The Lesson of the Drunken Master

drunkchinese

“Where’s that waste of a cunt, rat spilled disgrace for Kung Fu whose honor is worth less than a fuck with a toothless, one legged whore?” The giant threw a table against the wall, the food for the moon festival all spoiled. Drooling, with his unruly beard and barrel waist, the massive monster roared and kept moving in our direction, spitting vulgarities along the way. It wasn’t until he got so close that I could smell his stench of pee that Shifu stood up. Outside, Master Chan – he said, so strong the big man ate the words. From back to back, I moved along, I followed them till the street. There were chickens, noises, cakes being sold so loud. All quieted when they stepped out.

“Where’s my money Master Yang?” – screamed the giant.

“I’ve paid you already, Master Chan” – answered Shifu.

Liar! – he screamed. And attacked. Chan had the shape of furious ox, his steps so heavy the sand would jump at each stomp. Shifu waited, though. Waited. Quiet as if his opponent was just a breeze. It was only when Chan was an inch from his chest that he moved away. Whack! The big man hit a tree. Disgraced, Chan pounced once again. Threw a wide hand Shifu escaped from below. A mortal kick Shifu dodged by an inch. A precise rain of punches, each missed at the last instant. At each of the attacks, Shifu would dodge with no effort, his indigo robes waving like magic, as if he was a spirit from the final hour of the day. Elusive, inexistent. It wasn’t long until the drunk ran out of steam. His ire demeaned, his moves turned sloppy. Shifu lets him get closer, hooks the man’s foot with his and pulls it so gently. The ogre falls like a tree. Yet, in a gesture of love and compassion, my master held him from the fall, protecting the giant head from crashing onto a rock beneath. Gently, he places the foe against a boulder. Water! – he ordered. And gallons manifested at once through the hands of the astonished villagers.

“Master Chang. I paid it already. Perhaps I should have been louder. Your horses had been screaming back then .”

Demeaned and confused, the man embraced Shifu and cried.

Under such impressive deeds, there would have been a story with a learning to be shared. Unnecessary this time, though. I’ve seen what I had to see. A moment that was legendary by itself, one which eventually become their own tale, used to share learnings from other times and places.

Like right now.

It’s morning and George takes his shower after a long night shift at his residency. I got us some dumplings and turn on the tv while I wait, and it goes straight into one of those UFC replays. A black guy in yellow shorts, a Brazilian named Silva who turns out to be quite skilled, has his hands down, stance spread wide, and waves his torso and head escaping the flurry from the opponent as if it was a pro fighting a kid. Or a drunk. Nice to see technique still being used in this world of thugs. Made me think of the encounter between Shifu and Master Chan, but there was more to it.

“Do you like that shit?” – asks the soaked body behind me. He has a towel around his waist and shakes his head fast, on purpose, to spill water everywhere and me. He knows I hate it. I scream, he laughs. I take one more look. Not sure how, but for a man that doesn’t work out, he looks good naked. Pretty good, actually.

Kind of like it, I respond. I enjoy the technical ones. But liked better when there was no weight class, and competitors moved through many fights in a tournament. You could tell who knew their shit by then, although the whole thing seemed a little rigged for the Gi wearing Gracies and their Anaconda style. I want to see which of these guys can still fight when they turn 60 or 70 like Shifu did.

The black man on the screen dodges four more punches in a row and throws a sloppy punch that hits his opponent on the jaw. In China we say tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are. And what he was was a killing machine. The opponent’s chin shoots up and he dismantles at once. George’s face contorts. This is so gross and uncivilized, he says, and I agree. But martial arts need some action, otherwise it’s just dance.

“Like your Tai Chi” – he says.

I am not sure how to reply, so he continues.

“You can practice your technique without falling into the ugliness of violence.”

Violence isn’t all ugly, I push back. It’s beautiful when it’s a dance.

“Like your Tai Chi” – he insists.

No, like a person so in sync with another body that they move as one. “Weren’t you watching what that guy on tv just did?” I want to tell him the story of Shifu and the drunken giant, but he shrugs before I can open my mouth, the classic superiority of a son of Berkeley. Doesn’t deserve it.

“Don’t know, honey.”–he continues–“Maybe it’s the Buddhist in me.”

