It is common in Martial Arts to study nature and use it as an inspiration for improving ones art. It's much like the Western saying of "stopping and smelling the flowers." By taking the time to observe things in nature, we can gain a better understanding of ourselves.
As you study Martial Arts, you'll notice the easy correlation between animals and the Arts. Many systems, forms and movements are named after and mimic animals, both real and imaginary. You can see monkeys, dragons, tigers, panthers, cranes, apes, snakes, and mantis quite often. You may also find more unusual animals like sharks, octopus, sparrows, and swans.
Nature, however, isn't limited to the animal world – and neither is Martial Arts. When studying Martial Arts, one can also study the elements to gain a deeper understanding of the Arts. One of my favourites to understand is water.
By itself, water is soft. It flows over your hands as it runs from the faucet. It has a neutral pH, allowing it to be combined with almost anything. The image of water is that of peace, tranquility, and gentleness. It can take on many forms: gaseous as mist; fluid in its liquid state; or solid as ice.
But anyone who has gotten caught in a flood knows there's nothing gentle about water. Water erodes. Water damages by attacking things at the base and wearing any obstacle in its way. When water is at either temperature extreme – very cold or misty hot – it can burn. Waves that churn generate energy from far off and deep below to send the momentum hurling forward.
By now, you can probably guess at the analogies that can be made with Martial Arts. In fact, you might even be able to picture it. A Martial Artist is often the image of tranquility in the wake of battle. Their face is neutral, without expression as they ready themselves for the conflict ahead. They remain flexible in order to react and change course as needed. Their attacks are often unseen and eroding at the base of their opponent until they render their obstacles to a crumbled mess on the floor. The energy is generated from the core, deep inside, and hurled forward like the waves. Once hurled, the very extreme points of impact explode energy forward. As just as easily, the energy dissipates and the Martial Artist once again returns to an image of peace and tranquility.
By studying nature, a Martial Artist can learn a lot about how to improve their Art and deepen their understanding of the strength behind their style.