Wu Wisdom: Five Elements of Kung Fu

The following is a Kung Fu inspired excerpt from RZA's "Tao of Wu." If you like this blog post, check out the photo shoot and story behind our Kung Fu inspired bag.

That last bit of wisdom started to take hold of me later, when I began studying with Sifu Shi Yan Ming, a thirty-fourth generation Shaolin monk who defected from China in ’92 and came to open a Shaolin temple in New York. He was the abbot of his school, I was the abbot of mine—he felt like a peer. But I also wanted to learn from him. “Sifu” can translate as “master,” and that’s a tough word in the black community, but I realized that sometimes you have to submit to someone to learn. So I did.

With Sifu I learned many Shaolin techniques, but my favorite is probably the Five Elements, maybe because I saw The Five Deadly Venoms at a young age. This technique breaks nature down into five basic forces: earth, water, metal, wood, and fire—which are also represented by the kung-fu styles snake, crane, dragon, leopard, and tiger. Most martial arts teach you to be as fluid as water, but earth absorbs water—so you counter water techniques with earth techniques, which absorb blows. Then if someone comes at you with earth techniques, you counter with wood styles, which drive forward. Then you counter wood with metal styles, which chop like an axe, and metal with fire styles, which are more explosive, and, finally, you fight fire with water.

These principles are both external and internal. Internally, it applies to your five major organs. Earth is the spleen, metal is the lungs, water is the kidneys, wood is the liver, fire is the heart. Like, I have asthma, so the form I learned to combat it with was metal—to strengthen my lungs. At the same time, if you have a problem with your lungs, since fire melts metal you think of the energy from your heart pouring into your lungs . If your heart is aching emotionally, you think of the water from your kidney coming to quench your heart. You do all this mentally—it’s inner Taoism.

Additional Reading: "Wu Xing, The Five Elements Introduction"