This trope is under discussion in the Trope Repair Shop.
York: And you don't think those issues are related?
The higher a character is in a political, business, or military hierarchy, the better he is in a fight. This goes double for non-protagonists.
Of course, in modern-day real life, no such correlation exists for political or business hierarchies. An entry-level clerk is just as likely as a CEO to be good at fighting since fighting has absolutely nothing to do with either person's job role.
In modern military hierarchies, however, we see a strong correlation in the opposite direction. During combat, the lowest-ranking soldiers (private, corporal, sergeant) obviously need a lot of fighting-related skills. And the main role of the middle ranks (lieutenant, captain) during combat is to manage their subordinates and communicate with their higher-ups, but since they're on the ground and in the thick of it, they also need to know how to shoot. But once an officer reaches the highest ranks (major, colonel, general), it becomes less important how accurately he can shoot or how well he can subdue an enemy in hand-to-hand combat.note At that point, both his job and his education are going to be entirely focused on large-scale planning, strategy, and management. And in the rare event that he actually controls a battle, it's going to be a huge battle that he controls from very far away. This means that the vast majority of colonels and generals have not done any combat training for several decades. There are a few rare exceptions, who choose to do combat training in their spare time, but high ranking officers are extremely busy people, and they just don't have enough time to be as good as the grunts. Also, they tend to be a lot older than the grunts, which puts them at an even greater disadvantage.
And yet, in many works of fiction, especially video games, the exact opposite is true. The higher someone's rank, the deadlier he is in personal combat. A sergeant can kick a grunt's ass. A captain can kick a sergeant's ass. A general can kick everybody's ass. The "boss fight" at the climax of a game will often be against the literal boss of the enemy army.
Furthermore, unlike their fictional counterparts, real commanding officers don't (usually) put themselves in In Harm's Way unless there is absolutely no other option available. Why? Because even if the commanding officer isn't killed or incapacitated during the trip, he's still abandoning his job for a few hours or days, thus leaving it in the hands of a less capable person, which could end up getting a lot of people killed. And in many cases, the effect is actually way worse than that, because not only do you need to replace the commanding officer who abandoned his job, but you also need to find a replacement for his replacement, and a replacement for his replacement´s replacement, etc, down the entire chain of command. However, there are plenty of fictional commanders that don't risk their lives in battle.
There was considerable truth to this trope in older societies, such as medieval Europe and Japan, where the knights and noblemen who served as officers were at least in theory supposed to spend much of their time from early youth on training for battle, and often really did in practice — which most commoners couldn't afford to do, and sometimes weren't allowed to even if they could. So basically, a fight between a nobleman and a peasant (or poorly trained militia conscript) would be like one between an average Joe and a special forces soldier or professional martial artist in the modern day. Furthermore, one could expect said nobles to have rather better equipment than poorer soldiers, giving them an additional major edge. However, as individual combat skills and hand-to-hand combat in general became less important in the age of firearms and artillery, most of these advantages gradually disappeared.
That said, even in the old days, rank and badassery didn't usually correlate very well within the noble classes. While history records many a Warrior Prince who led from the front (and some who died fighting, even long after the advent of firearms — consider Charles XII of Sweden for one famous example), there were many more kings, dukes, and generals who preferred to observe the battles from a distance and leave the hands-on leadership to younger subordinates, for much the same reasons as their modern equivalents.
Common examples of this trope include General Ripper, Colonel Badass, the Diabolical Mastermind, and especially The Evil Emperor, The Evil Prince, and King Mook. President Evil and the Corrupt Corporate Executive usually have this when they are not a Non-Action Big Bad. Among the good guys, the Rebellious Princess benefits from this one enough to be a competent mage despite her sheltered life, and the Action Politician can bring a whole new meaning to "political arm-twisting." The Mad Scientist is more likely to go One-Winged Angel, but he can still invoke this trope if he's got a large enough cadre of mutants, henchmen, and/or combat robots at his disposal. The Evil Overlord will always take advantage of this, sometimes via Kingpin in His Gym. It is almost always the way of things with supernormal creatures like Demon Lords and Archdevils.
