Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Perils of Wing Chun History

(I published this first on the KFO forum in response to a particularly vituperative and ridiculous Wing Chun history argument).

Wing Chun history was driving me way past the Outer Limits of sanity.

I was arguing with people I'd never met over the internet. I know I know, winning an argument on the internet is like participating in the Special Olympics ...

But I had to know. Had my training in Kung-fu since 1977, the year punk began to really take off, been in vain? Rather than training in the "real" system, was I being maneuvered and manipulated into pugilistic purgatory by officers of the Damned, who, rather than repenting when they had found out their own tuition had been lies, lies and more lies, had crossed over to the Dark side of Qi and began to ensnare unwitting dupes such as myself in their evil web of illusory technical greatness?

I had to know. The books, the websites, the arguments, all led to dead ends or mazes of twisty little passages, all alike. Sterner, more committed measures were required. I was, to quote Pantera, the Cowboys from Hell, "Far Beyond Driven".

Taking a three meter 6.5 point pole which had reportedly killed six warriors, and which I had "borrowed" from a museum, and my own butterfly swords of brass and stainless steel, I drove to a remote crossroads of red gravel, arriving just before midnight. Employing the pole with trembling hands, I scored a wide circle around myself with its brass ferrule, and then placed five red plum blossoms at regular intervals. I removed my shirt and smeared myself with the pulverized petals of more plum blossoms. Employing the pole again, I scored lines to connect the flowers, making, depending on your point of view, either the sign of the pentagram or of the Ko cycle of the Taoist Wu Xing. I wasn't quibbling over what it represented - the dire nature of the ritual I was about to undertake required each and every form of religious and mystical protection I could get.

Taking great care not to exit the circle, I performed the TWC butterfly form, not the public but the private version. I employed the TWC secret footwork, launched myself into the air for the two spinning jarm dao's, and then inverted myself for the Prayer Wheel of Death, spinning rapidly in a one arm handstand on the point of one blade as I held the other horizontal, cutting imaginary enemies off at the knees.

My own contained terror at what I was hoping (wrong word) to invoke, the dizziness from the spinning and the lateness of the hour combined to overwhelm me. I collapsed.

** Fade to Black **

I awoke to find an apparition seated cross-legged before me; An ageless Asian man of slight build, wearing a white jacket with frog buttons, black pantaloons, and cloth-soled Chinese slippers. A white bundle tied with a black cloth strap sat beside him. I could see through his visible form to the scenery behind, a fence, some dead trees, and a few small crosses made from timber, presumably in memory of road accident victims ... or could they commemorate the passings of others, foolishly involved in rites and practices similar to my own?

I recognised the vision. "Grandmaster Yip Man!" I exclaimed.

He recoiled visibly. "All that Master/Grandmaster stuff was my biggest mistake," he said, shaking his head. "My friends call me 'Man'," he said. "For the moment, you can call me Mr Yip." He looked at me, shaking his head. "Translators. The help you get. You're supposed to 'wear' a plum blossom on your buttonhole or behind your ear, not 'smear' it all over you. Clean yourself up, you look like an idiot."

I got my shirt and wiped as much of the perfumed muck off as I could.

"What do you want of me?" he asked.

"Errrr. I had a few questions about your background and Wing Chun history."

He rolled his eyes. "The usual. OK, but a couple of things first."

"Uh ... like what?"

"Firstly, you have to understand I didn't have much of a head for history while I was alive. It bored me to ... er, death. I made a lot of stuff up. Now, here, " he gestured with his arm, "I've met up with a lot of the guys that were around before me and found a few things out."

"Understood. And the other thing?"

"Thought you'd never ask," he said, his eyes flashing a fiery red. "CHI SAO!" He advanced, tan and fook at the ready, laughing, loud and long, starting high pitch but descending into a basso profundo MUHAHAHAHA!

Imagine the best, the softest, the slickest chi sao guy you ever rolled arms with. Not a patch. When you chi sao with an adept practitioner consisting entirely of ectoplasm, that's SOFT. Fine, you say, but I hadn't mentioned the flaming qi ball lighting issuing from his fingers that hit harder than Mike Tyson would have if he, instead of Bruce Banner, was pelted by gamma rays and turned into the Incredible Hulk. Basically I was owned with a capital O, and my meridians were lit up with qi leakage like the flashbulbs on the Eiffel Tower when the clock strikes 11 pm.

