Wednesday, July 7, 2010


When I decided to write about badasses, I thought long and hard about the people I would classify as the best of the bad. I realized, after coming up with an all too random list, that I needed clarity on what I thought made someone not just a badass, but a great one. I started by writing down qualities that I thought all great badasses should have - courage, strength, fortitude, confidence, and a whole lot of martial arts training. The problem was that all of these attributes, though admirable and certainly necessary, were not enough. Something, or some things, were missing...

During further research, I encountered a Facebook quiz titled, "Which Historical Badass Are You?" "How apropos", I thought to myself, as I logged on to my Facebook account to take the quiz. A few minutes (and several rather ridiculous questions) later, I was informed that my super secret badass historical persona is...

Boudica, Queen of the Iceni.

"Well this sucks. I was hoping for Ellen Ripley or Joan of Ark. Who the hell is Boudica, Queen of the Iceni?" I thought to myself. As it turns out, Boudica was indeed quite an historical badass, having led a violent uprising against the Roman empire in 60 AD. Unfortunately for her, she and her gaggle of followers were later slaughtered by the Roman army, after having fallen into a trap. Facebook, warns that, "like Boudica you are a strong warrior who doesn't back down from a fight. You would be wise to be careful, though; you don't want to get too cocky." (Right. Roger that.)

I mention the Facebook quiz and the subsequent revelation of my alter-ego not because I have added Boudica to my list of greatest badasses, but to illustrate one very important fact about them: they need not always win. In fact (like William Wallace of Braveheart fame), sometimes they die tragic, painful deaths at the hands of the bad guys. It is the battle, the warrior within, and not necessarily the outcome, that makes them great. That said, winning sure does help.

But I digress... Back to the great badass attributes.

After developing several drafts, adding some people and scratching many more off, I finalized my list. Although all have some of the qualities I listed initially (courage, strength and fortitude), a few have other attributes (honor, loyalty and dignity) that, when added together, sum up what it really means to be a truly great badass - essentially, the kind of person that, when all hell is breaking loose, I would choose to take with me into battle.

In no particular order:

For those living under a rock, Mr. Miyagi was one of two main characters in 1984's "The Karate Kid." A humble Japanese immigrant living in Los Angeles as a handyman, Mr. Miyagi single-handedly karate chopped half a dozen black belts who were trying to beat the living crap out of Daniel Russo, the teen aged, skinny New Jersey transplant. Mr. Miyagi goes on to become Daniel's sensei, teaching him karate (from scratch) and training him for the karate championships, where he goes head to head against Johnny Lawrence of the mega evil Kobra Kai Dojo.

So what makes Mr. Miyagi such a badass? What makes this seemingly innocuous little old man someone that I would choose to take into battle? Is it his wax on/wax off, sand the floor teaching technique? Is it his ability to do the crane kick while balancing on an upright log? Is it his refusal to back down in the face of bigger, seemingly tougher opponents? Yes, it is all of these things, but most importantly, it is the fact that he has honor and he possesses the Element of Surprise. No one sees him coming. No one suspects that this soft spoken man can open a can of karate whoop ass on half a dozen people half his age, twice his size without breaking a sweat. And he does it with simple, dignified honor. And, yes, the proud, almost undetectable smile on Mr. Miyagi's face in the last scene in the movie, when Daniel-san holds up the trophy, pumping his fist in the air yelling, "We did it Mr. Miyagi. We did it!" gets me right here (thump chest). Every time.

FACT: Jack Bauer can kill you with a butter knife.FACT: Jack Bauer doesn't miss; if he didn't hit you it's because he was shooting at another terrorist 12 miles away.FACT: Jack Bauer claims the entire world as dependants on his tax return.FACT: If Jack Bauer and MacGyver were in a room, Jack would make a bomb out of MacGyver.

Jack Bauer, the main character in the Fox series, "24," is the greatest, most dangerous, most patriotically righteous character television has ever had the guts to create. A former Counter Terrorist Unit (CTU) agent, Jack is the guy people call on when all hell is breaking loose. He is the guy that puts life and limb on the line to defend his country, even when his own government screws him over time and time again. He is the first line of defense against all that is evil and unholy. And although supremely tough and fearless, he is not impervious to pain and suffering. In fact, Jack suffers more (emotionally and physically) than everyone else in the world combined (including the bad guy in the last season that he gutted alive to retrieve a cell phone chip that said bad guy had swallowed in a futile attempt to keep Jack from finding it. Silly rabbit...). Jack has been tortured to the brink of death by the Chinese, the Russians, the Colombians, the fundamentalist Islamics and yes, even the Americans. But he manages to come back, every time, screaming bloody murder and always with an out-of breathe please and thank you. So on top of everything else, the guy's got manners.

So for all of you out there who have never seen 24, I encourage you to put Season 1 at the top of your Netflix queue immediately, if not sooner. I guarantee you that before the end of the weekend, you'll be riding on the Jack Train, with Season 2 ordered, wearing a "Superman wears Jack Bauer pyjamas" t-shirt (just like mine).

