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Tell Me How You Fight
Eliot: The tall one, the way he used the knife—ex-marine, probably force recon.
Hardison: You I.D.'d a guy off his knife-fighting style?
Eliot: It's a very distinctive style.
Leverage, "The Homecoming Job"

...and I will tell you what you are.

You can tell a lot about a person by the way he fights. This is when a character's fighting style reflects his personality. Similar to Weapon of Choice except here, it's not so much what you use as how you use it.

For a weapon-specific version, try Weapon of Choice. When a person's specific identity can be deduced from their fighting style (not just general traits), that's Fighting Fingerprint.

Examples:

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     Comic Books  

  • From the comics Cassandra Cain, as Batgirl II, initially had trouble adjusting to being a crime fighter due to the fact her original style was focused specifically around assassination and most of her moves finished with a death blow. Damian Wayne also struggles with this problem when he becomes Robin. All of his training under the League of Assassins focused on killing his opponents, so he is less effective as a Thou Shalt Not Kill crimefighter.
  • Green Lantern applies this idea to their use of the Green Lantern Rings. For instance, John Stewart is an architect by trade and all his constructs are structurally sound, while Kyle Rayner is an artist and favors fantastic creations like Humongous Mecha. In comparison to both of them, there's Boisterous Bruiser Guy Gardner, who makes little more than blunt objects with his ring. After a body switch scramble that left mechanical genius, Steel, in GL's body, he had a lot of trouble controlling the ring untill GL suggested thinking of blueprints.
  • In the Batman novel Batman: Year One, Bruce Wayne is able to surmise that Selina Kyle has had Karate training by fighting her.
  • Sin City has a wide variety of combatants:
    • Marv was a Combat Sadomasochist combined with a Combat Pragmatist flair. He often went in with strong punches and kicks, sometimes using whatever he can get his mits on.
    • Miho used crippling and lethal techniques. She goes in with the quick kills with plenty of Gorn mixed in. If some idiot decides to throw some racial slurs her way, one can expect a slow and painful death.
    • Wallace is about as skilled as Miho but is closer to the "Quick, elegant strikes" end since he's much nicer and doesn't always go for the kill.
    • If he fights without guns, Dwight often uses high kicks, going for the Dance Battler method simply because he hates skinning his knuckles with punches.

     Film  

  • In the final scene of House of Flying Daggers, Jin and Leo exhibit mutually suicidal tactics. It may say more about their emotional states at the time than them as people, though.
  • Hero: Flying Snow is fast and elegant to Fading Moon's suicidal aggression. Long Sky handicaps himself by leaving the head of his spear covered for his entire battle with the Elite Guards.
  • In Fearless, Huo Yuanjia is portrayed in his fight with Qin Lei as a flashy and acrobatic fighter compared to the other's direct, powerful moves, which seems to comment on his gloryhounding personality. His ruthless use of improvised weapons in the latter half of their fight also seems to imply a great deal about him.
  • Jack figures out it's Angelica posing as him in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides when she uses a move no one else would know.
  • Though it's never commented on in-universe, the fighting styles of characters in The Matrix add another layer to the philosophy of the movie. Explained here.
    • In short, humans tend to have more fluid, flashy or distinctive styles based on the character (contrast Morpheus' kung fu to Ballard's boxing), while the Agents all use a generic karate-based style. Humans also use martial arts throws and wristlocks (Morpheus vs. Neo), wheras agents simply grab-and-heave, which works due to their incredible strength.
    • Actually, it does come up in universe in the second movie. Seraph (the Oracle's bodyguard) tells Neo he attacked him because fighting someone is the best way to get to know them.
  • Played with in the Star Wars Expanded Universe; lightsaber combat has many different styles that emphasize different things. They're not necessarily an indication of who the user is, though. Makashi is the style of precision and pragmatism...and is also used extensively by Count Dooku. On the flipside, Soresu emphasizes constant motion, always keeping the lightsaber moving so it's on its way to deflecting the next incoming attack even if it's not incoming yet. As one would expect, Obi-Wan, who doesn't put effort into hurting people, is a master of this.
    • The master. Not a master. When the man who invented his own school of lightsaber combat, and is Samuel L. Jackson, says "the master", you listen.
    • Speaking of Jackson's character, Mace Windu, the "own school" he created is Vapaad, a variant of a style called Juyo where the user feels and channels all the emotions and passions of battle, in near-defiance of the Jedi Order's stoicism and potentially skirting close to the Dark Side - which is all rather telling about Windu, isn't it?
  • Knees and elbows from Muay Thai, first made popular by Tony Jaa in Ong Bak, represent a sort of nuclear option in a hand to hand fight. The Protector took this further. Between the movies, there tends to be a progression as our somewhat pacifistic hero meets bigger and badder enemies: push kicks and palm strikes, to punches and kicks, and finally to knees and elbow. Of course, to use knees and elbows you have to get closer to your opponent, and in some cases jump on their head, but with some acrobatics one can land a flying double knees to the face, or double elbows to the top of the skull. But hey, that's what a guy like Tony Jaa (5'6" 136 lbs) has to do to beat Nathan Jones (6'11" 350 lbs).

