Appearing “gentle” can be seen as one partial outer manifestation of skill, not the actual skill. Everyone would like to get that amazing mastery that seems like magic. However no one will achieve that desired skill of “deflect 1000 pounds with 4 ounces” and “understanding force” by going around avoiding force or not dealing with it due to trying too hard to be gentle as a beginner. In any art, you start with more crude skills and gain subtlety, finesse, and mastery over time. Start deflecting with 100 pounds, then 80 pounds, then 50 pounds and so on. The proverbial 4 ounces requires a much higher level of skill than partners or opponents have. If a regular person played sports against an elite pro player, the professional would not break a sweat. His or her motions might seem very economical, efficient and effortless. Maybe she would seem to barely move at all. But simply imitating the economical moves they might use effortlessly against a far less skilled player does not seem to be the way to gain their mastery seen against other high level players.

Even imitating their moves at elite levels is not the way to go. One can’t just learn to sail through the air like Michael Jordan in his prime and ignore every other basic lesson and hard work and become a master like Jordan. It’s just not going to happen period, even if one assumes the little old man can be more “powerful” than a young fighter. Yet in taijiquan people sometimes seem to think one can skip many stages of hard work and not-quite-as-graceful moves, as if they could skip right to the most difficult part of a musical performance, and not ever bother with scales and so on. Just imitate a virtuoso playing that one difficult part, and you too will be a “master” in 20 years. Taking a step back and thinking about it, it all sounds crazy, like some late night infomercial on 2 minute abs. Yet that is what countless people attempt to achieve in and with taijiquan. I have been suckered in by this pitch. “Gong fu” is roughly “skill gained over time from hard work”. People who might not heed the seductive call of the 2-minute abs infomercial willingly suspend all rational disbelief and skepticism when it comes to taijiquan due to the mysticism or the philosophy or perhaps just the deep-seated need for childlike wonderment and “magic” and illusions, or the desire to recoup years of sunk costs and ego investment. I think that may be the root reason why people can’t understand what they might be doing wrong and then make no progress for 20 years. They still don’t have the abs despite trying various equivalents of 2-minute abs. There is no method in any art that involves 20 years of mostly confusion, then suddenly one gets it through some epiphany and achieves mastery. Past masters have said there is no secret but hard work and practice but we ignore their advice for some reason. I guess we live in a 2-minute abs culture. If someone can tell me the “secret” to 2 minute abs or jumping right to “4 ounces” through being gentle all the time, I’d like to know. Everyone could have washboard abs or become a taiji master very fast.