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Never Bring a Knife to a Fist Fight

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Lesson learned: don't pull a knife on someone who knows Krav Maga.

Jame: I don't like knives!
Dally: Well, you've got to learn how to use one anyway, unless you want every flash-blade in town picking on you. You can't take them all on bare-handed...
[Jame tackles him bare-handed, disarms him, and pins him with his arm over his head.]
Dally: ...then again, maybe you can.

Knives are scary. A single glimmer from its profile has been known to launch a thousand screams of horror. They're eminently deadly and dangerously easy to use. In Real Life, if your opponent pulls one out in a fistfight, you should either start running or, if you are impeded from running, get an object with a long reach.

Not in fiction, though, where they tend to be utter liabilities in a fistfight. In a Wire Fu movie, you should never bring a knife to a fistfight, because fisticuffs is king. Knives, guns, and any weapon that would give the wielder an advantage in a fight, especially if they're blood-spilling and are used against an unarmed opponent, have the reverse effect. For instance, it would give the opponent like a Martial Pacifist, who may have been restraining himself to prevent the opponent from getting too hurt, a reason to now fight with full force to take the wielder down quickly, seeing as how the fight is now deadly serious. They also make it likelier that they'll never land a hit (Clothing Damage or minor cuts across the cheek or torso notwithstanding), and eventually get disarmed or forced to throw away their weapon.

In a good old-fashioned western, any bounder who pulled a knife in a fistfight would get involved in a down-and-dirty rassle on the ground, then fall (or roll over) on his own blade. A descendant general rule of Hollywood remains that the first person to pull a knife almost always loses.

Much like all products of the Inverse Law of Utility and Lethality, this applies equally to Heroes and Villains, though villains are usually likelier to pack heat or hidden knives. If someone does get stabbed, shot, skewered, or otherwise hit with the blood-spilling weapon, it was Only a Flesh Wound (though regenerators are exempt). Often goes hand in hand with finding out that just like weapons, Armor Is Useless. One way to exploit this trope is to make an immobilizing Knife Outline, as the likelihood of fatally skewering someone becomes zero.

Oddly enough, a dramatic death where someone gets skewered or shot aren't subversions, since they rely on the unlikelihood of such weapons actually killing for their dramatic punch; plus, the person shot usually lasts long enough to deliver an inspiring Final Speech and turn out to be Not Quite Dead afterwards. Instantly fatal stabbings or headshots are subversions, though.

Note: This only applies to humans. In Speculative Fiction, you can skewer and dismember as many golems, undead, Mecha-Mooks or whatnot to your heart's desire.

A common variant of this trope is the inversion of the original saying 'Never Bring a Knife to a Gun Fight': Fictional characters armed with guns will, more often than not, lose to opponents armed with knives. If the opponent is armed with a sword or other more fancy melee weapon, the gunman's doomed. This case is similar to Guns Are Worthless, except that there isn't necessarily a reason why the guns are weak. The opponent isn't Immune to Bullets, he just gets Plot Armor to ensure the gunman never gets a good shot before being impaled, much like the knifewielder won't get a good hit in while the fistfighter beats him to a pulp. Since both weapons are lethal, this version is driven more by a simple Rule of Cool instead of the Inverse Law of Utility and Lethality.

See also: Guns Are Worthless, Armor Is Useless, Bare-Fisted Monk, Heroes Fight Barehanded, Knife Outline, Could Have Been Messy, and Only a Flesh Wound.

