Sunday, March 9, 2008

Discover Your Animal

In Shuri-Ryu Karate, after attaining the rank of black belt, karateka are traditionally awarded a animal spirit. This animal spirit is based on character traits displayed by the karateka both before and after their promotion. There are many different animals used, but for this article we will limit them to the original Shaolin five. These animals include the snake, tiger, crane, leopard, and dragon.

Identifying a karateka's animal is not just a trivial pursuit. The use of animal characteristics is an additional tool for identifying the strengths and weaknesses of both ourselves and others. Constant evaluation of ourselves and possible threats surrounding us is a key skill in being a thorough and effective martial artist.

Master Robert Trias, the founder of Shuri-Ryu Karate, identifies certain characteristics and abilities associated with these animals.

  • The snake possesses breath strength, and is characterized as a serpent waiting for its prey. An exceptionally short and quick style patterned after the snakes forked tongue that strikes at the opponent's eyes and throat.
  • The tiger possesses bone strength characterized by the strength and swiftness of its ripping movements. A strong style that uses short and powerful thrusts and lunges.
  • The crane possesses spiritual and muscle strength and is characterized as a graceful bird standing calmly and patiently on one leg waiting to take off or strike. A soft and fluid style that is patterned and imitates the wings of a bird.
  • The leopard possesses inner and outer strength and is characterized by the abilities of its powerful claws to penetrate in and around small openings. A very explosive style patterned after the flat paw of the leopard.
  • The Dragon possesses body strength and is characterized as a powerful yet flexible serpent that floats and emerges from the sea. A strong floating and sweeping style. 1

However intriguing theses descriptions are, alone they are rarely enough of a clue to identify the animal type a karateka most closely resembles. This is where Chinese five element theory becomes helpful. Each of these five animals are associated with the five elements that the Chinese use to help define the physical and spiritual world. That is why this article is limited to these animals because they are the most easily identified.

Chinese doctors have long used five element theory to characterize individuals by one or more of these elements to assist in diagnosis and treatment. By using the more extensive five element characteristics of traditional Chinese medicine we can more accurately identify a karateka's animal spirit by identifying the animal associated with the most pronounced element displayed in the individual's body type and characteristics.

Below are some physical characteristics associated with the five elements used to identify the element an individual tends toward:

  • Wood - Darkish or swarthy complexion. Tall and sinewy body type, tends to look as if carrying no fat, can be quite muscular.
  • Fire - Red complexion. Head often smallish and pointed, or may have a pointed chin. Hair is often curly, in men a tendency to baldness. Hands and feet tend to be small and graceful. Walks quickly.
  • Metal - Pale complexion with smooth and clear skin. Angular, well-defined features. Broad chest and shoulders. Abundant body hair. Tends to walk slowly.
  • Water - High forehead and abundant head hair. Long, strong bone structure with spine proportionately longer than normal. Fluid movement. Flexible, well-motivated, ambitious. Can also tend to be lazy and "go with the flow" too much.
  • Earth - Brownish or sallow complexion with a large head. Tends to be pear-shaped, carrying weight in the hips. Muscular or fat with heavy legs. Does not lift feet high when walking.

Got yourself figured out yet? If you're still not sure, consider the behavior patterns below for additional clues.

  • Wood - Creative, hard working, decisive, and directing. Likes to be in control and to keep busy.
  • Fire - Emotional, communicative, and articulate. Tends to be very sociable, loving, and can be quite spiritual in outlook.
  • Metal - Well-organized, neat, methodical, and meticulous. Tends to be very self-contained and does not express emotion much.
  • Water - Flexible, well-motivated, ambitious. Can also tend to be lazy and "go with the flow" too much.
  • Earth - Sympathetic, considerate, and supportive. Tends to be an "Earth Mother" type, with focus on caring for others. 2

If you're still not completely sure, don't worry. These elements are not mutually exclusive and most people are associated with more than one element. Even so, try to pick the one that seems most dominant. Once you've narrowed that down, just match the element to the animal to determine yours. The five elements and their associated animal are snake/wood, tiger/fire, crane/metal, leopard/water, dragon/earth. 3

Now that you've identified your probable animal, the real work begins. Learn all you can about that animal and its characteristics. You can use Master Trias' words above to begin with. Then find out what our forbearers learned from that animal and see what you can learn. We have the advantage of television and the internet. We don't have to hide in trees, scrub and caves to observe them.

Keep in mind these are only the five traditional animals. There are many more used in the martial arts. Even so, you probably have a much better idea of what type of person you are, and that's the whole point. Being associated with a really cool animal is fun, but the real benefit is understanding yourself better. Now begin applying this analysis to those around you and you'll really begin seeing the use of this exercise. Identify your fellow students, and see if it affects how you spar them. Then apply this skill to people on the street. As Sun Tzu said, "he who knows neither himself nor his enemy can never win, he who knows himself but does not know his enemy will sometimes win and sometimes lose, but he who knows himself and his enemy will never lose."

1 Pinnacle of Karate: Okinawan Methods or Shuri-ryu (1980) Grand Master Robert A. Trias

2 The Complete Illustrated Guide to Shiatsu (1998) Elaine Liechti

3 Five Elements - Five Ancestors - Five Animals Shihan Gary Wayne

Bart Scovill trains in Shuri-ryu Karate-do. You can visit him at Warrior Pages, to see videos, reviews, articles and terminology. He is a lawyer by trade, but a martial artist at heart. Bart has been training in the martial arts since 1978. He currently trains and teaches under the legendary Shihan Donna Judge at the Suncoast Karate Dojo in Sarasota, Florida. One of the best things about training with a legend is you are surrounded by other legends and legends to be. He has previously trained in Shorin-ryu, Wado-ryu, and Matsubayashi Shorin-ryu. In addition to Shuri-ryu, he also participates in jiu-jitsu (both Japanese and Brazilian), bagua-zhang, xing-yi quan, qigong, aikido, kali, kobudo and yoga.

1 Comment:

dzupiris said...

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How To Get A Fighter's Body, Workout MMA Style, Burn Fat and Stay Lean
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Bodyweight Training Program For Muscle Gain
6 Tricks To Increase Muscle Growth Fast


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