In the last few years we got to train under Sifu an amusing scene would often play itself out. One of us would ask him a question – usually about how we were trying to embody one of the concepts or apply one of the fundamentals – and he would respond with: “Well….. yes/no.”
It happened often enough it became a running joke among us.
BUT! Within that humour lies some fundamental truth(s). (No surprise, of course, given that it was Sifu…)
Take just about anything that’s deep and related and foundational, and as you explore it or use it or apply it or see it arise around you, very little is exclusive or binary. Gradients exist everywhere. And elements that seem like opposites don’t always act in opposition to each other. They may instead be differing sides of the same coin that work best when both are brought to bear in appropriate amounts.
Putting it a slightly different way, yes/no is the principal behind Yin and Yang and its notion of dualism where even seemingly contrasting energies not only are interconnected but they often contain (and, again, work best when they do engage) a little bit of the other in it. In addition, there is a flow, with energies shifting and waxing and waning in differing amounts to respond to what’s appropriate in the moment. When there is an unbalance, that’s when things fall apart.*
Which is something that we tested and experienced time and time again in our tai chi training! Apply a particular concept or tension at 100%, and we would collapse. But shift it a bit, even dialing it a little back by 10%, and then we would be strong.** At our core, 60/40 was often the sweet spot, though at times 70/30 was a better split. And we could be 90% at the point of application while maintaining balance within our core at 60/40, doubling the yin and yang to not only between differing concepts, but also between our active extremities and our rooted and originating core.
And while it manifests itself quite viscerally in the physical testing of our tai chi training, the concept of yes/no holds sway far beyond into all aspects of our individual lives to that of our families and communities and beyond.
Best of all, for me at least, I’m lucky that whenever I notice I’m beginning to stray from the middle path and set myself to wonder about it, I get to be guided back with Sifu’s voice echoing in my head with a delightful and amused “Well… yes/no.”
* To which, this yes/no idea also connects quite well to another of my favourite fundamental concepts, that of the Middle Path (from within the Buddhist tradition).
** Which is related to the concept of “Straight but not Straight” or as I called it “Shaolin Straight”.