Chapter 9 - The Big Rice Dumpling

In a flash of inspiration, Ding Busi raised both his hands and sent the force of his palms into the sky. Shi Potian did the same, hitting upwards with both his palms in a loud *hu*. Then, with their palms still facing the sky, the men looked at each other.

The wind swept past Shi Potian's ears with *hu-hu* sounds as his body moved through the air along a semi-circular trajectory. Landing with his face downwards, he could tell that he had fallen on something very soft. Hence, he did not suffer any pain upon impact. The inky darkness of his surroundings did not allow him to see anything at all, but he could hear someone uttering a cry of alarm by his ear.

He could not move his body, yet he did not dare to open his mouth and speak. Then, he noticed a delicate fragrance wafting into his nostrils, as if he had returned to his own bed at the Clan of Eternal Happiness.

Focusing his thoughts a little, he realised that he was indeed lying on some bedding. His nose and mouth were pressed against a pillow, on which another person's head lay. From the mass of long hair that was spread out around the pillow, the other person appeared to be a woman.

"Ah!" cried Shi Potian in alarm.

"Who is that?" a woman's voice asked in return. "How ... how could you..."

"I ... I ...," Shi Potian began, but he did not know what to say after that.

"How could you have made your way on to our boat?" asked the woman. "I will have you killed with a slash of the sabre!"

"No, no!" shouted Shi Potian. "I did not make my way on to your boat by myself. Someone threw me here."

"Then, you ... you had better get out quickly," said the woman in an irritated voice. "How could you crawl into the folds of my quilt!"

As Shi Potian focused his thoughts again, he realised that his chest was indeed pressed against a cotton-padded mattress. There was a quilt on his back and a pillow against his face. The warmth of the bedding told him that he had, by sheer coincidence, fallen through the door of the cabin on the small boat after Ding Dang tossed him away. Then, somehow, he had landed right under the folds of the quilt. To make things worse, the way in which the woman spoke seemed to indicate that the quilt belonged to her!

If his hands and feet had not been bound, he would have leapt up and fled a long time ago. Unfortunately, the acupoints on his body were still blocked, so he could not lift even a single finger. Hence, all he could do was to say: "I cannot move. Please, I beg you, move me out. You can push me or give me a kick; either way will be fine."

A voice, which seemed to belong to an elderly woman, cut in from the ends of Shi Potian's feet: "What nonsense is this scoundrel talking about? Kill him with the sabre, quickly!"

"Paternal Grandmother(1)," said the woman, "if he is killed, the folds of my quilt will all be stained with blood. What ... what am I going to do after that?" She sounded really worried about the consequences of her grandmother's suggestion.

"What ghastly creature is that?" roared the old woman in anger. "Hey, scoundrel, you had better crawl out quickly!"

"I am really unable to move," said Shi Potian in exasperation. "Look, I have been grabbed on the Ling Tai acupoint and struck on the Xuan Shi acupoint. I have also been bound so well and tight that I cannot move even half a fen (0.33 centimetres). This young lady or madame here, you had better get up quickly. It is not ... not too wonderful for us to be sleeping in the folds of the same quilt."

"What 'madame'?" snapped the woman. "I am a young lady. I cannot move either. Grandmother, you ... you had better come up with a plan quickly. This man has really been bound up."

"Elderly Madame," said Shi Potian, "I beg you, please drag me outside. I ... I have offended this young lady ... sigh, I am really sorry."

"So the little scoundrel is now speaking irresponsible and sarcastic words!" roared the old woman again.

"Grandmother, shall we call the boatman from the stern and get him to carry the man out?" asked the young woman.

"No, no," answered the old woman. "How can we allow outsiders to see this awful mess? Since both of us are also unable to move, this ... this...."

A thought struck Shi Potian: Could it be that this Elderly Madame and the young woman are both bound up?

By then, the old woman could not stop cursing Shi Potian: "Little scoundrel, stinking scoundrel, why do you not choose another boat? Why must you force your way into ours? A'Xiu, go ahead and have him killed. Who cares about blood in the folds of the quilt anyway? After all, this man would have to be killed sooner or later."

"I do not have the strength to kill anyone," said the young woman.

"Take the sabre and slowly saw at his neck until his throat is cut," said the old woman. "Then, the little scoundrel will no longer live."

"No, no!" shouted Shi Potian. "My blood is so dirty that it will make a complete mess of this fragrant bedding. Besides ... besides, it is not very good to have a dead corpse in the folds of one's quilt."

A gasp was heard, as if the young woman found the words 'dead corpse in the folds of one's quilt' very frightening. As Shi Potian's heart leapt in delight, he heard the young woman say: "Grandmother, I do not have the strength even to lift the sabre."

"Nothing is better than you not having the strength to lift the sabre," said Shi Potian at once. "Since I am unable to move at the moment, I will become a petrified corpse if you kill me. Then, it will be so much more terrifying for me to lie beside you. I cannot move now, but when I become a petrified corpse, I will be able to do so. Then, I will reach out with the icy-cold hands of a petrified corpse and grasp you by the throat..."

Terrified, the young woman quickly said, "I will not kill you, I will not kill you!" Then, after a moment, she asked: "Grandmother, how are we going to find a way so that he gets out?"

"I am thinking about it," the old woman answered. "Do not talk more than necessary."

By then, it was already night, and the cabin of the boat had plunged into complete darkness.

Although Shi Potian was covered by the same quilt as the young woman, he had been fortunate to land at an angle that did not cause him to touch her body. All he could hear in the darkness was the woman's fast-paced breathing, an obvious indication that she was very frightened and worried.

A long time passed, but the old woman had not come up with any ideas.

Suddenly, two sharp whistles rang out from the distance. Sounding very sorrowful yet ear-piercing in the stillness of the night, these whistles were followed by a burst of laughter from an old and throaty voice. As the owner of that voice laughed, he called: "Xiaocui, I have waited for you for a day and a night. Why have you arrived only at this hour?"

"Grandmother," gasped the young woman in the cabin, "he ... he has come! What are we going to do?"

The old woman snorted in disgust. "Do not make another sound," she replied. "I am in the midst of accummulating and concentrating the strength in my body. Once the channels in my feet are slightly unblocked and I can move a little, I will jump right into the middle of the river to avoid being humiliated by that old goblin."

"Grandmother, Grandmother," said the young woman frantically, "you cannot do that!"

"I have told you not to disturb me," snapped the old woman angrily. "When your grandmother jumps into the river, are you going to follow her?"

After a moment's hesitation, the young woman replied: "I ... I will follow my grandmother, and die together with her."

"Good!" said the old woman. She fell silent after that.

Shi Potian, who had suffered from two previous incidences of overpractising, thought: So this Elderly Madame and the young woman have both overpractised when they were training in internal strength techniques. Therefore, they are now unable to move. To make things worse, their enemy is here. This will only make the situation more difficult.

Just then, the old and throaty voice downstream spoke again: "If you want to have a contest of swords, so be it. If you want to have a fight with fists, so be it. Old Ding the Fourth will certainly accompany you to the end. Xiaocui, why do you not answer me?" The voice had come several dozen zhang (1 zhang = 3.33 metres) nearer.

Shortly after that, the clanging of iron chains was heard. Then, a thud sounded, as if something had dropped on to the boat. As it turned out, someone on the other boat had thrown an anchor and its chain onboard.

"Hey, hey, what are you doing?" shouted the boatman from the stern. "What are you doing?"

Shi Potian felt the boat tilting rapidly towards the right, so much so that he too rolled involuntarily in the same direction. The young woman followed, coming to a stop against his body.

"This ... this ...," Shi Potian began, "... you ...." He wanted to tell the woman not to lean against him, but when he remembered that she too could not move, he swallowed the words that had reached the tip of his tongue.

Then, Shi felt the bow of the boat sinking into the water for a brief moment, before righting itself. Someone had just jumped on to the boat.

The visitor called out from the bow: "Xiaocui, I have come. Are we going to start fighting now?"

"Now that you have done that," shouted the boatman from the stern again, "both the boats will capsize!"

"Shut your cursed mouth, you dog-thief!" roared the visitor in anger, lifting the anchor and tossing it away.

The two boats drifted apart at once, and began gliding downstream along with the currents of the river.

The boatman was shocked to see the supernatural strength that the elderly visitor possessed, for the latter could throw the 200- jin (100 kg) anchor around as if it did not weigh a thing. Unable to even pull his tongue (which he had stuck out earlier in astonishment) back into his mouth, the boatman did not dare to make further remarks.

"Xiaocui, I am waiting for you on the bow," said the old man with a laugh. "You must be preparing an ambush in the cabin, but I will not fall for it."

