Good Old Fisticuffs

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Can't get more Old School than that.

Ah, the Fight Scene: Noble sport and elegant artform that elevates two combatants through ritualized combat, proving their worth as human beings by savagely beating each other upside the head with 2x4's or whatever else they can get their grubby little paws on. No matter what the censors say, nothing beats a savage beatdown. Or does it?

Cue the entrance of Kung Fu, Savate, and other more choreograph-able fighting styles. What? So now, only monks and French dudes can kick ass? (don't even mention Gun Kata). What's a Bare-Fisted Monk who trained on the mean street of the City with No Name to do? Punch 'em with Good Old Fisticuffs, of course!

Some films insist that their Average Joe, didn't-train-in-Tibet-or-live-in-a-French-ghetto hero can upstage and beat any fighting style because his rough and tumble streetwise fisticuffs is either more resourceful, more tenacious or less "frilly" than the competition. Never mind that their opponents weren't exactly studying ballet, and usually have years of training over the hero. For this same reason, the hero will usually beat them by outsmarting them into either being Hoist by His Own Petard or a Karmic Death. If any explanation is given for why this disparity always goes in the hero's favor, it's because the hero has "heart" while his opponent is more obsessed with good form, or is all flash and no substance.

While it may seem at first sight to be only about fighting with your fists (as in Real Life Boxing is considered a proper and deadly martial art), this trope go more in hand with learning to fight in the "hard way": by pure and constant brawling for your life and limb in dirty streets and harsh experience; no nonsense of training and mock battles, is either live or die (or be brutally beaten) and do whatever it takes to keep breathing. It doesn't matter what you use for a fight as long is emphasized that the person had to crawl for the gutter to get where he is, puts weight in his/her mind and cunning, is ready to do anything to win and had seen his/her fair share of fights.

See Trying to Catch Me Fighting Dirty and Combat Pragmatist. If the hero (or the villain) is a threat not because of technique but innate Gifts like unnatural damage-soaking abilities, he is probably Unskilled but Strong.

Examples of Good Old Fisticuffs include:


