White Crane Style
According to various sources, White Crane (Bai-Ho) originated in Fujian Province in South-East China, possibly during the eighteenth century. The Fujian White Crane is not the same as various other styles also called White Crane e.g. Tibetan White Crane or the crane forms appearing in Hung-Gar style and certain Northern forms. About 300 years ago, so the story goes, a girl attempted to drive away a large white crane from her garden. Using a stick, she poked at it but the bird easily evaded her and then turned into an old man who then taught her a form of kungfu which she called White Crane style. Another version states that a monk named Feng taught his daughter a form of south Shaolin kungfu. Having eventually reached a high level of skill, Miss Feng later became interested in the fierce behaviour of the white crane. It is not claimed that she attempted to copy the bird's movements, and there is little in the Fujian White Crane that really resembles a bird; but through her observations, her creative faculties were stimulated to the extent that she managed to modify and shape her techniques in a way that reflected the crane's short, rapid, but elegant movements, movements which she finally categorised as 'eating or pecking’, 'singing’, 'sleeping’, 'flying’, and 'springing’. These classifications are now used in Fujian and Taiwan to describe the several differing sub-styles and ramifications of the White Crane style. Other sources suggest that the zhong-ho style (springing crane) was created by Feng Fai-Shi in the 19th century. Perhaps this Feng is the Feng already mentioned since the word 'Fai-Shi' might actually be 'Fa-Shi' which is a monk's title. Anyway, Feng is supposed to have watched a crane, after heavy rain, shake the water off its back using rapid jerking movements. He thought that these types of movements might be very powerful if introduced in an appropriate way into the martial art that he practiced. And, in fact, rapid shuddering movements do typify many of the crane style's hand techniques.
It is likely that several masters introduced the Fujian Crane style into Taiwan during the last two centuries as there used to be a great deal of contact between the two provinces. During the 20th century the best-known masters that brought their knowledge of the Crane style from the Fujian-Fuzhou area to Taiwan were Lin Kuo-Chung, Jin Shao-Feng and Er-Gao. The typical techniques of the Fujian Crane style referred to below are those taught by Master Chen Zuo-Zhen (Chen Zhuo Zhen) which, although reflecting his own particular style (that of Master Huang Lao-Yang), are fairly representative of the Crane style except in certain respects where innovations were introduced by Master Huang.
The first technique usually taught and considered to be of fundamental importance is known as the 'water' hand technique (Shui-Ji in Chinese). Standing in the basic Crane stance, feet shoulder-width apart, one foot about 2 inches in front, both knees bent, weight equally distributed, shoulders relaxed, one is required to bring both fists or palms quickly down to hit the abdomen with a loud slap and to immediately fling both arms outward in front of the body, stopping slightly higher than the head with the hands, palms up, about 3 feet apart. As the arms are thrown out the legs are straightened. A slight pause is made before repeating the whole sequence again and again. This is one of the few techniques that actually looks something like the action of a bird flapping its wings outwards. The unusual breathing method employed involves breathing in sharply through the nose, with the glottis partially occluded, and producing a rasping or snorting sound from the throat, then breathing out with a 'ha' sound from the mouth which is stretched a bit sideways in an apparent grin. The Shui-Ji technique, which has to be repeated hundreds of times a day, is said to lead ultimately to the ability to produce incredibly rapid and powerful hand-arm techniques. Shui-Ji can be performed in several slightly different ways and stepping forwards, backwards, sideways, and also in a circular manner.
It is the attention to very fast evading, side-stepping movements that further characterises the Crane styles. A basic method is known as 'guo-men' or 'crossing the threshold', which utilises a method of diagonal evasion with an immediate penetration into the opponent's space combined with various hand, arm, or shoulder strikes. Si-men or 'four doors' is a slightly more advanced eluding technique involving body-shifting in four directions to aid in the ability to defend against several attackers simultaneously. As regards 'forms', these are not practiced very much but, if they are, then they are usually very short, performed at tremendous speed, using short steps, circular hand techniques and various dodging and evading movements. Many practitioners believe that it is more important to concentrate on the basic techniques such as Shui-Ji although there are those who give considerable attention to practicing forms. The most advanced form is known as Ba-gua ('Pa-Kua' - eight trigrams or directions) which requires the ability to move and fight in eight directions. This Ba-gua is not the same as the martial art also called Ba-gua. Not much practice is directed to kicking. This is because kicks are considered to be too slow, place one in an unbalanced position, and are no match for the great speed of the Crane style's blocks and hand techniques. There are one or two low kicks that can be used in the right circumstances but they are not really practiced very much. The main weapons are, then, all forms of hand technique and some less usual parts of the body such as the inside of the elbow, the shoulder, and the hip. The most used is undoubtedly the open palm and palm-heel and possibly the elbow, as the Crane style is very close range.