Shi Potian heaved a sigh of relief, for he thought that the old man would not be entering the cabin just yet. Hence, the occupants of the cabin would be safe for a while. But as quickly as the first thought had come, the second one arose: Waiting might not necessarily be a good idea after all, because the old woman had spoken about jumping into the river with the young woman in suicide once her strength is concentrated enough.

Since the young woman's ear was just beside his mouth, Shi Potian whispered: " Guniang, tell your grandmother not to jump into the river."

"She ... she will not change her mind," said the young woman. "She will definitely jump into the river regardless of what I say." She became so saddened by the thought that tears began to flow from her eyes. Once these tears fell, the young woman could not help but burst into choking sobs. When her tears moistened Shi Potian's cheek, she said, "I ... I am sorry! My tears have fallen on your face." Despite the circumstances, the young woman had turned out to be unexpectedly refined and polite.

Shi Potian sighed. "You need not treat me with such politeness," he said. "What are a few drops of tears anyway?"

"I am unwilling to die," sobbed the young woman. "But the man on the bow is so vicious that Grandmother would rather die than fall into his hands. My ... my tears ... I am really sorry, please do not take any offence..."

Just then, the planks beneath them creaked. A shadowy figure sat up in the cabin.

Shi Potian's mouth and eyes were initially facing downwards into the pillow, but after the roll, he found himself lying on his side. When he saw the figure sitting up, his heart began to beat wildly. " Guniang...," he stammered, "... Guniang, your grandmother has sat up."

The young woman gasped. She could not see what was going on because she was facing Shi Potian.

Moments later, Shi Potian could be heard shouting: "Elderly Madame, please do not take her. She is unwilling to jump into the river in suicide with you. Help, help!"

"Who is that, shouting high and low?" asked the old man on the bow, surprised to hear the voice of a young man coming from the cabin.

"Come in quickly and save them!" said Shi Potian. "The Elderly Madame is about to throw herself into the river in suicide."

Greatly startled, the old man struck the fabric canopy of the cabin with his palm. Then, he reached out with his right hand and grabbed the arm of the old woman. The strength that the old woman had spent half the day accummulating in her body dispersed immediately, and she collapsed.

When the old man took the old woman's pulse, he had another shock. "Xiaocui, did you overpractise while you were training in internal strength techniques?" he asked. "Why did you not tell me about it earlier? Why did you force yourself to act strong instead?"

"Let me go!" snapped the old woman as she gasped for breath. "Leave me alone. Get out!"

"But your energy channels are all reversed," said the old man. "That is very dangerous, for if early treatment is not given, I am afraid ... afraid that you will become a cripple. Let me lend you a helping hand."

"If you touch me one more time," said the old woman angrily, "I will bite my tongue and kill myself!"

The old man quickly withdrew his hand. "Your Hand Taiyin Channel of the Lung, Hand Shaoyin Channel of the Heart and Hand Shaoyang Channel of the Three Visceral Cavities have all been messed up," he said. "This ... this..."

"You have always wanted to defeat me with all your heart and mind," said the old woman. "Now that I have suffered from overpractising the techniques of internal strength, would it not be better for you? Things have turned out exactly as you have desired."

"We will not talk about this," said the old man. Turning to the young woman, he added: "A'Xiu, how are you? You had better pursuade your grandmother about getting some help. You ... you ... eh, why are you sleeping with a man? Is he your lover, or is he your young husband?"

"No, no!" answered A'Xiu and Shi Potian in unison. "We are both unable to move."

Stumped, the old man reached out and pulled Shi Potian to his feet. Since the ropes around his body prevented him from bending his waist and limbs, Shi Potian emerged from the folds of the quilt like a very straight pillar of wood. The sight caught the old man so unaware that he jumped with fright. After taking a good look, the old man burst into laughter. "A'Xiu," he said, "the Dragon Boat Festival (Duan1 Yang2 Jie2)(2) was over a long time ago, but you have hidden such an enormous rice dumpling in the folds of your quilt."

"No," said A'Xiu at once. "He flew in from somewhere outside. I did not ... did not hide him here."

"Why then are you unable to move?" asked the old man with a laugh. "Have you turned into a big rice dumpling too?"

"If you dare to touch A'Xiu with so much as a little finger of yours," said the old woman sternly, "I will come after you with everything I have got!"

The old man sighed. "All right, I will not touch her," he said. Then, he turned to the boatman and said, "Turn the rudder around and raise the sail. Stop the boat only when I tell you to."

"Yes," answered the boatman, for he did not dare to defy the old man's orders. Then, he began to turn the rudder slowly around.

"What is going on?" asked the old woman.

"I am taking you to the Mountain of the Azure Conch (Bi4 Luo2 Shan1) so that you can recuperate well," answered the old man. "Your current incidence of overpractising is not something to be trifled with."

"I would rather die than go to the Mountain of the Azure Conch," snapped the old woman. "I have not lost to you, so why are you taking me to that dog-den of yours by force?"

Unfazed by her protests, the old man replied: "We had an agreement to participate in a martial arts contest on the Long River. If I lose, I would go to your home and bow before you, but if you lose, you would have to come to my home. It does not matter if you have overpractised, or if you are unable to defeat me. As far as I am concerned, you have no alternative but to make this trip to the Mountain of the Azure Conch. Then, the desire that I have harboured in my heart for decades would be finally met. How wonderful, how wonderful indeed!"

"I am not going!" roared the old woman in fury. "Not going! Not going! Not...." Her voice became shriller as her protests grew. Then, suddenly, due to a difficulty in catching her breath, she collapsed.

The old man smiled, as if he had accomplished a small triumph. "You have to go even if you do not want to," he said. "Do you really have any choices left?"

By then, Shi Potian could not help but interrupt the conversation with a comment of his own: "How can you force her to go when she does not want to?"

The old man became angry once more. "Do I need you to fart like a dog here?" he shrieked as he turned his palm over to give Shi Potian a slap on the face. From the looks of things, the slap would probably make the young man dizzy, put stars in his eyes and knock a few teeth out of his mouth. Then, the old man noticed the inky-black palm-print on Shi Potian's face. Retracting his palm in surprise, he soon burst into laughter: "A-ha! Big Rice Dumpling, I had initially wondered who had you bound up like this, and now I know. It was that dear grandniece of mine. The palm-print on your face appeared after she hit you, did it not?"

"Your grandniece?" asked Shi Potian, for he did not understand what the old man was talking about.

"Do you not know who I am?" asked the old man in return. "I am Ding Busi. Ding Busan is my elder brother. Although he is older than I, his martial arts skills are not as good ... As for my grandniece..."

Shi Potian could indeed see some facial resemblance between the old man and Ding Busan. The clothes they wore were similar too, except for the bright golden yellow belt that the younger Ding had around his waist. "Ah, yes," said Shi Potian at last. "Ding Ding Dang Dang is your grandniece. You are right; the palm-print appeared after Ding Ding Dang Dang hit me. She was also the one who bound me up."

Ding Busi held his stomach and roared with laughter. "I have always said that there is no one under the sun besides the girl A'Dang who is capable of such mischief!" he remarked. "Very good, very good, very good! Why did she bind you up?"

"Her grandfather wants to kill me," answered Shi Potian. "He finds my martial arts skills too poor, and calls me a moron."

Thrilled, Ding Busan laughed until he had to bend over at the waist. He said, "When Old Fourth runs into a man whom Old Third wants to kill, he ... he..."

"He would kill him too?" asked Shi Potian in fright.

"Who is there under the sun who can guess the desires of Ding Busi's heart?" the old man asked in return. "You would think that I would have you killed too, but no, I intend to do otherwise." Standing up, he lifted Shi Potian by the scruff of the neck with his left hand. Then, he drew the edge of his right palm quickly over the ropes around Shi's body, moving the palm in a straight line from top to bottom. The thick ropes were cut immediately in a spectacular sight that was not necessarily matched by the sharpest of blades.

" Laoyezi(3), this skill of yours is very formidable," said Shi Potian appreciatively. "What is it called?"

"This skill is indeed amazing," answered Ding Busi as his anger dissipated with the young man's praise. "I am afraid that there is no one under the sun who is capable of such strength, except Ding Busi himself. The skill? Well, it is called ..."

"Hmmph, the rat has climbed on to the weighing scales," remarked the old woman with a cold and sarcastic laugh. Having regained consciousness a while ago, she could not help but interrupt when she heard Ding Busi blowing his own trumpet. "Imagine, praising your own and calling it great! This skill is called 'The Swift Sabre Cuts Through Hemp' (Kuai4 Dao1 Zhan3 Luan4 Ma2), and all the farmhands who have learnt a few moves from a three-legged cat know how to execute it. Who would not?"

Ding Busi spat in disgust. "*Pei! Pei!* Those who have learnt a few moves from a three-legged cat know how to execute my 'Swift Sabre Cuts Through Hemp'?" he asked. "You should just do it, and show me!"

