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Master YouXiang Lin is a Shaking White Crane master who keeps himself to himself. Like his SiFu, Grandmaster ShiTian Chen (陈仕天), he devotes himself to the study and research of this very traditional crane boxing. As he seldom appears on the stage, he is known for his KungFu only to a limited number of people. Chen PengCheng first met Master YouXiang Lin on a cold winter morning in 2002 when Chen PengCheng did the routine training in the WuYi Park of Fuzhou City. From that encounter, they became friends and their friendship grew as the time passed by. On October 12th, Chen PengCheng asked Master YouXiang Lin to sit down together to have a formal talk about his art. Accepting the invitation joyfully, Master YouXiang Lin was glad to reveal his personal life and his understanding of Shaking White Crane.
Chen: “How did you start training KungFu?”
Master YouXiang Lin: When I was a teenage, I was very small. However, In some way, I was a little aggressive and this often brought me into a fight with others. I would lose the battle when fighting with a big and strong boy. Deep in my mind, something began to take root. “I should learn some KungFu”. I often reminded myself of such a thing. I was brought up in a poor family. My father died when I was very young and my mother did some small jobs just to support the family. Though I yearned for KungFu, I found no opportunity as I had no money to pay for the lessons. During the Chinese Culture Revolution, KungFu began to spread and grow when the society was in chaos. Some of my neighbors started training KungFu and occasionally, they demonstrated the patterns and skills before me. With the help of my memory, I did some training clandestinely for some time. Later, I was sent to the countryside as the so-called “Educated Urban Youth” of that age. In the farm, one of my teammates taught me some LuoHan Style or Monk Boxing at a very basic level. My formal training did not come until 1978 when I met my SIFu, SiTian Chen. I was then a security guard working at the Gym of Fuzhou. In the mornings, I often wondered into where is now called WuYi Park, which was then right opposite to the gym. Grandmaster SiTian Chen taught some disciples there, most of those were his neighbors and relatives. I was impressed with the agile and powerful movements of Grandmaster SiTian Chen. I asked Grandmaster SiTian Chen if he could accept me as a student. However, my first request was refused. Later, I kept begging him to be my SiFu and after several times of this, he was finally moved by my sincere desire. Grandmaster SiTian Chen was then 80 years old and lived with his third son at the MaDao Street, Fuzhou. Grandmaster SiTian Chen usually got up at about 3:00 in the early morning and because of my working commitment, I had to shift to fit my SIFu’s schedule. At about 4:00 in the morning, I knocked at my SiFu’s front door for three times, and he walked out. Grandmaster SiTian Chen trained me in the dim light shedding from the electric lamp in the street. I was not able to train in the yard of Grandmaster’s house in such an early morning as it was dark there. My SiFu was very fond of me and I learnt more and more as the time passed by. One morning, my SiFu said to me, “Di, it is the destiny that brings us together. (Author’s note: Di can be translated as younger brother in Fuzhou dialect, a respectful form of addressing for the young people.) I am old now. I don’t want to leave the world and lie in the coffin with my both hands holding my KungFu. I will pass it all to you.” From then, my SiFu was very serious for every lesson. About one and half a year later, he passed away. I feel very much indebted for his passing his art to me.
Chen: “What impressed you in those days you shared with your SiFu?”
Master YouXiang Lin: I would like to say that my SiFu is a serious mentor. He passed his art to me step by step in a very systematic fashion. For one single attacking pattern, he would detail in any angles and under any circumstances and then put forward corresponding solutions. To make the lessons easy to understand, he sparred with me all the time though he was old. In this way, I kept improving, moving on to even higher level. I was obsessive with his art. As I have just mentioned, we trained in the dim light of the street lamp in the early morning. At that time, my training dominated my thought and my mind was full of kungfu techniques. I still remember quite clearly that one evening, when I woke up, I left home and hurried towards my SIFu’s house. On the way, I wondered why there were so many people shuttling back and forth in the street. Something was unusual. I checked the time. It was 12:00 at night. I thought it was 4:00 am. When I returned home, my mother saw me and I told her what happened. She said, “you are getting crazy.” Yes, that was a fantastic period in my life.
Chen: “In terms of learning as a student, what do you think is the most important factor that will lead to a final success?”
Master YouXiang Lin: Focus. Being obsessive is very important. Every lesson involves two aspects. One is teaching while the other is learning. If you are lucky enough to meet a good SiFu, you have finished the first half of the lesson. To complete the lesson, you have to train hard so that the techniques can be passed on to you from your SiFu. If you don’t train hard, you will end up with nothing even if you have a good SiFu. In training, you have to keep your brain active all the time, thinking such things as, why it is so?, how can I do it better?, what is the key tip?, Is there an alternative? Try to figure out every factor of a single technique and feel and then understand them in your mind. When you keep your mind concentrative on KungFu, you will find it very interesting. You won’t feel that you are undergoing so much hardship and “eating bitter” every day. Something lures you there. Sometimes you may have an odd behavior by describing the movements in the street. In the eyes of the others, you may be strange or even abnormal. But I should say the right moment is coming to you. Occasionally, I did the movements when lying in bed. Whenever my mother felt the shaking of the bed from my room, she cried out, “Stop, crazy boy.”
