Disclaimer: : Do I really have to? Yes? Oh, okay ... PR and all things connected with it belongs to Saban, not me. I'm not getting paid for this, either. I needed to take a break from angst and romance, according to my Muse, and since he gives me the ideas ... this is a bit of fancy which cropped up quite unexpectedly, taking a look at how things might have been in the Rangers' early days ... (Yes, my Muse is still being corrupted by his Yostie buddies. Sigh.) Comments, as always, are appreciated. DB, Summer 2000 .
Tommy collected his drink from Ernie and went over to the Rangers' usual table. He nearly stumbled as he bumped into his chair, his attention was so focussed on what was going on in the far corner, where Jason did his level best to teach Billy a new kata. Only, from the look of things, Jason's best wasn't good enough for once.
Billy was ... awful. The Green Ranger shook his head in disbelief as the slight teen bungled yet another sequence of movements. Well ... not bungled, exactly, but there was no zest behind his punches, the positioning of arms, legs and feet was just off enough to make him look clumsy and stiff ... true, the team genius had only reached his second color belt, but he should be able to do better by now.
"Isn't it terrible?" Kim sighed. "I thought Billy had gotten a good start on things when he made Yellow Belt, but ..."
"Yeah," Trini agreed, sighing as well. "Unfortunately, Uncle Howard isn't here to help him this time."
"I just don't get it. Billy isn't always this slow; I've seen him fight, or work out with us, and while he's not the most athletic guy I've ever seen, he really ought to do much better," Tommy commented, shifting his chair around so he could better watch their teammates' efforts. "Jason's busting his gut out there."
The Red Ranger now was behind his Blue teammate, trying to position his arms correctly instead of just demonstrating, but with little more success.
"So's Billy," Zack reminded his friends as he joined the table, his own soft drink in hand. "You can't see it from here, but he's as frustrated about his lack of progress as Jason is."
"I should think so," Tommy muttered, observing as Jason apparently concluded the session, clapped Billy on his shoulder before collecting his towel and water bottle and climbing the steps to the dais to join the rest of his friends. He wiped the sweat off his forehead tiredly.
"Can someone get me a cola while I go and get changed?" Jason requested, his troubled eyes following the Blue Ranger who was trudging towards the locker rooms, head bent and shoulders slumped dejectedly. He knew Billy was taking his near-failure at Karate very hard, being quite aware that his inability to defend himself unmorphed, while much improved from their early days as Rangers, might well put the whole team at risk. "I'll just grab a quick shower."
Jason smiled wearily, then slung his gym bag over his shoulder. "Be right back."
The others watched him go, then returned to their drinks and previous conversation, wondering about ways and means to help Jason teach ... and by that same token, to help Billy learn. Tommy and Zack were deeply involved in discussing various methods they'd experimented with in their classes and senseis they'd had, with the girls listening intently, adding a comment here and there when Jason returned. He gratefully accepted the soda Zack handed him and gulped half of it down in one swallow, setting the glass back on the table with a sigh.
"Hard going, huh?" Tommy remarked sympathetically.
"Yeah. Man, I wish I knew what to do with Billy," Jason murmured, resting his forearms on the tabletop. "I've tried every way I know to get him to do the kata right, but nothing works. Billy's too clever not to understand what I'm telling him, so I guess it must be me."
His friends could see what it cost him to admit this. Jason wasn't the type to deal well with failure of any kind more so if it was his own, or what he perceived as such.
"Where is Billy, anyway?" Trini asked. "He's not too embarrassed to come out and talk with us, is he?" The willowy Asian moved as if to go to the lockers and drag their shy friend inside the Youth Center, if necessary. Jason grinned fleetingly and shook his head.
"Nah, it's not that. Sure, he was pretty upset about making so many mistakes ... well, not mistakes, exactly, but about not getting it right. To tell the truth, I think he was more puzzled than embarrassed. He knows we wouldn't tease him. He said he had a tutorial with a couple of Junior High kids he's teaching Advanced Math."
"I wish I'd had someone like him around in Math when I was in Junior High," Tommy said a bit enviously. The others grinned; while the tall Green Ranger was a good enough student, near the top of the class in most subjects just like the rest of them, Mathematics was his one Achilles heel. He managed to make a B average, now that he had the benefit of Billy's patient instruction, but it was rough going. "Billy's a great teacher."
"And I'm not," their broad-shouldered companion muttered, staring at his folded hands. "Or I'd be able to show Billy how to do things right."
"Jase, that's not true, and you know it!" Zack exclaimed immediately. "You ARE a good teacher or else I'd never have gotten my Black Belt so quickly. You taught me so many cool moves and little tricks ... without you, I'd be half the fighter I am today, if that."
"He's right, Bro," Tommy added, laying a comforting hand on his best friend's shoulder. "Just look at our Ladies' Self-Defense class. The ladies get along with you just fine, they're progressing well and nobody's complained about you yet."
Even Kimberly, maybe the only Ranger with less interest in Martial Arts than Billy, nodded. "Jason, you've taught Karate classes for two years here at Ernie's now, and they're always full. People rather come to you, a High School student, than enroll in one of the regular dojos in town. That ought to tell you something at least. Plus, you even managed to teach me what little I know." The petite girl smiled at Jason, giving him a quick hug.
"Yeah, but ..." Jason shrugged despondently. He appreciated his friends' supporting words, but that didn't alter the fact that one of his students the most intelligent one, too was apparently not learning much from him. "It has to be me," he reiterated. "Otherwise, Billy wouldn't have so many problems. He was doing so well for his Yellow Belt!"
