Many martial arts of all historical backgrounds have in some way used animals to base either entire modes of movement off of or individual techniques. Some animals were the inspiration for the movements themselves and others were simple names originators found fitting. What are animals used for in martial arts styles and techniques?
Martial arts animals are used by many styles to base either systems, movements, and techniques around as inspiration. In this way they study animals to inform fighting and defense strategies. Other martial arts use animals in more theoretical or aesthetic ways through names or images.
With this comprehensive overview of how animals are used in the martial arts, I will touch on the many ways that animals are used as inspiration for techniques, philosophies, and even names. You may have heard of animals being used in Chinese martial arts systems, but the influence crosses cultural, national, and even time barriers.
Let’s jump, pounce, leap, or dive right in!
- The Purpose Of This Martial Arts Animal Resource
- Kung Fu Animals – Primary Animal Systems
- Secondary Or Derivative Kung Fu Animal Styles
- Karate Animals Used For Theory And Technique
- Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Animals Inspire Names Of Techniques
- Animals In Other Martial Arts
- The Martial Arts Animals Takeaway…
The Purpose Of This Martial Arts Animal Resource
The work on this list and explanation of animals in the martial arts is intended to be a helpful guide to people of all ages.
For Parents Of Aspiring Little Ninjas
As many of you know that follow this site, most of the articles we produce are focused on being as helpful as possible to parents looking to raise their kids with martial arts and education as tools. In that vein, I have produced this resource in an effort to help parents understand the use of animals in the martial arts.
In some martial arts these connections are purely aesthetic. In others they go so far as to have spiritual connotations. As parents, as well as adult martial art students, informed choices are extremely important. I hope this study of animals in the martial arts helps you reach those informed decisions.
For Teen Or Adult Martial Arts Students
For the adult student or martial arts enthusiast, this can be a great way to familiarize yourself with how the study of animal movements and their positions in nature inform the various systems in the martial arts.
One of the best ways to increase proficiency and the speed of acquisition of techniques is by understanding their purpose and direction. Using any style or technique in a way that it was not intended will render most of its usefulness ineffective at best. Understanding these animal influences can help any adult student of most any art.
If you find this information helpful, please link to this article when writing on your own websites, social media or blogs. The many days and months of collected hours in its research hopefully will help you in understanding and explaining the connections between animal representations in the martial arts and their sources in nature.
Okay, I mean it this time. Let’s dive in.
Kung Fu Animals – Primary Animal Systems
One of the main uses of animal inspiration in movements and philosophy in the martial arts comes from the ancient connections through the astrology of the Chinese culture. There are a plethora of derivative forms based on a vast amount of animals. Many of them I will discuss later.
There are 8 core Kung Fu animals used to develop technique and philosophy: dragon, tiger, crane, leopard, snake, monkey, praying mantis, and eagle. Some systems recognize only 5 as main Kung Fu animal systems, but different styles disagree on which 5 of the 8 to include.
It is from these that many of the others evolve, either to answer deficiencies in the original or to emphasize its strengths. Let’s look at each one of these main 8 in Chinese systems of martial arts on their own and discover what it was designed for and how it is implemented in training.
The Main 5 Animals Of Southern Style Kung Fu
The popularity of these five main animal styles varies from school to school. Different instructors pass on the emphasis of their Kung Fu traditions that they in turn learned from their teachers.
First let’s look at the popularity of these foundational animal systems in Kung Fu.
This popularity designation says nothing about effectiveness of any of these styles. All styles are useful on some level when used for what they were designed for.
What this shows is the view of instructors and students in regards to how they want to teach, study, and apply self defense techniques. Here we see…
- Tiger style is one of the most popular.
- Leopard style is a close second.
- Crane style is solidly in the middle.
- Snake style as well holds a respectable middle spot.
- Dragon style rounds out the top five. Though less popularity here still means it is above most others.
Now let’s look at each of these main animal styles in Kung Fu to see what their main focus tends to be.
Crane Style Kung Fu –
What are the identifying elements that make the Crane style different from other animal systems in Kung Fu? What can a student or parents enrolling their kids expect from studying it?
The Crane style of Kung Fu was developed from earlier Chinese boxing styles to mimic the movements of cranes in the wild. The physical focus is on keeping balance and distance with long ranged striking and using circular motions for evasion. It’s spiritual element tries to use inner chi energies.
