“Don’t strike when you see a gap, strike when you see the ‘Cross’; don’t stand firm when you see a gap, stand firm when you see the ‘Cross’.”
Xingyiquan is a mid to short range Style of Martial Arts, meaning it prefers to be close enough to an opponent for either combatant to land a blow. This places a premium on time & space during an exchange. Every little bit counts, whether millimeters or milliseconds.
There’s an aspect of living a life dedicated to Martial Arts that isn’t spoken of much that applies to this perfectly. The Observation Method, as it’s commonly known, is a set of principles for assessing an individual’s intent & level of capability. The content is fairly straight forward & easy to understand, intellectually. But without a sufficient amount of practical experience gained from sparring & fighting, it’s nearly impossible to apply in a useful way. It’s a situation akin to shooting over a distance: it’s better to aim at a spot that the target WILL occupy, instead of the spot the target currently occupies. As I said above, this makes accurate measurement & control of both distance & timing crucial.
In Xingyiquan, this idea is expressed via the quote at the beginning of this piece. Xingyi’s speed has been underrated for a very long time. One of the tricks used to gain that speed is position-relative-to-the-opponent. Another is choice-of-target. Let’s dig deeper into this second concept.
Choice-of-Target includes both the area to be struck, the Target, as well as the timing of said strike. Strikes should be set up in order to achieve maximum psychological effect, in addition to maximum physical effect. This contributes greatly to the Tactical Aggression favored by Xingyiquan, as the return on surprise attacks, or heavier-than-expected attacks, is enormous in comparison to directly striking a prepared opponent.
Never forget: preventing potential opponents from even engaging in conflict with you is the ultimate expression of Strategy in Chinese Martial Arts.
At first glance, it would seem this proverb consists of two parts, or two separate ideas. The reality is that its two different but related aspects of one concept. “Don’t strike when you see a gap” is an admonition to avoid bait & the traps that accompany it; “Strike when you see the Cross” is a bit more complex. “Crossing” is a fundamental concept in Xingyi’s Mechanics that essentially relates to the counter-balancing of Force. Together, this first clause advises that you increase the chances of a guaranteed hit by making contact with the opponent’s forward limb. The attack is broken by the structural weakness inherent to it’s mechanical pattern. “Don’t stand firm when you see a gap” means do not commit yourself to an attack on gap or opening that may, potentially, be a trap laid y the opponent. With that in mind, “Stand firm when you see the Cross” means that you should totally commit to attacking once you’ve made contact & broken the opponent’s technique.
These concepts become much, much more clear during Partner Training, which is part of the reason for the number of relatively short, simple practice sets among the various Xingyi Schools. As an example, here is a video of Xingyi Partner Training to illustrate the concepts. Enjoy!