How the Yin/Yang Principle Can Make you a better Fighter

By Philip Holder

In Ying Gi Ga Wing Chun, there are thirty-nine-plus one-primary principles. They are simple and direct, but they must be fully integrated to achieve advanced proficiency within the Wing Chun system. One of the most important principles is the concept of yin and yang-the basis of Wing Chun's belief that force should not be fought with force. This belief is reflected in all Wing Chun principles, and is fundamental to Wing Chun's philosophies and physical applications.

Most readers are familiar with the concept of yin and yang representing two properties of one concept. Yin can be viewed as having female, negative, or recessive characteristics. Yang can be characterized as male, positive, or aggressive. Within the whole of the yin and yang, each element is in a state of constant movement and change. Yin will convert to yang and yang will convert to yin. To achieve a state of equilibrium, the two must be balanced equally.

The yin and yang concept is found in many martial arts styles as well as in the healing arts. Acupuncture and acupressure are based on the belief that ailments are often due to an imbalance in the body's life force or chi. If the body's energy is out of balance-with either too much yin energy or too much yang energy-you will become ill. The same points that are used in acupuncture and acupressure to promote good health are often used as martial arts striking points or pressure points. In fighting they are used to disrupt the body's energy balance, to do harm.

Use of Force
The principle of yin and yang is fundamental to the art of Wing Chun. It is the root of practitioners' beliefs that force should not be confronted head-on. In Wing Chun there is a saying: "If your opponent uses force (yang), you must relax. In the absence of obstruction (yin), you must take the path or "spring out" (yang)."

Until properly trained, most people instinctually respond to force with tension. But if you follow Wing Chun's methodology, you must conclude that this will only lead to defeat. In order to understand the relevance of the yin-yang principle to Wing Chun, begin by assuming that your opponent will usually be physically superior. This is simple and logical. If your attacker were smaller, weaker, slower, and stupid, you would need no special training to defeat him. The purpose of training is to defeat an attacker with a physical advantage.

From a physical standpoint, you must thoroughly understand both footwork and hand positioning to make the yin-yang principle useful in combat. To effectively join with your attacker's movement, you must adjust your angle and distance to him. This must be done so as to allow the attacker's energy to continue on its path, while you redirect it ever so slightly in a way that is to your benefit. If you use force, your attacker will interpret this as a signal to react, and he will do so. You must join with, not oppose the movement. Remember, if your attacker uses force (yang) you must relax (yin). In the absence of obstruction (yin), seek the path (yang).

Position your hands and feet to facilitate the interception of your opponent's attack. Just as a bullfighter sidesteps while keeping the cape between himself and the bull, you should sidestep off of the line of your opponent's force while keeping your hands between the attack and your body. When you intercept an attack with your hands, maintain an angle of deflection with your arms. Simultaneously use your footwork to reset your body angle relative to your opponent's position. The relative body position created through proper footwork enables you to place yourself off your opponent's line or path of greatest energy. Properly positioning your hands in conjunction with your body angle will give you the ability to intercept, deflect and redirect your opponent's attack. As your arm (or arms) intercept the opponent's attack (yang), your contact reflexes, developed through your chi sao training, meditation, and visualization, will recognize any absence of obstruction (yin). This allows you to "spring out" and seek the tunnel (yang).

Wing Chun Depends on Yin and Yang
When you look at Wing Chun and its principles as a whole, it is clear how important this particular concept is to the integrity of the entire system. Many of the thirty-nine plus one concepts of Wing Chun are directly influenced by the yin-yang concept. With others, the connection is more subtle.

Examining some of the other Wing Chun principles, you will quickly see their connection to the yin and yang concept:
Radial Positioning Area and Center Line-The radial positioning area and the center line are "points of reference" that give you the ability to stay out of the opponent's area of greatest power while allowing him to enter into your greatest power area. You are able to let his force pass by you. Do not oppose his force. He will assist in your counterattack by entering your area of greatest strength. This will turn the advantage to you-clearly an application of the yin and yang concept.

