Pluck the Star Exchange the
Students and teachers have often tried to trace the
lineage of their style or the history of their forms.
Different branches of Praying Mantis often come up with
conflicting answers on the origins of their style and
forms. For the most part, these styles and forms are
collections of techniques compiled by generations of
The First Book of Praying Mantis
Instead of trying to trace the style or even the forms,
can we trace the lineage of a Praying Mantis technique
from the previous era to the present? To answer this
question I started by going through what I consider to
be the oldest book of Praying Mantis Luohan Short
(also known as True Transmission of Shaolin),
dating from the 1700‘s. I looked for clues on techniques
with the same names as forms known in modern times.
The Oldest Forms of Mantis
Of the modern forms three are considered the oldest,
they are called Luanjie, Bengbu and Eight Elbows. Sadly,
none of these forms appear in Luohan Short Strikes.
The oldest known hand written book containing these
three forms is called Fist, Staff and Spear Manual
(Quan Gun Qiang Pu) written sometime in the mid 1800’s by Master Liang
Over the past 20 years I have had the good fortune to
learn several versions of all these three forms as well
as collect their manuscripts from various branches of
Praying Mantis. I started my search for common
techniques by looking at and comparing these two books
with an eye towards finding something in Luohan Short
Strikes that looked like it had made its way into
Fist, Staff and Spear Manual.
The Cleaving Chop of Praying Mantis
Though Luohan Short Strikes contains no mention
of these three core forms, Luanjie, Bengbu and Eight
Elbows, of the several short forms that it does contain
I found something of interest in 'The Cleaving Chop of Praying Mantis.' The description is
written in rhyming seven character verse:
Chopping and cleaving of Praying
Mantis was passed down by Wang Lang,
Who closely studied the Praying Mantis seizing the
With feet in the figure ten stance,
Swing open the arms fast as lightening.
The attacking fingers first strike ren zhong point,
Plucking the star to exchange the moon overturning
top and bottom.
'Pluck a Star and Exchange the Moon'
immediately caught my eye. This move is also found in
Fist, Staff and Spear Manual under Master Liang’s
version of Bengbu. Do both books refer to the same
technique? Pluck a Star and Exchange the Moon is well documented by
Cui Shoushan (pictured), student of Song Zide. Master Song Zide is
the Praying Mantis master who personally studied under
Liang Xuexiang and expanded greatly on the written work
of Praying Mantis. He first writes the names of the
techniques followed by the explanation of their
application. Within 'Bengbu Explained' Cui
Advancing step double binding.
Pluck the star exchange the moon.
He attacks (with the right).
With my left side forward I do double divide and
securely bind his right hand securely at his chest.
My left and right hands take his eyes. Double divide
at the central gate and kick the crotch.
is how it is written in the Taiji Praying Mantis family.
We will see the use of 'double binding' the
opponent again in Seven Star Praying Mantis.
Seven Star Praying Mantis Takes the Eyes Too
Seven Star Praying Mantis has no documented connection
to Master Liang Xuexiang, yet we still find similarities
if we look at famous master from Hong Kong Won Hanfun
Right after WW2 he published his book on Bengbu with
descriptions of techniques, applications and 47 short
poems of four lines each. He does not use the term
'pluck the star and exchange the moon', but at the same
section of his Bengbu we still find the name
'binding hands,' followed by 'kick and take the eyes,' a
description in line with the Taiji Praying Mantis
performs 'double binding hands'
follows with 'take the eyes'
Taking the Eyes Applied
Master Huang Hanxun's book on the two person form of
Bengbu shows the applications and defense of these
|Double binding' is applied,
control the opponent's right arm.
|Simultaneously strike the
eyes as you kick the crotch.
The Middle of Man
Taiji and Seven Star Praying Mantis versions of Bengbu
both strike at the eyes while in Luohan
'The attacking fingers first strike ren zhong point.'
Ren zhong point is the space located between the nose
and upper lip (unless you had studied anatomy and
physiology you probably wouldn’t know this space is
described as being located at the center of the
From Tui Na Mi Jue (Secrets of Massage)
The characters ‘ren zhong’ means the center of man.
Above and below man being the heavens and the earth. The
Chinese put the ‘center of man’ between mouth and nose
as the nose receives the five qi from the heaven and the
mouth receives the five vapors from the earth.
Striking Ren Zhong Point
Not much damage is caused by striking ren zhong point.
It is listed within the safe 'eight strikes' (ba da) of
Praying Mantis, points that only
cause ‘pain and unconsciousness’.
This page from Xi Yuan Lu-Record of Washing
Circa 1247 shows various points that may result in
death. Notably, it does not include ren zhong point.
Written by a judge for the purpose of determining cause
of death and identifying guilty parties in court cases
Why does Luohan Short Strikes tell us to strike
the somewhat ineffective ren zhong point with our
fingers? If Luohan Short Strikes is indeed
describing the same technique that we know in Bengbu it
could be that it was a substitute for the eyes in order
to avoid blinding you training partner or student