If you have played Eastern-style RPG's (role playing game, think Final Fantasy) your know they tend to have monsters of many types and sizes, some much larger, some smaller, some humanoid, some animal and some just bizarre. These games almost always have one character who is a martial artist, fighting with hands, feet, and occasionally metal fists or 'claws'.

As someone who knows just a tiny bit of martial arts, I can't help but see the difficulty of fighting these things; already they're at a disadvantage without a weapon compared to everyone else. However, my training in martial arts focuses on how to fight humans. It's not only about reading human body language to anticipate attacks, but also about knowing human vulnerabilities to strike (how do you aim for the solar plexus of a wolf!?). In fact I would have a hard time hitting a wolf with any power at all, my kicks are trained to strike at my waist level or higher, I don't know how to get power kicking someone who doesn't even come up to my waist with anything other than the impractical axe kick.

So how would a martial artist be trained in a RPG world where they anticipate fighting monsters of various sizes and shapes? Would their techniques be modified in any way? Are there tricks they could use when going up against things noticeably larger then them, or without analogous weak spots to hit?

Also keep in mind that RPGs run on Charles atlas superpowers, i.e. a human may train to superhuman feats. It's okay to assume humans are capable of learning and developing beyond what a human in our world can do, being faster stronger etc. Think of any Wuxia movie, like croching tiger hidden dragon, and the sort of things they do in them.

  • $\begingroup$ human may train to superhuman feats and you even state that all this happens in a game also that last statement I don't understand the phrase developing beyond what a normal human and not through magic there isn't any description on the monsters at all not even the martial artist... nice people! :) $\endgroup$ – user6760 Aug 19 '15 at 15:19
  • $\begingroup$ Can you say what the RPG is? $\endgroup$ – Monty Wild Aug 19 '15 at 22:51
  • $\begingroup$ @MontyWild role playing game. updated the question to clarify that. sorry, I shouldn't have presumed everyone would know the abbreviation. $\endgroup$ – dsollen Aug 19 '15 at 22:52
  • $\begingroup$ I know what an RPG is, having played them for the last thirty years, I'm just interested in what system? $\endgroup$ – Monty Wild Aug 19 '15 at 22:54
  • $\begingroup$ @MontyWild I was thinking in general of all eastern style console RPGs, like final fantasy or chrono trigger. Actually I was explicitly thinking of one I was dabbling with creating, but it's in the same style as the above. $\endgroup$ – dsollen Aug 19 '15 at 22:55

While the best possible solution would be to develop different martial arts for each particular monster, the downside of that is a practitioner of "wolf-fu" is going to be at a considerable disadvantage if they suddenly encounter an orc. While it is not impossible for adventurers to become skilled in multiple martial arts, this is really a modern western conceit driven by people who are wealthy enough to have lots of leisure time to study and practice, as well as living in a society which encourages immigration so you don't have to go to the four corners of the Earth to find masters of different arts, you can usually google them and find a few a short drive or bike ride away.

If the adventurers are not in a position to go to the local fitness centre or find a dojo in the back of a strip mall for the particular martial art they are looking for, then they should be looking for a versatile art which can be adapted to meet most situations. I am going to suggest Aikido as that art, but please note this is an observation based on personal experience, and not a challenge or slight to practitioners of other arts. There may be various aspects of other arts which can be seen the same way, but I am not qualified to comment on them.

Aikido is a versatile art which could be well adapted to fighting monsters because it is based on redirecting the energy of the attacker rather than being the one who launches the attack, and by disturbing the centre of balance to cause the attacker to go down. Since the attacker provides the energy, you are in the position to judge where and when the strike, kick, bite etc. is coming to make the deflection, rather than attempting to locate a weak point and strike at it. This also makes the art well suited for encounters where you are mismatched in size, punching or kicking a 250kg Minotaur with enough force to do damage may be problematic, but pivoting out of the way of its charge and directing the energy of the charge into the ground or nearby wall is going to be much easier for a human sized opponent.

