Kuk Sool Won’s Fighting Animals

The Kuk Sool Won | What is Kuk Sool Won | History | Origins | Description | In Hyuk Suh The Founder | Philosophy | Characteristics and Techniques | Techniques and Arts | Kuk Sool Won Weapons | Source of Kuk Sool Won | Fighting Animals | Tiger and Eagle | Breaking Training Techniques | Korean Swordsmanship

For some reason, martial artists like to believe that the study of animal fighting tactics is exclusive to and has its roots in Chinese martial arts. Not so, according to ancient records and modern day martial art masters, like Kuk Sool Won’s ninth degree master, In Joo Suh. While Chinese martial arts appeared to place a greater emphasis on individual animals by establishing whole systems around a single creature (Preying Mantis Kung-Fu, for instance), other countries, such as Korean, found animals as a whole to be an important source of fighting knowledge. “Early man had to eat, and out of this need, hunted for his food.

As he foraged, he watched and copied the hunting and survival tactics of other animals he hunted, and occasionally he also used these skills against the larger animals that found man as suitable prey. Over time, man developed a crude form of martial arts, begun mostly through trial and error (costly if he lost) and through imitation of other animals’ fighting behaviors.” Explains San Antonio, Texas, based Suh.

As the human race grew and established territories and nations, martial arts in those territories expanded, particularly when these countries went to war with one another.

War between nations gave man the opportunity to further develop his martial arts into ever more advanced forms; some of these would become a way of life and a code of ethics for martial artists.

As he watched an eagle catch a rabbit, two tigers fighting, or a snake capture a frog, the budding martial artist added not only more techniques but also the spirit and fighting principles of each animal.

While the use of animal fighting tactics is common to Chinese martial arts, it’s not quite as well known to other cultures. Perhaps the nature of Japanese martial arts, to take an example, place more value on man-created techniques than those developed from other forms of life.

Korea, on the other hand, brought a more practical and straightforward approach to its martial arts. While animal hunting and survival tactics played a role in Korea’s martial history, they were obscured due to centuries of no-non-sense fighting. Only in certain Korean fighting systems have the principles of animal fighting styles surfaced to form an integral part of the art. Specifically, Kuk Sool Won, a martial art with roots extending to the very beginning of recorded Korean martial history, utilizes information derived from careful observation of many different animals.

However, still keeping with the Korean philosophy of basic practicality, Kuk Sool Won animal forms are vastly different from those of other martial systems. Kuk Sool practitioners believe that merely to imitate the animal is not good enough. People are not animals. People reason, rather then react. Humans have different body structure, two legs instead of four. Therefore, just imitating an animal’s motions doesn’t make a powerful, effective technique. Only by careful conversion of each individual creature’s fighting principles into human requirements does the animal forms become effective. Then, not only are they an effective method of fighting, but they greatly enhance and expand the human warrior’s strength and capabilities.

Each Kuk Sool teacher has special martial interests that he carefully cultivates, making him as expert in this specialty. Master In Joo Suh, who heads two Kuk Sool Won schools in San Antonio, Texas, studies and applies animal forms as one of this special martial tools. Suh has spent considerable time observing the animals that Kuk Sool Won has drawn from Korean martial history. Suh refers to the ancient theory of five elements to explain the importance of studying more than just one animal. “The five elements of martial strength,” he explains, “are speed, internal power, breathing, balance (body control), and practice. These are important, not only to martial arts, but to the animals we study. Even the animals adhere to the five element basics when they practice their fighting tactics in the guise of play.”

Just as Kung-Fu’s five elements (water, fire, earth, metal and wood) have different qualities and relationships, the Korean five-element theory dictates that each animal has different strengths and weaknesses over other creatures. To elaborate, no single animal is completely free of enemies and natural predators. The snake runs from a crane, while the crane, in turn, flees from an eagle. As in the Chinese description of the five elements, there is a continuous circle where each animal counters another creature and is countered by still another.

That’s why, in Suh’s opinion, no martial artists should be satisfied with the knowledge of only one type of defense, animal or not. For instance, if a small person has to defend himself against someone larger, he shouldn’t have to rely on the tiger form, for example, that requires great strength. Instead, he might call upon his knowledge of the snake’s fighting habits, placing his entire body power into his defensive counterattacking blow. Although there are other animal forms to be found in Korean martial arts, not all suit the individual practitioner, and the student should choose only those that do. Suh, himself, has five favorite animals.

Praying Mantis: One of Suh’s five animals is the praying mantis (sama-gi). Pound for pound, Suh says, a martial artist with internal training (ki development) can project seven times his normal strength. However, the praying mantis bears a strength 3,000 times his own body weight. It’s incredible that a creature with such a light body and long spindly legs can be so strong. Actually, those long legs, when coupled with a relatively heavy head, produce excellent overall body balance and a stable foundation from which to operate its quick, front-grabbing arms. The insect’s foundation is so solid that when the mantis strikes, only its front arms need move. Of course, man isn’t built like a praying mantis. Therefore, he has to adapt the insect’s fighting tactics to his own physique and needs. Only the basic principles of action and power is duplicated within the martial artist’s arsenal.

