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Weak, but Skilled

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If you're not strong enough to beat a rhino, use the rhino's strength to beat it.

"Sans maîtrise, la puissance n'est rien." (Without mastery, power is nothing)
Old Pirelli commercial for tires, probably paraphrasing from Horace's Odes Book 3, Poem 4, line 65.

This is a character who, despite being physically weaker than their opponent, is able to beat them because they are more skilled than their opponent. They'll prove Hard Work Hardly Works is a false premise, and even exploit the stronger opponents' sloppy technique and Pride to win. It's not unusual for the Badass Bookworm, and less unusual for The Heart of any team. This is often a sub-trope of Badass Normal.

If the Weak, but Skilled character is The Protagonist or The Hero, they'll usually be an expert at Deadly Dodging, a fast thinker, and generally win through cleverness and strategy that involve dirty fighting and Geo Effects to win. If they aren't, then they're like a Mentor, The Rival, The Lancer or The Smart Guy. They'll usually start out much stronger than the hero overall but won't keep up once the hero starts gaining skill himself in the use of his powers. They'll occasionally bail them out but force them to finish their battles, and urge them to train their power to stop the bad guy, whom this character can't take out because the bad guy is both Strong and Skilled (compare that trope).

A character who grows old and weak will often become this, having decades of experience to compensate for their lack of youth, but this can still be the case if they grow Stronger with Age and thus have nothing to compensate for. This is a common justification for how Badass Normals can keep up with more powerful characters in a setting or inside an ensemble. Death of a Thousand Cuts may also come into play.

It should be noted that "weak" (especially a Paper Tiger class) can be a relative term. The protagonist/hero might have a certain level of Super-Strength and Super-Toughness, but is completely outpowered by his opponent. In this case, the hero's own strength and toughness are what enable him to even hurt the villain and avoid being killed in a single shot, but he needs his brains and skill to ultimately win. If he's a Non-Action Guy, you're looking at a Crowning Moment of Awesome.

Curiously, it is not uncommon for these characters to be the Cold Sniper or an Archer. Since they mostly succeed, at taking out their opponents by mere distance alone. Those with More Dakka or BFS would be wise to take cover, less they risk getting savagely shot down.

Compare with David Versus Goliath, Combat Pragmatist, Difficult, but Awesome and, metafictionally, Cherry Tapping. Contrast Sacrificed Basic Skill for Awesome Training. Willfully Weak may be invoked to bring this about. One explanation for the power of a Badass Bystander. Despite their skill, may fall prey to I Don't Know Mortal Kombat. This can be an issue faced by a character that is Well-Trained, but Inexperienced. The rare villainous examples may fall into Villainous Valour, depending on their presentation. For characters with questionably useless powers within the superhero community proving otherwise, see Heart Is an Awesome Power.

Contrast Bigger Stick and Unskilled, but Strong, the latter being the inverse trope. Often achieves Victory by Endurance; Stone Wall is a Downplayed Trope for them.


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    Asian Animation 
  • In Happy Heroes, Sweet S. is shown to be much weaker than the other Supermen physically speaking, but her intelligence and superpower prevail against monsters during fights.

    Comic Books 
  • The Avengers have a couple of these among their ranks:
    • Black Panther is stronger and more agile than a normal human, but is significantly weaker than many of his fellow Avengers. Despite this, he's a Crazy-Prepared tactical genius and one of the few heroic examples of The Chessmaster archetype, making him very effective. He's managed to get the drop on many more powerful opponents, including Mephisto himself.
    • Then you have the Black Knight (Dane Whitman). Compared not just to the team powerhouses but even to guys like Black Panther and Captain America he seems underpowered, being a completely normal human with a sword and a grab-bag assortment of gadgets and enchanted weapons to fight bad guys with. He is, however, a Master Swordsman who has bested the likes of Captain America and Wolverine with his blade, a skilled martial artist, and a gifted scientist who started out as a physicist and has since acquired a wide range of scientific disciplines. He is also fairly familiar with magic, giving him a leg up on most of Marvel's scientific community.
  • Batman:
    • Batman. He's a guy with a funny suit and a bunch of neat toys who runs around with people who can bench-press planets. And, whenever there's a conflict, he wins, because he's the most skilled. It helps he's Crazy-Prepared and keeps Kryptonite on his body at all times in the off chance Superman is a danger. Let alone his other plans...
    • The Joker. He might be a normal, rather fragile human, but he can concoct poisons and create gadgets that regularly overcome metas on a routine basis. Add in the fact that he would sell his soul for a box of cigars and massacre a kindergarten class on a whim, and you've got a guy whom almost every other DC Supervillain fears.
    • Tim Drake, the third Robin, shows off how much he's learned by employing the same tactics. In the last issue of his solo series, he's challenged to a duel to the death by Lady Shiva, the deadliest assassin in The DCU, who trained him in the first place. After what appears to be a Single-Stroke Battle, Tim is stumbling, with three broken ribs, while Shiva is standing confidently... until she falls to the ground, paralyzed. Tim spiked some hotel chocolates with a paralytic poison, activated by a heightened heart rate, before she even wrote the note challenging him. Standing over her, Tim then explains this trope: If he can't match someone with skill or strength, he'll beat them with his smarts.
  • Black Canary: The only superpower Black Canary has is her Super-Scream. Other than that, she has the strength, speed and durability of a regular human. Despite this, Dinah is one of the best martial artists in the DC universe and is capable of defeating more powerful opponents. In Young Justice, she even bested Superboy in a sparring match despite him having super strength.
  • Captain America:
    • On paper, Captain America isn't all that impressive. He's listed as the height of human potential, but a good chunk of his enemies are way beyond that. Unfortunately for most villains, he's more than skilled enough to make him one of the top A-list heroes in Marvel. On at least one occasion, he's actually beaten the Hulk. He's also made a point of reading up on just about every major villain and threat the Avengers and U.S. government have gathered data on, so he often starts fights with villains knowing what to look out for and what their Logical Weaknesses are.
    • In one instance Captain America lost the strength and agility that was given to him by the Super Solider serum, turning him back into "that skinny kid from Brooklyn". While being intimidated by some newly super-powered thugs, Cap tells them that while the serum gave him physical strength, his skills are the result of years of training and discipline. He then demonstrates.
  • Daredevil: Daredevil's only powers are his of Super-Senses of smell, hearing, touch and taste which compensate for his blindness. Other than that, he relies on his athleticism and combat training . That said, it's often all Daredevil needs, as he's very creative in figuring out ways to use his powers to defeat enemies that otherwise outclass him in sheer power. He's even defeated villains like Mr. Hyde and the Absorbing Man, guys who regularly give Thor and the Hulk trouble, this way.
  • Doctor Strange: Doctor Strange (yes, really), when up against the caliber of threat that will get a Sorcerer Supreme involved, is almost always overpowered and outclassed. He still wins through a combination of luck, knowledge, and the clever use of what he has.
  • Empowered: Empowered has shown signs of this. While her supersuit really is pretty powerful, it is easily damaged and rendered useless, making her an extreme Glass Cannon. However, unlike 99% of the other superheroes in her universe, she actually thinks, and this has allowed her to beat villains that others were not able to. She also notes that as cool as throwing a car looks, you'll do much more damage by just driving it into them.
  • Fantastic Four: This is the schtick of Reed Richards a.k.a. Mister Fantastic of the Fantastic Four. He's physically the weakest member of the team, but his mind makes him the most dangerous by a long shot.
  • Grendel: Grendel, especially the Hunter Rose and Christine Spar versions. Hunter Rose was a slight man and not particularly tall, but he was a teenage fencing champion. And of course, he was intellectually brilliant. Christine Spar was a tall, thin woman who, however was said to practice kendo. She was good in tracking and spying but physically, she couldn't handle more than petty thugs or not so bright animal cops like Dominic Riley. Also, because she was the least malevolent Grendel, her body count was quite small compared to other Grendels as she didn't really seek to kill anyone except her son's kidnappers. She didn't even think to finish off thugs that she maimed, such as Tujiro stooge Niccolo. Of the handful of people she killed, two were killed by a carbomb, not direct physical combat. The only heavyweights that Christine fought were Tujiro and Argent. However, Tujiro escaped and she died fighting Argent.
  • Hack/Slash: Cassie is a Badass Normal always fighting against undead monsters many times stronger than her.
  • Hellblazer: John Constantine is, by his own admission, terrible at fighting. He will more often than not lose out in a straight-up fist fight and doesn't really use any magic outside of rituals, and then only when absolutely necessary. Regardless, anyone who decides to piss him off better watch their backs, because chances are that he will be arranging some spectacularly terrible fate for them somewhere down the line.
  • The Incredible Hulk:
    • Hideko Takata was a member of the Hulkbusters in the late 1980s. She's a normal, overweight, middle-aged woman, who managed to throw the Hulk to the ground, by expert use of judo.
    • Variations of this apply to the "Joe Fixit" and "Professor" incarnations of the Hulk;
      • Joe Fixit is the name adopted by the grey-skinned Hulk. In terms of raw strength, Joe Fixit can only lift about seventy tons where Hulks normally top out at around 100 tons, but he makes up for this comparative weakness by having superior problem-solving skills to Bruce Banner and being a Combat Pragmatist, finding solutions ranging from tossing the stronger Abomination into barrels of acid to taking people by surprise even when he's stuck in Bruce Banner's form.
      • By contrast, the Professor Hulk is essentially Bruce Banner's mind in control of the Hulk's body. The Professor has the greatest base level strength of any of the Hulks, but due to psychic failsafes created after he became active, if he gets angry he will revert to "Savage Banner", a persona where the enraged mind of the Savage Hulk is in control of Bruce Banner's body. As a result, while the Professor is the smartest and most heroic of the known Hulk personalities, he lacks the Hulk's ability to get stronger as he gets angrier, putting a limit on how strong he actually is.
  • Ka-Zar: Although at the peak of ordinary human strength, Ka-Zar is much weaker than most of the heroes he teams up with and villains he fights. It's his superior skills and training that set him apart.
  • Legion of Super-Heroes:
    • This is Karate Kid's entire schtick: although he technically doesn't possess any super-powers, he can still hold his own against Superman thanks to his knowledge of every martial art in existence.
    • Triplicate Girl also counts. While she does have a superpower, she's still only as tough as the average human. However, her skill in Tri-Jutsu, a martial art that works in the twelve points of attack and unique method of dodging her power grants her, along with her talents in infiltration and information gathering, make her a valuable member of the Legion
  • Preacher: Jesse Custer is this compared to Cassidy, whom he has beaten. As Jesse puts it, "Fella taught me to fight was the same piece of shit shot my daddy dead in fronta my eyes. That'll tend to focus your concentration".
    • One of Jesse and Cassidy's fights hilariously subverts this. Cassidy throws a punch in a rage, which Jesse blocks; Cassidy is cowed and leaves. Jesse immediately asks Tulip and Amy to drive him to the hospital, as the punch broke every bone in his hand.
    • Tulip also fits this trope, being an excellent markswoman who routinely goes up against both normal humans several times her size/strength and supernatural creatures. In particular is the time she shoots Cassidy out of a window and into the sunlight. Bonus points for doing it with a hangover.
  • Sonic the Comic: Amy. She never gains the raw power of Sonic or Knuckles, but her smarts and ranged combat abilities allow her to be almost as effective under the right conditions.
  • Spider-Man:
    • Spider-Man himself qualifies. Sure his powers are pretty impressive to a normal person, but he's a lightweight compared to the some of the guys he normally hangs out with. However, by using his brains, all his powers, and absolute refusal to give up he can, and often does, take down even literal Physical Gods. Most of his villains are stronger than him, making it necessary for him to rely on his brains over brawn much of the time. One of his favorite tricks is to hit an enemy with a strand of web, even though said villain is physically stronger and heavier so Spider-Man cannot throw him. When the enemy tries to yank Spider-Man towards them, he uses the momentum to deliver a nasty kick or punch.
      • It also doesn't hurt his physical abilities are some of the most well balanced around. There are stronger opponents, but they usually have nowhere near his speed and agility, conversely, opponents who are more agile and faster are nowhere near as strong.
      • Interestingly enough, he has been written as Unskilled, but Strong in some story arcs. During the Big Time arc he was temporarily stripped of his Spider Sense, and his fighting ability took a hit as a result, as he tended to rely on the early warning of his Spider Sense to anticipate his opponent's attacks. To compensate for the loss of his Spider Sense, he accepted an offer to learn martial arts from Shang Chi, one of the top martial artists in the Marvel Universe. Once Shang Chi taught him the basics, they perfected a unique fighting style called The Way of the Spider, which exploited Spider-Man's physical strength, speed and agility to maximum effect.
    • The Black Cat has been both a Badass Normal and an Empowered Badass Normal depending what direction a writer wants to take her in. Specifically, she has had the ability to affect probability and has also possessed cat-like strength, speed, agility, claws and senses; the former still leaves her with the regular physical stats of a normal human and the latter isn't all that impressive compared to even Spider-Man. What is consistent is that the Black Cat is an excellent martial artist and cunning thief who can defeat or hold her own against deadly opponents by fighting smart. This was deconstructed earlier into her and Spider-Man's relationship as she felt that her lack of powers made her a liability. This is what led to her undergoing the procedure that granted her superpowers, not knowing it was actually a scheme set up by the Kingpin until it was too late.
    • Silver Sable has no superpowers, but is a formidable hand-to-hand combatant trained in use of various close range and long range weaponry.
  • The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Girl, who has the powers of talking to squirrels while having squirrel agility, takes down Marvel powerhouses, including the Cosmic Powered Thanos, by exploiting their one weakness, being just that good, or having Plot Armor. Rule of Funny is also a factor. This trope probably applies to the entire Great Lakes Avengers team. They get no respect from the other superheroes, and their powers are...weird. Yet they still save the day now and then.
  • Warlord of Mars: In the comics, one arc has Dejah Thoris transported to the future where Mars is invaded by Earthlings. The Red Men are shown able to overpower the humans physically, despite humans being as strong as the mighty Green Men. However, the Red Men are also expert swordsmen and the humans come from a time period when hand to hand combat is rarely used (additionally humans don't have the great height and 4 arms, so they're not as big a melee threat to the Red Men).
  • White Sand: Kenton is ridiculously weak compared to his fellow Sand Masters, but thanks to that he's learnt to control the little he has with far greater precision. Even though he can only control a single "ribbon" of sand at a time, he passes a test designed to challenge and flaunt the abilities of people who can control two dozen.
  • Wonder Woman:
  • X-Men:
    • Originally Emma Frost was one of these, being a minor telepathic talent compared to Professor X who nevertheless matched him in skill. As time went on and Frost graduated from her villainous White Queen persona, she began to acquire power along with her skill. Now, thanks to this Power Creep and some Character Shilling she's one of the top telepaths in the X-Men universe.
    • Magneto has two lieutenants in his Acolytes. One is Exodus, a Superpower Lottery winner writ large, and the other is Fabian Cortez, a guy with the mutant power of... Super-Empowering. One would think on the face of it that Exodus would easily be the more capable leader, until they studied Cortez a bit more closely. Aside from being better educated (due to being a child of royalty), Cortez is also a gifted strategist (believably claims to have studied each and every X-Man), expert martial artist (so much so that he defeated Psylocke the first time they fought) and gifted politician (so much so that Magneto brought him on to be a part of his cabinet on Genosha after Cortez had betrayed and tried to kill him).
    • Mastermind of the Brotherhood of Mutants is a mutant with weak psychic powers — unlike most Marvel psychics who are capable of telepathy and telekinesis, all Mastermind can do is make illusions. He is, however, extremely good at making illusions.
    • X-23 is a short and slight teenage girl usually depicted as even smaller than Wolverine. She shares his mutation but only her claws are laced with adamantium, so though she heals faster she's less resistant to injury in the first place. She's still one of the most dangerous fighters in the Marvel Universe because of her extensive combat training (and not just hand-to-hand, either. "Target X" shows her sniping the pilot of a maneuvering helicopter with a perfect headshot). In fact she's such a dangerous fighter despite her physical shortcomings that Marvel: Avengers Alliance actually classifies her as a Bruiser.

