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Willfully Weak

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NJ: Who are you, where did you come from, and how powerful are you?
Aerynn: I don't know!
NJ: Don't know WHAT?
Aerynn: How powerful I am! I don't know!
Aerynn: Because there are a lot of things I'm afraid to try!

A Power Limiter in which a character is intentionally suppressing their true strength, be it by magic, technology, willpower, or just by not powering up. Can be for all sorts of reasons. Maybe they want to give their opponent a fair shot at winning. Maybe they don't know their own strength, or letting loose would simply uncork their Power Incontinence. Maybe they just want to be normal. Maybe they are afraid of the collateral damage. Maybe they want to try this Weak, but Skilled thing so they learn to fight tactically rather than steamroll others with brute force. Or maybe it's just to keep their power from overtaking the plot.

Whatever the case, they have decided to be this trope. To be clear, this is NOT faking it, or merely going easy on their opponents. The character actually is as weak as they appear... but only because they choose to be. They could stop suppressing their powers at any moment and suddenly be an unstoppable powerhouse. Of course, given the possible consequences of them using what they normally keep under wraps, it's not always a "choice" made lightly.

Obviously, what is considered weak varies greatly from story to story. In some stories, they'll be almost the Muggle. In others, they'll actually be quite powerful, but far behind the other supers. In still others, they'll actually not be weak or normal at all and be one of the more competent fighters, but nowhere near what they'd be capable of without this self-imposed limitation.

This trope, for obvious reasons, often applies to gods in human form.

May be caused by Internalized Categorism. May lead to a "No More Holding Back" Speech or to the discovery that I Am Not Left-Handed when the crossing of the Godzilla Threshold means it's time to get dangerous and show their true power. Rarely (if ever) leads to Always Need What You Gave Up, because when they choose to limit their powers for mundane reasons, they can just make an exception, and in cases where their reasons are more dire, well, losing the fight is better than blowing up Main Street. Despite similarities, not likely to overlap with Just Toying with Them, as characters doing that don't care too much about playing fair and maintaining their self-imposed limitations. In video games, compare Cherry Tapping.

This can overlap with Fights Like a Normal for a character that usually suppresses all fantastic powers and fights as a Badass Normal. A character that ditches their restraining bolt becomes Not So Weak. Compare Obfuscating Stupidity, for when a character specifically pretends to be dumb.


