Sunday, June 20, 2010

Taming the Tiger, Chapter VI

Hiya, kiddies. Sorry, I'm a little behind with bloggin' about my workouts or other martial-related topics. To pass the time, I'm presenting another excerpt from my latest novel.
Taming the Tiger
Chapter VI

I thought I had it tough Wednesday morning.

I woke up early Friday, my entire body store and stiff from the previous workout. It took several minutes to straighten out my legs so I could stand to walk to the bathroom. This time, my back and neck were also sore, probably from the roll I took when Al showed me how to defend against a punch.

I made my way into the bathroom, I could see a huge, round black-and-blue bump on my left shoulder. Looking over my shoulder, I posed in the mirror to try to get a better look at it. I moved my arm, but I couldn't lift it any higher than my shoulder.

I started to panic. I wasn't sure if I should see a doctor or not. And if I did tell Mom I needed to see the doctor, she'd know I was still practicing kung fu with Al. I wished I'd had some of that dit da jow* that Al's mother used on my other bruises. Maybe I would ask Al at school if Simo** could let me have some.

My morning shower helped to alleviate some of the pain, but most of it remained. As I got out of the bathroom, I could see Mom coming down the hall.

"Morning, Charley," Mom said. "Are you alright?"

I kept walking forward into my room. I worried that she'd seen the bruise, or noticed that I was still walking a little stiff.

As I closed my bedroom door, Mom shouted, "Charley! Are you alright?! You're moving like you're hurt."

I hurried up and dried off as I heard her walking through the hall. I wanted to get on a t-shirt before she had a chance to see the bruise. I felt a pain shoot from my shoulder to my neck as I lifted my arm to pull on the shirt.

"Charley, I asked you a question!" Mom said as she flung open my door. "Don't walk away from me!

"Oh, my God!" she exclaimed, pointing to my shoulder. "What is that?!"

"Mom!" I said. "What the hell are you doing in here?! Can't you see I'm getting dressed!"

"Charley, there's a big bump on your shoulder!" she said. She was right. The shirt could hide the bruise, but not the swelling, which looked like a half-a-tennis ball under my shirt.

"Did you get into a fight again?!" she asked. "Do you need to get x-rays again?"

"Mom, I'm fine!" I said. "Now let me finish getting dressed!"

I grabbed the rest of the clothes from my dresser and pulled them on. This time, I was too angry to feel the pain in my shoulder or neck.

"Are you still doing kung fu?" she asked. "Answer me! If it's either one, you're going to be in a lot of trouble, young man!"

"Yeah, I'm doing kung fu!" I declared. "Not that it's any of your business! The only time you ever cared about what I'm doing is when I'm getting in trouble at school. I'm doing something I like and now you're all pissed!"

"I knew it!" she said. "I'm going to have a talk with Al's parents. I don't want you hanging out with him or going over his house anymore. I'll call the police and have his parents arrested if I find out they're letting you come over."

"Mom, this is what I like to do!" I said. "You have no right to tell me I can't. I'm going to learn kung fu no matter what you say!"

"If you go over there again, I'll ship you off to live with your father!" she said, glaring at me. I knew I had her.

"Go ahead!" I replied. "Dad lives in Oregon! I'll be there's lots of kung fu teachers in Portland. If you send me out there, I'll find someone else to teach me. In fact, Dad will probably pay for it if he knows it pisses you off!"

I knew I hit a nerve. Mom's face got red and she slammed the door on her way out. Her feet stomped on the floorboards in the hall.

"I'll see you at breakfast," I said, sarcastically.

I ran into Al outside of homeroom.

"Hey, Charley, how're ya feelin'?" said Al, smiling broadly, arms held out wide.

"Hey Al," I said. Before, I was worried about people seeing me with the guy who kicked my ass last week. But that day, I was more worried I wouldn't be able to hang out with him again.

"What's up?" Al asked, his expression changed. "Is everything alright? You didn't get hurt from that fall you took, did you?"

"No," I said. "But I did want to see if you could get me some of that dit da jow. I've got a big swelling on my shoulder that hurts pretty bad. I thought that might help."

"Sure," he said. "I'll pour you a bottle of that after school today. Just stop by my house. Maybe we can even get in a short training session."

"Yeah, sure," I said. "It could be the last one."

Al started to look worried.

"What are you talking about?"

"My Mom doesn't want me learning kung fu," I said. "She's worried I'm going to get into more fights and get into trouble, or that I'm going to get hurt or something."

