Taming the Tiger Within
by Eric Wolven of Vital Step Martial Arts
Taming the Tiger is the foundation form of the Hung Gar system. It is a true masterpiece performed in the ideogram gong meaning work or labour. So precise are the moves and the angles that the performer will finish the form exactly where he started.
The form is as much about taming the tiger within as it is about taming external forces. The discipline required to continuously train this form to proficiency is substantial. It takes a great deal of practice, time and dedication. Time spent training this form sees the practitioner develop their mind and body. The repetition and low stances build strength while the form exercises the memory. After years of practice, one becomes calm, controlled and systematic. Able to strike and defend with strength and precision. This in turn tames you. Your confidence, strength and fitness grow with your understanding of yourself. The control you see filters down to everyday life. Your mind becomes sharper. Your awareness of your surroundings expands. Your emotions are balanced. You become the tiger.
After a short, polite salute, the form begins with slow, precise movements. These moves require your focus to be on your breathing. Packing if you will. The in breath (which corresponds with an inward movement) is short and sharp, using the diaphragm to pack or tighten the abdominal area. The outward breath can be short or long depending on the speed of the movement it corresponds with. This breath is also focused at the diaphragm tightening the abdominal area. All this packing gives you an impenetrable core (achieved over time), able to withstand the blows of your opponent. The packed abdomen is to be maintained throughout the entirety of the form.
The importance of the beginning of the form cannot be understated. The breathing techniques here are required to maintain the packed abdomen. It also gives you the ability to perform the 5-7 minute form without losing your breath. In fact your breathing and heart rates should only be slightly elevated at the conclusion of the form.
Some of the moves are repeated three times. This is largely symbolic. An indication that this particular move should be practiced an infinite number of times to strengthen both the internal and external realms of the body. No fight scenario would require any move to be repeated three times. It is another indication that this form was developed as a strengthening form rather than a fighting form. There is no doubt that the moves taught do have practical applications, but in this form, the idea is perfect the precision of these moves while becoming stronger. Combining breath, stance and motion to perform each move to perfection.
While this form could be performed at speed, the master always insisted this form be practiced slowly. This is to ensure that every move, be it defence or attack, is practiced correctly. The form practiced slowly creates precision when executed at the speed needed in a fight.
As time passes and your stances become stronger the practitioner starts to feel their root deepen. It is said that Taming the Tiger, being the foundation form of Hung Gar, is like the root of a tree. This becomes evident as the stance strengthens. The feeling of stability and power derived from the earth grows. While this may sound mysterious there is no mystery. The legs become like coiled springs. The punch is more a consequence than an action. The coiled legs release the spring which then turns the hips and shoulders. The loose arm follows the shoulder and shoots out with great speed. Only at the last second does the fist become like iron to smash the opponent.
Kung Fu has often been called hard in comparison to Tai Chi. Considered external rather than internal. This is not so. Hung Gar is an internal form. The breathing or packing mentioned earlier strengthens the internal organs and the core. The master instructed to remain relaxed throughout. The arm is soft until the last possible moment. The arm is often compared to rope with a ball of iron attached at the end. The power comes from the stance connecting with the earth by sinking your weight and creating a coil for the power to spring from, then being delivered through the body with hip and shoulder movement concluding in the forceful punch. All a consequence of complete internal connection.
The arms rarely move independently of the body. Even when the arm is extended and moves in an ellipse the outward move is created by the turning of the body while the inward is a slight turning or circular movement of the hips. A slight shifting of weight can also create movement in the arms. The form performed correctly looks fluid yet powerful. The moves in this form have a clear beginning and end yet flow gracefully from one to the other.
The eyes should be alert throughout the form. This trains one to be vigilant within a fight and when walking the street, ever alert to danger. A look of ferociousness should be evident on ones face when practicing or fighting also, striking fear into your attackers. The eye of the tiger can prevent fights before they start. The look of confidence creates doubt in an enemy.
A vigilant yet calm person will not look like a victim. Practicing this form will give you the strength and confidence you need to walk safely in most areas. Taming the Tiger will also create a sense of humility as you appreciate the amount of training it takes to become proficient. Your respect for others grows as your respect for yourself grows. You carry yourself with honour and dignity as you appreciate the masters before you and the work they did to become masters, but also the work they did for their community. When learning this form one can’t help but to learn about and understand their predecessors.
Practicing Taming the Tiger will give you the opportunity to be the best person that you can be. The best version of yourself. By paying attention to those that have practiced before you and the great examples of humanity and honour that they bestowed, you can only be enriched by the experience.
About the Author(s):
Eric Wolven is founder and instructor of Vital Step Martial Arts. He empowers his students by increasing confidence, memory, spiritual well being and overall fitness. He founded Vital Step to further share the rare and traditional Chinese martial arts and health principles that were taught to him by Sifu Dr Tennyson Yiu.