    Comic Strips 
  • Calvin and Hobbes features a strip where Calvin says to Moe, "You're so dumb you probably never thought about how a sparrow's smaller size and greater maneuverability is an advantage in fighting off big crows." Calvin is then punched by Moe.

    Fan Works 
  • Adventures of a Screwed Up Clone: The time she spent on the verge of melting due to her instability means that Dani, even after being cured, rarely transforms if she can help it, preferring to use her powers only when necessary and through her human body. She's still pretty crafty when doing so though.
  • Ruby Rose in BlazBlue Alternative: Remnant is incredibly adept in scythe combat and is very fast, but her attacks usually lack much force without wind up and she can be knocked out pretty easily. This comes up in her scythe spar with Ragna, where she lands far more hits and dodges many of Ragna's attacks, but Ragna manages to take them all and only needed a few of his attacks to connect for him to win the fight.
  • There's a magic style built around this principle in Game Theory.
  • Dragon Ball Z Elsewhere: With no human transformation, Yamcha focused on learning Kaioken and then mastering it with his gravity training. In a fight with Goku, Yamcha showed his Kaioken Kamehameha x40, forcing Goku to go Super Saiyan (a 50x multiplier) to withstand the attack. Even then, Yamcha outright says he can't beat a Super Saiyan. He also loses a sparring match against Piccolo when they train together.
  • I Woke Up As a Dungeon, Now What?: With just two floors, one containing a handful of "Small Lesser" bug varieties, the other containing tiny fragile pixies, Taylor's dungeon should be a cake-walk for any experienced adventuring party. That is, if the cake were poisoned, explosive, filled with sharp objects, and actually just a distraction from the ants sneaking up behind you to push you into a 200' pitfall with giant spiderwebs at the bottom, after which a swarm of giant wasps will drop home-made napalm on you. She hasn't lost her canonical multitasking ability, letting her manage every single minion at the same time, and as a dungeon core, she now also controls the terrain, letting her build cliffs, pits, mobile false walls, bugs-only shortcut tunnels, and a host of other tricks and traps that would make Tucker's Kobolds give a respectful salute. Add in her pixies' ability to create short-lived illusions, and her own ability to coordinate a swarm of pixies to cast them in sequence so they're effectively permanent...even individuals as powerful as Ulfric and Karjn quickly conclude that her first floor is a nightmare they never want to experience again.
    Ulfric: There's strength in numbers, and whoever goes in there hoping to hurt this dungeon isn't just going to be facing numbers, they'll be facing an organized army, working on terrain specially prepared to fight in by a single mind that has perfect awareness of every movement they're trying to make. They'd have a chance only because it doesn't have anything stronger than a lesser insect right now, but the moment it starts growing stronger…
  • Queen of All Oni: When Jackie fights Blankman in the Vault of Endless Night, he notes that he has Hak Foo's level of skill, if not power.
  • Kage: Jade fits this, at least in comparison to her foes. She only has Casting a Shadow powers, enhanced physical abilities, and an unlimited amount of kunai and shuriken. Her main foes are the Guardians, who all have Elemental Powers. During the capture of Vathek, she is able to keep Irma and Hay Lin too busy dodging her attacks to be able to actually fight.
  • In Incarnation of Legends, Kojiro doesn't possess the sheer superhuman speed and strength of a Servant as he's been incarnated as a human. But his skills remain untouched aside from getting used to once again having a flesh-and-blood body. As such, he, despite not having a falna, is able to fight on par with Level 1 and 2 adventurers, something that's supposed to be practically impossible.
  • Discussed in Swapping The Cage. When Sakura mentions that she has good chakra control and skill to compensate for her lack of power, Kuushou retorts that there comes a point where all the skill in the world can't compensate for a significant gap in power. However, he does agree with her that it's far better to have both skill and power than one or the other.
  • Kirito and Asuna in Highschool SAO are the weakest members of Rias' Peerage, but due to their time fighting in SAO, they have the skill to fight almost all of Raiser's Peerage and come out victorious.
  • The Secret Return of Alex Mack: Terawatt has less raw power than many of her opponents; her two hundred pounds of telekinetic force is tiny compared to Azure Crush throwing cars. But she has excellent fine control, giving her the versatility to adapt to all kinds of situations, and a number of tricks up her spotlessly white sleeves, like pinching carotid arteries shut, enhancing her punches to bluff having Super-Strength, blinding super-tough enemies with lightning to the eyeball, and telekinetic guide parries to divert bullets. Her skill and creativity consistently see her coming out on top of her fights, and being recognised as the world's premier superhero.
  • The titular character in Xendra is at best a match for fledgling vampires but her and a few mostly normal (Andrew has some talent as a summoner) take out a nest filled with dozens of vampires using a combination of Molotov cocktails, spike strips, and filling the warehouse basement with gasoline.
  • In the Dragon Ball GT fic God's Gift To Women, Master Roshi is able to get the better of Bra in a sparring match despite the vast difference in their power because he is so much more skilled than her.
  • In Blue Moon, this basically applies to the Slayers in their conflict with the Volturi; the Volturi's forces have the advantage in terms of raw power, but many of the key Volturi haven’t actually done much fighting for years, whereas Slayers are trained to face a range of enemies.
  • In The (Questionable) Burdens of Leadership of a Troll Emperor Naruto's general Setsuna crushes Karasuba in a spar after the latter is Brought Down to Normal. Even beforehand, Setsuna proved to be a dangerous opponent due to having centuries of combat experience and training.
    • The Celestial Empire in general qualified for the first few centuries. They had far fewer forces than the Goa'uld, no ships, and the same weaponry. They won so readily because Naruto drilled actual battlefield tactics into them unlike the Goa'uld who went no further than "Charge! Run them down!", which as Naruto noted only works against enemies so outmatched you never had a chance of losing. Later the empire's technology advances far beyond Goa'uld, at which point the Goa'uld begin to realize they might actually lose the war.
  • Saito in Zero no Tsukaima: Saito the Onmyoji notes that he's roughly half as strong as the average student in the academy but because he's a fully accredited mage and the way his magic (called mysticism) works, he's considerably more dangerous.
  • Luffy's Renewed Adventure: Nojiko. She’s nowhere near as strong as some of the crew, but she makes up for it with exceptional agility and precision with a knife and pistol. The first fight we see her in, she takes on six Baroque Works bounty hunters at once in Whiskey Peak, and wins without a scratch.
  • This Bites!: Cross and Soundbite. Cross has a good tactical mind and knowledge from another dimension, but even with Zoro's Training From Hell to increase his stamina, Kureha's miracle vitamins to increase his durability, and Usopp's custom-made armor to increase his strength, his physical capabilities remain at the point where the only enemies he can reliably fight on his own are Mooks. Soundbite's Noise-Noise Fruit powers make him masterful in bluffing out and disabling his opponents, as well as mustering reinforcements in seconds, and he's developed a few genuine attacks. But without his powers, he's only a snail. With their wits combined, however, and Lassoo as the main source of firepower, they're easily formidable enough to have a place with the Straw Hat Pirates.
  • A staple of The Games We Play. Even as Jaune makes leaps and bounds in his power over the course of the story, almost every serious fight he gets into has him going up against someone or something that is statistically even more brokenly strong, forcing him to use skill and quick thinking to win.
  • For a certain measure of weak, Xander in A Sunny Day In DC has spent far more time analyzing his Kryptonian powers than Superman and Supergirl due to having smaller reserves of solar energy and being unable to rely on physical superiority when fighting. As a result, he's realized that his heat vision, frost breath, Super-Strength, and Flight are all forms of telekinesis which he's spent time perfecting. Most people don't even realize the new superhero is Kryptonian because he doesn't fight like one.
  • Karura is definitely weaker than her son Gaara in Eroninja given that she can only control about as much sand as his gourd holds and has to manipulate it with hand gestures, unlike Gaara who can control hundreds of tons while barely moving. However, she's much faster with it and can manipulate sand more finely than Gaara can.
  • Chiaroscuro:
    • Shikamaru and Kakashi manage to take down Orochimaru by tricking him into attacking himself.
    • Sakura manages to beat Neji due to a combination of greater planning and Neji being foolish enough to monologue during a fight. He might have been faster, stronger, and more skilled, but she took that time to set up a flashbang genjutsu.
    • Shikamaru again, when he distracts Itachi by messing with his mind instead of trying to compete against his technique.
  • This trope is how Cutey Honey can fight Dark Kingdom youma and win in Venus Flash: while far weaker than any serious youma, let alone Sailor Venus, she's an experienced fighter that would not hesitate to throw a flamethrower-wielding enemy into an open fire or strip herself as a distraction and used to fight stronger enemies, allowing her to keep up with creative use of her powers.
  • The Star Wars fic "Revenge of the (kinder, gentler) Sith" features Padme Amidala as a Sith, having been trained by Palpatine as a more secret apprentice. While Padme soon recognised that she had relatively minimal Force potential compared to others, she learnt to use her skills to outmanoeuvre stronger opponents, resulting in her causing Palpatine's death and taking Anakin as her apprentice (and eventual lover), Anakin's raw power balancing well with Padme's greater experience.
  • Discussed in Lex Marks the Spot when Xander in Lex Luthor's body points out the flaw with the Doomsday program: they're trying to make someone strong enough to beat Superman rather than something that can take advantage of his weaknesses. All they need is someone strong enough to be in roughly the same ballpark as Superman with some powers he doesn't possess (such as telepathy). Or as Xander puts it, "If you drop a naked Green Beret in the forest with orders to bring you a dead bear by Sunday, what will you get on Sunday? A dead bear, two if he gets hungry."
  • Ume from Sugar Plums is a Self-Insert protagonist who is actually at her default weaker than the average shinobi. She just naturally has less chakra than a normal person, and the longer a fight goes on the more likely she is to be killed because she has to draw from the chakra shinobi use to make them physically stronger and tougher than a normal person. Which is why she never let's her fights last that long.
  • In Captain America: Ghosts of HYDRA, Sharon Carter is this. She assists Steve Rogers/Captain America and Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier in taking down the remnants of HYDRA. While she has not taken a Super-Soldier serum like her companions, she more than makes up for it with sheer combat ability in CQC (whether hand-to-hand or her electric batons) and firearms. It is because of this that she is able to mow down HYDRA agents, keep up with Brock Rumlow/Crossbones, hold off both Crossbones and another one of the Winter Soldiers, Josef for awhile and kill Josef by shooting him in the head.
  • A Dance on the Mats: Rainbow Dash is the shortest of her friends and a lightweight, but is the toughest of her friends and a skilled fighter. This is downplayed when she finds herself losing against the Strong and Skilled Anon, to her consternation. Even after some more training, she still loses, but manages to get his respect.
  • A Darker Path: Physically, Taylor is a fit but baseline human, which is a big part of why her foes keep underestimating her. But with Combat Clairvoyance as just the start of her precognitive planning abilities, she consistently trounces everyone she faces.
    Piggot: She went into that fight with a pair of shears, a pistol, a ball of string, an M67 frag grenade and a fire extinguisher. Forty-two minutes later, every member of the Slaughterhouse Nine was dead.
  • Mother Hen: Ladybug and Chat Noir are this by the standards of most Miraculous holders, who are normally able to use their special ability multiple times without detransforming, as is the case with Hawk Moth and later Mother Hen. Since Ladybug and Chat Noir are teenagers instead of adults, their bodies can't handle using their Miraculous's powers more than once. However, the duo make up for this with their experience and teamwork, which lets them take on opponents who are much stronger than them.
  • Equestria Girls: Friendship Souls:
    • The lower-ranked Espada The Smooze, Squirk, Grogar are counted less for their strength so much as their unique powers and skills. The Smooze in particular notes that even with his rank as the 10th Espada there are quite a few Fraccion who have more spiritual power than him but his powers and true form give him an edge, and Tirek concedes that Squirk after he's killed during the battle between Hollows and Quincy in Hueco Mundo would have held the title of 10th Espada if Smooze didn't insist on holding it when Chrysalis notes that Guto's protégé Gilda is likely stronger than Squirk, but notes his tactical advantages in his Garganta creation make him invaluable even if he was demoted off the Espada.
    • With few exceptions, the Quincy are on the lower end of the power scale between the three factions, with even the Sternritter struggling against the power of Soul Reaper Captains or the Espada. They make up for it with their training and the unique abilities of their Schifts.
    • The Kraken that attacked the beach was not very powerful compared to the Equestrian Luna and Celestia magically speaking, but it had a lot of versatility, which combined with its size and strength made it a tough opponent.
  • Kenny/Mysterion is this compared to Ladybug and Chat Noir in Le Ascension de Mysterion. He might lack a miraculous to grant him superpowers like the duo, but he manages to keep up with them by being a Badass Normal who has more experience as a vigilante.
  • The Soulmate Timeline, like in canon Homura who is easily the weakest Magical Girl among her circle, with even Hitomi's potential magical power being greater than her own. However the power she does have, to stop and manipulate time, combined with her massively accumulated arsenal and experience from over a decade of time loops, leaves her more than able to compete with any opponent short of a city-destroying super-witch and win. A less moral reflection of this is the Serial Killer Akasuki Suzembachi, whose also a rather weak Magical Girl, but she's refined how to use the powers she has to have survived as a Magical Girl for decades by grooming and eventually mind controlling younger Magical Girls and harvest them for Grief Seeds. However unlike Homura, her skillset isnt' geared to let her directly fight a stronger Magical Girl, like Mifuyu or Kyoko, one on one.
  • In the Turning Red fic Turning Red: Secrets of the Panda, Jason Vaugn is not the strongest character in the story, but he's still a fairly skilled fighter who can easily go toe-to-toe with the giant red pandas.

