- Many moons ago, under the reign of the Monkey King, a seemingly ordinary kitten was born. This kitten was named Wu Zhua, meaning Five Claw, which is a fine number, indeed the usual one, for a cat to have on each paw. Unfortunately, Wu Zhua was born into a family of six-clawed cats who served, fortified by their inbuilt weapons, as palace guards to the Monkey King.
Because Wu Zhua was lacking supplementary claws, the King presumed she would never excel as a warrior. Her mother, Ma Mao, was otherwise convinced. Ma Mao had faith in all her kittens, especially this peculiar one. But as a servant to the Monkey King, she was contracted to obey His Highness’ every order. Breach of this contract would result in swift and certain death.
The Monkey King's esteemed physician examined Ma Mao's entire litter and proclaimed the lot to be of sound body and mind. Yet, regardless of her good health, Wu Zhua was declared a burden, useless to the palace without an overabundant twenty-four claws. Therefore, the King demanded that she be drowned. He gave Ma Mao until sunrise to bid her daughter farewell to Zhi Shui Zhi Shen, God of All Water.
Ma Mao went to the King and begged that her child be spared: "Are there not many ways in which a bright strong kitten might serve the palace?"
"You bear my guards," the steadfast Monkey King replied. "This is your one and only duty. I have no other purpose for you or your kin."
- Ma Mao fell to the cold, hard jade-tiled floor, weeping bitterly. Tiny Wu Zhua licked the tears from her mother's furry cheek. She was very brave, every inch the soldier she was born to be. Wu Zhua would gladly face death before she'd shame her family.
Wu Zhua's elder brothers lifted their mother from the floor, while their sister continued to lick Ma Mao's face clean. The Monkey King's Prime Minister, a stranger to compassion, hissed at them ruthlessly: "Truly our wise leader knows all. The babe craves water over milk, and soon she'll have all that she can swallow."
Ma Mao longed to run off with her odd little five-clawed kitten, but she knew she'd be risking the golden future that awaited the rest of her brood. If only she could find a way for Wu Zhua to live happily ever after without the tender loving care of family. If only she could issue her daughter a true farewell, a farewell promised rather than merely wished.
That night the Water God, Zhi Shui Zhi Shen, woke Ma Mao from a fitful slumber. He had taken the dragon’s form, but left aside its renowned ferocity. Zhi Shui Zhi Shen gently led Ma Mao to a window overlooking his favorite earthly domain—Heung Hu, the Yellow River. Then he pointed a razor-sharp claw toward the litter of sleeping kittens, all rolled into one furry ball, resembling some sort of mythic many-tailed beast.
Though fact appeared far less likely than fiction, Ma Mao was never one to scoff at novel realities. She did her best to affix both eyes to the unearthly truth, to keep all four feet firmly planted on the ground. Faith must be placed in the deities, but never, ever blindly, and one mustn’t tread amiss during a visit from the Great Beyond.
While Zhi Shui Zhi Shen answered a calling much higher than the Monkey King's, a mother’s humble response would seal Wu Zhua’s fate. If Ma Mao failed to interpret the Water God's mystical message, her darling daughter would be lost by sunrise. The Yellow River and a many-tailed beast: What could it mean?
"Mercy," purred Ma Mao, as the puzzle pieces hinged together. Years earlier in the Monkey Kingdom, a princess had been born with what was said to be a hideous deformity. Shortly after birth, the royal infant was sent "up the river," so to speak, to a private fortress where she'd remain unseen.
The particular disfigurement was an inner palace secret, one to which Ma Mao's eldest offspring were privy, for they had been sent to protect the fortress before its alligatorridden moats were built. The Monkey Princess requested that servants address her by her given name: Shuang Wei, meaning Two Tails, as many of which she did indeed possess.
Ma Mao was a great believer in nature's harmony. Perhaps Shuang Wei's extra tail and Wu Zhua's missing claws would act as counterbalances. If nothing else, the Princess could surely use a friend. And who would understand her better than another of her father's castaways? Thus, the royal decree was disobeyed, in favor of the Water God's commandment: Wu Zhua would join Shuang Wei "up the river." Getting the frail kitten there safely was a matter of concern, but Ma Mao would commend her to Zhi Shui Zhi Shen. Wu Zhua was given his blessing, in the form of a dragon claw charm. As long as she wore this talisman, the water would do her no bodily harm.
Ma Mao spent the rest of the night gathering twigs and weaving them together, while her litter slept on peacefully. By dawn, a sturdy kitten-sized raft had been carefully constructed.
The family bade Wu Zhua a true farewell on the riverside. Ma Mao whispered to the water gratefully: "You may be known as China's Sorrow, but you offer great joy. Please, be gentle with my babe" And as the sun slowly rose, Wu Zhua drifted quietly up the Yellow River, against
the current and most earthly odds.
Later that morning, the Monkey King ordered a messenger to see that Ma Mao heeded his command. "Has the child been turned over to Zhi Shui Zhi Shen?" the King’s message read. Ma Mao was able to answer yes in all honesty, thereby ensuring the welfare of her brood.
And so the kittens grew to be cats without Wu Zhua by their side. They became palace guards, as was their destiny. Young Wu Zhua appeared to be destined for little more than pleasure. Her days were spent frolicking on the fortress grounds with Shuang Wei, the two-tailed monkey she called sister.Together they climbed trees, swung on vines, tossed coconuts, munched bananas, splashed in the river, danced in the fields, and napped in the sun. It was as perfect an existence as any monkey could dream, and for a cat it was nearly ideal. But paradise was lost to them by the very means they had found it: with an edict from the Monkey King.
Kung Fu Kitty is a book and DVD set, written, narrated and directed by Lauri Bortz with illustrations, set designs and musical score by Marianne Nowottny, videotaped and edited by Mark Dagley, starring Abaton mascot and recording artist Frick-the-Cat. The book is 116 pages, with 42 richly drawn black and white illustrations.