A Memory of Asian Fisticuffs

I’m reminded of one of the many body-scarring gifts China left me back in the day. I’d returned to the US to visit my family in Delaware for a week. Not only did it take the entire trip to adjust to the time zones, meaning I was asleep for most of it, but I had a cough from all of the coal dust I was hacking out and a sore throat. But the sore throat was not (entirely) due to the pollution residue. But rather from getting punched in the throat by a 20 year veteran of kung fu in Nanjing.

On my last night in Nanjing, a historic city on the Yangzte (and one of the most livable large cities in China, in my opinion), I sparred Wing Chun style with a friend of mine. I avoided kicking him in the balls as I’d done the last couple of times. We fooled around gracelessly as a way of saying goodbye…Until a Chinese fellow about our own age, accompanied by an ambling bent gentleman of about sixty, decided to join us at the park for a spar. The younger man interpreted for the older gentleman and much to our surprise, he wanted to go a few rounds for kicks. He also mentioned that this man was his shifu (teacher) and that he’d studied in Beijing for about 20 years. The name of the art escapes me.

My friend was far wiser than I in declining his invitation to fisticuffs. Naturally, I said yes, because cmon. I’d been trained in Nanjing by a Shaolin monk, no less. Surely I can take a bent little old man.

Nope. He went crane style on my laowai ass. Flowing open hands waving and darting around, and I have to say, I’m still a bit miffed he hit a little harder than he should have in a friendly, gloveless bout. See, when both parties are obliged to hold back, people tend to ignore blows that you would normally try and block in a real spar. I landed a gut blow, and he totally ignored it and nailed me in the Adam’s apple with a knuckle.

Gasping, I waved him off. But we bowed and called it a night afterwards. I was afraid all week that some permanent damage had been done, but fortunately a bit of R&R stateside cleared it right up. I think I need to see Shifu again someday…I used to know a fair bit of the forms of Wing Chun (and even got to play with one of those amazing sparring dummies) but I’ve since lost it all…

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