(Translated by Adrian Chan-Wyles PhD)
Translator's Note: I read through (and carefully translated) this meandering Chinese language text regarding the known history of Fujian White Crane Fist! To make sense of the context - I had to reference other Chinese language historical texts in an attempt to decipher what exactly is being said! Even so, as much of this genre of (folk) history is entirely 'local' in nature, even (contemporary) ethnic Chinese language speakers do not understand the what exactly is 'meant' by the words and phrases being used. We must use our experience and knowledge to establish the most likely meaning. There appears to be a subtle blend of fact and myth - perfectly entwined - so that it becomes difficult to tell one aspect from the other! During this interpretive process, we must remain anchored within historical 'fact' - but where is the 'fact' we must remain anchored within? What we do know is that somehow a) this martial art does physically 'exist' through a discernable history, and b) as a distinct body of knowledge it ended-up in the hands of Higaonna Kanryo! ACW (5.11.2022)
White Crane Fist (白鹤拳 - Bai He Quan) is often referred to by the geographical indicator of ‘Yongchun’ (永春). This Style of martial arts is just one of the of many developed by the Han nationality throughout the Fujian area. It began to emerge as a distinct martial arts Style during the latter Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). From its root source, four distinct lineages have developed:
1) Flying (飞 - Fei)
2) Singing (鸣 - Ming)
3) Sleeping (宿 - Su)
4) Feeding (食 - Shi)
These four variations of White Crane Fist all manifest in slightly different and specific ways, so that a unique and distinct Style is evident in each case. These differences stem from the practitioners emphasising particular traits observed in the defensive and aggressive behaviour of the White Crane species of bird. All of this speciality is known today as the White Crane Fist Style. According to legend, this Style originated within the Funing (福宁) Prefecture, Fujian Province – today known as Xiapu (霞浦) County. As a Style, it developed out of the ‘external’ (外 - Wai) Shaolin Fist (少林拳 - Shaolin Quan) method taught to Master Fang Zhonggong (方种公) at the ‘North Gate’ (北门 - Bei Men). He taught his only child (his daughter) ‘Fang Qiniang’ (方七娘) - and it is Fang Qiniang who is considered the ‘Founder’ of White Crane Fist. Soon after she was born – Fang Qiniang’s mother passed away from illness. Her father believed that his only daughter should be strong and stand tall – just like a man – and he taught her to practice martial arts every day. Fang Qiniang eventually married ‘Zeng Si’ (曾四) - who was a native of Yongchun County situated within the Quanzhou area of Fujian province (although some records suggest his family originally came from Zhejiang – before moving into Yongchun and resettling). As Fang Qiniang lived and taught her Style in ‘Yongchun’ it is referred to today as being ‘Yongchun White Crane Fist’.
The White Crane Fist specialises in generating vibrating and shaking (弹抖 - Dan Dou) power (劲 - Jin) of both arms. The open-hand ‘Palm Law’ (掌法 - Zhang Fa) method emphasises a penetrating and piercing power which is similar to an arrow hitting an opponent after being fired from a bow – but devastating the opponent at very close-range. This method is supported by penetrating footwork that decisively advances and retreats – footwork that also ‘pretends’ to advance and retreat – causing confusion and mistimed reactions in an opponent. Explosive force (力 - LI) is generated by the White Crane Fist practitioner when taking advantage of an opponent’s errors. For this to happen, the joints and fingers of the White Crane Fist practitioner must be ‘strengthened’ and appropriately ‘conditioned’. Stepping must be both precise and diverse. Every blow must be thrown with explosive power. The arms must shake, vibrate and tremble with ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ energy continuously interchanging in a manner which cannot be predicted or understood by the opponent. This is held together by the bodyweight smoothly ‘dropping’ and ‘rising’ continuously and without interruption. Each Style of White Crane Fist presents these techniques in different and varied ways.
Within the folk storytelling developed during the early Qing Dynasty, it was said that ‘Crane Immortal’ (鹤仙 - He Xian) taught Fang Qiniang – whilst others state that Fang Qiang was taught only by her father – a native of Funing! Whatever the case, all stories agree that Fang Qiniang was the Founding Patriarch of the White Crane Fist Style! Fang Qiniang was clever and pretty – and was committed to learning martial arts! As Fang Qiniang refused to get married – she was banished to a local Buddhist Temple known as ‘Bai Lian’ (written as ‘白练’ or ‘白莲’ - the second variant appearing to be a play on words) meaning both ‘White Lotus’ and ‘Pure Practice’. Her Buddhist teacher was said to be the ‘Crane Immortal’ (鹤仙 - He Xian) who came down to Earth to instruct her in the art of ‘White Crane’. Fang Qiniang had to combine hours of seated Ch’an meditation with the continuous observation of the ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ movements of the White Crane birds that inhabited the temple grounds.
