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Fighting Fingerprint

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Alfred: Well, perhaps our cowled friend can persuade him otherwise.
Bruce: It's not that easy, Alfred. He's after Batman as well.
Alfred: But why?
Bruce: He fought Bruce Wayne and Batman. Fighting styles are like fingerprints. Kyodai knows that we're the same man.

A lot of people hide their identities. A lot of those people do so because they're doing dangerous things. Like fighting.

Of course, stories are only interesting where there's risk and drama and junk. One way to introduce some drama is to let someone figure out the hooded vigilante's secret. If you don't want to have the hero lose a fight and get unmasked, or do something stupid at a crime scene, there are other options. One of those is to have an opponent face or observe the hero fighting both in and out of the mask, and from that realize that they're the same person.

There's some truth to this. Fighting is one of those things you don't have much control over, so it's not like you can lie about the way you fight. However, fighting's a lot like dancing. It may come in different styles, but they're all working toward the same goal. It's not a fingerprint; it's a blood type. It might also be a way to Spot the Imposter.

Still and all, it works for the story.

This is a less meta-y trope than Tell Me How You Fight. Compare Cover-Blowing Superpower and Revealing Skill. A less video-game example of Damn You, Muscle Memory!, especially if the individual is consciously trying to obscure their "tells". Often the mark of a Master-Apprentice Chain.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Attack on Titan: Annie's ruthlessly efficient fighting style is unique. Because of it, Armin uses it as evidence that she is the Female Titan, and after she taught it to Eren, he manages to pull one over Reiner in their fight. Eren lost the first Titan fight against Annie because he recognized her fighting style and was distracted when he realized Annie was the Female Titan.
  • In Dragon Ball, Chi-Chi entered herself in the Tenkaichi Budokai as Anonymous to keep her identity a secret from Goku, who hadn't seen her since they were children. While Master Roshi couldn't figure out who she was, he immediately picked up on her use of his own Turtle School fighting style, which she got from her father Ox-King, Roshi's former student.
  • Played for Laughs in Durarara!! A vending machine flying through the air is enough for Kida to identify Shizuo Hewaijima at a 500 meter distance.
  • Fate/Zero: Beserker is a knight cloaked in a shadowy aura that obscures his identity, so it remains a mystery for most of the story. Saber finally guesses Berserker's identity when he is able to effectively block and parry her invisible sword, showing that he knows its exact length and shape, realizing that he has to be one of the Knights of the Round Table. He's Sir Lancelot.
  • Kinnikuman: Early in his fight with Kinnikuman, it is revealed that Physical God Magnificent is a direct ancestor of Kinnikuman's mentor, Prince Kamehame. Because of this, their fighting styles are extremely similar, something Kinnikuman and Meat gradtually catch on to, as Kinnikuman is able to subconsciously avoid taking lethal damage from Magnificent's moves because of it. Once Kinnikuman is fully aware, he starts utilizing this knowledge to start anticipating and better countering Magnificent's techniques.
  • In Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha ViVid, Einhart comes to realize that, while Vivio has the same body as the last Sankt Kaiser, Olivie Sägebrecht, they are not the same person as their fighting styles are completely different.
  • Mobile Fighter G Gundam: Domon figures out that a cloaked stranger is actually Master Asia after he uses a piece of cloth for a weapon and strikes his signature pose.
  • Mobile Suit Gundam Wing Endless Waltz: Duo recognizes he's fighting Trowa when he recognizes his tactic of excessively firing all of his weapons at him.
    • In the second to last battle of the original Mobile Suit Gundam Wing, Quatre and Dorothy are each using the ZERO System (an AI mindlink that induces a pseudo-Combat Clairvoyance) to coordinate their respective sides' forces. Despite having very limited knowledge of each other beforehand, they simultaneously figure out exactly who they're fighting from kilometers apart.
  • Inverted in Naruto. When Jiraiya goes to fight Pain, he assumes that it's his former student Nagato because they both possess the Rinnegan. However, when they start fighting, Jiraiya notices that Pain only uses Summoning Techniques, which wouldn't make sense, because Nagato has mastered every ninja technique known to man (or at least, every single one Jiraiya knew and taught him). It's the first of many hints that he's got the wrong guy or more accurately, it's not the real Nagato fighting him personally.
  • In Sailor Moon episode 100 (dubbed as "Individual Happiness"), Sailor Venus battles the Monster of the Week in a one-on-one game of volleyball — the ball is an energy sphere protecting the Pure Heart Crystal extracted from the monster's victim. In the climax of the fight, Venus makes a diving save that the half-conscious victim recognizes as the exact move that Venus performed earlier in her civilian identity.
  • Happens thrice in Tiger Mask:
    • Early on, Naoto/Tiger Mask tells the tale of a Tiger's Cave wrestler who had decided not to pay half his wages to the organization and changed mask and gymmick to not be recognized: Tiger's Cave recognized him immediately anyway from his body build and fighting style, and sent their wrestlers to hit him in the head until he went crazy.
    • During the Maskmen World Championship the mysterious Great Zebra comes to help Tiger Mask. Zebra consciously refuses to kick because he knows he'd be recognized immediately, but Tiger Mask identifies him as Giant Baba from the fact he almost used a kick but stopped himself at the last moment, getting him to notice his giant feet (the first thing he had noticed about him when they first met). There were other clues (the large size and such excellent technique he could have the upper hand in a deathmatch against Tiger's Cave wrestlers without using fouls), but refusing to kick was what got Tiger Mask's gears moving.
    • When Tiger Mask goes fighting into Tiger's Cave underground fighting ring, Mr. X recognizes him from his style. There's a twist: knowing that if he changed mask and gymmick he'd have been recognized and killed anyway before he could even go on the ring he walked in using his Tiger Mask gymmick, and the staff laughed at the apparent joke and just sent him on the ring without verifying his identity, at which point they could not touch him unless he was defeated and unmasked. Mr. X suspected he was the real deal the moment he saw him with his mask, as he knew who he was dealing with (by the reaction it was over the top even for Tiger Mask, but still in the realm of possibilities), but as he arrived when he was already on the ring he couldn't do anything.
    • Subverted when Tiger Mask fights his fake: the match ends with the Tiger V, Tiger Mask's third Finishing Move that he has only recently completed, but as the imposter had already imitated his gymmick, weight, voice and the rest of his fighting style the public cannot be sure that the fake didn't imitate even that. Turns out he didn't, and the one who won with the Tiger V was the real deal, but Big Condor can tell them apart because of the masks (Tiger Mask's has plastic fangs, the fake's has steel ones), not by the style.
  • In one episode of Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches, Yamada, a well-known delinquent around school who uses a trade-mark round-house kick to win a lot of fights, gets identified as himself after switching bodies with a female classmate when he uses the same kick in a fight.

