Tai Chi Chuan (Glasgow)

Blog & Articles

Five Elements

5elements


The following is a reflection upon the Five Element Theory outlined in Cheng Tin Hung's book, Wutan Tai Chi Chuan. Sifu Cheng outlines the relationship of the
Five
Elements in the context of the thirteen tactics, pointing out there are presentation variations to this arising from historical interpretations of the Pa Kua relationship to Yin Yang and interpretations arising through compass points versus hemisphere, etc. The practical outcome is however the same. (Master Cheng's book also details the context of the Five Elements within strategy and tactics of applying Tai Chi Chuan).
Only one example of the relationship between element and direction in the
context of self
defence is given in Cheng’s book (Metal/Wood), and in response to what has become a regular class question, below shows the theory with all the elements and directions separated out at the bottom, and some general overlying points. Ultimately, I recommend you buy and study the book.



Birth cycle…………………………………………Destruction cycle…………………………………… Associated direction

Metal creates Water…………………………… Metal destroys Wood……………………………… Metal forward

Water creates Wood……………………………..Wood destroys Earth……………………………… Wood backward

Wood creates Fire………………………………..Earth destroys Water……………………………… Earth central equilibrium

Fire creates Earth………………………………..Water destroys Fire…………………………………..Water left

Earth creates Metal………………………………Fire destroys Metal………………………………….Fire right


Chinese theory presents each element to be stronger than its creator (Birth cycle), and weaker than another (Destruction cycle), resulting in
each element being stronger than two others, and weaker than the remaining two. Each element has an associated direction, and thus
indicates two directions are a stronger response to an attack from a particular direction , and two weaker. Following this logic, the outcome is
as follows:


Direction / Element……………………………….Is stronger than………………………………………………………Is weaker than

FORWARD (Metal)……………………………….BACKWARD (Wood) & CENTRAL (Earth)……………………… RIGHT (Fire) & LEFT (Water)

LEFT (Water)………………………………………RIGHT (Fire) & FORWARD (Metal)……………………………… BACK (Wood) & CENTRAL (Earth)

BACKWARD (Wood)…………………………….CENTRAL (Earth) & LEFT (Water)…………………………………RIGHT (Fire) & FORWARD (Metal)

RIGHT (Fire)……………………………………….FORWARD (Metal) & BACKWARD (Wood)………………………LEFT (Water) & CENTRAL (Earth)

CENTRAL (Earth)...........................................LEFT (Water) & RIGHT (Fire)………………………………………FORWARD (Metal) & BACKWARD (Wood)

Appropriate response to attack :
The
first column (Direction / Element) indicates the direction of the incoming attack, then the appropriate defence would be those
elements/ directions stronger than the attack.
Eg As Metal is weaker than Fire & Water, the appropriate response to a
forward (on-coming) attack is left or right. Separating out the directions only, it looks like this:



Direction of incoming attack…………………….Appropriate (defensive) response…………………Inappropriate response

FORWARD………………………………………… ………..RIGHT / LEFT………………………………………… ….. BACK / CENTRAL

LEFT……………………………………………… …………BACK / CENTRAL…………………………………… …. RIGHT / FORWARD

BACK…………………………………………… ………….RIGHT / FORWARD…………………………………. …. .CENTRAL / LEFT

RIGHT……………………………………………… ;………LEFT / CENTRAL………………………………. …. .FORWARD / BACKWARD

CENTRAL…………………………………………… …….. FORWARD / BACK....................................................... LEFT / RIGHT



And separating out each defence / appropriate response from the above gives :


Defence…………………………………………….Effective against attack from this direction…………Inappropriate defence

CENTRAL………………………………………….LEFT or RIGHT…………………………………………FORWARD / BACK

LEFT………………………………………………..RIGHT or FORWARD………………………………….BACK / CENTRAL

RIGHT………………………………………………FORWARD or BACK…………………………………. CENTRAL / LEFT

FORWARD………………………………………….BACK or CENTRAL……………………………………LEFT / RIGHT

BACK……………………………………………….CENTRAL or LEFT……………………………………..RIGHT / FORWARD


Example 1, remaining CENTRAL is an effective defence to an attack from the right or left. Think San Shou basic drill or simply ‘covering up’.
Note that a counter attack follows defence,
and the intention is then invariably forward
Example 2, (as per Cheng’s book):
Metal destroys Wood - moving backward in defence to an opponent moving forward with repeated punches is not generally advised.
Water and
Fire are stronger than Metal, reflecting the best way to avoid a forward movement is to come out the line to the right or left.
Classics refer to
Look right, Look left, i.e. movement with or without stepping. Thus Tiger Yawning, side step (ie moving push hand styles) with applied
technique, or weight shift, slipping, etc would be examples of a practical use of Five Elements in defence in this case.
Example 3, moving FORWARD toward an opponent moving backward - think ‘attack as the best defence’, albeit in response to your partners movement.

While thinking in this manner during ‘combat’ is clearly counter productive, developing an understanding of Tai Chi Theory in line with practice over time
can lead to better Tai Chi Chuan, and improved practical application. Cheng presents the Five Elements as an essential part of Tai Chi Chuan strategy.



Notes:
  • The 13 tactics are at play in Tai Chi Chuan constantly, whether consciously or not. They are found in forms, push hands, application, etc.
  • The thirteen tactics should not be taken in isolation from other TCC theory
* All Thirteen Tactics, including Five Elements, are represented in Da Liu push hands.
* As Cheng Tin Hung points out in his book, each element can be thought of in different ways. For example Water can be a still pool or a river torrent.
* Five Elements (Wu Hsing) and the Eight Powers (Pa Kua) form part of the Thirteen tactics and are inter-linked. The Eight Powers add dimension to all movement.
  • Understanding and absorption of theory must be coupled with practical work, and is not ‘thought about’ when facing an opponent - do what works.
  • Beware of rigid interpretation. My teacher Ian Cameron regularly highlights the desire to ‘Revert to Principle’.
  • Defence and attack in Tai Chi Chuan is often viewed as one movement, but this does not alter the theory.
  • Theory also found in the Wu Family “Gold Book”
  • Reference ‘ Wutan Tai Chi Chuan’ by Cheng Tin hung & DJ Docherty






You may have to refresh pages if you have visited before, as the site uses cookies to provide best experience to visitors. However, this site does not use cookies, analytics or algorithms to collect or store any of the users personal identification information, nor transfer it to any third party. Our Privacy Policy can be accessed via the Enquiries Page