Short Stories: The Roots of Tae Won Han

I don’t remember the details all these years later, but for some reason at one stage of my life I decided I should get a job. A friend who personally knew the publisher of Playgirl intervened to set me up with an interview. I had only a couple of days to get ready — which for me meant putting together tear sheets of my previous work in a way that made it look more impressive than it was, in an attempt to look serious and competent.

I arrived for the interview a bit nervous but hopeful. The interview seemed a bit strained, but I thought it was going well enough. Once we had covered everything, the publisher told me that I looked to be a strong candidate, but that she had just been fired that morning so she was not in a position to hire anyone.

If I thought I was scraping the bottom of the barrel prior to this interview, at that point I was down to splinters. In desperation I arranged for an interview for an editorial position at a kung fu magazine, despite having neither expertise nor interest in the topic. The deal was that they would consider me if I wrote up a spec article for them in the style of their magazine. So, I got a couple of their back issues and checked them out.

What I found seemed so appalling that I could not abide the thought of working there. Rather than simply telling them I was no longer interested, though, I decided to craft this item to dissuade them from any thoughts of importuning me to join their staff.

At last … Unbelievably … Finally … For once and for all … The roots of Tae Won Han are revealed in this exclusive interview for Fighting Fists magazine!

The roots of tae won han? ponders karate black belt Fu Ling Mee, of the Emperor Dojo in Castro Valley, California. You mean you didn’t come to talk about Mee? Mee shrugs and demonstrates his technique with a round-house kick to the throat of an inattentive beginning student. Laughing at the now-unconscious student’s failure, Mee turns to the cameraman. I hope you got that one!

The talk soon turns serious, however. Mee sits and begins hitting himself in the head with a huge pipe wrench, a ceremony he claims is good for maintaining the artistic, youthful drape of his hair. This is the United States, he effervesces sagely, showing his firm grasp of the obvious. As martial artists, we must be united here! There is no room for good or bad; only positive! That is why we must root out the phonies and remove their entrails with dull razors! And we must pay particular attention to those who come up with some new discipline and then name it after themselves! Forever changing things! That is why I teach tae won han differently than anybody else! This is my way! One day, I will name it after myself!

The one-time sixth-ranked fighter removes his shirt and wipes the beads of sweat from his body with a pair of socks. Looking at him, it is hard to remember that he claims to be only 64, this man who is referred to as the octogenarian of karate.

With his jacket back on, the ex-champ once again starts to speak, the well-trained muscles around his mouth rippling with the vitality and force of a trip mill in its prime. You know what the problem is with martial arts today? It is even true in tae won han! They have no roots! They are like trees that smell different! They must honor their elders! And who is the eldest of them all? Mee! They must honor Mee! If they do not, they are evil, and must be destroyed! They must unite behind Mee! Only I know all that is good and sacred! You can’t ignore your father! You can’t ignore Mee! Look at Mee when you are spoken to! And don’t interrupt! And don’t talk with your mouth full! And don’t talk to your mother that way! If you ignore Mee, you ignore your roots! Without your roots you are a bastard! Without Mee you are nothing!

Fu Ling sits back, suddenly, to look at pictures of his 57 grandchildren. A well-developed laugh bubbles forth. Consider the concert pianist, he instructs. He cannot sit at the piano and learn to play! He must eat! And when he eats, he must realize that he might be eating something that loved him! So must we love everyone! After we have killed and dismembered all the fakes and phonies, we can then learn to love, play piano, and meditate!

Mee pauses to poke at the heavily bleeding student with the sharp end of a lance. Meditation is the key to all! he says. When you meditate, you become a master, you learn to exercise self-control! Inside every one of us is a dragon … or maybe three dragons, but certainly not less than two … I think! One of the dragons is evil! The other is humble! I heard it has something to do with yin and yang, but who knows? If we meditate, we can control the dragon, so that it will control us! That is why I named my school Yong Do Won — the peaceful place for the dragon spirit! When the evil dragon controls us, we must go to this place, which has much padding on the walls, and no one can hear! Thus, the dragon controls us, but we control it! Mee delivers one final blow to his skull with the wrench, then stands, cutting his forehead badly on the lip of the low table beneath which he lives. Take no picture! he warns the photographer. Your shutter can no way capture my dynamic personal philosophy! Looking at him, standing proud and finally erect, this writer can only dispute those who would call this man senile.

What does the future hold for Fu Ling Mee? As a reply, Mee takes up a sodden stogey, and dabs it to his chin. I want to be as old as George Burns and give many interviews to Fighting Fists magazine! he sighs, a far-away glimmer in his eye. Then, I will marry Brooke Shields and get in the movies! They will have to take pictures of me then!