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Martial lessons learnt from the animal kingdom


Martial lessons learnt from the animal kingdom are innumerable. Since early times, when humans hunted animals to obtain food, they keenly observed animals and adopted many of their attacking and defensive movements. As time passed, with the advent of the agricultural, and subsequently the industrial and knowledge economies, although hunting animals was no longer a necessity to obtain food, yet the lessons learnt from animals showed up in different areas of various human enterprises.

For example, in many martial arts, it is common to see movements that mimic animal behaviour. Yelling was adopted from the lion’s roar; kicking was adopted from all animals who used hind legs to kick; grabbing was adopted from bears and chimpanzees; thrusting, stabbing, cutting, and scratching were taken from all animals who used razor-sharp clawed front and hind paws; biting was taken from all carnivorous animals having long cutting teeth; and the list goes on.

Besides these killing movements, even general movements of animals were also adopted in martial arts, which led to different styles like crouching tiger, praying mantis, white crane, drunken monkey, and more.

Again, besides the killing and general movements of animals, many other martial lessons like situational awareness, focus, concentrated effort, teamwork, and more were also adopted from animals. Few such martial lessons are outlined in this article.

1. Freezing

Freezing is remaining motionless without making any sound, and it involves hiding by using some shelter, or using camouflage. The idea is that if the predator cannot see the prey, then the question of catching the prey does not arise at all; thereby, making the prey safe from the predator.

Learn Bright video “Animal Camouflage | Learn How Animals Can Blend In With Their Environments”:

In military, camouflage uniforms are worn so that soldiers can blend in with the environment. Since the enemy cannot see the soldiers, it is possible for the soldiers to close in and launch a surprise attack on the enemy.

Business Insider video “How Army Snipers Create Camouflage Ghillie Suits For Combat | Boot Camp | Insider Business”:

In martial arts, smoke screens from beads or throwing blinding powders in the eyes, were often used by the ninjas to camouflage their retreats. Besides ninjutsu, even in many sword arts like kendo and samurai, hidden weapons were extensively used. Usually, common items of day-to-day life were used to hide the weapons. For example, knives were hidden in jacket sleeves, short swords were hidden in walking sticks, and small throwing weapons like nails and shuriken were hidden in the sash. Again, the reason for hiding the weapons was that if the enemy could not see the weapon, then the enemy could be taken by surprise. All these methods used the freezing instinct of animals by hiding or camouflaging.

ChosunNinja video “Ninja 忍者-間者 Authentic tools (Smoking beads 数珠)”:

Let’s ask Seki Sensei | Learn Katana Skills Online video “I Handed Zatōichi’s Katana Cane to a Samurai Master and THIS Happened”:

2. Fleeing

Flight or fleeing is running away. This is seen extensively in the animal kingdom with the prey running away and the predator giving a chase.

BBC Earth video “Best Wild Animal Chases | Top 5 | BBC Earth”:

In martial arts self-defense, fleeing or running away from a fight is a very good option and is not considered as cowardice.

Grasshopper video “Kung Fu: Why Running Away From a Fight is Not Cowardice”:

However, in practical physical terms, similar to the animal kingdom, running away is successful only if the prey is able to run faster and longer than the predator. Otherwise, the predator catches the prey. Therefore, in martial arts, usually daily running practice is undertaken, since besides improving the cardio-vascular function of the body, it also helps to successfully run away, if required. Otherwise, after running some distance, one is simply left panting for breath and the very act of running away is of no use.

Reality Check Self Defence video “We tried to “just run” from knife attacks | Self defence techniques”:

3. Fighting

When freezing or fleeing are of no avail, then the only option is to fight. With respect to animals, fighting means a matter of life or death, and it is never a sport. Such is also the case with the military, where fighting is never a sport, and either one kills or gets killed.

