Rock: Robots, Boxing and “Home”

While reading “Dark Blue Suit” and the boxing documentary, watching the fights, and reading the imagery, I started to recall some parts of my relationship with my own father I had tried to “remember to forget”. They weren’t bad memories, but memories that reminded me too much that he was still my father.

After what little we had as far as a father/child relationship at the time fell apart during the summer between my 9th and 10th grade years, and again after I had graduated high school. He had told the court I would never graduate during the child support case that would decide if he be required to help pay for college expenses, and after I found out and had the official court record with his hypocritical words on it (told me my whole life to go to college and he would help pay for it), I gave up on ever having a relationship with him and wanted nothing to do with him.

To have nothing to do with him also meant rejecting the support that the court decided he was required to pay, I did so by taking a break year between high school and college since it was contingent on attending college right after high school.

I knew that if he paid for my college, I would have little say in my education and to become dependent on him to attend college would be to hand my future over to someone who I barely knew and didn’t care.

The other things I ended up rejecting was any trait in myself, good or bad, that reminded me of him. In other words I began to tear out parts of my own identity, rejecting and modifying them because to myself at that time they weren’t me, they were him.

One of these was boxing. I’ve rejected these memories, always remembering to forget, so much that what I have left is vague. A glimpse of him showing me how to use a speed bag. A stance I was supposed to remember. A flash bang of excitement watching “Cinderella Man” and him wanting to share that film with me. Gloves he got me since his were too large, but I can’t remember if they were well worn or barely touched. Every memory I have left is a quick flash that fades into dark. I don’t even remember enough to know if he just liked boxing or if he loved it. I can’t remember if I did either.

Only recently I admitted to myself that I like boxing, even though I could always feel where I’m supposed to hold my hands. The jargon, the words for each move aren’t just words but images that flow together in my mind. I didn’t even realize it until after reading “Dark Blue Suit” that one of the first action sequences I wrote for my story “Biomech”, an mecha anime/manga story I wrote about three years ago, was written like a boxing match. I don’t and didn’t know where I drew the movements the characters made from. I just remember it being there and I wrote it. And as I wrote it, I acted it out, visualizing and drawing it out wasn’t enough, at least not for the hand-to-hand combat scene.

I shadowboxed against an invisible enemy, sat back down to write, stood up again and took on another. Then another. And another until swords were drawn and I sat back down to visualize the sword fight. But the punches, I felt like I had to do. My mind may have forgotten, but my body hadn’t.

I even named the smuggling group in the story “The Shadowbox Crew”. I wrote the book after “Real Steel” came out in 2011, but I didn’t know about it until after I had started writing the book officially, and I had been world building “Biomech” since about 2009.

Anyways this would happen when I watch “Million Dollar Baby” in high school for my digital media class and whenever I watch “Real Steel”, a movie set in 2020 about former boxer Charlie Kenton who now can only box through a remote in a world were robots have replaced humans as the boxers.

From Right to Left: Charlie Kenton, played by Hugh Jackman, the sparring robot “Atom” and Max Kenton played by Dakota Goyo, walking up to the ring in an image made for the movie “Real Steel”.

Charlie though has become a “bad bet”, a smooth talker that was deep in debt and quickly robot-less at the beginning of the film, until he makes a deal to sign over full custody of his son, Max Kenton, whom he had never known and was raised by his mom before she passed away, to his aunt, spoiled by her rich husband. The aunt’s husband and Charlie make a deal that Charlie will spend the summer with his son, along with a payment of $100,000 dollars, so that the husband and the aunt can have their trip to Italy undisturbed and the husband can be the hero acquiring Max for the aunt.

But after spending all the money on a famous Japanese robot called “Noisy Boy” and then losing/destroying him in their first match, Charlie and Max, who don’t get along from the start (Max is very much so Charlie’s son) go to a junk yard where Max finds/is saved from falling down a cliff by an old sparring bot called “Atom”, who has a rare “shadow function” that lets it learn how to box from Charlie, but only after Max convinces him to let Atom fight.

A screenshot from “Real Steel” where Charlie Kenton teaches the sparring bot “Atom” to box through Atom’s “shadow function”.

With each match they defy the odds in bringing the father and son closer together leading Max to challenge the WRB reining champion “Zeus” and accept the fight. That is until Charlie’s “bad bets” catch up with him and places Max in danger not long before the big fight, leading Charlie to chose his son’s safety over winning big, seeing his choices and himself as unfit for being in Max’s life. But after giving himself a second chance, and to mend the rift between him and Max that canceling the big fight created, they go face Zeus for one final showdown.

“Real Steel” is less about having a large, overarching plot and instead focuses on the characters, their development and relationships between each other. It goes into Charlie’s past as a boxer, his slide downhill as robots began to take over the sport, fans wanting more action, violence and “gore” that human boxers couldn’t provide. It also touches on how fast technology, including the robot technology in the film, advances and changes our culture and the intrinsic qualities that make us human.

