Bill Cartmell, Instructor
Phone: (480) 518-3055
Yin Yang Symbol:
The Yin-Yang Symbol
The practice of Tai Chi is inextricably linked with the philosophy of Yin and Yang, and is embodied in the symbol that
bears the name, Tai Chi, or Grand Ultimate. There exist almost as many different interpretations and explanations of this
symbol, as there do uses of it.
The two sides of the symbol represent the dual polarities which are the essence of everything in the universe:
darkness and light; masculine and feminine; strong and weak…the list is endless. What the symbol also shows about
these opposites, though, is that each contains elements of the other, as represented by the dots in the middle of each
The waxing and waning of opposite powers is also vividly illustrated. It can be seen from the diagram that when one
force reaches its peak, its opposite begins, and vice-versa. This, of course, has a direct bearing on the physical practice
of tai chi.
Students of the art believe that by practicing slowly, they can generate great speed, and that by training softly, they
can generate great power. In real terms, there is vindication for these beliefs.
Firstly, with its emphasis on relaxation tai chi allows the practitioner to increase his speed, as relaxation is a vital aspect
of increased speed.
Secondly, the softness, comparatively speaking, of the exercise allows the waist to develop a great deal of flexibility.
Coupled with the art’s emphasis on total coordination of the whole body, this result’s in enormous power. It is because
the waist area is the center of the body’s mass, so any movement originating from there brings into play the power of the
The most common application of the Yin-Yang philosophy encountered by the beginner is the shifting of the
bodyweight from leg to leg. Students are often told to imagine that their legs are hollow containers, one of which is filled
with water. As the weight moves from one leg to the other, the practitioner imagines the water flowing with it so that the
load-bearing leg is always a full vessel.
The Tai Chi Chuan classics emphasis the importance of discriminating between the substantial and insubstantial, and
it is precisely this shifting of weight that is referred to. The reason for the emphasis is that it allows you to remain rooted,
that is, firmly fixed to the floor. At the same time it also gives one part of the body the flexibility to evade, absorb or
escape from the opponent’s attack without being forced into a position of rigid resistance.
Aside from its usage on the purely physical level with one’s own body structure, the Yin-Yang philosophy has a direct
relevance to the development of Tai Chi’s fighting strategy. A hard attack may be absorbed and redirected by a soft
interception. At the point where the opponent, realizing his attack has failed, ‘softens’ his aggressive intentions and
attempts to withdraw, the Tai Chi Chuan exponent changes from Yin to Yang and retaliates with a hard attack.
So the entire fight in which a tai chi chuan practitioner is involved could be charted in terms of the constantly
changing relationship between Yin and Yang, It must, however, be stressed that this can never be a conscious process,
with one fighter thinking, ‘He is using this technique, so I must use that’. This would be totally unrealistic, because in a
stressful situation all responses must be automatic. In fact, the practitioner trains to achieve a practical grasp of the
application of the lessons of the Tai Chi Chuan symbol through pushing hands. It teaches one how to change soft into
hard, and vice-versa.
For the diligent practitioner, the philosophy of the Tai Chi, of the constant interchange of Yin and Yang, holds a
wealth of information and of theory that may constantly be examined and explored during practice.