The Essence Of Black Tiger Kung Fu
The late Grandmaster Wong Cheung's system of Black Tiger kung fu is a diverse mixture of empty-handed and weapons forms. Although taking its name from a specific set of forms handed down from a Shaolin tradition, the overall system is composed of a great number of family, animal, conditioning, and other sets learned by the Grandmaster at different times and places from various other masters and specialists.
In spite of the seemingly random nature of the many sets, they all bear the stamp of the Grandmaster's personal vision, and the practiced eye can immediately recognize forms from this particular system. Although the Black Tiger sets are the core of Grandmaster Wong's system, they bear little resemblance to some of the other tiger, or even animal, sets commonly seen in martial arts circles. For one thing, rather than an emphasis on clawing techniques, a great number of different striking movements and hand shapes are used. The beginning sets are intended to train coordination, balance, and movement, as well as to instill some basic concepts found throughout the Black Tiger system, such as leaking, breaking and entering, grabbing and hitting, and attacking weak points with strong weapons by the shortest and most direct route.
In addition, the philosophical concept of the Black Tiger as crafty and unpredictable is introduced, as well as an emphasis on heavy body conditioning in order to both deliver and withstand punishment. As one attains a higher level, the "animal connection" becomes more obvious. Because I am a lifetime exotic animal hobbyist and a former professional zookeeper, one of my first impressions of the Black Tiger style was the way in which the true character of actual animal combative movements were preserved in the style. Nowadays, we all too commonly find systems in which movements are represented as genuine animal behaviors, but in reality have been modified to satisfy the expectations of prospective students or reflect the often unfounded beliefs of the instructor. Grandmaster Wong's animal techniques, where they appear in the forms, are still close to the basic tenets of the original movements as performed by the animals themselves. In this respect, then, our art may not appear as flashy as some of the other arts. The various configurations of striking surfaces and movements all have a readily demonstrated and definitive reasoning behind their applications rooted in real combat, as opposed to show. The strikes are aimed at perceived targets and vulnerable areas, even in the forms. Principles and concepts are clearly apparent to the casual observer versed in martial strategy and are, in turn, readily observed in the natural movements of animals and people, although almost inevitably the animal techniques must be modified to suit human physiology.
Ultimately, hardness and conditioning, as opposed to mimicry, are the trademarks of our "tiger" system, reflecting the physical nature of the animal itself. Beyond the physical aspect, Taoist, Confucian, and Buddhist beliefs are entwined in the style which are themselves drawn from reflections on the natural world. Concepts such as Yin and Yang, the Five Elements, Loyalty and Filial Piety, and a Code of Morality were not novel ideas pulled out of a hat, but were based on the careful and thoughtful observations of man and nature by Chinese and other sages down through history. In other words, the true way of martial arts is the search for balance, truth, and harmony in the existing structure of the world, whether in single combat or the larger realm of cultural adaptation, as opposed to the process of reinventing the wheel from scratch. In this sense, we seek not only to preserve tradition, but to ensure adaptation of martial standards by the continuous evolution of an art which suits modern needs.
Written by Jerry Davis
The Black Tiger Association