By Lee Wedlake
Using the Chinese symbol for Yin and Yang is probably the best known “ad” for tai chi. It’s a symbol used to illustrate duality, the opposites. Typically it’s black and white and each color has a small dot of the other in it to show that they have a little of the other within them. There are arguments about which color should be on which side and if they should be aligned vertically or horizontally. For this article, it makes no difference; I just want to briefly touch on the duality the symbol represents.
The symbol being a circle represents they are one unit with two parts. We need to understand that the parts represent opposites and the grey areas between them. The Yang side is the dark-colored side, the Yin is light. The Yang side is regarded at male, the Yin side is female. For example, that the male side has a dot of the opposing color could be said to mean a man may have a feminine side. Vice-versa for a woman. For what we do in tai chi, we look at this play between the Yin and Yang in a variety of ways.
Yang Cheng-Fu, whose tai chi lineage we come from, supposedly said that tai chi has a “dark” (martial) side and a “light” (civil) side. The majority of tai chi is taught on the civil side, being for health and fitness. The martial applications are the Ch’uan (fist) applications, the martial side. I believe a student should have at least some instruction in the martial side to enhance their understanding of the art and give more meaning to the movements done for exercise.
The practicality of understanding the duality is shown in knowing that we have an empty leg and a full leg (opposites) when we step. It stands to reason that one cannot step, or pivot with the full leg without jumping or twisting and possibly hurting the leg. Using knowledge of empty and full allows us to determine which foot steps without having to have an instructor there to tell us.
Yin and Yang movements get us to expand and contract, to rise and drop, to advance and retreat. We work right and left for balance, flexibility and coordination. We exercise the outside of the body but the inside is being worked as well. And as the body is exercised, so is the mind. That’s the striking part of tai chi, the meditation in motion. Ultimately, the mind is still as the body is in motion.
There is much more to all this, volumes have been written on the subject. I wanted to write this to give the reader something of a primer, a look into the Oriental mind.