The Shaolin style we teach at Immortal Dragon Vancouver is Ng Ying Kuen, also known as the “Five animals style” and Ng Ga Kuen, the "Five Family Fist style". To understand the first part in this blog I will show you the different basic animals and their meaning.
The traditional animals which are included in Ng Ying Kuen are the Dragon, the Tiger, the Leopard, the Snake, and the Crane. All but the dragon are actually animals, the former is a spiritual animal. This five animals are related to the Southern Shaolin Kung Fu and are associated with the Guangdong and Fujian provinces in China. The legend wills that Shaolin monk Jueyuan created, based on the basic 18 Lohan Hands, 72 movements. With the help of Li Sou, the master of the "Red Fist" and Bai Yufeng, a master of an internal martial art he expanded the 72 techniques to over 170 and restored internal methods to the Shaolin fighting. To organize it they used the Five Animals.
The Five Animals are also known as the Five Elements and are used as a foundation for Chi Control. Black Belt Magazine has a short overview of the qualities of each animal.
The tiger is representing, the wood element and focuses on grasping and stretching. In Kung Fu it refers to the strength of the bones. It also incorporates another important part, which is balance. The tiger incorporates solid, tense power. The tiger is simple and direct, but also sudden and absolute with the power it exercises. The idea behind the tiger technique is to be final and done with strength and power. It is very aggressive, offensive and least subtle to watch, but effective and efficient. It encourages block and attacks executed in one movement. To be able to use it there is a need of strong finger, a low stance with strong postures and mighty legs can finish its opponent quick. As you can see the tiger style is a clear Yang- based technique.
The Leopard and its style focuses on fast, short range attacks and techniques. To fully practice the leopard, you need a mix of balance, speed, flexibility and agility. You can see explosive bursts of strength and speed. The repertoire of leopard includes low kicks, forearm and elbow strikes, and the famous leopard fist. The bao chi (leopard fist) favors strikes on soft parts of the body, but also parts which are soft as the face (especially the teeth), throat, ribs or solar plexus. In the “Five animals style” we also practice a leopard block which first strikes joints and then can be quickly used for locks.
The crane is a more complex style focused on strengthen the sinews and to promote vitality. It stresses balance and fast foot movements. The female martial arts Fang Quiniang is, according to the legend, being the first recorded person to develop and promote the Crane style, she learned when she observed the abundant cranes which exists in her region. It is a softer, a Yin, technique which uses circular movements to block attacks. In our style, we have to different fists which are traceable to the crane. One is the beak, which is a hook shaped hand where you attacked with the bundle of fingertips. The other one is the open, plane hand with which you can attack with the palm or the edge. The crane applicant has after every block an attack waiting, and tries to apply its force on one single point. The main stance for the crane is a medium height cat stance and will always use the power of the opponent to block. As the tiger is more for tall people, the crane is used for the opposite: smaller, not so strong people. This style is good to be used against the tiger and enforces more a smart, strategy style of fighting. So, it can be used to avoid the harsh use of force and requires developing speed, accuracy and agility to achieve a good timing, balance and coordination. As said before the crane is not to strike first, but to block and counterattack.
The snake is one of the styles which helps you to cultivate your chi, it can correct the breathing and strength the internal power. Thanks to the snake fist, with its finger as the main point of striking, it is a good technique used on vulnerable areas like eyes, throat or groin. Its attacks are so powerful that the snake applicant is mostly peaceful and avoid fights. The snake has no legs and uses slyness and softness rather than the hard raw power the tiger executes. It is believed that the snake is an animal which has a great amount of Chi-Energy. Its technique is soft until striking hard. Speed is important to dominate this style but more important is smoothness and flow. The snake also emphasizes counterattacks, a steady flowing movement and low stances.
The dragon is a very important animal in Kung Fu and the Chinese mythology. Training the dragon cultivates your spirit, flexibility, and graceful movements. It is associated with energy and courage. Immortal Dragon is named after the Dragon for a good reason. It represents the training and spirit we are based on. The dragon moves circular and follows the movements of its opponents, looking for their weaknesses and how to instantly counterattack with power. Power is generated through movements which are generated from the whole body, especially from the waist. The dragon is moving around all the time finding ways to attack from all possible angles. It represents the water element, and you cannot apply direct force to this element, since it just moves out of your way. The dragon includes locks, throws, strikes and kicks, getting in an out attacking. It helps to get more power in all parts of the body and opens your joints. The dragon fists can be an open hand strike but also the hand forming a fist.
Finally it is to say, that Shaolin Kung Fu possess more animal forms as Praying Mantis or Monkey Kung Fu. This are also powerful techniques, but are playing a less important role in the "Five Animals style" we practice at Immortal Dragon Vancouver.