Tap on the Head

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
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"Knocking people out... by hitting them on the head... that's movie stuff!"
Mike Thorton (who has just been beaned with a lamp), Alpha Protocol

In fictionland, anyone caught unawares may be easily, instantaneously and noiselessly incapacitated with a single blow to the head (or alternatively, a karate chop to the neck). A character thus treated will usually be perfectly fine afterwards; at worst they may have a headache, dizziness, slightly blurred vision, or in the very worst cases, laser guided amnesia, or find themselves strapped to a table when they wake up. Minus the last two points, this will in no way hinder them for the rest of the plot.

Needless to say this is not Truth in Television at all; in reality a blow to the head is probably the least reliable way of rendering someone unconscious. Any head injury severe enough to cause unconsciousness is also severe enough to cause a skull fracture, concussion, intracranial bleeding, permanent cognitive impairment, amnesia, blindness, personality change, and even death. In Real Life, a sharp blow to the head the causes unconsciousness of more than about one minute is usually a sign of brain damage. It will probably take months to recover, if not years, and you will likely have permanent impairment. In action genres, though, getting knocked out is treated like a nap. Heroes wantonly deliver painful and dangerous concussions to guardsmen, and friends knock each other out in disagreements, with little acknowledgement that brain cells are dying. In many role-playing games, knockout punches are actually treated as a form of nonlethal damage from which you recover quickly. Contemporary audiences are becoming increasingly canny about this, meaning the characters now typically use more elaborate, realistic, or permanent techniques for dealing with opponents.

The "karate chop to the neck" version may have been removed from modern TV because if you hit the right spot it actually can knock you out, though not without serious risk of death. It utilizes the Carotid Sinus Reflex (the reason you should not take a pulse at the neck) and is very dangerous.

Other variants of the trope:

  • In Western media, there's the punch to the jaw (AKA a "knockout punch"). Again, in reality this could inflict serious injury. In this case, not only to the victim, but the attacker (without hand protection) could very easily injure their hand.
  • Common in anime is the "sharp shot to the solar plexus", often used to subdue a struggling person. It makes it fairly easy to pick up the now-unconscious person and sling them over one's shoulder for easy carrying. Its effects are just as exaggerated as the Western version; in real life, such a blow does not cause unconsciousness but does cause the muscles of the diaphragm to spasm uncontrollably, making any activity requiring air very difficult. It is safer than a blow to the throat or the back of the head, but can occasionally lead to dangerous organ or nerve damage and is thus best avoided.
  • Choke Holds, where an arm around the neck is used to cut off blood to the brain ("blood strangle/choke") or oxygen to the lungs (chokehold, stranglehold). Properly applied, this is a safer and more reliable way of causing someone to become unconscious (even allowed in judo competition for many decades), but carries a risk of stroke or other dangerous problems if used on an older victim or one with a weakened circulatory system. It also tends to wear off quickly (as in, after a couple of seconds), or alternatively when it doesn't, cause varying levels of brain damage.

Another variant is instant knockout caused by shattering either a vase or lamp over someone's head or even just on their back.

See also Back Stab, Choke Holds, We Need a Distraction, Stun Guns, Pressure Point, Instant Sedation and Blinded by the Light. Contrast Death by Falling Over. Often leads to Waking Up Elsewhere. Pistol-Whipping is a Sub-Trope.

Examples of Tap on the Head include:

Anime & Manga

  • The "karate chop to the neck" is still used constantly in shonen anime, but even with its credibility can have some ridiculous effects, particularly in Dragon Ball, where characters can shrug off blasts and blows powerful enough to pulverize mountains, planets, and solar systems, but one little tap on the back of the head and they're down for the count, usually coming to when it sits well with the plot, or rather whatever fight is going on.
    • Used rather absurdly in Hunter X Hunter, although with nods to its dangerousness. Killua uses it to quickly advance through a tournament, but says he has to hold back to avoid killing his opponents. Chrollo uses one faster than the human eye can perceive in order to make it look like a girl fainted next to him. Someone watching a frame by frame video recording of it notes that it's surprising that he didn't chop her head off.
  • In Inuyasha, the "sharp shot to the solar plexus" move was once used by Miroku to subdue a peasant girl whom he was trying to move to safety.
  • Mazinger Z: Boss used the "low blow to the solar plexus" variant with Kouji to try to avoid he fought against the Mykene Warrior Monsters in the last episode. Maybe it was used in a more realistic way than usual, though, since when Kouji regained consciousness a while after, he seemed being in pain.
  • Used inconsistently in the Ranma ½ manga and anime. Not counting the comedy Hammerspace hammers, or the ubiquitous Megaton Punch, there are many instances where these martial arts masters are knocked out with serious, deliberate blows to the head. Since these are people who have withstood the equivalent of exploding tank shells, mountains collapsing on top of them, and accumulative damage from prolonged duels, the ease with which they can be incapacitated with an elbow (or kick) to the skull is mind-boggling.
  • In Naruto, Sasuke knocks Sakura out with a blow to the back of the head before leaving Konoha. When she got up, it was pretty much exactly like she just fell asleep.
    • To be fair, we don't know exactly how Sasuke knocked her out. We saw her face and heard a blow, and then she fell over.
    • Also from Naruto is the Waterfall Village OVA. Sakura is put in charge of guarding the children while Naruto and Sasuke are off doing other things. A little while later, cue karate chop to the back of Sakura's neck and her being knocked out. Her attacker then let's out a scoff, saying he can't believe she's actually a ninja if she got caught off guard that easilly.
  • Fushigi Yuugi plays it straight and parodies it. Tamahome seems to like striking people smack over the head, punching their jaws out, and taking out their guts. However, he gets a taste of this in the middle of the series from fellow Suzaku Seishi Nuriko.

Nuriko: (taps Tamahome on the back of the head) Tamakinsy-kins!
Tamahome: (gets his face smacked into his food)
Nuriko: (smiles innocently) That's funny! I just meant to give you a little tap on the head!

