My Name is Will and in 2007 I moved to China to follow my dream of learning kung fu in it's homeland, having spent 4 years learning Wing Chun previously. My journey started out in Qingdao, where I learnt some basic Shaolin kung fu and kung fu fighting techniques from various teachers. I was also accepted as a disciple of Master Her Ren Shan, one of the top masters for Tai Chi Push Hands in the city. During this time I also made some trips to Hong Kong to continue my Wing Chun training under Master Kwok Wan Ping.
In 2009 I spent a year training at Kunyu Shan Martial Arts Academy, where I learnt Praying Mantis, Chen style Tai Chi and Qigong.
After that I was blessed to have the chance to meet Master Zhou Zhen Dong, the lineage holder for Taiji Mantis in Yantai and after 3 years of hard training and dedication I was accepted as his inner door disciple. I was also made a member of the Yantai Taiji Praying Mantis Committee.
Since then I have been continuing my training and development, while researching the history and personalities of Praying Mantis, as well as taking the opportunity to meet and train with people from other styles to broaden my perspective.
I am also passionate about Chinese tea (www.oldmountain.yolasite.com), and in my spare time enjoy travelling. You can check out my youtube too www.youtube.com/user/tansaung
I have trained martial arts for over ten years now, in Britain, China, Hong Kong and South Korea. I’ve been lucky in that I have had a lot of unique experiences and have really learnt a lot in my time studying martial arts. I want to share a few of the benefits I feel that I have gained from my training.
Martial arts has helped me go from a shy, quiet and geeky teen to a strong, confident and assertive person. Martial arts training is constantly forcing us to step out of our comfort zones to develop. It’s only through stepping out of our comfort zones and confronting things we fear or dislike that we can develop. I remember during my teens I had trained Wing Chun in the UK, and I had spent three years at a pretty poor school. Constantly training within my comfort zones and never being pushed I thought I was pretty good, until one day I decided to visit another club. The teacher there asked me what level I was and I arrogantly told him I was advanced. His reply was “great, so you can train with my senior students” and that night I took my first beating, and realised I had wasted a lot of time and money at the first school. I decided to switch to that school and spent about six months there before I moved to China. I learnt more in that six months than the three years previously. Most importantly, I learnt how to train.
That teacher always encouraged us to push beyond our boundaries, and it was that attitude I took to my training in China, which helped me gain the respect of the teachers I met, and to improve quickly. In fact, this attitude applies to all things in life, if we always stay in our comfort zones, we never truly grow as people or achieve our potential.
It’s through pushing our boundaries and stepping out of our comfort zones that we develop confidence. We find ourself doing things we never thought possible. Whether it’s overcoming the fear or taking a punch in sparring, or overcoming the pain barrier of holding the “horse stance”, it’s all training which we can carry over into our daily life. The knowledge that you can effectively protect yourself also gives you an air of confidence which others can pick up on, and so you are less likely to be perceived as a possible victim.
Kung fu literally means “skill accumulated through hard work”. You will not get results without “eating bitter” as the Chinese say. When I first met my Shifu, Zhou Zhen Dong, he asked one senior student to teach me the movement “one step three punches”, and then they just left me alone. I spent the whole night just going up and down repeating this one movement without stopping for a break. I was taught a movement a day and we would train twice a day, and I would just repeat whatever I was taught over and over. After a couple of weeks, Zhou Shifu took notice of me and said he was impressed. However he also told me that it was easy to persevere in the short term, but not many people could continue to persevere long enough to really get “kung fu”. Fortunately, I did persevere, and after three years, I was rewarded by being one of very few people to be accepted to be his formal disciple.
Perseverance is the key to succeeding at most things in life, and in our modern fast-paced life, we are always looking for a quick fix. This is a big difference from how the old masters grew up, in a society with very few distractions where they only entertainment they had was to train.
3. Good health
It’s a pretty obvious one this one, exercise is good for your health, and martial arts is exercise. However I feel that martial arts takes in one step further, as it combines all different aspects of exercise, such as strength, fitness, flexibility etc etc and on top of that has internal training which relaxes you and helps you attain a state of inner calm. Certain internal exercises are also considered to be beneficial to improved blood circulation, stimulation of the internal organs and various glands in the body.
After training martial arts for a while I began to notice that I felt a lot better in myself, I was much stronger and had better posture. Through stance training and forms practice you become very aware of your posture, and areas of tension in the body, which lead to various pains and problems.
4. Practical Combat Skills
Martial arts is basically training to fight, so it is common sense that you should learn to be able to fight. It is a common problem nowadays, as we know, that many people who train in traditional martial arts are unable to use what they learn. The techniques found in martial arts have been developed over hundreds, if not thousands, of years so that people may protect themselves, and so there is a rich pool of knowledge to draw from. The problem, however, is that many people train incorrectly and don’t spar or train against resisting opponents. In the traditional method of learning Kung Fu, you would begin by learning a technique as a solo movement, until you get the form perfect and the power crisp, and then will progress to training it on a compliant partner, and then gradually increasing intensity until you are free sparring.
