Boddhidharma brought Kung Fu to the Shaolin Temple some 2500 years ago, and the world has been learning ever since. A hundred generations of religious fanatics perfecting themselves through fantastic, rigorous exercises. Interestingly, the five animals of Kung fu stand for a series of steps in the progression of fighting tactics and strategy.
The Tiger is known for strength. He is a strong animal, and he charges in aggressively on the attack. He is a do or die animal, and the old saying is ‘If two tigers fight, one will die and the other will be maimed.’
The Leopard is known for quickness. He charges in and out, snapping his attacks with tremendous power. Thus, he is not as aggressive as a tiger, but has learned to ‘dance.’
The Crane reveals ‘True Soft,’ as that animal remains aloof, poised and waiting, evading and avoiding. Not dancing, but matching the movements and finding the precise instant to counter. And the attack is not always violent, but rather exact, often taking advantage of pressure points.
The Snake represents True Soft when it comes to True Kung Fu. Instead of charging aggressively, dancing, or even playing a waiting game, it is part of the movement, going with the movement, taking advantage of the motion by being them. This is not just retreating from the incoming force, but becoming the attack, and turning it to best advantage.
With the gradient steps from Tiger to Snake we have a series of steps from hard to soft, from external to internal. Interestingly, this is really a gradient method from learning to go against, to learning to go with. The next animal, the Dragon, is represents the summation of these steps.
The dragon is neither hard nor soft, it is both both of these attributes. It is being able to go against or with at will. it is the ability to combine all animals, as one wishes, in whatever manner, in the middle of combat.
Thus, the five kung fu animals train the physical form, discipline the mind, and finally, manifest the spirit. For the dragon, as the last animal, represents imagination, the ability to choose, and these are the hallmarks of a spiritual being. As the old phrases have said, the Tiger strengthens the bones, the Crane resides within stillness, and the Dragon trains the spirit, and this gradient sequence of concepts definitely represents the True Shaolin Teachings.