Category Archives: Wisdom

51. Chi Kung

Chi Kung or working with energy.

I’ve recently had one or two people ask about the Chi Kung we do in class, so I thought I’d make a few comments about it.

I should start by saying that Chi Kung (or Qigong) is very ancient.  It pre-dates any of the philosophical or religious traditions that have adopted its use.  It was practiced by early Taoists (which was originally a non-religious philosophy) and then by Buddhists.  Over the centuries Taoism and Buddhism appear to have cross fertilised each other until the Taoists become more religious and the Buddhists adopted much of the typically Chinese philosophy, developing the Zen approach, but during their evolution, both developed increasingly more complex Chi Kung.

Chi Kung has not only various roots but also many branches.  These branches differ according to the intended goal of its implementation.  Some Chi Kung has been developed to enhance health, some to extend life, some to achieve spiritual enlightenment and some to aid in martial arts.

While we tend to think primarily of Chi Kung in terms of the physical exercises, one should understand that it is an approach to the way energy is created, stored and used within the body.  In much the way that in Western physics we might see that energy can be in the form of heat, light, electro/magnetic or stored as potential energy etc, Chi Kung would describe differing types of energy within the body and, much like as in physics, these can be converted from one form to another.  If you rub your hands together you are using chemical energy that you converted from the food you ate, (which previously converted it from light energy,) into heat; your hands will get warm.  So, on a cold day, when you rub your hands together, you are still warming them from the energy that the sun dispensed months earlier.

When we use a heart monitor, we are, of course, actually measuring the electrical charge that operates in the muscles of the heart.  We understand that every atom in our body is simply moving energy held in a pattern.  In a way, as modern western thinkers, we are wonderfully equipped with a paradigm suitable to grasp Chi Kung.

The goal of the Chi Kung practiced will change its emphasis.  For example, the use of herbs and spices will be relevant in some medically orientated traditions.  Some practitioners, with a view to longevity, will be strict vegans.  Those seeking spiritual enlightenment might strictly control their frequency of sexual activity; to enable them to focus that energy into mediations.  Others may need to isolate themselves as a hermit for a period of time.  So, Chi Kung can involve: how you breath, how you eat, how you move and how you think.  It can be part of your physical exercise or part of your religious discipline.  

Chi Kung has travelled a similar path to that of Yoga, though not always in the same direction.  While Yoga began as a religious practice, to help channel prana (Simplistically you can think of prana as Sanskrit for Chi) and has become, for many, simply an exercise for health, Chi Kung began as an exercise for health and was acquired into religious traditions, although it is now becoming increasingly separated again.  In the same way that many people find Yoga beneficial without it having any religious connotations, Chi Kung appears to have begun that way and is now coming full circle.

50. Li

Li describes the grain in wood or jade.  Li is the reason why a willow leaning over a stream relaxes the mind and a city street, even when quiet, does not. 

Li is the principle of organic order as distinct from mechanical or legal order that go by the book.  Li is asymmetrical, un-repetitive, it lacks Euclidean geometry though it might incorporate fractal theory.  It is represented by the patterns in moving water, trees, clouds, the frost crystals that form on your window. 

Li is not only a pattern but a process, a path or a movement.  If each thing follows its own Li it will harmonise with all other things following theirs, not for reason of any imposed rule, but from mutual resonance.  At an individual level, it might not appear so, for nature is a mutual eating society, but when considered in the large, those species that are prey for others over produce to the degree that maintains their numbers over the long term.  It is Li for a rabbit to produce many more offspring than the local environment could support were it not for the fox following its Li by eating many of them.  We are not talking about moral judgments of right, but organic patterns of harmony. 

