"You can tell a shounen series by the amount of times that someone says 'I'm training to become stronger.'"In shows where mano-a-mano combat is a main plot element, characters spend much of their lives training and improving their strength so they can one-up each other at a critical point in a fight. This invariably develops into an arms race that can, and has, taken out entire planets and solar systems. This has a grain of truth in it, as between two equally skilled fighters, the deciding factor will often be one's strength. Compare Weak, but Skilled, and contrast Unskilled, but Strong. If two nations do this, it's a Lensman Arms Race. When the situation is about equipment and weapons rather than physical prowess, see Bigger Stick. If two Rules Lawyers do this, it's My Rule-Fu Is Stronger Than Yours. Also The Greatest Style, where one form of "kung fu" really is stronger than another.
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Anime and Manga
- Dragon Ball Z. In fact, this is the point of all four Dragonball shows (though less so in the beginning of Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball GT, and much of Dragon Ball Super).
- Saint Seiya, Naruto, YuYu Hakusho and every other shonen series. It can be seen to a considerably lesser degree in other anime where martial arts are a central element, such as: Ranma ˝, Flame of Recca and Sumomo Mo Momo Mo.
- Averted by JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, insofar as the focus is more on teamwork, clever tactics, exploiting your environment, exploiting enemy weaknesses and using weak or peculiar powers to devastating effect than pure fighting power. Hell, a lot of the abilities shown by the characters are so unorthodox that putting them on a power level scale is rather hard.
- Even brought up in a flashback where Dio, when asked what he thinks is the weakest ability he's seen, states that in the world of Stands there are no objectively strong or weak ones.
- For example, one of the most epic battles in the series is a rock-paper-scissors match between two people whose Stands don't lend themselves to fighting, the two of whom can't read each others' moves, and our hero, Rohan only wins because he cheats.
- Also seen to a lesser extent in sports anime such as The Prince of Tennis and Eyeshield 21 (with training the sport instead of fight training).
- Bleach, between arcs, in the middle of arcs, even in the middle of battles.
- This isn't just a factor in martial-arts series. It can show up in Mons series like Yu-Gi-Oh!, Pokémon, Beyblade, and Bistro Chef (better known as Fighting Foodons in the States), and Cooking Duel series like Yakitate!! Japan. Essentially, anything that has individual competition, typically in a Tournament Arc, will tend to end up with this kind of arms race.
- Displaying formidable multitasking skills, the eponymous Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha is revealed in the series' ancillary manga to be able to train in the magical equivalent of VR constantly while leading her normal civilian life, apparently to explain her jump from neophyte magical girl to hardened battlemage in the short interval between the show's first two seasons. After the second season, she trains so hard she becomes known as "Ace of Aces" and is promoted to Combat Drill Instructor in her early teens. In the third season, another character trains herself nearly to the point of exhaustion in an effort to prove herself (but doesn't quite succeed).
- It didn't work because the show decided to point out that mindlessly trying to improve yourself with brute force tactics doesn't work, it just breaks you down. Nanoha had a Heroic R.R.O.D. in during the second Time Skip, specifically because of all the training she did.
- And when Teana actually started listening in class, she got a lot better herself.
- The StrikerS manga devotes two chapters to explicitly deconstruct this trope: the younger cast try to figure out the "strongest fighter" in their organization, but eventually learn An Aesop that no matter how strong your opponent is, he always has a weak spot which you can exploit to defeat him. The winner is thus determined not by a single variable but by a combination of quick thinking, experience, magical power, and sheer luck.
- Einhard Stratos from Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha ViVid wants to prove that her Haoryu Kaiser Arts is the strongest. Victoria Dahlgrün wants to prove that her lineage is superior than of the other Ancient Belkan kings. And Sieglinde Jeremiah is more successful in proving that her Black Jeremiah fighting style is the strongest. It also helps that her ancestor, Wilfried Jeremiah, taught Sankt Kaiser Olivie Sägebrecht, who was the strongest warrior of the Ancient Belkan Era, how to fight and taught her the Jeremiah fighting style.
- In a decidedly more magical example, Mahou Sensei Negima!'s Negi trains constantly for fear of harm coming to his students. He's particularly fond of using Evangeline's time-warping villa to add extra hours (or rather days) to his day to train more.
- Although the battles are of actual skills (usually) in MÄR, the good guys are often sent to train themselves in this manner for the next set of battles whenever the story allows, often using a time-warp ARM in the process.
- In Love Hina, Motoko is stunned when Seta defeats her in martial arts, and becomes fixated on challenging him.
