I’ve been wondering what to write about in my first post, and I decided on the awesome topic of cricket fighting. O great and noble sport! Sadly diluted by modernity 🙂 Let me see what small repairs I can do.
Cricket fighting? Like, fighting crickets? Yeah, I’m not talking about underhanded baseball here. But crickets are so small! Yes they are, but when they’re given names like the “Golden-headed king” and the “Long-legged general”, they sure don’t feel small. When thousands of dollars are bet in each match, and when it’s a battle unto death replete with backbreakers and sumo-style throws, they don’t seem so small either.
If you doubt my words, check out these match highlights:
That leaping piston driver at 2:43. Man. One cricket just grabs the other, leaps ten body lengths into the air, and flings the poor chap down. Total domination.
Alright, alright, some context. It turns out one of my earlier ancestors was a great cricket fighter, wrote books on the subject that came down the family line. My dad was himself a growing cricket fighter before the Cultural Revolution kicked in. He’d tell me long stories about how beginning in mid June him and my uncle would begin catching crickets in the suburbs of Shanghai, how they would recognize cricket holes (i.e. nests), and they would identify every possible entrance before smoking or flooding the cricket out. Cricket fighting season can last until late November, but where and when to catch champion crickets forms an art all its own.
For example, in the cricket-fighting book that has come down my family, my ancestor ruminates (in Chinese) something to the following effect: “it is best to search for crickets near the nest of poisonous snakes. We call these the viper crickets [ancient Chinese divided crickets into 72 personalities, I believe this is one of them]. The spirit of the snake seem to have embedded into these crickets, and they are strong, and very agile”.
We’ve got a much better explanation now for the “snake spirit”, of course. Natural selection. The slow crickets are dead, especially near a snake nest.
Now, if you thought it’s just a matter of catching and identifying champion crickets and fighting them in great tournies, you would have underestimated the ingenuity of the ancient Chinese. We’ve had a thousand years to figure this one out. No, we train them. Yessir, all the new research results about animal learning in the “lower echelons” of the animal kingdom were well known to cricket trainers.
First, you must boil the leaf of a cricket-grass. I never figured out what these grasses were in English, but they’re a particular type of grass that, because of its shape or composition, can be made to resemble a cricket’s antenna. The tail hair of a horse can also sometimes do, apparently. Anyhow, after weeks of training, the trainer infuriates the cricket and builds up a nasty temper in him –
Oh yes, only male crickets are fought. And they fight for that highest motivation – the female cricket. Furious and mighty though male crickets are with each other in the ring, they are completely submissive to females. In fact, one must never keep male crickets with females except for purposes of mating, because a male cricket (my father tells me) can be happily eaten by the female while putting up no resistance at all. I digress.
Not only must the temper of the cricket be built, but the cricket trainer must pay careful attention to the nature of his (or her) cricket. Are the jaws large? Are the fore-legs long? What are the shape of the mandibles? A short fore-legged cricket, for example, will be trained by flicking the grass from the top. That way, it forms the habit of attacking with a low charge, ending in an uppercut like strike. Because it is very low-set (short fore-legs, remember), this means in actual combat, its first blow is often capable of over turning the opposing cricket and exposing the vulnerable abdomen. A high-set cricket with long fore-legs is trained quite oppositely, it is trained to attack from the above, and to lock its mandibles on the upper neck of its opponent and to hang on for dear life. Brilliant philosophy of education, I must admit.
And we are not done. Of all the crickets caught in a season, a few best one are chosen for tournaments. The rest are feeder crickets; the weakest ones are first sent to train against the “great generals”, this is so that the “great generals” enter a habit of winning. Trained well, a cricket would rather die than lose. A cricket, once it loses its first time, has its spirit broken and will not fight at top capacity ever again.
A well trained cricket, proven in the year’s tournaments, is easily worth much more than its weight in gold (not too impressive for crickets, admittedly, but very profitable if done annually). Here’s a documentary of a cricket tournament:
The best English essay ever written on cricket fighting was by Hugh Raffles – an anthropologist (no surprise). I couldn’t find a copy of it online though 😦 if anyone knows where it could be found (not in the McGill library), please let me know.
When I first came to Canada, my dad enthusiastically took me to Mount Royal to catch crickets. And guess what. Pwah. Canadian crickets are wimps. They won’t fight. At all. They feel each other out, and one of them simply submits to the other. Pwah. I remember the bitter, jagged dagger of disappointment right to this day – hence this post.
There’s much more I can say on the topic, for example, a recipe of opium and extremely spicy pepper was used to dope crickets long before modern times. That swirling a cricket that just lost in a bucket of water, my dad swears, erases its memory of its recent loss and restores its fighting ability. And much more. Gosh, the terrible loss of culture in modernity…