When you encounter an attack, there are only four options: Resist, yield, avoid, or submit to the attack. Let’s take a moment to examine the idea the most difficult of these four options: yielding.

Unlike dodging, when you yield to pressure, you’re not avoiding contact altogether. Yielding involves allowing the opponent to make contact with your body and letting a portion of the force pass through your body. To yield is to receive the opponent’s force, and to yield well is to receive it safely. Many times it involves redirecting the opponent’s force, but it can also involve moving the opponent’s target out of the way so that the force passes through harmlessly.

Unlike resisting, yielding does not attempt to stop the incoming force abruptly. To yield is to meet hardness with softness. However, not all softness is yielding. If a person collapses under pressure, that is not yielding. That is submission. Instead, yielding requires a base level of resistance. For example, you must have enough structural tension to maintain your balance in spite of the incoming force. Wing Chun practitioners might think of bang sao(aka bong sao), an arm position which is often used for yielding. Bang sao only works if you have enough bodily tension to keep the elbow from collapsing and keep it in its proper position. By relaxing certain muscles and tensing others, you are manipulating the path of least resistance for the force, making it easier for the force to go where you want it to go while making it more difficult for the force to go elsewhere.

Yip Man and Bruce Lee practicing Wing Chun. Bruce Lee is performing bang sao with his right arm, a technique which requires some structural resistance in order to yield.

Yielding does not necessarily neutralize the force. For example, Aikidoka often yield in order to turn an attack back against the opponent. In this case, yielding is used to redirect that force, not just to absorb it safely.

The goal of any martial encounter is to maintain control over yourself and, secondarily, to gain control over your opponent. The basic problem of yielding is that you need to stay in control while allowing the opponent to affect you. What makes yielding dangerous is that it comes close to giving that control to the opponent. This is why yielding usually requires more timing, sensitivity, and subtlety than resistance or avoidance. It’s hard enough to manipulate the path of least resistance for an unchanging force, like digging a canal for a stream of water. But when that force is actively changing direction and magnitude, then it becomes very complicated to yield.