Wu xing quan training sequences are shorter than the five animal forms and coordinate basic patterns of attack and defense with proper footwork and stepping

Image“If you practice without training speed and power, then an entire lifetime of practice is futile.”

The southern shaolin five animals style wu xing quan (五形拳) contains a variety of empty-hand forms as well as weapon sequences, Qigong training, and the four categories of skill: ti踢 (kick), da打 (strike), shuai摔 (wrestle), na拿 (lock). Wu xing quan can be translated as five forms fist and is well known for the characteristic hand techniques representing the famous shaolin styles of tiger, crane, panther, snake and dragon.

The Five Animals Style
The five animals style originated in Henan province in the mid-1500s. At this time the shaolin monks were well known for their skill with the staff 棍 (gun) and their lohan style, of martial arts. Wu xing quan was developed to balance the hard power of the lohan style, which favored the larger practitioner, with techniques that would be effective at overcoming a stronger enemy. The five animals style eventually spread throughout China and influenced many other styles including, white crane, long xing quan, hung gar, choy li fut and black tiger.

The influence of nature on Chinese martial arts can be traced back many centuries and the natural instincts and methods of animals were often imitated. This poem written by the Buddhist monk, Song Ching in 1561 illustrates the influence of nature on Chinese art, culture and thought, as well as the significance of specific animals.

Train the sword to kill the Tiger
Train the spirit in order to capture the Dragon.

In Chinese martial arts the tiger is often used to represent physical strength and power, while the dragon is related to the development of the energy and the refinement of the spirit. The five forms of the wu xing style were chosen for their ability to train the strength, speed, skill, energy and spirit. In Chinese martial arts it is said that the three essential skills for victory are speed, power and technique in that order. It can be seen from this knowledge that wu xing quan is effective for fighting ability, health and spiritual growth.

ImageThe southern shaolin five animals style was well known in Taiwan, Fukien and Guangdong province from the late Qing dynasty (清朝) 1644-1912 into the early Republican period 1912-1949.  These provinces held a large concentration of martial arts experts from many styles because of a long history of rebel activities, secret martial societies, civil war and foreign invasion. One such expert was master Lin Jia Kun (林家坤), a veteran soldier and martial arts drillmaster in the Chinese Nationalist Army. Master Zhang Ke Zhi (張克治) was a member of the Nationalist Army and was fortunate enough to meet and learn from master Lin Jia Kun.

In Taiwan, master Zhang became one of the most well known wu xing masters and has trained many of the top wu xing teachers in Taiwan. Some of his well-known students include Lou Rei “Alexander Lou” (羅銳) the kung-fu movie star; Chen Shui Tsai (陳水財), the chief master of the Taipei Chinese Kung Fu Association; and Lin Jien Hong (林劍虹), one of the leading Taiwanese five animals masters.

Wu Xing Style Contents
The wu xing quan style is famous for the individual animal forms; however, there are many other training sequences used to build a student’s skill. These sequences are known as the fundamental training forms ji ben lian shi (基本練習). The basic training sequences are shorter than the five animal forms and emphasize coordinating basic patterns of attack and defense with proper footwork and stepping. Each form consists of approximately 10 different patterns of attack and defense, which are repeated on both the right and left side for balance.  Many other training methods and techniques are taught. The southern wu xing quan training is extensive and complete; some of the contents of the southern shaolin wu xing quan style are:

ImageFive Patterns/Forms

  • Capture the Tiger (伏虎拳)
  • Single Crane on Branch (唯一鹤面對分支)
  • Clever Snake Emerges from Cave (巧蛇走出洞)
  • Five Animals Tiger Fist (五形虎拳)
  • Five Animals Crane Fist (五形鹤拳)
  • Five Animals Panther Fist (五形豹拳)
  • Five Animals Snake Fist (五形蛇拳)
  • Five Animals Dragon Fist (五形龙拳)

Other Forms/Training

  • Shi Ba Lohan Shou “18 Lohan Hands” (十八罗汉手)
  • Yi Jin Jing “Muscle Tendon Change “ (易筋经)
  • Pan Shou “Winding Hands” (槃手)
  • Lian Shi “Training Forms” (練習)
  • Qiao Shou “Bridge Hands” (橋手)
  • Quan Tao Dui Lian “Matching Forms” (拳套對練)

18 Weapons

  • Staff
  • Saber
  • Spear
  • Sword
  • Fan
  • Butterfly Swords
  • Double Chai
  • Flute
  • Kwan Dao
  • Spade
  • Three Section Staff
  • Double Saber
  • Two Short Sticks
  • Tiger Fork
  • Double Head Spear
  • Iron Crutch
  • 9-Ring Saber
  • Iron Flute

Training Goals
The goals of fundamental training form practice are increasing leg strength, learning basic methods of attack and defense and increasing speed, stability and power. The training forms include a wide array of both defensive and offensive maneuvers. The offensive techniques include striking methods using the hand, fist, forearm and elbow, as well as hidden kicking techniques. The defensive patterns include open-hand circular blocking, linear forearm blocking, fast and smooth double blocking, as well as grabbing and trapping techniques. The drunken fist “zui quan” (醉拳) hand form is introduced in the first fundamental training form and trains the method for relaxed and deceptive striking.

