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Kill Your Heroes

Heroes are not for worshipping.

Nor for murdering either, titles notwithstanding.

They’re for surpassing.

Don’t worship your heroes. Absorb them. Imbibe them. Imitate them. Become them. Then, exceed them. 追いつき追い越せ 1 and all that.

You want to get to the point with your heroes that you have internalized so much of their repertoire — of their essence — that you no longer respect them. You no longer look up to them. You look down or at least across at them. You think: “if this ugly idiot could do it 2, so can I”.

Do this one hero at a time, and then move on to the next, bigger, better hero. Like a snake shedding her skin.

A language is sort of like a person. A hero, if you will 3. Those of us who learn a language by choice (rather than by accident of post-birth environment), we tend to love our chosen language (“L2”) too much. We tend to deify it. We put it up on a pedestal.

This is bad.

We want to be more…predatory. We want to be like a vampire or…or…one of those hardcore spiders that…that liquefy the insides of their lunch and then suck it up 4? We want to literally consume our L2. To take it inside us. To suck the life out of it.

It’s great to like or even love your L2, but it doesn’t help to adore it. It doesn’t help to worship it. Never. Not at any point in the process. Worship is not a place we can work from. Worship is not a place we can learn or grow from. The worship mindset doesn’t allow for touching, and without touching, there is no meaningful contact, no experimentation, no mixing, no matching, no prodding. And worship definitely doesn’t allow for surpassing. Almost by definition, we are forever beneath, different from and separate from the things we metaphorically worship. We can never equal, surpass or dominate that which we worship because the worship mindset will not allow it.

Keep worship to your religion or whatever if that’s how you roll. But don’t worship your heroes.

People who over-value (worship) books don’t read them 5. People who over-value chicks can’t talk to them. People who over-value (worship) Japanese won’t learn it: it’s too freaking precious to be “soiled” by your gaze, your hands, your impure gaijin mouth 6.

Not cool, yo. This isn’t going to help us; this is not what we want. You don’t want to be that guy with the unopened toys and unread comic books. With the unopened language. You want to like Japanese enough that you’ll touch it a lot, but never so much that you won’t lay a finger on it for fear of messing it up. That’s lame. And unsatisfying. Don’t turn your life into a museum, filled with look-but-no-touch artifacts. Be the artifact-maker. Be the artifact-user. Be the artifact 7.

Does that even make sense? I dunno…what I’m trying to say is…Alexander the Great was too busy killing people and banging Persian boys 8 to…like…his toys and ambitions weren’t for looking at? He was the artifact-maker, not the curator of the Museum of Alexander the Great’s Crazy Adventures. I mean…I guess all I’m saying is that decorative towels are lame — towel worship — and you want to start using the figurative decorative towels in your life for actual wiping.

Japanese is not a decorative towel. Don’t save it for looking at. Don’t save the fun parts for later.

Food is for eating. Fun is for having. Tools are for using. Go wear them out. Wear your heroes out.

Stop being a worshipper. Become a farmer. Become a predator.

Kill your heroes 9.


  1. “Catch up and overtake”, “catch up and surpass”, one of the Meiji era slogans that built modern Japan.
  2. Whatever “it” is
  3. Will you?
  4. There’s an MCD metaphor if I ever saw one…assuming there actually are spiders that do this, I don’t even know…I just write these things; I don’t check ’em. That’s your job 😉 
  5. cf. Mark Twain: “A classic is a book that everyone praises and no one reads.”
  6. Random aside: Foreigners tend to be the most nativist of all when it comes to Japanese language ability. Japanese people will meaningfully acknowledge your Japanese ability (I’m talking money and top-tier literary awards here) before foreigners will.
  7. ?
  8. …What, I’m supposed to be mature about this? 😛
  9. No, really, please don’t actually harm anyone 😛

  27 comments for “Kill Your Heroes

  1. Agent J
    November 7, 2011 at 02:03

    Great post Khatz. Finally something longer than 200 words.
    It makes me warm inside like the old Khatz is returning. 🙂

    • November 7, 2011 at 04:22

      I’m a fan of the lengthier posts too!