There was a degree of truth in the quiet statement that the others found very hard to dispute. Silence settled around their table as the five teens reviewed the situation. At last, Trini spoke up. Her almond-shaped eyes fixed earnestly on the Red Ranger, and she smiled reassuringly to take any possible sting out of her words right away.
"I think part of it certainly is less motivation than he had when he joined your class the second time, Jase," she soothed. "Remember, we were still learning to cope with our Powers and Rita then."
"Yeah, and Bulk and Skull always picking on him gave Billy that extra kick he needed to succeed," Zack remembered. "Man, if it hadn't been the Billster, the way those two just stuffed him into that trash can would almost have been funny!"
"Those two blockheads stuck Billy in a garbage can?!?" Tommy repeated incredulously. The Blue Ranger he knew, while introverted and reticent, was not exactly the person to let others especially someone as full of bluster and no substance as Angel Grove High's wanna-be punks walk all over him. "No way!"
"Yes way," the dark-skinned teen nodded. "That was just before you moved here. If you think Billy's easy to tease now, you should've seen him then!"
"But he improved so much!" Kim was quick to come to the absent blond's defense.
"It was the last straw he needed to make him learn," Trini concurred. "Having my Uncle Howard here to give him a few tips right then was really lucky."
"Uncle Howard?" Tommy looked questioningly around, never having heard the name before today.
"Howard Kwan," Jason said, grinning at the awed look crossing his bro's features. He could see that Tommy was just as overwhelmed by the information as he'd been.
"Howard Kwan is your uncle? Wow," the Green Ranger breathed, obviously impressed. "Man, I wish I'd met him! The guy's a living legend!"
"So Jason told us," Kimberly laughed, with a teasing look at the still-grinning team leader. "And told us, and told us, and told us ...." The other three joined in her laughter as Jason blushed, remembering how close he'd come to gushing like a pre-teen girl at meeting the well-known scientist/Martial Artist. And how he'd secretly envied Billy that it was the Blue Ranger getting some private coaching from Master Kwan instead of himself, who'd devoted so much of his energies to the sport. Although, the incurably honest part of him had to admit that it would have been only a nice okay, a very nice ego boost for him to have been able to say he'd trained with Howard Kwan once, it was far better for Billy to have benefitted from the older man's experience both as a scientist and a budding karateka.
"Maybe I can arrange a meeting the next time he's in town," Trini promised Tommy with an understanding smile. "However, he's not here to help Billy again."
"No. And I can see that it's eating him inside that he's not getting ahead," Jason sighed. "I thought having to fight monsters and Putties on a daily basis would be enough reason for him to learn ... after all, if we're not supposed to escalate a fight, as Zordon said, he can't morph every time he's facing a bunch of clayheads. And without the Power to help him ..." He needn't go on; all of them were aware how much of a disadvantage Billy faced by himself. And they couldn't very well provide him with a bodyguard or be with him at all times.
The dark eyes looked beseechingly at the other Rangers.
"Guys, I'm really at the end of my rope here. I'm all out of ideas of how to teach Billy, or to motivate him, if that's the problem. I need your help ... any suggestions? Please?"
Some very few were forthcoming, mainly from Tommy and Zack, but unfortunately, nothing that Jason hadn't already tried with little to no success. Listening intently, Trini at last joined the discussion.
"Jason ... please don't misunderstand, but maybe it's not how you're teaching Billy, but who is teaching him."
She saw the hurt look in Jason's eyes and hastened to reassure the red-shirted teen.
"I'm not saying you're not a good teacher, because you are and you know it; I'm saying that maybe just maybe you're not the right teacher. At least not for Billy," she explained gently. As her words sank in, a thoughtful silence settled around the table.
"You know, Trini may have a point, Bro," Tommy mused. "At my old school, English was a subject that bored me to tears. I didn't have any enthusiasm, and didn't learn much, either. But, ever since I'm in Miss Appleby's class, I'm finding myself much more interested, and I'm catching up on what I've missed before awfully fast. And that's although I'm actually repeating some stuff I'd already had before we moved here. My former English teacher ..." he grimaced expressively.
"Like Mr. Wilton in Science," Zack agreed, to horrified groans from the girls. "I'm SO glad he only substituted once or twice for Mr. Barts!"
"That man is evil," Kim declared emphatically. "I mean, not evil like Rita, or anything, but ..."
"Yeah. But what has that to do with me and Billy?" Jason asked, wanting to get back to the matter at hand.
The Yellow Ranger put a slim hand on Jason's stronger one, squeezing gently. "Jason ... what I'm trying to say is, maybe you should let someone else try and coach Billy. I know you two are friends, but couldn't it be that it's precisely that which makes Billy unable to accept what you're telling him to do?"
"Like, we're too close, or something? Hmm. Possible," he had to admit. "I know there are senseis who feel that too much familiarity with their students is bad. They want respect, yes, but no personal contact outside the dojo."
"I've had teachers like that," Tommy confirmed. "They were pretty good, actually. Not nice, exactly, but I sure learned a lot."
"And since you and Billy do so much together every day ... sometimes he even teaching you ... like in Physics," Trini went on, "couldn't it be that that's the reason he's not responding to your instructions?"
"Maybe," Jason had to concede. He sighed deeply. It was a sobering thought that he was unable to teach something he loved as much as Karate to one of his oldest friends simply because they were friends, but it seemed very plausible. "I don't like it, but ... if Billy's okay with it, would you take over for me, Bro?" he asked Tommy. "I really don't want to have to send him to one of the commercial places in town. It's not that they're bad, but ... most of them are into competitive sports, winning tournaments and so on, and I doubt that that's what Billy wants or needs."
"Sure, no problem. And you're right, Billy's not the type to want to do exhibitions and so on."