A Buddhist Doctor. Double cause no harm. Can’t stand it. Can’t even hear the sound of it. “But ok… if you want to watch it, let me know. I’ll go run or something. Hopefully this blood thirst of yours will be quenched fast.”

Fuck you, George. Fuck your intellectual prowess. I want to leave the room myself. Or dodge his arguments, be bigger than his crap. Though the Tigress takes over and I swing back at him. “Ooooh, so medical and philosophical. Did you know Socrates was a soldier, Plato was a wrestler? Have you ever seen Nietzsche’s scar, Mr. Enlightened?”

He stares at me, surprised and I hope he holds what he is thinking. I will punch him if he doesn’t. Thankfully, he does, so I can proceed. “Did you know Shaolin monks are Buddhist too? They kept things from going downhill. How? By learning to fight so they could both think better, and kick some ass when shit was happening. The Samurai? It was them that spreaded Zen and their no attachment mentality. Why? Because they needed to sever their bonds to life so they weren’t afraid to die! How about the ideals of chivalry and honor of the European knights? Ok, those are too chauvinistic. You guys in the east manage to get it wrong even when you get it right.” – Dodge that, prick.

Of course, he says. “Yes, because Asia is so feministic…”

From my side of the room I measure the distance. He’s my boyfriend, but I am going to punch him. Or throw a vase. Instead, I bite my own teeth and dive back into the argument. “What’s wrong with being prepared for violence? Why can’t people… why can’t girls learn Tae Kwon Do or Karate or this animalistic MMA thing as you say… isn’t it good that prey now can take a fucking predator and teach them a lesson?”

On TV, they switch to another old fight. A blond with a cute-face turned-mean. She’s so focused. Ronda, olympian, Judo medalist and shit. The boss at UFC said she is the female Bruce Lee and I am so jealous when I hear that. My finger stretches towards the screen and I feel all he sees is the finger. “See this girl?” I tell him there was a point Asians were bullied for being smaller than whites. Then came Bruce and suddenly we stopped being picked on, because every one of us may know some Kung Fu. Now there is her. So vicious and fierce, even men are afraid of those hands. Do you know what that does? Makes men wonder if the girl across from them is dangerous too. Since her, some rednecks see smaller women and wonder if they are prey or humiliation. It sucks that she lost her last fights cause a little bit longer she would have cause the same effect as Bruce. Maybe I will do that next.

“You mean you want to get into this UFC?! With… Taichi?”

“I told you, I don’t like the sport. But I care about the political act. You are from Berkeley. You should appreciate that shit.”

Breathe, breathe, breathe…

He tells me he gets it. There is a higher meaning behind the idea of violence. But prefers the way I do it. “Your Tai Chi reminds me a bit of Kung Fu.”

“You know Tai Chi is a kind of kung fu, right?”

“I mean the old TV show.”

Fuck George. You know how to infuriate me, sometimes. The racist series that replaced Bruce Lee with a fucking white guy.

“Calm down. Where did all that anger come from, babe? I mean the show with a wise Buddhist monk that taught philosophy and how not to fight. I loved that when I was a kid.”

“Until shit hits the fan.” – I repeat.

He agrees, only when it’s needed. Not blood as a trophy like in these barbaric fights. I counter. You can’t have one without the other, need to be able to fight to impose some fear; it’s called leverage. Like in a fist fight, I feel the excitement of a punch about to land. But he keeps frustrating me, making my arguments miss. A drunk fighting a master. Chan versus Yang. Will he pull my leg too?

“Bullshit” – he says – “this is training to crave blood. You program your body to hurt, so eventually you will need to hurt.”–and he catches me head–“Just because you don’t do it, it doesn’t mean the majority doesn’t.”

I stay quiet and try to hide the fact he has a point.

His phone shows up from somewhere, he types a few keys, shows me a photo of an old Japanese, kneeling, his sword resting aside and says, “see this master? Seating serene beside his weapon? Before that serenity, the fucker was an assassin, who found a way to justify his superiority over the less inclined to violence ones. Why do we need to support that kind of asshole thinking? Isn’t that what creates the predators you’re talking about? This guy is the violent white trash of the east. He pretends better. Nothing glorious about him, or these tv gladiators of yours. Just bullies. Enlightened bullies.”

