I used to tell my students that the most important part of their kick was the Crane. That is I was telling them to keep their knees up as high as they could. I would tell stories about the proverbial bad guy stuffing their feeble attempt at landing a good kick and stomping them into the dirt. These stories grew with time and eventually became mythological. The bad guys became evil hoodlums or rouge Samurai bent on the destruction of all good things. The younger students enjoyed the stories and got into the play pretending to defeat the evildoers. The older students would just look at me as they usually did, like Sifu had gone off the bend. I do believe they enjoyed the entertainment non-the less; after all it was put up with stories or get a boot to the head. I enjoyed that part.
Picking the knee up during the execution of a good kick emulates the great bird, the Crane. The Crane, in Shaolin teachings represents the aspects of grace and balance. A well-balanced kick is both very powerful and graceful to look at. Picking the knee up properly gets your leg into a good striking as well as defending posture and is much quicker than being sloppy. The Crane is also the best parts of us that stand on our feet with emotional balance and the grace to approach any situation with dignity and reserve, grace, and balance.
I remember my father who would preach to me about picking up my feet when I walked and lift my knees when I moved. He would spend hours explaining to me that if I learned the proper dynamics of the knee and learned how to use the joint properly I would be able to keep my knees and legs in shape for a lifetime. My dad taught me how to kick by teaching me how to walk correctly. He was 5 feet 5 inches tall and could kick my 6-foot frame in the head. He walked perfectly.
I have since had several knee surgeries and the lessons my dad taught me helped me regain my legs, my kicks, and my walk. He was the grandmasters master, he was my Dad. He was a Crane who walked with the dignity of a warrior and spoke with the fluidity of the masters teacher.
The Crane stands for Grace and Balance. The techniques has circular defense and straight line attacks. It is a fluid creature yet strong and resiliant. Today the Crane, tomorrow the man.