So, since my dragons have a lot of limitations that are needed for flight, I thought it was to make them some strengths. Two that still remain are their intelligence and long life, which can result in them being extremely well-trained and with a lot of friends, but these advantages are worthless in the hands of a writer that is less intelligent than the character they're trying to depict.

This brings us to elements that need to be thought out once, then can be used more easily.

Yes, I'm talking martial arts.

Now, dragons have six limbs (so, four legs and a pair of wings) and aren't particularly large, about the size of a large horse, but maybe half or even less their weight. They also don't have much muscle on their legs. 25% of their mass is their flight muscles, so their body is "on a tight budget", so to speak.

They still have sharp claws, of course.

The main strategy of increasing a dragon's survivability is by lowering their hitbox and armoring that. Most of their organs are (relatively) very small and efficient and are located close-together inside the chest cavity, surrounded by bone, flight muscle, and scales.

Also, they have so-called "air blubbers" under their skin. Air blubbers are a type of aerogel, characterized by larger pore-size and being made out of a strong, fibrous material (which might have some carbon nanotubes in it). It resists tearing and is also flexible.

I think it's a pretty neat idea for increasing their perceived size without increasing weight, plus it's additional protection against blunt attacks.

With all that being said, here's my problem:

What kind of moves would dragons use, assuming they decide not to use their wings in close combat, and how would they work around their limitations in muscle mass?

Assume the standard opponent to be an adult male brown bear, claws can be used, the goal is to incapacitate the opponent by any means necessary.

VERY IMPORTaNT NOTE: I guess I should've said it earlier, but a dragon's flapping amplitude is going to be lower than that of a bird:

i.e: the wing will travel roughly the same distance as with birds, but the traveled angle will be less, making it appear as if the dragon is barely rowing with their wings, unlike a pigeon's clap-and-fling style of flight.

This also means that the flight muscles won't be particularly long. That small rowing motion will be very powerful, but the traveled distance won't be that great.


7 Answers 7


Side note: "Martial arts" may be the wrong term here; maybe "fighting style." Martial arts are how humans try to make bodies that are built for armed tool using combat work in unarmed combat.
Dragons are built for "unarmed" combat: claws, teeth, wings, tail... Perhaps we can draw inspiration from how other animals fight.

Fighting styles

Dragons fight like swans Swans attack by battering their opponent in the face with their wings to blind them, while pecking as hard as they can. This works because the wings of a bird tend to be long relative to the size of the animal and so have great reach, and as any martial artist will tell you, in striking, reach matters. Dragons would also use their wings to buffet and blind their opponent and make it easer to dodge counter attacks... but obviously they will be doing something worse then pecking

Dragons fight like horses Horses fight by rearing back and swiping with their front hooves. This uses their big running muscles and can be enough to kill a man in 1 blow. Dragons would be similar but with the addition of claws. Horses also kick back with their rear hooves to lethal effect, as would dragons.

Dragons fight like snakes Dragons have these long necks, and so good reach. If their reaction times are as good as birds or snakes, they would use their other limbs to attack and keep their opponent busy while watching for an opening to lunge forward with their head and bite some key part of the opponent, like the neck.

Dragons fight like peregrine falcons Peregrine Falcons hunt by diving down on their prey and either grabbing them or stunning them by striking them while in a high-speed dive. It would be normal for the Dragon to be at least beginning a fight with a dive from a considerable height to strike its enemy at high speed with its whole weight, probably with its front paws.

Finally dragons run like horses and birds So this dragon is the size of a horse and it can fly.... I know bears are faster then humans, but I doubt they can keep pace with the flying horse dragon on the ground or in the air, so if the dragon feels it is outmatched, it would just turn tail and take off.

