Sometimes one would see references to ‘hard’ style and ‘soft’ style martial arts. To many non-martial artists, these terms may be puzzling. In North America, these terms are used to classify martial art styles into two main categories. Japanese/Okinawan karate and Korean tae kwon do are generally referred to as hard styles. Movements in both karate and tae kwon do are often linear with their forms (traditional sequence of set moves) performed with crisp movements. Chinese kung fu styles are usually referred to as soft styles. The circular motions of kung fu forms give them a more visually graceful or softer appearance especially when many of the movements flow from one to another. Even Korean kuk sool won which is sometimes referred to as ‘Korean kung fu’, is often classified as a soft style since its movements are also more flowing than the stop and go of tae kwon do or karate. This is not to say that hard styles such as karate or tae kwon do are more powerful martial arts than kung fu and other soft styles. The term ‘soft’ is a bit misleading because the power from circular kung fu moves are often hidden. Circular moves can generate just as much power as linear ones.

The terms hard style and soft style came as a result of the evolution of North American martial arts competitions, particularly in forms divisions. For many years, open karate tournaments which allowed all martial arts styles, had competitors from different martial arts backgrounds compete in the same forms divisions. All equivalent level competitors, whether they used a Japanese/Okinawan karate kata, a Korean tae kwon do pattern or a Chinese kung fu form, competed together in the same divisions. This provided a nice martial arts showcase for spectators especially at the bigger tournaments. However, some competitors and judges considered divisions with combined styles to be too complicated. For example, judges who were familiar with only Japanese or Korean styles had a difficult time scoring competitors performing Chinese kung fu forms. Sometimes competitors from different martial art styles felt that judges were being biased against them. Judging a hard style form against a soft style form was often like trying to compare apples to oranges.

To help resolve these issues, many of the larger martial arts tournaments expanded to have separate divisions for hard and soft styles. This was a way to equalize things and add some more fairness to all competitors. The largest tournaments went another step ahead and further separated Japanese karate stylists from Korean Tae Kwon Do stylists by putting them into different divisions too. This still left many Kempo stylists up in the air because their particular forms have both hard and soft style elements since their movements are both linear as well as circular. Some promoters of large tournaments decided to accommodate Kempo stylists by adding in separate forms divisions just for their style too. Of course many smaller local tournaments have not been able to offer separate hard and soft style divisions for martial arts forms competitors mainly because of financial budget restrictions. The terms hard style and soft style are used only in North America and parts of Europe since these are the only regions of the world that have open martial arts competitions. Martial arts competitions in other parts of the world such as Asia are generally restricted to certain specific styles only.

Also known as the Kung Fu fist forms, the 5 animals of Kung Fu are known all across the world, and are some of the deadliest martial arts you can study. There are other specific fist styles in Kung Fu, although none of them are as powerful or as well known as the 5 animal styles. As the name implies, these forms were derived from the animals in which they got their names from.

The Dragon Claw
The Dragon Claw is very well known, with the Chinese believing that this style comes directly from the ancient dragon. This style uses an open hand technique that is used for controlling the opponent through grabbing and throwing. Using an open hand technique, stylists may also use the fingers to poke as well. Dragon Claw is very fast, very hard to defend against — and nearly impossible to predict.

The Leopard Claw
The Leopard Claw style utilizes a half opened fist. The ideal striking method with Leopard is the ridge of the hand, which is formed by folding the fingers towards the palm of the hand, with the palm being the backup or secondary striking method. Leopard Claw is very fast as well, and very lethal if the stylist has enough technique and power behind his strikes.

The Tiger Claw
Tiger Claw uses an open hand movement that is used for tearing and grabbing. Tiger Claw is the most well known of the 5 animal system, and also one of the most well known forms of Kung Fu as well. It isn’t affected by simply grabbing and gripping with the hand, but from the digging of the fingernails deep into the skin. Once the fingernails have been embedded in the opponent’s skin, the Tiger Claw stylist can shred the skin right off the bone, tearing the opponent apart. Tiger Claw is very powerful — and one of the deadliest forms in the world of martial arts.

The Snake Head
Snake Head resembles the attack of a snake in combat, using an open hand technique which requires the fingers to be held together tight, fully extended. The tips of the finger form a very hard surface, used to attack the softest and most vital areas of the opponent. In order to be effective, both hands need to be used together at the same time.

The Crane Beak
Crane involves the fingers being pressed together tightly, forming a striking surface at the base of the stylist’s fingertips. Although the fingers can be conditioned to a high level of strength, most attacks using the Crane technique are focused towards the most vital areas of an opponent.

The 5 animal styles of Kung Fu are very popular, and very deadly. Martial artists that know any of these forms are very deadly — and more than capable of defending themselves against anything that comes their way.

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