I saw this picture and I wonder if you can train a monkey and use him as bodyguard or soldiers in a medieval world. If so, can they be effective against human troops? How can you make them not betray you?

Monkeys dueling

Monkeys dueling, Postcard art at by Maurice Boulanger, circa 1900. Maurice Boulanger did many postcard featuring anthropomorphic animals, published by Kopal and also by KF Editeurs at the beginning of the 20th century.

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    $\begingroup$ I think this is less about ability and more about trust... $\endgroup$ – user10945 Feb 24 '17 at 11:20
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    $\begingroup$ I would say the answer is Yes. I am too lazy to do research, so just idea what you should search for: Dolphins trained to deliver bombs to ship, dogs trained to do the same with tanks, battle elephants and more. Military history is full of animal abuse $\endgroup$ – Pavel Janicek Feb 24 '17 at 11:22
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    $\begingroup$ In medieval period knife / dagger fighters were not effective against any troops. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Feb 24 '17 at 11:33
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    $\begingroup$ The land lovers will never know the simple joy of a monkey knife fight - Furious George $\endgroup$ – Overthinks Feb 24 '17 at 11:50
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    $\begingroup$ All issues of actually trusting monkeys aside, they would definitely be able to learn that "knives are sharp" -> "sharp things hurt people" -> "I can use knives to hurt people", but they would probably be much more effective fighting like monkeys usually do (biting, clawing, tearing, ripping ears off, pulling arms out of sockets, etc.): Monkeys and apes -- even smaller ones -- are already extremely dangerous without anything at all. $\endgroup$ – errantlinguist Feb 25 '17 at 12:41

Reality check, is reality check, and what better answer than reality?


There have been occurrences of monkeys picking up knifes, for instance:

Drunk monkey attacks bar patrons with knife

Drunk monkey attacks bar patrons with knife (watch video)

Or this one:

Monkey Using Knife To Carve Jack-O-Lantern

Monkey Using Knife To Carve Jack-O-Lantern (watch video)

As Ghotir mentions, Javkie the baboon participated in WWI:

Private Marr & Jackie

Until August 1915, Jackie was the beloved pet of the Marr family, who lived on Cheshire Farm, Villieria, on the outskirts of Pretoria. When, as No 4927, Private Albert Marr attested at Potchefstroom on August 25 1915, for service in the newly-formed 3rd (Transvaal) Regiment of the 1st South African Infantry Brigade, he asked for and was given permission to bring Jackie along with him. (...) He drilled and marched with his company and would entertain the men – such entertainment would become all important to relieve the boredom of the stalemate of trench warfare once the Brigade reached France.


At night when on guard duty with Albert, he was particularly useful because of his keen eyesight and acute hearing. He could give early warning of enemy movement or impending attacks with a series of short, sharp barks and tuggings at Pte Marr`s tunic. Jackie wore his uniform with panache, would light up a cigarette or pipe for a pal and always saluted an officer passing on his rounds. He would stand at ease when requested, placing his feet apart and hands behind his back in regimental style. At the mess table he used a knife and fork in a proper manner and cleverly used his drinking basin.

-- Except from the article Jackie The Baboon by the South African Military Veterans Organization Of Australasia (SAMVOA).

As explained in the article, Jackie served in the front line, and was particularly good at detecting enemies.

In April of 1918, Jackie was injured by a piece of shrapnel during a confrontation in Reninghelst, and lost his leg.

Jackie recovering after losing his leg

Although Jackie served in the front line, I have found no account of Jackie engaging in combat. As for his skill with knifes, as mentioned above and portrayed in the picture, Jackie was able use eating utensils... this does not imply its use as weapon.

Jackie died a day after a fire destroyed the farmhouse on 22 May 1921 and Albert Marr passed away at the age of 84 in Pretoria in August 1973.

-- Jackie The Baboon by SAMVOA.

Monkeys handling weapons

As we can see above, monkeys can pick and use a knives and use some extend.

Pay attention to the way Monkeys instinctively pick knives. They do a Reverse Grip (a.k.a Ice Pick Grip), which is effective to make a strong stab, but not for reach.

Also, see that a knife can be a large weapon for a monkey:

Too long blade for a monkey

Due to its size, one would expect that the monkey would require both limbs to be effective. Also, we shouldn't expect the monkey to be good at fencing (disregarding the required training) just because this weapon is not appropriate for them.

This all makes Jackie exceptional.

The above suggest that it could be a good idea to provide the monkey with a shorter (and perhaps slightly curved) blade that the monkey can conceal in using the reverse grip. Perhaps something designed to be easily carried in their mouth when they are running (they can run on three or even two legs, but not as effectively).

In fact, you can train them to walk (not run) in two legs or on the hands, or even spin a fire pole.