There are movements that follow the natural dynamic of a body and are therefore, not only easier to perform, but also tend to look beautiful.  If applied to dance, invoking the concept of Li will produce movements that feel natural and once learned can be done almost unconsciously.  Such movement will feel organic.  There was a design school in Germany in the early part of the last century that was partly responsible for taking us from the Victorian tendency of adding decoration wherever there was space for it to the stark tubular steel simplicity of the mid C20.  The founding principle of the Bauhaus school was that “Form should follow function.”  The idea was that a jaguar, for example, was beautiful essentially because it was ‘designed’ to perform a particular job perfectly; chasing and killing its prey.  The belief was that nature/evolution tended to produce beauty as each part tended to function best/easiest within the context of its environment.

This idea applied to Kung Fu should produce the easiest techniques to do a job efficiently without unnatural, ungainly, difficult and superfluous movements.  Some systems have techniques that are over fancy and stylised or awkward and unnatural, often for the sake of producing artificial degrees of difficulty.  Such deliberate complexity is designed to create a monopoly of skill for those at the top of a hierarchy.  Like sophisticated social etiquette, its purpose is to identify and exclude those who don’t know it.  Sometimes techniques are artificially complex and awkward to work around an abstract obstacle, like the rules of a martial sport where a complicated, but essentially safe, move might replace an easier, but dangerous, one.  Sometimes over complex techniques have developed because they are entertaining to watch and the increased skill required is itself impressive to watch. 

Li as a principle does not only apply to individual techniques.  It can also apply to a process, for example, learning/teaching.  There are natural, organic and holistic processes for humans to learn and of course there are artificially difficult approaches that have been used in teaching.  Always aim to have Li as a guiding principle, not only in Kung Fu, but in life generally, for it is an integral part of the Tao when understood as the way that is in harmony with nature.

49. Wu Wie

Wu Wei has often been translated to mean something like Not Doing, or Doing By Not Doing.  It implies somehow, achievement by doing nothing.

The ultimate Wu Wei would be to travel upstream when the tide is coming in, and then returning downstream when the tide is going out.  In Kung Fu it might be to let someone charge in so fast, with so much momentum that all you need do is present the block and not only will your opponent push you out of the way, but allow you to simply guide them past and charge into the floor.

Wu can be seen as meaning a negative, the opposite of yu, has or is.  Though as every artist knows it is often the negative that shapes the positive.  One learns to draw the space around the subject; showing what Is Not in a way that describes what Is.  However, wei can be understood to be the counterpoint of material existence, that is, to be in some way, spiritual.  This does not mean ‘not’ existing.  After all, the tao is not a material thing any more than virtue or love is a material thing.  So rather than ‘not action’, something like ‘spiritual action’, or perhaps ‘principled doing’.  Getting stuff done by being in the flow.  Working with nature rather than against it.

When our actions are quite effortlessly in alignment with the ebb and flow of the elemental cycles of the natural world, then we are operating with Wu Wei; letting things take or follow their nature.

A thing’s nature in this sense is the state it has when being as it is of itself, without interference from or being affected by outside influences.  Yet everything is as it is only in relation to everything else, nothing exists in isolation.  So only the whole is as it is of itself.  If there were a God who existed outside of, and contingently to, the rest of the universe, then and only then, if He interfered with the order of the internally complete system of the universe, would anything, not natural exist. 

The paradox appears to be that, while it is our nature to think and consciously change the state of nature as we find it, we are somehow more in tune with nature when we stop trying to shape is artificially.  How can it be human nature to oppose nature?  How can a part be opposed to the whole?  It is one of the contrary features of consciousness that it brings with the possibility of choice and choice enables us bad choice.  This is a Taoist version of the monotheistic paradox of human freedom creating the opportunity to sin that theologians have pondered over for millennia.

Wu Wei implies an intent to relax and watch the Li or the flow and not to be anxious be anxious.

Somethings can’t be achieved by trying harder.  You can’t try to be happy, you can only do those things, that have the by-product of making you happy or think of those things that when thought of make you happy.

