A new me

Let me take a minute away from the story to focus on the journey. It’s a new year after all.

Jan19

Jan18

Last year was a battle. This time against myself. So far, new me is winning and it feels really good. I have more energy to train and the drive to write recently came back too. Not a coincidence that I finally got my karate black belt and finished the book after the 100lb lost! I must thank all the support I got from family and co-workers, plus the crowd at my martial arts school too. I wouldn’t have done it without you. Also the healthcare professionals who took such good care of me. Now onward. Keeping the weight off, moving life ahead, training like a mofo and getting this book about #kungfu and #artificialintelligence out of the door. Hope you like it once it’s done.

#karate #taichi #wudang #martialarts #wingchun #boxing #weightloss #bariatricsurgery #scifibooks #writing #novelists

Hashtagananza

I learn so much when I start a new book. What other activity would allow me to have, on the same month, a conversation about 1) soul alchemy in daoism, another on 2) thought suppression on the brain’s neocortex, one about 3) antagonist algorithms in artificial intelligence, one on 4) the differences between playing and non-playing characters in Minecraft, one on 5) the different rooms at the White House, one on 6) take down defense in mixed martial arts, one on 7) intersectional feminism, one on 8) the similarities between the i-Ching and the divination systems in Nigeria?

Just think of the hashtags alone: #Wudang #daoism #neuroscience #minecraft #whitehouse #artificialintelligence #mixedmartialarts #taichi #literature #feminism #intersectionalfeminism #iching #yoruba #china

Crazy, but fun!

My name is Tigress

tigerstripes1

Girls should be at home this late. Especially little Asian chicks like me. Never running, alone, in the dark streets of Oakland. Except that when dudes see you so comfortable and confident by yourself, they think you are either crazy or are hiding something.I am both. Crazy and hiding.

From a fence ahead, I hear a scream. The mouth of an unsecured construction site. I go check. Behind a huge stack of lumber, a hooded figure holds a scantily clad woman by the wrist. She tries to shake him off, but he doesn’t seem into her plan.

The thing with Oakland is: it’s predictable. Shit always happen in the same places. There’s where the junkies get fucked up. Where cops get gifts. Where blacks get shot. Where dumb fights break. Where girls get roughed. If you want to avoid trouble, you stay away. Otherwise…

“Hey, Sir? This aint how you treat a lady,” I yell from outside.

“Fuck off!” He responds and laughs his drunken laughter. To my ears that’s an invite.
I pass the fence. He pauses. More intrigued than wary. With the sleeve of his jacket, a stained, too short jean one, he wipes the messy bush growing around his mouth and opens a wide grin. Yes, it was an invite.

Then I see a flash. Bright, blinding. When the light fades, I am somewhere else.

It’s been happening since the event on the lab. The flashes. Memories so vivid, everything seems like the present. A hiccup of conscience of sorts. They never come at a good time though. Now it’s dark. Night. A tunnel… The subway locals call Bart. Such a funny name. Perhaps the cabs should be Lisa and the buses Homer? The cable cars should be Margies! I am only 19, freshly arrived in America and life still feels like I’m inside a TV show. The train stops, I get in. The wagon is almost empty, just me and a man wearing a grass-stained khaki overall and a bright orange helmet full of partially ripped stickers. He looks at me weird, but I want no trouble, keep walking to the other end of the car. Sit as far away as possible.

The Bart moves and once out of the station and it’s dark, I hear steps lurking behind me. Remember to breathe, Yinyin.

Flash! Back to Oakland. Good. I march toward the asshole in the alley. “Leave her alone, sir!” The drunk cackles and lets go of her hand. “Huh, looks like the little Chink wants to join us, babe. Isn’t she cute?” He takes a pocket knife. Pathetic. I keep moving forward–same speed, same determination.

Another flash. The man in the subway. I look back, wondering what would possibly sound so similar to a zipper, just to see the eye of his dick staring right into mine. He grabs my hand. Bad move.

“Eat tofu,” I say, immediately knowing that didn’t come out right. In Mandarin, it would have worked much better. Whatever. “Fucking depraved,” I correct. Now he understands. I turn his wrist in one direction, twist his elbow the opposite way. So fast and far, I feel his tendon snap. He screams. I pull it the other way and stand, pushing my hip against his and up he goes. I sense his feet unroot, fly over my shoulder. Almost in slow motion. His helmet first and alone, ricocheting on the chromed bars and away from the skull it was supposed to protect. I think I hear the music. Shifu’s flute, playing calm long notes like the ones he used to pace my tai chi. Then BAM! The rest of him smashes the metal floor. Head first. He stays there. The lights from the windows blink on and off, he shows no sign of life. Shit! Did I kill the man?

The flash drags me back again.

The woman has giant legs and even bigger boobs. Both as exposed as she could without technically being naked. She looks at me and screams for the fence. “Somebody fucking help!” Thanks for the confidence. I gaze at the knife, crack my knuckles, then pounce. Watch that, bitch.