    Films — Animated 
  • A villainous example would be Lord Shen from Kung Fu Panda 2. In comparison to Tai Lung (his predecessor villain) and General Kai (his successor), Shen lacks the raw strength and resilience of Tai Lung and the mystical power of Kai, but his gifted intellect, arsenal of tools and weaponsnote , incredible skill with martial arts, swordsmanship, throwing knives and daggers, his ability to use his own body to disorient and blindside his foes and his general approach to combat make him a deadly opponent even Po struggles to keep up with.
  • In Monsters University, while Mike is incredibly skilled and has the technical knowledge needed to craft a unique scare for each child, he lacks the natural ability and instinct of a true scarer, making him better suited to coach and advise other monsters on how to do their job.
  • The title character in Mulan is a teenage girl serving in the last remnant of the Chinese army. She gets the better of the Huns by applying small amounts of force where it will get a much larger return (like using a cannon on an unstable mountain slope to trigger an avalanche).
  • In the Shrek movies, Puss in Boots is an excellent fencer, but when he loses his sword he can easily be manhandled by humans or ogres. Puss in Boots: The Last Wish deconstructs this when he's on the receiving end of a Curb-Stomp Battle by the much bigger and stronger Wolf, traumatizing him enough to run away every time he sees him
  • Zootopia: Judy Hopps is a bunny officer on a police force full of large megafaunas like rhinos and bears. She survives by using her speed and agility to turn her opponents' size against them.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Alita in Alita: Battle Angel, at least initially. Her body is more ornamental than anything else and while she is agile and retains her skill with the Panzer-Kunst fighting style, she has no built-in weapons of any kind. Dyson expresses surprise that she was able to harm the mountain-sized Grewishka in their first clash. This body falls apart in their second fight because it's too fragile to reach the limits Alita needs it to, and gets replaced by the extraordinary, Martian-built Berserker body afterwards - so she is still a master martial artist, but also the most advanced and powerful cyborg in the whole city. When she meets Grewishka again in the finale, she kills him with ease.
  • DC Extended Universe:
    • In Man of Steel, the Kryptonians haven't adapted to Earth like Superman has, so they're vulnerable to the same Power Incontinence he got over and have had less time to gain strength from Earth's sun. Unfortunately for Superman, they were bred to be soldiers and are much more experienced and better fighters and learn the basics of their new abilities extremely fast, so him being stronger than them doesn't mean much as they are still powerful enough to be a serious threat and combined by their skill, he ends up being in a hell of a tough fight. Even the power-based and aggressive Nam-Ek can give Superman a good fight, while Faora proves to be impossible to beat without a surprise attack as she easily stomps Superman, being the best fighter among the Kryptonians. By the end, Zod has learned to control both his flight and his heat vision, worsening things for Superman, to where he only beats Zod due to Zod being essentially a Death Seeker at that point and even then only with surprise attack and not without causing some serious damage.
    • Batman is currently the most prominent example. While he can wipe the floor with Mooks easily, who aren't even strong much less skilled, fighting super-powerful aliens are way out of his depth. That said, he is still a Badass Normal with 20 years of crimefighting experience and great martial arts, firearms, and tactical skills under his belt, so he has repeatedly shown with the proper means, he is still able to threaten them. While even with Powered Armor, Batman is no match for a fully-powered Superman, he is able to repeatedly expose Superman to Kryptonite, during which he can easily beat him down he's no match at all for Batman until it wears off, and ultimately wins. He's also the one who comes up with the tactics used to take down Doomsday and even manages to play a real role by hitting him with a Kryptonite grenade, along with briefly fighting him with his ship. In Justice League, he's able to take on Parademons in a straight fight and win.
  • In Bumblebee, while he towers over humans, every Decepticon Bumblebee fights is significantly bigger than him. This forces him to do things like target weak points, build up momentum in car form or taking advantage of the environment. When up against Shatter who can match him move for move while being almost twice as big as him, he can't hold out for long.
  • In Chronicle, Matt has weaker telekinesis than Andrew, but he's a lot more creative in applying it and takes advantage of the environment more often, allowing him to get the upper hand.
  • While the version of Angel Dust seen in Deadpool has Super-Strength and Super-Toughness, she's still in this position when she takes on Colossus, who far exceeds her in both those categories while also being considerably larger. However, Colossus fights with a fairly simple, brute force style, while Angel Dust has obvious martial arts and combat experience that lets her somewhat negate or redirect Colossus' strength. That, along with the fact that she fights very, very dirty while Colossus is too nice and honorable for his own good, allows her to fight him on relatively even terms.
  • In Deadpool 2, Colossus is once again facing this... but on the opposite side, as he's fighting The Juggernaut. Against this opponent, Colossus is the weaker one, forcing him to fight smart and dirty, eventually ending with him shoving an electrical wire up his opponent's backside and shoving him into a pool to incapacitate him.
  • In Forbidden City Cop, Ling Ling Fat inherited a position in the imperial bodyguards, but doesn't actually know any martial arts. Instead, he's a clever Renaissance Man who uses his wits and inventions to outfight his enemies.
  • Hellboy II: The Golden Army: Prince Nuada is a rare villainous example, pitting his incredible agility and speed against Hellboy's sheer size and brute strength.
  • Katniss in The Hunger Games is physically an average 16 year old girl who has to fight older and much stronger males and females, but she is a very skilled archer and has excellent survival skills due to years of experience hunting in the wilderness.
  • Hit Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) of Kick-Ass is an 11-year old girl, but is capable of killing multiple adult opponents due to her superior training in martial arts, weapons and firearms (just go with it). Notably, in unarmed combat against an opponent who is an equally skilled martial artist, his significant advantage in terms of weight means that she actually has trouble keeping up with him.
  • RoboCop (1987) combines this with Weaksauce Weakness: The eponymous cyborg defeats ED-209 by knowing how to climb stairs.
  • Rob Roy: Archibald Cunningham, the fencing master and foppish fashion enthusiast. His introduction scene has a burly Scottish swordsman mock Cunningham's puny physical frame before getting his ass handed to him in a sword fight. The even burlier Rob Roy manages to physically manhandle Cunningham on several occasions, but in a straight swordfight, the tables are turned. In their duel, Cunningham easily dodges Rob Roy's heavier, slower swings while slowly slicing Rob to pieces.
  • Big Bad Memnon from The Scorpion King is weaker and smaller than the hero but dual-wields his blades with incredible skill (and is fast enough to swat arrows out of the air with them.)
  • Star Wars, Dooku, Obi-Wan, Yoda and Palpatine have all proven to be deceptively this trope. Perhaps the best example was Obi-Wan's battle with General Grievous in Revenge of the Sith. Grievous was a hulking Cyborg, spinning four lightsabers at blinding speeds, aiming to slice Obi-Wan to chunks. But the clever Jedi Master, extorted his openings, breaking Grievous internally until he inflicted a killing shot on the abomination.
    • A New Hope exemplified this at several points; Vader's Star Destroyer vastly outgunned Leia's vessel, but she tricked them by hiding the plans in a droid; the Rebel Alliance was outgunned by the Death Star, and Luke by Vader's ship & escorts in partciular in the final scene, but they used highly maneuverable ships to nullify the battlestation's firepower, while Luke used the force to aim the death blow at the Death Star, while Han Solo swept in to help at the last moment using his superior flying skills and his "modified" Millenium Falcoln to aid Luke despite the massive firepower arrayed against him.
    • Mandalorians as well, especially when compared to their ancient archenemies the Jedi. Facing off against a group of powerful and trained space monks, requires a lot more tools and preparation, than one would think after all. But even away from battling Jedi, Mandalorians have proven on many occasions, to take down even giant vicious alien creatures on their lonesome. Making them widely feared, as the best hunters in the galaxy.
  • In The 13th Warrior, in order to get the scheming prince to back off, one of the thirteen picks a fight with a younger, bigger, stronger mook. He lets the mook beat him up for a while and very nearly win, then when the mook rushes in for a killing blow, the warrior casually sidesteps it and cuts off his head in one stroke.
    Herger: Any fool can calculate strength; [the prince] has been doing it from the moment he saw us. Now, he has to calculate what he can't see.
  • Tombstone (1993) has Doc Holliday, a Southern Gentleman and dentist turned gambler and vagabond due to tuberculosis, which was basically incurable at the time. Knowing his days were numbered, Doc lived every day of his life as if it were his last, and he gained a reputation as being one of the fastest draws in the West. His ailment was no secret; fellow gambler Ed Bailey described him as "nothing but a skinny lunger" without his guns, yet, despite this, Doc could handle himself just fine in physical altercations. When it came to gunfights, however, Doc's reputation preceded him. So much so that even Doc's rival and The Dragon, Johnny Ringo, who is an equally feared gunslinger, is visibly shaken when he realizes that he's about to fight Doc and not Wyatt Earp.
  • Underworld (2003) has such a moment at the end, during Viktor's fight with the newly hybridized Michael Corvin. Though Michael clearly outmatches Viktor in raw strength and speed and initially has the upper hand, Viktor, having 600+ years of combat experience under his belt, eventually manages to turn the tide, with Michael only being saved from death by Selene making a Conveniently Timed Attack from Behind. Of course, it's only compared to Michael that Viktor can be considered weak but skilled; earlier in the film, he effortlessly Neck Lifted a fully transformed Lycan, and then performed a Neck Snap.
  • Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman. He's old, blind, feeble, and homeless. He practically hobbles up to his opponents, and then cuts them down.

