A magazine of martial and movement arts, with a focus on the internal style of Tai Chi Chuan
White Crane Gung-fu
Chinese Art of Self-Defense
by Michael P. Staples
(Ohara Publications, Inc., 1973,96 pages)
Review by Christopher Dow
The 1970s saw a proliferation of martial arts book discussing and depicting just about any style there was. A great many of these books were basic beginner manuals containing a smattering of the history of the style under consideration, the basic principles of the style, a depiction of a form or practice routines, and, often, illustrations of martial applications of the style. White Crane Gung-fu by Michale P. Staples fits this mold to a T, but it does have a claim to fame as the first book in English on the subject of White Crane Kung Fu.
Opening with a forward that places White Crane style, rightfully or not, in the Taoist tradition. This is followed by White Crane’s origin myth. This concerns an old monk who observed the seemingly delicate and graceful movements of a white crane who daily appeared in his garden. Then one day, the old man watched a huge ape attack the crane. To the old man’s surprise, the crane used its precise and graceful movements to outmaneuver the ape and then counter-attacked with sharp pecks of its beak that drove the ape away. The crane disappeared after the battle, but the old man frequently thought on how it had won the battle against a physically superior opponent. Then one day, the old man was attacked by two thieves, and almost without knowing what he was doing, he used the movements he’d learned from the crane to defeat the thieves.
The ancient Chinese landscape was alive, it seems, with animals who passed on their fighting secrets to the great number of mysterious hermit monks living in their environs.
Staples goes on from this origin myth into a general history of kung fu that begins with Hua To’s invention of exercises based on animal movements. The history continues on through Ta Mo (Bodhidharma), the Shaolin Temple
Along the way, Staples touches on how Buddhism and Taoism had differing influences on the philosophies of Northern versus Southern styles of Chinese martial arts, producing the two main categories: external styles and internal styles. Although the exact origins of White Crane are obscure, Stapes says, the art was developed as a combination of these two categories. Today, White Crane now has three major schools: Pak Hoc, Hop Ga, and La Ma.
A brief outline of the I Ching comes next, and then Staples moves on to principles of White Crane, including spontaneity and the body functioning as a single unit. Basic palm forms are shown, and then the text and photos move on to basic drills and techniques.
A chapter on chi, the meridian system, and acupuncture follows, and it includes a chart of acupuncture points, but there is little explanation of the significance of the specific points. For more thorough information, it would be better to look at a book such as Acupuncture Medicine by Yoshiaki Omura.
The final two chapers are “Combinations of Techniques” and “Street Tactics.” Both show defensive and counterattacking movements against a variety of attacks. This is all pretty basic stuff, and the attacker all too often uses an open-armed attacking style that leaves him open to just about anything you’d want to do to him, and some of the applications performed by the defender seem less than convincing. But then, I’m a Tai Chi guy and not privy to the inner workings of White Crane.
This isn’t a bad book, but it seems geared strictly for White Crane beginners.