Hammer of the Gods – Dragon Ball Martial Arts and the Double Axe Handle

Vegetto Smashes Majin Buu with a Double Axe Handle

Vegetto Smashes Majin Buu with a Double Axe Handle

In this Dragon Ball explorative essay we’re going to focus on the martial arts technique known as the double axe handle. This iconic technique is found throughout the Dragon Ball series and has both a rich history and symbolism.

Dragon Ball is a comic book and anime filled with fighting and all kinds of different martial arts styles.  Yet many of them share similar techniques, and the double axe handle is one of the most identifiable.

These are the questions we will answer in this article:

  • What is the double axe handle?
  • What are its origins and history, and how does it relate to Dragon Ball?
  • What are the histories of East Asian martial arts, Buddhism, and the Lightning Bolt Clasped Hands style of combat?
  • How do eastern philosophies and this technique fit into the fights of DBZ?
  • Why is the double axe handle used so often in Dragon Ball?
  • Outside of Dragon Ball, where else can the double axe handle be seen?

Read on to find out!

What is the double axe handle?

Vegeta's Flying Double Axe Handle

Vegeta’s Flying Double Axe Handle

The double axe handle is a martial arts technique that involves bringing both hands together in a clasped position so that they form a hard, dual fist.  The fingers are usually interlocked but it is not required.  To use this technique the practitioner swings their balled fist at an opponent as hard as they possibly can, as if they were swinging an axe and trying to cut through a log or tree.  They put all their weight behind the attack and deliver a full force blow into the opponent.  The move is very dramatic and stylish.

Are there reasons it is so commonly used in Dragon Ball?  I have yet to see another anime or series in any form (comic, animation, film, or game) that applies it so abundantly.  This technique is brought into play in every major fight in DBZ.

And this is particularly odd because the double axe handle is rarely used in the martial arts.  It is an impractical technique that endangers the practitioner who uses it.  Yet in Dragon Ball we see it all the time.

What are the origins and history of the double axe handle?  Where does the technique come from and how is all of this history related to DBZ?

The History of the Double Bladed Axe

Minoan Double Axe

Minoan Double Axe

To better understand the double axe handle technique used in DBZ we should take a moment to discuss the techniques’ history and meaning.  Bear with me for a few paragraphs because it will all make sense later.

The double axe handle technique receives its name from the cutting tool known as the axe. An axe is an ancient and still employed cutting tool used to chop and slice through objects.  It consists of a long handle and a sharp bladed head, usually made of metal.  The axe is a simple and effective machine as it focuses all of the weight and force of the wielder into the sharp cutting edge.

The double axe handle technique implies that the wielder is holding onto an imaginary axe with both hands as they swing.  When swinging an axe in real life it is not swung with both hands interlocked, rather it is swung with one hand placed above the other.

But the double axe handle is a move that focuses the power of the technique away from the strength of the fingers and knuckles.  It drives energy into the bottoms of the hands via the core of the body as it brings the arms downward (or sideways) as a result of a pulling motion from the center of the body.

It’s like you’re chopping an imaginary tree and trying to take it down with one blow.

What does the axe itself represent?  And is there a difference between single headed axes and double headed axes in terms of symbolism?

The earliest known form of the double headed axe is the “labrys,” a word from the Minoan civilization’s Bronze Age (2,700 B.C. to 1,450 B.C.).  The etymology of “axe” in the form of “labrys” is where we received the word “labyrinth,” the maze-like setting on Crete used to tell the tale of the Greek myth about Theseus.  The labyrinth is where Theseus was forced to slay the Minotaur, the part-man part-bull monster, the mixed species offspring of Queen Pasiphae and the bull (Taurus) of King Minos, the legendary king of Minoan history.

The double headed axe was considered the holiest of all religious symbols by the Minoans.  Long hafted double bladed axes were used by Minoan priests to sacrifice bulls in ceremonies to appease Zeus, and the double bladed axe represented one of three primary symbols of their culture, along with the pillar and the bull’s head with horns.

The bull’s symbolism was carried over into Thracian, Greek, and Byzantine culture.  In time it spread throughout much of Europe, albeit not always with directly observable links back to Minoa.  For example, in Roman civilization an upright double headed axe was considered a symbol of justice.

