WHEN DRAGONS DEBATE
By John Stormm
Jon watched his father stand impassively before the Tong Tribunal. He looked so proud standing head and shoulders above the rest, with his pale blond braid hanging down to his red silk sash. Dad was one of only a few non-Asian martial arts masters to have been sponsored by the ancient sect. Tonight, that mastery was being challenged by an Asian master who hated him as an outsider. His father’s gaze hardened when Master Kwang referred to him as “gwaillo.“ It meant “ghost” and was a derogatory term for white foreigners. As a Tribunal was a formal setting, his father would not speak until it was his turn.
“There is no way a gwaillo he can excel in a Chinese martial art. He will bring shame on us all.” Master Kwang concluded his tirade before the elders. Nods of agreement passed among many at the meeting. It was time for the accused to speak.
“I humbly request permission to make a “ghost” of Master Kwang,” Storm petitioned the shocked Tribunal. “He has insulted me twice in the past few minutes. Since Master Kwang’s primary problem with my existence here is because I’m a ghost. I feel that if I make him a ghost too, harmony can be restored. If nothing else, I will prove that I am alive, not a ghost, and require the respect due a Tong master. We Celts have been referred to as barbarians by the ancient Greeks and Romans, who also had the good sense to fear us. I can bear that classification without shame. But I have come before you honorably, and have met your every requirement with the deepest respect for a people as ancient as my own, and am ridiculed for the color of my skin before all of you. I will not continue to ask permission to kill the next mocker out of hand. Any Chinese master would expect the same.”
Jon’s father finished his say and stood motionless before the Tribunal, steel gray eyes flashing angrily. The Tribunal conversed quietly among themselves for many minutes.
“Master Kwang has voiced his concern over foreign membership in this society,” rising, Elder Lao said. “As it is a topic many Asian members have spoken of, aloud or in secret, it needs be addressed to the satisfaction of the society. Our barbarian Master Storm has made a valid point, in his own inimitable way. If he is a valid Tong master, he needs to be respected without question.” Elder Lao continued, “However, we must separate ourselves from the criminal triads so prevalent in the Asian Triangle. Though we are a law unto ourselves, we must comply with the civilization of our day and cannot allow dueling to the death to be the common method of settling insults and disputes, valid or otherwise.”
Elder Lao sat down, and Elder Li arose to address the petitioners.
“Master Kwang, as you have questioned the foreigner’s ability to master Chinese disciplines, we feel it would be a great shame if any one of our masters were lacking. Your illustrious kwoon is hosting a tournament a few days from now. You will select four of your finest dragons. These men must epitomize Chinese martial arts at their best. You must prove the Asian superiority you believe in. Your ideal will stand or fall in that tournament, and within this society for all time.”
The elder took his seat, and Elder Chan arose.
“Master Storm, I was present when you were awarded your rank,” Elder Chan recounted, “I was one of those who did not agree to accepting foreigners, yet when the testing was done, I added my chop to those on your scroll. I was trained by my father,” he went on, “as his father before him had done, as our culture has done for centuries. This is the soul of our culture. As the proper son of a master, your son will fight Master Kwang’s champions at the tournament. Any good Chinese son would find the strength and skill to save his father’s honor.” A murmur of agreement passed around the room and the Tribunal was adjourned.
* * *
“I can’t believe how bigoted, a room full of the finest Asian men I know can sink,” Jonathan thundered, glancing at his father as they drove home. “And Elder Chan, our closest friend, throws me to the lions clear your honor!” Jon was incredulous.
“To some degree, they were always bigoted,” his father remonstrated, “but always polite about it. Elder Chan put me through hell on my master’s test, and saw me pass, in spite of his efforts. I won him over, because my spirit could not be defeated. He respected that. He made this uneven match, believing that if you are your father’s son you are capable of winning, as I had so many years ago. Chinese culture is full of stories about heroes facing impossible odds. Each one likes to believe they inherited this trait from their ancient bloodlines. In the Asian mindset, this makes the best argument for us, or against us, in their society. Deep down inside, the Chinese love the underdogs.” His father continued, “Finally… not lions, but dragons. He’s throwing you to their dragons. In Chinese culture, Tong is the name of the Dragon of Retribution, a former sect of the Shaolin priesthood. The number of warriors, being four is the Chinese numerological symbol for DEATH. It is to show that these issues must be settled once and for all. The tournament will be full contact with no western safety equipment. If you want to live, or at least not finish your life as a cripple, you’ll listen to me and follow my methods to the letter.” The master went on, “These are not the ten minute fights you see in chop-socky flicks. They are fast and lethal, though they will restrain themselves from delivering a coup de grace, if you submit. The longest part of such a match, is the part where the fighters close the distance, and then one emerges victorious.” Jonathan bowed respectfully. He would not let his father down.
* * *
The day of the tournament, Jonathan and his father strolled into the kwoon as casually as if they were shopping for fruit. Jonathan topped his father’s six foot five inch frame, by another full inch. His father’s build and his mother’s Cherokee features gave him the look, commonly described as “tall, dark and handsome.” The contestants were warming up in their corners, but Jon made no move to warm up. He had done so before entering. His father knew this indifferent attitude would infuriate the Asians, who were very focused on winning.