In video games with named and Palette Swap enemies, this trope sometimes results in the player fighting squadrons consisting entirely of generals near the end of the game, with no lower-ranked units in sight. Then again, this might also be because all the lower-ranking troops are already dead.
Inversions include the Almighty Janitor, who is far more powerful than his lowly rank would imply; Weak Boss, Strong Underlings and Strong Empire, Shriveled Emperor, when the leader of the pack turns out to be its weakest and frailest member; and the Desk Jockey, who has been promoted out of the field into authority. Compare You Can Barely Stand. See also Four-Star Badass, Large and in Charge, Shoplift and Die, Royals Who Actually Do Something, and Fixed Relative Strength. Sometimes a sister trope to Risking the King. May be the result of the Conservation of Ninjutsu.
See also Asskicking Leads to Leadership, which happens when the strongest fighter is the guy in charge because he is the strongest fighter.
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- The board-game Stratego exemplifies this, as applied to an army: When two pieces meet, the highest-ranking piece wins. The Field-Marshal is basically unstoppable, unless he runs into The Spy... or steps on a mine, of course. The Field-Marshal can only be killed 3 ways: Attacking another Field-Marshal (draw, both die), DEFENDING against a spy (Spy wins - it's the only time that the spy can attack someone and NOT die), or encountering a mine (obvious). Suffice it to say, if the Field-Marshal attacks a piece, the piece it attacks WILL be removed guaranteed.
- Both subverted and played straight in Chess: The King, the most important piece on the board, is capable of little more than the pawn, but the Queen is the most powerful piece on the board. In older versions, the Queen was even more useless than the King. She could only move one space and only DIAGONALLY. When they gave the Queen unlimited distance in all directions they called it "Madness Chess" because the woman was most powerful.
- In Yaquinto's Beachhead, a single Japanese commander has four times the firepower of a 10-man squad.
- Magic: The Gathering:
- The game varies with its use of the trope, usually depending on creature or organization. It's rare for the highest-ranked ruler in charge of a race or faction to be the most physically powerful, but it does happen—the three legendary Slivers, for example, are all much bigger than even the largest of the rest of the species.
- Although whether they're physically powerful or not, most leaders do have extremely powerful abilities.
- Let's also not forget Lord Konda is more powerful than many dragons in combat and, thanks to a stolen child deity, is indestructible.
- The players themselves are also the ultimate authority on their side of the field and have the power to back it up. A massive assault on a player with tons of monsters can be casually dismissed by some of the most trivial spells in the game. Even Physical Gods and Eldritch Abominations can be eliminated by a variety of spells.
- Ambience: A Fleet Symphony:
- Subverted with Damon. Though he is admiral of the Combined Fleet, even after getting a suit of Powered Armor, anti-abyssal Hand Cannons and magic, he is still at best only equal to the shipgirls under him.
- Blackwood, President Evil of the United States, has nanomachines letting him fight and defeat multiple shipgirls in CQC.
- Xenolith/the Abyssal is high in the Inner Circle hierarchy and his Establishing Character Moment is boredly slapping RPGs like nothing.
- Franklin Kevinson, former admiral of the first-generation Shiratsuyu-class and current admiral of the American shipgirls, is an even better fighter than Damon, such that the latter and Jeannie double-team him and lose.
- Avatar: The Last Alicorn: Zig-zagged with Nightmare Moon. On one hand, she's easily able to defeat Vinyl and Octavia and Twilight says she doesn't stand a chance against her, on the other, when it comes time to actually fight her, she gets one-shotted by the Elements.
- Played with to an extent in the crossover story, The Bridge. On the Equestria side, the ruling alicorns (particularly Luna and Celestia); are a good deal stronger than a vast majority of their world's inhabitants and leagues ahead of most ponies. On the kaiju side, however, it's a bit more debatable. Leader of the more benign kaiju and titled King of the Monsters by humans, the grown-up Godzilla Junior is certainly a powerhouse. However, some in his faction do exceed him in a few categories (i.e. Mothra has better ranged attacks and Anguirus is more durable), but he's a better all around fighter and probably is the strongest in their ranks.
