“I am the hope of the Universe. I am the answer to all living things that cry out for peace. I am protector of the innocent. I am the light in the darkness. I am truth. Ally to good!”
Are these the words of some worshiped prophet? Well, not officially; this is a line from the English audio overdub of the classic Japanese animated television series Dragon Ball Z.
The words are spoken by Goku, an alien martial artist turned superhero that was raised on Earth. He had just broken through his own perceived physical limitations by emotional trauma: the murder of his best friend. The sadistic being that had killed his friend, and was bent on the destruction of Earth, next, believed that it was the strongest force in the Universe, but was so shocked by the powerful energy that had awoken in Goku that he asked, “Wh-what are you?!” Those lines were Goku’s response. In my opinion it was one of the most badass moments in a series overflowing with badass moments.
Recently, I was on the road with a fellow wrestler and I casually admitted, “I was just thinking about Goku and it almost made me cry.”
He looked at me confusedly, but sympathetically, and said, “It’s okay, bubby, he’s not dead.”
I laughed harder than I should have at him, before explaining, “I wasn’t sad because I thought a cartoon character was dead. I was really, really f***ing happy because a cartoon character existed.”
“Wha’cha mean, bubby?” He asked.
“When I think of what Goku represents, it’s like getting a Kamehameha wave (focused-internal- energy attack) directly in the feels, bro.” I elaborated.
He stared at me blankly, waiting for me to stop babbling and actually explain.
“Goku represents compassion: fierce, hard compassion. He represents love: unattached, brave love. He represents heart-wisdom: intuitive wisdom beyond the intellect.” I answered.
With my eyes on the road, I could feel more blank staring, but I remained quiet to try to let what I was saying seep in.
“Can you tell me what that means? You know I’m not that bright, right, bubby?” My friend admitted bravely.
“I know, but that’s partly the point: neither was Goku. A major aspect of Goku’s personality is that he’s not intelligent and knows he’s not intelligent. So, instead of listening to his brain, he listens to his heart. That’s where his wisdom lies. He’s not overthinking, or overanalyzing: he just does what feels right.”
My wrestlepal nodded his head understandingly, as I paused.
“When I first watched DBZ, I wasn’t mature enough to really get Goku. Like: when the Saiyan’s come to Earth and savagely kill off a bunch of his friends, then, finally, the opportunity comes for sweet, justifiable revenge to be carried out, but he pardons the murderer?! My opinion was like other character’s on the show: don’t be stupid Goku!
When you have allowed your actions to be bossed around by fear, for most of your life, hearing someone say some brave ass sh** like ‘show him what it’s like to be merciful’, it sounds naive, but that’s just you justifying your own p***yass behavior and thought patterns. Real heroes don’t let fear melt their humanity like snowflakes in the Summer Sun, they use their humanity to ‘spirit bomb’ fear into oblivion, and if their good deed is met with punishment they face that punishment like it’s an initiation into an exclusive club of badasses. Because one truly badass action of we’re-better-than-that-sh** can create all kinds of possibilities for a cooler future.” I continued.
“I got you, bubby. Like how Goku letting Vegeta (the villain being shown mercy) go led to him becoming a strong teammate, later.” My travel partner replied.
“Exactly: because he was too simple-minded not to go along with what his heart was telling him he set the wheels of fate in motion to save his own life and the Earth, many times over. Without Vegeta and his future son’s help (*in my best Tracy Smother’s voice*) everybody dies.” I concluded.
“Huh.” My friend concluded, before changing the subject. “But he wuttin’ a very good dad, though, bubby. Lucky Piccolo was there to raise Gohan.”
I laughed before answering the criticism to my tear producing, ink produced inspiration.
“Imagine if Goku was so attached to his son and wife that he gave up on his natural-fit role as ‘protector of the innocent’ to fall into the forced-fit-by-societal-norms role of regular-job dad, what do think would happen?” I asked, but continued quickly to solidify the rhetorical nature of my question. “For one: the World would be f***ed and they’d all die, but, for this conversation's sake, let’s say imagine that another defender rose up in his absence. Do you think Goku would be happy if he didn’t train martial arts and had a ‘normal’ job?” I asked, this time waiting for an answer.
“No.” My friend said.
“Why not?” I asked.
“It’s what he loves to do. His dream is to be the best martial artist in the Universe, bubby.” My friend answered.
“Right. So, you think he might end up having, at the very least, a little resentment towards his family for having to sacrifice his dreams for them?” I asked.
“Probably.” He answered.
“Do you know many unhappy, resentful people?” I asked.
“Yes, bubby.” He answered.
“Would you want to be raised by, or married to, an unhappy, resentful person?” I asked.
“Not again, bubby.” He answered honestly.
“One of the other truly inspiring things about Goku is that he does love his family with all his heart, but that all-his-heart-love doesn’t stop at just his family; he’s too simple-minded to try to protect his heart like that and, instead, gives it the scary-to-you-and-me freedom to stretch out in all directions infinitely and cherish All Life Everywhere.”
“You realize it’s just a cartoon, right?” My passenger asked me.
I sighed, then looked out the car’s windshield at the world in front of me as I said, “Yeah, I know. All too well. I know.”
There was a few minutes of reflective silence, as we pulled into the venue we were wrestling at, that night. As we were about to get out, though, I broke it with words: “Sometimes, I really struggle with being involved in a form of violent, us-vs-them-perpetuating entertainment. One of the things that helps is when I think about that moment in DBZ when Vegeta finally surrenders his planet-sized pride and admits, with a deep appreciation, that Goku is the better man. He says something like ‘How can someone fight like you and be so gentle you wouldn’t harm a fly? You have never fought to hurt anyone: only to test your limits and push yourself beyond them, to be the strongest version of yourself possible.’ F***, man. That cartoon gives me hope that I can make a real difference, bubby.”
Recently, I was having lunch with a community leader and she asked me, “What is your dream?”
I answered, “Well, I’m a professional wrestler. It might be a little crazy, but my dream is to bring compassion, kindness, joy, and equanimity to professional wrestling.”
She was literally gap-mouthed, for a second or two, before responding, “I- Well...that’s- Hmmm. You know… I used to watch that on TV, from time to time, and I don’t remember seeing any of that in the program.”
You might not see any of that in a lot of the other programs running on our shared system, at the moment, either, but, to quote another of my favorite characters from Dragon Ball Z, Android 16:
“Don’t be alarmed. Sometimes our feelings conflict with our programing.”
P.S.: Before I get called out, I know that a lot of my favorite lines from the English dub versions are quite different than the original Japanese dialogue, but, for me, that just proves sometimes things get found in translation.