If you’re on the prowl for new ways to improve your martial arts skills and expand your knowledge base, the five animals of Shaolin kung fu are for you. By studying the fighting methods of the snake, crane, tiger, leopard and dragon, you’ll glimpse kung fu through the eyes of
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Kung Fu Animals
Although some animal kung fu styles, like the 10,000 bee technique, originated from animal confrontations or animal-related work (like the fish gate style, which features movements based on the way fishermen cast their nets), most evolved by mimicking the movements and postures animals display in combative situations.
In the mid-1600s, Shaolin monk Zhue Yang and fellow martial artists Li Sou and Bai Yu-feng combined Indian Buddhist monk Ta Mo’s (Bodhidharma) 18 Buddhist Fist exercises with their observations and theories of the fighting strategies of five animals—the dragon, tiger, leopard, snake and white crane—to create the 170 movements of the fabled five animal styles of Shaolin.
Over time, these movements have been revised or integrated into different styles, while other animal fighting styles, such as eagle claw, money fist and praying mantis kung fu, have arisen independently.
Many martial arts also have evolved through the combination of the movements of several animals into one: ba gua zhang combines the tiger, monkey and eagle; liu her chuen combines the dragon, crane, rabbit, tiger, monkey and eagle; hsing-i combines the dragon, tiger, monkey, horse, turtle, chicken, hawk, swallow, snake, owl, eagle and bear; and the popular tai chi (taiji) combines the snake and crane.