Correspondents: Chen Hong (陈弘) & Zhou Lili (周莉莉) - Text & Photographs (Except Signatured)
Translated By Shifu Adrian Chan-Wyles PhD ( © )
Yongchun (永春) White Crane Fist (白鹤拳 - Bai He Quan) is one of the seven major martial arts styles developed in Fujian Province. It was created during the late Ming and early Qing Dynasties and has spread throughout China, Southeast Asia, Europe and the United States. It is a national heritage of immeasurable cultural importance!
The Southern Shaolin Fighting Method (南少林拳法 - Nan Shao Lin Quan Fa) - which developed during the Tang and Song Dynasties – was popular in Fujian by the middle of the Ming Dynasty. In the Fujian area of Yongchun - no matter whether in the city or the countryside - there were countless practitioners of martial arts! The Southern Shaolin System was prevalent but with such styles as ‘Taizu’ (太祖) or ‘Grand Ancestor’ and ‘Houquan’ (猴拳) or ‘Monkey Fist’ being very prevalent! The area was economically and culturally prosperous! The ‘History of the Ming Dynasty’ (明史 - Ming Shi), Volume 91, Martial Aspiration Three (兵志三 - Bing Zhi San) - Recollections (记载 - Ji Zai) states: ‘The people of Yongchun possess tremendous fighting-spirit and are highly skilled in martial arts practice!’ Therefore, it can be historically proved that the Yongchun people's practice of martial arts has been highly developed as early as the middle of the Ming Dynasty!
Yongchun White Crane Fist is one of the seven major fighting styles developed in Fujian Province. It was founded during the late Ming and early Qing dynasties. It takes the ‘White Crane’ bird as its spiritual, psychological and physical inspiration (形 - Xing) or ‘Form’ (‘Kata’ in Japanese martial arts) and manifests this inspiration in its general fighting method! The White Crane practitioner understands how to ‘move’ and remain ‘still’ - and how to transition between these two states with a smooth and non-confused accuracy controlled by an underlying higher knowledge that embraces the practitioner, the opponent and the environment! Furthermore, a White Crane practitioner fully comprehends the ‘empty’ (虚 - Xu) and the ‘full’ (实 - Shi) and how and when each is to be used so that the opponent is continuously ‘uprooted’ - whilst the White Crane practitioner is continuously strengthened! All the energy channels in the body (the eight extraordinary and the twelve ordinary) are opened, unified and fully functioning (transporting and strengthening Qi 精, Jing 氣 and Shen 神)! As this is the case, the mind, body and spirit are unified, just as the bones and joints are aligned (allowing the bodyweight to drop into the ground – and effortlessly rebound back up and out of the body – through the relevant striking areas). All movement is perfectly timed, and the speed is so fast that an opponent has difficulty discerning the blows as they are naturally ‘released’ from the limbs of the White Crane practitioner! The hands and feet alternate with a perfect timing and balance that is bewildering to encounter! The White Crane practitioner can ‘vary’ the 'speed’ of each blow so as to bypass the habitual (and expected) movements of an opponent’s defensive reactions! The White Crane practitioner can be as solid as a mountain or as light a feather – depending upon the ‘intention’ of the practitioner and the necessity of the moment! Those who master these ‘internal’ Shaolin martial arts can appear to ‘manifest’ and ‘disappear’ at will – as they manipulate the perception of the opponent! This is why there is said to be a blend of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ martial techniques! This style has been circulating in China and Southeast Asia for more than 300 years, and it is popular in Europe and the United States. As a consequence, this type of Chinese martial art is considered a quintessential manifestation of Chinese martial culture!
According to research - Ip Man (叶问 - Ye Wen) who is well-known at home and abroad as the teacher of the great Bruce Lee – taught his style of ‘Wing Chun Fist’ (咏春拳 - Yong Chun Quan) which was heavily influenced by the fighting techniques of Yongchun White Crane Fist. Bruce Lee used all this martial arts knowledge to later develop his system of fighting termed ‘Jeet Kune Do’ (截拳道 - Jie Quan Dao)! Furthermore, Chinese, Okinawan and Japanese scholars all agree that the style of fighting known as ‘Goju Ryu Karate-Do' (刚柔流空手道 - Gang Rou Liu Kong Shou Dao) has its theoretical and technical roots firmly embedded in the fertile martial ground that is Yongchun White Crane Fist!
