Fang Qi Niang and the White Crane style of Yong Chun


When we are interested in the History of Wing Chun 詠春, sooner or later, we end up interested in the History of Bai He Quan 白鶴拳, the White Crane style. What is more, the White Crane style is one of the oldest styles of Southern Chinese Martial Arts and many styles like Wing Chun 詠春, Hung Gar 洪家, Wu Zu Quan 五祖拳 or even Karate 空手, relate their origins to Bai He Quan 白鶴拳. In this post we will return to the sources of this martial art which is more than 300 years old.

Techniques of Yong Chun Bai He Quan. Source : naamkyun.com

Yong Chun Bai He Quan 永春白鶴拳, in Mandarin (Wing Chun Bak Hok Kyun in Cantonese), is one of the oldest styles of Martial Arts in Fujian Province. Its legendary origins date back to the 17th century, the period of the fall of the Ming and the seizure of power by the Qing. Over the centuries, Yong Chun Bai He Quan has developed and greatly influenced the Southern Chinese Martial Arts and even beyond the borders of the Middle Empire.

 

The Fang Qi Niang 方七娘 legend

Tradition has it that in the 17th century, a Fujian Shaolin monk named Fang Zhang Guang 方掌光 transmitted his martial skills to his daughter, Fang Qi Niang 方七娘. Later, Fang Qi Niang took inspiration from the movements of the crane to create a new style. She later settled in Yong Chun 永春, Fujian, and taught her new martial art which was known as Yong Chun Bai He Quan 永春白鶴拳, the White Crane style of Yong Chun. [1]

Map of Fujian by Martini Martino, published in Amsterdam, 1755. On the right a zoom on the city of Iungchung (Yong Chun written in Latin). Source : BNF Gallica

In Yong Chun, Fang Qi Niang taught her art with her husband, Zheng Si 曾四 [2]. Subsequently, Bai He Quan developed throughout Fujian Province, in the cities of Fuzhou 福州, Fuqing 福清, Changle 长乐 and Putian 莆田. Then it was also exported to Taiwan and Southwest Asia, thanks in particular to the great wave of emigration of people from Fujian at the end of the 17th century. [3]

The founding legends are part of Chinese martial arts folklore. There are epic and unusual stories at the origin of many Chinese styles. However, as far as Fang Qi Niang is concerned, it seems that he is a person who really existed. As specified by Leung Ting and Yang Jwing Ming [2], the Fang Qi Niang’s History is related in the official archives of Yong Chun city, at the time of Kangxi’s reign (1661-1722).

“The story proves to be a true that there was really woman called Fong Chat Neung (Fong Qi Niang) who had once taught the White Crane style of kungfu in the Weng Chun (Yong Chun) Precinct with her husband” Leung Ting [2]

The development of Bai He Quan

In Fuzhou, Bai He Quan continued to develop to give birth to four branches known by their English translation * [3] :

  • Flying Crane Fist
  • Crying Crane Fist
  • Sleeping Crane Fist
  • Feeding Crane Fist

*see Note for more details.

Kanryo Higaonna (1853-1916), one of the precursors of Okinawa Karate, studied in Fuzhou in 1877, with Xie Chong Xiang 謝崇祥 a master of Ming He Quan 鳴鶴 拳 (Crying Crane Fist), also known as Ryu Ryu Ko ルールーコウ in Okinawa. Through Karate 空手 Goju Ryu 剛柔 流, among others, the White Crane style also conquered the Okinawa archipelago and greatly influenced the local martial arts. We also find in many styles of traditional Okinawa Karate the SanChin 三 戦 kata, which is an interpretation of the SanZhan 三 戦 form, the fundamental form found in Yong Chun Bai He Quan. [5]

Hon Cheuk Kin, Karate practitioner, performingKata Sanchin. Source : Kung Fu Quest 2 : White Crane. (Click on the picture to watch the video). [5]
Okinawa Karate has its origins in the Bai He Quan of China. Many Karate Masters have referred to Bubishi 武備志, the famous Chinese martial arts manual imported to Okinawa at the end of the 19th century, to explain the Chinese roots of their art. Moreover, what today is designated by Karate 空手 and which is commonly translated by empty hand, was originally called Tode 唐手, Tang hand (Tang being the name of the dynasty Chinese who ruled from the 7th to the 10th century). I will come back to this in detail in a future post. [5]

 

Bai He Quan also influenced other styles of Southern Chinese Martial Arts. We find in the founding legends of certain styles references to Bai He Quan and we also find similitaries in the martial techniques used, as well as the learning methods.

