Interpretations:Circular Karate Chop

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I think this is one of the more straightforward songs on Nanobots, honestly--in fact, I think it's one of TMBG's most straightforward songs yet. And it's dark as hell. See, my interpretation, from the first time I saw the lyrics on this site, has been that it's about a kid getting bullied until they snap. Whether their rage is directed towards themselves or towards the bullies is hard to say, but it's still a disturbing song.

Basically, the kid--the narrator--is getting attacked by kids at school every day, both physically ("brace myself for a short sharp shot") and emotionally ("dumping out my black backpack, take what you like"). Eventually it simply becomes too much for them to bear, and they go crazy. Fairly simple, very dark, and extremely well-done--I think it's quickly becoming my favorite Flans song, even though I've only been listening to it via the stream! --Warhammer Of Zillyhoo 01:04, 5 March 2013 (EST)

Bullying, but positive[edit]

When I listen to this, I also get the theme of bullying, but I think it is about the narrator taking the high road, while this bully got through life only by picking on people, and still thinks he's so cool because of it. "Still bragging 'bout your telescoping roundhouse kick" makes me think that the bully still thinks he's "all that" when really he is only focusing on being cool by making others miserable. He's dwelling on the past, where as the narrator didn't let it bother him, and is better because of it. At least that's what I make of it. I could be completely wrong.

You know, I've been thinking about your interp, and you might very well have a point! The narrator does seem to be snarking about the bully's "talents", in a way that says, "This guy thinks he's hot shit, but seriously, he's not even remotely as cool as he thinks he is." So your interp actually makes a lot of sense the more I think about it. :) -Warhammer Of Zillyhoo! (talk) 12:56, 18 November 2013 (EST)
Support for this interp-- "circular karate chop" and "telescoping roundhouse kick" don't even really make sense, do they? A telescoping object extends straight out; a roundhouse kick comes from the side. I think these are meant to be the sort of thing a tough guy who doesn't know what ze's talking about says. I knew a lot of kids like that in middle school, especially around martial arts. "OMG i got a ninja weapon from this magazine..." 16:03, 18 November 2013 (EST)

early 90s pastiche?[edit]

A bizarre song for a 50 something Flansburgh to write: ie straightforward schoolboy angst. Nothing to add to the literal meanings of previous posters. It scans almost like montage music for a straight to video early 90s high school flick. It maybe a joke but it's played pretty straight.

Interpreting it musically is probably more fun. Sonically it sounds like it's come off the Mono Puff album "It's Fun to Steal." It also reminds me of John Henry's "Out of Jail" whilst the weirdy spoken bridge is a direct recycle of the same trick used on Hide Away Folk Family, though it's a lot less effective here. Tantalisingly it reminds me of another Giants tune which I can't place as yet (please help!). Flans trying a bit too hard to be down with the kids.

(Mr Tuck)

The heck, Tuck? I for one, identified immediately with the feel of this song's lyrics. I guess as a "40 something" (isn't the "something" generally reserved for "late" rather than "early"), I have no experience with "school boy agnst" either. Guess what? Bullies have been bullying people since Cain killed Abel. Totally disagree that Flansy is trying too hard for anything. I think he is spot on. -- CJSF 12:25, 12 March 2013 (EDT)
Re:Tantalisingly, maybe it also reminds you of On The Drag? They both could be conceivably called arcade-rock. Anyway I think this song, in short, is about posturing, and that it is bad. Tantalizing to me is the level of the instrumentation vs. the vocals. Though I think listening to CKC Live In Williamsburg is going to always make me wish the keyboard were more prominent than the guitar. ~ magbatz 12:37, 12 March 2013 (EDT)
Do you mean the song is bad or that the song is saying posturing is bad? I thought there was similarities to On The Drag as well. -- CJSF 12:40, 12 March 2013 (EDT)
Not sure you actually know what you're talking about as far as "Hide Away Folk Family" goes. The bridge of "Karate Chop" was clearly not recorded in any such fashion, Flans just uses an odd inflection. No unusual recording technique. Apollo (colloquia!) 13:13, 29 November 2013 (EST)

Not hearing the On the Drag references, does it remind you of anything else? I do find it a weird song for a 50 something to write. I mean the detention hall thing? Last time Flans was in school was sometime in the late 70s. If he'd written this in say 1987 I might have got it, but even then... it kind of sounds like a power pop outfit of say 1993 where the lead singer is 19. Maybe a hangover from writing too many song for kids? I don't like the song, but that's beside the point. It should be a pastiche, but he sounds so into it!

