The Five Animals

The Five Fingered Fist teaching style is reflective of the same five animals at the core of original Shaolin Temple training.


Focuses on external power, preconceived notions, non-intellectual training. The form is external only, using a claw hand to grab, rip, or pull. This form uses fast, strong power, not soft like the dragon. The waist initiates the power. The back and forearm add strength to the strike. The tiger claw also can be two-handed, one claw hand blocking and striking.


Emphasizes agility and balance; brings awareness to the tiger. The crane form is useful for kicking and jumping, promoting better balance and stronger kicks. The crane fist is used for attacking the pressure points of the opponent’s body. The back of the slightly bent wrist is sometimes used for striking. There also is a knee strike in the form. Although the crane can be fast, it differs from the leopard in that the crane contains soft, relaxed technique.

Emphasizes internal and external power; inner and outer power. Movement brings together the tiger and crane; becomes but never part of; comes but always departs; never ending. The leopard technique often is a lightning-fast fist attack. The fist is made by bending the forefingers back to the first joint of the forefingers rather than the knuckles as with a regular fist. The thumb is held alongside the fist, adding stability. This fist concentrates all of the power into a small area, increasing the force of the punch. The leopard forearm also can be a weapon as can the elbow. The leopard technique increases the student’s strikes and strengthens the stances.


All eternal power that carries us through stalking and eliminating; beginning to end and back to the beginning again. The dragon is soft like the snake, but uses a claw hand. (The snake has no claw.) The tiger form contains a claw hand, but is not soft. Dragon techniques include grabs, chokes, and arm and wrist locks. The dragon claw often grabs the opponent’s ribs or neck. As far as external or internal techniques are concerned, the dragon is between the snake and tiger.

Its poison is vitality, everlasting nourishment to achieve. Snake techniques are soft and internal. Speed is not as important as smoothness. The snake blocks and strikes at the same time. There are no fists in the form. All snake energy and power controlled by the waist. Many strikes are directed toward the opponent’s eyes, throat, and soft parts of the body. A wide circular neck lock is included in the set. Fingertips are usually weapons, but also can be offensive. Coiled or circular movements are usually defensive.