    Comic Books 
  • In 52, Renee Montoya realizes that Batwoman is her ex-girlfriend Kate Kane because she uses the exact same punching technique (in addition to the other clues).
  • Captain America 411-412 (vol. 1): Cap, Diamondback and Falcon infiltrated A.I.M. Island during an annual weapons expo (protected by international law), disguised as villains Crossbones, Mother Dark and Jack O'Lantern, respectively. Unfortunately for Cap, this was at a time where Crossbones had already agreed to fight five opponents picked by Batroc The Leaper, to prove he (Crossbones) was the best hand-to-hand fighter in their ranks. The fifth opponent was Batroc himself, who immediately let Cap know he'd recognized his fighting style, but he'd keep quiet if he (as Crossbones) threw the match. When Cap tries to choke out Batroc to keep him quiet, a cohort of Batroc's immediately blew the whistle on Cap from outside the ring. Cue dogpile on Cap.
  • In Diabolik Natasha Morgan identified the false Walter Dorian (Diabolik himself) as the mysterious masked thief who had recently appeared in Clerville when he uses the same kick she saw the thief use on a security camera recording.
  • In Eternals (2021), Kingo Sunen pretends to be interdimensional overlord "Skullathar the Destructorite" to confront and distract the Avengers. He deliberately allows them to land some blows, but it's not enough to stop the Black Panther using his fighting style to identify him as an Eternal.
  • Tom "Pie-Face" Kalmaku recognizes his friend Hal Jordan as Green Lantern because they have the same right hook.
  • An amoral cattle owner recognizes Lucky Luke by how he shot his gun out of his hand like last time.
  • In The Punisher 2099, Jake is fighting a supervillain villain named Hot Wire, who can digitize himself to interact with electronic systems. Jake performs a Punch Catch on him, which he counters by turning his arm and ramming his elbow into Jake's face. Jake is shocked because it's a move he made up himself and there's only one other person he taught it to—his son, Dean Gallows.
  • SpiderMan: In the 1990s The Clone Saga, Grim Hunter, one of Kraven's sons (recently introduced in 1994), fights Spider-Clone Ben Reilly (as Scarlet Spider), and, after a quick battle, recognizes Ben was not the Spider-Man he fought before (which was Peter).
  • When Taskmaster tried fighting Finesse (who might be his daughter) so that he'll remember her (the modifications to his brain that let him memorize and copy skills instantly also prevent him from forming long-term memories meaning he'll forget her soon after their meeting), he realized it won't work. Finesse's fighting style is a mix of copied fighting styles like his own because she has similar abilities to his (which is why she thinks she could be his daughter), meaning she effectively has no Fighting Fingerprint.
  • In the Usagi Yojimbo story "Demon Mask", the Serial Killer antagonist who targets ronin (like Usagi) uses a unique slashing technique. Usagi later notices the local guards practicing the same technique and discovers that it's called the "Full Moon Slash", and their late former captain (who was murdered by a ronin in the past) was the one who taught them. Usagi puts two and two together and realizes that the killer is the late captain's father, who taught his son the technique, having gone insane with grief over his son's death and targeting ronin because a ronin killed his son.
  • Batman: Tim Drake was able to deduce that Dick Grayson was the first Robin from his acrobatic fighting style. More specifically, that Robin was able to do triple somersaults, something that the Ringmaster of the circus he worked for in his pre-vigilante days (which Tim saw back when the Flying Graysons were still performing) boasted could only be performed by a handful of people around the world.