"Ask away," he said. "But you only have a few minutes, I have another appointment."

"The Leung Bik story. TWC."

"Uh-huh. OK. You would have heard the interview with Royce Gracie, where he talks about his imaginary opponent, the one who's seven foot tall, has three arms, weighs 500 pounds, etc.?"

"How do you know about Royce, Mr Yip?" I asked him. "You're dead."

"Mmmm. It's highly underrated. You get to meet all these historical figures, and still get to watch your own family and friends and anyone else whi seems interesting as they go about their lives ... until something unfortunate happens, and then they front up here, looking all surprised."

"But Royce Gracie -" I began.

"Not Royce, his not-so-imaginary opponent! An alien from the Sirius system, real name something unpronounceable. Appears to people in their dreams, sometimes by mistake."

"So he appeared to Royce?"

"By accident. He, the alien, had been in Rio watching Mardi Gras four days straight. No one noticed, he fit right in." But he got tired and went into the Copacobana academy by mistake one night when Royce had dozed off on the mats."

"He appeared to you too?"

Mr. Yip rolled his eyes. "Mind like a steel trap ... with a busted spring," he said. "Yeah. Beat the stuffing out of my lucid dreaming self, taught me some stuff, suggested I put some of it into my Wing Chun and teach it to one of my younger and thus more impressionable students for a laugh. I wasn't all that keen, but then he said it was either that or he'd come around and school me regularly. And it wasn't so bad, it actually worked. Better."

"So you made up the Leung Bik story?"

"I had to come up with *something*. Who would have believed the truth?"

My head was spinning with the implications of the outrageous facts.

"What about this secret school, where you supposedly learned Weng Chun?"

"I went there all right. Dai Duk Lan. I was shocked. Those guys were doing a lot of the same stuff the alien showed me, some differences, not many. I'd been going there regularly, then one day the head guy pulls me aside and said 'did that weird-looking guy get to you too?'"

"What about this HFY stuff" I asked.

"The alien loved all this intrigue, teaching all sorts of people but teaching all of them slightly different and then setting them against each other, laughing at the centuries of bickering that resulted." He smirked. "What a bastard."

He looked around suddenly. "Holy crap, I'm going to be late. Come with me." He started walking quickly off across a field, fiddling with his white bundle.

"What is that ... " I asked, trotting beside him, then "uhhh?..." He unfolded the cloth. It was a Jiu Jitsu gi, with a black belt, several red and white stripes thereon.

We came to a large grassed area. Carlos Gracie Senior, and Rolls, were kneeling at one side, Karl Gotch and Farmer Burns at Carlos's left. On the other side, Mitsuo Maeda and Masahiko Kimura on the other.

"Farmer Burns looks a bit distracted."

"Yeah. That Matt Furey keeps trying to channel him. Quick, help me change, I love this stuff!"
A number of figures, including Wong Shun Leung, were kneeling along the far side of the grassed area.

Bruce and Brandon Lee were working the standing clinch on the middle. Suddenly Brandon overhooked his dad's arm, stepped out to the right then swung back and leapt up, capturung his father in a perfect flying triangle choke. Carlos, Rolls, and the others applauded.

"You should have come last night, when Cheung Ng and I took the class," he said, putting on the gi jacket and tying his black belt. "We smacked these wrestler guys around quite a bit, but today I fear it's payback time."

This time, Bruce pulled guard on Brandon and caught him with a perfectly timed helicopter armbar. More applause.

"By the way," Mr Yip told me, "Bruce was right. About everything."

I was starting to feel strange ... my vision blurred, focused, and blurred again. "Mr Yip ..." I croaked.

"I like you, call me 'Man' ..." he said, but I was fading ...

I came to on lying face down, hogtied with a purple belt, in the centre of the circle I had enscribed in the dirt earlier. After several minutes of panicked struggling, I extricated myself, ran to my car and fishtailed away, driving dangerously fast.

Copyright Andrew Nerlich 2005/6

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