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"He can't use Ninjutsu or Genjutsu. That's why...he spent all his time on Taijutsu. He worked hard and concentrated everything on Taijutsu. Even if he can't do any other Jutsu, he won't lose to anyone. He's a Taijutsu specialist."
Might Guy talking about Rock Lee, Naruto

The Bare-Fisted Monk excels in melee attacks without wielding weapons.

Rather than finding flashy new equipment or learning new spells, a Bare-Fisted Monk draws on their own strength. Their main advantage is that they can passively keep improving their skills without shelling out cash. Their main disadvantage is that they can't rapidly leapfrog ahead in power by shelling out cash.

Bare-Fisted Monks have an unfortunate tendency to fall behind in the endgame, when everyone else is wielding mighty artifacts of yore and they're still throwing punches.

Occasionally, they will have weapons they equip, but they either don't do much, or actually lower their attack, which if these weapons can only be used by them, makes one wonder why they exist in the first place. Armor restrictions are also typical.

Compare with the Power Fist, which is a piece of equipment that augments unarmed attacks. Not to be confused with Good Old Fisticuffs, which is when the lack of a fighting style and weapons defeats people who have both.

Subtrope of Weapon of Choice, and pretty much exclusively the province of Warrior Monks (sometimes, even those from Western religions). Not applicable when everyone fights unarmed, of course -- there's nothing surprising about Rocky fighting with bare fists, since... well.. that's the point. Ironically, the order of Monks that popular culture usually equates with bare-fisted fighting (those of the Shaolin Temple) also learns to master multiple weapons for holistic development.

Examples of Bare-Fisted Monk include:


Anime & Manga

  • Almost all the cast from Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple, with the only exceptions of Kousaka Shigure, those who don´t fight at all and the Yami armed division.
  • Kenshiro of Fist of the North Star can fight well with nunchucks if he has to, but prefers his bare hands. The better to pop heads with!
  • Virtually all ninja from the series Naruto are trained in unarmed combat, but there are characters that are specialists.
    • Might Guy and his pupil Rock Lee utilize a style that emphasizes incredible speed and power and neither character uses other techniques (Rock Lee being literally unable to), and they don't often use weapons, either.
    • Another set of characters that specialize in unarmed combat are the Hyuuga Clan. They use jyuken, or 'Gentle Fist' and use energy to disable the ninja techniques of the opposition.
    • The Raikage is an atypical example, preferring techniques that enhance his already insane speed and strength while utilizing a professional wrestling-esque martial arts style.
  • Doppo Orochi, as the Combat Pragmatist he is, still gives us this wonderful speech on the aesthetics that a karateka should keep on:

 Actually, we already carry various weapons on us at all times. That’s why there’s no point in carrying other ones. A student who gets in a fight on his way to school can use his backpack… you can use a fan you just happen to have in your pocket… in a pinch, maybe a belt too… your shoes are also ok…at the most, is acceptable to use a knife in your attacker hands. Those are all the thing you might end up using. But nothing else is allowed! Even a pencil… or a fistful of sand… as soon as you arm yourself in preparation for a fight, you’re tipping the scales! And tossing away your pride in the process!


Comic Books

  • Thunderlord from Global Guardians is what you get when mixing Buddhism, martial arts and mutant powers of the Make Me Wanna Shout variety.
  • In the Marvel Universe, the Incredible Hulk is just so big, mean and strong that his fists are all the weapons he needs, a trait that applies to many other super-strong characters, albeit on a lesser scale.
  • Marv from Sin City is a non-martial arts example. While many of the mooks he fights use guns, he typically uses fisticuffs. This is despite the fact that he does have a gun which he named Gladys.


Literature

  • The History Monks of Discworld, at least the ones not outfitted by Qu.

"Are you any good with weapons?" asked Susan.

- "No," said Lobsang, proudly.

- "Then try to stay out of the way."
—"I mean I've been trained to fight without..."
  • The Bloodguard from the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant series disdain the use of weapons, believing that they will eventually betray their wielder. When a group of badass hunters display their ability to use garrotes to ensnare and kill their quarry, a Bloodguard examines one of their cords and dismissively snaps it.


