Chapter One III
All beings are in me. But bringing down into the brain the content of another brain requires special training.
There is nothing that cannot be achieved by training.
Nisargadatta Maharaj, I Am That
In the fifth full year at the temple, approaching the sixth, I’m still in the kitchen every day. Master Sung calls me, ‘undisputed master of nourishment.’ I appreciate the appreciation, guess I’ll never qualify for Most Selfless Buddhist, although it occurs to me that the winner of the award could never accept it.
I trained many monks in my techniques, learned from Ms. Alva, Mrs. Fong and my own experimentation. Now, I preside over the kitchen more than cook in it. It isn’t that I’m above cooking. We learn best by teaching others. To stay in the game, I frequently chop, slice, stir and measure; it’s too much fun to just quit and sit. Master returns to beginner. Seems appropriate, and as Janah reminds me, I don’t have self-esteem issues.
I practice gung fu, work with the qi masters, both old men a testament to the life force, old and getting younger. My, our, it’s Janah’s and mine really, calligraphy is in the zone; a natural outgrowth of my unique sensory gifts and Janah’s still presence. I’ve finally broken through, putting knowledge and technique aside. The characters appear effortlessly beneath the brush.
Master Sung, “Her gung fu has been at a master’s level for some time. Disciple Sylk’s ability to absorb months of training in one lesson made more sense. From the first, she could see a kuen performed and duplicate it, as some musicians can replay a song after hearing it only once.”
Janah, “In the beginning it is only imitation of course.”
Sung, “Ah…but then, in a few sessions, she turns it into a kuen unique to her, a virtuoso performance.”
Janah, “Daphne is, first, a martial artist, it is her breath and blood. While she is me and I am her in mind, we have physical differences, both to the world and to each other. She loves gung fu as she has all her martial arts, it is her Buddha expression.”
Sung, “Disciple Sylk is compassionate, intelligent, graceful, fearless. We were not sure what to do with her. She is young, yet unquestionably devoted, her skill evident. She demonstrates flawlessly all the gung fu we have to teach. She is conversant in all the teachings, whether it’s you through her is immaterial, she is awakened. You recall what my old friend calligraphy Master Chou said when I sent those paintings?”
Janah, “He had difficulty believing they were from a teenage disciple.”
Sung, “He said more than that, you are too modest to repeat it. He said it was as if two masters combined all their skill, the images leap off the page. That he had never seen such clean, accurate strokes applied with grace and subtlety. Her art speaks of power and yielding, water over rock. Disciple Sylk is precision itself, it is her way.”
Janah, “She mystifies me still. She can draw a perfect circle, a one foot line, exactly straight in any direction, exactly one foot long, or one inch. I’ve watched her draw a triangle freehand, exactly the same length on each side, precisely level on the page, then draw a perfect circle around it, then a perfect square around the circle. I tried to follow in her mind. There is nothing to follow, no specific activity, she sees the image before it is on the page, then it appears on the page, that’s it.”
Master Sung, “I have been privileged to see astounding things in my long years. You and Disciple Sylk appear and I have seen things beyond explanation. Even Master Tan cannot fathom the way she draws, he told me he bowed to her skill when she brought him one of her pieces.”
Janah, “She drew the qi hànzi (氣) as a gift to him for his hours of instruction. He was…, well, he was …”
Sung, “Old Tan was overwhelmed, he wept at the beauty of Disciple Sylk’s gift. He gave it to me to hang in the dining hall to share with everyone. He admitted being tempted to cling to it for himself, even for a few days. He said couldn’t face Disciple Li, Disciple Sylk and Master J, his only students, with such an attitude.”
Janah, “Daphne wanted it to come from her, from her heart, as a genuine expression of her affection for him and his patient instruction. His tears fell on her heart, I don’t think I’ve ever seen her so touched. She told me his gift to her was infinitely greater than the ink and paper she had given him.”