 

Fang Qi Niang’s story : a model for many martial arts stories

In the legend of Wing Chun, we often find links from near or far with the White Crane style (Bai He Quan). Yim Yee 嚴 二, the father of Yim Wing Chun 嚴詠春, is sometimes considered an expert of Yong Chun Bai He Quan [6], as is Ng Mui 五枚, the founder of Wing Chun still according to legend.

Note that Ip Man never mentioned that Ng Mui was an expert in Bai He Quan, he just specified in his now famous manuscript that Ng Mui would have taken refuge in the temple of the White Crane of Mount Tai Leung 大 涼山 (or Chai Har 大 涼山) located between the provinces of Yunnan and Sichuan, following the destruction of the Shaolin monastery. This temple is unknown nowadays, there is no historical or archaeological source that attests to its existence. In Ip Man’s story, we can interpret this monastery where Ng Mui took refuge, as a style of martial arts, rather than a place.

However, it was widely claimed that Ng Mui was an expert in Bai He Quan. Starting with Ip Chun, the son of Ip Man [7]. Some accounts even specify that Ng Mui and Fang Qi Niang are the same person. When she was old, Fang Qi Niang would have taken the name Ng Mui when she became a nun and then took refuge in Guangdong [8].

Nun Ng Mui observing a fight between a crane and a fox. Source : Wing Tsun Kuen p38  1978 ed.

 

In the legend of the Hung Gar, one sometimes mentions a certain Fong Wing Chun 方詠春, an expert in White Crane style (Bai He Quan). According to tradition, the form Fu Hok Seung Ying Kuen 虎鶴雙形拳, which can be translated as the Tiger and Crane form, was created by Hung Hei Koon 洪熙官, an expert in Tiger style, and a certain Fong Wing Chun, an expert in White Crane style. They would have put their techniques in common to create the Tiger and Crane form, Fu Hok Seung Ying Kuen [9].

Fong Wing Chun seems to be a really secondary character in the legendary lineage of Hung Gar, sometimes mentioned, sometimes totally ignored. About her, the famous Chiu Chi Ling said [10] :

Wing Chun originates from Fong Wing Chun, who also plays an important role in the invention of the tiger-and-crane form. Therefore, the Wing Chun style has a crane techniques very similar to that of the tiger-and-crane form. Both come from the same source.

Note that Hung Hei Koon, like Fong Wing Chun, does not appear in the lineage specified by Lam Sai Wing. However, in the legendary Hung Gar genealogy, Hung Hei Koon (see Note) is commonly placed as a disciple of Gee Sin 至禪 and as Master of Luk Hay Choy 陸亞彩.

Nevertheless, Lam Sai Wing had another version of the creation of Fu Hok Seung Ying Kuen which he attributed to his Master Wong Fei Hung [11] :

Fu Hok Seung Ying Kuen was created by the late Grand Master Wong Fei Hung. He picked up the the essential techniques of various famous styles, has mastered them through a comprehensive study,  transformed them and created Fu Hok Seung Ying Kuen.

 

In summary, it is surprising to see that three women, Fang Qi Niang, Yim Wing Chun and Fang Wing Chun, experts in martial arts (and at least for two of them, Fang Qi Niang and Fang Wing Chun, in Bai He Quan, White Crane style) have a rather similar history. They created a martial art from the observation of a confrontation of a crane facing another animal. Then they got married and their husbands spread their art.

The legend of Fang Qi Niang seems to form a matrix on which other legendary tales draw inspiration and reinterpret the main plot with both similarities and differences.

“Due to the similarities, it is possible that these individuals are all just different incarnations of the same archetypal characters, used to disguise the real revolutionnaries involved in the arts.” Robert Chu [12]

 

The techniques of Bai He Quan in the Southern Chinese Martial Arts

One of the most important components of all Bai He Quan currents is the form SanZhan 三 戦 (often written SaamChien according to the Cantonese pronunciation), already mentioned earlier in this post. As Lee Kong points out [5] :