(Another version worthy of consideration is the following story: One day, Fang Qiniang was immersed in the shuttle weaving on a traditional loom. Suddenly, a White Crane bird flew gracefully into the area - hovering near her roof and looking down. The White Crane bird finally flew down to the floor of the hall - standing quietly next to the loom. Looking up at Fang Qiniang – the bird refused to fly away and stood quietly for a long time. Fang Qiniang was very surprised by the inner stillness and outer poise of this bird. Fang Qiniang picked up the shuttle box and threw it – but the White Crane remained unruffled and simply ‘spread its wings’ in a graceful manner – and intercepted the shuttle box perfectly – causing it to bounce back with an effortless force. Fang Qiniang raised the bamboo inkstone used for weaving and attempted to strike the White Crane. Unexpectedly, the White Crane ‘shook’ its body - and the bamboo inkstone was bounced back! When Fang Qiniang saw this behaviour she was impressed and puzzled! On this day, the White Crane bird with its plump, white feathers refused to fly away! When night fell, Mr. Fang Zhonggong asked Fang Qiniang to bring out some white rice and sweet potato to feed the White Crane in the hall! Despite all this movement – the White Crane refused to move but remain quiet and still – but always alert! These events were a preparation for a white-haired Immortal to visit the Fang family and convey the martial art of the White Crane Fist!)
Once these movements (and reactions) were understood – Fang Qiniang had to integrate this new knowledge into her already existing Shaolin martial arts practice. This process took four years to achieve, and the White Crane Fist Style of martial arts was developed! As the ‘Bai Lian’ Temple became a well-known and respected centre of gongfu practice and given that Fang Qiniang was a renowned Buddhist monastic – she changed the name of the temple to ‘Jiao Lian’ (教练) or ‘Teach Practice’ Temple (寺 - Si). One day, a man named ‘Feng Si’ visited the temple and respectfully requested that Fang Qiniang teach him the White Crane Fist Style she had developed. He trained as her Disciple for over ten-years – and eventually the two people fell in love. This prompted Fang Qiniang to leave the temple and resume the lay life so that the two could get married. This is how the White Crane Style was taken back to Yongchun (the place of Fang Si’s birth) situated in Quanzhou - and took root in this part of Fujian province! The couple had numerous children and passed this family Style. The constituent originating lineages included are:
White Crane Fist (白鹤拳 - Bai He Quan)
Bai Lian Temple (白练寺 - Bai Lian Si)
a) ‘Crane Immortal’ (鹤仙 - He Xian)
b) ‘Fang Qiniang’ (方七娘)
c) ‘Zeng Si’ (曾四)
Southern Shaolin Fist (南 少林拳 - Nan Shao Lin Quan)
a) ‘Fang Zhonggong’ (方种公) - Father
b) ‘Fang Qiniang’ (方七娘) - Daughter
c) ‘Zeng Si’ (曾四) - Husband of Fang Qiniang & Son-in-Law of Fang Zhonggong
The foot work of the White Crane is light, exact and yet ‘heavy’ when ‘heaviness’ is required! The White Crane can move across the ground – barely touching the floor – like snowflakes falling from the sky! This is the foot work of heroes! Martial arts training is beneficial for the development of the mind and body! The White Crane Fist puts a great emphasis upon physical fitness! As a result, the White Crane Fist is masterful in attack and defence! The White Crane Fist is simultaneously both simple and enriched! These are the twenty defining attributes (and forms) of the White Crane Fist:
1) The White Crane generates the shape.
2) The shape manifests in the fist!
3) The form is taken from the name.
4) The name suggests elegance as its crowning glory
5) The White Crane protects the centreline throughout the upper, middle and lower parts of its body.
6) The Thirty-Six Divine Sky Gods
7) The Seventy-Two Broad Earth Demons
8) The One-Hundred and Eight Dharmas
9) The White Crane Flashes its Wings
10) Thirteen-Step Vibrations
11) Seven Steps – Three Battles
12) Thirteen Grand Protections
13) The White Crane is both ‘firm’ and ‘not’ firm.
14) The White Crane is both ‘soft’ and ‘not’ soft.
15) Shaking and vibrating with strength from the ground upwards.
16) There is a continuous change of skilled applications.
