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Archive for January 25th, 2010

Hell’s Angel

Monday, January 25th, 2010

Growing up in the kung fu world of Sifu Fogg was always adventurous. One lesson he taught me early on was that you have to stand on your own kung fu. Meaning the art must become your own; your skills; your talents. You must have confidence in your own ability.

Well, Sifu Fogg has a knack for drawing this confidence out of you, even when you’d rather he didn’t.

The spring of my senior year in high school, I was training with Master Fogg on the basketball court of an apartment complex. The worn-out ball court was a mixture of crumbling asphalt, grass, dirt, and potholes. The goal posts leaned and rusted chains served as the nets. The backside of the three-story apartment complex completely circled the ball court. Every tenant’s patio or balcony faced the court.

I’d trained with Sifu here on many occasions, so the fact that it seemed everyone in the complex was watching us on that beautiful sunny day didn’t bother me. <em>(Actually training anywhere didn’t bother me. We’ve trained in some crazy places before…but that’s another blog). </em>

Sifu was pushing me to the max, which I’m sure it was great fun for our audience. Me, in the sun, sweating, bleeding, on the brink of death, begging for a cup of water just to dip my finger into as Sifu laughed, and said, “Play your form again!” all while he sat under a crooked oak tree and sipped lemonade.

We’d trained an hour when this guy started heckling us from his third floor patio. He shouted, “That stuff’s not real. Bet it can’t stop a bullet (he’s never seen Sifu Fogg move) and “I can still kick your ____.” We ignored him. He continued for about ten minutes then went inside.

Five minutes later, Mr. Heckler was on the ball court.

Imagine the biggest, ugliest, motorcycle gang member you can think of and that would be Mr. Heckler, who now towered over me. He looked as if he walked straight off the set of a 1970’s biker-movie starring him as the lead bad-dude. He kicked at a chunk of asphalt and stepped closer to me. I could smell him.

His hair was a black tangled grease pit that tumbled off his fat head. He wore a sleeveless leather vest with a tattered sleeveless Harley Davidson T-shirt underneath. His arms were white hairy tree trunks. A nude woman named Lola, tattooed on his left bicep, danced with each flex. Fingerless riding gloves covered his huge hands and his fingernails had at least an inch of dirt caked underneath. His hairy gut spilled over the top of his grease-stained jeans concealing the origins of three chains that hung from his belt loops and slithered into his back pockets. His cycle boots were worn and scuffed.

He glanced at Sifu then at me and smiled with tobacco-yellowed teeth. He pointed at me, raised his fists, and said, “You wanna go?”

<em>Heck yeah, I wanted to go! </em>Go running like a scared rabbit and hide behind Sifu Fogg, who was still just sitting calmly drinking lemonade.

Biker Monster asked Sifu, “You the teacher?”

Sifu grinned, said yes, and then told him I was his top student and would be happy to fight with him.

<em>Wait, I’m not the top student. John Cheng is! I can call him. He can be here in thirty minutes.</em> I looked at my feet expecting to see all the blood that had just drained from my body to be pooling around my kung fu shoes.

Biker Monster said, “Right on,” and began to circle me, shadow boxing as he stumbled around.

I looked at Fogg. My mouth hung open and my knees were shaking. He waved at me, opened a package of cookies, and crammed a double-stuffed Oreo in his mouth. What is this! I’m about to die and he’s eating.

“Let’s do it, kid,” Biker Monster said.

My arms felt like hundred pound dumbbells and my legs were tubes filled with concrete. My heartbeats were off the charts.

We faced off, two warriors in a Roman coliseum. A million scenarios flashed through my mind like a DVD stuck on fast-forward. One thought was that if he If he connects a punch, I will have no face. I couldn’t believe Sifu was letting this happen.

He moved in, and without thought, I adjusted my stance to defend from the outside gate. That <em>one</em> movement did it for me. I realized my training was overriding the fear. I thought of Bourne. (A sly advertisement to read my blog “Just Like Bourne”)

Monster Biker grunted, shuffled forward, then suddenly stopped. “Hey, man, just joking around.” He dropped his hands and laughed. “I don’t wanna fight with you.” He looked at Sifu. “I’m outta shape, man. I can’t do it like I used to.”

He and Sifu talked while I sat down and encouraged my bodily functions to return to normal. After he left, I asked Sifu Fogg if he would’ve really let the fight happen. He said yes and that of course he had my back, but he knew I’d be alright.

Sifu’s confidence in me at that moment forever changed the way I viewed my own kung fu abilities. No way am I saying I’m great. I agonizingly strive to improve my kung fu everyday. It’s just from that day forward, I was confident enough to put myself out there, via tournaments, demos, etc. And twenty years later, that same confidence was a weapon of encouragement when I was struggling to open a kung fu school.

My goal is to pass that confidence on to my students in whatever they do. I hope during trying times in life, they will look back and say, “If I can pass my kung fu test, or learn a particular form, I can get through this.”