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In the story I am writing, there are several fight scenes between clearly non-human combatants. These combatants have several natural weapons at their disposal that humans do not have, including jaws, claws, weaponized tails, and tusks (though not every individual has the same series of natural weapons), and they use them in combat in addition to more typical jabs, throws, kicks, and grapples. In some cases these natural weapons are more effective than one would expect based on their anatomy (for example, biting is extremely effective if it does manage to connect). However, despite having non-human anatomy they are sentient beings and fight intelligently, in some ways they are compared in-story to martial artists.

Writing fight scenes has proven to be a challenge due to it being difficult to get a general feel for how a sentient being with non-human features would actually fight. It also poses challenges in showing characterization in showing the character’s emotion and personality through how they fight. For example being upset and going straight for the kill, arrogant and toying with their opponent, or hesitant and fighting on the defense. Or whether they are skilled fighters or just flailing. Martial arts and combat sports like fencing all have moves that can immediately convey some of these things, but I am not sure how to apply that to non-human fighting styles.

I have tried looking at guides about swordplay, barehanded martial arts, and self-defense in general (under the impression that improvised “gutter-fighting” might provide more insight on how to fight in unorthodox situations/with unorthodox weapons like claws than formalized sports), as well as tried to piece together some basic logic on how they would use their anatomy from general brainstorming. Obviously no one has written a guide on how to fight with jaws, teeth, and a tail because humans don’t have any of these things. Additionally, many of these guides don't give advice on what to do if you know you are stronger or faster than the opponent, only if you are smaller or slower (and most of that advice is: don't pick that fight/run).

I have done a lot of research on how animals with natural weapons fight, but this only goes so far because animals don't have prolonged fights (they usually scuffle and then run if they can) and don't fight with any forethought or strategy. I've also watched a bunch of monster movies but with a few exceptions most of them don't seem to put a lot of thought into how the characters would actually fight (I know that at least a couple of Godzilla movies are exceptions, Godzilla's movements being based on bears). I have also looked at several previously asked questions here.

I have especially had trouble with finding good sources for getting an idea of "combat logic" in general not based around a certain weapon or fighting style that can be applicable to any fight, including fights between non-human combatants with natural weapons. E.g., fighting with a sword is very different from fighting with claws, but in both cases it is a good idea to use them to guard your vitals to keep them from getting cut. I am also interested in avoiding silly things (e.g., unnecessary spinning) especially as the characters are supposed to be good at fighting and not make amateurish mistakes.

The overall image I am trying to portray is “martial arts with teeth and claws”, and the idea that despite being non-human the characters are intelligent enough to think through their actions and have put some thought into how to best use their unusual anatomy.

Additional Information

  • They do not have access to artificial weapons like spears, swords, or firearms because of plot reasons (the fights are more or less unexpected street fights rather than premeditated or ritualized affairs), though on rare occasions they will make use of improvised weapons (mostly based on availability).
  • Some of the fight scenes are nonlethal but most are in a lethal context.
  • A "one size fits all" fighting style probably wouldn't work because their anatomy varies within the species (e.g., an individual might have claws but not a tail). Going on a case by case basis is clearly beyond the scope of any one question, I am more looking for general combat principles that I can them extrapolate to each individual.
  • The creatures' overall anatomy is semi-humanoid. Not entirely human-like and exactly how much varies between individuals. Martial arts and combat styles designed to exploit human weak points would work some of the time but not always. In general they have four limbs, two eyes, etc., but not always.
  • Their size is variable. Most are larger than a human but would also be less than 12 feet/4 meters tall if standing fully erect.

The fact that such variable anatomy would make a codified system of martial arts difficult because everyone cannot learn the same techniques and the same techniques will not work on everyone is a plot point. Think "stereotypical MMA monster/kaiju fights with non-standardized anatomy of combatants". At the same time, one would expect fighters to be able to learn how to use their anatomy on an individual level and at least some techniques could be taught between individuals of similar anatomy.

