Friday, 18 April 2014

Old School Hero of the Week: Raphael

When I reached my 4th Kyu purple belt I was given my choice of Okinawan weapons to learn. I immediately chose the tonfa. I had seen a lot of demonstrations by my older friends (all boys) and they all seemed to like using them. The other obvious option, sai, were only really used by one other person in the club and she was a girl (obviously making the sai a girly weapon in my eyes; hurray for pre-teen maturity!). To cement my opinion, my female training partner picked sai. After waiting a few weeks for the club to receive my order, I was told the crushing news that they could not get me a pair of tonfa due to new restrictions on the sale of the weapon. I think the police had just started stuffing around with them, which meant that nobody else could own them. This is of course ridiculous for so many reasons. Anyway, I received my shiny pair of sais and began a gruelling campaign of wrist strengthening exercises in front of the television. During class I would train with my partner: endless repetitions of kata, block and counter-attack, the snapping of gi sleeves, trying to get the damn things in position before stabbing myself on a yoku (fork, prong, whatever you want to call it). A friend of my Dad, who had taught me some martial arts at a very early age, had a chat to me about them. I lamented the fact that they weren’t exactly as cool as a pair of tonfa, as well as being bit girly. The next time I saw him he gave me this:   

Now, let’s not dwell on the appropriateness of handing an incredibly violent comic to a 7-8 year old child: I will be the last to complain. Raphael used sais like a fricken beast. He was a weird Ninja Turtle thing. He was my new hero. I was utterly hooked. Let’s just say, I stopped complaining about sais after reading that comic.
When the TMNT cartoon was released shortly after I was vaguely disappointed (where was the blood, and why do they all have different coloured masks?). I desperately wanted to take my collection of comics into school but my parents didn’t think it was a great idea. Raphael appeared as a playable character in a side-scrolling arcade game (below), which quickly became a Timezone Birthday party staple. I would always pick Raphael, despite the obvious disadvantage he had, having such short range.

Since then, TMNT have gone through several generations and makeovers (below), with another one on the way. A rose by any other name still has thorns, and Raphael is my very thorny Old School Hero of the Week.

Name: Raphael
Background: If you don’t know the genesis story of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I don’t know if we can be friends. Seriously. Just in case, here’s an 80’s rap song that explains the whole thing.

Raphael was named after the famous renaissance artist. For those with knowledge of the times, Raphael was an exceptional artist with an ego to match. He worked with Michaelangelo in the Vatican whilst the Sistine Chapel was being painted, with some historians suggesting there was a certain competitiveness between them. In the TMNT universe, Raphael is the most militant turtle with a volcanic temper. He has a somewhat cynical and sarcastic sense of humor, with a phobia of the supernatural.

Within the family, Raphael is a dark horse that tends to keep to himself. He is closest to the youngest turtle, Michelangelo, often looking out for him emotionally as well as on the battlefield. Raphael ferociously protects his brothers despite the tension that sometimes exists between them. Raphael is also close friends with the human vigilante Casey Jones. Casey is his foil, being both more violent (if less skilled) and unstable than his turtle wingman.
Weapon of choice: Sai. Sai are usually carried in pairs and were traditionally used for crowd control and arresting criminals. They usually had a blunt tip and were used as a non-lethal weapon for forcing submission through blunt trauma and strikes to pressure points. They could also be thrown, though they were traditionally thrown at the feet of fleeing criminals to either pin them or cause them to trip. From experience, the technique for employing sai in combat revolves around the ability to make rapid transitions between hand positions/grips to bring the appropriate part of the weapon into contact with the foe, or to execute blocks/locking manoeuvres. Raph’s sai are sharp, and when he throws them he aims for the head, not the feet!

Claim to fame: Raphael is famous for his bad temper. The reason for his anger isn’t directly explored, though I have a feeling it stems from his relationship with Leonardo. Leonardo is the eldest brother and chosen by Splinter to be the leader of the group. Raphael, the second eldest, begrudges his brother’s position as he feels that Leo is not as skilled at fighting. In Raphael’s mind, the best fighter should be the leader and he feels that Splinter has not judged his skills fairly. Of course, the leadership of the turtles was not decided by martial skill alone. Raphael finally understands this during the following scene from the 2007 TMNT film. The film in general was utterly forgettable, apart from Sarah Michelle Geller voicing April and this scene. Thematically it is wonderful, you can see the moment Raphael realises why he isn’t the leader, having bested Leo in combat. Additionally, the sai-work is better than any other martial arts in the TMNT franchise. Enjoy!

See you across the table,