by GM Jeff Helaney
There is no light without darkness. There is no man with out woman. There is no hard without soft. It is a basic philosophical construct that can be traced back thousands of years to ancient China and a book called the Yi Jing or book of changes written in the Zhou Dynasty.
Yin and Yang symbolism has taken a role in all facets of eastern civilization from religion to politics to medicine and to the martial arts. Use of this symbolic paradox was a way for ancient cultures explain the natural world and to understand their role within it. The theory of Yin-Yang postulates that the world is material and that this material world is constantly evolving as the result of the mutual action of two opposing material forces. There has been a significant body of work written on the “dark side of mountain and the on the light side of the mountain”, however; for our purposes we’ll focus on understanding these concepts in relation to oriental martial and medical sciences.
According to Traditional Oriental Medicine, the body is divided into parts that are either Yin or Yang. The upper part of the body is Yang, while the lower part is Yin. The exterior is of the body Yang while the interior is Yin, etc. The body, also, contains 11 paired major systems represented on the body by meridian lines. Five of these meridians are Yin and six are Yang.
Yin and Yang systems are paired representing two aspects of energy flow through the body. In the body’s internal organ system, the five Zang organs, (i.e. heart, lung, liver, spleen and kidney) are Yin, because they function to preserve the body’s vital substances and tend to be stable. The six Fu organs, (i.e. the gallbladder, stomach, large intestine, small intestine, bladder and San Jiao) are Yang, because they are involved in transmitting and digesting water and food. The functions of Yang systems tend to be active. Our understanding of the relationship between the flow of Qi through the body is further enhanced using another philosophical construct called the Five Elements Theory which pairs organ systems (1) based on the aspect of Yin and Yang and the ‘elemental’ purposes they serve.
The interconnectivity of these systems allows our body to remain in homeostasis. When any part of this system is disrupted, the body loses balance. It is this concept that forms the basis of both oriental medicine and martial art target specific techniques. (2) Oriental medicine seeks to help the body heal itself by removing imbalance. Conversely, martial arts techniques are designed to disrupt the body and cause injury.
Oriental medical practitioners rely heavily on observationally based techniques to understand the causes of imbalances in the body and unlike western allopathic medicine, treatment is not symptomatically based. Rather the practitioner looks at the underlying causes of problem and treats the patient holistically. Very little is done in isolation, since every system of the body is interrelated.
This theory of treatment postulates that the imbalance of Yin and Yang is one of the basic pathogeneses of a disease. As an example, too much Yang energy in the body will lead to the hyper function of the organism or endogenous heat manifestations. On the other hand an overabundance of Yin energy will cause hypo function of the organism or the endogenous cold. Too little Yin energy due to exhausted vital essence may lead to the endogenous heat. If either system is severely damaged then both systems will be damaged. As an example, extremely strong Yin energy (hypo function) may show Yang (hyper function) symptoms and signs, while overly strong Yang energy (hyper function) will give rise to Yin (hypo function) symptoms and signs.
This concept translates well into martial arts practice. If certain techniques can be used to help the body heal itself then they can also be used to cause disruption. Certain techniques may have limited long term effects due to the body’s ability to heal naturally. Other techniques are specifically designed to cause injury to the body and can have significant long term ill health effects.
As an example if a martial artist were to correctly perform a very specific strike to the lower part of the abdomen, the possibility exists that this injury could cause blood stasis and Qi stagnation. The damage would be the result of trauma to an area where seven meridians pass in close proximity to each other on the Yin side of the body. The long term result might manifest as a hyper function of Yang energy and cause damage to both systems.
Just as volumes have been written about relationship of Yin and Yang to Oriental Medical Theory, so has it in relation to martial arts. Books such as the Bubishi are critical to our understanding of traditional oriental thought on martial arts and vital attacks on the human body. It is one of the reasons that many arts have required that high ranking practitioners be skilled in the healing arts as well as the martial arts.
Whether the focus of your art is internal (Yin) or external (Yang) it is important to develop your knowledge of the history of your art and your understanding of the human anatomy from both a western and eastern perspective. After all without the light of knowledge to illuminate your darkness there is no progress and no evolution.
(1) Organ systems can be thought of as energy conduits controlling specific bodily function. Complex relationships between the different systems keep the body healthy.
(2) Techniques designed to cause injury by striking a specific point on the human anatomy.
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