The Fire Trigram

Ha!  I get to write today about my favorite trigram.  Weird, right?  Who has a favorite trigram??  Well, when you’re one of Master Pearson’s students and you get “tasked” with thinking about the trigrams…a lot…you start to develop a few favorites.

All of the Trigrams…”Li” on the left hand side (at 9:00) is the Fire Trigram

There are several ways in which the trigrams relate to martial arts.  First and foremost is a simple historical and cultural connection. Every martial artist should know and understand the trigrams because the countries of origin of martial arts study and take these symbols very seriously.  Also, the trigrams’ corresponding elements are very important to marital arts as they affect everything we do.  A person, for instance, can grapple like a mountain, kick like fire, and spar like water…it is important to master a good understanding of how these elements manifest physically.  But, as you might remember from Worden’s post on a similar topic, one of the most prominent martial arts applications of the trigrams is their our forms.  Each of the 8 Taegeuk Forms corresponds to one of the 8 trigrams and thus takes on the personality of that trigram…well, really this is a chicken or egg thing…you could accurately argue that developer of the forms (or of each form as it is clear that different people worked on each of these), may have had the trigrams in ind as he constructed each form — Taegeuk #3 for example, clearly resembles fire, which is its corresponding element/trigram.  Or perhaps, the forms’ originator merely used the elements as his foundation and did not really associate the trigram as such…chicken or egg?

Which came first? Did the originator of the Taeguek forms have good knowledge of the trigrams or did he just get lucky?

But, in any case, we are left with eight forms and eight trigrams that can easily be matched up.  The fire trigram is what we call a “second-level” trigram.  This means that in terms of its order of importance it is on the second tier, following the heaven and earth trigrams.  Visually this makes sense.  While heaven and earth are pure yin/yang (as represented by broken or solid lines), fire, and its partner, water, are tinged slightly by the other.  So although yang predominates in fire (note that it has two solid lines and only one broken line), it cannot be said to be pure yang.  I think this is why it is one of my favorite trigrams.  I see this second tier (fire and water) to be most similar to me as a person (and perhaps most people).  While there are certainly dominating characteristics of one personality type or another, it is hard for me to say about myself that I am completely ______________ whatever.

Here you can see how the trigrams appear in order of importance. Note the fire trigram on tier 2. The arrows represent the order in which the Taegeuk forms may be performed in order to follow the trigrams hierarchy.

This second tier of trigrams also serves as a bridge between tier 1 and tier 3.  They are the first to draw upon the “other side” either yang or yin and I think this serves well to describe fire.  It is not an all or nothing type of element.  It has subtlety and nuance.  It can be incredible destructive but also creative (a forest that wants to be sustainable will often have natural fires in order to renew itself).  Fire can be the image of the end of humanity but also its beginning.  Fire, when controlled, is useful and necessary.

Taegeuk 3 does well to live up to its trigram.  By watching the motions we can almost sense the image of fire for it is the first of the Taegeuk forms to incorporate double beats (i.e. two motions in the space of where one would be).  It’s energy particularly in the last motions is also reminiscent of a crackling fire.  Check out the form here!

requirement fulfilled,


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