Praying Mantis Kung Fu

Praying Mantis Kung Fu - A Complete System

By Jon Funk

Praying Mantis Beginnings

The northern style of Seven Star Praying Mantis kung fu was created 350 years ago to be a complete fighting martial art. Founded in the 16th century by a Shaolin stylist, Wang Lang, this kung fu style offers a complete syllabus of skills in long range kicking, middle range hand techniques, trapping skills, pressure point/pressure strikes, iron palm training, joint locks, throws, and skills capable of neutralizing ground grappling attacks.

Prior to his development of Praying Mantis kung fu Wang Lang, felt his fighting ability was not adequate to defeat his elder classmate monk Feng during sparring practice at the Shaolin temple. As a result he felt compelled to look for something to improve his fighting skills. A chance observation of a Praying Mantis insect overcoming a cicada led him to discover that he was witnessing some rather unique fighting skills in nature.

After his observations and subsequent study of what made the Praying Mantis insect such a successful predator, he knew had discovered something phenomenal. He had come to the conclusion that he could create a new style of kung fu, based on the "twelve character" principles gleaned from the Praying Mantis’s predator ability. This new kung fu system would be an improvement over the larger hard style motions of the Shaolin style he had previously studied. He used the newfound skills of Praying Mantis kung fu to defeat his elder classmate monk Feng in sparring practice. Together with the other monks of the Shaolin temple Wang continued to develop the style.

The Taoist, Sheng Xiao Dao Ren

When a Taoist, Sheng Xiao Dao Ren, came to visit the Shaolin temple he observed the monks practicing a strange looking martial art. Their movements looked short, jerky, and lacking in power. Sheng Xiao Dao Ren was confused. Why would the famous Shaolin monks practice such a poor martial art? Sheng Xiao Dao Ren, asked what they were doing and they told him it was the Praying Mantis style.

Thinking he could easily overcome the Shaolin monks he asked for a friendly match. Much to his surprise a low-level monk easily defeated him. Sheng Xiao Dao Ren, thinking his loss must have been a fluke, he asked to spar with the senior monk. Again he lost by being thrown down.

After he recovered he asked to speak to the Shaolin temple abbot. When requested the opportunity to study this new, effective martial art, the abbot granted Sheng Xiao Dao Ren permission.

It is generally accepted that, Sheng Xiao Dao Ren, learned the Praying Mantis system from the monks of Shaolin and during his travels spread the art outside the Shaolin temple. It is thought that the monk students of Wang Lang developed several styles of Praying Mantis after learning the original Praying Mantis system.

There is a story that tells of some of Wang’s students wanting to teach their own version of Praying Mantis, so Wang called them together and asked them to go out and capture a Praying Mantis insect. When they returned Wang examined the insects and used their markings to determine the names of each Praying Mantis style. Some of the names are: Seven Star, Plum Flower, and Shining Board Praying Mantis.

The Skills

Just what made the new Praying Mantis style of kung fu so much better than the Shaolin systems Wang learned? Much of what Wang developed in Praying Mantis is the use of the "short power" movements. When, Sheng Xiao Dao Ren, observed the monks exhibiting short jerky looking movements, what he saw was the use of the legs and waist to generate power in techniques instead of the usual upper body-oriented power prevalent in the Shaolin styles. This action with the waist is a torquing movement that sends the kinetic energy up through the body and limbs combined with short efficient movement to culminate forcefully into the target.

The skills that make Seven Star Praying Mantis so effective are based on balance, coordination, and body-linked "supple" movement. This way the power generated in the waist can travel through the body efficiently. It is this efficiency that made the Seven Star Praying Mantis system superior to the Shaolin approach. This waist-torque method of generating power does not require as much physical strength to have powerful techniques as the more muscular oriented "hard Shaolin styles." In fact, when fighting, this method offers quite efficient movement and aerobically does not require as much physical exertion. With its shorter movements it also consists of extremely fast techniques.

