Has The Killing Joke Run Its Course?

Let’s talk about Batman some more, shall we?

Let’s talk about “The Killing Joke” in particular. It’s definitely worth talking about, considering the impact that it had in the then canonical setting of Gotham. No doubt you’ve heard the news that Bruce Timm, creator of “Batman: The Animated Series,” is doing an animated adaptation of the story.

I don’t know how this may be received by certain readers so let’s just put up another trigger warning for sexual assault and rape, since it’s going to be discussed here.

My question: “Is this trip really necessary?”

Think about it. The general gist is that the Joker kidnaps Jim Gordon and subjects him to massive psychological abuse and humiliation in order to break him, proving the Joker’s point that all it takes is “one bad day” to become like him. This action starts with the Joker showing up at Gordon’s door and shooting Barabara (aka Batgirl) clear through the spine. That’s not all, though. As Jim goes through his nightmarish funhouse he’s treated to images of his own daughter, wounded, unconscious and in a state of undress (which implies the Joker may have taken things even further).

A number of fans of TKJ are quick to defend this work, citing it as an origin story, that it led to the creation of Oracle, and that the Joker is not a nice person (duh!). Some also point to what happened to Jason Todd in “A Death In the Family” in defense of the sexual assault on Barbara.

So let’s address those, shall we?

First of all, TKJ was originally intended as a one-shot story. Even the Joker is a little unclear about his origin when he says “Sometimes I remember it one way, sometimes another … If I’m going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice!” And while the Joker is one of Batman’s greatest adversaries, there’s ways to show that without resorting to something like sexual assault (I’ll go into that aspect of the writing a little later).

As for the death of Jason Todd and the creation of Oracle: While Jason was brutally beaten he was never subjected to sexual assault or rape. Second of all, Jason Todd still had some agency at the end of his life — he threw himself on a bomb in an effort to save another person. Barbara never had a chance to even react to the Joker. In five panels she goes from opening the door to unconcious and paralyzed.* On top of that, Batgirl was retired by DC in another one shot in July 1988 (TKJ was published in the same year, with the special supposedly setting up Barabra for this moment). Jason’s death, however, was put to a popular vote. His death was chosen by a very narrow margin: 72 votes against his survival, less that 0.1% of the total cast.

Are we seeing the difference here?

Jason Todd had a chance at survival. Jason had agency. Barabara never had a hope in hell.

And she could have been Oracle without TKJ. By the end of Batgirl Special #1, Barbara had made the decision to no longer be a crime fighter. It would have been easy for her to transition into Oracle, be fully abled, and be the brains behind the Birds of Prey. Hell, she could even have been paralyzed, but due to injuries incurred actually fighting the Joker and his goons.

The whole point of Barabara’s sexual assault** wasn’t for her advancement at all. It’s sole purpose was to be the crucible through which Jim Gordon is made to endure. Barbara gets the same “refrigerator treatment” as Alexandra DeWitt.+ Outside of that violent incident, Barbara has no involvement in TKJ whatsoever.

Let’s be honest. The use of rape/sexual assault as a plot device or means for character development is just lazy, poor writing, plain and simple — moreso if it’s used for someone OTHER than the victim. Even Alan Moore admitted that he should have been reined in when writing TKJ (Wizard Magazine, 2006). There are many ways to write strong heroines and putting them through events like this is not the best way to do so — oh wait, this wasn’t about Barbara in the first place.

With that in mind, I ask the question again: “Is this trip really necessary?” My answer is no, especially when the zeitgeist has so drastically changed in the past 27 years. Women are a significant portion of the fandom and they are not afraid to express their opinions (or at least, they shouldn’t be, right, gentlemen?). More people are becoming cognizant that certain tools and methods that worked in writing then don’t work today. The Killing Joke is one of those stories that does not stand the test of time. We don’t need an adaptation of The Killing Joke.

Before the fan boys start clogging my comment queue — no, this is not a call to ban or censor Bruce Timm’s adaptation. This is a criticism — a statement of opinion supported by elements of the work and critical thought. While the Killing Joke was a powerful story, it used some damned lazy writing to advance the plot, and while it did have a lot of impact in 1988, the same story would not be well received today.

