Chapter 13: Oral Secrets, #12

 

 

十二、曰四兩撥千斤。

12th Saying: Four ounces moves a thousand pounds

四兩何能撥千斤。
人皆未之信。
What skill enables you to use four ounces to move a thousand pounds?
People everywhere don’t believe that this is possible.

所謂牽動四兩撥千斤者。
只要用四兩勁牽動千斤。
而後撥之。

The saying “leading (the other’s) movement” (qian dong: “lead” plus “move”) explains how four ounces can move a thousand pounds:
only by using four ounce jin to apply leading to a thousand pounds,
then you can move it.

此牽與撥。
是兩事。
非真以四兩撥千斤也。
Leading (qian) and moving (bo)
are two different things.
You can’t just use four ounces to move a thousand pounds (without leading).

按此節。
牽撥二字。
分開解釋。
使能見其妙用。
By making a distinction between
the two words lead and move,
we can explain their separate functions
and perceive their marvelous use.

牽之之法。
The method of leading:

譬如牛重千斤。
穿鼻之繩。
不過四兩。
以四兩之繩。
牽千斤之牛。
For example, consider a cow weighing a thousand pounds
with a cord passing through its nose
only four ounces.
Using the four ounce cord,
(you can) lead the thousand pound cow

左右如意。
其欲奔馳不可得也。
蓋牽者。
牽其鼻準。
(directing the cow) left and right as you wish,
while it quickly discovers it cannot do as it wishes.
Leading (qian) is just like
leading the cow with its nose.

若牽其角。
其腿。
不行也。
(If you try to) lead the cow by its horn
or its leg,
it won’t work.

足牽以其道。
以其處也。
然則牛可以四兩之繩牽之。
Functional leading goes along the cow’s path (dao),
and (influences it) at exactly the right point.
Then, you can lead the cow using a cord of four ounces.

如千斤之石馬。
亦能以四兩之朽索牽之乎。
不能也。
If you have a thousand pound stone horse
and try to lead it with four ounces, even using an ancient thick rope,
it can’t be done.

此活與死之作用不同。
人有靈性。
This is because living things and dead things are not affected the same way.
People have animal intelligence.

其欲以千斤之力攻人時。
其來有方向。
譬如對直而來
If (my opponent) desires to attack me with a thousand pounds,
the attack will have a definite direction
The answer goes along with that direction.

則我以四兩之勁。
牽其手之末。
順其勢而斜出之。
Then, by means of a jin of four ounces, I
lead the tip of the opponent’s hand,
following its momentum as well as issuing obliquely (across the direction of momentum)

此之謂牽。
因牽動之後。
彼之力已落空。
則此時以勁撥之。
未有不擲出尋丈之外者。
This is the meaning of leading (qian).
Because I lead (qian) the opponent's movement,
his force has already fallen into emptiness.
At exactly this moment, I use jin to move the opponent.
No opponent has ever not been thrown far outside.

然牽之之勁。
只要四兩足矣。
撥之之勁。
酌用在我耳。
Thus, for the jin of leading,
four ounces is sufficient.
For the jin of moving,
the (amount) of use is up to me.

然牽之之勁。
不可過重。
重則彼知之。
可以變化脫逃也。
The jin of leading
must not be excessively heavy.
If it is heavy, the other will know it
and can change and neutralize to escape.

或則藉牽之勁。
換其所向。
得以襲擊之也。

Sometimes (instead of just escaping), by borrowing (my) jin of leading,
the opponent can change his direction
in order to surprise (me) with an attack.

否則彼知我牽之。
便蓄其力而不前。
蓄其力。
其勢已退挫。
If the opponent realizes I’m leading him,
then the opponent will store up force rather than advancing.
When the opponent stores up force,
his momentum will stop advancing and instead pull back and retreat.

可即因其退挫。
便捨牽之之勁。
而反為發放。
則彼未有不應手而倒。

Following the opponents retreat, I can reach him
I abandon the jin of leading,
and reversing direction, discharge (fa-fang).
Then there is no opponent who does not collapse and fall down.

此反撥也。
This reversal (is the meaning of) moving (bo).

以上種種。
皆澄師口授指點之傳於曼青者。
不敢自秘。
All of the above is
the oral instruction from my teacher who gave hands on transmission to me, (Zheng) Manqing.
I dare not keep this secret.

願廣其流傳。
幸世之同仁共勉旃。
I hope for it to spread widely
and make it known to my colleagues, encouraging all.