  • Subverted in Le Chevalier d'Eon in the scene where Robin tries to Pistol Whip a guard unconscious. He only succeeds in hurting the guard, and has to resort to a more vigorous attack to bring him down.
  • On December 18, year unknown, Kyon and the SOS Brigade finish a meeting and walk down the stairs. Everybody's at the bottom, and Kyon starts coming down. Somebody gives him a Tap on the Head. He rolls down the stairs painfully and falls in a coma for 3 days. Turns out in an alternate universe (don't ask), Kyon got stabbed in the abdomen and his friends from the original universe come and save him and to restore time and... You know what, it'll all make sense in Vanishment.
  • Played very seriously in Angel Beats!!: When Iwasawa was alive, her father smashed a bottle over her head when she was trying to stop one of his and her mother's fights. She was mostly alright until the next day, when she collapsed at work due to a cerebral contusion caused by the hit. When she woke up in the hospital, she couldn't use her voice, and died soon afterward.
  • In Elfen Lied, Nyu is a result of Lucy getting her helmet shot off by what looks to be an anti-materiel rifle, making that what constitutes as a tap on the head for a Diclonus.
  • In Princess Mononoke, Ashitaka uses the "stiff shot to the solar plexus" variant to knock out San and Lady Eboshi, thereby ending the fight between the two women.
    • Although to be fair he does have superhuman strength at this point.
      • Still doesn't explain why this temporarily knocked them out with no long-lasting ill effects rather than breaking their breastbones and maybe a coupla ribs.
  • Bleach
    • Anime episode 33. Ichigo has just been healed by Hanataro after a fight with Renji Abarai. Ignoring Hanatoro's warning not to move or he'll re-open his wounds, Ichigo is walking away when he's suddenly punched in the face and knocked unconscious by Ganju Shiba so he'll have to rest.
    • Anime episode 43 has two examples. When a Soul Reaper is suspicious of Uryu and Orihime, another Soul Reaper knocks him out with a piece of wood to the back of the head. There's also a fairly ridiculous example where Orihime gets a chop to the neck by a guy that just wanted her to shut up.
  • Paired up with Instant Sedation in Valkyria Chronicles as the "solar plexus" variation in a one-two punch of outdated knockout tropes. Almost immediately after Princess Cordelia is put out via chloroform rag, Alicia stumbles across the guilty party making off with her, earning a particularly vicious-looking fist in the gut and a spot next to the former kidnapped party.
  • Hanaukyo Maid Tai La Verite episode 2. While Ryuuka and Mariel are in a contest Ryuuka is hit on the head by a falling heavy metal basin and knocked unconscious. It turns out she was supposed to catch it.
  • In Gundam Wing Endless Waltz, there's a scene where Heero, Duo, and Trowa (the later posing as a member of the enemy forces) are cornered in a room. Heero asks Duo, completely out of left field, to punch him. Duo complies, and his right hook is "rewarded" with a shot to the solar plexus ("W-why?" "One for one; we're even now."). The idea was to knock Duo out so he could affect his own escape later, while Heero pretended to be KO'd and made a break for it when the soldiers were distracted by talking to Trowa, who pretended he captured the pair.
  • Sengoku Basara has Kojuro hit Masamune in the shoulder/neck area with the blunt edge of his sword, knocking him out. It causes no lasting damage but another character calls him out on the risk.

Comic Books

  • Although "tap" is sort of a mild way of putting it, Asterix, Obélix and company frequently employ this against Roman legionaries, bandits, and other foes.
    • In Astérix and the Big Fight, Obélix accidentally flattens Getafix the Druid with a menhir (causing the latter to develop temporary Identity Amnesia); he then describes it to others as "just a tap on the head".
  • The Belgian comic book character Tintin falls prey to this so often that one suspects he has a fainting button on his head.
    • In fact, in a joke section of a medical journal dealing with brain injuries it was once speculated that Tintin's perpetually youthful appearance was due to the repeated blows to the head damaging his pituitary gland and stunting his growth.
  • Action Girl Yoko Tsuno, the main character of Roger Leloup's comic book of the same name, is an Aikido expert who uses the "chop to the neck" movement (which is named yokomen in Aikido) regularly on her rivals. Yoko herself frequently faints after being chopped on the neck, her enemies all seem aware of Yoko's vunerability in this area, almost as if Yoko has something on her neck that says hit me here to make me faint.
  • Happens to Hal Jordan almost constantly. Having a magic ring to help boost your biological systems helps.
  • Wonder Woman, back in the late Golden Age and early Silver Age, could be stopped by a simple blow to the back of the head (this replaced the earlier "powerless if tied up by a man" Weaksauce Weakness used so many times previously). Since Power Creep, Power Seep was making it increasingly hard to Hand Wave her having the same vulnerabilities as a mere mortal, blows to the head were actually Voodoo Sharked at one point by stating that Amazons had a nerve cluster there that remained an Achilles' Heel, no matter how Nigh Invulnerable they were.
  • Batgirl II, Cassandra Cain, did this multiple times to her sometimes partner/sidekick Spoiler (Stephanie Brown) whenever they faced a threat she felt was too great for her. It should be noted Cassandra was pretty much the poster girl for Charles Atlas Superpower and Stephanie complained later that it felt like Cass broke her jaw.
  • Kick-Ass. The hero gets smacked around so hard he needs a steel plate in his head. After much, much healing the plate somehow provides a limited amount of impact-to-skull protection.
  • The famous "One punch!" with which Batman knocks out Guy Gardner. The only after-effect is a comedy personality change.
    • Note that, to avoid the implication that Batman had given Gardner brain damage, the personality change isn't caused by the punch, but rather by Gardner bonking his head on the underside of a desk, after waking up from the punch.
  • Comic books RUN on this trope, especially the "punch to the jaw" version, which virtually every superhero uses as a standard method of dealing with mooks. One wonders if the general insanity of Gotham City criminals might be Batman's own fault, from dishing out so many concussions to formerly-ordinary thugs.


