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The monk's Martial Arts feature's benefits all require a monk to be "unarmed or only wielding monk weapons". Even if you're a Way of the Kensei monk, that only lets you add a couple of new simple or martial weapons to your monk weapon list.

The druid's Wild Shape forms all come wielding natural weapon attacks. Natural attacks are not unarmed attacks, nor are they monk weapons, nor are they simple or martial weapons that can possibly be chosen by a kensei.

Therefore, a beast is never "unarmed", and thus can never use a druid/monk's martial arts benefits even if it wanted to choose to use unarmed strikes instead of its natural attacks.

Is this accurate? Or, can a beast choose not to "wield" it's teeth and claws?

This blanket prohibition on Martial Arts when one has natural weapons seems overly-restrictive; it would mean, for example, that a Minotaur can never be a monk, since they are "never unarmed."

I am explicitly not answering the (already answered and very obvious) question of whether animals can make unarmed attacks. I am asking whether they can ever choose not to "wield" their own natural weapons, so as to be able to use martial arts in the first place.

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You most likely will not be able to use martial arts as an animal, but not for the reason you brought up.

There are two factors to consider: the limitations of the Martial Arts feature, and those of the Wild Shape feature.

Martial Arts

You gain the following benefits while you are unarmed or wielding only monk weapons and you aren't wearing armor or wielding a shield (PHB 78)

Armor and shield are obvious, most animals will not use them and natural armor is not "worn". So can you not wield your natural weapons? Jeremy Crawford said that:

No general rule gives "hold" or "wield" meaning beyond the English (the words and their meaning in a particular context).

The OED definition of wield is:

Hold and use (a weapon or tool)

So if you simply do not use something, you are no longer wielding it. You can certainly do that.

Wild Shape

You retain the benefit of any features from your class, race, or other source and can use them if the new form is physically capable of doing so. (PHB 67, emphasis mine)

Can a bear perform martial arts maneuvers you have learned as a human? Can a crocodile? This will be up to a DM ruling, but the answer will most likely be no. The only case where I personally would rule yes is if you take the shape of an ape or monkey.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ -1, see rpg.stackexchange.com/a/50658/9552 \$\endgroup\$ – András Feb 7 '18 at 18:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @András I have not contradicted that answer in any way. Care to elaborate? \$\endgroup\$ – Szega Feb 7 '18 at 22:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree with @Szega, but I would take it a step further and say that, categorically, no wild shape would allow you to use martial arts skills. The training required for this requires years of dedication to achieve perfect attunement to ones physical body (and mind, etc.). Having a different physical body would nullify this physical training while in that form. \$\endgroup\$ – lunatamis Feb 11 '18 at 14:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ @lunatamis At your table, sure, I find your reasoning to be sound for a high simulationist table. At another table, no reason not to have a Kung Fu Panda. Ki is another form of magic, and D&D takes place in a magical place by default. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Nov 7 '18 at 17:40

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