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.
- 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.