Anime and Manga

  • Ikki Takeda "The Puncher" in Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple is a boxer who frequently matches up with martial artists. Although he twice lost matches against Kenichi, the first match he was only using one hand and the second match was stopped by his trainer. He later does much of his training in the underground fighting rings, where he goes against people of all sorts of fighting styles and wins with his fists.
    • Berserker is noted to have never taken any formal training: his raw talent is so good that he can routinely beat even highly skilled martial artists with his street fighting skills. He is eventually defeated by Tanimoto, who claims that Hard Work Hardly Works is a big, fat lie upon winning.
  • Subverted in Rurouni Kenshin, where Sanosuke, a brawler who gets by with Charles Atlas Superpower and Made of Iron challenges Saito to a fist fight. Saito creams him with far better boxing technique.
    • And played straight many, many times as well such as when he goes against opponent using strikes to the vital points. In so many words Sanosuke tells him to stop messing about and just give him a good hard slug already. When the opponent fails to comply, Sano obligingly demonstrates how it is done.
  • Interesting Manga-example from Black God is Kuro. Kuro, a Mototsumitama, is often frowned upon for using boxing, a human fighting style, when she fights. Which is funny because she usually wins.
  • Armstrong from Fullmetal Alchemist uses fisticuffs with a side order of alchemy.
  • As Negi's fight with Rakan in Mahou Sensei Negima nears its close Negi and Jack start running out of magic energy and the battle turns into a fistfight. It sounds like an Anticlimax, but it is much better than it sounds.
    • Same thing happens in Fairy Tail in Erza's fight with Erza. Both are barely able to stand after their previous last-ditch attack smashed each other's weapons, so they resort to slugging it out.
  • Jet Black from Cowboy Bebop is able to regularly defeat armed, multiple or better trained opponents by utilizing his own brutal brand of pugilism. In one instance he is able to overcome a ruthless and feared Syndicate assassin with a well timed head-butt to the face.
    • There's also Andy, who was able to stand up to Spike without any apparent martial arts training.
  • Digimon's fifth season plays with this. It turns out the most effective fighters are the ones with the greatest understanding of their abilities. Whether they figured it out for themselves the hard way or needed to go through rigorous training to understand are just means to an end. 3/4ths of the main casts are forced into training.
  • In what has to be the single most amazing example of this trope, space combat in Outlaw Star. Yes, space combat. Ship-to-ship combat involves punching the other ship into submission.
  • And again, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann pulls yet another trope out, as the second movie, Lagann-hen, ends with Simon and the Anti-Spiral King just beating the fucking hell out of each other. In a similar way, Lordgenome and Simon finish their fight like this as well, but at least there, Simon has Lagann.
    • This appears to be Lordgenome's preferred method of fighting, with or without his Humongous Mecha. When using Lazengann, he likes to beat the snot out of his opponents with black-belt level moves, and with no weapons whatsoever (save for drill tendrils). It's probably why he can fistfight against Simon and Lagann once Lazengann gets thrashed.
  • One of the reasons Pretty Cure has a larger adult male Periphery Demographic than most other Magical Girl series. Transforming not only gives the Cures Frills of Justice and automatically-memorized In the Name of the Moon speeches, but also Super Strength and the ability to jump ridiculously high, so they usually spend the majority of a fight scene beating the snot out of the Monster of the Week with their bare fists and pull out the magical attacks as a Finishing Move only.
  • In Soul Eater, after all the anti-magic, enchanted weaponry, suicidal spirit-attacks and what-have-you the protagonists throw at the Big Bad fail to even scratch him, he is finally defeated with a perfectly ordinary slug to the face.
  • In Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha and its sequels, Arf, Zafira and Reinforce uses unarmed combat in melee, unlike most characters who rely on weapons. This carries over to The Battle of Aces, though not for Arf until Gears of Destiny. It should be noted, though, that the first two do use kicks as well. By ViVid the existence of Strike Arts and Kaiser Arts speaks of formalised martial arts coming into play.
    • Something should be emphasized here. Reinforce punches through Nanoha's magical shield with her bare hands, only using the Elemental Punch afterwards.
  • Joey/Jonouchi used to be quite the street punk near the beginning of Yu-Gi-Oh!, and he got into fistfights a lot. Sometimes these fight happened for no reason, other times it was to defend Yugi... but he proves himself to be a badass who can break jaws and noses with a swift punch to the face. Some of the earlier "games" even involved him beating the crap out of people for the sake of friendship/revenge. As Duel Monsters became more important to the plot, he stopped getting into fights altogether, which he even lampshades in Yu-Gi-Oh! R.
  • Played with in Holyland. Most fighters have some martial arts training as a base, even if they adapt it to the needs of the street, and effectiveness varies. The closest ones to styleless brawling uncramped by martial arts training are Yuu and Katou, although neither sticks to just hands; Yuu eventually uses kicks and elbows, while Katou uses knees (to the groin), headbutts and takedowns.
  • Minai from Corpse Princess. In the DVD exlusive prequel episode, when Minai is asked if she has any fighting skills after becoming a Shikabane Hime, she says she knows some boxing, which becomes her fighting style against Shikabane.
  • Tawara Bunshichi from Tenjho Tenge definitely qualifies. He is the only character in the series who doesn't have any special powers or utilizes some style of martial arts, preferring to simply punch the living hell out of his opponents on the rare occasions when he actually fights. And he fights so rarely because most everyone else is usually scared shitless of him.
  • Sure, Monkey D. Luffy from One Piece trained all right, but so far his official training was only shown to be survival training and endurance- Garp was never shown teaching him any hand-to-hand combat. Luffy apparently got strong from brawls with his two older brothers and his Rubber Man powers he obtained in early childhood gave him durability. But, it's implied by Oda that the only technique he worked on as a child was the Gum Gum Pistol, (although a recent anime filler showed him practicing his Fuusen technique, too) and confirmed by Word of God that he doesn't train, but comes up with attacks on the spot; his most commonly used ones involving the ol' fists.
    • He also plays the trope pretty straight, beating highly trained Martial artists who have been taught several different and deadly techniques since a young age (the very first Gum Gum Jet Bazooka and Gum Gum Jet Gatling, anyone?). And in Rob Lucci's defeat with the Jet Gatling, it was even because Luffy had more heart and determination than him. Also, as a child, he lived with bandits and played in a Trash Mountain, and eating or getting money meant beating/killing animals and thugs or being beaten/killed.
  • A Certain Magical Index: Other than an Anti-Magic fist, Touma Kamijou relies primarily on this fighting style. It serves him well because most enemies are reliant on their powers and don't know how to fight. However, if he faces an opponent who knows martial arts, he has a much tougher time.
  • From the prologue of All Rounder Meguru: "The truth is, experienced fighting will beat out half assed karate any time, especially when the other guys are older." Even after the timeskip, Takashi gets his ass kicked by an ex-boxer bodyguard.
  • This trope shows up in, of all places, Fist of the North Star. In an anime all about glorifying ages-old (fictional) martial arts schools with legendary histories, Juza uses a completely made-up-himself style that allows him to fight Raoh on a nearly equal basis. Sure, he also has Charles Atlas Superpowers, but almost everyone and their dog has that in the Fist of the North Star-verse.

