Never Bring a Knife to a Fist Fight
"You're bringing knives out in a fight like this?"
Knives are scary.
A single glimmer from its profile has been known to launch a thousand screams of horror. They're eminently deadly and dangerously easy to use. In Real Life
, pulling one in a fistfight is pretty much a Game Breaker
Not in fiction, though, where they tend to be utter liabilities
in a fistfight. In a Wire Fu
movie, you should never bring a knife to a fistfight
, because fisticuffs is king. Knives, guns, and any weapon that would give the wielder an advantage in a fight, especially
if they're blood-spilling and are used against an unarmed opponent, have the reverse effect. They make it likelier that they'll never land a hit (Clothing Damage
or minor cuts across the cheek or torso
notwithstanding), and eventually get disarmed
or forced to throw away their weapon.
In a good old-fashioned western
, any bounder who pulled a knife in a fistfight would get involved in a down-and-dirty rassle on the ground, then fall (or roll over) on his own blade
. A descendant general rule of Hollywood remains that the first person to pull a knife almost always loses.
Much like all products of the Inverse Law of Utility and Lethality
, this applies equally to Heroes
, though villains are usually likelier to pack heat
or hidden knives. If someone does
get stabbed, shot, skewered, or otherwise hit with the blood-spilling weapon, it was Only a Flesh Wound
). Often goes hand in hand with finding out that just like weapons, Armor Is Useless
. One way to exploit this trope is to make an immobilizing Knife Outline
, as the likelihood of fatally skewering someone becomes zero
Oddly enough, a dramatic death where someone gets skewered or shot aren't subversions, since they rely on the unlikelihood of such weapons actually killing for their dramatic punch; plus, the person shot usually lasts long enough to deliver an inspiring Final Speech
and turn out to be Not Quite Dead
afterwards. Instantly fatal
stabbings or headshots are
Note: This only applies to humans
. In Speculative Fiction
, you can skewer and dismember as many golems, undead, Mecha-Mooks
or whatnot to your heart's desire.
A common variant of this trope is the inversion of the original saying 'Never Bring a Knife to a Gun Fight
': Fictional characters armed with guns will, more often than not, lose to opponents armed with knives. If the opponent is armed with a sword or other more fancy melee weapon, the gunman's doomed. This case is similar to Guns Are Worthless
, except that there isn't necessarily a reason why the guns are weak. The opponent isn't Immune to Bullets
, he just gets Plot Armor
to ensure the gunman never gets a good shot before being impaled, much like the knifewielder won't get a good hit in while the fistfighter beats him to a pulp. Since both weapons are lethal, this version is driven more by a simple Rule of Cool
instead of the Inverse Law of Utility and Lethality
See also: Guns Are Worthless
, Armor Is Useless
, Bare-Fisted Monk
, Heroes Fight Barehanded
, Knife Outline
, Could Have Been Messy
, and Only a Flesh Wound
A subtrope of the Inverse Law of Utility and Lethality
. Works where this is in play are anathema to the Knife Nut
. Similar to Rock Beats Laser
. Contrast Never Bring A Knife To A Gunfight
. Compare Never Bring a Gun to a Knife Fight
open/close all folders
Anime & Manga
- In Asu no Yoichi!, when Yoichi has an early fight with Washizu, it starts out as a fist fight, which the former enjoys despite getting hit rather hard. Then Washizu pulls out a weapon (in the manga, a knife. In the anime, a ridiculously oversized pair of boxing gloves resembling a spiked mace). In both versions, Yoichi destroys the weapon and berates Washizu for relying on those things instead of his own strength, and promptly beats him in one blow.
- In Outlaw Star, resident ass-kickers Suzuka and Aisha seem to regularly wipe out rooms of gun-wielding foes with nothing more than a wooden sword and bare hands, respectively.
- Aisha, at least, has the excuse of being a naturally bulletproof catgirl berserker. Suzuka, however, can do this despite being human because of her Charles Atlas Superpower.
