One day a Shaolin student called Lai Fu wanted to fight his way through the Lane of Wooden Men. But after a short while, Lai Fu was screaming in the chamber. He was badly hurt by the Wooden Men.
The Venerable Chee Seen ordered the operation mechanism of the Wooden Men be turned off, and Lai Fu to be carried out. After applying medicine on him, and resting for a few days, Lai Fu felt better.
But he was depressed. He had been learning kungfu in the Shaolin Monastery for more than ten years, but now he could not pass through the Wooden Men. Anyone who could not graduate from the Lane of Wooden Men had to remain in the monastery, no matter for how long he had been there.
Lai Fu realized that earlier Wu Wei Thein was in the same situation. Wu Wei Thien could not fight his way through the Wooden Men, and had to crawl out of the monastery through a drainage hole.
But since that time, an iron grill was made to cover the hole. Water could flow through the grill, but it prevented any human from crawling through it. Lai Fu thought hard and found a solution. Every day, without other people knowing, he took some vinegar from the kitchen and pour the vinegar at the iron grill.
After repeating the action for a month, the vinegar ate into the iron making the iron grill fragile. One late, after he had made sure everyone else was sleeping soundly, he went quietly to the drainage hole. He bent down so that he would not be noticeable and used an iron staff to hit hard at the iron grill. After some hitting, the iron grill collapsed and he crawled through the drainage hole. Outside the monastery wall, he knelt down, knocked his head three times on the ground, and then hurried down the mountain.
Early next morning, some monks on duty discovered that the iron grill at the drainage hole was broken. They quickly sounded the monastery bell to alert all those in the monastery.
All the monks and students of the Shaolin Monastery gathered at the main hall. Chee Seen called the register and found that Lai Fu was missing.
Chee Seen was very angry. “Where is Luk Ah Choy?” he shouted.
Luk Ah Choy came forward and knelt down, “Here is disciple ready to take sifu’s order.”
“Descend the mountain immediately, and bring Lai Fu back.”
Luk Ah Choy left the Shaolin Monastery, He searched in the day time and slept at night, ate when hungry and drank when thirsty. After a few days he came to a small town. He found an eating shop at a main street.
He could smell the aroma of rice, and felt he was hungry. So he entered the shop and looked around to find a table to have his meal.
To his utter surprise, he found a familiar face sitting at a corner. He was Lai Fu, the man he had been searching for many days.
Luk Ah Choy approached Lai Fu, and said, “I never expected to see you here.”
Lai Fu was shocked. He asked his siheng (or elder kungfu brother) to sit down.
“I am under the order of our sifu to bring you back to the Shaolin Monastery,” Luk Ah Choy went straight to his mission.
“Luk Siheng,” Lai Fu pleaded, “Please don’t come forward.” He quickly grasped his iron staff which was leaning against a wall.
“What do you want to do? Just a few movements with your staff, you think you can stop me? Quickly put away your staff, and follow me back to the monastery. Otherwise don’t blame me for not thinking of our joss sticks and candles relationship (i.e. we came from the same kungfu lineage, as joss sticks and candles were used to worship past masters).”
Lai Fu knew very well he would not be a match against Luk Ah Choy. He quickly put away his staff and cried, “Siheng, Lai Fu is here. You can hit or kill me if you want.”
“I am here under sifu’s order to bring you back to the monastery. When you left secretly, sifu was very angry. He ordered me to descend the mountain to search for you. No matter how long the time, I may wander over the edges of heaven and the corners of seas (i.e. everywhere), I must catch you. What has happened is due to your own making. Please don’t blame me for not being your siheng.”
Lai Fu dropped his head and said, “Siheng acts under order. How can little brother blame you? But you and I have been in the monastery for many years, and I don’t think you will see me suffer without extending any help. If I follow you back to the monastery, what kind of punishment I shall receive, you already knew. If siheng can open a bit of the net (i.e. let me escape, like in fishing, open the net to let the fish escape), little brother will appreciate your blessings without end.”
Luk Ah Choy shook his head and sighed. “It is easy to say. You must know my difficulty. If I let you go, how can I report to sifu?”
Lai Fu dropped his head and remained silent. Then suddenly he said, “Not wrong. I know siheng’s difficulty. But secretly escaping from the monastery is not me alone. As far as I know, Wu Wei Thien was one who secretly escaped from the monastery. Why not punish him, and just punish me?”
