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When You Snatch the Pebble

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"When you can snatch the pebble from my hand, it will be time for you to leave."
Master Kan, Kung Fu (1972)

The character undergoing a course of training is given some strange little test to prove that they have learned well and is ready to go forth into the world, face their destiny, etc.. Said test is often a lot harder than it seems. For instance, snatching a pebble out of the hands of the Old Master requires incredible speed. This is almost always the final exam in the sensei's arsenal, although it can also be introduced early on to make a point that the disciple still has much to learn before they can pass it.

See also Wax On, Wax Off, where your training is the mundane task and it allows you to do something more impressive. If the skill the test is meant to make them learn is non-obvious or different from what it originally seems, then it's also a Hidden Purpose Test.


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  • A sneaker commercial from the '90s spoofed the scene in which the old master telling the unseen student. Pebble in hand, he starts:
    Master: When you...
    (student snatches pebble)
    Master: I was not ready!
    (student returns the pebble)
    • This scene repeats itself several times before it's revealed that the student is one of the NBA Superstars.
  • This Mountain Dew commercial, where the protagonist trains at hand slappy, finally besting the master... he thinks.
  • There's an old Chef Boy-R-Dee commercial regarding a monastic order revolving around Ravioli. The master challenged the student to snatch a can of Ravioli out of his hand, only to repeatedly move it out of the way as the student tried to grab it. All the time, the master is laughing like a little kid, indicating that he is using the tests as a form of personal entertainment as well as (or instead of) instruction.

