I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area because of Bruce Lee. As a young girl isolated in mainland China, I fantasized with the vibrant fighting community he inspired, to this day ready to confront laws and canons, set to prove new combat ideas in the real world.
So I applied do Berkeley. Physics. This way I could witness that culture and also pick up some science to supplement my training.
The opening day, I was there. All suited up, the world so much smarter than what I knew… I couldn’t wait to meet the real fighters, the wild scientists. Then the classes commenced. Months in and there was still none of the juicy stuff. Just basics and more basics, no sign of getting better.
Tedius quickly turned annoying when the grades arrived and no one believed my D’s and E’s. Apparently, if you are an Asian in STEM, you have the duty to get A’s.
I had already made the decision to drop out when I walked in the classroom and the chick next to me tried to disappear behind her hair. She was sniffing, her face so red and swollen it appeared she head-butted a hornet’s nest. “Are you ok?” – that’s all I said. The story erupted from her lips: the party, the drinks, the hookup, the… “If you are not careful, it will happen to you too.” – she interrupted her account to warn me.
I may not be good with numbers and formulas. But I know a few things. Beating people. Breaking bones. Sending assholes to the hospital. She wouldn’t give me the name, though.
We made a deal: I would teach her to fight. The coming morning, I was showing her first moves at the park next to the Campus. Tai chi felt like the most suited for her hippie-ness. I was right. She loved it, both the slow and the fast. The ideas and actions. The applications. I chose to go easy but deep, making sure each motion she learned, she could truly use.
Her enthusiasm must have made an impression. For every class, an onlooker asked to join. I took them all. Young and old, students, professors, college officials and store clerks. Anyone, as long as they didn’t have balls.
The multiple ironies weren’t mute to my ears, of course. I had jumped from being the Asian in science to the Asian in Martial Arts. Moved from the People’s Republic of China to teach at the People’s Park of Berkeley. I was a walking, pushing and slow kicking cliché. I was having fun, though. Finally.
Until Miranda didn’t appear two classes in a row.
I searched for her. Called. Nothing. Days later, I noticed one of the Cal star swimmers limp his way through the corridors. I’ve seen him before. Good looking, hopeful Olympian, full of himself. He had a black eye too. You know, the pool may distress a hamstring, but no belly flop would cause a dark swollen socket.
From class to class I followed the guy. When he left the school grounds, I went behind toward the dorms, waiting for the right opportunity. A little alley, poorly lit. That was it. I reached out. “Miranda asked me to check if she hadn’t hurt you too much” – I bluffed. The jock never questioned who I was. Just begged for forgiveness.
Which of course I did. But I broke both his legs first.