Bruce Lee himself describes it best:
“In the yin yang symbol, there is a white spot on the black half, and a black spot on the white half. In JKD, Yang (firmness) should be concealed in Yin (gentleness) as Yin is concealed within Yang.
Thus, a JKD man should be soft, yet not yielding; firm, yet not hard. The curved arrows surrounding the Yin Yang symbol represent not only the harmonious interplay of Yin Yang but also the interchangeability of opposites.”
In Eastern Philosophy the Yin/Yang is an important symbol and holds its roots in Taoism… the “source of the water” for much of Bruce Lee’s philosophical pondering. It is a symbol that gives representation to how apparently opposite forces are actually related and how they cycle and give rise to one another. Each half of the Yin Yang contains a part of the other, representing the “yang within yin” and the “yin within yang”
Think of the saying, “Two sides of the same coin”. Many tangible dualities are thought to be a physical representation of Yin Yang (male/female, light/dark, love/hate).
This duality is the central principle of much of Chinese thought, philosophy, and martial arts. It serves the same purpose in Jeet Kune Do… where Lee is quite often quoted on seemingly contradicting phrases, such as the characters that make up the outer ring of his Core Symbol. (More on this in a bit)
Notice the symbolism here: there are many “circles within circles”. The ensō, or “The Zen Circle“, embodies one of the defining aspects of Zen Buddhism and something that is a core principle of Jeet Kune Do itself: the concept of “no-mind”. A state of “no-mind” is where a person is free from thoughts and emotions while being completely present in the now. It is believed that while in this state of ‘one-ness’ with the moment, true creativity and freedom can arise… something Bruce Lee was very adamant about passing down to his students.
These circles represent the constant cycles in life: birth/rebirth, life/death, day/night… and of constantly striving to refine one’s art. Learning, refining, discarding… and then repeating the process over and over.
The characters surrounding the symbol translate to: “Using no way as a way” and “Using no limitations as limitations” (I have BOTH these phrases as large wall scrolls in my home kwoon).
Both these phrases seem to contain contradicting phrases… but this is the way that Chinese and other Eastern philosophies are taught: the answer is not given to you. You must seek within yourself to discover the truth.
The phrases and koans and apparent double speak of Taoism, Zen, and Buddhism are designed to force you TO THINK and to ultimately forge you own path. It will result in an experience that is richer and much better understood by the student, rather than a false understanding of an answer given without the work involved.
Its like trying to explain to someone who has never had sweets how sugar tastes: the words will always fail you. Experience is the only real teacher. Your student will just have to go taste the sugar for themselves.
Both phrases represent not being bound by dogma of traditional martial arts, the dogma of others… or even your own dogma! Bruce was very vocal about the trappings of traditional martial arts training in his day. Little to no thought was given to the student’s individual needs, wants, and desires. Rather, a “one size fits all” approach was thrown at students… whether it did indeed fit them or not, and they can confine to an uncomfortable, ill-fitted system, or leave the hall.
The characters can be thought of as representing a “circle without a circumference” … your art is defined by your experience… but since your experience is always changing… so is the circumference of the circle.
Our own symbol pays homage to Lee’s Core Symbol. The principles laid out by him so long ago gives direction to our training.