Real fights aren’t like those in the movies. They are messy and unforgiving. You have to deal with your dumb opponent, make sure you don’t kill the fucker, that he doesn’t kill you, and that you don’t step on a nail or trip on a ladder. I manage to avoid all that just to get hit by another flash.

The Bart stops. The creep still lays there like a rag doll and a memory of Shifu washes me in shame. He wasn’t a violent man himself. Would rather spend his time training people on the comprehension of the Dao and the healing aspects of Qigong. So, when he allowed me, and even pushed me to let my beast out, no one understood. “You will get it, someday, Tigress,” he told me. Daoists are fond of their paradoxes, like accepting of the wrong as a path to the right. “All the philosophy is packed into the moves. The yin hiding inside the yang. One day, you will see. But you must promise to avoid death. Daoists do not hit to kill.” A solemn oath I may have just broken. Above us, the dragons roared on Shifu’s behalf. Maybe he roared with them too. Then, as announcing an undeserved blessing, I feel a sting burn in my arm.

Back to the alley. In that moment of confusion, the blade nicks the side of my shoulder, right over the tattoo of my home town! Why did you have to do that?

Wudang, its mountains and fog, its mighty tigress and the swarm of bees Shifu cursed me with, are now all covered in blood. You’re so fucked, jackass. I grab his forearm and get my body against his, hit him with the back of my head. Not a pretty move, but it works. The blade is mine. One more kick on the chest and the fucker is on his butt, still trying to understand what happened to him. Yes, buddy. You’ve been owned by a woman.
I turn to the girl: “Go.”

But instead, she starts striking me with her tiny handbag. A dozen times. “Are you crazy?” A single little distraction is all it takes. The man comes back in our direction. I thrust her with my shoulder, right between her giant breasts and the blond flies three feet to safety. The guy now has his head and arms wrapped around my waist, the woman has her chest covered in blood. She shrieks. This time real loud, louder than Oakland. Police will come. “That’s my blood!” I point at my bleeding tattoo. “See?” She breathes relieved. Waves the handbag again: “Leave him alone!”

What?!

I let my stance sink so he can’t raise me off the ground, and over his back, I extend my hand. Stick my finger into his ass. Now he shrieks too, like a cartoon. Hooked in his rear end, I flip him on the air, he crashes hard on his back. He wheezes, searching for air, and I grab his scalp. By the hair, I force him onto his knees. He’s mine now. Him, the fight, the battleground. Everything. Sun Tzu would be proud. Peace at last. Suddenly, nowhere in the world is quieter than Oakland. I can hear the sounds of the tv from a neighbor somewhere. Enjoy the colors of the sign from the titties bar beyond the gate reflecting on a large trash bin. Blue, red, blue, red. From the wall, a cat quietly scans the place for rodents. From another, an owl stares too, probably looking for the same unlikely dinner. I think it’s funny. In China, owls are called cat-faced eagles. So it sounds like the beginning of a joke: a cat, a cat-faced bird and a girl nicknamed Tigress walk into a dark alley… The Dao can be funny sometimes.

The stink of booze, cigarettes, and lack of showering awake me from the wandering. The stench makes me want to throw up. Instead, I take a deep breath and stick the knife into his thigh. Right next to the crotch, full blade in.

He screams, and I scream back at him. Louder, crazier, inches from his nose. So deranged, his voice dries out and he stays there, bugged eyes and open mouth. I throw the bloodied knife away and say, “How about that, honey? You’re a hermaphrodite! Your own slit and all. Good, huh? Now go fuck yourself and get out of my sight.” He limps for his life, bouncing on walls, falling over himself, and disappears beyond the corner.

“Good job, Tigress,” I tell myself, then brush away some of the concrete powder and sawdust on my running clothes. A glimpse of a smile creeps in. Behind, the blonde continues to yell, “Stupid bitch! You are one person. He is every fucking man on the planet. Will you beat them all?”

Yes, I will, sister.

Hi. My name is Tigress. I am an immortal and I can help. But before you open the package I sent, you will have to listen to a story. My story.

 


This post is part of a book currently being written by author PJ Pereira.
Please don't copy/paste it anywhere. Links are ok.

Trip to Wudang

The last few weeks have been an amazing journey to the core of the book. A trip to China — Wudang and Shanghai — to study Daoism and Taichi. Lots of photos and videos coming soon. For now, enjoy the new TaiChi form the officials at Wudang have been preparing to roll out next year.

Insurmountable Mount of Balance

From everything, balance is the hardest. Yin, yang. Soft, hard. I know it’s possible and worth it. I’ve seen it in action. But I was born with too much yang. Can train both ways, but when I’m fighting, still have trouble letting go. The beast in me always wins.

#femalefifhter #taichi #mma #yinyang #unitedbyblood

Feat instagram photos by @paigevanzantufc and @taichi_universal

————

* This account is fictional.

Dragon’s Gate

dragon's gate

Almost midnight and the bell rings. A giant cold steak on my face, an ice pack on the shoulder and I wish there was something for the crushed pride. Not because of the fight I lost, only athletes care about stupid records. I’m no athlete, I am a fighter. Broken because I tried to call George. Shouldn’t have. Now he thinks I want to… I won’t. This is my life. If he wants to get back together, he needs to… The bell, yes, the bell. At fucking midnight.

