By Will Wain Williams | 11 November 2018
The region of Shandong province in north-eastern China is dominated by rugged coastline, jagged cliffs, and stony beaches. Much like the scenery, the people of Shandong are known throughout China for their rough-around-edges, straight-talking style. Their typical stocky build is said to be the result of a particularly rich diet and reflected in their native martial arts.
Praying Mantis Kung Fu spread to many countries across the world, but its home is in Shandong. It was in Huayan Temple in the mountains of Laoshan, where legendary Wang Lang witnessed the mantis catching the cicada, thus inspiring the style.
Local Laiyang history tells a different story. According to the County Annals written in the early twentieth century, Mantis Kung Fu was founded by Li Bing Xiao around the eighteenth century.
A skilled practitioner of Chinese Medicine, Li came across a man dying in a ditch. A bandit who had gotten ill in prison, he was thrown out by the guards and left to die. Li used his knowledge of medicine to help the bandit recover, who then taught Li martial arts techniques to repay him. Li incorporated this into his existing style and created Mantis Kung Fu.
Mantis Kung Fu as practiced in Shandong is different to the majority of Mantis practiced in the West. Western Mantis came through Hong Kong and undergone many changes after being incorporated into the Jingwu curriculum.
In Shandong, heavy emphasis is placed on full body movement - power valued than speed. Mantis Kung Fu was initially based on 18 styles; the first three give us the “frame,” the method of moving the body and generating power.
Mantis Kung Fu Frames Defined
Is Long Fist, the foundation of most northern styles of Kung Fu. Long Fist makes use of long power, using aggressive footwork and expansive movements.
Is Short Strikes, focusing on a firm stance, and small explosive movements generated from the body with little visible arm movement.
Is Tongbei, “through the back,” uses a whip-like motion to strike, connecting both arms as one via the back.
The other significant difference between Shandong Mantis and its Hong Kong cousin is the smaller amount of forms practiced. Most people in Shandong only practice ten or fifteen forms. In Hong Kong, a vast amount abound, some even numbering over a hundred!
It is believed fewer forms allows the practitioner to focus their attention better and gain a deeper understanding of the underlying principles.
Lethal in its Principles
People tend to think Mantis focuses on lots of trapping. However, the trapping techniques are only transitional, and the style focuses more on breaking the opponent’s structure and ending the fight as quickly as possible.
In more dueling-type situations, Mantis utilizes methods similar to western boxing, such as feints, combinations of strikes, head movement, dodges, and footwork.
The main difference is the greater variety of strikes. A Mantis practitioner makes use fists, palms, finger strikes, elbows, shoulder barges, and clubbing with the whole forearm. Kicks are generally low and fast, attacking the shin, knee joint or groin, and knees are used in close quarters.
There’s a saying in China that water tastes its sweetest at its source. Praying Mantis Kung Fu is widely practiced throughout the world and has adapted and changed to its many varied environments. For all serious students of the style, it is worth taking the time to understand how it is practiced in its birthplace of Shandong. Then, one can appreciate more what changes have been made.