7 Star Praying Mantis
THE INVENTION AND DEVELOPMENT OF THE NORTHERN STYLE PRAYING MANTIS SCHOOL OF CHINESE BOXING
By Wong Pang-ying, Hong Kong Hon Fan Athletic Association
At the end of the Ming Dynasty (mid-17th century), there lived a native of Shantung by the name of Wang Lang. He was a very patriotic man; and seeing that the Ming government was about to be overthrown, he was always thinking of giving forth his body and soul in defense of his country. However, his attempts were futile and his enthusiasm rejected. Hence he ran away to the Sungshan and practiced boxing in the Shaoling Temple, hoping that one day this would be of help to him.
When the Ching soldiers took over the reign of China, Wang thought that this was the time. However, he found no place in either the government or the army for him. So he returned to the Shaolin Temple, and planned to fight with guerrilla forces against the China Government. Unfortunately, their plans were discovered by the latter, who ordered the temple to be burned. Because of his superior skill and artful maneuver, and
with the help of his colleagues, Wang escaped, accompanied by his Sifu or instructor. To avoid being caught by the soldiers again, they took the route of the highland, via the Ngo-mei and Kwan-lun Mountains, eventually arriving at Lao-Shan in the Lu (now Shantung) province.
Before long, Wang’s Sifu died of old age; and one of his colleagues succeeded in his place. To pass the time, Wang combated playfully with his senior, both naked-handedly and with weapons. However, there were few times when Wang was not defeated. Wang was ashamed; he promised himself that he must exceed his senior after three years.
Three years passed quickly. Well prepared, Wang combated with his senior. He lost again. At that moment Wang was so ashamed that he even thought of killing himself. Fortunately, he did not, or else this would be the end of the story.
Then, one day Wang’s senior decided to spend three year’s traveling and wandering about the country. As he was leaving, he bid Wang to practice boxing diligently, and he said that he expected to see great advances in Wang’s skills when he returned.
Wang’s senior was correct. One hot day during his leave, Wang, found it boring to stay in his room. So he took his sword and some books and sought resort in the woods. Just as he cooled himself down and began to turn the pages of a book, he heard some hissing sound. The sounds even seemed desperate. Wang looked up and found high in a tree, a praying mantis and a cicada fighting to be death. By means of his strong arms and chisel-like claws, the mantis attacked the cicada ruthlessly. The battle was soon over as the cicada fell dead.
An idea came into Wang’s mind. The praying mantis played artfully during its kill. He timed his advances and retreats perfectly; he used long distance blows and close crushes correctly; and he grasped and released methodically. Does this not resemble the skills one uses in boxing? So, Wang climbed up the tree and took the praying mantis back to the temple. From then on, Wang provoked the mantis everyday with a piece of straw. At the same time, he watched it carefully and observed its reactions.
Being an intelligent man, Wang soon discovered that the praying mantis made use of twelve principal methods for attack and defense. The first three of these methods are kou, lou and t’sai. Individually, these respective meanings are: to hook, to grasp, and to snatch. But when all three are used in combination, the actual movements are a hook, a grasp, and then a strike. The fourth method is kua, meaning to hand, but in application is used as upward block. The fifth method is tiao. Tiao is the same hooking action as kou, but it is followed by techniques other than lou and t’sai. The fifth method is chin, meaning to advance. The sixth is peng, meaning to collapse. The seventh is simply ta, or to beat. The seventh and eighth techniques are chan and nien. These respective meanings are to adhere and to paste, reflecting very similar principles of close-contact fighting. The eleventh and twelfth techniques are t’ieh and k’ao, meaning to attach and to lean on someone. Wang then took the best points out of seventeen other schools of Chinese boxing at that time, combining them into one unique, concise school now known as the Northern Style Praying Mantis School.
When Wang’s senior returned three years later, he combated again with Wang. Not knowing Wang’s great improvement in skill, he was thrown yards away during the combat. Shocked, he asked Wang for the reason behind his great advancement in boxing. Wang told him all that happened. Thereafter, they practiced with each other more frequently than ever, refining the art to a superior level.
Thus, the Northern Style Praying Mantis School of Chinese Boxing was invented.
