Rank: Green (Di Si Ji)
Elements: Mountain, Heaven, Clouds
In Chinese mythology, the dragon is a powerful elemental creature that approaches the status of a demi-god. They were resposible 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, the five clawed dragon being the symbol of an 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 similiar 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 enables 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 similiar to that of a snake which is covered with scales, they have lizard like arms and legs with sharp claws. The head of a dragon is similiar 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 similiar 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.
The snake techniques contain more soft coiling actions with the 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 soft and hard training principles.
The Shaolin dragon form uses clawing techniques which should not be confused with the tiger claw version. The dragon claw hand is a grab, the tiger claw 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 finger tip attack as with the snake.
The dragon stylist is encouraged to use their waist to generate power rather than merely the shoulders and arms. This helps to characterize the whipping action of the dragon's long tail.
The major contribution to Shaolin from this animal is undoubtedly the internal conditioning aspect of the training which is associated with qi development. Chi is energy and power generated internally by the body and if harnessed in the correct manner, 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 while 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 participant's body with circulating qi thus making the body more flexible and relaxed.
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. The meaning of this is to have 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 opponent, 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).
This particular animal undoubtedly gives the participant a vehicle that can be used to combine internal energy with external strength to produce awesome power.