Unusual feats of badassery
December 22, 2013 7:05 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for feats of skill, intelligence, or courage that fall outside the usual martial arenas (so, no beating somebody up). I would prefer written sources but will accept other media also. This is kind of vague, so let me give an example: I remember once reading a book where the protagonist challenges some alleged badass to slit his wrist and just bleed into a bucket. First person to staunch the bleeding loses. I'm not really interested in identifying the book, but rather finding more examples of surprising challenges like that.

Or, you know, somebody could figure out what this is called on TvTropes and link me there.

Note that the gotcha in the original story was that the protagonist was a cutter with suicidal ideation, and won the challenge mostly because he was pretty okay with actually bleeding to death right there. But I'm not interested in Too Kinky to Torture.
posted by d. z. wang to Writing & Language (22 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Gordon Liddy used to (or claimed to) hold his hand over a flame until his flesh was burning. Here is a scenefrom a tv movie based on Blind Ambition where he explains pain to John Dean (Martin Sheen).
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:20 PM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Stuff involving trains always seemed badass. Of course, playing chicken with a locomotive is cliche', but then there's stuff like THIS.
posted by johnpoe50 at 7:25 PM on December 22, 2013

I think you might find a lot of examples of this in children's lit.

I'm not 100% sure this fits your constraints, but in the kids' book Maniac McGee by Jerry Spinelli, the title character accepts the challenge of untying Cobble's Knot, a huge, calcified knot, in order to prove he should be allowed to stay in his neighborhood. (It has also always made me think of the legend of Alexander the Great and the Gordian Knot).

If you're interested in "trickster" narratives as well, in which a character gets his way in a conflict but isn't necessarily in an explicit contest, you might also be interested in epic poems and myths.
posted by rue72 at 7:37 PM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

How about the iocane powder scene in The Princess Bride?
posted by ActionPopulated at 8:20 PM on December 22, 2013 [8 favorites]

the guy in utah awhile back who amputated his boulder-pinned arm so he could return to civilization instead of dying out there. in general, early conquerors of the west, jedediah smith taking on a grizzly with just a knife, john wesley powell (also with only one arm) exploring the colorado river/grand canyon. jim bridger, joe meek, kit carson, travis and crockett and the others at the alamo. numerous lesser lights (including one i read just several months ago and am trying to remember) involving white guys sustaining serious injuries at the hands of righteously indignant native americans and making their way ~100 miles back to the fort.
posted by bruce at 8:56 PM on December 22, 2013

Labors of Hercules?
posted by XMLicious at 9:08 PM on December 22, 2013

From Infinite Jest, Les Assassins en Fauteuils Roulants

The A.F.R. has its roots in a childhood game in which miners' sons line up alongside a train track and compete to be the last one to jump across the path of an oncoming train, an activity in which many were killed or maimed.
posted by mono blanco at 9:30 PM on December 22, 2013

The Cigarette Game. As taught to me (IN ABSTRACT) by my mother. Essentially the two players hold a lit cigarette game in between their locked fore-arms until one of them pulls away. Apparently this is a popular game in prisons, but my mom seemed to have learnt it in Catholic Schools in Cleveland in the 1960s.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 9:58 PM on December 22, 2013

Hmmm, this may not quite fit the bill of particulars you are asking for, but if I can stretch your definition just a little to include the shady world of prop bets and hustlers, I think you'd really enjoy Carlton Stower's book, The Unsinkable Titanic Thompson, a biography of America's greatest prop bettor, hustler, and "gambler". "Gambler" is in quotes because Thompson's bets were almost never true gambles, but instead carefully calculated propositions that he had very little chance of losing, either due to his superior skill, outright cheating, or they way he would carefully craft his wagers to only give the appearance of a fair shake. Not a nice guy by any stretch, but his life makes for a pretty engrossing read.
posted by mosk at 11:04 PM on December 22, 2013

Look up Reinhold Messner. He walks up the tallest mountains on Earth with no oxygen, no axe, no rope. He just walks up the fucking mountains.