5. Making Friends
Throughout my martial arts training I have been lucky to make friends from all over the world, and all walks of life. Training in different schools in different countries has enabled me not only to improve my martial arts, but also to immerse myself in the local culture and learn about the customs of different people. Through being an active member of online martial arts communities, I have made many friends from all over, and have even been lucky to have a place to stay and a local guide when travelling to a new country. It’s always a pleasure to get together with new people, share experiences and cross hands.
Almost everybody has heard of Taekwondo and Hapkido these days, but Taekkyon, the original indigenous martial art of Korea, is almost unheard of. Almost wiped out during the Japanese colonisation of Korea, the art is now making a revival, and is listed both as a national treasure of Korea, and is the first martial art on the UNESCO intangible cultural heritage list.
The history of Taekkyon goes back to the mid Joseon Dynasty, around the 1700s, where it was practiced as a competitive sport with a winner-stays-on type rule set. It is believed Taekkyon evolved out of an even older, but now lost art called Subak. Little is known about Subak, but it is believed that it may have been the martial art of the Hwarang warriors of the Silla Dynasty (57BC-935AD). During this time martial arts were reserved for the ruling class, but after the fall of the Silla became popular among common folk. During the Joseon Dynasty it fell out of popularity among the Yangban elite, who thought that educated people should stay away from martial arts and focus on scholarly pursuits. It was probably around this time that the competitive “game” version evolved as a game for the farmers and peasant classes.
During the Japanese occupation, the art almost died out, but one man kept the art alive; Song Duk Ki. He is credited with reviving the art in modern times. Song Duk Ki was born in 1893 in Seoul. He began training at a young age, under Master Lim Ho, of the Widae style. During that time many young people practiced Taekkyon, and there were two main styles: Widae, which was practiced by people in the city centre, and Ahratdae, which was practiced by people on the outskirts of the city. Big competitions were held between the two styles and rivalry was fierce. Then, after the 1910 Japanese invasion of Korea, Song Duk Ki changed his focus to Gung-do (Korean archery), one of the few arts not shunned by the colonisers. He continued his Taekkyon practice in secret, and after the surrender of Japan, he began to promote the art, gaining the rank of a “national living treasure” by the South Korean government.
Taekkyon has both a competitive, game-like version, and a combat version. The game, which is called Kyulyun, was played where two teams gathered, with a winner stays on format, until one team was completely wiped out. This game had a dance like feel, as players stepped around each other while drums were played. Players had to either throw the opponent, or kick them in the head. Like modern day sports martial arts, a player could tap out to surrender. The ring was often made by laying down straw mats, but could also be on dirt or grass. The largest competition would typically be held on the 15th day of the 5th lunar month, which was called Tano, which also held Ssireum, Korean wrestling, tournaments. There was no prize, but the winner would be treated as a hero by both sides. It is said the focus on kicking techniques in Korea is due to the mountainous terrain; people had naturally strong legs from spending so much time climbing hills.
As far as combat, similar techniques are applied as in the game. The main difference however is the target areas and the power used. Pressure point techniques, eye gauges and locks are also common. The rhythmic steps and constant motions of the hands distract the opponent, setting up for a kick or sweep. Unlike taekwondo, flying or spinning kicks aren’t often used, rather, low kicks to the shins or knees, sweeps and trips, and direct push kicks to the body are more common.
A typical Taekkyon class is very different to conventional martial arts: there is no warm up or stretching as such, rather, the class begins by practicing stepping patterns in a dance-like rhythm to traditional Korean music. The stepping is done in a triangular pattern, based on the Chinese character 品. Strikes and kicks are added in, as well as patting of the body and clapping to stimulate blood flow. This is all done in time with the music. Sparring is taught within the context of the stepping patterns. Opponents square off and step in time with each other, constantly changing feet and seeking an opportunity to sweep or trip their partner.
I have just began my training in Taekkyon, here in Seoul, South Korea. I will be regularly updating my website about my training here, as well as continuing my writing about Chinese martial arts. http://www.monkeystealspeach.co.uk
Zhou Zhen Dong is the head of the Yantai branch of Taiji Mantis. The sole inheritor to his teacher, Zhang Kai Tang, he teaches Taiji Mantis as well as Hao family Meihua Mantis. Highly respected both in China and the west, he has taught students from many countries, including UK, USA, Austria, Hungary, Russia and Japan as well as various parts of China.
Zhou Shifu, please could you tell us how you started your training in Kung Fu
My first teacher was called Yu Zhi Ru. I was around 15 when I started training with him.
Master Yu was a Chinese doctor. He would read people’s pulse and prescribe them herbs for a small fee. He did this secretly. He was very skilled, you didn’t need to tell him what illness you had, he could tell by your pulse. Actually I met him because he was a friend of my grandfather. When I was a child he often came to our home, and sometimes he talked about kung fu, showing us some moves. I was interested, and started learning “sheng yuan men” (saintly ape style) from him. The forms included “bai yuan chu dong” (white ape exits the cave), “bai yuan kui yuan” (white ape spies the orchard), “bai yuan tou tao” (white ape steals a peach), “bai yuan gun” (white ape staff), “bai yuan xian tao” (white ape offers the peach), “bei dou quan” (fist of the north star). These are derived from a Chinese myth.
