Crane (He Xing)
To some, the crane is the epitome of grace. In a fight, it prefers to stay away from toe-to-toe confrontations that might be more suited to a tiger or leopard. Instead, the crane uses its long legs and powerful wings to angle away from an opponent, striking with its wings and beak when an opportunity presents itself.
Despite the relatively fragile nature of the crane, it is still a fierce fighter. Its higher level of mobility and insistence on attacking from strange angles makes it a tough opponent. Anybody who has ever been pecked by a goose or duck can attest to the deceptively powerful strikes that beaks can deliver.
Emulating this, the crane-stylist uses a hand formation called the “crane’s beak” where the four fingers and thumb are brought together at the tips, mutually reinforcing each other and creating a strong striking surface.
The crane develops the sinews (tendons and ligaments). As it is also a Chinese symbol of longevity, it is thought to develop the jing (refined chi, or libido). The crane is only a bird but is a bird reputed for its amazing libido and longevity. Such an excess of libido denotes an abundance of energy within its body. Also considering its association with longevity it is hardly surprising that the crane was chosen by the old Shaolin Masters to become one of the Shaolin animals.
The Chinese believe that jing is the essential energy which is characteristically associated with the spirit of the crane. Jing when translated actually means libido. The crane is a quiet and calm animal and its powers of concentration are not easily broken, for example, the crane will stand for hours on just one leg without the slightest movement.
The crane style was designed in order for the martial artist to hold energy within the body and increase strength both internally and externally. This in turn will help develop qi internally and at the same time help to harden both bone and muscle.
The crane is very similar to the calm and quiet nature of the snake and as with the snake movements the crane style is extremely useful for over throwing or controlling an opponent with very little effort. Crane form techniques are soft, relaxed and circular, however they still have the ability to exude sudden fast power upon contact with a target.
The techniques can be both long and short. Many of the shorter movements are usually joint locking techniques to cause disablement to the limbs of the adversary. The long and reaching techniques are usually direct strikes to vital pressure points on the opponents body.
Considering a crane has a long neck, many of the crane style movements terminate with an outstretched movement with the hand forming a beak. The cranes beak (he zui) is a very common association when the practitioner is initiating the crane style.
When forming a cranes beak using the hand, the fingers and thumb are pressed together to form a point and the wrist is bent. Usual targets for this kind of technique are again, as with the snake, focussed at vulnerable areas such as the eyes or throat. It is not uncommon for double techniques to be applied to two adversaries at the same time, this is known as twin cranes raise their heads (shuang he tai tou).
A simulation of the cranes neck (he jing) which forms a hooking hand can be used to pull an opponent off balance and then grabbing at the neck, arms or legs. This strike considering the spirit of this animal should be applied using soft relaxed force, however the fast snapping action of the wrist will focus power to the blow.
Another application using the cranes beak is known as crane guards its nest (bai he shou chao) when the cranes beak is used as a blocking action. Another application of the crane beak hand is the use of the top of the wrist known as the cranes head (he ding). This type of action is an imitation considering the manner in which a crane might strike using the top of its head following with the thrusting action using its neck.
This type of technique if focussed to areas such as throat, solar plexus, jaw or armpit and will undoubtedly cause incapacitation extremely quickly, these types of technique are formidable.
As this attack is launched using the hard portion of the wrist it is further pursued with the bent wrist into the injured area using the whole arm as with the cranes neck.
Advanced techniques of this nature when used to block against an arm strike from the adversary will simultaneously become a strike as with a technique known as crane guards the cave (ye he shou dong). The secret with this technique is the pressure point on the arm that has been penetrated, the direct consequence for the opponents arm is a painful disabling or deadening effect.
Undoubtedly the most common pose associated with the crane is when it stands on one leg, it is these characteristics which have moulded the way in which the Shaolin Masters came to understand the stance of the crane style.
White crane stands on one leg (bai he du li) is a position which the practitioner will assume when evading from a low kick typically to the shin, with this movement the knee is simply raised to a high position. A split second after the practitioner has assumed the high knee position the already raised leg will execute a kick to the opponents body, this is known as crane stretches his claw (bai he tan zhua) this is a front kick. Here you can see the calmness and softness associated with the spirit of this animal as the adversary’s energy is dispersed into thin air.
The student can gain a number of characteristics when practising the style of this animal, they can expect to gain better balance with speed whilst remaining active, loose with a supple waist and light balanced footwork.
There is one particular exercise which can be used in order to gain flexibility in the wrists of the practitioner, that is the execution of press-ups using the backs of the wrists as support and at the same time squeezing the fingers and thumbs together. Finger conditioning for this animal will be inherited from the formerly mentioned other Shaolin animals. It is fair to say that the dragon and tiger claws will already provide the crane stylist with the well conditioned fingertips and hands required considering the type of exercises undertaken. The crane practitioner should already understand the focus and spirit of the snake in order to direct qi energy through the fingertips.
However, one ancient method specifically for the fingertips of the crane stylist is the use of sandbags as a focus point of the beaks fingertips and after this stage one could use a large jar of coarse gravel to increase intensity and conditioning.
Another similar wrist conditioning exercise is when the practitioner strikes the sandbags using the backs of the wrists. To gain superior balance the student may stand on one leg for many minutes with their eyes closed and to make this exercise more rigorous small sandbags or weights can be tied to the ankles. To think of spirit of the cane it is one of deep relaxed concentration thus encouraging focus and intent with the student.
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