So, in 2016, Bruce Timm’s take on TKJ will be released. I have no intention of watching it, but I do wonder. Bruce is an excellent story teller, and he’s broken some rules of animation in the past with Batman:TAS. He’s also done right by numerous women in his body of work (e.g. Wonder Woman, Hawkgirl, Catwoman), and he’s not afraid to take established characters in different directions (Justice League: Gods and Monsters). Will Bruce take a different tack with the Joker and Barbara? Will he remove the sexual assault and maybe even give Batgirl a fighting chance? And if he does, how will the TKJ fanboys react?

Like I said, I do wonder.

*Here’s the scene, thanks to Wikipedia (Trigger Warning: violence, sexual assault). Note the expression on Barbara’s face right before the Joker pulls the trigger. This is not the face of a trained superhero — I don’t care if she’s retired from being Batgirl, Barbara knows how to handle herself.

** I don’t care how the fan boys try to defend it. Taking advantage of an unconscious, paralyzed person like that? Sexual assault. Doesn’t matter if you don’t see him undressing her or doing anything worse, it’s still sexual assault.

+Don’t know who that is? Alexandra was Kyle Rayner’s (aka the Green Lantern’s) girlfriend introduced in Green Lantern #48, then killed in GL #54 and stuffed in a fridge to give Kyle the plot device he needs to become a True Hero.

On Being Tested: To Whom Do You Bow?

My dojo has three students about to test for their Brown Belt (Sankyu). Given Shohei-Ryu (and Uechi-Ryu) have only three colors of belts prior to Black*, this is considered a Big Thing. It’s also the first time a student tests before a board of Dan ranks (ie Black Belts), which is a Good Thing, because that’d be the case when a student tests for Shodan (Black Belt, 1st degree) anyway. Might as well get the students used to the scrutiny.

This will be my first opportunity to attend a testing as a Dan rank (Nidan, or 2nd degree black belt to be precise)**.  Since the test is by invite, the student can take heart in the fact that Sensei thinks he’s ready to advance. Also, the people administering the tests are a receptive audience — they want the student to succeed.+

Even so, taking a formal test like this is a daunting task.

I want to contribute to this. In fact, I had been working on an essay to include in the next edition of our training manual, and it occurred to me that the subject of the essay would make a good question for any student testing for promotion, so I’m fielding it.

The question is this:

The bow is a sign of respect. In karate, a student will bow to three separate people at any given class. Who are they?

The first two should be obvious. One bows to the school’s Sensei, obviously, and through him (or her — there’s an Aikido dojo in Pittsburgh founded by a very skilled woman, after all) the school’s lineage. The second is to your partner. Respect and trust are essential when working with another student in any martial art. After all, you have to be able to trust the person in front of you to hit you but at the same time NOT hurt you.

But who’s that third person? I’ve hit all three of the Green Belts with this question as a prelude. None of them got it.

Consider this: many martial arts studios have lots of mirrors on the wall. When you’re trying to apply a correction or pay attention to a detail, being able to see what you’re doing without looking down at your feet or waist is rather helpful. Here’s something else to consider: every kata begins and ends with a bow. When a student is doing a kata on his own, with the mirrors as a guide, who is that student bowing to?

Self respect is essential for any karateka. Without it, how can you expect someone to respect their training partner, their Sensei, or even the traditions of that school? Without self respect, a student cannot gain and utilize empathy. How can a student appreciate karate as being more than just a fighting system, without understanding how it can both protect and harm people (and how that protection can be extended to the aggressor)?

Without a foundation in respect, any martial art can be a terrible thing to behold. With that foundation, a battle can be ended without throwing a single punch.

 

*The Kyu ranks in our system go from Jukyu (white belt, 5 ranks) to Gokyu (green belt, 2 ranks) to Sankyu (brown belt, 3 ranks)

**Okay I SWEAR I’m going to stop putting lengthy bits in parenthesis at some point.

+Many schools have belt testing fees. Ours doesn’t until you get to Dan ranked testing. Even then it’s not that bad.

