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For this question I have been envisioning a creature akin to a Cat Girl- something that may have evolved from a creature with claws, retractable or not, but is currently bipedal, intelligent, sapient and sentient , etc. They would have five digits per hand, much like ours, but ideally each finger would end with or have a short claw at the end. I don't know much about cats per se, but I believe they use their claws as part of their defense, to swipe at the threat. What sort of fighting styles would claws lend themselves to?

I've briefly tried to look up claws as weapons through google, but the pictures I've seen remind me of brass knuckles, and aren't those punching-focused?

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  • $\begingroup$ I looked at sentient creatures with claws a while back (while looking at how sentient life might have evolved on a densely jungled world with strong predation pressure) and determined that any sentient creature with claws really needs a way to manipulate delicate things without clawing them by accident, so you're probably better off with retractable claws, or at least hands shaped in such a way that the soft fingerpads are still usable. Otherwise they're going to be handicapped when developing tool use, particularly once the tools start to get more precise or have moving parts. $\endgroup$ – anaximander Jul 4 '16 at 13:04
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    $\begingroup$ "I don't know much about foo per se" can be easily remedied by spending an hour on Wikipedia and Google, which would give you a better base to build on, both while thinking about it and while writing a question. $\endgroup$ – pipe Jul 4 '16 at 14:09
  • $\begingroup$ In a situation where everyone has them, they'd also have well established defenses against them. Thicker skin in vulnerable areas, that kind of thing. So the claws might not actually be that useful against another person. $\endgroup$ – Simba Jul 4 '16 at 16:28

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Swiping. Claws are for quick, shallow slices, with a lot less force and more speed than most closed handed blows. Think of a motion like slapping, except with a bit more reach since only fingertips need to connect to get the most out of their claws.

If their toes have claws as well they will, well, not wear shoes. Maybeso open toed sandals, but not shoes because they would catch and be under pressure and hurt. But, anyway, they would incorporate kicks, and focus on the ball of the foot and the toes (again, swiping sort of motion more than force). In grappling, they would try to draw their feet up into the tangle to rake their feet-claws across the belly - we would try to jab our knee upward as a weapon, they will try to bend it up out of the way to shred their toe claws down the belly and legs.

Strikes would not be about force or connecting a solid blow, it would be about almost grazing blows and the sharpness of claws. To that end, speed would be highly prized, much more so than being grounded or having leverage. Probably they would tend to leap at each other, and grapple rolling around on the ground instead of standing mostly-upright - that doubles the number of claw-tipped limbs they can be fighting with, instead of spending two to be only standing on. Blows to the face, and hands would be expected and well guarded against, since the lack of clothing makes them easier to strike at. On the other hand claws might catch and tear if aimed at clothing, but that would have to be clawed aside or ripped to get to skin anyway - and the vulnerabilities of the belly, throat, and major veins are then possible targets.

There are also tactics they would not use. This includes punching, since it depends on folding the hand tightly, which means either the claws digging into their own hand, or putting a lot of pressure on them (which will hurt). They will not, as I mentioned, wear shoes - and even sandals will deny them the use of their toe-claws for balance and leverage, they may simply go barefoot, which has implications on footwork and leverage when fighting.

They will not use archery - the extended claws will interfere with drawing back the bowstring, or they will cut it. Maybe atlatl would have been more popular, or else blow darts for distance weapon. Maybe they would have discovered crossbow - but without the bow itself, maybe not. I'm not sure about guns, the early versions especially needed to be individually loaded and primed before being fired, and finger-claws may have interfered with some of the necessary dexterity (to make them as well, tricky). swords and the like, the claws might have also interfered with grip a little bit, perhaps they favored two-handed weapons because a wider grip would have been less likely to dig back into their hand, but also less secure. They would also probably want longer blades - the primary advantage is reach, the secondary is weight (to multiply force). they already have their short reach weapons, sharp and pointy and utterly intuitive claws, instead of short knives they would have to learn and might be dropped or lost, and which would give only inches of reach in return.

