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History of White Crane Kung fu

(Before proceeding further, it is important to explain that there are actually two martial art systems emanating from China that bear the name of White Crane: one originates in Tibet and the other in the southern coastal province of Fukien. Both arts are famous and have glorious histories of their own. This fact is mentioned in order to avoid confusing the public. Although rare in the western world, Fukien White Crane is a famous fighting style in Southeast Asia. In fact, it is widely considered to be one of the ancestors of several traditional Okinawan Karate systems). We have presented below a very detailed account of this artís history as it this information is not readily available. To learn more about the Fukien White Crane, itís history and theories, consult Shifu Lorne Bernardís latest work ďShaolin White Crane Kung Fu: A rare art revealed
 

The history of the Fukienese White Crane Kung Fu has been passed down from master to student (father to son) for five generations. Although various accounts do exist, they all tell a similar tale. The history of White Crane Kung Fu as passed down within the Lee family is presented below.
 

Fang Chi-Niang was born in Lei Chow Fu in the middle of the 18th century. Her father's name was Fang Hui Sz and her mother's name was Lee Pik Liung. Fang Hui Sz studied Kung Fu in the Shaolin temple at Nine Lotus Mountain, Ching Chiang district, Fukien (modern day Fujian) province. His wife and daughter lived at Lei Chow Fu. Since they were victimized by local landlords, it was decided to move away from the village.
 

Eventually, they settled down in Ching Chu temple, on Ching Chea Mountain (Lei Chow Fu). One day, as Fang Chi-Niang was drying grain in front of the temple, she saw a huge crane come down from the roof and begin to eat. She decided to use a bamboo stick to chase away the intruder. Fang Chi-Niang was both curious and fearful of the crane. At first, she tried to strike its head but the bird was evasive. Then she attempted to hit the crane's wings but it stepped to the side and used its claw to block the attack. When Fang Chi-Niang tried to poke the bird's body with her staff, it moved back and used its beak to peck the bamboo. Fang Chi-Niang was surprised. She continued to use the techniques her father had taught her but her efforts were completely unsuccessful. Astonished by the crane's skill, Fang Chi-Niang sought to practice with it on a daily basis. Fortunately, the crane obliged. This permitted Fang Chi-Niang to analyze and absorb the bird's self-defense strategies. Eventually, she mastered the movements and spirit of the crane.
 

During this period, Emperor Chien Lung ordered the destruction of the Southern Shaolin temple after having been informed of revolutionary activities on its grounds. Fang Hui-Sz was one of the few fortunate ones to escape the attack. He sought out his wife and daughter and they initially settled at Pik Chui Liang. Subsequently, Fang Hui-Sz moved to Sah Liang temple near Foochow, where he spent his spare time refining his daughter's Shaolin Kung Fu. Fang Chi-Niang eventually mastered everything her father could teach her and chose to combine the crane's spirit and movements with her Shaolin Kung Fu. She taught Kung Fu at Sah Liang temple to Weng Wing-Seng, Lee Fah-Sieng, Chang The-Cheng, and Ling Te-Sun. Weng was from Lei Chow Fu, Lee was from Chow Ann district, Chang was from Wing Chun district, and Ling was from Foochow. Weng and Lee taught many students at Kao Pei Cliff and set up a school there. Chang (nicknamed Nine Dots monk) settled at the White Crane temple and taught martial arts. Ling's descendants moved to Taiwan. Lee passed his skills to his son Lee Mah-Saw. Lee Mah-Saw continued to set up schools and taught in Chow Ann district. Fang Chi-Niang's teachings gave birth to different interpretations and four principal styles were developed: Flying Crane (Fei He), Eating Crane (Shi He) Screaming Crane (Ming He) and Sleeping Crane (Jan He or Su He). Later on, variations and combinations with other systems occurred which led to the creation of even more types of Fukienese White Crane.
 

At this point, it may be useful to debate whether the Fukienese White Crane arts are truly Shaolin systems or whether they represent a separate school. Since they were created outside the temple, many older generation White Crane masters do not consider their art to be a Shaolin art. This belief is compounded by the fact that White Crane focuses heavily upon soft power in the advanced stages. On the other hand, the founder did study from her father who was an accomplished Southern Shaolin practitioner. Consequently, it is difficult to resolve the debate as it is largely a question of perspective. Perhaps it is best to acknowledge the root of the art while simultaneously recognizing the founder's unique contributions.
 

Grand-Master Lee Kiang-Ke: Bringing White Crane into the 20th Century

Historically, with the end of feudal social systems and the widespread use of firearms, advanced methods of combat are no longer an every day necessity. This fact of life, combined with the traditionally secretive nature of kung fu instruction, is contributing to the loss of an irreplaceable part of China's cultural heritage. Many of the hundreds of different styles of kung fu are in danger of being lost or diluted to the point of extinction.