Could you share the myth for those unfamiliar
There was a white ape. His father died and then his mother got ill from depression. White ape heard there was an orchard on a mountain where the peaches of immortality grew every 500 years. He decided to get his mother a peach. So after leaving his cave he set off on a long journey. When he finally arrived on the slopes of the sacred mountain, he found the orchard, first spying it from afar to see if it was guarded. Seeing the coast was clear he ran right in and stole a peach. However he was caught by Er Lang and the two of them had a staff fight. Bai Yuan begged him to stop attacking. Once Er Lang realised Bai Yuan could talk he asked why he stole the peach. Moved by the story of his mother, he agreed to give him one peach. Bai Yuan returned home and gave the peach to his mother. Surely, his mother was cured, and so they bowed down and paid respects to the god of the north star.
Master Yu had a huge black cat which he really loved. That time China was really poor and people were hungry. One day the cat stole some neighbours dried fish, and they caught it and killed it. My teacher became really depressed and got sick. At that time, Master Yu was over 80 years old, and his wife was 30 years younger than him. He was retired at home, and she was still working. Everyday after school I helped to look after my teacher. He told me to go out and buy ginger, leek and radish, and then cook it and put it in a cloth. He then put the cloth on his body to sweat out the sickness. After doing that for a while he started to get better. But then after a year or two, he got sick again, this time more serious. He stopped teaching me kung fu as he got weaker, and taught me pulse reading and Chinese medicine, making me read a lot of old books I didn’t really understand. His wife and I looked after him until he passed away at 85. Me and his wife carried his body to be cremated.
How did you come to meet Zhang Kai Tang
Zhang Kai Tang was my neighbour. My sister was engaged to his son and she introduced me. Master Zhang asked me to show him what I learnt, so I performed “bai yuan tou tao”. I used all my power. That time, everybody said I was really good. But he wasnt impressed at all. He said I was just using my arms, and had no body power. He offered to teach me the form “beng bu”. Before, I never imagined kung fu could be so difficult! Also, at that time, I didn’t understand much, what was Taiji Mantis, what was Meihua Mantis. Slowly Master Zhang explained. Bengbu is Taiji Mantis, which comes from Cui Shou Shan. He didn’t plan on teaching me anything more. But I kept hanging around, determined to learn more. So he asked me what do I want to learn, Meihua Lu or Chuan Zhi? He showed me a few moves. I thought Chuan Zhi looked nice, so I said Chuan Zhi. He explained Chuan Zhi was Meihua Mantis, from the Hao family. Chuan Zhi was 4 forms, 20 roads in total.
Can you tell us something about Zhang Kai Tang
Zhang Kai Tang studied with Hao Heng Xin for six years. Hao Heng Xin was one of six brothers who were the masters of the Hao family Meihua Mantis. After that, his uncle invited Cui Shou Shan to be his live in teacher for another 6 years. That time was very strict, a private teacher who ate and slept with them. In the morning, they did iron body training, trained kung fu all day, then at 11pm every night did meditation. Zhang Kai Tang had 2 brothers, but they couldn’t take the harsh training and dropped out.
So first he learnt under Hao Heng Xin, later under Cui Shou Shan. Can you tell us something about these great masters
Hao Heng Xin was famous for his iron palm. It was said he could strike a match on his hand. Zhang Kai Tang learnt this skill from him. One time, during sparring, he hit his partner in the face. It made a cut on his eye which made his whole face swollen. This was due to the medicine they soaked their hands in before and after iron palm training. Hao Heng Xin had a student called Su Shi Chang. He was really strong, as he pulled the rickshaws for a living. He was out fighting one day and beat his opponent. He came back really happy to brag to his master. Hao Heng Xin was meditating, and got annoyed by his disturbance. Master Hao slipped his shoes half on and stood up with his eyes closed, offering to show the student some real skill. His left hand behind his back he held out his right hand softly and told the student to attack him. As soon as the student moved in, Master Hao palmed him in the face, cutting his eye. The next day it was swollen so bad he couldn’t even open it.
After 6 years, he learnt everything from Hao Heng Xin. His uncle offered to find him “a top level master from Laiyang, the home of mantis”. So he brought Cui Shou Shan to his home to teach the 3 brothers. As soon as he met Master Cui, he was really impressed by his depth of knowledge. His first teacher was really angry, and got his brothers together to beat Master Cui. My teacher went to Master Hao and explained, “You are always my shifu, I learnt everything from you. But I want to keep learning and developing, Master Cui has a lot to teach me.” My teacher always sent gifts to Master Hao during festivals. All his life he said “I have two masters, Master Hao and Master Cui.”
