The Mighty Rabbit – A Powerhouse Kung Fu Animal
The Rabbit or hare is not what most people think of when they think powerful. Mostly we think cute, cuddly, or perhaps if you are a gardener a pest. We think of rabbits as prey, because they certainly are not predators. Rabbits just don’t seem like the kind of animal that fierce martial artists might want to study or embody. However, the Rabbit or Hare’s greatest weakness also leads directly to their greatest strength and the lessons that we seek to learn as martial artists from the lowly Rabbit.
The Rabbit lacks powerful offense. Their teeth are mostly good for eating vegetables and roots and their claws are designed for digging but mostly for running as fast as possible. Rabbits and hares lack the powerful jaws and sharp fangs and claws of other fiercer animals. The Rabbit is an expert at detecting danger and then escaping. The Rabbit is the master of these skills with their massive ears and powerful hind legs. In addition to having massive ears and great hearing the Rabbit also has great eyesight and can see almost completely around itself without moving its head including seeing directly overhead. The combination of great hearing and vision makes it tough to sneak up on a Rabbit. These are great skills, and they should also be your first and second real lines of self-defense. Your first line of defense is simply being aware of what is going on around you and alert to potential threats and dangers. That means keep your eyes and ears open for trouble. Spotting trouble before you find yourself in the midst of it is great self-defense. Then simply avoid the danger early and move on safely in another direction.
The second skill of the Rabbit we want to master as martial artists is that of dodging or empty body. Empty body refers to emptying your body from the line or trajectory of an incoming attack. Dodging practice is a way to learn how to dodge skillfully. Dodging practice entails systematically learning to move all areas of the body out of the way of all the primary lines of approach to the body that an attack could take. One of the best things about learning dodging is that once you learn how to dodge your head out of the way of straight attack you have learned how to dodge any straight attack to the head not merely punches. The same dodge works for any type of hand position whether it is a palm, a fist, a hook, or claw or even a knife or baton, or any type of weapon. By simply moving your body out of the way of something dangerous you escape injury, and if you are good, you also set up a devastating counterattack. This is a universally fantastic skill to have.
Learning Dodging or Empty Body typically takes about six months of steady practice with a partner two or three times a week. At the 10,000 Victories school we have a complete set of exercises to master dodging and they are super fun to do.
We have just completed filming many wonderful lessons on these Dodging or Empty Body drills for our new Tai Chi Comprehensive Online Course.
The second fantastic skill the Rabbit teaches is evasive footwork. Good footwork serves the same function as good dodging. Both skills save you from danger and allow you to prepare and launch powerful counterattacks. In many of our Kung Fu styles like Northern Shaolin, Lan Shou Quan, Pao Chui, and to a slightly lesser degree Ba Gua Zhang and Tai Chi Chuan we practice many deep stances, steps, and transitions. It is easy to think sometimes that staying more or less in one spot is a good strategy. On occasion it might be. However, it is far more likely that fast and skillful stepping will allow you to avoid the opponent’s attacks and destroy them with yours. The difference in clumsy slow footwork and fast adroit footwork is enormous. With great footwork you can simply step out of the way of the opponents attacks. With great footwork you can also control the distance and timing of the action and make it impossible for your partner or opponent to escape. The low stances build fantastic athleticism and allow us to get much more grounded and rooted making it much harder for people to off balance us and throw or topple us onto the ground. The low stances help us learn how to lower our center of gravity and to move with integrity.
However, we also need to practice fast responsive stepping with our friends and training partners to develop functional skill in stepping with a live partner. The actual skill of using evasive footwork is different than the athletic skill of stepping with speed and balance. Stepping with speed and balance are the foundation. However, it is stepping in the right direction, at the right time, that is real skill. If you step extremely quickly and powerfully in the wrong direction you could run straight into the opponents attack and greatly amplify its power by adding the momentum of your own body to the impact. Step in just the right direction, at just the right moment and you might be able to lead your opponent into loosing their balance or hurting themselves.
The third and perhaps the most important lesson the Rabbit teaches for self defense is to listen. Listening to others means you have to stop talking. Listening also means truly listening not to what we want to hear or think we should hear but instead to what is actually being said or is actually happening. To truly listen to the world, you have to quiet your own mind and thoughts a bit and tune into to everything else.
An old culture saying form Taiwan: “A Clever Rabbit has Three Holes”. This means a clever rabbit has not one or two ways to escape but three. In sparring if you can combine your stepping and dodging to lead and fool your opponent into a state or position where they can no longer attack you have mastered the skills of the Rabbit.
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