Shaolin Animal Kung Fu

What is it and how does it work?

Shaolin Kung Fu Academy Chief Instrutor Sijo Robert Z with Vanessa

Hi again! The Shaolin Animal Styles are not about making strange noises, funny hand shapes or hopping around like a toad. It is about who your are and how you prefer to do things; including your fitness exercises and situation management. The Shaolin Monks discovered some 1000 years ago that there are 4 main personality types much like the west discovered the Personality Types A, B, C and D in the past 50 years or so. The Shaolin though did a clever thing and allocated 4 Animals metaphors rather than random letter of the alphabet (especially where they don't have an alphabet..).

It was an exceptionally enlightened thing to do, which is a message down the ages for those who take the time to understand it. By using the Animals as symbols, they gave us a lot of info. Following is a short version description on how to understand/work-with the Animal metaphors.

Shaolin 5 Animal Kung Fu Academy Tiger Symbol
The symbol of the Tiger is close to the type "A" personality. The go getter, everything is possible, less talk-more action type of person. Usually these people are strong of body and nature; and can easily dominate a situation or a group of people. The short fall is that they can be a bull in a China shop and they alienate Shake style people.

The symbol of the Panther is close to the "B" personality. More laid back and amicable, they are also achievers but in a less grandiose way. They are usually also stronger of Body but not large and also are usually fairly intelligent. They may seem a bit lazy and anally retentive but that can also be show as they do not like being recognized for who they are. They have problems with Cranes and can also be big picture people rather than looking at individual needs.

The Crane personality type is for person who are more reactive than proactive, focused on the needs of others first before they meet their own needs, very social and you find them in overworked and underpaid jobs that have real meaning to them. These type of people are usually the ones who create a good social environment and seem to be able to manage the Tiger types with almost impunity. They are usually slim and light, not very strong but elegant of body and movement. They live their life almost vicariously through their friends and family needing to be part of a larger social circle for happiness and balance.

The Snake personality type usually is a bit reclusive and loves order, rule and knowledge. These type of people often are the ones who create Laws, Structure, keep records and make sure all the i's are dotted and all the t's crossed. They can be slim and gaunt but also slim and very strong and their body shape can belie there physical abilities. They don't mind their own company and do not really like large crowds and gatherings. Avoidance of issues, problems and conflict are one of their greatest strengths and weaknesses. That is why they create order and structure to avoid problems and chaos


What is absolutely unique on the Shaolin Animal Model is the extensive interrelationships of the Animal Styles to each other; the recognition that each unique type is different than the other but also defined by this. For example, Tiger and Panther are usually Proactive and Aggressive where as the Crane and Snake are Reactive and Passive-aggressive. The Tiger is usually the most powerful followed by the Panther but than again, a Snake person can be almost as powerful as the Tiger. Where the Crane is Agile and Elegant, the Snake is Flexible and Sinuous, the Panther is Athletic. Following is a simple relationship matrix to illustrate this a bit better.

Understanding the Shaolin 5 Animal Kung Fu Style, Matrix

So What?

Different strokes for different folk's! If we see it in Fitness terms first, Tigers like competing and winning. Thus Tiger Personalities will prefer to be in a competitive situation where they can win. Panther on the other hand will also be competitive but on their own terms and often as part of a team. They will prepare themselves first to ensure maximum chance of success whereby the Tiger will just do. Cranes will just want to be in a good social group or environment when they exercise and have fun. Winning and loosing is not really on their mind. Snakes can be the lone runner or bicycle rider, the person doing their own thing.

In Martial Art terms, Tiger will attack suddenly and go for the finish. The Panther will seek to be cunning and unusual. Cranes will only counter and not really ever want to attack. And Snakes will avoid all confrontation unless pushed into a corner and then be as direct and deadly as the Tiger but without power and strength but knowledge and knowing the attackers weakness.


Now the descriptions above represent the typical and ideal! In reality, there are shades of the types rather than Black and White. To exemplify the Animal Styles/Types we show the ideal and the easiest to show. Because after that there are some more variables like;

How you manage a situation depends on the situation. Something familiar you may manage one way where as something strange another way. You may be aggressive physically but verbally you may be evasive. Your upbringing and culture can mask your true nature sometimes even suppress it. You may have been schooled in absolute politeness and respect. If this upbringing is strong this may suppress your true nature and this can lead to personal crisis such a mid-life and other.


The 5 Animal Style is way for health and Fitness exercise even if you are a couch potato. Depending on your Style or Nature will depend on the way you train and use your kung fu. This allows you to change and discover your nature without having to start all over again. the person you are at age 3, then age 12, then age 25 then age 40 and then age 70 is all different and different way of doing your kung fu are needed. It is a style for life and living.

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