- The titular character in History's Strongest Disciple Kenichi already goes through a daily regimen of Training from Hell to build up his stamina and improve his skills, but the few times he actually loses to an opponent, such as Odin and Tirawat Koukin, he forces himself to train even harder for the inevitable rematch.
- Multiple Dei in Kidou Tenshi Angelic Layer spend all their free time training for the titular game — even Misaki, the lead character that converts and attracts her opponents by teaching them that it's just a game rather than Serious Business.
- The very reason Kyo of Fruits Basket goes into the mountains to train for six months is to one day beat his cousin Yuki in a fight (the manga reveals this is a lie covering up an unrelated Heroic B.S.O.D., though). Every time Yuki wipes the floor with him, he only vows to become stronger... over... and over... again.
- The 5 protagonist of Mobile Fighter G Gundam spend a good period of the middle of the series training in the Guyana Highlands in order to overcome individual failures (For Domon, it's his unfocused rage actually helping the Devil Gundam; for the other four, it's DG Cell possession making them question their own motives).
- Mugen from Samurai Champloo always trains to the point of absurdity when there is an opponent stronger or more skilled than he is.
- Swan is a shoujo version of this trope, but with ballet as the plot point.
- Baki the Grappler. The greatest styles are "Total fighting" (Baki) and "Every martial art you damn please" (Yujiro).
- Parodied in Ranma ˝, when Ryoga learns a technique to channel his Wangst into a mini Angst Nuke. Ranma uses Awesome by Analysis (and deception) to rip off the same attack. Cue contest to have a worse life and channel more Wangst. Ultimately Ranma takes a third option and learns a counter-technique based on confidence. Unfortunately he severely underestimated the power of the upgraded version of Ryoga's technique, which became a true Angst Nuke. Cue Curb-Stomp Battle until Ranma's Awesomeness by Analysis kicks in and points out a weak point in Ryoga's Angst Nuke.
- Deconstructed in Muteki Kanban Musume, a Deconstructive Parody of the Fighting Series: Hard Work Hardly Works, so the only one who trains to be stronger than Miki the protagonist is Kankuro, the Unknown Rival who doesn’t have a chance to beat her. Toshiyuki (the Worthy Opponent) and Megumi (The Rival) know that they can’t beat Mike with brute force, so they use their intelligence. And not even all of them together can beat Miki’s mother.
- Benny of Black Lagoon quotes this almost ad verbatim during the Greenback Jane arc.
- Many characters from Fist of the North Star boast that their martial arts are the best or that they are the greatest fighters. They usually are killed by the main character Kenshiro, who proves that the Hokuto Shinken, which has a 2000 years long history, is the strongest martial arts.
- Fairy Tail:
- Surprisingly averted for the most part. The main characters don't get significantly stronger throughout the series, with the exception of Lucy, who gets several new celestial spirits (one of whom, Loke, is probably stronger than any she started with). They continue to triumph anyway by virtue of being Determinators with The Power of Friendship and through good ol' fashioned teamwork. That last one makes sense given the strong emphasis on being True Companions in this series. Also, battles are usually determined not by strength but by strategy and luck.
- It is played straight a few times, however. Mirajane's victory over Fried is mostly because she just has more power than he does. Elfman has to get a new Take Over to beat Sol. Natsu gets a temporary power-up from Jellal in order to defeat Zero.
- This phrase is actually said in the Marvel comic Immortal Iron Fist. The protagonist would necessarily have to have the strongest kung-fu if he could kill a dragon barehanded, so it wasn't empty boasting. Eventually he does get his ass handed to him by a guy who's even better.
Films — Animated
- Unsurprisingly, since it is a kung fu movie and owes a certain amount to anime tropes, Kung Fu Panda has this as the basic set-up for the fight with the Big Bad: that in order to defeat Tai Lung, the Dragon Warrior must attain the Dragon Scroll, for only with its cosmic powers can he hope to be strong enough to prevail. To hammer this point home (as if it needed it), after learning that his former student has paralyzed the Furious Five, Shifu declares that "Tai Lung has gotten stronger." Cue the delivery of the scroll to the understandably freaked Po.
- Played with in Kung Fu Panda 2 where Lord Shen can't beat Masters Croc, Storming Ox, and Thundering Rhino with his admittedly formidable kung fu style... which is why he shoots a cannon at them. Po, however, still uses martial arts to to beat Lord Shen's cannons after achieving inner peace.
Films — Live-Action
- Parodied in American Pie during an overblown speech by Kevin.
- Star Wars
- From Attack of the Clones:
- Revenge of the Sith: Obi-Wan says he is unwilling to kill Anakin, but Yoda sends him to fight him anyway, because "To fight this Lord Sidious, strong enough you are not." Yoda finds he isn't strong enough either.