“SanZhan encompases everything in White Crane” Lee Kong

Lee Kong, Master of Yong Chun Bai He Quan in Hong Kong. Lee Kong was a disciple of Zheng Wenlong (郑文龙) (1911-1984), a Master of Yong Chun Bai He Quan of Zhangzhou, Fujian [13]. Source : fu-rong.cn
Lee Kong specifies that this form gives the great bases for all the others and that it allows to work in particular several techniques of the upper limbs of Bai He Quan. We have already discussed that this form had an important role in the development of the Okinawa Martial Arts and the link with the Karate‘s origins seems unmistakable. However, SanZhan involves an important concept that we find in Wing Chun called Jarn Dai Lik 㬹底力, elbow power. Sergio Iadarola even argues that another advanced form of this system called Shi Er Jie Li 十二节力 (12 Joint Power), includes several movements of current forms of Wing Chun (Siu Nim Tau, Chum Kiu, Biu Tze) [14].

 

Another very interesting feature of Bai He Quan is the practice of clinging arms (or sticking hands). The first fundamental exercise is called white cranes twinning the necks 白鶴缠脖. It consists of maintaining contact with the partner’s forearm (right arm on right arm and vice versa) and performing circular movements in one direction or another.

Similar clinging-arm technique in Yong Chun Bai He Quan (top) and Hung Gar (bottom). Source : Kung Fu Quest 2 : White Crane Boxing (2012) and Kung Fu Quest  : Authentic Hung Kuen (2012)

This exercise is a great classic of southern styles. It is found in particular in Hung Gar, Tang Lang and Karate Gojo-Ryu where it is called Kakie. Of course, the parallel with the clinging-arms of Wing Chun, Chi Sau 黐手, seems obvious, but it should be noted that Daan Chi Sau 单黐手 (single arm Chi Sau ; right arm on left arm and vice- versa), is not practiced in the same way as Bai He Quan.

Subsequently, clinging-arms in Bai He Quan evolves by training with both hands with a first flow called Pun Sau 盤手 which consists of “rolling your arms” with those of the partner before breaking this flow with attack techniques. It is interesting to note that the Pun Sau used in Bai He Quan is not by convention the one used in Wing Chun of Hong Kong which swings between the 3 fundamental techniques which are fook sau 伏手, taan sau 摊手 and bong sau 膀 手. However, this way of rolling the arms is the same as that used in the Malaysian lineage of Wing Chun (also called Ban Jung/Chung Wing Chun 班 中 詠 春).

 

One can also find other common links with Southern styles.

I am thinking in particular of the hands techniques in the shape of the crane beak used in the Hung Gar in the form Fu Hok Seung Ying Kuen 虎鶴雙形拳, the Tiger and Crane form (on the right, Lam Sai Wing , Master of Hung Gar, performing a crane beak attack technique).

Lee Kong demonstrated a use of this Yong Chun Bak Hok technique in Kung Fu Quest 2 : White Crane Boxing (2012) (lien youtube)

 

 

Conclusion

There are many theories about Wing Chun‘s origins. The link with Fujian Bai He Quan is one theory among many. This theory was put forward by Leung Ting, then Sergio Iadarola, among others [15]. The legend of Fang Qi Niang can be considered to inspire the legend of Ng Mui and Yim Wing Chun, as it may have inspired that of Fang Wing Chun and others.

On the other hand, the Yong Chun city 永春 where Bai He Quan originated invites to immediately draw a parallel with Wing Chun 詠春. Indeed 永春 and 詠春 are particularly close. I have already touched on the subject in this post.

On the technical side, perhaps there are some pieces from Bai He Quan in the DNA of Wing Chun, there are indeed certain combat principles common to these two systems such as center management, straight body structure, close combat … For my part, I consider that like any style, Wing Chun was undoubtedly born from a process of development resulting from a mix of several influences. And although Bai He Quan of Fujian may be part of it, it should not be forgotten that Wing Chun is an authentic Guangdong art.

“Did the martial arts of the Pearl River Delta borrow techniques and concepts from Fujian?  Absolutely.  Was Wing Chun inspired by the story of “Lady Seven” (Fong Qi Niang, see Note) ?  I don’t think there is any doubt about it.  In fact, I think it is pretty clear that they stole “her” in an attempt to create their own origin myth.” Benjamin Judkins [16]


Note

The Chinese names of the characters and styles in this article have been transcribed according to the Mandarin pronunciation. According to the sources, we can find different writings. Here are a few :

For the characters :

  • Fang Zhang Guang 方掌光 can also be written in Cantonese Fong Cheung Kwong.
  • Fang Qi Niang 方七娘 can also be written in Cantonese Fong Chat Neung. Sometimes literally translated from Chinese to English by Fong Lady Seven or just Lady Seven. [17]
  • Zeng Si, Ceng Si 曾四 can also be written in Cantonese Tsang Saay
  • Hung Hei Koon 洪熙官 can also be written in Cantonese Hung Hei Goon, Hung Hay Koon and written in Mandarin Hung Xi Guan.

