Ah, the Fight Scene: Noble sport and elegant artform that elevates two combatants through ritualized combat, proving their worth as human beings by savagely beating each other upside the head with 2x4's or whatever else they can get their grubby little paws on. No matter what the censors say, nothing beats a savage beatdown.
Cue the entrance of Kung Fu, Savate, and other more choreograph-able fighting styles. What? So now, only monks and French dudes can kick ass? (don't even mentionGun Kata). What's a fighter who trained on the mean streets of the City with No Name to do? Punch 'em with Good Old Fisticuffs, of course!
Some films insist that their Average Joe, didn't-train-in-Tibet-or-live-in-a-French-ghetto hero can upstage and beat any fighting style because his rough and tumble streetwise fisticuffs is either more resourceful, more tenacious or less "frilly" than the competition. If any explanation is given for why this disparity always goes in the hero's favor, it's because the hero has "heart" while his opponent is more obsessed with good form, or is all flash and no substance.
While it may seem at first sight to be only about fighting with your fists, this trope is about learning to fight in the "hard way", by pure, brutal and constant brawling for your life in dirty streets. It is emphasized that the person had to go through a life that served as Training from Hell. Do not confuse with Bare-Fisted Monk, which is a character type that only uses melee but does not have the styleless street brawling connotation.
See Trying to Catch Me Fighting Dirty and Combat Pragmatist. If the hero (or the villain) is a threat not because of technique but innate Gifts like unnatural damage-soaking abilities, he is probably Unskilled, but Strong.
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Anime and Manga
Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple: Berserker is noted to have never taken any formal training: his raw talent is so good that he can routinely beat even highly skilled martial artists with his street fighting skills. He is eventually defeated by Tanimoto, who claims that Hard Work Hardly Works is a big, fat lie upon winning.
And played straight many, many times as well such as when he goes against opponent using strikes to the vital points. In so many words Sanosuke tells him to stop messing about and just give him a good hard slug already. When the opponent fails to comply, Sano obligingly demonstrates how it is done.
Jet Black from Cowboy Bebop is able to regularly defeat armed, multiple or better trained opponents by utilizing his own brutal brand of pugilism. In one instance he is able to overcome a ruthless and feared Syndicate assassin with a well timed head-butt to the face.
There's also Andy, who was able to stand up to Spike without any apparent martial arts training.
Digimon's fifth season plays with this. It turns out the most effective fighters are the ones with the greatest understanding of their abilities. Whether they figured it out for themselves the hard way or needed to go through rigorous training to understand are just means to an end. 3/4ths of the main casts are forced into training.
Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann this appears to be Lordgenome's preferred method of fighting, with or without his Humongous Mecha. When using Lazengann, he likes to beat the snot out of his opponents with black-belt level moves, and with no weapons whatsoever (save for drilltendrils). It's probably why he can fistfight against Simon and Lagann once Lazengann gets thrashed.
In Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha and its sequels, Arf, Zafira and Reinforce uses unarmed combat in melee, unlike most characters who rely on weapons. This carries over to The Battle of Aces, though not for ArfuntilGears of Destiny. It should be noted, though, that the first two do use kicks as well. By ViVid the existence of Strike Arts and Kaiser Arts speaks of formalised martial arts coming into play.
Something should be emphasized here. Reinforce punches through Nanoha's magical shield with her bare hands, only using the Elemental Punch afterwards.
Joey/Jonouchi used to be quite the street punk near the beginning of Yu-Gi-Oh!, and he got into fistfights a lot. Sometimes these fight happened for no reason, other times it was to defend Yugi... but he proves himself to be a badass who can break jaws and noses with a swift punch to the face. Some of the earlier "games" even involved him beating the crap out of people for the sake of friendship/revenge. As Duel Monsters became more important to the plot, he stopped getting into fights altogether, which he even lampshades in Yu-Gi-Oh! R.
Played with in Holyland. Most fighters have some martial arts training as a base, even if they adapt it to the needs of the street, and effectiveness varies. The closest ones to styleless brawling uncramped by martial arts training are Yuu and Katou, although neither sticks to just hands; Yuu eventually uses kicks, elbows and wrestling, while Katou uses knees (to the groin), headbutts and takedowns.
