White Crane system, originally named "Lion´s Roar", was created by a Vajrayana Buddhist Lama by the name of Or Da Tor, in Tibet,   during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) in China.

Or Da Tor was born in 1426 and was a member of a nomadic tribe, originally from the territory of Ching traveled throughout Tibet and Qinghai, Hoy, which is not far from Tibet. During the course of his early years, his family moved to the southwest, setting in the region north of the Himalayas known as Tibet.

As a young man he practiced horsemanship, wrestling and a special type of Kahm-Na (seizing and controlling skill).  After being ordained as a monk in Tibet he also learned a martial art that was apparently Indian in origin, a form of Kalaripayattu.

As a Lama, he became s close disciple of  the great dharma master, Gong Gut (also called Simhanada Lama Vajra Drollo, The Lion´s Roar Lama Dorje Drollo.

By his name, we can deduce, that Gong Gut was a Nigmapa practitioner, from the lineage started in the ninth century by Padmashambava (Dorje Drollo is one of the 8 wrathful emanations of Padmashambava).

Simhanada or Lion´s Roar, alludes to the proclamation of Sakhyamuni Buddha, announcing to the universe that he was fully enlightened, giving a lion´s roar after his final eligtenment experience signaling the heaven with one hand and the earth with the other. Having the title Simhanada, tell us that Gong Gut was considered a full Buddha.

It is not surprising that part of the inner teaching of White Crane, is a meditation technique, very close to the Dzogchen tecniques taught by Padmasambhava.

While on meditation  retreat in the mountains Or Da Tor, witnessed the famous battle between the crane and ape that ultimately formed the foundation for the Tibetan White Crane kung fu system.

The crane, appeared to be a mismatch in  abilities, but this proved wrong, every time the ape attacked, the crane with soft, flexible and continues quick movements, evaded him and finally won the fight.

In the beginning, he called his system Simhanada,, "Lion´s Roar”, which tell us that Or Da Tor, considered his system, an enlighted expression of martial art, and also that himself, have had an enlightened experience through the grasping of the principles involved.

Or Da Tor not only created a new martial art during this retreat, he created an active path for enlightenment.

The new art would contain and through time will be enriched, in five areas:

  1. 1.Physical art of fighting

  2. 2.Inner Training in its very particular way

  3. 3.Healing

  4. 4.Philosophy and Strategy

  5. 5.Meditation

Over time, master Sing Lum changed the system's name to Tibetan White Crane, the reason of this was that he was tired of hurting fighters that came to challenge the master of a system which name implied that it was above all, the name was changed then because of  Sig Lum´s compassion.

During the course of the Ming Dynasty, another monk, Dor Lor Gut Tan, learned the system, redesigned the movements while retaining the philosophy, and increased its complexity to include ten sets of front-hand techniques, ten sets of opposite-hand techniques, plus additional hand-foot techniques of a highly intricate and advanced nature-may luk sou (traditional Buddha hands); fay huk sou (flying crane hands); guwye ji tek (cripple kick); and yuen han hok luk (eight-walk crane stance).

The system was treated as a secret art until the time of the Ching Dynasty (1644-1912).

The Manchurians were followers of Tibetan Buddhism and so, upon invading China, brought Tibetan monks along with them. Many of these monks were sent to various Chan (Zen) Buddhist monasteries, particularly in southern provinces. Among these Tibetan monks was Sing Lung Lo Jung (lit. Sage Dragon Venerable Monk and also known as Hing Duk), the eleventh generation inheritor of the Lion's Roar system.

In 1865, Sing Lung Lo Jung was sent to a small monastery in Guangdong province known as the Green Cloud Monastery (it is also sometimes referred to as the Joyous or Blessed Cloud monastery).

Sing Luhng was more interested in martial arts and Buddhist studies than politics and quickly made friends with the Chinese monks. In exchange for them teaching him their Shaolin based arts, Sing Luhng taught a select few the Lion's Roar system. It is here that the system's name changed. The Chinese monks began to refer to the art they were learning as "Lama Pai" which simply meant the art practiced by Lamas (i.e. Tibetan monks).

In his old age Sing Luhng also took laymen as students. Among the first to be accepted were, Chan Yam, Chou Heung-Yuen, and Chu Chi-Yu. Chan Yam and Chou Heung-Yuen both died relatively young and apparently had few if any students worth noting. Chu Chi- Yu accepted only a few disciples and kept what he had learned concealed from the general public. Among his students were Chu Cheung, Lei Seung-Dong, and Chiu Dihk. These students continued to guard what they had learned very closely and only accept a few disciples.

