4oz deflects 1000lbs

The Yang Family Secret Transmissions book contains a number of writings that are seen as additions to the main Tai Chi Classics documents.

Amongst the documents is “The Song of Pull down”. “Pull down” is the name of one of the ‘8 energies of Tai Chi’, there’s a song, meaning verse, for each of the energies in the book. Here’s the Pull Down song:

The Song of Pull-Down

How can we explain the energy of Pull-down?
Like weighing something on a balance scale,
We give free play to the opponent’s force
whether great or small.
After weighing it we know its lightness
or heaviness .
Turning on only four ounces,
We can weigh a thousand pounds .
If we ask what is the principle behind this,
We discover it is the function of the lever.

The verse is not talking about something mystical, it’s quite clearly talking about the principle of leverage. A lot of Tai Chi people don’t like the idea that ‘Pull down’ might be about something as mundane as leverage, which is found in all other martial arts. Well, tough! The verse is clearly talking about leverage.

You’ll see the reference to four ounces moving a thousand pounds in this verse. This also appears in the ‘Treatise of Tai Chi Chuan’, one of the main Tai Chi classics, where it says:

“From the sentence “A force of four ounces deflects a thousand pounds”
we know that the technique is not accomplished with strength. “

Treatise of Tai Chi Chuan

Leverage, of course, is different to pure strength. As Archimedes said about leverage:

“Give me a place to stand on, and I will move the earth.”
(quoted by Pappus of Alexandria in Synagoge, Book VIII, c. AD 340)

By using leverage you can significantly increase the amount of power you can generate. The martial arts that will teach you the most about leverage are all grappling arts – Shuai Jiao, Judo, BJJ, etc..

For an example of leverage in marital arts – look how much pressure is required to break the elbow at the end position of an armbar in BJJ – you could say that it’s about….. 4 oz.

When looking for the energy of Pull Down in the Tai Chi form you find it all over the place. A classic posture its used in is the Raise hands/ Play Guitar type of movements. Here you hold the wrist and elbow of the attacker, and apply pressure to hyperextend the arm. Again, this is another example of leverage.

Raise Hands, Yang Cheng-Fu

My Tai Chi teacher tends to call the energy “shock” rather than “Pull down”, but its application is the same. It’s a short sharp jolt to the system that usually has the effect of getting you up on your toes, or moving forward or backwards whether you want to or not. And the only way to do that to somebody, without being significantly stronger than them, is through the use of leverage.

Look out for the movement in the video where he pulls the attacker’s arm down to uproot him and says “this is shock” (around the 1 minute mark).

Now, all these different applications of ‘pull down’ or ‘shock’ energy looked very different to each other, however, they’re all applications of the same principle – leverage. The technique can look very different, but the principle (or as Led Zeppelin would say, the song) remains the same.

One thought on “4oz deflects 1000lbs

  1. Your point and Tan’s is that Cai is about leverage. It is also about balance.

    Wile’s translations are pretty good, but I think sometimes he misses, or doesn’t convey some of the subtleties of the mechanics of Taijiquan. He also doesn’t show the original Chinese.

    Here is a different translation of the same work by Lee Fife. Draw your own conclusions about his translation. He provides insight to the meanings of the original words, and he includes the original Chinese characters, which is something I like to see.

    Click to access Oral+Secrets+of+the+8+Methods.pdf

    Also, I think it is helpful to understand how a Chinese scale works.

    The Chinese scale really is all about using leverage to find balance. For the scale linked above, you hold it by the red tab when you use the counterweight with the red string. It is hard to see, but the long bar is graduated and numbered. You move the weight hanging from the strings to balance the item in the pan and read the number.

    You’d hold it by the green tab to shorten the pan lever arm when you used a heavier counterweight with, presumably, a green string. This would allow it to change from ounces to pounds, or grams to kilograms, or some equivalent.

    You could literally put a thousand pounds in the pan and with a long enough lever arm, balance it with four ounces, which is Tan’s context.

    Cai (采, trad. 採) means to pick or pluck, so your teacher’s notion of “shock” fits better than “pull down,” IMO. You pick fruit from trees and leaves from bushes. It’s a sharp, brief, decisive tug.

    My interpretation of this is that one balances the attacking force of the opponent. This is like he is balanced on or pressing against a wheel or a scale of which you control the center. When he is committed, you can pluck with as little as four ounces letting the wheel or scale turn, and he will topple.

    Similar situations often happen in push hands. Through position and leverage, you are actually keeping your opponent from falling. Remove the support, or in this case, suddenly trigger his fall with a little pluck and down he goes.

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