Monday, November 30, 2009


This post from Jesse Crouch, the Martial Explorer, reminded me of Sifu Mad Doug, with whom I studied kung-fu for perhaps a year when I was about fifteen years old. The story of Sifu Mad Doug is wonderful and someone should tell it, but unfortunately my brother has already cornered the market. He began writing a novel loosely based on the story of Sifu Mad Doug because clearly that novel was begging to be written, and the first chapters were wonderful. I was dying to read more, but Mischa lost interest, having acquired instead a serious interest in zombies and having sired my nephew Leo, who is not yet a year old and therefore not yet on Wikipedia, but whose care is apparently quite time-consuming.

Sifu Mad Doug eschewed all rank and insignia. He did not believe in belts. “Either you win your fight or you lose it,” he said. "A belt isn't going to help you with that, unless you strangle someone with it."

I always thought that sounded pretty reasonable, but it was about the only reasonable thing he said.

Sifu Mad Doug provided me with my first introduction to the insanity of martial arts politics. Apart from that, I don't remember much about learning to fight with him, but I do remember that time with great nostalgia -- summer, coming-of-age, memories bathed in a roseate light. (Erroneously, I'm sure, because we lived in Seattle, where the sun never shines.)

Anyway, I hope Mischa won't mind if I reproduce a few of his memories of Sifu Mad Doug.

Once, Mike took me out for a drive with another Kung Fu student named Big Rob. It was a rainy Saturday in October, and the plan had been to run errands, then head up to Arnold’s on the Ave to play video games. I had a pocket full of quarters. But the errands had taken longer than expected, and we ended up sitting in Big Rob’s U-district apartment.

Now that I reconstruct events, I think that Big Rob was at the U; he couldn’t have been older than Mike. I can’t remember precisely what he looked like, except that even Mike thought he was big and that he had a lot of pimples and this weirdly long neck, like a goose.

Later, when I was a student at the Temple also, I learned that Big Rob’s chief role in the Temple was to be used by Sifu for all manner of demonstration that skill, not size, was the chief quality of a Shaolin warrior. These demonstrations usually ended up with Big Rob on the floor looking slightly dazed. He’d always stand up slow and say, “Outtasight, man.”Mike and Big Rob were drinking beer—Mike had offered me one, knowing that I liked the gesture and would refuse.

“You know he was in ‘Nam, don’t you?” Big Rob said.

“I did not know that,” Mike said.

Big Rob nodded. “What I heard was he was Special Forces. His job was to sneak into Viet Cong villages. He’d sneak through the village at night, so quiet even the dogs wouldn’t bark—”

“They’d smell you, wouldn’t they?” Mike said.


“It’s important. If you’re quiet, dogs will still smell you.”

“He had some shit to deal with that too, ok?” Big Rob sounded a little defensive. “Maybe they Army has some special deodorant. I don’t know. I’m just telling you what I heard.”

Big Rob looked a little put out but he went on. “In any case, he’d climb into some hut, everyone would be sleeping, and he’d slit the throat of some Viet Cong. Just one.” Here Big Rob made a gesture that I’d long remember, his thumb stretching out across his pimply throat, and a sound, thwwaaaaaaaaaak, like construction paper tearing. Big Rob’s throat was as long as my forearm.

“Why would he do that?” Mike asked.

“It’s just what they said he did. It was supposed to demoralize the enemy.”

“Who told you that?”

“That’s what they said down in San Francisco, when I went to see Si-Gong.”

“I don’t believe it,” Mike said.

“Why not?”

“The stuff about the dogs.”

“He’s got those eyes,” Big Rob said. “Like he could do that.”

“Some guys they never come back,” Mike said.

1 comment:

  1. This is my first time i visit here. I had a great time reading this.