The last two laymen disciples accepted were Wong Yan-Lam and Wong Lam-Hoi. They were born and raised in the village just below the Green Cloud Monastery and were the students of a Shaolin Kung-Fu master known as Wong Ping. Wong Ping was something of a local legend, known as "the bronze foot", and was fond of demonstrating his kung-fu in public. Because of this he came to the attention of Sing Luhng.

One day Sing Luhng came down from the mountain and had an opportunity to observe Wong Ping's kung-fu. He was impressed by Wong Ping's skill and tried to tell him so but because Sing Luhng's Chinese was not very good there was a misunderstanding. Wong Ping attacked Sing Luhng with a powerful leg sweep but the Tibetan monk utilized a technique known as "GAM GONG HONG LUHNG". He leapt up into the air and landed on the leg, breaking Wong Ping's knee.

When the misunderstanding was corrected Sing Luhng offered to heal the leg using special Tibetan medical techniques and the two became friends. Wong Ping was so impressed by Sing Luhng that he asked the old monk to teach Wong Yan-Lam and Wong Lam-Hoi. While the exact date is still uncertain, the year was approximately 1883.

Ching Yun Jih "Blessed Cloud Monastery" (庆云寺)

Wong Yan-Lam

Wong Lam-Hoi

Both Wong Yan-Lam and Wong Lam-Hoi studied for many years and achieved considerable skill under the direction of Sing Luhng. In addition to Lama Pai, they also learned the Lo Han Myuhn (Boddhisattva division) and Gam Gong Myuhn (Diamond division) internal methods and the Tibetan medical techniques. However, it must be remembered that in traditional China each student was always taught by his teacher individually and based upon his body type and abilities. Neither of the two brothers learned the entire system but rather what best suited them.

After the death of Sing Luhng, Wong Lam-Hoi remained in Guangdong and became a well respected fighter and a member of the ten tigers of Guangdong.

As a teacher, Wong Lam-Hoi's abilities were well respected by all and many students flocked to his school to learn his methods. In fact,Wong Lam-Hoi was already well established by the time Wong Yan-Lam returned to Guangdong. Wong Lam-Hoi accepted many disciples during his years in Guangdong including Nhg Siu-Chan, Nhg Shi-Kai, Nhg Keng-Wen, Lei Shing-Kon, Dong Di-Wen, Nhg Gam-Tin, Cheng Tit-Wu, Leung Chi-Hoi, Lo Chiu-Kit, Chung Chan-Yung and Dang Ho. However, his most famous disciple was his senior student Nhg Siu-Chung. Nhg Siu-Chung was an extremely skilled fighter and is often remembered for defeating Wong Siu-Jou, the foremost member of the northern five tigers group.
Wong Yan-Lam would achieve even greater fame. Upon the death of his teacher, Wong Yan-Lam left Guangdong and worked for many years as an armed escort in Shan Xi province. During this period Wong Yan-Lam met and exchanged techniques with a great number of martial artists. Wong Yan-Lam also became involved in the revolutionary movement pledged to overthrow the Manchurians. Because of the numerous goods deeds attributed to him during his lifetime, Wong Yan-Lam earned the nickname of "Haap" (Knight or Hero).

After many years, Wong Yan-Lam grew homesick and decided to return to Guangdong. He also decided that he finally wanted to accept students and teach Lama Pai. Upon arriving in Guangdong City, he erected a large wooden stage and announced that he would accept any challenger to prove the effectiveness of Lama Pai. At the time, the city was southern China's foremost center for martial artists and fighters and such challenges were not taken lightly. Matches such as these had no rules and no restrictions and permanent injury and even death were common.

For the next two weeks, 150 of the area's best fighters were punched, kicked, thrown or strangled into submission. Many were beaten in a matter of seconds. It was an unprecedented display of fighting ability and as a result Wong Yan-Lam was subsequently ranked number one among the Ten Tigers of Guangdong and considered the best fighter in southern China.

Wong Yan-Lam's victory also had an immediate impact upon both teachers' schools. Martial artists of all systems tried to learn the Lion's Roar system's secrets and many sought out Wong Yan-Lam and Wong Lam-Hoi for instruction. Even the famous Wong Fei-Hung of the Hung Ga style studied briefly with Wong Yan-Lam. In fact, the long arm techniques found in both the Tiger and Crane Set (Fu Hok Seung Yihng) and the Five Element fist techniques found in the Ten Shape Form (Sahp Yihng Kyuhn) are a direct result of this. In exchange, Wong Yan-Lam learned Wong Fei-Hung's five animal techniques and created the Lama Pai Lesser Five Animal Hand Set (Siu Nhg Yihng Kyuhn).

