“If you know the enemy and know yourself, your victory will not stand in doubt; if you know Heaven and know Earth, you may make your victory complete.”
– Sun Tzu
The five elements form are comprised of the elemental archetypes of Chi (earth), Sui (water), Ka (fire), Fu (wind), and Ku (void). Each of these elements has a personality and energy associated within them. There is an underlying trinity of San Shin (three heart) that also embodies each element. San Shin can be thought of as body, mind, and spirit. San Shin also teaches us about transformation. First, we transform our vital life force into energy by a burning fire changing our bones. This type of energy is overt and our breathing is basic. Then we transform our energy into spirit by summoning fire changing our connective tissue. This type of energy is covert and our breathing is intermediate. Finally, we transform spirit into emptiness by the use of divine fire changing our marrow. This type of energy is mysterious and the breathing advanced.
Everything in the universe is perceived to be a manifestation of these five great elemental ‘building blocks’. Nothing in existence is seen as solely one element or another, but rather a complex combination of degrees of all five. To each element are of course linked many qualities and attributes.
Each of these elements also has a positive, negative, masculine, and feminine quality that can be described as personality traits in various combinations. Using Chi as an example, a positive feminine trait would be for the woman who is reliable and supportive, the proverbial Earth Mother. The opposite might be a negative masculine trait as would be seen in the stubborn man. Someone who refuses to budge in his opinion or attitude.
Earth (predominantly associated with Stubbornness, Stability, Physicality, Gravity) gives substance;
Water (predominantly associated with Emotion, Defensiveness, Adaptability, Flexibility, Suppleness, Adaptability, Magnetism ) holds things together;
Fire (predominantly associated with Passion, Unstopableness, Aggression, Thermal Energy) heats or transforms;
Wind/Air (predominantly associated with Will, Elusiveness, Evasiveness, Benevolence, Compassion, Wisdom, Electricity ) is responsible for movement;
Void/Sky/Ether (predominantly associated with Power, Creativity, Spontaneity, Inventiveness, Nuclear Reaction[-a recent association!!]) connects with the creative source.
Earth is Strength, Water – Power, Fire – Energy, Air/Wind – Resiliency, Sky/Ether/Void – Communication
Anger, which is connected to heat in the body, relates to an imbalance of the Fire element. Unfulfilled desires & oppressive living conditions of any degree – whether familial, social, political, etc. can be the root cause of imbalances in the Air element; and so on.
All the elements can be mixed, in other words the five elements are on a continuum. Very rarely is an element pure. Water when mixed with any of the other elements will change its form. Water with fire becomes vapor. Water mixed with wind becomes a vortex or tornado. As in nature, water can be solid, liquid, or gas. This understanding of the various forms of all the elements, can give insight into possible interpersonal relationships, as well as scalable battle and fighting strategies. We must understand how to deal with the various forms within ourselves as well as with an opponent.
The five elements are, in ascending order of power, Earth, Water, Fire, Wind, and Void.
Chi meaning “World”, represents the hard, solid objects of the earth. The most basic example of chi is in a stone. Stones are highly resistant to movement or change, as is anything heavily influenced by chi. In people, the bones, muscles and tissues are represented by chi. Emotionally, chi is predominantly associated with stubbornness, collectiveness, stability, physicality, and gravity. It is a desire to have things remain as they are; a resistance to change. In the mind, it is confidence. When under the influence of this chi mode or “mood”, we are aware of our own physicality and sureness of action.
Sui or mizu, meaning “Water”, represents the fluid, flowing, formless things in the world. Outside of the obvious example of rivers and the like, plants are also categorized under sui, as they adapt to their environment, growing and changing according to the direction of the sun and the changing seasons. Blood and other bodily fluids are represented by sui, as are mental or emotional tendencies towards adaptation and change. Sui can be associated with emotion, defensiveness, adaptability, flexibility, suppleness, and magnetism.
Ka or hi, meaning “Fire”, represents the energetic, forceful, moving things in the world. Animals, capable of movement and full of forceful energy, are primary examples of ka objects. Bodily, ka represents our metabolism and body heat, and in the mental and emotional realms, it represents drive and passion. ka can be associated with security, motivation, desire, intention, and an outgoing spirit. Besides the obvious example of fire, lightning can also be thought of as a extension of Ka.
Fū or kaze, meaning “Wind”, represents things that grow, expand, and enjoy freedom of movement. Aside from air, smoke, and the like, fū can in some ways be best represented by the human mind. As we grow physically, we learn and expand mentally as well, in terms of our knowledge, our experiences, and our personalities. Fū represents breathing, and the internal processes associated with respiration. Mentally and emotionally, it represents an “open-minded” attitude and carefree feeling. It can be associated with will, elusiveness, evasiveness, benevolence, compassion, and wisdom.
Kū or sora, most often translated as “Void”, but also meaning “sky” or “Heaven”, represents those things beyond our everyday experience, particularly those things composed of pure energy. Bodily, kū represents spirit, thought, and creative energy. It represents our ability to think and to communicate, as well as our creativity. It can also be associated with power, creativity, spontaneity, and inventiveness.
Kū is of particular importance as the highest of the elements. In martial arts, particularly in fictional tales where the fighting discipline is blended with magic or the occult, one often invokes the power of the Void to connect to the quintessential creative energy of the world. A warrior properly attuned to the Void can sense their surroundings and act without thinking, and without using their physical senses.
All the Go Gyo no Kata techniques should include the application of defenses against each of the elements as well as how to enter each element yourself. Practice accuracy, flow, and power, always keeping the element in mind and feeling. Each kata should look and feel differently. The five elements of nature also refer to the idea of concealment and enduring life. We must learn how to endure disease, aging, and injury of not just our body, but also our hearts and minds. Another principle to keep in mind while practicing is to keep your energy at your center or Hara, which is just below your navel.
Reserve some of your strength at the top of your head. Keep your chest relaxed and use your back to spring forward. Keep your elbows down and shoulders relaxed. Make sure you are able to shift levels quickly.
Even if your vital life force (Ki) may be insubstantial, your spirit should remain substantial. Always coordinate the movements of your upper and lower body.
In the godai system, the thumb is used to symbolize/represent Void/Sky (Power, Creativity); the index finger is associated with elemental Wind [Air], (Will, Wisdom); the middle finger, with elemental Fire (Passion, Aggression); the ring finger – elemental Water (Emotion, Adaptability); and the little finger with elemental Earth (Stability, Physicality).
It is understood that – as well as gaining elemental energy-power from food, drink, heat, sunlight, etc, etc – we are all born with specific levels of energy-power of each of the five elements: ‘original’ elemental energy-power; but as a result of trauma, shock, negative experiences, etc, we can ‘lose’ some of our ‘original’ five-elemental energy-power – it can become depleted, suppressed, repressed, inhibited, etc.
To remedy this situation, various spiritual and therapeutic practices have arisen which focus on the retrieving/reclaiming of one’s ‘original’ or ‘pre-natal’ elemental energy-power, as well as for elemental balancing/nurturing.
Through retrieval, balancing and nourishing, we strengthen and develop our five-elemental energy-power and it is by so doing that we can come to better manipulate and direct the five-element energy-power of Heaven & Earth to favorable effect in our daily lives.