Aikido is also energy efficient for the practitioner, since many of the movements are simple combinations of pivots and turns, allowing the practitioner to conserve energy even when fighting multiple opponents. While Bruce Lee could successfully fight multiple opponents, he was also using a lot of energy to do so, and at some point he would either tire or be overwhelmed. Obviously even a high ranking Aikido master could also tire and become overwhelmed, but that point will be farther along in the fight, and the extra time could gain the advantage of having your friends show up, or instilling doubt into the enemy, causing them to hesitate or break off the attack.

Aikido can even deal with armed opponents (like many other martial arts), so fighting a beast with claws or horns might simply be a matter of noting the reach of the weapons and taking care to move your circle so it is outside the reach of the weapon, but intersecting the body of the opponent to deliver your off balancing movement to the opponent.

In the ideal construct, Aikido is a harmonious art, which emphasizes the flow of energy between partners on the mat. Since monsters are generally not interested in harmonizing with their prey, the Aikido master can switch to a "harder" style of Aikido (such as Yoshinkan Aikido taught to the Japanese police and armed forces) or even hybrid styles like "Aki-Budo", where drops and throws are designed to injure or disable an opponent. Someone or something pinned to the ground by an aikido throw can also be finished off with a knife, if needed.

  • $\begingroup$ I could see it being useful against large humanoids (being an art largely created for fighting larger opponents), but Aikido is extremely reliant on the opponent having a human shape and moving in the same way a human tends to move. Quadrupeds, for example, are much harder to throw off balance. So I don't think Aikido would be a good "catch-all" martial art to be used against many different kinds of monsters. $\endgroup$ – IndigoFenix Feb 26 '18 at 11:04

The martial art adapts to the weapons and enemies of the period. Each weapon wants to be used a different way. A katana loves broad sweeping motions while a rapier loves thrusts. Likewise, armor adapts to the current weapons.

A broad definition of 'martial art' helps here. Knights in 15th century Europe were trained in a 'martial art' specific to European weapons and armor. Japanese warriors were likewise trained in a martial art to their weapons and armor. Warfare always always adapts to the needs to the day; doesn't matter if a martial artist is fighting humans or dinosaurs.

An example of an adaptation might be a preference for hammers and maces against heavily armored monsters. Against monsters that tend to swarm (zerglings), weapons that cut large swathes such as broad swords or halberds would work best. Each of these weapons demands a different fighting style for effective use.

Remember, Humans are the great murderers of Earth. If there's something that can be killed, we will find a way to do so... Then codify it.


Martial arts is a much broader subject than simple unarmed combat between humans. If we limit ourselves to Japan alone, there were indeed many unarmed martial arts such as jujutsu, but there were also numerous schools involved with armed combat, including kenjutsu (katana), naginatajutsu (naginata), Sōjutsu (spear), Kyūjutsu (bow), and to mention a more exotic art, Kusarijutsu (chain-weapons such as kusarigama or manrikigusari). It isn't generally recognised today, but Europe also had their own schools of martial arts, including schools teaching the use of the broadsword and shield, halberd, rapier and many more, but with the rise of firearms as a weapon of war, they have been largely forgotten, much more so than the Asian martial arts. I won't even start with the many mainland Asian martial arts.

You may notice in the list of Japanese martial arts, I have mentioned mainly those ending in -jutsu, these being the schools of martial arts taught to warriors, unlike the -do martial arts, which are frequently watered-down versions of the -jutsus taught to civilians. When you're dealing with monsters, you don't want a martial art which is nerfed for public consumption, where the emphasis is on preferably-non-lethal self-defense, no, you want an all-up the-best-defence-is-a-good-offense martial art optimised to kill.

Given all these martial arts, those involving weapons would be of greatest use against monsters which are for the most part relying on their natural weapons. The advantage of being able to keep a greater distance between yourself and a slavering beast while still being able to counterattack cannot be overstated.

It would also be the case that both weapons and the martial arts devised to employ them will be optimised according to the monsters that the art's practitioners will be facing most often, as well as to dealing with humans. While humans will unite against a common foe, don't underestimate our propensity to squabble amongst ourselves either. Another factor is that weapons will frequently be adapted from tools that their wielders would be using regularly. While swords have the advantage that they are light, easily carried and deadly, they are also expensive. When faced with a marauding monster or a human enemy, a farmer would be more likely to grab for a farming tool such as a sickle, rake or hoe, a woodcutter would rely on his axe, a builder might use a mallet, and so on.

