I was a Teenage Kung Fu Addict
Don’t you find it funny?
People who learn how to fight are usually those who want to avoid a fight. Right?
Well, I do. And now look at me, in the middle of a fight at back of the school. Again.
It all began with a punch by an idiot. An idiot named Jake Lin.
I was in Primary school and a rather small kid. Small as in I was about half the size of everyone else in my class, even the girls. My parents thought that I was a midget, but it wasn’t until my teens when I started growing. But we’ll get to that part of my life later.
My friend Jake was the class bully. Now, normally whenever you are in a class you’d tend to avoid bullies. I mean, who likes them right? But me, I went straight up to become his pal. Because let’s face it, I needed protection.
The first month I kept close to him, he starts by bullying me. Every day I would have to go and get food from the canteen for him, my glasses would get ruffled and I’d get shoved around.
But wait Jason, you may ask at this point, that’s a very smart move. Well, it wasn’t. It was more of a transaction for me really. I do what Jake wants and I don’t get bruises to bring home. Compared to everyone else in my class I was pretty lucky. The only people Jake doesn’t hit are the girls of the class. For those he hits on them, so there’s a difference.
Years went by and I found myself in Primary Six. Jake was in a different class but I still found myself visiting him once every now and then. He had found new targets and I was soon rendered obsolete by the time midterms came around.
But one fateful day that all changed. There was this girl in my class. Her name was Sally something (I forgot her surname). I liked her a lot and sat next to her, so naturally the next thing to do was to ask her what Secondary school she was going to. Which was the logical thing to ask as my hormones had not developed. I made the mistake of asking her during recess, and we were outside at the courtyard where there was a playground. Before she could answer we heard a loud voice boom from behind us, or at least I did.
“HEY! Shorty Short Shorts. Who do you think you’re talking to?”
It was Jason and his friends. He was a head taller than everyone at the playground. Word was that he was actually as old as a Secondary One or Two st udent, but I didn’t quite believe that.
“Hi Jake.” Was all I could muster before it came.
The knuckles on Jake’s right fist connected with the side of my face and the impact lifted me off my feet. One second I was looking at it and the next I was looking at the ground and tasting dirt. Sally screamed and everyone else in the playground stopped what they were doing. Swings stopped swinging and I could hear their chains dangling, people stopping running and I could hear their shoes come to a halt. All this while I was on the ground and feeling the side of my face that got hit.
“You dare talk to MY girl? Pui!”
Jake spat on me and I could feel the anger rise. In the distance a loud whistle could be heard and people started walking back. A teacher was coming onto the scene but Jake wasn’t done with me. He grabbed me by my collar and yanked me to my feet.
“Fight me! Come on!”
He threw another punch at me and I instinctively covered my face. The punch changed targets and hit me in the chest, causing me to tumble back. It didn’t hurt as much as the side of my head did, but I guess that it was due to the fact that he had lost momentum in changing the intended target. I fell back to the ground and the teacher grabbed Jake by the arm.
“You and your friends are following me to the discipline master’s office.”
I didn’t know whether the teacher gave me a look, but I was definitely not going back to class that day.
“Bring him to the nurse’s office.”
On the way there, Sally was telling me all about this weird uncle she had. Her way of taking my mind off things. Of distracting me from the humiliation. Funny thing was, the only thing I could think off was Jake’s first punch. The one that hit me on the head.
That punch must have done something alright, because I didn’t do so well for my PSLE. It surprised my parents, my father especially, but for some reason I did not feel anything.
My mind kept thinking about that punch. The way it was thrown and the way it felt when it hit me. Either way, I was different after that incident. I began watching old Chinese movies with kung fu fight scenes. Starting with Bruce Lee and making my way to Jackie Chan and eventually reaching the modern movies with Donny Yen as Ip Man. That was how I spent most of my days after the PSLE. Looking back, I should have been more grateful for my parents. Because while I was watching they were doing all the work in getting me into a Secondary school. Eventually we managed to settle on one that was an hour’s journey away from home.
“Study hard during this next few years.” My mom told me, as she brought me to the MRT station to take the train. “So that your tertiary education would be better. And you would be able to do whatever you want.”
