White Crane Flaps Wings

White Crane Flaps Wings

Question 1

Sifu, Can you please tell me a bit more about the internal practice for the Five Animals? Do they have any specific practice? I understand that Leopard is speed, but is that external or internal?

— Sifu Mark Appleford, Chief Instructor of Shaolin Wahnam UK


I believe you are referring to the Five Animals in Shaolin Kungfu. There are also "five animals" in chi kung, which are the Tiger, the Bear, the Deer, the Bird and the Monkey, representing energy manifested from the lungs, the kidneys, the liver, the heart and the spleen. An example of chi kung exercise involving these five animals is the famous Hua Toa's Five-Animal Play

In Shaolin Kungfu, the "five animals" are the Dragon, the Snake, the Tiger, the Leopard and the Crane. We may look at the Shaolin Five Animals from two dimensions, the external and the internal. This is for convenience. In good kungfu, both the external and internal are integrated. Speed, for example, is both external and internal. Chi flow, which is internal, can result in tremendous speed, but we need to relax our muscles, which are considered external, to have smooth chi flow.

Externally, the "five animals" are represented by their hand forms and movements.

The Dragon is represented by the dragon-from, sometimes called Two-Finger Zen. One-Finger Zen and the open palm are also regarded as Dragon forms. The movements of the Dragon are fluid and circular. "Golden Dragon Plays with Water" is a characteristic Dragon pattern.

The Snake is represented by the open palm and the palm thrust. The movements of the Snake are also fluid but often straight. They are generally not as powerful as Dragon movements. A characteristic Snake pattern is "Poisonous Snake Shoots Venom".

How is it that the open palm can be a Dragon form and also a Snake Form. It is because kungfu, unlike science, is not rigid. Actually the form of the open palm for the Dragon and for the Snake is quite different. In the Dragon palm the fingers are usually apart, as in the dragon-claw palm and the Bagua palm, whereas in the Snake palm the fingers are usually close together, as in the willow-leaf palm. Nevertheless, the willow-leaf palm is also found in some Dragon patterns, like "Fierce Dragon Across Stream".

The Tiger is represented by the tiger-claw and the level punch. The movements are forceful and pressing. "Hungry Tiger Catches Goat" and "Black Tiger Steals Heart" are characteristic Tiger patterns.

The Leopard is represented by the leopard fist. Nevertheless, when the level punch is used with muscular strength, which is the case with most kungfu students today, instead of with internal force, we may classifiy it as a Leopard pattern. Leopard movements are fast, straight and powerful. "Golden Leopard Speeds through Forest:" is a characteristic Leopard pattern.

The Crane is represented by the crane-beak, extended arms as well as kicks. Crane movements are smooth and elegant. "White Crane Flaps Wings" is a characteristic Crane pattern.

Internally, the five animals are represented by their spirit, or mind, and energy dimensions.

The Dragon is represented by the presence of mind power as well as tremendous soft internal force. Every part of a Dragon master can be powerful. During the Advanced Shaolin-Taijiquan Course many years ago when you held me in a seemingly unbreakable lock, but I released it with a shake of my body, it was an example of applying the Dragon force. "Blue Dragon Emerges from Water" in the Taijiquan set "Flowing Water Floating Clouds", is an excellent pattern to manifest this type of force.

The Snake is represented by energy flow. A snake strike is soft, but can be more damaging than a hard strike from an Iron Palm. This is because it is not the physical strike itself, but the energy transmitted by the strike that hurts an opponent, like "Poisonous Snake Strikes Vital Point" in the Shaolin Five-Animal Set. But the energy can be consolidated into hard force, like "Poisonous Snake Shoots Venom" piercing an opponent's throat.

In kungfu classics, Tiger patterns are said to train bones. Many people, including advanced practitioners, take the term literally, thinking that Tiger training develops strong bones. "Bones" here refers to internal force. What the classic means is that Tiger patterns develop internal force. As in the case of the Smake, a Tiger strike may injure an opponent energetically, as in tiger claws gripping vital points, or it may injure him physically as in a Tiger level punch.