Sung, “Her words confirm our decision. We thought of it for a long time as a dilemma, her age, her time as a student and disciple. We realize it is our illusion. Two have become one; as the one is, so is the other. You have taught that thought is time. We know thought is illusory, confused. Therefore time is also an illusion. We were caught in that confusion regarding Disciple Sylk’s youth. Now, I would like to see her, she is near?”
Janah, “She was with Lu, checking inventory in the pantry, now on the way.”
I appear, bow to Master Sung and kneel next to Janah.
Master Sung studies silently for a while, reflecting on the mysteries he’d witnessed these last years.
He asks the question no serious monk would ever be unprepared to answer, “Tell me Disciple Sylk, in what do you take refuge?”
“I take refuge in the Buddha, I take refuge in the teachings, I take refuge in the Order, I take refuge in myself.”
“Are you prepared to take the Oath at tonight’s meditation?”
“Then….it is time for you to leave.”
He turns to Janah, “Please prepare.”
With that, Master Sung stands, a tilt of his head, whisper of a smile he goes out and across the courtyard. Janah envelopes me. There is no need for words. We are crossing into a different phase. Janah explained this to me years earlier, before we physically met. She didn’t we would live in a Shaolin monastery, she knew her other would become a unique martial artist. She sensed in her youth there would be a purpose. She didn’t question why, there was no need to know. Now, she knows. Soon other tasks will begin. My priesthood, leaving the temple, will be the beginning of a new phase, new blessings and many challenges decidedly less peaceful.
Master Sung, by telling me it is time, means I test for the priesthood, then leave the temple for three years in the world. The dilemma of the masters only temporary. They hesitated to recommend one for ordination with less than seven years of instruction. It is normally, at a minimum, a twelve to fifteen year process. Janah said I had confounded Master Kim, now the Shaolin, vaulted the rigorous demands and more. The illusion that I am too young disappeared when Master Sung, listening to the discussion, finally spoke, “Are we to hold Disciple Sylk because we did not learn as quickly as she?”
That closed the issue, laughing at themselves for being so parochial.
That night, at the close of the evening’s meditation, Master Sung asks everyone to remain, then calls on me. There is stillness in the hall. Calling on a monk at the close of meditation can only mean one thing. I stand, bow.
Master Sung, “Disciple Sylk, what do you vow?”
“To all the monks of Shaolin, I freely and willingly make the following promises in recognition of my responsibilities to the Buddha, my teachers, fellow monks, and sentient beings.
First, that I respect and honor all life. I shall neither take from nor injure any being except for food, in defense of my person, or the defense of another innocent sentient being. No act of the taking of life for any other reason, whether for ritual sacrifice or for secular purposes, shall I condone. In Buddha’s name I take this vow.
Second, I shall dedicate my life first to my spiritual development, for I know that only I have the power to change myself. If I cannot achieve a spiritual union with my Buddha-self, I shall be unable to guide other beings to their Buddha-selves.
Third, I recognize that whatever human rights get exercised in the world are granted by people and governments in power. I shall oppose any restrictions that block a sentient being, myself included, from walking the path towards enlightenment.
Fourth, I shall be a warrior only against the forces of ignorance, by learning, teaching, and compassionately interacting with other sentient beings. In this one domain I shall act in a way that may shape society.
Fifth, I shall at all times hold the principals of compassion, mercy, wisdom and kindness as the greatest treasures that a sentient being may bestow, and bestow them with frequency.
Sixth, I honor the secret teachings of the Temple and Order of Shaolin, and shall neither demonstrate nor divulge such teachings except in manners prescribed by the Order’s Grandmasters.
Seventh, I vow to always strive for the highest levels of physical, mental and spiritual control to which my faculties may reach. To this end I shall refrain from the taking of intoxicants, medications, or any other substances that would alter my personal control of my body and mind.
Eighth, I vow to follow the Dharma to the best of my abilities, hold to my beliefs and ideals in the face of adversity, and to do that which I believe is correct and just regardless of consequences. I will share the teachings by living them every day.