Within the root forms of Seven Star Praying Mantis kung fu are the techniques that make the system extremely practical. The Shaolin temple monks worked diligently to develop Wang’s Praying Mantis art to a high level, By the time Sheng Xiao Dao Ren learned the system there was a variety of different forms to round out the style.

The Forms

The Seven Praying Mantis forms that Sheng Xiao Dao Ren learned from Wong’s monk students were made up of the following branches of Praying Mantis from the Shaolin temple: Chi Xieng (Seven Star style), Mei Hua (Plum Flower style), Guang Bang (Shiny Board style) Chang Chuan (Long Fist style), and Fan Che (Chariot style). The Seven Star Praying Mantis kung fu style, as it is taught today, is made up of 50% Chi Xieng (Seven Star style), 30% Mei Hua (Plum Flower style), and 20% Guang Bang (Shiny Board style). The Praying Mantis style, Guang Bang (Shiny Board style) is the root style of both Chang Chuan (Long Fist style) and Fan Che (Chariot style). Forms from each branch of Praying Mantis were adopted to create the Seven Star Praying Mantis system. Each form teaches a somewhat different aspect of Seven Star Praying Mantis.

It is believed that the monk students of Wang Lang created the different Praying Mantis systems at the Shaolin temple. They did so to put a different emphasis on each style according to their own experiences. The Taoist, Sheng Xiao Dao Ren, during his stay at the Shaolin temple, had the opportunity to learn these different Praying Mantis systems and their forms from these Shaolin monks and later pass them on.

From the Chi Xieng (Seven Star style) the forms are: Beng Bu (Crushing Step), Shyh Ba Sou (Eighteen Old Men), Duo Gang (Concealing the Hard), Tang Lang Chu Dong (Praying Mantis Exits the Cave), Tang Lang Tou Tau (Praying Mantis Steals the Peach), and Mei Hua Shou (Plum Flower Hand). Beng Bu is the foundation form of northern Praying Mantis. It contains the twelve character principles that Wang Lang used to formulate the original Praying Mantis system. Most branches of northern Praying Mantis recognize that Beng Bu was the first form created by Wang Lang.

Mei Hua (Plum Flower style) contributes a number of forms to the northern Praying Mantis kung fu system: Mei Hua Chuan (Plum Flower Fist), Yi Lu Jai Yaw, Er Lu Jai Yaw, and San Lu Jai Yaw (1st, 2nd, and 3rd Route Essence).

From the Guang Bang (Shiny Board style) come the forms Mei Hua Luo (Plum, Flower Falling), Da Gia Shyh (Big Gesture Form), and Xiou Gia Shyh (Small Gesture Form).

From Chang Chuan (Long Fist style) come two fist forms, Cha Chuey (Piercing Fist), and Syh Lu Bun Da (Four Direction Fist).

There are two fist forms from the Fan Che (Chariot style), called Da Fan Che (Big Chariot ) and Xiao Fan Che (Little Chariot).

It is these original Praying mantis forms that Sheng Xiao Dao Ren used to formulate the current Seven Star Praying Mantis kung fu system. Although there are additional forms in the Seven Star Praying Mantis style contained within the original ones are all the principles and concepts of the system. It is possible with these original sets to master the complete system.

Trapping

It was from Wang Lang’s observations of the Praying Mantis insect that he created his Seven Star Praying Mantis fighting style’s default to the trapping range. Practitioners of the Seven Star Praying Mantis system don’t just learn the forms and two-man sets to become proficient at this style’s default fighting range. They practice a free style exercise called "sticky hands" that takes all the theory, concepts and techniques and puts them into practice in the realm of trapping.

This free style practice of sticky hands is meant help the Seven Star Praying Mantis practitioner to develop abilities in sensitivity, deflection, and dissolving skills. These skills, combined with balanced supple coordinated movement, makes trapping abilities capable of defeating other ranges of fighting.

Students of the Seven Star Praying Mantis kung fu style that learn free style sticky hands begin with a series of prearranged short drills that teach the fundamentals of trapping skills. The objective of these drills is to create response patterns while the two practitioners are attacking and defending with trapping tactics. As the practitioners become more confident they can practice the drills with some speed and intent. This adds an element of realism to the practice, which helps lead to the next level of development.