For many years, both Wong Yan-Lam and Wong Lam-Hoi used the Lama Pai name and taught essentially the same system. However, the rapid increase in the size of the system inevitably led to divisions. The system also suffered because it was a foreign method. The Republic period was a time of extreme nationalism and few instructors wanted to claim to be teaching a foreign system, especially one the Qing royal guard had practiced.

For this reason, Wong Yan-Lam's number one disciple, Wong Hon-Wing, adopted the name Haap Ga (Knight Family Style) based upon his teacher's nickname and the recommendation of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen. However, most of Wong Lam-Hoi's students did not accept this new name. They simply refused to give more credit to their Si-Baahk (elder ”kung fu uncle”) than to their own teacher. In response,
Nhg Siu-Chung established the White Crane style (Pak Hok Pai).

Nhg Siu-Chung sought to make the system more accessible to the general public. The White Crane style attempted to standardize the practice of basics and both modified and created hand sets to make them logical and systematic. Nhg Siu-Chung's efforts were quickly rewarded. He taught many students and made the White Crane style the most famous of all of the Tibetan martial arts. In 1954 the White Crane style gained even greater popularity when a public fight between Chan Hak-Fu, one of Nhg Siu-Chung's disciples, and Nhg Gung-Yee, a master of Wu Style Taiji, was arranged. Other famous disciples of Nhg Siu-Chung are Kwong Boon-Fu, Luk Chi Fu, and Ngai Yoh Tong.

However, soon after Nhg Siu-Chung's death the style split into several branches and no longer remains unified. The Hong Kong White Crane Athletic Association attempted to standardize the teaching of White Crane but each disciple had already begun developing their own methods. Some disciples were content to remain within the Hong Kong White Crane Athletic Association while others, most notably Chan Hak-Fu, were not. Chan Hak- Fu decided to establish his own organization, the International White Crane Federation, in Australia in 1972. Chan Hak-Fu's White Crane is considered significantly different from the White Crane of his classmates. Things were further complicated in 1977 when Ngai Yoh Tong and several members of the Hong Kong White Crane Athletic Association decided to change the hand sets, making them "more economical" and removing repeated movements.

Kwong Bon Fu taught many students, including Zhou Song Yao (Vincent Chow)

Today, there remains only a few hand sets that all the different factions still have in common. Among these are Luk Lek Kuen (achieving power), Choy Yup Bo (exit and enter step), Tie Lian Kuen (chain set), Ng Ying Kuen (lesser five animals), Ting Gon Kuen (heaven set), Long Quan kun (Boddhisattva), and Mein Loi Jum (needle in cotton). Unfortunately, these hand sets are often quite different in composition and performed differently, especially where footwork is concerned.

A general description of the system techniques and philosophy

The style was primarily created by Or Da Tor in an attempt to devise a simple and effective fighting system for humans, similar to the winning techniques he saw used on the mountain by the crane. His system incorporated eight types of "long-arm" striking motions called "flying crane hand techniques" within a unique philosophy comprised of four main teaching ideas.

The Four Strategies are:
Chan- Literally translated as "cruel," this is a non-submissive mental attitude. The point is, either one commits completely to an attack with full power, maintaining the idea of never retreating, or one simply doesn't attack at all.

Sim- The object here is to dodge all strikes whenever applicable by "going around" the opponent and his strikes through the use of body movement. It is this skilled use of body movement, in fact, for which the system is noted. (Importantly, in white crane, blocks are not accomplished by direct contact, because by concentrating on actively blocking, one cannot sustain the preceding principle of chan. Therefore, the second principle, sim, is the only defense in the system. It teaches use of the body, rather than the hands, to block since the hands were made to strike with. Furthermore, it is said to be impossible to block the system's strikes, or get an offensive move in yourself, because within the third principle of white crane's philosophy is the idea of always ending each strike with another one.)

Cheurng- By punching "all the way through" the opponent, and always ending each strike with a new one, each strike could theoretically be lethal.

It- This is the hardest concept to understand and achieve. The intent of this last principle is to stop one's opponent by always being one move ahead of him. With white crane's emphasis on free-style sparring, one will ultimately master this final concept in time.


At the beginning, the system consisted of 8 fist strikes, 8 palm strikes, 8 elbow strikes, 8 finger strikes, 8 kicking techniques, 8 seizing (clawing) techniques, 8 stances and 8 stepping patterns. It included techniques derived from a wide variety of influences including Mongolian wrestling (Shuai Jiao), Northern and Western Chinese long arm and kicking techniques, and Tibetan and Indian close range hand techniques and evasive footwork.