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    $\begingroup$ This is very useful for thinking about a species in general. I had been focusing on the hands and not the feet, so I'm not sure how much use I myself can make of that information, but otherwise, this is very nice. $\endgroup$ – FinAndTonic Jul 3 '16 at 17:10
  • $\begingroup$ @FinAndTonic - makes sense, a bipedal species is gonna get a lot less out of foot-claws (though they still might have them, maybe they clip to make shoes work?). Hands, though - I thought of the positives of always having sharp defensive weapons, and the negatives of maybe interfering with fine dexterity, depending on how they're structured. $\endgroup$ – Megha Jul 3 '16 at 17:17
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    $\begingroup$ Maybe you could also consider that the claws are made of a much tougher, less pliable material than keratin. If that was the case and the ends of the nails were sufficiently long and sharp, then using them like a 5 fingered stabbing weapon would also be a viable strategy. $\endgroup$ – JamesENL Jul 4 '16 at 5:10
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    $\begingroup$ Even if they can't close their fist, they could still leopard-punch, or do a palm strike. Claws are better though- they are like mini fists. So what about knives? They can still thrust with knives, which uses a punch-like motion... $\endgroup$ – Benubird Jul 4 '16 at 12:55
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    $\begingroup$ A bipedal species can get plenty of use out of foot-claws if they spend a lot of time climbing, like monkeys or chimpanzees - but they'd do better without their knees getting in the way. For a human-shaped creature it's hard to get your toes into position for climbing (or clawing) because your knees collide with the tree (or enemy). If your legs bend back like a cat's (digitigrade), it's much easier. With claws, the loss of grip from not walking plantigrade is less of a problem, and if you're a climbing creature then you spend little time standing, so the loss of stability matters less. $\endgroup$ – anaximander Jul 4 '16 at 12:57
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In evolutionary terms, claws like those of cats have evolved to be grappling hooks, to provide an advantage when capturing prey or when climbing. They are actually not particularly well evolved to be weapons designed to produce injury in animals of similar size.

Consider that their primary use is to capture prey, they have sharp points, but no edges, so that once the point has lodged in the victim, if the victim pulls against the claw, that will not result in a cut which allows the victim to slip free despite the injury. Cats grapple and climb with their claws, and kill with their teeth, and any use of their claws as a weapon is secondary - consider that cats use their claws against each other in fights, and while they do produce injuries, they are seldom lethal or even particularly injurious.

Animals with truly lethal weaponry seldom use that weaponry against others of their own species. Consider that some species of snake are venomous, but they rarely use their venomous bite against other members of their own species, instead settling their rivalries by wrestling.

So, cat-like claws are not a particularly good weapon in themselves.

However, there are potentially other types of claw. A particularly large claw might be used to inflict a fatal injury by penetrating the body of a victim deeply enough to cause a fatal loss of blood. It was thought for some time that dromaeosaurs such as Deinonychus or Utahraptor might use their huge toe claws to inflict fatal injuries, but the morphology of the claws and the anatomy of the limbs to which they are attached suggest that the claws are held elevated while running to help them retain their sharp point, and that they, too, are employed as grapples, to allow the predators to climb a much larger prey animal.

Still, the potential for the application is sound. A large claw with a sharp point, a broad base and serrated edges might be used in repeated stabs from relatively short, thick digits on a long fore or hind limb. Such a weapon would be used with the predator approaching the prey and then quickly and repeatedly stabbing with its dagger-like claws, hoping to inflict sufficient injuries to cause a rapid loss of blood.

The other type of claw is much like the claw of a cat or a raptorial bird, save that its inner curve is sharp, and injuries are inflicted on prey by first grappling, but then continuing to apply force to the grip, the sharp inner edges of the claw being pulled through the victim's flesh causing deep, severe injuries. The objective here is again not primarily to grapple, but to cause blood loss, however such claws would allow a small predator to effectively climb a large prey animal while at the same time inflicting large, ragged, profusely bleeding wounds.