After 6 years, Master Cui left at the invitation of Sun Xiang Ting to teach in a school there. Hao Heng Lu (elder brother of Hao Heng Xin) approached him saying “your boxing is great, really great, but you still haven’t mastered all the weapons yet.” He then asked my teacher to teach Master Cui’s style in his school and taught him Damo Jian (bodhidharma sword), Baxian Jian (eight immortals sword), Qixing Jian (seven star sword) and Meihua Qiang (plum blossom spear) in return. Master Cui was really angry by this and forbid my teacher to continue doing this.
Could you explain about your training during the Cultural Revolution
During the Cultural Revolution, traditional martial arts were classed under the “four olds”. Any kind of old culture or antiques were forbidden and destroyed. All you were allowed to do was study “Mao Ze Dong thought”, sing “socialism is great” etc.
As far as traditional arts, they were replaced with modern wushu. “first level fist” “second level fist” “first level sabre” “second level sabre” etc. national regulated forms. This included the 24 posture form of taiji. You had to learn all the different Mao Ze Dong books and quotes, life were really boring. There was nothing you could do to enjoy yourself, no happiness. On top of that, life was harsh. Everything was planned and provided by the state. How much meat and grain you could eat every day was regulated.
So if you were engaged in traditional activities, people would condemn you, persecute you. So that time we had to train in secret. In my teacher’s home, or at night after dinner, I would find a dark place with no people to train. I was seen by people from time to time, if people saw me, they would leave immediately, didn’t dare to get involved. Actually, not many people really went outside at night, they were so poor, so after eating, normally they just slept. And there was no lighting outside anyway.
During the Cultural Revolution, the red guards just came into everyone’s homes, and took away anything old. Nobody could say or do anything, they took what they wanted and left. If you refused, they put a hat on your head and beat you in public. Called you a “right winger”, “bad element”, “counter revolutionary” etc. After Deng Xiao Ping came to power, these words were banned from use, and the hats were all burnt. He said we are all equal, nobody can persecute anyone else.
When the Japanese invaded China they banned martial arts training, calling it “iron man training”. That time my teacher buried his weapons and iron palm urn under the ground. After several years, the Japanese were defeated, he dug them up. But they were all rusted. The iron palm urn was totally wrecked, but he restored the weapons. He taught his oldest son with his sabre, and they would cut bricks with it. Then during the Cultural Revolution, this sabre was taken away again.
What about your view on the present state of martial arts in China
Nowadays, a lot of westerners like kung fu. In the beginning, westerners didn’t know what kung fu really is, and went to universities, or other places like shaolin temple, to learn kung fu. Cartwheels, flying kicks, actually that’s the same as gymnastics. Real kung fu is “among the people”. Slowly, westerners started to realise this, and are now looking among the people, rather than learning “flowery fists and embroidered kicks”, in the old days it was called “chou gong fu” “jun bashi”. Running around the hall leaping around, that isn’t martial arts, it’s gymastics or “yishu”. So after Deng Xiao Ping made the “open door policy” China realised the treasure of traditional culture and is trying to revive it. Tanglang quan has been included in the list of “intangeible cultural heritage”.
Nowadays due to higher living standards and especially the “one child policy”, Chinese people are afraid of “eating bitter”. This means to endure hardship. This is especially the case in the cities. If you look in the big kung fu schools, the kids are all from poor rural areas. City kids will learn piano, English, dance etc. a lot of old masters have nobody to teach, their arts die with them. A lot of westerners come to China, train hard, respect and love the art; of course a teacher will want to pass their art onto them. Before, a lot of old masters were persecuted, killed, we learnt in secret, we couldn’t open a school or openly teach people.
Anyway, a lot of old styles are being lost. In fact, I believe, in 20-30 years, if Chinese want to revive our arts; we will have to go to the west to learn kung fu. Kids aren’t interested, parents don’t want their kids to learn.
Thank you for your time, Zhou Shifu
This interview was conducted by Will Wain-Williams. For more information on his teacher, and on praying mantis kung fu, you can visit his website here. http://www.monkeystealspeach.co.uk
Mantis boxing, which orginates from Eastern China, is a kung fu system which has distinctive characteristics and is famous both within China and overseas. With its distinctive characteristics it has attracted many experienced members of the martial arts world. Through hard training and dedication throughout the generations, mantis boxing has been refined and developed.
Wang Lang and Mantis 王朗 与 螳螂拳
When talking about mantis boxing, many people may be reminded of Wang Lang and his historic legend. In the story, Wang Lang is a handsome and skilful Wushu hero. He was defeated in a duel with a master of Tongbi style called Han Tong. Wang Lang was disappointed and set to training himself for a rematch.
He came across a praying mantis defending itself against a small bird. The mantis avoided the birds attack with great skill and body movement. Wang Lang had a talent for observation and realised the mantis’ movements could be studied and related to martial arts. Through several years of observation he created the unique style of mantis boxing. After creating the style, many people came to challenge Wang Lang and all were defeated. But this is all legend, what about the real history?