- Clouded Horizons presents the Gilead Order; Arragious Nicholai is the former Captain-Commander of the Order, and he's proven more than capable of taking on a Pillar of Reality in an even fight.
- A Crown of Stars: Avalon’s Royal Family are Physical Gods with all it entails, and all of them undergo military training because they are duty-bound to protect their subjects.
- The Heroes/Twilight crossover "Dark Days" observes that the Volturi operated on a principle of strength to justify their own authority. After Aro, Caius and Marcus run away after their forces are decimated by a vampire infected with a modified strain of the Shanti virus, Jane, Alec and Demetrei are willing to work with the Cullens based on this premise due to their current alliance with Peter Petrelli, who has more power than anyone they've met despite being only human.
- In Dragon Ball Z Abridged, Vegeta tries to invoke this trope in a moment of sheer frustration.
Vegeta: I'm the prince! I'm supposed to be the best by default!
- In Supergirl fic Hellsister Trilogy:
- Mordru leads the Legion of Super-Villains and has the allegiance of Satan Girl and powerhouses like Black Adam because he can destroy any of them easily.
- Darkseid declares himself leader of the alliance of villains after one-shooting Brainiac. No one, not even Lex Luthor, is brave or stupid enough to object.
- Used in the Sonic fanfiction The Mobius Chronicles. The higher in rank Amadeus gets the more ass kicking he does, also the Overlander second in command is one of their most talented fighters.
- Subverted in My Huntsman Academia. Izuku is the leader of Team MNVW, but he's recognized as the team's weak link due to being woefully behind on the use of his Aura and Semblance as well as his combat training at the start of the story. His skills rapidly improve during his time at Beacon, but he knows that he has no chance against any of his teammates in their specialties and his partner, Pyrrha Nikos, can easily curb-stomp him if she were to ever go all out.
- The Night Unfurls plays with this trope.
- From the northern faction, there's Olga, Queen of the dark elves. A master sorceress, she is way stronger than the fighters under her.
- The Black Dogs as a whole also play this straight. Vault, The Leader, is more capable in combat than the average merc.
- From the southern faction, however, this trope is subverted. Although Celestine, The High Queen of Eostia, is said to possess great arcane strength comparable to that of Olga, hence intuitively more formidable than the subjects under her, she is more concerned about running her country than fighting anyone with her magic (or showcasing offensive spells of any kind) over the course of the series.
- In the Kim Possible fanfic Osama's Last Stand, Osama bin Laden can stab Kim Possible in the stomach in the middle of her monologue.
- The Pieces Lie Where They Fell: The guard captains have all earned their positions, being highly skilled in combat and other related areas.
- Pony POV Series:
- There's Celestia and Luna, as always, who in this setting are Physical Goddesses with tremendous power. However, we find out they're only two out of a large group of Alicorns (though they're the only ones who rule ponies directly) and later meet their Big Goods, Their Parents, the Father of All Alicorns and Fauna Luster, who are described as being so powerful that they're not even capable of manifesting directly in the mortal plain (though they can use Avatars). Discord also turns out to be one of a group of Draconequi (though he's the only one who's actually evil and the strongest) who answer to their own Elders, Havoc and Entropy, who are on the same level as the Alicorn Elders. Havoc himself entered a war between the two groups using an Avatar with only a faction of his power, that was still far stronger than Discord is! The one time we actually see them fight they completely demolish four beings specifically intended to kill them.
- There's also Queen Tiamat, the ruler of the Dragons and what seems to be their patron Goddess. When the Dragons were considering quitting the Dragon-Hooviet War due to taking too many losses, Tiamat herself stepped in and Curbstomped the entire Hooviet army, leaving half the country burning ruin and willingly stopping just short of burning their capital to the ground. It should be noted that she did this because she considers all Dragonkind her treasure and was supremely ticked off at what the Hooviets had done. Her husband, King Bahamut, is equal in power and authority.
