Originally a Dueling Scar was a scar on the face, usually on the left cheek, resulting from being cut by a sword in a duel. They're part of the stock uniform for a sinister Nazi or obsessive, pickelhaube-wearing Prussian and have become a fairly common accessory for any sinister military man regardless of origin.
These scars resulted from a peculiar tradition, euphemistically called Academic Fencing—which is still practiced—mostly in the university towns of Germany, but also in Austria, Switzerland, Estonia, Latvia, Poland and Flanders. In Germany the weapon is known as a schlaeger, also known as the "soup-plate of honour" due to the large size of the hand guard.
In one of these bouts (called a Mensur) two students stand a fixed distance from one another wearing armor that covers everything but their cheeks, forehead and lips and attempt to slash at the exposed skin of their opponent. There are no points, you lose by flinching or dodging and win by getting sliced in the face. The scar that results is the goal of this practice, the bigger the better! Students would even go so far as to badly sew the edges together or even sew horsehairs into the wound to ensure a big, visible scar. The resulting scar is a Schmiss or Dueling Scar. Until World War II this was seen locally as a Good Scar as it showed that the wearer was educated and brave. In modern practice, these scars are seen more as a sign of poor performance than a sign of manliness, as the goal of a Mensur is to parry each incoming hit and more often than not, a bout ends after a certain number of rounds without anyone having incurred a scar.
If that's all there was to it this wouldn't be a trope, it would be mentioned in Useful Notes—Germany and that would be the last of it. However, a number of Nazi officers had dueling scars and after the war no serious villainous movie Nazi—especially a Nazi Nobleman—would be seen without one.note From there the dueling scar became a standard adornment any time casting wanted a quick way to tell the audience that this character was a military man and serious about it, even if the character was not from a country that practiced academic fencing, even if they weren't from Earth at all.
To qualify for this trope, the scar needs to be on the face and used to make a character look more militarized and badass. The scar need not necessarily be from a sword or an actual duel, although writers should get extra credit if they know the origin of the trope.
Subtrope of Rugged Scar.
- The female version of Prussia in Axis Powers Hetalia has just such a scar. And since she's Prussia, of course she's a badass. And, you know, German.
- In Rurouni Kenshin, Kenshin got half of his iconic scar in a "duel" to the death (it was really more of a Curb-Stomp Battle, but the man who gave him the scar had such a will to live that he managed to leave his mark).
- In the Leijiverse, both Captain Harlock and his long-time ally Emeraldas have left-cheek scars that are supposed to suggest this, though they are apparently genetic (Matsumoto's heroes are so badass, they come out of the womb with dueling scars). The origins of Harlock's scar are never discussed, but Emeraldas subverts or plays this trope straight, depending on the particular installment: in Arcadia of My Youth, she is shot in the face by a member of the alien occupation force, but in her own series, she had received it while dueling Goddess Siren.
- The already Batshit Crazy Dilandau gets one from Van in one of the earlier episodes of The Vision of Escaflowne. It only serves to make him even more crazy and dangerous.
- Guen Ban Chon from Area88 has several on both sides of his face.
- In the manga adaptation of The Legend of Zelda: Oracle Games, Link gives one of these to a Jerk Jock by cutting him just under the left eye.
- One Piece: Shanks' scar across his left eye - which consists of 3 parallel lines - was done to him by Marshall D. Teach, back when the latter was one of Whitebeard's pirate crewmen. To be specific, he wielded Wolverine Claws back then.
- In the Marvel Universe, Nazi Nobleman and senior member of HYDRA Baron Wolfgang von Strucker has a massive one covering quite a bit of his head.
- Captain Marvel, Jr.'s archenemy Captain Nazi bears one such scar marring his otherwise handsome face. He's bitter about it because he's supposed to represent the Aryan ideal but he has an obvious flaw.
- This is clearly a case of Didnt Do The Research since he's from a time when such scars were considered more handsome and manly.
- "Aen'rhien Vailiuri": When describing the Bloodwing's executive officer Sarsachen tr'Sauringar, the narration says that he was challenged to a duel by another Romulan Republic officer who took exception to Sarsachen having served in the Federation Starfleet for fifteen years (he has a dual commission). Sarsachen came away needing stitches on his face and has a scar under his eye; the other guy apparently spent a week in the hospital.
- Theodor Kretschmar-Schuldorff from The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
- The Princess Bride: Inigo Montoya has two scars down his cheeks, which is understandable, given his career as a swordfighter. They are later revealed to be a humiliation inflicted upon him at the age of eleven after the first time he tried to avenge his father's murder by Count Rugen.
- You Only Live Twice: The Donald Pleasence version of Blofeld has a dueling scar. Blofeld grew up in what was then Germany but is now Poland.
- Star Wars has a couple of examples.
- In Revenge of the Sith, Anakin has a scar beside his right eye which is unexplained, but is meant to hint that he hasn't been unscathed from three years of fighting in the Clone Wars. (An Expanded Universe work showed that he got it in a duel with Count Dooku's apprentice, Asajj Ventress.)