According to the Wushu dictionary published in 1985, Wang Lang was born around the end of Ming and beginning of Qing dynasty in Jimo district. At that time Jimo was under the administration of Laiyang County, so people also called Wang Lang “Laiyi”. According to this source, Wang Lang was a leading member in a revolutionary movement to overthrow the Manchu invaders, who started the Qing, and restore the Ming dynasty. After failing in the revolution, Wang Lang retreated to the mountains.
The existence of Wang Lang seems to be true, but how much contribution did he make to mantis boxing? According to my master (Zhang Kai Tang), through decades of combat he created “the mantis shape” and applied it successfully building a strong reputation. However he didn’t create the entire system, only the “mantis shape”, which was the beginning of the system. It seems the person who really created the system of mantis can’t be confirmed by any sources. Wang Lang can however be a figure the followers of mantis can admire and respect.
Li Bing Xiao and Zhao Zhu 李秉霄 与 赵珠
According the Laiyang History Annals, Li Bing Xiao accompanied his father in the south. There, a man in prison had fallen sick, so a prison guard requested a doctor. Li Bing Xiao was a very good doctor, so he went to read the thief’s pulse and treat him. After recovering, the thief ran away in the night.
Several months later, Li Bing Xiao was at home alone when the thief arrived suddenly at his home and thanked him for saving his life. They talked for a while and the thief agreed to teach him kung fu. Li Bing Xiao was talented and learnt quickly. After that the thief left and was never seen again.
The thief in this story was the first master of mantis boxing as remembered by all the successive generations. Who he was, and where he learnt mantis boxing is a mystery; only the name “heroic thief” has remained.
Li Bing Xiao, also known as “Li Er Gou” (Li 2 ditches), is the second master listed in the genealogy. His life is also full of amazing tales. During his youth, Li Bing Xiao was a scholar. However he failed the imperial exam and then fled to live in the mountains in recluse. His circle of friends was all swordsmen and Li Bing Xiao was fond of travelling around. However he never used his real name in public. It was said Li Bing Xiao was highly criticial of society and he cared nothing for the outside world. He was regarded a sage. His unique life had a great influence on the development of mantis boxing.
Zhao Zhu, also known as Qi Lu was the third master. According to Laiyang History Annals, Zhao Zhu was Li Bing Xiao’s best disciple. One time he was lying in bed when a thief broke in. Zhao Zhu merely waved his arm in the air and the thief collapsed on the floor. Surely this level of kung fu would be admired by everybody.
Zhao Zhu was taught by Li Bing Xiao and trained himself every day. After several years he had mastered the entire system. One winter he escorted his master to the river ferry to return home for Chinese New Year. At the river bank Master Li said to Zhao Zhu “I have taught you everything, the only thing left is Qing Gong (light body skills)”. With that jumped onto the thin ice and within seconds had run across the entire river! Li Bing Xiao’s internal power was incredible, so we can find mantis boxing is also a great internal system. Unfortunately, Li Bing Xiao never returned to teach the skill as he got ill and died. The skill “flying like a swallow” was never passed on, only this story to leave us to dream.
Liang Xue Xiang 梁学香
According to the Laiyang History Annals, Liang Xue Xiang was the fourth master of mantis boxing. Liang was physically short and thin, but his movements were fast and powerful. Once he asked his students to get an “eight immortals table”, and he went underneath the table and started performing his kung fu, his long clothes never even got tangled up. During a competition he killed a man with a single blow and gained the name “Liang the hammer”. In other aspects he was physically weak however. His father often criticised him as he couldn’t even carry a sack of rice or do farm work in his youth. From this we can make the conclusion that the power required in kung fu is different to the power required for physical labour. This is internal and external power.
Liang Xue Xiang worked as a bodyguard escorting good s caravans to the north. After one particularly dangerous battle, he decided to quit. That time he was escorting caskets of silver. They got as far as Cangzhou in Hebei province. The time was late so they hitched up at a local inn. Suddenly a group of about thirty or forty armed robbers gathered. Liang grabbed a long plank of wood and fought them off in the yard. The scene was a mess and so noisy nobody could hear a thing. Suddenly Liang’s plank of wood got hacked up, so he had to fight them barehanded. The robbers eventually fled and Liang and his team left Cangzhou. During the fight, Liang had got injured in his right eye and became blinded. Since then he got the nickname “One eyed Liang”.
After that event, Liang gave up his job and took his experience back to his hometown of Haiyang to teach mantis boxing. Master Liang was the first master to document mantis boxing in writing.
In his old days his disciple Jiang Hua Long had a house built for him. Liang went to see the house and said “this isn’t well built at all!” Jiang disagreed, claiming he had used the best materials. Liang didn’t say anything; he just struck a wall with his hip and made a huge crack down the wall! (This house is in a small village in Haiyang and the crack can still be seen to this day.)
His good condition didn’t last forever, one autumn after practicing the form Luan Jie, he sat on a chair, closed his eyes and died.
