During the recent Chen Taiji Seminar in early Mar 2012 conducted by Master Chen Zhong Hua, he used an analogy of how striking in Taiji is like being “struck by a bullet.”
This was a very visual example for me and gave me some insight into my own martial journey.
I have practiced Chinese martial arts for some years (mostly Southern styles) as well as cross-trained in other arts.
While I have practiced some of the internal arts, it has been mostly foundation exercises and I do not really have any formal taiji experience (i.e. have not learnt any of the orthodox taiji forms)
To be kind, some could say that I have a varied and well-rounded martial experience; to be blunt, you could say that I’m a jack of all trades and master of none.
Thus, my understanding of Taiji and the material covered in the seminar will be coloured by the diversity of that experience and perhaps, by ignorance as well. Please bear with me as I try to share my reflections on what I felt was a fantastic example from Master Chen that resounded with me and helped me to understand certain distinctions in martial arts better.
Now back to shooting.
In the movies or in video games, we broadly see 2 types of shooters:
What I classify as ‘snipers’ and as ‘assault gunners’. This is just a broad generalisation that we can use for this example.
They use different weapons:
Snipers rifles are designed for pinpoint accuracy at range; whereas assault weapons are designed for sustained rate of fire.
They have different modes of engagement:
Snipers wait for their targets to pop their heads up; assault gunners provide covering firing in order to keep the opposition suppressed and heads-down.
They relationship between man and equipment is also different in these two types of shooters:
While a customised weapon is important, it is of secondary importance to the specialised training a sniper receives; assault weapons are designed to be kept simple so that it should take minimal training to operate. Also, the assault gunner will always prefer something that fires faster, holds more rounds, can shoot larger calibre shells.
The above observations are just a generalisation based on what we can observe in many instances of popular media.
Nevertheless, the notion of being ‘struck by a bullet’ in a gun fight will differ depending on the context of that engagement.
Likewise Master Chen’s analogy gave me a very refreshing insight into how taiji engages combat differently.
Having done ‘external’ styles, I found I identified strongly with wanting to be an assault gunner i.e. as external martial artists, we endeavour to rain strikes and overwhelm our opponent in such a way that they are unable to fight back.
We seek to overcome them with the various physical attributes that we have spent time and effort to develop i.e. strength, agility, speed.
Also, levelling up in an ‘external’ system gravitates towards the acquisition of more sophisticated applications, more devastating strikes, ability to link more combinations together.
Again, this is a generalisation but this is something I gleaned from my personal journey.
My first-hand experience during the Chen Taiji Seminar with Master Chen Zhonghua was that the taiji artist is NOT in assault mode seeking to assault the opponent. He is a ‘sniper’.
The simple admonishment to the students, ‘Don’t Move!’ is a fundamental tenet applicable to snipers too.
The fundamental tenet of assault gunners in tactical teams will be to adopt ‘fire and movement’ tactics to push back opponents or cover retreat; but snipers stay in one place to take their shot.
At a deeper level, this ‘Don’t Move’ is a reductive approach that seeks to eliminate all the extraneous distractions and obstructions to good performance.
Thus, the sniper is not looking for things to ‘do’; he’s looking for things not to do- he breathes slower, he stays immobile, he seeks to remain calm, composed.
This was more poignant during the seminar when Master Chen made the following statement “Once you are aligned in position, whether I pull the trigger or not, the outcome is a certain hit”
That was what I experienced first-hand upon contact with Master Chen during the exercises at the seminar when we touched hands.
Each movement I make, gives him a target to sight upon.
The more I move, the more targets I present; the more I resist, the bigger those targets become.
When he has me in his alignment, whether he chooses to ‘fajin’ or not is immaterial, as the outcome is certain.
Every contact and movement is intentional and has a definitive purpose in affecting my body, my form and my structure
In other words, his movement was a precise, surgical and targeted shot to take my balance, my form and my structure.
It was NOT a flurry of moves thrown to assault me in hopes that one would work by chance to throw me off balance, crush my form or collapse my structure.
Like a sniper: one shot, one kill.
Thus, there is no ‘fight’ with an accomplished Taiji practitioner- as the idea of ‘fight’ suggests an exchange of blows; or in our current analogy, two sides exchanging gunfire.
The taiji that I experienced with Master Chen did not seem designed for ‘fighting’; it was designed to decisively and precisely end the fight.
There is no argument and no struggle because from the outset, every move we make has set us up as a target for Master Chen, the master marksman.
And once in his sights, he will be spot on target.