Fire and Water
Fire and Water
The recent events in Japan have revealed an interesting meaning in internal martial arts for me. I have seen the real meaning of the term "fire and water" and now I'm beginning to apply it to my aikido. Here is how it happened.
After pursuing the concepts of the internal martial arts for a few years, I saw the videos from the earthquake, the tsunami and the nuclear accident in Fukushima. I suddenly recognized the elemental nature of the whole event: a cataclysmic expression of fire and water on the earth. First, there was the earthquake and, as is common with earthquakes, the fires, including houses, large buildings and an oil storage tank farm, all blazing intensely. And then came the water: an irresistible pressure from nature, advancing in a tireless, unhurried rush to full possession of the world. And on top of this crushing drive of elemental water power, fire! Burning buildings, rushing along on the wave! Fire and water engulfing the land!
And then those fires went out and the water receded and everything was silent for a time until people began to notice the serious scarcity of water and the wide loss of electricity and heat: from total possession by water and fire to dearth of the very same elements. The people were wet but had nothing to drink. They weren't on fire, but they had no heat. The shift from a total extreme of water and fire to their sudden penetrating lack.
And then because of the water, the nuclear plant at Fukushima (which had already shut down) lost the fire that powered its water…needed to cool its fire…moving the relationship of fire and water out of a delicate balance and into a precarious staggering, the pools of water literally on fire as the nuclear fuel rods melted…spewing nuclear fire into the environment.
When I recognized this elemental quality of the events in Japan, I thought of Mike Sigman's frequent references to fire and water in the internal martial arts and in Morihei Ueshiba's aikido. I also remembered recently reading about these elements in a book by Peter Ralston. Working to understand Mike's comments had led me to understand Ralston's explanation and I began trying to penetrate beyond the level of experiencing ki to the level of direct experience of xin or kokoro, the heart, which is the source of ki—not the physical organ we call the heart, but the immaterial formless essence from which invisible ki is issued and from which the body becomes.
So just today, with that kind of preparation, I suddenly saw the elemental pattern of fire and water in the incident in Japan and I felt in my body the clear difference between the fire and water elements: the water is like that tsunami—heavy, crushing, irresistible, liquid and sinking as low as possible to the earth, all the heaviness of the body and the function of closing in IMA. And then there was the stark opposite in me: fire, that leaps up and out and has the function of opening, exerting a similarly crushing influence of its own. I physically felt these two serious elemental powers separate in my body and go their own ways: all the water in me surging toward the ground, the fire rushing up my back and into my arms and eyes. I felt the elemental natures of fire and water separate in my body and exist in pure state in juxtaposition with one another.
I understood that to open or close the body in a martial arts technique with these separate powers operating very clearly in the body would fill the technique with tremendous power. So I thought about fire and water for a few minutes as poles like positive and negative, thinking of switching fully from one to the other to deliver serious power. But then I thought, well, I can feel these powers in my body right now and both of them are fully activated. So I don't have to switch from one to the other: both are very powerful and alive right now, so I can use both of them at once.
This led to thoughts of how confusion results mostly from not experiencing the fire and water elements very clearly in the body. Our heaviness is hampered by our attempts to be active and strong and resist the sinking. And our attempts to reach out are hampered by heaviness and inertia. It is because we don't feel the two very strong tendencies of the water and fire elements that we are unable to separate them and let each operate fully in the way it's supposed to. The fire rides on top of the water. The water can be dropped down the front of the body and the fire rises up the back of the legs and up into the back and arms and head. The water can sink and make the body heavy but irresistibly mobile, and the fire riding on top of the wave can reach out very lightly and deliver pressure that can't be withstood.
The incidents in Japan continue to be a serious imbalance between the forces of fire and water. We see the awesome power they create when just the two of them are combined and related.
Now for IMA, I have to turn back to the structure of elements I teach in my Zero Degree program. Earth, Water, Wind, Fire and Sky. The image is of a tree growing beside a stream, a man standing between them with one sword pointing toward Sky and another pointing toward Earth.