The practicality of the Crane style can be compared to other long range styles of sport and self defense. Korean Taekwondo took many influences from the Chinese arts and also uses distance control and longer ranged strikes, mostly kicks in the case of TKD, in defense and competition.
Yet, where Korean Taekwondo utilizes straight lines or slight angles for movement, Crane style uses circular motions for footwork as well as upper body techniques.
Another influence that comes from this Chinese Kung Fu style is a form or kata (Japanese) that several Karate styles use in whole or in part. The Sanchin Kata is utilized by the Uechi-Ryū and Gōjū-Ryū styles with Okinawan origin.
Dragon Style Kung Fu –
Even though the ‘Dragon Warrior’ in the Kung Fu Panda movies may have brought the style to the mainstream, Dragon style Kung Fu has been around for centuries. What is it and how is it trained?
The Dragon style of Kung Fu is said by proponents to be an amalgamation of the other four southern styles. Its techniques focus on power while immobilizing opponents for striking opportunities. The physical techniques are applied with fists, forearms, and the blade of the foot.
Though many Kung Fu systems have internal spiritual elements, it is not as pronounced in the Dragon style. It is more of an adaptation of the best of the physical side of the other systems with unique additions of its own.
This is not to say that it doesn’t borrow from the spiritual aspect of the others. An emphasis on Chi energies will depend more on the instructor and their focus when teaching.
If you as a parent are looking to decide if this inner version of the Dragon style if suitable for your child, discuss this with the instructor of the class. For adult students, the same thing applies. Just be sure the goals of the instructor are in line with your own.
Leopard Style Kung Fu –
The leopard style is sometimes referred to as a bridge between the Tiger and Crane styles. Its less direct approach makes it more akin to the Crane and its decisive linear striking links it to the Tiger. So, what is the use and training focused on in the leopard style.
Where the tiger style relies more on strength and force of will, the leopard style utilizes elements of speed and angular motion in quick bursts. Feints and deceptions are favored tools for students of the leopard style. It is primarily a physical style with only basic inner spiritual elements.
Evasions and counter attacks make the Leopard style a more self defense oriented system than a strength and direct style like the Tiger. Though students of the Leopard style can launch direct assaults, it is more aptly used in reaction to attacks from an opponent.
It is more useful in Leopard style to counter off of an opponent than to initiate and blocking is normally in the form of evasion.
Snake Style Kung Fu –
There are many forms of the snake style that will be discussed later. What we need to know here is how the snake style of Kung Fu differs from the other foundational animal systems. What makes the Snake style unique?
The Snake style employs whipping motions to optimize momentum. This lends itself to Chinese weapon training to take full advantage of these forces. It is also seen as a primary style introducing students to inner spiritual training. This begins with a breathing focus.
Some may downplay the religious side to many of the animal martial arts, but there is no denying the historical and foundational link between most of Kung Fu’s animal systems and Taoism.
In a paper published by the Physical Activity Review in 2018, researchers at the Jan Długosz University of Czestochowa state that the vast majority of spiritual and ideological views taught in the Chinese martial arts come from the philosophy and spirituality of Taoism, a similar religion to Buddhism.
Here again, for many parents, it is important to discuss this spiritual side of the art with the instructor of the class. Much of the focus or intensity of inner training depends on the preference of the instructor. Make sure the goals and techniques used in this area match the religious and spiritual goals you have for your child.
Adult students should consider this as well. Not all martial arts incorporate spiritual and thus religious elements into their training. Some do and there are differing levels of implementation.
The Snake style tends to be one of the more spiritually focused Chinese animal based martial arts.
Tiger Style Kung Fu –
With the straight ahead and more popular Tiger style of Kung Fu do we see elements similar to other linear martial arts systems found in Japan and Korea? What is it that makes the Tiger style so popular to study among students of Chinese Kung Fu?
The Tiger style of Kung Fu is the most direct system of the main animal styles using mostly powerful hand strikes. The direct force of will approach appeals to many for its simplicity and aggressiveness. Kicking is much less utilized and a more boxing style approach is employed.
With this more physically imposing mindset, less emphasis is placed on the inner or spiritual aspects of the art. Though like most other Chinese animal systems, an inner technique is present. It is just less prominent to students of the Tiger style.