  • Deconstructed in The Acts of Caine. When Talann fights Berne, she initially holds out, but Berne has some mean skills of his own too, even if not to the same level, and her inability to close the power gap gets her killed.
  • Sargon in Black Legion, especially compared to his fellow sorcerer. While Khayon has tremendous edge in raw power and experience, Sargon can achieve much more subtle effects and has greater control over his power.
  • Invoked in Chrysalis (RinoZ) when Anthony alters his colony's Queen to produce slightly weaker but noticeably smarter hatchlings. He believes that in the long run, intelligence will trump raw power, and he's proved right over and over, as the ants learn to use tactics and strategy, coordination, metalworking, diplomacy...
    The traps, the secret tunnels, the ambush attempts, the constant probing on the flanks, sneak attacks trying to cut off their supplies, attempted tunnel collapses, mental assaults, barrages of spells, reinforced stone walls bristling with spikes. It was brutal, draining and constant. At any moment there could be four or five tunneling attempts going on in different locations throughout the area of Dungeon they'd captured. Not a single one had ever succeeded, but the ants didn't stop trying. At first Myrrin had thought they were just being stupid, but she'd seen how draining it had been for the mages and auxiliaries to haul their detecting equipment around, setting it up all over again every time the front moved. They even had to staff the thing in rotating shifts, not for a single moment allowing the array to be unattended.
    If their vigilance ever slipped, even for a period of minutes, the ants would be behind them, filling the tunnels in an instant and crawling over every wall and ceiling as they sought to inflict any damage they could.
  • Codex Alera:
    • Tavi has no access to fury power, while everyone else in Aleran society does. It forces him to become very skilled at kicking people's butts all on his own power. The teacher even has him deliberately pretend to be horrible at it so he can serve as a counterexample for the other students in fight training. Then he starts developing his furycraft powers...
    • The Canim Ritualist Morak. Unlike Sarl he follows the old way and uses his own blood to fuel his spells rather than taking the blood of others. This gives him a lot less power than Sarl but he demonstrates a much higher level of efficiency and is able to accomplish a lot more with the power he has than Sarl could.
  • Dark Rendezvous:
    • Scout is a Jedi Padawan. The Force is weak with her; she makes up for it with determination, quick thinking, and endless training. She's got Heroic Resolve in spades and bloody-minded determination, and in a book full of concern about almost every other character maybe one day turning to the Dark Side, no one believes Scout will, not even herself, because she fights so hard to be the best Jedi she can be. Just to drive home the point of how good she was: she survived The Purge that killed most of the full Knights and Masters of the Jedi order. In her non-Dark Rendezvous appearance the author had other Jedi look down on her for having weak powers, but it only takes one line to see that that author was just not doing the research.
      Yoda: "Too few Jedi have I already. But even had I a crop of thousands, small one, I would not let you go without a fight. Spirit and determination you have. Between the stars, so much darkness there is. Why would I throw away one who burns so bright?"
    • It should also be noted that she won the Jedi Apprentice Tournament with Crazy-Prepared Refuge in Audacity tactics that would make Batman proud.
  • Jasmine from Deltora Quest is tiny, and has this as her fighting style throughout the series, even winning a fighting tournament with it in the fourth book. Lief also uses it to an extent, he's at least average in size and strength, but most opponents are still bigger and stronger.
  • Discworld has Cohen the Barbarian (and the rest of the Silver Horde). It says a lot about his skills that Cohen is in his eighties, has been a barbarian hero his entire life, and is still alive. Whenever you have five centuries of combat experience distributed among half a dozen guys, expect a lot of this.
    • Always remember Rule 1: Do not act incautiously when confronting a little bald wrinkly smiling man.
    • In "The Sea And Little Fishes" Mrs Earwig, saying Granny Weatherwax shouldn't enter the Witch Trials because she always wins, suggests Granny should be grateful for her natural talent. Nanny Ogg quickly replies, "I'm the one with natural talent, Esme just works bloody hard." Granny doesn't enter the Witch Trials. Of course, everyone else (except maybe Nanny Ogg) is so widdling-in-their-knickers scared by Granny acting nice that they can't manage to do their own tricks right, and at the end of the day it's just silently acknowledged by everyone that Esme won by using the most subtle Headology trick ever: doing absolutely nothing.
    • In The Fifth Elephant Vimes takes on three werewolves, one with an axe, and two more, not more than minutes apart, with his bare hands, either of which could have easily killed him had it not been for his absolutely awesome brawling.
  • In Dragon Bones, Ward's aunt Stala — relatively, as she's very strong and tall. She can beat Ward's father (who is a giant of a man) in everything, except wrestling, where raw strength is more important than skill. Unsurprisingly, Ward's siblings, who have been trained by Stala, are this, too. When he tells his sister to stay away from combat as no amount of skill could make up for her lack in strength (she's a female teenager, and a bit of a late bloomer)... she still hurts a man lethally. Ward himself is a Gentle Giant, and also a skilled fighter, so more or less everyone who beats him is this trope, in comparison to him, at least.
  • Karrin Murphy of The Dresden Files. While not exactly physically weak, she's a tiny Badass Normal up against a lot of supernatural creatures who could in theory mop the floor with her. She's an expert martial artist and marksman, makes sure to remember and implement any weaknesses she learns, and is willing and able to improvise — at one point she takes down a chlorofiend (read: plant monster) with a chainsaw.
    • Anastasia Luccio, the Captain of the Wardens, is this by necessity, due to a body swapping incident with a necromancer. Her new body just doesn't have the same magical talent her old one did, forcing her to constantly conserve her energy with her spells. That being said she can use the same fire spells as Harry as needle-thin beams of extremely precise and intense heat and cast mass-concealing veils to hide people. Harry says that even with the decrease in power he wouldn't want to fight her.
    • In Ghost Story Harry's apprentice Molly has gotten in on the act—again, she doesn't have nearly Harry's raw destructive power, but she's gained enormous skill in illusions that let her evade and fool multiple attackers at once, sometimes tricking them into killing each other.
    • The Archive is a human receptacle for all human knowledge, and it is also hereditary, passing from mother to daughter when the previous one dies. The previous Archive died while her daughter was still young, meaning that a young girl is one of the most knowledgeable beings in existence. However she is still physically a child with all the limits that come with that, so she is usually seen in the company of her half-demon bodyguard/chauffeur.
    • In terms of magical power, Ivy has both skill and power; the Denarians trap her in a circle that cut her off from using more than a tiny fraction of her power and she still held her own against several of them without apparent difficulty. The only way they beat her is by taking advantage of the fact that her small size makes her more vulnerable to things like poison gas.
    • Some of the Denarians. Their human hosts may not have as much magical potential as a full White Court wizard, but given a few hundred years of practice and the backing of a Fallen Angel, they can use the power they do have VERY effectively.
    • Mortimer Lindquist is a mid-tier wizard when it comes to raw power and breadth of spells which he can cast, and will probably readily acknowledge that all in all, he's a bit of a Butt-Monkey compared to Harry. But within his element? As far as ectomancy and necromancy go, he's closer to top five on the continent, and might be up there in world rankings. Not for nothing is he the protector of Chicago on the ghostly side of things.
  • In The Duel of Sorcery Trilogy, Serroi succeeded as a meie by way of quick reflexes and sheer determination.
  • Hrathen from Elantris is hardly weak, being a Badass Preacher par excellence, but he's nowhere near as physically powerful as a magically-enhanced Dakhor Monk. He's still able to hold his own against them because he's an incredibly skilled swordsman, while their power has made them arrogant and sloppy.
  • The titular character's schtick in Ender's Game. He wins a mock battle in Battle School in which the enemy has a 2:1 advantage, wins every battle in Command School aka the Third Invasion against even worse odds, and kills two older and larger boys with his bare hands when he feels his personal safety is threatened.
  • Fate/Zero:
    • One of the 'viewpoint' protagonists in the light novel series, Emiya Kiritsugu, is presented as this. While he is an expert marksman, most of his successes come from exploiting his targets' weaknesses and generally fighting very methodically. Whenever he is in a direct confrontation, he will always be the one running away, while waiting for the best time to put his plans into action.
    • Waver Velvet ended up as this as he grew older: much like Kiritsugu, he would have no chance in a serious fight with a truly powerful mage, and so he relies on his cleverness, his knowledge of magic, and his allies, particularly the students he's trained over the years.
  • In the Gentleman Bastard series, Locke Lamora is supposed to be a really bad fighter. The end of the first book mitigates this since he is able to defend himself decently against Capa Raza, who is described as "deadly" with a sword. This is more than compensated by his considerable skills as a con artist, thief, smooth talker and gambit planner.
  • In The Gone-Away World, Wu, the Master of the Voiceless Dragon, is a "soft form" martial artist who does not rely on overwhelming physical strength. The narrator describes him as about 80-years-old and with a limp, yet it's implied that he could easily defeat anyone. The narrator learns the same martial arts style. He's pretty miserable at "hard form" martial arts, yet becomes quite skilled at the Voiceless Dragon style.
  • Harry Potter:
  • Katniss Everdeen, from The Hunger Games, is what happens when this meets Glass Cannon. Her short and thin frame leaves her at a disadvantage in a fight when all of the men and most of the other women are larger and stronger, and haven't starved a day in their lives. Her sole combat ability relies on her skill with a bow, which the Gamemakers play up by only putting one bow and twelve arrows into the Arena. Only once she's gotten that bow does she even think about mounting an offensive against the Careers, but it is her skill with wilderness survival, tendency to ration and plan ahead, and speed and agility that allow her to hold out long enough in the meantime. It also seems she's pulled a Batman and tried to recall what worked in previous Hunger Games to help decide her course of action. If a natural charisma also counts as a skill, it certainly helps her get much-needed assistance.
  • Downplayed in the Detective's Story in Dan Simmons' Hyperion, where the protagonist notes that while this is sometimes good enough, it can't stand up to Strong And Skilled.
  • The Last Binding: Edwin Courcey has so little magical power that he exhausts himself easily, painstakingly designs his spells for efficiency, and needs to rely on other mages for any substantial work, but he's a world-class expert on the theory and study of magic.
  • Legacy of the Dragokin: Benji inherits his mother's superpowers and the skill to use them but he doesn't have her stamina or her strength. He compensates with guile.
  • In The Lord of the Isles the wizard Tenoctris has very little power, but has a huge understanding of how magic works. This is a world where several civilizations have been wiped out because their own wizards cast mighty spells without properly understanding what the effects would be. Her spells do what she wants, and she often knows exactly how a spell will backfire when the caster doesn't even know there will be side effects. She'd lose to almost anyone in a Wizard Duel, but as an adviser she's invaluable.
  • In the German SF series Maddrax there are the hydrites. These are dependent on fighting so when attacked by human opponents. Humans are stronger and more resilient than hydrites, so only the hydrites can master what Martial Arts has and have a lot of experience to take on in the fight against humans.
  • Alice Quinn of The Magicians ultimately turns out to be one of these when it comes to magical gifts, for most of her friends are more obvious combat powerhouses than her: Eliot has The Gift of natural magical talent, Penny has battle magic and dimensional travel, Josh has Stout Strength and raw magical muscle that makes up for him being an Inept Mage... and Alice? She's small, shy, and nervous, reluctant to fight and lacking in physical strength... but she makes up for it in sheer intellect and magical knowledge, not to mention superhuman determination. It's for this reason that Alice is the only member of the Physical Kids that can last in a fight with the Unskilled, but Strong Big Bad, for while she's nowhere near his power level, Alice has learned and mastered enough spells and techniques to keep him on the ropes.
  • Mother of Learning: Zigzagged. In general, having greater natural mana capacity allows mages to become skilled faster, because they can practise a spell for longer before running dry. However, at higher skill levels, this trope is actually built into the world, with the maximum achievable level of "shaping" control being lower for individuals with lots of raw power.
    • Zorian's capacity is a little below average, but the time loop lets him train and refine it until he can punch far above his weight, and he augments it with his extensive knowledge of magic item creation (which is rather like magical computer programming). His array of precise, efficient spells and prepared items eventually let him fight alongside Zach as an equal, despite Zach's far greater power and longer combat experience.
    • Aranea, being small, have so much less magic than humans that they generally can't use the same spells at all, and have to invent their own. However, this conversely means that they have excellent fine control, making them expert in illusions and mind magic. A single aranea can subdue an entire team of humans from ambush, if they don't have specific mental defences. A truly skilled aranea, such as a matriarch, can bypass most defences.
  • Myth Adventures:
    • Skeeve is just an apprentice magician and his mentor Aahz has been completely Brought Down to Normal. Nevertheless, thanks to each being quite the Guile Hero, they regularly trounce or otherwise deal with vastly superior foes, leading to Skeeve enjoying a public reputation as a sorcerer with an almost godlike power level.
    • This trope gets deconstructed in one Myth novel by Guido when he infiltrates the army and has to fight a Drill Sergeant Nasty in drills. The sergeant is a tiny guy, especially compared to Guido (who's a walking wall of muscle), and in Guido's internal monologue he points out that this only works if the strong guy isn't terribly skilled. Guido happens to be very skilled and flattens the sergeant with a single punch.
  • Annabeth Chase from Percy Jackson and the Olympians also qualifies. As a child of Athena, she does not have many of the powers that other demigods have. In fact, the children of Athena, and also the children of other, lower deities, are among the weaker demigods. When fighting monsters or other opponents, Annabeth almost always relies on her wisdom and tactical skills. However, even weak demigods are still much stronger than humans.
  • Daylen Namaran in Shadow of the Conqueror. Though eighty-two by the time the book begins, he retains his skill with a sword and is still able to beat men several decades younger, albeit at severe cost to his aged body from the strain and fatigue.
  • Skulduggery Pleasant:
    • Valkyrie finds herself in this position for the early parts of the series. Being a teenager who has not yet had her Surge, she is magically and physically weaker than most of her assailants. However, she's had some of the best training from some of the magic world's finest teachers, and is able to use that and her wits to hold her own.
    • Tanith Low, one of the aforementioned teachers. She lacks direct combat powers, instead possessing a bag of tricks like walking on walls, and opening locks. She compensates by being one of the finest sword-wielders in Britain and Ireland.
    • Of all people, Lord Vile ends the series at this point, in comparison. While eyewateringly-powerful and more than a match for almost every Mage alive, Vile ends up outclassed by the other major players at the end of the series. Kitana's gang, Argeddion, and especially Darquesse are all orders of magnitude more powerful than Vile, but Vile compensates with centuries of combat experience, complete mastery over his own powers, and sheer ruthlessness.
  • Sky Masters: A small Filipino group using outdated ships is able to trounce a larger, modern Chinese flotilla to the point that the Big Bad admiral in charge of said Chinese flotilla is pushed over the Godzilla Threshold.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • Features this trope regularly in a very plausible way. The series has loads characters who are too old (Barristan Selmy, Syrio Forell) or too thin (Loras Tyrell) to be considered "strong" but are extremely capable fighters, usually because they are both naturally skilled, very well trained, and unusually brave. This is realistic since there is no use being a bag of muscle if you are clumsy, untrained or just too weak-minded to hold yourself on a battlefield or in another life-or-death situation. In other words, being strong and resilient may make you a good soldier (since much of soldiering is enduring months of underfeeding, sleeping in camps, forced marches, exhausting work and generally horrible life conditions) but it does not automatically make you a good fighter. (The reverse is true: many a Knight in Shining Armor is a capable fighter but could never endure the life conditions of the rank and file.)
    • Handily demonstrated in the duel between Gregor Clegane, a giant of a man strong enough to wield a greatsword in one hand, and Oberyn Martell, a regular sized man. Oberyn, while severely outclassed in the strength department, is quick and agile, and uses a spear (coated with poison) to keep out of reach of Clegane's BFS.
    • Subverted by Syrio Forel, who gives a very impressive account of himself when he is outnumbered six to one and armed with a wooden sword while his opponents have live steel. He defeats and possibly maims or kills five of them, but falls to the sixth, who has (as the Hound memorably puts it in the TV adaptation), "armor and a big fucking sword."
  • Tarzan, although enormously strong by human standards, is much weaker than the apes who raised him. It is his superior skills and reason that set him up as their ruler.
  • This is the entire premise of the Vorkosigan Saga: Miles is crippled, but consistently wins through brilliance and sheer force of personality.
  • The Wheel of Time:
    • Mat Cauthon outfights two stronger and more practiced opponents at the same time, while recovering from a serious illness. He's really good with the quarterstaff.
    • Sorilea can barely channel enough to light a candle, but is one of the oldest and most experienced Aiel Wise Ones, and has such a sense of authority about her that when she says "jump" even other Wise Ones ask, "How high?"
    • Androl is probably the weakest channeler in the Black Tower, but has an unmatched talent for making gateways, which normally requires great strength in the One Power. He normally uses them for such everyday tasks as cutting leather and preparing tea. Then he starts developing new and awesome ways to weaponize them.
    • Be'lal is one of the weaker channelers among the Forsaken, but he makes up for it by being a Master Swordsman, one of the Shadow's three top generals, and a politician savvy enough to earn the nickname "Netweaver". Unfortunately for him, it doesn't save him from being the first Forsaken to be Killed Off for Real.
    • Egwene briefly has this role when she is captured by Elaida's faction of Aes Sedai and demoted to novice, with her channeling almost completely suppressed with forkroot. What little of the One Power she can channel, she uses with a level of finesse that awes her instructor.
  • The Witch of Knightcharm: A rookie witch named Gelila who attends an evil Wizarding School is shown to be this. Gelila reads a lot and has a wide breadth of knowledge, but while she's thus able to craft spells which perfectly match the ones in her textbooks, she's unable to put much power into those spells. During the first exam of hers that's depicted in the text, she creates a ward which is theoretically perfect but fizzles out because it has almost no energy to speak of. However, despite her weakness, her skills were still sufficient to get her through orientation when much stronger students failed.
  • Worm: Deconstructed with Armsmaster. He is a pure Tinker with no innate physical enhancements or ranged attacks who can nevertheless beat "true" capes through gear and superior skill. However, to be this capable, almost all his free time is spent either training or working on his gear, and he still Can't Catch Up to those who have The Gift like Dauntless. This results in him becoming The Resenter and a Glory Hound.
  • Lord Peter Wimsey is particularly this, when it comes to a test of strength he'll get taken out, but there's been several a villain who's been surprised that the short, thin, well-dressed man in spats has insanely fast reflexes and a considerable knowledge of martial arts that will make an opponent's bulk a disadvantage.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Angel:
    • Wesley is easily the physically weakest male member of Angel Investigations. Yet he managed to kill Skip, capture and cage up Justine, and he was the one to face Vail in "Not Fade Away".
    • While testing Illyria's powers, Spike (who is usually no slouch in the strength department) gets knocked around the room constantly by her godlike strength, commenting that she hits "like a mack-truck". Over time he begins to adapt and dodge her blows and gets a few shots in. Illyria disparages him as being weak for adapting and compromising, to which Spike retorts that it is a strength because he is learning.
    • Kate knows that she isn't strong enough to fight vampires head-on, so she uses pragmatic tactics to gain the upper hand.
    • Happens only rarely, but when Fred pulls a fast one, her ingenuity will leave you dizzy.
  • Arrowverse:
    • In The Flash (2014), Jay Garrick is not as fast as Barry Allen and eventually loses his powers, but he's a lot more experienced and had several tricks with speed that Barry had never thought of. Jay teaches Barry his tricks, making him much more effective.
    • In Supergirl (2015), Alex Danvers is a mere human with no powers or physical strength, but she's still a Badass Normal DEO agent with combat experience and can even take on more powerful aliens by redirecting their own strength against them. She even teaches Kara to do do the same.
  • The Battlestar Galactica is a 50 year old bucket which was being turned into a museum when the Cylons hit, having been rendered obsolete by newer battlestars. Yet, thanks to its Commander, (eventually) hardened pilots and a True Companions mentality, they were able to survive the holocaust and the four years of ordeal. There is a reason why many fans believed Galactica could take out Pegasus despite the former being heavily outgunned by the latter.
  • Buffy:
    • Ethan Rayne can't take Giles in a fight, but he has a flair for magic-induced chaos.
    • Giles, meanwhile, is only human, and is routinely punched out by vampires and creamed every time he tries a Training Montage on Buffy; on the other hand he's seemingly familiar with every melee weapon known to man and trained the supremely skilled Buffy in all of them.
    • As far as credible villains go, Angelus is not on the same scale as the ascended Mayor but he's a Master Vampire who has been in the game for over two hundred years and is powerful enough to stalemate Buffy, an unusually strong Slayer. His greatest asset, however, (aside from a meticulous brand of viciousness that would make The Joker proud) is his inside knowledge of the Scoobies, which he uses to full effect. Among other things, he's got the malicious psychological insight of Hannibal Lecter.
    • Spike is the youngest non-Villain of the Week Vampire the Scoobies have faced. He's just over a century old, which means while he's a lot stronger than the average human, he's on the low end of the raw strength scale as far as vampires and demons go. He's also killed two Slayers, can beat up the older, stronger, and bulkier Angel on occasion, and is considered one of the most dangerous threats around by the Watcher's Council, all because of his peculiarly sharp brand of insight, adaptability, and willingness to do his research - he understands exactly what makes Slayers tick, and he can cut straight through bullshit by being unsettlingly observant. Buffy outright admits that she can't really lie to him, to her own bemusement, and it makes him an exceptional manipulator when he actually bothers.
    • This is probably true of all humans who hunt demons and vampires. Humans are the weakest beings in the Buffyverse, and every kind of monster is stronger than a human being.
  • Counterpart (2018): Baldwin is a slim woman of average female height, without visible muscle buildup. Due to this, it's played realistic that when she fights a man sent to kill her, she shows some impressive moves, but she's still clearly in trouble unless she can get hold of a weapon since he outweighs her significantly (she does, killing him). Usually she doesn't attempt hand to hand combat, but relies on her skill with guns and other weapons while fighting.
  • Doctor Who: The Doctor, aside from a handy screwdriver, a parlor trick regarding kinda-sorta-not-really dying, and varying degrees of vague (and usually very limited) Psychic Powers is for all intents and purposes, a mortal being no more powerful than a sharp-witted human. And yet, they have engineered the downfall of entire races by being merely smarter than them.
  • Farscape — D'Argo is huge, strong, used to be a Luxan warrior, and has the ability to knock people out with his tongue. Aeryn Sun is slender, smaller, female, with a species weakness which means she starts dying whenever it gets too hot. But in any battle where D'Argo doesn't surprise her, guess who's tougher?!
  • Despite being a "ninety pound girl" River Tam from Firefly is skilled enough to accomplish such feats as sharp-shooting mooks with her eyes closed, single-handedly beating to a pulp a bar's worth of low lives with nothing but her hands and feet, and, last but not least, massacring a contingent of Reavers with whatever she could find lying around.
  • In Kamen Rider Ex-Aid, the Kamen Rider Chronicle Gashat lets average folks transform into Kamen Rider-like warriors called Ride Players, but compared to actual Riders like Ex-Aid they have absolutely abysmal stats, a weak gunblade weapon, and no Finishing Moves. The Riders' ally Nico Saiba, however, modified her Ride Player suit and is such a talented gamer that she's on par with other Riders' Mid Season Upgrades and can perform improvised finishers fully capable of taking down a Monster of the Week.
  • Ben Linus from Lost hardly looks dangerous, but he is fully capable of taking you down. He managed to destroy two Middle Eastern guys on horseback and armed with machine guns using only a telescoping baton and the element of surprise as weapons. There there's the fact that he's also The Chessmaster and a Magnificent Bastard and can play Gambit Roulette like few others...
  • MacGyver lived and breathed this trope. He generally loses straight-up fistfights with larger or stronger opponents. He always needed to attack from advantage, throw sand, or use some gadget to win. What keeps him from being a Combat Pragmatist is that he Doesn't Like Guns and never uses them.
  • The titular Cool Starship of The Orville is a Fragile Speedster captained by a Guile Hero, and they're capable of defeating much larger warships via superior tactics.
  • Rescue Me had strong, young firefighter Franco training as a boxer. His first sparring partner was a man with decades of experience, who was way over 70 years old. Guess who won?
  • Harvey Korman, a patient in Scrubs, is obese, nonathletic, and a hypochondriac, but his tennis swing managed to send a doctor that promised to play a round with him flying into the fence behind him.
  • Sherlock: Despite being very short, John and Mary are good shots, and John had killed TWO villains, threatened actual freaking DEATH on one of them, grabs on to Moriarty, while having a bomb vest strapped to him, and tells his friend to run. Oh, and Mary's the one who shot Sherlock.
  • In the Supernatural episode "All Hell Breaks Loose, Part One" (S02, Ep21), Jake and Sam tower over Andy. Andy is not a fighter, but has Mind Control.
  • A curious example of this pops up in the form of Cameron in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. While she's far from the weakest member of the main cast, she's still much physically weaker than other machines, being very small and lightweight. In a straight slugging match, she tends to lose. However, Cameron is intelligent and adaptable, making use of her surroundings, Improvised Weapons, and outmaneuvering opponents to defeat them.
  • Perpetual Grace Ltd: The small-statured Manchild Paul explains that he intends to "master the eleven major forms of martial arts" so that he can protect himself from Prison Rape. The ex-con Newleaf asks how much he weighs, and Paul replies, "One-forty." After a moment, Newleaf states, "Yeah, you're gonna need all eleven." Paul then reveals that he's already got one of the eleven down when he gives a flawless demonstration of kung fu.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • David from The Bible (in his fight against Goliath) is the quintessential weak but skilled character; one stone slung in the right place and the fight was over.
  • Odysseus from The Iliad and The Odyssey exemplifies this in his use of trickery to sneak soldiers behind Troy's impregnable walls in the Trojan Horse, and later in his tricking of the Cyclops so he and his men can escape the giant's cave.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Jushin Thunder Liger is not a large man, and in fact was refused by Japan's dojos when he went looking for a place to train because of his stature, forcing him to go to Mexico. Yet, once he actually got training he gradually became one of the most famous professional wrestlers in the world, because he was good at it and dedicated. He even lecture's Ring of Honor's locker room, insisting strong technique is more important than physical strength alone and decided to train the petite Cheeseburger to prove his point.
  • In IWA Mid-South, this was the stated reasoning for moving Jimmy Jacobs from the light heavyweight division to the heavyweights, even though he was not very big. He was simply too much better than everyone else in that weight class and good enough to beat heavyweights...though another light heavyweight, Delirious, rose up the ranks not long after Jacobs did.
  • While at first glance, it would seem absurd to look at the 196 cm 104 kg Chris Hero and call him "weak", his record in Pro Wrestling NOAH's Global Tag League has seen him fail to advance from the opening round for several years in a row. In his fourth year in, he and Colt Cabana were officially recognized as having the best technique of any participants, despite their low showing, suggesting that Chris Hero and his partners simply aren't strong enough or that they're lacking something else...
  • Rey Mysterio is the smallest and physically weakest regular male competitor on the WWE roster, usually outweighed by a good 30-40 pounds even in the Cruiserweight division. Yet he competes almost exclusively in the Heavyweight division and he's won more titles than 90% of the other guys.
  • This is pretty much the Technico-Luchador's schtick, while the Rudo-Luchadors tend to be stronger and are often a Combat Pragmatist.
  • Orange Cassidy usually lacks the raw power and toughness of his opponents, which often results in him getting tired in matches with them very quickly. However, with his maneuverability and the tactical mind games he plays on his opponents, he's often more than capable of pulling off a come from behind win, no matter how dire the situation seems for him. This is emphasized by his ability to do some moves and athletics such as kipping up while his hands are in his pockets in response to getting knocked down.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Haos attribute from Bakugan absolutely thrives on having lower power levels by having cards that give the weaker Bakugan a tremendous advantage (The wider the margin, the better). Probably the only game where people get into arguments over who has the weakest of something.
  • The second edition of the Champions/Hero System rulebook explicitly pointed out that in the game system as it existed at that time, DEX was the One Stat to Rule Them All, because DEX was used in calculating several other stats. People who exploited this tended to rely on the Weak, But Skilled paradigm.
  • Rogues in Dungeons & Dragons are practically the patron saints of this trope. Not only can they apply their dexterity to weapon skill instead of strength like most classes, but they also learn much more quickly than their counterparts. Even low intelligence rogues will have a healthy set of skills, while a high intelligence human rogue will quickly become the team's ninja historian animal taming demolitions expert.
    • The rogue's signature sneak attack ability was also changed from a damage multiplier in 2.0 to deal consistent bonus regardless of the rogue's strength or size of his or her weapon in 3.0 so that rogues do not particularly suffer from low strength or lightweight weapons.
    • A Rogue-friendly prestige class in v3.5 called Invisible Blade applies this trope more narrowly to combat. The rogue becomes incredibly skilled at fighting with daggers, and can now apply his Intelligence bonus to armor class as well as to skill points. As a trade-off, the Invisible Blade cannot wear any armor. To qualify for the prestige class the rogue must defeat a Worthy Opponent in single combat using nothing but a dagger.
    • In 3rd Edition Wizards could cast fewer spells per day than sorcerers but knew more spells. Giving them more versatility but they couldn't put out as much raw magic. Clerics had a similar relationship to the non-core Favored Soul class.
    • Fighters are this compared to Barbarians, though this is a rather relative comparison. Fighters have slightly fewer hitpoints, move slower, and can't use Rage, but they can equip heavy armour and tower shields as standard, they have more combat feats, and they are at least literate - Barbarians Never Learned to Read.
    • Lore Bards in 5th Edition are quite literally weak, but skilled. They are rather poor direct combatants due to their D8 hit die and lack of access to heavy weapons and armour, but they have by far the most skill proficiencies of any available class, the chance to get expertise (double proficiency) in four of them at max level and the aptly-named "Jack of All Trades" feature lets them add half their proficiency bonus to any skill they aren't already proficient in - including Initiative. They can also borrow spells and cantrips from other classes' spell lists.
    • In 5e, monks are an excellent choice for this, their Martial Arts ability allowing them to attach their dexterity bonus to melee attack and damage rolls. Feel free to put Strength as your dump stat while remaining on the frontline.
    • Tucker's Kobolds, ladies and gentlemen, embody this trope more than any Player Character ever could. Normal kobolds are Cannon Fodder for even 1st level novice adventurers. Tucker's Kobolds are devious masters of guerrilla warfare who use fire and Vietcong-esque ambush and Booby Trap tactics to send veteran 12th-level parties packing. They're no stronger than regular kobolds, they're just very clever.
  • In Game of the Generals, the Privates are the only pieces that can capture Spies, who are capable of taking out even the 5-Star General.
  • In Iron Kingdoms the dragon Everblight is the weakest of his kind, but has unmatched skill. While his mighty father relies heavily upon undead because his mere presence sickens and kills the living, Everblight's armies are almost all creatures that he has created or corrupted through his own blight, and is capable of subtle changes such as increasing the birth and maturation rates of his minions. He's even made himself weaker by splitting his athanc into pieces and giving the shards to his commanders, forgoing having a body in favor of improved coordination between his forces.
  • In Leviathans: The Great War, this is the hat of Russia. Their leviathans don't have the armor, speed, or firepower of most other nations, but they've been fighting with them for longer and thus their crews are the most experienced and can fight on even footing against the other nations.
  • In Magic: The Gathering, weak but skilled tends to be an advantage. A creature having high power or toughness stats and no other special traits or abilities is utterly unremarkable (after all, the most common creature-removal spells simply kill or otherwise remove creatures without looking twice at their size). However, some of the most valuable creatures to have are small ones (in terms of power and toughness) with useful abilities like the ability to retrieve any Equipment from your deck, and put any Equipment in your hand into play for a low, fixed cost or the ability to give you extra mana just for putting more lands onto the battlefield, especially in formats where the ability to do so more often is commonplace.
  • The John M. Ford-designed Klingons from FASA's Star Trek: The Role Playing Game aren't as physically powerful as Terrans, but their endurance, high-gravity-tuned reflexes, and lifelong combat training more than make up for this.
  • In Traveller, characters take an old age roll at the end of each four-year career term starting with the one ending at age 34 when generating the character's backstory. Failing this roll (which gets increasingly likely as the character gets older and the penalties become increasingly severe) will drain physical attributes, but staying in a career for longer will, among other things, increase the character's skills.
  • Tucker's Kobolds were a group of regular kobolds — small, almost no HP, no venom or other special natural weapons — commanded by a clever and ruthless dungeon master. They made extensive use of locked doors, arrow slits and murder holes, flaming debris, passages too small for humans, explosives, and a variety of other strategies, to utterly bamboozle and traumatise a party of characters from level 6 to 12.
    The kobolds caught us about 60 feet into the dungeon and locked the door behind us and barred it. Then they set the corridor on fire, while we were still in it.
    "NOOOOOO!" screamed the party leader. "It's THEM! Run!!!"
    Thus encouraged, our party scrambled down a side passage, only to be ambushed by more kobolds firing with light crossbows through murder holes in the walls and ceilings. Kobolds with metal armor and shields flung Molotov cocktails at us from the other sides of huge piles of flaming debris, which other kobolds pushed ahead of their formation using long metal poles like broomsticks. There was no mistake about it. These kobolds were bad.
    Tucker's kobolds were the worst things we could imagine. They ate our donkeys and took our treasure and did everything they could to make our lives miserable, but they had style and brains and tenacity and courage. We respected them and loved them, sort of, because they were never boring.
  • Mages count as this trope in The World of Darkness. Vampires have their Disciplines, which grant them supernatural strength and resilience, as well as blood pools that can be used to heal their wounds at a moment's notice. Werewolves have sheer strength on their side, being perfect killing machines created by Gaia, in addition to their spiritual gifts, feral Rage, supernatural resistances, a healing factor, and pack tactics. Mages are comparatively squishier, having to use Magick to replicate any of that—and even then, a Mage needs to be careful, in order to avoid gathering Paradox. However, Magick also allows Mages a degree of control over any facet of reality: it's possible for a well-prepared Mage to develop completely coincidental counter-measures that can neutralize any other Supernatural's abilities.
    • To highlight this, one of the truly unique things a mage can do that no other splat can in The World of Darkness is to rewind time, allowing them effectively a few extra moments and some foreknowledge in combat. In the New World of Darkness, this is replaced by the ability to selectively rewrite his past, declaring that he spent the last ten years studying lock-picking and escape-driving instead of riflery and science, allowing him to retroactively have prepared mundane defenses and learned appropriate skills.
    • The unofficial national sport of Mage players is negation of other supernaturals, seeing how few ranks in a magical discipline one needs to render a massively stronger opponent mortal, such as using a low-level mental power to prevent a werewolf's rage or remove the friction from the ground beneath a speed-based vampire.
    • Hunters (both kinds) even more so. The majority of Mages may never have the direct combat prowess of beatsticks like Vampires or Werewolves, but their immensely flexible Reality Warper abilities give them options that even the strongest Empowered Badass Normal of Hunters can't match. Through cunning, fighting dirty and planning, however, Hunters can and many times do put down the things that go bump in the night.