My question is threefold, all of which are related to one another:

  • How would a sapient humanoid creature with claws, powerful jaws, and a tail fight if they did so intelligently and in a trained or semi-trained manner rather than lashing out blindly? (If it helps those three features are the most common ones across the species.)
  • Barring that, does anyone know of any useful references on combat and fighting logic in general that could be applied to a non-human combatant to get an idea on how an individual would fight with jaws, claws, tail, etc.?
  • Are there any real-life weapons whose usage could be analogous to natural weapons seen on a non-human creature in general to get an idea on how these individuals could use their weapons?

EDIT: There have been a lot of good answers thus far, though I noticed a lot of them focus on how animals fight. I thought I would share some of the information I have found on how animals use their natural weapons to give an idea of where the question is coming from and the prior research I have done. This isn't meant to be comprehensive but just what I have found so far. A lot of the issues I am having deal with how a being that uses weapons strategically would fight instead of just lashing out.

  • Jaws - From what I can tell jaws are a very high-risk, high-reward weapon. If your jaws are powerful enough or you have large fangs or teeth they can be devastating, but they require you to get your vital areas (head, throat, abdomen) very close to the opponent’s body where they can strike you easily. Therefore, jaws seem to be terrible openers but devastating closers: break the opponents’ guard in some way and then sink your teeth into them when you know they can’t retaliate.
  • Claws - This one I have had the most trouble with. There are different kinds of claws in the animal kingdom, claws adapted for slashing and cutting and those that are more adapted for grappling and hooking onto prey. How a sapient species would use claws adapted for grappling has been discussed previously on this site, though how bladed claws more suitable for slashing wounds would be used does not appear to. I thought a kama or a falx might be an appropriate analogue among human weaponry.
  • Venom - This one is surprisingly straightforward. Either use hit and run attacks by biting and then returning to finish the job like a Komodo dragon, or use them to sap your foe and wait for them to make a mistake due to sluggishness like a shrew. In a straight-up fight venom rarely works by itself.
  • Tail - A lot of animals that fight with a tail will arc their body so their head and tail are both facing the enemy at the same time and they can easily lash out with it. The problem with a tail is that because it sticks out behind you one of the easiest ways to get it to strike your opponent is by spinning. Which is apparently a terrible move in combat because it turns your head from the enemy and exposes your back.
  • Long Tusks - Usage of tusks is very different depending on length. Animals with long tusks will use them like spears, charging to gain momentum. However using them like lances doesn’t work, lances only work for humans because the rider can be dislodged from their seat to dissipate force, if an animal tried that it would likely break its neck. Animals like elephants will also use their tusks in a sweeping motion to knock smaller enemies off their feet.
  • Short Tusks - Animals with shorts tusks like wild boar use their tusks more like knives, as short-distance slashing weapons to either lacerate their foe or cut at vital regions (femoral artery, groin, viscera). Large razor-edged fangs (like mandrills, chimpanzees, or peccaries) could be used the same way.
  • Horns - Horns are kind of similar to long tusks. Most animals with horns fight by interlocking them, but when using them against a predator they will also charge and use them in a slashing motion.
  • Spines - Spines are primarily defensive weapons. They go to cover areas you don’t want your opponent striking or to punish them if they do. You don’t really use them as offense except as a desperation move.
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  • $\begingroup$ How nimble are the tails? Are they prehensile? $\endgroup$ – Ryan_L Feb 4 at 2:55
  • $\begingroup$ @Ryan_L It's variable. Some are prehensile, and in one case are used as makeshift garrotes or for strangling. Others have clubs, spines, stingers, or thagomizers. Others don't have natural weapons but are good for maintaining balance while running and fighting. Hence why I am trying to keep suggestions on how to use the tail as general as possible (and keep the question from being too broad) and then extrapolate how to apply them to individual cases (like prehensile tails). $\endgroup$ – user2352714 Feb 4 at 2:59
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    $\begingroup$ I don't think this is worthy of being a full answer, but this clip of MMA experts critiquing a bear fight should give you some leads for further research: youtube.com/watch?v=XwobcJOOF-A $\endgroup$ – Ryan_L Feb 4 at 3:28
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    $\begingroup$ For weapons you can take a look at the Kris. It's an Indonesian dagger that's generally used as if it's an extension of the wielder's hand. It's mainly used in Pencak Silat where a lot of the original movements were inspired by animals. $\endgroup$ – SapphireFlame Feb 4 at 4:37
  • $\begingroup$ speed is the essence of war, it applies to MMA too. My mom can easily sudue any crab unarmed while I must step on it and hold the pincers... Ok actually my mom stepped on it. $\endgroup$ – user6760 Feb 4 at 5:01
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Well a thicker tail can be used to club a foe whereas a prehensile one can be used to trip or grapple. A big enough tail can aid mobility and a weaponized tail will be extremely deadly. However a tail will have a limited degree of movement (assuming it is attached at the base of the spine on their back) and thus depending on length they'll need to turn to hit with it. Making it a more risky maneuver best done from a guard. They'd probably have one side facing forwards to make it easier to hit with their tail. Sort of like with boxers. A tail that is prehensile can strike from overhead,around the waist or between the legs (not recommended) without needing to turn at all if long enough. But a prehensile tail is usually not as strong.