- From Spaceballs:
- The basic premise of the Stephen Chow flick Kung Fu Hustle where everyone's kung fu is stronger than someone else. Sing's kung fu for the majority of the movie is awful, leading to him being beaten and slapped around by everyone... until he is beaten to near death and he archives peace with Buddha.
- In Man of Steel, Zod boasts during his fight with Superman that he has trained his whole life to be the perfect warrior. What he says has a fair degree of logic, though. Would you expect a person with little to no combat experience to stand a chance against someone who was specially trained to be a warrior?
Zod: Where did you train? ON A FARM!?
- The original Game of Death wants to show that a good martial artist always has to improve and adapt to any situation that can occur.
- In the Animorphs book The Ellimist Chronicles, this sort of arms race between Ellimist and Crayak ends up destroying a handful of galaxies and ripping a hole in spacetime that makes them omnipotent, universe-controlling gods.
- Averted up the wazoo in The California Voodoo Game, where hypercompetent Bishop's martial arts techniques vastly out-class the limited training of Alex Griffin, yet Griffin still kicks Bishop's ass because he's so pissed off that he doesn't care if his ribs or fingers get broken: he just keeps smashing his opponent into the walls, denying Bishop the elbow room required for his dojo-ballet moves.
Live Action TV
- In Thunderbolt Fantasy, The Screaming Phoenix Killer meets The Bones of Creation, they predict that their battle will end in nine moves. Only one will leave alive.
- Power Rangers / Super Sentai has a lot of cases, but especially the Wuxia-themed Juken Sentai Gekiranger, where the entire point of the series was two rival schools of fighting squaring off against each other.
- In the finale of Dexter - season 3, there is a delicious example of this, in a scene with the season's "Big Bad" and Dexter. Remember Doakes's comment about why would a nerd like Dexter need to learn advanced ju-jitsu? Well it's so that when other killers tie up Dexter and are armed with a pretty menacing blade he can overpower them and snap their neck like a twig...with one good hand as he had to break his other one to get free from those pesky ropes that were holding him(Dex) down. Very strong kung fu indeed.
- The X-Files: In "The Unusual Suspects" (origin story for The Lone Gunmen), Frohike is stumped by a mystery Byers and Modeski brought to him, and they end up on Langly's doorstep. Langly forces Frohike to quote this trope before allowing them in to use his equipment.
- Any game with a level up system, particularly those that give room for Level Grinding, ultimately runs on this. Most RPG games fall into this trope on some level.
- Most incarnations of the Street Fighter series portray Ryu as a loner who does nothing but train in his spare time. He is motivated to do this because Akuma killed his master (who was also Akuma's brother). Akuma himself has sacrificed his whole life to the way of the Satsui no Hadou ("Murderous Intent"), striving forever to become a stronger fighter, but also looking for someone who can defeat and kill him. He once defeats Ryu and then spares his life because he knows Ryu has the potential to become the greatest warrior on Earth (and the potential to fall into Satsui no Hadou as well).
- Also a quote for Duke Nukem.
- The rift that developed between Aoi Matsubara and Sakashita-senpai in To Heart was the result of the latter's unacceptance of "Extreme Fighting" as a martial art.
- This rift disappeared when Aoi won the Extreme Fighting Championship in To Heart: Remember My Memories when Aoi defeated her senior Ayaka Kurusugawa who had defeated Sakashita earlier on in the tourney with one roundhouse kick to the head, a la Chuck Norris.
- In The Order of the Stick, Vaarsuvius says to Xykon, "My power... EXCEEDS yours!" Buuut that didn't help Vaarsuvius much. Actually, it makes it even worse. Had V just been out to end his reign of terror, he would have gone easy on them. In the case of a duel of strength, he had no reason to hold back.
- An Old Master Q strip shows this between Chinese and Western fighting styles, ending in a stalemate.
- Rocko's Modern Life: "We are the Samurai Kung-Fu Warriors From Somewhere East of Pittsburgh. Our kung fu... better than your kung fu!"
- My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic gets in on the fun in Magic Duel. Trixie returns with an Artifact of Doom and smears Twilight all over the landscape with spells. A good portion of the episode consists of Twilight training with Zecora to become strong enough to fight back. Though they play with the trope a bit. Instead of becoming strong enough, Twilight relies on trickery to win.
- In Chinese slang, the phrase "Kung Fu" is akin to "Mojo." In any activity, rivals will compare their respective Kung Fu with each other. This is because 'kung fu' means 'human achievement', or, skill.