Who is that?—I shout.

Silence.

Damn. If those two nerds followed me here, I’m going to kill them.

It isn’t. In fact, it’s nobody. Just a hard paper box. Red with golden details, Chinese pattern. Couldn’t they have left it there for tomorrow? I rush to the window. A red fishtailed car, golden wheels, drives away and turns right on the first corner. Doesn’t seem rushed.

Back to the box. Whoever sent this took the time to make a very traditional wrap, with layers and layers of paper until I get to… The gift: a green stone. Sculpted and carved in the shape of a leaf.

No, a feather!

I rush to my side table, open the drawer. At that point, the pain is gone. I know it’s there. The i Ching book, no. My coins, no. A little blob wrapped in old Chinese newspaper. That’s it. I haven’t looked or even thought about that thing since I left landed here.

I flash back in time. A few years. In my memory, I am at the airport. Beijing. The air is so thick, I cannot tell if the orb in the sky is the sun or the moon. Going there soon, the sky. But now I want to feel the arms around me a little longer. It’s awkward. Sifu isn’t a hugger. “Do you want me to stay?” He seems so weak. The embrace is gone, and gives me a little jade sculpture over a piece of newspaper. A badly carved… leaf?

“A phoenix’ feather”—he says. I wrap it and shove into my pocket.

“When you arrive, look for my friends. In Chinatown.”

Wake up next day with the plane hitting the floor in San Francisco. Face swollen like a jujube from all the crying. My phone, Sifu doesn’t use one, but there are a few other students I can reach to let him know I am ok. He worries about me. And doesn’t trust planes, either. I turn it on and the screen shows two messages. I swipe the little window. “Sifu is gone.” The note says.

The Earth went so dark I could hide in there forever. Felt my skin melting, my head dissolving into the air I can’t breathe. In my head I was screaming at the pilot a mile forward. “Turn this shit back!”

“Don’t come,”—read the other message—“He said you should stick with the plan.”

Nobody ever answered my replies. None, ever. Like I didn’t exist.

Flash. Back to my apartment, the day I lost the fight. I look at the jade feathers. They aren’t a perfect match. Carved by different hands, that’s for sure. But the drawings, the shapes… seems as if they had both been copied from the same source. I was being summoned. By the folks I didn’t have the guts to contact, then felt too embarrassed to do, then finally forgot.

The problem was, all I learned about Sifu’s friends was that they were in Chinatown. I wonder if master knew that neighborhood is nothing like our little village near Wudang.

Next morning, I take the first BART from Oakland and drop out on Montgomery Station. From there to Dragon’s Gate, just a few blocks. The smell of dumplings, roast duck, incense. Hadn’t been here for a while. Almost forgot how hectic it is. Tiny shops everywhere. Harsh screams the whites misinterpret as fights, cars honking and the soothing notes of an Ehru somewhere afar. From all corners, a different cat waves, always that stupid happy face. I have a problem with smiles.

I walk, seeking some sort of sign. But everything is red and gold, like the box, the fishtailed car.

I walk more. So many people. So rushed. What kind of life is that?

I keep going. At times, I stop, show the jade feather to a street vendor, a shopper that seems local, ask if they know… they all titter and disappear inside. “Hey, what’s funny?” The old lady scorns, hits her head with a palm, calling me dumb. Then rushes in, locking the door behind her. I’m left outside, no answer. That’s when I see it, and it all makes sense. On the corner of Sacramento and Hang Ah, a tea house like every other. Except this one is called Fèngmáo. The Feather of the Phoenix. It has to be that.

“Nihao.” The old man serving a guest greats me and show him the jade feathers. He chain bows, “Yin Sifu, Yin Sifu. Xuéxiào.” and points at the little martial arts school across the street. Right behind the tailfish car, camouflaged among all that gold and red.

Dragon Scale Kung Fu School, says the window decorated with red curtains and carved wooden trims. Bodies overflow through the door. Tourists, locals, white people with cauliflower ears. I push myself through them. The place buzzes like a bee hive.

Inside, an old man does some clown shit. He moves his hands in circles as a bunch of idiots wave their heads in the same rhythm. Then he palm-strikes the air and they all fall on cue. The old fart defeats all his fake enemies without placing a single finger on them. The Chinese part of the audience applauds. This has to be in some sort of touristic parallel universe.

All on the floor, in fake pain, someone hits the gong. A young kid that behaves too serious for his age. The circus disbands in fear. Before the sound is over, there’s only the old man standing on the mats. Glorious, superior, fake. In Mandarin, he talks to the crowd.  The gong boy translates.

“Today is another chance for ancient art of Chinese Kung Fu to be seen by America. May the challenger say his name?”

“Mark Landers”—says the redhead. He doesn’t look very smart. A white Japanese grappling kimono covers his torso and hangs over the orange board shorts and open fingers gloves. No dignity either. Hard to say who is the bigger joke at that point.