I nodded, not knowing that that was a lie all adults told their kids.
The first few weeks in my new school had me listening to the droning of new teachers. Each day I would go home with more and more homework, and when I was done I would watch a movie at night. It was around this time when I figured out that there were different schools of kung fu, and that there were other kinds of martial arts beyond the movies I watch.
Wing chun, Jeet Kun Do, Shaolin boxing, Eagle Claw kung fu, Taiqi Quan. So many names, to the point I had to keep a journal with stick figure drawings to track them.
One month into my new school and we were taken to the auditorium to choose our CCAs. The auditorium was stuffy and some of the students at the booth were sweating like mad. Especially the unfortunate student who had to dress in a full Boys Brigade uniform, badges and all. Eagerly I went over to the clubs that were about martial arts, even staying around to watch the Karate display. It proved to be a fruitless endeavor, as most of the Chinese martial arts clubs were about performing with fake swords and bouncy spears. And the Karate display was terrible, the top member could not even break a baseball bat with her kicks. Still, I’d imagine that it must have taken a lot of training and effort, so what I took away from that open house was that I needed to start training early.
Because I didn’t want to do badly for my exams, and the amount of time needed to go to school and back, I decided not to have a CCA until I was at least in Secondary three or late in my second year. I pestered my parents to take me to the nearby community club after dinner. There was a Wing chun group that always practiced, which piqued my interest when I saw the banner which was strategically placed outside the MRT station.
‘There is no time like today to learn Wing Chun!’
And it was right. I was still young, and if I ever wanted to be like all those Chinese action movie stars I would need to start young. So, after many bouts of pestering, my dad finally took me to sign up for classes.
There are many things in live you will never forget. Your first crush, kiss or surgery or whatever. For me, I would never forget that first lesson. It was a warm night and I was introduced to the class of twelve. My teacher (we were to call him Sifu) was this thin man who could kick really fast and do splits. Well, at least that was what he did during that first lesson. Me, I was informally introduced as the new guy and people were mostly surprised at how young I was.
“Does your school have a martial art CCA you’re interested in?”
I answered that school was an hour away and that this was more convenient. A fair enough answer.
“Are you sure you’re up for this?”
I wondered why that student asked me this. Until the warming up began.
For perspective, I was the youngest person in the class. Everyone else was either a university student or a working adult. Either way we were all tired from whatever we did during the day, but our Sifu was not going to go easy on us. For warm up we did pushups, squats and even planking, all of which were tiring by themselves for me. But next came the more martial artsy ones, the first of which was something called the ‘Horse Stance’.
Basically, we had to stand and widen our feet until they were at least two shoulder widths apart. The first few seconds had me thinking that this was easy, and that I’ve seen many martial artists do this in the movies. Then I learned that we had to maintain this position for about a minute, just like the planking. My knees throbbed after ten seconds and so did my thighs. Some of the other students also had trouble maintaining the stance so I did not feel too bad. Ten seconds later and I kept coming out of the stance and getting back in. My legs felt like they were going to snap, the whole thing was shaking. In the end I waited until the one minute was up, watching the more experienced students hold the stance like it was nothing.
Once the warm up was complete, I was taught by a senior student to do the horse stance properly. The Sifu had been watching me during the warm up and felt that it was something I needed to work on.
“Why is this so important anyway?” I asked the senior student, a fit looking guy by the name of Lawrence. His tanned skin made the light reflect off his forehead. Very hard to miss.
“Well, for starters, the horse stance trains your endurance. And if you ever find yourself in a sticky situation the last thing you want is to get exhausted.”
Actually the last thing I would want is to get hit. But I understood the importance of what he said. I spent the next 45 minutes learning how to stand in the horse stance properly, while the others began doing these mock sparring with their fists and weapons. Weapons that were fake for obvious reasons. By the time I was ready to learn something new I preferred to sit down than stand. Lawrence taught me a few exercises to train the legs, involving some kind of lifting leg techniques that made you look like a monkey doing marching. And that was roughly how my first lesson went, working on my legs.
