I have taught the Five Animals in Kung Fu for over 23 years and I know one thing to be a fact: it does not carry any foundational boxing drills with it.
Without the Hung Gar boxing forms as a foundation, it just does not work as effectively as a fighting (self-defence) style for beginners. The Ten Pattern (Five Animals/Elements) forms advanced animal techniques can, frankly, confuse students with too much too soon, and with no boxing foundation to attack and defend from it could be seen as nothing more than a series of flamboyant techniques.
Trying to teach Five Animals first is like giving a day 1 driving lesson in a Ferrari, it does not work, neither was it designed to. It takes too long to teach something that, in reality, just becomes a memory test to most students, not a martial arts fighting style that’s designed to have a live opponent.
Once you have the foundation, you can drive at an advanced level. Learning it in the wrong order though could lead to a car crash in the real world.
The reason for this, is that it's meant to be taught later on in the system of Hung Gar to students who have a boxing fighting foundation, and the history of the style proves this.
The first form of the Hung Gar system 'Tiger and Crane combined form' teaches three particularly important things to beginner students from the get-go: Boxing. Tiger. Crane.
A carefully implemented foundation of stances, footwork, attack, and defensive boxing (punching and defensive techniques) elbow and knee strikes as well as Tiger and Crane fighting techniques, all mix into the students integrated foundation which sets them on their way.
In truth, the style of Hung Gar boxing could exist 'if it had to' purely on the Tiger and Crane combined form along with its bridge fighting principles. The rest of the Hung Gar forms, I-Shape, Iron Wire, Wooden Man and the Animal Patterns and weapons, however, add fighting techniques and expanded principles to further the skills and development to make Hung Gar the most all-round of Southern traditional fighting styles that it is today.
The large expansion of the Animal 'Pattern' styles in Hung Gar largely comes down to the massive influence Wong Fei Hung had more recently in history, when he added the Animal Patterns into the system many years after it was already established, to expand the style even further.
The Hung Gar Five Animals form was actually choreographed by Wong Fei Hung and expanded further by Lam Sai Wing, a senior student and Si Hing of Wong Fei Hung, into the Five Animals and Five Element Fist (Ten Pattern) that is now an integral part of our complete Hung Gar Kuen system at Spectrum Classical Kung Fu Academy.
The three theories and reasons for learning the added Animal 'Patterns' into the Hung system are:
· 10 Pattern (Five Animals/Elements) - advanced Animal techniques of Tiger and Crane, plus three added animals (Leopard, Snake, Dragon) in addition to Five Element Boxing/'fist' style.
· Five Pattern - advanced Five Animals, focusing on 'Bridging'
· Three Pattern - integration of mixed styles (Animals and Boxing/'fist')
The traditional boxing forms of the Hung Gar system, Tiger and Crane, I-Shape and Iron Wire develop you far and beyond, long before you add in the expanded techniques and principles that the Ten, Five and Three Pattern forms later deliver on.
For these reasons, the Animal Pattern forms which I teach in full, are always taught in the traditional order, and should always follow a sound foundational level of training, whether that is basic Chinese boxing training drills, which I teach beginners at Spectrum, or the full Tiger and Crane combined boxing form that follows. And be careful not to get taken in by the glamour of the names, remember the original Shaolin Monks had a large amount of boxing styles mixed in with their famous Animal Kung Fu forms.
Once the student has foundation the more advanced forms will still be there waiting for you, Five Animals comes later in Hung Gar Kuen.
The 'when' is sometimes more important than the 'how'.
Sifu Lee McGeough