The chi development in the Tiger style is less interested in an inner balance emotionally or spiritually. It is more utilized to direct power outward toward threats.
Though the chi exercises in the Tiger style are not simply directed inwardly, they none the less are parts of a larger religious focus present in most animal Kung Fu systems.
The Additional 3 Kung Fu Animals Used In Primary Lists
These other foundational animal styles are sometimes added to the list above or are substituted for one of them. The martial arts in general are much less codified and centrally governed than many students and enthusiasts think.
Many practitioners follow the preferences of instructors or groups and ignore or even deny the opinions of others. This causes a wide diversity of training methods and systems even among schools claiming to follow the same martial arts style.
We see this with the different lists of the 5 main animal systems even though most agree that there are 8 foundational ones. Even within all of these you will find different levels of emphasis either on the physical or the spiritual elements.
Eagle Style (Eagle Claw) Kung Fu –
Grip fighting, grappling, and joint manipulations are all parts of most any grappling style. The Eagle style or its more hybrid and expanded form Eagle Claw Kung Fu are no exception. What is involved in this animal inspired wrestling based system?
The Eagle style of Kung Fu is a close quarter grappling style that incorporates Chin-na and other wrestling techniques. The Eagle Claw style also includes pronounced striking and unique weapons. Eagle style utilizes a chi energy focus for balance and a spiritual connection to physical techniques.
The inner focused philosophies in this style are somewhat spiritually based, but the application tends to be pragmatic and physical in nature. It is seen as a way to develop a well balanced power and strategy.
Parents should be aware of what limits on techniques are in place for children when grappling is involved.
Monkey Style Kung Fu –
The Monkey style of Kung Fu is one of the more widely known variations because of depictions in Hollywood and for eccentric variations like drunken style. What makes Monkey Kung Fu different from other variations of animal martial arts?
The techniques in Monkey Kung Fu are more literal in their adaptation of animal movements. Techniques are more acrobatic and spastic in nature to hide intent. Some techniques include tumbling, falling, crawling and attacking targets such as the throat and groin area.
Due to the nature of the style, Monkey Kung Fu is not for everyone. It involves acting and misdirection which can be a struggle for some with more reserved personalities.
With practice much of it can resemble more structured acrobatic styles like Brazilian Capoeira with its low to the ground acrobatics.
Praying Mantis Style Kung Fu –
Seeing that this style was developed through study of the top insect predator in the world, the Praying Mantis style of Kung Fu has interested martial arts enthusiasts for generations. But does it have a unique bent on martial arts techniques or is it simply a variation of other animal martial art styles?
Praying Mantis Kung Fu is known for its striking techniques from close range with speed and power. Kicking is kept to a minimum. Due to deep stances, distancing kicks are usually aimed at the lower body. Stances are lower with a strong base for maximum force through hand strikes.
It has an arsenal of unique strikes that mimic loosely the attacks of a praying mantis in the wild. It has lost some of it popularity in recent years, but is still studied around the world for its artistic and natural take on self defense and the martial arts.
Secondary Or Derivative Kung Fu Animal Styles
Adder Kung Fu
See the snake style as this system is normally a derivative of that art.
The Alligator system in Kung Fu is similar to the Python style with ground fighting that incorporates rolling submissions and soft tissue attacks from transitioning ground positions.
Ape Kung Fu
Ape Kung Fu is sometimes synonymous with the Monkey style of Kung Fu. In some schools it takes on the more direct approach as modeled by the Tiger form, but still utilizing the monkey styles asymmetrical techniques and non-standard stance structure.
Asp Kung Fu
To learn more about this style one must first understand the Snake style of Kung Fu. There are slight variations between the two, but in general the Asp style consists of some variations of the Snake style.
Like the Shark style, the Barracuda style is more of a set of techniques used in Kung Fu based ground grappling by some schools. It denotes control positions with the ability to open opportunities for soft tissue attacks.
Bat Kung Fu is a style that is usually studied as a complementary system to other animal martial art styles. Its focus is on rapid movement over large distances in a self defense situation dealing with one or more opponents. Evasion is utilized rather than blocking and speed is key.
Bear style Kung Fu utilizes raw power with rotating hips and shoulders behind heavy strikes. It is favored by larger students of Kung Fu who naturally will be able to generate the large amounts of momentum needed for its powerful techniques. There are several variations of the Bear style.
