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Humans developed martial arts to give themselves an advantage in combat against untrained, but possibly stronger or better-armed opponents. Presumably, martial arts are one way of making up for the fact that we humans have rather pathetic natural combat abilities as compared to other animals our size (no claws, small teeth, poor bite force, thin skin, etc).

If a large, powerful and naturally armed animal like a tiger, jaguar, or bear was also just as intelligent as a human, would such creatures benefit from developing their own martial arts, either to fight humans, or to fight each other?

Phrased another way: would sapient creatures with physical attributes similar to tigers or bears have any need for martial arts?

(The question of what any given species' physiology would allow in terms of mobility, reach, and grasping will be posed in another thread.)

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    $\begingroup$ "God made men, but Sam Colt made them equal." Man did not develop martial arts to compensate for his weakness, he developed weapons. It's not judo which enables a person to confront a tiger, it's a rifle. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Aug 29 '17 at 2:13
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    $\begingroup$ Rifles took several thousand years to develop, as did swords, axes, and even effective bows. I would also submit that many weapons are inherently useless without some kind of training, which is itself a form of martial art. If martial arts were not developed to give an advantage in combat, what were they developed for? $\endgroup$ – MikeB Aug 29 '17 at 3:15
  • $\begingroup$ ever go up against a kangaroo? I advice putting on groin guard to protect yourself against sneak attack that come from it's front pocket. $\endgroup$ – user6760 Aug 29 '17 at 3:42
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    $\begingroup$ @MikeB, all martial arts focus on human-on-human combat. There are few exceptions, like protecting yourself from charging dog, but those are only a few. Martial arts as we know them developed as a way for unarmed man confront an armed opponent. For paleo people, it was much more useful skill to wield a stone axe or spear than to learn punches or kicks. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Aug 29 '17 at 16:50
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP: Many martial arts were first developed in cultures like feudal Japan, where bearing a weapon would get a member of the lower classes killed. Even today, in many states of the US carrying one of Sam Colt's weapons would get you arrested at a minimum. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Aug 29 '17 at 17:28

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My answer must naturally be dependent on my own opinion about what a martial art "is." My opinion disagrees greatly with yours, so take the answer with a grain of salt.

The Tl/Dr answer is "absolutely, martial arts would be useful for such a creature." The full answer is a bit longer, and has to work its way up to the conclusion.

Before discussing martial arts, I'd like to start with what I will call "combat training." Combat training is, pure and simple, designed to teach you how to succeed in combat. When we teach soldiers how to ram someone through with a bayonet, that is combat training. It serves absolutely no purpose beyond helping a solider survive in war by killing the other guy before the other guy kills them.

The problem with combat training is that, like all training, it takes time and effort to become proficient in this. I don't know how to kill someone with a bayonet. It's never been worth my time to learn this skill, because the probability that I will ever find myself in an environment where I need to oppose someone with a bayonet is so astonishingly small that I can't justify spending hours to learn how to do it right.

Martial arts attempt to answer this issue by finding ways to make the training worthwhile to those who can't rely on a steady stream of war to validate their training effort. They seek to find ways to teach this art of combat in a way which also provides benefits in daily life. It's well known that people take up martial arts to build confidence, but that confidence doesn't truly come from knowing that you can beat up the other person. It comes from developing a skill set which they can confidently apply in real life situation.

I have some level of proficiency in the sword from my school. In theory, that means I should be able to kill you with a sword because you haven't practiced it and I have. In reality, I never expect to actually reach a situation where I have to use a physical sword to attack someone. However, the way my school teaches the sword also teaches me how to use other sword-like things. It is oft said that the pen is mightier than the sword. In business negotiations, written and spoken words are often as sharp as swords. The way my school trained me permits me to wield these words analogously to how I would wield a sword. Thus, by teaching me how to get what I want by using a sword, they also teach me how to get what I want using words. Far less bloody!

user54373's argument that martial arts largely stem from poverty can be viewed through this lens. Many who were poor could not afford weapons to defend themselves, or were forbidden from owning them. Martial arts were developed as a way for those people to defend themselves, but the poor can rarely afford to spend their time learning to defend themselves without getting some other benefit. Thus you see martial arts which leverage techniques seen in clearing fields. You see martial arts which leverage dance. You see martial arts which leverage any aspect of a poor individual's life that they can, creating ways to feed off their existing skill and to feed back into their life. It's the beauty of wedding this combat skill into one's daily life that earns "martial arts" their "art."

So, from this perspective, it's clear your intelligent quadrupeds would naturally have martial arts. It has nothing to do with having built in weaponry like claws, or built in armor like thick bony plates. It has everything to do with needing to take the training required for combat and fit it into a lifestyle which has value in peacetime. If your intelligent animal has times of conflict and times of peace, martial arts will have a place in its life.

Warrior

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  • $\begingroup$ This is an excellent answer because it made me rethink how I framed my question. You're right; I was not differentiating between combat training and martial arts. I had not even considered the role of martial arts as a combat activity with peacetime applications. $\endgroup$ – MikeB Aug 31 '17 at 4:47
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Yes, and after all, why not.