Tawara Bunshichi from Tenjho Tenge definitely qualifies. He is the only character in the series who doesn't have any special powers or utilizes some style of martial arts, preferring to simply punch the living hell out of his opponents on the rare occasions when he actually fights. And he fights so rarely because most everyone else is usually scared shitless of him.
Sure, Monkey D. Luffy from One Piece trained all right, but so far his official training was only shown to be survival training and endurance—Garp was never shown teaching him any hand-to-hand combat. Luffy apparently got strong from brawls with his two older brothers and his Rubber Man powers he obtained in early childhood gave him durability. But, it's implied by Oda that the only technique he worked on as a child was the Gum Gum Pistol, (although a recent anime filler showed him practicing his Fuusen technique, too) and confirmed by Word of God that he doesn't train, but comes up with attacks on the spot; his most commonly used ones involving the ol' fists.
He also plays the trope pretty straight, beating highly trained Martial artists who have been taught several different and deadly techniques since a young age (the very first Gum Gum Jet Bazooka and Gum Gum Jet Gatling, anyone?). And in Rob Lucci's defeat with the Jet Gatling, it was even because Luffy had more heart and determination than him. Also, as a child, he lived with bandits and played in a Trash Mountain, and eating or getting money meant beating/killing animals and thugs or being beaten/killed.
From the prologue of All Rounder Meguru: "The truth is, experienced fighting will beat out half assed karate any time, especially when the other guys are older." Even after the timeskip, Takashi gets his ass kicked by an ex-boxer bodyguard.
This trope shows up in, of all places, Fist of the North Star. In an anime all about glorifying ages-old (fictional) martial arts schools with legendary histories, Juza uses a completely made-up-himself style that allows him to fight Raoh on a nearly equal basis. Sure, he also has Charles Atlas Superpowers, but almost everyone and their dog has that in the Fist of the North Star-verse.
Pippin: You insulted me for the last time Jeffrey. I challenge you to Fisticuffs.
Jeffry: I accept this challenge.
Pippin: Have at thee!
In the same episode Avian and Sparkman also do this while under the influence of the Monster Card Maiden in Love. Hilarious, especially when Burstinatrix shows up.
This is The Spirit's entire good ol' fighting method, as he's just an everyman with no training on any martial arts. He relies too on his wits and his agility to beat the crooks, but at the end of the day, he learned to fight by, well, fighting.
Gotham Central features this as a frequent necessity since, though a comic book set in the world of Batman, none of the characters are superheroes in any way, shape or form. As such, they are often forced to face off against "freaks" (supervillains) with only regular guns or, sometimes, just their bare hands. When Dr. Alchemy, a Flash villain, is brought to Gotham City and tries to escape, Renee Montoya is forced to beat him down with her bare hands after he turns all guns and metals in the room into poisonous and noxious elements (His name is Dr. Alchemy, he can do stuff like that). Once she manages to drop him to the floor she keeps going (Some say Police Brutality, others say... well, others also say Police Brutality, but he reallydeserved it), and did it all despite the fact that he was armed with some bizarre alchemical superweapon.
A storyline in the Robin comic book had him fighting Cassandra Cain, formerly the second Batgirl, who had just revealed that she'd made a Face-Heel Turn. Robin manages to defeat Cassandra, who had received Training from Hell to learn how to predict opponents' moves by looking at them, by deliberately attacking her wildly with no style or forethought. Since Cassandra's "powers" should have been able to handle something like that easily, this is one of the many reasons this storyline became Canon Discontinuity almost immediately.
The comic Preacher: While protagonist Jesse Custer does not know fancy martial arts, he knows how to fistfight, and also how to fight dirty. Over the course of the series he brawls with, and curbstomps, both armed opponents and people who are much larger and stronger than he is because he knows how to fight and they don't.
