A Loong is not a Dragon

Ever notice that in some heated arguments the other side wants you to be very precise about what they said but is not too careful repeating what you said. In fact they are often downright sloppy. Of course if you are in that mood where only your side counts you consider their concern over accuracy childish quibbling.

I remember this condescending wave washing over me when one of my favorite Kung Fu instructors would say, every chance he got, that the Chinese Loong was not a dragon. He finally said it enough times for me to wonder if there might be something there.

At first glance we can at least confirm a few superficial differences. The Chinese Dragon which I will hereafter call the Loong, controls forces of nature such as rain, the rivers, the sea, all other kinds of a water. The Loong helps‑as opposed to fries‑ heroes, and allows gods and demigods to ride on its back at times. It stands as a symbol of inspired power.

The Loong showed up in China over 6000 years ago. As late as 1987 new artifacts, like the oldest portrayal of Loong in China, were being unearthed. This incredibly early design of the ancient creature is a now known as China’s “First Dragon”.

The Loong’s connection to water is marvelous and completely unlike the Western version. Not only does it oversee rivers and other bodies of water but rain comes at its command and clouds issue with its every breath.

Loong also comes in a bunch of varieties not found in the western equivalent. Loong with scales are called Jiao Loong. If they are hornless it is known as the Chi Loong, but with horns we call it the Qiu Loong. The exact features of the ever- changing Loong are also somewhat disputed. Some claim he has a horse head, a snake’s tail. Some add deer horns, ox ears, camel’s head, rabbit eyes, snake’s neck, fish scales, tiger paws, and eagle claws. All this may result, as its often did in ancient Greece, from compromising with the Loong image worshipped by different tribes. As China assimilated more and more groups, one of its strong points was a cosmopolitan attitude that easily adapted to the many versions of legend and myth.

The Loong is also special in its offspring. Each of these is a type with special features. They are…

  1. Bixi, the Bearer, often carved into the foundation of stone monuments.
  2. Chiwen, the Viewer, painted on eaves of houses.
  3. Taotie, the Drinker, carved on bridges to resist floods.
  4. Yazi, the Fighter, often the decorative handle of knives and swords.
  5. Bi’an, the Lawful,  often guarding the entrance of prisons and jails.
  6. Suanni, the Fire Lover, who decorates the lid of incense burners.
  7. Baxia, the Water Lover, who is shown on the railing of bridges.
  8. Jiaotu, the Guarded, represented on house gates.
  9. Pulao, the Musical, often shown on bells.

None of these offspring is technically a Loong, but they are the descendants of the Loong and beloved. This ability to create creatures other than itself will reappear in creation myths later.

Some Loong are famous in their own rights. The first emperor Huang Di had a companion in the Responding Loong (Yin Loong), the original God of Rain. The Torch Loong (Yin Zhu) was that creature from whose body the universe was created.

The Dragon is, in general, an evil creature in Western cultures. He fought St. George, destroyed villages, loaned his name to Dracula (“Dragon”, in Romanian) and generally caused problems for knights and peasants. Some Chinese Loong were also troublesome, using water rather than fire to savage the landscape. One surly Loong caused catastrophic flooding before the Chinese folk heroine Nuwa defeated him. But generally the Loong is seen as a beneficent creature in the East. In fact the diversity of view might be because the Loong is positive in the East that some Westerners see it as an evil creature. This power of Eastern culture has for centuries threatened Europeans. The odd thing is that original, Celtic folklore gives a special place to a type of Dragon known as a worm (wyrm): namely, the dragon that consumes its own tail, Ourobouros, an essentially positive creature who represented the cyclical nature of time, also a resonant Eastern concept. Perhaps the rise of Christianity reversed the polarity of the creature. Whatever the reason this difference casts a Loong shadow between the dragon and the Loong.

A number of Asian sources like the Miao and the Bai people contend that the Loong gave rise to the entire human race. They have some beautiful and complex legends as to how this came about.

The Loong and Tiger are each, respectively, the most powerful animals of their domain which is why they are paired in Kung Fu history. The Loong, though it sleeps in wells, is a sky or Heaven animal. The Tiger, who hides in caves, is an Earth creature. When the Loong was lazy and neglected its responsibility of bringing rain to people, some villagers would carry tiger bones to the local well and toss them in. Loong and Tiger always quarrel so this would irritate and energize the Loong to get on with the precipitation.

Looked at from this perspective you can see how different the dragon and the Loong are. Its associations in the realm of martial arts are also special. For instance the Loong represents curvature and its movements should demonstrate a distinctive curve through the length of the body. Loong ride on clouds and therefore are visible only momentarily like a whale breaking surface. This ability to appear and disappear associates the Loong with human consciousness itself, like the thoughts generated in the mind out of nothingness. Loong thereby achieves a mysterious ability to act with surprising adaptability and randomness. A strategic move that defeats the enemy without even fighting him would be a very Loong-like method, defeating the opponent’s consciousness as well as his material strength. By the same token Loong also correlates to “visualization” practices such as Golden Bells and other meditations.

We can see that the shape, intent and soul of Loong’s movement distinguish it from what most people term a “dragon” just as authentic, cultural Kung Fu movement completely separates it from modern, gymnastic, media-inspired performance of martial arts.

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