    Anime and Manga 
  • Naruto: Kakashi introduces himself to his students with a test that no one has passed yet: to get a little bell from Kakashi's possession. However, there are three students, and Kakashi only brought two bells. (The secret is working together, putting the team's overall success ahead of your own, and breaking the rules when necessary.) It is suggested that this test, with some variation, has been handed down from the 3rd Hokage, to Jiraiya, to the 4th Hokage, to Kakashi, to Naruto. He does it again at the start of the Shippuuden arc, this time only with Naruto and Sakura (because, as we know, Sasuke had defected to Orochimaru's side). They succeed much faster than when they were kids.
  • Ranma ½: Happens at least once to Ranma, as most Martial Arts tropes do. Probably the best example is when Cologne was wearing the Phoenix Pill, which would cure the "Curse of the Full Body Cat's Tongue" (a Shapeshifter Mode Lock trapping Ranma in his female form): Cologne challenged the martial artist to snatch the Pill away from her, but Ranma would never be fast enough to do so until he could pluck chestnuts from a roaring fire (a concept that was misinterpreted by the anime as the "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire" attack.) In the end, Ranma finally attained this speed, and became too fast for Cologne to notice... but the ancient matriarch cheated and switched out the Phoenix Pill beforehand, aware of Ranma's newfound ability.
  • Dragon Ball
    • As part of a test, Master Roshi marks a small stone with his symbol and throws it into a jungle, challenging Goku and Krillin to find it as a test of their determination and focus. To increase tension, he adds the caveat that only the one who finds the stone will get dinner. Goku technically finds the stone first, but Krillin tricks him and steals it. It becomes a Pyrrhic Victory when Launch serves poorly-prepared pufferfish for dinner and gives Krillin and Roshi stomachaches.
    • When training with Master Roshi, Goku and Krillin are told that they won't be taught special moves until they can push a large boulder. True to Dragon Ball's comedic nature, Goku immediately shows he already can push it, forcing Roshi to point to a bigger one next to it. Roshi never intends to teach them special moves as his training focuses on the fundamentals, so after several months pass and his students push even the larger boulder, he gives up the ghost and tells them that special moves aren't how you win fights, much to the boys' disappointment.
    • Korin and the Divine Water, which is said to increase one's powers. If Goku wanted to drink it, he had to snatch the bottle away from Korin first. Of course, climbing up his tower and getting the water WAS the training, and the Divine Water is just ordinary tap water. When Mercenary Tao also comes to get the Divine Water, Korin simply gives it to him because he doesn't want to help an evil assassin get any stronger.
    • When Goku reaches King Kai's planet after traversing Snake Way (itself a test which increased his fitness enormously), King Kai's first task is a subversion of the trope: telling him a joke that makes him laugh, which contributed nothing towards Goku's training because King Kai assumed Goku was there to be taught how to be a comedian. However, the tasks he then sets Goku are straight examples; Catching his monkey Bubbles, hitting his cricket Gregory with a mallet, and so on. Given the gravity of King Kai's planet is ten times that of Earth's, it quickly becomes clear why this is a difficult set of tasks.
  • Played with in MÄR. After Gaira's Training from Hell that he puts Ginta and Jack through, Alvis asks for a showing of their power now. He takes two stones and fires them toward the two from behind. Ginta intelligently moves out of the way, impressing Alvis. Jack instead grabs the stone out of the air. He then is seen rolling on the ground because the stone injured his hand. Alvis notes the power increase but notes that Jack is still an idiot.
  • In AIKI, the first test Kunitoshi gives Kizuki is to catch an ayu fry with one hand - slowly, not by just snatching it up. She spends an entire chapter trying to do this (it doesn't help that Metara and Hou Mei keep buying the wrong type of fish).
  • Battle Angel Alita has some fun with this trope. After Don Fua reveals himself during the ZOTT finale, he challenges Alita to one of these, saying that if she can lay a hand on him he'll concede victory to her and the Space Angels on behalf of the Space Karate Team. She (non-fatally) puts her fist through his face before he can even finish his sentence. He reacts by humorously chastising himself for underestimating her abilities like a fool.
  • In the first arc of Hunter × Hunter, Grand Master Netero challenges Gon and Killua to try to take a basketball away from him, promising them instant promotion to Hunter status if they succeed. They fail, but Gon considers himself to have won a moral victory when he forces Netero to stop holding back so obviously (He started the match standing on one foot and only using one hand).
    • Similarly, in a later arc, Gon imposes this on himself—he promises that he's going to repay Hisoka by punching him. Later he fights Hisoka and loses, but considers it a victory when he does manage to keep his word. (In this case, the punch does symbolize Gon having successfully completed the current stage in his training.)
  • Played with in My Hero Academia: When Midoriya undergoes his interview to be a sidekick under Sir Night Eye, they reach the part where Sir Night Eye takes out the necessary paperwork and the stamp needed to approve it. Sir Night Eye then refuses to stamp the paper and gives Midoriya a challenge: Within the next 180 seconds, if Midoriya can take the stamp from Sir's hand and stamp the paper himself, Midoriya will officially become a sidekick of his. Sir does not fight back, and Midoriya is free to damage the office as much as is necessary. Midoriya ultimately fails without even coming close to grabbing the stamp. However, looking at the wrecked office, Sir notices Midoriya was careful never to damage any of the valuable All Might merchandise all over the office. Impressed at how deceptively careful Midoriya was, Sir simply hands the stamp to him to finish the paperwork. Also somewhat subverted in that it's made clear that in spite of Sir's acknowledgement of Midoriya, he accepts him as a sidekick with the ulterior motive of making him accept Mirio, his personal protege, as a more worthy recipient of All Might's quirk, which was passed to Midoriya, and makes clear that the supposed test was largely a pretense.
  • Ayakashi Triangle: After Muga learns his son Soga has fallen in love with Matsuri, he demands Soga prove his focus by making Muga spill a drop from his sake cup. Despite the heavy handicap, Muga proves untouchable, even when Matsuri joins in and attacks at the same time. They succeed when Matsuri uses his wind powers to make Soga too fast for Muga to avoid. Though his son succeeded in the opposite manner he hoped—relying on his attachment to his partner instead of ignoring it—Muga is still pleased, and suddenly convinced the two make such an excellent Battle Couple, they just have to get married.

    Comic Books 
  • Sonic the Hedgehog (Archie Comics) has a variant of the pebble test with Princess Sally; her solution was to hit her teacher's arm, knocking the pebble out, and then grab it.
  • In one comic set early in the lives of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Splinter tries this as a training exercise. Raphael distracts him with questions about the rules and then snatches it unexpectedly; Splinter thinks ruefully that being a sensei may be more complicated than he'd thought.
  • In the Kitty Pryde & Wolverine limited series, Wolverine explains that the way for Kitty to prove she has the inner strength to defeat the Big Bad Ogun is to hold the Honor Sword of Clan Yashida at arm's length overnight.
  • A French comic set in Ancient China has the Old Master pull this trick. Both wait... and wait... and wait... until morning when the master has fallen asleep, where the student takes it.

