Kung-Fu / White Crane
White Crane originated in the self-defense tradition. At the time it was created (Manchu Qing Dynasty 1644-1911), revolution was simmering. Death could come at any moment, which made the practice of martial arts a dangerous activity that was kept out of sight. Making sure these techniques were a well-kept secret was a matter of life or death. You could not simply go from one school to another. Exchanging techniques occurred through challenges instead.
The techniques practiced had to be simple, direct and applied in such a way as to end the combat as soon as it started. At the time, martial arts followers, such as the founder Fang Chi-Niang, had other concerns than physical fitness, a nice muscular appearance, diplomas displayed on their walls or martial titles.
Fang Chi-Niang developed Kung Fu Shaolin of the South that her father had taught by integrating the movements of the crane. This discipline combined speed, agility, power and use of the opponent’s force with precise strikes to vital points. She had four famous disciples who each developed their own methods and styles.
There are four major White Crane styles. Today there are several other branches of the system that are often very different in appearance and application. The White Crane Style practiced by the author is that of the Flying Crane (Fei He). This art is one of the original variants to Fang Chi-Niang’s teachings. Long kept secret, this style became accessible to the public only very recently.
The style was taught in Malaysia starting in the 1950s by Grand-Master Lee-Kiang Ke (1903-1992). The style is today overseen by his son Lee-Joo Chian. In North America, the parent school is directed by Shifu Lorne Bernard, a recognized pioneer in this style.
Step by step training is preferred. The Tao or Kata forms teach coordination, proper structure and body movement. Movements are then practiced with two people in order to deepen the understanding of the distances and martial applications. Several applications are possible for a single movement.
To test the strength and precision of strikes, the student is encouraged to use tools such as bags of rice that simulate the resistance of an average body. Distances, timing and reflexes are acquired with free combat.
The arms (White Crane has 18) are taught once the style basics are learned. Long Baton (Guen) is the specialty. Again, the same step by step teaching system is preferred. This style has about a hundred barehanded forms as well as a multitude of forms with weapons.
The most dangerous techniques are not taught until the advanced level and are taught in private only, to serious practitioners who are often instructors themselves.
We must remember that the style does not apply to regulated competition or to any kind of combat sport, since the techniques that are taught and practiced are all prohibited due to concerns for safety. In White Crane, no hits or holds are barred.