    Visual Novels 
  • Fate/stay night:
    • Lampshaded with the comment that fighting technique is used to compensate for weakness. The context, however, is an inversion, pointing out that Berserker, consumed with magical bloodlust, is so damn fast and strong that he doesn't need skill.
    • Archer has one of the worst statistics of all the servants in the Grail War and has no divine blessings or the like. However, he is immortal, and has spent a lot of the time he has fighting and devising tactics that maximize his strengths thanks to creating copies of Heroic Spirits' legendary weapons. Consequently he's able to stand up to epic legends and demi-gods like Saber and Berserker, and when Shirou borrows Archer's power in one bad end, he even beats Saber Alter in a sword fight. In spite of his Servant class designation, Archer is actually closer to being a Jack of All Stats than the Glass Cannon that would otherwise be implied. First off, Archer specifically says that he wasn't originally a warrior or a hero or anything like that; he's actually a mage, the most fragile class there is. Whereas other mages have all sorts of cool tricks or spells they can pull out for most everything, Archer only knows two types of spells, though what spells they are! Moreover, unlike virtually every other participant in the Grail War, Archer is not actually a traditional Heroic Spirit. This makes him virtually inscrutable since he has no notable weaknesses or famous Achilles' Heel for others to exploit, save, as shown other media like Fate/kaleid liner PRISMA☆ILLYA or Fate/Zero an enemy that's fast and skilled enough to catch and use his forged Noble Phantasms can easily turn them against him.
    • Assassin is fast but not very strong and is wielding an essentially normal sword. His magical energy is not only low, it only declines because it cannot be restored. However, he fights on more than equal terms with Saber herself and only loses because his sword is bent from blocking an attack of hers. Even Lancer, who thinks nothing of fighting several other Heroic Spirits at once so long as he is on the defensive, highly dislikes the idea of having to fight Assassin. Let's put it in perspective: Assassin's secret technique allows him to strike thrice in the same exact instant. This is NOT a Noble Phantasm, magic spell, or of divine origin; he simply trained a lot. Then reality itself gave up and gave him what he wanted... a form of Second Magic. Which should be impossible to replicate.
      • This is the central idea of the Assassin class. In a direct confrontation it is unlikely Assassin could win against any of the other Heroic Spirits. However, their skill in assassination and their Presence Concealment ability make Assassins extremely adept at eliminating enemy Masters.
    • Souichirou. He trained in a martial arts style so strange that when people fight him for the first time they have no idea what he's going to do next. Because of this he is able to almost kill Saber (second strongest Servant in the Grail War) during their first encounter, unarmed with a strength-boosting enhancement given to him by Caster.
    • Caster herself is also unskilled but strong. Physically she is weak enough to literally get beat up by a teenage girl, and her Noble Phantasm is easily the weakest one of the eight Servants, however she is able to use guile, pragmatism and outright cheating on several occasions to become a major threat to our protagonists.
    • The fight between Shirou and Gilgamesh is a contest between weak but skilled and Unskilled, but Strong. Both use the same weapons, but while Shirou's are weaker copies than Gilgamesh's, he has more skill wielding them. The result is that in a direct clash they are evenly matched with only the rate at which they can grab a new weapon making the difference, and in his Reality Marble Shirou can grab a sword instantly. Gilgamesh's trademark arrogance also worked in Shirou's favor, since the former deliberately refused to use his armor or his ultimate weapon at the beginning of the fight, thinking that his opponent wasn't worthy. By the time he realized he might actually need them, it was too late.
    • Generally, because Older Is Better in the Nasuverse, most Servants from "recent" history (around the 1500s onward) kinda have to be this, otherwise they would constantly be getting Curb-Stomped by their older and more straightforwardly powerful opponents.
  • The Fruit of Grisaia: Makina quite literally. Makina is physically even weaker than you’d expect for someone that looks about twelve, but she picks up on anything Yuuji teaches her regarding exercise, sniping or martial arts almost immediately. Her endurance is still terrible, though.
  • The Nanaya Clan is revealed in Kagetsu Tohya to have next to no supernatural abilities at all nor superstrength or anything but pure assassin skills. The most badass of them all, Nanaya Kiri, only has the ability to sense the thoughts and emotions of others. Normally, they go up against horribly dangerous monsters at the likes of Vermillion Akiha or worse. Akiha's who actually know how to fight, that is. And they win. Just think if Shiki had actually grown up with them before they were wiped out and then gotten his Mystic Eyes. How much training can a six year old really have received anyway? Yet he still takes out Nero Chaos, Roa, Walachia, Satsuki and at least one more of the 27 top Dead Apostles before they even notice he's there.
  • Kindred Spirits on the Roof:
    • There's a variation with Kiri when she ends up being chased by her teacher Tsukuyo and her yearmate Yuna. Kiri doesn't have the speed or stamina to outpace Yuna, much less Yuna's friend Hina(a member of the track team), so she resorts to clever ruses like opening doors to mislead her pursuers into thinking she's gone into various classrooms and forcing them to search each one. It works until Hina jumps out a second-story window while Kiri is on the ground below and quickly closes the gap.
    • Miyu Inamoto, vice-captain of the track team, is highly skilled at running and has a good grasp of technique, but isn't as fast as her girlfriend and the team captain, Matsuri Amshima.
  • The titular protagonist of Sable's Grimoire is, like all human mages, a lot less powerful in his magic than the various demihuman races of his world. However he is a savant when it comes to designing new spells, something most mages don't even think about. Sometimes he needs his more powerful friends to actually put his magical ideas into practice.