MMORPGs

  • The Monk class of Ragnarok Online. Did we mention that they're Catholic Shaolin Monks? (Hey, if Nuns Are Mikos...)
    • The Taekwon class fight with just their feet.
      • Given that Taekwon means "hand and foot/punching and kicking" in Korean, this is slightly silly. Presumably the (Korean) developers thought it more catchy than "Kwondo" (Roughly translatable as "Way of Foot" or "Way of Kicking").
  • The Martial Arts powerset in City of Heroes exemplifies the superhero version of this trope, and is a favourite for Natural origin characters. Super Strength is similar, except it has a ranged attack where you rip up a chunk of the ground and throw it.
    • More recently added was "Street Fighting", which contains quite a few more circular motions than more realistic fighting styles, but has a very Mixed Martial Arts look and can be brutal when taking out groups of weaker foes.
  • The Monk Class in Dungeon Fighter Online sheds his weapon in the battlefield (by implanting it into the ground for myriad bonuses), then goes on to use those fistcuffs. Doing so gives the Monk unparalleled speed and juggling capability, and makes the class quite popular. However, one can still break their equipped weapon after shedding it like any other class.
  • World of Warcraft's fourth expansion Mists of Pandaria introduces the monk as the game's 11th (and 10th base) class. Although monks can use weapons, many of their attacks rely on unarmed maneauvers.
    • Blizzard had originally intended the discipline priest to be a melee DPS class, but it was found in early alpha testing not to balance. Prior to Cataclysm, you could still seem remnants of this in some of the discipline talents.
      • The Balance Druid, likewise, used to have a talent that restored mana whenever it landed a blow in melee. It is now a pure ranged spell-damage dealer.
  • One optional skill in Kingdom of Loathing is Kung Fu Hustler. With it, when you fight without a weapon or offhand item, you periodically gain intrinsic buffs. First you get bonus damage equal to three times your level, then 50% additional combat initiatve, spooky damage equal to three times your level, and bonus item drops. If you adventure with a weapon, you lose them all instantly. You also get new barehanded hit and miss messages.
    • There's also an optional challenge path called Way of the Surprising Fist, which restricts the use of weapons or off-hand items and severely reduces meat drops, but allows the player to learn path-specific skills.


Tabletop Games

  • The Monk class in Dungeons and Dragons (and the video games based on it).
    • In edition 3.5, monks make up for their general lack of magic items by simply developing those powers naturally. By level 20, a monk can attack five times a turn with fists that deal more damage than any light/handheld weapon, punch through adamantium, teleport, avoid at least half of the damage from most magic attacks, heal himself, and has actually ascended to a higher state of existence, rendering him immune to several effects.
      • Which sounds completely awesome, until you realize...
      • The Monk from the third-party 3rd edition supplement Dungeonomicon manages to break out of the Linear Warrior mold by augmenting their Bare Fisted attacks with Supernatural Martial Arts.
      • The 4e monk is a bit odd in by and large treating any weapons he is proficient with as implements. Thus, when using any of his special monk attack powers, the attack roll, base damage, and other effects are set by the discipline used regardless of whether it's executed barehanded or with, say, a dagger or spear. A magical weapon still grants its specifically magical bonuses when used this way -- but since monks also get access to ki focus implements, which for game purposes leave the hands free and provide the same enhancement bonuses and their own special effects, such a weapon is never strictly needed just to remain competitive.
  • Any player character from an Eastern-style Tabletop Game will probably know how to kick ass with his bare hands.


