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What happens when you take the Mighty Glacier and turn him into a Gun Slinger? Or when the Fragile Speedster learns how to Sword Fight? Or when the Shapeshifter decides to study biology? For one, you get a level in badass.
For two, you get this trope.
The inverse of both Badass Abnormal and Charles Atlas Superpower. This trope occurs when you take an already abnormal character and teach them some sort of mundane skill to take their badassery Up to Eleven. Got an Imagination Based Power? Some engineering classes might make your constructs more formidable, along with art classes to stretch the imagination. Got Super Strength? How about some karate to subvert being Unskilled but Strong? The power and the skills involved can exist in numerous combinations, but it works to the same effect.
The main criteria is that the indicated character learned this skill after gaining their superpowers. If they were already a skilled detective before they were dunked in Phlebotinum, then that isn't this trope. Furthermore, this trope isn't about gaining New Powers as the Plot Demands; the new skills are mundane things that anyone could do with enough training or knowledge--it's just that combined with their powers, this makes them twice as effective. There is often some overlap with Brought Down to Badass, in which a super character is forced to rely on other skills after being Brought Down to Normal. In this trope, however, it's made clear that the character trained/learned while still empowered, and the skills are still there, whether they're super or not.
If foreshadowed and dropped until needed, this may be a Chekhov's Skill and involve a Training Montage. If not, this is sometimes a case of Suddenly Always Knew That. Status Quo Is God can cause this to be forgotten an episode later, only to later be subverted when the character exclaims he "Forgot I Could Fly". Being Unskilled but Strong may be a reason for this mundane skill to be taught to the character.
Anime and Manga
- In One Piece, this trope applies to most characters. Devil fruits don't get stronger, users become more creative at using them and develop secondary skills to make using them better.
- In Bleach, the Badass Blood Knight Kenpachi is the epitome of Unskilled but Strong, using absolute brute force to beat most opponents. But when he finally faces one whom brute force is useless against, he switches to his secret weapon: a basic kendo swing.
- In Dragon Ball, Goku lives for some amount of time with a colony of monkeys. The reason for this is because they use their tails for almost everything they do, and Goku's tail was his biggest weakness. By the time he returns to his friends, he is just as strong with his tail as with the rest of him.
- The officers of Section 2 in the Patlabor manga get trained in martial arts, to make them more versatile when piloting their giant humanoid mecha.
- In Tiger and Bunny, Kotetsu spent much of his free time in high school learning how to fight without relying on his powers (which he limited to using only to help people in trouble), and managed to build a reputation as an undefeated street fighter without anyone knowing he was a NEXT. This comes in handy twenty years down the line when he starts losing his powers.
- In Pokémon Special, Yellow quickly realizes that while her powers are useful, she needs actual battling skills in order to fight the Elite Four, so she asks Green to train her.
- The Trope Namer is the comic book Superman vs Muhammad Ali, where Ali teaches Superman to box. Justified since they'll be fighting each other in a special ring in which Superman is Brought Down to Normal.
- Also, it has been stated multiple times that Superman has taken fighting lessons from one of Earth's greatest martial artists as well as Earth's greatest warrior.
- Martian Manhunter has taught him techniques to help him resist mind control as that had been a problem for him.
- He has learned Kryptonian martial arts as well. No, really. The son of Mongul also taught him a few things about fighting in an Enemy Mine situation.
- In general, Superman's status as the superhero and his extensive history means he has the epitome of Taught By Experience going for him. In Justice League Crisis On Two Earths, he remarks that he's more or less superior to Ultraman simply because he spends most of his time taking on the biggest threats in the 'verse, i.e. people who are stronger than him, so his skill as well as his strength is constantly tested.
- He also tells Ultraman this in Trinity, stating that because he doesn't kill his enemies, he's constantly in action, unlike Ultraman who doesn't really need to work his skills that much.
- This is one of the whole points to the X-Men: teaching mutants the ideal ways to use their individual powers to best help or defend mankind.
- Kitty Pryde learned martial arts from Wolverine himself, in addition to being an Intangible Woman.
- Wolverine is himself an example, having learned Japanese martial arts (including sword) well after he'd first exhibited his regeneration and superior senses. Depending on the continuity, it might even have been after he'd received the adamantium.