It even turned up in that bodyswitch comedy, 18 Again, with George Burns. (Frat Jerk Jock sees hero with girlfriend. Hero asks "sorry, did you want to dance?" Frat Jerk says 'no', and does a spinkick/badass pose. Hero: "I thought you said you didn't want to dance!", then fights him old-school fisticuffs style.)
In Lethal Weapon 4, Jet Li uses his polished wushu style to badly brutalize both Riggs and Murtaugh until they ultimately defeat him with their less flashy fighting styles and ultimately a Kalashnikov automatic rifle. Riggs was portrayed as an elite martial artist in the first film's more realistic fight scenes, but by the fourth movie he too was "getting too old for this shit."
Turns up in, of all places, the Bruce Lee film Way of the Dragon, in which the Chinese restaurant staff all train in karate before getting the crap knocked out of them by the local thugs. Given that Bruce then uses kung fu to annihilate the thugs, this was probably intended as a Take That aimed at Japan (as Fist of Fury more blatantly was).
Shanghai Noon: "I don't know karate but I know kah-razy!" (with apologies to James Brown). Roy manages to throw trained martial artist Chon Wang to the ground, which surprises both of them. Then Chon gets up and throws Roy out the window.
Fight Club shows us how the solution to the stresses of modern day society is a good round of pit-style fisticuffs.
Subverted in Dutch, in which Dutch (Ed O'Neil), using his self-described "good old, all-American street fighting" is beaten up by an adolescent who holds a "high brown belt." However, Dutch also teaches the boy to throw a proper punch, which he uses to good effect.
In Never Back Down, a streetwise MMA brawler faces a practitioner of capoeira, the Brazilian art of dance-fighting. Before the fight, the capoeirista grandstands with some flashy acrobatics and then gets knocked out with a single punch.
In the Bridget Jonesmovies, Mark Darcy and Daniel Cleaver get to do it twice. The former's a lawyer, the latter a TV reporter, so this leads to a Wimp Fight.
Ninja Assassin usually completely averts this trope; most normal people die when they are in a ninjas arm length, without even having the chance to fight back. Except for a big, badassLondon Gangster, who is the protagonists first target. The protagonist, a ninja himself, stabs him in the neck, which just pisses the gangster off. The man then beats the shit out of the protagonist and smashes him through some dividing walls, and even keeps fighting after he gets stabbed some more. In the end, he is defeated nevertheless when the protagonist smashes his weakened opponents head repeatedly against a toilet bowl. It should be noted that the protagonist was not only one of the best ninjas, he also had the element of surprise and a weapon, yet was nearly defeated.
Freddie tries to bring Michael Myers down with his fists in Halloween: Resurrection. He actually survives this encounter.
In a classic tribute to this trope, in Rio, a marmoset strikes several kung fu poses, only for Raphael to reach over and give him a smart rap on the head with his beak.
Played for Laughs in the sequel to Johnny English. English is going after a Hong Kong triad who is parkouring his way through the rooftops. English simply opens doors, crams through tight spots, and rides the elevator after him. When he has the villain corner, he watches as martial artist displays acrobatic kicks and flips before taking him out with a quick Groin Attack and a few other hilariously pragmatic moves.
Displayed in Wild Wild West: One of the minions pulls out a fancy move, and says "I learned that from a chinaman." Jim West proceeds to knock him out with a move he declares he just made up.
In Danny the Dog, Danny has taught himself to fight using pure, feral aggression. He beats a number of fighters who use easily identifiable styles. The toughest local fighter at the pit fighting bar is also an example. His style is simply grabbing anything within arm's reach and smashing it over Danny's head.
Compared to Batman's martial arts, The Dark Knight Rises' Bane fights with heavy punches and pragmatic beatdowns which makes sense, he was born and raised in a prison. His tic of holding his chest even makes him look like a pugilist.
Though it stays away from the trappings that fisticuffs are just better than martial artists. Bane wins the first fight because he's both a seasoned fighter to the inactive Bruce and his mask stops most pain. When Batman gets his body back into peak condition and learns Bane's weakpoint, the rematch goes the other way.
In Live Free Or Die Hard John McClane fights a talented female martial artist and uses this (as well as a car) to defeat her. Of course, it helps he had a significant weight advantage over his Waif-Fu opponent.