I acknowledge that the secrets of the Temple and Order of Shaolin are sacrosanct because of their power and potential for corruption. Therefore, I act as a guardian to these teachings, revealing only those that I am permitted by the Grandmasters and tradition to share. Should I violate these vows; by unauthorized teaching, by joining a force intent on violating any of these vows, or by revealing the names of my fellows, students, or Masters without their permission, I agree that I shall be removed, by death if necessary, from the Temple and Order of Shaolin Ch’an for all time.” *
All these things I vow, then, after bowing to Masters Sung, Hue, Tan, Chou and Zhang, Janah and I go to our room. The other monks in attendance know exactly what is to happen. Black, the boys, the rest of the assembly, their hearts full for my recognition, remain for a long time, meditating on the courage and skill I will be required to demonstrate.
Janah goes deeply into my mind. Soon I am drowsy. She causes me to rest, I grateful for it.
“Are you going to love me as much when I’m marked with the tiger and dragon?”
As I drift off, I feel Janah’s soft reply, “Even more and still forever.”
Janah goes to Black, David and Chan after I’m asleep. Sad and happy, they try not to show either. Alone with Janah, they don’t quite make it; David gets teary and gives up trying to hide it. Chan is a blank, Janah reads his heart in his eyes. Black tries for stoic, he gets pretty close.
His eyes moist, he holds Janah a long time, “If you need anything, anything at all….”
She hugs each one, reminds them that she would call at the temple frequently and that I would surely return when my three years were up. They understand that any attachment, no matter the reason, even towards their girls, is still attachment. I have to be in the world now, a Shaolin requirement. Tomorrow will be the test, and for a long while, I will be gone.
*(Reprinted with permission from The Shaolin Grandmaster’s Text, Order of Shaolin Ch’an, 2004, www.shaolintemple.org
Chapter Two III
Most people are limited by their own lack of persistence,
because they are lazy, or too easily satisfied,
and also because they are afraid.
Most people will only go so far and then apply the brakes,
they suddenly stop, and sit down to recover from the fright
or else drop asleep, which is why they always fall short.
Someone has an idea and normally that idea is enough,
they pause, pleased with that first thought or discovery
and do not continue thinking,
so not continue writing more profoundly,
they do not drive themselves onwards….
People cannot bear sustained investigation or perseverance,
to immerse themselves properly in something
in order to find out about that something.
Javier Marias, Your Face Tomorrow, Fever and Spear
Janah didn’t call the moms*, no point in worrying them in advance. Equally important, the details are something to be kept inside the temple. This isn’t a rank test for a belt, this is the culmination of one phase of Shaolin training. There is no end, no final exam. That it is being granted to me after less than seven years in the temple is unprecedented in the Abbott’s memory. On the other hand, Janah and I are unprecedented in any master’s memory, even old Tan. There were and are priests at my age, but they had been in a monastery since age six or seven. Still, who could say? In the fifteen hundred years of Shaolin, anything could have happened and gone unrecorded.
In the morning, we go to meditation, then I go to the kitchen as if it is merely another day. My test isn’t a Shaolin holiday. The world hasn’t stopped to acknowledge Daphne Day.
Master Sung asks Janah if I need more time to be alone or to prepare. Janah cocks her head to the side, smiling gently at the Abbott.
“Silly question isn’t it? Disciple Sylk was ready the day you showed up on our doorstep. Still, it would have been hard to test her on the first day.”
“She wouldn’t have missed these years for anything. If you never test her she would continue, if you test her she will continue. She is Shaolin.”
Sung nods, “Please tell her, it is time.”
Janah mentals the message, I head to the back of the temple, to a long dark hall. On completion, my wounds will be treated, then required to leave our orderly sanctuary, to make my way in the messy world. The Masters know Janah is going as well, and they know that we will return, the yin-yang of sadness and joy.