The prearranged drills start out with only hand techniques. The next step is to try the free "style sticky hands only" practice. To begin a free style sticky hands session the two practitioner’s pair up with contact at their lead right wrists. While keeping constant contact the two partners try to trap and strike (with a controlled open palm) while at the same time trying keeping their partner from accomplishing the same scoring tactics.

The next level of training in sticky hands is the addition of kicking. Prior to adding kicking to sticky hands practice there is an introduction of sticky legs practice. To initiate the student’s understanding of sticky legs they start with a developmental exercise. Two practitioner’s pair-up and hold each other’s right shoulder with their right hand. At the same time the two partners connect their right legs at the ankle and hold them off the ground. To begin the exercise each person tries to lightly tap the person on his or her support leg while maintaining lead leg contact. An additional aspect of the exercise objective is keeping one’s balance while attempting to keep the other person from touching your support leg.

Sticky legs exercises, such as this one, serve to teach the Seven Star Praying Mantis student how to deflect a kicking attack and enter the trapping range by sticking to the opponent’s leg. This also helps facilitate entering the hand-trapping range. All of this must be accomplished with unfailing balance.

At the point where sticky legs has been experienced enough to attain some confidence, the students are then reintroduced to the trapping drills with the kicks added in. This means that the same sticky hand drills done earlier can have a cross kick added and combined with the trapping tactics of the exercise.

Once the trapping drills with the added kicks are practiced enough, the students can then employ kicking while practicing free style sticky hands. This accomplishes an important objective: the ability to use sensitivity skills and trapping skills while the opponent is attempting to kick.

It is the emphasis on trapping tactics that really makes the Seven Star Praying Mantis kung fu system a complete martial art. All the ranges of fighting: long range with kicking tactics, middle range with hand techniques, trapping range, and grappling range can be neutralized by the skill of controlling the opponent’s body by the manipulation of the major joints. When, for example, an elbow, shoulder or knee is maneuvered in certain direction then the body will follow. This creates an opportunity to neutralize or control the opponent.

Against Other Styles

When a Seven Star Praying Mantis practitioner gains experience against other styles of fighting then he can apply the principles and concepts of his system to overcome each type of fighting approach. This includes, for example, grappling on the ground. Once the skills of a ground-grappling stylist are understood the principles and concepts of Seven Star Praying Mantis, such as redirection, joint manipulation, pressure point attacks, and trapping tactics can be employed to successfully neutralize and defend against this fighting range.

At times a Seven Star Praying Mantis stylist may face a kicking-oriented attacker. He can deflect and stick to the opponent’s kicks and enter to a trapping range and set up a counter-attack. Similarly a hand-oriented attack can lead the Seven Star Praying Mantis exponent to use a deflection technique to set up trapping tactics. As well a stand up grappler can be neutralized and counter attacked by the deflective skills that are contained in trapping.

Strategy

Strategy is everything at the advanced level of Seven Star Praying Mantis Kung Fu. The type (size) and style of an attacker will dictate the tactics used by the Seven Star Praying Mantis stylist. If the opponent is larger and stronger then the strategy will be different from one that is smaller or weaker. A larger stronger opponent, for example, may resort to direct attacks from the kicking or hand technique ranges.

The strategy to neutralize these type of attacks revolves around a hit and run approach with indirect attacks. If the opponent succeeds in closing the gap then trapping skills are called into play to effect a successful counter measure. The system was created and continues to evolve to always have a strategic tactic to deal with what ever attack the Seven Star Praying Mantis Kung Fu practitioner may face.

Conclusion

Since the Seven Star Praying Mantis practitioner practices all the ranges of fighting they can easily adjust to each one. The waist power concept and the default to trapping skills, combined with an adaptable strategic fighting approach, makes Seven Star Praying Mantis a complete fighting art that suits all people regardless of gender or size.