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Super, Part 4
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superhero

The first thing you learn when you decide to go superhero is to pick your battles carefully, because martial arts dudes can seriously mess you up. What's more, you can't tell who might be a crazy kung-fu guy just by looking at him, so you need to be prepared.

Since I went to police academy right out of college, back when I thought I might want to be a cop, before my powers fully kicked-in, I had some basic hand-to-hand combat training. But, even considering my newfound extraordinary resilience, strength, speed and reflexes, I knew better than to think I could take on a serious martial artist with any confidence. So, I went to my buddy Charles, who is a martial arts instructor.

Charles has black belts in four or five different arts, and has studied a dozen others, and he's just a little bit crazy. When we were in college, he used to spend his summers traveling in Asia, fighting in these semi-legal (and sometimes illegal) tournaments. His nickname on the circuit was "the Hammer." Some of the tournaments used weapons (the idea is you don't draw blood -- you just tap your opponent with whatever you are swinging), and one summer he came home with a ragged eight-inch scar on his lower back, badly stitched shut, and only one kidney. Some dude, frustrated he was losing, had stabbed him in the back with a sai or something. Charles said that he'd gone kind of berserk then, and that the dude would probably never be able to fight again. I didn't ask for details, and Charles didn't offer any. He also never went back on the tournament circuit, which I guess shows he's not that crazy.

Anyway, what Charles taught me was that the key to fighting a martial arts expert is not to get hit. Combat, Charles told me, is not like in the movies, where fighters trade blows for long battles, each taking and shrugging off punches and kicks. Real combat, he explained, is a series of misses and evasions and blocks, until finally one fighter connects. And then, generally, it is over. One of the plaques Charles has in his studio, from a tournament in Laos, says it all: "Charles 'the Hammer' Rambaugh, Grand Champion, defeats: 0, opponents defeated: 9 (6 KOs), total elapsed combat time: 3 minutes, 17 seconds."

Charles is one of the few folks who knows about my superhero identity, so he had an idea of how tough and fast I was. We agreed that I could probably take a bigger bell-ringing than most folks, and I already knew more or less how to throw a punch, so we spent most of that three-month preparation period drilling on about a dozen basic blocks and evasions for all circumstances. We sparred a lot, and because I can take the hits, Charles didn't have to hold back (I did pull my punches, though I never told him I was doing so to save his ego). By the end of that training period, I was able to block 80 - 90% of what he threw at me and, because my endurance is pretty high, I could usually wear him out enough to get in a decent shot. He constantly warned me that fighting and sparring are different things, and that guys in a combat state of mind will be able to last longer and fight harder than he did while sparring, but he agreed that I could probably hold my own under most circumstances.

I laughed and said, "bring on the Ninjas!"

Charles grabbed my arm then, and looked me straight in the eye. "Don't even joke about that shit."

I smiled and asked, "Well, what do I do if I need to fight a Ninja?"

Charles did not smile back. "You run the fuck away."

About a year later I was living in New York. I'd just moved there, hoping to get some real hero action, maybe get noticed by a team, you know, move into the big leagues. I was out on patrol, just cruising the different neighborhoods, looking for trouble. I was pretty green, and I didn't know anyone in NYC except my buddy Matt, who I was crashing with (Matt thought I'd gotten a job working nights as a janitor, which explained my schedule and the fact I could help only a very little bit with rent), so I was really just wandering, looking for tough neighborhoods that needed a hand. More than once I got so lost I had to change back to my regular Joes and take the subway back to Manhattan. One night, around 2AM, I was getting pretty lost again when I heard the sounds of a scuffle, and, sticking to the shadows, worked my way back to a run-down playground behind a bodega. There, dancing around the merry-go-round and a rusty slide, were seven or eight guys in black, silvery steel of various bizarre shapes flashing in their hands, trading blows with one guy dressed all in red wielding a two-foot staff. I knew him in a flash: Daredevil.

My heart jumped into my throat. Hesitating only a second, I picked out one of the assailants who was hanging back from the others and charged him. I'd started about 20 yards away, so I was able to get up to a good clip and catch him by surprise, and an elbow to the back of the head at 120 miles and hour or so will pretty much take out any non-powered person -- this guy was no exception. I turned to make certain he'd gone down, my heart racing with adrenaline, and out of nowhere another guy crashed onto my back.

I fell and rolled, like I'd been taught, but he was back on top of me in a flash. He had this big, messed-up knife with like three curvy prongs on the top in his right hand, and razor-sharp spikes sticking out of his left palm. The next 30 seconds of my life were the slowest and scariest I'd ever experienced, and that's true to this day. I ducked and twisted and evaded and blocked as fast as my heightened senses and reflexes allowed. I managed to avoid the knife-thing, but he totally mangled my shoulder with his palm-claws. At one point I struggled to my feet in a kind of half-crouch, and he sort of jumped and kicked me so hard in the chest I thought I'd been hit by a truck. I felt my ribs break, and I flew backward, crashing into a bike rack. His momentum carried him forward over me, and, using the split-second opening created by my completely accidental sudden stop, I launched an uppercut with every ounce of strength I had left. I connected with his neck, just below his jaw, and I'm certain I felt something crush under my fist -- his trachea or jaw or teeth or something. The dude flew backward, flipped in the air, and landed on all fours like a frigging cat. Blood was dripping from under his hood. And he stared at me. I rose shakily to my feet, and affected my most menacing defensive stance. Then, after a half second, he turned and ran, disappearing into the shadows.

I felt a rush of pride and elation that lasted about 3 seconds, and then I noticed the night was deadly silent. I turned, and saw that Daredevil was standing about 6 feet behind me. The ground around him was littered with dead or unconscious bodies dressed all in black. He was a few inches shorter than me, he was holding his side with one hand, and blood trickled from his split lip. Even so, I went cold with fear. And I knew he was a good guy.

"You'll want to watch yourself, friend," he said, in a voice barely louder than a whisper. "You don't want to mess with the hand, and the kitchen belongs to me."

I just stared at him, and nodded slightly. He ran two steps, leapt to the roof of the bodega, and then he was gone. I jogged about 10 blocks back the way I'd come, changed back to my day-clothes behind a dumpster, and limped to the nearest subway station. It wasn't until I woke up the next day (I recover pretty quickly, so most of my bruises were gone, and my shoulder and rib had about half-healed) and was looking at a map to figure out where I'd been that I realized Daredevil had been talking about "Hell's Kitchen" -- his neighborhood. I never did figure out what he meant by "you don't want to mess with the hand," but I knew I was more than happy to leave the Ninja fighting to someone else.

end of essay
David Nett Portrait David is an actor, writer and producer in Los Angeles. He's the founder and editor-in-chief of CSP, and a founding producer of the acclaimed Lucid by Proxy theater company. Despite all this, he still has to hold down a day job in the dot-com world, where he does product and interaction design. His acting has been called "committed," "detailed," "fearless," "hilarious" and "heart-rending" by the LA Times and Backstage West. His writing has been called "articulate and commanding" and "eminently readable" by Flak Magazine. His tenth grade Geometry teacher said he "does not work well in groups." | more essays by David
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