Shaolin school's marital arts forms are compact in structure. "Fighting along a single straight line" tactics. The use of power is flexible and elastic. The forms focus on the practicability rather than flowery postures, which though aesthetically pleasing.
When jabbing or palming, the arm is required to be neither bent nor straight. The arm is in constant twining motion when it is extended or withdrawn to allow the flexibility of the arm movements. The eyesight is focused on the opponent' eyes so that his expressions and intentions are under observation. When advancing, the body moves straightforwardly and horizontally and when landing from a jump or retreating from an attack, it follows the direction of the momentum. The body techniques focus on the control of the center of the gravity so as to keep balance. When stepping, low stanc is used in advancing and high stance in treating. The stepping techniques focus on lightness, agility and steadiness.
When applying the techniques, the intention shall be well hidden and not revealed to the opponent. When executing the application, the person shall remain calm inside but fierce outside. Application of techniques requires integration of versatile tactics. An attack can be made from the left or to the lower pan of the body while the opponent's attention is diverted to the right side or the upper part of the body. An intention to retreat can be disguised as an intention to advance or vice versa. Tactics and techniques shall be amalgamated and consolidated. Hardness of actions and blows is stressed while softness in support of the hardness is also advocated. Attacks shall be made at the right moment and when the mistake of the opponent is observed. Attacks shall be executed without mercy and directed at the opponent's fatal part. Training formula describes the tactics as "elegant as cat, shaking like a tiger, advancing and retreating like a dragon, moving like a lightening and roaring like a thunder."
Shaolin school has characteristic features in movements, stillness, breathing techniques, mobilizing qi to accumulate power and utilizing power transformed from qi. The training formula says, "full force shall be applied in performing the form (or in striking). The power is transformed from qi. Mobilizing qi to accumulate power shall be done in an unhurried manner while utilizing power transformed from qi shall be done in a speedy manner. The success of this technique lies in the speed and manner how qi is transformed into power and how the power is utilized, that is to say, the breathing is the key."
The play of martial arts forms of Shaolin school requires the completion of the form in one breath and combination of the external with the internal in order to deliver force to the required parts of the body. Externally, the hands are required to move simultaneously with feet, elbows with knees and shoulders with the kuas (the joints and surrounding areas of the hips) while internally, mind (xin) is required to integrate with intent (yi), intent with energy (qi) and energy with strength (li). Breathing through the nose facilitates the accumulation of power and when necessary, roaring loudly through the mouth intimidates the opponent. Striking with explosive forces as swiftly as thunder deprives the opponent of the time to react or reduce the effectiveness of counterattack. Thus, the victory can be won over the enemy.
There are eight body techniques : commencing (qi), landing (luò), advancing (jìn), retreating (tui). turning back (fan), turning to the side (cè), recollecting (shou) and discharging (zòng). When commencing, the body shall be straightforward; while landing, the body shall follow the direction of the momentum. When advancing, the stance shall be low; while retreating, the stance shall be high. When turning back, be aware of attacks from behind; while turning to the side, be aware of attacks from left and right. When recollecting, squat and crouch like a cat; while discharging, leap like a tiger. The body techniques focus on keeping the balance and maintaining a position to facilitate defense and offense.
There are five stepping techniques : small stepping (cùn bù), replacing stepping (diàn bù), moving-in stepping (guò bù), quick stepping (kuàì bù) and arrow stepping (jiàn bù).
In combat with the opponent who is at a distance of one meter, the small stepping can be used. The small stepping means a stepping, in which the distance can be closed at one step. In combat with the opponent who is at a distance between one and a half meters to two meters, the replacing stepping can be used. The replacing stepping means a stepping, in which one foot steps forward and the other foot swiftly steps into the place where the first foot lands. In combat with the opponent who is stronger and taller, the moving-in stepping can be used. The moving-in stepping means a stepping, in which one foot steps forward and the other foot swiftly steps ahead of the first foot. This stepping requires that the commencing foot steps forward towards the opponent's body and the other foot lands behind and close to the opponent's body so as to move in on the opponent.
In combat with the opponent who is at a distance of two and half meters to three meters, the quick stepping shall be used. The quick stepping means a stepping, in which one foot leads the other to make a big fast horizontal leaping step, which is likened to a galloping horse or a springing tiger. People who do not master this stepping technique well shall be cautious in applying it. When the opponent is far away, stepping techniques are not applicable. Instead, chase the opponent first. Arrow stepping is applied in a situation when there is more than one opponent or when they have weapons. When using this stepping technique, it requires a foot stamping the ground fast enough to facilitate the body to leap upward like a shooting arrow. The arrow stepping can also be described as pigeon penetrating the woods and swallow pecking at the water. Practicing hand combat techniques requires the mastering of the techniques as accurately and skillfully to the extent that the application of these techniques becomes the second nature of the practitioner in real combat.
Hand/arm techniques include thrusting hand (chu shou), commencing hand (qi shou), leading hand (ling shou) and incepting hand (jié shou). According to Shaolin training manual, "A hand/arm that thrusts from the chest is called the thrusting hand. Ahand/arm with power at its initiating stage, which may thrust or withdraw, is called the commencing hand. A commencing hand/arm is neither bent nor straight. A hand arm with power at its initiating stage, which thrusts, is called the leading hand. A hand arm thrusts or withdraws in order to intercept is called the intercepting hand."
When applying a hand/arm technique with one hand/arm, it is required that before commencing, the hand shall be contracted like a harrier contracting its wings and body so as to penetrate dense woods. After pushing forward with one hand, the body first expands upward and when the body recollects, the hand/arm withdraws like a swallow pecking at the water. When applying a hand/arm technique with both hands/arms, it is required that both hands thrust or withdraw alternately but simultaneously. When commencing, both hands move as if to lift and turn over a tripod; when withdrawing, both hands move as if to break a brick from its two ends with both hands.
When commencing, the hand shall protect the groin; and when thrusting, the elbow shall protect the heart. Thrust with power as forceful and fierce as a tiger springing at its prey. Withdraw with ferocity and resolution like an eagle grasping the prey with its claws. This is the essential for power application in hand/arm technique.
In foot/leg commencing techniques, it is required that the foot/leg lifts up, or kicks or turns. In foot/leg withdrawing techniques, it is required that the foot/leg land as if to bore a hole into the ground. When stamping technique is effective, kicking shall be avoided. The foot/leg techniques require that the person look to the knees when lifting the leg, look to the chest when lifting the elbow; and part the knees when striking. When commencing with lifting up, the foot/leg resembles the hand/arm lifting up to strike the opponent's groin. When withdrawing, the foot/leg resembles boring a hole with a stone.
The reason why kicking shall be cautiously applied is that when the leg is lifted, the body lost its grounding and becomes susceptible to the opponent's attack. The reason why stamping is advised when kicking can be avoided is that to stamp on the opponent's foot can avoid being stamped by the opponent and the opponent can be restrained.
Foot/leg technique application has the same logic as the hand/arm technique application. A well applied foot/leg technique has the same effectiveness and power as the hand/arm technique. The well trained techniques are likened to tiger's moving which is soundless or dragon's moving which is unpredictable. To summarize, the hand/arm and foot/leg techniques shall focus on handiness, effectiveness, firmness and swiftness. Application of the techniques shall avoid rigidity, inflexibility and sluggishness.