Of course, in Japanese mythology, oni are frequently depicted as being armed, and there is no reason why the OP's monsters may not also be smart enough to make or scavenge weapons. In such a case, it would be the height of foolishness to attempt to deal with such a monster unarmed, and the height of sensibility to use something like Kyūjutsu which maximises the separation between man and monster. You can then escalate matters - monsters using martial arts, with arrow-cutting (the use of a weapon to deflect arrows), thus either forcing combat back to melee range, or requiring multiple archers to deal with the monster.

The sheer variety of martial arts which humans have devised should be enough that someone will have the skills needed to defeat even a martial-arts-trained monster.

  • $\begingroup$ I agree using weapons makes the most sense, but in Eastern RPG you tend to have every player have a different primary weapon (and some are as absurd as umbrellas, cooking spoons, and magically animated dolls; all three have existed in multiple games I've played). The unarmed-fighter is one of these cliches. I'm trying to justify this fighter as much as possible, despite admitting it doesn't make sense. The conventions of the genre demand it, how does one best justify it? $\endgroup$ – dsollen Aug 19 '15 at 13:36
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ You have unarmed human martial artists when their most likely opponents are similarly unarmed humans. That is to say, in a world with monsters, they most likely come from the civilised areas where they were training to fight other civilised humans. If they should find themselves in the backwoods facing a monster, well, they have to go with what they know, and a black belt 6th dan in jujutsu is better than a white belt in kenjutsu, especially if you don't even own a katana. $\endgroup$ – Monty Wild Aug 19 '15 at 22:43

The discussions above have covered a lot of how most martial artists, particularly historically were armed, the idea of the unarmed warrior monk is something that we get from modern films and RPGs and martial arts are largely related to fighting humans because humans are the most dangerous creatures around, certainly the one most likely to attack for no evident reason.

"Monsters" is a huge range, but it might incorporate a lot of dangerous animals but also humanoids, supernatural creatures, revenants and sundry strange and mysterious perils.

For some of these, the principles of unarmed combat are rather challenging - in our world, you would only go unarmed against a tiger, grizzly bear or angry bull if you were suicidal. Even with most types of weapon you would be taking a huge risk confronting something tougher like a hippo or rhino. If your monsters are of that type, then people are mostly going to try to avoid them outright, a creature like that without a human-like intellect or desires is likely to be fairly easy to avoid unless you need to stray into it's territory. Confronting a creature like this would be a matter for group strategy.

With humanoids and creatures at a scale where unarmed combat would be practical you might find specific styles developed to confront different types, variants based on the vulnerabilities of the opponent and negating their strengths. In fact you might well find that "goblin-style" would develop as a new form among the martial arts to help new students learn.

Of course, one might need to ask why these martial artists are not using weapons. If they are not total idiots, then they're going to have a good reason for it and that - combined with the existence of monsters - probably means they have some kind of extra power which is accessible through their combat style. This would need to be directed through physical contact ( hence no weapons ) and need to be sufficiently potent to balance out the advantages that a weapon gives. As soon as a weapon could be created that would also transmit this power ( perhaps some kind of sword or sabre, made of a something unexpected like 'light' ) then any smart monk is going to start using it.

That is really the essence of this to me - the question is a good one but if we start from the idea that these martial artist types exist then there must be a reason for them to make that decision, which opens the door to a lot of world-building opportunities.

Remember that a major reason that empty-handed martial arts arose in our world, was that people were conquered and forbidden from owning, buying or constructing weapons. That is the other reason people historically made this decision- not because it is better, but because it was all that is open to them.