A great deal of training is done with a partner, particularly blocking drills, wrist-toughening exercises, evasion methods and ‘pushing hands' (Tui-Shou). The latter utilizes the same four techniques as the Tai Chi Chuan variety (peng, li, ji, an) except that the Crane style Tui-Shou is done with more resistance and hardly any body or waist turning, emphasizing rather the use of the arms and shoulders. Crane style experts consider their type of Tui-Shou to be superior to the Tai Chi type and take a certain pleasure in uprooting and pushing Tai Chi exponents when they get the chance.
As the type of Crane style taught by Chen Zuo-Zhen is regarded as an internal style there are certain training methods directed at the cultivation and directing of chi ('qi'). The first type of Qigongor breathing method usually taught is Kai Tian Si ('opening of heaven') followed later by Liang-I ('the 2 powers' i.e. Yin and Yang), Wu Hsing ('the 5 elements'), and Ba-ge shou-fa ('the eight hand techniques') which are fundamentally the same as the eight underlying techniques of Tai Chi Chuan. The foregoing methods are done in a relaxed, slow, flowing manner, concentrating on the appropriate breathing, in great contrast to the Crane Style's usual speed and power.
Crane Style Masters:
Huang Lao-Yang. The late Grandmaster Huang began his study of the martial arts by learning a Southern Shaolin style during the nineteen hundreds. Although an expert he was beaten by a practitioner of the internal White Crane style and therefore decided to study that style until he became an expert too. He trained for a while with one of Taiwan's most famous old masters, Er-Gao, who had come to Taiwan from Fujian as an acknowledged master of the zhong ho style.
Master Er-Gao established himself in Hu-Wei as a kung fu teacher and married a woman who already had an adult son. It is recalled that Er-Gao had to be a bit careful at home, though, as his wife's son had spent several years training at the Shaolin Temple. Huang applied himself so seriously to his training during the following years that certain people began to wonder whether he might even have reached the level of Master Er-Gao himself.
Er-Gao apparently heard about this and decided to show Huang who was the superior during a session of 'pushing hands'. He therefore skilfully uprooted and pushed Huang, demonstrating his greater ability; or so he thought, but Huang landed in a way that clearly showed that he had the edge on Er-Gao. Considered a draw, the match enhanced Huang's reputation but did nothing for Er-Gao other than leave disturbing thoughts in his mind. Living near each other in a small agricultural community, neither man would have gone so far as to openly challenge the other to fight but Er-Gao kept on the lookout for an opportunity to deal with Huang in a less demonstrative manner. This came about one afternoon when Er-Gao found Huang sitting outside playing Chinese chess with another man. According to the story, Er-Gao stood by watching and, as Huang reached out to move a piece, touched him under the arm on one of the dangerous points that, with Er-Gao's advanced knowledge, should have produced intense pain, swelling, and a blackening of the area. Huang's chess opponent looked on with horror expecting him to collapse at any moment. His trepidation soon turned to amazement as Huang showed no reaction and calmly continued his move paying no attention to Er-Gao who now slipped away.
It was clear that Huang had such control over his inner power that he had been able to neutralize Er-Gao's technique. There was now no doubt that Huang had gone far beyond the level of Er-Gao and this episode would prove that he was the number one master of the area. But apart from the two masters there had been only one witness and he was ordered by Huang not to tell anyone because, according to the Chinese idea of correct behaviour which Huang adhered to, to cause another man to lose face was to lose face oneself.
The man did, of course, mention the event 'in confidence' to a few others but Huang made no attempt to derogate Er-Gao in any way. From that time on, Er-Gao and Huang taught their own students, continued to live in the same village, but did not speak to each other again. Huang, the epitome of politeness, made it clear to his students that there was to be no ill-feeling or disrespect to Er-Gao or his students, that they must always salute Er-Gao and not criticise him or his style. He pointed out that Er-Gao had once been his teacher and would always deserve respect.
Huang Lao-Yang had transcended the zhong ho crane style of Er-Gao as a result of his intensive studies and research into the internal possibilities of the style. He more or less left his family and spent most of his time at a nearby Taoist temple, training and studying old texts on Tai Chi Chuan, though he did not actually become a monk.
He finally managed to achieve a true understanding of the real principles of Tai Chi Chuan and apply them to his knowledge of the Crane style, thereby modifying it into a somewhat different more subtle martial art. As it was no longer the original zhong ho (Springing Crane) style commonly practiced in south Taiwan, Huang decided that it would be inappropriate to continue to use the name zhong ho. It now incorporated the true essence of Tai Chi reflecting the ideas of harmonising Yin and Yang, the 'eight techniques', the 'four directions', the directing of chi ('qi') by the mind, effortlessness, natural relaxed movements, more upright stances, etc.
