The philosophy of yin and yang is applied to tai chi in the same way that it is applied to many martial arts.
On a basic level, it teaches us to be like water, yielding to the most subtle force, yet as powerful and irresistible as the ocean. When the opponent uses force, we use softness. Where there is an opening, we flow right through. If they push, we pull. If they pull, we follow. If they miss, we don't resist.
As a principle, we seek internal balance, and modify our position relative to the opponent's force in a way that helps to improve our balance. We move at right angles to the opponent's force, rather than resisting it or surrendering to it. In this way we allow the opponent's own aggression to disarm them.
Understanding the nature of yin and yang allows us to see our own contribution to the opponent's attack. It also allows us to find the strengths in our own weaknesses and the weaknesses in the opponent's strength.
We learn that when the opponent's offensive energy increases, his/her defensive energy decreases. We also see how the same is true for ourselves.
This leads us to a level of skill which requires balancing attack and defence, and finally eliminating attack and defence as absolutes. Attack and defence become one with each other as we achieve "emptiness. This leads to a state of being and a method of engaging that involves attacking without attacking, and defending without defending. Awareness and "structure" allow us to transcend technique.
This state of emptiness, an internal stillness that exists when the ego and individual emotions are set aside, is what some call being "one with the Universe." In this state there is no enemy. The opponent defeats themselves by the nature of their own attack.
When you learn the physical skills that are used in combat, you progresses in stages:
- First you learn the basic techniques that are used when the opponent already has you at a disadvantage.
- Next you learn to intercept such attacks and prevent the opponent from getting you at a disadvantage.
- Then you learn to prevent the attack from forming.
- Finally, you learn to prevent the conflict altogether.
The final stage is a level of achievement called “no enemy.” When you reach this level you experience a level of rapport with all things. You understand their needs and fears, and deal with them as if they were your own. Active compassion prevents conflict.
Until you have achieved this highest level of skill, you may need to use lower level techniques. But the point to remember is that the purpose of training is to seek peace and harmony. To attach one’s goals to conflict guarantees defeat.
The most notable military strategist in history was Sunzi, the author of “The Art of War,” who lived in the 6th century BC. His strategies are still studied by military planners today and are still applied in war. He wrote that since no battle is without loss, it is a bad strategy to engage in battle, even when you are victorious 100% of the time. The only true victory is the one that is achieved without engaging in bloody combat.
For more about tai chi philosophy, read the essay, “The Warrior’s Peace”
by Ian Sinclair