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Suddenly Always Knew That

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Bajoran social worker: Our computers don't work. I can't get a technician to come out. We're not exactly a top priority.
Garak the tailor: Perhaps I can be of service?
Dr. Bashir: You can fix computers?!
Garak: Oh, I dabble with isolinear data subprocessors. It's a hobby of mine.

How did a character suddenly acquire a needed skill?

By an unrelated previous life experience he never knew would prove so useful, sometimes a Retcon. In other words, the character always had the skill, but You Didn't Ask.

A character who is an actor is a sharpshooter because he had to learn it for a role. A writer is an expert on medieval history because she had to research it for a book.

Common with older, gray-haired characters. You never think that your mother or grandmother could've had a life before you were born.

Combine this with Character Development to get Taught by Experience and Took a Level in Badass. See also I Know Mortal Kombat, Taught by Television and Instant Expert. Compare New Powers as the Plot Demands, where not even the character knew that he had the new skill all along. If you did, in fact, ask, so it has been mentioned before, that's Chekhov's Hobby; if the actual training is shown, it's Chekhov's Skill.

See also Deus ex Machina, a similar and often related concept. The polar opposite of this trope is Informed Ability. I Minored in Tropology is a Sub-Trope. Not to be confused with Knew It All Along, which is sort of an in-universe version (the character only claims to have known), but related to knowledge, not skills. Compare Suddenly Bilingual.

This trope used to be called "I Know Kung Fu" (a reference to a scene from The Matrix involving an Upgrade Artifact which actually exemplifies Instant Expert); that name now redirects to I Know Karate.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Death Note, L and Light both reveal themselves to have excellent hand-to-hand combat skills. Light is the definition of a perfect over-achiever, so we can assume that martial arts are just another one of his many extracurricular activities. The reveal is somewhat more surprising from L, who seems to spend every waking moment alone, crouched in front of a screen. Watari also suddenly reveals himself as a Battle Butler sharpshooter.
  • Dr. Reichwein of Monster used to work with the border police, but the two punks trying to beat him up in an alley didn't know that.
  • Sei from Suicide Island turns out to be rather well-versed in archery and even creates his own bow, looking for sturdy, but flexible wood to use as the base and crafting his own arrows, despite the manga pointing out that he was more of a Hikkikomori who didn't do all that much before landing on the island.
  • Mikoto Misaka of A Certain Magical Index turns out all of a sudden to speak both English and French in later stories. Perhaps justified in that she goes to a very prestigious and formal school, whose curriculum would likely include foreign language courses, but it comes up out of nowhere in the narrative.
  • My Hero Academia: During the Culture Festival Arc, Class 1-A decides to make a band lead by Jiro, who was previously shown to have a music background. Bakugo and Tokoyami join the band and are revealed to have skills with drums and guitars, respectively, despite such a thing never even being mentioned about them.
  • In Get Backers, Ban suddenly plays the violin in a perfect duet with well-known violinist Motoki, much to the surprise of everyone present, especially Ginji who has been a job partner/friends with Ban for years.

    Comic Books 
  • Dr. Calculus in Tintin, a quintessential Absent-Minded Professor, can be an awfully dangerous fighter when his Berserk Button is pressed. Appears he has practised savate in his youth.
  • Subverted in Y: The Last Man. Dr. Mann suddenly reveals that she was a fencer in college when she was confronted by a sword wielding Ninja ("I'm an Ivy League Lesbian, bitch [makes a big sword flourish] You honestly think that I have never fenced before?"), but then gets immediately defeated by her opponent. (It might have helped if she were using a rapier rather than a jian).
    Toyota: (trading blows) Wow, I'm shocked! You're actually ...not...that...good! (stabs Mann through the shoulder)
  • X-Men: During the seventies, the X-Men wound up in Japan. Problem was not a one of them knew how to read or speak Japanese... except pre-character development Wolverine, who instantly picks up a newspaper and starts reading. Later retcons have made Japan a major part of Wolverine's past, but at the time it came completely out of left field.

    Fan Works 
  • In The Reluctant Father Universe, Axel can apparently do everything. His talents include, but are not limited to, using a yo-yo, styling hair and knitting, of all things.
    Xion: How do you do that?
    Axel: By being awesome.
  • The Golds: Turns out Baelfire seems perfectly qualified to help with a birth. Granted most of his experiences was with sheep, but he still gets the job done.
  • Most of Superboy's moments of hidden genius come out like this in the Teen Titans Our Own League series, but not without reason. The process which created him involved telepathically uploading a genius IQ into his brain, but with no actual learning involved, knowledge of subjects like advanced mathematics, sciences, world history, and over a dozen languages are stored in the boy's subconscious until a situation demands he remember.