The Leopard is represented by speed and muscular strength, in contrast with the internal force of a Tiger. It is the most common characteristic of external kungfu and most other martial arts where speed and strength are key factors in combat. But big muscles are not favoured, as muscular mass slows down speed.

The Crane is represented by essence, which is a tricky word open to many interpretation and mis-interpretation, especially when it is translated into English and other languages and when the readers or listeners do not understand the naunces of the Chinese term. In Chinese context, essence means the best in its purest and simplest form. Hence, Crane patterns are characterized by cost-effectiveness, balance and elegance.

Much confusion can be overcome if one realizes that kungfu terms are unlike scientific terms. Kungfu terms are meant for convenience, and not as rigid definitions. When we refer to the Snake as represented by an open palm, for example, it does not means that Snake patterns cannot use other hand forms, or the open palm cannot be used by other Shaolin animals. When we say that the Leopard is characterized by speed and strength, it does not means that the Leopard does not have other qualities like mind power and internal force, or other Shaolin animals cannot have speed and strength.

Understanding the Shaolin five animals and their philosophy greatly enriches our kungfu performance. In our kungfu training, for example, we do not just be satisfied with just speed and strength, which many martial artists are mainly preoccupied with. We know that we can also develop other worthwhile qualities like mental clarity, elegance and energy flow.

More significantly we can apply these worthwhile qualities to enrich our daily life. If you find that you have been absent-minded or stressful, for example, you realize that you have neglected the training of mind, and thus you can pay more attention in your Dragon training. Other martial artists may not even have this realization in the first place, because the concept of the "five animals" is not found in their art. Even if they have the realization, they may not have the methods to train these qualities.

Taijiquan combat

Using Taijiquan against other martial arts

Question 2

Could you elaborate on the yin yang aspects of the double animal sets and how they are different? For example, is Tiger-Crane different from Tiger-Dragon?


The yin-yang aspect is the result, not the cause, of the double-animal sets, like Tiger-Crane and Dragon-Tiger. In other words, the masters who composed these sets did not start with the yin-yang concept in mind. Rather, they selected suitable patterns to compose their sets, and after the composition they found that two groups of features were prominent in the sets which they represented with two Shaolin animals, like Tiger and Crane, or Dragon and Tiger.

Or they might first have in mind patterns from two prominent features represented by two Shaolin animals to start with. They then compose sets using these patterns, and called the sets by the two Shaolin animals

It was only after the sets were composed that they talked about the yin-yang philosophy if it was useful. If it was not useful, they might not mention the yin-yang philosophy. But irrespective of whether the yin-yang philosophy was useful or not, and irrespective of whether anyone talked about it, the yin-yang aspects are always there. Why is it so? It is because yin-yang is found in every thing. If there are two things, then one is represented by yin, and the other by yang.

For example, if there are two prominent features in a set symbolized by the Tiger and the Crane, one is represented as yin, and the other as yang. By convention, the Tiger is regarded as yang, and the Crane as yin.

If the two prominent features are symbolized by the Dragon and the Tiger, one is also represented as yin and the other as yang. But in this case, by convention the Dragon is regarded as yang and the Tiger is regarded as yin.

Why is the Tiger regarded as yang in the Tiger-Crane Set, but regarded as yin in the Dragon-Tiger Set? It is because in the case of the Tiger as yang, it is compared with the Crane, whereas in the case of the Tiger as yin, it is compared with the Dragon. By convention, the relatively stronger is represented as yang, and the relatively weaker as yin. In the Tiger-Crane comparison, the Tiger is relatively stronger, whereas in the Dragon-Tiger comparison, the Tiger is relatively weaker.

It should be noted that "weaker" does not mean it is less useful. In some situations, using the relatively weaker Crane techniques would be more effective than using the relatively stronger Tiger techniques, or using the relatively weaker Tiger techniques would be more effective than using the relatively stronger Dragon techniques. The Chinese terms "kong" and "yau", or "kang" and "rou" in Mandarin, may be more meaningful.