Comic Books

  • Gotham Central features this as a frequent necessity since, though a comic book set in the world of Batman, none of the characters are superheroes in any way, shape or form. As such, they are often forced to face off against "freaks" (supervillains) with only regular guns or, sometimes, just their bare hands. When Dr. Alchemy, a Flash villain, is brought to Gotham City and tries to escape, Renee Montoya is forced to beat him down with her bare hands after he turns all guns and metals in the room into poisonous and noxious elements (His name is Dr. Alchemy, he can do stuff like that). Once she manages to drop him to the floor she keeps going (Some say Police Brutality, others say...well, others also say Police Brutality, but he really deserved it), and did it all despite the fact that he was armed with some bizarre alchemical superweapon.
  • A storyline in the Robin comic book had him fighting Cassandra Cain, formerly the second Batgirl, who had just revealed that she'd made a Face Heel Turn. Robin manages to defeat Cassandra, who had received Training from Hell to learn how to predict opponents' moves by looking at them, by deliberately attacking her wildly with no style or forethought. Since Cassandra's "powers" should have been able to handle something like that easily, this is one of the many reasons this storyline became Canon Discontinuity almost immediately.
  • The comic Preacher (Comic Book) inverts this trope. While protagonist Jesse Custer does not know fancy martial arts, he knows how to fistfight, and also how to fight dirty. Over the course of the series he brawls with, and curbstomps, both armed opponents and people who are much larger and stronger than he is because he knows how to fight and they don't.
  • Sin City, Marv VS Kevin.
    • Although Marv didn't just rely on his fists. He handcuffed Kevin to himself, which cramped Kevin's medium-range fighting style.
  • In a 1970's issue of The Flash, a robot Abraham Lincoln from the future beats an Evil Overlord (also from the future) via the use of good old fashioned 19th Century wrestling.
    • Which is similar to this quote from Tales From the Bully Pulpit:
  • The comic Hard Graft features a main character whose main purpose in life appears to be using Good Old Fisticuffs to beat people down.
  • At least twice in Green Lantern, once during the Sinestro corps war with Hal and Kyle taking on Sinestro all depowered
    • and again between Kyle and Sinestro alone. The rings even say that fisticuffs are engaged.
  • Despite not having any martial training and being rather small in size, Tintin often beats people in physical confrontations. One of the best examples is from The Black Island:

Puschov:*sweeps Tintin onto the ground* Yeah, pal, that's jiu-jitsu!
Tintin: And this is a kick in the chest!