Chen: “In your opinion, what are the fundamental features of Shaking White Crane?”
Master YouXiang Lin: Firstly, I would like to mention its Jin (劲) or the internal martial energy. Shaking White Crane is also known as ZongHe in Fuzhou dialect. “Zong” means “to shake off”. In order to shake off your opponent, you need force.
The Jin in Shaking White Crane is a stream of powerful spring-like internal energy enabling you to shake off your opponent in the close range fight. When touched by this Shaking White Crane Jin, your opponent will have a feeling of being shocked by the lightening. Secondly, as a defensive southern style, White Crane highlights the defending techniques. Tradition has it that the white crane is an agile animal. If you splash a tub of water towards a crane, the crane will use its wings to flap off the water. No water will spatter and then wet the crane, not even a single drop. From this, people have drawn inspiration from the crane and have designed numerous fighting techniques through mimicking the movements of a crane. A White Crane practitioner should, like a real crane, leave no opportunity to the coming attack and avoid getting hurt.
Chen: “What is your perspective on the White Crane Boxing Saying, “CunTu BuRang” ? (Which literally means that Never to Yield An Inch of Ground)”
Master YouXiang Lin: My SIFu used to remind of not retreating easily when being involved in a fighting situation. When you retreat, quite often, you are put in an advantageous condition. Therefore, when confronting the oncoming attack, you can use your hands to defend and then fight back. Even if the opponent hits you, you have to find a way out to fight back. This certainly tests both your skills and boldness.
Chen: “How to understand the fact that a small man can conquer a big guy?”
Master YouXiang Lin: Generally speaking, a small man is weaker than a strong and big guy. But if the small man is well trained, he can be much powerful than a big man on a partial and limited section of the body. The small man is able to release his internal martial energy thoroughly on the curtain section of the body while the strong big guy fails to do so due to his lack of proper training. The martial energy of the small man concentrates while that of the big man scatters. Of course, there is another important factor that makes contribution to the victory. That is what we call techniques. Good techniques promise a better and more effective result.
Chen: “In Shaking White Crane Style, how is one able to focus his martial energy?”
Master YouXiang Lin: A training drill called “Empty Against Empty” can be a great help. The first “Empty” means the empty hands or bare hands. The second “Empty” means “Nothing” referring to the air. So it is a training drill that teaches the practitioner how to train certain parts of his body like his both arms by moving and striking in the air. For example, you shake your arms upwards and you want to move your energy to the forearm. You can feel that there is something heavy blocking the way when you do the movement. After numerous repetition of this movement, you will feel something different. The internal martial energy will naturally come to your forearm.
Chen: “When doing routine patterns, very often, a white crane practitioner will strain his body and make the movements rather stiff, lacking of smoothness and flexibility. What is your suggestion on it?”
Master YouXiang Lin: Every movement involves two aspects. One is Yin and the other is Yang. To move to Yang, one can start from Yin. In a movement, hardness and power are called Yang, while softness and flexibility or smoothness are Yin. Therefore, in doing a pattern, one can do it in a soft way though maybe it is a quite powerful pattern. Try not to use the energy and just keep the postures and do the movements at a regular pace. Keep the whole body as relaxing as possible. When you relax, Qi will move smoothly in the internal channels. Where Qi reaches, the internal martial energy produces. More Qi arrives, more powerful the movements will be. You should learn how to govern your Qi in moving. A good command of Qi allows you to transmit the internal energy to the desired section of the body.
Chen: “Can you tell me something about cavity pressing techniques (点穴法) in your arts?”
Master YouXiang Lin: I know nothing about them. Actually, my SiFu did not learn it as well. He once told me that his father didn’t allow him to pick up them as those techniques would only do great harm to people.
Chen: “As you know, the White Crane boxing highlights the defensive fighting strategy. How is it embodied in the routine training?”
Master YouXiang Lin: I would like to reveal one of my experiences. Before learning how to fight, I was taught how to defend the coming attacks. My SiFu once remarked, “if you know how to defend, you will know how to fight naturally.” So at the very beginning, my SiFu detailed the defensive strategy in any attacking patterns in any angles and required me to learn and apply all the defending techniques before moving on to the aggressive fighting lessons. As a human being, we all have two arms and two legs. When your opponent is unable to break into your “door” to attack your weak points, you will certainly find it easy to fight back at him.
Chen: “In order to have a good defense, what is the main requirement for the hands?”
Master YouXiang Lin: Just as the generation-handed-down white crane book says, the hands should be like the ropes. You can use these “ropes” to bind the attacking hand so that your opponent will have a feeling that he is unable to apply the techniques on your at will. For the same attacking pattern, you can use different defensive strategies at different angles. To make the defending techniques effective enough, you need to keep your hands soft, flexible, elastic fast and powerful. Therefore, when you apply the techniques on your opponent, you should feel that you are using the ropes instead of your hands.