Janah would be in me during the test, that is unavoidable, though it would be my mental training and reflexes that would get me through. The gauntlet is designed to be mentally excruciating as much as physically dangerous. The other priests wouldn’t attack me en mass; they would send spears, darts, other hard objects through the air. While I was dealing with the tricks of the priests, I would walk on sand about 50 yards, leaving the barest record of my presence.
As in all things, fear guarantees failure. Fear encloses, which distracts from the absolute necessity of being exactly in the moment every step. There could be no thought of how the last obstacle nearly missed, or what the next challenge would be, or how soon to the end, or the coming pain of searing metal. Nothing but now, everything uncertain.
I embrace it, amazing Janah, the only one who knows I am neither anxious nor intimidated by the challenge. While Janah can feel my sensory intensity, she also feels my complete physical calm. My heart beats at normal resting rate, I do not perspire, there is no adrenaline rush, Janah thinks I’m a bio-psychological marvel of self control.
I stand at the beginning of the walk, mind empty. This challenge is something my nervous system and proprioception have to do. The conscious mind is of no consequence. I feel only qi flowing, my senses receiving. I flash Janah a mental smile and take the first step.
The testing monks don’t wait long for the fun to begin. On my second step, the air stirs ahead. A solid wooden sphere the size of a grapefruit, on a thin wire hurtling to my chest. I lean to one side and let it pass. When it swings back, I reach behind without looking and stop it. I take a few slow light steps, turning to both sides then back, on high alert. From my left, a hiss in the air. I snap back as a dart shoots by, a second on my right, lower, I knock it away with a flick of my hand. Two more steps, silence, except to me. I can hear footsteps along the walls, the room gloomy, lit only by candles. While they provide light, it flickers, there is no constant light in any direction, only shadowy gloom. I rely on my sense of touch, and extend my tongue like a snake, feel the motion of the air, to separate the hiss of a candle from the hiss of a flying object.
Overhead, liquid, don’t need to look up to know it’s going to cover me if I don’t get moving. I spring forward into a front roll. As I complete it, something low to the ground. One, now two, now three. Only one place to go…up. I’m airborne, water splashes behind me, a blunt shaft coming directly towards me as the hard wooden darts shoot harmlessly beneath. In the air now, can’t duck or jump, I twist sideways, snatch the spear mid-flight, land softly. I keep the shaft, perhaps it will come in handy. I walk on with the spear held loosely in front of me. Two more spears, right and left front, left closer. I flick it away and up with one end of the shaft, barely enough time to deflect the second with the other end. As I snap the second up, the end flips down and smacks me on the ankle. No damage, just a sharp sting and a warning.
Over halfway, a vibration behind me, I one eighty. A foot long stick spiraling chest high, my foot lashes, sends it over my head; now another vibration behind me, can’t turn, too close, back flip, partial deflection with the shaft, not in time to fully avoid it. It catches my cheek, a slight cut. I smile, my friends are having such a good time, it seems a shame to end it all. I drop the spear and slow to a crawl, strolling almost complacently down the path of sand, leave no mark, make no sound.
Two metal saucers the size of small Frisbees, painted black, annoyingly difficult to see, zip from each side. I lean back, pluck them out of the air at the point my head had been a millisecond before. I hold on to them. They turn out to be useful, one to intercept yet another wooden ball on a thin wire pendulum. I zing the plate, sever the wire, the ball thumps hard to the floor. I use the second to block two wooden darts, one sent at my chest, one to my gut. Shot simultaneously, I get the one at my chest at arm’s length and barely block the other a half inch from my abdomen. I look down at the twice dented metal plate, the mark from the second dart at the edge. It saved me from a badly bruised stomach. As I move to step off the walkway, an almost imperceptible hiss in the air, then another. I am completely still, listening, vibration in the air, front and rear. First target sighted. To avoid it, I turn my head. It shoots by so closely the shaft grazes my face. I spin and catch the other. The front of the shaft just touches my chest, a millisecond from a potentially painful sternum. I drop it and step off the walkway.