"Not like someone else we know, right Trini?" Kim teased, casting a telling glance at both Jason and Tommy. The two snickered, a bit embarrassed. Their mutual passion for Karate and for pitting their skills not only against each other but any and all opponents was fast becoming infamous around Angel Grove High. Both boys counted themselves fortunate that they were friends; otherwise, a truly intense rivalry would most likely have sprung up between them. As things stood, their friendship compensated for ambition and muted their drive to win, and they were simply engaged in a stimulating competition, cheering each other on and more often than not sharing honors, or alternating first and second places.
"I'll give you the training schedule I've set up with Billy at school tomorrow morning," Jason promised as the five teens prepared to leave the Youth Center. "Then you can set up your own times with him."
"Great. And don't worry, I'll do my best. At least I know that with you as his first sensei, he has to have a solid foundation on which I can build. And it's not as if you can't help out, or anything." Tommy was quietly confident that he could make some progress with the Blue Ranger where Jason couldn't. Already engrossed in discussing their former/future student, the boys took their leave of Kim, Zack and Trini, and made their way home.
"...so, if you don't mind, Tommy will take over your lessons from now on," Jason concluded somewhat painfully, when he met Billy at the lockers the next morning. He was still smarting inwardly about his failure to coach the Blue Ranger. Billy's astonished and slightly bewildered look didn't help, either.
"If you're sure that that's the right solution, Jason," he said slowly. "You are an excellent instructor, and I have enjoyed attending your class." Billy smiled briefly at his friend. "But I must admit, even I have noted my recent lack of progress. It was ... quite frustrating."
Jason winced at that, but Tommy put a reassuring hand on the team leader's shoulder.
"I'm sure it has nothing to do with either of you personally. Maybe all you need is a break from each other, to get back on track."
"You think I can't see the forest for the trees, is that it?" Jason asked, lightening up somewhat. If he only had developed a 'blind spot' about where Billy's problem lay, he needn't doubt his abilities after all.
"It's possible, isn't it? Anyway, there's no reason you can't look in on the two of us."
Both Red and Blue Rangers perked up at Tommy's suggestion. It wasn't regular practice, but the two boys were equally unhappy about having to change their arrangement, if for different reasons. Billy, most notably, was sometimes a little bit uncomfortable around the Green Ranger when it came to Martial Arts; intellectually, he knew there was no reason to be apprehensive, but Tommy was still fairly new on the team, and he simply didn't know him well enough yet. Furthermore, due to their widely-differing interests and personalities, he hadn't been able to build the same rapport with Tommy that he shared with Jason and Zack childhood friends who had supported him right from the start of their association. Tutoring Tommy occasionally in Math and the Sciences, like the rest of the team, helped, but Billy was aware it would take some time until the two of them would be able to develop the kind of closeness he'd found with the others. Jason, for his part, disliked losing a student ... and felt as if he were letting Billy down as a friend.
"I'd like that," was the only thing Billy said, however, blushing slightly. To his relief, neither Jason nor Tommy seemed to take offense at his diffidence. The school bell then called the teens to their respective classes, so Billy and Tommy quickly agreed to discuss schedules at lunch, and the group dispersed.
"Changing instructors didn't do much for Billy, did it?" Kimberly commented to Trini about a week afterwards. The girls were doing their homework at the Youth Center, and Tommy was trying hard to get Billy to execute a kata Jason had started him on before the switch. The frustration and dismay on both boys' faces was apparent even from across the room.
"It certainly doesn't seem like it," Trini sighed, closing her notebook. "I know Tommy is being extremely patient, but for some reason, Billy isn't getting it at all. If anything, he's doing even worse than with Jason. Just look at them!"
Kim watched the exercise in futility for some moments. Then, she shook her head.
"I don't know as much about Karate or whatever as you, and I know I can't really compare Billy to the other guys, but ... I do know about body alignment and stuff from my gymnastics. It's, like, Billy's not properly balanced or something. I know he has his clumsy moments, but he's not really uncoordinated. He only turns into a klutz when he has his head in the clouds over some experiment or whatever. Remember when he crashed that cart into my aerobics dance class?"
"Do I ever!"
Both girls giggled a bit guiltily at the memory. They tried not to ridicule their shy friend, or make fun of his sometimes less than graceful moments, but it had been pretty funny. Even so, he'd ended up with a nice dance partner at the party that weekend. Trini got a thoughtful look in her eyes.
"You know ... I think this confirms the point Zack and I made last week, about Billy's lack of motivation. When Melissa asked him to dance, he was doing okay."
"Because he concentrated on what he was doing? Hmm. Yeah, could be. I know my practice is off if I'm preoccupied. When Green Ranger showed up at first, and we had no idea who he was or how to beat him ... I felt like I had two left feet on the mat."
"Only problem is, Billy is focussed," Tommy interjected. Trini and Kimberly had been so intent on their conversation that they'd missed the end of the training session and the tall young man's approach. "As a matter of fact, I wish I had more students like him. Billy really gives his all to the lessons."
"Yeah. If it only showed some results!" Jason and Zack joined the table with a tray of smoothies. "I'm about to throw in the towel for good."
"Don't let Billy hear that," the Yellow Ranger admonished the team leader. "It'd undermine his confidence in his fighting ability even more. Where is Billy, anyway?" she asked, looking around for their elusive friend. "Another tutorial?"
"No, a dentist's appointment," Zack supplied. "He told me about it on our way over."
"Eww." Kimberly's grimace was shared by the others.
"Whether he's here or not, we still haven't found a way to solve the problem," Jason sighed. "I'd hoped that Tommy would have more success than me, but ..."
