Five-Animal Play

Chi flow at a UK Summer Camp


Today there are many versions of the 5 Animal Play. Most of them include movements and established patterns that imitate the five animals. What do you think of this popular version when compared with the self-manifested chi movement approach?

Sifu Daniel, Spain


The many versions of the Five-Animal Play today can be classified into two categories, which for convenience we may call the form approach and the manifestation approach.

In the form approach, a teacher teaches chi kung forms that resembles the movements of five animals, namely the bird, the deer, the monkey, the tiger and the bear.

When performing bird forms, for example, students may move about cheerfully like birds and flap their arms like wings. When performing deer forms, students run about excitedly and raise their hands like antlers. When performing monkey forms, students drop their arms loosely at their sides and round their body. When performing tiger forms, students move about ferociously, often with claw-like hands. When performing bear forms, student are upright with open chest.

The movements mentioned above are examples. As you have rightly said, there are many versions with different forms, but the examples above give an idea of their typical movements.

This form approach is what most people think Five-Animal Play was practiced in the past. It is believed the great Chinese physician, Hua Tuo, imitated the movements of the bird, the deer, the monkey, the tiger and the bear, and taught these movements to patients and students. It is also what many schools practicing Five-Animal Play nowadays do.

However, recent archaeological finds in the 20th century suggested that Hua Tuo did not imitate the movements of the five animals, but the chi flow movements resulting from the exercises he taught could be classified into the movements of these five animals. This was the manifestation approach, and the art was called Five-Animal Play.

Hence, there is a debate as to which approach was what Hua Tuo taught. Most people favour the form approach, but personally I think Hua Tuo used the manifestation approach. But, in the spirit of Zen, which was Hua Tua’s original method is not so important, what is more important is that it works.

Of the two approaches, the manifestation approach is more effective in curing illness and maintaining health.

The form approach, as its name indicates, operates at the form level. By imitating the movements of certain animals, which have a direct relationship with certain organs and meridians, practitioners attempt to influence the respective organs and meridians to overcome illness and maintain health. For example, by opening their arms like a bird flapping its wings, practitioners attempt to open their heart and generate energy flow along the heart meridian.

In the manifestation approach, the physical movements are a manifestation of energy flow. When practitioners spontaneously open their arms like a bird flapping its wings, it is the result of energy opening their heart and generating energy flow along the heart meridian. The manifestation approach represents the result of a healing process, whereas the form result represents an attempt to cause the healing process.

Following a rough estimate of the proportion of benefit according to the operational level of chi kung, the form level gives 1 unit of benefit, the energy level gives 3 units, and the mind level 6 units. If all other things were equal, the manifestation approach is 3 times more effective than the form approach.

In the coming Five-Animal Play course in Barcelona between 6th and 11th May 2014, I shall unify the form approach and the manifestation approach. In other words, basing on my understanding and practice of chi kung over many years, I shall devise chi kung techniques resembling the movements of the bird, the deer, the monkey, the tiger and the bear, and transmit to students to manifest chi flow movements resembling these animals.

Our benefit will not just be 4 times better than the form approach and slightly better than the manifestation approach, but respectively 10 times and more than 3 times better. It is because we shall operate at the mind level, which include the form level and the energy level. What we shall do is an upgrade of our Self-Manifested Chi Movement.

Self-manifested chi movement, or “zi-fa-dong-gong” in Chinese, is a modern chi kung term coined in the 20th century. It was, I believe, Five-Animal Play in the manifestation approach in the past, except that its manifested chi flow movements are not as clearly defined into the five animals. In our self-manifested chi movement, for example, we have practitioners wriggling on the floor like a snake, or hopping about like a kangaroo.

It is worthy of note that the five animals in Five-Animal Play are different from the five animals in Shaolin Kungfu, which are the dragon, the snake, the tiger, the leopard and the crane. In these two groups of five animals, only the tiger is common, but the significance of the tiger manifestation is different in the two groups.

The significance of the five animals in Shaolin Kungfu is quite different. The form or manifestation of the dragon trains mind, of the snake trains energy, of the tiger trains internal force, of the leopard trains speed and strength, of the crane trains elegance and essence.

In the Five-Animal Play, the bird relates to the heart, which expresses joy. The deer relates to the liver, which expresses anger. The monkey relates to the spleen, which expresses anxiety. The tiger relates to the lungs, which express grief. The bear relates to the kidneys, which express fear.

Please note that the organs mentioned above include their counterparts and their meridians. For example, in Chinese medical philosophy, the counterpart of the heart is the intestine. Hence, the bird relates not just to the heart, but also to the intestines, the heart meridian and the intestine meridian. In this case of the heart, the pericardium, the triple-warmer, the pericardium meridian and the triple-warmer meridian are also included.

There are also the positive aspect and the negative aspect of emotions. Manifesting the bear movements, for example, not only eliminates fear, but also builds up confidence.

Five-Animal Play and Other Chi Kung in Barcelona 8-11 May 2014

Questions on Five-Animal Play – Overview

The questions and answers are reproduced from the thread Hua Tuo’s Five-Animal Play - 10 Questions to Grandmaster in the Shaolin Wahnam Discussion Forum.

Five-Animal Play

The tiger-form in Shaolin Kungfu trains internal force