    Web Animation 
  • Dreamscape: Dylan barely has any powers to speak of and isn't physically imposing at all, but his cleverness and determination is what gets him out of trouble. He explains this to Melissa in 'Confronting the Dark'.
  • Epithet Erased: Giovanni is less effective in a straight fight than the other Inscribed, but he's learned enough variety in his powers to give him some advantages they don't have, such as a high level of mobility.
  • Sonic In X Minutes: Infinite has the ability to create illusions thanks to his Phantom Ruby. However, everyone is aware that Infinite's illusions are just that - illusions, and so they deride him as "weak." However, Infinite is very clever and creative in the ways he uses his illusions, such as disguising himself and Eggman to sneak into the rebel base. This is the opposite of Infinite's portrayal in the original game, where he was Unskilled, but Strong.
  • RWBY: Oscar Pine has all the memories of Ozpin, including his fighting skills. However, he doesn't have the muscle memory to put these to effective use, and thus has to train to build up his skill.

  • Castlevania RPG: Alec's magic is far weaker than Katrina's, but he has much finer control of it, allowing him to use an area-of-effect Turn Undead while specifically not hitting Darkmoon, his vampire ally and later friend.
  • Ree, and Scra as well, from The Croaking:
  • DICE: The Cube That Changes Everything: Dongtae and Mio shows Team Charlie that even with their stats reset, they aren't A-rankers for nothing. They outmaneuver them and take them out one by one with Improvised Weapons.
  • Gote, from the long-defunct webcomic Dominion, is a millenia-old immortal with no magical powers and more importantly no healing factor. How? In an email, the creator of said webcomic responded to that very question: "When somebody punches you multiple times, you learn to duck. They do it ENOUGH, you learn to hit back. Do this for a few thousand years, and you can do it damned near PERFECTLY. ;)" His nemesis Mack (the actual protagonist ironically enough) was by contrast a DBZ-grade superhuman.
  • General Protection Fault: Fooker while protecting Ki from Sam, who is a football player, as he apparently had been "moonlighting with the UGA" at the time and knew martial arts well enough to win. This also comes up when he fights his counterpart in the Nega-Verse; he doesn't fare quite as well in this case, but manages to gain the upper hand when his opponent gets distracted.
  • Inverloch gives us an unintentional Crippling Overspecialization subversion. Raul is the smartest headmaster ever at the Wizarding Academy, but he has almost no magical strength.
  • In Jupiter-Men, Nathan has no superpowers and relies entirely on his technology and rigorous training. He's the only member of the team with any superhero expertise prior to the events of the story, making him the de facto leader and the one everyone looks to for guidance. This is perhaps best demonstrated in Episode 33, where his measured reason and experience lets him instruct the team on how to dismantle the chaos they accidentally caused.
  • Keychain of Creation:
    • Ten Winds (an air-aspect Terrestrial) is, in terms of raw power (or in Secret's case, potential power), the weakest of the group. But he's also a former member of what's essentially an Exalted Seal Team 6; an extremely skilled fighter, frequently shown taking on Exalted who should (in theory) be able to steamroll him.
    • Nemen Yi (a Sidereal Exalted) mocks the Messenger Gods for their inability to fight, since "they don't even get perfect attacks". She is immediately knocked out cold by something they do get: Perfect Delivery... of a letter wrapped around a rock.
  • The eponymous Nodwick has no magic, no fighting talent, and no special abilities that don't relate to carrying stuff. His companions are a warrior, mage and cleric of considerable power. But he's responsible for more of their victories than not. The dark god Baphuma'al wants vengeance on the three conventional adventurers, but he just wants to avoid Nodwick. Vengeance there isn't worth the risk.
  • Sleepless Domain: Undine Wells, the water-wielding member of Team Alchemical, doesn't have as much raw power as her teammates, and her own non-combative nature means her powers lack the "oomph" factor of some other girls. However, her precision and control of her element are apparently well above the standard of most other magical girls. Plus, when it comes to elements, Water is one that is much better used skillfully than powerfully, something that training with Heartful Punch helps her realize.
  • While Bun-Bun from Sluggy Freelance is hardly weak, he is still a mini-lop rabbit, and relies on this trope when taking on particularly tough opponents like Mecha Easter Bunny, evil Aylee, Alien Santa Claus, or the dread pirate Black Soul.
  • Tales of the Questor:
    • Quentyn scored very low on everything he tried out, in particular those based on physical or magical strength. But because he tried and trained for practically everything he is practically a Jack of All Trades, incidentally very useful for a Questor.
    • Racconans in general are apparently this in comparison to human mages. Almost all Racconans are lux sensitive thus they have well-established schools of magic while the few humans who have the talent have little to no opportunity for formal training (thanks mainly to religious prohibitions) but all those that have appeared either can barely even see lux or have enough raw power to send Racconan mages running.
  • Hatz from Tower of God is a human swordsman in a setting where Great Family members and Princesses of Jahad are naturally much stronger than everyone else. But through constant gruelling training, he has developed enough skill with his blades to competently go toe-to-toe with people that far outstrip him physically.
  • unOrdinary:
    • Despite John Doe being a "cripple" and having no special ability of his own, he is still able to defend himself from and defeat low and mid-tier individuals with his superior hand-to-hand fighting ability. He's actually faking his "cripple" status, though his father truly has no powers, so he was being willfully weak after government agents essentially crippled his mind to force him to behave after he drew their attention at his old school.
    • Evie is one of the weakest powered characters, but knows how to use her mild "Illumination" ability to its fullest extent by powering up after clapping her hands over the eyes of her attackers. She's also taking the time to learn martial arts, which she picks up very quickly.
  • Unsounded: Bastion was born to a caste with a weak link to the Background Magic Field, so he can only handle small magnitudes of Aspects and has to be touching his target. However, he has an exhaustive education in magic theory and complementary sciences from the Black Tongue Ancient Conspiracy, so he's phenomenally effective with his power and can wipe the floor with trained Magic Knights.
  • Jason in the Walkyverse is exactly this. He once said he grew up a "mortal among gods".
  • Gray Yeon from Weak Hero. In a series about fighting amongst high school delinquents, he's 5'2 and much skinnier than the other characters. But what he lacks in physicality he makes up for it with brains, and being a Combat Pragmatist. He uses the knowledge he's studied on fighting techniques and human anatomy to give himself an advantage in battle. As well as reading his opponents' movements and employing psychological warfare.