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  • Ah! My Goddess:
    • Lind fights almost solely using a massive axe. Without the axe she is significantly stronger, even without removing her Power Limiters.
    • All goddesses and demons have to limit their powers when acting on Earth, to avoid causing collateral damage (demons care about this too, because they don't want to kill off their potential clients). Hild, the leader of the demons, is so powerful that she has to wear at least twenty Power Limiters to safely travel to Earth.
  • Aria the Scarlet Ammo AA: Akari appears to have graduated with top marks from the Imperial Storm Trooper Marksmanship Academy. She can't hit anything no matter how close it is. Then it's revealed she's descended from a line of noble assassins and is able to hit all the most lethal points on an enemy without even really aiming. Since this skill is so instinctual at this point she has to fight to avoid targeting those points, an effort that results in her not only missing those points but missing the target entirely.
  • In Baccano!, the omniscient, reality-warping Eldritch Abomination known as Ronnie prefers to not tap too much into his godlike powers if he can help it, and even ignores his own omniscience. This is largely (if not entirely) to keep himself from going entirely insane with boredom.
  • Black Butler: Sebastian the demonic butler does this; although he's extremely skilled, fast, and strong anyway, it's only when Ciel gives him a direct order to do something that he starts showing all of his inhuman capability. If Ciel's orders aren't worded carefully, however, Sebastian can get very creative in carrying them out or living up to the broad contents of their contract.
  • Bleach
    • Ikkaku is hiding bankai, so he tries not to use it when he fights even when his opponents require bankai to be defeated. He actually throws a fight and is defeated by Poww precisely because he refused to activate bankai. Poww could tell Ikkaku was hiding power even though Ikkaku refused to admit it. In the end, Ikkaku had to be rescued by Captain Komamura and received a stern lecture from Iba about his behaviour.
    • Yumichika goes one step further than Ikkaku: he's hiding his entire power. He fakes his shikai release to hide the fact he possesses a kidou-type zanpakutou from his kidou-hating division. As a result, he fights physically, on willpower alone, even when his opponents have released their full power and are thrashing him due to the imbalance of power. When he does decide to release his abilities and actually use them, he's so powerful that he one-shots his opponents.
    • Ichigo gets a moment of this fighting a Privaron. He's reluctant to release his now-controllable Superpowered Evil Side as he knows that it will leave him weaker for later fights, and also knows that he's going to hit problems if he's releasing it this early on. He's eventually forced to release it, turning a near-defeat into a Curb-Stomp Battle. Normally though, Ichigo fights at full strength.
    • Hitsugaya's zanpakutou's most powerful and most basic ability can be used in either shikai or bankai. However, he traditionally avoids using it in bankai even when he needs to because his inexpert control over it and wide area of effect would drag in too many bystanders/allies. Against Harribel, he only decides to use it when his bankai is half-gone, allowing him better control than he would have had when his bankai was at full power.
    • Kenpachi absolutely loves challenging fights. Unfortunately for him, he's so dang strong that there are few people who can give him such fights, even if he's not taking it seriously. So, he limits himself by using an eyepatch that weakens his spiritual power, deliberately ignoring all swordsmanship he's learned, and not even bothering to learn shikai (the most basic Shinigami ability). His version of the Super Mode other captains possess? Actually fighting like he wants to win. He also subconsciously limits his power after he defeated Yachiru Unohana in his childhood and feared losing the only Worthy Opponent he'd ever had. His training with Unohana in the Thousand Year Blood War arc is largely based around forcing him to discard these limits via nearly killing him until he gets the message that he can't win at his current level.
    • Ulquiorra Cifer is the Cuatro Espada of Aizen's army and generally a No-Nonsense Nemesis, but it's revealed he actually has two limits on his full potential. The first is the fact that unlike most Arrancar, who traded their high-speed regeneration for a raw power boost after evolving, Ulquiorra kept his and forwent the power boost, meaning he's still "only" as strong as his original Hollow self (though considering he was a Vasto Lorde previously, this isn't much of a problem). The second is that his rank is only based on the power of his first release, and he possesses a unique second form (Segunda Etapa) that no other Arrancar in Aizen's army has and that not even Aizen himself knows exists.
    • Coyote Starrk is the Primera Espada and one of the powerful members of Aizen's army, but it doesn't really show because Starrk is both Brilliant, but Lazy and a Reluctant Warrior whose heart is rarely into fighting. Which is a good thing, because he can stomp Captain-level foes into the ground easily when he finally gets motivated.
  • Hagi from Blood+ does this and refuses to utilize his true Chiropteran form because he didn't want to freak out Saya.
  • Priscilla from Claymore is the strongest thing in the series seen so far. She deliberately lowers herself to her opponents' level to make fights as fun as possible. When she grows tired of that, she'll immediately dispatch her "playmates" by using a bit more of her real strength.
  • Dragon Ball:
    • In Dragon Ball, Goku's fighting in a tournament and reveals suddenly that he's wearing extremely heavy clothes, as part of his training. And is suddenly a lot faster once he gets rid of the extra weight. The same thing happens again several times, all the way up to Goku's fight with Freeza, at which point everybody is so strong that weighted clothes are no longer enough of a Power Limiter to bother mentioning.
      • Weighted clothes show up in one of the games, (Buu's Fury), taken to hilarious levels. By the end, you can wear one kiloton armbands and boots!
    • In the 22nd Tournament, Goku purposely held back so he wouldn't kill the people he was fighting, it was a tournament after all. Since he figured that Tien wouldn't die if he went all out, he cut loose, proving to be stronger than Tien although only by small amount. This was hinted at earlier when he was fighting Krillin, warning him that he was going to hit a little hard, so don't die.
    • During the fight against Nappa and Vegeta in Dragon Ball Z, Goku limits his use of the Kaio-ken technique because the strain of using it at high levels can damage his body. He could have used the Kaio-ken x4Kamehameha that finally defeats Vegeta right from the start, but it wasn't worth the risk until it proved absolutely necessary.
    • Frieza limits his power because his body can't take it. Unfortunately, when he does go all-out against Goku, it's too late, since his stamina didn't last throughout their fight.
    • When Goku fights Vegeta the second time in the Buu Saga, in order to avoid burning out his remaining time, he decides not to use Super Saiyan 3, instead restricting himself to Super Saiyan 2. Vegeta finds out about Goku's self-imposed limit later on. Needless to say, he is less than happy about it.
    • Gohan is depicted as having the potential to become, quite literally, the most powerful warrior in the entire universe if he wished (and he actually does so a couple of times), but is a pacifist by nature, only fighting when someone needs his protection. Typically, his true strength only reveals itself through Unstoppable Rage.
    • In the U7 vs U6 Tournament in Dragon Ball Super, it's revealed that Hit, U6's Ace, is holding back his best techniques. This is because Hit is an assassin by trade, so his best moves are killing techniques, but killing your opponent in a tournament is forbidden. Goku goes out of his way after the tournament to arrange to fight Hit with no restrictions, accepting the possibility that he could die in doing so.
  • Rider, from Fate/stay night, has an ability called Monstrous Strength, which would allow her to increase her STR parameter by a whole rank for a period of time — which is no small advantage. She never uses it, however, because using it long enough would revert Medusa into the monstrous Gorgon.
    • Likewise, she always had herself blindfolded, which prevents her ability Mystic Eyes to run amok (if not blindfold, a pair of glasses). What does it do? Petrify anything that comes into contact with her eyes, since she is Medusa.
    • She has another case of holding back and making herself look like a weak Servant: she just dislikes using full power when her master is Shinji. On the other hand, when her Master is the real one (Sakura), it's a different story: Still no Monstrous Strength, but removing blindfold becomes a viable option.
  • In Fate/Zero, during their first duel, Lancer injures Saber's left hand with Gae Buidhe, causing her to lose the use of her left hand. Later on, while everybody is fighting Caster and his Eldritch Abomination, Lancer destroys Gae Buidhe so Saber can finish Caster off with Excalibur. After this, when Saber and Lancer have their second duel, Saber refuses to wield her sword in her left hand, claiming that to do so would tarnish her honour.
  • The title character of Flame of Recca as well as his older brother Kurei and any other Flame Master must wear seals on their arms to protect their already fire-resistant selves from the power of their flames going out of control and burning them to death.
  • Alucard from Hellsing. His powers are limited by magic to his current need. When he faces an enemy that is too powerful for his current level, he unlocks additional levels and increases his power. Given that he's a Blood Knight, he's particularly gleeful when he finds powerful foes who allow him to unlock his full, terrifying potential.
  • Katanagatari has two examples:
    • The first is a particularly crazy example (warning: spoils an awesome twist). Despite being physically weak and ill, Nanami starts the series able to easily defeat her brother, who defeated the official Greatest Swordsman in Japan. Turns out, she can also copy any skill she sees, including super-strength, spontaneous claw growth, and walking on water. Then it turns out that she has inhuman resilience and can't die no matter how sick or poisoned she becomes. Then it turns out she's acquired one of the Deviant Blades, which cures her weakness and low energy. And then it turns out she uses others' skills so she can be weaker, as her instinctive combat skills are utterly perfect!
    • The other is Shichika himself. He's given orders by Togame to protect the swords, Togame, himself, and himselfnote , which proves to make some of the fights more difficult. In the last episode, he is under no such restrictions, and shows exactly how powerful he is by destroying all twelve swords. How much the restriction to protect himself mattered is evident during his duel with Emonzaemon.
  • Seen in flashback in Log Horizon when two of the characters are remembering their first adventures in the game. The player who helped them get started set his level low (taking all his stats down in the progress) in order to maintain game balance while tutoring them.
  • Magi: Labyrinth of Magic: Aladdin, being a Magi has the ability to use the Rukh from his surroundings powering his magic, for comparison, normal people can only use their own, meaning that Aladin's attacks are way more powerful, if even only by the merit that he can use way more energy for them than every normal mage. In the Academy arc he needs to pass as a normal student, he accomplishes this by using a Power Limiter in form of a crystal that keeps him from using the energy of his surroundings, effectively meaning he's just as strong as everyone else, at first this clearly shows as before that his magic was nearly solely dependent on the abnormal levels of power he could put into it, meaning the first few times he doesn't have this... tends to produce very weak spells. In the end though he's, in spite of the crystals, one of the most powerful students in the academy.
  • Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha ViVid: Sieglinde Jeremiah's fighting style is meant to force opponents into submitting so she doesn't have to use her full power. How strong is she actually? During their match, Micaiah suffered actual injuries after getting directly hit by Sieg's Geistqual, implying it was strong enough to go through the DSAA injury simulation system.note 
  • In The Anime of the Game for Medabots, Spyke of the Screws is the absolute worst member of his team — and even gets ranked bottom in all of Japan. Why? Not because he's a bad tactician, or because he's using a weak medal or bot; the problem is his Medabot is fundamentally incompatible with itself, combining a close-quarters orientated "Monkey" medal with a shooting orientated "Dog" chassis. Despite having been told what's wrong, Spyke never thinks of either getting a new medal (which admittedly would have a different personality to his original partner) nor of getting his partner a more compatible body type — his Mid-Season Upgrade is actually a more powerful version of the same type of chassis he was using in the first place! This bumps him up from this trope to Idiot Ball.
  • Kumagawa from Medaka Box as he allowed himself to be beaten up by Medaka's Successors then proceeded to pin them down in one move. Also happens against Kugurugi Mogura. He could have finished her in one move, which he did, but wanted to give time for Emukae to confess to Zenkichi.
    • This is the whole point of Medaka's "Forsaken God Mode". Based on how Kumagawa's "Book Maker" once brought her down to his level as a Minus, she completed a training program that allowed her to intentionally make herself "incomplete". In this state, she forgets all her Skills and makes herself always weaker than her opponent. This state was her attempt to be better able to understand people, though it ultimately wasn't much help on that front.
  • Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid: Kanna could have easily won several of the events during the sports festival by herself (most notably in tug of war), but held herself back to the abilities of a normal 8-year-old girl since she was more interested in competing alongside her classmates than actually winning. The only time she went even a fraction above that was in the relay race because she didn't want Saikawa to feel like she cost their class victory.
  • Mobile Fighter G Gundam has an All There in the Manual example with, of all people, Master Asia. As powerful and unstoppable as he is during the series, he's holding back by using the Master Gundam: he has another Gundam, the King of Hearts, which far surpasses both Master Gundam and God Gundam. He never uses it, even though with it he'd probably truly be invincible. This fits with one of his philosophies: he believes that relying on a powerful weapon will weaken a fighter's abilities, so by using the weaker Master Gundam he keeps his skills sharp.
  • My Hero Academia:
    • Deku holds back not for the sake of his opponents or his surroundings, but because his own body can't handle the full power of One For All. His first major power-up was to go from unleashing bone-shattering Megaton Punches as his default attack, to using a small fraction of One For All spread across his entire body to give himself enhanced speed and power without destroying himself, and part of his training is to be able to withstand more and more of its power.
    • Deconstructed with Shoto Todoroki, whose body can generate ice from the right side and fire from the left, but he refuses to use his left side in a fight. He does it as a way to honor his mother and reject his father, but doing so is detrimental to him as both sides are supposed to balance each other out and overusing either side can damage his own body.
  • KonoSuba: Megumin the Black Mage is so fascinated with the Fantastic Nuke spell Explosion that she has geared her entire character build towards being cast it as fast and strong as possible. She's so enamored that she absolutely refuses to learn any other magical spells. Due to the severely Awesome, but Impractical nature of Explosion, however, the result is that she's Powerful, but Incompetent and was kicked out of every adventuring band she tried to join as The Load before Kazuma took her in.
  • Naruto:
    • The title character could kill himself — and many others — if he ever uses his full power.
    • Rock Lee wears weights on his legs to reduce his speed. He takes them off during the fight with Gaara. Unlike Naruto, Lee is not host to an apocalyptic demon, but he has learned techniques that, if abused, could kill him. His sensei forbids him from using even the most basic of these techniques (which they share) except in a dire emergency. When Lee takes off the weights for the first time, several characters scoff at the idea that it'll make a difference against Gaara. Until the weights hit the ground and produce substantial craters, implying that Lee must have been wearing a few tons of weights. Which really ought to have resulted in massively powerful kicks while he was wearing them. To be fair, the problem wasn't that he wasn't kicking hard enough. He simply wasn't fast enough to get around Gaara's sand barrier with the weights on.
  • Negi in Negima! Magister Negi Magi at one point decided that he would seal his magic and fulfill his duties as a teacher without relying on magic. He chose a bad time for it.
  • Saitama from One-Punch Man. Being a combination of Blood Knight and Comically Invincible Hero, he holds back as much as possible... and still one-hit kills absolutely everyone and everything.
  • Phantom Quest Corp.: As a vampire, Bosco should be inherently stronger than any human. Because he's chosen to limit himself to feeding only 4 times a year, at only 200cc's per quarter, he's become anemic and severely weakened. In his brief tussle with Ayaka, he only held out for a few seconds, before exerting himself and fainting. Even so, he's content since it allows him to be with Makiko, who's a 19-year-old college freshman that he fell in love with.
  • The lethal fighting styles of the Saotome school in Ranma ˝, Yamasenken and Umisenken, were sealed on their practitioners' honor at the end of their story arc. They could let Ranma become completely undetectable (by sight or Battle Aura), toss Razor Wind to demolish enormous bronze statues, rip out opponents' hearts, strangle them, or pierce their backs — but he won't use even the basic "invisibility" skill, not even against powerful foes when nobody would have blamed him.
  • In Reborn! (2004), it's revealed that Chrome chooses to rely on Mukuro rather than use the whole extent of her powers, which is the main cause of her Faux Action Girl status. It's when she realizes she'd rather be his equal and protect him that she stops being this.
  • Rebuild World: Reina, despite being a rich Ojou, wears the same armor as her compatriots at Drankam instead of getting the best equipment she can, for the sake of her Pride and the respect of her peers. It takes some persuasion from her bodyguards and Akira (who’s almost like a mentor to her), but she stops doing this. She ends up wearing Ninja Maid Powered Armor as an Embarrassing but Empowering Outfit due to having developed into a Humble Hero.
  • Rurouni Kenshin:
    • Kenshin is this throughout the series. Several opponents try to get him to revert to being the Battousai and unleash his full power, but he is very resistant to this. The closest we see to his pull power is in the fight with Shishio.
    • Seijuro Hiko's cloak is heavily weighted to restrict his movements, and brightly colored to alert others to his approach, so that his opponents will have something resembling a fighting chance, since even with it on he is capable of defeating a 30' giant, who had also removed his own heavy armor.
  • Sailor Moon:
    • Sailor Saturn. If she uses her most powerful, canonically nameless attack, she will die. And destroy the world.
    • In the anime, the Inner Senshi tend to hold back to avoid collateral damage, and only cut loose twice: at the end of the first season, where there's nothing to damage and even after being mortally wounded make short work of Beryl's five strongest youma, and in the battle on the asteroid during the first movie, at which point they waste an army of enemies.
    • In her solo series Sailor Venus often engages normal criminals with no superpowers - at one point cleaning up the entire Minato Ward of criminal activity (she even got the panty thieves) - without causing a single injury beyond knockouts. Her control is so precise that when an idiot lifted her skirt and she kicked him in the face by reflex she caused him absolutely no harm beyond a pained jaw.
  • Saint Seiya:
    • Gold Saint Virgo Shaka deliberately keeps his eyes closed when he battles his foes — his constant meditation means that he devotes only a fraction of his attention to the outside world. People who know him, even fellow Gold Saints, are very afraid of him opening his eyes, because that means he has stopped meditating and is now fully focused on the enemy... And has the power to easily take on any three Gold Saints.
    • Another Saint Seiya example would be Bronze Saint Andromeda Shun; he literally refuses to wound others or take a life, even when the circumstances call for it, and gets called out on it several times by his foes. There is a theory that he actually mastered the seventh sense (though the fact is never openly stated, it is still highly believable) way before anyone else but always refused to use this tremendous power because of the havoc it could wreak. The first to actually see this is his master to whom Shun said he wanted to show his true power, and his Silver Cloth (remember, Shun is supposed to be a mere Bronze Saint) gets blown to ashes by an imperfect blow; the second one to see it is Pisces Aphrodite once he destroyed Shun's Cloth and chains, forcing him to unleash the Nebula Stream and Storm. Cue the Oh, Crap! look on his face when he realizes he sort of just removed Shun's wards. His advanced mastery of Cosmo is further supported by the fact that (especially in the manga), at the drop of a hat, he could muster the willpower to land a hit on the Gemini Gold Saint even dimensions, once it was established breaking Gemini's spell would help save Hyoga who was sent in Another Dimension. He then repeats the feat when giving Hyoga, currently a Human Popsicle freshly released from an ice coffin, Intimate Healing, with a Cosmo burning probably strong enough to rival with Aquarius Camus in the first place to revert the freezing. Willfully Weak most of the time, and mostly when it comes to fighting, all right.
      • A smaller example happened during the Black Saints mini-arc, where he held back even his chains due to the Big Bad being his brother and being caught by his counterpart while he was trying to save a poisoned Seiya from falling down a cliff. Then Seiya throws himself down and Black Andromeda mocks both of them... Before dying in a very messy way.
    • Most of the Gold Saints when faced at the Twelve Temples are an example for reasons different for all Saints: Aries Mu either didn't fight them (manga) or gave them a couple slaps merely to prove they needed to have their cloths repaired; Taurus Aldebaran had doubts on the Pope, and never pressed his advantage when fighting Seiya before conceding the battle; Gemini Saga limited himself to illusions and dimensional tricks to hide the fact he was actually the Pope before being forced to stand down by his other personality; Cancer Death Mask didn't take Shiryuu seriously for a single moment until the latter actually accessed to the strength granted by his Seventh Sense, thus failing to block or dodge the decisive blow; Leo Aiolia had got brainwashed, and decided to torture Seiya to death instead of killing him fast; Virgo Shaka, as explained above, ALWAYS meditates, and it takes Ikki's continuously surviving his attacks to get him to open his eyes and get serious; Scorpio Milo didn't want to kill the Bronze Saints, and held back to try and force them to surrender; Capricorn Shura actually did NOT hold back, failing to stop Seiya, Hyouga and Shun only because Shiryuu thwarted his strategy to line them where he needed them to kill all four with a single strike, and then curbstomped Shiryuu, who had to resort to Heroic Sacrifice to kill him; Aquarius Camus was interested only in testing Hyouga's power, and, after letting Seiya and Shun pass, never pressed his initial advantage (and was quite happy to find that Hyouga had managed to become even more powerful than himself); Pisces Aphrodite, in the end, was just too confident in his roses, resulting in him letting Seiya go in a path filled with poisonous roses (to be fair, only Marin's arrival saved Seiya from death), and trying to simply disarm Shun so he'd stop attacking and die due being poisoned at the start of the battle instead of killing him outright, with the results illustrated above.
  • In Soul Hunter, it seems clear to most people that while Taikobou is very intelligent, he isn't very strong. After all, he rarely fights directly and when he does, he has to resort to deception and tricks to win. And at the beginning of the Choukoumei arc, he announces that he has temporarily lost his powers after using too much energy in the previous fight. Come the fight against Choukoumei, it turns out that he has been holding back the whole arc because sennins don't lose their powers due to exhaustion. Tenka doesn't think it would change much considering how weak Taikoubou is, but the more discerning Youzen point out that Taikoubou is much stronger than he seems, and has just been acting weak on purpose from the beginning so that the other characters could grow stronger and gain more experience fighting (and because he is lazy). In fact, Genshi Tenson came because he himself didn't know his disciple's actual level and wanted to see him fighting seriously.
  • It's heavily implied in Star Driver that Takuto employs the bare minimum of his abilities to win fights against the Glittering Crux. His fight against Benio in episode 13 demonstrates exactly why he does it: once your opponent knows your best moves, they're going to make damn sure they have a counter for it by the next fight.
  • Washu from Tenchi Muyo!. She's actually one of the Choushin (a goddess, basically) in human form.
    • And as she demonstrates in the second OAV, "weak" is a very relative term. Even with her powers restricted, she's much stronger than Ryoko, who, prior to Washu's appearance, was arguably the single most powerful cast member other than Tenchi himself.
    • Then again, Ryoko only had one out of three jewels; Tenchi didn't let her have the others, even when giving them to her would have been a good idea, making her a partial example.
    • Later on GXP shows that Tenchi starts doing this himself since he, like his grandfather, prefers living simply without the responsibility of running the galaxy.
  • In Trinity Blood, Abel Nightroad rarely uses his Crusnik power at more than 40%, which is usually sufficient. 80% power is reserved for people who really need their ass kicked. As for 100%... well, there's a reason why he's the brother called Abel.
  • Fai the main character, not the real one from Tsubasa -RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE- had a tattoo on his back that limited his magical power, well he thought that's what it did. Once Yuuko took this away as his price, Fai resolved to never use his magic again because he was too powerful without the limiter.
  • Aki Izayoi/Akiza Izinski in Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds wears a hair curler which supposedly keeps her psychic powers in check, although whether or not this is a Magic Feather has yet to be seen.
    • Easy enough to not notice, but in the original Yu-Gi-Oh! Yugi's duel with Rebecca Hawkins was one of the few duels where he didn't transform into Yami Yugi. The idea was that Rebecca wasn't a villain trying some sort of underhanded tactic, but merely an opponent who accused Yugi's grandpa of stealing from her Grandpa.
    • This was also part of the backstory behind the monster card Gearfried the Iron Knight, as told by Jounouchi. He was once a mighty swordsman whose power was so great that he could level entire cities simply by swinging his sword. In order to protect those around him, he donned a suit of iron armor that would limit his power.
    • The ancient Egyptian priest Mahad locks away a portion of his strength, for fear of the damage it could cause. When he seals himself and the tomb robber Bakura in a pyramid away from innocent bystanders, he taps back into this hidden strength to strengthen his Illusion Magician.
    • In a season two episode of Yu-Gi-Oh! GX, Shou Marufuji/Syrus Truesdale removes Power Bond (a spell card that doubles a Machine-type Fusion Monster's ATK, then cuts the user's LP by that monster's original ATK), a card given to him by his brother) from his deck to prove he can still win without it. He does.
    • In one episode of Yu-Gi-Oh! ARC-V, Yuri elects not to use his regular deck against Asuka, instead choosing to use a deck he's never used before, just to show what a genius he is. Played with near the end of the duel, where it reveals that he not only does know the deck well, but he changed the deck up and improved it. He was just pretending to be weak to troll Asuka and calls her an idiot for believing him.
  • In YuYu Hakusho:
    • The last episode focusing on Kurama in the series has him deal with this consideration while balancing his three personas. Ultimately, he refuses to transform into Yoko Kurama, a form which would have allowed him to easily win against his opponent and be successful in the tournament because he would rather be happy than powerful.
    • Raizen is dying when he's introduced, simply because he hasn't eaten any human flesh in hundreds, if not thousands of years because of the promise he made to his lover. Until his death, he's still the strongest character in the series in that state.
    • Bui wears extremely heavy armor throughout the Dark Tournament to seal his powerful battle aura. He's still strong enough to literally pulverize his opponent the first time he is seen fighting. He only takes off the armor when fighting Hiei, and proves to be strong enough that Hiei has to unseal his own trump card, the Dragon of the Darkness Flame, in response.
    • Sensui's original personality is so strong that he can't use his full power in the human world without destroying it, the world's "physics cannot hold him". He avoids doing so despite wanting to cause The End of the World as We Know It because he only wants to wipe out humanity, not destroy the world. Or so he claims.