  • Averted in the Chris Farley comedy Almost Heroes. Chris Farley's character Bartholomew Hunt attempts to hit his companion Leslie Edwards, played by Matthew Perry, with a rock in order to knock him unconscious (for Leslie's own good; It Makes Sense in Context), but only causes considerable pain. He then picks up a comically-large rock that would almost certainly crush Leslie's head in and is about to try again before Leslie stops him.
    • Also averted earlier in the movie when a dentist, about to remove one of Bartholomew's teeth, hits him over the head with a hammer to knock him out. It doesn't work, and Bartholomew just tells him to get on with it.
  • Tank Girl
    • A Water & Power trooper knocks out Tank Girl after capturing her outside her house.
    • Tank Girl knocks out Sub Girl (AKA "Rain Lady") by tapping her on the top of the head with a plastic fish.
    • A Water & Power guard is knocked out from behind with a bowling pin.
  • Subverted in Dog Soldiers when Wells (Sean Pertwee) orders Cooper (Kevin McKidd) to knock him out, so Cooper hits him, but Wells just sits up again and shouts, "I said knock me out, you fucking pussy!" Of course, long term damage isn't an issue in this case, since Wells has been bitten by a werewolf...
  • Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.
    • Parodied by the title character's "Judo Chop!".
    • While Austin and Vanessa are infiltrating Virtucon, Random Task comes up behind them and knocks their heads together like coconuts, rendering them unconscious.
  • In The Boondock Saints 2, this is subverted and parodied mercilessly. A part of the plan that Murphy and Conner comes up with to get rid of a small time drug ring calls for a friend of theirs to club a fork lift driver in the head to steal a forklift, and you can tell it's doomed to failure right away when they give him a gun that's so small it looks like it couldn't kill a bird. After a Gilligan Cut, we see the forklift driver they tried to KO with a nasty gash in his head, chastising them for the over reliance on tropes in their plans, asking why they just didn't wave a gun in his face and tell him to scram.
  • In the film version of Johnny Mnemonic, Ralfi is being held against the wall by Johnny. Johnny is then promptly cold-cocked in the back of the head by one of Ralfi's bodyguards, and collapses like a sack of potatoes. It is some consolation, however, that Ralfi is worried that it may have caused damage to his head because the Yakuza thugs want Johnny's head intact.
  • Subverted in The Gamers; one of the PCs asks to be knocked out. Two characters hit him, to no avail. The third knocks him very much out, so much that he's killed. Obviously, the rules of their game don't allow for non-lethal damage.
  • This has happened to James Bond (and others in his movies) repeatedly.
    • In You Only Live Twice, The Man with the Golden Gun, Diamonds Are Forever and Moonraker he was knocked out but was fine afterward. Oddly enough, each time it was performed by a nameless Mook, not The Dragon or the Big Bad.
    • In Goldfinger he was knocked out by The Dragon Oddjob and later took out a guard by kicking him in the head.
    • In Moonraker a tram operator was knocked out by being hit on the back of a head with a wrench and two Drax employees were KOed by a punch and a metal container.
    • In Live and Let Die Bond was knocked out by Tee Hee, and Bond knocked out a number of Mooks with punches to the jaw.
    • In You Only Live Twice Bond and some captured astronauts take out several SPECTRE guards with punches.
    • But it is certain that most of the times Bond knocks someone out it is certain that he doesn't particularly care about his victims' well-beings. He just aims for silencing them ASAP.
  • Multiple examples in Undercover Brother
    • The title character does this to two Mooks: once with a bottle and once with a punch. Both Mooks are awake and after him in pursuit seconds later.
    • Sistah Girl and White She Devil knock out a large number of Mooks during the fight in the island fortress Communications Room.
  • Happens every five minutes in Midnight Run.
  • In Conspiracy Theory Mel Gibson's character goes around doing this to a few people, they go out like a light, and they never suffer anything more than a headache afterward.
  • Averted in Miller'sCrossing, in which Tom is kicked in the head and knocked unconscious, but when he wakes up he is informed that he wasn't out for more than a few seconds.
  • The Princess Bride.
    • The Dread Pirate Roberts knocks out Inigo with his swordhilt.
    • Count Rugen knocks out Westley with his sword hilt as well.
      • Cary Elwes actually asked Christopher Guest to hit him for real, and Guest obliged hard enough to shut down production for a day while Cary went to the hospital.
    • Fezzik knocks out a Shrieking Eel and accidentally kills the albino with a clout on the skull.
  • In Sneakers, Buddy Wallace clocks Bishop several times with a handgun to the face. The later Choke Hold is comparatively merciful in contrast.
  • The Avengers 1998:
    • Bailey knocks out Ministry agent Alice with a blow on the back of the head.
    • Mrs. Peel's clone knocks Steed unconscious with one punch.
  • Wild Wild West
    • Jim West knocks General "Bloodbath" McGrath unconscious with one punch. McGrath wakes up a few seconds later with no side effects.
    • West knocks out a guard at the Sons of the South dance with a punch.
  • In Fatal Instinct, Laura Lincolnberry knocks out her ex-husband by hitting him on the head with a Frying Pan of Doom.
  • Happens twice in Disney's Aladdin.
    • When Jafar has the city guards kidnap Aladdin, one of the guards knocks Aladdin out with a truncheon-like device.
    • During the fight between Aladdin and Snake!Jafar near the end of the movie, Abu hits Iago over the head with what looks like a dish cover, making his head ring like a gong and knocking him out.
  • In Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Roger is bopped over the head with a frying pan and dragged out of the way. Later, Jessica reveals that she did it: she didn't want Roger to get hurt. In fairness, it's impossible to permanently injure a toon via this method.
  • Big Trouble in Little China. Wang and Eddie take out some female guards with judo chops and karate kicks to the head, and Wang knocks out multiple Wing Kong guards with punches and kicks to the head. Amusingly, Jack Burton knocks himself out by shooting the ceiling and dropping masonry on his head.
