Snake (She Xing)
Venomous snakes are possibly the most dangerous animals on the planet, considering how lethal they can be compared to their size. Because of this, Nature has balanced things by providing many of them with distinctive mechanisms, like bright-coloured scales, the cobra’s hood, or the rattlesnake’s rattle. The snake might kill you, but you can’t claim you weren’t warned first.
In many ways, the Shaolin snake-style typifies this. When attacking, the snake-stylist goes for vulnerable spots like the eyes, throat and groin. However, because of the serious consequences of hitting such targets, the snake-stylist must be calm and peaceful and avoid a fight. It is only when there is no recourse but to fight, and the situation serious enough to warrant it that one should use the techniques of the snake form.
The snake techniques also promote “ting” or “listening” energy. This is the sensory ability developed through “sticking hands” and related exercises. Through its use, the snake-stylist can neutralize an opponent’s attack with a minimum of effort and risk.
Because of its quiet attitude and emphasis on rhythmic breathing, the snake is traditionally thought to develop the chi. The snake may appear not to be an ideal candidate for a Shaolin animal due to its lack of legs, however if you think in more depth the snake will use slyness and softness rather than hard raw power.
The snake style is designed to cultivate internal Qi (Chi) energy thus gaining superior focus and penetrating force not associated in anyway with the external animal. The snake as it moves is very evasive as it twists its body in a zigzagging motion.
In order to survive the snake must use its body in a different manner to compensate for its lack of limbs. The snake coils its body to begin with, then raises its head into a striking position and from this position straightens its body and strikes with precision and speed. This type of striking force is just from
the momentum and twisting movement from the coiled position.
The animal itself is calm and relaxed and is said to posses more Qi (Chi) than the other animals. When a strike occurs and when combined with the external strike this animal is formidable. The snake form differs to the other Shaolin animals as it has no hard punching techniques instead it uses both hard and soft principals to be successful. The fingertips and palms are used to strike with penetrating force.
The snake is in direct opposition to that of the tiger. The snakes energy is quiet and internal and makes no external sound as it strikes, whilst tiger styles are noisy and active as the practitioner exhales to gain power. As with any internal style characteristics this is understood to be of an advanced martial level where strikes and blocks are made simultaneously (offence and defence are one and the same!). Soft coiling actions which are deceptively defensive suddenly change to offensive strikes. Hence the speed of attack is not as important as the smoothness and flow.
There are many different finger-striking actions associated with the snake practitioner. One is known as white snake throws out tongue (bai she tu xin), here the fingers recreate the forked form of the tongue with the index and middle fingers extended whilst the remaining fingers are folded underneath and back out of the way. This strike is then used to focus upon the soft areas or adversary’s eyes.
Another fingertip strike is known as snake comes out of its hole (qing she chu dong) where the practitioners fingers are together to form a cobras head shape, this strike can also be inverted to block or strike to the throat or eyes. This type of strike often comes from a bent elbow.
One inverted snake technique known as water snake swims to the surface (shui she shang an) terminates to pressure points around the throat and armpits.
Another important factor when considering the spirit of this animal is to keep the whole body moving and flowing if to be combined with the actions of the other animals. In many cases it is necessary to administer soft circular actions which terminate with focus and a harder action as the technique makes contact.
When practising snake it is important that the practitioner is relaxed with good concentration. The snake parts of a form should be calm and soft. Another issue to understand when training with snake movements is to remain “connected” with all parts of you body contributing to the desired end. As well as a flexible body concentration and clarity of thought are a necessary attribute for any martial artist.
Practising snake style movements will allow the practitioner to project their qi (chi) energy up through their arms and out of the ends of the finger tips, however when practising in air there will apparently be no recognisable power but upon contact with a desired target power will prevail.
Unlike the other Shaolin animals which are associated with finger-striking methods, the snake style has no fingertip external strengthening and development exercises. The reason for this is that providing the Shaolin practitioner has correct balance between the other animals of Shaolin they will develop adequate finger and hand conditioning.
As the student practises the snake form calmly and quietly they will develop feeling and sensation and a sense in order to understand an opponents next move. When a snake practitioners arm makes contact during this type of training it can be likened to the sticking effect normally associated with wing chuns sticky hands or maybe even tai chi chuan’s push hands. As previously mentioned the practitioner’s moves are apparently powerless, however these soft touches have a magical sting upon contact, undoubtedly the adepts movements are quick and forceful if and when required. The force of a snake strike is said to be over seven times an individuals normal power!
The psychology behind the snakes special spirit is that the five animal practitioner must be calm enough to mentally look inside their own body and feel peace and tranquillity. Nothing will bother him externally. If the correct snake spirit is developed the student will feel the energy flow from the spine along the arms and out of the fingertips.
The stylist will move slowly in deliberation before the simultaneous blocking and striking action occurs as the “snake uncoils”.
Assimilation of the Shaolin snake techniques, and having gained penetrating focus and intent as well as lightening speed will undoubtedly if delivered to the correct pressure point vital areas of the body cause excessive pain, unconsciousness or even death.
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