By Kurtis Fujita
The predatory cat is a fluid canvas of copper orange, adorned with meandering black lashes of camouflage. While hunting, its low stalking is reminiscent of the way the sun glances along the horizon’s edge before disappearing with silent grace at sunset. When attacking, the Tiger leaps with a trajectory and fierceness only equaled by the raw power of an indigo blue wave rising and crashing along cliffs by the shoreline. A silent intensity is often felt as its amber eyes survey its dominion, punctuated only by onyx pupils that are as cold and empty as the fields before it. None dare challenge his authority and with good reason indeed.
In both the Chinese Zodiac and the Martial World of Kung Fu, the Tiger is venerated for its tenacity and ferocity. Indeed, it could very well be argued that it is the most powerful of the real life animals embodied in both the aforementioned landscapes. This conclusion may easily be arrived at when one realizes that only the mythical Dragon surpasses this magnificent beast in both scale and grandeur.
Legendary Weapons of China
In the expansive world of Kung Fu, and particularly, the systems closely associated with the legendary Hung Gar Kuen (Hung Family Fist 洪家拳) system , there are five main animals whose characteristics and fighting strategies reign supreme. These five animals are the Tiger, Crane, Snake, Leopard, and Dragon. Of the quintology, the Tiger is often the first and primary focus of training. This is because the Tiger provides firm foundational stance work, solid body structure, and both physical and mental conditioning. Once these qualities are set in place, a practitioner may readily transition to the other components of the system which are embodied by the remaining four animals.
Originally, the Hung Gar Kuen system only used the Tiger as the sole animal from which it drew inspiration from. The style’s founder Hung Hei Goon (洪熙官) was renowned as one of the Southern Shaolin Temple’s leading exponents of the Tiger style and in particular, the vast arsenal of martial applications found within the celebrated “Taming the Tiger In an I Shaped Pattern” (Gung Ji Fook Fu Kuen 工字伏虎拳) sequence. It was only later when he met and married the White Crane Kung Fu Master, Fong Wing Chun (方詠春), that he incorporated her avian inspired skill set as a complementary addition to his already impressive repertoire. Time passed and the style was passed down through the ages and developed further by incorporating the remaining Leopard, Snake, and Dragon components. Throughout this lengthy developmental period, the Tiger was and still remains to be the primary focus of the system. In this manner the Tiger movements are the very nucleus of the living tradition that is Hung Gar Kung Fu.
The Razor Sharp Wit of a Tiger’s Claw
Like the ferocious retractable nails its namesake is derived from, the Tiger Claw hand technique is a multi-faceted tool which not only is used to strike, but to ensnare one’s opponent. This is a manifestation of the idiom “Form follows function” as the the tiger claw gesture immediately allows for a level of pugilistic versatility that a simple closed fist alone will not suffice.
The formation of the tiger claw is neither a closed fist nor an open palm strike, but something in between, like a half closed fist. The fingers are clenched, but not closed fully whilst separated and the wrist is bent backwards with the palm exposed. This allows for a quick grab by completing the closing mechanism of the fingers to lock an opponent’s limb.
Additionally, the bent wrist facilitates the deployment of a palm strike with great effectiveness. In numerous scenarios, a practitioner may employ the grabbing application with one hand to subdue their opponent’s attack, while simultaneously executing a devastating palm strike with their other hand. This barrage of counters and strikes can be both spellbinding to witness and overwhelming to endure.
A Tiger for All Ages
The Tiger has served as not only a means of evolution in the animal kingdom, but a catalyst in the development of the fighting arts of the middle kingdom of China, and arguably the very understanding of the human psyche as evidenced by its prominence in the Zodiac of the Lunar Calendar. One needs only witness the magnificence of this predator whose every movement exemplifies poetry in motion whether it be seen manifesting directly from the creature itself, or via the capable semi clenched hands of a Kung Fu master.
Sifu Kurtis Fujita is the Head Instructor of Tiger Crane Kung Fu. He is the Los Angeles Chairman of the United States Traditional Kung Fu Wushu Federation and the Hung Gar Advisor to the International Traditional Kung Fu Association. He is the creator of the upcoming comic book series “Shadow Ghost: The Kung Fu Comic by a Kung Fu Master” He can be contacted at: Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; For information on his classes: www.tigercrane.net; Facebook: facebook.com/tigercranekungfu; Youtube and Instagram: tigercrane805. For information on his upcoming comic book: Facebook:www.facebook.com/ShadowGhostComic; Instagram: shadowghostcomic