- In The Force Awakens, Kylo Ren (Anakin's grandson) gets slashed across the face in a duel with Rey, leaving him with a similar-looking scar.
- In the Flashman novel Royal Flash, which is a pastiche of The Prisoner of Zenda, Flashman has to impersonate a German prince, and since the prince had one of those dueling scars, Flashman has to be given a scar in the same place. Unfortunately the villains insisted on giving them to Flashy the traditional way, instead of just cutting him more precisely with a straight razor. Flashman later gets busted because the scars don't quite match the man he's impersonating.
- Glory Road by Robert A. Heinlein. Oscar Gordon considers attending Heidelberg so he can earn dueling scars. He thinks they'll be worth extra pay from a defense industry job.
- The two German recruits from the first day at boot camp in Starship Troopers have them. But it's blink and you'd miss it; Johnnie doesn't see the scars, but Zim's dialog indicates they have them.
- The City Who Fought by Anne McCaffrey and S.M. Stirling. The main character is a Wet Ware CPU whose onscreen avatar has a dueling scar because he thinks it's cool. Only one other character recognises it.
- Star Trek: New Frontier: Commander, later Captain Mueller. Bonus points for actually being shown swordfighting recreationally in the holodeck.
- According to a tie-in storybook based on The Lion King, Scar actually got his um, scar in a fight against a buffalo while complaining about why his parents liked his older brother Mufasa more than him. When Scar and Mufasa's parents find out that Scar now has a scar on his face, they reject him and make Mufasa the future heir to the throne, fueling his hatred.
- Hogan's Heroes: General Burkhalter has a dueling scar. Leon Askin, who played General Burkhalter actually got the scar while being beaten by members of the SS for being Jewish.
- Get Smart: Ziegfried had a large scar on his cheek, revealed in The Movie to be from a duel with his brother in Heidelberg.
- Implied in the Monty Python's Flying Circus sketch "It's a Man's Life In The British Dental Association" when Arthur Lemming is sent to the book shop where some shady dealings are happening:
Bookseller: Who sent you?
Arthur: The little old lady at the sweets shop.
Bookseller: She didn't have a dueling scar right here (draws his finger across his cheek) and a hook?
- The Planet of Hats in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Code of Honor" includes a dueling tradition; the leader has a large scar on one cheek and his subordinate, a slightly smaller one on the other.
- Vocal jazz group The Manhattan Transfer is known for their cover of the song "The Boy From New York City" (originally by 60's doo-wop group The Ad-Libs). The only lyrical change from the original version swaps out the line "You ought to come and see / His pretty bar / And his brand-new car," for "You ought to come and see / His dueling scar / And his brand-new car."
- In Psychonauts, Coach Oleander comes complete with dueling scar and pickelhaube despite sounding suspiciously American.
- In Final Fantasy VIII, Squall receives a scar over his face from dueling with Seifer, who receives a matching but flipped scar after Squall retaliates, making their scars a literal case of "Dueling Scars".
- Emma Honeywell from The Last Remnant bears several scars on her face.
- In Minion Comics the main villain, Von Gernsbach, has a stereotypical German dueling scar covered partially by a monocle.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender: Prince Zuko's burn scar. He's a young noble from a militaristic culture whose team colors are red and black. It would be more surprising if it wasn't a Shout-Out to the classic dueling scar, even though it turns out to be more a Mark of Shame (which technically speaking he did get during a duel).
- Arkady Duvall, a one-off villain in Batman The Animated Series, bears one from his days studying in the Heidelberg University fencing team.
- General Skarr of Grim & Evil.
- In Kim Possible, Dr. Drakken has one under his left eye. Like the blue skin, it is never explained why.
- Fearless Leader from Rocky and Bullwinkle, who seems to have been based on Otto Skorzeny, a real-life Nazi with a scar that was seen as his trademark.
- Adult Reptil in the Future Badass episode of The Super Hero Squad Show.
- The Twilight Sparkle of the future has one from the Bad Future she came from in "It's About Time" on My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. Of course the whole thing is a parody: It's just a paper cut from a future that isn't exactly bad.
- In Adventure Time, the assassin Me-Mow strikes Finn on the cheek with her knife, which causes him to utter to the page quote. However, Me-Mow isn't much bigger than her knife, so the scar's completely healed by the next episode.
- Ezra Bridger from Star Wars Rebels gets a pair on his left cheek in the season 1 finale from his first lightsaber duel.
- Otto Skorzeny shows off some dueling scars, and why most of the world views these as evil scars.
- Otto von Bismarck You won't see it on the picture, he had one (small) scar on his left cheek (he was a very good duelist, in his school days).
- Lazare Hoche received one right in the middle of his face in 1788, during a duel with a fellow corporal. It is especially noticeable on this◊ posthumous portrait.