    Comic Books 
  • On the lower end of the scale, Cassandra Cain / Batgirl has Charles Atlas Superpower even by Batman's standards, but (almost) never uses more force than strictly necessary. In one issue, Batman leaves her guarding an unconscious superhuman and tells her to hit him hard enough to crush a normal skull if he moves. When he starts to get up, she drives his head through the floorboards.
  • Jaime Reyes, aka Blue Beetle, regularly has to talk his suit down from using its more lethal abilities- and, being built as a planet-killing superweapon, it has a lot of lethal abilities. It's implied that the suit's powers go as far as deicide, but nonfatal takedowns? Those options are jury-rigged from the scarab's damage and Jaime's willpower.
  • Captain Britain learned all about this while teaming up with Spider-Man. Half-canine criminals don't deserve a max-power punch in the snout (Doggy-girl survived, her bills paid by the Cap).
  • The Incredible Hulk had been specifically shown to be held back subconsciously by Bruce Banner, presumably to reduce collateral damage and prevent Hulk from killing his opponents. When Jean Grey suppressed Banner at his request in the fight against Onslaught, Hulk became the only hero who does any damage to the Physical God and outright destroys his physical forms. To put it in perspective Onslaught was first introduced as having issued a complete Curb-Stomp Battle to The Juggernaut off-screen.
  • Similarly, Black Bolt of The Inhumans has a voice that can shatter cities. As a result, he's trained himself to be completely silent at all times and never speaks... except in the regular cases in which the writers take his powers away.
  • Thor, the Norse god of thunder, has to intentionally hold himself back when fighting due to him not wanting to kill his enemies, make his friends feel weak in comparison, or harm a lot of innocent bystanders and cause huge collateral damage. When he cuts loose, the collateral damage can include planets.
  • Mr. Mxyzptlk has way more power than he can safely use — modifying the universe too much would damage its structural underpinnings. Very, very bad things happened in a storyline where he accidentally gave 99% of his power to the Joker.
  • In My Little Pony Micro Series Issue #2 Rainbow Dash spends much of the comic holding herself back after her initial encounter with the Gremlins for fear of hurting her wings again.
  • Robin Series: Johnny Warlock makes it clear to the mobsters he leaves alive in his attack that it is more difficult for him to restrain himself to leave them alive than it would be for him to drain their life energy for himself and leave them withered husks. This helps ensure no one tries to usurp him once he's taken over.
  • The Sentry is an example of this as well. The more power he uses, the more insane he gets. When he is finally allowed to cut loose on the Hulk in World War Hulk, he loses control and becomes a bigger threat to the world than 'the worldbreaker'.
  • The Silver Surfer could end a fight with even some of the strongest supers Marvel has to offer in seconds. But he is usually not in the mood for fighting, considering it to be the habit of madmen. But heaven help you when you do piss him off!
  • In Fleetway's Sonic the Comic, Sonic would rather not have to go Super because Super Sonic is a Superpowered Evil Side and likes killing people and destroying entire planets just to stave off boredom. By extension, Super Sonic after he is separated from Sonic (he initially had no memory of his past and retained his new persona even after he remembered who he was). He knows that if he uses his immense powers, he will go crazy and destroy the world.
  • Spider-Man constantly pulls his punches to avoid accidentally killing someone. During the Superior Spider-Man series, when Dr. Octopus, having stolen Peter's body, snaps Scorpion's jaw off with a single punch, he's shocked at the realization of just how strong Spidey really is, as well as the realization that he was holding back all these years.
  • Supergirl: Supergirl holds back the whole time for the same reasons her cousin does: she's too powerful and she'll kill someone if her control slips.
    • When the modern Kara Zor-El (Supergirl) arrived on Earth, she caused a lot of property damage in the early issues until she learned how to control her enormous strength.
    • Even when she briefly went out of her mind in Red Daughter of Krypton due to the influence of the Red Ring, Supergirl instinctively held back because she didn't want to hurt anybody.
  • Superman is always doing this because he's so powerful, the rest of the world may as well be made of cardboard, and the slightest lapse in control on his part could kill someone. When Supergirl arrived on Earth -in the post-Crisis universe-, it was thought she was actually more powerful than Superman because he had been holding back so long it seemed that even he forgets what he can do when he lets go (it seems she does still have the edge in flight speed, whereas he has an edge in strength and toughness)
    • His son and successor Jon Kent has this way worse, he's terrified of accidentally hurting a Muggle with his super-strength, to the point that he gets Nightwing to train him in martial arts so he can learn how to disarm people with minimum force rather than just yanking the gun out of their hand like his dad would. This actually works to his detriment because he subconsciously holds back even against powerful supervillains who could take his full strength.
  • Wonder Woman:
    • Wonder Woman (1942): Di regularly allows herself to be "defeated" and captured by villains to quickly find out where their base is and have a better chance of overhearing plans and finding out more of their associates' identities. Once she has what she wants she easily tears through whatever restraints they'd thought up for her.
    • Wonder Woman (1987): During her imprisonment by the Sangtee Empire Diana both hides and restrains her own power and does not remove the collar limiter they placed on her while planning her and the other women's escape, as the way the Empire has tortured and much more securely restrained a Daxamite who tried to rebel previously means she knows better than to let them know her true strength and that she can fly. It takes her a bit to fully recover and she ends up collapsing near the end, but she's still able to keep her ace in the hole hidden from her captors until she escapes.
  • Cyclops, Depending on the Writer, does this with his energy beams. Normally, they are strong enough to punch through metal, but through disciplined training and special glasses, he can set them to a sort of stun effect. Given that he hasn't yet learned how to stop constantly projecting them through his eyes, this helps people to feel safer around him.
    • His brother Havok works in a similar fashion, using his powers to simulate concussive force by controlling the power of his beams and the distance they travel very carefully. When he gets serious, he can break the Hulk's bones with direct blasts, absorb enough power from stars to survive in space, and beat the tar out of Vulcan, who normally has complete control over all forms of energy. Overlaps partly with Power Limiter, as Havok absorbs far more energy out in space than he does on Earth, but he still holds back the vast majority of his power, even on Earth.
  • Jubilee (Marvel Comics) of the X-Men has the power to cause explosions and an acute dislike of hurting people. The result is a super-sidekick who mostly uses her powers to create flash-bang effects, and who once blasted her way out of the cell in which she was being tortured only to immediately put her escape on hold in order to give first aid to one of her guards who had been injured in the blast. It's been shown that, if she wanted to, Jubilee could blow people's heads up from the inside; luckily, she really doesn't want to.
  • In the 90s, it was established that Gambit of the X-Men was so afraid of the potential for his Person of Mass Destruction powerset that he had Mr. Sinister cut out a piece of his brain to diminish his ability to use said powers. Without that surgery, Gambit would have total control over kinetic energy, which would not only allow him to both use his Stuff Blowing Up power from a distance and target living creatures with it, but also give him a full-fledged set of Combo Platter Powers, including setting things on fire and freezing them, absolute motion control, becoming an Energy Being, interplanetary teleportation, time travel, and dimension travel. To put things in context, an alternate version of Gambit who never had the surgery was introduced having beaten Dark Phoenix, a creature with the power to destroy and recreate the universe, singlehandedly. Of course, that Gambit had also inadvertently annihilated all life on Earth by accident, so Gambit feels more than a little justified in having the surgery. This plot has been largely ignored since the 90s.
  • The Flash: People connected to the Speed Force are capable of ridiculous levels of Super Speed, but since the vast majority of the world isn't, they only tap into a fraction of their potential power most of the time. In fact, this is largely the only reason most of their enemies stand a chance; they use so little of their speed that it's still possible for non-speedsters to catch them off-guard, especially when attacking from behind. This is extra justified by the fact the Speed Force doesn't give this power out for free; using too much of its power causes them to start being pulled into the Speed Force itself, which requires a tremendous amount of willpower to resist the pull of (Wally West is the only one regularly shown capable of such, at least initially). As most would rather not abandon their loved ones, they stave off pushing themselves unless they need to, such as when trying to out-race a nuclear explosion to evacuate a city, escape the concept of death itself, or fighting an evil speedster who has no qualms about how much speed they use.
  • In some of the many continuities that feature him Alan Scott, the Golden Age Green Lantern, is subconsciously inflicting his Weaksauce Weakness to wood on himself. He feels that someone as powerful as him should have some form of weakness to avoid falling into A God Am I territory so, without knowing it, he's making his powers vulnerable to wooden objects.