Video Games

  • One example: The Bards Tale Trilogy. I never figured how to finish, but eventually my monk got to having better armour class than my clanking paladin. Makes me want to try it out with a hit squad of monks sometime.
  • In Baldur's Gate II: Throne of Bhaal, the penultimate boss is Balthazar, a Bhaalspawn monk and one of only three enemies in the game to be immune to Time Stop.
  • Monks in Nethack take massive accuracy penalties if they wear body armor, and can only advance in a handful of weapon skills. They even take an alignment hit for eating non-vegetarian food, though it's a slap on the wrist past the first minute of the game, given that you can get gobs of alignment just by all the kills you'll need to be doing anyway. However, they learn a wide variety of intrinsics (special abilities), can learn magic to a surprising degree, and, of course, can build their martial arts abilities to the highest level.
    • They're still arguably the most difficult class to win the game with, even more so than the Tourist.
      • That's mostly due to Master Kaen, their quest nemesis, who is one of the hardest enemies in the game, and is practically designed to be strong against Monks in particular. After you beat him, the rest of the game isn't so hard.
  • The Monk job in Final Fantasy V. Monks can't wield any weapons, but have the Brawl ability, which allows you to as much damage as an armed fighter with your bare hands (without this ability, the damage you inflict is usually a single digit).
    • The Black Belt/Master of the original Final Fantasy (known as Monk / Super Monk in the original Japanese version). His first playthrough, he killed Kraken in the second encounter in one attack.
      • A maximum level (50, in this case) Master in Final Fantasy will, in one attack, do enough damage to kill Chaos, the final boss, twice over. Cast Fast on him, and he'll double that.
    • Most of the Final Fantasy games have Monk-type characters (Sabin from Final Fantasy VI, Yang from Final Fantasy IV (pictured above), Tifa from Final Fantasy VII, and Prishe from Final Fantasy XI, for example). Of course, most of these don't go without weapons, per se: they are typically given claws or gloves to help them keep up with more traditionally-armed allies.
      • Not Yang. His attack rating grows with him, and his claws are mostly for elemental properties and afflictions; even without those he will out-damage both Cecil and Kain. At a given level, he'll have more HP than anybody else (a good thing too, since he doesn't wear heavy armor) and his strength stat is always through the roof.
      • Yang's Daughter Ursula in the After Years is also a monk (though her class is listed as Princess during her debut chapter), but she has different commands from her father aside from the standard "Fight" and "Item", and the traditional Monk move "Kick".
    • Final Fantasy Tactics a 2 has the upgrade of the White Monk (which use knuckles and gloves): the Master Monk, which is stronger unarmed than with all except one weapon, but can equip poles to learn some really strong attacks. They can however, wield shields with a special ability, making them insanely hard to hit.
    • At one of the major points of Final Fantasy VIII most of the party is in a high-tech prison with no weapons, they all give up hope until Zell realizes he's the group's martial artist and doesn't need any weapons. He then proceeds to beat the crap out of a couple of guards and get their weapons back.
    • Interestingly, Vayne of Final Fantasy XII reveals himself as one, using several of the class's techniques in the first of his final boss forms.
      • If you learn the "brawler" license ability, the game will calculate damage in line with how Final Fantasy V did it. However, it's not the best approach to combat, since you can't equip a shield, bare-fisted fighting means no fancy weapon buffs/elements, and you have to sacrifice your accessory slot to keep up with everyone else.
    • Monks in Final Fantasy XI ditch the weak endgame trend of barefist fighters; they start off with naturally high vitality and hp, getting to the point where they have several hundred more hitpoints than "tank" jobs of their level, and with multiple passive traits and abilities are among the best damage dealing and pvp jobs in the game.
    • This also pops up in Chrono Trigger; the party gets tossed into a prison without weapons or armour, or even a way to swap party members, and until you find where the jailers have hidden your equipment, any enemies the party encounters will automatically defeat them and throw them back in jail. Unless you have the bare-handed fighter Ayla in the party, in which case she can start tearing through bad guys as soon as you get out of your cell.
      • Ayla is notable also because she is an exception to the "weakens by endgame" tendency. At higher levels she can still do more damage with her bare fists than Crono with his Infinity+1 Sword. And at level 96+ [1], critical hits with her fists do a guaranteed 9999 damage.
    • Final Fantasy Tactics goes here as well. I like the idea of punching out dragons, though. As with the Final Fantasy V Monks, the Monks in Tactics fight barehanded but can do just as much, if not more, damage as the armed characters. They also have the "Brawler" support ability which allows non-Monk characters to also fight barehanded and deal comparable damage. And this is a particularly good idea too, as barehanded attacks are potentially some of the most powerful attacks you can put out, with only some of the rare weapons being able to out-pace the damage done by a properly equipped (with mere store-bought items) Monk.
    • Final Fantasy II is a strange case. All characters can learn to tear enemies apart with their bare hands by attacking without weapons often enough and fists are one of the faster 'weapons' to Cap if the player focuses on them.