Luk Ah Choy replied, “How can you compare yourself with Wu Wei Thien? Sifu can forgive him because he has good reasons.”
“Wu Wei Thien and me secretly escaped from the monastery. Why can’t I use it for comparison? What is there any difference between he and me?”
“Wu Wei Thien escaped because of his filial heart. So we all can understand him and admire him. Sifu can forgive him.”
Lai Fu replied, “Siheng Wu’s escape was due to his filial heart. Isn’t my escape due to my filial heart too?” I also have a father and a mother. I have entered the Shaolin Monastery for ten years. Because I am stupid, my kungfu progress is not great, I cannot pass through the Lane of Wooden Men. As if I am stupid, I cannot see my father and mother?
“Siheng, you were also born from your father and your mother. Being a son or daughter, who does not think of his or her own father and mother? Moreover, I have been in the monastery for ten years. This time my escape was due to the binding of bitterness of thinking of my father and mother. Thus I used such a mean method. It was not because I purposely wanted to break monastery rules.
“But events have come to this rice field (i.e. come to this stage). I do not think of being lucky again. Today If I die here, I do not have any angry words. A few days ago I have returned home to meet my parents.”
Saying this, his eyes were filled with tears, and he swallowed his voice.
Luk Ah Choy also dropped his head without his own knowing. He thought silently to himself, “His secret escape is also due to his feeling for his father and mother. This feeling was human in all heaven and earth. He himself did not have any trace of being tied or dependent on any support because he had lost his parents when small. Otherwise, he would not be able to release himself from such emotion. Moreover, this time descending the mountain to catch Lai Fu was he alone. If he let Lai Fu go, no one would know.
When his heart was moved, his hands became soft. He signed and said, “According to reasons, an order from sifu cannot be avoided. But thinking that your action came from your filial heart, I’ll let you go to reverence your father and mother.
“But what happened today must never leak out. Otherwise it will not be good for you or me. I hope you can appreciate my bitter heart (i.e. my intention which is difficult to make). When you return, reverence your father and mother, that will do.”
Lai Fu was touched until his tears and mucus flowed out profusely. Quickly he knelt down to thank Luk Ah Choy.
Luk Ah Choy said, “I can’t accept such a big ceremony (i.e. kneeling down to thank him). You better hurry away,”
Lai Fu grasped his iron staff, ran out of the shop, and fled like a comet.
The monk, Cheong Mong, laughed aloud. “If you have such an ambition, how can I not teach you?
“Secret weapons are meant to supplement the inadequacy of ones kungfu. When one is engaged in combat with an opponent, it is not always that he will win. Thus, there is no harm to learn another skill to protect himself, just like natural breathing.
“Using secret weapons,” Cheong Mong continued, “is based on the understanding that ‘clear spear can be handled, but secret arrow is difficult to avoid’ (i.e. it is easy to handle open weapons, but difficult to handle secret weapons’). Superficially, it is mean and cruel to use secret weapons. They are not used by gentlemen who prefer clear and open combat. But when secret weapons are used properly, they are convenient in moving forward or backward, attacking or defending. Secret weapons are like open sabres and swords. They depend on the user, whether he uses the weapons properly.”
Luk Ah Choy asked, “What are the different types of secret weapons, and how are they used?”
Cheng Mong gently slapped on Luk Ah Choy’s shoulders. “You need not hurry. Listen to what I’ll tell you.
“There are many types of secret weapons. It is difficult to describe them one by one. But those frequently used are flying darts, little arrows in sleeves, flying stones, flying knives, iron grasshoppers, comet round hammers, and iron drakes and ducks.
“Flying darts are the most common. In martial circles, there is hardly anyone who does not know flying darts. The difference is whether his art is deep or shallow.
“There are three sharp points in flying darts. The length of a flying dart is about four inches, and weighs about four taels.”
(A Chinese inch was longer than a British inch. A tael was about 40 grams or more than 1 British onze.)
“Those who use flying darts,” Cheong Mong continued, “usually tie their tails with some red cloth, called dart dress, to cut through the air. When darts are sent out, they surely hit opponents within a hundred steps. Some exponents use yin-hand to fly out their darts, some use yang-hand. It often depends on the situation.”