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    $\begingroup$ Houses also tend to fight? $\endgroup$ Jan 3, 2021 at 0:43
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    $\begingroup$ I didn't know my house could rear back and swipe with hooves! I didn't even know it had hooves! $\endgroup$
    – Alendyias
    Jan 3, 2021 at 0:46
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    $\begingroup$ Learn something new every day, tables have feet and houses have hooves $\endgroup$ Jan 3, 2021 at 0:47
  • $\begingroup$ I thought about having my dragons lunge forward with three legs and strike with the third, on paper, putting all their momentum behind the attack. Could that work? $\endgroup$ Jan 3, 2021 at 0:52
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    $\begingroup$ other quadrupeds don't punch, the muscles are set up so the slash /swipe is much more powerful( its the same motion they make while running) $\endgroup$ Jan 3, 2021 at 2:07

I don't really know martial arts, but since sheer power isn't an option, dragon martial arts would therefore be about precision.

Stab someone in the right spot, and they're dead. Strength has very little to do with it. Sure, air blubbers resist tearing, and I'm sure these dragons have tough scaly hide, but if that were the case, these dragons would likely have evolved sharper and sharper claws and fangs. See, if these dragons fought each other a lot over the course of their evolution, the ones who couldn't slice into their opponent would have died.

Martial arts would also be about strategy; if you hit the sciatic nerve on the human being, brightside.me tells us "This nerve is located between the groin and the knee on the midline of the inner thigh. A severe knee hit will cause intense pain, shock, dizziness and temporary immobility of the foot." Hit a dragon's pressure points, especially those on the wing, and I'm sure you'll have just as much a dramatic effect.

Instead of powerful punches or wing strikes, I believe these dragons will use quick, accurate attacks to kill or debilitate opponents.

  • $\begingroup$ +1 on the opponent attacking the wing. It seems like the most fragile, but also one of the most valuable, body parts of a dragon. I'm sure a dragon would rather lose a leg than a wing. $\endgroup$
    – cowlinator
    Jan 6, 2021 at 3:47

I'm no expert in martial arts, but I think you're starting with a faulty assumption about how your dragons would fight. 25% of the dragon's mass is in the muscles driving the wings, you stated: for a flying creature, that's a reasonable or even necessary figure. Some quick Googling tells me that arms make up about 5-6% of a human's body mass, and obviously not all of that is muscle tissue; I can't immediately find figures for how much of the muscles in the chest support the arms, but it's certainly a lot less than 25% of total body mass. It doesn't stop people from throwing some nasty punches.

Despite your assumption that dragons won't use their wings, those are their main weapons. Even in a human, that great a percentage of muscle devoted to the arms would see everyone throwing rib-breaking blows with little effort. Scale that up to something with (according to your question) around a third to a half the mass of a large horse (so anywhere from 300kg to 450kg), and those wings will strike hard enough to break bones. It takes a lot of strength to flap giant wings with enough force to fly, because they basically have to be able to push that air down hard enough to counter gravity (incidentally, I think that chin-ups would be a trivial exercise for them in theory).

What does this mean, applied to combat? The wings might be vulnerable, easily torn in the face of claws or sharp blades: this is probable, even, since making them thick or durable enough to resist such attacks will cost a fair chunk in terms of weight, and flying creatures are extremely weight-conscious. However, one flap of those wings is going to strike as hard if not harder than that brown bear they're fighting. Aim for the side of the neck, and it could well break; go for the windpipe, and you can absolutely crush that. You can go low: with the size of the wings, you can sweep the bear's legs out from under it and leave it easy prey for another strike. Properly timed, you could spoil the bear's balance just by slapping its leg or head as it goes for you and send the bear stumbling with that force; a quick pounce, and you have its neck in your jaws (or simply bash it senseless with further wing-strikes). The wings also offer a range advantage: they're going to be several metres long, far more than any bear will have. For bonus points, flapping the wings at the ground will kick up a nasty storm of dirt (or dust, snow, whatever is there), blinding the opponent and generally spoiling their own attack.

