Many systems of martial arts base their movements on animals (preying mantis, monkey, crane, snake etc) Why do they do this?
In nature all living things have evolved to adapt to their dangerous environments to survive and have naturally developed efficient ways to defend themselves, feed and reproduce (each animal has weird and wonderful successful methods which have helped their species to survive millions/billions of years.)
From what is said here we know these animal attacks are effective so why not copy their movements rather than trying to make up something new from scratch? That is what has been done and many martial artists have dedicated there life’s to copying the behaviours/ attacks/ defences and hunting strategies off animals and using them to develop their skills in the martial arts for themselves and others, the most famous and well known is the
History and facts about Shaolin 5 Animal Fists.
references from Eric Lee black belt magazines
The concepts of the five animals is thought to have originated early in the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) at Shaolin Temple, located on Song mountain in China’s Henan province
“The animals of Shaolin made a huge impact on the development of kung fu and are still doing so today. That’s because the animals, like nature, offer the same insights today as they did centuries ago.
“In the beginning, the old masters studied the animals and adopted many of their habits. Those habits included how they rested, how they gathered and released their chi (internal energy), how they stalked their prey and how they fought. The five animals were chosen for their superior attributes for fighting and defence and for other mannerisms that contribute positively to human life.”
Practicing Kung Fu with the attitude of one of the five animals can help you see things more clearly, “You’ll be more aware, and you’ll be more in balance internally and externally. The animals help you express yourself wholeheartedly in any direction. They’ll help you know what it’s like to be anything you want to be. If you let nature be your teacher, good things happen.”
The techniques of the five animal styles are briefly:
Dragon: “Dragon fist trains the spirit.”
strong, smart, deceptive, unpredictable; includes traits of the other four Shaolin animals; considered one of the two most powerful animals in Chinese astrology and the sign of the emperor
uses quick, snapping kicks that hit with the blade of the foot; uses the full fist and the forearms to strike; may combine physical techniques of the other Shaolin animals
any body part that can be grabbed; the head, which is simultaneously grabbed and struck
relaxed muscles, ability to switch from soft movements to hard movements
drills to build explosive power
dragon-tail kick, which is used to hit or sweep; dragon claw “If you try to grab a basketball, your hand will form a shape much like a dragon claw. “It protects treasure, defends against famine and floods, and is filled with ancient wisdom and folklore.
Tiger: “Tiger strengthens the bones.”
strength, agility; considered one of the two most powerful animals in Chinese astrology
tends to charge the opponent and attack directly with brute force, uses circular arm movements to overwhelm the enemy, relies on the arms but occasionally uses low kicks
any part of the body, especially those that react to tearing techniques
relaxed muscles, speed, solid build, ability to adopt a strong stance and quickly change to another stance
push-ups, sit-ups, calisthenics, sparring, development exercises
tiger claw, an open-hand grabbing and striking weapon formed by spreading the thumb and fingers, then bending them slightly “like holding a baseball.”
“It offers the power to shake the earth and to be the authoritative king of its lair.
Crane: “The spirit of the crane resides within the stillness.”
evasive, rarely offense-oriented, subtle, graceful
keeps the opponent at a distance and capitalizes on the length of the arms and legs, tends to strike with the very end of the natural weapons, attempts to overwhelm the enemy with rapid hand strikes, evades using circular movements
soft areas such as the eyes, throat, ears and heart; sides of the head; ribs
tall, long reach, ability to remain still for extended periods, good balance, concentration, minimal strength
mobility-enhancing drills to develop the ability to maintain distance between oneself and the opponent, speed training, quick retraction of natural weapons, chi-development exercises
crane beak, formed by bunching the thumb, index finger and middle finger together to strike with the fingertips
“It dances with accuracy and control, and offers weightlessness to rise above crises.
Leopard: “Bend fingers hard, like iron.”
strong, efficient, fast, technical, defined by accuracy, capable of stealth attacks
strikes quickly to inflict pain, then follows up for the kill
soft-tissue regions and other vital areas, including the ears, neck, armpits, temples and groin
relaxed muscles, supple strength, ability to quickly retract the arms and legs after a strike
striking drills that develop accuracy and precision
leopard paw, a half-fist that strikes with the second knuckles of the four fingers. It’s a rigid weapon that makes contact with a small, penetrating surface.
“It’s nature’s master of precision and prowess—sharp, efficient and lightning fast.
Snake: “Hard like steel and soft like a rope of silk.”
deceptive, agile, fast, accurate
relies on awareness, employs coiling motions and hisses to intimidate, uses whipping toe kicks to the lower half of the opponent’s body, utilizes simultaneous striking and locking techniques, avoids using the traditional fist
vital parts of the body, especially the eyes, face and throat
thin build, quick muscles
drills to increase explosiveness, which enables one to take the opponent by surprise; exercises that enhance balance and accuracy
snake hand, which uses one or two fingers—or, in the case of the spearhand, all of them—to attack and defend
“It has extreme chi power, which helps activate profound sensitivity and enables all the muscles towork as one.
- From looking at the explanations of the 5 animals here we can start to pick out personality’s and attributes of the animal style which best describes ourselves and our current fighting style.
