According to the stories handed down from generations, White Crane Style was created by a Chinese woman named Fang QiLiang about 350 years ago. Fang QiLiang was born in LiShui, ZheJiang, China. Her father, Fang Zhengdong, who was a vagrant and martial arts player as well, began to teach her ShaoLing Style when she was young. Her father often discussed and demonstrated Chinese martial arts with one of his friends, Zhen Xie, who was from a rich family. Their relationships began so close that they finally decided to make their children a couple. One day, after they demonstrated several systems together this involved some double-fighting; Zhen Xie felt uncomfortable and died shortly afterward. After his father s death, Zhen Shi, Zhen Xies son, looked down upon Fang QiLiang and her father, who were poor and lived in a dilapidated wooden house. Due to their previous engagement, Zhen Shi married to Fang QiLiang reluctantly in the end. But both of them were unhappy with their marriage. A few months later, Fang QiLiang left Zhen Shi, putting an end to her miserable marriage. She traveled to Da Tian, Zhang Zhou and stayed in a temple as a nun. During her years as a nun, she often washed clothes along the brook that was near the temple. She found swarms of white cranes playing around the brook. The movements of the white cranes were so elegant and powerful that she decided to imitate them and create a new form of martial arts style that became the white crane style.
The White Crane Style has 4 different systems. These are Shaking White Crane, Flying White Crane, Calling White Crane and Eating White Crane.
Although they belong to the same style, each system has its own characteristics. The Shaking White Crane System highly values the body’s shaking movements. It requires a combination of softness and hardness of movements. The Calling White Crane System uses voices to help the practitioners release the energy. Its movements are powerful and full of vigor. The movements of Crying White Crane system are elegant and vivid. While the movements of the Eating White Crane are brisk and flexible.
Chinese martial arts can be divided into two forms, the Southern style and the Northern style. White Crane Style is among the most influential ones in Southern style.
Background of Grand Master Ruan Dong
GM Ruan Dong has picked up the Chinese martial arts quite incidentally. When he was about five or six years old he often stayed with his father pounding his back softly to make him comfortable. After that, his father began to teach him martial arts. But at that time, he didn’t know that it was Chinese martial arts (Wushu), it just felt quite interesting and funny to young Ruan Dong. GM Ruan Dong followed his father until his father passed away in 1948.
GM Ruan Dong recounted that he studied martial arts three to four hours a day, in the early morning and in the evening. He worked on it every day uninterruptedly. GM Ruan Dong had to follow the time schedule, as his father was very strict with him. In the very beginning, he was forced to study martial arts in some way, but later he became fascinated with it. His life was full of martial arts. When he was in bed, he kept demonstrating the handwork. Even sitting around the kitchen table, he still thought about the martial arts. He tried many different ways to train himself. Quite often, he dived into a river or a brook and began to practice White Crane style in the water. That usually lasted for two or three hours.
GM Ruan Dong’s father had followed ZhongXiang Xie, also known as RuRu Xie, the founder of Calling White Crane when Master Xie gave martial arts lessons to his students in QianYu Village in Fuzhou. Master Xie was very old, so his father decided to learn from Master YiHuo Chen who was the chief instructor at the martial arts training center run by Master Xie. YiHuo Chen was Master Xies favourite pupil and he was good at White Crane Style as well.
Master Xie was very famous in his days in FuJian. He was originally a shoe repairer, later he became a well-known martial arts master. In additional to his great talent for martial arts, he was also known for his virtue. Master Xie once taught martial arts in XiangYuan Village in Fuzhou. In the village, there was a man called JinZhong Ke who was good at Shaking White Crane Style and run a martial arts training center as well. One day, JinZhong Ke visited Master Xie and expressed his wish that he would like to fight with Master Xie to know who was better at martial arts. “If you really want to fight with me, I will make time for you tomorrow, not today. As you know, there are so many people here. We are both masters, it will be shameful for any of us who loses the game. So please come tomorrow” said Master Xie. The next day, JinZhong Ke came on time. After shutting the door, Master Xie said to JinZhong Ke, “Let start with Pushing Hands first, if you can beat me, then we can move on to actual fighting. And one more thing, none of us is allowed to reveal the outcome of today’s fighting to others. Is it ok?” JinZhong Ke agreed. But he did not win against Master Xie though he used all his skills. Later, Master Xie said modestly, “we are at the same level. You are good at martial arts. I really admire what you have learnt”. JinZhong Ke headed towards his teacher s home directly as soon as he left. On week later, he returned and visited Master Xie again. After they touched hands each other, Master Xie smiled and said, “Master Ke, you are improving.” But once again, JinZhong Ke failed to win the game. This would have remained unknown had JinZhong Ke kept it to himself. He revealed this one day when he talked about Master Xie with others. He once said, “I have to admit that Master Xie is better at martial arts than I.”
