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There are several Chinese martial arts known as Snake Boxing or Snake Style (Chinese: ??; pinyin: shéquán; literally “snake fist”) which imitate the movements of snakes. Proponents claim that adopting the fluidity of snakes allows them to entwine with their opponents in defense and strike them from angles they wouldn’t expect in offense. Snake style is said to especially lend itself to applications with the Chinese straight sword. The snake is also one of the animals imitated in Baguazhang and Xingyiquan. The sinuous, fluid motion of the snake lends itself to the practical theory that underlies the “soft” martial arts.
Different snake styles imitate different movements of snakes. Some, for example, imitate the cobra, while others imitate the python, while some schools imitate both for different applications. There are two unrelated, Northern and Southern snake styles.
Snake is one of the archetypal Five Animals of Chinese martial arts; the other four being Crane, Tiger, Leopard, and Dragon. These five animals originally represented the five classical Chinese elements before developing into their own styles. Dragon is usually metal, Tiger is Fire, Crane is water, Snake is earth, and Leopard is Wood. Since they were derived from the Five Elements, they are kept in this pattern. At this point many styles delve into more advanced animal training or actual element training. The Taoist temples of the Wudang Mountains were known to have produced many snake stylists.
Snake style is based on whipping power which travels up the spine to the fingers. The ability to sinuously move, essentially by compressing one’s stomach/abdominal muscles, is very important. Footing is quite grounded. The stancework is fluid in order to maximize the whipping potential of any movement. This necessitates building a strong spine to contain the power and strong fingers to convey the strike. Since breath is important to any movement of the spine and ribs, snake style is considered one of the main styles which eventually led to internal training. Snake style is also known as an approach to weapons training, the Chinese straight sword and spear in particular. There are even specialty varieties of sword blades and spear points that curve back and forth down the length of the blade in imitation of the snake’s body known as snake sword and snake spear.
Snake Style generally aims for weak points of the human body, such as eyes, groin and joints.
There is also an obscure Southern Snake Style (Chinese: ????) whose grand master was Leung Tin Chu who was born in the late 1800s and became well known as he ranked 4th in one of Nanking’s Martial Art examinations in late 1920. His style was an amalgamation of Southern Shaolin style and Choy Gar style learned from a Choy family member. He had two main disciples, his nephew Master Leung Gar Fong of Hong Kong and the late Master Wong Tin Yuen who taught this style at his studio on Sacramento Street in San Francisco for forty years since late 1930. The pugilistic style is best described as a mid-distance fighting style using, by coincidence, some Wing Chun-like techniques in Hung Gar-like forms. That attests to the Southern Shaolin origin of this style and its close relationship to other styles originating from Southern Shaolin. Force and techniques are softer than traditional southern styles. Excluding straight punches and bong shou as used in Wing Chun, butterfly-buddha palms, the hook, upper cut, and gui quen (back fist) are central techniques to this style. Biu tze (thrusting fingers) techniques resembling snake attacks are the secrets, and hence, the name of this style. There are multiple kicking techniques, as varied as typical northern styles with high kicks, but also typical are below-the-knee kicks seen in southern styles. There are six fist sets, two stick sets, single sword, short double swords, and other traditional weapons.
The Southern Shaolin Temple in Fukien Province was sometimes known as the snake temple. Snake style kung fu was practiced at this temple as well as dragon kung fu and praying mantis kung fu. Fukien temple was a refuge for the Henon Temple monks when that temple was destroyed. With them they brought all their martial knowledge they had.
The snake style of green bamboo viper is one of the five subsets that was taught at the Southern Shaolin Temple. This particular form of snake fist originated in Cambodia and worked it’s way up to China. As it was integrated into Shaolin it got more refined and sophisticated. The green bamboo viper is the snake style taught here in the United States by Grandmaster Wing Loc Johnson Ng. There were four other snake styles that were taught at this particular Shaolin temple. They other 4 were water snake, shadow snake, king cobra, and Golden snake. These five type snakes make up the southern snake style system. Snake style kung fu is considered to be a highly advanced form of fighting due to the use of internal energy (chi) and the speacialized breathing techniques.