Dr. Yang’s Fight Club
(Page 7 of 9)
When Jerie resisted this advice, Mike wrote back, “I think you misunderstand what I am trying to discuss with you. You may have other goals in your life that will not be fulfilled after this 10 years, you will no longer be Jachym Jerie. You will be a clone of Dr. Yang. You will go on living out his legacy and not your own.”
Dr. Yang was devastated. He felt like a father to all his disciples, but he had reserved his greatest fondness for Mike. The morning he received the email he confronted Mike in the rotunda, where the disciples had gathered for tai chi class. Mike refused to recant what he had written to Jerie. In his defense, he printed copies of the email so the other disciples could judge for themselves.
But consensus was against him. In the world of martial arts, there is one cardinal rule: Never betray the master. Absolute trust is fundamental, the final vouchsafement for a life of sacrifice and privation. That trust now broken, it was impossible to deny the obvious: Mike lacked the motivation necessary to complete the training. What he lacked was a whip.
Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, sits on the Susquehanna River, a hundred miles northwest of Philadelphia. I visited Mike there in the spring of 2009 to hear his side of the story. We talked at a local pizza joint. Mike ordered a large pie with buffalo wing–flavored chicken chunks. He looked happy. His hair had grown out into a boyish mop, and he had gotten back his old job at Sam’s Club.
It was a comfortable life. Mike knew everyone, and everyone knew him. “I’m pretty much like a celebrity here,” he said with a chuckle. They all hung out at the Café Metropolis, a club downtown where he’d met Sarah, his current girlfriend, a month after his return.
“Honestly, I’m gonna just say, that’s one of the main reasons I came back,” Mike said. “I was going crazy up there. For me it’s like, I don’t think the monk lifestyle was for me. Because I have too much desire and emotion, and it’s, like, the two things Dr. Yang wants to get rid of. I want to keep them.”
According to Mike, he had been planning on returning to Wilkes-Barre even before Dr. Yang expelled him. On the mountain, he said, time crawled. Dr. Yang pushed them six days a week, and on the seventh day, they did chores. “There were days when I thought I was serving, like, a jail sentence,” Mike said.
In the beginning, he had believed that kung fu held the secret to superhuman powers. Movies had always claimed as much, and nothing in his experience had proved otherwise. On the contrary, the very ordinariness of life in Wilkes-Barre had always seemed to argue powerfully for the existence of something greater. But as the months went by he grew increasingly skeptical. Eventually, it dawned on him that he was probably never going to be able to jump over houses or catch an arrow in midflight.
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