Lu Da's Spade
Brief History of the Monk’s Spade
By Senior Elder Master Sharon Soard 7.15.2020
The spade or shovel is an ancient invention having been around since the stone age. This
tool was devised from
attaching a sharp edged stone to a long staff. Its early origins were mostly for farming
but it proved to be a
useful weapon too. Emperor Yu of the Xia Dynasty (2205-1766 BC) was famous for his
martial skill with the stone
head shovel. His weapon was called the Golden Bell Shovel (Jin Zhong Chan) due to its
shape and sheer strength.
In the Shang Dynasty (1766-122 BC) the spade began to be constructed of brass making it
sharper and more uniform
in design and weight.
During the Warring Staters Period (403-222 BC) the spade was made of iron which held a
much sharper edge making
it truly a formidable weapon. It was during this period that the shovel became widely
used in combat. This is
also when the Crescent Moon (Yue Ya Chan) design came into existence. Up until now, the
spade did not have the
metal crescent at the other end. Instead it usually had a metal tip.
The Han Dynasty (206 BC-25 AD) saw the influence of Buddhism coming into China from
India. The Convenient Shovel
(Fang Bian Chan) became a tool for the monks during this time as it was the staple tool
of farms. Since this
period in China saw much war and famine there were always bodies that needed to be
buried. This responsibility
fell to the monks who would bury the dead and give them their last rites. Later on the
monks would carry the
Crescent Moon Spade. Since dead bodies would draw animals the monks started using the
Crescent Moon Spade with
the crescent unsharpened. They would use the crescent to push away the hungry animals so
that they could begin
The 3 curves on the blade of the Convenient Spade represent the Buddhist and Taoist
principals of Earth, Heaven
and Man as well as our Essence, Chi and Spirit. On the Crescent Moon Spade the blade
represents the Sun Rising
Between Heaven and Earth and the Moon at the other end. This represents the universal
balance of Yang and Yin.
As time passed the use of the Crescent Moon Spade died out as a military weapon and it
became exclusively a
monks weapon. Its use by monks continued until the end of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911
In Chinese history there are two famous individuals who carried a monks spade. One was
Sha Wujing from the tales
contained in the classic novel Journey to the West. Monk Sha had been a Buddhist monk who
became known as The
General Who Lifts the Curtain. He protected those looking to find the scriptures. Through
his devotion and
divine spirit that was said to have been with him since birth, he ascended into heaven.
Unfortunately in heaven during a feast of all of the generals at the Jade Pool, Monk Sha
broke some of the jade
and crystal. For this he was thrown out of heaven and punished by being turned into an
ogre who had to fend for
himself in the Flowing Sands River.
In the tale, Monkey King and his small band needed to cross the river and are challenged
by the ogre. Pig aided
by Monkey on the side fight the ogre to a draw. A short time later, Monkey King finds out
who the ogre really is
and befriends him. The ogre becomes known as Friar Sand and carries the monks spade to
guard the Tang Priest as
they all journey to find the scriptures.
The second individual who carried a monks spade was Lu Da - the 13th of the 108 heroes
from the classic Chinese novel Outlaws of the Marsh. Lu Da along with the famous Wu Song, were two of only 27 of the 108 heroes who survived the rebellions.
Lu began as a low level official who always seemed to get into trouble.
He got into a fight with a butcher who was forcing a young woman to
marry him. He struck the man 3 times accidentally killing him. He fled to
the Buddhist temple at Wutai mountain where the abbot allowed him to
become a monk. The abbot gave him the name Zhi Shen, meaning
“deep wisdom” in hopes that the Buddha’s wisdom could help to
cultivate goodness within Lu Da. We also know Lu Da as Sagacious Lu
- meaning of sound judgement and as the Flower Monk or Friar Hua
because of his flowery tattooed back. As a monk and being an
unusually large and strong man, Lu carried an 80 pound monk’s spade!
Lu Zhi Shen unfortunately broke all of the Buddhist rules and in a
drunken rage smashed the temple pavilion breaking the Buddha
statues. He was banished to another temple to cultivate the temples
vegetable garden. It was at this new temple that he subdued 23 robbers
and in a show of strength uprooted a tall willow tree with is bare hands.
After this show of courage and strength, Lu Zhi Shen met General Lin
Chong, the instructor of 800,00 imperial guards. The two became
sworn brothers. Another sworn brother to Lu was Zhou Tong, teacher of
Wu Song and General Yueh Fei.
Later, Lin Chong gets framed by corrupt officials and is sent into exile.
The guards try to kill him in Wild Boar Forest but he is saved by Lu Zhi
Shen. While on the run after saving Lin Chong, Lu ends up in a famous
battle at Twin Dragon Mountain. Afterwards, he joins the outlaws whose
decree is “reclaiming justice under heaven”. They band together at
At the end of his life after capturing a rebel leader, Lu goes to
Hangzhou. On the 18th day of the 8th lunar month, a tidal bore of
waves always crash upon the banks of the Qingtang River. Lu Zhi Shen
is awakened from his sleep by the thundering sound of the waves. In
that moment he remembers the poem given to him by the abbot of the
Wutai Temple. The last two lines of the poem tell him that his death is
eminent now that he has heard the tide.
With the awareness of his impending death, Lu composes a poem that
tells of his understanding of the meaning of his life. The poem showed
that even though he had never read the scriptures when he was a
monk, he had the realization that comes with enlightenment.
Lu Zhi Shen was buried with priestly honors in Hangzhou, the beautiful
city by the West Lake. This city is also the burial home of General Yueh
Fei. Marco Polo called Hangzhou “heaven on earth” and it truly is a
heavenly resting place for these two heroes.