There are many ways to understand yin and yang in the martial arts. The ideal human model, where forces of yin and yang are most balanced, is the healthy infant who physiologically reflects the optimal merging of these forces. Separation and division between these forces brings about growth, since growth requires yin and yang to oppose: Where the extreme merging of yin and yang equals birth, the extreme division of yin and yang is death. According to the Tao Te Ching, the ultimate bible of the Taoists, balanced "softness" is equated with the life force and "stiffness" (extreme hardness) results in death. Life energy, when hard and without softness, is unable to express power. Blood vessels provide an apt analogy: when soft, they transfer vital fluid, but they become brittle and vulnerable to arterial disease when hardened by plaque; yet when too soft they may burst, and if in the brain, causing cerebral hemorrhage. Soft and hard merge to create the youthful body. The perfect yin-yang balance is the goal for the martial artist. A true master moves like a young tiger, with fluidity both soft and hard and unquestionably powerful. The image of an accomplished internal master is the effortlessness and powerfulness of a predatory cat. An internal master moves with neither unyielding stiffness nor limp lifelessness but with an effective grace that brings sung, (coiling, loose and wiry) power to fruition that is gang rou shen gi, a balance of hardness and softness.10 A true internal master has no need for hand- or body-hardening exercises (a throwback to pre-Taoist yogic martial arts). Instead he practices mien ch 'uan (cotton palm).
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