“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Gregory” – Studying Animal Forms & A VERY Traditional Shaolin Form

One thing I remember when I watched those classic Kung Fu movies of yester year, was that at least one fighter was using their fists in an immitation of an animal. Whether it was a snake to strike the opponent’s throat, or a Tiger claw to rip out their rib cage. Dragon. Snake. Tiger. Leopard. Mantis. Eagle. Crane. The animal forms are a big part of Kung Fu and I was thrilled to be learning more about them here. My nickname has been Tiger throughout my life for a multitude of reasons; I bare a striking resemblance to golfer Tiger Woods, I’m born in the Chinese Zodiac year of the Tiger…and…erm…I like the cereal ‘Frosties’, so it is fitting that I start to live up to the name by learning a form in Baji called ‘Hei Hu Quan’…Black Tiger Fist!!!

The first exposure to animal forms I had was in Shaolin basics straight away when I arrived. There are a set of moves; Mantis, Eagle, Tiger, Eagle, that we go over twice a week, every week. This gave me a taste of the animal forms that I would like to learn.

Animal Hands – Mantis, Eagle, Tiger & Dragon

Tiger Fist was an obvious choice for me, it just fit! I knew ages ago that I wanted to leave with at least a form in Tiger. Weapons distracted me for a while (i do love my broadsword now!) so it has taken me a while to get to an animal. It wasn’t to be taught by my master, Master Wang, but the second form you learn in the Baji style with Headmaster Bao is an animal form. Master Bao said, just before teaching Thijs and me the form;

It is not as cool as a Shaolin form. If you want a cool form ask your Master. OK…this is called ‘Black Tiger Fist’.

Thijs and I looked at each other and then said “Master, that’s cool! Like so cool!”. Learning in Baji takes a bit longer since there is only one (optional) class a week, and sometimes Master Bao is busy so cancels, but every new move we learnt made the form more and more awesome. Master Bao is very big on making sure every move has the right power, and embodies the animal we are evoking. After watching us on a couple of the moves where we have our “claws drawn” he said;

I told you we are doing Tiger. Don’t have action like MiMi.

MiMi is the school cat! Ouch! In our defense, MiMi is quite a volatile domestic cat…but point taken! The Tiger forms are meant to be fierce. The moves are for striking the opponent’s throat, ripping out their voice box, swiping their face and piercing their eyes…lovely!

Baji Black Tiger Fist – Master Bao teaching us the last sequence of moves. Tiger palm with side kick then move to swipe up and remove someone’s ribs!

A big part of the animal forms is conditioning the hands ready to carry out those tiger-esque attacks. Master Wang took me through preparing my hands for Tiger form a couple months ago when I said I was interested in learning a Tiger form. He took me to a tree and told me to grab it as quickly as I could, like I was grabbing someone’s throat. I then had to scuff the bark and try to remove it with my fingers. Yup, it’s tough on the old cuticles! Conditioning by simply tapping them on a wall is also training I am doing and I ensure its included in the drills we do in conditioning class. There are so many nerve ending in your fingers even a gentle tap on the wall can hurt, so that one is taking some time before I notice a BIG change. I have only been conditioning my hands in this manner for a couple of months, so although I notice some good resistance, I have a long way to go! During Baji class Master Bao also regails tales of his experience on the conditioning side of the Tiger Forms;

The old traditional students when I trained were swiping trees with their hands ripping off the tree

My reaction? “Yeah…I’m not at that level Master”. I do enjoy having a distinct aim when conditioning. Simply hitting each other to toughen the skin, muscle and bones seem directionless at sometimes, however if you are doing it so a certain attack is so much more potent, like a strike to the throat to grab them, then for me it gives me much more drive to go through the pain to toughen that body part.

Tiger Conditioning – Fingers roughing up a tree

Time has flown and I have one more form I can complete and grade before returning to the Matrix. My final form is called ‘Qi Xing Quan’ (7 Star Fist!). Master Wang was going to teach me a Shaolin Tiger Fist, but due to me leaving a slight bit early there was no time, and he selected this one because I think he hasn’t taught this for a while and enjoys it. This is said to be one of the traditional forms in Shaolin that if you practice alot, you can have a great foundation, and there’s a shed load of applications of the moves for real fights. I love the fact it is a widely known form and seeing Master Wang’s way of the moves made me feel like a true student of his. The whole form involves a weird hand position, which Master Wang calls ‘pliers’ where my hand can grip a person’s face and pierce their eyes! (These moves are so deadly!).

7 Star Stances With Master Wang – The First stance to free your wrists, then the classic lower 7 Star Stance. I do this stance a lot in the form. A lot!!!

7 Star Fist is a very short form, taking me only three classes to complete. The moves are so diverse it is going to take me a long(er) time to get them looking as deadly as Master Wang performs them.  At the competition our academy performed Traditional Wushu, whereas a lot of people did the Modern Wushu stuff, which looks a lot like gymnastic routines you see at the Olympics. Flips aplenty and is more dance-esque. Learning this form Master reminded me of something he said when we were at the competition;

There are two types of Kung Fu. Performance. And to kill. I teach to kill.

Eeeeessshhh! For this form he wants me to practice and practice the moves with the power needed, because each one can help defend me when I am home. Love. This. Shit!

One thing I really wanted on my travels in China was a Chinese name. In my Malaysian family my (purebred) cousins obviously have Chinese names, but the Mudblood I am means I do not have one *single tear runs down face*. Mona helped me pick one and it was obvious, Hei Hu…Black Tiger. For the reasons said earlier and now I have basics, forms and style with it, that is my name (also…I’m of the darker complexion). You always put your surname first in Chinese, so taking my cousins’ family name I become ‘Tan Hei Hu’. Master Bao said I couldn’t be called this because the black part means dark, and generally has a kind of evil connotation to it. He said that’s why in kungfu moves the bad guy always has this part in his name. Meh…the name is cool and now he has accepted it! I loved it when we were practising for the competition and Master Wang called me to the practice stage using this name…yes!!! Mona got a stamp made for me with my Chinese name on it, which is sooooo coooool. I can now brand people with my name!

Hei Hu – My name of “Black Tiger” in stamp form

Learning animal forms is tough yet interesting, and all the training stuff aside, it is friggin’ cool. I wish I had studied them more, when Morten did snake I really liked the different attacks it showed. Alas, maybe training back home I can learn more animal forms…but for now I will take back my new form with my name, Hei Hu!

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