Of all the animals in the world of martial arts the snake seems, perhaps, to be the least ‘human’.
After all, the snake has no arms or legs, has scales, is cold blooded and slithers on the ground. It even kills its prey with venom or cruel strangulation.
It is this difference to humanity that lies at the heart of the snake’s revered position in martial arts.
She Xing Quan, the Snake Imitation Fist, balances the overtly powerful styles of the Tiger and Leopard through its soft internal methods.
The Snake Fist is quite a common principle in Kung Fu but what is usually unknown about the system is that She Xing Quan is in fact two styles!
These two styles, the Viper and the Python, emphasise the striking and grappling aspects of She Xing Quan.
Physically and functionally
The snake can cover ground at tremendous speed without legs, swim without fins, climb without claws and launch itself through the relaxed power of its own body.
It is this relaxed power that is imitated by the practitioner and that lays the foundation for the internal energy cultivation principles that the Snake Fist is famous for.
Although the Viper and the Python styles are distinct in their concepts and applications most Snake styles that we see today contain elements of both.
This is the most common Snake style that we see today.
The Viper style generally uses the open hand technique of the She Tou Quan, the Snake Head Fist. The Snake Head Fist is an open hand construct that is highly adaptable.
The Snake Head Fist may be used to strike with the fingertips, the palm, the knife edge of the palm, the inside to the hand (ridge hand) or with the back of the knuckles or wrist. Of all of these options the finger tips are the usual favourite weapon. In ancient times some Snake style fighters would wear small blades that fitted onto the finger tips, like false finger nails, making their fingertip strikes truly lethal.
In addition to the Snake Head, the Snake stylist may sometimes use a single or double straight finger strike, to poke vital points, known as a Snake Tongue Strike. There is also a double bent finger attack known as the Snake Teeth. The Snake Teeth Strike is often used to attack the eyes in a gouging action.
The Viper style also has a wide range of unique kicking actions utilising the toes to stab at the vital points of the eyes, throat, groin, knee hollows and armpits. The kicking techniques are known as Snake Tail Kicks.
The Python style uses a small tight clawing action that simulates the jaws of a python. The techniques of python boxing entwine and grapple the attacking limbs with the claws seizing the attacker to prevent their escape. Like the python itself the style uses constrictive binds that lock several joints simultaneously and then squeezing the hold to create horrible injury to the attacker’s joints.
The Python Style uses a special technique called “Python rolls over”, which is a twisting lock that dislocates the attacking limb and then twists it on itself to cause a permanent crippling injury. This technique is almost completely lost from modern martial arts as it comes from a time when a master may take a person’s skills from them – meaning that they would be crippled beyond the ability to fight ever again. This was a punishment reserved for those who had abused their skills and caused great harm in the community.
General Snake Principles
Both Snake styles generate power in a coiling action of the body. The body winds and unwinds to maximise the innate spiralling potential of the tendons. This principle, known as ‘coiling in, coiling out’ is a key principle in Shaolin Boxing and it highly developed in the Snake Fist system.
The body remains relaxed during combat and the arms are used in an undulating action to allow the internal energy to freely travel to the extremities.
A key principle of the Snake Fist Style is that there is no real idea of block and attack. Each of the movements are simultaneous redirect and attack with the arms ‘climbing’ up the attacking limb to maintain control whilst striking or grappling the attacker.
Although the Snake Fist style uses many of the fingertip and palm conditioning methods common to classical Kung Fu, it has several exercise methods that are unique to its practice.
Because a Snake stylist needs to develop internal power through a relaxed body the system has evolved several methods to train striking power by working with water.
Actions such as water stirring, water piercing, water slapping are often practiced as is the skill of water shaking. In water shaking the Snake stylist thrusts their Snake Head Fist into water up to the upper arm. Then in one Fa Jing movement they flick the water off to leave the arm dry. When the water is flicked off it should leave via the finger tips and not be shaken off randomly like a dog after a bath.
The climbing arms exercises use the constant pressure of the arms as they coiling and uncoil to control the attacking limbs. To train this valuable skill the Snake Fist stylist uses a variety of drills with poles, ropes, partners to develop the constant pressure that the skill requires.
One method of solo practice involves smoothly running arm over arm in a movement like that of sharpening a knife. This exercise is used to develop the sensitivity to perform Snake style sticking hands.
Sticking Hands is a method of training that is common to most styles of Chinese martial arts. In Chinese martial arts there is a concept known as bridging. Bridging is where the fighter’s arms (or legs) contact the opponent’s creating a ‘bridge’ from one fighter to the other.
Many systems teach that to control the bridge is to control the confrontation and many different exercises have evolved to train this vital skill. Depending of the combat philosophy of the style these exercise may appear as Bridging Arms, as found in Hung Kune, Push Hands as in Tai Ji Quan or as a form of Sticking Hands.
Sticking Hands develops sensitivity to pressure so that when the fighter is touched they react to the pressure and claim the advantage.
In the Snake Fist style the stylist uses a constant pressure to redirect the attackers limbs and although it is constant it is very subtle in that it is often only at the point where they miss and are struck that the attacker can perceive that a redirection has taken place.
In the Python style the pressure increases the longer that the contact is maintained. What begins as a light redirection rapidly becomes a squeezing lock or crushing hold that suffocates any movement and injures the joints.
Unlike the vilified position that the serpent holds in the Western cultural consciousness the Snake, in Gong Fu, symbolises discipline, strategy and patience.
Through the snake we develop our innate ability to put our strategies into action. Through the smooth, relaxed movements the snake shows us where our mind, and through it the body, has become rigid and limited in capacity.
By reconnecting to our own sense of flow we must slow down and harmonise our thoughts, words and actions with our bigger picture of what we want our lives to be. Our purpose.
It is by working through this process that we cultivate patience – the ability to allow ourselves the time we need to do the job right.
This is the gift of the Snake.