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Training Theories of Southern White Crane Styles

(originally published in October 27, 2008)

by Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming, August 13, 2012
White Crane (Bai He) posture

White Crane (Bai He) posture

Training theories are the root of every style. From understanding these theories, the actions or techniques are derived. If you train contrary to Crane style theories, then the techniques you are performing cannot be considered Crane style.

White Crane is considered a Soft-Hard Style, in which a beginner starts from hard and then gradually enters the soft. This also means that he or she will start with the external (i.e., more physical) and slowly enter into the internal (i.e., more emphasis on Qi cultivation). There are a few reasons that the training was set up this way.

1.   It is easier to be hard, and harder to be soft for a beginner. This means it is easier to use muscular power and immediately adopt it into fighting. It was necessary in ancient times to learn how to defend yourself as soon as possible. Normally, three years of external training was enough to build good muscular techniques for defense in general.

2.   The theory of cultivating Qi is harder to understand for a beginner. Not only that, since Qi cultivation is a high secret of Jin, often a master will not teach a student unless he or she has followed the master for a long period of time and has earned trust.

3.   The manifestation of Hard Jin is easier, and that of the Soft Jin is harder. This is again related to the cultivation of Qi. However, another reason for this is that it is easier to injure the ligaments in the joints when the Jin manifestation becomes softer. Normally, in Hard Jin training, there is less problem with joint injury. We will discuss this subject in more detail in Part III of this book.

4.   The techniques based on the Soft Jins are much harder to perform. For example, success in manifesting coiling Jin, controlling Jin, leading Jin, sticking Jin, and adhering Jin depends on a high level of comprehension and capability in performing listening Jin (i.e., feeling of the skin) and understanding Jin. In order to reach the high skill in these Jins, the body must be very soft, which allows the Qi circulation in the body smooth and free. This part of Crane training is exactly the same as that of Taijiquan.

From the above reasons, you can see that normally, when a master teaches a new student, he will start with the Hard Crane Qigong, which will help the beginning student build up physical strength in his legs, arms, fingers, and most importantly of all, his torso, including the spine and chest. From Hard Crane Qigong training, he or she will build a firm foundation for executing the hard techniques, which depend on strength and muscular power. Naturally, some of the Hard Crane Training sequences or routines will be taught, such as San Zhan or Jiao Zhan, mentioned in the last section.

Normally, after a few years of training in Hard Crane Qigong and sequences, the practitioner will gradually enter the Soft Crane Qigong. From Soft Crane Qigong, a practitioner will build up the strength and endurance of his ligaments. From the Soft Crane Qigong, he or she will also learn how to build up the Qi in the Lower Dan Tian and how to lead the Qi to the limbs with the mind. At this level, the Jin executed will be soft like a whip.

It is commonly known in Chinese external martial arts society that if a student practices the hard side of martial Qigong, and applies it into hard martial arts training for a time, then he or she must enter the Soft Qigong training in order to avoid the problem of “Energy Dispersion” (San Gong, ). Common symptoms of energy dispersion are rapid degeneration of the torso caused from over-training in tensing the physical body, joint pain, and high blood pressure. Lower back injury is also common. It is because of this that a White Crane practitioner, after practicing more than three years on the hard side of training, will slowly and gradually enter the soft side of training. The final goal of White Crane training is to manifest the Soft-Hard Jin more efficiently and effectively. That is, when it is necessary to be soft, he is soft and when it is necessary to be hard, he is hard. In addition, many White Crane Jins are first manifested as soft to lead the Qi to the limbs, and right before reaching the opponent, they tense up suddenly to protect the ligaments of the joints.

If you understand the above basic training theory, then you will be on the right course of training.

Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming, is a renowned author and teacher of Chinese martial arts and Qigong. Born in Taiwan, he has trained and taught Taijiquan, Qigong and Chinese martial arts for over forty-five years. He is the author of over thirty books, and was elected by Inside Kung Fu magazine as one of the 10 people who has "made the greatest impact on martial arts in the past 100 years." Dr. Yang lives in Northern California.



To Whom It May Concern:

Can you please tell me how many hand' and weapons' forms Dr. Yang's White Crane has?
How long does it take to learn a form? As usual, how long does it take to learn a complete system?
Are the DVD12 and DVD34 just a beginning? Does Dr. Yang plan to publish more?
Thank you very much for your time.

Anonymous – August 29, 2011, 5:59 pm
Hi KT:

First, I'd like to point out that nobody every truly "completes" a system. It is a lifetime endeavour, and it only gets deeper and deeper every year and every decade, only through consistent and uninterrupted practice. This applies to even the most basic forms and sequences you learn. You need to keep this mentality in mind when you train, otherwise you will be limiting yourself, the style, and the overall art. The only way for future generations to improve upon the last is to have no finishing point -- to always push farther and farther regardless of your current skill level. The Chinese saying goes, "Before you can learn anything, you have to empty your cup." If you one day consider your "cup" full, you will have failed yourself, your teacher, and future generations. You will find that students who fill their "cup" too early also tend to stop training, because they feel a false sense of satisfaction.

