I don`t know if I can call myself a man`s    woman, but I can safely say I’m ladylike, for the most part. I mean, I’m quite   typically feminine in my appearance; I   love fripperies and fuchsia lipstick; I can   giggle with the best of my sisters, pout for   selfies and attempt to match my yoga mat   to my favourite gym bag. 

But I have a secret  pleasure. No, let’s cut the pfaff and call a  spade a bloody shovel — it’s an addiction.  Put me down in front of a screen, play  me a certain kind of movie, give me a can  of Coke and some popcorn and watch me  slowly, pleasurably sink into the addiction,  like Charlie in that chocolate factory. Or,  more appropriately, like the late great Bruce  Lee, when confronted by belligerent young  louts. 

There, that’s a small reveal for you. My   kind of movie is the martial arts kind. It can   be grainy (some of the old classics have not  been released in remastered prints yet), it  can contain the corniest of plots (almost all of   them do), it can star the most wooden  actors  ever, but it will fill my (feminine) heart with  unholy  joy.

I will watch enthralled and after a while, I may even unconsciously start to emulate  some of the hand movements. I will chuckle  when the goof blunders into sticky situations, I will sniff a little when the hero`s sidekick  dies a noble death, and I will nod solemnly  when the Chief Abbott of the  monastery  makes some profound observation like  “Pray when you must, take up the long pole  when you must.”

I’ve been practicing Tai Chi for some  years now, but the fascination for MA films  preceded this by many years. The bug bit  (hit?) early. When other teenaged girls were  drooling over sappy love-is-forever films, I was deifying Bruce Lee. When they were  reading Mills and Boon, I was reading  up  on  wushu, the Chinese martial art. For ages, the  Shaolin films were my go-to, the way  others watched the Pink Panther series or binge-watched  Pretty Woman/Ghost/Sleepless  in  Seattle. The highlight of a recent trip to China  was watching a slickly choreographed martial arts ballet called The Legend of Kung Fu, at  Beijing’s Red Theatre.

What I love about these films is that the  fighting is pure poetry in motion — the  gravity- defying body contortions, the  feather-light way the proponents land on  their feet, the grace which does not hide the  lethality of their movements. Of course, this  is balletic art that breaks a limb or two as  it plays out. I love the little homilies that  the movies contain, that the ego needs to  be suppressed, that ‘The True Path’ lies in  nature, or when the hero goes off into the  muted sunset, looking to find an  unsullied place to live a quiet life.

These films don’t have feet of clay — they  are mired in a field of mud. Their plotlines  are the opposite of convoluted, following  arrow-straight lines. There is no place for  subtlety here; villains are steeped in villainy; no wimpish disclaimer of animals not being  harmed during the making of this movie are  shown; the humour is so basic, you have to  be a fan to even smile, leave alone chuckle. But all the trite passages of being down on  both love and luck, being poor but happy,  eventually give way to endless moments of  pure, clean martial arts. And if the fight is executed with some modicum of style, the  film is one heck of a good one.

Somehow, Hollywood has not been able to  pull off the basic essence of these films, for  all its slick production values. The Matrix  trilogy borrows deeply from MA films, yet  only confounds the viewer with its mystical  mumbo-jumbo. As for the Kung Fu Panda films, the first one was amusing, but the  sequels are just tiresome.
The MA films have been valuable to me for  another reason: the simple life lessons that  I have picked up over the years of watching  them. Listed below are some of the more  priceless ones:

White Crane Spreads Its Wings. Or, she   who cuts to the chase knows the real path.  It`s all about calling a spade a bloody shovel. There`s a time and an age for obfuscation, and we no longer live in that age. So, make  clear what you say, what you do.  Whether you get it is altogether another  matter but at the very least, there will be no  confusion. And Confucius would be pleased.

Dragon Turns Its Head. Or, composure  is the answer, whatever the question is. You  don’t see the impassive, enigmatic hero lose  his cool, ever. Only the vile villain spews  invective, flails his arms like windmills, uses  up energy… and gets thoroughly routed. You  get my drift, don`t you? 

Embrace The Moon. The true-blue  MA fan will utterly, completely and totally   understand that there is a time and place to  do what has to be done, and that time must be  caught at its flood.

Wield The Single Whip. Or, put your life  on the Shaolin default. The Shaolin way of life  is deeply rewarding. It’s about calmness and  composure, about meeting life head-on with  good humour, the art of stillness, about — and this is a gem — praying when you have  to  and picking up that long pole when you have  to. Useful navigation points, I promise you.

Watch The Flowing Water. Or, observe  with the eye of the poet. Poetry is all about us, especially in the world of wushu. As one monk  said in an MA film, qi is the art that makes  flowers bloom!

Snake Creeps Down. Be graceful while  being lethal. Or, the reverse: be lethal while  being graceful. The MA films do not glorify  violence, there is nothing crude about this  fighting, yet do not mistake its grace for being  any less lethal. So, maybe we need to work  hard on being graceful and the lethal edge  will come. Conversely, we can practice our  martial art moves and soon, grace will come.

Split The Mountain. Or, the all-seeing  gaze is a direct one. In MA films, subtlety  usually goes by the board. The main thing is  how to handle life and the fights of life. That`s all that matters.

Fair Lady Works The Wok. A senior   abbot of a major monastery said (in an  MA film) that cooking, too, is the way to  enlightenment. This makes all that roti rolling and dal-tadkafying such an elevating  task.

Tiger Pounces On Prey. The enigmatic   smile will win the day. Or at least, it will win   you time, when you want to break a head or   two. This will have your foe thinking you are  a  wimp. What you are doing is a classic Bruce  Lee precept:  balancing thoughts with action. Once you have thought the thought through, you are ready to act.

Jade Lady Sits Alone. Nothing empties your     corner at a lunch, cocktail party or  dinner as quickly as a light remark on the   nimble footwork in The Grandmaster or   how  Iron and Silk gave the Hong Kong films a run   for their money. Or how Van Damme, Jason   Statham and all are very well, but can’t hold a   candle to Cheng Pei-Pei even on her bad day.   Suddenly, the Jade Lady sits alone.