(In kungfu, the back of the palm is referred to as yin-hand, and the open palm as yang-hand. Interestingly, yin and yang are reverse in Chinese medical terminology. In Chinese medicine, the back of the palm is referred to as yang, and the open palm as yin.)
Cheong Mong continued to say, “Little arrows in sleeves are often used by people who travel at night. They are more deadly than flying darts because they are shot out by a machine. Their force is tremendous, and their use convenient.
“The shooting machine is a cylinder made from iron, with a diameter of less than an inch. In front there is a small opening, used for storing arrows. At the tip is installed something resembling the wings of a butterfly. A spring, the length similar to that of the cylinder, is placed inside the tube. The cylinder with arrows inside is hidden in sleeves. By moving his arm in a certain way, an arrow can be shot out.
“Flying stones are the cheapest. There is no need to spend money buying them. There is also no need for extra work. Ideally, the stones are pointed in front and bigger at the back. The length is about three inches and each weighs about four to six liangs (or taels, and each tael was about 40 grams). Its use is similar to that of flying darts. The targets are an opponent’s mid-point between the eye brows, the temples and the eyes.
“Flying knives are small knives the shape of willow leaves. The length of a flying knife including its handle is about seven inches. Where the handle and the blade meet, there are a few rounds of lines. Its weight is about six liangs (or taels). The knives are covered with a sheath made of shark skin. When using, the exponent holds the handle of the knife, and send it flying out aiming at an opponent’s body. Those who are expert in throwing flying knives, can hit their target within fifty steps.”
The more Cheong Mong spoke, the more involved he became. He then explained the special points and uses of iron grasshoppers and comet round hammers.
Then he handled his iron drakes and ducks, and said, “These iron drakes and ducks are the most subtle amongst secret weapons. They are simple to be made, easy to be carried about, and their application is smooth-handed (i.e. straight-forward). Basically they are a pair of iron pills, one bigger than the other, and both iron pills weigh less than half a katy.”
(One katy was 500 grams. In the past, one katy was divided into 16 liangs or taels, but in China today, one katy is divided into 10 taels.)
Cheong Mong continued, “When using the iron drakes and ducks, it is usual to use the yin-hand, so that an opponent may not notice it. When used against a formidable opponent, although the iron drakes and ducks would not take his life, they would prevent him from pressing in further.
“I’ve explained a lot about secret weapons. When one is in martial circles, it is not necessary to train all of them. Otherwise, it is not only inconvenient to carry so many different types of secret weapons, he may not have the time and energy to train them.
“Thus, kungfu disciples must know about secret weapons, but they should not spend too much time on them. If a person chooses one or two secret weapons that are concurrent with his character, it is enough to be used for life.
“Now in the martial circles, the most frequently used secret weapons are flying darts, flying stones and little arrows in sleeves. Flying knives and comet round hammers may be met sometimes. Iron grasshoppers are like unicorn’s horn and phoenix’ feather (i.e. very rare). Hence amongst those who wander about in lakes and streams (i.e. martial artists), if they can train in more than three types of secret weapons, and are capable of hundred hits without a single miss, they are regarded as experts.
“Speaking there and speaking here (i.e. of all that I have spoken), there is only one phrase. Using secret weapons focuses on essence, and not on many. If there are many, but no essence, his kungfu is zero.”
Luk Ah Choy heard until his heart feel itchy (i.e. he became curious and interested). He asked, “How can one attains the level of essence?”
Cheong Mong answered, “There are many doors (i.e. many methods). It is not telling just one or two (i.e. briefly) and explain clearly. But there is actually no secret. The focus is on smart practice, so that force can be developed at the elbow and wrist. Accumulated over a long time, practice generates the marvelous, and the marvelous generates spirit. Left and right meet the source (everything will work well as planned), there will be nothing that the techniques do not arrive according to intention. I have practiced this way for more than twenty years.
“Although I may not have attained its true essence, today you have seen my secrets, and this is due to good karma (i.e. cause and effect). Henceforth, we shall train and study together.”
Luk Ah Choy could not have thought Cheong Mong was such comfortable and fast (i.e. quick and ready). He was happy beyond expectation. Quickly he knelt down to thank Cheong Mong. Henceforth, everyday he followed Cheong Mong and learned iron drakes and ducks. Because he had practiced kungfu for ten and more years, his nature of comprehension was very high, and after a few months his kungfu had gone beyond people’s intention and progress.