The old man and his translator continue: “Mr. Landers answered the challenge to anyone who dared to face Master Yin’s chi. In victory, the school will pay him five thousand dollars. In loss, Mr. Landers agrees to tell the world about the superiority of the Chinese arts.”

The American nods. They shake hands. Bow. Shake hands again. Bow. So awkward. The two build distance, then another gong.  I can hear the kid’s feet brushing through the matt, slow, cautious. There is no buzz anymore. Like a crippled boxing, he faints a silly attack. Too far to be of any threat. Yet, the old master stumbles back, throwing one of those “vicious” magical hand moves. Unimpressed, the young man winks at his friends on the first row. They bark, the idiots. An island of amusement among a sea of insulted Chinese kids, all wearing the school’s uniform. Embarrassment everywhere..

One more faint and Landers attacks for real. The owner tries another hocus-pocus monkey crap, but instead of throwing his foe back, like he did with his zealous students minutes before, he gets hit with a punch, square on the face. “Oooooh!”—exclaims the crowd, in fear and shame.

A few in uniform rush to attend the master. They surround him, frenetic, loud, speaking an odd mix of tongues and throwing accusing looks at the challenger. The American walks in circles, chest up in a brag, the eyes skipping between his friends and the angry gathering around the host.

Gong! The master is raised back to his feet. Nose bleeding, inner tips of the eyebrows almost touching his frown. He signs and the students give him a pass, no chi needed for that. “Again.” Says the sifu, pointing at the gong boy. Reluctant, the kid thumps it one more time.

This turn, it was the Sifu’s initiative. A kick in the air, and a double hand strike onto nothing. Lander widens his arms and trades glances with his peers. They can barely stay up, so much they laugh. The master pauses, jerks his chin. The kid twists his neck back at where I am. We make eye contact. For only a second. He charges again at the owner of the Dragon Scale and throws a sloppy roundhouse kick on the ribs of the old man. He bends. Then a knee on his face. The kid was diving, fist up, body falling to finish the fight, when a startled crowd leap between the fighters. The white guys on the corner no longer laugh. They push, scream, point their fingers. But there are too many students there. A brawl, ugly in blood and honor, is about to break. Oh, the bravery of the fools. Unless the jocks are much better than their friend on the mat, they are about to get killed. A voice interrupts them all: “Stop!”, commands the Sifu.

We Chinese are good on respecting authority. A river of silent emptyness widens between the fighters. The host now stands ahead of the winner and his friends. Chin high, head tall, eyes wondering to the sides in uncontrollable betrayal. Behind, the eldest student shakes his head in disgust. He raises three overstuffed red envelopes, hands them to the winner. The ultimate humiliation.

With defiance and scorn, the outsiders accept the prize. I would have slapped them right there. Honor and manners you test in victory. But I am not there, have nothing to do with them, so I watch the brawlers depart, pushing the crowd with their vulgarities. So toxic, their path remained empty even after they were gone.

“Leave.”—begs the master—“All of you.”

His eyes are distant, the voice unsure. Nonetheless, the audience abides. I follow. Sad to witness an elder face his end. I think of Sifu, how heartbroken he would be the day he couldn’t defend himself anymore. In a certain way, I’m glad he departed before the fall. Someone holds my forearm. A short, bald Chinese man. He has the dark and rugged skin of a fisherman, the hands feel like stone. His rich silk robe says something else though: a man of possessions. So confusing. Behind him another elder also in silk, long white hair pulled into a pony tail, aristocratic moves.

They close the door. The window. It’s only the four of us there now. The bleeding host, the men in expensive robes and myself.

I say nothing. If anyone is to talk, it must be them.

“You have something that belongs to me.”—says the owner of the school.

I’m not ready to respond yet.

“I told you. She doesn’t know.”—says the short one. “Do you?”

In silence, I say no.

They take my backpack. So sure of themselves I don’t know how to react. Before I could, he is already pulling his thick fingers back out. The bag drop on the matt and his hands expose the two jade feathers I brought.

“My name is Chee Yue.”—says the tall one. He reaches his pocket and opens his hand. A green feather.

“Mine is Ho. Sam Ho.”—says the dark skinned fisherman. With the other hand, he shows his own feather too. “The ones you carry belong to Master Yin and… your father, I believe.”

“My Sifu.”—I respond.

They all bow in respect, and the host points to the back of the room, where a small octagonal table surrounded by richly adorned Chinese chairs await us.

“So you must be Yinyin.”—Says Master Ho—“Your father…”

This time it’s master Yue who corrects him: “Sifu.”

They all grin, I am not sure why. Sifu Ho continues: “So you came here to finish your training?”, then waves his hand in a circle towards my face, his expression lost between pain and disgust.

Having been raised to respect the elders, I avoid voicing my thoughts. I had just watched an unimpressive MMA thug defeat the so called master and they are mocking my bruised face? Saying they would train me? Sifu must had been senile at that point he ordered me here.

“I came to…” I give the host his stone feather. And you know what the mother fucker does? He grins again. Then he claps twice, above his forehead. Like a drunk rich monkey.

