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Fists of Funny

A kung fu master demonstrates the ancient art of mockery

Author Cain Nunns Illustration Peter Oumanski

globetrotting2TAIPEI – On a muggy rooftop in central Taipei, pint-size octogenarian Lo Man-kam squares off against a former member of the South African Special Forces. Despite giving up about 50 years, a foot in height and at least 100 pounds, Lo doesn’t seem overly concerned by the physical disparity. He doesn’t need to be.
As soon as the tattooed owner of the granite biceps lunges at his intended victim, he finds himself crumpling to the floor, his right arm extended at an awkward angle behind his back, the cackling senior citizen applying pressure to a painful-looking joint lock. This is what you get when you mess with a kung fu master, particularly one who goes by the name “Lightning Fists.”

Since he started teaching kung fu in the early 1970s, Lo, a former stablemate of Bruce Lee’s, has grappled, kicked and chopped—and made fun of—thousands of initiates like the man mountain whimpering beneath him today. This year interest in kung fu seems especially high, possibly because it’s the 40th anniversary of both Lee’s death and the release of Enter the Dragon, a Lee film that still inspires hopefuls to follow the ancient and painful path.

“Next!” Lo cries after he dispatches the Special Forces guy. His students cast nervous glances back and forth. Finally, a young man meekly raises his hand and heads to the center of the mat. A few seconds and a flurry of choreographed violence later, it’s over.

The students observe their fallen classmate, then they look to the master as if anticipating a few words of wisdom—perhaps something along the lines of Lee’s dictum that kung fu is “the art of fighting without fighting.” The master does not oblige.

“Hee-hee!” he yells, throwing back his head in delight. “Ha-haaa!

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