Claws are fantastic natural weapons as are talons. They can be used to slice open soft tissue and cause extensive bleeding,talons can impale by slamming them straight into an enemy (even piercing bone) and there are many creative ways to utilize them. Grabbing with claws makes it much harder to escape and struggling guarantees further injury. Those with claws on their feet can also kick and if grabbing your or pinning you rake their back leg claws against your abdomen and legs potentially gutting you. (much as large cats do) If you rake at someones eyes with claws you are much more likely to slice open their eyes and even if you miss the eyes the cuts will bleed into their eyes.

Teeth it depends on how the jaws are formed,neck length,etc. But generally you bite when in a grapple. Like wrenching someones neck aside to sink your jaws into their neck and then tear,biting the hand (especially the fingers),arm,leg or tail of someone grappling you and generally if you end up REAL close in combat. As for tusks or horns they go very well with the rush down and pounce tactics. Except you can just slam into them and impale them. Then you can keep hitting them,gore them again,kick them while they're down,etc.

So I'd say it'll involve alot of brutal grapples,strikes to incapacitate and make the enemy bleed,then immobilizing and killing them. Will depend on your build but that is my view of it.

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    $\begingroup$ Almost exactly what I intended to say so I won't add a new answer, but for tails wouldn't prehensile ones tipped with weaponry (say spikes or a slightly thicker tip like a whip) be fairly effective as well? Doesn't need to do lethal damage but when you get slashes coming from all directions while focusing on simultaneous attacks from your opponent it would be pretty hard to defend against, and the wounds and bleeding will add up. And depends on the body layout but for eyes on the side with a large field of vision for example I would think tails could be used for rear attack and defence. $\endgroup$ – SapphireFlame Feb 4 at 4:26
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    $\begingroup$ Exactly. Thinner tails you'll want to use in a whipping motion. However not all tails will be useful in combat. As they may be too weak to do any real damage. But they are indeed very distracting. Honestly the hardest part of attacking with multiple limbs is being coordinated enough to do it effectively. $\endgroup$ – Obelisk Feb 4 at 5:31
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    $\begingroup$ Tails can be a disadvantage. They're yet another appendage for your opponent to grab. $\endgroup$ – Ryan_L Feb 4 at 5:44
  • $\begingroup$ Indeed they can be. There is a risk to using them. Kind of like kicking high and being off balance in close quarters. $\endgroup$ – Obelisk Feb 4 at 5:55
  • $\begingroup$ @SapphireFlame Monitor lizard and iguana tails can be really nasty for that exact reason. They look simple but they hurt when they strike you. $\endgroup$ – user2352714 Feb 4 at 6:48
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Well, your fighting styles are going to be based around the natural weaponry. Normally I go on about making the weapon match the style, but you can't tailor your physiology, you are just born with it.