My Wing Chun lessons were twice a week, every Wednesday and Friday, but I was completely fine with it as I did more than enough studying to keep my parents happy. Test scores were average and were often under scrutiny by my Mom, who was a Maths teacher for some far away Primary School. School was boring but I had some friends to pass the time with. As for Wing Chun, my legs got harder with each lesson. I could accurately remember the progression.
The first three lessons had me working on my legs. I became good friends with the horse stance and even practiced at home. It gives good stability, so balancing myself on the train or bus was no longer an issue. My endurance had grown substantially as well, as I found myself to be able to run and plank longer without having to stop. On my fourth lesson I was taught how to punch. It covered very basic stuff, like how you were not supposed to keep your thumb wrapped as you punch or else it will get injured. My new routine involved me doing punches in horse stance as well as blocking soft attacks made by Lawrence.
“You need to be aware of the situation and environment at all times.” He kept repeating. “If you are in a lift or a confined space, hit fast. If you are in a wide open space, keep some distance from your opponent and study him first.”
Very standard stuff really. I could figure it all out if I read enough articles on the Internet. But all this training culminated in something that grew inside me. Deep down, I was beginning to itch for a fight. A real life fight.
Sadly for me, Singapore was a relatively safe place, so the nearest I could get in terms of a real fight was at school. Six months into my training I had grown to be sufficiently strong enough, a growth spurt really helped as well, so hardly anyone dared to pick a fight with me.
Until one day.
You never forget your first fight. There was a commotion at the school track, two Upper Secondary school guys were fighting each other over a girl. Really cliche stuff now that I thought about it on hindsight. But because there was no teacher I thought it was a good idea to intervene. I rushed in between both of them and went into a combat stance.
Thing was, one of them was on the school Judo team. This led me to realize my first mistake; always study your opponents. Instead I had dashed in, and when I threw my first punch I was surprised to find myself facing the ground again. Only this time my right arm was being held behind my back. The other guy was speechless and slowly crept away from the scene. When the teachers arrived it was treated as a case of bullying. My parents were called in and it was so embarrassing as the Judo guy had to apologize in front of them. I had gotten him in trouble.
When we got home my dad had a long talk with me. The teachers did not tell my parents that I had thrown a punch, they weren’t there to witness it and no one in the student body dared to talk about it when questioned. So I was saved on that part, but still felt guilty.
“Are you learning Wing Chun to deal with bullies?” my Dad asked.
I shook my head and told him that I was learning self control. Which was a load of bullshit of course. To cool myself and ease the guilt I watched some modern Kung fu cop movie on Youtube. It took a few movies later to realize my second mistake; I had not trained enough. Thinking on it, there were many different types of martial arts out there, and I had only started out in learning one of them. Surely there were different strengths and weaknesses that could be exploited with each style. I just needed to train more.
I almost went into horse stance when I came upon this epiphany.
“Lawrence, how do I deal with other martial arts users?” I asked in my most innocent voice during the next lesson.
Lawrence chuckled a little when he heard that.
“You need to have strong basics and foundation before you think of such things.”
Basically a standard answer. I wasn’t going anywhere with him anytime soon.
Two months worth of lessons later and I was punching more and learning how to counter a person’s punch. At home I would punch the air in horse stance until my arms and legs were sore. Then I would watch clips of Bruce Lee on the Internet and marvel at how strong he was. Little did I know it, but I had become a teenage Kung fu addict.
It didn’t take long before I had to do more than just punching and countering. Kicking was next and by then my legs were tougher than ever. Of all the parts of the body, the bones of one’s knee and elbows were some of the hardest. Elbow strikes and kneeing were very fun and involved a lot of jumping when it came to the knee stuff. When I asked Lawrence when I would learn how to do more flashier kicks he did his usual chuckle.
“When in a real fight, avoid using too complicated moves.”
This disheartened me a little, as it went against everything I saw from the Ip Man movies. Oh and the Jet Lee ones of the 90s.
“Well, it takes energy to do those. Unless you’ve had years of practice and could do it fast enough there isn’t any reason to use them really. Practicality wise you would just knee someone or kick them in the most convenient way possible, given the situation of course.”