Chen Hong (陈弘) - the President of the China Yongchun White Crane Fist Research Association - pointed out that there are many technical similarities between Fujian Yongchun White Crane Fist and the Guangdong martial style known as ‘Wing Chun Kune’ (咏春拳 - Yong Chun Quan)! For instance, before issuing a blow, the Yongchun White Crane Fist practitioner must first centre his or her own mind, body and spirit – gather up the accumulated energy and direct this ball of power toward the ‘centre-line’ of the opponent’s body! This gather and emitting ‘internal’ and ‘external’ power through the Conception Vessel 任脉 - Ren Mai) - whilst targeting the Conception Vessel of the opponent! This is the real meaning behind the ‘Centre-Line Theory’ which many only pay lip-service to. This is identical to the ‘Centre-Line’ theory as found in Wing Chun (and many other martial systems)! Furthermore, Wing Chun is also famous for the power its practitioners produce during their ‘one-inch punch’ demonstrations! This is termed ‘寸劲’ (Cum Jin) or ‘inch strength’ or the ability to generate ‘explosive short-range power’! Within Yongchun White Crane Fist, this same ability is known as ‘寸劲节力’ (Cum Jin Jie Li) or ‘inch power direct energy’! In both systems the feet are generally rooted with the knees remaining flexible to accommodate a dextrous upper body which delivers fast and massively powerful blows of all descriptions, landing at all levels! These include open and closed hands, fore-arms, elbow-strikes, upper-arms, shoulder and blows with the head! The torso ‘twists’ left and right through the pelvis and around the spine – whilst swaying and leaning left and right (forward and back at oblique angles) – all through, around, away from and back to the ‘centre-line’! The famous ‘chi-sow’ (黐手 - Chi Shou) or ‘stick hand’ technique of Wing Chun is very similar to the ‘pan shou’ (盘手) ‘enveloping hand’ technique found in Yongchun White Crane Fist! Although Wing Chun has been developed for more than 100 years, and is a renowned style of fighting, nevertheless, the shadow of Yongchun White Crane Fist still clearly looms in the background!
Chen Hong (陈弘) has been researching the theory and practice of Yongchun White Crane Fist for many years, particularly with regards to practitioners living or taking refuge within Guangdong! During the Qing Dynasty reign of emperors Xianfeng (咸丰) [reigned 1850-1861] - and the Tongzhi (同治) emperor (reigned 1861-1875) - there lived a couple of Yongchun White Crane Masters named ‘Lin Jun’ (林俊) and Chen Hu (陈湖) who took an active part in the Peasant Uprisings! Indeed, many such martial arts Masters participated in these uprising! Hong Xiuquan (洪秀全) led the ‘Taiping Heavenly Kingdom’ uprising which engulfed large parts of China – including Fujian province! ‘Lin Jun’ (林俊) was personally appointed by Hong Xiuquan (洪秀全) as one of the ‘Strong Kings of Three Thousand Years’ - stationed in the Fujian area! This gave him command of thousands of Taiping troops! Despite many early victories and tremendous battles – the Taiping were defeated, and the surviving rebels had to flee! Many of these fugitives fled all over China whilst being pursued by a Qing Army led by ‘Zou Zongtang’ (左宗棠) - which drove them out of Fujian and into the Guangdong and Zhejiang areas – where the Yongchun White Crane Fist practitioners had to adopt disguises and live secret lives (whilst teaching disciples behind the scenes – often at night)! These survivors were inspired by ‘Lin Jun’ (林俊) - where his reputation is still bright and shining in China today!
During the mid-Qing Dynasty, with the increasingly frequent unofficial cultural exchanges between Okinawa (Ryukyu), Japan and Taiwan, some White Crane Fist disciples went to Dongying (东瀛) to teach martial arts; many Japanese merchants who travelled to the Mainland for business and employment, also began to learn White Crane Fist and transmitted it back to Japan. During 1877, Higaonna Kanryo travelled from Okinawa to Fuzhou and studied Yongchun White Crane Fist. After three years of intense training, Higaonna Kanryo returned to his home in Okinawa – transmitting White Crane Fist as he went! After integrating White Crane Fist with Okinawan fighting techniques – the art of ‘Goju Ryu’ Karate-Do was eventually developed (by Miyagi Chojun – the key disciple of Higaonna Kanryo in Okinawa). It is clear from this example that White Crane Fist rejuvenated the Okinawan fighting arts! Another example lies with ‘Wang Xiangui’ (吴贤贵) who used to work for the Fuzhou Tower River Water Ministry (福州台江水部的 - Fu Zhou Tai Jiang Shui Bu) - but in 1912 he travelled to Okinawa where he met Higaonna Kanryo – who had established the ‘Eternal Light’ (永光 - Yongguang) Tea Shop (茶行 - Cha Xing). As he saw that Higaonna Kanryo and his disciples already knew ‘Yongchun White Crane Fist’ - he decided to teach the Okinawans the ‘Whooping Crane Fist’ (鸣鹤拳 - Ming He Quan) variant! It was the disciples of Higaonna Kanryo who had trained with Wu Xiangui that formed the ‘Okinawa Strong Foundation Association’ (冲绳刚泊会 - Chong Sheng Gang Po Hui)! Tokashiki, the President of Japan's Okinawa Goju Ryu Karate-Do Association, has been searching for many years to find the identity of the Chinese Masters who taught Higaonna Kanryo! Finally, the source of Yongchun White Crane Fist in Okinawa was discovered in Fujian - and a "remarkable monument" was raised in the Fujian Provincial Sports Centre (in 1990)!