Applying this way of thinking to ethics would suggest that the highest form of virtue is to act with kindness spontaneously, not through the deliberate process of thinking ‘What kindnesses shall I do today’?  To naturally do without even conscious choice the virtuous way, without the need for disciplined effort.  ‘To be’ not just ‘to do’.  For then we are following our nature.

48. Yin Yang and the symbolism

Many people ask about the Yin Yang symbol that the academy uses; wondering about any religious significance.  Although the Yin Yang symbol is the recognised symbol of Taoism, and indeed is included in national flags, I for one consider it to have a more philosophical significance than religious, though both are there for those who look.

The Text of the Tao Te Ching is attributed to Lao Tzu a record keeper of the Zhou Dynasty in the 6th century BC and is the primary text of Philosophical Taoism.

The section of the Tao Te Ching I want to consider is the first part of chapter 43 where it says:

Tao produces one
One produces two
Two produce three
Three produce myriad things
Myriad things, backed by yin and embracing yang
Achieve harmony by integrating their energy

The word Tao translates as something like the Way.  It is that which has no name and can’t really be reduced or simplified enough to talk about.  These lines remind me of the first three sefirot in the Kabbala tree of life, the first, The Crown reflects the second, Wisdom which in turn gives rise to the third, Understanding.  The only energy the Tao has is that of returning to itself and Being is the product of Not-Being.  The implication is that it is in the very nature of the fundamental principle/process to cause the existence of all else.  I won’t take the time to go into what this might mean in Taoism or Kabbala here, but students of either may well recognise the implications of the similarity.  Anyway, it is the last two lines I’m interested in at the moment.

The ‘myriad things’ in this case refers to all living thing.

The yin is the feminine principle and implies the qualities of slow, soft, insubstantial, diffuse, cold, wet, and tranquil, is associated with water, earth, birth and generation.  The yang is the masculine principle and implies the qualities of fast, hard, solid, dry, focused, hot, and aggressive, is associated with things like fire and the sun.  When one is calm, relaxed and taking in everything around, one is in a yin state.  When one is tense like a coiled spring and utterly focused on one thing, one is in a yang state.  Neither is good or bad and both are appropriate in their place.  Notice that you can’t live continually in one state or the other.  These distinctions do not imply any observed or prescribed behaviour of attitude for the sexes, but are philosophical or linguistic distinction.

It is the opposites revolving around each other that create the momentum.  The action and rest of the heart causes it to pump.  The ebb and flow of the seasons causes the ecosystem to function.  The positive and negative terminals create the movement in an electric motor.  The balance of yin and yang forms the basis of traditional Chinese medicine, Tai Chi and Chi Kung etc.

Notice the phrase ‘backed by yin and embracing yang.’  It is when we have the security and solidity, even the serenity of yin beneath us or behind us, that we can take action and move forward.  Picture the successful, confident, motivated entrepreneur having a calm, nurturing, loving parent as the root of their security.  They may go on to be the strength their partner can rely on, generating together the energy that builds a home and family.  Clichés I know, but you get the picture.  Yin enables yang, yang enables yin.  And of course, it is when the two are combined that they produce a third thing, the movement of their combination, the energy of their revolving, this is the principle of fertility, producing ‘myriad things.’  It was a Christian theologian who described the Trinity, referring back to the Song of Solomon, as The Lover, The Beloved and The Spirit of Love.

Picture two people.  First, the utterly passive, the super spiritual, so into ‘resting in the now’ that they don’t want to disturb their meditations of the infinite to do anything like get off the sofa.  As a friend of mine once said ‘so heavenly minded, that they’re no earthly use.’  Now consider the utterly hectic, their feet so ‘on the ground,’ so concerned with every detail of running a busy life that they haven’t the time to stop and enjoy life, they don’t know how to ‘stop and smell the roses.’  They are so stressed with trying to achieve, that they’ve never stopped to consider why they need to achieve the thing anyway.  Both of these are out of balance, they have no harmony, because they need to integrate the energy of both yin and yang.

