Tag Archives: philosophy

//04// Finding the Water Element

26 Apr

[fun fact] Dancing with the Stars has the most annoying music in the history of reality TV dance shows. Currently hiding from it in my room.

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I have a confession to make. I don’t currently study KARATE. I do a style that’s a mix of Shotokan Karate, Tae Kwon Do and Tai Chi.

But it’s my blog so I’ll call it karate for short.

Now I know about karate. I got my first black belt in Isshinryu Karate. I know about Tae Kwon Do. Kicking is my favorite!

It’s the Tai Chi part that gets me.

A couple of weeks ago Sensei had us do an exercise in class. I don’t remember what we were doing exactly but it was like some strike or block that we were doing slowly, deliberately and she said to visualize that we were underwater. I visualized, all right. I felt like I was drowning. 1) Because I imagined the water was over my head and I’m not a particularly good swimmer and 2) because I’m not very in touch with my chi.

Sensei calls it the water element. It’s all about flow and breathing and fluidity. This is kind of a foreign concept to me. I knew about chi before, of course. You gathered your chi before starting a kata. It’s part of the kiyai, part of the belt, that spirit inside of you. I knew about it on the surface but I had never focused on what it really meant before. I was all about harder, faster. How much power can I put into something? How can I be stronger? I was about speed and power through brute force. In order to keep up with the guys I wanted to be strong. Force and speed was always the most important thing to me. I think that’s why sparring as been more of a strength of mine than kata (my sister always beat me in every tournament) even though I really do like katas.

I’m missing the water element.

Fire and water, two conflicting elements that need to work in harmony. How do I maximize the water and maximize the fire? Or is there always going to be give and take?

(Wikipedia tried to give me a definition for “chi-square distribution” when I typed in chi. NO! Leave the statistics at home please.)

Chi came up in weapons class today. Sensei chose me to help demonstrate, which I thought was mind-boggling. She wanted us to practice using someone’s momentum against them. I watched her do it to me wide eyed as she kept my energy going forward and struck me in some vulnerable area. Of course, I’m familiar with parrying and moving off to the side of some attack, stopping them cold with a nice round kick straight in the solar plexus or something. But this was something different. It really was using their force, their energy against them, feeling it and then using it for your own advantage. Letting that strike come into you and then taking the control instead of stopping the strike and adding your own force into the mix. With this kind of defense it wasn’t so much about the strength of your block but the ability to focus and anticipate and feel–really feel–what was happening with the other person’s body and your own.

We practiced with out partners. I got the direction of the flow wrong a couple of times even though it’s so obvious, especially since we were striking with the speed of a three legged turtle. It just wasn’t wired in my brain. I wanted to stop and strike, stop and strike, power, strength, rawr rawr rawr. This was more about patience. Sometimes I don’t have enough patience.

Last week we used Tai Chi swords (wooden) and did something similar. We touched swords and then one partner had to follow the movement of the leader. The swords had to stay touching. It was difficult following each other but also kind of cool when Sensei was my partner because she knew what she was doing so that always makes it easier. She also showed us another way to use someone else’s chi against them. Is that even the right way to think about it? I’m still figuring this out.

I started learning my next kata for my black belt and Sensei said the tough part was finding the balance between the fire and the water element. So this–the water element, the chi, and me–is my next challenge.

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