- Shining Armor qualifies, being a very powerful when it comes to his shield magic (though he's a horrible shot). Same can be said for Master Chief Spartan (the leader of the Air Naval Calvary of Cadence's guard), who went on a Foe-Tossing Charge during a fight with the Hooviets.
- General-Admiral Makarov, the Supreme Marshal of the Imperial Armed Forces for the Hooviets and second in command of the Hooviet Empire (officially, in actually his superiors are pretty much Puppet Kings to him). He's also a Super Soldier with tremendous magical power and nearly beat Shining to death during their first fight. Justified, as he's actually Equineoid Abomination the Hooviets accidentally let loose from Pandora's Box.
- In Prison Island Break, Vector is at the top of a criminal empire and he's just as dangerous if not more so as his subordinates. Justified because he had to climb his way to the top, he wouldn't be in that position if he wasn't badass.
- In Sonic X: Dark Chaos, Maledict is far more powerful than any of his subordinates. Justified considering he's literally both Satan and a Physical God. Also, Astorath is much stronger than his Nephilim brethren.
- The trope is subverted in supercrossover military fanfiction series, The Terminators: Army of Legend, as President Barry Mabao, the driving voice behind the Maxia Regime and the Second American Civil War, was brought down in seconds compared to his generals, supersoldiers General "Necro", General Mason, and the "Shade King".
- In The Three Kings: Hunt the Three Kings were the most powerful mages of their era and were also the rulers of Egypt. In the current era, it's hinted that not only are they very powerful to the point of stopping the genocide against the mages but that eventually they're going to be in charge of the mages.
- In the Medaka Box fanfic World as Myth, every committee chair, captain, and vice-captain introduced is able to hold their own in a fight. Justified for the athletic club leaders. Less so for everyone else.
- In The Unfantastic Adventures of Bizarro No. 1, Bizarro is his race's hands-off leader and mightiest member.
- This is a constant in the Lone Wolf books. The highest-ranking officer in any group will have the strongest combat stats. Each of the heads of state Lone Wolf eventually has to confront (Zakhan Kimah, Baron Shinzar, High Warlord Magnaarn, Archdruid Cadak...) is certain to be either a Mid-Boss or Final Boss (and likely That One Boss too). And the Darklords are among the toughest customers around, of course. To say nothing of Lone Wolf himself after managing to get the Kai Order restarted.
- Starship Traveller, an interactive novel in the Fighting Fantasy series, has this in play. When in combat, non-security personnel have a penalty to their skill rating. The exception is you, the ship's captain. "Your own fighting skills are equal to your professional skills, as befits a true hero."
- Classical Mythology:
- Many of the kings and rulers were themselves formidable warriors. One of the most famous examples is The Iliad, where Idomeneus, Menelaus, Ajax, Diomedes, Agamemnon, Achilles, Patroclus, Odysseus, Philoctetes, Hector, in short almost all the major warriors are kings or princes of some sort.
- Zeus, king of the gods, is the most powerful of the Olympians, tied/rivaled only by his brothers Poseidon and Hades, who are themselves the undisputed kings of their respective domains. It seems to run in the family too; their father Kronos was the most powerful of the Titans and their leader. Not to mention that most — well, pretty much all — of his sons were no slouches.
- Paul Boesch yelled at the Mongolian Stomper's manager, James J Dillon, for wrestling competitive matches, insisting that should not be the role of a manager. Dave Meltzer has also criticized managers RD Evans and Prince Nana for going overboard at Ring of Honor's Final Battle 2012. On the other hand, popular authority figures kicking ass often does go over well with crowds, such as whenever Carlos or Stacy Colon return to the ring to put upstart WWC wrestlers in their place.
