“Wax on, wax off. Don't forget to breathe, very important.”
--Kesuke Miyagi


Chapter Five - Too Early

Huang Ke took Huang Ming to the martial hall, a large building within the Huang estate with spacious floor space. Various types of weapons adorn wooden racks. On one wall was a large scroll of calligraphy, written with powerful and graceful strokes.


‘Swift. Decisive. Persevere.’ Huang Ming read and nodded in agreement with the piece of art.


He saw that his brother was quite cheerful and decided to tease him.


“You’re in good spirits. Did something happen with Ms. Liu?” Huang Ming asked. He laughed when he saw his usually domineering elder brother turned red.


“Shut your mouth!” Huang Ke growled, “Don’t think you’re going to talk your way out of training!”


“I am not thinking anything of the sort. I’m ready to learn,” Huang Ming said solemnly.


“Good!” his brother said, content with his sincerity. He gestured for Huang Ming to sit on the ground, which he did dutifully.


“Pay attention, instruction begins,” his brother said.


“I shall do as you say.”


“You have slacked off for too long. Do you even remember the basics?” Huang Ke asked.


“Please treat me as a beginner,” Huang Ming smiled nonchalantly. There were countless martial arts within his experiences as an Avatar, but Huang Ming was always interested in learning more as he needed to tailor his skills to the conditions of his new body.


“Then I will start at the very beginning,” Huang Ke said as he assumed the airs of a lecturer. His eyes gleamed as he said: “Sit up formally.”


This meant sitting with his feet under his buttocks, or as Huang Ming remembered it, the Japanese seiza position. He reluctantly did so, and immediately he could feel his legs becoming numb. The original Huang Ming was more out of shape than he had thought.


To Huang Ming’s horror, his brutish-looking elder brother then proceeded to launch a spiel about martial art philosophies and long-winded explanations of natural forces, theories of attacking and counter-attacking, the different schools of thought and histories of their family martial arts, military applications of martial arts, chaos and harmony, yin and yang…


“…and that is how it all came to be,” Huang Ke finished half an hour later. He looked at the sweating Huang Ming with a raised eyebrow. “Do you understand?”


“It’s all shit,” Huang Ming muttered and immediately felt much better.


“What?”


“Nothing. I say brother, I thought we would be doing something practical like sparring,” Huang Ming said as his legs tingled with pins and needles, his toes curling.


“You want to spar with me?” Huang Ke said incredulously. He moved closer and without warning, stepped and grinded with considerable force on Huang Ming’s thigh.


Huang Ming cried out in pain as his brother’s heel rocked back and forth mercilessly. He may have travelled unknown number of worlds across unimaginable number of dimensions, but pain was pain.


“Ah! Stop! Stop!”


“10,000 years too early! You can’t even sit still for ten minutes and you want to spar? Don’t think I didn’t see you fidgeting and squirming!” his brother said in scorn as Huang Ming rolled around clutching his thigh. Huang Ke smirked as he relished seeing this side of his younger brother; they had not fooled around like kids for many years. Ever since the three brothers grew up, they have drifted apart with the passage of time.


“Alright, get up,” he said, offering a hand.


Huang Ming was of a patient disposition, but after the childish provocations he can’t help but feel fired up. He reached out and grabbed a handful of his brother’s shirt and pulled as well as kicking the ground for added momentum.


The formidable Huang Ke was taken by surprise. A tumble later, he found himself in an armbar hold from his younger brother. His entire right arm was being stretched in a vice, being gripped by the hands and knees of Huang Ming, one calf draped over his neck.


“What is this!” Huang Ke exclaimed, more in surprise than in pain. He was unfamiliar with such a method of combat.


“Sneak attack, mwahaha!” Huang Ming laughed as he pulled back on his brother’s taunt arm, stressing Huang Ke’s elbow and shoulders.


Then his laughter died. Indeed, Huang Ming grew pale as his brother laboriously shuffled back up even as he was holding on to his right arm. The difference in stature and strength was too great: in the end Huang Ke was standing upright while Huang Ming was dangling like a monkey with a deathgrip on his stretched limb.


He raised his arm and Huang Ming with it, and swept it down. The powerful movement was enough to shrug Huang Ming off and he crashed to the ground.


“You’re a monster,” Huang Ming groaned in pain.


“Nice move, but not very effective. Where did you learn it?” Huang Ke asked as he flexed his shoulder and elbows to ease the discomfort.


“Here and there,” Huang Ming muttered as he hissed and ached in pain to mask his reluctance to explain further.


“I bet it’s from those foreign books you waste your money on,” Huang Ke scoffed.


‘Foreign books? I’ll have to look through them later…’ Huang Ming thought.


Then his ears burned when Huang Ke said: “You should stick to our basics and not waste your time learning such disgraceful three-legged cat martial arts.”