A Sub-Trope of the Inverse Law of Utility and Lethality. Similar to Rock Beats Laser. Contrast Never Bring a Knife to a Gun Fight. Compare Never Bring a Gun to a Knife Fight.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Baccano!: Firo doesn't even have to mess up his nifty new fedora while handing the knifer his ass.
    • Ironic, considering Firo later uses a knife to disarm (literally) and defeat the Big Bad.
    • Justified because the knife cuts off some fingers... which immediately reattached due to Firo's Healing Factor. The thug is too stunned to do any more damage after that.
    • While the anime glosses it over, the Martillo Family are actually all expert knife fighters, which they view as more honorable combat then using guns (circumstances allowing), and all the capos must display a high level of proficiency at knife fighting in order to be promoted to an officer position (including knowing how to avoid knife based attacks). Firo happens to be one of the best out of the bunch, having been trained by Yagulma (who also taught him several martial arts), Ronnie and Maiza. Firo just tells Dallas he shouldn't pull a knife in a fist-fight unless he's seriously willing to suffer the consequences.
  • Reconstructed in Booty Royale: Never Go Down Without a Fight!. Misora, highly adept at traditional karate, is attacked in a public restroom by a hitman armed with a sword. She recalls her father teaching her the "Kendo Triple Dan": as an unarmed fighter must be at least three times as good to defeat an opponent armed with a blade, Plan A in such circumstances should be to run. Unfortunately the assailant is between Misora and the exit, so she throws down, and is narrowly able to knock him out before he can cut her.
  • In Case Closed:
    • In one of the murder cases, it turns out the victim was actually attempting to assault the "culprit" with a knife. Said intended victim was actually a master of Brazilian Jiujutsu and reflexively reversed the attack. In other cases, threatening Ran Mouri/Rachel Moore with a weapon is a bit of a gamble depending on whether or not she remembers her black belt in karate.
    • Also, in the museum case, the victim was literally pinned to the wall with a sword.
    • In Lupin III vs. Detective Conan, bumbling detective Kogoro Mouri is charged by a failed assassin with a knife- his response is to snort dismissively, tuck his hankie into a chest pocket, and then effortlessly judo throw the assailant to the ground.
  • Subverted in Dragon Ball Z when Future Trunks shows up wielding a sword and effortlessly destroys Frieza and King Cold, as previously weapons proved rather useless in the series. Later played straight when Trunks gets beaten up and his sword broken by the androids.
    • Using a weapon in the Dragon Ball franchise as a whole doesn't make much of a difference, as the winner of a fight will usually be whoever has the highest power level rather than who is most skilled, faster, and/or experienced. Pretty much the only character whose fighting strength relies on a weapon is Yajirobe, and even then he's implied to be pretty tough on his own.
      • And even then it's implied past a certain point that a characters bare hands and ki attacks will cause more damage than any weapon they could possibly acquire, best shown with Trunks who quickly finds his sword ineffective an starts relying on his strength and energy attacks shorted into the Android Saga.
    • A direct example of this trope is in Goku's 3rd Tenkaichi Tournament, during the fight between Cyborg Tao and Tien. When Tao realises he's getting his ass handed to him, he pulls a super-sharp knife. Which Tien promptly snaps.
  • In Durarara!!, several people hold a knife against Shizuo Heiwajima. This includes Izaya, Seiji and an army of possessed people. The latter two manage to cut him quite a bit. This is all pretty much irrelevant when he starts fighting. It's not that they lost because they brought knives. They lost because they're trying to fight Shizuo Heiwajima.
  • In Fist of the North Star, Kenshiro can easily disarm weapon wielding Mooks effortlessly, be it knives, or guns, and he lets them taste what they brought. There is only one outcome if you decided to play dirty and pick a fight with Kenshiro with a weapon: You Are Already Dead.
  • Subverted in Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu, when Sousuke is challenged to a duel by the karate club. Nobody thinks to tell him that things like guns, tear gas, and hand grenades aren't permitted. Hilarity Ensues.
  • A full chapter in Holyland (16, if you want to fast-forward) is devoted to demonstrating how to disarm a knife-user in a street fight. The narration also states that it only works here because the knife-user was an amateur and the unarmed warrior was an ex-professional kickboxer and karate black belt.
    • What it amounts to is basically what was described in Burn Notice quote below - Izawa grabs the punk's knife arm and beats him senseless. Though the narrator also notes that, unlike what some self-defence books say, one should focus on hitting the enemy rather than obsess over wrestling the knife away. Chapter 34 also notes that opponents might steal weapons away from an inexperienced user and turn them against him.
    • Later in the series, Izawa attempts to defeat a kendo user bare-handed, by using a pair of brass knuckles to block the sword before going for a surprise Alpha Strike. It fails due to a Game-Breaking Injury, and with the element of surprise lost he is defeated. Yuu takes up the fight and eventually manages to force a win.
    • Averted in the manga's Grand Finale: Yuu walks away from the final fight, the king of the street fight circle, and some random desperate kid with a switchblade (nearly-) fatally stabs him.
  • In Future Diary a young girl is lured into an old warehouse to be gang raped there. Her boyfriend reaches the place so that "only" one of the boys can rape her. When the girl's friend knocks down the other two boys, the rapist attacks him with a knife to stab him. The exact fight is not shown, but somehow the girl's friend succeeds in taking the knife from the rapist and stabbing him with his own weapon.
  • Kengan Ashura is a fighting series with a big focus on unarmed combat. As a result, not only pretty much all weapon users are portrayed as smug or cowards, but they also always lose against their unarmed enemies, with some rare exceptions.
  • An example of this trope happens early in Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple. A minor Ragnarok thug assaults Kenichi with a knife and he freaks out because bladed weapons are naturally intimidating. To help him overcome his fear, the masters have Shigure train him in armed combat... that is to say, she spends the whole day assaulting him with everything from rolled-up newspapers and spoons to actual weapons. Later Kenichi encounters the same thug, who draws the knife again... but Kenichi just laughs creepily and asks, "What's that puny thing" and blames the thug for putting him through today's Training from Hell. Cue beatdown. That all said, the series does tend to treat a person carrying a bladed weapon as more dangerous than one who is not, and only martial artists of superior skill are able to take on an armed enemy while unarmed themselves.