All this might sound logical and smart, but I was not too convinced. I was certain that I needed ANOTHER fight to test it. By now I had learned how to counter, and mistake number One still lingered at the back of my mind like a reminder to do homework. Every day after that I began loitering at the track field in hopes of an incident. But nothing came.
After my exams, which I somehow managed to do well in, I was on my December holidays. We couldn’t afford to go overseas that year so I found myself heading to the community center almost every night, for my lessons as well as to observe the other martial arts on other nights. Muay Thai and Jujitsu were the ones I saw a lot of. One was based steeply in boxing while the other focused on throwing people. On the porch of the second floor I would watch them training. Their warming up and training routines were completely different from what I was used to. But this was a good lesson for me as I was observing styles that could be used by my future opponents. It took more than muscle and moves to be a good fighter, it also took brains to know who you were going up against.
Finally, a month into my second year at Secondary school, my chance for a fight came. It was during recess again and the fight was with someone from a neighboring class. One of my friends, a meek fellow from the school’s IT Club, was being picked on by a burly individual (Let’s call him Burly boy). This happened outside of class and I was observing the guy very carefully. He was shoving my friend around and no one else was doing anytime. When burly boy decided that it was a good idea to throw my friend’s bag over the railings I stepped in.
“Are you his friend?” he asked in this mock guttural voice that made him sound like Christian Bale’s Batman.
“Yes. What do you think you’re doing to him?”
I walked up, chest out and looked him in the eye. Just like how those street brawlers would. It was so intense, I could feel my heartbeat rise. Burly boy leaned close to my face and looked at me like he was going to punch me.
“At the back after school. Come alone.”
And that was that. As the day continued on my heart continued to pound like there was no tomorrow. I was going to be in a real fight. Nothing else seemed to matter at that point, not the Science teacher’s words or the unspoken concern of my friend. When school ended I almost rushed out of the class, but instead I packed my bag and rehearsed what I would do. I would watch to see if he had any martial arts background and counter the first punch he threw. Then I would pound him into submission and get experience from the fight. I didn’t think too much about the consequences, but I thought of asking my friend if things turned awry. He would vouch for me and say that I did it to protect him or something.
Which brings me to my next lesson, or rather mistake, which was to never assume or speculate before a fight. Burly boy was not alone at the back of the school. In fact he brought three other friends of his, all equally burly. They must have been from the rugby team or something, I could have sworn their shoulders were squarish in nature.
“You told me to come alone.”
“You. Not me.”
The back of the school was this open space of grass, it hadn’t been raining the last couple of days so the ground was warm. Not to mention that there was an abundance of sunlight that made it a little hard to concentrate. Two of Burly boy’s friends charged at me, to which I reacted with a sidestep. But this was not like in the movies or the video games where they were automatically get beaten by running into a wall, they spun around and grabbed me from behind by the arms. I didn’t let them pin me down, instead I went into horse stance so quickly that it surprised them. In that one second I leapt up and broke myself free from their grasps. Burly boy threw a punch at me and I thought of Jake for a moment. Anger took me and I blocked the punch with my elbow. Knuckles against an elbow made for a terrible outcome for Burly boy, as he stumbled back nursing his knuckles.
Taking the chance to take over the fight, I made a sweep with my leg and tripped one of Burly boy’s friends. He fell on his back and the one who had been doing nothing this whole time threw a punch at me. I blocked but it hit my forearm and caused me to grit my teeth as the pain shot from it. Now it was my turn to stumble, but I maintained my footing and managed to stay out of the way of the other two. Burly boy was back and he threw two punches at me. Almost on reflex I tried to counter them, but my timing was off and one of the punches hit me square on the cheek.
“Ow!” I cried as I fell back. Burly boy was laughing.
“Looks like his fighting is just for show.” He said as he walked up to me. “Teach him a lesson!”
I crawled back, feeling the friction on my hands against the ground before getting back onto my feet. Before anything else could happen we heard a whistle and tried to run. But soon two teachers were in our midst. My friend had told them about the fight in hopes that it would help me. He had very little faith in me it seems.