It didn’t take a second, and a blur rushes from behind a curtain. A pale young man, carrying a tray with tea for four. He bows to the masters, then me. That red hair… he rises. The MMA dude?!

“Sifu?”—says the flaming headed servant, still wearing the top of his Brazilian Jiu Jitsu gi. The impostor fighter leaves and Master Ying asks: “What? Do you think that was real?”

From grins, they evolve into a loud, obnoxious laughter. The clown seems to be me. I stand up, trying to save face, just to be sat back by their kind hands and gestures again. “Wait, young girl. You are one of us now. But you have to complete your training.”

“Us?”

“Us, the Phoenix Society”—says Master Ho.

“I never liked the name”—interrupts Master Yue.

“Sounds like Harry Potter shit!”—continues the short one.

More loud drunken laughs, even I am disarmed. What do they have on that tea?

He proceeded: “There used to be more, but so much got lost after the bomb. Hiroshima. Something changed, lots of things our parents could do… wouldn’t work anymore. We were the only ones left. The Shadow Leap, you haven’t been able to do it yet, have you?”

“Me? I… I did… I mean…”

No deep wisdom needed to see through my stutter, yet I double down on my stance.

“No way. Too much yang.”—says Hue, and points at my face again. “And… this.”

Master Yin agrees. He turns my way: “No need to worry. You are young. And a woman. Women learn slower.” I must have gone red as a pepper cause the bald one had to jump in “But then become very good. Better than men.”

I try to stand up again. The pony tailed master holds me. This time more serious. “Listen, we all hold secret and traditions.” He points, first at himself—“his Iron body can hold almost any hit”. At the short one — “Water hits back allows him to absorb any blow and redirect back at the opponent”. At Master Yin — “his Storm hands let him project chi beyond his body”. 

Then he pointed at me: “And then there’s your family Shadow Leap.”

So I say, “If my Shadow Leap is like your crazy magic spells I think I’m better off with my own training.”

“Not magic. Pure physics. Otherwise the bomb wouldn’t have disturbed us.” — he insists.

“You really want me to believe there is any science behind that shit?”—Yes, I actually said that, on their faces. And immediately regret. They are now quiet, somber. Trading looks, communicating in a silent language I can’t comprehend. I close my fists waiting for darts to come flying into my head, or a giant with a machine gun to turn me into a noddle drain. Too many mobstesmovies? Maybe. Nothing happened. I calculate my chances. These three old hacks, barehanded, I can take them down. My jade leaf is still on the table though. I reach, as slow as I can. Maybe they won’t see it.

PAK! The tall one slaps my hand. They are laughing again. Three deranged, senile kung fu frauds. No time for dotards.

I grab Sifu’s gift and storm to the door. Why would he send me to these people?

“Yinyin.”—says the owner of the school.

Not sure why, I turn. He has his palms facing each other, ahead of his protuberant belly, as if holding an invisible sphere. His weight shifts back to one leg, rather elegantly, I must say. Then the hands move to the side of his waist and I can swear the walls bent three or four inches. It can’t be. Did they put something in the tea? He shoots the imaginary ball of chi my direction, with so much poise I have to leap not to get hit. Immediatelly regret such foolishness. But then I feel it, crossing the air. Hot and cold, straight and fast. And BANG! The door busts open right behind me.

They stayed where they were. Staring with their friendly yet challenging smile. “If the bomb couldn’t destroy our secrets, attitude won’t do it either.” They bow, but I keep hearing them in my head: “Women learn slower.”

I storm through the exit, determined to never come back until I have mastered the fucking Shadow Leap. They will see.

The butterfly and the black eye

butterfly

A long time ago, in the province of Meng, in China, there was an honorable philosopher called Zhuang Zhou. He once wrote about his dream of being a butterfly. As such, he flew through the woods, enjoyed the perfume of the flowers and the sound of the rivers. All was wonderful with his colorful flying-self, as he knew nothing about his times and desires of men, only the wants of the most beautiful of the insects. In his ignorance, he didn’t miss human life. Happy as he has ever been, he glided among the trees.

Suddenly, he wakes up. His pale skin and pointy fingers are horrendous. His shadow has no wings. Desperate, Master Zhuang runs to the lake to check his reflection. Who is that creature devoid of colors? So confused he became, for a while he couldn’t tell if he was a butterfly dreaming of being a man or a man taken from a dream of butterfly. Zhuangzi was a wise man though, and through dedicated meditation, he finally understood.

“I am both!”

Yes, he was. The man and the butterfly. “But I shouldn’t have been awaken that abruptly, for the walls between the dreams and life should have no windows to peek.”

I hear the story, wondering why Sifu chose that particular one among so many others. After a full day training of intense Tai Chi forms, the connection wasn’t the clearest. Then he calls me to spar.

My legs can barely hold; my arms are heavy as if they had carried a pig for a mile. “Be light like a butterfly” – I think. That’s what he meant! He’s always scolding me for my hard moves, after all.