"You know full well that I have overpractised," answered the old woman. "Now that I do not have any strength, you have come and uttered these irresponsible and sarcastic remarks. Big Rice Dumpling, let me tell you this: If you go to any town or marketplace, and come upon people who perform martial arts and sell medicinal pastes to swindle others, just give them a wen or two (1-2 pieces of copper-cash, or about 1 gramme of silver) and they will show you 'The Swift Sabre Cuts Through Hemp'. I assure you that what these people do will look exactly the same as what this old cheat here has done. Not only are there no differences between the two, the marketplace swindlers' skills may even be better than his! Since all the unscrupulous swindlers under the sun know this skill, how rare and desirable can it be?"

Ding Busi found the old woman's words so unkind and caustic that he could not help but become furious. Then, he reached out and made a grab for her shoulder.

"Do not be violent!" shouted Shi Potian. Moving his body aside, he turned his hand over and sent a cutting move against the old man's right wrist. This was 'The Hand of the White Crane' (Bai2 He4 Shou3), one of the eighteen moves from the seizing tehcniques that Ding Dang had taught him. He could move freely again because his acupoints -- blocked by Ding Dang much earlier -- had been released gradually by the flow of internal strength in his body. In addition, the flow of blood to his limbs was no longer restricted after the ropes around him were cut.

Ding Busi gasped in surprise, before turning his hand over and grabbing the young man's lower arm.

Shi Potian responded by changing his moves at once, for he was already very familiar with the execution of the eighteen moves that made up the Seizing Techniques of the Ding Family. As his left palm went out, his right hand headed for his opponent's eyes.

"Good!" said Ding Busi in a loud voice. "These are Old Third's seizing techniques." He stretched his arm forward and pressed it down against the other's elbow.

Shi Potian brought his arms around in a circular move and struck the old man's temples with his fists. Ding Busi lowered his arms and moved them apart, hitting the young man's arms with a lightning-fast and bone-shaking strike. He thought that the strike would break Shi's arms at once; hence, he did not expect to feel a burst of pain and numbness throughout his own torso when the four arms met. As Shi stood steady and still in response, the plank beneath Ding's feet snapped. The boat rolled violently to the left and the right. Ding took a step backwards as quickly as he could, avoiding the broken plank as he went. Then, he uttered another gasp of surprise.

Ding Busi's first gasp was merely to register his unexpected discovery of Shi Potian's ability to use the eighteen moves in the Seizing Techniques of his Ding Family. However, his second gasp was one of true astonishment, for it had occured after he was forced to take a step backwards subsequent to engaging Shi's arms in a duel of strength. Ding found the young man's internal strength so rich, profound and full-bodied that it seemed to flow endlessly. Although he had not used all his strength in the strike, the ability of his opponent to stand as if nothing had happened and the fact that he had broken a plank himself were sufficient to count as the loss of a stroke.

This man is so formidable, so how could he have been captured by Ding Dang? How did his face end up getting struck by her palm?

Doubts and suspicions crept into Ding Busi's mind.

The old woman was no less amazed by what she saw, but she quickly burst into laughter. "Even ... even a muddle-headed young man can ... can ... can...," she began, only to be stopped by the shortness of breath.

"Let me finish the sentence for you," said Ding Busi in an irritated voice. " 'Even a muddle-headed young man can defeat you, so what heroism and bravado have you left to display?' Did I say it right? If you did not give utterance to these words, you would have probably died of constipation."

The old woman nodded in agreement as laugh-lines appeared all over her face.

Ding Busan turned to Shi Potian and asked: "Big Rice Dumpling, who is your teacher?"

The young man scratched his head. Although he had learnt martial arts skills from Xie Yanke and Ding Dang, he had never actually acknowledged them as his teachers. Thus, he replied: "I do not have a teacher."

"Rubbish!" snapped Ding Busi. "In that case, where did you steal the eighteen moves of our seizing techniques from?"

"I did not steal any moves," answered Shi Potian. "Ding Ding Dang Dang taught them to me in ten days. She is not my teacher, but my ... my...." Although he wanted to say 'my wife', he found it rather inappropriate. So, he simply left the fact unspoken.

"Curse your grandmother!" said Ding Busi as his anger grew. "Did you say that A'Dang taught you these skills? What nonsense!"

The old woman, whose breathing had returned to some form of normality, interrupted the exchange. "Everyone in the realm of the rivers and lakes says, 'Of the two men in the Ding Family, one is a hero, while the other is a dog-bear coward'," she remarked in a cold and sarcastic voice. "These words are not erroneous, for I have seen with my own eyes today, how absolutely true these rumours are."

Ding Busi became so angry that he began shouting like a child. "When did these words come into existence?" he asked. "You must have made them up yourself! Tell me: Who is the hero, and who is the dog-bear coward? Who is there in the martial arts circle who does not know that my pugilistic skills are better than Old Third's?"

The old woman did not dare to speak hurriedly, so her reply came out in a slow succession of words: "Ding Dang is Old Ding the Third's grand-daughter. Old Ding the Third taught his son, and the son taught his daughter Ding Dang. Then, Ding Dang went on to teach this little muddle-headed fellow here. This fellow learnt martial arts for only ten days, but he is already able to defeat Old Ding the Fourth. Now, go and get all the people under the sun to consider ... consider ... consider...." The old woman was short of breath once more.

By then, Ding Busi had become very impatient with the sluggish pace of conversation, so he quickly said: "Let me say it for you: 'Now, go and get all the people under the sun to consider this matter: Who exactly is the hero, and who is the dog-bear coward? Old Ding the Third is the hero, of course, while Old Ding the Fourth is the dog-bear coward!' " His voice become louder as he spoke, until it rang out like thunder over the river.

The old woman smiled and nodded in acknowledgement. "It ... it is good that you are aware of this," she said in a voice that was as faint as a strand of fly-away hair, yet Ding Busi's ears found these words terribly depressing.

"Who says that this Big Rice Dumpling is better than Ding Busi?" he roared resentfully. "Come, come, come; let us have another contest! If I am unable to ... to..." He wanted to say 'throw you into the river within three moves' and lay some consequences down, but as soon as the words reached the tip of his tongue, he realised that his opponent's pugilistic skills were not to be trifled with. Therefore, 'three moves' were probably insufficient to take him down.

Then, he thought about saying 'ten moves', but he quickly decided against it because he did not have the confidence to do so. 'Twenty moves', on the other hand, sounded a little to many, while 'a hundred moves' denoted a complete loss of his heroic bearing. After all, he was a man with an established name. What wonder was there if he had to use a hundred moves before the student of his grandniece could be defeated?

As he hesitated, the old woman said, "If you are unable to defeat him within a hundred thousand moves, you will formally acknowledge him ... acknowledge him ... acknowledge him ... *cough* *cough*!"

" 'You will formally acknowledge him as your teacher!' " shouted Ding Busi. "That was what you wanted to say, was that not?" By then, he was already on his way towards Shi Potian, having leapt up into the air as soon as the words 'acknowledge him as your teacher' were out of his mouth. With his palms moving as if they were in flight before him, he struck out towards the top of Shi's head, as well as his chest.

Although Shi Potian had learnt the eighteen moves of the Seizing Techniques of the Ding Family, he could only respond to these moves as they were executed by Ding Dang because he had learnt to use them by rote. He could not apply the techniques to different situations, so how could he take on Ding Busi and the flurry of palms that seemed to be rushing towards him in the thousands and the ten thousands?

All he could do was to stretch his palms out in a bid to protect his head. Just then, he felt an immense pressure on the Da Zhui acupoint at the base of his neck. He had been struck.

Located where the six yang channels of the hand and the foot(4) met the Extraordinary Channel of Du (Du1 Mai4), the Da Zhui acupoint was a very vital part of the human body. Yet, it was this very location that enabled the acupoint to respond to attacks with a reflexive and simultaneous burst of internal energy that came from all the channels in the body.

As a result, Ding Busi received a tremendous jolt that shook his entire body before throwing him aside. However, when the old man looked at Shi Potian, he found him acting as if nothing had happened. Although Ding Busi had managed to hit Shi Potian, the fact that the old man himself was thrown back meant that the victor and the vanquished could not be determined between them.

The old woman spoke up in a rather sinister voice: "Ding Busi, he allowed you to hit him on purpose, but you were thrown back. You are really useless! All it took was a single move and you were defeated!"

"How could I be defeated?" asked Ding Busi angrily. "What nonsense!"

"Let us say then that you have not been defeated," suggested the old woman. "Now, let him hit you on the Da Zhui acupoint. If you do not die and he is thrown back by a few steps, the duel will be considered a draw."

Ding Busi thought: This little fellow's internal strength is extremely powerful and rich. If he strikes my Da Zhui acupoint, I will suffer severe injuries and even death. Hence, he said, "Why should I want him to hit my Da Zhui acupoint for no rhyme or reason? Perhaps you should let me hit your Da Zhui acupoint instead."

