5 animals

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5 animals

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.

(Bruce Frantzis)

Mythological beasts

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?

5 animals

We consider 5 animals because the form movements can be explored in reference to these animals:

  1. Bear

  2. Bird

  3. Monkey

  4. Snake

  5. Tiger

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?

  1. Huge, strong and powerful

  2. Fearless

  3. Direct

  4. Determined

  5. Large, open stance

  6. Movements are sweeping

  7. Outward turning

  8. No allowance for its prey

  9. Immense, whole-body strikes involving hips and spine

  10. 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?

  1. Wings open and close

  2. Soars up and swoops down

  3. Grace, lightness and balance

  4. Splitting action

  5. Yielding and withdrawing

  6. Wings spread open, exaggerating size

  7. Vigilant

  8. Decisive and surprising

  9. Striking as it splits

  10. Beak and claws


Think of what a monkey is like. An orang-utan? Or a small, cheeky monkey? What characteristics does a monkey possess?

  1. Indirect

  2. Misdirection, distraction, sneaky

  3. Appears to be weak in order to draw you in

  4. Fast

  5. Mischievous

  6. Provoking

  7. Vicious

  8. Elbows

  9. Crouching

  10. Yielding and withdrawing

  11. Sharp, stunning attacks, performed unexpectedly

  12. Claws and teeth


Think of what a snake is like. A cobra? A boa constrictor? What characteristics does a snake possess?

  1. Undulating, wave-like action

  2. Patient

  3. Sly

  4. Quiet

  5. Slips around defences

  6. Determined

  7. Extremely fast

  8. Sudden, penetrating blow

  9. Open up defences, then strike

  10. 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?

  1. Sneaky

  2. Patient

  3. Calm

  4. Direct

  5. Ruthless

  6. Seizing

  7. Assertive

  8. Forceful

  9. Thrusting, lunging attack

  10. Immensely strong

  11. Unrelenting

  12. Overwhelming

  13. Teeth and claws

Individual interpretation

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.

(Huanchu Daoren)

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Page created 18 April 1995
Last updated 04 May 2023