The Shaolin five animals consist of Tiger, Crane, Leopard, Dragon, and Snake. Each animal has characteristics that provide the practitioner with and array of offense and defense fighting techniques. Only through a mastery of each of these animals can one hope to become a complete Kung Fu stylist.
In China, the Tiger is said to be the king of all land beasts. The Shaolin monks adopted the spirit of the Tiger for its courage, strength, and power.
Because its energy is external in nature, the energy of the Tiger is different from the other animals in the cycle. The Tiger’s strength comes from hard pressing attacks. Developing a strong back and neck is essential for strong stances. The primary technique in the Tiger form is the Tiger Claw, which targets the opponent’s face, neck, groin, arms and wrists. The Tiger Form also utilizes palm strikes, fists, and special kicking techniques, such as the Tiger Tail Kick (Hu Wei Ti). Like the Dragon, proper breathing is important for developing power and force.
The Crane is known for its longevity. It is believed that the Crane lives such a long life because its body contains a large amount of jing, or essential energy. A calm, meditative animal, the Crane can stand on one leg for hours, without shifting its weight or growing restless.
Like the Dragon, Crane techniques are circular in nature. However, the Crane is always soft and relaxed, but strikes with penetrating speed and force. The Crane Form is known for using the “beak” to strike to targets such as the temple. It is also known for its long, extended wings. The Crane Form allows the practitioner to deliver flowing, relaxed power, as well as sudden and focused attacks.
In China, the Leopard’s fierce and ferocious power yields only to that of the Tiger. Though the Leopard is a smaller animal, it is believed to be, pound for pound, stronger. The Leopard relies on a lightening-fast, powerful force that is produced from relaxed, whip-like techniques. It is important for the practitioner to develop a flexible waist, which allows him or her to develop quick footwork and explosive strikes.
Since the Leopard Form focuses on quick movements, there is little internal energy training. But the internal strengths of the Dragon and Snake blended with the speed and force of the Leopard make a devastating combination. The main technique used in the Leopard Form is a Leopard Fist that penetrates vital areas of the opponent’s body, such as the throat, solar plexus, and groin. There are also elbow and forearm techniques. The Leopard’s footwork is quick and short, which helps the practitioner develop strong, stable stances.
Snake Form is important for developing Qi within the Five Animal Form. The Snake is a calm animal, it has more relaxed energy. When the practitioner cultivates this energy, the combination of relaxation, is mixed with quick, piercing strikes. There are no closed fists within the Snake Form. Instead, the hands are open and used for penetrating chops and finger strikes. The Snake’s spirit is calm and deliberate, and once the practitioner develops the proper energy, their strikes are focused and lightning-fast.
The Chinese Dragon represents internal strength. Contrary to popular belief, there is no relation to the western dinosaur or fire breathing dragon. Instead, according to Buddhist writings, the Chinese Dragon is a mystical creature that can show itself to those he wants, especially to those who have reached the highest levels of enlightenment.
Chinese Dragons are also said to live in oceans or large bodies of water, and are believe to produce rain. The Dragon Form combines internal and external energy to produce awesome and devastating strikes. Dragon Techniques feature a combination of all five animal concepts, as well as circular movements that can penetrate with sudden explosiveness. Though the claw is the primary hand technique used within the Dragon Form, there are also various palm and fist attacks that add to the Dragon’s effectiveness. However, using the waist in a whipping action to generate power is essential to the development of proper Dragon energy.
The Dragon Form uses internal conditioning through proper breathing techniques to develop Qi (internal energy). The breathing develops strength, flexibility, and power.
Classical, traditional weapons teach us coordination and the ability to keep the true spirit of the weapons of Kung Fu alive.
In the elements of the animals there is only harmony. All creatures, the low and the high, are one with nature. If we have the wisdom to learn, all may teach us their virtues. So, when we percieve the ways of nature, we remove conflict within ourselves, and discover a harmony of body and mind in accord with the natural flow of the universe.