White Crane Flaps Wings

White Crane Flaps Wings

Question 7

Could you please compare and contrast the sets "White Crane Flaps Wings" and "Cloud Hands Grasp Sparrow" and elaborate a little on where each set fits in to the wonderful Art of Wahnam Taijiquan?



A good conceptual framework for a comparison and contrast of the two sets is to use the four factors of from, force, application and philosophy. Why do we use these four factors?

It is because these four factors provide a comprehensive description of the scope and depth of any martial art. In other words, by considering these four factors we cover all the important points regarding the practice and benefits of a martial art.

The form of “White Crane Flaps Wings” is from Yang Style Taijiquan but the arrangement of the patterns is such that the set can be performed fast like Shaolin Kungfu, thus giving it an appearance of Chen Style Taijiquan.

The form of “Cloud Hands Grasp Sparrow” is also from Yang Style Taijiquan but the arrangement of the patterns is such that the set is usually performed slowly like what most people today conceptualize Taijiquan to be, which is how Yang Style Taijiquan is normally performed.

Both sets are of medium length. “White Crane Flaps Wings” has 46 patterns, whereas “Cloud Hands Grasp Sparrow” has 56 patterns. As many of the patterns are repeated, the number of individually different patterns in “White Crane Flaps Wings” is 23, and that in “Cloud Hands Grasp Sparrow” is 28.

Most of the core patterns are the same, and they are from Yang Style Taijiquan. Eight patterns in “White Crane Flaps Wings” in “Cloud Hands Grasp Sparrow”, and thirteen patterns in “Cloud Hands Grasp Sparrow” are not found in “White Crane Flaps Wings”.

The individually different patterns of both sets are listed below, with a $ sign after those patterns that are not found in the other set.

White Crane Flaps Wings

  1. Cloud Hands
  2. Immortal Waves Sleeves
  3. Double Dragon Plays with Pearl
  4. Push Boat According to Flow
  5. Black Bear Sinks Hips
  6. Open Window to Look at Moon
  7. Fisherman Casts Net
  8. Single Whip
  9. White Crane Flaps Wings
  10. Green Dragon Shoots Pearl
  11. Play the Lute
  12. Cross Hands Thrust Kick
  13. Reverse Hanging of Golden Lotus
  14. White Snake Shoots Venom
  15. Old Eagle Catches Snake
  16. Carry Tiger Back to Mountain
  17. Punch Below Sleeves
  18. Bow-Arrow Thrust Punch
  19. Low Stance Vertical Fist
  20. Side Kick
  21. Fierce Dragon Across Steam
  22. Strike Tiger Poise
  23. Reverse Cloud Hands

Cloud Hands Grasp Sparrow

  1. Lifting Water
  2. Wild Horse Separate Mane
  3. White Crane Flaps Wings
  4. Green Dragon Shoots Pearl
  5. Playing the Lute
  6. Repulse Monkey
  7. Immortal Waves Sleeves
  8. Double Dragon Plays with Pearl
  9. Push Boat According to Flow
  10. Black Bear Sinks Hips
  11. Open Window to Look at Moon
  12. Fisherman Casts Net
  13. Single Whip
  14. Cloud Hands
  15. White Snake Shoots Venom
  16. Cross Hands Thrust Kick
  17. Double Bees Suck Pollens
  18. Low Stance Single Whip
  19. Golden Cockerel Stands Solitarily
  20. Jade Girl Threads Shuttle
  21. Needle at Sea Bottom
  22. Shoulder Strike
  23. Elbow Strike
  24. Dodge Extend Arm
  25. Reverse Hanging of Golden Lotus
  26. Punch Below Sleeves
  27. Like Close Like Cover
  28. Cross Hands

In “White Crane Flaps Wings” the structure of the set is a north-south movement. After performing the right and the left mode of Grasping Sparrow’s Tail, a practitioner who starts in a central position facing north, moves north, then turns around and moves south, turns around to move north diagonally, then retreats southward to compete the set. This structure is typical of Southern Shaolin sets.

In “Cloud Hands Grasp Sparrow” the structure of the set is a east-west movement. A practitioner who starts on the right side facing north, moves from east to west, retreats from west to east, moves from east to west again, turns around to move from west to east, and again turns around to move a short space to the west to complete the set. This structure is typical of Taijiquan sets and Northern Shaolin sets.

In terms of form, both sets fit in very well with our Wahnam Taijiquan, though there is some difference in the purpose of our teaching and benefits for our students.

“Cloud Hands Grasp Sparrow” is excellent for our purpose of teaching Taijiquan form. The arrangement of the patterns in this set is such that the patterns can be performed flowing and gracefully, which is typical of Yang Style Taijiquan, and which is also what many people conceptualize Taiijiquan to be. Students have a lot of practice in and therefore benefit much from important Taijiquan principles like “starting with the back leg, rotating the waist, and completing in the hands” and “no beginning no ending”.

