It was a long day. We had
traveled up to Vancouver, British Columbia to do a
demonstration. As it turned out, the show wasn't until
late afternoon so we pretty much had nothing to do the
whole day. That, combined with having to sit through the
four hour drive to Vancouver had us both a bit edgy when
our time came to perform.
Not to worry, it turned out fine, or should I say, as
well as could be expected.
When you work with someone as long as I've worked with
Mr. Kwan, you know there are days when the technique and
execution is perfect, and days when it is not. On this
day, it was not. Kwan was troubled, maybe it was the
drive, maybe the delay. Who knows? His mind was
Twice, I nearly kicked him doing my attacks. During the
knife demo, he missed a block on a straightforward knife
thrust. Fortunately, few, if any in the audience noticed
the error. As we wrapped up, Kwan said, "Let's get our
stuff and hit the road. I'm exhausted." He wanted to
leave fast, his discomfort obvious. Kwan had a sense
about things, I respected that. If he wanted to leave,
then we would.
Within thirty minutes, we had crossed the border and
were back in the states. We were both thirsty, and
pulled off the interstate to a small town supermarket
where we went for soft drinks.
It was Kwan's treat, so while he was in line waiting to
pay, I ventured over to the magazine rack.
A headline about an extraterrestrial having impregnated
several Kansas farm girls immediately caught my
attention, as did the feature about Hollywood pets
contracting aids. "How is that possible," I thought,
puzzling over the implication inherent in the headline.
As I reached for the tabloid, I was jarred from behind
by a passing customer. While my body instinctively
positioned for potential trouble, my senses focused on
the surrounding environment to sense whether there was a
The air was heavy with a beer-on-old-clothes flavor.
Focusing on the scent, my head turned to the right,
where my eyes tracked to a fleshy hulk, dressed like a
lumberjack. He was big, easily dwarfing my two hundred
pounds. Eying him, I also picked up the sour combination
of tobacco, and metabolizing alcohol.
He was headed toward the express line, right where Kwan
He looked to be 6'6"
tall, and weighed at least two hundred and fifty pounds.
As he closed on the express line, he was Paul Bunyan,
relative to the other shoppers. Especially relative to
the diminutive Kwan, who stood in line holding a bottle
of juice and a six pack bananas.
I ignored the bump, just not important enough to have
trouble over, especially considering what my senses just
In the few seconds I saw him, I knew he was a drinker,
not drunk, but fueled to reckless confidence by the
amount of alcohol still flowing in his veins. He was
short on tolerance and quick to react. Energy permeated
through his body and threatened outward into the
One of my early teachers had taught me to read opponents
carefully. There would be days when we'd go to the
market place or to the mall, and do our character
studies. At tournaments, we observed how people moved,
then mingled with them to learn close up. Sensei used to
say he could see a mental image of an opponent's side
kick by listening to the inflection in his voice. In
time, different faculties evolved within me to assess
and process the information my physical senses gleaned.
Before long, without knowing how, I could intuit
profiles of people I had been studying. Sort of like a
horoscope, without the newspaper.
From the corner of my eye, I saw Kwan had noticed the
man, and was already rolling his eyes skyward. I could
almost hear his thoughts, "What a firecracker this
There were five people in line, with Kwan third from
front. Mr. Lumberjack walked immediately to the head of
the line. A large, matronly black woman faced him down,
stared, then scolded, "You can't just walk in front of
people, there's a line here!" She pushed on by the man,
and now he was in front of the next shopper, a frail
He was clearly riled, but he was also confused about
what to do with the matron. Granny broke the confusion
when she spoke up, "Why don't you go to the end of the
line like everyone else, and wait your turn?"
His face flushed red, and he bore into her with a
frightening stare. "Jesus," I thought, "He's going to
She timidly, but courageously, stepped forward, making
it clear she would say nothing more, then waited to pay
for her loaf of bread and leave.
Mr. Lumberjack, again entered the line, now between
Granny and Kwan.