I’m Gonna Do a Thing…

I’ve been thinking about gaming. Literally. Specifically I’ve been thinking how blessed I’ve been to see a goofy little game called Dungeons & Dragons survive and thrive through so many incarnations. It’s a game I’ve played consistently for 31 years, and I’ve felt no need to give it up. D&D has become a core part of my geekiness, and I’m not shy to admit that.

So… about thing I’m gonna do…

It started when I was thinking about Baldur’s Gate, one of my favorite computer games, and one of the best adaptations to ever grace the PC. Released in 1998, it was the game that put Bioware on the map, making it one of the giants in video games today. Of course I’m getting nostalgic about it, but it was a damned fun to play and I still load it up from time to time. With that in mind, I thought it would be fun to do some sort of podcast or Twitch feed featuring the game, along with my own commentary or alternate dialogue. Then I started thinking: there were a lot of fun D&D games I’ve played over the years, covering three different editions*.

So why not delve into the history of various CRPG versions of D&D? Why talk about how the game works while I play?

I’m not going to wax academically or anything like that. This is an excuse to play a lot of fun games and share that experience with anyone willing to watch. I wasn’t sure whether to do this as some sort of podcast or just live-stream it on Twitch. While a podcast would have some polish and semblance of professionalism, (and recaps that — when it came to Baldur’s Gate — use the recurring line”and Minsc takes a hit to the head”) but that’s going to take time. As much as I love playing, I also like spending time with my girlfriend, painting minis, reading books, writing stories, and so forth. Sooooo… a live broadcast on Twitch it is, complete with mounting frustrations and reloads when I do something stupid and get the party wiped out.

So here’s the Grand Scheme of Games, in order of their release date**:

1st edition

Pool of Radiance (1988)

Curse of the Azure Bonds (1989)

Secret of the Silver Blades (1990)

2nd edition

Eye of the Beholder (1990)

Eye of the Beholder II: The Legend of Darkmoon (1991)

Pools of Darkness (1991)

Eye of the Beholder III: Assault on Myth Drannor (1993)

Baldur’s Gate (1998-1999, includes Tales of the Sword Coast)

Planescape: Torment (1999)

Icewind Dale (2000-2001, includes Heart of Winter)

Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn (2000-2001, includes Throne of Bhaal)

3rd edition

Neverwinter Nights (2002)

Icewind Dale II (2002)

Temple of Elemental Evil (2003)

Neverwinter Nights II (2006-2007, includes Mask of the Betrayer)

15 games is gonna take a bit of time — more so when battles end in a spectacular fubar. But it should still be fun.

I’m thinking this will be a weekly stream, some late evening or night when I’ve got two hours to kill. I still need to work out the tech details and to pick a day to play, but this is happening — soon. It should be a fun little exercise, and I hope you’ll join me in making this part of the intertubes a little more weird.

 

 

 

*Unfortunately, the only 4th Edition adaptations of D&D are Neverwinter (an MMO) and Daggerdale (a very poorly received action RPG for consoles). While Neverwinter is a decent game, it’s beyond the scope of my plans here.

**I’m thinking this will be the order I play them in as well. Yes, it breaks up the various series, but hey, variety, right?

On Matters of Defense…

Okay gang, I’m going to talk about this. Go ahead an read the article, then pour yourself a beverage.

I am not a fan of this legislation for several reasons, but I need to qualify myself first.

I support a person’s right to purchase and possess firearms. I also think that there are certain places where firearms should not be permitted: schools, churches, courthouses, et al. More importantly though, I strongly believe the right to possess and carry is coupled with a great responsibility. When people say “get a gun” as an answer to the question of self defense (in this case against sexual assualt/rape), it’s usually present with the air that it’s a catch-all mode of protection — as if being so armed is the perfect solution. I don’t think it is.

The “get a gun” mentality tends to be coupled with the belief that a firearm is a tool. That’s a grave error — a firearm is a weapon, design to launch a projectile through a target in an attempt to turn a person into a casualty. Any weapon, be it a pistol, a knife, a taser or even an empty hand, requires three things: training, discipline, and awareness. The casual owner of handguns lack these three qualities.