We fight. Soft and gentle, I watch myself floating around him. As if I had wings made of rice paper, painted with colors of all kinds. My Tai Chi shines. So precise, so beautiful. I enjoy in pride, until I get hit. A punch, right on the kidney, makes my chi leak, rapid. Inside, a coiling pain slithers up my body and hooks onto one of my eyes, the one on the opposite side of the blow. It twitches, rolls into my head then gets dragged towards the injured organ below the ribs. I fold. One knee first, then another. My hand touches the floor, hoping for a landing more gripping than sand. I feel everything. See everything. I think, what is going on? Is this what the allegory was about? Do I need suffering to… transform? To wake up? Is this the only path to enlightenment? I turn to Sifu, begging for relief and an answer.

Behind a chuckle, he gives one: “The wall. Never lose the wall.”

Is that the best he can do?!

He extends a hand to help me stand. The problem with kidney shots is they don’t cause the sharp pain of a broken bone or the dizzying effect of a head hit. It’s so deep it makes you feel dark in the chest, praying the world leaves you alone. That is me. I hold the hand.

Leg limps. Chest refuses to open. Guts are loose, like watery noodles soup. In a protective Tai Chi stance, I wait for his move. He launches, faster than a man his age should. And his fist is inside my stomach. Not a full punch though. Just strong enough to knock me down.

Despite the agony, I can still think. What I can’t is breathe. He seats me up, hits me three times with an empty palm on the heights of my back. Clock, clock, clock. Darkness fades.

“The wall”—he repeats, with a grin. Sifu knows my beast. So I hold it. Not allowing him the pleasure of a double lesson. Instead, I wait, quiet, until he says whatever he wants to say. Hurts less this way.

“Life and death; forms and fight; man and butterfly. The different sides of life must not recognize the other. Or they will never be full on what they ought to be.”

Master twists his beard and raises to a beautiful Tai Chi pose. Head tall, weight on a single limb, arms pointing forward and back. From below, his indigo robe, deeper than the indigo flower itself, looks like an armor of dusk. He presses with a hand as the opposite leg takes a gentle step backwards. “Repulse the Monkey”—I say,  the name of the position. Perhaps it can unravel the mystery he taunts at me. Nothing. Damn, he is so light when he does Tai Chi! Maybe that’s it? He is telling I’ll never be weightless?

He says: “forms.” Then shakes into another pose. Elbows down, legs rooted like a tree, chin tucked, face hiding behind the fists. He jabs, crosses, hooks, dodges, kicks, leaps. “Fight”—he finishes. “They must not know of each other.”

After hours training forms and a devastating sparring session, that’s something really fucked up to say.

Took me a lot to let the anger pass, even more to comprehend. Not just time, new ideas and methods too. I mentioned I love Bruce Lee, right? How I even moved to Oakland because of him? Influenced by his writings, I started to cross-train. A sponge, absorbing everything I touch. That helped.

One day, I am in a judo class, learning to unbalance people by breaking their steps mid-move. Oh, and throwing them on the floor too. Next, Muay Thai, BJJ, Eskrima… Fighting styles for the entire world. My Boxing instructor adjusts my stance: sideways, right arm horizontal and low, covering the entire waist; shoulder forward, a glove to protect the chin. “Philly Shell”, he explains. The punches come from all angles, and I try to stay calm, but I’m getting close to the wall. His flurry continues: up, down, side. My elbow covers a kidney shot without too much effort. The shell is an interesting guard indeed! I have a vision: Sifu and his Repulse the Monkey. Not the full move, more like a flash, and do a Boxing version of it. Leg back, spinning the body, connecting to a cross from the other side. It shoots fast, sharp, precise onto my instructor’s face. I touch the wall behind me, give him a black eye.

Intriguing, the wall thing. The butterfly one. You teach your body to operate with flowery forms, hold them on the other side while you fight. Then one day, a flash of a form crosses time and space and possesses your swing. All of a sudden, your instructor learns he can’t mess too much with you.

Why I fight

Dragon-and-a-Phoenix

The other kid. Older, stronger, more skilled than me. Yet, Sifu insists on the bout. No rules, no stoppage until one quits. I am ready to drop, but he won’t let me. “What’s the point?” – I ask. He answers: “Obedience.” I know it’s not. He does care about my discipline, but would never taunt me like that. Too vulgar for an enlightened man.

I peek at my hands, they rattle. My liver is frozen and I am almost leaking. Beneath the shadow of the giant kid, my muscles coiled and my ears went numb. I am ready to eat so much embarrassment, so much suffering, I may never have to feed again.

“Go” – says Sifu. We go.

The first round was a feast of pain. And this girl ate it all. So many blows, I can feel the heart pounding around every inch of bone. The spirit is worse though: bleeds humiliation.

They stop us, briefly. “For water and air,” they say. Then send us back.

That’s when the boy scowled, victoriously. A piercing disdain that aches more than his fists and feet. So I return, dark blood surging through the pores. The knees no longer shake. Neither do the hands. They are fury. Sifu smiles and commands us to start. I go straight to his head. A powerful haymaker, every joint perfectly connected and synched, all the way to the floor. Pure leverage. I can knock him out, as long I don’t miss.

