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.

Hexagram 55. Fullness

hex55-a

My birthday breakfast, at 8pm. Since George started his medical residency, we’ve been in the Chinese time zone. He serves me eggs with a candle and sings a happy birthday that could use an auto tune. Our anniversary too, but I have nothing prepared. After our first time together, we never had a night apart. Unless he’s traveling. He does voluntary work for Doctors Without Borders, sometimes. His boss promised to give him a few days if he had to go again. Nice being surrounded by good people.

Not bad, the eggs. Still, I put the tray aside. He protests. “Wait,” I say, “I have my rituals.” Then I grab my i-Ching.

Sifu used to do it for me. A tradition of ours I carried with me, now I’m on my own. I toss the coin and make mark on a piece of paper. Then again, one, two, three, four, five more times. I look on the book. Hexagram 55. I open it on the right page and ask him to read.

Feng, fullness.
Thunder and lightning culminate as one.
A noble one decides legal proceedings and brings about punishment.
Do not mourn. A fitting sacrifice at noon.
What decisions must you take now?

“Kind of somber, no?” he says. “You really believe that?”

Americans. They can buy into their own witchcraft so quickly, but make it foreign and it’s silly. I nod and explain. At the very least, it’s a good philosophical ritual to perform, sometimes. If you don’t trust the divination part, the results still get you thinking. In my case, the Dao says I am approaching zenith, with all its glory and triumph, and need to think abandonment, cause decline comes next. I glance around and it doesn’t seem like zenith or triumph. Except for George. He makes me happy, despite having to live in his bizarre schedule. He’s worth it.

I tell him, “Master taught me resisting reality is a waste of chi. So the Book of Transmutations is reminding me things may change. But I’ll be fine.”

“Will you stop resisting me, then?”

I may be spoiling my boyfriend. Was about to protest but as I open my mouth, he shoves a fork full of a cold runny egg. “Don’t resist”, he says.

Don’t resist.

He walks out the door. I stay in bed. Been thinking about it for a while. The urges. The need. Don’t resist. I catch a gym bag and throw a few items in, dress my one-number-too-large sweat pants over the lycra shorts, and an old t-shirt over a sports top. A last peek outside the window, he is gone.

So I leave.

9:30pm and the Uber drops me at a dark street in Oakland, right in front of an abandoned school. Driver looks worried. “You sure, lady?” It always happens.

I jump out and give him five stars before I stroll towards the little metal entrance covered in the ugliest graffiti you’ve ever seen. I don’t bother knocking. There is a security camera, I know they are watching.

The gate moves and with the harsh music comes a giant jumping my way. I drop the bag but it all happened too fast. A bear hug. I wheeze, begging for air ultil he drops me.

“Hey there, kitty cat!”, says the man they call Buffalo.

“Little cow!?”

The large man with muscles up his cauliflower ears opens a wide proud grin and points at the t-shirt with the symbol we can’t see from the outside. The Fight School, an old abandoned high school turned into a secret joint only the meanest fighters and the true knuckleheads know. He says the Boss gave him a job. “Pretty cool huh?” I fought this beast before. Kind heart, murderous hands. Poor troublemakers.

A screechy voice with a thick Italian accent comes from the inside. The man himself, the owner, the one everyone calls Boss, has both arms open so wide he can almost fly. “So I hear the Tigress is back?”

“It’s my birthday. Want to fight.”

More hugs, a few kisses. I wonder if he pulled me that close to feel my boobs against his body or if that’s just an Italian thing. He tells Buffalo to bring me to the locker room while he arranges the details. No need, I say. I can find my way to the sad and molded place with lockers that barely shut, which is ok cause no one messes with the fighters’ stuff.

Ten minutes pass and Buffalo sticks in his cuddly giant head. “It’s time, kitty cat.” He could be made into one of those anime characters in Asia. Cute and deadly. I’d call him Niu Niu.