- One Piece has some fights when fist fighters defeat weapon users and viseversa. Zoro and Sanji constantly fight each other, but both of their skills and strengths are so equal that the fight quickly ends in a draw.
- Most of the fights the protagonist of Vinland Saga loses are to unarmed opponents. Likewise his father was a master at this trope when fighting a horde of mooks, beating them all without drawing his sword.
- Something like this was used in the first episode of Transformers Victory. Fist, Star Saber defeats two gun-wielding Decepticons using only a sword. Later, when the Dinoforce fights the Brainmasters, Goryu criticises one of his underlings for using a gun; said underling immediately switches to an axe.
- In Ranma 1/2, every martial artist is skilled with numerous weapon styles, even those that fight barehanded. So, nobody berates the dedicated bladed-weapon users (Kodachi, Kuno, Mousse, Mint) for their choice... but their weapons never strike home anyway. Most egregious of all is Mousse, whose typical assault consists of tossing various weapons (some blunt, but mostly piercing and slashing ones) from his sleeves and tie up his opponent in the ropes attached to them, instead of actually skewering anyone. But let him have a morningstar, a club, or even his own hands and feet, and he'll tear into a foe like it's nobody's business.
- Subverted in Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu, when Sousuke is challenged to a duel by the karate club. Nobody thinks to tell him that things like guns, tear gas, and hand grenades aren't permitted. Hilarity Ensues
- Used in Those Who Hunt Elves to show how serious the dark elf queen is. When squaring off against Junpei, she throws away her sword because it would just slow her down.
- In Mahou Sensei Negima!, Ku Fei manages to defeat a number of armed opponents using only her martial arts skills.
- Baccano!, as quoted above. Firo doesn't even have to mess up his nifty new fedora while handing the knifer his ass.
- Ironic, considering Firo later uses a knife to disarm (literally) and defeat the Big Bad.
- Justified because the knife cuts off some fingers... which immediately reattached due to Firo's Healing Factor. The thug is too stunned to do any more damage after that.
- While the anime glosses it over, the Martillo Family are actually all expert knife fighters, which they view as more honorable combat then using guns (circumstances allowing), and all the capos must display a high level of proficiency at knife fighting in order to be promoted to an officer position (including knowing how to avoid knife based attacks). Firo happens to be one of the best out of the bunch, having been trained by Yagulma (who also taught him several martial arts), Ronnie and Maiza. Firo just tells Dallas he shouldn't pull a knife in a fist-fight unless he's seriously willing to suffer the consequences.
- A full chapter in Holyland (16, if you want to fast-forward) is devoted to demonstrating how to disarm a knife-user in a street fight. The narration also states that it only works here because the knife-user was an amateur and the unarmed warrior was an ex-professional kickboxer and karate black belt.
- What it amounts to is basically what was described in Burn Notice quote below - Izawa grabs the punk's knife arm and beats him senseless. Though the narrator also notes that, unlike what some self-defence books say, one should focus on hitting the enemy rather than obsess over wrestling the knife away. Chapter 34 also notes that opponents might steal weapons away from an inexperienced user and turn them against him.
- Later in the series, Izawa attempts to defeat a kendo user bare-handed, by using a pair of brass knuckles to block the sword before going for a surprise Alpha Strike. It fails due to a Game-Breaking Injury, and with the element of surprise lost he is defeated. Yuu takes up the fight and eventually manages to force a win.
- In Detective Conan:
- In one of the murder cases, it turns out the victim was actually attempting to assault the "culprit" with a knife. Said intended victim was actually a master of Brazilian Jiujutsu and reflexively reversed the attack. In other cases, threatening Ran Mouri/Rachel Moore with a weapon is a bit of a gamble depending on whether or not she remembers her black belt in karate.
- Also, in the museum case, the victim was literally pinned to the wall with a sword.
- In Lupin III vs. Detective Conan, bumbling detective Kogoro Mouri is charged by a failed assassin with a knife- his response is to snort dismissively, tuck his hankie into a chest pocket, and then effortlessly judo throw the assailant to the ground.
