Yin and Yang in
Chinese Hand Combat
The title of this short piece may seem rather strange until one pieces together the
relevant references over the centuries. The first of these in the martial arts realm
dates to about 600 BC in the Spring and Autumn Annals of Wu and Yue : “The
principles of all hand combat are firm spirit within and calmness reflected
without”. Next is adherence to the opposite attributes of Yin and Yang in
hand combat as expressed in the Maiden of Yue story about 200 BC. Then
comes the Confucian concept of national affairs in the Record of History (300
BC): “when there are civil matters there must be martial preparedness and when
there are martial matters there must be civil preparedness.” Interestingly, the
preceding references all adhere to a Taoist worldview of interacting opposites.
As for the Internal School of boxing described by Huang Zongxi (1610- 1695), it
appears to have been meant as a disguised expression of his “firm spirit within”
reflecting dissatisfaction with Manchu rule as opposed to an actual school of boxing.
Following the establishment of Manchu rule a number of Chinese intellectuals
appear to have continued to disguisedly express their dissatisfaction through
focussing on the Taiji concept of interacting opposites. The first of these was
Wang Yuyou (1615-1684) who retreated to Mount Wugong where he wrote his
Thirteen Saber Methods which contained a section titled Taiji Connected Sabre
Essentials. Founder of the School of Practical Learning, Yan Yuan (1635-1704),
and his partner, Li Gong (1659-1733), intellectual friends of Wang Yuyou, also
practiced saber. Li Gong’s calendar (Nianpu) notes his mention of Yin-Yang,
Wuxing (5 elements) and Taiji. Then there was Chang Naizhou (1724-1783) who
described focused energy as martial preparedness or the balance that is Taiji.
There was even an ostensible 1784 Boxing Classic Important Boxing Methods by
Zhang Kongzhao found in Shaolin Monastery which describes the term Taiji as
representing the concept of central focus in one’s maneuvering.
The fact is that the Taiji concept is applicable to all Chinese martial arts - it
reflects the Chinese Taoist world view of the interaction of opposites which is an
essential element of Chinese martial arts theory regardless of style. It appears
that in this environment Wu Yuxiang (1812-1880) chose to name his style of
boxing Taijiquan in the early 1850’s and it is interesting that he claimed that the
original source was an individual named Wang Zongyue which translates to
“Wang who honors Yue" or the anti-Jin hero “Yue Fei” (1103-1142). And it was in
this environment that the Confucian concept of “martial preparedness” arose at
the national level to ultimately overthrow Manchu rule.
Stan Henning 25 Jan 2015