Arse-kicking Protags Who No Longer Study

This comment from Rachel on my post of the other day:

This is a big issue in the Urban Fantasy genre too. I’ve started more than one series where the MC, despite being thirty-something with a job and developed asskicking abilities, has zero friends and no previous relationships. (Teacher of asskicking? No, conveniently dead just like other parental figures? What about cowor- no there too? Not even other independent psychic investigators? Okay, then. Friends? Okay, okay. Just asking.)

Rachel put her finger on something that drives me nuts in many movies/tv shows/books etc. The mighty arse-kicking protag who is the master of many martial arts but no longer studies any of them. They’ve had their training montage and now their skills are perfected and they never need to study again.

Seriously? How does anyone buy that? I mean even a slight sports fan knows that all the top athletes have armies of coaches and trainers and work really hard to improve even when they’re ranked number one in the entire universe.

I have studied two different martial arts: fencing and boxing. My fencing instructors, while instructing beginner me, were themselves still studying both with top fencing instructors in Australia but they would also go to master classes in Italy and France.

My boxing trainer makes a special trip out to the USA once a year to work with her trainer. She’s won titles and has many students of her own and yet she’s still training and working with her guru. And he, in turn, who is a master of several martial arts, continues to learn other martial arts and to train with other masters, swapping techniques. Which he then incorporates into his own teaching.

Funny how often that doesn’t happen in fiction.

I do sometimes wonder if the way learning is represented in popular culture—you study hard for about ten minutes and then magically you are perfected!—is part of why so many people give up when learning something new because they aren’t perfect at it within the space of a training montage. Could it be why so many people think they can just sit down and write a perfect New York Times-bestselling novel without having written so much as a haiku previously?

Probably not. We people are often pretty lazy. But those popular culture tropes sure aren’t helping.

In conclusion: learning to box is awesome.

6 comments

  1. Rachel on #

    This is such a good point. In all fantasy, there’s the challenge to balance benefits with sacrifices in how one portrays magic, but some prefer a different kind of fantasy: the ideal, all-benefits world in which you get everything you want with minimal effort. When did working hard for something you truly want become a bad thing?

  2. BluePlasticJess on #

    That is one thing I liked about Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Even though her ass-kicking was largely due to magical powers, she still spent time training and improving her skills.

  3. Liz on #

    Anita Blake trains, as does Lily Bard, and lots of other badass fictional women detectives.

  4. David C on #

    I’ve seen this in a couple of the junior fencers at my club, they seemed to expect that a few months of half-hearted training would reveal their innate fencing talent. One year on, and finally the idea that footwork and training drills are useful appears to be getting through.

  5. Justine on #

    Rachel: When did working hard for something you truly want become a bad thing?

    I don’t really think laziness is a recent development. There have been people looking to make a living with minimal effort since the dawn of time. And con artists ready to exploit them for about as long.

    Speaking as someone who battles her laziness every single day: I do get it. But laziness + too many movies/tv shows/novels giving the appearance that mastery can be easy doesn’t always end well.

    BluePlasticJess and Liz: Oh, sure. There are definitely many examples of tv shows/books/movies that don’t do this. And yay for all of them.

    David C: I’ve seen this in a couple of the junior fencers at my club, they seemed to expect that a few months of half-hearted training would reveal their innate fencing talent.

    Ha! My boxing trainer gets people like that, mostly men, who are sure they’re going to be the best fighters ever within about ten seconds. She enjoys showing them otherwise. :-)

  6. Steve Vernon on #

    Heck, even the X-Men had a Danger Room to practice in – and Doc Savage trained for an hour every morning.

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