    Films — Animation 
  • Kung Fu Panda: After a training regime where Po is denied much food, Master Shifu invites him to sit down and eat a bowl of dumplings. However, when Po tries to take one, Shifu snatches it away. Eventually, Po is forced to fight for the last dumpling and gets into a knockdown, drag-out battle with Shifu where the panda displays impressive fighting skill. To Shifu's surprised delight, when Po finally wins that dumpling, he throws it back and says he's not hungry, a sign of maturation in that he doesn't need food as an emotional crutch so much anymore.
    Shifu: [through gritted teeth, Technically a Smile] You are free to eat.
    Po: AM I?!
    Shifu: ARE YOU?!
  • The song "I'll Make a Man Out of You" from Mulan starts with one of these. Shang fires an arrow into the top of a tall flagpole, and challenges the new recruits to retrieve it, with a heavy weight around each wrist. They all fail miserably. The challenge was mental in addition to physical. Mulan manages to complete the challenge by wrapping the ribbons attaching the weights to her wrists around the pole and then using the strength she acquired from the exercises to pull herself up. This convinces Shang that she has what it take to be a soldier.
  • In Minions, supervillain Scarlet Overkill offers the job of being her henchman to whoever can take the ruby from her hand. Various villains try, but she defeats them easily. However, Bob the minion ends up taking it accidentally while trying to get his teddy bear back.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Subverted in The Karate Kid (1984). Mr. Miyagi has been trying for years to catch a fly with chopsticks, but Daniel manages it the first time before he's even begun his apprenticeship.
    Mr. Miyagi: ... You beginner's luck.
It's played straight in the actual training.
  • Wanted sees Wesley trying to snatch a weaving shuttle. A few others show up during the training scenes, including shooting the wings off a fly.
  • The Count of Monte Cristo: As part of his swordsmanship training under Abbé Faria, Edmond Dantes is challenged to dart his hand in and out of dripping water without getting wet, to develop his speed.
  • Taken one step further in Bloodsport. When Hussein is propositioning the female lead, and meeting with no small amount of resistance, Dux steps in to resolve the situation with a wager: Hussein holds a coin (a U.S. quarter) on his outstretched palm. The objective is for Dux to grab the coin before Hussein closes his hand; the winner of the bet gets to take the girl home with him. After taking the bet, there is a brief pause, Hussein gives the go signal and closes his hand, grinning as he proclaims "Ha! You lose, American ass!" He opens his hand to reveal that Dux not only got the quarter from Hussein, he put a Hong Kong coin in its place.
  • Balls of Fury has a subversion. The old training master pulls out a cricket, and the brash student snatches the cricket out of his hand, killing it in the process. Cue the teacher getting angry over having his good-luck charm squashed.
  • Oliver! During the "You've got to pick a pocket or two" song, Fagin lets his urchins demonstrate pickpocketing to Oliver by letting them steal things from his coat. He's not trying that hard to stop them, though, since he's not training them.
  • In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, aspiring Foot Clan members have to snatch as many jingle bells as they can from a mannequin, under a smokescreen, without jingling a single bell.
  • Spoofed in They Call Me Bruce? (1982) when the title character snatches the pebble by waiting till a bird poops on his master's head.
  • Spoofed in Asterix & Obelix: The Middle Kingdom when Obelisk solves the problem by punching the blind old man in the face. "Didn't see that coming, did you?"
  • Played With in Captain America: The First Avenger. Rogers and his squad are told that the first man to retrieve a flag off a pole will get to ride in the jeep back to base while the rest of them march back. After the others tried and failed, Rogers, while being yelled at by the drill sergeant, calmly takes the pin holding the flag pole out, causing it to topple over. He then grabs the flag off the ground and gives it to the drill sergeant as he wordlessly climbs into the back of the jeep. It's unclear whether the drill sergeant honestly expected them to climb or whether it was supposed to be a secret test of intelligence like later in the movie (possibly both).
  • Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny has it with a TV remote in place of a pebble.
  • G.I. Joe: Retaliation. In order to prove that she's ready to join the G.I.Joes, Jinx is blindfolded and given two katanas and told to prevent an unarmed Snake Eyes from plucking a single hair from her head.

