Now that we’ve had 24 hours to recuperate, it’s a bit easier to reflect on the weekend. Writing posts while in the midst of perpetual, unending classes, physically demanding exercises, and fingers that are bruised and bleeding on their ends, is quite a challenge. I re-read the posts from Saturday and Sunday and have made a few changes after realizing that they were virtually incoherent, and now I thought I’d take a few moments to highlight and publicly ruminate on some of what we learned… (I realize that this has the potential to turn into stream of consciousness drivel so I apologize in advance!)
I think I may have previously mentioned that throughout the weekend we were educated in a particular series of forms known as the Five Element Forms. These are a requirement in our particular school of Taekwondo beginning at 5th dan, so I was happy since I knew I could eventually knock these off the list of things I still need to learn for my rank. We did 3 out of 5 forms: Earth, Water, and Metal.
The elements are an interesting part of martial arts tradition. Conceptually they flow through everything we do. For those readers who are themselves Taekwondo practitioners, if your school does the Taegeuk forms, you hopefully already understand what I’m talking about (if not, you ought to have a serious conversation with your instructor!). Anyway, the elements (either the 5 or the 8 depending on what you’re working on) can and should influence every aspect of your physical and mental practice. Similar to the various animals represented in some Chinese and South East Asian arts, the elements dictate how we spar, how we grapple, how we handle a weapon, how we throw somebody, and essentially how we execute each and every technique. For instance, the form Taegeuk Sahm Jang (Taegeuk 3) represents the element of fire. Now think about the form… don’t some of the techniques resemble fire and the way it behaves?
What makes the Five Element Forms so unique is that they provide the opportunity to compare each of the five elements to one another. Every practical application of every form in the series is a defense against a simple front punch, in fact the exact same sequence of front punches. So in essence, the forms teach how each element handles the same attack. The water form, for example, uses more circular, flowing techniques that swirl and coil around the punch (you almost get the sensation that you are dragging your opponent under as you pull them in and execute a counter attack). In contrast, earth includes an entire section of techniques that are done on the ground, offering a feeling of “rootedness” and a literal connection to the earth. Metal, on the other hand, is slightly more linear, with sharp, flashy techniques and a lot of knife hands – just watching it you can’t help but think of the element of metal.
It’s an interesting concept but one which makes a lot of logical sense…those who invented these techniques in the first place were influenced by the natural world around them. Fire, Water, Earth, Metal, and Wood…like a martial artist himself, each has the potential to cause incredible damage and each does so according to its nature. A flood and an earthquake do not look the same; metal, though perhaps forged in fire, does not destroy things in the same way – these are simple observations that arise out of merely living life and studying one’s environment – and yet the impact of these observations on the development of fighting styles is actually quite astounding.
And to think…we only practiced these forms for what felt like a gajillion hours…we still have so much to learn from them.