Weak but Skilled

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"Sans maîtrise, la puissance n'est rien." (without mastery, power is nothing)
Old Pirelli commercial for tires, probably quoting something else.

Some characters have it easy. They're a Born Winner with The Gift and a winning ticket for the Superpower Lottery, have the Bigger Stick or Sword of Plot Advancement making them an Invincible Hero, and never have to train because they're just that good. The Rival will be frustrated and driven to ever more extreme Training from Hell, but it doesn't help them beat the smug bastard.

Who should come along to challenge this powerhouse but a totally bland, if not small, unassuming opponent in a baseball cap who seems no stronger than a typical Innocent Bystander. The powerhouse laughs and says there's no way they could ever hope to beat him... and they do!

This is a character who, despite being physically weaker than their opponent, is able to beat them because they are amazingly skilled. They'll prove Hard Work Hardly Works is a false premise, and even exploit the stronger opponents' sloppy technique and Pride to win.

If the Weak But Skilled character is the protagonist, they will usually be an expert at Deadly Dodging, a fast thinker, and generally win through cleverness and strategy that uses their opponent's weaknesses and the environment to win. If they aren't the protagonist, then they're very like a Mentors, The Rival, or The Lancer, they'll usually start out much stronger than the hero overall but won't keep up once the hero starts gaining skill himself in the use of his powers. They'll occasionally bail out the protagonist but force them to finish their battles, and urge them to actually train their power to stop the bad guy, whom this character can't take out because the bad guy is both strong and skilled.

A character who grows old and weak will often become this, having decades of experience to compensate for their lack of youth. Then again, see Stronger with Age. This is a very common justification for how Badass Normals can keep up with more powerful characters in a setting or inside an ensemble. Death of a Thousand Cuts may also come into play.

Compare with David Versus Goliath, Combat Pragmatist, Difficult but Awesome and, metafictionally, Cherry Tapping. Contrast Sacrificed Basic Skill for Awesome Training. Willfully Weak may be invoked to bring this about. One explanation behind the power of a Badass Bystander. Despite their skill, may fall prey to I Don't Know Mortal Kombat. The rare villainous examples may fall into Villainous Valor, depending on their presentation.

Contrast Bigger Stick and Unskilled but Strong, the latter being the inverse trope.

Examples of Weak but Skilled include:


Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • The main character from Anatolia Story herself, Yuri Suzuki. She's a complete weakling physically speaking and can't do a thing when she's being sexually assaulted, but being from the future has its advantages. She is revered as Ishtar because she rode a horse, something that's common nowadays, but in ancient Turkey was unheard of. She also recognized an iron sword (and used it against Zuwa), which is not so valuable today as it was back then.
    • Similarly, Carol Reed from Oke no Monshou has zero fighting skill, but her almost encyclopedic knowledge of Ancient Egypt comes off very handy when she needs to get the upper hand in the middle of constant power struggles in Pharaoh Memphis's court.
  • Hyunckel from Dai no Daibouken. At the beginning of the series he is portrayed as relatively strong and extremely skilled, but in the last chapters he's actually one of the weakest characters in the main cast, power-wise (though his skill level remain above average). He even develops a special technique allowing him to use his life as a weapon, in order to compensate his lack of sheer power. It quickly becomes one of the strongest skills in the series.
  • Gouta from Busou Renkin. His Arms Alchemy, Motor Gears, is a pair of tiny chakrams, but he utilizes them in creative ways. He was even able to defeat Shinobu Negoro, a senior alchemist, through Awesomeness By Analysis.
  • Char Aznable of Mobile Suit Gundam. While Amuro has much more powerful Psychic Powers, Char is a much more experienced pilot, so the two are evenly matched.
    • Amuro's eponymous Gundam is also much stronger than Char's re-painted Mook units, at least at first, but as Char receives more powerful mobile suits, Amuro's piloting skill increases proportionally. Eventually, Char receives a Gelgoog, which is an even match for the Gundam, and finally the Zeong, which ends up reversing their roles by being more powerful than the Gundam.
      • When they return in Char's Counterattack, Amuro has had at least as much experience as Char had at the beginning of the original series and stronger Psychic Powers to boot. Once he answers Char's Sazabi with the Nu Gundam, The Red Comet Can't Catch Up.
        • Amuro had significantly more experience in Char's Counterattack than Char had in the original series. Char was only 20 when he faced off against Amuro for the first time. Amuro was 29 in CCA.
  • A similar situation occurs in Mobile Suit Gundam 00, early in the series there are a few veterans that can completely outmatch the Gundam pilots as far as skill is concerned, and best the Gundams in one on one combat. But the Gundams are so strong they can just shrug off the attacks.
  • Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple Creepy Child Chikage Kushinada (and her teacher, Mikumo) adheres to this trope. She's a grade school girl but is shown to be at least on par with the teenage characters because she has enough skill to fight and defeat normal adults. She is noted as being a fighter of 100% skill, 0% power, rather than split between the two. What is actually meant by this is that Chikage applies no force of her own during a fight, but uses the enemy's force against them, a tactic used in multiple martial arts. While most fighters are a combination of strength and skill (strength being striking power, skill being throwing power or technique-related ability) Chikage is all skill—she only throws her enemy in such a way as to use their own weight, momentum, etc., against them, rather than create an impact herself. As usual, this stems from the manga taking a martial arts concept to its absolute extreme.
    • Also Miu, as pointed out to Kenichi at the beginning of his training.
  • Kenta Kobashi from Hajime no Ippo. Compared to Ippo, he's a weakling, and he's got no badass knockout techniques. In fact, he's never scored a knockout in his career... and yet, Kobashi gives Ippo a run for his money by playing mind-games, making frequent use of clinches, and using a stance that allows him to easily reach with point-getting jabs, while sacrificing his ability to score heavy blows. Definitely not badass, and the audience hates him, but by playing with the rules, Kobashi manages to win most of his matches. He would've beaten Ippo too, if he hadn't tried to finish him with a knockout.
    • Also Ichiro Miyata. His own physical strength is pathetic when compared to other boxers, and he has a Fatal Flaw in the form of a glass jaw... but he also has huge speed and does what he can to use counters to his benefit.
  • Syuusuke Fuji of Prince of Tennis fame. He eschews physical fitness and outright strength in favor of counter techniques that require outrageous (impossible) amounts of skill to perform. He later gains some strength in a filler training camp in the anime, but this never happens in the manga. Either way, it stops being addressed as the series delves into further ludicrousness.
  • This trope is pretty commonplace in Ranma ½. Ranma defeated Prince Herb, who far outclassed him in pretty much every way possible, by using a technique to gather up all of the energy Herb was giving off and turning it against him. Happosai is a frail old man, but he can easily toss far stronger opponents through walls or over the horizon by redirecting their momentum with a pipe.
  • Kenshin Himura of Rurouni Kenshin fits this trope. Kenshin is a short, skinny and relatively weak man, so much so that he eventually has to give up swordmanship because his kenjutsu style is meant to be used by stronger men and overusing it damaged his muscles. Despite this handicap, he is able to take down the most powerful warriors in the series (aside from his own master) because he's just that damn skilled.
    • Well, technically, Kenshin is on the stronger side of "athletically fit," at the very least he's a wiry bastard. The downside is, as stated, the fact that his style of choice was designed for much larger, stronger, more durable men. Essentially he's a Fragile Speedster trying (and self-destructively succeeding) to be a Lightning Bruiser.
  • Chrono of Lyrical Nanoha, who's explicitly mentioned in the first season to be weaker in Power Level compared to Nanoha and Fate, a comparison he scoffs at, stating there's more to magic than that. He then proceeds to prove his point during the penultimate episode of the first season where he pulls a One-Man Army in Precia's Garden of Time while everyone else needed to charge in as a team, and again in the manga volume set immediately before the second season where he effortlessly defeated an improved Fate in record time when she had to battle him for her Mage Exam.
    • An even better example is Nanoha and Fate's Old Master, the original Head Trainer of the Time-Space Administration Bureau. Despite being a lowly AA-ranked mage using standard bureau equipment, the third season manga revealed that she managed to beat the AAA-ranked, Bigger Stick-equipped Nanoha and Fate at the same time when they entered the TSAB training school.
    • Yuuno Scrya is quite possibly the weakest—or at least just definitely the least well-armed—combatant in the series. However, his mastery of binding and barrier magics make him the most Badass Non-Action Guy ever. He's also demonstrated the ability to force someone to be teleported against their will, which, when you think about it, is probably the single most lethal ability ever shown in the series. The unpleasant possibilities for it are endless, but sadly never explored.
    • Shamal is in the same position as Yuuno, only she does have a powerful Device backing her up. She debateably has the most impressive record in the series at standoff combat, nearly paralyzing Nanoha from at least a half-mile away, and in every battle she's had a part in her opponents did not know she was there until attacked. Her skills with barrier, portal, and teleportation magic have endless tactical application that the series never explores, from making people run into instant magical walls at several times the speed of sound to portaling them off somewhere unpleasant. Yuuno would be capable of the same tricks if he had a copy of her Device.
      • There is the part in the final battle of A's where she locates the defense program's core and, with the help of Yuuno and Arf, teleports it to outer space, where the Arc-En-Ciel can be fired at it without destroying much of Uminari city; scrying, binding and teleportation magic succeeds where Wave Motion Guns can't completely do the job.
    • Teana in StrikerS often worries about her own worth as a mage, noting that she has no unique skills and not that much magical power compared to the other members of Section 6. However, she eventually learns how to put her illusion magic to good use in conjunction with her sharpshooting skills, and defeats three of the Numbers Cyborgs by use of perfectly timed attacks and some help from Vice.
      • Not to mention that she is apparently Nanoha's best student, as she is the only canon character whom Nanoha taught her signature Starlight Breaker spell (well, Reinforce and Subaru also used it but they merely copied Nanoha). There is a subtle meaning to this fact: Starlight Breaker's quirk is that it isn't powered by the caster's mana but rather, the magical energy dispersed in the environment. In other words, it is the ultimate achievement for a Weak but Skilled mage, allowing her to unleash powers way over her head by skillfully managing the available resources.
    • Veyron from Magical Record Lyrical Nanoha Force. In the mostly Unskilled but Strong Huckebein family, he's the only one who cannot React. Nevertheless he can hold his own against Riot Force 6's operators and actually defeats a Reacted enemy Eclipse infectee in direct combat.
    • Also in the Force manga, Signum is forced to become this after her defeat by Cypha of Huckebein. Ordinarily, she's the most skilled and the second-strongest character in Riot Force 6, but all of that power doesn't mean a thing against the Eclipse powers of the Huckebein family. She's left with nothing to use against them but her mastery of the sword, which she still possesses in full measure.
  • Shikamaru from Naruto fits it completely if not for that fact that actually doesn't put in much training and consistently facing opponents that are older and more experienced then him (one of his biggest enemies actually put this forward as his biggest advantage). As he is wonderfully described by some troper "Watching Shikamaru fight is like watching an acrobat work without a net."
    • For that matter, Neji Hyuuga is one of the most dangerous of the Konoha 12 and the first to make Jonin, despite having relatively low physical strength. His mastery of the Gentle Fist and Heavenly Spin render him capable of crippling opponents far stronger than him. For instance, he was able to fight on equal terms with Naruto during the Chunin exams and was even favored to win that fight, even though Naruto completely outclassed him in terms of raw power.
  • This is the explicit reason Evangeline McDowell was able to reach the quarterfinals during the first Tournament Arc of Mahou Sensei Negima despite being Brought Down to Normal. Even a ten-year-old girl can do some damage when she has been practicing aikijutsu since before most of the competition's grandparents were born (she only had to break out the strings against Setsuna).
    • It is heavily implied that she learned straight from either Morihei Ueshiba or Takeda Sokaku (respectively, the creators of Aikido and Aiki-Jujutsu.)
    • Takahata is unable to cast spells but still manages to be Badass within a society of mages with his Kanka (his title is "Death Glasses Takahata").
    • The most straightforward example is probably Nodoka, who has very little actual combat experience or magical skill, but still does a number on a Reality Warper who had been erasing people from existence, simply by skillful use of her artifact.
      • To clarify, her artifact is a diary that can read a person's surface thoughts if she knows their name. Not impressive, by itself, but handy. When she Takes a Level In Badass, she teams up with a group of artifact hunters and grabs two things: a ring that, when pointed at a person, reveals their true name, and a doohickey that lets her read books without opening them. The most major villains in the series have been defeated by "What are you planning?", "Where can I find X?", or "How do I escape from this situation?"
  • Kekkaishi's Tokine builds her combat style on this trope. Comparatively speaking, the barriers she can create have nowhere near the explosive power as those made by Yoshimori, nor can she make them as big. The solution? Just use the barriers you have in really awesome ways...
  • Usopp and Nami from One Piece are the crew's Lovable Coward and Chick respectively, and have little ability in physical combat. Word of God has even stated that Usopp will always be the weakest fighter of the crew. However, both are highly skilled in their specific fields of sharpshooting and navigation. Usopp, an amateur Gadgeteer Genius, has also built various weapons for himself and a Weather Control Machine for Nami with the specific intent of using their brains over their brawn to win battles. And he has proved that he's no pushover; when he goes all-out, he's capable of giving Luffy a run for his money while his entire body is injured and bandaged up. And as for Nami, her skill can basically be described in three words: Shock and Awe.
    • Robin would also qualify. While her physical strength is minuscule compared to the majority of foes that come her way, her extensive experience as an assassin as well as having two decades to work out the uses of her powers ensure that she's still very much a serious threat to most people. Furthermore, the nature of her powers allow her to apply what strength she has almost infinitely, limited only by the surface area of what she is grabbing. She has used this to twist a giant's arm behind its back with a giant arm made of other arms. Through smart use of her powers, she's one of the most dangerous Strawhats and often lumped in with the far physically stronger 'monstrous trio.'
  • Thorfinn fights like this when he's got his head on straight. When he doesn't, he turns into a Screaming Warrior and proceeds to lose rather spectacularly. Askeladd fights like this as well, all the time, but with him there's a slight subversion. Despite the tactics he employs physically he's still one of the strongest characters in the series.
  • Chiko, of The Daughter of Twenty Faces. Being just a pre-teen girl, she's physically weaker than pretty much everyone else she ever fights. However, she possesses impressive agility, quick wits, and clever resourcefulness, having been trained by a Gentleman Thief.
  • Sagara Sousuke from Full Metal Panic!. Both when in hand to hand combat (with men who are a lot more muscled, no less), and when he's fighting in his AS (although this trope is more pronounced when he's in an inferior AS). There have been numerous times where he was piloting an old, worn down model of AS while fighting against new, far superior AS. And while everyone underestimates him and thinks he'll never win, he ends up taking down the opponents easily by using his skill and strategies. Of course, it also helps that he's a Combat Pragmatist.
  • Kaku Kaioh in the Baki the Grappler series. Was once very physically strong, until he came to believe that this was the superior way to fight, as his strength would fade with age, but skill would not.
  • Sano from The Law of Ueki has two powers: to turn towels to steel and his Level 2 make the towel steel supermagnetic. From this, towel-boomerangs, towel-swords, towel-gags and at one point charging at extreme speeds using a towel MAGLEV TRAIN.
  • Rukia of Bleach is only a moderately powerful fighter and is miles below the main character, but manages to find ways around her opponents' weaknesses with her zanpakuto and knowledge of kido, from discovering a way to shine light on an opponent whose powers work in darkness to freezing an enemy to prevent him from using a plant-based ability.
    • Momo Hinamori, despite having a different zanpakuto, has a similar philosophy. She know she oesn't have lotsa raw power, but uses what she has very efficiently.
  • In the original Dragon Ball, there's a bit where Goku goes back in time and meets Master Roshi's old teacher, Mutaitou. By this point Goku is far stronger than the Old Master, including having killed the monster that wiped out both the master and all of his dojo except Roshi and his Evil Counterpart Rival, Tsuru. However, when they spar Goku's moves are so reckless and sloppy that Mutaitou manages to counter all his attacks with ease.
    • This was also how his first meeting with Mr. Popo went.
    • This trope is the bane of the human Z-Senshi's existence. It's entirely possible that Krillin, Yamucha, and Chaozu might be able to keep pace with the Saiyans in terms of actual fighting skill, but the uber-powerful foes the Z-Senshi face mean that the humans typically end up as benchwarmers, or are simply beat up as per The Worf Effect. Even if it's only anime Filler, Tenshinhan, Yamucha, and even Chaozu did get their own personal Crowning Moment of Awesome when they faced the Ginyu Force while being trained by King Kai. North Kai's training methods, which were so good they allowed Goku to utterly thrash Nappa when he returned to Earth, proved just as effective for the humans in that it allowed them to keep pace with Frieza's elite troops, and come out on top.
  • Yugi Mutou, from Yu-Gi-Oh!, seems an ineffectual wimp who, in spite of being a gutsy little mite, would be about as much use in a fistfight as a squashed watermelon. But in a universe where Card Games are Serious Business, Yugi reigns supreme. (Regular Yugi fits this trope better since the Other Yugi has Hard Work Hardly Works going for him, whereas Yugi slowly but surely develops his abilities to the point at which he can and does actually defeat the pharaoh.
  • In Pokémon Special, Red and Green's main Pokémon have levels that range from the 80s to 90s, while only Blue's main powerhouse Pokémon has the level of 80 and everyone else is around 60-70 (her Granbull is only in its 20s). However, she rarely engages in direct combat as her victories are contributed to her skilled use of gambits.
    • Yellow counts too, when she's not using her level-booster powers. By base level alone, she is by far the weakest of the Dex Holders. She can think up of a few sound strategies during battle to make up for her lack of strength (since overusing her powers rapidly exhausts her), but the flaws of this trope are pointed out to her when she works out a complicated scheme to get past Lance's primary defense but is unable to actually break through his secondary one due to simply not having enough power.
  • Ookiku Furikabutte - Invoked - Momome points out that although Tajima is supernaturally quick, he just doesn't have the build to be a power hitter in baseball.
  • Clare from Claymore, despite being in theory the weakest of all the warriors, has learned every trick and tactic there is to kill Awakened Ones. Normally, she's cripplingly overspecialized, but as the series progresses, Awakened Beings start coming out of the woodwork. And then subverted horribly when she finally meets up with Priscilla after years of searching. Priscilla is by far the strongest character currently in the series and all the skill in the world can't put a scratch on her.
  • Until he Took a Level in Badass, Yuki of Mirai Nikki usually just let his Yandere Action Girlfriend do most of the fighting for him. However, he is arguably the most skilled at utilizing the power of his Diary, using it to anticipate moves in combat or finding very specific information from the future.
    • Said Girlfriend is the polar opposite of Yukki, but still manages to fit this trope. She is very strong and skilled, but her Diary is the weakest, only being able to predict one persons actions and her own Dead End.
  • Initial D gives us Takumi and his AE86 Trueno. Although his Trueno pales in comparison to more powerful cars like the RX-7s and Skylines, his skill with the Trueno is what allows him to, to the shock of those who haven't seen him in action yet, hold his own against such more powerful cars.
  • Shaman King has Yoh's father, who tends to say "It matters not who has the most furyoku, but who uses it properly". He can defeat his overpowered son and friends with his technique alone, but then again, Yoh and friends don't seem to understand that in the anime.
    • There's also the fight against Lee Bai Long. To stop him after he goes berserk once Jun's spell tag is destroyed, Anna summons the ghost of Bai Long's deceased master, who possesses Yoh in order to put the raging zombie down. Bai Long's master died a decrepit old man - and still kicks Bai Long's ass.
  • Lelouch Vi Britannia of Code Geass uses his intelligence and tactics as counter his Ace Pilot rival, all while being an average pilot and outright pathetic ground-pounder himself.
  • Just about any human in Beet the Vandel Buster capable of threatening a high star Vandel, including the main characters. Slade in particular fits this, he is small but quick, his special weapon is invisible rather than being an obvious representation of power like usual, and he is fond of advanced techniques involving intricate timing.
  • Infinite Stratos: Maya Yamada, the assistant homeroom teacher, goes up against two students in Ace Customs, using a training IS... and effortlessly curbstomps them.
    • In the same vein, Charles aka Charlotte Dunois. Having explicitly stated to pilot an outdated 2nd Generation IS Rafale Revive II (the same type that Yamada-sensei uses), albeit customized, she can and has gone toe-to-toe with more modern 3rd generation machines such as Blue Tears and Schwarzer Roegen.
  • Kisiragi of Eyeshield 21 is a weak pretty-boy with little stamina and only average speed. Yet he manages to be Co-Dragons to Marco alongside the Unskilled but Strong Gaou due to his ability to knock the ball out of a reciever's hand just after they get their hands on it. With only this skill, and his own stubborness, Kisiragi shuts down Monta, the best Wide Reciever in-series, and helps his idol, Gaou, take down Hiruma, possibly the smartest Quarterback around.
  • The Homunculus Wrath a.k.a. King Bradley in Fullmetal Alchemist. Not only he cannot regenerate like the other Homunculi, nor does he have their enhanced physical abilities, he's also turning sixty, something he likes to remind us often, downplaying his combat performance as well as the effectiveness of his Ultimate Eye; a skill that lacks the sheer power of, say, Lust's Ultimate Lance or Greed's Ultimate Shield. Finally, he uses swords in a world where firearms and long range alchemic attacks are fairly common. All in all, he shouldn't pose a significant threat to our heroes, right?...W-R-O-N-G.
  • Samurai Champloo: While Jin is definitely not physically weak, he's a lot more reliant on technical skill than his rival Mugen. This trope is most evident in the fight against Kariya; Jin's actually very close in skill with him, but outclassed in sheer power and Ki-Attacks.
  • Kuroko of Kuroko no Basuke. He doesn't have the talent or the build for basketball, but because of his highly refined and practiced skill at misdirection, he was able to be considered the "Phantom Sixth Player" of the legendary Generation of Miracles, his middle school team which took the national championship three years in a row.
  • In Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Akemi Homura is eventually revealed to be a version of this. Her actual powers are fairly limited; her status as one of the most accomplished warriors in the series comes from her creative applications of them. As well as a lot of Dakka.


Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • Batman. He's a guy with a funny suit and a bunch of neat toys who runs around with people who can bench-press planets. And, whenever there's a conflict, he wins, because he's the most skilled. It helps he's Crazy Prepared and keeps Kryptonite on his body at all times in the off chance Superman is a danger. Let alone his other plans...
    • The Joker. He might be a normal, rather fragile human, but he can concoct poisons and create gadgets that regularly overcome metas on a routine basis. Add in the fact that he would pretty much sell his soul for a box of cigars and massacre a kindergarten class on a whim, and you've got a guy whom almost every other DC Supervillain fears.
    • Tim Drake, the third Robin, shows off how much he's learned by employing the same tactics. In the last issue of his solo series, he's challenged to a duel to the death by Lady Shiva, the deadliest assassin in The DCU, who trained him in the first place. After what appears to be a Single-Stroke Battle, Tim is stumbling, with three broken ribs, while Shiva is standing confidently... until she falls to the ground, paralyzed. Tim spiked some hotel chocolates with a paralytic poison, activated by a heightened heart rate, before she even wrote the note challenging him. Standing over her, Tim then explains this trope: If he can't match someone with skill or strength, he'll beat them with his smarts.
  • Squirrel Girl, who has the powers of talking to squirrels while having squirrel agility, takes down Marvel powerhouses, including the Cosmic Powered Thanos, by exploiting their one weakness, being just that good, or having Plot Armor.
    • Rule of Funny is also a factor.
    • This trope probably applies to the entire Great Lakes Avengers team. They get no respect from the other superheroes, and their powers are...weird. Yet they still save the day now and then.
  • Averted in Calvin and Hobbes. Calvin once attempted to use this on Moe the school bully—or at least explain its mechanics—only to be beaten as easily as usual.
  • This is Karate Kid's (Legion of Super-Heroes) entire schtick: although he technically doesn't possess any super-powers, he can still hold his own against Superman thanks to his knowledge of every martial art in existence.
  • Cassie from Hack Slash is a Badass Normal always fighting against undead monsters many times stronger than her.
  • Believe it or not, Spider-Man in relation to the rest of the Marvel Universe. Sure his powers are pretty impressive to a normal person, but he's a lightweight compared to the some of the guys he normally hangs out with. However, by using his brains, all his powers, and absolute refusal to give up he can, and often does, take down even literal Physical Gods.
    • Doesn't hurt that his Unstoppable Rages are quite possibly the most legitimate in Marvel, next to the Hulk himself.
    • Most of his rogues' gallery is stronger than him, and many of them can break his webbing, so Spider-man has to outthink all of his opponents. One of his favorite tricks is to hit an enemy with a strand of web, even though said villain is physically stronger and heavier so Spider-man cannot throw him. When the enemy tries to yank Spider-man towards them, he uses the momentum to deliver a nasty kick or punch.
  • Jesse Custer from Preacher (Comic Book) is this compared to Cassidy, and has notably kicked his ass. As Jesse puts it, "Fella taught me to fight was the same piece of shit shot my daddy dead in fronta my eyes. That'll tend to focus your concentration".
    • One of Jesse and Cassidy's fights hilariously subverts this. Cassidy throws a punch in a rage, which Jesse blocks; Cassidy is cowed and leaves. Jesse immediately asks Tulip and Amy to drive him to the hospital, as the punch broke every bone in his hand.
    • Tulip also fits this trope, being a talented gunfighter who routinely goes up against both normal humans several times her size/strength and supernatural creatures. Of particular note is the time she shoots Cassidy out of a window and into the sunlight. Bonus points for doing it with one hell of a hangover.
  • This is pretty much the schtick of Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four. He's physically the weakest member, but his mind makes him the most dangerous by a long shot.
  • John Constantine is, by his own admission, terrible at fighting. He will more often than not lose out in a straight-up fist fight and doesn't really use any magic outside of rituals, and then only when absolutely necessary. Regardless, anyone who decides to piss him off better watch their backs, because chances are that he will be arranging some spectacularly terrible fate for them somewhere down the line.
  • On paper, Captain America (comics) isn't all that impressive. He's listed as the height of human potential, but a good chunk of his enemies are way beyond that. Unfortunately for most villains, he's more than skilled enough to make him one of the top A-list heroes in Marvel. On at least one occasion, he's actually beaten The Hulk.
    • In one instance Captain America lost the strength and agility that was given to him by the Super Solider serum, turning him back into that skinny kid from Brooklyn. While being intimidated by some newly super-powered thugs, Cap tells them that while the serum gave him physical strength, his skills are the result of years of training and discipline. He then demonstrates.
  • Empowered has shown signs of this. While her supersuit really is pretty powerful, it is easily damaged and rendered useless, making her an extreme Glass Cannon. However, unlike 99% of the other superheroes in her universe, she actually thinks, and this has allowed her to beat villains that others were not able to. She also notes that as cool as throwing a car looks, you'll do much more damage by just driving it into them.
  • Doctor Strange (yes, really), when up against the caliber of threat that will get a Sorcerer Supreme involved, is almost always overpowered and outclassed. He still wins through a combination of luck, knowledge, and the clever use of what he has.