    Films — Animated 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In The Poseidon Adventure, Belle Rosen, while seemingly the least fit (and least useful) of the survivors, was able to swim a long distance underwater while carrying the end of a rope, because she was on the swim team in school. Sadly, she dies of a heart attack immediately afterwards.
  • In the film ˇThree Amigos!, Ned Nederlander reveals that he actually is a real quickdraw artist when challenged by a German former fan. The German assumed that Ned used trick photography, but Ned insists that it's all him. Subverted by Ned later when he reveals that he learned to fly the German's exact make and model of bi-plane for a film, but his stuntman actually did the flying. He still manages to fake it long enough to escape.
  • 2012 loves to use this trope. For instance, Gordon Silverman is a plastic surgeon who is also an amateur pilot. He is used to help fly a plane when the group needed a pilot. Of course, a day's worth of flight lessons in a two-seater Cessna doesn't qualify you to fly the diversity of aircraft he pilots in the film. Hell, it barely qualifies you to fly a two-seater Cessna.
  • Star Trek: Nemesis has an extended sequence of Picard and his away team of Data and Worf speeding through the desert of an industrial-age planet to pick up the pieces of a Soong-type android that were picked up on sensors. According to Patrick Stewart, it was so he could show off his enthusiasm for dune racing in real life. While this makes sense for Patrick Stewart, Jean-Luc Picard was a man who upheld the Prime Directive at the risk of his own life over the course of his career, and yet this scene has him engage in a protracted chase scene with the some of the planet's inhabitants' military.
  • Enforced in The Matrix when characters have new skills downloaded directly into their brains, for example Neo being given fighting skills or Trinity learning how to fly a helicopter.
  • Alice in Resident Evil: Retribution suddenly knows American Sign Language so she can talk to her "daughter". Of course, given the character...
  • A plot point in American Ultra: The protagonist, Mike Howell, is a stoner stuck in a dead-end job who can't even try to leave his hometown without having a panic attack. Unbeknownst to him, he's also a former Manchurian Agent for the CIA. After his programming gets reactivated, his prior training kicks in and he not only becomes an expert fighter, but finds that he has an encyclopedic knowledge of tanks, guns, and other weapons.
    Mike: I have the weirdest thoughts in my head right now.
    Phoebe: I know. I know, babe.
    Mike: But do you know what an M1 Abrams is? It's a type of tank. I could list like 50 types of tanks right now. When did I learn about tanks? I didn't. I know nothing about tanks or guns or bombs, but I suddenly know, like, everything about tanks and guns and...
  • The Gamers: Dorkness Rising, which is about a Dungeons & Dragons campaign. Leo, who generally plays fighters, is this time playing Flynn the bard. The rest of the party try to get some background exposition out of him, but they grow silently frustrated at his lack of knowledge. Until he finally remembers what bards are good for, after which he recites what he knew all along from index cards handed to him by the off-screen DM.
    Silence: How could this be?
    Flynn: I have no idea. [sound of dice rolling] Actually, I do! Bardic Knowledge!
  • Every player character in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle has their own skills; Mouse's is zoology. This shows as Fridge, Mouse's player, suddenly rattling off relevant facts about whatever animal they're facing, to his own shock.
    How do I know this?!
  • In Weird: The Al Yankovic Story, when Al struggles to win over a hostile audience at a dive bar, his roommates spontaneously pick up instruments and get on stage to back him up, adding energy to the song and winning over the audience. This is after they previously showed no musical talent whatsoever, even as they helped Al record his first demo tape.
    Al: Why didn't you guys tell me you could play? You're great!
    Jim West: I guess it didn't seem relevant 'til now.