I follow him. There is no big song or harsh light acts like the fancy fights on TV I loathe. There aren’t so many rules either. No rounds, no gloves, no forbidden moves other than no eye gauging or hitting the spine. I miss it so much.

The ring is an old-school cage in the center of an old basketball court. A big square, surrounded by chicken wire 10 feet up, so nobody can escape other than in a stretcher. The announcer is new. Gross – his gummed back hair looks like everything I hate in a man. Not that the folks outside the wire are much better. And I don’t like the dude they got to fight me either. Manolo, the Boss, always picked the big and slow, for contrast, like Niu Niu. This time, he chose a skinny dude with a blond mullet and psychopath eyes. Whatever. The choice to come back was mine.

Now, the consequences.

Sweeeeeeeenk! The mic feedback screams loud and silences the mob. Sleazy MC raises his hand, “Gentlemen and Gentlemen, tonight we have a surprise fight for you! On my right, the man who sent his last three rivals to the ER, the invictus champion of the house and meanest fighter on the planet, make some noise to The… Crusher!”

I choke in disdain. We aren’t allowed to use our real names because the whole thing there is illegal. Still, they could have done much better than a WWE villain wannabe.

“And on my left, our long time no see sexy sensation and crowd favorite, the one and only, also undefeated in this cage, Tigress Lee!”

No idea where this “Lee” came from. But no time to whine. The bell would ring anytime and we jump at each other’s necks. Except…

“But before we start”—says slimy—“I understand it’s babe’s birthday today. So why don’t we all sing…”

Oh, no, he didn’t.

“Happy birthday to her?”

They do. In complete scorn, like a mock Irish pub from a B movie, they raise their hands, hug each other and chant and laugh at the same time. I cringe till the end, ready to kill the man, or Manolo, whoever I see first after the fight.

The bell rings.

The Crusher and I move around, flipping legs and poking the air to gauge each other. He shoots me a kiss I ignore. He pounces. Fake jab high, take down low. I get out ok, but damn… so rusty!

We trade punches. Both hit some, dodge some. It hurts a fucking lot. This guy is dangerous. Now I know why the Boss chose him. Punishment. For disappearing for a year.

A high kick close to my head. I bend back to escape and he uses the other leg to hit me hard above the knee. Noise, pain, then a flash.

Dark alley. A woman shouts while I move around a drunk with a stupid pocket knife. He charges at me and tries to stab me. The blade ends four inches into his thigh. In agonizing pain, he screams. And I scream back, so close to his face we can feel the wind beneath our shouts. “Aaaaaaaaaargh!!” The lady behind me hits me with her purse, one of those strikes should make people embarrassed of breathing. “Shut up, bitch!” If it wasn’t for me that prick would be sticking his dirty flaccid dick into her. Thankfully I gave him his own slit so now he can fuck himself. I’ll call him hermaphrodite. The girl smaks me again. Enough. I turn at her, my back hand fully loaded but something strikes my cheek. Slap!

I’m back. Did the Crusher just slap me? In my friggin’ face? He holds his groin and does an asshole giggle. Now I remember why I hate men so much.

The fight is messy and ugly. No fancy moves, no style. I can’t afford that today. He attempts another double leg take down right when a flash blinds me again.

I’m in China. Sixteen. Fench was a little rich brat Sifu agreed to train. We are sparring in the woods and he tries to take me down from the legs. A few attempts in, and he gets one. Now we are on the floor. His body over mine, between my legs. That’s when he tries to kiss me. I push him out and stand up again. Next time, he tries again. And as he comes for my legs, I go for his face.

Flash. I jump, throw my knee forward and enjoy the crunchy feel of his nose being smashed. My landing on the other side isn’t very elegant, but his was worse. The crowd exploded so loud, I got a little aroused.

