According to legend, White Crane kung fu was created by a 13 year old girl called Fang Chi-Liang. She was from the Yong Chun village district in the Fujian Province of south east China. The events surrounding the creation of the style took place around 300 years ago.
As with most traditional martial arts, the history is often told with slight variations as well as sometimes shrouded in secrecy and mystery. One version of the story is that while hanging up her washing Fang tried to shoo a crane away using kung fu moves that her father had taught her. The movements of the bird, which was easily able to evade all of her attacks and land counter strikes at will, inspired her to study the bird's movements in more detail and use the elegant yet powerful creature as the basis of her new style.
Over the years the White Crane system separated into different styles. These are Calling Crane, Flying Crane, Feeding Crane, Jumping Crane and Shaking Crane. Each one focuses on a different element of the crane's behaviour.
In the WCA we are lucky enough to study a complete White Crane system, with added Tiger elements. The Crane-Tiger style is said to have been developed by the Tiger master, Hung E Kan and his wife Tee Eng Choon. Master Hung escaped the burning of the southern Shaolin temple and while travelling alone he came across Tee being taught White Crane kung fu by her instructor. When Hung E Kan and Tee Eng Choon sparred, it was soon evident that he could not defeat her style due to her effective positioning, blocking and striking, even though he was a much stronger opponent.
Hung E Kan and Tee Eng Choon fell in love and married and combined their styles into what is now the Crane-Tiger style.
Whether you believe the legends are true or not is down to personal opinion and preference. However, it is clear that the White Crane system is based upon strong footwork with rapid and effective methods of defence and attack. Having been created by a young girl, it is a style that relies less on brute physical force and more on positioning, breathing and correct technique. The best way to experience this living history is to come along to class and do some training!