Huang Ming felt his ears burn. “I’ll show you three-legged cat kungfu,” he snarled as he pulled himself up.


“Oh-ho, come at me, brother!” Huang Ke laughed as he lowered into stance, his fists clenched like huge boulders.


Grappling moves would be pointless due to Huang Ke’s size and strength, thus Huang Ke dredged up memories of other martial arts and remembered one from his native Earth that had speed as well as reach.


Huang Ming spun back on the ball of his foot, hooking a kick that launched at Huang Ke’s face. His brother was surprised but calmly parried the blow, only for Huang Ming to reverse the spin so that another kick came from the opposite direction.


This time Huang Ke had to take a step back to dodge but Huang Ming was relentless as he followed up with a double kick: one leg kicking forward after another at Huang Ke’s torso.


Huang Ke dropped his hands low to block it, his palms stinging with pain from the strikes. In that brief moment, his jaw was exposed and Huang Ming immediately jumped and kicked with the same leg, a so-called 540 degrees Bolley Kick.


All Huang Ke saw was a blurred ball when a foot came flying at his face. He barely brought one up arm in time to block it; otherwise he would have surely been knocked out by the sudden blow.


The moment Huang Ming landed, Huang Ke charged forward and launched a thunderous rising fist that aimed itself right at where Liu Yuchun had struck yesterday. Fortunately Huang Ming was able to brace himself and crossed his arms to take the blow.


It was so heavy that Huang Ming’s feet left the ground and he skidded back several steps away.


“I give! I surrender!” he said immediately when he saw his elder brother was preparing to close in again. Huang Ming collapsed onto the ground and panted as rivers of sweat poured. ‘This body is really too weak,’ he complained.


Huang Ke looked at his palms, reddened from his younger brother’s kicks and frowned. “That stings...” he said in annoyance.


Huang Ming can only muster a tired smile, satisfied in proving a point. It seemed like a backhanded compliment, but coming from his proud and martial elder brother it was sufficient.


“You can only go so far while barehanded,” his brother said as he helped him up. “What I meant is that you need to be proficient with weapons, and our martial arts will give you a base to work on. Your fancy kicks and wrestling moves will be of no use on the battlefield.”


“What battlefield?” Huang Ming muttered.


His brother’s eyes bulged. “Don’t be naive! The walls of our Tianxin city may be high, but the entire country is restless. The threat of war is always around us!”


“War?” Huang Ming repeated and frowned.


“Master Ke,” a voice suddenly called.


They turned to see a black uniformed man saluting at the entrance. He was wearing light leather armour embossed with a ‘Huang’ brand, an infantryman’s dao sheathed at his side.


“What is it?” Huang Ke asked.


“Sir, urgent missive from the general,” the soldier answered and handed over a sealed message.


‘The general? He means father,’ Huang Ming thought. He had questions, but waited patiently as his elder brother cracked the seal and read its contents.


Huang Ke frowned as he quickly scanned through the letter. He handed it back to the soldier and nodded. “Tell the men to prepare for march, I will be coming shortly,” he said. The soldier acknowledged with another salute and hurried away.


“Has something happened?” Huang Ming asked.


“Father wants me to bring reinforcements. We finally have a lead on the bandit hideout after all this time,” Huang Ke replied with a grin. Then he blinked and pointed at Huang Ming: “I shouldn’t have told you that. Keep it to yourself and don’t tell anyone else, not even mother,” he said severely.


“I’m not an idiot,” Huang Ming said. He knew the importance of secrecy in military affairs.


“I may be gone for awhile. Wait for eldest brother to call for you, father has already informed him,” Huang Ke continued.


“I understand, please take care,” Huang Ming said and bowed.


“You really have changed,” Huang Ke smiled as he left.


Left to his own devices, Huang Ming took the opportunity to cleanse himself after that morning exercise. Still sore but refreshed after a bath, he settled in to look through his collection for the ‘foreign books’ his brother had mentioned.


The first book title wasn’t promising. ‘Otherworldly Beauties of Ye,’ he read. He chuckled as he remembered: it was an erotic novel about a legendary alchemist seducing various women, including his beautiful mentors.


Huang Ming picked up another book and saw its title: ‘Beauty Catalogue of Shang Jing’. This one was actually illustrated: an oriental, hand-drawn version of a glamour pictorial featuring bewitching and buxom women in various states of undress.


He cussed under his breath, the original Huang Ming’s literary interests lay elsewhere entirely. Just as he was about to pull another book, Yu-er came in and curtsied.


“Young master, Master Lang is asking for you at the main hall,” she reported and blithely ignored the books.


He mustered what dignity he had left and nodded. “Clean this mess,” he coughed and went to look for his eldest brother.