Film[edit | hide]

  • In The 13th Warrior, one of the thirteen picks a fight with a younger, bigger, stronger mook and lets him beat him up for a while before hacking his head off to show that the thirteen are stronger than they seem.
  • RoboCop combines this with Weaksauce Weakness: The cyborg defeats ED-209 by knowing how to climb stairs.
  • In Forbidden City Cop, Ling Ling Fat inherited a position in the imperial bodyguards, but doesn't actually know any martial arts. Instead, he's a clever Renaissance Man who uses his wits and inventions to outfight his enemies.
  • Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman. He's old, blind, feeble, and homeless. He practically hobbles up to his opponents, and then cuts them down.
  • Hit Girl of Kick-Ass is an 11-year old girl, but is capable of killing multiple adult opponents due to her superior training in martial arts, weapons and firearms (just go with it). Notably, in unarmed combat against an opponent who is an equally skilled martial artist, his significant advantage in terms of weight means that she actually has trouble keeping up with him.


Literature[edit | hide]

  • Karrin Murphy of The Dresden Files. While not exactly physically weak, she's a tiny Badass Normal up against a lot of supernatural creatures who could in theory mop the floor with her. She's just an expert martial artist and marksman, makes sure to remember and implement any weaknesses she learns, and is willing and able to improvise - at one point she takes down a chlorofiend (read: plant monster) with a chainsaw.
    • Anastasia Luccio, the Captain of the Wardens, is this by necessity, due to a body swapping incident with a necromancer. Her new body just doesn't have the same magical talent her old one did, forcing her to constantly conserve her energy with her spells. That being said she can use the same fire spells as Harry as needle-thin beams of exteremely precise and intense heat and cast mass-concealing veils to hide people. Harry says that even with the decrease in power he wouldn't want to fight her.
    • In Ghost Story Harry's apprentice Molly has gotten in on the act—again, she doesn't have nearly Harry's raw destructive power, but she's gained enormous skill in illusions that let her evade and fool multiple attackers at once, sometimes tricking them into killing each other.
  • In Ender's Game, Ender Wiggin killed several larger opponents in hand-to-hand combat.
  • Discworld has Cohen the Barbarian (and the rest of the Silver Horde). It says a lot about his skills that Cohen is in his eighties, has been a barbarian hero his entire life, and is still alive.
  • One of the 'viewpoint' protagonists in the light novel series Fate/Zero, Emiya Kiritsugu, is presented as this. While he is an expert marksman, most of his successes come from exploiting his targets' weaknesses and generally fighting very methodically. Whenever he is in a direct confrontation, he will always be the one running away, while waiting for the best time to put his plans into action.
  • In The Wheel of Time, Mat Cauthon outfights two stronger and more practiced opponents at the same time, while recovering from a serious illness. He's really good with the quarterstaff.
    • Mat is also a Ta'veren...a low grade reality warper. Further, he had 3,000 years of battle data crammed into his head by beings from an alternate dimension.
  • Jasmine from Deltora Quest is tiny, and basically has this as her fighting style throughout the series, even winning a fighting tournament with it in the fourth book. Lief also uses it to an extent, he's at least average in size and strength, but most opponents are still bigger and stronger.
  • David from The Bible (in his fight against Goliath) is the quintessential weak but skilled character.
  • Elric, until he acquires Stormbringer
  • Subverted in the Detective's Story in Dan Simmons' Hyperion, where the protagonist notes that while Weak but Skilled is sometimes good enough, it can't stand up to Strong And Skilled.
  • Hrathen from Elantris is hardly weak, being a Badass Preacher par excellence, but he's nowhere near as physically powerful as a magically-enhanced Dakhor Monk. He's still able to hold his own against them because he's an incredibly skilled swordsman, while their power has made them arrogant and sloppy.
  • In Dark Rendezvous, Scout is a Jedi Padawan. The Force is weak with her; she makes up for it with determination, quick thinking, and endless training. She's got Heroic Resolve in spades and bloody-minded determination, and in a book full of concern about almost every other character maybe one day turning to the Dark Side, no one believes Scout will, not even herself, because she fights so hard to be the best Jedi she can be. Just to drive home the point of how good she was: she survived The Purge that killed most of the full Knights and Masters of the Jedi order. In her non-Dark Rendezvous appearance the author had other Jedi look down on her for having weak powers, but it only takes one line to see that that author was just not doing the research.