- Elixir from New X-Men studied biology because his powers allowed him to alter organic tissue at will.
- He also got all Beasts medical knowledge telepathically implanted into his mind.
- Storm was taught by Wolverine, not only to fight, but also how to use a gun. Good thing too.
- Psylocke is a borderline example; while she has martial arts skills in addition to her Psychic Powers, and has the ability to use her powers and martial skills in unique ways, this was granted to her in an impossible Freaky Friday fashion, and not something she learned herself. Kwannon, the woman whose body she inhabits, is this trope played straight, as a low-level empath who trained to become an expert assassin.
- Kitty Pryde learned martial arts from Wolverine himself, in addition to being an Intangible Woman.
- During Planet Hulk, The Hulk becomes a gladiator in a planet with beings who approach him in sheer physical might, so he slowly but surely becomes a craftier fighter, using his strength in more ingenious ways instead of merely relying on it exclusively. The other Marvel "heroes" were in for a rude awakening during World War Hulk.
- After discovering his powers, but before becoming Magneto, Max Eisenhardt studied numerous scientific fields, including mechanical and genetic engineering, as well as electromagnetic radiation. Because of this, Magneto is capable of instilling the mutant gene in ordinary people, creating Designer Babies from genetic tissue, and building technological marvels (such as an orbiting base on an Asteroid) that even Reed Richards admits are pretty impressive.
- However, he is first and foremost a physicist, and naturally chose to specialize in electromagnetism and everything to do with it. Since his mutant power gives him control over the entire electro-magnetic spectrum, his scientific knowledge turns an already formidabble mutant power into a full-fledged Green Lantern Ring- electromagnetism is one of the four fundamental forces of the universe, and knowing this and knowing just how few limits that really imposes on him makes Magneto one of the most powerful bastards on Marvel Earth and the sheer range of things he can do- up to and including opening interstellar wormholes and manipulating electrons to control even non-metals (eg. wood)- is absolutely mind-boggling to the layman who doesn't appreciate just how broken his power can be. He wouldn't be near that powerful if he didn't understand, in detail, the myriad of ways his power works like that.
- In one issue of She Hulk when Shulkie is in training to box the Champion of the Universe, she weightlifts as her human alter ego because when she Hulks Out she becomes geometrically stronger.
- Once, Beast Boy of the Teen Titans was seen watching Animal Planet to learn more animal forms he could turn into, and also what inherent powers he could gain from them.
- Discussed in Ultimate Spider-Man, in which Peter states that he's been getting by on pure luck and reliance on his powers. Mary Jane then suggests he learn martial arts.
- His classic universe counterpart finally did get some martial arts training from Captain America and Tony Stark tried to mentor him.
- And he got some lessons from Immortal Iron Fist...which allowed him to do Bullet Catch.
- This is now happening to Spider-Man in the main 616 universe. Having recently lost his Spider-Sense, he has begun to realize how much he depended upon it in battle, so he accepted an offer to train under Shang-Chi, one of the Marvel Universe's greatest martial artists. Shang-Chi is now helping Spider-Man develop a unique fighting style called "The Way of the Spider", that incorporates Spider-Man's strength and agility.
- Like Superman above, Spider-Man's vast history and being completely Taught By Experience means he did develop extensive street-fighting experience. More in-line with the trope definition is the fact that Spider-Man spent a long time as a wrestler and that Peter developed the webbing later to take advantage of his agility and spider-sense.
- His classic universe counterpart finally did get some martial arts training from Captain America and Tony Stark tried to mentor him.
- One issue of The Avengers had Captain America acting as a Drill Sergeant Nasty and teaching several teammates--both supers and Badass Normals--how to use martial arts. He tells them they'll thank him later. Years later, Hawkeye did--posthumously.
- Tony Stark, unable to access his armor for the time being, goes to Steve Rogers to learn how to fight during the Demon In A Bottle story arc, under the pretense of being more vulnerable to his enemies now that his "bodyguard" Iron Man won't be able to protect him. It comes in handy when Stark is captured by Justin Hammer and his goons.
Justin Hammer: Have you any questions?