"It's not you," the Green Ranger declared. "Or if it is, it's me as well. I'm not doing any better with Billy. Man, I don't get it!" he exclaimed, echoing Jason's comment from days ago. "One should think that someone as smart as him can follow instructions. I've tried the classical way, like my first sensei taught me he was Japanese I tried demonstrating, guiding him through the motions, tried more unconventional ways, but nothing worked. Nothing!"
"That's exactly what I tried, too," Jason explained with a defeated shrug. "I didn't want to say anything, but except for our differing styles, you didn't do anything I hadn't thought of before."
"That's really strange. Remember, Jase, when we were kids? Whenever we had a new game, or wanted to do something new, Billy only had to read the instructions or manuals once, twice at the most, and he could explain everything to us." Zack frowned, sipping absently at his smoothie.
"Yeah," Kim added. "He even helped me figure out how to use that hair color when I tried the red highlights two years ago."
"You dyed your hair red?!?" Tommy interrupted the petite Pink Ranger incredulously. "Why? Your hair's so pretty as it is ..." he caught himself, coloring faintly. His feelings for the pretty girl sometimes made his tongue run off before he could stop the words. "I can't imagine how you looked as a redhead!"
Kim blushed, both at the compliment and the memory. "I was fourteen, and thought it'd be cool," she mumbled. "Besides, it was only a rinse and washed out after a few weeks. Thanks to Billy; if I had used the henna like I thought it should be mixed, I'd probably have ended up a real carrot-top. But Billy went through the instructions and modified them so I just got a reddish sheen for a while."
"You had red hair," Tommy repeated, shaking his head in disbelief.
"Be thankful she didn't go for blonde, like she had planned originally," Trini grinned, earning shocked stares from the boys and an elbow in the ribs from her best friend. Kim had never told anyone else about that, but the twinkle in Trini's eyes wiped the scowl off her smooth forehead almost at once. It had been a temporary aberration she'd thankfully never carried through.
"Anyway," Kim brought the discussion back on track, determined to change the subject, "as I was saying, Billy really helped me with that although he had no idea about hair color or anything."
"Billy always was like that; that's what Zack meant," Jason sighed. "Which is why this is so weird that he can't follow Tommy's or my instructions. It's as if his brain is totally separated from his body." The dark-haired teen slumped in his chair, his eyes downcast and every line of his powerful body expressing his frustration and chagrin.
"They're not written down," the Black Ranger quipped, trying to lighten his friend's mood. "Too bad you and Tommy can't write a Karate manual for Billy to follow."
"You can't learn Karate from a book," came the inevitable protest from both Tommy and Jason. "You have to practise, to feel the power of the punches and kicks!"
"Yeah, and a book can't tell you where the safety distance is in sparring to pull your punches, or what the impact of actually hitting something does to your hands, arms, shoulders or legs!" Jason was getting visibly agitated, and Zack tried his best to soothe his ruffled feathers, assuring him that it had only been meant as a joke.
"Some joke," Jason grumbled, hardly mollified.
A laden silence followed, during which the five teens collected their thoughts and finished their drinks. After a while, when everybody had relaxed again, the Yellow Ranger spoke up. Trini knew Billy maybe best of all, having worked often with the highly intelligent boy on his various projects and experiments.
"You know ... maybe that's not such a bad idea," she mused.
"Writing out a manual for Billy to follow." Before the male Rangers could launch into heated protests, she held up a slender hand. "No, hear me out. Zack, you said it yourself when Billy had written instructions, he almost immediately understood what he had to do. It's as if his mind has to actually see the words to translate them into action."
"Hmm. You're right, Trini," Jason answered slowly. "I remember when we all started playing volleyball in first grade; we'd watched the high school team and were fumbling along as best we could, until Billy got the rule book from the library, read through it and explained to us how the game should be played from scoring points to the best serving techniques."
"It didn't stop you and Trini from becoming better at it than the rest of us," Kim grumbled good-naturedly. "You two can play against the three of us, and still come out on top."
"Yes, but that's because I started playing on a team regularly, and because Jason's a natural athlete who's good at any kind of sport he's ever tried," Trini consoled her. "You and Zack aren't bad, and neither is Billy; you just don't have the same kind of interest or affinity for volleyball as we do."
"Did he also study basketball rules at one point? Because if I remember correctly, he trounced you but good during that one-on-one, Zack," Tommy grinned, winking at his dark-skinned teammate who stuck out his tongue at him. Lunch for everybody had cost most of his allowance that week. Everybody laughed, lightening up the mood considerably.
Getting serious once more as soon as their merriment had died down, Jason addressed the lithe Asian girl.
"You really think writing out the moves for him to follow will make Billy understand what we want him to do?" he asked skeptically.
"I don't know, but why not? I mean ... if I need to memorize something, I usually write it down a few times."
"And I read stuff out loud," Kim interjected excitedly. "Stuart you know, the geeky guy who's always teaming with Billy in Physics says he makes cue cards with important facts; that's how he learns best."
"Exactly. Don't you guys have some method that helps you remember things better?"
The three male Rangers had to admit they did, their methods ranging from meditation to listening to recordings during sleep.
"So what if it helps Billy to read a set of instructions, or listening to them, detailing every position or movement he has to make? Isn't it worth a try?"
Jason and Tommy shared a long glance.
"Well, we've certainly tried everything else," Tommy admitted. "At this point, I'm ready to try almost anything."
"Yeah. And it really bugs me that I can't get through to him any other way." The frustrated statement from the team's leader wasn't unexpected by his friends; they knew Jason pretty well, after all. He was taking it as a personal affront that he was no longer able to teach the Blue Ranger after the so-successful start they'd had.
"Okay then, let's do it. Where do you suggest we start, though?"
