Facts and Misconceptions on the Snake Style
First of all the name - "Snake-Style".
Snake Style often appears along the descriptions Tiger-Style und Crane-Style. These are not traditional descriptions, transmitted down through the generations, but relatively young "labels" witch help to clarify different ways of moving. Each generation of tai chi practitioners has contributed to spreading the art of tai chi chuan, and as eventually brought up new and different descriptions to make things clear for the people. In this way, grandmaster Ip has "labeled" the family style he was taught by Yang Shou Zhong the "Snake-Style".
He did this in regards to the ways of moving and using the internal core muscles of the spine, and picked the one being from the animal kingdom that moves in that way - the snake. The snake moves fast, efficient and powerful only by using the muscles of the spinal area and is not bound to use arms and legs. This characterizes the basic movement principles of the Snake Style and likewise the descriptions Tiger Style and Crane Style fit their ways of moving
Other descriptions also in use are: Large-, Medium and Smallframe, which are also new descriptions of ways of moving.
Teacher style and student style are two of the older descriptions for the content of the innermost family transmission, and for what has been taught to further family members and outside people.
Furthermore there are Cranestances, Tigerstances and Snakestances which have no connection to the way of moving, but to the height in which the moves are executed.
For instance, Cranestances employ high stances with almost stretched legs, Tigerstances are done at a medium height with a medium bent leg, and Snakestances employ extremely low stances with a heavily bent knee. The Snakestance is extremely taxing to the hip and knee area and have to be done extra carefully for there may very easily occur damage to the Joints.
The stances are independent of the styles, and the Snake-Style of Master Ip is not done in or connected to the snake stance.
All this "labels" and names must not be seen sacrosanct but as descriptive pictures that help the reader/listener to get an idea of the underlying principles. Sadly, almost all the ancient texts and translations of the Chinese classics are seen this, and thus are untouchable, but all these translations are incredible complicated to do, especially if you are translating form an iconic language into a western language. So it needs a true master of the respective field to get a true access to the respective area.
The knee - height of stance and health issues
The most common misconception in regard to Snake-Style is about the height of the stance. Usually one thinks:"... snakes live on the floor = low stances = knee problems".
As explained above, the Snake Style of master Ip is not about the height of the stance but about the way of moving. So there is no need for concern about Master Ip's Snake Style system being bad for ones knees, it is only told by uninformed people because of the misconception of Snake-Stance vs. Snake-Style.
The Snake Style enables the practitioner to bring the power/pressure up from the knee into the hip/kwa region and to stabilize the knee in all movements, thus actually rooting the supporting leg/foot and emptying the other one completely. Due to this training the whole hip/kwa area gets strengthened, helping the practitioner to connect the whole body down from the feet up into the hands and thus making him able to manifest relaxed power - not some more rigid structural force.
Full and empty - 100/0 stances and rooting
In Snake-Style the principle of "full and empty" is seen as a 100/0 weighted stance. All of ones weight is placed on one leg, and the other leg is absolutely empty and could be moved without even slightly having to shift weight or move the body to have it free from weight. The body is compressed onto the supporting leg, using rotation and and internal pulling and stretching to connecting solidly down through the foot and stretch upward at the same time. This creates a massive root downward, with the ability to issue force and be able to move swiftly.
The upper body - a flexible trunk...
The upper body becomes very flexible and mobile due to Snake Style training and the respective additional training exercises. All movements originate from the chest-/spine area. Through rotating, compressing, contracting and expanding all muscles become activated alongside the blood and lymphatic transport system. Over time, an "inverted breathing" is set into motion while training the form, massaging and activating the internal organs enhancing their function. In a combat situation the flexible body enables the practitioner to move, evade, advance, retreat and fight in really small space
Speed in form practice - connected Snake Style movements
The general rule is: "The slower the better". If the standard (Yang/Ip) form is done in 15 to 18 minutes in the beginning, this is really good. This is a relative short time to do the form compared to other lineages doing the form in 30 to 50 minutes so it is necessary to look why this is so. In Snake Style Tai Chi Chuan it is imperative to move the body absolutely connected, as one unit. This also means that the stepping is incorporated into the trunk movement. Never is one arm or one leg moved, without the usage of the thorax, unlike stepping techniques in other styles. So the slowness of a move is controlled by the weakest part, normally the hip/kwa region at the beginning of the training. One simply has not enough power developed there, when starting with Snake Style or switching over from another style, where more static structure is involved, like in tiger style. So with minimal power in the kwa, one has to step a bit quicker tha usual in tai chi demonstrations, and since the body is in a concerted movement, the rest of the body follows suit, keeping the connection. So at the beginning a Snake Style practitioner moves quite faster then a beginner in another style, but the good news is, that due to the training the kwa gets stronger and much more powerful, enabling the Snake Style practitioner to slow down more and more.
Self Defense - Snake Style in Combat
Master Ip called the Snake Style system as"...the most martial form of all Yang style tai chi chuan...", the most usable style for fighting. Every move in the form contains a vast amount of possible applications, ranging from issuing explosive powerful attacks to rather inconspicuous minute applications that are used to neutralize an attach, bringing the attacker of balance and to simply end the fight.
This includes techniques like: take & break, neutralize, uproot, chin-na, pressure points, penetrating, punching, sweeping and thrashing among other applications. A whole bunch of useful and practical things to make life more easy in "tight" situations.
The training of the Snake Style long boxing form enhances this ability greatly.