Now before someone says that these are not the Five Elements of Chinese martial arts and medicine, let me say that I know that the Chinese Five Elements are Earth, Water, Metal, Fire and Wood. The reason I used Earth, Water, Wind, Fire and Sky is that Musashi used those elements in Go Rin no Sho (A Book of Five Rings) and I wanted to convey Japanese culture in my Zero Degree course. But I wanted to convey my own understanding, so I ordered Musashi's Five Elements differently than Musashi, who wrote Go Rin no Sho in five sections: Earth, Water, Fire, Wind and Sky (Void [the Chinese character can also be read sora, or sky.]). For teaching purposes, I linked these five elements to the image of a tree that grows up from Earth, pulls Water up into its trunk to stand, extends its limbs into the Wind, receives Fire from the Sun and reaches into the same Emptiness that holds the sun: the Sky.
Now I see this in another way. Earth and Sky (Heaven—the Void) are the poles. We stand with our feet on the Earth and our head toward the Sky. In this way, our bodies unite Heaven and Earth and we have three elements at work inside us: the heavy power of Water, the light power and expansive pressure of Fire and the element of Wind in the breath that makes the body alive. So the order here is Earth, Water, Wind, Fire and Sky (Void).
We stand between Heaven and Earth and use the breath (Wind) to coordinate Fire and Water in our bodies. If we let Fire and Water clearly separate and fulfill only their own nature and function, physical confusion departs and the body can move very freely and with serious power to advance and enact free will.
So now I'm thinking of how to let these forces operate simultaneously at all times in my body, how they will apply to my aikido, and my development of IP/IS.
Best to all.
Re: Fire and Water
As a side note, remember that volcano, earthquake, and tsunami have been part of the Japanese landscape forever. Not surprising that they're reflected in the Japanese cosmology.
You might want to have a look at Gleason Sensei's books, which explore the connections between aikido and Japanese mysticism (and Ueshiba Sensei's personal mythos in particular).
Re: Fire and Water
Fire flows upward, dissipating; water flows downward, concentrating.
They occur simultaneously in the body in 90 degree offset spirals.
Tension is fire, compression is water.
I like the poles.
Re: Fire and Water
Hi David, although I feel like you approached the edge of falling into woo-woo land, in the end I like it. I think a big part of what should be taught in the dojo is how to become familiar with the poles, since like you said we start out totally out of touch with them. We work on our own after being shown, so that we get familiar with the actions of both fire and water as it were, and THEN we go back to the dojo to practice application, where we do "both at the same time," instead of isolating them, just like you said.
Re: Fire and Water
Understand the spiral lines that I use to illustrate the simultaneous stresses in the body as connecting from the hand and opposite foot. But they do it in two ways one through the upper cross between the shoulder blades around the torso and down through the opposing leg. The other one runs down the front of the torso through the hara and down the opposing leg. The right angle, complementary relationship of these stresses is critical to understand.
Even when acting bilaterally (some forms of agete and sagete) the complementary stress relatisnship is preserved. When the hara closes (front vertical compression) -- like an abdominal crunch -- the hip girdle rotation causes the gua (thigh groin crease) down the leg to close tending to rotate the heel outward/toe inward The upper cross dantian extends creating posterior horizontal tension across the shoulder girdle and extension down the arms, turning thumb inward.
In the reverse stress profile, when the hara opens (front vertical expansion or extension) -- bowing out the chest and belly, the hip girdle rotating causes the gua to the leg to open, tending to rotate the leg toe outward/heel inward. The stress profile in the upper cross reverses,causing horizontal compression in the shoulder girdle and retraction of the arms, splaying thumb outward (asagao).
So you can seen that the expression of spiral torques in the body and limbs and the traditional CMA vertical plane up/down open/close front/back dantian or equivalent six-harmonies models are, in fact directly and mechanically related observations.
Let's take katate dori nikkyo for a more concrete example.