Besides providing excellent opportunities for students to learn important Taijiquan movements, “White Crane Flaps Wings” has the added advantage of performing Taijiquan in a fast and forceful manner, as in Chen Style Taijiquan. This gives our students an opportunity to realize that the Yang Style Taijiquan that many people normally see performed in a park is not the only type of Taijiquan, and that Taijiquan can be fast and forceful. Indeed, no martial art can be effective for combat if it is not fast and forceful.

In terns of force development, both sets use the flow method, though the force method is used in some patterns in “White Crane Flaps Wings”. Relatively, “White Crane Flaps Wings” is more powerful than “Cloud Hands Grasp Sparrow”.

Without internal force “Cloud Hands Grasp Sparrow” is like a dance, and it would be lacking in force for combat. But without internal force “White Crane Flaps Wings” can still make use of muscular strength for fighting.

If the two sets were practiced not as genuine Taijiquan but as Taiji dance, its gentle, flowing patterns make “Cloud Hands Grasp Sparrow” more advantageous for health and longevity. The tensing of muscles to produce muscular strength in some patterns of “White Crane Flaps Wings” may cause some energy blockage.

But in terms of vitality, “White Crane Flaps Wings” is more advantageous than “Cloud Hands Grasp Sparrow”. This is because the more vigorous movements of “White Crane Flaps Wings” are more conducive to fitness and strength.

In our school both sets are practiced as genuine Taijiquan. “Cloud Hands Grasp Sparrow” provides a good opportunity for students to experience that gentle, graceful movements when performed correctly generate energy flow, which develops into internal force. Thus they experience “Cloud Hands Grasp Sparrow” as an internal art. They also discover that they can also perform the techniques of “Cloud Hands Grasp Sparrow” in a fast and forceful manner.

“White Crane Flaps Wings” enables our students to experience both the soft and the hard aspects of Taijiquan. Our students have the opportunity to experience soft force from the flow method, and hard force from the force method. This set illustrates an important philosophical teaching of our school, that all great arts are both hard and soft.

If both sets are practices as genuine Taijiquan, “White Crane Flaps Wings” is relatively more effective in bringing benefits for health, vitality and longevity. This is because while “Cloud Hands Grasp Sparrow” is relatively slow, soft and graceful, while being slow, soft and graceful too, “White Crane Flaps Wings” can also be fast, hard and powerful. This yin-yang balance gives “White Crane Flaps Wings” an advantage.

It should be noted that the comparison is relative. When practiced as genuine Taijiquan, “Cloud Hands Grasp Sparrow” also brings good health, vitality and longevity. It can be fast, hard and powerful too.

Both sets are complete in combat application. Not only both sets can be used to defend any attack, they also incorporate all the four categories of attack, namely striking, kicking, felling and chin-na.

“Cloud Hands Grasp Sparrow”, known by its more common name of 24-Pattern Simplified Taijiquan, is a widely practiced set by many people all over the world. The majority of them, however, practice it like a dance, with nothing internal and nothing martial. They are unlikely to know the combat application of any pattern in the set -- not even in simple punches and kicks, like “Punch Below Sleeves” and “Cross-Hands Thrust Kick”.

If the techniques were a straight-forward punch without the vertical arm, and a straight-forward kick without simultaneously separating the palms, these Taiji dancers may know the combat application, though they would probably not be able to execute the techniques effectively.

Bu these techniques, which were straight-forward initially, had evolved over time to be sophisticated, and are more effective for combat if practitioners know their combat application and have the skills to apply them.

On the other hand, “White Crane Flaps Wings” was composed by me, and is therefore unknown outside our school. But the combat applications of some of its patterns are more easily discernable, even by Taiji dancers. “Bow-Arrow Thrust Punch’ and “Side-Kick” obviously are for punching and kicking opponents.

Hence, relatively speaking the combat application of “White Crane Flaps Wings” Is more obvious than that of “Cloud Hands Grasp Sparrow”.

But not many people, including martial artists frequently engaged in free sparring, can pick out the felling and chin-na techniques in either set. Indeed, many people, including Taijiquan practitioners, mistakenly think that there are no or little felling and chin-na techniques in Taijiquan.

There are many felling and chin-na techniques in Taijiquan, and also in these two sets, but they are hidden in the open. “Black Bear Sinks Hips”, “Fisherman Casts Net”, “Repulse Monkey” and “Wild Horse Separate Mane”, for example, are felling techniques. Shaolin Wahnam students would not fail to notice that “Carry Tiger Back to Mountain” is excellent for felling opponents, though many other people may not realize it is a formidable felling technique.

Examples of chin-na techniques include “Double Dragon Plays with Pearl”, “Push Boat According to flow”, “Play the Lute” and “Old Eagle Catches Snake”.

While the combat applications in “Cloud Hands Grasp Sparrow” are more refined and sophisticated, i.e. they are more complex and not easily discernable to the uninitiated, the combat applications in “White Crane Flaps Wings” are more direct.

As the level of combat today is quite simple, the more direct applications of “White Crane Flaps Wings” are relatively more useful for us in today’ combat situations, which are not complex enough to warrant the need of sophisticated applications of “Cloud Hands Grasp Sparrow”.