Korean praying mantis techniques are short, close-range maneuvers, using the fingers and back of the knuckles as striking surfaces. The back of the wrist and back of the palm are also employed in praying mantis techniques. A strike is usually followed by a grab with the striking hand, which then pulls the opponent off balance and into range for another blow. In order to keep a strong, stable foundation, there is little variety in the footwork used with mantis strikes. As with some of the other animal techniques, praying mantis strikes are directed toward the body’s sensitive pressure points. The actual insects don’t have the advantage of pressure point knowledge. That’s something man has added to enhance the speed and balanced attack he borrowed from the praying mantis.

For effective pressure point strikes, the martial artist’s fingers have to be strong and well conditioned — otherwise, he won’t be able to penetrate the pressure point. This is true not only of the praying mantis but of all animal forms that use finger strikes. To develop strength in their fingers, Kuk Sool practitioners rapidly open and close their hands, many times in succession, until they develop penetrating strength. They also practice push-ups on their finger-tips as a conditioning aid.

Snake: “The snake is 100 percent defense”, he explains. “It strikes only when it is threatened or attacked. When the snake is relaxed, its body is merely a long, rope-like tube. However, when it senses danger, the snake immediately prepares itself for battle. At that time, when its body coils into a defensive position, the snake’s body power is transferred to the head — the actual striking area.” The fighting principle borrowed from the snake is one of defensive attack from a prepared position, one that allows the entire body force to transmit out through the Kuk Sool stylist’s hand or foot.

Pressure point strikes, made with two fingers bracing one another, are popular defenses within the snake form. Other hand and foot techniques are also employed, including occasional head butting. All hand and foot blows are quick, circular, almost wrapping techniques, and are many times directed from a cat stance position. These defensive strikes are similar to the coiling and uncoiling action of a snake. In keeping with the snake’s basic character, Kuk Sool stylists wait until after the opponent punches or kicks, evades his attack, and then immediately counterattack. A real snake often uses constriction to defeat an opponent larger than itself. Kuk Sool Won snake techniques follow the same approach. Kuk Sool stylists might capture their attacker in a choke hold by faking a high kick and then finish by suddenly wrapping their leg around their opponent’s neck.

Tiger: Ho-rang-ee (the tiger) is strictly an attack animal. Suh makes it clear that the tiger is not completely represented by the popular claw hand seen in other martial arts. The animal uses its speed and heavy body weight to pounce upon and break the backs or necks of its victims. Then, it bites victims in a vital area to finish them off. Although a tiger will use its paws and claws in fighting situations against opponents of similar size and weight, it employs the greatest power when hunting and killing prey. Therefore, Kuk Sool uses a solid, palm breaking technique rather than a scratching action to represent the tiger. This is the same palm used to break boards and concrete that simulate a human foe’s body. Another characteristic of the tiger is that it always attacks the front portion of the prey’s body. The front exposes more vital areas of the victim’s body to the tiger’s bold, aggressive attack. In Korean history, the tiger was the most important non-spiritual animal.

Eagle and Crane: In Joo Suh is also very familiar with two bird fighting forms: the eagle (dok-soo-ri) and the crane (hak). The eagle is a strong fighter, geared totally to offense. Whereas tigers attack from the front, an eagle strikes only from behind the prey, using claws to catch its victims. If a frontal attack is made, it is easy for the intended prey to evade an eagle, which has only claws for weapons. An eagle frightens and panics the victims by circling overhead prior to attacking. As the prey becomes more and more panicked, if flies towards the ground, allowing the eagle to make its attack from above and behind. This is the fighting principle that Kuk Sool Won takes from the eagle. Often after first fooling their opponents with a faked technique, Kuk Sool practitioners grab sensitive pressure points with their well-conditioned fingers. They also use similar eagle finger techniques to lock joints. Again, finger and hand development are essential before eagle techniques is completely effective.

The crane set of techniques, although based on a creature one hundred percent the aggressor, is composed of loose, relaxed and quick moves, manifesting a much softer power than the eagle’s power. Since the crane isn’t a physically strong animal, it combines relaxed, soft power with extreme speed to capture prey. In order to obtain success with loose, supple power, it’s necessary for the crane to focus intent and energy into one point. The snake also focuses power toward one point, and both creatures place the whole body weight into the head, which is used as a striking surface. However, the crane uses long-range, relaxed movements, while the snake action is short and hard. Suh makes the point that, within Kuk Sool Won animal forms, crane movements never allow the martial artist to expose his body, as do some other martial arts, that imitate a crane with his wings outstretched. He emphasizes that people are not animals, and that since only the animal’s basic fighting principles are important, there is no reason to try to resemble an animal.

Other lesser-known animals, commonly though of in martial circles, including the bear and the leopard, are also seen in Kuk Sool. A bear is actually a defensive animal. It fights standing upright and uses extreme bulk, body balance and strength to power its large paws. Some Kuk Sool palm techniques, requiring a strong stance, are taken from the bear’s fighting strategy. Leopards are strictly attack animals using extreme speed. The leopard’s fighting tactic is that is doesn’t care or worry about retaliation. The animal’s speed is so great that it neutralizes the speed and power of the opponent. That is exactly the theory that brings the leopard into Kuk Sool Won. There are no special hand techniques cauterizing the leopard, just blinding speed and forward thrusting power.

When several animal fighting principles have been mastered, Kuk Sool stylists put them together into rapid, successive combination of fighting techniques. From each animal, martial artists take it unique fighting habits and combine them with their human though processes to further enlarge their martial expertise. ~ By Jane Hallander