That day made everything apparent to me. It was explained and I knew what needed to be done. I wasn't ready though, no where near ready to become what was needed to get it all right. I had a good idea where to start though...
My body felt better despite some pain here and there, no one would guess that I was feeling any however. Unless they were the man I had come to see. Man-Sumu had called me to tell me Sifu was back in town. I knew the first place he would stop after visiting his family. Walking through the kwoon doors I was greeted with pained grunts. I smiled as I saw a group of students spread out circling two people. It was one of the younger students and he was on his knees with a pained expression on his face, the other person however; he smiled as he stood looking down at the young student. “You must be new,” His voice said, “You should know that you need to roll with the direction of the lock. Dietrich, you should've taught them that from the beginning.”
“Yes Sifu.” Hernandez-Sifu said with a smile as he watched our master work. We all enjoyed it, it was part of the fun of studying here. The doors closed behind me and several people turned to look at me. Phrey, Hernandez-Sifu were among them but one person didn't look as he was too focused on keeping the student down. “Sifu, it's-.” Man-Sifu held up his hand to silence Hernandez-Sifu and released the student.
The student stood up and bowed to Sifu, Sifu did the same and clapped his hands, calling the students to line up. Hernandez-Sifu took that as his cue to take over. “Everyone, thank Sifu-Man for helping us with class today.” Everyone turned to Sifu and bowed.
“Xie-Xie Man-Sifu.” They all said in unison. Sifu smiled and bowed to the students. When he stood fully he turned and walked off the mat. I still stood and waited for his acknowledgment.
“Chase me if you can,” He said with that same smile with the same couple of crooked teeth that appeared in his wide smile. He was tall for an Asian man, easily six-foot and he was well built, not that he needed to be. “It's been a while.”
“As people keep telling me.” I said with a bow, “It's great to see you again Sifu.” I added,
“You look like hell.” He chuckled,
“Should see the other guys.”
“How many?” He asked, I looked away as I sheepishly held up three fingers. He busted up laughing. “Really?!” He asked disbelieving. “Wow, that's just sad Chase.”
“I am aware Sifu.” I said avoiding his gaze. “Can we talk Sifu?” He nodded and turned to the mat where Hernandez-Sifu was having the students practice their forms.
“Dietrich!” He called, Hernandez-Sifu turned to Sifu and waited to be instructed. “Chase and I will be going into the back, We are not to be disturbed understood?” Hernandez-Sifu bowed in understanding and Sifu led me to the back of the school where everyone changed and got ready for class. There was an office where Sifu handled business. Some of that business had to deal with what I did. Sifu was one of the people who knew what I did and was actually the one who taught me to handle myself. Something about his student shouldn't be losing to street punks.
We sat in the back and I explained my situation to him. He was disappointed and a little confused at how I explained what happened. “So you mean to tell me that your brain shut down and you've been on what you described as a form of mental auto-pilot?”
“After all I've been through, that is what you're having trouble believing?” He shrugged at my question knowing I had a point.
“So you know what you need to do, who to go after and everything.” He said, “Why not just go after them right now?” I said nothing just looked down at myself, “Never mind.” He said, “I already heard from My mother about what happened at the restaurant.” He said, “The guy who tried to rob you was done sloppily...three years is more than enough time for you to lose what skill you've had.” I looked up only to barely see him throw a punch. It was full force and I didn't even get a chance to register it before he caught me in the cheek. The punch caused me to fall back and landed on the ground with a loud thud. No doubt someone heard but no one came to see what was happening. I looked at him with surprise only to see him shake his head at me. “Such a shame...” He said, “you were one of my good students.”
“Were?” I asked, he nodded.
“You can't honestly expect me to endorse your plans with that pitiful display of a dodge no less?”
“That's why I'm here Sifu.” I said, “Please...I need to come back...I need to do this.”
“It won't be easy Chase.” He said, “As you are now, it will be hell to bring you back and I'm not sure I'll have enough time to-.”
“I just need you to get me started Sifu.” I said locking eyes with the man. “For what I need to come back for...Hell sounds like a good price to pay personally.”
There was quiet for a minute before he smiled and began to laugh. “I knew there was a reason I liked you Chase. You're smart but stupid at the same time. I always liked that mix in you.” I smiled, it always made me smile to get praise from my teacher, it was always hard to get which made it feel like a reward in itself.
I shifted so I was sitting on my knees looking up at Sifu. “Will you train me again Sifu?” I asked, “Will you help prepare me for the war I have to fight?”
It was silent again, I didn't move, didn't say anything, blink or even breath. I waited for his answer. “Tomorrow, bright and early.” He said. I smiled and bowed my torso to him.
“Thank you Sifu.”
I walked into the kwoon early in the morning as Sifu had instructed. I wore the clothes that belonged to the kwoon, it seemed fitting. I closed the door quietly behind me and walked onto the mat. I didn't see Sifu anywhere and thought I had better wait for him. I walked to the middle of the mat and faced a wall that had two pictures on it. One of Sifu and one of our Suye, the man who taught Sifu. I had not learned of what had happened to our Suye but seeing as no one had reprimanded me for disrespecting him I guessed he was fine and was possibly out of town. He had a habit of leaving for weeks at a time. I stood still and bowed to both pictures, first to Suye's and then to Sifu's. I was preparing to rise up from my bow when I felt what could have been a brick hit me in the back of the head. I dropped to the ground with a thud, but didn't spend much time there. I was kicked over to my back and my vision was already hazy, but it didn't stop me from seeing who struck me. Sifu stood with his arms crossed and a look of disappointment. “Pathetic.” He said, “Simply pathetic.”