If one considers the study of Kung Fu as a process of personal development; a life style choice rather than simply a fighting skill, one can see that the harmony implied by balancing these principles is essential.  They have their practical applications of course; the transition through yin and yang physically within the movements is evident in the balance of offensive and defensive, but also in the development of the calm mind that can think clearly even during violent action.  This learned transition is a skill that eventually becomes so intuitive that the principle flows over into all areas of life.

This idea is not unique to Taoism of course.  The ancient Celts have similar imagery of two circling, wrestling, entwined dragons, one red, one white, the female and the male sexual energies, which is in turn reminiscent of the Red and White Tantric concepts from both Buddhist and Hindu traditions.
For those who’s philosophical or religious tradition is from the middle east and take their frame of reference from the precepts of the Bible, let me point out the word ‘God.’  ‘In the beginning God created’ we are probably all familiar with the first words of Genesis.  Most people might not be aware that the original word ‘Elohim’ which we translate ‘God’ in English has some oddities.  Eloh could be translated as power, energy or even authority, but it is a feminine word.  In Hebrew to pluralize a feminine word one adds ‘ot’ but to pluralize a masculine word, one ads ‘im.’ To use ‘im’ to pluralize a feminine word is a very strange thing to do.  Of course the personal pronoun attached to God is always singular (e.g. He) and the most fundamental doctrine of Judaism is ‘Adoni Echad’ or ‘The Lord is One.’  Note though that Echad means one as in unity, not necessarily the number and God says ‘Let US make man in OUR image, male and female.’  So we have a feminine word for power, made plural with a masculine element; a plural singularity of masculine and feminine that is creative.

Achieving harmony by integrating the energies of yin and yang is easy to say but difficult to do.  I’m intrigued by another line from the Tao Te Ching; in chapter 28 it reads ‘Know the masculine, hold to the feminine.’ This appears to imply, not so much a priority, but an attitude.  It is the feminine yin that is nurturing, sustaining, it is where we rest and have our peace.  It is the masculine yang that drives and builds, it is where we work and things happen.  If you consider yang is the source of energy like the sun, remember the blinding heat of the dessert.  If you consider yin to be the source of vital growth like a rain forest, remember the decomposition of dark damp places.

Anyone with some familiarity with many pagan traditions will have noticed the Earth Mother and Sky Father of Celtic imagery.  While the power of the Sun is obvious, overt and immediate, the power of the Earth is subtle and covert so I shall finish with another quote from the Tao Te Ching. From Chapter 6.
The valley spirit, undying is called the Mystic Female… It flows continuously, barely perceptible.  Utilize it; it is never exhausted                  

47. Te

You may have heard of the Tao Te Ching; a classic text written by Lao Tzu.  The style of Martial Arts we teach is Tao Te Kung Fu and in my last blog I talked about Tao which is the more familiar term.  Today I want to give you some idea what Te refers to.

Te is one of those words that really doesn’t have a straight translation into English.  I often wonder if some ideas don’t become popular in certain cultures, simply because they don’t mesh with the language, and as so much of our abstract thinking is dependent on language, we struggle with ideas that have no words to express them; it just won’t hang on an easy mental hook. 

What does Te mean?  It’s the power through which the Tao is made manifest or is actualised.  Or, the virtue or power inherent in a person or thing existing in harmony with the Tao.  My eyes actually squinted with concentration trying to word that clearly, so sorry if you have to read it two or three times.

Te is translated in many different ways by many different translators and often the word when used by the same author will be translated differently according to context.  So, I’ll approach this in a round about way to try to give its sense.  

If I have power over others to make them do what I think is right, I do not have Te.  But if I have the power to lead them to do what is right without them necessarily being aware of my influence, then I have Te.  If I perform virtuous acts from a choice to conform to a code, if my virtuous acts are part of the ritual that I perform to align my life with an ideal, my virtue is not Te.  But if my instinctive, spontaneous actions are a manifestation of the ideal then my virtue is Te.  Brute force is almost never Te and ritualised acts of righteousness are almost never Te.

The essential factor of self-motivated personal development is that no one deliberately chooses what they consider the worst option.  We always choose the best.  So when character is built by the individual wishing to be simply the best person they can be, rather than by defaulting to our cultural norms and is therefore subject to outside forces, they will tend to choose that which is better.  That which I continually do will become a function of who I am; becoming my nature not just my actions.  By continually bringing myself in line with the Tao (in the sense of The Way I Should Go) I become part of the manifestation of the Tao.

Now the important parameter here is perhaps the idea of being the best person one can be.  The emphasis should be on the word “they” in “best person they can be.”  There is an ideal you, not an ideal generic person.  Let me open this up more.  If I have an ideal image of what the perfect human is and try to conform to it, I will likely miss it and more to the point, for what reason am I trying to conform anyway?  Who set this ideal and what was their agender?  Instead, I shall try to be the best ‘me’ I can be.  Also, instead of having some arbitrary goal image, I simply make choices each day that I believe are heading me in the right direction.  Now I am not moving towards being the best me, I am in fact being the best me at this moment.  I am on a journey and it is always the path that is more important than the goal.  This way I can live in the moment; content.  If I live in the future, focussed on a goal I have not yet achieved, I will be discontent.  If I live in the past, focused on mistakes I cannot change (the past is fixed) I will also be discontent.  By bringing myself in line with the path (the Tao) that appears to me to be right in this moment I am demonstrating Te.

This idea is fundamental to Kung Fu.  So, to control your opponent, not through brute force, but by techniques that are in line with the laws of physics, the mechanics of anatomy and the nature of human psychology is Tao Te Kung Fu.  To train and learn skills that you can use instinctively, that are appropriate for your individual attributes in the context of the moment you need them is Tao Te Kung Fu.

46. Tao

Lao Tzu defined contentment as the only measure by which we should gauge both personal success and the filter through which society’s values should be passed.  By the simple test of considering how conducive anything is to promoting contentment one can evaluate its usefulness.  On this basis he judges some impulses to be dysfunctional, like the desire for fame and fortune.

The Tao is the Way or the Path.  The journey is not only towards contentment, but the journey should be considered an end in itself with contentment as the measure, the guide to inform one that the way is being followed; discontent marks the kerb stones of the path.

In saying that the Tao is the way or the path, one is immediately met by the question, is it the way one actually goes or the way one should go; the road actually walked or the route one should aim to follow.  Now if it is the road one actually takes, it is uninteresting, it becomes merely a reference to all that is and therefore by not referring to anything not included it has no significant meaning.

So we shall refer to it as the way one should go.  

Now we are confronted by an, often ignored, distinction and I shall refer to a misunderstood Bible quote to make the point.  In the book of Proverbs, it says, in some translations, that if you “train up a child in the way he should go, when he is old he shall not depart from it.”  This has been used to argue that if you train a child in holy, righteous way, he’ll eventually return to it when older (even if he goes off the rails for a while) this has been used to console parents who, after being strict with a child, are confounded by their teenager’s sinful rebellion.  This is a complete misunderstanding.  The original text actually says that if you train up a child in the way he should go, when he has hair on his chin (hits puberty) he won’t rebel.  That is, if his training is according to his nature, takes into account who he is, he won’t rebel, as frankly what has he got to rebel about?  He is on his path.

