Review: Captain Kirk’s Guide to Diplomacy and Mosh-Pitting

Cover of the Kirk Fu Manual by Dayton Ward

I’ll say this for Dayton Ward: he knows the hell out of Star Trek. I say this not only to state the obvious but to say how appreciated it is in his book Kirk Fu Manual, A Guide to Starfleet’s Most Feared Martial Art from insight editions and illustrated by Christian Cornia.

Which brings us to the premise of the book. It’s an instructional manual in Kirk’s patented pseudo-martial arts fighting style, known as “Kirk-Fu” to fans. It’s complete with diagrams, case studies, and captain’s logs about a selection of Kirk’s many famous hand-to-hand bouts. Ward himself was willing to field a few comments on the book.

“The idea of a book about Kirk’s fighting moves percolated for a while,” he says, “Several years ago, I wrote an article for StarTrek.com listing my ten favorite Kirk fight scenes, so a lot of this book’s structure is based on that original piece…As for the moves themselves, that was basically revisiting the relevant episodes where Kirk gets into a scuffle and attempting to watch those scenes with a critical eye.”

Naturally, the reader is expected to take any actual fighting instruction from a fictional character with a grain of salt, but the diagrams are a great resource for anyone wanting to perfect their fighting Kirk impression. The book is self-aware of the ridiculousness of some of the moves, but now has me weirdly hyped to try some of them out? (Outdoor concert season is right around the corner. Gotta stay ready for those tussles!)

Ward says “I think we can agree some of those moves are ludicrous, but a few are at least somewhat based on actual fighting techniques and then jazzed up for TV. The trick was to be able to break them down and describe each part of the individual technique (yes, I’m using that word with a straight face) in a way that it could conceivably be taught to someone who’s not Captain Kirk…On the other hand, they might be great if you ever hope to appear in a Star Trek episode or movie. And sure, the Jimmy Wall Banger, in particular, is probably a monster mosh pit move.”

Description of the Jimmy Wall-Banger

When a piece of work is banking on how knowable its subject is in the pop culture diaspora it’s easy for it to fall back on a diasporic idea of it. That’s really easy when you’re talking about Captain Kirk. With a 50+-year-old property, it’s pretty common to see our good captain get equated with the most common parody of him. If you ask a layman (and even a good deal of Trekkies) about Kirk you’ll get some variation on him as a womanizing, trigger happy, macho-jerk-bro.

Thankfully, I can say Ward hasn’t gotten his foot stuck in that particular sewer grate. He characterizes the Captain as the thoughtful leader of the Enterprise crew, who didn’t come here to fight, but absolutely will if necessary. Ward has Kirk’s voice down pat with all the warmth and humor that we love the character for, even when addressing how sometimes you gotta drop-kick a space cowboy.

“While there’s some truth to Kirk’s reputation, a review of the Original Series shows it’s a bit exaggerated. I’m not letting him off the hook, of course. Early on, he’s portrayed as a leader who takes his duty very seriously, worries about the safety of his ship and crew, and is generally no-nonsense when it comes to his personal interactions with his insubordinates. But, he’s a 1960s television action hero, written and realized with all the good and not-so good that implies. Whenever I write Kirk in a novel, I tend to ignore a lot about those outdated portrayals and instead focus on his effectiveness as a leader as well as the friendships and bonds he’s forged over his life and career. That means someone who reflects on his decisions and actions, in private and perhaps while bending the ear of someone like McCoy, learns from his failures and takes lessons from those setbacks in the hopes of never again repeating a particular mistake.”

That said, we gotta talk about the title. The term “Kirk-Fu” is long-standing in the fan community but it feels worth it to address. 60’s media had a lot of issues with exoticizing and appropriating Asian culture and Star Trek itself was no exception. The original Klingon character designs feature cartoonish Fu-Machu style villain mustaches, we see Asian motifs pop-up in alien costumes, and France Nuyen as possibly the first actor of Vietnamese descent on American primetime plays a prissy alien in inexplicable Egyptian makeup.  So when fans take a faux-martial art and slap the very real -Fu on it we should probably ask ourselves if we’re appropriating the term. As much as this book is a celebration of Kirk as a character and his uniquely goofy fighting style, maybe it should also be a chance for us to consider the term itself and whether it’s time for an upgrade?

“You’re right that the term “Kirk Fu” seems to have loitered around fandom forever. I’d heard it used over the years, and seen it employed in cartoons and memes and I’m sure I even used it once or twice in that aforementioned StarTrek.com article. To be perfectly honest, the term seems so common now that it’s not something I second-guessed while writing the book, and neither did anyone in the book’s production chain. I’d like to think this doesn’t rise to the level of appropriation given how the term evolved, but that’s not for me to decide.”, “Maybe a new term *is* needed, but I’m hard-pressed to think of one that rolls off the tongue the same way…If we’re being fair, none of the really awesome names for different fighting styles are from the United States, are they?” Or at least they’re not cool enough to make it to space.

Kirk hits Khan in the back with two fists

This book is definitely a fun read. After reading it I found myself humming the TOS fight music until my roommates begged me to either stop or grant them the sweet release of death..  and would make for an excellent gift for any Original Series fans and/or strip-mall dojo enthusiasts. Hopefully, this won’t be the last we see from Ward in this vein: “I have a few ideas for follow-up books. Letting Star Trek enjoy a bit of whimsy and quirky fun from time to time can’t be a bad thing, right?”

Note: This post was almost titled “if you want beef, then bring the ruckus James T. Kirk ain’t nothin to what with” but Jarrah said it was too long.

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