Okay, so I'm having an issue with my DM which I can't resolve. The passage in the PHB (p. 78) on Martial Arts for Monks reads as such:

At 1st level, your practice of martial arts gives you mastery of combat styles that use unarmed strikes and monk weapons, which are shortswords and any simple melee weapons that don’t have the two-handed or heavy property. You gain the following benefits while you are unarmed or wielding only monk weapons and you aren’t wearing armor or wielding a shield:


  • When you use the Attack action with an unarmed strike or a monk weapon on your turn, you can make one unarmed strike as a bonus action. For example, if you take the Attack action and attack with a quarter-staff, you can also make an unarmed strike as a bonus action, assuming you haven't already taken a bonus action this turn. Certain monasteries use specialized forms of the monk weapons. For example, you might use a club that is two lengths of wood connected by a short chain (called a nunchaku) or a sickle with a shorter, straighter blade (called a kama). Whatever name you use for a monk weapon, you can use the game statistics provided for the weapon in chapter 5.

Okay... So if I understand this correctly, these are the rules:

  • Monks gain the benefits of Martial Arts while either unarmed OR using a Monk weapon (and unarmored/-shielded).
  • Unarmed Strikes ≠ Monk Weapons. Ergo, using a Monk Weapon would disqualify you from making an unarmed strike outside of the one allowed by your bonus move. E.g. Using your free hand to make a second attack post-lvl 5.

My DM is making the case that Unarmed Strikes and the use of Monk Weapons are the same thing. This makes no sense to me. Per Martial Arts, if you attack with a Monk weapon then you are allowed to make an unarmed strike as a bonus action. But he is saying that if I attack with a one-handed Monk weapon that I could use an Unarmed Strike as a seperate attack with my free hand, that is not the bonus attack Martial Arts give you. And he says that the rules clearly state that this is allowed.

Now, my character is going to be using a Warhammer one handed, due to part of his backstory. Now I realise that that is not a Monk weapon, and therefore cannot benefit from Martial Arts. But here's where there's the conflict. If you can use an Unarmed Strike that is not a bonus action via Martial Arts with a free hand while wielding a Monk weapon, then by that logic, why can't you do the same with any other weapon (Assuming it's not automatically illogical to do so. I.e. Heavy Weapons, Two-handed Weapons, etc.)? We're not talking about getting the bonus attack while attacking with a Warhammer one handed, we're talking about whether as a Monk, you are allowed to use your free hand to make an "Unarmed Strike" as a second attack through Martial Arts, while wielding a weapon. Period!

To me, using Unarmed Strike with your hands through Martial Arts, so that you can get the bonus attack, means you can't have any weapons in your hands, period. And if he's going to rule that you can make an Unarmed Strike with your free hand while wielding a weapon, I don't see how it matters what sort of one handed, un-heavy weapon you're wielding, seeing as you're attacking with a free hand while wielding a one handed, un-heavy weapon, to make an "Unarmed Strike". Now if you're attacking with a monk weapon and using Martial Arts to do so, then that's another matter entirely, as the rules dictate you get that bonus action. But as far as I understand, using Martial Arts through a Monk weapon is not the exact same thing as using Unarmed Strikes in and of themselves to get the bonus attack.

Another way of putting this:

  • Martial Arts = A
  • Monk Weapon = B
  • Unarmed Strikes = C
  1. A is true given B OR C (A = B OR C)
    • Therefore:
  2. B allows for A (B = A)
    • And:
  3. C allows for A (C = A)
    • However:
  4. B is not C (B ≠ C)

Does that make sense? Am I totally crazy and reading this all wrong for thinking of it like this? And if I am, how? Someone please explain to me, logically, what I'm missing.

Granted, by that logic, that would allow me to use my second attack to attack with an Unarmed Strike with my free hand and then use my bonus action to get another one, but I don't see how it matters what weapon I have in my hand while I do it. And I went into this expecting that, yeah, okay, I can't use the Martial Arts bonuses while wielding a Warhammer one handed. And I was completely fine with it. Up until the point where my DM in trying to get me to switch weapons, revealed that in his mind I could make Unarmed Strikes with my free hand while being armed with a Monk weapon. Now... this is just driving me nuts.

And I know... at the end of the day, if he's going to be stubborn, then as the DM, regardless of smart or stupid rulings, his word is law. In which case, I may need to retire this character until I can play with a DM that doesn't think I'm a crazy kook, and assumes I'm trying to min max at every opportunity.