  • Magi: Labyrinth of Magic shows us Morgiana. She attacks a group of robbers. And although Morgiana is unarmed, and the robbers attack her with knives and even sabers, the robbers have no chance because Morgiana is simply much stronger and faster than they.
  • In Negima! Magister Negi Magi, Ku Fei manages to defeat a number of armed opponents using only her martial arts skills.
  • One Piece has some fights when fist fighters defeat weapon users and vice versa. Zoro and Sanji constantly fight each other, but both of their skills and strengths are so equal that the fight quickly ends in a draw.
  • In Outlaw Star, resident ass-kickers Suzuka and Aisha seem to regularly wipe out rooms of gun-wielding foes with nothing more than a wooden sword and bare hands, respectively.
  • In Ranma ½, every martial artist is skilled with numerous weapon styles, even those that fight barehanded. So, nobody berates the dedicated bladed-weapon users (Kodachi, Kuno, Mousse, Mint) for their choice... but their weapons never strike home anyway. Most egregious of all is Mousse, whose typical assault consists of tossing various weapons (some blunt, but mostly piercing and slashing ones) from his sleeves and tie up his opponent in the ropes attached to them, instead of actually skewering anyone. But let him have a morningstar, a club, or even his own hands and feet, and he'll tear into a foe like it's nobody's business.
  • Rurouni Kenshin: In Sanosuke's debut, he fights a large drunk who strikes him with a hidden knife. But as a testament to Sano's Made of Iron nature, not only does the knife fail to injure Sanosuke, the drunk's arm breaks.
  • In Samurai Harem: Asu no Yoichi, when Yoichi has an early fight with Washizu, it starts out as a fist fight, which the former enjoys despite getting hit rather hard. Then Washizu pulls out a weapon (in the manga, a knife. In the anime, a ridiculously oversized pair of boxing gloves resembling a spiked mace). In both versions, Yoichi destroys the weapon and berates Washizu for relying on those things instead of his own strength, and promptly beats him in one blow.
  • At the end of the first season of Sword Art Online, Sugou Nobuyuki attacks Kazuto with a combat knife outside of the hospital where Asuna just woke up. Kazuto easily defeats him using his skills from the video games, and he is later arrested.
  • Used in Those Who Hunt Elves to show how serious the dark elf queen is. When squaring off against Junpei, she throws away her sword because it would just slow her down.
  • Something like this was used in the first episode of Transformers Victory. Fist, Star Saber defeats two gun-wielding Decepticons using only a sword. Later, when the Dinoforce fights the Brainmasters, Goryu criticises one of his underlings for using a gun; said underling immediately switches to an axe.
  • Most of the fights the protagonist of Vinland Saga loses are to unarmed opponents. Likewise his father was a master at this trope when fighting a horde of mooks, beating them all without drawing his sword.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman uses this a lot, since he often faces thugs armed with knives, but one particularly obvious example is the fight at the end of Mad Love, when a very enraged Joker attacks Batman, and seems to be giving him more trouble in a fistfight than he usually does... until he pulls out a knife, and Batman instantly knocks him off the train.
    • It's then averted in their final battle in Return of the Joker. The Joker actually manages to stab Batman in the leg; an injury that apparently (along with old age) forced Bruce Wayne to use a cane later in life.
      • In Batman's defense, he probably spent a very long time researching ways to take down armed opponents, since after his Continuity Reboot he's been solidly against any sort of lethal weaponry. When you're aware that you'll be spending the next few decades of your life using your bare hands against knives, guns, and lunatic clowns armed with either or both, you try your best to be ready for such, which includes the fact that his costume is nowadays a lightweight advanced suit of armor.
    • He uses this so much that it's made into a gameplay mechanic in Batman: Arkham City: once you unlock Knife Counter Takedown, you can instantly defeat any mook that attacks you with one once you figure out the timing for it, including the armored ones.
  • Averted in Diabolik, as the title character is an extremely skilled knife user who can rightly boast that anyone hit by his thrown knife will die instantly (the only exception only proves it more, as he was using a paper knife and the victim still went down mortally wounded), and nobody in his right mind is stupid enough to take on a knife-wielding Diabolik or a gun unless armed themselves (in fact, the rare times someone charges at Diabolik unarmed they're distraught by having just seen their friends or allies killed by the King of Terror).
    • That said, it's sometimes played straight, as Diabolik can throw his knives faster than someone can draw or train a gun on him and tends to rely on ambushes anyway. Also, one memorable occasion saw Ginko punching out a knife-wielding Diabolik, but there's a good reason: they had both turned corner and Ginko threw his punch at what he believed was a normal gangster so fast he didn't realize it was Diabolik until after the King of Terror hit the ground.
  • The Sin City one-shot Family Values showed Miho beating down a knife-wielding mob enforcer with kicks and flips. When she gets bored, she does eventually slice his throat with a shuriken and kick his head off.
  • Subverted in Sinister Dexter when a crime lord brings a nuclear warhead to a meeting, knowing it will end in a gunfight.
  • Often played straight in Tex Willer, as whenever Tex is engaged in a knife duel he has the habit of disarming his opponent, throw away his own knife (ostensibly to keep the duel fair), and then beat him senseless with his bare fists, or, if he feels the enemy needs to be humiliated, throw away his own knife first and then beat his opponent senseless without bothering to disarm him. Indeed, the times Tex actually kills someone in a knife fight are extremely rare.
    • Averted when it comes to guns, as they're consistently shown superior to the bare fist and meelee weapons. Indeed, the only times someone armed with a gun gets taken down by knife-wielding or unarmed opponents it's when he's either ambushed at short range or overwhelmed by sheer numbers, and even then he's likely to kill at least one of his opponents.
  • Depending on if he's fighting Faceless Goons or recurring villains, Wolverine can go from messily skewering everything that moves to barely managing to nick the bad guy's costume.
    • Particularly bad in the cartoons, because unless he's fighting a robot his entire battle strategy has to revolve around body checks.

