Two Cranes and a Chinese Lass

We all know that Karate originated in Okinawa but is not very sure how this combat art took birth there. Every art or tradition takes shape through generations tuned with many cultural transitions. One prominent theory of  Karate is that it has evolved from Chinese martial arts especially from White Crane Gonfu combined with Monk fist fighting system.

The story goes like this. During the Qing Dynasty period in Yongchun, Fujian province of China,  a great Monk Fist Boxing (one version of Gongfu) master named Zaongong was killed by a mob by deception. His young daughter and disciple, Fang Qiniang (also referred as Fan Qiang Liang) was revengeful but helpless, since she had not mastered the art,her father had passed on to her. Above all, she was young, frail and alone, not able to fight with the fierce men of mob.

While living with burning vengeance in heart and always pondering about a counter, she happened to see a battle between  two white cranes.  She was amazed about the skilful defence with wings, swift but concealed pecking and the instinctive evading of the cranes which were in an intense battle. She took a long staff, tried to poke onto the cranes in order to end the fight. But she could not touch the cranes however hard she tried.  This incident gave an insight to her about the fighting tactics of the two birds.  It is not the hard, strong muscles power but the speed, softness and suppleness generated in the real martial power can be used against any opponents regardless of the body size and power. She realized that it is the combination of soft and hard technique with accurate timing as the key to real  martial power. This revelation inspired her to fuse Monk Fist boxing into a new fighting strategy, that she developed and practiced for three years.

Very soon she became popular with the new style of battle tactics and many martial artists approached her to test her skill, but were defeated.  A well know hard style boxing expert, Zeng Cishu with “fingers like iron and body like a rock” also confronted her to test her fighting ability. But he realized in dismay  that his iron finger and rocky body has no use in the battle with the soft, supple lady opponent.  After the futile fight, he became a disciple of Fang Qiniang and studied diligently her soft style of combat art. He stayed as disciple with her a long time and thus a new tradition of Hard and soft style of martial arts evolved.

When martial arts evolved in Okinawa, it was an independent kingdom called Ryu Kyu. From 14th century, many Chinese martial artists resident in Okinawa passed their native martial system into Okinawan primitive combat system called Te. The great Chinese martial artist Kusanku (Wang Ji) came to Okinawa in 1683 as a Chinese envoy and passed the Crane style form known as “Flying swallow” to the Okinawans. At that time, many other Okinawan natives like Chatan Yara (or Yara Guwa) went to China, spent many years there to study Chinese martial arts and most probably studied the  White Crane system.  He return to Okinawa in 1700 and taught the system to his county men.

Okinawan martial arts initially was called as Dou-Te or Chinese Hand. The Kangi ideogram Tou stands for Chinese and Te for hand. After a few centuries the same Kanji ideogram interpreted as Kara-te, where Kara represents ‘empty’ and te remained as the same – ‘hand’. Finally in the year 1935, a group of senior martial artist in Okinawa assembled and declared that Okinawan combat system would be called as Karate, the ‘empty hand’ or weapon-less combat system. Another reference to Chinese link of Karate is “Shorin-ryu” which translates as “Shaolin”, the great martial icon of China.

Thus we come to the conclusion that Modern karate has undeniable link and influence with many Chinese martial arts systems, especially White Crane and Monk Fist Boxing system.