You've listed a variety of natural weapons, and each grouping will influence how the guy fights. Tusks are going to be best used much like a Western style Boxer. Think a cross between Mike Tyson and TMNT's Bebop. Western Boxers wade in, head down, and if you notice the heavy punches come from really close in. Now imagine wading in like that, but instead of a couple of left hooks and uppercuts, a sharp slash with the tusks across the midsection results in someone getting disembowled. The Presumed thick hide and heavily muscled back and shoulders will offer protection.

I imagine jaws and claws would follow a fighting style like Wing Chung. There is a philosophy, I suppose you could call it, with Wing Chung. Every major strike point is along the opponents centerline. Solar Plexus, Xyphoid Process, Throat, Chin, Nose, and so on are all along the centerline. If you can control your centerline, you are in good defensive shape. If you can control your opponents centerline, they are toast. That's the short version, there is a little more to it. Most body movements and blocks in Wing Chung are dedicated to that goal. Not a lot of hard blocks, mostly just light parries to move the incoming off target.

Next in Wing Chung are the punches and kicks. These favor speed and repetiveness over heavy shots. You have to get in close to make it work, and make no mistake, it does work. How I imagine this working with with teeth and claws? even fairly large claws suited to a Humanoid feline won't be long enough to eviscerate in one shot, at least not easily or reliably. Hit the same area half a dozen times though. The damage makes me cringe. Also, with proper centerline control, going for the throat with the teeth or claws gets a bit easier.

Bear type body plans are going to kind of fight light a bar brawler. They will rely on being tougher than anything else out there and wade in, relying on extremely powerful blows that can't really be parried, only outright dodged. anything that gets inside the reach of those powerful arms are going to face a really powerful bite.

These are some starting points, but what it comes down to is look at how animals fight each other.

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i have the same opinion regarding using biting unless in grappling/wrestling (this depend on the jaw length too, i imagine it probably awkward to be able to bite for long jaw like crocodile for example if they have humanoid body, but i can see a bite use in defensive or counter attack (still risky like from bad timing and the teeth may get knockoff or end up breaking the jaw) and this also depend on the animal teeth, such as if it piranha or shark type teeth it can bite off the muscle chunk and opponent will have movement disadvantage and blood loss, while for crocodile teeth for example it can help to lodge and pull or hook the person and slam him like how crocodile or komodo do their thing outside of spinning to shred the body part.

for tail i can see a spinning kick combine/follow with the tail or to low swipe kick and follow up with the tail if its the crocodile or komodo type of tail by using the spinning momentum to aim at their opponent feet or tail to make them fall down or losing their balance (i dont think a full spin is a problem for unarmed fighting as long it quick enough before enemy can retaliate and counter it, compare to weapon martial arts which have length advantage and its a lethal weapon. although some animal here clearly have natural body weapon it dont have much length advantage outside of tail which is already awkward as is, and claw can truly be lethal if it reach the throat or pierce the heart, outside of long tusk or horn though, beside its already a bad idea using spinning kick against horn or tusk opponent anyway.), but this depend on their opponent weight and type of tail though. there also kangaroo for example which also help in delivering more stronger kick for the kangaroo type of tail. while a tail like monkey can be use to hook opponent limb in order to disturb opponent balance or grapple or strangle their opponent.

for horn/tusk (elephant type of tusk) pretty much use during charging or try to keep moving, otherwise if you get caught or grappled or stopped you are screwed, since its a good target to get hooked or locked or grabbed, not so much for boar type of tusk they still can deliver slashing motion during close combat so grappling is bad choice against boar, even more dangerous if they are like the real boar counterpart which like to keep suicidal charging or moving forward despite being pierced or lethally wounded, reason why human develop boar spear and need a lot of dog or human to hunt a boar they definitely the dangerous and hardest to defeat in close combat.