    Fan Works 
  • In the Dredd fanfic Aegis Judge Rawne is goaded into this error by the hero. Although the fight starts as a textbook Knife Fight (with the more-skilled Rawne getting the best of Cornelius) Cornelius manages to trip Rawne and crush his windpipe with an elbow drop.

  • Never bring a knife to a fistfight with Chuck Norris: he will boot it off your hand in a sec, as seen in The Delta Force.
  • Batman (1989). When he fights the Joker's goons, there's a dramatic fight with one using a pair of machetes. Because he's, well, Batman, he uses his armored vambraces to deflect the blades and then deal a kick to the face so hard that the goon does a backflip.
  • The So Bad, It's Good action movie Blood and Bone has this in it's climax that after the Final Battle against a Professional Killer in hand to hand, he fights the Big Bad has a Katana and Bone had ... the sheath. He beat him, dropped the sheath, beat him some more, made him drop the katana, and then beat him some more, and then when nearly attacked lethally, picked up the katana he was given initially and chopped off the Big Bad's hand.
  • Played straight in The Bourne Series, in both The Bourne Identity and The Bourne Supremacy where Jason Bourne's opponents are often the ones wielding knives and other deadly close-combat weapons. Bourne himself is never given the advantage of having a knife to use against his adversary. However Bourne, being the better fighter (as well as the main character and therefore having Contractual Immortality), is able to disarm and defeat them using his fists and any improvised weapon he can get his hands on, up to and including a bathroom.
  • In an early scene in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Butch's leadership of the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang is challenged by Harvey Logan. Logan produces a large knife; Butch tricks his dimwitted opponent into momentarily letting his guard down by discussing the "rules" for the fight, kicks him in the crotch, and knocks him out cold.
  • The Charlie's Angels (2000) movies did away with the Angels' guns due to Drew Barrymore's personal beliefs. The Angels rely on Waif-Fu against a number of enemies with guns, and rarely suffer more than a nick. The Big Bad of the sequel Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, evil former Angel Madison does use guns, to great effect.
  • Escape from Alcatraz: Frank Morris asks how another con wound up in "The Rock":
    English: I was in a bar in Tennessee. Then these two dudes start hassling me. That was their first mistake. They pulled knives. That was their second mistake. They didn't know how to use them. That was the last mistake they ever made.
  • Both used and averted in The Expendables. The team regularly uses pistols and melee weapons in CQC to devastating effect, but mooks who try to do the same don't fare nearly as well. In the sequel, there is an extended fight scene where a large number of knife-wielding Mooks attack the bare-fisted Yang (played by Jet Li). Guess who wins?
  • In the final battle in Fist of Legend, the Japanese Big Bad is losing the fight, then pulls a katana and gets his ass handed to him even worse. Finally Jet Li uses his belt to kill the villain with his own sword.
  • In Ip Man, Jin finds himself getting thrashed by Ip Man, so he gets his sword. It doesn't help him much. The films also avert it, however, as Ip has no qualms against using Improvised Weapons to even the odds.
  • In Jack Reacher, Jack tosses his gun aside for some mano-e-mano fisticuffs with The Dragon. Midway through the fight, the guy draws a knife, but gets quickly disarmed and shortly thereafter defeated.
  • John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum: Justified. Two Indonesian assassins working under Zero draw swords when they fight an unarmed John, but are very obviously more interested in having a reasonably fair fight with a man they admire than in killing him (they even let him catch his breath after his previous fight before starting). John beats them both into submission with only his belt, and returns their respect by letting them live.
  • Averted in Kick-Ass when Dave tries to fistfight muggers and finds himself on the stabbing end of a knife.
    • Averted again later TWICE, although in both cases we just see the guy drawing his knife, but he doesn't get to use it.
  • In Mackintosh and T.J., a man at a bar accuses T.J. of stealing his money and draws a knife on him. Mackintosh uses a beer bottle to inflict Grievous Bottley Harm, knocking him over and making him drop the knife.
  • The Raid
    • The Raid: Rama does take on his (similarly armed) opponents with a knife and nightstick, but drops both eventually, and goes bare-fisted from then on. At one point he takes on a gang of 5 Machete wielding antagonists, unarmed, and drops all of them. The leader of the gang loses his machete near the end of the fight, and in doing so manages to hold his own a lot better against Rama until he rearms himself and gets taken down.
    • Played with in the sequel; the assassin is the first to draw knives in his duel with Rama and does eventually lose, but because it was a pretty even fight before he drew them and he knows how to use them, he manages to do a lot of damage.
  • In Road House (1989), starring the late Patrick Swayze, Jimmy, The Dragon of the film, tries to kill Dalton with his gun, and fails.
  • In Second Hand Lions, Uncle Hub gets in a squabble with a group of rowdy teenagers. After Hub fends off the their initial attacks, they fall back and pull out their pocket knives. At this point Hub scoffs at them and delivers a major beat down. Hub even corrected the first attacker by telling him he wasn't holding the knife properly. The attacker corrected and Hub still beat him down.
  • The katana vs. screwdriver fight in Serenity is something of a subversion. The Operative was winning before they drew weapons and he was still winning after they drew weapons—he only lost because he counted Mal out of the fight too early. The gun Mal pulled at the beginning was 100% straight, because the Operative has bulletproof armor.
  • During the alley fight in Sha Po Lang, Ma Kwan manages to beat the knife-wielding assassin Jack bloody with his steel baton, but is unable to finish him until Jack manages to strip him of his baton. When Jack attacks the unarmed Kwan, Kwan grabs his knife, twists it around, and guts Jack like a fish.
  • The mooks in Taken are constantly getting defeated by the unarmed main character.
  • When Taekwondo Strikes: When one of the villains draws a sword on Huang, she disarms him, then throws his sword away so it sticks in a tree. Then she backs him against the tree and uses his sword to kill him. Later, a room full of men with swords attacks her, and she effortlessly beats up most of them.

