My Path Through the Earth and Water Elements

Earth and water are the first two elements that I’ve experienced in To-Shin Do ninjutsu martial arts training, which I study at the Boulder Quest Center. The next three elements (in order) are fire, wind and void.

Each element’s katas (techniques) reflect the characteristics of that element. Progressing through all five elements is the path to become a black belt in To-Shin Do.

As a student, I first earned my first three belts in earth and am now finishing up the last of my three belts in water before I advance to the first of the three fire belts.

So what have I learned on my path from earth to water?

Earth represents the hard, solid objects of the earth. Earth is about stability and confidence. Being earthy, means that I hold my space. I draw a circle in the sand, step inside that circle and don’t let anyone move me out of it. The katas usually involve an up and down motion – a rising and sinking of the body with gravity – without much lateral motion. I feel confident with more earth techniques. I tend to fall back on them in a new situation because they are comfortable and relatively simple to use.

Contrast earth to water.

Water is flowing, fluid and adaptable. Like a wave at the shore, water recedes then crashes back in. Water flows around rocks (earth), while break them down over time.

Water katas are about movement and positioning. If surprised by an attack, I move myself away from the attack, assess the situation then move back in with a strategic action. With water katas, I become unreachable to my opponent yet I can easily reach my opponent. As I finish up my last water belt, I feel like I am only starting to understand and effectively apply the water katas.

To-Shin Do has many, many layers beyond a collection of self-defense techniques. The five elements can also represent our emotional states. As such, they can be a useful framework to help us understand our complex selves.

I like being “earthy” because I like to feel grounded. My roots are firmly planted in the ground. I own this space. The downside of earth is stubbornness and rigidness. I struggle with those at times.

I’ve learned that I have a predominantly “watery” personality. I like to learn. I like to problem solve. I think strategically. I have excellent attention to detail. I tend to gravitate towards water because it’s comfortable for me.

The downside to water is that I can easily lose myself in my thoughts and disconnect from others.

My assessment of myself: I am comfortable with water – it’s a strength – but I need to spend more time in earth and develop it as a strength, too.

The fire element is next for me. Fire, which is the opposite of water, is about connection. I’m curious what fire will be like for me as I learn new katas and explore an emotional state that is not as familiar to me as water is.