- An example of this trope happens early in Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple. A minor Ragnarok thug assaults Kenichi with a knife and he freaks out because bladed weapons are naturally intimidating. To help him overcome his fear, the masters have Shigure train him in armed combat... that is to say, she spends the whole day assaulting him with everything from rolled-up newspapers and spoons to actual weapons. Later Kenichi encounters the same thug, who draws the knife again... but Kenichi just laughs creepily and asks "What's that puny thing" and blames the thug for putting him through today's Training from Hell. Cue beatdown.
- Subverted in Dragon Ball Z when Future Trunks shows up wielding a sword and effortlessly destroys Frieza and King Cold, as previously weapons proved rather useless in the series. Later played straight when Trunks gets beaten up and his sword broken by the androids.
- Using a weapon in the Dragon Ball franchise as a whole doesn't make much of a difference, as the winner of a fight will usually be whoever has the highest power level rather than who is most skilled, faster, and/or experienced. Pretty much the only character whose fighting strength relies on a weapon is Yajirobe, and even then he's implied to be pretty tough on his own.
- A direct example of this trope is in Goku's 3rd Tenkaichi Tournament, during the fight between Cyborg Tao and Tien. When Tao realises he's getting his ass handed to him, he pulls a super-sharp knife. Which Tien promptly snaps.
- Rurouni Kenshin: In Sanosuke's debut, he fights a large drunk who strikes him with a hidden knife. But as a testament to Sano's Made of Iron nature, not only does the knife fail to injure Sanosuke, the drunk's arm breaks.
- In Durarara!!, several people hold a knife against Shizuo Heiwajima. This includes Izaya, Seiji and an army of possessed people. The latter two manage to cut him quite a bit. This is all pretty much irrelevant when he starts fighting. It's not that they lost because they brought knives. They lost because they're trying to fight Shizuo Heiwajima.
- At the end of the first season of Sword Art Online, Sugou Nobuyuki fights Kirito outside of the hospital where Asuna just woke up from using a combat knife. Kirito easily defeats him using his skills from the video games, and he is later arrested.
- Depending on if he's fighting Faceless Goons or recurring villains, Wolverine can go from messily skewering everything that moves to barely managing to nick the bad guy's costume.
- Particularly bad in the cartoons, because unless he's fighting a robot his entire battle strategy has to revolve around body checks.
- Batman uses this a lot, since he often faces thugs armed with knives, but one particularly obvious example is the fight at the end of Mad Love, when a very enraged Joker attacks Batman, and seems to be giving him more trouble in a fistfight than he usually does... until he pulls out a knife, and Batman instantly knocks him off the train.
- It's then averted in their final battle in Return of the Joker. The Joker actually manages to stab Batman in the leg; an injury that apparently (along with old age) forced Bruce Wayne to use a cane later in life.
- In Batman's defense, he probably spent a very long time researching ways to take down armed opponents, since after his Continuity Reboot he's been solidly against any sort of lethal weaponry. When you're aware that you'll be spending the next few decades of your life using your bare hands against knives, guns, and lunatic clowns armed with either or both, you try your best to be ready for such.
- He uses this so much that it's made into a gameplay mechanic in Batman: Arkham City: once you unlock Knife Counter Takedown, you can instantly defeat any mook that attacks you with one once you figure out the timing for it, including the armored ones.
- Subverted in Sinister Dexter when a crime lord brings a nuclear warhead to a meeting, knowing it will end in a gunfight.
- The Sin City one-shot Family Values showed Miho beating down a knife-wielding mob enforcer with kicks and flips. When she gets bored, she does eventually slice his throat with a shuriken and kick his head off.
- In the Dredd fanfic Aegis the knife nut Judge Rawne is goaded into this error by the genre savvy hero. Although the fight starts as a textbook knife fight (with the more-skilled Rawne getting the best of Cornelius) Cornelius manages to trip Rawne and crush his windpipe with an elbow drop.
- Terry Pratchett regularly notes that a weapon you don't know how to use well is worse than no weapon at all, either because you're going to hurt yourself with it, or your opponent is going to take it from you, then hurt your self with it.