With time, it aquire many different techniques and forms.
Today, White Crane's six basic movements consist of three closed-fist punches, one closed-fist side strike, one open-handed palm strike, and one circular-handed maneuver. The three main punches are: chuin chui, a straight punch utilizing power from the waist and twist of the body; pow chui, a straight uppercut employed with a semicircular body motion; and cup chui, a vertical downward scraping strike with the second joint knuckles as the area of contact. Bin chui (whip hand) is a horizontal side strike. Its whipping action is usually directed to an opponent's abdomen or rib cage, especially if the enemy is trying to escape. It is also sometimes used as a block/strike to the neck in response to an attacker's high punch. Chang jeurng, the only open-palm strike in white crane, typically uses the facial area as its target. Wang sao, although technically considered a blocking action, is really a preparatory circular motion designed to "open up" an opponent for subsequent attack. This movement is always followed by one or more of the white crane offensive techniques.

In the usual practice of each of these techniques, up to 500 repetitions a day, pow chui and cup chui are unique in that they utilize the mok yee pai (wooden-ear plaque) is a heavy bell-shaped object made out of metal and wood which is employed for strength and subsequent power development.

Highly regarded as the trademark of white crane is a powerful combination known as bok hawk tom soi (white crane testing the water). This is composed of a wanf sao in defense of an opponent's front punch, followed by the other hand crossing in front to perform a bin chui to the neck in conjunction with a simultaneous foot sweep.

Accompanying white crane's distinctive hand strikes are the strong stances and superlative footwork from which all offensive movements are delivered. There are three types of white crane footwork. There is the stalking "gorilla walk", which is circular, bent-knee pattern. Practiced continually in training, this pattern of movement will confuse an opponent and create openings for attack by upsetting his balance. Depending on the circumstances, the gorilla walk is performed at either a slow or rapid pace. Second in the list of white crane footwork techniques is dow ma. This is a galloping motion used instead of the more common stepping variety of other systems. By jumping and simultaneously crossing one foot in front of the other, one can move with tremendous speed in a straight or angular direction whether advancing or retreating.

Lastly, there is chit bo, a fast powerful kick-walk technique. To advance, chit bo is accomplished by kicking the front foot's heel forward with the side of the back foot. To retreat, reverse the process and kick the side of the back foot with the heel of the front foot.

With regard to kicking techniques, white crane kung fu possesses only a limited number and they are not generally used. White crane has three low kicks- a sweep kick, shin kick and front kick- plus one high jump kick that is similar to the traditional "butterfly kick".

The basic hand-and-foot techniques of white crane are contained in all sets within the system. The most noted sets are the six-power kuen (the most original set); in and out step (intricate patterns of movement); iron chain ("striking-chain" power); tin gong (flying kicks/flying punches); lo hun (closed fist set); gung gong (open palm set); and five-image kuen (modern-day set).

There does exist one famous soft set, "Needle and Cotton", which is similar to the slow, even movements of tai chi chuan. Rarely in the repertoire of most white crane practitioners today, this set is performed on six-by-ten-inch wooden stands called mui ga jong, with balance the main emphasis. Although over time some variation and modification have infiltrated sets within the system, the basic hand-and-footwork techniques remain unchanged and authentically traditional.

It is the straightforward simplicity of white crane kung fu, which is responsible for its effectiveness, efficiency and, due to these components, its popularity in China as well as the United States. The primary reason behind these advantages is the great power inherent in the techniques which, in turn, are based on the waist as the central core of gravity and natural power. All movements are based on the rotational-waist concept of che san (wheel-turning body).

There are two methods for developing and straightening the waist: first, by rotating it 500 times a day while in a traditional square horse stance, and secondly, by practicing this same technique with the addition of staff held behind the neck with both arms wrapped around the staff. This exercise has the added benefit of developing maximum extension of the body, which is another essential factor pertaining to movement- especially offensive movement- in white crane kung fu.

Full extension is vital. Although in other martial arts there are high, low and mid-level movements, in white crane each strike is capable of covering all three areas. This is due to the fact that, by changing the direction and angle of attack by turning one's body, a straight vertical strike downward can cover, in effect, not only the high, middle and low areas, but all possible angles as well. Bear in mind that the angle of attack and target area in this system are not governed by the angle or direction of one's fist. Instead, blows are struck through the skilled use of body movement, originating from the central core of power and speed- the waist.

We thank Vincent Cabais and David Ross for their research work that contributed to this exposition.

Sifu Carlos de León