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Kung-Fu Clairvoyance

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In many action movies, particularly those based on martial arts, the protagonist faces insurmountable odds and must fight several enemies at once. However, he has the upper hand: his combat ability is far superior to that of any of the Mooks he's fighting.

The audience watches in awe as the protagonist beats down countless enemies, but if one were to pay closer attention to what was happening onscreen, a few questions would arise: How did he know the guy behind him was throwing a punch? How did he know the guy in the rafters was about to open fire? How did he know that knife was flying towards the side of his head?

Kung Fu Clairvoyance. That's how he knew.

Usually to illustrate a character's adept combat skills, they will be uncannily responsive to the action around them. So responsive, in fact, that they don't even need to see it happen to react to it.

The audience isn't supposed to notice this, though; they're just supposed to see that the fighter is reflecting every attack coming at him and assume that it's because of how amazing he is. Indeed, most action sequences are too fast or frantic for people to notice that someone is reacting to something they couldn't reasonably have seen coming.

When done well, Kung Fu Clairvoyance is not noticeable. When done poorly, it can break the audience's Willing Suspension of Disbelief and/or paint the character as a God-Mode Sue. Sometimes, Kung Fu Clairvoyance will be made obvious in order to point out how much of a badass a character is (for example, the Offhand Backhand or Badass Back), and whether or not the audience is willing to accept this depends on how well it takes Refuge in Audacity or if it follows the Rule of Cool. When such lampshaded, you can also expect an emphasis on the fighter's ear (or nose for guys like Wolverine), to suggest he simply heard the baddie coming.

While occurring most often in martial arts movies, and especially in fight scenes that pit one person against several, Kung Fu Clairvoyance can be applied to any situation in which a character reacts to someone or something that he couldn't reasonably have seen coming.

Not to be confused with Combat Clairvoyance, which occurs when a character can literally see into the future. Compare Offhand Backhand which is a single punch at an unseen foe. This may be justified by Killing Intent.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Rurouni Kenshin, Kenshin sensed a bottle that had been thrown his way, but he deliberately didn't dodge it, to protect Kaoru from being hit. Sanosuke calls him on it.
  • Pain from Naruto seems to possess this ability at first. Turns out his rinnegan allows him to share his vision with his other bodies. In other words, he can see whatever the other bodies see and vice versa.
  • In Ranma ½, both Ranma and Akane have been shown to sense sneak attacks a split second before they happen, giving them enough warning to dodge or block the attacks. Ranma mentions once that it's the ability to detect killing intent.
    • Ryoga has it too, and, on at least one occasion, he was aware of danger long before any of the other martial artists in the room (including Cologne) even noticed. Too bad his danger awareness is equally affected by his sense of direction...
  • In Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple, multiple characters, including Kenichi himself and the first Big Bad Odin use a technique called Seikuken, which grants this to the user. The more advanced levels involve maintaining eye contact with the foe to better read and predict their rhythm.
    • Odin in particular gains this once The Glasses Come Off, as it's the sign he's memorized his opponent's rhythm to the extent he doesn't even need to look at his opponent.
    • More generally, this skill is referred to as "the inner eye" and is explained as a sixth fighting sense one gets after years and years of training. The masters were astonished that someone as young as Odin had acquired this ability.
  • Explained in Hunter × Hunter. Characters capable of fending off attacks they logically shouldn't be able to notice are actually projecting their aura around themselves in all directions, known as an "en field." This allows them to sense everything from a distance and (hopefully) react accordingly. The downside is that this expends a lot of energy and is thus difficult to master, so only a small group of people in this series can actually apply it in battle. Even then, it's nowhere near foolproof: The character seen the most who uses it frequently is a Butt-Monkey and is rarely able to use it effectively.
  • GTO: The Early Years: In Chapter 169, Ryuji is able to sense a razor blade about to be swung at him from behind, in a dark warehouse. He promptly elbows the enemy in the face of his helmet, smashing it in. Later on in the same chapter, Eikichi notices someone about to stab him from behind, catching and breaking his arm without even looking.