Clarification: The Warhammer as listed, is versatile. But it is not heavy, or in anyway penalised in it's weilding anymore than a staff. The difference is, one is a simple weapon. The other is not.

If we really want to nitpick over whether or not it makes sense for a Warhammer (or rapier, or scimitar, or trident, etc.) to be an extension of a Sacred Warrior's body in a mystical realm, any more than it would make sense for a staff (or shortsword, club, sickle, mace, etc), then we're going to be here all day. I'm simply trying to break this down logically.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Having read through all that, I'm profoundly unclear on one important detail: what kind of action is your DM saying this “free hand” attack is? Are they saying it's a bonus action? Is it Two-Weapon Fighting? It's unclear, so one side of the argument that we're supposed to be resolving is too vague to grasp. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 13, 2015 at 3:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is already a wall of text for what should be a relatively simple question. It's good that you're explaining your reasoning but could you perhaps trim some of the "ranting" and over explanations so that it gets straight to the point. Adding in character backstory really doesn't add anything to the question. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 13, 2015 at 3:43
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ sorry, I didn't ask a yes/no question: I asked to which of two very different things are you referring? Extra attack (level 5 class feature) or bonus attack (granted by Martial Arts). Please clarify your thinking. \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    Oct 13, 2015 at 3:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ Let's put this on hold till you've clarified - this really could be boiled down to "when using a warhammer as a monk can I still X?", where X is pretty hazy to me even after rereading this question several times. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Oct 13, 2015 at 4:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ That doesn't really help. What is your question? State it in one sentence. "When using Martial Arts can some of the attacks be with a monk weapon and some unarmed?" "Can I use a warhammer as part of a monk's Martial Arts attacks?" "Can I make a (normal/bonus) unarmed attack even if I'm holding a weapon?" "Something else?" \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Oct 13, 2015 at 11:49

2 Answers 2


Monk weapons and unarmed strikes are not the same things.

You've quoted the relevant line already: "monk weapons... are shortswords and any simple melee weapons that don't have the two-handed or heavy property. (PHB p.78)"

Now, onto your second question:

If you can use an Unarmed Strike via Martial Arts with a free hand while wielding a Monk weapon, then by that logic, why can't you do the same with any other?

Because that's how the monk class was designed.

If you're looking for an in-universe reason why that should be the case, it'd have to be along the lines of "these are some weapons in which monks have traditionally trained." But the real answer is that it (presumably) breaks game balance to give monks their extra unarmed strikes on top of the choice of more weapons.


First: Unarmed Strike does not mean you are using your hands. Second: Monk weapons are simple and designed to be an extension of your body.

Headbutts, knees, elbows, kicks and anything else you can think of that doesn't use a weapon is using an unarmed strike.

The reason you can't use your martial arts while wielding a two handed warhammer is the same reason you can't use martial arts while carrying a lance or tower shield. It's because you're not using a weapon designed to work as an extension of your body, but rather as a tool with a specific individual function. Even a person proficient with a greatsword is going to have a very hard time twirling it around like a feather considering it's sheer weight.

If I'm reading one of your questions right, I'm seeing that you think that while holding whatever weapon, you can still use martial arts to do unarmed attacks followed up by more unarmed attacks. If that's correct, I have great news for you:

Putting your weapon away is free. Which means you can attack unarmed and use your bonus action for a second unarmed attack. On your next turn, drawing your weapon to attack in the same motion is fine, and is covered under Attack Actions in the PHB. So long as you don't try to put it away, attack twice, and then pull it all back out again in the same turn, there's no real issue with doing this part in combat.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Edited to eliminate confusion over my character using a two-handed weapon. He is not. Also, I understand what Unarmed Strikes are and aren't. The arguement is whether using a free hand to make a seperate attack independant of your weapon without using your bonus action, is allowed regardless of what sort of one handed weapon you're using. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 13, 2015 at 3:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ It still serves as a good example. Consider that monk weapons are light and fast. Nunchucka (clubs), sais (daggers), katanas/wakizashi/tanto (shortsword), quarterstaff, etc. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 13, 2015 at 3:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ Your (edited) solution is something which I had thought of, and was thinking that I might use at some point. But then, like I said, in talking with my DM, he revealed an illogical aspect of his thinking which is driving me nuts because it doesn't fit with my understanding of the rules. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 13, 2015 at 5:05

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