A claw-like weapon that is used to inflict injury rather than to grapple is exemplified by African Leopard Claw knives. These have a sharp edge, and not just a sharp point, and while these weapons were intended to cause injuries similar to those caused by the attack of a leopard, the fact that the inner edges are sharp would cause significant differences in the wound that a trained investigator or someone with experience in the injuries cats inflict on their victims wouldn't mistake for the injuries inflicted by a real big cat. These are used in a slashing manner, but the cutting claws I describe above would be used in a grapple and squeeze/slice fashion.

So, to move on from my extensive digression into zoology, if we had a clawed cat-person, the claws would likely be most effectively used as grapples. She could grab an enemy - even with one hand - and it would be near impossible for her target to pull away without employing a motion that does not work in opposition to the claws, but instead applies a force to the side of the claws, threatening the integrity of the joints of her hands. This would not be particularly easy for a grappled opponent to do.

Once the cat-person had grappled her foe, she could then employ whatever other weapons she had, either natural or artificial. She might have sharp teeth that could inflict a fatal bite, or, more reasonably (since getting her head that close to an opponent, who may well be human or humanoid and potentially armed, may not be the best idea), she might grapple with one hand (preferably immobilizing the opponent's limb and reducing the opponent's potential for attack or defense) and then use an artificial weapon such as a dagger to inflict more serious injury with the other hand.

TL;DR: Grapple the opponent's most favored attacking limb with the claws to immobilize the limb, and attack for effect with a real weapon.

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    $\begingroup$ I liked this enough that I won't answer myself, but few additions. Cats can rake at eyes or vulnerable extremities such as noses, ears, or testicles. A kick can cause real damage, if it hits a soft part, but mostly the point is to cause pain. Also while cats can't do this, a humanoid could use such nails to target near surface arteries and veins. Damage would be shallow, but bleeding could be significant, if artery is punctured. Shallow bleeding cuts to face can also be a real handicap. I think the cat girls would use these "dirty tricks". $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi Jul 4 '16 at 4:01
  • $\begingroup$ Incidentally such dirty tricks work very well with grappling. Swiping the opponents eyes or testicles is perfectly valid and effective way to get out of hold or grapple. Causing blood loss by attacking the face or some artery is a good way to weaken the opponent and win a wrestling match. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi Jul 4 '16 at 4:06
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    $\begingroup$ Exactly this! Claws are not good weapons compared to even most primitive weapons like a simple spear. - If fighting to kill and survive, cat people would always use weapons, or grapple to get the weapon of your opponent. Claws would probably be used most often in sport-events / rivalry contests. Since cats have fur, they would probably not as concerned about scars as we are and so the fighting bouts would be rather bloody (like old Roman fighters, with many shallow cuts to please the spectators) $\endgroup$ – Falco Jul 4 '16 at 8:47
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    $\begingroup$ Don't find this correct, because claws are sharp and incredibly fast weaponry for cats. Also in real fights with opponents their size cats go for the face with their claws which is insanely dangerous (eyes, nose, a lot of glands that can easily infect, but especially the eyes). Also keep in mind animals have dirty (non-sterile) weapons. And even a small abscess can be very dangerous for a creature their size. $\endgroup$ – InstantMuffin Jul 4 '16 at 13:12
  • $\begingroup$ Feline claws do have sharp inner edge and are a dual-use weapon. To catch and hold, the strike is made with somewhat closed paw so the points point in direction of motion, dig deep in the flesh and stay there. But if the strike is made with more open paw, the claws slide across the skin, producing not too deep, but long and painful scratches. The former is used for catching prey, the later is mostly used in combat. $\endgroup$ – Jan Hudec Jul 4 '16 at 18:45
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with claws, retractable or not, but is currently bipedal, intelligent, sapient and sentient, etc.

What sort of fighting styles would claws lend themselves to?

Much would depend on their usual adversaries (same species? Different species?) and physical characteristics. If they are fast and nimble as cats, then a dash-and-slash approach would be preferred. Punching, not very much. Grappling and rending might work depending on your adversary.

