4oz. Can Repel 1000lbs? “image by JACKRATANA”
by Robert Chu
One of the most famous sayings in Chinese is “Si liang bo qian jin” and is often poorly translated as “Four ounces can repel a thousand pounds”. This saying is so common, it resounds in literature written on Tai Ji Quan, Xing Yi and Ba Gua. Many of the practitioners of these arts say this is what makes their art “internal”. Even Chinese knowledgeable in cheng yu (common Chinese sayings) are familiar with this phrase. In this column, I hope to bring out the true meaning of this phrase and hopefully, people can reflect and see if they can indeed do “Si liang bo qian jin”.
We will start by analyzing the weights and meanings of the words. “Si liang” is a measure of 4 liang. A liang is an old standard of weight since the Tang dynasty. Many times a liang is called “a tael” in English. One liang was equivalent to 31.25 grams in the Tang dynasty. In 1979, the People’s Repulic of China set a standard of 1 liang equals 30 grams. Four times 30 grams is 120 grams. For you metric challenged individuals, that is 4.23 ounces. Not precise, but close to “4 ounces” , roughly the weight of a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder before cooking.
A jin is a standard of weight that is “16 liang” from the Tang dynasty . 16 times 31.25 grams equals 500 grams, or in today’s PRC standard (16 times 30 grams) equals 480 grams, roughly half a kilogram. “Qian jin” would be 1000 jin or 1000 times 500 grams equals 500,000 grams or 500 kilograms. Again for you metric challenged individuals, 500 Kilograms would be 1103.75 pounds. Again, not precise, but close to a “thousand pounds”.
This leaves us with the word “bo”. In the Pinyin Chinese English dictionary, the word “bo” (first tone in Mandarin) refers to “moving with the hand, stick, etc; turn; stir; poke”. Now, that does not sound like a definition for the English word, “repel”. When put together, “Si liang bo qian jin” means “4.23 ounces moves/turns/stir/pokes 1103.75 pounds”. I ask martial arts enthusiasts – what does this really mean? How can 4.23 ounces move 1103.75 pounds? It doesn’t sound possible from a physics point of view. Maybe it’s “qi power” or that special “internal power” from the “internal arts”? Maybe because it takes 20 years to learn? Personally, I don’t believe that. If it is a principle, we should be able to learn it quickly if we are not mentally challenged and a person can explain it to us adequately.
For many years I have studied martial arts and have met many real masters and pseudo masters. I have typically asked most of them this question, and have gotten many answers. My belief is that a true master of Tai Ji Quan should be able to demonstrate this principle all the time, as this is one of the defining points of Tai Ji Quan, and is related in the Tai Ji “Song of Striking (Push) Hands” attributed to Wang Zongyue, and Li Yiyu’s “Five Word Secrets”. The truth is, I have met few masters who could really demonstrate this. Many were excellent at the form, push hands, weaponry, qi cultivation, health, meditation and philosophical aspects of Tai Ji Quan, but never were able to satisfy me with their definition of “Si liang bo qian jin”. If I , a Chinese, could not find a “real master” to show me how four ounces moves a thousand pounds”, how is the average American going to learn?
Cheng Man Ching, in his writings from his 13 Chapters (Zheng Zi Taijiquan shi san pian – I use Douglas Wile’s translation here), clarified it best, “.only four ounces of energy is needed to pull a thousand pounds, then the push is applied. Pulling and repelling are two different things. It is not really that one uses only four ounces to repel a thousand pounds.” Cheng’s writings then go on to describe an analogy of a thousand pound bull. Regardless of pushing and pulling, one cannot move a bull if he does not want to move, yet by putting a ring in the bull’s nose, pulling a rope of only 4 ounces can move the bull. Strategically placed, and causing pain to the bull, the ring illustrates how one must lead the bull to move.
In my own art in Wing Chun, we have sticking hands (Chi Sao) which is akin to Tai Ji’s push hands in developing and neutralizing power and developing sensitivity. In sticking hands practice, I may poke at, push, pull, press, move, stir, lead, or entice my opponent with what is called “Mun Sao” (Asking Hands). Once I get my opponent to move, I can guide, lead, or borrow his momentum to use his own force for my opponent’s demise. When a force is upon you, let’s say 100 lbs of pressure, you need to be able to equalize it with 100 lbs of your own pressure. The resultant force is neutralized and we both stay where we are. When I reduce my force by a mere quarter pound, the opponent’s force will begin to move toward me, and from there, I can change the direction of my 99 and ¾ pounds and add on or change the direction of our resultant forces to other directions. This will lead me to create or find a technique to fit in accord to the circumstances. This illustrates the principle of “4 ounces moving 1000 pounds” in action.
In my opinion, to find someone who can really use the principle of “four ounces to move 1000 pounds” is rare. You will rarely find this in practitioners who do not engage in some form of sensitivity training like push hands or sticking hands. When a principle is fully understood, it moves away from the realm of theory. When one can actually use the principle in application, this is a person who has sought out the true function of the form. When I realized the true significance of “Si liang bo qian jin”, I was able to use it in combat or practice and not have to hurt my opponents in fighting or practice, by just using just enough force. How much exactly? About 4.23 ounces.