Pai Lum Tao’s Rhythmic Snake
The snake is one of the most fascinating and misunderstood animal styles.
by Glenn C. Wilson
The forbearers of today's kung-fu systems have for centuries studied the movements of animals to establish their fighting methods. One of the most fascinating and misunderstood of the ancient animal fighting theories has been the snake. A creature so unlike our own build and movement could easily be misunderstood. Slithering across the earth in a slow, methodical fashion, how could it ever defend itself against a larger, more aggressive hunter?
The snake's philosophy is one of territory. By its very existence, it must establish a well-defined boundary. Many times the snake will appear to be the victim by moving away from or coiling into a defensive posture. Once the unsuspecting attacker obligates itself and enters the snake's critical zone, it quickly becomes apparent it now has become the victim.
Patience, rhythm, timing, pinpoint target striking, and speed are the chosen tools of the snake stylist. Countless hours of blending exercise routines will sharpen these tools to a fine edge.
As in all martial arts, proper stance training and stancework is a must for the execution of stance theories. Many hours of low defensive stancework must be practiced faithfully before one can begin the fascinating transformation into the world of the snake.
Stancework is divided into two categories - stationary and mobile. The very nature of the snake dictates that the stationary stances be executed low and evasive. Thus, the practitioner must possess the agility, flexibility, and strength to explode from his stationary stance. Three of the most popular stationary stances are the coiled snake, back stance, and side horse stance. Many hours of conditioning and stretching will prepare your body to meet the challenge of dropping low and springing out into a strike or transforming into a mobile stance. The stationary stance is also used to lure an opponent into the snake's critical zone, where it can use the element of surprise.
Some of the mobile stances used in snake are the supported stance, scissor, monkey, and short bow. While practicing this mobile footwork, one concentrates on being evasive and developing foot patterns that are articulate, speedy and confusing to the opponent. Pai lum tao's snake theories teach that the majority of strikes and counterstrikes are executed from a mobile stance. While this in mind, the snake movements are practiced repeatedly across long rooms so the timing of stance, posture and striking work in unison. Mobile stances build the rhythm and power required to do snake. Snake theories of fighting are built on speed, timing, and rhythm. Mobile stances almost become poetic when being executed by the seasoned practitioner. A student who learns and excels in the intricate stances and foot patterns of Pai lum tao's snake will be hard to defeat.
The articulate hand formations of snake training are most fascinating. A student begins with "white snake head," then moves into the "poison snake bit," followed by then "whipping hands." During all snake striking routines, the arms, shoulders, and body must be kept in a relaxed condition.
Snake striking is not based on sheer power. Rather, accuracy is the key when striking vulnerable target areas. It is crucial that the techniques strike the exact target at the precise time to immobilize the attacker.
A relaxed body and posture insure that the snake techniques flow easily. A stiff or rigid body will hamper execution. Loosen the spine, shoulders, arms, and hands are always performed prior to snake practice. A flexible posture not only helps with the execution of technique, but it also keeps injuries to a minimum.
With his arms and hands relaxed, a practitioner can execute the trapping, striking, and intercepting routines of snake striking. You can use your arms and hands to control and interrupt your attacker's strikes. The goal of any snake practitioner is to understand the movements of his attacker and then formulate a counter. A favorite move is to tie up an enemy's arms and strike him repeatedly before he can recover. These types of movements will both frustrate and confused the attacker.
Snake breathing patterns are introduced during the early phase of training. The student begins with the "long breath pattern." Air is pulled in through the nose as deep as possible and then pressure is directed to the lower tan tien. Now exhale through the mouth. Expect to feel light headed for a while until you become accustomed to the additional oxygen intake. Keep your body direct and relaxed. The lungs are trained to move easily in and out while the body is in an awkward position.
To accomplish this, the breathing patterns are practiced while performing stationary as well as mobile stances. The breathing must match the movements and rhythm of the body while you execute your techniques. This is extremely important for snake training: of all the traditional animal fighting systems, the snake relies more on perfecting breath control and developing "chi."
Another breathing pattern is the "regulating breath." This training series features air moving at different pressures and speeds during a single release. Several strikes can occur within one breath release. Utilizing maximum speed, a good snake stylist can strike 20 or more times within one regulating breath release.
Some of the other breathing patterns practiced are: the short breath, the pulsating breath, and the poison breath. All the patterns are practiced daily, with great patience, and with the guidance of a qualified teacher. Timing is the key to perfecting the marriage of motion between the external and internal striking and the internal directing of one's energy and chi. These patterns are the nucleus of snake training and a must for all practitioners. Persistent practice will give you a valued understanding of snake virtues, an in-depth understanding of one's "chi" development and how to release it in a productive manner.
All breathing patterns must be linked to create maximum results. Proper relaxed breathing will add an explosion of energy at the time a technique is delivered. A student should practice the correct formula for mind, body and spirit while working a slow, rhythmic breathing exercise. This will help develop an alertness and tranquility, which will spill over into all aspects of life.
With proper guidance, a practitioner will learn much from the philosophy and techniques of the snake, such as rhythm, fluidity, sensitivity, lightning speed, pinpoint accuracy, and impeccable timing. These are the challenges, as well as the gifts of traditional Pai lum tao snake training.