In studying karate and kata histories, one may come across mention of "Animal Forms" or "Animal Techniques". The mention of animals in relation to Karate stems back to sixth-century China, after the death of original karate founder Daruma Taishi Bodhidharma. The original 18 exercises that he had passed on to the Shaolin monks for protection were almost lost until a monk by the name of Dot Mor left the temple and taught a few followers the basic katas. He later increased the original 18 forms to 26 and at the same time watched the ways animals protected themselves and increased the movements to a complete 50. The animal forms that were commonly used included the Crane, Snake, Tiger, Leopard, and Monkey. This art became known as Chinese Temple Boxing, or Kung-Fu/Gung-Fu and later progressed to Chinese kempo or tode.

The philosophical counterparts to the Shaolin Animal Techniques are:

dragon (body strength)

In legend the Dragon comes from a storm cloud. It can strike in all directions. Most hand strikes use the palm. Kicks usually include spinning & wheel kicks that copy the motion of smoke. The Dragon possess fighting spirit and contains great wisdom.

tiger (bone strength)

The Tiger uses claw and palm strikes. The Tiger focuses on a low center of gravity and uses body weight when fighting. The Tiger is known for its aggressive fighting attitude.

leopard (inner and outer strength)

The Leopard focuses more on its ability to leap and hit with more impact than the Tiger. It creates angles, creating more strikes off the rear leg. It makes use of the Leopard paw most commonly, but elbows and forearms are used also. The quick snapping motions and angle changes are most characteristic of the Leopard.

snake (breath)

The Snake is unique among the animals in that it has not external limbs. It is known for it's inner strength (chi) and it's rhythmic endurance. The hand strikes mainly utilize precision finger strikes: two finger pokes, spearhand pokes and snake strikes. The blocks can resemble constrictor snakes and can wrap the punching arm. Kicks utilize the point of the foot.

crane (spiritual muscle)

The Crane is unique among the animals because of its huge wingspan and ability to grip the ground for balance. The hand strikes include the chicken wrist strike, Crane's beak and the wing strikes. The most common kicks include the front kick, back kick and crescent kicks.


The picture below illustrates how various hand positions mimic animals:

(Picture Source: "Karatedo: Art - Sport - Science" by Ridgely Abele.)

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