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According to the Core book (p.122) if you take Brawl as a Favoured ability Martial Arts also becomes Favoured. All Favoured abilities must start with at least 1 dot.

However, Martial Arts has a special rule (p.154) that you need to take the Martial Artist Merit to purchase dots in it.

So, what happens if I want to make a brawler character without martial arts training at character creation? Then what happens if during play the character picks up the merit?

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I asked this question on the Onyx Path Forum and got a response from Robert Vance, one of the Developers on Exalted.

"If you don't take the Merit, Martial Arts would be an exception to the rule that you have to put a dot in it at character creation." source

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