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Originally a Dueling Scar was a scar on the face, usually on the left cheek, resulting from being cut by a sword in a duel. They're part of the stock uniform for a sinister Nazi or obsessive, pickelhaube-wearing Prussian and have become a fairly common accessory for any sinister military man regardless of origin.
These scars resulted from a peculiar tradition, euphemistically called Academic Fencing - which is still practiced - mostly in Germany, but also in Austria, Switzerland, Estonia, Latvia, Poland and Flanders. In Germany the weapon is known as a schlaeger, also known as the "soup-plate of honour" due to large size of the hand guard.
In one of these bouts (called a Mensur) two students stand a fixed distance from one another wearing armor that covers everything but their cheeks, forehead and lips and attempt to slash at the exposed skin of their opponent. There are no points, you lose by flinching or dodging and win by getting sliced in the face. The scar that results is the goal of this practice, the bigger the better! Students would even go so far as to badly sew the edges together or even sew horsehairs into the wound to ensure a big, visible scar. The resulting scar is a Schmiss or Dueling Scar. Until World War II this was seen locally as a Good Scar as it showed that the wearer was educated and brave.
If that's all there was to it this wouldn't be a trope, it would be mentioned in Useful Notes - Germany and that would be the last of it. However, a number of Nazi officers had dueling scars and after the war no serious villainous movie Nazi would be seen without one. From there the dueling scar became a standard adornment any time casting wanted a quick way to tell the audience that this character was a military man and serious about it, even if the character was not from a country that practiced academic fencing, even if they weren't from Earth at all.
To qualify for this trope, the scar needs to be on the face and used to make a character look more militarized and Badass. The scar need not necessarily be from a sword or an actual duel, although writers should get extra credit if they know the origin of the trope.
Anime & Manga
- The female version of Prussia in Axis Powers Hetalia has just such a scar. And since she's Prussia, of course she's a Badass. And, you know, German.
- In Rurouni Kenshin, Kenshin got half of his iconic scar in a "duel" to the death (it was really more of a Curb Stomp Battle, but the man who gave him the scar had such a will to live that he managed to leave his mark).
- In the Marvel Universe, Nazi Nobleman and leader of HYDRA baron Wolgang von Strucker has a massive one covering quite a bit of his head.
- Captain Marvel, Jr.'s archenemy Captain Nazi bears one such scar marring his otherwise handsome face. He's bitter about it because he's supposed to represent the Aryan ideal but he has an obvious flaw.
- Theodor Kretschmar-Schuldorff from The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
- The Princess Bride: Inigo Montoya has two scars down his cheeks, which is understandable, given his career as a swordfighter. They are later revealed to be a humiliation inflicted upon him at the age of eleven after the first time he tried to avenge his father's murder by Count Rugen.
- You Only Live Twice: The Donald Pleasence version of Blofeld has a dueling scar. Blofeld grew up in what was then Germany but is now Poland.
- In the Flashman novel Royal Flash, which is a pastiche of The Prisoner of Zenda, Flashman has to impersonate a German prince, and since the prince had one of those dueling scars, Flashman has to be given a scar in the same place.
- Glory Road by Robert Heinlein. Oscar Gordon considers attending Heidelberg so he can earn dueling scars. He thinks they'll be worth extra pay from a defense industry job.
- The City Who Fought by Anne McCaffrey and S.M. Stirling. The main character is a Wetware CPU whose onscreen avatar has a dueling scar because he thinks it's cool. Only one other character recognises it.
- Star Trek: New Frontier: Commander, later Captain Mueller. Bonus points for actually being shown swordfighting recreationally in the holodeck.
- According to a tie-in storybook based on The Lion King, Scar actually got his um, scar in a fight against a buffalo while complaining about why his parents liked his older brother Mufasa more than him. When Scar and Mufasa's parents find out that Scar now has a scar on his face, they reject him and make Mufasa the future heir to the throne, fueling his hatred.
- Hogan's Heroes: General Burkhalter has a dueling scar. Leon Askin, who played General Burkhalter actually got the scar while being beaten by members of the SS for being Jewish.
- Get Smart: Ziegfried had a large scar on his cheek, revealed in The Movie to be from a duel with his brother in Heidelberg.
- Vocal jazz group The Manhattan Transfer is known for their cover of the song "The Boy From New York City" (originally by 60's doo-wop group The Ad-Libs). The only lyrical change from the original version swaps out the line "You ought to come and see / His pretty bar / And his brand-new car," for "You ought to come and see / His dueling scar / And his brand-new car."
- In Psychonauts, Coach Oleander comes complete with dueling scar and pickelhaube despite sounding suspiciously American.
- The main character Squall in Final Fantasy VIII receives a scar over his face from dueling with his nemesis (who receives a matching but flipped scar, making their scars a literal case of "Dueling Scars").
- In Minion Comics the main villain, Von Gernsbach, has a stereotypical German dueling scar covered partially by a monocle.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender Prince Zuko's burn scar. He's a young noble from a militaristic culture whose team colors are red and black. It would be more surprising if it wasn't a Shout-Out to the classic dueling scar, even though it turns out to be more a Mark of Shame.
- General Skarr of Grim & Evil.
- Dr. Drakken has one under his left eye. Like the blue skin, it is never explained why.
- Otto Skorzeny shows off some dueling scars, and why most of the world views these as evil scars.
- Otto Von Bismarck