Captain Kirk is a Starfleet legend for many reasons. He can talk a computer to death, bluff fearsome aliens, and teach memorable lessons about the most important thing on Earth: love. But James T. Kirk is more than just a lover. He’s also a fighter.
New York Times bestselling author Dayton Ward brings Kirk’s legendary martial arts skills to life in his new book. The Kirk Fu Manual is “every Starfleet cadet’s must-have training guide for surviving the final frontier.” With illustrations by Christian Cornia, it’s sure to charm even the coldest Vulcan heart.
We asked Dayton Ward to tell us more. Here’s the lightly edited interview.
Neil Shurley: The book is super delightful, and I love the art. How did you two come together?
Dayton Ward: I just did my thing and at the time I wrote the manuscript, the publisher [Insight Editions] had not even found an artist yet. They were interviewing artists and they were trying out artists, but they did not land on Christian until well after I finished the manuscript.
In fact I’d gotten back editor’s notes and made tweaks before they even told me that they think they had an artist. I only saw the art from one guy, which was Christian. And I said his tone is perfect for what I want, because I want the humor to come from the illustrations. I want the text to play it straight. I want to be the straight man. I want the art to really carry this thing because it’s hilarious. I mean it’s hilarious to think about anyway. But if you let the art make the joke and let the text be the straight man, I think it could work.
NS: I think that’s one of the things that is so delightful about the book is that it does work exactly that way. His illustrations are just perfect. And then the little running gag of Kirk having his shirt torn up in the fourth frame is, well, it’s wonderful.
Ward: I actually pitched that idea late in the process, I think not until after I delivered the manuscript. Because what I was doing for the manuscript is, I had placeholders—basically just boxes that I stuck into the manuscript to illustrate each step of the move. And I had the little text to go below each box. I didn’t actually have any drawings or anything, but I was copying the style and layout of a military hand to hand combat manual. And so I said, you know, when you do this, this is what I want to do for step one, step two, and I said at some point, in an email, it’d be funny if we could have a gag where in various pictures, his shirt starts to tear—even if there’s no reason for his shirt to tear, just do it. And he thought that was funny. And I think Christian really leaned into that harder than I expected. I think I expected variations on the theme, like sometimes it would tear in the second panel. But once he walked into that mode of “it’s always going to be torn no matter what happens,” I just started laughing and said the hell with it, it’s funny.
NS: The book illustrates the individual components of a fighting move rather than showing a full on fight.
Ward: In my original idea I had him fighting a different opponent in each, like Kirk and the Gorn would be in one chapter. So you’d see him actually fighting a Gorn in the black and white drawings. I was mirroring what you see in a military booklet or pamphlet where they show the two opponents fighting each other. So you see how you grabbed the person’s arm or sweep the leg or whatever it is. But I think his art transcends my setup. So I’m not at all displeased with how it came out.
NS: With your combined military background [Ward served in the US Marine Corps] and long-term Star Trek background, is this almost the book you were born to write?
Ward: Well, I guess I’ve kind of garnered a reputation for being a bit of a smart alec, you know? Even in the world of online Star Trek. And I’m not afraid to share a Star Trek meme and poke fun at Star Trek. And I think my goal was to come up with some sort of Star Trek meme book or something like an updated version of Trek or Treat from the 70s. I don’t know. I mean it’s only fitting, though, that this is my first hardcover release. [laughs] Because I’m basically a clown.
NS: On the other side of the clown thing, though, is that one of the things that really struck me is how well you capture the Captain Kirk voice. I mean obviously you have years of experience writing dialogue for Star Trek characters, and I’m sure you have an internal rhythm or sense for them. How does that develop over the years?
Ward: I think a lot of that comes through having written so many Star Trek stories for Pocket, like you said, and all the memorable characters have a rhythm and a cadence to the way they speak. And their vocabulary is different from one another, and there are quirks and ticks to their delivery that obviously differentiate them from each other. I mean, Sisko has a very powerful delivery. Picard is very erudite and yet forceful when he can be, and Kirk is passionate all the time, and when he gets really wrapped around the axle about something he goes out full bore, and that’s the Kirk you remember from the show. But he can also be thoughtful and reflective. But I’ve never actually written him in the first person, at least that I can think of off hand. So that was a little different, to try to capture him as if he was talking to you, or if he had written it, so that’s a little harder. But again, I had a lot of fun with it. And I just put on a few of the better episodes where he’s got some stirring speech and you try to capture that in the cadence.
NS: I think you did a terrific job with that and, again, for what is sort of a silly book, it’s really dead on in its own way.
Ward: It’s a very silly book. Don’t let me be the first to say that.
I mean, it’s a humor book, but it’s not laughing at, it’s laughing with. I mean, obviously I’m a hardcore fan, particularly of the original series. So yeah, this is not meant to snark on Star Trek—this is some fanboy love of the original show.
NS: Tell me about the process of figuring out which moves you were going to describe.
Ward: I went through the episodes and tried to remember which ones had all the classic fights. And there are clips on YouTube that are a rundown of Kirk moves. And I even wrote a piece for StarTrek.com several years ago about my favorite Kirk fight scenes, so a lot of that’s in there. I didn’t have the same names for them, I came up with some of those things later and I think I added a few from that list, but there’s certain ones you knew had to be in there. Like like the double clutch, the double handed chop to the back, and the flying kick. The shoulder roll. And of course the wall. The wall one is hilarious. The only one I didn’t put in there that I thought about including was — there’s a fight in the episode called “A Wink of the Eye” and he throws a pillow at the other guy. And that seems to actually throw him off his fight game for a few seconds and gives Kirk the edge. It’s the silliest thing I’ve ever seen in my life, but he plays it so straight. But I just was like, How do you describe that?
NS: So did you practice any of the moves with your kids or anything?
Ward: I think I make a statement somewhere that we are basically saying, you know this is not a real fighting style. But people are going to try it anyway.
It’s meant to be a funny humor book. It’s a great gift to the casual fan, a great gift for the hardcore fan. It’s the kind of book I would think your grandma would pick up. And that’s what I’m gunning for. And I’m hoping this is one of those books that could just keep being put out on the shelf. It doesn’t have a freshness date. It should be good for a long time.
NS: You dedicated the book to William Shatner.
Ward: I didn’t see any other person that it could be dedicated to. I mean, I don’t know that they even normally put a dedication in a book like this. But I do want people to know that this is not poking fun at, this is not making fun of, this is not mocking. This is not insulting or snark or being disrespectful. This is a fun little joke that we share amongst ourselves and we all know it’s funny and we all laugh with each other. That’s where I came from. I think he’s a good enough sport to get the spirit with which it’s intended. I hope he does. I hope somebody puts it in his hand and he gets a chuckle out of it.
DISCLAIMER: We may link to products to buy on Amazon in our articles, these links are customized affiliate links that support TrekMovie by earning a small commission when you purchase through the links.