I did. Fench, the name of the big guy, drops  then bounces back up quick, once my arm had passed, and pushes my body with his. A broad trunk grows in my direction. Fast. My eyes are sealed and jaw clinched, bracing for the impact. I hit the tree with a dry thump, the thick bark printing its veins through my exposed skin. But pain, none.

Fighting numbness. Good news, at last. I rebound, that and many times more. In every turn, he blocks, dodges, and evades my attempts; then pushes, kicks and punches. The smirk still there, yanking me back, angrier and angrier. Until he hits my chin and the sand finally carved the side of my face.

It’s been one hour since we started. There is dirt in my mouth. My cheek burns. The world swings like drifting boat. Suddenly, there are people around me. I close my eyes, using the chaos to breathe. With my tongue, I check the teeth. All there. They wonder if I am alive. “Enjoy the break” – I think.

A few gasps and I am ready. The most I’ll be, at least. So I command my carcass to move. It doesn’t. My arms, nothing. Fuck, I am really out. Focus on breathing, Yinyin. Feel your bones, your muscles, your skin. Rebuild your chi. Time goes slow when you struggle with your own body. As movement starts to come back, I seat up. Dizzy and confused. Behind the ring in my ear, someone calls out the bout.

Next day, Fench was back. Same confidence, same taunting smile, asking who else from my school wanted to fight. I stare him down, pointlessly, raise my hand.

He gives me another epic, unobstructed beat. The kind a twelve-year-old should not be taking. But I stayed there until one of us couldn’t do it anymore. Myself, of course.

Later that day, Sifu brings me tea. He speaks soft now, like a… father, maybe. “Did you learn something?”

Too much pain to come up with snark. “Sometimes you can’t win?”

“You learned that today or yesterday?” – he insisted.

“Yesterday. Today I just wanted to show the bastard I wasn’t scared of him.”

Master seats next to me. A long gust of air, and he tells me a tale of a time past. When the first leaves began to fall in the magic forest, and a hand-tall bird challenged the magnificent dragon for a fight. Frail but brave, she huffed her feathers and lifted her wings as if she was a big white crane. The fire breather laughed. So loud, he was heard on the other side of the world, for each of his scales were bigger than the puny fowl. So hard, the mere air bursting out of its mouth threw the bird against a rock and she passed out. Next autumn, the senseless tiny one was back. A bit fuller, but still diminutive compared to her foe. Another defeat. The same the following year, and the next, then the next and each year, until a day when the challenger was as big as the dragon. “Here I am again.” – said the bird, as she posed a stance. They battled, and people say it was the most wonderful fight ever fought in this or any other land. Through clouds, hills, flames and waves, the dragon attacked. His best moves. But the bird, who had already seen them all, avoided each blow. Even managed to hit the mighty opponent a couple of times too. The battle remained for eight consecutive autumns, until the dragon, old and wise enough to understand the state of things, paused. “Perhaps we should call it a draw.”

Stunned, she bowed. “Thank you, Master Dragon. For only your kindness allowed me to get better each year.”

He nodded. “How about you? Were you never afraid?”

“Every single time.” – the bird answered.

The dragon twisted its ancient beard. “Interesting. What’s your name, master bird? So people can tell your noble story through the ages?”– And she said, “Phoenix.”

From that day forward, they became inseparable. The most dynamic of all harmonies.

I glare at Sifu, struggling to grasp what he is trying to say. Is he telling me to marry the brute? The tea comes rushing back from my stomach but I hold it. Desperate, I try something instead. “OK, I’ll face him again, tomorrow.”

He pats my shoulder. “No need, Tigress. You defeated the enemy already.”

Predators into prey


My Kung fu brothers have called me a lot of  things. Crazy, angry, fierce, dangerous… the one that stuck was Tigress. First because Sifu liked the name. But also because it encompasses all the other names they tried before. So much that the name became me.

Yinyin was how mother wanted me to be called. A double yin to balance the extra yang everyone in the family comes with. A curse, some say. I even chose Claudia as the westerner name, from clouds, so soft, to honor her choice. But Tigress is what I see in the mirror. The beast.

That is important to understand my choices, for I have no hate, despite the appearance, just anger. I like causing pain on fighters that underestimate me. Enjoy putting my skills to the test to see if kung fu traditions can still stand against the perils of the modern world. To finesse my ways of hurting and, if needed, kill. But hate, the never ending feeling aimed at something, regardless of regardlessness, I have none. Can’t stand it either.

So it became a channel. Hate, I mean. It’s where my anger escapes, before I explode because of the flashes of my fights and training. Of Sifu hitting me with a stick because I lost balance. Of mother’s theoretical disappointment with the fights she might have seen me losing (she died giving birth to me but always wanted me to be tough). Those strobe-memories burn and make me want to hurt someone.

So when I find them, I let nature be.