Flip-flopped in Ip Man. Wong Leung and his friends' skills with street fighting prove no match for Ip Man's martial arts, and they're soundly beaten. Then again, Twister's Western boxing proves brutally effective against Chinese martial arts, enough to actually cause Master Hung's death.
The contrast between the Silver Horde and the various stereotypical "ninja" bodyguards/assassins they dispatch in the book Interesting Times. The Silver Horde are just barbarian brawlers, but they've had a lot of time to become quite good at it
In The Fifth Elephant, Carrot tries to use the Marquis of Fantailler combat style against a werewolf, who nearly kills him.
This entire trope is lampshaded in Discworld: Marquis of Fantailler (A thinly hidden parody of the Marquis of Queensberry) wrote "a list of rules on the manly art of pugilism, mostly concerning places you were not allowed to hit him." Obeying these rules is an accepted form of suicide. This is opposed to the actual street combat mentioned in the series. It's said that the last words of many a fistfighter have been "Stuff the bloody Marquis of Fantailler".
Otto von Chriek then subverts it in The Truth, when he proves that good old fisticuffs can be quite deadly if powered by supernatural strength.
On Discworld, members of the Guild of Assassins are taught to be deadly, silent, killers who are capable of killing stylishly with fifty different weapons. But they are constrained by rules. And, because it is not thought of as being gentlemanly, the one form of fighting they are not taught and discouraged from learning is unarmed combat of any sort. A gentleman does not brawl in the gutter. This suits their unkillable target Sam Vimes, who has never claimed to be a gentleman and has spent thirty years brawling in the gutter. (It is only in Fan Fic that an Asassin has come anywhere near him).
Towards the end of Thud!, a Dwarvish philosopher/loremaster defeats an axe-swinging traditionalist, using nothing more tha his unclosed fist and willpower. He reflects afterwards he has discovered the strength inherent in the Empty Hand. (Japanese: ka-ra-te)
Played straight in the Dunk & Egg tales (prequels to the main story of A Song of Ice and Fire). Dunk is only a fair swordsman, but he is also quite tall, strong, and an experienced streetfighter. When a more skilled swordsman gets the better of him, he tends to grab hold of him and start tossing him around like a ragdoll.
Subverted by Sherlock Holmes, who is a trained boxer and martial artist, and in one story uses gentlemanly fisticuffs to beat the everloving crap out of a thug who thought he could discourage that skinny little twit with a swift (and unsporting) backhand. Holmes is a bit scuffed up but jovial after that brawl, while the other guy gets carried away in a cart.
In Starfighters of Adumar, Cheriss ke Hanadi is a professional blastsword duelist, earning her money through tournaments and endorsements. Her style is described as rough, dirty, something half picked up in gutter duels, but since she wins most of the time she's still fairly popular. Blastsword duels often end in death, but there's still a degree of artistry. When she falls for Wedge Antilles and then realizes that he loves someone else, she tries to commit suicide by dueling until executed, but Wedge's wingman Wes steps in and challenges the duelist who's about to kill her. Wes completely sidesteps the dueling aspect and just beats the guy half to death with his fists. Mildly subverted there in that he knows his opponent would have beat him if they were dueling, so he gambled on being able to disarm the man.
"Forgot to mention. On some worlds people fight with their feet, too. Feet, hands, rocks, pure cussed willpower - they're warriors. You, you're just a dilettante."
Stephen R. Donaldson has it both ways in his thriller The Man Who Fought Alone. On the one hand, the protagonist's street brawling skills trump anything used by a martial artist under black belt rank, both because he fights dirty, and because according to Donaldson most martial arts emphasize intimidation over actual combat prowess so as to try and avoid a fight entirely (similarly to the distinction between Jaffa and human combat styles in Stargate.) On the other hand, the characters who've reached black belt actually know some pretty good moves, and combine them with a level of discipline he can't readily match. (It should be noted that Donaldson himself is a martial artist, and seems to know what he's talking about.)
