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Two Thousand Years of Mantis Warriors

Who knew that mantis warriors were being studied by the military elite 1000 years ago? Around the year 1078 scholars compiled Wu Jing Qi Shu-The Seven Military Classics, which became the foundation of examinations in military affairs.

Of the seven enclosed classics, the book Tai Gung’s Six Secret Teachings, a book which gained popularity with the ruling class of the Tang Dynasty (618—907), is the only military classic written from the perspective of the revolutionary. It is a supposed recording of conversations between the Tai Gung and King Wen and King Wu of the Zhou dynasty in the eleventh century B.C. and is where we find details of mantis warriors in chariot warfare.

The Tai Gung Goes Fishing

The first secret teaching, called the Civil Secret Teaching, describes the story of King Wen meeting the Tai Gung as he fishes.

King Wen intended to go hunting. So Bian, the Scribe, performed divination to inquire about his prospects. The Scribe reported, ‘While hunting on the North bank of the Wei river you will get a great catch. It will not be any form of dragon, nor a tiger or a great bear. According to the signs, you will find a duke or marquis there whom heaven has sent to be your teacher.’

King Wen then observed a vegetarian regime for three days to purify himself, then mounted his hunting chariot, driving his hunting horses, he went out to hunt on the northern bank of the Wei river, Finally he saw the Tai Gung sitting on a grass mat fishing. King Wen greeted him courteously and then asked, ‘Do you take pleasure in fishing?’

The Tai Gung replied,’ The true man of worth takes pleasure in attaining his ambitions; the common man takes pleasure in succeeding in his [ordinary] affairs, Now my fishing is very much like this.’

‘What do you mean it is like this?’

The Tai Gung responded,’ In fishing there are three forms of authority; the ranks of salary, death, and offices. Fishing is the means to obtain what you seek. Its nature is deep, and from it much greater principles can be discerned,’

King Wen said,’ I would like to hear about its nature,’

The Tai Gung goes on to elaborate on his fishing metaphor for the administration of civil affairs, hence the title of this first section, Civil Secret Teaching.


The Tai Gung and the Spear

The story of the Tai Gung catching fish became so well known that during the Ming dynasty it was used as the basis for spear postures in General Qi’s New Book on Effective Training Methods (1562) and Wushe’s Record of Arms (1662).


Tai Gung Hooks a Fish Maneuver
This is the banner waving spear method.

This move can be applied against any maneuver.
By leaning and receiving [the opponent's attack] you can capture at your ease.
Advancing and retreating like the wind.

Use hard and soft properly.

General Qi’s New Book on Effective Training Methods (1562)


Tai Gung Hooks a Fish Maneuver

From Wushe’s Record of Arms (1662)

Spear has always been an important weapon of the military trained by many thousands of soldiers over the centuries. Having the name 'Tai Gung Hooks a Fish' appear in the most famous Ming dynasty manual of martial arts is a sign of the widespread awareness of the Tai Gung's story.

The Tiger’s Secret Teaching

Of the six secret teachings the Tiger Secret Teaching, the fourth of six, discusses categories of military equipment and weapons and how they apply to tactical principles. The solutions emphasize speed, maneuverability, misdirection and ambush.

King Wu asked the Tai Gung,’ When the king mobilizes the Three armies, are there any rules for determining the army’s equipment, such as the implements for attack and defense, including type and quantity?’
The Tai Gung said,’ A great question, my king! The implements for attack and defense each have their own categories. This results in the great awesomeness of the army.’
King Wu said,’ I would like to hear about them.’
The Tai Gung replied,’ As for the basic numbers when employing the army, if commanding ten thousand armed soldiers the rules for [the various types of equipment and their] employment are as follows.

Mantis Warriors and Attacking Chariots

The Tai Gung goes on to list the equipment used by the ‘three armies’ and their application. Included in this list are the mantis Warriors and Mantis Knights.

Thirty-six great Fu-Xu Attack Chariots. Carrying Praying Mantis Martial warriors, they can attack both horizontal and vertical formations and can defeat the enemy.

Chariots of this era normally carried three men: the driver in the center, the archer on the left, and a warrior with a halberd (ge) on the right.

One hundred and sixty Spear and Halberd Fu-Xu Light Chariots [for repelling] night invaders from the fore. Each carries three Praying Mantis Martial Knights. The Art of War refers to them as mounting ‘thunder attacks.’ They are used to penetrate solid formations, to defeat both infantry and cavalry.

From the above description it seems clear that in this case all the men on the chariot were Mantis Martial Knights. The dagger ax, or ge, is primarily a hooking weapon. Wounds are inflicted by swinging down and pulling forward, with the curved knife-like blade cutting in and hooking the enemy.

The 'ge' was attached to a long stick. Originally only a hook, in later times a spear point was added.

It was used by both chariot riders as well as foot soldiers.

The 'ge' with three hooks.

The Twenty Foot Mantis

To defend the Three Armies deploy Fu-Xu [chariots] equipped with wooden Praying Mantises and sword blades, each twenty feet across, altogether one hundred and twenty of them. They are also termed chevaux-defrise. On open, level ground the infantry can use them to defeat chariots and cavalry.

In this case the Praying Mantis is a twenty foot long wooden contraption with protruding sword blades which will stop rushing cavalry and chariots.

Here is a Western version of what it probably looked like. Substitute, the spikes for blades, then lay some dead soldiers across it and you can see how gruesome it would become during a battle.

The Floating Praying Mantis

What exactly this was is not clear, but something used in water battles on rivers. Most likely to control or capture other water ships.

There is also the Heavenly Float with Iron Praying Mantis, rectangular inside, circular outside, four feet or more in diameter, equipped with plantern winches, Thirty-two of them. When the Heavenly Floats are used to deploy the Flying River to cross a large lake, they are referred to as ‘Heavens Huang’ and also termed ‘Heaven's Boat.’

The Ax of Mantis

Though these Praying Mantis Warriors were known in the Ming Dynasty there has never been a clear connection between them and the Praying Mantis Boxing we practice today. Yet, with one of the oldest of mantis manuscripts Fanche Lu-lu 6636 we find this quote of Mantis.

Mantis has a blade, it is the fists and elbows. Therefore, it is also called 'warding off ax.'

Praying Mantis Boxing may have descended from a Praying Mantis Knight who adopted his chariot or infantry weapon method to open handed fighting. Later, he or his students called it Praying Mantis.

Only conjecture, but further research on the Mantis Warriors may lead to knew insights on modern Praying Mantis Boxing

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The research of this article would not have been possible without the ground work laid out by Ralph D. Sawyer and his book The Seven Military Classics of Ancient China.

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