  • In Arsenic and Old Lace, Ax Crazy Jonathan is knocked out in this manner by the police, and the trope itself is brilliantly Lampshaded by the Genre Savvy protagonist, Mortimer.

Mortimer: (watching the fight). "Oh, don't do that. It never works." (Jonathan collapses) "What do you know? it worked!"

  • In From Dusk till Dawn, sick of Richie's psychotic behavior when the family whom they've held hostage's van hits a bump, Seth uses this opportunity to punch him out.
  • Star Trek Generations. While in the Amargosa Observatory, Dr. Soren knocks out Geordi LaForge with a punch to the face.
  • Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Yukon Cornelius drops a rock on the Bumble's head and KO's him temporarily.
  • This is not done once, but twice to Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl - First, humiliatingly by Will Turner's drunken blacksmith and then by Turner himself while spying on his mutinous crew in Isla de Muerta after Will figures out that Jack wishes to use him as "leverage" to get his ship back.
    • During the Black Pearl's attack on Port Royal, Turner himself gets knocked out during his fight with the undead pirates and wakes up dazed the next morning.
  • Blazing Saddles. After Taggert leaves Bart to die in quicksand, Bart comes up behind him and lays him out with a shovel to the back of the head. Later on Taggert has a bandage on his head and not even a concussion.
  • Both used and averted in the Ip Man films, where a good blow to the head drops many a mook, but named characters prove more resilient.
  • Happens to at least 11 people in The Great Race.
    • Maggie Dubois to The Great Leslie with a champagne bottle (accidentally).
    • Max to Hezekiah with a window bar (also accidentally - he thought Hezekiah was a guard).
    • Max KO's 3 castle guards (and possibly a monk) with the window bar.
    • The Great Leslie takes out six castle guards:
  • Flash Gordon. Voltan hits several of Ming's goon squad members over the head with his mace during the "football game", and Hans Zarkov knocks out Flash accidentally by throwing a hollow metal "football" at him.
  • Beverly Hills Cop. One of Maitland's Mooks knocks out Axel Foley with a blow to the head before Mikey is killed.
  • A Running Gag in Men with Brooms, as Cutter ends up repeatedly having to hit the Loan Shark in the head with a curling stone. The loan shark is a giant who is Made of Iron, so he shrugs it off because it's funny.
  • In Raiders of the Lost Ark Marion Ravenwood does it three times and Indy does it twice.
    • She takes out a Mook with a burning log to the back of the head during the bar fight in Nepal.
    • In Cairo she's pursued into a building by a Mook and knocks him out (off camera) with a frying pan.
    • While Indy is fighting the Nazis around the flying wing, she KO's the pilot with the plane's wheel chocks.
    • Indy knocks out two Nazi guards with the "punch to the jaw" technique to steal their uniforms so he can perform Dressing as the Enemy.
      • In the second of these, there are two clearly audible blows after Dr. Jones hauls the guard over the pile of boxes, so it's "Taps".
  • Red Cliff - Shangxiang displays her excellent knowledge of pressure points by knocking out an uppity official's horse when he snarks about a woman being on the battlefield; later, when being introduced to Liu Bei, she expresses her unhappiness about being presented as a possible marriage prospect by doing the same on him. (Cue looks of Oh Crap on Zhuge Liang and Zhou Yu's faces as they realize what she's up to, but are too late to do anything...)
  • Constantine. Constantine knocks the bouncer in Papa Midnite's bar unconscious with one punch.
  • Subverted in High Risk (1981) when the heroes encounter a servant while sneaking into the drug lord's mansion. The servant just clutches his head and screams, alerting the guards.
  • Disney's Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Two of the German commandos are knocked unconscious by the animated suits of armor: one by a punch and one by a literal "boot to the head" - a swung iron boot, that is.
  • In Howard Hawkes' El Dorado, John Wayne is taken prisoner when the Dragon sneaks up behind Mississippi and "give me a headache."
  • Cowboys and Aliens. Jake is knocked out by getting pistol whipped on the back of the head and wakes up an unspecified amount of time later with no lasting damage.
  • Played for Laughs in In Bruges. Ray uses the neck chop variant, while high on cocaine, on a dwarf.
  • I'm Gonna Git You Sucka.
    • While Cheryl has Leonard up against a wall, Willie come up behind her and knocks her out with the cast on his wrist.
    • When Slade infiltrates Mr. Big's warehouse via the roof, he KO's a guard with a punch to the jaw.
  • Buckaroo Banzai.
    • Several Red Lectroids knock out humans with punches to the head near the Black Lectroid thermopod.
    • While John Parker is infiltrating Buckaroo's estate, one of Buckaroo's Blue Blaze Irregulars takes him out by hitting him on the back of the head.
  • In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, Wormtail is apparently Spared by the Adaptation by one of these. However, he does not appear after this scene, so it's possible the blow really did kill him (or Voldemort did in an offscreen You Have Failed Me... moment).
  • Judge Dredd. When Dredd and Ferguson are in the Judges' locker room, Fergie distracts a Judge and Dredd knocks the Judge unconscious with one punch.
  • Subverted in Funny Farm. When one of the locals gets a fishing hook stuck on his face, Andy wants to knock him out so he can easily take out the hook. After several blows, the man is not knocked out, just pissed off, and one of his friends wonders if Andy is just beating him up.
  • Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
    • After he enters Castle Brunwald, Indy knocks the butler unconscious with a punch to the face.
    • Averted when Indy's father tries to knock out Indy by breaking a vase over his head. Indy stays conscious and is annoyed with his dad.
    • During the fight inside the tank:
      • A German soldier is knocked out when a periscope handle hits him on the back of the head.
      • Another soldier is rendered unconscious when Marcus Brody hits him over the head with an object.
  • The Adventures of Tintin naturally plays this straight to the point of exuberance.
  • In Jean-Claude Van Damme film Cyborg, Van Damme's Faux Action Girl sidekick gets knocked out 3 or 4 times in the movie. Van Damme's character gets KO'd once or twice as well. No one seems to have any problems because of it.


  • Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels:
    • In Thief of Time, it is mentioned that some trainees in the Thieves' Guild cause serious injuries with their inability to knock a victim unconscious with a single blow. Likewise in Monstrous Regiment, one character is about to knock a guard unconscious when The Igor points out that blows to the head can be fatal and takes over, as Igors have extensive knowledge of human anatomy. So extensive, in fact, the Igor knows just how hard and where to hit to knock the guy out for exactly 20 minutes.
    • Additionally in Men at Arms someone is accidentally killed by an attempt to knock them unconscious.
    • Not seen, but referenced in Night Watch, when it's mentioned the rebel barricades have a doorway built into them, with all refugees coming through at just the right height for "a gentle Tap on the Head if they turned out to be a soldier."
    • Vimes in particular plays this trope quite straight.
    • In Interesting Times, a briefly deranged Rincewind is used in an impromptu demonstration when a Thief's Guild apprentice tries and fails to knock him out. So the tutor steps out of the nearby alley to show him the right way ("Ow."), then what the trainee did ("Ow! Hahaha!" "So, can anyone spot the difference?"). It isn't until he regains his senses that he succumbs.
  • In Stephen King's IT, staff of the Juniper Hill mental institution use rolls of quarters as improvised saps in order to subdue (and, in some cases, simply abuse) recalcitrant patients. One patient is said to have suffered severe brain damage as a result of such treatment and is barely functional as a result.
  • Mentioned in the novel First Lensman. A thug of wide experience claims to be "an artist with the black jack". His boast is that he can knock out anyone within ten feet by throwing it, and can precisely time how long they stay unconscious.
  • Subverted in John C. Wright's Fugitives of Chaos. Amelia is able to work out, from the fact that she is not suffering plausibly from a blow to the solar plexus, that magic is at work.
    • Earlier, she tries hitting someone with a rock to escape custody. It doesn't work because: a) she was too squeamish to hit hard, b) a rock is not going to stop a Physical God.
  • Burke gives a bit of a Character Filibuster once about how hitting someone on the head does not always knock them out in real life, and how many would-be criminals have gotten into trouble that way.
  • Averted in The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross. The protagonist is hit on the back of the head with a sap (basically a bag full of lead shot) knocking him out. He spends a couple of weeks recovering, and got a hairline skull fracture for his trouble.
  • In Isaac Asimov's The Currents of Space a character attempts to pull this off on a guard and accidentally kills the guard.
  • In Alistair MacLean's novel Ice Station Zebra the doctor protagonist goes into detail about how it is impossible to predict the consequences of a head injury, i.e. the patient could wake up soon or never, then later on has someone else inflict a "ten minute tap" on a villain. However, the doctor also explains to that chap that his huge wrench would cause instant death when hitting a skull. The doctor pads the wrench with a thick layer of bandage to make it less lethal.
    • Also, in Where Eagles Dare, a German sergeant reassures his superior officer that he gave a prisoner a "three-minute tap." Apparently he has lots of experience.
  • Richard Henry Benson, The Avenger is capable of doing this—with bullets! In "The Yellow Hoard" he is distracted by smoke sufficiently that he missed his target by a millimeter, and the thug wakes up too early.
  • Jame in P.C. Hodgell's Chronicles of the Kencyrath is knocked out by blows to the head all the time, both by accident and malice, and is always fine. It seems to happen at least twice per book. It's justified in that she's not exactly human, and her Healing Factor ensures she repairs; also, realistic effects of concussion appear when the blows were severe.
  • Lampshaded in the Doctor Who novel "Interference: Part 2", with Sarah Jane Smith asking an alien how they can manage to knock people out without long-term effects so easily. (Since the alien in question was not very bright, no answer was actually obtained).
  • Happens to Philip Marlowe a lot. Lampshaded by Kim Newman's unnamed Captain Ersatz.
  • In Broken, Elena needs to sneak away from her assigned babysitter. So she hits him on the back of the head, arranges him comfortably on the bed, and takes off. Justified in that he's a werewolf, and she really doesn't need to worry about long term damage. Subverted in that she didn't actually knock him out at all; once he realized what she was trying to do, he faked unconsciousness and then followed after her.
  • The main character of Dave Duncan's The Seventh Sword trilogy tries this on a guard in the first book. However, the person he hit ends up dying. It comes back to haunt him later, when he ends up on trial for of various crimes, one of which is this "dishonorable" killing. (After some Divine Intervention makes it clear that the Goddess doesn't want the main character punished, the death is ruled an accident; after all, if he had wanted to kill the guard, he would have used his sword, not his fist.)
  • In the Forgotten Realms novel Ghostwalker a knight knocks out a drunken rogue in a bar fight using a mace. Not a club, a flanged metal mace.
  • Averted in Neuropath. Tom Bible notes that it's not like in the movies, and that the guard he and Mia knocked out will need medical help quickly.
  • The Vulcan Neck Pinch chapter of The Action Heros Handbook outlines several of the knockout methods mentioned above and makes clear what the risks are.
  • Jiaan in the Farsala Trilogy. It's somewhat subverted in that he mentions he might have a broken collarbone as well.
  • When they need to avoid their usual, lethal methods, the protagonists of The Belgariad employ this trope frequently to render bad guys unconscious. It's usually played completely straight, except where Hard Head is subverted by Rule of Funny or the needs of the plot.
    • On one memorable occasion, after Garion knocks out a Grolim (who has some useful information), Belgarath tells him to "use an axe or a club" the next time: Garion's fist had almost killed the guy.
  • Averted in the Sword of Truth series, when Kahlan is trying to decide the best way to make her way past a D'Haran guard. There is a long inner monologue about how a rap on the head is notoriously unreliable: the guard may come up screaming, several blows may be necessary to induce unconsciousness, and permanent damage may result. Additionally, this is one of her own guards, so she'd really rather avoid hitting him at all in the first place. Later on in the series, she shows a little girl she is held captive with her preferred way of silent subduing: A knife to the kidney. Where a blow to the head is unreliable and cutting the throat can be too messy and loud, a knife to the kidney puts the victim in so much pain that they can't even scream.
  • This is practically the Signature Move of Karl May's Author Avatar Old Shatterhand/Kara ben Nemsi, ostensibly justified by a combination of nigh superhuman strength and a special trick he's discovered himself. It's rather convenient, too, because as a good (if sometimes, especially in the later works, a bit preachy) Christian the character doesn't actually like to shed human blood when he can at all avoid it.
  • Lampshaded in The Dresden Files when one of Harry's internal monolgues mentions that someone must have done one of those adamantium upgrades on his skull.
  • Averted in Martin Caidin's Cyborg novels. Considerably violent than the TV series they inspired, due to Steve Austin's bionic arm being described as a bludgeon, and strong hits to the head or chops to the neck are instantly fatal to the recipient. In fact he does this so often (sometimes cold-bloodedly to disabled enemies) that fans of the TV series are prone to go into What the Hell, Hero? mode when reading them.
  • In Death at the President's Lodging by Michael Innes, the detective investigating the aforesaid mystery is knocked out by a blow to the head. One of the suspects, an author of detective novels, says that he'd never have done it, because he knows how dangerous such a blow could be.
  • In the Time Scout book, Wagers of Sin, Skeeter gets knocked out from behind and spends several days recovering, with nausea, dizziness, and continuing headaches.
  • In John C. Wright's Count to a Trillion, Menelaus takes out two guards, but the third gets him with this.
  • In Edgar Rice Burroughs's The Monster Men, Professor Maxon is knocked unconscious by a blow to the head. Its only effect is to cause him to recover from being Mad Scientist—that is, to take up What Measure Is a Non-Human?.
  • Completely averted in Vernor Vinge's The Children of the Sky. The blow that knocks out Ravna is treated completely realistically, with various debilitating aftereffects until she gets advanced medical treatment.
  • The Hardy Boys: Frank & Joe Hardy have both been knocked out by getting hit in the head so often that, in real life, the two should be vegetables in permanent coma in the hospital.
  • In Michael Flynn's The January Dancer, the Fudir uses this on Hugh to evade him. He does think that it's a trick business, but it's treated as if it were really harmless.

