Most of us are familiar with the symbolism of yin and yang, two forces constantly moving around each other for all eternity. However, a common mistake for us in the west is to assume that yin and yang are opposing forces working against one another but in reality they complement one another. Opposing forces exist separately of each other and you can have one without the other but complementary forces such as yin and yang are actually two halves of a whole and one cannot exist without the other. Like a coin, you cannot have just one side. This is why there is a small dot of yin within the yang half of the symbol and vice-versa, to show that they are a part of each other and not entirely separate.
To illustrate the difference, think of the taste of sweetness. If sweetness was represented by yang, many westerners might assume that yin would represent bitterness, what we’d consider to be the opposite of sweet. But eastern philosophy would say that yin actually represents blandness, the absence of taste. If you’d never tasted bitter food, you could still appreciate the flavour of sweet food; however, if you’d never tasted bland food how could you ever appreciate flavoursome food, be it bitter or sweet?
This difference of philosophy can be seen in the differences between Western Boxing and Chinese Boxing (Kung Fu). In terms of fighting, Yang is associated with advancing and being aggressive. Yin is associated with yielding and being passive, but this is not the same as running away or cowering, but rather it is best thought of as conserving energy and waiting for the right time to strike.
We often see western boxers slugging it out in the centre of the ring. Two competitors opposing each other with every move; where the ability to take hits being just as important a factor to victory as the ability to dish them out. This is an example of yang opposing yang. That’s fine in the ring where two opponents are physically matched but what happens when the opponent is larger? Opposing his movements and slugging it out is not the best idea.
In Kung Fu, the ultimate aim is to make your opponent miss, and this is done not by opposing his movement but by complementing them. Yielding where the opponent shows strength and striking where they show weakness, the kung fu practitioner combines the constant flow of yin and yang in order to out move and outwit his opponent.
The yin-yang symbol features prominently in the Freestyle Kung Fu Academy logo for this very reason, we do not teach students to stand there and get hit while trying to hit back but rather to move around their opponent and get themselves into a position where they have all the advantage. It is that philosophy that makes Kung Fu such an effective form of self-defence for the real world.