    Web Original 
  • Starting with the second season of Cobra Kai, Sam (who was years out of practice) and Demitri (who was not shown to have any such skills to speak of) personified this trope. Neither is exactly a physical powerhouse, but the school brawl of "No Mercy" showed that nor do they get frustrated by multiple shots in succession. She was able to capitalize on Tory's dissipating patience while he capitalized on Hawk's sloppiness to get in the final blow for their respective fights. It's also the key to his Character Development and her She's Back arc.
  • In Mother of Learning, Zorian's mana reserves are much smaller than those of combat mages like Taiven, but as the "Groundhog Day" Loop he is stuck in continues he picks up enough finesse and trickery to hold his own against a lot of very dangerous opponents.
  • Noob sometimes puts high-level players in control of low-level avatars. Having to start over again after losing the high-level avatar is Arthéon's backstory and Fantöm's fate after the first Wham Episode. Ystos has a so far webseries-only second character that he once used during a tournament. Watching the replay of all the battles in which he took part in a row takes about thirty seconds.
  • Sensei Ito, the aikido instructor at Whateley Academy in the Whateley Universe. He is this trope. He's a little old man with NO superpowers who starts each term by demonstrating this point. By picking the most powerful mutant in the class and then beating the crap out of him in front of everyone.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender:
    • For Sokka, In a World… where most of the main characters can control the various elements, he's still the most Normal of the Badass Normal characters. To deal with that, Sokka often uses strategies and his weapons to bring down his enemies. He's also very resourceful and a fast learner — see 'Sokka's Master' and how quickly he picks up swordsmanship despite having not been shown to have any prior experience in that particular weapon. He has, also, grown up in a tribe which relied on non-bending forms of combat for decades and picked up a lot on his own before being formally trained. That would have helped a lot when he met Piandao.
    • Aang could be considered this, especially before he learns the other Bending skills, since Airbending itself mostly relies on evading. Bumi taunts him with this:
      Bumi: Typical Airbender tactics, avoid and evade. I was hoping the Avatar would be a little less *kicks a rock at the Avatar* PREDICTABLE.
    • Though "weak" is a relative term, it applies more to the Air Nomad philosophy of (technical) pacifism than their power. The Fire Nation waited until Sozin's Comet to move on them for a reason. Season Three of The Legend of Korra showed how broken Airbending truly is, in the hands of an aggressor.
    • This is eventually Azula's undoing against Zuko: at first, she appears more powerful thanks to her raw talent at Firebending, but once he matches her in their final fight, she's a fourteen-year-old against an opponent who's sixteen, more used to physical strain, and that has recently learned a style that employs very little movement, and she gets tired much faster. Her recent spectacular Villainous Breakdown isn't helping her any, either.
    • In Legend of Korra Pro-Bending competitors tend to fall into this when placed into a proper no-holds-barred fight. Due to the restrictions and rules in place during Pro-Bending tournaments, Pro-Bending oriented styles tend to focus on using smaller amounts of bending material to deliver fast, precise attacks over relatively small distances with emphasis on the basics of attacking and dodging at a distance rather than learning bigger, flashier techniques. While this gives them the advantage when fighting in close quarters or in locations where bending material is less readily accesible, it also makes them weaker in hand-to-hand combat or longer distance battles due to them often still fighting as if they're in a Pro-Bending match and being too conservative to keep up with benders who are able to use more material and apply more force.
  • Bruce Wayne in Batman Beyond is like this considering that he's older and more physically frail; he still knows how to fight but his stamina is seriously limited. Terry too; the batsuit might enhance his strength compared to a normal human, but considering the sort of opponents he tends to go toe-to-toe with, he still is usually outmatched in terms of sheer physical force. One episode even has Terry take down the new Batsuit, which has been taken over by a malevolent AI, using nothing more than his skills, Batman's old utility belt, and Nightwing's old mask.
  • Ben 10:
    • Kevin Levin fits this trope upon transforming into Kevin 11. He becomes a physical amalgamation of all ten of Ben's first forms, but the abilities he gains are only a tenth as powerful in comparison to Ben's. That said, he can use them in conjunction with each other, such as combining Stinkfly's gunk with Heatblast's flames to create an explosion.
    • Rook from Ben 10: Omniverse is one of the few aliens in the franchise to lack any ability that could qualify as a superpower, and his weapons, while extremely versatile, is pointed out to lack power. Yet, he is skilled enough to stand against much more powerful enemies and defeat them. Predators And Prey even have him defeating one of the major antagonists in a hand-to-hand fight.
    • Ben Tennyson in general. Whenever he picks the wrong alien to turn into, gets stuck with one other than what he wanted, has to go without turning for a while, or is otherwise ends up in a disadvantage in raw power he uses his head to win.
  • Bugs Bunny. He managed to win a heavyweight wrestling match against the aptly named Crusher through sheer pluck and, admittedly, a lot of cheating.
  • Lucas from Cyber Six, since the enemies in the show are Super Soldiers and monsters created in a lab and he's just a muggle who can box. He holds his own against a Fixed Idea, a creature that can smash bricks with it's bare hands, simply because he's an experienced enough fighter to dodge it's telegraphed moves.
  • Darkwing Duck: The title character is a master of the martial arts and beats other lightweights around with ease, but every time he tries to use his skills against a large, strong character, he might as well be punching a stone wall. Then he says Let's Get Dangerous!.
  • Miraculous Ladybug:
    • Every akumatized villain, even the ones with weaker or less flashy powers, can put up a fight against the heroes. Case in point, Troublemaker (whose only power was intangibility) is one of the few villains who actually managed to steal an earring off of Ladybug.
    • The titular heroes also count. Their Miraculous give each of them superhuman physical ability and their signature weapons, but these are usually eclipsed by the powers many of their opponents are given. While they have their own respective powers, they only get a single use each that puts them on a time limit before they detransform, meaning they have to get creative to make the most out of them.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • Trixie's a stage magician by trade, yet when her power was tested by an Ursa Minor it proved rather inadequate. Later her power output was boosted by an artifact to around Celestia or Luna's level, she was capable of using, with ease no less, spells which Twilight considered far outside her range. And she's just a performer.
    • That same episode shows that Zecora, who can't even use magic since she isn't a unicorn, knows more about the subject than Twilight.
    • Scootaloo might have weak puny wings, but on the ground, she gets serious horsepower out of them. Especially with a fully loaded little red wagon attached.
    • Sunburst possesses great knowledge of spells, but lacks the raw power necessary to apply most of them.
  • While Lilith Clawthorne in The Owl House is far from weak, she lacks the raw magical power of her sister, instead being far more familiar with the theory and basics of magic that her Brilliant, but Lazy sister doesn't bother with. This becomes useful in season 2, when she and Eda lose their magical power and have to rely on glyphs. Lilith quickly takes to the more skill-based system.
  • Samurai Jack: The eponymous protagonist of the show isn't very large or physically powerful, but he's one of the most badass warriors in the entire world because of his mastery of swordsmanship and martial arts from all over the world. One example is the episode where he meets the Scotsman's clan and is forced into a stone-throwing contest to test his worth. Unfamiliar with the sport, he did poorly in the first attempt, but after noting that his mocking opponent was much heavier than the stone, he used a martial arts move of redirecting balance and energy to fling him an equal distance.
  • She-Ra: Princess of Power:
    • A stock and trade for the Twiggets, one of the major allies of the Rebellion. Individually they're no match for the Horde, but they're extremely crafty, very resourceful, and expert marksmen who have no problem using strike and run tactics against more powerful opponents.
    • Similarly, Hordak's minion Imp is on the low end of the power scale where the Horde is concerned, but he is an expert at espionage and saboutage. He is also proficient enough at evasion that he's near impossible to catch when he's found.
  • Bioborg villain, Easel from Skysurfer Strike Force is the shortest, least imposing and most human looking of the borgs, but his Mad Art Attacker powers are invaluable to Cybron's plans.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants. The guy is so weak he can't even lift a barbell with stuffed toys, yet he is an expert in karate, and one training session with Sandy Cheeks had the park cut in half from the practice they had.
  • Steven Universe:
    • Pearl admits that she wasn't built for fighting. She is not as scrappy as Amethyst and can't touch Garnet on the power scale, but will still hold her own alongside them or against them with her spear thanks to technique and practice, and a Homeworld gem calls her a "terrifying renegade" thousands of years after her rebellion. The fusions that include her add her finesse to the power of her partner(s), making them very impressive in battle.
    • Likewise, her student Connie Maheswaran is a human child, far weaker and more fragile than even the least combat worthy gem. She's made up for this for being extremely fast and agile, and with Rose's Sword (which is a One-Hit Kill weapon on Gems) her lack of strength doesn't matter. Again like Pearl the fusion she's involved with (Stevonnie) is the physically weakest one so far, yet humiliated the very powerful Jasper with far superior skill and tactics.
    • Peridot joins the Crystal Gems after a Heel–Face Turn and admits that, due to Homeworld's dwindling resource supply, she (like all the other Peridots of her generation) has to be given bionic "limb enhancers" to give her the ability to fight. However, Steven and Amethyst help her discover that she has the ability to psychically control metal. Though it takes Peridot a while to master the art, and she never quite reaches the raw power of the other Gems, her skills quickly grow to the point where she's able to stand alongside the Crystal Gems in battle armed with nothing but a trash can lid and cans of soda. Even in her first proper fight with ferrokinesis, she was able to defeat the Corrupted Jasper using nothing but a large jagged piece of steel.
  • Contrary to traditional, mostly-equal power levels, the Autobots of Transformers: Animated are almost universally weaker than all but the lowliest Decepticon. They manage to get around this through a combination of team-based tactics and resource management that, while not entirely closing the gap, grant them some measure of advantage over their better-armed-but-less-organized counterparts.
    • This applies not just to the main cast, but the Autobots on a larger scale as well: while the Autobots used the Omega Sentinels to actually win the Great War, the reason they got that far in the first place was because their logistics were vastly superior to the Decepticons thanks to their Space Bridges.
    • True of the original generation 1 Transformers as well. Autobots were ordinary citizens, while Decepticons were the military caste. What's more, Decepticons could fly, and the first Autobots could not.
  • Beck from TRON: Uprising definitely qualifies. He has spent a lifetime roof-hopping, dueling, and racing bikes — thus is an exceptionally agile and fast enough to hold his own in protracted battles with Paige and Tesler, who are trained combatants with a lot more power to throw around. Beck rarely wins any battles, but he always gets away. And this all before he officially begins his uprising or gets any form of training.
  • The Team in Young Justice. They aren't very strong on their own, but they are very good at working together, using the environment to their advantage, working out plans, and using their powers in diverse ways. The first season finale has them fight the mind-controlled Justice League, and win. Even if the League was limited by whoever was pulling their strings, it's still an impressive feat.

    Real Life 


  • Martial Arts:
    • The Gracie family used their Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with this principle to win several of the early UFC and other NHB/Vale Tudo tournaments despite being generally smaller, lighter and weaker than many of their muscular powerhouse opponents through proper application of techniques with which the other fighters were unfamiliar, and in fact Royce Gracie was chosen to represent the family in the early UFC for this reason (as opposed to a larger relative). When the rest of the world became familiar with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu the advantage disappeared.
    • Hélio Gracie, the founder of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, was notable for begin quite weak and having a sickly body in his youth. BJJ came from him adapting Judo ne waza (Ground fighting) techniques so he could use techniques that rely on skill instead of strength.
    • Randy Couture, former UFC Heavyweight and light heavyweight champion, had a smashing comeback win in 2007, where he defeated then-heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia. Despite Sylvia outweighed him by about 55lbs, Couture won by simply out-timing him and picking apart his opponent's weak striking technique. He's come back to the sport a second time and despite being in his 40's is doing quite well by relying on his skill and experience to out strike his opponents, although a noticeable drop in power means he's stopped fighting in the Heavyweight Division. This is all the more impressive when one realizes Couture was originally a wrestler.