Jiang Hua Long and Li Dan Bai 姜化龙 与 李丹伯
The fifth master of mantis boxing in Laiyang was Jiang Hua Long. According to the Laiyang History annals ” Mr Zhu often said, ‘my footprints have touched seven provinces, I don’t need to worry if one thousand people attack me. There are only two people who I hold in awe; one is Mr Zhen from Shanxi, the other is Jiang Hua Long…… Hua Long is from Huang Jin Gou village, studies mantis boxing….. his height is barely five foot and he is overweight. He looks completely useless, but when you try to get close to him, you immediately feel his speed and power is like a strong ape…….”
In his young age Jiang Hua Long started training under Liang Xue Xiang. However, due to his young age he liked to play and was always naughty. He didn’t train hard and thought highly of his own skill. His master saw talent in him, so much that others couldn’t compare to him; so he couldn’t stand to watch him grow up in this bad way. So one day Master Liang wrote a letter to his elder student and asked little Jiang to take it to him. He wanted to teach the kid a lesson. When the elder student received it, he immediately beat the child! Little Jiang ran back to his master crying to tell him what happened. Master Liang scolded him, saying “look at you, such great kung fu and you can’t even fend for yourself against others!” Little Jiang realised the error of his ways and that his master cared about him. He changed his outlook and trained as hard as he could and eventually became the next inheritor to the system of mantis.
Jiang Hua Long’s character was tough and enduring. He really enjoyed fighting; so much so that as soon as he heard a new school opened, he would go and challenge them! Many teachers made a living from their kung fu, so they deeply hated Jiang and often plotted against him. One time, several masters got together to attack him while he went to the toilet. While he was in the middle of his business, they all ganged up on him. Luckily, he managed to beat them all off, and later they were all very worried he wouldn’t let it go. They convinced the village elders to pacify Jiang; due to their position, he had no choice but to accept the apology.
During Jiang’s lifetime, more and more people began learning mantis boxing, and would mix the mantis posture with other styles, creating new forms. As many new branches appeared, so mantis boxing became more popular. When talking about Jiang Hua Long, we must also mention Li Dan Bai. Towards the end fo the Qing dynasty and beginning of the republic, these two men had big reputations as fighters; their kung fu was considered “as high as Mount Tai”. Li Dan Bai had originally studied Chang Quan (long fist) and enjoyed fighting even more than Jiang. Every time he learnt a new move, he would go out and test it out against members of other schools. As his school was held responsible, his master had no choice but to expel him. At that time, other schools would not accept a student who had been expelled, so he never found another school to train at.
When Li Dan Bai was training at the Chang Quan school, he learnt one form, which became known as the unbeatable Zhong Lu Fan Che. He put his blood and sweat into the form in a way no modern person could match. Master Zhang Kai Tang said about him “as soon as he lifted a hand and stepped a foot, the dirt on the ground flew up, his power was unmatched. When doing this form, he looked like a dragon rising up. When he fought his long sleeves whipped against the floor creating a blinding whirl and sending dirt into the opponent’s eyes and he moved in to attack.”
Jiang Hua Long heard of this unbeaten man and went to find him. He saw him at the challenge ground in a yellow outfit, Master Jiang was wearing green. He mounted the platform and mocked Li. The two stood facing each other, both undefeated; what a sight it must have been!
Master Zhang Kai Tang described the event as a match between a yellow dragon and a green butterfly. The two were fairly evenly matched, but eventually Jiang knocked Li out and was victorious.
Jiang Hua Long and Li Dan Bai became like brothers after this event. They exchanged techniques and Li gave Jiang his notorious form “zhong lu fan che”, as well as a heavy spear form, and in return Jiang taught him mantis boxing. In later years, Li Dan Bai defeated all opponents who came and opened many schools. However due to overtraining hard techniques, he became disabled and required the help of others to do simple daily tasks. Jiang Hua Long stayed in Laiyang and taught many students well into old age.
Song Zi De and the “theee mountains two pavilions” 宋子德 与 三山两亭
According to the Laiyang history Annals, Song Zi De (pictured to the left) who also went by the name Song Yao Kun, was the sixth generation master of Mantis boxing.
The Song family was a very rich family which owned a lot of land around Laiyang. Due to his comfortable life, Song Zi De didn’t have to work hard and so could devote all his time to training kung fu. He spent a lot of time researching many styles of kung fu and had a deep understanding of mantis boxing. Master Zhang said of Song Zi De that in the development of mantis boxing, he was the most important person.
Song Zi De looked very soft and unassuming, but he had immense power. Whenever he went into Laiyang, people would come to challenge him; with one movement, he would send them flying away. Master Song taught hundreds of people in his life, but his most famous students were known as “3 mountains 2 pavilions” (mountain in Chinese is Shan, pavilion is Ting). They were Cui Shou Shan, Li Kun Shan, Wang Yu Shan, Song Fu Ting and Zhao Xi Ting. These five students trained with their whole heart, as well as receiving extra care from Master Song, and mastered the entire system of mantis boxing.
