Saturday, 9 August 2014

Reflections on the Iron Hand

Ku Yu Cheung

 placed one foot square canvas bag on a worktable in my parent’s garage.  I was in my teens and it was a rainy summer’s day. The window over the workbench faced the garden. It had been raining all night and all morning, and you could smell the roots of the trees deep in the earth, bloated with rain.

The top of the bench was level with my hip. I positioned myself over the bag in a deep sei ping mah (four point horse stance) and raised my right hand gently out in front of my shoulder.

Relax…relax. Your hand is a wrecking ball at the end of a long chain. Allow it to drop, with no effort.

My palm struck the canvas and a cloud of lead dust billowed up from the bag. (Believe it or not, I was actually using lead shot!)

And so I stayed with this training, day after day. After all, what better use could I be making of my summer vacation than to imagine myself becoming like Ku Yu Cheung, a famous master of the iron hand. Someday, I too would stand in front of a stack of bricks and break them all in one go with just the slap of a hand.

Would I hurt myself? Not a chance…I was familiar with the warm up exercises and the cool down methods, and besides, I had a bottle of dit da medicine.

Nevertheless, I forgot to factor in one crucial thing – the emotional side of the training. I had been warned about certain psychological effects but who listens when, after only a week, you slap a mosquito feeding on your arm and you feel as though you’ve just broken a bone. That’s the sweet pain of success.

After another week, something really strange happened. I wanted to hit people…anyone, it didn’t matter who.   Just place someone in front of me that I can hit. Fellow pedestrians sharing a sidewalk were like magnets. My palms were drawn to them. Subways, streetcars…I was forced to dig my hands deep in the pockets of my jeans.

All the warnings about practising gentleness as you sharpen your weapon came back to haunt me one evening when my girlfriend and I went to the movies. We held hands…and I couldn’t feel anything. The physical part of me felt like a slab of concrete. I remember too suddenly breaking out into a sweat, as though my nerves were recoiling from trying so hard to feel…anything at all.

The hand of the young lady at my side never recoiled. I think she was waiting for my hand to soften, to balance, to feel again.

I can train my body to become as hard as iron but at what cost? The Tai Chi greats, the Aikido masters, the Kung Fu fighters who can sense the slightest shift in an opponent’s movement with their skin, the Judo Sensei who relies only on exquisitely timed technique, the Karate-ka who becomes impervious to blows through his practise of Sanchin yet can delicately carry his newborn in his arms…these are the examples I forgot to follow.

Punch a makiwara board a thousand times…then play with the kids. Practise a sword cut a thousand times…then write a haiku. Throw – and be thrown – a thousand times on the mats, hard, and with the spirit of a Samurai…then comfort people in need.

Be the hardest, baddest man or woman ever made…then go out and make a difference in the lives of others.

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