Pai Lum’s Ever-changing Dragon
by Glenn C. Wilson
No animal within the Asian culture is as revered as the dragon. The very mention of the dragon creates thoughts of "all knowledge," "continuous change," or "spiritual development" - in essence, the highest level of one's self-achievement. Found deep in the cultural teachings of the dragon lies a family system of health, wellness and martial arts. It has come to be known as "lung pai" or "white dragon."
At the center of the philosophy and execution of theories lies the way of the white dragon, better known as Pai lum tao. This esoteric style has set a standard of learning and sharing within martial and cultural circles. The way of the white dragon is a strong belief in one's power, speed, and technique.
A virtue taught within the dragon animal system is that, "The dragon can shape and form at will." It is believed that if a dragon must become more powerful, he changes into a tiger or white ape. If the situation requires more agility and speed, the crane, monkey or mantis would suffice. However, few wide-eyed beginners will meet the standards needed to be accepted into the "golden ring of learning," which signifies achieving a level of knowledge in Pai lum tao. The "rings of learning" are required levels of achievement, attained status, and ranking in the traditional Pai lum tao style as authorized by the late grandmaster, Dr. Daniel Kane Pai.
Pai lum tao has nine rings of learning within the study of animal combative virtues: dragon, tiger, crane, snake, leopard, white ape, monkey, praying mantis, and shark.
Dragon stances incorporate circular evasive stepping patterns, which confuse and unbalance the opponent. These constant changes in the stepping routines challenge an opponent to constantly catch up to, and not be overcome by, the body.
Using circular footwork, you interlace the figure-8 patterns, linear short lines and ghost walking patterns. The goal of any practitioner is to set and maintain "rhythm of motion." The knowledge to choose the correct pattern at the precise time comes through thousands of test runs practiced over many years. This discipline is divided into two major teachings of stance work: stationary stance and transitionary stance.
Stationary stance work comes into play when establishing a foundation for a block or strike. Low powerful stances are practiced daily to develop power and stability in the legs. Pai lum tao practitioners who make it to the "dragon" level of inner training will develop legs of iron. When a student performs something as simple as a leg sweep, his opponent feels as if an iron bar has struck him. These results require time and discipline "on the floor," which is a common term heard in Pai lum tao kwoons (schools).
Transitionary stance work, which comes into play when a practitioner is most vulnerable to attack, is commonly executed more quickly than the stationary theories of stance. These movements are light, quick, agile, and well timed while coordinated in a distinct rhythm of motion. The energy starts in the "root" or "stance" within dragon philosophy. It then moves upward into the posture or body dragon training.
As energy moves up through the practitioner's legs, the power created is regenerated in the waist whipping action. This prticular training is found in the body/posture theories.
Whipping from the waist greatly magnifies the intensity, power and penetration of the strike. When blended with proper stance, the motion will not give the strike away.
Dragon theory often employs the footwork of the monkey while executing a transitionary stance. Because of the many circular, evasive moves of dragon, blending the light, ever-changing patterns of monkey creates a magical symphony of movement. The attacker finds himself lost while attempting to read the dragon's movements. When the time is right the dragon practitioner executes a blinding barrage of counterstrikes.
Armed with an ever-changing series of foot patterns, the Pai lum tao student will have an array of versatile counters at his disposal. By simply alterning the stance or footwork, a single punch or strike can be delivered from a multitude of angles.
- Twisting horse
- Bow & Arrow
- Monkey Step
- Side Horse
- Rising Horse
Power breathing should accompany the rhythms of the body. A short breath would be executed with a short-range technique, while a long breath would be followed by a long-range technique. A poison snake "hissing sound" would be utilized with a chin na or dim hsueh technique.
"Poison hand" techniques are taught only in the advance curriculum. The eager Pai lum tao student looks forward to being accepted into this elite training.
The first aspect of poison hand training will encompass the distribution and manipulation of chi. Next comes the fascinating teachings of the three negative points of the hand working in harmony with the three positive points of the foot. Knowledge of vital striking points is at the heart of white dragon martial arts' advanced teachings. Late great grandmaster Dr. Daniel Kane Pai was revered for his mastery of the pin chuh theories of the Hopei Region. He passed on this knowledge to only a few chosen disciples.
Understanding the organization and function of one's body and that of his opponent's are keys to mastering Pai lum tao's striking theories. With this understanding, punches and kicks move in harmony with chi flow and lead to an explosion at the time of point penetration.
Short and Explosive
The key to dragon techniques can be found primarily in the southern school of teaching. The strikes, for the most part, are short range and explosive, with the technique delivered into the target as opposed to the surface. The technique does not stop at the target; rather, it cuts through the target. Great caution must be practiced when executing these techniques, because improper penetration can lead to serious injury.
Pai lum tao's dragon arsenal employs both "gong" hard hand and "yuen" soft hand strikes. The hands will follow the figure-eight linear or circular path. These crushing, slicing, clawing or piercing strikes will be executed quickly - often many times a second - to overwhelm an opponent.
The body should remain relaxed, yet firm when strikes are executed. Tiger muscles or joints restrict energy flow and interfere with sinew and muscle movement, which is vital for the proper execution of the technique.
The explosive movements of the dragon can be devastating. The strikes penetrate a few inches into the target with a linear motion, and then cut through with a circular motion. Some commonly used "dragon hands" are:
- Ram's Head Punch
- Dragon's Head
- Twin Dragons Searching for the Pearl
- Eye of the Phoenix
- Twin Dragon's Head
- Pecking Bird
- Immortal Man Points the Way
- Hook Punch
- Five Star
- Dragon's Claw
- Spear Finger
- Dragon's Breath
These disciplined strikes will be practiced using the theories found in the "short breath" and "long breath" techniques and will be mastered through kuan yin chi kung exercises. Taught from day one in traditional Pai lum tao training, these essential breathing patterns require many years of diligent study to master the unification of inner and outer wu kung.
The formulas and theories of execution behind Pai lum tao's kicks vary little from those of the hand strikes. Originally, white dragon stylists never kicked above waist. Today, however, it's not uncommon to see practitioners kicking to the head or performing elegant jump kicks. All kicks are delivered with relaxation and fluid motion to allow for maximum penetration. Rooting the supporting leg provides a fulcrum effect, which allows the rest of the body to swing and rotate and ensures good balance in maintained throughout the technique.
Kicks must be angled to guarantee positive results. If a stylist wants to dislodge an attacker's balance he may have to drive up his kick. The practitioner might begin with a linear kick to dislodge his opponent's balance. He would then rotate his body and drop his stability level. Finally, if he wants to cause extreme injury, he takes down the attacker and delivers a kick in a downward direction. The attack will have no answer for this penetrating kick; his body will buckle from the explosion and hit the ground hard.
Pai lum tao kicks found in the dragon key training include:
- Dragon Spins Tail
- Inside Crescent Moon
- Outside Crescent Moon
- Knife Edge
- Chopping Ax
- Scooping Spade
- Knee Strikes
- Front Snap
Dragon theories, like their footwork and animal virtue, are ever changing. It is this adaptability to the situation, to the opponent, which separates its movements from those found in other styles. Lightning speed, total relaxation with enhanced chi flow, maximum power at the time of penetration; this is the essence of Pai lum tao's dragon virtues.