    Fan Works 
  • Adventures of a Screwed Up Clone: As mentioned under Weak, but Skilled, Dani prefers to use her powers sparingly, and prefers not to transform when she doesn't have to.
  • In Amazing Fantasy, both Izuku and Peter are aware of how dangerous their spider-strength is if handled improperly and are always pulling their punches to avoid grievously harming people. When Izuku loosens his restraint, he goes from being on the defensive against Katsuki to making him keel over with a single punch. But when Peter cuts loose against Stain, his punches are compared to mortar strikes. A single punch fractures Stain's jaw, turns his lips into a blood smear, and tears off a chunk of his cheek. The following fight can only be described as a Curb-Stomp Battle to the point that Peter crushes Stain's wrist like a toothpick.
  • In Avengers: Infinite Wars, during the Battle of Kamino, Scott Lang (AKA Ant-Man/Giant-Man) deliberately only grows to thirty feet high rather than his full potential of fifty, as fifty would make him a target and a potential danger to his allies while thirty is large enough to be a threat without drawing too much attention to himself.
  • In Bat Brats is mentioned that Blackfire periodically assaults her sister in the attempt to regain the crown of Tamaran, but always loses. During one of these fights, two paramedics talking about a Side Bet on it mention that Blackfire loses because she cannot risk lethal force if she wants to take back the crown, so she holds back and ends up losing against her sister who's better trained at non-lethal fighting-then Starfire lost, as Blackfire had been training in non-lethally defeating her opponent and could finally cut loose.
  • Zigzagged in Boldores And Boomsticks. Yang enters a fighting-type tournament, so she hands off her weapons to Ruby for the duration in order to avoid breaking the rules (which she's already bending by being a human fighting in a Pokemon tournament). She isn't so much weakened as she is unable to use some of her usual moves, which causes minute hesitation in her fights. Her final opponent, a Lucario, notices and after some discussion uses a precedent to allow Yang to fight with her weapons, on the grounds that it wouldn't be fair otherwise. Even with her handicap, she takes second place overall and only ends up losing first due to a ring-out.
  • After he gets a White Lantern ring in But Doctor, I Am Pagliacci, Jack refuses to use it often so he can avoid collateral damage (and, to be entirely fair, because charging it is difficult; White Lantern Rings don't have batteries and instead charge slowly while the wielder embraces their life). The Eradicator deconstructs this mindset by showing that it's detrimental to honing his abilities with the ring and properly regulating the strength of his constructs.
  • The Child of Love: Teri has Psychic Powers and can deploy an energy barrier. But she always tries to hide them and pretend she is normal.
  • Child of the Storm has Thor and Loki hold back their strength as a matter of course.
  • If I Could Start Again;
    • After Thor finds himself in the past on the day of his coronation, he travels to Earth and loses in an initial clash with the Hulk because he didn't want to hurt his friend, so he didn't put much force into his attacks. He also handicapped himself by refusing to use Mjölnir during the fight. Word of God states that had he been going all out, Thor would have won regardless of whether he had Mjölnir or not.
    • This also plays into the Sakaar arc. Thor could easily handle anything the planet throws at them, barring Ebony and Cull, but with Black Widow and Hawkeye around to assist in what was intended to be a discreet investigation, he limits himself to avoid too much collateral.
  • In Imaginary Seas, Percy purposefully restricts his usage of his more potent abilities like manipulating water, creating storms, and starting earthquakes out of fear of attracting his father's attention.
  • Because going all out in the entrance exam would put her identity in jeopardy, Uraraka holds back during Jackalope's depiction of the entrance exam, going with the average power she showcased in the canon series. An earlier chapter has her show what she can do (while disguised) including levitating and crashing an entire bank with minimal effort, jump so high she practically kisses the sky, and also manipulate her mass to throw attacks hard enough to knock out Death Arms and Mt. Lady.
  • Paul in The Keys Stand Alone: The Soft World, though his “weak” means he's only the eighth strongest person on the planet, rather than the strongest. He refrains from going to high strength because of its insanely increased level of Power Incontinence, and he's utterly terrified of harming someone simply by breathing on them.
  • Ladybug in a Half Shell: When April clarifies that the American foes are mutants and not akumatized villains (thus are not innocent people Brainwashed and Crazy), Chat Noir revealed that he was holding back and utterly curb-stomps Rahzar, Xever, and Rocksteady shortly after.
  • Last Child of Krypton:
    • Shinji pretends he is way, way weaker than he is in order to hide his secret identity and lead a normal life.
    • In the rewrite he –someone capable to lift mountains — pretended he was struggling under the weight of Asuka’s luggage.
  • In The Night Unfurls, this trope is Played Straight for Kyril, which overlaps with Fights Like a Normal. He's an Eldritch Abomination in human form, but if he wants to prevent people around him from going insane AND conceal the Eldritch Truth, he has to fight using the skills as a Bloodborne Hunter of Monsters. This doesn't stop him from curb-stomping his opponents in battle, though.
  • Pokémon: Nova and Antica: The Tenla Gym Leaders will ask challengers about their skill level and the number of Tenla badges they have obtained. Depending on the answer, they will hold back and use relatively weaker Pokémon to at least make an earned victory possible. The threshold seems to vary. For example, Marina and Heather will use their stronger Pokemon against any trainer like Paul or Winter who brought along their own powerhouses, while Metacia flat-out refuses anyone who doesn't have at least 5 badges of Tenla.
  • RE-TAKE: For the most part of the first chapter Shinji intentionally keeps his sync ratio below Asuka's because he knows that nothing good will come from beating Asuka.
  • A Salaryman in Nobuna's Court: Bujin Faiz is able to access Blaster Form but doing so would drain his master's spiritual energy quickly and send her into a Heroic RRoD so he fights primarily with his normal form and Axel form.
  • The Second Try: After traveling back to the past Shinji and Asuka are more emotionally stable, more experienced, more determined and are aware of their robots' true nature. Since piloting Evas depends heavily on their emotional state, their sync ratios are incredibly high. Still, they suppress them during tests in order to keep up appearances. Though this causes odd fluctuations in their ratios that do not go unnoticed.
  • Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath did this to Spock in their TOS fan fiction novels, The Price of the Phoenix, The Fate of the Phoenix and The Prometheus Design. According to them, canon Spock on the show was way suppressing his actual abilities so as to live among the Puny Earthlings; under normal conditions, Vulcans are so physically and mentally powerful as to be almost godlike. (It's repeatedly mentioned that Captain Kirk would have difficulty even pushing buttons on a Vulcan ship.) They use this to explain the Intrepid having an all-Vulcan crew in "The Immunity Syndrome". In Prometheus Design the legendary Vulcan Admiral Savaj gives Spock a "No More Holding Back" Speech advising him to unleash his inner badass. Spock does so, takes command, and tells the crew he will have "instant, unqualified, unargued obedience" as it would be on a Vulcan ship; at one point he literally leaps a tall wall in a single bound. Physical strength is Marshak's Author Appeal.
  • In From Muddy Waters, Izuku doesn't use the majority of Quirks at his disposal, including gravity manipulation, fire-breathing and short-range teleportation, to avoid prying eyes who might tie him to his father, All For One. He also tries not to stand out too much during his exams by not giving it his all, which lands him in hot water with Aizawa when the latter thinks that Izuku is slacking off out of arrogance. When he is going all out with his strength Quirks, Izuku can punch with the same amount of force as All Might. He can also throw a ball hard enough to create a sonic boom that shatters all of the windows in his vicinity.
  • In Holo-Chronicles, Watson will only draw upon the powers of herself from 10 years in the future at most, when she can actually go up to 20 and becomes a far more complete Time Master when doing just that, to the point where the only one capable of beating her in that state is Sora. The reason for this that she gave to Jenma? Something is waiting for her to go that far again, and she would rather not have another encounter with it.
  • A Tale of Transmigration: Khepri intentionally limits her power when acting as an Endbringer to foster cooperation. When someone breaks her rules, she cuts loose to deal with them and can lead to the equivalent of a Total Party Kill if not handled appropriately.
  • This Bites!: Even after Ryuma removing the lead in his body and using his dragon-slaying technique to cut through the Florian Triangle by accident, Zoro calls him out for holding back, with Funkfreed confirming that Ryuma's sword Shusui is saying the same. When Ryuma admits he wanted to make such a good battle last longer, Zoro replies that he can take everything that the samurai zombie can throw at him.
  • Thousand Shinji: For the middle point of the story, Shinji is able to blast lightning bolts, Asuka is a Super Soldier capable to punch through a concrete block and summon axes out of thin air, Rei is a living biological and bio-chemical weapon and THE THREE OF THEM have psychic powers. However, they are extra careful to conceal their true powers so that: they can lead a relatively normal life; and Gendo never sees it coming when they decide to move against him.
  • In the Castle/Daredevil (2015)/The Sentinel crossover "Who Watches the Watchmen", Lanie Parish has healing abilities which she uses to heal most of the injuries Matt Murdock has sustained in his vigilante career. She admits that she could also heal his eyes to restore his vision, but she is reluctant to do that as his brain has basically wired itself to compensate for the loss of his sight and she isn't sure how he would cope if she restored it, to say nothing of how his blindness has given him the ability to 'see' auras, which could be useful against the current threat.

