Combat Pragmatist

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
"Only a heathen would bring a gun to a sword fight." "Only a moron would bring a sword to a gun fight."

Will Turner: You ignored the rules of engagement. In a fair fight, I'd kill you.
Jack Sparrow: Then that's not much incentive for me to fight fair, now is it?

Some fights have rules. Most don't. However, a lot of people will still fight as though there are rules.


The Combat Pragmatist is a character who is defined by his or her willingness to do anything in a fight to win.

This typically applies to "real" fights where there's actually something at stake that's more important than a cash prize, a trophy, or a title belt, and usually not professional fights in a controlled environment where safeguards are in place to prevent one side from suffering too much damage and where one can be disqualified for not abiding by the rules (though pragmatists in these types of fights are far from non-existent).

These characters are Dangerously Genre Savvy. They are characterized by an extensive knowledge of tactics others may consider "dirty" fighting or just by a willingness to use those tactics to achieve their goal, often against more "honorable" opponents (i.e. Genre Blind ones). They are likely to think of any adherence to rules or sporting combat as Honor Before Reason

They do not suffer from a Complexity Addiction, are never afraid to use a Mundane Solution (nor do they need it to be pointed out to them), never assume that the other person will fight "honorably", have no interest in a Self-Imposed Challenge, don't care if their opponent is a worthy one, and will not hesitate to Kick Them While They Are Down. They almost always have their Weapon of Choice either on them or near them at all times. If not they're willing to use absolutely anything as a weapon and only resort to Good Old Fisticuffs if there's no weapon nearby.

They won't hesitate to use a Dangerous Forbidden Technique. They have no compunctions to striking a woman or a child. Or hitting a guy in the crotch (they also know that women are really just as vulnerable to groin attacks as men are). Or about attacking someone from behind. Or throwing sand in their eyes. Or pulling down their pants (or flipping up their skirts if dealing with women). Or the "Hey You!" Haymaker. Or biting them. Or pretending to surrender. Or... well, you get the idea. However, there can be different levels of this. Even those who don't believe in fighting fair may still have lines they won't cross, such as refusing to kill.

These characters frequently turn out to be Badasses, Antiheroes, and Rebellious Spirits. Ninja are almost invariably these, with most exceptions belonging to the highly visible variety. Definitely not the Knight in Shining Armor. They never suffer from Honor Before Reason or Death By Pragmatism. Sometimes Weak but Skilled or Too Clever by Half, though the truly pragmatic former will constantly seek to increase his power level and hence advantage over his enemies. It can look like Confusion Fu in practice—but it almost always isn't. If The Unfettered fights, then he'll be one of these.

This can be a Establishing Character Moment. It can also be a Base Breaker, both among the audience and In-Universe, due to Moral Myopia - the hero is a resourceful Badass, while the villain is just a dirty cheater. This can lead to instances of Black and Grey Morality, showing that the hero and the villain are Not So Different, and the difference between someone being a terrorist or a freedom fighter. For heroes, it's possible for these tactics, if extreme enough, to lead to What the Hell, Hero? moments or claims of If You Kill Him You Will Be Just Like Him, sometimes resulting in responses of I Did What I Had to Do, and in extreme cases, can represent the start or conclusion of a Face Heel Turn.

Villains can also be pragmatic, though it usually takes on a different form. Villains being normal Combat Pragmatists is usually averted, or at least not played out completely straight, as it makes them Dangerously Genre Savvy and can possibly even lead to them being victorious. If they are, it means they avert Bond Villain Stupidity and actually kill the hero instead of having dinner with him. Depending on the context, using these tactics can be their Kick the Dog moment, the sign of a Complete Monster, or even their crossing of the Moral Event Horizon.

Characters are often deliberately not put into this trope due to Rule of Cool. If everyone took this approach to combat who could, key characters would be dead or defeated too soon and the story would be over a little too quickly. Plus, it's often just way cooler to show off more complicated tactics than simple ones. Additionally, Moral Guardians and Media Watchdogs sometimes make having this type of character difficult by ensuring that they can't do certain actions. On the other hand, when drawn-out straight fights are impractical, excitement can be created by Genre Shift away from pure action to espionage, planning, intrigue and the thrill of the hunt, with clever heroes and villains alike who avoid the Idiot Ball and unnecessary flash.

Often overlaps with Awesome Yet Practical but not always.

Not to be confused with Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?

WARNING! There are unmarked Spoilers ahead. Beware.

Examples of Combat Pragmatist are listed on these subpages: