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Improv Fu

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Dodge, duck, limbo dodge, jump, throw the trash can, drop the vase, spill the oil slick, slip and make a hit, and win without even throwing a punch. All in a day's work for Improv Fu.

A character's fighting style isn't so much as fighting as it is making up new and ridiculous ways to combat their opponent. Perhaps they don't like violence, or perhaps they never learned Kung Fu, or perhaps they just can't catch up. Either way, they find a way to be useful.

Improv Fu tends to involve quick tricks, trips, traps, a lot of dodging, and heavy implementation of objects or the environment available at any given moment. Sometimes the character essentially blunders through combat. Most of the time Improv Fu is played for comedy. May lead to Improbable Use of a Weapon if they find one they don't know how to use. A more specific case would be Within Arm's Reach (where a character is being brutally attacked and manages to just happen to grab something that they can use to fight back).

If The Strategist finds himself in a situation where he has to fight directly instead of just advising, he/she may use these tactics. Probably utilized by the Action Survivor as well.

Jackie Chan is the Trope Maker of Improv Fu, which he has done in most of his movies since the late 1970s.

It's essentially in-universe Improv for combat, a combination of Indy Ploy and Combat Pragmatist with a lot of Improvised Weapons. This is like an Indy Ploy specifically for fighting and while this is similar to Combat Pragmatist, the Combat Pragmatist usually uses "dirty tactics" to gain the upper hand rather than fighting indirectly to ameliorate their disadvantage.

Related to I Know Mortal Kombat. Compare to Confusion Fu. Usually involves an Improbable Weapon User. See also Geo Effects, which involves incorporating the use of the field and terrain to one's advantage or disadvantage (e.g. lava lands, stages with collapsing platforms, etc.)


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Codename: Sailor V: Minako Aino has shades of this, having gone so far to weaponize mosquito-repelling incense (to be fair, the youma of the week is a mutant mosquito with an army of the standard insects).
  • Fist of the North Star: Jyuza gave Raoh one hell of a Humiliation Conga with a fighting style he invented on the spot. The fight ends with him stealing Raoh's horse, Kokuoh.
  • Mobile Suit Crossbone Gundam: Tobia Arronax makes extensive use of this, thanks to his being a very quick thinker. His bag of tricks includes including throwing logs (and enemy machines), using a re-entry pod to disguise his attacks, and in one memorable instance crafting a balloon shaped like a bunch of bananas to distract a group of psychic monkey pilots.
  • One Piece: This is Luffy's main fighting style, as he'll use anything available to him so he can win. This causes his opponents to underestimate him because, more often than not, it looks like him fooling around rather than fighting seriously.
  • Pokémon: The Series: Ash Ketchum occasionally comes up with these in battles in order to counter a particularly tricky opponent. His most famous and popular one with the fans by far is the Counter Shield technique he develops in the Diamond and Pearl series.
  • Ranma ½: Ranma Saotome has this trope reconstructed, featuring an as-serious-as-it-can-get Anything Goes Martial Arts dojo. While the fighting style has some of its own unique characteristics, Ranma's most distinctive ability is being able to adapt with remarkable skill, something that comes in handy when forced to engage in all sorts of rule-restricted Martial Arts and Crafts.

    Fan Works 
  • To the Stars: Magical Girls are instructed to make up new stuff in combat, since that's how they develop and expand their powers.

