By Aaron Hoopes
One of the most important things I have learned in teaching breathing to martial artists is that one can only understand its importance by actually practicing deep breathing oneself. The same is true with stillness training. It is impossible to adequately understand the benefits of contrasting movement with stillness without actually trying it yourself.
Shotokan karate is a powerful and dynamic martial art. Yet, sometimes its emphasis on strong, hard techniques seems one-dimensional and overshadows the need for contrast. Without weakness there is no such thing as strength. Without soft there is no hard. This idea of contrast or balance in the martial arts is best symbolized by the concept of Yin and Yang. The Yin/Yang symbol is one of the oldest and best-known life symbols in the world. It represents the two poles of existence, which are opposite but complementary, and which exist everywhere in every part of the universe. The light, white Yang moves up blending into the dark, black Yin which is moving down. The two aspects are in opposition to each other but they are also interdependent. Yin and Yang can be described as dependent opposite forces that must always be in balance. The opposite forces flow in a natural cycle, one always replacing the other. Each force contains the seed of the other, which is why we see a black spot of Yin in the Yang segment and a white spot of Yang in the Yin. They do not merely replace each other but actually become each other. Absolute or pure Yin (or Yang) does not exist. Everything contains some degree of its opposite.
What the Yin/Yang dichotomy is telling us is that in life all things have two opposite dimensions. If light exists then darkness exists as well. Wherever there is an “up” there will also be a “down”. If something has a front it must have a back. Something that is born will eventually die. There are no advantages without disadvantages; there are no disadvantages without advantages. All the opposites one perceives in the universe, then, are embodied in the opposing forces of Yin and Yang. This changing combination of negative and positive, dark and light, cold and hot is what keeps the world in motion. In our individual lives all change can be seen as one opposite becoming the other.
As something reaches an extreme, it always gives way to its opposite. Just as the seasons cycle through summer-fall-winter-spring and create opposite periods of hot and cold, windy and still, rainy and dry. Yin and Yang cycle through active and passive, dark and light, strength and weakness. If Yin and Yang are balanced and flowing, life itself is balanced and flowing. Each of us must have this balance to be complete.
For people who train in the martial Arts, one of the most important principles embodied by the concept of Yin and Yang, is the relationship between stillness and motion. Stillness is the natural state before movement begins, and yet it is also the basis of all movement. Understanding the symbiosis of stillness and movement can guide you in establishing true balance and control within yourself. A technique which begins from perfect stillness enables you to execute the movement in a coordinated and efficient manner which, in turn, allows your body and mind to reach together a balanced harmony. Furthermore, by increasing your efficiency of movement, you can release unnecessary tension and relax more completely.
The best method for learning the principle embodied in stillness and movement is to stand still - completely still. To begin, choose an individual position from your favorite kata. For beginners it may be a back-stance, knife-hand block (kokutsu shuto-uke). More advanced karate-ka may choose the first move from Sochin or the last move from Gojushiho-sho. The actual position of the arms and legs is less important than the requirement of the training, which is simply to remain completely still. Once in position, do not move at all. The goal is to achieve total, pure stillness. This is different from just getting into a stance and holding it. The point here is to make absolutely no movement at all. No adjustment, no shifting of weight, nothing. I realize that this may sound simplistic. But if you practice this training you will eventually come to understand the difference between absolute stillness and what passes for stillness in your regular training. You will become intimately aware of each and every muscle that is in use. Then the quality of your movement will naturally move toward perfection.