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Notes:

  • four liang moves thousand jin: liang and jin are two old weight measures. A liang is a “tael”, 1/16th of a “catty”, or about an ounce or two. A jin is a “catty”, half a kilogram or about a pound. As a phrase, “four liang moves thousand jin” also means “skillfully deflecting”. See below for bo/moves.

  • qian dong (lead movement)”: leading is the key idea in this saying.

    • 牽動 qiandong as a compound means: affect or influence. qiandong is lead + act-on. While qiandong could be translated as a compound, I’ve translated the characters separately here. Zheng contrasts qian and bo throughout this passage, suggesting that qian dong should not be read as a compound. Further, in personal correspondence, Louis Swaim points out that this qiandong is a reference to the line from the Song of Push Hands, 牽動四兩撥千斤, or “applying leading of 4 ounces to bo thousand pounds”.

    • qian is to pull (an animal on a tether), to lead along by holding a hand or a halter, to pull. E.g., to lead an ox to a field.  Used in qianban (bind/yoke), qianchan (involve/entangle), qianche (involve/implicate), qiandong (influence/produce a change in something), qianfu (lead). shou qian shou (hand in hand)

    • dong is to use, to act on, to move, to change. As a part of speech, dong is the name for any verb.  In this case, I read qian dong as leading (the other’s) movement. It can also be read as applying leading.

  • move (bo) a thousand pounds”:  bo is to move or adjust with hand, foot, or a stick, moving something in a specific direction. Bo has a meaning of “movement with a particular intention or purpose” (Swaim). Example usages: move something aside, move the beads on a abacus, poke a fire, set a clock, dial a phone number. A number of translators render bo as “deflect”. While Zheng addresses this specifically when discussing “issuing obliquely”, it seems to me that “deflect” implies specific directions and relationships to the movement and to the positions and intent of the “leader” and the “movee”. And in this passage, the word's meaning is broader than the meaning tai chi people will give to "deflect". Equally, it would be really clumsy to say “directed moving with intention and purpose” when translating bo. So, I’ve gone with “move” for bo, and added this note. Understand that the four ounces are not just randomly displacing the thousand pounds, but are instead directing the existing motion of the thousand pounds very precisely.

  • consider a cow weighing a thousand pounds with a cord passing through its nose“:  From correspondence with Swaim: “Zheng Manching was calling upon imagery steeped in early Chinese tradition in his illustration of leading an ox by the nose. It's based upon a passage found in both the Hainanzi and the Lu Shi Chunqiu.” The relevant passage from the Hainanzi. as translated by Roger Ames, is: “Now, even if Wu Huo or Chieh Fan [famous strong guys] were to attempt to lead an ox by the tail from behind, they would pull the tail off without budging the ox because they are acting contrary to the way of things. But if one were to pierce the ox’s nose with a sprig of mulberry, even a half-grown boy could lead it around the country because he is following the way of things .”

  • ancient thick rope”: xiu means rotten, decayed, decrepit, behind the times. Pulling with a rotten rope doesn’t make any sense, so I decided the meaning must be of a rope so old it shows its age.  索 suo is a large, thick rope, contrasted to the “cord” mentioned before

  • People have animal intelligence”: Animal intelligence is 靈性 ling xing. Ling occurs many times,often as part of qing ling. Xing is nature, character, essential attributes. Together ling xing can mean animal or natural intelligence, or spiritual nature.

  • his force has already fallen into emptiness : 落空 luòkōng as a compund means to fail, be fruitless, or come to nothing. Interpreting the words separately, they literally mean “fall into emptiness / the void”.

  • “No opponent has ever not been thrown far outside”. The “far” distance here is two obsolete words for lengths. 尋 xun is ancient unit of measure, equal to 8 chi. A chi is a “Chinese foot”.  zhang is another ancient unit of measure. About 10 feet. So, basically xun zhang is a long way ...

  • following its momentum as well as issuing obliquely : Following is 順 shun, meaning go along with, follow, walk with. It occurs frequently, including in the sword move “Push the boat *along-with* the current”. Obliquely is xie meaning oblique or diagonal, as in the posture “Diagonal Flying”.

  • discharge (fa-fang) : As a compound, 發放 fa-fang means provide, grant, or extend (as in loans, charitable goods, etc.) Here, these words are tai chi jargon. Fa means issue or discharge as in fa jin. And fang means release or let-go as in ti-fang (uproot and release) or fangsong (relaxed, loosened). 

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Translation Copyright (c) 2013 by Lee Fife
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Zheng-zi 13 Chapters, Translation by Lee Fife is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at http://rockymountaintaichi.com/.