"If Hitler were to invade Hell, I should find occasion to make a favorable reference to the Devil." - Sir Winston Churchill, upon signing a treaty with Stalin that allied Britain with Russia (which had been previously [and stupidly] allied with Hitler before getting stabbed in the back and subsequently invaded).

Winston Churchill is my pick for the most righteous historical badass of all time. He was elected Prime Minister of Great Britain after his predecessor, Neville Chamberlain, was unceremoniously thrown out of power for cow tailing to the bastard Nazi's. A short, somewhat funny-looking man who appeared about as menacing as a basset hound, Churchill took on the most evil of evil men when no one else was willing or able to. Not only had Hitler already taken over half of Europe, but his evil wrath was barreling directly and ruthlessly down on the British when Churchill took the reigns. Looking dapper as hell in a cool pinstriped suit, Churchill's "I'll see you in hell, Adolf" leadership rallied the Brits and eventually got the US and Russia to join the fight. As everyone knows, the Allies eventually prevailed, Hilter got his ass handed to him, and The Third Reich ceased to exist.

Sadly, not before they took 6 million lives.

Sarah Connor, the heroine in The Terminator movies, is an obvious pick for a female bad ass. She's tough, she's determined, she's slightly nuts, and she's pissed off. But so are so many other badasses. So why Sarah?

Simply, because she's also really, really scared.

As you surely know (and if you don't, stop wasting your time reading this and go rent the movie - you've been living under a rock long enough), Sarah fights the Terminator in order to save the world from it's own future destruction. The Sarah we know in the first Terminator movie is timid, soft spoken and scared of her own shadow. The Sarah we see in T2 is tough, angry, has triceps that would make most men quiver with fear and, above all, is absolutely scared to death. But unlike the fear that makes her run in T1, her fear in T2 is her driving force. She is the badass that she is because she is scared - but she doesn't run from it - she thrives off of it. It is her fear, not her lack thereof, that brings her insatiable determination, making her tough, and dangerous, and ultimately, a hero.

Han Solo (for those who need to be hit in the head for not knowing this already) is a space smuggler with a price on his head for screwing with the wrong gangster slug (Jabba the Hut). His first appearance in Star Wars is in a bar, hustling Luke Skywalker and Obiwan for more money in return for a ride on the Millennium Falcon, his decrepit (but super fast) space ship. Han agrees to help Luke out solely for the purpose of saving his own skin, but he soon joins the Rebellion and, three movies later, helps Leia, Luke and the rest of the Jedi's bring ultimate peace to the galaxy.

So why Han? Why not Luke, a bonafide Jedi (albeit an initially whiny one) or Yoda (a kick-ass little guy who can raise a space ship out of a swamp with his pinky), or even Darth Vader (who, although admittedly a bad guy, can kill you with a mere thought)?

The thing that makes Han Solo such a badass, is that he holds his own - way more than his own - simply as an ordinary guy. He's not a Jedi. He's not a scary-looking space creature with weird powers. He's just a guy who flies a run down space ship, knows how to wield a blaster, and always, always saves his friend's ass. Han is arrogant, tough but not infallible, and undoubtedly and unfailingly loyal.

Three years ago, my friend Rachael was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma. Originally misdiagnosed, Rachael was about one month away from death when her condition was finally identified. I will never forget hearing the news. To say I was shocked doesn't even begin to describe it. I knew Rachael to be a beautiful, larger-than-life woman with a rapier sense of humor and a "victory is sweet" mentality. A born litigator about to embark on her career as a trial attorney, cancer crawled its ugly way into this lovely woman's body and tried to take her down.

But Rachael fought it. She shaved her head, took leave from her job, embraced (not hid from) her friends and family, endured six brutal months of chemotherapy, and, with unspeakable grace and dignity, emerged victorious and stronger than ever. What a warrior. I'll take her into battle with me any day of the week and twice on Tuesday.

Rachael has returned to the practice of law, litigating and eating opposing counsel for breakfast. She has found the love of her life in her partner, Ali, and lives in a fabulous loft in San Francisco. She is tougher than she was before the cancer, her sense of humor is equally, if not sharper than it was when we first met, she'll still stop everything she is doing to help someone in need, and, most importantly, she appears to really and truly be at peace.

A few months into her treatment, Rachael said in an email to her friends:

"Life can be random and cruel and sometimes, you just have to hang on, be gracious, and find something funny in the worst of it. But I will say that I am grateful that the one lesson (?) that seems to remain, is that none of this is very serious. If you are alive, you can fix it. And it probably doesn't need fixing anyway. So stop micro managing life (OK, I guess I do think I learned things. Don't you hate people that think they know something because they almost died? Its like a six-feet-under merit badge. Please.). And I am very happy. Isn't that worth the fight? (Hoping you are very happy too)."

In less than one month, on August 2, Rachael will officially be deemed "cured." Until then, there is a 50% chance that the cancer will return. I'm putting my money on Rachael.