For practitioners of Fukien-style White Crane Kung Fu, the life of Grandmaster Lee Kiang-Ke (1903-1992) represents both a link to the past and window toward the future. To properly understand the reverence a martial artist has for his or her Grandmaster, it is necessary to view the martial art in its proper historical and cultural context. One important difference between the martial arts and other forms of physical activity is that martial arts can be practiced and enjoyed for a lifetime, and progress can be made at virtually any age. As such, many older masters are considered living treasures, due to the decades of accumulated knowledge, experience, and teaching expertise that they possess. Today, fewer and fewer people are willing to devote their lives to the study and teaching of martial arts as was done in the past. Because of this unfortunate reality, priceless martial knowledge often disappears forever upon the death of an elderly Grandmaster. This is especially true in the many styles of Chinese martial arts, where kung fu Shifus were secretive about their personal fighting art, and unwilling to disseminate it indiscriminately.

Fukien White Crane Kung Fu is continuing to thrive, thanks to the enlightened thinking of one of its foremost proponents. Third-generation Grand-Master Lee Kiang-Ke was the single most influential person responsible for the preservation and dissemination of the flying crane system of Fukien White Crane. His choice to open to the public what had previously been a closed-door system ensured the survival of a most complete and devastating Chinese martial art system.
 

Grandmaster Lee Kiang-Ke (Lee Kiang-Kay) started to learn Kung Fu from his father at the age of seven. After 10 years of arduous training, his father sent him away to live at a temple (Bai He An) where he furthered his martial knowledge under the instruction of a temple monk known as "Nine-dots Monk." This temple specialized in the instruction of Fang Chi-Niang's White Crane techniques. After four years of intensive study, the young master returned home to assist his father in teaching White Crane and in practicing herbal medicine. In time, he became the chief instructor and medical practitioner in his community. Later on, the Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist government) invited him to join the 49th Army Division as a medic. He ended up also teaching the soldiers the long handled broadsword (Da dao).
 

When his time of service was completed, he returned home and continued teaching martial arts and practicing medicine. Thereafter, Lee Kiang-Ke moved to Singapore where he stayed for six years. In an effort to escape the Japanese invasion forces, he then moved to Kuching, East Malaysia. Unfortunately, the Japanese invaded Malaysia soon after. Following the war, fellow martial artists invited him to open a club. He did so and named it the "Martial Heroes Association" (Woo Ing Tong)3. It prospered for many years. During this period, Malaysian society was quite rough-and-tumble. Polite tests of skill were fairly common. Less friendly challenges and outright life and death self-defense situations also occurred. Master Lee was famous amongst his peers for never losing a challenge.4 In 1963, he moved to the city of Sibu (also in the East Malaysian state of Sarawak). Eventually, he directed several schools in local communities including Kuching, Sibu, Sarikei, and Bintulu.
 

In 1967, the first South East Asian Kung Fu Tournament was held in Singapore. Lee Kiang-Ke's Kung Fu brother, Lee Wen-Hung, came from China and competed. Lee Wen-Hung had studied with Lee Kiang-Ke under Lee Mah-Saw. Despite his somewhat advanced age, he won first place in combat. He then he settled in Singapore. In 1973, a White Crane student representing Sarawak (East Malaysia) went to compete in the third South East Asian Kung Fu Tournament where he won second place in combat.
 

Lee Joo-Chian in 1989

In 1967, the first South East Asian Kung Fu Tournament was held in Singapore. Lee Kiang-Ke's Kung Fu brother, Lee Wen-Hung, came from China and competed. Lee Wen-Hung had studied with Lee Kiang-Ke under Lee Mah-Saw. Despite his somewhat advanced age, he won first place in combat. He then he settled in Singapore. In 1973, a White Crane student representing Sarawak (East Malaysia) went to compete in the third South East Asian Kung Fu Tournament where he won second place in combat.
 

Grandmaster Lee Kiang Ke retired in 1978 leaving his son, Shifu Lee Joo-Chian, the leadership of the head school in Sibu, East Malaysia. Master Lee Joo-Chian's own training reveals the hard work needed to acquire some real skill (Kung Fu). Like his father, he started training at the age of seven. Classes were generally two and a half hours long. As the climate is hot and humid, warming up time was very brief. Students practiced forms for a half hour without any break. Thereafter, they briefly rested and recommenced their training of forms and basic moves for another half hour. Two-person forms were then practiced for another half hour followed by conditioning drills or weapons training. Finally, the last half hour was reserved for free sparring practice. The young Lee Joo-Chian followed this grueling schedule three times a day, six days per week! Morning class was at 4.30 A.M. Then the children went off to school. Upon his return, Lee Joo-Chian helped teach the afternoon class. Around eight in the evening, Lee and his sisters trained once again. Master Lee likes to remind people that there was little television in those days.5
 

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