We as a society do not effectively train its civilians in the maintenance and use of fire arms. Granted expert-level instruction is available, but it’s not required. As a result, the casual owner, gets a basic safety course, and it’s up to him (or her) to go to the range to practice. Note that shooting targets place the highest value in two locations: center of the torso and center of the head. These are kill shots. Martial practice is programming the body to act. With time and effort, the amateur pistolier will train themselves(physically) to draw down and shoot to kill. Training at a range does not necessarily confer the sort of discipline that can allow someone to keep their wits when attacked, or to maintain clam in the presence of a threat. Nor does it confer the ability to be aware of a threat, or for that matter what their skills are capable of doing. This sort of combination can make a casual gun owner a danger to themselves.*

A person with skill in a firearm (that does not include military training or — to a degree — people who hunt game out of necessity) can have a false sense of security if they fall into the “a gun makes me perfectly safe” mentality, or worse a sense of bravado.** That tends to supplant awareness and discipline.

According to RAINN, nearly three out of four victims of rape were assaulted by someone they know, sometimes in situations some form of intimacy may have been initiated and then aborted. Sometimes the aggressor is a family member. Can a person with simple range practice steel themselves to bring a weapon to bear against a friend, lover or family member and then pull the trigger? I don’t know if I could.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument that the case is that one in four where a stranger attacks. Any sort of surprise assault is likely to happen at close range. Consider that police officers — people who are better trained in the use of firearms — consider themselves in danger of physical assault if an aggressor is within twenty feet. Let’s also consider that in most situations, a person in possession of a firearm will not have it out, cocked with safety off. Rather it will be in a holster or a container. A rushing assailant can close twenty feet in a very short amount of time, and in a clinch a pistol can be rendered ineffective.

Now let’s take these factors to a college campus. So we now have young casual firearm owners, exploring life of their own. They’re testing personal boundaries. They’re going to parties. Lot of drinking can happen at these events — many colleges have problems with alcohol abuse — and we know that alcohol and firearms are not a good combination.+ If students are allowed to carry them on campus, that includes everyone, not just potential rape victims. The potential for firearm incidents at places and events when inhibitions are lowered and excitement heightened are potentially high. I doubt it would be a weekly shootout akin to the Wild West of Hollywood, but college shootings have already happened in the past. Would the proliferation of firearms among the student body make things better?

If a person does successfully ward off a sexual assault using a firearm, what happens after? Our justice system is notoriously negligent regarding the investigation and prosecution of these crimes. For anyone not white, it gets even worse. Let’s not forget what happened to Marissa Alexander for firing warning shots. Let’s also consider that in most rape and sexual assault investigations, the victim is often blamed: “What were you wearing? Didn’t you watch your drink? What were you thinking, going there?” Now we can add “Why weren’t you carrying?” to that list of questions.

In my mind, telling potential victims of sexual assault to arm themselves is still putting the onus on them, rather than providing a way to deter the desires of the attacker. First and foremost, I believe we need to reform our justice system to take all cases of sexual assault seriously and investigate them thoroughly. Yes, our courts are not perfect, and some attackers may be acquitted, but given that a tenth of current cases even go to court, it’s a step we need to take.

For the long term, we also need to look critically at our society and begin to break down what compels people to do these things. We need to address the sense of entitlement to sex that people can have, the objectification and reduction of a person to a receptacle of intercourse. As a people we need to take the effort to overcome sexism and bigotry that still permeates our culture, remove the label of Other to people that don’t fit what might be considered a norm. I don’t know what steps to take, save for trying to be a better person and listening to others. It’s not much, but for many of us it’s a good start.

 

*And to be fair, the same goes for martial arts. I’ve seen very well disciplined White Belts and oblivious (and tempermental) Black Belts.

** Again, the same goes for martial arts training. An undisciplined or unaware karateka — such as one suffering from Green Belt Syndrome — can get themselves into all kinds of trouble.

An anecdote: One of my roomies in college was a Marine. One day I came back to my dorm room to find him and one of his fellow Marines in the living room, cleaning their rifles. Never bothered me in the slightest.

