The Dragon, as a symbol of
Chinese culture, has existed for over 5000 years. Historians believe that the
figure of a dragon was originally a serpent that was later combined with other
animals figures into a new figure which has the serpent's body, a beast's legs,
a dog's tail and paws, deer's horn, and a fish's scales and whiskers.
The Dragon is a mythical animal in Chinese culture. It is
believed to be very powerful, with abilities to change in shape, size and color,
sail up in the sky and dive down to earth very quickly, stir the ocean up side
down, convert clouds to rain, swim in the clouds and fog, etc. The Dragon
represents perfection in life and serves as a symbol for many people attempting
to improve themselves. Therefore, one can find all kinds of Chinese cultural
artifices associated with the dragon; from using the word "dragon" as a last
name, place name, object, fruit, weapon, design, clothing. The Dragon is so
common in Chinese culture that many Chinese people called themselves descendants
of the dragon.
Among weapons, the halbert, which has long or short handle
with a metal spear at the end and one or two crescent shape knives attached to
the side of the spear, is believed to imitate the dragon. There are several
types of halbert that are divided into those with long and short handles and
one or two crescent knives. Among halberts with the 13 foot long handle, if
there is only one crescent knife attached to the spear, this is called the
'Green Dragon Halbert'. If there are two crescent knives attached to the spear,
this is called 'Square Heaven Halbert'. Among the short handled halberts, there
are two crescent knives attached to the spear.
When one examines the halbert more closely, one will find
that it is shaped like a dragon and all the techniques manifest the form of a
dragon by incorporating the dragon's characteristics and movements. Therefore,
the halbert is also known as a dragon weapon. The figure of a dragon has eight
common body parts. They are the head, mouth, body, tail and four claws. Each
part has its own function; the dragon's head goes up, the mouth bites down, the
body goes straight, the claws grip and hook, and the tail coils. Similarly, we
can see that a Tai Chi Halbert has eight parts to attack with as well. The metal
portion is the dragon's head, in which the spear and the crescent is the mouth,
the handle is the body, the end of the handle is the tail and the crescent knife
is the claw.
The Tai Chi Halbert is one of the long weapons among Tai
Chi Chuan system's weapon armory. Like the mythical creature it imitates, the
dragon, one only hears of such a weapon by its name but does not see the actual
techniques or any written document. According to Grandmaster Yeung Sau Chung,
the Tai Chi Halbert has been a Yang Family heirloom for four generations. He
told my father Gin Soon Chu that the Tai Chi Halbert has only been transmitted
among bloodline members of the Yang Family. Because of this, Tai Chi Chuan
practitioners throughout history have only heard and understood fragments of
this weapon form within the system but know nothing else about it.
When one is practicing the Tai Chi Halbert, the techniques
incorporate the practitioner's body and express the movements in many rhythms.
The movements are so smooth and change so suddenly that they are similar to a
swimming dragon. Sometimes the movements are hard, other times they are soft.
Sometimes the movements are fast and other times they are slow. Sometimes the
movements come together like a coiling dragon, other times they are separate.
All of these different rhythms and movements present to the observer a sense of
flying and swimming. According to the weapon's composition, each simple movement
of going forward or backward, up or down, left or right, has many applications
and variations. There are absolutely no flowery movements like with other
weapons. All movements are strictly for application by pointing towards the
opponent's chest and head. Each movement is generally followed with several more
movements. When the halbert goes forward to stab, it then retreats backward to
hook, goes up to lift, and goes across to cut and hook. All the movements flow
very smoothly and naturally, similar to swimming and are all very flexible like
the movements of a dragon. The classics said "The Tai Chi Halbert is but a
single dragon, frightening people with its claws and open mouth. The Halbert's
technique is like a dragon reaching out with its claws, backward and forward,
always reaching for the opponent's head and chest".
When one is practicing the halbert, one must express the
dragon's coiling and sudden changes of temper by demonstrating each movement
with control, flexibility and agility. Each of the movements in Tai Chi Halbert
has a distinguished rhythm. Every movement is followed by several applications
and variations. Its flexible, agile, relaxed, open and smooth movements can
improve the practitioner's health, serve as self defense techniques and also
have value as a performance art.