Al looked down and shook his head.

"That sucks!" he said. "I was going to start you on some kicks and teach you the 'Taming the Tiger' form.

"You're the only guy I ever tried to teach who stuck with it more than one practice," he added.
"What about your Dad? How does he feel about it?"

"My parents are divorced," I replied. "My Dad lives in Oregon. I told her if she tried to stop me, I'd move in with him. I'm sure there's lots of kung fu teachers in Portland."

Al chuckled and added, "You're not kidding. One of my uncles runs a school out there. I hope you don't go, but I could put in a good word for you if you do. I'll tell him you were off to a good start for a gwai lo."

"What's a gwai lo?" I asked.

Al laughed, turned slightly red and added, "Honkey."

I laughed, too. Just a few days earlier, I was calling him "chink." I guess white people don't have a monopoly of bad names to call people of other races.

"Seriously, I'll keep teaching you as long as you're willing to learn," Al said. "You know, some of the greatest martial artists learned in secret. They wouldn't even tell their families about what they knew.

"Really?" I said. "I don't want you to get in trouble for teaching me. My Mom knows she couldn't stop me if it was something I wanted to do, but she might make trouble for you with your Mom."

"Don't worry," Al said. "You know, my Dad hates kung fu. He thinks it's something only punks do. Why he married my mother, I don't know. But he gives me shit for learning kung fu, too."

I really enjoyed that conversation. I could see we had so much in common, including a parent who didn't like kung fu. And neither of us was willing to let that stop us.

But I would have to wait to see what my mother would do to try and stop me.

After school, Al and I made our way to his house, entering through the garage, which doubled as his kwoon. Simo sat in the living room, watching TV.

"Hey Mom!" Al said.

Simo looked back. She smiled, as if glad to see me.

"Hi, Charley, are you here to train again? Don't you boys ever take a break?" she said.

"Don't worry, Simo, I'm taking it easy today," I replied. "I was just wondering if you could help me."

"Yeah, Charley has a bad bruise on his shoulder from yesterday," Al added. "He wants to know if he could have some dit da jow."

"Of course," she said. "Albert, get a small bottle so he can take some home. Charley, you take off your shirt and have a seat at the dining room table."

I did as she asked and took my seat. Al came back with that big jar, filled with the brown liquid, as well as some cotton balls and a small brown bottle with a medicine dropper.

Simo opened the jar. Once again, that cough drop smell filled the room. She dipped in a cotton ball, then applied some of the liquid to my shoulder. It hurt to the touch, but like my facial bruises last week, it started to go slightly numb.

"Before you go to bed tonight, I want you to put a few drops of jow on that bruise and rub it in. Do the same tomorrow morning, too, and three or four times a day through the weekend," she said. "Work on your horse stance and do some stretching exercises for your legs. Don't do any punching or pushups at least until Monday."

"Sure," I replied, looking over my shoulder. Though the bruise remained, I could see the swelling go down almost right before my eyes.

When the swelling almost disappeared, I could see the bruise get smaller in size and lighter in color. I would still have the bruise for the rest of the weekend, but it would continue to shrink each time I put on the jow.

Then, the doorbell rang. Simo said something to Al in Cantonese and he went to answer the door.

A small boy from the neighborhood stood in the doorway.

"There's someone here who's looking for you!"

I could hear someone come up behind the boy. When she said, "Thanks" I knew it was my mother. She probably asked around and found this boy who showed her where Al lived.

Mom came in. Her eyes opened wide seeing me sitting at the dining room table while Simo applied some jow to my shoulder.

"What the hell is going on here?!" she demanded. "Charley, I told you I didn't want you coming over here!"

"Excuse me, but you must be Charley's mother," Simo said, putting the cotton ball on the table. She got up, extending a hand in greeting. "It's a pleasure to meet you. Please, have a seat."

"NO!" Mom said. "I am not here to talk! I just want to get my son and take him home. I think he should also have a doctor take a look at that shoulder and make sure your sadist son didn't break anything!"

The smile left Simo's face. I could tell she was angry, but she kept it down. I could also vaguely hear a car pulling into the Cheung's driveway.

"Mrs. Batchelor, please," Simo said. "I am helping your son. He had an accident while practicing with my son and I'm just putting on some medicine that will help him. I'm also giving him some to take home."

"Accident?!" Mom said. "It was no accident. If he hadn't been taking kung fu lessons from your son, none of this would have happened."