"Kong" is usually translated as "hard", and "yau" as "soft". Here, confusion may arise. The force of the Tiger is actually "harder" than the force of the Dragon. Hence Tiger force is "kong", and Dragon force is "yau". But Dragon force is generally stronger. Hence, despite being "soft", the Dragon is yang, and the Tiger yin in the Dragon-Tiger comparison.

Is it confusing? Yes, to arm-chair scholars, and those who study, not practice, kungfu. To us who have both the intellectual understanding and actual experience, it is very clear. Indeed, the terms crystallize the profundity for us.

Let us take a non-kungfu example. A tank is powerful and hard. When it rams into a wall, it can break the wall easily. But a hurricane is more powerful, though it is "soft" when compared to the tank. The tank is like a Tiger, whereas the hurricane is like a Dragon.

Now, if there is only one prominent feature in a set represented by only one animal, like a Black Tiger Set or a White Crane Set, are there any yin and yang. Yes, there are. In a Black Tiger Set or a White Crane Set, the forms of the Tiger or the Crane are represented as yin, and the applications of the Tiger or the Crane are represented as yang. Please note that here the comparison is between forms and applications, and not between the Tiger and the Crane. By convention, what is substantial is regarded as yin, and what is functional is regarded as yang.

If we take only the forms or only the applications, there are also yin and yang. What is forceful and fast is regarded as yang, and what is gentle and slow is regarded as yin. For example, if we compare "Single Tiger Emerges from Cave" with "Black Tiger Steals Heart", the former is yin and the latter is yang. If we compare practicing just one Tiger or Crane pattern or the whole set to keep fit, compared with practicing for combat, the former is yin and the latter yang.

We may compare the Tiger-Crane Set with the Dragon-Tiger Set in numerous ways. And depending on these numerous ways, we may use yin yang differently.

We may, for example, compare the force generated in the two sets. Now, which is yin and which is yang? Where the force is stronger or harder it is yang, and the other yin. Generally, the force generated from the Dragon-Tiger Set is relatively stronger and harder than that from the Tiger-Crane Set. So in this case the Dragon-Tiger Set is yang, and the Tiger-Crane Set yin.

But in a special situation where a student practices the Dragon-Tiger Set, and a master the Tiger-Crane Set, the force of the Tiger-Crane Set generated by the master is stronger than that of the student. Hence, here the Tiger-Crane Set is yang, and the Dragon-Tiger Set is yin.

Now if the master uses the force generated from the Tiger-Crane Set for healing, and the student uses the force generated from the Dragon-Tiger Set for breaking a brick, the former is yin and the latter yang. How can this be? Why is the Tiger-Crane force or the Dragon-Tiger force yang in one situation and yin in another? This is because in one situation the comparison is between the power of the force, and in another situation the comparison is between its application.

As said earlier, if the yin-yang concept is useful it is mentioned. Or, to put it the other way round, having understood the yin-yang concept we can use it to enrich our kungfu performance and our daily life. For example, we now know that besides learning the forms of a set, we should also learn its applications. We also know that besides being useful for combat, we can also practice kungfu to be healthy. It becomes obvious that those who only learn kungfu forms without their applications, or those who become more and more unhealthy as a result of their kungfu training, have no concept of yin-yang harmony.

Sparring in Shaolin Kung Fu

Course participants at Intensive Shaolin Kungfu Courses often sense their opponent's move before he makes the movement

Question 3

Could you please explain the essence of the Crane on a jing-chi-shen level, and give some of the possible training methods for this?


The Crane is reputed to train "jing". The term "jing" is tricky, even in Chinese. When translated into English or other languages, the confusion increases.

As explained earlier, "jing" here means essence, and includes qualities like effectiveness, balance and elegance.

"Jing" in this context is different from "jing" in the context of "jing, qi (chi), shen", though they are closely related. In the context of "jing, qi, shen", "jing" refers to the finest aspect of the physical. In modern language it refers to sub-atomic particles. "Qi" is energy, and "shen" refers to spirit, or mind, or consciousness.