  2. Mattholomew III, Esquire
    November 7, 2011 at 02:16

    You’re my hero Khatz. I guess I have to get all Dexter on you. Sorry.

  3. Jimmy
    November 7, 2011 at 03:58

    Yea, hahaha, classic AJATT at its finest right here 😀

     So basically the article is saying, “don’t be afraid to get dirty with L2?”

    Totally agree! 

  4. Augusto
    November 7, 2011 at 05:17

    I just love how Khatz’s posts sometimes get to exceed the original purpose of motivating towards language and become something more… sometimes even a sort of philosophy of life.

    • スタイン
      November 7, 2011 at 08:14

      Indeed, AJATT is about so much more for me than just learning Japanese.

  5. November 7, 2011 at 08:16

    Very inspirational! He’s saying that your L2 is like a fine wine,not meant to be sat on a shelf for the next 100 years but meant to be taken in and drank to the last drop!

  6. DarkOmnigamer
    November 8, 2011 at 01:59

    But what if you’re my hero, khatz? I’d be very sad to see you go…haha.

  7. Nagoya Blue
    November 8, 2011 at 08:27

    Re: 4, all spiders do this, I think.  Spiders are unable to eat solid food.  Also, spiders legs don’t have muscle, but are moved by pnumatics (sp).  Also, some spider silk has a  tensile strength half as stong again as high tensile strength steel.

    That’s all.

  8. November 8, 2011 at 22:08

    You are my hero. Prepare to be absorbed.

    • Monochrome
      November 9, 2011 at 00:06

      Resistance is futile.

  9. マルク
    November 10, 2011 at 05:45

    Hey, Khatz and fellow AJATTeers.

    I’ve researched on getting in Japan, but I realize to work, you need a visa, and the two main ways I keep seeing to get one are:
    Being married to a Japanese citizen … or …
    Having a 4 year college/university degree.

    Are there any alternative methods? I mean, if I make it to fluency before going (much like Khatz), is there any way to get in? Especially if my intentions are just to just live there and teach English or do a regular old job? Like, can I get a 3 month tourism visa, get a job, and then apply for citizenship or something? What are my options? Thanks in advance.

    • kalek
      November 10, 2011 at 15:06

      Go read up on it yourself — (in Japanese of course; that’s where the most accurate of information is going to be).  Also, try calling your regional consulate and talk to them (once again, in Japanese).

      These guys are the purest sources of information on this subject.

      BTW, to teach English, generally you do need a degree, from what I’ve seen (but I haven’t looked into it much because I don’t want to do that). As a good Japanese speaker, you can do pretty much anything there (you aren’t limited to teaching English as English websites about moving to Japan appear to suggest), but you may still need the degree to get a job that you can move on. But, like I said, read up on it, ask about it, etc. I’m not a good source of information; the above link and the previously mentioned people are, and I’m sure there are plenty of other good (Japanese) resources on it.

      • マルク
        November 10, 2011 at 22:52

        Well the main priority is living there. I’d be happy to do mostly any job and teach people English in private lessons for extra money. Thanks for the helpful link.

        Let’s say I become as fluent as Khatz was (how long it takes is of little consequence to me. I’m sure I can do it within the next two years or so). Do you think they’d make a special case if I could speak Japanese perfectly well? I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, so after a year of university, I stopped going. It would’ve been pointless to stay in, paying for gen eds and running out of time with my scholarship. I had no idea for the major. But now I realize that it’d be great to just live in Japan and help people there learn English (and online help people in English countries learn Japanese).

        Why should that require a degree? I mean, Japan doesn’t even specify the degree. Why should I waste 2-3 years worth of money and time on learning something unrelated to what I wanna do? There aren’t any cheap schools that are 4 year and have Japanese as a major, so it’s not like I can even go down that route. Not to mention I’d have to pay all the loans/whatever back before I went to Japan. This is why I’m asking if there are any alternative routes. I don’t have the money to just up and go, nor will I go before I’m fluent. But I can’t read that site yet. I’m about halfway through RTK and I’ve been immersing. So yeah, I may be getting ahead of myself, but that’s not the point. 