A lot of this following description depends on where uke actually weights his attack, and how he uses the grab, but the principle is the same regardless how he is weighted, It is just that the sense of direction of stresses may be reversed. Let's say he weights the forward foot more, holding me in place so as to strike me to the face with the free hand, a very natural attack. He might also draw me or drive me with that grab, but we will leave it as solidly neutral, intended to fix me in place for the beating he means to deliver.
I do not block his strike directly. Instead, I do one of two things to initiate the nikkyo. I can either open the connection or close the connection between us.
In opening, the rear leg is stressed as I torque from the hara down into the ground, which shortens the connected arms slightly at the same time ass the distance between us enlarges slightly, drawing stabilization weight off his back foot. I then allow that "compressed" torque to be unwound back through my body into the connection to turn it over and extend it again, while decreasing the distance between us, which causes it to buckle if done correctly. My free hand then stabilizes the connection from fully buckling by holding his fingers to my wrist --in fact, when done ki-no-nagare the buckle is not lost but progressively driven into and through his structure as that occurs. And this progressive collapse is what we call nikkyo.
The initial response is opens the front as the chest and belly naturally expand forward and the shoulders close and the arms splay out. The followup closes it again.
Static "cranking" forms of nikkyo only roughly mimic the proper dynamic state of the stresses.
If I begin by closing the connection, I torque from the hara down into the ground on the front foot, uncoiling from the hara off the back foot and thus through the opposite arm he is holding, causing it to turn over and buckle as the distance shortens while the connection extends. And then I stabilize the connection with the free hand to ensure that I can continue drive the buckle I began through his whole structure, collapsing him.
This begins by closing the front initially and immediately.
The effect on his strike in either case is profound. In opening, his holding arm is drawn like a snatched cable put in tension, and his extending strike, on the complementary spiral is suddenly compressing itself or pulling back, when it meant to be extending to hit. The unbalanced forces he is now trying to reconcile cause his whole torso to turn over his front foot, now fully weighted, turning toward his striking side, and carrying the continually diminishing strike slightly off-line on his striking side.
You could look at is as though he intended to fix his nonstriking side as the center to swing his striking side around. Effectively, I fixed his striking side in place indirectly and thus making his nonstriking side have to swing instead.
In closing, the initial buckle is driving into his holding side, and the same kind of dynamic imbalance is created in him causing his torso to run toward the non-striking side and wildly over-rotating to carry the strike off line to his non-striking side.
You could look at this as as though, again he intended to fix his nonstriking side as the center to swing his striking side around. This time I effectively fixed his center in place indirectly and made his nonstriking side add to his striking rotation, carrying him too far around and off his base.
Re: Fire and Water
I've recently recognized more allegorical levels of the Fukushima "accident".
If you're not familiar with the Chinese elements underlying Asian culture, they are Earth, Metal Fire, Water and Wood.
They have a generative cycle and a destructive cycle.
In generation, Wood makes Fire; Fire makes Earth; Earth makes Metal; Metal makes Water; Water makes Wood.
In destruction, Wood destroys Earth; Earth destroys Water; Water destroys Fire; Fire destroys Metal; Metal destroys Wood.
The Fukushima incident the initial element in action was Earth.
It was Earth that shook and created the tsunami. But there are also reports that the earthquake itself ruptured the reactor containment vessels at Fukushima and released (destroyed) the cooling Water, exposing the Metal nuclear fuel, which caught Fire, which burned through the container floor and sank into Earth, releasing Water as steam from cracks in the Earth.
So we have a hyperactive involvement of Earth, Water, Fire and Metal in this incident and it's poisoning the entire world.
But where is Wood in this cycle?
Is it involved already, or is that next?
And if it is, how will that be, and what will be he results?
Better living through Science.
Re: Fire and Water
Re: Fire and Water
Or...the agriculture of the area.
The abandoned buildings? A lot of nice wooden homes were made off-limits. Wooden boats destroyed.
What Shoko Asahara couldn't do, TEPCO might yet manage.
Thanks for your insights.
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