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Five Elements in Martial Arts

There are five primary elements in the Chinese system. References to these elements can be found in Chinese medicine, Chinese astrology, celebrations, and Martial Arts.

Each of the five elements are associated with many other attributes that relate them to the world around us, taste, colors, senses, and our own bodies. There is a very specific order in which they follow that shows their progression. Often the elements are represented in a circular formation, mimicing the recycling nature of the world.

ElementColorFlavorBody OrganBody System
woodgreensourlivernervous
fireredbitterheartcirculatory
earthyellowsweetstomachdigestive
metalwhite (golden)pungentlungrespiratory
waterblacksaltykidneyexcretory


There are several ways to look at the order, but the easiest perhaps is to remember the progression of one state to another.
Wood represents the start of life, spring and the coming of growth.
Fire is fueled by wood.
When fire is done, the materials return to earth.
Earth hardens to become metal.
Given enough time, metal will decompose into liquid (or water).
Water is needed to give life, or wood

Thus the cycle continues on for eternity. This is the creative cycle, the one that fosters growth and continual healing. There is also a destructive cycle which follows a slightly different order, often viewed as "star" pattern because the order follows to the element across from it rather than next to it in the chain. Another way to think of it is the element will constructively effect the element that follows it and destructively effect the one that is two steps away from it.

Wood consumes the earth.
Earth stops the flow of water.
Water douses fire.
Fire melts and thus destroys the structure of metal.
Metal can chop through and thus destroying wood.

Since some of the Internal aspects of Martial Arts focuses on healing, it is important to understand the relationship of these different elements. It is said that when one element is out of balance, it disrupts the nature cycle of the body and thus we see illness and problems.

Many Martial Arts forms have specific movements that work on certain elements, isolating them and either drawing on their strength or helping to bring them back into alignment. If you think about it, in many ways they are characteristics that we even in the West use to describe fighters or other artists: "growing like a reed", "burns up the floor", "solid as a rock", "cuts like a knife", "flows as smooth as water"

Learn about animals in Martial Arts as part of our Chinese New Years articles.

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