Pardon me while I indulge in some martial arts nerdiness. I have been a student of Kempo karate for many years, albeit with a lot of time taken off for injuries and "life"--a catchall excuse that includes family trips, sick kids, and sometimes just my own lack of discipline. It's humbling. As with raising kids or trying to understand the instruction manual to my Cuisinart, I often feel like the further in I get, the less I know--so I just keep going. In a few weeks I'm going to test for my brown belt, and have been frantically cramming and reviewing all my techniques so I'll be ready.
In Shaolin Kempo, a lot of these movements fall into groupings based on five animals (some of which strike me as cooler than others) with particular attributes--for example, the tiger, notable for its circular strikes and straight-up power, or the leopard, with its explosive speed. I have to learn them all, but some are easier for me than others. Several of the nice folks I train with are big sweaty teenagers who are much faster than I am, and big sweaty adult guys who outweigh me by a lot; I don't have the advantage of lightning quickness or massive strength, so I'm not all that great at the cool-animal stuff. As much as I wish could be a leopard, I'm more of a crane. And I guess I'm okay with that. We've all got to play to our strengths. Crane-style techniques are not about out-muscling an opponent; they involve deflection and precise strikes to soft targets like the eyes and throat. I like that the crane is also a symbol of longevity...not that I want to take any longer than I have to to get my black belt. My haiku in honor of the crane:
the crane spreads its wings
swoops hops deflects then counters
and takes flight again