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Students discover how to use the 5 animals: bear, bird, monkey, snake and tiger.
Shen is manifested through the eyes. You must be one with the moment, and every facet of your being must be expressed through the eyes. This is not to be confused with staring or looking aggressive.
The spirit must come through you.
Walk like the animals?
Chinese martial arts have long been inspired by natural forms of movement and behaviours.
The form movement names reflect this quite clearly: stork spreads wings, snake creeps down, repulse monkey, part wild horses mane...
It is common for people to literally copy the mannerisms and actions of an animal. Monkey is a common example of this, as is preying mantis.
More than animal
Sifu Waller does not wish to behave like an animal. We are humans, after all. The aim is to simply emulate the spirit of the animal.
We are interested in capturing the essence/nature/characteristics/quality of the animal.
This is the animal way of martial arts: a potentially violent situation arouses animal instinct, which leads to fear, which activates the glands, which raises the heart rate, which engages the body, and it fights.
This is the human way of martial arts: a potentially violent situation instantly arouses the human ability to detect how best to handle the situation, without stressful anger, then the mind/body becomes tranquil and highly alert.
Folklore is riddled with dragons, phoenix and unicorns. We are not interested in such creatures. To the best of our knowledge they are make-believe. How do you emulate a dragon? Have you ever seen one?
We consider 5 animals because the form movements can be explored in reference to these animals:
We are not interested in what
type of bird, or which bear you imagine. Whatever works for you...
Such talk misses the point.
The character of the form movements can be better understood by looking at these 5 animals.
Think of what a polar bear is like. Or a grizzly. Not a teddy bear, though... What characteristics does a bear possess?
Huge, strong and powerful
Large, open stance
Movements are sweeping
No allowance for its prey
Immense, whole-body strikes involving hips and spine
Claws and teeth
Think of what a bird is like. A bird of prey or a stork? A crow? A seagull? What characteristics does a bird possess?
Wings open and close
Soars up and swoops down
Grace, lightness and balance
Yielding and withdrawing
Wings spread open, exaggerating size
Decisive and surprising
Striking as it splits
Beak and claws
Think of what a monkey is like. An orang-utan? Or a small, cheeky monkey? What characteristics does a monkey possess?
Misdirection, distraction, sneaky
Appears to be weak in order to draw you in
Yielding and withdrawing
Sharp, stunning attacks, performed unexpectedly
Claws and teeth
Think of what a snake is like. A cobra? A boa constrictor? What characteristics does a snake possess?
Undulating, wave-like action
Slips around defences
Sudden, penetrating blow
Open up defences, then strike
Bite, body strength, poison
In ancient cultures the word 'tiger' referred to any large predatory cat...
Think of what a tiger is like. They are massive creatures, incredibly strong and tenacious. What characteristics does a tiger possess?
Thrusting, lunging attack
Teeth and claws
Clearly, your end product is not supposed to look like a David Attenborough documentary.
The 5 animals aspect of shen serves to help you see the possible origin and purpose of the movements, in addition to unlocking many of the potential, hidden applications.
Eventually, you must internalise this knowledge and express it in application.
Certain movements are clearly emulating one kind of animal, whereas others may be one or another, relative to how you want to express the jing. There is scope for interpretation.
When you perform an application by thinking about the nature of the animal, rather than a fixed form pattern, you find that the movement happens far more spontaneously.
You no longer plod through the movements. The application just emerges. As the syllabus progresses you must cultivate 'sung'.
Part of sung entails doing without doing, a tzu-jan quality of immediacy, whereby the outcome happens without any sense of feeling the body.
Freedom of expression
A student initially learns to understand each animal thoroughly. Later, they focus upon the movement.
At sung level, the student just strikes. No thought, no feeling of anything. The strike lands without self consciousness.
A hawk stands as though dozing,
a tiger walks as though ill;
these are ploys by which they claw and bite.
18 April 1995
Last updated 17 September 2019