Dead silence for half a minute. A door opens. On the other side a black urn sits on a waist high pedestal. Coals fiery over the open top, a menacing red and black glow, more from the sides where the emblems are cut. Skin will melt from searing hot metal for the several agonizing seconds it takes to transfer the urn from its pedestal to the empty one off to the right. Designed so the candidate has to walk a step or two, not just lift and twist, to relocate it. More time to sear the brands into tender forearms.
Six priests stand in a semicircle around the urn, arms bared, displaying the marks they received many years ago. One is Master Tan. He holds my eyes, I hear him in me, “Take your pain, go into the world, serve your other. There is much to do.”
I nod at no one on particular, then bow. The old mystic understands my acknowledgment of his words.
There would be pain, despite focusing qi into my forearms. I am friends with pain, and I welcome this as I welcome pain in practice. A sign I’m not just going through the motions.
Raising my arms, the sleeves on my robe fall away. Carefully lining up my forearms alongside the urn, the queen of organization isn’t about to endure this only to have the things misaligned. I steel myself, bend my knees around the pedestal, press forearms to the glowing yellow orange, skin sizzles. ‘Grilled Sylk’ flashes through my mind. I lift the heavy urn, two staggering steps over to the empty pedestal, set it down. Peeling my arms away, I turn, concentrating my energy on cooling the burned flesh, sink to my knees, breathe deeply. The pain is exquisite, incredible.
I hear Janah, “So, you wanted to be a Shaolin priest?”
It hurts so bad I laugh.
‘Be careful what you ask for little girl,’ I laugh again, study my burned arms, mental Janah, “I hope they come out okay, I really don’t want to have to do remedial urn lifting,” giggle silently while my arms scream for relief. I catch the scent of my own burnt flesh.
“I wonder if I taste like chicken?”
Janah is there, reaches down, helps me up, we walk out into the fresh air; I plunge my inflamed forearms into a barrel of icy water and Hue’s antiseptic herbs, leave them for a long time, the pain slowly diminishes with the numbing cold. I pull them out, angry red welts blister. Janah walks with me to our room, ready with balm to soothe and protect the wounded skin.
“Well, that was different.”
“I didn’t watch. The Shaolin would never have known whether I helped you and I didn’t want your test tainted in any way. Now they know it was all you. I was in the front of the meditation hall, nowhere around until I felt you finish. I jumped when you caught the two darts with the plate. In my mind I didn’t see two, I saw the first one when you did. Being there must have mattered.”
“I want to see the moms, it’s better now, let’s rock.”
*To refresh if you haven’t read books 1&2, I have three moms, Susan, my birth mom, the second, Chris, is Susan’s companion and lover. Janah’s mom is also our mom. Considering how Janah and I operate, two, but one, we think of all the moms as ours, Kara, Susan and Chris. Collectively, the moms.
Chapter Three III
You Can’t Go Home Again is a novel by Thomas Wolfe.
Obviously, he never knew the moms, or the title would have been,
You Better Go Home Again
“Oh my God, oh my God...., it’s you, you’re here, oh…” Susan is babbling. I hug her, keep pressure off my forearms, use my hands. Janah searches out Kara and Chris.
They walk up with Janah and James while Susan repeats the obvious, “It’s the girls, they’re here!!”
“Susan has the best grasp of reality,” Chris mumbles to no one in particular.
“Sis, we’re happy to see you too. It’s only been a few months, did you think we’d disappeared?”
“Janah was so vague, and I know better than to ask a bunch of mommy questions. For all I knew they’d sent you on a mission to China.”
“Well, you have to put us up for a while, they’ve thrown me out of the temple.”
Dead silence. Not even James is sure what to say. Janah can’t help herself and starts to giggle.
Chris, “Girl, one day you’re going to give us a collective heart attack. Quit goofing and tell us what’s going on, this is cruel and unusual punishment.”