Nice birthday. Everyone screaming. Except for two men. I notice them with the corner of my eyes. Their shape, collor, enthusiasm… everything is different. I let myself get thrown their way. Want to take a better look. Those collar shirts, clean glasses and impeccable hair… not fans of illegal fights.

Mother fucker has a broken nose and blood pouring everywhere. He still smiles. In China we say red makes us happy. Maybe he is Chinese.

Here comes another swing, not taking risks here. I cover my head with a full arm and pull his face straight into my elbow.

The man is being pummeled, but doesn’t seem to care.

“Fuck her in the ass, Crusher”– someone screams from behind the outsiders. Not them. Nerds can’t scream shit like that. I wish I had seen who though.

I give him this: the Crusher has a heart, for after all that, he still stands tough. His fists return in a combo: jab, cross. Does anyone get hit by that dumb setup still? I dodge, switch angle and chain-punch his ill-fated face all the way to the fence. Bam bam bam bam bam! The wire throws him back at me, his chin straight into my uppercut. A mouth guard flies through the ring. His knees fail.

Just finish this and go home, Tigress.

Flash. The world is flat and everything has sharp corners. Like a video game, except it was all quiet and peaceful. The Crusher is nowhere. There are mountains and water, nothing else. What is going on? That’s when I noticed the fence. Got close.

Pigs. Thousands. Millions of them, trapped behind the little brown wall. Stuck to each other, they oink and try to move, but there isn’t enough space. Filling the land, up the hills and beyond the horizon. Who would do that? I open the gate and the stampede throws me on the ground. Their hooves hit my chest, limbs and face with way more weight than I expected.

Flash. Back in the cage. The Savage is over me, half-guard in, my arms pinned against my body. How did I end up there? He raises an elbow. Fuck, this is gonna hurt. “Happy birthday, baby”, he says. Then the elbow drops. One, two, multiple times. Vicious, bloody, unstopable. The world, now distant, sounds like inside of a womb. Everything was slow and nice. The pain was a vague memory. Crusher was still there, among the ballet of flying red droplets. His teeth are so much whiter than I thought. A shadow grows from behind my eyes. No, please, no! Lights dim up again. His jaw, clinched in anger. A giant fist falls fast. Closer and closer. Until it eclipses his head. Then dark.

I wake up in silence. The locker room. A doctor checks my pupils. “They shouldn’t allow this ground and pound shit against the girls, you know?”

I grunt. No special treatment. Is there a mirror somewhere?

“You don’t want to see it.”—he says.

I get my phone and turn the camera at myself. Fuck! Never seen my eye so swollen in my entire life. I call an Uber.

I walk outside, my brain grappling with a single thought: how I’ll explain this to George. This face.

“Tigress?”—someone calls from my back.

The two dorks.

I say, “I don’t give autographs.”

They wave their soft hands, meaning “no.”

“Are you cops?”

The older man, who is enormous in person and avoids eye contact at any cost, somehow falls for that. “No, we are not cops. We just want to…”

“You are nerds.”

“Professional nerds.”—says the younger of the two. “We would like to offer you a job.”

Pause. Is that really happening? I point at my mushroom face. “Shouldn’t you go after… the Crusher?”

The old weirdo responds: “No, Mrs…”

“Yang. I mean, Claudia.”

“I like Tigress better.”—says the young nerd. He’s kind of cocky.

“Mrs. Yang, we want to hire you to teach us to fight.”

Are Internet trolls materializing now? Except those two… they don’t seem to be joking. Not even sure they’re capable of humor. I bet they don’t even get sarcasm.

Phone beeps. My ride is close. “I don’t teach men”, I finish.

“Please, just consider. We can pay well, Mrs. Yang.”

The big old dork hands me a card, which I shove it in my handbag without even looking.

“Fifty grand.”—says the young one. He’s so certain I would accept, I don’t bother to answer.

My Uber arrives. “Mrs. Yang?” I nod and try to get in, when the stupid dude grabs my arm. Dumb asshole. I twist his hand and throw him on the ground, pinning his face against the concrete. The weirdo laughs: “Awesome!”