"I have known a long time ago that the Dog-Bear Coward Ding does not have any guts," said the old woman. "He knows nothing except for a type of trickery that enables him to gain an advantage over others. Therefore, he does not dare to match his opponent palm-for-palm or fist-for-fist in an orderly competition that does not allow anyone to dodge or put up a defence."

Now that the old woman had given voice to the thoughts on his heart, Ding Busi felt embarrassed. Nevertheless, he said, "This reckless way of fighting is used by boorish and uncouth men who do not know any martial arts. As established names in the field of pugilism, how can we involve ourselves in such foolish play?" Yet, he knew that his lame arguments could not withstand any rebuttals, so amidst the laughter of the old woman, he turned to Shi Potian and said, "Come, come, let us have another round of competition."

"But I have learnt only the seizing techniques that Ding Ding Dang Dang taught me," said Shi Potian. "I do not know any other martial arts skills, so I do not know how to respond if you use that wild palm-shaking skill again. Laoyezi, let us just consider you the victor. We will not compete again."

Unfortunately, the words 'consider you the victor' sounded terribly unpleasant to Ding Busi. Raising his voice, he roared: "Victory is victory, and defeat is defeat. How can there be anything to consider or unconsider? I will allow you to make the first move. Come over here and hit me."

"But I do not know how," answered Shi Potian, shaking his head.

The old woman sneered, stoking the anger in Ding Busi's heart further. "Curse your mother!" the old man shouted. "So you do not know how to hit someone. Let me teach you then! Now, pay attention: Use your palm to hit me like this, and I will deflect the blow like that. Then, I will turn my hand over and strike you like this. You will move your body to the side like that to avoid the blow, before using your left fist to hit me over here."

Shi Potian learnt the moves quickly and struck Ding Busi as he had been told. The old man responded by launching a counter-attack, but after only four moves, Shi Potian found himself unable to react when Ding Busi sent a fist towards him. Dropping both his hands, the young man said, "I do not know what to do next."

Ding Busi became angry, yet he was amused. "You are using the moves that I taught you," he said. "So how can we still compete?"

"I have already said that we do not need to compete," answered Shi Potian. "You are considered the winner!"

"No, that will not do," said Ding Busi. "If I do not gain true and honest victory over you, Xiaocui will ridicule me for the rest of our lives. When she refers to the Great Hero Ding as the Great Dog-Bear Coward Ding, where will I put my face? Now, remember: When I hit you like this, you do not need to deflect the blow. Instead, take a step forward and stab my abdomen with your finger. This is a very insidious move that will prevent my fist from taking a direct punch at you. Instead, I would have to move my fist away. This is called 'Using an Attack as a Means of Defence' where 'Safety is Certainly Found by Attacking the Enemy'." As the old man taught, his hands demonstrated the moves.

Shi Potian made it a point to remember the moves, before fighting with Ding Busi again. He started right from the beginning and went on until he had exhausted the moves that the old man had taught. Then, he stopped. Consequently, the old man had to keep on teaching him, while he kept on learning.

Ding Busi's fist and palm techniques had a very complex series of variations, but when these were used in the fights with Shi Potian, they were limited to those that had been taught to the young man. Hence, Ding Busi thought: If we continue in this manner, when will I gain victory over him? I can only hope for a stroke of luck, where this muddle-headed fellow forgets the moves. As soon as he makes the slightest mistake, he will be struck down ruthlessly.

Yet, Shi Potian had a remarkable memory for martial arts, for he could remember the moves after Ding Busi demonstrated them only once. Thus, there were no flaws in his moves even after he had exchanged dozens of them with the old man. On his part, Ding Busi did not dare to teach Shi Potian any common moves, especially when the old woman kept sneering at him.

As soon as she saw any move that was insufficiently swift, ferocious or exquisite in attack and defence, the old woman would say a few words in derision. Although she could hardly move after overpractising her techniques of internal strength, her eyes remained very keen and sharp. She made it a point to ridicule even the most brilliant of Ding Busi's moves, what more those that were less unique.

Ding Busi stirred himself to the point of doing his best in teaching Shi Potian his fist and palm techniques. Hence, his efforts did not pale at all in comparison to what he had put into his many real and life-endangering duels with the old woman years ago.

After many more moves, the sky began to brighten. Feeling a little anxious, Ding Busi decided to change the movements of his fist without warning. He executed 'The Thirsty Horse Gallops to the Spring' (Ke3 Ma3 Ben1 Quan2) and pounced forward, fist and all.

"The sequence is incorrect!" said Shi Potian loudly.

"What sequence is there?" asked Ding Busi. "Anything goes, so long as I have already imparted it to you."

On his part, Shi Potian did not forget that he had used 'The Powdery Butterfly Somersaults in Flight' (Fen3 Die2 Fan1 Fei1) to deal with that particular move by Ding Busi before, so he resorted to the same response and leapt clear away.

Ding Busi thought: I have only to force you into the river; then, I will be considered the winner. Anything that Xiaocui says after that will be pointless. Taking a step forward, he executed a move called 'A Crosswise Sweep Against a Thousand-Man Army' (Heng2 Sao3 Qian1 Jun1) and sent both his arms violently into his opponent's path.

Shi Potian responded according to the sequence of moves that he had learnt earlier, using 'A Gentle Breeze and a Sprinkling of Rain' (He2 Feng1 Xi4 Yu3) to avoid the wild oncoming force. However, when he took a step backwards, his left foot landed on the edge of the boat.

"Off you go!" shouted Ding Busi in delight. Executing 'The Bell and the Drum Sound Together' (Zhong1 Gu3 Qi2 Ming2), he made a circular movement with both his palms and attacked the young man's temples from the left and the right.

If Shi Potian had handled the attack according to the Ding Busi's instructions, he should have taken another step backwards and used 'An Unexpected Display of Spring Clouds' (Chun1 Yun2 Zha4 Zhan3) to deflect the oncoming palms. However, there was now no room for retreat behind him. If he took another step backwards, he would fall right into the river. Thus pressed, Shi could hardly give the matter further thought. Since he was most familiar with the two moves that Ding Dang had taught him, he plunged right into them without bothering about their appropriateness at all.

Dodging the attack, Shi Potian passed through the flurry of palms before him and went behind Ding Busi. Executing the 'Hand of the Tiger's Claw' with his right hand and the 'Jade Maiden Picks a Needle Up' with his left, he reached simultaneously for the old man's Ling Tai and Xuan Shu acupoints. As soon as he had a good grip on each acupoint, a sudden and powerful burst of internal strength went forth.

Ding Busi shouted loudly, and sat down on the wooden floorboards of the cabin.

Yet, in truth, how could Shi Potian hold a highly skilled pugilist like Ding Busan down with the seizing techniques that he had learnt for only a few days, even if he (Shi) had twice the level of internal strength?

Shi Potian had succeeded simply because of Ding Busi's preconceptions. Having taught Shi the fist and palm techniques in the first place, the old man firmly believed that he (Shi) would use 'An Unexpected Display of Spring Clouds' against his execution of 'The Bell and the Drum Sound Together'. The use of 'An Unexpected Display of Spring Clouds' would then necessitate the taking of a step backwards, hence forcing the young man into the river.

Now if Ding had been fighting with another highly skilled pugilist, he would have naturally known that his opponent could use all sorts of moves against 'The Bell and the Drum Sound Together'. After dealing with that, the opponent would also follow through with many other formidable moves. Therefore, Ding would have guarded himself against attacks from all directions. He would not have allowed his opponent to dash behind him and make a grab for his vital acupoints.

But Ding Busi had already exchanged more than a hundred moves with Shi Potian, and the latter had done exactly as he had been told. All the moves that Shi used were executed according to the methods that Ding had instructed him in. Hence, the old man did not feel the need to take any precautions against his younger opponent at all. Neither did it cross his mind that the little muddle-headed fellow would suddenly change his tack and use those moves with incomparable skill and wind-like speed. Ding tried to fend the attack off, but it was already too late. He had already fallen victim to Shi.

To make things worse, Shi Potian's internal strength was so formidable that Ding Busi's high level of cultivation in internal energy was insufficient to withstand the former's attack on his vital acupoints.

This unexpected turn of events caught both Ding Busi and Shi Potian greatly by surprise. The old woman was astonished too, yet she managed to erupt into gleeful laughter. Unfortunately, after going "Ha-ha, ha-ha!", she fainted. Her eyes rolled back until the whites could be seen.

"Elderly Madame, how ... how are you?" asked Shi Potian, shocked by the frightening expression on the old woman's face.

Almost immediately, A'Xiu's voice was heard: "Elder Brother, what has happened to my grandmother?" Unable to see the happenings on the bow from inside the cabin, the young woman had spoken up as soon as she heard the panic in Shi Potian's voice.