Non-sentient animals have already some form of combat practice coded-in their genome or they learn in in their life (e.g., wolf who hunts in packs or lunge for the throat of the prey, male deers who compete with their antlers, and so on). This is not comparable to martial arts, but is a good example of what nature does to bring out each species peculiar characteristic.

A sentient animal is somewhat forced to choose. It could try to rely on its instincts alone - again, this is not different from what we do, since dangerous situations trigger the "fight or flee" response - or bring its rationality into the fight.

Instincts alone are great, and it may seem that a fierce animal, such as a tiger, doesn't need any kind of martial art to come by. But instincts can be tricked: an animal may be scared by a bigger one of its species, by a bigger, unknown one, by something it doesn't understand, by fire ... Strength is tricky in the same way, since you can develop your strength, but you may always find someone stronger than you.

Martial art - at least most martial arts that I know of - brings technique and some sort of cold-headed attitude into the fight. It's difficult to imagine what it would be like for a tiger, but it could rely in knowing what the best muscles in its body are, how to exploit them, and how to optimize most attacks. Remember that a lesser amount of force can be more effective, if delivered in a right, precise way, than trying to hit randomly at full strength.

Martial arts could teach our sentient animal when it's a good idea to bite, to lunge, to circle around an enemy, to stalk them, and so on. What to do if it faces other of its kind - or other threatening animals, or again humans with or without weapons.

The example of @user2851843 is a good one, since the armored bears are - by definition - armored. Those armors provide protection to the bear delicate parts - as the underbelly or the throat - and can provide protection from bullets or from the claws of another bear (at least for some time).

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Quadrupeds do have martial arts.

Dogs are of course quadrupeds and anyone who thinks for a second will realize that of course police dogs are trained in dog martial arts. Less obvious for moderns like us is the case of horses - horses were and are trained in martial arts. I will speculate that the martial arts for which modern police horses are trained are different than the martial arts of a cavalry horse. If you are riding a cavalry horse into battle the horse is your partner. It needs to be cool when it is attacked, which is half of martial arts. And it needs to be able to attack back, either on its own or under the direction of its rider.

Lipizzaner horse attacking https://www.quora.com/Can-a-horse-be-trained-to-attack-humans

I had wondered what the point was of all the fancy stuff the Lipizzaners can do. When you watch these horses, think of them as performing a kata. Then imagine you are an infantry man next to one of these horses.

I also wondered why General Patton saw fit to save them from being eaten in post-war Europe. I did not learn until recently that Patton's initial training was as mounted cavalry, and that he actually invented a cavalry saber. The whole thing makes for amazing reading.

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  • $\begingroup$ You may want to turn this into an answer to How Could a Human beat a Centaur in a Fight? as well. It seems like it'd fit nicely there. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Aug 29 '17 at 21:49
  • $\begingroup$ That reference to the Lipizzaners and fighting horses is very helpful! I didn't even know such training for horses existed. $\endgroup$ – MikeB Aug 31 '17 at 4:49
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You could argue that animals already have martial arts, since research on play-fighting in animals shows they use a different series of combat moves in play than in a real fight. Dr Stuart Brown told me that in rats:

  • In a real fight, a rat will pin down its opponent with its front paws, have its hind paws on the ground to give stability, and then bite.
  • In a play fight, a rat will pin down its opponent with its front paws while standing on it, then nudge its nose against the nape of the neck. Standing on your opponent is rubbish in real rat combat - the opponent wriggles and you fall off, giving them an opportunity to strike back.

So it is certainly conceivable that animals can develop an additional series of moves for real fights.

Then there's the sneaky move the old bull giraffe pulls off in this BBC giraffe fight. If a such move can be taught, then you have the beginnings of a martial art.

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  • $\begingroup$ Nice example of how some "fighting techniques" are already used in the animal world. $\endgroup$ – Liquid - Reinstate Monica Aug 29 '17 at 17:06
  • $\begingroup$ I see something similar in my dogs when they are playing. They'll wrestle with each other, but they don't actually bite; however, they do place their muzzles around each other's neck, and even more often touch the side of each other's neck with their muzzle. If I can allow myself to anthropomorphize a little, it's almost like they're telling each other at that point "now think of what I could have done instead". At the end there will be plenty of saliva on their fur, but never any injuries. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Aug 29 '17 at 17:55
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling. Dr Brown told me that play-fighting in mammals is all about giving your opponent a chance to take a turn at making a "winning" move. Young monkeys which "don't play fair" and always play-fight to win soon find that no-one else is willing to play with them. I guess any species with a sense of "fairness" might show similar behaviour. $\endgroup$ – DrBob Aug 30 '17 at 12:36
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Let's look at how martial arts came about in humans. It wasn't quite from an effort to beat each other up more efficiently. It actually sprang from ...

wait for it ...

poverty.

Yep! Many of them were developed as a way for poor people (peasants, monks, street thugs) to defend themselves against armed warrior aristocracy.

