Here’s a central starting point for the animals. In many Shaolin Kempo books and at many websites, they drop in a blurb about what the tiger is and / or teaches. It’s almost invariably a generic statement based on Chinese martial arts with some esoteric description of how the tiger develops your intent and strengthens your sinew. Seeing as none of these techniques are directly based on any Chinese martial art, I’m here to offer a different perspective. The ‘animal techniques’ of Shaolin Kempo are just Kempos. There. I’ve said it. However, they are nicely organized by certain characteristics, for the most part. Mainly, it boils down to: range, tools, and movement style.
First up, the tiger.
Range: Up close and personal, perhaps even ‘chest to chest’ in some instances.
Tools: The tiger claw in its many forms, ripping, etc. Not so many blocks.
Movement pattern: Now here’s where things get interesting. If this were a Chinese form, it would actually be more related to Tai Chi or Hsing-I. No Kidding. These arts use what is called ‘Whole Body Movement’. If you notice, there is very little ‘push pull’ in Tigers, and much more ‘crashing’ like in Silat. Essentially you are throwing your whole body at them, with the strikes as ‘the point of the spear.’ There’s also very little retreating, just occasionally drawing to a cat stance to load up the rear leg for some lunging. Combinations that might make good tigers? Perhaps 1, 10, 17, 24?
Next, the snake.
Range: Often called ‘quarter arm’, it’s pretty close, but that’s the nature of things due to the ‘poison hand’ type of striking.
Tools: Well, there’s a couple of classes, due to the different kinds of snakes they tried to include. Poison hand strikes, i.e. immortal man, snakes tooth, two finger eye poke, poison thumb, essentially those strikes where you jab something soft with a finger, and maybe even hang on. Also, wraps and chokes, to get that ‘constrictor’ feel.
Movement: Twist stances, wrapping of the opponent’s leg, lunging from a cat stance. Very whip like with very few ‘drilling’ kind of strikes. Combinations that might make good snakes? 25?
Third, the leopard.
Range: Boxing, sometimes called ‘three quarter arm’.
Tools: Leopard’s paw, elbow. Sometimes forearm (those often get called ‘snow leopard’).
Movement: Usually aggressive, but to the outside. Very snappy with the hips, with more of the normal ‘push pull’ you see in kempo. Uses a lot of parry with simultaneous stop-hit kind of action. There were some varieties that used more forearms that were referred to as ‘snow leopard’ or ‘white leopard’ techniques. Combinations that might make good leopards? 3, maybe 21,26.
Fourth, the crane.
Range: ‘Full arm’, or kicking distance.
Tools: The crane’s wing, a fully extended ridgehand strike, crane’s beak, chicken wrist.
Movement: Yielding and big circles. The ‘hop’ up to a one legged stance. Relaxed power reliant on the kinetic energy of a long swinging weapon and weight shifting. The movement is somewhat like that of Choy Li Fut. Combinations that might make good cranes? 40?
Finally, the dragon.
Range: Transitional,closing the gap and moving out again. Or, kicking range for the ‘tail’ techniques.
Tools: Runs the gamut. Whipping kicks, and all of the hand strikes.
Movement: Rotation and sidesteps with kicking. Spinning moves. Combinations that might make good dragons? 21, 26, 9.