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Fred Villari

Five Shaolin Animal Forms


These five animal forms are the basis for Shaolin Kung Fu. Although other animal forms are practiced in all of them, every Shaolin style relies on the basic Dragon, Tiger, Leopard, Snake, and Crane forms.





The Dragon symbolizes grace, beauty, and great power. In Chinese mythology, the dragon evolved from water, so the form's movements are very fluid and circular. In the dragon form, a Shaolin practitioner uses his or her hands like claws to grab and hold an opponent's joints. The power in the Dragon form comes from circular movements like twisting the body, and a focus on developing internal energy (Chi) to use against an opponent.



The Chinese admire the tiger for its powerful claws and great strength and agility. Tiger training produces strong bones, joints, and tendons. Many of the tiger form exercises are designed to strengthen the back and spine as well as the arms and forearms. The use of the hands in the tiger claw differs from the dragon claw because it will pull, rip, or tear at an opponent instead of holding him or her in place. The strength here comes from twisting the body and using the ground to execute powerful blows and kicks. The Tiger form is the most physically challenging of the five animal forms. In this form the practitioner also learns to mimic a tiger's real-life methods of strength and attack. The Chinese believe this helps the practitioner to anticipate an attacker's blows, and more powerfully deliver his or her own strikes.



The Chinese admire the leopard for its agility. The leopard is not as powerful as the tiger, but it is more agile. This form teaches a combination of speed and agile footwork to overcome opponents. The Leopard form uses both short and quick, powerful strikes to slowly confuse and defeat opponents. Short kicks are meant to hit the opponent's groin or abdomen. The leopard form is defensive and clever. In life and in this form, the leopard uses subtle movements to avoid the opponents blows and is quick to strike. The elaborate footwork in the leopard form helps practitioners develop balance and timing.
The snake is admired for its ability to strike an aggressor quickly. Because a snake does not have legs, and must coil to strike with speed and power, the Snake form is all about speed. The snake form has practitioners using their fingertips and palms to strike at an opponent's pressure points. This form is both offensive and defensive. Snake practitioners learn to generate powerful internal energy and release it in every blow. This means fighting from a relaxed state of mind, because doing so enables the fighter to go from waiting to making an offensive strike. The Snake form is the opposite of the Tiger form, using internal power rather than hard defensive blocks and blows.
The Chinese admire the crane's patience. These graceful birds are known to stand on one leg for many hours without moving. This ability represents concentration and focus in Shaolin. The Crane form uses a hooking motion to fend off blows, divert the attackers' energy, and then strike from a distance. With their long wingspan and legs, cranes can put a lot of distance between themselves and an attacker. The Crane form involves sweeping kicks and mimicry of the bird's beak to strike quickly, which develops strong fingers, arms, and legs.



















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