During October 1928, the first national martial arts examination was held in Nanjing since its abolition in 1911 – following the overthrow and abolition of the Qing Dynasty and its feudalist and imperialistic system! Yongchun County in Fujian sent a martial arts expert known as ‘Jin jing’ (晋京) - who placed first in every category and won every available award! Indeed, Yongchun as a place was awarded with the title ‘Central Hall of Martial Arts Execellence’ (中央国术馆 - Zhong Yang Guo Shu Guan)! This meant that a government-sponsored centre of martial arts practice was established, legally protected and funded in the Fujian area! The advent of Yongchun White Crane Fist in the 20th century served to strengthen China not only in the eyes of its own people – but also in the eyes of those across the world – a view held and expressed by Mr. Tan Kah Kee (陈嘉庚) - who further stated, ‘China as a country has been strengthened by the vigour of our own martial arts!’ He also said, ‘Promote the strengthening essence and eradicate the weak!’ During August 1929, in his honour, he requested that the Yongchun White Crane Fist School contribute to the formation of a ‘Central Martial Arts Hall Southern Fujian Martial Arts Touring and Exhibition Group’ be formed to travel around China and to do so abroad! Its first performance was at ‘Xingma’ (星马) - but became the first martial arts delegation to go abroad in the history of Chinese Martial arts - creating a precedent for overseas cultural exchanges focusing upon martial culture!
Mr. Tan Kah Kee met with all the members of the martial arts troupe many times to promote the concept of ‘strengthening the country by promoting martial arts’, and on the spot, he gave the correct title to the Southern Fujian Martial Arts Troupe: ‘Who is the sick man of East Asia – Certainly not the Chinese people! This shame is eradicated by the mastery of Wu Weiyang (武维扬)! Do not forget that the grandsons and granddaughters of the Yellow Emperor can be reborn anywhere – even as fishes! Perhaps the Heros of the Central Plane Create Cities that are dry!’
In 2008, Yongchun White Crane Fist was included in the national heritage list as being of immeasurable cultural value! Today, there are an estimated 100,000 practitioners of Yongchun White Crane Fist, with thousands of experts and hundreds of top-class Masters! Fuzhou has also successfully held the first World Conference for Yongchun White Crane Fist – which attracted thousands of diverse people from all over the world – including many hundreds of Karate-Do practitioners! Yongchun White Crane Fist has also been a vehicle for good-natured and friendly exchanges across the straits! Throughout the martial arts competitions of the world - Yongchun White Crane Fist practitioners won more than 1,000 awards in various competitions at all levels! This style of martial culture is deeply rooted in Okinawa and across the world! As the theoretical and technical foundation for Okinawan Karate-Do – particularly GoJu Ryu – Yong Chun White Crane Fist has inspired a rich academic research genre, that has spread from educational facilities and on to the internet, as well as in books and in films! There have even been theatre performances, plays and other ‘live’ action and educational activities! At the same time, Yongchun White Crane Fist is entering the fields of health, culture and tourism, etc., and its comprehensive and all-round positive effect is becoming increasingly apparent. The United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, Moldova, Poland, the United States, Sweden, Switzerland, Iran, Malaysia and other countries, as well as Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan, have all established professional organizations for the inheritance and practice of Yongchun White Crane Fist - in order to establish the ‘World Yongchun White Crane Fist Association' - which now has now laid a solid foundation.
Reporter: Ceng Guangtai (曾广太)
Correspondents: Chen Hong (陈弘) & Zhou Lili (周莉莉) - Text & Photographs (Except Signatured)
Shifu Adrian Chan-Wyles (b. 1967) - Lineage (Generational) Inheritor of the Ch'an Dao Hakka Gongfu System.