So is the Tao, the way you should go, or the way you should go?  Those of us who grow up in a culture with an historic prescriptive religion tend to assume that there is a right way, a doctrinally legislated right and wrong; there is a narrow path to righteousness (more like a tight rope) and any deviation from that path is ipso facto wrong.  The Tao however refers to the way you should go.  Remembering that the success criteria is contentment not a prescribed set of behaviours intended to appease some deity.  If you follow the way you should, it will not only lead to contentment, but also be easy.  If the way you are following is drastically alien to your natural disposition and renders you discontent, it is not the Tao; not your Tao.  Which is odd, as most religions virtually require you to strive to follow a way that is opposed to your nature.  What if, I hear you say, someone’s nature, what they are most driven to do, is be horrible to others?  Well, would such an inclination ever be natural to them? Would it bring them contentment? It might satisfy a need for power, which would only have been formed by an early trauma invoking a sense of impotence.  But, contentment?  No.

Whenever we strive to be something we are not, we miss the Tao.  Does this include the desire to develop and become better than we are?  Not at all!  When we allow ourselves to become more what we truly are, then we follow the Tao.  That which you genuinely wish to become is only, and can only be, that which in essence, you actually are; why else do you think you have the will to become it?  Hence, self-knowledge is a crucial step towards following the Tao, actualising your potential and finding contentment.

At our academy, Masters students (post black belt) are encouraged in their training to find their way of doing Tao Te Kung Fu.  In the same way that two great writers will use the same vocabulary and grammar, but produce wholly different work, so using the same techniques, all masters students will develop their own style; their own way of doing Kung Fu.

45. Metal

The traditional role of Metal involves cutting and adornment.  Both weapons and agricultural implements are generally used to cut; often they were the same tools, if you found an area that was forested, you wouldn’t be surprised if the local men tended to fight with axes.  Metal jewellery, adornments like buckles and fine crafted weapons were not only intended to be beautiful, but also meaningful and to last for years, usually longer than their original owners.  This means they become invested with sentimental value in addition to their financial worth.  Hence Metal also has connotations of dramatic sentiment, from celebration to grief.  Metal therefore refers not only to Autumn/harvest time and war, but also to the evening, when, if one is working during the hours of daylight, one might wear fine adornments. 

The Metal Element also represents different times in our life as we move through different cycles.  As we’ve said it is associated with the Autumn, the time when crops are harvested.  But more generally Metal suggests success; whether in harvesting, cutting down one’s enemies or in being able to afford valuable trinkets or jewellery.

Yang Metal is symbolized by knives, swords, ploughs, and other such sharp implements.  It represents the need to succeed at any cost.  It is aggressive and astute.

Yin Metal is symbolized by jewellery, pocket watches, trinkets and coins.  Yin Metal represents the fruits of success rather than succeeding itself. 

Metal periods are a time for success and having a lot of personal esteem tied up in the success.  Consequently, failure in these times would be a personal tragedy with a dramatic expression.  Have in mind that if a harvest failed, or if a battle was lost, it could be the death of an entire community.

Metal nourishes water, and is nourished by Earth.  Any cool metal will encourage water to condense on it.  If you use a finely honed skill, one that may have taken years to develop, like a sharp tool, it appears to be used with ease, or effortless and finding the easiest route like water.  Metal is found within the earth of course, so it is resolute hard work that needs to go into the time and effort involved in making a fine metal tool.

Metal is controlled by Fire and controls Wood.  The blacksmith’s furnace is the primary tool in manipulating Metal.  So it is passion that begins the process of developing a skill, but also the finest skills can become useless when intense emotion is involved in their use; imaging a furious watchmaker, a fearful surgeon, when your pulse reaches 140 you pretty well loose fine motor coordination.  Metal tools are the primary way of controlling plants, whether it is the axe, the scythe or the carpenter’s chisel.  A wise word from a skilled therapist can cut through the weeds of negative thought.

44 Stone

Think mountains, rock, crystal, granite and diamonds. When a muscle is tensed it is harder than bone, harder than wood.  The first artillery missiles were rocks; and they worked very effectively.  Stone is solid, stable and immutable; it drives through.