  • Blood on the Sun with Jimmy Cagney vs. a judoka, so it may be considered Older Than Television.
  • It even turned up in that bodyswitch comedy with George Burns. (Frat Jerk Jock sees hero with girlfriend. Hero asks "sorry, did you want to dance?" Frat Jerk says 'no', and does a spinkick/badass pose. Hero: "I thought you said you didn't want to dance!", then fights him old-school fisticuffs style.)
  • Subverted in O Brother, Where Art Thou??, as George Clooney's character, a dirty criminal, tries to brawl with his wife's suitor, a weasly politician. Armed with a comically old-fashioned fisticuffs style, the suitor defeats Clooney in short order. Ironically for this trope, the "fancy" fighting style is literally "old fisticuffs."
  • In Lethal Weapon 4, Jet Li uses his polished wushu style to brutalize both Riggs and Murtau until they ultimately defeat him with their less flashy fighting styles and ultimately a Kalashnikov automatic rifle. Riggs was portrayed as an elite martial artist in the first film's more realistic fight scenes, but by the fourth movie he too was "getting too old for this shit."
  • The film Marlowe starring James Garner also had a scene fitting this trope. Bruce Lee is sent to Garner's office in an attempt to beat the snot out of him. Lee jump kicks a ceiling light to demonstrate his prowess. Garner makes a couple snarky remarks and runs out of the room and heads up to the roof with Lee following him. Garner is caught near the edge of the roof when he tells Lee something along the lines of how good a dancer he is. Lee gets angry, does a flying kick which Garner ducks out of the way, and ends up flying off the roof to presumably his death on the street below. In later interviews, Garner made the claim he was the only person to beat Bruce Lee in a filmed fight.
  • Turns up in, of all places, the Bruce Lee film Way of the Dragon, in which the Chinese restaurant staff all train in karate before getting the crap knocked out of them by the local thugs. Given that Bruce then uses kung fu to annihilate the thugs, this was probably intended as a Take That aimed at Japan (as Fist of Fury more blatantly was).
  • The final fight scene in Ridley Scott's Black Rain. Michael Douglas' smartass cop squares off with karate-using villain (who thankfully is too smart to pull off any fancy stuff and is quite happy to use simple but effective strikes) and mostly gets beaten around... until he digs a finger into villain's fresh wound, crippling him with pain and then administering a beating.
  • In The Matrix, Agent Smith's fighting style is much less flashy than the styles of traditional martial arts used by the hackers. Although Morpheus states that it's suicide to fight the Agents, it's more a case of their superior strength and speed than their style.
  • Shanghai Noon: "I don't know karate but I know kah-razy!" (with apologies to James Brown).
  • The Speed Racer film adaption has a partial example: while everyone else was Kung Fu fighting, Pops was able to beat the crap out of a ninja with (professional) wrestling moves.
  • Fight Club shows us how the solution to the stresses of modern day society is a good round of pit-style fisticuffs.
  • Subverted in Dutch, in which Dutch (Ed O'Neil), using his self-described "good old, all-American street fighting" is beaten up by an adolescent who holds a "high brown belt." However, Dutch also teaches the boy to throw a proper punch, which he uses to good effect.
  • In Never Back Down, a streetwise MMA brawler faces a practitioner of capoeira, the Brazilian art of dance-fighting. Before the fight, the capoeirista grandstands with some flashy acrobatics and then gets knocked out with a single punch.
  • In the Bridget Jones movies, Mark Darcy and Daniel Cleaver get to do it twice. The former's a lawyer, the latter a tv reporter, so this leads to the most pathetic fight scenes in the history of men's fight scenes that still manage to be a Crowning Moment of Awesome.
  • Averted in An Officer and a Gentleman when Zack fights Sgt. Foley. While Zack is a skilled fighter who learned streetwise fisticuffs, Foley - the self-defense instructor with kung fu expertise - eventually defeats him.
  • Averted in Avatar. In the one moment when they come to blows, Proud Warrior Race Guy Tsu'tey is knocked on his ass in two seconds by Marine-trained Jake.
  • Ninja Assassin usually completely averts this trope; most normal people die when they are in a ninjas arm length, without even having the chance to fight back. Except for a big, Badass London Gangster, who is the protagonists first target. The protagonist, a ninja himself, stabs him in the neck, which just pisses the gangster off. The man then beats the shit out of the protagonist and smashes him through some dividing walls, and even keeps fighting after he gets stabbed some more. In the end, he is defeated nevertheless when the protagonist smashes his weakened opponents head repeatedly against a toilet bowl. It should be noted that the protagonist was not only one of the best ninjas, he also had the element of surprise and a weapon, yet was nearly defeated.
  • In Ip Man 2, the Twister is a Western boxer who thus far has done the best against Ip, managing to knock him down several times. That he can keep up in speed while having superior damage-soaking and -dealing helps, of course. Subverted earlier on with Wong Leung and his friends, though, whose street fighting gets stomped by Ip's Wing Chun.
  • Inverted in Fatal Contact. In this fight scene, the stereotypical Western boxer gets utterly stomped without landing a single hit, while the other two exponents' more stylised moves prove more effective.
  • Freddie tries to bring Michael Myers down with his fists in Halloween: Resurrection. Surprisingly, Freddie actually survives this encounter.
  • In Back to The Future III, after Marty has averted the gunfight with Buford Tannen, he clobbers Buford with a stove door and pummels him with his fists, defeating him and delivering his comeupance in manure.
  • In a classic tribute to this trope, in Rio, a marmoset strikes several kung fu poses, only for Raphael to reach over and give him a smart rap on the head with his beak.
  • Played for Laughs in the sequel to Johnny English. English is going after a Hong Kong triad who is parkouring his way through the rooftops. English simply opens doors, crams through tight spots, and rides the elevator after him. When he has the villain corner, he watches as martial artist displays acrobatic kicks and flips before taking him out with a quick Groin Attack and a few other hilariously pragmatic moves.
  • The bareknuckle fights in Snatch.
  • At the beginning (ending) of Lolita, Humbert confronts Quilty over his stealing Lolita from him. Quilty, a drunken wreck, initially proposes talking things out over a game of ping pong, then putting on boxing gloves for man-to-man fighting. Humbert, with a gun, has different ideas.
  • In Lord Love A Duck, Alan (Roddy Mc Dowall) is loudly disrupting couples at Lover's Lane, and angers a huge muscleman. Alan affects an old-timey 'fisticuffs' position, muscleman gleefully goes in for the kill, and Alan beats the stuffings out of him.
  • A pugilism match (read: street brawl) is the climax of The Quiet Man. The townspeople continually remind the combatants that "the Marquis of Queensbury Rules will be observed at all times."
  • In the recent movie Sherlock Holmes, Holmes engages in a pugilism match. Watson is also shown to be a decent bare-knuckle boxer.


