Tag Archives: fantasy martial arts

If it’s not a bother, do you have a master list of different fighting styles? I’m in the process of world building and I want different tribes to have a different styles than the others.

We don’t, creating one would take a lot more time and in depth
research than either Starke or I are willing to commit. There are a lot
of different styles of combat out there, both currently alive and dead.

I will say that you’re coming at your research from the wrong
perspective. Combat is inherently and directly tied to your world
building, it isn’t an outside source where you pick from a list and you
slap the ones you like on top of that.

There are too many
different styles of combat that will not be applicable to your setting
and society, even if you find them visually interesting or have heard
that they are “the best”. More than that, they directly relate to
cultural attitudes about violence and their practitioner’s societal

The peasant who is not legally permitted to carry weapons
but must devise alternate options to defend themselves against raiders
and bandits will create a martial style that is totally different from
the lord in his ivory tower.

There will be historical examples
similar to what you’re looking for, but you begin by culling the
unnecessary factors such as cultures that are not applicable to the
world your creating and the time periods that accompany them.

you want to write a fantasy novel set in a setting similar to 14th
century Europe then there isn’t that much reason to begin by looking at
fighting styles from India, Japan, or China. (Though studying up on the
Middle East might be applicable.)

Start with your own setting and
the troubles these tribes face from where they live (mountains? valleys?
deserts?), what they eat/how they get their food (agricultural?
hunter/gatherer? raiding?), and the kind of technology that they’re
capable of devising i.e. what do they use? bows? knives? spears? what
are those tools made of? A large supply of refined ore, the ability to
create metal, and skills in blacksmithing are required for major
advancements like metal swords and armor. A society that is regularly on
the move won’t have a use for swords or develop them.

different styles of combat have been developed as a direct result of
devising a means to protect oneself from outside threats, this relates
to both the environmental factors and the society’s technological level
(i.e. what kinds of weapons they are capable of creating).

these will tell you what kind of society you have and the kind of
society you have dictates how they fight, how good they are at combat,
and the specialized styles that they developed as a result of their
unique experiences.

Once you understand the kind of society you
have, then your research pool is slimmed to the point where you can
easily look up similar societies that exist or existed in order to get a
better understanding of other considerations and the way they went
about it.

The mistake a lot of writers make when trying to devise
their own combat styles or utilize another combat style for their work
is the belief that they are interchangeable. However, combat and the
ways in which we fight are a result of environmental and sociological
factors as we adapt to face the threats that could end our existences.

have a culture that comes from the plains and must rove vast distances
in search of food? They may fight on horseback primarily, wielding bows
(also initially used for hunting) and they raid other groups for food.
Their style of combat relies heavily on mounted combat because horses
are the backbone of their society.

You’ve got a culture where the
primary source of food is too large or to dangerous to be brought down
single handed or is difficult to find. The primary weapon of the hunter
is the spear, but more than that they may also use other helpful tools
such as hunting dogs to locate and bring down their prey. Dogs have
historically been used as part of attack forces for a very long time.
The human and dog tag team against other humans is a legitimate combat

It’s not a question of “what is available”, it’s what do I
have and what is the natural and logical extension of those choices
then research thoroughly to develop a better understanding of the
concepts that you’re working with.

The way combat happens, the training, and the strategies employed are inherently tied to the cultures which create them, their societal norms, and their history.

Even approaches to combat training are heavily reliant on the historical period as most of our modern ideas of what army is are just that: modern.

You don’t want to be the guy who writes the story where his main character is practicing Aikido in 1150 England. And if you can’t tell me why that’s silly beyond Aikido being Japanese, then you need to do more research.


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I’m writing a fantasy novel right now in which one of the characters is a monk who uses martial arts. One of the problems that authors writing different worlds come up against often is that they must make up a lot of the details that others can just research. So my questions are these: is there a good way to make up a fighting style? What are some pitfalls to watch out for? Should authors describe real-world fighting styles instead? Any more tips you have for how to approach this would be great!

I wouldn’t recommend building your own martial art, even in a fictional sense unless you have a few black belts underneath you. The problem is that the innate understanding of how techniques are put together, which techniques are used and taught and how they feed into each other and build off each other as you advance up the tree just isn’t there.

It’s just going to be easier in the long run to find a martial art that fits your purposes and warp it’s history to suit the history of your setting. Preferably, it’ll be one whose history already mirrors the themes and philosophies your story supports. The quickest way to figure that out is by deciding what you want from the martial art, like everything it may require a lot of research into different martial arts and their backgrounds.

You might also want to look where you’re drawing your inspiration from for your story to begin your search. For example: while monks in both Europe and China did go into battle and learn the fighting arts, if you’re pulling primarily from D&D you want to go with Shaolin. The reason is that the basic philosophies of Shaolin, The Tao, and Confucianism are already present in the way D&D structures and puts together the monk class. Your monk may subconsciously end up reflecting those tenets even if you didn’t intend for that to happen.

When you know what went into something and the inspirations it took from , you can extract what you need back out. You can strip away the superfluous elements that are unique to the setting you took inspiration from and keep the idea you wanted to take without the risk of someone pointing to you later and saying: oh, this came from X. Most monks in modern fantasy fiction are drawn from the D&D mold, because of the Tao and the use of Chi (energy). Because of Star Wars chi is often accidentally translated into magic. If you want a Christian monk, you need to use European styles of fighting. Christian monks often carried staffs, cudgels, maces, and even swords (Friar Tuck is an example) because they would often be facing armed and armored opponents even among the peasantry. By the time the Catholic Church had spread across Europe, hand to hand techniques would have been mostly useless to them. This doesn’t mean they were less skilled, different circumstances call for different tactics.

Remember: martial combat is reactionary, what feeds the creation of a style is the challenges the practitioner will face in the world around them. By figuring out what those challenges are, you can then turn to a society that also faced similar challenges and find a martial art with a philosophy that will fit your setting.

Most writers start at the end point, the results are what they see. Don’t start there, back up to the beginning: what are the pieces at work and what sort of world do they build together to create. Know your world and you’ll find your combat style.