Yoda: "Too few Jedi have I already. But even had I a crop of thousands, small one, I would not let you go without a fight. Spirit and determination you have. Between the stars, so much darkness there is. Why would I throw away one who burns so bright?"

  • In Duel of Sorcery, Serroi succeeded as a meie by way of quick reflexes and sheer determination.
  • In the Dale Brown novel Sky Masters a small Filipino group using outdated ships is able to trounce a larger, modern Chinese flotilla to the point that the Big Bad admiral in charge of said Chinese flotilla is pushed over the Godzilla Threshold.
  • Deconstructed in Heroes Die. When Talann fights Berne, she initially holds out, but Berne has some mean skills of his own too, and her inability to close the power gap gets her killed.
  • Lord Peter Wimsey is particularly noted to be this, when it comes to a test of strength he'll get taken out, but there's been several a villain who's been surprised that the short, thin, well-dressed man in spats has insanely fast reflexes and a considerable knowledge of martial arts that will make an opponent's bulk a disadvantage.
  • Tavi from Codex Alera has no access to fury power, while everyone else in Aleran society does. It forces him to become very skilled at kicking people's butts all on his own power. The teacher even has him deliberately pretend to be horrible at it so he can serve as a counterexample for the other students in fight training. Then he starts developing his furycraft powers...


Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Doctor Who The Doctor, aside from a handy screwdriver and a parlor trick regarding kinda-sorta-not-really dying, is for all intents and purposes, a mortal being no more powerful than any other sharp-witted human male. And yet, he has engineered the downfall of entire races by being merely smarter than them.
  • MacGyver lived and breathed this trope. He generally loses straight-up fistfights with larger or stronger opponents. He always needed to attack from advantage, throw sand, or use some gadget to win. What keeps him from being a Combat Pragmatist is that he Doesn't Like Guns and never uses them.
  • Ethan Rayne from Buffy can't take Giles in a fight, but he has a flair for magic-induced chaos.
    • The potential slayers in season 7 were able to kill vampires with minimal training and without superpowers through sheer will to live, but fell short of Badass Normal.
  • Wesley from Angel is easily the physically weakest male member of Angel Investigations. Yet he managed to kill Skip, capture and cage up Justine and faced Vail in "Not Fade Away".
  • Rey Mysterio is the smallest and physically weakest regular male competitor on the WWE roster, usually outweighed by a good 30-40 pounds even in the Cruiserweight division. Yet he competes almost exclusively in the Heavyweight division and he's won more titles than 90% of the other guys.
  • Farscape - D'Argo is huge, strong, used to be a Luxan warrior, and has the ability to knock people out with his tongue. Aeryn Sun is slender, smaller, female, with a species weakness which means she starts dying whenever it gets too hot. But in any battle where D'Argo doesn't surprise her, guess who's tougher?!
  • Rescue Me had strong, young firefighter Franco training as a boxer. His first sparring partner was a man with decades of experience, who was way over 70 years old. Guess who won?
  • Ben Linus from Lost hardly looks dangerous, but he is fully capable of taking you down. He managed to destroy two Middle Eastern guys on horseback and armed with machine guns using only a telescoping baton and the element of surprise as weapons. There there's the fact that he's also a Chessmaster and a Magnificent Bastard and can play Gambit Roulette like few others...
  • The Battlestar Galactica Reimagined is a 50 year old bucket which was being turned into a museum when the Cylons hit, having been rendered obsolete by newer battlestars. Yet, thanks to its Commander, (eventually) hardened pilots and a True Companions mentality, they were able to survive the holocaust and the four years of ordeal. There is a reason why many fans believed Galactica could take out Pegasus despite the former being heavily outgunned by the latter.
  • A curious example of this pops up in the form of Cameron in The Sarah Connor Chronicles. While she's far from the weakest member of the main cast, she's still much physically weaker than other machines, being very small and lightweight. In a straight slugging match, she tends to lose. However, Cameron is intelligent and adaptable, making use of her surroundings, Improvised Weapons, and outmaneuvering opponents to defeat them.


Tabletop Games[edit | hide]

  • Rogues in Dungeons & Dragons are practically the patron saints of this trope. Not only can they apply their dexterity to weapon skill instead of strength like most classes, but they also learn much more quickly than their counterparts. Even low intelligence rogues will have a healthy set of skills, while a high intelligence human rogue will quickly become the team's ninja historian animal taming demolitions expert.
    • The rogue's signature sneak attack ability was also changed from a damage multiplier in 2.0 to deal consistent bonus regardless of the rogue's strength or size of his or her weapon in 3.0 so that rogues do not particularly suffer from low strength or lightweight weapons.
    • A Rogue-friendly prestige class in v3.5 called Invisible Blade applies this trope more narrowly to combat. The rogue becomes incredibly skilled at fighting with daggers, and can now apply his Intelligence bonus to armor class as well as to skill points. As a trade-off, the Invisible Blade cannot wear any armor. To qualify for the prestige class the rogue must defeat a Worthy Opponent in single combat using nothing but a dagger.
  • The Haos attribute from Bakugan absolutely thrives on having lower power levels by having cards that give the weaker Bakugan a tremendous advantage (The wider the margin, the better). Probably the only game where people get into arguments over who has the weakest of something.


Video Games[edit | hide]

