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One of the most powerful and intricate styles of Chinese martial arts, Praying Mantis Kung Fu dates back more than 300 years ago to the final period of the Ming Dynasty. The main attributes of this system are its strength, agility, speed, aggression and the quick, perpetual movements of the hands and feet. This makes it extremely difficult for an opponent to defend against an attack. Being a soft-hard style, externally the movements seem fluid and light, but inside hides a devastating hardness. There are combinations of fast and slow, long and short movements, with all parts of the body being utilized, not just a hand or a foot.

The basic stances are those from the Northern Shaolin forms, the footwork from the Monkey style, and the hooking hands an original trademark. The cornerstone of this style's success is the integration of multiple movements into a single fluid entity.

Some of the main techniques from the Mantis system include: zhan [contacting], nian [sticking], beng [linking], tie [pressing], lai [intruding], jiao [provoking], shun [moving along], sung [sending], ti [lifting], na [grabbing], feng [blocking], bi [locking], kwa [lean], diau [catch], jin [advance], bang [pulse-strike], da [strike], gou [hook], lou [twist], cai [grab], and gwa [lift].

There are also many formal sets of Praying Mantis techniques such as Beng Bu [Crushing Step], Lan Jie [Obstruction], Ba Zhou [Eight Elbows], and Meihwa Lu [Plum Blossom technique].

History

There are countless legends and stories about Praying Mantis [Tanglang] Kung Fu and its origins. Some of these have been proven as historically factual, while others are embellished folktales. The founder of this style is Master Wang Lang of Shandong province. He had originally studied Tai Gong Quan, a Taoist style, but later traveled throughout China to visit and challenge other great teachers in order to perfect his skills.

Wang Lang is said to have gone to the Shaolin Temple, where he studied for seven years. He was often defeated in combat by the other senior monks. Disappointed, Wang Lang left the monastery. One day, as he was walking through the woods, he saw a praying mantis trapping and devouring a cicada effortlessly. Impressed by the insect's techniques, Wang Lang returned to the Lao Shan Mountains and spent the next several years studying the mantis' movements.

He borrowed the best techniques from seventeen styles of Northern Shaolin Kung Fu he had learned in the monastery and incorporated them into his observations of the mantis techniques. To all this he added the footwork of the monkey. Therefore, Praying Mantis Kung Fu is a product of the strengths of at least eighteen different styles, which makes it quite unique.

Branches

The Mantis system has now branched out in many directions, which is only natural, as it originally was a hybrid form. The characteristics of each style of Mantis Kung Fu vary greatly in terms of body movements, footwork and techniques.

However, as all branches originated from the same source, their hand techniques are quite similar, in a broad sense. For example, in actual combat, each branch focuses on a rapid attack with seemingly small movements, enabling a quick reaction using enormous power. The ability to send numerous blows with hand and foot simultaneously and the immediate change of strategy and direction are but a few of the characteristics shared by all Mantis styles.

Other similar traits include some of the long and short, hard and soft techniques, an aggressive nature, directness, deception, forms, intricacy, complexity, agility and will.

Some of the most popular styles of Praying Mantis include Eight-Step Mantis (incorporating the steadfast directness of Hsing-I), Six Harmonies Mantis (a softer, more internal style of Mantis), Secret Door (close in range attacks with emphasis on elbow techniques such as the eight body separating elbow strikes), Plum Blossom (characterized by application of three or five chain punches like the petals of the plum blossom flower, Long-Fist Mantis (maintains distance with extended arm techniques) and Taiji Mantis. Other lesser known styles include Closed Door (Mi Men), Jade Ring (Yu Hua). Whip Hand (Suai Shou) Bright Board (Kuan Pan) and Monkey (Ma Ho).

Seven Star [Qi Xing Tanglang]

Seven Star Praying Mantis [Qi Xing Tanglang] was one of the earliest styles of the system, with footwork resembling the configuration of a celestial constellation. The reference is to seven stars symbolizing seven elements: sun, moon, fire, water, wood, metal and earth. Martial arts' classics state that it is essential to use all seven parts of the human body -- head, shoulder, elbow, hand, hip, knee and foot -- in combat.

Also known as "Arhat Mantis", the focus is on quick hand techniques, joint locks, an intricate array of footwork, long-range kicking and close range-trapping strategies, attacks to vital points, and throws. It tends to be more towards hardness than softness and its stances are comfortably spread and extended. Of all the existing Mantis styles, Seven Star Mantis is said to be the closest to Wang Lang 's original creation and is by far the most popular branch.

Six Harmony Praying Mantis [Liuhe Tanglang]

Six Harmony Praying Mantis, or "Liuhe Tanglang", is a style popular in the Zhao Yuan and Huang Xian regions of Shandong province, in China. It is also called the "Soft Praying Mantis" because the style's movements can be described as primarily soft with hardness embedded within. Similar to other soft styles such as Taiji, a practitioner sticks to his opponent, feeling his next move. This is in contrast to the more popular Seven Star Praying Mantis [Qi Xing Tanglang], where the movements are primarily hard with softness within. Except for the generation and utilization of the jing [internal energy] strengths, the two styles are essentially the same as far as techniques are concerned.

The focus of Six Harmony Mantis is to add more internal power, with the basic theory that the body has six major functional areas (eyes, hands, body, spirit, internal energy [chi] and soul) that should interact in harmony. To facilitate this, the style combines three yin and three yang principles to evade or absorb an attack softly and to attack in a hard manner often using powerful forearm strikes.

More information can be found on Sifu James Guo's website Grandmaster Liu web page www.bajimen.com.

Eight Step Praying Mantis [Ba Bu Tanglang]

Eight Step Mantis focuses on a moving footwork expounded from the traditional mantis stances. The hands and feet are coordinated as one, bringing the opponent into a closer range and leaving him or her with little room to maneuver. A system of joint locks, throws, and sweeps are used once the gap has been narrowed. One of the most famous Eight-Step Mantis practitioners was Wei Hsaio Tong ("Thunder hands").

Plum Blossom Praying Mantis [Mei Hwa]

The features of Plum Blossom Mantis are its rhythmic and continuous movements with attacks performed in quick successions of three to five strikes. There is more use of a sideways than straightforward force while the footwork consists of small nimble steps to confuse the opponent.