  • In Discworld:
    • The contrast between the Silver Horde and the various stereotypical "ninja" bodyguards/assassins they dispatch in the book Interesting Times. The Silver Horde are just barbarian brawlers, but they've had a lot of time to become quite good at it.
    • In The Fifth Elephant, Carrot tries to use a Marquis of Queensberry Fantailler combat style against a werewolf, who nearly kills him. (May or may not have been a Batman Gambit to cause a rival to perform a Heroic Sacrifice.)
    • This entire trope is lampshaded in Discworld: Marquis of Fantailler (A thinly-hidden parody of the Marquis of Queensberry) wrote "a list of rules on the manly art of pugilism, mostly concerning places you were not allowed to hit him." Obeying these rules is an accepted form of suicide. This is opposed to the actual street combat mentioned in the series.
    • Otto von Chriek then subverts it in The Truth, when he proves that good old fisticuffs can be quite deadly if powered by supernatural strength.
  • In Thomas Pynchon's Mason & Dixon, Mason is menaced in his nightmares by a Knife Nut. After being councelled in the matter by a Malay medicine man, he defeats his dream-foe through the Gloucestershire tradition of kicking him in the shins.
  • Played straight in the Dunk & Egg tales (prequels to the main story of A Song of Ice and Fire). Dunk is only a fair swordsman, but he is also quite tall, strong, and an experienced streetfighter. When a more skilled swordsman gets the better of him, he tends to grab hold of him and start tossing him around like a ragdoll.
  • Subverted by Sherlock Holmes, who is a trained boxer and martial artist, and in one story uses gentlemanly fisticuffs to beat the everloving crap out of a thug who thought he could discourage that skinny little twit with a swift (and unsporting) backhand. Holmes is a bit scuffed up but jovial after that brawl, while the other guy gets carried away in a cart.
  • Harry Potter, of all places. Wizards seem to consider hexing someone superior to just punching or shooting someone. However, that doesn't stop the Power Trio from slugging people (or getting slugged themselves).
    • Second book: Millicent Bulstrode chucks her wand and gets Hermione into a headlock.
    • Third book: Hermione slaps Malfoy.
      • Third Movie: Hermione punches Malfoy.
      • Third book and movie: Harry tackles Sirius before he even thinks of taking his wand out.
    • Fifth book: Malfoy insults Mrs. Weasley and Lily Potter after a less-than-stellar Quidditch performance from Gryffindor. Harry and George proceed to pound the shit out of him, and Fred has to be held back by the rest of the team. Professor McGonagall tells Harry and George off for fighting like Muggles.
    • Sixth book: Ron punches Harry for insulting Romilda Vane, who spiked the candy Ron ate with love potion (the candy was intended for Harry).
    • Seventh book: Huge magical battle. Curses flying everywhere, everything's bewitched, magical creatures are proceeding to demolish Hogwarts. Ron punches Malfoy.
      • Can't really forget when Hermione beats the crap out of Ron for a minute before she remembers that she's a witch and tries to hex him instead.
    • Rubeus Hagrid is also rather fond of this (him not being a fully qualified wizard likely has a lot to do with it). Though he does use magic on occasion, he's more apt to use the insane strength granted by his giant blood. Examples:
      • Book 4: When Igor Karkaroff insults Dumbledore and spits at his feet, Hagrid grabs the man, lifts him up into the air, and pins him to a tree. With one hand.
      • Book 5: When confronted by SIX ministry wizards, Hagrid uses brute force to school the lot of them. One of them was thrown around 10 feet into the air, and two others were KO'd with a single punch each.
      • Book 7: During the Battle of Hogwarts, Hagrid takes out Walden Macnair by throwing him clear across the Great Hall and into the wall on the opposite side. The man doesn't get up.
  • In Starfighters of Adumar, Cheriss ke Hanadi is a professional blastsword duelist, earning her money through tournaments and endorsements. Her style is described as rough, dirty, something half picked up in gutter duels, but since she wins most of the time she's still fairly popular. Blastsword duels often end in death, but there's still a degree of artistry. When she falls for Wedge Antilles and then realizes that he loves someone else, she tries to commit suicide by dueling until executed, but Wedge's wingman Wes steps in and challenges the duelist who's about to kill her. Wes completely sidesteps the dueling aspect and just beats the guy half to death with his fists. Mildly subverted there in that he knows his opponent would have beat him if they were dueling, so he gambled on being able to disarm the man.

"Forgot to mention. On some worlds people fight with their feet, too. Feet, hands, rocks, pure cussed willpower - they're warriors. You, you're just a dilettante."

  • Stephen R. Donaldson has it both ways in his thriller The Man Who Fought Alone. On the one hand, the protagonist's street brawling skills trump anything used by a martial artist under black belt rank, both because he fights dirty, and because according to Donaldson most martial arts emphasize intimidation over actual combat prowess so as to try and avoid a fight entirely (similarly to the distinction between Jaffa and human combat styles in Stargate.) On the other hand, the characters who've reached black belt actually know some pretty good moves, and combine them with a level of discipline he can't readily match. (It should be noted that Donaldson himself is a martial artist, and seems to know what he's talking about.)
  • Near the beginning of Royal Flash , Flashman witnesses an impromptu match between Otto von Bismarck and retired bareknuckle boxer John Gully. Gully dodges all of von Bismarck's punches until he is finally provoked into knocking the German down, demonstrating that there's more to boxing than wild swinging.
  • In The California Voodoo Game, the Awesome By Analysis villain winds up in a one-on-one fight with Dream Park's head of security. Although the villain's sophisticated martial arts training has always served him well in the game, Griffin is so furious at the man for murdering one of his trusted employees that he throws caution to the wind and tackles his opponent, pounding him so viciously without regard for his own injuries that his foe has no chance to utilize his fancy moves. "Two cats in a sack" is how the narrative describes it, and the villain proves the weaker cat.