"There's a number of books on Martial Arts in the library," Trini suggested. "I'm pretty sure we can find something to build on in one of them."
"The library it is, then. Let's go, guys!" Gathering their bags, the five teens trooped out of the Youth Center, for once doing research for their blue-uniformed friend instead of the other way around.
"This is impossible! How is anyone supposed to understand what to do from this?" Kimberly complained, staring at the picture layout with accompanying text she was studying. "Just listen: 'Begin from right L-stance by drawing your left arm across your chest so the right arm overlies the left. The left arm moves across the front and rotates palm-down to block a right punch while the right lifts and rotates little finger-uppermost to deflect a downward-travelling side fist strike'," she quoted. "Anybody know what to do?"
"What was that? Read it again," Tommy requested, looking up from his own "how-to" book. The five friends had gathered at the Taylors' house with a whole stack of Martial Arts books everything, in fact, that Angel Grove's Public Library had to offer. Which was a lot, considering that most of the student body of the town's most popular high school was definitely Martial Arts-crazy. Grinning slightly at his confused expression, Kim obliged. When she'd read the text a second time, the three Black Belts shared equally puzzled glances.
"Uh, what's it supposed to be, Kim?" Jason asked. The Red Ranger was quite obviously clueless what the technical description he'd just heard signified.
"A twin knife-hand block," was the answer.
"What?!? Gimme that!" Jason snatched the slim volume out of Kim's hand, his head nearly colliding with Tommy's as the two young men bent over to read the text themselves. Finished, Jason leaned back in his chair, ran a hand through his short hair and slowly blew out a stream of air. "Kim's right," he wondered.
"Of course I am! I may not be a genius, or a Karate expert like you guys, but I do know how to read," the petite gymnast huffed, shooting her friend an exasperated look. Jason blushed guiltily, while Tommy and Zack snickered.
"Sorry, Kim. I didn't mean to, um ..."
Kimberly let Jason flounder around his apology for a few moments, then grinned to show him he was forgiven. "It's cool, Jase," she smiled.
"Why don't you read another move to me, and I'll try to do it?" Tommy suggested, skillfully defusing the situation. He moved into the center of the Taylors' basement den, where there was room enough to perform the relatively simple moves they were choosing for Billy.
"Sure." Kim thumbed through the book, choosing another page at random. "Okay, here goes. Ready?" At Tommy's nod, she began to read once more. "'You have just performed a high right turning kick and the spent foot has been dropped slightly in front of and to the side of your left foot. Continue the rotational motion of the turning kick by pivoting on your right foot and looking over your left shoulder. Pick up your left foot and thrust it out directly, retrieving it afterwards and setting it down in an effective guarding posture. Keep control over your arms.' That's supposed to be a reverse side kick."
"Just read it bit by bit, Kim; give Tommy a moment to translate the instructions," Trini advised. The Pink Ranger nodded and started over. Tommy did his best to follow, but got hopelessly tangled with his arms and legs, nearly falling flat on his butt much like Billy had done during his recent training sessions. Torn between laughter and chagrin after several attempts, the long-haired teen finally plopped down on the couch, thoroughly winded.
"Well, at least I now know how Billy must feel," he panted, wiping a bit of sweat off his forehead with the hem of his t-shirt. "I've rarely felt so clumsy in my life!"
"Are you sure this is the right way to help Billy?" Jason asked dubiously, tossing he book he'd been thumbing through on the stack of discards. That particular volume had been no help at all, offering mostly diagrams scribbled over with Japanese terms that were confusing even him.
"Of course not. We won't know until we've tried. But, do you have another suggestion?" Trini's voice was unruffled, as usual.
"You know I don't. If I had, I'd never sit here with tons of books, choking on library dust, wearing my fingers down to the bone with scribbling ..." his theatrical moan earned Jason a bop on the head with a pillow Kimberly snatched from the couch. "Hey!"
All five laughed, welcoming the break from their self-imposed chore. Zack bounded upstairs to get fresh sodas from the kitchen, and Trini pulled out a notepad and a pen.
"Okay, so ... you two have worked with him; what is it he has to know to make any progress?"
Jason and Tommy conferred briefly, then began to dictate from the book Kimberly had been reading from. Both girls took turns writing the forms down in a logical sequence. Zack transferred the other library books back into the bags they'd used to carry them home and commented, when Jason paused for breath, "Well ... I dunno either if it'll work, but you gotta admit one thing it sure sounds like Billy!"
"Billy, we'd like to try one more time to teach you the kata," Jason approached their bespectacled teammate two days later at the Youth Center. "We've all put our heads together, and maybe we've found a way for you to get it, after all."
The Blue Ranger looked up from his History book to gaze skeptically at his friends.
"I don't know, Jason," he hedged. "Exchanging Tommy as my tutor in your stead hasn't been beneficial at all to my performance, as you'd hoped, and frankly, I have no desire to open myself to further ridicule from certain quarters." The green eyes darted into the alcove where Ernie kept the few games consoles he allowed on the premises. The pinball machine was pinging and clanging loudly, where Bulk and Skull were feeding one quarter after the other into the slot, unable to keep the balls ricocheting for more than a few seconds each time. The two bullies had commented loudly and snidely on Billy's training sessions often enough, and while the team genius had learned to turn a deaf ear to their taunts, it was inevitable that some remarks had struck home quite painfully, reminding him of his helplessness and insecurity before Zordon chose him as the Blue Ranger.
"Oh, don't mind them," Kimberly waved a small hand dismissively in Bulk and Skull's direction. "Nobody's listening to them, anyway."
"That is easy for you to say, Kimberly. Unfortunately, I am not quite as sanguine about some of their remarks." A world of old hurts shone briefly behind the metal-rimmed glasses, and the short girl blushed, embarrassed.