Second, remember that learning is one thing, doing is another. The amount of time required for learning any specific item will always depend primarily on the student. "Having learned something" is a relative thing. Students can learn merely the movements and motions, but that of course, doesn't make them an expert. Just because a student knows how to move their hands and legs, it doesn't necessarily mean they can apply a punch, block, or kick properly. To me, "learning" is only the first part. The inseparable part of actually *training* will take a lifetime.

Everything students test and pass are truly only a snapshot of a certain part of their training. Even the contents I list below have much deeper and deeper levels of reaction, sparring, footwork, and intermediate-to-advanced techniques that we don't formally test students on, but students should explore when they are ready. Passing a test is not a tell-all measurement of a student's fluency in the art, much like a college diploma does not necessarily denote clearly the level of one's expertise in their concentration or overall knowledge and intelligence. So remember that when students have tested through an entire system at a school, their journey has really just begun.

The success of your training will of course also depend partially on the teacher and the exact nature of the content being trained. Sometimes a student will find that they specialize in a few select things very well and that those parts of the training come much more naturally than others. Instead of merely learning those things fast, students with such talent should exploit their talents further and develop those skills deeper.

Third, don't forget that every curriculum, whether academic, or in martial arts, is really just a guideline to your progress. Oftentimes, what you learn and/or are tested on is just a subset of what teachers hope for you to know. In the formal YMAA Shaolin curriculum which we test our students in, the White Crane portion of it consists of:

* Fighting Forms (Bridge Hands Training Patterns) (10)
* Shang Xia Zhi (Barehand matching set)
* Qi Mei Gun (Staff)
* Qi Mei Dui Gun (Staff vs. Staff)
* Staff Fighting Forms (5)
* Kong Shou Dui Gun (Barehand vs. Staff)
* Sha Shou Jian (Killing Hands [Short] Rods)
* Gun Dui Shuang Jian (Staff vs. Short Rods)
* Qi Xing (Seven Star)
* Bai He Sequence: combination of Shan He (Fanning Crane), Gong He (Arcing Crane), Qi Xing (Seven Star)
* Ba Mei Shou (Eight Plums Hands): combination of Da Yao (Large Shaking), Ti Gua (Kicking Trigram), Ba Mei (Eight Plums)
* Yao Gu (Shake the Drum)
* If you include Chin Na, there are also roughly 120 techniques in the formal YMAA curriculum.
* This list also excludes Shuai Jiao techniques.
* This list also excludes some sequences that students are expected to construct themselves to demonstrate their competency in understanding and applying the style.
* This list also excludes advanced forms that Dr. Yang has taught to very few students, if any. For example: Chuan Zhen (Threading the Needle), Shuai He (Swinging Crane), Dou Zhan (Shaking Battle), Chai (Double Sai). Advanced forms cannot be trained or taught unless students reach a certain level. That is one of the reasons Dr. Yang is running the 10-year program at the Retreat Center now. Possibly more than half of his White Crane knowledge remains untaught at this point, simply because students do not train enough.

Again, don't forget there are deeper levels to the training. For example, in just Shang Xia Zhi alone, although we only test students on the Simple part and Complex part, it is assumed that students will continue training it so that they can reach a competent level to train Hooking Punch, Linking Punch, Straight-Line Hopping and Footwork Variations, Footwork with Angling, Sealing and Coiling, Fakes, integrating Chin Na and Shuai Jiao, variations in Strikes, Distance Training, Kicking, Elbows and Knees, Bumping, Jin, Adding Sense of Opponent, Randomness in Techniques, Fighting Strategies, and Sparring training. Unfortunately, the majority of students who pass a test never train it that far, because the common mindset is that once you've passed the test, you're "done" with it --- but of course that is far from the truth.

Most sequences, including other styles, will also always tend to focus on one side, often neglecting the left side, for right-hand dominant people. That is an incorrect way to train because sparring involves two hands and two sides, not one.

Some of the Crane sequences you see above are compiled from several sequences together. Each invididual sequence alone can easily take up to, in my opinion, an average of 3-7 months to learn, and 5-10 years to really get a proper feel for. Once the feeling is there, *then* intermediate to advanced training begins. That is assuming the student actually trains a certain number of hours everyday, not just a few hours during the week. White Crane, especially, is not a style where you can just learn from watching. You have to learn from doing, from that experience you can only get from training for years upon years upon years. That process is optimized when you have proper guidance (i.e. a teacher). When you reach an independent state, you can take it farther and farther on your own, explore newer and better methods of training, and all while staying true to the art's roots, origins, principles, and theory. You need to reach that threshold first, though. Otherwise, the art you develop will just become shallow and void.

Don't confuse quantity with quality. Even if one day you master only one sequence in the style, it is better than learning 50 sequences with no substance. One sequence with quality can create hundreds of good sequences. 50 bad sequences creates nothing.

DVD12 and DVD 34 were intended to be just the beginning. I am sure the disciples at the Retreat Center will reach a level one day to take that further.

Let me know if you have further questions. Good luck!


Nicholas Yang
President, YMAA International
Director, YMAA Boston
ncy – September 16, 2011, 3:56 pm
Impressive and informative reply.
Anonymous – September 20, 2011, 7:59 am

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