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Sifu Liu's Feeding Crane
Combat Applications & Kata

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Finding Thunder: Exploring The White Crane Kung Fu of Liu Chang I - Part 1

By Christopher Caile

Sifu Liu Chang I demonstrates
a Feeding Crane kata.

It started with an e-mail from my first karate teacher, Hanshi Phil Koepple (founder of the US Karate Do Kai).

"Christopher: Over the last 3 years I have had the opportunity to host Sifu Liu Chang I...third generation Feeding Crane (a style of White Crane Kung Fu) Master. Chris, he is something else. .. strong, fast and with tremendous internal strength. .. and willing to teach anyone willing to  learn his family Feeding Crane concepts which are an important influence on Okinawan karate....You might be interested in meeting him and writing an article for ... FightingArts.com  I have told him of you and one of his representatives should be getting in contact."

Koepple's e-mail also contained a mysterious reference, that Sifu Liu's technique also produced "thunder." "What's that?," I said to myself. I had never heard the term. So I was interested.

I was aware too that White Crane had influenced the development of Goju Ryu Karate as well as several Shorin Ryu styles (including Hohan Soken heritage). (1) Having some experience in these arts I thought it would be interesting to see the similarities of technique, strategy and power generation with that of Feeding Crane. These I point out in the article, but leave greater detail to the footnotes.

Several weeks later I attended a weekend long seminar on Feeding Crane. I also was able to talk at length with Sifu and interview him and several of his students.

History of Feeding Crane (Bai He Men Shi He Quan)

Sifu Liu Chang I is the lineage head of the Liu family Feeding Crane passed on from his grandfather to his father to him. The art was introduced to Taiwan and his grandfather in the early part of the 20th Century from Fuchow, China where it had already developed through nine generations of head masters. Today it is practiced unchanged from how it was taught within the Liu family. Feeding Crane is part of the Crane family, sharing lineage with Bai He (White Crane), Ming He (Singing Crane), and Wing Chun, among others.

Feeding Crane (White Crane) As A Fighting Art

Sifu Liu talks to his seminar participants.

Feeding Crane is not showy. If you are looking for low, deep stances, spectacular high kicks and gymnastics, this is not your art. But what Feeding Crane lacks in grace it makes up for in brutal efficiency. It is also unique. It is a time capsule of old fighting technique -- technique tested in combat and passed on to us over 12 generations through turbulent times. It is not always as pretty as Wushu (modern Chinese martial arts) but its techniques are very applicable to both self defense and street situations. Weapons are not included within the curriculum. Feeding Crane as taught by Sifu Liu contains only empty hand self-defense technique.

Sifu Liu explains the meaning of the Chinese characters used for "Kung Fu", "Chi Kung" and other terms.

Of all the Chinese martial arts I have seen, or studied, Feeding Crane seems the closest to old style Okinawan karate. It represents a link to the past, to Okinawan self-defense before modern karate, before styles and sport karate.

Power Generation

"As for Sifu Liu's "thunder." You can hear it in his body -- a sort of "kaplunk" sound that shadowed Sifu Liu's hand and arm techniques. It is part of what Sifu Liu calls "Short Power" (within the shoulders and arms). It is also one of the defining aspect of Sifu Liu's Feeding Crane.

Students practice shoulder and arm exercises designed to build "Short Power." They are simple and easy to learn, but take practice.

Where the "thunder" comes from I am not sure, but my guess is that it is the result of muscles suddenly contracting over a short distance, then relaxing again at such intensity that the muscle mass ricochets out and then back into a relaxed state. The sharp contraction of the muscles in the chest also make a sort of drum out of the chest cavity, together creating a very pronounced sound. I have never heard before. When developed it signifies generation of tremendous power in a space of only inches.

This same "thunder" was reputedly also exhibited by Chojun Miyagi (founder of Goju-Ryu karate) and other Okinawan karate masters of the past. It is perhaps another component of old Okinawan karate lost to modern exponents of the art. Michael Calandra, a New York area senior Isshin-Ryu Karate teacher told me that his teachers had talked about Tatsuo Shimabuku's (their teacher and the styles founder) short range power. "To me, seeing Feeding Crane, " Calandra said, "is a confirmation of my own karate heritage. It also tells me that I am on the right path."

Another components of Feeding Crane power and energy come from the use of body mass, such as moving forward, dropping weight or rising up behind a technique. The "rise, sink, spit, swallow" ideas common to Goju Ryu and a variety of southern Chinese systems. More important and also central to Feeding Crane, however, is "Shaking Power" - a back and forth, short twitching movement of the hips, lower abdomen and upper thighs. It can generate short waves of energy upward through the abdomen to the shoulders and arms. This is a powerful mix.

This type of power generation was once used by many early Okinawan karate masters (an internal type power) but over time it has been largely lost to modern practitioners. "Shaking Power" is very different from power generation now used in most modern Japanese karate, boxing and Muay Thai (Thai boxing using low kicks and knees). (2) But some on Okinawa and elsewhere still cling to the older ways of power generation similar to Feeding Crane's "Shaking Power," adding too their own variants. Examples include old forms Shorin-Ryu karate, including Kishaba Juku Shorin-Ryu Karate and  Hohan Soken's White Crane karate lineage and others. There are also others within Goju-Ryu and other Okinawan karate groups. (3)

Commenting on the importance of power, Sifu Liu says: "Power is just as important as kata. Without it you can't make (kata) applications work. But it takes time to develop it, especially 'thunder' power. It can take years, but the biggest step is the first one per cent because it indicates your body is starting to learn how to create it.  Also power is not just brute force. It also includes yielding and 'shaking' power."