BBC Earth video “Greatest Fights in the Animal Kingdom Part 3 | BBC Earth”:

Cut video “Veterans Describe Killing during Wartime | On Killing: Season 1 | Cut”:

However, fighting in martial arts generally means sparring or competition fights, and it is always a sporting activity, albeit having different degrees of potential injuries. The aim in sparring or competition fights is to subdue the opponent by inflicting the least amount of damage, as far as possible. Nonetheless, the fierce fighting spirit of animals is seen even in such martial arts sporting activities, especially in knockouts.

KO with Style video “Women’s Most Scariest Knockouts in MMA 2024”:

4. Hitting where it matters most

For animals, fighting is not a sport, it is not about gaining points, it is not about winning or losing some competition, but rather it is all about staying alive or being dead. Therefore, animals hit directly where it matters the most. They target a particular body part and focus their attacks on that part. The reason being that hunting uses a lot of energy. If the predator fails to kill the prey, then regaining the lost energy of the failed hunting expedition, would take several hours of rest. Moreover, on an empty stomach the regained energy would be barely enough to hunt only small prey.

SWAG – Wildlife Moments video “The Old Lion Is Incompetent To Hunt Their Prey & 45 Moments Lion Hunting Fails”:

Due to the loss of energy and due to the pangs of hunger, hunting is always a serious affair for the predator. In order to make the hunting successful, the predator needs to kill the prey as fast as possible, and this is done by striking at a particular vulnerable spot. For big cats, this means teamwork for biting at the flanks and the rear of the prey, in order to bite off chunks of flesh, so that the wounds would bleed, and due to the loss of blood the prey would become weaker. Finally, a bite at the side of the neck is given to cut off the jugular vein, so that the prey dies in a few moments. The big cats kill only by cutting off the jugular vein with their teeth, and they perform this single focused attack, in every hunt. They have mastered only this one single move, and they repeat it every time.

Nat Geo WILD video “How a Lion Pride Hunts Prey | Cat Attack-tics”:

Vlambose video “15 Most Incredible Lion Attacks Caught On Camera”:

In military, the shot is aimed usually at the heart or the head, since both can kill immediately and thus, these hits matter the most.

colt cat video “Sniper (1993) First Kill Scene”:

WarLeaks – Military Blog video “Lucky Marine Survives Sniper Headshot By Inches In Afghanistan”:

In martial arts, the focus of attack is primarily at the head, face and neck, and secondarily at the whole body. This is extensively seen in boxing.

Lucky Punch video “Mike Tyson vs Evander Holyfield 1 // “Finally” (Highlights)”:

Martial arts competitions are sporting activities, and they are based on points. Different strikes have different points. Usually, in Taekwondo championships, headshots matter the most, as they are given more points, and so they are frequently seen.

Taekwondo Headshots video “Taekwondo Headshots | Guadalajara 2022 World Taekwondo Championships”:

5. Intimidation

Intimidation is threatening or frightening someone. In animals, this is done by showing their teeth, horns, claws, beating chests, stomping the ground, moving in circles, and in various other ways.

Lion Mountain TV video “African Elephant Intimidation Behaviour 🐘 Animals Gone Wild”:

BBC Studios video “Chimp Politics | Chimp TV | BBC Studios”:

In martial arts, staring is a form of intimidation.

Fight SCIENCE video “3 THINGS to do when PEOPLE STARE at YOU with BAD INTENTIONS”:

urbanprotection video “A Lesson On Intimidation From Mike Tyson.mpg”:

6. Deception

Animals use hiding and camouflaging as a means of deception, which is initially used in freezing situations. Deception can be also used to fake movements, which is generally seen as fake turns and twists in fast running animals like a deer or a gazelle.

Lion Mountain TV video “Cheetah 🐱 high speed Gazelle hunt | CLASSIC WILDLIFE”:

In martial arts, deception is used in multiple ways. For example, at some period of time, in the struggle for power, as histories of most countries recount, the ruling class declared it illegal for citizens to carry weapons, or practice martial arts. This led to deceiving the authorities by hiding the martial techniques in different ways, for example, Capoeira, a Brazilian martial art, used deception to hide its techniques into a musical dance form.

