The Thirteenth Hour Podcast #339: The 5 Elements, The Water Tiger, and a Reading from Empty Hands

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!)

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The Thirteenth Hour Podcast #71: Readings from Stephen K. Hayes’ Ninjutsu: The Art of the Invisible Warrior

Episode #71: Readings from Stephen K. Hayes’ Ninjutsu: The Art of the Invisible Warrior

I’ve recently rediscovered ninjutsu after a nearly 20 year hiatus.  After having trained in martial arts more than half my life at this point, it’s fun and eye-opening to start as a beginner at something almost totally new (since I can’t say I really remember much from my initial foray into the art — see Episode #47 for more).  In this week’s podcast, I reflect a little on the journey and read a few segments on conditioning, diet, and meditative practices from Stephen K. Hayes’ 1984 book, Ninjutsu: the Art of the Invisible Warrior.

I totally remember sitting on the floor of my local library reading this book (and the many others Mr. Hayes wrote) when I was a kid (and not really understanding most of it, I should add, since I mostly just looked at the pictures and tried to figure out how to throw shuriken).  Of course, it was much harder to find these kinds of books then (pre-internet), so thanks to so-called modern technology, what were considered priceless secrets to a twelve year old can now be easily found via Amazon, eBay, and by an adult decades later 🙂  Even though the book is over 30 years old, the advice inside is still as applicable today as it was years ago.  It expands the world of the martial arts to the world at large.  It takes specific skills learned for a specific purpose and makes them applicable to the world of everyday life … which, I suppose, is what they are all about to begin with.

In this short clip, Stephen K. Hayes talks a little about his own personal journey and the heroic ideal, which I thought was appropriate for a site that talks about fantasy stories and the hero’s journey:



Click on the image of the book above to read more about it on Amazon. 

Thanks for listening!


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