Live-Action TV

  • The show Knight Rider, in its last season, featured a troop of ninjas as foes that, despite carrying the trademark weapons of their profession, were easily taken down by straightforward punches. Main Protagonist Michael, in a nice twist of irony, had claimed to be an expert in martial arts during the pilot episode.
    • Possibly subverted in said pilot episode as everyone who was about to beat the living daylights out of Michael laughed at the pansy's claim, then ended up more or less unconscious after flying out the bar's door. We, of course, never see the actual fight.
  • Conan O'Brien jokes that he fights like this on his show.
  • In Doctor Who, the First Doctor, a gray-haired old man beats a Roman assassin this way, then mentions how he used to be a boxing coach.
  • In the episode "Bounty Hunter" of My Name Is Earl, a bounty hunter trained in various martial arts attacks Joy, who fights informally with fisticuffs. It quickly turns into a Curb Stomp Battle. Given the trope page, you can guess for which side.
    • Joy: I watch a lot of Springer.
  • An episode of Charmed had an obnoxious wizard who looked down on regular people, challenge Paige's muggle boyfriend, Henry, to a duel for Paige's hand. The wizard thrashes Henry around with telekinesis, and teleports around the area to avoid counterattacks. Henry gives him a Hannibal Lecture about how he (the wizard) doesn't know anything about Paige, and just wants her for her beauty and to continue his bloodline. As Henry lists all the things Paige likes, proving that he actually pays attention to her, he walks up to the stunned and confused wizard and punches him out.
  • The final battle of Kamen Rider Kuuga starts with two superpowered beings with the potential to destroy the planet; as they wear each other down, they lose the energy to maintain their transformations, at which point it turns into a bare-knuckle slugfest between their normal human forms.
  • In Outlaws, a private detective is menaced by a martial artist. The detective knocks him out with one punch. It's understandable that the detective doesn't try martial arts himself, given that he's a former cowboy brought forward in time.
  • Subverted in the Cold Open of an episode of Magnum, P.I.. A triad member is meeting with a local to buy information. He makes a move that the local takes as a threat, and said local starts listing off all the martial arts styles he's beaten with Good Old Fisticuffs, then demands the triad guy's necklace. He hands it over, gets the information, then jabs him in the throat and kills him.


  • In "The Mission" by rapper Special Ed, Ed is a secret agent who, when guns and knives prove ineffective against a "5-foot-10 Black Belt Karate master", he defeats him by fighting in "Flatbush Style".
  • Professor Elemental steps into the ring in boxing gloves and his "fighting trousers" in the video for his song, "Fighting Trousers." Still wearing his trademark pith helmet and Sherlock Holmes pipe.

Tabletop Games

  • Exalted First Edition uses the Brawl Ability to cover untrained hand-to-hand combat, while the Martial Arts Ability covers refined unarmed combat along with just about everything else. Second Edition merged them into one Ability to make room for War, leading to an odd situation where anything that could punch or kick knew Martial Arts. This includes horses.
    • Exalted Second Edition has Solar Hero Style, essentially Good Old Fisticuffs the Supernatural Martial Art, eschewing the subtle metaphorical effects of other Supernatural Martial Arts in favor of just hitting things really hard.
      • And this being Exalted, it takes Good Old Fisticuffs Serial Escalation. There's one Charm that allows you to punch people through walls, and one to punch them into Hell. This, unsurprisingly, hurts a great deal.
  • Mildly subverted in the original DC Heroes RPG by Maifair Games and the system's reincarnation as Blood Of Heroes by Pulsar Games. The martial Arts skill could be taken as-is, or could simply be used to represent Him Fight Good - whether it's Iron Fist's intense training, or the otherwise physically slow Juggernaut's ability to hit all but the most agile of opponents with his hamfists, to use Marvel Comics examples (is that a Take That ?).
  • The Brawling skill in GURPS is for "unscientific unarmed combat". It is costs less to reach a high level than skills like Karate or Boxing but gives a smaller damage bonus.

