Monday, June 8, 2020

Bailu Village Secrets Part 2: Ranking Boards at Martial Hall | Guest Post by Dave Matthews (SalsaShark)

Bailu Village Secrets Part 2: Ranking Boards at Martial Hall

Hello again everyone and welcome to part two of Bailu Village Secrets! If you missed it, in part 1 we took a look at the ema housed in Man Yuan Temple and the stories they tell about the village and its inhabitants.

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Today I want to focus on Martial Hall. Situated on a picturesque overlook with a gorgeous view of the Verdant Bridge, Martial Hall is the first building Ryo encounters in his descent from Shenhua's home down into Bailu proper. Here Ryo can practice his horse stance and one-inch punch on the wooden training dummies out front and polish his fighting techniques by either sparring with or challenging the five resident monks.  

Five Tigers
Five Tigers
Ryo starts out unranked and must defeat each monk in turn - from Red Tiger at 1st duan to Gold Tiger who stands alone at 5th duan – if he wants to reach the top of the rankings posted on the dojo wall.

But the Tigers are not the only names listed on the ranking wall. Beside the Tigers and Ryo, there are fifteen villagers whose names are posted. But who are they? With one exception, the game does not provide a translation when the player zooms in on the plaques. A surprised “This is...” from Ryo is the best we get. Fans who happen to be skilled with Chinese characters might not find this much of an obstacle, but for anyone else it can be quite the mystery!

Below are translations of all the name plaques with some thoughts from me about each.  

The Masters 


Starting at the top on the right side is a row labeled “Master” followed by two names.
Names in the "Master" row
Names in the "Master" row
If you've played through to the end of the Bailu Village section of the game, then you probably won't be surprised to hear that these two names belong to Grandmaster Feng and his old training partner, Sun, respectively.  
Feng ChengXu and Sun JiuSi
Feng ChengXu and Sun JiuSi
It's interesting that neither of these men appear at Martial Hall over the course of the game. It makes sense that, given their current ages, they would be in a state of semi-retirement by the time Ryo meets them; only instructing the occasional pupil as they see fit and leaving the day-to-day running of the school to Gold Tiger. I do wonder if in the past they took on more active roles as official instructors. Maybe Iwao also trained at Martial Hall in addition to Ternary Spring? Or maybe the title of “Master” is just an honorary recognizing a certain level of skill?

The Children


Below the “Master” row is space reserved for novice students that have yet to reach 1st duan, and is where Ryo's name can be found when he first gains access to Martial Hall. There are six names posted here normally, which belong to some of the village children.
Su Zhengping, Mao Yeliang, Kong Zhuang, Yang Lihong, Ye Zijun, Lei Chunhai
Top from left to right: Su Zhengping, Mao Yeliang, Kong Zhuang
Bottom from left to right: Yang Lihong, Ye Zijun, Lei Chunhai
Su Zhengping and Mao Yeliang can be found practicing Tai Chi in the village square with Su Zixiong, while the rest spend most of their day goofing off in the Sunflower Grove. Some kids, it seems, are a bit more diligent than others (although that might be due to added pressure from certain family members...)!

1st Duan: The Sad Sacks


The 1st duan row
The 1st duan row
The 1st duan row is guarded by Red Tiger and his name appears on the left. Ryo must defeat Red Tiger in an actual match (twice, oddly) in order to join this rank. Two other people have evidently bested Red Tiger, but unfortunately failed to climb any higher. Who are these two lamentable cases? The answer might surprise you:
Wang Shiren and Liu Datong
Wang Shiren and Liu Datong
Yes, it's Wang Shiren and Liu Datong, the village guards! I find the possible implications of this highly amusing. On the one hand it actually makes some sense given that these are two people who:
a. constantly try to either get Ryo to help them or straight up take over their posts for them – sometimes requesting multiple days of relief,
b. barely patrol the village – Shiren makes one trip per day through only the central parts of the village, and
c. abandon their posts promptly at 7pm every day to go drinking heavily at The Drunken Panda.

On the other hand, why would a village that consists so many better martial artists (including two extremely talented grandmasters) entrust their defense to such flaky and questionably skilled individuals - especially when there are thugs running about the place kidnapping stonemasons? Hubris? Maybe.

Or maybe Shiren and Datong's abilities are normally enough in a place as remote as Bailu. Certainly they could have handled thug leader Yanlang's two underlings well enough, as Shiren demonstrated by chasing them away early in the story (the mace probably helped). Maybe the villagers figured that extreme darkness and wolves would be enough deterrent at night to forgo a late guard shift. 

Either way if he had agreed to replace them, Ryo would have almost certainly been an upgrade.