Tony Stark: As a matter of fact, I do. I'd like to know if this guard here knows what a clavicle is.
Guard: Huh? Well, uh... no.
Tony Stark: Surprise! It's what I just broke!
- One issue of the Green Lantern Corps had Kyle Rayner encounter a situation in which he could not challenge Sinestro without breaking a truce that kept a fragile peace. Kyle proposed that the two fight as normals--without any Green Lantern Rings. Sinestro accepts, brags that he had been trained by some of the greatest martial artists in the known universe, and asks Kyle who trained him. Kyle's reply? Batman.
- In a two-page splash, no less.
- Gen 13. Caitlin Fairchild had Super Strength and superhuman agility and speed, but in one issue Sarah Rainmaker started to teach her how to fight.
- In Preacher (Comic Book), not learning how to fight has major consequences for Cassidy, who - despite being a vampire, stronger and faster than a human could ever be - finds that Jesse, who suffered through a protracted bout of Training From Hell, can hold his own when they go toe-to-toe. Jesse himself has a lack of training in one area - he doesn't speak French (or any language other than English), which turns out to be a bigger problem than you might imagine.
- In Irredeemable, not ever learning how to fight and relying only on his strength alone come back to bite Plutonian hard, when somebody equally strong, who knows some moves, showed up.
- The entire point of Avengers: The Initiative and Avengers Academy is to invoke this trope.
- Not only does she have all the powers of her cousin, Supergirl has had training in both unarmed and armed combat. By Wonder Woman and the Amazons. Unfortunately, most writers tend to forget this.
- When Wonder Woman lost her powers for a while in the 70's (the period when she wore the white catsuit instead of her normal costume), she trained under a martial arts master to help compensate.
- In the DC Universe, Wildcat is a Badass Normal pro boxer, and considered one of the hero community's go-to guys to get lessons from.
- In the post-Flashpoint DC reboot, the new Ray studies up on light after getting his powers in order to make himself effective with them.
- Subtly mentioned in various X-Men titles, like the X-Men Evolution note below, Scott has learned various skills to compensate and enhance his power. He specifically trains to fight so that he doesn't lose his visor, has learned to fight blind and remember where his visor fell, and is a master of applied geometry. The latter has resulted in Wolverine owing Scott a truckload of beer over billiards.
- The original Firestorm the Nuclear Man, whose powers involve molecular transformation, has studied chemistry to make them more effective. Particularly notable in that he's a jock who does not find study easy.
- Taskmaster. His power? Being able to copy any move that he can physically perform as well as the guy he watched. The skill he later picked up? Teaching what he knew.
- In Iron Man 2, Tony is shown practicing "mixed martial-arts" (actually Dirty Boxing) against Happy Hogan. Later, when he and Rhodey get into a fight, the lessons actually come in handy because Tony is more used to fighting in Powered Armor and is actually able to hold his own against the military-trained Colonel Rhodes.
- Possibly used in The Incredible Hulk, where one of our first glimpses of Bruce Banner is during Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu lessons. His intent is apparently to help remain calm and patient to prevent a Hulk Out, but depending on how you interpret the final scene of the movie, he may be actually using it to induce and control the Hulk, as was suggested by his Love Interest, Betty.
- In the Star Wars Expanded Universe, Jaina Solo asked Boba Fett to train her in hand-to-hand combat to prepare for her final duel with Darth Caedus.
- At least, she asked him to train her to take down a Jedi, and a lot of the training happened to involve hand-to-hand combat. She was studying Mandalorian attitude more than technique.
- One of Harry Dresden´s many levels in badass involves him learning basic martial arts and quarterstaff fighting from Murphy, as well as running periodically so he has options other than blasting things in the face. This pays off whenever he's fighting someone who his magic is ineffective against, or humans, who he can't use magic against without risking breaking the first law of magic.
- Harry also notes that teaching his apprentice gave him a much better appreciation for the basics of magic he himself learned and took for granted.
- Pewter-burners in the Mistborn books burn their metal to gain inhuman levels of strength, speed and stamina. However, this only lasts as long as the metal supply, and the power works independently of the burner's body - as in, they don't suddenly sprout muscles. Pewter-burners like Hammond instruct the main character, Vin, of the benefits of honing one's body without pewter to increase one's strength while using it, developing fighting skill alongside these abilities, and using pewter tactically for powerful strikes instead of turning it on all the time in a fight and flailing your limbs.
