On the five elements, people might have a dominant element which expresses their personality. Mine is air but I often cycle between different elements, as modes of emotional and intellectual processing of information from my environment relayed through my senses and codified by my brain. The five elements principle is basically one of describing energy. Energy is neither created or destroyed it simply changes forms.
My experience with life in general and my observations of others, allows me to see patterns and develop them into other patterns I want to bring about the final result in the pattern of events. You gain this level of insightful acting based on planned responses by simply watching, observing and listening to events in other people's lives. Certain characteristics appear and reappear... If you are observant.
And meditating on the cause and effect. The elements, only provides the gross reference points like stars in the night sky. You use them as fixed point to observe the world around you. In this way it is the most basic and natural of interactions and progressions that can be applied.
This is first demonstrated in the Five Element Kata. It is then expanded by personality types and attitudes. Even then, if one were to study Sun Bin, Sun Tzu's protégé who wrote a second Art of War. The five elements of Taoist Alchemy also produces 5 types of soldiers and 5 strategies for using these types of soldiers.
We will discuss these here...
Wood is the Chinese equivalent of Void. This is the Spy or Scout who is the eyes and ears of the army and dagger in the back when need be. Wood os characterized as a seed which grows into a tree which produces more seeds and becomes a forest over time. A slow and continual expansion of energy.
Fire is the Officers who maintain discipline and moral of the Warriors who work togather in bands or companies. The Officer is characterized by the sword and represents a slowly compressing energy, that burns at the edges ans wears the enemy down or forges a hardened team.
Earth is the Warrior, who is characterized by Spear. This energy stands firm and meets resistance with resistance. This is. A stable energy that does not act unless acted on.
Metal is the Chinese equivalent of Air or Wind. Wind is characterized by the crossbow and later the bow and Archers who acted as a kind of medieval artillery covering the withdraw of Infantry (the Warriors). This is an evasive energy which attacks by withdrawing.
Water is characterized by the Chariot and later the horse representing the mounted Archer on Horse back. Water is characterized by a flowing and around energy. As chariots or mounted archers would race around the clashing infantry trying to target officers leading the soldiers.
If you understand this, you understand the basic idea of how such Armies were ordered for battle.
Scouts and Spies, provided security for Armies on the March. They also provided for Strategic Operations to delay or hamper the enemy from reacting quickly or effectively. Example, Scouts may observe an enemy activity and spies may report on enemy movement and plans but, to delay an enemy force from meeting and delaying one's own probing forces which would come in to seperate the "vanguard" from the supporting forces. The scouts can act as Skirmish forces (commando units) to ambush these enemy reinforcements or they can simply burn down a bridge and drop a few trees onto the road to form a barrier. Likewise, spies can be called on to do the same. These are not frontline soldiers or "elite shock troops" but, small strategically applied forces. And yes, this is where the physical stealth and hiding skills that os part of the full scope of ninjitsu is focused.
Officers do the planning either tactically in the charge of smaller forces or strategically over who military campaigns. An officer might lead frontline forces or scouts gathering and compiling intelligence. Since at the time the ruling class was the military class, officers also engaged in politics and matters of governance. Such men were well educated and would have been trained in disguise, able to impersonate priests, tradesmen and so on. They would have specialized in gathering information from conversations in court or during negotiations.
The Common Soldier would provide a greater function as a defenisive force posting security for camps and castles, or keeping the peace in times of piece. In battle, the common footman would defend the archers who would inflict the most damage by bombarding enemy forces with arrows.
It was many times, not uncommon for samurai commanders to choose to engage their enemy in a forest. The mountains and forests of the Iga & Koga areas of Japan for example would make the larger army arrangements impractical allowing for Scout & Skirmish forces to be of greater value. This would also negate the use of mounted archers. The archer could enage the enemy from high ground. This is the place of the Archer and it was common for common ashigaru and samurai of the Iga and Koka areas to ne trained in archery as well as sword and spear, because of the nature of the terrain.
Finally, we will examine the mounted archer or calvery element of the army. On the more open areas like we see the Kishu areas of feudal Japan. Samurai acting as mounted archers could ride around enemy formations firing arrows in to the enemy and seeking to pick off enemy officers as well as inflict enemy casualties of regular soldiers. Mounted Archery draws from the Kamakura period (1100s to 1300s) to the mid 1600s when the Portuguese brought firearms to Japan. More so, Samurai on horse back could bypass the infantry defending the archers and charge the archers directly, with spears impaling more then one at a time.