"I'm sorry, Billy, I didn't mean to hurt you," she murmured in a small voice. Not one to hold a grudge, the young genius smiled.
"I know that, Kim. However, please have some regard for my feelings in the matter?"
"Sure," she sniffled, retreating to the back of the small group. As she sidled past Trini, the Asian sent her an understanding smile. Billy had grown so much since they took on their Powers, sometimes it was hard to remember that he hadn't always had the quiet confidence he displayed most of the time nowadays.
"Please, Billy won't you give it at least a try?" Jason asked quietly. His dark eyes were fixed earnestly on the Blue Ranger's. "I promise, we're not going to make a fool out of you or anything; it's just, I really would like to see you make that next belt."
"And of course it has nothing to do with reestablishing your confidence in yourself as an instructor, does it?" Billy remarked astutely, with just a hint of sarcasm. Jason's frustration had not gone unnoticed by him. The Red Ranger had the grace to blush.
"That, too," he admitted honestly. "But you gotta believe me, I want this as much for you as for me. More for you," Jason added. "I know too well what getting your Yellow Belt meant to you; you were real proud of your success. 'I just needed to know I could do it', wasn't that what you said?"
Billy nodded in confirmation; the sense of accomplishment he'd felt then was still very fresh in his mind. He'd become accustomed to achieving most of his academic goals with little to no effort; working with Zord technology was a welcome challenge that taxed his mind pleasantly if sometimes frustratingly, but it had been a unique experience to succeed at a physical pursuit for a change. The satisfaction was basically the same, and yet ... deep down, Billy counted passing that first belt test as one of his greatest successes.
"Well, I still think you can do it. After all, you're smart enough to understand what we're trying to tell you. We just haven't found the right way that is, until now, maybe."
"Actually it was Trini who found a possible solution," Tommy added quietly. Even though he'd only been with the team a relatively short time, he already knew that this would reassure Billy like nothing else that what they were proposing would not hurt or embarrass him in any way.
"You have?" The blue-clad boy raised slightly astonished eyes to his Yellow teammate. She smiled back at him reassuringly.
"Well ... I have some idea of how you work best. After all the things I assisted you on ..." the soft voice trailed off, and Billy had to return her smile if a bit tentatively.
"Yes, a logical assumption. But, still ... I just don't know, fellas." Reluctance was still very evident in Billy's posture.
"Oh, come on, man, what can it hurt to try? You made such a good start with Trini's uncle; it'd be a shame to let all the tips he gave you go to waste, now wouldn't it?" Zack coaxed the Blue Ranger with his most engaging grin. "I promise, we won't laugh if you stumble."
"Not you, no." Involuntarily, the green eyes strayed back to Bulk and Skull, who were arguing loudly over something, the larger boy using his sheer size to bully his sidekick into submission. The two punks no longer had the power to intimidate Billy; his becoming a Ranger had taken care of that ... but he still tended to go out of their path as much as possible. The shy teen knew all too well that sometimes, words could hurt as much if not more than a physical attack, and he hadn't yet developed enough self-confidence to shrug others' verbal assaults off as irrelevant, like his friends seemed able to do.
The Rangers followed his apprehensive look, but decided not to comment; they knew they were giving their teammate all the support they could. Anything beyond that ... was up to Billy himself.
"Please, Billy, won't you at least try once?" Trini asked gently, sitting down next to her friend and laying a delicate hand on his forearm. "Jason and Tommy have worked so hard at this ... it would be a shame if all their effort were in vain."
The blond found it very hard to resist the pleading almond-shaped eyes. He knew he was already wavering, but some kind of stubborn pride held him back from agreeing there and then. To avoid the entreaty in Trini's expression, Billy gazed at each of his friends and teammates' faces in turn, finding only friendly encouragement in each of them. Last of all, he met Jason's dark eyes, which were maybe a bit more serious than the others'.
"If you won't do it for yourself, or for us, please do it for the team, Billy," the Red Ranger murmured. "We need you and not just as the guy who repairs our Zords, or comes up with yet another invention or device to defeat Rita's monster of the day. You've improved so much since that first fight against the Putties ... you're almost at the point where you don't need any help in an unmorphed fight at all. You also know how sneaky Rita can get with a surprise attack, and ... I'm sorry, please don't get me wrong, but ... we can't be with you at all times."
"I don't want you to!" Billy exclaimed, stung. "It's not as if I needed a bodyguard ... is it?" he asked, suddenly unsure again.
"No, of course you don't," Jason hastened to reassure him. "But ... Billy, you're my friend. Sometimes, when the fighting gets really rough and we have no chance to morph, I ... I worry about you a little," he admitted, a faint blush staining his cheeks. "To be perfectly honest, there have been times when I was just a tad distracted from my own opponent because I tried to check on you, to be there if you needed me."
Stunned, Billy sat back in his chair. He'd known for years that Jason was a natural leader in the best sense of the word, always looking out for all of them, had in fact taken over the role as his 'big brother' almost from the day they'd met in grade school, but the thought that Jason would watch him even during a monster fight, possibly even endangering himself in the process, was staggering.
"Y-you don't n-need to do that, Jase," he stammered, flustered.
"No. But I want to."
The quiet statement expressed all the steely determination that was so much part of Jason's personality; the care and consideration he offered to all who were dear to him ... and it melted Billy's resistance more than even Trini's displays of affection could. Swallowing hard to dissolve the sudden lump in his throat, Billy capitulated.
"Very well. I'll give this new method of yours a try."
