Many of the early Shaolin Kung-Fu styles were inspired by the movements and behavior of animals and birds. The most significant ones were eventually organized into the Five Animal system of Tiger, Leopard/Panther, Snake, Crane, and Dragon, each embodying a different aspect of Kung-Fu, both in terms of the outward characteristics and in the attitude or inner essence.
Moh Pai has been developed based on an interpretation of these Five Shaolin Animals. Used as a general guideline for categorizing techniques and fighting styles, they can be helpful in guiding students’ development in certain areas. All motions and concepts in Moh Pai, however, exist solely for their practical combative value, and never simply for their likeness to a certain animal; nor is the system by any means limited only to motions belonging to these animals. The following is the Moh Pai interpretation of the Five Animals:
Tiger: The tiger is king, and it knows it. Completely fearless and never intimidated, a tiger does not need to back up or evade. It meets force with greater force, using its overwhelming power to plough through its opponent, ripping and destroying everything in its path with a directness and fury unmatched by any other animal. Part of the hard system, the tiger embodies the most assertive, fierce, and brutal elements of Moh Pai.
Leopard/Panther: Also representing a predominantly hard style, the panther (or leopard) is the tiger's smaller brother. Where it falls behind in raw strength and ferociousness, it makes up in agility and speed, leaping out of the direct line of attack and then pouncing back from an unexpected angle and direction, landing a series of quick, explosive, and devastating well-aimed blows before the opponent even realizes what has happened.
Snake: The snake is the most sly and crafty of the animals. It weaves and winds around and through whatever is in its path, finding its way to the most vulnerable or unexpected target, which it then pierces or crushes with a deadly vise. Operating best at close quarters, the snake is part of the soft system and is expert at using the opponent's own force against him. Locks, traps, throws, grappling, submission holds, and various joint, limb, and body manipulations and breaks are all weapons in the snake's arsenal.
Crane: Characterized by long, circular motions, redirections, and sweeps, the crane is a mixture of both the hard and the soft systems, and includes a wide variety of leg and long-arm techniques. While looking elegant and graceful with its smooth and flowing movements, the crane can block with extreme effectiveness while generating strikes of enormous power.
Dragon: The dragon is known for its wisdom and experience. Not so much a style in itself, the dragon represents the mastery of all the animals, using them in the most effective combinations to achieve its ends. Right timing and distance, expert breathing, and exact movement infuse the dragon's every motion with an efficiency and skill that's awesome to behold.
While each of the five animals excels in its own area, they are generally most effective when applied in combination, producing a synergistic effect as they cancel out each other’s weaknesses and complement each other’s strengths. Moh Pai treats the animals as different aspects of the same highly integrated and diverse system, rather than as independent styles. Students learn to switch seamlessly between them, effortlessly mixing motions from multiple animals in order to adapt to their opponent and situation, making best use of their own body dynamics, character, and natural abilities.