Have you ever watched animals hunting?
How you ever seen professional martial artists in action?
You probably say yes to these questions. There are tons of videos online, if nothing else.
Here’s a question for you: have you ever binge-watched these videos together?
Nature diverges and converges. Wildly different organisms solve the same problems using the same techniques. Each interpretation is unique but shares underlying principles. This is why the Shaolin martial art (aka, the cool one) names its basic forms after animals:
Snake: small, fast and deadly. Taking advantage of smaller physiques, it employs constant movement, circular sweeps and precision strikes.
Dragon: the ultimate lizard. Dragon-style practitioners tend to be larger. They employ zigzags and angular movements to mask their attacks.
Leopard: high-performance hunter. The leopard protects its speed by avoiding injury. It shields its lean physique using elusive moves that combine offense and defence.
Tiger: raw power. The tiger uses its large physique to fight head-on, moving strong and fast.
Crane: elegant fighting. This style favours lanky physiques. It uses low postures, balance and striking from a distance.
Your character might not fight like these animals. They might fight like a bear: a mass of muscle and claws that barrels over its enemies. Or like a hawk: moving fast and low before exploding with deadly force.
Now, your character might not be a monk. That doesn’t matter. These fighting styles work with daggers, longswords, wands… Even if they don’t, so what? Make up your own style that does.
It’s moments like these where I wish I were a player. But I am running a campaign with five factions. Five factions, five shaolin animal styles… I don’t have to pick one. I can use them all.