The cheers and claps petered out, and the beautifully-dressed MC took the stage again.
"Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, now the time has come for tonight's grand finale!" The MC paused to allow another wave of cheers and whistles to pass. "Let us welcome Huang Yifei, a member of Tiannan University's Wushu Club, as well as Li Yundong, a member of Tiannan University's Taekwondo Club, to give us a live sparring demonstration!"
"Holy shit! Live sparring?! This is gonna be fun!"
Backstage, Professor Ma was secretly delighting in her last-minute decision to give the final slot to the Taekwondo Club. Those Dancing with the Stars wannabes couldn't hold a candle to the spectacle that the Taekwondo had just given, and was about to give again.
As for Zhuang Hui, although she wasn't happy about having the opportunity to become the star of the show stolen away from her, she had to admit that Li Yundong's performance was far more suited to be the event's grand finale. Not to mention the little crush she was harboring for the guy...
Needless to say, Zhuang Hui was practically swooning by the end of Li Yundong's performance.
And when the MC announced the live sparring demonstration that Li Yundong was about to give, Zhuang Hui's reaction was: "Kyaaa!! You're so cool, Li Yundong! I'm rooting for you!"
She was even on her feet and clapping.
Her dance partners merely rolled their eyes.
"Dick-whipped," one of Zhuang Hui's female dance partners muttered, loud enough for everyone to hear.
Zhuang Hui would've heard it too if she wasn't so... well, dick-whipped.
Huang Yifei walked towards the stage once his name was announced by the MC. When he reached the edge of the stage, he leaped onto the stage, whose surface was raised more than a meter above the floor.
A round of whistles sounded courtesy of the foreigners who had always been fascinated by Chinese martial arts.
"Yo, Kris," said a blonde guy as he clapped his hands. "Didn't you say you know a lot about China? Which martial art is that guy a practitioner of?"
Kris was a beautiful woman with long, wavy blonde hair. Her face was small and delicate with sharp and distinctive features. The most striking aspect of Kris' appearance was perhaps her straight and sharp nose as well as her fair complexion. Her beauty had caught the eyes of a lot of men from the moment she arrived at the hall.
"Please. You're the martial artist here, John, not me," Kris said, clapping her hands along with the others. "Why are you even asking me?" Then she stopped clapping and looked at John through narrowed eyes. "Is this a test?" She snorted. "In that case, I'll pass with flying colors." She turned back to the stage. "Look at those iron bracelets on the guy's forearms. What do you make of them?"
"Yeah, I see them," John said, squinting at the stage. "What about them?"
"It means the guy is a practitioner of the Iron Wire Fist!"
"Iron Wire Fist?" John said. "Never heard of it!"
Kris chuckled. "And you call yourself a martial arts junkie?" she teased. "I think it's time you pass the Penn State UFC title belt to someone else, John. Clearly, you don't know as much about martial arts as you think."
John snorted and said, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever. You gonna tell me or not?"
"The Iron Wire Fist is a popular Cantonese fighting style. Have you heard of Hung Ga or Hung Kuen?"
"What! Hung Ga? You mean the martial arts taught by Master Chiu Chi-Ling?" John exclaimed. "My God. I should be the one onstage sparring with that guy!"
Kris smiled and shook her head. She knew how passionate John was about martial arts. It didn't matter to him which style of martial arts it was, or which country it originated from. He loved them all.
Of course, to John , nothing could be more enjoyable than sparring with practitioners from different styles of martial arts.
Kris knew that John's name wasn't included in the original list of students to represent the University of Pennsylvania for this year's student exchange visit. However, once he heard that the destination was China, John literally went berserk and did everything he could to get his name onto the list. "I wanna experience Chinese Kung Fu first-hand," he had told her.
"You? Sparring with that guy?" Kris said with a skeptical tone. "Forget it, pal. There are four empty-handed routines taught in Hung Ga, and the Iron Wire Fist is the most advanced of the four. The other three are the Taming the Tiger Fist, the Tiger Crane Paired Form Fist, and the Five Animal Five Element Fist." Kris paused and gave John a sidelong glance. "You might not be a match for him."
John gave her a nonchalant shrug.
"That's not necessarily true," John said. "By the way, Kris. You really know a lot about China, huh? Can't believe you know so many details about Chinese martial arts. Ah, how nice to have a Chinese grandmother!"
Kris didn't respond to John's remark but looked towards the stage instead.
"So. You're a fighter, John," she said. "Who do you think will win?"
"Iron Wire Fist guy, of course!"
Kris smirked. At least she and John were on the same page with regards to the outcome of the spar.
"Why?" she asked.
"Just look at the dude!" John said. "Look at his delts! And those arms! Christ! All lean muscle and so little body fat! I bet he can generate a lot of explosive power with a physique like that..." John paused. "You know Bruce Lee had that kind of build as well, and look how fast and powerful he was! The guy's a legend! Besides, iron guy also has those bracelets. That, plus his explosiveness?" John snorted. "Guy's gonna pack a wallop, you'll see!"
"Taekwondo guy, on the other hand..." John said, jerking his thumb surreptitiously at Li Yundong. "All those fancy kicks earlier looked nice, sure. But they're hard to execute in an actual fight. Well, except for that last kick, of course. That one was pretty badass. Anyway, Taekwondo guy doesn't have that... look, you know?"
Kris looked at John questioningly.
"I guess you could say the killer look?" John said. "I don't think the guy has been in a real right before. Pfft. Yeah. He's totally gonna lose."
Deep down, Kris agreed with John's assessment. However, she didn't want to give John the satisfaction of knowing that she shared his opinion. She smiled and said, "Maybe it's all staged. Maybe they've already decided the outcome beforehand. Whatever. Let's just enjoy the show and stop making wild guesses."
"You're the one who asked me in the first place, and now you're basically telling me to shut up about it?" John muttered under his breath. "Why do we have to suffer your whims just because you're the student council president..."
Shaking her head, Kris chuckled and returned her eyes to the stage.
On the stage, Huang Yifei stood facing Li Yundong with both hands behind his back. The two fighters faced each other until the audience's cheers and claps subsided. All of a sudden, Huang Yifei bent his right leg at the knee, raising the heel of his left foot at the same time. Then, he positioned his hands in front on the right side of his chest, slightly below his armpits. He held that position for a second, then extended his arms, locking them out at the elbows. In the end posture, Huang Yifei's right hand was in a closed first, while his left hand had a "number four" gesture with the palm facing Li Yundong.
That was the first form of Hung Ga's Iron Wire Fist, "Bai Ye Qiao Shou." On the surface, the form looked like some kind of greeting, or a gesture of courtesy and respect, but in actuality, it was a stance from which attacks and defense can be executed.
Unaware of the significance of Huang Yifei's stance, Li Yundong assumed that Huang Yifei was showing him respect, so he bowed to him as well.
However, bowing would require Li Yundong to take his eyes off his opponent, leaving him in a vulnerable position.
Huang Yifei slammed his right foot firmly on the stage floor.
Huang Yifei left leg lashed out like a whip towards Li Yundong's body, which was still bent at the waist at a thirty-degree angle. The kick was aimed at Li Yundong's head.
Li Yundong's enhanced senses allowed him to detect the change in the airflow around him as well as hear the sound of the kick.
Li Yundong leaped backwards just in time; Huang Yifei's left foot missed his head by an inch.
The audience erupted in cheers and whistles.
Huang Yifei pulled back his hands abruptly, then deliver two punches simultaneously — one aimed at Li Yundong's chest while the other was aimed at his head.
The iron bracelets on Huang Yifei's arms clinked loudly the moment Huang Yifei's arms were fully extended.
The punches missed. Li Yundong had dodged them by taking a huge leap backwards, which created quite a bit of distance between himself and Huang Yifei.
At that moment, Li Yundong realized that this fight was on an entirely different level than the one involving those pipe-wielding thugs. Hell, this guy even made Zhao Yujian seem like a kitten!
The murderous aura he'd detected from Huang Yifei was unmistakable. This guy was fighting to kill!
Before Li Yundong had time to figure out his next move, Huang Yifei closed the distance between them with a giant leap.
Huang Yifei's fists were now secured on both sides of his waist. Li Yundong knew the next attack was coming, he just didn't know what it was going to look like, or when it was coming.
The two fighters stared at each other, like a hungry tiger and its wary prey. Li Yundong held his breath and watched his opponent's every move. Huang Yifei's fists moved upwards from his hips along the two sides of his torso, stopping only when they were slightly above nipple level. Then, Huang Yifei uncurled his fingers to form two open palms. Li Yundong had no idea how his opponent was going to strike him next. He just knew that he might end up crippled if he didn't find a way to avoid it.
All of a sudden, Huang Yifei burst forward.
Like two blades, Huang Yifei's open palms sliced through the air in a swift downward motion. These two knife-hand strikes were aimed at Li Yundong's deltoids.
Li Yundong straightened out the lapels of his Taekwondo uniform which had been tugged out of place when Huang Yifei's hands grazed along its sleeves a moment ago. Once again, Li Yundong had narrowly avoided what seemed to be two deadly strikes. Li Yundong already knew that what Zhou Yu had told the vice-chancellor during the rehearsals about pulling punches was complete BS. He just didn't expect it to be this bad.
What the hell am I supposed to do now?
The crowd was roaring despite the fact that both of Huang Yifei's attacks had missed. John, who was a trained martial artist himself, was able to fully appreciate the complexity of the two techniques that Huang Yifei had just unleashed. He sprang to his feet and started cheering like some kind of crazed football fan: "Yeaaahhhh!!!!! Did you see that!!! Did you see that!!!"
Meanwhile, Zhou Qin, Feng Na, Zhuang Hui, and pretty much all the women who were infatuated with Li Yundong, were sitting in their seats with their stomachs in knots and their fists clenched. When Huang Yifei started attacking again, they winced and hid their faces behind their hands, praying that Li Yundong would be able to avoid those vicious blows.
Even Su Chan, whose attitude had been nothing but nonchalant since the start of the demo, was now observing the fight carefully. Her vigilant eyes followed Huang Yifei's every move, hoping to find a weakness or an opening that Li Yundong could exploit. Indeed, she had assumed that Li Yundong could take out his opponent with ease. Admittedly, after observing Huang Yifei's moves, she realized that her assumptions were wrong.
Huang Yifei was dangerous. His punches and kicks were all meant to cause internal damage to his opponent. Unless a Cultivator had gotten past the Jinshen phase, a master martial artist could still damage their body, or in some cases, even kill them. If Li Yundong got hit by one of those blows, it would damage not just his internal organs, but his meridians as well. Damaging a Cultivator's meridians was like breaking a master sculptor's fingers. Su Chan couldn't allow that to happen, not after Li Yundong had made so much progress, not to mention the matter of wasting the Renyuan Jindan!
When Li Yundong was slowly forced towards the back of the stage by a flurry of Huang Yifei's attacks, Su Chan couldn't take it anymore. She had to do something.
"Yundong! Fight back!"
Li Yundong was scrambling to avoid Huang Yifei's attacks when he heard Su Chan's voice. He had made the mistake of dodging in the wrong direction earlier. As a result, he was now slowly being forced to the back of the stage. Soon, he would be cornered and there would be nowhere for him to run. Damn it!
"But how?" he said, hoping Su Chan could hear him.
He could barely do anything other than fend off Huang Yifei's attacks.
Su Chan's angelic voice drifted to his ears: "You don't even have to touch him. Just use your Qi! The three gates, remember?"
All of a sudden, Li Yundong felt as though a million light bulbs had gone off in his head. That's it! he thought. The bridging of the three gates! Why didn't I think of that earlier!
Before, when Li Yundong was taking Qi control lessons from Su Chan, she taught him how to accumulate Qi inside his lower Dantian and then send his Qi along his meridians to connect his middle and upper Dantians. Even now, he still remembered the sensation of having his three Dantians linked together by his Qi.
While Li Yundong was having an epiphany, Huang Yifei was panicking. He had unleashed a lot of his moves earlier, all of which were meant to cause internal injuries, yet none of them connected. Li Yundong had dodged all of them by backing away.
When Huang Yifei managed to corner Li Yundong to the back of the stage, he thought he had finally regained the upperhand, but then he heard a girl's voice. The girl mentioned something about Qi, which threw Huang Yifei into a panic again.
Don't tell me this guy knows Qigong? Huang Yifei thought.
Moments after the girl spoke, Li Yundong suddenly stopped moving, and Huang Yifei knew that his opportunity had come. It was time for him to end this fight.
Below the stage, Kris was on her feet as well. What a spectacular fight, she thought. But it's probably going to be over soon.
Taekwondo guy had been forced to back of the stage. He was trapped. There was no way he could avoid iron guy's next strike. All of a sudden, Kris frowned in confusion. Taekwondo guy had suddenly stopped moving; he was standing still, and he wasn't even in a fighting stance. Has he given up? Kris thought. She squinted at Taekwondo guy and saw that he was taking deep breaths as though he was meditating. However, her attention was quickly drawn towards the iron guy, who suddenly lowered his stance into a half-squat. Both of his hands were beside his ears with palms facing the ceiling. I know that move! Kris thought.
"That's Huxiao Longyin! The 17th form of the Hung Ga Iron Wire Fist!" Kris yelled, pointing at the stage.
As iron guy threw out a punch, the clinking sound of his bracelets rang out across the entire hall.
However, Taekwondo guy leaped sideways, and landed about a meter to the right of iron guy! From a meter away, Taekwondo guy cocked his right fist back, then—
Iron guy raised both of his arms to shield his face even though he was clearly outside of Taekwondo guy's striking range!
A split second later, iron guy was airborne. Not only was he airborne, he looked like a rag doll that had been thrown away.
The entire hall plunged into silence.