White Crane – Influence on Okinawan Karate Do

By Paul Fretter

A link between our system of Baihequán and Okinawan Goju Ryu Karate Do is understood to be via Higaonna Kanryo, an Okinawan who was the teacher of Miyagi Chojun, the modern founder of the Goju Ryu Karate Do system.  

Thanks to many years of painstaking research by historians such as Patrick McCarthy, it has become known that Higaonna Kanryo, on a sojourn to Fujian province, studied at length with two or more teachers. One of these was believed to be Xie Zhong Xiang (a.k.a. Ryu Ryu Ko) the renowned master of the Whooping Crane style of Fujian Baihequán who was also Master Huang Sheng-Shyan’s first teacher.

Reference to Xie Zhong Xiang can be found in Patrick McCarthy’s book “Bubishi – The Bible of Karate” published by Tuttle in 1998.

Fujian Baihequán is part of the ancestry of Goju Ryu Karate Do. Although the forms (kata) of White Crane have not been passed down verbatim, it is possible that what Kanryo Higaonna learned from Xie Zhong Xiang was how to develop and apply the fundamental principles of force and movement.

Paul Fretter teaches our systems of Baihequán and Tàijíquán in Norwich and has a background in Goju Ryu Karate Do, reaching the level of 5th Dan in 2006.

Baihequán opened the door for me to a much better understanding of Goju Ryu Karate Do and it has been an essential ‘bridge’ to understanding Tàijíquán.  Nowadays, I concentrate most of my training in Tàijíquán and Baihequán, but I still keep in touch with Goju Ryu practice.

Coarsely translated, Goju Ryu can mean “Hard and Soft School”, and many of us interpreted this very literally, often with the “Go” (Yang) being emphasised more than “Ju” (Yin), leading to excessive tension and an imbalance in many aspects of movement and approach that can severely limit one’s skill and longevity of practice.  At least, that was the case for me.  For my own practice, I realised that my expressions of “Go” and “Ju” were rather crude because in many instances they were merely greater or lesser degrees of physical tension and not opposites as such.  Something had to change!

In 1994, on a visit to the Jundokan Dojo, we interviewed Miyazato Eiichi, about Go and Ju and he said to study the principles of Yang and Yin.  To us, this implied a much more subtle and deeper study was going to be required, and it was through studying Tàijíquán and Baihequán that we gradually began to understand.  

Studying and practising the principles of Baihequán could be of benefit to many Karate practitioners, regardless of style, who feel they have reached their own limit in their ability to use raw speed and physical power.  Specifically, it will expand on the Ju/Yin aspects and the whole-body movement, and open the door to much greater skill and efficiency, addressing the often-seen imbalance with “Go” (yang/substantial).

The results, for me at least, have been far more profound and significant than I could ever have imagined.

Paul Fretter