  • How NOT to Write a Novel discourages this in "And by the Way, I'm an Expert Marksman!", in which the protagonist, when forced to dive through a long tunnel, suddenly reveals that he grew up with oyster divers in the South Seas.
  • Sherlock Holmes suddenly reveals himself to be a master of "baritsu," which enables the ultimate Author's Saving Throw.
  • In Jack Vance's Lyonesse trilogy, Aillas never comes across as someone particularly interested or skilled in swordsmanship. In The Green Pearl, however, he encounters an infamous bandit leader from a very martial culture who considers himself virtually peerless with a blade in hand. Out of nowhere, Aillas hands him a Curb-Stomp Battle without breaking a sweat. A few chapters later, a bystander comments that he's a "demon with a sword."
  • MkVenner, from Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts novel, really does know kung fu. Before joining the Imperial Guard he trained with a group of secretive 'woodland warriors' and also speaks fluent Old Gothic. Of course, you don't learn this until it saves the whole squad in His Last Command.
  • In Atlas Shrugged Dagny flies an airplane when she goes searching for John Galt. It is never mentioned why or how she knows how to fly.
  • The Longing of Shiina Ryo: When Shin-tsu has to defend himself from Kouma.
  • Lampshaded in Redshirts, in that the Narrative will insert info into a character's head as the plot demands it.
  • In Witches Abroad, Granny shows amazing skill at the card game Cripple Mr. Onion, winning back the money and broom that Nanny lost to a group of gamblers. It turns out that she'd played daily with an old witch (who had only a vague idea of the difference between the present and future due to glitchy second sight) while keeping her company and picked up a few tricks.
    • It helps that she "accidentally" broke all the cheating devices that her opponents normally relied on.
  • The Dark Tower: Roland reveals a number of amazing abilities throughout the series, with no hint of possessing them earlier, including an encyclopedic knowledge of riddles, outstanding dancing skills and the ability to keep perfect time.
  • Honor Harrington does this a couple of times with armed combat abilities. (In contrast to her unarmed skills, which are set up from square one.) In particular, her excellent marksmanship shows up in Book 6. When asked how she was able to beat experienced fighters, she explains that she grew up using those skills in a region on Sphinx that wasn't too civilized, and actually considered joining the armed combat teams in the Navel Academy but went for unarmed combat instead. A bit later, she turns out to have a remarkable aptitude with specifically ancient firearms (i.e. real-life guns) because she was a member of the 40th century SCA.
  • War and Peace: Denisov, one of Nikolai's friends from the army, is suddenly revealed to be a great dancer when he and the Rostovs attend a ball. Tolstoy's style of writing necessitates a lot of this because he tends to write about things as they happen without going too far into backstory.
  • Justified in the Earth's Children series by Jean M. Auel. The people of the Clan of the Cave Bear (Neanderthals) rely heavily on genetic memory. They don't learn skills by instruction, they literally remember how to do things because their ancestors knew how to do them. As useful as this ability is, the books make it clear that this impressive memory comes at the cost of the Clan being almost incapable of imagination or innovation. Simply put, they can't learn what they don't already know.
  • Averted in L'autre. Natan's amny skills and apparent New Powers as the Plot Demands are due to the fact that he's a Scholiast
  • The Stormlight Archive: The process of entering the Physical Realm to bond a human leaves a spren's mind fragmented. As such, a spren often doesn't remember how the Surgebinding powers she grants work until her bonded human accidentally uses them. This is very frustrating for the first couple of books, as there haven't been any spren bonds for millennia and the heroes have to reconstruct Surgebinding without the recorded knowledge and tradition that would have told them what their powers were and how to use them.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • Xander (once mentally turned into a soldier by a spell) knows the layout and lingo for the local military outpost. When these turned out to be useful, the writers Hand Waved them away... and Xander didn't even tell us about that until months after his implanted memories were gone. It does take about three years for the implanted memories to fade, which is a reasonable amount of time considering the spell that gave him those abilities only lasted all of several hours.
    • In the seventh season, the writers seemed so desperate to justify Dawn's very existence that she suddenly could translate old magical books from Sumerian. It was slightly less justified than the same character demonstrating sword proficiency in the last episode of the sixth season.
    • Angel. Photographic Memory, Super-Reflexes, ultra-sensitive hearing and sense of smell in the later seasons. When you re-watch the earlier seasons, you can't help but notice countless situations where, in retrospect, they inexplicably fail to help him. Angel mentioned that he can't control his photographic memory; it just "kicks in on instinct".
    • Giles demonstrates several hidden talents as the series goes on, after being established in the first season as having minimal practical experience with combat or magic (e.g. in Witch he outright says that he's never cast a spell before). In season 2, he's revealed to have been involved in a group of magic users in his university days who summoned a demon; by season 3 he can pick locks and cast reasonably powerful spells from memory (Gingerbread) and is a proficient enough swordsman that he holds his own against vampires who specifically focus on sword duelling (Bad Girls).
  • In Castle, there are several instances.
    • At least Once per Episode, Castle brings up some random piece of knowledge that his research or various hobbies have taught him. He can also speak Mandarin, which he attributed to a TV show he used to love.
    • Beckett can also slip into a Russian accent which she attributed to a semester she spent abroad. In reality, Stana Katic is fluent in Serbian, which is somewhat similar to Russian.
  • Charmed (1998):
    • In "That 70's Episode", Phoebe suddenly reveals the ability to pick locks. Lampshaded by Prue, who rhetorically asks, "Why am I not surprised that you know how to do this?"
    • Despite Phoebe having trained in martial arts, the third season shows auctioneer/photographer Prue surpassing her in martial arts skills she has never learned.
    • In Season 8, Paige showed that she knows martial arts as well despite the fact that we never saw her train in hand-to-hand combat.
  • NewsRadio:
    • Catherine, typically the classiest and snootiest character on the show, nonetheless knows a little three card monte from a summer spent hustling with an uncle.
    • Dave Nelson also has a surprising amount of skill in both knife throwing and tap dancing. He also just so happens to be a ventriloquist, speaks Spanish, is an expert at the arcade game Stargate [Defender], can sing a cappella, and can cross dress surprisingly well.
  • Diane on Cheers was an excellent bowler because she had taken bowling for her PE credits in college.
  • Danger 5: In "Kill-Men of the Rising Sun" Hirohito has a code book to control his robots, but all of it is written in Japanese. Claire then very conveniently reveals that she learned Oriental Languages at Cambridge.