A few decades later, both Wang and his senior had died. But the art of the Praying Mantis School of Boxing was not lost. Rather, it was taught to the monks in the temple and it developed more with each generation. However, the art was still kept only to people inside the temple until an abbot by the name of Sheng-hsiao Tao-jen went there on his hike over China. He was taught of the art. From then on, the Northern Style Praying Mantis School of Chinese Boxing was spread through all of China.
Tao-Jen taught the art to Li San-chien. When Li had learned the entire system, he established a p’iao-chu in Chinan. (A p’iao-chu was a security service. For a certain fee, the service would guard and transport valuable goods to a set destination for its clients). Li’s p’iao-chu was noted for its reliability and safety throughout Northern China and he himself was known to robbers as “Li, the Lightning Fist”. No one was ever able to defeat him. But Li was worried that when he was older, there would be no one to learn the art that had brought him fame and prosperity, for he had no son. So he went everywhere searching for someone who had well enough basic training in boxing to inherit the art of Praying Mantis. He was not disappointed. When he arrived at Fushan, he heard of a man call Wang Yung-sheng, who was the national boxing champion that year. So Li visited Wang and asked the latter to perform some of his winning techniques. After watching Wang perform, Li jeered at him, saying that such techniques should not have won him the championship. Wang was extremely angry and tried to attack Li. But before he could even reach Li, Li seemed to disappear into thin air. Laughter rose behind him so Wang turned around and tried to grab Li again, but in vain. On the contrary, he was held, completely unable to move. Realizing that he was no match for the elder man, he asked Li to be his teacher. In the few years that followed, he learned without reserve all that his teacher knew.
Wang’s Family was a wealthy one. So he did not have to worry about getting money, nor did he want to show off the art he had learned to outsiders. He just practiced it as a recreation. During his last years thought, he decided to teach the art to Fan Hsu-tung.
Fan was a huge man, weighing over three hundred pounds; and was known to people as “Giant Fan”. He also excelled in the skill of Tieh-sha Chang (a feat practice by poking the palms into a tank of iron granules). Once he walked in the fields and came across two bulls fighting. Seeing Fan, the bulls mistook him for an invader and charged at him. When the first bull arrived, Fan put all his strength into his right leg and gave the bull a hard kick in his belly. The bull, huge though it was, fell down at once. The second bull was treated just as harshly by Fan. He grabbed its horn with his left hand, and hit hard at its back with his right. The second bull fell dead also. The farmer who owned the bulls asked for a sum of money in compensation for the bulls killed by Fan, but Fan argued that he was acting only in self-defense. So the issue was settled. (The farmer was probably afraid of Fan’s great strength also).
Thus Fan’s name spread all over China. In the early 1870’s, some Russians requested that Fan compete in a boxing tournament in Siberia. If not for the many friends and colleagues who supplied him with the necessary financial resources, he could not have gone. When Fan arrived there, he defeated the host as well as later challengers. He took the championship and an excessive share of glory back to China. Unfortunately, this incident was little known to outsiders because of poor methods of communication at that time.
Fan later taught the art of the Northern Style Praying Mantis School of Boxing to a number of students, including Lo Kuang-yu and Lin Ching-shan. In 1919, the Committee of the Shanghai Chin Wu Athletic Association was astounded by the perfection of this school of Chinese boxing. Therefore, they sent someone to Shantung to personally escort Mr. Lo to Shanghai as chief instructor.
In 1929, a national contest of Chinese boxing was held in Nanking. One of Lo’s students, Ma Cheng-hsin represented Shanghai in the contest. Ma won the first prize. His name, as well as that of his Sifu, appeared in all the newspapers of Shanghai.
A few years later, Lo was sent by the Central Chin Wu to inspect branches of their organization in the Southern provinces, notably those in Hong Kong and Macau.
When that was over, Lo returned to Shanghai. Before long, war broke out there, and Lo was requested by the Hong Kong branch to teach for them. He taught in Hong Kong until 1944.
From invention of the Northern Style Praying Mantis School of Chinese Boxing until today, there has been a history of three and a half centuries. With continual refinement and improvement in the art, it has now become one of the most perfect schools of Chinese boxing being practiced.