Therefore, you carry your well-trained monkey... and sneak attack! Monkey jump to the back of the victim and quickly stab the neck before they can shake it off... R.I.P

Monkey psychology

You can have a monkey probably not betray you by being fair and useful to it. Monkeys understand fairness and have moral principles. Under thar order of ideas, if you treat them as people and you provide for them (shelter, food, attention, etc...) they will have the incentive to care for you and could defend you.

With that said, the monkeys probably will not attack unless they see others attack you. That is because, they usually resource to make noise and throw stuff to scare intruders off. Yet, once in a fight, they can be deadly.

Training them to attack is more complicated, you would have to set up a simulacrum for them to practice (I am picturing some straw stuffed dolls hanging from the ceiling, or stuff like that) and a rewards for their work.

Will they betray you... maybe, probably, perhaps? Will they kill you? If they see you as a threat, most likely they will. Consider this: humans can betray you, why wouldn't monkeys?

Monkey against human troops

Even under the assumption you can reliably command them to attack, a solider with shield, spear and sword can effectively defend itself against a monkey. For your monkeys to be effective, you need to ambush the enemy.

You need the sneak attack. Instruct the monkeys to attack the encampment when the soldiers are sleeping, or have them jump from the trees when they are passing by. If you need to defeat guards, have the monkeys sneak around their field of vision.

Think less of them as monkey soldiers, and more as monkey ninjas.


Although Chimpanzees are not monkey, they probably most useful in battle. Chimps could also be trained for combat!

► Charlie, The Karate Chimp !

► Charlie, The Karate Chimp ! (watch video)

We can also see that chimps naturally use sticks and rocks as weapons:

Chimps using sticks as weapons

Chimps using sticks as weapons (watch video)


Weapons (watch video)

Apparently, chimps seem to be a very good option for a combat unit, although they probably are more effective with a spear than a knife, given that in nature they often use branches as weapon. Consider creating and designing custom weapons and armor for the chimps.


The following videos where released in 2011 as supposedly real footage from the 20th Century Fox Research Library. The videos "went viral" shortly after.

Chimp with Machete

Chimp with Machete (watch video)

Ape With AK-47 (Gun)

Ape With AK-47 (Gun) (watch video)

Rise of the Planet of the Apes by 20th Century Fox was released later the same year.

Are you still not convinced they are fake? Well, the article Behind the Social Marketing of ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ documents the campaing. The full article is behind an account wall, but you can still read:

To raise the film’s profile online, Mekanism both targeted a group of 50 social media influencers as well as released a series of short “real ape” videos they hoped would go viral. The former campaign began back in June, when Mekanism reached out to selected YouTube stars and movie-bloggers to help them build buzz — especially among millenial-age males.

Can a chimpanzee learn to shoot a gun?

Regarding the videos, LiveScience asked John Mitani, primatologist from University of Michigan, who said:

I wouldn't doubt that you could train a chimp to wield a gun in the manner shown.

When shooting the gun, I'd be hard-pressed to think that the chimp can really understand [the consequences of] what he's doing.

Also Steve Ross, primatologist at Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago said:

Chimpanzees have been seen to use rudimentary weapons (such as projectiles, clubs and spears), so they have the capability of understanding that a tool can be used to cause harm or do damage.

Whether or not they would understand a gun is more difficult to say.

Source: Planet of the Apes: Can Chimps Really Shoot Guns?

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    $\begingroup$ I wonder how effective can a trained ape be.I mean,War dogs are still used,Just imagine a chimp trained and armed with a poisoned dagger and leather armor with metal. $\endgroup$ – Seraph Myrmidon Feb 24 '17 at 11:38
  • $\begingroup$ Spears, or a more blunt-force option like maces or hammers. I imagine they're plenty strong enough to swing those sufficiently hard to be dangerous. $\endgroup$ – SnoringFrog Feb 24 '17 at 14:31
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    $\begingroup$ You can train an ape to do these things... but whether they'll do it in battle or turn and run scared is another question entirely. I hope that no one's able to prove the answer to that. $\endgroup$ – AndyT Feb 24 '17 at 17:13
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    $\begingroup$ All interested should Google Jackie, a baboon in WWI who was made an honorary private and given a medal for bravery. (Supposedly - I haven't fact-checked anything.) That and the Gombe Chimpanzee War (a real thing!) should give more than enough food for thought. $\endgroup$ – Ghotir Feb 24 '17 at 18:51
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    $\begingroup$ Chimps are not monkeys. $\endgroup$ – DCShannon Feb 24 '17 at 21:51

I think it's important to make the distinction between "trained" and "trained to do things like a human." We have different centers of gravities, body morphology, and general ways of doing things and would have to take into consideration those differences when fighting the same opponents.

