Ma Joon and Chiao Tai – Two Fun-Loving Guys

In “The Chinese Nail Murders” by Robert van Gulik, Judge Dee is assigned as magistrate to the Province of Pei-chow, newly liberated from the Mongols by China’s Northern Army, and his two lieutenants, Ma Joong and Chiao Tai, meet and became pals with a national martial arts champion named Lan Tao-kuei, the pride of Pei-chow.

Though they are both experienced fighters, as “brothers of the green woods,” i.e. bandits, and later as lieutenants of the tribunal, they ask Lan to teach them some grips and exercises.

Lan explains that he doesn’t teach individual techniques, that they would have to follow the entire course.

“Ma Joong scratched his head,” van Gulik writes.

“‘Do I remember correctly,’ he asked, ‘that your training rules include leaving the wenches alone?’

“‘Women sap a man’s strength,’ Lan said. He spoke so bitterly that his two friends shot him an astonished look. Lan rarely indulged in vehement statements. The boxer continued with a smile: ‘That is to say, it’ll not hurt if kept well under control. For you I’ll make special conditions. You have to give up drinking altogether, you must follow the diet I prescribe, and sleep with a woman only once a month. That’s all!’

“Ma Joong shot a doubtful look at Chiao Tai.

“‘Well,’ he said, ‘there’s the rub, brother Lan! I don’t suppose that I am fonder of a drink and a wench than the next, but I am nearing forty now, and they have grown to be a sort of habit with me, you know. What about you, Chiao Tai?’

“Fingering his small moustache Chiao Tai replied, ‘As to the wench, well, all right — provided of course she’s the pick of the top shelf! But as to going entirely without wine…’

“‘There you are!’ Master Lan laughed. ‘But it doesn’t matter. You two are boxers of the ninth grade. There is no need to enter the extra grade. In your profession you’ll never have to fight an opponent who has reached that highest level.’

“‘Why not?’ Ma Joong asked.

“‘That’s simple,’ the champion answered. ‘For going through all grades from the first up to the ninth, a strong body and perseverance suffice. But for the extra grade, strength and skill are of secondary importance. Only men of a completely serene mind can reach it, and that naturally precludes becoming a criminal.

“‘Now that judge of yours,’ Lan observed, ‘I think he could make the extra grade if he wanted to.'”