While today the martial arts known as Tibetan Lama Pai, Tibetan White Crane (白鶴派), and Hop Gar (俠家) exist as relatively distinct lineages and/or organizations, all originated with a single figure known as Sing Lung during the Qing Dynasty and taught a martial art then known as “Lion’s Roar” (獅子吼).
The original Lion’s Roar system is attributed to a monk named Ah Dat-Ta (阿達陀), also sometimes known as the “Dai Dat Lama”. Ah Dat-Ta was born in 1426 and was a member of a nomadic tribe that traveled throughout Tibet and Qinghai. He was an active young man who practiced horsemanship, wrestling (Shuai-Jiao) and a special type of joint-locking (seizing and controlling skill). After being ordained as a monk in Tibet, he also learned a martial art that was apparently Indian in origin.
For several years Ah Dat-Ta retreated to the mountains to live in seclusion, studying Buddhist texts and practicing meditation. He also hoped to improve his martial art skill. One day Ah Dat-Ta’s meditation was disturbed by a loud sound. He left the cave he had been meditating in to investigate and found an ape trying to capture a crane. He was astonished. Despite the ape’s great size and strength, the crane eluded the great swings and pecked at soft, vital points. Ah Dat-Ta was inspired to create a new martial art.
Ah Dat-Ta created a system that mimicked the deft evasion and vital point striking of the white crane and the ape’s powerful swings and grabbing techniques. It was based upon the number eight, an important number in Chinese cosmology and numerology. The fundamental fighting theory was known as the “eight character true essence”. The “eight character true essence” can be roughly translated as “strike the place that has a pulse, never a place that has no pulse, and stretch the arms out while keeping the body away.
The system consisted of 8 fist strikes, 8 palm strikes, 8 elbow strikes, 8 finger strikes, 8 kicking techniques, 8 seizing (clawing) techniques, 8 stances and 8 stepping patterns.
Based on a line found in the sutra known as “The Lantern Passing Record”, this new system was called Lion’s Roar (獅子吼). According to this sutra, upon the birth of the Buddha, he stood up, pointed the finger of one hand to the sky, the finger of the other hand to the earth and roared like a lion to announce he had arrived. Lion’s Roar was considered the Tibetan Lamas’ special gift, directly from Buddha.
Oral history maintains that, in the late Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), Lion’s Roar spread to Northern China and incorporated the techniques of the martial arts there, explaining its Northern Chinese characteristics.