The Theory of the Five Elements

And it's relationship to Aikido

The theory of the Five-Elements can be a very difficult subject to understand, unless one is prepared to be receptive and accept the fundamental principles of life. People who live simple inconspicuous lives have retained their traditional culture and morals tend to be more philosophical about life and their existence. They appreciate the Laws of Nature and the Universe and apply them to their lives. They have not allowed themselves to be contaminated by materialistic values or egotistical motives, which could blind them to reality and truth.

Western culture has raced ahead, conveniently forgetting the fundamental principles of life and all too eager to strip our planet of its resources to gain apparent wealth. The ambitious culture of the West, has long applied pure science and logic, that they have allowed their minds to become spiritually dormant, unable to understand or grasp even the simplest principles of life. After so much damage has been done, now in desperation we are seeking salvation by turning to Eastern philosophies and beliefs. Philosophies such as Yin/Yang and the Five-Elements.
To understand what these philosophies mean one must go back to Chinese cosmology from which many of the Japanese beliefs stem from. The Chinese believed in Tao, the Centre of all things, and The “One” from which all began or the source of the Universe. The negative and the positive forces that generated from this One represented by Yin and Yang. Two that are opposite and yet complementary to each other and manifested in Tao to create Ki. There is no Western equivalent word or definition to describe Ki. Ki, sometimes mistakenly referred to as the "spirit" (as in supernatural) or energy, as they are the closest words in the English language but is defined as something quite different to the spirit we are talking about. It is existence itself. However, Ki created from this Tao will flow in all things that exist in the Universe, from the light of the sun to the earth that we walk on and in the very air that we breathe. These elements, being part of the Universe are by Fire, Earth, Metal, Water and Wood. Each Element feeds one and overcomes another element. These elements manifests themselves in human beings in our emotions, senses and in our anatomy. Because each element is associated with a colour, a taste, a smell, etc., oriental medicine was able to utilize this understanding to diagnose and treat various ailments. Understanding the Five-elements also helps in maintaining good health by linking them to the meridians that crisscross the body.

These Five-Element’s principles, can be applied to all “walks of life”, but more profoundly in the martial arts such as Tai Chi and Aikido. For example in the movements of a Jo kata, but more importantly they must manifest themselves in the very essence of the art and the philosophy of the individual. For example, when using a Jo, these principles cannot be compromised; otherwise, the movements become a pointless exercise.
The Jo should radiate and glow with an apparent life of its own. The relationship between the Jo and the user should be almost intimate, with a serenity that allows both to rise to a plane of spiritual enchantment. The Ki should flow from the Hara (our storage of life's energy) and entwining around the Jo making it move with a magical aura, engulfing the space around with the essence of life that motivates and inspires the audience.
To breathe life into the Jo or any inanimate objects entails understanding and belief in Ki, yin/Yang and the Five-Elements. It is easy to learn "techniques" of kata but never really experiencing the emotions. Learning the kata purely to “get a grade" is admitting that one has never totally accepted the true meaning of the Elements.

The principles of the Five-Elements normally performed with the Jo and is now widely practiced to enhance ones Aikido. Therefore, it is a way of meditation, as a way of calming the mind and as a way of balancing the flow of Ki. One often comes across individuals who use the kata as a method of preparation for training and will reap the benefits. They appear to be in a trance and in a world far removed from the confusion that exists around them.
These people will have the ability to relate to others and respond to their needs with genuine care and understanding. It is through them that peace, love and harmony, is promoted - thereby drawing even more people to the Way. They will have the gift of linking Ki with others - making it a pleasure to practice the art of Aikido. Those who have been "touched" by individuals by this philosophy will know they have shared in something unique and meaningful.
Many have tried to understand this philosophy but have allowed their frustrations and anxieties to generate negativity. Perseverance and commitment must apply. Refrain from negative questioning but indulge in positive dialogue, sensitive inquiry, receptiveness and innocent openness. Lack of patience has never been a constructive quality. Show respect and share yourself with others and you will never look back. The theory of the Five-Elements will always be a difficult subject to explain because each person will have their own interpretation. The diagrammatic examples that follow perhaps illustrate the principle of the Five-Elements more effectively and help give a better understanding. The theory of the Five-Elements, can never be explained in a few words and it could take volumes to express one's views. I hope that I have provided enough information to satisfy one's initial curiosity and inspire further exploration on a personal level.  The diagram below explains the sequence of moves that in performing the Essence Master Kata.



1) WOOD gives life to FIRE

As wood is used for fire it was believed that wood produced fire.

2) FIRE gives life to  EARTH

As the fire burns out it leaves behind the ashes which united with the earth so it was believed that  fire  produces earth.

3) EARTH gives life to METAL

Metal was originally mined from the earth so the ancients believed that the earth produced metal.

4) METAL gives life to WATER

Wherever metal  was mined water was found nearby, so it led to  the belief that metal produced water.

5 WATER gives life to WOOD

Without trees there would be no life and without water the trees would die, so it was believed that water produced wood.

The Laws of the Universe are governed by the principles of Yin and Yang and while it is believed that  the elements gave life to  each other so it was accepted that there was also a negative side, where the elements can be used to  defeat each other.

1) WOOD defeats EARTH

As a tree grows it spreads its roots and breaks up the soil so it was believed that wood was the master of earth.

2) EARTH defeats WATER

Water is fluid and without shape and it is controlled by the earth that determines its flow so it was believed  that earth to be the master of water.

3) WATER defeats FIRE

As water was the only element that was available for the ancients to  control fire so the  believe that water was the master of fire.

4) FIRE defeats METAL

Metal is a hard substance but when subjected to  fire it became fluid and adaptable to  use so it was believed that fire is the master of metal.

5) METAL defeats WOOD

Without metal the ancients would not have been able to  construct. Metal tools were required to  cut trees and construct so metal became the master of wood.

The above explanation will help the individual to perform their kata's with an understanding  of what the techniques represent. They will find it easier to  give feeling and meaning to the kata's and hopefully be able to appreciate the philosophy of the Five-Elements.

The Five-Elements






























































"Wisdom is a treasure for all time"

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