At Arm's Length

"When did freakishly long arms become your superpower?"

Alice (a tall person) is being attacked by Bob (a shorter person) and does one of two things:

  1. Plonks a hand down on top of Bob's head and holds him away from her, safely out of reach of those flying fists.
  2. Picks Bob up and holds him at arm's length while he kicks and flails helplessly in midair.

This is more common in comedic situations, or other situations in which a humorous resolution is preferred to a merciless beatdown.

This works best on characters who are attacking in panic or incoherent fury, since it holds them safe until they can cool down. It is less effective when Bob has enough presence of mind to realize that he can just hit Alice in the arm. Or duck under her hand. Or take advantage of the fact that legs tend to be longer than arms...

If you're looking for the webcomic of the same name, click here.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Happens repeatedly to various Pokémon characters.
  • Naruto: Itachi's "finger-to-forehead" flicks he gave to little Sasuke.
  • Played straight to type in Macross Frontier, complete with attempted windmill punching, with the only variation being that the character being held at bay is at other times capable of stepping on the offender.
  • Subverted in Fatal Fury 2: The New Battle. Krauser lifts Terry Bogard up by the head and Terry's immediate reaction is to try to pry Krauser's hands off (To be fair Krauser also threatened to crush his head) His second attempt is to kick Krauser in the face, which is blocked. Finally, Terry knees Krauser's elbow, finally forcing him to let go.
  • Vampire Knight: Happens to Yuuki Cross when she tries to hit Zero.
  • Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo: Dengakuman gets treated like this by Don Patch during his very first fight.
    Dengakuman: I'll getcha, I'll getcha, I'll getcha, I'll getcha, I'll getcha, I'll getcha, I...
  • This happens to Lupin during his short-lived boxing career in a Lupin III (Red Jacket) episode.
  • Happens to Pretty Sammy in the fight against "Team Lovely Madams". She can't reach even though she's swinging her magical baton.
  • In Fruits Basket, a group of gangster girls try to attack Uotani (a former gang member herself) to build their reputation. Uotani hardly pays them any attention until the group's leader tries to punch her... at which point Uotani employs this trope. When the attacker is confused, Uotani even lampshades it by pointing out their height difference means that she has longer arms. She then proceeds to lecture the girls on how pointless gang life is, and how they should grow up and actually do something useful with their lives.
  • Poor Els Tasmin of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha ViVid had this done to her by Hallie/Harry on Chapter 22, with the taller girl keeping her at bay by putting her hand on her forehead while Els flailed away uselessly, demanding that the younger Harry address her in a more respectful manner.

  • In Ricky Gervais stand-up show Animals, he uses this scenario as a metaphor for the Falklands War. As the Argentinian guns had a range of 10 km and the British guns had a range of 17 km, the British ships "parked 11 km off the coast and bombed the crap out of them." Gervais described this tactic as "the military equivalent of holding a midget at arm's length and kicking him in the bollocks."

    Comic Books 

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Sarah does this to Hoggle after grabbing his bag of treasures in Labyrinth.
  • Lone Starr uses this on Dark Helmet in Spaceballs. It's quite effective since Helmet is 5'4".
  • Subverted in 300. Leonidas tries this when training with his son, who is apparently smart enough to realize that his arms are quite capable of reaching the arm on his head.
  • In Delusions of Grandeur (La Folie des grandeurs, 1971), Blaze (Yves Montand) holds the much smaller Don Saluste (Louis de Funès) at bay this way while the latter tries to slap him as he's firing his valet.
  • In All Monsters Attack, Gabara does this to Minya, then electrocutes him.

  • A very small character dubbed "Super Gnat" is notorious for starting fights with colleagues in the novel Phule's Company, and this is a common way to deal with her until she calms down. (She's actually a martial arts expert, but only fights well when she's calm.)
  • In the short story Winterfair Gifts, SGT Taura described how she invokes version two of this trope when on bodyguard detail and simply looming (she's 8') or smiling (her fangs are scary even when she is not trying to be intimidating) do not make someone back down.
  • In Exiles of ColSec, Cord (who's not stated to be taller than the other character involved, but is definitely bulkier and stronger) intervenes in a potential squabble between Jeko and Heleth by doing this to Jeko.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Subverted in an episode of Extras where Andy tries this when Warwick Davis attacks him and he punches him in the wrist. Andy says it works in cartoons.
  • Happens hilariously in an episode of House, where the eponymous character is keeping Taub away from the latter's phone while texting Taub's wife to take her clothes off.
  • Occurs in one version of the story in Diff'rent Strokes's "Rashomon" episode.
  • Subverted in the Halloween episode of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. Amy's boyfriend Ray does this on Nick, but Nick punches him in the stomach.
  • A The Kids in the Hall sketch has a lazy thief robbing a lazy man whose idea of self-defense is to hold out his hand so the robber can't reach him. It works as the thief walks right into the hand, twice, and then uses his "street smarts" to simply brush the hand away.

    Music Videos 
  • Happens in the Music Video for "It's a Hit" by We Are Scientist, which depicts the band as 1920s boxers.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • Giant Silva was able to pull off a variation in mixed martial arts bouts, though it did not look the way it is normally shown to be in fiction.

  • Jefferson implies this will be the outcome if Adams tries to make him write the Declaration of Independence "by physical force" in 1776.
  • Seen used on Hermia by Lysander in a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.
    Helena: And though she be but little, she is fierce.

    Video Games 

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • In The Fairly OddParents, this happens repeatedly to Timmy (usually done by Vicky).
  • Done by Sideshow Bob to Lisa on The Simpsons. Nelson also does this to Bart in an early episode.
  • Scooby-Doo: Version 2 is frequently employed against Scrappy Doo.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: Toph does this to Sokka. Unusually, Sokka is actually the taller and longer-limbed party, but Toph was keeping him from taking back his club, which she had in her other hand, sticking out in the opposite direction.
  • In Dexter's Laboratory, DeeDee does this not only with her arm, but with her leg, putting her foot on Dexter's forehead. He's just that short.
  • Frequently done by Mr. Krabs in Spongebob Squarepants, when his microscopic business rival Plankton attempts to steal the Krabby Patty secret formula. Instead of holding him at arm's length, however, Krabs simply picks him up and tosses him bodily back to the Chum Bucket — sometimes by creative means, such as blowing him through a straw.
  • In the Classic Disney Short A Knight for a Day, Cedric uses a makeshift lance made from a sword handle and the arm from his suit of armor to hold back Sir Cumference when he brings out his sword. It's an interesting flip-flop considering Cedric is the small and vulnerable protagonist, pushing back the hulking Sir Cumference.
  • Aqualad does this to Beast Boy in Teen Titans. Eventually, Beast Boy stops flopping around and just swats Aqualad's hand away.
  • Wakfu gives us the lovers' spat variant. Evangelyne is held at bay by Sadlygrove as he's reading her diary, which she'd written while thinking he was dead — and thus is saying way-too-nice things about him to Eva's taste.

    Real Life 
  • Subverted in real life.
    • Try it; the short kid will attack the arm on his head.
    • Or they'll just kick. Which is when you use your leg to keep them at bay and end up hopping around attached to a small bundle of joy.
    • Or they fall over when running into the hand. It's effective at least, but doesn't happen the way the trope describes.
    • If the short guy is at all a martial artist, the tall guy had better prepare for a joint lock.