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What is yielding?
One of the most difficult aspects of learning tai chi is yielding or softness.
On a crude level, softness refers to the muscles being relaxed rather than tense, the joints being mobile rather than locked/held. The aim is to have give, to be pliable yet strong.
Yielding is not about giving-in, collapsing or being cowardly. It is a tactic. In fact, in the advanced version of Yang-style tai chi, it is the primary tactic.
Yielding is the ability to make space, to allow an incoming force to over-extend, to expend itself. Having yielded, you step-in and counter.
With growing skill, you will find that the moment of yielding may seem quite small and even go unnoticed by the attacker.
A feather cannot be placed,
and a fly cannot alight on any part of the body.
If Taoism is the art of adjusting to life, then tai chi is the art of adjusting to the opponent. This process of adjustment is what yielding is about. Balancing, sensitivity, change.
Yielding is not passive. It requires sensitivity, 'listening' skill, timing, balance, rhythm, peng and stickiness. You 'blend' with the incoming force, borrow their strength and avoid entanglement.
Skilful application of yielding will enable you to draw the opponent out of their centre, off-balance and weak.If the attacker seeks to disrupt your counter, you can easily compromise their balance.
Only a slight movement is required.
Crumpling and collapsing the elbows is not yielding. It is structurally weak and inadvisable. Maintain peng but be pliable.
Flaccid or tense
Your muscles should be neither flaccid nor tense in tai chi; these extremes are undesirable. Tension blocks energy and flaccidity is simply collapsed structure. The answer is to yield.
If you think of yielding in terms of melting ice, it has quite a different quality to flaccidity. The ice does not simply crumple. It gradually gives way.
Resistance is futile
Yielding does not involve any component of resistance, so you do not fight back. You allow your partner to move you but do nothing to assist. This is far harder than it sounds.
People typically move themselves out of the way or tense-up. You must do neither.
When you let your partner do all the work, you can employ your body like a spring. It absorbs the incoming force, compressing the spine and the legs. You store the energy.
At a certain point, you can go no further so you stop or step. Even now, you do not push back or collapse. This develops into 'resisting jing' but is completely different to tensing-up or fighting back.
The greatest form of yielding must take place psychologically. Your ego, pride, arrogance and vanity are all obstacles that need to be discarded on the way to understanding the art.
Holding and fixity will hinder your progress. Sifu Waller's job is to encourage you to let-go both psychologically and emotionally.
Softness of mind
If the mind is rigid and inflexible, then the body will be too. Mental tension is a kind of anticipation; a preparation for expected events.
We must learn not to anticipate and to go with the flow of what is happening instead.
Softness feels heavy. Being soft allows the body weight to be transmitted to different parts of the body. To another person, your limbs will feel very heavy. To you, they just feel loose and relaxed. This heaviness can be used to transmit the groundpath through somebody else.
Softness enables you to 'listen' to the opponent's body through the use of mild pressure. Too much pressure and you will be resisting the incoming force.
Too little pressure and you will not be able to maintain contact.
If you are double-weighted, you cannot yield. In partner work, your weight should always be more to one side than the other. There can be double-weightedness in the arms as well as the legs. Avoid this.
Empty the left wherever a pressure appears, and similarly the right.
How to yield
The forms of tai chi were designed to teach the student how to yield to incoming force:
Turn the waist & shift the weight into the other leg
Bend at the hip
Trying is born of failure. Students of the Tao learn to move with what is. Instead of opposing, you allow, and then gently re-direct. There is no resistance. No tension. And no thought of control.
Let-go and yield. If you are trying, then you are struggling. And that is not the Way.
Page created 2 March 1995
Last updated 16 June 2023