How would Batman fight? Take a second and think about the question. Really, step away and consider it: you’ve got 60 seconds. Go.
Okay: unless you’ve actually got some experience in thinking about fighting, you probably came back with an answer that focuses in on Batman’s actual techniques: whether he prefers Aikido or Savate or Silat (it’s Malaysian), or, if you’re a canon fan, how he apparently knows 127 different martial arts. This isn’t the wrong thing to think about, but it’s not the first thing to think about.
The first thing to think about is: what are Batman’s goals?
‘Goals dictate strategy,’ writes Rory Miller, a former Corrections Emergency Response Team member who now trains people in how to deal with violent situations. ‘Strategy dictates tactics. Tactics dictate techniques.’
Goals, Miller points out, will change from encounter to encounter: sometimes, what you need is to incapacitate someone, but other times it’s just to get away or get enough air to scream for help. He also points out that most people need to operate within certain parameters – like not letting a family/team member get hurt or losing a weapon from your belt or (for most people) getting sued. Broadly speaking, though, most people’s goals and parameters are in a violent situation are:
Don’t get hurt.
Don’t go to jail.
That’s why learning to run away better, de-escalate situations or even recognise and avoid them in the first place should be key elements of most people’s self-defence training, although they usually aren’t. Compare and contrast this with the goals (and parameters) that police have:
Uphold the law.
Don’t use excessive force/go outside of procedure.
Don’t abandon your partner/lose your gun.
…or the goals that military guys have:
Complete the mission (whatever it is).
Stick to the Rules Of Engagement.
…and you start to recognise that what works for a civilian isn’t likely to be the best plan for a soldier or cop. Cops aren’t supposed to run away, and soldiers can’t abandon the mission without good reason – but they can probably get away with a lot more force than a civilian in most situations they encounter. Civilians can’t shoot a guy from half a mile away or call for backup, but they can count any situation where they come away unscathed as a pretty clear win.
So what are Batman’s goals and parameters? He has basically four:
Protect innocent people.
Send bad guys to jail.
Don’t kill anyone.
Don’t use a gun.
Another important distinction that Miller makes is between the two key types of violence: social, and asocial.
Social violence is what happens when you’re part of a group. It used to happen in tribes, and now it happens among groups of young men who go out drinking on Saturday nights. Social violence is usually easier to see starting – Miller calls the ritualistic squaring-off that usually precedes a barfight ‘the monkey dance’ – and easier to avoid.
Asocial violence is what you do outside your group. It includes hunting, butchering livestock and swatting flies – but it’s also what genuine predators do, whether they’re mugging someone for their wallet or murdering them for their land. It’s done with the goal of maximum efficiency: it isn’t a contest or a show, and there’s no attempt to prove to a cow that you’re ‘better’ than her. Asocial violence is about hunting, not communication, and the predator works to send deceptive signals or no signal at all. Think about what you’d do if you had to get a mobile phone off someone in the next ten minutes: absolutely had to, and they wouldn’t be persuaded by anything you could say. Would you square up to them and ask for it with your fists raised, or whack them on the head with a stick from behind? That’s asocial violence, and it’s what predators do.
Batman is a predator. He doesn’t care about making fights fair: he cares about fulfilling his goals with maximum efficiency. That’s why some of the best interpretations of Batman are seen in the Arkham videogames and Zack Snyder films – Batman will happily use the element of surprise, hit people from behind, shoot them with a taser or a Batarang, throw a box at them, use a smoke pellet – and, on occasion, run away. On the flipside, the most famous examples of Batman agreeing to a ‘fair’ fight – his two bouts against the Mutant Leader in The Dark Knight Returns – actually happen for ‘social’ reasons: he wants the Mutant gang to respect and fear him. Compare and contrast with his ‘fight’ against the KGBeast, where he just locks him in a room and leaves him to it.
So this is where you have to start when you consider the question ‘How would Batman fight?’ – not with a consideration of the moves he’d use, but with his aims, and his reasons for fighting. Batman is trying to protect innocent people and send criminals to jail, without using a gun or killing anyone. Batman isn’t going to fight fair. Batman is also (probably) going to train for situations that don’t begin with two people facing each other at a reasonable distance across a dojo floor: he’s going to train for situations where he needs to fight five dudes who’ve just jumped him, or where he needs to save a hostage, or fight two panicky dudes on a fire escape without accidentally killing either of them, or where he’s got his hands tied behind his back or he’s been blinded by fear gas or the other guy’s made out of living clay.
Hopefully you won’t have to face most (maybe any) of these situations, but if you’re interested in fighting a bit more like Batman, this is worth considering: think about the sorts of situations where you’re most likely to encounter violence (which will differ depending on whether you’re a small woman, large man, 60-year old accountant or professional bouncer) and what you’ll need to know/practise to survive them effectively. If you do kickboxing or judo, have you ever practised running for a door that’s being blocked by two dudes, or scrambling for a weapon, or screaming for help or assuming body posture that doesn’t let the other person know that you’re ready to elbow them in the mouth? These are the sorts of things that Batman would be good at. Be more like Batman. And next week, we’ll talk about what martial arts Batman would do. Promise.
What next? Work out what your goals are likely to be in the sorts of fights you’re likely to encounter in your life, and ask yourself what kind of fighting would most adequately prepare you for those. Don’t have a clue where to start? Come back next week.