- In Wearing the Cape, Hope Corrigan gains the Atlas-type power set, enabling her to outfly jets, bench-press buses, and take direct hits from military ordinance. So the first thing she does is go into intensive, fight-club style training so she has a chance against all the other Atlas-types out there.
- In Liar, Micah was born being able to run abnormally fast. Then she gets taught proper running technique and is able to run that much faster and more efficiently. She's actually almost disgusted when she sees someone like her without technique and hopes she didn't look that bad before she learned.
- The third book of the Septimus Heap series is partially about Septimus learning to become a Physician while trapped in a Time past. This becomes useful upon his return to his Time to control an epidemic.
- Harry, Ron and the Weasley twins can pick locks the Muggle way.
- In the Anita Blake series, characters with Super Strength, Super Speed, and Shapeshifting still utilize weight training, powerlifting, and bodybuilding--which gives them an edge against characters with similar powers.
Live Action TV
- In an episode of No Ordinary Family, Jim Powell (who has Super Strength) confronts another guy who has also gained that superpower, and gets his ass handed to him because the other guy actually knows something about fighting. So that it doesn't happen again, sidekick George teaches Jim a few of the basics of boxing, and Jim wins the second round.
- On Heroes, Claire demands that her dad, a Badass Normal, teach her how to fight and defend herself. So he hands her a 2x4 and teaches her a stance.
Claire: What is this, kung fu?
Noah: No, it's baseball.
- In one episode of Lois and Clark, Superman took a crash course in kung fu to face off against a martial artist who had stolen a mystical artifact that multiplied his strength.
- In Super Sentai, several series have an episode that focuses on the featured Ranger trying to learn the mundane skill the Monster of the Week uses a weaponized version of - more than once, it's actually boxing.
- In the official Champions setting, the French supervillain Venin Vert studied chemistry so as to be able to use her powers (she can produce poisons from her hands) more efficiently.
- There are several RPG systems, for example the New World of Darkness, where the die roll for activating supernatural powers is tied to mundane skills. So improving the mundane skill (e.g. Persuasion) also makes the supernatural power (e.g. Summoning) more effective.
- In Mabinogi, player characters gain stat points from training skills, including noncombat skills. This leads to players training, for example, the Weaving skill to use the Dexterity it rewards to help in combat. This also works in reverse, as some noncombat skills benefit from higher stats that can be gained by training skills, including combat skills.
- The post-prologue beginning of the first Golden Sun game suggests briefly that Isaac, Garet, and Jenna were learning about Alchemy from Kraden to understand their powers better. Isaac's mother is baffled, since Alchemy itself is a dead power and supposed to remain that way, in theory...
- This could apply to Pokémon as well. For example, you can teach one of your Pokémon how to swim and thus teach it a useful water attack.
- Played straight by Effort Values, tiny stat boosts gained by fighting other Pokémon. Simply fighting random Pokémon and gaining EXP would yield a powerful monster, but with specialized EV Training focusing on specific stats, a Pokémon can yield monstrous gains in a stat.
- In Deus Ex Human Revolution, Hollywood Cyborg Adam Jensen teaches himself clock-making to gain better control of his new cybernetic hands.
- Pool Powers, most literally the Fighting Pool in City of Heroes, are one way characters can get some extra skills. Temporary powers are another.
- In Academagia The Making Of Mages, the character is a student at a Wizarding School, but they also train in mundane skills to enhance and supplement their magic. For example, a student at Avila, the college of Astrology, is also required to study Geometry, because mundane Astronomy classes are part of the Geometry curriculum, and knowledge of mundane astronomy can assist in learning about magical astrology.
- In Knights of the Old Republic II both Kreia and the Mandalorians note that most Jedi aren't particularly skilled at anything, and their only advantage is their connection to the Force that gives them their abilities. They train the Exile to not rely on the Force to provide her abilities, but to hone a more mundane skill and use the Force to augment it.