      Wrestling is a large part of why Couture is still competitive at 47-years-old in a sport filled with 20-somethings. His particular striking style (save for in the Sylvia fight) relies on "dirty boxing," using his Greco-Roman wrestling skills to control opponents in the clinch while freeing one arm or the other to strike with. This allows him to stifle the movement of faster, more explosive strikers with his grappling skill, and throw submission artists off their game by throwing power punches in a range of combat where hand strikes are usually less dangerous. Couture makes up for the limitations of speed and chin due to his age by bridging the gap between striking and clinch grappling with his skill in both areas.
    • Having a greater variety of offensive weapons makes it easier to compensate for a lack of punching power in Mixed Martial Arts. Fighters like Michael Bisping, Frankie Edgar, Forrest Griffin, and Dominick Cruz have been title contenders, and even champions, despite having little punching power.
    • Mainoumi Shuhei, sumo wrestler. He weighs only 216 pounds (for a sumo wrestler, that's tiny) and in fact failed the Sumo Association's height requirement until he had a doctor inject silicone into his scalp to fake it (causing the rules to be changed in the process, because the Association didn't want anyone else to have to go through such a painful procedure). He was also quite possibly the most skilled sumo wrestler in the modern age. Known as "the department store of techniques," he was recorded as using 33 different winning moves to complete his matches (most wrestlers don't use more than a dozen across their career), including techniques that had either not been seen in the modern era or that he personally made up. He earned five special prizes for technique, and at the height of his career, he was ranked as one of the top (san'yaku) wrestlers in Japan, defeating wrestlers twice his size for the honor.
    • Wing Chun is designed as a practical Martial Art designed to be usable by someone with the muscle mass of a stick. In fact, it's worth noting that the (possibly apocryphal) legend of its creation states that it was created by a woman.
    • In general though, many professional fighters do NOT consider this to be Truth in Television. Fighters like Ramsey Dewey have gone on record saying that an unfit but technically sound fighter will lose handily to a fitter, stronger faster opponent with even a little bit of training. This is backed up by masters of Traditional Martial Arts like Wing-Chun, Tai-Chi, Kung Fu etc. losing repeatedly and handily to even mediocre MMA fighters. Though any smart MMA Fighter of any level of skill, should beware of Combat Pragmatists. For pure force won't always win them a fight, this is a harsh truth.
    • Compared to more aggressive martial arts like Karate or Muay Thai, Tai Chi comes to mind here. It is generally practiced slowly, focusing on flow, movement and most importantly defence. In a fight, Tai Chi targets the weak spots of an opponent, or manipulating their strength against them. It even supposedly has health benefits, calming the mind and body, whilst sharpening precision.
  • Boxing:
    • Paulie Malignaggi has excellent handspeed, good skills, and a decent chin, but can't crack an egg with his punches and suffers from hand problems. He has 27 professional wins, but only five of them have been by knockout.
    • Floyd Mayweather Jr. when he moved to the welterweight division. He lost the power he had at the lower weight classes, and on top of having hand issues, was able to continue his undefeated career based off of pure boxing skills, ring intelligence, and masterful defense.
    • Muhammad Ali was a curious example. While not objectively weak (one does not accumulate 37 KO's without some amount of strength), his punching power was significantly lower than many of his peers in the heavyweight division. But while he lacked a true "knockout punch", he had a very unique combination of speed, timing, stamina, toughness, savvy, and psychological manipulation, and he used all these assets to overwhelm his opponents. He was basically the embodiment of using Strength as a dump stat.
  • Tennis:
    • Roger Federer. Sure he's not super thin and wiry but he's not OVERLY tall like some in Tennis, nor is he massively built like other giants of the game like Nadal. He doesn't rely on massive serves, power volleys or other such tactics to win— just sheer skill.
    • Marcelo Ríos stood at just 5'9" and had a rather thin contexture, but his massive natural talent made up for his lack of physique, taking him to be ranked 1st for a short time. However his career burnt quickly, having to retire at just 28 from a chronic back injury.
    • This also applies to a lot of female Tennis players like Maria Sharapova. Maria Sharapova is actually known as a power player on the woman's court. It's just that the William Sisters, especially Serena, make her look weak by comparison.
  • Hockey: Wayne Gretzky. To quote the other wiki: "Gretzky's basic athletic abilities were not considered impressive. He was 6 ft (1.83 m) tall, weighing only 160 pounds (73 kg) as an 18-year-old NHL rookie in 1979, and 185 pounds (84 kg) at the end of his career in 1999. At the beginning of Gretzky's NHL career, many critics opined that Gretzky was "too small, too wiry, and too slow to be a force in the NHL". On the other hand, his intelligence and reading of the game were unrivaled, and he could consistently anticipate where the puck was going to be and execute the right move at the right time. It was said that he "seems to have eyes in the back of his head" and had a knack of "rolling with a check".
  • Baseball:
    • There are quite a few pitchers who can't throw above 85-86 mph (91-93 is considered normal) but have the ability to get hitters out consistently due either to perfect pitch placement or outstanding movement on their pitches. The so-called 'crafty lefties' like Jamie Moyer and Mark Buehrle are a good example of this.
    • Then there are knuckleball pitchers, who combine this trope (knuckleballs have very little velocity and hence take relatively little arm strength to throw, but take absolute mastery to pitch consistently), with Lethal Joke Character note , Old Soldier note  and Glass Cannon note .
    • The above goes double for right-handed pitchers. Righty pitchers who can't break 90 mph are generally considered batting practice pitchers, as right-handers can't get quite as much of a tricky windup or funky delivery between their positioning on the mound and their own body mechanics compared to southpaws. However, pitchers like Josh Tomlin, Marco Estrada, Kyle Hendricks, and Yusmeiro Petit have been known to log incredible performances and years, with Tomlin and Petit coming close to logging perfect games, while Estrada and Hendricks both made All-Star and playoff appearances in 2016 (as did Tomlin with the playoffs). This is mainly a factor of their near perfect control, but also of their tricky off-speed pitches (the curveball for Tomlin and Petit, and the changeup for Hendricks and Estrada) that they use to create separation in both movement and speed from their fastballs.
    • Petit is a particularly interesting case, as his pitch command is actually pretty average compared to guys like Tomlin and Hendricks. What he does have is a unique delivery that makes his fastball basically impossible to time properly. Despite the fact that it averages 89 mph, Petit's fastball is especially deceptive because his hand (and thus, the ball) goes from above his head, to behind his head, then back out from behind his shoulder during the course of his pitching motion (from the batter's perspective). Thus, it becomes what's colloquially known as an "invisiball", a fastball that seems to just "appear" at the pitcher release point, rather than allowing the batter to follow it through the pitcher's delivery. Combined with his excellent slider and curveball (and a decent changeup), batters can't really find a comfortable or easy pitch to swing at.
    • Greg Maddux was one of the best pitchers of his time, but had a comparatively weak (mid to high 80's) fastball compared to his contemporaries. He compensated for this with his impeccable ball control and trick pitches.
    • Maddux is actually part of a group of pitchers who started off with solid or power fastballs, but lost speed due to age or injury (as a rookie, Maddux was rocking a 93 mph four-seam). Guys like Bartolo Colon, Jake Peavy, C.C. Sabathia, Mike Mussina, and Pedro Martinez all lost power as they got older, but they adapted to their changing outlook by brushing up on their command, movement, and/or pitch repertoire. Mussina in particular stands out, as he was averaging 86 mph by his final season, but still managed a 20-9 record with a 3.37 ERA, made even more impressive by his comeback from an injury-riddled campaign the year before; he is the only player to ever retire willingly after winning 20 games in a season.
    • Then there was Tommy John, who amassed 286 wins in his career despite appearing hittable. Ken Singleton once said you couldn't wait to bat against John, then after the game wonder how in the world you were 0 for 4 that day.
    • Another key skill for these pitchers: learning the hitters. Every hitter has pitches they can do very little against. Additionally, every hitter must anticipate what's coming and try to keep their timing on with incredible skill. As long as your control and ability to keep the hitter off-balance hold up, a pitcher with excellent knowledge of the opposing line-up can be a terror.
    • Sabermetrics, the attempt to use modern scientific statistics to understand baseball, values one particular stat for hitters above all others. No, not average. Not RBI. Not homers. That statistic, On-Base Percentage, is simply how often a hitter gets on base, regardless of power. Slugging - a measure of power - is nice, but OBP is king; the rule of thumb is that OBP is about three times as valuable as Slugging. Sabermetrics doesn't care how you get on base, but that you get there. As depicted in Moneyball (both the film and book), this led to the Oakland A's discovering Kevin Youkilis, a player who was overlooked in the draft because he had a wonky stance, decent but uninspiring average, and less-than-stellar physique. The A's took a special interest in him because they realized his decent batting average masked a stunningly good on-base percentage. He had the plate patience and self-control to battle pitchers deep into the count, wearing their arms out and getting to first base on ball 4. The book jokingly called him "Euclis, the Greek God of Walks". Youkilis went on to be an All-Star, an expert defender, and while his career .281 average is good, it's not great. His career OBP of .381, on the other hand, is outright impressive.
  • Football: Steve Largent, a wide receiver for the Seattle Seahawks, was small (under 6 feet tall and 180 lbs) and not particularly strong or fast. His strengths were his incredibly sure hands and his ability to read defensive coverage like a book. By the time he retired, he'd set almost every receiving record in the book. Unfortunately for him, Jerry Rice came along a few years later to break most of them.
  • Basketball:
    • Steph Curry, the point guard for the Golden State Warriors, is not as big or tall as a lot of other NBA players but his ball handling skills are phenomenal, his passing skills are top ranked, and his legendary 3 point shooting, along with his ability to make highly contested shots from anywhere on the floor, is the stuff of Nightmares for opposing teams. It's these skills that allowed him, in 2015, to lead the Golden State Warriors to winning their first NBA Championship since 1975 and also allowed him to become the NBA MVP.
    • Larry Bird was fairly middling in terms of his specific skills, excelling mostly at three pointers but was probably weakest at dribbling. What made him a force in 80's basketball was his sheer energy and desire to win, content with being a play maker if he isn't in the best shot. And everyone admitted he was the biggest trash talker in the league.
  • Spin bowlers in Cricket. A spin bowler normally bowls at about half the speed of a good fast bowler, but uses a set of elaborate techniques to make the ball "swing" in the air and bounce in improbable ways instead.
  • Golfers in general tend not to be particularly strong, especially compared to athletes in other sports, but Jim Furyk stands out as an utter weakling. Hitting tee shots that some LPGA players could match in length, and a good 80 yards shorter than some big hitters on the PGA Tour are capable of hitting it, Furyk has ridden excellent accuracy in all facets of the game, and, when playing well, unfailing precision in his short game to a US Open victory, a 2nd place finish in the 2016 US Open at Oakmont, one of the longest courses in Open history, a few other runner up finishes at Major championships, a FedEx Cup championship, and he even holds sole possession of the PGA Tour single round scoring record, as he once shot a 58 at a Tour event.
  • Racquetball players. Suit up, go to the gym, and find a 70 year old and challenge him or her. We’ll wait here - you won’t be long.


  • Mouse wins epic boss battle against venomous snake with "barely a scratch on him".
  • Essentially the role of aggressor pilots in the US Navy and in Top Gun, during the Cold War. Flying outdated F-5 Tigers and A-4 Skyhawks, the more experienced aggressors regularly curbstomped pilots in the Navy's newest Cool Planes: The F-14 and F/A-18.
    • This is due to the agility of the outdated aircraft note  and the fact that these engagements always occur within visual range. The F-14 especially was designed to fight at extremely long distance with its advanced radar and long range missiles, in close it was too large and couldn't accelerate fast enoughnote . In the case of the F/A-18, it was purely due to pilot skill as the F/A-18 is also quite agile but is still slightly inferior. In addition the instructors are truly some of the best fighter pilots in the world.
    • On the US Air Force side, there are plenty of stories of pilots in F-15s and F-16s getting shot down by Air National Guard pilots in outdated F-4Cs at Red Flag... because while the boys have the superior fighters, the old guys in crap planes have been flying those planes since Vietnam.
  • In computer science, improving algorithms can cause a laptop being able to outperform a vast cluster of super-computers in certain applications. No matter how much power you have, no matter how much you optimize the code, a better algorithm will always outperform a brute force one.
  • Animals, such as raccoons, monkeys, and such are pretty darn scrawny compared to the average human being. However, thanks to being able to move quickly, expertly climb, and a knack on how to use serious pressure with their sharp claws, big ol' human will lose the fight.
  • Spiders are a wonderful example among the smaller animals, though their webs can be easily broken by larger creatures. The traps they lay are not only delicately spun but serve as both their nests and works of art. Without spiders to ambush the pests of our world, we'd be swarmed by them all too often. Perhaps you should rethink of killing our eight-legged friend next time, hm?
  • On the whole, humans themselves are generally this. When it comes to raw physical strength, stature, speed, agility, or even senses such as sight or smell, there are many, many animals that can kick even the fittest human's ass in seconds. Unfortunately for the animals, the humans learned how to use tools and the environment around them to their advantage. Humans also are a social species, communicating and working together to fell beasts well above their size, and have the wherewithal to preserve knowledge and pass it on for others to use and future generations to refine. Incredible stamina at a walk is merely a bonus - humans didn't need to fight to the death when they could just pursue the prey until it collapsed.
  • This is actively encouraged among car drivers. Since you're controlling a potential killing machine, there are many rule and regulations established. Generally a slow, gentler driver is less likely to cause an accident, than an aggressive, heavy-handed one. Learning to drive is less about ruling the road and more about patience, navigation and observation.
  • Ninja compared to other kinds of warriors aren't particularly well-armed. That's because, despite what media suggests, real shinobi rarely did any fighting. In truth, ninja were mostly spies, saboteurs and the occasional assassin. Still they were not ones to be messed with, for what they lack in military training (though some were former samurai), they more than make up with versatility and skill.
  • This is a common case found among warehouse workers, particularly those that sort heavy items physically. They aren't given any special machinery to aid them, other than a conveyor belt. These individuals must work fast and accurately in order to avoid saturation. But the key to doing so, is not raw strength (for a rushed stacking can waste time and be perilous), but careful timing and gauging the weight of the object first.


Video Example(s):


Oliver Horn v. Tullio Rossi

"Rivals". Oliver Horn faces off against Tullio Rossi in a swords-only duel. Rossi reveals an acrobatic, no-holds-barred fighting style unlike any of the three accepted Western sword schools: he dislikes them and taught himself to fight, thinking it quicker that way. After taking a few punches, an irritated Oliver thanks him for reminding him of his own inexperience, and then demonstrates to Rossi precisely WHY traditional sword arts styles contain few unarmed strikes: reaching out to punch your opponent makes you vulnerable to being grappled and immobilized. Exactly eight blows after saying he would, Oliver has disarmed him.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / WeakButSkilled

Media sources: