While everyone in the study of martial arts becomes familiar with the concept of the Taiji diagram or Yin / Yang diagram as it is most often called, it is usually a basal understanding as rarely does a martial arts program take the time to delve into the concept deeply. This principle of yin / yang is a way of looking at and codifying the entire universe and as such it can be a lifetime of study through various means like meditation, Taoism, Buddhist practices, Martial Arts concepts, physical movement and so on. One of the uses of this concept in Martial Arts I tend to gravitate towards in teaching new students has to do with the initiation of violence and taking control of the decision-making process of the opponent.
Taking initiative in violent conflict is a great predictor of success in combat. The first person to start influencing and damaging the opponent tends to continue with the tide of the battle and win the conflict. It is very difficult to retake the initiative in a combat after having lost it, therefore we often see opponents flee one another in combat sports to reset the tide and have another chance to start from equal footing with their opponent. In many combat sports we even see strategic, trained methods for resetting the initiative, like boxers hugging one another until the referee separates them and resets, or an MMA fighter refusing to go to the ground and waiting for the referee to stand the opponent back up in the ring. Both situations that do not occur in combat outside a sporting situation, where martial arts training has its origins and as such all martial arts tend to have a strategy of taking the initiative or tide of battle and never allowing a ‘reset’ moment for the opponent. Only through the training in modern martial arts do we see allowances for the opponent to reset and ready themselves for another ‘contest’ in the interest of ‘fair play’.
When moving to take initiative in a situation where violence is the only possible solution we place the opponent in a position where they must make a single decision – yin or yang – for their response to our movement. Driving towards the opponent with a dangerous movement like a strike towards their face and eyes, a movement that is truly meant to cause damage. This creates a question that the opponent must answer. A yin response (soft, accepting) may be outright fleeing or in the case of a more experienced martial artist rolling with the power of the strike to create a better situation. A less trained person will generally not decide on a yin response but instead attempt to try and stop the method attacking them and find themselves lacking enough power to do so and allowing it directly through their defences and striking them. In Chinese Martial Arts sayings this is “The strong defeating the weak and the fast beating the slow.” Not at all the highest level of martial prowess but resulting in victory nonetheless.
A yang response from an opponent would be to successfully stop the incoming attack using power or strength. This creates a well aligned structure in the body of the defender and repels the attack by accepting, intercepting, and blocking the attack. This of course requires the attacker to change tactics as they are now aware they are dealing with an opponent that has superior power and has a tendency to respond to their attacks (yang) with greater power (yang). Here the initiative has still been taking by the attacker forcing a response from the defender and even if the defender’s power or yang response has stopped the initial attack the decision to defend was forced by the attack in the first place which places initiative squarely in the attacker’s court. Changing faster than the opponent is always a route towards success in combat with an opponent so forcing decisions upon the opponent forces them the play the role of response to stimulus rather than the initiation of movement and ideas.
Therefore, if we want to take the initiative in a violent conflict we place our opponents in the role of responding rather than initiating which gives us a distinct advantage. While they continue to try and regain the tide of the battle we can continue forcing decisions upon them, ideally faster and more complex decisions than they can deal with which will lead to winning the conflict. This is the reason I place such importance on entry methods in martial arts which is not a new idea, but it seems to me that it is an idea that is overshadowed often in favour of other training methods.
“Move second, arrive first”