From the earliest times Shaolin Kung Fu has featured five styles derived from animal movements called the ‘Ng Ying Ga’.
This article explains what the five animals are and what characterises the kung fu movements based on them Each of the five animals is said to embody specific characteristics and the styles based on those animals were developed to have distinguishable but complimentary movements.
The five Shaolin animals are:
Dragon, Tiger, Leopard, Snake and Crane
The Dragon (‘Lung’) style represents the cultivation of the spirit. Pronounced back arches, side horse stances and twisting body postures feature strongly in the style. Flexibility and graceful movements are stressed.
The Tiger (‘Fu’) does not need to defend, it is the ultimate predator. It has no evasion techniques, no blocking or defence. In any confrontation it leaps into attack going for the quick and direct resolution of the conflict. The Tiger uses any simple and direct approach. Its techniques and methods are easily understood with not a lot of strategic thinking or planning; and absolutely no preparation. The Tiger is purely reactive.
The Leopard (‘Paau’) style represents bravery and martial ferocity. It requires the development of strength and features a strong waist and lower extremities. The leopard style also requires the development of power and speed and swift penetrating strikes.
The Snake (‘Se’) style emphasises the development of ‘chi’ and employs highly accurate strikes to vital areas. Classic snake style is characterised by the use of flexibility, elasticity and diagonal movements. Snake style attacks employ shooting hand attacks striking to the opponent’s venerable regions. To practice Snake the practitioner must spend a lot of time working on accuracy and precision. He/she must be 100% in timing, distancing, effort, target and opportunity. They may use some distracting, swaying motions, occasional feints (each executed as if it were a real attack, which it could be) but that is as complex as it gets.
The Crane (‘Hok’) style is characterised by training of the sinews. It requires quick movements and a well developed sense of balance and practitioners will make use of deflecting, jabbing, hooking and poking movements frequently to an opponent’s vital areas. Long arm attacks and use of the waist to generate power are combined to form a graceful style that overcomes aggressive attacks by skilled, almost passive, deflections. The Crane does not attack only counter attacks. It would do this from any angle except the front. It would always side step the attack, possibly using its wings to mask the movement, change direction again, possibly to deliver a technique to the attacker. It is a master of evading supported by blocking and redirection. It would seek to frustrate its opponent, helping it to defeat itself.