    Fan Works 
  • The Dimensional Drifter: Yuya makes the connection between Judai and Sora when he notices that both are experts in Fusion Summoning but are inexperienced with Action Duels. That's when he starts prodding Sora about his background, and asks Judai if they went to the same Academia, as this particular combination of skills is extremely unusual in the city Yuya's from.
  • Lucius Malfoy in Dodging Prison & Stealing Witches recognizes Lord Slytherin as Voldemort (or at least, someone possessed by one of Voldemort's horcruxes) because they have an identical dueling style.
  • Lampshaded in The Fifth Act. While discussing the swordsman who could best Sephiroth, Angeal asks Sephiroth if Cloud Strife could be someone he wronged in the past. When Sephiroth responds that Cloud's sword separated, Angeal and Genesis agree that such a unique fighting style would be impossible to forget.
  • In the Kingdom's Service:
    • Members of the Vale Secret Service use different weapons while on the job than they do in their day to day lives for this exact reason. Oobleck trains Jaune in knife fighting as knives are versatile, easily concealable, and vastly different than using a sword and shield. Presumably this also applies to distinctive Semblances.
    • Later utilized when Jaune faces an Atlas agent while undercover. Jaune recognizes her stance as one used by Oobleck but can't verbally state that he's a VSS agent so instead uses another stance Oobleck teaches, knowing she'd recognize it.
  • In A Ninja's Guide to Gotham, Hayate Gekko is able to figure out that Batman and Red Hood have fought together before and trained in the same style by observing them go Back-to-Back Badasses against the Fearsome Hand of Four. He quickly works out that they're family by carefully observing Nightwing's and his sister's reactions.
  • Liu Qingge from Roulette Wheel Of Fate comes to understand his shixiong has been replaced by another person entirely because of this; Shen Qingqiu isn't the Combat Pragmatist Shen Jiu was, being much more calculative and prone to redirect his foe's strength against them.
  • In this untitled Miraculous Ladybug fic, experienced fencer Kagami realizes that her class rival is one of the city's costumed superheroes this way.
    The weapons might have been different, and the security camera footage was hardly the best, but Kagami knew the nuances of a person’s fighting style; knew how they expressed themselves through combat. Every fencer had a hallmark; a signature they affixed to every battle with the tip of their blade. No two fencers fought the same; Kagami’s ripostes were second to none, her mother’s strikes were more Flemish than Italian, and her grandfather’s kendo lessons shone through every thrust of her father’s foil.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Red (2010): When retired CIA operative Frank Moses fights current CIA operative William Cooper for the first time, he quickly figures out that Cooper was trained by a specific agent due to his fighting style... because Moses was the one who trained that agent.
  • In Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Holmes and Watson deduce the identity of Moriarty's Dragon, Sebastian Moran, thanks in part to Moran's Improbable Aiming Skills. Moran assassinates someone with a rifle shot at a 650 yard range in a 7-8mph wind; Watson claims there are only half a dozen marksmen in Europe with enough skill to shoot accurately under such conditions, and when Holmes finds a discarded cigarette at the scene of the crime, he recognizes the blend as the same brand of Afghan tobacco that Watson smokes and concludes the killer must be the only man out of that half-dozen to have served the British Army in Afghanistan.
  • In the Wachowskis' Speed Racer, Speed suspects Racer X of being his Long-Lost Relative Rex, because Racer X drives in the same distinctive way Rex did.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990): After the battle Tatsu led against the turtles in April's antique shop, Shredder ruminates on Tatsu's report of the fight, causing Tatsu to ask what the issue is. Shredder clearly had this trope in mind when he answers "Something about the way you describe their fighting. Something familiar. Something... from the past." He would later find out the turtles were taught by the former pet rat of his arch nemesis Hamato Yoshi.
  • This is a plot point in the movie Undefeatable. The main villain (a Serial Killer who gouges out the eyes of women who resemble his estranged wife) practices a hybrid fighting style. The main character attacks a rival gang because she recognises one of the styles he used on one of the victims as the one they use.

