The Power of Water

Posted on: Sat, 08/20/2016 - 20:26 By: Tom Swiss

Ellicott City was recently hit with a tremendous flood. At least two people were killed, and several buildings were destroyed or very badly damaged. One of those was the home of some friends of mine -- they were both away that night and their dogs were trapped inside. They were able to contact neighbors and the dogs were rescued, but a lot of their stuff was washed away.

The roads are still closed off and only work crews are being allowed in for the cleanup, but I walked down to the bridge over the Patapsco to have a look. You can see how the bridge was damaged, the iron railings torn away, bricks broken -- not just torn off but broken. That takes a lot of force.

And this is from water. When we think of strong things we might think of things like rocks and brick, but in a way water is stronger. It was water that carved the Grand Canyon.

It's been a while since we've done a beach training, but standing in water up to your waist while trying to do kata will teach you the power of water. And it's invincible! You can break a board, or if your technique is really good a stone or a brick, with your hands. (Even the rest of use could use a sledge hammer.) But just try to punch the ocean. It's a pointless endeavor.

But that doesn't mean that water is better or stronger than stone. The ancient Chinese had a theory of the wu xing, the "Five Elements" or "Five Phases": Water, Wood, Fire, Earth, and Metal. And they had sort of a rock-paper-scissors relationship: Water can put out Fire, Fire can melt Metal, Metal can cut Wood, Wood can move Earth (think of a plant pushing up through the ground as a seed sprouts, or the roots of trees or grass holding the dirt together), and Earth can contain Water (a dam, the banks of a river).

It's never the case that one thing is always the strongest and best. We human beings have all five of these elements in our nature. We have to select the best way to be to deal with any given situation. Sometimes we need to be Wood, and push our way up but be flexible. Sometimes we need to be Fire, be intense and hot and consume everything in the way. And sometimes we need to be water, to flow smoothly sometimes, sometimes work out way into the small cracks and spaces in things, and sometimes crash with into obstacles with such great force that they are uprooted.

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