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Chinese cosmology vs science
Chinese cosmology is often quite confusing. Superstition and ignorance are employed rather than common sense. There is no religion, belief or faith required - the process is merely a reflection of the development of human consciousness.
Stages of consciousness:
Self and other
Change, options, choices, variables and possibilities
Consider: a baby is born and it has no sense of this and that, self and other. The child would not know its own reflection or see itself as separate from anything else.
This condition is 'wu chi' - wholeness, undivided. It is represented by a circle.
Self and other
Later, the child becomes self conscious and has a sense of self and other, here and there, this and that, yin and yang.
The world now appears to be divided into apparent opposites (although in reality they remain whole). Within yin is a yang dot, within yang there is a yin dot.
Also, yin taken to its extreme becomes yang. Yang taken to its extreme becomes yin.
As the child matures its perception changes again; each scenario is no longer black and white, this or that. This is 'bagua' - change. Everything has variables, permutations, possibilities and choices.
We learn the true meaning of tai chi; that there are no absolutes and the apparent opposites actually contain aspects of each other.
Yin and yang are not separate qualities, they constitute aspects of the whole.
Day/night, hard/soft, hot/cold, light/dark, up/down, left/right, front/back, inside/outside, here/there, before/after, now/then, this/that...
The tai chi symbol
The Chinese symbol called 'tai chi' or the 'supreme ultimate' contains yin and yang. Yin is black and yang is white. Tai chi combines yin and yang to produce a process of dynamic balancing.
Hard/soft, strong/weak, day/night, male/female are all represented by this symbol. Within the apparent opposites, part of the other exists.
The symbol represents balance. Yin and yang join to form a composite whole.
What is balance?
Balance is commonly seen as being a condition of stillness and rest. Yet, people cannot reasonably find a fixed point of balance in their lives because life is not static.
The changing nature of existence means that we need to be re-adjusting constantly.
and yang are not in competition or conflict with each other but are
complements of each other.
Balance is not a state but a process.
The Tao is a process, a dynamic condition of balanced moving.
Yin is the black part of the yin/yang symbol. Yin properties are female, dark, passive, cool, low, rounded, horizontal, soft. Yin is quiet, shy, secretive and weak.
Students have extreme difficulty understanding yin. They do not recognise the purpose of yielding, sensitivity, listening, feeling, withdrawing.
To the new starter, yang seems much clearer and more effective.
A yin body is
soft and flexible.
It never tenses-up the muscles and only occasionally assumes a seeming
Solidity is achieved through other means, in particular: spiralling, connection and sinking within the frame. Reliance upon the soft tissue of the body is essential, not upon bone or muscular tension.
Stretch too far, lock a joint or tense a muscle and you are no longer performing tai chi.
A tai chi person should have good muscle tone. The body should be quite rubbery and firm. There is always 'give', yet beneath this there is solidity without tension.
Your immediate progress lies in the realm of darkness and quietude. You need to become far more subtle and elusive. Remove the obvious from your repertoire. Disguise your intentions.
Become mysterious and unpredictable. Embrace yin.
Water is soft and weak. A yin quality. It can be poured and will take the shape of any container. Yet in sufficient quantity it can cause monumental destruction. Water can erode rock.
If you fall onto water from a high altitude it is the same as striking concrete.
Sand is soft and weak. Whilst the grains are coarse, sand yields to the touch just as water does. Try filling a football with sand? It will eventually become as hard as rock. Yet the sand is still yin.
The density and volume make it feel yang.
The Ancients were not
learned, they did not know sophisticated definitions. They did not know the
'meaning' of things, as when a parent tells a child, "That is a tree," as if
that term, that definition, were the summation of the tree's reality.
Yang is the white part of the tai chi symbol. Yang properties are male, light, active, warm, straight, high, geometric, vertical, hard. Yang is bold, obvious, open and strong.
Yang qualities are fairly easy to cultivate. Yin qualities are not. Martial artists do not favour being soft and smooth. The norm is yang. This is why Japanese martial artists usually wear white.
The external arts train what might be called a 'yang body'; with deep stretches, forceful exercise and muscular contraction being the focus of the training.
Emphasis is placed upon stamina, high repetitions, going further: it is willpower-directed exercise. A yang body is hard, contracted and tense.
The challenge for students lies in becoming more yin. There must be a significant move from white to black, from hard to soft. You can no longer shrug off clumsiness and call it strength.
Yin skill lies in being quietly in control of your opponent, but with no more substance than a shadow. It is necessary to be slow and smooth, gentle and silent. This will not be easy.
Yang arises from yin
In Chinese cosmology, light comes from darkness. This seems to echo what we see in space and in physics. The universe is a series of pinpricks puncturing the black cloth of darkness.
Knowledge arises from ignorance, from not knowing. And no matter how much we learn, we are still awed by the magnitude of the unknown.
Using yin/yang in your practice
At its most basic, yin/yang can be seen in terms of balance and resistance. If you push a person and they resist, then they are meeting your (yang) push with their own (yang) forward movement.
This is force on force. It is fighting/resisting. To complete the yin/yang equation, simply change direction; instead of pushing (yang), you can pull (yin).
This will add follow the incoming line of force, add to their push and take their balance.
The attacking limb may be considered hard or yang. If you block its line of force, this is yang on yang, force on force and is not internal.
Instead, you must softly meet yang with yin, re-direct and neutralise. To perform this skill well, it is necessary to move as the attacker moves, to blend with their movement.
This completes the yin/yang diagram and enables you to capitalise upon the incoming force.
It is necessary to balance left/right, upper/lower, substantial/insubstantial, full/empty. If the left leg is yang, then the left hand is yin.
If the forward leg is weighted, then the opposite hand is the substantial one. One hand must always be in a yin state relative to the other hand which is yang. The same goes for the feet.
Hands and feet must coordinate. Every single movement must balance the body - up & down, left & right - substantial and insubstantial.
It is easy to mess this up and start thinking of hard/soft in terms of tense/relaxed.
Tai chi fighting method
Tai chi may seem to be mainly yin because it is receptive, flowing, relaxed and calm. Yet, tai chi is both yin and yang. Yin is balanced by the firmness and substance of yang.
The art of tai chi is concerned with the process of balancing yin and yang, of returning the body to its natural state.
Understanding the Balance in terms of tai chi is quite complex and is not addressed at length until later in the syllabus.
Yin/yang symbolises the process of exchange. You want a new car? You must pay. You want to learn French? You must study, set time aside, practice and persevere.
You want to eat healthily? You will need to research, buy fresh ingredients, prepare and cook the food. People commonly believe that they can have it all without having to give anything up.
This is simply naive. To have one thing you must give up something else.
18 April 1995
Last updated 16 June 2023