Should I tap out? I think of Ueshiba, creator of Aikido. An assassin before his peaceful days, people say. Musashi, the wise, also a thug when young. Shifu… he could be nice with his friends but… he could kill too. Although, in his case, it was different.

“Come with me” – he says, still calm and relaxed as he was when he left the shower. He got dressed, somehow. I offer no resistance.

[*]

Inspired by Shifu’s spectacle of skill the day before, I take the first match I can to try the fighting without fighting. Put my hands back, use my footwork to dodge every hit. Shifu squints from a corner. I wait to move when necessary. It’s working! My eyes search for my teacher. Bet he’s proud as stallion. Then I get kicked on the liver.

On the floor, I feel my face twitch, the waist cramp. The ache drags my tongue inside and I can’t breathe. “It’s just pain.” – Shifu says from behind my head. No pride to be seen. He raises me with disdain. “That’s what you get for showing off.”

What? I don’t get it. Why is this any different from when he did it.

“You can’t fake compassion, Tigress. You have to learn that part first.”

[*]

Outside, it looked like any other little house in Berkeley. A porch hidden by trees baldened by fall, a door in the brightest color framed by a construction ordinary like everyone around it. Perfectly unassuming, including the ethnic chain of beads hanging from the door knob. A portrait of intellectual living. George rings the bell and I am struck by the heavy smell of incense. A skinny woman with brown skin and big eyes opens the widest of the smiles and gives him a hug in slow motion. Dr. Metha. Karishma, she insists. An Indian surgeon George met at the hospital. She invites us in.

Inside, her house is is so full of colors I can’t decide where to look. She serves tea. Smells good. Tastes even better. “So, you are Dr. Arlander’s feminist girlfriend. Nice to meet another one of us.”

A grin to disguise my confusion. Grab George’s hand and squeeze it hard. She stands and walks to the bookshelf on the back of the room. I never saw so many books together. Her hands go straight to a small volume she seemed to know quite well. “He asked me to tell you about a woman called Phoolan Devi, have you ever heard about her?”
My head shakes to the sides.

“We call her The Bandit Queen.”– she proceeds–“Because she ran away from her abusive husband, join a group of bandits, and when their gang was defeated by rivals, she was taken as a trophy and gang raped for days.”–the doctor clears her throat n a long, painful pause before she can keep going–“When they finally let her go, she took the remaining members of her old group, killed her rapists, mouled her husband and spent the next years taking money to the poor.”

The book on her lap. She brushes it with the tip of her fingers before her eyes lower. She opens as someone unfolds a holy cloth and searches for a holy image. A woman, multiple arms, each one carrying a different weapon. She rides a tiger. “People said she was a reincarnation of Durga, a warrior goddess who combats demons.” Under the image, a prayer she used her reading glasses to read, although I have a sense her eyes were somewhere else:

Sing of my deeds
Tell of my combats
How I fought the treacherous demons
Forgive my failings
And bestow on me peace

The words burn into my ears in a way I will never forget, then echo through my mouth in the form of a whisper. She reciprocated with a small grin of respect, placed her hair behind the ear and continued. Told me about how, after years running from the authorities, she finally negotiated her surrender in exchange for mild sentences for her people and a piece of land for her father. I wanted to know more, everything I could about her, except it didn’t make much sense. Why did George bring me there to hear this story against everything we had been discussing?

Then, the catch. After years in prison, Phoolan finally converted to Buddhism and put an end to her history of violence. She understood her fight against the patriarchy and the rigidity of the caste system had to continue, but if it ultimately came from the weight of personal expectations, it was only through peace and detachment that those problems could be fixed. As a result, she ran for the parliament and won with the promise of peace and solidarity to the poor.

Then they both went silent. Two tigers enjoying the sight of their defeated prey. Everything upside down.

She gives me the book. Gods of India. A gift. Hope it inspires you, in war and peace. That was the sign. George stands up, thanks her for her hospitality and we walk together to the door. We shake hands, I thank her and she closes the door. Her face, a monument to victory.

Then it occurred to me. A question. So I knocked the door, before George could tell me no. She opened quite fast, for she hadn’t had a chance to go too far yet. “What happened to her? Is she still in the parliament?” The doctor’s big eyes turned to the floor and her light faded a little. She was assassinated two years later, she said.