        The point is, I don’t think I’ll be able to go to university here anyway cause I don’t have a car or a job. Now, once I know Japanese, I figure there’s probably some job I can get even from home. And then maybe get a car then go to university. But I don’t want to have to wait an extra 3-5 years just to go to Japan if I end up becoming pretty fluent in a year and a half or so. That’s why I’d really like it if someone could point me somewhere that might show me an alternative or something. It just feels hopeless to go on if I can’t accomplish my dream.

        Sorry for the long post =P 

      • マルク
        November 10, 2011 at 22:56

        Oh, one more thing. Would it be possible for me to go to college in Japan? Could that somehow work out (and I could work part time on the side?) Or would I need a lot of money in advance to kick-start that?

        • kalek
          November 11, 2011 at 00:06

          Disclaimer: As if this wasn’t obvious enough, I don’t claim to know much on this subject, so your mileage will vary.

          Replying to both of these posts at once:

          I THINK it’s possible to move without a degree. You may need an income stream coming in, or proof of contracts, or something along those lines, and afaik no legitimate school is going to hire you (without a degree in ANYTHING), but if you have money, a clean record, and awesome language skills, there’s no reason the Japanese government wouldn’t LOVE to have you spending money in their country.

          When you can, explain your situation to the 入管. They’re here to help you get in, not leave you out.

          Also, yes, it would probably be possible for you to go to school in Japan if you want to, and I think some student visas allow for 20 hours/week or something of work.

          • マルク
            November 11, 2011 at 01:08

            Thank you for the very rapid response. I was just looking for more of a second opinion rather than clean-cut facts, cause as you said, once I’m fluent in Japanese, I can call the emigration and visa places in America to see what the deal will be. And maybe get in contact with Japanese embassies or the other stuff you said.

            Once again, thanks so much =)

            P.S.: I was really kinda worried that if I couldn’t go, what would be the point of learning to absolute fluency rather than enough to understand media. It’s kinda given me a second wind. I really appreciate the advice! 

  10. Mattholomew III, Esquire
    November 10, 2011 at 05:47

    French learner here. I’ve spent the afternoon reading French blogs/forums discussing AJATT. I’m not killing my heroes, I’m just using them on my terms.

  11. November 12, 2011 at 02:47

    Khatz I don’t want to kill you!

    • マルク
      November 13, 2011 at 05:55

      Why do all of your comments seem to get low ratings? Especially ones that aren’t even bad, like this one. That baffles me. Anyway, I love this approach. It’s the best way to grow as people.

      • Harry
        November 13, 2011 at 20:46

        Because she spams with nonsense. I assume to promote her own site.

        • マルク
          November 14, 2011 at 02:10

          ああ、りょうかい。 サンキュー。

  12. November 13, 2011 at 13:29

    I wouldn’t say kill your heroes but rather, take the things that made you like them and improve on it.  Khatz is the person who inspired me to learn Japanese in a fun and yet simple way. Now I’ve taken the things I like about him and adding my own personal mix to it. It’s a win, win situation. We should all take the crucial traits and improve upon them.

  13. November 14, 2011 at 04:17

    THis guy is my hero…

    I will surpass him…  

  14. lisbet
    January 27, 2012 at 10:00

    You should hear how elitist academics who study Japan (I mean PhD students and PhD holders) can get. Walking around, bragging about their JLPT 1 scores (always with the JLPT1 bragging!) …. actually, you’d probably kill one of them if you did hear this b.s.
    The first time I went to a field conference I asked someone “how come none of the non-Japanese academics with this brag-worthy Japanese are actually speaking in it to one another?” I was told “the stakes are too high. Nobody wants anyone else to actually know how good they are(n’t).”
    I swear academia is the biggest bullshit in the universe, but I love my work so here I am.

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