Bird Kung Fu –
Bird style Kung Fu is in some schools an amalgamation of the Crane, Phoenix, and Eagle styles. Though in other schools it can be one of these or a variation. The name Bird style can also just be another name for one of these. See the section on these Kung Fu styles for more.
Boar Kung Fu
Wild Boar style is a hybrid style in the Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) category for self defense and sport. There are schools that train it as a complete systems, where others add it to more main stream MMA styles. The three focuses are striking, takedowns, and submissions.
Knuckle, fist, and forearm conditioning are essential for this style developed around colliding hands, forearms, elbows and even the entire body into targets. Rather than evasion and counters, Bull style practitioners attempt to impose their wills through direct overwhelming force.
Centipede Kung Fu
Those that train in the Centipede style today are more than likely rebranding Chinese close quarter grappling techniques found in Chin-na. There may also be short ranged strikes added. The popular reference to a Centipede style comes from the Kung Fu Movie: Five Deadly Venoms.
Chicken Kung Fu –
Believe it or not, there is a set of techniques, though some would argue not a complete style, based on the chicken. It is considered a form of boxing and some link it to the Chinese animals in Xing Yi. It’s a series of rapid strikes that were either inspired by or named after chickens.
Cobra Kung Fu –
The Cobra style of Kung Fu is more grappling based and aggressive form of the snake styles of Kung Fu. It employs throws, backfists, dropping, and spinning to attack an opponent. It incorporates the grappling art of Chinese Chin-na into its arsenal.
Crab Kung Fu is claimed by some to be a ground grappling form of Chinese Kung Fu. Yet many doubt ancient connections and see it as an adoption of Judo, Japanese Jujitsu, and even Brazilian Jiu Jitsu techniques. This doesn’t negate its effectiveness, only questions its uniqueness.
Crow Kung Fu
Crow style is a variation of the Crane style with a more aggressive philosophy. It is based on the stances, balance, and striking of the Crane system, but with added direct line attacks. It also adds grappling throws and takedowns to the technique base. It is a niche and vary rare style to find.
Deer Kung Fu
The Deer style is an internal and whole body fitness subset of Qigong for some schools of Kung Fu. It is more a group of positions and a philosophy of training rather than a self defense or martial fighting system.
Dog style is similar to Crab style in that it has a high focus on ground grappling and striking techniques. What stands out as different is its more established historical ties to its inception. It adds leaping and various takedown movements to its ground skill development.
Duck Kung Fu –
Legitimate forms of Duck style Kung Fu normally incorporate other animal forms (Praying Mantis, Crane, or Eagle styles) of Kung Fu along with asymmetrical movements and unpredictable techniques. Much of it is in an attempt to disguise advances and retreats and aid in evasion.
Elephant Kung Fu –
The general consensus it that the Elephant style is a name applied through the years to groups of techniques borrowed from other animal styles. There is no real evidence of a historical connection to any one specific founder. Without these connections its existence cannot be confirmed.
Falcon Kung Fu
The Falcon style is a subset of the Eagle style or the Eagle claw style. It is also related to the more general bird style with fast movements covering a lot of ground, evasions instead of blocks, and the typical emphasis on balance over brute strength.
Fox Kung Fu –
Some would question the existence of a Kung Fu style based on the Fox. They would be correct in their suspicions. There is no evidence that other than individuals inventing their own personal art that a Fox style ever existed. The name usually only surfaces by those inquiring about it.
Frog Kung Fu –
Frog style of Kung Fu is practiced as a niche style by some schools though its lineage is not something that many will take as verifiable. Nevertheless, those that take its training seriously develop strong kicks, jumps, and unique blocking techniques. It tends to be a supplemental style.
Hawk Kung Fu
Here again with the Hawk style of Kung Fu we have a subset of the Eagle style. It’s emphasis is on evasion over blocking, controlling distances through movement, and and using trapping and grips to aid in close quarter strikes. One hallmark of the Hawk style is counter attacks.
Horse Kung Fu –
This is another one that tends to be the name given to techniques rather than a full system. There are a lot of martial arts that utilize a ‘horse stance’ that transcend nationalities, cultures, and traditions. Yet, there is no credible evidence that there is a separate Horse style.