So if our intelligent quadrupeds -- I note you cite predators above -- have a narrow social pyramid where the top guys have better gear, I wouldn't be surprised at all if they developed some kind of martial art. Not to mention the sheer awesomeness factor of a gigantic bear doing a flying side-kick. Honestly, this last factor should outweigh all others.

A possible counter is that your predator types already have weapons. Well, even so. If your peasant bear has his natural claws, and the knight-class bear has protective greaves and special strap-on claws, he still has incentive to find an equalizer. Note also that most animals fighting use their jaws, putting their precious brains into the spatter-zone. Prudence might argue it's smart to consider alternatives.

Once guns come into the equation, there will be much less incentive to have martial arts. Cite the decline of la savate in France.

Last note ... you might spend some time figuring out what martial arts would look like for quadrupeds. Maybe an intense focus on getting the lower center of gravity? Lots of flips and throws? Me, I want to know what horse taekwondo is like!

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Having teeth and claws is by no way a substitution for having a combat skill. Yes, animals have instinctive combat skills (and so do humans), but we can see how much those instincts can be improved. If a dog is trained as a fighting dog (however deplorable this practice is), it will become a much stronger dog. I can imagine that if there was a formal training by a "master dog fighter", dogs would only get stronger.

But let's start from the other end. Suppose, you are given a wearable claws and razor-sharp dentures. You are now in the same category as mountain lion, or maybe even a smaller bear. But I don't want you to fight animals. Your opponent will be another similarly equipped human. Now the question - would you practice to get some skill before this fight, or assume that teeth and claws are better than any skill?

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Presumably, martial arts are one way of making up for the fact that we humans have rather pathetic natural combat abilities as compared to other animals our size.

Not really. We survived, after all. By being bipedal, our eyes are pretty high compared to our size and we have a relatively good eyesight - we see three colours and pretty far compared to other animals - which allows us to spot predators before they are an immediate threat, negating their surprise effect. We are also able to deal with predators whose size is comparable or inferior to ours thanks to our agility : we can't scrap our ears with our feet, but we can reach both our neck and back with our hands, which is were predators which aim for a quick and easy kill aim at.

Martial arts are simply an elaborate way to get more form that agility.

What you are asking is basically if sapience would allow other animals to make better use of their natural abilities and advantages. At least I bet it wouldn't make them less effective.

But it wouldn't take the same shape than our martial arts simply because other animals aren't humans.

For example, you wouldn't see a tiger or a bear do either karate or boxing. Their superior limbs are way less agile than ours and look more like their inferior ones, even for bears. They are also heavy which make moving frequently and quickly very hard. Their attack strategy consists on running to build inertia and use it so increase the strength of their attack. Once in close-combat distance and if their preys/opponents is still alive, they will use their claws and strength to maul them. You can improve them with intelligence, but it won't look like what you expect.

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Martial arts are just codified combat training.

Unless technique, practice and experience confer no advantage upon combatants there will always be a benefit from some form of fighting experience.

While your hypothetical animal may be relatively stronger than a human, against one of their own kind such an advantage doesn't exist. This is the situation where possessing a martial tradition will prove most advantageous.

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Depends on how intelligent they are, really. If such animals still follow 'fight to live' lifestyle, then I believe it's quite possible for them to have some kind of martial arts indeed.

'The Golden Compass' story, for example, has an entire race of intelligent armoured bears. They are quite skilled combatants and they surely do train themselves to be stronger than others, which may help them to gain influence and reputation both within their own folk and other peoples alike. So we may consider this as a working example of animals that have martial arts of some kind, though I believe it doesn't look exactly like karate or judo, I'm afraid.

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Nobody ever fought animals with martial arts. I don't see how martial arts relates to the human condition in relation to physical strength. Martial arts at this point is more about tradition than combat but they are all based on fighting verses other humans even when they were about purely combat. Hunters don't need martial arts to hunt and if they ever met a bear or a tiger, they wouldn't be doing drop kicks on it. Most martial arts moves don't even work on non humans.

Your animals would have to fight each other and probably develop techniques to fight each other. A bear fighting a bear will definitely have the advantage if it knows how to best use it's body to fight. Knowing how to fight is basically what martial arts is at the core if you strip away all the tradition and art of it.

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  • $\begingroup$ Nobody? You're absolutely sure of that? Because some of my martial arts training included ways to deal with attack dogs. Not that I ever needed it in real life. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Aug 30 '17 at 4:41
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Most animals depend entirely on one animal being stronger than another. There is no artistry involved. Humans developed martial arts specifically to allow a weaker or less trained person to overwhelm a stronger or better trained person. For example, ninja training involves learning to do things that other people can't do. If you put your foot next to an opponent's foot, then you can step sideways but he can only fall down. Quadruped animals can't do any such thing.

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  • $\begingroup$ Not stronger. More fit. There's a big difference there. I know Darwin's theories are sometimes summarized as "survival of the strongest", but it really is "survival of the fittest". Being stronger may make you more fit, or it may not. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Aug 29 '17 at 21:41

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