Subverted near the beginning of Royal Flash , Flashman witnesses an impromptu match between Otto von Bismarck and retired bareknuckle boxer John Gully. Gully dodges all of von Bismarck's punches until he is finally provoked into knocking the German down, demonstrating that there's more to boxing than wild swinging.
In The California Voodoo Game, the Awesome by Analysis villain winds up in a one-on-one fight with Dream Park's head of security. Although the villain's sophisticated martial arts training has always served him well in the game, Griffin is so furious at the man for murdering one of his trusted employees that he throws caution to the wind and tackles his opponent, pounding him so viciously without regard for his own injuries that his foe has no chance to utilize his fancy moves. "Two cats in a sack" is how the narrative describes it, and the villain proves the weaker cat.
The show Knight Rider, in its last season, featured a troop of ninjas as foes that, despite carrying the trademark weapons of their profession, were easily taken down by straightforward punches. Main Protagonist Michael, in a twist of irony, claimed to be an expert in martial arts during the pilot episode.
Conan O'Brien jokes that he fights like this on his show.
In the episode "Bounty Hunter" of My Name Is Earl, a bounty hunter trained in various martial arts attacks Joy, who fights informally with fisticuffs. It quickly turns into a Curb-Stomp Battle. Given the trope page, you can guess for which side.
Joy: I watch a lot of Springer.
In Outlaws, a private detective is menaced by a martial artist. The detective knocks him out with one punch. It's understandable that the detective doesn't try martial arts himself, given that he's a former cowboy brought forward in time.
Subverted in the Cold Open of an episode of Magnum, P.I.. A triad member is meeting with a local to buy information. He makes a move that the local takes as a threat, and said local starts listing off all the martial arts styles he's beaten with Good Old Fisticuffs, then demands the triad guy's necklace. He hands it over, gets the information, then jabs him in the throat and kills him.
Q: Or what? You'll thrash me? Shall we settle this mano a mano?
(Suddenly Q and Sisko are dressed as 1900s bare-knuckle fighters, with everyone else as a cheering crowd)
Q: Marquis of Queensberry Rules? Fisticuffs, pugilism, the manly art of self-defence. (Q hits Sisko) Come on. Isn't this all wonderfully barbaric? Go on, take a poke at me. I know that's really what you want to do. Come on. Fight back. This is supposed to be brutal.
(Q punches Sisko three times in the face, then Sisko blocks his arm and pile-drives into his solar plexus. Q falls)
Exalted Second Edition has Solar Hero Style, essentially Good Old Fisticuffs the Supernatural Martial Art, eschewing the subtle metaphorical effects of other Supernatural Martial Arts in favor of just hitting things really hard.
And this being Exalted, it takes Good Old Fisticuffs Serial Escalation. There's one Charm that allows you to punch people through walls, and one to punch them into Hell. This, unsurprisingly, hurts a great deal.
Mildly subverted in the original DC Heroes RPG by Maifair Games and the system's reincarnation as Blood Of Heroes by Pulsar Games. The martial Arts skill could be taken as-is, or could simply be used to represent Him Fight Good - whether it's Iron Fist's intense training, or the otherwise physically slow Juggernaut's ability to hit all but the most agile of opponents with his hamfists, to use Marvel Comics examples (is that a Take That ?).
The Brawling skill in GURPS is for "unscientific unarmed combat". It is costs less to reach a high level than skills like Karate or Boxing but gives a smaller damage bonus.
In Pokémon Live!, when Giovanni defeats Ash's Pikachu, Ash tries to fight Giovanni himself, with his fists.
It's his fighting style in Arkham City too. He even does a little dance. Against Batman, however, he gets floored in a few punches and then resorts to calling out 15 Mooks, a Brute with one arm who wields a sledgehammer, and of course, a Titan.
Most of the combat in Zeno Clash. While some enemies use elaborate spin kicks and martial arts, Gant's unarmed fighting style essentially boils down to bashing his foes with his fists until they get dizzy, then smashing their skulls against his kneecaps.
Balrog is like this in the Street Fighter games, using American boxing. (Without gloves.) Unfortunately, he's handicapped as a fighter, because he can't use any kick-based moves at all. (Trying to do so in games where he's a playable character just results in a low punch; suffice to say, he's not the best fighter among the bosses.)