  • The player deliberately invokes this in any Low-Level Run.
  • In the first Half Life game, the player character Gordon Freeman is a scientist who theoretically isn't cut out for the kind of mayhem caused by the resonance cascade. He has to make do without any firearms at first, and, given a skilled player controlling him, could be said to either take a quick, practical level in badass or just discover that he's naturally skilled as a fighter.
  • Metafictionally speaking, in games with leveling systems, early-to-middling bosses (particularly difficult ones) are Weak but Skilled: They often have access to a variety of skills/spells/attacks/whatever and a complex AI script, however, in the big scheme of things their actual statistics are unimpressive and will probably be beaten out by the Random Encounters of the later game—which, in turn, tend to be Unskilled but Strong.
  • You, in Mabinogi: A good player with half-decent skill ranks can annihilate mighty bosses while taking only Scratch Damage, while an incompetent player with mighty stats will be curb-stomped in short order.
  • The vast majority of Boss Battles will make the Player Character an example of this.
  • Pretty much any top down/Bullet Hell Shoot'Em Up such as Ikaruga or Beat Hazard requires that the player be this.
  • You, in Nethack. Your only hope of survival is good tactics, but with proper preparation you can survive the wrath of a GOD.
  • You, in Deus Ex. Even when you get the laser sword, super speed and inhuman damage soaking. You'll still get taken down by most enemies if you don't think carefully.
  • In Okami, Waka fights Amaterasu twice, and though he loses he urges her to get stronger. It's clear that he's far stronger than Ammy through most of the game's beginning and middle because he shows up to help in the very final fight, and manages to block a full strength blast from Yami long enough to deliver a Final Speech. It helps he's been awake and active for 100 years while Amaterasu was weakened Sealed Good in a Can, but he's still just a mortal and survives fighting gods.
  • In the Mega Man games where he is playable, Proto Man is an example of this. Due to a defect in his power system, he is in constant pain, and ingame tends to take fewer hits because of it. Avoiding hits and fighting smart is his only option to take on enemies.
    • Mega Man, himself, at least to begin within his games. His arm cannon (and later Mega Buster) is vastly inferior in terms of power to his opponents. Only by the end of the game, when he's a walking arsenal of doom, does he go to the other side...and then still require skill, because he's still just a small robot facing huge massive weapons of destruction.
    • Mega Man X fits even more than Mega Man, considering the fact that he's almost always smaller and less technically able than the opponents he faces, but he's goddamn unstoppable once he starts. Add the fact that every game still manages to have That One Boss even after he gets his 'Ultimate' armor.
    • It's stated in canon that adherence to this trope is entirely voluntary for all incarnations of Mega Man. With their signature adaptability and intellect, any Mega Man could easily become powerful enough to wipe the floor with the rest of the cast combined and quite rightfully fear the corruption this could lead to.
  • Certain Ace Combat One Bosses display the ability to kick your ass despite using statistically weaker planes (such as Espada Team using a starting fighter and a "multirole" fighter-bomber in a pure air-to-air mission)... to an extent that might be considered the computer Cherry Tapping you.
    • On the other side, you have, canonically at least, Mobius One in his Raptor against up to six Wyverns and Gryphus One against the Fenrirs, as well as Cipher and Talisman in (Strike) Eagles against Solo Wing Pixy's Morgan and Ilya's Nosferatu respectively. While neither the Raptor nor the Eagle are objectively "weak" in-game, they are statistically outclassed by these superfighters. Nevertheless, the protagonists still pull off wins. Then you get to the Cherry Tapping examples...
  • In the first two Fallout games, it's possible to take an at-creation trait called Skilled, that makes your character into one of these. You gain perks (miscellaneous, but potent benefits) less often but get a bonus to all your skills (medicine, gun skills, etc). It's generally considered inferior to its counterpart trait since skills are easy to raise and specialize in, but perks come only with level gains.
    • It makes a comeback in Fallout: New Vegas where it instead means that you get 10% less experience points, but instead gain 5 experience points in every skill. Here it becomes a trait to cherish, as while it takes more time level up, a low level character with Skilled can be more effective than a high level character.
  • Lampshaded in Fate/stay night, with the comment that fighting technique is used to compensate for weakness. The context, however, is an inversion, pointing out that Berserker, consumed with magical bloodlust, is so damn fast and strong that he doesn't need skill.
    • A straight example would be Archer. Archer has one of the worst statistics of all the servants in the Grail War and has no divine blessings, super-powerful Limit Break weapon techniques, or anything like that. But is immortal, and has spent a lot of time of it fighting and planning how to use his every strength to its maximum. Consequently he's able to stand up to epic legends and demi-gods like Saber and Berserker.
    • Also Assassin, who is fast but not very strong and is wielding an essentially normal sword. His magical energy is not only low, it only declines because it cannot be restored. However, he fights on more than equal terms with Saber herself and only loses because his sword is bent from blocking an attack of hers. Even Lancer, who thinks nothing of fighting several other Heroic Spirits at once so long as he is on the defensive, highly dislikes the idea of having to fight Assassin.
    • Don't forget Souichirou. He trained in a martial arts style so strange that when people fight him for the first time they have no idea what he's going to do next. Because of this he is able to to almost kill Saber (second strongest Servant in the Grail War) during their first encounter, unarmed with a strength-boosting enhancement given to him by Caster.
  • Garrett from the Thief series is very much like this. He's reasonably athletic (he can run and mantle with the best of them, although he's no ninja), but in strength and combat is no match for the muscular bruiser guards or straight-out superhuman monsters he's regularly faced with. Instead, he relies on smarts and stealth to outmaneuver and outwit them all.
  • Faith from the 3D Platformer Mirror's Edge.
  • The Nanaya Clan is revealed in Kagetsu Tohya to have next to no supernatural abilities at all nor superstrength or anything but pure assassin skills. The most badass of them all, Nanaya Kiri, only has the ability to sense the thoughts and emotions of others. Normally, they go up against horribly dangerous monsters at the likes of Vermillion Akiha or worse. Akiha's who actually know how to fight, that is. And they win. Just think if Shiki had actually grown up with them before they were wiped out and then gotten his Mystic Eyes. How much training can a six year old really have received anyway? Yet he still takes out Nero Chaos, Roa, Walachia, Satsuki and at least one more of the 27 top Dead Apostles before they even notice he's there.
  • Little Mac in Punch-Out!!, particularly in his NES incarnation. Pint-sized guy vs. title holders who are many times bigger and more muscular than him, anyone?
    • It should be noted that his Star Punch is only acquired by hitting the opponent at a moment of opportunity, and tends to be less powerful than many later game opponents' punches, which clearly shows how much the players must rely on tactics and be more efficient than their opponents.
  • In Neverwinter Nights 2 this is a fundamental part of the conflict between Sand and Qara. It is implied that Sand has no extraordinary aptitude for magic, and yet though training and dedication, he's an accomplished wizard when you meet him, knowing both the theory and practice of magic. As a sorceress, Qara comes by her power naturally, but doesn't bother to learn to do anything with it beyond the apparently all-purpose application of "Blow Stuff Up".
  • In Metal Gear Solid 4, Solid Snake has aged considerably but is still able to fight effectively against physically and technologically superior opponents using his elite covert warfare skills.
    • This is in fact a major theme of the first and fourth games: experience and skill trumps pure strength. Snake repeatedly triumphs against the Genome Soldiers of the first game, and the PMCs of the fourth game, because he knows what he is doing and has the confidence and ability to pull it off, while the other side is relatively unskilled but has a significant numerical and technological superiority.
  • Luanne Lui from Backyard Sports, mostly due to her speed.
  • A rare villianous example from Guild Wars - High level Charr are still not at a particularly high level compared to most enemies you face at maximum level, but still manage to be some of the hardest enemies in the game due to the fact that they have better thought out combinations of skills then most enemies and being a lot more coordinated.
  • Doctor Mordin Solus in Mass Effect 2 was a member of the Special forces of his Race. He's small, but can take out several mercenaries by himself.

Mordin: Not always been a doctor, can handle myself. Advantage of being Salarian. Turians, Krogan, Vorcha all obvious threats... *sharp inhale* Never see me coming.

