Yin Yang up a Level

“Yin and Yang” if you study Chinese martial arts you hear this phrase over and over. When these two concepts are pictured together they form a diagram with a big name known as the Taji Tu or Extreme Polarities Symbol.

The reason this picture is known as the “Extreme” symbol is that the divided sections represent an almost pure division of Yin and Yang into two separate regions, something we never see in daily life. Like “pure yellow”, the unalloyed color is rarely seen in the mundane world. In the Taiji Symbol the Yin and Yang are almost entirely segregated into a white and a black section with just a little bit of each opposite color forming a “fish eye” to remind us that, in the midst of pure Yang, pure Yin is waiting and vice versa.

But Yin and Yang are very general concepts, really only the most basic ideas of Chinese thinking, just about useful enough to be loudly explained in a coffee shop by some guy who keeps mispronouncing “Yhing and Yonng”. This concept of polar opposites is the general cultural idea and means about as much as the word “democracy” does when two opposing parties are in the middle of a hot debate on health care. Democracy may be agreed upon by both parties but the debate may be too specific to be categorized so generally.

As you learn more you see that the details are everything. If you are talking about Chinese painting the Yin and Yang revolves around the whiteness of paper, the darkness of ink; the painting of mountains and the illustration of rivers; shapes which are angular and shapes which flow. You get the idea: these are the polarities of painting.

The same is true of martial arts. For your edification here is a list, by no means complete, of the Yin and Yang complimentary pairs we find in the art of Kung Fu.

Gang/Rou: firm and soft
Zheng/Yu: straight and angular
Dang/Da: block and hit
Zhong/Qing: heavy and light
Kuai/Man: fast and slow
Fen/He: open and close
Ming/An: apparent and hidden
Ding/Huo: fixed and lively

Some of these pairs are not exactly intuitive. They were developed through centuries of observation and reasoning. For instance, if you are in a stance with one leg weighted, that leg is considered Yin while the relatively un-weighted leg, though less firm, is considered Yang. Why? Because the un-weighted leg has the greater potential for movement.

Take the case of Fen/He. Fen means to “divide” or open (and can also be designated by Kai). He means to join in this sense, to “close”. Closing, contracting, tightening is Yang, while opening, expanding is Yin. Why? because contracting strength creates potential energy which can “move outward”. Opening and expanding is here seen as an “effect”.

Gang and Rou are much better terms for hard and soft than Yin and Yang. Gang gives the impression of firmness. Rou has some feeling of soft but also suggests pliancy.

Some pairs are just for the sake of instruction. Dang Da for instance means Block and Hit, a combination of movements which are considered a simple stage of training eventually to be outclassed by more advanced training.

What is freedom? A Chinese thinker might answer this question in a completely different manner than a Westerner, though essentially meaning the same thing. Freedom is, in the art of movement, a complete lack of impediment or resistance to your will, a completely comfortable ability to change like a “light breeze” with no obstacles or delays. Chinese martial arts is essentially the study of such freedom. To some people it is all about expressing that effortlessness in fighting, the instantaneous ability to adapt to the opponent and the conditions. To others they might be more interested in expressing that freedom in their forms or by demonstrating superior skills kicking. Still others might find the feeling of freedom gained from being stronger, more limber, more fluid when exercising.

Think about the Yin and Yang expressed, specifically, in your own practice. What makes you fee the most free?