It's more than a Training Montage — this is hard work. The hero needs to get to a new level of ability, and fast. Thankfully, he has just the hard-nosed master to teach him. But the hero just isn't up to speed: He never quite lands that punch, his chi flow is too far off to channel that spell, and the master is thrashing him in the process.
Then the hero stops and the master gives a brief line that lights a fire in the hero: "Stop trying to hit me and hit me!"/"If you aren't good enough, give up and stop wasting my time," and whoosh. He has it. He lands a blow, he casts the lightning bolt, etc. The master quips, "Beginner's luck," or "Not bad," and launches into another attack (usually demonstrating that the Hero still has some way to go). We cut out and the next time we see the Hero, he has mastered the technique.
An abbreviated and harsher version of a Rousing Speech, it is often accompanied by a reminder of what the Hero is fighting for, usually (but not always) framed in a way that insults either the Hero or the person/thing he is trying to save. This is done to get the Hero angry enough that he'll temporarily forget whatever mental hang-up is preventing him from getting this trick right.
There is some Truth in Television here; often the mental hang-up is self-doubt - if you don't believe you're capable of performing a given act, it's much less likely that you'll be able to do it. When You Snatch the Pebble...
This is also closely related to muscle memory and the Centipede's Dilemma; many complex actions are dependent on subconscious rather than conscious action - putting too much concentration into some tasks actually makes them harder to perform; swimming, riding a bicycle, and of course martial arts.
- Used by Master Shifu in Kung Fu Panda when he finally figures out how to train Po. Makes sense, really, since he - at times - seems just a
gallonhalf-pint of green dye short of being Yoda.
- Mulan has the titular character taking her father's place in the army, and failing miserably in training. After Shang essentially tells her she's too weak to make it, she becomes determined enough to do what no one else could. Retrieving the arrow atop a pole while wearing heavy weights around her wrists, from there her abilities are shown to be better than everyone else in the army. This also seems to inspire the rest of the trainees into Taking a Level in Badass.
- Silent Bob tries to quote this in Chasing Amy, but Jay punches him in the arm before he can complete it.
- The Karate Kid (1984):
Miyagi: Now, ready?Daniel: Yeah, I guess so.Miyagi: Daniel-san, must talk. Walk on road, hm? Walk left side, safe. Walk right side, safe. Walk middle, sooner or later, (makes squish gesture) get squish just like grape. Here, karate, same thing. Either you karate do "yes", or karate do "no". You karate do "guess so", (makes squish gesture) just like grape. Understand?
- In Kill Bill Vol. 2 Pai Mei tells Black Mamba, in response to her inability to punch through a thick board at close range, "It is the wood that should fear your hand, not the other way around! No wonder you can't do it; you acquiesce to defeat before you even begin."
- In The Matrix, Morpheus's "Stop trying to hit me and hit me!" line he delivered while sparring with Neo.
- Yoda's force training of Luke in The Empire Strikes Back. Oddly, this subverts the very trope it names, as Luke fails to rise to the occasion of using the Force to move his sunken X-wing out of a lake. This highlights the problem; Luke doesn't believe he can do it, and because he doesn't, he can't. He gives up until Yoda demonstrates how badass he is by raising the X-wing out of the water.
Luke: ...I don't believe it!Yoda: And that is why you fail.
- The children's story of The Little Engine that Could also illustrates this mindset: "I think I can, I think I can, I think I can... I thought I could, I thought I could," etc.
- In A Song of Ice and Fire, Jon Snow tells Sam to be brave.
Jon: I can't command you to be brave, but I can command you to hide your fears. You said the words, Sam. Remember?Sam: I... I'll try.Jon: You won't try. You will obey.
- In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry repeatedly tries and fails to summon a corporeal Patronus. He only gains the ability to do so due to a Stable Time Loop; the first time around, he witnesses what he believes to be his father protecting him from Dementors with a corporeal Patronus. When he re-experiences the moment, he realizes his father isn't going to show up to save him, but realizes he was/is there and therefore can. Dumbledore points out that he has thus discovered an element of his father inside himself. And having done it once, he can do it whenever he wants - For the rest of the series, he thus has access to an ability that usually qualifies one as an Auror.
- In a hilarious exchange in the original The Mysterious Benedict Society book, the crabby Constance Contraire snaps this at George "Sticky" Washington when he uses his nervousness as an excuse for the fidgety gestures he makes that she mistakes for gestures that are supposed to indicate test answers in their cheating on the tests created by the Big Bad of the series, Mr. Ledroptha Curtain.
Constance: Every time you have a real itch, I get the wrong answer.Sticky: Sorry, I get itchy when I'm nervous. I'll try to do better.Constance: Don't just try. Actually do better.Sticky: Hey, my fidgeting isn't the only problem, you know! It would help if you had practiced your Morse Code at all!Kate: Now, children. Let's not quibble about who's to blame. Blaming is wrong. The important thing is to get along with one another, so we may have better success cheating.
- Averted in the final episode of season 1 of Andromeda where Dylan demands of his XO Beka Valentine that 'All that matters in life is that you try, promise me you'll try.' as she confesses she isn't sure if she can make it to the overrun command center of the ship.
- Discussed in the pilot episode of The West Wing:
Mandy: (on the phone) Look, I dont want to hear youre going to try, Bruce. This isn't gym class...I said, gym class. Gym class!...Bruce, Bruce! Cause it's important in gym to try, but it is not necessarily - look, Bruce, it was a simple metaphor.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender: Toph's attitude to Aang whilst learning Earthbending is a definite "There is no try" attitude: "If you're not tough enough to stop the rock, then you could at least give it the pleasure of smooshing you instead of jumping out of the way like a jelly-boned wimp!!" This is because each of the bending discplines requires a particular quality in the bender, in this case stubborn, willful hard-headedness.
- From the Animaniacs episode "Taming of the Screwy".
Dr. Scratchansniff: Okay, I'll try.Mr. Plotz: Trying is not good enough, Scratchansniff. DO IT!
- Star Wars Rebels: Examines the trope when Kanan tells Ezra "Do or do not, there is no try!" and Ezra retorts that it makes no sense: "How can I do something if I don't try to do it?" Kanan admits he always had trouble with that one, too, but "Master Yoda sure used to say it a lot!" Later they come back to the mental hang-up explanation for the advice. Kanan will not try to teach Ezra the ways of the Jedi, he will teach Ezra the ways of the Jedi.
- It later gets a Call-Back when Sabine must learn how to use the darksaber and is hesitant for a number of reasons, one of which is that she doubts she can even wield it and only promises to try her hardest. Ezra's response is "Don't try, just learn.".