  • Brotherhood of the Rose by David Morrell. CIA agents Romulus and Remus assume that Mossad is sending assassins after them, because they're using Israeli hand-to-hand techniques unique to that intelligence service. The two agents were sent by their CIA handler on a special course to Israel so they'd also learn this technique. However this turns out to be a clue of a different kind, when they belatedly realize they're being hunted by their own counterparts, Mossad-trained CIA assassins sent by their own handler.
  • Drenai: In The King Beyond the Gate, a Scarily Competent Tracker pursuing Tenaka Khan manages to identify his quarry based on a pair of footprints in the middle of a battlefield. The prints show that someone, during the fighting, leapt into the air and spun around to deliver a cut, and the tracker knows that Tenaka is the only person insane enough to try a leapspin in a serious fight, especially when outnumbered, as well as good enough to actually pull it off.
  • In the Harry Potter series, the Expelliarmus Spell is this to Harry. Becomes a bit of a problem when he is supposed to be hiding behind several people disguised as him, because it helps the Death Eaters to recognize their main target. It started out as just being one of the few dueling spells Harry knew, but it worked out so well for him initially that for the next several books he made little effort to learn more and almost always defaulted to casting it. This turned out to be a poor choice.
  • Inheritance Cycle: In Eldest, Eragon figures out his opponent's identity during the climax when he recognizes a sword flourish.
  • The King Killer Chronicle: One of the villagers concludes innkeeper Kote must be a wizard in hiding because when the inn is attacked Kote reaches for a specially prepared bottle instead of the sword he keeps behind the bar.
  • Vorkosigan Saga: Miles and his bodyguard Bothari are able to identify Baz Jesek as being not just Barrayaran (which, in fairness, they already knew), but specifically Barrayaran ex-military, by the knife-fighting stance he drops into when he perceives them as a threat. That he is an ex-military man who refuses to identify himself to the authorities, even though it would make his life a lot easier, lets Miles infer that he's a deserter without much further mental effort.
  • In The Witcher, Bonhart figures out Ciri's identity after watching her fight. As a competent swordsman himself, he realizes her deadly fencing is essentially improvisational, which was a hallmark of witchers' fencing. Given that witcher-trained girls were, shall we say, uncommon, the rest was more or less a formality.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Arrow:
    • Helena Bertinelli identifies Oliver Queen as the Hood after fighting the Hood in one scene and watching Oliver fight in another.
    • As a former member of the League of Assassins, Damien Darhk recognizes that Thea has the same training while fighting her, and jokingly asks how Ra's al Ghul is doing, unaware that he's talking to the current Ra's daughter.
    • During the wedding fight in the Crisis on Earth-X crossover, Oliver ends up fighting a masked man, wielding a bow and matching him blow for blow. Oliver has his suspicions about the identity of the attacker, which are proven right, when Oliver-X unmasks himself during their next encounter. It's a little strange that their fighting styles are identical, since Oliver's is based on a mix of what he learned on Lian Yu, from The Mafiya and the League of Assassins.
  • In the Burn Notice episode "Comrades", Michael Westen (in one of his narrative spy tips) talks about the importance of knowing different fighting styles and remembering which one to use depending on your cover. In the episode he was posing as a Russian Mafiya mook and so had to use a fighting style called Sambo.
    Michael (voice-over): A fight is one of the quickest ways to tell if someone isn't who they say they are. If you say you are Russian but fight like an American, consider your cover blown, which means you better know Sambo, the mixed martial art of Russia. Of course, you also have to win the fight; a great cover ID doesn't help much if you're dead.
  • In an early episode of Chuck, Sarah recognizes the masked woman who attacks her in her apartment as "Carina" because she always telegraphs her punches. Or so she claims.
  • Daredevil (2015): Matt Murdock visits Wilson Fisk in prison and is disturbed to realise he is basically running the place, shown when Murdock angers Fisk enough that Fisk reveals his handcuffs are loose and starts beating on Murdock and vowing to get his revenge on him and all his friends for putting him in jail once he gets out. Murdock manages to punch him in self-defence before getting out of there, and Fisk goes back to his cell...and it dawns on him that the last person to hit him like that was Daredevil, so he orders the files they have on Murdock brought in for a closer look.
  • In the Intelligence episode "Patient Zero" Gabriel does this when he and Riley are ambushed by black-ops operatives while tracking the eponymous loose bioweapon test subject.
    Gabriel: Last time I felt a hammer strike like that was at Fort Benning, Georgia.
    Riley: So we just got our ass kicked by US Special Forces.
  • Kamen Rider Gaim: Used as a plot point. Oren Pierre Alfonso (Armored Rider Bravo) interferes in a bout between Gaim and Zangetsu, claiming the latter completely lacked the elegance he had in prior fights, and then proves it via outmaneuvering and flooring him. He's right. Mitsuzane had been impersonating his older brother, Takatora, the latter of whom Oren had a mancrush on.
  • Eliot, the hitter on the Leverage team, often identifies opponents like this. One of his catchphrases is, "It's a very distinctive <style of knife fighting, fighting stance, punch, etc.>".