- A different sort in El Goonish Shive: most of the cast has suggested to Grace that she take some fighting lessons, despite her powers. The reason? So that she can use a lower amount of force, just in case. (Up to this point, her options for dealing with antagonists as she saw them were to "talk it over peacefully" or "tear them to shreds" with nothing in between.)
- One of the points of Magellan Academy.
- Spinnerette gets trained in kickboxing by Mecha Maid. Despite Spinnerette's Super Strength, she got beat up by a supervillain with no combat abilities (at the time) ... and by an ordinary mugger.
- In the Global Guardians PBEM Universe, the super-heroic Geomancer discovered his power to manipulate rock and stone while he was still in high school. He later went to college and earned a doctorate in geology (with a minor in geochemistry) specifically to improve the usefulness of his powers.
- Used a lot in the Super Hero Schools in The Descendants where power creativity is an actual class, on top of self defense.
- Chaos learned boxing at the Academy, only to learn it's not as useful in superheroics. Cue a succession of Tricked-Out Gloves to make it useful.
- Once he developed the power to convert one elemental metal into another, Alloy took a bunch of chemistry classes. Later, he's seen to use lithium to create a Flaming Sword
- Characters have occasionally been mocked for not doing this.
- Arguably the entire purpose of Whateley Academy is to churn these types of characters out. Specifically, there are seven different martial artists, all of different schools, who teach classes. Students have to take either beginning aikido or 'Survival' for a Physical Education credit. Special classes teach everything from 'team tactics' (think Spec Ops applied to superheroes) to designing a costume to understanding how not only your power works but also how your opponent's power works.
- In Gunnerkrigg Court, the main character, Annie, is a powerful magic user. However, because she was raised in a hospital, she never learned much about the outside world. She ends up spending one summer break with a family of forest pixies, to learn about family values, nature, and self-reliance.
- A villainous example occurs in Justice League. Shade, whose has a nightstick that creates shadows, is essentially rendered helpless without it. Batman beats him this way the first time. When it comes time for a rematch and Batman uses the same tactic, Shade sucker punches him, having taken lessons in preparation for this sort of thing. He still got his ass kicked, of course, but at least he learned.
- In Young Justice, after being humiliated by Black Canary with a judo toss, Superboy begrudgingly takes private fighting lessons. The results start showing less than two episodes after.
- The Disney version of Hercules had Herc go to Phil for training. He already had Super Strength, but Phil taught him how to use that strength in a real fight, along with other skills like archery and swordsmanship.
- Used in an episode of X-Men: Evolution. Most of the younger mutants who are used to training in the danger room with Wolverine are disappointed when Scott and Jean are the only teachers left at the institute and would rather teach them geometry and physics. Of course, they change their minds when Scott shows them he can ricochet his laser eyes around a room to hit a moving target.
- In a cold open of Batman the Brave And The Bold, it is revealed that Batman taught Dr. Fate how to box in case his helmet was ever removed.
- Discussed but not used in Iron Man: Armored Adventures. When Tony has trouble with an agile villain, Rhodey suggests he might need to learn kung fu. Tony complains that he already has a highly-expensive suit of Powered Armor.
- Avengers Earths Mightiest Heroes brings this up in a similar way as Tony and Steve have a disagreement over the march of technology. Steve insists that the mundane ways are useful, leading to a boxing match, with exactly the result you expect. Hulk, Wasp, and Hawkeye are in the audience watching Steve Rodgers punch Tony Stark in the face and floor him with a single shot. Tony complains in his armor he would know every move Steve would make before he makes them.
- Which leads to Tony Comically Missing the Point, as Steve's entire intention was to show that knowing how to personally defend yourself will never, no matter how far technology advances, become obsolete. Tony doesn't see what Cap means.
- Apparently the lesson was not lost on him, as we see in the next season that the training is continuing:
happy Tony Stark: "And hey, I only blacked out the one time."
Skrull Steve Rogers: "If that's the way you choose to remember it..."
- In Teen Titans everyone from the planet Tamaran has superhuman strength; however, Blackfire complements that by also knowing some Tamaranean martial arts. Also, Cyborg's mechanical body wouldn't be nearly as awesome if he weren't also a mechanical genius able to repair and upgrade it.