Points of Impact

Rocky BalboaBy Ryan Leake

About a week ago I was hitting fungos during batting practice (BP) and casually carrying on a conversation with Jose Vizcaino Jr. when he posed a very pointed question.

“What do you think is our team’s biggest weakness?”  The little (actually big, he’s like 6’3”) bugger caught me flat-footed and nearly knocked me over with sincerity.  Usually once practice reaches BP players abandon critical thought and default to a more autonomous state of mind: see ball, hit ball.  Jose has been on the DL recently and wasn’t taking part in BP but decided to catch return throws from infielders for me.  Apparently he had forgotten to turn off his active mind.  I felt like Rocky Balboa after his first round with Ivan Drago.  I was stunned because no one expects to have to think while hitting fungos.  Toss the ball.  Grab the fungo.  Hit the ball.  Spit.  Scratch.  Repeat.

Jose threw me for a loop; and after putting on a stupid face and considering whether I’d actually been asked something intelligent I turned to him and answered, “I dunno, gimme a second.”  Like a well-trained little baseball coach I readjusted my already perfectly situated cap, wrinkled my brow in “deep thought”, and spat out a few clichéd answers in an attempt to hold Jose over.

“We’re not clutch enough…”

“We’re just not throwing enough strikes…”

“We’ve got a few key injuries…”

“We’re at the wrong end of the big play…”

And like a good little coach I put emphasis on those italicized words to ensure my ineffectual points were hammered home.  Jose, being the respectful freshman he is (he’s actually pretty comfortable), nodded to reassure me of my insightfulness; but his averted eyes and shifting body betrayed the true thought: “really idiot…that’s it?”

Disappointedly he returned to catching throws from the infielders, displaying his repugnance in the way he received the ball and tossed it back my way.  Jose wanted information.  He was craving a provocative and interesting perspective.  The damn kid actually wanted to learn.  He was hoping for la verdad.  His real question deserved a real answer.  I took pause from fungos and took note of the two players fielding ground balls.  After watching them perform a few live reads off the bat I turned back to Jose with a smile and said, “watch these two field ground balls and tell me what you see…therein lies your answer” (I didn’t say therein but it makes me sound very intelligent to insinuate that I did…the word insinuate also makes me sound intelligent).

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Alfred: “What about when you come up against him.  What then?”

Bruce Wayne: “I’ll fight harder.  I always have.”2494887-bane_by_devil_glonk_d58eyk11

Alfred: “Yes, when you had something to fight for.  What are you fighting for now?  Not your life…

Take a good look…At his speed, his ferocity, his training…I see the power of belief.  Of the fanatic…

In The Dark Knight Rises the villain, Bane, is one bad dude.  If you haven’t seen the movie (or the trilogy of new Batman movies) shame on you and I’m not going to bail you out with too much back-story; just know Bane is bad.  He breaks bones, snaps necks and hates with vigor.  Each of his scenes has you anticipating the next word, movement, or action that adds a deeper shade to his darkness.  His voice penetrates with the aid of a mask that muffles and distorts the most sinister of British accents; and his presence is formidable, replete with combat garb and a rippled, densely packed physique.  His chest and shoulders are massive enough to hide the existence of a neck.  Bane is not to be trifled with.  Whether or not he wants to trifle is another story.

As the loyal butler, Alfred, says to “Master Wayne”, Bane’s power rests in unwavering belief.  What belief does he speak of?  Bane’s belief that he will harm you with every resonating word, every plan of action, every punch he throws and every breath he takes.  He believes he’s the baddest.  He believes his fist will not only damage your face, but leave a mangled hole through your head.

Bane’s belief in his own brutality is what allows him to control action and (spoiler alert) fight more effectively than the highly-trained and well-equipped Batman.  Bane is a “fanatic” without shame or restraint.  Batman is a fighter bound by circumstance, technicality and ignorance to the fanaticism necessary to defeat a believer.  Taking into consideration skill, tools, training and weaponry, Batman is built for the fight.  Bane is completely unchained and obsessed with wreaking havoc.  He was born for the fight and has decided he’sbatman-darkknightrises-cartel-2 won.

When the two first meet early in the film, one fights with hope, one fights with certainty.  If you watch a lot of movies you can pretty much assume how the first fight ends (otherwise the movie would end after an hour), but the manner with which the action unfolds is revelatory in answering Jose’s original question.  At this point in time, Santa Clara plays like Batman fights.

Batman’s movement is hurried.  Bane’s is casual.  Batman strikes with technical precision.  Bane returns with punishment.  Batman searches for a way to break Bane down.  Bane has already decided Batman will break.  Batman’s weakness and Bane’s strength are exposed by the decisiveness of their action at the point of impact.

Will I inflict pain?

I will hurt you.

Is this the right tactic?

This blow will crush you.

Am I striking fast enough?

My speed overwhelms you.

Each character chooses how they will hit the other, but each choice differs in the authenticity of its intent.  Both characters are fighting, but only one of them believes he’ll win.  Bane is the one determined to decide the outcome.

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Back to Jose.  He wanted to know our team’s biggest weakness.  Without being too forthcoming I’ll leave it to another, much shorter analogy to try and answer Jose’s question.  I have recently read a few books on Zen philosophy and its connection to the martial arts so I’ve been in contemplative mode for a while about our team and how Zen could be useful.  I don’t precisely recall whether I read the following or conjured it out of sheer genius, but it is assuredly the answer to all your (and Jose’s) questions:

A martial arts master asks three of his students to take their turn in attempting to break a board.  The first student approaches the master, ritualistically bows, addresses his footing, adeptly summons his training and strikes with precision at the center of the board.  Puzzled, he walks away without harm done to either the board or his body.Capture

The second student rushes in after the first, lets out a guttural howl, and throws himself violently at the board.  His blow lands near the edge of the board and leaves it unscathed.  He walks away ashamed, holding bloody knuckles and cursing the invalidity of the exercise.

The third student strides toward the master, bows respectfully, and without pomp sends his fist cleanly through the board.  He bows respectfully once again and walks away to his previous post.

The master bows in return and says, “one of you we will call technique, one of you we will call emotion, one of you we will call purposeful, determined and ripe.  Carry water, chop wood.  That is all.”

– COACH LEAKE

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