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. Berholdt chains himself with iron cannonballs to prevent himself from moving too fast.
  • In Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Clark is clearly using kid gloves in his fight with Bruce, since he doesn't want to fight as he's trying to explain to Bruce that Lex Luthor is holding Martha hostage. Unfortunately for him, Bruce isn't holding back. At all.
  • Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid franchise is a pretty devastating fighter, and known to have done some incredible things in the war, but now wants nothing more than to live in peace. When he ends up in an altercation he notably never takes a combat stance or initiates an attack: he just stands idly by, like he's waiting in line at the bank, and casually deflects every punch and kick that comes his way and throws just enough attacks to stop his opponent from fighting. He doesn't even want to fight, and would happily just let them walk away if they would, and he still completely demolishes his opponents. One wonders what this guy could actually be capable of if he went on the offensive.
  • Michael Jackson's This Is It has a non-combat example. Michael Jackson is shown deliberately not performing at full strength during rehearsals, trying to save his voice and stamina for his London concerts.note  The one time he's shown singing at full strength, during the "I Just Can't Stop Loving You" segment, he catches himself, and playfully chastises the crew and backup dancers (who were cheering him on) for making him sing at full strength.
  • Zigzagged, but an explanation of why Luke managed to beat Vader in Return of the Jedi. In The Empire Strikes Back, Vader is clearly this, only getting serious at the end of the fight, when he cuts Luke's hand off. In ROTJ, while Luke has clearly grown up and is by all means a prodigy, and also lacks Vader's massive injuries, Vader still has more than three decades of experience and knowledge above Luke, and no matter how powerful or talented Luke is, the idea he could beat Vader after at most a year from their previous duel is quite far off. It makes sense to think Vader is unconsciously holding back, even if he does not acknowledge it, because as Luke says, he is deeply conflicted, does not want to kill Luke, and is not fighting at the top of his game, which does give Luke an advantage. Luke, meanwhile, briefly goes in the opposite direction after Vader threatens to turn Leia.
  • Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings: Wenwu consistently holds back against his son Shang-Chi when fighting him as he really doesn't have any intention to kill or harm him too much.
  • Judge Doom from Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a Toon pretending to be a human, so he doesn't rely on Toon Physics until his cover is blown, at which point he uses spring-loaded shoes and turns his hands into anvils and giant circular saws.
  • Deconstructed in Transformers. Optimus Prime deliberately holds himself back in his Final Battle with Megatron to avoid collateral damage, which leads to Megatron quickly curb-stomping the Prime and nearly claiming the AllSpark. It takes an air strike and quick thinking on Sam Witwicky's part to kill Megatron and save both the earth and Optimus's life.

  • In Beware of Chicken, when Liu Xianghua decides to take command of the Misty Lake Sect as the new sectmaster, she must face the trial of defeating three Misty Lake elders to prove her worthiness. She instead decides to defeat all of them, and to leave absolutely no doubt as to her strength, does so without the aid of her Steam Furnace, which normally allows her to punch well above her "weight class". She succeeds, naturally.
  • In the Dresdenverse anyone who bears the Winter Knight's mantle must restrain themselves this way or risk falling victim to The Corruption. (We've seen at least one Knight who gave into temptation to use it at full power, and the results were not pretty.) It takes a lot of Heroic Willpower to even resist the mantle's conscious urges, and even then, the Knight gradually grows accustomed to the strength and speed it gives him, forgetting the limitations of normal people and becoming increasingly cruel. The protagonist is clearly established as a Determinator, and even he acknowledges that he won't be able to stave its urges off eventually. In Cold Days he submits to the mantle's energy to win an especially difficult fight, and his ensuing actions are both unnervingly sadistic and very powerful.
  • Though far from weak, Albus Dumbledore from Harry Potter outright admits to limiting the power he could reach, in the first chapter of the first book:note 
    Dumbledore: "You flatter me. Voldemort had powers that I will never have."
    McGonagall: "Only because you're too... well... noble to use them."
  • A fair number of the titular Heralds of Valdemar have psychic or magic abilities which could ruin another person (and if the other person deserves it, they will), but in most situations they hold themselves back and look for other solutions. The Companions are the invaluable gatekeepers in this system, since they Choose new Heralds, and they can ensure that no one who would misuse their powers is ever Chosen.
  • At the start of The Hollows Rachel is doing this, by doing only white earth magic spells. White spells are less powerful than black spells, and the line is clearer with earth magic than ley line magic. However, circumstances keep forcing her to use black magic and demon curses. Subverted later in Black Magic Sanction where it is shown white magic can be as strong as black magic but requires greater skill to do so. Rachel isn't much for studying though and thus chooses to use black and demon magic as a shortcut when she needs power. This is beginning to have some rather negative long term implications.
  • Because he hates so much that he has it, the only time in the Knight and Rogue Series that Michael uses magic is when he's in a life or death situation and activates it without thinking.
  • In Max Frei's Labyrinths of Echo Sir Kofa Yokh is introduced as Master Listener, whose job is to mingle in all sorts of public places to gather and process information. Being a jovial somewhat rotund Master of Disguise by means of Humanshifting obviously helps with that. But before Kofa Yokh became the Master Listener, he was the general of the city police during the War of the Orders and is likely the most powerful Plain Magic user in Echo.
  • The Scholomance: The protagonist El has an Apocalypse Maiden-tier affinity for Black Magic and destructive spells of all kinds, whether she wants it or not. As such, she can't sacrifice so much as an ant for power and strictly limits her magic for fear of killing her entire school in a bout of Power Incontinence and/or irrevocably corrupting her soul. She's a bit jealous of people whose affinities have more useful everyday applications than "All shall love me and despair."
  • At the end of Michael Crichton's Sphere the surviving characters (some of them, anyway) will themselves into simply forgetting their Physical God status, thus losing it, on the off chance they go mad with power.
  • In The Wandering Inn, people become more powerful by gaining Levels and earning Skills. Ryoka rebels against the system by intentionally not gaining any Classes, Levels, or Skills...despite their obvious advantages. Doing this is so counter-intuitive that most characters are shocked when they find out.
  • In Warbreaker Vasher suppresses his Returned Breath so that he can pass as normal. He can, of course, unleash it whenever he wants. He's pretty badass even without it, though.
  • In The Zombie Knight, Harper holds back on using a powerful transformation until it is the only way to win. Justified because the state makes him unable to control himself beyond "try not to kill my friends unless I can't find anyone else", and there was a decent chance that it could have killed his reaper.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Angel: Doyle hardly ever used his demon form because of his discomfort with it.
  • Babylon 5: This is the secret that Garibaldi reveals in "Ceremonies of Light and Dark": "No one knows, but I'm afraid all the time of what I might do if I ever let go." Later, the audience gets a taste of what he's capable of doing in "The Deconstruction of Falling Stars" and "Objects in Motion" — and indeed, it's more than a little scary.
  • In Season 3 of The Flash, Caitlin wears a necklace that suppresses her powers because her evil alter ego, Killer Frost, takes over whenever they're activated.
  • Kamen Rider:
    • Kamen Rider Ryuki could be much stronger if he was willing to kill the other Riders, something that he adamantly refuses to do even though he's playing a game where There Can Be Only One.
    • Kamen Rider Drive: Mr. Belt, who's both Drive's creator and his Transformation Trinket, has a habit of holding back Drive's upgrades until he has no choice other than to reveal them. This is mostly because Drive's Super Speed, which is magnified with each upgrade, swiftly grows too intense for the user's body.
    • Kamen Rider Zi-O rides the line between this and Forgot About His Powers when it comes to his ability to rewind time, which he quietly stops using after a string of episodes after he gained it where he used it to solve nearly all of his problems. It's implied that he stopped using the ability because it was making it too easy to be a Manipulative Bastard, something that he was already struggling with, and by the end of the arc had driven many of his friends to think he was a bigger threat than the villains. After this briefly turns them against him, he sticks to only using his power of foresight for the rest of the series.
  • In the episode "Hide and Q" of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Riker is given Q-powers by Q. Picard, distrustful of Q's motives, makes Riker promise not to use his new powers, no matter how much he might be tempted to. Riker even allows disaster victims to die rather than use his new powers, even though it upsets him deeply.
    • In the Star Trek universe, ships like the Enterprise, even the one from The Original Series, have devastating weapons including photon torpedoes that have warhead yields in the high megaton range. They also carry enough of them to glass an entire planet if their captains ever gave the order. However, Starfleet captains, exemplified by Picard, are trained not to resort to using such weapons unless diplomacy has failed, there is absolutely no other choice, and their ship and crew are in real mortal danger.
    • In "True Q", a young woman is discovered to be the daughter of two renegade Q, who were killed by a tornado (and Q pretty much admits they were assassinated by their fellow Q) before they could reveal the truth to her. At first, she ends up abusing her newfound powers, as well as using them to help others, but then Q give her an ultimatum: she can either stay with the humans but is forbidden from using her powers or leave with him to join the Q Continuum. She quickly realizes that she can't let others come to harm as long as she has the power to help them and leaves with Q.
  • Willow: It turns out that Jade was holding back during her sparring matches with Kit, training with her on Sorsha's orders. Kit is not at all happy to learn Jade was letting her win.
  • A recurrent issue on Taskmaster; the tasks can often be quite tricky and surprisingly challenging to begin with, but matters are frequently not helped by contestants often interpreting them in ways which add unnecessary difficulties or give themselves further rules to follow which are not specified on the task, thus making their lives harder.

