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What the various animals mean in the martial arts - by Chris Kirby

"Discovery comes in seeing with new eyes"

I'm never planning on implementing animal based techniques for our formal curriculum since I can just touch on this in class, but following an animal based system accomplishes two main points for the student:

  1. Require the student to adopt the strengths and limitations of that animal during their training in that chart
  2. Consider solutions that may be available to that animal in terms of offense and defense and find an analogy for it that a human can implement

This is a great learning tool because it requires the student to think outside his or her normal routines, and to mimic personalities that aren't natural to the student. When you are sparring or doing any sort of free style, chose an animal and try to behave as it would according to it's strengths and weaknesses and you will find you will be forced to see other ways of doing things that will grow your experience and further add to your creativity.

The Crane - Purple Belt

For example, let's say you are not a human, you are a crane. Let's take away your normal human way of thinking about how to deal with an attacker and replace it with that of a crane. The crane would move differently in a defensive and offensive scenario because it's anatomy is different and this leads its way of thinking to develop differently. It does not have strength, so it may not go straight up the center but rather step offline and strike sensitive areas of it's attacker with it's limited weapons. A sharp beak to the eye, or a well placed kick to a knee or groin from the side. Any long and drawn out combat for a crane with a stronger foe will certainly result in its demise. As such, a crane would have to end a fight with a very well timed and precise strike.

As a human, we have natural weapons and techniques that simulate the weapons of the crane. The beak fist and front kicks for techniques, now consider actual footwork and tactics you may use sparring: stepping out of the way of an attacker to attack a more vulnerable position of his from a superior location, or landing a decisive blow in an effective area to end the fight in one or two strikes. These concepts mimic the fighting stye of a crane.

The Tiger - Orange Belt

How might a tiger fight? Tigers are known for their strength and raw aggression. They don't beat around the bush, they charge straight up the center and deliver powerful strikes delivered with fierce determination. Large powerful claws and teeth tear at the flesh of its prey and speed and perseverance bring it success.

When exploring the style of the tiger, you will be charging straight up the middle with power and speed, delivering powerful strikes like elbows, knees, tiger claws, and you will not be deterred by what your opponent does. You will overwhelm them with your determination and overpower them with your raw strength. You will not let your opponents attacks deter you or weaken you in any way because you have one focus in mind and nothing, not even your own aching body, will distract you from your goal. You will bite, tear, muscle, strike, and do it with unstoppable tenancity.

The Phoenix - Yellow Belt

A phoenix is a mythical creature that symbolizes new beginnings. A fiery bird that rises up from the ashes of the old and takes flight in a new form, this is the beginning stages of your new life as a martial artist. You are a better form than your previous self and are absorbing new lessons constantly.

When exploring the style of the phoenix, it is important for you to dismiss any preconceived notions you may have about what you are learning. The students and instructors around you are all there for your example and you must learn from everyone and every situation you can. These lessons will come in forms of good examples and bad examples, from lesser and senior martial artists alike.

The Dragon - Green Belt

The dragon is a mythical creature in eastern mythology and is associated with spiritual maturation. A mark of one who knows themselves and and has developed an awareness beyond their physical self. With strong and powerful wings to take flight, the dragon is on its way to lofty achievement in the realm of self-discovery and the fire within symbolizes its passion, which is its power, harnessed and ready to be used as directed. A dragon's movements are generally soft in nature, symbolizing a higher level of understanding and an ability to accomplish its will with minimal wasted energy.

When exploring the style of the dragon, use your experience and fluency in your technique to control your opponent with deliberation and soft movements, drawing on the skills of the animals before it. A dragon has the ability to charge up the center like a tiger, but also has the finesse of the crane and can be very precise in its handling of its opponents, using an opponents energy against him by redirecting it.

The Leopard - Blue Belt

The leopard is smaller, and so must be quick and stealthy. Not as big as the tiger, it won't resort to the same raw tenacity, but must be more careful. It uses decisive strikes and speed like the crane and is very light on its feet. It moves like the tiger, but due to its smaller size must be able to get decisive and immediate victories like the crane or it could be in trouble.

Imagine the leopard's fist. It even looks like a cat's paw. When exploring the style of the leopard, you may move the same way you would when exploring the tiger, but instead of overpowering your opponent, settle on decisive strikes like a leopards fist to the throat of your attacker instead of relying on raw strength alone. Be light on your feet and your footwork should be very precise. Learn how to attack with explosiveness after you have selected your target wisely and be able to surprise your attacker.

The Eagle - Red Belt

The eagle is skilled and purposeful. Associated with the elite, the eagle may not be the most dangerous animal in the wild but is certainly up there. With razor sharp focus, an ability to see its targets from amazing distances, and the accuracy to hit them. Eagles drive in straight lines to their prey with disorienting effect, after selecting them decisively. The eagle is also associated with intelligence in western circles and as such this is the point in your training where you really need to begin to think for yourself and why things work the way they do.

When exploring the style of the eagle, you should be mentally engaged in your training. Apply critical thinking to what you are learning and force yourself to understand the mechanics of what you are doing, and perhaps even how it could be done better. You should be realizing that karate can always be improved and tailored to an individual even more. In alignment with an eagle's sharp vision, you should be developing the ability to sense what threats your opponent is going to present you with well before they happen, and you need to be developing effective solutions to deal with them, hopefully defeating them before the opponent even chooses them as an option.

The Serpent - Brown Belt

The serpent has very sharp, fast, and effective strikes. It has learned the value of patience when waiting to attack and its sting can be felt by those on the receiving end of its strikes. A usually not very strong creature, it relies on power that comes from something other than physical prowess. The serpent utilizes weapons such as poison and sharp teeth to defend itself, and is very flexible and unpredictable. Any part of the serpent can move as needed to line the head up for an effective strike.

When exploring the style of the serpent, consider going for straight line, effective strikes to vulnerable areas of your opponent. A serpent employs weapons (like venom) as a brown belt in the martial arts may use weapons such as rattaans, cutting edge weapons, or similar. Some what slow when not in attack mode, a serpent may not be so great at escaping its enemies, but rather relies on concealment and surprise to overwhelm its prey. Consider how you may be revealing your intentions to your opponent and make efforts to better conceal them, so as to gain an advantage over your opponent. Also be mindful of how the coordination of all of your body will play a part in making you effective. Start to see your every part of your body as necessary and needing to be coordinated with the other parts in order for you to be at your most effective.

The Monkey - Black Belt

The monkey is strong but it is not the strongest. Expected to be cunning, monkey can imitate all the other animals, which is why it is reserved for the black belt ranks. Able to use weapons, the monkey is the most formidable opponent and as a developed martial artist, will have learned how to use concepts from each of the other animals to its advantage as various situations may require.

When exploring the style of the monkey, explore switching into different modes as needed, and rely on your creativity and your plethora of prior tools and experience to become whatever the situation needs you to be. This will require control and coordination of your body, mind, and intuition, and most importantly, diminishing of your ego as you allow your training to take over and operate from a higher level of understanding than you may operate in from a day to day basis.

A monkey can bite like the tiger, it can be agile like the crane, it can conceal itself like the leopard, it can use weapons like the serpent, it has intellect like the eagle, and as any newly minted black belt may or may not be willing to admit, is in a phase of new beginning like the phoenix.

This is the stage where all of your training, physical, psychological, and intuitive come together and are finally under your control, and this is where many black belts have been quoted as finally getting to their first day of real learning.

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