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If you look at flying animals, they usually have small tails. For instance, giant pterosaurs. Now dragons tend to be portrayed with more devloped tails. For my dragons, their tails, and the bony spade at the end of it, is their primary melee weapon.

They usually either try to hit people with the spade (very lethal), or knock them off-balance (non-lethal).

enter image description here
I wanted my dragons to look something like this. Here's the sauce:
https://www.deviantart.com/katepfeilschiefter/art/Arrogath-327292712

Now, dragons can't have much muscle in their tails for several reasons, but I still wanted to give them usable combat moves.

So, how should a dragon's controlled tail swipe be actually powerful without having much muscle?

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    $\begingroup$ you need muscle but maybe not as much as you think most of the muscle will be near the base of the tail. look at ankylosaurs, shunosaurus, and glyptodons for inspiration. svpow.com/2010/03/08/… $\endgroup$ – John Jan 20 at 17:21
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    $\begingroup$ In the manner of a whiplash? That is, impart a rotational motion of the tip of the tail around the base of the tail, like swinging a whip. A (real) whiplash has no muscles, but a movement of the wrist will put in controlled motion. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jan 20 at 17:22
  • $\begingroup$ How much muscle do you think you need? this is not like swimming were the tail needs a lot of muscle. $\endgroup$ – John Jan 20 at 17:44
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    $\begingroup$ The tail should probably follow the ankylossaurus model, being rigid and with the bulk of the muscle close to the body. Many pterosaurs also had relatively rigid Tails. $\endgroup$ – ProjectApex Jan 20 at 17:46
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    $\begingroup$ The strongest part of the human body are the lower legs and they are mostly tendon.... Also look at horses, they can run for days on end and their legs are entire tendon and bone... All the muscle is on the upper body. $\endgroup$ – user81643 Jan 20 at 18:19
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Your dragon might use something similar to the technique of Bruce Lee's popularized one inch punch

The one-inch punch is a skill which uses fa jin (translated as explosive power) to generate tremendous amounts of impact force at extremely close distances. This "burst" effect had been common in Neijia (internal martial art) forms. When performing this one-inch punch the practitioner stands with his fist very close to the target (the distance depends on the skill of the practitioner, usually from 0–6 inches, or 0-15 centimeters). The timed chaining of multiple muscle groups contribute to the punching power while being imperceptible to the attacker.

In their case they don't use muscles in their tail, rather use their whole body to impart momentum to the tail, like it was a whip.

As long as they can produce enough force with their core, maybe even with the assistance of gravity, they don't need that many muscles directly in their tail.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 for suggesting that dragons use a technique popularized by THE dragon. $\endgroup$ – The Square-Cube Law Jan 20 at 18:54
  • $\begingroup$ this is similar to what ankylosaurs and stegosaurs use but you still need a lit of muscle in the tail to impart that force to the tail, no matter how much force you but behind it if their is not enough stiffness and strength to transmit it it is just wasted. $\endgroup$ – John Jan 20 at 18:57
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    $\begingroup$ @TheSquare-CubeLaw, I have had the chance to personally see that it's very effective even outside of martial arts: hara makes the chi. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Jan 20 at 20:31
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The tail is an erectile organ.

Humans are familiar with erectile organs. The dragons tail is such. It contains no muscle whatsoever but can be abruptly stiffened by diverting a large percentage of the dragon's cardiac output into the tail. Within the tail are actual several erectile bodies and the direction of erection can be controlled by controlling which of the 5 parallel bodies receive blood. Motions include a swipe in any of 5 directions but also a straightforward piercing thrust with all 5 organs simultaneously filled.

The wings are also erectile bodies which allows them to keep a lower profile when not in use. This means, however, that a dragon using wing and tail at the same time risks hypotension and fainting.

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    $\begingroup$ But as far as I know those erectile organs swing and wobble more when they are not erect than when they are erect $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Jan 20 at 18:03
  • $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch-ReinstateMonica I could provide a lot of audiovisual sources contradicting that, but between that not being nice and me liking you I don't want to do it. $\endgroup$ – The Square-Cube Law Jan 20 at 18:59
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    $\begingroup$ @Willk so the dragon tail is not actually a tail ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°) $\endgroup$ – The Square-Cube Law Jan 20 at 19:17
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    $\begingroup$ @TheSquare-CubeLaw, German is mercifully ambivalent in that sense, using the same term for both $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Jan 20 at 19:40
  • $\begingroup$ If it comes to sneaking lewd stuff into my world, I'd prefer Square-Cube's answer that dragons would have to shake their butts to put more power behind a swipe. $\endgroup$ – Mephistopheles Jan 20 at 19:42
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Most of the muscle is already there.

one of the reason dinosaurs evolved tail weapons so often is the muscles that move the hind leg are the same ones that swing the tail, the caudofemoralis. so the bulk of the muscle that swings your tail is there weather you want it or not.

enter image description here

for a tail weapon you either the sauropod solution or the ankylosaur solution. Sauropods have flexible base, a semis stiff midsection, and the rest of the tail is very flexible. Ankylosaurs have a short flexible base with a lot more more muscle and a stiff rest of the tail. The sauropod way gives you a lot of speed and distance the ankylosaur method gives you more raw power. With sauropods and the tip of their tail could exceed the speed of sound and could strike at a fair distance, they also look a lot like the tail in your image. Ankylosaurs would likely pivot the entire body as part of swinging the tail imparting a lot of power.

Titanosaurs use something like a compromise between the two, with basically a sauropod tail but instead of a long flexible tip the use a shorter flexible end with a spiked lump at the end.

enter image description here

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Butt attack

Much like many martial artists will rotate their hips and torso for a more powerful attack, so will your dragon. The tail flails around as a result of that.

I like John's answer (+1), but dinosaurs went that way because it wouldn't be feasible for the heavy sauropods to shake their butts in battle. But your dragon is a flying creature. All it takes is one hip thrust and that tail can sucker punch a human into a 3/4 backflip.

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For what it's worth, the technique behind Tae Kwon Do's strikes (which I learned as a kid) often involve quickly jutting out whatever appendage is used for striking, but stiffening said appendage at the last possible moment for added force, somewhat like the crack of a whip.

Sadly, I can't seem to find a good explanation online but Makoto's animations from Street Fighter III seem to be well-researched representations of Tae Kwon Do techniques. She doesn't have much brute strength but all of her power comes from her ability to move her limbs quickly with last-moment force.

Similar to John's example above, a whip has no muscle at all, all the force comes from the muscles of the person that wields it. The same could be said of a meteor hammer if you want the dragon's tail to have a weight/barbed end.

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