    Films — Animation 
  • Kung Fu Panda: During the finale, Po uses this when fighting Tai Lung. During their battle, Po makes use of a tree, bamboo stems, woks, a fireworks cart — pretty much anything he can get his hands or feet on. This style of "make it up as you go along" baffles and frustrates the more formally trained Tai Lung.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Jackie Chan's characters are all about this. This is because the Chan man loves action but dislikes violence so he uses his own style which involves a lot of dodging and using the environment to combat his opponents. He's beaten people up with dresses, folding chairs, Legos, their own clothing, and most infamously a 10' tall stepladder. This is also true for his character in Jackie Chan Adventures. Chan is essentially the Trope Maker of Improv Fu, which he has done in most of his movies since the late 1970s, dating back to Drunken Master in 1978.
  • The Bourne Series: Jason Bourne is a master at this.
    • In The Bourne Identity, he uses a ballpen to great effect against the first killer that's sent after him and Marie.
    • In The Bourne Supremacy, he beats the shit out of a fellow former Treadstone agent with a rolled up newspaper and blows up his condo with said newspaper when he's done.
    • In The Bourne Ultimatum, he uses anything he can gets his hands on in a Tangier apartment, from books to towels. His foe meanwhile tries to hit him with a hookah, then grabs a razor blade.
  • Gamera vs. Guiron: At one point, Gamera swings on a huge horizontal pipe like it's a gymnast's parallel bars. No, seriously.
  • Kung Fu Zohra: The climactic fight between Zohra and Omar (her violent husband) is full of this. They use everything they come across in the apartment from a lamp, a rolling pin and frying pans to the door of a fridge and even a vacuum cleaner.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Almost Live!: This was comically sent up in the sketch "Mind Your Manners with Billy Quan". Billy and his antagonist would always fight using items around them as stand-ins for martial arts weapons. (In a computer room, floppy disks became shurikens; in a meat market, links of sausages became nunchaku, etc.)
  • Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger: The Green Ranger, "Doc" Don Doggoier, is a Lovable Coward who resorts to tricks like hiding in brush, Explosive Barrels, and even breaking out a squeaky mallet at one point. Then there's the episode where he mans up...
  • Power Rangers:
    • It has many examples of Improv Fu, but the most egregious one is that a lot of fight scenes throughout the series feature the Rangers fighting grunts in a playground and using the equipment to augment their fighting.
    • Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers: Billy the Blue Ranger of the team kind of sucks at fighting, but he manages by using this trope, though by the time he leaves the Rangers he's gotten much better at hand-to-hand.
    • Power Rangers Zeo: Occurred with Bulk and Skull when they were accidentally sent to a coliseum in another world and they get saved by another warrior, they have to face down a few guards and ultimately, they were able to take them down with the power of bumbling around.
    • Power Rangers RPM: Ziggy The Plucky Comic Relief became a Power Ranger by accident and out of desperation so he had no qualifications or skills to actually be a good fighter. Instead, he mostly runs around a fight scene dodging enemies or using nearby props as weapons and ways to protect himself. He gets better at hand-to-hand throughout the series though.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • ECW: Joke wrestler Mikey Whipwreck stumbled into winning, all the way to the World Championship.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition: The Drunken Master Prestige Class is precisely this kind of martial artist. While favoring bottles and tankards, Drunken Masters can use anything (farm implements, furniture, tools, etc.) to fight. As they get better at it, they can use ladders or similar long items as reach weapons, or tables as tower shields.

    Video Games 
  • Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions: The Spideys mostly rely on their acrobatics and super strength instead of any set form. Well, except for Noire, who somehow knows Chinese Kung Fu.
  • Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Frank West and Phoenix Wright fight like this because they're Action Survivors in a World of Badass where everyone else has superpowers or fighting skills befitting super soldiers and martial arts masters.
  • The Walking Dead: Season Two: If someone or something is threatening Clementine's life, she will survive the encounter, whether that involves running, biting, kicking, using anything that's lying around, or even letting a nearby Zombie have you for lunch. She'll do anything to get out of there alive.

  • Girl Genius: The comic has Heroic Freestyle which involves improvisation and getting hit a lot. Given that the only practitioners we know of are both two-person teams (the Heterodyne Boys and the Hoffmann brothers) it may also be based around team combat.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: Sokka is a Badass Normal warrior in a group where all the other members have Elemental Powers, so he has to work with what he has, be it books, stink bombs, or clouds. His ability to improvise plans was part of the reason the master Piandao accepted him as his student. Creative thinking, in his masterly opinion, is the key to victory.

    Real Life 
  • Krav Maga is a martial art that teaches improvised combat techniques.
  • Many self-defense courses focus on using whatever you have in your hand or around you to incapacitate the attacker or put him at disadvantage while you're running away.