The information which follows has been condensed and summarized by Mr. Alex Kiesel of YMAA Andover, MA from the book Shaolin White Crane (1996) by Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming, YMAA Publications.
History of the Southern White Crane Style
It is believed that White Crane was one of the five original 'animal' systems practiced at the Shaolin Temple and that it may already have existed by the time the monk Da Mo arrived from India in the 6th century. Later, during the 17th century, a woman named Fang Qi-Niang combined her White Crane heritage, passed down from her father, with movements she witnessed while observing the behavior of cranes in the river near her home. This was the beginning of the Southern White Crane system, which now includes four major divisions: Ancestral Crane, Eating Crane, Shouting Crane and Flying Crane. It is Ancestral Crane that Master Yang-Jwing Ming learned as a youth from his Master, Cheng Gin-Zao.
Characteristics of the Southern White Crane Style White Crane is one of the hundreds of Chinese martial arts styles, and White Crane itself can be divided into numerous schools, each with its own special characteristics and emphasis in training. However, the root of all White Crane styles remains the same. The White Crane learned and taught by Master Yang, Zong He Chuan, is considered the original Southern White Crane system.
Zong He Chuan translates as 'Ancestral Crane Fist.' The system is also known as ' Trembling Crane', 'Sleeping Crane' or 'Jumping Crane'. Each of these names describes a characteristic of the style. The Jin or martial power of Zong He Chuan derives from a shaking or trembling of the body that imitates the shaking off of water by a bird or animal. The legs are firmly rooted and the power is generated from the waist. 'Sleeping' may refer to the idea that the Crane practitioner is motionless until the opponent moves, at which time s/he physically explodes into defense while maintaining mental and spiritual calm. 'Jumping' refers to the jumping movements used in strategic footwork and escape.
White Crane is primarily a defensive system that specializes in the short range. Kicks are low and hands are used extensively in techniques that derive from the shape and movements of the Crane's wings or beak. The Crane is known for its dignity and calm appearance but also for the viciousness with which it defends itself.
White Crane practitioners also train in the use of weapons, including staff, double sticks, sai, saber, double dagger, spear and numerous other long and short weapons. Training in White Crane demands a conditioned body in order to withstand the great power that can be generated bythe shaking Jin and the specialized whipping and arcing motions of the chest and spine. Without proper and progressive conditioning it is easy to damage the joints and internal organs in practice. Also, in order to reach the higher levels, the pupil must study and practice White Crane Qigong (cultivation of internal energy). For these reasons, only the most elementary of White Crane techniques and forms are taught in the first few years of YMAA training.
White Crane is a very deep and specialized style, and it is not possible to do it justice in a short summary. If you are interested in the theory, philosophy, history and methods of White Crane training, please reference the book Shaolin White Crane by Dr. Yang Jwing Ming for more information.
Mr. George Mentis, Senior student and instructor at YMAA SA