Out of respect for Chang San-Feng, the supposed 'founder' of Tai Chi Chuan, who had lived on Wu-Tang mountain, Huang decided to call his new style 'Wu-Tang Tai Chi' although it in no way resembled Tai Chi Chuan in outward appearance. His son, however now calls the style Xu-Xi Dao (i.e. Dao being 'Tao' as in Taoism), which could be translated as 'attainment of the level at which chi can be naturally controlled and directed'. Master Huang taught fewer students thanEr-Gao so his style was less well-known and hardly known at all outside the Hu-Wei area, whereas Er-Gao had many followers, so that his style became better known in Taiwan. Huang died over 60 years ago leaving his son Huang Lin-Hwei as his successor. And his son Huang En-Dang continues the tradition as the third generation.
Chen Zuo-Zhen (Chen Zhuo Zhen). One of Huang Lao-Yang's senior personal students was Chen Zuo-Zhen who started learning with Master Huang as a young boy. When he moved to Taipei to attend university, Chen Zuo-Zhen studied Xingyi and Tai Chi Chuan with the famous mainland master Cao Lian-Feng. Master Cao had himself been a student of the renowned Tai Chi master Yang Shao-Hou and a well known fighter before leaving China for Taiwan. In Taipei, Chen at first taught Xingyi and Tai Chi to a few students but subsequently decided to concentrate soley on the Xu-Xi Dao crane style. Through his efforts the Xu-Xi Dao style started to become better known.
Chen Jin-Dzan. Another form of the Crane style known as San Jiao Ma is practiced in the Touliu area of South Taiwan. This style, developed by Chen Jin-Dzan, emphasises the use of a short three-sided horse-stance i.e. a narrow horse-stance but with one foot in front rather than both feet being parallel. The name San Jiao Ma, in fact, means '3-sided' or '3-angled' horse-stance. Master Chen Jin-Dzan arrived at this style after studying seven varieties of Crane style many years ago. Around 1915, Chen Jin-Dzan, considering himself to be a weak young man, took up the Crane style to get stronger and learn how to defend himself. He found he had a talent for kungfu and became a very serious student of several Crane styles over the years, including Springing Crane, Flying Crane, and other off-shoots of the Crane style. He had seven teachers, the best of whom he regards as Master Jin Dzwei ('Clear Water'), a Springing Crane expert from the nearby town of Hsilo. Eventually Chen Jin-Dzan put together aspects of the styles he had learned to form his own separate style; so successfully that he attracted a great number of students and acquired a reputation as a teacher and outstanding fighter. Like any kungfu teacher in south Taiwan he had to be ready to meet serious challenges from the other local experts. For instance, in the late 1940's, at a time of widespread civil unrest, Master Chen, walking home one night down the narrow unlit streets carrying his 18" long steel pipe which he used as a cigarette holder, was confronted by a group of about twenty men armed with sticks and Japanese swords. Master Chen had the good sense to jump back into a narrow doorway protected on either side by stone columns so that only a few of the men could attack him at the same time. Using his pipe as a weapon he held off his assailants, inflicted such damage on them that they became reluctant to get anywhere near him and eventually gave up the attack.
Master Li. In nearby Hsilo, a town famous for many martial arts, for example Golden Eagle Style, was Master Li, one of the area's most respected masters of the Flying Crane style (Fei-Ho). Fei-Ho used to be characterised by its use of very high jumps, hence the name 'Flying Crane' but nowadays people have apparently lost the ability to do that and no one claims to be able to do it. It does, however, include the use of hopping and swift dodging methods, followed by immediate retaliation using mainly open hand and straight finger attacks to areas such as the eyes, temples, throat, and groin. The stances are noticeably low and crouched rather like a bird.
Liao Wu-Chang. One of the most celebrated masters in Taiwan was Liao Wu-Chang. Although renowned for his skills in Monkey Style, Liao was also a master of the Crane style and, furthermore, of several other styles including Tai-Tsu Chuan, Qigong, Chi-Na, Great Heavenly Immortal style, and several other forms of Southern Shaolin, studied over a period of about 70 years. He first learned kungfu at the age of ten from his older sister and subsequently from several mainland Chinese and Taiwanese masters. As a young man he became an itinerant medicine seller 'mai gaoyao', an arduous and dangerous occupation. Travelling throughout Taiwan on horseback, he set up his wares in the towns and villages that he visited. Since most medicine men were usually experts in the martial arts they had to expect challenges from the local fighters wherever they went. For many years Liao was constantly proving his fighting skills in this way. His reputation attracted many foreign kung fu enthusiasts and also a number of Japanese karate masters, many of whom were already 7th or 8th dan. Liao went to Japan several times to teach. Liao was always happy to discuss and demonstrate his kung fu. He liked to practice the Crane style 'pushing hands' techniques, often with his eyes closed relying on his sense of touch.
Copyright © chinesefightingarts 2015 All rights reserved