  • Quantum Leap:
    • Dr Sam Beckett has seven degrees (most of them unidentified) and knows eleven languages. On the other hand, the Time Travel process leaves his memory swiss-cheesed, so he can forget as well as remember things as needed by the plot, as well as often altering his own timeline so he has those skills retroactively. Also, any skill he doesn't have can be taught to him by Al, who has been an astronaut, a boxer, a stage actor, a baseball pitcher, and even teaches Sam how to out-draw an old West gunslinger. In fairness, if you were looking for someone to be a holographic observer you'd probably want to get someone who is pretty handy, especially since they can't physically help. And Al is clearly old enough to have been all these things.
    • Al has also been married five times, and when information he gives Sam seems too arcane for even Al to have personally experienced, he often claims he learned it from one of his ex-wives.
    • There was an episode where Sam, in a life-threatening situation two switchblade-wielding kidnappers/rapists, was able to fend off his attackers WITH KUNG FU! After high kicking one of the scumbags, Sam was surprised to learn that he could do that, immediately after which Al informed him that he was skilled in several schools of martial arts.
  • It's even in reality TV: In the Survivor All Star episodes, shortly after Richard Hatch gets voted off, we find out that Lex has a talent at fishing (which we never knew from Survivor Africa, because the only water Lex encountered there was at the bottom of a muddy hole).
  • In Lost, several characters have developed useful skills that have proven critical on the Island. Sun's knowledge of the medicinal qualities of herbs found on the island exceeds those of a normal home gardener, and Kate's "tracking" skills came out of nowhere (explained by a You Didn't Ask). However, this may be still explained by the mysteries of the island. It seems like Sun's skill is less knowing what plants can do and more being able to figure out the name of a plant by looking at it — something that she could have picked up from books. It doesn't take a genius to know that eucalyptus is the active ingredient in Vicks Vapo-Rub.
  • Blair in The Sentinel has revealed odd skills derived from summer jobs and/or researching various cultures.
  • Shepherd Book of Firefly displayed an array of crime-related talents and knowledge that one wouldn't expect the average priest to have, hinting at a Mysterious Past; however, it was never made quite clear what this past was, beyond being former Alliance and his survival being very important to the authorities (except possibly non-canon Serenity book tie-in, where he reveals to Mal that he is a former Operative).
    • The Serenity RPG has characters buy their skills as they go, the justification being that we find some new facet of the character's backstory at that point.
    • Word of God has said that's canon now, as "Book" is actually the name of someone he killed.
  • In Friends, Chandler has hidden from Monica that he's an excellent ping-pong player, because he didn't want her to enter them in doubles tournaments. When she hurts her hand during a game, he turns out to be a not-so-hopeless replacement. This was hinted several times early on, with Chandler mentioning playing racquet ball with his bosses (which included the strong implication he always let his bosses win), or Ross' parents. This was probably something written in, because of Matthew Perry's real-life brief career as a tennis player.
    Chandler: I'll just play left-handed.
    Ross: You mean you're not left-handed?
  • Heroes:
    • Sandra Bennet can make fake IDs, a skill she used to sneak into Def Leppard concerts when she was younger.
    • On a more super-powered level, there's Monica Dawson, whose ability is described as "adoptive muscle memory." More specifically, it's a form of Awesome by Analysis that enables her to perfectly and automatically recreate any action she sees, even if she's only glimpsed it in passing. It's a totally unconscious power—Monica first realizes something's up when she foils a robber using an advanced wrestling move she watched earlier, cuts a tomato into a rose pattern without thinking about or even noticing what she's doing, and later starts playing piano like a classically trained pro even as she explains she's never touched a piano in her life. When Monica decides to take up crimefighting full time, her mentor provides her with an iPod full of short videos of experts in various fields from flying planes to defusing bombs so that she'll be ready for any situation that comes up.
  • In the Bones episode "The Woman In The Sand," the normally clipped and clinical Brennan unexpectedly busts out a scarily convincing alternate persona to fool some lowlifes, complete with Jersey-girl accent. When Booth later asks her "what got into you," she says, "It's from when I used to watch old movies with my dad. He really liked Clara Bow."
    "Clara Bow was a silent film star, Bones."
    "Yeah, but I guess that's how I always imagined she sounded."
  • In The A-Team episode "The Maltese Cow," Face and Murdock find a message written on a mirror in Chinese. Murdock proceeds to read it out loud, and when Face gives him a weird look, he explains:
    Murdock: One afternoon, I got a gonzo headache, and before it was over, I could read and write Chinese. And that was a bad afternoon, let me tell you.
  • Trick's Ueda Jiro, virgin physicist professor, took a correspondence course in karate that somehow turned him into a kung-fu machine.
  • In Taxi, Jim Ignatowski is brought to a fancy party by Elaine who is hoping to impress someone but needs a date to attend the party. Jim proceeds to humiliate Elaine by acting like the '60s burn-out that he is, only to save the situation by sitting down at the piano and playing brilliantly. The other guests assume that Jim was just having a bit of fun, and so Elaine succeeds in her goal. Jim's befuddled reaction to his own playing: "I must have taken... music lessons..."
  • In the Made-for-TV Movie/Pilot Movie Tag Team, two pro wrestlers are drummed out of the business for refusing to take a dive and become cops. At the police academy one (played by Jesse Ventura) shows remarkable marksmanship. "Where did you learn that?" "Navy SEALs."
  • In FlashForward (2009), Nicole has a plot-useful knowledge of Japanese because she was a Military Brat.
  • Psych is a borderline example since episodes generally start with a flashback to Shawn learning a skill that will prove relevant to the episode. It still counts, though, since we never hear about any of these skills until the episode in which they become useful.
  • Despite the page quote, Garak from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is a subversion; while he's technically known for the moment as a tailor, it's an open secret from Season 2 onward that he's actually a highly trained former intelligence agent, and that all of his unexpected skills ultimately trace back to that fact. Given that his past is not really a secret anymore, his refusal to say as much is likely just for the sake of amusing himself and annoying others.
  • Star Trek: Voyager: Chakotay and Tom Paris suddenly reveal knowledge of everything from 20th century technology to marine craft as required by the script.
  • Doctor Who:
