Our Dojo Zoo

Animals in Martial Arts

Animals have always had quite an influence on martial arts.

Wait. A zoo?

Yes, you heard right. Not exactly a 100 acre maze of roaring lions, lumbering elephants, and tribes of monkeys raising a ruckus, but a zoo nonetheless. Why, you might ask? Well, two reasons come to mind. First, animals have always played a huge role in martial arts. Every style of which I'm aware makes at least some reference to animals. Think about it. Have you not seen animals displayed in martial arts settings, on patches, posters and painted on display windows? Tigers. Dragons. Cranes. Snakes. Pandas. In Taekwondo, the turtle represents the Pyoungan forms, for their firm base and solid defense. There are several Chinese martial arts known as Snake Boxing or Fanged Snake Style which imitate the movements of a snake. Find out more here. So having animals around allows us to actually see and experience why animals play such an important role in martial arts. They have much to teach us, live and in color, face to face.

Oh and the second reason? Animals are FUN!

Zoe hanging out with Timothy, our breeder dad.

Read on to learn more about our dojo zoo.

1. The Snake

South Miami Martial Arts utilizes both the physical motions and behavioral characteristics of snakes. For example, remember the dojo zoo day when we watched Pauline, our female ball python, stalking a rat? Remember how she moved the chambered portion of her body forward using only the rear portion for locomotion? Her head stopped but her body kept creeping forward, causing a rippling / wrinkling effect in her neck and upper body. Then at the last minute, she uncoiled, lashing out with ferocious speed.

We do the same thing with the down-the-middle-punches of Basic Three. Our lower body moves forward, but our upper body stays frozen in place—coiled, a bunched spring—until we release the strike with explosive power.

Snakes are one of the most patient animals in nature—a virtue we could all stand to foster. Remember the dojo zoo day when Bonzia (our male ball python) sat for a good half hour waiting on a rat to move? He knew something was there, only inches away; he could smell it; he just sensed it. But the rat wouldn’t dare move. We grew impatient and tried prodding it with a long straw. Nothing. Smart rat! Finally, we lost interest and let our attention wander, when suddenly a rodent shriek arose from Bonzai’s tank.

Boom. Done. Dinner time.

Judah holding Pauline, our female ball python.

2. The Dragon:

The dragon was the symbolic guardian to the gods, and was the source of true wisdom. This latter feature most likely resulted from the observation of the living reptilian counterparts which, usually at rest, seem to be in a near constant state of contemplation.
Okay, we don't really have pet dragons at the dojo. But we do have iguanas! Since the dragon styles of martial arts were inspired by dragons (Read More Here), and dragons by the giant lizards—monitors, iguanas and even alligators—we can learn much from observing iguanas. Of course their ability to sit for hours without even so much as batting an eye is astounding. You could fall into a trance just watching them! We humans get swept up in our day-to-day lives and would barely notice if someone keeled over dead beside us. How many times have we driven to work, only to arrive with no memory of the trip? I myself have toiled away at my desk all day—and not recalled a single task I'd completed. We lack purpose. Clarity. The iguana can teach us much about stilling our hearts and taking some time to just be.

Then there's the iguana's arsenal. Of course there are the sawblade teeth, and the lacerating claws—but what about the tail? Like with the gator, the tail often goes unnoticed—until it lashes a welt on your leg or, in the case of the gator, sweeps you right off your feet. Our sweep kicks will be greatly improved by observing the whipping of the iguana's tail. See how he keeps it low? See how he propels it with his whole body? His base firmly secured? Yes, the iguana has much to teach us.

Goo Before his Morning Coffee.

There are many other animals representing all aspects of martial arts. Kung Fu, probably the main style utilizing animals, focuses on five: The dragon (being mentally present in every technique), the snake (energy and the breath flowing harmoniously), the tiger (techniques are supported by internal force), the leopard (techniques are performed fast) and the crane (techniques are performed elegantly). The dojo zoo has only snakes and "dragons" at this point, but who knows? Maybe we'll build an aviary and get ourselves a crane!

While in the execution of an animal form it is possible to place emphasis on its respective inner essence, the qualities of all the five animals should be manifested at the same time — Sifu Leonard Lackinger.

Watch your email for the next dojo zoo event! We offer field trips to the habitats, and the animals make appearances at Parent's Night Out, Teacher Planning Day, and Summer Camp.