“Fuck off!” I say and get in the car. It’s one am. Oakland is dark and empty. Maybe if I put ice and a big steak over the swell, it will be better in the morning when George… Damn. His car! He’s already there? This cannot be good.

I walk in, head down. He’s sitting on a bench in the kitchen, which sounds way further than it actually is. Through my hair I can see his betrayed boyfriend’s look.

“Where were you!? Are you…”

I raise my head and in one beat he flips to doctor mode.

“What was that? Are you ok?”

He makes me lay on my back. Puts ice on my face and goes grab a few pain killers, a glass of water. “I am ok, don’t worry.”

Then he remembers. “Don’t worry!?” He came home early, the day he got hired, just to spend my birthday with me and I not only wasn’t there but I come back like that! What happened?

Nothing, I say. He picks up his phone. “Calling the police.”

I beg him to wait. And tell him everything. The fight, this one and the ones before we met. Everything but the flashes. That’s too crazy. I explain the eye is not that bad, I was just knocked out.

“Why don’t you let a doctor decide what is bad?” he argues.

The kitchen counter. Candles and flowers. “Did you make dinner?” George waves his hands and straddles in circles through the living room. He’s not hungry anymore.

“This is not acceptable, Claudia.”

What does he mean by not acceptable? I seat up so fast he knows what I am thinking.

“You heard it. I see patients with life changing concussions every day.  Can’t let you do it to yourself. Besides, I’m sworn to taking care of people, not watch them destroy… their face.”

“George, this is my life. I am a fighter since way before you.”

“That was in China”, he says. Now I am in America and bla bla bla. He screams at me and I try to stay calm. He won’t bulge. And finally, it came: the ultimatum. “If you want us to be together, you have to…”

I didn’t let him finish the sentence. No man will tell me what to do. I never said that, just faced him, in silence. My skin pounded again, but I held my stance. Like a melancholic statue, I watched him pack all he could fit into his two gym bags and a backpack.

One hour later, he was out.  That’s when I broke everything I could grab. Fucking zenith was nowhere to be found.

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.

Yinyin’s silk hands


She spat no grunt, despite being the third time she got hit on the face since they entered that room. Digging her chin to the chest, she pressed the pupils against the eyebrows. He gasped.

Yinyin Yang, her name, was an attempt to undo the curse of the family name. “Double softness of chi, to balance the big hardness of our lineage.” – her father explained. That was a generations long problem. Lots of the hardness of yang, not enough lightness of yin. Not balanced enough for great Kung Fu.

In his prime, through the woods around Wudang, Mr. Yang trained every day. Mornings for hsing-I, wing chun, bagua; polishing the aggression of his yang. Afternoon was for tai chi, his favorite method to build yin. That’s how he practiced. Then, at night, after everyone excused themselves to bed, he took another pass at the soft side. One has to train harder its weak side. That’s how she learned too.

The kick on the ribs stung for a second. But she grabbed it. On the opposite side of the hanging limb, Andrei, a thick-necked young cadet (that in another situation she would have considered banging), threw his arms in a chaotic swirl. The dude may have even closed his eyes!

Idiot.

She leaped ahead, snatching his leg out of its socket, and swiped the Russian’s supporting foot of the ground. He flew like a carcass, lifeless before he hit the floor. The loud, high-pitched slam informed his state. He was out.

Breathe, Yinyin. Soft.

The other guy didn’t mark time. Came swinging his best haymaker that nearly hid how much he dreaded being there. Igor, if she remembered well, the cook. Everyone fears the cook in a military ship, they say.

When her hand touched the massive forearm, it was almost sensual. Like silk. Then her body whipped. Or waved. Or some confusing coordinated move only tai chi masters could do. The big fist followed in a gentle circle that started downward to her back, then forward and up. Soft and perfect. She had loaded all that power she stole from him into her rear leg, and was ready to spring back in full force. When the arm snapped out of her control. He was free.

