In this belt you will begin to make use of Yin and Yang. These are ancient and traditional Chinese concepts that have been widely adopted by the martial arts. But they have much broader application than their use in martial arts theory.
Yin and Yang represents opposites. Yin is considered to be more subtle while Yang is considered to be more abrupt. Here is a list of things that might commonly be thought of as either Yin or Yang.
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Yin and Yang are commonly represented by the widely recognized symbol at right: The outer rim of the symbol represents the universe and everything in it. The dark areas of the symbol represent Yin while the white areas represent Yang. As you can see there is some Yang in the Yin and some Yin and the Yang. This suggests that the two somewhat opposing concepts are often quite intertwined.
The term Inyo is the Japanese equivalent of Yin Yang. It is commonly represented somewhat differently, generally appearing as a smaller circle within a larger circle. This is usually depicted such that the circumference of the smaller circle touches the circumference of the larger outer circle at a single point. Usually the smaller circle is red while the outer circle is white (sometimes with a red circumference). Not coincidentally the Inyo symbol is used to represent the Japan Karate Association. We will use the much more common Yin Yang symbol for our discussions, but you will want to note the Inyo symbol when you see it.
While viewing the table above you will readily notice that Yin and Yang represent related concepts that are complimentary in nature. When considering temperature, hot will usually be consider Yang while cool will be considered Yin (although there are rare circumstances under which these could be reversed).
There are four main aspects or principles that apply to Yin and Yang. These are:
- Yin and Yang represent opposites.
- Yin cannot exist without Yang. The concept of strong is irrelevant if there is no corresponding weakness. Both Yin and Yang conditions must exist.
- The relative levels of Yin and Yang are in constant flux. The Yin level may increase relative to the Yang level and vice versa. These changes often occur in a balanced and cyclical nature. If Yin or Yang become excessive then this can lead to imbalance, which is something we will leave for a future detailed discussion.
- Yin and Yang can transmute. A Yang condition can evolve into a Yin condition and vice versa. The most commonly cited example of this relates to seasonal changes. Summer (Yang) cyclically evolves into winter (Yin), which then begins to evolve again toward summer.
You will see the Tiger and Dragon symbols on the logo of many martial arts systems and schools. Often the two creatures are seen chasing one another around a circle or entwined in some way. This is meant to convey the opposing forces of Yin and Yang and is a common symbolism in schools that trace their roots back to Chinese origins. It is less prevalent in the symbolism of Japanese martial arts styles, but is found in some cases.
When working with a partner try to appreciate when you are using Yin principles and when you are utilizing Yang principles. Understand that you can change from one to another at any time. Also appreciate when your training partner or opponent is using either Yin or Yang. If he or she is using Yang principles then responding with Yin skills will likely be your best strategy for circumventing their actions. The opposite is also true. Yin can defeat Yang and Yang can defeat Yin. It is not impossible for Yang to defeat Yang, but it is more difficult than simply using a softer method for redirecting and then overcoming the other person.
Periodically evaluate your general tendencies. Are you more likely to use a Yin or Yang approach to a stressful situation? Many martial artists have a strong Yang disposition. Actions are generally strong, powerful, hard, and focused. There is nothing wrong with that, unless you do it to excess. In that case you are wasting energy, increasing your body temperature, probably over committing , and you will more quickly grow tired. If you find that you meet every situation with a Yang response then it may be time to reconsider your mental view of such situations.
When you find you have responded aggressively or with significant power to an attack sequence consider how you might have approached it differently. If you are working with and Uke, have Uke attack in the same way again to see if you can, for lack of a better term, be a bit more mellow. You will often find that a different, more Yin-like approach works equally well. You may even discover that it is more effective in many cases.
Naturally a person can rely too heavily on a Yin approach as well. When you find that you favor a Yin methodology then consider where you might employ Yang skills to offer more balance and flexibility.
So this of course leads us to the point that it is beneficial to have balance in Yin and Yang skills. Too much of either limits your options and potentially makes you quite predictable to an opponent. If you have a tendency to employ Yin more than Yang, or vice versa, then consciously work to have a more balanced and varied skill utilization strategy.
Beyond simply being balanced you may wish to consider how quickly you can change from a Yin to a Yang and then back to a Yin skill-set. By being able to quickly shift between these two opposing approaches to conflict you will be more adaptive and spontaneous. Your opponent will find you less predictable. The opponent will also find it much more difficult to resist your movements simply because they are more unpredictable. Ideally you will want to be able to eventually shift into and out of Yin and Yang application methods in an instant. This allows you to be Yin when an opponent attacks fiercely and to then apply a Yang sequence once the opponent has become vulnerable. You can then apply a Yin movement again to restructure the person while he or she is weightless or disoriented. And so it goes. Constantly shifting between these two conflict mindsets provides you with innumerable options.
Work with a training partner to explore several different ways in which you might deal with a specific hand strike, kick, or grabbing attack. Consciously work to ensure you are using a reasonable mix of both Yin and Yang movements in what hopefully will become a somewhat random order. Try to notice how your Uke is positioned and what he or she will attempt next. This will help you decide which method of movement will be most appropriate. Remember to think one step ahead and to move twice at every opportunity. Consider that you might use Yin during one of these movements and Yang (or vice versa) during the next. You optimally do not want to use only Yin or only Yang in any specific sequence. So be balanced in your application both overall and within any specific actions sequence.
If you look at the Yin Yang image you will clearly note that there is some Yang in the Yin and some Yin in the Yang. This suggests that even during a Yin sequence of movements you might employ some Yang attitude or behavior. For example, when you deliver a Ken Tsuki you might utilize your forearm to subtly reposition the opponent concurrent with your strike. While the movement is primarily a Yang strategy, the forearm usage is a Yin tactical element. And of course the opposite approach could also be utilized. No single sequence of movement need be one or the other. You can blend Yin and Yang together as a flowing sequence of actions. There is no reason for you to be solely Yin or Yang at any moment in time.
Yin and Yang theory can become quite involved. We have only touched the very surface of this topic. This is truly a vast area of study and learning more about this topic will be beneficial in the long term. Studying Yin and Yang theory may eventually lead one to consider Five Element Theory, Feng Shui, Taichichuan, and Bagua Zheng. We will cover these additional topics later. In the interim, consider how Yin and Yang are factors in everything you do every day.