I believe I am the first, as far as I know, to translate "jing" as "sub-atomic particles". This doesn't mean the early masters did not have the concept of sub-atomic particles. They did, and named the concept "jing". The terms "sub-atomic particles" came much later from Western science. Having the advantage of training in both Eastern philosophy and Western science, I am able to relate "jing" with "sub-atomic particles" to make the meaning clearer to modern public.

Please bear in mind that jing, qi and shen are integrated. In other words, even when we train only one of the three aspects, the other two are involved. But for easier understanding, I shall explain the three aspects separately.

From the perspective of jing or physical aspect, the purpose of training Crane patterns is to attain effectiveness, balance and elegance. This does not means that effectiveness, balance and elegance are not found in the training of other patterns, or the Crane patterns do not have other benefits like mental clarity and internal force. Hence, if one is ineffective or clumsy when performing a Crane pattern, he misses its essence.

An excellent pattern for the purpose of this training is "White Crane Flaps Wings". Do not perform the pattern just once. Perform it many times in different directions. Or perform it in combination with other patterns.

Another excellent training method is to perform a double jumping organ-kick. You should be elegant while in the air, stable when landing, and achieving the purpose of the training, like having good balance, precision in your kicks, or achieving good timing and spacing.

From the perspective of qi or energy, the purpose of Crane training is to have your qi stabilized at the dan tian, yet gently flowing. The focus is more on stability than on flow. You should be able to explode force suddenly and fast, yet remaining calm and composed. This is known as "lang keng" (Cantonese), which literally means "cold-force".

For example, while engaging your opponent, you suddenly blast his genitals if you want to be nasty, or break his shin with a kick, without him even noticing that you have moved your leg. Or you remain at a poise-pattern. When an opponent moves in to attack, he finds that you have moved back a step or to another position, but you still remain at the same poise-pattern as if you had not moved.

The secret is in the breathing and the control of energy flow. Generally breath in when you move and breathe out when you settle down. But your breathing, like that of a crane, is so gentle that others may not notice it.

From the perspective of shen or spirit, the purpose is to attain a mind that is sharp and quick, yet serene and crystal clear so that you can direct your energy flow and physical movements swiftly and effortlessly.

You mind is so clear that you can pick up an opponent's thoughts and energy even before he makes any physical movements. This may sound bizarre to other people, but many of our advanced students have attained this skill. They know their partners' movements beforehand in free sparring.

An excellent training method is, of course, meditation -- sitting, standing or flowing. "White Crane Flaps Wings" is a good choice. You flow from one pattern of "White Crane Flaps Wings" to another, yet you mind remains still.

Question 4

You mentioned that yuan qi or pre-natal energy is potential lifespan and that it is much longer than actual lifespan but when yuan qi is used up, life ceases to exist. Doesn't that mean that we have as much life as determined by our yuan qi? Does that not mean that yuan qi is used up at death?

— Harris, USA


That's right. Yuan qi, which may be translated as original-energy, not only determines one's life span but also many other aspects of his life, like the colour of his hair, the strength of his organs and the amount of intelligence he has. In modern term, it is the person's DNA.

Lifting the Sky

Practicing high-level chi kung is an excellent way to increase vital energy which not only prevents pre-mature aging but also promotes good health, vitality and longevity

Question 5

I've read a book by a master about chi kung, and in his book he states that sexual activity will decrease the amount of yuan qi because of the expenditure of sperm. But at the same time he encourages a moderate healthy amount of sexual activity, so that it can nourish the spirit. It's a little bit confusing for me, almost contradictory?


It appears to be contradictory, but actually it is not.

It is true that sexual activity will use up a bit of yuan qi, but any activity will also use up a bit of yuan qi. More importantly, there is a lot of quan qi to be used. The question is to use it wisely.

Using a bit of yaun qi for healthy sexual activity is wise, as it nourishes the person's spirit, making him bright and happy. Squandering it away in excessive sex or any unwholesome activity is unwise.

An analogy may make this clearer. Suppose you have inherited a huge fortune, which provides you more than enough money to live comfortably.

