The Tiger face has been around for many hundreds of years in the Yongchun area of Fujian, practiced by pure Tiger and White Crane Kungfu practitioners. Even the lions seen out side temples have tiger faces to scare away the evil spirits, mostly all of them are seen with a ball in the mouth to represent wealth and good luck. The early green face lion dance also had this vicious face in a bid to scare the Ching rule and raise the Ming. It used to have daggers coming from its mouth to represent teeth but after so many deaths the teeth were removed, trying to gain peace….. The Ming never did over throw the Ching in the end.
In the modern world, even in China, the tiger face is far less prominent than it used to be! All the old Videos and photos of Fujian Kungfu showed the face being used….. So why is this?
Names and sections of the tiger face
Gold Fish Eyes
The eyes are held wide open when striking or entering the fighting range. This widening of the eyes creates a better peripheral vision to see a wider angle of multiple attackers. In addition to this, the body language of yourself widening the iris can create the fight or flight response in your opponent. The highest level of Kungfu is to not to have to fight, even animals do this and posture up, it is only when no one backs down that the fight is then on.
Nose of the Race Horse
The nostrils are flared and the septum drawn up as if something awful has been smelt. This allows more oxygen in to the blood stream keeping the fighter alert and focused as the blood vessels absorb the oxygen to the brain quicker. If we don’t learn to breathe naturally with our diaphragm muscle, we do not get the proper amount of oxygen into our blood and in turn carried to our brain and body parts. If we breathe through our mouth, we do not rebreathe the stored carbon dioxide and nitric oxide that again helps circulate blood to the brain in order to oxygenate brain cells.
Showing the teeth, drawing the outside corners of the mouth downwards, just like a shark moving its lips away from it’s teeth when attacking. This stops you biting your own lips or puncturing a part of the mouth with your own teeth when being hit. Holding the teeth lightly together minimises the damage to teeth when being hit, whilst also locking the jaw in a stronger position. Training over a long time strengthens the jaw bone to help prevent it from being broken when in combat. Too much tension of the teeth together however can lead to head tension…. The brain will become tense, thoughts will not flow and chi will become stagnant.
Neck of the Cockerel
The head should be held up at the crown of the head like being held with a golden thread, then the chin can now be tucked into the correct place, with the tigers mouth. Only when the neck is held correctly will the tendons of the neck strengthen like a boxer to prevent yourself from being knocked unconscious. This position raises the spirit and alerts the senses all around. The training of the neck also strengthens weak points of the practitioner like the cavities behind the clavicle and the throat against strikes or strangulation techniques.
Ears of the Lion
The ears of the lion represents listening all around you, keeping alert. If in or out of fighting range the ears should always be listening to signs of movement. Generally keeping your senses at a heightened state at all times. Just like a cat.
So why is it not seen as much today?
In the modern world most people train in martial arts to get fit and for fun. In the old times it was for life or death, people had to protect their family and possessions and by this I mean food as there was much famine in China in the past. Every little detail that gave you the edge in battle, was worked hard for and given the respect of its worth.
Many students in the class today don’t want to look ugly and are embarrassed doing this tiger face! I have two examples of this. One was my own wife at the beginning of my training, for two years when I was practicing San Zhan in our garden, doing the tiger face she made fun of me doing it every day pulling faces at the window back to me…. Eventually she gave up and ignored me! When you do something every day it becomes the norm. The second occasion was when I decided to do a promotion of our Kungfu club and I made what I thought was a super cool Kungfu leaflet of me doing a full on tiger face in the middle of the information…. Guess what?….no one called me or came to class! I put this down to the face being too scary and as a result put new students off coming.
Nowadays I teach the Tiger Face after a person comes to class. Students don’t pass a grading however unless the face is shown and the reason for this is because it is an important part of our real traditional fighting arts.
Neil Johnson, November 2014