Shrouded in the mystery of time's
veil are the original beginnings
of many prominent martial arts systems. The older the style, the more impenetrable
the veil becomes, as traces of threads disintegrate into the dust of lost or
forgotten foundations. How styles interrelate, the similarities and differences
which have evolved over the years, is little understood. Although the exact
links have been lost, White Crane has had a profound effect upon many of today's
popular martial arts systems. One of these is Goju-Ryu. Many of the practices
in Goju-Ryu show definite similarities to White Crane style, originating in
China. Another is Tae Chun Do. Today, Southern White Crane is still practiced
in China. Even though it has been brought to the United States by a few instructors,
the style is little known in this country in its pure form. We can learn a great
deal from comparisons of traditional form with modern practises. We may not
only grow to understand a great martial art of the past as it lives on today,
but also shed light on some of the styles which have drawn White Crane into
White Crane History
White Crane is a graceful, elegant
style based upon the spirit and the movements of the crane. It is an ancient
martial art system, dating back to the original Shaolin Temple, around 600 AD.
During times of tyranny and war, many of the martial arts were suppressed by
the ruling elite but were continued in secret. Their teachings were passed along
through poetry and song, in which hidden meanings referring to the techniques
were encoded. The principles could be deciphered by the most dedicated, select
students. This made it possible for the often illiterate people to learn and
remember using metaphor and analogy. Some White Crane secrets were passed along
through many generations in these ways, guided through personal instruction.
Other hidden secrets have been lost in the silent mists of time. White Crane
divided into two major groups: the Northern or Tibetan White Crane and the Southern
White Crane. According to White Crane Instructor Yang Jwing-Ming, during the
Quing dynasty, 1644 AD, a Shaolin monk named Xinglong, who was a White Crane
practitioner, was sent to Tibet to study Tibetan Buddhism. He taught White Crane,
which became known as "Lama" or the Northern White Crane System. The Southern
White Crane System migrated south from the Shaolin Temple. The exact path is
uncertain, though it is commonly thought that White Crane continued to be practiced
as one of the five animal systems from the Shaolin Temple. Emperor Qanglong,
known as "The Song of the South", was reknowned for his martial arts background.
Some historians believe that this emperor brought White Crane with him in his
travels south. Eventually White Crane found its way from the province of Honan
to Fukien Province. This form of White Crane became Ancestral Crane, also known
as Jumping Crane, Trembling Crane, and Shaking Crane Today, there are four major
schools of Southern White Crane: The Ancestral Crane, known as Jumping or Trembling
Crane, the Shouting Crane, the Eating Crane, and the Sleeping Crane. Although
these are distinct styles, there are overlaps. Sometimes two or more types are
combined, such as the Trembling Crane with the Sleeping Crane. In each of these
styles, certain aspects of the crane are emphasized and developed.
Though there are many stylistic and
technical differences, all styles of White Crane share a common spiritual root:
the white crane animal itself. , The white crane has spiritual qualities to
asians. The crane is a symbol of longevity, peace, and happiness in weddings.
Artists over the centuries have painted inspirational likenesses of the crane.
The symbolism of the crane is clearly reflected in the martial arts that draw
from the crane. They all emphasize internal energy and spiritual qualities inspired
by cranes. To understand animal styles it is helpful to develop a kinship or
some kind of intuitive link with the animal itself. Many westerners may feel
at a loss since the white crane is native to Asia and most commonly found there.
However, cranes live on nearly every continent. The North American variety of
white crane is called the whooping crane because its penetrating call can be
heard over a mile away. There are estimated to be only 150 left in the U.S.
because their breeding grounds have been destroyed by urban development. Their
habitats are now protected. The numbers of North American white cranes are slowly
increasing. Both the Asian and American cranes are tall birds, up to five feet,
with wingspans seven feet or more. The white crane has a fluid grace, lightness,
and quickness which is unique. The bird appears to be the picture of tranquility
when at rest, but it can be extremely dangerous if wounded. A crane will attack
anyone who threatens, with its sharp beak or expansive wing power. This combination
of calm, agility, and power is drawn from and developed in the White Crane style.