Live Action TV

  • Lost has used this a few times, though the preferred method of knocking someone unconscious is Pistol-Whipping. In "Hearts and Minds," Locke hits Boone to knock him out, ties him up, and sends him on a Vision Quest by "treating" the wound with a hallucinogen.
    • More realistic effects of a Tap on the Head are shown in "The Other 48 Days," in which Eko kills two Others with a rock.
    • The series is actually quite guilty of this, as characters would be knocked out with a tap every other episode but only when it would fit the plot. All the fighting scenes feature much harder blows then those who render them unconscious. Almost every major character took a beating at some point with a lot of hits on the head but we rarely see one fainting.
  • In the MacGyver episode "Last Stand", Mac is holding some piece of equipment that he's supposedly going to use to fix up a plane so the bad guys can escape. When asked by his guard what the item is, he replies "Lateral... cranial... impact... enhancer", and smacks the guard across the head with it.
    • This happens all the time in MacGyver, what with his no-guns policy. The likelihood of knocking a bad guy out with a single blow is inversely proportional to his position on the bad guy ladder.
  • Legendary subversion: in the first season of Star Trek: The Original Series, Mr. Spock was scripted to incapacitate a maddened Kirk by rapping him in the back of the head with the butt of a phaser pistol. Leonard Nimoy thought that uncivilized, so he and the director came up with a more "civilized" alternative: the Vulcan nerve pinch (AKA neck pinch).
    • Spock repeatedly used the nerve pinch in subsequent episodes. In one of them ("Mudd's Planet"), the pinch failed because he was using it on an android.
    • "Obsession". Ensign Garrovick tries to knock out Captain Kirk with a karate chop so he can be the one to lure the vampire cloud to the antimatter bomb.
    • Kirk himself was not adverse to a chop or hammerblow now and again. Even McCoy has been seen doing this occasionally...
    • A truer subversion is seen in the episode "Mirror, Mirror," in which mirror!Spock is knocked out this way and Dr. McCoy declares that he'll die without immediate treatment. It may have averted the trope too far, though, considering the deadly object was a skull so fragile that it completely shattered after hitting Spock. It's difficult to imagine it would even knock him out in the first place.
      • That or the skull was so hard that it took a lot of blunt force to break it.
  • Subverted in an episode of Red Dwarf: Kryten has to render the rest of the crew unconscious, but Rimmer is a "hard-light" hologram and thus "unknockoutable" despite Rimmer's assistance and Kryten's most enthusiastic efforts.
  • Dramatically subverted in an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Warren's ex-girlfriend, Katrina, is escaping the Trio's lair after their mind-whammy wore off and plans to tell the police about their rape attempt. Warren clocks her on the head with a bottle, trying to knock her out - and she dies.
    • That was a more or less one time occurrence though. Every other instance of somebody being beaten over the head (mostly Giles), they're simply knocked and wake up fine in a bit.
      • Although Giles getting hit on the head becomes a running joke, there's at least one instance where he gets hospitalized because of it.
    • The jaw-punch version occurs in "Prophecy Girl", the final episode of season 1. Buffy and Giles disagree on which of them will go to fight the Master. Buffy settles the matter by punching Giles in the jaw, putting him to sleep just long enough for her to be off on the mission. Later Giles is seen nursing a bruise, but it seems no dental attention was required.
  • Later played mostly straight in Angel, when Gunn has been turned misogynist by a demon. Realizing what's happening to him, he warns Fred to knock him out, but her first attempt fails. He yells at her for this, but it isn't really a subversion like the above example; Fred's not terribly strong. Her second attempt succeeds.
  • Happens to the hero more or less Once an Episode in The Rockford Files.
  • Happens to the title character more or less Once an Episode in Mannix.
  • Heroes uses it so much - for both comic and dramatic effect - that the show's Wiki has a page dedicated to it. Once, Claude saved New York (at least for the moment) with this trope and a good right hook.
  • The karate chop to the neck variant is one of the three ways people tend to be non-fatally incapacitated in the 60s spy series The Man from U.N.C.L.E.. (The other two are Pistol-Whipping and Instant Sedation via tranquilizer darts or knockout gas.)
  • Subverted in NCIS, when McGee sees a witness to a murder get attacked from across the street. He heads over to her apartment, only to find her door open. While he's seeing if she's alive, the assailant pops out of one of the rooms-which McGee didn't check-and smacks him over the head with a lamp. Despite getting hit hard enough for the lamp to break, McGee is still clear enough to unholster his gun and take a few shots at the fleeing perp, missing by inches.
    • Another painful subversion was when it was determined a man confessing to the murder of his fellow marine had actually Pistol Whipped him so he'd stop screaming after being wounded on a battlefield. The blow had cracked the skull and killed the man, his best friend, and the guilt had eaten at him for years.
  • In Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Buck could take out a whole swarm of Draconian guards with a single sidekick. They fell like a stack of dominoes.
  • Get Smart, being at its core a Bond parody, did this constantly. While Max was an accomplished martial artist, his preferred method of attack was a karate chop to the back of the neck, either by waiting for somebody to enter the room, distracting them, or sneaking up on them. At one point, he ambushes five KAOS agents in a row as they enter a room. Unfortunately, the sixth person is a CONTROL operative.
  • Doctor Who. The Third Doctor used 'Venusian Aikido' to immobilise someone, which seemed to involve John Pertwee jabbing two fingers into someone's chest and shouting "Hai!"
    • This is a preferred technique of classic Doctor Who baddies; a nondescript karate chop to the shoulder which had a 50/50 chance of knocking people out or killing them outright.
    • In "Full Circle" the Doctor himself gets this treatment—keeping him from calming the alien child.
    • In "The Masque Of Mandragora", when the Doctor realizes that Sarah Jane is being kidnapper and tries to intervene, one takes him out with a rock to his head.
  • An episode of Smallville has Clark knock someone out with a literal tap on the head. You get one guess why.
  • The Karate Chop of Doom was the standard Blakes Seven fighting style, aside from fighting dirty. It can be considered acceptable, as most of the time they're trying to kill each other anyway.
    • Interestingly enough, Avon once tried to subdue a maddened Blake using this technique, which was rather risky. Then again, this being Blake, it may have been intentional.
  • In quite a few murder mysteries, attempting the Tap On the Head via blunt object very often leads to Accidental Murder instead.
  • Averted in season one of True Blood; Lettie Mae hits Tara over the head with an empty Jack Daniels bottle, which hurts a lot, but doesn't knock Tara out.
  • The MythBusters dabbled with this trope when they tested whether an empty beer bottle was more lethal than an full beer bottle. Either way, the least you would get out of a full strength blow from either bottle would be a nasty concussion, as well as lacerations from the broken glass. In the case of a full beer bottle, if your skull isn't completely caved in, then you're likely to suffer a catastrophic cerebral hemmorhage.
  • Similarly tested on Deadliest Warrior with a pistol whip. If not fatal, it would be catastrophic and permanent injury.
  • Subversion: In one first-season Sledge Hammer!! episode, Sledge jumps a Mook from behind, and hits him over the head with the butt of his gun. The Mook's reaction is to cry "Owww," but not to go down. Sledge tries again, with similar results. After several attempts, he is unable to knock the mook out by hitting him on the head. Alan Spencer, creator of Sledge Hammer!!, in his voice-over commentary for the episode, states that this was the entire purpose of the scene—to take the Mickey out of this trope.
  • Subverted and parodied in one episode of Hogan's Heroes, in which Colonel Crittendon claims to know an instantly-lethal form of martial arts known as "Killer Judo". He sneaks up on a guard and delievers a chop to the back of the neck... which has no effect whatsoever.
  • In Relic Hunter ("Etched in Stone"), Sydney smacks some bad guys in the head with a freakin' rock (an obviously Papier-mâché rock, but still) the size of a turkey. They are fine.
  • Mostly averted in Burn Notice, where mooks are heroes alike are usually shown as being stunned and in serious pain rather as a result of hand-to-hand scuffles, and are rarely KO'd by fisticuffs.
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus. During the Blancmange sketch the scientist knocks out his female assistant with a blow on the head.
  • In Leverage, the trope gets played extremely straight with Elliot and his one-shot knockout punches. Whether it's in the middle of melee or cold-cocking someone, one shot typically knocks them flat on their back and dreaming with no shown side effects afterwards. He's even used it on occasion on people entirely unaffiliated with the crime, simply to get their identification.
  • In Firefly, Mal delivers one to Jayne with a wrench.
    • He's only out for a couple seconds, though; and "unconscious" wasn't the specific intent, just a bonus.
  • Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation has a convenient on/off switch under his shoulderblade.
    • That's where it is!? The shot is an extreme close-up, so I thought it was his inner thigh...
    • Picard has been known to dole out a few back-of-the-head hits...but he tends to receive them more than he gives them.
  • A Running Gag in Dans Une Galaxie Pres De Chez Vous involved people doing this to Brad (saying "no Brad!" in an increasingly bored tone) at least once an episode to stop his "evil" plots to ruin the mission. He even does it to himself a couple of times.
  • On Republic of Doyle Jake gets hit on the head so much every epeisode that he should be dead or suffering massive brain damage. In one episode he got hit in the back of the head by a crowbar and later by a wine bottle.
  • Averted in the original I Spy television series. In one episode Alexander Scott (Bill Cosby) attacks a guard with several karate chops to the neck and goes out of his way to explain to the person he'd just rescued that the guard was now dead.
  • 1960's Batman series episodes.
    • "King Tut's Coup". While Tut and his henchmen are stealing a sarcophagus, one of the henchmen knocks out a security guard with a single blow on the back of the head with a club.
    • "The Unkindest Tut Of All". While Batgirl is confronting King Tut, his henchwoman Shirley sneaks up behind her and knocks her out by hitting her on the back of the head with a vase.
    • "Deep Freeze". When Mr. Freeze sends his henchman Frosty up to the roof to fix the TV antenna, Batman knocks Frosty out by hitting him on the top of his head.
    • "That Darn Catwoman". The title character's Mooks take out Pat Pending and his valet with blackjacks.
  • Angels on Supernatural can do this by literally just touching the target.
  • In Dollhouse, Topher Brink uses the jaw-punch version to prevent Bennet Halverson from killing Echo.
  • Danger 5 spoofed this with Tucker declaring he was going to knock out a sentry for an hour, adjusting an egg timer on his wrist for that amount of time, then judo chopping the sentry.
  • Subverted on an episode of The Lone Ranger, where the Ranger knocks out Butch Cavendish with a punch to the jaw, but realizes he's faking when he examines him. He uses it as a way to set a trap and doesn't tell the guys with him Cavendish is faking until later, when they're away from him.


  • Red vs. Blue had this when someone would need a brief time unconscious.

Simmons: Ow, the back of my head! (then, later, Ow, the front of my face!)