Body Conditioning

Sifu Liu demonstrates another "Short Power" development exercise. This one starts from a deep horse stance that also helps condition the legs.

Feeding Crane stresses body conditioning, especially of the lower body. "It's an important part of training," says Sifu Liu. "In the old days on Taiwan people walked to get around, often along paths in the hills where you were vulnerable to attack and robbery. So the way of self-defense was within you. We had no guns. You learned to harden your body against attack and make yourself strong."

Conditioning the body and legs in Feeding Crane is a process of body adjustment.  Slapping and progressive harder hitting gradually harden the body. Deep horse stances are also used. So are low shin round kicks to a partner's legs and thighs. "These exercises should hurt a little," says Sifu Liu, "but not too much. A lot of pain is too much, but without some pain you get nothing."

Slapping and body hitting are also found in Goju-Ryu's (and other karate styles) sanchin kata testing (shime) -- the kata designed to build proper body alignment, technique, power and stamina. Similar techniques are also part of hard Chi Kung (Qigong) -- used in many Chinese martial arts to develop a type of internal energy (chi or qi) to fortify the body against attack.

Read more about Feeding Crane, its technique, body control and practice in part 2 of this article.

Footnotes:

1- Many Uechi Ryu karate techniques also resembled those in White Crane. White Crane Kung Fu influenced the evolution of Miyagi's Goju Ryu karate. Miyagi also practiced with a White Crane exponent, Go Kenki, after the death of his primary teacher, Higaonna, in 1915. White Crane technique and kata were also an integral part of the karate taught by Hohan Soken sensei. See footnote 4.

2- These arts use a type of circular, external generated power driven from the legs, up through the rotated hips, abdomen, and shoulders, each segment rotated as a whole to extend power and speed to target. Various karate books often depicting each segment as a fixed rotational whole. The method can be powerful, but is very different from methods as used in Feeding Crane that utilize fluid movements within body segments to produce a whipping power.

3- Soken was a great Okinawan karate master who taught White Crane as part of his karate and who also exhibited a type of "Shaking Power." I see it in his students, including my aikido teacher, Roy Suenaka Sensei, who still teaches Soken's karate (Seito Matsumura Shorin-Ryu) in Charleston, SC. Soken traced his White Crane heritage back through his uncle to Bushi Matsumura (a diplomat and body guard to the king of Okinawa) who was a well spring of much of modern Shorin-Ryu karate. If this lineage is correct much of Shorin-Ryu karate was at least influenced by White Crane.  Other Shorin-Ryu masters also exhibited similar "Shaking Power," especially,  among masters from Tomari (an Okinawan seaport near the old capital). One such person is Siegi Nakamura a senior teacher from Tomari who taught in Shoshin Nagamine's Matsubayashi headquarters dojo on Okinawa. He also trained with Hohan Soken.
See footnote 3. Kishaba Juku Shorin-Ryu Karate on Okinawa have attempted to develop the old ways of body dynamics into a teaching curriculum. Other's from Okinawa also use this power method including some Goju-Ryu exponents associated with the Jundokan organizations. My research also suggests that Kenwa Mabuni (founder of Shito-Ryu and early pinoneer of Japanese karate) also ulitized this type of power generation.


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About The Author:

About The Author:

Feeding Crane master, Sifu Liu Chang'I and Christopher Caile, founder and Editor of FightingArts.com

Christopher Caile is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of FightingArts.com. He has been a student of the martial arts for over 50 years. He first started in judo. Then he added karate as a student of Phil Koeppel in 1959. Caile introduced karate to Finland in 1960 and then hitch-hiked eastward traveling through over 50 countries. Ending up in Japan (1961) he studied under Mas Oyama and later in the US became a Kyokushinkai Branch Chief. In 1976 he followed Kaicho Tadashi Nakamura when he formed Seido karate and is now a 7th degree black belt in that organization's honbu dojo. Other experience includes aikido, diato-ryu aikijujutsu, kenjutsu, kobudo, Shinto Muso-ryu jodo, kobudo, boxing and several Chinese fighting arts including Praying Mantis, Pak Mei (White Eyebrow) and shuai chiao. He is also a student of Zen. A long-term student of one branch of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Qigong, he is a personal disciple of the Qigong master and teacher of acupuncture Dr. Zaiwen Shen (M.D., Ph.D.).  He holds an M.A. in International Relations from American University in Washington D.C. and has traveled extensively through South and Southeast Asia. He frequently returns to Japan and Okinawa to continue his studies in the martial arts, their history and tradition. Caile is the author of over 500 articles on martial arts and its history, Japanese art and Chinese medicine. He also edited several books on karate and Zen, contributed chapters on Qigong to books on alternative medicine, and served as a contributing writer to the Holistic Health Journal. In his professional life he has been a businessman, newspaper journalist, inventor and entrepreneur.


To find more articles of interest, search on one of these keywords:

white Crane, Feeding Crane, Bai He, Ming He, Liu Chang'I, sanchin, thunder power, short power, shaking power


Read more articles by Christopher Caile

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