Claws not being very decisive weapons unless your adversary is much smaller or weaker, they'd need to go for incapacitating damage - wounds that while not fatal, tend to bleed a lot or impair movements or sight (or whatever sense the adversary uses in a fight).

My own cat assures me that against soft pink flesh the grab-and-rend is choice number one; with dogs, dash-and-slash and aim for the eyes.

Also, likely enhancements for sophonts would be reinforced finger-guards (i.e. you use the claw fighting reflex to drive metal blades, just as you would reinforce punches with knuckledusters) and possibly envenomated palm-pads: close your fist so that the claws touch a poisoned sponge, extend your fingers and scratch.

On a semi-related note, most kinds of functional claw will interfere with technology, both its development and usage, and this includes weapon technology. They might use swords, knives, whips, or rakes, though.

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One important thing I haven't seen mentioned is that of scale. You look at some fine scratches left by your pet cat and think: "Gosh, those are like razor blades, if the creature was my size, it could've easily disemboweled me with a flick of its paw." However, if the creature truly was your size, the claws would have to scale up. But the sharpness won't scale: as the claws become bigger and thicker, they also become rather blunt. Well, sharp enough to inflict severe injuries, but only with sheer force of a tiger. Shallow slices with very little force? No, not really. Can they become thick at the base but retain their very sharp, fine point? No, because the point won't be strong enough to withstand the increasing power applied to it, the tip would simply break. Same with fangs, by the way. Watch some videos on youtube about lions or tigers hunting buffaloes - they don't rely on cutting or puncturing with their claws and fangs, they use them mostly to hold the prey. Sometimes they do that for solid minutes, and then the victim somehow manages to break free and escape - scratched and, no doubt, deeply emotionally traumatized, but nothing like "sliced apart and bleeding to death".

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Assuming you have fingernail style claws: The best fighting style(s) for this creature would be a fighting style that utilizes a lot of fast, straight, finger thrusts to cause puncture wounds over the enemy, until they're in so much pain they can't fight you anymore. Then you can do whatever you want with them.

Slashing is bad because claws on your finger tips are easy to break off when you swipe with fingernail-claws. Women have this issue all the time, actually, if they allow their nails to lengthen so they can shape them to be pointy.

You'd also likely use palm thrusts instead of punches, as punching would cause your nails to dig into your palm.

Styles that come to mind when I think of this are Ba Gua Zhang and Wing Chun. Ba Gua has many open palm techniques that would be usable by this creature, and Wing Chun often focuses a lot on speed and straight punches, which could be easily modified into straight finger thrusts.

Assuming you have cat style claws: The best fighting style(s) for this creature would be a fighting style that uses a lot of swiping motions - strikes that aren't straight, but come from an arc and rely on speed instead of power.

You wouldn't punch, for the same reasons as if you have fingernail style claws, but you also wouldn't have any reason to do finger thrusts, since the claws grant no benefit in that regard.

You might want to do a bit more grappling with this style of claw, as every time you grabbed a limb, your claws would dig into the enemy, allowing for either easier grappling or extra damage (depending on how far your claws go in).

Hapkido and White Crane come to mind as fighting styles that, when mixed and slightly modified, would work to this style of claws. Hapkido has many "sword hand" strikes which, when rotating the hand by 90 degrees, allows you to adapt all those strikes into a swiping strike. White Crane contains semi-arcing blows and slaps that, when combined with these claws, would be very deadly.

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    $\begingroup$ "Women have this issue all the time, actually, if they allow their nails to lengthen so they can shape them to be pointy.". As a former goth - not only women! $\endgroup$ – pipe Jul 4 '16 at 14:13
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Perhaps not surprisingly, humans have already adapted something like this in the past. Ancient Indian warriors used a hand weapon called the Bagh naka which could be thought of as metal "claws" held in the hand something like Brass Knuckels

Bagh naka

The weapon could be used as a punching weapon to deliver shallow puncture wounds or in a clawing motion to deliver a series of slashing injuries. The device was readily concealable, so a person could come close to a victim undetected until they reached out and struck the victim.