For the styles :

  • Yong chun Bai He Quan 永春白鶴拳, in Cantonese Wing Chun Bak Hok Kyun.
  • Fei He Quan 飛鶴拳 in English Flying Crane Fist
  • Ming He Quan 鳴鶴拳 in English Whooping, Shouting, Crying ou Calling Crane Fist
  • Zong He Quan 宿鶴拳 in English Ancestral Crane Fist or Jumping or Sleeping 宿鶴拳
  • Shi He Quan 食鹤拳 in English Feeding or Eating Crane Fist

Sources

[1] Kung Fu Quest 2 : White Crane Boxing, documentary published by RTHK (Radio Television Hong Kong), 2012 + Nouvelle Encyclopédie des Arts Martiaux d’Extrême-Orient – Technique, historique, biographique et culturelle, p53-54, HABERSETZER Gabrielle et Roland,  ed. AMPHORA, 2012 + Roots and Branches of Wing Tsun, p213 , LEUNG Ting, ed. Leung Ting Co, 2000 + The Essence of Shaolin White Crane Martial Power and Qi Gong, p91, YANG Jwing Ming ed. YMAA, 1996 + The Bible of Karate: Bubishi, p62-63, McCARTHY Patrick, ed. Tuttle. 1995 + Karate Nerd in China (Ep. 2) (youtube channel of Jesse Enkamp)

[2] Roots and Branches of Wing Tsun, p218 , LEUNG Ting, ed. Leung Ting Co, 2000 + The Essence of Shaolin White Crane Martial Power and Qi Gong, p91, YANG Jwing Ming ed. YMAA, 1996 + Kung Fu Quest 2 : White Crane Boxing, documentary published by RTHK (Radio Television Hong Kong), 2012

[3] The Essence of Shaolin White Crane Martial Power and Qi Gong, p91, YANG Jwing Ming ed. YMAA, 1996 + Kung Fu Quest 2 : White Crane Boxing, documentary published by RTHK (Radio Television Hong Kong), 2012

[5] Kung Fu Quest 2 : White Crane Boxing, documentary published by RTHK (Radio Television Hong Kong), 2012

[6] Complete Wing Chun : The Definitive Guide to Wing Chun’s History and Traditions, p113, CHU Robert, RITCHIE Rene, ed. Tuttle Publishing, 1998.

[7] Wing Chun Kung Fu : traditional Chinese kung fu for self defense & health, p14-15, TSE Michael et IP Chun, ed. St. Martin’s Griffin, 1998

[8] youtube link : CCTV4 Yongchun Baihe Quan (White Crane) + The 6 Core Elements, p190-191, IADAROLA Sergio Pascal, ed. Elephant White Cultural Entreprise Co., 2015

[9] Tiger-Crane Form of Hung Gar Kung Fu, p7, KONG Bucksam, ed. Black Belt Communications, 1983

[10] Black Belt, february 1987, p35, Rainbow Publications

[11] link practicalhungkyun.com

[12] Complete Wing Chun : The Definitive Guide to Wing Chun’s History and Traditions, p114, CHU Robert, RITCHIE Rene, ed. Tuttle Publishing, 1998.

[13] facebook page : 香港永春白鶴拳研究會 Fujian White Crane Kung Fu – post of march, 9, 2015

[14] The 6 Core Elements, p190-191, IADAROLA Sergio Pascal, ed. Elephant White Cultural Entreprise Co., 2015

[15] Roots and Branches of Wing Tsun, p52 , LEUNG Ting, ed. Leung Ting Co, 2000 + The 6 Core Elements, p190-191, IADAROLA Sergio Pascal, ed. Elephant White Cultural Entreprise Co., 2015

[16] link to the post of Benjamin Judkins : Hing chao Discusses Southern Boxing, White Crane and the “Eastern Theory” of Wing Chun’s Origins.

[17] Roots and Branches of Wing Tsun, p218 , LEUNG Ting, ed. Leung Ting Co, 2000


 

2 Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.