  • $\begingroup$ part of the justifications for the martial artist in my toyed with RPG is that he still sees himself as a tag-along kid to the adventures, not a fighter(he's a teen, between adulthood and childhood, but doesn't give himself enough credit). He doesn't want the moral complexity of using lethal force, and part of his not training in real weapons is because he doesn't think of himself as a fighter, he fights with the training he started with and never sets out to develop to be more of a fighter because that wasn't his goal; despite his developing into one. He's also the weakest damage dealer. $\endgroup$ – dsollen Aug 19 '15 at 13:42
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ If you're working with an RPG mechanic then you would want to give some definite thought to how you can keep this character interesting and practical without leaning solely on their damage output, if you're going to include them. $\endgroup$ – glenatron Aug 19 '15 at 14:14
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ he is a support character. He uses techniques to apply debufs, delay attacks, distract foes for enemies etc. Once magic is introduced (relatively late for an RPG, but before you really get to decide which character to use so you couldn't not use him) he gets some of the most effective support magic, lots of hastes and slows, and ability to provide stamina which fuels the powerful techniques everyone uses. I've even worked his low damage into his character arc, he doesn't see himself as contributing because he doesn't recognize the power of his support, sees himself as just tagging along. $\endgroup$ – dsollen Aug 19 '15 at 14:53

What you describe is less of a martial art, and more of a self defense system. Your focus is on "how do I kill the other guy," which is a notably unpopular way of thinking in martial arts. If you think that way, you tend to find yourself excluded rather quickly from many teachers' circles.

"If you want to beat someone down, use a gun. Martial arts is about economy of force" - Fists of Fury

I can't claim to be a true expert in martial arts, but I can say what I have seen from art to art. They all say the same thing: "Martial arts is about health." Whether it's Tae Kwon Do, whose style can be roughly translated as "teleport their head three feet to the left with your foot," or Tai Chi, whose style can be roughly translated as "I simply wont let you hurt me," all martial arts focus greatly on the health benefits of the motions they do. This is natural. Most of their students will spend most of their lives not fighting, so you want to make sure your fighting skills also help keep you healthy when you're not fighting.

So in an RPG world with monsters, you would still build martial arts from the same fundamental goal: "Economy of force."

  • How often do you fight monsters? If you will likely spend most of your life not fighting monsters, the focus will be more inward, like Tai Chi, Xingyi, or Baugua. The focus would be almost entirely on maximizing your ability to use yourself and improvise. On the other hand, if fighting monsters is a continuous process, you will find "economy of force" starts to focus more on how you can efficiently dispatch enemies. You may start seeing more specialized systems which focus on taking down particular enemies. You will also see less focus on art and more focus on self defense. It's worth looking into the differences between the martial arts and Krav Maga, which many teachers consider to be a self-defense system, not a martial art.
  • How varied are the monsters? The more you can memorize weak points, the more you can rely on them. If there's one or two groups of monsters out there, perhaps ratmen and goblins, there's time to memorize weak points. If there's hundreds of different monsters out there, you would learn general techniques such as "if they have an insectoid leg, here's how to attach it." If the situation is truly chaotic, formless approaches would rule.
  • What weapons do you have? The more combat relies on weapons, the more specialization you will see. While everyone has two arms and two legs, the inventory of weapons humans have invented is staggering. Facing lots of giant spiders and other exoskeleton wearing foes? You'll probably want bludgeoning weapons. Facing lots of very dangerous clawed foes? You'll probably want the standoff distances of the swords and polearms.
  • Finally, what else do you need to do in life? A village of farmers will develop a martial art which synergies with the muscles and movements needed to do farming, because of economy of force. An ivory tower of scholars will develop a martial art which focuses on weak points, because that memorization style is useful for the scholars in debates. A monestary will develop martial arts which can be taught for centuries without anyone actually getting in a fight to confirm that they work.
  • $\begingroup$ "How do I kill the other guy?" is only unpopular in modern, civilised martial arts taught to civilians. Historically, when they were taught to soldiers, it was all about "How do I kill the other guy?". In addition, as a martial artist, my sensei is all about "How do you incapacitate the other guy - without getting on the wrong side of the law in the process." $\endgroup$ – Monty Wild Aug 19 '15 at 22:49
  • $\begingroup$ @MontyWild What I got from my training is it's not about "How do I kill the other guy?" it's "how do I live and accomplish my own life goals?" The latter may lead very rapidly to the former, but the latter should be the real goal. The difference is that the latter opens up the door to trainings which assist in the rest of your life, while the former will focus strongly on the best possible ways to kill people, even if the only lesson learned is another way to kill someone. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Aug 19 '15 at 23:36
  • $\begingroup$ Obviously our respective teachers have different philosophies, then. My sensei's attitude is obviously (to me) coloured by the fact that he's ex-army. $\endgroup$ – Monty Wild Aug 20 '15 at 0:34
  • $\begingroup$ @MontyWild I suppose there is room for rogue opinions =) The phrasing I chose is the one sold in every martial arts studio I have elected to go to, but I suppose one can always be surprised. Usually doing harm to others is usually a method to your goals, but not the goal itself. Those whose goals are harm usually find themselves in the warlord path. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Aug 20 '15 at 0:44
  • $\begingroup$ Just to throw data around to make myself appear more knowledgeable than I actually am, I've trained in a few arts (I'll star* them), though in no way proficient in any of them, and I've heard spiels from many others. I have heard a general rallying behind the position I claim from every school I have interacted with in: karate*, Tae Kwon Do*, Hapkido, Brazilian Jujitsu, Aikido, Kendo, Judo, Tai Chi*, Xing-yi, Bauguazhen, Shaolin kung-fu (many variants), Capoera, and even ninjitsu (though I have heard mixed opinions from ninjitsu sensei... some focus more on the harming side) $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Aug 20 '15 at 0:49

