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The art of Tai Chi Chuan is based on the philosophy presented in the Tai Chi Symbol. In order for one to make better and more fruitful progress in Tai Chi Chuan training, one must spend time to research the meaning hidden in this simple symbol. This symbol is also known as the "Yin/Yang" symbol. It is a circle divided into two equal portions by a wave-like line with one portion shaded (Yin) and the second unshaded (Yang). The shaded portion has the white dot in the center and the unshaded portion has the black dot in the center.
There are many ways to draw this ancient symbol, based on the location of the shaded and unshaded portions, and the spiral clockwise and counter clockwise motion directions. The Tai Chi Symbol can also be divided into a pre-heaven and post-heaven symbol. The pre-heaven Tai Chi Symbol is used to predict the future. The post-heaven Tai Chi Symbol is considered a reflection of nature.
To study the Tai Chi Symbol, one must begin by clarifying the four most important components of the symbol: 1)the outer circle, 2)the yin/yang fishes, 3) the fishes eyes and 4)the waveline which divides the circle into two fishes.
1. The outer Circle
When one looks at the Tai Chi Symbol, the first thing that comes to the eyes is the outer circle. The ancient Chinese often used the circle to represent heaven for its characteristic of continual transformation and the square was used to represent earth and its characteristic stability. Therefore, the circle in the Tai chi Symbol represents heaven and the universe.
From a philosophical perspective, people often use the tangible such as the drawing of a circle which everyone can witness, to represent the intangible and imaginary such as circulation, transformation and progression in life. Here are a few ways that we can look at the circle:
a. The circle represents everything that exist in a circular shape. In
life, we see the cycle of birth, maturity and death. Earth is constantly
orbiting the sun and all stars in the solar system as well. Nobody can stop
b. The circle represents everything that exists primarily in a round body
shape. All life forms on earth mainly exist in round bodies as do all the
planets in our solar system.
c. Circles are closely related to spiral movements. This represents activity.
Activity is the basic characteristic of the universe. Since the circle
represents the universe and it is active, therefore, everything that exist
in this universe should be spiral and active. This is the secret meaning of
2. The Yin and Yang Fishes
In the pre-heaven Tai Chi Symbol the circle is divided into two equal portions that look like two fishes. The shaded portion is called Yin Fish. It represents inactivity. The unshaded portion is called Yang Fish. It represents activity. The fishes are the same size and the heads are connected to the tail of the other fish. This drawing represents an active yet stable body.
a. Yin/Yang Oppositon. In this interpretation, everything exists in two components and they are opposite from each other as with Yin and Yang. They do not exist equally with each other in one unit. Rather, they are constantly struggling to overtake each other in the same unit. It is this constant struggle that puts everything in motion.
b. Yin/Yang Complementing Each Other. In this interpretation, the two components coexist together in one unit and they depend on each other to survive. Neither Yin nor Yang can survive by itself. e.g. left and right. If there is no right, then cannot be a left. Therefore, the Yang component relies on the Yin component to survive and the Yin component relies on the Yang component to survive. Each component needs its opposite to exist. If this Yin and Yang harmony disrupted, the Yang component by itself will not survive and the Yin component by itself will not be able to survive either.
c. Yin/Yang Balance In this interpretation, Yin and Yang are not equally divided. Each is constantly struggling to overtake the other. Sometime there is more Yang than Yin and other times, there is more Yin than Yang. In this constant state of struggle, they are able to live together. An example can be shown with the four seasons. In the Summer, there is more Yang than Yin, while in the Winter, there is more Yin than Yang. At the end of the year, the Yin component and the Yang component remain equal to each other. Although the Yin and Yang are complementary to each other, one should not neglect the importance and significent of balance. Everything must exist in a balanced state in order to grow and prosper.
d. Yin/Yang Interaction. In this interpretation, Yin and Yang are constantly in opposition and struggling to overtake each other and grow . Therefore, at certain times, Yin becomes Yang and Yang becomes Yin in a constant interchangeable state as they evolve and reproduce. This interaction begins when Yin and Yang reach their maturity.
In the Tai Chi Symbol, the Yin and Yang components are commonly referred to as Yin and Yang fishes. The symbol is commonly drawn vertically with the Yang Fish at top representing heaven and the Yin Fish at the bottom representing earth. In Yin/Yang Theory, the universe is composed of Yin and Yang substances. When substances are bright, above, active, hard,etc. they are considered as Yang substances. When substances are dark, below, inactive, soft, etc. they are considered as Yin substances. Therefore, everything that exists in nature can be classified as either Yang or Yin. It is said that Yin and Yang are the principle of heaven and earth, the foundation of all things, the originator of life and death. If one does not understand basic Yin and Yang Theory, any action or inaction is already a mistake.
3. The Fish Eyes
In the Tai Chi Chuan Symbol, there is a black dot inside the Yang fish, and there is a white dot inside the Yin fish. Although in our discussion of the Yin and Yang Fishes we explained that Yin and Yang can be complementary, in oppositon, balanced and interaction, and exist in everything, the nucleus of this transformation is located in the "fish eyes". There are several meanings behind these fish eyes.
a. The fish eyes explain that everything in existence is composed of many
levels. The fish eyes represent that everything is made up of many levels.
b. The fish eyes explain that the original source of transformation come
from within the same object.
c. The fish eyes explain that everything has a logical progression. Things
generally begin as infant and progress to adulthood and move from
weak to strong. None can stop or disrupt this progression.
d. The fish eyes explain that the body of everything has its own source
of power. Therefore, everything has elements of oppositon and complementry
components within itself.
e. The fish eyes represent the imbalance or balance condition within a larger
body. e.g. When a body is healthy, all the organs' function normally with
order, coordination and stability. The Yin/Yang fishes explain the body's
healthy conditon. The fish eyes explain the balance and imbalance among
the individual internal organs and systems.
f. The fish eyes explain the relationship of people with the environment. It
explains how one should be in harmony with and utilize the environment.
4. The Spiral Motion
Earth takes one year to complete an orbit of the sun. People observe the sun orbiting from the West to the East on earth. Simultaneously, the moon takes one month to complete its orbit of the earth from West to East as well.
The outer circle of the Tai Chi symbol is a complete circle and represents quiet inactivity. The Yin and Yang fishes inside the circle are active by constantly struggling to overtake each other. Therefore, the Tai Chi Symbol is quiet on the outside and active on the inside.
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