White supremacists, racists, sexists, abusers. There is something positive about how emboldened those slimy critters have been. In power, they are easier to sniff and attack. Yes, I confess I love seeing them turn into punch dough by the small hands of an Asian girl. I’m a Tigress, after all. The Queen of the cónglin. Pouncing is my nature and they are my diet.

Humiliation doesn’t get more delicious than that.

The Monkey, the elder and the shadow

wow monkey

For generations, my clan has been related to an obscure creature I’ve never heard outside our own stories. Shadow Monkey, according to Sifu, used to be an ordinary Monkey that was always hungry. One day, from the top of a tree where he looked for food to grab or steal, he saw in the distance a bright red dancing glow. Curious, he followed the light and found an old man sitting next to the cracking radiance, watching it dance. But it wasn’t the light that the enchanted the simian, it was the other body the light gave the man. It was dark and flat, started on the floor, right from where the elder sat, and stretched for miles, crossing trees, rocks and all things and beings on its way.

Mesmerized, the Monkey asked: “What is that dark body you grew on your tail, Master?”

The master grinned. “It’s a shadow, little friend. It comes from the fire that feeds me.”

Monkey sat next to him, for the ancient man was talking about everything that mattered to the Monkey. But the man said nothing else. No instructions or teachings. So he reached his furry arm to grab a piece of the fire to see how it tasted.

“Ouch!”, shouted the ape. “This fire just bit my hand!”

The ancient smiled, said nothing. So the Monkey sat and observed. He thought and thought about how that stingy hot thing could feed the man, but couldn’t understand. Then he thought more until there were no more thoughts to be had. And since he had not understood, there he stayed, watching the fire dance for his empty thoughts, waiting for an idea to happen. He remained there for days before he realized his wrinkled bald friend was no longer there. He checked his sides, up and down. And there wasn’t. Till he looked back, and there it was: his own second body, stretching for miles. The form the master called shadow.

So glad he got, the ape wished all creatures in the world had their shadows too, and so the fire listened.

That’s when Monkey heard his stomach rumble. It’d been days he was nourishing only on light. Maybe it was time he had real food again. But the flame kept dancing, so beautiful in front of him, he chose to stay a little more. He emptied his head of questions and thoughts and stayed there, feeding from the brightness the fire offered.

So pleased was the fire with the dedication of the Monkey, it decided to transform him into the diaphane and flat shape of himself he loved so much. That’s how he became the Shadow Monkey, the only creature who could move through things without touching them. A mystery my family holds for generations.

That story Sifu used to tell me every morning after a fight. “Loose or win, the next day you will meet yourself to eat the same hot congee and meditate on the meaning of your latest fight and the tale of the Shadow Monkey.”

So I did, so I do. Last night’s loss made me appreciate the ritual even more. With the ache in my jaw, eating anything else would have hurt too much. Quite a practical piece of wisdom hiding in plain sight!

I take a few spoons, let the fire warm me inside and attempt to clear my mind. Flashes from previous battles invade my vision. I let them play and dissolve into nothing. Those fights are all me. What I was, what I am becoming. Sifu told me I should have an abundance of fights until I turned thirty and my body could heal fast. A little less leading to forty, then focus on the spiritual side and prepare to pass my skills and allow the immortals to confide to me the secrets of the Shadow Monkey. The Enlightenment.

I travel back to China, years before. It’s night and I am seating around the bonfire with my Kung Fu brothers. Young and arrogant, we talk about the fable of Shadow Monkey. Some say that’s an allegory for a very simple technique he hadn’t taught us yet. Others believe the real magic of chi was hiding under our noses, we were just too obtuse to see it. One way or another, the same way Sifu was right on the congee we take after every bout, he aches to be right on this fighting regime and the meditation, etc. too.

New recollection: me and him, sparring. I am furious. No matter how fast I am, I can never touch him. He waves his blue clothes in front of my eyes and all of a sudden he hits me on the back. I fall flat, scratching the side of my face on the dirt. The blood burns its way through my skin. He giggles. Next to my head, his hands in front of the candles mock me with a shadow in the shape of a little monkey.

Back to my congee, I wonder: If he can turn his body into shadow and move right across me, why shouldn’t the world be able to witness such feat of skill? Isn’t it time fighters from all paths are allowed to learn and build from that point forward? Just like the Shadow Monkey gave everyone their own shadow, it may be my duty to share our method with the world. But I have to understand it first.

That’s why the rush. Can’t wait one full life to unravel the secret. If once I crack it, I’m no longer abe to use it in a fight because I’m in the spiritual phase of my training, there is no progress beyond my body. “That, ancestors, you got wrong.”

I apologize to the Dao.

I moved to America, and I tried a University because of that quest. But through science, the Dao gave me riddles instead of answers. I had no sense of how close I was. Until those two scientists presented themselves after a loss. Was it the path answering my call? The money was welcome too, although for that, Master would say I was cheating, fixing reality to feed my curiosity as opposed to the noble way of letting the Dao play.

But he is also the one who told me if I thought playing ping pong would make my Kung Fu better, ping pong I should learn well.

The choice was mine. So I answered the path.