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At Arm's Length

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"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 (or a foot if he's that short) 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 (Tsunderes are the most likely candidates), 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 
  • In Aria the Scarlet Ammo the titular Tsundere ends up victim to this by Kenji (he's One Head Taller, duh).
  • 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...
  • In Dragon Quest: The Adventure of Dai, when Pop smacks Chu for his attempt at getting Pop to separate from Maam for good with 2 gold pieces, Chu decides to pummel Pop in retaliation. Unfortunately for Chu, he's so short that Pop simply stops him in his track by placing his hand on Chu's forehead.note 
  • Doraemon: Nobita and the Green Giant Legend: Nobita's attempt to grab the abducted Kibo is stopped by Baruna, a giant eggplant alien who holds Nobita at length with a single hand.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Slightly twisted in Fullmetal Alchemist. When Ling calls Edward a little runt, Edward's attacks are deflected by Ling with little effort. Instead of physically holding him back, Ed's blows are deflected mid-air with Ling's palm reflecting the repeated kicks.
  • This happens to Lupin during his short-lived boxing career in a Lupin III: Part II episode.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Naruto: Itachi's "finger-to-forehead" flicks he gave to little Sasuke.
  • Pokémon: The Original Series:
    • Happens repeatedly to various characters, like Ash (pictured above).
    • For a creature example, Ash's Snivy once held the newly-hatched Scraggy away effortlessly with her Vine Whip.
    • Ash's Charizard does a leg variant to Casey's much smaller and weaker Chikorita.
    • Anthony's Hitmonchan does this to Ash's Pikachu when Ash attempts to capture him before finding out he belonged to Anthony.
  • Happens to Pretty Sammy in the fight against "Team Lovely Madams". She can't reach even though she's swinging her magical baton.
  • Vampire Knight: Happens to Yuuki Cross when she tries to hit Zero.

  • 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 
  • Asterix: In Asterix and Obelix All at Sea, a Roman centurion does this to Obelix. Now, this would usually result in a short trip to the stratosphere, but Obelix has been de-aged into a kid at the time.
  • In the Deadpool Bi-Annual, the Merc with a Mouth blocks Dr. Echo, the dolphin leader of Brute Force, from striking him by putting a hand on his head — since his cybernetic arms are jutting from the sides of his armor, they just aren't conceived to reach the front...
    Dr. Echo: Your attention to the etiquette of the rules of boxing leave much to be desired.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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.
  • Happens in Alad'2 during a boxing match, with Aladin (Kev Adams) holding Shah Zaman (Jamel Debbouze) at bay with a hand on his head — the latter being not just small, but also one-armed.
  • In All Monsters Attack, Gabara does this to Minya, then electrocutes him.
  • In Delusions of Grandeur (La Folie des grandeurs, 1971), Blaze (Yves Montand) holds the much smaller Don Salluste (Louis de Funčs) at bay this way while the latter tries to slap him as he's firing his valet.
  • 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".

  • The ColSec Trilogy: 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.
  • 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 Vorkosigan Saga short story "Winterfair Gifts", Sergeant Taura describes 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.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Appeared in the Battlebots reboot when Ghost Raptor fought Icewave — the driver of Ghost Raptor jury-rigged a long metal arm called the "de-icer" to his robot that reached over the top of Icewave's deadly spinning blade and caught on its body, holding it off and preventing it from tearing into his machine. Eventually, Icewave overbalanced and suffered Death by Falling Over.
  • Occurs in one version of the story in Diff'rent Strokes's "Rashomon" episode.
  • 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.
  • Friends: In one Thanksgiving episode Rachel gets into a Cat Fight with her sister Amy and ends up doing this to her while Amy swats futilely at Rachel.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Played for Laughs in Impractical Jokers when Joe tries to stop a little boy from pulling his pants down. It doesn't work.
  • In Shake it Up, CeCe does it to Henry when she joins his karate class, even taking the time to apologize to Rocky while switching hands to keep holding him back. Made even funnier when she lets go and Henry keeps running until he falls over Flynn.
  • 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.
  • In the second season finale of What We Do in the Shadows (2019), the Vampire Council levels an accusation against the characters (in the form of a play) about them killing the Baron. They claim that it was actually their familiar Guillermo who killed him. The Council dismisses this by having a child playing Guillermo attempt to attack a vampire, but he is easily held away by the vampire placing his hand on the kid's head.
  • Wonder Woman (1975): In "The Man Who Made Volcanos", a Russian operative who Wonder Woman is trying to talk to attacks her rather than listening to her. Instead of beating him up, she lifts him into the air and holds him up with her outstretched arms. This finally gets his attention and he starts listening to her.

  • Subverted in one Old Master Q comic when the stumpy, Fat Comic Relief character Big Potato get into a fight against a larger guy. His opponent easily holds him back with single arm before Potato runs off, but just as the opponent prepares to buy a soda for himself he realize Potato has pickpocketed him.