Video Games

  • This is Joker's fighting style in Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, complete with the traditional pose.
  • Most of the combat in Zeno Clash. While some enemies use elaborate spin kicks and martial arts, Gant's unarmed fighting style essentially boils down to bashing his foes with his fists until they get dizzy, then smashing their skulls against his kneecaps.
  • In The Godfather: The Game, you as Aldo Trapani don't have any fancy evasive rolls in the style of Devil May Cry-esque "Stylish Action Games", Vacuum Hurricane Kicks, wrasslin' moves or Waif Fu-like flips a 90-pound girl might use, only simple punches, a lunging grab and maybe the occasional kick. Unfortunately, this means that you have trouble dealing with three or more enemies at once.
  • Of all games, Tekken has a few examples. In the original games, he various Jacks typically have "Brute Force" listed as their only style, and since they're all gigantic robots, it only makes sense. This started getting taken into overdrive with the newest games in the series, however, as we've had Lili, Miguel, and Alisa Bosconovitch introduced into the series. Just to sum up, Lili is a wealthy ballerina and Miguel is a Spaniard (both have no attributed styles), and Alisa . . . fights by detaching her own head and has friggin chainsaws on each arm!
  • At a meta level, you can consider fighting game players who train in arcades, repeatedly pitting themselves against targets that fight back, thus favouring Boring but Practical jabs and bread-and-butter combos. This contrasts with fighting game players who can use the home releases' training modes to perfect their knowledge of the moves against compliant dummies. Of course, who comes up tops when they square off is not set in stone. A home player may, having explored the depths of Awesome but Impractical, come to stand by the simple combos, while an arcade player can very well show his dominance by going flashy-like.
  • In Team Fortress 2 the Heavy's default melee weapons are simply his fists. Taunting with it kills any foes in front of him instantly.
  • City of Heroes recently gained the Street Justice powerset, which is all about this kind of fighting, as opposed to Martial Arts. Both sets have their strengths over the other.
  • Asura's main Ffighting style is all about this.
  • Tifa in Final Fantasy VII doesn't truly fight with her bare hands - the weapons she can equip are all gloves and gauntlets - but most of her attacks are punches, which is pretty remarkable in a game where many of the enemies are robots and other machines.
  • Juliet's father in Lollipop Chainsaw is, like his daughter, a zombie hunter, but doesn't need any weapon other than his bare hands.

Web Comics

Western Animation

  • Batman the Brave And The Bold applies this to a Wizard Duel. After stealing Dr. Fate's helmet, a villain claims "Ha! Without your helmet, you are defenseless"—only for Fate to end their mystical duel with a few well-placed punches to the face.
    • Also, Wildcat's entire raison d'etre.
  • In Transformers Armada Scavenger utilizes his bare fists against a sword-wielding opponent and wins. It probably helps that this opponent was a bumblebee and Scavenger himself is a Cool Old Guy, and a big one to boot.
  • In one episode of My Gym Partner's a Monkey, Jake gaining a "Mustache" inexplicably gives him 1337 skills with nunchucks, but Adam counters this by challenging to a round of fisticuffs. Subverted in that neither of them actually knows what comes next.
  • It's called Sokka style! Learn it!
  • Hilariously happens in American Dragon: Jake Long when Fu fights a magical hairless cat for an ancient jewel. The cat starts an acrobatic martial art move she declares to have learned in the Shaolin temple. Fu slugs her with a simple punch he learned at a bar in Bronx.
  • Subverted in ReBoot. Megabyte convinces Matrix to "fight like a real sprite" and toss his gun away for a fistfight. After the first punch sends Megabyte flying across the room he immediately resorts to his Wolverine Claws. Then Matrix receives AndrAIa's trident.
  • Terry McGinnis in Batman Beyond uses these over a formal karate fighting style his predecessor used having first learned to fight on the street. It later proves very useful against the Joker.

