Dragon (Long Xing)
In Chinese mythology, the dragon is a powerful elemental creature that approaches the status of a demi-god. They were responsible for such things as regulating storms and the flow of rivers. They had the ability to change form, fly, change size and other wonderful feats.
Dragons had three to five claws on each hand, with the five-clawed dragon being the symbol of the Emperor. To properly hold a teacup, a writing brush or chopsticks, one needs three fingers. Unlike its European cousin, the Chinese dragon had culture – no sitting in a cave waiting for a knight to attack it, for sure.
Since the dragon is the most spiritual of the five, likewise it develops the most spiritual quality: shen. This is a transcendent energy that comes from the refinement of chi into jing and eventually into shen.
The Chinese Dragon is in no way similar to the Western Worlds fire breathing dragon. It is confined to the spiritual beliefs of Buddhist texts and is understood as a supernatural animal with characteristics which enable it to make itself any size and appear or disappear.
According to Buddhist writings dragons live in oceans. Since dragons live in large bodies of water their association with the rest of the world is through water. If a dragon wishes to become visible, anyone can see him. However, only those who have reached a high level of enlightenment can see this special animal. Chinese cultures believe that dragons can be seen on clouds and are also responsible for producing rain.
Dragons have bodies similar to that of the snake, covered with scales, but they have lizard like arms and legs with sharp claws. The head of a dragon is similar to that of a serpent. Considering Buddhism and its heavy influence upon Shaolin Martial Arts the mythical beast was perfect to represent one of the Shaolin animals.
Dragon style fighting transcends the easily understood real world of external martial arts and enters the spiritual world of internal strength and power.
Although the dragon style of training may have some external benefits the internal and inner health benefits and chi developments are predominant. Many of the dragons movements in Shaolin are soft and circular and can be likened in some respects to that of the snake and often the dragon style techniques are in fact variations of some of the other animals. The dragon, should not be confused with the snake because the snake has no legs, and the claws are a very important element.
However, the snake techniques do contain more soft coiling actions with fingertip strikes, the dragon techniques are demonstrated with soft circular movements that terminate with hard sudden power. Therefore, the snake stylist would only exhibit soft power and the dragon uses a force that combines both hard and soft training principles.
The Shaolin dragon form uses clawing techniques which should not be confused with the tiger claw version. However, the dragon claw hand (long zhua) is a grab, while a tiger claw (hu zhua) is a squeezing and tearing motion. The dragon claw techniques are primarily pulling and locking techniques and are softer and more circular than a tiger which initiates downward ripping techniques.
Not all dragon techniques have claw hands there are also palms and fists. The dragon claw hand is flat and designed for grabbing arms, ears and other extremities. The palm strikes of the dragon differ from the snake form because the dragon strike is a claw strike and not a fingertip attack as with the snake.
The traditional Shaolin temple dragon claw training involved special strengthening exercises for the hands and arms (long zhua gong). Heavy clay jars would be used by the practising student; each exercise would start with a slow lifting motion. They would start with an empty jar and as strength increased water was added until the jars were full and then the procedure would be repeated with sand and finally rocks of increasing sizes and weight.
The dragon stylist is encouraged to use their waist to generate power rather than merely the shoulders and arms. This is a characteristic representation which imitates the whipping action of a dragons tail.
The major contribution to Shaolin from this animal is undoubtedly the internal conditioning aspect of the training which is associated with qi (chi or ki) development. Qi is energy and power generated internally by the body and if harboured in the correct manor can be combined with external strength to produce devastating results. With these methods undertaken the net effect is that power generation increases considerably in comparison to that of a normal external technique.
Breathing is a major component when considering qi development whilst demonstrating the Shaolin dragon forms. The lower body is used to draw in air rather than just the muscles of the chest.
This is not a tense and dynamic method but instead soft and relaxed. If executed in the correct manner this will help to lower the qi into the dan tian area at the nucleus of the body’s internal energy and strength.
This type of training with correct breathing techniques helps to fill the participants body with circulating qi thus making the body more flexible and relaxed.
Characteristically the fighting application of this animal hinge around a type of hard and soft breathing (referred to as soft carries hard). The practitioners breathing is soft and relaxed until the strike is make upon which time a sharp expulsion of breath focuses power upon contact.
To practice Shaolin dragon forms the movements should be soft and slow almost similar to tai chi chuan. Too much tension will cause a lack of qi flow and hard external power should only be emitted upon contact with an object.
This animal is by far spiritually the most powerful Shaolin animal and the practitioner should view his or herself in the same manner, for example dragons can appear and disappear (no we are not talking about students appearing and disappearing), but the ability and spirit to fool and deceive with movements that appear to be committed in one direction when in reality the attack suddenly appears from the opposite direction. The ability of the dragon to change size is also an important factor. The whole body can be used as a weapon or the fingertips could be used to damage small areas of the adversary, movements can begin from a coiled or sometimes almost crouching position with a sudden expanding action.
Considering dragons are reputed to move from oceans to clouds the correlation when training in this format would be the ability to demonstrate both take downs (oceans) and throws (clouds).
Another important characteristic to note assuming the spirit of the dragon is intent and is known as shen. When qi developed and focus is instigated using the eyes can in some case be enough to scare the adversary (eye contact).
The Chinese believe those who are ill cannot produce shen and is a by-product of those with healthy bodies and well-developed qi.
This particular animal undoubtedly gives the participant a vehicle that can be used to combine internal energy with external strength to produce awesome power.
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