    Tabletop Games 

    Video Games 
  • In the 2010 Alien vs. Predator game, you get bonus points on Predator missions for using nothing but your wrist blades. In the 1999 game, when the final mission (where you fight the Alien Queen) starts, all weapons except your wrist blades and spear gun are disabled, to ensure proper honor. Given that using wrist blades against the Queen is suicidal, this means you really only have the spear gun.
  • From Guilty Gear's Spiritual Successor, BlazBlue:
    • There is Rachel Alucard, a bored vampire who treats every match as a Self-Imposed Challenge. Only her throw move involves actually touching her opponent; a weak-looking but damaging backhand slap. All her attacks, special movement, and even guarding are handled by her familiars Nago and Gii, a cat and a bat. You may also notice that Rachel never actually takes a direct hit either; poor Gii and Nago take all the punishment. And if you hold down crouch for long enough, Rachel begins to take a nap in the middle of the fight.
    • As Unlimited Rachel, the gloves come off, although even then she does nothing that would risk making her sweat.
    • Ragna does this as well, and it is only once he uses the Azure Grimoire that the time loop is broken.
    • Terumi is an example in his Hazama guise since he is simply using the Ouroboros Nox Nyctores and some butterfly knives rather than his true abilities.
    • Azrael is so powerful that most of the cast shits their pants when he comes a-calling for a fight. Uniquely, he's also the only one with an Ars Magus that limits his strength, called Enchant: Dragunov, which is actually the tattoos on his body. The reason most anyone survives a fight with him is that he chooses to keep the limiter on to extend the 'fun' of a fight.
    • Noel Vermillion also counts, at least after she unlocks the ability to use her Murakumo form Mu-12 in combat. This makes her easily one of the strongest fighters in the universe, yet she only relies on it when she has no choice but to use it.
  • BoxxyQuest: The Shifted Spires: Cornelia was holding back during her fight, because even though she's working for him:
    ...Even I know that Boxxyfan is evil. I may be a machine, but I'm not a mindless drone.
  • Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow. The one reason why you, the reincarnation of the Big Bad who always gets his ass kicked by the Belmonts, are able to bring Julius Belmont to his knees is because he sensed Soma's soul as well as Dracula's. Imagine how fast you'd die if a badass like Julius WASN'T holding back, considering he's already the most difficult boss in the game.
  • In City of Heroes, for game balance purposes, players could intentionally lower their effective level to that of the rest of the party, either by joining a mission with a lower level range or simply by joining a party in general. While they could still use powers up to five levels above their temporary strength, many of their augmentations (gear) would potentially be disabled, putting them on a more or less equal footing with the rest of the team.
  • The Superboss in Digital Devil Saga is the Demi-Fiend, the protagonist of Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne, who uses skills and demon companions from said game. Anyone who played Nocturne will probably know that these demons and skills are roughly mid-level ones, which when combined with the fact that his boss theme is Nocturne's standard encounter theme, gives off the impression that the party is just another random encounter to the Demi-Fiend not worth wasting his strongest abilities and allies on (and judging by the fact that one of his attacks is a Total Party Kill unless you exploit a very specific skill, and he's frequently cited as one of the hardest bosses in JRPG history, he's obviously correct.) Also, you need to invoke this in order to start the fight with him; if anyone in your active party or reserves has a nullifying-or-higher passive equipped other than Null Sleep, he'll inflict the aforementioned TPK before you even take your first turn. Casting anything that will grant Null, Repel, or Drain anything will also make him do the same when his next turn comes.
  • Valvatorez from Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten was once an infamous tyrant, but decided to abstain from drinking blood (He uses sardines as a replacement) as part of a promise he intends to fulfill, even though it would weaken him. As a result, he ended up falling from his position of power and got stuck with a low-class job as a Prinny instructor, but it doesn't seem to bother him one bit.
  • Rico in Duel Savior Destiny only fights at her full strength the first time she fights someone so she can gauge how strong they are. After that, she doesn't try at all so that she can conserve her strength. So far, she has beaten everyone the first time she fought them and then lost all the subsequent fights, leading others to think she's much weaker than she is. When Taiga actually does beat her, she's quite stunned.
  • Elden Ring:
    • Malenia does this constantly. The Scarlet Rot that's made her Delicate and Sickly by demigod standards is actually a blessing from the Outer God that created the Rot, making her a potential goddess of Scarlet Rot. However, as actually using said divine status would result in spreading Scarlet Rot everywhere she goes, she instead struggles to keep it contained within herself, leaving her a Magically Inept Fighter with a terrible disease instead of a terrifying plague deity. This is reflected in her boss fight: In her first phase, as Blade of Miquella, she fights as she normally would- pure swordsmanship and stubbornness- and attacks relatively slowly because her focus is constantly split. When she decides that the fight has passed the Godzilla Threshold and embraces her title as the Goddess of Rot, she shows off vastly increased aggression, flight, clone attacks, and a massive Rot AOE.
    • Played with in the case of Godfrey, the First Elden Lord. He grafted the spirit lion Serosh onto himself to restrain his bloodlust. He kills Serosh during his boss fight to unleash his ferocity as Hoarah Loux, but this doesn't directly increase his power so much as trade raw stats for extra aggression and unpredictability. You're still going to get powerbombed to death if you can't immediately switch gears, though.
  • In The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind's Bloodmoon expansion, the Daedric Prince of the Hunt, Hircine, serves as the Big Bad and final boss of the expansion's main quest. After surviving his hunting dogs (read: werewolves) and your fellow competitors in the hunt, you'll face Hircine himself. Because a Daedric Prince at full power would easily crush any mortal, he gives you the choice of one of his three weaker "aspects" to fight to give you a sporting chance. (Hircine believes that it's not a true hunt unless the Hunted has the chance to become the Hunter.)
  • Final Fantasy XIV implies this about your player character, the Warrior of Light, come Heavensward. After defeating the Primal Ravana, Iceheart notes that she hasn't seen your character fight that strongly since she summoned/became Shiva. This implies that the Warrior of Light holds back unless fighting a significant threat like the Primals or Ascians.
  • Fire Emblem:
    • Ike's father in Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, General Gawain cut the tendons in his right arm and refuses to fight with a sword because he went berserk and killed his wife when he touched Lehran's Medallion.
    • In Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, the sequel to Path of Radiance, laguz Volug has a special skill called "halfshifting". It allows him to stay in his wolf form indefinitely, rather than being limited by the usual laguz transformation gauge that, upon depletion, forces a laguz unit back to their essentially powerless humanoid form until the gauge fills again. But there's a cost: Volug takes penalties to all of his stats (except for HP) when halfshifted. After Part I of the game, the skill can be removed and Volug's stats will return to normal, but he'll have to contend with the gauge like other laguz units.
    • In Fire Emblem: Three Houses, this is implied on one of the game's routes. The Flame Emperor, The Heavy for Part 1, is actually Edelgard. If you're with the Black Eagles, you've been using Edelgard up until that point, but unless you've done heavy Level Grinding her stats as the Flame Emperor are considerably higher than they were while under your control.
  • In the Meta sense, Self Imposed Challenges like not using certain (or any) weapons, spells, characters, or performing Low Level Runs are done by gamers either to prove a point or because they've become so good at the game it's intended challenge isn't enough anymore. Not using guns in Resident Evil, not getting the sword in The Legend Of Zelda, not recruiting Mia in Golden Sun, the list goes on and on and on.
  • Guilty Gear:
  • In The King of Fighters '94:
    • Rugal doesn't use any special moves in your first fight with him. Win that fight, and he shows amusement before dusting himself off and fighting you again... with all special moves on. In the process, he sets the precedent for the SNK Boss lineage after him.
    • Krizalid in '99 is a similar case, to the point that he could be considered his saga's answer to Rugal. The worst he can throw at you in the first round is a 2-hit fireball and a divekick. After that, however, he removes his overcoat, "Dear Falling Angel" starts revving up, and Krizalid unleashes the full extent of his power with zeal. Word of God actually apologized for how unforgiving the battle could be, stating they went a little overboard.
  • Rean from The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel is an exceptional swordsman with a lot of talent, but appears to be holding himself back, as Laura, a fellow swordswoman, notices earlier in the game. Rean insists that his level of skill is that of a beginner, and his master cut his training short. However, later in the game, the truth is revealed when he challenges Laura's father, who is known as the Radiant Blademaster to a fight. After losing to him in the first round, Viscount Arseid could tell Rean was holding himself back and provoked him into coming at him with everything he had, which caused Rean to switch to his Superpowered Evil Side, but he still loses. After that, the viscount gives him a lecture on how power is the measure of one's strength but denying said power only shortchanging the wielder.
  • Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's Portable: The Gears of Destiny has Yuri Eberwein, a.k.a., the Unbreakable Darkness, who is training to control her infinite powers as, even with a Power Limiter on, she could still accidentally alter the landscape, as at least one crater she unintentionally made in Eltria shows.
  • Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order reveals this in the final boss battle in regards to Thanos's Infinity Gauntlet, which is actually a part of a full suit of armor called the Infinity Armor. While Thanos could don the entire armor, doing so would imbue him with far more power than he would be able to safely control, and the Gauntlet with the Infinity Stones are already powerful enough for his schemes. His son, Thane, finds this out the hard way when he dons the Infinity Armor and falls victim to Power Incontinence.
  • Mega Man, in all of his incarnations. All of them are said to be the pinnacle of artificial life and combat designs for their respective universes. Through use of their signature ability could easily become nigh unstoppable. Fortunately, they all share a Martial Pacifist philosophy and deliberately drop all but the most minor upgrades they gain after defeating a major threat to ensure that they are never corrupted by power.
  • Unlike most other games in the series, in Metroid: Other M, Samus doesn't lose her arsenal at the beginning of the game. Instead, she just deactivates nearly all of her weapons and abilities at the request of her former commander, and (for the most part) reactivates them only when he "authorizes" her to do so. This despite the fact that she's now an independent agent and no longer under his command.
  • Mordheim: City of the Damned: Every faction. It's set in the Warhammer world, in the titular city that was wiped out by a meteor made of valuable but dangerous wyrdstone; the various factions (Empire Mercenaries, Sisters of Sigmar, Witch Hunters, Skaven, Chaos Cultists and Undead) are all deploying very small warbands using cloak and dagger tactics to collect the stuff without damaging the city or drawing too much attention from the outside world. Your average Blood Bowl team has access to heavier firepower than a Mordheim warband, but that's the point. This means that a regular old Chaos Bloodletter, Ogre, or Vampire which would merely be an elite (but still very much killable) troop choice in Warhammer is effectively a mini-boss fight here.
  • Hanzo of Overwatch is no slouch with his bow. But the willful weakness comes when you remember he's a master swordsman as well. Even more skilled than his brother, Genji. But he refuses to ever wield a sword again, as the last time he did was when he was ordered to kill Genji.
  • The Final Boss of Pathfinder: Kingmaker is The Lantern King, the trickster god of the First World. He mostly fights you because he wants there to be a proper climactic finale for the game's story and the actual Big Bad (who was a puppet of his) didn't do a good enough job. The final boss battle will end when he's decided you've done a good enough job fighting him, at which point he offers you a boon for humouring him. That is, unless you've basically performed 100% Completion and made said Big Bad perform a Heel–Face Turn, in which case you have the option of cursing him for a Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu? ending.
  • Pokémon:
    • Machoke wears a belt to weaken its power. Depending on which Pokedex entry you believe, either it needs the belt so that it can control its movements, or it would be unstoppable without it.
    • Gym Leaders in general are this as well. As their purpose is to test the skills of trainers, they purposely tailor their teams to be just a little more powerful than the teams of starting trainers. In some games, you can challenge them to rematches upon reaching the endgame, and they will have Championship-level teams, implying that those are their true fighters.
    • In Pokémon Sword and Shield, Piers, the Dark-Type Gym Leader from Spikemuth, battles in a Gym that lacks a Power Spot. As such, Pokémon cannot Dynamax in his Gym, and he instead uses a team of Pokémon with a wide and varied array of tactical advantages to compensate. Even when he participates in the Championship Finals at the Galar Pokémon League, he refuses to use Dynamax as a point of pride, and he and his Pokémon are still skilled enough in battle to hold on to his spot as the region's second-best Gym Leader.
    • Arceus is implied to be this when it battles against humans. This won't mean you get an easy battle though, especially in Pokémon Legends: Arceus.
    • When you meet her, Nemona is already a Champion, meaning she's already raised a team of powerful Pokemon, defeated all of the Gym Leaders, the Elite Four, and the Top Champion, Ms Geeta. However, not only does she, on a whim, decide to train up an entirely new team from scratch for the sole purpose being able to follow you on your journey and serve as a rival, but it's also heavily implied that, even when facing Geeta herself, she always held back due to lacking a rival who could keep her on her toes.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog. In many games he seems to just move fast enough to get through a situation and show off, but we can judge by other games and various cutscenes that he is much faster than he lets on. Additionally, in some of the racing games where Sonic uses a car, the manual states that he's fast enough on his feet to run circles around the other racers, but chooses to use a car instead for the sake of a fair contest...and because race cars are cool.
  • In a somewhat meta sense, S.T.A.L.K.E.R., as in the game itself. In Shadow of Chernobyl, the combat AI is pretty damn good; enemies can (and will) use cover effectively, retreat to a more tactically advantageous position and ambush you, navigate wide open areas, and dodge and duck around building interiors to get the jump on you. However, if the developers and the press who got to try the pre-release builds are to be believed, this AI is severely dialled back — in earlier builds, enemies could also score headshots against the player, heal themselves and their allies with medkits, throw grenades with unerring accuracy, loot weapons off dead bodies, and intelligently avoid anomalies and other environmental hazards. Oh, and your NPC allies would also complete quests and fulfill objectives without player intervention. The developers removed these abilities for the final release because they were worried the Artificial Brilliance was too brilliant to the point where it would consistently outsmart and frustrate the player. Certain realism and survival mods unlock these behaviours in the game's files, and they're a masochist's dream.
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic: An LS Sith is implied to be this, particularly an LS Sith Inquisitor. They are called out by Darth Zash if their alignment leans toward the Light Side when she states that while the character is powerful, they have noticeably held back on expanding their power. Since the Dark Side is fueled by negative emotions, an LS Sith Inquisitor is implied to rely on seriously Heroic Willpower to avoid Dark Side corruption, tapping into it only just enough to use their powers. Later, an LS Inquisitor has the option to redeem the Force Ghosts they've collected at the end of their class story, giving up their near-immortality in order to give the ghosts peace. Basically, an LS Inquisitor survives by choosing to rely on their shrewdness and rationality, and moments of compassion when allowed, over raw power. Gameplayand Story Segregation kicks in though in that this doesn't prevent the character from succeeding in any of the same things a traditional DS Inquisitor will do.
  • Street Fighter:
    • Oro from Street Fighter III is stronger than the rest of the cast, possibly combined. He keeps one of his arms in a sling in order to even the odds. Series Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy Akuma/Gouki challenged him once with neither holding back their power, and they were equally strong.
    • Akuma, both in and out of gameplay. Out of game, he never uses the full extent of his power because he seeks a challenger worthy of his skill so he wants to match mettle with the best without destroying them at the full depth of the Satsui no Hadou. In-game, his vitality and stun are typically lower than any of his opponents for reasons of balance (to see when he is NOT balanced like this, his original playable appearance in Super Street Fighter II Turbo is such). Also, specific to his Street Fighter III appearances, he has no EX attacks (meaning his only way to use meter is to use a Super Art), although this restriction doesn't extend to IV or V.
    • Seth, much like the Rugal example below, plays nice in the first round but will turn up the heat once he's been smacked around. Teleport Spam and priority abuse coupled with nasty damage makes him a SNK Boss through and through.
    • In Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition, Oni (Akuma fully taken over by the Satsui no Hadou, reaching a new level of power in the process) insinuates in a win quote that Cody would be a match for him if only he took off the handcuffs (the same ones that Cody wears by choice and is shown to be able to easily slip out of in his taunt) and fought seriously. Conversely, Cody's win quote against Oni has him remarking that he knew Oni was no big deal.
  • Interestingly enough, Luigi. It's been stated in supplemental materials that he has the potential to become much more powerful than his brother Mario, but lacks the self-confidence and control to come anywhere close to realizing it. It is also seen in-series with his jumping ability, which is usually shown as just higher than Mario's, but he can jump MUCH higher if the situation calls for it.
  • Many Super Robot Wars, especially those that are part of a continuing storyline, use this. It's not impossible to see Amuro Ray downgrade from the Nu/Hi-Nu Gundam to a Re-GZ or even the original Gundam or Kouji Kabuto get knocked down from Mazinkaiser to the original Mazinger-Z. Two early examples has the aforementioned Mazinger-Z go from having Jet Scrander at the end of one game to going without it in the next and the Getter Robo Team downgrading from Getter Robo G to the Prototype Getter Robo, which isn't even a Super Prototype — just a normal prototype unit!
  • In the first Super Robot Wars: Original Generation game, the final boss remarks that Gilliam appears to be hiding his power.
  • Regal from Tales of Symphonia keeps his hands bound throughout almost the entire game, choosing to fight instead with his feet. It is revealed in a flashback that without his shackles, he's an extremely powerful martial artist, but handicaps himself, because he used his skill to euthanize his lover.
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy Arthur from Tears to Tiara provokes Genki Girl Morgan into dislocating his arm by groping her in order to even the odds in an upcoming duel with an opponent who can barely stand.
  • Touhou Project uses this on a series-wide level with the spellcard rules. A formal system of dueling and battling that everyone in Gensoukyou must abide by, it deliberately levels the playing field, giving the weaker fighters a better chance of success and preventing the more powerful ones from simply pressing the "I win" button, as well as ensuring all fights end in a Non-Lethal K.O..
    • According to Word of God, Alice Margatroid always holds back in her fights because she doesn't know what she would do if she ever lost while at full power. A big clue to this is that she's always carrying a grimoire, which is always bound up; she fights with her dolls instead. (In other words, she puts on a complex puppet show combined with carefully finessed magic to make it seem the dolls are casting all her spells.) The last time she opened the thing, she was an Ex-Boss (assuming PC-98 Alice is indeed the same character as Alice Margatroid). Since then, it's always been seen closed, and she's a 3rd-to-4th-stage boss instead.
    • Eirin Yagokoro is said to be far stronger than Kaguya Houraisan, but holds back her power out of respect, not wanting to shame Kaguya by having a subordinate more powerful than her. This became much more significant after ZUN stated in Symposium of Post-Mysticism that Eirin is one of the stupendously powerful gods of the moon.
    • Hong Meiling's win quote against Sakuya in Hisoutensoku has her bluntly stating that she was always going easy all the time and that she will only fight seriously if it is an official duel she is involved in.
    • Both Suika Ibuki and Yuugi Hoshiguma intentionally only use a small amount of their immense strength when battling. This is both because they're Boisterous Bruisers that are far more interested in fighting a Worthy Opponent than in actually winning, and also because they are powerful enough to tear apart mountains with their bare hands.
    • Yukari Yakumo is a heavy candidate for the most powerful denizen of Gensoukyou, being stated to have enough power to easily destroy the setting, yet manages to put up challenging yet doable fights in the games. The fact that she usually prefers to manipulate people into doing what she wants and that she's also really lazy probably influences how much power she uses during fights, too.
    • Tenshi Hinanawi, a celestial, was defeated by almost every character in Scarlet Weather Rhapsody in their respective scenarios, but in those scenarios, she was holding back her real power in her battles on purpose, because due to being a celestial, she wasn't supposed to fight with people from the lower world, like the people and Youkai in Gensokyo, and even then, she was just bored, so she let them win. Cue Tenshi's scenario, where she wasn't holding back her real power, and she proved it by defeating each opponent she faced, including Reimu.
    • In Ten Desires, Yuyuko Saigyouji, the final boss in Perfect Cherry Blossom is the first boss in this game, and she isn't trying to fight seriously. This time her purpose was helping the heroines, even if she gives a little spellcard practice before giving hints to follow the clues behind the incident.
    • Before the spellcard system in the Windows games, Rikako Asakura from PC-98 exclusive Phantasmagoria of Dim. Dream was this. According to the victory quotes of other characters, she's magically talented and could probably wipe the floor with whoever she wanted... but she'd rather do science than magic, and shuns magic entirely. This gets her branded a heretic, and confuses the hell out of the scientists who came to Gensokyo to study magic.
  • Undertale
    • Both Toriel and Asgore are listed as having 80 ATK and DEF, values surpassed only by the No Mercy route superbosses. But Toriel doesn't actually want to hurt you — neither does Asgore, for that matter — and a monster's strength is directly proportional to its Killing Intent.
    • The True Final Boss, Asriel, is listed as having infinite attack power, which should logically mean that he could instantly end the fight. Once again, though, he's implied to be subconsciously holding back because, deep down, he doesn't really want to hurt the player.
    • It is implied that Papyrus is actually much stronger than his fight with you would imply but is holding back because he is simply too nice to hurt you (When he defeats you it ends in a capture rather than an actual Game Over). CHECKing his stats shows that he's actually the third strongest character in the entire game (just below Toriel and Asgore). Undyne even remarks that the only reason she won't make him a Royal Guard is that she's afraid he won't want to fight back against an enemy that's trying to hurt him, resulting in him getting "ripped into little smiling shreds".
      • If you start a No Mercy run but end it by sparing Papyrus, you never actually fight him, which changes some of his dialogue during the date/hangout sequence. Checking his box of attacks hints that he can use the same Gaster Blasters used by the most difficult boss in the game. Considering that said most difficult boss is Sans, Papyrus's brother; a character who is noted to actually have extremely weak stats, but is a formidable foe exactly because he does not hold back at all against the player in his boss fight and even cheats by subverting several turn-based RPG conventions during the fight, one has got to wonder what Papyrus, who has much better stats, would look like if sufficiently angered...
  • The World Ends with You:
    • Joshua is not a very good fighter at first, but then you find out that all along, he's been able to shoot beams of angels out of his phone... he just chose not to. Because he doesn't like working up a sweat. He's actually the Composer, the most powerful person below the divine plane, and apart from just being The Load instead of pulling his own weight, he's limiting his power by a lot more for plot-related reasons.
    • The player (as in, the one holding the DS) can also do this, intentionally lower one's level in exchange for a higher drop rate.