for claw martial arts, i am not knowledgable about this martial arts, but try check tiger claw, eagle claw, dragon claw technique in chinese martial arts, outside of claw weapon like bagh nakh to visualize tiger or bear way of clawing and teko kagi which i will recommend or consider as pangolin martial type of slash or claw

image for bagh nakh from pinterest enter image description here

its use as assassination weapon to kill Afzal khan image from:https://www.rom.on.ca/en/blog/weapon-wednesday-bagh-nakh-making-humans-into-tigers enter image description here

and this video:Secret Weapon of Indian Kings - Bagh Nakh aka Tiger Claws image from the same video enter image description here

teko kagi from:https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tekko-Kagi_Ninja.jpg

enter image description here

and here pangolin claw image from:https://news.janegoodall.org/2017/05/22/a-pangolin-bush-walk/pangolin-claws-and-scales/ enter image description here

while for chinese clawing/scratching type of martial arts they sometime equip with this duel gauntlet. enter image description here

or something like this (it have many variant) both from pinterest. enter image description here

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Your main problem is that you make a distinction beetween reason how they fight and what they want to achieve. That's human way of fight. Animals are not cocky "Oh I'm so big, I have strenght advantage you cannot harm me". They either have that advantage and will use it, the opponent will notice this and if they decide to fight they don't need to be reminded about that, thre's no mind play here.
Animals go for the kill in the manner of "I'm just seconds away form killing you". Look at wolves who will try to attack/protect their throats. Only then they are somewhat coparable to humans. "I have a knife on your throat, one move and yo're dead". The diffrence is that animals, if they back off will know to not try to pick the fight again immediately. They have been defeated and spared (or not which is again human ethic/morality issue).

So the point - no matter what they use they will go for the kill. It's a fight of deadblow and parry. Let's say a small monkey-type animals with claws would try to climb bigger opponets from their back to try to puncture/cut arteries. How to parry? Imagine cat going on their back with 4 claw equipped limbs up front. Again, cat when attacking a bigger dog will try to go fake going for their mouth while really gaining a leverage to use much stronger back legs on throat.

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    $\begingroup$ For that matter, there's a huge difference between "fighting" (e.g. boxing, MMA, movies, etc) and fighting (two people trying to kill each other). The latter usually starts and ends with a single blow. You only get fighters slugging it out over a long period when they're trying to not kill each other. (Yes, I will argue this is true for animals also; the objective of a dominance fight is to walk away unhurt, which is hard to do if both fighters are out for blood.) $\endgroup$ – Matthew Feb 4 at 19:51
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Tails

Tails come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, so each fighter is going to need to figure out what kind of utility they can get from it.

If you have decent control over the tail and it's long enough, it can be used for whip-like strikes. You don't need to spin all the way to get more reach with a tail, you could potentially use a punch and then twist your body a little further to throw in a follow-up tail strike.

A lizard-like tail would have high potential as a whip-like weapon. While I can't imagine the impact damage from one strike being high, if aimed up an eye you could cause some serious damage or distraction.

A prehensile tail would have usage as a grappling tool. Throw a punch, but also send the tail low to grab a foot and potentially pull an opponent off their feet.

I could also imagine any tail having a little accessory tied to the end of it...something that looks ornamental and cute, but is actually heavy enough to bludgeon or sharp enough to cut.

Additionally, any long enough tail is another limb that could make or break a grapple. Even a weak tail could get into the eyes of an opponent and cause them difficulty.

The rest

Almost all of the rest making various grappling techniques have applications for grappling, both as defense and offense. So any grappler would have to deal with some of their moves being made unsafe based on what they fight. Jaws? Any technique that puts anything near the opponent's mouth is now dangerous. Spines? If you choose badly your opponent could twist in your grip and shred you.

On the flip side, certain grapplers would have very dangerous techniques available to them. Being able to bite whoever you grab or claw at them will quickly turn a hold into a kill.

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