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Yielding is a keyword in Tai Chi Chuan. As a word, Yielding can mean to give way to pressure, being submissive or compliant, but it can also mean being pliable or soft like a yielding material. in Tai Chi, it’s often understood as a main technique, something you do. But I like more the notion of being pliable than being compliant. In Tai Chi, you are taught that you need to use your opponent’s force to defeat him. Yielding is the same as borrowing. To yield, you borrow. In order to borrow, you must first yield.

But I feel that the word “yield” is an incomplete term. Too much focus is put on this word without questioning “why”, “how” and “what then”. In fact, Yielding is only a part of something else. I like to call it “adapting” or “mirroring”. In Tai Chi you adapt to an opponent’s structure by adjusting to the distance, angles and the line of his intent. We are mirroring the opponent’s movement by doing opposite movements to his. We yield to force, but at the same time we must fill in the gaps as well. The opponent has Yin as well as Yang. When there is strength to yield to, there will always be an opening to attack.

One of the mistakes I see Tai Chi practitioners do all of the time is to be single minded, doing one thing but not the other, or doing one thing after the other. Tai Chi is not “first yin, then yang”, but being yin and yang at the same time, which in practice means doing two opposite things at the same time. If you yield, you should attack or adjust yourself into a more favorable position at the same time.

Some tai chi practice is very much the opposite of how you should act and think in tai chi as a combat system. Push hands drills for instance can really create bad habits. Free push hands, applications practice and sparring must be very much different from the drills in the perspective of the drills’ doing one thing after another. In free push hands, you should always apply pressure against your opponent’s weak spot at the same time as you yield.

In tai chi, timing and understanding distance really depend on doing two things at the same time. Often this means yielding and filling in at the same time. Defense and attack become the same thing. In this perspective, yielding is an incomplete term, as it only show the yin side of a bigger context.