Tiger Claws

Editorial Note: About 45 years ago in the 1970s, the most authoritative Chinese kungfu magazine then, “Xin Wu Xia” (“New Martial Hero”), published a series of articles with Sifu Wong's commentary on the Tiger-Crane Set. The series consists of four articles, namely:

  1. Similarities and Differences of Tiger-Crane Sets
  2. Combat Sequences of Tiger-Crane Set
  3. Miscellaneous Techniques of Tiger-Crane Set
  4. Training Methods of Tiger Claw

This article on “The Training Methods of Tiger Claw” is the fourth of the series. The sentence structure in this English translation follows that in the original Chinese version.

Training Methods of Tiger-Claw

Tiger Claws

As Goh Kok Hin executes a whirlwind kick using the pattern “Naughty Monkey Kicks at Tree, Sifu Wong sinks into a low Front Arrow Stance using the pattern “Tame a Tiger with a String of Beads”. With his right tiger claw Sifu Wong attacks Goh Kok Hin's right ribs even before the kick has arrived. When the kicking leg arrives, Sifu Wong using his left tiger claw will “float” the attack up at the opponent's knee or angle depending on the spacing, then gripping it with the tiger claw. A successful application of this technique requires much skill, and implements the tactics of “retreating to attack” and “starting later but arriving earlier”.

“Lian quan bu lian gong, dao lao yi chang kong” or in Cantonese pronunciation “Lean khuen pat lean kung, tou lou yit cheong hoong”. In English this important kungfu tenet means “If you only train form without training force, you will be futile even if you train you whole life.” Kungfu students must not be ignorant of this.

If you only train form but have never trained force, then when you are in combat even if your techniques are better than your opponent, you will be unable to subdue or defeat him. This is because techniques without the backing of force can never control the opponent. Hence, in kungfu philosophy there is a saying as follows: “Quan bu da gong” (“Khuen pat ta kung”) which means Techniques are unable to defeat force”.

Does this mean that force training is more important than technique training? No. In kungfu philosophy there is another saying as follows: ”Quan wei gong zi beng, gong wei quan zi bu” (“Khuen wai kung zi phoon, kung wai khuen zi phoor”) or “Techniques are the base of force, force is the support of techniques.” Just having ferocious force but without effective and flexible techniques, is insufficient to subdue opponents. To sum up, to become a top class martial artist, one must train diligently in both force and techniques.

What is “force”?

What is “force”? “Force” is the ability to apply techniques with effective speed or power. For example, if you are very fast in kicks, as soon as you kick you can defeat your opponent, such as the “No-Shadow Kicks”. This kicking ability is “force”. Or your palm strike is very powerful. Just one palm strike you can defeat your opponent, like “Iron Palm”. This striking ability is “force”. In the process of force training, there is a special factor, i.e. practice one particular technique millions of times until you can apply the technique with speed and power.

“Tiger Claw Force” is specially useful for the Tiger-Crane Set. In this set there are many techniques which use the Tiger Claw as the base, hence it is necessary to have Tiger Claw Force as support. My Tiger-Crane Set was learnt from my initiating kungfu master, Sifu Lai Chin Wah. Sifu Lai taught Hoong Ka Kungfu in Penang, Malaysia. Martial art circles called him Yi Sook” or “Second Uncle”. (Later Sifu Wong discovered that “Yi Sook” actually means “Uncle Righteousness”).

After my first master had ascended to heaven, I traveled from Penang to Trengganu to learn from Sifu Ho Fatt Nam. Sifu Ho was the successor of Sigung Yang Fatt Kheun, who in turn was the successor of the Venerable Jiang Nan, who escaped from the burning of the Shaolin Temple (during the Qing Dynasty). My master, Sifu Ho Fatt Nan, specialized in One-Finger Zen and Tiger Claw.

My master explained that as One-Finger Zen was usually aimed at an opponent's death spots, resulting in the opponent being seriously injured or killed, he seldom used it; he often used Tiger Claw as the Tiger Claw was a compassionate way of fighting, resulting in subduing the opponent but not killing him. Here I shall explain the methods to train “Tiger Claw Force”.

The training of Tiger Claw Force is divided into four stages:

  1. Piercing Beans
  2. Fierce Tiger Cleansing Claws
  3. Taming the Tiger
  4. Clawing Jars or Clawing Iron Balls

Piercing Beans

Tiger Claws

Yow Ba, one of sifu Wong's early students, practicing Piercing Beans.

Editorial Note: This is an example of a “water-buffalo method” that Sifu Wong himself and some of his early students trained in.

Fill a basin with a mixture of green beans and black beans, both about equal portions. Sit at a Horse-Riding Stance, and pierce both hands into the beans. At first, do not use strength. After training for some time, the student will find that internal force is generated.

Concoction for Washing Hands Brightening Eyes Concoction

”Concoction for Washing Hands” in Chinese

”Brightening Eyes Concoction” in Chinese

It is very important to apply suitable medication for such training. Wash the hands in medicated concoction before and after training. This will clear blockage and generate blood flow, overcome swelling and eliminate pain.

Once a week drink a medical concoction called “Brightening Eyes Concoction”. Piercing beans may affect the eyes. Aspiring students must not be ignorant of the importance of medical supplement. Otherwise, not only they may fail in acquiring the art, but hurt their hands and eyes. In kungfu terminology, this is “zou huo ru mo” (“Chow for yup mo”), which is “fire escapes evil enters” or in simple modern language, “deviation”.

Fierce Tiger Cleansing Claws

Fierce Tiger Fierce Tiger

An old picture showing Sifu Wong practicing “Fierce Tiger Cleansing Claws”

This is transforming the “hard” force derived from Piercing Beans into “soft” force. The photographs show the external forms of “Fierce Tiger Cleansing Claws”. But more significant is the “meaning” of the form, which is channeling intrinsic energy from the dan tian (abdominal energy field) to both claws.

The external movements must be coordinated with proper breathing and appropriate sounds. Practice twice daily. The number of repetitions for each session depends on the student's ability and endurance. Gradually increase the number of repetitions.

Taming the Tiger

Taming Tiger

An old picture showing Sifu Wong practicing “Taming Tiger”.

There are two parts. The first part involves pressing up. Support your body with both palms and toes. By bending the elbow, lower and raise the whole body. When you can press up 30 times comfortably, proceed to the second part.

The second part is the same as the first part except that you use your ten fingers instead of your two palms to support your body, as illustrated in the photograph.

Clawing Jar

Hold a jar using a tiger claw, and move it about. Add a cup of water each day. When the jar is full of water, add a cup of sand each day to increase the weight of the jar. Keep adding sand according to your endurance limit, or until the jar is full. Practice daily.

Fierce Tiger

An old picture showing Sifu Wong practicing “Clawing Jar”

The above are the methods to develop Tiger Claw Force. If you train diligently morning and evening for one or two years, you will certainly succeed. The biggest hindrance in force training is whether the student has perseverance. If you persevere and progress gradually according to established methods, you will certainly succeed irrespective of what kind of force you attempt.

During the training process, the student must have sufficient “spirit” and “energy”. If the student is lacking in “spirit” and “energy” (i.e. mentally and physically weak), not only he will become tired easily but also harm himself physically and mentally. Students must realize this important point.

It is recommended that during the training period students drink one or two doses of “Concoction for Nourishing Energy and Nurturing Blood” every month. (The ingredients are provided in Chinese in the illustration.) He should also have sufficient sleep at night.

Fierce Tiger

”Concoction for Nourishing Energy and Nurturing Blood” in Chinese


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