(Mr Tuck)

I dunno, it's sort of in that same vein as Boss of Me and New York City, remotely punk-reminiscent, a quasi-anthem. It also has a bit of Mono Puff's bit of a flair for surf rock. Oh- maybe Unsupervised/I Hit My Head? They're both sort of unlikely superhero songs with that early 90s sound of punk co-opted by the man? And I meant that it called posturing bad, not that the song is bad. I wouldn't call it pastiche either, but there's clearly an irony to it... The out-of-fashion skater/arcade/whatever-I'm-calling-it music with backing caterwauls from dead men, the unfashionable reference to roundhouse kicks, pop and lock, 30-year-old toys (though They aren't that far from the 8-bittery scene).
I haven't pinned the song down though, like, I can't be quite sure of how straightfaced JF's narrator is: selfless and righteous, writing his name on the detention hall wall and tracing himself in sidewalk chalk, having a black backpack and anorak which he discards, and mouthing off at some (ostensibly) cool kid by telling him he's bound for junkshop/truckstop failure even though our singer is defiantly proud of his choice to keep his mouth shut. I'm not sure who the "withered words" comment is directed at- himself or the person he's speaking to, and oh yeah just a random thought- both the karate chop and the roundhouse kick go nowhere and go on forever: circular as in circuitous (or circular...), and telescoping like the math series (with a never ending pattern like 2, -2, 2, -2...). Though I might just be out of the martial arts loop on that one. Anyway, in the end, "so myopic, stay on topic, man, this world is sick" isn't the worst advice, regardless of what flawed (or myopic) perspective it comes from. ~ magbatz 14:49, 12 March 2013 (EDT)
with regards to school, who cares how old the writer is? school is something we've all been through (or, at the very least, will go through), and i think it's a really great subject matter as something universally relevant to us all, and rich with metaphor. (see also: xtc's "playground"; andy partridge was 47 when that came out). --ant 15:45, 12 March 2013 (EDT)
Mr Tuck is certainly entitled to his opinions. I may not always agree with him, but he usually has some interesting things to say and helps keep the songs' ratings from getting abnormally high. Nevertheless, I don't really see much purpose in comparing a 2013 song to a 1986 song. In 27 years, a songwriter is bound to change his views on any number of topics; he may also like a particular angle and continue to mine that vein for as long as he finds it productive. Does that mean he gets diamonds every time? He may think so. There's no doubt this song recalls On The Drag, It's Kickin' In, heck, even Twistin'. Flans has written about school before. He's even done the warped bridge before in Puppet Head and Folk Family. Regardless, I find this to be a intriguing and darn fun permutation of all those strengths. An absolute winner on what I consider to be an uneven album with stunning Flans highs and embarrassing Flans lows. Again, all opinions. --MisterMe 16:11, 12 March 2013 (EDT)
your ideas of flans's "highs" and "lows" on nanobots are whack! jussayin. Apollo (colloquia!) 19:37, 18 November 2013 (EST)

More like 1980's[edit]

In the 1980's the "Anorak" was associated with, well, nerds. It's even codified in British English: "... when they call somebody an Anorak ...". Maybe "pulling off my Anorak" means moving past the nerd-dom (onto Karate-dom?)

"Commodore control stick" also harkens back to the early 1980's nerd-dom. Commodore 64, anyone? 1982.

Both of the above references come after the Johns' experience in high school. Which would've been mid-to-late-70's. So they are referring to the generation right after them, not to their own generation. Same for, say, "Sleestak" reference.

Agreed on the lyrics being earlier. I think it just sounds like a 90s song. Lyrically you are right though. I stand corrected.
(Mr Tuck)

Napoleon Dynamite?[edit]

Long time lurker, first time poster here.

I agree with the other interps, but I'm also a bit ashamed to admit that I can't listen to CKC without thinking of Napoleon Dynamite. The 90s vibe; a pimp suit scored from a "junk shop"; surreptitious "pop and lock" training; bully-induced locker dents; exaggerated pseudo martial art moves; hell, even the Three Rules sound like they are delivered by Deidrich Bader in character (sorry, John!). Granted, it's not exactly a stretch to find similarities between a song about a bullied nerd and a movie about one, but that's been the lasting impression for me.

-- Micah: Spot on! It totally reminds me of Napoleon Dynamite. Love this song.

Classic "Wanna-bully"[edit]

I'd like try my hand at a first time interpretation here. I think the lyrics imply a student being bullied to a point where it has become routine and he is sick and tired. But his character keeps him from retaliation, and rather leads him to compliance. I get a sense of a "white belt" bully who thinks he's powerful thanks to his 'task specific' training; the chop, and the kick. Yet the victim, seeing the bully is amateur, knows that if he gives up and submits, the bully will be less of a threat.

