Baguazhang and the Physics of Yin and Yang

One day during a session with my Sifu, I commented that the sequence of movement we were training was like Yin and Yang. He replied, “Everything is like Yin and Yang”. To which I replied, “ I suppose, but I really see opposite forces at play here.”

I recall his subdued yet emphatic response which was, “No, no, no. Yin and Yang are not opposites and you will never understand if you see it that way!” Ok. So now I was really confused and asked him to clarify. He nodded and said, “Ok”.

So I followed him as he walked around the park. Weird. We just walked all over the place – and I’m starting to think this must be some kind of Zen lesson or something that I won’t understand maybe forever. Then he spotted a rock out in the open and motioned me over to observe it. He said, “This, with the Sun. This is Yin and Yang.”

I saw that the Sun-facing side of the rock was bright, and the opposite side was dark. So I said, “Right, bright and dark – opposites.” He shook his head somewhat disappointingly and replied, “No…  Sunlight – both sides under the same Sun. The rock – both sides, the same rock. Each side can absorb and reflect light just the same as the other.” This last part was the crux of the matter. ‘Each side can absorb and reflect the same as the other.’

Then he continued to explain that the side facing the sun was receiving all the light it could absorb (think infra-red spectrum) and was transforming the excess into reflected light(heat). And that the side that faced away from the sun was also absorbing all the light it could absorb but conditions were such that it could absorb more and reflect less of it. The very same processes on each side – but we observe differing states of Yin/Yang on each side. He explained that Yin and Yang cannot truly be separated. Yin is the observation of a state of “absorptive transformation ” and Yang is the observation of the state of “reflective transformation”. They are just aspects of a single process and not opposites – In fact, neither could exist without the other. This process of transformation is a part of everything that exists. Something is absorbed and then transformed.

For example you eat some food and your body absorbs it then transforms it into growth and energy. That’s a Yin and Yang process. Or as another example, somebody kicks a football and the football absorbs that energy and transforms it into an energy that pushes back against their foot and the ball flies away. That is also a Yin/Yang process. Ha, it turns out that Newton’s second law of physics is just another expression of a Yin/Yang process! Speaking of physics, there is an ancient book that actually defines all the possible absorption/transformation (Yin/Yang) processes in our universe of existence. It is appropriately called, “The book of Changes”, or “I-Ching”.

In “The Book of Changes”, there are eight families/containers of change (“Ba Gua”) that form the basis of this science. Our martial art  can be understood as one that uses these concepts of transformation to create powerful and agile movements that are useful to us, and at the same time defines a means to understand and control the power and agility of the world around us.

I have to say that to this day I am still amazed that at some time in the distant past some society was able to quantify this fundamental knowledge – and develop a deep and meaningful understanding of how to apply it too. Who could have been so advanced so long ago? Where did they go?