GetIntoMartialArts video “Martial Arts History & Origins – Capoeira”:

Steve Bartholomew video “CAPOEIRA THE DANCE OF FREEDOM A documentary film”:

In one-to-one fighting, deception is used as feints and fakes, which is seen in almost all forms of martial arts.


7. Strength in numbers

Usually, animals tend to form a herd and move together in a group. This is because in the jungle, survival can be threatened any time, and it becomes easier to counter threats together rather than alone. Thus, animals know that there is strength in numbers, and this is applicable in both hunting and being hunted.

BBC Earth video “Three Cheetahs Vs Ostrich | Life | BBC Earth”:

BBC Earth video “Triumph of the Herbivores | Prey Escapes Predator | Life of Mammals | BBC Earth”:

In military, this concept is widely used as troops always move in numbers as units or platoons. In civil society also, the law enforcement agencies utilize men, vehicles, and more, so that numbers are stacked up advantageously, which gives them the required strength to counter criminals.

A&E video “”That’s UNBELIEVABLE!” Talented Driver Takes Police on WILD Chase | Why I Ran | A&E”:

In civil society, besides law enforcement, strength in numbers can also be seen in other socially beneficial ways, for example when a group of citizens help any other unknown citizen who needs help.

GERMAN TELEVISION video “German Motorcyclists block intersection and help grandma across the street.”:

Inside Edition video “Good Samaritans Race to Lift Car off Motorcyclist”:

In martial arts, especially in one-to-one competitions, strength in numbers cannot be translated physically as there can only be two competitors in a competitive fight. Yet, it is possible to translate the idea of strength in numbers with respect to the number of skills known by a competing martial artist. With greater number of skills known, the martial artist gains the advantage offered by strength in numbers.

For example, a martial artist practicing standup fighting skills like Karate, Kung Fu, and more, may also know ground fighting skills like grappling and wrestling. Thus, having two skills, the martial artist can perform equally well in both standup fighting and ground fighting. If the same martial artist also knows Muay Thai and boxing, then it can help him to fight in any range. Kicks learnt from Taekwondo or Karate can help in the kicking range, and punches learnt in boxing can help in the punching range, while clinches, knee or elbow strikes learnt in Muay Thai can be used in close range. On the ground, techniques like chokes, arm bars, leg bars, and other submission moves learnt from grappling, or Judo, or BJJ, or wrestling can be employed.

Thus, with greater number of skills, the martial artist gains strength in numbers and has an advantage of winning a one-to-one combat, irrespective of whether the fighting is standup, ground, or in any range. This concept of having strength in numbers with respect to gaining strength by knowing a greater number of fighting skills, played an important part in the creation of mixed martial arts. In MMA, it is common to see an MMA fighter employing different techniques taken from different martial arts.

UFC video “Top Finishes | 2023”:

8. Area of fighting

Animals mark their territory by peeing and pooping on tree trunks and rocks, so that the smell can tell other animals not to enter their territory. The marking also signifies the area of fighting if it takes place.

Best Of Animal Kingdom video “5 male Cheetahs marking territory at once | The way of the Cheetah”:

However, in case of humans, the area of fighting is not fixed. Initially, it was the ground and the sea.

Fredu Korleone video “Game of Thrones – Warriors of the world (Manowar)”:

Elon Musket video “Battle of Texel, 1673 (Third Anglo-Dutch War): 제3차 잉글랜드-네덜란드 전쟁, 텍설 전투”:

Thereafter, the area of fighting also included the air.

War Archives video “WWII Dog Fights: Breathtaking Battles in the Sky | War Archives”:

Nowadays, it seems that the area of fighting might also include space.

The Infographics Show video “What If There Was War In Space?”:

Wendover Productions video “The Increasing Reality of War in Space”:

9. Immobilization

Immobilization is restricting someone or something from being mobile or in other words, stopping it from moving. In the animal world this is achieved only when the predator has a good hold on the prey, which generally is seen at the end of the chase or the fight.