"Thanks, Bill," Jason smiled, relieved. It had been harder than he'd thought it would be to convince his childhood friend, but they'd made it. Now all that remained to be seen was if their plan was going to succeed. The five teens marked an area of the mats for the lesson while they waited for the Blue Ranger to change into his gi. The girls and Zack positioned 'their' table and chairs so that they could watch the other three boys without being too obvious about it, and Jason and Tommy conferred briefly on how they wanted to start. Leafing through the binder containing their notes, they were ready when Billy reappeared from the locker room, tugging his jacket into place.
"All set?" Jason asked of his friend as he came to a halt beside him.
"Affirmative. I must admit, I am somewhat curious as to the way you want to go about this, Jason. I thought you said the other day that you had exhausted your repertoire?"
Looking puzzled for a moment, Jason took a second to translate Billy's words into simpler terms.
"Hm? Oh ... yeah, I had, but as we said, we put our heads together, and ..."
"You discussed my failures?!?" Billy was aghast; the idea of being the object of idle gossip even among his friends horrified him.
"No, man we were trying to figure out a way together, as a team, on how to help you," Tommy replied. "If you think we were talking about you behind your back, well, it wasn't like that."
"That's purely a matter of semantics," Billy muttered, but ventured a slight grin to show his two teachers that he understood what they were trying to tell him. Tommy exchanged an exasperated look with Jason.
"Was he always this mouthy? No wonder you didn't get anywhere with him." He winked at Billy, who put on his best innocent expression. It didn't work.
"Sometimes," Jason grinned back, relieved that the situation was so relaxed. It was the best kind of atmosphere in which to train. "Must be your influence I don't remember him talking back so much before you joined the team and started challenging me." The veiled reference to their subliminal rivalry on the practice mats and off made Tommy snicker for a second.
"Oh, so it's my fault he can't do a simple kata?"
"Sure. He was doing just fine bef-"
"WILL you two stop talking about me as if I weren't even here?" Billy interrupted the easy banter, hiding his own amusement. "I thought you were going to teach me Karate in a different way? The only thing I'm learning right now is nonsensical bickering!"
"He's got a point," Tommy acknowledged.
"Guess so. Well, in that case ... let's get on with it," Jason said with a mock-weary sigh. "Assume basic stance."
Billy knew how to do that, and placed his feet into the correct position, knees slightly bent, fists balled and held waist-high. To his surprise, Tommy took up the same stance directly opposite him.
"What exactly do you want me to do, Jason?" Billy asked when he noticed Jason was looking intently into a binder that seemed filled with narrowly-written notes, most of them in Trini and Kimberly's neat handwriting. The Red Ranger placed a finger on the page he wanted, and looked earnestly at his teammate.
"Billy ... we remembered that you could always follow written instructions really well, in games and other stuff. And, well, we thought that if instead of just showing you what to do we could somehow make up some rules for you to go by ... and since we don't have a mirror, Tommy will do every move I'm gonna read to you in reverse so that you can see exactly what it's supposed to look like ..." he stopped, unaccountably embarrassed at Billy's incredulous look.
"You ... you wrote a Karate manual ... for me?!?" The soft voice was hardly more than a whisper, Billy was so touched by the lengths his friends would go to just for him. Another thought occurred to him, and he sought out Tommy's chocolate-colored eyes. "And you ... you had to learn how to execute every move mirror-fashion so I should be able to see it correctly ..." further words failed him. The only thing Billy was capable of uttering was a stunned "WHY???"
Tommy broke his stance and placed a large hand on Billy's back. "Because you're one of us. Because we care about you. And ..." he paused, winking at both Jason and Billy to lighten the mood once more, "because Jase and I are taking it real personal that you can't do what even someone as stupid as Skull should have no problems with. I thought you're supposed to be a genius; so use that brain of yours already!"
"My brain has never been the problem, I believe," Billy said drily. He was thankful for the Green Ranger's attempt at levity, and pushed the selfless generosity of his friends to the back of his mind, to pore over in private and bask in the glow of their affection to him. "Rather, it's a case of 'the spirit's willing, but the flesh is weak'," he shrugged expressively.
"You're not weak," Jason declared emphatically, opening up his folder again. "Maybe not quite as strong as the rest of us, but if this works, that's gonna change soon. Ready?"
Drawing a deep breath, mentally preparing himself, Billy nodded once. "Ready."
"Okay. Basic stance, guys."
Approvingly, the muscular teen noted the expression of intense concentration settle over the blond's face. His posture was good, and he didn't seem quite as tense as during their last lesson. "I'm going to read the whole sequence once, with Tommy demonstrating, then he'll play mirror and we'll go through it step by step. Okay?"
"Okay." The concept was intriguing, and Billy was getting very eager himself to see if he could translate concise instructions into physical movement. Besides, after all the trouble his friends had gone to, it was the least he could do to try and give it his best effort. Suddenly, the motivation he'd lacked before came creeping back as he listened intently to Jason's deep voice reading out the first movement. Billy could almost feel his brain cells start assimilating the information, processing, extrapolating, connecting words to images as he watched Tommy perform the kata gracefully and seemingly without effort. When the tall boy completed the sequence, he settled in opposite Billy, assuming an identical stance.
On Jason's signal, the two began to excute the form once more, one limb and/or appendage at a time, with very precise instructions on how to change angles or shift weight for maximum efficiency. Billy found the experience ... educational. Instead of having to follow vague directions ("you gotta lift your arm higher ... no, not THAT high ..."), or rely completely on visual clues, he now had exact parameters to follow, and it helped him immensely. After the first run-through, Tommy calmly pointed out a few weak points, then they repeated the process, with Jason reading and watching his friends, noting the progress the Blue Ranger made as the corrections became less and his confidence grew. Soon, Jason progressed to outlining two movements in a row, then three, adding more and more elements until Tommy and Billy went through the kata from top to bottom without interruption, slowly still but perfectly executed, mirror images of each other.
