Photo from ESPY-TV Martial Arts Videos.
by Lisa Neuweld
In Chinese mythology, the dragon is one of the four divine animals believed to have supernatural powers and deep wisdom. (The others are the phoenix, unicorn and tortoise.) It has been an imperial symbol for centuries and the subject of many rituals and pageants. Even today, there are annual dragon boat races in Hong Kong and a huge dragon is always part of each Chinese New Years Day parade. It is interesting that while medieval Europe thought of dragons as evil, fire-breathing, oversized lizards who should be slayed at all costs, the Chinese tended to hold dragons in high regard. The legends say that dragons could ride the wind and waves, lend their strength to heroes and bring destruction to the irreverent. Depending on their mood, Chinese dragons could be either playful or frightening. There are many paintings which depict happy dragons frolicking in the clouds and rivers. There are also stories which credit them with causing storms, floods, and earthquakes. A mark of the dragonís importance is the belief that dragons controlled the rains and storms Ė important events to a people who made their living by farming and fishing.
Many Chinese martial art systems were developed by watching and imitating the movements of animals. There is crane, tiger and snake kung fu. There is even an obscure village style called turtle kung fu. Not surprisingly, there is also a dragon style of kung fu which is based on the spirit, if not the actual appearance, of the mythical animal. Actually, there are two dragon styles, one that originated in Northern China and one in Southern China.
The Southern Dragon Style of kung fu traces its origins to a Buddhist temple in Canton province. Like the Shaolin Temple, the monks in this temple found many benefits to the regular practice of martial arts - better health, increased energy, self-protection and discipline. No one knows exactly how Dragon Style Kung Fu began. It was not taught outside the temple walls until a monk named Tai Yut broke tradition and taught the style to a single layman, Lam Yiu Kwai. Lam Yiu Kwai, now considered the Grandmaster of the style passed the style on to his son and grandson who became famous martial artists and popularized the style. Today it is growing in popularity in the United States.
"The principals of the style are posture and momentum, timing and sensitivity," according to Steve Martin, an instructor at the Sojourn Past Martial Arts Institute. "These four ideas must be linked together and used simultaneously to play the style well."
Each style of martial arts is known for certain traits that are the signature of that style. Dragon Style Kung Fu is famous for its handwork. The heart of the system is a set called mor kiu or "magical arms." It is a series of high-speed hand and arm techniques using punches, grabs, palm strikes, arm blocks, and elbow strikes. The "dragon character" is present in the speed, the coiling energy of the moves, and the chain attacks. It has been described as playing chess at warp speed.
Dragon Style Kung Fu is also famous for certain weapons. In addition to the traditional weapons of sword and spear, it uses a nine-foot staff known to its fans as the "king dragon heart-piercing pole." It is a huge pole that is literally nine-feet long and is swung with amazing power and speed by people who know how to use it. It is held out in front of the player, roughly parallel to the ground, with one end nestled into the playerís side, and the other swinging freely and forcefully in circles and arcs. It definitely clears traffic. It is obviously not a practical weapon, but it is practiced to teach the student how to use the muscles of the waist. It is so long and heavy that the arms simply cannot control it; the only way to move the staff effectively is by using the waist.
In Dragon Style Kung Fu, power is believed to emanate from the waist. Because the waist is the largest muscle in the body (something not everyone is particularly proud of) and the only one cross-hatched in three different directions, it is considered the best source of physical power. Most people use the strength of their upper bodies and shoulders. But Dragon Style Kung Fu teaches people how to draw energy from the waist and manifest it through their hands and feet. Because this does not depend on a personís size or weight, it is an effective style for women.
One of the trademarks of the style is the concept that body energy is most efficient when it is used in spiral motions. Like a dragon, who coils and uncoils, the spiral movements are interlinked so there is a continuous flow of energy. Playing a set is like connecting the dots on a three-dimensional drawing. It gives effective self-defense since the hands and feet are constantly moving, leaving no openings or "doors" for an opponent. On an energetic level, practitioners say that it seems to push their internal energy into more organic shapes and forms.
The term "kung fu" translates literally as long practice or skilled work. You too can enjoy all of the benefits of the martial arts if you are willing to do the long practice.
Dragon Style Kung Fu is taught at the Sojourn Past Martial Arts Institute by Steve Martin, founder and chief instructor, who has studied Dragon Style Kung Fu in Hong Kong and China since 1977. The school is located at 4241 Park Blvd., San Diego, CA. 92103. For more information, call 619-543-0911 or connect to their web site, Sojourn Past Martial Arts Institute.
Martial Arts articles of interest by Jade Dragon Online:
Part 1 of our two-part series Martial Arts: An Overview (July 1998)
Part 2 of our two-part series Martial Arts: An Overview (August 1998)
The History of Kung Fu San Soo (September 1998)
Police Martial Arts (September 1998)
The Roots of Martial Arts (February 1998)
Profile: Sifu Share K. Lew (March 1998)
Martial Arts web sites:
Martial Arts Links.
The Dragon's List (www.dragonslist.com) The Dragon's List is a monthly newsletter dedicated to the art of Kung-Fu.
ESPY-TV Martial Arts Videos (www.espytv.com/dragon.html)