The status of different animals in various cultures is something that is fluid and changes over time and with geography. The rooster and chicken in the Chinese culture don’t hold the base connotations they do in the west. Is the Chicken, seen as a simple farm animal in the west, an animal that a martial art system in the east was based upon?
There is a Chicken style of Kung Fu and it is usually associated with Hsing ji chuan. However, animal styles in this system are based on or are named for the intent of the animal rather than a direct representation. The quick footwork and fast strikes are not meant to directly imitate chickens.
In this brief look at the chicken and how it is used in the Kung Fu arts I will also touch on how chickens have been portrayed in fighting, self defense, and in the entertainment media. There are many times that chickens have influenced the martial arts world, even if they were in unconventional ways.
What Is Chicken Style Kung Fu?
Out of the many animal influences in the martial arts, there probably is not one that is used more in satire and jokes than the chicken or the rooster. This may be an easy joke to pull off, but it takes some honesty (and for some a bit more maturity) to look past the easy gags and find out what Chicken Kung Fu actually is.
Chicken Kung Fu is a style that utilizes fast moving footwork without having to cover large distances. This is coupled with various deeper stances and rapid fire strikes. In some styles this is mostly boxing oriented while incorporating open handed strikes. Some schools utilize kicks as well.
This is a sub-style that is usually added to other animal styles that will be complimented by its techniques. Though it can be done, it is usually not trained as a stand alone system.
Hsing yi chuan And Chicken Style Kung Fu
Most, though not all, styles in the Chinese forms of martial arts have at least some semblance of an internal side to the art. This is true in many of the animal systems and doesn’t have to be the predominate focus. There are some styles that focus heavily on the internal while having a decently strong external component.
Hsing ji chuan is by all accounts an internal style of martial art with physical techniques that spring from its view of the five elements of existence. Chicken style Kung Fu or Gongfu is included by some masters as part of the accompanying 12 animal system for the physical aspects of training.
Seeing that Hsing ji chuan does not take direct imitation of animals to be as important in the strictest sense, Chicken style can be understood as pointing to the essence of the chicken. Though masters and practitioners may not admit to the chicken being referred to in name only, most would probably agree with it being a non-literal representation.
Why Name It Chicken Style?
Here we should look into the cultural perceptions of different animals and how that affects their influence in that society. Chickens are seen differently in some cultures than in others. In China this is definitely true when compared to countries in the west.
In the united states, calling someone a chicken is a derogatory name that connotates cowardice. This same arbitrary designation is also placed on the color yellow. Though there is some truth to the claim that chickens are sometimes prey and not predators, if you are a worm or bug in the yard a chicken is a straight up monster.
Note that Praying Mantis style is a very popular system in Kung Fu with many attesting to its effectiveness. Yet, in the wild, pit a praying mantis against a bear and you can see the situational nature of these representations.
Perspective and culture play a large role in how we see many things around us. In the Chinese culture rats, roosters (which can include chickens), and many other animals that westerners deem base, can have exalted status.
In India for example, due to the influence of Hinduism, cows are seen as sacred animals. They are not only forbidden to be eaten, but they are not even to be harmed.
So what does this say about naming a martial arts style after chickens? Well, if you wait till all of the snickering is done, you might see some logic coming from a more ancient time and a different culture that makes perfect sense.
Is Chicken Kung Fu A Rare Style Of Martial Arts?
Other than mentions in children’s cartoons and other media, which we will look at later, is Chicken style Kung Fu a popular or less widely known art?
Chicken style is a fairly rare style of Kung Fu. Even in some schools that train in the internal arts and follow the Hsing ji chuan 12 animal system, the Chicken style may not be included. The few masters for it are not likely to be teaching in your local strip mall.
Let me make an important disclaimer here. I am describing the style, but not commenting on its advantages or disadvantages. This is not about the usefulness of the style. That will have to be determined by martial artists and students as it applies to their needs and experience.
One thing that can make it rare in a sense, is its external representation of a more internal focused system. Two things are important to note here.
- Parents need to carefully scrutinize the spiritual side of these internal martial arts to be certain that they line up with the religious formation that they want for their children. Most Chinese arts have an internal component, and they are either Taoist or Buddhist.
- Adults should pay specific attention to the practical application side of an internal religious art. It is important for older students to make sure that techniques are not done more for the philosophical/religious aspect of the movement at the expense of the practical application.
Here I am not stating that this rare form of Kung Fu will meet or fail any one persons list of criteria in this regard. It is just important to note this about any Chinese system.
To read about many different animals in Kung Fu and other martial arts, check out my in depth look here…
Who Is Kung Fu Chicken In Cartoons?
Kung Fu chicken is a lesser known cartoon character, an internet meme, and the center of simple jokes. It is meant to be a play on the western understanding of chickens, with their superimposed and sometimes cowardly reputation.
This is then juxtaposed with proficiency in Kung Fu as a contrast with a perceived noble pursuit. The jokes that spring from this become obvious.
There have been many animals in children’s cartoons with Kung Fu prowess. Hong Kong Fuey was a Kung Fu dog that fought crime in the seventies. The Kung Fu Panda is portrayed in more recent times similar to the image of a chicken knowing Kung Fu.
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The panda is presented as a tubby, fluffy, and sometimes hapless bear that becomes the ‘Dragon Warrior’, the savior of China. The least likely becoming the celebrated, saving hero is a story line that springs from biblical and other ancient sources. This same image is what is used when depicting a chicken as a proficient Kung Fu master.
Who Is Master Chicken In Kung Fu Panda?
Speaking of the DreamWorks animated film series Kung Fu Panda, there is a Master Chicken that shows up in the litany of Kung Fu fighting animal characters. He is a comedic aside during a more intense scene in the third installment of the titles.
Mantis (a representation of Praying Mantis style Kung Fu) even alludes to the cowardly nature that western audiences will relate to in chickens.
When trying to convince Crane (a representation of Crane style Kung Fu) to rush headlong into a dangerous situation, Mantis exclaims…
Even Master Chicken’s going in there! And he’s a chicken.Mantis, Kung Fu Panda 3, TM DreamWorks Studios
In the movie, Master Chicken appears to be a master of throwing blades that are in the shape of his feathers. Though this doesn’t point to the Chicken style of Kung Fu practiced by students in schools today, it was a pretty ingenious depiction of a ‘deadly chicken’.
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The Chicken Kung Fu Takeaway…
So, yes there is a Chicken style of Kung Fu and no, it is not simply a joke. Though there can be debate among Kung Fu students and students of other martial arts to its usefulness and application, the fact that in the Chinese culture the chicken does not hold a negative connotation should come into play.
Sure, I completely get the absurdity of someone touting themselves as a master of Chicken Kung Fu. It won’t be lost on most people. That said, it is important to note that all styles will generally have something of worth, even if for a particular student, it may be less valuable than other things.
Don’t forget to check out my full look at animal influences in the martial arts…