Vegeta Strikes Goan with the Double Axe Handle

Vegeta Strikes Gohan with the Double Axe Handle

The double headed axe is related to the double headed hammer, as both would be used by a smith, one to work with wood and the other to work with metal.

Early axe blades were made of stone and would ignite sparks when used.  Native American, Chinese and Celtic peoples referred to the axe as “thunder stones,” a term denoting the axes power to both destroy and create, like lightning (fire) and rain that accompany a storm.

Altered forms of the double headed axe and hammer can be seen in various cultures, such as the Hammer of Thor via the mythology of the Norse nations.  Also from the vajra (i.e. thunderbolt mace) from the Vedic belief systems of India, wielded by Indra in particular.  In Greek culture Zeus was sometimes depicted as carrying a vajra like implement in his left hand and a double headed axe over his right shoulder.

Jade Axe Head from China

Jade Axe Head from China with Dragon Inlay

In these forms the heavy bludgeoning device is essentially the weapon and attack of the gods.  Gods would use them to fight against other gods and truly smite (or “smith”) their foes.

In China the battle axe and double headed axe were used as sacrificial tools, and the stone axe in particular was associated with thunder.  The stone or precious rock on the end of the axe was perceived as a dragon’s tooth, capable of calling forth fire when struck properly.  The axe and the dragon were both symbols of the Emperor and signified his relationship as the “Son of Heaven.”  The man or god that carried a battle axe was seen as a wielder of lightning.

We can see a lot of correlations between this information and the characters and fights in Dragon Ball.  In the later parts of the series the now superhuman fights can be described as gods fighting against gods.

Dual Nature

Gohan in Great Ape form tries to smash Vegeta

Gohan in Great Ape form tries to smash Vegeta

In terms of spiritual and philosophical representation the dual sided nature of the axe symbolizes both creation and destruction, the place between life and death, old and new moons, and a void, like inside the mother’s womb before birth.  The double headed axe symbolizes a paradoxical state of simultaneous unity and division, like a serpent eating its own tail.

The axe is also a part of Sumerian culture and of primordial man in general, one that has been inherited by cultures across the world over thousands of years.  The axe is a sign of the Freemasons organization, as axes were a common tool in the shaping of wood, and their beliefs state that notable men of antiquity were said to have used axes in the creation of Noah’s Ark, Solomon’s Temple and the Ark of the Covenant.  The 22nd degree in the 33 degree system of Freemasonry is known as “Knight of the Royal Axe, Prince Libanus.”  It stands for among many other meanings, those who have a zeal for their work and a passion for the law.  Religious groups and even entire civilizations (such as Egyptian) have regarded deities wielding axes as “The Cleavers of the Way,” i.e. those who clear the path to be followed.

In ancient Egypt the hieroglyph for a god was a single bladed axe, while a double bladed axe represented a god with a dual nature.  The esoteric representation and symbolism of the double headed axe can be seen as a male / female duality, the dual and polar opposites of one single united force of energy.

The duality of life and of Yin and Yang in the native Chinese religion of Daoism is a key principle in the martial arts, which we will now explore.

Lightning Bolt Clasped Hands – Vajramukti, the Martial Art of the Gods

Martial Buddha Law Guardian Statues at LongMen Grottoes, China

Martial Buddha Law Guardian Statues at LongMen Grottoes, China

The martial arts of Dragon Ball are primarily based on eastern martial arts systems, such as Gong Fu, Karate, and traditional martial arts and religious / cultural beliefs.

The practice from which the majority of eastern martial arts are originally derived is known as Vajramukti, the “Lightning Bolt Clasped Hands” system of martial arts.  Vajramukti is a complete and systemized ancient art form that was believed to have been handed down to the Indian people by Indra, the highest deity in the Vedic pantheon and the god of war, thunder and storms.

Vajramukti was a martial art designed to make the warriors that practiced it into supernormal beings with increased strength and defensive capabilities, and at the highest levels to ascend beyond the cycle of life and death, thus becoming immortal.  Those who inherited this system of practice were spiritual and
political elites.  The spiritual leaders of India’s caste based system were known as Brahman’s, and their highest level teachings were only made available to those of royal caste.

