Last week I had the opportunity to write about my favorite trigram, the fire trigram, so it seems only fitting that this week my post gets to be on its partner, the trigram representing water.
Everyone seems to know that fire and water are opposites. This, as a concept, is cross-cultural and has been expressed with philosophical implications for centuries. It can even be used to describe people and relationships (“they’re like fire and water but they get along great”). So what does east Asian thought bring to this discussion that is unique and how can we apply it to our martial arts practice?
First of all, I find it interesting that fire and water occupy only the second tier of importance in the trigram hierarchy. If I had to think of two elements that represented polar opposites, extremes on the elemental spectrum, my mind would go directly to fire and water, probably long before heaven (whose concept is really obscure to me anyway) and earth. So why is it that these two are bumped down to second “best?”. I think the reason is actually kind of poignant and beautiful.
If you look at the trigrams for fire and water, and you can do so above, you’ll probably notice that each is comprised of both broken and unbroken lines. Fire contains two unbroken lines and one broken line, meaning the trigram is predominantly yang, whereas water contains two broken lines and only one unbroken line, indicating that the trigram is predominantly yin. Yet, this also means that both fire and water contains within it, a piece of the other. This is why they can’t occupy that top spot in the hierarchy, because they are not opposites at all, but rather complimentary. Now isn’t that an interesting commentary on conflict, relationships, and conflict in general?!
The water trigram is associated with Taegeuk number 6. Its influence is easily observable in the form, with its non-linear, flowing motions, and its funky, off-line diagonals. I think that water is actually on of these easiest elements to apply to techniques and also one of the most effective. Many famous martial artists have used water as an analogy to teach effective fighting (think of Bruce Lee’s famous line about what happens to water in a bottle).
Anyway, it is indeed a beautiful element and if this practice of trigrams is something you’re into, then water is a great place to start, because it is relatively easy to wrap your brain around. Check out Taegeuk six below and see if you can point out which techniques remind you the most of water!