  • In Jaga Jazzist's "Airborne" music video, an attempted murder is foiled when the gunman is knocked unconscious by a flying champagne cork.

Tabletop Games

  • In several versions of the Hero game rules, attacks made by surprise on an out of combat charater do double stun. If hit locations are used, attacks to the head have the highest stun multiplier, followed by attacks to the (other) vitals.
  • In the great pulp tradition, any combat in Spirit of the Century, whether you're beating people up, stabbing them, or shooting them, can end in a knock out rather than death, and this is actually encouraged (for the GM, so the PCs don't all die before they can get stuffed in a deathtrap, and for the PCs so they can interrogate the Mooks they just clobbered).
  • Some d20-style games feature weapons that are designed to be non-lethal when used this way, such as the ubiquitous blackjack/sap in Dungeons & Dragons. A little questionable when you look at the weapon tables in Spycraft 2.0 and see that a 30lb maul does subdual damage..
  • The 1E Dungeons & Dragons monk (martial artist) could stun an opponent with an "open hand" unarmed blow.
  • Call of Cthulhu (tabletop game) supplement The Asylum and Other Tales, adventure "The Asylum". Dr. Freygan could use his knowledge of human anatomy to perform a Star Trek style neck pinch and knock out a victim. Because he was a proto-shoggoth, he could extend his arm out many feet to do so.
    • The "Knockout Attack" rules allow something like this, with blunt attacks optionally allowing a Resistance roll (Damage vs. HP). If successful, the victim is knocked unconscious and takes 1/3 rolled damage. Assuming two average unarmed humans this amounts to a 10% chance...
  • Harder than usual in GURPS, where you can't do stun damage with regular unarmed attacks. People still lose consciousness by spending too long below zero HP, so you can fulfill the trope by doing that much damage, without causing any lasting injury by crippling a hit location. This means punching a guy in the chest several times is the most effective way to put him to sleep, if stunning weapons are unavailable.
    • If you actually try konking someone over the head, you probably will knock them out... because with much extra damage a head-shot does you'll shoot him straight into unconsciousness. And possibly right past a death check too. Presuming the straight hit point damage doesn't do it, he has to make a stunning/knockdown check at -10 if he takes any damage to his brain at all, and any botch (pretty likely at -10) knocks him out anyways. You have to buy a supplement to get the optional detailed injury rules that can leave the victim brain damaged afterwards.
    • A solar plexus shot (attack to the "vitals") does less bonus damage than a hit to the head, but it still does quite a bit extra, and has a stunning/knockdown roll at -5. So it probably will take them out, but they won't be unscathed...
  • Time Lord RPG (based on Doctor Who) main rules, "Curse of the Cyclops" adventure. If the PCs are captured they can be rescued by someone sneaking up behind the guards and knocking them out by hitting them on the back of the head.


  • Hitting the opponent in the head seems to be the most reliable way to knock someone out with no lasting consequences in Bionicle. Ironically, the concept of Kanohi masks was introduced specifically so that characters wouldn't have to punch each other in the face, as they could weaken or disable the opponent by removing their mask. However, as the series got progressively Darker and Edgier, more "realistic" violence (with unrealistic consequences) was brought in.

Video Games

  • Alpha Protocol uses the a variant of the karate chop... To the victim's exposed throat. It's an instant takedown. Other animations for non-lethal Back Stabs involve broken bones, dislocated necks, and chocking them until they fall unconscious. The game repeatedly lampshades how "non-lethal" does not mean "harmless": You can even see how much you cost people in medical expenses from recovering from the takedowns. Hey, it beats "orphans created", which you get for killing them.
    • Subverted if Mike pisses off Madison enough to make her try this on him. When Mike points out that it only works in the movies, Madison calmly throws a shock mine at him.
  • The Thief game series: attacks on unaware targets are more effective than those on alert targets. Hitting an unaware target with the blackjack will knock him/her out quickly and quietly. (If they're aware, they cannot be knocked unconscious but can take damage, although the attack is less effective than if they were unaware.)
  • The Halo series rewards you for being covert - one melee strike from the back straight-up kills Elites that normally take several whacks just to get through their shields. Melee attacks in general are ridiculously powerful, as on most targets they have the destructive power equivalent to a good number of bullets. This is justified in that the player character - an armored super-soldier - is strong enough to reduce a man's skull to mulch with a single punch, and can FLIP TANKS.
    • In Halo 3, if you latch on to a Covenant Wraith, you can literally punch a hole through their armor.
      • However, in Halo ODST, the Rookie is unconscious for a whole six hours (by the impact of a very high altitude low opening crash) and then happily runs around New Mombassa. Perhaps his inability to speak is in fact resultant brain damage.
        • Or one mother of a headache brought on by a concussion.
  • Deus Ex made stunning attacks on unaware targets vastly more effective than those on alert ones. Hitting someone from behind with a baton or riot prod would knock them out quickly and quietly.
    • Trivia: Ionstorm Austin, the makers of Deus Ex, employed some of the Looking Glass Studios staff (who made Thief) when Looking Glass folded.
    • In the Deus Ex: Human Revolution Tap on the Head plays an important role as Adam Jensen can use his augmented strength to perform various non-lethal takedowns with punches to the head, chokeholds, or striking an enemy's head against a hard object (or striking the heads of two enemies together).
  • Splinter Cell. From Chaos Theory onward, Sam commonly uses the sleeper hold. He also uses punches to the back of the head and palm-strikes to the solar plexus.
  • In Dark Cloud 2, Action Girl / Black Magician Girl Monica Raybrandt is knocked out by her nemesis, Gaspard, using the "sharp punch to the solar plexus" variety. To be fair, she was distracted at the time, what with her partner Max shooting down the airship she and Gaspard were on...
  • Avalon Code ends Chapter 3 with Anwar using the "solar plexus" variant on your character. Heath uses the same variant at the end of Chapter 5 to keep you from getting the book out of a hijacked Valdo's hands.
  • The Shadowrun Genesis game uses the "solar plexus blow" variant as a distraction in which your character will stealthily pull it off then claim they had a heart attack to sneak into corporations as flavor text. This always works regardless of the unarmed combat and social capabilities of the main character.
  • Used in World of Warcraft as a Rogue ability called Sap which temporarily disables an enemy and does no damage.
    • And leaves them standing so their allies don't notice they're unconscious.[1]
      • As I explained this to my mom: "See, I can pick their pockets without them noticing if I just hit them on the head first. They'll never know I was here."
    • Rogues get a number of other kinds of stun attacks as well. It's hard to imagine how any of them is supposed to work in real life terms.
      • Except for Gouge. If you got stabbed in the eye, you'd most certainly stop whatever you were doing to just hold your hands over your eye and scream your head off, though arguably for much longer than a few seconds. And being hit again would do hardly anything to make you forget. You know, that you got stabbed in the fucking eye.
  • Delita uses the 'sharp shot to the solar plexus' to subdue Ovelia while the latter was being kidnapped by the former in Final Fantasy Tactics.
  • Subverted in America's Army 3, melee attacks that hit the back of the neck are lethal.
  • The main point of the Commandos games is to knock out the enemy mooks instead of killing them.
  • In Overblood Raz gets knocked out in a single punch when Milly gets kidnapped.
  • Used by Axel in Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days to render Xion unconscious. But of course, she got better.
  • Subverted in The Saboteur with one of Sean's stealth kills. It involves some particularly hard and crunchy blows to the back of the enemy's head, and you can be sure they're as dead as if you neck snapped them instead.
  • How Link was rendered unconcious, so the Bulblins could take Ilia. It's never explained why they do this though.
  • Quest for Glory V introduces the blackjack as a Thieves-only item which lets them perform non-fatal sneak attacks.
  • Played straight in Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City. Almost averted when Batman uses a blood-choke to silent take-down enemies, which as stated previously does have a low risk of permanent damage—but his opponents stay out for a very long time. His other method of 'knocking out' thugs involves no-holds-barred beat-downs where he snaps bones and most certainly gives severe concussions.
  • In Ghost Trick, the Guardian of the Park receives one from a falling football. This is a particularly egregio—er, extreme example, as going by the time said tap occurs, he was left unconscious for five hours.
  • Apparently averted in the first Resident Evil game, of all things. One ending variation has Barry Burton sneak up behind an unsuspecting Wesker and whack him on the back of the head with his magnum. This would have to kill Wesker for him to be able to transform into his undead, G-Virus self, present in the rest of the series.
  • Yuri from Tales of Vesperia does this with comical ease to multiple armored guards throughout the story, first with some thrown stones, then with half-hearted whacks on the back of the neck.