    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 
  • Acommon tactic usd to push a giant wrestler — especially if he is a Monster Heel — as unstoppable. The opponent will try to mount offense before the trope kicks in and the opponent gets a butt-kicking.
  • During Wrestling Go!'s 500 Fights Of Summer, the evil Blue Nation sent its Floozies to soften up SMS but Unsocial Jordan was able to hold off Charli Evans in such a manner. She did have the presence of mind to try and kick his arm but he caught her leg with his other one, rending her even more harmless(for a little while, SMS gradually had to more actively fight The Floozies off).
  • 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.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer 40,000: One of the propaganda illustrations in the Imperial Infantryman's Uplifting Primer shows an imperial guard holding a gretchin at bay this way.

  • 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 
  • In one possible way for Gabriel Knight to die in Sins of the Fathers, Gabe is held at arm's length by a bad guy, swinging ineffectually, before his brutal death.
  • Can be seen in the Just Dance clip for "Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting", with the sifu keeping his student at bay.
  • During the Rainbow Rocket arc of Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, Guzma holds back 2 Rainbow Rocket grunts this way, one on each side.
  • Grandpa Stinky does this to Max in Sam & Max: Freelance Police "The Penal Zone". See the video.
  • Sonic Generations: Amy is trying to hug Sonic, not attack him. She gets stiff-armed anyway.
  • The Walking Dead: Protagonist Lee has a joking argument with his friend Omid that leads to a challenge to a fight. As Omid is much shorter than Lee, Lee says that if he tries anything, he'll just do this.


    Web Videos 

    Western Animation 
  • An educational animation series was written by TV Ontario and describes the concept of Electronegativity in one episode. The animation per one atom as a small baby carrying to electrons, and another atom as a larger child that pulls the two electrons from the baby. The scene extends to a third atom personified as larger who then takes the electrons. Upon return to the scene, the second atom is held at arm's length, with the first atom crying as if the electrons will never be rightfully returned.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: Toph does this to Sokka. Unusually, Sokka is actually the taller and longer-limbed party, but Toph is keeping him from taking back his club, which she has in her other hand, sticking out in the opposite direction.
  • Big City Greens: In the episode "Chipwrecked" when Cricket sees Chip's bouncer squad dismantle the cafe and threaten his family, he has a Berserk Button and jumps at him to interfere, but one of the bouncers holds him back by an arm and tosses him back to Bill.
  • In the Classic Disney Short "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.
  • 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.
  • In The Fairly OddParents!, this happens repeatedly to Timmy (usually done by Vicky).
  • Family Guy: In "Ocean's Three and a Half", Carter does this to Bill Gates when he taunts him by saying he doesn't own a Zune and has an iPod "like the rest of the world".
  • In the Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales For Every Child episode "Robinita Hood" when Robinita meets Little Juanita she picks a fight with her, as she attempts to punch her Little Juanita holds her back with one finger.
  • The House of Mouse episode "Mickey and Minnie's Big Vacation" has the Pink Elephants doing this to Winnie the Pooh while eating his honey.
  • Scooby-Doo: Version 2 is frequently employed against Scrappy Doo.
  • Done by Sideshow Bob to Lisa on The Simpsons. Nelson also does this to Bart in an early episode.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants:
    • Frequently done by Mr. Krabs 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.
    • Once done to SpongeBob trying to get to work, when Mr. Krabs Lost Him in a Card Game.
  • Aqualad does this to Beast Boy in Teen Titans. Eventually, Beast Boy stops flopping around and just swats Aqualad's hand away.
  • T.U.F.F. Puppy Jack Rabbit does this to Dudley Puppy in "The Wrong Stuff" when he tries to fight him to rescue Kitty Katswell from him.
  • 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 their head, they'll 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 knows anything about grappling, the tall guy better prepare for a joint lock. An extended arm is just asking for an armbar or triangle choke.
  • Dave Evans once claimed to have done this to Angus Young when dealing with his infamous temper. However, not only does the above prove how difficult it is to pull off in real life, Dave Evans has a history of changing his tune whenever talking about his time with AC/DC.
  • Basically the principle behind a "stiff arm" (or "hand-off," depending on geographic location). In tackle sports like American football or various forms of Rugby, a ball carrier might hold his arm out stiff (thus "stiff arm") in order to use his hand to keep a defender off (thus "hand-off") his legs and prevent him from making a tackle. This works primarily because the ball carrier continues to run away from the tackler, and even if the defender recovers and makes the tackle, the stiff arm invariably gave the runner a moment to get his ass farther down field, potentially into a scoring area.


Video Example(s):


Silver Fist Holding Them Back

J.P. easily holds back a hypnotized Craig and Kelsey thanks to his height, but forgets Mortimer is on Kelsey's head and he pecks J.P.'s hand.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (2 votes)

Example of:

Main / AtArmsLength

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