In Guilty Gear, Slayer, immortal and powerful vampire, uses only his bare hands. His Insta-Kill is simply punching enemy into another galaxy.
Tekken has a few examples. In the first four games, the various Jacks typically have "Brute Force" listed as their only style, and since they're all gigantic robots, it only makes sense. But this trope started getting taken into overdrive with the newest games in the series; the Updated Re-releaseTekken 5: Dark Resurrection introduced Lili, who is a wealthy ballerina with "street fighting" as her official style, while her actual movelist incorporates ballet and gymnastics. Miguel is later introduced in Tekken 6 as was specifically designed to be nothing but a brawler, with no combat pose to speak of and punches and kicks which seem very casually thrown with no training behind them. Finally, with Tekken 6: Bloodline Rebellion, Alisa Bosconovitch introduced into the series, who fights by detaching her own head, shooting her arms as projectiles, flying on retractable thrusters and has friggin chainsaws on each arm!
At a meta level, you can consider fighting game players who train in arcades, repeatedly pitting themselves against targets that fight back, thus favouring Boring, but Practical jabs and bread-and-butter combos. This contrasts with fighting game players who can use the home releases' training modes to perfect their knowledge of the moves against compliant dummies. Of course, who comes up tops when they square off is not set in stone. A home player may, having explored the depths of Awesome, but Impractical, come to stand by the simple combos, while an arcade player can very well show his dominance by going flashy-like.
Jake English of Homestuck enjoys his fill of fisticuffs and old-fashioned wrestling.
The Heroes of Void tend to rely on "fistkind" as their Weapon of Choice.note The pun: They're using their natural abilities by "wielding nothing" in battle.
Hero Oh Hero has the main character, Burk and his Foil The Aristocrat, who both prefer fighting with their hands.
In one episode of My Gym Partners A Monkey, Jake gaining a "Mustache" inexplicably gives him 1337 skills with nunchucks, but Adam counters this by challenging to a round of fisticuffs. Subverted in that neither of them actually knows what comes next.
Terry McGinnis in Batman Beyond uses these over a formal karate fighting style his predecessor used having first learned to fight on the street. It later proves very useful against the Joker.
In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Rarity - usually a prim and proper socialite and fashionista who dreads the idea of getting dirty and unladylike - has no problem putting up her dukes when the chips are down, even challenging a posse of dragons and pummeling her way through an army of changelings with her front hooves alone. Bonus points for being a unicorn who should normally resort to magic for this sort of thing.
Most "self defense" styles are basically Good Old Fisticuffs, avoiding flashier moves in favor of simple, "dirty" techniques designed to finish a fight quickly in realistic circumstances. Combatives taught to soldiers and police officers are also of this variety, though police officers tend to have a focus on restraining techniques. A notable example is Krav Maga, which was developed by the Israel Defense Forces. Its aim is to incapacitate whoever you're fighting as quickly as possible. That may or may not extend to killing them.
In the early days of Mixed Martial Arts, many traditional martial artists were defeated by "brawling" styles from big punchers like "Tank" Abbot, who billed himself as a "pitfighter" and had learned most of what he knew about fighting by getting into bar brawls. For a while, it wasn't uncommon to find a number of UFC fighters who admitted to starting their fighting careers on the streets rather than with a technical martial arts background. Kimbo Slice is perhaps the most famous street fighter to make it big, for a moment at least, in MMA. In modern times, however, most high-level MMA fighters have a long history of formal training in wrestling, striking and grappling arts before they reach the big leagues.
The Philadelphia Flyers of the 1970's were known around the NHL as the "Broad Street Bullies" for their preferred method of playing hockey by way of fists and not sticks.note "Broad Street" is the major north-south thoroughfare in Philadelphia east of the Schuylkill; the Flyers' home ice has always been on Broad in South Philly. Although many were critical of their behavior (especially those who preferred the style and elegance of hockey and hated seeing goonish play ruin it), it did get them back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in '74 and '75.