Chen: “What is the meaning of the old White Crane Saying,”JieJie Qi, JieJie Sheng” (“节节弃, 节节生”)?”
Master YouXiang Lin: In Fuzhou dialect, “Jie” means a section of the body. “Qi” means “to yield” while “Sheng” means “to produce”. This saying refers to the white crane hand fighting strategy. There are three “Jies” or sections in an arm. The first Jie is the section between the shoulder and the elbow. The second “Jie” is the section linking the elbow with the wrist while the third one is the part connecting the wrist to the tips of the fingers. “Jie Jie Qi” means to yield to the coming attack and “Jie Jie Sheng ” means to fight back with a certain part of the body. “Jie Jie Qi, Jie Jie Sheng” is a fighting strategy that allows you to shift swiftly from a defensive situation to an offensive situation. For example, in a fighting situation, when your opponent presses your second Jie or the forearm, you can neutralize his attack first by yielding to the attacking force and then instantly use the elbow to strike at him. In this single movement, you shift from the unfavorable situation to the favorable situation. This fighting strategy is the main philosophy in White Crane.
Chen: “In White Crane, the two characters, “Tun” “吞” and “Tu” “吐” are very important. Could you tell something about that?”
Master YouXiang Lin: “Tun” means “to draw inward your body to yield to the attacking force and then to neutralize it.” “Tu” means “to release your internal martial energy to fight”. “Tun” and “Tu” are two aspects of a motion. “Tun” is for the defensive purposes while “Tu” is for the offensive purposes. “Tun” and “Tu” swift into each other in a wink and they can not be separated. “Tun” or “to defend” is not the final fighting purpose. So “Tun” serves for “Tu”. If you only use “Tun” strategy, you will be brought into an advantageous condition. Moreover, It is very important not to retreat when you use “Tun” strategy as when you do so, you are in a comparatively unfavorable situation. We can often heard someone remark, “I can even step back to deflect or to yield.” In my opinion, it is better to remain in the same position and fight back with a combined use of “Tun” and “Tu”. That will make the techniques more effective.
Chen: “I have often heard of the “Five Element Fighting Strategy” on hand techniques. Could you tell me something about that ?”
Master YouXiang Lin: The “Five Element Fighting Strategy” refers to the hand fighting strategy. Generally, all hand techniques can be divided into five groups—the Gold Hand, the Wood Hand, the Water Hand, the Fire Hand and the Earth Hand. Each hand conquers another one. For example, the Earth Hand conquers the Water Hand, and the Water Hand conquers the Fire Hand. As you know, the Crane Boxing well meets the needs of the short or close range fighting conditions. In such short range fighting conditions, the hand techniques prove to very practical and effective. So that is where the Five Element Fighting Strategy comes from. In a well-match-in-strength fighting situation, this fighting strategy will take effect. However, just as the proverb goes, “Every Coin has its two sides.” If in a battle, one is much weaker or stronger than the other one, this fighting strategy may be of no effect. Let me give an illustration. You light up a wood and you can use water to put out the fire. But if the fire becomes big and rampant and causes a disaster, like the big forest fire, obviously, you may fail to extinguish the fire with the same amount of the water. It is the same thing, the same philosophy.
Chen: “In a real fighting situation, to apply the desired techniques against the opponent and to make them effective, we often have to shift from the long or medium distance into the short or close distance. What are the key factors that we should pay attention to?”
Master YouXiang Lin: Just as the White Crane Book wrote: The Feet Should Be Like the Wheels. To approach your target, your feet should move fast but firm. Your feet should be very flexible and in order. This means you should always remain your balance no matter how fast you move. I think this is the first important factor. When you successively approach your opponent, use your internal martial energy in an integrated fashion. The energy should come from your “root”—the feet and then pass the waist and finally move to the desired part of your body. Quite often, we may use our hands to fight. So the hands should be like the flying birds in the sky. While using your hands, you should have a feeling that your hands are flying in the air. Your hands are supposed to be soft, heavy, flexible and fast. Even when your opponent fights back, you can always take a quick action and change into another effective hand techniques.
Chen: “In White Crane boxing, there is a featured hand technique called CuoMao Hand. Could you say something about it to end today’s talk?”
Master YouXiang Lin: In Fuzhou Dialect, “Cuo” means “to rub” and “Mao” means “the hair”. So when you apply the “CuoMao” hand technique, you are moving your hand fast but hard along your opponent’s arm just as you are rubbing his arm to such extend that his skin hair on the arm all fall out. “CuoMao Hand” allows you to adhere to your opponent’s arm and then to peg him in a very close range. It is a highly defensive technique, leaving behind no room for the opponent to find back as his arms are utterly under your control.
PengCheng Chen has given permission for Darren Trottman to reproduce this interview for SouthernCraneKungfu.com