Sunday, July 15, 2007

Chinese Martial Heroes - General Kwan Kung (Guan Gong)

This entry was first posted on the Shen Martial Arts website blog, Kung Fu Babble( Please visit that site for more information articles and pictures.

General Kwan Kung (Guan Gong), the patron saint of Chinese Martial Artists.

General Kwan lived during the late Han dynasty and early 3 kingdoms period, sometime in the 2nd century B.C. General Kwan is said to have embodied the qualities that all martial artists strive for: Courage, Loyalty, Morality, Honesty, Self-lessness, Honor, Patriotism and of course, the highest skill and Martial Ability. You may notice that one other quality is missing... Humility. Humility may be the most important virtue that General Kwan embodied and the highest lesson to be learned from his life. It is said that his very success in battle and as a leader turned into arrogance and this led to his eventual downfall.

Even in his ultimate failure, his story or folklore teaches us a lesson today, nearly 2,000 years later. That even at the highest of attainment, we can still sucumb to our ego. The battle within is the most difficult of all and the self is the most dawnting and unrelenting opponent, ready to spring up and slay us when we aren't vigilant, when we think we have succeeded.

Kwan Kung is a model for a Warrior Knight. Dignified, Wise, Respectful, Fair and Just. He is the symbol of the ultimate greatness of Chinese Culture. Today, we see his figure in altars at traditional kung fu schools, but also at many businesses. Why businesses? Because Kwan Kung is the symbol of Loyalty to one another. It is customary for 2 people entering an agreement to visit a temple to Kwan Kung and make and offering together. This creates a symbolic spiritual agreement. One that honor holds together.

Most depictions of General Kwan show him weilding a large haldberd like weapon. This is the weapon he designed and that still bears his name the Kwan Dao or Kwan Knife. Folklore tells us that this weapon weighed over 40 kilograms (90 pounds)! General Kwan is frequently portrayed holding the Kwan Dao in one hand while mounting a horse. This all symbolizes the strength in battle of a martial artist and the rigor of training that kung fu practitioners must endure to achieve the highest levels of skill and strength. Practice of the Kwan Dao remains an important part of the curriculum of many kung fu styles, however today's versions weigh closer to 20 pounds, and some Wushu versions are but a mere 4 pounds! At 4 pounds, I think General Kwan would be insulted rather than honored . The 20 pound versions are quite the task to maneuver and do a better job of representing the true essence of the weapon.

General Kwan is the model of discipline and virtue for all martial artists to strive for and his life and achievements guide us today.