    • Most salarian soldiers do this. Salarian are not a strong race, so they use their heads to fight.
    • Shepard in the original Mass Effect was a regular, ordinary human, who still managed to take down Krogan, Thresher Maws and even Reapers. Technically this makes them more badass than they are in the sequels, as the Lazarus Project meant they were now Made of Iron.
  • Another pair from BioWare: Mission Vao and T3-M4. They have the lowest hit points in the party, but they're the best when it comes to disabling mines, hacking computers, picking locks, or turning the security systems against your enemies. Mission also has a nasty sneak attack ability while T3-M4 can be equipped with stun guns and flame-throwers in addition to blasters.
  • You as Gene in God Hand. Sure, between the Unleash and the Reel/Roulette you do have a lot of power, but the other 80% of the time when you're building up to the former, even simple mooks can tear you a new breathing hole very fast. Dodging and knowing when and how to retaliate are very important. It's a Nintendo Hard game, folks.
  • Team Fortress 2's Spy class is one of the weakest classes in a straightfoward fight, however, if you learn to play him to his stealth genre strengths in this otherwise FPS a Spy is the stuff of your opponent's worst nightmares, being a silent killer who's like a lethal version of Batman, instilling fear and terror into the enemy as they breath their last breaths.
    • It can be argued that the Sniper is shades of this trope as well. While the Spy has invisibility and disguises to aid him, the Sniper has only his rifle, his wits, and his marksmanship to take down his opponents. And more often than not, he does.
  • The Swordmaster Class of the Fire Emblem series, at least in the games they appear, tend to be this, but the class that epitomizes the trope would be the even rarer class, Assassin. Swordmasters have high speed and skill with a relatively low strength cap, but also gain a boost anywhere from 15% to 30%, depending on game, to their critical chance. Assassins tend to have the lowest strength cap in any given game they're in for final class promotions, but also have the highest skill cap, and are the only class with a one hit kill move that deals death even if they'd normally not even do damage with a normal attack.
  • This Trope is played very straight in the Shin Megami Tensei series. With a proper usage of status buffs, instant death spells and exploiting your opponent's weakness, you can easily trumph over a more powerful opponent. Of course that, being Nintendo Hard, the same principle applies to your enemies.
  • BlazBlue gives us Bang Shishigami. "Weak" as in being one of the few pure humans in the series, and thus having no genetic or eldritch empowerment, he also lacks an empowered weapon with which to do battle with these beings. He actually has a powerful Nox Nyctores, but has no idea how to use it and that thing has been in dormant state. "Skilled" as in his long years of ninja trainings which includes various ninja skills, including the hidden technique "Fu-Rin-Ka-Zan" (yes, that can be attained through training) and most importantly creative uses of them... especially the last one, since with that, he could survive against two high-class Complete Monster on Villain Sue levels (it does help that everyone else underestimates him). And with all those skills, he can handle himself just fine against various superpowered other characters in the game.
  • Armored Core Verdict Day has the player fight a flawed imitation of a Next from the fast paced and higher powered Armored Core 4 and For Answer that flies, has a radioactive kill field, and fires loads of missiles at you while the player uses a standard AC. Good luck!

Webcomics[edit | hide]

  • While Bun-Bun from Sluggy Freelance is hardly weak, he is still a mini-lop rabbit, and relies on this trope when taking on particularly tough opponents like Mecha Easter Bunny, evil Aylee, Alien Santa Claus, or the dread pirate Black Soul.
  • Grace in El Goonish Shive is not very skilled, but is able to beat the massively powerful Damien partly because Damien has even less skill. Elliot observes that because of his raw power, Damien hadn't needed to learn to fight properly before.
    • Not exactly this trope - Damien's lack of skill only mattered because Grace was created to destroy Damien and had counters to each of Damien's powers, namely her flight could match Damien's, her claws slowed his regeneration, and her fur was resistant to his fire attacks.
  • Fooker while protecting Ki from Sam, who is a football player, as he apparently had been "moonlighting with the UGA" at the time and knew martial arts well enough to win. This also comes up when he fights his counterpart in the Nega-Verse; he doesn't fare quite as well in this case, but manages to gain the upper hand when his opponent gets distracted.
  • Jason in the Walkyverse is exactly this. He once said he grew up a "mortal among gods"
  • Inverloch gives us an uninintentional Crippling Overspecialization subversion. Raul is the smartest headmaster ever at the Wizarding Academy, but he has almost no magical strength.
  • Gote, from the long-defunct webcomic Dominion, is an millenia-old immortal with no magical powers and more importanly no healing factor. How? In an email, the creator of said webcomic responded to that very question: "When somebody punches you multiple times, you learn to duck. They do it ENOUGH, you learn to hit back. Do this for a few thousand years, and you can do it damned near PERFECTLY. ;)" His nemesis Mack (the actual protagonist ironically enough) was by contrast a DBZ-grade superhuman.
  • Keychain of Creation: Ten Winds (an air-aspect Terrestrial)is, in terms of raw power (or in Secret's case, potential power), the weakest of the Five-Man Band. But he's also a former member of what's essentially an Exalted Seal Team 6; an extremely skilled fighter, frequently shown taking on Exalted who should (in theory) be able to steamroll him.


Web Original[edit | hide]

  • Sensei Ito, the aikido instructor at Whateley Academy in the Whateley Universe. He is this trope. He's a little old man with NO superpowers who starts each term by demonstrating this point. By picking the most powerful mutant in the class and then beating the crap out of him in front of everyone.


Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • Bruce Wayne in Batman Beyond is like this at a few points, considering that he's older and more physically frail.
    • Terry might fit this category too. The batsuit might enhance his strength compared to a normal human, but considering the sort of opponents he tends to go toe-to-toe with, he still is usually outmatched in terms of sheer physical force.
  • Bugs Bunny pretty much exemplifies this trope. He managed to win a heavyweight wrestling match against the aptly named Crusher through sheer pluck.
  • Aladdin generally falls into this trope in the various movies and TV series he appears in.
  • Subverted in Darkwing Duck: The title character is a master of the martial arts and beats other lightweights around with ease, but every time he tries to use his skills against a large, strong character, he might as well be punching a stone wall.
    • Nah, Darkwing definitely plays this trope straight. Any character he comes across that he can't beat with raw force, he will usually manage to take down with his wits instead... even if it does take a Let's Get Dangerous moment to do it.
  • The title character of SpongeBob SquarePants. The guy is so weak he can't even lift a barbell with stuffed toys, yet he is an expert in karate, and one training session with Sandy Cheeks had the park cut in half from the practice they had.
  • Sokka of Avatar: The Last Airbender. In a World where most of the main characters can control the various elements he's still the most Normal of the Badass Normal characters at that. To deal with that, Sokka often uses strategies and his weapons to bring down his enemies.
    • He's also very resourceful and a fast learner - see 'Sokka's Master' and how quickly he picks up swordsmanship having not been shown to have any prior experience in that particular weapon. He has, however, grown up in a tribe which relied on non-bending forms of combat for decades and picked up a lot on his own before being formally trained. That would have helped a lot when he met Piandao.
      • Aang could be considered this, especially before he learns the other Bending skills. Airbending itself mostly relies on evading. Bumi lampshades this;

Bumi: Typical Airbender tactics, avoid and evade. I was hoping the Avatar would be a little less *kicks a rock at the Avatar* PREDICTABLE.

  • Contrary to traditional, mostly-equal power levels, the Autobots of Transformers Animated are almost universally weaker than all but the lowliest Decepticon. They manage to get around this through a combination of team-based tactics and resource management that, while not entirely closing the gap, grant them some measure of advantage over their better-armed-but-less-organized counterparts.