Energy Transfer-When an opening exists, enter, striking perpendicular to the target surface to make use of one hundred percent of the energy you are expending. In defense, do the opposite. Create an angle of deflection that will redirect the attack so that it is not a danger to you. You want the attack to continue on its path so that you can intercept the arm or leg and create a "bridge" for entry.

Take the Bridge-When your opponent attacks, welcome the extension of his arm or leg. His attack (yang) will provide the path (yin) back to the source (your opponent) for your counterattack (yang). In Wing Chun we do not try to keep our opponent's arms (or legs) away from us; instead, we say "Please give me your arm (or leg)" so that I can gain a contact point with my arm (or leg) and follow the bridge back.

Evasive Maneuvering Offsets Force-In Wing Chun, force is offset primarily through mobility. If your opponent attacks, step off of his line of force. You can now create an angle of deflection that will dissolve the force. Use your footwork to move off your opponent's center line and out of his radial positioning area while simultaneously keeping him within your radial positioning area. This way, his force (yang) passes by you while you remain relaxed (yin). By the time his force is uselessly expended, he will be walking into your strike (yang).

The Tripod's Missing Leg-While fighting, you may be able to break an opponent's balance in order to either knock him to the ground or reduce his ability to generate an effective attack. In disrupting a person's balance, remember that the human frame would be much more stable if we had three legs instead of two. The only thing that keeps us upright is our sense of balance. If you want to break that balance, do not attempt to force the person to the ground by fighting against their supporting leg or legs. If you were building a tripod using the opponent's existing two legs, where would you put the third leg to create the greatest support ? That place will be his weakest point of balance. This yin area should be complemented with yang energy.

Take the Inside-When you are defending a hook punch, spinning kick or punch, a round kick, or any circular attack, Wing Chun advocates taking the center. As an example: Imagine yourself looking down from the ceiling on two fighters. If one fighter executes a hook punch, you would see his fist take a circular path. The person defending is safest either inside or outside of that circle. If he takes the outside, he will not be hit, but also cannot counterattack. He will need to re-enter to attack, and will also have to begin a defense all over again. If he were to take the inside, he would avoid the attacker's hook (yang) while slipping to the safety of the "eye of the huricane" (yin). The attacker is then further compromised because he is walking, or rotating into the second fighter's counterattack.

Deflection and Re-Direction-In Wing Chun, it is important to redirect and deflect, rather than stop an attack. It does not matter if an opponent attacks you; your concern is that the attack does not connect. In deflecting or redirecting an attack, a skilled Wing Chun practitioner takes the smallest angle that will work to deflect an attack. This makes it possible to continue facing your opponent. It is important to face your opponent because it allows you to keep him in your area of greatest power (center line and radial positioning area). If you do this, the harder your opponent punches (yang), the greater the force that will bypass you. As you remain relaxed and conserve energy (yin), your opponent's force is rendered useless as he walks directly into your counterattack (yang).

Tension and Aggression
When you are practicing with an aggressive opponent you may notice yourself tensing up, causing you to react more slowly and improperly, and to become off-balance. If hit, you will accept greater force because you are a stiff and solid target. You will also become tired and breathless more quickly. Muscles only contract; therefore, when tense, your muscles are fighting each other. You will receive no benefit from the energy that you expend. It is often difficult for students to overcome the urge to fight with force. To benefit from the yin and yang principle you must learn to overcome that urge.

Panic and Stress
The feeling of being "overpowered" often causes people to panic. For this reason, it is your mind and spirit-rather than your body-that must be trained to make proper use of the yin-yang principle. Some of the tools used to train this ability include chi sao, meditation, visualization and imagery, and even the relaxed demeanor found in the Wing Chun class setting.

When Wing Chun is done properly, little effort is needed. This is largely due to our adherence to the yin-yang principle. It is the harmony of the movement and the transmutation of this energy-not the collision of two forces-that causes the ease of movement seen in Wing Chun.