    The principle is carried over from Real Life Muay Thai as well: Strike with brutality and precision and take out your opponent before he takes you out. Elbows are actually more efficient and less harmful to yourself than striking with a fist while at the same time providing ample knockout power, while using your knees instead of your feet prevents potential harm to your ankles.
  • In the Jet Li film The One, the homicidal Yulaw can be seen practising violent, straight strikes ("The fastest way between two points will always be a straight line") emphasizing brute force, simple attacks, and a straightforward approach to getting what he wants. Contrasting this, his good alternate self Gabe Law, practices a more flowing style, based around weaving, dodging, and flowing strikes. It's very useful against styles that forego finesse, and simply batter away at their opponents without much technique. It's almost ironic that Gabe is a police officer, and Yulaw is the villain, really.
    • The styles are Xing Yi Quan (Heart Mind Fist(?)) and Ba Gua Quan (Eight Trigrams Fist), respectively. The former is recognized as a simple and direct style that's easy to learn, but hard to master. The latter's famous for its circular stepping movements, usually used to strafe the opponent. Practitioners are usually encouraged to train in both styles to cover each other's strengths and weaknesses.
      • Nicely contrasted in the final fight. Gabe begins the fight with a more direct style, similar to Yulaw's, and possibly Xing Yi Quan itself. But there is a recognizeable point in the battle where he switches to Ba Gua Quan, which the overly direct, driven Yulaw cannot compensate for.
      • It also ties in with their surroundings; the fight starts on a narrow catwalk, where Yulaw is able to dominate. However, when the fight spills out into the open floor, allowing Gabe to maneuver, he gains the upper hand.
  • In the mixed martial arts film Warrior, Tommy, the aggressive, bitter brother, is as much a wild brawler and striker as he is a highly skilled and powerful wrestler. Brendan, the more even-tempered and calmer of the two, is a submission specialist that tends to win via technical groundwork.

     Literature  

     Live Action TV  

  • In Power Rangers Wild Force a character is able to guess the White Ranger's identity just by watching her fight. Justified in that the person watching the White Ranger fight is in fact a) her father, and b) the person who taught her to fight.
  • In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Faith's fighting style is described as being psychotic and out of control.
  • In Burn Notice, Michael must convince a Russian gangster that he himself is Russian and does so by using Sambo to fight him (Sambo being a Russian Martial art). In his voiceover, he notes that if you talk like a Russian but fight like an American, you can consider your cover blown.
  • As mentioned in the quote above, Elliot from Leverage, is a master of identifying somebody's backstory by how they fight. or how they stand, or how they walk, or how they chew gum...
  • In the Farscape episode Back and Back and Back to the Future, the villain is hiding her species through genetic surgery. Aeryn, however, is able to see through the ruse through her fighting style.

     Manga & Anime  

  • Naruto: The title character fits the unnecessary movement part to a T. This shows especially well in his fight against Neji
  • In Dragon Ball, especially (ironically) the early parts, this shows in most characters. Goku himself has "the mind of a child" and so uses an extremely simplistic style, jumping straight at his enemies and just punching them. When he uses special attacks, they're usually either just normal attacks with Kiai, really weird physical stunts or Kamehameha
    • Goku eventually gets training and starts to use a more stylized form of Turtle School martial arts. He continues to use it throughout the series and it might be what gives him his edge against the later absurdly powerful Dragon Ball Z enemies like Vegeta, Freeza or Buu who more or less just throw their incredible power around and blast stuff.
    • Goku, and some of the others like to use the Can't Touch This variety against inferior opponents, especially when it helps them show that, well, their kung fu has gotten stronger.
  • In Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple, this is played relatively straight with the Eight Fists, since they all have incredibly specific styles which are very suited to their personalities. The two foremost examples are Hermit, who uses a combination of Flynning and elegant, quick strikes, and Berserker, who, well, goes berserk on his opponents with dangerous techniques and little style.
  • Though it's never commented on, after a couple of episodes of Cowboy Bebop the way people fight tends to reflect their personality. Spike fights by using an opponent's strength against them, exerting as little effort as he possibly can. Tongu is utterly relentless, impossible to hit and always hitting where he intends. Andy is flashy, stupid, relies on fisticuffs, and most importantly utterly schools Spike. Applegheli wins fights simply by taking punches like a brick wall.
  • In Fate/Zero, Saber deduces that Berserker is someone who knows her true identity King Arthur. When Berserker's sword (Arondight) is revealed, the truth begins to dawn on her, but isn't until the mask vanishes that she realizes just who he is.
    Saber: Sir... Lancelot...