    • In the serial "The Gunfighters", the Doctor's cover identity for himself, Steven and Dodo is that they are all travelling performers. He quickly fibs that Steven is a singer and Dodo is a pianist, both of which they yell at the Doctor for as they claim they can barely do those things. When they're later forced to perform a sophisticated ragtime song they have never heard before, with no rehearsal, from sheet music, they are surprisingly good - Dodo even enjoys her piano playing so much that she gets jealous when the gang forces Steven to play piano, at which he is also surprisingly good. Both of them express surprise at how good they all are afterwards.
    • In the same serial, the Doctor, who normally Doesn't Like Guns,note  suddenly becomes able to do Gun Twirling when showing off to Wyatt Earp (who suggests that doing it is a bad idea).
    • In "The Five Doctors", the Fifth Doctor reveals himself to be a skilled harpist.
    • The Doctor has this as a character trait — different incarnations of himself suddenly display 'new' skills he'd apparently known forever, or forget old ones, helping to differentiate new incarnations. Obvious examples are the Second Doctor's social acuity, the Third Doctor's mastery of Venusian Karate, the Fourth Doctor's rather stronger Psychic Powers than the others, and so on. In the Doctor Who New Adventures books, the Seventh Doctor temporarily reverts his personality (though not his body) to that of the Third Doctor — once to take advantage of Three's martial arts and once to take advantage of his different scientific knowledge.
    • The Expanded Universe takes some pleasure in giving previous Doctors powers only shown by later ones. For instance, the Time Trips novella "The Death Pit" shows the Fourth Doctor using psychic paper to blag his way into a spa, a gadget introduced by the Ninth Doctor.
  • Veronica Mars:
    • Veronica is moderately proficient in ASL as of the season 2 episode "My Mother, The Fiend", a skill never mentioned or used before or afterwards.
    • Semi-example at the end of season 2. Beaver is revealed to have a working knowledge of explosives, which he learned from a stuntman who worked for his father and which he's previously used to help Hart Hanson create special effects for his amateur movies; this is one of the pieces of evidence that points to him being behind the bus crash. Not a full example, as Hart and his films are introduced back in season 1, it's established early in season 2 that Beaver knew the stuntman, but his having learned enough to single-handedly rig a remotely-detonated explosive that sent a bus over a cliff is all new information.
    • Played with in another instance. Spoiled rich girl Jackie starts waiting tables at the coffee shop where Veronica works and proves to be naturally talented at it, which she attributes to ballet lessons giving her grace and balance. Veronica, given this and several other clues, realises that Jackie is lying about her past; she's a teen single mother who's been waiting tables in New York for years.
  • In Greek, Cappie often displays esoteric knowledge useful to the whatever the setup of the week is, which he explains away with "I used to be a Physics/Psychology/Biology/Latin major".
  • In Mission: Impossible, they would occasionally have a team member have previous experience in some area they had never shown any skill or interest in before during an episode when said skill would be necessary (Barney and boxing, Willy and martial arts, Jim and pool, among others). This was more common in the later seasons, when they stopped having guest stars play extra team members (In the early seasons, such guest stars played specialists in such skills who were explicitly brought in because their skills were needed).
  • According to the Decoy episode "Odds Against the Jockey," Casey has a reputation as a racing expert, because "I learned the ropes when we cleaned out those bookies at Belmont."
  • Full House
    • This often occurs with Joey, who, as the character with the least in the way of established background, has the most wiggle room to create an Expansion Pack Past. Highlights include his casually revealing that he's an accredited substitute teacher just when Michelle happened to need one, his history as a semi-professional hockey player, and—most shocking of all—his pilot's license, which only came up when Jesse decided to go skydiving before his wedding.
    • When Joey plays in a charity hockey game, Jesse tries to be the commentator, only to fail miserably. Becky then sits down next to him and starts calling the match like an ESPN expert, explaining that her brothers all played hockey growing up, so she's picked up some of the lingo.
  • Played for laughs in Police Squad!, where Frank Drebin, despite being depicted as a terminally straightlaced By-the-Book Cop, tends to regularly reveal new talents whenever the plot requires it (several of which go very much against his established personality). One episode has him flawlessly go undercover as a locksmith, another has him casually join in a game of street basketball and immediately do well at it, and yet another has him walk on open mike night and leave the audience in stitches.
  • Perpetual Grace LTD: The small-statured Manchild Paul says that he's going to travel around the world to master the 11 major forms of martial arts so that he'll be able to protect himself from Prison Rape. He then blithely notes that he's "already got kung fu." When asked for a demonstration, he sure enough busts out an acrobatic display of flawless kung fu.
  • Everybody Loves Raymond: "Hackidu" centers on the titular trading card game, an Expy of Pokémon. When Ray mentions that he refused to let Ally swap her collection for a "Scrimisaur," Marie abruptly provides a complete explanation of why that monster is one of the rarest and most powerful of all. It turns out that she's memorized the entire Hackidu canon to form a closer bond with her grandchildren; when everyone else in the room stares at her in amazement, she nonchalantly remarks "I'm Grandma. I have this and candy."
  • Odd Squad:
    • The Grizzly Bear Growl is an oft-used play used by the Burly Bears in basketball games, which Olive demonstrates as she makes swiping motions towards Oprah. At the climax of "Bad Luck Bears", when Olive actually gets to play in a Bears basketball game and it becomes Down to the Last Play, she gets to use the move on the Rams when they end up blocking a shot, which knocks them down and allows her to make the final shot. However, it becomes more akin to a superpower, as her hand is surrounded by blue light in the shape of a bear's paw when she performs the play. This supposed skill of hers is never brought up in any future episodes, and it's never revealed whether this is a special attack of hers or if it's just happenstance as the result of oddness.
    • In "Crime at Shapely Manor", Otto is revealed to know how to play piano when he plays the common "dun-dun-dunnn" sting on Lord Rectangle's piano. It's never explained how he knows the instrument, aside from Rule of Funny.
    • "Oscar and the Oscarbots" has Oprah being incredibly good at martial arts, with a Dojo Room that she frequents as well as what appears to be a trainer she practices with. Her skills are apparently good enough to where she can take down a full-grown bear in only 15 minutes. Subverted by "O is Not For Over", where it's revealed that strength training is a required element of training for newly-promoted Odd Squad Directors, as Oscar pits all 25 of his Oscarbots (combined into one huge one) against Olive, who is dressed in a martial arts uniform and remarks on how beating the Combining Mecha is easy for her.
    • From "In Your Dreams": By his own admission, Omar doesn't know how to play the flute. Osmerelda encourages him to play it anyway because he's seen her play it before. He does, and he nails it, without any explanation as to whether he was lying or if it was just a fluke.

