This kung fu style is Tibetan in origin. The legend of its beginnings is with an
old man who would contemplate daily near a pond. One day he was observing a
beautiful white crane, when out of the forest came a gorilla. He feared that the
ape would destroy the bird, but was amazed by the bird's elusiveness and ability
to peck vital parts of the gorilla's anatomy. He thereafter meditated daily upon
the bird's actions. One day, two armed robbers attacked him, and without
thinking, he defeated them both. When he meditated on his actions, he realized
that he had mimicked the movements of the crane. He then set about to study and
preserve this knowledge, which today is called the White Crane system.
Major characteristics of this system include wide-armed, wing-like movements,
high kicking, and the crane's beak, a hand weapon made by joining the fingertips
While in its traditional form the White Crane system is rather impractical for
modern use, it has undergone various modifications throughout the centuries, and
it is today one of the major, revered schools.
White Crane kung fu has its origins in Tibet, and is probably the oldest
"classical" style, aside from Snake, in the repertoire of Shaolin Chuan. There
are three basic schools extant-Hop Gar, Mot Gar, and Pak Hok-the similarities
far more numerous than the differences. Unlike the widespread Praying Mantis
schools with a diphyletic origin , White Crane follows a direct linear path from
Lamaistic origins, dispersal through Bodhidharma and finally through the Shaolin
Crane is generally regarded as an internal system, though initial training is
extremely demanding. Although difficult to learn because of these physical
demands, it is in fact a highly effective combat system, once the method
employed by the Emperor of China's bodyguards. There are only six original
forms, though modern schools have devised numerous variations.
The white crane is one of several birds related to storks found throughout
southern Asia, the most common being the saurus crane (Grus antigone). All are
tall, long-necked, long-legged birds that are quite frail in appearance. The
beak is long, pointed and strong and is used as a defensive weapon. However, the
morphology of these birds is not such that a stand-and-fight strategy would be
successful against most potential predators, so an evasiveness developed to
remove the body out of the line of direct assault. Wings actually parry incoming
force, or act as weapons when opened quickly, while the long talons also are
effective for defense.
The kung fu practitioner following this school uses two basic hand techniques,
the crane's beak, formed by contacting the thumb with all four fingers to make
pinpoint strikes, and the crane's wing, a finger rake. The sun fist is also
employed, by beginners more often than by masters. As the defender physically
evades an assault, the torso turns with force that accelerates the force of a
strike, making even minor contacts painful to the antagonist. Furthermore,
evasive footwork forces the opponent to work harder to target in on the kung fu
practitioner, who in turn has the opportunity to tire his opponent before
launching a definitive counterattack.
The crane's wing parries use the whole arm in graceful upward or downward sweeps
to move not only an arm or leg strike, but the body of the opponent as well.
Properly executed, these parries shift the opponent off balance, forcing him to
open a vulnerable target. Frequently, they are executed with enough centripetal
force to double as palm or backhand strikes while simultaneously parrying.
From an interception with the arms may come locks-and-throws (Ch'in Na), pushing
or warding back (which uproot the opponent and hurl him forcefully backwards) or
a direct counterstrike. Ch'in Na used by a white crane stylist is often designed
to procure a living "shield" during multiple assaults, or of throwing one or
more people into other assailants. Even here, though, the crane stylist is
constantly hopping around, never taking a solid stance or restricting his own
Footwork in White Crane is legendary, targets being anything from head to groin.
Bottom of the foot kicks are effective, as are crushing stomps, generated at
close range and with great speed. Other kicks are designed to dislocate or
unbalance opponents. Part of White Crane philosophy teaches control over an
adversary, and to maim only as a last resort. Even in footwork, evasion is the
primary goal, to allow the opponent(s) to tire, perhaps withdraw, or at worst,
open up for a minimal, decisive counter.
White Crane kung fu originated and spread through largely inhospitable regions of
Tibet and China. Preparatory training, though rigorous, was not as difficult to
one accustomed to harsh conditions; rather they served to limber and tone
muscles to provide greater mobility in the heavy clothing of the region.
However, like the namesake bird, the practitioner was vulnerable to attack in a
greater manner, perhaps, than other Asians. A severe cut could cause hypothermia
and attendant shock, so being rendered "merely" unconscious could also cause
freezing, making even a minor engagement a serious affair.
Evasion is necessary to avoid stress created by slippery terrain (ice) and large
adversaries. In thin air, an aggressor is likely to tire relatively quickly, and
conflict avoided altogether. The low sweeps characteristic of this style may
take an opponent to the ground where he will be unable to rise quickly (again,
bulky clothing hampering movement and some winding having occurred).
Practice of forms stresses long, loose movements which maximize speed and ch'i
flow as an end product. The total result is threefold; total evasions of any
incoming force; control of opponent with little or no harm inflicted; and total
control to the point of maiming or (rarely) killing.
The style encompasses only six forms, yet ranges from hard, external physical
development, to soft, internal ch'i movements. Examination of the style shows it
to be an excellent natural progression for a student of a single style.
Beginners to White Crane are started with the Fei Hok Sao Kuen, or Flying Crane
Hand Form. It is almost purely a conditioning exercise, stressing long, deep
horse stances and punches thrown from 90 degrees to the body. The form is fairly
long, having 175 separate moves, each to be mastered slowly, and with great
A new practitioner may also begin with the Lou Sing Sao, or Shooting Stars Hand
Form, which emphasizes balance on one leg and rapid manual coordination. The use
of kicks is somewhat restricted here, compared to Flying Crane Hand, but the
development of balance highly complements that exercise.
