Tiger (Hu)

Rank:  Orange (Di Qi Ji)
Elements:  Sun, Lightning, Fire

The tiger is the most strength-oriented and external of the Five Shaolin Animals.  It's movement is characterized by advancing straight forward into the opponent.  Strong stances and fierce stepping contribute to the strength of its strikes.  Footwork is designed to provide a stable base to drive through the opponent.

The hand formation usually associated with this style is the "tiger claw".  Most people incorrectly believe that the claw is solely used to rake an opponent.  Instead, the palm strikes first to break up the target, and then the fingers clench to grab the skin.  Powerful blocking techniques are accomplished with the forearms in order to disrupt the opponent's attack.  The tiger claw can then be utilized for seizing a limb and controlling the opponent.

The tiger is an important animal in chinese folklore.  Sayings like "When two tigers meet, one gets killed and the other gets maimed" and "There's only room enough on a mountain for one tiger", provide some insight into the chinese concept of what a tiger is.

Traditionally, the tiger techniques were thought to develop strength in the bones.  According to modern medicine, the excercises can have some effect on the health of the skeleton, but primarily it is affected by diet.  A modern interpretation of this is that the old masters were referring to what is now called slow twitch muscle, the stamina oriented muscle fiber.

As the Shaolin Masters observed the tiger in its natural environment, they decided it would have immense value as one of the chosen animals to help in their study of Kung Fu.  This type of characteristic is reflected in the tiger stylists' movements with strength, courage and power.  Tigers are said to be ferocious and not aggressive, the distinction here is when a tiger attacks, generally it is not angry, but simply focused upon achieving the task laid before it.

The emphasis is to develop strong dense bones with speed and strength during an attack.  The action of a tiger can be associated with a pressing force with a hard external action similiar to being run over by a car.

The tiger practitioner will not only develop power but also develop and condition the tendons and bones, which will ultimately strengthen and harden the neck and spine.  This kind of training is important if the practitioner intends to exude hard external power from strong stances and a powerful waist.

The most predominant technique known is the tiger claw where the hands mimic a claw shape by curling the fingers into position.  Generally the strike is short and direct.  There are also pulls, tears, twists or presses on contact with the opponent.  The targets for this type of technique are the face, neck, groin, arms, and wrists.  Upon impact, the pressing action allows the hand to grip better with the fingers, the tiger claw can then pull in a downward motion and/or twist to the vulnerable area.  This type of technique is not to be confused with that of the "Dragon's Claw" where a locking action is normally assumed, instead this is explosive when applied.  The tiger style also uses powerful fist punches, the idea here is a representation of the tiger using its large powerful head to strike or butt.  Often one hand will be used to trap an arm or wrist while the other strikes to the intended area.  The grabbing hand can also be used to twist the opponent's limb while initiating pain to pressure points around the joints using the fingers of the tiger claw.  Another striking action is the use of the heel palm portion of the tiger claw to the rib area.

When striking with the tiger's claw, it should be understood that the use of the whole hand including the palm is important and not just the fingers, maintaining a strong stance is also essential in the integrity of the tiger movement.  The original shaolin training methods in developing a strong tiger claw was the use of small heavy sandbags which are thrown into the air and caught repeatedly with the fingertips at speed.  Students would also use their fingers and forearms to lift clay jars with different levels of gravel within them to provide resistance.  Squeezing branches was another method used to strengthen the hands, however as with the leopard training, a modern day rubber ball will suffice.  To gain finger strength, press-ups can be performed using the fingertips as support.