Never took a class before in / Self defense

Never looked at you before with / Common sense

This might show that the bully is truly an amateur, having never actually taken martial arts classes. Or it tells that the student has no training, putting him at the bully's mercy, etc. But training doesn't equal knowledge and vice versa. With his common sense, the student has now figured how to deal with the bully in a way he 'never before' realized.

Gird myself for a short sharp shock

Trace myself in sidewalk chalk

I'll shut my mouth, you do the talking

The student knows what's coming, and he has it all planned out to go as smoothly as possible. Prepare to get hit, offer neither rebuttal nor counter.

Never mind the withered words of / Encouragement

Someone has previously told the student to stand up to or ignore the bully. He pays no heed, perhaps saying those methods don't work. Maybe he tried these and failed, maybe he is only assuming his 'preparation' method is better than any others.

Pulling off my anorak

Dumping out my black backpack

Take what you like

I'll keep on walking

The student is apathetic, giving the bully all the student's items, leaving the bully to sort through to find whatever it is he was trying to muscle away from the student in the first place. The student walks away, no longer willing or needing to deal with the bully.

But the extended chorus is what give me a sense of the student's higher intelligence compared to the bullies wanna-be character. The bully is "so proud", and is still bragging about his meager feats. At home he does 'pop and lock' in the mirror, likely not well enough to demonstrate, but he's prideful enough to brag about it. Yet, (perhaps even while he is bullying?), his mouth and mind wander, ending up talking about a lost piece of a toy (an all ages toy, but a toy nonetheless). The student's tone is of disdain and sarcasm and intellect ('myopic' is pretty big word for a grade student to throw out casually). He's sick of having to be made a 'victim' to an under-capable, lesser minded, one trick so-and-so.

As a comparison, an example of the bully's 'type' that comes to my mind is Dermott, from the [adult swim] show The Venture Bros. First thing I thought of. 22:53, 15 August 2013 (EDT)

Just a normal day in the life of a kid[edit]

I don't really see bullying in this song. I think this describes a new karate student who from time to time gets in trouble. As a real life middle schooler I can safely say: this song describes nothing other than a normal middle schooler's experience.


Reassessing the past[edit]

Never took a class before in
Self defense
Never looked at you before with
Common sense

I feel a lot of commentors are overlooking the first stanza of the song, which I think shows the song's narrator is looking back on their childhood bully from adulthood, from a new perspective. The song is still a bit vague, but I have come up with two general interpretations:

1. The school bully had pretensions of being a martial artist, but now that the adult narrator is taking a "self defense class", he realises that the bully was just a poser with no real knowledge. (For this example, I imagine the bully as some brain-dead Naruto fan.)

2. The narrator takes a self defense class and finds that his old school bully is the instructor! The mentions of pop'n'lock in front of the mirror, looking for an outdated video game controller, and the pompous and nonsensical "rules from your sensei" show that the bully is emotionally stunted and still living in the past. Because this interpretation is the more ironic one, I suspect it's the one Flansburgh was going for. -- Thread Bomb (talk) 23:27, 24 February 2020 (EST)

Lots of it have references to the Arcade game Karate Champ, most certainly (Goatus)


Probably a strange take, but I'll explain a few things I noticed. I'm also just writing this out, without much proof reading. I'm also going to give shortened lyrics here and there.

For some reason this song has a lot of imagery that makes me think of racial discrimination, maybe going as far as suggesting in specific the Trayvon Martin death/murder.

"Never taking a class in self defense/looking at you with common sense" - could go for the victim or the aggressor. They didn't know what they were doing, it was a untrained violent episode, and no common sense is well... Humans *should* be better than this.

"Gird myself for a short sharp shock", being shot. "Trace myself in sidewalk chalk"- what happens on tv after someone is killed

"I'll shut my mouth. You keep on talking." The victim is dead. They can't explain themselves.

"-cirular karate chop, afternoons in the mirror doing pop and lock", so there's something I read with using a gun called "pop, lock, and drop". Could be a reference to it.

The next line might be someone wandering around. A stretch for me in a way, but makes me think of someone on patrol

"-locker dents, withered words of encouragement" a wasted youth, childhood. Or knowing that it doesn't matter. They won't be with us long enough.

"Pulling offy anorak" a sweatshirt/hoodie, kind of the thing I remember hearing as making someone look dangerous (so they say)

"Dumping out my black backpack" couple thoughts, showing they didn't have anything dangerous on them, to even life leaving a body. I don't know, I just wonder.

"myopic/stay on topic" being short sighted, being ignorant. Making something what it wasn't about, about something else.

I guess if you get your mind in this headspace it being about that. The rest of it fits... Maybe it's just me. Except the part about the commodore stick. I never saw how that fit.

Yeah. The world is sick. :( 17:13, 11 June 2023 (EDT)