  • In ""Shia LaBeouf" Live", you're implied to not have much combat experience in the first two-thirds of the song, since you flee from Shia LaBeouf and then must sneak up on him to stand a chance against him. When he's revealed to be Not Quite Dead and comes after you again, it turns out that you know jiu-jitsu, and your first move is to bodyslam him.

  • In "The Phantom Voice," The Shadow is able to defeat a professional wrestler who has him in a chokehold. "He was a good wrestler...but he didn't know one little hold I learned in the Orient."

  • In Yu-Gi-Oh! East Academy: Duel Spirit powers pop up left and right, from Gol'gar's mind-reading and Machine King's ability to hack anything to Denero and Meteor's ability to merge permanently. Justified since this happens early on in the series when such things are normally introduced.

    Tabletop Games 
  • It's not uncommon for characters using kung fu in Feng Shui to claim that a particular ability their player bought with XP was something they knew how to do all along. As the book explains, "Action heroes pull this one all the time."
  • A "cinematic" Advantage proposed by S. John Ross for GURPS is Up To The Challenge, which says that, within limits, a cinematic character can Suddenly Have Always Had Skills, as long as he spends the Character Points for them later.
  • "On the fly" character creation in Fate-based games like Spirit of the Century utilizes this; rather than detailing their characters fully in advance, players using this method start with only a minimal outline (an aspect or two, their peak skill and such) and simply fill in the blanks as they go along. Eventually there will be nothing left to fill in, of course, and the character will operate under the normal advancement rules from that point on, but until then this trope applies in full.
  • The trope is quite common for tabletop RPGs in general, where characters may have skills (such as "lore" skills) or abilities (such as Bardic Knowledge) that can grant them knowledge the player didn't possess. Don't know how to find the pass over those imposing mountains? Make a Geography roll, and the GM might say you knew all along. Usually these are limited to suddenly knowing facts and can't be used to suddenly be able to do things.
    • Player characters also tend to gain new abilities or spells when leveling up, suddenly being able to perform some new feat or skill despite having no practice. Players can try to justify this by saying their character had been practicing during downtime, but rule books often simply accept that the party will periodically and inexplicably gain new abilities.
  • In the My Little Pony : Roleplaying is Magic RPG, this is a natural ability for Crystal Ponies. Since they've forgotten a lot about their life, the player may chose not to spend all of their available skill points, and the character may later explore and "rediscover" old skills. However, this must be done in a "narrative scene", not in a "cinematic" one.note 
  • Fate gives players the option to leave some or all of their character's skill scores unassigned, then declare them during gameplay as a Schrödinger's Gun. They can even reveal a high score in a skill they've previously rolled at its untrained value, since they might have in-character reasons to hide their abilities.
  • The creator of Old Man Henderson deliberately gave the titular character a "Backstory of Doom", a backstory that is so long and convoluted that no one would be willing to read through it (much less remember all the details), meaning that the writer could go back and alter it as they wish in order to justify any skill needed for the situation.

  • In Act V, Scene II, Hamlet announces that he has "been in continual practise" at fencing since Laertes went to France. Kenneth Branagh's film version actually has Hamlet practicing continually.