In respect to her clear signs of pain, even if George more than deserved, I refrain from celebrating with a “yes!” Besides, it would have been obnoxious, and dishonorable to the memory of a hero. My silence got him right on the chin, though.

He knew and that’s what matters.

 

The Wooden Man

wooden dummy

In my mind, it’s always present. One flash inside the other, never past, never future, forever happening. Right “now,” I am twelve. A sound: water nearby. The scent of leaves, bamboo, China. Among the woods, a broad, clear circle on the floor invites me in. The sacred ground where we train. Although this time, there’s more.

He watches us. Two arms point out; a third, a foot lower, aims at me; a single leg bends forward, like a cat stance. I return the look, in respect. The wooden man, icon of all Kung Fu, from the North of Shaolin to the South of Wudang, is ready for battle. Mine, at last.

Sifu’s robes make him seem made of wind. He floats towards my new training partner and stands before it. Clat! He tests the stems with an upward slap and we exchange looks of excitement. Sight back to the enemy, he drops on his knees down and inwards, bring his wrists against the ribs, and begins. Double tan sau between the sturdy fists. Clat clat! A head-grab and a wing hand rolling underneath the arm. Clat! Master’s legs move swiftly around the opponent; their hands never disconnect. Sifu recoils around his back leg. On one side, elbows heavy and wrists soft; the other, a waiting hand near his chest. Then explodes. Bang! His whole body hits the dummy, through the small area of his palm.

It was splendid! The attack pierces through the dummy’s centerline and the trunk shakes in delight. The wood cackles. With the noise, birds fly in fear. Critters peek. Even the  bamboo seems to bow. And right there, I learn to love those sounds more than anything. More than George, I think. Clat clat clat! Baaaang!

I check the data. In my trips to present and past, no other memory has been visited more times. I guess that makes it an all-time favorite. In my case, a title so full of irony.

It was also among the trees I met George. In a park, ten years later. Berkeley.

Butt on the grass, I recover from a fall. My students run around like squirrels. “Water! Give her some water!”, one says. “I have green tea, she must like it?” says another one. I am fine. Got distracted with the flashes, lost balance, just that.

Can’t reveal the flashes, though. They must believe I can stay focused myself.

Across from us, a little gathering. There always are. People eyeing the exotic young ladies performing geriatric slow moves. Nothing too bothersome. Sometimes they laugh and point and a single stare sends them away. Americans can’t handle a good, cold look back. There are four of them today. All men, nerds. They laugh and elbow each other and I am about to stand up to send them off, when they spit one of them in our direction.

The dude stumbles and looks back in protest, but the friends point at us. Too late, I have noticed. George, I would learn his name later, wears a scarf but his face still sports teenage acne. He carries a big thick book he uses to distract his eyes from me. A few steps, a reassurance look back and forward again, the chopped stride followed pathetic for a miserable eternity. After a long wait, he’s in front of me. Mrs. Lee drops a “hoooo” and pushes the girls to the side. Is all that a setup?

“Is… is it possible to… can I… are you still taking students?”, he stutters.

I say, “I don’t teach men.

Why I am always so angry?

My words strike him so hard, he falters. Almost falls on the green. Such a snowflake. It wasn’t my intention, but they were out, the words. Couldn’t take back. His eyebrows get closer together and he shakes his shoulders. I’ve seen that before. Same thing fighters do when get hit on the face, and have to decide if they will continue or tap out. A look of heart. It’s cute.

Grey’s Anatomy, the book he carries.

“She almost fainted. I think she needs a doctor”, says Miranda, the one who I should never trust with men. Her last boyfriend was a bully. He and I had to have “a talk.”

George doesn’t fall for Miranda’s cue. Too easy, I respect that. We have a stare down instead. A few seconds. Then he turns around and leaves. I win. Americans…

Mrs. Lee, my oldest and naughtiest student, pokes me with her bare toe and makes a “what the fuck?” face. She’s right.

Not so fast, sir. I run after him, now I am the pathetic one, rushing through the uneven lawn while watched by both my students and his friends. I grab him by the arm and he turns back with a victorious grin. Well played, nerd.

“Hey, sorry. It’s not about you. I don’t teach guys. One of my rules.”