2nd Duan: The Boy and the Bookie


The 2nd duan row
The 2nd duan row
The rank of 2nd duan is guarded by Black Tiger. There are two additional names on this row as well, but this time we actually learn the identity of one of them from the story.  

Lei Mingyang and Xuan Shancun
Lei Mingyang and Xuan Shancun
If Ryo loses his fight to the pail toss bookie, Xuan, at the end of the search for a “bookie with a scar on his face”, he can speak to Gold Tiger at Martial Hall who - in one of the very few instances in which he does not admonish Ryo to stop talking and train - explains that Xuan once came to Bailu to train in martial arts. Xuan strayed from the path, however, and left to become the bookie that he is today.

Lei Mingyang is the final 2nd duan student. Unlike Xuan, this young man is a very focused and diligent student as his days are spent training with wooden dummies in the village square and at Man Yuan Temple. Often eager to spar, the brash Mingyang creates something of a one-sided rivalry with Ryo, not just for martial arts prowess, but for Shenhua's affections.   

3rd Duan: Ryo's Match


The 3rd duan row
The 3rd duan row
There is only one name on the 3rd duan row, next to Blue Tiger: Wei Zhen.  
Wei Zhen
Wei Zhen
Wei Zhen is a conscientious Chen Tai Chi practitioner who values both physical and mental strength. She can be very direct with her opinions and requests when she knows what she wants, and isn't one for dancing around an issue. She is fascinated with Ryo and has a lot of respect for him, even going so far as to ask him to teach her Japanese martial arts.    

I think of Wei Zhen as Ryo's match for a few reasons. From various conversations with her we learn that Wei Zhen has been studying directly under Grandmaster Feng since she was three years old. This parallels to some degree Ryo's training since a young age under his father (a renowned martial arts master himself). She also has a tendency to be self-deprecating about her own abilities which is a quality we see Ryo display on a few occasions throughout the series as well.  
Wei Zhen's self-deprecating side
Wei Zhen's self-deprecating side
This last point is up for debate, but I also think that Wei Zhen's fighting proficiency most closely matches the skill level that Ryo is at when Shenmue 3 begins. They are close in age, have similar training backgrounds, and a similarly singular focus on becoming stronger. Wei Zhen's ema at Man Yuan Temple expresses a wish to enter a martial arts tournament, and it's fairly likely that she has competed in multiple tournaments in her life which would give her real combat experience (albeit without the same life-or-death stakes that Ryo has gone through). Fighting against her in her side quest can also be rather challenging even if the player has put in a decent amount of training. Despite what she'd have Ryo believe, I think Wei Zhen is a very talented and accomplished fighter.

4th Duan: Lu Bu and the Gorgeous Granny 


The 4th duan row
The 4th duan row
White Tiger is the final hurdle that Ryo needs to clear in order to begin learning the Body Check under Sun. He's a tough fight for sure, and Ryo will almost certainly need to train hard to defeat him.  

Two people in the village have previously passed this test.
Su Zixiong
Su Zixiong
I'll be the first to admit that I thought Zixiong was full of it. Sure, he leads the children through forms every day with  a level of fluid grace unexpected for someone of his size, but a man can only boast of being a 'Chen Tai Chi Master' of comparable skill to Warring States era legends so many times before eyebrows start to raise. (The apple doesn't fall far from the tree it seems! Old Mr. Su Wenxu would be proud). He also claims not to know (or recall) Grandmaster Feng which is rather suspicious.

Turns out Zixiong actually has the chops to back some of that talk up! Ryo only gets to spar with Zixiong in game, but I imagine that if they were to have an actual bout, a clean hit from the big man might just send Ryo flying. As for his lack of knowledge about Feng, Zixiong is a fairly young man. If Feng has retreated to more of a secluded lifestyle, it's reasonable that Zixiong wouldn't have encountered him. Zixiong is also rather forgetful and oblivious about a lot of goings-on in the village. He even tells Ryo as much at one point, so maybe he just forgot...
Zixiong tries to recall...
Zixiong tries to recall...
This brings us to the last villager with a ranking at Martial Hall, and it's someone with a lot more going on than it seems. Her story is so interesting to me that I want to dedicate a full post to it. Stay tuned for Part 3 where we consider the life and times of Kong Mei!

Kong Mei
Kong Mei

About the Author

Dave Matthews aka SalsaShark has been an avid Shenmue fan since he first bought the game on Dreamcast (incidentally the first console he ever bought with his own money) back in 2000. 

To this day he's still working out the right words to describe just how much the series has impacted his life and philosophy for the past two decades. A long time lurker on the Shenmue Dojo forums, he has recently started actually posting, so feel free drop in and say hi!  He currently lives in Chicago, IL USA with his girlfriend and two friendly cats.

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