There is precious little written material
available about the snake kung fu styles, although they are foundation
sets in traditional Shaolin, family styles, and are incorporated in a host
of peripheral schools such as Pa Kua and T'ai Ch'i Chuan. It is possibly
because of the near-universal inclusion of snake techniques in Chinese and
other styles that little specific attention has been paid to the style.
In the Shaolin kung fu system, the snake's position between other styles
(above Crane and Tiger and just below Mantis and Dragon) illustrates its
intermediary nature. It is distinguished from the styles below it by the
introduction of circular movement in its parries and attacks. This
introduction of circles characterizes the transition to a higher style.
The circles themselves can be compared to the dynamic of yang and yin in
Taoism. Circular attacks (viewed as yin) are countered by direct attacks
(yang). Similarly, straight techniques are countered by circular ones.
Snakes are conspicuous predators that have
intrigued human beings for a long time. The snake’s biological diversity
is also reflected in the style itself. Large snakes may constrict prey,
preventing the rib cage from expanding to allow inhaling, causing death by
asphyxiation (true, constrictors such as pythons may "crush"
their prey, but only if the prey animal is strong enough to break its own
bones while trying to inhale). Many small and colorful snakes have lethal
venom, and to early human beings the mysterious death caused after a small
bite was probably seen as nothing short of magic. Vipers inject venom into
the bloodstream in order to kill prey. Cobras, on the other hand, use
poison that affects the nervous system. Such creatures, then, combined
elements worth including in a martial arts style.
Snake kung fu styles probably developed
among the first codified martial arts creations. The emphasis on hitting
weak points along the ch'i meridians suggests that such meridians and
primal acupuncture had already been worked out. (It has been suggested by
some practitioners of acupuncture that the meridian routes were mapped
based on preferred sites for mosquito bites; many bites induce discomfort
in distant parts of the body. Interesting idea...) The modern snake
kung fu style is actually an amalgamation of older styles which have now
died out. Its range of technique, however, reflects the influence of each
of these three styles. Viper consisted of intimidating strikes that could
inflict heavy psychological damage by drawing lots of blood without
causing life-threatening damage. Its trademark was the tongue strike - two
fingers aiming often at arteries and veins. Cobra, in contrast, did not
emphasize highly recognizable or showy techniques but rather very serious
strikes to nerves and pressure points. Its characteristic hand technique
was an open hand with the thumb curled underneath in order to maintain
dynamic tension. Python, in addition, relied on the leopard fist for its
pinpoint strikes and included grappling. The
two universal aspects of snake techniques are pin-point open-hand strikes
and twisting arm postures to disguise one’s line of attack. Such
movements are often seen in Wing Chun kung fu forms, as in the third, or
Bil Jee, set, in which most of the hand techniques are snake-derived.
Most snake kung fu practitioners use an
upright, mobile stance and rely less on horse-stance than most other
styles. The mobile stance allows for rapid advances and sidestepping
footwork. Additionally, snake stylists don't trade blows, or
"tough-out" attacks. Using fast, alternating hand jabs, the
practitioner drills at an opponent, sidesteps counterattacks, and drives
home his attack. There are some stylistic variations, such as one
Fukien-based style that employs low sweeps (and is thus an exception to
the general rule of sweeps being confined to Northern styles).
It is this adherence to unassuming stances
and rapid attack that make snake such a deceptively simple-looking kung fu
style. Snake stylists are taught to spring from rest posture to full
attack; there are no preparatory stances or "threatening"
gestures. If attacked, the snake stylist bobs and weaves, looking much
like anyone else, until an opening presents itself. The strikes then fly
quickly, in succession, hitting the same opening over and over. Should the
attacker block one of these snake-strikes, the snake changes targets and
continues its barrage. Kicks are low, snappy, and aimed at the shins,
knee, or top of foot.
You will find style specific basic technique here along with 2-person drills and forms.
This video is essentially what we had on our CD-ROMs and is now available for free! For basic gung fu technique,
check out our Training Section.
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