Also look up how Yuri Gagarin got back from outer space and compare it to how American Astronauts got back. Spoiler: It ends with Yuri in the middle of nowhere in the Russian steppes, asking where he can find a phone to call Moscow.

Look up the sport of Single Stick, which was an event at the 1904 olympics. The goal is to not be the first person who bleeds from his head from being hit with a stick.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 11:14 PM on December 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

Also, there's this lady.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 11:16 PM on December 22, 2013

The egg-eating bet in Cool Hand Luke.
posted by rue72 at 11:18 PM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Climbing Mt. Everest is one thing. Dragging the necessary equipment to film it in IMAX [and keeping the equipment working] another.
This documentary about the making of the hit IMAX film, "Everest", details how a climbing team lead by world-famous mountaineer Ed Viesturs and award-winning cinematographer David Breshears got an IMAX camera to the top of the world's highest mountain. Along the way, the filmmakers put down their cameras to help rescue climbers stranded on the mountain by a massive storm that ultimately took the lives of 11 people.

Reinhold Messner, in a similar vein:
...is renowned for making the first solo ascent of Mount Everest without supplemental oxygen and for being the first climber to ascend all fourteen "eight-thousanders" (peaks over 8,000 metres (26,000 ft) above sea level). He is the author of at least 63 books (in German, 1970–2006), many of which have been translated into other languages.
On preview, shit, I mean yay. Messer is a mutant badass.

The book "Running the Amazon" [meaning rafting] by Joe Kane ISBN 0-679-72902-X details some harrowing difficulties.

Speedflying [video] scares me.

Finally, Dan Osman speed climbing Bear's Reach free would be my definition of badass.
posted by vapidave at 1:18 AM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Are you looking for general examples of baddassery, or examples of baddassery used as a competition/challenge?

For the former: Jean Claude Van Damme (and other kickboxers?) kicking palm trees to micro-fracture and harden their leg bones.

For the latter: Westly and Vizzini in a poison-drinking battle of wits in The Princess Bride.
posted by Dr. Zachary Smith at 5:36 AM on December 23, 2013

Look up Reinhold Messner. He walks up the tallest mountains on Earth with no oxygen, no axe, no rope. He just walks up the fucking mountains.

I just have to say that this is somehow the very essence of Teutonic character. I mean this in a good way.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 6:36 AM on December 23, 2013

How about Amarillo Slim who beat tennis pro Bobby Riggs in a game of pingpong in which Riggs had agreed to conditions stating that Slim could pick two rackets and Riggs could choose which one to play with. Slim had been playing with Coke bottles for months. When Riggs came back to Slim later, having practiced with the bottles, they repeated the bet; this time, Slim chose frying pans.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 10:48 AM on December 23, 2013

I know this won't directly answer your question, but the scene you're referring to is from the book Virtual Mode, by Piers Anthony.

Looking that up on TVTropes produced Endurance Duel - is this along the lines of what you're looking for?
posted by mikurski at 11:12 AM on December 23, 2013

It's been a long time since I read it, but The Company of Adventurers, about the origins of the Hudson Bay Company, is replete with badassery.

D. B. Cooper? Kind of a badass

Also, this is happening right now.
posted by adamrice at 11:40 AM on December 23, 2013

Maybe not exactly what you're after, but I was always impressed by Colonel Kurtz' story in Apocalypse Now about the way the locals reacted to their children being vaccinated for polio by American soldiers.
posted by Rykey at 3:23 PM on December 23, 2013

In 2001, Glenn Heggstad was riding his motorcycle through South American when he was kidnapped, held hostage and tortured by Colombia's ELN. He escaped by walking out of the jungle alone. He wrote a book about it.
posted by workerant at 3:35 PM on December 23, 2013

The match-extinguishing scene at the beginning of Lawrence of Arabia occurs to me.

"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

Actually, many moments in the movie (not just the martial bits):

"Have you no fear, English?"
"My fear is my own business."
posted by McCoy Pauley at 10:28 AM on December 26, 2013

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