By Donald Hamby
Shrouded by its elegance of design and graceful sweeping curves the Kwan Dao (quandao), 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 made up of a long curving blade used for slicing and chopping that tapers up to a sharp pointed end used 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 opponents weapon. Between the hook and the pointed tip are several saw teeth which are also very sharp. 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, every frill – every element of its composition has a purpose. The Kwan Dao is power concealed in elegance.
Having trained in the Hung Gar style for more than 20 years with my teacher Master Bucksam Kong, I’ve worked with a wide variety of weapons. I have found that many people shy away from the Kwan Dao because of its intimidating appearance. However, that is what first allured me to it for I believe that nothing worthwhile comes easily. In addition to the 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 required to wield such a weapon. And it has the added benefit of building and toning muscles as you train with it.
Mastery of the Kwan Dao requires diligent dedication to the techniques that evolved from the following 12 basic movements: Hack, Grind, Slice, Upward slash, Stab, Dragging cut, Flipping cut, Block, Overhead block, Tickle, Pick off, and Pierce. Hack an overhead chopping movement Grind push sword forward slightly while rolling the blade Slice round 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 the body to block incoming stabs.
Tickle hold the sword lengthwise 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 downwards to block a sweep
In addition to the 12 basic movements, there are 5 whirling sword movements lending their support to the techniques. They are as follows: Double-arm swirl, Single-arm swirl, Over-head swirl, Over-back swirl, and Over-shoulder swirl. Double-arm swirl hold sword in front of body with both hands and make upward and downward swirl movements Single-arm swirl hold sword with one hand and make swirl movements Over-head swirl Hold sword above the head with both hands and make swirl movements Over-back swirl bend at the waist with both hands on the back swirl 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 with a long beard and vivid red face clutching the broadsword, can be seen. Over 1,700 years ago, during the latter part of the Han Dynasty, then a commoner unaware of his destiny for greatness, Kwan Yu 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. 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 to 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 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 and 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 the versatility to be effective from atop a horse or on foot against either a horse, the rider, or a foot soldier. His creation, the Kwan Dao, is named after the General who, additionally, was the greatest master of the weapon. The original Kwan Dao weighed between 100-200 pounds. The present-day Kwan Dao weighs between 10-40 pounds and other than its weight, has changed very little throughout the years. Because the manner in which war is now waged has changed so drastically, relying almost exclusively upon high-tech fire-power; the Kwan Dao’s present-day usage is mostly for shows and demonstrations as with most martial arts weapons.
There are many virtues that have come down 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 qualities by my parents from childhood. Upon learning the Kwan Dao from my teacher Master Bucksam Kong would demonstrate the intriguing movements of this powerful weapon which amazed me to the point of total emulation. 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 who wishes to learn the Kwan Dao must be willing to sweat blood, gasp for air and struggle in 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 Man Wong tournament and received a standing ovation that would have made General Kwan’s face the brightest of red. May the Kwan Dao live and never die.
I would like to conclude by stating the following 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.
The Kwan Dao (meaning big knife) was developed by a great general named Kwan Yu. He lived during China’s Three Kingdoms period (220-280 AD) and was ambushed and murdered by soldiers of the Wu Kingdom around 220 AD. (inconsistent dates) Because of Kwan Yu’s military prowess and bravery in battle, and righteous deeds, he was deemed the God of War or Wu-ti: Wu meaning military and Ti meaning emperor. Kwan Yu official position was to serve as the vanguard of the empire and to quell internal, as well as, foreign threats. Kwan Yu was so revered that military officials and Gung Fu societies alike formed a religious cult, evoking his name for protection before going into battle. Although Kwan Yu is no longer with us in the physical, his spirit and his legacy still lives in the hearts and minds of the people of China.