Amongst the “3 mountains 2 pavilions” Song Fu Ting was the grandson of Song Zi De. He was very talented in martial arts, but was a lonely person and spent his days at home training by himself. Apart from occasionally overseeing classes at the kung fu school, he took no formal students of his own.
Li Kun Shan (pictured right) was the grandson of Li Dan Bai; he actually studied under Jiang Hua Long. Li Kun Shan took part in a national kung fu competition where he beat all competitors in free fighting and was awarded a gold medal for spear by Chiang Kai Shek himself. Later Li Kun Shan relocated to Taiwan where he opened a school and the art spread overseas from there.
Wang Yu Shan (on the left) moved to Qingdao where he opened up a school, and had many students too.
Zhao Xi Ting’s life was unrecorded.
Cui Shou Shan and the Mantis Texts 崔寿山 与 螳螂拳谱
Master Cui Shou Shan became known as the seventh generation in our lineage. Master Cui opened the National Martial arts school in Laiyang, then later moved to Da Lian city (Liaoning province, northeast China) to teach. During the 1930’s Master Zhang Kai Tang invited him to move to Yantai to live with him and teach him mantis boxing.
Master Cui had three main disciples: Ji Chun Ting, Zhang Kai Tang and Sun Xiang Ting.
Ji Chun Ting originally learnt from Song Zi De for a short time, and then sought out master Cui. He informally taught Hao Bin of Hao family Meihua mantis, who moved to Qingdao where he spread the art.
While living in Yantai, Master Cui’s son was sick. He was cured by Sun Xiang Ting and so Master Cui taught him mantis to thank him. Sun Xiang Ting never took any disciples.
In his lifetime, his greatest achievement was in writing a complete manuscript on mantis. The manuscript begins with:
“Martial arts may be departed into the internal and external families. The external draws its roots from Shaolin, and emphasises combat effectiveness. The internal uses stillness to overcome movement, and originates from a man named Zhang San Feng. Song Yi had a high level of martial skill, and even united the country. But his skill was only external; he had mastered Chang Quan. During the Ming Dynasty, the borders of China had a lot of conflict, and a lot of brave warriors were recruited by rebellious states. Master Li was the greatest; he had learnt all 18 skills. During the Qing Dynasty, there were two departments of government; military and civil, but they both used the same examination system. At that time, Li Bing Xiao, who was a scholar, didn’t pass the imperial examinations and so went into recluse in the mountains. He spent a long time living amongst swordsmen and warriors. He knew many skilled masters, and mastered both internal and external together; formulating the system of mantis. He travelled around, but didn’t use his real name, so he avoided fame. He passed on his skills to Master Liang, named Xue Xiang. He passed away and Master Jiang, named Hua Long inherited the skills. Master Jiang passed the skills onto my teacher, Master Song Zi De, also named Yao Kun. Up to now it has about 100 years of history. Song Zi De passed it on to Peng Nian and some other students. He wasn’t very clever and couldn’t meet Song Zi De’s requirements, but when he practiced with other students, when he came across an idea, he would write it down and now I have researched his notes. When Master Song came across some principles during his training and fighting, he wrote it down. Now I have gathered and collected these notes to make this text. I hope this content; whoever receives this knowledge can pass this on. I wish whoever could get this from Song Zi De could pass it down too, as I admire his virtue. I worry after a long time, the skills will be lost, so I write this down so as to encourage myself.”
This manuscript expounds mantis boxing in great detail; giving the later generations a first-hand picture of mantis boxing. It expounds the methods of correct use of power and body mechanics, as well as combat application of the art. In this way it exceeds any other written texts on martial arts.
Cui Shou Shan passed on his art to Zhang Kai Tang, then returned to Laiyang, where he passed away in 1969.
Zhang Meng Jia & Zhang Kai Tang 张蒙家 与 张楷堂
In the city of Yantai, the Zhang family have run a kung fu school since the Ming dynasty. Later on, the family became rich. Before the revolution they were the richest family in old Yantai. When Zhang Meng Jia was young he worked hard and business was really successful, this enabled him to devote his energy to mantis boxing.
Zhang Meng Jia originally knew of mantis boxing through Jiang Hua Long, but because he didn’t train hard enough, he didn’t attain a high level. In fact, Zhang Meng Jia’s hobby wasn’t really kung fu, but chess. Later he invited Song Zi De to his home to teach him kung fu, but really wanted to learn chess. Master Song once asked Zhang “little brother, what do you understand about Master Jiang’s teaching?” He turned his glass and replied “my understanding of kung fu all went into my stomach with this alcohol!” Although he didn’t really attain much in kung fu, he had a good relationship with the main branch of mantis masters.
Zhang Kai Tang (pictured seated with disciple Zhou Zhen Dong) was the grandson of Zhang Meng Jia and he really liked kung fu. Originally he studied the Hao family Meihua mantis. At that time, the Hao family were very famous in Yantai and their forms included Luohan Quan, Meihua Pi (later renamed Taiji Pi), Tie Sha Zhang and Chuan Zhi. The founder, Hao Lian Ru was friends with Liang Jing Chuan (son of Liang Xue Xiang) and studied the form Luan Jie from him, which he combined with his own knowledge to create the Hao family style. Master Zhang learnt from Hao Heng Lu and Hao Heng Xin (two sons of Hao Lian Ru) for six years, and mastered their art.