  • A variation occurs in Waylander by David Gemmell when the title character uses a similar task to determine if another character is good enough to start training. He throws a pebble at her in the dark having told her that if she fails to catch it she has to leave and they'll never see each other again. The point of the exercise was to live completely in the moment and realise that no matter the stakes, the pebble was only just a pebble.
  • Subverted in Lords and Ladies: Granny Weatherwax asks three girls who want to be witches to knock her hat off. They tried to do it with magic they dabbled at and so missed the point. Nanny Ogg throws a stick, illustrating the point Granny was making — a large part of witchcraft is knowing when not to use magic and instead solve problems using simpler, more mundane methods (the answer to that, incidentally, is "most of the time").
    • Two important addenda: 1) Granny Weatherwax caught the stick. 2) Agnes Nitt was starting to head down the right track, even if she didn't realize it. When her turn came, instead of attempting any "magic" assault, her response was "I don't think I can do it while you're looking", indicating she's considering the physical option.
  • Similar example in A Wizard of Earthsea: to graduate from the wizards' School on Roke, a student must find out what the Master Doorkeeper's name is. While there may be a way to find out by magic, it's perfectly acceptable simply to ask him what it is, and he will tell you.
  • The main character of the Safehold series is familiar with the Trope Namer and actually uses the pebble trick when training Caleb in her martial arts style. It's somewhat subverted, however, in that she knows full well normal humans can never match her speed—it's her way of teaching him that there's always room for improvement. Merlin's teacher even used the trope-naming quote, though Merlin (Then Nimue) never learned where the quote came from.
  • Harry sets up a trick test for his apprentice Molly in The Dresden Files: to prove that she is a sorceress ready to operate on her own, she must telekinetically lift several dozen small beads on her bracelet, which requires very subtle control of magical power. In White Night, Molly goes through some rather horrifying experiences and asks, for the first time, why that test is necessary in the first place. She then realizes that power alone does not make a good wizard, but decent motivation to use it and facing your fears does. Also, the test has nothing to do with subtle control of magical power, but rather thought focus and determination. Molly fails repeatedly when she just tries to muscle her way through the problem, but when she genuinely wants to help Harry because it's the right thing to do and she's the only one that can, she succeeds so spectacularly that the beads almost fly away. Harry admits that his own mentor played almost exactly the same test.
  • In The Librarians and the Lost Lamp, the jingle bell training in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze is stated as being a part of the training of the Forty (as in, the Forty Thieves).
  • Inverted in Mind Games. Danielle has another person try to prevent her from snatching something from their hand. They are allowed to close their hand without saying go and Danielle's not even looking at their hand. When she snatches the “pebble” anyway, it demonstrates just how unnaturally fast Danielle is, which was the point of the exercise.
  • Friday, the titular character of Robert Heinlein's novel Friday, tells another character she's an Artificial Person, genetically engineered to be physically superior to any natural human. When they refuse to believe her, she does a variant of this trick to demonstrate her superhuman agility.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Kung Fu (1972) actually has two: snatch the pebble to prove speed (hence the trope name), and walk on the rice paper without tearing it to show lightness of tread.
  • Revisited in Kung Fu: The Legend Continues.
    • Throughout the final season, Peter Caine, Kwai Chang Caine's son, has been training to improve his Shaolin skills while his father is on the path to become a Shambala Master. Peter is reluctant, preferring his current status as a "Shaolin cop", continuing his police career only with added kung fu skills, but nonetheless continues his training. In one of the final episodes, he completes the trial of rice paper on the second try; the first time, he tries to walk it like a tightrope but leaves tears behind on every step. The next time, he uses a style of fluid movement to make it across flawlessly. In the Series Finale, his father, having succeeded in his own Shambala trials and is preparing to continue his own wanderings challenges his son with the pebble snatching test. Peter successfully snatches the pebble from his hand in a Passing the Torch movement while Kwai Chang smiles proudly and walks away.
    • And in the Pilot Movie Kwai Chang flashes back to his grandfather's "snatch the pebble" moment and uses a matchbook tossed into the air. "When you can snatch the matchbook before me, you will no longer need a teacher."
  • Played with in grand style during the first episode of the second season of Wild West Tech. At the beginning of the episode, Keith Carradine (the first season's host) loses his hosting job in a poker game to his brother David Carradine (who played Kwai Chang Caine in Kung Fu (1972)). At the end, Keith walks past in Caine's outfit, and David suggests that next season their younger brother Robert can host. Keith jokes that he can only do so "when he can snatch the pebble from my hand", and holds it out. David's response? He smacks the bottom of Keith's hand, causing the pebble to fly up, and then catches it out of the air.
  • The trope gets a playful namecheck in an episode of NCIS courtesy of Tony, with an eraser in the place of the pebble. Action Girl Ziva snatches it out of his hand before he's finished the sentence.
  • Subverted in The Office. Ryan is easily able to take the seed from Dwight's hand.
  • Parodied on SCTV, during their version of Kung Fu (1972). During the training flashback, the teacher does the usual spiel and Cain immediately takes the pebble from him.
    Teacher: Wait, hold on, I wasn't ready. Do it again.
    [Cain snatches the pebble again]
    Teacher: [whining this time] I wasn't ready!
  • An episode of a short-lived early-90s sitcom featuring Drew Carey in a supporting role ended with a parody of this: Drew, in a temple, was told to snatch the pebble. Drew simply slapped the master's hand from underneath, tossing the pebble up, where he easily caught it.
    "I'm going to Disneyland!"
  • Played for Laughs in an In Living Color! skit. Jim Carrey plays a martial arts student who's been trying to snatch the pebble from his master's hand for over a decade but fails. Meanwhile, all the other younger students are able to do it with ease and move on with their training. It's hinted that the master is intentionally making it very hard for Carrey to snatch the pebble because he enjoys tormenting him.
  • Lizzie McGuire: An episode of the first season had Matt using this as part of his audition tape for a contest. When his father (played by Robert Carradine) cannot convincingly portray the part of the master (with Matt even copying the move from Wild West Tech), he calls in a friend to help out. That friend? David Carradine.