    • Among the Loads and Loads of Characters in Chrono Cross, a few are 'unarmed' in the traditional sense. However, not many of them are actually martial artists. The unarmed (and, in two cases, nonhumanoid) fighters still use 'glove's though.
  • In all SaGa games, all characters have the ability to Punch (or Kick.) In SaGa Frontier, using nothing but punch techniques leads to one of the most game breaking skills in the series.
  • Eternal Sonata has Falsetto, who despite using no weapons, is still capable of dealing massive damage.
  • The Fighter class in Dragon Quest III is basically this. Naturally, they use claws to keep up -- something hinted at by a character revered for taking down a bear in hand-to-hand combat.
    • Dragon Quest VI has a Martial Artist class (as the Fighter class has been retranslated as), though it's arguable whether it fits since weapon and armor selections are not based on class in that game.
    • There's also one in Dragon Quest VII, though it only has a partial effect on what the user can/cannot equip. (Mainly it's used to teach special moves.)
    • All the playable characters in Dragon Quest VIII get an Unarmed skill set, though weapons are generally more useful in most cases.
    • Dragon Quest IX has a Martial Artist class, which has access to the Fisticuffs skill set, which if maxed out increases the amount of damage done while bare-handed.
      • One common way to avoid doing massive damage to your own party when one or more of your characters are confused is to deliberately leave fisticuffs undeveloped and then simply unequip the weapons as necessary.
  • Captain Falcon and Ganondorf in Super Smash Bros share a moveset that only utilizes physical attacks. The main difference between them is that Ganondorf is slower and much more powerful while Falcon is the second fastest character in the game. Sonic the Hedgehog also takes this approach in Brawl, except much much faster.
  • The Fallout series: J.E. Sawyer of the canceled Van Buren project said that he intended unarmed fighters to be 'like mobile grenades'. And that's a good description for them in Fallout 2 and 3. In both of those, barehanded attacks have a quicker attack rate and markedly higher crit rate. In both of them, a single strike to the head has a good potential for instant kills, even against tougher opponents. In both, the unarmed fighter was somewhat left behind at the finale, against Frank Horrigan in Fallout 2 and during Liberty Prime's march in Fallout 3, but the form is still a viable game-finisher.
    • Bare fists took a nerf in favor of 'unarmed weapons' in Fallout: New Vegas, and the critical rate is no longer significant. Hence, the most tightly optimized barehanded fighter will not reach the fighting potential of a fist-weapon wielder.
  • For all the complaints regarding the uselessness of Unarmed/Unarmored skills in Morrowind, they were anything but. Unencumbered for maximum maneuverability, with high speed no fatigue cost strikes a monk build could render any opponent useless from fatigue loss in the first second, then take them down at leisure. Their weakness was finishing an opponent due to inability to deal health damage unless the opponent was unconscious, so at times it was a tedious exercise keeping an entire room knocked down while slowly chipping away at their life. But the final Boss was unkillable through combat, so keeping his fatigue low was a more workable strategy than direct damage hits.
  • Fei, Citan, and Rico from Xenogears all fight barehanded. They're all powerful fighters, too. Subverted in Citan's case when he eventually gets a slight upgrade as part of the plot. He'd been holding it in reserve, apparently.
    • All the barehanded fighters seriously lose out in attack strength towards the end of the game, even to Elly who is a mage. Fei more than makes up for it with his ridiculously powerful techniques that makes him the most powerful in non-Mecha fights.
  • Avernum 3 has this accidentally. Nobody thought to apply the damage cap to punches.
  • The Monk class in Diablo III is this, unless you have his using a bo staff or brass knuckles. Any other weapon you put on him, while you will get all the stats form it, will remain at his hip while he punches fools to death.
  • In MadWorld, the Black Baron reveals himself to be one in the very last boss fight. Weapons seem kind of redundant when you're jacked enough to perform non-comical Megaton Punches and create localized tornadoes.
  • By cross-training your dwarves in Dwarf Fortress with various tasks like mining, crafting professions and bookkeeping (yes) they can become legendarily strong, agile and tough. Then train them as wrestlers and they will literally scatter limbs and body parts of their enemies across the landscape with their bare hands.
  • In Rune Factory 3, the main character can Brawl when he learns to transform into a Golden Woolly. He cannot wield weapons when Brawling, but with practice can deal a huge amount of damage.
  • Rena Lanford from Star Ocean the Second Story is a rare example of this on account of usually being the party's white mage. While she isn't as strong as the dedicated fighters, her melee attacks are significantly faster than Claude's or Ashton's standard attacks, and a skilled player can use her in concert with a computer-controlled melee fighter to attack boss characters from two sides and bounce them back and forth with standard attacks.
  • Toyotomi Hideyoshi in Sengoku Basara 2. Tokugawa Ieyasu in the third game.
  • This is becoming a common element of the Tales of series, starting with Tales of Destiny. It is not uncommon to see this archetype combined with elements of other classes, for example Yuri Lowell.
  • Battle Realms has a monk unit which can be trained in the keep.
  • The Monk class of Desktop Dungeons takes a 50% physical damage penalty due to the HAND-TO-HAND attribute.