Siddhartha Gautama, also known as Buddha Shakyamuni, was a prince of a royal family and therefore educated in the Vajramukti style of martial arts.  Before he became an ascetic to find and overcome the true cause of life’s suffering he was a martial artist in the Lightning Bolt Clasped Hands style.  All royal elites were educated in this system of mind and body.

After Buddha Shakyamuni attained enlightenment and remembered who he was, he began to spread his teachings.  Buddhism quickly extended across Central and East Asia.  Vajramukti traveled along with it.  From ancient India the practice spread to the north east toward China and the south east toward Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines.  Once in China it became known as “Chuan Fa,” or “Law of the Fist.”  The system reached its zenith via the Shaolin Monks of the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 A.D.)  From there it spread to Korea and also Okinawa where it was known as “To-Te,” or “Tang Hand,” as it had become synonymous with Tang Dynasty China.  “To-Te” made its way over to Japan where it would eventually become known as “Kara-Te,” or simply Karate.

This was a brief synopsis of the history of eastern martial arts.  More information on the history of the martial arts in relationship to Dragon Ball can be found in the martial arts focused chapter of The Dao of Dragon Ball book entitled Spiritual Warrior.

How did Vajramukti Become Popular?

Pai Mei, a Legendary Martial Artist with Many Supernormal Abilities (Kill Bill pt. 2)

Pai Mei, a Legendary Martial Artist with Many Supernormal Abilities (Kill Bill pt. 2)

Vajramukti became popular for two main reasons.

The first was that it was effective and the perception of what it entailed and enabled was highly attractive.  The ability of a martial artist to “call forth lightning” through his hands was no doubt attractive as well as feared.

The second is its transformation to the populace.  The system and all its derivatives were originally taught exclusively to royalty, and most often accompanied with high level religious teachings.  But in hard economic times or dire circumstances the masters of these styles were placed in situations where they had no choice but to teach commoners for their very livelihood.  Once the teachings were taught to commoners in various regions of China, Korea, Japan and elsewhere the martial arts became a part of popular culture.

This isn’t to say that all martial arts originated this way, as East Asian martial arts existed for millennia before the introduction of Vajramukti, but the supernormal practices related to Vajramukti were made popular in this manner.

Spiritual groups such as the White Lotus and Yellow Turbans would evolve in China to believe in and promote supernormal powers brought forth by practicing the martial arts.  The ability to project light beams out of the hands, fingers, eyes and to become invincible in combat were all believed possible, as was self powered flight.

A martial artist that could fly, was nearly invincible and could shoot light beams out of their hands eventually became an accepted part of Chinese culture.  As China played its role of the Central Kingdom this culture continued to spread throughout East Asia.

Supernormal abilities, immortals and outlandish characters are even seen in classical works, such as Journey to the West, which was one of the “Four Great Classics” studied by all scholarly men, and a tale that helped inspire Akira Toriyama to create Dragon Ball.

Strike Like Lightning

SSJ3 Goku Powers Up his Double Axe Handle

SSJ3 Goku Powers Up his Double Axe Handle

The Lightning Bolt Clasped Hand style incorporates a large variety of hand symbols and techniques, but none is closer to the symbolism of the martial arts’ name than the double axe handle.  To see it incorporated in Dragon Ball so often requires some explanation.

The Lightning Bolt Clasped Hand style of martial arts is emblematic of two things, the first is lightning and the second is a principle of a celestial connection.

The lightning bolt is feared and respected by ancient cultures throughout the world, such as Norse, Roman, Greek, Native American, Chinese, Mongolian, and Japanese… pretty much everywhere.  It was believed that male gods (associated with the sky) or deific creations such as dragons would bring immediate retribution to evil, carry water to the earth or call forth winds to fertilize the land and bring reward.  The lightning bolt and the thunder, fire and rain that followed could bring both destruction and creation, similar to how a double headed axe could crush ones enemies or be used to cut down timber and create a home.