By the time a novice completes either of the above sets, he moves in rank from a
black sash, which represents blindness, to a red sash, symbolizing sunrise. He
now begins to develop the accurate use of long range kicks and evasive footwork.
The Five Form set delineates the method of positioning the body to draw an
attack, then shift the stance to allow a counter from an unexpected point. In
essence, this sidestepping is preparing the student for multiple opponents and
the beginning of ch'i development. At this point, he advances to a yellow sash,
which represents brilliance.
The Cotton Needle Set, a soft form, is common to several styles sharing Crane
ancestry, including Hung Gar and Shaolin. It is designed to exercise all of the
internal organs and enhance the flow of ch'i energy. So powerful and strenuous
is this form that it is considered to be therapeutically superior to T'ai Chi
Ch'uan. For a student to master this level may take several years, and success
grants the blue sash of firmament.
Lau Hon Sao, or Buddha Guardian Hand, is another external set, but one utilizing
all the maneuvers of the style, and thus requiring an adept, conditioned
practitioner. Parts of the form may be taught at the beginner level, but rarely
is it mastered until this point. It is followed by Dow Raw Sau, the Knife Foot
and Hand Form, the most evolved internal set. This form is learned in three
stages, each taking considerable effort: the basic, combat-speed method; the
slow, meditating method; and the super-speeded conditioning method. Upon
completion, the stylist is truly a master and may wear the silver sash.
These forms remain essentially unchanged since conceived by Dorawkitan. Elements
of some are seen in many other styles, and are perhaps enhanced by the more
varied methods. Flying Crane Hand appears in part in the Shaolin Black Crane
style, as well as in Ch'in Na and Eagle. Knife Foot and Hand is seen in Hong
Tiger, Praying Mantis and Monkey, while Buddha Guardian is seen in Pa Kua and Lo
Han Hart Ch'uan.
Traditional White Crane is highly dependent upon long range strikes. To develop
the timing and technique required to achieve that end, the forms are sequences
so that primary training develops the muscles, while coordinating hand and eye.
Once that concept is established, the training can increase in complexity, thus
teaching coordination of stance and foot attack. A student at this stage has
usually completed one year of study, and can be considered as fairly capable in
The next phase develops the arsenal in terms of variety of weapons available and
the choice of targets. It is here that a Crane stylist begins to decrease the
striking targets to a few vital spots, as he is technically able to position
himself for a thorough assault.
Finally, the highest level comes in being able to completely avoid an opponent's
assault, and having the option of either evading the assailant until he is quite
too exhausted to continue or deliver a fast, effective terminating strike.
That a Crane stylist is effective is beyond question. Integrated with broader
combat skills, the style should be actively employed in teaching any novice the
basic discipline and coordination that can enhance any further martial study.
"From the crane, we learn grace and self control". This, the second of the styles
of the Shaolin kung fu, traces its ancestry back to the time of Dr. Hua T'o
during the Han dynasty. This physician developed a series of exercises for
improving health by imitating animal motions, among which was a bird.
Shaolin black crane kung fu, as it has evolved today, constitutes the hand sets
of the Shaolin crane. As such, it provides a short range style of boxing useful
to tall boxers. Its complement was to include throws and locks but delete
intricate forms so that it could be studied by the general populace or military
Legend has it that an old man was watching a battle between an ape and a crane
one day and marveled at the bird's ability to evade the ape and still connect
with telling blows of its own. He meditated daily on this conflict and one day,
when attacked by bandits, defeated them by using the moves of the crane. Thus
was a new system born.
History tells us that the movements were a collation of the ancient bird style,
some tiger and the motion of snake. Because the exercises were intended to teach
character and spirit, the style inherited the crane stance long before white
crane kung fu itself was introduced into China.
Refined movements called ch'in na (capture holds) were taught to civil police
during the 1600s. Near the end of the Ming dynasty (A.D. 1368-1644), Ch'en
Yuan-ping traveled to Japan to teach ch'in na, thus creating a basis for
jiujitsu. These movements are still practiced today even though they have no
In kung fu, Ch'in Na techniques are more or less learned and researched by every
style. Among the Southern Shaolin styles of kung fu, which specialize in hand
techniques and in short and middle range fighting,
White Crane has one of the more complete systems of Ch'in Na. Another
Southern style which puts heavy emphasis on Ch'in Na is
Tiger. Among the Northern Shaolin kung fu styles, which specialize in
kicking and long and middle range fighting, Eagle
places heavy emphasis on Ch'in Na.
The Shaolin modified the new ch'in na by adding techniques from white crane (60%)
and organizing their creation into 20 forms. In 1968, these forms had been
reduced to 8 and have now been condensed to a mere 4. These are an introductory
drill (the first form), a balance exercise (crane leaving the marsh, #2) and the
combined techniques of black crane (the synthetic fist set and defending the 4
angles, forms #3 and #4).
The names of the black crane forms are as follows:
You will find style specific basic technique here along with 2-person drills and forms.
This video is essentially what we had on our CD-ROMs and is now available for free! For basic gung fu technique,
check out our Training Section.
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