You want to go for a holiday, but you have to spend a bit of money from your inherited fortune. Would you spend it? You should as going for a holiday will make you happy. The money is wisely spent. After spending for the holiday, you still have a lot of money in your fortune.

Question 6

I am a little concerned, because as a child, out of stress and a way of dealing with pressure, I masturbated a little too often. This makes me a little concerned about pre-natal energy. Does this mean that there is an actual measure of how much semen a man loses until he dies?


Social scientists have now confirmed that masturbating is part of growing up. Most, if not all, young people masturbate, and there is no harmful side-effects. If a person can masturbate successfully, it means he has enough sperm to spare.

As mentioned above, you are provided with a lot of original-energy, which is also referred to as pre-natal energy. Some masturbation does not much effect the large pool of pre-natal energy you have. Even if you had not masturbated, some of the pre-natal energy would be used for other activities.

Besides yuan qi, which is original-energy, you also have zhen-qi, which is vital energy. Yuan qi is pre-natal, whereas vital energy is post-natal. Much of pre-natal energy is a gift from the father and mother, for which you or any person must be eternally grateful. Much of vital energy is created from the food you eat and the air you breathe in.

Original-energy is responsible for your personal attributes, like your skin colour, your intelligence quota and the life span of your organs. Vital energy is responsible for your daily functioning, like digesting your food, containing harmful viruses, enabling you to walk and talk, as well as producing the sperms to enable you to masturbate and enjoy its pleasure. Only a very small amount of original-energy or yuan qi is involved, much of the energy required in masturbation comes from vital energy.

The expenditure of energy when one masturbates is as follows. He needs energy for the masturbating action, he needs energy for sperms to masturbate, and he needs relevant organs to produce the sperms. The energy for his masturbating action and for the sperms comes from vital energy. Hence, it is not true that there is a definite measure of how much sperms a person can lose. When a person is strong and healthy, i.e. when he has a lot of vital energy, he can produce more sperms.

The organs that produce sperms are already built by original-energy. Each time they are used to produce sperms, or involved in any activities, a minute portion of original-energy is used up. Or put it in another way, there is a potential number of times the organs can produce sperms, or perform any other activities. Each time they produce sperms is one time minus from the potential number.

Different persons may have different potentials, but it is certain that even when a person thinks his masturbation is excessive, the total number of times the organs produce sperms is no way near the potential number. In other words, although there is wear and tear when organs produce sperms, even when one thinks his masturbation has been excessive, the total wear and tear taken place is nowhere near the point where the organs are completely worn and torn off, i.e. when yuan qi is completed used up!

So, your concern about your yuan qi being depleted is unfounded.

Then why is a person tired after masturbation? It is because he has used up some of his vital energy. But the consoling point is that vital energy can be replenished, and an excellent way to do so is to practice high-level chi kung.

The same principles apply to sex and other activities. If you engage yourself in some vigorous workout in a gym, for example, you use up a minute portion of your pre-natal energy, like in the wear and tear of your muscles and internal organs, and a lot of vital energy -- probably more than in mustarbation. But even though you exercise frequently, you are unlikely to use up all your pre-natal energy, or, in modern language, wear and tear out your muscles and internal organs completely.

Question 7

It frightens me to think about aging pre-maturely later in life when I least expect it.


This is a fear of many people, and it actually happens to some.

But you can be assured that the pre-matured aging is not due to masturbation or sex in earlier life. Often it is due to excessive stress or excessive physical exercise, like what has happened to some top business executives and sportspersons.

An excellent way to prevent this happening is to practice high-level chi kung.

Question 8

If someone has masturbated too often as a child should he compensate by refraining from sexual activity as an adult for a period of time?


If you have understood my explanation of energy use in masturbation earlier, you would have the answer easily.

Of course, no. He does not have to do so. The pre-natal energy expended is marginal, and he needs not even think of it. He would probably use up more pre-natal energy playing a game of football. This does not mean that he should not play football if he likes it, or do more masturbation. The fact is that he has more than enough pre-natal energy for such activities, including wholesome sex.



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