Random Ring Formula

01/29/2009 (last updated: 08/24/2009 18:41)
Xianhao Cheng

rings in grassThe “Random Ring Formula” has a storied history. In a novel by the famous martial arts writer Jin Yong, during the Qing Dynasty of China (1644-1911), a high ranking military officer, trained in southern style taiji, murdered most of his taiji brothers to get the “Random Ring Formula.” Although his martial ability was already quite high, he believed he would make significant progress if he learned the formula.

Before taiji, martial arts ability largely depended on power and speed. Thus, a martial arts idiom says “One force can overcome ten techniques.” Taiji, however, was established with the purpose of using minimal power against a large force. The general principle is that a ring or circular motion is the most efficient. Forward or backward, on offense or defense, taiji’s motions are all circular like the movement of rings. Only with ring motion, is “Four ounces against one thousand pounds” possible. The “Random Ring Formula” forms the core of taiji technique.

To better understand the “Random Ring Formula”, we will consider the following lesson passed down from Yang Chengfu, Jiang Yukun and Zhu Lianfang:

Random ring formula is the most difficult to understand; by coordinating the body properly, the application is wonderful.
Trap your opponent in the random rings; four ounces can be applied to overcome a thousand pounds.
Advance steps and hands simultaneously, and seek on side and horizontal directions; the random rings will never come to nothing.
If you want to know the secret of the rings, it will be successful by aiming your push to where you expect your opponent to fall down.

"Random ring formula is the most difficult to understand; by coordinating the body properly, the application is wonderful."

The random ring formula guides us in applying circular technique in taiji practice. The "random" means that the motion of ring depends on the circumstances and follows no fixed pattern; therefore, it is hard for the opponent to predict. It can be big or small, in a horizontal, vertical, or diagonal plane, and have shape or no shape. An important rule for the formula is that bigger overcomes smaller, diagonal overcomes upright, “no shape” motion overcomes the motion with shape.

The idea of ring motion with no shape may confuse less-experienced taiji practitioners. As mentioned above, motions of taiji are all circular. It can be said that “if motion is not circular it is not taiji.” Once moving, one’s action is within the range of circular power. This circular power should become one’s nature. Even though our hands can move straight forward with no seeming ring shape, once we touch the opponent, he will feel that our power is driven by spiral motion. This is the so called “silk reeling energy” (Chan Si Jin) in taiji. This spiraling energy develops though correct practice of taiji form, stance, and push hands. You can feel this kind of internal motion if you touch a taiji master’s arm. However, it can be externally hidden by the master if he or she has trained the technique to a high level.

Using spiral power, we may redirect our opponent's attack and sense the chance to overcome him by sticking on his weakness. For instance, A pushes B’s shoulders with both hands. B’s inside spiral motion borrows A’s power from A’s right hand. While doing this, B needs to make a firm connection with A’s push but not let A feel the resistance (in taiji this is known as “Bu Ji Bu Li”). By hollowing his chest, sinking down his left shoulder and sticking his right hand on A’s left arm, B can lead the incoming power down to his left foot (“Bubbling Well Point”) and back up through his leg, waist, and right arm. A’s power would be transferred to B’s right hand at this moment, which may lift A’s left root. Since A’s right side already leans forward into the push, the power working on A’s left side can cause him to spin with B’s slight coiling (from left to right with a power support from left “Bubbling Well”). This is a typical example of “borrowing the power to hit power” (Fig. 1a and b); however, the spiral motion of B is not externally obvious.

Figure 1a Figure 1b
Figure 1


"Trap your opponent in the random rings; four ounces can be applied to overcome a thousand pounds."

Once your opponent moves into range of the rings, he may be controlled by spiral energy and lose balance. At this moment we may only need minimal force to overcome our opponent. It is hard to explain this technique clearly. However, it might help to think of borrowing your opponent’s momentum to start your motion, and then adding a little more to your opponent’s momentum to magnify his motion. In this case, you need minimal effort and your opponent off-balances himself. For example, let’s assume A pushes B’s left side with the right hand. B handles A’s push with the technique of “Bu Ji Bu Li” mentioned above. At the same time, B forms a ring with his right hand by touching on A’s left side (B is Yang and A is Yin on this spot). When A pushes B, it triggers the ring’s motion. A’s push power (A is yang and B is yin on this spot) would turn B to rotate counter clockwise. Since B does not resist A, A’s push lets himself turn to his left side (Please remember that B does not yield and A’s power is redirected down to B’s “Bubbling Well Point” and then transferred back up to B’s right hand). Meanwhile, B’s right hand pushes on A’s left body with A’s power and adds a little bit of his own power, which would let A spin more to the left. Then, if A retreats back to keep his balance, B would continue to use A’s momentum to follow A, and slightly pushes on A’s other side to accelerate A’s motion. Since the momentum of A’s retreat cancels his own power, A becomes vulnerable by B’s light push. With minimal power, B would let A lose his balance.

Figure 2a Figure 2b
Figure 2

The adage “four ounces overcome a thousand pounds” does actually mean using a small force against large one. The author still remembers when he chatted with Master Jiang Yukun about Yang Chengfu, Jiang said, “you only know how soft he was, but you do not know how powerful he was.” If we consider the martial aspect of taiji, we could alternatively translate “four ounces overcomes a thousand pounds” as “build a thousand pounds of power, but only use four ounces of energy.” Pertaining to the random ring formula, when your opponent attacks you with a thousand pounds of power, because you use the technique of spiral circulation, you can let the incoming power slide off target and let your opponent lose balance. This technique is very difficult to train, but the basic principle is simple. We can imagine pushing on a spinning wheel. Figure 2 shows an example of the application. In Figure 2a, A holds B’s waist tightly and tries to force B to lose his balance. However, B traps A into random rings by sinking the left side of his power down to the “Bubbling Well” and then lets this power spiral up from the right heel to the right waist. This forms a three dimensional ring. At the same time, B’s arm controls A’s wrist during the spiral motion. At this moment, A’s right hand feels no resistance, but his left wrist is locked by B’s arm and waist (Fig. 2b). Then B may shake his waist rapidly to let A lose his balance. Triggered with A’s push, application of this technique does not require much power. The rapid and strong shake of B’s waist and arms can break A’s wrist. This shake will spiral for three circles from right to left, left to right and then right to left. That is why this technique is named “Yellow Dragon Triply Shakes Hands”. However, it is nicer if B only spirally pressures on A’s wrist to either side, and A can automatically jump out.

You may only need minimal force to overcome your opponent in this way. However, it is not easy to cause an experienced martial artist to lose balance; therefore, depending on the situation, power may also be needed.

Xianhao Cheng, Ph.D. began training martial arts in 1975 in Hangzhou, China. He has studied on several Taiji masters in Hangzhou, and most notably studied under fifth generation Yang Taijiquan master Zhu Liang Fang. Dr. Cheng's teachings take a practical approach to Taiji and blends knowledge of traditional Chinese medicine and Taoism with the martial arts practice.