Kombative Opinions

So… This past Thursday NetherRealm announced that the women warriors in Mortal Combat X would be more realistically proportioned. Gamespot has an article on it, and of course the comments vary, including griping about SJWs and such. Not a tremendous amount of dudebro froth, but enough to get me thinking…

I have to wonder how many of these GamerBros will, despite their gripes, end up buying the game anyway. It’s not the sort of thing you’d expect from a “consumer revolution.” These are changing times, however, and it can be confusing for some, so here’s my advice:

If you’re a gamer who’s bothered by women martial artists in a video game look like this or like this, and not have gargantuan mammaries, here’s what you can do:

You can not buy the game. You can show this AAA-gaming studio what you’re about by not giving them your money. Spend that money on other games, maybe show some support for the independent studios instead of tossing it to the big boys that put embargos on game reviews because they don’t want anyone knowing about the bugs. Maybe you could do something else with it, like donate the money to a charity, adopt a pet, buy a lot of books, or even pick up a board game to play with friends in real life.

In the interests of disclosure, I won’t be buying Mortal Kombat X. I lost interest in that series somewhere around MK3 or 4, and I really don’t have an interest in graphic fatalities or zoomed-in xrays of bones getting broken and crushed. I’m more of a Tekken fan anyway, and I’d rather spend that $60 on dues in the dojo.

The Price You Pay

We had a new student join the dojo last week. Dave is a Red Belt* from a TSD school in the area. Seems a bit awkward in his technique, but he’s a big teenage kid, so yeah, awkwardness will ensue at that age. Body be trippin’ right? Nice kid, too. Seems eager to learn and willing to make an effort, so I hope our school’s a good fit for him. He’s going to have some unlearning to do, but that wont be a problem either.

I was talking with his Dad Saturday, just about the dojo in general. He mentioned to me that one of the reasons he pulled Dave out of the TSD school was the cost. It would have been over $1200 to test for Black Belt.

Over twelve hundred dollars. Just for the test. I’m hoping that’s an error in recollecting the details, because that’s a really steep price tag for just a test. That kind of money would cover my dojo’s dues for nearly two years.

I wonder about the reasoning behind the cost. Large scale franchises tend to have a lot of overhead. Even so I have to wonder. I’m registered with the Okinawa Karate-Do Association, as is my school, and yet my Shodan test was less than a sixth of the cited amount. Maybe its because we’re not as widespread as TKD or TSD franchises, but I think there’s something else to it. As I said in my post “Taking the Black”, it takes about five to six years to reach Shodan, but here’s the thing: many people see Black Belt as an endpoint, a state of mastery (although it’s anything but that). For a younger student, especially when facing college and other responsibilities, that’s the time to quit. This leads me to wonder if the reason for the high testing fee is part overhead and part money grab.

It also begs the question of what’s required to advance beyond Black Belt, besides the years of continued training.

On the other hand, I feel grateful for being in the school that I’m in.

 

*Belt ranks vary between schools, but from what I know a Red Belt in Tang Soo Do is the equivalent to a Brown Belt in our school.

Being Fit and Resolute

It’s a New Year, and with it come the infamous resolutions. Some of you are planning on this being the year you lose weight. Having been on my own Fitness Quest for two years now, I understand how daunting it may be to get started — and how hard it is to keep at it. It’s important to know your own expectations and to set goals accordingly, and to be flexible enough to adjust them.

Some things to keep in mind as you embark on your own Quest:

DON’T WORRY ABOUT THE NUMBERS!

Saying you plan on losing “X” number of pounds is a good idea, but it can lead to frustration. If you’re new to this, a fitness routine is going to take some getting used to. You’re also going be spending some time figuring out just what the hell you’re doing — as we all have different bodies, we all react differently to nutrition and exercise. Because of that your weight will fluctuate a bit. Maybe you’ll lose a little one day, gain a little the next.

Day to day weigh-ins can lead to frustration. Take that trip to the scale only once a week, or maybe every two weeks. Remember that your goal is fitness, not just weight loss.

