I have always felt that to fully understand the ways of Chinese Martial Arts, it is essential to know something of Chinese culture. As a result I have looked at many aspects of Chinese daily life and although having only touched the surface, have noticed some very strong themes running throughout. Key words are harmony, balance and nature. A building is not raised unless the site has first been approved by a Fung Shui expert. Businesses are begun only at the most auspicious times. Qi Qong exercises are carried out at the most beneficial times of day and facing a direction most beneficial to that particular exercise. Everything is interconnected, balanced and harmonious.

Animals also play a very strong part in Chinese culture, as exponents of the Martial Arts will already know. The movements and behavioural patterns of animals have been studied in great detail to create various martial styles. Light-footed Monkey, powerful Bear, flexible Snake, agile Leopard and precise Crane are just a few of the styles that you may encounter. Years are also named after animals and it is said that we carry the characteristics of the animal in whose year we are born. In Chinese culture all animals are honourable so it is not necessary to feel dismayed if you are born in the year of the Pig or Cow! All things are balanced, and each animal has its positive and negative characteristics.

The Year of the Monkey

The Chinese calendar operates on the lunar cycle and therefore (according to the Julian Calendar) Chinese New Year can start anywhere between the end of January and middle of February. Each year is named after the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac, in the order Rat, Cow, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Chicken, Dog and Pig. Combine this with the five elements that also make up part of the Chinese zodiac (wood, fire, earth, metal, water) and you have a sixty-year cycle. 1984 was the latest beginning of this cycle and so from January 22nd 2004, it will be the Year of the Wood Monkey (and the year 4071).

Characteristics of the monkey: alert, sympathetic, forgiving to a point, revengeful if crossed many times, trusting, sociable. Monkeys are well liked, intelligent and successful. They are good at waiting for the right time to put goals into practise and therefore usually achieve. They are very open and good at putting other people at ease.

Famous Monkeys include: Will Smith, Julius Caesar, Lord Byron, Elizabeth Taylor, Harry S. Truman, Jennifer Anniston, Sacha Distel, Elisabeth Taylor, Omar Sharif, Jimmy Page, Roger Daltrey, George Lucas, Gillian Anderson, Tom Hanks, Tom Selleck, Patricia Arquette, Michael Douglas, Chelsea Clinton, Danny De Vito, Patti LaBelle, Jerry Springer, Ricki Lake, Jerry Hall, Macaulay Culkin, Harry Houdini, Little Richard, Johnny Cash, Ted Kennedy, Eleanor Roosevelt, Alice Walker, Martina Navratilova, Andy Garcia, David Copperfield, Joe Cocker, Bette Davis, Leonardo da Vinci, Charles Dickens, Buster Keaton, Frederico Fellini & Rex Harrison.

What the Year of the Monkey can mean:

The Nature of Monkey is irrepressible: Monkey years have often been accompanied by particularly vicious and unpredictable natural disasters, such as hurricanes (Andrew & Iniki in 1992), tsunamis (Nicaragua & Indonesia, also in 1992) and volcanic activity (Mt St Helens 1980, Fernandina in Galapogas 1968 and Spurr in Alaska, Merapi in Indonesia and Galeras in Columbia, all in 1992).

Politics and war also feature: During Monkey years, there are tales of skirmishes and of forces allying out of necessity to defeat evil. The most famous of these events was 60 years ago, when allied forces bought about the end of the Second World War. Similar predictions are already in place for this coming year. As many Chinese would say, it is not a year for allowing weeds to over-run your garden otherwise it will take much longer to return your garden to rights.

Business in the Year of the Monkey: this is a resourceful time with business growth predicted in the early part of the year. A good time for beginning new enterprises and expansions. Recessions should be stopped short and economic growth will take over. Despite this, there will be some changes and an element of unpredictability.

In general: an exciting and changeable year with many unexpected events occurring. There will be conflict, at home and on a larger scale, but there will also be successes and growth.

Applying this knowledge

The study of animals has already been applied to the Martial Arts, but if you do not yet know any of these styles, it is still possible to apply some of the principles mentioned above.

When practising, think of balance, fluidity, using your own natural movements rather than forced ones. As time passes and you progress in your martial arts training, you will gradually become aware of which particular 'animal' style your physique and demeanour is most suited to.

In the tradition of New Year, I wish you all Longevity, Wealth, Love of Virtue, Vital Health, and a Natural Ending.