Imitative or Animal Styles of Kung-Fu

One of the most important classification in Kung-Fu and one that characterises Chinese martial arts in particular, is reference to a particular animal. It is common for martial arts all over the world to draw their inspiration from nature. Kung-Fu, however, bases entire systems on the movements of a particular animal and names the style accordingly. Styles imitating animals form some of the oldest examples of Kung Fu and can be seen for the first time as far back as 220 BC when Hua To invented a health system based on five animals – deer, monkey, bear, bird and tiger.

Many Kung-Fu styles draw inspiration from a particular animal’s technique when dealing with aggressors of another species. In the same way animal styles hope to beat their rivals by focusing on a particular strength – the agility and randomness of a monkey for example or the strong talons of an eagle (translated into an emphasis on pressure point grabs and locks). Thus animal styles vary greatly in their approaches to combat. Shaolin Kung-Fu has a complete system designed to cover any number of combat eventualities, known as Five Animals, which includes Crane, Leopard, Snake, Tiger and Dragon.

One imitative style of Kung-Fu that is not an animal style but must be mentioned, is Drunken Boxing, also known as Drunken Fist or Zui Quan in Chinese. It is an ancient style, although its origins are the stuff of various legends. It was practised at Shaolin and forms a part of modern day Wushu tournaments. In Drunken Fist the practitioner imitates the actions of a seriously inebriated drunkard. He staggers, falls and sways but there is a method in this madness and it is all combat orientated. The idea is to fool his opponent into thinking that he is drunk, while using the relaxed state of a drunkard’s muscle tension to his own advantage. For example, surprise attacks are launched while falling or a stagger forwards turns into a blistering flurry of punches, then a swig from a flask turns into a face full of blinding spray for an aggressor. Drunken Fist should not be confused with Drunken Monkey Boxing which is a style of Monkey Fist (Houquan) that imitates the actions of a drunken primate, not a man. It is not necessary to be inebriated in either drunken style, only to make one’s opponent believe that is the case.

Famous Animal Style Kung Fu systems are:

  • White Crane
  • Praying Mantis
  • Five Animals
  • Eagle Claw
  • Monkey Boxing