I got up as quick as I could but it didn't take much time for Sifu to put me down again. That time with a punch. “I always taught you that once you're on the ground you're done.” Sifu scolded, “You spent too much time there trying to get your mind back on track only for me to get ready with a punch to keep you off balance.” I tried to get up faster but he was like a monster with how quick he kept putting me down. I lost count of how many times I was on the brink of blacking out or how long we fought. I knew he wasn't really fighting me, he didn't have to.
When I did get up and took chances to strike him with whatever I could think of he countered effortlessly. “No wonder you were beaten by three people.” He scolded again, “You couldn't even handle three year olds with the way you are now.” He added kicking me in the face. “Why are you wasting my time!?”
I couldn't answer. I couldn't think, I couldn't even look at him by the time we finished. I had lost consciousness soon after and by the time I woke up I was bandaged and he had gotten some drinks for us. “What did you do wrong?” Was the first thing he asked me when I woke up.
“Everything.” I said. He said nothing more on the subject. He walked to the door and told me,
The days that had passed after Sifu beat me began to run together. Each day was a lesson in pain that I had to experience over and over again. My senses, my strength, my skills had all dulled in the three years away from training. Sifu saw that and didn't waste anytime exploiting it. It was just an endless barrage of pain flowing one way, from him to me. After each session Sifu would leave me with instructions on what I would do that day. It would run from practicing forms from sun up to sun down, to a whole day of exercising and rest only came after he had felt tired, and he never tired easily.
It would be a week before I could see the blows coming and it would be nearly two before I could just about sense them. With that sense came the one time my body could act on it's own memory and struck. It wasn't a strong or particularly good but it was a strike and Sifu was elated. “Good!” He exclaimed. “That's what I've been waiting for Chase.” He smiled. “That's what you've been missing!”
“You felt it didn't you?” He asked, “You felt the strikes coming and knew when to strike back?”
“Y-yes...I did Sifu.” I said,
“That's what you need now Chase, you're on the right road again.” I smiled at my master's praise again. He was right, I had felt it for one second, but that one second proved the route I was on was the right one.
“Well it's about time.” A voice said from the door of the kwoon. We both looked and my jaw dropped. It was a woman, tall and long dirty blonde hair. That woman was Janine-sumu, Sifu's wife. I was more worried than anything to see Janine-Sumu. The first time we met was during my early training with Sifu and I had done a bad joke threatening her's and Sifu's small dogs. That bad joke was really poorly received by her and I have had to walk on eggshells ever since knowing her.
“S-Sumu.” I said bowing to her, “It's great to see you again.”
“You still think I don't like you huh Chase?” She asked with a light laugh at my stammering.
“Well...no Sumu just-.”
“He's scared you'll pull a knife on him again.” Sifu said with a laugh of his own walking over to his wife.
“Oh Chase,” she said, “You still haven't forgiven me for that. I was just playing around.”
I said nothing but nodded. “Larry, it's time.” Janine-Sumu said to Sifu.
“Really?” Sifu asked looking to the clock on the kwoon's wall. “Oh so it is.” He said, “We'll have to get going.” He gave her a quick kiss on the cheek and walked back onto the mat. “I'll just go grab my bag and I'll meet you at the car.”
“Alright,” Janine-Sumu said, “Hope to see you again Chase.”
“Huh? Oh, yes.” I said as I bowed to her again, “Sai-gen Janine-Sumu.”
Janine-Sumu left out the door and I followed behind Sifu as he walked to the back of the school.
“You're leaving Sifu?” I asked,
“I told you I wasn't in town for long Chase.” He told me as he went back and grabbed his bag. “I have to leave again with Janine.” He stated,
“Well, yes I knew that much.” I said, “But I thought we'd have more time to train. I don't know if I'm ready yet.”
“If you don't know you are then you aren't Chase.” Sifu said flatly. “Chase, we have trained day in and day out for you the past couple of weeks and you just now had everything you had before in that last fight with me.” We stood outside the kwoon as he said his piece, “You're the one who ultimately decides what happens next Chase. Not me and certainly not them. But they aren't going to stop if you aren't feeling up to it. You know that better than anyone.” I said nothing but I knew Sifu was right. “If you want to take more time do so, you could probably use the polish but that's all it will be Chase. You have a battle to fight and you should be ready but wars aren't always won by the most prepared.” I remained silent for another moment. “I have to go Chase.”
“Yes Sifu,” I said bowing, “Of course.”
“I'll be back, and by the time I do I expect something different than this Chase.” He told me,
“Yes Sifu.” I replied, “Things will be different...”
“Good boy.” With that he bowed his head lightly and went to his car where his wife sat. The two left and I was alone to ponder my teachers' words and what I needed to do next. I decided to go take a look through some junk.