Western Animation

  • Ty Lee from Avatar: The Last Airbender.
  • In ThunderCats (2011) Thunderian princes Lion-O and Tygra are both adept at this type of combat. Lion-O uses it to beat all but the leader of a gang of muggers in a street fight, but is himself bested by older brother Tygra after impulsively challenging him to a match of Thundera's Gladiator Games.


Other

  • Being the Trope Codifier, every Wuxia title has plenty of these, sometimes mixed with Supernatural Martial Arts and Kung Fu Wizard. Ki Attacks are things characters in this kind of stories eat for breakfast, and the best of them can annihilate hordes of mooks in a couple of moves.
  • This trope isn't without real life examples. One of the most prominent is Masutatsu Oyama, the founder of the Kyokushinkai style of karate. He would hold public demonstrations where he would fight a bull with no weapons. On 49 of those occasions, he won by breaking the bull's horns off with knife hand strikes. On the other 3, he killed each bull with a single punch to the skull.
    • On the other hand, fighting a fully armed and armored opponent with one's bare hands in real life would usually end up with a dead monk, what with the lack of magically strong punches and kicks and armor-grade skin and all. At best the Monk might be able to disarm his opponent or force him to tap out. Most martial arts treat unarmed fighting and grappling as supplementary when weapons are involved. And yes, that goes for the vaunted "warrior monks" like the Shaolin, who trained with all the contemporary arms and armor of their day as their primary means of giving battle.
      • In that sense, the trope differs slightly for real life examples. Examples like Masutatsu Oyama or practitioners of Iron Palm would probably either train in armed combat alongside unarmed methods or eschew combat altogether. The Shaolin monks might qualify for both options, though, being both well schooled in weapons and pacifistic.
  • Monks in Zangband lose their special monk attacks when wielding weapons, and lose bonuses when wearing heavy armor. Their magic skills are fairly good, though.
  • The Yu-Gi-Oh! Card Game has two monsters that fit this trope -- Monk Fighter and Master Monk. Both are (inexplicably) Rock-Types, both are seen smashing rocks with their hands (Fighter) and feet (Master), and both come with useful effects -- when your Fighter battles, your life points don't feel it, and Master Monk can attack twice.
    • They also get two support cards -- Lone Wolf, and Kaminote Blow. Kaminote Blow in particular makes it so that, during the turn it's played, any monster attacked by your Monk Fighter or Master Monk will invariably DIE at the end of the battle. This is made sufficiently noteworthy due to the fact that its card picture shows Master Monk shattering the (3000-Defense-to-his-1900-Attack) Millenium Shield with his BARE FIST. Thus securing the Monks a spot on this page.
  • Black Belt from 8 Bit Theater is based on the character class from the original Final Fantasy. Not only is he capable of highly effective hand to hand combat but either his training or his Munchausen-esq foolishness allows him to utterly defy the laws of physics.
  • Princess Suzushiro Shikikagura from Princess Waltz is this, made from equal parts Hotblooded and Determinator. Funnily enough, she becomes rather cocky whenever the fighting starts, which is a stark contrast to how she usually is outside of them.
  • Chen-Chen in Harkovast is a Kung-fu nun who can shatter her enemies skulls with her fists!

Notes

  1. Way higher level than you'll ever need to be in order to win the game, but whatever
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