- Zig-Zagged by Triple H. His success in the ring has gone down sharply the more highly ranked in the company he becomes, but he is still arguably one of the best wrestlers in the company and one of the few Real Life executives of a major multinational corporation who could legitimately be able to give and take a beating. His various kayfabe runs as the on-screen authority figure played this trope less or more straight depending on the era as well, and he's been a real-life trusted confidant of Vince since the late 90s at the earliest, so he was an influential behind-the-scenes power player even in his wrestling prime.
- Outside the subject of authority figures and promoters, most professional wrestling stables are organized this way. The strongest/most capable/highest tiered member of the group will usually be presented as either the direct leader of the stable, or, in a slight subversion, the second-in-command and most prized client in a group organized by a Non-Action Big Bad or Retired Badass. Ric Flair has been all three of these throughout his career, first as the leader of The Four Horsemen (with J.J. Dillon serving as the manager for most of the group's early tenure), then as the largely-retired mentor of the Spiritual Successor group Fortune.
- Destroy the Godmodder: Due to the Godmodder's rank of Omega+ at the top of the Godmodding Ladder, he is one of the deadliest people known to not just the Internet, but to the entire multiverse.
- Dragon Ball After The End: Invoked amongst the Exiles, where only a Clans Lord, Scion (heir), and Patriarch/Matriarch is allowed to possess the Super Saiyan transformation, and more critically, only they know how to reach its full potential.
- A very common trope in the roleplay game In the Beginning, There Was Man involving the God Emperor of Mankind and His Primarchs.
- There is no GATE; we did not fight there: Kytheus Rhavenfell's entire family tree, maternal and paternal. In particular, his grandfathers, Kryton and Aslan, are two of the most exceptional, and some might even argue the greatest, warriors ever known to the Empire, while serving as the Lord Exemplars of their domains.
- Used in Survival of the Fittest. The leaders of the terrorist organization are Danya, and a group of four terrorists directly under his command appropriately referred to as "The Big Four", two of whom are Danya's bodyguards when they're not doing other things. The Big Four play this straight in that they're all elite soldiers, one of them having been a successful professional boxer between leaving the military and joining Danya's organisation, and Badass Bookworm Jim Greynolds is the only one of them who isn't more or less a master of hand to hand combat. Also used with the group SADD, whose leader Neil Sinclair is probably the best fighter of the bunch (he certainly lived the longest)
- Open Blue's Back Story had the Caesars of the Iormunean Imperium, who had access to an elixir that boosted their lifespan, physical abilities, and Healing Factor, making them fearsome warriors in battle. Second to them was the High Executor, leader of the Praetorian Guard, who was armed with an ancestral sword that could double as a Wave-Motion Gun.
- Xandus, the most powerful villain in the Avatar Adventures universe, doubles as the Prime Minister of Canada.
- In The Gungan Council, it's either played straight or inverted with Masters and Elites. They are regarded as the strongest characters and usually have or are granted many prestigious titles and responsibilities. Can be subverted or even averted for Padawans, Apprentices, and Trainees that roleplay have a high title.
- Happy Tree Friends: In "Operation: Tiger Bomb", exploring Flippy's backstory, the Tiger General came to blows against Fliqpy and actually gave him the toughest fight in the entire series.
- Huntsmen and other warriors that live long enough to become tutors or truly old are extremely dangerous people by virtue of having survived a dangerous job with a very high death toll. This can cause its own problems as Discussed in-universe. There is a conflict between General Ironwood and the Beacon staff because Ironwood believes in closely associating authority with the amount of ass-kicking that authority is capable of. It's why he insists on bringing an army to Vale for the Vytal Tournament. By contrast, Ozpin, Qrow, and Glynda fear such displays will backfire rather than be helpful. The lesson the Beacon teachers seem to teach their students is that authority requires leadership ability rather than combat skill, something that Ozpin makes a point of telling Ruby to make her take responsibility for her position as team leader; this is a lesson that Ruby then passes on to Jaune, for the same reason.
