Go Forth & Nerd! Ep. 48 - Teenage Nerdy Ninja Powers
Teenage Nerdy Ninja Powers
Welcome back to Go Forth and Nerd! My name is Jesse Bray also known as Mr. Bray and I am your resident nerd.
Today’s episode is titled “Teenage Nerdy Ninja Powers” and if you happen to be a child of the 80s and 90s you’re in for a nerdy nostalgic treat.
From the Karate kid to the Matrix, martial arts has always been a cornerstone of my cinematic imagination. It’s a universal theme in geek culture from arcades to action heroes that good guys know how to fight. It really doesn’t take a further glance than whatever most recent blockbuster that’s rolling to see the leading hero isn’t typically writing sternly worded letters to congress people or lobbying in a suit for the marginalized. Heroes as far as most see them depicted in pop media know how to kick ass, am I right?
Well where am I going with this? I’d like to share some of my current musing I’ve been having about action movies and how I think they can relate to the real world. Also I’ve got a couple personal stories to boot.
If you’re like me you get goofy cravings where you have marathons or benders on say kung fu flix or action movies and it got me thinking I've got ninja fever! And it's obvious I'm not alone.
Firstly, I want to ask you a question. Think of your favorite hero, preferably fictional, and think how do they resolve conflicts? Ok got it? Great! Now to illustrate my idea I’m gonna pick one of people's all around favorites, Batman. Now truth be told Batman isn’t my absolute favorite hero. Don’t get me wrong he’s great but I’ve selected him for a very particular reason. Now Batman can bring it, right? He’s a skilled fighter, has high tech gadgets, and is also a brilliant detective, at least in the comics and the Bruce Timm animated series. Of course Batman can usually handle his own in a fight but unlike say Superman or Wolverine he wasn’t born with these abilities. Batman had to train and train and train some more. Granted he has the cash to spare no expense on tutors but there's no short cuts to his success, at least when Batman is being written well.
Why am I telling you this? It’s because Batman is human and mortal like us. He’s trained his whole life to do what's right and he’s suffered the cost. Sure Gothman is fictional and none of us are sporting billionaire trust funds - but Batman’s story ties into that core belief we have in good winning over evil. If you’ll entertain me for a bit longer. Batman’s story is a Western. Actually practically all Martial Arts stories are like Westerns, even though they’re not based in the west. The rules of a western is like this - bad guys are making life miserable for the good, honest and hardworking folks. Perhaps the law is being bankrolled by the said bad guys and the system is corrupt. But in comes Batman like the new Sheriff in town to put his life on the line. He uses his strong sense of justice to protect people. In a nutshell that’s why we love watching Batman or Bruce Lee work. Watching them hurt bad guys and let good win! And let’s not forget in style too! There’s a reason they call it Martial Arts - it’s both skill and an art form. Which brings me to some personal stories about martial arts.
I vividly remember believing as a kid that knowing kung fu is what really separated me from being Batman. I’ve mentioned this in previous podcasts but as a kid I was convinced you could don a cape and be Batman. Like it was a career choice. Sure I was young but there’s some truth to that. Batman is more than that too - Batman is a peacemaker. All good Westerns end with the hero bringing order to things: sometimes they have to go to war against a gang of thugs but the ultimate goal is peace. In my opinion the difference between a soldier and a police officer is often about focus. A police officer is supposed to be a peacemaker, they’re in the trenches with the people they’re supposed to protect. So Batman is like a self-appointed sheriff of Gotham. While say Superman, though he saves people, often the conflict is far away and the peril is beyond the abilities of normal people so Superman is like a self-appointed soldier for Metropolis aka the world. Sure that’s all nerdy and well but where does the rubber meet the road.
