Rock Lee & Guy Sensei: How This Eccentrically Energetic Duo Represents the Marginalised Child’s Experience (Manga Character Spotlight)

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.

17 thoughts on “Rock Lee & Guy Sensei: How This Eccentrically Energetic Duo Represents the Marginalised Child’s Experience (Manga Character Spotlight)

  1. Guy was a really good supportive sensei, unlike Kakashi, lol. Sadly the characters were so much alike, that Guy kind of overshadowed Lee in Shippuuden :/

    • I’m watching Shippuden right now, but I’m only like 70 episodes in lol. I just really loved Guy’s and Lee’s mentor-mentee dynamic. They’re some of my favourite characters (hero-ish characters anyway). I’m so sad that Lee doesn’t get the screentime he deserved.

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  5. Neha,

    I am literally holding back tears; I don’t have words. Thank you for your immensely kind–and thoroughly too generous–descriptions of my work ethic and ambitions. May I someday be able to inspire in my students both the kindness and depth of thinking that you display, and may I someday be able to make a friend feel the same sense of pure happiness that you have made me feel.

    In addition to all your excellent points about Rock Lee–about how he overcame society’s biases but had to work so much harder when he shouldn’t have had to, or how it took the belief of one teacher in his potential to inspire this greatness–what I think makes Rock emblematic of the struggle of a marginalized student is that even Kishimoto didn’t recognize his potential as a character.

    I don’t know how far you have read, but subsequent sections of Naruto become all about Sharingan, the spirit within, etc.–all the innate stuff that someone can’t work at. Even Naruto, the main character we fall in love with because of his desire to be great in spite of his disadvantaged background, becomes little more than the archetypical “Chosen One” with all the focus shifting to the spirit within him.

    Rock Lee’s potential as a character was great–and that weight drop scene stands for me as the peak of the series. In many ways, the day focus on Rock Lee’s struggle ends, Naruto ends for me. And if that isn’t a solid representation of how marginalized people need to see other marginalized people, I don’t know what is.

    Once again, Neha–thank you for this. The truest expression of my gratitude that I can make is that I keep artifacts (old student letters, family pictures) that I refer back to many times throughout the year–in teaching, we have many days when we need to remember why we do it. Your words are going straight in that pile.

    • You’re very, very welcome. ♥ I’m glad that this resonated with you and brought you joy. 🙂

      The weight drop scene was iconic. That scene is actually the moment that truly inspired the subject matter of this post. It resonated with so many experiences that I had growing up, most of them negative, because I was brown-skinned, Muslim, and poor. I remember when the scene with him ended, I sort of just sat there for a while after reading it, soaking it all in and a part of me did cry because the recognition of the effort that marginalised people have to put into their dreams, some of which is could be lightened with a bit of acceptance and respect from others, particularly educators, was heart-breaking.

      I’m saddened that Rock Lee’s character isn’t developed and further expounded upon in the manga (or anime). His Underdog tale could’ve been one of the best in the whole medium if it was given proper attention and time to grow; some nurturing, as it were.

      I’ve only recently started watching the Chūnin Exams arc in the anime. In the manga, I had read up to the Pain Arc many years ago. I picked up the manga again this year and my thus far I’m up to the end of the Exams Arc in the manga. As I continue forward, it should be interesting to see what other dynamics I can discover. I doubt they will be as profound as this one, though.

      Thanks for taking the time to read this and once again, I appreciate you. As the subject for the article took shape in my mind, you were the first thing that popped up, especially with regard to how wonderful of a mentor Guy Sensei is. Everything after that was a no brainer for me. 😉 ♥

  6. This is such a great post, Neha. I haven’t paid that much attention to Naruto when I was growing up because I was more focused on Bleach, but this makes me at least want to give Naruto a try in the future. Seems to have some interesting relationships, character dynamics, and concepts going around! :).

    • The characters are totally the best part about the series, at least from what I’ve engaged with so far. It also has some really fascinating villains later on from what I understand. I’ve already found some great themes too, so I definitely recommend giving it a shot when you are able to sometime in the future. I can see why it’s so loved by so many people. Rock Lee and Guy Sensei are some of my fave people so far, which was a pleasant surprise itself.