"A-yo, she ... has fainted," answered the young man. "She does not look right this time, so I am afraid ... afraid that she might find it difficult to regain consciousness."

"Are you saying that my grandmother is already ... already dead?" asked A'Xiu, shocked.

Shi Potian stretched a hand out to to the old woman's nostrils. "Well, she is still breathing," he answered, "but something looks ... er, very wrong."

"What exactly is wrong?" asked A'Xiu anxiously.

"She looks as if she is dead," replied Shi Potian. "Let me hold you up, so that you can take a look."

A'Xiu was reluctant to have the young man touch or carry her in any way, but because of her real concern for her grandmother, she hesitated only for a moment before saying, "All right! Then, I would have to trouble you for it, Elder Brother."

All his life, Shi Potian had never heard anyone speak in such a refined and polite manner. The people at the Clan of Eternal Happiness had spoken to him with all the respect they could muster, but the men were actually more cautious than friendly. Even the girl Shi Jian had not been able to hide the fear on her face. As for Ding Dang, she had been very affectionate, yet she was also terribly rude. Consequently, Shi Potian found the speech of the young woman before him truly soothing and pleasant to his ears.

Without further ado, he brought her up to a sitting position, wrapped a thin blanket around her body and carried her out to the bow of the boat.

As soon as A'Xiu saw the condition of her grandmother, she gasped. "Elder Brother, could you please use your palm to send some internal strength through the Ling Tai acupoint of my grandmother?" she asked. "I know that this is a presumptuous request, so I am really embarrassed about it."

When Shi Potian heard the gentle and amiable way in which A'Xiu spoke, he glanced at her with lowered eyes. In the light of the sun that was just rising then, he saw a pair of big, bright and clear eyes looking back at him. Those eyes were set in a fair melonseed-shaped face that had a certain cultured elegance about it. Almost at once, A'Xiu's face turned totally red in embarrassment. Unable to turn her head away in avoidance, she closed her eyes.

" Guniang, you are actually so good-looking," blurted Shi Potian.

A'Xiu turned even redder. Due to the short distance between them, she closed her small mouth tightly to avoid speaking and blowing her breath on to Shi Potian's face.

"I am sorry!" said the young man after a moment. Putting A'Xiu down quickly, he turned to the old woman and placed his palm on her Ling Tai acupoint. He did not know how to send his internal strength into someone else's body, so he simply used the method that Ding Dang had taught him and exercised a burst of energy through the Ling Tai acupoint with the 'Hand of the Tiger's Claw'.

The old woman gasped as she regained consciousness. "Muddle-headed fellow, what are you doing?" she snapped.

"The young lady asked me to send some internal strength into your body," said Shi Potian. "Sure enough, you are now awake."

"You have blocked my acupoint!" said the old woman angrily. "Is that the way you send internal energy into someone else's body?"

"I am sorry, I am sorry," said Shi Potian, feeling quite embarrassed. "I really do not know how to do it, so please do teach me." The burst of internal strength that he had sent into the old woman's body a moment ago had shaken her internal organs so badly that these organs had felt as if they had all been turned upside-down. Her Ling Tai acupoint had become blocked as well. Fortunately, the old woman's acupoints had been blocked much earlier from overpractising, so the additional blockage did not affect her much.

Initially, the old woman was furious, yet she knew that Shi Potian had an incomparably rich level of internal strength. She thought: This silly little fellow's ability seems quite unnatural, so it could have appeared after he accidentally ingested the Lucid Ganoderma fungus (ling2 zhi4) or some other equally wonderful herb, or even the gall-bladder of a strange but intelligent beast. That is why he does not know how to use the powerful energy within him. Now that I am incapacitated from overpractising, perhaps I could rely on his internal strength to release all the channels that have been blocked.

Thus, she said, "All right, I will teach you. Now, concentrate your energy in your abdomen. Do you feel a gentle rolling heat there? Picture that heat moving upwards through the Hand Shaoyang Channel of the Three Visceral Cavities(5)."

Xie Yanke had taught Shi Potian the names of these channels and acupoints on the Skyscraping Cliff years ago, so the young man followed the old woman's instructions and brought the energy to his palm without any difficulty. His Arhats' Divine Demon-Subduing Skill was the most exquisite internal strength technique of the Shaolin School. It utilised a combination of yin, yang, power and grace in its execution, but Shi Potian had never known how to use it until that day. It was as if he was a man with a store of treasure at home. Despite having a pile of gold and silver that was as tall as a mountain, he did not have the key to open that store. Now, with the old woman's guidance, the energy in Shi Potian's body began gushing out with a force that could rearrange the mountains and empty the seas.

"Slow down, slow...," said the old woman, but before she could finish, she gagged and threw up a huge mouthful of darkened blood.

"A-yo!" shouted Shi Potian in a fright. "What has happened? Did I do wrong?"

"Elder Brother," said A'Xiu, "my grandmother would like you to send the energy slowly into her body. Please do not be too impatient about it."

As soon as the old woman could speak, she growled: "Stupid melonhead, are you thinking of taking my life? Send a little of the energy over first, and let me take a few breaths. Then, send over a little more."

"Yes, yes!" said Shi Potian. "I am sorry, I am really very sorry(6)!" He got ready to continue as he was told.

Suddenly, Ding Busi leapt up and said: "Curse his grandmother! Let us have another competition. What happened just now cannot be taken into consideration."

"Shameless as always!" remarked the old woman. "Why should the earlier contest not be taken into consideration? It was obvious that you had lost. If he had added a slash of a sabre or a sword to your body just now, or struck you on the top of your head with his palm(7), would you still be alive?"

Ding Busi knew that he did not have much on which to push his case, so he stopped arguing with the old woman. Instead, he turned to Shi Potian and sent a palm towards him. "I have taught you the method of handling this move," he said loudly. "So I cannot be deemed unreasonable, can I?"

Shi Potian responded quickly with one of the moves that Ding Busi had taught him, knocking the oncoming palm away with a sweep of his hand.

Ding Busi sent another palm towards the young man. "I have taught you this as well," he roared, "so you cannot call me a shameless bully who humiliates my junior, can you?"

Sure enough, each subsequent move that the old man used came from the set that he had imparted to his opponent earlier. Therefore, he was obviously trying to show himself as a man who was true to his word and noble in character. The pace of the exchange quickened, and after more than ten moves, the old man no longer had sufficient time to speak. Instead, all he could manage was brief shouts of "Taught you this, taught you that, taught you, taught you! Taught ... taught ... taught...."

Despite Shi Potian's natural talent for martial arts, there was really no way that he could remember and apply all the different variations of the palm techniques that he had practised only once before, during a fight that proceeded at such a high speed. Hence, as soon as Ding Busi quickened the pace of his fist attacks and leg movements, Shi Potian found himself lost when it came to responding. From the looks of things, Shi would succumb to Ding's palms within the next few moves.

Suddenly, the old woman spoke up: "Hold on, I have something to say."

"Xiaocui, what do you want to say?" asked Ding Busi, his hands coming to a stop in their attacks.

The old woman turned to Shi Potian. "Young man," she said, "my body does not feel well. Send some internal strength over to me again."

"That is very good," Ding Busi remarked with a nod of his head. "Since you are unwilling to accept my assistance after the channels in your body became blocked from overpractising, it is good that you have asked him for help. His internal strength is actually quite powerful despite his poor skills in external martial arts."

The old woman snorted in disgust. "Yes," she replied in a cold voice. "You taught him his external skills, but not the internal one. Therefore, while his external skills are poor, his internal strength is rather powerful."

Ding Busi became angry. "How can you say that his external skills were taught by me?" he asked. "I have only taught him for half a day. But if he spends three to five years under my instruction, hmmph, no one among the younger generation would be his match!"

"What purpose is there if his accomplishments are exactly the same as yours?" asked the old woman. "He can already able to defeat you without learning your martial arts skills. On the other hand, I am afraid that he may not even be able defeat you if he knows your techniques. Now if his abilities become weaker the more he learns, would you say that it is good to learn from you, or otherwise?"

Stumped, Ding Busi hesitated for a moment before making his reply: "Look at his 'Hand of the Tiger's Claw' and the 'Jade Maiden Picks a Needle Up'. Are these not the techniques of my Ding Family?"

"They were taught by Ding Busan's grand-daughter, not you," answered the old woman. Then, she turned to Shi Potian and said, "Young man, come over here. Do not pay him any attention."

"Yes," answered Shi. Sitting down beside her, he placed a palm on her Ling Tai acupoint and began using his internal strength to unblock the channels in her body. This time, he sent the internal strength over in a very very slow manner, for he was afraid of causing her to throw up blood again.