Note that all of those were minimalist options, with the bare wings alone and any other limbs ignored: they didn't even require the dragon to have usable claws, much less tools. If you have claws, that obviously gives you still more options. Hooking the opponent's flesh to drag them off balance, targeting weak points like the eyes or especially the neck (slashing the main artery there would be easier than snapping the bone), and generally causing more pain and injury and blood loss; those would all be relevant options, and there's likely other tricks I haven't thought of yet.

I'm not sure the dragons would even need tools to fight that bear reliably, but those could obviously make it still easier. They might have trouble handling long weapons (a pike being held by a multi-metre-long wing will likely have accuracy concerns, unless the opponent is dumb enough to charge head-on into it), but it doesn't take much to create a deadly threat, not when their wings are already far longer than any sword. Six inches of spear point at each wingtip would be more than enough to pierce the opponent's brain, and the huge wings offer them the range to easily make the first (and likely the last) strike.

I'm assuming here that the dragon is for whatever reason confined to the ground during a fight (perhaps lifting from the ground requires preparation and leaves them wide open), confining the action to a mostly two-dimensional plane. If you add aerial strikes, the smart move for the dragon would be to simply ambush from above with a spear or lance of some sort. This would have to be held by the weaker legs, but the speed of a dive would provide all the force required to skewer that bear rather spectacularly; that blow would have several times more force than any cavalry lancer's charge.

Conclusion: Your dragons are going to be fighting mostly with their wings, and they're going to be striking with the might of hammers. Expect them to focus on maintaining the proper distance, because they're extremely vulnerable if someone gets inside the effective reach of the wings. I'd advise looking into naginata fighting techniques if you want more details, or perhaps halberds.

  • $\begingroup$ Oh btw, it's my fault really, but I forgot to mention how dragon wings work, and that might mess up that swan-style battering technique, sorry about that. $\endgroup$ Jan 3, 2021 at 12:15
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    $\begingroup$ @Mephistopheles I don't think it will, not significantly. The flight muscles must reach to the ends of the wings: they're going to be several metres long. Your edit simply recommends that dragons spin as they strike, both to impart additional force and to make sure that the wing strikes in the critical period of strength. It's going to demand more precision in the timing, but it won't really destroy the basic premise here. $\endgroup$
    – Palarran
    Jan 3, 2021 at 13:37

assuming this is mean for unarmed combat(its another story if you mean armed combat), as other has say, they have sharp claws and teeth, but i also want to include grappling just like in this komodo dragon do for example.

enter image description here

or you can grab them and carry them high enough and drop /slam them down, can also include spinning to make them dizzy like in pokemon movement/technique by charizard. especially if against non flying opponent that can be carried or lifted.

outside of that is swiping movements or slap using the tail, even better if the tip has spikes or like ankylosaurus tail, and if want to include the wings you can use the flying kick (can be change with tail whip if the leg is not long enough).

enter image description here

also assuming their teeth is more like crocodile or alligator they can use it to bite and spin to shred the opponent body, or become part of the grappling technique to pull or bin them (i assume their jaw muscle is strong) like how crocodile do (need to be careful, since your head or snout or neck is pretty much vulnerable or exposed in the front or if done in wrong timing it can end up bad, but thats pretty much how unarmed fight is, theres always risk or inevitable exchange blows, also depend on how your dragon neck or head design is, if it already upfront like most lizard then theres not much problem, different story if their neck position is like horse or swan image up there, that is more positioned upward, then the dragon need to be careful, like i already mention).

if they has horn they can shake their head to deliver a puncture or simply charging to pierce the opponent, but it also vulnerable to get grasped or hooked (but that depend on the horn shape and length).

and the old shooting fire in your face, or as distraction or blurred opponent vision or attentions, if your dragon is immune to fire and your opponent is not, they can just lit themselves to make sure opponent cant grasp or try to not come near, while you still can grasp them to wrestle/grapple or slam/pin/lock them down to get the burn (not recommended against hedgehog, especially the one that can teleport behind you).