As I mentioned earlier I remember vividly wanting to learn martial arts as a kid, primarily so I could be the next Batman. Well the first time I met a martial arts instructor I was the most solemn and stone faced 6yr old kid you could imagine. I had learned from movies you’re supposed to bow to your Senseii and give proper respect to the dojo. Inside my head I was doing flying round house kicks for joy at the opportunity to be like Daniel-san and learn Karate! However it wasn’t meant to be. Before we could start any lessons we moved again. Fast forward and I'm a freshman in High School and I'm living with my dad. Him and my youngest sister had been taking Taekwondo and they invited me to check it out. I remember kinda poo-pooing the idea but I wasn't really doing anything that evening so I agreed. After one trial class I was hooked! It was so fun! My inner ninja turtle surfaced as I watched an 8yr old kid fly around the room breaking boards. This was so cool and I wanted to learn everything! Taekwondo was awesome! It built my self esteem, I could finally exercise in what was practically pjs at least in comfort and no one was gonna make fun of you if you look goofy doing it like in gym class. I also made some great friends too! Taekwondo was also my one of my first jobs I ever had too. If you know me personally it might be kinda crazy to hear this but I not only loved taekwondo I eventually started teaching classes, even the Nunchucks classes too! Though teaching was part of a requirement for leveling up I actually really really enjoyed it. I love teaching things I'm passionate about. There's nothing quite as fun to me as turning the lights on inside someone that's new to a subject. Back to Taekwondo. Not only did I teach classes I even taught summer camps with my friend and fellow taekwondo buddy Drake. Drake and I had a blast tiring out what we labeled the Tiny Tigers. Kids ranging from the ages of 6-9 and 10-13 yrs old. There was something so deeply satisfying about instructing little ninjas in how to protect themselves from bad people. I remember this one time I was walking to the park with a friend of mine and trying to recruit him to join taekwondo and we literally got jumped by 5 guys. I know I'm bragging but when we walked away relatively unharmed he didn't need anymore convincing, he was ready to join. Because in martial arts your fear of being attacked dissipates when you know how to protect yourself. You don't take pleasure in hurting people but you know how to disarm an attacker or at least how to make them regret it. Fast forward to today and it's been a decade plus a few years since I've practice martial arts but I still love the sense of inner and external strength you gain from the craft.
Sure I'm not Jackie Chan and hardly resemble optimal shape or whatever that is. But I have a reminder every day of my time being a student of martial arts. You see every Friday night we used to spar in the Dojang, it's the Taekwondo equivalent word for dojo since Taekwondo is a Korean art form and dojo is a Japanese term. Anyhoo Friday night sparring was so fun! We'd have both no contact and full contact sparring. When you sparred full contact you were dressed to the nines in gear like a linebacker on game night. There's nothing quite like punching or kicking a friend or classmate as hard as you can knowing that it's all in good fun. Of course there's risks of injuries but that's usually where all the padding helps against that. Well I got this crazy stupid idea in my head. I had been training heavily with this palm strike technique that allowed me to break three cinderblocks. It was impressive at least in my mind's eye. And it was this palm strike technique that seemed from my experience far more powerful than any other strike I knew. So here I was matched against our Sa Bum nim, the Korean equivalent word for Sensei which is a Japanese word. I really wanted to impress him, perhaps even knock him over. Don't get me wrong I loved my Sa bum nim. He was a great guy! His name was Jim and he had a thick mustache and Texan accent. Not gonna lie it was like having a brunette Chuck Norris martial arts instructor, which come on guys that's pretty awesome! Ok so here I was ready to buck up against the chief of the herd and went to strike him as hard as I could. He swiped my palm away before I even got close. However his foot was padded and the strap on the sole of his foot snagged my finger and snapped. In the rush of the match I didn't even realize it til it was over. I had broken my finger. And it was pretty gnarly. My left ring finger knuckle is a third larger than the rest of my fingers and I can't close my fist all the way because of it. It doesn't hurt and it's not really a big deal. However as I've been getting older I realized we collect a lot of scars over the years from the things we go through yet my broken finger is a reminder every day of the joy I had learning martial arts. Perhaps I'll even try and pick it up again sometime soon. Who knows. So all that said martial arts has been a very veritable goldmine for me - from epic adventures of Jack Burton in Big Trouble in Little China to Johnny Cage in Mortal Kombat to self esteem building of an awkward and insecure teenager. I'll always love martial arts and what they bring to the world.
So today I want to ask you a question, are there any martial arts nerds out there? And would you like to chat or share a story sometime? I'd love to hear from you! Thank you all so much again for listening! You're all such awesome nerdy people. Please do take care and remember to Go Forth and Nerd!