There is precious little written material available about the snake styles,though they are foundation sets in traditional Shaolin, family styles, and incorporated in a host of peripheral schools such as Pa Kua and T'ai Ch'i Chuan. It is possibly because of the near-universal inclusion of snake techniques in Chinese and extralimital styles that little specific work has been presented on the style.
Snakes are conspicuous predators that have intrigued humans since the beginning of our species. Large snakes may constrict prey, preventing the rib cage from expanding to allow inhaling, causing death via asphyxiation (true, constrictors such as pythons may "crush" their prey, but only if the prey animal is strong enough to break its own bones while trying to inhale). Many small and colorful snakes are deadly venomous, and to early humans the mysterious death caused after a small bite was probably seen as nothing short of magic. Such creatures, then, combined elements worth including in a martial arts style. Snake styles probably developed among the first codified martial arts creations. The emphasis on hitting weak points along the ch'i meridians suggests that such meridians and primal accupuncture had already been worked out (it has been suggested by some practitioners of accupuncture that the meridian routes were mapped based on preferred sites for mosquito bites; many bites induce discomfort in distant parts of the body. Interesting idea ... ). The two universal aspects of snake techniques are pin-point open-hand strikes and twisting arm postures to disguise line of attack. Such movements are most often seen in Wing Chun forms, particularly the third, or Bil Jee, set, in which most of the hand techniques are snake-derived. Most snake practitioners use an upright, mobile stance, appearing less horse-stance like than most other styles. The intent is a rapid advance/sidestepping footwork; snake stylists don't trade blows, or "tough-out" attacks. Using fast, alternating hand jabs, the practitioner drills at an opponent, sidesteps counterattacks, and drives home his attack. There are some stylistic variations, such as one Fukien-based style that employs low sweeps (and is thus an exception to the general rule of sweeps being confined to Northern styles).
It is this adherence to unassuming stances and rapid attack that make snake such a deceptively simple-looking style. Snake stylists are taught to spring from rest posture to full attack; there are no preparatory stances or "threatening" gestures. If attacked, the snake stylist bobs and weaves, looking much like anyone else, until an opening presents itself. The strikes then fly quickly, in succession, hitting the same opening over and over. Should the attacker block one of these snake-strikes, the snake changes targets and continues its barrage. Kicks are low, snappy, and aimed at the shins, knee, or top of foot.