Yin and Yang, Water and Fire

The philosophy of Yin and Yang is certainly not the type of philosophical inquiry of, say, Husserl. The consideration of Yin and Yang is closer to a quotidian philosophy, the kind of thing you can apply to daily existence. By this I do not mean it is superior or inferior, simply different. Philosophy comes in many tastes.

It is a philosophy of layered reality, a series of templates that are laid atop one another. The first layer is Yin and Yang. Pretty much everyone knows that, but few get much beyond it.

Yin and Yang are absolute in the purest sense; like a spaceship matching the speed of life, it is possible to think about ‘it’, but you will never see ‘it’. We need to descend a level to get closer to human life as it is lived. And that means Fire and Water.

Trigrams Qian Heaven

Bagua Trigram Kun Earth @plumpub.comIn Chinese studies, Heaven and Earth are each represented by a code composed of either three solid or three broken lines.  You can think of Heaven as Father and Earth as Mother. They have a number of children, each one also represented in this fashion. The middle male child has a strong feminine side . His quality is water, or the Abysmal, meaning not that he is bad but that he pulls things downward. The daughter who has male traits but is at core feminine is Li, or Fire  . Her attribute is to cling, like flames on a log. Where her brother is Solid, she is Beautiful.

Fire and Water are the Yin and Yang of the real world. As symbolic as the Star of David, they have the essential nature of rising and descending, standing stolid and clinging, expanding and contracting. Unlike the Greek elements, they are not so much material as transformational. Dark and bright, cooling and heating, they are the essential qualities which Chinese philosophers believed to be essential to the alchemy of life.

Bagua trigram Li for Fire @plumpub.comWhether you are into this philosophy or not, it is interesting and sometimes fascinating to see the signs in Kung Fu and know how to read them. For instance, you might walk into a Kung Fu school and see the character for “fire” displayed on the altar, but upside down. What would that mean? First, it illustrates the need to possess the fire required for martial arts, but also to control it, the result of martial training. Second, it shows that fire which, like a dutiful daughter, wants to return to her father, is seen in Chinese thinking (and pretty much everywhere else) as life “burning itself up.” Kung Fu is said to be one of those arts, like some forms of Qigong, that slows the normal expenditure of vital energy.

Bagua trigram Kan for Water @plumpub.comMany, many movements and postures are modeled after the fire and water analogy. For example, the heart is seen as a chamber of fire while the kidneys and bladder are “water.” Many advanced standing practices require sophisticated alignment which suppress the chest and raises the pelvis in order to “bring water and fire together,” as in a crucible.

The word Qi itself is constructed out of calligraphic strokes that indicate the action of heated water, or fermenting rice X. All of the changes in Kung Fu—the choice of moves, the ratio of form to function, the attributes of the different weapons—can be seen as elements in this constant round-robin of fire  and water.

Chinese character "water" @plumpub.com

Chinese character for "Fire" @plumpub.comGetting back to the symbolic approach we can say that if fire and water are brought together in the right way they may exchange their cores, temporarily making them both return to the Heaven/Earth purities. To those who understand this pattern, it is the beginning of a cleansing process, something akin to grace.

Watching a group of Kung Fu students working out, we often see the soft fluid movements almost unintentionally exploding in random outbursts. Harmonizing the fluid and the fiery is an art indeed. In the case of Kung Fu, it is the art within the art.

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