Kwan, turning to me across the distance, played what he
called his simple Poncho character, shrugging his
shoulders, turning his hands outward, and rolling the
sides of his mouth down with a mockingly concernful
"What do I do now?" look. He had once lived in
Mexico, as well as Taiwan, and was fiercely proud of
both indigenous cultures, though he wasn’t above having
some fun with people’s pre-conceptions.
If the lumberjack had asked me, I would
have told him. If he were my friend, I would have warned
him without the asking. I would have said, "If you're
going to get in that line, don't get in front of the
short, latino looking gentleman. You'll have to take my
word on this, but if you trigger his switch, he'll hurt
Kwan tapped him on the shoulder. "Sir, you'll have to go
to the end of the line. Others are in front of you."
The lumberjack retorted, "Who's gonna make me? You?"
The line edged forward. The cashier attended the second
customer, and the lumberjack laid his goods down on the
checking stand platform. Not smart enough to leave it
alone, he turned toward Kwan, "Listen Jose, I'm in a
hurry and I don't have time to waste hanging around here
in a line. If you want to protect this line and be some
kind of a hero, that's fine, but as far as I'm
concerned, no two bit Mexican greaseball like..."
Then I saw what I feared
most. Two lightning strikes to the giant's head where
the nose connected to the brow. He instantly crumpled to
the floor, and his face was covered with blood. When I
say instantly, I mean no one appeared to even see what
happened. Immediately behind Kwan was a lady struggling
with her child, who refused to exit the baskart seat.
Immediately to the front, Granny was completely ignoring
the rude gentleman who had frightened her just moments
before. At the rear of the line two men admired the
curves on a passing shopper.
I put down the tabloid, and went to help Kwan deal with
the situation, when I realized he had done this while
still holding the six pack of bananas, and the bottle of
orange juice tucked under his left arm. Kwan stepped
over the sprawling body, which lay frighteningly still
on the linoleum. He mumbled, "I'm Chinese you asshole,
if I were Mexican, you'd be dead!"
When I got to the register, he was paying the cashier,
and matter of factly remarked to her, "You'd better call
the manager and do something about him." He pointed to
the floor with his chin. The cashier, leaning over the
platform, looked at the sprawling mass and exclaimed,
"Ohmygod...what happened to him?"
Kwan again shrugged his shoulders, did the simple Poncho
and said, "I don't know Miss, he smells like he's been
drinking. He just went down."
We began to make our way for the door as the cashier
telephoned the manager, and there was considerable
commotion as others in the line finally noticed the body
on the floor. The sounds of "What happened?" or "He was
standing there arguing with a lady just a minute ago."
filled the air as we discretely made our way out the
door. As we left the store, Granny was by the exit and
winked at Kwan as we walked by.
Kwan didn't have much to say as we downed our juice and
bananas headed toward Tacoma.
Thirty minutes down the road, I turned and asked, "What
the hell did you do to him?"
"I don't know, I really don't know. Don't even remember,
or care to remember. I would have let him have my place
in line, but that wasn't enough for him. He needed some
"He wanted my dignity, my self esteem. That, I could not
let him have. He talked. He moved. I reacted. I hope
“You know, you weren’t nearly that sharp earlier today.”
“Yeah, I knew something was coming, I felt the ripples
even then. I kept asking myself what could
possibly happen? But as soon as I saw him, I knew he was
coming for me.”
It's times like that when I believe in the cosmic
guiding hand. Who knows how many dignities were
sacrificed to satisfy the lumberjacks' twisted needs in
the past? Who knows what combination of events made it
happen that for an instant, everyone's attention was
diverted elsewhere, as some huge hulk turned to
intimidate a little dark skinned gentleman standing in a
supermarket express line? Who would have expected the
little man to be Kwan?
It's as if it had been scripted, arranged to happen
precisely as it did by some knowing spirit, intent on
transmitting a needed lesson to an uncaring brute, and
perhaps something about restraint to my friend Kwan.
It was a long difficult day. As usual, Master Kwan
pulled something out of his hat to make it
memorable. A few miles further down the road, we
found a night spot where we stopped for a quiet meal.