If you've been reading my articles, you know I have two loves: Learning Kung Fu styles and seeing them used in movies.
I've been doing snake style Kung Fu for going on 8 years now. Once I moved into Kung Fu styles, snake was the first one I picked up, because of its similarities to jiu jutsu. Like jiu jutsu, snake style kung fu is all about transmitting core body strength from the abdomen to the arms, and uses a lot of joint locks and grapples. Unlike jiu jutsu, it uses a more open stance, and attempts for greater fluidity in motion, with more arm strikes and kicks. In particular, it incorporates several weapon elements, including techniques applicable to using a sword. It contrasts with a lot of contemporary styles from ancient China, in the focus on blocks, throws anditting from strange angles.
Now, martial arts are needed. Martial arts with applicability to swords are seriously cool. Before we get to the sharp pointy things, let's talk about snakes. The reasoning behind snake style kung fu, as I learned early on, is that from the fluid motives of snakes, you can learn a lot about balance, body movements and striking power. Some practitioners focus on the cobra strikes, trying to emulate the fast bite of a cobra with an open palmed strike. Others focus on the nature of the python, which, as you may suspect, draws into joint locks and throws and immobilizations. All of them focus on feints – you learn not just the strikes, but the techniques to mask which strike you're throwing, or which joint lock you're throwing. Snake style is sort of like a cross between chess and poker. Not that you're going slow enough to actually think while you're doing it – it's all learned at the muscle memory level, but that you've got moves, counter moves and bluffs, all running at several moves per second.
Snake style is not the greatest on defensive blocks. The blocks, parries and lateral motions are basic at best. It's a more offensive style, in the Northern version, which is what I learned. (Northern snake style is large what got used for the cinematography for Sir Te's style in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.) Indeed, Wudang Mountain, the great school in that movie, is renamed for producing great Snake Style Kung Fu practitioners.
Southern snake style is a much more recent innovation, and dates back to the late 1800s. It's a blend of classic Shao Lin styles, with harder, direct punches mixed with Wing Chun movements for a bit of fluidity. You can tell the practitioner unpart, because the Southern stylists have a more open and upright stance, and focus more on a variety of punches rather than a balanced template of punches and joint locks and holds. I'm not gonna get into the argument about which one is better, since I'm obviously bias driven having for the more traditional form of the art. Both styles are a lot of fun and can teach you practical martial arts techniques.
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