Even though the weapons have changed with the modernization of technology, the basic principles and strategy of the five elements have now.
Wood/Void: Expansive force slowly breaking out from within...
Fire: A colapsing force slowly consuming from without...
Earth: A strong force reisting outside force by pushing against it the force amd meeting it with equal or greater force.
Wind: An evading force that draws force to act against it and withdraws to disrupt the force directed against it.
Water: A yielding force that overcomes by receiving and redirecting force directed against it.
Wood creates Fire by burning, Fire creates Earth by leaving Ash, Earth reveals metal through digging, Metal produces Water through condensation and Water creates Wood by nourishing it's Seed.
Likewise, Wood is destroyed by Cutting ot with Metal, Wood destroys Earth by breaking through when it grows from within, Earth destroys water when it stagnates because the Water does not flow, Water quenches ffireby smothering, Fire destroys Metal by melting and Metal corrodes with Rust from Water.
Do you understand the five manuvers of forces during warfare yet?
Wood: Subversive Tactics based in Espionage, Sabotage and Assassination.
Fire: Surrounding and Harassing the enemy, laying siege.
Earth: Defending and holding ground.
Metal: Baiting to Ambush.
Water: Flanking the enemy.
The cycle of conflict during war;
Subterfuge breaks a strong defense from within. Laying siege to an enemy prevents their escape and wears them down from without. Strong defenses limit enemy movement and prevent attack. When your key elements are protected and the enemy cannot attack you bait them amd draw them into an ambush. When the enemy baits you to attack you out maneuver them by avoiding the direct route and flanking to cut off their retreat. Allowing the enemy to retreat & using the chaos the plant "seeds" in the form of spies who will sabotage the enemy's defenses from within, while one seeks to lay siege from the outside. And when the enemy attempts to bait one to attack, one simply does not follow (much like how I felt Roley's challenge to challenge him was a set up to have me arrested) but flanks the baiting force with reinforcements instead of one's main force breaking the siege. Likewise, when the enemy leaves an openning to draw one's reinforcements forces out, one holds their ground, even charges head on to meet the enemy to meet force head on with one's own forces.
If this seems wasteful, consider the alternative is to retreat, thinning one's ranks amd run into a secondary flanking force which would cut down one's thinned ranks in retreat amd be caught in what the Western strategists calls a pencer maneuver. So the only way to survive is to reinforce one's front and meet the enemy head on.
By understanding this cycle of maneuver warfare, one has a powerful alternative to a strict set of route maneuvers. Unlike, Western Battle Drills this 5 element, metaphor allows a tactician to understand tactics on the more intuitive level. Which allows for better understanding on a subconscious level. However, it does so at the risk of confusing the conscious mind which is more literal and less intuitive.
A lone martial artist can learn to interpret the fighting style and tactics of his opponent with the 5 Element Kata functioning as a loose set of guidelines, vague suggestions to interpret another's individual combat style. By comparison, a tactician can develop a sense for how the enemy is acting and intuitively counter said action as or before it can be made.
The strategist however, uses one element to create and counter another and plans 10 steps ahead of his opponent knowing that warfare follows certain pattern. This way we, can also look at the ebb and flow of human nature, as well as the human nature of nations. For example because the first act of a nation going against another nation is Wood, the use of spies to infiltrate plant the stages of subversive activity. A nature defend for this is the cutting off of enemy this done by having "spy hunters" or assassins who do nothing but find and kill enemy agents or by turning agents. These turned agents may only pretend to be turned and, thus, must be watched carefully. They can serve one's own ends by supplying their handlers with false information which requires sacrificing men and operations to make the enemy believe they are getting correct advice.
Ultimately, while the individual student may not see the five element kata and five element nagare exercises as going beyond the specifics of jujitsu they relate to a greater understanding of military strategy. Because the individual budoka learns to apply the five elements to fighting techniques at an individual level. They learn to apply it at as a small team and eventually as a larger force. Decisions are intuitive and happen with little to no conscious thought, thus reducing the likelihood of over thinking actions and reactions.