An online student recently asked me for a definition of yield (Lu). It got me thinking about this important technique – what it is and how to apply it.

Yield in Tai Chi means to give way in the face of pressure. For instance, put a round ball on the floor or table and push it directly on top, downward. It will gather the energy and become more solid. This inner resistance is called Peng or Ward Off. Now push it from the side. It will roll. This is called yield, or Lu.

There are many variations of yield – from simple (lesser yin) to complex (greater yin). For those of you who are familiar with the I Ching or Book of Changes ( one of the most important books of philosophy in China and one that Tai Chi was based on), Lesser Yin is two broken lines and one solid line, while greater yin is three broken lines. The Greater Yin is just going with the incoming energy, for instance, most applications of Lu or Roll Back in the Yang form. A force enters our bodies energy field and we join with it and follow without adding anything – just enough Peng to keep this force a comfortable distance from our center.

The Lesser Yin variations have to do with yielding and then adding something, for instance Step Back and Repulse Monkey (a yield with some Peng or hit – horizontal addition), or Needle at Sea Bottom (a yield with some Tsai or pull down – vertical addition).

In Tai Chi we have many techniques to change the direction of the incoming energy, so, for instance, if the ball is on the ground and the pressure is coming straight downward, we move our center just enough so the incoming energy will roll to the side.In push hands training, we learn to deal with forces that would usually throw us off balance. Stand in a shoulder width stance with the feet parallel. Have someone put their hand on the center of the chest and push straight, slow and steady. If you tighten up and try to resist (adding Peng), it most probably won’t take too much to throw you off balance. Next, go through the same process, only this time move your center slightly by relaxing, turning just enough so the energy of the push no longer goes straight front to back, but is channeled to one of the feet, not both – Lu. A slight movement will dissipate the force if done correctly. That is what training and practice is all about. Learning how to do the most with the least.

George Xu, a well know Tai Chi instructor, told me a story about the power of yield. He was starting to cross the street in San Francisco when a speeding car came around the corner and was going to crash into him. Instead of freezing in place which is a normal reaction, he jumped in the same direction the car was headed just as it hit him. He flew in the air but was unharmed. He yielded at just the right moment. Proof positive of the power of yield.

Breathing with Yield: Generally speaking, one should breathe naturally when playing Tai Chi. Yet as a training exercise or for special purposes, we focus on the breath. As a general rule, one inhales as one gathers energy, and exhales as one releases. One could make a case for either when using yield.

Let’s say a big person is striking you – sharp, fast energy. You would want to be as empty as possible so any energy that enters your energy field will have a place to go. So one would exhale to empty. This is Greater Yin.

If you are working with someone your own size or smaller, and the energy is long and smooth, like a push or throw, one might want to borrow the partner’s energy to increase one’s own energy for later release, so one would inhale. This would be Lesser Yin.

Looking at one’s inter-personal relations, one should notice that arguments happen because one or both parties have not used the power of yield, but tried to use Peng to try to overpower. In the martial arts, we join, neutralize, and return the energy hopefully without hurting the opponent, thereby earning respect. Yin or yield is our first reaction, followed by Yi or understanding, followed by Peng or return the energy. Harmony is the result of applying this principle.