  • Luke Cage (2016): Luke Cage panics at the prospect of Shades (who was also a Seagate inmate and is now in Harlem working for Cottonmouth) recognizing Luke and revealing his true identity as Carl Lucas, escaped prisoner. For his part, Shades doesn't recognize Luke when they casually interact... until he witnesses Luke fight a bunch of Cottonmouth's men, and recognizes his fighting style from when Luke had been in Forced Prize Fights while an inmate.
  • On Nikita, Nikita recognizes her opponent, even with the hood, because of his fighting abilities in the second season episode "Doublecross".
  • Person of Interest. At the start of Season 4, Team Machine is hiding from Artificial Intelligence Samaritan. While handling the case of the week, John Reese does a Dynamic Entry with a Grenade Launcher, followed by a Bar Brawl with Destination Defenestration and Perp Sweating, only to be knocked unconscious and dragged out of there by Sameen Shaw, as he's doing all his signature moves which will only draw Samaritan onto them.
  • Power Rangers:
    • Referenced in Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers. Faced with Trini and the Monster of the Week shapeshifted into her, Jason suggests they both attack him, as he knows the real Trini's fighting style. The monster actually gives himself away by being way too eager, whereas the real Trini refused to fight a friend.
    • In Power Rangers Wild Force, Alyssa's father discovers the White Ranger is his daughter when he sees her fight in full costume.
  • Treadstone. A CIA agent is shown a security video of some psycho who killed everyone in a 7/11 store. On further study however, he notes the smooth one-handed draw, the fast yet accurate shooting, and rather than just shooting from right to left like most right-handed shooters would, the shooter selected his targets on the basis of threat level—from the youngest and physically fit to the oldest—showing calm thinking under pressure. All of which fit a Treadstone Super-Soldier.
  • A mild example in Warehouse 13, where Helena explains how she figured out that Time Travel was possible. The night her daughter was killed in a home invasion, her maid tried to fight off the burglars. When questioning one of the burglars, she realized that the maid was using Kempo, Helena's favored fighting style, which the maid didn't know. Thus, she knew that she would one day build a time machine and use Mental Time Travel to possess her maid.
  • Another mild example in Zorro, when confronted by a man considered to be the best swordsman in California while in the presence of Monasterio, Diego had to balance defending himself and not revealing that he actually knows how to fight. Despite his best efforts and deliberately using wild and unwieldy strikes, Monasterio started to figure out he is Zorro because he actually won the fight - forcing Diego to come up with ways to discredit the Commandante later on in the arc.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • While Sting was away from WCW, the nWo introduced a fake Sting to try and convince people Sting had joined them. When the real Sting did return to WCW, he had abandoned his old Surfer Dude gimmick for a new "Crow" gimmick that even the fans didn't recognize him, much less the nWo...until Crow Sting attacked nWo Sting, leading to the nWo themselves to admit their Sting was a pale imitation compared to the real thing.
  • It quickly became clear in what was supposed to be a rookie Battle Royal for the Ring of Honor academy trainees of Pro Wrestling RESPECT that Ninja was not quite himself. As the match went on, it then became obvious he wasn't a rookie at all but Austin Aries.
  • Subverted in TNA regarding Suicide. Don West had figured out through observing him that Suicide was Christopher Daniels and accused Daniels of using a mask to earn two paychecks from TNA. But by the time West had figured this out and Daniels had reappeared, he had given the Suicide suit back to his good friend and future tag team partner Frankie Kazarian, who he was simply filling in for at the time due to an injury. This also caused something of a subversion when once again, Austin Aries decided to steal another wrestler's identity. So many people had been Suicide at that point no one found it too odd to see him wrestling like Aries until the current Suicide made it clear Aries was not a "legitimate" inheritor and changed his name to Manik to distance himself from the Aries impostor.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In the Champions system, the ability to do this is called "Analyze Style."
  • Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition:
    • The Tome of Battle – Book of Nine Swords features new Supernatural Martial Arts divided in nine disciplines. Along with them is introduced a new skill, Martial Lore, working similarly to the older Spellcraft and Psicraft skills, allowing to identify through observation the maneuvers used and/or disciplines known by a martial adept.
    • The mirror move arcane spell allows the caster to mimic the uses of some feats (mostly martial-oriented) than she's seen in use recently. The spell description points out that it isn't just the feat's advantage that is gained, but also the specific style of the character emulated, and that it can be recognized by someone familiar with it on a successful spot check.
  • GURPS has the Style Familiarity perk which you can usually get only by learning the style. The main benefit is partial immunity to Deceptive Attacks from fellow practitioner.
  • Pathfinder's Vigilante class has this as a drawback on their vigilante talent abilities. While they can use vigilante talents in both their social and vigilante identities, using one while in their social identity not only forces them to make a Disguise skill check against anybody who witnesses it, but it also doesn't allow them to use the substantial Disguise bonus they would normally get against someone who suspects them of being more than just "John Smith the filing clerk".