Lion Kung Fu –
The Lion martial arts style is a niche Chinese Kung Fu system that tends to borrow from the Tiger and Leopard styles. There are those that trace the lineage of the system back to ancient Chinese military connections, today it is difficult to find organized groups practicing it.
Manta Ray Kung Fu
Instructors and students of the Manta Ray style of Kung Fu attempt to train defenses against grappling using rolling ground techniques and escapes combined with Chinese Chin-na. The core of this niche style is counter attacks to attempts at grappling throws and submissions.
Moray Eel Kung Fu
The Moray Eel style attempts to take the shrimping movement found in many ground grappling styles and develop a defensive ground game used for both unarmed and armed confrontations. It centers around defending positions and submissions while creating space to counter.
Octopus Kung Fu
The Octopus style of Kung Fu closely resembles the ‘guard’ position ground game of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Its main purpose is to fight from a disadvantaged position (normally the back) and counter attack with submissions and strikes from underneath.
Panther Kung Fu –
Panther style is by all accounts a reaction to the dominating aggression of the Tiger style. It utilizes many of the same principles, but adds a counter attack and defensive nature to the strategy. Some schools even add elements of grappling and weapons training to the art.
Phoenix Kung Fu –
The art some know as the Phoenix style is closely associated with the Leopard style of Kung Fu. It is mostly a system of additional techniques used as supplemental material for other more robust systems. The Phoenix Eye technique is how many hear and know of the art.
Python Kung Fu
The Python style closely resembles a hybrid form of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). It combines striking and a full grappling curriculum based on joint locks, strangulations, and positions from many angles. The strikes are done from standing or the ground and can lead into takedowns.
Rat Kung Fu –
Rat style is closely related with the Boar style and uses distance control, leaping, soft tissue attacks, and speed to fend off and attacking opponents. Kicking and hand striking combinations are done in groups of twos and threes with constant damage over single power strikes as the goal.
Rhino Kung Fu –
The Rhino style of Kung Fu is more of a philosophy, tactic, or set of techniques rather than a full complete style. There are some weapons that are associated with the system. The main focus of the art is to harness and project power in striking.
Salamander Kung Fu
The Salamander style is a hybrid system borrowing from other animals styles to form a program of low stances to the point of squatting. This was developed with projectile weapons in mind. Training in and out of cover is implemented and can be adapted for firearms training.
Scorpion Kung Fu
The Scorpion style is apparently a more recent hybrid style taught by some schools that combine the three main focuses of martial arts: grappling, striking, and weapons. This amalgamation of many animal systems is purported to be a complete fighting system.
Shark Kung Fu –
Shark style is more akin to a system of techniques than a complete style. It is a grappling based system with influences from Chinese Chin-na and other wrestling or submission based systems. Its techniques are designed for mobility as well as ground control.
The Spider style of martial arts in Chinese Kung Fu is a niche system only studied by a few schools. According to their way of training it involves movements similar to trapping and standing Small Circle Jujitsu. There are also elements of striking, throwing, and Chin-na.
Sting Ray Kung Fu
Sting Ray Kung Fu is a new hybrid style purporting to teach the use of terrain and the environment along with specific stances in order to train students to mount defenses against multiple attackers and weapons. This art trains on inclines and with improvised weapons.
Swallow Kung Fu
The Swallow style is an amalgamation of the Tiger and Bird styles of Kung Fu. For those training in it, the circular motions of the Swallow are melded with the power focused Tiger style. There are also techniques in Japanese Karate systems as well as Chinese styles using swallow in the name.
Squid Kung Fu
Squid Kung Fu styles resemble both the Octopus style and the guard position ground game of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. The purpose is to defend from one of the worst positions with control and offensive submissions. It appears to be a newer martial art based on successful, existing grappling styles.
Toad Kung Fu
The Toad style is mainly synonymous with the Frog style and employs conditioning for the leg both for toughening and for strength. The legs are used for explosive kicks, jumps, sweeps, and takedowns. This also enables the student to both grapple and strike from low stances.
Turtle Kung Fu
Turtle style is claimed by some Kung Fu schools who have adopted the Judo and BJJ defensive position of kneeling on all fours with the stomach close to the ground. Other systems claim it as an rare regional style from Chinese villages meant as an evasion system when attacked by low body techniques.
