Saturday, April 01, 2006

The Master & The Disciple

Once upon a time in the land of Arhm Noh, there was a mighty sifu, a master of incredible martial arts. His school of martial arts was called Dominating Leopard – well, those martial arts schools did have strange names like White Crane, Praying Mantis, Eagle Claws and such likes, so why not a Dominating Leopard.

Ma Ha Teh, the sifu, was supreme in his skill and, as his arts suggested, dominated the region for years. His powers were such that all would be done according to his wishes. His opposition, those that tried to combat him was so feeble that he laughingly or sneeringly, depending upon his moods, dismissed even their presence.

As most who know something about Chinese martial art, the surname of Ma was associated with the renown Muslim martial art practitioners - for example, the amazing Ma Xueli was the founder of the Henan branch of Hsing I.

Back to Ma Ha Teh - Many admired him, and followed him as disciples. Among those acolytes was one that the sifu personally picked to groom as his successor.

The disciple, Arn Wah, was clever and sweet with words, and has a way about him that was ironically different from the sifu. Perhaps there is truth in what they say about the attraction of ‘opposites’.

While the sifu was only given respect grudgingly for his skills, inordinate tactics and strategies, Arn Wah, his favourite disciple, swiftly gained the respect and admiration, and even love (some described it as devoted fanaticism), from people rather too easily, and in many respects undeserved.

Arn Wah learned, as people would say, at the personal feet of the sifu. Gradually he became more and more powerful. He even has his own following, disciples of the martial arts school who dedicated their allegiance (secretly only) to him rather than to Ma Ha Teh, the sifu.

If I were to draw a comparison, I would say that Arn Wah was not unlike the biblical King David, a man famous for his skill in seducing those around him into accepting his right to lead Israel.

Arn Wah too possessed that incredible Davidic persona, and likewise he wasn't satisfied to wait for his turn; he was in a hurry to be the sifu of the Dominating Leopard martial arts school, for it would bring enormous rewards.

Arn Wah became more and more powerful, showing all the incredible skills and power of the Dominating Leopard. He was in every sense a true graduate of the Leopard school, seemingly more dominating than the sifu, because unbeknownst to Ma Ha Teh, Arn Wah possessed his own secret martial skills, the arcane art of the Brahman-Face Chameleon. It was a terrifying combination, making Arn Wah virtually unbeatable.

Even though the sifu promised to hand the school over to Arn Wah soon, because the older man wanted to go into secluded meditative retirement, his beloved disciple was an impatient man who wanted to wear the knot of his sash in the middle* as soon as possible, and it just couldn’t be too soon for him.

* only a martial arts grandmaster may tie and wear the knot of his sash (belt) in the middle of his waist. Male disciples tie the knot on the right of their waists while females on their left (or is it the other way around?).

Arn Wah began to undermine his sifu, taking every opportunity to upstage the old man or seize the dominating position in the school. He became disrespectful to his sifu, an unforgiveable sin among the men of the Dominating Leopard.

Ma Ha Teh realised what was happening but with zen-like patience (and perhaps some sense of sorrow) he watched and waited, like a leopard.

Inevitably there came the day when there was the unavoidable confrontation, where the time-honoured fight to the death must take place. Ma Ha Teh advised his favourite student that what was about to happened was natural. He said: “On one mountain there cannot be two leopards.”

The old man continued:
“However, I am old and unable to jump and leap around like you, a young man. I ask that we fight fairly without you enjoying the advantage your age give you, to see whether you are indeed skilful in your martial arts, and deserving to be the sifu of our mighty school in this land of Arhm Noh.”

Arn Wah sneered but, being arrogantly overconfident, agreed.

The sifu then proposed that a short stick of bamboo, about 1 metre in length by modern measurement, be tied on each of its ends to their respective left hands, so that the fighting would be at close quarters, requiring only their right hands to conduct the greatest fencing and boxing skills, while neutralising jumping, leaping or any acrobatic skills.

The disciple thought it would be a cinch, for wasn’t he stronger, faster and more skilful than old Ma Ha Teh?

So in that agreed combat configuration the lutte à mort began. After a few probing strokes and parries, during which the disciple quickly assessed he would win, the sifu did the unexpected.

He sliced cleanly through the bamboo cane attached to their left hands. Arn Wah was only momentarily startled but when the master attempted to slash his broadsword down on his head, he easily fended off the so-called killer blow, and with such a powerful counterstroke that Ma Ha Teh collapsed on his knees.

The disciple laughed at the sifu’s desperate and silly diversionary tactic. He died still laughing as the kneeling master brought his unwatched left arm up in a vicious stroke at blinding speed, penetrating the young man’s anus all the way to his innards with the sharpened bamboo cane.

When the old man sliced through the bamboo he did so to produce a sharpened end and enough length for the coup de grâce. It was rumoured that when he shafted Arn Wah to death he cried out in great anger (and perhaps with a tinge of sorrow) an expletive that would be difficult to translate - the nearest in modern language would be something like "Die in your own sh*t, you ungrateful traitor!"

From this legendary encounter, the world inherited 5 sayings:

(1) “On one mountain there cannot be two tigers” with the less popular leopards being substituted with tigers.

(2) “Hell hath no fury like a sifu betrayed” which the West, after the saying reached Europe, changed to reflect their society's experiences.

(3) “A leopard never changes its spots” for those carnivores are society’s predators and cannot be expected to change their nasty predatory nature. I am particularly alert to this wisdom.

(4) “I still have a full deck; I just shuffle slower now” said by Ma Ha Teh after the fight but somehow attributed by the West to an unknown aged person.

(5) "He was shafted real good and proper" which is what one hears constantly in the world, unlike Asia where the comment was the more philosophical "He fell on his own sword (or bamboo stake)".

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