The Wuxing 五行

The Wuxing

In TCM we use the wuxing extensively. TCM has an advantage over the martial arts in that it comes under continual and realistic testing. The theory is under scrutiny in the clinic in a way that way cannot do with our boxing. We spar and push and grapple, but a patient with COPD really is sick.

While some feel that the these fields are far apart I would argue that the problem lies not in the Wuxing theory itself, rather in the expression of it. Many times I have argued against folk-modeling and how this leads to weird understandings of basic theories within boxing that are not vague or abstract in the medical context.

Wuxing is a prime example.

Does metal control wood because axes chop down trees? *Sigh*

OK, imagine a spherical space where everything is equal density. From extreme to extreme each part is the same in texture and quality. If you have ever made compost you know how the greatly differentiated material breaks down, rottens and ripens, and becomes good loam. Rich, black and even. This is earth. Undifferentiated from extreme to extreme. Even power from head to foot, hip to shoulder, finger to toe, etc.

Any change within the space of equal density leads to some kind of condensation. Even if I try to hollow out a bubble the mass can’t leave the space, so the walls of the bubble are a condensation. The condensation leads to weight and so begins a downward movement. Change from equal density is condensation; condensation leads to downward energy.

As condensation increases so does the force of weight and at some point the force of downward movement is more dominant than condensation and the whole thing becomes sinking, as if the accretion into a shape lets go into the weight. Almost as if enough condensation collapses into itself and moves down.

Downward movement leads us to the bottom of our space and into death. Energy runs down, like the second law of thermodynamics (it is the second law isn’t it? Not a science major, my bad if I’m off in the ozone on that one). This is the end of the story except that life struggles against entropy (some biologists call this characteristic negentropy, the staving off of dissolution by taking in energy from other sources (food, sun, fire, etc.)). The struggle of life is like the seed cracking open and driving a root into the earth to stretch a branch out to the sun. The energy pushes of to go to a destination. Like the formation of a line of intent. If I’m thirsty and I reach for a glass of water it is the same energetic quality as a root digging down to water or a leaf turning to face the sun.

Imagine within our space that the wood energy has stretched from the base where water took us as high as it can reach within the space, like the Taiji pole stretching from extremity to extremity. The forces are found to be strongest at the extremes, but it is weakest in the middle. When the line of intent has reached its most extreme it lets go in the centre and begins to expand outward like a nova. Eventually this wave of expansion has filled our space and we are left with equal density throughout.

Therefore a way of understanding the sheng cycle is that from equal density any change is condensation. Condensation leads to sinking, which takes down to the bottom. Life struggles against the entropy and pushes off of to go towards. When the line has reached the limit it lets go in the centre and expands in all directions, leading to equal density throughout. Earth -> Metal -> Water -> Wood -> Fire -> Earth = Wuxing.

Deep breath.

So lets talk about the Ke cycle (this is the one that makes me cringe in the folk-model). Ke is something held up on the shoulder. It wants to fall under the force of gravity, yet the shoulder it is on constrains the movement. It is not imprisoned by the shoulder or dominated, just held back a little. When there equal density throughout if I drive a line of intent through it breaks apart the neat evenness like a mole going through the lawn. When a person uses a dense structure all braced up and strong all over I drive a line of intent into him and collapse the equal density, line a plow digging a furrow in the earth.

When the opponent is making a shape to create some method or use some technique I burst open like a nova and expand in all directions, disabling their ability to make the shape. Such as when some tries to apply a lock I may just fajin to undo their method.

When the opponent tries to use the quality of falling into as if my body where the source of gravity and their hits fall into it. Loose as he slips past my guard to drop the “wet” blows onto the core. Then I give him equal density throughout so that he can find no vulnerabilities to exploit and stick to him like mud.

When the opponent drives long lines of intent like spears, drop condensation onto the middle of the line (where it is the weakest). He cannot achieve his desire of power from heel to hand if he is forced to add energy to the middle of the line to deal with the condensation-into-weight. Metal controls wood because condensation on a line of intent leads to a diminishing of the power of driving from a place to go to place, by forcing a lateral filling out of the line.

When he bursts out from the centre in pulses of fajin I simply act as if they are down. Attempts to burst are constrained when energy falls loosely into the core from which the bursting occurs. The lack of lateral resistance gives the wave-force nothing to act against and can only be effective if it can meet the pin-point drops head on. This leads to the bracing up to defend against the “downward” hits and inhibits the bursting.


Earth in the body is digestion and absorbtion, as well as, contemplation and musing.

Metal is inspiration of the breath and the settling or condensation into the blood of external gases, as well as, the coalescence of the mind around objects of sense experience.

Water is the deep functions of rest and circadian rhythms, as well as, the ability to bring things deeply into the memory (ride the hippocampus baby!).

Wood is the ability to dredge and disperse throughout the body and the ability to manifest growth and change, as well as, the ability of the self to formulate plans and strategies.

Fire is the metabolic warmth of chemical reactions within the body, as well as, the ability of the mind to reason. The ability of the mind to open and expand to encompass a new thought or inspiration.

A ridiculously short, and pathetically long, examination of the Wuxing.


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