- The titular skeleton of Skulduggery Pleasant wields a gun (revolver, of course), although since many of his enemies are super powered monsters, it rarely does any true damage, so he uses fire magic instead. One particular exchange came in the second book of the series...
- In the Gaunt's Ghosts novel The Armour of Contempt, some Hauberkan soldiers try to attack Hark over his execution of their CO. One uses a knife but is quickly taken apart, while another one uses a chain fist to little better effect. Then again, Hark has an augmetic arm, so he's hardly baseline human himself.
- This general idea is explicitly written into the Martian honor code in the John Carter of Mars books, albeit on a larger scale- if someone attacks you, you meet their attack with an equal or lesser weapon, so using a knife on someone who attacks you with his fists would be incredibly dishonorable (as would pulling a gun on someone who attacks with a blade). In the second book, a scene where Carter prepares to attack a Thern (White Martian) who'd been releasing deadly wildlife against him with his sword, and the Thern's response is to immediately go for his gun, is a major indicator as to what the Therns are like.
- In Starfighters of Adumar, Wes Janson turns a blastsword duel into a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown by disarming his opponent. First, he blocks the incoming attack with his own blastsword and proceeds to eventually knock the blastsword from his opponent's hand, breaking it in the process. Then, after Wes throws away his own blastsword (to Wedge standing behind him), the opponent goes for his knife, which Wes proceeds to kick out of his hand. Justified in that Wes Janson is well-schooled in hand-to-hand combat; the opponent is a noble who knows only the stylized form of blastsword dueling and nothing of real fighting techniques.
- The novel Cain by James Byron Huggins at one point features a Jesuit priest, with no combat background of any sort, going unarmed against a highly-trained cult assassin who has a sword. The priest absorbs an absurd amount of damage, bleeding profusely, while trying to talk the assassin down. Finally, he gives up and just grabs his enemy in a bearhug and squeezes until the assassin's spine snaps.
- A regular occurrence in the Matador Series, largely due to the main characters all being world-class martial artists, and their opponents not being quite up to that level.
- Caine from The Acts of Caine, all the time. All he has are his fists, maybe a dinky knife and you've got... a sword? A spear? A gun? Not being paraplegic? Don't expect any of that to save you.
- Parker, the Villain Protagonist of a series of novels by Richard Stark, is arguably more dangerous without a weapon than with one.
- Averted in Smallville of all places, where Lois Lane is fighting a security guard - after a period of inconclusive barehanded fighting, the guard get mad, pulls out a knife, and succeeds in stabbing her.
- Played pretty straight in Buffy the Vampire Slayer - although all sorts of fancy weapons crop up, it's pretty much expected for them to go flying and the fight to degenerate into gratuitous unarmed combat. This is probably for reasons of fight choreography.
- It's also cheaper on the special effects department. Since nobody ever actually seems to bleed after getting the stuffing beaten out of them in most Joss Whedon shows, taking knives out of the equation means that the producers save a fortune in makeup and fake blood.
- And flip-flopped in one episode of Angel, when Faith pulls a knife on Angelus. After one initial hit, he's able to avoid the knife for a few seconds, and then knocks it out of her hand... and she then hits him in the face, catches the knife, and cuts him several times with it. Of course, since he's a vampire all this does is hurt a whole lot — but then, she is trying to lose.
- Entirely subverted in the Burn Notice episode "Old Friends": when an assassin pulls a knife on the unarmed Michael, none of the strikes land, but Michael's too busy trying not to get cut to do any real damage of his own, and promptly flees the scene when a second knife appears:
Michael: The key to a good knife defense is to control the knife hand and strike with everything you've got. Fighting is often about tactical retreat—like running away from two knives.
- The final episode of Torchwood Series 2 inverts this: Ianto and Tosh run into three creepy religious fanatic types in medieval robes and scythes (not the smartest weapon in a confined space) and finish them off quite easily with gunfire.
Religious Fanatic Mooks: Devils, blasphemers, pray to your heathen God while in the Lord's name we cast you out.
