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Idun: Wh- what is this?

Soushi: That, Festum, is pain! Do you want to know the name of the tactic I showed you? It's the War of Attrition! The tactic of enduring pain!

A subtrope of Combat Pragmatist.

Sometimes, the one who wins a battle is simply the last man standing.

This trope is different from a Pyrrhic Victory. The gambit revolves around ensuring that stamina/endurance--either over an extremely long period of time or after great expenditure of energy--is the deciding factor in the battle.

This trope takes several different forms:

  • Type 1: The target is in the midst of a harmful state, inhospitable climate or exhaustive activity. Thus, all the plotter need do is wait for them to run out of gas, collapse, or die altogether. It's possible to speed this up through poison, arbitrary attacks, or sending disposable fodder and mutual enemies to help them burn out quicker.
  • Type 2: Dragging the fight out long enough that the target gets desperate and reveals that they are not lefthanded, so that the plotter can cut off their right hand.
  • Type 3: Rather than waiting for the opponent to grow weaker, the plotter has an Instant Win Condition which will take time (such as waiting for the Big Damn Heroes to show up or for the Kill Sat to go online). However, they can't put up anything more than a superficial fight until it happens. Thus, they rely moreso on their own endurance or defense to prevent, avoid or withstand as much damage as possible before their victory is assured).

Some of these can overlap. For example, it's possible to poison an enemy as in Type 1, forcing them to overclock their Healing Factor as in Type 2, and then have a win condition at the ready just in case, as in Type 3. Characters that do this are likely to be Crazy Prepared.

None of these tactics are seen as the most heroic way to fight, as it's considered more virtuous to fight like a gentleman and pit raw talent, skill, and power against an enemy than use cunning to avoid it. Thus you'll see this most often used by Villains or Anti-Heroes. This trope is all about making sure that fight is never fair. A Victory by Endurance always ends with a curb-stomping.

Often seen in a Mook Horror Show situation. Expect a Stone Wall type character to use this tactic

Compare and contrast My Defense Need Not Protect Me Forever, Super-Persistent Predator, Death of a Thousand Cuts, Gradual Grinder, or Hit and Run Tactics.

See: The Problem with Fighting Death.

Examples of Victory by Endurance include:

Anime and Manga

  • Nnoitra Jiruga in Bleach uses this against The Hero, Ichigo Kurosaki. After a much-anticipated battle between Ichigo and his Evil Counterpart rival, Grimmjow, it looks like Ichigo has finally defeated his nemesis and rescued his Distressed Damsel...only for Nnoitra to show up and attack everyone. In Nnoitra's case, this was triply assholish because Ichigo, Grimmjow and Orihime were all equally fair game in his eyes.
  • Prince of Tennis bout between Karou vs Ryoma. Karou's tennis style is to force his opponent to run from one side of the court to the other, making them too tired to return his volleys. Ryoma turns this around on him by forcing him to keep his knees bent during the whole game, using up twice as much endurance, instead.
  • Naruto uses this tactic sometimes, given that he has more physical and chakra endurance than almost anyone. A particularly notable example is when Naruto defeats Pain, as Naruto takes full advantage of his ability to spam powerful techniques to exhaust his opponent. Ironically, said opponent was using the same tactic at the same time. Turns out that Pain underestimated Naruto's stamina. However, Naruto usually expends that extra energy to do more rather than win his own fight. For example, in the recent Fourth Shinobi War Arc, Naruto's new Super Mode is quite powerful and can be used for extended periods of time. Instead of conserving his energy for his upcoming fight, he creates a dozen clones to personally turn the tide at every front of the war. This has notable consequences later, but his decision definitely did have its merits. However, this trope is often subverted for Naruto, as he often needs that extreme stamina just to keep up with the numerous challenges presented to him.
  • Yami Bakura from Yu-Gi-Oh! easily defeated Pegasus by attacking him after he just faced Yugi.

 Yami Bakura: Really, Pegasus, is that all you can muster? Ah, you've been fatigued by your duel with Yugi. Your mind is weary while mine is fresh!

  • In Fairy Tail, this is how Elfman defeats Bacchus in the Magic Tournament. Bacchus' magic martial arts make him too fast for Elfman to dodge, so he simply transforms into a lizardman with spiky scales. The entire match consists of Bacchus landing countless powerful blows on Elfman, seriously damaging his own hands in the process. In the end, Bacchus falls down exhausted conceding defeat.


  • This was how Bane defeated Batman in the Knightfall story arc: waiting until Batman had a normally inconvenient bout of the flu, Bane unleashed a mob of super-criminals from Arkham Asylum and waited for Batman to tire himself out trying to put them all back behind bars in the space of a few days with no sleep. Having already deduced Batman's Secret Identity, Bane shows up at Wayne Manor after Bruce Wayne has practically collapsed in exhaustion and then breaks his spine.
  • This is how Norman Osborn kills Peter Parker in Ultimate Spider-Man. After battling several other threats alongside The Ultimates (including taking a bullet for Captain America), Peter tries to hobble home and receive medical attention. But when he gets there, his loved ones are being harassed by the Green Goblin and several others from Spider-man's Rogues Gallery. Peter (and his family/allies) fight back valiantly, but Peter eventually succumbs to his injuries.
  • The Punisher had a story in which a mook barely escapes from Frank, and his mental condition gradually worsens as he seeks help everywhere. Frank barely appears at all except at the end, allowing the mook to tire himself out all by himself.
  • In Superman: Ending Battle, Manchester Black sends waves and waves of villains after the hero. After they are defeated, Bizarro, Mongul, Master Jailer, and Silver Banshee try to finish Superman off now that he's exhausted. In the ensuing fight, Superman also uses this against Mongul, dodging and blocking his attacks and refueling on sunlight until Mongul gets tired.


