“There are only 5 hands in taiji, the 2 major ones are yin and yang, yin is the peng principle and yang is the aun principle, they manifest themselves in a variety of ways, but the principles are always the same.”
We were practicing our taiji. These were some of my favourite lessons, karate was exciting, but taiji had that lovely smooth, powerful flow that made me feel invigorated.
We were working through ‘Part the Wild Horses Mane’ in the third section of the form most commonly known as the Yang Chen Fu 108. It’s an ingeniously crafted vehicle for learning taiji at all levels and provides the perfect daily work out taking around twenty minutes to complete. The form has repetitions of the most important techniques carefully placed to make sure you maintain concentration and enter and exit the moves in a variety of ways. It can be practiced in a martial, medical, or technical way on different days. We would also focus on different ‘animals’ to give a shamanistic feel, activating various parts of the brain on different days – sometimes we would practice ‘tiger’, maybe focusing on the head neck and eyes, sometimes ‘snake’, maybe focusing on the relationship of the hips to the floor and sometimes ‘crane’ perhaps focusing on the torso and arms. Sometimes I felt like a kid at school again in ‘music and movement’ classes, pretending to be a tiger, stalking around and making claws with my hands! I loved it!
‘Part the Wild Horses Mane’ is a movement like parting a horse’s mane with your hands whilst grooming it, from a ‘holding the ball’ position you step to the side at an angle drawing one hand down and releasing one upwards, this can be used for a variety of strikes, locks, throws, or dislocations.
“The left hand is yang and the right yin, step drawing the right hand directly down and then rotate the body to bring the right hand up.” Sifu was giving instruction as we moved
“Now turn on the heel of the right foot and change the right hand from yin to yang.” We turned the right hand from palm facing inwards to palm facing outwards, softening the elbow downwards.
“Sifu…. What makes a hand ‘yin’ or ‘yang’?”
“Yin is palm facing in and yang is palm facing out.
Because the ‘gates’ are in the wrists, the internal energy is returning to the internal organs when the hand is yin and being expressed outward from the foot when it’s yang.
“How’s that then?”
“Because the hand and arm give the body shape, when the palm is facing in and the arm and back rounded, you have to hollow the chest and open the back and feeling is that of ‘embracing’ – a yin feeling, coupled with all the other skills like tongue to the top palette and pulling the lower abdomen in it encourages the energy to ‘drain’ to the lower abdomen. When the palm is facing out with the elbow and shoulder softened down, you seek the internal connection to the ‘lao gong’ points in the feet and express the energy outwards.”
“So how come I can create considerable force with my yin arm?”
“Of course you can! The yin is on the inside, yin and yang have to be used in context, they’re not absolutes!”
“Erm… what do you mean by that Sifu?
“The bottom half of the body is yang, the top half is yin, as a duck moves easily across the water it’s legs paddling like mad underneath, so the top half of our body should move easily whilst the legs are working like mad to enable that to happen with power and control.”
“But at the same time, the front of the body is yin and the back of the body is yang, the front is hollow and concave, encouraging the energy to drain down and the back of the body is open and convex, to encourage the energy to pump up.”
“I can’t be doing with all that mystical stuff….”
“Nothing mystical in it. Even a boxer needs to work from his legs and move fluidly with his upper body and make his front concave back convex, that way he can hit harder and take hits easier.”
“Then we have hands and sides of the body that are either yin or yang, don’t you think that’s confusing?”
“Only because you’re trying to put a mystical connotation to it. If I used different words of opposites like soft and hard, working and relaxed, loaded and unloaded, you would think it quite normal.”
“So why don’t you?”
“Because yin and yang represent the opposites in the universe and in martial arts we recognise the balancing of these forces in all their separate ways brings about harmony. It also enables us to create an immense amount of force. If we used all the different terminologies we would miss the essential bonding of all those opposites that create power. The ability to recognise yin and yang in our movements and then the ability to make the yin more yin and the yang more yang and the smooth transition from one state to the other is crucial in increasing our health, skill and martial power.
If you look at the yin yang symbol, the circle around the outside represents infinity, the yin and yang forces the polarity, the small circles of the opposite force within each one that nothing can be entirely yin or yang, the flowing line down the middle shows that the symbol is spinning and is in fact a 3 dimensional spiral, the most potent force in this universe, and because it joins infinity (the circle) at the top and bottom it represents our capacity to enter infinity inside of this world of duality by balancing the two forces.”
“So it is mystical!”
“Only because you don’t understand it. In fact it’s perfectly logical and easily analysed. I don’t see anything ‘mystical’ in it at all. It is an excellent method of coaching and learning the martial arts, it’s also an excellent way of understanding the world around you in a way that you might otherwise miss using all these different terms.”
“So in fact you could call yin yang a coaching method?”
“Yes – for the Martial Arts and for life.”