He stretches the neck and checks my students again, all ladies indeed. They wave. He asks why.

“Not sure. It just is.”

He squints, raises one cheek up to the left eye, then smiles. Suddenly, it’s like if the light has shifted around us. Despite the red face and the neck curtain, the stuttering, the pathetic initial stride, that little facial twist somehow got me melted. Who would have guessed?

George doesn’t look strong. More of a nerdy meets hipster dude. We go for coffee and I can hear the girls behind making sounds. We order some iced drinks, grab a seat and we talk. And talk. And talk. Then we get up. My hot twin students work at the shop, and they are already back, all bathed and everything. We must have been there forever. They giggle and wink. We leave, but first I make him ditch the muffler there.

Night falls, as we are entering my building. Three minutes and two floors later, we pass the door amidst a sloppy hard kiss, and I take his shirt off. Hang it over the hand of the old dummy on the wall. “My boyfriend,” I say, tapping the wood man’s third arm, which sticks out a few inches higher than my belly button, like a giant Kung Fu erection. It reacts with a whisper: “Clat!”

So wide are George’s eyes, they may drop. Should I say it’s a joke? Up to the end, he was still unsure if that was serious. No, let him wonder.

We kiss again. I mean, I kiss him and push him through the open loft, where I sleep, study and train. On the other side, a thin mattress laid straight on the floor pretends to be a bed. Never learned to sleep in a real one, too far from the ground, messes up with my chi. We stumble towards it and as soon as we get there, I swipe his leg. He falls on his back, mute.

My turn to undress.

Then, I finish the job. Still not sure I know what I do in the bed department, and nerds don’t get too much action. But his mouth hanging to the side as he fell asleep is still quite flattering. 

I wake up later. It’s pass midnight, my birthday. Everything’s quiet, and the apartment smells like sex. Plus flowers and my fighting gloves. Couldn’t have had a better start for the new year. He’s asleep and the only light comes from the neon sign from the restaurant across the street, which is enough. I roll towards the edge of the bed and reach to the drawer of the side table. Grab the little book, and a square-holed coin I flip in the air.

In my recursive memories, the i-Ching is the only thing that changes.

I watch the golden disk spin up and down, then fall quiet on the white cotton of my bed. Five to go. Except at that point he had his fingers back on me. So soft it sent a cool wave down towards my ass and my entire skin bursts up in chills. He says, “What’s this mountain?”

“Wudang. Where I was born.”

He watched for a while, browsing the tip of his fingers through the blue lines of my tattoos. The mountain, the fog, the tigress standing fierce, ready to attack.

“Is it really this foggy?”

“Those are clouds. That’s where I picked my name from. Claudia.”

Anyone else would have asked about the Tigress, always the tigress. Not George. He has no hostility, no anger, no scars. He’s only curiosity are for his brain things, his medicine books and how to make people feel better. In our lives together, he never once tried to compete. To protect. To be the prince. Once a dude tried to fight us in traffic. George didn’t mind I stepped up to defend us. Not beyond his usual disdain for physicalities, at least.

A true man of yin, for a girl of yang. Interesting how the Dao is. You spend your entire life preparing, then out of nowhere, a messenger comes to remind you your training isn’t done yet.

He gives me a gentle, wet kiss. And we fuck again.

I don’t teach men

pigs.png

The weight shifts to my back leg and I follow with the arm. Slow. And I say: “Now front leg to the left, opening space… so you can… stretch… forward and back… at the same… time.”

There is a moan somewhere behind me. The erotic type. I get it, the single whip is one of my favorite moves in Tai chi too. I wait for it every time,  even though I shouldn’t. The form is meditation in motion, Sifu says. Where thoughts and feelings have no place. Let go, I tell myself, which is breaking the rule already.

The air in the park is crisp, the sun hits hard. A spring blessing, when pollen count is low. Summers can be colder than the winter in the Bay Area.

The class goes on. There is Miranda, the sad pretty girl with bad taste for men. Jen, an MBA student that I am still trying to figure out. Nancy and Viv, two hot baristas from a Starbucks nearby. I go there sometimes and can hear the mental fantasies the hipsters concoct while the girls serve their Iced Vanilla Mocha With Soy Milk No Whipped Cream Please, Grande. And there is Mrs. Lee. Tanisha Lee. She must be sixty or something. She holds her position a bit longer and has another mini theatrical orgasm. The whip is that good.

