Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Kung Fu animals

Many styles of Chinese Boxing (aka kung fu or gong fu) have origin stories based around the observation of animal movements and fighting styles. This notion has been popularized in the Kung Fu Panda animated movie and its sequels.

Many kung fu styles incorporate aspects of multiple animals, with specific animals
  • identified with specific techniques, or entire "sets"
  • taken to embody a particular of mindset and/or physical characteristics
In drawing on the animal heritage of kung fu it is helpful to learn more about the nature of the animals in question. Ways to do so include:
  • Visiting a zoo for direct observation
  • Watching nature documentaries and clips
  • Learning about the cultural significance of the animals
And, of course, go practice and pay attention to what you find!

* * *

In Hung Kuen chinese boxing (and other styles) the main five animals are:
  • Tiger (trains bones): sheer power, prowling, connection to the Earth, ultimate predator, claws
  • Crane (sinews): balance and grace, light footwork, wings, beak, little claws
  • Leopard (strength): speed, unusual angles of attack, no blocking, leaping, claws
  • Snake (qi): adaptability, fluidity, precise attacks, bite
  • Dragon (spirit): combines aspects of the other animals, mysterious, omni-directional, powerful twisting, wings, tail, claws
A Tiger posture

The Five Animal Frolics is a qigong based on a different set of five animals (with tiger and crane in the overlap): bear, tiger, monkey, crane, and deer.

Other animals of note include the praying mantis, monkey, and eagle. 

Xing Yi features ten to twelve animals, depending on lineage.


Mark Deacon said...

Ive done preying mantis kung fu in the past before doing a more modern sports style of martial arts and opening my own club I'd like to get back to trying a more traditional form again. Is there any you would suggest I should try that may complement my Sports Martial Arts Background?

Daniel Prager said...

Hi Mark

Thanks for stopping by. If I were in your shoes I'd take the opportunity to look at a wide variety of options within your area, and use your experience and judgement. You'll probably want to try something very different from your base art, e.g. something that emphasises throwing and grappling, or maybe a weapons-system. Having trained extensively in a particular system, your reflexes and patterns of movement will take a while to "loosen up" in order to take on something different. Good luck!

Jordan said...

Very interesting post on the significance of animals in martial arts. I do like watching the fighting styles and then the animal in action side by side - the inspiration becomes pretty obvious then. Thanks for sharing! said...

Kung-Fu has a certain majestic vibe that surrounds every style. A few years ago i was lucky enough to be invited to a small temple and there I sit and watched a Kung-Fu master practice his tiger style. It was truly an amazing experience, the peaceful and calm demeanor that they projected with very few words was quite refreshing.

Kouhei Tsukuda said...

I've always found the animal styles a fascinating aspect of Kung-Fu. Another interesting aspect are the legends of how the animal styles evolved.

Sometimes, a trained practitioner would observe the movements of a particular animal, or try to include some aspect of its nature or its attacks in his style of combat.

At other times, a martial artist might just becomes very impressed with the effectiveness of an animal in combat. For example, when I was younger, my master would tell me a story of how a mantis fought off a dog. Very impressive, considering the relative sizes of the two creatures.

Anonymous said...

Do you find students are more interested in traditional martial arts these days or more the MMA craze?
Soke Joe

Dan Prager said...

Hi Joe

It's a mix, and no doubt it always has been. The MMA craze is popularizing martial arts today as the judo, Bruce Lee, karate, Jackie Chan, and no doubt other crazes have in the past.

I think it's important for schools to be clear on what they offer and what they don't. In my case, if someone primarily wants to do MMA or other competitive martial arts, I advise them to look elsewhere.

If they want to learn self-defence, study traditional technique with practical applications, develop as a person by learning and teaching, and challenge themselves mentally and physically, chances are they'll fit right in!