A lesson from the martial arts on how you can embody and express the symbolism of the five elements in the culture and brand of your business.
The power of frames
Getting metaphysical again… One lesson from my budo practice, as told in another post, was about the elements of fire and water. However, that’s just one of many (MANY) useful metaphors taught in martial arts and other body-mind traditions which can also be applied on life in general – and business/entrepreneurship in specific.
If we’re really gonna describe every material aspect of the world, the following model of the five elements is fascinating. I learned it through the “sanshin no kata” in my bujinkan practice, where the elements are embodied in five different movements of defense and attack. When one learns of abstract concepts such as “elements” through physical experience, the learnings become all the more profound and relatable, tangible… palpable, even. Below, I will attempt to convey a sliver of that direct sensation.
Characteristics of the five elements
Earth – This is the slowest, roughest, most durable element. It burrows, penetrates, collapses. It can be densely packed sand, or a heavy rock, or a majestic mountain. When you stand still, grounded, breathing deep and slow, with eyes closed, listening – you’re being Earth.
Water – Wetness and fluidity. Wavelike, powerful and deep motion. The coordinated, interplayful dance between you and any counterpart where you can both feel the flow. It’s when duality is natural and mutually energizing.
Fire – Explosive heat, sudden movement, adrenaline-pumping excitement. Fire can’t burn forever, but the glow needn’t ever falter. And if given fuel, the intensity can keep others at somewhat of a distance… but they won’t turn away, and they won’t want to move too far from the source of heat and security.
Air – Air can’t be held, and you can’t see it move… only see or feel its effect. It’s fast, nimble, and a tease. All sounds, music and verbal communication are but air, moving at varying frequencies
Emptiness – Here’s where the material realm ends. Or begins. Emptiness is potentiality, formlessness, abilitity to change into any of the elements. It’s the space between breathing in and breathing out… the space between thoughts.
Now, the question to you, dear readers, is this: Which one of these feels like “your” element? And – how can the elements be applied to how you build your culture and your brand?