The Thirteenth Hour Podcast #339: The 5 Elements, The Water Tiger, and a Reading from Empty Hands
Since it recently became the year of the water tiger (per the Chinese version of the lunar calendar), I thought for this week’s show, it might be interesting to look at some of the philosophical underpinnings behind the elemental alignments the characters in The Thirteenth Hour martial arts novella, Empty Hands, have (Earth, Wind, Water, Fire, Void).
The original inspiration was Japanese esoteric Buddhism and the martial arts that use that system as a way of figuratively describing different kinds energy. You’ll find more about this in epsiode 151 on the godai and in texts like The Book of Five Rings.
There is also a separate, very similar system tracing back to ancient Chinese astronomy using slightly different elements (Earth 土, wood 木, fire 火, metal 金, and water 水), widely used in things like traditional Chinese medicine and martial arts. Those five elements are paired with the twelve zodiac signs to make 60 different signs, this year’s water tiger sign being one. Since these ideas spread through a lot of Asia, you see them in cultures beyond China. In that way, they looped back to Japan.
There, these ideas became the gogyo (五行 – “five phases”). In the episode, I read a section on this topic from Stephen K Hayes’ Mystic Arts of the Ninja (the two graphics above are from that book) as well as a section from Empty Hands, which was inspired by both this and the godai system in creating elemental alignments for the characters as a way of encapsulating their personalities (and in a way, making their easier to write!)