These opening characters of chapter 22 of the Tao Te Ching can be translated several ways. The first character can mean bend, deflect, yield, twist, or curve. The second character links the first to the third, meaning thus, then, becomes. The third character means complete, whole, perfect, preserve intact, or in a looser sense, overcome. My favorite translation is “yield and overcome,” but the essence of all the meanings is that being flexible preserves one’s wholeness.
This concept was brought home to me with an exercise that my tai chi teacher used in class.
The teacher would stand face to face with a student, about half an arm’s length apart. Feet were stationary and could not move. The student would try to push the teacher back, forcing the teacher to take a step. As the student pushed on his shoulders, chest, or hips, the teacher simply melted away from the touch without avoiding it or resisting it. As the student withdrew, the teacher’s body would flow back into a neutral position. It was like trying to push water.
At some point, the student would be so extended that the teacher, using only his thumb and forefinger, would lightly touch the student’s wrist and with a gentle twist of his waist throw the student to the ground. No matter how many times we participated in this exercise and vowed not to be caught off balance, our efforts to push invariably resulted in a quick trip to the floor while the teacher remained serenely unaffected and unmoved.
I kept thinking that the point of this exercise was to learn how to push without losing my balance while finding the right spot to push that would make my teacher take a step. I’m a slow learner. It took me a long time and many trips to the floor to figure out that it was the pushing itself that led to my imbalance. My teacher yielded and never lost his balance. The result of pushing was to end up on the floor. The result of yielding was to remain upright. Yielding overcame pushing. Every time.
As with many martial arts principles, this applies to our lives in general. Can you think of a time when you “pushed” and “lost your balance,” or when someone “pushed” against you and by yielding you were able to stay “upright”? I hope you’ll share some stories in the comments.
First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, and then you win. ~Mahatma Gandhi
And here is a second quote in honor of the new season of Game of Thrones:
“What if the wolves come?” – Lommy Greenhands
“Yield.” – Arya Stark