Every culture has a different understanding of where lightning comes from and what it means.  In Greek mythology the lightning bolt was said to be controlled by Zeus and he used it to smite those who disobeyed the gods or to exhume his anger upon humanity.  In Satanic practices the lightning bolt is a symbol of the “Destroyer,” and in Nazi controlled Germany the Nazi Party used the double lightning bolt (SS / ZZ) to represent their brutality and speed, the intensity and supposedly divine connections of Nazi power.  Perceptions can vary in specifics and application, but the intense nature of lightning is always present.

What is the perception of it in eastern martial arts?

In traditional eastern martial arts there is the principle of Yin and Yang, the duality of polar opposites that share an interwoven and cyclically inherent structure.  This belief system is primarily derived from Daoist teachings and philosophy.  Daoist philosophy generally teaches that “energy channels” run through all life forms, including our homes, the planet, stars and galaxies, the universe, and our own bodies.  Individual channels are associated with different amounts of Yin and Yang.  Seen from this perspective the left side of the body is Yang (male) while the right side of the body is Yin (female).

The energy of the body fluctuates from side to side and changes according to our own internal rhythms and mind intent.  It can either decrease or increase in energy based on the mind’s control, but when left alone will basically flow on its own.

SSJ3 Goku Repels Majin Buu's Energy Wave

SSJ3 Goku Repels Majin Buu’s Energy Wave

One of the main energy points (acupuncture points) in the body is the Lao Gong point in the palm of the hand.  It’s believed that the Lao Gong point on each hand is connected to a large amount of energy stored in our body and in other dimensions.

When the two hands are brought together it allows the energy from both sides of our body to come together in one point.  By using the double axe handle technique correctly it is like putting your entire body into an attack with not only the energy from this physical body but also the energy from other dimensions.

In DBZ the energy from the attack travels instantaneously between dimensions and into the opponent, striking them like lightning, often accompanied by a flash of light.  The inertial energy that goes into the target often sends them careening downward into a mountainside followed by an enormous explosion of debris, spiritual energy and light.

And when the Saiyan characters like Goku, Gohan and Vegeta reach higher attainment levels of Super Saiyan 2 and 3 we can see lightning that surrounds their bodies.  It is as if lightning emanates directly from within their body and each of their attacks is coming straight from the heavens.

Only modern man has created a weapon that can match the intensity of a lightning Superbolt, which can carry upward of a hundred times more energy than a normal flash of lightning and can be up to five times hotter than the Sun (the Sun is approximately 10,000 degrees).  Average nuclear weapons come close to this, but still fall short.  Only the most powerful nuclear weapons can match that amount of energy.  And that’s just on Earth, while Superbolt’s on other planets such as in storm clouds on Jupiter can be one thousand times more powerful than our own.  But all of these weapons are external technology.

Now imagine if a being held such power in their own body and could control it with their mind!

“Everybody was Kung Fu Fighting.  Those Cats Were Fast As Lightning.”

Lightning Strikes a Tree

Lightning Strikes a Tree

Lightning is also incredibly fast, moving between 3,700 miles per second to just below 186,000 miles per second depending on air conditions.  Lightning itself is not light, but the light that radiates from it and that you see with your eyes definitely travels at the speed of light, which is 186,000 miles per second.

Speed is one of the most important aspects of the martial arts, and speed training is essential to the higher levels.  It’s believed that supernormal abilities move at extremely fast rates, much faster than can be detected by our eyes.

The fights in the first story arc of DBZ already move faster than untrained eyes can detect, and the fights only get faster as the story progresses.  It’s my understanding that every fight from that point onward is taking place at super human speeds.  But of course it wouldn’t be much of a show if the audience couldn’t see it, so everything is played out at a fairly normal rate.

Nevertheless, these fights would, in theory, be as fast as lightning and just as destructive, and those are exactly the results we see.

Modern Usage of the Double Axe Handle

In modern times the move is usually credited to Ivan Putski, a professional wrestler of the 70’s era wrestling circuit.  He gave the move the title of “Double Sledge” and it was sometimes referred to as the “Polish Hammer” because of Putski’s Polish background.  In later years it was transformed into “Double Axe Handle.”