Enough.

And just like that, before the poor man could gain distance, she spun her body, in move she would later call The Bolshoi because of that night, landing a back fist on Igor’s face. He was done too.

Still groggy with the fall, Andrei dragged his body towards the lifeless cook. His face was swollen. Bones to fix, both of them. Not very yin of her. But who gives a damn? Sifu wasn’t around to belabor anymore.

Yinyin marched towards her gym bag. Grabbed a few twenty dollar bills and tossed at the two.

“Next time, I’ll try the Polish.”

Fleet Week used to be more fun.

Buffalo

gradeMy first night in the cage was a few years ago.

The place smelled bad. Piss and beer. They used to allow the animals to drink, until the day an idiot started a brawl that sent twelve wire-heads to the hospital. Following day, police was making questions, and alcohol was forbidden.

The Pit didn’t seem like the most enlightened place on earth, but I had little choice. The sports scene in the Bay Area, with its McDojos crowded by Lululemon-moms, makes me want to puke. Tournaments were crap too. Misguided by America’s obsession with safety. Even the MMA scene got corrupted: rules, controls, can’t dos. I haven’t trained my entire freaking life for that.

The cage wasn’t perfect either. Eyes and spine still off-limits. But that’s all. Beyond that point, bringing more reality into my training would send me to jail.

The dude was a monster. Hairy, shoulder climbing over his melted ears, biceps as large as my chest. Good. They are slower that way. Buffalo, they called him, smiled. From the side of his mouth guard, a thick string of spit stretched down to the ground. I cracked my knuckles. It would be fun.

The bell rang.

Men get dumb when they fight. Try too hard to grab, to block, to show strength. I kicked him upstairs. A foot slap only, light and fast, just to raise his guard. Silly, I know, but works. As he followed my instructions, I blew a single short punch that pierced through his muscle reef. His liver deformed to my command and he folded with a grunt squeezed through the plastic between his teeth.

A few steps behind and bouncing again. Safe.

Sifu told me I had to be more like shadow, cross the opponent without being touched. I always liked clouds better. That’s why I chose Claudia as a name, when I moved to America. The image of giant smoke puffs splitting around a mountain and reuniting unharmed and victorious on the other side fascinated me.

Head down, he charged once more. Buffalo, huh? A double-leg take down. I trained with a boy that tried that all the time. The only day it worked, he laid over my chest tried to kiss me. Bastard. Next off, I came for his face. Never again.

As Buffalo dove, up went my knee. Straight onto his snout. The cartilage snapped against my thigh. Crunchy. My landing, I admit, wasn’t very cloud-worthy. But his was worse.

The bovine face-planted. I gave him a few seconds to stand. Blood rained from his breather. In China, they say red makes us happy. There was so much joy in that vision…

His fists returned in a combo: jab, cross. So unoriginal. Does anyone still get hit by that? I dodged, switched angle like you learn when you are lighter than every foe, and chain-punched his ill-fated face all the way to the fence. Bam bam bam bam bam!

The wire threw him back at me, his chin straight into my uppercut. A mouth guard flew through the ring. His knees failed. And man, the Buffalo was big. On threes, the fourth limb up, begging for mercy, he was still almost my height.

The crowd exploded so loud I got a little aroused. Next came a yank. A push on the back of my waist. My feet lost the ground, then down. Hard. I could have sworn there was a mat underneath us? The shock pulsed through my spine all the way into my head. The world, so distant, sounded like inside of the womb. Everything was slow and nice. It didn’t hurt anymore. Buffalo was on top of me. His teeth, so much whiter than I thought. A shadow grew from inside my eyes. No, please, no! Lights dimmed up again. His jaw, clinched in anger. A giant fist dropping fast. Closer and closer. Until it eclipsed his head.

Then dark.