Bagh naka were also apparently used as climbing aids, and a similar device called the Tekagi-Shuko was developed in Japan for Ninja to climb walls as a means of infiltration and exfiltration.

So humans or humanoids equipped with biological claws would probably use them in similar manners to the big cats. There is also this:

Lewis snorted his exasperation and tried to slap her out of the chair. Somehow he didn't quite connect, and her hand came up and seemed to brush his wrist as it passed. Bright blood sprayed the table. He was clutching his wrist white-knuckle tight, blood trickling from between his fingers.

"Johnny Mnemonic by William Gibson"

Natural claws might not be in the cards, but cybernetic enhancements to humans for stealth combat might be possible.

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    $\begingroup$ This doesn't really answer the question, but it does bring up a good point - these creatures would probably use weapons such as these, since they would augment the motions the species is probably built to attack with. $\endgroup$ – IndigoFenix Jul 4 '16 at 5:37
  • $\begingroup$ I was going to mention Molly, the razor girl from Gibson's 'Sprawl' books (Neuromancer being the most famous) - 5cm retractable scalpel blades under each fingernail. $\endgroup$ – Steve Ives Jul 5 '16 at 10:41
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The problem with claws being used as weapons on a sapient species is that they are fairly easy to defend against with thick clothing or tough textiles. At some point they would enter an arms race between weapons and armor, much like humans.

The human arm is well-adapted for using sticks as weapons, so most human weapons are basically modified sticks - spears, axes, maces, and swords all operate under the principle of 'hold one end and hit the person with the other end'. For a creature whose arms are built for slashing, they would probably use small, sharp weapons instead, like the aforementioned bagh naka. Humans have these too, of course, but for us it's a niche weapon, while for them it might be their natural choice in warfare.

They would probably favor lightweight armor made from strong textiles, which would both allow them to move quickly while also being able to entangle and trap their enemy's claws.

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If the claws were on the knuckles then yes, you could punch with them. (think wolverine) However, on the fingertips you have the risk(I'm assuming you mean melee with weapons combat) of your fingers. Unless you reinforce your digits you will not be able to put enough leverage on your enemies without bending you're finger too far. If you do reinforce your fingers than you would probably slash your enemies.

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I imagine you'd need close to Freddy Kreuger length before they are any way useful...

Otherwise, they would probably be only really useful for one-on-one type combat, where the creature, using high-precision strikes could cut an artery perhaps, but would also be used to grip their enemy to prevent them from escaping to bind the wound.

They would probably be most likely to be used against large animals, mainly fending off predators/invaders or scaring them from food / water sources - a good scratch would make them think it's not worth the pain. This wouldn't work so well against other intelligent creatures though.

Wouldn't really be useful at all in an organised battle. Besides being ineffective against armour, armies would also realise that spears, pikes and swords are better anyway.

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If they are poisonous even swiping with little force and only grazing the enemy could be effective. Punching would be hard as you would need to have your fingers extended which risks breaking them. Swiping forcefully also risks entangling the claws/fingers somewhere and breaking them.

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  • $\begingroup$ I think poison would be the only way it'd work effectively, as animals in the wild that have claws also have a wicked bite. The claws let them slow down their prey by latching onto them, but it is the bite that kills the animal. Unless you have some other means of killing your prey, such as poison, you're going to struggle. $\endgroup$ – NibblyPig Jul 4 '16 at 12:12
  • $\begingroup$ yeah, claws aren't too useful because supported only by small structures, so no considerable force can be used. This is why all claw-like weapons we have invented ar held in the hand, not attached to teh fingers/fingertips. $\endgroup$ – Annonymus Jul 4 '16 at 12:36
  • $\begingroup$ See also: Could venoms evolve naturally in mammals? $\endgroup$ – a CVn Jul 4 '16 at 18:10

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