  • Ivan Vanko/Whiplash in Iron Man 2 uses this strategy against Tony and Rhodes. By the time he engages the two in battle, they've already burned a lot of energy and ammunition on the army of drones Vanko sent against them. Furthermore, Tony has used up his One-Hit Kill ace-in-the-hole. Vanko still loses, however, because of a Forbidden Chekhov's Gun.
  • Jason Voorhees, believe it or not, uses this in Friday the 13 th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, where Jason faces against a teen boxer in Good Old Fisticuffs. Jason never even throws a punch and soaks up punishment upon punishment until the boxer gets tired. Then Jason decapitates him with one punch.
    • Of course, Jason could have done this at the very start of the fight too.
  • Played for Laughs in Monty Python's Life of Brian; a skirmisher-type gladiator matched against a Mighty Glacier in heavy armour takes one look at him, drops his weapons and runs away. His opponent chases him for several circuits of the arena, and then drops dead of a Hollywood Heart Attack.
  • In Real Steel, Charlie details how he, back when humans did the actual boxing, fought an opponent he wasn't expected to be able to contend with to a near-victory simply because his opponent couldn't knock him down. Atom's near-victory happens in much the same way, since he's built to take hits and the other robot doesn't have enough juice to last five rounds.


  For hours, Valentinian had avoided matching strength with Sanga. He had countered the king's astonishing power with speed, instead. Speed, cunning, and experience. He could have--should have--ended the battle so. Circling the Rajput, probing, slashing, bleeding him further, staying away from that incredible strength, until his opponent was so weak that the quick death thrust could be driven home. Killing a king, like a wolf brings down a crippled bull. Like a weasel kills.

  • Used several times in the Earth's Children series. In one instance a group of hunters tire out a woolly rhinosaurus by each one jumping into its field of vision, making it chase them, and then another person jumps in, etc. At the end the rhino is practically dead from exhaustion, and they finish it off with spears.
  • Bronn does this against Ser Vardis in A Song of Ice and Fire (and in Game of Thrones) during Tyrion's Trial by Combat: Bronn wears only light armour and no shield, and uses Hit and Run Tactics to let the fully mailed and shielded Vardis tire himself out under the weight of his equipment before closing in and killing him.


  • Famously used by boxer Muhammad Ali in his "Rope-a-dope strategy against George Foreman during the 1974 "Rumble in the Jungle" match. He lay against the ring's ropes in a protective stance and let Foreman wear himself out hitting him, with the ropes absorbing most of the impact. Once Foreman grew tired Ali started counter attacking and beat him.

Tabletop RPG

  • Shadowrun. The barghest uses its fear-causing howl to drive its prey for long distances until they are exhausted and it can close in for the kill.
  • For Ars Magica, the Houses of Hermes supplement introduced a more visceral alternative to the Certámen ritual combat, preferred by the House Flambeau - the Test of Flames, aka Inirelte's Certámen. It conjures up a circle of fire, and the winner is whoever can stay inside longest.
  • In Warhammer 40,000, the Tau use this strategy when in military conflict with much larger and more established galactic powers like The Imperium. The most well recorded examples of this strategy in effect would be the Damocles Crusade and the Taros Campaign. In general, the Tau will fall back from a strong enemy offensive, offering only what resistance they need to cover their retreat, and regrouping at rally points. They will allow the enemy to continue to press into their lines, falling back as necessary, then using their superior mobility to slip in behind the opposition's lines, hitting vulnerable flanks that compromise their strategy, or force them to spread themselves thin. Eventually, the opposition ends up under strength and unable to press their numerical advantage.

Video Games

  • In some Role Playing Games, the player can fight against a particularly tough monster or boss by Mana Drain, leaving it too crippled to fight back.
  • According to the Codex in Mass Effect, this is humanity's main method of fighting. Humanity attacks the enemy's supplies and resources foremost, leaving their forces to "wither on the vine" until their fleets can curb stomp them.
  • In Super Mario RPG, Culex, unlike every other boss in the game, has a finite FP pool for spellcasting. If you can tank his attacks for long enough, he effectively takes himself out of the fight. This does not, however, solve the problem of his four elemental crystals which aid him in battle, and which do have limitless FP.

Web Original

  • Hayate adopts this tactic in Dead Fantasy V, by having his ninja assault Tifa after she's been beaten and severely weakened by Hitomi. Hayate doesn't attack until she's on the brink of exhaustion; having expended her remaining energy dispatching all but two of his squad.