This move was then copied by generations of wrestlers to come, including in foreign countries such as Japan where they had created their own professional wrestling circuit in the occupation years that followed World War II.

Developed in the wrestling ring, there is also what’s known as a “Flying Double Axe Handle Smash,” which is a double axe handle jump off of the top rope.  This is called an “Aerial Variation,” and is an easy one for DBZ characters to pull off as almost all of them can fly through the air… and without the use of a rope.

There is also the single axe handle version, which is the same technique but with only one hand.

The character that uses the double axe handle the most is Vegeta.  The axe is a symbol of royal power, and as a weapon and religious device it is considered one of divine power, so it makes sense in this perspective why Vegeta would prefer it, as he is the “Prince of All Saiyans.”  It could also be that Akira Toriyama just thought it looked cool and that it matched Vegeta’s personality.  He’s never commented on the subject.

There are other variations of this technique, including the axe kick, which is a leg technique that arcs straight up above the practitioners head and downward onto the opponents head or body, using the bottom of the foot or heel as the striking point.

“Meteor Moves” are an extension of this technique.  A “Meteor Move” earns its name from Dragon Ball Z Super Butouden for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, where it was every character’s ultimate move.  A “Meteor Move” typically involves one of three scenarios.

  1. Knock an opponent out of the sky and toward the ground (often using the double axe handle technique).
  2. Catch the opponent in mid-air and then crash both the opponent and themselves into the ground (like a professional wrestling pile-driver from the highest top rope imaginable).
  3. Knock an opponent out of the sky and then, before they can make impact, catch up to their falling body and strike it again.

There are many other variations, and DBZ seems to have invented most of them.

These types of attacks have been emulated by various comic books and cartoons, including Superman and other shônen manga such as NarutoNaruto is an ongoing drama about the life of pre-teen ninja’s as they struggle to overcome their limits, and is a spiritual successor to Dragon Ball.  The main character Naruto’s traitorous but lifelong friend Sasuke uses a move known as the “Lion Barrage,” a combination of the first and second scenarios followed by an axe kick finisher.  Sasuke’s move was a modification of their fellow ninja Rock Lee’s “Full Lotus Barrage.”  Both of these were then emulated by Naruto in his “Naruto Uzumaki Barrage” where he used his ninja techniques to create shadow body clones of himself to attack the opponent all at once.

A “Meteor Move” was also seen in The Matrix Revolutions, where Agent Smith grabbed Neo in mid air and pile-drove him into the street below.  This was the first time such a move had been displayed in western cinema.  Personally, I think the whole fight looked like it was ripped straight out of DBZ.  Piccolo did the exact same thing to Android 17 and Freeza on two separate occasions.

But as mentioned before, in real life the double axe handle is not a very practical martial arts technique.  This is because it’s completely offensive nature opens the practitioner up to their opponents’ attacks.  It looks great in comic books and films, but isn’t employed very often by real people.

Masutatsu Oyama Strikes a Bull

Masutatsu Oyama Strikes a Bull

There are however some martial artists that have exhibited their superior techniques and abilities to great effect, and some which go far beyond normal, such as Masutatsu Oyama (1923–1994), founder of Kyokushin Karate.  Oyama is said to have killed 52 bulls with his bare hands and defeated over 300 opponents in Kumite competitions.  His nickname was “Godhand,” and the slogan of his school was “One punch, one kill.”

Martial arts masters of legend were also said to be able to crush the spine of a horse with a single strike using the Iron Palm technique, punch a boulder with their bare hands and move it over 10 meters, or knock someone down without touching them using an invisible “Empty Force.”  All of these stories, true or false, add fuel to the fire of our imaginations and interest in the supernormal.

Conclusion

That’s the end of our little adventure.

Through this article we have learned a great deal about the double axe handle technique.  We now know what it is, where its name comes from, how it’s performed, what it signifies and why it’s used so often in Dragon Ball.

If you have any further questions or ideas, then please leave them in the comments below.

And keep in mind that the book has several chapters devoted specifically to the martial arts and this article is a small sample and extrapolation of what those chapters contain.  If you are looking for more information or in-depth reports on the martial arts of Dragon Ball Z, then it can all be found in The Dao of Dragon Ball.

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