    Comics — Books 
  • Batman always seems to know when someone is sneaking up on him, as do most martial artists in comics. Cassandra Cain and her mother, Lady Shiva have a version of this as an explicit ability.
  • Sin City has Miho who is apparently so good that she can fall asleep and know when a mook is just thinking about shooting her, as seen in Family Values.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Done to almost egregious levels in The Matrix Reloaded, where Neo does complete polevault-backflips to counter against a pouncing Smith, among other instances. Then again...
  • The Gun Kata in Equilibrium is actually based on knowing where the enemies are and what they'll shoot at before they do.
  • Justified in The Silent Flute: The Hero is a blind beggar. Bandit #1 creeps quietly, quietly behind Beggar, but because it's a kung fu movie, before Bandit hits Beggar, Bandit must yell out, so Beggar hits him. Then Bandit #2, Bandit #3 etc., etc., etc.
  • This happens all throughout Edge of Tomorrow and is justified by the fact that Cage is reliving the same day over and over. He knows precisely when an attack is coming because he already experienced these events many times before. Also, after fighting the Mimics for so long, he knows their movement and attack patterns very well and even without his ability he is able to anticipate what the enemy will do.
  • In The Book of Eli, the eponymous protagonist easily takes down multiple opponents including gunmen on nearby roofs practically before they can attack. All the more impressive given he's completely blind.

  • Spook in Mistborn: The Original Trilogy would be a Justified example. He explicitly doesn't have Combat Clairvoyance (which is an Allomantic power, just not the one he has), but he has enhanced his Super-Senses to such a degree that he can hear the whistle of a sword being swung at the back of his head and know exactly where it is, or hear the heartbeats of someone sneaking up behind him, or any number of other feats that fit this trope.
  • The Stormlight Archive has the ten Heralds, five men and five women given Surgebinding powers and immortality in order to lead humanity in their war against the singers. Millennia of constant fighting and the ability to make lethal mistakes and then come back and learn from them has honed their combat skills to a level that rivals actual precognitives.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Cobra Kai:
    • In an early episode, Johnny does a toughening exercise with Miguel by shooting balls at him from a pitching machine. After they've moved on to a different exercise, Johnny triggers the machine again and a ball smacks Miguel right in the head. He explains that a fight isn't always fair. Later, Miguel gets in a fight with some bullies; one throws a punch from behind, but Miguel remembers the ball and anticipates it this time.
    • Daniel is shown training this skill also. He has one student surrounded by the others, who take turns attacking the center one from different directions. Then they do the same in a walk-in freezer, where the cold is supposed to somehow heighten their senses and give subtle clues about the opponent's movements (like frosty breath).
  • Obligatory Buffy the Vampire Slayer example: the famous sequence in the S2 finale, where Buffy catches Angelus' blade with her bare hands and eyes closed. But then she is the Slayer, and her abilities are explicitly supernatural in origin.
  • And in the same universe, Angel catches an arrow aimed for his back, which was fired on him by Faith (when she's hired to assassinate him).

  • Another Truth in Television is the human ability to subconsciously predict the trajectory of an object. That is how its possible for the batter to make contact in baseball. The same is true of quarterbacks and receivers in football. Although receivers moreso than quarterbacks. For that matter nearly every sport has an aspect of this Trope.