Stone or Earth is central. It is this element that takes water and energy from the sun and is the catalyst for all growth, as plants all need the soil to grow in.  Stone represents different times in one’s life as we move through different cycles.   Earth is associated with late summer/autumn and harvest, a time for gathering and receiving the fruits of our labour.  It is a time of hard and productive work.  It is this element that represents our long traditions, slow to change, but give us a sense of who we are in terms of our past, our heritage, our ancestors.

Yin Earth represents the nourishing and nurturing of all plants and in particular all our food.  It is all about the potential for growing things.  Recall ideas like being close to the earth.  Think of a farmer who knows and cherishes the qualities of the soil that he plants his crops in.

Yang Stone represents the harvesting of that produce; including the use of stone in construction of buildings and such that last.  This element is about being resolute and reliable.  The time for watching the crops grow through lazy summer days is over and the time to get down to the hard work of harvesting is here.  Stone typifies a sense of long tradition in the way a family can identify with the land that their forefathers farmed.  Or even a sense of heritage in the way that stone buildings sit in a landscape for millennia.

Stone nourishes Metal and is nourished by Fire.  Metals are all found in stone in the ground.  So, it is as if Metals grow in the medium of stone.  Of course, to produce a metal tool it requires resolute hard work which is represented by Stone.  Burning of forests in many parts of the world is essential to feed nutrients back into the soil.  But in an everyday context, it is passion or emotion that is needed to drive you to embark upon any endeavour involving hard work or to create a custom that will become a tradition.

Stone is controlled by Wood and controls Water.  A small seed that lands in a crack in rock will grow and break it apart, so with traditions that structure society, it is new ideas that grow gradually breaking them apart.  Or the way a forest will take over a building and smother it eventually; it is normal that old traditions can still exist in any society but be disguised and half hidden behind new and dynamic cultural growth.  Stone dams a river, but the very geology shapes a river’s course and this is a good image to explain how the cultural traditions guide and direct the chaotic exuberance of youthful energy into safer and more constructive paths.  The young always rage against the traditions that limit their behaviours but as people age, they start to see that the structures are being eroded and changed, but slow steady transformation of societies structures are normally the safest way to do it.  When a levee breaks and a river bursts its banks it’s rarely productive.

43. Fire

Picture the leaping bush fire or the roaring furnace.  Now think of the full flowering of crops in Summer, the optimism of the expected harvest and the joyous anticipation of the harvest to come.  Picture the Celtic army fighting in full passion and absolute exuberant optimism; their charge will either sweep the enemy aside or fail.  Death or glory, no holding back, fly or crash and burn!  Fire is about all consuming passion, thrown into whatever the endeavour.

The Fire element represents different periods of our lives as we move through different cycles.  It is associated with the Summer, the time when the fields are golden with wheat, the trees are heavy with ripening fruit.  When everything is looking up, optimism is the name of the game and the heart soars high with passion and enthusiasm.

Yin Fire represents gentle warmth; the healing hand of a caring friend, the lighted candle, red wine and warm rich incense.   In this element one can warm others up with sensitivity and good humour, but notice that a person in this element is still very much leading others, they are in charge; their passion, energising and driving them.

Yang Fire represents the burning furnace, the oven, bonfires, volcanoes and the Sun; it is volatile and consuming.  If people in the yin of this element emanate a warm glow, then in the yang of this element they might flare up or burn out.  This element is single minded to the point of intolerance.

When you are in a Fire period your single-minded passion will either drive you to success, drawing others along with your enthusiasm, or you’ll go down in flames, but still dragging others with you.  You might be intelligent and witty in the pursuit of your goal, but the goal is determined by your heart, not your head.

Fire nourishes Stone/Earth, and is nourished by wood.  It is the forest fire that renders the nutrients locked up in the plants into a form that feeds the soil.  Obviously, wood is fed to a fire.

Fire is controlled by Water and controls Metal.  Water is most often used to quench Fire.  Fire is the preeminent tool for the blacksmith in his mastery and manipulation of Metal.