Master Xie studied martial arts from Master DaChong Lin. DaChong Lin, with the nickname PanYu Eighth, was born in PanYu village in southern suburb of Fuzhou City. Because he was the eighth child in the family, so he was also called DaChong Eighth. After he enjoyed widespread reputation, he was known as PanYu Eighth by folks from other villages. When DaChong Lin was young, he studied ShaoLin Monk Style from a monk called Master QingDing who lived in the White Crane Temple in GaoGai Mountain near Fuzhou City. It is said that Master QingDing came from QuanZhou City. Master QingDing was highly skilled in kung fu and was good at traditional Chinese medicine as well, especially for the bone disease. During his years in the White Crane Temple, Master QingDing often visited the nearby villages and put up a signboard, practicing medicine. DaChong Lin lived only 30 minutes walk from White Crane Temple. Their relations became so close that Master QingDing devoted his time and energy to pass on all his martial art skills to DaChong Lin. DaChong Lin completely absorbed the knowledge and became highly skilled in the fighting. And he was remarkable for powerful arms as well. It was said that when his brother built a house, he helped to carry a 300- kilogram long corridor stone used to build the house in one of his arms by running like flying, which may required joint efforts of several folks. A broken corridor stone can still be found in the village today, which fell over and broke into two pieces when DaChong Lin laid it down from the high position. He also loved drinking and had great capacity for liquor. He could drink a jar of rice wine one time without feeling drunk. And he just wore a thin dress in the snowy day in the winter without feeling cold.
Up till now, evidential materials have not been found about his fighting with some one else. There is only one anecdote left, which is popular among the people. One day, he visited one of his relatives in ShanDongLin Village. His relative quarreled with another folk from adjoining TouPu village and then suffered from attacks by a group of armed TouPu villagers. Seeing that his relative was being bullied, DaChong Lin joined the fighting and knocked down a dozen of opponents with only bare hands. Knowing the fact that the opponents were powerful and armed with tools, he caught two guys from the group and shouldered them while fighting with the rest. As a result, the two guys he shouldered were hit to the extent that they were nearly on the verge of death while he only suffered from some minor injuries caused by opponents’ sticks on the back. When the villagers took the wounded together with the two guys to the White Crane Temple for treatments, the master, QingDing knew they were hit by his student, DaChong Lin, with the first glance at the their bruises. After the villagers left the White Crane Temple, Master QingDing sent a monk to DaChong Lins home and left a message, in which Master QingDing wanted him to go to the temple for treatment that very night. When DaChong Lin came back home late that night, he knew that he could not hide the truth from his master. Finally he followed his master instruction and visited the White Crane Temple that night.
The White Crane Temple still exist up-to today at a valley in the GaoGai Mountain near Fuzhou City. It was once destroyed during the Culture Revolution and it was rebuilt in 1985. Three stones of white crane shape can be found in the temple today, but no written records left in the temple.
According to the investigation carried out by the Chinese authority, the White Crane Temple was well known for the martial arts in the early ages. Tradition has it that it was a monk, with the nickname Iron Bead Monk who made it famous. After the Southern ShaoLin Temple was destroyed in the early Qing Dynasty, the Iron Bead Monk fled to the south and once stayed in the White Crane Temple, keeping from the calamity. Since then, his ShaoLin Style had been the great treasure of the White Crane Temple. A few generations later, one of his followers combined ShaoLin Style and White Crane Style and created a unique form of martial arts featuring perfect combination of hardness and softness. As you know, it was handed down to Master QingDing, and then DaChong Lin (PanYu Eighth) and finally, YuYu Xie. YuYu Xie brought forth new ideas and carried it on even further. In the end, he created the Calling White Crane Style and became a prestigious master.