Janah, “Perhaps you’ll want some wine. It’s been an extra busy time for my girl, she could use some pampering. I’m going to make her tea.”
Chris jumps up, “I’ll do it, James, a drink?”
James, “Somehow I think yes is the right answer, perhaps a large scotch.”
Kara, “Turkey and water, can I help?”
Chris, “I’ve got it,”
She brings the drinks, then two large glasses of red for herself and Susan. The tea is steeping, Janah puts the pot on the table.
Chris, “Okay, bring us up to date.”
Janah, “Daphne’s a Shaolin priest.”
There is total, absolute silence for a full minute. Susan bites her lower lip, like she’s processing the input on slow bandwidth, Chris takes a sip of wine, then another. They stare at me. Kara takes James’ hand looking back and forth at him, then me.
“The silence is deafening. What did you think I was there for, to make lunch for the real monks?”
Janah grins. She loves that I refuse to take even difficult accomplishments with any drama. Like it was assumed I would simply handle it.
‘Of course,’ Janah thinks, ‘she always has, perhaps she has a point.’
Janah, “By passing the test, need I say brilliantly, she must leave the temple for at least three years. I can return, but of course I’ll only visit, my priorities are limited to one thing. So we’ll either be here burdening you for a while or we have to go live in the park. Are you up to us or should I get a bench ready?”
Susan’s hand is over her mouth, tears streaming, “We’ll suffer through.”
Chris kneels in front of me. Takes my hands, kisses the long fingers, “My baby is a Shaolin priest,” she says softly, “My baby is a Shaolin priest.”
I stroke her cheek, C-mom is total love for Sis and her family; such cannot be bought or sold.
Chris gently pushes up my sleeve, revealing the tiger, then the other, revealing the dragon. The outlines are clear, the skin swollen and blistered. She stands and bows deeply, her hands folded in front of her.
Susan stares along with the others, then says, “Miss Alva is so proud right now, I can feel her joy in my heart. You are a treasure, my angel.”
James is at the window looking over the tree lined street. His heart as full as the day Kara accepted his proposal of marriage. He thought it was a once in a lifetime feeling, then Janah was born and he thought he surely would never feel so intensely. Then Janah and me together, now this. He decides it might be best not to come to a conclusion about when he would feel so deeply again. Given the girls, he thinks, it could happen again tomorrow.
He comes over to me, “I know you guys have a lot to do. We’ll be here for you, it’s a tremendous thing.”
He kisses my forehead, looking over the burns he says, “Seems as if this is under control, do you need anything, pain reliever?”
I look to Janah, “I brought her with me.”
Susan sits on her knees in front of me, holding my hands, staring at the brands. She lays her head in my lap. The group is silent, sipping their drinks, I softly stroke my mother’s hair.
I lean over and kiss her, “I’m starving. Can a humble priest get a pizza, or should I get a bowl and sit in the street?
Chris, “Hey, do the crime, do the time. For now though, I can call Marconi’s and pick up something good. Let me make the call and refill everyone, then I’ll run down and get the pizzas. The usual assortment, veggie, pepperoni and mushroom?”
James, “Sound perfect, can I get an Italian salad as well please?”
Susan, “Yum, me too.”
If the parents have questions, they are models of restraint, not overwhelming us with what now, or tell us about the test. We can’t discuss the test anyway, and there is no answer to what now. Not an answer Janah wanted to get into at this point. Everything will be made clear in time.
Chapter Four III
“I couldn’t find the way.”
He says, “You don’t need to find a way now.”
He speaks the truth. The way, or whatever it might be,
on which people go is our way, the right way.
There are no paved roads to the future.
We say that it is this way, and it is.
We build our own roads by going on.
Our life is the truth we seek.
Only my life is the truth, the truth above all.
We create the truth by living it.
Carl Jung, Liber Novus
I see Master Kim before class begins. We hadn’t seen each other for over a year.