Teaching Relaxation
When you watch a classical Wing Chun training session, you see no regimentation. People are not in lines like tin soldiers, all doing the same thing at the same time. You get more of a sense of family than of a drill team. The atmosphere is casual. Students will often talk and laugh as they train. This is not because Wing Chun practitioners lack discipline. It is by design. If you have a relaxed mind, your body will follow. Discipline and regimentation are often confused, but they are quite different. Regimentation is a product of outside influence. Discipline is a personal and internal quality developed through an awareness of body, mind, and spirit. True discipline means more than the ability to fall into line with your classmates. It is the ability to be centered in your physical, emotional and spiritual being-to be in tune with all that surrounds you. This will show in your confidence and your ability to be at ease and in control in the presence of uncertainty and danger. The casual method of training practiced in Wing Chun is aimed toward this end.

Gaining Balance
Competent Wing Chun skills are a byproduct of creating a balance in movement and energy. Although chi sao and other training tools develop this skill, a deeper understanding of the use of the yin-yang principle is largely a product of perception. For example, when practicing chi sao, focus on becoming part of the process rather than separating yourself from it. Forget about winning and losing and attempt to join with your opponent's energy. In your mind's eye, see all that is occurring as part of the whole, not as separate occurrences. Most of all, you must relax your mind and make yourself more receptive to all that is around you. Meditation can help in achieving this ability.

The secret of making use of the yin-yang principle is contained within your own mind. If you learn only by mechanics and prearranged movement, or if you feel the need to have a specific counter for each specific attack, you will limit your perspective; it will be difficult for you to grasp this concept and to make it work for you in a practical sense. When training, you may have to take two steps back to take three forward. You will have to let go of your fears, uncertainties and preconceived ideas, and trust that the principle of yin and yang will help you. At first, until you are able to combine your new mental perception with the appropriate physical skills, you may find yourself feeling awkward and vulnerable. You may miss a block or fail in an attempt to defend. You will find, however, that once you relax and tune into your opponent's movement without attempting to force or control it, you will quickly gain the ability to offset and neutralize his power. In fact, the greater the force your opponent uses, the easier defense will become for you-a benefit that will last your entire life, because in time you will grow old and your body will grow weaker. You will need to depend on skill and strength of spirit if you want your abilities to last.

Strength vs. Rigidity
If you feel that strength and rigidity are one in the same, consider this: If you stand under a waterfall, it will knock you down and sweep you away; yet what has less rigidity than water? If you attempt to stand in front of that waterfall and push it over, you will have no success. Within water's flexibility and fluid nature is great power. Skyscrapers are built to be flexible and yielding. In the event of a storm or an earthquake, they are able to sway and bend rather than break. That which is rigid will be more easily broken than that which is flexible and can yield.

Be Part of the Process
Never separate yourself from the process; instead, become part of it. Alter one thing in nature-kill a tree or animal, drain a pond, etc.-and it will in some way, whether large or small, affect the rest of nature. We are all part of the whole. Let any imbalance be with your opponent. Do not play into his game.

Maintain your composure; be centered and balanced. If you become tense (too much yang), take a deep breath and become more relaxed (yin). If your opponent pushes (yang) and you relax (yin), he can no longer push, because there is nothing to push against. Create balance between your action and the action of others. Become in tune with the process, and the natural order of the universe will become your ally.

Click here for Feature Articles from this issue and others published in 1996 .

About Philip Holder :
Philip Holder is Chief Instructor and Grandmaster of the North American Wing Chun Association and its Ying Gi Ga method of Wing Chun. He is the creator of the Six Zone Safeguard System of Self Defense (a practical self-defense program based primarily on concepts of Wing Chun Kung Fu, designed for those people who cannot commit to long-term training). His more than thirty-three years of martial arts, along with his experience in full-contact fighting, and executive protection add a true sense of realism in his teaching. Thousands from around the world have studied from Grandmaster Holder in classes, seminars and through his instructional videotapes.

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