  • Caine from The Acts of Caine, all the time. All he has are his fists, maybe a dinky knife and you've got... a sword? A spear? A gun? Not being paraplegic? Don't expect any of that to save you.
  • The novel Cain by James Byron Huggins at one point features a Jesuit priest, with no combat background of any sort, going unarmed against a highly-trained cult assassin who has a sword. The priest absorbs an absurd amount of damage, bleeding profusely, while trying to talk the assassin down. Finally, he gives up and just grabs his enemy in a bearhug and squeezes until the assassin's spine snaps.
  • In the Gaunt's Ghosts novel The Armour of Contempt, some Hauberkan soldiers try to attack Hark over his execution of their CO. One uses a knife but is quickly taken apart, while another one uses a chain fist to little better effect. Then again, Hark has an augmetic arm, so he's hardly baseline human himself.
  • The Iron Teeth web serial’s forests are haunted by many different types of dangerous monsters. Blacknail almost died in a brawl with a older hobgoblin there. he only survived by stabbing the hobgoblin with his knife while his opponent was trying to throttle him.
  • This general idea is explicitly written into the Martian honor code in the John Carter of Mars books, albeit on a larger scale- if someone attacks you, you meet their attack with an equal or lesser weapon, so using a knife on someone who attacks you with his fists would be incredibly dishonorable (as would pulling a gun on someone who attacks with a blade). In the second book, a scene where Carter prepares to attack a Thern (White Martian) who'd been releasing deadly wildlife against him with his sword, and the Thern's response is to immediately go for his gun, is a major indicator as to what the Therns are like.
  • John Rain prefers to rely on his martial arts skill (knives are messy, after all) but a couple of near misses against knife-wielding opponents, and the realization that his skills are fading with age, causes Rain to start carrying a knife regularly after the first few novels.
  • The Kingkiller Chronicle: In The Wise Man's Fear, Kvothe profoundly disappoints his Adem Proud Warrior Race Guy friend Tempi by pulling a knife during a Bar Brawl. The Adem practice a combined philosophy and Fantastic Fighting Style that emphasizes knowing and doing what's right, which is at odds with Kvothe's Combat Pragmatism.
  • A regular occurrence in the Matador Series, largely due to the main characters all being world-class martial artists, and their opponents not being quite up to that level.
  • Parker, the Villain Protagonist of a series of novels by Richard Stark, is arguably more dangerous without a weapon than with one.
  • In the book series Percy Jackson and the Olympians Percy and his friends are attacked by street robbers. They can not use their celestial bronze weapons because they would not hurt a human. However, demigods are really strong enough to defeat even several ordinary robbers alone.
  • Terry Pratchett regularly notes that a weapon you don't know how to use well is worse than no weapon at all, either because you're going to hurt yourself with it, or your opponent is going to take it from you, then hurt your self with it.
  • Reign of the Seven Spellblades:
    • Deconstructed in volume 2. Main character Oliver Horn fights a no-spells duel against Tullio Rossi, a self-taught Combat Pragmatist who incorporates punches with his off-hand, kicks, foot-stamping, and shoulder-charges into his repertoire. After getting a Heroic Second Wind out of sheer irritation at Rossi's Trash Talk, Oliver demonstrates precisely why trying to turn a swordfight into a fistfight against a trained opponent is a bad idea: the next time Rossi tries to punch him, Oliver catches that arm and throws him into an armbar lock.
      Oliver: This is the reason the three basic styles have very few fist techniques, Mr. Rossi. At punching distance, throws and locks also become viable. Basically, the king of your beloved close-up brawls is actually grappling, not punching. If you don’t finish the fight in one blow, it’s not even good as a distraction against an opponent who’s willing to take the hit in order to win. You’re basically asking to be grappled by extending your arm. You’re defenseless. You managed to scrape together some semblance of style on your own. I’ll admit, you have talent. You slugged me good, after all. But the history behind orthodox styles won’t be demolished with a single punch.
    • Played straight with Lesedi Ingwe, a mage specializing in magic-enhanced kickboxing who regularly fights on equal terms with armed opponents because she's just that good.
  • In Starfighters of Adumar, Wes Janson turns a blastsword duel into a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown by disarming his opponent. First, he blocks the incoming attack with his own blastsword and proceeds to eventually knock the blastsword from his opponent's hand, breaking it in the process. Then, after Wes throws away his own blastsword (to Wedge standing behind him), the opponent goes for his knife, which Wes proceeds to kick out of his hand. Justified in that Wes Janson is well-schooled in hand-to-hand combat; the opponent is a noble who knows only the stylized form of blastsword dueling and nothing of real fighting techniques.