One day the Venerable Chee Seen said to Luk Ah Choy, “You have been in the Shaolin Monastery for many years. It is time to test you skills. All those who learn Shaolin Kungfu from me must go through the Lane of Wooden Men to pass a graduation test. You are qualified now. You should try your skills against the Wooden Men.”
Luh Ah Choy was very happy. He prostrated to his sifu, the Venerable Chee Seen, and early next morning he went to the Lane of Wooden Men.
The mechanism of the one hundred and eight Wooden Men was set in operation. These wooden men were so ingeniously devised that they fought with good kungfu techniques and skills. But Luk Ah Choy’s kungfu was excellent. He avoided some wooden men, fell some, pushed away some, jumped over the heads of a few, and fought his way through the lane.
At the exit, he found a large copper urn with three joss sticks burning. The large copper urn barred the way of the doorway. To exit, Luk Ah Choy had to lift the urn, turned his body around, and then exited with his back. Two marks, a dragon on his left arm and a tiger on his right arm, were imprinted on his two arms as marks of one who had successfully fought his way through the Lane of Wooden Men in Shaolin Monastery.
The Venerable Chee Seen was very pleased. “He has not forsaken my bitter heart (i.e. my long time and earnest effort in teaching him),” he said to himself.
Chee Seen returned to his meditation room and sat down to rest. Then, Luk Ah Choy hurriedly came back.
In surprise, Chee Seen asked, “Why are you back?”
Luk Ah Choy knelt down and said, “In these many years, sifu has sacrificed heart and blood (i.e. has sacrificed very much) to teach me kungfu. Even if my body turns to powder and my bones are crashed, I cannot repay sifu one out of a million. Today, although I have successfully fought myself through the Lane of Wooden Men, I realize that my kungfu is still far from excellence. I wish to remain in the monastery to continue practicing kungfu for a few more years to overcome my weakness. I hope sifu can give his permission.”
Chee Seen rubbed his palms together and replied, “Very good. If you have such an empty heart (i.e. you are humble), you can remain in the monastery. In future, if you meet anybody who can teach you something new, you can learn from him without first seeking my permission.”
(It was usual for a student to seek his sifu’s permission before learning something new from another person.)
Soon, deep autumn arrived. The scenery of the mountain became cool and fragile, the solitary monastery was deep and recurring, a role of chrysanthemum flowers swayed in the breeze, and myriad dew drops were found on wild grasses. Luk Ah Choy was taking a stroll in the back garden, and heard sounds of strange creatures in the distance, and found red leaves floating in the air, creating in his heart a sense of peace and tranquility.
Suddenly he heard something clear and distinct, like something hitting a wooden floor. Luk Ah Choy was curious, followed the clear and distinct sound, and hid himself behind an old tree. He saw a monk practicing kungfu.
The monk placed a wooden board, with a target on it, tens of steps before him. He waved his hands and countless iron pebbles hit the target.
Luk Ah Choy could not determine what type of kungfu it was. But each time the monk moved his hand, like a string of winds, iron pebbles would hit the target. Without realizing, he gave a cry, “Marvelous.”
The monk stopped his training, turned around and asked, “Who? Who is there?”
Luk Ah Choy had to come out of his hiding, bent his body in greeting, and found that the monk was one of Chee Seen’s assistant instructors called “Cheong Mong” (which meant “Running Elephant”). Immediately Luk Ah Choy said, “Student intrudes into your spiritual presence. I earnestly beg your pardon.”
“We have been together for a long time. There is no need for courtesy. Just now you cried out a word of praise. Were you happy with what you saw?”
“Student is ignorant. I wonder what type of weapon the iron pebbles sifu trained just now, belongs to? I hope sifu can enlighten me.”
“They are called iron drakes and ducks, and are a form of secret weapons.”
(A drake and a duck were always in pair. They were colorful.)
Luk Ah Choy was very happy. Since training kungfu for many years, he had never seen or understood secret weapons. So he immediately gave a greeting and said, ”Student is really lucky to be able to see the ultimate art of sifu. Student knows nothing about secret weapon. I wonder whether sifu can grace student, and teach student a thing or two?”