Which Kung Fu animal style is the best?

Sep 07, 2022

There are as many animal styles in Kung Fu as in a bag of animal crackers. I like the elephant cracker the best, not because of the taste, since they all taste the same, its about which I prefer the most.

Many animal-style combat techniques are shared and named in their own animal style but they are exactly the same. Naming the kung fu form after an animal is the most romantic and easy-to-remember way to teach students.

Animal Kung Fu styles stick to our story-driven brains better, making it easier for our Kung Fu teachers to pass on the forms, drills, and combat concepts. From the 1920s to this day, many schools have merged their training with wushu or kung fu opera performance, where kung fu forms become complicated and nonsensical for combat practice. I love performance kung fu but remember it's for entertainment and not for self-defense.

Here are some Kung fu animal styles I have encountered in my travels. I marked the ones with an asterisk that I incorporate in my combat training purely for fun and variety.

  1. Bat
  2. Bear
  3. Bull *
  4. Butterfly *
  5. Crane *
  6. Deer
  7. Dog
  8. Dragon *
  9. Duck
  10. Eagle *
  11. Elephant
  12. Horse *
  13. Leopard/Panther *
  14. Lion
  15. Monkey
  16. Praying Mantis *
  17. Scorpion
  18. Snake *
  19. Tiger *
  20. Wolf

There are much more animal styles running around the Kung Fu and Karate kingdoms that I didn't list above.  

Tell us about any animal styles you have witnessed in person and your thoughts about them.

When I was very young I watched several kung fu practitioners perform these strange feral forms. The performers seemed as if they were in a very deep trance. I asked my sifu, and he chuckled and said, "those are called 'wild forms' and were made to fight off actual animals when you don't have a weapon." Those feral forms stuck to me since they were true animal forms and also embarrassingly weird to do, but I liked to watch others doing them. Since the feral forms were obsolete they became a type of entertainment trivia for me.

Here are the animal styles I suggest to learn and incorporate into your combat practice.

  1. Dragon - large and strong techniques.
  2. Tiger - fast, vicious and great to mix with Dragon and Crane.
  3. Crane - long and whip-like and an excellent study in body inertia.
  4. Snake - quick and precise for very close quarters with a focus on attacking first.
  5. Leopard/Panther - rolling strikes and agility that disappears at the periphery.
  6. Eagle claw - twists, locks, chokes, breaks, and muscle tears.
  7. Praying Mantis - great style to learn to effectively catch, redirect and twist your attacker using your attacker's movements.

As for which style of animal kung fu is the best, the one your body and mind tend to favor is the one you should try first. If you tend to lean towards heavy power-based combat techniques, I suggest trying the Monkey style last, if at all. Maybe a combination of Dragon/Tiger/Leopard might be a better recipe for you.

Kung Fu animal combat forms aren't complicated, and you don't have to be a gym rat to be able to do them. Anyone should be able to do them with enough effort. Each animal movement should be obvious enough to practice as a combat technique with the help of your instructor.

Have fun learning any animal style, but remember, you are still the most destructive animal on this planet.

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