Dojo: Aozora Dojo
Location: Birmingham, AL
Join Date: Feb 2006
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.