Fighter on the Roof
By Martin “Yuan” Chang
Here in America, Martin has become my name. I have been called that now for over four and a half decades. I bestowed it upon myself 45 years ago when I arrived to be processed into the U.S.A. after a long miserable journey by sea from China. However, the name my parents chose for me upon my birth is Yuan, which I still use as my middle name.
Although I’ve now become a modestly senile old man, I can still remember clearly all the way back at those years of my adolescence while growing up in Hong Kong and China.
When I was a young boy, my friends and I were nothing less than little hoodlums on the streets. We would steal to eat if we had no lunch money, which was quite often because economic times were tough in many parts of Asia during that era. Several of us wild kids were frequently caught skipping out on our classes at school and subsequently received repeated reprimands and punishment from both our teachers and our parents! And it got worse.
My parents soon started calling my group of closest friends a “gang of trouble-makers”, initially preventing me from meeting up with them everyday after school ended. By the time the weekend arrived, I’d begun to feel more pent up inside and irritable, I then began looking for more trouble!
At this time I was first introduced to Chinese Kung Fu. The timing was perfect for me to start learning as somehow I happened to be getting into more and more street-fights back then.
My mother was a house-keeper for a well-to-do British client in the city whose son had been taking martial arts lessons from a nearby teacher. As a favor, the client contacted the teacher who decided to employ my mother to clean his Kwoon weekly in exchange for my own training.
Although I never really learned to actually like my Sifu, he was a darn good teacher. I learned Southern Shaolin Kung Fu mixed with a variety of Chinese Martial Arts from this arrogant man. His way of teaching was bordering on brutal…I received most of my most painful injuries while being trained by that egotistical jerk! However, after later testing out that hard-earned knowledge against other young punks on the streets, Sifu’s methods proved to be good indeed!
My life was changed one fine spring afternoon in Hong Kong. A few of my friends and I were practicing our Kung Fu atop the barren roof of a building that we were familiar with when three members from another local gang climbed the fire escape’s long flight of iron-stairs to the top, unwittingly finding us waiting there set to pounce. Realizing they were outnumbered without sufficient time to safely retreat back downstairs, they quickly convincingly feigned their apologies for intruding on us. We were already warmed up and got on them before they could even take two steps in the opposite direction. I pummeled the largest of the three while my associates handled the remaining boy’s, two of my associates severely injuring one poor kid. We later found out that the boy had to be hospitalized due to a serious concussion.
That was the first time I ever really had blood on my hands. Looking back, I have no reasonable excuse for participating in that savage beat-down, but that is how it truly was there for us poor folk in those days. Back then, it was difficult knowing who to trust, who wouldn’t stab you in the back with a stolen knife and who was or wasn’t running schemes…it was a hard life for every family without enough money to feed so many hungry mouths.
Eventually, after a failed attempt at revenge by the boys whom we’d previously bested, more local gang members came by to challenge our growing group of street-fighters. We were winning nearly all of these confrontations and our reputation increased, word soon got out to the kids that gangs were meeting on select rooftops to match their Kung Fu fighting skills against one another. To evade the police, we often relocated our fights to a variety of other previously scouted rooftops. Gang-members then began to cooperate in order to decide in advance who’d be matched and which location would be used…but, it was organized chaos!
Even though these fights were violent, leaving most of us with bloody noses, sprained limbs and pulled muscles; plus an occasional bruised ego, no one had yet been mortally wounded.
I remember the first day a young guy some of the kids were calling Siu Lung (Little Dragon) was paired up with an opponent. I’d seen his opponent fight before; someone whose name I recall was Chen. Although I’d never fought him personally, I’d seen his brute strength in action before…Chen was a damned good fighter, very strong! However, he was no match for the Little Dragon. It seemed as if Siu Lung had a much higher metabolism than the rest of us there on that roof. Chen could hardly take more than a single step without the Siu Lung painfully tagging him at will, generating four or five hard strikes to every one or two of Chen’s futile attempts…I do not believe that any of the Siu Lung’s challengers was ever able to land a solid strike on him? None of us had ever seen this type of seemingly unlimited physical movement before; his highly impressive fighting skills made all of the rest of the rooftop fighters feel like total amateurs!
My group immediately became followers of the Little Dragon. Siu Lung became the leader of our “Junction Street Tigers” and more new members soon converted too, making ours one of the most feared and respected gangs around at that time. We learned Wing Chun Gung Fu and Chinese-Boxing from our new leader and we all became better fighters than we were before. From that point on no challengers had any clear success when faced with any our gang’s members. We really thought a lot of ourselves back then, but we were only bullies.
One day, another rooftop challenge was made by one of the remaining rival gangs, which was ritualistically accepted. Some well-connected brat who considered himself a good fighter made a bold challenge and was to face the Little Dragon himself! Once the day arrived and the match began, the brat instantly found himself trapped in one corner of the roof as Siu Lung gracefully side-stepped in either direction to completely cut off his opponent. At first, it seemed as if Siu Lung was willfully toying with and frustrating his prey as he continued to corral the brat high above the city streets of Hong Kong. Then suddenly, as if he’d literally been trying to set up his preferred attack, Siu Lung launched a rapid barrage of straight punches, which overwhelmed the brat; forcing him to back-pedal in retreat. Disoriented, the brat had taken one too many steps backwards and accidentally fell right over the edge of the rooftop!
As one of the nearest to them, I had a long first-hand look down at the defeated victim of the Little Dragon. The brat’s twisted and broken body lay down there on a lower level all hung up on damaged parts of some wooden fencing and unyielding concrete. His face was partially sheared with only one vacant eye exposed, but, I could clearly see that the brat was dead.
For several seconds that seemed like endless minutes, there was complete silence on that roof, until someone said “Run”! My friends and I left that place and never returned again.
Word was quickly put out on the streets that a prominent school boy was murdered atop a Hong Kong rooftop. A temporary curfew was initiated for minors and more police patrols ensued for weeks afterwards until things seemed to calm down. Some of us were actually questioned by the police about the incident, but none of us ever spilled the rice. No one was every arrested in relation to the so-called “murder” of that boy, but we never did see the Siu Lung around Hong Kong again.
I seem to recall that Siu Lung’s brother was there that day, as he often was, with his portable film recorder…so, someone may still have possession of a “black and white” reel of that event?
Still, there were more street-fights. But, as my class at last exited high school, there seemed to be more policemen and servicemen around on the streets of Hong Kong and less trouble as a result. It even felt safer walking around at night. Times were changing the world we lived in.
Those few of us who were still interested in testing our martial arts skills started to get more involved in Western-Boxing. Sport-fighting in a controlled ring environment proved to be safer and a much more rewarding option. I suppose we were fortunate then to be experiencing more natural growing pains instead of the inflicted type we all shared up on those bleak rooftops!
Years later my family and I moved to California, U.S.A. By now, I’ve spent the greater part of my life here in America. I’ve worked hard to erase the nagging guilt of my childhood foolishness.
Once my family could finally afford our first T.V., I was shocked and literally laughed out loud when I suddenly realized exactly who the “Little Dragon” actually was…our Siu Lung had become Kato from the Green Hornet television series! He’d grown up strong while continually fighting someone or something here in this far away place, but, he eventually returned to Hong Kong to claim his true glory as one of the most famous Asian movie stars ever…he ended up making all of China proud!