This time I was not let off that easily. Me, Burly boy and his friends had to stay back after school to clean up classrooms and do other menial tasks. My parents were not informed but I told them that I was helping the school out on some project. This incident gave me time to think on what went wrong in the fight. Lots of time actually, given that the punishment lasted for about four weeks.
“How do I take on multiple opponents at once?” I asked Lawrence during the next lesson.
“Why would you want to do that?”
I told him about the incident and he sighed. I made it a point to not tell him these sorts of things in future.
“Jason. Sometimes, people learn how to fight in order to avoid a fight.”
It was the dumbest piece of advice I’d ever heard.
I shook my head.
“The moves employed by Wing Chun are very practical when it comes to a street fight. But when used wrongly, you could end up a killer.”
“But what if I didn’t start the fight?”
“You’re not getting it.” Sifu said, walking in to join our conversation. “Martial arts should never be used to harm other people. Protection of your loved ones is fine, but aggravating people into fighting is dangerous. If you went and hurt someone, don’t you think that that would make you into a bully?”
I didn’t quite understand. Sifu seemed to have noticed this.
“I think you should take a break from training.” He said. “It seems that you have some thinking to do.”
For the next few months I seemingly lost interest in training. My dad was surprised when I told him that I was discontinuing the lessons. But mom was happy as that meant more time with the books. Little did they know I had begun my own training at school. Watching Youtube tutorials and reading the so called training manuals at the school library. I tried to replicate what I was learning but the process was slow. Painfully slow.
Still I kept doing the horse stance, the punches and the other strikes. It was through this period of exile from the club when I learned how to do other stances and how to be more proactive in a fight. True countering was good and all, but the timing was something I was not good at. And I was going to be out of sparring partners to practice that, so I kept focusing on punching and kicking. The thing about training manuals is that they were very basic, but once you managed to sift through the beating around the bushes writing you would have the meat of the book. It was at this point when I considered joining my school’s Wing Chun club as a CCA. I was nearing the end of my Second year so it was only logical that I be in a club to have a fulfilling school life, now that I had gotten used to it and all.
But the dark truth was that I just wanted to fight someone and test out my skills. The club had sparring involved and I was paired with a student who was roughly around my level of skill. The Sifu of that club was aware of my past training, so I bypassed the introduction to the horse stance and all that basic training. The problem with the club was that, in addition to the sparring, we had to learn these complicated sequence of movements. Sort of like a dance, though it was involved in a sort of grading. Like how the Japanese martial arts had their belt system, this one was in the form of an arbitrary piece of paper. Frankly I found the whole thing a waste of time, and that if I wanted to do this sort of thing I would be in a dance club.
Needless to say, I did poorly when it came to these dances. But I got better at sparring, up to the point when they decided to pair me with a more skilled member. But it was not enough for me, for in a few lessons I kept beating him. My foundation was definitely there, and the slow process had somewhat helped as I found myself using the new stances I learned. But time has a way of changing people, and slowly but surely my mindset was changing. It did not take long before I started to love these strange dances. Inside their intricate movements was a feeling of discipline, something I had lacked during my time at the community club. On hindsight, I guess you could say that I was learning how NOT to fight.
Which brings us to now, which is one year later. I am in Secondary Three and the exams are right around the corner, but word was that one of my juniors was having trouble with someone in his class. He had challenged said person to a fight after school, and I got wind of it. The person he challenged was a skinny person who was shy and had never done anything bad to anyone, meaning that my junior was a bully. As his senior I felt the need to teach him a lesson, so I told the skinny kid that I would take care of it.
My junior was eager to beat up the poor kid. But he was surprised when he saw me instead of his intended target after school. He reminded me of myself when I was a year younger.
“Why are you here?”
“To teach you a lesson.” I said with my arms crossed.
“But I don’t want to fight you.”
“Neither do I actually. Which is why I’m here to stop you.”
He looked at me with fear in his eyes. But I was really not going to fight him. If anything, I knew that it was time for a story to help him along the path. The path of a true martial artist.
“It all started with a punch.” I said patting his shoulder. “A punch by an idiot. An idiot named Jake….”