In the beginning of the 1930s, Master Zhang and Zhang Meng Jia went to Dalian to invite Cui Shou Shan to their home to teach martial arts. Because Zhang Meng Jia was well known to the martial arts circles, Master Cui agreed. Master Zhang provided Cui Shou Shan with four plates and six bowls of food a day. Every year he paid 300 Da Yang, a price higher than any other!
Master Cui soon found out Zhang Kai Tang excelled in martial arts. He really trained as hard as he could. Master Cui to him “when you practice, you look just like my master!” But Zhang Kai Tang was very humble and didn’t boast. He trained as hard as he could and mastered the entire system in just six years. Zhang Kai Tang practiced every day without fail, people said he was the top student of Cui Shou Shan, but he dismissed this claim. In 1993 he passed away at the age of 83.
(Zhang Kai Tang passed the art onto his own sons, as well as my shifu, Zhou Zhen Dong. Zhou Zhen Dong is currently the only person teaching the art of Zhang Kai Tang, which includes the Taiji Mantis of Cui Shou Shan as well as the old forms of the Hao family.)
Praying Mantis kung fu is a very well known but little understood art. Contrary to popular belief it is not about mimicking the insect, and has very little direct relation to Shaolin Temple. There is a well known myth about a man called Wang Lang who, after losing a fight, witnessed a mantis catching a cicada and became inspired to create a new style. However, outside of this myth, there is almost no historical record of a man named Wang Lang actually existing.
In fact, what is more likely is that Praying Mantis is a collection of styles indigenous to the Shandong region, which has been a hotbed of conflict and strife throughout Chinese history. The oldest texts of Praying Mantis have a list of 18 styles, the last one being Praying Mantis, which it comments “absorbed and equalised the previous 17”. (Actually this list is the only mention of Wang Lang as far as I know).
At some unknown point, somebody condensed the fighting techniques of Praying Mantis into three form: Beng Bu 崩补, Luan Jie 乱接 and Ba Zhou 八肘. Beng Bu contains the basic techniques and steps, Luan Jie is made up of 36 mother techniques and Ba Zhou is 64 close range techniques. While Ba Zhou is generally translated as “eight elbows”, technically the Chinese word “zhou” refers to a joint of the body, so it is using the eight joints as weapons – fist, wrist, elbow, shoulder, head, hip, knee, foot.
A huge development came, when Liang Xue Xiang, during the 19th century, created the series of Zhai Yao 摘要. After a
lifetime of work in the armed escort agencies, escorting goods through bandit infested areas of Shandong and Hebei to Beijing, he created a series of 6 forms called “the essentials”, Zhai Yao. He took the basis from the Mi Shou 秘手 , or secret hands, combined with knowledge he had picked up on his travels and during his many fights to create these new forms.
Liang Xue Xiang’s most famous student was Jiang Hua Long. He is the figure responsible for popularising Praying Mantis. It was said he was fond of fighting, and challenged every school and master he met. While this made him a lot of enemies, it also brought him a lot of students, and he was often invited to stay in villages and teach the local people. Because of this, many new styles started to spring up, after people combined their own local village styles with the knowledge Jiang gave them. During his travels, Jiang met a man named Li Dan Bai, who was just as fond of fighting as him. In fact, Li was so fond of fighting, he was banned from entering any schools in Yantai. This left him teacherless, and his only option was to master the little he knew, which was a set of long range arm wheeling techniques called Fan Che 翻车. It seemed when the two met, they had finally met their match, and being so impressed with each other, exchanged their skills. After Fan Che was added into Praying Mantis, it more-or-less became the complete system we find today.
Praying Mantis kung fu is based around 12 keywords (which I will write about later). In a nutshell, these 12 keywords deal with methods of provoking, sticking, trapping, striking and taking down the opponent. The style also places emphasis on deception, in a similar way to a boxer with his feints. For example, feinting high then striking low, feinting with punches to open up for a kick, deliberately provoking the opponent to block and then using the contact as set up for a lock or throw. Emphasis is placed on a method of power known as Hulun Jin 囫囵劲, a local Yantai slang word meaning something like “whole” or “complete”; the analogy my teacher uses is after a mule rolls in the grass it will stand up and suddenly shake it’s whole body (basically like how a dog shakes itself dry after swimming in a river). The power bursts out from the body in a sudden, complete explosion concentrated into one point, be it the fist, elbow, shoulder or any other part.
This here is a brief introduction to the style of Praying Mantis, my understanding comes primarily from my own lineage of Taiji Mantis. Please check back regularly, as I will be writing more on the various aspects of our style, including the history, weapons and other training methods. You can find out more about Praying Mantis kung fu, and about me and my training at www.monkeystealspeach.co.uk.