Master Watermelon Peel -By Chen Zhonghua

In the summer of 1991, Hong Junsheng revealed the identity of his secret Taiji master to me. I was quite surprised by this “secret transmission”. I had never heard him mention any such master, other than Liu Musan (his Wu style teacher) and Chen Fake (his Chen Style Taiji master).

The secret was revealed to me in the form of a story. One dark night in the middle of the summer, Hong was walking home from teaching, on Hero’s Monument Hill (in the city of Jinan, Shandong, China, where he lived most of his life). As he was walking down a dark alley, he found himself lying flat on the ground, as if overcome by some mysterious force. It happened so suddenly, that he had no idea how it happened. He got up, looked around and asked for his assailant’s name. There was no response, just dead silence. Perhaps the intruder had already disappeared?

He investigated the surrounding area, discovering a piece of watermelon peel on the ground. He immediately realized what had happened to him. Placing the watermelon peel down on the ground, he stepped back and bowed to it solemnly, “Shifu Watermelon Peel, you are the only one who has put me down like this, other than my Shifu, Chen Fake! I shall remember this lesson and practice diligently!”

I could not understand why Hong Junsheng told me this story. I thought it was a joke. It was a good joke. I told it to many people and they seemed to enjoy it. Now it is part of the Chen Taiji folklore of my school. Hong was known for his quick wit and his sense of humor. But this story was more than just a joke.

The acumen of this story revealed itself to me later when I was discussing the depth of Hong’s ability with brothers Li Enjiu and Xu Guicheng. Both brothers are indoor disciples of Hong Junsheng. Li Enjiu is the standard bearer of Hong Junsheng’s art. Xu Guicheng is one of the longest serving disciples of Hong with over 60 years of training. True Taiji is the art of redirection. The practitioner does not use force on the opponent. Chen Fake drilled this point in Hong. He also demonstrated this skill onHong over and again. True redirection is quick without delay because the opponent’s power is not stored, rewound, and then issued out.

It was the encounter with the watermelon peel that served as a second opinion to Hong. It caused Hong to see the ingenuity of Chen Fake’s art. It was not just cleverness and power.

To achieve higher level skills of Taijiquan one has to overcome human qualities such as habit, fear, self-diluted justification, stubbornness, etc. In Hong’s words one has to become a machine. To equate Chen Fake with watermelon peel is the highest praise for Chen Fake. No one else could divest of unwanted human qualities like Chen Fake.

When Hong told me to turn the body into a gearbox, I was somewhat reluctant to believe that a machine (gearbox) is more desirable than the complex human body. Through many years of experience, now I come to realize that the toughest battle in the learning of taijiquan is to rid oneself of the human emotions, habits and responses and let natural reflex take over.

Only by doing so, one can achieve the quality of “Use no movement to overcome all movements!” These wisdoms of the ancients are not empty words. They are real if one has the tenacity to go the distance to find out.

In my opinion and experience, Hong Junsheng achieved this ability in his life.

Explore posts in the same categories: Chen Fake, Chen Style Taiji, Hong Junsheng, Taiji Story Link

One Comment on “Master Watermelon Peel -By Chen Zhonghua”

  1. Todd Elihu Says:

    I remember Master Chen Zhonghua saying once that pushing hands with Hong was like standing on a bunch of ball bearings that were covered in oil. He said it felt like there was nowhere to stand, nowhere to get a firm footing. He always felt like his balance was always off.

    There are times when I’ve pushed hands with Chen Zhonghua that he lets me get in and makes me feel like I’ve got him at which point he uses my overcommitment to my disadvantage. This feels like I’ve put too much of my weight and momentum on a watermelon peel and I fall because of the redirection of my energy. At other times I have experienced the “standing on ball bearings” feeling where I can never get stable and he is allowing me nothing to manipulate.

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