Western Animation

  • The Simpsons: Homer has Homer Simpson Syndrome ("ohh, why me!?") where his brain is surrounded by 1/8 inch more cushioning fluid than usual, making him the perfect boxer. He just waits for the other guy to tire himself out punching him, at which point Homer can just push the other guy down for a KO.
    • Against normal men anyway (though Dr. Hibbert claims being beaten by a two-by-four would have the same result). Against Mike Tyson expy Drederick Tatum however...
  • In the Looney Tunes short "Gorilla My Dreams", Bugs Bunny is being chased by a gorilla. Just when things seem hopeless for Bugs, he finds that by the time the gorilla has caught him he was too tired to beat him up and falls over exhausted.
  • In the The Legend of Korra episode "A Leaf in the Wind", pro-bending team the Fire Ferrets pull this off twice. In the first instance, Mako is the only one left standing, so he just dodges until his opponents get tired, which allows him to take all three out. In the second, Mako and Bolin are pinned while Korra is nearly forced off the edge. Korra has an epiphany about airbending movements, which allows her to dodge perfectly, achieving the same result as Mako.

Real Life

  • The "endurance hunt", thought by anthropologists to be the hunting method that put humanity at the top of the food chain. It is a method of hunting by tracking and chasing a single target for as long as it takes for it to get tired. While most animals can easily outpace humanity in short bursts, no other species has our potential for endurance. As long as the human is persistent enough, eventually the animal will be too tired to run or fight and collapse. Then it's pretty much over. However, human endurance hunting is limited to warm or hot climates. We could regulate our temperature using sweat, and with access to water we hunted prey until it overheated. However, that method doesn't work in temperate or cold climates.
  • Another real life example is wolves. Which are as adapted to cold weather endurance as humans are to warm. When the two species started working together, everything made of meat was basically screwed.
  • Komodo dragons. The Komodo has a very nasty septic bite that causes, amongst other things, inhibition of blood clotting, lowered blood pressure, hypothermia and paralysis. It will bite its prey and just wait until it collapses before chowing down.
  • This could almost be called the "Russia Gambit", as this is basically how Russia won two major wars. Both the Napoleonic Wars and World War Two were won by Russia constantly retreating into colder and colder territory while using their near-limitless numbers to slowly wear the invaders down.
    • The Vietnam War also counts, with North Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh famously declaring "if the Americans want to make war for twenty years then we shall make war for twenty years. If they want to make peace, we shall make peace and invite them to afternoon tea." In the end, the Americans underestimated the North's will to fight for years against a technologically superior foe while also taking horrendous losses. In other words, the U.S. military could go home after the war wether they lost or won, while the North Vietnamese's only option was to win the fight because they had nowhere else to go.
  • China. Jiang Jieshi gambled on the Japanese suing for peace rather than prosecuting a protracted war, which he believed that his Chinese government could well withstand - if not quite win, as such - and figured that when faced with the prospect of a full-out war the Imperials would accept a face-saving settlement [1] Unfortunately, the Japanese expected that the prospect of protracted warfare would cause Jiang to fold and come to the negotiating table first, also failing to understand that the Nationalist Party couldn't be seen to cave in to Foreign Imperialism in an unequal settlement of the kind that the Japanese wanted from the conflict, because doing so would be tantamount to political suicide. So both sides escalated the war. They were still dogging it out when the USA used Japan's occupation of Indochina as a pretext for embargoing Japan in an attempt to get them to negotiate an end to the war. Because the ruling clique back home couldn't be seen to back down to 'American Imperialism', Japan entered the wider war with an all-out naval-based invasion and occupation of south-east Asia. Allocated secondary importance in the Pacific War - the USA decided that it would use its own forces to 'island hop' its way over to Japan, instead of deploying US forces in China and/or equipping Jiang's forces such that they could go on the offensive themselves - China was basically made to sit out the rest of the war and given just enough lend-lease material not to become a liability to the Allied cause. In the end, China won - but not through their own (not-inconsiderable) suffering and effort.
  • In a Real Life knife fight between to skilled opponents, if you can't get a easy kill, the idea is to nick the other guy and let him "bleed out". Which doesn't mean he bleeds to death, it means the blood loss tires him out.
    • Its also worth noting that this tactic not only can easily be applied to combat of just about any form, but often is the deciding factor. The more a fighter exerts themselves during an offensive, the quicker they will tire. Violence is one of the most physically draining activities that human beings can engage in, and if a victory isn't achieved within the first minute, its extremely likely that the fight will end in favour of whoever has greater endurance.
  • In one Grand Prix race in the 1930s, William Grover Williams, racing for Italian automaker Bugatti, was up against a german team whose cars were more powerful. Williams realized that he couldn't catch the German leader in a flat-out race, but that the German's more powerful engine would drink fuel faster than the lighter Bugatti, so he eased off and waited for the German to put in for more fuel. During the time it took for the German to refuel, Williams overtook his pole position and secured his spot at the head of the pack, winning the race.
  • Roman formations were used to capitalize on this.


  1. protracted warfare is expensive, and both sides had much better things to be doing with their time. Like stamping out socialism.
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