This week I thought I would talk about a somewhat more advanced topic: the martial artist type. As most of you know, within Shin Ho Kwan we practice the Taegeuk Forms as color belts. There are eight of these forms and each one is based on one of the eight trigrams. Without going into a lot of detail (follow this link for more information about the trigrams), trigrams are a series of solid and broken bars that are arranged in three bar combinations. The bars that make them up are representations of Um (broken line) and Yang (solid line). The order in which the bars are arranged within the trigram gives it specific characteristics. Each trigram has numerous attributes, ranging from an elemental manifestation to a direction to a familial relationship . Most people have the easiest time conceptualizing the true essence of a trigram when generalizing them with simply the corresponding element, so that’s what I will do for the rest of this post.
The eight elemental manifestations that correspond to the trigrams are: heaven, lake, fire, thunder, wind, water, mountain and earth. Everything in the world, from a physical object, to a school of thought, to a movement, etc. can be classified into one of these eight categories. This includes us as martial artists. We tend to default as an individual into one of these categories. So what determines what trigram a person is? Everything from body type to personality. For example, martial artists that fall into the earth or mountain trigram category tend to have large muscular bodies. Whereas, martial artists that fall into the thunder or wind trigram category tend to have wiry bodies. However these generalities are not always the case because of all the other factors that go into classifying an individual. I once practiced with a huge short male student that definitely fell into the wind trigram. This totally went against the “body type” standard. In order to correctly classify a martial artist, everything must be taken into account: body type, mind (how they act), how they move, how they interact with other people and the environment, how they talk (speed and volume), etc. It is not easy to classify someone and it takes years of observing various martial artists from all eight categories in order to be any good at it. It is also possible for someone to change from one category to another as they progress along their martial art path, which means once a classification has been made that it could be incorrect in a very short period of time.
For a martial artists that doesn’t have access to someone that can correctly classify them, there is a tool that can be used to get fairly accurate results: the Taegeuk forms. Simply watch someone do all the Taegeuk forms and take note of which form looks the closest to the element it represents. One should really stand out, or at least two forms that are relatively close to each other (mountain and earth for example). Once you believe you have found the “one” that the person falls into, watch them do the Taegeuk forms again. You should be able to see a little bit of that element in every form.
So why is it important? Because, once you understand what Trigram you represent, you can immediately take advantage of that Trigram’s strengths and know of it’s weaknesses. You can also, with a lot of practice, switch into a different Trigram when necessary. Looking at an example might help with the understanding of this somewhat difficult concept. I fall into the “water” trigram. I haven’t always, but I have been firmly rooted in it the past 10 or so years. If I was to enter into a standing grappling match with another martial artist, assuming our physical abilities were closely matched, what Trigram would that person have to fall into in order to never be able to defeat me? If you answered “fire” you would be correct. Fire and water completely negate each other, neither one having the advantage. Both of us would look for openings in each other but we would never find them. Neither one of us would ever be victorious unless fatigue overtook the other. You might be saying, what’s the point then? Why would I ever enter into a match with someone that I could never beat? Because, I can’t loose. A Demosthenes quote comes to mind, “he who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day.” The “another day” in this case isn’t truly another day but a period of time in the match that I decide on. When the match starts we (my opponent and I) are in complete balance. I don’t have to worry about being defeated, instead I can focus on what “trigram” I will switch into in order to defeat my opponent. Then, when the moment is right, I will make the switch and be victorious.
I know what you are thinking, “what prevents your opponent from doing that?” Nothing, but it isn’t very common. Let’s say for example, it did happen in my match. I would simply change as soon as I noticed the change in my opponent. This change would not last long and we would then both be back to our original default trigrams. Hopefully I would eventually be able to make a change without my opponent being able to counter it. If not, the changing back and forth would last until one of us successfully made the change without the other following or one of us was defeated due to fatigue.
Side Note: It is important to remember that all of this is only relevant with equally matched opponents. If one opponent is drastically superior to the other, the trigram grouping is of no consequence.
Initially this “trigram negation” method is most easily applied in a grappling setting (either standing or ground) but with some practice it can be used in free sparring. If fact everything we do in martial arts can benefit from being able to switch from one trigram to another. Certain trigrams are better for certain types of breaks. Just think how much better your Taegeuk forms would look if you could change your trigram to correspond to the trigram of the form with no “hint” of your default trigram.
I don’t want to go into any more detail about this subject. It is important to experiment (play) with this concept on our own. You will learn a lot more and it will have a much bigger impact on you than if you are simply spoon fed the knowledge.
On a side note, this way of learning applies to a lot of material within martial arts. Master Shaffer said to me after the last retreat, “why have you never taught this to me before?” Why? Because if she had figured it out on her own, she would never have forgotten it. That is truly the best way to learn.
I’ll leave you with one last thought: remember everything can be grouped into one of the these trigrams, that includes weapons. You should use a weapon that is in the same trigram as you are. Hopefully that will make you even more frustrated.
Something to think about…