White Crane is considered a Soft-Hard Style, in which a beginner starts from hard and then gradually enters the soft. This also means that he or she will start with the external (i.e., more physical) and slowly enter into the internal (i.e., more emphasis on Qi cultivation). There are a few reasons that the training was set up this way.
1. It is easier to be hard, and harder to be soft for a beginner. This means it is easier to use muscular power and immediately adopt it into fighting. It was necessary in ancient times to learn how to defend yourself as soon as possible. Normally, three years of external training was enough to build good muscular techniques for defense in general.
2. The theory of cultivating Qi is harder to understand for a beginner. Not only that, since Qi cultivation is a high secret of Jin, often a master will not teach a student unless he or she has followed the master for a long period of time and has earned trust.
3. The manifestation of Hard Jin is easier, and that of the Soft Jin is harder. This is again related to the cultivation of Qi. However, another reason for this is that it is easier to injure the ligaments in the joints when the Jin manifestation becomes softer. Normally, in Hard Jin training, there is less problem with joint injury. We will discuss this subject in more detail in Part III of this book.
4. The techniques based on the Soft Jins are much harder to perform. For example, success in manifesting coiling Jin, controlling Jin, leading Jin, sticking Jin, and adhering Jin depends on a high level of comprehension and capability in performing listening Jin (i.e., feeling of the skin) and understanding Jin. In order to reach the high skill in these Jins, the body must be very soft, which allows the Qi circulation in the body smooth and free. This part of Crane training is exactly the same as that of Taijiquan.
From the above reasons, you can see that normally, when a master teaches a new student, he will start with the Hard Crane Qigong, which will help the beginning student build up physical strength in his legs, arms, fingers, and most importantly of all, his torso, including the spine and chest. From Hard Crane Qigong training, he or she will build a firm foundation for executing the hard techniques, which depend on strength and muscular power. Naturally, some of the Hard Crane Training sequences or routines will be taught, such as San Zhan or Jiao Zhan, mentioned in the last section.
Normally, after a few years of training in Hard Crane Qigong and sequences, the practitioner will gradually enter the Soft Crane Qigong. From Soft Crane Qigong, a practitioner will build up the strength and endurance of his ligaments. From the Soft Crane Qigong, he or she will also learn how to build up the Qi in the Lower Dan Tian and how to lead the Qi to the limbs with the mind. At this level, the Jin executed will be soft like a whip.
It is commonly known in Chinese external martial arts society that if a student practices the hard side of martial Qigong, and applies it into hard martial arts training for a time, then he or she must enter the Soft Qigong training in order to avoid the problem of “Energy Dispersion” (San Gong, ).Common symptoms of energy dispersion are rapid degeneration of the torso caused from over-training in tensing the physical body, joint pain, and high blood pressure. Lower back injury is also common. It is because of this that a White Crane practitioner, after practicing more than three years on the hard side of training, will slowly and gradually enter the soft side of training. The final goal of White Crane training is to manifest the Soft-Hard Jin more efficiently and effectively. That is, when it is necessary to be soft, he is soft and when it is necessary to be hard, he is hard. In addition, many White Crane Jins are first manifested as soft to lead the Qi to the limbs, and right before reaching the opponent, they tense up suddenly to protect the ligaments of the joints.
If you understand the above basic training theory, then you will be on the right course of training.