“Angry men forego their best weapon,” his father said. “Their mind. A master will defeat his opponent on more than a single level. Remember, the best moves in their warm ups are the ones they are honing to beat you with. Notice their foot and hand placements before they execute those moves and you will know when to expect them. Look as though you are not impressed or interested. Don‘t let them see you taking notes.”
Jonathan admired a wall painting as he noted Ko Chang’s Tiger style K’ung Fu, out of the corner of his eye. Such a low, powerful stance could easily get past Jon’s long arms. It was a stable stance, but a hard one to shift out of.
A set of gilded temple swords on a carved jade stand, were the objects of Jon’s admiration, as he took in Yang Thuy’s classic Crane style, with it’s long sweeping movements, and graceful, single legged hops and kicks. The very defensible stances would be tough to attack at distance, but would lose balance at close quarters.
The front window of the kwoon offered a view of the bustling China Town district, but to the left of that window it was Tong Po that Jon watched with his peripheral vision. Po was executing high whirling crescent kicks in rapid succession. He could see where his best defense against this onslaught would be.
Finally, Jonathan quietly checked out the weapons rack, which had an assortment of fine hardwood and steel weapons for practice. Nearby Fan Ching practiced with his three section staff. It was great for trapping an opponent’s weapon and covering distance. Jon chose two wooden Tai Chi swords for his weapons match, and returned to his father‘s side.
The first match was with Ko Chang. In the fighter’s circle, Jon adapted a lighter Cat stance and awaited Ko’s commitment to a move. When Ko stretched forward in his long, low stance, to execute a tiger claw to Jon’s midsection, he gripped Ko’s extended arm and kicked his legs up and over the Asian in a vault and came down hard with his knees on the powerful man’s back. As Ko sprawled with the wind knocked out of him, Jon punched and stopped short at the base of his opponent’s skull. It was a flawless win.
The second challenger, was Fan Ching with his three section staff, folded and tucked under his arm. Jon had both wooden swords in his sash as he stepped into the circle. Fan clearly wanted to keep distance between them, and began large sweeping figure eights with the extended flexible weapon. Jon stood quietly and awaited Fan’s execution of a direct strike at distance. When the snap finally came, Jon drew both swords in an assassin’s grip, trapping the staff in an X-block. Immediately, he began spinning into Fan, folding two sections of the staff on themselves and executed an inverted abdominal slash, which would have disemboweled the warrior had they been sharpened steel. Another flawless victory. Two more to go.
Number three was Tong Po, known as a fighter of very high energy and stamina. He was fast and very flexible, and liked to strike at distance with his feet at least seventy percent of the time. The footwork would not give him a great advantage, but Jon’s long reach would force the shorter Asian to incorporate them more in his attacks. True to form, he came in on Jonathan like a human whirlwind. He dropped under Tong’s high spinning kicks, to punch to his open groin and pull out the supporting leg. When Tong fell backwards, Jon drove his head into the prone man’s stomach, and somersaulted over him, locking his legs around Tong’s neck. Before he would lose consciousness, the warrior submitted to Jon’s hold. Only one more to go.
There was a commotion and Yang Thuy was limping out the door of the kwoon.
Another combatant was chosen from those present. Jon was disadvantaged now. He had never seen this man before, and the new man had watched him beat three others. He knew he would have to do something that the new man would never expect. As they entered the circle, Jon calculated the Monkey style stances would disguise his reach, and being a classic form, the warrior would be aware of it’s strengths and weaknesses. Jon would combine the Monkey defense with a Snake style offense. His opponent would never expect that response as he was lured into attacking the Monkey stance. Jonathan capered, enjoying taunting the newcomer, who had adopted a Mantis style fighting stance. As he got close, his opponent shot out a lightning fast snap kick that Jon deflected off his elbow and shoulder. That would leave a bruise, Jon thought. He backed off, and squatted into a low Monkey stance that made his thighs burn. His opponent closed on him with both arms flexed to trap Jon’s from the outside and left his centerline open, Jon shot inside his grasp, with two fingers extended on his right hand and an Eagle’s Beak fist with his left. The left caught the Asian in the solar plexus as the finger jab stopped short on his wind pipe, clearly a lethal combination. The match was over.
Jon noticed Yang Thuy, standing in the back of the onlookers. He didn’t seem to have a limp anymore. In spite of the subterfuge, Jon had won the event in true Chinese hero fashion. The Elders awarded Jon the pair of gilded temple swords on the jade stand, and bowed to him and his father. Master Kwang had no recourse but to recognize Master Storm as a full Tong Master, of equal value as himself. He would never be tolerated to voice a bigoted opinion in the society again. The issue was considered officially ‘dead.‘ Jon had fairly ‘killed’ it. Elder Chan approached father and son after the awards.
“You barbarians never cease to surprise me,” Elder Chan applauded the pair, “such a wise father, and a strong dutiful son… so very Asian.”
“Honored Elder, I believe you were the least surprised of anyone here,” Jon remarked as he bowed. The Elder returned Jon’s kowtow, and gave him a sly wink.
“Confucius wrote that a travesty of humanity occurred,” the Elder recalled, “when a man was called, something less than a man, and if he was treated such often enough, after a while, that even he would begin to believe it. I read that classic as a boy. Your father taught me as a man, that to underestimate my fellow man, is not due to his lack, but my own, and you taught that to Master Kwang tonight. The very best of us, will never stop learning how to be better humans.”
Tag der Veröffentlichung: 17.07.2009
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