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Pushing is the action of moving something using the application of force. Force requires something to push off; this is called resistance. Resistance is the opposing force.
Tai chi never uses force against force, so it can only be applied when there is very little resistance. We only ever apply 4 ounces of pressure.
This is easy to say but quite difficult to employ in actual practice because it means stopping every time you encounter resistance.
You must be like sand or water; offering no resistance in your own body and not working against resistance in others. How are sand or water powerful? Momentum and weight.
Use the body to deliver force, not the hands. If you can de-stabilise your opponent by taking their balance, you can employ force without receiving resistance.
Keeping your hands within the range of your feet will help in this endeavour.
Follow your opponent and not yourself.
When you follow your opponent, then your hands can distinguish and weigh accurately the amount of his force, and measure the distance of his approach with no mistake.
Softness and yielding are yin qualities. They require physical sensitivity and awareness. Instead of pushing, you must yield into the opponent. This is accomplished by allowing your body weight to move.
Pushing hands is an exercise in yielding; you relax your own body enough to allow the opponents force to move you and then you shift your weight in order to move them.
Should your partner present more than 4 ounces of resistance during the exercise, you must stop pushing immediately.
Once you learn not to push against solidity, your physical tension will start to fade and your body will begin to use gravity creatively.
4 ounces exercise
This simple exercise is based on the Wang Tsung-yueh premise: A feather cannot be placed, and a fly cannot alight on any part of the body.
Instead of offering resistance, the student learns just how much pressure is required, and yields accordingly.
Knowing when to stop
The key to '4 ounces of pressure' is stopping as soon as you experience resistance. If your body is loose and floppy, you will not want to push or use your arms for strength.
Sifu Waller places great emphasis upon not pushing against force. We regard strength versus strength to be a major folly.
Once you can feel the difference between using your weight and using force, it is easy to realise why.
Beyond the class
People push for things in various aspects of their lives. If things do not go their way, they push, and then push a little harder.
When learning tai chi, pushing is fruitless because the skills will only come once you stop pushing. The attitude of not pushing is called wu wei.
For it to really affect your life, it needs to extend beyond the class.
4 oz is the result of internal strength. A cat touches lightly because it is already buoyant. An average person, trying to give 4 oz, collapses their frame. Without internal strength, 4oz is conceptual.
18 April 1995
Last updated 16 June 2023