I found this short story on Master Michael Tse’s website, and it intrigued me because my master, Zhang Xuexin, once pulled the same trick on me. In a sense it’s a party trick, but it’s actually much deeper — in fact it gets to the very heart of Taiji. I’ll also add a short story by Grandmaster Feng describing how his teacher, Hu Yaozhen, pulled this same trick on him and his buddies when they were very young men in their early 20s — but for a different reason. — Malcolm
(Note: What is spelled “gin” in the article below should actually be “jin”, a common measure of Chinese weight equal to 0.90 of a pound; the title might then read “A Thousand Pounds Sinking”.)
Grandmaster Hu was called the “Spirit of Martial Arts.” His level of achievement was very well known, not only in martial arts, but also in Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, and Traditional Chinese Medicine. There was an aura — he gave out a visible aura when he meditated.
One time he was meditating in his house and I went to visit him with some of my fellow students. We knew he was meditating, so we stayed outside the house, we didn’t want to go in and disturb him. However, Grandmaster Hu could somehow sense that we were there, and asked us all to come in. He asked us all to come in, and said, “I’ve been meditating too long, my legs are numb, they’re all crooked, so can you all come and lift me up?”
So all five of us said, oh that’s pretty easy, because all five of us were strong young men in our prime, so “no problem, we can lift him up.” So we tried, and five of us couldn’t move him. So after he saw us struggle, he said “Never mind, I’ll do it myself, I’m no longer numb.” So he walked down from the bed himself. All five of us, one each took a limb and the other took the body, but none of us could move him. Only when he said “I’m moving myself”, then he’s moving.
When we were pulling him or trying to move him, it felt to us as if he was already moving. However, we always felt as if he’s giving, he’s giving, but he’s never quite there, and when we’re out of strength he’s somehow moving back. It’s almost like he’s elastic. All five of us were very puzzled why our teacher was doing this to us.
Our teacher said, “I’m doing this, maybe if you young men are thinking too highly of yourselves. Are you very proud of yourselves; are you very proud of your strength and your achievements? But look at you, you can’t even move an old man like me, so you must go back and do some thinking. What have you done wrong?”
But none of us could find our own fault. “I’m OK, I’m very humble, I don’t think very highly of myself.” So all five of us tried to help each other and say, “Oh, that’s not true, you are arrogant in this way and arrogant in that way”, and so we found out our problems.
So my problem was… [Master Feng pantomimes how he used to walk down the street as a young man, very fierce and tough, scowling at everyone]… when I was young I liked to walk like that! Another fellow student… [he draws himself up and looks down his nose with disdain, as if everyone is beneath him]… he was snobbish. Another one… [he puts on a big fake smile]… he’s never sincere; he’s always too smiley-faced on the outside.
So all five of us, we had our problems, and that’s how our teacher taught us we should be humble. The lesson was to teach us that “you haven’t learned a lot yet and you’re already so proud of yourself, you already have so many problems, how can you move beyond that?”