For me, I originally watched the film because, well it had awesome looking robots battling it out in a realistic future setting, which was a nice change of pace from the science fiction settings I normally watch on a regular basis. The easy access to the film’s setting and time made it seem like the fantasy of having my own robot (cause why not), was an actual possibility. A fun dream I could acquire someday.

What I hadn’t expected when I watched the show for the first time, and every time after that, was the impulse, the urge to get up and shadow box with the characters on the screen. To fight the impulse to lean left, right, unable to keep my eyes off the screen, yelling at the characters and cheering them on to beat Zeus, even though I already knew what was going to happen.

I’ve never considered myself a sports fan. I did solo sports like swim team and track in middle and high school before I injured my back messing up a dive when they brought back diving to the high school’s swim team. I photographed basketball and soccer for my community college student newspaper, but I wasn’t that passionate about them, except getting a really good shot, even if it meant the ball and players came flying at me. My mom is the scream your lungs out and curse at the screen type fan when it comes to the Seahawks, football was something she was denied and put down for liking by her mom growing up, so I say she can curse, scream and cheer all she wants. With football I’ve been lukewarm at best, a well earned applause and cheer now and then at most.

Which is where I didn’t understand where this energy making it impossible to keep still and watch the film, any boxing film, was coming from. I never really thought about it or wondered or was curious. Just let it be and ignored it.

When I signed up for this program (this is my first quarter at Evergreen), I hadn’t expected the main project it to be as centered as heavily around identity, let alone my own which by the third week, I hadn’t realized how unresolved and fractured it was. Though unexpected, it wasn’t surprising. My identity was something that I suppressed and never really had a chance to actually talk about or explore. And being POC, trans, disabled and otaku/geeky/nerdy, in a small logging/port/working/retirement town, where everyone knows everyone, with heavy white colonial Christian values, there weren’t many opportunities to actually express who I was without a shock of anxiety following it.

So to be in the opposite situation here at Evergreen and exploring my “home”, it feels like, I don’t know, I just think of those bits from animal documentaries where they release the animal that’s gone through rehabilitation to be released into the wild for the first time, where they’re supposed to be, but they don’t quite know what to do or how to react right after that sudden surge of freedom is given to them. And you kind of just work it out from there.

Going through all this “home” related stuff, it’s kind of like that. Liberating, overwhelming and really feeling like you don’t know what you’re doing, a lot, and worried if you’ve gone off course or said something wrong, the list of anxieties is kind of long. And going through “home” related stuff, means a lot of memories and confronting those memories, and trauma. I don’t have a lot of good ones, memories, so it’s been less of a process of finding “home”, and more of a process of confronting my past that I’m always trying to forget. It’s been rough, I’ve had to put aside large chunks of time for self-care that I’m not comfortable with (I’m used to always working or taking care of something, someone etc.), but if I hadn’t done that the symptoms of my PTSD would have overwhelmed me. I keep having to remind myself that whenever I go to do something “fun”.

And back to where boxing comes in, it was both unexpected and surprising. Digging through my memories meant I eventually came across those. I had already been thinking of working the speed bags at the CRC, it seemed relaxing and when I went to try Judo earlier this quarter, I loved it, but it was too physically taxing to start out with (it took two weeks for my muscles to stop aching, but I will be back eventually).

My dad and I prior to me going to Evergreen had been working on reconnecting and he has changed a lot and for the better. Even my sister who still saw him while I cut him out of my life, on our last trip said that he didn’t react like he used to when things went wrong, a lot of yelling. He was perfectly calm, no yelling, no outbursts, just took the situation with ease. I wondered if it would come around later. Nope. Nothing. And the during the trip, I got to know him as someone other than the person who I grew up knowing.

And that’s kind of what happens in “Real Steel” between Charlie and Max, Max who happens to be into J-RPGs (Japanese role playing video games, they have different game mechanics specific to the genre than English ones, like Mass Effect or Skyrim) and they’re bootlegs (because the Japanese voice acting is better than the English and that is very much so a thing for otaku, subs over dubs). Charlie knows nothing about and Max knows nothing about Charlie, but they find a common crossover, an interest with robot boxing and the dad that had always not been there, finally is.

I’ll probably include some of this, more so focused on the robot boxing, Hollywood, Japanese and otaku influences, such as can be seen with the robot “Noisy Boy”, and how the crossover of the tech world with the sports world shows that the lines between the traditional “nerd” and “jock” are being blurred too, which can be seen with gaming and sports anime on both ends (actually I think I want one of those sports scarfs, but with “Atom” or “Noisy Boy” on it in regards to sport vs. anime merchandise collecting, that there isn’t much difference as you’d think).

The boxing robot “Noisy Boy” from the film “Real Steel”.

So, this week, to find fragments of my “home” inside of boxing, though it caught me off guard, was good. And I think helped solidify some aspects of my “home” that I was shadowboxing with before.