“In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle,
stand like a rock.” — Thomas Jefferson
The early Chinese philosophers created the 5-element theory to try and help them understand how the universe worked. They saw the entire universe was based on the inter-workings of 5 major elements – fire, wood, water, earth and metal. Other educators added more ideas, which included animals and their attributes to better understand the key principles of success and to create the foundation of their style of martial arts training. Today many martial arts styles use 18 such ideas or postures, which are made up of 9 elements and 9 animals. The above statement by Thomas Jefferson describes clearly the relationship between two of these elements – water and mountain.
Water simply flows – if there is an object in front of its path, it goes around it. If there is a hole in front of its path, it simply fills it and then continues on its journey. It does not have any regret or animosity for challenges that show themselves, it simply accepts them and goes with the flow. Each of us must follow our own paths, progressively realizing our internal goals, flowing through life much as water flows downstream. We have much to learn from the simplicity and naturalness of water seeking the lowest position.
The mountain, on the other hand, is rock solid. From the mountain we learn the importance of a strong foundation and that there are times we want to adopt the attitude of the immoveable object. In the martial arts the front stance or the horse stance are the physical expressions of this posture, which demonstrate sinking or rooting oneself to the earth. For the mind and the spirit, integrity is the foundation from which all positive characteristics emerge.
In the pursuit of martial arts mastery, we recognize that there are times to go with the flow like water and that there are times to stand solid like a mountain. This concept seems pretty easy to understand, but most people don’t recognize which is the best strategy for the current situation.
Martial artists on the other hand, know which strategy will work best based on the principles, concepts and the combat experience from their art.
Understanding these key concepts and the way in which they fit together is the key to martial arts mastery. Is it any wonder, that most high-level martial artists that understand this are successful in all areas of their life?
Train consistently. Train hard and train thoughtfully. In the way, JWA