Northern Praying Mantis (martial art)

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Northern Praying Mantis (Chinese: ???; pinyin: tánglángquán; literally “praying mantis fist”) is a style of Chinese martial arts, sometimes called Shandong Praying Mantis after its province of origin. It was created by Wang Lang (??) and was named after the praying mantis, an insect, the aggressiveness of which inspired the style. One Mantis legend places the creation of the style in the Song Dynasty when Wang Lang was supposedly one of 18 masters gathered by the Abbot Fu Ju (??), a legendary persona of the historical Abbot Fu Yu (??) (1203-1275), to improve Shaolin martial arts.[1] However, most legends place Wang Lang in the late Ming Dynasty.[2][3]

The mantis is a long and narrow predatory insect. While heavily armoured, it is not built to withstand forces from perpendicular directions. Consequently, its fighting style involves the use of whip-like/circular motions to deflect direct attacks, which it follows up with precise attacks to the opponent’s vital spots. These traits have been subsumed into the Northern Praying Mantis style, under the rubric of “removing something” (blocking to create a gap) and “adding something” (rapid attack).

One of the most distinctive features of Northern Praying Mantis is the “praying mantis hook” (???; pinyin: tángláng gou): a hook made of one to three fingers directing force in a whip-like manner. The hook may be used to divert force (blocking) or to attack critical spots (eyes or acupuncture points). These are particularly useful in combination, for example using the force imparted from a block to power an attack. So if the enemy punches with the right hand, a Northern Praying Mantis practitioner might hook outwards with the left hand (shifting the body to the left) and use the turning force to attack the enemy’s neck with a right hook. Alternately, he/she might divert downwards with the left hook and rebound with the left wrist stump to jaw/nose/throat.

Northern Praying Mantis is especially famous for its speed and continuous attacks. Another prominent feature of the style is its complex footwork, borrowed from Monkey Kung Fu.

There are many legends surrounding the creation of Northern Praying Mantis boxing. One legend attributes the creation of Mantis fist to the Song Dynasty when Abbot Fu Ju (??), a legendary persona of the historical Abbot Fu Yu (??) (1203-1275), supposedly invited Wang Lang (??) and seventeen other masters to come and improve the martial arts of Shaolin.[4] The Abbot recorded all of the techniques in a manual called the Mishou (?? – “Secret Hands”) and later passed it onto the Taoist priest Shen Xiao. This manual supposedly disappeared until the Qianlong reign era when it was published under the name “Arhat exercising merit short strike illustrated manuscript” (Chinese: ??????; pinyin: Luóhàn Xínggong Duan Da).[4] Some sources place the folk manuscript’s publication on the “sixteenth day of the third month of the spring of 1794”.[5] The manual records Wang Lang “absorbed and equalized all previous techniques” learned from the 17 other masters.[2][5]

A third of the masters listed all come from fictional novels. Yan Qing (#7) and Lin Chong (#13) come from the Water Margin and Emperor Taizu (#1), Han Tong (#2), Zhang En (#3) and Huai De (#11) come from the Fei Long Quan Zhuan (???? – “The Complete Flying Dragon Biography”), which was published prior to the aforementioned manual.[6]

Another legend connected to the Song Dynasty states Wang Lang participated in a Lei tai contest in the capital city of Kaifeng and was defeated by General Han Tong (??), the founder of Tongbeiquan. After leaving the fighting arena, he saw a brave praying mantis attacking the wheels of oncoming carts with its “broadsword-like” arms, Mantis fist was born shortly thereafter.[7] However, most legends place Wang Ming living in the late Ming Dynasty.[2][3]

As previously stated, the Water Margin bandits Lin Chong and Yan Qing, the adopted of Lu Junyi, are said to be part of the 18 masters supposedly invited to Shaolin by the legendary Abbot Fuju. According to the folklore biography of Song Dynasty General Yue Fei, Lin and Lu were former students of Zhou Tong, the general’s military arts teacher.[9] One martial legend states Zhou learned Chuojiao boxing from its originator Deng Liang (??) and then passed it onto Yue Fei.[10] Chuojiao is also known as the “Water Margin Outlaw style” and “Mandarin Duck Leg” (Chinese: ???; pinyin: Yuanyang Tui).[11] In the Water Margin’s twenty-ninth chapter, entitled “Wu Song, Drunk, Beats Jiang the Gate Guard Giant”, it mentions Wu Song, another of Zhou’s fictional students, using the “Jade Circle-Steps with Duck and Drake feet”.[12] Lin Chong is listed above as being a master of “Mandarin ducks kicking technique”.

Lineage Mantis Master Yuen Man Kai openly claims Zhou taught Lin and Lu the “same school” of martial arts that was later combined with the aforementioned seventeen other schools to create Mantis fist.[13] However, he believes Mantis fist was created during the Ming Dynasty, and was therefore influenced by these eighteen schools from the Song. He also says Lu Junyi taught Yan Qing the same martial arts as he learned from Zhou.[14] Master Yuen further comments Zhou later taught Yue the same school and that Yue was the originator of the mantis move “Black Tiger Steeling [sic] Heart”.[14]

There are several styles of Northern Praying Mantis, the most famous of which are:

Seven Star Praying Mantis Boxing (Chinese: ?????; pinyin: qi xing tángláng quán). This style is the original form of praying mantis kung fu and is widespread in the Shandong Province and surrounding areas. Luo Guangyu (???) is famous for having passed down this style to Hong Kong and other parts of Southern China, where it is still practiced today. Seven Star is considered by many as the ‘hardest’ of the Praying Mantis styles, however it still utilizes soft-hard principles and is classified as a soft-hard style.