When the series of movements was complete, Billy knew that he'd accomplished what had eluded him so stubbornly before if only in small inclements. His realization was confirmed by Jason and Tommy, who grinned at him elatedly.
"Well done, Billy!"
"Yeah seems you got it! Way to go, buddy!"
He nearly staggered under the hearty backslaps they delivered, but he didn't mind; instead, the Blue Ranger felt a silly grin spread over his face.
"Come on, let's try it from the top once more, only a little faster this time!" The suppressed excitement in Jason's voice was infectious, and Billy hardly noticed that this time, Tommy wasn't standing opposite him but two steps to the left, moving in complete synch. When they were done, Billy was out of breath, but it didn't matter when he suddenly found himself caught in a veritable bear hug from the exuberant Black Ranger.
"YEAH!!! You did it, my main brain I KNEW you could do it!!!"
"You were awesome, Billy!" Kimberly gushed, bussing her friend firmly on a cheek that immediately flooded crimson partially with pleasure, and partially with embarrassment. "I bet it's gonna be no time until you make Black Belt yourself!"
"My ambition doesn't go quite that far, Kimberly," Billy laughed, starting to feel slightly giddy. It really was quite amazing how his friends' approval and shared joy in his accomplishment lifted his spirit and gave him hopes of eventually attaining greater success in Martial Arts. "May I settle for 'reasonably competent' instead?" He cast an apologetic glance at Jason and Tommy, but both champion Martial Artists nodded understandingly.
"Not everyone's meant to be a fighter," Jason conceded. "But I'll sure be easier about you now if you should run into some Putties on your own."
"Besides, didn't Zordon pick you for your scientific knowledge?" Tommy added. "I remember you told me something of the sort."
"You bring your own very valuable talents to the team, Billy," Trini said with a warm smile. She stepped up to the blond and gave him a heartfelt hug, something that sent another rush of blood into Billy's face. This time, it was wholly pleasure. If only the friendly embrace didn't have to end so soon! "The Power Rangers wouldn't be the same without you. No offense to you guys, but ... another fighter would be easy to come by. But where would we possibly find another Billy?"
Terminally embarrassed and simultaneously ridiculously pleased, Billy looked down at his feet. But he couldn't help sneaking covert glances at his friends, who seconded Trini's statement quite enthusiastically. To extricate himself from their praise, he reached for the binder Jason had read from.
"Er, um, thanks, guys. Jase, I'll memorize the instructions for our next session, and ..."
"Oh no, you don't!" Quick as lightning, Jason snatched the binder out of Billy's grasp. "You're going to do the katas at the pace I'm going to set, or you can go looking for another sensei!"
Bewildered, Billy stared at him, then at Tommy, who nodded firmly. "But ... but why? I'm perfectly capable of retaining the information you have collated, and ..."
"Billy, we know you can, but that's not the point," the Green Ranger explained. "Karate is something that builds gradually on elements you have already mastered. The kata you did today was based on stuff you learned for your previous Belt testing. If you try to do too much at once, you'll fail."
"Besides, you'll need time to build up the muscles you need to pack enough power behind your moves. That won't happen in a day, either."
"Think of building a house," Trini added her voice to Tommy and Jason's. "You wouldn't try to do that by dumping all the construction materials onto one big heap and pull them out as you need them, searching for each item as it came up, would you?"
He had to concede that that would be a particularly inefficient method of accomplishing a task, but the disappointment was clearly audible in the blond teen's voice. Being only Human, secretly Billy had harbored hopes of breezing through his training as he did through a science class. However, his friends' comments made too much sense to disregard.
"You're right, all of you," Billy sighed. "Very well, Jason, Tommy I bow to your greater experience in physical training."
"Good. And you'll see, as you progress you'll advance faster. How about the three of us work out a schedule?" A friendly arm was slung around his shoulder, and the six teens returned to their table, to celebrate the success of the new teaching method with a round of Ernie's special smoothies. Zack trailed at the back of the group, carrying the binder Jason had dropped. He idly riffled through the pages while they waited for their order to be filled. Then, a sly smile flitted across his mobile face.
"You know, Billy ... if you should get caught by a bunch of clayheads before you can fight them on your own, this will give you another way of dealing with them."
"It does?" Billy asked warily. He knew that expression.
"Yeah. All you have to do is carry this binder with you at all times."
The others listened to the exchange with growing amusement. It was obvious that Zack was setting Billy up for something, and the Blue Ranger knew it as well, but his insatiable curiosity wouldn't let him let the matter be.
"And that would accomplish exactly ... what?"
An almost angelic look entered the Black Ranger's eyes. He handed the binder over to his Blue teammate who took it suspiciously, as if it were a live bomb about to explode any second.
"Well, my main brain, it's like this what's in here qualifies almost as a book, right? And as long as you're still learning from this ... the next time you get ambushed by Putties, all you really have to do to defeat them is throw the book at 'em!"
Note: The Martial Arts moves described in this story are legitimate; I've taken them from The Official Tae Kwon-do Association of Great Britain Training Manual, ©1997. I know it's supposed to be Karate, but my son learns ITF Tae Kwon Do, to which I have access in material, and I figured it'd be better to use real moves rather than make something up that most likely would be physically impossible. J Besides, interestingly enough, the class Jason teaches in MMPR season 1 episode "Dark Warrior" is actually TKD; the commands are in Korean, at least. A Yellow Belt is the first color belt to be awarded in ITF TKD. (Also, ASJ's Black Belt is in Tae Kwon Do, not Karate ...) DB