The origin of the Monk Spade
A monk’s spade (Traditional Chinese: 月牙鏟; Simplified Chinese: 月牙铲; pinyin: yuèyáchǎn; literally “Crescent Moon Spade”; also, Traditional Chinese: 禪仗; Simplified Chinese: 禅仗; pinyin: chánzhàng; literally, “Zen Weapon”. Romanized Japanese: getsugasan, Hiragana: げつがさん), also called a Shaolin Spade, is a Chinese pole weapon consisting of a long pole with a flat spade-like blade on one end and a smaller crescent shaped blade on the other. In old China, Buddhist monks often carriedspades (shovels) with them when travelling. This served two purposes: if they came upon a corpse on the road, they could properly bury it with Buddhist rites, and the large implement could serve as a weapon for defence against bandits. Over time, they were stylised into the monk’s spade weapon.
The Monk Spade as Taoist weapon
The Fangbian Chan (or Monk Spade) is an unusual kind of weapon, which also Taoists possess and wandering Taoists bring with them in their travels. It is said that the Fangbian Chan is Laozi’s creation. In the field of Daoist studies, practicing the Fangbian Chan not only demands rigor, but it also builds rigor. The Fangbian Chan is divided into 3 parts.
First, the head of the shovel: its length of 1.8 feet represents the secret space between the 18 levels of Hades. The shovel face’s 2 curved edges each have a ring, which represents the 2 energies of Yin and Yang. The neck of the shovel head has 5 iron rings, representing the 5 elements (fire, wood, water, metal, earth). So the idea of the 5 elements is that practicing the Dao to keep Yin and Yang balanced in order to have the power to break away from the abyss of misery, and suppress the 18 levels of Hades with the shovel.
Second, the handle of the shovel: its length of 3.3 feet represents the middle 33 heavens. The idea is to manage cause and effect, good and bad oneself.
Third, the end of the shovel: its length of 8.6 inches represents the 8 directions and 6 sides because the 3 curves of the drill it forms brings about conformation and represent 3 Cai (Heaven/Earth/Humanity). In addition, each curve has a loop representing 3 treasures (Jjing/Qi/Shen). In this way, there is Heaven and Earth, and people have life from the 3 heavenly treasures. For this reason, people who go out into the world and experience life must follow the natural way of the existence in this world and universe. Laozi created the Fangbian Chan form with 81 movements; the original idea was to remind his disciples to always keep Yin and Yang, always practice with the heart, body, and mind, and help others along the way. Keep doing this again and again throughout your life and you can become immortal in the end. After this, you can suppress the force of Hades and rise to the Heavens.
The Fangbian Chan is a complete weapon. It can be used as a staff, spear, long broadsword, and trident. It can be used to hook, hitch, chop, block, thrust, shovel, sweep, smack, beat, twist, etc. These applications are used to understand the principles of defending and attacking, backwards and forwards, slow and fast, hard and soft, etc.