“Cloud Hands Grasp Sparrow” provides a good opportunity for our students to progress to more advanced level in our Wahnam Taijiquan. At more advanced levels of combat, like that between masters, “Cloud Hands Grasp Sparrow” offers more sophisticated techniques.

There is more variety of attacks in “White Crane Flaps Wings” than in “Cloud Hands Grasp Sparrow”. For example striking in “White Crane Flaps Wings” involves the three levels of top, middle and low, whereas low strikes are not found in “Cloud Hands Grasp Sparrow”. There are three different types of kicks in “White Crane Flaps Wings”, i.e. thrust-kicks, organ-kicks and side-kicks, whereas in “Cloud Hands Grasp Sparrow” only thrust-kicks are found.

Hence in Wqhnam Taijiquan, “White Crane Flaps Wings” enables our students to focus on spread, whereas “Cloud Hands Grasp Sparrow” enables our students to focus on depth.

The felling and chin-na techniques are more obvious in “White Crane Flaps Wings”, found in “Carry Tiger Back to Mountain” and “Old Eagle Catches Snake”. In “Cloud Hands Grasp Sparrow” felling and chin-na techniques are hidden in “Playing the Lute” and “Repulse Monkey”.

In Wahnam Taijiquan, our students first use relatively simpler and more obvious techniques from “White Crane Flaps Wings” for felling and chin-na, then progress to more sophisticated and hidden felling and chin-na techniques in “Cloud Hands Grasp Sparrow”.

Both “White Crane Flaps Wings” and “Cloud Hands Grasp Sparrow” were created to meet expedient needs. In the 1970s the Chinese government promoted kungfu, known as wushu, as a sport. There were seven categories for competition, which was based solely on demonstration. Taijiquan was one of the categories, the other six being Changquan or Long Fist, Nanquan or Southern Fist, Daoshu or Sabre Techniques, Jianshu or Sword Techniques, Gunshu or Staff Techniques, and Jiangshu or Spear Techniques.

Taijiquan masters were invited to come together to compose a set for the wushu competition, and the result was the 24-Pattern Simplified Taijiquan Set.

Although this set was initially meant for competitors to perform as solo demonstration in wushu competitions, I found it contains of all important Taijiquan patterns and philosophy. Hence, when I first taught Wahnam Taijiquan in our school in the early 2000s, I used this set as the base.

After the Tai Chi Chuan Festival in Saint Petersburg in Florida in November 2012, this set was renamed “Cloud Hands Grasp Sparrow” as its original name, “24-Pattern Simplified Taijiquan”, might be misleading. It was called “24-Pattern” because there were 24 individually different patterns. It was called “Simplified” because it was simplified from the well known 108-Pattern Yang Style Taijiquan.

In “Cloud Hands Grasp Sparrow” practiced by us in Wahnam Taijiquan there are 28 individually different patterns. This is because “Black Bear Sinks Hips” and “Fisherman Cast Net”, which are found in both our set and the original set, are counted as two separate patterns by us as they have important combat applications of their own, but not counted as separated patterns in the original set because they are regarded as transitional movement for “Open Window to Look at Moon” and “Single Whip” respectively. In Wahnam Taijiquan we also do not regard this set as simple as it contains some sophisticated techniques and philosophy.

In regional courses where students wished to have a taste of Taijiquan but there was insufficient time to teach it at some depth, I taught them Grasping Sparrow’s Tail. At the VIP Taijiquan Course in Villa de Leyva, Columbia in September 2005, I added a few patterns of Green Dragon Shoots Pearl and kicks to form a set called “Cloud Hands”, so that the participants had a complete set to practice.

When I formulated the 12 levels of Taijiquan for the core syllabus of our Wahnam Taijiquan training, which correspond to the 12 levels of Shaolin training, I further added a few more patterns to “Cloud Hands” so that the set was complete with all the four categories of attack and defence. The new set was called “White Crane Flaps Wings” and it became the fundamental set for Wahnam Taijiquan training, corresponding to “Lohan Asks the Way” in Shaolin Kungfu.

Both “White Crane Flaps Wings” and “Cloud Hands Grasp Sparrow” are excellent sets in Wahnam Taijiquan. They contain all important Taijiquan patterns and provide a sound understanding of Taijiquan philosophy.

Wahnam Taijiquan students practicing either set will learn the fundamentals of Taijiquan, like basic stances, footwork, waist rotation, breath coordination, six harmonies, flowing movement and exploding force. They will also learn combat applications covering all the four categories of attack and defence, as well as important Taijiquan principles like “using mind and not using strength”, “no beginning and no ending”, “using minimum force against maximum strength”.

Cloud Hands Grasp Sparrow

Cloud Hands Grasp Sparrow


The questions and answers are reproduced from the thread Wahnam Cloud Hands Grasp Sparrow Set: 10 Questions to Grandmaster Wong in the Shaolin Wahnam Discussion Forum.