    Visual Novels 
  • Arcueid from Tsukihime is quite possibly the most powerful being in the world. She has insane strength, speed, and power. She can cause anything possible within the rules of the world to happen with a mere thought. However, she has to devote most of her power to suppressing her Vampire bloodlust. If she was ever to release herself and use her powers to the fullest, she'd become an insanely powerful monster that kills everything in sight.

    Web Comics 
  • Aerynn from Electric Wonderland practices a brand of magic that no one else in Cyberspace can do, and often feels too scared to use it to its full potential. Considering how much she doesn't mind doing (transforming her teammates, teleporting enemies, using Hammerspace to sneak her boss past security, the list goes on and on), one can only imagine what powers she doesn't want to use.
  • In El Goonish Shive, Mr. Raven is half immortal and very powerful — but not allowed to interfere with mortal events. Mostly. Unless you're stupid enough to press his Berserk Button.
    • Grace! She's an atrociously powerful alien hybrid, and a kindhearted pacifist. She has to study martial arts with Sensei Greg so she can fight non-lethally. (Although there's another side to this: the chief difficulty in persuading her to study this wasn't convincing her she might never choose to fight, but that she might fight without the goal of efficiently killing her opponent... which she's already equipped for.)
  • My School Life Pretending To Be A Worthless Person takes place in an Alternate History where people are able to summon weapons called Edeya that are linked to their souls. The main character is a guy who gets kicked around by his classmates because his Edeya is a dagger of the weakest rank... only to turn out that he heavily holds back because his true Edeya is a top-rank dagger that heavily boosts his physical skills and turns him into a psychopathic killer who will murder anyone in front of him.

    Web Original 
  • In C0DA, it is implied from the start that Jubal has achieved CHIM, an ultimate Story-Breaker Power. However, he doesn't use it to defeat Numidium, as he doesn't want to appear to cheat in his Engagement Challenge. An example of what he is capable of when not holding back occurs when he is attacked by a horde of Morag Tong assassins and Hlaalu Hir. He crushes them all with minimal effort.
  • Lampshaded in Dragon Ball Z Abridged, during the battle between Piccolo and Freeza:
    Piccolo: Don't think you have the upper hand yet. I'm still wearing weighted armor!
    Freeza: Weighted armor? How quaint. And how much does it weigh?
    Piccolo: Same as it always does: one hundred kilo—
    [Freeza grins]
    Piccolo: ...Oh.
    Freeza: That's just cute!
    Piccolo: That concept just sort of lost meaning after a while, didn't it?
  • Tennyo, in the Whateley Universe, is doing this now. Over Christmas, when she went all out to save her family, she ripped a hole in space-time which kept getting bigger, and she shredded an auditorium with her Reality Warper abilities, and she made a huge area radioactive too. Oops. So she's deliberately toning it down now.

    Western Animation 
  • In the Gargoyles episode "Ill Met By Moonlight," Oberon applies this trope to himself while hunting the Avalon Clan. As Goliath points out, he is still as powerful as any of the Third Race, and that's still extremely powerful. In fact, they are totally helpless against his magic and get a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown when he uses hand-to-hand against them. He is then defeated by the ringing of an iron bell.
  • Justice League Unlimited:
    • There's The Flash's secondary ability, which you almost never see: he can vibrate at an incredibly fast rate, creating an unstable resonance. When he ends up swapping bodies with Luthor, Luthor uses this ability without restraint in order to blow up huge areas of the Tower.
    • The Flash can also accelerate up to light speed if the situation is dire enough and he literally transforms into the thunderbolt that is his superhero symbol. It's clear why he normally doesn't: Just running down streets basically causes them to explode from the shockwave, causing untold amounts of damage. It also turns out to be very dangerous to him, so he vows that he can never do it again after the first time.
    • In his "No More Holding Back" Speech, Superman explains that he has to be this nearly all the time, because he is so immensely powerful that he has to take extra care not to break the world around him. But since Darkseid can take his strength, he doesn't need to screw around anymore.
  • Princess Celestia in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is always portrayed as being extremely powerful; one of her royal duties is raising the sun, which according to The Journal of the Two Sisters used to take whole teams of unicorn wizards working together, and would often have disastrous side effects. Even so, the episode "A Royal Problem" implies that Celestia holds back considerably because she's actually afraid of just how dangerous she could be if she let herself go.
  • In Harley Quinn (2019) Clayface is capable of growing into a superstrong giant, but chooses to use his shapeshifting only to enhance his highly questionable acting skills. He only does it when mind controlled into attacking Harley, who's quite irritated to learn the least competent member of her crew had this ability the whole time.
  • In Season 5 of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, Netossa reveals to everyone that Perfuma can be considered the strongest of all the princesses because of her ability to control and utilize all plant-life. But she willingly holds herself back due to her overwhelming fear of hurting the ones she cares about if she were to go all out with her powers.
    Perfuma: Some might say that's a positive quality...
    Netossa: It's not.
  • In The Venture Bros., this is stated to be one of the reasons Brock Sampson doesn't typically use firearms. While it's partly because he prefers murdering with knives, it's also because he prefers to deliberately limit his weaponry to prevent escalating conflict with the Guild so they won't pull out anything more dangerous. In situations where he's actively outgunned he will try to find a gun.

    Real Life 
  • Germany is this considering its population could support a much larger army, and it could have nukes in a week if it wanted to. This is because the United States included Germany in its security umbrella and gave the German economy access to the massive U.S. market in order to remove any reason it could have for attempting to change the European status quo again.
  • Japan has become this due to the aftermath of World War II, a combination of limitations on their military enforced by other nations and the aversion their populace has to a more martial lean after the devastation the war wrought on them.
  • Myke Tyson, of all people, could have been this as a child. The book "Momentos Trágicos del deporte" (tragic moments in sports) describes him letting people push him around and going home crying for being bullied. That kept going on until the day somebody thought it was a good idea to mess with his pigeons and made him burst into a fighting machine.
  • Some hunters prefer to use bows because it's the "old-fashioned way", varying from super-modern bows with crazy sights and razor arrows, to old fashion wood and string with feather-fletched arrows.
  • Chinese renminbi. The government enforces that the exchange rate of renminbi is lower than its real value. The purpose is to make Chinese goods very cheap when exported. So far it has been super effective. It's also so they can make sure the money in the hands of their populace (from what little wage they make) is practically worthless and has no buying power.
  • Some martial arts, like Tai Chi, has this. Tai Chi practitioners generally limit themselves to slow, graceful movements that look more like dance than art. This has the advantage of helping to improve form, enhance mastery and even help condition the body as very slow movements are harder to do than fast or regular movements (for reference, try taking 2 minutes to sit down and stand up instead of 2 seconds). When it's time to get serious, though, Tai Chi masters are a wonder to behold.
    • Many martial arts have been created directly for the battlefield and had to be "softened" so as to be taught and have tournaments without risking maiming and killing the opponent-something that could easily happen even with the normal techniques if they weren't greatly controlled. Just look at the classic Judo Ippon Seoi Nage and imagine it being used against an unsuspecting opponent on hard concrete and not on a softened mat...
  • Miyamoto Musashi routinely fought duels with a wooden sword against opponents with live steel.
  • When a team in the National Football League wins enough games to clinch the top playoff seed in their conference before their last game of the season, it is a common tactic to bench their starters and play the remainder of their regular-season games with second or third-string players. This is done to avoid unnecessary injury to their starting lineup in games that are technically irrelevant.
  • This is the entire concept of "minimum force", as defined by the US and Canadian military. The goal is to use the least amount of force possible, be it verbal, physical, armed, or even lethal, to bring a situation under control or to defend against a hostile act or a hostile intent. If something as "weak" as simply telling a belligerent to back down or leave works, then that's the most amount of force necessary and all actions cease — opening fire is the absolute last resort.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Wilfully Weak


Batman V Superman - Stay down!

Clark is clearly using kid gloves in his fight with Bruce, since he doesn't want to fight.

How well does it match the trope?

3.78 (9 votes)

Example of:

Main / WillfullyWeak

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