Real Life

  • Most "self defense" styles are basically Good Old Fisticuffs, avoiding flashier moves in favor of simple, "dirty" techniques designed to finish a fight quickly in realistic circumstances. Combatives taught to soldiers and police officers are also of this variety, though police officers tend to have a focus on restraining techniques. A notable example is Krav Maga, which was developed by the Israel Defense Forces. Its aim is to incapacitate whoever you're fighting as quickly as possible. That may or may not extend to killing them.
    • Also MCMAP (aka, wonderfully, "Semper Fu"), the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program, which brings together the basics of many different, simple, overall very effective martial arts to form a style that allows for non-lethal subduing of a target as well as lethal techniques. It was created so that Marines wouldn't always have to shoot somebody to resolve a situation.
  • A mixed bag in the sport of Mixed Martial Arts, which demystified most traditional martial arts and revealed them to be less effective than simple boxing and wrestling in a one-on-one fight. Being able to keep yourself at arms length from your opponent and knowing what to do when fighting on the ground did wonders in those early fights (about 75% of matches end up on the ground in some way). In early MMA bouts, many traditional martial artists quickly abandoned their styles' polished moves for wild haymakers and bull rushes. On the other hand, some traditional martial arts have proven effective in the sport, such as Muay Thai and wrestling, which are considered cornerstones of the sport.[1] The very specific reason that spinning back strikes are rare is inherent, the need to break line of sight and give up one's back just to build up velocity. Of course, like any sport there has to be some rules to protect real injury. Many practical ways to strike downed opponents are not legal and ramming opponents against objects like the provided metal cage are also illegal. Ultimately, the biggest contribution the sport has made is that no one technique is flawless and it encouraged fighters to at least learn the techniques of other styles in order to know how to combat them.
    • See this rare example where both fighters, Yves Edwards and Josh Thomson, attempt unorthodox techniques.
    • Many modern fighters have karate or taekwondo training in their backgrounds, though the styles and extent used in competition vary, with UFC light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida being the most overt example in MMA.
    • Machida vs. Shogun I on the other hand was an odd subversion of this trope, where at one point both fighters adopted traditional stances from their respective striking backgrounds. While many see Shogun as having won that fight, it should be noted that he had greatly adapted his style compared to his earlier days.
    • In addition, "flashier" moves such as flying knees, spinning back kicks or spinning back fists, and exotic BJJ holds sometimes prove effective in competition, but also can backfire if not properly used. For this reason, fighters usually stick to basic, less risky moves.
    • In one example, at UFC 107 Dutch heavyweight Stefan Struve attempted a flying knee, but misjudged the range—leaving an opening for Paul Buentello's right hand to knock him down in midair. The more unfortunate Andrei Arlovski had been using technically sound boxing to back Fedor Emelianenko into a corner, before his ill-timed flying knee led to a Fedor right-hand knockout, also midair.
    • Part of the reason that leg locks are rare in MMA are both the greater potential for sudden injury compared to other holds, but as Eddie Bravo (teaching a no-gi jiu-jitsu style called "10th Planet") pointed out, they're the only submission holds in grappling or MMA where both fighters can simultaneously attempt them.
  • In popular culture, ancient Eastern martial arts are often perceived as superior or more advanced than Western martial arts since they are preserved and practiced by far more people. In fact, historical Western martial arts were just as advanced and taken just as seriously as Eastern martial arts in their time. However, as technology changed, archaic Western styles were largely abandoned in favor of new styles, while archaic Eastern styles were preserved and transformed into cultural cornerstones. Even still, many traditional Western styles survive as sports, such as fencing, boxing, wrestling, and archery, just as Eastern styles survive as kendo, kickboxing, judo, sumo, etc.
    • As UFC heavyweight Frank Mir (with a kenpo background) noted however about traditional martial arts for competition, the key is whether or not one trains realistically.
      • Of course, when you train traditional martial arts realistically, they tend to look like Good Old Fisticuffs. There are, after all, only so many ways you can punch a person.
  • Second World War combatives (the Fairbairn-Sykes method) are the Combat Pragmatist and Glass Cannon of martial arts, focusing on attack (and on exploiting weaknesses in judo, which a lot of Nazis knew) and eschewing blocks and grappling. This approach sounds like hillbilly kung fu, but it works extremely well; the Good Old Fisticuffs part comes in with how one can learn Fairbairn combatives well enough to kill in a couple of blows in a matter of hours, not years, and without being in particularly good physical shape. (Modern U.S. Army combatives are not based on Fairbairn-Sykes, but are focused on grappling methods that allow the user to immobilize and capture his enemy. In Fairbairn-Sykes, by contrast, the only thing one does with a fallen enemy is kick them. Did I mention that this style scandalized Hitler?)
    • To quote Richard Dunlop: "All of us who were taught by Major Fairbairn soon realized that he had an honest dislike for anything that smacked of decency in fighting."
  • After Yom Kippur War, UN Peace Keepers of UNEF II were ordered to establish a Check Point on Kilometerpost 119 in Sinai. The area was controlled by Israel Defence Forces, who resisted the idea, but since the IDF soldiers were not authorized to open fire on UN and Peacekeepers were not allowed to fire unless fired to, the ownership of the post was decided with Good Old Fistcuffs.
  • The Philadelphia Flyers of the 1970's were known around the NHL as the "Broad Street Bullies" for their preferred method of playing hockey by way of fists and not sticks. Although many were critical of their behavior (especially those who preferred the style and elegance of hockey and hated seeing goonish play ruin it), it did get them back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in '74 and '75.
  • Uwe Boll once challenged his critics to back up their disparaging words by taking him on in the boxing ring. This did little to make people take him seriously; he was only too happy to actually follow up on this challenge against critics who barely knew which end of their fist was supposed to go against Boll's face, but he was unaccountably busy when those who had some kind of pugilistic experience took him up on his challenge.
  • Although the cane fighting gets more attention, boxing/pugilism was a key element of Bartitsu, the mixed martial art developed by Edward William Barton-Wright in 1898.
  • At one time high class Englishmen would go slumming it, either out of fashion, or just to Get Away From It All. If they got into a quarrel with a poor man in the process they could not fight a duel (because duels were for gentlemen). But they could not allow a commoner to beat them in manliness. So they would themselves fight fisticuffs on such occasions. Hence, "the manly art of fisticuffs."
  1. Brazilian jiu-jitsu is a mixed bag, as it originated from the Gracie family's adaptation of pre-World War II judo, and there are variations both in the teacher's style and in whether one is training for gi, no-gi, or MMA.