Kim hugs me, “Ah, Master Sylk. You are out of the temple for a time Sung tells me.”
“Yes, back with the family for now. It feels good to be home and I’m already missing the temple. We are always happy there, even during the worst of the training.”
Kim, “And Master J, she is well? No leftover difficulties from her qi training with Tan?”
“Know about that do you? No, no problems. You must know she had a rough spot when she first began with him. She’s a tough thing, got over it and pressed on.”
Kim rises and walks over to me, “Please, indulge me.”
I raise my arms, shake down the sleeves.
Kim studies the brands silently, bows deeply, “You continue to make your instructor proud. The student surpasses the master.”
I touch his shoulder, “You will always be my master, my best and favorite teacher.”
Kim, “You are a master of taekwondo, hapkido and gung fu. I know you practice free form with your friend Black. Although Sung told me that Janah pulled you out of that a while back.”
“She doesn’t like me too beat up. Besides, she wanted David and Chan to get more experience. Now that I’m out, I hope you plan to work with me, keep me challenged?”
Master Kim’s eyes brighten, “You think I have more tricks?’
“I think, for me, you’ll create them. Plus, the other. Sung was hesitant at first, but Janah knows, so he had to give up the idea of withholding it. I learned formally, it will pay to keep in practice.”
“Yes, the death touch. I know the points. I know how to apply the pressure for the desired result, disable, cripple, kill. There’s the need to practice, keep the blade honed.”
“I anticipated your question, well, with the help of Master Sung. I have several practice methods, one high tech. I had a dummy built in Korea that measures the force of the blow. The dim mak points are invisible, as they would be on a person, there are sensors at the pressure points. It will tell you whether you disabled, crippled or killed.”
“Unreal. When can we begin?”
“Same student, always practice, never rest.”
“What can I say? Practicing isn’t work, it’s not practicing that’s work.”
Master Kim gets the teeniest smile, barely raising the corners of his mouth, “Good, I was glad to hand you to the Shaolin, I needed the rest. Now I’m bored and ready to challenge you again. I won’t insult you by asking if you are up to it this time.”
We eye each other, the battle scarred cunning bulldog and the lightening quick snake.
I think to myself, ‘The fun never ends.’
“We haven’t talked to the moms yet. Here’s the early plan, such as it is. I’m going to teach taekwondo for Chris.”
“Good, I can keep an eye on you.”
“Janah is going ask Lacy about teaching at Chapmans. I may teach there, two days a week at most. Janah is working with the Epsteins on a long term project. The moms will handle the classes otherwise, they’ve actually gotten fond of teaching the girls. They find their energy energizing. Janah and I have to continue qi practice, go to Chinatown to work. That fills a fair amount of time and it allows for Janah and I to be together for everything, at least in the same building.”
“Any other work will show up of its own accord.”
“So she says.”
“For people with no plans, you have a lot to do.”
“Funny how that works.”
Students fill the dojang, there are old faces and many new, the class is over forty tonight. Janah maintains her magic, the dojang in respectful silence in the presence of two monks.
Susan barely holds her instructor face as Master Kim introduces us, “Our guests many of you will remember from several years ago, Master Sylk’s hair was longer then….mine too,” a ripple of laughter.
He continues, “This is Master Janah, known as Master J from the Shaolin Temple here in New York. Her long time companion, Master Sylk, is a monk from the same temple. Not all of them are old and ugly,” another burst of laughter.
He avoids saying I am a priest, I asked him to keep it simple for the time being.
Kim, “I was honored to award Daphne her 5th degree belt five years ago at the Shaolin Temple, so she is Master Sylk to us, as is her mother, two Master Sylks. We will call her Master Daphne I think, save confusion. She entered the Shaolin Temple at age fifteen and has been learning gung fu, and has mastered the Snake style, renown for very fast deadly strikes and counterstrikes, Praying Mantis, her specialty is T’ai Mantis, unique to the Shaolin. Strikes in T’ai Mantis require exceptional qi. Her weapons specialties include long staff, nunchucks, shuriken and chain whip. I was additionally privileged to award Master Daphne the black belt in hapkido, the first I have ever awarded.”
