||This article relies largely or entirely upon a single source. (February 2012)
Counting coup refers to the winning of prestige in battle by the Plains Indians of North America. Warriors won prestige by acts of bravery in the face of the enemy, and these acts could be recorded in various ways and retold as stories. Any blow struck against the enemy counted as a coup, but the most prestigious acts included touching an enemy warrior with the hand, bow, or with a coup stick then escaping unharmed. Touching the first enemy to die in battle or touching the enemy's defensive works also counted as coup. Counting coup could also involve stealing an enemy's weapons or horses tied up to his lodge in camp. Risk of injury or death was required to count coup.
Escaping unharmed while counting coup was considered a higher honor than being wounded in the attempt. A warrior who won coup was permitted to wear an eagle feather in his hair. If he had been wounded in the attempt, however, he was required to paint the feather red to indicate this.
After a battle or exploit, the people of a tribe would gather together to recount their acts of bravery and "count coup." Coups were recorded by putting notches in a coup stick. Indians of the Pacific Northwest would tie an eagle feather to their coup stick for each coup counted, but many tribes did not follow this tradition.
Comparable practices in other cultures 
A comparable practice is documented in Shakespeare's "Hamlet" (Act 5, Scene 2) where Laertes and Hamlet conduct a mock swordfight before King Claudius and Queen Gertrude. Hamlet strikes Laertes with his sword lightly, not enough to wound, and remarks, "Another hit; what say you?" To which Laertes responds, "A touch, a touch, I do confess." The point of counting coup was to avoid bloodshed during practice. Otherwise, if a partner refused to be honest in acknowledging a strike, the practice could very quickly escalate into real bloodshed as the better opponent "proved" his point by actually sticking his sword into the naysayer. Thus, counting coup was considered the honorable thing to do for all concerned.