What is Yin/Yang?

Yin and yang are Taoist concepts widely known but very often misunderstood.  I am not an expert, but I want here to give a simple explanation in the context of martial arts and Myoku.

From an Eastern perspective, yin and yang are fundamental forces in the universe and nature, and constantly in motion.  They always work together to create harmony and balance.  They are opposite forces but not to be understood in a binary opposition of good/bad.  They are simply polarities like + and – with no ideological implication such as “male/female,” “strong/weak,” etc.  Yin and yang are interdependent just like the breath-in and the breath-out in the cycle of breath.   If you breathe in, you will have to breathe out after.  It is the natural motion in the cycle of breath.  In martial arts, we say that with every rise there is a fall (movement up and down), for every expansion there is a contraction first, for every powerful punch with breath-out, there is a powerful chamber of the fist with breath-in, etc.  In training and in life, one must find the right balance of energies.  This is why meditation in Myoku is essential in every class in order to allow the right interplay of yin and yang in one’s mind and body connection.

Yin and yang work together to create harmony in your life as well.  You must avoid being polarized in one side.  As an example, if you take a rectangular magnet, the negative and positive poles are at opposite ends.  Each end will attract its “opposite.”  But for a good balance in your life, you need to use a “U” shape magnet (horse shoe) as you will expose both polarities (+ / – ) together and will attract objects balanced with both ions, and therefore harmony in your life.  In sum, try to avoid overdoing one side of your training (yin or yang) and in your thinking process as well; always look for harmony and balance in everything you do in your training and in your life.

Yin and yang are not absolutes, they are forces described according to the context, just like the concepts of “more” and “less.”  Standing by themselves, they do not mean anything.  Something is yin or yang as something can be “more” or “less” depending on the situation, or in comparison to something else.  Yin and yang do not have “content or meaning” as such.  They are relativistic in a context.  Step out of the Western mindset, and open your mind:  yin/yang is a dynamic of forces that should go beyond a list of fixed characteristics like hot/cold, fast/slow, strong/weak, etc.  Those characteristics have meaning only in contexts and can even cross over – something fast (yang) can be weak (yin).  As an example, water can be liquid, ice or vapor.  Vapor is yang in comparison to liquid (yin), but liquid is yang in comparison to ice (yin).  In Chinese medicine, the front of the body is yin, the back is yang while the upper chest is yang, the abdomen is yin, and so forth.

We in the West believe that the Big Bang created the universe, Taoism sees it differently:  Yin and yang as opposite forces give birth to the universe.  Yin can transform into yang and vice versa because they are forces linked to cycles, or contexts.  The day is yang, the night is yin, therefore dusk and dawn are powerful states of energy when yin and yang transform into one another.  As such, in the yin-yang symbol, there is a seed of yang in the yin category, and there is a seed of yin in the yang category.  N.B.:  Eastern philosophy focuses on harmony, the Western metaphysics emphasizes the difference.  This is perhaps why we, Westerners, have difficulties understanding Eastern concepts of reality.  Our reality is still Cartesian – binary (even if we speak of quantum theory), Eastern reality is Taoist (unity rules the universe).

What matters is to understand that Zen martial arts training brings harmony and balance in everything we do.  Every move, technique or stance is done with the potential of yin and yang.  For each contraction there is an expansion; one technique can be both, a block (yin) or a strike (yang) when appropriate; the art of delivering a punch/strike (yang) resides in the art of receiving a punch/strike (yin); and power in your movements (yang) come from the stillness of your mind (yin).  A kata starts toward East (yang) and ends West (yin).  Conscious training in martial arts sets you on a perfect journey of mind-body through yin and yang in the NOW