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General Kwan’s Legendary Weapon

By Donald Hamby

Shrouded by its elegance of design and graceful sweeping curves the Kwan Dao, also known as the Green-Dragon or the Crescent-Moon broadsword, is a deceptively ominous force. This imposing weapon commands respect and admiration for its majestic appearance and highly effective design.

It is composed of a long curving blade used for slicing and chopping that tapers up to a sharp pointed end designed for stabbing and thrusting. The backside of the blade has a sharp upturned hook toward the base, which is used for catching and trapping an opponent’s weapon. Between the hook and the pointed tip are several sharp saw teeth.

Even the innocuous-looking red tassel attached through a hole near the end of the hook serves as a distraction to an opponent. The blade is firmly attached to a long wooden staff with a metal cap at the opposite end. This cap sometimes has sharp thorny protrusions and a pointed tip for piercing the ground to assist in blocking sweeps. From top to bottom — every line, every curve, and every frill — every element of its composition has a purpose. The Kwan Dao is power concealed in elegance.

Looks Are Deceiving
Having trained in the hung gar style for more than 20 years with my teacher master Bucksam Kong, I’ve experienced a wide variety of weapons. Many people shy away from the Kwan Dao because of its intimidating appearance. However, that is what first allured me to it; I believe that nothing worthwhile comes easily. Along with its self-defense aspects, there are also physical fitness benefits offered by the Kwan Dao. Because of its size and weight, it takes strength, coordination, and stamina to perfect the movements. And it has the added benefit of building and toning muscles during training.
Mastery of the Kwan Dao requires diligent dedication to the techniques that evolved from its 12 basic movements: hack, grind, slice, upward slash, stab, dragging cut, flipping cut, block, overhead block, tickle, pick off, and pierce. Here is an overview:

• Hack — An overhead chopping movement.
• Grind — Push sword forward slightly while rolling the blade.
• Slice — Around the body horizontal circling movement.
• Upward slash — Upward slicing movement from bottom to top.
• Stab — Pushing the sword straight forward.
• Dragging cut — Drag the sword behind, turn around and apply an overhead chop.
• Flipping cut — Make a slant cut back and forth.
• Overhead block — Hold sword horizontally overhead with both hands to block a head-on attack.
• Block — Move the sword horizontally from right to left of the body to block incoming stabs.
• Tickle — Hold the sword lengthwise and make a curve sweep from left to right.
• Pick-off — Upward sweeping movement with the tail of the sword handle.
• Pierce — Forcefully move the lower end of the handle downward to block a sweep.

Whirling Dervish
In addition to the 12 basic movements, there are five whirling sword movements lending their support to the techniques. They include, double-arm swirl, single-arm swirl, over-head swirl, over-back swirl, and over-shoulder swirl.
• Double-arm swirl — Hold the sword in front of body with both hands and make upward and downward swirl movements.
• Single-arm swirl — Hold the sword with one hand and make swirl movements.
• Over-head swirl — Hold the sword above the head with both hands and make swirl movements.
• Over-back swirl — Bend at the waist with both hands on the back and swirl the sword horizontally.
• Over-shoulder swirl — With the center of the sword handle positioned near the neck, swirl around the neck while alternating hands.

The Kwan Dao is named for its originator, the legendary hero General Kwan Yu. Upon entering many gung-fu schools, a statue or painting of General Kwan can be seen. He is pictured with a long beard and vivid red face, his hand clutching the broadsword. Over 1,700 years ago, during the latter part of the Han dynasty Kwan Yu, then a commoner unaware of his destiny for greatness, came to the aid of a neighbor who was being victimized by corrupt government officials. Kwan was a very large, powerful man with a distinctive red face and made a most formidable adversary.

A Common Hero
As word of his insurrection spread, he became a hero to his peers as he continued to help those who were being exploited in his quest to uphold justice and propagate peace and order. He was also gaining a reputation among the nefarious officials who vigorously stalked him in light of their growing abhorrence of him. Much to their chagrin, Kwan’s good deeds did not go unnoticed by the Emperor, himself an honorable man, who elicited his aid in eradicating the wickedness and treason, which permeated the infrastructure of the palace, the government, and the army. He successfully weeded out the unsavory elements for the Emperor and was appointed to the lofty position of General. He led the Emperor’s army and was renowned for his strength and military genius. General Kwan always stood up for just causes, showed mercy to defenseless opponents, and was highly revered for his wisdom, honesty and compassion.

A true legend, to this day he is still highly exalted for his high standards and virtue as he is recognized as the Patron God of Chinese martial arts. His likeness is maintained in traditional shaolin kung-fu schools as well as in many government offices in China, such as police stations and post offices. He was the epitome of righteousness, loyalty, humbleness and justice.

During his reign as General, he found the need to develop a weapon that could best take advantage of his great size and superior strength. Additionally, since many battles ensued from horseback, the weapon needed to be effective from atop a horse or on foot against a horse, the rider, or a foot soldier. His creation, the Kwan Dao, is named after the General who also was its greatest master. The original Kwan Dao weighed 100-to-200 pounds. The present-day Kwan Dao, weighing ten-to-40 pounds, has changed very little throughout the years. Because the manner in which war is now waged has changed so drastically, the Kwan Dao’s present-day usage is mostly for shows and demonstrations.

There are many virtues that have come through the ages of time. The best of all virtues is knowledge, for knowledge is power, and the understanding of knowledge is the application of power. Learning the Kwan Dao requires discipline and mental fortitude. This, however, was not a problem for me because I was imbued with these virtues by my parents from childhood. Upon learning the Kwan Dao, my teacher master Bucksam Kong would demonstrate the intricate movements of this powerful weapon.

Each morning I would get up and practice the routine I had learned from my sifu, being attentive to the smallest detail. In the beginning it was a trying task. But anyone wishing to learn the Kwan Dao must be willing to sweat blood, gasp for air and struggle against pain. After many years of tenacious training and public demonstrations, my sifu was proud to present me on cable television. But most of all I represented the Kwan Dao in the masters division at the 1997 Tat Mau Wong Tournament and received a standing ovation that would have made General Kwan’s face the brightest of red.

According to a Shaolin proverb: "He who knows others is wise. He who knows himself is enlightened. He who conquers others is strong. He who conquers himself is mighty. He who knows contentment is rich. He who keeps on his course with energy has will. He who does not deviate from his proper place will long endure. He who might die but not perish has longevity." It is almost as if this proverb was written specifically for General Kwan Yu and his magnificent weapon.

Donald Hamby is a hung gar student under master Bucksam Kong. He studies in Southern California.

reprinted with permission from CFW Enterprises