- General Ironwood himself proves to be this trope in action, on the rare occasion when he steps onto the front lines. As Headmaster of Atlas Academy and general of the largest military in the world, Ironwood is normally a commander giving out orders to others and overseeing the larger mission. This does not mean the General has allowed his skills as a Huntsman to decline. During the Battle of Beacon, Ironwood is able to take down larger Grimm with his bare hands and easily dispatches his own automated forces when the machines are turned against him.
- During the Great War, the Vacuo campaign consisted of Mantle and Anima attempting to take control of Vacuo's resources, forcing the King of Vale to take to the front line to save Vale and Vacuo. The King of Vale, who until then had been only a reluctant participant in the war, entered battle with only a sword and his Royal sceptre. However, he single-handedly laid waste to battlefield and all four armies, raining down the wrath of nature itself. The Great War immediately ended because the leaders of Mantle, Anima, and even Vale's ally, Vacuo, were so terrified that they didn't simply surrender, they offered the King of Vale their crowns; instead of taking over the world, he used the opportunity to bring global peace. While Remnant historians debate the veracity of what the King of Vale was capable of, Vacuo still has not recovered eighty years on. The truth is even stranger than historians suspect: The King of Vale was one of Ozpin's prior incarnations, a Sorcerer King that wielded his magic and the Relic of Destruction to decisively end the war.
- Ghira Belladonna is the chieftain of Menagerie and the previous leader of the White Fang. These days, he lives in a big house with lots of security guards to protect him. When his house is invaded, however, his armed guards struggle to repel the threat and die under the onslaught. Meanwhile, he's dropping assassins with his bare hands.
- Shrapnel: Played with in regards to Reznya and the Ugandan Knuckles. The Ugandan Knuckles are a group of weirdly deformed echidna men who claim to be proud Ugandan warriors who, much to Reznya’s annoyance, persistently insist that she is their queen, despite her telling them again and again that she isn’t. At any rate, she has their Undying Loyalty after she saves their lives, and is a far better fighter than any of them could ever hope to be.
- In the Armageddon web-novels, this is how both Hell and Heaven operate — rank and power are equal, with Satan and Yahweh being on the top of the heap. When Michael managed to kill Yahweh with the assistance of his conspiracy, he not only increased in power, he gained the ability to confer power on other angels.
- Entry #23 in the Cracked photoshop contest "Rejected Final Bosses from Famous Video Games" proposes Charles Darwin, author of the theory of evolution, as a possible final boss for the Pokémon franchise (which deals with "evolution" as a major game mechanic).
- Worm features Lung, leader of the Azn Bad Boys, whose power amounts to turning into a dragon, compared to minions' powers of teleporting and making bombs. This is commonly averted throughout the rest of the novel; the most powerful members of the Slaughterhouse Nine and Cauldron (Siberian and Contessa, respectively) are The Dragon rather than the Big Bad.
- It is revealed in Kickassia that Kevin Baugh, the president of Molossia, can teleport and use a sword.
- 5 Second Films: Tom Watson, MP for West Bromwich East. Keeping you safe from mutant shark men and heats your home to boot!
- This is typically the case for social and pack animals, such as wolves and gorillas, because of a similar trope.
- In ages past it was common for generals to actually lead their troops into battle, but this was really to better direct the troops in an age before radio. The death of a general in battle often ensured his army's defeat, so this tradition was abandoned as soon as distance command became practical.
- In feudal societies, the upper classes had more access to military training and equipment, as well as better diets, so you could expect that the lord could wipe the floor with his peasants.
- Among the lower ranks of real military forces, however, this is most certainly Truth in Television. A Corporal or Sergeant Major (etc.) will only hold the rank they do because they climbed the rank ladder from the very bottom upward and will have gained valuable combat experience along the way, but are not yet too old to dish out a good asskicking.
- Part of a senior non-commissioned officer's job is to mentor junior officers. The officers do outrank NCOs, but are expected to defer to the knowledge and experience of their senior NCO subordinates. The corollary being that NCOs must never in any way be perceived as diminishing or being dismissive of the officers' command authority.