    Video Games 
  • Disco Elysium will similarly have various reserves of knowledge emerge from Harry Du Bois' amnesiac mind. He'll remark on being able to recall the whole story of million-to-one boxer Contact Mike but not the name of his own mother.
  • Half-Life: Gordon Freeman, a 27-year-old theoretical physicist who just happens to be a crack shot with all types of human and alien firearms, in addition to being able to expertly wield a crowbar as a weapon. At least the Hazard Course involves firearms training to help explain it because according to Word of God, the only weapon Gordon ever held in his hand prior to joining Black Mesa was a butane-powered tennis ball cannon he built as a kid.
  • Beginning with Hitman (2016), the games begin to poke fun at just how ranged and diverse Agent 47's skill set is whenever he's faced with a situation where he needs to blend in to get close to his target. The target needs a replacement drummer for his world-famous indie band? 47 can play drums well enough to impress said target. A mixologist? Sure, why not. A barber, hairdresser, therapist, medical professional, real estate agent, or even a flamingo mascot? No problem. That creepy monotone guy with the icy stare who just walked through the door can do it all expertly if it means he'll get to kill you.
  • Incredible Dracula: Chasing Love:
    Suddenly Dracula remembers he once learned how to build a generator.
  • Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater introduced CQC fighting techniques to the series. They were brought back for Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, which resulted in some oddities since 3 is a prequel set at least 30 years before the first game. So, it was retconned that Solid Snake always knew CQC because Big Boss taught it to him. In one Codec, Otacon asks why Snake never used it before, and he claims it's because of its association with someone who became one of his worst enemies. His use of it now is handwaved with a side-order of Leaning on the Fourth Wall - Big Boss' pre-Outer Heaven exploits had been declassified between the events of 2 and 4, meaning the war economy's modern PMC soldiers all know what Snake describes as a "pale imitation" of CQC; when they try to use it on him, he instinctively responds by showing them how it's really done.
  • The computer game Planescape: Torment gives us The Nameless One, an amnesiac immortal (or is it immortal amnesiac?) who, rather than learning skills from people that he meets, instead remembers whatever skill it was that he forgot, that, occasionally, he taught the teacher ages ago. It goes a step further by having you relearn skills by re-attaching severed body parts that you had already grown back, which involves re-severing them. And one of them is your eye.
  • Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy sees Nick Scryer infiltrate a psychic terrorist organization by losing his memories so he can slip past their telepathic scanners. He regains them as the story progresses, as well as his own psychic powers, with the game's tutorials taking the shape of flashbacks to his training.
  • At one point in the bonus chapter of Stranded Dreamscapes: The Prisoner, the main character has to weld an unattached hook to a pole in order to pull down a fire escape, prompting her niece to remark "You know how to weld, Aunt Helen?" Why this seems stranger to her than a talking teddy bear sidekick is left unexplained.

    Visual Novels 
  • George of Umineko: When They Cry reveals he knows a multitude of martial arts while fighting Gaap in the fourth story arc. Granted, it was known as early as the start of the first arc that his mother Eva was a skilled martial artist, and that she taught George many, many things to become the talented and successful man he is. But because it wasn't known that martial arts was one of those "many things" until later, it still counts.
  • Monotaro of Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony has a bad habit of forgetting things. In Chapter 4, Monotaro decides to help the remaining students uncover who killed the victim of that case, Miu Iruma, because of his own personal reasons: in a bout of forgetfulness he forgot who his family was and thought she was his "mommy", as he called her. During this, he forgets that he is bad with computers and is now suddenly good with computers. While it was done in a unique (to say the least) manner, this still counts simply because of the fact that he had to have been programmed at some point to be skilled with computers (if we assume fiction reflects reality) and had to be made to think he was bad with computers during one of his prior (possibly before the game even began) bouts of forgetfulness in order for this to work.

  • In Harkovast, Chen-Chen at first seems pretty helpless, but is suddenly revealed to be a master of the sliding mountain style, which allows her to kill armed opponents with her bare fists.
  • In The Order of the Stick, Tarquin's skill for communicating in Drow sign language is only mentioned once. Conveniently, it's brought up right when he needs to give orders to a Drow who was recently deafened by a spell.
  • Tarvek Sturmvoraus, the underhanded and devious Prince of Sturmhalten, reveals in Girl Genius that his image as a courtier ignorant of all self-defense is just a cover for a full set of McNinja skills. This is particularly infuriating to his bodyguard.

    Web Original 
  • In Chrono Hustle Jack is a con artist, who has picked up quite a few skills and knowledge over the years. Then he discovers he has the power to literally just know stuff out of nowhere, and it's sometimes hard to tell which is the case in any given situation.