Practitioners must first develop the right feeling. The feeling is the primary
learning. White Crane techniques are secondary to and flow naturally from the
sensibility of the inner character of the crane. The power of the technique
manifested comes from this in combination with the individual's body type. If
the student is strong, he can adopt and apply strong techniques. Weaker individuals
must learn to be more yielding. White Crane allows for this individualizing
flexibility, so long as the deeper spirit of the crane is expressed. Tae Chun
Do teaches in the spirit of the crane more abstractly than pure White Crane.
We retain some of the teaching style, fundamental principles, postures, and
even strategies without referring directly to the crane itself. In keeping with
the flexible spirit of the crane, each student is taught to individualize the
soft forms to suit their nature.
Hard and Soft
Yin Yang philosophy states, "Within
the hard there is soft and within the soft there is hard." Like the bird, White
Crane style uses both hard and soft movements. It is often defined as a "hard-soft"
style. Tae Chun do is also considered a "hard-soft" style. Tae Chun Do has a
mixture of soft, flowing motions along with strongly focused techniques. The
crane spirit shines through in various techniques, including the use of graceful
evasive gliding followed by sudden staccato strikes, sometimes blocking with
a handform like a bird's beak, other times with strikes and throws with a claw.
Chinese "San jan"
White Crane begins its forms curriculum
with San Jan (also spelled "Sam chien"), which is performed in a manner much
like Sanchin. This form appears very basic in its movements, but it takes many
years to master. Its simplicity is deceptive, because through the practice of
this form the practitioner learns to develop Chi (internal force). The meaning
of the form is implied in its name, "Sam Chien. The word "chien" means "to fight".
To perform this form, the practitioner tightens his muscles as if fighting an
imaginary force. This muscle tensing is coordinated with special breathing patterns.
The intense concentration and breath control are of great benifit in building
strength, focus, and Chi development. Mind and body unite as a stronger spirit
is forged. Sensei tests his students for focus and concentration. The practitioner's
body becomes highly resistant to strikes and capable of withstanding attempts
to disturb them from stance or move the arms out of alignment in blocks and
Mother and Son Hand
Two-handed blocks, where the two hands
have a continual interplay between them, are fundamental in White Crane. Being
an older traditional style, many of the concepts tend to be expressed in primitive
categories. Later, instructors develop and embellish them, though the fundamental
concept remains. "Mother and Son Hand" is this type of basic blocking concept
from White Crane. The fundamental two-handed blocking pattern of Crane is a
circular block which coordinates both hands. Its pattern, though smooth and
focused, is very similar to the coordination in White Crane "Mother and Son
Hand", which is the basis for White Crane strategy, setting up grappling applications
to follow as well. Crane style teaches students to coordinate these motions
of "Mother and Son Hand": as one hand leads, the other hand follows. The yielding
quality of the Crane's movements can be utilized to inspire patterns that encircle
and entwine the opponent. "Mother and Son Hand" is performed with the spirit
of the crane in such a manner that grappling and other strategies become easily
possible. After interception by the Mother Hand, using either cover or repel,
the Son Hand clamps the opponent's limb in place, and the locking maneuver can
follow. This secondary motion completes the action. Two-handed hand changes
express this fundamental, mother- son concept. One hand rotates from over. The
other crosses, open-palmed, then the path is traced and extended in the same
direction by the other hand. The effects of this are that a perimeter area can
be cleared, a hand change and then follow-up strategy applied. Both Tae Chun
Do and White Crane use these two- handed interactions to get the opponent in
position for holds and locks, since grasping and twisting are easily performed
from these positions.
Initially there is great emphasis
on stance training in White Crane to generate power. Six months may be spent
just on one stance. Traditionally, students spend many years on simple learnings.
In White Crane, evasion is consistently practised. Both White Crane and Tae
Chun Do also move close-in, with many varieties of slight positioning changes
which affect the application.
In the early beginnings, seekers journeyed
and learned, to grow and develop their potential. From ancestral, primitive
systems to modern developments, martial arts has brought insight and inspiration.
And the journey onwards continues.......
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