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The movements of the Dragon style (traditional Chinese: ????; Yale Cantonese: long4 ying4 mo1 kiu4; literally “dragon shape rubbing bridges”) of Chinese martial arts are based on the mythical Chinese dragon.
Long before Saint George encountered his legendary beast, the Dragon played an influential and beneficial role in Chinese culture. An amalgam of several creatures, including monitor lizards, pythons and the Chinese alligator, the polymorphic dragon was a water spirit, responsible for bringing the rains and thus insuring the survival of crops. The dragon was symbolic guardian to the gods, and was the source of true wisdom. This latter feature most likely resulted from the observation of the living reptilian counterparts which, usually at rest, seem to be in a near constant state of contemplation.
The dragon represented two of the ancient elements, Earth and Water, endowing the creature with powers of illusion and strength. A Yang symbol, the Taoists saw the dragon as a personification of the Tao itself–“the Dragon reveals himself only to vanish.” Shaolin Buddhists saw him as a vision of enlightened truth, to be felt, but never to be held. Certain very old men were called dragons, these being well versed in the life-supporting skills of herbal medicine, agriculture, and kung fu. In early China, these skills were surely a matter of life or death, and those so educated were held in high esteem.
The history of Dragon style has historically been transmitted orally rather than by text, so its origins will probably never be known in their entirety. Modern Dragon style’s history can be reliably traced back to the monk Tai Yuk Sim See who was the abbot of Wa Sau Toi (White Hair) temple on Mount Luofu. No reliable records of the style’s origin prior to that exist, though there is much speculation regarding the subject.
Dragon style has roots in Hakka Kuen, a combination of the local styles of the Hakka heartland in inland eastern Guangdong with the style that the monk Gee Sim Sim See taught in Guangdong and the neighboring province of Fujian in the 1700s.
North of the Dongjiang in the northwest of Bóluó (??) County in the prefecture of Huizhou in Guangdong Province is the sacred mountain Luófúshan. Luófúshan is the site of many temples, including Wa Sau Toi where, c. 1900, a Chan (Zen) master named Tai Yuk taught Dragon style to Lam Yiu-Kwai, who in turn passed the art on to the many students of his schools in Guangzhou.
Lam Yiu-Kwai and Cheung Lai-Chuen were good friends from their youth in the Dongjiang region of Huizhou, longtime training partners and later cousins by marriage. Lam and Cheung would open several schools together, and Dragon style and Cheung’s style of Bak Mei share many similarities.
A variation of the Dragon style is taught by the Long Choo Kung Fu Society based in Penang, Malaysia and with branches in Australia. Founded by Li Ah Yu and his father near the turn of the century, this association claims it is teaching a Soft / Hard Dragon style originating from Fukkien province.
Dragon kung fu is essentially an internal, qi (pronounced chi) cultivating method, but initial training is far more like a hard, external style than a delicate, reptilian approach. In learning the moves, the student will strike hard, block hard and stomp into each position, with the idea of learning the proper place to be once each movement is complete. Eventually, the method of transmitting power is retained, and the physically strengthened body is able to make transitions in the proper, fluid manner. In turn, this reptilian smoothness helps disguise the attack, making it extremely difficult for an adversary to effectively counter. The practitioner stands at a 45 degree angle at the opponent
Once a purely physical semblance to flow has been mastered, the disciple incorporates the deep hissing sounds to train ch’i flow. Inhaling is silent, but exhalation is deliberate, tense and controlled. Inhaling lightens the body for aerial maneuvers, while exhaling drives power into each technique. Blocking is dispensed with, and parries or simple strikes substituted. At this point, novice and advanced student show very little in common.
On the highest level, an opponent is allowed to tire himself out, evasion becoming the Dragon’s key defense. Qi control is highly developed, and the degree to which the body must be moved to redirect or avoid impact is under greater control.
The forms that constitute this system are divided by complexity into three categories, and are enumerated below:
In each form, one is taught to “ride the wind”, a phrase which in large part means follow rather than lead. Provide no opening without first letting your opponent open. Unlike Crane, which also relies heavily upon evasion as a tactic, the Dragon evades primarily by rotation of upper or lower torso with little or no stance movements, while the Crane stylist hops frequently to reposition the entire body. Both styles employ pinpoint strikes to vulnerable meridian targets, but dragon also heavily uses tiger-like punches and clawing techniques, snake-like stance shifts, and leopard-like hit and run strikes to weaken a physically superior adversary. Dragon kung fu also regularly employs low sweeping techniques, but these are not unique; most senior stylists of any kung fu system use these on a weakened adversary.