Class begins, we sit on either side of Master Kim. It’s an hour and a half after class before we can leave, old faces coming to visit and share stories, new students anxious to meet Shaolin monks.
I’m still on temple time, up at 5. Janah gratefully and easily reverts to sleep-in mode. I like getting up earlier, I have tea and sit in zazen for an hour. When I hear Sis stirring, I make coffee.
After Susan starts second cup, I ask, “Do you think C-mom would mind if I helped teach at the school?”
“You know the answer to that already. She would like to have you just hang around all day, much less instruct. Plus, you’re a flipping Shaolin priest. Are you going to do it? You guys are going to be a part of the school? You’ll be making her day, don’t be kidding around.”
“Here’s the deal. We thought it would be okay, you and C-mom have to agree. You’ve worked hard at the school, it’s tremendously successful and I don’t want to interrupt, just jump in. What we’re thinking is that I will help teach, I have also arranged for more intensive training with Master Kim.”
“You just left a Shaolin temple….as a priest! How can you possibly get more intense? What’s he going to do, show up in the middle of the night?”
“That I’ve left up to him. I discussed it with him yesterday. He told me he’s gotten bored not having things to challenge me with. It will keep me on my toes and he’ll have fun. He’ll likely use some of his black belts, it won’t be all Kim.”
“I hope you know what you’re doing. Master Kim will take his job very seriously, and he has several 5th degrees that are very, very good. One of them does that ultimate fighting stuff. He dislocated some guy’s shoulder then got clocked himself in the semi finals. He’s a very nice guy around the dojang. I’m told he’s dangerous in the ring.”
“That’s why I asked Master Kim and not you guys. You love me too much. Master Kim will show little mercy, his associates none.”
“You are a nut case. I guess that’s not news.”
Chris appears and Susan relates my request.
Chris is predictable, “As far as I’m concerned it’s their stuff as much as mine, more. It’s certainly yours. The girls can do anything they wish with it. I’m so spoiled now I can’t see straight.”
“I have plans to spoil you even more.”
“Well, if you say so. I’ll suck it up and do my part. What’s that thing our daughter says?”
“You mean, ‘it’s so good to be me?’”
“Yeah, that’s me.”
I create a huge pile of soft scrambled eggs, biscuits, cane syrup, butter and jelly, with crisp bacon and Miss Alva’s creamy grits on the side.
“Just leave the stuff when you’re done, I’ll get to it after I feed the beast in our bedroom. She’s stirring around in the bathroom now, making herself irresistible. After she eats, I plan on not resisting her. Later we’ll go over what you want me to do in the dojang and Chapmans, sound good?”
Chris, “God, these eggs are perfect. You have no idea how much you were missed.”
“Well you’ve got to deal with us for a while. Who knows what the world will put in front of Janah, this is our home. Where’s James anyway, and K-mom?”
James rounds the hallway corner, “I’m a little late getting up. Janah being home sparked some sort of thing in Kara, I had to put in extra time this morning.”
“She’s just like her daughter. When they make up their minds about something...Nordic Goddesses can be very demanding.”
Chris, “Well, have breakfast, Daphne’s food can set you up for round two, here’s our Nordic Goddess now. Your husband was bragging.”
Kara, “It isn’t bragging if you can do it, it’s simply reporting.”
Susan, “This is a lively crowd for first thing in the morning.”
Kara, “James wasn’t wrong, the girls being back must have gotten the blood going. Having them here, well, it’s just, just...”
Chris, “They have that energy. When they’re gone, I tend to slip into a routine. The girls don’t have a routine. I could learn from that.”
James, “An excellent point. They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. The solution is obvious. Keep learning new tricks and you won’t become an old dog.”