Two key points in fundamental training form practice are footwork and stance practice. The fundamental training forms teach various types of footwork including, stepping, cross-stepping, twisting, jumping, balancing, sinking and rooting. These stepping methods are trained in conjunction with the seven primary stances of the wu xing quan style.  These stances are:

  • Mabu “horse stance” (馬步)
  • Ssu Lieu Bu  “four six stance” (步)
  • Gong Bu “bow stance” (弓步)
  • Shi Bu “false stance” (虚步)
  • Du Li Ma “one leg stance” (独立马)
  • Pan Tuei “cross leg” (半腿)
  • Pu Tuei “crouch stance” (扑腿)

These stances are coordinated with prearranged striking, kicking and blocking methods to teach the fundamental patterns of attack and defense for the wu xing quan style. Mastery of the different stances will lead to increased leg strength, flexibility and power. Stance training is an important aspect of learning in all kung-fu styles. Many of the most well-known training methods, such as the rigorous and painful mabu training, date back to the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties. Other challenging stance training methods include the “child worships the Buddha” tong zi bai fo (童子拜佛) practice, which involves balancing on one leg while squatting down and standing up with the other leg extended in front parallel to the ground. This difficult and painful practice is used to develop balance and kicking power. It is also one of the important steps in the development of the legendary “no shadow kick” (無影腳) of shaolin.

The training forms can be practiced in several different ways depending on the type of training and level of skill desired. At the beginning level the forms are rehearsed to build memory, timing, speed, power and skill. As the student progresses in his training, the form can be done while holding each posture for an extended amount of time to build leg strength, endurance, and the sinking feeling of rooting to train stability. Finally, the whole body striking method can be trained to connect the power from the rear leg through the hip to the arm and finally out of the hand. After progressing through each level of the fundamental stance form training, the student will be ready to begin learning the representative five animal fist forms.

Each level of fundamental training is long and difficult, but after completing the training the student will have laid a strong foundation for further learning. The nei gong (內功) or internal training is introduced through the slow and intense practice of sinking the weight down through the soles of the feet to improve the rooting and balancing aspects of practice. The qigong training continues with hard qigong, meditation and soft qigong. The internal training is essential in Chinese martial arts to bring balance to the practice. In keeping with nature and the principle of yin/yang hard and soft must always balance each other to maintain the health of the body, mind and spirit.

Key Training Points

Through the dedicated practice of the fundamental training forms, the student will be prepared for the further learning of the individual wu xing quan forms beginning with the tiger, crane, panther, snake and dragon. Each form is designed to train different key aspects including:

  • Tiger—Bones/tendons 

Train the tendons through tension and twisting to condition

  • Crane—Essence/sinew 

Remain calm & focused to regulate the mind and body. Use quick and precise whip like striking

  • Panther—Strength

Build muscular strength and speed

  • Snake—Energy

Soft breathing and fluid motions to promote circulation of energy

  • Dragon—Spirit

Result from mastery & refinement of previous skills

Each aspect of training in the southern shaolin wu xing quan style can be challenging and difficult, but the fundamental training is essential for success. By building a strong foundation from which to build upon and training with determination and perseverance, the student can reach the higher levels of kung-fu skill.

In martial arts training, most students always wish to learn a new or more advanced form; this common desire is called “chasing forms”. Most masters agree that less than one-fourth of the training should be dedicated to learning forms, with the remainder of the training time being used for practicing the fundamentals and conditioning.

If you practice martial arts or only forms without training speed and power, then an entire lifetime of practice is futile. Only when the student grasps the importance of the essential skills of speed, power and technique, and has committed to a diligent training regimen, will he find himself on the right path.

Travis Alschbach has a bachelor’s in Economics and Finance from the University of Texas, Dallas. He is a 10-year veteran of the Dallas Police Department, as well as president and founder of the Shaolin Wu-Yi Institute in Dallas, Texas. He can be reached at www.swyi.com or

app 4-5:
Block the opponent’s punch (1) and counterpunch to the jaw (2).
app 6:
Use the forearm to shield the head while punching to the face.
app 8-9:
Step to the side and block the attacker’s punch with the right hand (1) and then grab with the left hand while kicking to the solar plexus or groin (2).
app 10A-10B:
Block the attacker’s punch with the left arm (1). Use your blocking hand to grab the back of the opponent’s head and strike the neck with your right forearm (2).
app 11A-11B:
Use your left arm to block the opponent’s left punch. Drive your hand forward and grab the opponent’s shirt (1). Use your left forearm to push the opponent back. At the same time, grab the opponent’s left leg with your right arm and throw him to the ground (2).
app 12A-12B:
Use your right forearm to block the body punch (1) and continue the blocking motion into a downward backfist. Strike the opponent’s face (2).
Block the opponent’s left punch with your left hand (1) and use the right arm to lock the opponent’s elbow (2).
Block and lift the opponent’s right punch using the left hand (1). Quickly use the right hand to strike the solar plexus (2) and use the opponent’s forward motion to apply a shoulder throw (3).
As the opponent punches, dodge to the side and counterpunch.

Five Animals Snake:
The author demonstrates a posture from the snake style.

Chen Shuei Tsai:
Wu xing quan master Chen Shuei Tsai of the Taipei Chinese Kung Fu Association.

Chen Shuei Tsai - Kwan Dao:
Late master Chen Shuei Tsai demonstrating the Kwan dao.

Chen Shuei Tsai and Silvio Azzolini Wu Xing Butterfly Swords:
Silvio Azzolini demonstrates the wu xing quan butterfly swords for master Chen Shuei Tsai.

Training form practice, Taiwan, 1984:
Silvio Azzolini and other students of Chen Shuei Tsai drill the first fundamental training form of the wu xing quan style.

Zhang Ke Zhi:
Grandmaster Zhang Ke Zhi demonstrates the folded fan of the wu xing quan style