The origin of the crane style in kung fu is uncertain as its history was passed on through word-of-mouth, but the creation of the crane style is thought to date to some point in the 11th Century with variations of the style being developed since.

The Myth of the Creation of Crane Style Kung-Fu

A young monk was sent away from the distractions of the Shaolin Temple to a mountain top, to mediate and reflect. He was reaching the age where he would soon be allowed to start his journey years were he would leave the Shaolin Temple to experience the challenges and temptations of the real world. If he succeeded in practicing everything he was taught and stayed on the path of enlightenment even with all those distractions he would be able to return to the temple as a fully realized shaolin monk. One problem troubled the elders, this young monk struggled greatly with his martial arts training, even the newest and most novice monks would best him in friendly sparring bouts. They decided to send him to the mountain to meditate on why he was unable to find the right spirit needed to hone his martial skill. He meditated along a peaceful clearing; he would remain still for so long that the animals began to ignore his presence. He would watch as flocks of cranes would graze and gather. One day while meditating something felt different, he felt a change in the air. He looked out across the clearing and watched as a tiger charged out from the bush. The tiger spotted what seemed like a slower and fatter crane and targeted it. The rest of the flock began to run and take off into the air. Instead of fleeing like the other cranes the fatter crane spread its wings wide and charged back toward the tiger. The tiger confused slowed slightly, as the tiger reached out its paw to rip the crane to shreds, the crane leaped over the tiger’s head. The tiger then turned around and pounced, the crane moved out of the way just in time and struck the tiger in the eye with its beak as it moved. Then leaped over the tiger once again, this time while overhead the crane used its claws to scrap across the tiger’s head. The tiger turned with great fury and charged the crane, the rest of the flock had managed to escape, the crane got big once again and used its wings to move backward out of the reach of the tiger. The crane lunged in once again striking with its beak to the tiger’s face. The tiger bleeding and tired gives up and lurks back into the bush. The young monk raced back to tell the elder monks of what he witnessed. After discussing the actions of the crane, the young monk decided to try and replicate the cranes movements during his next sparring bout and discovered great success. This led to the creation of Crane Style Kung-Fu.
The kung fu Crane’s Beak is a soft style technique which utilizes circular movements to deflect an attack. The hand portion of the technique involves placing all the fingertips together and curling the hand back towards the forearm to form a hook shape (the beak). The crane’s beak uses both hands in order to block an attack and line its user up for a counter strike. This is done by using one hand to hook around the opponents strike and guide it away from its target, opening the opponent up for a strike to a critical pressure point such as the eyes, temple, or throat.

The actual martial arts strike is a pecking motion which drives all the force of the attack to a single point, this allows for great damage to a vulnerable area with little force. The main objective of the kung fu crane technique is to avoid a strike by directing an opponent’s force away from the body, but the hand technique alone may be insufficient at doing so in a soft manner, and therefore the foot work becomes crucial to the success of the style.

This kung fu crane technique allows someone of a small, slender build to defend against a hard style such as the tiger style. The main strength of this style is that it does not meet force with force, but redirects the opponents strike away from the body. This makes it very proficient at countering a hard stylist who aims to win by overwhelming their opponent with force.

The benefit of this fighting strategy is that it enables a person without the muscle mass or the weight to throw a knockout punch to win with speed, precision, and agility. The crane’s beak is generally used to strike at an angle, aiming to go around the attack and counter with blows to the side of the head/neck although plucking the eyes is also a main target.

The crane’s beak is a technique largely built around deflection and avoidance of force. In terms of self-defense, it is very effective at forcing an opponent off balance and enables the user to strike to vulnerable areas. It does however require great speed, accuracy, and agility in order to do this. In terms of street application, the crane’s beak does have its limitations.

Forming the beak shape with the hands exposes the fingers to large amounts of force which can make them liable to break in a fight. Conditioning of the hands and fingers is a must. However, the basic motions of avoidance and deflection are invaluable in a fight setting, but the same success can be achieved in a safer manner by using a fist with the drawback of losing the hooking and therefore the control. An attempt at reducing this shortcoming has been overcome by hybridizing the style to form the tiger-crane style.

Crane style demands perfect timing, balance, and coordination, so the practitioner must train diligently in order to achieve the level required. Training to use the crane’s beak effectively means repetitive one-on-one application training to make the technique second nature to the user. This repetition is typical of the crane, which is characterized for concentration and grace.

The main objective of the crane’s beak is never to attack, but to block and counterattack with minimal force and in circular motions. The crane itself has little muscle mass and has hollow bones which may appear to give it a disadvantage in a fight. However, the secret of the kung fu crane style is to appear to be losing by waiting for an attack, but in reality, the stylist wants the opponent to attack as most of the crane techniques rely on creating an opening for the counter strike. This also makes many of the strategies utilized by the crane ideal for a street setting as some of the hard style’s techniques are “hit first, hit hard” which leaves practitioners up for liability for injuries inflicted. However, waiting for an attack and being effective at using it to create an opening is purely a self-defense tactic, thereby reducing this risk of criminal charges.