What you can do is, give a monkey a sword/knife and show them how it can be used to do damage to a person. You can teach a monkey commands to indicate targets. But ultimately you can not teach them how to best use a sword/knife using their body plan because you simply don't have their body plan yourself and thus don't know, nor any real idea, on how to work with it to produce the best results.

Likewise, you're not going to teach a monkey how to move like a human perfectly and so you're not going to train them to do any of these combat techniques that require precision replication of the human form to do.

So you can "train" them in general to act as a bodyguard or a fighter that uses a knife/sword but you're not going to train them to be anything like a human doing those things.

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    $\begingroup$ In real life, martial artists adapt the foundational skills of their system to their body type and abilities all the time. Variations in human body shapes lead to wide variations in motion and application. $\endgroup$ – pojo-guy Feb 24 '17 at 16:36
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    $\begingroup$ @pojo-guy there is a difference between taller/shorter fatter/skinnier, and having different body proportions in general. The physics do not play out the same. $\endgroup$ – Durakken Feb 24 '17 at 16:40
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    $\begingroup$ Forget proportions, some of their joints don't move the same as ours. And their mouths and fingers nails make better weapons than ours. Like in Theraot's karate chimp video the ape isn't showing fighting prowess it's just doing human moves. $\endgroup$ – user25818 Feb 24 '17 at 17:16
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    $\begingroup$ ... which suggests that training chimpanzees to fight with weapons would potentially require differently constructed weapons or techniques. As a karate instructor, I often find that in order to teach effective skills once people have learned the basics, I have to retrain them to do what they would do if they hadn't been trained (sounds silly, but it works). People move differently when they are thinking about moving than when they are "jsut doing it". $\endgroup$ – pojo-guy Feb 24 '17 at 19:01
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    $\begingroup$ Would note that computer modeling would give a good chance of determining how our combat styles might be adapted to a different physiology effectively. How to go about teaching and testing what the computer can show you is a whole other issue though... $\endgroup$ – Rozwel Feb 24 '17 at 23:30


First you have to show them wood knifes to fight.

Then you have to give them knifes with real, dangerous blade. They will have to learn, that it is dangerous and experience their mechanics.

Chimpanzee like to fight with eachother, giving knifes to the chimpanzee in a horde could may catalize their civilization. You need many hordes for that, because in a single horde they know, when is it the time to take back and thus you won't have enough cruelty (between them).

The main problem with it that they won't want fight with it. You have to provide some extreme motivation for them. Doing this would be worse animal cruelty and hopefully it would remain imaginary.


Your first problem is the fact the human hand is a very specialised and highly evolved piece of kit. Monkey and ape hands have short stumpy thumbs, long palms, wrists designed to be load-bearing structures (because they are 4 footed) and various other features which mean they won't be able to hold or wield a knife as effectively as a human.

Secondly... also because they are four-footed... they can't move efficiently or effectively when one of their 4 paws is holding a knife. A human can charge up and stab you. A monkey will sort of hobble up and stab you. If the monkey really wants to hurt you, it would be better off dropping the knife, charging up and biting you.

Ape jaws (chimps for instance) are a lot stronger than human jaws. We sacrificed bite strength to change the shape of our skull to fit in a big brain. A human CAN bit off your finger, but it takes a lot of chewing. A chimp can do it in an second without breaking sweat.

I guess you could have big male baboons as 'war dogs'. The autobiographical book Jock of the Bushveld by James Henry Fitzpatrick had a chapter about a baboon which had been trained to fight hunting dogs. (Warning: the book was written in 1907 so has racist attitudes). Ch 23: The Fighting Baboon


Monkey's can 100% be trained to use objects such as knives. While backpacking in Asia, I trained a monkey to throw a metal Chinese star in less than an hour. I'm just an ordinary guy with no professional background in monkey training and the only combat experience I have is surviving the mean streets of Boca Raton, FL. Unfortunately, the monkey threw the Chinese Star at me after he started to get the hang of it. Luckily, my quick reflexes kicked in and I blocked the star with my hand..... but I suffered a deep gash in that hand (see pic). I probably should have got stitches but the only medical help I could procure wanted to use his shoelace to close the wound, which didn't seem very sanitary to me. Anyways, I have the scar to prove that monkeys can be trained to handle weaponry of all types. The monkey in question did "betray" me, which could have killed me! Let this be a cautionary tale to all of you and those that want there own private monkey armada or whatever.....these monkeys cannot be trusted. My wife, who was with me on the trip, claims the monkey was trying to kill me to get a bag of chips and a can of soda I had next to my backpack. Sounds silly as I'm typing it, but you never know. ~Kraber


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