Viper Kung Fu –
Viper style Kung Fu is normally just another name given to the Snake style. It has a strong inner spiritual element to the system centering on chi energies believed to aid students in life and practicing Kung Fu. The physical side is filled with fast, fluid motions striking soft tissue targets.
Wolf Kung Fu –
Some schools use the Dog style of Kung Fu and others use the same style only call it Wolf style. There are also schools that have named hybrid mixes of MMA and self defense by that name. Though the Wolf style may be a newer art and name, Dog style Kung Fu has links in history.
Karate Animals Used For Theory And Technique
Though some Japanese Karate styles have slight influences from animals and their movements, most of their philosophies differ from the Chinese martial arts. The Japanese focus on minimalism, straight simple lines, and an economy of motion.
There is also much less of an emphasis on the religious aspect in the Japanese systems. So, it should come as no surprise that the Karate styles that employ animal focuses have direct Chinese influence rather than Okinawan leanings.
Here mainly we will focus on the Shaolin Kempo Karate system with mentions of influence as it appears in the American Kenpo Karate system.
Crane Style In Shaolin Kempo and American Kenpo
Since much of the influence in both Shaolin Kempo Karate and American Kenpo Karate systems comes from the Chinese martial arts, how has the Crane style of Kung Fu influenced each?
There are two influences of the Crane in Kempo and Kenpo Karate. One is directly related the the Crane style of Kung Fu associated with Shaolin Kempo Karate. The other manifests as the Leaping Crane self defense technique in some forms of American Kenpo Karate.
Shaolin Kempo Karate is a unique mix of the 5 animal system of Shaolin Kung Fu with the straight line power attacks of Okinawan Karate along with elements of Boxing from the Western Culture. The Crane influence is the same in Shaolin Kempo as it is in Kung Fu.
Balance, distance control, and long ranged blocking/striking are at its foundation. There is an inner development component based on spiritualized chi energies that is present in Shaolin Kempo Karate, but it is less emphasized than in the Kung Fu version.
The self defense technique in American Kenpo Karate named after the Crane (the ‘Leaping Crane’) is a technique named in the same way many similar movements are in Kenpo. The reason is more for ease of recall for students than from any inspiration directly from the animal.
The Dragon In Kempo and Kenpo
If this is true of the Crane style of Kung Fu, is it also similar in the Dragon style? Is there direct influence from the Kung Fu version of the Dragon style in Shaolin Kempo Karate?
In Shaolin Kempo Karate there is a direct relation of the Dragon style in training and technique. The Dragon borrows from the other animals and blends them together both in Kung Fu and Shaolin Kempo. In American Kenpo, the dragon is use more as an icon, showing up in crests and logos.
In Kung Fu, as in Shaolin Kempo, the Dragon style blends the evasions of the Crane and speed of the Snake styles with the control elements of the Leopard and powerful strikes of the Tiger styles.
In American Kenpo Karate, the dragon holds the position of a symbol with varied meanings depending on the school and instructor’s affiliation.
The Leopard In Shaolin Kempo Karate And American Kenpo
The leopard style is many times in the Kung Fu systems compared with the Tiger style as a more moderate version of it. How does this play out in Shaolin Kempo?
The Leopard style is not seen as better or worse than the Tiger style in Shaolin Kempo Karate, only different. It focuses the power and energy of the Tiger and balances it with the evasion and balanced approach of the Crane. In American Kenpo techniques and forms bare the name Leopard.
Each have a different level of influence. In Shaolin Kempo an entire section of philosophy and technique is based on the theoretical aspects of the leopard as in Kung Fu. In American Kenpo there is slight influences evident in names of techniques and kata (pre-arranged memorized movements).
Snake Style Influence Over Shaolin Kempo And American Kenpo
As we can see, the Kung Fu tradition has great influence over Shaolin hybrid styles like Kempo Karate. It also shows traces of influence over even newer ‘Americanized’ versions such as Ed Parker’s American Kenpo Karate. What about the snake style then?
The writhing, quick movements enabling whip-like momentum found in the Kung fu Snake style can also be seen in the Shaolin Kempo Karate system. In American Kenpo, the snake influence shows itself in a self-defense technique known as ‘Gathering of the Snakes’.
As with the other animals styles found in Kempo and Kenpo Karate, the Chinese phylisophical influence is strong. This goes doubly for Shaolin Kempo.