If you’re working with weights, don’t fret if you’re starting out light. You’re stressing your body in ways it may not be used to. Better to start with a light workout so you can develop good form and steady control right from the beginning. That’s more important than lifting something heavy, even if your goal is to “get swole.” Don’t even get me started on Crossfit.

DON’T WORRY ABOUT THE DATES!

In fact, don’t set any hard dates to your fitness goals at all. I know some of you might be thinking of swimsuit season, but the best way to get a bikini body is to put a bikini on your body.

Losing X pounds in Y months maybe be a good measure of progress, but not so much for setting goals. Unless you really know your metabolism you might have set your expectations too high or too low. It also can get frustrating when you hit a plateau — and you will hit one — when things don’t appear to change much. Undertaking a Fitness Quest involves making and experiencing changes. Fat and muscle mass will fluctuate as you exercise, eat and rest. Again, look to the overall progress you’re making. Even a little improvement — an extra five pounds on the bar, ten more minutes of running — is what you need to keep you going.

DON’T WORRY ABOUT CHEATING!

You’re gonna cheat. You’re gonna skip a workout. You’re going to have that candy bar.

Relax. It’s okay.

The word “diet” is often reviled as a word for strict and unpleasant denial. It’s really just what you eat over the course of the day. When you embark on your Fitness Quest, your diet may change. How that changes depends on you (and maybe a doctor or nutritionist if you consult one) and while you might need to adjust your caloric intake, banning treats can lead to frustration and binging. It’s a cycle you can avoid thanks to moderation.

The same goes for “skip” days. Diligent as you may be with your schedule, there will come a time when you have to duck out because of another commitment. It happens. You don’t need to do a double workout later to make up for it. In fact, if your workouts are both regular and intense, you’ll need an occasional break to rest and heal up (and that’s very true if you lift). What’s important is establishing the habit of regular exercise and not giving up. Stay the course and you’ll be okay.

If you want to improve your health with fitness and diet, consider what you’re capable of doing. You might be able to jump in full steam, or maybe you need to take small steps. Take the time to find out what forms of exercise and dietary habits work best for you. It might be as easy as not having that daily candy bar, or just doing doing 30 minutes of yoga. Maybe you need to shift your feeding to six small meals per day, switching between weights and karate as I’ve been doing.

Being “fit” is not a goal, but a way of life. If you want that, you can have it, without fear, without guilt, without shame. You can also have it while having fun and feeling good about your body no matter how you look.

You can do it.

I’ve got your back.

Now kick ass.

Rethinking Batman

Yes, I’m rethinking Batman. It’s my little slice of internet, I’ll have whatever fun I want.

I like Batman. I really do. He’s a kick ass superhero without the powers. The only problem is he has unlimited resources, being a gazillionaire, and all too often he’s made into a Gary Stu character. The thing is he’s not invincible, and many writers forget that.

So here’s my take — or rather, how I’d build up Bruce Wayne (as a comic reboot or a TV series ala Arrow)

Okay, Bruce is still an orphan of Crime Alley. Let’s add that he’s adopted. Why? Because it opens possibilities for race, ethnicity, sexuality, or even gender identity. Hell, let’s add gender to that list. Make “Bruce” a nickname. It doesn’t matter.

What matters is what Bruce does after his parents are murdered.

He doesn’t want to be a victim like his parents. Alfred, working in Bruce’s best interests, gets him signed on for martial arts classes. After a bit of shopping around, Bruce finds ninjutsu to his liking. He trains until he’s ready for college, so if he’s ten when Crime Alley happens, he’s got eight years worth of training (probably a 2nd degree black belt, at best, probably just 1st depending on the disposition of his Sensei).

Bruce goes to Japan, taking up dual programs in Criminal Psychology and Forensic Science. On advice of his Sensei, he also continues his training at a local dojo. It takes him seven years to complete both programs, in an effort to get the most of his ninjutsu training. He stays an extra year to attain the rank of Sigung (Grand Teacher), before coming back to Gotham at age 26.

