Wednesday, June 23, 2010

"Taming the Tiger" from the 7th Chapter

Hi all! I'm back again with another excerpt from my novel, "Taming the Tiger." In this chapter, Charley Batchelor starts to use his artistic talents to create a manual of Hung Family Kung Fu.

Al and I arrived at his house immediately after school on Tuesday, just as we planned. Simo greeted us in the kitchen.

"Albert! Charley! How are you?"

"Fine, Simo," I said, giving her the salute. She smiled and saluted right back at me.

"I have something I'd like to show you, Simo."

"Yeah, Mom," Al added. "You gotta see this. Charley's an artist."

I smiled, and tried not to blush as I put my backpack on the dining room table. I pulled out the sketchpad with my notes and diagrams from the weekend. I opened it to the pages with the sketches of the ceremonial bow.

Simo looked inside. I scanned her face for any reaction, but her expression never changed. She flipped the pages, looking over my pictures and text describing the horse stance and the various punches. Lastly, she checked out my failed attempt at showing the applications of the fighting techniques within the ceremonial bow.

I didn't really want her to see that. Those were nowhere near complete. I would have rather waited until she or Al could help me with getting those right.

Her face relaxed as she closed the sketchbook.

"Very good, Charley," she said. "I think someday that you should put together a training manual for Hung Family martial arts. It would be a great honor to have you do that."

My eyes opened. I started grinning. I wanted to laugh, I was so happy to hear her say that.

"But first," she added. "You need to develop a good understanding of our family's art. I think writing and illustrating a training manual for us would be very good for you to help with that endeavor.

"In China, we believe that you cannot be a true gentleman unless you are versed in the arts of the pen and the sword," she said. "You are already on your way with the first and I look forward to having Albert help you with the second.

"Now get into your exercise clothes and train!"

I saluted Simo and followed Al into the garage. We changed our clothes faced each other. After the ceremonial bow, Al told me that we would not do any warm-ups.

"Class time is very precious and very short," Al said. "I hope you're practicing at home and not just drawing pretty pictures. You will need to keep up on your basics and your exercises on your time. Most of our time together will be spent learning new techniques. As soon as we complete our horse stance training, we have a lot of new ground to cover. I hope you're ready and I hope your shoulder is better.

Al set the kitchen timer and placed it on the table behind him. As we settled into our stances, I felt confident that I would do well. After all, the horse stance and my stretching exercises were the only things I could do while my shoulder recovered.

It didn't seem very long into our time before my legs started trembling. I've come to expect it, but I didn't think it would happen so soon. Shortly, I could almost feel my heels want to rise off the floor. My back muscles started to tighten and contract.

What's more, I started pouring sweat. I blinked repeatedly as drops ran into my eyes, burning them. The sweat mixed with tears, both to flush out my eyes and out of the pain in my eyes and my leg and back muscles.

I could see Al was also starting to feel some strain, too. It surprised me as he made it look so easy last week. His legs were still rock steady, but sweat poured down his face and soaked his t-shirt and sweatpants. He hardly blinked even as the sweat ran down his forehead and cheeks. I'm sure some of that sweat was also mixed with tears as I know the sweat must have burned his eyes as well.

But Al never let on it bothered him. At least not until the timer went off.

"Aaaaaahhhhhhh!" Al said, standing straight up. I followed.

"How do you feel?" he asked.

"Pretty good, but it seemed harder than the last time and I've been practicing over the weekend," I said.

"Well, we did 15 minutes!" Al said. "I've been neglecting my horse stance. Since I've been training you, I've had to work on all kinds of things that I haven't worked on in a while."

Fifteen minutes. I was amazed. Surprisingly, my legs didn't seem as tired as I thought they'd be when I got out of the stance.

From there, Al took me into the basic kicks. A snap kick, with the toes extended; a front "stomp" kick with the heel; A sidekick, also with the heel; and a roundhouse kick, with the lower shin.

By the time we were done, the ground of the garage was soaked. Our sneakers slid in our own sweat. The windows on his garage were completely steamed over, almost like someone took a shower in there.

That's what it felt like, too. I knew it would be in the 50's on my way home tonight, but inside that garage it felt like summer.

"Now, we're going to start on the first form of Hung Gar," Al said. "It's called, 'Gung Gee Fook Fu'. It can mean 'Challenging the Tiger' or 'Tempting the Tiger' or as Mom prefers it, 'Taming the Tiger.'

"Now stand next to me and do what I do."

I took a position next to and slightly behind him. We both faced the mirror, so I would be able to see what he was doing from both the front and rear.

Standing there, I followed Al through a series of dynamic tension exercises. We thrust our palms forward with the fingers upward and the edge of the hand facing away from our bodies. The air hissed from Al's mouth and I could see the muscles flexing throughout his entire body - his back, his shoulders, his arms. In the mirror, I could see his chest and ab muscles flexing beneath his shirt. It reminded me of some of the exercises I'd seen Bruce Lee do in magazines and movies.

Turning his palms upward, he curled in his fingers to make a pair of fists. Suddenly, he pulled those fists back to his chest. His back arched forward. He looked almost like Muhammad Ali doing his rope-a-dope pose.

Opening his chest, his bent arms flew to his sides like a pair of saloon doors flinging open in a western movie. His hands were in the bridge hand position from the ceremonial bow.

Using dynamic tension, he pushed his arms out sideways, like he was trying to stop the walls from closing in on him. Each time he used dynamic tension, his face turned red and the air hissed slowly from his mouth.

After three reps, he thrust both hands open and out to the side. After doing the dynamic tension, my hands felt very light and very fast, like a rubber band snapping. Then, clenching the right fist and making the bridge with the left hand, we repeated the ceremonial bow.

"Have you got that?" Al asked.

"Yeah," I said. Even though we only did a few moves, it took a lot out of me. Going from normal movements to dynamic tension then back to normal movements takes a lot out of a person.

"Is that the whole form?" I asked.

"Oh no!" said Al, laughing. "That's just the beginning."

"Oh," I said. "Then why did we do the ceremonial bow twice?"\

"Because we're very polite," Al said. "Hung Gar is the most polite form of kung fu. We'll also do the ceremonial bow at the end of the form, too. Just in case anyone missed it the first two times."

I waited for Al to make another joke. Then I realized, he wasn't joking.

"I told you before, Hung means 'upright and moral,' " he added. "That's the most important thing in Hung Gar. And if you can't be upright and moral, then you have no business here.

"Even when you leave this kwoon, Mom and I still expect you to behave in a manner that will show us both respect, especially her!" Al continued. "And because you're our student, we have an obligation to make sure that you behave in an upright and moral manner."

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