White Crane Kung Fu Style
Styles in Kung Fu Chase a Traditional Mind Set
There are over 1000 styles of Kung Fu. When interviewed by Lou Illar in 1985 (this interview can be found in our library) Master Chang Ken points out that as a tournament competitor while preparing for the difficult Shanghai Kung Fu Competitions, he studied every style of Kung Fu that he could. He would do whatever was necessary in order to gain some advanced knowledge of his opponents techniques, even as far as spying on others from a window in order to see how they trained. Training methods, not the sometimes acclaimed kung fu linage proved to be the evasive and elusive secret of kung fu. The problem remains better understood by realizing that the assumption that “one size fits all” has its limitations. So called “stretching “, techniques seem to work on some and not others. Obviously, the answer lies in individualized and private instruction often reveals some not obviously perceived techniques or secrets.
Probably one of the best examples of such coveted secrets was the existence of a Cantonese style called “Black Tiger” which was virtually unknown until two Hon Kin stylists met in a dual to determine the better fighter that was arbitrated by an unknown monk. After watching the dualists struggle with one another, the monk became bored with their ineffective methods and began to fight simultaneously both of them. Only then did the combative twosome come to realize that their techniques could not answer the power, quickness and accuracy of the monk’s “Black Tiger” techniques. The monk apparently developed himself through unique training methods that enhanced his sidestepping and hand and finger tip hardening. Most reasonable teachers will tell their students that it isn’t the style that is important but rather the disciplined practice of the individual that improves reaction time, speed, power and accuracy.
The statement is derivative of a Confucian mindset “It is a great individual that makes his path great”. Confucius viewed man as having the capabilities of greatness, but self perfection although possible was not man’s natural state. Thus, humans and discipline aren’t a very comfortable mix. Is it any wonder that individuals attempt at creating disciplined systems clearly are reflective of more limitations and unspoken adaptations that over a period of time have been marked by culturally imprinted moral instruction offered within each style Kung Fu. Thus the statement “There are many roads to the city of truth” not only allows for tolerance of other mindsets but provides the ”self” humility and focus through following one’s path!
Kung Fu is Marked with Cultural Fingerprints
Within the southern style of Hon Kin, which among others is practiced in our studio, there remains an emphasis on lower kicks and foot entrapments. Like other southern styles of kung fu, Hon Kin was originally formed by Chan or Zen Monks who targeted the legs, arms, and joints. Their instruction of attacks focused on restrictions and not excessive violence. Their efforts were intended to bleed “chi” from an attacker by removing his source of strength and aggressive desire to harm others. During this time period weapon defenses were also developed and necessary. Monks were being hunted down by whole army’s. After a period of time it became more evident that weapon’s training better influenced the training techniques within animal forms. The process of learning a weapon entailed much more than learning to strike. It offered a training method used to enlighten the students capacity to discover and employ the kung fu within the weapon and of course developed from the practice of each weapon more empty hand skill. Thrusting and spinning a weapon with speed and force required the usage of the feet, legs and hips. Focusing the thrusts onto a moving target required vision and a coordinated usage of arms, elbows and hands. Huang Fe Hung’s Hon Kin reflected a number of artful interpretations of Hon Kin because his only source of income for a period of his kung fu life was spent playing the role of women in the opera. However, around 1858 when it came to being hired to defend the Chinese businesses in Singapore, it was Huang Fe Hung’s weapon work that clearly landed him the job that would make his work in Singapore legendary!
Knowledge of Kung Fu Weaponry Saved Lives
Weaponry made it much easier to attack the feet and legs of an attacker and as such the usage promoted the value given to human life. When a student enters a Tae Kwon Do studio they learn to kick to the head. Because of the history of Kung Fu a student enters a Kung Fu studio because self defense begins by protecting your legs and feet from injury. Without strong legs and ankles no one can survive serious weapon attacks. Historically, styles had to withstand geographical migrations and face language barriers and perception. They adapted. Is it any wonder that American tournament fighters appear to look more like boxers or wrestlers than kung fu stylists. They do not leap in the air with kicks, or knees as they do in Asia and for that matter exhibit less and less of any knowledge of Tai Chi while presenting their kung fu within combative games.