  • Lampshade Hanging in this El Goonish Shive strip. Elliot is of course completely fine after having been knocked out, but he flips out about silly things like "brain damage" and "concussions."
  • Subverted in Narbonic. Mell clonks Titus Misanthropie with the butt of her gun... and he yells "Ow!" He then proceeds to give her advice:

Titus: Miss, you want to strike closer to the base of the skull. What is this, your first cold-cocking?
Mell: Usually I just kill.
Helen: Sorry, Titus. She's an intern.

  • This becomes a running gag during a DMFA arc, nicknamed "head-clunking." Then Aliyka tries it on Dan...
  • Done realistically in this VG Cats strip. Yes kids, that is what you are going for when hitting someone hard on the head.
  • In Girl Genius, Oggie cures Lars' panic attack with a punch the head. Of course, Og is a Jager and they are superhumanly tough, so by his lights this might be an acceptable form of discipline.
    • "Effective," perhaps; "acceptable," no. When Lars wakes up and asks about his rather obvious concussion Oggie claims a brick from the bridge flew wide and hit him. He even holds up the brick in question for proof.



Web Originals

  • Shadowhunter Peril has Bezaliel. When the angel first appeared he started spinning out in a psychotic episode and nearly overwhelmed everyone present with his messed-up mind, thanks to his empathy powers. The problem was solved by his confused son Nicholas picking up a large rock and smashing it on the top of his head, knocking him out instantly. This would become the solution for how to deal with Bezaliel for several days after, until they figured out what to do with him.

Western Animation

  • Family Guy makes fun of this trope in the episode where Peter steals the Popemobile; the guy guarding it tells Peter that "even the slightest tap on the head knocks me out. I always wake up feeling fine afterwards, but it's just so darned inconvenient." The fellow then demonstrates this by lightly touching his head and knocks himself out, allowing Peter to steal the car.
  • Stroker and Hoop has fun with this in one episode: The titular Stroker and Hoop knock out two guys to steal their clothes. One, though in pain, stays conscious and becomes despondent when he believes that Stroker had accidentally killed his friend with the blow to the head. After several moments of arguing ("Dammit, I know how to knock someone out!" "Well, do you check? Like, what if they have a concussion??"), the conscious man pretends to be unconscious just to avoid being hit again.
  • The Venture Brothers lampshades this phenomenon as well:

Dragoon: What is this, an episode of Gilligan's Island? Everybody gets hit once and they are instantly unconscious?
Red Mantle: Good one. Six bucks says he has amnesia when he wakes up.

  • One episode of SpongeBob SquarePants featured a health inspector getting knocked out in various ways over the course of the episode.
  • In the Star Wars: The Clone Wars episode Cloak of Darkness, the Badass Normal and The Mole single each other out. The Badass Normal knocks The Mole out cold with one right hook. Then, two seconds later, the prisoner knocks out Badass Normal from behind with a butt-stroke from a blaster rifle. (A butt-stroke is a hit with the back end of a rifle. Not what you think.)
  • Subverted in the American Dad episode, "Stan's Night Out". Several people are hit on the head with bottles; they collapse, but don't lose consciousness, and they need to be taken to a hospital.
  • Jonny Quest TOS episodes:
    • "Mystery of the Lizard Men". The title opponents are knocked out as follows: Race Bannon (1 punch, 1 judo chop), Jonny (1 by air vent grill, 1 by swinging pulley, 2 by oar, 1 by facemask).
    • "Werewolf of the Timberland". White Feather hits Blackie over the head with a club.
    • "The Fraudulent Volcano". Hadji to a guard with a swung lantern and Race to a guard using an elbow to the solar plexus.
    • "The Dreadful Doll". Race to Korbai with a plank and Alverjo to Harden with a scuba tank.
    • "Monster in the Monastery". Hadji to a yeti with a club, Jonny to two yetis with thrown pots, Hadji to a yeti with a crate and a yeti to himself with a thrown rock.
    • "The Devil's Tower". Race knocks out a sleepy caveman with his own club.
  • In his Show Within a Show, Bolt disables a Mook with a karate chop to the neck. Outside the show, however, is another matter.
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender, Sokka knocks someone out by hitting him with his boomerang.
    • Similarly, Zuko (while masquerading as the Blue Spirit) gets knocked out for what seems to be several hours when he gets shot in the forehead by an arrow, protected only by his mask.
  • Space Ghost.
    • Pirhanor takes out Space Ghost with a wrench to the back of the head in "The Space Piranhas".
    • Jace knocks out the pirate One Eye with a wrench in "Space Sargasso".
    • Tarko the 12th Century Viking hits Jace over the head with a shield in "The Time Machine".
  • This happens quite a bit in The Simpsons, particularly to Homer, despite his characteristic hardheadedness. Also, in "Duffless," Homer repeatedly attempts to knock a defiant and drunk Barney out (to the point of repeatedly slamming his head in the car door) to get his keys and thereby prevent him from driving while intoxicated. He fails, and an annoyed and somewhat hurt Barney hands Homer the keys to get him to stop.
  • Birdman
    • "The Menace of Dr. Millenium". A caveman knocks out the title hero from behind with a stone club.
    • "The Chameleon". The title villain knocks out Birdman with a blow of his tail while shapechanged into a dinosaur.
  • Averted in Archer, as when Archer punches out Ray to take his place on a mission it's stated being unconscious is very bad for him and he has to visit a neurologist later.
  • Fred and Barney taking out all those Mooks while escaping from Dr. Sinister's lair. "A judo, a chop chop chop!"
  • In South Park, this is the prefer method of Police Brutality as it's faster, according to Officer Barbrady.
  1. You act like their allies would notice if they were unconscious. Mobs in Warcraft cheerfully stroll over their comrades' bodies without noticing, let alone giving an alarm.