    Video Games 
  • Ace Combat:
    • In Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War, as Pops and the Wardog squadron flee from the 8492nd squadron, the leader of the 8492nd notices Pops’ flying style and realizes that he’s actually Huckenbein the Raven, an ace pilot who betrayed his homeland during the Belkan War.
    • Inverted in Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown. When Trigger has his final showdown with Mihaly, Count, Húxiän, and Jeager all notice how Mihaly was flying like the drone that Trigger and Count had encountered in "Transfer Orders". They then realize that it was the other way around, and that it was the drone that was flying like Mihaly. The Final Boss, Hugin and Munin, also had their flying styles based off of Mihaly.
  • Played for Laughs by some of the Enemy Chatter after the ending of Batman: Arkham Knight. As it turns out, one of the random thugs Bruce Wayne beat up in the beginning of Arkham City noticed that he fought like Batman. But he thought the realization was just a concussion at the time.
  • Fear & Hunger: Termina: The Kaiser knows Leg Sweep, just like his former self Le'garde.
  • Fire Emblem:
    • Greil from Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance immediately identifies the completely anonymous Black Knight as one of his former students after exchanging blows and hearing his manner of speech. In Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, Ranulf identifies him after fighting him in costume and out of costume, and also acknowledges his scent. After being told about his identity, Ike confirms it after clashing with him out of costume and claims it makes perfect sense in hindsight because their fighting style is identical.
      • Also, this is used to recruit Tauroneo in the first game. He and Ike exchange blows, and Tauroneo immediately recognizes Greil’s fighting style. Once he learns that his opponent is Greil’s son, he lays down his weapon and refuses to fight the offspring of someone he has so much respect for.
    • In both Fire Emblem: Awakening and Fire Emblem Warriors, "Marth" says she learned to fight from her father. Since she uses the same fighting style as Chrom, who is self-taught, this serves as a big clue that "Marth" is actually Chrom's child from the future.
  • When Sora faces "Ansem" in Kingdom Hearts II completely concealed in an Organization Black cloak, he's able to guess that it's actually Riku based on fighting style and signature weapon.
  • The King of Fighters XV: Krohnen has an almost identical moveset to K9999 because they are one and the same. Maxima even picks up on it:
    Maxima: Virtually no deviation from older data. Maybe you can beat me... In your dreams.
  • In League of Legends, Yasuo is wrongfully accused of murdering his master because he was killed using a wind blade technique that only Yasuo is known to have mastered. (Also he was killed while he was believed to be alone save for Yasuo, who was supposed to be guarding him, but skipped out to fight against the Noxus armies. They do have a pretty good case.)
  • In Like a Dragon: Ishin!, this is a major plot point that drives the first half of the game. Sakamoto Ryoma's Parental Substitute, Yoshida Toyo, is murdered by a masked individual, with a unique sword style that proves capable of holding back both Ryoma and Takechi Hanpeita, each skilled swordsmen that are formidable in combat, at bay. Accidentally blamed for Toya's murder, Ryoma only has the assailant's unique swordplay as an identifying mark whilst he tries to Clear My Name. He eventually discovers it's the Tennen Rishin style, drawing from various assets such as jujutsu, staff combat, and old martial arts, with a focus on function over form, the only practitioners of which relocated to Kyo and were eventually turned into the leaders of the Shinsengumi because of their fearsome swordplay. Having crossed blades with the assassin once, he infiltrates the Shinsengumi under the identity of 'Saito Hajime', looking for opportunities to observe their members in a fight to identify which one is the killer he's looking for. As it turns out, apparently aware that his unique swordplay would identify him too much, the killer only used the style's foundational techniques when clashing against Ryoma, and each member proves to have adapted their own unique take on the style when going all-out.
  • LISA the Painful: When the player fights Rando at the end of the game, he uses Brad's Buster Punches, hinting towards him being one of Brad's former martial arts students.
  • In Sleeping Dogs (2012), Conroy, a member of the Triad branch you infiltrate comments that the player, Wei Shen, is good with his fists. He also says that he knew an undercover cop who was also good with his fists that they ended up torturing to death. He drops the suspicions when you start killing other Triad members since undercover cops aren't supposed to kill (Wei is a Cowboy Cop type and his officers are somewhat apathetic to the bodycount if he gets result).
  • Shows up in a way in Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth. Near the start of the game, the Pillar General Mikazuchi challenges Oshtor, another Pillar general, to a duel. As these two are warriors that have known each other for years to the point of seeing each other as brothers, they have of course dueled plenty of times before, knowing how the other fights down to instinct. However after a single blow against Oshtor, Mikazuchi simply stops and asks "Who are you?!". This of course a result of the fact that this "Oshtor" is an imposter who took up the mantle of the real one following his death, so of course their fighting styles don't match.
  • Wing Commander IV: The Price of Freedom: A particular technique, practiced only by the most reckless of fighter pilots, involves dropping a mine and waiting until the last possible second before engaging the engines, and using the shockwave from the mine's explosion to propel the fighter away. It's eventually used to connect the Ace Pilot "Seether" with a series of atrocities against civilians.
  • In Xenoblade Chronicles 1, Metal Face attacks Dunban with a move only used by his old comrade Mumkhar. In fact, the disguised character did this deliberately for the express purpose of taunting Dunban.