Real Life[edit | hide]

  • Strip naked and fight a bear. Chances are, you're already dead. Fast forward a couple thousand years later, we came from flint-tipped spears to laser-guided missiles. NOW fight the bear. You won't even need to see him.
  • Increased efficiency is sort of the point of martial arts.
  • The Gracie family used this principle to win several of the early UFC and other NHB tournaments despite being generally smaller, lighter and weaker than many of their muscular powerhouse opponents through proper application of techniques with which the other fighters were unfamiliar, and in fact Royce Gracie was chosen to represent the family in the early UFC for this reason (as opposed to a larger relative). When the rest of the world became familiar with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu the advantage disappeared.
    • Roger Gracie both subverts and plays this trope straight; while he is renowned for his skill and technique, some observers and opponents believe that his physical attributes—specifically a mix of his long limbs (he's 6-foot-4) and functional strength—play a substantive role in his ability to implement them. Also, only one of his losses in the 21st century was to a grappler in his own weight class; all of his other known losses were to lighter opponents.
  • The martial arts are full of stories of elderly, weak or physically slight people defeating larger, stronger opponents. Though they are often exaggerated many of these stories are substantively true.
  • Just don't go around thinking those people can knock out bulls while they are too weak to tip over a glass of water. They don't have to be stronger than their opponent in order to defeat them, but certainly strong enough. Also if you ever get your hands on a tai-chi stone ball, a ten-foot pole or a bagua saber, you'll understand that those people are certainly NOT weak in the arm.
    • Dear Lord, they aren't. Tai chi is still a martial art, even if it moves slower than others, and still builds power. Underestimate practitioners at your own risk.
      • It only moves slower during practice - that's how it practices, it's a form of isometrics. In a real fight taijiquan calls one of its hand strikes "single whip" for a reason.
    • Further example: this editor studies tai chi, and his master is a fifty-four-year-old arthritic woman... who could steamroll him any day of the week.
    • This also applies to Wing Chun. It is easy to disparage as something you can "sting" all day with little effect, but those wooden practice dummies are tough, so you can imagine that the masters who can break them are no weaklings.
  • Also applies to 'hard' martial arts like boxing, karate and so on, despite what one might think. Timing, endurance and footwork are arguably more important than sheer physical strength in these arts, and a strike to the jaw is generally a knockout even without exceptional force behind it.
    • Boxer Paulie Malignaggi has excellent handspeed, good skills, and a decent chin, but can't crack an egg with his punches and suffers from hand problems. He has 27 professional wins, but only five of them have been by knockout.
    • Randy Couture, former UFC Heavyweight and light heavyweight champion, became famous again in a comeback win where he defeated current Heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia, who outweighed him by about 55 lbs, by simply out timing him and picking apart his opponents weak striking technique. He's come back to the sport a second time and despite being in his 40's is doing quite well by relying on his skill and experience to out strike his opponents, although a noticeable drop in power means he's stopped fighting in the Heavyweight Division. This is all the more impressive when one realizes Couture was originally a wrestler.
      • His wrestling is a large part of why Couture is still competitive at 47 years old in a sport filled with 20-somethings. His particular striking style (save for in the Sylvia fight) relies on "dirty boxing," using his greco roman wrestling skills to control opponents in the clinch while freeing one arm or the other to strike with. This allows him to stifle the movement of faster, more explosive strikers with his grappling skill, and throw submission artists off their game by throwing power punches in a range of combat where hand strikes are usually less dangerous. Couture makes up for the limitations of speed and chin due to his age by bridging the gap between striking and clinch grappling with his skill in both areas.
    • However, not having a strong enough punch can be a serious problem in boxing unless you're supremely skilled and masterful in technique, like a Bernard Hopkins, Floyd Mayweather, Pernell Whitaker, or the great Willie Pep. Otherwise, you simply don't have the power to keep guys off of you, who'll otherwise walk through your punches. Against a guy that, stylistically, Malignaggi would have had a distinct advantage over in Ricky Hatton, Malignaggi was dominated.
  • This applies in non-fighting sports as well. For example, heavyweight and lightweight rowers on crew teams have fundamentally different rowing styles. The heavyweights rely more on power, while the lightweights focus more on technique and row at a higher rate of strokes per minute. Individual rowers within boats in both classes also fall into this, depending on where they're sitting. Rowers at either end of the boat are responsible for turning and pacing and tend not to be as strong as the rowers in the middle seats, who are the main power.
    • A demonstration of this is frequently used for taking strong but inexperienced rowers down a few pegs. Once the 13 stone block of muscle has been beaten in an erg race by a 9 stone guy a foot shorter than him, he soon starts to take technique seriously.
  • Two words: Roger Federer. Sure he's not super thin and wiry but he's not OVERLY tall like some in tennis, nor is he massively built like other giants of the game like Nadal. He doesn't rely on massive serves, power volleys or other such tactics to win—just sheer skill.
  • This also applies to a lot of female tennis players like Maria Sharapova. However considering that the most successful female tennis players such as the Williams sisters, Stefi Graf, Martina Navratilova etc etc are all built like men, you have to question the validity of this.
  • In warfare, it is not enough to have overwhelming power both numerically and technologically. Tactics can and have allowed smaller, weaker forces to wreak havoc on apparently superior ones. In modern war, accuracy and tactics are every bit as important as weaponry and individual strength.
    • Subverted more often than not. Battles in the Modern Age are decided by small forces with superior firepower that operate like scalpels instead of swords. Or just bombing the crap out of stuff.
    • Both wars between Finland and USSR demonstrate this.
    • Israel's military history is rich with examples. The six-day war was Israel versus Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. The three latter states also received support from several other countries. The attack failed despite an overwhelming numerical advantage, and Israel actually gained territory.
      • It is historically confirmed however those wars were actually one-sided as they were actually weak whenever facing an opponent... Whenever they lost it was actually when they had the advantage... So it's a bi-polar case. In any war they've been in, the war almost always had a weak army that won.
  • Mouse wins epic boss battle against venomous snake with "barely a scratch on him".
  • Wayne Gretzky. To quote the other wiki: "Gretzky's basic athletic abilities were not considered impressive. He was 6 ft (1.83 m) tall, weighing only 160 pounds (73 kg) as an 18-year-old NHL rookie in 1979, and 185 pounds (84 kg) at the end of his career in 1999. At the beginning of Gretzky's NHL career, many critics opined that Gretzky was "too small, too wiry, and too slow to be a force in the NHL". On the other hand, his intelligence and reading of the game were unrivaled, and he could consistently anticipate where the puck was going to be and execute the right move at the right time. It was said that he "seems to have eyes in the back of his head" and had a knack of "rolling with a check".
  • In baseball, there are quite a few pitchers who can't throw above 85-86 mph (91-93 is considered normal) but have the ability to get hitters out consistently due either to perfect pitch placement or outstanding movement on their pitches. The so-called 'crafty lefties' like Jamie Moyer and Mark Buehrle are a good example of this; not to mention the knuckleballers.
  • Essentially the role of aggressor pilots in the US Navy and in Top Gun, during the Cold War. Flying outdated F-5 Tigers and A-4 Skyhawks, the more experienced aggressors regularly curbstomped pilots in the Navy's newest Cool Planes: The F-14 and F/A-18.
  • There's a story that circulates through the martial arts community about Bruce Lee that uses this trope. Apparently, another martial artist saw Lee in either one of his movies or at practice and thought, "I can beat him". He challenged Lee to a fight, and Lee accepted. Although the other fighter was bigger, stronger, and faster than Lee, Lee was able to defeat him handily because of his superior technique. Lee then proceeded to help the other man, showing him how he could improve his technique. This is one of the reasons why martial artists revere Lee.
    • Incidentally, in another place this trope can be found in his life - a major turning point in his career came when he realized that the thirty extra pounds (from about 130 lbs, virtually no body fat, to just over 165) of muscle that he'd built up torturously didn't help his technique at all - some stories say he learned this the hard way. Later, however, he had no choice but to embrace the role of Weak But Skilled. During leg exercises, shoddy posture for just a second damaged one of his sacral nerves and, basically, crippled him - his doctor told him he'd probably never do a high kick again. The fact that he continued being a competent martial artist - let alone reached what most considered to be the highest point in his career - goes a long way towards explaining why Lee wears this trope so well.
  • A weird example: in porn, some actresses that are not as classically beautiful and/or curvy as the perceived norm still manage to persevere in the industry by daring to do what others would not.