The double-fish diagram known as “Taiji Tu” 太 極 圖 (Grand Ultimate) is familiar to anyone who is even vaguely familiar with Chinese culture. The dark side is referred to as Yin and the light side is known as Yang.
In observing and analyzing the physical world, the ancients used these twin concepts. Yin and Yang do not refer to actual physical phenomena as some people mistakenly believe; they simply represent two opposing but complementary and interdependent forces or principles that can be observed throughout the tangible universe. This seemingly incongruent supposition forms the cornerstone of most branches of Chinese philosophy.
The character for Yin is an ideogram of the shaded side of a hill. It is used to represent darkness, cold, the negative aspect, stillness, and so on. The ideogram for Yang is indicative of the sunny side of a hill and represents light, warmth, the positive aspect, movement and so on.
You’ll notice that the Yin side of the diagram includes an element of Yang, which is indicated by the small white circle. Yang also contains an element of Yin, as shown by the small black circle. This is meant to show that each of these aspects contains a trace of the other and that there is no absolute Yin or Yang, and both of these twin principles can be infinitely subdivided into Yin and Yang qualities.
Additionally, the diagram should be seen as being static. Rather, it is constantly moving and changing. When one aspect increases, the other decreases. And when one aspect is carried to its extreme, it gives way to its opposite. Night (Yin) is ultimately transformed into day (Yang) and too much sweet (Yang) eventually becomes bitter (Yin).
Many neijia enthusiasts get lost in this concept; it’s as if they regard Yin and Yang as actual “things”, which, of course, they are not. They are simply mental constructs that the ancients used to help them better understand the world in which we all live.
In the practice of the neijia these twin concepts are generally applied from two viewpoints, the first of which is the execution of individual techniques. For instance, the hand or foot that is executing the technique is considered Yang while the unused hand or foot is Yin. The leg bearing the majority of the body’s weight becomes Yang and the other is Yin, and so on.
The second view has to do with practical application against an aggressor and this is where some people get pretty confused. Some people believe that when the opponent attacks, he becomes Yang and this requires that the receiver should become Yin. Not. When the attacker strikes with, for instance, his right hand, his right hand becomes Yang and his left is regarded as Yin. The instant after he has discharged his force, his right hand becomes empty (Yin). So, the opponent is not entirely Yang simply because he is attacking.
You should not totally yield to his aggression because you will then become too Yin and become unbalanced, as it were. My teacher, W. C. Chen, explained that one must become “insubstantial” (which is, I think, a more accurate way of thinking of the condition known as Yin) AT THE POINT where the aggressor directs his attack. For instance, if the aggressor seizes your wrist, you should not apply your strength in an attempt to release it. Rather, you should become Yin AT THE POINT he has seized; you receive his force without becoming “empty.” This is an important point to remember.
Moreover, whenever an assailant attacks he must necessarily expose certain vital areas and weaknesses in his posture, both of which can be readily exploited by a skilled fighter.
My teacher explained these two ideas very simply; he likened it to punching water. “If you punch water, what will happen?”, he asked. I figured this was a no-brainer, so I answered simply, “You’ll get wet!” He nodded and asked another question. “Can you break the water?”
I knew this had to be an intellectual trap but there was only one answer that I could think of. “No…”’
“Yes!”, he replied. “It becomes Yin when you hit it! But does ALL of the water become Yin?”
I shook my head, “No…”
“Exactly!”, he smiled. It becomes Yin only at the spot where you hit it, right?” I nodded as he continued with his questions. “What does the rest of the water do?”
I wasn’t altogether sure what he wanted me to say and my answer was too slow in coming. He answered for me. “It reacts by enveloping your hand and wrist and splashing you!”
Duh. Why hadn’t I thought of that sooner?
“So that part of the water becomes Yang! Where you punch it, it becomes Yin. The rest becomes Yang!”, he said. “So it’s very simple. Not hard to understand.”
*Partially excerpted from the author’s book, “Martial Maneuvers.”