Due to the rich and long history of Chinese martial arts, there are over 400 substyles of Kung Fu. Kung Fu is most known to be split into two larger sections: northern and southern.
The northern styles, such as Shaolin Kung Fu (named because the style originated in Shaolin temples), Long Fist, Eagle Claw and Monkey style tend to attach a reasonable level of importance to kicks and wide stances. The southern styles, such as Wing Chun (talked about in my previous blog), Hung Gar and Choy Li Fut, focus more on the utilisation of the hands and narrower stances.
I have been practising Wing Chun for several years now. Wing Chun is all about close-quarters combat on your feet. It tends to be used for the stage in a fight that comes before grappling. Wing Chun is designed to defend yourself on the street and in everyday life.
However, many people tend to associate Kung Fu Styles with “The Furious Five” from Kung Fu Panda which are based on real-life martial art styles. With all five characters being of various sizes and speeds, they all bring something interesting to the table and are fundamentally different to each other. Rather than just focusing on Wing-Chun, it is vital to learn about various other styles to gain a deeper understanding of Kung Fu.
The Five Animals of Kung Fu are set styles that originate from the Shaolin Temple in ancient China. One of them is Tiger Style, a system of moves derived from the movements of a tiger. Those who practice Tiger Style focus on explosive power and speed, which is reflected in how Tigress fights in Kung Fu Panda. She’s the fiercest and strongest member of the group, which would be expected from a master of Tiger Style. Their primary method of attack is the tiger claw technique, which is formed by curling the fingers.
While the tiger is strong and fast, the crane is graceful and smooth in its movements, which is at the crux of Shaolin White Crane Style. In ancient China, Crane Style was often practised by female martial artists, mostly because, unlike Tiger Style, it doesn’t rely on power. It incorporates numerous long-range techniques and helps the practitioner defeat opponents by exploiting their weak points. By bringing the fingers together to form a “crane beak”, Crane Style masters target the opponent’s pressure points and use other movements that mimic cranes, such as crane head strikes and crane wing blocks, which are performed by holding both arms up and to their side.
Snake Style bears some similarities to Crane Style, as it, too, focuses on attacking the enemy’s vulnerable points. Snake Style fighters attack with their fingertips and go after the eyes, groin, and other areas that are regarded as weaknesses.
Only three of the Five Animals styles (Tiger, Crane, and Snake) are actually used by the Furious Five. The other two, Dragon and Leopard, are replaced by Praying Mantis and Monkey. Though neither are a part of the Five Animals, both date back to ancient times. The mantis style uses the “mantis hook” technique where the fighter uses whip-like attacks with the wrist and strikes with the fingers. Pressure points are usually the intended targets.
Monkey Style is one of the most commonly used styles in old school kung fu movies from the 1970s. Though often implemented for comedic purposes, it was used in a more serious manner by martial arts legend Lau Kar-leung. People who practice Monkey Style copy all the movements and gestures of monkeys, including their facial expressions. Furthermore, experts often use a crouched stance and numerous acrobatic moves.
Regardless of the style, each one consists of a range of techniques that could be applicable in the modern world. Though I primarily focus on Wing Chun on this website, the main goal of all Kung Fu styles is self-defence.