Armed to the Teeth:

Seriously? These things have claws, many are shown with a wing claw, they have fangs, and let's not forget the classical barbed tail (possibly poisonous). A completely untrained dragon could overwhelm a ninja master through sheer VOLUME of attacks. A lot of what I am presenting here is based on an article in Dragon Magazine #134 or from the articles references therein (especially #50)

You mention that 25% of mass is wing muscles. Even though you don't want them to use wings as weapons, they will be extremely lethal ones. Do the dragons have plain wings, a wing claw, or maybe even a small hand on the wing? If the goal is to keep the wing away from harm, why not let the dragon carry/mount a whip or chain on those bad boys? They'll have reach, stay out of trouble range, and still get to flail around in a suitably distracting/terrifying way. If you like, even a weighted rope could be used to entangle opponents , keeping them still for many other lethal attacks. While the wings don't need to be used as weapons, they will allow dragons in an open environment to lift off briefly and optimize the use of four claws and the tail. Additionally, wind buffets can knock people over OR propel thrown sand at high speed to distract and blind (I'd advise nictitating membranes if you go with this strategy).

Many martial arts have a multitude of weapons associated with them. Yes, because of the claws, the dragons don't really NEED weapons - grab an opponent, dig in, and hold them still while you go in for a decapitating/skull crushing bite. But if you want to extend the reach of the dragon and keep the more vulnerable parts away from opponents, why not some really long, thin swords? Long pole-arms like a naginata could even be swung to strike opponents while flying out of reach - imagine a fly-over decapitating sweep. Drop a net on opponents ( a natural weapon for a flying species) to pin them in place, then sweep in with a barrage of deep stabbing weapons. More importantly, nets were often used to entangle the weapons of opponents defensively. While a human who throws a net is occupying critical hands, the dragon has an array of additional limbs at their disposal. And an enemy pinned on the ground is easy prey to a clawed foot-stomp.

Finally, let's not forget the tail. It's likely to be long and sinuous to counter the weight of a long head. There's nothing that says it can't have a poison sting, or an infectious barb, or just work like a whip. Who's to say it can't be wrapped around another weapon like a sword, knife, or flail? A prehensile tail can sneakily wrap around an ankle and jerk, or leverage the size and weight of the dragon and simply sweep the legs.


"A spot. Where it's voonerable. My grandad used to tell me stories. Hit a dragon in its voonerables, he said, and you've killed it." - Guards Guards, Terry Pratchett

Dragon martial arts are for fighting other dragons. A dragon against a bear is closer to hunting.

The dragon is going to strike from above and behind, any time the bear puts its head down. Fundamentally a dragon as you describe is not going to go head to head with a bear, the bear is heavier, stronger and likely more resistant to damage, it's dangerous prey. If the bear hides in the woods to protect itself from aerial attack, the dragon should let it go and accept the hunt has failed.

(Dragon martial arts, where dragons are fighting other dragons is going to be a far more complex prospect, but technically outside the bounds of the question.)


Flip them Over.

It is well known that ants bounce but elephants go splat. When fighting large animals Judo is more effective than Karate. When fighting a bear you should, rather than batter it to death, try and flip it over so it falls and gets injured.

True, you don't want to use the delicate wing surfaces to fight. But you do want to use the massive muscles at the front of the body. Picture taken from D&D Beyond.

enter image description here

The strategy is to crouch down low, dive under the bear, and then spring up and extend the flight muscles. If this goes as planned the bear rises onto its hind legs and then falls over backwards. If it fails you keep going, leap six feet into the air and spread your wings in a display that makes you appear much bigger than you are, and hopefully scares the bear off.

Note this works better if the wing joint is backwards compared to the picture: enter image description here

The first dragon has to push with its wrists. The second can push with its stronger elbows.

Edit: This martial style developed from dragons fighting each other for mates. In that context the goal is to overpower your opponent without injuring them permanently. This works for dragons since they can recover from being launched by opening their wings to prevent falling over backwards. Fighting on the ground is also (a) less energy intensive and (b) can be done while guarding your mate, unlike fighting in the air which involves loads of swooping around.


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