[Tosh and Ianto shoot them]
Ianto: There we are then.
- A song by Stan Rogers, "Harris and the Mare", includes a fight between an unarmed man—formerly a conscientious objector—and a man with a knife. The man with the knife is winning until the unarmed man lashes out from the ground and the knife ends up in the knife wielder.
- GURPS strikes a middle ground in averting this. A person with a weapon tends to have a great advantage in damage and range but skill is ultimately the factor of a match up (ties going to the one with a weapon).
- Both averted and played straight in Warhammer 40,000: it's fairly common for people with 6-foot-long Chainswords to be torn limb from limb by someone else with their bare hands. Of course, that person's "bare hands" are often either wrapped in Power Armor or attached to a genetically modified killing machine or ridiculously agile or Nigh Invulnerable alien. In most cases, however, equally-powered fights will typically be decided by who has the biggest (or fastest-attacking) weapon.
- Jud in Oklahoma!
- A View from the Bridge is an old example: in the final scene, Eddie Carbone pulls a knife on Marco, and is pretty much instantly killed as the knife is turned against him. For some bizarre reason, only after he's been lethally wounded does his family step in...
- Exception: In the play West Side Story the violence between the Jets and the Sharks becomes more horrific as it escalates from fistcuffs to knives to a gun, leading to the violent deaths of several major characters.
- Dark Types in Pokémon specialize in dirty tricks; they even have a move called Beat Up which lets every Pokemon on the team get in an attack. They are weak to Fighting Types. A special trait called Justified boosts some Pokemon's attack whenever they're hit with a Dark-type move.
- Subverted in the Devil May Cry series: Although the second fight with Vergil in DMC3 starts with him using the Beowulf gauntlets and greaves, he pulls out his Yamato katana after he finds that having the hand-to-hand weapon isn't stopping Dante from kicking his ass. Beowulf (acquired after victory in said fight) and the Ifrit gauntlets in DMC1 are the strongest weapons damage-wise, but Dante never uses them in cutscenes, sticking to his sword(s).
- Both Dante and Vergil can and are skewered by all manner of unpleasant edged objects without any lasting harm, may have something to do with this.
- Subverted in just about every beat-em-up video game ever made. Most of the time it's fist-against-fist combat, but when an enemy shows up with a weapon, that enemy will, nine times out of ten, be much stronger than his companions. Bosses, likewise, are usually always armed. By the same token, disarming a foe and stealing their weapon will give you a massive advantage, until the thing falls apart.
- This is doubly true in Lugaru: The Rabbit's Foot. While weapons are just about as deadly and easy to steal as in any other beat-em-up (when in use), if somebody's dumb enough to try and run away, an auto-aimed thrown knife landing in their back is often an instant kill.
- Blunty averted in Assassin's Creed I, where switching to your fists in a sword fight against multiple foes is a quick way to an asskicking. Attacking soldiers with your bare hands is effective only when there's one of them. It also takes a little longer, with the upsides being that they can't parry, and it's also quite humiliating.
- Played straight in the sequel, where Ezio can counter-attack with his fists. Doing so causes him to steal the opponent's weapon and then turn it against them. In addition, fist attacks are never blocked by spear-wielding Seekers, which are otherwise at least a mild pain in the ass. There's even a metal cestus you can buy that makes your fist fighting all the more effective.
- Strangely exaggerated in Revelations, where landing an unarmed 4 hit combo after dodging a Jannisary will take him out when it can take up to 3 armed combos to do the same.
- Averted again in Assassins Creed III. Though you can disarm enemies, taking on the sword-wielding Officers and Jagers with fists without disarming first will lead to them countering Connor and cutting him to bits.
- Super Smash Bros. has an egregious subversion of this, intended or not; though Link isn't regarded as high tier, Marth and Meta Knight certainly are. Young/Toon Link has come under fire as a possible subversion of the trope too.
- There's also the items, such as the beam sword and the laser gun, which can give an otherwise unarmed character an advantage in range and power.
