Kung Fu’s animal styles are about strength, balance and patience
I have long held a fascination with martial arts. I was a keen judo competitor as a teenager and won many medals and trophies. This article about the origins of various martial arts is interesting. It seems the timeline is also complicated.
Constant wars and upheaval, but also some of the great philosophical debates about the nature of the self, led to fighting techniques that were extremely effective, but also inward looking.
Apparently, it is hard to pinpoint exact origins because many early practitioners were self-taught. It was only when they proved to be effective fighters that others started copying their style, perfecting it over time and eventually opening martial arts schools.
The story of Kung Fu
There is a story however about an Indian monk, his name was Bodhidarma and on his way to China he developed a set of 18 strength exercises to prevent falling asleep during meditation. He lived in a Shaolin Monastery where the other monks joined him in his practices.
Centuries later, another monk, along with two boxers, believed the techniques could be used effectively for fighting. The three men created a new fighting style based on the original 18 exercises practised by Bodhidarma. They divided their mixed martial arts into five styles named after animals that possessed a particular fighting prowess. This is a look at Kung Fu’s five basic fighting techniques and how they are used to improve strength, agility and endurance.
The tiger uses its paw to strike, while grabbing and clawing at strategic weak spots. Tiger-style fighting requires complete focus as you use your whole body to draw strength to your arm for a stealth attack that few adversaries can block. Tiger techniques are practiced so as to strengthen your bones.
Like the tiger, the dragon strikes and claws, but the fingers are positioned in a way that resembles a talon. Movements are more serpent-like and fluid. A powerful dragon pull can cause your opponent serious injury or even death from bleeding at the neck. Dragon techniques help with agility and fluidity in your movements.
The leopard claws similarly to the tiger, but fingers must be cupped flat, with the fingers pressed into themselves. Leopard attacks are strikes designed to knock the wind out of your opponent. Tiger strikes can also be used to effectively block boxing punches. Leopard exercises help to develop a threefold set of skills: Power, speed, and strength.
The arm is folded upward with the wrist and hand held out flat, like a snake right before it attacks. Snake techniques are hard to block, as their agile arm movements allow the attacker to strike in vulnerable spots. Unlike the other techniques snake exercises focus mainly on breathing and internal strength.
While boxing techniques rely heavily on the power of the fist, the crane technique allows fighters to block using the wrist alone. Fingers are cupped together to poke at soft vulnerable spots. Cranes sleep on one leg and, just like the bird, this style focuses on balance. Crane techniques emphasise footwork as much as finger strikes.
In Chinese, Kung means energy while Fu means time. It originally referred to any practice that took energy and time to master. Practising Kung Fu, like most martial arts, is about developing inward strength rather than outward aggression. Kung Fu takes its inspiration from nature, and many techniques are designed to increase vitality and awareness of your surroundings.