    Web Comics 
  • Parodied in Adventurers! during an interlude in the final battle. Karashi's sister is going through ninja training and their father gives her this test, which she passes due to a distraction; he isn't happy about it and responds with this.

    Web Videos 
  • In The Angry Video Game Nerd's review of Ninja Gaiden, he ends up consulting an actual ninja to help him beat the game. One part of his training is to catch a falling Q-Tip with his thumbs, to increase their speed. The review makes this look difficult, but an outtake video reveals that he actually did it on the first try.

    Western Animation 
  • Subverted in Xiaolin Showdown. Omi has asked Grand Master Dashi for another Panku Box. Dashi says that he can have one, but only if Omi can get the pebble in his hand. Cue the fancy, gravity-defying tricks Omi's been trained since birth to do. Dashi calmly deflects all of them. Finally Omi realizes that he just has to ask "May I have the pebble please?"
    • Played with when Master Fung bets double chore duty on the dragons-in-training that they can't take a jade elephant from him. It's used to demonstrate a lesson in paying attention to differing objectives when Master Fung smashes the elephant. The end lesson is also a subversion. "Never bet against Master Fung."
  • To complete his ninja training in Transformers: Animated, Prowl has to master the processor-over-matter technique and move objects with his mind (sort of) in order to complete his cyberninja training. He does, but by that point his master's been dead for millions of years, so he technically never completes his training.
  • A variant occurred in an episode of Hey Arnold!; part of Arnold's martial arts training was to catch a fly in his Grandma's hand. He eventually does so but ends up crushing it in his hands because he was too fast. Cue Squick from master and student.
  • Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi, "Ninjacompoop". Yumi undergoes ninja training from a monkey master who gives her this spiel. Try as she might, Yumi can't get the pebble. In frustration she stomps on his tail, causing him to drop the pebble so she could catch it.
  • A martial arts-themed segment of The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! has a scene where, after undergoing "Plum Fu" training, Luigi successfully snatches a washer from the martial arts master's hand.
  • The Skunk Fu! episode "The Art of Patience" centered around this. Skunk managed to grab the pebble by waiting for the right opportunity.
  • Played for Laughs in Regular Show when Mordecai and Rigby accuse Pops' Magical Asian sensei of being a fraud and he challenges Rigby to knock his glass of lemonade out of his hand. Cue a copyright-friendly version of the Kill Bill siren and Rigby being beaten into submission by his cane.


Video Example(s):


You are free to eat.

Having been trained up, Po and Shifu sit down to enjoy a bowl of Dumplings, but Shifu snatches all but one. Po and Shifu then fight for the last dumpling.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (24 votes)

Example of:

Main / WhenYouSnatchThePebble

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