- Ganondorf has a sword, and even brings it to the battlefield, but never uses it outside of VictoryPoses (Melee) or taunts (Brawl). This aspect of the character is a significant source of Snark Bait.
- In Grand Theft Auto IV, it is easy to disarm an opponent attacking you with a knife while you have nothing but your fists.
- Averted in The Godfather: The Game. If one of the enemy gangsters about to attack you brings out a baseball bat, lead pipe or other melee weapon, you'd better switch to grabbing him and taking him out fast, because the hooks and jabs of the unarmed mobsters are relatively small fry compared to the beating you will receive from the weapon-user.
- Ace Attorney Investigations example: Manny Coachen brought a knife to a surprise attack on a 72-year-old man and he still lost. Alba's a Badass Grandpa.
- In Call of Juarez, Juarez pulls out a knife after being beaten in a fistfight by Billy. He still loses, but only because Reverend Ray draws a gun and shoots him.
- Batman: Arkham Asylum subverts this. Enemies with weapons are significantly more dangerous than unarmed enemies, and even require different dodging/countering tactics. If a mook finds a gun, you'd better make him your priority, or you will be one dead Bat.
- Both played straight and subverted in Batman: Arkham City: enemies with stun batons still require you to hit them in the back and there's new shielded and armored enemies that require a specific method to damage them, but anyone wielding a knife can be defeated instantly with a specific counter attack as stated above and enemies with guns give you the option to quickly drop a smoke bomb when they spot you. Batman also has a special attack that destroys any weapons the targeted mook might be carrying so he or others can't pick it back up afterwards.
- In Modern Warfare 2 General Shepherd defeats Soap when the latter tries to knife him.
- Sam Fisher in Splinter Cell Conviction seems to love this trope when it comes to close combat situations.
- To be specific, he defeats an officer attacking him with a knife, with the knife ending up being stabbed through the officer's hand.
- Then there is this incident where another person attacks him with an American flag. The person ends up with a bit of flagpole in his shoulder.
- Of course, he is not above shooting people in the head as part of his CQB regime. And, to be frank, he basically beats up everyone no matter what they're armed with or even not at all.
- Averted in the Order of the Stick prequel "On The Origin Of PCs" where we first meet Belkar as he sits in jail charged with fatally stabbing several people in a bar brawl. He argues that they shouldn't have brought fists to a knifefight.
Warden: "It wasn't a knife fight until you started stabbing people!"
- Subverted in this comic.
- Completely and utterly averted in Sluggy Freelance, at least whenever Oasis and Kusari around. They're almost never seen fighting without knives, small scythes, or other sharp implements in their hands, and their enemies usually have quite a few stab wounds when all's said and done.
- Played with in Juathuur: both Bivv and Mijuu try to disarm Rowasu, the latter succeeding, but his use of a sword is actually a handicap. They both die soon after.
- Subverted in Survival of the Fittest, when Ric Chee and Bobby Jacks fight with Good Old Fisticuffs. When Bobby realises that, conversely to his expectations, he is getting beaten down mercilessly (by a guy with no combat expertise whatsoever) he pulls out a knife (well, scalpel) and immediately fatally stabs Ric.
- In the brutal pilot of Cause of Death, the slob grabs a steak knife out of the kitchen drawer. The killer is not amused. Well... he's amused a little. And then he pulls out a granola bar, with deadly results. Yeah, you read that right.
- Nyx Crossing, with Frank and the leader of the natives.
- There are actually several martial arts that have moves specifically designed to disarm a weapon wielding opponent, however, they're often nowhere near as flashy as in fiction. They're normally simple, disarm the attacker as quickly as possible.
- An interesting example is Escrima. This is one of the few martial arts where the novices start with knives and then move to unarmed combat after they have mastered the knife techniques. Needless to say practitioners know how to disarm a man.
- Real life: This guy brought a gun to a SNOWBALL FIGHT. Doesn't seem to have ended well for him either.
- This neo-Nazi held up a black man at knifepoint. Too bad he didn't read the man's shirt, which said "Spokane Boxing Club Champion."