Tiger (Hu Xing)
This is the most strength-oriented and external of the five Shaolin animals. Movement is characterized by advancing straight forward into the opponent. Strong stances and fierce stepping contribute to the strength of the strikes. Footwork is designed to provide a stable base to smash through the opponent.
The hand formation usually associated with this style is the tiger claw. Most people incorrectly believe the claw is solely used to rake an opponent. Instead, the palm strikes first to break up the target, and then the fingers clench to grab the skin.
The tiger is an important animal in Chinese folklore. Sayings like “when two tigers meet, one gets killed and the other gets maimed,” and “there’s only room enough on a mountain for one tiger” provide some insight into the Chinese concept of what a tiger is.
Traditionally, the tiger is thought to develop strength in the bones. According to modern medicine exercise has some effect on the health of the skeleton, but primarily it is affected by diet. A modern interpretation of this is that the old masters were referring to what is now called slow-twitch muscle – the stamina-oriented muscle fibre.
As there are no lions in China the Tiger is considered to be the king of all land beasts. The ancient Chinese saying “One Mountain has no room for two tigers” is not far from the truth if we consider the ferocity of this animal.
As the shaolin masters observed the tiger in its natural environment they decided it would have immense value as one of the chosen animals to help their study of Kung Fu. This type of characteristic is reflected in the tiger stylists’ movements with strength, courage and power.
Tigers are said to be ferocious and not aggressive, the distinction here is that when a tiger attacks generally it is not angry but simply focussed upon achieving the task laid before it. The emphasis is to develop strong dense bones with speed and strength during an attack. The action of a tiger can be associated with a pressing forceful, hard external action similar to being run over by a car.
The tiger practitioner will not only develop power but also develop and condition tendons and bones which will ultimately strengthen and harden the neck and spine. This kind of training is important if the practitioner intends to exude hard external power from strong stances and a powerful waist.
The most predominant technique know is the tiger claw (Hu Zhua) where the hands mimic a claw shape by curling the fingers in to position. Generally the strike is short and direct, there are also pulls, tears, twists or presses upon contact with the adversary.
The targets for this type of technique are face, neck, groin, arms or wrists. Upon impact the pressing action allows the hand to grip better with the fingers, the tigers claw can then pull in a downward motion or twist the vulnerable area. This type of technique is not to be confused with that of the Dragons claw where a locking action is normally assumed, instead this is explosive when applied.
The tiger style also uses big powerful standard fist punches (lao hu tai tou or tiger raises his head), the idea here is a representation of the tiger using its large powerful head to strike or butt. Often one hand will be used to trap an arm or wrist whilst the other strikes to the intended area. The grabbing hand can also be used to twist the adversary’s limbs whilst initiating pain to pressure points around to joints using the fingers. Another striking action is the use of the palm portion of the tigers claw, ideal for the rib area. There is a long kick to the rear known as hu wei tui.
This technique is almost a cross between a back kick and a side kick to the rear with the body parallel and hands stretch out in the opposite direction. If striking with a tigers claw it should be understood that the whole hand is important and not just the fingers, good stance and palms are also very important.
The original shaolin training method to help develop oneself for hu zhua was the use of small heavy sandbags, which are thrown into the air and caught repeatedly with the fingertips at speed. Students would use their fingers and forearms to lift clay jars with different levels of gravel within them in order to provide resistance (similar to the original dragon training). Squeezing branches was another method used to strengthen the hands, however as with the leopard training a modern day rubber ball will suffice. To gain finger strength press-ups can be performed using the fingertips as support.
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