A sneak attack is a type of attack used by several characters in the Dragon Ball series. It is used to deliver severe damage to off guard opponents.
Sneak Attacks are a type of attack aimed at catching a foe off guard, and are usually done from behind an opponent, when the opponent has their guard down, or to stealthily attack someone who is unaware that the attacker is even present.
Sneak attacks are some of the most lethal attacks in the series, as if the victim does not see them coming, they could take severe damage from the attack - even if they possess a power level much greater than the attacker. This makes sneak attacks the most effective attacks in the series.
Notable examples of the effectiveness of sneak attacks are when it was said that Goku (who seemingly had a power level of 5,000) could take down Recoome (who had a power level of around 40,000) in a single blow, when Vegeta (who had a power level around 530,000) thought he could kill second form Frieza (who possessed a power level over 1,000,000) with a single energy wave (though Frieza had his guard up so the attack failed), and when Sorbet's ray gun was able to take down Goku (who was in the Super Saiyan God SS form) in one blast.
During the fight with Nappa, Chiaotzu tried to Self Destruct to kill the elite warrior. It was stated that despite the huge power gap between them (610 and 4,000), if Nappa hadn't raised his guard at the last moment, the explosion might have severely injured him. Later, Tien tried to kill Nappa with a Spirit Tri-Beam, but Nappa managed to block it at the last second, causing only his armor to be destroyed.
When Dodoria attempted to kill Dende, Gohan flew in and attacked him with a surprise kick, knocking the pink behemoth into a Namekian house. Before Dodoria could retaliate, Krillin came in and attacked Dodoria as well, knocking him down and giving them a chance to flee.
In order to defeat Monster Form Zarbon, Vegeta throws dirt into his face, catching the general off guard and allowing Vegeta to deal a rapid blow of attacks to him - he was greatly injured by the attack and his strength dropped. Vegeta later used a sneak attack on Recoome - when the Ginyu Force member thought he was unconscious, Vegeta blasted him directly in the face with an energy wave, doing a great amount of damage and knocking him back. When Recoome attempted to finish Vegeta with his Recoome Eraser Gun, Krillin attacked him with an unexpected kick to the head, causing Recoome to shut his mouth quickly and doing a great amount of damage to him. Later, while Recoome had his guard down and was preparing his Recoome Fighting Bomber, he was heavily hit in the stomach by Goku and knocked out, Burter then stated that the only reason that Recoome was defeated was because he was hit with his guard down - showing that even though they believed Goku had a power level of 5,000, even this low power level would be enough to defeat Recoome (who possessed a power level of around 40,000) in one blow with an unexpected attack; however, it should be noted that Vegeta pointed out that Goku hit Recoome with a single powerful attack, and that he increased his power during the moment he attacked so instantaneously, that Burter and Jeice's scouters failed to detect the increase at all (it should be noted that Frieza's soldiers had a habit of constantly underestimating the Z Fighters due their over-reliance on Scouter readings).
Captain Ginyu later attempted to catch Vegeta off guard using his Body Change technique. It almost worked; however, Goku managed to stop the attack by throwing a Namekian Frog in between the attack and Vegeta.
During the battle against second form Frieza, while Frieza had his back turned, Vegeta attempted to kill him with an energy blast; however, Frieza had his guard up, as he saw the move coming, and was unaffected by the attack. Piccolo later attacked Frieza off guard while he was fighting Goku in his final form at 50% power, sending the tyrant flying into the ocean with a kick, despite the massive power difference.
Later during the battle with Mecha Frieza, Super Saiyan Future Trunks caught the tyrant off guard by attacking him with a blast that was not intended to hit him, allowing the Saiyan-Human hybrid to attack Frieza from above. King Cold then attempted to attack Future Trunks with a quick blow; however, Trunks saw the attack coming and blocked it.
While Goku and Gohan were laying down in the grass and relaxing, Krillin threw a rock at Goku to test him. Goku had his guard down, so the rock managed to hurt him, surprising Krillin.
Upon being revived in his Super Perfect form, Cell attacked Future Trunks with a Full Power Death Beam while he had his guard down, instantly killing him. During the final Energy Clash between Super Saiyan 2 Gohan and Super Perfect Cell, Vegeta managed to hit Cell with an unexpected attack, catching the Bio-Android off guard and allowing Gohan to finish him off.
During the Majin Buu Saga, when Vegeta agreed to stop fighting Goku so they could deal with Majin Buu, Goku turned around to take out his bag of Senzu Beans, and Vegeta took advantage of this and delivered a heavy punch to the back of Goku's head, knocking him out cold for hours, despite the two being very equal in power. Later, when Buu had Vegeta incapacitated, Super Saiyan Trunks hit Buu with a surprise high-velocity kick, sending the Majin flying a far distance.
During the "Future" Trunks Saga, Future Mai managed to shoot Goku Black from a distance with an energy bullet. Despite his great power, Goku Black was knocked down by the bullet, though it failed to kill or even seriously injure him, as the power difference was so great that not even a sneak attack made it work.
In the Universe Survival Saga, three bandits managed to catch Goku off guard and shoot him with a Gun, slightly injuring him and leaving a wound. Goku continued to let his guard down during the tournament, allowing fighters like Nink to try and get the drop on him. Before Nink could jump off the stage and eliminate them both, Goku managed to power up and escape from his Bear Hug, causing only Nink to be eliminated. Hit later tried to attack Jiren immediately after his fight with Goku, hoping to catch him off guard, but Jiren managed to block the punch, showing that he is not prone to dropping his guard right after a fight like most warriors. This was further shown when Catopesra tried to attack Jiren after he started to meditate while planning to sit out the rest of the tournament, only for his attempt to be stopped by Jiren's Energy Shield.
In Dragon Ball Z: Bojack Unbound, when Full Power Hera-seijin Bojack had Gohan in a bear hug, Goku used his Instant Transmission in order to hit Bojack with a surprise attack, damaging him while also knocking him far away, and causing him to release Gohan.
In Dragon Ball Z: Broly - Second Coming, Videl performs her Moonsault Kick sneak attack on Super Saiyan Broly while he is distracted by the arrival of Gohan hitting Broly in the cheek, however the Legendary Saiyan unharmed by the kick.
In Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection ‘F’, in order to demonstrate how lethal lowing one guard down was, Whis attacked Goku with a blow to the side when Goku believed they were merely talking - causing incredible pain to the Saiyan. Later, when Super Saiyan Blue Goku had his guard down during his battle with Golden Frieza, Frieza had Sorbet shoot Goku with his ray gun, dealing critical damage to the godly Saiyan.