One of the things I love about Batman is his utter devotion to incremental lifelong learning.
His dedication to gaining new skills, knowledge and know how.
Like Sherlock Holmes, Batman devotes his time to learning only what he needs to know to do the job or task he has before him. He doesn’t believe in wasting time in extraneous activities and learning things that are not immediately applicable.
Unlike Sherlock Holmes however, whose knowledge was very limited to his peculiar specialties Batman has a wider general knowledge, and even deeper specialist knowledge in a variety of fields.
Sherlock’s eccentric skill set is famously listed by Dr Watson in the 1887 story “A Study in Scarlet”.
Dr. Watson’s summary list of Sherlock Holmes’s strengths and weaknesses:
1. Knowledge of Literature: Nil.
2. Knowledge of Philosophy: Nil.
3. Knowledge of Astronomy: Nil.
4. Knowledge of Politics: Feeble.
5. Knowledge of Botany: Variable. Well up in belladonna, opium, and poisons generally. Knows nothing of practical gardening.
6. Knowledge of Geology: Practical but limited. Tells at a glance different soils from each other. After walks has shown me splashes upon his trousers, and told me by their colour and consistence in what part of London he had received them.
7. Knowledge of Chemistry: Profound.
8. Knowledge of Anatomy: Accurate but unsystematic.
9. Knowledge of Sensational Literature: Immense. He appears to know every detail of every horror perpetrated in the century.
10. Plays the violin well.
11. Is an expert singlestick player, boxer, and swordsman.
12. Has a good practical knowledge of British law.”
-Arthur Conan Doyle, A Study in Scarlet
From criminology, forensics,chemistry, weight lifting, gymnastics, and jujitsu to sword fighting, escape artistry, survival training and acting – Batman has an amazing skill set.
A scientist, athlete, fighter and engineer Batman builds a lot of his own equipment, or designs what he wants and has others build if for him.
At first it may seem unrealistic to learn so many various skills, but in the real world there are no shortage of people with massive skill sets that they build one step at a time. Take a look at any martial arts competitive fighter, and most have studied a significant number of contrasting fight styles. It is far more common in todays world to have multiple professions and skill sets, gone are the days when a person works the same job their entire life.
The jack of all trades, master of none stereotype is somewhat of a myth for lifelong learners and autodidacts. It is more like jack of all trades, master of a few. Batman has a mix of traditional schooling and self-taught skills.
The traditional method of studying a topic for years and years to become an “expert” can be circumvented by doing away with the wasted time, and instead learning directly from experts, rather than formal study. Most new learning, in any field takes place in the first year or two, and then after that is merely refinements of that base knowledge and skills.
How much better would that time be spent, if after mastering the basics, study time was spent studying directly with masters from various fields who have a lifetime of knowledge and skills to draw on.
There are exceptions of course. There is no shortcut to being a neurosurgeon or airline pilot. Some skills should take longer to learn if it means not only learning new skills, knowledge and theory but also an “X” factor that can’t really be taught but comes with life experience.
Plus nobody wants to have their head cut open by a bargain basement brain surgeon or fly in a plane with a pilot who has taken any kind of shortcuts to get there. Extensive testing for competency and virtual training help to ensure a high level of competence in these demanding highly skilled professions.
However many simpler skills can be easily be learned in six to twelve months, and some even in under six months. Learning a new language may take a year or more, but the basics can be learned in a few weeks.
While hardcore fans debate the details of Batman’s education – how much formal education does he have, and how much is ad-hoc and more specific to his mission, his “War on Crime”, we never really know. What is “offical canon” one week is gone the next. The canon of Batma mythos is open to reboots, revisionism, relaunches, and reinterpretation. There are no hard and fast “rules” to the fictional worlds of superhero comics. Perhaps except that everything changes, and almost nothing is sacred.
The Batman mythos are constantly being added to, revised, retconned and reinterpreted. One story has Bruce with mutiple degrees from a University in diverse fields. Another story has Batman starting younger, skipping most formal education and studying just what he needs to know in person with kooks, weirdos, secret masters and experts in hidden corners of the globe.
Whatever version of Batman we are enjoying – he makes a habit of learning directly from and being advised by existing experts, he doesn’t have time to waste with generalists in any field. Whatever he can’t teach himself at home he is going to travel wherever he needs to go to find the best people to learn his particular niche skills.
Batman has the edge over Sherlock Holmes in that he is a progressive learner, always expanding his knowledge and skill set.
If Sherlock existed in the modern day, he might be a very good detective, but not good at much else. And being a very introverted eccentric character, you have to wonder how progressive would Sherlock be?
Would Sherlock he be able to expand his skill set?
As a character, he really only works in his small world. Had Sherlock (and here I refer to the original character from the Arthur Conan Doyle stories, not any adaptations) access to modern air travel and Bruce Wayne’s fortune, would he travel the world, or remain in his homeland?
I think classical Sherlock would stick to his homeland and his strengths, being that he is at times an almost autistic like character, comfortable with being a Big fish in a small pond.
Batman however is more comfortable being a small fish in a big global pond. He exists in a world of metahumans, aliens and Gods.
While Batman may be colloquially called the “World’s Greatest Detective” – in the modern era he also has acquaintances such as the Martian Manhunter, The Question, Deadman, and other associates he relies on for assistance with his toughest cases.
Batman like Sherlock is obsessive compulsive in dedication to learning everything about a skill, but without wasting time, moving on and applying what is useful, rejecting what is useless.
Despite all his technology, wealth and multitude of skills, in many ways, Batman is a minimalist. He uses the least effort, to get the maximum effect.
“It’s not the daily increase but daily decrease; hack away at the unessential.” — Bruce Lee
Let’s take a look at some of Batman’s skills then courtesy of Answers.com
Batman is a master of the following skills:
All known forms of Martial Arts
Driving Skills, Automobile / Motorcycle / Plane / Boat / Hang-Glider / Etc.
Rope and Rappel Training
Medical Training, Medicine and Surgery
Pain Management Training
Motor and Engine Knowledge
Peak Physical Conditioning
Acting skills (for undercover work)
Code Breaking skills
Knowledge of Explosives
It is a pretty long and ridiculous list, and I removed a couple of items that basically repeated other points. The original Batman from 1947 did not have all those skills, just a core few mainly – strength training, gymnastics, chemistry, detective skills and a few others that were added here and there. But over 75 years, that list has grown as new writers come along and put their stamp on the character.
The thing is, if you are super-rich and can spend your time how you damn well please rather than being a wage slave, you could conceivably master a lot of skills if you chose to. So that long list is possible when you consider that something like rappelling, or pick pocketing you could learn in a few days, or weeks. While Chemistry would take several months, and perhaps years to be more refined.
We may never learn as many skills as Batman, nor have the time. But I know for me my dedication to lifelong learning is whole hearted and never ending. That passion for knowledge and skills is another way that Batman inspires me every day.