Updated: Mar 18
“Invest in loss” is a popular saying in tai chi that implies that since you do not use muscular force, you must yield to gain or overcome a force. Therefore, knowing how to yield is very important. However, yielding can be misunderstood to mean only moving backward and retreating. But yielding is more than simply retreating, and in this article, we will describe yielding as having the dual qualities of Receiving (Yin) and Giving (Yang), and how these forces support each other to make “Investing in loss” pay off.
What then, is yielding, and how do we yield properly?
What Yielding is Not?
First let’s define yielding by what it is NOT. It is NOT running away from a force. It is NOT just retreating. It is NOT about letting someone push you around.
What is Yielding?
Yielding is “leading your opponent to emptiness” while controlling them. When an opponent comes at you with force, you move with their force while turning to lead their force away from you. At the same time, you envelop them with energy so that you sense where their balance is strong or weak, allowing you to control them. There are other aspects of yielding such as listening, connecting and adhering that will be covered in other articles.
How to Yield?
To successfully yield, you must simultaneously do three things; follow the force, redirect it, and have peng-jin or expansion so your body works as a single unite. Following without redirecting is just retreating and leads to being pushed or pulled off your feet. Redirecting without following is trying to move an incoming force by using muscular force which results in force against force. Having peng-jin or expansion (see our article on expansion) allows you to follow without collapsing and to redirect without exerting muscular force.
Expansion is what “leads your opponent into emptiness”. It gives your opponent the illusion that their push is succeeding because they have something to push against. Your expansion must be just enough to trick them into thinking that their force is succeeding while still allowing you to follow smoothly and redirect their force. This is why it is important to expand and stay in contact with your opponent and not lose touch by running away from their force. Yielding is like being a matador who lures the bull into thinking that if he can charge through the red cape, he will get to the matador. When you are the matador, you want your opponent to keep pushing while you lead them into “nothing” as they “fall into emptiness”. But, if you disengage from your opponent’s push and lose contact, your opponent will change their line of attack and move in on you. It would be like the matador pulling the cape too soon, letting the bull know where the real target is. Your expansions or peng-jin must be just enough to lure the opponent; too little expansion will allow your opponent to get to your center and collapse your stance, and too much will make you stiff and easy to move off balance.
Deflecting 4,000 pounds!
When your body expands, you become like an inflated, spinning ball that can turn aside a force coming at it. It is the use of your entire body that turns away the force; just using your arms is ineffective to turn away an incoming force. But when you expand you connect your whole body into a unified force to give you the needed power to move the opponent’s force out of the way. There is a saying in tai chi, “One ounce can deflect 4,000 pounds.” This saying can only be understood in terms of following and redirecting while expanding. If you yield to 4,000 pounds without expanding, the 4,000 pounds will roll over you no matter how good you are at redirecting. Expanding like a rotating ball allows you to redirect the 4,000 pounds without collapsing. An inflated, rotating ball can turn away a large force, but a ball that is sagging cannot.
Yielding is Giving/Yang and Receiving/Yin!
When we think of the body as an inflated, rotating ball then we can see that it has a side that is moving away from you and a side that is moving toward you; a RECEIVING side and a GIVING side. When doing rollback, for example, your left side receives the force while your right side is giving as it moves toward your opponent. Just about all the movements or postures of tai chi have this concept of one side receiving and one side giving. Yielding is no different; one side moves back to receive by going with the force, as the other side simultaneously gives, controlling and redirecting the force. Unfortunately, many players think of yielding as first going back and then turning. Tai chi movements however are circular and not linear. The correct way is to turn and shift back as one movement, and thereby creating the spinning ball effect of one side Receiving and the other Giving.
Using Yi (Intention)!
If we think of yielding in terms of the Yin/Yang sides of the spinning ball, then one side is Yin and one side is Yang. When most players yield they are primarily Yin. Their physical and mental intention is to simply avoid the force. But tai chi tells us that there must be Yang to balance Yin. When yielding, Yang is found in the giving side of the ball because your intention or energy is still directed at your opponent. A simple example is pushing your finger into soft dough. The dough “receives” your finger while simultaneously it “gives” by surrounding and pressing on your finger. If both your weight and your intention are going backward then you have too much Yin on one side, and not enough Yang on the other. Another way to think of it is that as your weight is filling your retreating side it must be balanced by something on the other side. That something is your intention or Yi. My teacher, Master William Ting expresses it as “wrapping you opponent like a sandwich”. In other words, although you are physically absorbing your opponent by following and redirecting, your energy continues to surround you opponent as if you have draped a blanket over them. In the example of pressing into a ball of dough, the dough absorbing the finger is Yin, and the dough surrounding the finger is Yang. Our Yi works the same way; as we absorb the incoming force, we surround our opponent with our energy. In other words, as one side of you moves away from the opponent, the other side “feels as if” it is still moving or expanding toward your opponent. In this way, you maintain a strong, balanced posture that can move with a force while redirecting it. It also allows for an immediate counterattack because your energy is already moving toward your opponent. The accompanying video demonstrates this concept.
“Investing in Loss” which most people understand as yielding, might be better described in terms of Receiving and Giving or Yin and Yang. Yielding suggests receiving, acquiescing, retreating, being very Yin. But if we think of it as one side receiving and the other giving, it changes the understanding of the movement. Yielding is done by one side receiving and following the force (Yin), while the other side is redirecting the force by giving (Yang). Your body retreats while your intention and energy extend towards your opponent. This creates a balanced, soft, yet powerful and effective movement.
Post Script: Another meaning for “investing in loss” is that in push hands, you learn twice as much by losing than by winning. But that’s a topic for another article.