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Supreme Ultimate Fist

Yesterday I went with the better half to my first lesson in Supreme Ultimate Fist. The instructor calls it by its Chinese name, T'ai Chi, but I think that's doing a disservice to the unsung marketing genius behind it. Go ahead and study "the way of harmony of the spirit" , "empty hand", or even "the way of foot and fist"*, nancy boy. I'll just be over here, with some deceptively peaceful-looking middle aged people, learning how to kick your ass. With my Supreme Ultimate Fist!

Yes, you learn to kick with a fist. That's how completely supreme you can get.

*( aikido, karate, and tae kwan do ).

Reading up on Chinese boxing styles, you get an idea of what the marketing guy was up against:

Tiger and Crane Boxing, Eternal Youth Boxing, Knight Boxing, Hakka Boxing, Buddhist Boxing, White-Eyebrow Boxing, Confucian Boxing, Southern Skills Boxing, Kunlun Boxing, House of Kong Boxing, Han-Exercising Boxing [...] Essence Boxing, Flower Boxing, Cannon Boxing, Hong School of Boxing, Full-Arm Boxing, Maze Boxing, Six-Harmony Boxing, Springing Legs, Jabbing Feet, Eight-Ultimate Boxing, Great Ancestor Extended Boxing and Silk Floss Boxing.

No wonder plain old "Ultimate Fist" wouldn't do.

Coming from a country with only one martial arts tradition (Drunken Vodka Boxing), I find this list pretty intimidating. And it gets even more intimidating when you add in the traditional weapons:

lance, mallet, long bow, crossbow, jingal, jointed bludgeon, truncheon, sword, chain, hooks, hatchet, dagger-axe, battle-axe, halberd, shield, staff, spear and rake [?].

Followed by the modern weapons:

broad-sword, lance, rapier, halberd, hatchet, battle-axe, shovel, fork, jointed bludgeon, truncheon, hammer, harrow, trident, staff, long-blade spear, cudgel, dagger-axe and wave-bladed spear.

I suppose getting attacked with a fork sounds funny until it happens to you. Particularly in China, where they probably had to go to extra effort to find a fork, implying a special venom towards Westerners and a flair for the symbolic. The list here isn't exhaustive - my sense is that any sharp object you can name has a Chinese martial arts tradition devoted to it. Given the strange proliferation of KFC's we saw on our trip to China, I wouldn't even be surprised to find a School of the Shaolin Spork. This is a people not afraid to specialize.

Our T'ai Chi teacher is a fuzzy-headed red-haired man with earnest eyes. He believes in letting the lesson plan evolve naturally from the energy that flows in from the Universe, rather than relying on a Western crutch like advance preparation. But still, he's been studying for twenty years, and knows his T'ai Chi. He worked us enough so that my legs were all tired and sore - I was glad of the fat raindrops on the walk home.

My grandmother, full of surprises, was an avid practitioner of T'ai Chi. She would have felt right at home in Wuhan or Chengdu, where a walk through any park revealed a group of people doing a morning routine, with loners off under the trees, going at their own pace. It may sound all morning-mist-and-pan-flutes described here, but it helped that there was always another group or two just a few meters away, practicing ballroom dancing to the tune of a boom box.

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