By and by, the old woman raised her arm slowly and covered her face with her sleeve. She did not want Ding Busi to see her speaking, or hear what she was about to say. "When he fights with you again," she whispered to Shi Potian, "your palms must carry some internal strength in response. Simply bring the strength to your palms just like what you are doing now. When he sends his palms towards you, you should respond with the exact same move, meet his palms with yours and send your internal strength into his body. This old fellow wants to force you into the river so that you will drown. Therefore, you must remember this: Use whatever move that he is using against you. This is the only way that will ... will preserve the lives of the three of us."

Although the old woman had only known Shi Potian for a few shichen (1 shichen = 2 hours), she could already tell that he had a kind heart. If she had wanted him to make things difficult for Ding Busi on her behalf, he would have been likely to give the old man some concessions, instead of complying fully with her instructions. Thus, by saying 'the only way that will preserve the lives of the three of us', the old woman hoped to incite him to do his best because of the other two lives that were involved.

Shi Potian nodded.

Then, the old woman said, "You do not need to send me any more internal strength for the moment. When your palms and those of that old fellow meet again, you must not be slow in sending your strength out. Do it swiftly and with power; the more forceful it is, the better it will be."

"Will he throw up blood?" asked Shi Potian.

"No, he will not," answered the old woman. "I overpractised and lost all my internal strength. Hence, I threw up blood because I was unable to withstand the sudden force of your strength. That old fellow has a very rich level of internal strength; that is why he did not throw up any blood when you grabbed the acupoint on his back earlier. Is that not true? If you do not use all your strength, you will end up being jolted until you throw up blood yourself. If you are wounded, there will be no one else to protect my grand-daughter and me. The non-ambulant old woman and the immobile young girl will be trampled upon and humiliated by all and sundry."

Righteous indignation surged into Shi Potian's heart as soon as he heard these words. He felt that he could die immediately on behalf of the old woman and the young girl without a single frown on his brow. Yet, he knew nothing about the two women; he had no idea if they were good or evil.

The old woman moved her sleeve slowly away from her face. "Thank you very much," she said. "Since Ding Busi has not admitted defeat, you should go and exchange some moves with him. Sigh, having lived to such an old age, I have seen quite a number of true men and great heroes. Yet, I have never expected to have an old dog-bear coward before me just before I die. What a terrible injustice!"

"An old dog-bear coward?" asked Ding Busi angrily. "Both of them are not old, and you are certainly not talking about yourself. So are you cursing me?"

"A man who has three-tenths of knowledge about himself can perhaps still be considered as not entirely ruined," answered the old woman with a smile. "Ding the Fourth, would it not be easy to have him killed? Just go ahead and use some moves that you have not taught him, and I assure you, he will not be able to handle them at all."

"How can Ding the Fourth be so shameless?" roared the old man in anger. "Look carefully, and you will see that I have taught him every move I used."

Satisfied that she had achieved her goal of getting Ding Busi to make that very statement, the old woman sighed and fell silent.

Meanwhile, Ding Busi let out a snort of disgust and said in a loud voice: "Big Rice Dumpling, I am about to execute 'Sailing a Boat Against the Currents' (Ni4 Shui3 Xing2 Zhou1). I have taught you this move, so you had better not forget its response." Bending his knees slightly to lower his body, the old man sent his left palm into a vertical upwards sweep.

Alerted by the words 'Sailing a Boat Against the Currents', Shi Potian bent his knees slightly and sent his left palm into a vertical upwards sweep as well.

"That is wrong!" shouted Ding Busi. "That is not how you deal with this move!" Then, before he could finish speaking, he suddenly realised that Shi Potian's right palm was about to touch his own left hand. As his heart went cold, he thought: This young fellow's internal strength is very powerful, so much so that I am afraid that it is above mine. If I enter into a duel of internal strength with him, things will not be any fun. Hence, the old man withdrew his left palm at once and sent his right one out in a forward push. This move was known as 'An Amazing Peak Appears Unexpectedly' (Qi2 Feng2 Tu1 Qi3).

Remembering the old woman's words, Shi Potian executed 'An Amazing Peak Appears Unexpectedly' as well, this time with three-tenths of his internal strength in his palm.

Ding Busi was taken aback, for the oncoming force from his opponent's palm was so strong that the resulting movement in the air could be felt even before the palm itself reached its target. Hence, he quickly resorted to another move.

Shi Potian paid close attention to the old man and imitated everything he did. Since he did not have to recall the responses that were needed to deal with the old man's moves, he could concentrate on exercising and accumulating his internal strength where it was needed. Consequently, his palms began to create a breeze as they moved through the air. The power that accompanied his strikes became increasingly stronger as well.

Soon, Ding Busi became so wary of his opponent that he had to move cautiously lest their palms met. He was afraid of being drawn into a duel of internal strength that pitted a relentless force against the other, should the hands of both parties become stuck together. There were several occasions during which he noticed some flaws in Shi Potian's moves, but he ended up withdrawing his hands and changing his own moves as soon as the younger man imitated him.

Since his name was established in the realm of the rivers and lakes, Ding Busi had fought with numerous renowned pugilists and highly-skilled masters of martial arts. However, he had never had an opponent like Shi Potian, who copied each move he made, regardless of what it was. If the opponent had been another reputable man, such a manner of fighting would naturally come close to being called 'shameless'. Hence, he could have had the fight stopped there and then. Unfortunately, Shi Potian happened to be the exact opposite of Ding's previous opponents. Despite the immense reservoir of internal strength in Shi's body, he did not know any external martial arts skills at all. Therefore, the two men had had an agreement in which the fight would proceed only with the moves that the old man had taught the younger one. By imitating Ding's moves to the 'T', Shi's actions were perfectly justifiable in the face of their agreement.

Ding Busi started to curse and swear in a fit of impatience, yet there was nothing he could do to Shi Potian.

After fifty or sixty moves, Shi began to grasp the methods of exercising and utilitising his internal strength. Consequently, each successive fist or palm that he sent out was more powerful than the one before it. Soon, the *hu-hu* sound of moving air could be heard on the bow of the boat, as if a strong wind had begun to blow.

By then, Ding Busi did not dare to show the slightest bit of indolence or neglect. As he faced Shi Potian with all he had, he wondered: What sort of anomaly is this young fellow supposed to be? Could his stupidity be a deliberate act of hiding his evil intentions, when he is -- in reality -- a master pugilist with extremely high accomplishments in martial arts?

As the fight wore on, Ding Busi began to find it increasingly difficult to avoid his opponent's palms. Fortunately for him, Shi Potian remained focused on copying his moves, so the old man did not have to worry about any unexpected attacks. After a few more moves, Ding made several arcs with both his palms and struck diagonally out. Known as 'Meeting an Endless Stream on the Left and the Right' (Zuo3 You4 Feng2 Yuan2)(8), the move relied on the situation at that specific moment in the fight to determine whether the palms were launched towards the left or the right.

Stinking little fellow, you cannot imitate me now, can you? thought Ding Busi in delight. How would you know the direction from which my palms will attack?

Sure enough, Shi Potian found the old man's move so difficult to follow that he asked: "Are you attacking to the left or the right?"

"Make a guess!" answered Ding Busi, laughing gleefully as his palms continued to move.

Both alarmed and frightened, Shi Potian had no alternative but to raise both his palms and push them towards Ding Busi's hands. He did not know the direction from which his opponent's palms would come, so he sent his internal strength to the left and the right at the same time.

The sight of the oncoming palms gave Ding Busi a terrible shock, for he felt that the silly young man before him had copied his skilful combination of false and concrete motions in an incomparably clumsy way. With 'Meeting an Endless Stream on the Left and the Right' becoming 'Both Left and Right' (Yi4 Zuo3 Yi4 You4), the simultaneous use of both palms had totally eliminated the exquisiteness of the original move. In addition, Shi Potian's actions had also violated the essentials of pugilistic studies(9). Consequently, the old man found himself drawn irrevocably into a duel of internal strength with his young opponent.

As a burst of crisis-induced perspiration appeared on his forehead, Ding Busi had a flash of inspiration. Raising both his hands, he sent the force of his palms into the sky. Known as 'The Heavenly King Holds the Pagoda Up' (Tian1 Wang2 Tuo1 Ta3), this move was originally meant for dealing with opponents who leaped up and attacked while still in mid-air. It should not have been used in the first place, because Shi Potian was not airborne.

But the young man had been imitating every move that his older opponent made. So when Shi saw Ding executing 'The Heavenly King Holds the Pagoda Up', he raised his palms and struck upwards with a *hu* sound without understanding the reason for it.

Then, as they continued to hold their palms up towards the sky, the two men looked at each other.

Unable to contain himself any longer, Ding Busi burst into loud laughter. When Shi Potian saw the animosity of his opponent fading away, he began to laugh aloud as well. A'Xiu, who could see the goings-on as she leaned against a wooden pillar in the cabin, broke into a beautiful smile.

