In THE SILENT GIRL, I introduce a female martial arts master named Iris Fang, a mysterious figure who may — or may not be — the force behind a series of murders in Chinatown. One reporter who interviewed me asked if the whole woman warrior thing wasn’t a bit over the top. Is a woman martial arts master really believable?
Absolutely. In fact, the character of Iris Fang was inspired by a real person, Bow Sim Mark, who coincidentally has just been profiled in the Boston Globe:
In July, Bow Sim Mark will celebrate her 35th year teaching wushu in the United States. A martial art that includes tai chi and other ancient disciplines, wushu and its movements were first standardized by the Chinese government in the 1950s. Over the decades, Mark has developed them into performances that are wholly her own and has collected an impressive list of accolades along the way. In 1984, she won the gold medal at the First International Tai Chi Chuan and Sword Tournament in China. More recently, Black Belt magazine named her one of the most influential martial arts masters of the 20th century; Inside Kung-Fu magazine upped the praise, declaring her one of the most influential of the last millennium…
Watching Mark work through wushu forms is to see a kind of otherworldly refinement. All her movements seem to exist within a carefully constructed sphere that shifts when she does. There is a radius of power and a circumference of grace that are meditative until, suddenly, Mark brings her sword from a position of rest into a powerful downward chop or upward thrust. The lethality of the action was always there; it had just been hidden by the beauty of the movements surrounding it, like swaying reeds that conceal a tiger.
Well sure, you think. She looks great onstage. She moves with grace. But are those fighting skills actually effective? Read what one Navy SEAL, Shannon Phelps, had to say about Sifu Mark:
Despite Phelps’s size, he recalls, Mark “used to just take me and wrap me and throw me on the ground. Then she’d giggle and say: ‘How come you’re on the ground? I’m just a little lady.’ Then she’d laugh and laugh, but she made her point more than once.”
“She’s playing at such a high level that it can be like a cat with a little ball of twine,” he says. “She knows we’re trying hard, but what she’s got we’re never going to get.
Truth really is more fascinating than fiction.