His first intent, back when he left for college, is to join the police force, but Bruce is a schmottguy. He does his homework. He realizes that the crime families have got their hooks deep into the city, and comes to the conclusion that he can’t fight the criminal element as Bruce Wayne. Taking the lessons in social camouflage from ninjutsu to heart, Bruce establishes a party-boy identity. He has that seed of an idea of how he wants to fight crime in Gotham, but he doesn’t have a full plan yet.

And he can’t do it alone.

Bruce uses his wealth and his position with Wayne Tech Enterprises to establish a network. Technologists, doctors, informants, the few good lawmen on the GPD (including James Gordon), all of these contacts are established in secret. Some know who he is, others don’t. Money helps a great deal in many cases. This will take about four to six years, during which Bruce assembles the materials he needs to do his “field work” and establish his moniker as Batman.

While he’s got access to amazing technology, most of it stays at the Batcave. He’s got some advanced gear: armor, the zip-line gun, maybe some nightvision or other tech built into the cowl and mask (and yes, he wears a full mask). However most of his gear is simple, low-tech. Shuriken, smoke bombs, flash bangs, and coils of parachute cord to entangle and capture criminals in close combat. He’s more likely to use stealth and infiltration to gather information before making a move, gathering as much evidence as he can so the courts have a better chance to convict. As he hammers the mob, it creates that power vacuum allowing the Rogues’ Gallery to rise up. After several years of this, as he reaches his late thirties, he not only realizes he can’t do it alone, but he can’t do it forever. He’s taken damage over the years, using his medical connections to get patched up. Broken ribs, joint reconstruction, organ replacement (cloned from himself so as to minimize rejection), all done on the sly thanks to his contacts in the medical field. But it still adds up.

Having maintained the playboy billionaire attitude for some time, Bruce Wayne becomes much more philanthropic, taking in not just one ward, but several: Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, Cassandra Cain, et al. Orpahns who all suffered at the hands of criminal acts, and also want to see justice. So Wayne takes them in, lets them be kids at first, but he start to train them. In other words, he starts his own clan of shadow warriors.

Now, if I were writing this as a series, I’d probably start this once Wayne had his network setup and he started doing his Batman thing. It’d give an opportunity to explore other characters, like the Joker, Riddler, Gordon, Nightwing, the whole lot. More importantly, it helps establish Wayne’s humanity, even in the face of world shattering weirdness that would involve Supes, Diana or the rest of the Justice League.

After all, superheroes are people too.

It All Adds Up

In a recent discussion on Twitter I brought up the importance of first impressions to people interested in the STEM fields. One point I made was that decisions aren’t always made out of one big moment, but sometimes lots of little factors play into it. “Little things add up to big things,” I had said. One person responded with “no, little things only become big things if you dwell on them. Let them stay little.” The attitude expressed felt fairly dismissive towards little things being important. It made me think and wonder how well the “little things don’t matter” holds up to mathematical scrutiny.

I mean, a 3% interest rate is a “little thing,” right? Well, no, not when compounded monthly over a long series of time. Sock away $1000 for fifty years, add $100 a month over that time, and see where the interest takes you.

How about a tenth of a degree, that’s a “little thing,” isn’t it? Well, if I’m aiming at something 10 meters away, maybe. I’m off the center of my target by a centimeter. But at 100 meters, I’m off by ten times that distance. If I’m aiming at something that’s 200 million kilometers away, say Asteroid 67P, well guess what?

Maybe 0.1% of a population is a little thing, right? Depends on the population. With 7 billion people here on Earth, that’s still a sample of 7 million.

Little things add up.

A cell in the human body is a “little thing.” What happens when one cell mutates, does something a little different, and passes that sequence on to other cells nearby? Now it’s a tumor, and someone’s life is on the line.

A platelet is a little thing. But platelets build blood clots. A clot in the wrong place causes a heart attack or a stroke.

Little things add up, even if you don’t pay attention to them.

A guy giving a woman a “once-over” might be a little thing. When it happens so many times in a day, when a woman starts wearing paranoia as a form of armor because she doesn’t feel safe, even where she works? Is it so little any more?