BBC Earth video “The Greatest Fights In The Animal Kingdom | Top 5 | BBC Earth”:

In law enforcement, immobilization signifies having the subject under control.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police video “Recruit Class 177: Subject Control”:

Grappling, BJJ, Krav Maga, wrestling, and other martial arts, as well as all types of arm and leg bars, chokes, and joint locks use immobilization.

Krav Maga Tenerife video “IPSA Seminar (International Police & Security Association)”:

10. Using weapons

Animals do not use external objects as weapons. They do not have the intellect to use external objects like spears, arrows, bullets, etc., as weapons, and thus, they are restricted to using only their body parts as weapons. For example, teeth, claws, horns, quills, thick hide, spraying liquid like poison, blood, and many other types of body-created weapons are used by animals for attacking or defensive purposes.

Brians Art for Animals video “INSIDE THE TIGERS MOUTH”:

National Geographic video “Blood-Squirting Lizard | Weird Weapons”:

Natural History Museum video “Spitting cobras: the peculiar evolution of defensive venom in snakes”:

On the other hand, human beings, compared to animals, with respect to physical strength and body parts being used as weapons, are extremely weak.

WildCiencias video “How Strong is a Gorilla Compared to a Human?”:

Tally video “Comparison: You vs Animal”:

Although with lesser physical strength, yet human beings rule the world. How is this possible? This is due to the highly developed cerebral cortex in the human brain, which is the main weapon of human beings, and they use it effectively to triumph over the animal kingdom.

Business Insider video “Human brains compared to other animals”:

The human brain empowers humans to use external objects as weapons, and since animals do not use external objects, it allows humans to win over animals. Besides serving as weapons, external objects can also be used as tools. It is widely known that tooling led to technology, and technology led to human advancement.

PBS Eons video “When We First Made Tools”:

TierZoo video “How Humans Broke the Game”:

With improved technology, humans began to use a host of weapons like knives, spears, guns and more. In martial arts, many different kinds of weapons, both melee and ranged, were used.

Top Fives video “MOST Incredible Ancient Weapons”:

Top Fives video “15 AMAZING Ancient Ranged Weapons”:

But during warfare, these weapons broke. Swords and spears broke, arrows were shielded and then the warriors were left to fight empty-handed. Therefore, warriors carrying weapons also learnt to fight empty-handed. For example, the samurai who mainly fought with swords, also learnt the art of jujutsu, so that they could use their body parts as weapons. Again, Muay Thai is the national sport of Thailand and is learnt by every soldier in the Thai military, so that in the absence of guns and bullets, they can use the skills learnt in Muay Thai, if required.

scholagladiatoria video “Medieval Weapons: The Truth About Weapons Breaking (Swords & Polearms)”:

MrTeacher video “Human Weapon – Muay Thai”:

Nevertheless, hitting the opponent with one’s own body also involved injuring one’s own body parts to varying degrees, depending upon the force of impact. Therefore, the body parts needed to be conditioned, so that they do not get injured and can become effective weapons. Hence, conditioning of the entire body was undertaken in martial arts through various training exercises.

Historia Militum video “From Boys to Men – The Impressive Spartan Training System”:

For fighting, weapons which may be either external objects or conditioned body parts, are required by humans; since, humans are physically much weaker than animals. Fangs and claws are certainly dangerous, but a bullet is far more dangerous. Hence, humans overpowered animals due to the effective usage of weapons, especially external objects made as weapons.


Martial arts flourished by imbibing and transforming the primal instincts and behaviors of animals into developed art forms. It has embraced innumerable martial lessons that are learnt from animals. Perhaps, the most important martial lesson learnt from animals is how to defend oneself. Generally, all types of martial arts are created primarily as a means of self-defense.

Bejita666 video “Bas Rutten Street Defense – The Best Version”:


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