Whether it is an entire section of curriculum or one or two techniques, the 5 animal system of Kung Fu has made its mark on two Karate systems more recently and more than likely played a part in Karate’s formation generations ago.
The Kenpo And Kempo Karate Tiger
Undeniably the most popular of the animal systems in Kung Fu, the Tiger style has influenced many of the other animal styles from the most studied to the least seen. Has it also affected Shaolin Kempo and American Kenpo?
In American Kenpo Karate, the Tiger is used from everything from logos and crests to the names of specific techniques. In Shaolin Kempo Karate, the Tiger style makes up an entire branch of technique. Both systems were influenced by the Tiger style of Kung Fu, even if in different ways.
One of the most dominate and powerful styles of the animal styles of Kung Fu, the Tiger style uses strength and force for defense and offense. They might use them in different ways, but the symbol of the tiger evokes the same sort of emphasis in both Shaolin Kempo and American Kenpo Karate.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Animals Inspire Names Of Techniques
Though Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a more recent martial art and is not known for it philosophical leanings, it too has been touched by the power of animal symbols. There is one main position and a few techniques and drills that have many animal names.
Let’s see where the Brazilians have used animals to convey the essence of a technique through its name.
BJJ Guard Positions With Animal Names
For those not familiar with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu defensive techniques, the guard is a position where someone has chosen to be on their back on the ground or was forced to be there.
Instead of allowing an opponent to sit on their chest or lay across their side, the guard entails wrapping the legs around the opponent’s waist to gain leverage from the bottom. This is a defensive position utilizing an inferior circumstance in order to stop worse situations. It can even be used in an offensive strategy.
These positions are intricate and normally very specific to a particular ground fighting strategy. Here I will simply list some of the names instead of giving details about a movement that normally only advanced grapplers would understand anyway.
- Anaconda guard
- Butterfly guard
- Crab guard
- Donkey guard
- Spider guard
- Worm guard
- Koala guard
- Mantis guard
- Monkey tail guard
- Octopus guard (Very fun and one of my favorites… just sayin.)
- Panda guard
- Rat guard
- Squirrel guard
- Tarantula guard
- Turtle guard
BJJ Submissions Named After Animals
- Anaconda choke
- Bear hug
- Bear trap
- Bulldog choke
- Chicken wing
- Dragon sleeper
- Gator roll
- Rhino choke
- Worm hat choke
Other BJJ Animal Techniques
- Bullfighter pass
Though some of the others in this list of Jiu Jitsu animal techniques can be localized within specific groups or used by students of specific instructors, shrimping is one that no respectable Brazilian Jiu Jitsu school can omit.
Though this is a fairly large list of animal named skills in BJJ, it is by no means exhaustive. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a relatively new martial art system and thus has many new techniques and variations each year added to its arsenal. There may be more to come.
Animals In Other Martial Arts
Animals As Martial Arts Mascots
There are tons of logos, signs, t-shirt designs, and martial arts school signs that sport a plethora of animal depictions from the majestic to the intimidating. It is not uncommon to see dogs, gorillas, sharks, and especially… tigers.
The occasional dragon and serpent are intertwined among the other symbols as well. The key for these are the ‘coolness’ factor and what animals influenced the instructors and even founders of the system.
Though there may be loose connections, many of these become beloved symbols of specific martial arts styles.
Dog Brothers Martial Arts
The Dog Brother Martial Arts system is not only named after an animal, there are many techniques that have animal names as well. Though this fits in this discussion, there is another more direct link to animals that this Kali or Escrima based fighting system and organization uses.
Though not directly linked to the martial art know as the Dog Brothers Martial Arts, there are fighting ‘gatherings of the pack’ several times per year around the world. These are open, nearly no rules, very little to padding style mixed martial arts fighting events allowing wooden sticks and dull metal knives.
I fought for many years in these fights and earned what is termed as a ‘Dog Name’. Mine was ‘Boo Dog’.
The animal influences in the martial arts spread far and wide and take on many forms. In everything from the inner spiritual to the extreme external you can find a near limitless list of animals as inspiration.
The Martial Arts Animals Takeaway…
Hopefully this fairly comprehensive, though not exhaustive, look at the animals that influence martial artists and their styles can help you grasp how pervasive it can be. Some are integral to the system and some are purely aesthetic.
Either way, animals have and will always be a part of the martial arts.