Dr. Noel Bormann

Moving 1000 pounds with 4 ounces

Moving 1000 pounds with 4 ounces Can this be for real ?

by Pat Gorman

Professor Cheng and his foremost students always spoke of "four ounces moving a thousand pounds". Another mysterious T'ai Chi saying? Something else to bend our minds around to make us see things differently? Yes. And with the right four ounces this can be literally true. But how can this be?

When I first met Patrick Watson (founder of the School of T'ai Chi Chuan) he was very involved with his huge BMW motorcycle. We rode everywhere on it and he seemed to have no fear of its bulk - it weighed nearly a 1000 pounds - or his vulnerability to it.

When I asked him about this he said he'd had to do Push Hands with his motorcycle once already. It was being raised up on a hydraulic lift at a garage so a mechanic could get underneath the body to do some work on it. The mechanic hadn't secured the bike properly so when it had been hoisted to well over shoulder height it suddenly tipped sideways, turning upside down and falling onto Patrick. There wasn't enough room to get out of the way (Patrick acknowledged, on reflection, that his major error was in not foreseeing this). In a split second he dropped under the falling bike, neutralizing it as he went - that is, he travelled at the same speed as the bike as it fell, while "capturing" its direction with one shoulder and the opposite hand. Using a move called "ti fang"; he was able to absorb the force of the falling bike, then release that energy and redirect the bike by flipping it with just a tiny amount (four ounces) of pressure. The machine landed next to him, right side up, with incredible force.

The mechanic blurted out, "How did you do that? I thought you were a dead man"!

Patrick said he felt fortunate that the bike had been in the air - that is, without direct contact with its gravitational root - for it was this that enabled him to redirect its bulk as it fell. And, being Patrick, he was happy to have saved his precious motorcycle by getting it to land on its tires!

Later, Patrick told Professor Cheng about his experience. The Professor shook his head and said he was fortunate indeed. When he'd told Patrick that four ounces could move 1000 pounds, he meant 'live' weight - not 'dead' weight!

After this incident the Professor asked his students what they would do if a car was careening towards them. They pointed out that it would be obviously hopeless to try to push the car out of the way and the Professor replied that he would push himself off the car, using the same principles of Push Hands, but reversing the effect.

An example of this occurred in front of our old school on Sixth Avenue and Eight Street. An apprentice was leaving the building and was crossing Sixth Avenue. As New Yorkers tend to do she was standing out in the road, with a parked car behind her. A truck came barreling towards her and she realized she'd be sideswiped and crushed between it and the parked car behind her. Afterwards she remembered leaping up in a double version of the Push Kick, extending her legs outwards as the truck went by. She pushed herself back across the hood of the parked car, avoiding a potentially very serious injury. The action was done without thought, from the body, as Patrick's had been with the motorcycle.

But to go back to moving a huge live weight with T'ai Chi, here are some thoughts.

You can move 1000 lbs with four ounces if you have hold of a vulnerable spot, e.g. the ring in a bull's nose. I am told by ranchers that this is how you lead a bull around, and if it gets crazy someone has to go out and hook the ring in the bull's nose before it will settle down.

Since I'm not going to be the one to hook the ring, here's another way to move 1000 lbs with four ounces: let the weight, or force, of the person go in the direction they are already going in, neutralize the speed and capture the center of movement then redirect it with, literally, four ounces as you get out of the way.

Patrick used to say that when he walked into a room full of people, it always looked to him as though everyone was falling over, they were so unbalanced. If he put his hand on you, or just took your wrist or elbow to lead you, you knew you were lost from the first moment. He understood flawed balance and could penetrate to the most significant "break" in your balance and with four or less ounces encourage that break just a little more, so now you really were falling over.

He often said that this was the quality of understanding needed for higher level Push Hands. "Look at you", he'd say to his students, "you're full of holes"! and we'd look down at our bodies, expecting to see Swiss cheese. His words remained a mystery to us for a long time.

Then slowly, some of us began to 'feel' the holes, or broken spaces, before we could actually see them. What does a hole feel like?


But nothing right next to a tremendous amount of resistance.

The resistance is the falling over aspect, leaning and being propped up by what is being pushed against. Often resistance is amplified during Push Hands when we feel it in our partners and then push against it, thinking, "Aha, I've found something"!

This then becomes a matter of force meeting force and superior force will win.

(This is not T'ai Chi, as I've discovered through many hours of frustrating learning.)

But if you feel around the resistance, the break is there.

Where something is broken (a tree, a person's connection to the earth - anything) there is a part that's off balance and leaning, creating greater pressure on itself, or on something nearby. A broken tree limb still clinging to the tree may lean on the trunk; a person with broken posture will 'lean' onto locked out knee and hip joints, displacing pressure on to them. Then there's the spot of the actual break itself. This is the empty space, the hole.

If you delicately listen and adhere to the other person, 'receiving' information instead of sending it, you gradually learn to trace all pressure back to its source: the major 'break'. When you've found this spot, it literally takes just a thought to move the other person, but only if you are balanced and rooted yourself. But even on a less than perfect scale, if you find their break the other person will fall into your hand like a kitten. Then you can move them in a whole range of directions with just four ounces, no matter how large they are. This is of special comfort to women, who may be intimidated by the generally greater power, force and strength of men.

While I don't always feel the things I've been describing while doing Push Hands - my ego gets in the way and I am too eager to push - I do often feel these things when I am teaching and the pressure is on me to be clear. I am reminded then of Patrick's commandment: "In order to learn, you must teach what you know". The amazing thing in teaching is finding out that you know things you had no idea they were there!

c 1999 Pat Gorman, The School of T'ai Chi Chuan Inc. T'ai Chi Press, Vol. 2, No.3, 1995