    Live-Action TV 
  • On The 100 Clarke picks up a knife in her fight with Anya, but can't get a cut in before Anya disarms her, takes the knife, and starts cutting Clarke up. It's then Clarke's turn to disarm Anya and bash her in the head with a human skull.
  • Arrow: In "The Climb", Oliver fights a duel to the death against Ra's al Ghul. Oliver uses a pair of swords. Ra's choses no weapons, announcing instead that he will take a blade off Oliver and kill him with it. He does.
  • Played pretty straight in Buffy the Vampire Slayer - although all sorts of fancy weapons crop up, it's pretty much expected for them to go flying and the fight to degenerate into gratuitous unarmed combat. This is probably for reasons of fight choreography.
    • It's also cheaper on the special effects department. Since nobody ever actually seems to bleed after getting the stuffing beaten out of them in most Joss Whedon shows, taking knives out of the equation means that the producers save a fortune in makeup and fake blood.
    • And flip-flopped in one episode of Angel, when Faith pulls a knife on Angelus. After one initial hit, he's able to avoid the knife for a few seconds, and then knocks it out of her hand... and she then hits him in the face, catches the knife, and cuts him several times with it. Of course, since he's a vampire all this does is hurt a whole lot — but then, she is trying to lose.
  • Entirely subverted in the Burn Notice episode "Old Friends": when an assassin pulls a knife on the unarmed Michael, none of the strikes land, but Michael's too busy trying not to get cut to do any real damage of his own, and promptly flees the scene when a second knife appears:
    Michael: The key to a good knife defense is to control the knife hand and strike with everything you've got. Fighting is often about tactical retreat—like running away from two knives.
  • Forever: Averted in the flashback of "The Last Death of Henry Morgan" when Henry gets into a fistfight with Abigail's abusive ex-boyfriend. Despite being a head shorter and a lot smaller overall, Henry appears to be holding his own, until the man pulls a knife and stabs him with it. He dies in Abigail's arms within minutes.
  • Averted in Smallville of all places, where Lois Lane is fighting a security guard - after a period of inconclusive barehanded fighting, the guard get mad, pulls out a knife, and succeeds in stabbing her.
  • The final episode of Torchwood Series 2 inverts this: Ianto and Tosh run into three creepy religious fanatic types in medieval robes and scythes (not the smartest weapon in a confined space) and finish them off quite easily with gunfire.
    Religious Fanatic Mooks: Devils, blasphemers, pray to your heathen God while in the Lord's name we cast you out.
    [Tosh and Ianto shoot them]
    Ianto: There we are then.
    Tosh: Sorted.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. An Invoked Trope by Worf to establish his badass credentials when he first arrives on the space station, which is being harassed by a taskforce of Klingon soldiers under General Martok. Worf walks up to Martok's son Drex, introduces himself and backhands Drex in the face. When Drex draws his d'k tahg dagger, Worf easily disarms him, keeping the dagger to further humiliate Drex. General Martok has to come and get the dagger back, giving Worf a chance to talk to him outside of official channels.

  • A song by Stan Rogers, "Harris and the Mare", includes a fight between an unarmed man—formerly a conscientious objector—and a man with a knife. The man with the knife is winning until the unarmed man lashes out from the ground and the knife ends up in the knife wielder.

    Tabletop Games 
  • GURPS strikes a middle ground in averting this. A person with a weapon tends to have a great advantage in damage and range but skill is ultimately the factor of a match up (ties going to the one with a weapon).
  • In Spirit of the Century, whether you're better off fighting with a weapon or barehanded is solely a matter of training; the weapon itself makes no difference. Some later versions of the Fate system do diversify weapons by giving them at least some individual stats; conversely, some others go even further in erasing the distinction by no longer using separate skills for armed and unarmed combat. Justified in that the rules explicitly set out to emulate fiction.
  • Both averted and played straight in Warhammer 40,000: it's fairly common for people with 6-foot-long Chainswords to be torn limb from limb by someone else with their bare hands. Of course, that person's "bare hands" are often either wrapped in Power Armor or attached to a genetically modified killing machine or ridiculously agile or Nigh-Invulnerable alien. In most cases, however, equally-powered fights will typically be decided by who has the biggest (or fastest-attacking) weapon.

  • Jud in Oklahoma!. A drunken Jud reappears at Curly and Laurey's wedding, harasses Laurey by kissing her and punches Curly, and they begin a fistfight. Jud attacks Curly with a knife and Curly dodges, causing Jud to fall on his own knife.
  • A View from the Bridge is an old example: in the final scene, Eddie Carbone pulls a knife on Marco, and is pretty much instantly killed as the knife is turned against him. For some bizarre reason, only after he's been lethally wounded does his family step in...
  • Exception: In the play West Side Story the violence between the Jets and the Sharks becomes more horrific as it escalates from fisticuffs to knives to a gun, leading to the violent deaths of several major characters.

