Levels and Their Martial Meaning

The tiger in wushu symbolizes great strength and physical power, whose movements help to develop bones, tendons and musculature. The tiger’s movements gravitate toward the Yang () principle, relying on strength and dynamic tension to achieve objectives. In our system physical power is but one aspect of a martial artist, and relying solely on physical power will have its shortcomings. Great physical power can be attained by men of great or poor ethical morality, making it only the first level of our journey to mastery.

Praying Mantis
The praying mantis is a stealthy, accurate, technical, strong, and fast predator. All these qualities together make it an efficient hunter and combatant. Its precision, reaction time, and accuracy are without par. It can hunt in the air or on land. A mantis martial artist is a concentrated, technical joint locker, and pressure point stylist, with speedy handwork and footwork. Its technique is superior to that of a tiger, and is proportionally stronger, and faster, making it the second level of our system.

An eagle is a large, powerful, precise, efficient, intelligent, sensing, bird of prey. Often used as a sign of earthly majesty in seals, and symbols around the world. The eagle hunts in the air, on land, on the water’s surface. An eagle makes use of all its heightened senses, especially vision. Eagles are masters of energy expenditure, effortlessly soaring through the atmosphere, diving in for prey at hundreds of miles per hour, employing a vice-like grip with its talons, or emitting a screech piercing the heavens with energy. An eagle martial artist symbolizes the highest level of physical attainment, excluding internal power combined with the techniques. The eagle employs its 5 senses to the maximum, calling on speed, power, agility, balance, efficiency and coordination to maximize its results. These qualities rank the eagle as the third level.

A snake is a stealthy, patient, explosive, and deceptive hunter. The snake is the first animal that really taps into internal power, in tandem with external force. Snakes are ancient creatures, the most ancient on our list of animals. The snake is often called an “earthly dragon,” and kills by the use of a toxic bite, or by asphyxiation (suffocation). A snake coils, and strikes with blinding speed, usually faster than the human senses can comprehend. An expert at relaxation, few have more patience. Snakes are superior at flexibility, and when in motion snakes make constant use of Qi flow, usually completely uninhibited, and ready to direct to a target, at a moment’s notice. Using external force laced with Qi, the snake practitioner attacks vital areas, and uses twisting arm postures to lock an adversary’s offenses. Evasion is also greatly advanced due to the snake’s constant motion, and relaxed nature. The snake is well versed offensively and defensively, internally and externally, in motion, and poised for action. The snake is a deadly adversary, unpredictable in nature and a feared fighter and hunter. One mistake and it’s all over for the snake’s enemy. The snake ranks fourth.

The greatest adversaries of snakes are birds of prey. The crane and the eagle are first and second on the list. The majestic crane is a peaceful, gentle giant until provoked. It then becomes a creature seeming to have qualities mystic in nature. On air, land, sea, and any combination of the 3, the crane can prosper in any circumstance. With mastery over sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing, the crane is ever “awake,” physically and mentally. With its great size, the crane is master of “light walking technique” in the earth realm, and employs fanciful footwork showing its skill over mass. The crane is the master of patience, and seems never to tire, with endless endurance and relaxation. Qi (life force) is absorbed and retained in its great body, and used at will, for flight, lightness, striking, reflection, deflection and long life. In this realm the crane is a great example of wisdom, patience, technique, experience, intuition and self mastery. Cranes are symbols of great sages. A true crane is nearly unconquerable, employing all aspects of the mental, physical, and emotional. The crane embodies all of the fitness aspects of speed, power, agility, balance coordination, and flexibility, in harmony. Pinpoint accuracy, unending stamina, meditation in action, mastery of the self, changeable nature and adaptability, and technique beyond the mere physical, give the crane its current position at fifth.

Some are born followers, while others are leaders, and a dragon is usually a sign of that leadership. No creature, real or imaginary holds a place of greater veneration that the dragon. Dragons are viewed as near-deity creatures that are a composite of different known earthly animals. Dragons are heavenly, mythic creatures present in every culture from ancient times to the present. Dragons were looked upon as guardians to the gods, and sources of wisdom. In ancient civilizations, some dragons were on par with deities, while others are guardians to deities, philosophers, and emperors. Chinese dragon lore holds that dragons are bringers of rains, providers of fertility, and defenders of the deities. They are above all human pettiness and therefore defend only righteous causes and persons. Dragons can manifest all five elements of fire, water, earth, air, and spirit (ether). Taoists saw the dragon as an ancient personification of the Tao itself–“the dragon reveals himself only to vanish.” Shaolin Buddhists saw them as a vision of enlightened truth, to be felt, but never to be held. Certain very old men were called dragons, these being well versed in the life-supporting skills of herbal medicine, agriculture, and gong fu. In early China these skills were a matter of life and death, and those educated in the arts were held in high esteem. Dragons move in and out of form, manipulating energy and matter. They are masters of using dual opposing concepts in harmonious fashions. They have all of the characteristics of the previous animals, plus the command of supernatural forces. This gives the dragon, sixth level in our system.

Yin and Yang
Reality is often manifested in the illusion of duality. Positive/negative, hot/cold, male/female are some examples of this belief. Also this concept of reality may be broken into trigrams, like positive/negative/neutral, hot/cold/warm, and male/female/sexless. Many misinterpret the Taoist philosophy of duality. The truth is that these concepts are not opposites, but aspects of a greater whole (Tao) and also the possibility of neither. Those being caught in the ideas of opposites miss the point of the whole theory of harmonious unity. This level signifies the movement of the practitioner into applied theory, and harmony with reality and nature. Physical form begins to be dissolved into the subtle forces controlling the senses and the elements. Qi is the primary facilitator behind the mind’s intent. A true model for humanity should be achieved. This is the seventh level.

Everything and nothing at all, a master is “just that.” Sublime, meditative, compassionate, aware, beyond skillful in living life and practicing martial arts, which has been successfully merged into the life of the master. A master exists as a beacon of fortitude, determination, and balance. A master is one with the “self”(soul, spirit, qi) and has absorbed all that can be absorbed from the martial system. One can not understand being a master, until that status is personally attained. The true goal of martial arts will have been attained, and all that is left is an immersion into the true cultivation of the spirit. This is “gong fu,” and the last stage of this system, if this last level can be called a stage at all.