    In baseball in particular, the clairvoyance is based on subconscious processing of visual data. One main difference between major- and minor-league batters is their vision. The majors players have to have eyesight good enough to see the threads on the ball so they can know how it is going to be deflected by its spin.
    • John Elway was very good at scrambling in the pocket and avoiding sacks (although he was still sacked a lot, thanks to the porous offensive lines he had to play behind during his early career before winning back to back Super Bowls) In one interview, he talked about how he would pay attention to shadows on the ground, as he could sometimes tell if a player was coming up behind him by their shadow, and his reflexes were fast enough to avoid contact. In addition, avoiding the sack was also made easier because he knew opposing players would go for his head in order to knock him out of the game (this was before the rules were changed to forbid targeting a players head). Since they were launching themselves high to hit his head, all he had to do was duck. This would leave players and spectators wondering how Elway knew that guy was coming up behind him and when to duck.
  • Similar issues to baseball apply for Cricket players as well, complicated by the fact that in cricket the ball is (usually) bounced along the ground once before reaching the batter, meaning the seam of the ball interacts with the ground rather than relying on aerodynamics alone like in baseball. The tricky part of it in the longer forms of the game the pitch (where the batters run and the ball is bounced) can become unpredictable to everyone involved and keeping their form together is the mark of the top players of the game.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons
    • As far back as First Edition, the original Oriental Adventures sourcebook featured the "All-around Sight" martial art maneuver, which negated any bonuses for attacks from behind.
    • In version 3.0 and 3.5, a few classes get an ability called Uncanny Dodge that give them this ability. They take no penalty to their ability to dodge or deflect an attack when caught by surprise, even if they are asleep at the time of attack.
    • The monk class also gets a dodge bonus to their armor class that applies even when they are unaware of the attack.
    • For a more proactive version, the Combat Reflexes feat lets characters make attacks of opportunity while flat-footed (before they're normally able to act in an encounter). Special attacks like a trip or disarm can ruin an opponent's attack before he even gets to swing, or a particularly strong hit may simply knock him out.
    • In 5th Edition, a character who gains the "Alert" feat cannot be surprised while conscious, meaning that they can move and act normally even when they'd otherwise be caught dead to rights by an ambush.
  • Champions has Danger Sense, which can enable your character to not be surprised by an attack. Make the roll by enough, and you even know where the attack came from, so you can counter-attack.
  • Similarly GURPS has a Danger Sense advantage. A number of cinematic skills also help recreate these feats like: Blind Fighting, Timed Defense, Precognitive Parry and Sensitivity
  • Exalted
    • The Sidereal Exalted are masters of Supernatural Martial Arts that allow them to read the strands of fate. Knowing the strands of fate allows them to know when a knife is going to fly at them, when another martial artist is going to attack or when that sniper three floors above is going to open fire with precision accuracy.
    • Solars have two Charms (one each in Awareness and Dodge) that allow them to detect and defend against an unexpected attack.
  • In the Amber Roleplaying Game, a character with high enough Warfare gets this. Benedict is a specific example; he's such an incredible military, tactical, strategic, and practical genius that he can anticipate a blow from an invisible, silent assassin, that he has no reason to expect.

    Video Games 
  • Particularly lucky snipers in Team Fortress 2 have an achievement called "Shoot the Breeze", where they kill a Spy that is invisible. Lucky Demomen and Soldiers can also earn achievements for killing invisible Spies.
  • Watch the intro cutscene for Mad Moxxi's Underdome Riot in Borderlands carefully, and you'll see Brick pull a 180 to punch out a Psycho running up behind him.

    Web Animation 
  • Madness Combat: This seems to be Hank's ability.
  • In Red vs. Blue, when Agent Texas brawls with Agents Maine, Wyoming, and York, she at several points dodges or blocks punches going at her back.

    Western Animation 
  • In Samurai Jack, Jack blindfolds himself to fight a trio of magically enhanced archers after he realizes they are blind and targeting him based on the noise he makes as he approaches their tower. By blocking out his own vision, he is able to focus on listening and moving silently in order to escape detection.
  • In The Legend of Korra, this is explained as the reason Airbenders shave their heads. They can sense air-currents through their skin, including the scalp, allowing them to detect opponents outside their field of vision by feeling the air displacement caused by their movements.

    Real Life 
  • In many forms of combat training, there is a lot of emphasis on constantly and quickly shuffling through all of the information coming through the eyes and the ears. The results of this can resemble clairvoyance: you make a few sounds coming up behind someone. They hear you and extrapolate where you are and what you are doing. Then they move and you think Oh, Crap!.
    • Or more basically, it's called "situational awareness" and is hardly limited to combat training.
    • Other amusing ways to invoke this trope involve watching reflections in shiny objects or feeling the air displacement on your hair.
      • An example that can be learned more easily is, when fighting hand-to-hand, to maintain contact after blocking a strike. You'll more quickly feel your opponent's movement, giving you a split second extra to react.
    • Many martial arts also emphasize the importance of keeping one's defense up at all times, so that even an unexpected attack can be deflected easily — which also seems like clairvoyance, but is really a combative version of Crazy-Prepared. Or Common Sense in any situation where one even might be attacked.