    Video Games 
  • Subverted in just about every beat-em-up video game ever made. Most of the time it's fist-against-fist combat, but when an enemy shows up with a weapon, that enemy will, nine times out of ten, be much stronger than his companions. Bosses, likewise, are usually always armed. By the same token, disarming a foe and stealing their weapon will give you a massive advantage, until the thing falls apart.
    • This is doubly true in Lugaru: The Rabbit's Foot. While weapons are just about as deadly and easy to steal as in any other beat-em-up (when in use), if somebody's dumb enough to try and run away, an auto-aimed thrown knife landing in their back is often an instant kill.
  • Ace Attorney Investigations example: Manny Coachen brought a knife to a surprise attack on a 72-year-old man and he still lost.
  • Blunty averted in Assassin's Creed, where switching to your fists in a sword fight against multiple foes is a quick way to an asskicking. Attacking soldiers with your bare hands is effective only when there's one of them. It also takes a little longer, with the upsides being that they can't parry, and it's also quite humiliating.
    • Played straight in the sequel, where Ezio can counter-attack with his fists. Doing so causes him to steal the opponent's weapon and then turn it against them. In addition, fist attacks are never blocked by spear-wielding Seekers, which are otherwise at least a mild pain in the ass. There's even a metal cestus you can buy that makes your fist fighting all the more effective.
    • Strangely exaggerated in Revelations, where landing an unarmed 4 hit combo after dodging a Jannisary will take him out when it can take up to 3 armed combos to do the same.
    • Averted again in Assassin's Creed III. Though you can disarm enemies, taking on the sword-wielding Officers and Jagers with fists without disarming first will lead to them countering Connor and cutting him to bits.
  • Batman: Arkham Asylum subverts this. Enemies with weapons are significantly more dangerous than unarmed enemies, and even require different dodging/countering tactics. If a mook finds a gun, you'd better make him your priority, or you will be one dead Bat.
    • Both played straight and subverted in Batman: Arkham City: enemies with stun batons still require you to hit them in the back and there's new shielded and armored enemies that require a specific method to damage them, but anyone wielding a knife can be defeated instantly with a specific counter attack as stated above and enemies with guns give you the option to quickly drop a smoke bomb when they spot you. Batman also has a special attack that destroys any weapons the targeted mook might be carrying so he or others can't pick it back up afterwards.
  • In Call of Juarez, Juarez pulls out a knife after being beaten in a fistfight by Billy. He still loses, but only because Reverend Ray draws a gun and shoots him.
  • In Dead to Rights: Retribution, this is zig-zagged against the Final Boss, who whips out a knife just when it seems like he and Jack Slate are going to duke it out with their fists. However, he and Jack can disarm and use the knife against the other, and the player will need it in order to land the final blow.
  • The Devil May Cry series has been zig-zagging with this trope, depending on the fight:
    • In actual gameplay, the gauntlet/greave weapons (Beowulf, Ifrit, Gilgamesh and Balrog) are the strongest in terms of raw damage output; the Ifrit in particular can easily break through Nelo Angelo's defensive stance using his zweihander. However in cutscenes, Dante never uses them against his enemies, just sticking to his swords for melee combat.
    • Played straight in the first game where Nelo Angelo knocked the Force Edge out of Dante's hand using close-quarters combat, then quickly triumphs over him using further punches and a kick.
    • Devil May Cry 3: Dante's Awakening:
      • Although the second fight with Vergil starts with him using the Beowulf gauntlets and greaves, he pulls out his Yamato katana after he finds out having the hand-to-hand weapon isn't stopping Dante from kicking his ass.
      • Jester/Arkham easily managed to beat and knock Dante, Lady, and Vergil with some close-quarters-combat, martial arts, and a sweeping kick despite having up to three bladed weapons pointed at him. He even points out Vergil was weakened enough when he performed a Barehanded Blade Block, so he took advantage of their prior exhaustion.
    • The Super-Strength and durability of Nero's Devil Bringer arm in Devil May Cry 4 allowed him to block Dante's sword during their first fight, and can also counter the "Stinger"-like thrust of Sanctus Diabolica and the Sparda sword in the final mission. That being said, the only blade that could pierce through the arm is the absurdly sharp Yamato.
    • Inverted in Mission 17 of Devil May Cry 5 where Urizen mostly relies on using punches and kicks while fighting Dante, but the latter still had the upper hand and managed to impale him with his newly-acquired sword, the Devil Sword Dante.
  • Averted in The Godfather: The Game. If one of the enemy gangsters about to attack you brings out a baseball bat, lead pipe or other melee weapon, you'd better switch to grabbing him and taking him out fast, because the hooks and jabs of the unarmed mobsters are relatively small fry compared to the beating you will receive from the weapon-user.
  • In Grand Theft Auto IV, it is easy to disarm an opponent attacking you with a knife while you have nothing but your fists.
  • The first two times Link confronts Ganondorf in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, he has the Master Sword while his opponent relies on his fists. He gets beaten down both times for his trouble. When Ganondorf's plan is truly and utterly foiled, he pulls out a pair of katanas for a final attack and gets impaled through the head by Link.
  • One of the final upgrade in Mad Max (2015) is the shiv reversal, which makes Max parry an attacker with a knife, kill him with the knife and add it into your inventory. One of the animation has Max twisting the attacker's arm so he slits his own throat.
  • Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain: Every time an enemy uses a knife to fight in close-combat, the quick time action always causes your character to use their fists to twist and throw the knife away, and then smack the enemy to the ground. Knifes are used after the target is subdued.
  • In Modern Warfare 2 General Shepherd defeats Soap when the latter tries to knife him.
  • Dark Types in Pokémon specialize in dirty tricks; they even have a move called Beat Up which lets every Pokémon on the team get in an attack. They are weak to Fighting types. A special trait called Justified boosts some Pokémon's attack whenever they're hit with a Dark-type move.
    • Even more with the advantage Fighting type Pokémon (several of whom are inspired by martial arts) have against Steel type Pokémon (several of whom possess blades).
    • Pawniard and Bisharp are literally made of sharp blades and their Dark/Steel typing gives them a double weakness to Fighting attacks.
  • Sam Fisher in Splinter Cell: Conviction seems to love this trope when it comes to close combat situations.
    • To be specific, he defeats an officer attacking him with a knife, with the knife ending up being stabbed through the officer's hand.
    • Then there is this incident where another person attacks him with an American flag. The person ends up with a bit of flagpole in his shoulder.
    • Of course, he is not above shooting people in the head as part of his CQB regime. And, to be frank, he basically beats up everyone no matter what they're armed with or even not at all.
  • Regularly happens in the fights in Yakuza 0, but the main example is Miss Tatsu's introduction cutscene. She's going after a lowlife that owes money, who pulls a knife to attack her with. By the end of the 'fight' she's entirely unharmed, and the lowlife has two broken arms.
    • Most of the protagonists in the Yakuza series have a means of dealing with knife-wielding mooks, usually involving disarming the guy with a punch or kick or (in some cases) forcing the knife back into his stomach before kneeing it even further in.