- As historically nobility equaled warrior class, worth as a vassal was earned in warfare, and commonplace wars and duels let the stronger take over the weaker. So in the Early Middle Ages, higher nobility had to be highly skilled in combat to stay such. The expense of quality equipment helped that end as well. Later relative peace and hereditary nobility ended this.
- Tsar Alexander III was a truly massive man, nearly two meters tall and possessing great physical strength. He was rough and, though his reign was relatively peaceful, was known to train extensively for combat. When his train crashed, he actually held up the roof so his family could escape. This puts the Assassin's Creed example under Comic Books in perspective.
- During the Russo-Japanese War, rear admiral Rozhestvensky: chief of staff of the Russian Navy (basically the third highest job in the whole Navy, second only to the director of the Department of the of Navy (counterpart of Defense Secretary in US terms, only dedicated to the Navy and not the armed forces in general)) and the General Admiral (a rank reserved for members of the House of Romanov) for the first half of the war and commander of the Second Pacific Squadron when the Tzar decided to send ships of the Baltic Fleet to reinforce Port Arthur, was a powerful man who would punch out any undisciplined sailor unlucky enough to be noticed by him. From the same conflict, Heihachiro Togo: commander in chief of the Imperial Japanese Navy and the one who defeated the best admirals of Russia, Rozhestvensky included, was a trained samurai and a skilled swordsman before the Meiji Restauration and him becoming a sailor.
- Subverted in the case of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. While they did serve in World War I, their state's Propaganda Machine made them into much more than they really were. Hitler did get two Iron Crosses, but that probably had more to do with his near-constant proximity to the Regimental HQ (plus, as a message runner, his decorations would be more for surviving extremely hazardous situations than for kicking ass during them). He also turned down a promotion, probably to avoid more responsibility. Mussolini's war record, on the other hand, is almost completely unremarkable.
- Vladimir Putin is proficient in several different martial arts and has been practicing them since childhood.
- In the 1800s, there was a Mexican politician by the name of Antonio de Padua María Severino López de Santa Anna y Pérez de Lebrón, better known as Antonio López de Santa Anna, President of Mexico and "Napoleon of the West". A popular general and leader (he was elected president for eleven non-consecutive terms), he is most famous among Americans for the time he traveled to Texas to personally take charge of the Mexican forces working to put down a rebellion, including leading the forces that successfully besieged and retook San Antonio and The Alamo. Of course, he is also known for being captured at the Battle of San Jacinto, where he was forced to sign the Treaties of Velasco recognizing the Republic of Texas as an independent nation, which probably wouldn't have happened if he had led from the rear. The Texian leader at San Jacinto, General Sam Houston, would would go on to be President and later Governor of Texas.
- General Andrew Jackson, who led American troops to victory at the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812 and later became the 7th President of the United States, was a highly accomplished duelist who survived numerous pistol duels. His most famous duel was with Charles Dickenson in 1806. Dickenson got off the first shot, striking Jackson in the chest, just inches away from his heart, but Jackson was still able to fire his pistol and kill Dickenson. Against all odds, Jackson survived his own gunshot wound, though the bullet was too close to his heart to be removed and it would give him chronic pain for the rest of his life. Jackson got a chance to show off his fighting prowess in 1835 when he became the first US President to survive an assassination attempt. The assassin, 35-year old Richard Lawrence, approached the 67-year old Jackson and tried to shoot him with two pistols, both of which misfired. Jackson then proceeded to savagely pummel Lawrence with his cane, and only stopped when Lawrence was subdued by bystanders.
- In The American Civil War, Confederate cavalry general Nathan Bedford Forrest was distinguished for his skills as a warrior as much as he was for his leadership. Throughout the course of the war, he was wounded numerous times and killed more than 30 Union soldiers in combat. He also killed one of his own officers in self-defense, Lt. A. Wills Gould, after the two of them got into a heated exchange over a transfer order that Forrest had signed. Gould pulled his revolver and shot Forrest, but Forrest still managed to draw his knife and stab Gould to death after being shot.