17) The structure is precise and always clearly maintained.
18) The awareness is always clear regarding offence and defence.
19) Always demonstrate mercy before raising your hand.
20) When the time comes to raise your hand – show no mercy!
Higaonna Kanryo [1853-1915] (东恩纳宽量) was the first Okinawan to learn the White Crane Fist. From the Chinese gongfu he took back to Okinawa – the ‘Empty Hand Way’ (空手道) or ‘Karate-Do’ would be eventually developed. It is the White Crane Fist which serves as the technical foundation to the development of Okinawan and Japanese Karate-Do. In other words, the ‘Empty Hand Fist’ (空手拳) or ‘Karate-Ken’ is really what is called ‘Yongchun Fist’ (永春拳 - Yong Chun Quan) in China! It is believed that the White Crane Fist is part of the ‘Shaolin Five Ancestor Fist’ (少林五祖拳 - Shao Lin Wu Zu Quan) tradition. This tradition developed in the Quanzhou area of Fujian province and is linked to the Southern Shaolin Temple situated in this area. The five Styles which form this System are as follows:
a) White Crane Fist (白鹤拳 - Bai He Quan)
b) Monkey Quan (猴拳 - Hou Quan)
c) Arahant Fist (罗汉拳 - Luo Han Quan)
d) Bodhidharma Fist (达尊拳 - Da Zun Quan) - also referred as ‘Mind Intention’ Boxing (心意拳 - Xin Yi Quan)
e) Grand Ancestor Fist (太祖拳 - Tai Zu Quan)
Although it is agreed that Fang Qiniang invented the White Crane Fist Style – it was her husband (Zeng Si) who is often cited as teaching the art prolifically within the Yongchun area. Historical records suggest that the couple lived in the area during four different time periods and were prone to travelling. It seems that the couple did not permanently stay in the Yongchun area, but they did favour the place as a base of operations – and it is from here that a renowned centre of White Crane Fist practice developed. The implication is that they settled there toward the end of their lives together. Although the historical text I am referencing is ‘old’ (and difficult to contextualise), there is an indication the couple taught White Crane Fist near to the ‘West Gate’ (西门 - Xi Men) of Yongchun, to the rear (and ‘outside’) of the ‘Name Temple’ (庙 - Miao) pertaining to the ‘Gu’ (辜) family. Technically speaking, this would be a Confucian Temple maintained by the local Gu family (designed only for the use of that family) comprised of a hall for social gatherings (which could include gongfu practice), and an area for the cremated remains of the Gu ancestors stored in large, sealed earthenware pots (together with pictures and biographical texts). Later, out of respect for Zeng Si, this training area became known as the ‘Zeng Martial Temple’ (曾武馆 - Zeng Wu Guan). This might suggest that the Gu Temple was eventually taken over as a centre for White Crane Fist practice – and was locally known by the above variant. This how the White Crane Fist Style took root within the Yongchun area. During the more than one-hundred years between emperors Kangxi (r. 1661-1722) and Qianlong (r. 1735-1796) - the White Crane Fist was widely disseminated and exchanged both inside and outside Fujian province. As an effective martial art favoured by the local population, it was continuously absorbed, summarized and improved upon – a process which greatly enriched and developed its technical and theoretical content. This important historical (developmental) period may be considered the ‘heyday’ of the White Crane Fist Style.
The different names associated with this Style of martial arts are:
i) White Crane Fist (白鹤拳 - Bai He Quan)
ii) Fujian White Crane Fist (福建白鹤拳 - Fu Jian Bai He Quan)
iii) Fujian Shaolin White Crane Fist (福建少林白鹤拳 - Fu Jian Shao Lin Bai He Quan)
iv) Yongchun White Crane Fist (永春白鹤拳 - Yong Chun Bai He Quan)
v) Southern Shaolin White Crane Fist (南少林白鹤拳 - Nan Shao Lin Bai He Quan)
Between the reigns of the Qing Dynasty emperors Kangxi, Qianlong and Jiaqing (嘉慶), that is to say from around 1664-1821 – the record books suggest that the White Crane Fist Style has been passed on by five or six generations of descendants in the Yongchun area – depending upon how lineages are interpreted and understood. It was one of these lineages which was eventually taken back to Okinawa and served as the foundation for the development of modern Karate-Do in all that art’s distinct and diverse variations.
Chinese Language Sources:
Shifu Adrian Chan-Wyles (b. 1967) - Lineage (Generational) Inheritor of the Ch'an Dao Hakka Gongfu System.