  7. Thanks for sharing, I hope your vaca has brought you a breath of air and renewed sense of what you want to do!

    This post is remarkable, the ability to see how two characters perfectly portray the feelings of marginalized groups and explain it so well is great! I hope others can come here and maybe see something they didn’t before and help share it with those around them. Any tools the world has to help explain what is being done to those deemed less then is amazing.

    And lastly the overall theme of taking what others deem as not good enough and showing them you are more then good enough is so awesome and something I wish more kids had access to see.

  8. I never thought of these characters as marginalized. I just didn’t care for the Rock Lee and Guy Sensei characters. I felt like they were secondary characters and a later thought to the plot.

    Growing up, I didn’t view other races as different or “less than” but I did see how some of them felt marginalized. For example, my neighbor who was half black would tell me how kids would tease her because she was different. I asked her, “what do you mean?” And she said because she was darker than them. At my school, it consisted primarily of Caucasians and she felt like she didn’t fit in.

    As an adult, I strongly support interracial couples. I’m married to an Asian. And this girl who used to be my neighbor went on to date a Caucasian. Her sister is engaged to someone of a different race as well. We shouldn’t view anyone as “less than” based on who they are, where they came from or what their background is.

    • Unfortunately, many people are marginalised for being different and they are viewed as “less than.” In an ideal world, stuff like that wouldn’t matter, but it does. Especially in the US where your differences are used as a weapon to oppress you constantly, or even to flatly wipe out your existence. I feel because of that, Rock Lee and Guy are a marvellous inspiration. They show that in spite of the world working against you to prove you’re less than an irrelevant, you can work hard enough to become someone important and worthy, specifically to yourself and others like you. This is pivotal when it comes to kids. In America there are white teachers telling POC children that they’re trash and will amount to their negative stereotypes, and that can be devastating to a child and their future.

      In today’s climate it’s becoming more important to see race and be aware of the difficulties that the different ethnicities, sexual identities, etc. are faced with because that is the best way to fight against the atrocities they’re faced with and to build equity around them. To fight for equality we must first acknowledge a problem exists, even if we may not partake in oppressive behaviour individually. Otherwise we can’t be the allies that marginalised people need and deserve.

    • Much like you, I grew up white (Caucasian is technically not the correct term unless your blood comes from the Caucus region) My sister married an Asian man, I live with and am best friends with an IndoFijian. That doesn’t mean a whole lot though if we need to spout kudos for what we are doing. Don’t make it about it you make it about those who are actually dealing with these kinds of things.

      Even though I grew up in largely white areas, I was always able to see that others around me didn’t have it the same way. It is important to be able to see marginalization where it is happening around you, and when it is metaphorically being presented in other media to help others better understand it within your own community.

  9. I like the Rock Lee & Guy dynamic. Rock is a lot like Naruto in that he’s a zero to hero guy. Sakura, in her own way, also moves from zero to hero with Tsunade’s mentoring. Most of the other young Ninja have significant power already and they end up playing catchup.

    So, is Naruto really about the power of mentoring? None of them would have got anywhere good without help.

    • I’m not to the Tsunade yet in either the manga or the anime. I’m only up to the Chūnin Exam (finished this arc in the manga so far). But I really like the various dynamics of all the characters thus far. It’s marvellous to see how power shifts happen between people. Plus that nurture vs nature argument is explored in great detail in the series in a plethora of ways that I’m loving.

  10. Wow, that’s a pretty deep analysis of Naruto characters that I’ve never thought about before. Nice! Rock Lee is one of my favorite characters, but it’s partially because of his haircut (:

    By the way, I wanted to mention one unrelated thing. For some reason when I read your posts on the WordPress reader app on my iPhone there is a spacing problem. For example, it says “Narutoby Masashi Kishimoto” instead of “Naruto by Masashi Kishimoto” and “intimidatedby” instead of “intimidated by”.

    As the page looks OK on my PC I am guessing it may not be anything strange you are doing. However, since I haven’t seen this problem on other blogs on my iPhone, it still may be something special about how you make the articles.

    Personally I have seen a similar problem with spacing between words and it seems that it matters what editor I create things in. Sometimes cutting and pasting to an editor that removes certain formatting can fix the issues. Though I don’t know if it is the same issue I am seeing with your posts.

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