    Western Animation 
  • Hey Arnold!, "Road Trip": Helga's mom can ride bulls and was once a champion rodeo girl in her youth.
  • In one episode of Kim Possible, Dr. Drakken hypnotizes all the senior citizens in Florida, including Kim's grandmother Nana, who it turns out has had quite an interesting life and picked up an assortment of skills, including piloting, race-car driving, and of course martial arts. Drakken points out that Kim knew little about her grandmother.
  • Winx Club had fashion-obsessed Stella solve a puzzle in one episode by remembering a minor detail from a field trip they took for magical history class. (It should be noted that this is a 4Kids dub change: in the original, it's her love of fashion that helps her solve the puzzle, although with this method she essentially stumbles on the solution.)
  • The Boondocks. Who knew Uncle Ruckus "had mastered the ancient and deadly art of the nunchaku".
    • In the episode "The Itis," Ed Wuncler enjoys Robert Freeman's delicious soul food cooking and finances a restaurant for him. It turns out to be a Xanatos Gambit on Wuncler's part, as the incredibly unhealthy meals get people hopelessly addicted after a few bites, leading the neighborhood to become a slum within a week (and allowing Wuncler to buy up the property dirt cheap for himself). Huey protests the restaurant and its negative side effects, but Robert claims that it's part of his African-American heritage—and that's when a Hispanic dishwasher in the restaurant abruptly chimes in with a comprehensive history of soul food, including its slavery-based origins and how it was never meant to be eaten so frequently. The black cast stares at the guy in shock, and he casually mentions that he's taken a class on African-American culture at a community center.
  • In the Justice League episode "Hereafter", Superman awakens on a wasteland planet with a red sun, robbing him of his powers, with only a city street's worth of objects to assist him. As he attempts to find a way off, the human-level Kal-El displays shocking aptitude in blacksmithing, sword fighting, auto repair and even dog sledding as he traverses the blasted landscape. However, he IS a farm boy. He probably had to learn many repair and maintenance skills growing up and kept learning new things. The reason of the shock is because of how many view him as someone who only relies on brute strength.
  • In Futurama, it is revealed that Dr. Zoidberg's doctorate is in art history when the main characters need to analyze a Da Vinci painting.
  • Archer:
    • Pam gets some serious re-characterization over the first two seasons. She starts out as a rather pathetic, overweight office gossip and Abhorrent Admirer. In one episode, however, it's revealed that she's a champion bare-knuckle boxer implied to have killed thirteen men in the ring. In another episode, she's revealed to be an amateur street racer who regularly takes on the Yakuza. In yet another episode, it's revealed that she's a sexual dynamo who amazes even the ladykilling Archer.
    • In the season 5 premiere, Cyril out of the blue reveals that he is a former defense attorney. The show also parodies it, as Cyril laments the fact that he has had several "long talks" about this with Lana (off-screen), but she apparently doesn't remember them. The writer flat out admitted that was made up to create a reason for keeping him around during the ISIS crew's new career as drug dealers.
  • On The Cleveland Show, Cleveland Jr. begins to serenade his betrothed, Cecilia, and demonstrates the previously unmentioned dual skills of playing the guitar and fluency in Spanish. Lampshaded by Cleveland.
  • In one Tiny Toon Adventures episode, Buster and Babs rescue a baby beluga whale — and can communicate with it easily thanks to Babs, who in her own words "just happen(s) to be fluent in Whale".
  • Humorously subverted in the Jackie Chan Adventures episode "Jade Times Jade." Throughout the plot, Tohru (who's recently become Uncle's Chi-magic student) repeatedly bungles things, leading to Uncle griping about how he's a "lousy apprentice." However, at the end of the episode, when the group is faced with a massive army of clones Jade made of herself through a botched spell, Tohru abruptly declares that he's already deduced exactly what happened (Jade didn't seal the spell during her initial casting) and how to fix it—and he even prepared the necessary charm to undo the damage! It seems like a case of this trope and Deus ex Machina...until Tohru sheepishly admits that he simply spent some time reading books on magic during a flight he and Uncle took earlier. Obviously an apprentice has to study.
  • Played for Laughs in Family Guy's "The Thin White Line" where Brian becomes a drug-sniffing police dog. He rhetorically asks the family if they can guess what Joe said the value of a particular bust would have been; Lois abruptly chimes in with an extremely in-depth knowledge of cocaine ("Let's see, four and a half kilos uncut Nicaraguan...1.7 mil, that area?"). She's exactly right. A deleted cutaway gag in "Regarding Carter" revealed her dad did cocaine in the 80s, which may explain it.
  • In Duckman, the titular hero's Hypercompetent Sidekick Cornfed is often put in situations that require him to have some kind of complicated skill, such as playing the piano, performing medical examinations, or acting as a defense lawyer. He's always prepared with a story from his past explaining how he acquired said skill.
  • King of the Hill: In "A Beer Can Named Desire", Bill Dauterive invites his friends to join him in his family's estate in New Orleans, where he starts showing skills he seemingly didn't know he had, like speaking fluent Louisiana French, dancing, and playing the accordion. Goes without saying that these make Bill even more attractive to the three widows who are lusting after him in the episode.
  • Miraculous Ladybug: As of the episode "Reflekdoll", Ladybug (here as Lady Noire) suddenly knows all about Sentimonsters and Amoks. Previously, she had only ever seen a Sentimonster for a few seconds in the episode "Mayura", and we never see those topics get explained to her.

    Real Life 
  • When Uwe Boll challenged his many critics to a boxing match, most people thought it would be in good fun. It turns out that Boll was a semi-professional boxer before taking up direction. He beat the ever-loving snot out of several untrained critics who went into the ring with him. It should be noted, however, that Boll openly cherry picked his opponents, and he ducked a challenge from Seanbaby, who practices Muay Thai and is much larger.
  • While filming a scene where a character is stabbed (repeatedly) in the back, Christopher Lee explained to Peter Jackson that when that happens, the victim doesn't scream but makes an odd sucking sound after their lungs are punctured. When asked how he knew, he explained that during WWII, he was in special operations and couldn't give any more details on the subject. The story is told in The Lord of the Rings's extras.
    Lee: I remember saying to Peter, "Do you have any idea what a man being stabbed in the back sounds like? Because I do."
    • Public information is that Lee was RAF Intelligence in WWII, including an assignment to support a Gurkha division during the Battle of Monte Cassino, and was then assigned as a Nazi Hunter immediately after the war. No matter what he may have done in covert operations, he had seen some things.
  • Happened twice on the set of The Great Escape. Donald Pleasence had been an actual POW in a Luftwaffe camp before the movie, and James Garner was the scrounger for his unit in the Korean War.
  • Also when filming The Dirty Dozen: Lee Marvin proceeded to disassemble and assemble his gun without the gun master help - Marvin had served as a Marine in the Pacific War.
  • One interviewer asked Mayim Bialik if it was annoying when fans assumed, because she plays a neurobiologist on The Big Bang Theory, she was really that smart and asked her if she could do calculus. She replied that she actually is a neurobiologist and is very good at calculus.
  • In the DVD commentary for The Parting of the Ways, John Barrowman tells the story of helping a costar learn how to convincingly hold and fire the prop guns they were using while the actress politely listened. He only learned after the fact that she was actually a Special Forces policewoman and handled guns all the time. He then realized her "polite listening" was standing there and saying to herself, "You idiot!"