Green Bamboo Snake

September 28, 2008

Over the years, many pieces of what some may consider kung fu gossip has reached my ears. I recently saw CDG and CPG on the busy streets of Chinatown and having nothing to do that particular afternoon, struck up a conversation with them. Because both CDG and CPG are closely involved in the recently-formed loose kung fu community whose members span probably a score or two schools in the New York metro area, I was privvy to several interesting pieces of gossip. I won’t reiterate it here, since most of it is old history–water under the bridge–for those people involved, and I’m not about to bring up old wounds for no reason in particular.

One of the stories did strike a particular chord with me. Before I continue, I must explain several things relevant to the story not immediately apparent. Traditional holds that each kung fu lineage–each pai–has one and only one designated successor. That is to say, the current master picks the next master of the style. There is no rule that says that the current master has to pick the best of his students, and it is often the case that, for a variety of reasons, the master passes over the best for someone he feels more appropriate. Perhaps the best student does not have the entirety of the system, or perhaps the best student is not well suited or unwilling to be the next in line. Regardless of whom, once this person is chosen, the other students are left to their own devices. Some will stay and help train the next generation of students. Others will leave, but without permission from the head of the system, they would be unable to open a school under the style’s name.

The question of succession thus creates a great amount of politics. Many of the students will vie for the position, and once a successor is chosen, the other leading candidates might secede from the system in disgust or challenge the chosen successor. The particular story that piqued my interest concerns the former.

It is a common joke among martial arts masters that the real master is the wife. It is something I have heard time and again. The wives, having a control of their husband’s ears (among other things) in bed, are the most influential people in the school. I don’t mean to be sexist, but at the heart of the particular story is not the students themselves, but the wives of the students whose whispers resulted in the breaking of a long friendship and the falling out between two top students, splitting the remaining practitioners of the style into two camps.

A smart master does not share the intricate happenings of the school with his wife. Masters often do not bring their wives to the school. There are notable execeptions, and there continue to be, especially when the wife is a master herself. However–and this applies for both sexes–people outside the martial arts world at best have a very cursury understanding of it, its rules and etiquette, and its normal practices. To put it simply, they should not interfere. The worst offender is the spouse, and typically the wife, from which speculation and gossip enter the ears of the master. Husbands tend not to be so interested in the dealings of their wife if the wife happens to be the master.

Women are, for the most part, irrational and emotional. It is what makes them so mysterious to men, and hence appealing and exotic. The old saying is that behind every successful man is a woman. There is a great deal of truth in this proverb. The strength of the woman behind the man is directly correlated to the success of the man. Women are men’s greatest strength and subsequently their greatest weakness. A petty woman will utterly destroy her man as quickly as a generous one would make him. Worse yet, a petty or even weak woman without a strong man to temper her will end up destroying her children.

I can hear the cries of sexism now, that women love their children and would do everything to protect them. That is, of course, the problem. Women, being irrational and emotional, have a tendency to be overprotective. Their children then either end up thinking the entire world is full of scary monsters, or not being able to do anything without the assistance and approval of mommy. It is a very unfortunate fact that overprotection in the United States has resulted in the lawsuit-happy, politically-correct, everybody-is-equal mentality among everyone. For example, in the old days, disagreements were settled with fists if they could not be settled with words. Today, they are settled in court, an obvious appeal to a higher authority, that being the government in this case.

In effect, children who are unable to act for themselves, think for themselves, learn for themselves, are destroyed human beings. They no longer hold the essence of humanity, which is the unlimited potential to be and do anything. Instead, they are drones, robots, churned out by an assembly line. Nothing new would be created, nothing amazing or inspiring would be accomplished, because these things involve risk, and success in such endevours require failure beforehand.

But I digress. At the same time, a strong woman, generous and intelligent, will nurture her children to greatness. And for everyone else, hopefully, there is a strong man in the family who will temper the whims of the woman.

Anyhow, my point is, women are not subject to the unspoken rules and etiquette of men. And thus they are able to achieve things men simply cannot. They can show weakness because they are expected to be weak, while a man would be ripped apart by his peers and even by other women for the same actions. At the same time, as much good as they can do with their powers, they can also do wrong, often by convincing the man that he is not subject to the rules and etiquette, and hence should break them.

I end with this poem:

青竹蛇兒口
黃蜂尾後針
兩般皆不毒
最毒婦人心

which roughly translates into: “The green bamboo snake’s mouth and the bee’s venom combined are not venomous compared to the heart of a man’s wife.”

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