An act of microaggression is a “little thing.” Then a co-worker does this sort of thing to you every day. Not listening, yanking tasks out from under you after you said you were working on them, not calling you by name, not knocking on your cube before talking to you, not communicating during a vital project, dismissing your ideas because he didn’t come up with them, and talking over you in meetings. When your manager wonders if he has to professionally separate the two of you, and you say “I’d accept that,” then it stops being a little thing.

Little things add up.

Thirty minutes is a little thing — not a long time at the very least. But if that thirty minutes is spent walking, that can lead to weight loss, better fitness, a better self-image, and even a positive outlook.

A word is a little thing. Put enough of them together in the right order using the right set of skills, and you have a novel.

A photon is a little thing, but their presence is what we need to see.

Little things add up. They can become big things whether we like it or not. What matters is how we treat those little things.

Taking the Black

I’ve been asked more than a few times how long it takes to earn a Black Belt in a martial art. The quick answer I always give is “five to six years, depending on the student and the school.”

I’m going to delve into that a little more, using some of my own experience to fill out the numbers. None of this is set in stone, but there are a few certainties.

A typical class goes for about an hour and a half, unless it’s a weekend, which can go for at least two hours. That’s about five hours a week, 260 hours a year. At the six year mark, that racks up 1440 hours — sixty days.

Doesn’t sound like much does it?

Clearly you can’t do that time all at once. Not even at eight hours a day (which expands the overall time frame to 180 days). Any sort of exercise is a controlled form of self-inflicted damage and healing. When you consider that martial arts involves a good deal of impact based conditioning, that makes recovery even more important. And that doesn’t even take into account the time off you have to take due to work, vacation, sickness or injury, or even the extra hours you put in drilling in kata by yourself.

That’s why it takes five to six years to get just that far, and as I’ve said before, black belt is just a milestone, not an end state.

There’s some “You Wills” along the way:

You Will Get Hurt

You’re studying a martial art. That means you’ll be hitting things, whether in the course of conditioning, bag work, or sparring. If you’re not doing that in the course of your training, you’re not in a very good school. Martial arts is an application of physics, and with every action comes an equal and opposite reaction, so when you hit something it hits back. You bruise a shin, pull something in your elbow or shoulder, or get a black eye because you led with your head*. You take the time you need to heal. You put ice on it to keep the inflammation down. You take a little more time to stretch to make sure you don’t make it worse.

And you endure.

You Will Doubt Yourself

You make mistakes along the way, and you’ll get the corrections you need to improve. Sometimes, though, you just can’t get that step right, or that one piece of a kata or bunkai gets away from you.  Maybe you get that bit of instruction you need and you go “how the hell did I miss that?” You wonder if you’ll ever get it right, get on track, pass that test for rank when it comes. Even if you’re in a school with a regular testing schedule, you still have those spans at specific belts, and they only get longer the further you train.

And you persist.

You Will Hit A Rut

The only way to get good at a martial art is repetition, tempered with good instruction. That repetition gets to be a pain in the ass. You find yourself enduring the boredom, because if you don’t you won’t make it. You don’t ask the instructors when your next test will be — that only holds you back. And then that kata just does not get any easier because you keep finding corrections and nuances upon which you can improve.

And you repeat.

You Will Be Humbled

Along the way you realize that being a Black Belt does not make you a master. Maybe you’ve become stronger, quicker, more aware, but you’re not superhuman. In fact, you’ve become cognizant of the dichotomy between the power and frailness of the human body. You understand the difference between the years you’ve spent and the decades your teachers have undergone, and that there’s still a lot to learn.

And you accept.

If you don’t, you’ll never make it. You’ll stagnate, get frustrated and quit, most likely before you take that last critical test.

After I passed, I got something from the Okinawan KarateDo Association. It’s like a diploma — definitely something I would frame and hang on my wall — but the three most significant words on it are “Certificate of Proficiency.”

It’s a good reminder that once you get there, you’ve only just begun.

 

 

 

*True story: I never knew there was a floating bone in the ankle until I popped it out of place after landing a round kick off my sparring partner’s elbow. Didn’t hurt. Luckily, there was a chiropractor in our dojo at the time and he popped it back in with no fuss. THAT felt weird.

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