Starting from little knowledge is the answer here.

These days, Filipino armed martial arts are well regarded because they remain in active day-to-day use for self-defence with weapons, unlike pretty much everywhere else where laws have disarmed the general population and unarmed martial arts are therefore the norm. Note that metal claws are a perfectly valid weapon - inside a 3-foot radius, Freddy Kruger is at a major advantage over a pikeman.

Fiction features characters fighting unarmed for narrative reasons, not because they would be practical in reality. To be practical in reality would basically take magic - which is possible in an RPG, but not on Planet Earth. A massive skill differential can make it work to some degree, but weapons are such a game-changer that the guy with the handle usually wins. Adults are routinely killed by young kids with knives, even though the adult is massively larger and stronger - it only takes one lucky stab and it's game over.

With suitable weaponry though (metal claws, boots) it's more practical. And kicking below waist height is standard in most martial arts, attacking legs and knees. Your biggest problem with an animal is not the height but the speed. Anyone can kick an Alsatian hard when it's just standing there, but it isn't just standing there, it's lungeing for your throat. A timely elbow is likely to be more use, as is knowing that its legs are very vulnerable to leverage. And we're back to training - if you're in an environment where you're likely to need to kill these things then you're going to learn how to do it. Mediaeval hunters had specific spears to kill wild boar, American Indians learnt how to kill bears, and so on.


Since there are so many various sorts of enemies, martial arts would most likely focus on developing oneself and one's body, giving one a toolset with which one could improvise, depending on the situation and the enemy one is facing. There are some martial arts which do this, such as Escrima which focuses on teaching you to use your body and various bladed or blunt weapons.

If your monsters would be too tough to beat at the close range then ranged weapons like archery could be useful.

As a reference you can take a look at the witcher world. There are trained hunters focused on these monsters and using every advantage they could get. From mutations and silver weapons to poisons and explosives.


I say just they should exercise to be in peak physical condition (in that verse), be hypercompetent in whatever unarmed (or weaponized) martial art there is (in that verse) and apply what you/they know to compete on relatively equal terms with the various monsters.


Some weponized form of wing chun or summat. Not many posts have been talking about the physical capabilities of humans so let us say the highly trained one can run 10k in a min. then they could physically compete w "monsters" if you scale in strength. Wing chun could be amazing against big enemies, especially with metal claws or knives. This isn't perfect, but it would allow for excellent offensive potential against medium/large enemies for small ones then they could throw blinding packages and knives.

  • $\begingroup$ I don't know wing chun (never even heard of the martial art). Could you explain why this would be better then another martial arts, or why it is better suited for larger opponents? $\endgroup$ – dsollen Dec 18 '15 at 21:46
  • $\begingroup$ It is a sothern derivitave of kung fu and is a "soft' martial art, many of the techniqes that ii am aware of are using the forearms to rederect blows and some who are profecient can use there legs in this matter. $\endgroup$ – Mr_marmalade Jan 27 '16 at 16:18

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.