However, the old woman had other thoughts. "Shameless, shameless!" she said. "You are unable to defeat the child, so you have resorted to this devilish trick just to deceive him!"

Yet, Ding Busi was not bothered by the old woman's accusations. Instead, he felt very pleased with his own quick-wittedness, for he had been able to come up with such a strange way of avoiding a duel of internal strength with Shi Potian, as well as the impending danger, in a mere flash of time. Laughing in delight, he said: "I do not have any grievances or resentments against this young fellow, so why should I take his life with a burst of internal strength?"

Before the old woman could respond with more sarcastic remarks, the boat shook several times and surged downstream. As it turned out, the boat had entered a narrower part of the river where the currents were very swift.

"Xiaocui, we have arrived at the Isle of the Azure Conch!" announced Ding Busi with a gleeful laugh. "You and your grand-daughter, as well as Big Rice Dumpling, are all invited to go ashore and stay!"

The old woman's countenance changed at once. "No, I am not going!" she said in a trembling voice. "I would rather die than to set a single foot on your ghastly island!"

"What is wrong with going ashore and staying for a few days?" asked Ding Busi. "You are my highly esteemed guest. You will be able to recuperate well in my home, for it is a very comfortable place with good food and drinks, as well as a comprehensive range of renowned and valuable medicinal products(10)."

"Comfortable my fart!" snapped the old woman angrily, using an expletive as she became more panicky about the situation that she was in.

As the surging waves of the swift-flowing river struck the boat, Shi Potian followed the gaze of Ding Busi towards the right. There, he saw a peak rising from the water, a lush expanse of greenery that was pointed at the top and rounded at the base. Since the peak looked just like a spiral shell, Shi guessed that it was the Isle of the Azure Conch.

"Pull in over there," said Ding Busi to the boatman.

"Yes!" the boatman replied.

Then, Ding Busi bent down, lifted the anchor and stood on the bow. He would toss the anchor on to the island as soon as the boat went near enough.

Shi Potian spoke: " Laoyezi, since this old lady is unwilling to go to your home, why are you ..." But before he could finish, the old woman leapt up, grabbed A'Xiu by the arm and dived into the river.

"No!" shouted Ding Busi. He turned and made a backhanded grab for the women, but how could he have reached them on time?

A *plonk* was heard. A splash of water followed and the two women disappeared beneath the waves.

Greatly startled, Shi Potian grabbed a plank from the deck and leapt into the river as well. As he did, he pushed off against the side of the boat with both his feet, and flew straight out over the water. Consequently, he managed to enter the river just beside the two women, although he had leapt a moment after the old woman did.

Shi Potian did not know how to swim, so he began swallowing water as soon as the waves struck him. Bent on rescuing the women, he held on to the plank with his right hand and started grabbing randomly in the water with his left. He caught the old woman's hair in his hand almost at once, and refused to loosen his grip. By then, the current of the river had swept the trio downstream.

It did not take long before Shi Potian's head felt dizzy and his vision became blurred, yet he was still swallowing water from the river. Suddenly, his body shook and a burst of pain was felt on his waist. He had knocked hard into a rock.

Greatly delighted, Shi Potian stretched out his legs, stood firmly on the rock and quickly pulled the old woman towards him. Fortunately, the old woman's arms were still wrapped tightly around her grand-daughter. However, Shi found it difficult to tell if the two women were alive or dead. Nevertheless, he picked both of them up at the same time and stumbled shakily ashore.

Shi Potian reached dry land after walking for only ten zhang (33.33 metres). Suddenly, he heard the old woman snapping at him: "Rude fellow! How dare you grab me by the hair!"

Startled, Shi Potian quickly replied: "Yes, yes! I am really sorry."

"How dare you ..." the old woman continued, only to utter a *wa* and throw up the water that she had swallowed earlier.

A'Xiu spoke up: "Grandmother, if it were not for this Elder Brother here and his act of rescue, we who are unable to swim would have been ... been ..." At this point, she began throwing up water as well.

"In that case," said the old woman, "this young fellow here has indeed done us a favour by saving our lives. All right, I will not hold the rude act of grabbing me by the hair against him."

A'Xiu smiled. "That was something that could not be avoided during the rescue," she said. Then, turning to Shi Potian, she added, "Elder Brother, we would like to really ... really thank you for this." At this point, she was still in Shi's arms, with only a chi (33.33 cm) between her eyes and his. She averted her gaze to avoid meeting his eyes when she spoke, but when she and her grandmother threw up, they could not avoid doing it all over Shi's body.

Fortunately, Shi Potian was already wet from the earlier ordeal, so it did not matter if he had more water splashed on him. However, A'Xiu's face turned very red, for she felt very embarrassed about it.

"All right," said the old woman. "You can put us down now. This is the Isle of the Purple Smoke, a place that is not far from the residence of that old monster. We have to prevent him from coming over to nag."

"Yes, yes!" answered Shi Potian.

As he was about to put the two women down, someone spoke up suddenly from behind some trees: "The young fellow is probably still alive. We must find him."

Shocked, Shi Potian whispered: "Ding Busi has caught up with us." Then, he picked the two women up and ducked into a clump of trees. He did not dare to move after that.

By and by, footsteps were heard on the withered grass, and two people walked by. One of them was an elderly man, and the other was but a young girl. Shi Potian was hit by a wave a fear far greater than the sight of Ding Busi, for he could see from their backs that the duo were none other than Ding Dang and Ding Busan.

"Oh no, it is ...," he said in a trembling voice, "... it is Third Grandfather Ding."

"Why are you feeling such fear?" asked the old woman in surprise. "Did Ding Busan's grand-daughter not teach you martial arts?"

"Grandfather wants to kill me," answered Shi Potian. "Ding Ding Dang Dang blames me for being disobedient, so she eventually had me bound up like a big rice dumpling and tossed into the river. Fortunately, your boat happened to be passing by, or ... or ..."

"Or you would have become a snack for the old tortoises and soft-shelled turtles in the river," said the old woman with a laugh.

"Yes, yes!" said Shi Potian. Recalling how Ding Dang had him all coiled up in rope the day before, he found such lingering fear in his heart that he said, "Grandmother(11), they are still looking for me. If they catch me this time, I ... I would be in a terrible mess!"

The old woman became indignant. "If I am not suffering from the effects of overpractising, who is a mere Ding Busan to me! Go and call him over, and we will see if he dares to touch a single hair on you."

"Grandmother, your internal strength has not returned yet," said A'Xiu. "Let us avoid the Ding Brothers for the moment. When you are well again, it will not be too late to give them some bad times."

"Your grandmother has indeed been served a full dose of trouble this time," said the old woman angrily. "Regardless of the reasons that have been put forth, it is still the fault of that ghastly little beast and that old tyrant who would not die!"

"Grandmother," said A'Xiu gently, "why do you bring up the affairs of the past? Both of us have overpractised at the same time, so we need to recuperate with calm hearts and quiet minds. Then, we will recover quickly. If you are unhappy, you will only bring harm to your body."

"If my body is harmed, so be it," snapped the old woman. "What is there to fear? After swallowing so much water today, there is nothing left of the heroic life-long reputation of Shi Xiaocui." Her voice grew louder as she spoke.

Concerned that Ding Busan might hear them, Shi Potian said, "Grandmother, please calm down. I ... I will send some internal strength into your body." Then, without waiting for her response, he placed a palm on her Ling Tai acupoint and sent a gentle stream of energy over.

As the energy entered her body, the old woman, Grandmother Shi, had no alternative but to concentrate her internal circulation and send Shi Potian's energy towards the various acupoints that had shut themselves up. As the acupoints began opening up one after another, the old woman could not continue speaking any longer.

All Shi Potian sought was her not alerting Ding Busan to his presence, so he continued to send out an endless stream of internal energy through his palm.

Grandmother Shi was secretly amazed: This young fellow's internal strength is so exquisite and powerful, yet why does he not know any martial arts? Unfortunately, such a thought going through her mind was sufficient to cause a wave of nausea in her chest, so much so that she did not dare to ponder further on the matter until her Foot Shaoyang Channel (of the Gall Bladder) was completely unblocked. Then, she heaved a long sigh of relief, got to her feet, smiled and said, "It has been hard on you."

Shi Potian and A'Xiu were pleasantly surprised. "You can move?" they asked in unison.

"One of the foot channels is now totally open," answered Grandmother Shi, "but there are many more channels that are still blocked!"

"I am not tired," said Shi Potian. "Let us unblock all the other channels as well."

"The young fellow is uttering nonsense," said Grandmother Shi with a frown on her brow. "Both A'Xiu and I overpractised while working on the Divine Skill of the Unexpected (Wu Wang Shen Gong / Wu2 Wang4 Shen2 Gong1). How then could our immobility be equated to an ordinary case of paralysis? We should be thanking the Heaven and the Earth for our success in unblocking a full channel today, for even if the Venerable Dharma and the True Man Zhang Sanfeng came back to life, they might not necessarily be able to unblock all the channels in my body in a single day."

"Yes, yes!" answered Shi Potian, feeling somewhat embarrassed. "I did not understand the principles behind all these occurrences, so please give me some pointers(12)."

"Well, since there is nothing to do right now," Grandmother Shi went on, "you should just help A'Xiu to unblock her Foot Shaoyang Channel as well."

"Yes, yes!" said Shi Potian. He raised A'Xiu up and positioned her left shoulder against the trunk of a tree. Then, he placed a palm on her Ling Tai acupoint and sent a stream of energy into her body, just as the old woman had taught him. A'Xiu's internal strength was a lot weaker than her grandmother's, so Shi Potian took four times longer to unblock her Foot Shaoyang Channel.

Once it was done, A'Xiu struggled to her feet. "Thank you very much," she said in a soft and gentle voice. Then, she added, "Grandmother, we do not know the esteemed surname and name of this elder brother here, so it is quite a breach of etiquette on our part because we do not know how to address him." Although A'Xiu spoke these words to her grandmother, she was actually asking Shi Potian for his name. However, she was too shy to speak directly to the young man herself.

"Hey, Big Rice Dumpling," said Grandmother Shi, "my grand-daughter asks you for your name."

"I ... I really do not know," Shi Potian began. "My mother calls me ... calls me ... " He wanted to say 'Gouzazhong', but he knew by then that the word was too crude to be uttered in front of such a cultured and dignified young girl. So he said, "They mistook me for another man, but I am really not that man. Who exactly am I? I ... I really cannot say..."

Grandmother Shi became so impatient listening to Shi Potian that she snapped: "Do not tell us your name if you are unwilling to do so. Yet, you have to come up with such a long-winded tale."

"Grandmother," said A'Xiu, "there must be one painful reason or another behind his unwillingness to tell us his name, so let us not ask him further. There is hardly any difference between addressing him by his name and not, so long as we remember his kindness in our hearts."

Shi Potian spoke up: "No, no! I am not unwilling to tell you my name, but the name is really very unpleasant to the ear."

"What is this about something that is pleasant or unpleasant to the ear?" asked Grandmother Shi. "Is there a name that is more unpleasant than Big Rice Dumpling? If you do not speak up, I will just go ahead and call you that -- 'Big Rice Dumpling'."

Big Rice Dumpling does sound a lot better than Gouzazhong, thought Shi Potian. Therefore, he smiled and said, "It is good to call me Big Rice Dumpling, for there is nothing unpleasant about it."

By then, A'Xiu had noticed how easy-going Shi Potian was, for he did not show the slightest bit of anger despite the lack of courtesy in her grandmother's words. Hence, feeling more apologetic than before, she said, "Grandmother, please do not poke further fun. As for this Elder Brother here, please do not feel offended."

"That was nothing," said Shi Potian with a laugh. "Thank the Heaven and the Earth, for I hope that Grandfather Ding Busan and Ding Ding Dang Dang will not be able to find me. Please rest here for a moment while I go and see if there is anything here to eat."

"There are many persimmon trees on this Isle of the Purple Smoke," said Grandmother Shi. "The fruit have just ripened, so you can go and pick some. The fish and crabs on the island are fat too, so there is no harm in catching some of those as well."

Acknowledging the instructions, Shi Potian dodged behind some trees and began walking stealthily away, for he was afraid of being seen by the Dings. After several tens of zhang (1 zhang = 3.33 metres), he came upon a hillside with more than ten persimmon trees. Each tree was dotted with the red of fully ripe fruit. Shi walked up to the base of a tree and shook its trunk. Almost at once, the ripe persimmons began falling all around him. After stuffing the fruit into his shirt, Shi ran back to the clump of trees where Grandmother Shi and A'Xiu were hidden to share his pickings with them.

The two women could already walk, but the channels on their upper limbs remained blocked. While Grandmother Shi could force herself to raise a hand, A'Xiu's arms were still stiff and quite paralysed. Consequently, Shi Potian had to peel the persimmons before feeding Grandmother Shi and A'Xiu one after the other. When A'Xiu saw Shi sending pieces of peeled persimmon towards her mouth, she turned so red with embarrassment that she looked like a persimmon herself. Yet, she had to eat from his hand, because she could not decline the fruit at all.

When Shi Potian tried to feed her with another piece, A'Xiu said, "Elder Brother, you should eat your fill first, before ... before ..."

Grandmother Shi cut in: "If we walk towards the south-west for a li (500 metres) or so, we will come upon a cave. But we have to wait until dark before going over to the cave for shelter. Then, the ghastly pair of brothers who are neither three nor four will not be able to find us."

"Wonderful!" said Shi Potian in delight. He did not really dread Ding Busi, but he was truly afraid of Ding Busan and his grand-daughter because they were bent on taking his life. Therefore, he was so relieved when Grandmother Shi mentioned a place in which they could hide that he ate a few more persimmons(13).

Shi Potian waited quite anxiously until darkness fell. Then, supporting Grandmother Shi on his right arm and A'Xiu on his left(14), he made his way towards the south-west.

As it turned out, the Isle of the Purple Smoke was once the playground of Grandmother Shi. Therefore, she was very familiar with the topography of the island. Consequently, she and her companions came upon an outcrop of cliffs on their right, after walking for a little more than a li (500 metres)(15). Then, Grandmother Shi instructed them to take two bends and walk through a row of short trees before they saw the mouth of a cave.

"Big Rice Dumpling," said Grandmother Shi, "you will sleep outside tonight, and serve as our guard. Do not enter the cave."

"Yes, yes!" answered Shi Potian. Then, he added: "It is a pity that we do not dare to light a fire and dry our wet clothes."

"Well, this is what you call 'the tiger has fallen upon the open plains and found itself bullied by the dogs'," said Grandmother Shi coldly. "One day, I will ensure that this ghastly pair of brothers who are neither three nor four will suffer ten times more in retribution."

Post your feedback and comments here!

_______________

Definitions, explanations and/or words left (mostly) in their original form:
Those covered in earlier chapters are not repeated.

  1. Paternal Grandmother (nai3 nai 奶奶) = the mother of the speaker's father; will be shortened henceforth to "Grandmother" unless where the full term of address is necessary.
  2. The Dragon Boat Festival (Duan1 Yang2 Jie2 端阳节) = a festival celebrated with rice dumplings on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month; also known as Duan1 Wu3 Jie2 端午节. Details in Facts and Figures.
  3. Laoyezi (lao3 ye2 zi3 老爷子) = a polite form of address for an old man. There is no appropriate English equivalent, so the original Chinese will be used.
  4. The six 'yang' channels of the hand and the foot = The Hand Yangming Channel of the Colon, The Foot Yangming Channel of the Stomach, The Hand Taiyang Channel of the Small Intestine, The Foot Taiyang Channel of the Urinary Bladder, The Hand Shaoyang Channel of the Three Visceral Cavities and The Foot Shaoyang Channel of the Gall Bladder. Details in Facts and Figures.
  5. In the 2nd edition, the old woman instructs Shi Potian to exercise his internal strength through the 'Hand Shaoyang Channel of the Gall Bladder' (shou3 shao4 yang2 dan3 jing1 手少阳胆经), which does not exist. This error is corrected in the 3rd edition, by changing 'Gall Bladder' to 'Three Visceral Cavities'.
  6. The sentence "I am really very sorry" is found only in the 3rd edition.
  7. The phrase "struck you on the top of the head with his palm" is found only in the 3rd edition.
  8. This move was known as 'Either Left or Right' (Huo4 Zuo3 Huo4 You4 或左或右) in the 2nd edition.
  9. The sentence "In addition, Shi Potian's actions had also violated the essentials of pugilistic studies" is found only in the 3rd edition.
  10. In the 2nd edition, Ding Busi did not elaborate on the benefits of staying at the Isle of the Azure Conch. He merely said: "You will be able to recuperate well in my home, for it is a very comfortable place."
  11. Maternal Grandmother (po po / 婆婆 / po2 po2) = in terms of traditional forms of address, women are always referred to as if they were relatives of the speaker's mother. Hence, Shi Potian addressed the old woman as "Maternal Grandmother". This will be shortened henceforth to "Grandmother" unless where the full term of address is necessary.
  12. The phrase "so please give me some pointers" is found only in the 3rd edition.
  13. The phrase "that he ate a few more persimmons" is found only in the 3rd edition.
  14. In the 2nd edition, Grandmother Shi was on the left while A'Xiu was on the right.
  15. In the 2nd edition, the trio walked for less than a li (500 metres).

20060507/20070221