Five Arts - wǔ shù「五術」

The Five Arts「五術」or Five Skills are an integral part of ancient Chinese culture with its roots dating back to more than two thousands years. Its core principles evolve around the I Ching or Yì Jīng《易經》– commonly referred to as the Book of Changes – which contains a system of divination comparable to Western geomancy. The Five Arts are centered on the ideas of the dynamic balance of opposites, the evolution of events as a process, and acceptance of the inevitability of change.

These arts encompass everything from cosmology to complex mathematics. They derive abstract principles from the complexities within the system of classification based on the five elements (metal, wood, water, fire and earth) and apply the dynamic balances between the ‘yīn’「陰」and the ‘yáng’「陽」.

In today's world, science dictates a seemingly absolute truth and casts a scrutinizing blanket of doubt over all that it fails to explain. The tested and proven techniques and the philosophy of the Five Arts that have nurtured the oldest continuous civilization on earth for thousands of years, are still shun by many as superstition due to the lack of ‘scientific evidence’.

This school of knowledge could be classified into five categories : Divine Powers or shān「山」, Medicine or yī「醫」, Cosmology and Astrology or mìng「命」, Divination and Geomancy or xiàng「相」and Fortune-telling or bǔ「卜」.

Divine Powers「山」- is also referred to as the skills of the Immortals or xiān shù「仙術」. It studies The Way or The Dao「道」of the Immortals; secrets to longevity; balance in diet including the use of diet supplements; formulating elixirs; alchemy; meditation; learning scriptures; martial arts; applications of talismans; the training and preservation of mind and body; etc.

Medicine「醫」- namely Chinese Medicine - pertains to techniques in curing illnesses and enriching health. This branch of the Five Arts includes acupuncture; the study of herbal medicines and remedies; methods for enhancing health; etc.

Cosmology and Astrology「命」- studies the skills of analyzing one’s life. This category’s training enables foresight into one’s future using systems such as zǐ ping bā zì「子平八字」that ‘reads’ the Natal Birth Chart or mìng pán「命盘」derived from the four pillars of destiny being the year, month, day and time of one’s birth. zǐ wēi dǒu shù「紫微斗數」which serves a similar purpose is based on astrology intertwined with astronomy. Cosmology and the combination of Chinese constellations are also essential subject matters here. This class of skill is where ‘fate’, ‘luck’, ‘destiny’, etc. is dealt with.

Divination and Geomancy「相」- would be the category where fēng-shuǐ (風水) is studied – including fēng-shuǐ for the ‘yang’ or the living (宅相–陽宅風水) and fēng-shuǐ for the ‘yin’ or the dead (墓相–陰宅風水) where graves and burial rituals are explored. Palmistry (手相), reading of the face (面相), names (姓名學), etc. all fall under this art.

Fortune-telling「卜」- Multiple techniques in fortune-telling come under this category. These systems of prediction include the using of a turtle shell or guī guà (龜卦); using rice or mǐ guà (米卦); and other complex systems such as liù rén shén kè (六壬神課), qí mén dùn jiǎ (奇門遁甲), méi huā yì shù (梅花易數), etc.