- It can become a habit in our martial art training to only train to our strengths e.g. working only 1 of the animal style‘s, throughout our martial arts career our fighting style should undergo adaptations and changes working on different styles to make you a more complete fighter, instead of lacking in any areas. All in all “mix them all in and take something from everything“.
- By practising different styles it gives us a motivating goal to work towards it is also quite clear what it is you are trying to achieve from the start helping the martial artist to be focused and be in the right frame the mind in training, for example snake: working on how to avoid a situation as it develops rather than when it is already there, quick poisonous strikes to vital areas and complex ‘Hold and Control’ submission techniques, but most importantly I think is that it puts you in the frame of mind of a natural hunter meaning you are committed 100% to every movement and have good visualisation on what your aiming to achieve.
- There is so much to learn in martial arts it sometimes gets very confusing and things can start to get muddled up, by having the different styles as is here we break down our training into more manageable slots which helps us to stay focused in what we are aiming to achieve ultimately speeding up our progression into mastering the styles before moving onto the next subject.
- By becoming familiar and understanding the different styles you will start to become better prepared to assess an opponents likely fighting style, from this you are better prepared to pick out their weaknesses and use techniques which are effective against them. If the opponent is bigger and stronger the techniques learned from the tiger style in training are most likely not going to work as effectively strength on strength) against them as techniques from the other styles. Helps you become adaptive in order to prevail against different opposition.
Using the five animals I will now use myself as an example on how I could use these styles to best describe myself and find what I believe to be my points of strength and weaknesses within the styles ultimately to help find out where I currently stand and how I can progress forward within the martial arts. I will also write something I would like to work on from each style and say how I could integrate this into my training.
(I found describing myself difficult as I have described how things feel for me when performing martial arts however this could possibly be completely different to what it looks like or is actually happening so if anyone thinks differently to what I have written please comment as this will be a big help)
This is the order I think best describes me and my fighting style (1=strongest 5=weakest)
Crane:: I personally think that the Crane style best describes me due to preferring to work at a distance from the opponent and at angles off-line from his attacks and requiring great flexibility for its attacking and evasion techniques. The Crane has excellent balance and is very good at disturbing the balance of others. (Disturbing opponents balance is something I intend on trying to improve).Keeps the opponent at a distance and capitalizes on the length of the arms and legs, evades using circular movements I feel this describes how I try to make my movements when working towards competition training
“disturbing opponents balance + mainly using counters”
These methods could be put into practice when doing our partner work as most of the techniques we have been working are evade/block followed by counters. Once we have become skilful in these techniques we should use these in slow sparring situations followed by medium/fast synario’s.
Leopard: Second due to being reasonable good at the following attributes strong, efficient, fast, technical, defined by accuracy, capable of stealth attacks.
when I manage to consistently master the ability to quickly retract the arms and legs after a strike I will become much stronger for this style, I can work on this in training when working Padwork, sparring, basics up and down the dojo and even in kata’s where it is required.
Tiger: third due to strength, agility, speed, solid build, ability to adopt a strong stance and quickly change to another stance, I put this lower down the list as I believe I do not fight as fiercely or aggressively as stated for this stylist.
“charge the opponent and attack directly with brute force, uses circular arm movements to overwhelm the enemy, relying on the arms relaxed muscles“.
In training I need to put Full commitment into these attacks every time plus use loud vocals in the attacks representing the roar of the tiger so that the opponent will react with fear. Using the big Thai pads with a partner would be an ideal opportunity to work these techniques.
Snake: strengths of the snake for me being: agile, fast , uses whipping toe kicks to the lower half of the opponent’s body, weaknesses being the grappling and locking work that comes with it and development of chi energy.
“When doing snake moves, you can strike and lock simultaneously. Offense becomes defense, and defense becomes offense.”
These techniques could be performed when practicing jujitsu, judo + self defence in karate lessons as the ability to get your opponents into locks severely restricts there movement and puts you in control without relying on causing major damage to the person to keep them at bay.
Dragon: last as I feel I use many of its attributes, but feel I have along way to go here before I can say this is one of my strengths as you should know many of the techniques from the 4 animals as well as new ones from this animals style making it the most tricky to master.
Fighting like a dragon means being smart, calm and fearless, “Always think ahead, and lead your opponent away from your vulnerabilities or into the abyss of your power. Take the obvious and reverse it. With the spirit of the dragon, you will always rise to fight another day.”Eric Lee insists.
I would like to train this concept as I feel it is one of the major concepts to help me overcome bigger and more experienced opponents.
After completing this report I can clearly see why these styles of kung fu are popular around the world, my opinion on the use of them in our training would be strictly for the higher grades 1st kyu + or even 1st dan + as this is where you start to take the martial arts more in the direction of your choosing, before that its more important to get all the fundamentals right to give you a strong foundation to build upon, without this you will find few of your techniques and applications will work effectively.
To finish I have completed a quick quiz online http://www.quibblo.com/quiz/UtrYey/Which-Kung-Fu-animal-style-are-you after answering 10 questions it came up with
“You are elegant and calm, but can use the enemy’s momentum to turn it against them. Praying Mantis is especially famous for its technique, speed and continuous attacks. Another prominent feature of the style is its complex footwork and fluid motions“.
Watch Rokusho (5 animals – Tensho) on World of Martial Arts (www.woma.tv)