So many thoughts. Resisting never worked. I’ll keep pretending.

Mrs. Lee, so she says, is the best black acupuncturist in the Bay Area. Must try, someday. Her real job is teaching cognitive sciences, that’s how we met. I was her student, now she is mine. I believed I could understand the brain to shortcut my research on the shadow leap, so I ended up in her class. She walks into the auditorium, dressed in a manicuredly sloppy way. A respectable afro-hippie. She plugs her computer and points at the slide she projected. An iceberg. She says “Thoughts are like this: most of what happens is under water, away from our conscience” Sifu would agree, but frown nonetheless. Meditation better, he would say. But I can’t. Not with the anger, not with the flashes.

Swoosh. Here it comes. An arm swings above my head, making my hair move. I can smell the sweat and the rage. I hit him hard, three times. His skin spatters at me. A drop of his perspiration hits my mouth. So fucking gross.

Since my “enlightenment” (a label my master would most definitely dispute) the flashes have been stronger. More vivid. I don’t just see them anymore. Reliving would be a more suitable word. Replaying would work too. The flashes, they come and go. Sometimes one inside of the other.

Swoosh. I am always angry.

Now the alley. I am sticking a knife into the thug’s thigh. The bitch behind me screams and slaps me as if I wasn’t protecting her. Threats to call the police. I twist the blade anyway and pour a mad yell right at his face, then run before the cops show up.

Swoosh. Too much yang. It’s a curse. Runs in the family.

Back to the park. Snakes creeps down, push, recoil. They haven’t noticed my absence.

Swoosh. A baby cries, a mother covered in blood lies still, eyes lost pointing nowhere. Smells like China and decay. I know the place. The scene. Have seen it way too many times now. Can’t tell if it’s a real recollection or something I implanted in my own mind after all the stories I heard. Mrs. Lee says it was possible, forging a memory. That police likes to do that to confuse black people and make them confess.

Sifu holds the little me like I am a rock.

Mrs. Lee moans once more. It brings me back. “This is so sexy”, she says. Always a naughty comment. Others laugh and I shoosh them silent. Had they known  my mind is always screaming…

Another flash. This is worse than usual. Maybe I had too much coffee? No, that would’ve made me poop. I am at a large prairie now. A sharp edged fence stretches to infinity and there is a gate. The shadow monkey gently holds my hand. Everything moves like a bad video-game. MineCrack or something. They say this game gets people to lose their mind. End up believing that squared place is the real world. There are some that even adjust the lights in their houses to match the sun in the game. Nerds.

We march to the gate, me and the ape. There are pigs. Pink and square. Millions of them. Up the hills, through the horizon. I try to hold my breath, but there is no air in MineCrack. I open the wooden door and let them escape. “Go, little fellas. Enjoy your fake life!”

Fake life. Look who’s talking… I feel my hand squeezed. “Now you are free, too” I tell the monkey. No more raising pigs.

There are more apes around us. They get close and sit, staring like if we were a totem. Gods, even. I am not angry anymore. Maybe enlightenment is a good expression after all. Then, from afar, I look into my own eyes. Dive inside of them. Through the darkness of the pupil and deep into the brain. From above, I see Berkeley, the Park. Tiny pathetic creatures are practicing Tai Chi. Myself, my students. Down on the floor, I remember, I am trying to hide the flashes. But I tumble, instead.

“Are you ok?”, Miranda asks.

I tell her I am. Just a little embarrassed. That hadn’t happened in a while. The twins help me stand up. Their hands are so soft…

I am ok, I promise.

“The sun is too hot, sifu.” “Have some water” offer the sisters.

I accept. That was enough for the day.

“Nice class”, says a skinny dude with a scarf and acne. “I mean, before you fell.”

I gaze and say nothing. I’m way more verbose inside of my mind. His eyes meet mine and suddenly he flinches.

“Is… is it possible to… can I… are you still taking students?”

“Don’t teach men”, I answer. And the conversation is over.

He leaves in such shock, he moves in a drunken, wiggly line. That’s how I met George.

Pretty Boy

Bruce_Lee_1973

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.

Stupid whites.

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.