The Tigress and the Bees

tigress

Sifu used to tell me a story, when I was still new in the world, of the river next to Wudang, where all animals came to drink. Everyone was welcome, he told me, but there was one spot – where the shade was best and the water was coolest – where no one was allowed, for it belonged to the Tigress, powerful queen of the cónglín.

Until one day, when the tigress was coming back from a hunt, and it saw a black creature running right in front of her. The Tigress leaped, but before she could grab it, the strange animal had already hidden behind the shrubs.

Tigress growled and paused. Silence. So she resumed her march.

Three steps down, the audacious creature crossed her for a second time. So close to the floor that Tigress’ strike came back empty-handed again.

“Who dares to invade my territory?” – she said, eager to tear the insolent creature as soon as it tried its comedy a third time.

She waited. And growled. Nothing. Some reason must have grown into that clown’s head. She marched. But the sneaky dark animal did it again, this time crossing straight through the legs and back of the queen, so fast she didn’t even feel it.

Now she was furious. She paced and roared for real. “Show your face, filthy demon!”

The cónglín dropped quiet. Absolutely quiet. Not even the water ahead or the wind behind dared a hiss.

“It’s me, you majesty.” – said a squeaky voice from the top. “I mean no disrespect.”

She gazed up at the shaking foliage as the creature revealed himself: black-furred, big eyed, flimsy. The mysterious Shadow Monkey. The one so few had seen in flesh, because he is always leaping from above.

“So what are you doing in my path, sad little monkey?”

He rose to a higher branch. “I bring a warning, your majesty.”

Tigress laughed so loud the birds, for miles, flew in fear. “And what in the world would warrant me a warning, silly creature?”

The Tigress prepared to spring. But Monkey, hanging from its leg, looked straight into her yellow eyes and revealed: “There’s a creature on your shade, your majesty. I told her the spot belongs to the mightiest. But she laughed at me. Said nobody has the guts to move her away.”

The almighty feline jerked its head to the side. What kind of creature would risk saying such a thing? An ancient dragon from the heavens? Another tiger coming to challenge her?

So she ran. Fast and strong. Letting her steps echo ahead, roaring rowdily to let the intruder know. The queen was coming. to reclaim her place.

When she arrived, though, there was nothing there. Just a strange earthy fruit hanging from a branch. She looked at the ape. “What kind of joke is that? Have you decided to die early, you stupid buffoon?”

But monkey carried no laughter. No gag. Just apprehension. “Shhhhhh.” – he said, and leaped to the top of a kumquat tree. He tugged a small yellow fruit and threw it right onto the mud ball hanging over the water. The mysterious sphere was roughly the size of the queen’s head. At first, nothing happened. But suddenly they heard a buzz. The earth ball began to shake. And from inside came a cloud of tiny flying creatures with the same stripes carried by the queen.

“Who dares to invade my territory?” – said Tigress, ready to strike once again.

The shapeless haze of bees mocked her in unison: “Who dares to invade my territory?” Then laughed.

In every little gap and branch around them, a little critter observed in awe. Tigress looked around, astonished, and for a second, allowed her neck to sink into her shoulders. Confused, she reacted the only way tigresses know. She pounced. One leap, one hit. The hive was cracked on the floor, its amber blood oozing into the stream.

But though she was the Queen of the Jungle, and there was no one more powerful, the bees were fearless. A vicious army of thousands.

The clash was a black and yellow swirl of yang, the aggressive energy of the universe. Strike after strike, the queen kept sending the bugs lifeless to the floor. In the dozens. But there were always more. The bees that survived stung the Tigress, and as all bees do after losing their stingers, those ones also died.

They battled for hours, until the last bee fell dead.

At first, Tigress thought she had won. But soon she felt the burn coursing inside her veins. Though her enemy was dead, they had defeated her too. She fell to the ground, and the Queen of the Cónglín died as well.

All was silent again.

So the Shadow Monkey came down from his branch, hopped over the bodies, and drank the cool water himself.

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.

The Tigress

cropped-tigershadowpuppet2.jpgShe was called Yinyin, to soften the chi of the family name, Yang. Same reason she picked Claudia, from clouds, as her westerner alias. But her master knew better. He only addressed her as Mǔ Lǎohǔ, the Tigress. — Join this literary experiment and watch a character taking shape as I prepare for my next book. The story of a girl’s life as a cage fighter at night (who only fights men), tai chi instructor during the day (who doesn’t teach men). Follow the page so you can be updated on new posts with the fragments of her memories and please leave comments too. About Claudia, the writing, about fighting or female heroes. That’s why this page was born. To hear from you.