- Before becoming leader of the Zulu tribe, Shaka Zulu had a distinguished career as a common soldier in King Dingiswayo's army. At a time when combat between African tribes consisted of fighting mostly by throwing spears at each other from a distance, Shaka preferred to fight his enemies up close with a custom-made spear with a short haft he eventually called the iklwa in reference to the sound it made when he plunged it into opposing soldiers. He eventually earned a promotion to a commander by defeating a famous warrior of the Butelezi tribe in a one-on-one duel and then leading the rest of the army to victory and would define his reforms to the Zulu military doctrine later.
- Marcus Claudius Marcellus, the Sword of Rome, went from one Roman consul who fought a war to Rome's greatest of his era when, during a battle against the Insubres, he noticed an enemy with a fancy armour, killed him incredibly fast, and then, when the Insubres started running as soon as they noticed what he had just done, realized he had just killed the enemy commander in single combat. The man would go on fighting in the Second Punic War, in which he single-handedly reconquered the rebelling Sicily with a combination of taking the apparently unconquerable Syracuse and an application of the usual Roman policy against rebels and traitorous allies that even the Roman Senate found excessive and match Hannibal in their five battles before dying in an ambush.
- A funny deconstruction of this trope happened during the Lusitanian Wars. In Celtic societies, chieftains were expected to be great warriors as well, and this led to the fortuitous death of the Roman praetor Gaius Vetilius, who had been captured by a Lusitanian warrior during the battle of Tribola. Vetilius was so fat, old, and out of shape that the Lusitanian couldn't believe he was really the commander of the Roman forces, so he slew him and forgot about it instead of taking him as a hostage.
- This is a requirement for anyone involved in politics in failed or otherwise unstable states.
- General Adde Musa, then-President of the breakaway state of Puntland, in Somalia, personally led fifty "technicals" against Islamist militiamen in Galkayo on 2006.
- Theodore Roosevelt was a Genius Bruiser who was known for personally leading his soldiers in battles and for being a vicious boxer and singlestick fighter even as President of the United States.
- Most martial arts with a ranking system tend to have a case of this.
- Judo is famous for pioneering the coloured belt system, in theory, a higher-ranked fighter is supposed to be able to beat a lower-ranked one. While this is not always the case, any legitimate blackbelt is most likely a formidable and experienced player.
- In Sumo, there are no set criteria to becoming a yokozuna (the highest possible rank), however, a prospective yokozuna must prove themselves to be skilled and gracious, so any sumotori holding the rank are expected to be the best among the best.
- Before he ever became a consul, Gaius Marius was a general from the Cimbric and Jugarthine Wars and was considered the "Third Founder of Rome". He would later on enact the Marian Reforms, which would revolutionize the way Rome waged war: a key part of it being that instead of simply recruiting rich landowners and taxpayers in times of conflict, Rome would pretty much recruit anyone and train them year-round to be ready for anything.
- His nephew is not so far in that regard, as he is none other than Julius Caesar, who himself is pretty much Rome's quintessential Four-Star Badass.
- The same goes for his nephew, Augustus, who would go on to become the First Emperor of Rome.
- Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky is becoming memetically associated with this for (supposedly) serving on the front lines with his troops and defying Russian surrender orders.
- Formalized in Ancient Egypt through the Sed Festival: as one of the Pharaoh's duties was to command the army in major campaigns he had to be physically strong enough to perform his duties, so in the thirtieth year of reign, and every three years after that, he had to prove age hadn't slowed him down through the Sed Festival, in which he performed a number of physically extenuating duties culminating in running with an ox and using a rope to lift a pillar by himself. Success announced the Pharaoh's strength and magic had been rejuvenated, while failure meant the immediate abdication, and possibly killing the now useless previous Pharaoh (with the Pharaoh's chosen heir having a role in the ceremonies precisely so he could succeed him on the spot if needed). Ramesses II reigning for 66 years is one of the reasons he was considered the greatest Pharaoh even by the Egyptians themselves, as not only he successfully celebrated the Sed for thirteen or fourteen times, the last happened in his eighties.