These need to be contextualised into usable ideas.  Stone is all about the long hard slog to build something that lasts, it will take a great passion, an emotional drive to set you upon such an endeavour.  Probably regular top ups of passion along the way to keep you going. 

If you want to get people enthusiastic and emotionally positive, a new idea or a green shoot with great potential is often your best bet.  It has often been found that changing the brand or logo of a product is enough to enthuse both workers and customers.  The new is perceived as better.  Remember wood is about new beginnings.

If you’re about to by a new car because of your emotional reaction to the smell of the seats, the roar of the engine and how it makes you feel, you are in the grips of fire; your passion.  This is why a good salesman want to get your commitment now, he knows that fire can burn itself out when the fuel is gone.  By comparison, water has mass, it represents the sound, unemotional argument with facts and details; an argument that will still be valid in a week or a month, or, if it’s a political/philosophical idea, in a hundred years.  Often your cold, unemotional bank statement can put out the fire of enthusiasm.

Making something in metal like a tool or a weapon requires a lot of hard work.  In the same way that most of the shaping of a metal tool is done while it is very hot, your passion will do a lot of the hard work in shaping your skill acquisition as a lot of what you need for the application of a skill is the right attitude and that is shaped by emotion.

42 Wood

Think of the wind bending a bamboo.  Start with being fully rigid, then relax just enough to allow for bending, but always with enough tension to snap back like a bow, or a wooden ruler or a cane.  (ahh, school days!)  Wood has its own way of moving, of holding tension and that is what the Tao Te Kung Fu Wood form is specifically looking to encourage.

The Wood Element also represents different times in one’s life as we move through different cycles.  It is associated with Spring, the time when new shoots begin to push their heads up through the soil.  All vegetation is represented by the Wood Element.  Wood suggests the creative principal, the feminine principal, and new beginnings of all kinds. 

Yin Wood represents growth and development; the strength that it takes for a new shoot to push up through the ground, a chick needs to break through the hard shell of an egg, or a baby needs to come out into the world.  Notice that these are all apparently weak things, but their strength is subtle and sufficient for their needs.  No one needs to work hard at making a plant grow; it is enough to put it in the right environment and its own energy will do the rest.  The greatest and most profound endeavours require only the seed with its own energy and the right environment.

Yang Wood represents the planting of the seed, the moment of conception, the essence of creation.  These require your intention, a drive to create, to produce, to grow.  Everything that happens needs a beginning, a moment of decisive action.

Wood periods are a time for healing, for helping others, for beginning projects and a time for initial growth both personally and professionally. 

Wood nourishes fire, and is nourished by water.  This is quite obvious.

Wood is controlled by metal and controls earth.  Picture an axe cutting into a tree and a root of a tree working into a crack in a rock and breaking it slowly.

Let me contextualise these ideas a bit.  A strong emotional augment will tend to override the slow steady growth of an idea.  Fire, or an impassioned action or drive, wants instant results and doesn’t care what it burns up, even though, once the immediate fuel has gone, its drive will soon dissipate.  Water is patient, looses none of its drive when it has to pause, like when a river is damned, because it has actual mass.  Water, by always adapting and being flexible will find a way, so, expressed as an attitude, it feeds your new endeavours and helps them grow.

Imagine if the seeds planted are weeds and the seeds of negative ideas have grown in your mind to choke and tangle up your thinking.  The sharp, precise, wise words of advice from an expert therapist, can cut to the heart of a problem, (metal represents skills that have taken time and hard work to create, so that their finely honed edge requires little effort to cut with).  Wood can control stone in that a seed of an idea planted in the cracks of an attitude that is belligerent and rock like, will slowly grow, breaking it open.  Or soil (another aspect of stone) when freshly turned will be covered in new green shoots surprisingly quickly.  Nature abhors a vacuum whether it is tilled earth of or a gap in a market or the loss of a cultural entertainment.  New ideas and endeavours will invariably arise opportunistically.