Five Animal Techniques Versus Animal Styles
No Chinese Kung Fu style is developed with the purpose of making a style great. The entire purpose of the concept of style is to bring human beings to their highest point of greatness. However, styles were often used to enable better instruction and to classify a technique or a type of internal study, which is eventually developed. As such the distinctions are made within 10 different classifications of movements defined by the behavior of animals : The Dragon – Leaps to heaven and dives to the bottom of the sea. It twists and spins using hand and foot work. The Snake – Moves its head first. Its great speed offers a side to side defensive strategy that protects the snake. He strikes with his head or entangles with his body, The Tiger – uses low stepping to push forward with his full body weight to employ powerful rising kicks and punches which claw or hold with a bone breaking strategy. The Leopard – uses leaping attacks, its strikes are quick, powerful, and have a stunning effect. The leopard is unequaled as an in fighter and offers relentless leaps. The crane – rises above an attack to hit downward with either kicks, or hands. The back of the hand is used both to block and strike as the crane uses its head. The Lion – has great patience as he creeps one step forward and another back waiting and waiting for the opportunity to turn his opponent and attack his spine and the back of his neck. The elephant or bore – nullifies all attacks by stepping into them before they reach the targeted area. The use of elbows and knees allow him to put more weight behind his blows than any other animal. The Horse or Mule – turns his back to the enemy and offers a devastating kick with either foot or both at the same time. It sometimes appears to be hoping away only to lure its enemy to chase it. To do so can be a grave mistake. The monkey – jumps, rolls, climbs, claws, and grabs its victim. The Monkey is an elusive and busy opponent that presents no target but only hard elbows and knees. The Eagle – elegantly bats and spins with his wings to kick with its feet. It grip attacks soft areas with devastating affects. In most cases, early Kung Fu films offered little interest in displaying real kung fu in its exhibitions of animal styles. By some standards what was displayed was only animal mimicry. It takes years to develop and display any animal style but when it is truly developed the strikes are stunningly quick with the velocity beyond human skill or sensory perception. The evolution of such skill is as interesting and as stunning as the style itself. Animal styles like the Snow Tiger, Black Leopard, and Black Tiger usually have little historical writings to explain their development. Too often they are viewed as more unique than they really are.
What is meant by a traditional style?
The reference to “Styles” represent extremely disciplined work done by a single practitioner that probably emerged from another style which could hold better claim to the title of “traditional”. Years ago my home was graced with a visit by one of the most legendary Kung Fu fighters Hong Kong had ever known, the White Crane Sifu Ngai Yoh Tong. What made him interesting was that in appearance he was the antithesis of the published description inferred by both David Chow and Richard Spangler. In their presentation of their work, Kung Fu, History, Philosophy, and Technique, they described the White Crane Style of fighting as being “suited for tall, long- legged practitioners” who could ward off fighters with their feet. As I stood in 1986 before this legendary fighter I thought of the 1955 Hong Kong Kung Fu Championship, the stories about him bounced anxiously through my mind. His punching power in 1955 was so devastating that his fists were singled out by the judges and disabled with wrappings from a towel spun around each fist. Later as we talked about that fight, it was pointed out that in his championship bout Sifu Ngai was forced to fight a large Mongolian fighter with that same type of wrapping on his hands. Fortunately, for the Mongolian, Sifu Ngai never objected to the ruling but instead punched his opponent so hard that he knocked him over the ropes. In the middle of that story I noticed that he would periodically glance at the wall over my shoulder. As soon as he had ended his story he jumped to his feet and stood under the picture of me performing a side kick from a monkey romp position. He turned tables and suddenly began to interview me. He asked if I had any Hong Kung Fu Magazines. I found some and before I could set them down on the table he had already removed one from my hands. He fanned through the pages, and apparently knew exactly what he wanted because his fanning abruptly stopped. With his index finger he pointed to a photo of Sifu Chan Chin Chung the famous Hong Kong Monkey Master. His monkey was derived from our style. I was his older brother and taught him. For a moment, I found his disclosure a bit doubtful but then I noticed that Master Ngai was the shortest man in the room. He wasn’t built to throw high kicks. Could he have been a Monkey Master? Suddenly other curious facts offered more questions than answers. What punching technique did Master Ngai’s legendary fights feature? Obviously, it was an ominous punch which devastated his much larger adversaries but the larger question was even more compelling ; where did Master Chan’ monkey style originate? As I silenced myself to politely enter this discussion, Master Ngai walked back to the photo on the wall. He again pointed to the photo on the wall and told me that it displayed one of his favorite techniques and that Master Chan was one of his favorite students. Was Master Ngai also a monkey master? Yes! He was that and more.