     Real Life  

  • In real life experienced fighters - bouncers, martial artists, cops, soldiers - can identify an opponent's training and likely actions based on a very small amount of information. At a very simple level a wrestler's pre-attack posture is very different from a boxer or kicker's. People with weapons often move to protect or deploy the weapon first.
  • Sparring against a person can often tell you quite a lot about their general personality, such things as self-confidence, affability, anger issues, overconfidence, brutality and a number of other points will all be visible in their fighting style.

     Tabletop Games  

  • Fading Suns allows the player character to specialise in martial arts. There are several kinds of 'em, and all of them are quite Troperrific: "quick, elegant strikes" (nobility favourite), two Combat Pragmatist styles (one for gritty mercenaries and the other for dark elf-like aliens), a fancy-schmancy flamboyant style (popular among most mystic and philosophical of noble houses), and so on. In fact, there's at least one for each of the patterns described above.
  • In the Dresden Files RPG there is a mortal stunt called Martial artist that allows you to identify an opponent's fighting style. Usually roleplaying covers which variety of fighting it is.
  • The "Analyze" skill in Hero System is most often defined as "Analyze Style" (martial art style, that is) or "Analyze Combat Technique". With a good skill roll, this can give you bonuses when fighting the person whose combat skills you analyzed.

     Video Games  

  • In Ryu Ga Gotoku 4, each of the four main characters has their own style of fighting:
    • The flashy, flamboyant Akiyama fights mainly with kicks, and also has two additional ways to taunt an enemy, as well as being easily able to manipulate the battlefield to pull off his more acrobatic moves.
    • The Big Guy Saejima fights with brute strength, and his moves are based on setting up the opponent for a powerful hit.
    • The cop, Tanimura, uses a (storied up) version of the real life unarmed style used by the Japanese police; it focuses on taking the target down and out as quickly (and non-lethally, but certainly painfully) as possible.
    • The Jack of All Stats, Kiryu, has a mix of the other three's attacks, plus his own Komaki and Secret Sword moves.
  • Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney: Zak Gramarye engages his potential defense attorneys in a game of poker for this reason. Kristoph Gavin misinterpreted this as Strength Equals Worthiness, as Phoenix had actually won his poker game against Zak; Zak, however, was not paying attention to the outcome so much as the play style...and in his game against Gavin, he (correctly) saw a ruthless streak that he deemed dangerous.
  • This ability is the hat of the Echani in Knights of the Old Republic 2.
  • The katana Kaga-To from Neverwinter Nights bears the inscription "Tell me how you fight, and I will tell you what you are" (which coincidentally is the full title of this page, intentional or not)

     Webcomics  

  • In Axe Cop, Axe Cop can identify somebody's allegiance by their front kick.

     Western Animation  

  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, as part of the Shown Their Work, everyone is this, as each of the four bending arts is based on a martial arts style with a specific philosophy. Airbenders are pacifists, flowing with opponents' moves and with an emphasis on dodging, and lacking any killing blowsnote . Waterbenders also have a lot of flowing movements and turn their opponents' strength against them. Firebending is extremely aggressive, and Earthbending requires solid footing and as much forcefulness as the rock it commands. You can also see noticeable variations of the same style in different users:
    • A good example is Zuko, who begins Last Airbender using an extremely fierce but stiff and unrefined style, reflecting his anger and frustration, but grows softer and more controlled as he matures and starts to deal with his problems in a more constructive manner.
      • In fact; Zuko, Azula and Iroh all use the same style, but even someone without actual training can tell that they're extremely different. Zuko is very stiff and aggressive, Azula is ridiculously cool and precise, and Iroh is relaxed yet terrifyingly powerful.
      • It carries over to the philosophy of three different types of Shaolin Martial Arts masters: Zuko represents a master driven by anger and aggression in his attacks. He's formidable but his emotional style of fighting compromises himself against the malicious and calculating Azula, who represents a master with a precise and malicious intent to kill. She's stronger than the emotional Zuko because of her increased control and mastery of emotion. Iroh, however, represents a true master of his art, in control of his emotions but still using them to fuel his fighting because of his reaching of Enlightenment.
    • Korra navigates an airbending training obstacle course with lots of energetic spinning. In comparison, Jinora's approach to the course is fairly clinical: she turns on a dime but keeps her upper body rigid.
    • In-universe in Legend of Korra, Tarrlok identifies Amon as his brother Noatok, despite Amon's appearance being totally concealed, by the distinctive feel of his bloodbending. Which is itself rather unique.
    • Desna and Eska are usually very quiet and expressionless, which is reflected into their waterbending, as their attacks never go above small but powerful stream of waters that they use with great precision. But they also subvert this trope by being dance battlers.
  • In one episode of Batman: The Animated Series, a rival who once trained with Bruce Wayne is able to discover Batman's secret identity by watching him fight.


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