knee in the stomach, especially if it takes time to do the magic.

Also you have to take into account that there are something like 3 stages in an unarmed fight

  1. Distance, where you try get closer to your opponent. Far reaching legs are a thing for example attacking the lower body
  2. Close range with legs, fists and hands. All body parts are a target. You try to either knock out your opponent or to get even closer for grappling
  3. Grappling on the ground. This is about reducing your opponents movement with your full body while getting yourself in a better position to strike either with hands, elbows or knees or attacking the neck for example through choking. Alternatively using joints and hurt to force your opponent to give up.

So the question is where to get your magic in?

I think there are 3 options

  1. Have a stage/range before the fight begins that is all about magic
  2. Make it so that the draw process isn’t continuous
  3. Movement has to be minimal using hands, fingers or feet

With the second option I mean that your magic requires you a set of steps that you have to perform in a certain order and maybe spacing ...while fighting

Like hitting a meridian of your opponent than stomping the ground to draw the energy you being the conductor.

Or stomping a certain pattern into the ground infusing it with magic to draw a rune that activates when finished.

This however would be extremely difficult to perform while already engaged in the fight.


I could easily imagine a situation where there is a major difference in tech level between different areas of the planet where martial arts would naturally come about in one area while magical development would flourish in another. Imagine something along the lines of the Meiji Restoration only instead of the westerners having advanced cannon and guns they had combat wizards wielding magic.

The isolationist nation (Japan in the historical example) had a advanced martial arts history, but hadn't caught up with the technological advances of its neighbors. If magic had advanced vs technology you could easily end up with certain parts of the world with a strong martial arts background and magic coexisting.


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