    Web Animation 
  • DEATH BATTLE!: In Goro vs. Machamp, Goro pulls out his Dragon Fang knives to slash at Machamp a grand total of one time before the Pokémon used Knock Off to knock away the knives for the rest of the fight.
  • Pucca often bests ninja, Texan RV-bots, sharks, and other foes with super weapons and katanas with nothing but her bare hands and righteous anger at her beloved being harmed.

  • Played with in Juathuur: both Bivv and Mijuu try to disarm Rowasu, the latter succeeding, but his use of a sword is actually a handicap. They both die soon after.
  • Averted in the Order of the Stick prequel "On The Origin Of PCs" where we first meet Belkar as he sits in jail charged with fatally stabbing several people in a bar brawl. He argues that they shouldn't have brought fists to a knifefight.
    Warden: It wasn't a knife fight until you started stabbing people!
    Belkar: Exactly!
  • Pirates Vs. Ninjas: Subverted in this comic.
  • Completely and utterly averted in Sluggy Freelance, at least whenever Oasis and Kusari around. They're almost never seen fighting without knives, small scythes, or other sharp implements in their hands, and their enemies usually have quite a few stab wounds when all's said and done.

    Web Original 
  • In the brutal pilot of Cause of Death, the slob grabs a steak knife out of the kitchen drawer. The killer is not amused. Well... he's amused a little. And then he pulls out a granola bar, with deadly results. Yeah, you read that right.
  • When one's Neopets enter the Battledome with no items equipped, they're automatically equipped with The Fist, a temporary "weapon" which both deals and blocks two icons of physical-type damage.note  While it is one of the weakest "weapons" on the site, it's not the weakest by a long shot; several are as weak or weaker, including, yes, several swords. Most infamous is the Sword of Domar, a lead blade which does a matching amount of damage at best and a tenth of the damage at worstnote . This means a pet using The Fist, which blocks the same icon type that the Sword of Domar uses, will No-Sell it without fail.
  • Nyx Crossing, with Frank and the leader of the natives.
  • Stampy's Lovely World: Or more accurately, Never Bring a Bow to a Fist Fight. During an unarmed gentlemen's duel in the climax of Episode 212, "Fight in Flight", Hit The Target pulls out a bow in the middle of the fight, only to be knocked off the impromptu floating bridge between their respective hot-air balloons by Stampy. Justified in this particular scenario as it takes time to nock an arrow, even in Minecraft.
  • Subverted in Survival of the Fittest, when Ric Chee and Bobby Jacks fight with Good Old Fisticuffs. When Bobby realises that, conversely to his expectations, he is getting beaten down mercilessly (by a guy with no combat expertise whatsoever) he pulls out a knife (well, scalpel) and immediately fatally stabs Ric.

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • Most fighting was historically done with weapons, and accordingly, several martial arts still contain techniques meant to disarm an opponent armed with a knife or dagger. It is incidentally a controversial topic in modern martial arts practice, however, as disarming is generally considered a high effort, low profit field — it is relatively easy for even an untrained attacker to hurt even the most experienced defender with a bladed weapon, which means that trying to disarm him should be only attempted as an absolute last resort, when keeping distance with him or just running away is not possible. Even in this case, acquiring another weapon to use against his, preferently with a longer reach (like a stick, an umbrella or a chair, or even a coat or cape wielded as a shield), is also much more recommendable than trying to disarm him while empty-handed.
    • The page image is someone practicing the martial art known as Krav Maga. It is a system developed from the street-fighting experience of its creator, Imi Lichtenfeld, and ne division of its techniques is empty-handed defense against someone wielding a knife.
    • Many techniques found in Aikido are artifacts of old jujutsu styles whose user often needed to impede an opponent from unsheathing his katana or striking with it at very close quarters. Techniques against knifes are also present, and some made their way into Judo katas.
  • This neo-Nazi held up a black man at knifepoint. Too bad he didn't read the man's shirt, which said "Spokane Boxing Club Champion."


Video Example(s):


Mordhau - Soviet v Cyanide R2

After missing Cyanide with his mace disarming, SovietWomble successfully dodges his zweihander and kills him with one punch.

How well does it match the trope?

4.87 (15 votes)

Example of:

Main / NeverBringAKnifeToAFistFight

Media sources: