Art // The Art of Kung Fu: A Daughter’s Duty
A Daughter’s Duty
Wei Mulan Duels Her Father
From her place at the window where she worked her loom every day, Mulan heard a clanging rise from the courtyard, and it drew her gaze away from the moving threads. She leaned out the window, catching sight of her father teaching her brother—a boy not more than twelve—to hold a sword and swing it. It was a pathetic display. The boy was too frail. Both Mulan and her father knew it, and it broke her heart to watch them go through the motions.
She was only eighteen, but she knew her father grew more worried as the days passed. She understood it keenly. It was her worry as well. War loomed on the horizon, and residents of Hu Nan Shang Chu Shi would soon be conscripted into the army for their northern province. Her father was too old for the responsibility, and so it would fall to her brother to stand in his place. But as she saw it, there was only one true option: she must go instead. It would break with tradition. She didn’t care.
Steely-eyed, Mulan dropped her wooden shuttle to the floor where it clacked sharply. From the kitchen, her mother called to her daughter, wondering at the sound—but Mulan didn’t reply. She strode to her room and donned the training garments she had always kept hidden. Over them, she tugged on her father’s once-discarded armor, settling it easily on her shoulders.
Her mother appeared at the door then, the same question still on her lips, but was startled into silence to find her daughter fixing a sash and tying up her long dark hair. She could only gape at this transformation.
Mulan brushed past her mother and into the courtyard to confront her father. He was so shocked to see his daughter wrench the sword from her younger brother’s grip that he surged forward in an attempt to separate her from the blade. But she shoved him aside firmly, and demanded to prove her skills. He glowered at her and asked why she was wearing his armor. This was no time to uphold filial piety. Mulan knew this.
She struck fiercely at her father—not maliciously—stinging the blade in his hands and angering him. He swung back with an overhead stroke meant to frighten her, but she parried. Resolved to lecture Mulan on the dangers of weapons, he felt the words die in his throat.
He set his feet and attacked her with ‘Autumn Wind’ and ‘Cutting Wheat’ and even his specialty, ‘Dragon Emerges from the River,’ but nothing worked—Mulan was too skilled, too strong, and they both knew it. Her father was a stubborn man, but not a stupid one.
When he sagged exhaustedly to the courtyard dirt, thoroughly beaten, only for Mulan’s stalwart hands to lift him up, the Wei family knew it had been decided: Mulan would shoulder the responsibility for her family, sparing both her father and brother.
And that very night, with tears in their eyes, the family gathered around a candle perched atop the loom to cut her hair and mourn her before she’d even gone.
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