Deflect and Supplement: Part of Fundamental Principles of Taijiquan As a Martial Art

The principles of deflect and supplement are fundamentally important for Taijiquan as a martial art.  Although these principles are relevant for all styles of martial arts, they are especially important for Taijiquan.  This article discusses these principles.

From the very beginning of Taiji several hundred years ago, Taiji was always viewed as a good exercise for health and a good martial art.  When we discuss Taiji as a martial art, often we refer to it as Taijiquan, or the fist of Taiji.  The fundamental concept behind Taijiquan is that one does not oppose an attacking force head-on, because then whoever is the bigger and stronger will win.  Instead, one deflects the attacking force or one supplements the attacking force with a force along the direction of the attacking force, as well as many other techniques.  Then the winner does not have to be the person who is bigger or stronger.  We elaborate on these two approaches.

Deflect:  If the attacking force is along the x-direction, then a deflection force with a component along the y-direction will be able to deflect the attacking force. In principle, this deflection force can be very small, and it will still be able to deflect the attacking force, since the attacking force has no component along the y-direction.  This is the basis for the famous Chinese saying “4 ounces can deflect a thousand pounds.”  However, the speed in which the deflection can occur will depend on the size of the deflection force.  So in a realistic application, the deflection force has to be reasonable, but it definitely does not have to be comparable to the attacking force.

This principle is applied all the time in Taijiquan (as well as in other styles of martial arts).  For example, if A (person in black) tries to punch the head of B (person in white) with A’s right fist.  B can mitigate this attack by raising his left hand to deflect A’s right fist to B’s left.


A tries to punch B’s head with his right fist


B raises left arm to deflect punch by applying a small force perpendicular to A’s attacking force


As explained earlier, because A’s attacking force is along the x-direction, as long as B’s deflection force has a component along the y-direction, it will be able to deflect the attacking force even if B is smaller and not as strong as A.

Supplement:  Besides deflecting the attacking force, B can also use another method to mitigate A’s attack by supplementing A’s attacking force along the direction of the attack.  In the above example when A tries to strike B with a force along the x-direction, B can use his arms to apply a force also along x-direction.  Since A is already moving along the x-direction, by supplementing with a force also along the x-direction, B can pull A off balance.

When A senses that he is being pulled off balance, he can change direction by stopping his movement along the x-direction and pull back in the opposite direction.  When B senses that A is changing direction, then B can change from being a defender to becoming an attacker by changing his motion also.  Now, B moves his left foot forward to behind A’s right foot to keep A from being able to step back easily, and at the same time moves his left arm forward and up against A’s upper body, causing A to bend and fall backward.

This sequence of moves is illustrated in the photos below:

 A tries to strike B on the chest with his right fist B turns body to right, then sandwiches A’s right arm with his two arms, and also pulls A in direction he was moving
If A senses that he is losing balance and pulls his right arm back and also moves backward, then B also changes direction.  B takes step forward with his left foot to prevent A from easily moving backward or to B’s left, and at the same time moves his left arm (which is under A’s right arm) diagonally upward (and also slightly to left) toward A’s head while using his right hand to press B’s right arm downward.  During this movement, B also rotates his waist from right to left to add more force to his counter attack.  The end result is that A’s right arm is locked in an awkward and painful position, and A’s head and body are being pushed backward and to B’s left while B’s left foot traps A from moving in that direction  

This sequence of moves initiated by using the supplement principle illustrates how to mitigate an opponent’s attacking force and then followed by changing from being a defender to an attacker.  It also illustrates the meaning of the Taiji symbol.

Taiji Symbol

In the Taiji symbol, the black and white fish-like symbols represent two people engaged in martial art.  For example, person A can be represented by the black fish-like symbol in an attack mode, and person B can be represented by the white fish-like symbol in a defend mode.  The small black dot within the white fish-like symbol represents the attack potential of person B.  That attack potential can change from potential to reality, and the black dot changes to become the black fish-like symbol.  This can be thought of as the Taiji symbol rotates, the black part becomes the white part, and the white part becomes the black part.  Similarly, one can think of the small white dot within the black fish-like symbol to represent A’s defend potential, and when that defend potential becomes reality, the white dot becomes the white fish-like symbol.

Therefore, the Taiji symbol explains the essence of Taijiquan.  One moment one can be in a defend mode, and then quickly changes to an attack mode, and vice versa, one can be in an attack mode, and then quickly changes to a defend mode.  When one is in a defend mode, there is the potential to become the attack mode, and vice versa, when one is in an attack mode, there is the potential to become the defend mode.  Such transformation can be continuous throughout the martial art engagement.

Summary:  From a martial art perspective, Taiji does not necessarily depend on who has the superior strength.  By using various techniques, including deflect and supplement, Taijiquan can be a very effective martial art which does not necessarily require superior strength to win. [1]  Although other styles of martial arts also use many of these principles, they are intrinsically important in Taijiquan.


[1] See, e.g., “Martial Applications of Taijiquan“:, “Taiji and Martial Arts“:, “Yin-Yang Theory and Martial Applications of Martial Art“:, and “Underlying Foundations of Taiji Movements: Perspective from Martial Applications”:


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