The door connecting the kitchen to the garage opened. A tall, well-dressed man came in and I assumed it was Al's father. I was right.

"Hello, Hannah," he said, also with the same slight British accent as his wife. "Albert. Who's this? Is this the boy you got into a fight with last week?"

"Yeah, Dad. Now, I'm teaching him kung fu," Al said.

"First a guy beats you up, now you want to teach him kung fu!" Mr. Cheung said, rolling his eyes as he set down his briefcase next to the dining room table. "That's one of the stupidest things I have ever heard."

I couldn't believe that Mr. Cheung thought I beat up his son last week. "There must be something wrong with his head," I thought to myself.

"Are you Al's father?" Mom asked. "How could you let him beat up on my son? What are YOU doing teaching him kung fu? Are you training him to be some kind of gangster or something?"

Without showing any sign of annoyance, Mr. Cheung responded.

"Mrs. Batchelor, it was your son who attacked mine last week. And for your information, I hate kung fu. I think it is childish and immature and suitable only for gangsters and ruffians."

For the second time, Mom's eyes looked as though they would pop from her head. Her expression was a mix of shock and relief. I could tell that she felt she now had an ally.

"If you don't like kung fu, why do you teach it to your son?" Mom asked.

"I teach it to my son," Simo said. "I learned from my father, my uncles and my older brothers. You might say it's both our family business and our family tradition, going back hundreds of years.

"In fact, Hung Wong Fei, a famous hero in China at the turn of the century, was a grand uncle of mine," she added with some pride. I didn't know who Hung Wong Fei was at the time, but I would soon find out that he was so loved by the Chinese people, that he appeared in more than 600 movies.

"He was a bully and a thug," Mr. Cheung said. "Just like all those other low-lifes who waste their time learning to beat up other people."

Simo glared at her husband and the two exchanged some short, angry sentences in Cantonese.

Turning to my mother, Mr. Cheung said, "Mrs. Batchelor, I fully understand your concern. I am a Christian and I believe in turning the other cheek. I don't believe any good can come from this kung fu. The only reason Albert knows anything is because his mother teaches him. I never had a lesson in my life and I don't approve of his mother teaching him.

"I would rather he use the time he spends training on something that will help him get into a good college and get a good job when he graduates," he said. "I teach English Literature at Yale, and I can assure you, I would not have accomplished it if I wasted my time with all this fighting.

"Besides, my parents would have beaten me with a stick if I ever so much as did some shadow boxing, let alone laid a hand on another human being," he added.

"Beat you with a stick. So much for their Christian pacifism," quipped Simo, which led to another short, heated exchange between the two of them. When things quieted down, Mom added her two-cents.

"Personally, I don't care if he wants to do sports," Mom said. "If he wants to go out for football or basketball, that's fine with me. Those things will help him get into college and keep him in shape. But like you, Mr. Cheung, I don't want him fighting. He already does too much of that. He almost got expelled for it last year and I want it to stop!"

"Mrs. Batchelor, I can assure you, I disapprove of violence, too," Simo said. "My husband and I are both Christians. While I am not a complete pacifist like my husband claims to be, unless Albert were defending himself, there is no justification for him to fight with anyone. As much as he loves kung fu, I can safely say that the only fight he's been in outside of a martial arts class or tournament was with your son."

Mom said nothing.

"Mrs. Batchelor," Simo added. "I fully believe that learning kung fu will keep boys out of trouble. It gives them a chance to let off some steam, if you will. They also develop a sense of self-confidence that comes from physical training. Certainly, they can get it from anything, including football and basketball.

"But I believe, that a child needs to find something he enjoys for exercise if he is going to stick with it," Simo said. "If your son enjoys kung fu, you should let him do it.

"And I can assure you, Mrs. Batchelor, that the first time your son uses his training for anything other than exercise or self-defense, it will be the last time I would let my son teach him."

Satisfied with Simo's remarks, Mom agreed to let Al and I continue to hang out and train together. In the car on the way home, Mom reiterated what Mrs. Cheung said.

"I don't like kung fu," Mom said. "But I'm going to let you give it a chance. Hopefully, you'll outgrow it.

"But I'm going to put your ass into a sling if you ever get into any fights this year and you will not get to train with Al or see him ever again! Do you understand?"

"Fine," I replied.

*Dit da jow is a Chinese linament used to treat bruises, swelling, scrapes and fractures. It's use is very popular among martial artists in China.

**Simo is the proper title for a female martial arts instructor.

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