  • In this The Order of the Stick strip, Roy correctly guesses that the warrior the Order is fighting is not Thog, but is actually an impostor, by observing his fighting style. Amongst other things, the impostor relies on defense and counter-attack in contrast to Thog's offensive fighting style, and he also leads with his other foot.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: This is the problem with bending powers. They can only be mastered by the people of the Elemental Nation corresponding to them, meaning that if you use, for example, waterbending, you're sure to be recognized to be a member of the Water Tribe. This applies especially to Aang, who (as the title of the series suggests) is the last airbender, so if he uses his powers, everyone can figure out that he's the Avatar.
    • Another thing that can give an Avatar away is that they're the only one that can bend more than one element. Korra ends up exposing herself as Avatar this way in her first pro-bending match when she reflexively bends earth and water at the same time.
    • Multiple times when hiding his identity, Zuko tries to avoid firebending by fighting with swords instead. It doesn't always work out:
      • In his guise as the Blue Spirit, he breaks into Admiral Zhao's prison and fights the guards with just his swords. His cover is blown when Zhao recognizes that Zuko and the Blue Spirit own the same pair of swords.
      • Zuko was also forced to out himself as a firebender while defending an Earth Kingdom village he was staying in from some Earth Kingdom soldiers who were abusing their authority. He was doing fine with just his swords until the leader of the group proved to be a strong enough earthbender that Zuko had to go all-out in order to win. Afterward, he had to flee the village he'd just saved.
      • Jet tries at one point forcing Zuko to use his firebending so the people of Earth Kingdom would realise he's a citizen of the Fire Nation hiding in their country. The reason why he knew Zuko to be a firebender in the first place is because his uncle used firebending to warm up his tea.
    • The Gaang subverts this at one point, using airbending to mimic the effects of earthbending to fool some Fire Nation soldiers.
    • Aang also intentionally did this (using the marble trick,) to prove he was The Avatar when captured on Kiyoshi Island. Unlike other examples, this lead him to being treated like a celebrity seeing as how he was the latest incarnation of said island's founder.
    • This trope is also what allows Tarrlok to realize that Amon is his long-lost brother, Noatak. When Amon de-bends him, Tarrlok recognizes the sensation as being that of his brother's bloodbending.
  • In the Batman: The Animated Series episode "Night of the Ninja", the titular ninja kidnaps Bruce Wayne and the journalist Summer Gleeson, and Bruce deliberately fights below his actual skills as long as Summer is a witness, because of this trope (billionaire Bruce Wayne isn't known for his martial skills). However, Bruce eventually turns back to his actual style once Robin manages to blind Summer,note  and this very fight results in the ninja figuring out that Bruce is Batman, because they both studied martial arts under the same master in the past and had fought before.
  • Star Wars Rebels: In "Rise of the Old Masters", the Grand Inquisitor is able to figure out who Kanan's master was (Depa Billaba) based on his fighting style...and the fact that Kanan doesn't use it correctly shows that he is Incompletely Trained (he was a 14-year-old padawan when Order 66 came down).
  • Sym-Bionic Titan had a situation like this. One of the team's acquaintances had a fighting style distinctive to the royal guard of Galaluna, which Lance instantly recognized because he is a member of the royal guard. It's strongly implied that the man in question was trained by Lance's long-missing father.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987):
    • The pilot episode has The Shredder recognize the Turtles' fighting style as the Foot Technique, which tips him off to the survival of his old enemy, Hamato Yoshi.
    • In "Return of the Shredder", Shredder takes over a dojo and has the students form "the Crooked Ninja Turtle Gang" and sends them on a crime wave. While watching footage from one such robbery, Leonardo notes that the Gang leader's technique is familiar, with Donatello agreeing to have seen it somewhere. Leo reasons that only one of two sensei could have taught it, one being Splinter, the other Shredder. From this the Turtles are able to connect their imposters to their arch-nemesis and realize he's back.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012): Michelangelo befriends a famous martial artist and learns one of his secret katas. When Splinter sees the move he immediately deduces that whoever taught Michelangelo must have been trained by the Foot Clan because it comes from his arch-rival Shredder's fighting style.
    • This case is less egregious than most, as a Kata is a VERY formalized training set of moves. While Splinter only sees the tail actually COULD recognize a school by the kata.
  • In Teen Titans (2003), this actually works against Robin when someone new shows up wearing the Red X suit that he himself once used against his friends. After the entire team is effectively curbstomped by Red X, it takes some convincing for the other Titans to believe that it's not Robin this time (they first suspect that "their" Robin is either some kind of hologram or a robot). Why? Because the "new" Red X's fighting style is so incredibly similar to Robin's own. It never is revealed just who the new Red X is, or why their fighting style is so much like Robin's.
  • Inverted in Transformers: Animated. Blackarachnia already knows who Optimus Prime is, and she reveals this to him by pointing out how his fighting style is completely by the book. This tips off Prime that she knows him somehow, and she then reveals that she knows him because she's Elita-1.
  • Taskmaster tries to invoke this in one episode of Ultimate Spider-Man (2012) by impersonating a substitute gym teacher and using an obstacle course to identify Spider-Man. It could have worked, given that Taskmaster has the explicit ability to memorize movement patterns, if not for Peter's habit of under-performing in class to maintain his "clumsy nerd" persona. The other teen heroes at the school don't follow his lead, and quickly go down. The only reason they weren't given this trope was because Taskmaster was after Spider-Man and didn't care about who else he had to fight to get him.
  • In Xiaolin Showdown, Omi's old friend Jermaine arrives at the temple having become a xiaolin monk since they last met. During a sparring match between the two, Jermaine manages to beat Omi using a move called "Repulse the Monkey", which makes Omi suspicious because it's a move that had been used on him before—by super bad guy Chase Young. It turns out that Jermaine had been training under Chase, and was unaware that he was evil.
  • Played a bit tragically in Young Justice (2010). Artemis gets into a fight with her father Sportsmaster while masked and undercover. She tries to reveal her true identity by having her telepathic friend share her childhood memories with her father, but he dismisses it as a trick. It's not until she beats him up that he recognises the combat style he taught her and stands down. Sportsmaster isn't the best dad.

