How Tigers Hunt: The Parallels of Natural Predator Instincts and Martial Artistry
The hunting instincts that a tiger exhibits in their kill techniques are a remarkable dynamic of energy preservation, lethal efficiency and, for lack of a more scientific word, martial artistry. The standard method implemented by a tiger making a kill is very similar to the techniques that a Japanese martial artist will use not only in competition, but also in ancient combat. The overlap is astounding; the tiger will grapple with the prey that they throw to the ground where they then use their strength to maneuver into a lethal choke with their jaws. An unarmed martial artist would, if assailed by an armed combatant, immediately close the distance into a grounded immobilization where they could disarm and then kill the opponent using a very similar chocking technique. In many ways, not only does the Japanese samurai match the Siberian tiger in spirit, but also in combat doctrine.
When a tiger kills its prey, it is easy for a human observer to be taken back by its cruelty and brutality. Its natural processes are overshadowed by the suffering that such a vicious attack inflicts upon the tiger’s prey. It would be this stigma of a ferocious man-eating monster that would have fueled the hunting of the Balinese, Javan, and Caspian tiger subspecies to extinction. It’s unfortunate, but much of the traditional ranges of tigers before overhunting, parts of Central Asia, India, Eastern China, Eastern Russia, Indochina, and Southeast Asia, have been dwindled into fragmented endangered pockets within India, Indochina, Southeast Asia, and parts of the Russian far east, just off the shores of Japan. It’s for this reason, more now then ever, that we as human beings should respect the tiger for his natural virtue, instead of fearing and destroying what few there are left. The world would be a far bleaker landscape without spirited creatures such as these inhabiting it.
A thirteen foot, six-hundred pound hyper-carnivore just as capable of bringing down a water buffalo as chasing and snatching up a deer, the tiger’s techniques are not always immediately visible. Still, the tiger’s natural talents as an apex predator are hard to ignore; its ability to run thirty-five to forty miles an hour and jump sixteen feet in the air and leap across distances of thirty, means a tiger’s ambush is a distance that will be closed very quickly. In all the environments that they exist, each subspecies of tiger is the top predator of their range, feeding on every form of game within their territory. As the predator at the top of the food chain in their ecosystem, the tiger plays a vital role in keeping the number of prey animals in balance so that their natural competition doesn’t suddenly overtake one of the prey species and bring it to extinction. As contrary as it may seem, an apex predator is a crucial conservation tool, vital to the health of an ecosystem.
As a cub, much like a young martial artist, a young tiger is initiated into an apprenticeship under their mother who teaches them the skills they will need to survive. All throughout their growth, young tigers, like all young predators, will affectionately play and wrestle with their siblings in games that will further hone their strength and aptitude for both hunting and combat with competitive tigers. They progress through innocent stages, awkward stages, and lanky stages just like human students; their skill not quite ripe as their mother-sensei patiently watches on. And finally, they assume their title of maturity and the young warrior leaves the council of their mother to strike their own path across the landscape.
The tiger is an ambush predator; using the tall grass, defused light, and long shadows of vegetation to melt into the scenery. Though seemingly flamboyant and brilliant, the striped pattern of the tiger’s fur will still sink effortlessly into a matching patch of grass or bushes, blazing conspicuously again only after the tiger leaps into action. Sprinting and bounding, the tiger tears across the ground and wraps its disproportionately muscular forepaws around the prey and latches on with it claws. When killing smaller game, a fully grown tiger can simply catch the prey with a quick grab and immediately swing its jaws around to seize the throat or base of the skull, snapping it under the weight of its powerful bite. Numerous kills have been observed where after the initial bite, the smaller prey simply goes limp in the tiger’s mouth. Any martial artist would be envious of the tiger’s neck breaking technique, but sadly our physiological differences naturally give the tiger a severe advantage over any unarmed martial artist.
It is when the tiger is tackling larger game, such as an Indian guar or water buffalo that the skills and techniques of the tiger’s rearing really come to light. The tiger, after ambushing larger game and grabbing it with both paws, will reach up and bite the haunches, shoulders, or nape of the neck of the animal it is attacking. It’s not trying to sink its teeth in to cause any sort of damage, the tissue is predominantly skin and fat that the tiger’s teeth go into, but to get a grip high on the animals centre of mass to use as leverage for pulling or throwing the animal to the ground. Using this leverage to take the animal off balance, the tiger has a greater chance of pulling the animal to the ground and immobilizing it.
The parallels that this initial stage of the tiger’s hunting strategy shares with traditional Japanese martial arts are striking. Judo, Aikido and Jujutsu, unarmed Japanese arts of combat, share this underlying principle of using leverage to throw an opponent to the ground. A judo master would lift the centre of mass of an opponent off balance and then throw them on their back for points during a competition. An Aikido master would use the momentum of an assailants attack as leverage to throw and immobilize from the ground. A Jujutsu master would shoot their shoulder into the hips of an opponent to lift them into the air and then slam them to the ground for manipulation into a submission technique. All these stylized martial arts use leverage, balance, and centers of mass to achieve their goals much in the same way a tiger throws prey to the ground.
Much like the uber-complicated system of Aikido, a tiger’s technique must be perfect for their style to work as well. If the tiger simply grabs on to a larger prey without manipulating their centre of balance, the animal will simply brace against the tigers weight and stand firm, kicking and gouging at the tiger as he does so. If the tiger attacks the head, it runs the serious risk of being gored on the animal’s horns. If he attacks the rump, the animal will simply run away, the tiger still awkwardly clinging along for the ride. If a tiger hopes to bring down larger game, taking it to the ground so that it can employ an asphyxiating bite, it has to take hold of the animal high on its body and put all its weight into throwing the animal to the ground.
Once the animal has been taken to the ground, the tiger must immobilize it and manipulate it so that it can clamp its teeth around its throat. Again, it uses its muscular forepaws to keep the animal down as it maneuvers itself safely into place for the bite. Once it has its prey securely immobilized, it wraps its muscular jaws around the throat of its prey and waits for it to either slip into unconscious or suffocated completely. Again, nature has found itself a spiritual successor in sport and warfare. Jujutsu, a sport of ground submission, employs strategies identical to the ones observed in tigers. The Jujustu master, during competition, will grapple and manipulate their opponent on the mat and through skill and technique securely nestle the windpipe of their opponent into a choke hold and force the opponent to submit or risk passing out. In a single comparison, natural doctrine and sport doctrine match almost completely; the only difference being the tiger’s philosophy meaning the difference between life and death.
The only situation where the skills of the martial artist would match the life or death struggle of the wild tiger’s hunt would be in the feudal warfare of ancient Japan. Much like the tiger, a fierce samurai warrior caught in battle after having lost his katana, would charge fearlessly any feudal enemy that was about to strike. In similar fashion to the tiger’s throw, the samurai would use leverage to grapple the assailant to the ground. Where the tiger would immobilize his prey and sink his teeth into its throat, the samurai would capture the throat of his opponent, and after waiting the few seconds it takes for his enemy to slip into unconsciousness, breaks his neck in a single motion. Two warrior spirits would find much in common indeed.