History of Calling White Crane and Techniques
The Calling White Crane has three movements, also known as ShanZhan, are very important in studying Calling White Crane Style. It illustrates the basic skills of Calling White Crane Style, including how to release the energy completely and how to keep the body in the right way, being effective when in actual fighting. Keep feet should-width apart and parallel, with right foot in front of the left one. The right foot bents slightly, while keeping the left one straight. At the same time, stretch out hands in front of the body and keep the body relaxed. The practitioner should relax all parts of the body, not just hands or feet. Then change palms into fists and retrieve fists suddenly with all the might. At the same time, breathe in deeply, sink downward, keep hands in front of the body with both hands in fists, tighten up the toes just like catching something on the ground and take up the crotch, then strike outward with both wrists slightly and move the elbows towards each other. All this shall be made continuously and harmoniously. Then relax the whole body completely at once while breathing out, including stretching out the toes and loosing the crotch. When relaxing the body, in other words, discarding the energy, the practitioner should not move the basic posture. Above all, he should keep the hands in right way. The practitioner should keep the elbows of two hands apart as close as possible. Its aim is to avoid the opponents’ attacks. Imagine that the opponent strikes towards the pit of the stomach, the center of one’s body, which is the most difficult area that one can protect. If the practitioner keeps the hands in the right way, he can easily avoid the attack by simply turning the opponent’s waist and warding off with one of the opponent’s own hands. If the practitioner keeps the elbows wider, it is more likely to be hit by the opponent, because that requires much more time. In actual fighting, victory often depends on the swift movement. The faster one moves, the more likely he will win.
According to Chinese old saying: Absolute Ying (Positive) produces Absolute Yang (Negative) and vice versa. When the practitioner retrieves his hands with all his might, this is called Yang. When he relaxes, this is called Ying. If he relaxes completely, then he will be able to release his energy thoroughly. If not, that means that he still holds on part of his energy, then he can not release his energy completely, which will make him feel tired easily, therefore he cannot seem powerful enough. This is the key technique through out the whole system. Another phrase At Once is important too. The practitioner should not relax slowly, because in actual fighting, it requires the practitioner strike powerfully, continuously and quickly. In training, if he relaxes slowly, he can not make the same powerful strikes continuously in actual fighting.
Breathe out slowly and change the fists into palms. Turn around the palms release the energy through hands slowly and increasingly. At the same time, tighten up the toes and the crotch. When the practitioner nearly exerts himself to the utmost, break out suddenly through his hands with all his might. Then relax completely again. Calling White Crane involves a lot of breathing work, and it is too important to be neglected. When breathing out, the practitioner shall make the mouth wider and breathe out from the public region. The way is somewhat like that of singing. And after breaking out the energy, keep the mouth open. Don’t close it. At that time, the heart beats faster which requires more oxygen. If the practitioner closes his month, that will make him tired easily and it will do harm to his body too. When turning around the palms, the practitioner shall keep the elbows unchanged. He just needs to turn around his wrists. The elbows are axles, and the hands are two doors. When the doors move, the axles shall stay at the same place.
The final step is breathe out slowly again and release the energy through hands slowly and increasingly. Stretch out hands while shaking hands and rising up the body. At the same time, tighten up the toes and the crotch slowly. When the practitioner nearly exerts himself to the utmost, breaks out suddenly through hands with all his might. Then relax again.
The practitioner should pay attention to keep the movements in harmony. When releasing the energy, one shall break out the energy at the moment when the breathing, energy releasing, toes tightening up and crotch taking up nearly come to the end simultaneously. One begins, others begin. One stops, others stop. The practitioner shall not ignore one of them. For example, if the practitioner breathes out before breaking out, it is obvious that he can not release the energy completely. Harmony means power. If the practitioner studies in the right way, he will feel that the energy comes from feet to hands when he breaks out. And the energy will return back from the hands to feet when he withdraws the hands. And he also will feel wave-like energy inside his body. And the wave behind will drive on that before.
The Three Movements (or Sang Zan) of White Crane style is highly valued. It can thoroughly illustrate the feature of White Crane Style. Even the simple handwork involves the changes of five elements (Note: According to the ancient Chinese, the universe is formed by five elements such as metal, wood, water, fire, and earth. And the changes of the five elements guide those of the universe). If one can not demonstrate it well, one will never get the essence of White Crane Style.
GM Ruan Dong thinks the key factor of studying martial arts is to be bent wholeheartedly on it. Don’t behave like the fisherman who fishes for three days, and idles about for the next two days while his nets are drying. A good martial arts learner should work uninterruptedly on and pay great attention to it.
Virtue covers many aspects of peoples’ lives. A virtuous martial arts player should be modest and never brag about his own achievements. He should always keep in mind that someone else is better than he. And he should be ready to learn from others, and at the same time, he should help the weak and fight with the evil. How to behave properly is very important.
Permission given by GM Ruan Dong to use excerpts from the Interview by Chen Pengcheng