    Real Life 
  • While it takes an expert to identify a specific school or kata, even laypersons tend to notice if you're fighting like you've been formally trained in some form of martial arts, and this can draw unwanted attention if you're -for example- an undercover cop trying to gather intelligence in a Bad Guy Bar when the shit hits the fan.
  • Applies to fake fighting in movies as much as it does to real life; certain styles of movie combat are so distinctive that, with any familiarity with the movie world at all, you can easily tell the difference between (say) a Jackie Chan fight scenenote  and a Bruce Lee fight scenenote  even if the performer's identity was obscured. Applies to behind-the-scenes talent too; aficionados of martial arts cinema would almost certainly have recognised Woo Ping Yuen's style in The Matrix before seeing his credit at the end. Of course, the tendency of performers and choreographers to homage, and throw in Shout Outs to, each others work can confuse the matter somewhat.
  • A complaint about many superhero movies and TV shows by the early 2020s was that fight scenes had started looking increasingly generic. It turned out that a big contibuting factor to this was because there were a limited number of fight scene coordinators to go around, resulting in one person working on a lot of different projects and causing them to all have similar visual styles.


Video Example(s):


"Robots? Let's Rock!"

During their first fight with the Foot Soldiers, the Turtles discover they're machines, leading them to going all out. At the same time, Shredder, who is watching, recognizes their fighting style and realizes only one person could've taught them it.

How well does it match the trope?

4.92 (12 votes)

Example of:

Main / LetsGetDangerous

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