Today’s post is inspired by and dedicated to my good friend Abdul Siddiqui, who is such a phenomenal human being and one of the best teachers the world has to offer. Also, please note that this shall focus specifically up to the Chūnin Exams.
Naruto by Masashi Kishimoto is the most famous manga series in the world, aside from One Piece by Eiichiro Oda. It’s one that I have always felt rather intimidated by due to its sheer size, however, recently I re-embarked on a journey to read and watch the franchise to completion. While consuming the manga, I have allowed myself to get utterly swept away by the narrative. For the first time, I have been able to recognise those special elements that make Naruto so spectacularly beloved: the characters.
Naruto has a plethora of fascinating individuals, people who run on the spectrum of good and bad, black and white, with every morsel in-between. The motifs of being an underdog or being misunderstood are just as powerful as the ones where the comparison between having loving family dynamics and being faced with agonising abandonment are made. The representation for the troubled childhood plight is phenomenal, and the most profound one of them all (thus far) goes to Rock Lee and his mentor Guy Sensei, as representations of the marginalised child’s experience in a world that doesn’t want them to exist.
A marginalised child faces significant amounts of traumatising things growing up, particularly when they are in an environment that doesn’t allow them to forget that they are different; that they don’t fit in and don’t belong. Because of that, they are constantly at the centre of ridicule and presumed to be incapable to succeeding in life due to some pre-established stereotypes that are further exasperated by society’s desire to oppress what they don’t understand, what they fear, what they choose not to accept, even if a kinship is to be found.
Some common stereotypes that marginalised people face include:
✔️ If you’re Black and poor, then that means that you’re destined to be involved in a gang or other forms of crimes and will eventually be imprisoned.
✔️ If you’re Hispanic/Latinx, then you’re an illegal individual who will only amount to being a rapist or good for cheap physical labour.
✔️ If you’re East Asian, then you’re Chinese and incapable of being anything else.
✔️ If you’re Indian then you’re poor, live in the dirt, and speak “Hindu.”
✔️ If you have a mental illness, then you’re “crazy” and “emotional” and are an “attention whore”
✔️ If you have a physical disability, then you need a caretaker and are a victim for life.
There are many more than these, but these are typically the common ones. I’m always referred to as multiple things from this list, and they are so very wrong. Marginalised people are regularly viewed to be inferior and inadequate when compared to White, Christian, able-bodied and able-minded experiences. If we don’t fit the Big Four, then our existence is meaningless and worthless (five if you count gender; six with sexual orientation).
In a world that is repetitively trying to suppress our ability to survive, which starts by merely refusing to acknowledge our presence to begin with, how are we supposed to find the motivation or the desire to find our feet? To stand-up proudly and find our ways to success, in whatever that means to us as individuals? If all the doors are shut to us, does that mean that we are doomed to fail?
Hell no. If all the doors are slammed shut in our face and then padlocked and welded to prevent us from finding our way in, we make our own damn door. That’s what Rock Lee and Guy Sensei show us, and this message is more relevant now than it has ever been.
Rock Lee is the perfect allegory for the marginalised experience because he is also someone that is relentlessly ostracised for being different. He can’t use ninjutsu or genjutsu and because of that he is automatically placed into this box marked “Failure.” He’s stereotyped and presumed to become nothing more than a joke and a disappointment with no potential whatsoever for becoming a strong and reliable ninja. He also looks very different than other kids with this bushy eyebrows and oddly-shaped eyes. Taking the lowly opinions of others and then being blackballed forces him into becoming a loner as no one wants to be his friend or have anything to do with him. It felt like every option had been taken away from him before he ever had the chance to give them a shot in spite of the shortcomings that he had. Then he meets Guy Sensei.
The single most impactful thing in the life of a child who is constantly told that they aren’t good enough, that they are trash and were born to be a let-down, waste-of-space is having one person who is willing to rise up against the hatred they face to say, “NO, this kid is not a failure or a waste. This kid is someone who matters and should be given the chance to be the best they can be. This kid is going to be a badass one day.” For Rock Lee that pillar came in the form of Guy Sensei.
Even though Rock Lee was a loner, he never stopped trying. He trained everyday on his own in whatever ways he could to prove that he deserved to be a ninja. He would cry and be snotty, and through all of that, he’d still keep on training. His body would be so exhausted that he would collapse, yet he never slowed down or gave up. While the desire to do so didn’t linger too far away, ultimately, he never gave in to it.
Guy is someone who saw Rock Lee’s willingness to work harder than everyone else. The dedication that he showed to his craft, the passion and the fortitude to find worth within himself would be more than enough to make him the best ninja around. Guy takes Rock Lee under his wing and mentors him, advising him on how what you lack doesn’t have to become a crutch to your success, but rather a steppingstone in its path. Guy Sensei was a person who recognised the tenacity in having determination in the face of disadvantages and turned them into tools for Rock Lee to become a specialised warrior of Taijutsu (hand-to-hand combat).
Teaching his pupil the art of adapting imperfections into instruments of integrity and inspiration weren’t his only lessons. Guy also showed Rock Lee that standing up for your ideals and values—no matter how much blood, tears, sweat, and snot goes into it—is an exceptionally noble act because it then becomes a source of encouragement for others who may be undergoing similar trials.
Marginalised people always have to work two, three, four, or five times harder than non-marginalised people. Not only do we continuously have to break the mould of toxic, bullshite presumptions that are placed on us out of racism and ignorance, but we also have to take that one level higher by working so much fucking harder than everyone else to accomplish the same bloody task, and it’s unacceptable. It needs to fucking stop. We need more teachers and mentors to step up and support us in our pursuits rather than tell us that we’re “not good enough because people like you don’t’ have what it takes.” Fuck you and fuck that hateful mentality.
When Rock Lee participates in the Chūnin exams and the other students—the same ones who made fun of him and humiliated him for being different and “a failure of a ninja”—get to see what his immeasurable dedication and arduous training had helped him to achieve, they see him from a new lens. One that is full of respect, awe, and admiration. But here’s the thing, he shouldn’t have had to work that fucking hard to be acknowledged and respected as person to begin with.
Having a support network, whether it’s one individual like a beloved teacher or Sensei, or having an army of people at your back, can make the most impactful difference in a youth’s life. It illustrates to them that they are very capable of success and that whatever they don’t have doesn’t have to define them or be the deciding factor in how far they can go in their existence, especially to achieve their best damned life. Rock Lee and Guy Sensei are the perfect allegory for a marginalised person’s experience, specifically marginalised kids, because they represent the constant battles that we are forced to fight for merely being different. Yet, they also represent our sense of potential and no matter how much we are beaten and bloodied, we can’t be and won’t be caged from the things that drive us. Success isn’t an impossibility; it’s a fucking inevitability.
As mentioned above, I dedicate this entire post to my dost, Abdul Siddiqui. Abdul is a teacher and he someone who understands the plight of the marginalised person, particularly where kids are involved, better than anyone else. He knows what the strength of positive encouragement can do in a child’s life, no matter what their struggles may entail. Abdul is the type of mentor who will do what he can to help kids succeed. To show them that they have so much potential within them and much to share with the world. All they need to do is have a bit of faith, some patience, and the willingness to not give up. Best of all, he lets them know that they aren’t alone. I honestly wish that I had a teacher even half as remarkable as Abdul when I was a child. It would have made an extraordinarily positive influence on my self-worth as an immigrant person of colour.
To Abdul—may you continue to impart your wisdom and compassion on those who need it now more than ever. Thank you for being such a marvellous teacher, a kind and caring human, and an absolutely outstanding friend. You are appreciated more than you’ll ever know, mere yaar.